Pushed and the Return Push
by George Herbert Fosdike Nichols
The Return Push
* * * * *
The Return Push
William Blackwood and Sons
Edinburgh and London
To the Memory of
LIEUT.-COL. AUSTIN THORP, C.M.G.,
WHO COMMANDED THE 82ND BRIGADE, R.F.A.,
IN FRANCE, FROM DECEMBER 1915
TO OCTOBER 1918.
KILLED IN ACTION AT BEAUSIES
ON OCTOBER 30, 1918.
I. BEFORE THE
II. “THE BOCHE
III. THE END OF
IV. THE NIGHT OF
V. A GUNNER'S
VII. STILL IN
VIII. A LAST
IX. FASTER AND
X. THE SCRAMBLE
XI. THE G IN GAP
XII. OUT OF THE
THE RETURN PUSH
I. THE DEFENCE
IV. HAPPY DAYS!
V. BEFORE THE
VI. THE BATTLE
OF AUGUST 8
VII. SHORT LEAVE
IX. DOWN THE
ROAD TO COMBLES
X. A MASTERLY
XI. ON THE HEELS
OF THE BOCHE
XII. THE MAJOR'S
XIII. NURLU AND
XIV. THE FIGHT
XV. “ERNEST” IS
XVII. WITH THE
XVIII. A LAST
DAY AT THE O.P.
I. BEFORE THE ATTACK.
By means of a lorry lift from railhead, and a horse borrowed from
the Divisional Ammunition Column, I found Brigade Headquarters in a
village that the Germans had occupied before their retreat in the
spring of 1917.
The huge, red-faced, grey-haired adjutant, best of ex-ranker
officers, welcomed me on the farmhouse steps with a hard handshake and
a bellowing Cheerio! followed by, Now that you're back, I can go on
In the mess the colonel gave me kindly greeting, and told me
something of the Brigade's ups and downs since I had left France in
August 1917, wounded at Zillebeke: how all the old and well-tried
battery commanders became casualties before 1917 was out, but how,
under young, keen, and patiently selected leaders, the batteries were
working up towards real efficiency again. Then old Swiffy, the
veterinary officer, came in, and the new American doctor, who appeared
armed with two copies of the 'Saturday Evening Post.' It was all very
pleasant; and the feeling that men who had got to know you properly in
the filthy turmoil and strain of Flanders were genuinely pleased to see
you again, produced a glow of real happiness. I had, of course, to go
out and inspect the adjutant's new chargera big rattling chestnut,
conceded to him by an A.S.C. major. A mystery gift, if ever there was
one: for he was a handsome beast, and chargers are getting very rare in
France. They say he bucks, explained the adjutant. He'll go for
weeks as quiet as a lamb, and then put it across you when you don't
expect it. I'm going to put him under treatment.
Where's my groom? he roared. Following which there was elaborate
preparation of a weighted saddlenot up to the adjutant's 15 stone 5,
but enough to make the horse realise he was carrying something; then an
improvised lunging-rope was fashioned, and for twenty minutes the new
charger had to do a circus trot and canter, with the adjutant as a
critical and hopeful ringmaster. In the end the adjutant mounted and
rode off, shouting that he would be back in half an hour to report on
the mystery horse's preliminary behaviour.
Then the regimental sergeant-major manoeuvred me towards the horse
lines to look at the newly made-up telephone cart team.
You remember the doctor's fat mare, sirthe wheeler, you used to
call her? Well, she is a wheeler now, and a splendid worker too. We got
the hand-wheeler from B Battery, and they make a perfect pair. And you
remember the little horse who strayed into our lines at
Thiepval'Punch' we used to call himas fat as butter, and didn't
like his head touched? Well, he's in the lead; and another bay, a twin
to him, that the adjutant got from the th Division. Changed 'Rabbits'
for him. You remember 'Rabbits,' sir?nice-looking horse, but inclined
to stumble. All bays now, and not a better-looking telephone team in
And then an anxious moment. Nearest the wall in the shed which
sheltered the officers' horses stood my own horsedear old Silvertail,
always a gentleman among horses, but marked in his likes and dislikes.
Would he know me after my six months' absence? The grey ears went back
as I approached, but my voice seemed to awake recognition. Before long
a silver-grey nose was nozzling in the old confiding way from the
fourth button towards the jacket pocket where the biscuits used to be
kept. All was well with the world.
A rataplan on a side-drum feebly played in the street outside!the
village crier announcing that a calf had committed hari-kari on one of
the flag-poles put up to warn horsemen that they mustn't take short
cuts over sown land. The aged crier, in the brown velveteen and the
stained white corduroys, took a fresh breath and went on to warn the
half-dozen villagers who had come to their doorways that uprooting the
red flags would be in defiance of the express orders of Monsieur le
Maire (who owned many fields in the neighbourhood). The veal resulting
from the accident would be shared out among the villagers that evening.
My camp-bed was put up in a room occupied by the adjutant; and
during and after dinner there was much talk about the programme of
intensive training with which the Brigade was going to occupy itself
while out at rest. For the morrow the colonel had arranged a
schemedefence and counter-attackwhich meant that skeleton batteries
would have to be brought up to upset and demolish the remorseless plans
of an imaginary German host; and there was diligent studying of F.A.T.
and the latest pamphlets on Battery Staff Training, and other points of
knowledge rusted by too much trench warfare.
It was exactly 2 P.M. on the morrow. We were mounted and moving off
to participate in this theoretical battle, when the chug-chug-chug of
a motor-cycle caused us to look towards the hill at the end of the
village street: a despatch-rider, wearing the blue-and-white band of
the Signal Service. The envelope he drew from his leather wallet was
It's real war, gentlemen, said the colonel quietly, having read
the contents; we move at once. Corps say that the enemy are massing
for an attack.
Then he gave quick, very definite orders in the alert confident
manner so well known to all his officers and men.
Send a cycle orderly to stop Fentiman bringing up his teams! You
can be ready to march by 3 P.M. ... Stone. Townsend, you'd better send
off your groom to warn your battery! Times and order of march will be
sent out by the adjutant within a quarter of an hour! One hundred
yards' distance between every six vehicles on the march! No
motor-lorries for us this time, so all extra kit and things you can't
carry will have to be dumped, and a guard left behind!
A clatter of horsemen spreading the news followed.
I stood at the door of the village's one café and watched two of our
batteries pass. The good woman who kept it asked if I thought the
Germans would come there again. They took my husband with them a
prisoner when they went a year ago, she said slowly. My trust in our
strength as I had seen it six months before helped me to reassure her;
but to change the subject, I turned to the penny-in-the-slot music
machine inside, the biggest, most gaudily painted musical box I've ever
seen. Did the Boches ever try this? I asked. No, only once, she
replied, brightening. They had a mess in the next room, and never came
Well, I'll have a pen'orth for luck, said I, and avoiding Norma
and Poet and Peasant, moved the pointer towards a chansonette,
something about a good time coming. Such a monstrous wheezing and
gurgling, such a deafening clang of cracked cymbals, such a Puck-like
concatenation of flat notes and sudden thuds that told of broken
strings! And so much of it for a ten-centime piece. When the tumult
began a third time I made off. No wonder the Germans only tried the
By 8 P.M. we found ourselves in a sort of junction village, its two
main roads alive with long lines of moving batteries and lorries and
transport waggons. Inky blackness everywhere, for the Hun bombed the
place nightly, and No lights was a standing order. Odd shouts and
curses from drivers in difficulties with their steeds; the continuous
cry of Keep to the right! from the military police; from a garden
close by, the howl of an abandoned dog; and from some dilapidated house
Cockney voices harmonising: It's a Long, Long Trail. There would be
no moon that night, and a moaning wind was rising.
A halt had been called in front of our column, and there was talk of
the batteries watering their horses before completing the further three
miles to their roadside encampments. The Headquarters party had
resigned themselves to a good hour's wait, when I heard the adjutant's
voice calling my name.
Headquarters will go up to Rouez to-night, and we shall mess with
the General, he shouted at me from out of the darkness. Traffic isn't
supposed to go this way to the right; but you come with me, and we'll
talk to the A.P., at the Corps Commandant's office. They ought to let
our little lot through.
Headquarters mess cart and G.S. waggon, Maltese cart and telephone
waggon did indeed get through, and by 9.15 P.M. the horses were watered
and fed, the men housed, and we ourselves were at dinner in the cottage
that had become Divisional R.A. Headquarters.
A cheerful dinner with plenty of talk. It wasn't believed now that
the Hun would attack next morning; but, in any case, we were going up
to relieve a R.H.A. unit. The brigade-major was very comforting about
the conveniences of our new positions. Then some one carried the
conversation away and beyond, and, quoting an Ole Luk-Oie story,
submitted that the higher realms of generalship should include the
closer study of the personal history and characteristicsmental and
moralof enemy commanders. Some one else noted that the supposed
speciality of the General immediately opposite us was that of making
fierce attacks across impassable marshes. Good, put in a third some
one. Let's puzzle the German staff by persuading him that we have an
Etonian General in this part of the line, a very celebrated 'wet-bob.'
Which sprightly suggestion made the Brigadier-General smile. But it was
my good fortune to go one better. I had to partner him at bridge, and
brought off a grand slam.
Next morning snow; and the colonel, the adjutant, and myself had a
seven-miles' ride before us. The Germans had not attacked, but the
general move-up of fresh divisions was continuing, and our brigade had
to take over the part of the line we were told off to defend by 5 P.M.
All the talk on the way up was of the beautiful quietude of the area
we were riding through: no weed-choked houses with the windows all
blown in; no sound of guns, no line of filled-up ambulances; few
lorries on the main thoroughfares; only the khaki-clad road-repairers
and the Gas Alert notice-boards to remind us we were in a British
area. As we reached the quarry that was to become Brigade Headquarters,
we marvelled still more. A veritable quarry de luxe. A mess
fashioned out of stone-blocks hewn from the quarry, perfectly cut and
perfectly laid. Six-inch girders to support the concrete roof, and an
underground passage as a funk-hole from bombs, shells, and gas.
Separate strong-room bedrooms for the officers; and some one had had
time to paint on the doors, O.C., R.F.A. Brigade, Adjutant,
Intelligence Officer, R.F.A., and Signal Officer, R.F.A., with
proper professional skill. Electric light laid on to all these
quarters, and to the Brigade office and the signallers' underground
chamber. Aladdin didn't enjoy a more gorgeous eye-opener on his first
tour of his palace.
Never seen such headquarters, grinned the adjutant. Wonder why
there's no place for the Divisional Band.
I shall never forget the content of the next week. The way from
Brigade H.Q., past the batteries and up to the front line, was over a
wide rolling country of ploughed and fallow lands, of the first wild
flowers, of budding hedgerows, of woods in which birds lilted their
spring songs. The atmosphere was fresh and redolent of clean earth; odd
shell-holes you came across were, miracle of miracles, grass-growna
sight for eyes tired with the drab stinking desolation of Flanders. A
more than spring warmth quickened growing things. White tendrils of
fluff floated strangely in the air, and spread thousands of soft
clinging threads over telephone-wires, tree-tops, and across miles of
growing fieldsthe curious output of myriads of spinning-spiders.
There were quaintly restful visits to the front line. The Boche was a
mile away at least; and when you were weary of staring through
binoculars, trying to spot enemy movement, you could sit and lounge,
and hum the rag-time Wait and See the Ducks go by, with a new and
very thorough meaning. The signal officer was away doing a course, and
I took on his duties: plenty of long walks and a good deal of labelling
to do, but the task was not onerous. We've only had one wire down
through shell-fire since we've been here, the signalling officer of
the outgoing brigade had told me: and indeed, until March 21, the
telephone-wires to batteries and O.P.'s remained as undisturbed as if
they had skirted Devonshire fields and lanes. The colonel was quite
happy, spending two or three hours a day at O.P.'s, watching our guns
register, or do a bit of sniping on the very very rare occasions when a
Hun was spotted.
I can see how the subalterns shoot on a big open front like
thisand teach them something, he said. This is an admirable part of
the line for instruction purposes.
Whether the Boche would attack in force on our part of the front was
argued upon and considered from every point of view. There were certain
natural features that made such an attempt exceedingly improbable.
Nevertheless infantry and artillery kept hard at it, strengthening our
means of defence. One day I did a tour with the machine-gun commander
in order to know the exact whereabouts of the machine-gun posts. They
were superlatively well hidden, and the major-general himself had to
laugh when one battalion commander, saying, There's one just about
here, sir, was startled by a corporal's voice near his very boot-toes
calling out, Yes, sir, it's here, sir. Gunners had the rare
experience of circling their battery positions with barbed wire, and
siting machine-guns for hand-to-hand protection of the 18 pdrs. and 4·5
hows.; and special instruction in musketry and Lewis-gun manipulation
was given by infantry instructors. There was memorable jubilation one
morning at our Brigade Headquarters, when one of the orderlies, a
Manchester man who fired with his left hand, and held the rifle-butt to
his left shoulder, beat the infantry crack shot who came to instruct
the H.Q. staff.
Camouflaging is now, of course, a studied science, and our colonel,
who issued special guiding notes to his batteries, had a few sharp
words to say one afternoon. The British soldier, old and new, is always
happy when he is demolishing something; and a sergeant sent to prepare
a pit for a forward gun had collected wood and corrugated iron for it
by pulling to pieces a near-by dummy gun, placed specially to draw
enemy fire. Bad as some Pioneers I noticed yesterday, said the
colonel tersely. They shifted a couple of trees to a place where there
had been no trees before and thought that that was camouflage.
Happy confident days! The doctor, noting the almost summery heat
that had set in, talked of the mosquito headquarters that would develop
in the pond near our quarry. I'll oil that pond, he gave forth, and
prepared accordingly. Each mail brought him additional copies of the
'Saturday Evening Post,' which he devoured every moment he was off
I made the joyful discovery that the thick stone blocks kept the
mess so dry and at such an even temperature that the hundred
decent-quality cigars I had brought from England could be kept in
condition as perfect as if they were at the Stores. The adjutant learnt
that his new steed could indeed buck; but as the afternoon which saw
him take a toss preceded the day on which he left for leave to England,
he forgot to be furious, and went off promising to bring back all sorts
of things for the mess.
Our companion infantry battalion were as gorgeously housed as
ourselves in an adjoining quarry, and at the dinner parties arranged
between their mess and ours reminiscences of Thiepval and Schwaben
Redoubt, and July 1st, 1916, and St Pierre Divion and the Hindenburg
Line, brought out many a new and many an old story.
On the night of March 19th our chief guest was the youthful
lieutenant-colonel who a very few weeks before had succeeded to the
command of the . Tall, properly handsome, with his crisp curling
hair and his chin that was firm but not markedly so; eyes that were
reflective rather than compelling; earnest to the point of an absorbed
seriousnesswe did right to note him well. He was destined to win
great glory in the vortex of flame and smoke and agony and panic into
which we were to be swept within the next thirty-six hours. My chief
recollection of him that night was of his careful attentiveness to
everything said by our own colonel on the science of present-day
warthe understanding deference paid by a splendid young leader to the
knowledge and grasp and fine character of a very complete gunner.
II. THE BOCHE IS THROUGH!
At 5.10 P.M. on March 20 I was in the mess, casting an appraising
eye upon the coloured study of a girl in pinkdark-haired, hazel-eyed,
très soignée, but not too sophisticated, one would say; her beauty
of the kind that glows and tells of abundant vitality and a fresh happy
mind. The little American doctor had sacrificed the cover of one of his
beloved 'Saturday Evening Posts' for this portrait, and with extreme
neatness had scissored it out and fastened it on the walla pleasant
change from the cocaine and chocolate-box suggestiveness of the
languorous Kirchner type that in 1916 and 1917 lent a pinchbeck
Montmartre atmosphere to so many English messes in France and Flanders.
The day had been hot and peaceful, the only sound of gun-fire a
six-inch how. registering, and, during a morning tour with the second
lieutenant who had come from one of the batteries to act as temporary
signalling officer, I remembered noting again a weather-beaten civilian
boot and a decayed bowler hat that for weeks had lain neglected and
undisturbed in one of the rough tracks leading to the front
linetypical of the unchanging restfulness of this part of the front.
Suddenly the door opened, to admit Colonel , C.O. of the
Infantry Battalion who were our near neighbours in the quarry.
Have you had the 'PREPARE FOR ATTACK'? he asked abruptly as we
held ourselves to attention.
No, sir, I replied, and moved to the telephone to ring up
Divisional Artillery Headquarters.
Just come in, he said; and even as I asked exchange to put me
through to D.A., the brigade clerk came in with the telephoned
warning that we had talked about, expected, or refused to believe in
ever since the alarm order to move into the line a fortnight before.
The formal intimation was sent by wire to the batteries, and I
telephoned to find which battery the colonel was visiting and gave him
the news, which, according to our precise and well-thought-out scheme
of defence, was a preliminary warning not intended to interfere with
any work in hand.
Then the doctor and myself and the Divisional Artillery gas officer,
who had called in while on an inspecting tour, settled down to tea,
jam, and water-cress.
That night our dinner guest was the former captain of our 4·5 how.
battery, now in command of a heavy battery that had come into action
within a quarter of a mile of our H.Q. The MAN BATTLE POSITIONS, the
order succeeding PREPARE FOR ATTACK in the defence programme, was not
expected that night, and we gossiped and talked war and new gunnery
devices much as usual. No story goes so well at mess as the account of
some fatuous muddle brought about by the administrative bewilderments
that are apparently inevitable in the monster armies of to-day. This
was one told with quiet relish by our guest that night:
You remember the show? he said. A lot of stores were, of
course, lost in the scramble; and, soon after I joined my present
battery, I had to sit on an inquiry into the mysterious loss of six
waggons belonging to a 60-pounder battery. Two courts of inquiry had
already sat on the matter, and failed to trace the whereabouts of the
waggons, which had been reported in all sorts of places. At the third
inquiry a witness stated that the last place the waggons were seen at
before getting lost was such and such a place. A member of the court
asked casually whether any one had since visited the spot; and as it
was near lunch-time some one else suggested that the court adjourn
while an officer motor-cycled over and made inquiries. And I'm hanged,
concluded the teller of the story, if the officer didn't come back and
report that the waggons were still there, had been there all the time,
and were in good condition and under a guard. Piles of official
correspondence had been written over the matter, and the investigation
had drifted through all sorts of channels.
Midnight: I had sent out the night-firing orders to our four
batteries, checked watches over the telephone, and put in a twenty
minutes' wrestle with the brain-racking Army Form B. 213. The doctor
and signalling officer had slipped away to bed, and the colonel was
writing his nightly letter home. I smoked a final cigarette and turned
in at 12.30 A.M.
3.30 A.M.: The telephone bell above my head was tinkling. It was the
brigade-major's voice that spoke. Will you put your batteries on some
extra bursts of fire between 3.45 and 4.10at places where the enemy,
if they are going to attack, are likely to be forming up? Right!that
gives you a quarter of an hour to arrange with the batteries.
My marked map with registered targets for the various batteries was
by the bedside, and I was able, without getting up, to carry out the
brigade-major's instructions. One battery was slow in answering, and as
time began to press I complained with some force, when the captainhis
battery commander was away on a courseat last got on the telephone.
Poor Dawson. He was very apologetic. I never spoke to him again. He was
a dead man within nine hours.
I suppose I had been asleep again about twenty minutes when a
rolling boom, the scream of approaching shells, and regular cracking
bursts to right and left woke me up. Now and again one heard the swish
and the plop of gas-shells. A hostile bombardment, without a doubt. I
looked at my watch4.33 A.M.
It was hours afterwards before I realised that this was the opening
bombardment of perhaps the mightiest, most overpowering assault in
military history. Had not the PREPARE FOR ATTACK warning come in I
should have been in pyjamas, and might possibly have lain in bed for
two or three minutes, listening quietly and comfortably while
estimating the extent and intensity of the barrage. But this occasion
was different, and I was up and about a couple of minutes after waking.
Opening my door, I encountered the not unpleasant smell of lachrymatory
gas. The Infantry Battalion headquarters' staff were already moving out
of the quarry to their forward station. By 4.40 A.M. our colonel had
talked over the telephone with two of the battery commanders. Their
reports were quite optimistic. A Battery were wise in shifting from
their old position three days ago, he remarked cheerfully. The old
position is getting a lot of shelling; there's nothing falling where
they are now. Lots of gas-shelling apparently. It's lucky the batteries
had that daily drill serving the guns with gas-masks on.
The doctor and the acting signal officer came into the mess from
their quarters farther along the quarry. If this gas-shelling goes on,
I guess we shall all have to have lessons in the deaf-and-dumb talk,
puffed the doctor, pulling off his gas helmet. Keep that door closed!
D Battery's line gone, sir, rang up the sergeant-signaller.
M'Quillan and Black have gone out on it.
Keep Corporal Mann and Sapper Winter on the telephone board
to-day, I advised Bliss, the youngster who had come to headquarters
the day before to do signal officer. The colonel will be doing a lot
of telephoning, and they know his methods. Be sure to keep all the
Scotsmen off the board. The colonel says Scotsmen ought never to be
allowed to be telephonists. Impossible to understand what they say.
By 5 A.M. one of the two officers who overnight had manned the
forward O.P.'s had spoken to us. He was 2000 yards in front of the most
forward battery, but a still small voice sounded confident and cheery,
A few shells have dropped to the right of the O.P., but there's no
sign of any infantry attack, was his message. We heard nothing more of
him until six weeks afterwards, when his uncle wrote and told the
colonel he was safe, but a prisoner in Germany.
5.15 A.M.: The cook was handing round early morning tea. D Battery
were through again, and we learned that a sergeant had been killed and
one gunner wounded by a 4·2 that had pitched on the edge of the
gun-pit. Two other batteries were cut off from headquarters; however,
we gathered from the battery connected by the buried cablethat a week
before had kept 500 men busy digging for three daysthat, as far as
they could see, all our batteries were shooting merrily and according
By 6 A.M. the Brigadier-General, C.R.A., had told the colonel that
the situation to left and right was the same as on our immediate front:
enemy bombardment very heavy and continuing, but no infantry attack.
We'll shave and have breakfast, the colonel said. Looks as if the
actual attack must be farther north.
By 8 A.M. the shelling near us had died down. It was going to be a
lovely spring day, but there was a curiously heavy, clinging mist.
Want to be careful of the gas shell-holes when the sun warms up, said
Fresh ammunition was coming up from the waggon lines, and our guns
continued to fire on arranged targets. The only additional casualty was
that of an officer of A Battery, who had had a piece of his ear chipped
off by a splinter, and had gone to a dressing station. The news from B
Battery aroused much more interest. An 8-inch shell had landed right on
top of their dug-out mess. No one was inside at the time, but three
officers, who were wont to sleep there, had had every article of kit
destroyed. One subaltern who, in spite of the PREPARE FOR ATTACK
notification, had put on pyjamas, was left with exactly what he stood
up inviz., pyjamas, British warm, and gum-boots.
11 A.M.: The colonel had spoken more than once about the latest
situation to the brigade-major of the Infantry Brigade we were
covering, and to our own brigade-major. The staff captain had rung me
up about the return of dirty underclothing of men visiting the
Divisional Baths; there was a base paymaster's query regarding the
Imprest Account which I had answered; a batch of Corps and Divisional
routine orders had come in, notifying the next visits of the field
cashier, emphasising the need for saving dripping, and demanding
information as to the alleged damage done to the bark of certain trees
by our more frolicsome horses. Another official envelope I opened
showed that Records were worrying whether a particular regimental
sergeant-major was an acting or a temporary sergeant-major.
The doctor and the signalling officer had gone forward to visit the
batteries. Hostile shelling seemed to have died out. The mist was
denser than evera weather phenomenon that continued to puzzle.
The telephone bell tinkled again; the colonel turned from the big
map-board on the wall and took up the receiver. Col.
speaking!Yes!Have they?Sorry to hear that!Umph!No! no signs
of an attack on our front. Let me know any further
He looked towards me and said briefly, The Boche infantry have got
over on our left! Came through the mist! I'm afraid the rd (our
companion Field Artillery Brigade) have caught it badly. Two of their
batteries have lost all their guns. Get me the brigade-major of the
Brigadeturning to the telephone again.
He told the brigade-major of the Infantry we were covering the news
of the break on the left. No, our infantry had not yet been attacked;
but up in the front it was difficult to see anything in the mist.
The colonel studied his wall-map with intentness, and put a
forefinger on the rd Brigade gun positions. If he's through there we
can expect him in (naming a village of great strategical
importance) in a couple of hours.
A runner came in from C Battery, with whom we had had no
communication for nearly two hours. The Huns seemed to know their
position, and had put over a regular fusilade of 4·2's and 5·9's and
gas-shells. The duck-board running outside the dug-outs behind the guns
had had six direct hits, and two of the dug-outs were blown in, also
No. 2 gun had had its off-wheel smashed by a splinter; two men rather
For an hour there was no further news, and, assisted by my two
clerks, I proceeded peacefully with the ordinary routine work of the
adjutant's department. The doctor came back and said that A Battery
were all right, but could not get communication with their F.O.O., not
even by lamp. The 8-inch shell had made very short work of B Battery's
mess. Poor old Drake, went on the doctor, he'd got a new pair of
cavalry twill breeches, cost him £5, 10s., and he'd never even worn
them. They came by parcel yesterday, and the fools at the waggon line
sent them up last night. Bliss, he added, had stayed with B Battery,
and was trying to get the line through between A and B, so that
Headquarters could speak to A.
I strolled over to the other side of the quarry where the colonel's,
the doctor's, and my horses were under cover, and found they had not
been troubled by the gas. The men were at dinner; we were to lunch at
12.40 P.M.: The colonel was again speaking to the Infantry
brigade-major. Still no signs of the German infantry in our front line.
Then in one swift moment the whole situation changed. A sweating,
staggering gunner blundered into the doorway. He made no pretence at
saluting, but called out with all his strength: The Boche is through.
Who is that man? demanded the colonel, whipping round like
lightning, and frowning. Bring him here! Who do you belong to?
The man had calmed; but before he could reply there was another
interruption. A strained voice outside shouted, Is the colonel there?
Is the adjutant there? Hurrying through the doorway, I saw a tall,
perspiring, hatless young subaltern, cursing because he had got
entangled in the guy-ropes of some camouflage netting posts. It was
Hetherton of C Battery.
The colonel came outside. The Huns came on us in the mist, sir,
panted Hetherton, out of the wood. They've killed Dawson, sir. His
voice brokeand some of the others. There were only four of us got
away. I came on to tell you. He stopped and breathed hard.
The colonel looked stern, but his voice was smooth and collected.
That's all right, he said, almost soothingly. You cut off with your
party and report to the retiring position.
The young man looked dazed, but saluted, and was moving off when the
colonel caught him by the arm. Come and have a drink, Hetherton,
before going on, he said; it'll do you good.
No, thank you, sir, replied Hetherton, and this time he saluted
with body as erect and arm as taut as if on parade. In another second
he had vanished.
There was tense silence as the colonel seized the telephone.
Put me through to B Battery, he said. Turning towards me, he
added: Turn out all the men not on telephone duty to take post on the
top of the quarry.
I slipped out and passed the order to the sergeant in charge of the
signallers, roused up the servants, and saw that each man had his
Now, Duncombe, I said to the left-handed orderly who had beaten
the infantry crack shot a few days before, you may have a chance to
see if your eye is in to-day.
When I got back to the mess, I learned that the infantry had news
that the Boche was coming over the crest towards our battle positions.
The major commanding B Battery had told the colonel that his battery
and A had the enemy in full view, and were firing with open sights. We
are killing hundreds of 'em, sir, he had reported with delightful
One sharp outburst from the colonel. As he came outside to see if
our twenty-odd men were placed in the best positions for defending the
quarry, he looked across and noted that the officers' chargers were
saddled up, and that the grooms were leading them on to the road above.
Stop those horses! he called out angrily. Who gave orders for
them to leave? Have my horses unsaddled at once. There's always some
damn fellow who does a stupid thing like that and puts the wind up
The situation was really saved by the adjutant's new charger, which,
startled by an overcoat the groom had flung over him, began the best
exhibition of bucking he had given since he joined us. As he was in the
lead, and access to the road was by a narrow closed-in track, no one
could get by him.
The grooms in a shamefaced way protested that some one had passed
the Saddle-up order, and had a few hectic stinging words addressed to
them. Apparently a mounted orderly, galloping past with a message, had
shouted out something about the enemy being close behind.
The incident being closed, the colonel and myself strapped on belts
and revolvers. The colonel glanced swiftly at the map position of the
battery that the approaching Huns had scuppered, and then said
Whatever happens, we shall have time for something to eat. Tell
Manning to bring in lunch.
III. THE END OF A BATTERY.
We none of us exactly enjoyed that lunch. It was a nice lunch, too:
the steak cut thin, like steak à la minute, and not overdone,
with crisp onion sprigsbristled onions the cook always called them;
and, wonder of wonders! a pudding made by cribbing our bread allowance,
with plum jam and a few strips of macaroni to spice it up. But the
thought that the Boche had scuppered C Battery not a thousand yards
away, and was coming on, did not improve the appetite. And news
of what was really happening was so scant and so indefinite! The
colonel commented once on the tenderness of the steak, and then looked
thoughtful; the doctor remained dumb; for myself, I felt keyed up to
the state that seems to clear the mind and to make one doubly alert in
execution, but my hand did perhaps shake a trifle, and I drank two
whiskies instead of my usual one. I thought of one or two things I
ought to have done and had left undone. I remember feeling distinctly
annoyed because a particular hair lotion on its way from England might
not be delivered. I made sure that a certain discoloured Edward and
Alexandra Coronation medalgiven me for luckwas secure in my
pocket-book, and stuffed my breast-pockets with all the cigars they
Lunch was finished in about eight minutes, and the imperturbable
Manning cleared away.
What about these Defence File papers and the maps on the wall,
sir? I asked the colonel, my mind harking back to newspaper accounts
of German strategic documents captured by us in some of our advances.
Tear them up and put them on the fire. We won't destroy this
mappointing to a neat and graphic piece of coloured draughtsmanship
showing infantry and artillery dispositionsuntil we have to.
I got to work, and the fire crackled joyously. Don't say we shall
have to leave these to the Hun, doctor! I said in shocked tones,
picking up four copies of his adored 'Saturday Evening Post.'
The doctor smiled vaguely, but answered nothing.
Hostile shelling had ceased in our neighbourhood. The sound our ears
waited for was the puttputtrputt of machine-guns, always the
indication of a near infantry attack. I went out and made sure that the
look-outs at both ends of the quarry were doing their work, and found
our little Headquarters army, twenty-five men all told, quiet and
steady, and ready for the moment, should it come.
Half an hour slipped by. We spoke on the telephone to D Battery, who
were on high ground. No, they could see no wave of German infantry
approaching; but Bullivant, B Battery's major, who for the time being
was commanding C Battery's rear uncaptured guns as well as his own rear
and forward 18-pounders, said Huns were coming up en masse from
the south-west. My guns are firing at them, and A's forward guns are
shootin' as well, he went on. No! I have seen nothing of our
infantry, but observation is still bad; pockets of mist still about.
About Bliss (the signalling officer who had gone out in the morning
and not returned). Oh! he stayed some time at our forward position and
then said he was going to get over to A Battery to see why they were
cut off from communication. A lot of 4·2's were coming over at the
time, and there were snipers about. He had to duck three or four times
on the way and then disappeared from view.
Dumble, captain of A Battery, who had come up from the waggon line,
dropped in and hurried off, saying he was going forward to see if he
could get anywhere near the Battery.
3 P.M.: No further developments. I'm going over to see General
, announced the colonel, naming the brigadier-general commanding
the Infantry Brigade we were covering.
Five minutes later the adjutant of an infantry battalion on our left
rang through and told me that large numbers of Germans were over the
crest and advancing towards what the map showed me was our A Battery's
forward positions. I put A Battery's rear position guns to fire on them
by the map, and guessed that the Battery's forward guns would be hard
at it already.
The colonel came back from the Infantry Brigade, quiet and
self-possessed as ever. Defence in depth means forces more scattered,
and greater difficulty in keeping up communication, he remarked,
taking a chair and lighting a cigarette. As far as can be gathered,
the situation is this: The Boche got through in force on our left and
the th Division gave way. That bared our own Division's left flank,
and is the reason why the rd Brigade had such a bad time and lost so
many guns. The enemy is still coming on; and he's doing too well, also
against the th Division on our right. Our own people say he has
worked past their outposts, but that so far as is known they are
holding out. The main battle positions are still safe, and a
counter-attack is being arranged. No news at all of what is happening
farther north! This was the longest speech the colonel made on that
21st of March.
4 P.M.: I telephoned to the regimental sergeant-major and told him
to come up with the mess cart and the G.S. waggon for remaining kit,
and ordered the servants to pack up. Twenty minutes later Dumble
returned, dusty and dispirited.
Well, Dumble, what news? inquired the colonel quickly.
I couldn't get to the Battery, sirthe enemy are round it, between
it and our infantry, began Dumble in cut-up tones.
The nearest I got was in a trench held by the 7th Westshires. An
officer told me that an advanced party of the enemy came over the crest
about 12.30. They fired Very lights in response to a Hun contact plane
that flew towards the switch-trench leading N.E. towards the battery.
By 2 o'clock more enemy infantry were coming from the south, apparently
to join up with the advanced party who had sat tight. Both A and B
Batteries fired on this new body, and they seemed to me dispersed. But
by half-past three, while I was there, Germans in small parties were
crawling through the wire in front of A Battery, and getting into our
He paused and wiped his streaming face with his handkerchief.
What were our infantry doing? the colonel interrogated.
There were only small parties of them, sir, and very scattered,
went on Dumble. The officer and myself, with a dozen men, got along a
trench to within thirty yards of some Huns and fired on them. But
another party, from almost behind us, came along and bombed us back. We
had two killed and brought one wounded man back with us. Another lot
came up on our left and we had to move farther back.
Was the battery still firing when you came away? demanded the
Yes, sir, firing well, but mostly on fresh parties of Boche eight
hundred yards away.
A knock at the door, and the entrance of a quick-eyed dapper
bombardier from the very battery talked of prevented Dumble continuing.
From Major Harville, sir, he said, saluting.
Just a slip from an Army Book 136, in Harville's neat cramped
handwriting. And the message itself was formal enough: a plain bald
statement of a situation that contained heroism, drama, a fight against
oddsdespair, probably, were the truth known; but despair crowned with
the halo of glory and self-sacrifice. The message ran
I have fired 2200 rounds, and have only 200 rounds left. My
S.A.A. for Lewis guns and rifles is also running short. Can
ammunition be sent up immediately, please?
The enemy has got through the wire in front of the battery, and
is now on two sides of us. If the infantry can assist we can
hold out until dark, when I will retire to rear position.
The note was timed 3.40 P.M. It was now 4.30 P.M. The colonel was
never more collected or more rapid in acting than at this moment. In
two minutes he had spoken to the Infantry brigadier, and asked whether
immediate assistance could not be sent. Then he wrote this note to
Your message timed 3.40 P.M. received at 4.30 P.M.
Hold on: you are doing splendidly, and counter-attacks are
Teams with limbers to withdraw your guns to rear position by 8
P.M. are being sent for.
I hope the counter-attack is in time, he said to me with a certain
sad thoughtfulness before handing the note to the bombardier. Do you
think you can get back to the battery, bombardier? he added. I'm
afraid you'll find more Boche there now.
I'll try, sir, replied the bombardier stoutly.
Off you go then, but be careful!
In the period of waiting that followed we seemed to have forgotten
that three hours ago we were expecting every minute to have to turn out
and face the Boche with rifle and revolver. Save for the colonel and
two or three of the signallers and a couple of servants, none of us
were experienced soldiers; all our previous experience had been in
attack; it was something new this feeling that a powerful, energetic,
determined foe was beating down our opposition and getting nearer and
nearer. Yet, whatever they may have felt, not one of our little band
showed signs of depression or nervous excitement. The
signalling-sergeant was cursing the sanitary orderly for not having
cleared up a particular litter of tins and empty cigarette packets; the
officers' cook was peeling potatoes for dinner, and I heard the old
wheeler singing softly to himself some stupid, old-time, music-hall
In the mess no one spoke a word, but each of us knew that our one
thought was whether A battery would be able to hold out.
5.30 P.M.: The answer, a grim and saddening one. A sergeant came
They've captured the battery, sir, he said bluntly, and Major
Harville is killed. I came to report, sir. I was the only one to get
I think sometimes of famous cases of tragedy and passion I have
heard unfolded at the Old Bailey and the Law Courts, and the intense,
almost theatrical atmosphere surrounding them, and compare it to the
simple setting of this story, told in matter-of-fact tones by a
sergeant standing to attention. We finished all our ammunition, sir,
he began, addressing the colonel, and took our rifles. Major Harville
was shot by a machine-gun while he was detailing us to defend the two
gun-pits farthest from the place where the enemy had got past our wire.
He fell into my gun-pit, sir, shot in the head. Mr Dawes, who took
command, said we would keep on with rifles, and Bombardier Clidstone
was doing fine work with his Lewis gun. The Huns didn't seem inclined
to come close, and after a conference in my gun-pit with Mr Bliss, Mr
Dawes asked for a volunteer to try and find the nearest infantry, and
to tell them we'd hold on if they could engage the enemy and prevent
him rushing us. I said I would try, and crawled on my belly, sir,
through the grass to an empty trench. The battery fired several fine
volleys; I heard them for a long time. It was slow work crawling away
without being seen, and when I had got 600 yards and was trying to get
my bearingI don't know what time it was.
Then I noticed that no firing came from the battery. There was no
sound at all for over ten minutes. Then about a hundred Germans rushed
forward and started bombing the gun-pits, and some of our men came up.
I saw about a dozen of them marched off as prisoners.
You are quite sure Major Harville was killed? asked the colonel
Yes, sir; he fell right in my gun-pit.
We all stood silent, looking on the ground. Poor Harville! The
phrase that kept running in my mind was, One of the best, but with a
different meaning to that in which generally it is used. A gallant
upright soul. The very best type of the civilian soldier who fought
this war for England. Before the war a professional man who had given
no thought to fighting: when he became a soldier it was because he
understood thoroughly, and believed in completely, all that for which
he was ready to give his life.
A clean-living, truly religious man too, who loathed loose talk and
swearing, and lived up to his ideals even amid the slime and filth of
war. And his bravery was that of the honest man who fears and yet faces
danger, not the bull-headed heroism of the man who knows no fear.
The sergeant spoke again.
Before I came back here, sir, after the enemy had marched off our
men, B Battery turned their guns on the Germans in A Battery's
Did they? said the colonel, his face lighting up. Splendid!
Yes, sir; they fired well, a hundred rounds, I should think. They
scattered all the Germans, sir: they ran like mad.
We had given up hope of ever hearing again of the two sniping guns
sited just behind the original front line, C's 18-pdr. and D's 4·5 how.
They were at least 2000 yards in front of the ill-fated A Battery, and
must have been captured. What was our surprise then to note the
arrival, at a slow easy walk, of the sergeant of D Battery who had been
in charge of the 4·5 howitzer. He reported that the detachments had
come away safely at 5.45 P.M., and before doing so had spiked both
guns, and so left their enemy useless booty. It was such an orderly
account of action, taken strictly according to drill-book procedure,
that I have pieced it together in this form:
2.30 A.M. A few shells falling.
4.30 A.M. Intense hostile bombardment begun. Officer at O.P.
ordered detachments to man guns.
4.32 A.M. Fired on two targets on orders from O.P.
Noon. Communication with O.P. broke down.
12.30 P.M. Attempt to mend O.P. wire failed, as it was too badly
cut by shell fire.
1 P.M. The sergeant of D Battery went away to try and discover the
situation and to obtain orders.
2 P.M. The sergeant found the men in neighbourhood of O.P. Officer
obviously killed or a prisoner. Enemy troops also along road
leading to battery positions where officers could be found.
Returned to sniping howitzer.
4.30 P.M. The sergeant then endeavoured to get in touch with the
infantry, and to obtain orders from them. He found none of our
own infantry, but a machine-gun officer directed him to hold on
as long as he could. He returned again, and discovering Germans
close to the 18-pdr. and the 4·5 howitzer, ordered the
detachments to open fire on them with rifles. The enemy were
dispersed after ten minutes' shooting.
5.45 P.M. The two detachments came away, first blowing up the 4·5
how. and removing the breech mechanism, dial sight, and sight
clinometer of the 18-pdr. As soon as he had vacated the
the sergeant reported to the machine-gun officer and then to
battery's rear position.
That's the way to carry on war, exclaimed the colonel when the
sergeant had saluted and departed: A stout fellow that!
The reports from Divisional Artillery and from the Infantry Brigade
with whom we were in liaison showed that the Hun was still coming on to
the left and the right of us. Directly in front of us he seemed
quiescent, but our orders were to get over the canal after nightfall.
The colonel dictated orders for the batteries to me, and then said
I want you to get a telephone line out from here over the canal.
The batteries will come into action behind the railway embankment. He
indicated the positions on the map. I'm going to keep an officer at B
Battery's rear O.P. until the last moment, and the line must run from
him to here and thence over the canal to the batteries in their new
positions. You quite understand? I shall stay with General (the
infantry brigadier) and cross the canal with him. Leave me one
telephonist. We'll have dinner and get the kit and the mess cart back
to the waggon lines; and you'd better get your line out immediately
These orders were clear enough. We dined comfortably, and by 8 P.M.
all the waggons, save the mess cart, were ready to move out of the
As I stepped out of the mess to see that arrangements were complete
the regimental sergeant-major approached me, saying: They say the
strong point at (about 600 yards away) has fallen, sir. We're quite
ready to move, sir!
A voice behind me, the colonel's: Put a stop at once to such a
ridiculous, panicky rumour. The next man who repeats it is to be put
Nevertheless, when the telephone bell rang and I went inside the
mess to answer it, the infantry brigade-major's high-pitched voice said
in quick sharp tones: The strong point has just been carried by the
enemy. You'd better be clearing out of your quarry.
IV. THE NIGHT OF MARCH 21
Something that aroused anger, recrimination, and some amusement
occurred during our night evacuation of the quarry. Officers' and men's
kit, the signalling outfit, the doctor's medical stores, and the cook's
stove and kitchen utensils, had been packed. The sergeant-major had a
final hunt round, and then gave the order Walk march! The G.S.
waggon, drawn by six D.A.C. mules, set off at regulation pace, the mess
cart drawn by Minnie, the fat roan, followed with due sedateness; and
then, hang me! if the pole of the Maltese cart didn't snap in two.
Old-soldier resource and much hard swearing failed to make it a
workable vehicle. Worse still, it was this cart that contained the
officers' kit, including the colonel's. It was pitch-dark, and the
advancing enemy not more than a thousand yards away.
I wasn't there at that exact moment, but I believe the
sergeant-major blamed the size of our on leave adjutant's spare kit
for the breakdown. A valise and a half, two bags and a
portmanteauenough for three people, he growled. An attempt was made
to get our kit away by adding to the load on the G.S. waggon, but that
made it altogether too top-heavy; and after ten minutes of sweating and
shouting the sergeant-major told the drivers to move off, leaving the
wrecked Maltese cart and the officers' kit behind. That was how I found
iton the groundwhen, having received final instructions from the
colonel for linking up the batteries by telephone as soon as they took
up new positions on the other side of the canal, I came out of the
mess. The colonel's servant stood by, looking angrily at the abandoned
kit; and the sergeant-major, now on his horse, was saying he would try
to borrow a cart from one of the batteries and get the stuff over the
canal at any rate.
Get away as soon as you can, I interrupted, and bring back the
first cart you unload at the waggon lines. You've got to get the
Maltese cart away as well. Two of the servants will stay behind to help
load up when you return. And look sharp if you don't want the Boche to
be here first.
A squadron of Yeomanry, with picks and shovels, were lining up in
front of the quarry as I came away with three of the signallers. It was
extremely dark, there was a dampness in the air that suggested rain,
some Boche howitzers were firing over our heads across the canal, and a
steady putt-puttr-putt-putt in the direction of the strong point,
that less than half an hour ago had fallen, told of a machine-gun duel
in progress. It was not an inspiriting moment; and over us, like a
pall, lay an atmosphere of doubt and apprehension, that lack of
knowledge of what was really happening only added to.
But at such moments there's nothing so steadying to mind and senses
as something definite to do. Earlier on I had noted marked on a Corps
signalling-map a test-box between the quarry and the canal and another
one along the railway embankment, not far from the retiring positions
assigned to the batteries. If we could find them the labour of laying
an overland telephone wire from the quarry to the opposite side of the
canal would be saved. We set out, got off the roadway, and did a good
deal of floundering about in hedge-bottoms and over waste lands; but
the important thing was that we found both test-boxes, and that the
buried cables we hoped for were there.
10.30 P.M.: I had reeled out my lines alongside the railway from the
test-box to D Battery and to C and A, who, because of the nine guns the
brigade had lost in the morning, had become a composite battery. They
had crossed the canal in comparative quiet and were now laying out
lines of fire by compass bearings. B Battery were coming along to a
spot near the railway farther north, and my signallers were waiting to
connect them up. Things were indeed getting ship-shape again. I had
spoken through to the colonel and put him in touch with his battery
commanders, and to the F.O.O. left at the rearmost O.P. on the eastern
side of the canal. The colonel had issued a night-firing programme just
as if we were in settled positions, and with fresh ammunition arriving
from the original waggon lines the batteries began pooping off with
brisk enthusiasm, their object being, of course, to cover the
retirement of our infantry.
Every one of us had turned out that morning immediately the Hun
bombardment started. No sleep could be looked for that night either;
but there was the morrow, March 22nd, to be reckoned withit might
entail even more wear and tear than the day which was ending; so I sent
back to the waggon lines all but six of the signallers, the brigade
clerks, the two wireless operators, who had nothing whatever to do, and
most of the servants, telling them to get as much sleep as possible.
The colonel's servant was still in the quarry guarding our castaway
kit; my own servant I had stationed on the canal bridge so that he
could report to me as soon as the sergeant-major and the rescuing
waggon hove in sight.
Our discovery of the buried cable running under the canal had a
sequel equally welcome. One of the telephone linemen said he believed
there was another bury on the far side of the railway cutting, and
that it connected with the back areas. The signalling-sergeant and
myself set out on another hunt, and, joy! we discovered, after patient
test calls with a D.III. telephone, that by speaking through two
exchanges we could communicate with our own Divisional H.Q. It was six
hundred yards from the railway cutting, but I could now keep in touch
with the colonel in front, the batteries to right and left of me along
the railway, and the brigadier-general and the brigade-major in rear.
1 A.M.: My work for the moment was complete and I could take it
easy. I stood outside the test-box that had become a sort of Brigade
H.Q. and listened to the waspish crack of our 18-pdrs. sending defiance
to the enemy. The six signallersplus a terrierhad crowded into the
tiny sandbag shelter that protected the test-box. One of them, receiver
to ear, waited for calls, a candle stuck on an inverted mess-tin
shedding sufficient light for the pencilling of messages. The others
sprawled in cramped positions, snuggled one against another for warmth,
and sought sleep. The doings of the Boche seemed more puzzling than
ever. What was happening on the other side of the canal? Five hours ago
he had captured a strong post within 1800 yards of the spot on which I
now stood, and we had no reserve lines of infantry in front of him. Why
this strange quiescence? And then my mind took another turn. What had
become of the sergeant-major with the waggon that was to gather up our
left kit? Why did he take such a long time? I thought bitterly of my
field boots, and the British warm I was beginning to want, and the new
jacket and breeches, all in my valise. Why hadn't I put on my best pair
of leggings to come away in? The Boche would have been welcome to the
older ones I was wearing; besides, they didn't fit so well as the pair
left in the quarry.
The little American doctor suddenly nipped my elbow. I had missed
him during the last two hours. Say, son, he said, come and take a
walk along the line: I've happened on a hut down along there with a
fire in it. Belongs to some sappers. Come and take a warm.
Can't, I replied, shaking my head; I'd like to, but I shall have
to be like the Boy who stood on the Burning Deck to-night. I must stop
on this spot until the colonel comes across.
The doctor toddled off, and I got the telephonist to ring through to
the colonel. The enemy seems to be waiting. He's not troubling our
infantry, he informed me, and then added, Has the kit been got away
from the quarry yet?
I made sure that the telephonist was ringing up each battery every
ten minutes to see that the lines were in working order, and then
climbed up the railway bank and walked over to inquire if the
brigade-major had any news. He hadn't. And try and keep in touch with
us on this line, he added. It's the only way we have at the moment of
speaking to your Brigade.
2 A.M.: The best news of the night. The sergeant-major had crossed
the bridge. Our precious kit would be borne to safety! At 3.15 A.M. he
passed again, triumphant, the Maltese cart in tow as well. Hurrah! Let
the war now proceed!
At 4.30 the colonel telephoned that the infantry brigadier and
himself were about to cross the canal. The telephone wire could be cut,
and I was to meet him at the railway bridge in twenty minutes' time.
The infantry are crossing the canal at six o'clock, he said when
he rode up and called my name through the mist. Batteries will start
to withdraw to their next positions at 6.30. Each battery will withdraw
a section (two guns) at a time; and the last section must not pull out
until the preceding section is in action at the new position. He gave
me the map co-ordinates of the new positions, and rode off to visit the
6 A.M.: Extraordinary, it was to be another rainless hazy morning.
How the weather always assists the Boche! In the grey gloom on top of
the embankment I could see forms movingour own infantry, marching
steadily, neither cheerful nor depressed, just moving, impersonal
forms. What's happened? I asked a subaltern, keeping time with him as
We're going back to Rouez Wood, he answered. The Westshires are
lining up now behind the canal.
Are they going to hold it? I asked.
Don't know, was the reply; only know our orders.
Had many casualties? I asked again.
No! only a few from snipers. We weren't in the counter-attack.
They swung round and passed over the railway bridge, making west. On
the bridge stood a keen-eyed, small-featured sapper major. I talked to
No! he informed me, there's no intention of making a stand here.
We've blown up all the canal bridges except one. A muffled boom! Ah,
there goes the last one. All our infantry are over by now.
A few German 4·2's were coming over now, mostly on the western side
of the railway cutting. They helped to put a bit of ginger into the
withdrawal of the guns. A section of each battery had now pulled out;
the teams walked out, crossing the bridge and heading down the road.
There was no trotting. The batteries went out heads high.
7 A.M.: On the telephone I learned that the last two sections were
waiting the arrival of mounted orderlies to tell them to pull out.
Right! I disconnected the wires, told the signallers to report to B
Battery where I would pick them up, and not to waste time getting
there. Then I sought a copse on the other side of the bridge, where I
knew my horses would be waiting.
The sentry and the sappers who waited to blow up the bridge remained
at their posts silent and still. Forty yards after passing them I was
alone. I stopped in the road and turned to look back. The sun was
breaking through the mist, but it was a mournful landscapedull,
soulless. All at once I felt chilled and tired, and for the first time
my thoughts turned seriously and intently towards what the
newly-arrived day had in store for myself, for the Brigade, for
From the other side of the canal the putt-puttr-putt of
machine-guns! I turned westwards and went in search of my horses.
V. A GUNNER'S V.C.
Not even on this twenty-second of March did we realise fully the
vast conception and the extent of the German swoop, and that our
Brigade was as jetsam and as flotsam carried along on the mightiest
part of the storm flood.
7.30 A.M.: The last sections of our batteries to pull out from
behind the railway embankment passed me on the road, the horses walking
grandly, the men tired but in high enough spirits. The enemy long-range
guns were waking up now and playing a damnable tattoo on the main
routes leading west. I saw one limber-waggon belonging to the Engineers
blown sky-high, and three maimed horses had to be shot.
At the cross-roads east of the wood behind which the batteries were
retiring I came upon the colonel, his overcoat buttoned up, his face
pallid with sleeplessness; but his mood was one for overriding
difficulties. He rode beside me awhile, and then pulled up, exclaiming,
Let's have a cup of tea to start the day with. Laneridgeto his
groombring my Thermos flask.
The first thing for you to do, he went on, as we drank tea and
munched ration biscuits, a few of which wise folk always slip into
their pockets when things are a-doing out here, is to get wires out to
the batteries again. Headquarters will be at Rouez. Division have gone
back to where Corps were yesterday, and we take over their
What's the view of things at Infantry Headquarters, sir? I asked
as we mounted again.
Well, they blame the mist for the enemy getting past the outposts.
Most of the machine-guns they camouflaged with so much trouble never
came into the picture. But for some reason or other the Boche didn't
follow up. Perhaps he was waiting for reserves, or perhaps he got
suspicious. Our infantry didn't suffer many casualties, and I'm sure
the enemy didn't. We retired according to schedule time, and things
were quite quiet when I crossed the canal at four o'clock this morning.
Extraordinary attitude of mind some of the men out here nowadays
have, he proceeded. Last night they brought in one of the 's, who
was captured by the Boche in the morning but escaped and got back to
the battalion. He said that the enemy set prisoners bringing ammunition
up to their front line. When he was asked how he escaped, he said that
a shell killed 'the man-in-charge' of the party and he got away. 'The
man-in-charge,' repeated the colonel. He spoke as if the Boche N.C.O.
were a sort of foreman, and as if bringing up ammunition which was to
be shot at your own countrymen was the most ordinary thing in the
Two high-velocity shells whizzed above our heads, and the colonel's
mare plunged excitedly. The enemy were evidently stoking up for a
fresh effort. We trotted on and toured the batteries, the colonel
inspecting the O.P.'s from which our fire was to be directed, and
ascertaining whether there was difficulty in keeping ammunition supply
up to 300 rounds per gun. When we reached the Brigade Headquarters
horse lines, I instructed the sergeant-major to turn out the telephone
waggon in readiness to lay lines to the new battery positions. Then
breakfaststeaming tea and sizzling fried eggs and bacon cooked to the
minute. Nothing like being out all night for galvanising the breakfast
appetite. And no time for lingering afterwards. A canter along the
roadside to catch up the telephone cart; then, while the
signalling-sergeant, a good fellow who could read a map, reeled out
lines through the wood to the batteries, I undertook a tussle with the
terminal boards in the huge and elaborate dug-out telephone exchange,
that up to 5 A.M. had been the chief exchange of the whole Division.
Now that Divisional Headquarters had been established where Corps
Headquarters had been the day before, four miles back, there had to be
a re-allotment of lines to Infantry, Artillery, Engineers, A.S.C., and
the other units that work out the will of the Divisional Commander.
I'll get young Bushman down from B Battery to do signalling-officer
to-morrow. It will be difficult for you to do adjutant and
signalling-officer as well, remarked the colonel two hours later, as
he bent over his maps.
3 P.M.: A R.H.A. brigade had put in a claim for the quarters
destined for us. Three days ago this would have resulted in polite
recrimination and telephoned appeals to higher authorities, but to-day,
such is the effect of mobile warfare, we all managed to dig in somehow.
A decent hut for the colonel had been found, and there was a room in a
bomb-mauled cottage, where the doctor, Swiffy, the veterinary
officer, and myself hoped to spread our camp-beds. We had shaved and
washed and lunched, and looked and felt respectable again. The C.R.A.
and the brigade-major had called and gone off with the colonel to see
the batteries shoot. I had forwarded by despatch-rider the Brigade
return of casualties to the staff captain, so that reinforcements might
be applied for forthwith. A French pointer of confiding disposition,
who came into the mess from nowhere in particular, seemed quite to have
made up his mind that we were come to stay.
The telephone bell! The brigade-major of our companion Infantry
Brigade, with the latest news! He's not crossed the canal on our front
yet, and your guns are doing good work keeping him back. But he's got
farther forward than we expected north of us. It's from the south that
we want more news. There's a report that we have been pushed out of
Tergnier. That's very bad, if true.
A quarter of an hour later he rang up again. There's a report that
enemy infantry are massing in Z 23 d 5.8. Can you turn your guns on to
'em? I looked at the map co-ordinates he had given, and rang through
to the batteries.
4.30 P.M.: Pretty definite signs now that the enemy was coming on. A
5·9 had made a hole a hundred yards from where Headquarter horse lines
had been staked out. Another had crashed among the trees that sheltered
our mess, and a branch, after being jerked yards high in the air, had
fallen plunk through the cook's bed. And they were not long-range
shells either. Also, there had been seven shots from the most wicked,
the most unsettling weapon in the Hun armourythe 4·2 high-velocity
gun, that you don't hear until it is past you, so to speak. One shell
grazed the top of the office in which the doctor and myself were
sitting; another snapped off a tree-trunk likewell, as a 4·2 does
snap off a tree-trunk. Most ominous sign of allwhen the seven shots
had been fired, three ugly-looking holes ringed themselves round the
colonel's hut. Next, a Hun aeroplane, with irritating sauciness,
circled above our camp, not more than five hundred feet up. Our
Archies made a lot of noise, and enjoyed their customary success: the
Hun airman sailed calmly back to his own lines.
6 P.M.: The adjutant of the R.H.A. Brigade came in to tell me that
the enemy were getting closer, and that the break-through on our right
admitted of no doubt. I despatched written orders to the battery waggon
lines for gun teams and limbers to be brought up to within a thousand
yards of the guns.
7 P.M.: The colonel was back. A battery that had only reached France
three days before had been put under his command, to compensate for the
loss of seven guns from A and C batteries. It was getting dark, but the
officers at the O.P.'s in front of the wood were still able to pick up
moving targets, and many Germans were being accounted for.
The colonel found time to mention more episodes of the March
Twenty-first fighting. Every bridge over the canal was blown up by
6.30 this morning, he said; but, do you know that D Battery's cook,
who had got left behind last night, and seems to have wandered about a
good deal, did not come over until nine o'clock this morning? No wonder
we retired in comfort.
The brigadier had told him more of what had happened to the rd,
our companion Divisional Artillery Brigade. Their C Battery put up a
wonderful fightgot infantry and trench mortars to help, and didn't
come away until 10 P.M., after putting their guns out of action. One
gunner did extraordinarily stout work. Unaided, and with a rifle, he
held up a Boche machine-gun party that had worked round on the
battery's left flank, and later, with three others, captured the
machine-gun. One Boche, who broke through, he chased over half the
country apparently, and shot him down. The amusing thing is that when
he had killed the Boche he searched his pockets, and found a cake,
addressed to a bombardier in another battery. The Huns had scuppered
this battery and ransacked their dug-outs. The bombardier was somewhat
surprised last night when the gunner handed him his lost cake.
This was a gunner who eventually was awarded the highest honour a
soldier can win.
8 P.M.: A dinner much disturbed by German artillery. They started a
tremendous shelling of the wood in which we were encamped. Salvos of
5·9's made deafening crashes among the trees, and the earth was shaken
by the heavier, more awe-inspiring crump of the 8-inch how. There was
now, too, a steady bombardment of Villequier Aumont, the village, a
mile and a half behind, in which the battery waggon lines had been
The colonel came to a rapid decision. They'll make Villequier
Aumont and the wood too hot for waggon lines to-night, he remarked.
We'll move them at once to the other side of Villequier Aumont. Dump
them on the roadside. You'd better go and see it carried out. Leave me
two cycle orderlies, and I'll stay with the Infantry Brigade. They have
a mined dug-out here.
So, for the second time in twenty-four hours, we did a night
retirement. Infantry were coming back along the road, and big shells
were falling at regular intervals.
Any amount of retreating traffic on the other side of Villequier
Aumont, but no signs of panic or confusion. A block caused by supply
lorries coming from the opposite direction threatened to hold up some
ambulance cars, but it was only momentary. Our little American doctor
did good work here, galloping off to halt the supply lorries and
raising Cain until the traffic sorted itself out.
I selected a field near the roadside for Headquarter waggon lines. A
stream ran conveniently by. The horses were watered and fed; our
Headquarter notice-board was duly affixed to a roadside tree; and the
doctor added to his previous achievement by tying a tarpaulin to the
side of the mess cart, so that Swiffy, the doctor himself, and myself
had shelter when we lay down.
The moon rose glorious, serene; there was no need for candles to
light us to bed. We slept heavily, too tired to worry about the morrow,
or the menacing drone of Hun 'planes overhead.
VI. BEHIND VILLEQUIER AUMONT
I have tried to explain how this flood-burst of moving war, such as
the world had never before seen, affected one unit of the R.F.A., and
one unimportant civilian soldier who was doing adjutant; how the
immensity and swift thoroughness of the German effort must have been
realised by the casual newspaper reader in England more quickly than by
the average officer or man who had to fight against it.
5.30 A.M.: That six hours' sleep under a tarpaulin did me all the
good in the world, and by 5 A.M. I was out seeing that our Headquarter
horses were being groomed and fed and got ready for immediate action.
The guns were particularly quiet, and I remember thinking: we have
retreated eight miles in forty-eight hoursit's about time we stopped.
Something is sure to be doing farther north, where we are so much
Breakfast and a shave; then a move forward to find the colonel, and
to learn whether he wanted the waggon lines brought up again. It was a
lovely morning. A beautiful stretch of meadowland skirted the road
leading back to Villequier Aumont, and my horse cantered as if the
buoyancy of spring possessed him also. I caught up Fentiman of D
Battery, who said he was shifting his waggon lines back to Villequier
Aumont. The water and the standings are so much better there, he
I found the colonel standing in the square at Villequier Aumont,
watching the departure by car of the three American ladies who for a
month past had dispensed tea and cakes in the gaily-painted maisonette
at the top of the village. They had been the first harbingers of the
approaching brotherhood between the British and American Armies in this
part of the Front: brave hospitable women, they had made many friends.
The colonel was not in such good mood this morning. He had remained
through the night with the infantry brigadier in the wood from which
our horse lines had withdrawn the previous evening. The dug-out was
none too large, and his only rest had been a cramped four hours trying
to sleep on the floor. With no rest at all the night before, no wonder
he looked fagged. But immediately there were orders to give, he became
his usual alert, clear-headed self. It is most important this morning
that we should keep communication with our Divisional Artillery
Headquarters, he began. Bring the telephone cart back to the wood at
once, and put a couple of telephonists into the dug-out. They'll be
safe there until the last possible moment. It's uncertain yet whether
we're going to hold the enemy up there or not.
I galloped back and brought the telephone cart along at a trot. The
two wheelers, particularly the doctor's mare, stepped out in most
refreshing style. The old cart's never had such a day since it's been
to France, grinned the signalling-sergeant when we pulled up. Odd
5·9's were falling in the wood; our batteries had shifted in the early
morning from the eastern side of the wood to positions more north-west,
and two Horse Artillery batteries were moving up behind the rise that
protected our right flank. But what was this? Coming up at a steady
march, bayonets glinting, a long column of blue-grey wound into view.
French infantry! The thin line of khaki was at last to receive support!
7 A.M.: The Infantry battle was now developing sharply two thousand
yards in front of us. Shells crashed persistently into the wood; the
putt-puttr-putt of machine-guns rattled out ceaselessly....
Whimsically I recalled quieter days on the Somme, when our
machine-gunners used to loose off seven rounds in such a way as to give
a very passable imitation of that popular comic-song tag,
Umtiddy-om-pomPom-pom! After three attempts we had given up trying
to keep telephone touch with the batteries, and I had detailed mounted
orderlies to be in readiness. One line I kept going, though, between
the hut where the infantry brigadier and his brigade-major and the
colonel received messages describing the progress of the fighting, and
the telephone dug-out, whence the colonel could be switched on to the
artillery brigadier. There was bad news of the battery just out from
England that had come under the colonel's command the evening before.
Three of their guns had been smashed by direct hits, and they had lost
horses as well. The Boche were swarming over the canal now, and our A
and C and B Batteries were firing over open sights and cutting up
Germans as they surged towards our trenches.
11 A.M.: Orders from our own brigadier to pull out the guns and
retire to a crest behind Villequier Aumont. I heard the news come along
the telephone wire, and went through the wood to seek further
directions from the colonel. It was evident now that the wood could
only be held at great sacrifice, and by determined hand-to-hand
fighting. The Boche outnumbered us by at least four to one, and French
help had not yet arrived in sufficient strength. I walked behind two
rows of French and British infantry, lying ready in shallow newly-dug
trenches. They looked grave and thoughtful; some of them had removed
their tunics. I remember noting that of four hundred men I passed not
one was talking to his neighbour. I remember noticing a few horses
waiting behind, and motor-cyclist messengers hurriedly arriving and
hurriedly departing. I remember most of all the mournful, desolate
howling of a dog, tied up to one of the now deserted hutsthe poor
friendly French pointer who the day before had snuggled his nose into
my hand. Near the hedge leading to the hut where I should find the
colonel stood a group of infantry officers. One of them, a tall
lieutenant-colonel, I recognised as Colonel who had dined with us
in our mess in the quarry a few nights before the offensive started.
His head was heavily bandaged. I learned some days afterwards that he
had been wounded while leading a company of his battalion in a
counter-attack; and that not long after I passed him that morning in
the wood he reorganised and exhorted his men, facing terrific rifle and
machine-gun fireand indeed showed such glorious and inspiring courage
that he gained the Victoria Cross.
1 P.M.: The mounted orderlies had delivered orders to the batteries
to retire, and D Battery was already trekking along the road the other
side of Villequier Aumont. Machine-gun fire in the wood we had left was
hotter than ever. And the German guns were moving up, as could be told
when long-range efforts began to be made on the villages behind
Villequier Aumont. Half a dozen high-velocity shells struck the road we
had traversed, one of them knocking out a Horse Artillery waggon and
three horses. Two other horses had to be shot, and the sixth bolted.
From the markings on a good horse that I found tied to our own lines
later in the day, I concluded that the runaway had strayed in our
direction; and in the matter of strayed horsesgood horses, that
isthe sergeant-major always worked on the principle, It's all in the
same firm. At any rate, we had a valuable spare horse for the trying
march that followed.
2.30 P.M.: The colonel had selected the new positions for the
batteries, and two of them were already in. While we waited the arrival
of the others, we flung ourselves down in a hay-field and watched the
now continuous stream of men, batteries, transport lorries, and
ambulance cars coming up the hill leading from Villequier Aumont, and
toiling past us towards Ugny. There was no doubting it now: it was a
retreat on a big scale.
All round us were rolling fields, rich of soil, and tilled and
tended with that French care and thoroughness that the war has
intensified. Even small irregular patches at road-crossings have been
cultivated for the precious grain these last two years. The Boche will
get all this, curse him! muttered the colonel.
Major Bullivant of B Battery came over the hill on the pet grey mare
that, in spite of three changes from one Division to another, he had
managed to keep with him all the time he had been in France. He didn't
dismount in drill-book fashion; he just fell off. It was spirit, not
physique, that was keeping him going. Unshaven, wild-eyed, dirty, he
probably didn't know it. His mind centred on nothing but the business
in hand. My battery is coming through Villequier Aumont now, sir, he
informed the colonel. For a few minutes I was afraid we weren't going
to get out. My damn fool of a sergeant-major, for some reason or other,
took the gun-teams back to the waggon lines this morning. Said he was
going to change them and bring fresh teams up after breakfast or
something. When Beadle came up with the teams we were under machine-gun
fire. Got one man killed and three wounded, and we have a few scratches
on the shields.... If I don't get up, sir, I shall fall fast asleep,
he exclaimed suddenly. Where are our new positions, sir?
The colonel handed him his flask, and he smiled. As a matter of
fact, sir, I've kept going on ration rum.
When the colonel and Major Bullivant went off, up rode Beadle in an
extraordinary get-up: British warm, gum-boots, and pyjamas. He had been
able to get no change since the Boche 8-inch had wiped out B Battery's
mess at the opening of the Hun bombardment on the 21st. It was an
amazing thing, but neither of us had remembered to eat anything since
breakfast until that moment. The day's excitements had caused us to
ignore time altogether, and to forget hunger. But Beadle's tired grin
brought me back to such worldly matters, and we fell to on a tin of
bully and a hunk of cheese that the signalling-sergeant discovered for
They say we've done jolly well up north, said Beadle, his mouth
full. Got as far as Cambrai, and 25,000 prisoners taken at Ypres.
Who told you that? I asked, at the same time ready to believe. Did
not this entirely support my belief of the early morning? Certainly we
must be doing something up north!
I heard it at the waggon lines, went on Beadle. They say it's in
The line of retreating traffic and of loaded ambulance cars in front
of us maintained its monotonous length. But the retirement continued to
be orderly and under full control, although now and again a block in
the next village kept the main road lined with immobile horses and men,
while high-velocity shells, directed at the road, whizzed viciously to
right and left of them. One kilted Scot passed us leading a young cow.
He paid no heed to the jests and the noisy whistling of To be a
Farmer's Boy that greeted him. The milk 'ull be a' richt the morn's
morn, ye ken, was his comfortable retort. And once a red-headed
Yorkshireman broke the strain of the wait under shell-fire by calling
out, It's a good job we're winnin'!
The colonel came back after showing Major Bullivant his new battery
position, and told me to ride off at once to Ugny, where Divisional
Artillery Headquarters had stationed themselves, and inform the staff
captain that the ammunition dump on the roadside contained no
ammunition. Find out something definite, he ordered.
D.A. had settled themselves in two rooms in a deserted house, and
the staff captain quickly sketched out the arrangements he had made for
ammunition supply. A Divisional ammunition column is too cumbersome
for this moving warfare, he said, and your Brigade will be supplied
by No. 1 section acting as B.A.C. There's an ammunition park at ,
and if you will supply guides here (pointing to the map) at 6.30
to-night, your B.A.C. will supply direct to your waggon lines. And that
arrangement will continue so long as we are conducting this sort of
warfare. Is that clear?... Right!
As I was about to depart, in came the brigade-major, who had been in
consultation with the brigadier-general. Ah, , he said, calling
me by name, you can give me some information. Is the colonel far
He's with the batteries, sir, giving them targets from their new
Right! Can you tell me how many guns you have in action now?
I was able to do this, and also told him where our batteries were
going to establish waggon lines for the night.
That won't do, he interrupted; you'll be too far north. The Boche
is coming down that main road. You'd better tell the colonel that any
further retirement must be south-west, because the Boche is pinching us
on our left. I'll show you the line as it runs at present. I've just
We bent over his large-scale map, and I copied the curved line on to
my own map. The French are properly in now, added the brigade-major,
and we are going to fight for that line. There's to be no more
Is it true, sir, that we've done well up north? Most encouraging
rumours flying round.
I don't know, he replied with a tired smile. I hope so.
A smile and a cheering word from the General, who said, I've just
seen the colonel, and I've put two of your batteries farther forward.
They'll help to hold Villequier Aumont a bit longer. Then outside I
met Beadle, and gave him the time and place where battery guides had to
meet the B.A.C. ammunition waggons, and sent off my groom to convey
this information officially to all the battery waggon lines. After
which I cantered back, and discovered the colonel inspecting the two
batteries that the General had moved to more forward positions.
It was 6 P.M., and the enemy advance machine-gun parties were now
certainly closing in on Villequier Aumont, which lay in the hollow
beneath us. But I shall always remember the handling of our composite A
and C batteries on that occasion. It so exactly fulfilled drill-book
requirements, it might all have been done on parade. The noses of the
four 18-pdrs. peeped out from under a clump of beeches, close to a pond
under the brow of a hill. Dumble had climbed to the top of a tower
three-quarters of a mile from the battery, and directed the shooting
from the end of a roughly laid telephone wire. He reported only
fleeting glimpses of Huns, but could guess pretty well the spots at
which they were congregating, and issued his orders accordingly. Young
Eames, the officer passing the orders to the gunners, stood very
upright, close to the battery telephonist, and let his voice ring out
in crisp staccato tones that would have won him full marks at Larkhill
or Shoeburyness: Aiming point top of tower. All guns ... Four 0
degrees Right.... Concentrate Two 0 minutes on Number One.... Corrector
152.... Why didn't you shout out your Fuze Number 3?... Three
Two-fiftyTwo Nine-fifty.... Will you acknowledge orders, Sergeant
The colonel, who was standing well behind Eames, smiled and said to
me, Good young officer that. If he keeps as cool all the time, the
battery ought to shoot well.
Hun aeroplanes were beginning to come over. Trench war customs had
made it almost axiomatic that firing should cease when enemy aircraft
appeared. Three times the battery stopped firing at the cry, Aeroplane
The colonel intervened. Don't stop because of aeroplanes now, he
said sharply. We're fighting moving warfare, and the enemy haven't
time to concentrate all their attention on this battery.
7 P.M.: The colonel and I walked slowly back to the roadway. I've
sent back to Bushman, and told him to bring Headquarters waggon lines
up here, he said. They are too far back the other side of Ugny, and
we're only a small unit: we can move more quickly than a battery. We'll
unhook on the side of that hill there, away from the road. It will be
quite warm to-night, and we can lie down under those trees. ... A
dozen or so 5·9's rushed through the air, and burst with terrifying
ear-racking crashes along the road in front of us. A charred, jagged
rent showed in the wall of a farm building. Three hundred yards farther
along we saw the Headquarter vehicles drawn up on the roadside. The
drivers and the signallers were drinking tea, and seemed to be
preparing to settle for the night in a barn whose lofty doors opened on
to the road. Look at those fellows, ejaculated the colonel testily.
They're never happy unless they can stuff themselves under a roof.
Fetch 'em out, and tell 'em to pull up to the top of that hill there.
As long as you keep away from villages and marked roads you can escape
most of the shelling.
7.30 P.M.: We had tied up the horses, and parked the G.S. waggon and
the telephone and mess carts. Twilight had almost merged into night
now, but the moon was rising, and it was to be another amazingly
lustrous moon. The cook had started a small log-fire to make tea for
the colonel, Bushman, and myself, and after that we intended to lie
down and get some sleep. Swiffy and the doctor seemed to have
disappeared. Must be at one of the battery waggon lines, we concluded.
While tea is getting ready, I'll walk down to D Battery again.
They're pretty close up to the infantry, and I want to make sure they
can get out easily if they have to make a rapid move, remarked the
colonel, and he disappeared over the hill, taking his servant with him.
The kettle had not had time to boil. The colonel had only been away
ten minutes. The tired drivers were unrolling their blankets and
preparing for slumber. Suddenly my ear caught a voice calling up the
hillsidethe colonel'sfollowed twice by the stentorian tones of his
The cry was, Saddle-up!
VII. STILL IN RETREAT
8.15 P.M.: I found that D Battery had moved offgone towards the
other side of Ugny, and A and C were also on the march, explained the
colonel, when Headquarter carts and waggonsparked out for the night
only half an hour beforehad again got under way (taking the road
between Villequier Aumont and Ugny) for the third time during
twenty-two hours. Division got news that the Boche was putting in two
fresh divisions, and intended to attack by moonlight, he added, and
they thought our guns were too close up to be safe; so the
brigade-major hurried down and told the batteries to move back at once.
We turn south-west from Ugny and make for Commenchon, and come into
action there as soon as we get further news from Division. I have sent
out orders to all the batteries, and they are marching to Commenchon
It was a radiant night. The moon rode high in a star-spangled sky;
there was a glow and a sense of beauty in the aira beauty that
exalted soul and mind, and turned one's thoughts to music and
loveliness and home. The dry hard roads glistened white and clean; and
in the silvery light the silhouettes of men marching steadily,
purposefully, took on a certain dignity that the garish sun had not
allowed to be revealed.
Whether we spoke of it or not, each one of us listened expectantly
for the swift-rushing scream of a high-velocity shell, or the
long-drawn sough of an approaching 5·9. This main road, along which our
retreating columns were winding their slow even way, was bound to be
We rode through Ugny, two days ago a Corps H.Q., deserted now save
for the military police, and for odd parties of engineers, signallers,
and stretcher-bearers. Then our way took us down a wide sunken road,
through an undulating countryside that stretched up to remote
pine-tipped hills to right and left of us. A battalion of French
infantry had halted by the roadside; their voices, softer, more tuneful
than those of our men, seemed in keeping with the moonlit scene; and in
their long field-blue coats they somehow seemed bigger, more matured,
than our foot-soldiers.
We had marched five miles when a horseman on a broad-backed black
came towards us. He looked intently at every one he passed as he rode
the length of our column. Is that the adjutant, sir? he asked when he
came level with me; and then, sure of my identity, went on, I've got
our supply waggon with me, sirhalted it at the next cross-roads. I
heard the Brigade was moving, sir, and came to find the best spot to
pick you up. The battery supply waggons will be passing this way in
about half an hour, sir.
Keeping daily touch with your supply column is one of the fine arts
of moving warfare, and the resourceful M'Donald had again proved his
worth. Refilling point, to-morrow, will be at Baboeuf, sir, he added,
and after to-morrow it will be only iron rations. Good forage to-day,
11 P.M.: Brigade Headquarters had pulled into the right of the road
behind B Battery, just outside a village that up to the 21st had been a
sort of rest-village, well behind the lines. Army Ordnance, Army
Service Corps, and battalions out of the line were the only units
represented there, and a fair proportion of the civil population had
re-established itself after the German retreat in the spring of 1917.
Now all was abandoned again, furniture and cattle bundled out, and
houses locked up in the hope that shortly the Boche would be thrust
back and the village re-occupied by its rightful owners.
The colonel had ridden forward with young Bushman to meet the
brigade-major and to settle where the Brigade would camp. More French
infantry passed, going up to the Front by the way we had come back.
Twice, big lasting flares illuminated the sky over there where the
fighting wasstores being burnt to prevent them falling into German
hands, we concluded. Presently, Bushman returned and pointed out a
particular area where Brigade Headquarters could settle down.
The small village green would do for horse lines and for parking our
vehicles. I sent off the sergeant-major to scout for water supply, and
took possession of a newly-roofed barn in which the men might sleep.
There was a roomy shed for the officers' horses and a stone outhouse
for the men's kitchen. Now about a billet for the colonel!
There's a big house at the back, sir, with an artillery mess in
it, said the sergeant-major, who had finished watering and feeding the
horses. Perhaps there's a spare room there for the colonel.
I went round and came upon the officers of a 6-inch how. battery,
who had reached the village two hours before, and were finishing their
evening meal. They offered me dinner, which I refused, and then a
whisky, which I accepted; but there were no spare rooms. They had got
away from the neighbourhood of the canal with the loss of two hows.,
but told me of a 9.2 battery at , that it had been absolutely
impossible to get out. I believe it is true that we've done very well
up north, replied their Irish captain cheerfully. Lots of prisoners
at Ypres, they say.... Have another whisky!
We have one tent, haven't we? I asked the sergeant-major when I
Yes, sir, but there's a cottage where Meddings has put the
officers' cook-house. It looks all right, and there might be something
there for the colonel.
The cottage certainly looked clean and neat from the outside, but
the door was locked, and it is the rule that British troops only enter
French houses with the consent of the owners. However, I climbed
through the window and found two empty rooms each with bed and
mattress. Times were not for picking and choosing. We'll put the tent
up, I decided, and ask the colonel if he cares to take one of these
beds or have the tent. You and I, Bushman, will take what he doesn't
When I took a turn round to see if the men were comfortably settled
for the night, I learnt that the skurried departure of the A.S.C. had
provided them with unexampled opportunity of legitimate loot. There was
one outbuilding crammed with blankets, shirts, socks, and
underwearand our men certainly rose to the occasion. Even the old
wheeler chuckled when he discovered a brand-new saw and a drill. The
sergeant-major fastened on to a gramophone; and that caused me for the
first time to remember my Columbia graphophone that I had loaned to C
Battery before I went home wounded from Zillebeke. Hang it, it must
have been left behind at Villequier Aumont. The Germans had probably
got it by now.
It was half-past twelve before the colonel returned. I'll have my
camp-bed put up there, he said promptly, indicating an airy cart-shed,
and he refused altogether to look at the empty cottage. So Bushman and
I had beds made up in the tent, and then the three of us sat down to a
welcome and memorable al fresco supper opposite our horse lines.
Our table was a door balanced on a tree stump, and Meddings provided a
wonderful Lincolnshire pork-pie. He also managed hot potatoes as an
extra surprise, and as it was our first set meal since 5.30 A.M.
breakfast, there was a period of steady, quiet, happy munching. One
cigarette, then the colonel tucked himself up in his valise, and in
three minutes was deep in his first sleep for three successive nights.
I'll tell you what I'm going to do, I said to Bushman when we got
in our tent. I'm going to take my clothes off and put on pyjamas. You
never know these days when you'll get another chance.
I had pulled off my jacket, when I heard a jingling sound outside
and French voices. Looking out, I saw a couple of troops of French
cavalry picketing their tall leggy horses on the village green. I just
had time to rush out and prevent two troopers stabling their officers'
chargers in the cart-shed where the colonel was resting. They seemed
startled when I whispered that it was mon colonel who lay there, but
they apologised with the politeness of their race, and I pointed out a
much better stable higher up the street.
About 3 A.M. the piquet woke me to introduce an artillery officer
with a Caledonian accent, who asked if I could tell him where a brigade
I knew nothing at all about were quartered in the village. The next
thing I remember was the colonel's servant telling me the colonel was
up and wanted me immediately.
VIII. A LAST FIFTY ROUNDS
5.30 A.M.: No orders have reached me from Division yet, said the
colonel, shaving as he talked, his pocket mirror precariously poised on
a six-inch nail stuck in one of the props that held up the roof of his
cart-shed boudoir. And I'm still waiting for reports from A and D that
they've arrived at the positions I gave them on the orders sent out
last night. I want you to go off and find the batteries. I will wait
here for orders from Division. Have your breakfast first. You'll find
the batteries somewhere along that contour, pointing with the little
finger of the hand that held the safety razor to a 1/100,000th map on
Again I realised as I set out, followed by my groom, that the Boche
had moved forward during the night. The village we had occupied at 11
P.M. was now within range of his guns. Two 5·9's dropped even at that
moment within 200 yards of our horses. Moreover, I hadn't ridden far
along the main street before I met some of our divisional infantry. A
company commander told me that the French had come through and relieved
them. His brigadier had arrived at Commenchon at 4 A.M., and was lying
downin the white house at the corner. The Boche gave us no rest at
all last night, he went on. He'd got two fresh divisions opposite us,
and shoved up thousands of men after ten o'clock. We killed hundreds of
'em, but there was no stopping them. And aren't they hot with the
machine-gun? They must have been specially trained for this sort of
warfare. They snipe you at 700 yards as if the machine-gun were a
rifle, and their infantry hasn't needed a barrage to prepare the way.
There's so many of 'em.
I trotted on, and at the top of the street leading out of the
village recognised a mounted orderly of the battery I had belonged to
before coming to Brigade Headquarters. He was riding hard, but pulled
up when he saw me and handed me a note, saying, Major Bartlett sent me
with this to Brigade Headquarters, sir.
I recognised the brigade-major's handwriting on an ordinary Army
message form. It was a note stating that we were to remain in support
of the French after our own divisional infantry had fallen back, but
that the French Divisional General hoped to relieve our artillery by 9
A.M. We were to fire on certain points until that hour, and then
withdraw to a village still farther south-west, and again co-operate
with our own infantry.
Do you know if Major Bartlett read this? I asked.
Yes, sir; I saw him read it.
Is the battery in action?
Yes, sir; they were firing when I came away.
Good! I knew then that Major Bartlett, on his own initiative, was
acting on the instructions contained in the brigade-major's note, and
that the other batteries would not be delayed in getting into action if
I sent the note direct to the colonel.
I took the orderly another quarter of a mile along the road, so that
he could point out the nearest way to Major Bartlett's battery; and
then told my groom to take him direct to the colonel, after which the
pair of them would rejoin me.
I found the major in good fettle, and, as I had guessed, blazing off
at the targets given by the B.M. As also he had passed on the orders to
B Battery, who were three hundred yards away, we at any rate had two
batteries in action. He explained to me that the Division
despatch-rider had somehow failed to find Brigade Headquarters, but had
come across him. He had got his battery into position at about two
o'clock, and they had dossed down beside the guns.
The major didn't know the whereabouts of D and A Batteries, so I got
on my horse again and searched a village that was farther south, but on
the same map-contour. Judge of my relief when I encountered Fentiman,
who told me that D and A would be along in ten minutes. I emphasised
the need for despatch, and he told me that the previous night his
battery's waggon lines had been taken back farther than they should
have been; the horses being thoroughly done, they had had a proper halt
at midnight. We'll be firing in twenty minutes, he added
optimistically. I'll dash along and work out the targets with Major
A couple of Horse Artillery batteries had come into action a quarter
of a mile behind ours, and shells began to fly in the direction of the
enemy in business-like fashion. From the ridge we looked into a village
that sloped up again to a thick belt of trees three thousand yards in
front of us and to blue distances away on the right. Down the slopes
tiny blue figures could be seen feverishly throwing up earth; parties
of twenty and thirty men, khaki-clad, every now and then emerged from
the wood, and in single file dipped down to the valley and came towards
the village I had just left. The problem would undoubtedly be how far
the retirement would proceed before French reinforcements made the line
massive enough for a proper stand. The colonel was now with the
batteries, checking their lines of fire, and encouraging battery
commanders to do their damnedest until the French artillery came along.
My groom told me that the colonel had had a very narrow escape as he
passed through Commenchon. A shell dropped thirty yards from him, and a
splinter had wounded his mare.
8.30 A.M.: The eternal machine-guns were spluttering devilishly in
the wood opposite. Our infantry were coming back in larger numbers now,
and I thought glumly of what the brigade-major had said the previous
evening, We are going to fight for this line. The colonel had
conferred with the colonel of the Horse Artillery, who said that his
orders were to pull out at 9.15, come what may. The Corps are
particularly anxious that no more guns should be lost. The veterinary
sergeant of a Horse Artillery battery had dressed the colonel's mare,
although she was too excited for him to get the splinter out. I think
she deserves to have a wound stripe up, smiled the colonel, who was
exceedingly fond of her.
9 A.M.: No signs yet of the French artillery. There seemed to be a
curious lull in the fighting. Only the Boche long-range guns were
firing, and their shells were going well over our heads. And no more
French infantry were coming up.
9.20 A.M.: The two Horse Artillery batteries were away. Our teams
and limbers had come up, all except one team of C Battery. We waited
for the colonel to give the word.
Suddenly the chug-chug-chug of a motor-cycle: a despatch-rider
from Division! The colonel tore open the envelope. A Battery ...
Limber-up and retire, he ordered; B and D will follow.
The French artillery has been stopped, he explained shortly. We
are going to make the stand at Béthancourt, three miles farther back.
An officer of C Battery ran across to say that through the
binoculars grey forms could be seen in the belt of trees opposite.
The colonel's eyes gleamed. Got any ammunition left after filling
up the limbers? he asked quickly.
Yes, sirabout fifty rounds.
Right; give it 'em, and then pull out at once.
The officer saluted and hurried off. The colonel lighted a cigarette
and stood under a tree. One of the most difficult things to decide
upon in war, he soliloquised, is to know the exact moment at which to
The sharp crack of C's 18-pdrs. firing fifty rounds as fast as the
guns could be loaded. Then silence. Still no sign of the missing team
of horses. A corporal went by at the gallop to find out what had
The colonel was now on the ridge searching the trees opposite with
his glasses. Three guns had been limbered up. Every other battery had
gone. The battery commander looked puzzled and annoyed. The guns that
are ready can move off, said the colonel calmly. An officer is to
wait here until the team arrives to take away the other gun.
Even as the three guns took the road the missing team and limber
came out of the village.
The off-leader had cast a shoe, and they had to send back for the
farrier, sir, reported the corporal.
Good, observed the colonel, but some of you fellows will have to
remember that there's a war on, and put more 'nip' into your work.
IX. FASTER AND FASTER
11 A.M.: It needed cool counsels and a high and steadfast faith
during the next twenty-four hours. The sunken track along which our own
and other British Artillery brigades were retreating was full of ruts
and choked with dust, and we thanked our stars that the weather had
held. That road churned into the mud-slime to which a few hours' rain
could change it, would have become impassable for wheeled traffic. But
the chief trouble was that the French 75's coming up to relieve us
had had to turn and go back the same way as ourselves. For the best
part of a mile both sides of the narrow roads were occupied, and only
patience, forbearance, and steady command eased the block. The Boche
could not be far behind, and there was just a possibility that we might
be trapped with little chance of putting up a fight. It was a lovely
day again, baking hot, and the birds were singing their gayest; but
most of us felt savagely doleful. I hope it is a strategic retreat,
said Fentiman viciously, but we've had no letters and no papers for
days, and we know Blink All of what's going on. A strategic retreat is
all right, but if the fellow behind follows you close enough to keep on
kicking your tail hard all the time, you may retreat farther than you
intend. When the Boche retreated last year we never got close enough to
kick his taildamn him.
Two welcome diversions! The road at the point we had now reached
rose to the level of the stubble-fields, and three batteries of 75's,
with much Hue-ing of the horses, pulled off the track and made
across the fields to another roadway. At the same time the heavies
woke up, and the sound of the big shells grunting through the air above
our heads and on towards the enemy who pursued us was très agréable.
When we reached the village of Béthancourt we found two brigades of
our divisional infantry already there. Trenches were being dug, and our
B Battery had pulled their six guns behind the mile-long ridge that ran
southward from the village. The colonel joined our brigadier, who was
conferring with the two Infantry brigadiers and the G.S.O. I., and as a
result of this war council, D Battery was ordered to continue the march
and take up a reserve position on the next ridge, two miles farther
back, south of the village of Caillouel. A and C, the composite
battery, would come into action alongside B.
Telephone lines were run out from the two batteries to look-out
posts on the top of the ridge 700 yards away, and the colonel ordered
firing at the rate of one round a minute. Half a dozen 75 batteries
were being loosed off with what always looks like gay abandon on the
part of the French gunners. Young Bushman was whisked off to inform the
staff captain, now at Caillouel, of the batteries' new positions, so
that ammunition supply should be kept up. We then awaited developments.
The view westwards from the Béthancourt ridge that day provided one
of the most picturesque panoramas of the retreat. The centre of
Béthancourt, ridded the night before of its civilian inhabitants, was
chock-a-block with troops and military traffic; and the straight road
that led down into the valley, across the stream, and up again to
Caillouel, was a two-mile ribbon of blue and khaki, and waggons and
lorries, and camp kitchenssometimes moving, oh, so slowly! once at a
standstill for over an hour. A long way to the right high rocks and
thick masses of dark trees rose, aloof; below them, thousands of horses
and hundreds of supply and ammunition waggons, some halted in lines,
some making slowly across the valley towards Caillouel. Directly in
front of us more horses, more waggons. A road at the foot of the valley
wound away to the left and then round behind the Caillouel ridge. The
valley would have served admirably for a field-day in home training.
The colonel called Major Bullivant and pointed out that the stream
at the bottom was crossed by only one bridge, that over which the main
road ran. If you are relying on that bridge for a withdrawal you will
certainly be cut off. You'd better cut down some trees and make a
bridge directly behind your battery. Of course, there's the road round
by the left, but it will be best to have another way.
1 P.M.: A cavalry officer, hot and dusty, came up and said he had
hurried back because some of our artillery fire was dropping
dangerously near the French infantry. The colonel and he made a joint
inspection of maps, and the cavalry officer pointed out certain spots
which we still held.
That's all right, replied the colonel. My batteries are not
firing on that part, but I will pass word round. And he sent me to
some neighbouring batteries to explain and to warn.
An infantry runner came to ask the colonel if he would go across to
see the Infantry brigadier. More moving, said the colonel when he
returned. We are to fall back on Caillouel now. Will you get back and
see that telephone wire is brought up? You know where D Battery have
gone; the other batteries will come into line with them. You can keep
H.Q. waggon line just behind Caillouel.
I rode off, accompanied by Beadle of A Battery, still dressed in
overcoat and pyjamas. The stream of retreating traffic on the road
between Béthancourt and Caillouel was thicker than ever; the centre of
Caillouel was as packed as a Fen village during a hiring fair; the
divisional horse-master, the C.R.E., and the D.A.Q.M.G. were among the
officers trying to sort out the muddle; and in front of the Mairie,
like a policeman on point duty, stood a perspiring staff captain.
That'll mean the Military Cross at least, grinned Beadle. Life's
very hard sometimes, isn't it?
3 P.M.: The batteries were now in position on Caillouel ridge, and
one brigade of the Divisional Infantry had arrived and commenced to
dig. I must have turned up half France since we started this retreat,
growled one swarthy private, resting on his pick. And I was a navvy
before the war, and joined up for a change.
I stood by the composite battery and saw four of the waggons come up
with ammunition. They had had to climb a long punishing slope over
meadow-lands and orchards, and the last five hundred yards was across
ploughed fields. The horses were blowing hard. They've kept their
condition well, considering the work they have had to do this last four
days, remarked Dumble. I hope the Supply Column won't fail us,
though. The horses want as much corn as they can get now.
Well, the A.S.C. have had plenty of practice getting up supplies
this last three years. They ought to be able to keep touch with us,
however irregular our movementsand M'Klown is a pretty smart fellow,
Rather amusing just now to recall that 'Truth' a short while ago
was saying there were too many horses in the Field Artillery, isn't
it? went on Dumble. They said one team a battery to pull the guns
into position from off the road would be enough, and that
motor-traction could do the rest. Never mind; the old horse has earned
his keep these last few days, hasn't he?
Look here, he added, come along with me and I'll show you a find.
You're thirsty, aren't you?
I shall say a grand Amen if you offer me a drink, said I, taking a
Well, come alongthere's a cellar full of cider in this house
here. I've left a man in charge to see there's no hanky-panky. I'm
giving my men some, but under surveillance. No one allowed more than a
It was the coolest, best-tasting cider I have ever drunk, not too
sweet, not too tart. A gunner tipped up the barrel and poured it into a
dilapidated-looking enamelled mug. How good it was! I quaffed half a
pint at a gulp, and said Rather! when asked if I would have more.
Glad you liked it, said Dumble. I must confess that that was my
The General, suave, keen-eyed, and pleasant-spoken, came up with the
colonel and the brigade-major as we got back to the battery. The
General spoke encouragingly to most of us, and told the subalterns that
gunnery rules were as important in this sort of warfare as on the
drill-ground. But don't forget that a cool head and common-sense are
as good assets as any, he added.
We were looking now from the Caillouel ridge towards the Béthancourt
ridge, which we had occupied in the forenoon,another fine landscape
with a vast plain to the right which was being keenly watched for enemy
movement. My signalling-sergeant had run out a telephone line about 600
yards in front of the composite battery, and the General, the colonel,
and the brigade-major went along to the O.P. to see Major Bartlett
register his guns on certain points where the General thought it likely
the enemy would collect.
The report that our Brigade was to be relieved and our guns taken
over by our companion brigade, who had lost practically all their guns
on the 21st, became more than a report when Colonel and his battery
commanders assembled to meet the General. One of the battery
commanders, a new-comer to the Brigade, was a well-known golfer whom I
had last seen fighting a most exciting match in the 1914 amateur
championship at Sandwich. He laughed when he recognised me. A bit of
leave and a bit of golf would be a nice change now, eh? I'm afraid we
shan't know what leave is for a long time, though. But do you know what
I did the last time I was on leave and had a few rounds over my home
But the return of the General prevented my knowing the golf exploit
he was going to tell me. The colonel called me for further
The rd Brigade are taking over our guns to-morrow morning at
6.30, he said. I shall stay here until then with General (the
Infantry brigadier). I'll keep young Bushman with me, and my groom with
our horses. You had better remain at the waggon line and keep in touch
with the battery waggon lines. Will you send up my British warm when
you get back, some sandwiches for Bushman and myself, and my Thermos
The almost paralysing block of traffic between Béthancourt and
Caillouel had thinned out now. It was easy enough also to move along
the road from Caillouel to Grandru, whither three hours ago I had
despatched H.Q. waggons to get them out of the way. For two hours,
also, there had been a marked cessation of hostile fire. And as I rode
towards Grandru I thought of those reports of big British successes at
Ypres and at Cambrai. They seemed feasible enough. What if they were
true, and what if the offensive on this front had been checked because
of the happenings North? It was a pleasant thought, and I rather hugged
Later there was grim proof that the lull merely meant that the Hun
was bringing up his guns and putting in fresh divisions to buffet and
press our tired worn men.
5 P.M.: When I reached Grandru and sat down in a hay-field while my
servant brought me a cup of tea and some bread and cheese, I gave my
mind to a five minutes' reconstruction of the incidents and aspects of
the last four days. It had all been so hurried, and each particular
emergency had demanded such complete concentration, that it was more
than difficult to realise that so short a time had elapsed since the
German hordes began their rush. I longed to see a newspaper, to read a
lucid and measured account of the mighty conflict in which our brigade,
the centre of my present workaday world, could only have played such a
tiny part. I longed for a chance to let my friends in England know that
all was well with me. However
The regimental sergeant-major had established the H.Q. horse lines
in a roadside field just outside the village. I wouldn't let him unload
the waggons, but the brigade clerk, devout adherent of orderliness and
routine, had already opened the brigade office in the first cottage on
the right of the village street, while the cook was in possession next
door. It was the first village we had come to during the retreat,
whence all the civilian inhabitants had not fled, and the cook talked
of fresh eggs for breakfast. I shaved and had a scrub down, put on a
clean collar, and gained a healthier outlook on life generally. I sent
out the four cycle orderlies to scout around and find the battery
waggon lines, which I knew were coming to this vicinity, and the A.S.C.
supply officer rode up and discussed the best place for unloading the
morrow's food and forage for the brigade. That settled, I wrote out the
formal information for the batteries, and then decided to stroll round
the village before dinner. I've got a rabbit for your dinner to-night,
sir, called the cook from his kitchen door, a fresh rabbit. So I
promised to be back by 8 o'clock.
When I came back there was an awkward surprise. All our waggons had
been shifted and a French heavy battery were hauling their howitzers up
the incline that led from the road to the field. The senior French
officer was polite but firm. He was sorry to disturb us, but this was
the most suitable spot for his howitzers to fire from.
The sergeant-major asked me whether I would like to shift the horses
to such-and-such a spot in the field, but I said No to that. These
guns will be firing all night, and the horses will be only thirty yards
away from them. They'll have no rest whatever, and they want every
minute they can get. No, the Brigade are coming out of action to-morrow
morning. We'll shift our waggon line right away to the other side of
the village. Saddle-up at once, and get away before it is dark. Move
well away from the village while you are about it, and camp by the
The cook looked glum and said my rabbit was cooked to a turn. Keep
it for me until we get settled down again, I said. I posted a cycle
orderly to wait at the spot we were leaving, so as to re-direct
messengers arriving from Division or from the colonel; the brigade
clerk asked to be allowed to stay behind until the three other
orderlies returned from the batterieshe wouldn't feel justified in
leaving before then, he assured me. It was 8.15 P.M. when our little
procession headed by the sergeant-major passed through the village.
I had sent my horses on, and it was on the point of darkness when I
strode through the village, some way behind the column. A few officers
of the Pioneer battalion that was moving out any moment stood at open
doorways, and a group of drivers waited near the bridge ready to
harness up their mules. Three aged women dressed in faded black, one of
them carrying a bird-cage, had come out of a cottage and walked with
feeble ungainly step towards the bridge. A couple of ancient men,
pushing wheel-barrows piled high with household goods, followed.
Out of the distance came the brooding whine of an approaching
howitzer shell. A mighty rush of air, a blinding flash, and an
appalling crash. An 8-inch had fallen in the middle of the street.
A running to and fro; a heartrending, whimpering cry from one of the
women; and groans and curses farther up the street. None of the poor
terror-stricken old people were hurt, thank God! but three of the
drivers had been hit and two mules killed outright. The men were
quickly lifted into the shelter of the nearest house, and the civilian
refugees took cover in a doorway just before the second shell tore a
great rent in the village green on the other side of the bridge. Five
shells fell in all, and an officer afterwards tried to persuade the old
women to take a lift in a G.S. waggon that was about to start. But they
refused to leave their men, who would not abandon the wheel-barrows.
When I walked away the five were again beginning their slow hazardous
pilgrimage to the next village.
11 P.M.: That night I lay rolled up in a blanket at the foot of a
tree. The H.Q. waggon line was duly settled for the night when I
arrivedhorses hayed-up and most of the men asleep on the ground.
The cook insisted on producing the boiled rabbit, and I ate it, sitting
on the shaft of the mess cart. I arranged with the N.C.O. of the piquet
to change every two hours the orderly posted at the spot we had left so
hurriedlyit was only ten minutes' ride on a cycleand kept another
sentry on the watch for messengers who might come searching for us. It
was again a beautiful clear night, with a resplendent moon; a few
long-range shells whizzed over, but none near enough to worry us; a
pioneer party worked right through the night, putting up a stout line
of barbed wire that went within thirty yards of where I lay; retreating
baggage-waggons, French and British, passed along the road; restless
flashes along the eastern skyline showed our guns in active defence.
I cannot say that I slept. The ground was hard, and it got very cold
about 2 A.M. I could hear the sergeant-major snoring comfortably on the
straw palliasse he had managed to commandeer for himself. At about 3
A.M. my ear caught the chug-chug of a motor-cycle. It came nearer and
then stopped, and I heard the rider and our sentry talking. I got up
and found it was the Divisional Artillery signalling-officer.
Rather important, he said, without preamble. The General says it
is essential to get all transport vehicles over the canal to-night.
There's bound to be a hell of a crush in the morning. Headquarters R.A.
will be at Varesnes by to-morrow morning, so I should move as far that
way as you can. I've just come over the canal, and there are two ways
of crossing from here. I think you'll find the Appilly route the least
crowded. The great thing is to hurry. I'm going to look for the colonel
now. I'll tell him you are moving.
We bade each other Good-night. While the horses were being hooked
in, I scribbled an order explaining the situation, and instructing all
battery waggon lines to move towards Varesnes at once. I knew that in
view of the 6.30 A.M. relief by the rd Brigade, horses would be sent
up for the officers and men at the guns, and it was possible that the
guns would now be brought back from the Caillouel ridge before that
time. The Boche was clearly coming on once more.
Cycle orderlies sped away with the notes, and I was sending a
signaller on a cycle to tell the sentry posted at Grandru to rejoin us,
when I discovered that the brigade clerk had not yet turned up. I told
the signaller to send him along as well.
Two of the orderlies returned and reported that B and D Batteries
had received my instructions and had started. With the return of the
next orderly I explained where we were to go to the sergeant-major, and
told him to move off. I would come along behind with the others.
To my astonishment the signaller and the sentry came back without
the brigade clerk. Can't find him anywhere, sir, said the signaller.
Didn't you see him while you were there? I asked the orderly who had
been doing sentry. No, sir. I saw no lights in that house where the
office was, and there's no one there now.
This was something unexpected, not to say perturbing. I turned to
one of the cycle orderlies who stood by. Go back and make a thorough
search for Briercliffe. Don't come back until you are satisfied he's
not in the village. I'll wait here. You others, except one cyclist, go
on and catch up the column.
A quarter of an hour, twenty minutes, half an hour! The orderly
returned alone. I can't find Briercliffe, sir. I've been into every
house in Grandru. He's not there.
I couldn't understand it. The amazingly conscientious, thoroughly
correct, highly efficient Briercliffe to be missing. I can't wait any
longer, I said, mounting my horse. He's quite wide awake and should
be all right. We'll get on.
X. THE SCRAMBLE AT VARESNES
4 A.M.: For the best part of a mile my groom and I had the moonlit
road to ourselves. We passed at the walk through the stone-flagged
streets of Baboeuf, our horses' hoofs making clattering echoes in what
might have been a dead city. Along the whole length of the tortuous
main street were only two indications that there was life behind the
closed doors and fastened shutters. Two French soldiers, leaning
against a wall and talking, moved away as we rode up; then a door
banged, and all was quiet. Once, too, a cat ran stealthily across and
startled my horse: I remember that distinctly, because it was the first
cat I had seen since coming back to the fighting area.
At the junction, where the way from Baboeuf joined the main road
that ran parallel with the canal, stood a single British lorry. A
grey-headed lieutenant, who was lighting a cigarette, came up when I
hailed him, and told me our waggons had passed. He had pointed out the
way, and they had gone to the left. The first turning on the right
after that will bring you to the bridge, he ended.
Our column was now moving along one of France's wonderful main
roadsperfectly straight, tree-bordered, half its width laid with
pavé. On either side good-sized villas, well-kept front gardens,
highly desirable residencescomfortable happy homes a week before,
now shattered, silent, deserted. The road as we followed it led direct
to the battle-front.
We had gone a mile past the railway station, and were in open
country, and had still to reach the first turning to the right. I asked
the sergeant-major to trot ahead and let me know how much farther we
had to go. Over a mile yet, sir, was his report.
At last, however, a sign-post loomed up, and we struck right along a
track that led over dreary waste lands. Before long we were forging
through a damp clinging mist, that obviously came from the canal.
Somewhere near the point towards which we were making, shells from a
Boche big gun were exploding with dull heavy boomings. I sent the
sergeant-major forward again, and he came back with the bewildering
report, We're on the wrong road, sir!
Wrong road! I repeated. What do you mean?
There are some French lorries in front, sir, and the sentry won't
open the bridge gates to let them cross.
I felt puzzled and angered, and rode forward to question the French
sentry. Half a dozen protesting lorry-drivers stood round him.
The bridge did lead to Varesnes, he admitted, but it was only a
light bridge, and he had orders to allow no military traffic over it. I
became almost eloquent in describing the extreme lightness of my
vehicles; but a sous-officier stepped out of a little hut and
said he was sorry, the orders were very strict, and he could not open
the gates. The bridge we wanted was approached by the next turning to
the right, off the main road. He assured me that it was a much better
way, and, in any case, he couldn't open the gates.
There was nothing else for it: we made the long tedious journey
back, out of the fog and into it again, and so got on the right track.
Weariness through lack of sleep and the dampness of the air made one
feel chilly, and I got off my horse and walked. The horses stepped out
mechanically; the men had lost their chirpiness. There was a half-hour
or so when I felt melancholy and depressed: the feeling of helplessness
against the triumphant efficiency of the Boche got on one's nerves.
Wasn't this talk of luring him on a myth? Why was he allowed to sweep
forward at this overpowering pace, day after day, when each of our big
advances had been limited to one hard, costly attackand then stop? I
quickened my step, and walked forward to where A Battery moved along
the same road.
Hullo, Dumble, I said. You and C are running as separate
batteries again, aren't you? How did you leave the cider-cellar?
We came back from there at about 5 P.M. There was a big discussion
as to whether we should come farther back. The colonel wanted to stay,
and the rd's B Battery were in action there until four this morning.
It was a Divisional decision that there should be a retirement to the
next ridge. The poor old infantry were fed to the teeth. They'd sweated
blood digging trenches all day on the Caillouel ridge, and then in the
evening had to fall back and start digging again.
Have you seen the colonel? I asked.
He was still there with General when we came away. The rd
relieved us last night, instead of first thing this morning; and we got
down to Grandru, and had three hours' sleep before your note arrived.
Battery's pretty done, I suppose?
Well, it was just about time we came out of action. Men and horses
would have been all-in in another day.
We crossed the fine broad canal, watched by the French soldiers
guarding the bridge. Dumble was silent for some seconds, and then
muttered, You know, I hate to be coming back like this with the French
Yes, I know, I replied,but they are good soldiers, and they
Yeswhen I think of poor old Harville, and the fight he put
up he broke off; and we trudged along.
Do you know Harville always kept that speech of Beatty's in his
pocket-book, that speech where he said England would have to be
chastened and turn to a new way of life before we finished the war?
said Dumble later.
Yes, he was like thatold Harville, I said quietly.
Over another bridge; and I still walked with Dumble at the head of
his battery. There was a long wait while a line of French waggons moved
out of our way. Some of the men were yawning with the sleepiness that
comes from being cold as well as tired. We were now on the outskirts of
a village that lay four miles from Varesnes.
What do you say if we stop at this place and go on after a rest?
said Dumble. I agreed.
I put Headquarter waggons and horses into an orchard, and found a
straw-loft where the men could lie down.
It was six in the morning, and I told the sergeant-major to have
breakfast up at 7.30. There was a cottage opposite the orchard; some
French soldiers were inside breakfasting. As I looked through the
window I felt I would give anything for a sleep. The old housewife, a
woman with a rosy Punch-like face, waited on the men. I asked her if
she would let me have a room. She demurred a while, said everything was
dirty and in disorder: the French sous-officier was not gone
yet. Then I think she noticed how fagged I was. In two minutes my
servant had brought my valise in. I'm going to take my clothes off, I
said, but don't let me sleep after 7.30.
7.30 A.M.: I woke to find the sun streaming through the window. The
booming of guns sounded nearer than before. I got off the bed and
looked out. The fifty Headquarter men were breakfasting or smoking.
Something prompted me: I had the feeling that we ought to leave the
village at once. I shouted through the window for the sergeant-major.
The column could be ready to move in a quarter of an hour, he answered.
My servant brought me a change of boots and leggings, and I shaved.
Won't you wait and have breakfast, sir? asked the sergeant-major.
No. Pack up everything; we'll get to Varesnes as soon as you are
I went round to see Dumble before we started, but he said he wasn't
going to hurry. I'll let the men have a proper clean-up and march off
about eleven, he decided.
The Headquarter column wound away from the village, and set out on a
long smooth road that ran through a wood and edged away from the canal.
Two miles from Varesnes we met the brigade-major. His tired eyes
lighted up when he saw me. What batteries have actually got over the
canal? he questioned. I told him that A were in the village I had just
left. C and B are coming round by the Noyon bridge, he informed me.
I expect we shall send Headquarters and B on to Thiescourt to get you
out of the wayand give you some rest. And he nodded and rode on.
It looked as if the German rush was not expected to go much farther,
for Varesnes was the first little town fully occupied by civilians that
we had come to. Most of them were preparing to leave, and roomy French
farm carts, piled high with curious medleys of mattresses, chairs and
tables, clothing, carpets, kitchen utensils, clocks and pictures, kept
moving off. But children played about the streets; girls stood and
talked to French and British soldiers; and M. le Maire continued to
The colonel, neat and unruffled, but pale with fatigue, stood
waiting in the main thoroughfare as we came in. I informed him at once
where I had left A Battery and what the brigade-major had mentioned. He
told me he had remained with the Infantry brigadier until 6.30 A.M.,
the hour at which Colonel of the rd had formally to relieve him;
and he had only just crossed the canal. The infantry were still falling
back. I've lost Laneridge and my two horses, he added, shaking his
head. Laneridge missed me in the fog when I sent for him, and I'm half
afraid he went towards the Hun lines. It was very puzzling to get your
bearings up there this morning. I walked part of the way here and got a
lift in a lorry.
9.30 A.M.: The colonel had seen the C.R.A. and received instructions
about continuing the march. We were going on another ten miles to the
place which a week ago was to have become the rest area for Divisional
Headquarters. I had come across a section of the D.A.C. who had arrived
the night before and secured a billet, and they gave the colonel and
myself breakfast. I had discovered B Battery's mess in another cottage,
every officer deep in a regular Rip Van Winkle slumber that told of
long arrears of sleep. And I had been greatly cheered by the sudden
appearance, mounted on a horse, of Briercliffe, the missing brigade
clerk. He explained his absence. When one of the orderlies returned to
Grandru, saying he couldn't find B Battery's waggon lines, the
admirable Briercliffe had retorted that they must be found, and he went
in quest of them himself. Then when he heard the sudden order to cross
the canal he had the common-sense to come along with B Battery.
Neither C Battery nor A Battery had yet arrived. The colonel, having
shaved, felt ready for the fray again, dictated the route-march orders,
and told me to fix 11.30 A.M. as the time of starting. Fortunately his
horses and his groom had turned up. The traffic down the main street,
with its old-fashioned plaster houses, its squat green doors, and the
Mairie with its railed double-stone steps, was getting more congested.
Infantry transport and French heavy guns were quickening their pace as
they came through. The inhabitants were moving out in earnest now, not
hurriedly, but losing no time. A group of hatless women stood
haranguing on the Mairie steps; a good-looking girl, wearing high heels
and bangles, unloaded a barrow-load of household goods into a van the
Maire had provided, and hastened home with the barrow to fill it again;
a sweet-faced old dame, sightless, bent with rheumatism, pathetic in
her helpless resignation, sat on a wicker-chair outside her doorway,
waiting for a farm cart to take her away: by her side, a wide-eyed
solemn-faced little girl, dressed in her Sunday best, and trying
bravely not to cry.
10.15 A.M.: The colonel met me in the street; he had just come from
seeing the C.R.A. again. Better tell B and D Batteries to move off at
once, B leading. Headquarters can start as well. It will be best to get
out of this place as quickly as possible. The enemy is coming on fast,
and there will be an awkward crush shortly.
11 A.M.: The Boche machine-guns could be heard now as plainly as if
they were fighting along the canal banks. B Battery had marched out
with their waggons, Headquarters behind them. I stood with the colonel
in the square to watch the whole brigade go through. Young Bushman had
ridden off towards the canal to seek news of C Battery.
And now the first enemy shell: a swishing rush of air and a vicious
cracka 4·2 H.V. It fell two streets from us. Another and another
followed. Shouts from behind! The drivers spurred their horses to a
trot. Clouds of dust rose. Odd civilians alternately cowered against
the wall and ran panting for the open country, making frightened cries
as each shell came over. A butcher's cart and a loaded market cart got
swept into the hurrying military traffic.
I don't like this, muttered the colonel, frowning. It would be
stupid to have a panic.
On the Mairie steps I could see M. le Maire ringing a hand-bell and
shouting some sort of proclamation. With a certain dignity, and
certainly with little apparent recognition that shells were falling
close, he descended the steps and strode along the street and through
the square, all the time determinedly shaking his bell. As he passed, I
asked him gravely why he rang the bell. He stared over his glasses with
astonishment, responded simply Pour partir, m'sieur, and walked on,
still ringing. A bizarre incident, but an instance of duty, highly
conceived and carried out to the end.
A colonel of one of our Pioneer battalions rode by and hailed the
colonel. We seem to be driving it pretty close, he said. There's a
lot more artillery to cross yet, and they are shelling the bridge hard.
Which way do you go from here?
I've got two batteries to come, and I'm afraid one of 'em's still
over the bridge, responded the colonel. We go to Thiescourt from
11.30 A.M.: D Battery was passing now, with A not far behind. The
stream of traffic making for beyond the town was continuous as ever,
but the shelling had quietened, and the horses were kept at the walk.
The colonel stood and accepted the salutes of his batteries, and
criticised points of turn-out and horse-mastership as though he were
making an ordinary route-march inspection. And this compelling them to
think of something other than the physical dangers around and behind
them, had its moral effect upon the men. They held themselves more
erect, showed something of pride of regiment and race, and looked men
fit and worthy to fight again.
Civilians were still hurrying out of the town. A family passed us,
the husband in his best suit of dull black, top-hat, and white tie and
all, pushing a perambulator loaded with clothes, household ornaments,
and cooking requisites, his three children dragging at their mother's
skirts and weeping piteously. A fine-looking vieillard, with
clean-cut waxen features and white flowing moustaches, who wore his
brown velvet jacket and sombrero with an air, walked by erect and slow,
taking what he could of his belongings on a wheel-barrow. Even the
conjunction of the wheel-barrow could not prevent him looking dignified
And a terrier and a young retriever, oblivious of the tragedy around
them, gambolled up and down the Mairie steps and chased each other
across the street.
12 noon: Bigger shells had begun to fall, and still C Battery had
not come. The colonel glanced at his watch. One shell came near enough
to send a chimney-pot and some slates clattering to the ground, making
a pair of water-cart horses plunge wildly; a French soldier was killed
farther down the street. An officer cantered by and directed a Horse
Artillery battery that had passed a few minutes before, and had a clear
half-mile of road in front of it, to break into a trot. Voices in rear
could be heard shouting to those in front to go faster. Two riderless,
runaway wheelers, dragging a smashed limber-pole, raced after the Horse
Artillery battery. I'm afraid we shall have to say Good-bye to C
Battery, said the colonel seriously.
I walked to the end of the square and looked down the road towards
the canal. Dust rose in clouds, and straining horses still came on. Out
of the welter I saw young Bushman's horse on the pathway coming towards
me. C Battery's all right, he shouted to me, and a minute later I
heard him explaining to the colonel.
C Battery's over now, sir. It has been touch-and-go. Some Horse
Artillery in front had a waggon hit, and that caused a stoppage; and
there were a lot of other waggons in front as well. They are putting
shells all round the bridge now, sir. C Battery have had two gunners
wounded, but they are over now, sir.
C Battery came through at a trot, but the colonel regarded their
general appearance as soldierly. We remained in the square and saw the
tail-end of their mess cart.
And now, observed the colonel, lighting a cigarette and noting the
time, we may as well gather our horses and get along ourselves.
I feel very relieved about C Battery, he said five minutes later
as we rode along; and he smiled for the first time for quite three
XI. THE G IN GAP
1 P.M.: For some miles after leaving Varesnes it was retreatrapid,
undisguised, and yet with a plan. Thousands of men, scores of guns and
transport vehicles, hundreds of civilians caught in the last rush, all
struggling to evade the mighty pincers' clutch of the German masses
who, day after day, were crushing our attempts to rally against their
weight and fury. Unless collectedly, in order, and with
intercommunications unbroken, we could pass behind the strong divisions
hurrying to preserve the precious contact between French and British,
we should be trapped. And when I say we, I mean the very large force of
which our Brigade formed one tiny part. Not even the colonel knew much
at this moment of the wider strategy that was being worked out. The
plain and immediate task was to free the Brigade, with its seven
hundred odd men and its horses and waggons, from the welter of general
traffic pouring on to the main roads, and bring it intact to the
village that Division had fixed as our destination. And as we had now
become a non-fighting body, a brigade of Field Artillery without guns,
it was more than ever our business to get out of the way.
Our men found room for some of the aged civilians in motor-lorries
and G.S. waggons; but I shall always remember one silver-haired dame
who refused to be separated from the wheel-barrow heaped up with her
belongings, which she was pushing to a place seven miles away. For some
reason she would not allow a gunner to wheel the barrow for her. Poor
obstinate old soul! I hope she got away; if she didn't, I trust the
Boche was merciful.
The colonel and I rode through a forest in order to catch up the
batteries. As we emerged from the wood we came upon five brigades of
cavalrythree French and two Britishfresh as paint, magnificently
mounted, ready and waiting. The most cheering sight we've seen this
morning, remarked the colonel.
We came up with C Battery, and rode at their head. Despite the spurt
to cross the canal, their turn-out was smart and soldierly, and there
was satisfaction in the colonel's quick, comprehensive glance. Through
Pontoise, another village from which the inhabitants had fled the day
before, and past the outskirts of Noyon, with its grey cathedral and
quaint tower. The evacuation here had been frantic, and we heard
stories of pillage and looting and of drunken mennot, one is glad to
say it, British soldiers. In all that galling, muddling week I did not
see a single drunken soldier. As we were near a considerable town, I
gave my groom twenty francs, and told him to buy what food he could: we
might be very short by nightfall. He returned with some sardines, some
tinned tunny fish, and a few biscuits, the sardines costing five francs
a small tin. At one cross-road a dozen American Red Cross cars were
drawn up, and I recall the alacrity of a middle-aged American doctor,
wearing gold pince-nez, in hopping off his ambulance and snapshotting
the colonel at the head of the battery. I wondered bitterly whether
that photograph would subsequently be published under the heading,
British Artillery in Retreat.
2.30 P.M.: The four batteries were now ranged alongside a railway
siding at a point where the road by which we had journeyed joined the
main road to Compiègne. For several hours this great traffic artery had
been packed with troops and transport moving to and from the
battle-front. It was hot and dusty, and our men and horses were glad of
the half-hour's halt, although the respite had only lasted so long
because the traffic on the main route had been too continuous for us to
turn on to it and reach the road fifty yards farther down along which
we had to continue. Remembering a lesson of the Mons retreat emphasised
by a Horse Artillery major lecturing at Larkhillthat his horses kept
their condition because every time there was a forced halt near a
village he despatched his gunners with the water-bucketsI had told my
groom to search around until he found water for my two horses. Then I
stood under the trees lining the main road and watched three battalions
of French infantry march past, moving north of the part of the front
our brigade had just left. They were older, smaller, more town-bred
French soldiers than those we had seen during the two previous days,
more spectacles among them, and a more abstracted expression. The
thought came to me that here must be last-line reserves. Up on the
steep hills that overlooked the railway siding bearded French troops
were deepening trenches and strengthening barbed wire.
3 P.M.: We were anxious to get on now, and longed for a couple of
City of London traffic policemen to stand in majestic and impartial
control of these road junctions. The colonel and Major Bullivant, after
expostulating five minutes with a French major, had got our leading
battery across. Then the long line of traffic on the main route resumed
its apparently endless flow. An R.A.M.C. captain came out and stood by
as I stationed myself opposite the road we wanted our three remaining
batteries to turn down, watching to take quick advantage of the G in
the first possible GAP. Pretty lively here last night, volunteered
the R.A.M.C. captain. General scramble to get out, and some unusual
sights. There was a big ordnance store, and they hadn't enough lorries
to get the stuff away, so they handed out all manner of goods to
prevent them being wasted. The men got pretty well carte blanche
in blankets, boots, and puttees, and you should have seen them carting
off officers' shirts and underclothing. There was a lot of champagne
going begging too, and hundreds of bottles were smashed to make sure
the men had no chance of getting blind. And there was an old sapper
colonel who made it his business to get hold of the stragglers. He kept
at it about six hours, and bunged scores of wanderers into a
prisoners-of-war cage; then he had 'em marched off to a collecting
station. He was hot stuff, I can tell you.
A gap came at last on the main route, but something also that would
dam the opening we had awaited for over an hour.
A tremendous line of French lorries was moving towards me on the
road opposite. The French officer in charge had come forward to
reconnoitre the crossing. Three British lorries, loading up, also stood
on the road along which we wanted to go. If the French lorries reached
that spot first, our batteries might be held up another hour. It was a
moment for unscrupulous action. I told my groom to dash off and tell
Major Bartlett to come along at the trot; then I slipped across and
engaged the French captain in conversation. If I could prevent him
signalling back for his lorries to quicken speed, all would be well. If
Major Bartlett failed, there would be a most unholy mix up near the
three stationary lorries. Major Bartlett responded nobly. His leading
team reached the three lorries while the first French motor-waggon was
still thirty yards away. The gap between the stationary lorry and the
moving one narrowed to eight yards; but the waggon and six horses were
through, and the battery now commanded the position with a line of
horsed waggons and baggage-carts stretching back along the fifty yards
of the main road, with A and B Batteries following in column of route
past the railway siding. The line of French lorries extended back far
as the eye could see. The French officer turned sharply, cursed
impatiently, and asserted volubly that his lorries must come through. I
explained soothingly what a long time we had waited, and asked his
forbearance. Meanwhile C Battery continued to trot through the gap, and
I called Heaven to witness that the whole of our Brigade would be
through and away before ten minutes passed. I ran back to urge A and B
Batteries to keep up the pace. When our very last water-cart,
mess-cart, and G.S. waggon had passed, I thanked the French officer
with great sincerity, and felt I had done a proper job of work.
4.30 P.M.: We sat by the roadside eating bread-and-cheesethe
colonel, young Bushman, and I. The batteries were well on the way to
their destination; and we three, jogging along in rear, had encountered
Bombardier M'Donald, triumphant at having filled his forage and rations
waggon for yet another day. So we and our grooms helped ourselves to
bread-and-cheese and satisfied hefty appetites, and drank the cider
with which Bushman had filled his flask at Caillouel the day before.
Another of the mournful side-spectacles of the retreat was being
enacted under our eyes. Opposite a small cottage a cart packed to a
great height, but marvellously balanced on its two huge wheels, stood
ready to move off. A wrinkled sad-eyed woman, perched on top, held
beside her her grandchilda silent, wondering little girl. A darkly
handsome, strongly-built daughter had tied a cow to the back of the
cart. A bent old man began to lead the wide-backed Percheron mare that
was yoked to the shafts with the mixture of straps and bits of rope
that French farm folk find does well enough for harness. But the cow,
bellowing in an abandonment of grief, tugged backwards, and the cart
did not move. The daughter, proud-eyed, self-reliant, explained that
the cow was calling for her calf. The calf would never be able to make
the journey, and they had been compelled to sell it, and it would be
killed for food. It was hard, but it was war.
They tried again; but the cow refused to be comforted, and tugged
until the rope threatened to strangle her. They brought the calf out
again and tied him alongside his now pacified mother; but this time,
when the cart moved forward, he protested in fear and bewilderment, and
tried to drag himself free. The cart was still there when we rode off.
Our way ran through a noble stretch of hilly country, well wooded,
with sparkling streams plashing down the hillsidesa landscape of
uninhabited quiet. Two aeroplanes droned overheadthe first Allied
planes we had seen since the retreat began. The old French line,
observed the colonel, pointing out a wide system of well-planned
trenches, deep dug-outs, and broad belts of rusted barbed wire. The
Boche ought not to get through here.
Up and over a hill, and down into a tiny hamlet which more stricken
civilians were preparing to leave. As our little cavalcade drew near, a
shrinking old woman, standing in a doorway, drew a frightened little
girl towards her, and held a hand over the child's eyes. I believe
they took us to be Germans at first, said the colonel when we had
In another village a woman was trying to make a cow pull a
heavily-laden waggon up the hill. With streaming eyes and piteous
gestures she besought us to assist with our horses. She would pay us
money. Twice before she had lost everything through the Boche, she
pleaded. The colonel looked grieved, but shook his head. We'll send
back a pair of draught-horses if we can, was all he said to me. And we
6 P.M.: We had reached Thiescourt, a hillside village that had
thought never to be threatened by the Germans again. Dwellings damaged
during their last visit had been repaired. New houses made of fine
white stone, quarried in the district, had been built, and were
building. The bitterness of it, if the foul devastating Boche were to
come again! There were many evidences of the hurried flight of the last
two days,torn letters and papers, unswept fire-grates, unconsumed
food and drinks, beds with sheets in them, drawers hurriedly searched
for articles that could be taken away, disconsolate wandering dogs. A
few days before it had been arranged that the major-general, his
Divisional Staff, Ordnance, the Divisional brass band, and all the
usual appurtenances of a Divisional Headquarters, should come and make
this village a Divisional rest area. Few even of the first preparations
for visitation were left now. D.A.D.O.S., blue-tabbed and
business-like, was in the main street, bewailing the scarcity of
lorries for removing his wares to an area still farther back. He had
several rifles he would be pleased to hand out to our batteries. There
was a large quantity of clothing which would have to be left in the
store he had established. Any we didn't want would we burn, or drop in
the stream before we left? No lorry to remove the Divisional canteen.
Would we distribute the supplies free to our men? Biscuits, chocolate,
potted meats, tooth-paste, and cigarettes went like wildfire.
Brigade H.Q. mess was installed in a new house that had chalked
messages scrawled on doors, walls, and mirrors, telling searching
relations and friends the address in a distant town to which the
occupants of the house had fled. In another dwelling that Boche
aeroplanes had already bombed, we discovered sleeping quarters. At 7
P.M. a lieutenant on a motor-cycle arrived with Corps orders for the
morrow. We were to leave for Elincourt immediately the tactical
situation demanded it.
We dined early, and sought our beds early too. I had been asleep two
minutes, as I thoughtreally about an hour and a halfwhen Dumble
woke me up. Cavalry are coming through, he said, shining his electric
torch right in my eyes, and they say the enemy is at Lagny. Hadn't you
better let the colonel know?
No, I retorted with some asperity.
But listen; can you hear all that traffic? It's our infantry coming
Can you hear machine-gun fire? I asked resentfully.
Well, I'm damned if I disturb the colonel until you can tell me
that, at least, I said finally, turning on my right side.
XII. OUT OF THE WAY
The usual monotonous spectacle when we woke next morning: the narrow
streets of what a few days before had been a tranquil, out-of-the-war
village choked with worn-out troops marching to go into rest. Now that
we had become a brigade of artillery without guns, a British
non-fighting unit struggling to get out of the way of a manoeuvring
French army, our one great hope was that Corps would send us right back
to a depot where we could refit ourselves with fresh guns and
reinforcements, to some spot where we need not be wondering every five
minutes whether the enemy was at our heels. Men who have fought four
days and nights on end feel like that when the strain of actual battle
The Boche guns sounded nearer, and the colonel had ordered a mounted
officer to go back and seek definite information upon the situation. By
10 A.M. a retiring French battalion marched through, and reported that
the line was again being withdrawn. By 11 A.M. two batteries of 75's
came back. Which decided the colonel that the tactical situation
demanded our departure, and the Brigade began the march to Elincourt.
On past more evacuated villages. Abandoned farm cartssome of which
our batteries eagerly adopted for transporting stores and kitand the
carcases of dogs, shot or poisoned, lying by the roadside, told their
own story of the rush from the Hun. By 1 P.M. we reached Elincourt, a
medieval town whose gable-ends and belfry towers, and straight rows of
hoary lime-trees, breathed the grace and charm of the real France. I
made immediately for the Mairie, bent upon securing billets for
officers and men; but standing at the gateway was a Corps
despatch-rider who handed over instructions for the Brigade to continue
the march to Estree St Denis, a town twenty kilometres distant.
5 P.M.: Estree St Denis, to which I rode in advance with a billeting
officer from each battery, proved to be a drab smoky town of
mean-looking, jerry-built houses. One thought instinctively of the
grimiest parts of Lancashire and the Five Towns. The wide and
interminably long main street was filled with dust-laden big guns and
heavy hows., four rows of them. Every retreating Division in France
seemed to be arriving and to be bringing more dust. Hundreds of
refugees from villages now in Boche possession had come, too. What a
place to be sent to! It was useless looking for billets, so I fixed
upon a vast field on the outskirts of the town where we could establish
our horse lines and pitch tents and bivouacs. This was satisfactory
enough, but the watering problem was bound to be difficult. Four small
pumps in the main street and one tiny brackish pond totalled the
facilities. It would take each battery an hour and a half to water its
horses. Corps moves in most mysterious ways, crooned Stone. Why did
they send us here? We rode and walked until we were tired, but found
nothing that would improve matters. Then Fentiman, Stone, and I found
the Café de la Place, and entered the Officers only room, where we
sat down to a bottle of wine and devoured the Continental 'Daily Mail'
of March 23, the first paper we had seen since starting the retreat.
Madame informed us that some officers of Divisional Headquarters had
turned up the day before and were dining there. As we went out to go
and meet the batteries and lead them to the waggon lines, there was a
shout of recognition, and Swiffy and the little American doctor ran
up, grinning and rather shamefaced. We thought of posting you as
deserters, I said with pretended seriousness, not having seen you
since the afternoon of the 23rd. It was now the 26th. They narrated a
long and somewhat sheepish story that, boiled down, told of a barn that
promised a sound afternoon's nap, an awakening to find every one
vanished; then a worried and wearied tramp in search of us, with
nothing to eat except what they could beg or buy at ruinous prices; one
perturbing two hours when they found themselves walking into the arms
of the oncoming Hun; and finally, a confirmed resolve never to stray
far from the Brigade mess-cart again.
7 P.M.: When the batteries were settled in their waggon lines, I led
the colonel and Swiffy and the doctor through the crowded dusty
streets into the Café de la Place. The restaurant was filled with
French and British officers. Swiffy insisted on cracking a bottle of
champagne to celebrate the return of the doctor and himself to the
fold; then I spotted Ronny Hertford, the Divisional salvage officer,
who was full of talk and good cheer, and said he had got his news from
the new G.S.O. II., who had just come from England, travelling with a
certain politician. It's all right, old boy, bubbled Ronny. The War
Office is quite calm about it now; we've got 'em stone-cold. Foch is in
supreme command, and there are any number of Divisions in reserve which
haven't been called on. We're only waiting to know if this is the real
push, or only a feint, and then we strike. We've got 'em trapped, old
top, no doubt about that.
Right-o, strategist! I retorted in the same vein.
Do you want to buy a calf, old boy? he switched off. Look
herethere's one under the table. About 110 lbs. of meat at 3 francs a
pound. Dirt cheap these times. A Frenchman has left it with Madame to
sell. We'd buy it for our mess, but we've got a goose for dinner
to-night. Stay and dine with us, old boy.
Through the glass door that showed into the café one saw a little
group of civilians, dressed in their Sunday black, waiting for carts to
take them from the town. A mother was suckling a wailing child. An old
cripple nodded his head helplessly over hands propped up by his stick.
A smart young French soldier came in at the door, and Madame's
fair-haired daughter rushed to his arms and held him while she wept.
They talked fast, and the civilians listened with strained faces. Her
fiancé, quietly explained an interpreter who came through the café to
join us in the Officers only room. He's just come from Montdidier
with a motor-transport. He says he was fired at by machine-guns, which
shows that the Boche is still coming on.
The camp commandant of the Division, nervously business-like, the
baths' officer, D.A.D.O.S., and a couple of padres came in. The Camp
Commandant refused to hear of the colonel sleeping in a tent. We've
got a big dormitory at the back here, sirthirty wire-beds. We can put
all your Brigade Headquarter officers up. The colonel protested that
we should be quite happy in bivouacs, but he was overruled.
We dined in a tent in the waggon lines. As I made my way there I
noticed a blue-painted motor-van, a mobile French wireless station,
some distance away in the fields. What really caught my eye when I drew
near it was a couple of Camembert cheeses, unopened and unguarded, on
the driver's seat. I bethought myself that the operator inside the van
might be persuaded to sell one of the cheeses. He wasn't, but he was
extremely agreeable, and showed me the evening communiqué that
had just been ticked through. We became friends, which explains why
for three days I was able to inform the camp commandant, Ronny
Hertford, and all their party, of the latest happenings at the Front,
hours before the French newspapers and the Continental 'Daily Mail'
And what do you think the men of two of our batteries were doing an
hour after the camps were pitched and the horses watered?playing a
football match! Marvellous fellows!
We stayed at Estree until the evening of the 28th, days of gossip
and of fairly confident expectations, for we knew now that the Boche's
first offensive was heldbut a time of waiting and of wondering where
we were to be sent next. Division was nearly thirty miles away,
incorporated with the French Army, and still fighting, while Corps
seemed to have forgotten that we needed supplies. Still there was no
need to worry about food and forage. Estree was an important railhead,
and the supply officer seemed anxious to get his stores distributed as
soon as they came in: he was prepared to treat most comers as
famine-stricken stragglers. Besides, near the station stood an enormous
granary, filled to the brim, simply waiting to be requisitioned.
About noon on the 28th we were very cast down by the news that, to
meet the demand for reinforcements, the Brigade might be disbanded, and
the gunners hurried off in driblets, to make up losses on various parts
of our particular Army's front.
The colonel had instructions to attend a Staff Conference in the
afternoon, and each battery was ordered to prepare a list of its
There were sore hearts that afternoon. Many of the men had been with
the Brigade since it was formed, and to be scattered broadcast after
doing well, and coming through a time of stress and danger together,
would knock the spirit out of every one. The colonel came back at
tea-time, impassive, walking briskly. I knew before he opened his lips
that the Brigade was saved. We move to-night to Pont St Maxence. We
are going on to Poix to refit, was all he said.
* * * * *
Every one was anxious to be off, fearing that the Staff might change
its mind. It rained in torrents that night, and owing to the Corps'
failure to map out proper accommodation arrangements, we slept anyhow
and anywhere, but no one minded much. The Brigade was still in being,
and nothing else mattered. I could tell many stories of the next few
daysmarching and billeting and getting ready for action again; of the
village that no English troops had visited before, and the inhabitants
that feared us, and afterwards did not want us to leave; of the
friendly bearded patron of an estaminet, who flourished an 'Echo de
Paris,' and pointed to the words ténacité anglaise in an account
of the fighting; of the return of the signalling officer, who, while
attending a course at an Army School, had been roped in to lead one of
Sandeman Carey's infantry platoons; of the magnificently equipped
casualty clearing station that a week before the offensive had been
twenty-five miles behind the lines, and only got its last patients away
two hours before the Boches arrived!
* * * * *
April 2nd: A few more new guns had come in from the Refitting Depot.
We were almost complete to establishment. The horses were out grazing
and getting fat again. Most of the men were hard at it, playing their
eternal football. The colonel came out of the chateau, which was
Brigade Headquarters billet, and settled himself in a deck-chair. He
looked sun-tanned and fit.
If all colonels were as competent and knowledgeable as our colonel,
we should have won the war by now, said Dumble as he and I walked
away. What a beautiful day.
Yes. Oh to be in England, now that April's here, I chimed in.
Oh to be in England, any bally old time of the year, Dumble
THE RETURN PUSH
I. THE DEFENCE OF AMIENS
On a day towards the end of April the colonel and I, riding well
ahead of the Brigade, passed through deserted Amiens and stopped when
we came upon some fifty horses, nose-bags on, halted under the trees
along a boulevard in the eastern outskirts of the city. Officers in
groups stood beneath, or leaned against, the high wall of a large civil
hospital that flanked the roadway.
Reinforced in guns and personnel, and rested after the excitements
and hazards of the March thrust-back, our two brigades of Divisional
Field Artillery, and the D.A.C., were bound again for the Front. These
waiting officers formed the advance billeting parties.
We've been obeying Sir Douglas Haig's Order of the Daygetting our
backs to the wall, growled the adjutant to me, after he had sprung up
and saluted the colonel. The staff captain met us two hours ago at
; but they were shelling the place, and he said it wouldn't be safe
for waggon lines; so we came on here. He's inside the building now
seeing if he can put the whole Divisional Artillery there....
I'll bet we shan't be ready for the batteries when they come in,
he went on gloomilyand then added, like the good soldier that he is,
My groom will show you where the horses can water.
A long-range shell, passing high overhead and exploding among the
houses some way behind us, showed that Amiens was no health resort. But
horse lines were allotted, and in due course the long corridors of the
evacuated building resounded with the clatter-clatter of gunners and
drivers marched in to deposit their kits. You've got a big piece of
chalk this morning, haven't you? grumbled the adjutant to the adjutant
of our companion Brigade, complaining that they were portioning off
more rooms than they were entitled to. Still he was pleased to find
that the room he and I shared contained a wardrobe, and that inside the
door was pinned a grotesque, jolly-looking placard of Harry
Tatemoustache and allin Box o' Tricks. The discovery that a
currant cake, about as large as London, sent a few days before from
England, had disappeared from our Headquarters' mess-cart during the
day's march, led to a tirade on the shortcomings of New Army servants.
But he became sympathetic when I explained that the caretakers, two
sad-eyed French women, the only civilians we ourselves met that day,
were anxious that our men should be warned against prising open locked
doors and cupboards. Tell 'em any man doing that will be shot at
dawn, he said, leaving me to reassure the women.
Twenty-four hours later, after another march, our guns were in
position. With pick and shovel, and a fresh supply of corrugated iron,
the batteries were fortifying their habitations; Brigade Headquarters
occupied the only dwelling for miles round, a tiny café that no shell
had touched. The colonel had a ground-floor room and a bedstead to
himself; the adjutant and myself put down our camp-beds in an attic,
with the signalling officer and the American doctor next door, and H.Q.
signallers and servants in the adjoining loft that completed the upper
storey. It was a rain-proof comfortable shelter, but the C.R.A. didn't
altogether approve of it. You're at a cross-roads, with an ammunition
dump alongside of you, and the road outside the front door is mined
ready for blowing up should the Boche advance this way, he said
grimly, when he visited us. In any case, he'll shoot by the map on
this spot immediately he starts a battle.... I think you ought to have
a retiring headquarters in readiness. So I put in two days
superintending the erection of a little colony of houses, built of
ammunition boxes and corrugated iron, half a mile from the main road. I
camouflaged the sloping roofs with loose hay, and, at a distance, our
Garden City looked like a bunch of small hay-stacks. We got quite
proud of our handiwork; and there was a strained moment one midday when
the regimental sergeant-major rode hurriedly to the café with a most
disturbing report. Riding along the main road he had observed a party
of men pulling down our huts, and piling the sheets of corrugated iron
into a G.S. waggon. When he cantered across, the driver whipped up his
horses, and the G.S. waggon bounded over the open fields for half a
mile before the sergeant-major got sufficiently near to order it to
halt. They belong to the st Brigade, sir, the sergeant-major
informed the adjutant, and I've told the sergeant in charge of the
party to consider himself under arrest until you have seen him.
The adjutant, eye flashing, nostrils dilated, was already out of the
café walking hard, and breathing dire threats against the servant who
had been posted to guard our new home. Apparently he had gone away to
complain that the cook was late in sending his dinner.
The sergeant and his assistant pirates were restoring the
dismantled huts by the time the adjutant and myself drew near. The
sergeant was plainly a disciple of the It's all in the same firm
school. He submitted, with great respect, that he was innocent of
criminal intent. There was nothing to show that the huts were in use
... and his battery wanted iron for their gun-pits.
None of your old soldier talk with me, blustered the adjutant,
shaking a ponderous forefinger. You knew you were doing wrong.... Why
did you send the waggon off when you saw the sergeant-major?
I went after it and stopped it when he told me to, sir, returned
The sergeant-major admitted that, strictly speaking, this was a
correct statement. There was a ten seconds' pause, and I wondered what
the adjutant's next thrust would be.
The waggon was trotting away, was it? he demanded slowly.
Yes, sir, replied the sergeant.
And you made no attempt to prevent it trotting until the
sergeant-major told you to stop it?
And you know it's forbidden for waggons to be trotted except in
very exceptional circumstances?
Very well, I put you under arrest for contravening G.R.O. by
Artful beggarI know him of old, chuckled the adjutant, as he and
I returned to the café. He was a gunner in my battery when I was
sergeant-major of Battery, R.H.A.
The Boche was expected to attack on St George's Day. Our Brigade was
defending a reserve line, and would not fire unless the enemy swept
over our first-line system. Fresh trenches were being dug, and new and
stout rows of wire entanglement put down. Corps orders were distinct
and unmistakable. The fight here would be a fight à outrance. On
March 21 our retirement had been a strategic one. But this Front had to
be held at all costs, and we should throw in every reserve we had. Only
once during our stay in the café did the adjutant and myself sleep in
pyjamas. These walls are so thin one 5·9 would knock the whole place
out; if we have to clear we may as well be ready, he said meaningly.
The ridge, three-quarters of a mile in front of us, was shelled
regularly, and every night enemy bombing planes came over, but,
strangely enough, the Boche gunners neglected our cross-roads; we even
kicked a football about until one afternoon a trench-mortar officer
misdirected it on to the main road, and an expressive pop! told of
its finish under the wheel of a motor-lorry. St George's Day, and still
no Boche attack! We began to talk of the peaceful backwater in which we
were moored. Manning, our mess waiter, decorated the stained, peeling
walls of the mess with some New Art picture post-cards. I found a quiet
corner, and wrote out a 'Punch' idea that a demand for our
water-troughs to be camouflaged had put into my head. Major Bullivant,
who had succeeded poor Harville in the command of A Battery, and Major
Bartlett of C Battery, dined with us that night, and the best story
told concerned an extremely non-military subaltern, newly attached to
the D.A.C. When instructed to deliver an important message to Div.
Arty.the Army condensation for Divisional Artilleryhe pored long
and hopelessly over a map. Finally he appealed to a brother officer. I
can't find the village of 'DIVARTY' on the map, he said, and, of
course, sprang into immediate fame throughout the Division.
April 24: About 4 A.M. a shell burst that shook the café. Then the
steady whistling scream of high-velocity shells going overhead. I
lighted a candle and looked at the adjutant as he poked his red face
and tousled grey hair from under his blankets. They've started, he
muttered solemnly. The old Hun always shells the back areas when he
We got up slowly, and fastened boots and leggings. I suppose we
ought to put on revolvers, he went on dubiously, and then added with
sudden warmth, I hope he gets it in the neck to-day.
Our telephone pit in the cellar below the café was alive with
industry. Our batteries were not firing, but the colonel had already
asked the battery commanders whether any shells, particularly gas
shells, had come their way. A couple of 4·2's had landed close to C
Battery, but they seemed to be stray shots; it did not seem likely that
the enemy knew where the batteries were sited. The Boche bombardment
After breakfast, a 5·9 exploding 200 yards from our café, blew out
the largest pane in the unshuttered window. Shells had dropped by now
in most spots around us; but the cross-roads remained untouched. A
cyclist orderly from our waggon line, two miles back, brought news that
a direct hit had blown the telephone cart to bits; fortunately, neither
man nor horse had been touched. The adjutant was outside exhorting four
infantry stragglers to try and find their units by returning to the
battle line. A Royal Fusilier, wounded in the head, had fainted while
waiting at the cross-roads for an ambulance; our cook had lifted him on
to a bench inside the café and was giving him tea. The colonel, who
remained in the mess, in telephone touch with the brigadier-general,
C.R.A., and the brigade-major, had never seemed so preoccupied. Days
afterwards, he confided to me that when the Hun bombardment started he
feared a repetition of the overpowering assault of March 21.
They had tanks out to-day, a boy captain of infantry, his arm in a
sling, told me, as he climbed into a motor ambulance. By Gad, I saw a
topping sight near Villers Bretonneux. The Boche attacked in force
there and pushed us back, and one of his old tanks came sailing merrily
on. But just over the crest, near a sunken road, was a single 18-pdr.;
it didn't fire until the Boche tank climbed into view on top of the
crest. Then they let him have it at about 100 yards' range. Best series
of upper-cuts I've ever seen. The old tank sheered off and must have
got it hot. I learnt afterwards that this was a single gun detachment
belonging to our companion brigade, who had been pushed forward as soon
as news came that the enemy was being held.
By tea-time we ourselves had been ordered forward to relieve a
brigade that had suffered considerably in the opening stages of the
assault. And, after all, we didn't occupy the Garden City
headquarters I had been at such pains to build. We handed it over to
the brigade we were relieving, and their colonel congratulated our
colonel on his forethought.
The colonel decided that only the doctor, the signalling officer,
and myself should go forward. The adjutant could settle at the waggon
lines and occupy himself with reinforcements, clothing, and salvage
returns, Army Form B 213, watering and forage arrangements, and
suchlike administrative duties. My task would be the Forward or G
branchi.e., assisting the colonel with the details of his
The colonel and I lay down that night in a hole scooped out of a
chalk bank. The corrugated iron above our heads admitted a draught at
only one corner; as our sleeping-bags were spread out on a couple of
spring mattresses, moved by some one at some time from some
neighbouring homestead, we could not complain of lack of comfort.
April 24 was the last day on which our Brigade awaited and prepared
to meet a Boche attack of the first magnitude. But it was not until the
month of July that any of us conceived, or dared to believe in, the
possibility of his mighty armies being forced upon the defensive again.
During May and June we accepted it that our rôle would be to stick
it out until the Americans came along en masse in 1919. The
swift and glorious reversal of things from August onwards surprised no
one more than the actual fighting units of the British armies.
II. THE RED-ROOFED HOUSE
We're doing an attack to-morrow morning, said the colonel,
returning about tea-time from a visit to the C.R.A. We are under the
th Divisional Artillery while we're up here, and we shall get the
orders from them. You'd better let the batteries know. Don't say
anything over the wire, of course.... Any papers for me to see? he
added, pulling out his leather cigarette case.
I handed him the gun and personnel returns, showing how many men and
guns the Brigade had in action; and the daily ammunition reports that
in collated form find their way from Divisional Artillery to Corps, and
from Corps to Army, and play their part in informing the strategic
minds at the back of the Front of the ebb and flow of fighting activity
all along the vast battle line, enabling them to shape their plans
accordingly. D Battery are a bit low in smoke shells, remarked the
colonel. You'd better warn Major Veasey that he'll want some for
B Battery ... two casualties ... how was that? he continued,
before signing another paper.
About an hour ago, sir. Their mess cart was coming up, and got
shelled half a mile from the battery position. Two of the servants were
I've never seen an order worded quite like that, he smiled, when I
showed him a typed communication just arrived from the Divisional
Artillery, under whose orders we were now acting. It gave the map
co-ordinates of the stretch of front our guns were to fire upon in
response to S.O.S. calls. The passage the colonel referred to began
By kind consent of the colonel of the th French Artillery,
the S.O.S. barrage on our front will be strengthened as
Sounds as if the French colonel were lending his batteries like a
regimental band at a Bank Holiday sports meeting, sir, I ventured.
Yes, we are learning to conduct war in the grand manner, smiled
the colonel, opening his copy of 'The Times.'
Our mess, under a couple of curved iron elephants stuck against
the bank, had looked a miserable affair when we came to it; but
judicious planting of sandbags and bits of scrounged boarding and a
vigorous clean-up had made it more habitable. Manning, the mess
servant, had unearthed from a disused dug-out a heavy handsome table
with a lacquered top, and a truly regal chair for the colonelgreen
plush seating and a back of plush and scrolled oakthe kind of chair
that provincial photographers bring out for their most dignified
sitters. By the light of our acetylene lamp we had dined, and there had
been two rubbers of bridge, the colonel and the little American doctor
bringing about the downfall of Wilde, the signalling officer, and
myself, in spite of the doctor's tendency to finesse against his own
partner. The doctor had never played bridge before joining us, and his
mind still ran to poker. The Reconnaissance Officer of the th
Divisional Artillery had rung up at 10 o'clock to tell us that an
officer was on his way with a watch synchronised to Corps time, and
that we should receive orders for the next morning's operation viâ
a certain Field Artillery Brigade who were somewhere in our vicinity. I
had told the brigade clerk that he could go to bed in his 3 feet by 6
feet cubby-hole, and that the orderlies waiting to convey the battle
orders to the batteries ought to snatch some rest also. It was 11 P.M.
now. Wilde and the doctor had gone off to their own dug-out. It was
very dark when I looked outside the mess. We were in a lonely stretch
of moorland; the nearest habitation was the shell-mauled cottage at the
railway crossing, two miles away. Every ten minutes or so enemy shells
screamed and flopped into the valley between us and the road alongside
which D Battery lay.
We'll try and hurry these people up, said the colonel, picking up
the telephone. Even as he told the signaller on duty to get him
Divisional Artillery, a call came through. It was the Artillery Brigade
from whom we expected a messenger with the orders.
No! I heard the colonel say sharply. We've had nothing.... No! no
one has been here with a watch.... You want an officer to come over to
you?... But I haven't any one who knows where you are.
A pause. Then the colonel continued. Yes, but you know where we
are, don't you?... Umph.... Well, where are you to be found?... You
can't give a co-ordinate over the telephone?... That's not very
He rang off, but I knew by his expression that the matter was not
yet settled. He got through to the th Divisional Artillery and told
the brigade-major that it was now 11.20 P.M., that no officer with a
synchronised watch had arrived, and that the other brigade were now
asking us to send an officer to them for orders for the coming battle.
I have no one who knows where they are, he went on. They must know
our locationwe relieved one of their brigades. Why can't they send to
us as arranged? I may have some one wandering about half the night
trying to find them.
In a little while the telephone bell tinkled again. I'll answer
them, said the colonel abruptly.
All right, I'll send to them, he replied stonily. Where are we to
find them, since they won't give us co-ordinates over the telephone?...
A house with a red roof!... You can't tell us anything more
definite?... Very well.... Good-bye.
He put down the telephone with a little Tchat! that meant all
forms of protest, annoyance, and sense of grievance. But now that no
possible concession was to be gained, and certain precise work had to
be done by us, he became the inexorable matter-of-fact executive leader
again. There's nothing for it, he said, looking at me. You will have
Buildings with red roofs are not marked as such on military maps,
and I bent glumly over the map board. However, houses were exceedingly
few in this neighbourhood, and the chateau on the other side of the
railway could be ruled out immediately. It was known as The White
Chateau, and I had noticed it in daytime. Besides, it had been so
heavily shelled that our companion brigade had evacuated it two days
before. It's pretty certain to be somewhere in this area, observed
the colonel, bending over me, and indicating a particular three
thousand square yards on the map. I expect that's the placeon the
other side of the railway, and he pointed to a tiny oblong patch. I
estimated that the house was three miles from where we were. It wanted
but five minutes to midnight.
I went outside, and flickering my electric torch stumbled across
ruts and past occasional shell-holes to the copse, three hundred yards
away, that sheltered the officers' chargers. I crackled a way among
twigs and undergrowth until the piquet called out, Who goes there?
I think your groom's here, sir, he said, and the trees were so
close set that my shoulder brushed the hindquarters of a row of mules
as he piloted me along. Are you there, Morgan? he shouted, pulling
open a waterproof ground-sheet that was fastened over a hole in the
ground. Nogo away, called a voice angrily. Where's Morgan sleep?
Mr wants him, persevered the piquet.
We found my groom in another hole in the ground about thirty yards
away. He listened sleepily while I told him to get my horses ready
immediately. Do you want feeds on, sir? he asked, with visions
apparently of an all-night ride.
There was no moon, and I gazed gratefully at the only constellation
that showed in a damp unfriendly skythe Great Bear. I let my horse
find his own way the first few hundred yards, until we struck a track,
then we broke into a trot. The swish and plop of gas shells in the
valley towards which we were descending made me pause. I calculated
that they were falling short of the railway crossing I wanted to reach,
and decided that a wide sweep to the right would be the safest course.
We cantered alongside some ploughed land, and the motion of the horse,
and the thought that with luck I might finish my task quickly, and earn
a word of commendation from the colonel, brought a certain sense of
exhilaration. The shelling of the valley increased; my horse stumbled
going down a bank, and for the next five minutes we walked over broken
ground. Getting a bit too much to the right, I said to myself, and
turned my horse's head. Further thoughts were cut short by the
discovery that his forelegs were up against a belt of barbed wire.
For ten minutes I walked in front of the wire, searching for an
opening, and getting nearer to where the shells were falling. All the
time I looked earnestly for the railway line. I began to feel bitter
and resentful. If our own Divisional Artillery had been doing
to-morrow's show I shouldn't have had to turn out on a job of this
kind, I reflected. Damn the th Division. Why can't they do their
But little gusts of anger sometimes bring with them the extra bit of
energy that carries a job through. We had reached a ruined wall now,
and there was still no opening in the wire. I could see telegraph
posts, and knew that the railway was just ahead. I got off my horse,
told the groom to wait behind the broken wall, and, climbing through
the barbed wire, picked my way along smashed sleepers and twisted rails
until I came to the crossing.
I followed the deserted shell-torn road that led from the
level-crossing, searching for a track on the left that would lead to
the house I sought. A motor-cyclist, with the blue-and-white band of
the Signal Service round his arm, came through the hedge.
Is there a house on top of that hill? I asked him, after a
preliminary flicker of my torch.
Is it a red-roofed house?
Well, ... I don't know, sir.
Who's up there?
Smith's group, sir.
Oh, hang! that tells me nothing. What are theyartillery?
Yes, sirheavies, I think, sir.
I felt myself at a standstill. Orders for us were not likely to be
with a group of heavy artillery. Whom are you from? I asked finally,
preparing to move on.
From the th Div. Artillery, sir.
Oh!with a rush of hopefulnessyou have no orders, I suppose,
for the nd Brigade?mentioning our Brigade.
I broke off and strode up the hillside, determined at any rate to
gather some sort of information from the house the motor-cyclist had
just left. I came upon a bare-looking, two-storied brick building with
plain doors and windows. Through the keyhole of the front door I could
see a light coming from an inside room. I opened the door and walked
down the passage, calling, Is this the rd Field Artillery Brigade?
No! This is the nd Field Company, replied a fair-moustached
sapper captain, who was lying on a mattress in the room from which the
light came, reading a book of O. Henry stories.
Sorry to trouble you, I said, but I'm trying to find the rd
Brigade. Do you know if they are round here?
I don't, I'm afraid. We only came in this afternoon.
It's a house with a red roof, I went on, rather hopelessly.
I think I know the place, chimed in a voice from an inner room.
It's a shooting-box, isn't it? Your best way is to get on the road
again and take the next track on the left. I noticed a red-roofed house
up there when we came by.
I trudged back and got on to the new track, feeling very martyred
but very resigned. I suppose I ought to have kept my eyes open more, I
thought. Next time I go to a new part of the country I won't miss a
single distinguishing feature.
It was now 1.15 A.M. I came to a lonely house fronted by a neatly
railed garden. I hammered noisily on the door and found that it opened
into a darkened passage. A torch flashed into my face. Is this the
rd Brigade? I began.
Yes, a voice shouted, and suddenly a door opened and a spurt of
light revealed a youthful pink-cheeked staff lieutenant. Are you from
the nd Brigade? he asked. Oh, bon! bon!I've been waiting for
Waiting for me! I retorted, nettled by his airy manner. Hard luck
on me having to traipse at this time of night to a place I don't know
to get orders you ought to have sent out.
Yes, I know, he replied cheerfully. We're awfully sorry, but it's
the French Division, you know. We've only just got the orders out of
them. It's really their show.... And I'm afraid the first part of your
orders have been sent off to the wrong place. Saying which, he led me
into a large sombre room in which four or five officers sat immersed in
papers and message forms. An elderly colonel looked up and nodded over
his glasses. The young staff officer handed me some barrage maps and a
quantity of type-written operation orders.
Zero hour is 5.10 A.M., he began, and here is the part of your
orders that has gone astray. I can't give you this copy. Will you take
the orders down from this?
I commenced writing out the operation order, and was struck to find
that the barrage lifts were in hundreds of metres instead of hundreds
of yards. Yes, the French insisted on that, explained the staff
But we haven't metres on our range-drums, I said with an air of
Yes, I know, but the French insisted on it, because of their
infantry.... Oh! there's a para. there about smoke-shellsthat's
The para. about smoke-shells is deleted ... there will be no
smoke-shells, put in the elderly colonel, looking up.
Oh, is it, sir? said the staff lieutenant, turning round.
Yes; the correction has just come through.
I synchronised my watch, thrust the bundle of papers into my
hip-pocket, and hurried away to find my horses. It was half-past one,
and the attack was timed to start at 5.10. The colonel would require to
deal with the orders, and the battery commanders would have but the
barest time to work out their individual lifts. I started back at the
gallop, skirting the side of the valley. I remember wishing to heaven
that the clumps and hillocks of this part of France did not look so
consistently alike. If only it were light enough for me to pick out the
mustard field that lay, a bright yellow landmark, behind our chalk
The colonel was in bed when I got back, but I held a candle while he
read through the orders, and got out his ivory ruler, and apportioned a
barrage lane to each battery. Metres will have to become yards, was
one of his remarks.
By twenty-to-three the orderlies had set out with the battle orders
to the batteries, while I spoke on the telephone to an officer of each
battery, and synchronised watches.
When I turned in, after a whisky-and-soda and a couple of biscuits,
the colonel was fast asleep. I felt satisfied, however, that I had done
my share that night towards beating the Hun.
By 7 A.M. we were up again, and until 7 P.M. the telephone buzzed
continuously. It was a day of hard infantry fighting, of attacks that
were held up and had to be renewed, of German counter-efforts to shift
us from points won at the opening of our attack. All day long F.O.O.'s
and liaison officers telephoned reports of changes in our front line,
and five times I turned on our batteries to respond to S.O.S. calls. By
the end of the day we held three parts of the ground that our Higher
Command had planned to seize.
III. AN AUSTRALIAN HAND-OVER
There followed three months of varied kinds of soldiering: short
spells holding the line, odd days in rest areas, quick shifts to other
parts of the Front, occasional participation in carefully prepared
raids on Hun trenches, one whole fortnight in a riverside village where
even the Boche night-bombers did not come, and where we held a joyous
race-meetingseventy riders in one raceand a spit-and-polish horse
show. There was the fresh burst by the Hun armies that seemed to spell
the doom of Reims. We began to notice larger and larger bodies of
arriving Americans, but did not expect them to be in the war on an
impressive scale until 1918 was out. Leave to England remained at a
standstill. The universal phrase of 1916 and 1917, Roll on Duration,
had almost entirely disappeared from the men's letters that came before
me for censoring. Yet no one seemed depressed. Every one appeared
possessed of a sane and calm belief that things would work out right in
the long-run. We should just have to hold the Hun off this year, and by
honest endeavour during training opportunities fit ourselves to fight
with added effectiveness in 1919, when America would be properly in the
field and the Allies' turn would come.
The second week in May the Brigade, after a fourteen-mile march,
came again into the land of rolling heights and sunken roads in which
for three and a half years most of our fighting had been done. A
sausage balloon anchored to the ground, a pumping-station and four
square-shaped water-troughs, and a dozen or so shanties built of
sandbags and rusted iron, dotted the green-and-brown landscape.
Waggon tracks had cut ugly brown ways through clover-fields and
grasslands. A new system of trenches stretched to north and to south
from the main road along which the Brigade were moving. Men of the
Labour Corps were stolidly filling shell-holes in the road surface with
broken stones, and digging sump-holes for draining away the
rain-and-mud torrents that were sure to come. A long dark wood crowned
the ridge three miles in front of us. In the centre a slender spire
tipped the tree-tops.
That's Baisieux Church, said Major Bullivant, with whom I was
riding along the horse track at the side of the road. Do you know the
latest motto for the Labour Corps? he added inconsequentially, looking
down at a bespectacled man in khaki who eased up as we passed.
Infra dig., he went on, with a humorous side-glance, and without
pausing for my answer.
Away to the east muffled boomings as if giants were shaking
blankets. My mind turned to July 1916, when first I arrived in France
and came along this very road at 3.30 one morning as the sun's rim
began to peep above the long dark wood. How easy to recall that
morning! I had brought fifty-three men from the Base, reinforcements
for the Divisional Artillery, and half-believed that the war could not
proceed unless I delivered them to their destination in the shortest
possible time; and my indignant keenness when I reached the village
behind the long dark wood and learned that no one there knew anything
about the two lorries that were to transport my party the remainder of
the journey to the Front! Did I not rouse a frowning town major and two
amazed sergeant-majors before 5 A.M. and demand that they should do
something in the matter? And did not my fifty-three men eventually
complete a triumphant pilgrimage in no fewer than thirteen ammunition
lorriesto find that they and myself had arrived a day earlier than we
were expected? And here was I again in the same stretch of country, and
the British line not so far forward as it had been two years before.
We pitched tents and tethered our horses in the wood, and before
nightfall I walked into the village to look at the spot beneath the
church tower where I had halted my fifty-three men, and to view again
the barn in which I had roused the most helpful of the two
sergeant-majors. Alas for the sentiment! All French villages seem much
alike, with their mud-wall barns and tiled cottages, when you have
passed through scores of them, as I have done since July 1916. I could
not be certain of the building.
Coming back to our camp through the heart of the wood, I chanced
upon a place of worship that only a being of fancy and imagination and
devoutness could have fashioned. Inside a high oval hedge, close-woven
with much patient labour, stood an altar made of banked-up turf,
surmounted by a plain wooden cross. Turf benches to seat a hundred and
fifty worshippers faced the altar. Above, the wind rustled softly
through the branches of tall birches and larch trees, bent over until
they touched, and made one think of Gothic arches. There was wonderful
peace and rest in the place. Some one told me afterwards that the
chaplain of a London Division had built it. It was a happy thought.
* * * * *
In the morning I went with the colonel through the village, and a
mile and a half along a road leading east that for half a mile was
lined with camouflage screens. The Boche holds the ridge over there,
remarked the colonel, stretching an arm towards high ground swathed in
a blue haze five miles away. A painted notice-board told all and sundry
that horse traffic was not permitted on the road until after dusk. We
struck off to the left, dropped into a trench where we saw a red
triangular flag flying, and said Good-day to the brigade-major of the
Infantry brigade who had made their headquarters at this spot. Then we
got out of the trench again, and walked along the top until we came to
what was to be our future homethe headquarters of the Australian
Field Artillery Brigade that we were to relieve by 10 P.M. We received
a cheery welcome from a plump, youngish Australian colonel, and a
fair-haired adjutant with blue sparkling eyes.
When a brigade of artillery relieves another brigade of artillery,
there is a ceremony, known as handing-over, to be gone through. The
outgoing brigade presents to the in-coming brigade maps and documents
showing the positions of the batteries, the O.P.'s, the liaison duties
with the infantry, the amount of ammunition to be kept at the gun
positions, the zones covered, the S.O.S. arrangements, and similar
information detailing daily work and responsibilities. I can recall no
hand-over so perfect in its way as this one. The Australian Brigade's
defence file was a beautifully arranged, typed document, and a child
could have understood the indexing. True, the extent and number of
their headquarters staff was astonishing. Against our two clerks they
had three clerks, and a skilled draughtsman for map-making; also an
N.C.O. whose sole magnum opus was the weekly compiling of Army
Form B. 213. But there could be no doubt that they carried on war in a
most business-like way.
The colonel went off with the Australian colonel to inspect the
battery positions and view the front line from the O.P.'s, and sent me
back to bring up our mess cart and to arrange for the fetching of our
kit. By tea-time we were properly installed; and indeed the Australian
colonel and his adjutant remained as our guests at dinner.
The mess, cut out of the side of the trench and lined with
corrugated iron, possessed an ingeniously manufactured doorpart of a
drum-tight wing of a French aeroplane. The officers' sleeping quarters
were thirty feet below ground, in an old French dug-out, with steps so
unequal in height that it was the prudent course to descend backwards
with your hands grasping the steps nearest your chin.
The Australian colonel dipped his hand for the fifth time into the
box of canteen chocolates that Manning had placed on the table with the
port. That's a nice Sam Browne of yours, he observed, noticing the
gloss on our adjutant's belt.
I hope you don't take a fancy to it, sir, replied our adjutant
quickly. We're all afraid of you, you know. I've put a double piquet
on our waggon lines for fear some of your fellows take a liking to our
The Australian colonel and his adjutant laughed good-naturedly, and
the colonel told us a story of a captain and a sergeant-major in
another Australian brigade who were accomplished looters.
One night the pair were hauling down a tent which they thought was
empty, when a yell made them aware that an officer was sleeping in it.
The captain took to his heels, but the sergeant-major was captured.
The next day, concluded the Australian colonel, the captain had
to go and make all sorts of apologies to get his sergeant-major off.
The other people agreed, provided the officer ransomed him with half a
dozen pit-props and ten sheets of corrugated iron. For a long time
afterwards we used to chaff the captain, and tell him that he valued
his sergeant-major at six pit-props and ten sheets of iron.
Hot sweltering days followed. Most mornings I spent at the O.P.
watching our batteries' efforts to knock out suspected enemy trench
mortars, or staring through my binoculars trying to pick out Boche
transport, or fresh digging operations. The tramp back at midday along
the communication trenches was boiling-hot going. I used to think
People working in London will be pining just now for green fields and
country air. For myself, I'd give anything for a cool ride on a London
bus. In the afternoons there were reserve battery positionsin case
of a swift Hun advanceto be reconnoitred, gaps in the barbed-wire
systems to be located, and bits of trenches that would have to be
filled in to allow our waggons to cross. Divisional Artillery were
insistent upon timed reports of hostile shelling, particularly gas
shelling, and this formed another portion of my special work. One day
intimation came from Division that Fentiman and Robson had been
accepted for the Air Service. It's the only way to get leave to
England, said Robson jocularly. Fentiman's chief regret was that he
would have to leave behind a mare that he had got from the Tank Corps.
She pulls so, he told me one afternoon when I met him jogging along
the road, that if I turned on to the grass at this moment and put
spurs into her, she wouldn't stop till she got to Amiens.... No one in
the Tank Corps has been able to pull her up under four miles, and only
then when she came to a seven-foot hedge.... But I was beginning to
When I accompanied the colonel on his visits to the Infantry
brigades all the talk was of the training of the youngsters, who now
formed so considerable a portion of the battalion strengths. They are
good stuff, I heard one of the brigadiers say, and I keep drumming
into them that they are fighting for England, and that the Boche
mustn't gain another yard of ground. He was a fighter, this
brigadieralthough I have never yet met another officer who took it as
a matter of course that his camp-bed should be equipped with linen
sheets when he was living in the firing line.
About three-quarters of a mile from our headquarters was a tiny
cemetery, set in a grove of trees on a bare hillside, sequestered,
beautiful in its peacefulness and quiet. One morning, very early, I
walked out to view it more closely. It had escaped severe shelling,
although chipped tombstones and broken railings and scattered pieces of
painted wire wreaths showed that the hell-blast of destruction had not
altogether passed it by. I went softly into the little chapel. On the
floor, muddy, noisy-sleeping soldiers lay sprawled in ungainly
attitudes. Rifles were piled against the wall; mess-tins and
water-bottles lay even upon the altar. And somehow there seemed nothing
incongruous about the spectacle, nothing that would hurt a profoundly
religious mind. It was all part of the war.
And one night when I was restless, and even the heavy drugging
warmth of the dug-out did not dull me to sleep, I climbed up into the
open air. It was a lovely night. The long dark wood stood out black and
distinct in the clear moonlight; the stars twinkled in their calm
abode. Suddenly a near-by battery of long-range guns cracked out an
ear-splitting salvo. And before the desolating rush of the shells had
faded from the ear a nightingale hidden among the trees burst into
song. That also was part of the war.
IV. HAPPY DAYS!
During the month of June Brigade Headquarters retired from the
trench dug-out and settled in the end house of the village, a
white-walled, vine-clad building, with a courtyard and stables and a
neat garden that only one Boche shell had smitten. On the door of the
large room that we chose for the mess there still remained a request in
French, written in a clear painstaking hand, that billeted officers
should keep to the linoleum strips laid across the carpet when
proceeding to the two inner rooms. But there was no linoleum now, and
no carpet. On the otherwise bare wall was hung a massively-framed
portrait of the proprietora clean-shaven middle-aged Frenchman of
obviously high intelligence. A family press-cutting album contained an
underlined report from a local newspaper of a concert given in the
village on June 6, 1914:
Très remarque le duo de mandoline avec accompagnement de
exécuté par trois gracieuses jeunes filles qui font à chacune
nos soirées admirer par les amateurs du beau, leur talent
I gathered that the three young girls were daughters of the house; I
also noted that trois gracieuses jeunes filles was doubly
One of our servants used to be a professional gardener, and in a
couple of days he had weeded the paths and brought skill and knowledge
to bear on the neglected vegetable beds. We had excellent salad from
that garden and fresh strawberries, while there were roses to spare for
the tall vases on the mantelpiece in the mess; and before we came away
our gardener had looked to the future and planted lettuce and turnips
and leeks, and even English pansies. The Boche gunners never got a line
on to that house, and though aeroplanes cruised above us every night
not a single bomb dropped near.
The town major, a learned and discursive subaltern, relieved on
account of rheumatic troubles from more strenuous duties with an
Infantry regiment, joined our mess and proved a valuable addition. He
was a talented mathematician whose researches had carried him to where
mathematics soar into the realms of imagination; he had a horror of
misplaced relatives, and possessed a reliable palate in the matter of
red wines. One dinner-time he talked himself out on the possibilities
of the metric system, and pictured the effects of a right angle with a
hundred instead of ninety degrees. Another night he walked me up and
down the garden until 2 A.M., expatiating on astronomy. He tried to
make me realise the beyond comprehension remoteness of the new star by
explaining that astronomers did not calculate its distance from the
earth in thousands of miles. Light travels at 186,000 miles a second;
to astronomers the new star is 2000 years away, he concluded.
As I have said, he was a valuable addition to our mess. One day he
took me to a neighbouring village and introduced me to a fat
comfortable-looking Maire, who spread his hands on his capacious knees
and invited us to try a cooling nip of absinthe. After which he
produced from a small choice store a bottle of fifty-year-old brandy,
and made the town major take it away in token of a friendship that
began in the way-back days of 1915.
All this may not sound like war, but I am trying to write down some
of the average daily happenings in a field-artillery brigade that has
seen as much service as any brigade in the new armies.
For several days Wilde, the signalling officer, and the doctor
conducted an acrid argument that arose from the doctor's astounding
assertion that he had seen a Philadelphia base-ball player smite a
base-ball so clean and hard that it travelled 400 yards before it
pitched. Wilde, with supreme scorn, pointed out that no such claim had
been made even for a golf ball. The doctor made play with the names of
Speaker, Cobb, and other transatlantic celebrities. Then one day Wilde
rushed into the mess flourishing a London Sunday paper that referred in
glowing terms to a mighty base-ball hit of 136 yards, made on the Royal
Arsenal football ground; after which the doctor retired to cope with
the plague of boils that had descended upon the Brigade. This and a
severe outbreak of Spanish 'flue provided him with a regular hundred
patients a day. He himself had bitter personal experience of the boils.
We never saw him without one for ten weeks. His own method of dealing
with their excruciating tenderness was to swathe his face in
cotton-wool and sticking-plaster. Damn me, doctor, if you don't look
like a loose imitation of Von Tirpitz, burst out the adjutant one day,
when the doctor, with a large boil on either side of his chin, appeared
By July we had side-stepped north and were housed in a chateau that
really deserved the appellation, though it was far from being as
massively built as an average English country seat of like importance.
It belonged to one of the oldest families in France. Wide noble
staircases led to vast rooms made untenable by shell fire. Fragments of
rare stained glass littered the vacant private chapel. The most
valuable paintings, the best of the Louis XV. furniture, and the
choicest tapestry had been removed to safety. In one room I entered
some bucolic wag had clothed a bust of Venus in a lance-corporal's cap
and field-service jacket, and affixed a box-respirator in the alert
position. We made the mess in what had been the nursery, and the
adjutant and myself slept in bunks off an elaborately mined passage, in
making which British tunnellers had worked so hard that cracks showed
in the wall above, and the whole wing appeared undecided whether or not
to sink. We learned that there were two schools of opinion regarding
the safety of the passage. The Engineers of one Division thought the
wing would not subside; some equally competent Engineers shook their
heads and said no civil authority would dream of passing the passage as
safe. The adjutant and myself relied upon the optimists; at any rate,
we should be safe from the Hun gunners, who treated the chateau as one
of their datum points.
We were relieving an Army Field Artillery brigade commanded by a
well-known scientific gunner, and on the afternoon that we arrived he
took the colonel and myself on an explanatory tour of the battery
positions and the O.P.'s. They were leaving their guns in position
for us to use. There was a Corps standing order that steel helmets
should be worn and box-respirators kept in the alert position in this
part of the line. So first we girded up ourselves in compliance with
orders. Then our guide made us walk in single file and keep close to
the houses as we walked along the main street. He has a beautiful view
of the chateau gates and can see movement in the centre of the road,
he informed us.
It was a terribly battered village. The church tower had been
knocked out of shape. Roofs that had escaped being smashed in were
threadbare, or seemed to be slipping off skeleton houses. Mutilated
telegraph-poles and broken straggly wires, evil-smelling pools of
water, scattered bricks, torn roadways, and walls blackened and scarred
by bomb and shell, completed a scene of mournfulness and desolation. We
passed one corner house on the shutters of which some infanteers had
chalked the inviting saucy sign, Ben Jonson's Café. Then we struck
across a fast-ripening wheat-field and put up a mother partridge who
was agonised with fear lest we should discover her young ones. It will
be a pity if these crops can't be gathered in, remarked our colonel.
To right and left of us, and beyond the ruined village that lay
immediately in front, were yellow fields ready for the harvesters.
Does he shell much? continued the colonel.
Not consistently, replied the other colonel. I don't think he
does much observed shooting. He's copying our method of sudden bursts
of fire, though.
We inspected two O.P.'s on one side of the wide valley that led
towards the front line, picked up, through binoculars, the chief
reference points in Bocheland, and had a look at two
heavily-camouflaged anti-tank guns that were a feature of the defence
in this part of the front. Myriads of fat overfed flies buzzed in the
trenches through which we passed. Hot and dusty, we came back about 6
P.M., and entered the chateau kitchen-garden through a hole that had
been knocked in the high, ancient, russet-red brick wall. The sudden
scent of box and of sweet-smelling herbs roused a tingling sense of
pleasure and of recollection. I never failed afterwards to return to
the chateau by that way.
The other colonel came out with us again next morning, although our
batteries were now in possession, and his own officers and men had gone
a long way back. He wanted to show our colonel some observation points
from the O.P. on the other side of the valley.
A certain incident resulted. As we passed A Battery's position we
saw Dumble, the battery captain, looking through the dial-sight of his
No. 1 gun, apparently trying to discover whether a black-and-white
signalling-pole, planted fifty yards in front of the gun, was in line
with a piece of hop-pole fifty yards farther on. Both colonels stared
fixedly at the spectacle. What's become of the aiming-posts? said the
other colonel, puzzled and stern.
When a gun has fired satisfactorily on a certain target, which is
also a well-defined point on the map, and it is desired to make this
particular line of fire the standard line, or, as it is commonly
called, the zero line, the normal method is to align two aiming-posts
with such accuracy that, no matter what other targets are fired upon,
the gun can always be brought back to its zero line by means of the
aiming-posts. Absolute accuracy being essential, the aiming-posts are
specially designed and are of a settled pattern. Judge of the two
colonels' astonishment then when they perceived Dumble's impromptu
Have you no aiming-posts? our colonel asked Dumble sharply.
No, sir, the other battery would not leave theirs behind. I had
understood it was arranged that we should hand over ours at the waggon
line, and that they should leave theirs here to give us the lines of
Of course, interrupted the other colonel; but what are you doing
now? You can't get your line with those things.
I'm trying to do the best I can, sir, until my own aiming-posts
Yes, but it's hopeless trying to fix those ridiculous things in the
same positions as the aiming-posts. Who was it gave the order to remove
The subaltern who was waiting for us to relieve your battery, sir.
The battery commander wasn't here then?
No, sir. I believe he'd gone on ahead to the waggon lines.
I'm exceedingly sorry this has happened, said the other colonel,
turning to our colonel. I'll have the battery commander and the other
officer up here at once, and they can go forward with your officer when
he registers the guns again. It's disgraceful. I'll stop their next
leave for this. He disappeared into the battery telephone pit to send
through orders for the recalling of the delinquent officers.
Not a bad idea to make an inspection round the day after you have
handed over, remarked our colonel to me drily. This is rather an
These were our last days of waiting and wondering whether the Boche
would attack; of the artillery duels and the minor raids by which each
side sought to feel and test the other's strength. I recall two or
three further incidents of our stay in that part of the line. The
G.O.C., R.A., of Corps decided that a rare opportunity presented itself
for training junior officers in quick picking up of targets, shooting
over open sights, and voice-command of batteries from near
sighting-places where telephone wires could be dispensed with and
orders shouted through a megaphone. It will quite likely come to
that, he observed. The next fighting will be of the real open warfare
type, and the value of almost mechanical acquaintance with drill is
that the officer possessing such knowledge can use all his spare brains
to deal with the changing phases of the actual battle. So a single
18-pdr. used to be pulled out for practice purposes, and Generals and
infantry officers came to see gunner subalterns schooled and tested. It
was better practice than Shoeburyness or Larkhill, because though the
shoots were carried out on the gunnery school model the shells were
directed at real targets. During one series a distinguished red-tabbed
party was dispersed because the Hun did an area strafe in front,
behind, and around the single gun. Another time the descent of an
8-inch saved the amour-propre of a worried second lieutenant,
who, after jockeying with his angle of sight, had got into abject
difficulties with his range and corrector.
One morning I was up forward carrying out instructions to keep in
daily touch with the infantry battalions, finding out their
requirements, and discovering what new artillery targets they could
suggest. As it was also my business to know what the Heavies were
doing, I stopped at an O.P. in a trench to ask a very young R.G.A.
officer observing for a 6-inch how. such questions as what he had fired
upon that morning, and whether he had noted any fresh Boche movement. I
had passed along the winding trench and descended the dug-out
headquarters of one of our infantry battalions, and was inquiring if
the commanding officer had any suggestions or complaints to make, when
the boyish R.G.A. officer came down the steps and, not noticing me in
the dim candle-light, asked in hurried tones: Excuse me, sir, but
could you identify an artillery officer who said he was coming here? He
stopped and asked me some extraordinary questions ...
andhesitatinglyyou have to be careful talking to people in the
The adjutant and the intelligence officer of the infantry battalion
were smiling broadly. Finally the colonel had to laugh. Yes, he said,
I can identify the artillery officer. Here he is. You haven't
discovered a spy this time.
The young officer looked abashed, and when later I passed his
O.P., apologised with much sincerity. I replied by asking him to have
a good look at me, so that he wouldn't mistake me next time we met.
After which we both laughed. We did meet again, not long afterwards,
and in much more exciting circumstances.
When the Brigade left that part of the line, Marshal Foch had begun
his momentous counter-effort between Soissons and Château-Thierry. In a
very short time we also were to be engaged in a swift and eventful
movement that changed the whole tenor of the war: a time of hard
ceaseless fighting, countless episodes of heroism and sacrifice, and
vivid conquering achievement.
V. BEFORE THE GREAT ATTACK
On the evening of August 3, an evening with a sinister lowering sky,
we settled in our newest headquarters: wooden huts, perched on the long
steep slope of a quarry just outside the crumbling ruins of Heilly,
celebrated in the war annals of 1916 for an officers' tea-rooms, where
three pretty daughters of the house acted as waitresses.
Excitement was in the air. Marshal Foch's bold strategy at Soissons
had had dramatic effect. The initiative was passing again to the
Allies. A faint rumour had developed into an official fact. There was
to be a big attack on our immediate front. Yet few of us dared to
conceive the mark in history that August 8 was to make. All we really
hoped for was a series of stout resolute operations that would bring
Germany's great offensive to a deadlock.
Along the road that wound past the quarryoffshoot of a main route
that will for ever be associated with the Warthere flowed a ceaseless
stream of ammunition waggons. This goes on for three nights.... My
Gad, they're getting something ready for him, remarked our new
adjutant to me. Gallant, red-faced, roaring old Castle had been
transferred to command the Small Arms Ammunition section of the D.A.C.,
where his love of horses was given full play, and had already gained
his section many prizes at our Horse Show a week before.
Rain descended in stinging torrents, and the Australian colonel and
his adjutant, who would leave as soon as they heard that our batteries
had relieved theirs, looked out disgustedly. I called for a bottle of
whisky, and when the Australian adjutant toasted me with Here's to the
skin of your nose, I gathered that his gloom was lessening. The soup
came in and we started dinner.
Talk ran upon the extraordinary precautions taken to surprise the
enemy. Field-guns were not to be moved up to their battle positions
until the night before the attack. There was to be no digging in of
guns, no earth was to be upturned. Reconnaissance likely to come under
enemy observation had to be carried out with a minimum of movement. As
few officers and men as was possible were to be made aware of the date
and the scope of the operation. On a still night the creaking rattle of
ammunition waggons on the move may be heard a very long way off. To
prevent this noise of movement wheel tyres were lapped with rope; the
play of the wheels was muffled by the use of leather washers. Straw had
even to be laid on some of the roadsas straw is laid in front of
houses where the seriously sick are lying.
I think, said the Australian signalling officer, that the
funniest thing is the suggestion in orders that telephone conversations
should be camouflaged. I suppose that if some indiscreet individual
asks over the 'phone whether, for instance, a new telephone line has
been laid to a certain map point it is advisable to reply, 'No, he's
dining out to-night.'
Why not try a whistling code? put in our adjutant. Suppose you
whistled the first line of 'Where my Caravan has rested,' that could
mean 'At the waggon line.'
And 'Tell me the old, old Story' would be 'Send in your ammunition
returns at once,' laughed Wilde, our signalling officer, who had been
angered many times because his line to Divisional Artillery had been
held up for that purpose.
And 'It's a long way to Tipperary' could be taken as 'Lengthen your
Range,' said one of the Australian officers in his soft drawl; while
the exuberance reached its climax when some one suggested that Waiting
for the Robert E. Lee might be whistled to indicate that the
Divisional Commander was expected at any moment.
You've had some of the Americans with you, haven't you? asked our
colonel of the Australian colonel. How do you find them? We heard a
humorous report that some of the Australian infantry were rather
startled by their bloodthirstiness and the vigour of their language.
The Australian colonelone of those big, ugly, good-tempered men
who attract friendshiplaughed and replied, I did hear one good
story. A slightly wounded Boche was being carried on a stretcher to the
dressing station by an American and one of our men. The Boche spoke a
bit of English, and was talkative. 'English no good,' he said. 'French
no good, Americans no good.' The stretcher-bearers walked on without
answering. The Boche began again. 'The English think they're going to
win the war,they're wrong. You Americans think you've come to
Then the American spoke for the first and last time. 'You think
you're going to be carried to hospital,you're wrong. Put him down,
Digger!' And that ended that.
Speaking seriously, though, he went on, the Americans who have
been attached to us are good stuffkeen to learn, and the right age
and stamp. When they pick up more old-soldier cunning, they'll be
From all we hear, you fellows will teach them that, answered our
colonel. I'm told that your infantry do practically what they like
with the Boche on their sector over the river. What was that story a
Corps officer told me the other day? Oh, I know! They say your infantry
send out patrols each day to find out how the Boche is getting on with
his new trenches. When he has dug well down and is making himself
comfortable, one of the patrol party reports, 'I think it's deep enough
now, sir'; and there is a raid, and the Australians make themselves at
home in the trench the Boche has sweated to make.
The Australian colonel nodded with pleasure. Yes, our lot are
pretty good at the cuckoo game, he agreed.
Next morning our shaving operations were enlivened by the swift rush
of three high-velocity shells that seemed to singe the roof of the hut
I was in. They scattered mud, and made holes in the road below. The
nasty fellow! ejaculated our new American doctor, hastening outside,
with the active curiosity of the new arrival who has been little under
shell fire, to see where the shells had burst. Our little Philadelphia
medico had gone, a week before, to join the American forces. His
successor was broad-built, choleric, but kind of heart, and came from
Ohio. I suspected the new doctor of a sense of humour, as well as of an
understanding of current smart-set satire. They kept me at your base
two months, he told me, but I wanted to see the war. I also heard an
English doctor say he would be glad of a move, as the base was full of
P.U.O. and O.B.E.'s.
After breakfast the colonel and myself passed through the battered
relics of Heilly on our way to the batteries. The rain and the
tremendous traffic of the previous night had churned the streets into
slush, but the feeling that we were on the eve of great events made me
look more towards things of cheer. The sign-board, th Division Rest
House, on a tumble-down dwelling ringed round with shell-holes, seemed
over-optimistic, but the intention was good. At the little railway
station a couple of straw-stuffed dummies, side by side on a platform
seat as if waiting for a train, showed that a waggish spirit was
abroad. One figure was made up with a black swallow-tailed coat, blue
trousers, and a bowler hat set at a jaunty angle; the other with a
woman's summer skirt and blouse and an open parasol. B Battery, who had
discovered excellent dug-outs in the railway cutting, reported that
their only trouble was the flies, which were illimitable. A and C had
their own particular note of satisfaction. They were sharing a row of
dug-outs equipped with German wire beds, tables, mirrors, and other
home comforts. We adopted the Solomon method of division, explained
Major Bullivant. I picked out two lots of quarters, and then gave C
We've got to select positions still farther forward for the
batteries to move to if the attack proves a success, said the colonel
next day; and on that morning's outing we walked a long way up to the
infantry outposts. We struck a hard main road that led due east across
a wide unwooded stretch of country. A drizzling rain had set in; a few
big shells grunted and wheezed high over our heads; at intervals we
passed litters of dead horses, rotting and stinking, and blown up like
balloons. At a cross-road we came to a quarry where a number of sappers
were working. The captain in charge smiled when the colonel asked what
was the task in hand. General hopes it will become his
headquarters three hours after zero hour, sir.
That ammunition's well hidden, remarked the colonel as we followed
a lane to the right, and noted some neat heaps of 18-pdr. shells tucked
under a hedge. We found other small dumps of ammunition hidden among
the corn, and stowed in roadside recesses. Studying his map, the
colonel led the way across some disused trenches, past a lonely
burial-place horribly torn and bespattered by shell fire, and up a wide
desolate rise. This will do very well, said the colonel, marking his
map. He looked up at the grey sky and the heavy drifting clouds, and
added, We'll be getting back.
We came back along the main road, meeting occasional small parties
of infantry, and turned to the right down a road that led to the
nearest village. A Boche 5·9 was firing. The shells fell at minute
intervals four hundred yards beyond the road on which we were walking.
The colonel was describing to me some of the enjoyments of peace
soldiering in India, when there came a violent rushing of air, and a
vicious crack, and a shower of earth descended upon us; and dust hung
in the air like a giant shroud. A shell had fallen on the road forty
yards in front of us.
We had both ducked; the colonel looked up and asked, Well, do we
We might get off the road and go round in a semi-circle, sir, I
hazarded. I think it would be safer moving towards the gun than away
No, I think that was a round badly 'layed,' said the colonel.
We'll keep on the road. Besides, we shall have time to get past before
the next one comes. But I give you warning, he added with a twinkle,
the next one that comes so near I lie down flat.
I shall do exactly as you do, sir, I responded in the same spirit.
The colonel was right as usual. The next round went well over the
road again, and we walked along comfortably. At the entrance to the
village lay two horses, freshly killed. The harness had not been
removed. The colonel called to two R.A.M.C. men standing near. Remove
those saddles and the harness, he said, and place them where they can
be salvaged. It will mean cutting the girths when the horses commence
At 4.30 next morning the batteries were roused to answer an S.O.S.
call. The rumble of guns along the whole of our Divisional front lasted
for two hours. By lunch-time we learned that strong Hun forces had got
into our trenches and penetrated as far as the quarry where the colonel
and myself had seen the sappers at work. Twenty sappers and their
officer had been caught below ground, in what had been destined to
become General 's headquarters. Our counter-attack had won back
only part of the lost ground.
I'm afraid they'll spot all that ammunition. They are almost
certain now to know that something's afoot, said the colonel
Something like this always does happen when we arrange anything,
broke in the adjutant gloomily.
There were blank faces that day. We waited to hear whether there
would be a change of plan. But after dark the ammunition waggons again
poured ceaselessly along the roads that led to the front.
VI. THE BATTLE OF AUGUST 8
On the afternoon of August 7 the colonel left us to assume command
of the Divisional Artillery, the C.R.A. having fallen ill and the
senior colonel being on leave. Major Veasey, a Territorial officer, who
was senior to our two regular battery commanders, a sound soldier and a
well-liked man, had come over from D Battery to command the Brigade. A
determined counter-attack, carried out by one of our Divisional
infantry brigades, had won back most of the ground lost to the Boche
the day before. Operation orders for the big attack on the morning of
the 8th had been circulated to the batteries, and between 9 P.M. and 10
P.M. the guns were to move up to the battle positions. The old wheeler
was looking ruefully at the ninety-two steps leading from the quarry up
to our mess. Made of wooden pegs and sides of ammunition boxes, the
steps had taken him three days to complete. My gosh! that does seem a
waste of labour, commented the American doctor, with a slow smile.
Doctor, those steps will be a godsend to the next people who come
to live here, I explained. That's one of the ways in which life is
made possible out here.
We dined at eight, and it was arranged that Major Veasey, the
adjutant, and the signalling officer should go on ahead, leaving me to
keep in telephone touch with batteries and Divisional Artillery until
communications were complete at the new headquarters.
Down below the regimental sergeant-major was loading up the G.S.
waggon and the Maltese cart. An ejaculation from Wilde, the signalling
officer, caused every one to stare through the mess door. Why, they're
putting a bed on, ... and look at the size of it.... Hi! you can't take
that, he called out to the party below.
The doctor rose from his seat and looked down. Why, that's my
bed, he said.
But, doctor, you can't take a thing like that, interposed the
The doctor's face flushed. This being his baptismal experience of
the Front, he regarded the broad wire bed he had found in his hut as a
prize; he seemed unaware that in this part of the world similar beds
could be counted in hundreds.
But I like that bed. I can sleep on it. I want it, and mean to have
it, he went on warmly.
Sorry, doctor, answered the adjutant firmly. Our carts have as
much as they can carry already.
The doctor seemed disposed to have the matter out; but Major Veasey,
who had been regarding him fixedly, and looked amused, stopped further
argument by saying, Don't worry, doctor. There are plenty of beds at
the new position.
The doctor sat down silent but troubled, and when the others went he
said he would stay behind with me. I think he wanted my sympathy, but
the telephone kept me so busymessages that certain batteries had
started to move, demands from the staff captain for a final return
showing the shortage of gas-shell gauntlets, and for lists of area
stores that we expected to hand over, and a request from the adjutant
to bring the barometer that he had overlookedthat there was little
time for talk.
It was half-past ten when word having come that full communication
had been established at the new position, I told the two signallers who
had remained with me to disconnect the wires; and the doctor and I set
off. It was a murky night, and the air was warmly moist. The familiar
rumble of guns doing night-firing sounded all along the Front; enemy
shells were falling in the village towards which we were walking. There
was a short cut across the river and the railway and then on through
corn-fields. To strike it we ought to pass through a particular
skeleton house in the village we were leaving, out by the back garden,
and thence along a narrow track that led across a swamp. In the dark I
failed to find the house; so we plodded on, past the church, and took
to a main road. After walking two kilometres we switched south along a
by-road that led to the position A Battery had occupied. Not a soul had
passed since we took to the main road; the Boche shells, now arriving
in greater numbers, seemed, as is always the case at night, nearer than
they actually were.
Sounds of horses and of orders sharply given! It was the last
section of A Battery pulling out; in command young Stenson, a
round-faced, newly-joined officer, alert and eager, and not ill-pleased
with the responsibility placed upon him. Have the other sections got
up all right? I asked him. Yes, he answered, although they were
shelled just before getting in and Bannister was woundedhit in the
face, not seriously, I think. Bannister, poor fellow, died three days
The doctor and I passed on, following a shell-plastered road that
wound towards a rough wooden bridge, put up a week before; thence
across soggy ground and over the railway crossing. There was a slight
smell of gas, and without a word to each other we placed our
box-respirators in the alert position. To avoid the passage of a column
of ammunition waggons crunching along one of the narrow streets we
stepped inside a crumbling house. No sign of furniture, no stove, but
in one cornerquaint relic of less eventful daysa sewing-machine,
not even rusted.
A grove of poplars embowered the quarry that we were seeking; and
soon our steps were guided by the neighing of horses, and by the raised
voice of the R.S.M. hectoring his drivers. The doctor and I were to
share a smelly dug-out, in which all the flies in the world seemed to
have congregated. The doctor examined at length the Boche wire bed
allotted to him, and refused to admit that it was as comfortable as the
one left behind. However, he expressed satisfaction with the mahogany
side-board that some previous occupant had loaned from a neighbouring
house; our servants had bespread it with newspapers and made a
washing-table of it.
The doctor quickly settled himself to sleep, but there were tasks
for me. This is where I'm the nasty man, exclaimed Major Veasey,
descending the dug-out with a signalling watch in his hand. I'm afraid
I shall have to ask you to take the time round to the batteries and to
the th Brigade, who aren't in communication yet with Divisional
Artillery. Sorry to fire you out in the darkbut secrecy, you know.
Zero hour was timed for 4.20 A.M.; it was now 11.30 P.M.; so I
donned steel helmet and box-respirator, and was moving off when a loud
clear voice called from the road, Is this nd Brigade Headquarters?
It was Major Simpson of B Battery, buoyant and debonair. Hallo! he
burst forth, noticing me. Where are you bound for?... Umyes!... I
think I can save you part of the journey.... I'm here, and Lamswell is
coming along.... We're both going to the new positions.
Captain Lamswell of C Battery suddenly appearing, accompanied by
young Beale of A Battery, we made our way to the mess, where Major
Veasey and the adjutant were sorting out alterations in the operation
orders just brought by a D.A. despatch-rider. Beale and Major Simpson
slaughtered a few dozen flies, and accepted whiskies-and-sodas. Then I
synchronised watches with representatives of the three batteries
present, and young Beale said that he would check the time with D
Battery, who were only two minutes' walk from A. That left me to call
upon the th Brigade, who lay on the far side of the village three
parts of a mile out.
We set out, talking and jesting. There was a high expectancy in the
air that affected all of us. Major Simpson broke off humming We are
the Robbers of the Wood to say, Well, if this show comes off
to-morrow, leave ought to start again. I should shay sho, put in
Lamswell in his best Robey-cum-Billy Merson manner. Doesn't interest
me much, said I. I'm such a long way down the list that it will be
Christmas before I can hope to go. The colonel told me to put in for a
few days in Paris while we were out at rest last month, but I've heard
nothing more about it.
When Major Simpson, Lamswell, and Beale, with cheery Good-night,
made for the sunken road that led past the dressing station, and then
over the crest to their new positions, I kept on my way, leaving a
red-brick, barn-like factory on my left, and farther along a tiny
cemetery. Now that I was in open country and alone, I became more
keenly sensitive to the damp mournfulness of the night. What if
to-morrow should result in failure? It was only four months since the
Hun was swamping us with his tempestuous might! Brooding menace seemed
in the air. A sudden burst of fire from four 5·9's on to the
cross-roads I had just passed whipped my nerves into still greater
I strode on, bending my mind to the task in hand.
* * * * *
At 4.40 A.M. I lifted my head to listen to the sound of the opening
barragea ceaseless crackle and rumble up in front. I had not taken
off my clothes, and quickly I ascended the dug-out steps. Five hundred
yards away a 60-pdr. battery belched forth noise and flame; two 8-inch
hows. on the far side of the road numbed the hearing and made the earth
tremble. A pleasant enough morning: the sun just climbing above the
shell-shattered, leaf-bare woods in front; the moon dying palely on the
other horizon; even a school of fast-wheeling birds in the middle
distance. Ten minutes, a quarter of an hour, half an hour. Still no
enemy shells in this support area. Could it be that the attack had
really surprised the Boche?
I turned into the adjutant's dug-out and found him lying down,
telephone to ear. Enemy reply barrage only slight, he was repeating.
Any news? I asked.
Some of the tanks missed their way, he answered. A Battery have
had a gun knocked out and four men hit. No communication with any of
the other batteries.
By seven o'clock we were breakfasting, and Major Veasey announced
his intention of going forward to seek information. A grey clinging
mist had enveloped the countryside. Something like March 21st, said
the major as he and I set out. We said it helped the Boche then. I
hope we don't have to use it as an excuse for any failure to-day.
Difficult for observers, he added thoughtfully.
At the dressing station in the sunken road we learned that one
battery of our companion Field Artillery Brigade had suffered severely
from gas. All the officers had been sent down, and a large proportion
of the gunners. The sickly-sweet smell hung faintly over most of the
ground in the neighbourhood of our batteries as well. A and C were now
firing fifty rounds an hour. The major's asleep in that dug-out,
volunteered Beale of A, pointing to a hole in a bank that allowed at
least two feet of air space above Major Bullivant's recumbent form. The
major was unshaven; his fair hair was tousled. He had turned up the
collar of his British warm. Beale also looked unkempt, but he said he
had had three hours' sleep before the barrage started and felt quite
fresh. Our casualties came just after we got the guns in, he told me.
They dropped two whizz-bangs between No. 1 gun and No. 2.
Major Simpson was up and eating hot sizzling bacon in a trench, with
a cable drum for a seat and an ammunition-box as table. Two of his
subalternsOverbury, who won the M.C. on March 21st, and Bob
Pottinger, all smiles and appetite, at any rate this morninghad also
fallen to, and wanted Major Veasey and myself to drink tea. We're
taking a short rest, remarked Major Simpson cheerfully. I'm glad I
moved the battery away from the track over there. No shell has come
within three hundred yards of us.... We have had a difficulty about the
wires. Wilde said he laid wires from Brigade to all the new positions
before we came in last night, but my signallers haven't found their
wire yet; so we laid a line to A and got through that way.
Infantry Brigade Headquarters was in a ravine four hundred yards
away. A batch of prisoners had just arrived and were being questioned
by an Intelligence officer: youngish men most of them, sallow-skinned,
with any arrogance they may have possessed knocked out of them by now.
They were the first Huns I remember seeing with steel helmets daubed
with staring colours by way of camouflage. They say we were not
expected to attack to-day, I heard the Intelligence officer mention to
the G.S.O. II. of the Division, who had just come up.
Is that one of your batteries? asked the Infantry Brigade
signalling officer, an old friend of mine, pointing to our D Battery, a
hundred yards from Brigade Headquarters. What a noise they made. We
haven't had a wink of sleep. How many thousand rounds have they fired?
Oh, it'll be about 1500 by midday, I expect, I answered. Any
It's going all right now, I believe. Bit sticky at the startmy
communications have gone perfectly, so fartouch wood.
More prisoners kept coming in; limping, bandaged men passed on their
way down; infantry runners in khaki shorts, and motor-cycle
despatch-riders hurried up and buzzed around the Brigade Headquarters;
inside when the telephone bell wasn't ringing the brigade-major could
be heard demanding reports from battalions, or issuing fresh
instructions. There was so little fuss that numbers of quiet
self-contained men seemed to be standing about doing nothing.
Occasional high-velocity shells whizzed over our heads.
Major Veasey suddenly emerged from the brigade-major's quarters,
looking at his map. Some of the Tanks and two companies of the s
lost their way at the start, he told me, but things have been pulled
straight now. The rd Brigade have gone right ahead. A hundred and
twenty prisoners up to date. Down south the Australians are on their
final objective. Yoicks!this is the stuff to give 'em! Now we'll go
and have a look at my battery.
Captain Drysdale, who was commanding during Major Veasey's absence
from the 4·5 battery, said that the programme had been carried through
without a hitch, although it had been difficult in the night to get the
hows. on to their aiming-posts without lights. Kelly has gone forward,
and has got a message through. He says he saw some of our firing, and
the line was extraordinarily good.
Good old Kelly! said Major Veasey, puffing at his pipe. I don't
know whether we shall be ordered to move forward to-day; we shan't
until the situation is thoroughly clear. But I shall go forward now
with Simpson and Bullivant to spy out the land. You'd better cut back
to Headquarters with what news we've gotthis was said to
meDivision will be wanting something definite.
When about 3 P.M. Major Veasey returned, footsore and wearied, he
brought news that the Infantry Brigade that had reached its final
objective had had to come back, owing to the stoutness of the
machine-gun opposition. The attack would be renewed in the morning, and
the batteries would not move forward that evening.
The adjutant was opening the latest batch of official envelopes from
Divisional Artillery. With a laugh he flourished a yellow paper.
Here's your leave to Paris, he called out.
Certainly, I should take it, was Major Veasey's comment. Why, I
knew one C.R.A. who never stopped officers' leave when they were in
action. It was only when the Division was at rest that he wouldn't let
them go. Said he wanted them for training then. You pop off.
And as this is a true tale, I hereby record that I did go to Paris,
and returned in full time to participate in the brave days that
witnessed Britain's greatest triumphs of the war.
VII. SHORT LEAVE TO PARIS
Short leave to Paris ought to bequeath a main impression of swift
transition from the dirt, danger, and comfortlessness of the trenches
to broad pavements, shop windows, well-dressed women, smooth
courtliness, and restaurant luxuries; to fresh incisive talks on
politics and the Arts, to meetings with old friends and visits to
well-remembered haunts of the Paris one knew before August 1914.
Instead, the wearing discomforts of the journey are likely to retain
chief hold upon the memory. Can I ever forget how we waited seven hours
for a train due at 9.25 P.M. at a station that possessed no forms to
sit upon, so that some of the men lay at full length and slept on the
asphalt platform? And is there not a corner of my memory for the
crawling fusty leave-train that had bare planks nailed across the door
spaces of some of the officers' compartments; a train so packed that
we three officers took turns on the one spare seat in an other ranks
carriage? And then about 8 A.M. we landed at a well-known all-change
siding, a spot of such vivid recollections that some one had pencilled
in the ablution-house, If the Huns ever take Camp and have to hold
it they'll give up the war in disgust.
But in the queue of officers waiting at the Y.M.C.A. hut for tea and
boiled eggs was the brigade-major of a celebrated Divisional Artillery.
He stood in front of me looking bored and dejected. I happened to pass
him a cup of tea. As he thanked me he asked, Aren't you fed up with
this journey? Let's see the R.T.O. and inquire about a civilian train!
If you'll take me under your wing, sir, I responded quickly. So we
entered Paris by a fast train,as did my two companions of the night
before, who had followed my tip of doing what I did without letting
outsiders see that there was collusion.
The brigade-major's wife was awaiting him in Paris, and I dined with
them at the Ritz and took them to lunch next day at Henry's, where the
frogs' legs were delicious and the chicken a recompense for that
night-mare of a train journey. Viel's was another restaurant which
retained a proper touch of the Paris before the warperfect cooking,
courtly waiting, and prices not too high. I have pleasant recollections
also of Fouquet's in the Champs Elysées, and of an almost divine meal
at the Tour d'Argent, on the other side of the river, where Frederic of
the Ibsen whiskers used once to reign: the delicacy of the soufflée
of turbot! the succulent tenderness of the caneton à la presse!
the seductive flavour of the raspberries and whipped cream!
The French Government apparently realise that the famous restaurants
of Paris are a national asset. There was no shortage of waiters; and,
though the choice of dishes was much more limited than it used to be,
the real curtailment extended only to cheese, sugar, and butter. Our
bread-tickets brought us as much bread as we could reasonably expect.
One day, in the Rue de la Paix, I met a well-known English producer
of plays, and he piloted me to the Café de Paris, which seemed to have
lost nothing of its special atmosphere of smartness and costliness.
Louis the Rotund, who in the early days of the war went off to guard
bridges and gasometers, was playing his more accustomed rôle of
maître d'hôtel, explaining with suave gravity the unpreventable
altitude of prices. And for at least the tenth time he told me how in
his young-man soldiering days he came upon the spring whose waters have
since become world-famous.
Another night I ascended Montmartre, and dined under the volatile
guidance of Paul, who used to be a pillar of the Abbaye Thélème. Paul
came once to London, in the halcyon days of the Four Hundred Club, when
nothing disturbed him more than open windows and doors. Keep the
guests dancing and the windows tight-closed, and you sell your
champagne, was his business motto. However, he was pleased to see me
again, and insisted on showing me his own particular way of serving
Cantelupe melon. Before scooping out each mouthful you inserted the
prongs of your fork into a lemon, and this lent the slightest of lemon
flavouring to the luscious sweetness of the melon.
America seemed to be in full possession of the restaurant and
boulevard life of Paris during those August days. Young American
officers, with plenty of money to spend, were everywhere. You see, a
Parisienne explained, before the war the Americans we had seen had
been mostly rich, middle-aged, business men. But when the American
officers came, Paris found that they were many, that many of them were
young as well as well-off, and that many of them were well-off, young,
and good-looking. It is quite chic to lunch or dine with an
The Americans carried out their propaganda in their usual thorough,
enthusiastic fashion. I was taken to the Elysée Palace Hotel, where I
found experienced publicists and numbers of charming well-bred women
busy preparing information for the newspapers, and arranging public
entertainments and sight-seeing tours for American troops in Paris, all
with the idea of emphasising that Americans were now pouring into
France in thousands. One night a smiling grey-haired lady stopped
before a table where four of us, all British officers, were dining, and
said, You're English, aren't you? Well, have you been with any of 'our
boys'?... Have you seen them in action?... They're fine, aren't they?
We were surprised, a little taken aback at first, but we showed
sympathetic understanding of the American lady's enthusiasm, and
responded in a manner that left her pleased as ever.
Before returning to the Front I got in a day's golf at La Boulie,
and also made a train journey to a village the other side of
Fontainebleau, where an old friend, invalided from the French army, had
settled on a considerable estate, and thought of nothing but the fruits
and vegetables and dairy produce he was striving to improve and
increase. I did not visit many theatres; it struck me that the Paris
stage, like that of London, was undergoing a war
phaseunsophisticated, ready-to-be-pleased audiences bringing
prosperity to very mediocre plays.
* * * * *
My journey back to the line included a stay at a depot where
officers were speedily reminded that they had left the smooth
luxuriousness of Paris behind them. The mess regulations opened with
Try to treat the mess as a mess and not as a public-house, and
contained such additional instructions as, Do not place glasses on the
floor, and Officers will always see that they are in possession of
sufficient cash to pay mess bills.
I found the brigade three and a half miles in advance of where I had
left them. There had been a lot of stiff fighting, and on our front the
British forces had not gone so far forward as the corps immediately
south of us had done. Big things were afoot, however, and that very
night batteries and Brigade Headquarters moved up another three
thousand yards. A snack of bully beef and bread and cheese at 7 P.M.,
and the colonel and a monocled Irish major, who was working under the
colonel as learner for command of a brigade, went off to see the
batteries. The adjutant and myself, bound for the new Headquarters,
followed ten minutes later.
You know that poor old Lamswell has gone, he said, as we crossed a
grassy stretch, taking a ruined aerodrome as our guiding mark. Poor
chap, he was wounded at the battery position the day after you left.
Only a slight wound in the leg from a gas-shell, and every one thought
he had got a comfortable 'Blighty.' But gangrene set in, and he was
dead in three days. Beastly things those gas-shells!... Kent, too, got
one through the shoulder from a sniper, and he's gone to England. The
colonel was with him at the O.P., and tried to get the sniper
afterwards with a rifle.
How is the colonel? I asked.
Oh, he's going very strong; active as ever. Colonel is back
from leave and doing C.R.A. now. We're under the th Division at the
You remember Colonel who got the V.C. in the Retreat, he went
on; he was killed on August 8thwent out to clear up a machine-gun
pocket.... Damned nice fellow, wasn't he?
We reached a narrow road, crowded with battery ammunition waggons
going up to the new positions. Darkness had descended, and when you got
off the road to avoid returning vehicles it was necessary to walk
warily to escape tumbling into shell-holes. The blighters have got a
new way of worrying us now, went on the adjutant. They've planted
land-mines all over the place, particularly near tracks. Lead-horses
are always liable to put a foot against the wire that connects with the
mine, and when the thing goes off some one is nearly always hurt. D
Battery had a nasty experience this afternoon. Kelly tried to take a
section forward, and the Boche spotted them and shelled them to blazes.
As they came back to get away from observation one of the teams
disturbed a land-mine. The limber was blown up, and one driver and two
horses were killed.... Look here, if we move off in this direction we
ought to save time; the railway must be over there and the place for
our Headquarters is not far from it, in a trench where the O.P. used to
We found ourselves on some shell-torn ground that was cut up also by
short spans of trenches. One part of it looked exactly like another,
and after ten minutes or so we decided that we were wandering to no
purpose. There are some old German gun-pits close by, panted the
adjutant in further explanation of the place we were seeking. All at
once I saw a thin shaft of light, and blundered my way towards it. It
proved to be a battery mess, made in a recess of a trench, with a stout
tarpaulin drawn tight over the entrance. I hailed the occupants through
the tarpaulin, and on their invitation scrambled a passage inside. A
young captain and two subalterns listened to what I had to say, and
gave me map co-ordinates of the spot on which we now were. When I
mentioned German gun-pits the captain responded with more helpful
suggestions. It's difficult finding your way across country, because
the trenches wind about so, but follow this trench as it curves to the
right, and when you come to an old British dug-out blown right in, go
due north across country; then you'll come to the railway, he said.
We thanked him, plodded on, reached a point on the railway quite
half a mile beyond the spot we wanted, and then out of the darkness
heard the voice of Henry of C Battery. We drew near, and found him in
the mood of a man ready to fight the whole world. Dam fools, he
grumbled: there's a sergeant of A Battery who's taken a wrong turning
and gone into the blue, and half a dozen of my waggons have followed
him.... And B Battery have a waggon tipped over on the railway line,
just where we all cross, and that's holding everything else up.
As we could be of no assistance to the distressful Henry we
continued our own search, and, by hailing all within call, eventually
reached our trench, where we found the colonel, always in good mood
when something practical wanted doing, superintending Headquarters'
occupation of the place. Major Mallaby-Kelby, the doctor, the
adjutant, and myself can fix up under here, he said, pointing to a
large tarpaulin fastened across the trench. The signallers have got
the mined dug-out round the corner, and you, he went on, referring to
me, had better start fixing Wilde and yourself up. We'll make that
gun-pit with the camouflaged roofing into a mess to-morrow.
With the aid of the servants I gathered six long two-inch planks,
and placed them across the part of the trench that seemed best
protected from enemy shells. A spare trench cover pulled full stretch
on top of these planks lent additional immunity from rain. A little
shovelling to level the bottom of the trench, and Wilde's servant and
mine laid out our valises. A heap of German wicker ammunition-carriers,
sorted out on the ground, served as a rough kind of mattress for the
colonel. The doctor had fastened upon a spare stretcher. In half an
hour we were all seeking sleep.
Zero hour was at 1 A.M., a most unusual time for the infantry to
launch an attack. But this would increase the element of surprise, and
the state of the moon favoured the enterprise. When hundreds of guns
started their thunder I got up to see, and found the doctor on the top
of the trench also. Bursts of flame leapt up all around, and for miles
to right and left of us. The noise was deafening. When one has viewed
scores of modern artillery barrages one's impressions become routine
impressions, so to speak; but the night, and the hundreds and hundreds
of vivid jumping flashes, made this 1 A.M. barrage seem the most
tremendous, most violently terrible of my experience. The doctor,
looking a bit chilled, gazed long and solemnly at the spectacle, and
for once his national gift of expressing his feelings failed him.
When news of the results of the operation came to us it was of a
surprising character. The infantry had moved forward under cover of the
barrage, had reached their first objective, and continued their advance
two miles without encountering opposition. The Boche had stolen away
before our guns loosed off their fury. I only saw three prisoners
brought in, and some one tried to calculate the thousands of pounds
worth of ammunition wasted on the barrage. A message came that we
were to hold ourselves in readiness to rejoin our own Divisional
Artillery; our companion Field Artillery Brigade, the rd, would march
also. At 6.30 P.M. the orders arrived. We were to trek northwards,
about four thousand yards as the crow flies, and be in touch with our
C.R.A. early next morning.
That night rain fell in torrents. When we had dined, and all the kit
had been packed up, we sheltered in the gun-pit, awaiting our horses
and the baggage-waggons. As the rain found fresh ways of coming through
the leaky roof, we shifted the boxes on which we sat; all of us except
the colonel, who, allowing his chin to sink upon his breast, slept
peacefully for three-quarters of an hour. It was pitch-dark outside,
and the trench had become a glissade of slimy mud. It was certain that
the drivers would miss their way, and two of the signallers who had
gone out to guide them along the greasy track from the railway crossing
had come back after an hour's wait. After a time we ceased trying to
stem the rivulets that poured into the gun-pit; we ceased talking also,
and gave ourselves up to settled gloom, all except the colonel, who had
picked upon the one dry spot and still slept.
But things mostly come right in the end. The rain stopped, a misty
moon appeared; the vehicles came along, and by 10.30 P.M. the colonel
was on his mare, picking a way for our little column around
shell-holes, across water-logged country, until we struck a track
leading direct to Meaulte, where the Brigade had been billeted during
1915. It was a strangely silent march. There was a rumbling of guns a
long way to north of us, and that was all. The Boche had undoubtedly
stolen away. For a long time the only sound was the warning shout,
passed from front to rear, that told of shell-holes in the roadway.
On the outskirts of the village we saw signs of the Hun evacuation:
deserted huts and stables, a couple of abandoned motor-lorries. The
village itself was a wreck, a dust-heap, not a wall left whole after
our terrific bombardments. Not a soul in the streets, not a single
house habitable even for troops. Of the mill that had been Brigade
Headquarters three years before, one tiny fragment of a red-brick wall
was left. The bridge in front of it had been scattered to the winds;
and such deep shell-craters pitted the ground and received the running
water, that the very river-bed had dried up. On the other side of the
village batteries of our own and of our companion brigade moved slowly
along. It was 2 A.M. when we encamped in a wide meadow off the road.
When the horses had been tethered and fed and the men had erected their
bivouacs, the colonel, Major Mallaby-Kelby, and we five remaining
officers turned into one tent, pulled off boots and leggings, and slept
the heavy dreamless sleep of healthily tired men.
At 7 A.M. the colonel announced that he and myself would ride up to
Bécourt Chateau to visit the C.R.A. We touched the southern edge of
Albert, familiar to thousands of British soldiers. The last time I had
been there was on my return from leave in January 1917, when I dined
and slept at the newly-opened officers' club. Since the Boche swoop
last March it had become a target for British gunners, and seemed in as
bad a plight as the village we had come through the night before. We
had no time to visit it that morning, and trotted on along a road lined
with unburied German dead, scattered ammunition, and broken German
vehicles. The road dipped into a wood, and the colonel showed me the
first battery position he occupied in France, when he commanded a 4·5
how. battery. Bécourt Chateau was so much a chateau now that Divisional
Headquarters were living in tents outside. Four motor-cars stood in the
courtyard; some thirty chargers were tied to the long high railings;
motor despatch-riders kept coming and going. R.A. were on the far side
of the chateau, and when our grooms had taken our horses we leapt a
couple of trenches and made our way to the brigade-major's tent. The
brigade-major was frankly pleased with the situation. We are going
right over the old ground, sir, he told the colonel, and the Boche
has not yet made a proper stand. Our Divisional Infantry are in the
line again, and the latest report, timed 6 A.M., comes from Montauban,
and says that they are approaching Trones Wood. We shall be supporting
them to-morrow morning, and the C.R.A. is anxious for positions to be
reconnoitred in X 10 and X 11. The C.R.A. has gone up that way in the
car this morning.
I looked into an adjoining tent and found the liaison officer from
the heavies busy on the telephone. A 5·9 battery shooting from the
direction of Ginchy. Right! You can't give me a more definite
map-spotting? Right-o! We'll attend to it! Give me counter-batteries,
Heavies doing good work to-day? I asked.
Rather, he returned happily. Why, we've got a couple of 8-inch
hows. as far up as Fricourt. That's more forward than most of the
As I stepped out there came the swift screaming rush of three
high-velocity shells. They exploded with an echoing crash in the wood
below, near where my horse and the colonel's had been taken to water. A
team came up the incline toward the chateau at the trot, and I looked
rather anxiously for our grooms. They rode up within two minutes,
collectedly, but each with a strained look. Did those come anywhere
near you? I inquired. We just missed 'em, sir, replied Laneridge.
One of them dropped right among the horses at one trough.
By the colonel's orders I rode back to the waggon lines soon
afterwards, bearing instructions to the battery commanders to join the
colonel at half-past one. The Brigade might expect to move up that
The battery commanders came back by tea-time with plans for that
evening's move-up completed. The waggon lines during the afternoon were
full of sleeping gunners; a sensible course, as it proved, for at 6.45
P.M. an orderly brought the adjutant a pencilled message from the
colonel who was still with the C.R.A. It ran
Warn batteries that they must have gun limbers and firing
battery waggons within 1000 yards of their positions by 3.30
A.M., as we shall probably move at dawn. Headquarters will be
ready to start after an early dinner. I am returning by car.
Hallo! they're expecting a big advance to-morrow, said the
adjutant. The note also decided a discussion in which the adjutant, the
signalling officer, and the cook had joined as to whether we should
dine early and pack up ready to go, or pack up and have dinner when we
got to the new position behind Mametz Wood.
It was a dark night again; other brigades of artillery were taking
the same route as ourselves, and, apart from the congestion, our own
guns had shelled this part so consistently since August 8 that the
going was heavy and hazardous. We passed one team with two horses down;
at another point an 18-pdr. had slipped into a shell-hole, and the air
rang with staccato shouts of Heave! while two lines of men strained
on the drag-ropes. We reached a damp valley that lay west of a stretch
of tree-stumps and scrubby undergrowthremnants of what was a thick
leafy wood before the hurricane bombardments of July 1916. D Battery
had pulled their six hows. into the valley; the three 18-pdr. batteries
were taking up positions on top of the eastern slope. Before long it
became clear that the Boche 5·9 gunners had marked the place down.
I'm going farther along to X 30 A.M. as zero hour, and I circulated
the news to the batteries. Some time later the telephone bell aroused
me, and the adjutant said he wanted to give me the time. Some one had
knocked over my stub of candle, and after vainly groping for it on the
floor, I kicked Wilde, and succeeded in making him understand that if
he would light a candle and check his watch, I would hang on to the
telephone. Dazed with sleep, Wilde clambered to his feet, trod once or
twice on the doctor, and lighted a candle.
Are you ready? asked the voice at the other end of the telephone.
Ready, Wilde? said I in my turn.
I'll give it you when it's four minutes to one ... thirty seconds
to go, went on the adjutant.
Now Wilde always says that the first thing he heard was my calling
thirty seconds to go! and that I did not give him the four minutes
to one part of the ceremony. I always tell him he must have been half
asleep, and didn't hear me. At any rate, the dialogue continued like
Adjutant (over the telephone to me): Twenty seconds to go.
Me (to Wilde): Twenty seconds to go.
Wilde: Twenty seconds.
Adjutant: Ten seconds to go.
Me: Ten seconds.
Wilde: Ten seconds.
Adjutant: Five seconds.
Adjutant: Now! Four minutes to one.
Me: NOW! Four minutes to one.
Wilde (blankly): But you didn't tell me what time it was going to
It was useless arguing, and I had to ring up the adjutant again. As
a matter of fact it was the colonel who answered, and supplied me with
the five seconds to go information; so there was no doubt about the
correctness of the time-taking on this occasion, and after I had gone
out and roused an officer of each battery, and made him check his
watch, I turned in again and sought sleep.
VIII. TRONES WOOD AGAIN
For three hours after zero hour our guns spat fire, fining down from
four rounds a gun a minute to the slow rate of one round each minute.
The enemy artillery barked back furiously for the first two hours, but
got very few shells into our valley; and after a time we paid little
heed to the 5·9's and 4·2's that dropped persistently on the top of the
western slope. An 8-inch that had landed in the valley about midnight
had wrought frightful execution, however. Another brigade lay next to
us; in fact one of their batteries had occupied a position intended for
our C Battery. The shell fell with a blinding crash among their horses,
which they had kept near the guns in readiness for the morning; and for
half an hour the darkness was pierced by the cries and groans of
wounded men, and the sound of revolvers putting horses out of their
pain. Four drivers had been killed and twenty-nine horses knocked out.
A lucky escape for us, was the grim, not unsympathetic comment of C
All through the morning the messages telephoned to me indicated that
the fighting up forward had been hard and relentless. Our infantry had
advanced, but twice before eleven o'clock I had to dash out with S.O.S.
calls; and at intervals I turned each battery on to enemy points for
which special artillery treatment was demanded.
The colonel ordered Wilde and myself to join the forward
Headquarters party after lunch. We found them in a small square hut,
built at the foot of a range of hills that rose almost sheer 200 feet
up, and curled round north-east to Catterpillar Valley in which our
batteries had spent a bitter punishing time during the third week of
July 1916. The hut contained four wire beds and a five-foot shaft in
one corner, where a solitary telephonist crouched uncomfortably at his
task. The hut was so cramped for space that one had to shift the
tablea map-board laid upon a couple of boxesin order to move round
The winding road outside presented a moving war panorama that
afternoon. Two Infantry brigades and their staffs, and some of the
battalion commanders, had huts under the hillside, and by four o'clock
battalions returned from the battle were digging themselves sheltering
holes higher up the hillside. Boche prisoners in slow marching twenties
and thirties kept coming along also; some of them used as
stretcher-bearers to carry their own and our wounded; others were
turned on to the odd jobs that the Army call fatigues. I found one
long-haired, red-eyed fellow chopping wood for our cook; my appearance
caused a signaller, noted for his Hyde Park Corner method of oratory,
to cease abruptly a turgid denunciation of the Hun and all his works.
The talk was all of a counter-attack by which a battalion of
Prussian Guards had won back the eastern corner of Trones Wood, one of
the day's objectives. One of the Infantry brigadiers, a tall, tireless,
fighting soldier, who started the war as a captain, had come round to
discuss with the colonel artillery support for the fresh attack his
Brigade were to make at 5.45 P.M. This brigadier was rather apt to
regard 18-pounders as machine-guns; and it was sometimes instructive to
note the cool good-humoured way in which the colonel guided his
enthusiasm into other channels. You're giving me one forward section
of 18-pounders there, began the brigadier, marking the map.
Now,placing a long lean forefinger on a point 150 yards behind our
most advanced infantry post,couldn't I have another little fellow
there?that would tickle him up.
The colonel smiled through his glasses. I don't think we should be
helping you more, sir, by doing that.... I can shoot on that point with
observed fire as well from where the batteries are as from up there;
and think of the difficulty of getting ammunition up.
Right! responded the General, and turned immediately to the
subject of the 4·5 how. targets.
I went outside, and saw Judd at the head of the two guns of B
Battery, that were to be the forward section in the attack, going by at
the trot. As he passed he gave me an I'm for it grin. I knew that he
was trotting his teams because the corner of the valley was still under
enemy observation, and had been shelled all day. Bob Pottinger was
following in rear.
Five minutes after the two guns passed, the Boche began a hellish
strafe upon a battery that had perched itself under the crest of the
hill. A couple of hundred 5·9's came over, and we had a view of rapid
awe-inspiring bursts, and of men rushing for cover. Good shooting
that, remarked the colonel, who had come to the doorway.
The brigadier paid us another visit late that night. He was almost
boyish in his glee. A perfect little show, he told the colonel. Your
forward guns did very fine work indeed. And the 6-inch hows. gave the
wood an awful pasting. From the reports that have come in we only took
seven Boche prisoners; practically all the rest were killed.
So we took our rest that night, content in the knowledge that things
were going well. There being only four beds, one of us would have to
doss down on the floor. The colonel insisted on coming into our odd
man out gamble. The bare boards fell to me; but I slept well. The
canvas bag containing my spare socks fitted perfectly into the hollow
of my hipthe chief recipe for securing comfort on hard ground.
Réveille was provided by the bursting of an 8-inch shell on
the other side of the road. It removed part of the roof of our hut, and
smothered the rest with a ponderous shower of earth. We shaved and
washed by the roadside, and Major Mallaby-Kelby contrived a rapid and
complete change of underclothing, also in the open air.
By 8.30 A.M. the colonel, Major Mallaby-Kelby, and the battery
commanders were walking briskly through the valley and on to the
rolling country beyond, reconnoitring for positions to which the
batteries would move in the afternoon. Wilde and myself accompanied
them, and as Judd and Bob Pottinger were also of the party I heard more
details of what B Battery's forward section had done the evening
I saw you turn into the valley at the trot, I said to Judd.
Yes, by Gad, he replied; and when we got into the valley we made
it a canter. Those dead horses will show you what the valley has been
We were striding through the valley nowa death-trap passage, two
hundred yards across at its widest point, and less than three-quarters
of a mile long. I counted twenty-seven dead horses, lying in grotesque
attitudes, some of them cruelly mangled. The narrow-gauge railway had
become scattered bits of scrap-iron, the ground a churned waste of
And the worst of it was that the traces of the second team broke,
Pottinger chimed in. Judd had gone on ahead, and we hadn't any spare
traces. So I sent that team back out of the way, followed the first
gun, and brought the team back to take up the second gun. Damned good
team that, E sub-section. You remember the team we were training for
the 'Alarm Race' when we were out at St Saveur? That's the one.... And
the old Boche was peppering the valley all the time.
Did the Boche shell much during the attack? I asked.
Well, continued Pottinger, he gave the guns most of the shelling
. I was shooting the battery and Judd was doing F.O.O. with the
infantry,and where Judd was it was mostly machine-guns.
Yes, said Judd, I got the wind-up with those machine-guns. I
couldn't find the battalion headquarters at first, and it was 150 yards
from the wood. The first lot of machine-gun bullets went in front of
me; one plopped into a bank just past my foot. It was dam funny. I spun
right round.... But the infantry colonel, the colonel of the s, was
a brave man. We only had a tiny dug-out, and every time you got out the
machine-gun started. But he didn't mind; he got out and saw for himself
everything that was going on. Didn't seem to worry him at all.... And I
shall never forget the way the heavies lammed it into the wood. They
had half an hour, six batteries of 6-inch howitzers, before the
18-pounders put in a five minutes' burst of shrapnel.... They say the
wood is choked with German dead.
It was this self-same colonel who wrote to his brigadier commending
the fine work of Judd and Pottinger on that day. Before October was out
each was wearing the M.C. ribbon.
Battery positions being selected, the colonel, Major Mallaby-Kelby,
and myself cast round for a headquarters. Some machine-gunners had
taken possession of the only possible dug-outs. However, there were
numerous huts, abandoned by the Hun, and I was chalking our claim on a
neat building with a latched door and glass windows, and a garden-seat
outside, when the colonel, who was gazing through his binoculars at the
long, dense, hillside wood that marked the eastern edge of the valley,
said in his decisive way, What's that Swiss châlet at the top of the
gully in the centre of wood?... Looks a proper sort of place for
headquarters!... Let's go and inspect it.
The view through the binoculars was not deceptive; indeed, when we
plunged into the wood and made the steep climb up to the châlet, we
passed five or six beautifully built huts hidden among the trees. The
châlet was equipped with a most attractive verandah; a hundred feet
below stood a larger wooden building, covered with black felt and lined
with match-boarding. The main room possessed tables obviously made by
expert carpenters, and a roomy bench, with a sloping back, that went
round two sides of the apartment. An inner bedroom contained a
wood-framed bed with a steel spring-mattress and a number of
plush-bottomed chairs. The Boche had extended his craftsmanship to the
neat slats that covered the joinings of the wall-planks and kept out
draughts. All the wood used was new and speckless, and smelt sweet and
clean. The other huts were constructed with similar attention to
detail. Also, one came across tables and benches in shady nooks, and
arbours of the kind found in German beer-gardens.
Jehoshaphat, gasped Major Mallaby-Kelby, this is indeed the
height of war luxury. The colonel, who was going on leave next day,
not having been in England since the early part of January, smiled in
his turn, and jested upon the desirability of delaying his departure
until we vacated this delightful retreat. Wilde and myself nosed about
joyously, chalking the name of our unit on every door within reach.
From a Boche artillery map picked up in the châlet we concluded that
the place must have been the summer quarters of a Hun artillery group
And then without warning our satisfaction was changed to
disappointment. Major Mallaby-Kelby had just called out that the place
was so complete that even a funk-hole had been provided, when a gunner
What are you doing here? inquired the major in surprise.
I'm left here until our brigade headquarters come in, sir, the
gunner replied promptly.
The rd, sir, said the gunner, naming our companion Artillery
When did Colonel take over? asked the colonel.
About an hour ago, sir. He left me to look after the place until
Brigade Headquarters came in this afternoon.
We looked solemnly at one another. We've been forestalled, said
the colonel with mock despair. Then with brisk decision, Well, there
are plenty more huts about here. We'll hurry up and get settled before
other people come along.
* * * * *
The colonel left us during the afternoon. The C.R.A.'s car was to
come for him at headquarters waggon line early next morning. The
doctor, who was now living with the veterinary officer and the French
interpreter at the waggon line, had visited our new quarters in the
wood, and hoicked off our last but one bottle of whisky. I had
despatched a frantic S.O.S., coupled with 100 francs in cash, to the
colonel, begging him take the interpreter to Boulogne so as to
replenish our mess supplies. Our good friends of the rd Brigade had
occupied the châlet, and received one sharp reminder that the Boche
gunner was still a nasty animal. A high-velocity shell had hit the edge
of the gully not ten yards from them, and their adjutant and their
intelligence officer had described to me their acrobatic plunge into
the funk-hole. Major Mallaby-Kelby was commanding our Brigade in the
absence of the colonel, and already our signal-wires buzzed with
reports that indicated a very short sojourn in our new home in the
I am making this narrative a plain matter-of-fact record of
incidents and episodes in the career of our Brigadewhich, let it be
noted, was in action from August 1, before the British advance
commenced, until November 4, the day of the final decisive
thrustbecause such an account, however poorly told, offers a picture
of real war: the war that is by no means one continuous stretch of
heroism and martyrdom in excelsis, of guns galloping to death or
glory, of bayonets dripping with enemy blood, of our gallant lads
meeting danger and destruction with characteristic British humour and
cheerfulness, when they are not seeing red. On that 29th of August,
when Major Mallaby-Kelby assumed command, we knew that the campaign had
taken a definite turn in our favour, but none of us expected the Boche
to be so harried and battered that by November he would be suing for
peace. And I am stating bald unimaginative facts if I say that one of
the main aspirations among officers and men was to continue the advance
in such a way as to make sure of decent quarters o' nights, and to
drive the Germans so hard that when winter set in we should be clear of
the foul mud tracts and the rat-infested trenches that had formed the
battlefields of 1915, '16, and '17. Major Mallaby-Kelby was a keen
pushful officer, immensely eager to maintain the well-known efficiency
of the Brigade while the colonel was away; but he took me into his
confidence on another matter. Look here! he began, jocularly and with
a sweeping gesture. I'm going to ask you to make sure that the mess
never runs out of white wine. It's most important. Unless I get white
wine my efficiency will be impaired. I replied with due solemnity, and
said that in this important matter our interpreter should be specially
commissioned to scour the countryside.
By 1 P.M. it became so certain that the enemy had inaugurated a
retreat that the major issued orders for the Brigade to move forward
three miles. We marched steadily down the valley through which Judd and
Pottinger had passed on their forward-section adventure, skirted the
wood that they had assisted the Divisional Infantry to recapture, and
halted for further instructions west of a deserted colony of battered
Nissen huts, gaping holes and broken bricks shovelled into piles, still
entered on the maps as the village of Guillemont. It would have been a
truer description to paint on the sign-boards, This was Villers
Carbonnel, as has been done at one desolate spot between Peronne and
Villers Bretonneux. Along the valley we had passed were row after row
of solidly-built stables left uncleaned and smelly by the fleeing Hun;
rotting horses smothered with flies; abandoned trucks marooned on the
few stretches of the narrow-gauge railway left whole by our shell-fire.
In the wood stood numerous Boche-built huts, most of them put up since
the March onslaught. The Boche, dirty cur that he is, had deliberately
fouled them before departing. The undulating waste land east of Trones
Wood, hallowed by memories of fierce battles in 1916, had remained
untroubled until the last few weeks; and the hundreds of shell-holes,
relics of 1916, had become grass-grown. The hummocky greenness reminded
one of nothing so much as a seaside golf-course.
IX. DOWN THE ROAD TO COMBLES
A Battery had been ordered to move about half a mile beyond
Guillemont, and to come into action off the road that led towards the
extensive, low-lying village of Combles, through which the enemy front
line now ran. Major Mallaby-Kelby had gone forward and the three
remaining batteries awaited his return.
I clambered my horse over the shell-holes and rubbish heaps of
Guillemont, a preliminary to a short reconnaissance of the roads and
tracks in the neighbourhood. Old Silvertail, having become a confirmed
wind-sucker, had been deported to the Mobile Veterinary Section; Tommy,
the shapely bay I was now riding, had been transferred to me by our
ex-adjutant, Castle, who had trained him to be well-mannered and
adaptable. A handy little horse, was Castle's stock description,
until his increasing weight made Tommy too small for him. I had ridden
about six hundred yards past the sunken road in which A Battery's
ammunition waggons were waiting, when half a dozen 5·9's crashed round
and about them. I turned back and saw more shells descend among the
empty Nissen huts in Guillemont. Two drivers of A Battery were being
carried away on stretchers and the waggons were coming towards me at a
trot. They halted four hundred yards from the spot where they had been
shelled, and young Beale said they counted themselves lucky not to have
had more casualties.
The Boche by now had got his guns in position and began a two hours'
bombardment of Guillemont and its cross-roads. It was not until 7 P.M.
that Major Mallaby-Kelby returned. He was tired, but anxious to go
forward. We are the advanced Brigade for to-morrow's show, he said.
The battery positions are only 1600 yards from the Boche, but I think
they will be comparatively safe.... I want you all to come along and
we'll arrange a headquarters. I've got my eye on a sunken Nissen hut.
There's a section commander of another brigade in it, but it ought to
be big enough to hold us as well.
So the major, the adjutant, Wilde, and myself walked at a smart pace
along the road to Combles. The Boche shells were mostly going over our
heads, but whizz-bangs now and again hit the ground to left and right
of us; a smashed limber had not been cleared from the road, and fifty
yards short of the railway crossing four decomposing horses emitted a
sickening stench. We'll have our headquarters waggon line along there
first thing to-morrow, announced the major, stretching a long arm
towards a side-road with a four-foot bank.
At the forsaken railway halt we turned off the roadway and followed
the line, obeying to the letter the major's warning to bend low and
creep along under cover of the low embankment, Now we'll slip through
here, said the major, after a six-hundred-yards' crawl. We hurried
through what had been an important German depot. There was one
tremendous dump of eight-gallon, basket-covered wine bottlesempty
naturally; a street of stables and dwelling-huts; a small mountain of
mouldy hay; and several vast barns that had been used for storing
clothing and material. Each building was protected from our bombers by
rubble revetments, fashioned with the usual German carefulness. They
shell here pretty consistently, added the major encouragingly, and we
made for more open land that sloped up towards a well-timbered wood on
the wide-stretched ridge, a thousand yards away. The sparse-covered
slopes were dotted with living huts, all built since the Boche
recovered the ground in his March push. A Battery have moved to within
two hundred yards of Leuze Wood nowyou can see the guns, resumed the
major. The other battery positions are on the southern side of the
road. The place I have in my eye for headquarters is close to A
The German artillery had quite evidently understood the likelihood
of British batteries occupying the slope, and were acting accordingly.
Our party had reached a smashed hut three hundred yards from A Battery,
when the whine of an approaching shell caused us to drop to ground; it
fell fifty yards away, and the air became dense with flying pieces of
shell and earth showers. As we raised ourselves again we saw Beadle
walking at an even pace towards us. Not a nice spot, sir, he began,
saluting the major. We picked that place for a messpointing to the
broken hutand five minutes later a shell crashed into it. There's a
dead horse round the corner ...
Have you been shelled much at the battery? demanded the major.
We had two sergeants killed a quarter of an hour ago, sir....
Captain Dumble is arranging to shift the guns a bit north of the
present position,do you approve of that, sir?
Yes, certainly, responded Major Mallaby-Kelby hastily. If the
direction of the shelling indicates that it would mean more safety for
the battery I'm all for shifting. Beadle saluted and went away.
There was not as much spare room in the Nissen hut as the major had
thought. He asked me to organise things and to scrounge round for a
trench-cover to separate the subaltern and his gunners from our party;
but while I was dodging shells, making the search, he found a small
Boche combination hut and dug-out. The opening pointed the wrong way,
of course; but there was one tiny chamber twenty feet below ground with
a wooden bed in it, and upstairs a table, a cupboard, and a large heap
of shavings. It was now eight o'clock, and the major remembered that he
had not even had tea.
Now what are we going to do about a meal? he broke out. We can't
have many servants up here, there's no room ... and it will be
difficult to get the mess cart up. Now, who has any suggestions? On
these matters I like to hear suggestions.
My own idea was that Meddings the cook, the major's servant, and one
other servant should bring up some bully-beef, cheese, and bread, and
bacon and tea for the morning. All that we wanted could be carried in a
couple of sandbags. We could do without valises and blankets that
night. Zero hour for the battle was 5.15 A.M. The mess cart could come
along afterwards. The proposition was favourably received, the major's
only revision referring to his white wine.
Headquarter waggons had remained the other side of Guillemont, and I
volunteered to walk back and bring the servants up. The major thought
that Wilde ought to accompany me; it was not too pleasant a pilgrimage
with the Boche maintaining his shelling.
But as we climbed the stairs of the dug-out the major made a further
decision. I think you might as well bring the mess cart, he called
out. I paused. Not very easy to bring it round here in the dark, sir,
I said, and Wilde raised his eyebrows deprecatingly.
Yes, I think you had better bring it, continued the major. There
are two officers, and besides, the drivers have to learn the way to
come here.... Don't forget my bottle of white wine, old fellow, was
his parting reminder as Wilde and I set off.
The nature of the shelling caused us to direct our steps through the
Boche depot towards the railway again. Pity we didn't have something
to eat before we came up here, growled Wilde. What road are we going
to bring the cart along when we come back? There's no proper track when
we get off the main road.
I looked back towards the hut in which we had left the major and the
adjutant. There was little to distinguish it from several other huts.
There's the Red Cross station and that big wooden building at the
corner; I think we shall recognise them again, I said.
Do you see that signalling pole on the roadside? That's a pole
crossing, and I know there's a track leading off the road there, added
Wilde shrewdly. That's the way we'd better bring the cart.
It was nearly dark when we reached the Guillemont cross-roads. Small
parties of infantrymen were coming along, and ammunition and ration
waggons. As we turned up the road leading south-west, a
square-shouldered man with a stiff big-peaked cap saluted with the
crisp correctness of the regular soldier. I recognised the
sergeant-major of A Battery.
Were you much shelled when you took your waggon lines up there this
evening? I asked him.
Yes, sir. It got too hot, and Major Bullivant sent us down again
half an hour ago. All the batteries have shifted their waggon lines
back behind Guillemont, sir.
All the more exciting for us, muttered Wilde. By the aid of my
electric torch we picked our way along a rough track that took us to
our waggons. The drivers and spare signallers were waiting orders to
settle down for the night. When I told the cook that we only wanted
bare necessities in the mess cart, he answered, That'll mean emptying
the cart first. We've got everything aboard now. Such things as the
stove, the spare crockery and cutlery, several tins of biscuits, and
the officers' kit were quickly dumped upon the ground, and I told off
one of the servants to act as guard over it until the morning. What
about this, sir? inquired the cook, opening a large cardboard box.
The interpreter sent it up this evening. I noted twenty eggs and a
cake. Yes, put that in, I replied quickly.
Wilde detailed a signaller to accompany the driver of the cart, and,
with Meddings and two of the servants walking behind, the journey
commenced. A ten-minutes' hold-up occurred when Captain Denny of B
Battery, a string of waggons behind him, shouted my name through the
darkness. He wanted the loan of my torch for a brief study of the
shell-holes, as he intended establishing the battery waggon lines in
The Boche had started his night-firing in earnest by the time the
mess cart and party passed the cross-roads at Guillemont. A pungent
smell of gas led to much coughing and sneezing. The air cleared as the
road ascended, but shells continued to fly about us, and no one looked
particularly happy. There were nervy, irritating moments when waggons
in front halted unaccountably; and, just before the railway crossing,
Wilde had to go forward and coax a pair of R.E. mules, who refused to
pass the four dead horses lying in the road. The railway crossing
passed, we began to look for the black-and-white signalling pole.
Here it is, called Wilde with relief, as a 5·9 sped over us
towards the railway line. Come along, Miller, he shouted to the
mess-cart driver, fifty yards behind us. The cart creaked and wobbled
in the bumpy ditch-crossing that led past the pole. There's the big
building, said I, going on ahead, and here's the Red Cross place.
We're getting on fine. We'll tell M'Klown and Tommy Tucker that we'll
apply for a job with the 980 company (the A.S.C. company that supplied
the Brigade with forage and rations).
We want to go half-right from here, I continued, lighting up my
torch for four or five seconds. The track led, however, to the left,
and we slowed our pace. Another two hundred yards and we came to a
junction; one track curved away to the right, the other went back
towards the road.
A high-velocity shell screamed over and burst with a weird startling
flash of flame a hundred yards away. We followed the right-hand path,
and found that it bent to the left again. This is getting puzzling, I
said to Wilde in a low voice. I think we've come right so far, he
replied, but I shall be glad when we're there.
We went on for another five minutes, the cart following. Then
suddenly the situation became really worrying. We were facing a deep
impassable trench. Damn! said Wilde angrily. I was afraid this would
I don't think we can be more than a couple of hundred yards from
where we want to get, I answered. It ought to be in that direction.
Let's give 'em a hail.
They'll be down belowthey won't hear us, said Wilde gloomily.
We stood up on the trench and called first the name of the Brigade
and then the name of the adjutant. Not a sound in reply. We shouted
again, the servants joining in. Another shell, bursting near enough to
spray the mess cart with small fragments! At last we heard a cry, and
shouted harder than ever. A figure came out of the gloom, and I
recognised Stenson, A Battery's round-faced second lieutenant. Ah! now
we're all right, I called out cheerfully. You see how we're tied up,
I said, turning to Stenson. Our headquarters is close to your battery.
Which is the way to it?
Stenson's face fell. That's what I was hoping you would tell me,
he replied blankly. I've lost myself.
There was a groan from Wilde.
I left the battery about half an hour ago because some one was
shouting outside in the dark, went on Stenson. I found a major
sitting in a shell-hole; he had lost his way trying to get back to the
railway. I managed to put him rightnow I can't find the battery.
Another voice came from the far side of the trench, and we peered at
the newcomer. It was one of the Brigade orderlies, who also had lost
his way trying to find an infantry battalion headquarters. I examined
him on his sense of direction, but all I got from him was that if he
could reach the road and see the fifth telegraph pole from the wood, he
would know that Brigade Headquarters lay on a line due north.
More shells dropped near, and I began to think of Minnie, our
patient mess-cart mare. We must get her and the cart out of the way as
soon as possible. Close by stood a big Nissen hut, sunk half-way below
ground. After consulting with Wilde, I told the servants to unload the
cart and carry the stuff into the hut. The cart having gone, we went
inside; and, lighting a candle, discovered the usual empty bottles and
scattered German illustrated periodicals that indicate a not too
hurried Boche evacuation. After a ten minutes' wait, during which the
Boche shelling increased in intensity, Stenson, the orderly, and myself
went forth with my torch, bent upon trying all the tracks within reach
until we found the right one. And though we twice followed ways that
disappointed us, and turned and searched with a bitter sense of
bafflement, our final path led in the direction to which I had first
pointed. We found ourselves close to the shell-stricken hut where I had
met Beale of A Battery earlier in the evening. I know where we are
now, I shouted hilariously.
Who's that? called some one sharply. I turned my torch on to the
owner of the voice. It was Kelly of D Battery, yet another lost soul.
I'm hanged if I know where I am, he explained angrily. I can't find
the battery. I was going to lie down inside here until it got light,
... but I have no matches, and I put my hand on a clammy dead Boche.
Get away with you! I laughed. That's a dead horse. I saw it this
Sure of my ground now, I walked comfortably towards the dug-out
where Major Mallaby-Kelby and the adjutant were waiting. It was 11.15
P.M. now. Tired and hungry and without candles, they had fallen asleep.
By Gad! you're back, ejaculated the major when I touched him....
Have you brought my white wine?
It is coming, sir, before very long, I responded soothingly.
I stood outside, flashed my torch, and yelled for Wilde. An
answering shout was succeeded by Wilde himself. Why, we were quite
close all the time, he said in surprise.
Now you go back with the orderly and bring Meddings over with
something to eat, I went on, every one's famished. Soon Meddings
arrived, striding across shell-holes and treacherous ground with a
heavy mess-box balanced on his head.
Only bully beef to-night, sir, said Meddings to the expectant
major as he dumped the box on the floor of the hut.
My dear fellow, I can eat anything, a crust or a dog-biscuit, I'm
Meddings raised the lid and we all crowded round. By Gad! this is
too much, snapped the major.
The box contained nothing but cups and plates and saucers.
When Meddings returned with a second box the major and the adjutant
seized some biscuits and munched happily and voraciously. You devils,
said the major, grinning reproachfully at Wilde and myself, I bet you
had whiskies-and-sodas at the waggon line. Why were you so long?
We didn't go into full explanations then, and I must confess that
when the major, in his haste, knocked the bottle of white wine off the
table and smashed it, Wilde and myself could scarcely forbear a
chuckle. That ought, of course, to be the climax of the story; but it
wasn't. I had put two bottles of the major's white wine into the mess
cart, so the concluding note was one of content. Also I might add,
Stenson called upon us to say that A Battery's mess cart had failed to
arrive, and four foodless officers asked us to have pity upon them. So
A Battery received a loaf and a big slab of the truly excellent piece
of bully, a special kind that Meddings had obtained in some mysterious
fashion from a field ambulance that was making a hurried move. You two
fellows have earned your supper, said the now peaceful major to Wilde
and myself. I didn't think you were going to have so trying a
journey. We ate bully sandwiches solidly until 1 A.M. Then the major
and the adjutant descended to their little room below ground. I glanced
through 'The Times,' and then Wilde and myself found a restful bed upon
the shavings. The cook and the servants had gone back to the Nissen
The major's last words as he fell asleep were, I've to be at the
th Infantry Brigade Headquarters at 4.45 in the morning. I think I'll
take the adjutant with me.... No,sleepily,you'd better come,
At 4 A.M., when the major's servant woke us, the major called up the
stairs to me, I think, after all, you'd better come with me. As I had
not removed my boots, it didn't take me long to be up and ready.
Before we were fifty yards from the hut the major and I shared in
one of the narrowest escapes that have befallen me in France. We heard
the shell coming just in time to crouch. According to Meddings, who
stood in the doorway of the hut, it fell ten yards from us. Smothered
with earth, we moved forward rapidly immediately we regained our feet.
We shall be right for the rest of the day after that, panted the
major. The th Brigade are in the bank along the road from Leuze Wood
to Combles, he added, reading from a message form. As we left the dewy
grass land and got on to the road that led through the wood, other
shells whistled by, but none of them near enough to set our nerves
tingling again. Indeed the state of mind of both of us seemed sanguine
and rose-coloured. Fine bit of country this, said the major in his
quick jerky way, and that purple haze is quite beautiful. It ought to
be lighter than this. It's not even half morning light yet.... My old
uncle in County Clare would be sure to call it dusk. He often used to
say when we were arranging a day's fishing, 'Let me see, it will still
be dusk at 5 A.M.'
The major drew an envelope from his pocket and fixed his eyeglass.
Awkward thing sometimes having a double-barrelled name, he continued.
I remember a bright young subaltern in a reserve brigade in England,
whose name was Maddock-Smith, or something like that. He complained
that the brigade clerk had not noticed the hyphen, and that he was down
to do double duty as orderly officeronce as Maddock and once as
We were now through the wood, and walking down the hill direct to
Combles. Everything seemed profoundly quiet; not a soul in the road
save ourselves. Seems strange, observed the major, frowning.
Infantry Brigade Headquarters ought to be about here. They can't be
much farther off. The starting line is only a few hundred yards away.
You'd certainly expect to see plenty of messengers and runners near
a brigade headquarters, I put in. Hullo! here's some one on a
It was a New Zealand officer. Can you tell me where the th
Brigade Headquarters are? he asked.
We are looking for them ourselves, replied the major. I've to be
there by 4.45, and it's past that now.
We went down to where a track crossed the road at right angles.
Still no one in sight. Don't understand it, remarked the New Zealand
officer. I'm going back for more information.
The major and I remained about five minutes longer watching the haze
that enveloped the village below commence to lift. Then suddenly we
heard the sharp metallic crack of quick-firing guns behind, and dozens
of 18-pdr. shells whistled above us. The barrage had started.
Almost immediately red Very lights went up within a stone's-throw as
it seemed to me. And now Boche lights leapt up on our left where the
haze prevented us seeing the Morval ridge, the highest ground in the
neighbourhood, and still in enemy hands. Presently the devilish rattle
of machine-guns rapped out, spreading round the half-circle along which
the alarm lights were still soaring heavenwards.
We can't do anything by staying here, decided the major. My place
is with the Infantry Brigade, and I must find them.
We can report, at any rate, that the Boche lights went up within a
few seconds of the start of our barrage, and that the enemy artillery
replied within four minutes, I remarked, looking at my wrist-watch, as
shells from the direction of the Boche lines poured through the air.
Yes, we can say that, responded the major, and , keep down!
he called out violently.
A number of bullets had swished swiftly past us. We kept close to
the bank and walked, bending down, until we came again to the sunken
portion of the road.
We can also report that this road was subjected to machine-gun
fire, concluded the major pointedly.
We ducked again with startled celerity just before reaching the
wood. This time it was a short-range shell from one of our own
gunsthere was no mistaking the wheezy, tinny sound of its passage
through the air. It fell in front of us on the edge of the road, and
delivered its shrapnel as vengefully as if it had fallen in the Boche
lines. As we came beyond the wood we met young Stenson with a small
party of gunners. His face shone with expectancy. He was on the way to
man the forward gun that A Battery had placed overnight under cover of
a bank not far from the road the major and I had just walked along.
Well, old fellow, remarked the major, removing his steel helmet
when we got back to headquarters, a cup of tea, and you'd better go
straight down to those trenches the other side of Guillemont and
inquire what has become of the Infantry Brigade. And you can deliver
our reconnoitring report.
It was a long walk, and I resolved to pick up my horse for the
return journey. The Infantry brigadier was taking an early cup of tea
when I found his headquarters. His brigade-major told me that there had
been a change of plan, and the Brigade did not come forward, as
previously arranged. We couldn't find you to let you know, he
explained. Show me the position of your headquarters on the map....
Oh, we have our advanced headquarters not three hundred yards from you,
and you will find the 2nd headquarters near there too.... I'm sorry
we didn't let you know last night. But none of our despatch-riders
could find you.
I rode back the best part of the way, and found the major, the
adjutant, and Wilde fortifying themselves with eggs and bacon.
We'll look round for a better protected headquarters than this
after breakfast, said the major briskly.
When I've had a shave, sir, I answered appealingly. I can't
maintain my efficiency without a shave, you know.
X. A MASTERLY TURNING MOVEMENT
August 30: Before noon we learned that the battle had gone not
altogether our way. Our own Divisional Infantry had fought well and
scattered the Boche in the low-lying village of Combles, but the
Division on our left had failed to force the enemy from the Morval
Heights. Consequently our infantry had been ordered to withdraw their
line slightly, while it remained impossible for the Field Artillery to
push forward so long as the Boche observers possessed the Morval ridge.
Our batteries, with an S.O.S. range of 1700 yards, were close
enough, as it was, to startle strict adherents of siege-war principles.
Indeed A Battery's forward section, handled first by Dumble and then by
Stenson, had boldly harassed the enemy machine-gunners from under 500
yards' range. Dumble had already been recommended for the Military
Cross, and Major Bullivant described Stenson's exploits while visiting
Brigade Headquarters during the afternoon.
Yesterday, he told Major Mallaby-Kelby, he took a sniping gun on
to the crest, and kept it in action for four hours, firing 150 rounds.
At one time he was within three hundred yards of the enemy. He wiped
out at least two infantry teams and waggonsalthough the Boche tried
hard to knock his gun out with 5·9's and whizz-bangs. This morning he
fired 500 rounds over open sights, and the colonel of the s tells
me he helped our infantry a lot. I understand that more than once, when
his gunners got tired, he 'layed' the gun himselfnot part of an
officer's work, perhapsbut he's a very sound youngster, and I should
like to get him something.
I shall be pleased indeed to put him in, responded Major
Mallaby-Kelby. A word from the infantry would, of course, help.
Our new headquarters, nearer to the Boche depot, consisted simply of
a deep stairless shaft with a 40 degrees slope. The props supporting
the roof were fusty with mildew and fungus, but the entrance faced away
from the German guns. As the colonel of the 2nd s was keen to be in
liaison with us, he and his adjutant and a couple of signallers shared
the shaft. The servants gathered clean straw from the German dump and
strewed it down the shaft. Major Mallaby-Kelby and the colonel, a slim
soft-voiced young man at least twenty-six years of age, with a proved
reputation for bravery and organising powers, had their blankets laid
side by side at the top of the shaft; the two adjutants, plus
telephones, came next; then a couple of signallers with telephone
switch-boards; and, lowest of all, the doctor and myself. Wilde and his
signallers, the cook and his servants, had installed themselves in a
roomy hut stuck in a big bank thirty yards away. There was a sort of
well at the top of the shaft, with steps cut in the earth, leading down
from the ground-level. We fastened a tarpaulin across the top of the
well and made it our mess. It was not unwise to pick such a
well-shielded nook; the Boche gunners flung shells about more in this
neighbourhood than along the slope where the batteries were situated.
We slept three nights in the shaft. Each morning on awaking I
discovered that I had slipped a couple of yards downhill. I made
further full acquaintance, too, with the completeness of the doctor's
snoring capabilities. Down in that shaft he must have introduced a new
orgy of nasal sounds. It commenced with a gentle snuffling that rather
resembled the rustling of the waters against the bows of a racing
yacht, and then in smooth even stages crescendoed into one grand
September 1 proved a day of glory in the history of the Division.
Conferences of Generals, and dashing to and fro of despatch-riders,
produced ambitious plans for an advance that would more than make up
for the set-back of August 30. A brigade of our own Divisional Infantry
was again to descend upon the village of Combles, while another
brigade, working on the flank, would effect a turning movement
northwards towards Fregicourt, a hamlet twelve hundred yards north-east
of Combles. Meanwhile the Division on our left intended to make a
desperate effort to free the Morval Heights.
My task was to be brigade liaison officer with the th Infantry
Brigade, who had come up overnight to a quarry a quarter of a mile
beyond D Battery's position. It was a crisp invigorating day, with a
nip in the air that foretold the approach of autumn, and it would have
been a pleasant walk along the valley had not one constantly to get to
leeward of the dead horses that littered the way. And I shall always
recall a small log-cabin that stood isolated in the centre of the
valleythe sort of place that could mean lone settlers or hermit
hunters to imaginative boyhood. I felt drawn to the hut. The door hung
ajar and I looked in. A young German infantry soldier, dead, his face
palely putty-like, his arms hanging loose, sat on a bench before a
plain wooden table. There was no disorder in the hut. Many a time have
I seen sleeping men in more grotesque attitudes. But the open jacket
and the blood-stained shirt told probably of a miserable being who had
crept inside to die.
A red triangular flag hanging limply from a lance stuck in the
chalk-bank near a roughly-contrived tarpaulin and pit-prop shelter
revealed the infantry brigadier's headquarters. The Brigade signalling
officer hailed me from a dug-out that flew the blue and white of the
signalling company. Outside the brigade-major's hut I found Captain
Drysdale of D Battery, and two other gunner officers. We are kicking
our heels, waiting for news like newspaper correspondents during a
Cabinet crisis, said Drysdale with a bored smile. I can't see why
they want so many liaison officers.... I went without my dinner to get
here from the waggon line last night, and haven't had breakfast yet;
and these people haven't told us a scrap of news yet.
You're doing liaison for Division, aren't you? I said, and I'm
for Brigade. They can't need us both.
Except that the General told me he might require me to go forward
with him to look for targets, replied Drysdale.
Well, if you like, you slip along to the battery for breakfast.
I'll hold the fort until you come back.
There was, indeed, until well on in the morning, surprisingly little
information to be telephoned to the Artillery. What news the Infantry
brigade-major did receive, however, was all to the good. The battalions
that went into Combles were going strong, and the mopping-up was being
done with the old-soldier thoroughness that so many of the young lads
who only learnt war during the summer advance seemed to acquire so
rapidly. One of the companies engaged in the turning movement had paid
the penalty of over-eagerness, and losing touch with a sister company
had been badly enfiladed by German machine-gunners; but another company
had rushed up to fill their place and the movement was progressing
towards its appointed end.
A dozen Boche prisoners were brought in, dirty, hollow-eyed, and
furtive. This one speaks English, sir, said the dapper little private
of the East s, who had charge of the party, addressing an
I spoke afterwards to this prisoner, a dark pale-faced infantry man
with staring eyes. His English was fair, although he told me he had
only visited England once, for a fortnightin London and Manchester.
He had been a telephone manufacturer's employee.
You were in Combles when you were captured? I asked.
How long had you been in the line?
Four days; we went down to Combles yesterday morning.
Did your rations get up last night? I proceeded, thinking of our
all-night burst of fire on enemy cross-roads and approaches.
We took ours with us, but none came for the others there. They had
had nothing for two days.
The marching away of the prisoners prevented further questions. Soon
the Divisional Commander with his attendant staff came up, and a
conference in the brigadier's headquarters was commenced. After half an
hour the G.O.C. came out. His demeanour betokened satisfaction. The
manner in which he turned to speak parting words to the brigadier
indicated further activities. A captain of the West s, who had been
in reserve, turned from watching him, and said to me, I expect we
shall be performing this afternoon. Soon the phrase, exploiting
initial success, ran from tongue to tongue.
This was the message that at noon I telephoned to our adjutant:
7th s and East s will push forward fighting patrols to
exploit success in an easterly and north-easterly direction
St Pierre Vaast Wood, and along the road to S. Patrols will
not penetrate into squares X 120 and Z 130, as th Division
will continue its advance in Y 140, a and c, under a barrage
Artillery have been given tasks of harassing fire east of St
Pierre Vaast Wood, and will not fire west of line eastern edge
of this wood to A 210, b 05.
Patrols must be pushed out without delay, as it is the intention
of the Divisional Commander to exploit initial success with
another brigade to-day.
That's the stuff to give 'em, chortled the Brigade signalling
officer, who had been whipping round similar messages to various units.
More prisoners kept coming in; the brigade-major's telephone rang
furiously; a heavily-moustached infantry signaller, with a bar to his
Military Medal, just back from the eastern side of Combles, was telling
his pals how an officer and himself had stalked a Hun sniper. He was
in a hole behind some trees, he said, and we were walkin' along, when
he hit old Alf in the foot
Is old Alf all right? asked another signaller quickly.
Yesnodding and grinninghe's got a nice Blightyhe's all
right.... As I was sayin', he hit old Alf in the foot, and Mr Biles
says to me, 'We'll get that blighter.' So we dropped, and Mr Biles
crawled away to the right and I went to the left. He popped off again
after about five minutes, and I saw where the shot came from. He had
two other goes, and the second time I saw his head. The next time he
popped up I loosed off.... We went to have a look afterwards. I'd got
him right under the ear.
At three o'clock the brigade-major complained to us that some
18-pdrs. were shooting short. They mustn't fire in that square, he
said excitedly, we're still mopping up there.
I telephoned to our adjutant, who said he would speak to our
batteries. We are not firing there at all, he informed me five
minutes afterwards, and I reported to the brigade-major.
Ten minutes later the brigade-major rushed angrily out of his hut.
Look here! he said, that artillery fire has started again. They've
killed a subaltern and a sergeant of the East s. You must do
I rang up the adjutant again. It isn't our people, he replied
tersely. It might be the th Division on our left, I suggested. Can
you get on to them?
I'll get Division to speak to them, he replied.
By five o'clock the number of prisoners roped in by the Division was
not far short of a thousand; the Division on the left had gained the
Morval ridge, and this, combined with the turning movement from the
south, had brought about something like debacle among the enemy forces
opposed to us. That's topping, said the brigade-major when receiving
one particular telephone report, and he looked up with a laugh. The
s have captured a Boche ambulance waggon, and they have sent it
down for receipt on delivery, with horses and driver complete.
Not long afterwards I met Major Veasey, hot and radiant after one of
the big adventures of the day. He had gone forward with Kelly, and
discovered that the infantry were held up by fierce machine-gun fire.
I was afraid all the time that the major's white breeches would give
the show away, Kelly told me, but we crawled on our bellies to about
a hundred yards from the machine-gunsthere were two of 'emand got
the exact spot. We went back and told the battery where to fire, and
then went forward for another look.
By Jove, we did pepper 'em. And, hang me, if the major didn't say
we must go and make absolutely sure that we had outed 'em. There were
nineteen Boches in the trench, and they surrendered to the major....
Look at this pile of revolvers we took from themfourteen altogether.
The major's promised to give this little beauty to the doctor.
And still the day's tale of triumph was not concluded. At seven
o'clock the infantry battalion that had been held in reserve made a
combined dash with troops of the Division on the left, and drove the
tired dispirited Huns out of Sailly-Saillisel, another 2000 yards on.
Our batteries fired harassing crashes all through the night, and
were warned to be ready to move first thing in the morning.
XI. ON THE HEELS OF THE BOCHE
Sept. 2: The side-spectacle that struck me most when I walked by
myself through Combles was that of a solitary Royal Engineer playing a
grand piano in the open street, with not a soul to listen to him. The
house from which the instrument had been dragged was smashed beyond
repair; save for some scrapes on the varnish the piano had suffered no
harm, and its tone was agreeable to the ear. The pianist possessed
technique and played with feeling and earnestness, and it seemed
weirdly strange to hear Schumann's Slumber Song in such surroundings.
But the war has produced more impressive incongruities than that.
The Brigade settled itself in the neighbourhood of Fregicourt. The
st Infantry Brigade was already established there in a trench; and
the first job of work that fell to me was to answer the F.O.O. of
another Artillery brigade who had rung up Infantry Brigade
Headquarters. Huns are moving along the road in X 429 b and c, said a
voice. Can you turn one of my batteries on to them? Our batteries
were not yet in position, but I saw, a couple of hundred yards away,
two batteries whose trails were lowered; so I hurried across and gave
them the target and the map spotting, and before long 18-pdr. shells
were on their way to ginger up the aforementioned unlucky Huns. An
aeroplane fight within decent observing distance aroused much more
interest. No decisive result was obtained, but the enemy airman was
finally driven away in full retreat towards his own lines. Jerry isn't
as cheeky as he used to be in Flanders last year, is he? said Wilde to
me. It must be true that he's running short of 'planes.
The problem of the last few days had been the water supply for the
horses. Although the sappers were hard at work in Combles, there was as
yet no water within five miles of the batteries. The Boche by smashing
all the power-pumps had seen to that; and the waggon lines were too far
in rear for moving warfare. We shall be all right when we get to the
canal, had been everybody's consolatory pronouncement. The horses
won't be so hard worked then.
We were still in the area of newly-erected Boche huts, and
Headquarters lay that night without considerable hardship. Manning, our
mess waiter, a fish-monger by trade, had discovered a large quantity of
dried fish left by the departing enemy, and the men enjoyed quite a
feast; the sudden appearance in new boots of ninety per cent of them
could be similarly explained. The modern soldier is not squeamish in
these matters. I overheard one man, who had accepted a pair of leggings
from a prisoner, reply to a comrade's mild sneer, Why not?... I'd take
anything from these devils. There was a big brute this morning: I had a
good mind to take his false teeththey had so much gold in 'em. Which
rather suggested that he was telling the tale to his unsympathetic
Late that night orders informed us that on the morrow we should come
under another Divisional Artillery. Our own infantry were being pulled
out of the line to bring themselves up to strength. The enemy were
still withdrawing, and fresh British troops had to push ahead so as to
allow him no respite. A Battery had already advanced their guns another
2000 yards, and through the night fired hotly on the road and
approaches east of the canal. Next morning Major Mallaby-Kelby was
instructed to reconnoitre positions within easy crossing distance of
the canal, but not to move the batteries until further orders came in.
Bicycle orderlies chased down to the waggon lines to tell the grooms to
bring up our horses. My groom, I remember, had trouble on the road, and
did not arrive soon enough for the impatient major; so I borrowed the
adjutant's second horse as well as his groom. A quarter of a mile on
the way I realised that I had forgotten my box-respirator; the only
solution of the difficulty was to take the groom's, and send him back
to remain in possession of mine until I returned; and all that morning
and afternoon I was haunted by the fear that I might perhaps be
compelled to put on the borrowed article.
The reconnoitring party consisted of Major Mallaby-Kelby, Major
Veasey, Major Bullivant, young Beale of A Battery, and Kelly and Wood
of D Battery, who loaded themselves with a No. 4 Director, the tripod
instrument with which lines of fire are laid out.
When we approached the highest point along the main road leading
east, Major Mallaby-Kelby sent back word that the road was under
observation; we must come along in couples, two hundred yards between
each couple. The Boche was sending over some of the high-bursting
shells which he uses so much for ranging purposes, but we were not
greatly troubled. We dipped into a slippery shell-scarred track that
wound through a hummocky copse, swung southwards along a sunken road,
and then made due east again, drawing nearer a dense forest of stubby
firs that stretched far as eye could see. This was the wood into which
our infantry had pushed fighting patrols on Sept. 1. Every few yards we
met grim reminders of the bloody fighting that had made the spot a
memorable battle-ground. My horse shied at two huddled grey forms lying
by the roadsidebayoneted Huns. I caught a glimpse of one dead German,
half covered by bushes; his face had been blown away. Abandoned heaps
of Boche ammunition; fresh gaping shell-holes; one ghastly litter of
mutilated horses and men, and a waggon rolled into the ditch, revealed
the hellish execution of our artillery. The major called a halt and
said we would leave our horses there.
We struck north-east, away from the forest, and, reaching the
cross-roads on top of the crest, gazed across the great wide valley
that from the canal sloped up to the blue haze of heights still held by
the enemy. Through the glasses one saw the yellows and greens of
bracken and moss and grass in the middle distances. We're getting into
country now that hasn't seen much shelling, remarked the major with
satisfaction. But the glasses also showed slopes seared and seamed with
twisting trenches and tawny waggon tracks.
Our path lay along a road bordered by evenly-planted, broken and
lifeless poplars. The major called out for us to advance in single
file, at intervals of twenty-five yards. When high-velocity shells
struck the ground a hundred yards short of the road and a hundred yards
beyond it, we all of us dropped unquestioningly into the narrow
freshly-dug trench that ran at the foot of the poplars. About five
hundred yards on, to the left of the road, we passed a shell-blasted
grove that hung above a melancholy rubbish-heap of broken bricks and
Government Farm! called Major Mallaby-Kelby, with an informative
Government Farm was a datum point that batteries had mercilessly
pasted two days before.
Government Farm! repeated Major Bullivant, who walked behind
Government Farm! echoed Major Veasey, with out-stretched arm; and
I, in my turn, passed the word to Beale.
Young Beale was in exuberant spirits. He not only turned his head
and shouted Government Farm! with a parade-ground volume of voice; he
followed with the clarion demand of Why don't you acknowledge orders?
to Kelly, who was so surprised that he nearly dropped the Director
before responding with a grin, and thrusting out his arm in the way
laid down in the gun-drill book for sergeants to acknowledge gunnery
orders passed along the line of guns.
We came to another large wood that stretched down towards the canal,
and, once more in a party, moved along the southern edge of it. An
infantry captain, belonging to the Division we were now working under,
stepped from beneath the trees and saluted. We're reconnoitring for
battery positions, said Major Mallaby-Kelby, answering the salute.
Can you tell me how the front line runs now?
We're sending two patrols through the wood to the canal now,
replied the captain, The Boche hadn't entirely cleared out
three-quarters of an hour ago.
We may as well go on, said Major Mallaby-Kelby, after three or
four minutes further conversation. The Boche must be over the canal by
now ... and we have to select battery positions as soon as possible. We
don't want to bring the guns up in the dark. There was a general
feeling for revolvers, and we entered the wood and followed a
bridle-path. I could imagine that wood in the pleasant careless days of
peace, a proper wood for picnics and nutting expeditions. Ripening
blackberries even now loaded the bramble bushes, but the foul
noxiousness of gas shells had made them uneatable. The heavy sickly
smell of phosgene pervaded the close air; no birds fluttered and piped
among the upper branches. The heavy steel helmet caused rills of sweat
to run down the cheeks.
We forged ahead past a spacious glade where six tracks met. There's
a hut we could use for a mess, said Major Veasey. Mark it up, Kelly;
and look at that barrel, it would be big enough for you to sleep in.
Snapped-off branches, and holes torn in the leaf-strewn ground, showed
that the guns had not neglected this part of the wood; and in several
places we noted narrow ruts a yard or so in length, caused by
small-calibre projectiles. Ricochet shots from whizz-bangs fired at
very close range, commented Major Bullivant.
After certain hesitations as to the right track to follow, we
reached the north-western edge of the wood. Major Mallaby-Kelby refused
to allow us to leave cover, and we knelt hidden among the prickly
bushes. For heaven's sake don't show these white breeches, Veasey,
laughed Major Bullivant.
A village nestled at the foot of the slope. Not a sign of life in it
now, although the Boche was certainly in possession the day before.
There are some Boches in that trench near the top of the slope, said
Major Veasey suddenly. Can you see them? Eight degrees, two o'clock,
from the farm chimney near the quarry. I looked hard and counted three
steel helmets. We could have some good shooting if we had the guns
up, added the major regretfully. A Boche 5·9 was firing consistently
and accurately into the valley beneath us. I say accurately, because
the shells fell round and about one particular spot. Don't see what
he's aiming at, said Major Bullivant shortly. He's doing no
damage.... He can't be observing his fire.
There was a discussion as to whether an 18-pdr. battery placed near
a long bank on the slope would be able to clear the wood at 3000 yards'
range, and Major Mallaby-Kelby and Major Bullivant slipped out to
inspect a possible position at the corner where the edge of the wood
curved north-east. Then Major Mallaby-Kelby decided that it was time to
return; and on the way back Major Veasey said he would be content to
bring his 4·5 how. battery into the glade where the six tracks met.
Might as well make us trench mortars, growled Kelly to me. We shan't
be more than a thousand yards from the Boche.
Just before we came out of the wood Major Mallaby-Kelby called to me
to chalk the sign of Brigade H.Q. on an elaborate hut that stood forty
yards off the tracka four-roomed hut, new and clean. It was not
pleasant, however, to find two dead Boche horses lying in the doorway.
An enemy bombardment started as we left the wood. Major Veasey and
his party went off immediately towards where the horses were waiting.
The other two majors, still seeking battery positions, bore away to the
south, and I followed them. A 4·2 battery suddenly switched its fire on
to the strip of ground we were crossing, and we ran hurriedly for
shelter to a trench that lay handy. Shells whistled over our heads, and
we panted and mopped our brows while taking a breather.
No wonder he's shelling here, exclaimed Major Mallaby-Kelby. The
rd [our companion Brigade] have a battery here.... Look at those
dead horses ... three, five, sevenwhy, there are twelve of 'em.
Yes, sir, I put in, that happened yesterday when they were
bringing up ammunition.
We moved up the trench, but we seemed to draw fire as if we had
magnetic properties. We'll move back again, remarked Major
Mallaby-Kelby with energy, and he started off, Major Bullivant
We had gone about fifty yards when Major Bullivant turned swiftly,
gave me a push, and muttered Gas! We ran back to where we had been
before, and looked round for Major Mallaby-Kelby. Damn it, he said
abruptly when he came up, sneezing, I forgot to bolt. I stood still
getting my box-respirator on.
When the shelling died down we walked farther along the trench,
which turned westwards. Excellent positions for the three 18-pdr.
batteries were found not far from the trench; and returning again
towards the wood for our horses, we chanced upon a deep dug-out that
Major Mallaby-Kelby sent me down to explore. Don't touch any wires or
pegs, he said warningly; the Hun may have left some booby-traps. The
dug-out was thirty feet deep, and had only one entrance. But I found
recesses with good wire beds, and a place for the telephonists. We'll
make that Headquarters, decided the major, and I chalked out our claim
When we got back to the batteries we found that orders for the move
had come in; the teams were up; and after a very welcome cup of tea the
journey to the new positions was started. Wilde, the signalling
officer, and myself led the way with the Headquarters' vehicles, and
followed a beautifully hidden track that ran through the wood and came
out a hundred yards from our selected dug-out. Three red glares lit up
the sky behind the heights held by the Boche. By Jove, said Wilde,
he must be going back; he's burning things.
My day's work was not yet ended. Our own infantry had been brought
up again, and it was imperative that we should be in early
communication with the rd Brigade, the Brigade commanded by the
forceful young brigadier who had discussed artillery arrangements with
the colonel for the operation in which Judd and Pottinger had done so
well with their forward section. There was a shortage of telephone
wire, and at 8.15 P.M. Wilde's line had not been laid. Major
Mallaby-Kelby decided that the only alternative was for me to go and
report to the brigadier, whose headquarters were not far from the road
leading to Senate Farm. It was very dark, and the fact that the whole
way was under Boche observation made it impossible for me to use my
torch. Shells were falling about the cross-roadsand I have undertaken
more agreeable walks. I went down into the Infantry brigade signal-hut
first to find whether we had at last got a line through. We hadn't.
When I asked for the General's mess, the signalling sergeant conducted
me along a passage that in places was not three feet high. Climbing up
a steep uneven stairway, I found myself at the top looking into the
mess with only my head and shoulders exposed to view. The General was
examining a map. His brigade-major, a V.C. captain with gentle eyes and
a kindly charming manner; his staff captain, a brisk hard-bitten
soldier, with a reputation for never letting the Brigade go hungry; the
signal officer, the intelligence officer, and other junior members of
the staff, were seated round the same table. What about the nd
Brigade? I heard the General say, mentioning our Brigade.
We haven't heard from them yet, observed the brigade-major.
I'm from the nd Brigade, I said loudly.
There were startled ejaculations and a general looking round to the
spot where the voice came from.
Hallo, Jack-in-the-box! exclaimed the brigadier, staring at my
head and shoulders, where did you come from?
I explained, and the General, laughing, said, Well, you deserve a
drink for that.... Come out of your box and we'll give you some
targets.... I didn't know any one could get in that way.
Before I went away the tactical situation was explained to me. I was
given the points the Infantry would like us to fire upon during the
night. Also I got my drink.
The last thing Major Mallaby-Kelby said before going off to sleep
was, Extraordinary long time since we met any civilians. Haven't seen
any since July.
XII. THE MAJOR'S LOST PIPE
Sept. 4: A full mail-bag and a bottle of white wine are the best
spirit revivers for war-worn fighting-men, said Major Mallaby-Kelby
contentedly, gathering up his own big batch of letters from the one and
sipping a glass of the other.
During two days Brigade Headquarters and the four batteries had
received piles of belated letters and parcels, and there was joy in the
land. I remember noting the large number of little, local, weekly
papersalways a feature of the men's mail; and it struck me that here
the countryman was vouchsafed a joy unknown to the Londoner. Both could
read of world-doings and national affairs in the big London dailies;
but the man from the shires, from the little country towns, from the
far-off villages of the British Isles, could hug to himself the weekly
that was like another letter from homewith its intimate, sometimes
trivial, details of persons and places so familiar in the happy
uneventful days before the war.
As for the white wine, that did not greatly interest the other
members of Brigade Headquarters mess. But the diary contained the bald
entry, At 9.30 P.M. the whisky ran out, in the space headed Aug. 28;
and none had come to us since. People at home are inclined to believe
that the whisky scarcity, and the shortage of cakes and biscuits, and
chocolate and tobacco, scarcely affected officers' messes in France. It
is true that recognised brands of whisky appeared on the Expeditionary
Force Canteens' price-list at from 76 to 80 francs a dozen, but there
were days and days when none was to be bought, and no lime-juice and no
bottled lemon-squash either. Many a fight in the September-October push
was waged by non-teetotal officers, who had nothing with which to
disguise the hideous taste of chlorinate of lime in the drinking water.
There was also the serious matter of Major Mallaby-Kelby's pipe. It
became a burning topic on Sept. 4. I must have dropped it yesterday
when we tumbled into that gas, he told me dolefully. I mustn't lose
that pipe. It was an original Dunhill, and is worth three or four
pounds.... I'll offer a reward for it.... Will you come with me to look
for it? And he fixed his monocle and gazed at me compellingly.
Does the offer of a reward refer to me, sir? I inquired with all
the brightness at my command. For answer the major commenced putting on
his steel helmet and box-respirator.
It was fitting that I should go. I had accompanied the major on all
his excursions, and my appearance over the horizon had become a sure
warning to the batteries that the major was not far off. Gunner Major
and Gunner Minor some one had christened us.
The major conducted the search with great verve. We encountered a
gunner chopping wood, and he told him the story of the pipe. I'll give
twenty-five francs to any one who brings it to me, he concluded. The
gunner saluted and continued to chop wood.
Rather a big reward! I remarked as we walked on.
Do you think twenty-five too much? Shall I make it fifteen?
You've committed yourself now, I answered solemnly.
Our arrival at the trench in which we had sheltered the day before
coincided with the whizz-phutt of a 4·2 dud. I shall be sorry if I get
you killed looking for my pipe, said the major cheerfully. We waited
for the next shell, which exploded well behind us, and then hastened to
the spot where our quest was really to commence. Four gunners belonging
to the rd Brigade stood idly in the trench. The major stopped and
looked down upon them. He addressed himself directly to a wall-faced,
emotionless kind of man whose head and shoulders showed above the
I was down here yesterday, began the major, and lost my pipe. It
was a very valuable pipe, a pipe I prize very much. I think it must be
somewhere in this trench....
The wall-faced man remained stolidly silent.
I want to get it back again, went on the major; and if any of you
fellows find it and bring it to meI'm Major Mallaby-Kelby, commanding
the nd BrigadeI'll give a reward of twenty-five francs.
Is this it, sir? said the wall-faced man in matter-of-fact tones,
whipping out of his pocket a thin-stemmed pipe with a shapely,
By Jove, that's it! exclaimed the major, taken aback by the swift
unexpectedness of the recovery. Yes, by Jove, that's it, he
continued, his face lighting up. He took the pipe and rubbed the bowl
affectionately with the palm of his hand.
Twenty-five francs reward! I murmured softly.
Yes, that's right, he said briskly, and began turning out his
pockets. Three maps, a pocket-handkerchief, some ration biscuits, and a
note-case with nothing in it. You must lend me twenty-five francs, he
The wall-faced gunner accepted the money without any sign of
repressed emotion, and saluted smartly. The smiles of the other men
broadened into grins as the major and myself set our faces homewards.
There were more serious matters to consider when we got back. D
Battery had had two men killed by shell fire in the wood; the other
batteries had had to send away a dozen men between them, overcome by
gas; the Infantry brigadier wished to discuss fresh plans for hastening
the enemy's departure from the neighbourhood of the canal.
In the afternoon I accompanied the major on a round of the
batteries. Nests of Boche machine-gunners were still checking the
advance of our infantrythey had fought heroically these fellows; but
slowly, methodically, implacably the work of rooting them out was going
on. Our farther advance was only a matter of hours now. We're ordered
not to risk too many casualties on this front, the Infantry brigadier
had told the major. The enemy will have to fall back when certain
movements north and south of us are completed.... But we mustn't let
him rest. Beale of A Battery had returned from the most crowded
glorious experience of his young life. He had taken a gun forward to
support two companies of the infantry who were striving to establish
posts on the eastern side of the canal. Their progress was stayed by
machine-guns and snipers, and the casualties were beginning to make the
company commanders doubt if the operation was worth while. Beale
reconnoitred with two platoon commanders and located the machine-guns,
returned and brought his gun up, and from an open position fired over
four hundred rounds; and afterwards went forward in front of the
advanced posts to make sure that the machine-guns had been definitely
put out of action. This brilliant effort enabled the infantry to move
forward afterwards without a casualty. Dusty, flushed with the thrill
of what he had been through, Beale knew that he had done fine work, and
was frankly pleased by the kind things said about him.
The following day produced fresh excitements. Major Simpson had gone
down to B Battery's waggon line to secure something like a night's
restalthough I might say that after the spring of 1917 the Boche
night-bombers saw to it that our waggon lines were no longer the havens
of peace they used to be. Disaster followed. The Boche drenched the
battery position with gas. Captain Denny, who had come up from the
waggon line to relieve the major, was caught while working out the
night-firing programme. Overbury, young Bushman, and another officer
were also gassed; and eight men besides. C Battery were victims as
well, and Henry and a number of the gunners had been removed to the
Casualty Clearing Station.
And before lunch-time a briefly-worded order was received directing
Major Mallaby-Kelby to report immediately to a Field Artillery Brigade
of another Division. Orders are apt to arrive in this sudden peremptory
fashion. Within an hour and a half the major had bidden good-bye to us
and ridden off, a mess cart following with his kit. And Major Veasey
came to reign in his stead.
Major Mallaby-Kelby left one souvenir, a bottle of the now famous
white wine which had got mislaidat least the cook explained it that
way. The omission provided Brigade Headquarters with the wherewithal to
drink the major's health.
At nine o'clock that night I stood with Major Veasey outside our
headquarters dug-out. A mizzling rain descended. Five substantial fires
were burning beyond the heights where the Boche lay. What's the odds
on the war ending by Christmas? mused the major. ... I give it until
next autumn, he added.
A battery of 60-pounders had come up close by. Their horses, blowing
hard, had halted in front of our dug-out half an hour before, and the
drivers were waiting orders to pull the guns the final three hundred
yards into position. Two specks of lights showed that a couple of them
were smoking cigarettes. Look at those drivers, I said. They've been
here all this time and haven't dismounted yet.
The major stepped forward and spoke to one of the men. Get off,
lad, and give the old horse a rest. He needs it.
Some of these fellows will never learn horse management though the
war lasts ten years, he said resignedly as he went downstairs.
I remember our third and last night in that dug-out, because the air
below had got so vitiated that candles would only burn with the
feeblest of glimmers.
XIII. NURLU AND LIERAMONT
Sept. 6: The expected orders for the Brigade's farther advance
arrived at 2 P.M., and by eight o'clock Wilde and myself had selected a
new headquarters in a trench south of the wood. A tarpaulin and
pit-prop mess had been devised: I had finished the Brigade's official
War Diary for August; dinner was on the way; and we awaited the return
of Major Veasey from a conference with the Infantry brigadier.
The major came out of the darkness saying, We'll have dinner at
once and then move immediately. There's a show to-morrow, and we must
be over the canal before daybreak.... Heard the splendid news?... We've
got right across the Drocourt Quéant line.... That's one reason why we
are pushing here to-morrow.
We had a four-miles' march before us, and Manning and Meddings, our
mess waiter and cook, farther down the trench, could be heard grumbling
at the prospect of another packing-up, and a search in the dark for
fresh quarters. We always lose knives and forks and crockery when we
move like this, Manning was saying in his heavy-dragoon voice.
You and Wilde had better look for a headquarters somewhere near the
cross-roads at Nurlu, the major told me. The adjutant and myself will
find where the batteries are and join you later.
There was a twenty minutes' delay because in the dark the G.S.
waggon had missed us and vanished round the corner of the wood. As we
moved off I felt a wet muzzle against my hand, and, stooping, perceived
a dog that looked like a cross between an Airedale and a Belgian
sheep-dog. Hullo, little fellow! I said, patting him. He wagged his
tail and followed me.
The German shelling had died down, and we hoped for an uneventful
journey. But night treks across ground that has been fought over
usually test one's coolness and common-sense. The Boche had blown up
the bridges over the canal, and descending the slope we had to leave
the road and follow a track that led to an Engineers' bridge, so well
hidden among trees that the enemy artillery had not discovered it. But
it was a long time before our little column completed the crossing. A
battery were ahead, and between them and us came a disjointed line of
infantry waggonshorses floundering in the mud, men with torches
searching for shell-holes and debris that had to be avoided. Only one
vehicle was allowed on the bridge at a time, and a quarter to eleven
came before the six mules scrambled the G.S. waggon over. The real
difficulty, however, was to decide upon the track to take the other
side of the canal. Maps were useless; these were tracks unknown to the
topographers. Not one of them followed the general direction in which I
believed Nurlu to be. I resolved to take the track that went
south-east, and hoped to come upon one that would turn due east. Heavy
shells, one every four minutes, rumbled high overhead, and crashed
violently somewhere south of us. They are shooting into Moislains,
said Wilde. We trudged along hopefully.
The dog was still with us, running in small circles round me. That
must be the sheep-dog part of him, I said to Wilde. He's a bit thin,
but he seems a wiry little chap.
The looked-for track due east came when I began to think that we
were drawing too near to where the big shells were falling. After half
a mile we reached a metalled road; the track we had passed along went
over and beyond it. The point to be decided now was whether to go
straight on or to turn left along the road. Not a soul, not a single
vehicle in sight; it was hard to believe that three Divisions were to
make a big attack on the morrow. I halted the waggons on the road, and
turned to Wilde. Let's send Sergeant Starling (the signalling
sergeant) to find where this track leads to. We'll walk up the road and
find some one who can show it us on the map. There are bound to be
dug-outs in this bank.
We walked for half a mile, meeting no one. The dog and an orderly
accompanied us. In the distance my ear caught a familiar soundthe
clip-clop of horses trotting. It came nearer and nearer. Then we saw a
horseman, wearing the Artillery badge, leading a light draught horse.
What battery do you belong to? I asked, stopping him.
Where are you going now?
A shell came, sir, and hit our waggon. My traces were broke, and
I'm going back to the waggon line, sir.
Where is B Battery?
Up this road, sir, and I think you take a turning on the left, but
I can't quite remember, sir; we had a bit of a mix-up.
Bring up the waggons, I told the orderly. We're on the right
road. If Sergeant Starling isn't back, leave some one behind to bring
Before long a jingling and a creaking told us that our carts were
close at hand. We walked on, and, reaching a cross-roads, waited to
shout for those behind to keep straight on. Half a minute afterwards I
heard my name called. A single light shone out from a dug-out in the
It was Garstin of C Battery who had hailed me. Major Veasey is here
with Major Bartlett, he said, coming towards us. The two majors were
sitting in a dug-out no bigger than a trench-slit. What do you think
of my quarters? smiled Major Bartlett. Sorry I can't ask you to have
a drink. Our mess cart hasn't arrived yet.
We've found B and C, so far, interposed Major Veasey, puffing at
his pipe, and I must find the th Infantry Brigade before I finish
to-night.... This road takes you direct to Nurlu, you know.
Wilde and I and the headquarters waggons resumed our march. We had
reached a sunken portion of the road, when above us began the deep
steady drone of Boche aeroplanes. We halted the waggons.
A wait, during which Lizzie, the big mare, whinnied, and we looked
up and strained our ears to follow the path of the 'planes. Then,
farther away than the whirring in the skies had led us to expect, came
the ear-stabbing crack of the bombs.
One!two!three!four!five!six! in as quick succession as
rifle-shots. Damn 'em, said Wilde apprehensively. I hope they don't
get any of our horses.
We were quite near Nurlu now, and, leaving the waggons in the
shelter of the sunken road, Wilde and I again forged ahead. An Army
Field Brigade was forming its waggon lines in a field off the roadside
amid sharp angry cries of Keep those lights out! Soon we approached
another sunken road leading into the village. Through the hedge that
rose above the bank I saw a black oblong hut. Let's look at this
place, I said.
In the darkness we made out a number of huts. A ring of sandbags
showed where a tent had been pitched. Pushing away the blanket that
covered the opening to a huge mined dug-out, we looked upon a row of
sleeping engineers. There are plenty of empty huts here, a corporal,
half-awake, told us. It was past midnight. This will do us for
to-night, I said to Wilde.
A humming overhead reminded us that Boche 'planes still hovered
near. As we came out of the dug-out a string of red lights floated
downwards. A machine-gun spluttered, and a bullet pinged close to us.
What's he up to? said Wilde, his eyes gleaming. We drew back. A bomb
fell three hundred yards away; then another, and another. The ground
shook; we thought of our waggons and horses in the road. The dog had
When the 'planes had passed, I sent the orderly to bring up the
waggons. The horses went back to the other side of the canal; the men
soon found cover for the night. Wilde and I made for the hut that we
had noticed first of all. It was not very spaciousnor very clean: but
it contained four wire beds to accommodate the major, the adjutant,
Wilde, and myself. Why, it's a guard-room, I called, shining my torch
on a painted board affixed to the door.
So, for once in our lives, we slept in a guard-room. The little dog
had curled himself up in a corner.
Sept. 7: Zero hour for the launching of the attack was 8 A.M., much
later than usual. The village of Lieramont was the first objective, and
afterwards the infantry were to push on and oust the Boche from
Guyencourt and Saulcourt. It was to be an attack on the grand scale,
for the enemy had brought up one fresh Division and two others of known
fighting capacity. He was likely to hold very stoutly to the high
ground at Epéhy. Our A Battery was under orders to follow close on the
heels of the infantry, to assist in wiping out machine-gun nests.
The camp in which we had settled overnight possessed at least three
empty Nissen huts in good condition. The place had been captured from
the British during the March retreat, and retaken not more than three
days ago. Our guard-room sleeping quarters were not roomy enough for
four simultaneous morning toilets; so I had my tin bowl and shaving
articles taken over to one of the Nissen huts, and I stripped and
managed a bowl-bath before breakfast. The dog, who had quite taken
possession of me, stretched himself on the floor and kept an eye upon
The wily Boche had improved our Nissen huts. Trap-doors in the
wooden floors and funk-holes down below showed how he feared our
night-bombers. Jagged holes in the semicircular iron roofing proved the
wisdom of his precautions.
By half-past eight a German 5·9 was planking shells over the camp,
near enough for flying fragments to rattle against the roof and walls
of the huts. Fifty rounds were fired in twenty minutes. The Boche
gunners varied neither range nor direction; and no one was hurt. The
shelling brought to light, however, a peculiarity of the dog. He chased
away in the direction of each exploding shell, and tried also to pursue
the pieces of metal that whizzed through the air. Nothing would hold
him. When he returned, panting, it was to search for water; but after a
short rest the shells lured him out again in vain excited quest.
Round his neck was a leather collar with a brass plate. The plate
bore the name of a brigadier-general commanding an infantry brigade of
a Division that had gone north. No wonder he follows you, grinned
Wilde. He thinks you are a General.... It must be your voice, or the
way you walk.
More likely that I use the same polish for my leggings as the
General, I retorted.
Major Veasey called me, and we started forth to see how the battle
was progressing. The village of Lieramont had fallen very quickly, and
Major Bullivant had already reported by mounted orderly that his
battery had moved through the village, and come into action near the
Oh, the leetle dawg! said Major Veasey in wheedling tones,
fondling the dog who frisked about him. Then he got his pipe going, and
we strode through desolated Nurlu and made across rolling prairie land,
broken by earthworks and shell-holes. A couple of heavy hows. were
dropping shells on the grassy ridge that rose on our leftwasted
shots, because no batteries were anywhere near. We stuck to the valley,
and, passing a dressing station where a batch of walking cases were
receiving attention, drew near to the conglomeration of tin huts,
broken walls, and tumbled red roofs that stood for Lieramont. We
stopped to talk to two wounded infantry officers on their way to a
casualty clearing station. The advance had gone well, they said, except
at Saulcourt, which was not yet cleared. They were young and
fresh-coloured, imperturbable in manner, clear in their way of
expressing themselves. One of them, jacketless, had his left forearm
bandaged. Through a tear in his shirt sleeve I noticed the ugly purple
scar of an old wound above the elbow. Odd parties of infantry and
engineers stood about the streets. Plenty of wounded were coming
through. I ran in to examine a house that looked like a possible
headquarters of the future, and looked casually at a well that the
Boche had blown in. The dog was still at my heels.
Now we want to find the sugar factory to see how Bullivant is
getting on, said the major, refilling his pipe. We pulled out maps and
saw the factory plainly marked; and then followed a hard
good-conditioned road that led over a hill.
We were getting now to a region where shells fell more freely. A
mile to the north-east machine-gun duels were in progress. When we saw
the wrecked factory with its queer-looking machinerysomething like
giant canisterswe pressed forward. No sign whatever of A Battery! I
looked inside some tin huts: one had been used as a German mess,
another as an officers' bath-house; flies swarmed upon old jam and meat
tins; filth and empty bottles and stumps of candles, a discarded German
uniform, torn Boche prints, and scattered picture periodicals. There's
no one here, mused Major Veasey. I suppose the battery has moved
Beyond a tangled heap of broken machinery, that included a huge
fly-wheel, bent and cracked, stood a big water-tank, raised aloft on
massive iron standards. We might be able to see something from up
there, said the major. There was a certain amount of swarming to be
done, and the major, giving up the contest, aided me to clamber up. Out
of breath I stood up in the dusty waterless tank, and got out my
binoculars. Towards where the crackle of machine-guns had been heard, I
saw a bush-clad bank. Tucked up against it were horses and guns. Big
Boche shells kept falling near, and the landscape was wreathed in
Before we got to the battery we met Major Bullivant, whose gestures
alone were eloquent enough to describe most war scenes. A rippling
sweep of his left arm indicated where two machine-gun nests on the
bosky western slopes of Saulcourt held up our infantry; a swan-like
curl of the right wrist, raised to the level of the shoulder, told
where A Battery had been situated, less than a thousand yards from the
enemy. A company of the were faltering because of the deadliness
of the machine-guns, he said. ... I got hold of a platoon commander
and he took me far enough forward to detect their whereabouts.... We
fired 200 rounds when I got back to the battery. My gunners popped them
off in find style, although the Boche retaliated.... The infantry have
gone on now.... I found two broken machine-guns and six dead Germans at
the spots we fired at.... It's been quite a good morning's work.
He smiled an adieu and went off to join a company commander he had
arranged to meet. When we reached the bank A Battery were about to move
to a sunken road farther forward. Smallman, from South Africa,
nicknamed Buller, was in charge, and he pointed joyously to an
abandoned Boche Red Cross waggon that the battery had commandeered.
Four mules had been harnessed to it; the battery waggon line was its
Gee-ho! they went off in a hurry from here, remarked Major Veasey,
looking at a light engine and three trucks loaded with ammunition and
corrugated iron that the enemy had failed to get away on the
narrow-gauge line running past Saulcourt. What we ought to do is to
have a railway ride back. The line goes to Nurlu. That would be a new
experienceand I'm tired enough.
Yes, that would be better than the four-in-hand in the G.S. waggon
that you took to the sports meeting, I added.
A Hun 5·9 was firing persistently on a spot 400 yards between
Saulcourt and where we stood. For once in a way the dog neglected
shells, and searched for bully-beef leavings among the tins thrown
aside by the battery drivers. We were not absolutely safe. The Boche
shells were fitted with instantaneous fuses, and after each burst bits
of jagged iron flew off at right angles to points as far distant as 700
yards. As we turned to go a piece whistled over our heads and hit one
of the Red Cross waggon lead-mules. The poor beast dropped and brought
down his frightened, kicking, companion mule also. The drivers had
released them by the time Major Veasey and I came up. The wounded mule
found his feet, and was led a few yards away. A horrible tear, 8 inches
long, showed a smashed jawbone and cheekbone; he moved his head from
side to side in his pain. I shall have to shoot him, said the major,
loading his revolver. The mule stared dully as the major approached,
but drew back sharply when he saw the revolver. The driver could not
hold him properly, and the first bullet-hole was not the half-inch to
an inch below the forelock that means instantaneous death. The poor
animal fell, but got up again and staggered away. The major had to
follow and shoot again.
We struck off in a more northerly direction on our way back to
Nurlu, searching for the forward section of B Battery that had been
told off to work in conjunction with a certain Infantry battalion. We
met Wheater, who was commanding the section, and he told the major that
he had not taken his two guns farther forward, because the battalion
commander had gone off in a hurry without giving him instructions,
without even telling him the line the infantry had reached.
How long have you been here? asked the major pointedly.
Three hours, sir.
Well, my dear fellow, you certainly should have taken your guns
farther forward by now, battalion commander or no battalion commander.
You've got a mounted orderly, and you could have sent him back to
Brigade Headquarters, informing them of your new position. Then you
could have got into touch with the infantry and asked them for targets.
It's useless staying here.
The arrival on horseback of the major-general commanding the
Division attacking in this portion of the front turned the
conversation. Not long appointed to his present command, the General
during the March retreat had been the senior Infantry brigadier in our
own Division. He was a particularly able and resourceful soldier; his
first demand was for information regarding the work done by our forward
guns. The major told him that Wheater's section remained where it was
because of the neglect of the battalion commander.
The General listened quietly, and cast a keen eye upon Wheater, You
can take your guns up in safety to Guyencourt, and you'll find plenty
to shoot at there. Tell any one who wants to know that your
instructions come direct from the Divisional commander.... And don't
rely too much on battalion commanders. Very few battalion commanders
know anything about artillery. It's a pity, but it's a fact. He
responded with dignity to our salutes, and rode off, followed by his
attendant staff officers and the grooms.
The major got more and more tired of the walking. It was half-past
two now, and we were both pretty hungry. The dog seemed as frisky and
energetic as when he chased the shells at breakfast-time. We passed a
big dressing station; a wheeled stretcher stood outside. As we didn't
take a train ride, should I push you back in that, major? I inquired
with due seriousness. Major Veasey smiled, and we started on the last
mile and a half.
There were prospects, we learned when we got back to Nurlu and read
the reports received by the adjutant, of another move forward for the
This looks like bringing the waggon lines over the canal, said the
adjutant, showing the major the following wire from the staff
Good spring at V 201 b 2.7. Water-cart filling-point being
arranged. Approaches good for water-carts. Troughs now in order
at V 202 c 8.5.
Another message of the same tenor, having to do with gun repairs,
No. 347 light shop moves to Moislains to-morrow. Will undertake
quick repairs. Longer jobs will be sent back to Nos. 124 B
and 192 F.
A third telegram supplied a reminder that the spiteful Boche still
had time to leave devilish traps for the unwary
Advanced guard th Division found small demolition charges in
Nissen hut at W 123 b 8.9, and mined dug-out W 129 d 3.2.
Yes, remarked Major Veasey, we are certain to move again
to-night. The wise man will take a lie down until tea-time. And he
hied him to the wire bed in the guard-room.
* * * * *
At 8.15 that night Wilde and I, the Headquarters party, and the dog,
having waited an hour and a half for the orderly that Major Veasey had
promised to send back to guide us to a new headquarters, settled in
some old German gun-pits, scooped out of a lofty chalk bank. Our march
had brought us through Lieramont and beyond the shell-mauled cemetery
where the Boche in his quest of safety had transformed the very vaults
The horses were sent back to the waggon line and the drivers told to
bring them up again at 6 A.M.; and I was arranging the relief of the
orderly stationed on the roadside to look out for the major when the
major's special war-whoop broke cheerily through the darkness. The
opening of the gun-pit faces the wrong way, and we have no protection
from shellsbut the tarpaulin will keep any rain out, was the best
word I could find for our new quarters.
It was a moderately calm night. We four officers lay down side by
side with just our valises to soften the ruggedness of the ground.
Fitful flashes in front showed our own guns firing; high-velocity
shells, bursting immediately behind us, made us ponder on the
possibility of casualties before the night was out. But we were
dog-tired, and slept well; and by 7 A.M. the dog no longer snuggled
against my feet, and we were preparing for further departure.
We come under the th Divisional Artillery at 7.30, and have to
settle in Lieramont and await orders, explained Major Veasey. They
don't want our Brigade to push on.... They say that the infantry could
have walked into Epéhy without trouble, but they were too fagged. The
latest report is that the Boche is back there again.
Our chief aim when we walked back towards Lieramont was to secure
decent quarters before troops coming up should flood the village. Our
first discovery was a Nissen hut in a dank field on the eastern
outskirts. It wanted a good deal of tidying up, but 'twould serve. We
were ravenous for breakfast, and the cook got his wood-fire going very
quickly. There were tables and chairs to be found, and the dog and I
crossed the road, russet-red with the bricks from broken houses that
had been used to repair it, on a journey of exploration. Built close to
a high hedge was an extra large Nissen hut, painted with the Red Cross
sign. Inside twenty wire beds in tiers; dozens of rolls of German lint
and quantities of cotton-wool littered the floor. Outside, five yards
from the door, lay the body of a British officer. A brown blanket
covered all but his puttees and a pair of neat, well-made brown boots.
Through an opening in the hedge we came upon more Nissen huts. One
of them was divided by a partition, and would do for a mess and for
officers' sleeping quarters. Another large building could accommodate
the men, and I found also a cook-house and an office. I used chalk
freely in staking-out our claim, and hurried back to the major in a
fever of fear lest some one else should come before we could install
There were three incidents by which I shall remember our one night's
stay in Lieramont. First, the men's cook discovered a German officer's
silver-edged iron cross. One of the servants, a noted searcher after
unconsidered trifles, had found a Boche officer's overcoat in one of
the huts. He went through the pockets and threw the coat away. The
cook, coming after him, picked up the coat, and, Blow me, said he,
if this didn't fall out.
Also, while Major Veasey, Major Simpson, and Major Bullivant were
standing talking, a British soldier, pushing a bicycle, passed along
the road. Following him, sometimes breaking into a run to keep up, came
a plump, soft-faced German boy in infantry uniform, the youngest German
I had seen in France. Why, he's only a kid, said Major Veasey. He
can't be more than sixteen.
Was ist ihr regiment? called Major Bullivant. I took it that the
major was asking the youngster to what regiment he belonged.
The British private and his prisoner stopped. The boy Boche smiled
sheepishly, yet rather pleasantly, and said something which I didn't
understand, and don't believe Major Bullivant did either.
There was a half-minute pause. Then the practical British private
moved on, calling simply, Come on, Tich! The phrase, He followed
like a lamb, became appropriate.
And I remember one further episode, not so agreeable. Major Veasey
and myself had been to call on the Divisional Artillery, under whose
orders we were now working. When we returned the dead British officer
still lay outside the Red Cross hut. But the neat brown boots had been
By God, that's a ghoulish bit of work, said the major, angry
disgust in his face. The man who did that is a cur.
XIV. THE FIGHT FOR RONSSOY
Sept. 16: The first autumn tints were spreading over field and tree,
and the tempestuous rains of the last few days had chilled the air; but
the weather had righted itself now, and would prove no bar to the next
advance, which it was whispered would take place on the 18th. The
American offensive at St Mihiel on the 12th had undoubtedly keyed-up
our men, and any one supposed to know anything at all was being
button-holed for fore-casts of the extent of the Allies' giant thrust
up to the time of the winter rains.
There had been a four days' withdrawal of our Brigade to more
peaceful areas behind the line, and, praise the Saints! we had again
come under our own Divisional Artillery.
The colonel had returned, and, as usual, the first day or so after
coming off leave, appeared preoccupied and reserved. Still there was no
one like our colonel; and, in the serene atmosphere of his wise
unquestioned leadership, petty bickerings, minor personal troubles, and
the half-jesting, half-bitter railings against higher authority, had
faded away. He brought the news that the medical board in England would
not permit the C.R.A. to return to France; and the appointment of
C.R.A. had gone to the colonel of our companion Field Artillery
Brigade, now the senior Field Artillery officer in the Divisiona
popular honour, because, though we thought there could be no colonel so
good as ours,we should not have been such a good Brigade had we
admitted any other belief,we all knew Colonel to be a talented
and experienced gunner, and a brave man, with great charm of manner.
Besides, it kept the appointment in the family, so to speak. We wanted
no outsider from another Division. You must all congratulate General
when you meet him, said our colonel gently.
The four days behind the line had been interesting in their way,
despite the rain-storms. We had hot baths and slept in pyjamas once
more. Some of the younger officers and a few of the N.C.O.'s had made a
long lorry trip to Abbeville to replace worn-out clothes. Major
Bullivant and the adjutant had borrowed a car to search for almost
forgotten mess luxuries; and coming back had given a lift to a curé, who in the dark put his foot in the egg-box, smashing twenty of the
eggs. There had been the booby-trap in the blown-up dug-out. A chair
that almost asked to be taken stood half-embedded in earth near the
doorway. I was about to haul it away to the mess when I perceived a
wire beneath it, and drew back. Afterwards some sappers attached more
wire, and, from a safe distance, listened to a small explosion that
would have meant extreme danger to any one standing near. Also there
had been the dead horse that lay unpleasantly near our mess. Major
Veasey, Swiffy, the doctor, our rollicking interpreter M. Phineas,
and myself all took turns at digging a hole for its burial; and there
was plenty of laughter, because old Phineas refused to go near the
horse without swathing his face in a scarf, and when wielding the pick
raised it full-stretch above his head before bringing it, with slow
dignity, to earthfor all the world like a church-bell-ringer. Two
nights in succession German night-bombers had defied our anti-aircraft
guns and brought cruel death to horses camped alongside the canal. On
the second night we had witnessed a glorious revenge. Our search-lights
had concentrated upon a Gotha, and they refused to let it escape their
glare. Then suddenly from up above came the putt-puttr-putt of
machine-guns. Red and blue lights floated down; the swift streakings of
inflammatory bullets clove the cobalt sky; with ecstasy we realised
that one of our airmen was in close combat with the invader. When the
enemy 'plane crashed to earth, a blazing holocaust, cheers burst from
hundreds of tent-dwellers who had come out to view the spectacle.
And now on the 16th of September we had pitched tents a mile south
of Lieramont, which we had left on the 9th, on the confines of a wood
that stretched down to a road and fringed it for three parts of a mile
to the village of Templeux la Fosse. Wilde and the adjutant had
departed in high spirits, and their best clothes, to catch the leave
train, and I was doing adjutant. Hubbard, a new officer from D Battery,
who before getting his commission had been a signalling sergeant,
filled Wilde's shoes. I had ridden into Templeux la Fosse to conduct a
polite argument with the officer of a Division newly arrived from
Palestine on the matter of watering arrangements. His point was that
his Division had reached the area first and got the pumps into working
order, and his instructions were to reserve the troughs for the horses
of his own Division. I argued that if our horses did not water in
Templeux they would have to do a seven-mile journey three times a day
to the next nearest abreuvoir. And you can't claim the
exclusive use of a watering-point unless Corps grants special
permission, I concluded.
But Corps haven't instructed you to water here, he persisted.
Neither have they told us not to come here, I countered.
We parted, agreeing to refer the whole matter to Corps. Corps, I
might add, ruled that we should be allowed to water 200 horses per hour
at certain hours, and that the other Division should police the
I had returned in time to administer the distribution of fifty-nine
remounts come from the base to replace battery horses killed by bombs
and shell-fire, or evacuated by Swiffy, our veterinary officer, to
the Mobile Veterinary Section, as a result of the hard-going and
watering difficulties since the advance started on August 8th.
I was talking to the staff captain about the ammunition dumps he had
arranged for the coming battle, when the brigade clerk handed me a buff
slip just arrived from the Casualty Clearing Station. It stated simply
that 2nd Lieut. Garstin had died as the result of gun-shot wounds. Poor
boy! a handsome well-mannered youngster, who had come out to France
practically from school.
I finished talking to the staff captain and walked to the colonel's
tent. I told him of Garstin's death.
Wounded last night taking up ammunition, wasn't he? said the
Yes, sir. He had finished the job and was coming back towards
Lieramont. Two of the men were wounded as well.
The colonel pulled out the note-book in which he kept his list of
the officers in the Brigade.
That leaves C Battery very short of officers. You'd better
transferlet me seeM'Whirter from 'B.' ... And ask the staff captain
if we can have an officer from the D.A.C.
A little later I sent out the following wire to B and C Batteries:
2nd Lieut. J. M'Whirter will be attached to C Battery on
receipt of this message. 2nd Lieut. F.E.R. Collinge of No. 1
Section D.A.C. will join B Battery to-day.
The night bristled with excitements. No. 1 Section of the D.A.C.,
with two hundred horses, were camped a hundred yards from us, and at 9
P.M. I was in their mess, talking books of the day, horses, and stage
gossip. A lull in the conversation was broken by the low unmistakable
drone of an enemy aeroplane. It sounded right overhead. What's
happened to our anti-aircraft people? said Major Brown, starting up
from the table. How's he got through as far as this without any one
shooting at him?
We waited in silence. I wondered what had become of the dog, who had
followed me, but had remained outside the trench-cover mess.
The first bomb crashed near enough to put out the candles and rattle
the glasses on the table. That fell over there, said the padre,
pointing to behind the wood. No, it was on this side, not far from my
horses, put in Major Brown quickly.
Three more bombs shook the ground beneath us. Then we heard more
Outside we saw torch flashings in the D.A.C. horse lines, and heard
hurrying to and fro. Swiffy also had run down to give his aid.
So serious had been the loss of horses through bombing during the
summer of 1918 that after each fatal raid an official report had to be
forwarded and a formal inquiry held to decide whether full precautions
for the safety of the horses had been taken. At 9.30 P.M. I received
this note from Major Brown:
The following casualties occurred to animals of this Section by
hostile bombs at 7 P.M. on 16th inst.
Map location D 230, c. 97: killed, 7; wounded, 11.
Half an hour later a message from C Battery, who were a mile and a
half away along the valley, informed me that their casualties in horses
and mules numbered 19.
At two in the morning I was aroused by a furious beating of wind and
rain upon the tent. Hubbard, already in receipt of wet on his side of
the tent, was up fastening the entrance-flap, which had torn loose.
Sharp flashes of lightning and heavy thunder accompanied the squall
when it reached its height. I hope the pegs hold, shouted Hubbard,
and we waited while the tent-sides strained and the pole wavered. The
dog growled, and a scuffling behind us was followed by the appearance,
at the back of the tent, of the colonel's head and shoulders. In his
pyjamas, drenched and shivering with cold, he struggled inside. My
tent's down, he called sharply. Houston's got my kit into his
bivouac.... You two fellows hop outside and hammer in the pegs....
Let's save this tent if we can.... And some one lend me a towel for a
Wrapped in rain-coats, Hubbard and myself faced the skirling rain.
When we slipped inside again the colonel had dried himself. I lent him
a blanket and my British warm, and he settled himself contentedly on
the ground, refusing to occupy either camp-bed.
The annoying part, he said, with the boyish ring in his voice that
made his laugh so attractive, is that my tent was much better put up
The wind still blew when we got up in the morning. A valiant tale
came from Swiffy, the doctor, and M. Phineas. They occupied a tent
'twixt a bank and a hedge, nearer to the D.A.C. M. Phineas had held up
the pole with folds of wet canvas alternately choking him or whirling
round him, while Swiffy yelled for him to kneel upon the tent bottom
to keep it fast, and expected him to fetch a servant at the same time.
The doctor, enfolded by the wanton canvas in another state compartment
of the blown-about tent, was cut off from communication with the other
two, and fought the battle on his own.
The struggle to keep the tents from collapsing was crowned at 6 A.M.
by the urgent and peremptory order from Division: All tents in the
Divisional forward area are to be struck before dawn.
It was an order that breathed an understanding fear of the
inquisitive eyes of enemy aerial observers. But if the G.S.O. who
issued the order really knew
* * * * *
Under cover of the darkness the Brigade moved up 6000 yards to
secret positions for the morrow's battle. We were behind our own
infantry once again, and it was to be a big advance. We had come over
forty miles since August 8 in a series of three-to eight-mile leaps;
for the third time the battalions had been brought up to something like
strength, and they were full of fight. In the mud and slime of the
Somme and Flanders in 1916 and 1917, when each advance was on a narrow
front and ceased after a one-day effort, I always marvelled at the
patient, fatalistic heroism of the infantry. A man went over the top
understanding that, however brilliant the attack, the exultant glory of
continuous chase of a fleeing, broken enemy would not be his; and that,
should he escape wounds or death, it would not be long before he went
over the top again, and yet again. But this open fighting had changed
all that. It showed results for his grit and endurance to the humblest
infanteer. And remember, it was the civilian soldierunversed in
war, save actual warwho accepted and pushed home the glorious
opportunities of achievement that these wondrous days offered.
The colonel and I mounted our horses at eight o'clock, saw C and D
Batteries begin their march, and called upon the new C.R.A. in his
hut-headquarters at Lieramont. He was genuinely pleased at being
congratulated upon his appointment, and, I remember, produced for me a
Havana, come straight from London. Both the General and the
brigade-major had good things to say of the dog, who was now definitely
known as Ernestchiefly because I had said Hullo to call him so
many times that inevitably one recalled Mr Frank Tinney and his mode of
addressing his stage assistant.
From Lieramont the colonel and myself rode eastwards two miles and a
half. The road was crowded with waggons and horses, returning in
orderly fashion from delivering ammunition. In the distance guns
boomed. When we got to the pavé the colonel said we would walk
across country the rest of the way. Our horses had only been gone a
couple of minutes when the colonel suddenly halted and exclaimed, I've
let Laneridge go back with my steel helmet.
Should we wait a few minutes on the road, sir? I responded
quickly; Laneridge is likely to come back and try to catch you.... Of
course he doesn't know where our headquarters will be.
For answer the colonel stood in the centre of the road and shouted
with studied clearnessLaneridge!... Laneridge!
We tried a joint call, and repeated it; but there was no sound of
One curious result followed. An infantry soldier, who had passed us,
came back and, in a north-country accent, asked, Beg pardon, sir, but
did you call me?my name's Laneridge, sir.
No, said the colonel, I was calling my groom.
The man passed on. That's a really striking coincidence, remarked
the colonel. Laneridge is not a common name.
After waiting five minutes we continued our walk, and crossing a
valley dotted with abandoned gun-pits and shallow dug-outs, came to a
shrub-covered bank from which a battery was pulling out its guns.
Our headquarters will be here, said the colonel succinctly.
Hubbard has been sorting things out. There are dug-outs along the
bank, and I expect we shall find something in the trench down there.
Hubbard had indeed found a place for the mess in the trench, while
he pointed to a cubby-hole in the bank that would do for the colonel,
and to another shelter, a yard high from roof to floor, in which he and
I could lie down. The telephone lines to the batteries and to Div. Art.
were laid. He was ready for the battle.
Zero hour was at 5.20 A.M. The battery commanders had received the
operation orders during the afternoon. I reported our arrival to the
brigade-major; and not worrying much about some hostile 'planes that
seemed to be dropping bombs in the neighbourhood of the front line, we
At 1.30 A.M. the telephone near my head buzzed. I heard the colonel
say, Are you troubled by gas?
Haven't noticed any, sir.
You had better have your box-respirator ready. It seems to be
coming in a cloud down the valley.
I dozed off again, but half an hour later the uneasy movements of
Ernest roused me. I sneezed several times, and felt a burning in the
throat. This was undoubtedly gas. Hubbard I found to be a heavy
sleeper, but by punching hard enough I made him open his eyes, and we
put on our box-respirators. It was half an hour before the gas sergeant
reported that the air had cleared. We slept once more. Half an hour
before zero time the gas rattle sounded again, and indeed we were
wearing our respirators, when at 5.20 the usual sudden crackle and
rumble all along the front announced the opening of the barrage. Judged
by the quickness with which he put down a retaliatory barrage, the
enemy was prepared for our attack. Nothing could now hold Ernest. He
dashed tirelessly north, south, east, west, towards whichever point of
the compass he heard a gun firing or a shell exploding. I'm sure that
dog's mad, commented the colonel when we breakfasted at 7 A.M. I
watched him from my dug-out for three-quarters of an hour after the
barrage started. He passed the opening eighty times, then I got tired
of counting. He seems to take a marvellous interest in shells.... It's
a pity the staff captain can't use him for ammunition returns.
While we were conducting a settled defence of the line, or
registering our guns for a battle, no one visited the O.P.'s, or the
front line, more than the colonel. Many and many a morning, with a
couple of sandwiches and a slab of chocolate in his pocket, he tramped
to the O.P. and stayed there until dark, criticising the shooting of
the batteries and finding fresh targets for their fire. But during a
set battle he did all his work on the telephone, in touch with
Divisional artillery one way, and with the batteries, the F.O.O.'s, and
the infantry the other. There is never much news during the first hour,
or even until the full artillery programme has been completed. By that
time the Brigade expects definite reports as to whether the infantry
have reached their objectives, and upon what new points they require
artillery assistance for consolidating positions, or for repelling
But on this occasion the first message reached Brigade at 5.50 A.M.
C Battery reported that immediately the barrage opened the Boche
retaliated upon them with 5·9's. They had had six killed and ten
wounded. The killed included the sergeant who so splendidly commanded
C's forward sniping-gun on that bewildering, nerve-testing March 21st.
I spoke to the other batteries. D Battery, and B, who had horses
handy to move forward when the first objective was taken, had been
little troubled, but A had had their mess smashed in, and three of the
servants wounded. I rang up Buller, who was doing liaison with the
th Infantry Brigade, and he said it was understood that two companies
of the had lost their way, but generally the attack proceeded well.
The uncertainty lasted until 11 A.M., when the colonel completed a
telephone conversation with the brigade-major. The Division on our left
had not gained its first objective because of exceedingly stout
opposition on the part of a German corps, who had gained a fine
fighting reputation during the past two weeks. The th south of our
Division had done very well, capturing and advancing beyond the village
of Templeux le Guerard. Our Divisional infantry had cleared Ronssoy
after tough fighting, but their farther progress was checked because of
the hold-up on the left. Reserve battalions of the Division chiefly
affected by this resistance were to attack as soon as possible.
The Australians have done extraordinarily well down south, the
colonel told me. They simply marched through with their tanks,
capturing guns and prisoners wholesale, and are on their most distant
Then he rang up Major Simpson. Don't take your battery forward
until you get definite orders from the Brigade, he said. The enemy
still hold the high ground north of us.
Major Bullivant, always keen on making an early reconnaissance
during a set battle, rang up at noon to say that he had been as far as
a high wood, a mile and a half in front of his battery. I got a very
long view from there, he went on, and saw no sign at all of any
The colonel, putting on his pince-nez, studied his map and asked the
major for the exact position. Yes, he observed, that's on the 140
contour, and you must have seen as far as copse.
His next remark revealed how his mind was working. Did you notice
any tracks from the wood towards the batteries?... Two tracks!... but
my map shows a line of barbed wire running across.... Good! ... there
is a useable track as far as 19 c, and by striking east before you come
to the cross tracks it is possible to find an opening in the wire....
Good, Bullivant.... I expect I shall move the batteries that way....
No, no orders to move yet!
At 1.15 P.M., after further talks with the brigade-major, the
colonel told me to send out this message to the four batteries:
Brigade will advance as soon as possible to position in F 20,
or if that locality is full up, in F 21 c. Prepare to advance,
and report to Brigade commander at F 20 c 4, 2.
The colonel's horses had been ordered up from the waggon line.
Hubbard and I will go on, he told me, and Hubbard can commence
laying out lines to the batteries' new positions. You will remain here
to keep in touch with Division. I shall be back before we move, and
batteries are not to go forward until orders are issued from here.
He returned at 4 P.M. and told me to send out orders for an
immediate advance to the positions chosen. I was returning from the
signallers' dug-out when a young major belonging to the s passed,
followed by a sergeant. The major looked pale and worn, but walked
quickly. There are moments when personal acquaintance with members of
other branches of the Service possesses a very direct value. I did not
know Major very well, but a habit contracted through frequent
visits to the Infantry made me call out Any news?
Our Brigade's doing a clearing-up attack at five o'clock, he
answered without stopping.
We don't know anything about that, I said, catching him up. How
long is it since orders were issued?
I've only just left the General, he replied, still walking ahead.
Can you spare two minutes to explain the scheme to the colonel, I
pressed. Our batteries are just about to move up.
I hardly have time to get to the battalion, he answered with a
frown of dissent.
Two minutes! I pleadedand succeeded. We hurried to the mess.
There was a quick, clear exchange of words between the major and the
colonel. The major sped away as the colonel thanked him. Telephone at
once to the batteries to prevent them moving! said the colonel,
turning to me.
Before five minutes had passed, the colonel, after a telephone talk
with the brigadier-general, had arranged a short barrage programme for
There's usefulness in your being a gossip, you see, he smiled, a
quarter of an hour later.
The orders for the batteries to advance still held good, and
immediately the barrage ceased they pulled out. By 6 P.M. the colonel
had ridden forward again. My instructions were to remain until the
divisional signalling officer had laid a line to the new Brigade
Headquarters. At eight o'clock, followed by Ernest and the Brigade
signallers who had stayed with me, I rode through St Emilie and dipped
into a cul-de-sac valley crowded with the field batteries of another
Division. Our way took us toward and across gorse-clad, wild-looking
uplands. Night approached. Just as we halted at a spot where two
puddly, churned-up sunken roads crossed, guns behind and on either side
of us belched forth flame and rasping sound. Eighteen-pounder shells
screamed swiftly over us; the whole countryside spurted flashes. One of
the horses plunged with nervousness. It's an S.O.S. call, sir, said a
driver who had put his horse under a bank, raising his voice against
the din. Ernest, his little body quivering with excitement, was
already racing backwards and forwards. I told my groom to take my horse
into the sunken road, and started to look for the colonel and the
headquarters party. A sticky walk up the track to the left took me
within a couple of hundred yards of the village of Ronssoy, where most
of the Boche shells were falling. No signs of Headquarters up there.
After a lot of shouting to persuade the dog to keep near me, I turned
back and went through the mud again, past the cross-roads junction, and
along a still slimier, water-logged cart-track. I found every one on
Headquarters digging shelters in the side of the road. The servants had
rigged up a corrugated-iron habitation for the colonel. The brigade
clerks, the signallers, and the cooks had dug hard, and made use of
trench-covers, with the swift resource that long experience of
trench-life had developed into a kind of second nature. Hubbard had
arranged an elephant, raised on two rows of ancient sandbags, for
himself and me to snuggle under.
I've sent out S.O.S. lines to the batteries, said the colonel, who
was sitting on a box in a long-disused gun-pit. We'll turn this place
into a mess to-morrow.
The firing died down. I sent some one to tell the groom to take the
horses back to the waggon line which was being established at the
headquarters position we had just left. The cook prepared us a simple
meal. By 10 P.M. the brigade-major had telephoned instructions for the
night-firing with which the batteries were to busy themselves. Our
night was disturbed by the swish-plop of gas shells, but none came near
enough seriously to disquiet us.
XV. ERNEST IS LOST
Sept. 19: That morning Bob Pottinger reported at Brigade
Headquarters, smiling all over his face. An extra leave warrant had
come in, and it was his turn to go. For weeks past every one had known
of his eagerness to get home, in order to conduct certain matrimonial
projects to the Yes or No stage. Leave to England was going nicely
now. Dumble, young Beale, Judd, and Hetherington were away, and the men
were going at the rate of five per day. Officers had to be five months
in France since their last leavemostly it ran to seven; the men's
qualification was twelve months. Happy is the army that is attacking!
Only when the enemy has full possession of the initiative is leave
entirely cut off.
Of the 5 P.M. attack carried out the night before by the th
Brigade, all that we knew was that unexpectedly large numbers of the
enemy had been met. The fighting had been fierce, and the Boche still
held some of the ground the Brigade had set out to take. Right through
the night our guns had been busy firing protective bursts.
The mystery of the Boche's unlooked-for strength was explained by a
Divisional wire that reached us about 8 A.M. It stated that a prisoner
captured by the th Brigade said that at 7 A.M. on the 18th, following
urgent orders resulting from the British offensive at 5.20, a whole
Boche division came by bus from Maretz, fourteen miles back. Their
mission was to make a counter-attack that would win back the original
line. They deployed at Bony, near the canal, and completed their march
in readiness for an attack at 6 P.M. But the 5 P.M. thrust by our th
Brigade completely surprised them, and in fact broke up their
offensive. The prisoner also reported that many casualties had been
caused by our artillery fire.
The brigade-major, telephoning at 9 A.M., told us further details
about the main offensive of the day before. The hold-up on our left had
continued until late in the evening, in spite of renewed attacks on a
big scale. The German Alpine Corps have some of the stiffest fighters
we have run against for a long time, he went on. On the outskirts of
Epéhy one post was held by three officers and forty-five men until 7.45
P.M. When they surrendered there were only seventeen not wounded.
The sunken road we were occupying led towards the red-brick,
modern-looking village of Templeux-le-Guerard. A German encampment,
quite a large one, containing several roomy huts newly built and well
fitted up, stood outside the eastern edge of the village. The colonel
had just pointed out that any amount of material for the improvement of
our Headquarters was to be had for the fetching, and I had despatched
the wheeler and a party of servants and signallers to the German
encampment when the telephone bell rang.
It was the brigade-major again. We're doing another attack, he
said cheerfully, to finish the work started last evening.... I want
you to open on line F 10 c 2.0 to F 16 b 0.8.... Dwell there till
11.20.... Then creep 1100 yards in a north-easterly direction100
yards each four minutesto F 11 a 4.0 to F 11 d 2.5.... Dwell twenty
minutes.... Then creep 100 yards each four minutes to F 11 b 1.3 to F
11 d 8.7.... 4·5 hows. on Sart Farm.... Open at Rapid Rate on
start-line for first four minutes.... Then go to Normal Rate for the
creep, and Slow on final protective barrage.... Is that clear?...
I had repeated the map co-ordinates as the brigade-major gave them,
and had written them down; and the colonel, coming in to the mess,
followed the telephone conversation on his map. I handed him my
note-book, and for five minutes he worked in his rapid silent way, with
his ivory pocket-rule and scale for measuring map co-ordinates. Then he
told the telephonist on duty to get him each battery in turn; and the
Brigade was soon a stage nearer in its preparations for supporting the
Infantry brigade selected to make the attack.
Ten minutes later the brigade-major again rang up to say that the
how. battery was required to fire smoke-shells on certain points.
Before the fight began the colonel made a tour of the batteries. The
party sent to the German camp returned with forms and tables, and
plenty of corrugated iron and boards; and it was while I was detailing
a party of them to dig a sleeping-place for the colonel farther into
the bank that a group of officers, headed by a red-tabbed staff
captain, came along. Even if I had not recognised him from his
portraitsor because two winters before the war he and I stayed in the
same hotel at Nicethere was no doubt as to his identity. Name and
title appeared written in indelible pencil on his box-respirator. He
told me he was looking for a headquarters for his brigade, and he had
heard that the sunken road was a likely spot. I don't know how long we
shall be here, I replied, but we intend to carry out as many
improvements as possible. It will be a decent place to take over when
we leave. And I indicated the digging party. Ernest, as usual, was
extremely affable, and received any amount of petting and patting from
the visiting officers. Just as they departed the assistant brigade
clerk came to me with a batch of men's leave warrants. I went into the
mess, and was occupied signing the warrants and other documents for ten
minutes or so. When I came out there was no sign of Ernest. Ten
minutes later the attack started and the air was fluttered with the
swish and scream of shells.
An hour passed. The colonel returned. We lunched. Afterwards the
colonel removed his jacket, did a bit of sawing, and directed the
wheeler and his party in the task of boarding-in our gun-pit mess, so
as to leave it no longer exposed to wind and rain on two sides.
Hubbard, who was proud of his strength, climbed on top and pulled and
shifted the three six-inch girders to more suitable positions. I took a
turn with pick and shovel in the improvement of the colonel's dug-out.
The dog had not come back. One of the orderlies thought he had seen him
running along with the officers who had called before lunch.
About half-past three the brigade-major called for our 18-pounders
to drive off another Boche wave with a half-hour's shower of shrapnel;
he also wanted our how. battery to devote itself to Sart Farm and
Holland Post, which forward observers reported to be little strongholds
of enemy trench-mortars and machine-guns. Still no sign of Ernest.
The mess-cart arrived at five o'clock, and as a last resource I
scribbled a note to the doctor, who was as fond of the dog as any of
us, describing the titled staff captain, and urging him to scour the
countryside until he struck a trail that would lead to Ernest's
At 7.30 P.M. an S.O.S. call, telephoned by Drysdale, who was doing
liaison with the th Infantry Brigade, showed how desperately the
Boche was contesting the occupation of the strong points on this
portion of the front, although a Corps Intelligence Summary, delivered
about the same time, told us that 60 officers and 2315 other ranks,
wounded and unwounded, had passed through the Corps prisoners of war
cages since 6 A.M. the day before, and that the strength of the average
Hun infantry company had been reduced to 60 rifles.
As the colonel, Hubbard, and myself sat down to dinner, the
following message was handed to me:
Wire has been laid out to O.P. at F 16 c 42 by B and C
Batteries. The contours on the small paper 1/20,000 map are not
correct in this neighbourhood. New zero line was registered on
Yes, I've already warned the batteries that the special maps are
not reliable, commented the colonel.
The end of the day found our infantry in possession of most of the
strong points they had striven to seize, but at a heavy cost. And all
through the night our batteries poured forth fierce deadly fire to
harass and nullify Hun efforts to loosen our grip.
It was the same sort of warfare next day. The fighting was carried
out yard by yard. There was a certain post, Doleful Post, very valuable
to the Boche because it dominated the immediate neighbourhood. It was
our batteries' business to make it hellishly uncomfortable for him. At
10 A.M. the colonel, after a talk with Division, ordered the Brigade to
bring harassing fire to bear during the next twenty-four hours upon
Doleful Post and the valley running north-east from it. The three
18-pdr. batteries were to work in two-hour shifts, firing 50 rounds an
hour; the 4·5 how. battery was to fire 15 rounds per hour continuously.
Next day the infantry were to storm the post, and thus secure a
jumping-off spot for another forward leap.
With a more or less settled programme laid downfor twenty-four
hours at any ratethe colonel, Hubbard, and I devoted some thought to
the building of our headquarters. It looks as if we were in for a
spell of trench warfare without the protection we were accustomed to in
trench-warfare days, observed the colonel. There are no mined
dug-outs to hide in. The cook, a Scottish miner, had contrived a kind
of two-storied habitation in his little stretch of the bank; and he and
Manning and my servant felt themselves moderately safe. The colonel's
homeheavy elephant roof and wooden walls stuffed well into the
bankbeing complete, the wheeler, the servants, Hubbard, and myself
put backs and forearms into the task of fashioning a similar shelter
for Hubbard and me. I, of course, could not stray far from the
telephone. The staff captain wanted to talk about new ammunition dumps
and gun-repairing workshops. Major Bullivant inquired whether he
couldn't be selected for the next gunnery course at Shoeburyness. Major
Veasey thought it time another captain relieved Drysdale as liaison
officer with the Infantry Brigade. And all the time there were routine
papers and returns to be looked through and signed.
There's something that will do for the September War Diary, said
the colonel, putting in front of me a letter sent to him by the
brigadier-general commanding one of our Infantry brigades. It ran:
I am anxious that you and your officers and men should know how
grateful I and my battalion commanders are to you for the
excellent barrage you gave us yesterday morning (Sept. 18)
such very difficult circumstances. They all realise that with
the moving of batteries, getting up the ammunition, and the
frequent barrages you are called upon to provide, besides the
harassing and the normal shooting, a very great strain is
on your Brigade. And the success we had yesterday was largely
made possible by the splendid work of your people.
About eleven o'clock the doctor, who had ridden from the waggon
line, came in gaily singing Hail! hail! the gang's all here, to a
tune from the Pirates of Penzance. I've located 'Ernest,' he
shouted triumphantly when he saw me.
Splendid, I answered, smiling in return. Have you got him at the
No; I saw him as I was coming up here. He was trotting along with a
captain who was going towards that village with the factory, over
Was he a staff captain, with a Military Cross and another ribbon?
I asked.... Didn't you tell him it was our dog?
That's so. I told him that, and 'Ernest' came and jumped around
when he saw me; but the captain said it couldn't be our dog, because a
brigadier-general's name was on the collar, and he wasn't going to let
him go; his colonel wanted him. Besides, added the doctor plaintively,
'Ernest' wouldn't follow me.
His colonel! I repeated, puzzled. Didn't he say 'his General'? A
staff captain is on a brigadier-general's staff.... His colonel?... Are
you sure he was a staff captain? Was he wearing red?
I didn't see any red, replied the doctor. He was walking behind a
waggon that had a pile of wood and iron on it. It looked as if they
My face fell. Did you notice his regiment? Was he a gunner or an
infantryman, or what? I asked quickly.
Well, I can't say that I did. I don't know all your regiments.
The colonel joined us. Laneridge has brought my mare up, he
remarked pleasantly. You'd like a little exercise, perhaps. When the
doctor has finished his sick parade you take my mare and see if the dog
can be found.
The doctor and I rode across country, and scoured the village he had
pointed to, but there was no trace of Ernest. We spoke to a couple of
military policemen, told them all about our loss, saw that they
inscribed particulars in their note-books, and then continued our
inquiries among some heavy gunners, who had pulled into a garden near
the sugar factory. I even narrated the story to an Irish A.P.M., who
was standing in the street conversing with a motoring staff officer.
I've been in this village fully an hour and haven't seen a dog such as
you describe, said the A.P.M. And I'm sure I should have noticed
him.... I'm fond of dogs, and I notice them all.... I'll help you any
way I can.... Give me full particulars, and I'll pass them round to my
He listened while I tried to obtain further clues from the doctor as
to the branch of the service to which the captain, seen that morning
with Ernest, belonged. The doctor, his cap tilted backwards, a long
dark cigar protruding at an angle of 45 degrees from the corner of his
mouth, did his best, but it was no good. I'm sorryI don't know your
regiments well enough, he said at last.
It was at this point that the doctor's groomin the building trade
before the warentered into the conversation. He had heard everything
that had been said since the quest began, but this was the first remark
he had made.
The officer the medical officer spoke to this morning, sir, was in
the Pioneers, he said to me.
Why didn't you tell us that before? asked the doctor impatiently.
Sorry, sir, you didn't ask me, was the toneless reply.
The doctor looked unutterable things, and the lighted end of his
cigar described three or four irregular circles. Gosh! he pronounced
briskly. We gotta put more pep into looking for this dog, or the
war'll end before we find him.
A high-velocity shell bursting on the near side of the factory
helped to decide us. The A.P.M. said that a party of the Pioneers had
marched down the street half an hour ago. The doctor and I bade him
good-bye, went through the village, and were directed to a lane
alongside a railway embankment. In one among a row of wooden huts,
where the Headquarters of the reserve infantry brigade were quartered,
we found the colonel of the Pioneers finishing lunch. He and our
colonel were old friends, and immediately I explained the object of my
visit he became sympathetic. Yes, he laughed, we have your dogat
least our A Company have him. I believe they found him wandering on the
other side of the valley.... Stop and have some lunch, and I'll send
No, thank you, sir.... I shall have to be getting back.
A subaltern went off to fetch the dog. The doctor left to pick up
the horses and to return to the waggon line. The colonel invited me to
have a drink. But there was disappointment when the subaltern returned.
I'm afraid the dog has gone again, sirabout half an hour ago.
Really! said the colonel.
Yes, sir; he was in A Company's mess when two Gunner officers
passed, and he went after them.
He knows your badge, at any rate, remarked the colonel to me with
twinkling eyes. I'm sorry you've had your journey for nothing. But
we'll keep a look-out and send him back if he returns to us.
I'm going to have another search round the village before I go
back, sir, I responded determinedly. We're getting warmer.
Turning from the lane into the road that led into the village, I
noticed a groom who had been waiting with his two horses since the
first time I passed the spot. At first he thought he hadn't seen a dog
that looked like a cross between an Airedale and a Belgian sheep-dog.
Then he fancied he had. Yes, he believed it had passed that way with an
R.A.M.C. major. But those men near that ambulance car will tell you,
sir. They were playing with the dog I saw, about half an hour ago.
Yes, I was really on the trail now. That's right, sir, remarked
the R.A.M.C. sergeant when he had helped two walking wounded into the
ambulance car. I remember the dog, and saw the name on the collar....
He followed our major about twenty minutes ago. He's gone across that
valley to Brigade Headquarters.... I don't think he'll be long.
What's it like up there? asked one of the ambulance men of a
slight, fagged-looking lance-corporal of the Fusiliers, who had been
hit in the shoulder.
Hot! replied the Fusilier. One dropped near Battalion
Headquarters and killed our sergeant.... I think there are five more of
our lot coming along.
There were two more places to be filled before the ambulance car
moved off. Another Fusilier, wounded in the knee, hobbled up, assisted
by two men of the same regiment, one of them with his head bandaged.
Hullo, Jim! called the lance-corporal from the ambulance. I
wondered if you'd come along too. Did you see Tom?
No, responded the man hit in the ankle.
The ambulance moved off. An empty one took its place. It was a
quarter to two, but I was resolved to wait now until the R.A.M.C. major
returned. Three shells came over and dropped near the railway. More
walking wounded filled places in the ambulance.
The major, with Ernest at his heels, came back at a quarter-past
two. Ernest certainly knew me again. He leapt up and licked my hand,
and looked up while the major listened to my story. Well, I should
have kept himor tried to do so, he said. He's a taking little
fellow, and I've always had a dog until a few weeks ago.... Butwith
a pleasant smileI think you've earned your right to him.... I've
never seen a dog so excited by shells.... Well, good-bye!
He walked away, and Ernest started after him. I stood still in the
centre of the road. The dog turned his head as if to see whether I
meant to follow. Then he came back, and quietly lay down at my feet.
We had a joyous walk home. There were shells to scamper after, wire
to scramble through, old trenches to explore. The return of Ernest
brought a deep content to our mess.
* * * * *
Sept. 21: The attack which started at 5.40 A.M. was carried out by
two of our Divisional Infantry brigades; a brigade of another Division
attacked simultaneously. The object was to close with the main enemy
positions in the Hindenburg Line. Tanks were put in to break down the
oppositionsure to be met by the brigades on the left and right; and
every officer in the Division knew that if the final objectives could
be held the Boche would be compelled to withdraw large forces to the
far side of the canal. The attack was planned with extraordinary
attention to detail. Battalions were ordered not to attempt to push on
beyond the final objective; trench mortars were to be moved up to cover
the consolidation of the final positions; the reconnaissance work had
been specially thorough. Our batteries had horses and limbers in
readiness for a quick rushing up of the guns.
The earlier part of the operation went well enough, but by 8 A.M. we
knew that our two Infantry brigades were having to go all out. The
Boche machine-gunners were firing with exemplary coolness and
precision. At 8.30 the brigade-major telephoned that every gun we
possessed must fire bursts on certain hostile battery positions. The
colonel and I didn't leave the mess that morning; the telephone was
rarely out of use. At half-past ten Major Bartlett, who had gone
forward to an infantry post to see what was happening, got a message
back to say that, harassed by heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, our
infantry were coming back. Aeroplane calls for artillery fire on
hostile batteries were twice responded to by our batteries. Drysdale,
doing liaison with the rd Infantry Brigade, reported that two
battalions had had severe losses. A buff slip from the Casualty
Clearing Station informed us that the lead driver of our brigade
telephone cart had died in hospital overnight: he had been hit just
after leaving the Headquarters position the previous evening, and was
the second Headquarters driver to be killed since Sept. 1. The only
relief during a morning of excitement and some gloom was the arrival of
three big cigars, sent by the doctor for the colonel, Hubbard, and
myself. As the colonel didn't smoke cigars, the only solution was for
Hubbard and myself to toss for the remaining one. Hubbard won.
At one o'clock it became clear that our infantry could not hope to
do more than consolidate upon their first objective. There was no
prospect of the batteries moving forward, and at 1.30 the colonel told
me to send out this message to all batteries
Gun limbers and firing battery waggons need not be kept within
2000 yards of gun positions any longer to-day.
Major Veasey called on us at tea-time, and the talk ran on the
possibilities of the next few days' fighting. The Boche seems bent on
holding out here as long as he can, said the major. I think he's
fighting a rear-guard action on a very big scale, said the colonel
thoughtfully. Our air reports indicate much movement in his back
areas.... And most of his artillery fire is from long range now.
Let's hope it continues in that way, went on the major, filling
his pipe. If only he'd stop his beastly gas shells it wouldn't be so
bad. It's not clean war. I'd vote willingly for an armistice on gas
Are you improving your accommodation at the battery? asked the
colonel. We're likely to be here a few days, and we must make as much
protection as we can.
We've got quite a decent dug-out in the bank to sleep in, answered
Major Veasey, getting up to go, but our mess is rather in the
openunder a tarpaulin. However, it's quite a pleasant mess. Bullivant
and Simpson came to dine last night, and we played bridge till eleven.
I had sent out the S.O.S. lines to batteries, and we had sat down to
dinner a little earlier than usual, owing to the desirability of
showing as little light as possible, when the telephone bell rang. I
put the receiver to my ear.
A strong decided voice spoke. Is that the adjutant, sir?... I'm
Sergeant of D Battery, sir.... Major Veasey has been badly
Major Veasey wounded, I repeated, and the colonel and Hubbard put
down knives and forks and listened.
Yes, sir, ... a gas shell came into the mess. Mr Kelly and Mr Wood
have been wounded as well.... We've got them away to the hospital,
sir.... Mr Kelly got it in the face, sir.... I'm afraid he's blinded.
How was Major Veasey wounded?
In the arm and foot, sir.... Mr Wood was not so bad.
There's no other officer at D Battery, sir, I said to the colonel,
who was already turning up the list of officers in his note-book.
Tell him that the senior sergeant will take command until an
officer arrives, replied the colonel promptly, and then get on to
Drysdale at the infantry. I'll speak to him.... I don't like the idea
of Veasey being wounded by a gas shell, he added quickly. Depression
descended upon all three of us.
The colonel told Captain Drysdale to inform the Infantry brigadier
what had happened, and to obtain his immediate permission to go to the
battery, about half a mile away. You've got a subaltern at the waggon
line.... Get him up, advised the colonel, the sergeant-major can
carry on there.... Tell the General that another officer will arrive as
soon as possible to do liaison.
The colonel looked again at his note-book. We're frightfully down
in officers, he said at last. I'll ask Colonel of the rd if he
can spare some one to take on to-night.
I hope Veasey and Kelly are not badly wounded, he said later,
lighting a cigarette. And I'm glad it didn't come last night, when
there were three battery commanders at the bridge party. That would
have been catastrophe.
That night the Boche rained gas shells all round our quarters in the
sunken road. Hubbard and myself and Ernest were not allowed much
sleep in our right little, tight little hut. One shell dropped within
twenty yards of us; thrice fairly heavy shell splinters played an
unnerving tattoo upon our thick iron roof; once we were forced to wear
our box-respirators for half an hour.
At 11.30 P.M. the colonel telephoned from his hut to ours to tell me
that new orders had come in from the brigade-major. We are putting
down a barrage from midnight till 12.15 A.M., he said. You needn't
worry. I've sent out orders to the batteries.... Our infantry are
making an assault at 12.15 on Doleful Post. It ought to startle the
Hun. He won't expect anything at that hour.
XVI. THE DECISIVE DAYS
Sept. 22: It was as the colonel expected. The Boche took our
hurricane bombardment from midnight to 12.15 A.M. to be an unusually
intense burst of night-firing; and when our guns lifted some six
hundred yards, our infantry swept forward, and in a few minutes
captured two posts over which many lives had been unavailingly expended
during the two preceding days. Sixty prisoners also were added to their
But the enemy was only surprisednot done with. This was ground
that had been a leaping-off place for his mighty rush in March 1918.
Close behind lay country that had not been trod by Allied troops since
the 1914 invasion. He counter-attacked fiercely, and at 5.10 A.M. a
signaller roused me with the message.
Our attack succeeded in capturing Duncan and Doleful Posts, but
failed on the rest of the front. S.O.S. line will be brought back to
the line it was on after 12 midnight. Bursts of harassing fire will be
put down on the S.O.S. lines and on approaches in rear from now
onwards. About three bursts per hour. Heavy artillery is asked to
I telephoned to the batteries to alter their S.O.S. lines, and told
the colonel what had been done. Then I sought sleep again.
After breakfast the brigade-major telephoned that the Division
immediately north of us was about to attempt the capture of a strong
point that had become a wasps' nest of machine-gunners. We have to
hold Duncan Post and Doleful Post at all costs, he added. All through
the morning messages from Division artillery and from the liaison
officer told the same tale: fierce sallies and desperate
counter-attacks between small parties of the opposing infantry, who in
places held trench slits and rough earthworks within a mashie shot of
each other. About noon the Germans loosed off a terrible burst of fire
on a 500-yards' front. Every Boche gun for miles round seemed to be
pulverising that awful bit, Buller, who had gone forward to observe,
told me afterwards. My two telephonists hid behind a brick wall that
received two direct hits, and I lay for a quarter of an hour in a
shell-hole without daring to move. Then half a dozen of their
aeroplanes came over in close formation and tried to find our infantry
with their machine-guns.... I got the wind up properly. Our batteries
answered three S.O.S. calls between 10 A.M. and 1 o'clock; and,
simultaneously with a news message from Division stating that British
cavalry had reached Nazareth and crossed the Jordan, that 18,000
prisoners and 160 guns had been captured, and that Liman von Sanders
had escaped by the skin of his teeth, came a report from young Beale
that Germans could be seen massing for a big effort.
I passed this information to the brigade-major, and our guns, and
the heavies behind them, fired harder than ever. Then for an hour until
3 o'clock we got a respite. A couple of pioneers, lent to us by the
colonel, who had shown himself so sympathetic in the matter of the lost
dog, worked stolidly with plane and saw and foot-rule, improving our
gun-pit mess by more expert carpentering than we could hope to possess.
The colonel tore the wrapper of the latest copy of an automobile
journal, posted to him weekly, and devoted himself to an article on
spring-loaded starters. I read a type-written document from the staff
captain that related to the collection, as opportunity offers, of two
field guns captured from the enemy two days before.
But at 3.35 the situation became electric again. The clear
high-pitched voice of young Beale sounded over the line that by a
miracle had not yet been smashed by shell-fire. Germans in large
numbers are coming over the ridge south of Tombois Farm, he said.
I got through to the brigade-major, and he instructed me to order
our guns to search back 1000 yards from that portion of our front.
Don't tell the batteries to 'search back,' broke in the colonel,
who had heard me telephoning. It's a confusing expression. Tell them
to 'search east,' or 'north-east' in this case.
By a quarter to four the telephone wires were buzzing feverishly.
More S.O.S. rockets had gone up. The enemy had launched a very heavy
counter-attack. Our over-worked gunners left their tea, and tons of
metal screamed through the air. Within an hour Drysdale sent us most
The infantry are awfully pleased with our S.O.S. barrage, he said
briskly. As a matter of fact, that burst you ordered at 3.40 was more
useful still, ... caught the Germans as they came out to attack....
They were stopped about 150 yards from our line.... They had to go back
through our barrage.... It was a great sight.... The dead can be seen
in heaps.... Over twenty Boche ran through our barrage and gave
Drysdale had more good news for us twenty minutes later. Two
companies of a battalion not attackedthey were to the right of the
place to which the enemy advancedsaw what was happening, dashed
forward along a winding communication trench, and seized a position
that hitherto they had found impregnable. They got a hundred prisoners
out of the affair.
Two more S.O.S. calls went up before dinner-time, but a day of
tremendous heavy fighting ended with our men in glorious possession of
some of the hardest-won ground in the history of the Division.
If we can hold on where we are until really fresh troops relieve us
we shall be over the Hindenburg Line in three days, said the colonel
happily, as he selected targets for the night-firing programme.
He had written From receipt of this message S.O.S. lines will be as
follows when he stopped. Can't we shorten this preliminary
verbiage? he asked quizzically. Castle made this opening phrase a
sort of tradition when he was adjutant.
What about 'Henceforth S.O.S. lines will be'? I replied, tilting
my wooden stool backwards.
That will do! said the colonel.
And henceforth it became after that.
For two more days we carried on this most tiring of all kinds of
fighting: for the infantry, hourly scraps with a watchful plucky foe;
for the gunners, perpetual readiness to fire protective bursts should
the enemy suddenly seek to shake our grip on this most fateful stretch
of front; in addition to day and night programmes of crashes that
allowed the gun detachments no rest, and at the same time demanded
unceasing care in laying and loading and firing the guns. And with
the opposing infantry so close to each other, and the front line
changing backwards and forwards from hour to hour, absolute accuracy
was never more necessary. The Brigade had had no proper rest since the
early days of August. The men had been given no opportunity for baths
or change of clothing. Our casualties had not been heavy, but they were
draining us steadily, and reinforcements stepped into this strenuous
hectic fighting with no chance of the training and testing under actual
war conditions that make a period of quiet warfare so valuable. And yet
it was this portion of the fifty days, this exhausting, remorseless,
unyielding struggling that really led to the Boche's final downfall. It
forced him to abandon the Hindenburg Linethe beginning of the very
I was going to write that it was astonishing how uncomplainingly,
how placidly each one of us went on with his ordinary routine duties
during this time. But, after all, it wasn't astonishing. The moments
were too occupied for weariness of soul; our minds rioted with the
thought, He's getting done! Let's get on with it! Let's finish him.
And if at times one reflected on the barrenness, the wastefulness of
war, there still remained the satisfying of the instinct to do one's
work well. The pioneers had done their very best, and made quite a
house of our mess, even finding glass to put in the windows. I don't
know that the old wheeler understood me when I emphasised this
thoroughness of the pioneers by adding, You see, we British always
build for posterity; but before we went away he began to take a pride
in keeping those windows clean.
On Sept. 25 we heard without much pleasure that we had come under
another Divisional Artillery, and were to retire to our waggon lines by
nightfall. I'd rather stay here a few days longer and then go out for
a proper rest, said the colonel, taking appreciative stock of the
habitations that had arisen since our occupation. I'm afraid this
order means a shift to another part of the line. And it was so. Our
Brigade was to side-step north, and the colonel and the battery
commanders went off after lunch to reconnoitre positions. An Australian
Field Artillery brigade came to take-over from us, and I yarned with
their colonel and adjutant and intelligence officer while waiting for
our colonel to return. I told them that it was ages since I had seen a
I used to get mine regularly, said their adjutant, but it hasn't
come for ten weeks now. I expect some skrim-shanker at the post-office
or at the base is pinching it.... I'm going to tell my people to wrap
it up in the 'War Cry' before posting it. I know one chap who's had
that done for over a year. No one thinks of pinching it then.
One of the Australian batteries was late getting in, and it was
half-past seven before the colonel and I, waiting for the relief to be
complete, got away. The Boche guns had been quiet all the afternoon.
Buthow often it happens when one has been delayed!shells fell about
the track we intended to take when we mounted our horses, and we had to
side-track to be out of danger. When we arrived at Headquarters waggon
lines it was too late to dine in daylight; and as Hun bombers were on
the war-path, our dinner was a blind-man's-buff affair.
The colonel had been told that we should be required to fight a
battle at our new positions on the 27th, and already the batteries had
commenced to take up ammunition. But whenthe Hun aeroplanes having
passed by and candles being permissible in our tentsthe brigade clerk
produced an order requiring us to have two guns per battery in action
that very night, I considered joylessly the prospect of a long move in
They expect us to move up to-night, sir, I told the colonel,
handing him the order brought by a motor-cyclist despatch-bearer about
Oh! said the coloneland the Oh! was a chef-d'oeuvre of
Then he wrote a masterly little note, perfect in its correctness,
and yet instinct with the power and knowledge of a commander who had a
mind of his own. He wrote as follows, and told me to hand the message
to the returning despatch-rider:
Ref. your B.M. 85 dated 25th Sept., I regret that I shall not
be able to move one section per battery into action to-night.
I was late in returning from my reconnaissance owing to delay
in fixing position for my Brigade Headquarters; did not get the
order until eight o'clock, and by that time batteries had
started moving ammunition up to the positions. All available
guides had gone up with the ammunition waggons.
My batteries will be prepared to fire a barrage by dawn on 27th
In confirmation of my telephone conversation with B.M. to-day
positions selected are as follows:
The message closed with the map co-ordinates of the positions chosen
for our four batteries, and with a request for the map location of the
Divisional Artillery Headquarters, to which the note was sent.
Next day, the 26th, was a day of busy preparation. We learned that,
for the first time, we should be in active co-operation with an
American Division. The infantry of the British Division we were working
under had been told off to protect the left flank of the American
Division. The object of the attack was the capture of the last
dominating strong-posts that guarded a section of the Hindenburg Line,
immediately north of the section for which our own Divisional infantry
had battled since Sept. 19. The enemy was to be surprised. Our guns,
when placed in position, had to remain silent until they began the
barrage on the 27th. That morning, therefore, topographical experts
busied themselves ascertaining exact map locations of the batteries'
positions so as to ensure accurate shooting by the map. The point was
emphasised by the colonel, who wrote to all batteries:
Battery Commanders are reminded that as barrages on morning of
27th will be fired without previous registration of guns.
THE LINE LAID OUT MUST NOT BE ENTIRELY DEPENDENT ON COMPASS
BEARING. Check it by measuring angles to points which can be
identified on the map. All calculations to be made by two
officers working separately, who will then check each other.
Every precaution must be taken not to attract the attention of
the enemy to batteries moving forward into action. Nothing to
taken up in daylight, except in the event of very bad
The colonel rode over to see the C.R.A. of the Division to whom our
Brigade had been loaned. After lunch he held a battery commanders'
conference in his tent, and explained the morrow's barrage scheme.
Ernest, the dog, spent a delighted frolicsome hour chasing a Rugby
football that some Australians near our waggon lines brought out for
practice. Hubbard went on to the new positions to lay out his telephone
lines. I occupied myself completing returns for the staff captain.
By five o'clock I had joined the colonel and Hubbard at the new
positions. Our only possible mess was a roofless gun-pit not far from a
road. The colonel and Hubbard were covering it with scrap-heap sheets
of rusty iron, and a tarpaulin that was not sufficiently expansive.
Further down the road was a dug-out into which two could squeeze. The
colonel said Hubbard and I had better occupy it. He preferred to sleep
in the gun-pit, and already had gathered up a few armfuls of grasses
and heather to lie upon. Manning and the cook had discovered a hole of
their own, and the two clerks and the orderlies had cramped themselves
into a tiny bivouac.
The final fastening-down of the gun-pit roof was enlivened by heavy
enemy shelling of a battery four hundred yards north-east of us.
Several splinters whistled past, and one flying piece of iron, four
inches long and an inch wide, missed my head by about a foot and buried
itself in the earthen floor of the mess. That's the narrowest escape
you've had for some time, smiled the colonel.
Ten minutes later the brigade clerk brought me the evening's batch
of Divisional messages and routine orders. This was the first one I
Wire by return name of war-tired captain or subaltern, if any,
available for temporary duty for administration and training of
R.A. malaria convalescents. Very urgent.
XVII. WITH THE AMERICANS
Sept. 27: Our meetings with the Americans had so far been pretty
casual. We had seen parties of them in June and July, training in the
Contay area, north of the Albert-Amiens road; and one day during that
period I accompanied our colonel and the colonel of our companion
brigade on a motor trip to the coast, and we passed some thousands of
them hard at work getting fit, and training with almost fervid
enthusiasm. It used to be a joke of mine that on one occasion my horse
shied because an Australian private saluted me. No one could make a
friendly jest of like kind against the American soldiers. When first
they arrived in France no troops were more punctilious in practising
the outward and visible evidences of discipline. Fit, with the perfect
fitness of the man from 23 to 28, not a weed amongst them,
intelligent-looking, splendidly eager to learn, they were much akin in
physique and general qualities to our own immortal First Hundred
Thousand. I came across colonels and majors of the New York and
Illinois Divisions getting experience in the line with our brigadiers
and colonels. I have seen U.S. Army N.C.O.'s out in the field receiving
instruction from picked N.C.O.'s of our army in the art of shouting
orders. Their officers and men undertook this training with a certain
shy solemnity that I myself thought very attractive. I am doing no
lip-service to a wish is father to the thought sentiment when I say
that a manly modesty in respect to military achievements characterised
all the fighting American soldiers that I met.
They were not long in tumbling into the humours of life at the
front. I remember an episode told with much enjoyment by a major of the
regular U.S. Army, who spent a liaison fortnight with our Division.
There is a word that appears at least once a day on orders sent out
from the Q or administrative branch of the British Army. It is the
word Return: Return of Personnel, Casualty Returns, Ammunition
Returns, &c., all to do with the compilation of reports. The American
Division to which the major belonged had been included among the units
of a British Corps. When, in course of time, the Division was
transferred elsewhere Corps Q branch wired, Return wanted of all tents
and trench shelters in your possession. Next day the American Division
received a second message: Re my 0546/8023, hasten return of tents and
The day following the Corps people were startled by the steady
arrival of scores of tents and trench shelters. The wires hummed
furiously, and the Corps staff captain shouted his hardest, explaining
over a long-distance telephone that Hasten return did not mean Send
back as quickly as possible.
And we thought we had got a proper move on sending back those
tents, concluded the American major who told me the story.
And now we were in action with these virile ardent fellows. Two of
their Divisions took part in the great battle which at 5.30 A.M. opened
on a 35-mile frontten days of bloody victorious fighting, by which
three armies shattered the last and strongest of the enemy's
fully-prepared positions, and struck a vital blow at his main
The first news on Sept. 27th was of the best. On our part of the
front the Americans had swept forward, seized the two ruined farms that
were their earliest objectives, and surged to the top of a knoll that
had formed a superb point of vantage for the Boche observers. By 7.30
A.M. the Brigade was told to warn F.O.O.'s that our bombers would throw
red flares outside the trenches along which they were advancing to
indicate their position.
But again there was to be no walk-over. The Boche counter-attack was
delivered on the Americans' left flank. We were ordered to fire a
two-hours' bombardment upon certain points towards which the enemy was
pouring his troops; and the colonel told me to instruct our two
F.O.O.'s to keep a particular look-out for hostile movement.
By 11 A.M. Division issued instructions for all gun dumps to be made
up that night to 500 rounds per gun. Stiff fighting ahead, commented
At three o'clock Dumble, who was commanding A Battery, Major
Bullivant having gone on leave, reported that the Americans were
withdrawing from the knoll to trenches four hundred yards in rear,
where they were reorganising their position.
That settled the fighting for the day, although there was speedy
indication of the Boche's continued liveliness: a plane came over, and
by a daring manoeuvre set fire to three of our sausage balloons, the
observers having to tumble out with their parachutes. All this time I
had remained glued to the telephone for the receipt of news and the
passing of orders. There was opportunity now to give thought to the
fortifying of our headquarters. Hubbard, who prided himself on his
biceps, had engaged in a brisk discussion with the officers of a
near-by Artillery brigade headquarters regarding the dug-out that he
and myself and Ernest had occupied the night before. Originally it
had been arranged that we should share quarters with them, dug-outs in
a neighbouring bank having been allotted for their overflow of
signallers. But at the last moment an Infantry brigade headquarters had
commandeered part of their accommodation, and they gave up the
dug-out that Hubbard and I had slept in, with the intimation that they
would want it on the morrow. As Hubbard had discovered that they were
in possession of four good dug-outs on the opposite side of the road,
he said we ought to be allowed to retain our solitary one. But no! they
stuck to their rights, and during the morning's battle a stream of
protesting officers came to interview Hubbard. Their orderly officer
was suave but anxious; their signalling officer admitted the previous
arrangement to share quarters; Hubbard remained firm, and said that if
the Infantry brigade had upset their arrangements, they themselves had
upset ours. I was too busy to enter at length into the argument, but I
agreed to send a waggon and horses to fetch material if they chose to
build a new place. When their adjutant came over and began to use
sarcasm, I referred the matter to our colonel, who decided, Their
Division has sent us here. The dug-out is in our area. There is no
other accommodation. We shall keep it.
Will you come over and see our colonel, sir? asked the adjutant
Certainly not, replied the colonel with some asperity.
The next arrivals were a gas officer and a tall ebullient Irish
doctor, who said that the dug-out had been prepared for them. Hubbard
conveyed our colonel's decision, and ten minutes later his servant
brought news that the doctor's servant had been into the dug-out and
replaced our kit by the doctor's.
Hubbard, smiling happily, slipped out of our gun-pit mess, and the
next item of news from this bit of front informed me that our valises
had been replaced and the doctor's kit put outside. Hubbard told me he
had informed the doctor and the gas officer that, our colonel having
made his decision, he was prepared to repeat the performance every time
they invaded the dug-out. And I was ready to throw them after their
kit if necessary, he added, expanding his chest.
The upshot of it all was that our horses fetched fresh material, and
we helped to find the doctor and the gas officer a home.
The battle continued next day, our infantry nibbling their way into
the Boche defences and allowing him no rest. The artillery work was not
so strenuous as on the previous day, and Hubbard and I decided to dig a
dug-out for the colonel. It was bonny exercise for me. I think every
adjutant ought to have a pit to dig inadjutants get too little
exercise, I told the colonel. After which Hubbard, crouching with his
pick, offered practical tuition in the science of underpinning. We
sweated hard and enjoyed our lunch. Judd and young Beale reported back
from leave, and Beale caused a sensation by confessing that he had got
married. A Corps wire informed every unit that Lance-Corporal
Kleinberg-Hermann, 5 ft. 8, fair hair, eyes blue, scar above nose, one
false tooth in front, dressed German uniform, and Meyer Hans, 6 ft.,
fair hair, brown eyes, thin face, wears glasses, speaks English and
French fluently, dressed German uniform, had escaped from a prisoners
of war camp. The mail brought a letter from which the colonel learnt
that a long-time friend, a lieut.-colonel in the Garrison Artillery,
had been killed. He had lunched with us one day in June, a bright-eyed,
grizzled veteran, with a whimsical humour. India had made him look
older than his years. They found his body in No Man's Land, said the
colonel softly. They couldn't get to it for two days.
At half-past nine that night we learned that our own Divisional
infantry were coming up in front of us again. There was to be another
big attack, to complete the work begun by the Americans, and at zero
hour we should pass under the command of our Divisional artillery. At
four in the morning the telephone near my pillow woke me up, and Major
Bartlett reported that the Boche had started a barrage. I don't think
he suspects anything, said the major. It's only ordinary
counter-preparation. In any case it didn't affect our attack, which
started with splendid zest. The Boche plunked a few gas shells near us;
but by 9.15 the brigade-major told me that the Americans and our own
infantry had advanced a thousand yards and were on their first
objective. I smell victory to-day, said the colonel, looking at his
map. By half-past ten Major Bartlett's battery had moved forward two
thousand yards, and the major had joined a battalion commander so as to
keep pace with the onward rush of the infantry.
Good news tumbled in. At 10.50 the intelligence officer of our
companion Artillery brigade rang up to tell me that their liaison
officer had seen our troops entering the southern end of a well-known
village that lay along the canal.
Ring up A and B at once, interjected the colonel, and tell them
to stop their bursts of fire, otherwise they will be firing on our own
people. Tell our liaison officer with the th Infantry Brigade that we
are no longer firing on the village.... And increase the how. battery's
range by 1000 yards.
Five minutes later the brigade-major let us know that the Corps on
our left had cleared a vastly important ridge, but their most northerly
Division was held up by machine-gun fire. When the situation was eased
they would advance upon the canal. Our D Battery was now firing at
maximum range, and at 11.20 the colonel ordered them to move up
The exhilarating swiftness of the success infected every one.
Drysdale rang up to know whether we hadn't any fresh targets for D
Battery. I'm sure we've cleared out every Boche in the quarry you gave
us, he said. The staff captain told us he was bringing forward his
ammunition dumps. The old wheeler was observed to smile. Even the
telephone seemed to be working better than for months past. In
restraint of over-eagerness, complaints of short shooting filtered in
from the infantry, but I established the fact that our batteries were
not the sinners.
By tea-time all the batteries had advanced, and the colonel,
Ernest, and myself were walking at the head of the headquarters
waggon and mess carts through a village that a fortnight before had
been a hotbed of Germany's hardest fighting infantry.
The longer the time spent in the fighting area, the stronger that
secret spasm of apprehension when a shift forward to new positions had
to be made. The ordinary honest-souled member of His Majesty's forces
will admit that to be a true saying. The average healthy-minded recruit
coming to the Western Front since July 1916 marvelled for his first six
months on the thousands of hostile shells that he saw hitting nothing
in particular, and maiming and killing nobody. If he survived a couple
of years he lost all curiosity about shells that did no harm; he had
learned that in the forward areas there was never real safety, the
fatal shell might come at the most unexpected moment, in the most
unlooked-for spot: it might be one solitary missile of death, it might
accompany a hideous drove that beat down the earth all around, and
drenched a whole area with sickening scorching fumes; he might not show
it, but he had learned to fear.
But on this move-up we were agog with the day's fine news. We were
in the mood to calculate on the extent of the enemy's retirement: for
the moment his long-range guns had ceased to fire. We talked seriously
of the war ending by Christmas. We laughed when I opened the first
Divisional message delivered at our new Headquarters: Divisional
Cinema will open at Lieramont to-morrow. Performances twice daily, 3
P.M. and 6 P.M. That looks as if our infantry are moving out, I
We had taken over a bank and some shallow, aged dug-outs, occupied
the night before by our C Battery; and as there was a chill in the air
that foretold rain, and banks of sombre clouds were lining up in the
western sky, we unloaded our carts and set to work getting our
belongings under cover while it was still light. There's no pit for
you to dig in, the colonel told me quizzingly, but you can occupy
yourself filling these ammunition boxes with earth; they'll make walls
for the mess. Hubbard had been looking for something heavy to carry;
he brought an enormous beam from the broad-gauge railway that lay a
hundred yards west of us. The colonel immediately claimed it for the
mess roof. We'll fix it centre-wise on the ammunition boxes to support
the tarpaulin, he decided. Old Fritz has done his dirtiest along the
railway, said Hubbard cheerfully. He's taken a bit out of every rail;
and he's blown a mine a quarter of a mile down there that's giving the
sappers something to think about. They told me they want to have trains
running in two days.
Meanwhile the signallers had been cleaning out the deep shaft they
were to work in; the cooks and the clerks had selected their own
rabbit-hutches; and I had picked a semi-detached dug-out in which were
wire beds for the colonel, Hubbard, and myself. True, a shell had made
a hole in one corner of the iron roof, and the place was of such
antiquity that rats could be heard squeaking in the vicinity of my
bed-head, but I hoped that a map-board fixed behind my pillow would
protect me from unpleasantness.
The colonel was suspicious of the S.O.S. line issued to us by
Division that night. The ordinary rules of gunnery provide that the
angle of sight to be put on the guns can be calculated from the
difference between the height of the ground on which the battery stands
and the height at the target. More often than not ridges intervene
between the gun and the target, and the height and position of these
ridges sometimes cause complications in the reckoning of the angle of
sight, particularly if a high ridge is situated close to the object to
be shot at. Without going into full explanation, I hope I may be
understood when I say that the correct angle of sight, calculated from
the map difference in height between battery and target, occasionally
fails to ensure that the curve described by the shell in its flight
will finish sufficiently high in the air for the shell to clear the
final crest. When that happens shells fall on the wrong side of the
ridge, and our own infantry are endangered. It is a point to which
brigade-majors and brigade commanders naturally give close attention.
The colonel looked at his map, shook his head, said, I don't like
that ridge, and got out his ruler and made calculations. Then he
talked over the telephone to the brigade-major. Yes, I know that
theoretically, by every ordinary test, we should be safe in shooting
there, and I know what you want to shoot at.... But there's a risk, and
I should prefer to be on the safe side.... Will you speak to the
General about it?
The colonel gained his point, and at 10.20 P.M. issued a further
order to the batteries:
Previous S.O.S. line is cancelled, as it is found that the
hillside is so steep that our troops in Tino Support Trench may
Complaints of short shooting have been frequent all day.
Henceforth S.O.S. will be as follows....
I'll write out those recommendations for honours and awards before
turning in, he said, a quarter of an hour later, searching through the
box in which confidential papers were kept. Now, what was it I wanted
to know?oh, I remember. Ring up Drysdale, and ask him whether the
corporal he put in is named Marchman or Marshman. His writing is not
very clear.... If he's gone to bed, say I'm sorry to disturb him, but
these things want to be got in as soon as possible.
It was a quiet night as far as shell-fire was concerned, but a
furious rain-storm permitted us very little sleep, and played havoc
with the mess. Our documents remained safe, though most of them were
saturated with water. In the morning it was cold enough to make one rub
one's hands and stamp the feet. There was plenty of exercise awaiting
us in the enlarging and rebuilding of the mess. We made it a very
secure affair this time. What about a fire, sir? inquired Hubbard.
Good idea, said the colonel. He and Hubbard used pick and shovel
to fashion a vertical, triangular niche in the side of the bank. The
staff-sergeant fitter returned with a ten-foot stove-pipe that he had
found in the neighbouring village; and before ten o'clock our first
mess fire since the end of April was crackling merrily and burning up
spare ammunition boxes.
The colonel went off to tour the batteries, saying, I'll leave you
to fight the battle. The brigade-major's first telephone talk at 10.35
A.M. left no doubt that we were pushing home all the advantages gained
the day before. I want one good burst on Trench, he said. After
that cease firing this side of the canal until I tell you to go on.
The news an hour later was that our Divisional Infantry patrols were
working methodically through Vendhuile, the village on the canal bank,
which the Americans had entered the day before. Next Buller, who was
with the Infantry brigade, called up, and said that the mopping-up in
the village had been most successful: our fellows were thrusting for
the canal bridge, and had yet to encounter any large enemy forces. At
twenty to one the brigade-major told me that our people were moving
steadily to the other side of the canal. We're properly over the
Hindenburg Line this time, he wound up.
The Brigadier-General C.R.A. came to see us during the afternoon,
and we learned for the first time that on the previous day the
Americans had fought their way right through Vendhuile, but, on account
of their impetuosity, had lost touch with their supports. They fought
magnificently, but didn't mop-up as they went along, explained the
General. The Boche tried the trick he used to play on us. He hid until
the first wave had gone by, and then came up with his machine-guns and
fired into their backs.... It's a great pity.... I'm afraid that six
hundred of them who crossed the canal have been wiped out.
I hear that our infantry go out for a proper rest as soon as this
is over, he added. They brought them up again to complete the
smashing of the Hindenburg Line, because they didn't want to draw upon
the three absolutely fresh Divisions they were keeping to chase the Hun
immediately he yielded the Hindenburg Line. Our infantry must have
fought themselves to a standstill these last three weeks.
Any news about us? inquired the colonel.
No; I'm afraid the gunners will have to carry on as usual.... The
horses seem to be surviving the ordeal very well....
At 4.25 P.M.I particularly remember noting the timewe were told
by Division that Bulgaria's surrender was unconditional. That will be
cheering news for the batteries, observed the colonel. I'd send that
out. The brigade-major also informed us that British cavalry were
reported to be at Roulers, north-east of Ypresbut that wasn't
official. Anyhow, said the colonel, his face glowing, it shows the
right spirit. Yes, I think the war will be over by Christmas after
It would be great to be home by Christmas, sir, put in Hubbard.
Yes, responded the colonel in the same vein, but it wouldn't be
so bad even out here.... I don't think any of us would really mind
staying another six months if we had no 5·9's to worry us. And he
settled down to writing his daily letter home.
October came in with every one joyously expectant. The enemy still
struggled to hold the most valuable high ground on the far side of the
canal, but there was little doubt that he purposed a monster
withdrawaland our batteries did their best to quicken his decision.
The brigade-major departed for a Senior Staff Course in England, and
Major Pat of our sister brigade, a highly efficient and extremely
popular officer, who, with no previous knowledge of soldiering, had won
deserved distinction, filled his place. Major Pat was a disciple of
cheering news for the batteries. This has just come in by the
wireless, he telephoned to me on October 2nd. Turkey
surrenderedBritish ships sailing through the DardanellesLille being
evacuatedBritish bluejackets landed at Ostend.
Is that official? I asked wonderingly.
He laughed. No, I didn't say that.... It's a wireless report.
Not waggon line? I went on.
He laughed again. No, I'll let you know when it becomes official.
Formal intimation was to hand that Dumble, Judd, Bob Pottinger,
young Beale, Stenson, and Tincler had been awarded the Military Cross,
and Major Veasey the D.S.O. Drysdale was happy because, after many
times of asking, he had got back from headquarters, Patrick, the black
charger that he had ridden early in 1916.
The tide of success rolled on. A swift little attack on the morning
of October 3rd took the infantry we were supporting, now that our own
battalions had withdrawn for a fortnight's rest, on to valuable high
ground east of the canal. They met with such little opposition that
our barrage became merely an escort, was the way in which Beadle, who
was doing F.O.O., described the advance. Surrendering Germans poured
back in such numbers that dozens of them walked unattended to the
prisoners of war cages. I saw one lot come down, a D.A.C. officer
told me. All that the sentry had to do was to point to the cage with a
'This-way-in' gesture, and in they marched.
One wee cloud blurred the high-spirited light-heartedness of those
days. We lost Ernest, who had marched forward with us and been our
pet since Sept. 6th. The colonel and Hubbard took him up the line; the
little fellow didn't seem anxious to leave me that morning, but I
thought that a run would do him good, and he had followed the colonel a
couple of days before. I'm sorry, but we've lost 'Ernest,' was the
colonel's bluntly told news when he returned. He disappeared when I
was calling on B Battery.... They said he went over the hill with an
infantry officer, who had made much of him.... It's curious, because he
stuck to us when I went to see the infantry at Brigade Headquarters,
although every one in their very long dug-out fussed over him.
There was poor chance of the dog finding his way back to us in that
country of many tracks, amid the coming to and fro of thousands of all
kinds of troops. We never saw or heard of him again. The loss of him
dispirited all of us a bit; and I suppose I felt it more than most: he
had been a splendid little companion for nearly a month.
The adjutant and Wilde returned from leave on Oct. 3rd, full of the
bright times to be spent in London. People in England think the war's
all over. They don't realise that pursuing the Boche means fighting him
as well, burst forth the adjutant. By Gad, he went on, we had a
narrow escape the day we went on leave. I never saw anything like it in
my life. You remember the factory at Moislains, near the place where we
were out for three or four days at the beginning of last month. Well,
Wilde and I caught a leave bus that went that way on the road to
Amiens. The bus had to pull up about five hundred yards short of the
factory, because there was a lot of infantry in front of us.... And
just at that moment a Boche mine blew up.... Made an awful mess....
About eleven men killed.... We had taken the place three weeks before,
and the mine had remained undiscovered all that time.... We must all of
us have passed over that spot many times. You remember they made a Red
Cross Station of the factory.... A most extraordinary thing!
The Boche fire had died away almost entirely; it was manifest that
the Brigade would have to move forward. I could go on leave now that
the adjutant was backBeadle and myself were the only two officers in
the Brigade who had gone through the March retreat and not yet been on
leave to England; but I was keen on another trip forward with the
colonel, and on the morning of the 4th Wilde and I joined him on a
prospecting ride, looking for new positions for the batteries.
It was a journey that quickened all one's powers of observation. We
went forward a full five miles, over yellow churned wastes that four
days before had been crowded battlefields; past shell-pocked stretches
that had been made so by our own guns. At first we trotted along a
straight road that a short time before had been seamed with Boche
trenches and barbed wire. The colonel's mare was fresh and ready to shy
at heaps of stones and puddles. She's got plenty of spirit still,
said the colonel, but she's not the mare she was before the hit in the
neck at Commenchon. However, I know her limitations, and she's all
right providing I spare her going uphill.
Just outside the half-mile long village of Ronssoy he pointed to a
clump of broken bricks and shattered beams. That's the farm that D
Battery insisted was Gillemont Farm, when we were at Cliffe Post on
September 19, he explained. The day I was with him at the 'O.P.,'
Wood couldn't understand why he was unable to see his shells fall. He
telephoned to the battery to check the range they were firing at, and
then decided that the map was wrong. When I told him to examine his map
more closely he spotted the 140 contour between this place and
Gillemont Farm. It made Gillemont Farm invisible from the 'O.P.' Of
course Gillemont Farm is 2000 yards beyond this place.
We reached a battered cross-roads 1200 yards due south of Duncan
Post, that cockpit of the bitter hand-to-hand fighting of Sept. 19th
and 20th. A couple of captured Boche 4·2'sthe dreaded high-velocity
gunstood tucked behind a low grassless bank, their curved, muddy,
camouflaged shields blending with the brown desolation of the
landscape. Two American soldiers saluted the colonel gravelylean,
tanned, straight-eyed young fellows. For the first time I noticed that
the Americans were wearing puttees like our men, instead of the canvas
gaiters which they sported when first in France. Their tin hats and
box-respirators have always been the same make as ours.
The colonel stopped to look at his map. We'll turn north-east here
and cross the canal at Bony, he said. We rode round newly-dug
shell-slits, and through gaps in the tangled, rusted barbed wire; at
one spot we passed eighteen American dead, laid out in two neat rows,
ready for removal to the cemetery that the U.S. Army had established in
the neighbourhood; we went within twenty yards of a disabled tank that
a land mine had rendered hors de combat; we came across another
tank lumbered half-way across a road. Tanks always seem to take it
into their heads to collapse on a main road and interrupt traffic,
muttered the colonel sardonically.
There were twelve hundred yards of a straight sunken road for us to
ride through before we reached Bony. That road was a veritable gallery
of German dead. They lay in twos and threes, in queer horrible
postures, along its whole unkempt length, some of them with blackened
decomposed faces and hands, most of them newly killed, for this was a
road that connected the outer defences of the Hindenburg Line with the
network of wire and trenches that formed the Hindenburg Line itself.
Best sight I've seen since the war, said Wilde with satisfaction. And
if the colonel and myself made no remark we showed no disagreement.
Pity for dead Boche finds no place in the average decent-minded man's
composition. Half a dozen of our armoured cars, wheels off,
half-burned, or their steering apparatus smashed, lay on the entrenched
and wired outskirts of Bony, part of the Hindenburg Line proper. In the
village itself we found Red Cross cars filling up with wounded; Boche
prisoners were being used as stretcher-bearers; groups of waiting
infantry stood in the main street; runners flitted to and fro.
We'll leave our horses here, said the colonel; and the grooms
guided them to the shelter of a high solid wall. The colonel, Wilde,
and I ascended the main street, making eastward. A couple of 5·9's
dropped close to the northern edge of the village as we came out of it.
We met a party of prisoners headed by two officersone short, fat,
nervous, dark, bespectacled; the other bearded, lanky, nonchalant, and
of good carriage. He carried a gold-nobbed Malacca cane. Neither
officer looked at us as we passed. The tall one reminded me of an
officer among the first party of Boche prisoners I saw in France in
August 1916. His arrogant, disdainful air had roused in me a gust of
anger that made me glad I was in the war.
We went through a garden transformed into a dust-bin, and dipped
down a hummocky slope that rose again to a chalky ridge. Shells were
screaming overhead in quick succession now, and we walked fast, making
for a white boulder that looked as if it would offer shielded
observation and protection. We found ourselves near the top of one of
the giant air-shafts that connected with the canal tunnel. Tufts of
smoke spouted up at regular intervals on the steep slope behind the
village below us. We're in time to see a barrage, remarked the
colonel, pulling out his binoculars. Our people are trying to secure
the heights. I didn't know that Gouy was quite clear of Boche. There
was fighting there yesterday.
There are some Boche in a trench near that farm on the left, he
added a minute later, after sweeping the hills opposite with his
glasses. Can you see them?
I made out what did appear to be three grey tin-helmeted figures,
but I could see nothing of our infantry. The shelling went on, but time
pressed, and the colonel, packing up his glasses, led us eastwards
again, down to a light-railway junction, and through a quaint little
ravine lined with willow-trees. Many German dead lay here. One young
soldier, who had died with his head thrown back resting against a green
bank, his blue eyes open to the sky, wore a strangely perfect
expression of peace and rest. Up another ascending sunken road. The
Boche guns seemed to have switched, and half a dozen shells skimmed the
top of the road, causing us to wait. We looked again at the fight being
waged on the slopes behind the village. Our barrage had lifted, but we
saw no sign of advancing infantry.
The colonel turned to me suddenly and said, I'm going to select
positions about a thousand yards south of where we are at this
momentalong the valley. Wilde will come with me. You go back and pick
up the horses, and meet us at Quennemont Farm. I expect we shall be
there almost as soon as you.
I followed the direct road to return to Bony. A few shells dropped
on either side of the road, which was obviously a hunting-ground for
the Boche gunners. At least a dozen British dead lay at intervals
huddled against the sides of the road. One of them looked to be an
artillery officer, judged by his field-boots and spurs. But the top
part of him was covered by a rain-proof coat, and I saw no cap.
Quennemont Farm was a farm only in name. There was no wall more than
three feet high left standing; the whole place was shapeless, stark,
blasted into nothingness. In the very centre of the mournful chaos lay
three disembowelled horses and an overturned Boche ammunition waggon.
The shells were still on the shelves. They were Yellow Cross, the
deadliest of the Boche mustard-gas shell.
I went on leave next morning, and got a motor-car lift from Peronne
as far as Amiens. Before reaching Villers-Bretonneux, of glorious,
fearful memories, we passed through Warfusee-Abancourt, a shell of its
former self, a brick heap, a monument of devastation. An aged man and a
slim white-faced girl were standing by the farm cart that had brought
them there, the first civilians I had seen since August. The place was
deserted save for them. In sad bereavement they looked at the cruel
desolation around them.
My God, said my companion, interpreting my inmost thought, what a
XVIII. A LAST DAY AT THE O.P.
When, on October 21, I returned to France, the war had made a very
big stride towards its end. Cambrai had been regained, and Le
CateauLee Katoo, the men insisted on calling ittaken. Ostend was
ours, Lille was ours; over Palestine we had cast our mantle. Our own
Division, still hard at it, had gone forward twenty-four miles during
my fortnight's leave in England. Stories of their doings trickled
towards me when I broke the journey at Amiens on my way back to the
lines. I met an Infantry captain bound for England.
It's been all open fighting this last fortnightcavalry, and
forced marches, and all thatand I don't want to hear any more talk of
the new Armies not being able to carry out a war of movement, he said
chirpily. The men have been magnificent. The old Boche is done now;
but we're making no mistakeswe're after him all the while.
Dam funny, you know, some of the things that are happening up
there. The Boche has left a lot of coal dumps behind, and every one's
after it. There's a 2000-ton pile at Le Cateau, and it was disappearing
so rapidly that they put a guard on it. I was walking with my colonel
the other day, and we came across an Australian shovelling coal from
this dump into a G.S. waggon. A sentry, with fixed bayonet, was
marching up an' down.
The colonel stopped when we came to the sentry, and asked him what
he was supposed to be doing.
'Guarding the coal dump, sir.'
'But what is this Australian doing? Has he any authority to draw
coal? Did he show you a chit?'
'No, sir,' replied the sentry. 'I thought, as he had a Government
waggon, it would be all right.'
'Upon my Sam!' said the colonel, astonished. Then he tackled the
'What authority have you for taking away this coal?' he asked.
The Australian stood up and said, 'I don't want any authorityI
bally well fought for it,' and went on with his shovelling.
Frankly, the colonel didn't know what to say; but he has a sense of
humour. 'Extraordinary fellows!' he said to me as we walked off.
Then we came across an American who was 'scrounging' or something
in an empty house. He jumped to attention when he saw the colonel, and
saluted very smartly. But what do you think? He saluted with a bowler
hat on,found it in the house, I expect.... I tell you, it was an
eye-opening day for the colonel.
I lorry-hopped to the village that I had been told was Divisional
Headquarters; but they had moved the day before, seven miles farther
forward. There were nearly 200 civilians here. I saw a few faded,
ancient men in worn corduroys and blue-peaked caps; a bent old crone,
in a blue apron, hobbled with a water-bucket past a corner shopa
grocer'sshuttered, sluttish from want of paint; three tiny children,
standing in doorways, wore a strangely old expression. There was a
pathetically furtive air about all these people. For four years they
had been under the Boche. Of actual, death-bringing, frightening war
they had seen not more than five days. The battle had swept over and
beyond them, carrying with it the feared and hated German, and the main
fighting force of the pursuing British as well. But it was too soon yet
for them to forget, or to throw off a sort of lurking dread that even
now the Boche might return.
I got a lift in another lorry along a road crumbling under the
unusual amount of traffic that weighed upon it. Our advance had been so
swift that the war scars on the countryside had not entirely blighted
its normal characteristics. Here were shell-holes, but no long
succession of abandoned gun-positions, few horse-tracks, fewer
trenches, and no barbed wire. The villages we went through had escaped
obliterating shell fire. I learned that our attacks had been planned
thus-wise. Near a bleak cross-roads I saw Collinge of B Battery, and
got off the lorry to talk to him.
Brigade Headquarters are at Bousies, about six miles from here, he
said. I'm going that way. The batteries are all in Bousies.
What sort of a time have you had? I inquired.
Oh, most exciting! Shan't forget the day we crossed the Le Cateau
river. We were the advance Brigade. The Engineers were supposed to put
bridges across for us; the material came up all right, but the pioneers
who were to do the work missed the way. The sapper officer who had
brought the material wanted to wait till the proper people arrived, but
the Boche was shelling and machine-gunning like mad, and the colonel
said that bridge-building must be got on with at once. The colonel was
great that day. Old Johns of D Battery kept buzzing along with
suggestions, but the colonel put his foot down, and said, 'It's the
sapper officer's work; let him do it.' And the bridges were really well
put up. All the guns got across safely, although C Battery had a team
I walked by Collinge's side through a village of sloping roofs,
single-storied red-brick houses, and mud-clogged streets. It was the
village which our two brigades of artillery occupied when the Armistice
was signed, where the King came to see us, and M. le Maire, in his
excitement, gave His Majesty that typically French, shall I say? clasp
of intimacy and brotherliness, a left-handed handshake.
Curious thing happened on that rise, remarked Collinge when we
were in open country again. The colonel and the adjutant were with an
infantry General and his Staff officers, reconnoitring. The General had
a little bitch something like a whippet. She downed a hare, and though
it brought them into view of the Boche, the General, the colonel, and
the others chased after them like mad. I believe the colonel won the
racebut the adjutant will tell you all about it.
Away on the left a lone tree acted as a landmark for a sunken road.
Brigade tried to make a headquarters there, went on Collinge, but a
signaller got knocked out, and the Boche began using the tree as a
datum point; so the colonel ordered a shift. Twenty rough wooden
crosses rose mournful and remote in a wide, moist mangel-field. The
cavalry got it badly there, said Collinge. A 4·2 gun turned on them
from close range, and did frightful execution. We were near to a
cross-road, marked balefully by a two-storied house, cut in half so
that the interior was opened to view like a doll's house, and by other
shell-mauled buildings. The batteries came into action under that
bank, he continued, pointing his cane towards a valley riddled with
shell-holes. That's where Dumble did so well. Came along with the
cavalry an hour and a half before any Horse Artillery battery, and
brought his guns up in line, like F.A.T.... See that cemetery on the
top of the hill?... the Boche made it in August 1914; lot of the old
Army buried there, and it's been jolly well looked after. The colonel
walked round and looked at every grave one day; he said he'd never seen
a better cared-for cemetery.... We had an 'O.P.' there for the
Richemont River fight. The Boche shelled it like blazes some days....
And we saw great sights up that pavé road there, over the dip.
They held a big conference there; all sorts of Generals turned up....
Staff cars that looked like offices, with the maps and operation orders
pinned up inside; and when our battery went by, the road was so packed
with traffic that infantry were marching along in fours on either side
of the road.
We reached the outskirts of Le Cateau, descending a steep pavé
road. They shelled this place like stink yesterday, Collinge told me.
Headquarters were in one of those little houses on the left for one
night, and their waggon line is there now, so you'll be able to get a
horse.... I heard that Major Bartlett had both his chargers killed
yesterday when C Battery came through.... Isn't that one of them, that
black horse lying under the trees?
I looked and saw many horses lying dead on both sides of the road,
and thought little of it. That was war. Then all my senses were strung
up to attention: a small bay horse lay stretched out on the pathway,
his head near the kerb. There was a shapeliness of the legs and a
fineness of the mud-checkered coat that seemed familiar. I stepped over
to look. Yes, it was my own horse Tommy, that old Castle, our
ex-adjutant, had given meold Castle's handy little horse. A gaping
hole in the head told all that needed to be told. I found Swiffy and
the doctor in the workman's cottage that had become Brigade waggon-line
headquarters. Yes, Tommy had been killed the day before. My groom,
Morgan, was riding him. The Boche were sending over shrapnel, high in
the air, and one bullet had found its billet. Poor little horse!
Spirited, but easy to handle, always in condition, always
well-mannered. Ah, well! we had had many good days together. Poor
* * * * *
I want always to remember Bousies, the village of gardens and
hedgerows and autumn tints where we saw the war out, and lay under
shell fire for the last time; whence we fought our final battle on
November 4th, when young Hearn of A Battery was killed by machine-gun
bullets at 70 yards' range, and Major Bullivant, with a smashed arm and
a crippled thigh, huddled under a wall until Dumble found himthe
concluding fight that brought me a strange war trophy in a golfing-iron
found in a hamlet that the Boche had sprawled upon for four full
years.... And the name punched on the iron was that of an Oxford Street
Collinge and I rode into Bousies in the wan light of an October
afternoon. At a cross-roads that the Boche had blown upThey didn't
do it well enough; the guns got round by that side track, and we were
only held up ten minutes, said CollingeBrigade Headquarters'
sign-board had been planted in a hedge. My way lay up a slushy
tree-bordered lane; Collinge bade me good-bye, and rode on down the
There were the usual welcoming smiles. Manning gave me a Had a good
leave, sir? in his deep-sea voice, and Wilde came out to show where my
horse could be stabled. It's a top-hole farm, and after the next move
we'll bring Headquarters waggon line up here.... The colonel says you
can have his second charger now that you've lost 'Tommy.' He's taking
on Major Veasey's mare, the one with the cold back that bucks a bit.
She's a nice creature if she's given plenty of work.
How is the colonel? I asked.
Oh, he's in great form; says the war may end any minute. Major
Simpson and Major Drysdale are both away on leave, and the colonel's
been up a good deal seeing the batteries register.... We got a shock
when we came into this place yesterday. A 4·2 hit the men's cook-house,
that small building near the gate.... But they haven't been troublesome
The end wall of the long-fronted narrow farmhouse loomed up gauntly
beside the pillared entrance to the rectangular courtyard. A
weather-vane in the form of a tin trotting horse flaunted itself on the
topmost point. This end wall rose to such height because, though the
farmhouse was one-storied, its steep-sloping roof enclosed an attic big
enough to give sixty men sleeping room. Just below the weather-vane was
a hole poked out by the Boche for observation purposes. Our adjutant
used to climb up to it twice daily as a sort of constitutional. Some
one had left in this perch a bound volume of a Romanist weekly, with
highly dramatic, fearfully coloured illustrations. As the house
contained some twenty of these volumes, I presumed that they betrayed
the religious leanings of the farm's absent owner. A row of decently
ventilated stables faced the farmhouse, while at the end of the
courtyard, opposite to the entrance gates, stood an enormous
high-doored barn. The entrance-hall of the house gave, on the left, to
two connecting stone-flagged rooms, one of which Manning used as a
kitchenMeddings, our regular cook, was on leave. The other room, with
its couple of spacious civilian beds, we used as a mess, and the
colonel and the adjutant slept there. The only wall decorations were
two samplers executed by a small daughter of the house, a school
certificate in a plain frame, and a couple of gaudy-tinselled religious
pictures. A pair of pot dogs on the mantelpiece were as stupidly ugly
as some of our own mid-Victorian cottage treasures. And there were the
usual glass-covered orange blossoms mounted on red plush and gilt
leavesthe wedding custom traditional to the country districts of
Northern France. The inner door of this room opened directly into the
stable where our horses were stalled. An infantry colonel and his staff
occupied the one large and the two small rooms to the right of the
entrance-hall; but after dinner they left us to go forward, and my
servant put down a mattress on the stone floor of one of the smaller
rooms for me to sleep upon. Wilde took possession of the other little
chamber. The large room, which contained a colossal oak wardrobe,
became our mess after breakfast next day. The signallers had fixed
their telephone exchange in the vaulted cellar beneath the house, and
the servants and grooms crowded there as well when the Boche's
night-shelling grew threatening.
After a long deprivation we had come into a country where cabbages
and carrots, turnips and beetroot, were to be had for the picking; and
there were so many plates and glasses to be borrowed from the farmhouse
cupboards that I feared greatly that Manning would feel bound to rise
to the unexampled occasion by exercising his well-known gift for
smashing crockery. We dined pleasantly and well that night; and when
the night-firing programme had been sent out to the batteriesthe
Boche was in force in the big thick forest that lay three thousand
yards east of our farmwe settled down to a good hour's talk. Wilde
told me of the German sniper they had found shot just before the
advance to this village; the adjutant narrated the magnificent
gallantry of an officer who had relinquished his job of Reconnaissance
officer to the C.R.A. in order to join a battery, and had now gone home
with his third wound since Zillebeke. You remember how he came back in
time for the August advance and got hit immediately and wouldn't let
them send him back to Englandyou know we loaned him to the rd
Brigade because they were short of officers. Well, he rolled up again
about ten days ago, and got hit again in the Le Cateau attack. Major
'Pat' told me he was wonderful.... Lay in a shell-hole with his leg
smashedthey poured blood out of his bootsand commanded his battery
from there, blowing his whistle and all that, until they made him let
himself be taken away. The colonel, who listened and at the same time
wrote letters, said that the thing that pleased him most during the
last few days was the patriotic instinct of some cows. When the Hun
evacuated Le Cateau he took away with him all the able-bodied Frenchmen
and all the cows. But his retreat became so rapid and so confused, that
numbers of the men escaped. So did the cows: for three days they were
dribbling back to their homesteads and pasturages.
All through the night the enemy shelled Bousies. He planted only two
near us, but a splinter made a hole in the roof of the big barn and
caught a mule on the shoulder.
The doctor came up from the waggon line next morning and accompanied
me on a tour of the batteries. If you follow the yellow wire you'll
come to B Battery, said Wilde. They are in the corner of a meadow. A
Battery are not far away, across the stream. It was a golden autumn
day, and our feet rustled through the fallen yellow leaves that
carpeted a narrow lane bowered by high, luxuriant, winding hedges.
Why, this place must be a paradise in peace times, said the doctor,
entranced by the sweet tranquillity of the spot. It's like a lover's
walk you see in pictures. We strode over fallen trees and followed the
telephone wire across a strip of rich green. B Battery's guns were
tucked beneath some stubby full-leaved trees that would hide them from
the keenest-eyed aerial observer. No sick, doctor, called Bob
Pottinger from underneath the trench-cover roof of his three-foot hole
in the ground. We're improving the position and have no time to be
ill. The doctor and I crossed a sticky water-logged field, and passed
over the plank-bridge that spanned the slow vagrant stream. A battery
had their mess in one of the low creeper-clad cottages lining the road.
Their guns were thrust into the hedge that skirted the neat garden at
Major Bullivant gave me welcome, and read extracts from Sir Douglas
Haig's report on the Fifth Army Retreathis 'Times' had just reached
him. He asked the doctor whether it was too early for a
whisky-and-soda, and showed us a Boche barometer, his latest war
trophy. We've lost quite a lot of men since you've been away, he told
me. Do you realise the Brigade has been only four days out of the line
since August 1st? You've heard about young Beale being wounded, of
course? I was on leave, and so was Beadle; and Tincler was sick, so
there was only Dumble and Beale running the battery. Beale got hit when
shifting the waggon line, ... and it was rather fine of him. He knew
old Dumble was up to his eyes that day, and told the sergeant-major not
to tell Dumble what had happened to him, until the battle was over. Did
you hear, too, about Manison, one of the new officers? Poor chap!
Killed by a bomb dropped in daylight by one of our own aeroplanes as he
was going to the O.P.
The Boche hasn't done much night-bombing lately. I don't think he's
got the 'planes. He gave us one terrible night, though, soon after we
crossed the canal, ... knocked out two of my guns and killed any number
of horses. There were ammunition dumps going up all over the place that
night; ... he stopped us from doing our night firing.
Have you heard the story of the old woman at S? he went on.
When the bombardment was going on the civilians went down into the
cellars. The Germans hooked it, and the people came up from the
cellars. But Boche snipers were still in the village, and our advance
parties warned the inhabitants to keep below.... When, however, our
troops came along in a body, one old woman rushed forward from under
the church wall, in the square, you know.... She was excited, I
expect.... A swine of a Boche in a house on the far side of the square
shot her.... Our infantry surrounded that house.
Well, I must quit, ejaculated the doctor suddenly. We went out and
made for the village road again. A screaming swish, and a report that
hurt the ears and shattered the windows in the front of the cottage. A
Boche high-velocity shell had crashed a few yards away on the other
side of the stream, and thrown up spouts of black slimy mud. The doctor
and I scurried back to the shelter of the cottage wall. Another shell
and another. A lieutenant-colonel of Infantry, on horseback, swung
violently round the corner and joined us. Three more shells fell. Then
silence. These sudden bursts of fire are very disconcerting, aren't
they? remarked the colonel as he mounted and rode away.
Say, now! said the doctor to me. I think we'll call back and have
that whisky-and-soda Major Bullivant offered us before we resume our
We'll take a trip up to the 'O.P.' this morning, said the colonel
to me at breakfast on October 28th. The wind was sufficiently drying to
make walking pleasant, and to tingle the cheeks. The sun was a tonic;
the turned-up earth smelt good. Our Headquarter horses had been put out
to graze in the orcharda Boche 4·2 had landed in it the night
beforeand they were frolicking mightily, Wilde's charger Blackie
being especially industrious shooing off one of the mules from the
colonel's mare. There was a swirling and a skelter of brown and yellow
leaves at the gap in the lane where we struck across a vegetable
garden. A square patch torn from a bed-sheet flew taut from the top of
a clump of long hop-polesthe sign, before the village was freed, to
warn our artillery observers that civilians lived in the cottage close
by. Similar, now out-of-date, white flags swung to the breeze from many
roof-tops in the village. The extraordinary feature, the colonel
mentioned, was the number of Tricolours that the French had been able
to hide from the Germans; they put them out when we came through. He
nodded a pleasant good-day to a good looking young staff officer who
stood on the steps of the house in the pavé-laid street where
one of our infantry brigades had made their headquarters. The staff
officer wore a pair of those full-below-the-knee plus 4 at golf
breeches that the Gardee affects. For myself, I wouldn't wear that
kind of breeches unless I were actually on duty with the Guards, said
the colonel rather sardonicallythey are so intensely ugly. A tiny
piano tinkled at a corner house near the roofless church and the Grande
Place. In two-foot letters on the walls in the square were painted,
Hommes on some houses, Femmes on others: reminders of the Boche
method of segregating the sexes before he evacuated the inhabitants he
wanted to evacuate. Only five civilians remained in the village
nowthree old men and two feeble decrepit women, numbed and heart-sick
with the war, but obstinate in clinging to their homesteads. Already
some of our men were patching leaky, shrapnel-flicked roofs with
biscuit-tins and strong strips of waterproof sheeting.
We passed through A Battery's garden at nine o'clock. We won't
disturb them, said the colonel. Bullivant is a morning sleeper, and
is certain not to be up after the night-firing. Round the corner,
however, stood a new officer who looked smart and fresh, with brightly
polished buttons and Sam Browne belt. He saluted in the nervously
precise fashion of the newly-joined officer. The colonel answered the
salute, but did not speak; and he and I worked our wayfollowing the
track of a Tankthrough and between hedges and among fruit-trees that
had not yet finished their season's output. We passed the huddled-up
body of a shot British soldier lying behind a fallen tree-trunk. We
were making for the quarry in which C and D Batteries were neighbours.
On a ditch-bordered road we met ten refugees, sent back that morning
from a hamlet a mile and a half away, not yet considered safe from the
Boche. The men, seeing us, removed their hats and lowered them as far
as the kneethe way in which the Boche had commanded them to proffer
respect. One aged woman in a short blue skirt wore sabots, and British
puttees in place of stockings.
There had been a mishap at D Battery in the early hours of the
morning. Their five useable 4·5 howitzers had been placed in a perfect
how. position against the bank of the quarry. In the excitement of
night-firing a reinforcement gunner had failed to engage the
plungers, the muzzle had not been elevated, and the shell, instead of
descending five thousand yards away, had hit the bank twelve yards in
front. The explosion killed two of the four men working that particular
how. and wounded a third, and knocked out the N.C.O. in charge of
another how. forty yards distant. The colonel examined the howitzer,
looked gravely severe, and said that an officers' inquiry would be held
next day. He asked Major Bartlett of C Battery, who was housed in a
toy-sized cottage in the centre of the quarry, how his 18-pdrs. were
shooting; and mentioned that the infantry were apprehensive of
short-shooting along a road close to our present front line, since it
lay at an awkward angle for our guns. Major Bartlett, self-possessed,
competent, answered in the way the colonel liked officers to answerno
I thinks: his replies either plain Yes or No. Major Bartlett gave
chapter and verse of his battery-shooting during the two previous days,
and said that every round had been observed fire.
Walking brisklythe colonel was the fittest man of forty-five I
have knownwe mounted a slope of turnip-fields and fresh-ploughed
land. There was a plantation five hundred yards to right of us, and
five hundred yards to left of us; into the bigger one on the left two
5·9's dropped as we came level with it. Splashes of newly thrown-up
earth behind tree-clumps, against banks and alongside hedges, showed
the short breast-high trenches, some six yards long, in which the
infantry had fought a few days before. Fifteen hundred yards away the
clustering trees of the great forest where the enemy lay broke darkly
against the horizon. You see that row of tall straight trees in front
of the forest, to the right of the gabled house where the white flag is
flying, said the colonel, pulling out his glassesthat's the present
front line. Three ponderous booms from that direction denoted trench
mortars at work.
We descended the other side of the slope, keeping alongside a hedge
that ran towards a red-roofed farm. In two separate places about three
yards of the hedge had been cut away. Boche soldiering! remarked the
colonel informatively. Enabled him to look along both sides of the
hedge and guard against surprise when our infantry were coming up.
We may as well call at Battalion Headquarters, he added when we
reached the farm. In a wide cellar, where breakfast had not yet been
cleared away, we came upon a lieutenant-colonel, twenty-four years of
age, receiving reports from his company commanders. Suave in manner,
clear-eyed, not hasty in making judgments, he had learnt most things to
be known about real war at Thiepval, Schwaben Redoubt, and other bloody
places where the Division had made history; wounded again in the August
advance, he had refused to be kept from these final phases. The colonel
and he understood each other. There was the point whether liaison
duties between infantry and artillery could be more usefully conducted
in the swift-changing individual fighting of recent days from infantry
brigade or from infantry battalion; there were conflicting statements
by junior officers upon short-shooting, and they required sifting; a
few words had to be said about the battalion's own stretch of front and
its own methods of harassing the enemy. A few crisp questions and
replies, all bearing upon realities, a smile or two, a consultation of
maps, and another portion of the colonel's task for that day was
We walked across more ploughed land towards a sunken road, where
infantry could be seen congregated in that sort of dolce far niente
which, on the part of infantry in support, is really rather deceptive.
A ping-ping! whisked past, and stung us to alertness.
Hullomachine-guns! ejaculated the colonel, and we quickened our
steps toward the sunken road.
A major and a subaltern of the machine-gunners clambered down the
I believe I've spotted that fellow, sir, burst forth the major
with some excitement. I think he's in a house over there ... might be
a target for you ... bullets have been coming from that way every now
and again for two days.... I'll show you, if you like, sir.
The major and the colonel crept out on top of the bank, and made for
a shell-hole forty yards in front. I followed them. The major pointed
across the rolling grass lands to a two-storied grey house with a slate
roof, fourteen hundred yards away. I believe he's in there, he said
The colonel looked through his glasses.
The major spoke again. Do you see the square piece removed from the
church spire, sir?... That looks like an 'O.P.', doesn't it?
The colonel opened his map and pointed to a tiny square patch. I
make that to be the house, he said. Do you agree?
Yes, sir, replied the major. We thought at first it was the house
you see marked four hundred yards more south-east; but I believe that
is really the one.
I've got an 'O.P.' farther forward. I'm going up there now. We'll
have a shot at the house, responded the colonel simply.
The major went back to the sunken road. The colonel and I walked
straight ahead, each of us in all probability wondering whether the
Boche machine-gunner was still on duty, and whether he would regard us
as worthy targets. That, at any rate, was my own thought. We strode out
over the heavy-going across a strip of ploughed land, and heard the
whizz of machine-gun bullets once more, not far from the spot we had
just left. We did not speak until we descended to a dip in the ground,
and reached a brook that had to be jumped. We were absolutely by
Up the slope, on the far side of the brook. More ploughed land. We
were both breathing hard now.
Before we came to the crest of the slope the colonel stopped. We're
in view from the Boche front line from the top, he said sharply. The
'O.P.' is a hole in the ground.... You had better follow me about
twenty yards behind.... And keep low.... Make for the fifth
telegraph-pole from the left that you will see from the top.
He moved off. I waited and then followed, my mind concentrated at
first on the fifth telegraph-pole the colonel had spoken about. There
was no shelling at this moment. A bird twittered in a hedge close by;
the smell of grass and of clean earth rose strong and sweet. No signs
or sound of war; only sunshine and trees and
The colonel's voice came sharp as whipcord. Keep down!keep down!
I bent almost double and walked fast at the same time. My mind turned
to September 1916, when I walked along Pozières Ridge, just before the
Courcellette fight, and was shouted at for not crouching down by my
battery commander. But there were shells abroad that day.... I almost
laughed to myself.
I tumbled after the colonel into the square hole that constituted
the O.P.it had been a Boche trench-mortar emplacement. The sweat
dripped down my face as I removed my tin hat; my hair was wet and
Johns, a subaltern of D Battery, was in the pit with a couple of
telephonists. He was giving firing instructions to the battery.
What are you firing at, Johns? inquired the colonel, standing on a
step cut in the side of the pit, and leaning his elbows on the parapet.
Two hundred yards behind that road, sirtrench mortars suspected
there, sir. He called, All guns parallel! down the telephone.
Don't you keep your guns parallel when you aren't firing? asked
the colonel quickly. Isn't that a battery order?
Johns flushed and replied, No, sir.... We left them as they were
But don't you know that it is an Army orderthat guns should be
Why don't you obey it, then?
I thought battery commanders were allowed their choice. I
The colonel cut poor Johns short. It's an Army order, and has to be
obeyed. Army orders are not made for nothing. The reason that order was
made was because so many battery commanders were making their own
choice in the matter. Consequently there was trouble and delay in
'handing over.' So the Army made a standard ruling.
Then, as was always the case, the colonel softened in manner, and
told Johns to do his shooting just as if he were not looking on.
The new subaltern of A Battery suddenly lowered himself into the
pit. The colonel brightened. You see the grey house over there!... Can
you see it?... Good!... An enemy machine-gun is believed to be
there.... I want you to fire on that house.... There's the point on the
Sorry, sir, my wire to the battery is not through yetI've just
been out on it.
The colonel looked at his watch. It's half-past eleven now. Your
line ought to be through by this time.
Yes, sir; it's been through once, but it went half an hour ago. I
expect my signallers back any minute.
Very well! you can be working out your switch angle and your angle
of sight while you wait.
Johns had now got his battery to work, and the sight of his shells
bursting among the hedges and shrubs fired his Celtic enthusiasm and
dissipated the nervousness he had felt in the colonel's presence. Look
at that! isn't that a fine burst? he called, clutching my arm,and
see that one. Isn't it a topper?
An exclamation from the colonel, who had stood sphinx-like, his
glasses directed upon the grey house, made every one turn. I've
spotted him, he called, his voice vibrating. He's at the top-floor
window nearest to us.... There he goes again.... I heard the 'ping' and
saw dust come out of the window.... Now then, is that line through
The line wasn't through, and the excitement of the hunt being upon
us, every one felt like cursing all telephone linesthey always did
break down when they were most wanted. The five minutes before this
line was reported to be through seemed an hour, and when the
telephonist had laboriously to repeat the orders, each one of us itched
to seize the telephone and shout ribald abuse at the man at the other
The first shell went into the trees behind the house. So did the
round, three hundred yards shorter in range, by which it had been hoped
to complete a plus and minus bracketing of the target. After a bold
shortening of the range, the subaltern, directing the shooting of A
Battery's guns, was about to order a wide deflection to the left, but
the colonel stopped him. Your line is all right, he said. It looks
as if you were too much to the right from the 'O.P.', but that's the
deceptiveness of flank observation. The range is short, that's all.
Give it another hundred yards and see what happens.
A direct hit resulted in twenty rounds, and there was jubilation in
the O.P. M'Whirter of C Battery turned up, also Captain Hopton of B,
and preparations for a window-to-window searching and harrying of the
Boche machine-gunners were eagerly planned. It was 2 P.M. now, and the
colonel had forgotten all about lunch. I think we can get back now,
he said brightly. Register on that house, he added, turning to the
officers in the pit, and you can give that machine-gunner a hot time
whenever he dares to become troublesome.
We walked back to the sunken road in the highest of spirits, and
after the major of the Machine-Gun Corps, who had watched the shooting,
had thanked the colonel and expressed the view that the Boche
machine-gunner might in future be reckoned among the down-and-outs, the
colonel talked of other things besides gunnery.
I told him that though on my last leave to England I had noted a new
seriousness running through the minds of people, I had not altogether
found the humble unselfishness, the chastened spirit that many thinkers
had prophesied as inevitable and necessary before the coming of
But what about the men who have been out here? Won't they be the
people of England after the warthe real representative people?
returned the colonel, his eyes lighting up as he talked. Theirs has
been the chastening experience, at any rate. The man who comes through
this must be the better man for it.
The conversation lost its seriousness when we discussed whether Army
habits would weave themselves into the ordinary workaday world as a
result of the war.
Some of them would be good for us, said the colonel happily.
Here's onepicking up a rifle and carrying it at the slopeI'm
going to carry this to the first salvage dump, and help to keep down
It might be an interesting experiment to run Society on Active
Service lines, I put in. Fancy being made an Acting-Baronet and then
a Temporary-Baronet before getting substantive rank. And the thought of
an Acting-Duke paralyses one.
We laughed and walked on. Along the road leading back into the
village we met a bombardier, who saluted the colonel with the direct
glance and the half-smile that betokens previous acquaintance. The
colonel stopped. What's your name, Bombardier? he demanded. The
bombardier told him. Weren't you in my battery?
Yes, sir, said the man, smiling, when we first came to France....
I'd like to be back in the old Division, sir.
I'll see what can be done, said the colonel, taking his name and
I believe I remember him, because he often came before me as a
prisoner, he told me, with a humorous look, as we continued our walk.
Very stout fellow, though.
It was a quarter-past three now, and the experiences of the day had
sharpened the appetite. The colonel wasn't finished yet, however. He
turned into the Infantry Brigade Headquarters, and spent a quarter of
an hour with the brigadier general and his brigade-major discussing the
artillery work that would be required for the next big advance. We
discovered a lane we hadn't walked through before, and went that way to
our farmhouse. It was four o'clock when we got back, and two batteries
had prisoners waiting to go before the colonel. So lunch was entirely
wiped off the day's programme, and at a quarter to five we sat down to
tea and large quantities of buttered toast.
XIX. THE COLONEL
We knew now that November 4th was the date fixed for the next
battle. The C.R.A. had offered the Brigade two days at the waggon
lines, as a rest before zero day. The colonel didn't want to leave our
farm, but two nights at the waggon lines would mean respite from
night-firing for the gunners; so he had asked the battery commanders to
choose between moving out for the two days and remaining in the line.
They had decided to stay.
It turned to rain on October 29th. Banks of watery, leaden-hued
clouds rolled lumberingly from the south-west; beneath a slow
depressing drizzle the orchard became a melancholy vista of dripping
branches and sodden muddied grass. The colonel busied himself with a
captured German director and angle-of-sight instrument, juggling with
the working parts to fit them for use with our gunshe had the knack
of handling intricate mechanical appliances. The adjutant curled
himself up among leave-rosters and ammunition and horse returns; I
began writing the Brigade Diary for October, and kept looking over the
sandbag that replaced the broken panes in my window for first signs of
The colonel and the adjutant played Wilde and myself at bridge that
nightthe first game in our mess since April. Then the colonel and I
stayed up until midnight, talking and writing letters: he showed me a
diminutive writing-pad that his small son had sent by that day's post.
That's a reminder that I owe him a letter, he smiled. I must write
him one.... He's just old enough now to understand that I was coming
back to the war, the last time I said good-bye. The colonel said this
with tender seriousness.
A moaning wind sprang up during the night, and, sleepless, I tossed
and turned upon my straw mattress until past two o'clock. One 4·2 fell
near enough to rattle the remaining window-panes. The wail through the
air and the soft plop of the gas shells seemed attuned to the
dirge-like soughing of the wind.
The morning broke calm and bright. There was the stuffiness of
yesterday's day indoors to be shaken off. I meant to go out early. It
was our unwritten rule to leave the colonel to himself at breakfast,
and I drove pencil and ruler rapidly, collating the intelligence
reports from the batteries. I looked into the mess again for my cap and
cane before setting forth. The colonel was drinking tea and reading a
magazine propped up against the sugar-basin. I'm going round the
batteries, sir, I said. Is there anything you want me to tell
themor are you coming round yourself later?
No; not this morning. I shall call on the infantry about elevento
talk about this next battle.
He nodded, and I went out into the fresh cool air of a bracing
I did my tour of the batteries, heard Beadle's jest about the new
groom who breathed a surprised Me an' all? when told that he was
expected to accompany his officer on a ride up to the battery; and,
leaving A Battery's cottage at noon, crossed the brook by the little
brick bridge that turned the road towards our Headquarters farm, six
hundred yards away.
The colonel rang up a few minutes ago to say that our notice-board
at the bottom of the lane had been blown down. He wanted it put right,
because the General is coming to see him this afternoon, and might miss
the turning.... I've told Sergeant Starling.
Colonel Bcame in about eleven o'clock, went on the adjutant.
He's going on leave and wanted to say good-bye to the colonel.
Where is the colonel now, I asked, picking up some Divisional
reports that had just arrived.
He's with the Heavieshe's been to the Infantry. I told him
Colonel Bhad called, and he said he'd go round and see himtheir
mess is in the village, isn't it?
At twelve minutes past one the adjutant, Wilde, and myself sat down
to lunch. The colonel said he wouldn't be latebut we needn't wait,
said the adjutant.
No; we don't want to wait, agreed Wilde, who had been munching
At a quarter-past one; Crump! Crump! Crump!the swift,
crashing arrival of three high-velocity shells.
I'll bet that's not far from A Battery, called Wilde, jumping up;
and then settled down again to his cold beef and pickles.
First he's sent over to-day, said the adjutant. He's been awfully
quiet these last two days.
Manning had brought in the bread-and-butter and apple pudding that
Meddings had made to celebrate his return from leave, when the door
opened abruptly. Gillespie, the D.A. gas officer stood there. It was
the habit to complain with mock-seriousness that Gillespie timed his
visits with our meal-times. I had begun calling Here he is again,
when something drawn, something staring in his lean Scotch face,
stopped me. I thought he was ill.
The adjutant and Wilde were gazing curiously at him. My eyes left
his face. I noticed that his arms were pushed out level with his chest;
he grasped an envelope between the thumb and forefinger of each hand.
His lower jaw had fallen; his lips moved, and no sound came from them.
The three of us at the table rose to our feet. All our faculties
were lashed to attention.
Gillespie made a sort of gulp. I've got terrible news, he said at
I believe that one thought, and only one thought, circuited through
the minds of the adjutant, Wilde, and myself: The colonel!we knew! we
The colonel went on Gillespie. His face twitched.
Wilde was first to speak. Wounded? he forced himself to ask, his
Killed!killed! said Gillespie, his voice rising to a hoarse
Then silence. Gillespie reached for a chair and sank into it.
I heard him, more master of himself, say labouringly, Down at the
bridge near A Battery.... He and another colonel ... both killed ...
they were standing talking.... I was in A Battery mess.... A direct
hit, I should think.
The adjutant spoke in crushed awestruck tones. It must have been
I did not speak. I could not. I thought of the colonel as I had
known him, better than any of the others: his gentleness, his
honourableness, his desire to see good in everything, his quiet
collected bravery, the clear alertness of his mind, the thoroughness
with which he followed his calling of soldier; a man without a mean
thought in his head; a true soldier who had received not half the
honours his gifts deserved, yet grumbled not. Ah! no one passed over in
the sharing out of honours and promotions could complain if he paused
to think of the colonel.
I stared through the window at the bright sunlight. Dimly I became
aware that Gillespie had laid the envelope upon the table, and heard
him say he had found it lying in the roadway. I noticed the
handwriting: the last letter the colonel had received from his wife. It
must have been blown clean out of his jacket pocket; yet there it was,
The adjutant's voice, low, solemn, but resolvedhe had his work to
do: It is absolutely certain it was the colonel? There is no shadow of
doubt? I shall have to report to 'Don Ack'!
No shadow of doubt, replied Gillespie hopelessly, moving his head
from side to side.
Wilde came to me and asked if I would go with him to bring in the
body. I shook my head. Life out here breeds a higher understanding of
the mystic division between soul and body; one learns to contemplate
the disfigured dead with a calmness that is not callousness. But this
was different. How real a part he had played in my life these last two
years! I wanted always to be able to recall him as I had known him
alivethe slow wise smile, the crisp pleasant voice! I thought of that
last note to his little son; I thought of the quiet affection in his
voice when he spoke of keeping in touch with those who had shared the
difficulties and the hardships of the life we had undergone. I recalled
how he and I had carried a stretcher and searched for a dying officer
at Zillebekethe day I was wounded,and how, when I was in hospital,
he had written saying he was glad we had done our bit that day; I
thought of his happy faith in a Christmas ending of the war. The
hideous cruelty of it to be cut off at the very last, when all that he
had given his best in skill and energy to achieve was in sight!
* * * * *
The shuffling tramp outside of men carrying a blanket-covered
stretcher. They laid it tenderly on the flagstones beneath the
sun-warmed wall of the house.
Wilde, his face grave, sad, desolate, walked through the mess to his
room. I heard him rinsing his hands. A chill struck at my vitals.
* * * * *
It is finished. The colonel is dead. There is nothing more to write.
PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS.