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Title: Between the Lines
Author: Cable, Boyd, 1878-1943
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Between the Lines" ***

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BETWEEN THE LINES


BY

BOYD CABLE



TORONTO

McCLELLAND, GOODCHILD, & STEWART, LTD.

1916



TO

THE EDITOR OF THE CORNHILL

REGINALD JOHN SMITH

_for whose helpful criticism and advice, kindly consideration and
unfailing courtesy to an unknown writer, a sufficiency of grateful
appreciation can never be expressed by_

THE AUTHOR



FOREWORD

This book, all of which has been written at the Front within sound of
the German guns and for the most part within shell and rifle range, is
an attempt to tell something of the manner of struggle that has gone on
for months between the lines along the Western Front, and more
especially of what lies behind and goes to the making of those curt and
vague terms in the war communiqués.  I think that our people at Home
will be glad to know more, and ought to know more, of what these bald
phrases may actually signify, when, in the other sense, we read
'between the lines.'

Of the people at Home--whom we at the Front have relied upon and looked
to more than they may know--many have helped us in heaping measure of
deed and thought and thoughtfulness, while others may perhaps have
failed somewhat in their full duty, because, as we have been told and
re-told to the point of weariness, they 'have not understood' and 'do
not realise' and 'were never told.'

If this book brings anything of interest and pleasure to the first, and
of understanding to the second, it will very fully have served its
double purpose.

BOYD CABLE.

'SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE'
  _Sept._ 15, 1915.



CONTENTS


  THE ADVANCED TRENCHES
  SHELLS
  THE MINE
  ARTILLERY SUPPORT
  'NOTHING TO REPORT'
  THE PROMISE OF SPRING
  THE ADVANCE
  A CONVERT TO CONSCRIPTION
  'BUSINESS AS USUAL'
  A HYMN OF HATE
  THE COST
  A SMOKER'S COMPANION
  THE JOB OF THE AM. COL.
  THE SIGNALLER'S DAY



BETWEEN THE LINES


THE ADVANCED TRENCHES

'_Near Blank, on the Dash-Dot front, a section of advanced trench
changed hands several times, finally remaining in our possession._'


For perhaps the twentieth time in half an hour the look-out man in the
advanced trench raised his head cautiously over the parapet and peered
out into the darkness.  A drizzling rain made it almost impossible to
see beyond a few yards ahead, but then the German trench was not more
than fifty yards off and the space between was criss-crossed and
interlaced and a-bristle with the tangle of barb-wire defences erected
by both sides.  For the twentieth time the look-out peered and twisted
his head sideways to listen, and for the twentieth time he was just
lowering his head beneath the sheltering parapet when he stopped and
stiffened into rigidity.  There was no sound apart from the sharp
cracks of the rifles near at hand and running diminuendo along the
trenches into a rising and falling stutter of reports, the frequent
whine and whistle of the more distant bullets, and the quick hiss and
'zipp' of the nearer ones, all sounds so constant and normal that the
look-out paid no heed to them, put them, as it were, out of the focus
of his hearing, and strained to catch the fainter but far more
significant sound of a footstep squelching in the mud, the 'snip' of a
wire-cutter at work, the low 'tang' of a jarred wire.

A few hundred yards down the line, a dazzling light sprang out, hung
suspended, and slowly floated down, glowing nebulous in the misty rain,
and throwing a soft radiance and dusky shadows and gleaming lines of
silver along the parapets and wire entanglements.

Intent, the look-out stared to his front for a moment, flung muzzle
over the parapet and butt to shoulder, and snapped a quick shot at one
of the darker blotches that lay prone beyond the outer tangles of wire.
The blotch jerked and sprawled, and the look-out shouted, slipped out
the catch of his magazine cut-off, and pumped out the rounds as fast as
fingers could work bolt and trigger, the stabbing flashes of the
discharge lighting with sharp vivid glares his tense features, set
teeth, and scowling eyes.  There was a pause and stillness for the
space of a couple of quick-drawn breaths, and then--pandemonium!

The forward trench flamed and blazed with spouts of rifle-fire, its
slightly curved length clearly defined from end to end by the spitting
flashes.  Verey lights and magnesium flares turned the darkness to
ghastly vivid light, the fierce red and orange of bursting bombs and
grenades threw splashes of angry colour on the glistening wet parapets,
the flat khaki caps of the British, the dark overcoats of the Germans
struggling and hacking in the barb-wires.  The eye was confused with
the medley of leaping lights and shadows; the ear was dazed with the
clamour and uproar of cracking rifles, screaming bullets, and
shattering bombs, the oaths and yells, the shouted orders, the groans
and outcries of the wounded.  Then from overhead came a savage rush and
shriek, a flash of light that showed vivid even amidst the confusion of
light, a harder, more vicious crash than all the other crashing
reports, and the shrapnel ripped down along the line of the German
trench that erupted struggling, hurrying knots of men.

A call from the trench telephone, or the sound of the burst of bomb and
rifle fire, had brought the gunners on the jump for their loaded
pieces, and once more the guns were taking a hand.  Shell after shell
roared up overhead and lashed the ground with shrapnel, and for a
moment the attack flinched and hung back and swayed uncertainly under
the cruel hail.  For a moment only, and then it surged on again,
seethed and eddied in agitated whirlpools amongst the stakes and
strands of the torturing wires, came on again, and with a roar of hate
and frenzied triumph leaped at the low parapet.  The parapet flamed and
roared again in gusts of rapid fire, and the front ranks of the
attackers withered and went down in struggling heaps before it.  But
the ranks behind came on fiercely and poured in over the trench;  the
lights flickered and danced on plunging bayonets and polished butts;
the savage voices of the killing machines were drowned in the more
savage clamour of the human fighter, and then . . . comparative silence
fell on the trench.

The attack had succeeded, the Germans were in and, save for one little
knot of men who had escaped at the last minute, the defenders were
killed, wounded, or taken prisoners.  The captured trench was shaped
like the curve of a tall, thin capital D, a short communication trench
leading in to either end from the main firing trench that formed the
back of the D and a prolongation outwards from it.  The curve was in
German hands, but no sooner was this certain than the main trench
sprang to angry life.  The Germans in the captured curve worked in a
desperation of haste, pulling sandbags from what had been the face of
the trench and heaving them into place to make a breastwork on the new
front, while reinforcements rushed across from the German side and
opened fire at the main British trench a score of yards away.

Then, before the gasping takers of the trench could clear the dead and
wounded from under their feet, before they could refill their emptied
magazines, or settle themselves to new footholds and elbow-rests, the
British counter-attack was launched.  It was ushered in by a shattering
burst of shrapnel.  The word had passed to the gunners, careful and
minute adjustments had been made, the muzzles had swung round a
fraction, and then, suddenly and quick as the men could fling in a
round, slam the breech and pull the firing lever, shell after shell had
leapt roaring on their way to sweep the trench that had been British,
but now was enemy.  For ten or fifteen seconds the shrapnel hailed
fiercely on the cowering trench; then, at another word down the
telephone, the fire shut off abruptly, to re-open almost immediately
further forward over the main German trenches.

From the main British trench an officer leaped, another and another
heaved themselves over the parapet, and in an instant the long, level
edge of the trench was crowded with scrambling, struggling men.  With a
hoarse yell they flung themselves forward, and the lost trench spouted
a whirlwind of fire and lead to meet their rush.  But the German
defenders had no fair chance of resistance.  Their new parapet was not
half formed and offered no protection to the stream of bullets that
sleeted in on them from rifles and maxims on their flanks.  The
charging British infantry carried hand grenades and bombs and flung
them ahead of them as they ran, and, finally, there was no thicket of
barb-wire to check the swing and impetus of the rush.  The trench was
reached, and again the clamour of voices raised in fear and pain, the
hoarse rancour of hate, the shrill agony of death, rose high on the
sounds of battle.  The rush swept up on the trench, engulfed it as a
wave engulfs the cleft on a rock beach, boiled and eddied about it, and
then . . . and then . . . swept roaring over it, and on.  The
counter-attack had succeeded, and the victors were pushing their
advantage home in an attack on the main German trench.  The remnants of
the German defenders were swept back, fighting hopelessly but none the
less fiercely.  Supports poured out to their assistance, and for a full
five minutes the fight raged and swayed in the open between the
trenches and among the wire entanglements.  The men who fell were
trampled, squirming, underfoot in the bloody mire and mud; the fighters
stabbed and hacked and struck at short arm-length, fell even to using
fists and fingers when the press was too close for weapon play and
swing.

But the attack died out at last without the German entanglements being
passed or their earthwork being reached.  Here and there an odd man had
scrambled and torn a way through the wire, only to fall on or before
the parapet.  Others hung limp or writhing feebly to free themselves
from the clutching hooks of the wire.  Both sides withdrew, panting and
nursing their dripping wounds, to the shelter of their trenches, and
both left their dead sprawled in the trampled ooze or stayed to help
their wounded crawling painfully back to cover.  Immediately the
British set about rebuilding their shattered trench and parapet; but
before they had well begun the spades had to be flung down again and
the rifles snatched to repel another fierce assault.  This time a storm
of bombs, hand grenades, rifle grenades, and every other fiendish
device of high-explosives, preceded the attack.  The trench was racked
and rent and torn, sections were solidly blown in, and other sections
were flung out bodily in yawning crevasses and craters.  From end to
end the line was wrapped in billowing clouds of reeking smoke, and
starred with bursts of fire.  The defenders flattened themselves close
against the forward parapet that shook and trembled beneath them like a
live thing under the rending blasts.  The rifles still cracked up and
down the line; but, in the main, the soaking, clay-smeared men held
still and hung on, grimly waiting and saving their full magazines for
the rush they knew would follow.  It came at last, and the men breathed
a sigh of relief at the escape it meant from the rain of
high-explosives.  It was their turn now, and the roar of their
rifle-fire rang out and the bomb-throwers raised themselves to hurl
their carefully-saved missiles on the advancing mass.  The mass reeled
and split and melted under the fire, but fresh troops were behind and
pushing it on, and once more it flooded in on the trench. . . .

Again the British trench had become German, although here and there
throughout its length knots of men still fought on, unheeding how the
fight had gone elsewhere in the line, and intent solely on their own
little circle of slaughter.

But this time the German success was hardly made before it was blotted
out.  The British supports had been pushed up to the disputed point,
and as the remnants of the last defenders straggled back they met the
fierce rush of the new and fresh force.

This time it was quicker work.  The trench by now was shattered and
wrecked out of all real semblance to a defensive work.  The edge of the
new attack swirled up to it, lipped over and fell bodily into it.  For
a bare minute the defence fought, but it was overborne and wiped out in
that time.  The British flung in on top of the defenders like terriers
into a rat-pit, and the fighters snarled and worried and scuffled and
clutched and tore at each other more like savage brutes than men.  The
defence was not broken or driven out--it was killed out; and lunging
bayonet or smashing butt caught and finished the few that tried to
struggle and claw a way out up the slippery trench-sides.  Hard on the
heels of the victorious attackers came a swarm of men running and
staggering to the trench with filled sandbags over their shoulders.  As
the front of the attack passed on over the wrecked trench and pressed
the Germans back across the open, the sandbags were flung down and
heaped scientifically in the criss-cross of a fresh breastwork.  Other
men, laden with coils of wire and stakes and hammers, ran out in front
and fell to work erecting a fresh entanglement.  In five minutes or
ten--for minutes are hard to count and tally at such a time and in such
work--the new defence was complete, and the fighters in the open ran
back and leapt over into cover.

Once more a steady crackle of rifle-fire ran quivering up and down the
line, and from their own trenches the Germans could see, in the light
of the flares, a new breastwork facing them, a new entanglement waiting
to trap them, a steady stream of fire spitting and sparkling along the
line.  They could see, too, the heaped dead between the lines, and in
their own thinned ranks make some reckoning of the cost of their
attempt.

The attempt was over.  There were a few score dead lying in ones and
twos and little clumped heaps in the black mud; the disputed trench was
a reeking shambles of dead and wounded; the turn of the
stretcher-bearers and the Red Cross workers had come.  There would be
another column to add to the Casualty Lists presently, and another
bundle of telegrams to be despatched to the 'Next of Kin.'

And to-morrow the official despatch would mention the matter coldly and
tersely; and the papers would repeat it; and a million eyes would read
with little understanding . . . 'changed hands several times, finally
remaining in our possession.'



SHELLS

'_. . . to the right a violent artillery bombardment has been in
progress._'--ACTUAL EXTRACT FROM OFFICIAL DESPATCH.


No. 2 Platoon of the Royal Blanks was cooking its breakfast with
considerable difficulty and an astonishing amount of cheerfulness when
the first shell fell in front of their firing trench.  It had rained
most of the night, as indeed it had rained most of the past week or the
past month.  All night long the men had stood on the firing step of the
trench, chilled and miserable in their sodden clothing, and sunk in
soft sticky mud over the ankles.  All night long they had peeped over
the parapet, or fired through the loopholes at the German trench a
hundred yards off.  And all night long they had been galled and stung
by that 'desultory rifle fire' that the despatches mention so casually
and so often, and that requires to be endured throughout a dragging day
and night before its ugliness and unpleasantness can be realised.

No. 2 Platoon had two casualties for the night--a corporal who had
paused too long in looking over the parapet while a star-shell flared,
and 'caught it' neatly through the forehead, and a private who, in the
act of firing through a loop-hole, had been hit by a bullet which
glanced off his rifle barrel and completed its resulting ricochet in
the private's eyes and head.  There were other casualties further along
the trench, but outside the immediate ken of No. 2 Platoon, until they
were assisted or carried past on their way to the ambulance.

Just after daybreak the desultory fire and the rain together had almost
ceased, and No. 2 Platoon set about trying to coax cooking fires out of
damp twigs and fragments of biscuit boxes which had been carefully
treasured and protected in comparative dryness inside the men's
jackets.  The breakfast rations consisted of Army bread--heavy lumps of
a doughy elasticity one would think only within the range of badness of
a comic paper's 'Mrs. Newlywed'--flint-hard biscuits, cheese, and tea.

'The only complaint against the rations bein' too much plum jam,' said
a clay-smeared private, quoting from a much-derided 'Eye-witness'
report as he dug out a solid streak of uncooked dough from the centre
of his half-loaf and dropped it in the brazier.

Then the first shell landed.  It fell some yards outside the parapet,
and a column of sooty black smoke shot up and hung heavily in the damp
air.  No. 2 Platoon treated it lightly.

'Good mornin',' said one man cheerfully, nodding towards the black
cloud.  'An' we 'ave not used Pears' soap.'

'Bless me if it ain't our old friend the Coal Box,' said another.  'We
'aven't met one of 'is sort for weeks back.'

'An' here's 'is pal Whistling Willie,' said a third, and they sat
listening to the rise-and-fall whistling _s-s-sh-s-s-sh_ of a
high-angle shell.  As the whistle rose to a shriek, the group of men
half made a move to duck, but they were too late, and the shell burst
with a thunderous bang just short of the front parapet.  Mud and lumps
of earth splashed and rattled down into the trench, and fragments of
iron hurtled singing overhead.

The men cursed angrily.  The brazier had been knocked over by a huge
clod, half-boiling water was spilt, and, worst of all, the precious dry
wood had fallen in the mud and water of the trench bottom.  But the men
soon had other things than a lost breakfast to think of.  A shrapnel
crashed overhead and a little to the right, and a sharp scream that
died down into deep groans told of the first casualty.  Another shell,
and then another, roared up and smashed into the soft ground behind the
trench, hurting no one, but driving the whole line to crouch low in the
narrow pit.

'Get down and lie close everyone,' shouted the young officer of No. 2
Platoon, but the 'crump-crump-crump' of another group of falling shells
spoke sterner and more imperative orders than his.  For half an hour
the big shells fell with systematic and regular precision along the
line of the front trench, behind it on the bare ground, and further
back towards the supports' trench.  The shooting was good, but so were
the trenches--deep and narrow, and steep-sided, with dug-outs scooped
under the bank and strong traverses localising the effect of any shell
that fell exactly on the trench.  There were few casualties, and the
Royal Blanks were beginning to congratulate themselves on getting off
so lightly as the fire slackened and almost died away.

With the rest of the line No. 2 Platoon was painfully moving from its
cramped position and trying to stamp and shake the circulation back
into its stiffened limbs, when there came a sudden series of swishing
rushes and sharp vicious cracks overhead, and ripping thuds of shrapnel
across and across the trench.  The burst of fire from the light guns
was excellently timed.  Their high velocity and flat trajectory landed
the shells on their mark without any of the whistling rush of approach
that marked the bigger shells and gave time to duck into any available
cover.  The one gust of light shells caught a full dozen men--as many
as the half-hour's work of the big guns.

Then the heavies opened again as accurately as before and twice as
fast.  The trench began to yawn in wide holes, and its sides to crumble
and collapse.  No. 2 Platoon occupied a portion of the trench that ran
out in a blunted angle, and it caught the worst of the fire.  One shell
falling just short of the front parapet dug a yawning hole and drove in
the forward wall of the trench in a tumbled slide of mud and earth.  A
dug-out and the two men occupying it were completely buried, and the
young officer scurried and pushed along to the place shouting for
spades.  A party fell to work with frantic haste; but all their energy
was wasted.  The occupants of the buried dug-out were dead when at last
the spades found them . . . and broken finger-nails and bleeding
finger-tips told a grisly tale of the last desperate struggle for
escape and for the breath of life.  The officer covered the one
convulsed face and starting eyes with his handkerchief, and a private
placed a muddy cap over the other.

'Get back to your places and get down,' said the officer quietly, and
the men crawled back and crouched low again.  For a full hour the line
lay under the flail of the big shells that roared and shrieked overhead
and thundered crashing along the trenches.  For a full hour the men
barely moved, except to shift along from a spot where the shaken and
crumbling parapet gave insufficient cover from the hailing shrapnel
that poured down at intervals, and from the bullets that swept in and
smacked venomously into the back of the trench through the shell-rifts
in the parapet.

A senior officer made his way slowly along the sodden and quaking
trench.  He halted beside the young officer and spoke to him a few
minutes, asking what the casualties were and hoping vaguely 'they would
ease off presently.'

'Can't our own guns do anything?' asked the youngster; 'or won't they
let us get out and have a go at them?'

The senior nodded towards the bare stretch of muddy plough before their
trench, and the tangle of barbed wire beyond.

'How many men d'you suppose would get there?' he asked.

'Some would,' said the youngster eagerly, 'and anything would be better
than sticking here and getting pounded to pieces.'

'We'll see,' said the major moving off.  'They may ask us to try it
presently.  And if not we'll pull through, I dare say.  See that the
men keep down, and keep down yourself, Grant.  Watch out for a rush
through.  This may be a preparation for something of the sort.'

He moved along, and the lad flattened himself again against the side of
the wet trench.

A word from a man near him turned him round.  '. . . a 'tillery
Observin' Officer comin'.  P'raps our guns are goin' for 'em at last.'

The gunner officer stumbled along the trench towards them.  Behind him
came his signaller, a coil of wire and a portable telephone in a
leather case slung over his shoulder.  No. 2 Platoon watched their
approach with eager anticipation, and strained ears and attention to
catch the conversation that passed between their officer and the
artilleryman.  And a thrill of disappointment pulsed down the line at
the gunner's answer to the first question put to him.  'No,' he said,
'I have orders not to fire unless they come out of the trenches to
attack.  We'll give 'em gyp if they try it.  My guns are laid on their
front trench and I can sweep the whole of this front with shrapnel.'

'But why not shut up their guns and put a stop to this?' asked the
officer, and his platoon fervently echoed the question in their hearts.

'Not my pidgin,' said the gunner, cautiously peering through the
field-glasses he levelled through a convenient loophole.  'That's the
Heavies' job.  I'm Field, and my guns are too light to say much to
these fellows.  Look out!' and he stooped low in the trench as the
rising rush of sound told of a shell coming down near them.

'That's about an eight-inch,' he said, after the shell had fallen with
a crash behind them, a spout of earth and mud leaping up and spattering
down over them and fragments singing and whizzing overhead.  'Just tap
in on the wire, Jackson, and raise the Battery.'

The telephonist opened his case and lifted out his instrument, groped
along the trench wall a few yards and found his wire, joined up to his
instruments, dashed off a series of dots and dashes on the 'buzzer,'
and spoke into his mouthpiece.  No. 2 Platoon watched in fascinated
silence and again gave all their attention to listening as the
Artillery officer took the receiver.

'. . .  That you, Major?  . . .  Yes, this is Arbuthnot. . . .  In the
forward firing trench. . . .  Yes, pretty lively . . . big stuff
they're flinging mostly, and some fourteen-pounder shrap. . . .  No, no
signs of a move in their trenches. . . .  All right, sir, I'll take
care.  I can't see very well from here, so I'm going to move along a
bit. . . .  Very well, sir, I'll tap in again higher up. . . .
Good-bye.'  He handed back the instrument to the telephonist.  'Pack up
again,' he said, 'and come along.'

When he had gone No. 2 Platoon turned eagerly on the telephonist, and
he ran a gauntlet of anxious questions as he followed the Forward
Officer.  Nine out of ten of the questions were to the same purpose,
and the gunner answered them with some sharpness.  He turned angrily at
last on one man who put the query in broad Scots accent.

'No,' he said tartly, 'we ain't tryin' to silence their guns.  An' if
you partickler wants to know why we ain't--well, p'raps them Glasgow
townies o' yours can tell you.'

He went on and No. 2 Platoon sank to grim silence.  The meaning of the
gunner's words were plain enough to all, for had not the papers spoken
for weeks back of the Clyde strikes and the shortage of munitions?  And
the thoughts of all were pithily put in the one sentence by a private
of No. 2 Platoon.

'I'd stop cheerful in this blanky 'ell for a week,' he said slowly, 'if
so be I 'ad them strikers 'ere alongside me gettin' the same dose.'

All this time there had been a constant although not a heavy rifle fire
on the trenches.  It had not done much damage, because the Royal Blanks
were exposing themselves as little as possible and keeping low down in
their narrow trenches.  But now the German rifles began to speak
faster, and the fire rose to a dull roar.  The machine-guns joined in,
their sharp rat-tat-tat sounding hard and distinct above the rifles.
As the volume of rifle fire increased, so, for a minute, did the shell
fire, until the whole line of the Royal Blanks' trenches was vibrating
to the crash of the shells and humming with rifle bullets which whizzed
overhead or smacked with loud whip-crack reports into the parapet.

The officer of No. 2 Platoon hitched himself higher on the parapet and
hoisted a periscope over it.  Almost instantly a bullet struck it,
shattering the glass to fragments.  He lowered it and hastily fitted a
new glass, pausing every few moments to bob his head up over the
parapet and glance hastily across at the German trench.  A second time
he raised his instrument to position and in less than a minute it was
shot away for a second time.

The Artillery officer came hurrying and stumbling back along the
trench, his telephonist labouring behind him.  They stopped at the
place where they had tapped in before and the telephonist busied
himself connecting up his instrument.  The Artillery officer flung
himself down beside the Platoon commander.  'My confounded wire cut
again,' he panted, 'just when I want it too.  Sounds as if they meant a
rush, eh?'  The infantryman nodded.  'Will they stop shelling before
they rush?' he shouted.

'Not till their men are well out in front.  Their guns can keep going
over their heads for a bit.  Are you through, Jackson?  Tell the
Battery to "eyes front."  It looks like an attack.'

The telephonist repeated the message, listened a moment and commenced,
'The Major says, sir----' when his officer interrupted sharply, 'Three
rounds gun-fire--quick.'

'Three rounds gun-fire--quick, sir,' bellowed the telephonist into his
mouthpiece.

'Here they come, lads.  Let 'em have it,' yelled the Platoon commander,
and commenced himself to fire through a loophole.

At the same moment there came from the rear the quick thudding reports
of the British guns, the rush of their shells overhead, and the sharp
crash of their shells over the German parapets.

'All fired, sir,' called the telephonist.

'Battery fire one second,' the Observing Officer shouted without
turning his head from his watch over the parapet.

'Number one fired--two fired--three fired,' the signaller called
rapidly, and the Observing Officer watched narrowly the white
cotton-wool clouds of the bursting shrapnel of his guns.

'Number three, ten minutes more right--all guns, drop
twenty-five--repeat,' he ordered, and in swift obedience the guns began
to drop their shrapnel showers, sweeping along the ground in front of
the German trench.

But the expected rush of Germans hung fire.  A line of bobbing heads
and shoulders had showed above their parapet and only a few scattered
groups had clambered over its top.

'They're beat,' shouted the infantry officer, exultingly.  'They're
dodging back.  Give it to 'em, boys--give it--_ow_!' He broke off and
ducked down with a hand clapped to his cheek where a bullet had scored
its way.

'Get down! get down!  Make your men get down,' said the gunner officer
rapidly.  'It's all . . .'

Again there came the swishing rush of the light shells, a series of
quick-following bangs, and a hail of shrapnel tearing across the
trench, before the men had time to duck.

'All a false alarm--just a dodge to get your men's heads up within
reach of their Fizz-Bangs' shrapnel,' said the artilleryman, and called
to the signaller.  'All guns raise twenty-five.  Section fire five
seconds. . . .  Hullo--hit?' he continued to the Platoon officer, as he
noticed him wiping a smear of blood from his cheek.

'Just a nice little scratch,' said the lad, grinning.  'Enough to let
me swank about being wounded and show off a pretty scar to my best girl
when the war's over.'

'Afraid that last shrapnel burst gave some of your fellows more'n a
pretty scar,' said the gunner.  'But I suppose I'd better slow my guns
up again. . . .  Jackson, tell them the attack's evidently
stopped--section fire ten seconds.'

'Can't you keep on belting 'em for a bit?' asked the Platoon officer.
'Might make 'em ease up on us.'

The gunner shook his head regretfully.

'I'd ask nothing better,' he said.  'I could just give those trenches
beans.  But  our orders are strict, and we daren't waste a round on
anything but an attack.  I'll bet that's my Major wanting to know if he
can't slack off a bit more,' he continued, as the signaller called
something about 'Wanted to speak here, sir.'

He went to the instrument and held a short conversation.  'Told you
so,' he said, when he returned to the infantry officer.  'No attack--no
shells.  We're stopping again.'

'Doesn't seem to be too much stop about the Germs,' grumbled the
infantryman, as another series of crackling shells shook the ground
close behind them.  He moved down the line speaking a few words here
and there to the crouching men of his platoon.

'This is getting serious,' he said when he came back to his place.
'There's more than the half of my lot hit, and the most of them pretty
badly.  These shrapnel bullets and shell splinters make a shocking mess
of a wound, y'know.'

'Yes,' said the gunner grimly, 'I know.'

'A perfectly brutal mess,' the subaltern repeated.  'A bullet now is
more or less decent, but those shells of theirs, they don't give a man
a chance to pull through.'

'Ours are as bad, if that's any satisfaction to you,' said the gunner.

'I s'pose so,' agreed the subaltern.  'Ghastly sort of game altogether,
isn't it?  Those poor fellows of mine now--the killed, I mean.  Think
of their fathers and mothers and wives or sweethearts----'

'I'd rather not,' said the gunner.  'And I shouldn't advise you to.
Better not to think of these things.'

'I wish they'd come again,' said the Platoon commander.  'It would stop
the shells for a bit perhaps.  They're getting on my nerves.  One's so
helpless against them, sticking here waiting to know where the next
will drop.  And they don't even give a fellow the ordinary four to one
chance of a casualty being a wound only.  They make such a cruel messy
smash of a fellow. . . .  Are you going?'

'Must find that break in my wire,' said the gunner, and presently he
and the telephonist ploughed off along the trench.

The bombardment continued with varying intensity throughout the day.
There was no grand finale, no spectacular rush or charge, no crashing
assault, no heroic hand-to-hand combats--no anything but the long-drawn
agony of lying still and being hammered by the crashing shells.  This
was no 'artillery preparation for the assault,' although the Royal
Blanks did not know that and so dare not stir from the danger zone of
the forward trench.  They were not even to have the satisfaction of
giving back some of the punishment they had endured, or the glory--a
glory carefully concealed from their friends at home, and mostly lost
by the disguising or veiling of their identity in the newspapers, but
still a glory--of taking a trench or making a successful attack or
counter-attack.  It was merely another 'heavy artillery bombardment,'
lived through and endured all unknown, as so many have been endured.

The Royal Blanks were relieved at nightfall when the fire had died
down.  The Artillery Observing Officer was just outside the
communication trench at the relief hour and saw the casualties being
helped or carried out.  A stretcher passed and the figure on it had a
muddy and dark-stained blanket spread over, and an officer's cap and
binoculars on top.

'An officer?' asked the gunner.  'Who is it?' 'Mr. Grant, sir,' said
one of the stretcher-bearers dully.  'No. 2 Platoon.'

The gunner noted the empty sag of the blanket where the head and
shoulders should have been outlined and checked the half-formed
question of 'Badly hit?' to 'How was it?'

'Shell, sir.  A Fizz-Bang hit the parapet just where 'e was lyin'.
Caught 'im fair.'

The bearers moved on, leaving the gunner groping in his memory for a
sentence in the youngster's last talk he had heard.  "Ghastly business
. . . cruel messy smash,' he murmured.

'Beg pardon, sir?' said the telephonist.

The Forward Officer made no answer but continued to stare after the
disappearing stretcher-bearers.  The signaller shuffled his feet in the
mud and hitched up the strap of the instrument on his shoulder.

'I suppose it's all over now, sir,' he said.

'Yes, all over--except for his father, or mother, or sweetheart,' said
the officer absently.

The signaller stared.  'I meant the shellin', sir.'

'Oh--ah, yes; the shelling, Jackson.  Yes, I dare say that's over for
to-night, since they seem to have stopped now.'

'P'raps we might see about some food, sir,' said the signaller.

'Food--to be sure,' said the officer briskly.  'Eat, drink, and be
merry, Jackson, for--I'm hungry too, now I think of it.  And, oh Lord,
I'm tired.'

No. 2 Platoon were tired too, as they filed wearily out by the
communication trench, tired and worn out mentally and physically--and
yet not too tired or too broken for a light word or a jest.  From the
darkness behind them a German flare soared up and burst, throwing up
bushes and shattered buildings, sandbag parapets, broken tree-stumps,
sticks and stones in luminous-edged silhouette.  A machine-gun burst
into a stutter of fire, the reports sounding faint at first and louder
and louder as the muzzle swept round in its arc.  'Ssh-sh-sh-sh,' the
bullets swept overhead, and No. 2 Platoon halted and crouched low in
the shallow communication trench.

'Oh, shut it, blast ye,' growled one of the men disgustedly.  'Ain't we
'ad enough for one day?'

'It's only 'im singin' 'is little evenin' hymn as usual,' said another.

'Just sayin' 'is good-bye an' sendin' a few partin' sooveniers'; and
another sang 'Say aw rev-wore, but not good-bye.'

'Stop that howling there,' a sergeant called down the line, 'and stop
smoking those cigarettes and talking.'

'Certainly, sergeant,' a voice came back.  'An' please sergeant, will
you allow us to keep on breathin'?'

The light died, and the line rose and moved on, squelching softly in
the mud.  A man clapped a hand to his pocket, half halted and exclaimed
in annoyance.  'Blest if I 'aven't left my mouth-organ back there,' he
said.  'Hutt!' said his next file.  'Be glad ye've a mouth left, or a
head to have a mouth.  It might be worse, an' ye might be left back
there yerself decoratin' about ten square yards of trench.'

'Tut-tut-tut-tut' went the maxim behind them again.

'Tutt-tutt yourself, you stammer-an'-spit blighter,' said the
disconsolate mouth-organ loser, and 'D'you think we can chance a smoke
yet?' as the platoon moved out on the road and behind the shelter of
some ruined house-walls.

Platoon by platoon the company filed out and formed up roughly behind
the houses.  The order to move came at last and the ranked fours swung
off, tramping slowly and stolidly in silence until some one struck up a
song--

  '_Crump, crump, crump, says the big bustin' shells----_

A chorus of protest and a 'Give the shells a rest' stopped the song on
the first line, and it was to the old regimental tune, the canteen and
sing-song favourite, 'The Sergeant's Return,' that the Royal Blanks
settled itself into its pack shoulder-straps and tramped on.

  I'm the same ol' feller that you always used to know--
    Oh!  Oh! you know you used to know--
  An' it's years since we parted way down on Plymouth Hoe--
    Oh!  Oh!  So many years ago.
  I've roamed around the world, but I've come back to you,
  For my 'eart 'as never altered, my 'eart is ever true.
  [Prolonged and noisy imitation of a kiss.]
  _Ain't_ that got the taste you always used to know?


The colonel was talking to the adjutant in the road as the companies
moved past, and he noted with some concern the ragged ranks and
listless movement of the first lot to pass.

'They're looking badly tucked up,' he said.

'They've had a cruel day,' said the adjutant.

'Yes, the worst kind,' agreed the O.C.  'And I doubt if they can stand
that sort of thing so well now.  The old regiment is not what it used
to be.  We're so filled up with recruits now--youngsters too. . . .
Here's B company--about the rawest of the lot and caught the worst of
it to-day.  How d'you think they stand it?'

But it was B company that answered the question for itself and the old
regiment, singing the answer softly to itself and the O.C. as it
trudged past--

  I'm the same ol' feller that you always used to know--
  Oh!  Oh! you know you used to know. . . .


'Gad, Malcolm,' said the O.C. straightening his own shoulders, 'they'll
do, they'll do.'

  . . . My 'eart 'as never altered, my 'eart is ever true,

the remnant of No. 2 Platoon sang past him.

'They haven't shaken us yet,' said the O.C. proudly.

'Tutt, tutt!' grumbled the maxim faintly.  'Tutt, tutt!'



THE MINE

'_. . . a mine was successfully exploded under a section of the enemy's
trench. . . ._'--ACTUAL EXTRACT FROM AN OFFICIAL DESPATCH.


Work on the sap-head had been commenced on what the Captain of the
Sappers called 'a beautiful night,' and what anyone else outside a
lunatic asylum would have described with the strongest adjectives
available in exactly the opposite sense.  A piercing wind was blowing
in gusts of driving sleet and rain, it was pitch dark--'black as the
inside of a cow,' as the Corporal put it--and it was bitterly cold.
But, since all these conditions are exactly those most calculated to
make difficult the work of an enemy's sentries and look-outs, and the
first work of sinking a shaft is one which it is highly desirable
should be unobserved by an enemy, the Sapper Captain's satisfaction may
be understood.

The sap-head was situated amongst the ruins of a cottage a few yards
behind the forward firing trench, and by the time a wet daylight had
dawned the Sappers had dug themselves well underground, had securely
planked up the walls of the shaft, and had cut a connecting gallery
from the ruins to the communication trench.  All this meant that their
work was fairly free from observation, and the workers reasonably safe
from bombs and bullets, so that the officer in charge had good cause
for the satisfaction with which he made his first report.

His first part of the work had been a matter of plans and maps, of
compass and level, of observing the ground--incidentally dodging the
bullets of the German snipers who caught glimpses of his crawling
form--by day, and of intricate and exact figuring and calculating by
night, in the grimy cellar of another ruined house by the light of a
candle, stuck in an empty bottle.

Thereafter he spent all his waking hours (and many of his sleeping ones
as well) in a thick suit of clayey mud; he lived like a mole in his
mine gallery or his underground cellar, saw the light only when he
emerged to pass from his work to his sleep or meals, and back to his
work, and generally gave himself, his whole body and brain and being,
to the correct driving of a shallow burrow straight to the selected
point under the enemy trench a hundred and odd yards away.  He was a
youngish man, and this was the first job of any importance that had
been wholly and solely entrusted to him.  It was not only his anxiety
to make a creditable showing, but he was keen on the work for the
work's own sake, and he revelled in the creative sense of the true
artist.  The mine was his.  He had first suggested it, he had surveyed
it, and plotted it, and measured and planned and worked it out on
paper; and now, when it came to the actual pick-and-shovel work, he
supervised and directed and watched each hour of work, and each yard of
progress.

It was tricky work, too, and troublesome.  At first the ground was good
stiff clay that the spades bit out in clean mouthfuls, and that left a
fair firm wall behind.  But that streak ran out in the second day's
working, and the mine burrowed into some horrible soft crumbly soil
that had to be held up and back by roof and wall of planking.  The
Subaltern took a party himself and looted the wrecks of houses--there
was no lack of these in the village just behind the lines--of
roof-beams and flooring, and measured and marked them for sawing into
lengths, and would have taken a saw with pleasure himself.

Then he dived cheerfully into the oozing wet burrow and superintended
the shoring up, and re-started the men to digging, and emerged a moment
to see more planking passed down.  He came in fact dangerously near to
making a nuisance of himself, and some of his men who had been sapping
and mining for wet and weary months past were inclined to resent quite
so much fussing round and superintendence.  But the Corporal put that
right.  He was an elderly man with a nasty turn of temper that had got
him into almost as many troubles in his service as his knowledge,
experience, and aptitude for hard work and responsibility had got him
out of.

'Leave the lad be,' he had said when some of the party had passed
grumbling remarks about 'too bloomin' much fuss an' feathers over a
straight simple bloomin' job.'  The Corporal had promptly squashed that
opinion.  'Leave the lad be,' he said.  'He's young to the job, mebbe,
but he's not such a simple fool as some that take this for a simple
job.  It's not goin' to be all that simple, as you'll find before
you're done.'

He was right, too.  The crumbling soil was one little difficulty
promptly and easily met.  The next was more troublesome.  The soil grew
wetter and more wet until at last the men were working ankle deep in
water.  The further the mine went the wetter it became.  The men worked
on, taking their turn at the narrow face, shovelling out the wet muck
and dragging it back to the shaft and up and out and away by the
communication trench.  They squeezed aside in silence when the
Subaltern pushed in to inspect the working, and waited with side winks
to one another to see what he would do to overcome the water
difficulty.  'Pumps' would of course have been the simple answer, but
the men knew as well as the Subaltern knew that pumps were not to be
had at that particular time and place for love or money, and that all
the filling of all the 'indents' in the R.E. would not produce one
single efficient pump from store.

The Subaltern did not trouble with indent forms or stores.  He had had
something of a fight to get a grudging permission for his mine, and he
felt it in his bones that if he worried the big chiefs too much with
requisitions he would be told to abandon the mine.  He shut his teeth
tight at the thought.  It was his mine and he was going to see it
through, if he had to bale the water out with a tea-cup.

He made a quick cast through the shell-wrecked village, drew blank, sat
for fifteen minutes on the curb of a rubble-choked well and thought
hard, jumped up and called the Corporal to provide him with four men
and some odd tools, and struck back across muddy and shell-cratered
fields to the nearest farm.  The farmer, who had remained in possession
despite the daily proximity of bursting shells, a shrapnel-smashed tile
roof, and a gaping hole where one house-corner should have been, made
some objection to the commandeering of his old-fashioned farm pump.  He
was at first supported in this by the officer in charge of the men
billeted in the barn and sheds, but the Sapper explained the urgency of
his need and cunningly clinched the argument by reminding the Infantry
officer that probably he and his men would soon be installed in the
trenches from which the mine ran, and that he--the Sapper--although he
was not supposed to mention it, might just hint that his mine was only
hurrying to forestall an enemy mine which was judged to be approaching
the trench the Infantry officer would presently occupy.  This last was
a sheer invention of the moment, but it served excellently, and the
Sapper and his party bore off their pump in triumph.  It was later
erected in the mine shaft, and the difficulty of providing sufficient
piping to run from the pump to the waterlogged part of the mine was met
by a midnight visit to the house where Headquarters abode and the
wholesale removal of gutters and rain-pipes.  As Headquarters had its
principal residence in a commodious and cobwebby cellar, the absence of
the gutters fortunately passed without remark, and the sentry who
watched the looting and the sergeant to whom he reported it were quite
satisfied by the presence of an Engineer officer and his calm assurance
that it was 'all right--orders--an Engineers' job.'

The pump did its work excellently, and a steady stream of muddy water
gushed from its nozzle and flowed down the Headquarters gutter-pipes to
a selected spot well behind the trenches.  Unfortunately the pump,
being old-fashioned, was somewhat noisy, and all the packing and oiling
and tinkering failed to silence its clank-clink, clank-clink, as its
arm rose and fell.

The nearest German trench caught the clank-clink, and by a simple
process of deduction and elimination arrived at its meaning and its
location.  The pump and the pumpers led a troubled life after that.
Snipers kept an unsteady but never silent series of bullets smacking
into the stones of the ruin, whistling over the communication trench,
and 'whupp'-ing into the mud around both.  A light gun took a hand and
plumped a number of rounds each day into the crumbling walls and
rubbish-heaps of stone and brick, and burst shrapnel all over the lot.
The Sappers dodged the snipers by keeping tight and close to cover;
they frustrated the direct-hitting 'Fizz-Bang' shells by a stout
barricade of many thicknesses of sandbags bolstering up the fragment of
wall that hid their shaft and pump, and finally they erected a low roof
over the works and sandbagged that secure against the shrapnel.  There
were casualties of course, but these are always in the way of business
with the Sappers and came as a matter of course.  The Germans brought
up a trench-mortar next and flung noisy and nerve-wrecking
high-explosive bombs into and all round the ruin, bursting down all the
remaining walls except the sandbagged one and scoring a few more
casualties until the forward trench installed a trench-mortar of their
own, and by a generous return of two bombs to the enemy's one put the
German out of action.  A big _minnenwerfer_ came into play next, and
because it could throw a murderous-sized bomb from far behind the
German trench it was too much for the British trench-mortar to tackle.
This brought the gunners into the game, and the harassed infantry (who
were coming to look on the Sapper Subaltern and his works as an
unmitigated nuisance and a most undesirable acquaintance who drew more
than a fair share of enemy fire on them) appealed to the guns to rid
them of their latest tormentor.  An Artillery Observing Officer spent a
perilous hour or two amongst the shrapnel and snipers' bullets on top
of the sandbagged wall, until he had located the _minnenwerfer_.  Then
about two minutes' telephoned talk to the Battery and ten minutes of
spouting lyddite volcanoes finished the _minnenwerfer_ trouble.  But
all this above-ground work was by way of an aside to the Sapper
Subaltern.  He was far too busy with his mine gallery to worry about
the doings of gunners and bomb-throwers and infantry and such-like
fellows.  When these people interfered with his work they were a
nuisance of course, but he always managed to find a working party for
the sandbagging protective work without stopping the job underground.

So the gallery crept steadily on.  They had to carry the tunnel rather
close to the surface because at very little depth they struck more
water than any pumps, much less their single farmyard one, could cope
with.  The nearness to the surface made a fresh difficulty and
necessitated the greatest care in working under the ground between the
trenches, because here there were always deep shell-holes and craters
to be avoided or floored with the planking that made the tunnel roof.
So the gallery had to be driven carefully at a level below the danger
of exposure through a shell-hole and above the depth at which the water
lay.  This meant a tunnel too low to stand or even kneel in with a
straight back, and the men, kneeling in mud, crouched back on their
heels and with rounded back and shoulders, struck their spades forward
into the face and dragged the earth out spadeful by spadeful.  Despite
the numbing cold mud they knelt in, the men, stripped to shirts with
rolled sleeves and open throats, streamed rivulets of sweat as they
worked; for the air was close and thick and heavy, and the exertion in
the cramped space was one long muscle-racking strain.

Once the roof and walls caved in, and three men were imprisoned.  The
collapse came during the night, fortunately, and, still more
fortunately behind the line and parapet of the forward trench.  The
Subaltern flung himself and his men on the muddy wreckage in frantic
haste to clear an opening and admit air to the imprisoned men.  It took
time, a heart-breaking length of time; and it was with a horrible dread
in his heart that the Subaltern at last pushed in to the uncovered
opening and crawled along the tunnel, flashing his electric torch
before him.  Half-way to the end he felt a draught of cold air, and,
promptly extinguishing his lamp, saw a hole in the roof.  His men were
alive all right, and not only alive but keeping on hard at work at the
end of the tunnel.  When the collapse came they had gone back to where
their roof lay across the bottom of a shell-hole, pulled a plank out,
and--gone back to work.

When the tunnel reached a point under the German parapet it was turned
sharp to left and right, forming a capital T with the cross-piece
running roughly along the line of trench and parapet.  Here there was
need of the utmost deliberation and caution.  A pick could not be used,
and even a spade had to be handled gently, in case the sounds of
working should reach the Germans overhead.  In some places the
Subaltern could actually hear the movements and footsteps of the enemy
just above him.

Twice the diggers disturbed a dead German, buried evidently under the
parapet.  Once a significant crumbling of the earth and fall of a few
heavy clods threatened a collapse where the gallery was under the edge
of the trench.  The spot was hastily but securely shored up with
infinite caution and the least possible sound, and after that the
Subaltern had the explosive charges brought along and connected up in
readiness.  Then, if the roof collapsed or their work were discovered,
the switch at the shaft could still be pressed, the wires would still
carry the current, and the mine would be exploded.

At last the Subaltern decided that everything was ready.  He carefully
placed his charges, connected up his wires again, cleared out his
tools, and emerged to report 'all ready.'

Now the 'touching off' of a good-sized mine is not a matter to be done
lightly or without due and weighty authority, and that because more is
meant to result from it than the upheaval of some square yards of earth
and the destruction of so many yards of enemy trench.  The mine itself,
elaborate and labour-making as it may have been, is, after all, only a
means to an end.  That end may be the capture of a portion of the ruins
of the trench, it may be the destruction of an especially strong and
dangerous 'keep,' a point of resistance or an angle for attack.  It may
even be a mine to destroy a mine which is known to be tunnelling into
our own trenches, but in any case the explosion is usually a signal for
attack from one side or the other, and therefore requires all the usual
elaborate arrangements of reinforcements and supports and so on.
Therefore the Sapper Subaltern, when he had finished his work and made
his report, had nothing to do but sit down and wait until other
people's preparations were made, and he received orders to complete his
work by utterly and devastatingly destroying it.  The Subaltern found
this wait about the most trying part of the whole affair, more
especially since he had for a good many days and nights had so much to
occupy his every moment.

He received word at last of the day and hour appointed for the
explosion, and had the honour of a visit of inspection from a very
superior officer who pored long and painstakingly over the paper plans,
put a great many questions, even went the length of walking down the
communication trench and peering down the entrance shaft, and looking
over the sandbagged wall through a periscope at the section of German
trench marked down for destruction.  Then he complimented the Subaltern
on his work, declined once again the offer of a muddy mackintosh and an
invitation to crawl down the mine, and went off.  The Subaltern saw him
off the premises, returned to the shaft and donned the mackintosh, and
crawled off up his tunnel once more.

Somehow, now that the whole thing was finished and ready, he felt a
pang of reluctance to destroy it and so fulfil its destiny.  As he
crawled along, he noted each little bit of shoring-up and supporting
planks, each rise and fall in the floor, each twist and angle in the
direction, and recalled the infinite labour of certain sections, his
glows of satisfaction at the speed of progress at the easy bits, his
impatience at the slow and difficult portions.  It seemed as if he had
been building that tunnel for half a lifetime, had hardly ever done
anything else but build it or think about building it.  And now,
to-morrow it was all to be destroyed.  He recalled with a thrill of
boyish pleasure the word of praise from the Corporal--a far greater
pleasure, by the way, than he had derived from the Great One's
compliments--the praise of one artist to another, the recognition of
good work done, by one who himself had helped in many good works and
knew well of what he spoke.  'She's done, sir,' the Corporal had said.
'And if I may say so, sir, she's a credit to you.  A mighty tricky job,
sir, and I've seen plenty with long years in the Service that would ha'
been stumped at times.  I'm glad to have had a hand in it wi' you, sir.
And all the men feel the same way about it.'

Ah well, the Subaltern thought as he halted at the joint of the
T-piece, none of them felt the same about it as he himself did.  He
squatted there a moment, listening to the drip of water that was the
only sound.  Suddenly his heart leapt . . . was it the only sound?
What was that other, if it could be called a sound?  It was a sense
rather, an indefinable blending of senses of hearing and feel and
touch--a faint, barely perceptible 'thump, thump,' like the beat of a
man's heart in his breast.  He snapped off the light of his electric
lamp and crouched breathless in the darkness, straining his ears to
hear.  He was soon satisfied.  He had not lived these days past with
the sound of digging in his ears by day and his dreams by night not to
recognise the blows of a pick.  There . . . they had stopped now; and
in imagination he pictured the digger laying down the pick to shovel
out the loosened earth.  Then, after a pause, the measured thump, thump
went on again.  The Subaltern crawled along first one arm of the
cross-section and then the other, halting every now and then to place
his ear to the wet planking or the wetter earth.  He located at last
the point nearest to the sound, and without more waste of time scurried
off down his tunnel to daylight.

He was back in the mine again in less than half an hour--a bare thirty
minutes, but each minute close packed with concentrated essence of
thought and action.

The nearest trench telephone had put him in touch with Battalion
Headquarters, and through them with Brigade, Divisional, and General
Headquarters.  He had told his story and asked for his orders clearly,
quickly, and concisely.  The Germans were countermining.  Their tunnel
could not possibly miss ours, and, by the sound, would break through in
thirty to sixty minutes.  What were his orders?  It took some little
time for the orders to come, mainly because--although he knew nothing
of it--his mine was part of a scheme for a general attack, and general
attacks are affairs that cannot be postponed or expedited as easily as
a cold lunch.  But the Subaltern filled in the time of waiting, and
when the orders did come he was ready for them or any other.  They were
clear and crisp--he was to fire the mine, but only at the latest
possible minute.  That was all he got, and indeed all he wanted; and,
since they did not concern him, there is no need here to tell of the
swirl of other orders that buzzed and ticked and talked by field
telegraph and telephone for miles up and down and behind the British
line.

Before these orders had begun to take shape or coherency as a whole,
the Subaltern was back listening to the thump, thump of the German
picks, and busily completing his preparations.  It was near noon, and
perhaps the workers would stop for a meal, which would give another
hour for troops to be pushed up or whatever else the Generals wanted
time for.  It might even be that a fall of their roof, an extra inflow
of water to their working, any one of the scores of troubles that
hamper and hinder underground mining might stop the crawling advance of
the German sappers for a day or two and allow the Subaltern's mine to
play its appointed part at the appointed time of the grand attack.

But meantime the Subaltern took no chances.  First he connected up a
short switch which in the last extreme of haste would allow him with
one touch of his finger to blow up his mine and himself with it.  He
buried or concealed the wires connecting the linked charges with the
switch outside so as to have a chance of escape himself.  He opened a
portable telephone he had carried with him and joined up to the wire he
had also carried in, and so was in touch with his Corporal and the
world of the aboveground.  All these things he did himself because
there was no need to risk more than one man in case of a quick
explosion.  Then, his preparations complete, he sat down to wait and to
listen to the thudding picks of the Germans.  They were very near now,
and with his ear to the wall the Subaltern could hear the shovels now
as well as the picks.  He shut his lamp off after a last look at his
switch, his revolver, and the glistening walls and mud-ooze floor of
his tunnel, and sat still in the darkness.  Once he whispered an answer
into the telephone to his Corporal, and once he flicked his lamp on an
instant to glance at the watch on his wrist.  Then he crouched still
and silent again.  The thumping of his heart nearly drowned the thud of
the picks, he was shivering with excitement, and his mouth grew dry and
leathery.  He felt a desire to smoke, and had his case out and a
cigarette in his lips when it occurred to him that, when the Germans
broke through, the smell of the smoke would tell them instantly that
they were in an occupied working.  He counted on a certain amount of
delay and doubt on their part when their picks first pierced his wall,
and he counted on that pause again to give him time to escape.  So he
put the cigarette away, and immediately was overwhelmed with a craving
for it.  He fought it for five minutes that felt like five hours, and
felt his desire grow tenfold with each minute.  It nearly drove him to
doing what all the risk, all the discomfort of his cramped position,
all the danger, had not done--to creep out and fire the mine without
waiting for that last instant when the picks would break through.  It
could make little difference, he argued to himself, in the movements of
those above.  What could five minutes more, or ten, or even fifteen,
matter now?  It might even be that he was endangering the success of
the explosion by waiting, and it was perhaps wiser to crawl out at once
and fire the mine--and he could safely light a cigarette then as soon
as he was round the corner of the T.  So he argued the matter out,
fingering his cigarette-case and longing for the taste of the tobacco,
and yet knowing in his inmost heart that he would not move, despite his
arguments, until the first pick came through.  He heard the strokes
draw nearer and nearer, and now he held his breath and strained his
eyes as each one was delivered.  The instant he had waited for came in
exactly the fashion he had expected--a thud, a thread of yellow light
piercing the black dark, a grunt of surprise from the pick-wielder at
the lack of resistance to his stroke.  All this was just what he had
expected, had known would happen.  The next stroke would show the
digger that he was entering some hole.  Then there would be cautious
investigation, the sending back word to an officer, the slow and
careful enlargement of the opening.  And before that moment came the
Subaltern would be down his tunnel, and outside, and pressing the
switch . . .

But his programme worked out no further than that first instant and
that first gleam of light.  He saw the gleam widen suddenly as the pick
was withdrawn, heard another quick blow, saw the round spot of light
run out in little cracks and one wide rift, and suddenly the wall fell
in, and he was staring straight into the German gallery, with a dark
figure silhouetted clear down to the waist against the light of an
electric bulb-lamp which hung from the gallery roof.  For an instant
the Subaltern's blood froze.  The figure of the German was only
separated from him by a bare three yards, and to his dark-blinded eyes
it seemed that he himself was standing in plain view in a brilliant
blaze of light.  Actually he was in almost complete darkness.  The
single light in the German gallery hardly penetrated through the gloom
of his own tunnel, and what little did showed nothing to the eyes of
the German, used to the lamp-light and staring suddenly into the black
rift before him.  But the German called out to some one behind him,
twisted round, moved, stooping, back to the lamp and reached up a hand
to it.  The Subaltern backed away hastily, his eyes fixed on the glow
of light in the opening.  The hole had broken through on a curve of his
tunnel, so that for fifteen or twenty feet back he could still see down
the German gallery, could watch the man unhook the lamp and carry it
back to the opening, thrust the lamp before him and lean in over the
crumbling heap of earth his pick had brought down.  The Subaltern
stopped and drew a gasping breath and held it.  Discovery was a matter
of seconds now.  He had left his firing switch, but he still carried
the portable telephone slung from his shoulder, the earth-pin dangling
from it.  He had only to thrust the pin into the mud and he was
connected up with the Corporal at the outside switch, had only to shout
one word, 'Fire!'--and it would all be over.  Quickly but noiselessly
he put his hand down to catch up the wire with the earth-pin.  His hand
touched the revolver-butt in his holster, checked at it, closed round
it and slid it softly out.  All this had taken an instant of time, and
as he raised his weapon he saw the German still staring hard under the
upheld lamp into the gloom.  He was looking the other way, and the
Subaltern levelled the heavy revolver and paused.  The sights stood out
clear and black against the figure standing in the glow of light--a
perfect and unmissable target.  The man was bareheaded, and wore a
mud-stained blue shirt with sleeves cut off above the elbow.  The
Subaltern moved the notched sights from under the armpit of the raised
arm that held up the light, and steadied them on the round of the ear
that stood out clear against the close-cropped black hair.  He heard a
guttural exclamation of wonder, saw the head come slowly round until
the circle of the ear foreshortened and moved past his sights, and they
were centred straight between the staring eyes.  His finger contracted
on the trigger, but a sudden qualm stayed him.  It wasn't fair, it
wasn't sporting, it was too like shooting a sitting hare.  And the man
hadn't seen him even yet.  Man?  This was no man; a lad rather, a
youth, a mere boy, with childish wondering eyes, a smooth oval chin,
the mouth of a pretty girl.  The Subaltern had a school-boy brother
hardly younger than this boy; and a quick vision rose of a German
mother and sisters--no, he couldn't shoot; it would be murder; it--and
then a quick start, an upward movement of the lamp, a sharp question,
told him the boy had seen.  The Subaltern spoke softly in fairly good
German.  'Run away, my boy.  In an instant my mine will explode.'

'Who is it?  Who is there?' gasped the boy.

The Subaltern chuckled, and grinned wickedly.  Swiftly he dropped the
revolver, fumbled a moment, and pulled a coil of capped fuse from his
pocket.

'It is the English,' he said.  'It is an English mine that I now
explode,' and, on the word, lit the fuse and flung it, fizzing and
spitting a jet of sparks and smoke, towards the boy.  The lad flinched
back and half turned to run, but the Subaltern saw him look round over
his shoulder and twist back, saw the eyes glaring at the fiery thing in
the mud, the dreadful resolve grow swiftly on the set young face, the
teeth clamped on the resolve.  He was going to dash for the fuse, to
try to wrench it out and, as he supposed, prevent the mine exploding.
The Subaltern jerked up the revolver again.  This would never do; the
precious seconds were flying; at any moment another man might come.  He
would have saved this youngster if he could, but he could allow nothing
to risk failure for his mine.  'Get back,' he said sharply.  'Get back
quickly, or I shall shoot.'

But now what he had feared happened.  A voice called, a scuffling
footfall sounded in the German gallery, a dim figure pushed forward
into the light beside the boy.  The Subaltern saw that it was an
officer, heard his angry oath in answer to the boy's quick words, his
shout, 'The light, fool--break it'; saw the clenched fist's vicious
buffet in the boyish face and the quick grab at the electric bulb.  The
Subaltern's revolver sights slid off the boy and hung an instant on the
snarling face of the officer. . . .

In the confined space the roar of his heavy revolver rolled and
thundered in reverberating echoes, the swirling powder-reek blinded him
and stung in his nostrils; and as the smoke cleared he could see the
boy scrambling back along his gallery and the officer sprawled face
down across the earth-heap in the light of the fallen lamp.

The Subaltern smashed the lamp himself before he too turned and
plunged, floundering and slipping and stumbling, for his exit in an
agony of haste and apprehension.  It was all right, he told himself a
dozen times; the officer was done for--the back of that head and a past
knowledge of a service revolver's work at close range told him that
plain enough; it would take a good many minutes for the boy to tell his
tale, and even then, if a party ventured back at once, it would take
many more minutes in the dark--and he was glad he thought to smash the
lamp--before they could find his charges or the wires.  It was safe
enough, but--the tunnel had never seemed so long or the going so slow.
He banged against beams and supports, ploughed through sticky mud and
churning water, rasped his knuckles, and bruised knees and elbows in
his mad haste.  It was safe enough, but--but--but--suppose there was no
response to his pressure on the switch; suppose there had been some
silly mistake in making the connections; suppose the battery wouldn't
work.  There were a score of things to go wrong.  Thank goodness he had
overhauled and examined everything himself; although that again would
only make it more appallingly awful if things didn't work.  No time
now, no chance to go back and put things right.  Perhaps he ought to
have stayed back there and made the contact.  A quick end if it worked
right, and a last chance to refix it if it didn't; yes, he . . . but
here was the light ahead.  He shouted 'Fire!' at the top of his voice,
still hurrying on and half cowering from the expected roar and shock of
the explosion.  Nothing happened.  He shouted again and again as loud
as his sobbing breath and labouring lungs would let him.
Still--nothing; and it began to sear his brain as a dreadful certainty
that he had failed, that his mine was a ghastly frost, that all the
labour gone to its making and the good lives spent on it were wasted.
He stumbled weakly out into the shaft, caught a glimpse of the
Corporal's set face staring at the tunnel mouth, and tried once more to
call out 'Fire!' But the Corporal was waiting for no word.  He had
already got that, had heard the Subaltern's first shouts roll down the
tunnel, in fact was waiting with a finger on the exploding switch for
the moment the Subaltern should appear.  The finger moved steadily over
as the Subaltern stumbled into sight--and the solid earth heaved
convulsively, shuddered, and rocked and shook to the roaring blast of
the explosion.

The shock and the rush of air from the tunnel-mouth caught the
Subaltern, staggering to his knees, and flung him headlong.  And as he
picked himself up again the air darkened with whizzing clods and mud
and dust and stones and dirt that rained down from the sky.  Before the
echoes of the explosion had died away, before the last fragments and
debris had fallen, there came the sound of another roar, the bellowing
thunder of the British guns throwing a storm of shell and shrapnel
between the German supports and the ruined trench.  That, and another
sound, told the Subaltern that the full fruits of his work were to be
fully reaped--the sound of the guns and of the full, deep-chested,
roaring cheers of the British infantry as they swarmed from their
trenches and rushed to occupy the crater of the explosion.

      *      *      *      *      *

Later in the day, when the infantry had made good their possession of
the place, had sandbagged and fortified it to stand against the
expected counter-attacks, the Subaltern went to look over the ground
and see at first and close hand the results of his explosion.
Technically, he found it interesting; humanly, it was merely sickening.
The ground was one weltering chaos and confusion of tossed earth-heaps
and holes, of broken beams and jagged-ended planks, of flung sandbags
and wrecked barricading.  Of trench or barricade, as trench and
barricade, there remained, simply, no sign.  The wreckage was scattered
thick with a dreadful debris of dead bodies, of bloody clothing, of
helmets and broken rifles, burst packs and haversacks, bayonets,
water-bottles, and shattered equipments.  The Ambulance men were busy,
but there were still many dead and dying and wounded to be removed,
wounded with torn flesh and mangled limbs, dead and dying with scorched
and smouldering clothes.  The infantry, hastily digging and filling
sandbags and throwing up parapets on the far edge of the reeking
explosion pit, had found many bodies caught in the descending avalanche
of earth or buried in the collapsed trenches and dug-outs; and here and
there, amid the confusion, a foot or a hand protruding stark from some
earth-heap marked the death-place of other victims.  The whole scene
was one of death and desolation, of ruin and destruction, and the
Subaltern turned from it sick at stomach.  It was the first result of a
big explosion he had seen.  This was the sort of thing that he had read
so often summed up in a line of the Official Despatch or a two-line
newspaper paragraph: 'A mine was successfully exploded under a section
of the enemy's trench.'  A mine--_his_ mine. . . . 'God!' the Subaltern
said softly under his breath, and looked wonderingly about him.

''E's a bloomin' little butcher, is that Lefftenant of ours,' the
Corporal said that night.  ''Course it was a good bit o' work, an' he'd
reason to be proud of it; but--well I thought I'd a strongish stomach,
an' I've seen some dirty blood-an'-bones messes in my time but that
scorchin' shambles near turned me over.  An' he comes back, after
lookin' at it, as cheerful as the cornerman o' a Christie Minstrel
troupe, an' as pleased as a dog wi' two tails.  Fair pleased, 'e was.'

But he was a little wrong.  What had brought the Subaltern back with
such a cheerful air was not the sight of his work, not the grim picture
of the smashed trenches.  It was an encounter he had had with a little
group of German prisoners, the recognising amongst them of a dirty,
mud-stained blue shirt with sleeves cut off above the elbows, a
close-cropped bare head, a boy's face with smooth oval chin and girlish
eyes.  The mine work he had directed, but others had shared it.  It was
the day's work--it was an incident of war--it was, after all, merely 'a
mine successfully exploded . . .'  But that one life saved was also his
work, and, moreover, his own, his individual personal work.  It was of
that he thought most as he came back smiling to his Corporal.



ARTILLERY SUPPORT

'_. . . supported by a close and accurate artillery
fire . . ._'--EXTRACT FROM OFFICIAL DESPATCH.


From his position in the 'Observation Post' the Artillery Forward
Officer watched the fight raging along his front much as a spectator in
the grand-stand watches a football match.  Through his glasses he could
see every detail and movement of the fighters, see even their facial
expressions, the grip of hands about their weapons.  Queerly enough, it
was something like looking at the dumb show of a cinema film.  He could
see a rifle pointed and the spit of flame from the muzzle without
hearing any report, could see an officer gesticulating and his mouth
opening and closing in obvious stentorian shoutings without hearing the
faintest sound of his voice, could even see the quick flash and puffing
smoke of a grenade without catching the crash of its explosion.  It was
not that he was too far off to hear all these sounds, but simply
because individually they were drowned in the continuous ear-filling
roar of the battle.

The struggle was keenly interesting and desperately exciting, even from
a spectator's point of view; and the interest and excitement were the
greater to the Forward Officer, because he was playing a part, and an
important part, in the great game spread before him.  Beyond the line
of a section of the British front white smoke-puffs were constantly
bursting, over his head a succession of shells streamed rushing and
shrieking; and the place where each of those puffs burst depended on
him, each shell that roared overhead came in answer to his call.  He
was 'observing' for a six-gun battery concealed behind a gentle slope
over a mile away to his right rear, and, since the gunners at the
battery could see nothing of the fight, nothing of their target, not
even the burst of a single one of their shells, they depended solely on
their Forward Officer to correct their aim and direct their fire.

All along the front--or rather both the fronts, for the German
batteries worked on exactly the same system--the batteries were pouring
down their shells, and each battery was dependent for the accuracy of
its fire on its own Observing Officer crouching somewhere up in front
and overlooking his battery's 'zone.'

The fighting line surged forward or swayed back, checked and halted,
moved again, now rapidly, now slowly and staggeringly, curved forward
here and dinted in there, striving fiercely to hold its ground in this
place, driving forward in that, or breaking, reeling back into the arms
of the supports, swirling forward with them again.  But no matter
whether the lines moved forward or back, fast or slow, raggedly and
unevenly, or in one long close-locked line, ever and always the shells
soared over and burst beyond the line, just far enough barely to clear
it if the fight were at close quarters; reaching out and on a hundred,
two hundred, yards when the fighters drew apart for a moment; always
clear of their own infantry, and as exactly as possible on the fighting
line of the enemy, for such is the essence of 'close and accurate
artillery support.'

The Forward Observing Officer, perched precariously in an angle of the
walls of a ruined cottage, stared through his glasses at the confusion
of the fight for hour after hour until his eyes ached and his vision
swam.  The Forward Officer had been there since daybreak, and because
no shells obviously aimed at his station had bombarded him--plenty of
chance ones had come very close, but of course they didn't count--he
was satisfied that he was reasonably secure, and told his Major back at
the Battery so over his telephone.  The succession of attack and
counter-attack had ceased for the time being, and the Forward Officer
let his glasses drop and shut his aching eyes for a moment.  But,
almost immediately, he had to open them and lift his head carefully, to
peer out over the top of the broken wall; for the sudden crash of
reopening rifle fire warned him that another move was coming.  From far
out on his left, beyond the range of his vision, the fire began.  It
beat down, wave upon wave, towards his front, crossed it, and went
rolling on beyond his right.  The initiative came from the British
side, and, taking it as the prelude of an attack, developing perhaps
out of sight on his left, the Forward Officer called up his Battery and
quickened the rate of its fire upon the German line.  In a few minutes
he caught a quick stir in the British line, a glimpse of the row of
khaki figures clambering from their trench and the flickering flash of
their bayonets--and in an instant the flat ground beyond the trench was
covered with running figures.  They made a fair target that the German
gunners, rifles, and maxims were quick to leap upon.  The German trench
streamed fire, the German shells--shrapnel and high-explosive--blew
gaping rents in the running line.  The line staggered and flinched,
halted, recovered, and went on again, leaving the ground behind it
dotted with sprawling figures.  The space covered by the Forward
Officer's zone was flat and bare of cover clear to the German trench
two hundred yards away.  It was too deadly a stretch for that gallant
line to cover; and before it was half-way across, it faltered again,
hung irresolute, and flung itself prone to ground.  The level edge of
the German trench suddenly became serrated with bobbing heads,
flickered with moving figures, and the next moment was hidden by the
swarm of men that leaped from it and came charging across the open.
This line too withered and wilted under the fire that smote it, but it
gathered itself and hurled on again.  The Forward Officer called down
the shortening ranges to the guns, and the answering shrapnel fell
fiercely on the German line and tore it to fragments--but the fragments
still advanced.  The remnant of the British line rose and flung forward
to meet it, and as the two clashed the supports from either side poured
out to help.  As the dense mass of Germans emerged, and knitted into
close formation, the Forward Officer reeled off swift orders to the
telephone.  The shrieking tempest of his shells fell upon the mass,
struck and slew wholesale, struck and slew again.  The mass shivered
and broke; but although part of it vanished back under the cover of the
trench, although another part lay piled in a wreckage of dead and
wounded, a third part straggled forward and charged into the fight.
The British line was overborne, and pushed struggling back until new
supports brought it fresh life and turned the tide again.  The Germans
surviving the charge were killed, wounded, or taken prisoners, and the
Forward Officer, lifting his fire and pouring it on the German trench,
checked for the moment any further rush of reinforcements.  The British
line ran forward to a field track running parallel to the trenches and
nearly midway between them, flung itself down to escape the bullets
that stormed across and began, as rapidly as the men's cramped position
would allow, to dig themselves in.  To their right and left the field
track sank a foot or two below the surface of the field, and this
scanty but precious shelter had allowed the rest of the line to stop
half-way across and hold on to get its breath and allow a constant
spray of supports to dash across the open and reinforce it.  Now, the
centre, where the track ran bare and flat across the field, plied
frantic shovels to heap up some sort of cover that would allow them
also to hang on in conformation of the whole line and gather breath and
reinforcements for the next rush.

The Germans saw plainly enough what was the plan, and took instant
steps to upset it.  Their first and best chance was to thrust hard at
the weak and ill-protected centre, overwhelm it and then roll up the
lines to right and left of it.

A tornado of shell fire ushered in the new assault.  The shells burst
in running crashes up and down the advanced line, and up and down the
British trench behind it; driving squalls of shrapnel swept the ground
between the two, and, in addition, a storm of rifle and machine-gun
bullets rained along the scanty parapet, whistled and droned and hissed
across the open.  And then, suddenly, the assault was launched from all
along the German line.

At the same instant a shell struck the wall of the Forward Officer's
station, burst with a terrific crash, swept three parts of the
remaining wall away in a cloud of shrieking splinters and swirling dust
of brick and plaster, and threw the Forward Officer headlong half a
dozen yards.  By some miracle he was untouched.  His first thought was
for the telephone--the connecting link with his guns.  He scrambled
over the debris to the dug-out or shelter-pit behind his corner and
found telephonist and telephone intact.  He dropped on hands and knees
and crawled over the rubble and out beyond the end of the wall, for the
cloud of smoke and plaster and brick-dust still hung heavily about the
ruin.  Here, in the open as he was, the air sang like tense
harp-strings to the passage of innumerable bullets, the ground about
his feet danced to their drumming, flicked and spat little spurts of
mud all over him.

But the Forward Officer paid little heed to these things.  For one
moment his gaze was riveted horror-stricken on the scene of the fight;
the next he was on his feet, heedless of the singing bullets, heedless
of the roar and crash of another shell that hit the ground and flung a
cart-load of earth and mud whizzing and thumping about him, heedless of
everything except the need to get quickly to the telephone.

'Tell the Battery, Germans advancing--heavy attack on our front!' he
panted to the telephonist, jumped across to his corner, and heaved
himself up into place.  The dust had cleared now, so that he could see.
And what he could see made him catch his breath.  An almost solid line
of Germans were clear of their trenches and pushing rapidly across the
open on the weak centre.  And the Battery's shells were falling behind
the German line and still on their trenches.  Swiftly the Forward
Officer began to reel off his corrections of angles and range, and as
the telephonist passed them on gun after gun began to pitch its shells
on the advancing line.

The British rifles were busy too, and their fire rose in one continuous
roar.  But the fire was weakest from the thin centre line, the spot
where the attack was heaviest.  The guns were in full play again, and
the shells were blasting quick gaps out of the advancing line.  But the
line came on.  The rifles beat upon it, and a machine-gun on the less
heavily pressed left turned and mowed the Germans down in swathes.
Still the line came on stubbornly.  It was broken and ragged now, and
advanced slowly, because the front ranks were constantly melting away
under the British fire.  The Forward Officer watched with straining
eyes glued to his glasses.  A shell 'whooped' past close over his head,
and burst just beyond him.  He neither turned his head nor moved his
glasses.  One, two, three, four burst short, and splinters and bullets
sang past him; two more burst overhead, and the shrapnel clashed and
rattled amongst the stone and brick of the ruins.  Without moving, the
Forward Officer began to call a fresh string of orders.  The rush of
his shells ceased for a moment while the gunners adjusted the new
angles and ranges.  'Number One fired.  Two fired.  Three, Four, Five,
Six fired, sir,' called the telephonist, and as he spoke there came the
shrieks of the shells, and the white puffs of the bursts low down and
between the prone British line and the advancing Germans.

'Number Three, one-oh minutes more left!' shouted the Forward Officer.
'Number Five, add twenty-five--repeat.'

Again came the running bursts and puffing white smoke, and satisfied
this time with their line, position, and distance, the Forward Officer
shouted for 'Gun-fire,' jumped down and across to the telephonist's
shelter-pit.

'I'm putting a belt of fire just ahead of our line,' he shouted,
curving his fingers about his lips and the mouthpiece in an attempt to
shut out the uproar about them.  'If they can come through it we're
done--infantry can't hold 'em.  Give me every round you can, and as
fast as you can, please.'  He ran back to his place.  A cataract of
shells poured their shrapnel down along a line of which the nearest
edge was a bare twenty yards from the British front.  The Forward
Officer fixed his eyes on the string of white smoke-puffs with their
centre of winking flame that burst and burst and burst unceasingly.  If
one showed out of its proper place he shouted to the telephonist and
named the delinquent gun, and asked for the lay and fuse-setting to be
checked.

The advancing Germans reached at last the strip of ground where his
shrapnel hailed and lashed, reached the strip and pushed into it--but
not past it.  Up to the shrapnel zone the advance could press; through,
it could not.  Under the shrapnel nothing could live.  It swept the
ground in driving gust on gust, swept and besomed it bare of life.
Here and there, in ones and twos and little knots and groups, the
Germans strove desperately to push on.  They came as far as that deadly
fire belt; and in ones and twos and little knots and groups they stayed
there and died.  Supports hurried up and hurled themselves in, and a
spasm of fresh strength and fury lifted the line and heaved it forward.
So far the fire of its fury brought it; and there the hosing shrapnel
met it, swept down and washed it away, and beat it out to the last
spark and the last man.

But from the German trenches another assault was forming, from the
German batteries another squall of shell-fire smote the British line;
and to his horror, the Forward Officer saw his own shells coming slower
and slower, the smoke-bursts growing irregular and slower again.  He
leaped down and rushed to the telephone.

Back in the Battery the telephone wires ran into a dug-out that was the
brain-centre of the guns, and from here the Forward Officer's
directions emerged and were translated to the gunners through the
Battery Commander and the Battery Sergeant-Major's megaphone.

All the morning the gunners followed those orders blindly, sluing the
hot gun-muzzles a fraction this way or that, making minute adjustments
on sights and range drums and shell fuses.  They could see no glimpse
of the fight, but, more or less accurately, they could follow its
varying fortunes and trace its movements by the orders that came
through to them.  When they had to send their shells further back, the
enemy obviously were being pressed back; when the fire had to be
brought closer the enemy were closer.  An urgent call for rapid fire
with an increasing range meant our infantry attacking; with a lessening
range, their being attacked.

Occasionally the Battery Commander passed to the Section Commanders
items of news from the Forward Officer, and they in turn told the
'Numbers One' in charge of the guns, and the gun detachments.

Such a message was passed along when the Forward Officer telephoned
news of the heavy pressure on the weakened centre.  Every man in the
Battery knew what was expected, and detachment vied with detachment in
the speedy correcting of aim and range, and the rapid service of their
guns.  When the order came for a round of 'Battery fire'--which calls
for the guns to fire in their turn from right to left--one gun was a
few seconds late in reporting ready, and every other man at every other
gun fretted and chafed impatiently as if each second had been an hour.

At another message from the Forward Officer the Battery Commander
called for Section Commanders.  The Sergeant-Major clapped megaphone to
mouth and shouted, and two young subalterns and a sergeant jumped from
their places, and raced for the dug-out.  The Major spoke rapidly and
tersely.  'We are putting down a belt of shrapnel in front of our own
infantry--very close to them.  You know what that means--the most
careful and exact laying and fusing, and fire as hot and heavy as you
can make it.  The infantry can't hold 'em.  They're depending on us;
the line depends on us.  Tell your men so.  Be off, now.'  The three
saluted, whirled on their heels, and were off.  They told their men,
and the men strained every nerve to answer adequately to the call upon
them.  The rate of fire worked up faster and faster.  Between the
thunder-claps of the gun the Sergeant-Major's megaphone bellowed,
'Number Six, check your lay.'  Number Six missed the message, but the
nearest gun caught the word and passed it along.  The Section Commander
heard, saluted to show he had heard and understood, and ran himself to
check the layer's aim.

Up to now the Battery had worked without coming under any serious fire.
There were always plenty of rifle bullets coming over, and an
occasional one of the shells that roared constantly past or over fell
amongst the guns.  A few men had been wounded, and one had been killed,
and that was all.

Then, quite suddenly, a tempest of high-explosive shell rained down on
the battery, in front of, behind, over, and amongst the guns.
Instinctively the men hesitated in their work, but the next instant the
voices of the Section Commanders brought them to themselves.  There
were shelter-pits and dug-outs close by, and, without urgent need of
their fire, the guns might be left while the gunners took cover till
the storm was over.  But there could be no thought of that now, while
the picture was in everyone's mind of the infantry out there being hard
pressed and overborne by the weight of the assault.  So the gunners
stayed by their guns and loaded, laid, and fired as fast as they could
serve their pieces.  The gun shields give little or no protection from
high-explosive shells, because these burst overhead and fling their
fragments straight down, burst in rear, and hurl jagged splinters
outwards in every direction.  The men were as open and unprotected to
them as bare flesh is to bullet or cold steel; but they knelt or sat in
their places, and pushed their work into a speed that was only limited
by the need for absolute accuracy.

A shell burst close in rear of Number One gun, and the whirlwind of
splinters and bullets struck down half the detachment at a blow.  The
fallen men were lifted clear, the remaining gunners took up their
appointed share of the lost men's duties, a shell was slung in, the
breech slammed shut, the firing-lever jerked--and Number One gun was in
action again and firing almost as fast as before.  The sergeant in
charge of another gun was killed instantaneously by a shrapnel bullet
in the head.  His place was taken by the next senior before the last
convulsive tremors had passed through the dead man's muscles; and the
gun kept on without missing a round.

The shell-fire grew more and more intense.  The air was thick and
choking with smoke and chemical fumes, and vibrant with the rush and
shriek, of the shells, the hum of bullets, and the ugly whirr of
splinters, the crash of impacting shells, and ear-splitting crack of
the guns' discharge, the 'r-r-rupp' of shrapnel on the wet ground, the
metallic clang of bullets and steel fragments on the gun-shields and
mountings.  But through all the inferno the gunners worked on, swiftly
but methodically.  After each shot the layers glared anxiously into the
eye-piece of their sights and made minute movements of elevating and
traversing wheels, the men at the range-drums examined them carefully
and readjusted them exactly, the fuse-setters twisted the rings marking
the fuse's time of burning until they were correct literally to a
hair-line; every man working as if the gun were shooting for a
prize-competition cup.  Their care, as well as their speed, was needed;
for, more than any cup, good men's lives were at stake and hanging on
their close and accurate shooting.  For if the sights were a shade to
right or left of their 'aiming point,' if the range were shortened by a
fractional turn of the drum, if a fuse was wrongly set to one of the
scores of tiny marks on its ring, that shell might fall on the British
line, take toll of the lives of friend instead of foe, go to break down
the hard-pressed British resistance instead of upholding it.

Man after man was hit by shell splinter or bullet, but no man left his
place unless he was too badly injured to carry on.  The seriously
wounded dragged themselves clear as best they could and crawled to any
cover from the bursting shells; the dead lay where they fell.  The
detachments were reduced to skeleton crews.  One Section Commander laid
and fired a gun; another, with a smashed thigh, sat and set fuses until
he fainted from loss of blood and from pain.  The Battery Commander
took the telephone himself and sent the telephonist to help the guns;
and when a bursting shell tore out one side of the sandbags of the
dug-out the Battery Commander rescued himself and the instrument from
the wreckage, mended the broken wire, and sat in the open, alternately
listening at the receiver and yelling exhortation and advice to the
gunners through the Sergeant-Major's megaphone.  The Sergeant-Major had
gone on the run to round up every available man, and brought back at
the double the Battery cooks, officers' grooms, mess orderlies and
servants.  The slackening fire of the Battery spurted again and ran up
to something like its own rate.  And the Major cheered the men on to a
last effort, shouting the Forward Officer's message that the attack was
failing, was breaking, was being wiped out mainly by the Battery's fire.

And then, as suddenly as it had begun, the tornado of shell-fire about
them ceased, shifted its storm-centre, and fell roaring and crashing
and hammering on an empty hedge and ditch a full three hundred yards
away.

And at the same moment the Major shouted exultingly.  'They're done!'
he bellowed down the megaphone; 'they're beat!  The attack--and he fell
back on the Forward Officer's own words--'the attack is blotted out.'

Whereat the panting gunners cheered faintly and short-windedly, and
took contentedly the following string of orders to lengthen the range
and slacken the rate of fire.  And the Battery made shift to move its
dead from amongst the gun and wagon wheels, to bandage and tie up its
wounded with 'first field dressings,' to shuffle and sort the
detachments and redistribute the remaining men in fair proportion
amongst the remaining guns, to telephone the Brigade Headquarters to
ask for stretcher-bearers and ambulance, and more shells--doing it all,
as it were, with one hand while the other kept the guns going, and the
shells pounding down their appointed paths.

For the doing of two or more things at once, and doing them rapidly,
exactly, and efficiently, the while in addition highly unpleasant
things are being done to them, is all a part of the Gunners' game of
'close and accurate artillery support.'



'NOTHING TO REPORT'

'_On the Western Front there is nothing to report.  All remains
quiet._'--OFFICIAL DESPATCH.


The 7th (Territorial) King's Own Asterisks had 'taken over' their
allotted portion of the trenches and were settling themselves in for
the night.  When the two facts are taken in conjunction that it was an
extremely unpleasant night, cold, wet and bleak, and the 7th were
thoroughly happy and would not have exchanged places with any other
battalion in Flanders, it will be very plain to those who know their
Front that the 7th K.O.A. were exceedingly new to the game.  They were:
and actually this was their first spell of duty in the forward firing
trenches.

They had been out for some weeks, weary weeks, filled with the digging
of communication trenches well behind the firing trenches, with drills
and with various 'fatigues' of what they considered a navvying rather
than a military nature.  But every task piled upon their reluctant
shoulders had been performed promptly and efficiently, and now at last
they were enjoying the reward of their zeal--a turn in the forward
trenches.

The men were unfeignedly pleased with themselves, with the British
Army, and with the whole world.  The non-coms, were anxious and
desperately keen to see everything in apple-pie order.  The Company
officers were inclined to be fidgety, and the O.C. was worried and
concerned to the verge of nerves.  He pored over the trench maps that
had been handed to him, he imagined assaults delivered on this point
and that, hurried, at the point of the pencil, his supports along
various blue and red lines to the threatened angles of the wriggly line
that represented the forward trench, drew lines from his machine-gun
emplacements to the red-inked crosses of the German wire entanglements,
frowned and cogitated over the pencil crosses placed by the O.C. of the
relieved battalion where the lurking-places of German maxims were
suspected.  Afterwards he made a long and exhaustive tour of the muddy
trenches, concealing his anxiety from the junior officers, and speaking
lightly and cheerfully to them--following therein truly and
instinctively the first principle of all good commanders to show the
greater confidence as they feel it the less.  He returned to the
Battalion Headquarters, situated in a very grimy cellar of a
shell-wrecked house behind the support trenches, and partook of a
belated dinner of tinned food flavoured with grit and plaster dust.

The signallers were established with their telephones at the foot of
the stone stair outside the cellar door, and into this cramped
'exchange' ran the telephone wires from the companies in the trenches
and from the Brigade Headquarters a mile or two back.  Every word that
the signallers spoke was plainly heard in the cellar, and every time
the Colonel heard 'Hello!  Yes, this is H.Q.,' he sat motionless
waiting to hear what message was coming through.  When his meal was
finished he resisted an impulse to 'phone' all the forward trenches,
asking how things were, unlaced his boots, paused, and laced them up
again, lay down on a very gritty mattress in a corner of the cellar,
and tried to sleep.  For the first hour every rattle of rifle fire,
every thud of a gun, every call on the telephone brought him up on his
pillow, his ears straining to catch any further sound.  After about the
tenth alarm he reasoned the matter out with himself something after
this fashion:--

'The battalion is occupying a position that has not been attacked for
weeks, and it is disposed as other Regular battalions have been, and no
more and no less effectually than they.  There isn't an officer or man
in the forward trenches who cannot be fully trusted to keep a look-out
and to resist an attack to the last breath.  There is no need to worry
or keep awake, and to do so is practically admitting a distrust of the
7th K.O.A.  I trust them fully, and therefore I ought to go to sleep.'

Whereupon the Colonel sat up, took off his wet boots, lay down again,
resolutely closed his eyes--and remained wide awake for the rest of the
night.

But if there be any who feel inclined to smile at the nervousness of an
elderly, stoutish, and constitutionally easy-going Colonel of
Territorials, I would remind them of a few facts.  The Colonel had
implicit faith in the stout-heartedness, the spirit, the fighting
quality of his battalion.  He had had the handling and the training of
them ever since mobilisation, and he knew every single man of them as
well as they knew themselves.  They had done everything asked of them
and borne light-heartedly rough quarters, bad weather, hard duties.
But--and one must admit it a big and serious 'but'--to-night might be
their real and their first testing in the flame and fire of War.

Even as no man knows how he will feel and behave under fire, until he
has been under fire, so no regiment or battalion knows.  The men were
razor-keen for action, but that very keenness might lead them into a
rashness, a foolhardiness, which would precipitate action.  The Colonel
believed they would stand and fight to the last gasp and die to the
last man rather than yield a yard of their trench.  He believed that of
them even as he believed it of himself--but he did not know it of them
any more than he knew it of himself.  Men, apparently every bit as good
as him, had before now developed some 'white streak,' some folly, some
stupidity, in the stress and strain of action.  Other regiments,
apparently as sound as his, had in the records of history failed or
broken in a crisis.  He and his were new and untried, and military
commanders for innumerable ages had doubted and mistrusted new and
untried troops.

Well . . . he had done his best, and at least the next twenty-four
hours should show him how good or how bad that best had been.  But
meantime let no one blame him for his anxiety or nervousness.

And meantime the 7th Asterisks, serenely unaware of their Commanding
Officer's worry and doubt--and to be fair to them and to him it must be
stated that they would have flouted scornfully any suggestion that he
had held them--joyfully set about the impossible task of making
themselves comfortable, and the congenial one of making the enemy
extremely uncomfortable.  The sentries were duly posted, and spent an
entirely unnecessary proportion of their time peering over the parapet.

There were more Verey pistol lights burnt during the night than would
have sufficed a trench-hardened battalion for a month, and the Germans
opposite, having in hand a little job of adding to their barbed-wire
defences, were puzzled and rather annoyed by the unwonted display of
fireworks.  They foolishly vented their annoyance by letting off a few
rounds of rapid fire at the opposition, and the 7th Asterisks eagerly
accepted the challenge, manned their parapets and proceeded to pour a
perfect hurricane of fire back to the challengers.  The Germans, with
the exception of about a dozen picked sharp-shooting snipers, ceased to
fire and took careful cover.

The snipers, daring the Asterisks' three minutes of activity, succeeded
in scoring seven hits, and the Asterisks found themselves in possession
of a casualty list of one killed and six wounded before the Company and
platoon commanders had managed to stop the shooting and get the men
down under cover.

When the shooting had ceased and the casualties had been cleared out on
their way to the dressing station, the Asterisks recharged their
rifle-magazines and spent a good hour discussing the incident, those
men who had been beside the casualties finding themselves and their
narratives of how it happened in great demand.

And one of the casualties, having insisted, when his slight wound was
dressed, on returning to the trench, had to deliver a series of
lecturettes on what it felt like, what the Medical said, how the other
fellows were, how the dressing station was worked, and similar
subjects, with pantomimic illustrations of how he was holding his rifle
when the bullet came through the loophole, and how he was still fully
capable of continuing to hold it.

A heavy shower dispersed the audiences, those of the men who were free
to do so returning to muddy and leaky dug-outs, and the remainder
taking up their positions at the parapet.  There was as much chance of
these latter standing on their heads as there was of their going to
sleep, but the officers made so many visiting rounds to be certain of
their sentries' wakefulness, and spent so long on each round and on the
fascinating peeps over into 'the neutral ground,' that the end of one
round was hardly completed before it was time to begin the next.

Occasionally the Germans sent up a flare, and every man and officer of
the K.O.A. who was awake stared out through the loopholes in
expectation of they knew not what.  They also fired off a good many
'pistol lights,' and it was nearly 4 A.M. before the Germans ventured
to send out their working-party over the parapet.  Once over, they
followed the usual routine, throwing themselves flat in the mud and
rank grass when a light flared up and remaining motionless until it
died out, springing to silent and nervous activity the instant darkness
fell, working mostly by sense of touch, and keeping one eye always on
the British parapet for the first hint of a soaring light.

The 'neutral ground' between the trenches was fairly thickly scattered
over with dead, the majority of them German, and it was easy enough for
an extra score or so of men, lying prone and motionless as the dead
themselves, to be overlooked in the shifting light.  The work was
proceeding satisfactorily and was almost completed when a mischance led
to the exposure of the party.

One of the workers was in the very act of crawling over the parapet
when a British light flared.  Half-way over he hesitated one moment
whether to leap back or forward, then hurriedly leapt down in front of
the parapet and flung himself flat on his face.  He was just too late.
The lights revealed him exactly as he leapt, and a wildly excited
King's Own Asterisk pulled back the cut-off of his magazine and opened
rapid fire, yelling frenziedly at the same time that they were
coming--were coming--were attacking--were charging--look out!

Every K.O.A. on his feet lost no time in joining in the 'mad minute'
and every K.O.A. who had been asleep or lying down was up in a
twinkling and blazing over the parapet before his eyes were properly
opened.  The machine-gun detachment were more circumspect if no less
eager.  The screen before the wide loophole was jerked away and the fat
barrel of the maxim peered out and swung smoothly from side to side,
looking for a fair mark.

It had not long to wait.  The German working-party 'stuck it out' for a
couple of minutes, but with light after light flaming into the sky and
exposing them pitilessly, with the British trench crackling and
spitting fire from end to end, with the bullets hissing and whistling
over them, and hailing thick amongst them, their nerves gave and broke;
in a frantic desire for life and safety they flung away the last chance
of life and safety their prone and motionless position gave them.

They scrambled to their feet, a score of long-cloaked, crouching
figures, glaringly plain and distinct in the vivid light, and turned to
run for their trench.  The sheeting bullets caught half a dozen and
dropped them before they had well stood up, stumbled another two or
three over before they could stir a couple of paces, went on cutting
down the remainder swiftly and mercilessly.  The remainder ran,
stumbling and tripping and staggering, their legs hampered by their
long coats, their feet clogged and slipping in the wet, greasy mud.
The eye glaring behind the swinging sights of the maxim caught that
clear target of running figures, the muzzle began to jet forth a stream
of fire and hissing bullets, the cartridge belt to click, racing
through the breach.

The bullets cut a path of flying mud-splashes across the bare ground to
the runners, played a moment about their feet, then lifted and swept
across and across--once, twice, thrice.  On the first sweep the
thudding bullets found their targets, on the second they still caught
some of them, on the third they sang clear across and into the parapet,
for no figures were left to check their flight.  The working party was
wiped out.

It took the excited riflemen another minute or two to realise that
there was nothing left to shoot at except an empty parapet and some
heaps of huddled forms; but the pause to refill the empty magazines
steadied them, and then the fire died away.

The whole thing was over so quickly that the rifle fire had practically
ceased before the Artillery behind had time to get to work, and by the
time they had flung a few shells to burst in thunder and lightning roar
and flash over the German parapet, the storm of rifle fire had
slackened and passed.  Hearing it die away, the gunners also stopped,
reloaded, and laid their pieces, waited the reports of their Forward
Officers, and on receiving them turned into their dug-outs and their
blankets again.

But the batteries covering the front held by the Asterisks remained by
their guns and continued to throw occasional rounds into the German
trenches.  Their Forward Officers had passed on the word received from
the Asterisks of a sharp attack quickly beaten back--that being the
natural conclusion drawn from that leaping figure on the parapet and
the presence of Germans in the open--and the guns kept up a slow rate
of fire more with the idea of showing the enemy that the defence was
awake and waiting for them than of breaking up another possible attack.
The battalions of Regulars to either side of the Asterisks had more
correctly diagnosed the situation as 'false alarm' or 'ten rounds rapid
on working parties,' and their supporting Artillery did no more than
carry on their usual night firing.

The result of it all was that the Asterisks throughout the night
enjoyed the spectacle of some very pretty artillery fire in the dark on
and over the trenches facing them, and also the much less pleasing one
of German shells bursting in the British trenches, and especially in
those of the K.O.A.  They had the heaviest share on the simple and
usual principle of retaliation, whereby if our Section A of trenches is
shelled we shell the German section facing it, and _vice versa_.

The fire was by no means heavy as artillery fire goes these days, and
at first the Asterisks were not greatly disturbed by it.  But even a
rate of three or four shells every ten or fifteen minutes is galling,
and necessitates the keeping of close cover or the loss of a fair
number of men.  It took half a dozen casualties to impress firmly on
the Asterisks the need of keeping cover.  Shell casualties have an
extremely ugly look, and some of the Asterisks felt decidedly squeamish
at sight of theirs--especially of one where the casualty had to be
collected piece by piece, and removed in a sack.

For an hour before dawn the battalion 'stood to,' lining the trench
with loaded rifles ready after the usual and accepted fashion,
shivering despite their warm clothing and mufflers, and woollen caps
and thick great-coats in the raw-edged cold of the breaking day.  For
an hour they stood there listening to the whine of overhead bullets and
the sharp 'slap' of well-aimed ones in the parapet, the swish and crash
of shells, the distant patter of rifle fire and the boom of the guns.

That hour is perhaps always the worst of the twenty-four.  The rousing
from sleep, the turning out from warm or even from wet blankets, the
standing still in a water-logged trench, with everything--fingers and
clothes and rifle and trench-sides--cold and wet and clammy to the
touch, and smeared with sticky mud and clay, all combine to make the
morning 'stand to arms' an experience that no amount of repetition ever
accustoms one to or makes more bearable.

Even the Asterisks, fresh and keen and enthusiastic as they were, with
all the interest that novelty gave to the proceedings, found the hour
long-drawn and trying; and it was with intense relief that they saw the
frequently consulted watches mark the finish of the time, and received
the word to break off from their vigil.

They set about lighting fires and boiling water for tea, and frying a
meagre bacon ration in their mess-tin lids, preparing and eating their
breakfast.  The meal over, they began on their ordinary routine work of
daily trench life.

Picked men were told off as snipers to worry and harass the enemy.
They were posted at loopholes and in various positions that commanded a
good outlook, and they fired carefully and deliberately at loopholes in
the enemy parapet, at doors and windows of more or less wrecked
buildings in rear of the German lines, at any and every head or hand
that showed above the German parapet.  In the intervals of firing they
searched through their glasses every foot of parapet, every yard of
ground, every tree or bush, hayrick or broken building that looked a
likely spot to make cover for a sniper on the other side.  If their eye
caught the flash of a rifle, the instantly vanishing spurt of haze or
hot air--too thin and filmy to be called smoke--that spot was marked
down, long and careful search made for the hidden sniper, and a sort of
Bisley 'disappearing target' shoot commenced, until the opponent was
either hit or driven to abandon his position.

The enemy's snipers were, of course, playing exactly the same game, and
either because they were more adept at it, or because the Asterisks'
snipers were more reluctant to give up a position after it was
'spotted' and hung on gamely, determined to fight it out, a slow but
steady tally was added to the Asterisks' casualty list.

Along the firing and communication trenches parties set to work of
various sorts, bailing out water from the trench bottom, putting in
brushwood or brick foundations, building up and strengthening dug-outs
and parapets, filling sandbags in readiness for night work and repairs
on any portion damaged by shell fire.

By now they were learning to keep well below the parapet, not to linger
in portions of the communication trench that were enfiladed by
shrapnel, to stoop low and pass quickly at exposed spots where the
snipers waited a chance to catch an unwary head.  They had learned to
press close and flat against the face of the trench or to get well down
at the first hint of the warning rush of an approaching shell; they
were picking up neatly and quickly all the worst danger spots and
angles and corners to be avoided except in time of urgent need.

One thing more was needed to complete their education in the routine of
trench warfare, and the one thing came about noon just as the Asterisks
were beginning to feel pleasant anticipations of the dinner hour.  A
faint and rather insignificant 'bang' sounded out in front.  The
Asterisks never even noticed it, but next moment when something fell
with a thudding 'splosh' on the wet ground behind the trench the men
nearest the spot lifted their heads and stared curiously.  Another
instant and with a thunderous roar and a leaping cloud of thick smoke
the bomb burst.  The men ducked hastily, but one or two were not quick
enough or lucky enough to escape, although at that short distance they
were certainly lucky in escaping with nothing worse than flesh wounds
from the fragments of old iron, nails and metal splinters that whirled
outwards in a circle from the bursting bomb.  Everyone heard the second
shot and many saw the bomb come over in a high curve.

As it dropped it appeared to be coming straight down into the trench
and every man had an uncomfortable feeling that the thing was going to
fall directly on him.  Actually it fell short and well out in front of
the trench and only a few splinters and a shower of earth whizzed over
harmlessly high.

The third was another 'over' and the fourth another 'short' and the
Asterisks, unaware of the significance of the closing-in 'bracket'
began to feel relief and a trifle of contempt for this clumsy
slow-moving and visible missile.  Their relief and contempt vanished
for ever when the fifth bomb fell exactly in the trench, burst with a
nerve-shattering roar, and filled the air with whistling fragments and
dense choking, blinding smoke and stench.

Having got their range and angle accurately, the Germans proceeded to
hurl bomb after bomb with the most horrible exactness and persistency.
For two hundred yards up and down the trench there was no escape from
the blast of the bursts.  It was no good crouching low, or flattening
up against the parapet; for the bombs dropped straight down and struck
out backwards and sideways and in every direction.

Even the roofed-in dug-outs gave no security.  A bomb that fell just
outside the entrance of one dug-out, riddled one man lying inside, and
blew another who was crouching in the entrance outwards bodily across
the trench, stunning him with the shock and injuring him in a score of
places.  Plenty of the bombs fell short of the trench, but too many
fell fairly in it.  When one did so there was only one thing to do--to
throw oneself violently down in the mud of the trench bottom, and wait,
heart in mouth, for the crash of the explosion.

The Artillery, on being appealed to, pounded the front German trench
for an hour, but made no impression on the trench-mortar.  The O.C. of
the Asterisks telephoned the Brigade asking what he was to do to stop
the torment and destruction, and in reply was told he ought to bomb
back at the bomb-throwers.  But the Asterisks had already tried that
without any success.  The distance was too great for hand bombs to
reach, and the men appeared to make poor shooting with the rifle
grenades.

'Why not try the trench-mortar?' asked the Brigade; to which the
harassed Colonel replied conclusively because he didn't possess one,
hadn't a bomb for one, and hadn't a man or officer who knew how to use
one.

The Brigade apparently learnt this with surprise, and replied vaguely
that steps would be taken, and that an officer and detachment of his
battalion must receive a course of instruction.

The Colonel replied with spirit that he was glad to hear all this, but
in the meantime what was he to do to prevent his battalion being blown
piecemeal out of their trenches?

It all ended eventually in the arrival of a trench-mortar and a pile of
bombs from somewhere and a very youthful and very much annoyed
Artillery subaltern from somewhere else.  The Colonel was most
enormously relieved by these arrivals, but his high hopes were a good
deal dashed by the artilleryman.

That youth explained that he was in effect totally ignorant of
trench-mortars and their ways, that he had been shown the thing a week
ago, had it explained to him--so far as such a rotten toy could be
explained--and had fired two shots from it.  However, he said briskly,
if off-handedly, he was ready to have a go with it and see what he
could do.

The trench-mortar was carried down to the forward trench, and on the
way down behind it the youngster discoursed to the O.C. of the
Asterisks on the 'awful rot' of a gunner officer being chased off on to
a job like this--any knowledge of gunnery being entirely superfluous
and, indeed, wasted on such a kid's toy.  And the O.C., looking at the
trench-mortar being prepared, made a mental remark about 'the mouths of
babes' and the wise words thereof.

The weapon is easily described.  It was a mere cylinder of cast iron,
closed at one end, open at the other, and with a roomy 'touch-hole' at
the closed end.  The carriage consisted of two uprights on a base, with
mortar between them and pointing up at an angle of about forty-five
degrees.

The charge was little packets of gunpowder tied up in paper in measured
doses.  The bomb was a tin-can--an empty jam-tin, mostly--filled with a
bursting charge and fragments of metal, and with an inch or so of the
fuse protruding.

The piece was loaded by throwing a few packets of powder into the
muzzle, poking them with a piece of stick to burst the paper, and
carefully sliding the bomb down on top of the charge.  A length of fuse
was poked into the touch-hole and the end lit, sufficient length being
given to allow the lighter to get round the nearest corner before the
mortar fired.

The whole thing was too rubbishy and cheaply and roughly made to have
been fit for use as a 'kid's toy,' as the subaltern called it.  To
imagine it being used as a weapon of precision in a war distinguished
above all others as one of scientifically perfect weapons and
implements was ridiculous beyond words.

The Colonel watched the business of loading and laying with amazement
and consternation.

'Is it possible to--er--hit anything with that?' he asked.

'Well, more or less,' said the youthful subaltern doubtfully.  'There's
a certain amount of luck about it, I believe.'

'But why on earth,' said the Colonel, beginning to wax indignant, 'do
they send such a museum relic here to fight a reasonably accurate and
decidedly destructive mortar?'

The subaltern chuckled.

'That's not any museum antique,' he said.  'That's a Mortar, Trench,
Mark Something or other--the latest, the most modern weapon of the kind
in the British Army.  It was made, I believe, in the Royal Arsenal, and
it is still being made and issued for use in the field--the Engineers
collecting the empty jam-pots and converting them to bombs.  They've
only had four or five months, y'see, to evolve a----  look out, sir!
Here's one of theirs!'

The resulting explosion flung a good deal of mud over the parapet on to
the Colonel and the subaltern, and raised the youth to wrath.

'Beasts!' he said angrily, and poked a length of fuse in the
touch-hole.  'Get away round the traverse!' he ordered the mob near
him.  'And you'd better go, too, sir--as I will when I've touched her
off.  Y'see, she's just as liable to explode as not, and, if she does,
she'd make more mess in this trench than I can ever hope she will in a
German one.'

The Colonel retired round the nearest traverse, and next moment the
lieutenant plunged round after him just as the mortar went off with a
resounding bang.  Every man in the trench watched the bomb rise,
twirling and twisting, and fall again, turning end over end towards the
German trench.

At about the moment he judged it should burst, the lieutenant poked his
head up over the parapet, but bobbed down hurriedly as a couple of
bullets sang past his ear.

'Pretty nippy lot across there!' he said.  'I must find a loophole to
observe from.  And p'r'aps you'd tell some of your people to keep up a
brisk fire on that parapet to stop 'em aiming too easy at me.  Now
we'll try another.'

At the next bang from the opposite trench he risked another quick peep
over and this time ducked down with an exclamation of delight.

'I've spotted him.' he said.  'Just caught the haze of his smoke.  Down
the trench about fifty yards.  So we'll try trail-left a piece--or
would if this old drain-pipe had a trail.'

He relaid his mortar carefully, and fired again.  Having no sights or
arrangement whatever for laying beyond a general look over the line of
its barrel and a pinch more or less of powder in the charge, it can
only be called a piece of astounding good luck that the jam-pot bomb
fell almost fairly on the top of the German mortar.  There was a most
satisfying uproar and eddying volume of smoke and eruption of earth,
and the lieutenant stared through a loophole dumb-founded with delight.

'I'll swear,' he said, 'that our old Plum-and-Apple pot never made a
burst that big.  I do believe it must have flopped down on the other
fellow and blown up one or two of his bombs same time.  I say, isn't
that the most gorgeous good luck?  Well, good enough to go on with.
We'll have a chance for some peaceful practice now?'

Apparently, since the other mortar ceased to fire, it must have been
put out of action, and the lieutenant spent a useful hour pot-shotting
at the other trench.

The shooting was, to say the least, erratic.  With apparently the same
charge and the same tilt on the mortar, one bomb would drop yards short
and another yards over.  If one in three went within three yards of the
trench, if one in six fell in the trench, it was, according to the
lieutenant, a high average, and as much as any man had a right to
expect.  But at the end of the hour, the Asterisks, who had been hugely
enjoying the performance, and particularly the cessation of German
bombs, were horrified to hear a double report from the German trench,
and to see two dark blobs fall twinkling from the sky.

The following hour was a nightmare.  Their trench-mortar was completely
out-shot.  Those fiendish bombs rained down one after the other along
the trench, burst in devastating circles of flame and smoke and
whirling metal here, there, and everywhere.

The lieutenant replied gallantly.  A dozen times he had to shift
position, because he was obviously located, and was being deliberately
bombarded.

But at last the gunner officer had to retire from the contest.  His
mortar showed distinct signs of going to pieces--the muzzle-end having
begun to split and crack, and the breech-end swelling in a
dangerous-looking bulge.

'Look at her,' said the lieutenant disgustedly.  'Look at her opening
out an' unfolding herself like a split-lipped ox-eyed daisy.  Anyhow,
this is my last bomb, so the performance must close down till we get
some more jam-pots loaded up.'

The enemy mortars were evidently of better make, for they continued to
bombard the suffering Asterisks for another full hour.  They did a fair
amount of damage to the trench and parapet, and the Germans seized the
opportunity of the Asterisks' attempted repairs to put in some maxim
practice and a few rounds of shrapnel.

Altogether, the 7th King's Own Asterisks had a lively twenty-four hours
of it, and their casualties were heavy, far beyond the average of an
ordinary day's trench work.  Forty-seven they totalled in all--nine
killed and thirty-six wounded.

They were relieved that night, this short spell being designed as a
sort of introduction or breaking in or blooding to the game.

Taking it all round, the Asterisks were fully pleased with themselves.
Their Colonel had complimented them on their behaviour, and they spent
the next few days back in the reserve, speculating on what the papers
would say about them.  The optimists were positive they would have a
full column at least.

'We beat on an attack,' they said.  'There's sure to be a bit in about
that.  And look at the way we were shelled, and our Artillery shelled
back.  There was a pretty fair imitation of a first-class battle for a
bit, and most likely there would have been one if we hadn't scuppered
that attack.  And don't forget the bombing we stuck out--and the
casualties.  Doesn't every one tell us they were extra heavy?  And I
believe we are about the first Terrier lot to be in a heavy "do" in the
forward trenches.  You see--it'll be a column at least, and may be two.'

The pessimists declared that two or three paragraphs were all they
could expect, on account of the silly fashion of not publishing details
of engagements.  'And whatever mention we do get,' they said, 'won't
say a word about the K.O.A.  It'll just be a "battalion," or maybe "a
Territorial battalion," and no more.'

'Anyway,' said the optimists, 'we'll be able to write home to our
people and our pals, and tell them it was us, though the despatches
don't mention us by name.'

But optimists and pessimists alike grabbed the papers that came to hand
each day, and searched eagerly for the Eye-witness' reports, or the
official despatch or communiqué.  At last there reached them the paper
with the communiqué dated the day after their day in the trenches.
They stared at it, and then hurried over the other pages, turned back,
and examined them carefully one by one.  There were columns and columns
about a strike and other purely domestic matters at home, but not a
word about the 7th Kings Own Asterisks (Territorial), not a word about
their nine dead and thirty-six wounded--not a word; and, more than
that, barely a word about the Army, or the Front, or the War.

'There might be no bloomin' war at all to look at this paper,' said one
in disgust.  'There's plenty about speeding-up the factories (an' it's
about time they speeded up some one to make something better'n that
drain-pipe or jam-pot bomb we saw), plenty about those loafin' swine at
home, but not a bloomin' word about us 'ere.  It makes me fair sick.'

'P'raps there wasn't time to get it in,' suggested one of the most
persistent optimists.  'P'raps they'll have it in to-morrow.'

'P'raps,' said the disgusted one contemptuously, 'an' p'raps not.  Look
at the date of that despatch.  Isn't that for the day we was in the
thick of it?  An' look what it says.  Don't that make you sick?'

And in truth it did make them 'sick.'  For their night and day of
fighting--their defeat of an attack, their suffering under shell,
bullet, and bomb, their nine killed and their thirty-six wounded--were
all ignored and passed by.

The despatch for that day said simply: 'On the Western Front there is
nothing to report.  All remains quiet.'



THE PROMISE OF SPRING

'_Only when the fields and roads are sufficiently dry will the
favourable moment have come for an advance._'--EXTRACT FROM OFFICIAL
DESPATCH.


It is Sunday, and the regiment marching out towards the firing line and
its turn of duty in the trenches meets on the road every now and then a
peasant woman on her way to church.  Some of the women are young and
pretty, some old and wrinkled and worn; they walk alone or in couples
or threes, but all alike are dressed in black, and all alike tramp
slowly, dully, without spring to their step.  Over them the sun shines
in a blue sky, round them the birds sing and the trees and fields
spread green and fresh; the flush of healthy spring is on the
countryside, the promise of warm, full-blooded summer pulses in the
air.  But there is no hint of spring or summer in the sad-eyed faces or
the listless, slow movements of the women.  It is a full dozen miles to
the firing line, and to eye or ear, unless one knows where and how to
look and listen, there is no sign of anything but peace and pleasant
life in the surroundings.  But these black-clad women do know--know
that the cool green clump of trees over on the hill-side hides a
roofless ruin with fire-blackened walls; that the church spire that for
all their lives they had seen out there over the sky-line is no longer
visible because it lies shell-smitten to a tumbled heap of brick and
stone and mortar; that the glint of white wood and spot of scarlet
yonder in the field is the rough wooden cross with a _képi_ on top
marking the grave of a soldier of France; that down in the hollow just
out of sight are over a score of those cap-crowned crosses; that a
broad belt of those graves runs unbroken across this sunlit face of
France.  They know, too, that those dull booms that travel faintly to
the ear are telling plain of more graves and of more women that will
wear black.  It is little wonder that there are few smiles to be seen
on the faces of these women by the wayside.  They have seen and heard
the red wrath of war, not in the pictures of the illustrated papers,
not in the cinema shows, not even by the word-of-mouth tales of chance
men who have been in it; but at first-hand, with their own eyes and
ears, in the leaping flames of burning homes, in the puffing white
clouds of the shrapnel, the black spouting smoke of the high-explosive,
in the deafening thunder of the guns, the yelling shells, the crash of
falling walls, the groans of wounded men, the screams of frightened
children.  Some of them may have seen the shattered hulks of men borne
past on the sagging stretchers; all of them have seen the laden
ambulance wagons and motors crawling slowly back to the hospitals.

And of these women you do not say, as you would of our women at home,
that they may perhaps have friend or relation, a son, a brother, a
husband, a lover, at the front.  You say with certainty they have one
or other of these, and may have all, that every man they know, of an
age between, say, eighteen and forty, is serving his country in the
field or in the workshops--and mostly in the field--if so be they are
still alive to serve.

The men in the marching khaki regiment know all these things, and there
are respect and sympathy in the glances and the greetings that pass
from them to the women.  'They're good plucked 'uns,' they tell each
other, and wonder how our women at home would shape at this game, and
whether they would go on living in a house that was next door to one
blown to pieces by a shell yesterday, and keep on working in fields
where hardly a day passed without a shell screaming overhead, whether
they'd still go about their work as best they could for six days a week
and then to church on Sunday.

Two women, one young and lissom, the other bent and frail and clinging
with her old arm to the erect figure beside her, stand aside close to
the ditch and watch the regiment tramp by.  'Cheer up, mother,' one man
calls.  'We're goin' to shift the Boshies out for you,' and 'Bong
jewer,' says another, waving his hand.  Another pulls a sprig of lilac
from his cap and thrusts it out as he passes.  'Souvenir!' he says,
lightly, and the young woman catches the blossom and draws herself up
with her eyes sparkling and calls, 'Bonne chance, Messieurs.  Goo-o-o-d
lock.'  She repeats the words over and over while the regiment passes,
and the men answer, 'Bong chawnse' and 'Good luck,' and such scraps of
French as they know--or think they know.  The women stand in the
sunshine and watch them long after they have passed, and then turn
slowly and move on to their church and their prayers.

The regiment tramps on.  It moves with the assured stamp and swing of
men who know themselves and know their game, and have confidence in
their strength and fitness.  Their clothes are faded and
weather-stained, their belts and straps and equipments chafed and worn,
the woodwork of their rifles smooth of butt and shiny of hand-grip from
much using and cleaning.  Their faces bronzed and weather-beaten, and
with a dew of perspiration just damping their foreheads--where men less
fit would be streaming sweat--are full-cheeked and glowing with health,
and cheek and chin razored clean and smooth as a guardsman's going on
church parade.  The whole regiment looks fresh and well set-up and
clean-cut, satisfied with the day and not bothering about the morrow,
magnificently strong and healthy, carelessly content and happy, not
anxious to go out of its way to find a fight, but impossible to move
aside from its way by the fight that does find it--all of which is to
say it looks exactly what it is, a British regiment of the regular
Line, war-hardened by eight or nine months' fighting, moving up from a
four days' rest back into the firing line.

It is fairly early in the day, and the sun, although it is bright
enough to bring out the full colour of the green grass and trees, the
yellow laburnum, and the purple lilac, is not hot enough to make
marching uncomfortable.  The road, a main route between two towns, is
paved with flat cobbles about the size of large bricks, and bordered
mile after mile with tall poplars.  There are farms and hamlets and
villages strung close along the road, and round and about all these
houses are women and children, and many men in khaki, a few dogs, some
pigs perhaps, and near the farms plenty of poultry.  By most of the
farms, too, are orchards and fruit-trees in blossom; and in some of
these lines of horses are ranked or wagons are parked, sheltered by the
trees from aerial observation.  For all this, it must be remembered, is
far enough back from the firing line to be beyond the reach of any but
the longest-range guns--guns so big that they are not likely to waste
some tons of shells on the off-chance of hitting an encampment and
disabling few or many horses or wagons.

Towards noon the regiment swings off the road and halts in a large
orchard; rifles are stood aside, equipments and packs are thrown off,
tunics unbuttoned and flung open or off, and the men drop with puffing
sighs of satisfaction on the springy turf under the shade of the
fruit-trees.  The 'travelling cookers' rumble up and huge cauldrons of
stew and potatoes are slung off, carried to the different companies,
and served steaming hot to the hungry men.  A boon among boons these
same cookers, less so perhaps now that the warmer weather is here, but
a blessing beyond price in the bitter cold and constant wet of the past
winter, when a hot meal served without waiting kept heart in many men
and even life itself in some.  Their fires were lit before the regiment
broke camp this morning, and the dinners have been jolting over the
long miles since sun-up, cooking as comfortably and well as they would
in the best-appointed camp or barrack cook-house.

The men eat mightily, then light their pipes and cigarettes and loll at
their ease.  The trees are masses of clustering pink and white blossom,
the grass is carpeted thick with the white of fallen petals and
splashed with sunlight and shade.  A few slow-moving clouds drift
lazily across the blue sky, the big, fat bees drone their sleepy song
amongst the blossoms, the birds rustle and twitter amongst the leaves
and flit from bough to bough.  It would be hard to find a more peaceful
picture in any country steeped in the most profound peace.  There is
not one jarring note--until the 'honk, honk' of a motor is followed by
the breathless, panting whirr of the engine, and a big car flashes down
the road and past, travelling at the topmost of its top speed.  There
is just time to glimpse the khaki hood and the thick scarlet cross
blazing on a white circle, and the car is gone.  Empty as it is, it is
moving fast, and with luck and a clear road it will be well inside the
danger zone at the back door of the trenches in less than twenty
minutes.  In half an hour perhaps it will have picked up its full load,
and be sliding back smoothly and gently down the cobbled road, swinging
carefully now to this side to avoid some scattered bricks, now to that
to dodge a shell-hole patched with gravel, driven down as tenderly and
gently as it was driven up fiercely and recklessly.

Presently there are a few quiet orders, a few minutes' stir and
movement, a shifting to and fro of khaki against the green and pink and
white . . . and the companies have fallen in and stand in straight
rulered ranks.  A pause, a sharp order or two, and the quick staccato
of 'numbering off' ripples swiftly down the lines; another pause,
another order, the long ranks blur and melt, harden and halt instantly
in a new shape; and evenly and steadily the ranked fours swing off,
turn out into the road, and go tramping down between the poplars.
There has been no flurry, no hustle, no confusion.  The whole thing has
moved with the smoothness and precision and effortless ease of a
properly adjusted, well-oiled machine--which, after all, is just what
the regiment is.  The pace is apparently leisurely, or even lazy, but
it eats up the miles amazingly, and it can be kept up with the shortest
of halts from dawn to dusk.

As the miles unwind behind the regiment the character of the country
begins to change.  There are fewer women and children to be seen now;
there are more roofless buildings, more house-fronts gaping doorless
and windowless, more walls with ragged rents, and tumbled heaps of
brick lying under the yawning black holes.  But the grass is still
green, and the trees thick with foliage, the fields neatly ploughed and
tilled and cultivated, with here and there a staring notice planted on
the edge of a field, where the long, straight drills are sprinkled with
budding green--'Crops sown.  Do not walk here.'  Altogether there is
little sign of the heavy hand of war upon the country, and such signs
as there are remain unobtrusive and wrapped up in springing verdure and
bloom and blossom.  Even the trapping of war, the fighting machine
itself, wears a holiday or--at most--an Easter-peace-manoeuvre
appearance.  A heavy battery has its guns so carefully concealed, so
bowered in green, that it is only the presence of the lounging gunners
and close, searching looks that reveal a few inches of muzzle peering
out towards the hill crest in front.  Scattered about behind the guns,
covered with beautiful green turf, shadowed by growing trees, are the
dwelling-places of the gunners, deep 'dug-outs,' with no visible sign
of their existence except the square, black hole of the doorway.  Out
in the open a man sits with a pair of field-glasses, sweeping the sky.
He is the aeroplane look-out, and at the first sign of a distant speck
in the sky or the drone of an engine he blows shrilly on his whistle;
every man dives to earth or under cover, and remains motionless until
the whistle signals all clear again.  An enemy aeroplane might drop to
within pistol shot and search for an hour without finding a sign of the
battery.

When the regiment swerves off the main road and moves down a winding
side-track over open fields, past tree-encircled farms, and along by
thick-leaved hedges, it passes more of these Jack-in-the-Green
concealed batteries.  All wear the same look of happy and indolent
ease.  Near one is a stream, and the gunners are bathing in an
artificially made pool, plunging and splashing in showers of glistening
drops.  They are like school boys at a picnic.  It seems utterly
ridiculous to think that they are grim fighting men whose business in
life for months past and for months to come is to kill and kill, and to
be killed themselves if such is the fortune of war.  Another battery of
field artillery passes on the road.  But even here, shorn of their
concealing greenery, in all the bare working-and-ready-for-business
apparel of 'marching order,' there is little to suggest real war.
Drivers and gunners are spruce and neat and clean, the horses are sleek
and well fed and groomed till their skins shine like satin in the sun,
the harness is polished and speckless, bits and stirrup-irons and
chains and all the scraps of steel and brass twinkle and wink in bright
and shining splendour.  The ropes of the traces--the last touch of
pride in perfection this, surely--are scrubbed and whitened.  The whole
battery is as spick and span, as complete and immaculate, as if it were
waiting to walk into the arena at the Naval and Military Tournament.
Such scrupulous perfection on active service sounds perhaps unnecessary
or even extravagant.  But the teams, remember, have been for weeks past
luxuriating in comfortable ease miles back in their 'wagon-line'
billets, where the horses have done nothing for days on end but feed
and grow fat, and the drivers nothing but clean up and look after their
teams and harness.  If the guns up in the firing line had to shift
position it has meant no more to the teams than a break of the monotony
for a day or two, a night or two's marching, and a return to the rear.

It is afternoon now, and the regiment is drawing near to the trenches.
The slanting sun begins to throw long shadows from the poplars.  The
open fields are covered with tall grass and hay that moves in long,
slow, undulating waves under the gentle breeze that is rising.  The
sloping light falling on them gives the waves an extraordinary
resemblance to the lazy swell on a summer sea.  Here and there the
fields are splashed with broad bands of vivid colour--the blazing
scarlet of poppies, the glowing cloth-of-gold of yellow mustard, the
rich, deep, splendid blue of corn-flowers.

For one or two miles past the track has been plainly marked by
sign-posts bearing directions to the various trenches and their
entrances.  Now, at a parting of the main track, a group of
'guides'--men from the regiment being relieved from the trenches--wait
the incoming regiment.  Company by company, platoon by platoon, the
regiment moves off to the appointed places, and by company and platoon
the outcoming regiment gathers up its belongings and moves out.  In
most parts of the firing line these changes would only be made after
dark.  But this section bears the reputation of being a 'peaceful' one,
the Germans opposite of being 'tame,' so the reliefs are made in
daytime, more or less in safety.  There has been no serious fighting
here for months.  Constant sniping and bickering between the forward
firing trenches has, of course, always gone on, but there has been no
attack one way or the other, little shell-fire, and few aeroplanes over.

The companies that 'take over' the support trenches get varied
instructions and advice about tending the plants and flowers round the
dugouts, and watering the mustard-and-cress box.  They absorb the
advice, strip their accoutrements and tunics, roll up their
shirt-sleeves, and open the throats, fish out soap and towels from
their packs, and proceed to the pump to lather and wash copiously.  The
companies for the forward trench march down interminable communication
trenches, distribute themselves along the parapet, and also absorb
advice from the outgoing tenants--advice of the positions of enemy
snipers, the hours when activity and when peace may be expected, the
specially 'unhealthy' spots where a sniper's bullet or a bomb must be
watched for, the angles and loopholes that give the best look-out.  The
trenches are deep and well-made, the parapets solidly constructed.  For
four days or six, or as many as the regiment remains 'in,' the range of
the men's vision will be the walls of the trench, the piled sandbags,
the inside of their dug-outs, and a view (taken in peeps through a
loophole or reflected in a periscope mirror) of about fifty to a
hundred yards of 'neutral ground' and the German parapet beyond.  The
neutral ground is covered with a jungle of coarse grass, edged on both
sides with a tangle of barbed wire.

Close to the German parapet are a few black, huddled heaps--dead
Germans, shot down while out in a working party on the wire at night,
and left there to rot, and some killed in their own trench, and tumbled
out over the parapet by their own comrades.  The drowsy silence is
broken at long intervals by a rifle shot; a lark pours out a stream of
joyful thrilling song.

      *      *      *      *      *

A mile or two back from the firing line a couple of big motor-cars
swing over the crest of a gentle rise, swoop down into the dip, and
halt suddenly.  A little group of men with scarlet staff-bands on their
caps and tabs on their collars climb out of the cars and move off the
track into the grass of the hollow.  They prod sticks at the ground,
stamp on it, dig a heel in, to test its hardness and dryness.

The General looks round.  'This is about as low-lying a spot as we have
on this part of front,' he says to his Chief of Staff.  'If it is dry
enough here it must be dry enough everywhere else.'

The Chief assents, and for a space the group stands looking round the
sunlit fields and up at the clear sky.  But their thoughts are not of
the beauties of the peaceful landscape.  The words of the General are
the key to all their thoughts.  For them the promise of spring is a
grim and a sinister thing; to them the springy green turf carpet on the
fields means ground fit to bear the weight of teams and guns, dry
enough to give firm foothold to the ranks of infantry charging across
the death-trap of the neutral ground, where clogging, wet, slippery mud
adds to the minutes under the hail of fire and every minute there in
the open means hundreds of lives lost.  The hard, dry road underfoot
means merely that roads are passable for heavy guns and transport.  The
thick green foliage of the trees is so much cover for guns and the
moving of troops and transport under concealment from air observation;
the clear, blue sky promises the continuance of fine weather, the final
release from the inactivity of the trenches.  To these men the 'Promise
of Spring' is the promise of the crescendo of battle and slaughter.

The General and his Staff are standing in the middle of a wide patch of
poppies, spread out in a bright scarlet that matches exactly the red
splashes on the brows and throats of the group.  They move slowly back
towards the cars, and as they walk the red ripples and swirls against
their boots and about their knees.

One might imagine them wading knee-deep in a river of blood.



THE ADVANCE

'_The attack has resulted in our line being advanced from one to two
hundred yards along a front of over one thousand yards._'--OFFICIAL
DESPATCH.


Down to the rawest hand in the latest-joined drafts, everyone knew for
a week before the attack commenced that 'something was on,' and for
twenty-four hours before that the 'something' was a move of some
importance, no mere affair of a battalion or two, or even of brigades,
but of divisions and corps and armies.  There had been vague stirrings
in the regiments far behind the firing line 'in rest,' refittings and
completings of kits, reissuing of worn equipments, and a most ominous
anxiety that each man was duly equipped with an 'identity disc,' the
tell-tale little badge that hangs always round the neck of a man on
active service and that bears the word of who he is when he is brought
in wounded--who he was when brought in dead.  The old hands judged all
the signs correctly and summed them up in a sentence, 'Being fattened
for the slaughter,' and were in no degree surprised when the sudden
order came to move.  Those farthest back moved up the first stages by
daylight, but when they came within reach of the rumbling guns they
were halted and bivouacked to wait for night to cloak their movements
from the prying eyes of the enemy 'planes.  The enemy might
have--probably had--an inkling of the coming attack; but they might not
know exactly the portion of front selected for the heaviest pressure,
and this must be kept secret till the last possible moment.  So the
final filing up into the forward and support trenches was done by
night, and was so complete by daylight that no sign of unwonted
movement could be discerned from the enemy trenches and observing
stations when day broke.

It was a beautiful morning--soft and mildly warm and sunny, with just a
slight haze hanging low to tone the growing light, and, incidentally,
to delay the opening of fire from the guns.  Anyone standing midway
between the forward firing trenches might have looked in vain for
living sign of the massed hordes waiting the word to be at each other's
throats.  Looking forward from behind the British lines, it could be
seen that the trenches and parapets were packed with men; but no man
showed head over parapet, and, seen from the enemy's side, the parapets
presented blank, lifeless walls, the trenches gave no glimpse of life.
All the bustle and movement of the night before was finished.  At
midnight every road and track leading to the forward trenches had been
brimming with men, with regiments tramping slowly or squatting stolidly
by the roadside, smoking much and talking little, had been crawling
with transport, with ammunition carts, and ambulances and
stretcher-parties, and sappers heavily laden with sandbags and rolls of
barbed wire.  The trenches--support, communication, and firing--had
trickled with creeping rivulets of khaki caps and been a-bristle with
bobbing rifle-barrels.  Further back amongst the lines of guns the last
loads of ammunition were rumbling up to the batteries, the last shells
required to 'complete establishment'--and over-complete it--were being
stowed in safe proximity to the guns.  At midnight there were scores of
thousands of men and animals busily at work with preparations for the
slaughter-pen of the morrow.  Before midnight came again the bustle
would be renewed, and the circling ripples of activity would be
spreading and widening from the central splash of the battle front till
the last waves washed back to Berlin and London, brimming the hospitals
and swirling through the munition factories.  But now at daybreak the
battle-field was steeped in brooding calm.  Across the open space of
the neutral ground a few trench periscopes peered anxiously for any
sign of movement, and saw none; the batteries' 'forward observing
officers,' tucked away in carefully chosen and hidden look-outs,
fidgeted with wrist-watches and field-glasses, and passed back by
telephone continual messages about the strength of the growing light
and the lifting haze.  An aeroplane droned high overhead, and an
'Archibald' (anti-aircraft gun) or two began to pattern the sky about
it with a trail of fleecy white smoke-puffs.  The 'plane sailed on and
out of sight, the smoke-puffs and the wheezy barks of 'Archibald'
receding after it.  Another period of silence followed.  It was broken
by a faint report like the sound of a far-off door being slammed, and
almost at the same instant there came to the ear the faint thin whistle
of an approaching shell.  The whistle rose to a rush and a roar that
cut off abruptly in a thunderous bang.  The shell pitched harmlessly on
the open ground between the forward and support trenches.  Again came
that faint 'slam,' this time repeated by four, and the 'bouquet' of
four shells crumped down almost on top of the support line.  The four
crashes might have been a signal to the British guns.  About a dozen
reports thudded out quickly and separately, and then in one terrific
blast of sound the whole line broke out in heavy fire.  The infantry in
the trenches could distinguish the quick-following bangs of the guns
directly in line behind them, could separate the vicious swish and rush
of the shells passing immediately over their heads.  Apart from these,
the reports blent in one long throbbing pulse of noise, an
indescribable medley of moanings, shrieks, and whistling in the air
rent by the passing shells.  So ear-filling and confused was the
clamour that the first sharp, sudden bursts of the enemy shells over
our trenches were taken by the infantry for their own artillery's
shells falling short; but a very few moments proved plainly enough that
the enemy were replying vigorously to our fire.  They had the ranges
well marked, too, and huge rents began to show in our parapets, strings
of casualties began to trickle back to the dressing stations in a
stream that was to flow steady and unbroken for many days and nights.
But the enemy defences showed more and quicker signs of damage,
especially at the main points, where the massed guns were busy
breaching the selected spots.  Here the lighter guns were pouring a
hurricane of shrapnel on the dense thickets of barbed-wire
entanglements piled in loose loops and coils, strung in a criss-cross
network between pegs and stakes along the edge of the neutral ground;
the howitzers and heavies were pounding and hammering at the parapets
and the communication trenches beyond.

For half an hour the appalling uproar continued, the solid earth shook
to the roar of the guns and the crashing of the shells.  By the end of
that time both fronts to a depth of hundreds of yards were shrouded in
a slow-drifting haze of smoke and dust, through which the flashes of
the bursting shell blazed in quick glares of vivid light, and the spots
of their falling were marked by gushes of smoke and upflung billowing
clouds of thick dust.  So far the noise was only and all of guns and
shell fire, but now from far out on one of the flanks a new note began
to weave itself into the uproar--the sharper crackle and clatter of
rifle and machine-gun fire.

Along the line of front marked for the main assault the guns suddenly
lifted their fire and commenced to pour it down further back, although
a number of the lighter guns continued to sweep the front parapet with
gusts of shrapnel.  And then suddenly it could be seen that the front
British trench was alive and astir.  The infantry, who had been
crouched and prone in the shelter of their trenches, rose suddenly and
began to clamber over the parapets into the open and make their way out
through the maze of their own entanglements.  Instantly the parapet
opposite began to crackle with rifle fire and to beat out a steady
tattoo from the hammering machine-guns.  The bullets hissed and spat
across the open and hailed upon the opposite parapet.  Scores, hundreds
of men fell before they could clear the entanglements to form up in the
open, dropped as they climbed the parapet, or even as they stood up and
raised a head above it.  But the mass poured out, shook itself roughly
into line, and began to run across the open.  They ran for the most
part with shoulders hunched and heads stooped, as men would run through
a heavy rainstorm to a near shelter  And as they ran they stumbled and
fell and picked themselves up and ran again--or crumpled up and lay
still or squirming feebly.  As the line swept on doggedly it thinned
and shredded into broken groups.  The men dropped under the rifle
bullets, singly or in twos and threes; the bursting shells tore great
gaps in the line, snatching a dozen men at a mouthful; here and there,
where it ran into the effective sweep of a maxim, the line simply
withered and dropped and stayed still in a string of huddled heaps
amongst and on which the bullets continued to drum and thud.  The open
ground was a full hundred yards across at the widest point where the
main attack was delivering.  Fifty yards across, the battalion
assaulting was no longer a line, but a scattered series of groups like
beads on a broken string; sixty yards across and the groups had
dwindled to single men and couples with desperately long intervals
between; seventy yards, and there were no more than odd occasional men,
with one little bunch near the centre that had by some extraordinary
chance escaped the sleet of bullets; at eighty yards a sudden swirl of
lead caught this last group--and the line at last was gone, wiped out,
the open was swept clear of those dogged runners.  The open ground was
dotted thick with men, men lying prone and still, men crawling on hands
and knees, men dragging themselves slowly and painfully with trailing,
useless legs, men limping, hobbling, staggering, in a desperate
endeavour to get back to their parapet and escape the bullets and
shrapnel that still stormed down upon them.  The British gunners
dropped their ranges again, and a deluge of shells and shrapnel burst
crashing and whistling upon the enemy's front parapet.  The rifle fire
slackened and almost died, and the last survivors of the charge had
such chance as was left by the enemy's shells to reach the shelter of
their trench.  Groups of stretcher-bearers leaped out over the parapet
and ran to pick up the wounded, and hard on their heels another line of
infantry swarmed out and formed up for another attack.  As they went
forward at a run the roar of rifles and machine-guns swelled again, and
the hail of bullets began to sweep across to meet them.  Into the
forward trench they had vacated, the stream of another battalion
poured, and had commenced to climb out in their turn before the
advancing line was much more than half-way across.  This time the
casualties, although appallingly heavy, were not so hopelessly severe
as in the first charge, probably because a salient of the enemy trench
to a flank had been reached by a battalion farther along, and the
devastating enfilading fire of rifles and machine-guns cut off.  This
time the broken remnants of the line reached the barbed wires, gathered
in little knots as the individual men ran up and down along the face of
the entanglements looking for the lanes cut clearest by the sweeping
shrapnel, streamed through with men still falling at every step,
reached the parapet and leaped over and down.  The guns had held their
fire on the trench till the last possible moment, and now they lifted
again and sought to drop across the further lines and the communication
trenches a shrapnel 'curtain' through which no reinforcements could
pass and live.  The following battalion came surging across, losing
heavily, but still bearing weight enough to tell when at last they
poured in over the parapet.

The neutral ground, the deadly open and exposed space, was won.  It had
been crossed at other points, and now it only remained to see if the
hold could be maintained and strengthened and extended.

The fighting fell to a new phase--the work of the short-arm bayonet
thrust and the bomb-throwers.  In the gaps between the points where the
trench was taken the enemy fought with the desperation of trapped rats.
The trench had to be taken traverse by traverse.  The bombers lobbed
their missiles over into the traverse ahead of them in showers, and
immediately the explosions crashed out, swung round the corner with a
rush to be met in turn with bullets or bursting bombs.  Sometimes a
space of two or three traverses was blasted bare of life and rendered
untenable for long minutes on end by a constant succession of grenades
and bombs.  In places, the men of one side or the other leaped up out
of the trench, risking the bullets that sleeted across the level
ground, and emptied a clip of cartridges or hurled half a dozen
grenades down into the trench further along.  But for the most part the
fight raged below ground-level, at times even below the level of the
trench floor, where a handful of men held out in a deep dug-out.  If
the entrance could be reached, a few bombs speedily settled the affair;
but where the defenders had hastily blocked themselves in with a
barricade of sandbags or planks, so that grenades could not be pitched
in, there was nothing left to do but crowd in against the rifle muzzles
that poked out and spurted bullets from the openings, tear down the
defences, and so come at the defenders.  And all the time the captured
trench was pelted by shells--high-explosive and shrapnel.  At the
entrances of the communication trenches that led back to the support
trenches the fiercest fighting raged continually, with men struggling
to block the path with sandbags and others striving to tear them down,
while on both sides their fellows fought over them with bayonet and
butt.  In more than one such place the barricade was at last built by
the heap of the dead who had fought for possession; in others, crude
barriers of earth and sandbags were piled up and fought across and
pulled down and built up again a dozen times.

In the middle of the ferocious individual hand-to-hand fighting a
counter-attack was launched against the captured trench.  A swarm of
the enemy leaped from the next trench and rushed across the twenty or
thirty yards of open to the captured front line.  But the counterattack
had been expected.  The guns caught the attackers as they left their
trench and beat them down in scores.  A line of riflemen had been
installed under cover of what had been the parapet of the enemy front
trench, and this line broke out in 'the mad minute' of rifle fire.  The
shrapnel and the rifles between them smashed the counter-attack before
it had well formed.  It was cut down in swathes and had totally
collapsed before it reached half-way to the captured trench.  But
another was hurled forward instantly, was up out of the trench and
streaming across the open before the infantry had finished re-charging
their magazines.  Then the rifles spoke again in rolling crashes, the
screaming shrapnel pounced again on the trench that still erupted
hurrying men, while from the captured trench itself came hurtling bombs
and grenades.  Smoke and dust leaped and swirled in dense clouds about
the trenches and the open between them, but through the haze the ragged
front fringe of the attack loomed suddenly and pressed on to the very
lip of the trench.  Beyond that point it appeared it could not pass.
The British infantry, cramming full cartridge-clips into their
magazines, poured a fresh cataract of lead across the broken parapet
into the charging ranks, and the ranks shivered and stopped and melted
away beneath the fire, while the remnants broke and fled back to cover.
With a yell the defenders of a moment before became the attackers.
They leaped the trench and fell with the bayonet on the flying
survivors of the counter-attack.  For the most part these were killed
as they fled; but here and there groups of them turned at bay, and in a
dozen places as many fights raged bitterly for a few minutes, while the
fresh attack pushed on to the next trench.  A withering fire poured
from it but could not stop the rush that fought its way on and into the
second-line trench.  From now the front lost connection or cohesion.
Here and there the attackers broke in on the second line, exterminated
that portion of the defence in its path or was itself exterminated
there.  Where it won footing it spread raging to either side along the
trench, shooting, stabbing, flinging hand grenades and bearing down the
defenders by the sheer fury of the attack.  The movement spread along
the line, and with a sudden leap and rush the second line was gained
along a front of nearly a mile.  In parts this attack overshot its
mark, broke through and over the second line and, tearing and hacking
through a network of wire, into the third trench.  In part the second
line still held out; and even after it was all completely taken, the
communication trenches between the first and second line were filled
with combatants who fought on furiously, heedless of whether friend or
foe held trench to front or rear, intent only on the business at their
own bayonet points, to kill the enemy facing them and push in and kill
the ones behind.  Fresh supports pressed into the captured positions,
and, backed by their weight, the attack surged on again in a fresh
spasm of fury.  It secured foothold in great sections of the third
line, and even, without waiting to see the whole of it made good,
attempted to rush the fourth line.  At one or two points the gallant
attempt succeeded, and a handful of men hung on desperately for some
hours, their further advance impossible, their retreat, had they
attempted it, almost equally so, cut off from reinforcements, short of
ammunition, and entirely without bombs or grenades.  When their
ammunition was expended they used rifles and cartridges taken from the
enemy dead in the trench; having no grenades they snatched and hurled
back on the instant any that fell with fuses still burning.  They waged
their unequal fight to the last minute and were killed out to the last
man.

The third line was not completely held or even taken.  One or two
loopholed and machine-gunned dug-out redoubts, or 'keeps,' held out
strenuously, and before they could be reduced--entrance being gained at
last literally by tearing the place down sandbag by sandbag till a hole
was made and grenade after grenade flung in--other parts of the trench
had been recaptured.  The weak point that so often hampers attack was
making itself felt.  The bombers and 'grenadiers' had exhausted the
stock they carried; fresh supplies were scanty, were brought up with
difficulty, and distributed to the most urgently required  places with
still  greater difficulty.  The ammunition carriers had to cross the
open of the old neutral ground, the battered first trench, pass along
communication trenches choked with dead and wounded, or again cross the
open to the second and third line.  All the time they were under the
fire of high-explosive shells and had to pass through a zone or
'barrage' of shrapnel built across their path for just this special
purpose of destroying supports and supplies.  Our own artillery were
playing exactly the same game behind the enemy lines, but in these
lines were ample stores of cartridges and grenades, bombs, and
trench-mortars.  The third and fourth lines were within easy bomb- and
grenade-throwing distance, and were connected by numerous passage-ways.
On this front the contest became a bombing duel, and because the
British were woefully short of bombs and the enemy could throw five to
their one, they were once again 'bombed out' and forced to retire.  But
by now the second trench had been put in some state of defence towards
its new front, and here the British line stayed fast and set its teeth
and doggedly endured the torment of the bombs and the destruction of
the pounding shells.  Without rest or respite they endured till night,
and on through the night, under the glare of flares and the long-drawn
punishment of the shell fire, until the following day brought with the
dawn fresh supports for a renewal of the struggle.  The battered
fragments of the first attacking battalions were withdrawn, often with
corporals for company leaders, and lieutenants or captains commanding
battalions whose full remaining strength would hardly make a company.
The battle might only have been well begun, but at least, thanks to
them and to those scattered heaps lying among the grass, spread in
clumps and circles about the yawning shell-holes, buried beneath the
broken parapets and in the smashed trenches--to them, and those, and
these others passing out with haggard, pain-lined faces, shattered
limbs, and torn bodies on the red, wet stretchers to the dressing
stations, at least, the battle was well begun.  The sappers were hard
at work in the darkness consolidating the captured positions, and these
would surely now be held firm.  Whatever was to follow, these first
regiments had done their share.

Two lines of trenches were taken; the line was advanced--advanced, it
is true, a bare one or two hundred yards, but with lives poured out
like water over each foot of the advance, with every inch of the ground
gained marking a well-spring and fountain-head of a river of pain, of a
suffering beyond all words, of a glory above and beyond all suffering.



A CONVERT TO CONSCRIPTION

'_. . . have maintained and consolidated our position in the captured
trench._'--EXTRACT FROM OFFICIAL DESPATCH.


Number nine-two-ought-three-six, Sapper Duffy, J., 'A' Section,
Southland Company, Royal Engineers, had been before the War plain Jem
Duffy, labourer, and as such had been an ardent anti-militarist,
anti-conscriptionist, and anti-everything else his labour leaders and
agitators told him.  His anti-militarist beliefs were sunk soon after
the beginning of the War, and there is almost a complete story itself
in the tale of their sinking, weighted first by a girl, who looked
ahead no further than the pleasure of walking out with a khaki uniform,
and finally plunged into the deeps of the Army by the gibe of a
stauncher anti-militarist during a heated argument that, 'if he
believed now in fighting, why didn't he go'n fight himself?'  But even
after his enlistment he remained true to his beliefs in voluntary
service, and the account of his conversion to the principles of
Conscription--no half-and-half measures of 'military training' or rifle
clubs or hybrid arrangements of that sort, but out-and-out
Conscription--may be more interesting, as it certainly is more typical,
of the conversion of more thousands of members of the Serving Forces
than will ever be known--until those same thousands return to their
civilian lives and the holding of their civilian votes.

      *      *      *      *      *

By nightfall the captured trench--well, it was only a courtesy title to
call it a trench.  Previous to the assault, the British guns had
knocked it about a good deal, bombs and grenades had helped further to
disrupt it in the attacks and counter-attacks during the day, and
finally, after it was captured and held, the enemy had shelled and
high-explosived it out of any likeness to a real trench.  But the
infantry had clung throughout the day to the ruins, had beaten off
several strong counter-attacks, and in the intervals had done what they
could to dig themselves more securely in and re-pile some heaps of
sandbags from the shattered parapet on the trench's new front.  The
casualties had been heavy, and since there was no passage from the
front British trench to the captured portion of the German except
across the open of the 'neutral' ground, most of the wounded and all
the killed had had to remain under such cover as could be found in the
wrecked trench.  The position of the unwounded was bad enough and
unpleasant enough, but it was a great deal worse for the wounded.  A
bad wound damages mentally as well as physically.  The 'casualty' is
out of the fight, has had a first field dressing placed on his wound,
has been set on one side to be removed at the first opportunity to the
dressing station and the rear.  He can do nothing more to protect
himself or take such cover as offers.  He is in the hands of the
stretcher-bearers and must submit to be moved when and where they think
fit.  And in this case the casualties did not even have the
satisfaction of knowing that every minute that passed meant a minute
farther from the danger zone, a minute nearer to safety and to the
doctors, and the hospitals' hope of healing.  Here they had to be
throughout the long day, hearing the shriek of each approaching shell,
waiting for the crash of its fall, wondering each time if _this_ one,
the rush of its approach rising louder and louder to an appalling
screech, was going to be the finish--a 'direct hit.'  Many of the
wounded were wounded again, or killed as they lay; and from others the
strength and the life had drained slowly out before nightfall.  But now
that darkness had come the casualties moved out and the supports moved
in.  From what had been the German second trench, and on this portion
of front was now their forward one, lights were continually going up
and bursts of rifle and machine-gun fire were coming; and an occasional
shell still whooped up and burst over or behind the captured trench.
This meant that the men--supports, and food and water carriers, and
stretcher-bearers--were under a dangerous fire even at night in
crossing the old 'neutral' ground, and it meant that one of the first
jobs absolutely necessary to the holding of the captured trench was the
making of a connecting path more or less safe for moving men,
ammunition, and food by night or day.

This, then, was the position of affairs when 'A' section of the
Southland Company of Engineers came up to take a hand, and this
communication trench was the task that Sapper Duffy, J., found himself
set to work on.  Personally Sapper Duffy knew nothing of, and cared
less for, the tactical situation.  All he knew or cared about was that
he had done a longish march up from the rear the night before, that he
had put in a hard day's work carrying up bales of sandbags and rolls of
barbed wire from the carts to the trenches, and that here before him
was another night's hard labour, to say nothing of the prospect of
being drilled by a rifle bullet or mangled by a shell.  All the
information given him and his section by their section officer was that
they were to dig a communication trench, that it must be completed
before morning, that as long as they were above-ground they would
probably be under a nasty fire, and that therefore the sooner they dug
themselves down under cover the better it would be for the job and for
all concerned.  'A' section removed its equipment and tunics and moved
out on to the 'neutral' ground in its shirt-sleeves, shivering at first
in the raw cold and at the touch of the drizzling rain, but knowing
that the work would very soon warm them beyond need of hampering
clothes.  In the ordinary course, digging a trench under fire is done
more or less under cover by sapping--digging the first part in a
covered spot, standing in the deep hole, cutting down the 'face' and
gradually burrowing a way across the danger zone.  The advantage of
this method is that the workers keep digging their way forward while
all the time they are below ground and in the safety of the sap they
dig.  The disadvantage is that the narrow trench only allows one or two
men to get at its end or 'face' to dig, and the work consequently takes
time.  Here it was urgent that the work be completed that night,
because it was very certain that as soon as its whereabouts was
disclosed by daylight it would be subjected to a fire too severe to
allow any party to work, even if the necessary passage of men to and
fro would leave any room for a working party.  The digging therefore
had to be done down from the surface, and the diggers, until they had
sunk themselves into safety, had to stand and work fully exposed to the
bullets that whined and hissed across from the enemy trenches.

A zigzag line had been laid down to mark the track of the trench, and
Sapper Duffy was placed by his sergeant on this line and told briefly
to 'get on with it.'  Sapper Duffy spat on his hands, placed his spade
on the exact spot indicated, drove it down, and began to dig at a rate
that was apparently leisurely but actually was methodical and nicely
calculated to a speed that could be long and unbrokenly sustained.
During the first minute many bullets whistled and sang past, and Sapper
Duffy took no notice.  A couple went 'whutt' past his ear, and he swore
and slightly increased his working speed.  When a bullet whistles or
sings past, it is a comfortable distance clear; when it goes 'hiss' or
'swish,' it is too close for safety; and when it says 'whutt' very
sharply and viciously, it is merely a matter of being a few inches out
either way.  Sapper Duffy had learned all this by full experience, and
now the number of 'whutts' he heard gave him a very clear understanding
of the dangers of this particular job.  He was the farthest out man of
the line.  On his left hand he could just distinguish the dim figure of
another digger, stooping and straightening, stooping and straightening,
with the rhythm and regularity of a machine.  On his right hand was
empty darkness, lit up every now and then by the glow of a flare-light
showing indistinctly through the drizzling rain.  Out of the darkness,
or looming big against the misty light, figures came and went stumbling
and slipping in the mud--stretcher-bearers carrying or supporting the
wounded, a ration party staggering under boxes balanced on shoulders, a
strung-out line of supports stooped and trying to move quietly, men in
double files linked together by swinging ammunition boxes.  All these
things Sapper Duffy saw out of the tail of his eye, and without
stopping or slacking the pace of his digging.  He fell unconsciously to
timing his movements to those of the other man, and for a time the
machine became a twin-engine working beat for beat--thrust, stoop,
straighten, heave; thrust, stoop, straighten, heave.  Then a bullet
said the indescribable word that means 'hit' and Duffy found that the
other half of the machine had stopped suddenly and collapsed in a
little heap.  Somewhere along the line a voice called softly
'Stretcher-bearers,' and almost on the word two men and a stretcher
materialised out of the darkness and a third was stooping over the
broken machine.  'He's gone,' said the third man after a pause.  'Lift
him clear.'  The two men dropped the stretcher, stooped and fumbled,
lifted the limp figure, laid it down a few yards away from the line,
and vanished in the direction of another call.  Sapper Duffy was alone
with his spade and a foot-deep square hole--and the hissing bullets.
The thoughts of the dead man so close beside him disturbed him vaguely,
although he had never given a thought to the scores of dead he had seen
behind the trench and that he knew were scattered thick over the
'neutral' ground where they had fallen in the first charge.  But this
man had been one of his own company and his own section--it was
different about him somehow.  Yet of course Sapper Duffy knew that the
dead must at times lie where they fall, because the living must always
come before the dead, especially while there are many more wounded than
there are stretchers or stretcher-bearers.  But all the same he didn't
like poor old 'Jigger' Adams being left there--didn't see how he could
go home and face old 'Jigger's' missus and tell her he'd come away and
left 'Jigger' lying in the mud of a mangel-wurzel field.  Blest if he
wouldn't have a try when they were going to give Jigger a lift back.  A
line of men, shirt-sleeved like himself and carrying spades in their
hands, moved out past him.  An officer led them, and another with
Sapper Duffy's section officer brought up the rear, and passed along
the word to halt when he reached Daffy.  'Here's the outside man of my
lot,' he said, 'so you'll join on beyond him.  You've just come in, I
hear, so I suppose your men are fresh?'

'Fresh!' said the other disgustedly.  'Not much.  They've been digging
trenches all day about four miles back.  It's too sickening.  Pity we
don't do like the Boches--conscript all the able-bodied civilians and
make 'em do all this trench-digging in rear.  Then we might be fresh
for the firing line.'

'Tut, tut--mustn't talk about conscripting 'em,' said Duffy's officer
reprovingly.  'One volunteer, y'know--worth ten pressed men.'

'Yes,' said the other, 'but when there isn't enough of the "one
volunteer" it's about time to collar the ten pressed.'

Two or three flares went up almost simultaneously from the enemy's
line, the crackle of fire rose to a brisk fusillade, and through it ran
the sharp 'rat-at-at-at' of a machine-gun.  The rising sound of the
reports told plainly of the swinging muzzle, and officers and men
dropped flat in the mud and waited till the sweeping bullets had passed
over their heads.  Men may work on and 'chance it' against rifle fire
alone, but the sweep of a machine-gun is beyond chance, and very near
to the certainty of sudden death to all in the circle of its swing.

The officers passed on and the new men began to dig.  Sapper Duffy also
resumed work, and as he did so he noticed there was something familiar
about the bulky shape of the new digger next to him.

'What lot are you?' asked the new man, heaving out the first spadeful
rapidly and dexterously.

'We're 'A' Section, Southland Company,' said Duffy, 'an' I say--ain't
you Beefy Wilson?'

'That's me,' said the other without checking his spade.  'And blow me!
you must be Duffy--Jem Duffy.'

'That's right,' said Duffy.  'But I didn't know you'd joined, Beefy.'

'Just a week or two after you,' said Beefy.

'Didjer know boss's two sons had got commissions?  Joined the Sappers
an' tried to raise a company out o' the works to join.  Couldn't
though.  I was the only one.'

'Look out--'ere's that blanky maxim again,' said Duffy, and they
dropped flat very hurriedly.

There was no more conversation at the moment.  There were too many
bullets about to encourage any lingering there, and both men wanted all
their breath for their work.  It was hard work too.  Duffy's back and
shoulder and arm muscles began to ache dully, but he stuck doggedly to
it.  He even made an attempt to speed up to Beefy's rate of shovelling,
although he knew by old experience alongside Beefy that he could never
keep up with him, the unchallenged champion of the old gang.

Whether it was that the lifting rain had made them more visible or that
the sound of their digging had been heard they never knew, but the
rifle fire for some reason became faster and closer, and again and
again the call passed for stretcher-bearers, and a constant stream of
wounded began to trickle back from the trench-diggers.  Duffy's section
was not so badly off now because they had sunk themselves hip deep, and
the earth they threw out in a parapet gave extra protection.  But it
was harder work for them now because they stood in soft mud and water
well above the ankles.  The new company, being the more exposed,
suffered more from the fire; but each man of them had a smaller portion
of trench to dig, so they were catching up on the first workers.  But
all spaded furiously and in haste to be done with the job, while the
officers and sergeants moved up and down the line and watched the
progress made.

More cold-bloodedly unpleasant work it would be hard to imagine.  The
men had none of the thrill and heat of combat to help them; they had
not the hope that a man has in a charge across the open--that a minute
or two gets the worst of it over; they had not even the chance the
fighting man has where at least his hand may save his head.  Their
business was to stand in the one spot, open and unprotected, and
without hope of cover or protection for a good hour or more on end.
They must pay no heed to the singing bullets, to the crash of a
bursting shell, to the rising and falling glow of the flares.  Simply
they must give body and mind to the job in hand, and dig and dig and
keep on digging.  There had been many brave deeds done by the fighting
men on that day: there had been bold leading and bold following in the
first rush across the open against a tornado of fire; there had been
forlorn-hope dashes for ammunition or to pick up wounded; there had
been dogged and desperate courage in clinging all day to the battered
trench under an earth-shaking tempest of high-explosive shells, bombs,
and bullets.  But it is doubtful if the day or the night had seen more
nerve-trying, courage-testing work, more deliberate and long-drawn
bravery than was shown, as a matter of course and as a part of the job,
in the digging of that communication trench.

It was done at last, and although it might not be a Class One
Exhibition bit of work, it was, as Beefy Wilson remarked, 'a deal
better'n none.'  And although the trench was already a foot deep in
water, Beefy stated no more than bald truth in saying, 'Come to-morrow
there's plenty will put up glad wi' their knees bein' below high-water
mark for the sake o' havin' their heads below low bullet-mark.'

But, if the trench was finished, the night's work for the Engineers was
not.  They were moved up into the captured trench, and told that they
had to repair it and wire out in front of it before they were done.

They had half an hour's rest before recommencing work, and Beefy Wilson
and Jem Duffy hugged the shelter of some tumbled sandbags, lit their
pipes and turned the bowls down, and exchanged reminiscences.

'Let's see,' said Beefy.  'Isn't Jigger Adams in your lot?'

'Was,' corrected Jem, 'till an hour ago.  'E's out yon wi' a bullet in
'im--stiff by now.'

Beefy breathed blasphemous regrets.  'Rough on 'is missus an' the kids.
Six of 'em, weren't it?'

'Aw,' assented Jem.  'But she'll get suthin' from the Society funds.'

'Not a ha'porth,' said Beefy.  'You'll remem--no, it was just arter you
left.  The trades unions decided no benefits would be paid out for them
as 'listed.  It was Ben Shrillett engineered that.  'E was Secretary
an' Treasurer an' things o' other societies as well as ours.  'E fought
the War right along, an' 'e's still fightin' it.  'E's a anti-militant,
'e ses.'

'Anti-militarist,' Jem corrected.  He had taken some pains himself in
the old days to get the word itself and some of its meaning right.

'Anti-military-ist then,' said Beefy.  'Any'ow, 'e stuck out agin all
sorts o' soldierin'.  This stoppin' the Society benefits was a trump
card too.  It blocked a whole crowd from listin' that I know myself
would ha' joined.  Queered the boss's sons raisin' that Company too.
They 'ad Frickers an' the B.S.L. Co. an' the works to draw from.  Could
ha' raised a couple hundred easy if Ben Shrillett 'adn't got at 'em.
You know 'ow 'e talks the fellers round.'

'I know,' agreed Jem, sucking hard at his pipe.

The Sergeant broke in on their talk.  'Now then,' he said briskly.
'Sooner we start, sooner we're done an' off 'ome to our downy couch.
'Ere, Duffy'--and he pointed out the work Duffy was to start.

For a good two hours the Engineers laboured like slaves again.  The
trench was so badly wrecked that it practically had to be
reconstructed.  It was dangerous work because it meant moving freely up
and down, both where cover was and was not.  It was physically heavy
work because spade work in wet ground must always be that; and when the
spade constantly encounters a debris of broken beams, sandbags, rifles,
and other impediments, and the work has to be performed in
eye-confusing alternations of black darkness and dazzling flares, it
makes the whole thing doubly hard.  When you add in the constant whisk
of passing bullets and the smack of their striking, the shriek and
shattering burst of high-explosive shells, and the drone and whirr of
flying splinters, you get labour conditions removed to the utmost limit
from ideal, and, to any but the men of the Sappers, well over the edge
of the impossible.  The work at any other time would have been gruesome
and unnerving, because the gasping and groaning of the wounded hardly
ceased from end to end of the captured trench, and in digging out the
collapsed sections many dead Germans and some British were found
blocking the vigorous thrust of the spades.

Duffy was getting 'fair fed up,' although he still worked on
mechanically.  He wondered vaguely what Ben Shrillett would have said
to any member of the trade union that had worked a night, a day, and a
night on end.  He wondered, too, how Ben Shrillett would have shaped in
the Royal Engineers, and, for all his cracking muscles and the
back-breaking weight and unwieldiness of the wet sandbags, he had to
grin at the thought of Ben, with his podgy fat fingers and his visible
rotundity of waistcoat, sweating and straining there in the wetness and
darkness with Death whistling past his ear and crashing in shrapnel
bursts about him.  The joke was too good to keep to himself, and he
passed it to Beefy next time he came near.  Beefy saw the jest clearly
and guffawed aloud, to the amazement of a clay-daubed infantryman who
had had nothing in his mind but thoughts of death and loading and
firing his rifle for hours past.

'Don't wonder Ben's agin conscription,' said Beefy; 'they might
conscription 'im,' and passed on grinning.

Duffy had never looked at it in that light.  He'd been
anti-conscription himself, though now--mebbe--he didn't know--he wasn't
so sure.

And after the trench was more or less repaired came the last and the
most desperate business of all--the 'wiring' out there in the open
under the eye of the soaring lights.  In ones and twos during the
intervals of darkness the men tumbled over the parapet, dragging stakes
and coils of wire behind them.  They managed to drive short stakes and
run trip-wires between them without the enemy suspecting them.  When a
light flamed, every man dropped flat in the mud and lay still as the
dead beside them till the light died.  In the brief intervals of
darkness they drove the stakes with muffled hammers, and ran the
lengths of barbed wire between them.  Heart in mouth they worked, one
eye on the dimly seen hammer and stake-head, the other on the German
trench, watching for the first upward trailing sparks of the flare.
Plenty of men were hit of course, because, light or dark, the bullets
were kept flying, but there was no pause in the work, not even to help
the wounded in.  If they were able to crawl they crawled, dropping flat
and still while the lights burned, hitching themselves painfully
towards the parapet under cover of the darkness.  If they could not
crawl they lay still, dragging themselves perhaps behind the cover of a
dead body or lying quiet in the open till the time would come when
helpers would seek them.  Their turn came when the low wires were
complete.  The wounded were brought in cautiously to the trench then,
and hoisted over the parapet; the working party was carefully detailed
and each man's duty marked out before they crawled again into the open
with long stakes and strands of barbed wire.  The party lay there
minute after minute, through periods of light and darkness, until the
officer in charge thought a favourable chance had come and gave the
arranged signal.  Every man leaped to his feet, the stakes were
planted, and quick blow after blow drove them home.  Another light
soared up and flared out, and every man dropped and held his breath,
waiting for the crash of fire that would tell they were discovered.
But the flare died out without a sign, and the working party hurriedly
renewed their task.  This time the darkness held for an unusual length
of time, and the stakes were planted, the wires fastened, and
cross-pieces of wood with interlacings of barbed wire all ready were
rolled out and pegged down without another light showing.  The word
passed down and the men scrambled back into safety.

'Better shoot a light up quick,' said the Engineer officer to the
infantry commander.  'They have a working party out now.  I heard 'em
hammering.  That's why they went so long without a light.'

A pistol light was fired and the two stared out into the open ground it
lit.  'Thought so,' said the Engineer, pointing.  'New stakes--see?
And those fellows lying beside 'em.'

'Get your tools together, sergeant,' he said, as several more lights
flamed and a burst of rapid fire rose from the British rifles, 'and
collect your party.  Our job's done, and I'm not sorry for it.'

It was just breaking daylight when the remains of the Engineers' party
emerged from the communication trench and already the guns on both
sides were beginning to talk.  Beefy Wilson and Jem Duffy between them
found Jigger's body and brought it as far as the dressing station.
Behind the trenches Beefy's company and Jem's section took different
roads, and the two old friends parted with a casual 'S' long' and 'See
you again sometime.'

Duffy had two hours' sleep in a sopping wet roofless house, about three
miles behind the firing line.  Then the section was roused and marched
back to their billets in a shell-wrecked village, a good ten miles
farther back.  They found what was left of the other three sections of
the Southland Company there, heard the tale of how the Company had been
cut up in advancing with the charging infantry, ate a meal, scraped
some of the mud off themselves, and sought their blankets and wet straw
beds.

Jem Duffy could not get the thought of Ben Shrillett, labour leader and
agitator, out of his mind, and mixed with his thoughts as he went to
sleep were that officer's remarks about pressed men.  That perhaps
accounts for his waking thoughts running on the same groove when his
sergeant roused him at black midnight and informed him the section was
being turned out--to dig trenches.

'Trenches,' spluttered Sapper Duffy, '. . . us?  How is it our turn
again?'

'Becos, my son,' said the Sergeant, 'there's nobody else about 'ere to
take a turn.  Come on!  Roll out!  Show a leg!'

It was then that Sapper Duffy was finally converted, and renounced for
ever and ever his anti-conscription principles.

'Nobody else,' he said slowly, 'an' England fair stiff wi' men. . . .
The sooner we get Conscription, the better I'll like it.  Conscription
solid for every bloomin' able-bodied man an' boy.  An' I 'ope Ben
Shrillett an' 'is likes is the first to be took.  Conscription,' he
said with the emphasis of finality as he fumbled in wet straw for a
wetter boot, 'out-an'-out, lock, stock, 'n barrel Conscription.'

      *      *      *      *      *

That same night Ben Shrillett was presiding at a meeting of the Strike
Committee.  He had read on the way to the meeting the communiqué that
told briefly of Sapper Duffy and his fellow Engineers' work of the
night before, and the descriptive phrase struck him as sounding neat
and effective.  He worked it now into his speech to the Committee,
explaining how and where they and he benefited by this strike,
unpopular as it had proved.

'We've vindicated the rights of the workers,' he said.  'We've shown
that, war or no war, Labour means to be more than mere wage-slaves.
War can't last for ever, and we here, this Committee, proved ourselves
by this strike the true leaders and the Champions of Labour, the
Guardians of the Rights of Trade Unionism.  We, gentlemen, have always
been that, and by the strike'--and he concluded with the phrase from
the despatch--'we have maintained and consolidated our position.'

The Committee said, 'Hear, hear.'  It is a pity they could not have
heard what Sapper Duffy was saying as he sat up in his dirty wet straw,
listening to the rustle and patter of rain on the barn's leaky roof and
tugging on an icy-cold board-stiff boot.



'BUSINESS AS USUAL'

The remains of the Regiment were slowly working their way back out of
action.  They had been in it for three days--three strenuous nights and
days of marching, of fighting, of suffering under heavy shell-fire, of
insufficient and broken sleep, of irregular and unpalatable rations, of
short commons of water, of nerve-stretching excitement and suspense,
all the inevitable discomforts and hardships that in the best organised
of armies must be the part of any hard-fought action.  The Regiment had
suffered cruelly, and their casualties had totalled some sixty per
cent. of the strength.  And now they were coming back, jaded and worn,
filthily grimed and dirty, unshaven, unwashed, footsore, and limping,
but still in good heart and able to see a subject for jests and
laughter in the sprawling fall of one of their number plunging hastily
to shelter from the unexpected rush and crash of a shell, in the sultry
stream of remarks from an exasperated private when he discovered a
bullet-pierced water-bottle and the loss of his last precious drops of
water.

The men were trickling out in slow, thin streams along communication
and support trenches, behind broken buildings and walls and barricades,
under any cover that screened them from the watchful eyes of the enemy
observers perched high in trees and buildings and everywhere they could
obtain a good look-out over our lines.

In the minds of the men the thoughts of almost all ran in the same
grooves--first and most strongly, because perhaps the oftenest framed
in speech, that it was hot--this hot and that hot, hot as so-and-so or
such-and-such, according to the annoyance or wit of the speaker;
second, and much less clearly defined, a dull satisfaction that they
had done their share, and done it well, and that now they were on their
way out to all the luxury of plenty of food and sleep, water to drink,
water and soap to wash with; third, and increasing in proportion as
they got farther from the forward line and the chance of being hit, a
great anxiety to reach the rear in safety.  The fear of being hit by
shell or bullet was a hundred-fold greater than it had been during
their part in the action, when the risk was easily a hundred times
greater, and more sympathy was expended over one man 'casualtied'
coming out than over a score of those killed in the actual fight.  It
seemed such hard lines, after going through all they had gone through
and escaping it scot free, that a man should be caught just when it was
all over and he was on the verge of a more or less prolonged spell
outside the urgent danger zone.

The engagement was not over yet.  It had been raging with varying
intensity for almost a week, had resulted in a considerable advance of
the British line, and had now resolved itself into a spasmodic series
of struggles on the one side to 'make good' the captured ground and
steal a few more yards, if possible; on the other, to strengthen the
defence against further attacks and to make the captured trenches
untenable.

But the struggle now was to the Regiment coming out a matter of almost
outside interest, an interest reduced nearly to the level of the
newspaper readers' at home, something to read or hear and talk about in
the intervals of eating and drinking, of work and amusement and sleep
and the ordinary incidents of daily life.  Except, of course, that the
Regiment always had at the back of this casual interest the more
personal one that if affairs went badly their routine existence 'in
reserve' might be rudely interrupted and they might be hurried back and
flung again into the fight.

But that was unlikely, and meantime there were still stray shells and
bullets to be dodged, the rifles and kits were blasphemously heavy, and
it was most blasphemously hot.  The men were occupied enough in picking
their steps in the broken ground, in their plodding, laborious
progress, above all in paying heed to the order constantly passing back
to 'keep low,' but they were still able to note with a sort of
professional interest the damage done to the countryside.  A
'small-holding' cottage between the trenches had been shelled and set
on fire, and was gutted to the four bare, blackened walls.  The ground
about it still showed in the little squares and oblongs that had
divided the different cultivations, but the difference now was merely
of various weeds and rank growths, and the ground was thickly pitted
with shell-holes.  A length of road was gridironed with deep and
laboriously dug trenches, and of the poplars that ran along its edge
some were broken off in jagged stumps, some stood with stems as
straight and bare as telegraph poles, or half cut through and collapsed
like a half-shut knife or an inverted V, with their heads in the dust;
others were left with heads snapped off and dangling in grey withered
leaves, or with branches glinting white splinters and stripped naked,
as in the dead of winter.  In an orchard the fruit trees were smashed,
uprooted, heaped pell-mell in a tangle of broken branches, bare twisted
trunks, fragments of stump a foot or a yard high, here a tree slashed
off short, lifted, and flung a dozen yards, and left head down and
trunk in air; there a row of currant bushes with a yawning shell-crater
in the middle, a ragged remnant of bush at one end and the rest
vanished utterly, leaving only a line of torn stems from an inch to a
foot long to mark their place.

A farm of some size had been at one time a point in the advanced
trenches, and had been converted into a 'keep.'  Its late owner would
never have recognised it in its new part.  Such walls as were left had
been buttressed out of sight by sandbags; trenches twisted about the
outbuildings, burrowed under and into them, and wriggled out again
through holes in the walls; a market cart, turned upside down, and
earthed over to form a bomb-store, occupied a corner of the farmyard;
cover for snipers' loopholes had been constructed from ploughshares; a
remaining fragment of a grain loft had become an 'observing station';
the farm kitchen a doctor's dressing station; the cow-house a
machine-gun place; the cellar, with the stove transplanted from the
kitchen, a cooking, eating, and sleeping room.  All the roofs had been
shelled out of existence.  All the walls were notched by shells and
peppered thick with bullet marks.  A support trench about shoulder deep
with a low parapet along its front was so damaged by shell fire that
the men for the most part had to move along it bent almost double to
keep out of sight and bullet reach.  Every here and there--where a
shell had lobbed fairly in--there was a huge crater, its sides sealing
up the trench with a mass of tumbled earth over which the men scrambled
crouching.  Behind the trench a stretch of open field was pitted and
pock-marked with shell-holes of all sizes from the shallow scoop a yard
across to the yawning crater, big and deep enough to bury the whole
field-gun that had made the smaller hole.  The field looked exactly
like those pictures one sees in the magazines of a lunar landscape or
the extinct volcanoes of the moon.

The line of men turned at last into a long deep-cut communication
trench leading out into a village.  The air in the trench was heavy and
close and stagnant, and the men toiled wearily up it, sweating and
breathing hard.  At a branching fork one path was labelled with a
neatly printed board 'To Battn. H.Q. and the Mole Heap,' and the other
path 'To the Duck Pond'--this last, the name of a trench, being a
reminder of the winter and the wet.  The officer leading the party
turned into the trench for 'The Mole Heap,' walked up it, and emerged
into the sunlight of the grass-grown village street, skirted a house,
crossed the street by a trench, and passed through a hole chipped out
of the brick wall into a house, the men tramping at his heels.  The
whole village was seamed with a maze of trenches, but these were only
for use when the shelling had been particularly heavy.  At other times
people moved about the place by paths sufficiently well protected by
houses and walls against the rifle bullets that had practically never
ceased to smack into the village for many months past.  These paths
wandered behind buildings, across gardens, into and out of houses
either by doors or by holes in the wall, over or round piles of rubble
or tumbled brick-work, burrowed at times below ground-level on patches
exposed to fire, ran frequently through a dozen cottages on end,
passage having been effected simply by hacking holes through the
connecting brick walls, in one place dived underground down some short
stairs and took its way through several cellars by the same simple
method of walking through the walls from one cellar to another.  The
houses were littered with empty and rusty tins, torn and dirty
clothing, ash-choked stoves, trampled straw, and broken furniture.  The
back-yards and gardens were piled with heaps of bricks and tiles,
biscuit and jam tins; broken fences and rotted rags were overrun with a
rank growth of grass and weeds and flowers, pitted with shell-holes and
strewn with graves.

The whole village was wrecked from end to end, was no more than a
charnel house, a smashed and battered sepulchre.  There was not one
building that was whole, not one roof that had more than a few tiles
clinging to shattered rafters, hardly a wall that was not cracked and
bulged and broken.

In the houses they passed through the men could still find sufficient
traces of the former occupants to indicate their class and station.
One might have been a labourer's cottage, with a rough deal table, a
red-rusted stove-fireplace, an oleograph in flaming crude colours of
the 'Virgin and Child' hanging on the plaster wall, the fragments of a
rough cradle overturned in a corner, a few coarse china crocks and
ornaments and figures chipped and broken and scattered about the
mantel, and the bare board floor.  Another house had plainly been a
home of some refinement.  The rooms were large, with lofty ceilings;
there were carpets on the floors, although so covered with dirt and
dried mud and the dust of fallen plaster that they were hardly
discernible as carpets.  In one room a large polished table had a
broken leg replaced by an up-ended barrel, one big arm-chair had its
springs and padding showing through the burst upholstering.  Another
was minus all its legs, and had the back wrenched off and laid flat
with the seat on the floor, evidently to make a bed.  There were
several good engravings hanging askew on the walls or lying about the
floor, all soiled with rain and cut and torn by their splintered glass.
The large open-grate fireplace had an artistically carved overmantel
sadly chipped and smoke-blackened, a tiled hearth in fragments; the
wall-paper in a tasteful design of dark-green and gold was blotched and
discoloured, and hung in peeling strips and gigantic 'dog's-ears'; from
the poles and rings over the windows the tattered fragments of a lace
curtain dangled.  There was plenty of evidence that the room had been
occupied by others since its lawful tenants had fled.  It was strewn
with broken or cast-off military equipments, worn-out boots, frayed and
mud-caked putties, a burst haversack and pack-valise, a holed
water-bottle, broken webbing straps and belts, a bayonet with a snapped
blade, a torn grey shirt, and a goatskin coat.  The windows had the
shutters closed, and were sandbagged up three parts their height, the
need for this being evident from the clean, round bullet-holes in the
shutters above the sandbags, and the ragged tears and holes in the
upper part of the opposite wall.  In an upper corner a gaping
shell-hole had linen table-cloths five or six fold thick hung over to
screen the light from showing through at night.  In a corner lay a heap
of mouldy straw and a bed-mattress; the table and fireplace were
littered with dirty pots and dishes, the floor with empty jam and
biscuit tins, opened and unopened bully-beef tins, more being full than
empty because the British soldier must be very near starving point
before he is driven to eat 'bully.'  Over everything lay, like a white
winding-sheet, the cover of thick plaster-dust shaken down from the
ceiling by the hammer-blows of the shells.  The room door opened into a
passage.  At its end a wide staircase curved up into empty space, the
top banisters standing out against the open blue sky.  The whole upper
storey had been blown off by shell fire and lay in the garden behind
the house, a jumble of brickwork, window-frames, tiles, beams, beds and
bedroom furniture, linen, and clothes.

These houses were inexpressibly sad and forlorn-looking, with all their
privacy and inner homeliness naked and exposed to the passer-by and the
staring sunlight.  Some were no more than heaps of brick and stone and
mortar; but these gave not nearly such a sense of desolation and
desertion as those less damaged, as one, for instance, with its front
blown completely out, so that one could look into all its rooms, upper
and lower and the stairs between, exactly as one looks into those
dolls' houses where the front is hinged to swing open.

The village had been on the edge of the fighting zone for months, had
been casually shelled each day in normal times, bombarded furiously
during every attack or counter-attack.  The church, with its spire or
tower, had probably been suspected as an artillery observing station by
the Germans, and so had drawn a full share of the fire.  All that was
left of the church itself was one corner of shell-holed walls, and a
few roof-beams torn and splintered and stripped of cover.  The tower
was a broken, jagged, stump--an empty shell, with one side blown almost
completely out; the others, or what remained of them, cracked and
tottering.  The churchyard was a wild chaos of tumbled masonry, broken
slates, uprooted and overturned tombstones, jumbled wooden crosses,
crucifixes, black wooden cases with fronts of splintered glass, torn
wreaths, and crosses of imitation flowers.  Amongst the graves yawned
huge shell craters; tossed hither and thither amongst the graves and
broken monuments and bricks and rubbish were bones and fragments of
coffins.

But all the graves were not in the churchyard.  The whole village was
dotted from end to end with them, some alone in secluded corners,
others in rows in the backyards and vegetable gardens.  Most of them
were marked with crosses, each made of two pieces of packing-case or
biscuit-box, with a number, rank, name, and regiment printed in
indelible pencil.  On some of the graves were bead-work flowers, on
others a jam-pot or crock holding a handful of withered sun-dried
flower-stalks.  Nearly all were huddled in close to house or garden
walls, one even in the narrow passage between two houses.  There were,
in many cases, other and less ugly open spaces and gardens offering a
score of paces from these forlorn last resting-places apparently so
oddly selected and sadly misplaced; but a second look showed that in
each case the grave was dug where some wall or house afforded cover to
the burying-party from bullets.  In the bright sunlight, half-hidden
under or behind heaps of debris, with crosses leaning drunkenly aslant,
these graves looked woefully dreary and depressing.  But the files of
men moving round and between them, or stepping carefully over them,
hardly gave them a glance, except where one in passing caught at a
leaning cross and thrust it deeper and straighter into the earth.  But
the men's indifference meant no lack of feeling or respect for the
dead.  The respect was there, subtle but unmistakable, instanced
slightly by the care every man took not to set foot on a grave, by the
straightening of that cross, by those withered flowers and dirty
wreaths, even as it has been shown scores of times by the men who crawl
at risk of their lives into the open between the forward trenches at
night to bring in their dead for decent burial.

Outside the shattered village stood the remains of a large factory, and
on this the outcoming files of the Regiment converged, and the first
arrivals halted to await the rest.  What industry the factory had been
concerned with it was impossible to tell.  It was full of machinery,
smashed, bent, twisted, and overturned, all red with rust, mixed up
with and in parts covered by stone and brickwork, beams and iron
girders, the whole sprinkled over with gleaming fragments of
window-glass  The outside walls were almost completely knocked flat,
tossed helter-skelter outwards or on top of the machinery.  The tall
chimney--another suspected 'observing post' probably--lay in a heap of
broken brickwork with the last yard or two of the base standing up out
of the heap, and even in its remaining stump were other ragged
shell-holes.  A couple of huge boilers had been torn off their brick
furnaces by the force of some monster shell and tossed clear yards
away.  One was poised across the broken outer wall, with one end in the
road.  The thick rounded plates were bent and dented in like a kicked
biscuit-tin, were riddled and pierced through and through as if they
had been paper.  The whole factory and its machinery must once have
represented a value of many thousands of francs.  Now it was worth just
the value of its site--less the cost of clearing it of debris--and the
price of some tons of old iron.

Some of the men wandered about amongst the ruins, examining them
curiously, tracing the work of individual shells, speculating on the
number of hands the place had once employed, and where those hands were
now.

'Man, man,' said a Scottish private, 'sic an awfu' waste.  Think o' the
siller it must ha' cost.'

''Ow would you like to be a shareholder in the company, Jock?' said his
companion.  'Ain't many divvydends due to 'em this Christmas.'

The Scot shook his head sadly.  'This place an' the hale toon laid
waste,' he said.  'It's awfu' tae think o' it.'

'An' this is one bloomin' pebble in a whole bloomin' beach,' said the
other.  'D'you remember Wipers an' all them other towns?  An' that old
chap we saw sittin' on the roadside weepin' 'is eyes out 'cos the farm
an' the fruit-trees 'e'd spent 'is life fixin' up was blowed to glory
b' Jack Johnsons.  We 'ave seed some rummy shows 'ere, 'aven't we?  Not
but what this ain't a pretty fair sample o' wreck,' he continued
critically.  'There's plenty 'ud think they'd got their two-pennorth to
see this on the screen o' a picture-show at 'ome, Jock.'

'Huh!  Picturs!' sniffed Jock.  'Picturs, and the-ayters, and racin',
and fitba'.  Ah wanner folks hasna better use for their time and money,
at sic a time 's this.'

'Aw,' said the other, 'But y' forget, Jock.  Out 'ere they 'ave their
'ouses blown up an' their business blown in.  A thousan' a day o' the
like o' you an' me may be gettin' killed off for six months on end.
But at 'ome, Jock--aw!'

He stooped and picked up a lump of white, chalky earth from the
roadside, scrawled with it on the huge boiler-end that rested on the
broken wall, and left the written words to finish the spoken sentence.

Jock read, and later the remains of the Regiment read as they moved off
past the aching desolation of the silent factory, down the shell-torn
road, across the war-swept ruins of a whole country-side.  A few
scowled at the thoughts the words raised, the most grinned and passed
rough jests; but to all those men in the thinned ranks, their dead
behind them, the scenes of ruin before them, the words bit, and bit
deep.  They ran:

      But it's
  Bisness As Usual
     --AT HOME.



A HYMN OF HATE

'_The troops continue in excellent spirits._'--EXTRACT FROM OFFICIAL
DESPATCH.


To appreciate properly, from the Army's point of view, the humour of
this story, it must always be remembered that the regiment concerned is
an English one--entirely and emphatically English, and indeed almost
entirely East End Cockney.

It is true that the British Army on active service has a sense of
humour peculiarly its own, and respectable civilians have been known,
when jests were retailed with the greatest gusto by soldier raconteurs,
to shudder and fail utterly to understand that there could be any
humour in a tale so mixed up with the grim and ghastly business of
killing and being killed.

A biggish battle had died out about a week before in the series of
spasmodic struggles of diminishing fury that have characterised most of
the battles on the Western Front, when the Tower Bridge Foot found
themselves in occupation of a portion of the forward line which was
only separated from the German trench by a distance varying from forty
to one hundred yards.  Such close proximity usually results in an
interchange of compliments between the two sides, either by speech, or
by medium of a board with messages written on it--the board being
reserved usually for the strokes of wit most likely to sting, and
therefore best worth conveying to the greatest possible number of the
enemy.

The 'Towers' were hardly installed in their new position when a voice
came from the German parapet, 'Hello, Tower Bridge Foot!  Pleased to
meet you again.'

The Englishmen were too accustomed to it to be surprised by this
uncannily prompt recognition by the enemy of a newly relieving regiment
of which they had not seen so much as a cap top.

'Hullo, Boshy,' retorted one of the Towers.  'You're makin' a mistake
this time.  We ain't the Tower Bridges.  We're the Kamchatka
'Ighlanders.'

'An' you're a liar if you says you're pleased to meet us again,' put in
another.  'If you've met us afore I lay you was too dash sorry for it
to want to meet us again.'

'Oh, we know who you are all right,' replied the voice.  'And we know
you've just relieved the Fifth Blankshires; and what's more, we know
who's going to relieve you, and when.'

''E knows a bloomin' heap,' said a Tower Bridge private disgustedly;
'an' wot's more, I believe 'e does know it.'  Then, raising his voice,
he asked, 'Do you know when we're comin' to take some more of them
trenches o' yours?'

This was felt by the listening Towers to be a master-stroke,
remembering that the British had taken and held several trenches a week
before, but the reply rather took the wind out of their sails.

'You can't take any more,' said the voice.  'You haven't shells enough
for another attack.  You had to stop the last one because your guns
were running short.'

'Any'ow,' replied an English corporal who had been handing round half a
dozen grenades, 'we ain't anyways short o' bombs.  'Ave a few to be
goin' on with,' and he and his party let fly.  They listened with
satisfaction to the bursts, and through their trench periscopes watched
the smoke and dust clouds billowing from the trench opposite.

'An' this,' remarked a Tower private, 'is about our cue to exit, the
stage bein' required for a scene-shift by some Bosh bombs,' and he
disappeared, crawling into a dug-out.  During the next ten minutes a
couple of dozen bombs came over and burst in and about the British
trench and scored three casualties, 'slightly wounded.'

'Hi there!  Where's that Soho barber's assistant that thinks 'e can
talk Henglish?' demanded the Towers' spokesman cheerfully.

That annoyed the English-speaking German, as of course incidentally it
was meant to do.

'I'm here, Private Petticoat Lane,' retorted the voice, 'and if I
couldn't speak better English than you I'd be shaming Soho.'

'You're doing that anyway, you bloomin' renegade dog-stealer,' called
back the private.  'Wy didn't you pay your landlady in Lunnon for the
lodgin's you owed when you run away?'

'Schweinhund!' said the voice angrily, and a bullet slapped into the
parapet in front of the taunting private.

'Corp'ril,' said that artist in invective softly, 'if you'll go down
the trench a bit or up top o' that old barn behind I'll get this
bloomin' Soho waiter mad enough to keep on shootin' at me, an' you'll
p'raps get a chance to snipe 'im.'

The corporal sought an officer's permission and later a precarious
perch on the broken roof of the barn, while Private Robinson extended
himself in the manufacture of annoying remarks.

'That last 'un was a fair draw, Smithy,' he exulted to a fellow
private.  'I'll bet 'e shot the moon, did a bolt for it, when 'e
mobilised.'

'Like enough,' agreed Smithy.  'Go on, ol' man.  Give 'im some more
jaw.'

'I s'pose you left without payin' your washin' bill either, didn't you,
sower-krowt,' demanded Private Robinson.  There was no reply from the
opposition.

'I expeck you ler' a lot o' little unpaid bills, didn't you?--if you
was able to find anyone to give you tick.'

'I'll pay them--when we take London,' said the voice.

'That don't give your pore ol' landlady much 'ope,' said Robinson.
'Take Lunnon!  Blimy, you're more like to take root in them trenches o'
yours--unless we comes over again an' chases you out.'

Again there was no reply.  Private Robinson shook his head.  ''E's as
'ard to draw as the pay that's owin' to me,' he said.  'You 'ave a go,
Smithy.'

Smithy, a believer in the retort direct and no trafficker in the finer
shades of sarcasm, cleared his throat and lifted up his voice.  ''Ere,
why don't you speak when you're spoke to, you lop-eared lager-beer
barrel, you.  Take your fice out o' that 'orse-flesh cat's-meat
sossidge an' speak up, you baby-butcherin' hen-roost robber.'

'That ain't no good, Smithy,' Private Robinson pointed out.  'Y'see,
callin' 'im 'ard names only makes 'im think 'e's got you angry
like--that 'e's drawed you.'

(Another voice called something in German.)

'Just tell them other monkeys to stop their chatter, Soho,' he called
out, 'an' get back in their cage.  If they want to talk to gen'l'men
they must talk English.'

'I like your d--d impertinence,' said the voice scornfully.  'We'll
make you learn German, though, when we've taken England.'

'Oh, it's Englan' you're takin' now,' said Private Robinson.  'But all
you'll ever take of Englan' will be same as you took before--a tuppenny
tip if you serves the soup up nice, or a penny tip if you gives an
Englishman a proper clean shave.'

The rifle opposite banged again and the bullet slapped into the top of
the parapet.  'That drawed 'im again,' chuckled Private Robinson, 'but
I wonder why the corp'ril didn't get a whack at 'im.'

He pulled away a small sandbag that blocked a loophole, and, holding
his rifle by the butt at arm-length, poked the muzzle out slowly.  A
moment later two reports rang out--one from in front and one behind.

'I got 'im,' said the corporal three minutes later.  'One bloke was
looking with a periscope and I saw a little cap an' one eye come over
the parapet.  By the way 'is 'ands jerked up an' 'is 'ead jerked back
when I fired, I fancy 'e copped it right enough.'

Private Robinson got to work with a piece of chalk on a board and
hoisted over the parapet a notice, 'R.I.P. 1 Boshe, late lamented Soho
garçon.'

'Pity I dunno the German for "late lamented," but they've always plenty
that knows English enough to unnerstand,' he commented.

He spent the next ten minutes ragging the Germans, directing his most
brilliant efforts of sarcasm against made-in-Germany English-speakers
generally and Soho waiters in particular; and he took the fact there
was no reply from the voice as highly satisfactory evidence that it had
been the 'Soho waiter' who had 'copped it.'

'Exit the waiter--curtain, an' soft music!' remarked a private known as
'Enery Irving throughout the battalion, and whistled a stave of 'We
shall meet, but we shall miss him.'

'Come on, 'Enery, give us 'is dyin' speech,' some one urged, and 'Enery
proceeded to recite an impromptu 'Dyin' Speech of the
Dachshund-stealer,' as he called it, in the most approved fashion of
the East End drama, with all the accompaniments of rolling eyes,
breast-clutchings, and gasping pauses.

'Now then, where's the orchestra?' he demanded when the applause had
subsided, and the orchestra, one mouth-organ strong, promptly struck up
a lilting music-hall ditty.  From that he slid into 'My Little Grey
Home,' with a very liberal measure of time to the long-drawn notes
especially.  The song was caught up and ran down the trench in full
chorus.  When it finished the orchestra was just on the point of
starting another tune, when 'Enery held up his hand.

'"'E goes on Sunday to the church, an' sits among the choir."' he
quoted solemnly and added, 'Voices 'eard, off.'

Two or three men were singing in the German trench, and as they sang
the rest joined in and 'Deutschland über Alles' rolled forth in full
strength and harmony.

'Bray-vo!  An' not arf bad neither,' said Private Robinson approvingly.
'Though I dunno wot it's all abart.  Now s'pose we gives 'em another.'

They did, and the Germans responded with 'The Watch on the Rhine.'
This time Private Robinson and the rest of the Towers recognised the
song and capped it in great glee with 'Winding up the Watch on the
Rhine,' a parody which does not go out of its way to spare German
feelings.

'An' 'ow d'you like that, ol' sossidge scoffers?' demanded Private
Robinson loudly.

'You vait,' bellowed a guttural voice.  'Us vind you op--quick!'

'Vind op--squeak, an' squeakin',' retorted Private Robinson.

The German reply was drowned in a burst of new song which ran like
wild-fire the length of the German trench.  A note of fierce passion
rang in the voices, and the Towers sat listening in silence.

'Dunno wot it is,' said one.  'But it sounds like they was sayin'
something nasty, an' meanin' it all.'

But one word, shouted fiercely and lustily, caught Private Robinson's
ear.

''Ark!' he said in eager anticipation.  'I do believe it's--s-sh!
There!' triumphantly, as again the word rang out--the one word at the
end of the verse . . . '_England_.'

'It's _it_.  It's the "'Ymn of 'Ate"!'

The word flew down the British trench--'It's the 'Ymn!  They're singin'
the "'Ymn of 'Ate,"' and every man sat drinking the air in eagerly.
This was luck, pure gorgeous luck.  Hadn't the Towers, like many
another regiment, heard about the famous 'Hymn of Hate,' and read it in
the papers, and had it declaimed with a fine frenzy by Private 'Enery
Irving?  Hadn't they, like plenty other regiments, longed to hear the
tune, but longed in vain, never having found one who knew it?  And here
it was being sung to them in full chorus by the Germans themselves.
Oh, this _was_ luck.

The mouth-organist was sitting with his mouth open and his head turned
to listen, as if afraid to miss a single note.

''Ave you got it, Snapper?' whispered Private Robinson anxiously at the
end.  'Will you be able to remember it?'

Snapper, with his eyes fixed on vacancy, began to play the air over
softly, when from further down the trench came a murmur of applause,
that rose to a storm of hand-clappings and shouts of 'Bravo!' and
'Encore--'core--'core!'

The mouth-organist played on unheedingly and Private Robinson sat
following him with attentive ear.

'I'm not sure of that bit just there,' said the player, and tried it
over with slight variations.  'P'raps I'll remember it better after a
day or two.  I'm like that wi' some toons.'

'We might kid 'em to sing it again,' said Robinson hopefully, as
another loud cry of 'Encore!' rang from the trench.

'Was you know vat we haf sing?' asked a German voice in tones of some
wonderment.

'It's a great song, Dutchie,' replied Private Robinson.  'Fine
song--goot--bong!  Sing it again to us.'

'You haf not understand,' said the German angrily, and then suddenly
from a little further along the German trench a clear tenor rose,
singing the Hymn in English.  The Towers subsided into rapt silence,
hugging themselves over their stupendous luck.  When the singer came to
the end of the verse he paused an instant, and a roar leaped from the
German trench . . . 'England!'  It died away and the singer took up the
solo.  Quicker and quicker he sang, the song swirling upward in a
rising note of passion.  It checked and hung an instant on the last
line, as a curling wave hangs poised; and even as the falling wave
breaks thundering and rushing, so the song broke in a crash of sweeping
sound along the line of the German trench on that one word--'England!'

Before the last sound of it had passed, the singer had plunged into the
next verse, his voice soaring and shaking with an intensity of feeling.
The whole effect was inspiring, wonderful, dramatic.  One felt that it
was emblematic, the heart and soul of the German people poured out in
music and words.  And the scorn, the bitter anger, hatred, and malice
that vibrated again in that chorused last word might well have brought
fear and trembling to the heart of an enemy.  But the enemy immediately
concerned, to wit His Majesty's Regiment of Tower Bridge Foot, were
most obviously not impressed with fear and trembling.  Impressed they
certainly were.  Their applause rose in a gale of clappings and cries
and shouts.  They were impressed, and Private 'Enery Irving, clapping
his hands sore and stamping his feet in the trench-bottom, voiced the
impression exactly.  'It beats Saturday night in the gallery o' the old
Brit.,' he said enthusiastically.  'That bloke--blimy--'e ought to be
doin' the star part at Drury Lane'; and he wiped his hot hands on his
trousers and fell again to beating them together, palms and fingers
curved cunningly, to obtain a maximum of noise from the effort.

An officer passed hurriedly along the trench.  'If there's any firing,
every man to fire over the parapet and only straight to his own front,'
he said, and almost at the moment there came a loud 'bang' from out in
front, followed quickly by 'bang-bang-bang' in a running series of
reports.

The shouting had cut off instantly on the first bang, some rifles
squibbed off at intervals for a few seconds and increased suddenly to a
sputtering roar.  With the exception of one platoon near their centre
the Towers replied rapidly to the fire, the maxims joined in, and a
minute later, with a whoop and a crash the shells from a British
battery passed over the trench and burst along the line of the German
parapet.  After that the fire died away gradually, and about ten
minutes later a figure scrambled hastily over the parapet and dropped
into safety, his boots squirting water, his wet shirt-tails flapping
about his bare wet and muddy legs.  He was the 'bomb officer' who had
taken advantage of the 'Hymn of Hate' diversion to go crawling up a
little ditch that crossed the neutral ground until he was near enough
to fling into the German trench the bombs he carried, and, as he put it
later in reporting to the O.C., 'give 'em something to hate about.'

And each evening after that, for as long as they were in the trenches,
the men of the Tower Bridge Foot made a particular point of singing the
'Hymn of Hate,' and the wild yell of 'England' that came at the end of
each verse might almost have pleased any enemy of England's instead of
aggravating them intensely, as it invariably did the Germans opposite,
to the extent of many wasted rounds.

'It's been a great do, Snapper,' said Private 'Enery Irving some days
after, as the battalion tramped along the road towards 'reserve
billets.'  'An' I 'aven't enjoyed myself so much for months.  Didn't it
rag 'em beautiful, an' won't we fair stagger the 'ouse at the next
sing-sing o' the brigade?'

Snapper chuckled and breathed contentedly into his beloved mouth-organ,
and first 'Enery and then the marching men took up the words:

  'Ite of the 'eart, an' 'ite of the 'and,
  'Ite by water, an' 'ite by land,
  'Oo do we 'ite to beat the band?

(deficient memories, it will be noticed, being compensated by effective
inventions in odd lines).

The answering roar of 'England' startled almost to shying point the
horse of a brigadier trotting up to the tail of the column.

'What on earth are those fellows singing?' he asked one of his officers
while soothing his mount.

'I'm not sure, sir,' said the officer, 'but I believe--by the words of
it--yes, it's the Germans' "Hymn of Hate."'

A French staff officer riding with the brigadier stared in
astonishment, first at the marching men, and then at the brigadier, who
was rocking with laughter in his saddle.

'Where on earth did they get the tune?  I've never heard it before,'
said the brigadier, and tried to hum it.  The staff officer told him
something of the tale as he had heard it, and the Frenchman's amazement
and the brigadier's laughter grew as the tale was told.

  We 'ave one foe, an' one alone--England!

bellowed the Towers, and out of the pause that came so effectively
before the last word of the verse rose a triumphant squeal from the
mouth-organ, and the appealing voice of Private 'Enery Irving--'Naw
then, put a bit of 'ate into it.'  But even that artist of the emotions
had to admit his critical sense of the dramatic fully satisfied by the
tone of vociferous wrath and hatred flung into the Towers' answering
roar of '. . . . _England!_'

'What an extraordinary people!' said the French staff officer, eyeing
the brigadier shaking with laughter on his prancing charger.  And he
could only heave his shoulders up in an ear-embracing shrug of
non-comprehension when the laughing brigadier tried to explain to him
(as I explained to you in the beginning):

'And the best bit of the whole joke is that this particular regiment is
English to the backbone.'



THE COST

'_The cost in casualties cannot be considered heavy in view of the
success gained._'--EXTRACT FROM OFFICIAL DESPATCH.


Outside there were blazing sunshine and heat, a haze of smoke and dust, a
nostril-stinging reek of cordite and explosive, and a never-ceasing
tumult of noises.  Inside was gloom, but a closer, heavier heat, a
drug-shop smell, and all the noises of outside, little subdued, and
mingled with other lesser but closer sounds.  Outside a bitterly fought
trench battle was raging; here, inside, the wreckage of battle was being
swiftly but skilfully sorted out, classified, bound up, and despatched
again into the outer world.  For this was one of the field dressing
stations scattered behind the fringe of the fighting line, and through
one or other of these were passing the casualties as quickly as they
could be collected and brought back.  The station had been a field
labourer's cottage, and had been roughly adapted to its present use.  The
interior was in semi-darkness, because the windows were completely
blocked up with sandbags.  The door, which faced towards the enemy's
lines, was also sandbagged up, and a new door had been made by knocking
out an opening through the mud-brick wall.  There were two rooms
connected by a door, enlarged again by the tearing down of the
lath-and-plaster partition.  The only light in the inner room filtered
through the broken and displaced tiles of the roof.  On the floor, laid
out in rows so close packed that there was barely room for an orderly to
move, were queer shapeless bundles that at first glance could hardly be
recognised as men.  They lay huddled on blankets or on the bare floor in
dim shadowy lines that were splashed along their length with irregularly
placed gleaming white patches.  They were puzzling, these patches,
shining like snow left in the hollows of a mountain seen far off and in
the dusk.  A closer look revealed them as the bandages of the first field
dressing that every man carries stitched in his uniform against the day
he or the stretcher-bearers may rip open the packet to use it.  A few of
the men moved restlessly, but most lay very still.  A few talked, and one
or two even laughed; and another moaned slowly and at even unbroken
intervals.  Two or three lighted cigarettes pin-pricked the gloom in
specks of orange light that rose and fell, glowing and sparkling and
lighting a faint outline of nose and lip and cheeks, sinking again to
dull red.  A voice called, feebly at first, and then, as no one answered,
more strongly and insistently, for water.  When at last it was brought,
every other man there demanded or pleaded for a drink.

In the other room a clean-edged circle of light blazed in the centre from
an acetylene lamp, leaving the walls and corners in a shadow deep by
contrast to blackness.  Half the length of a rough deal table jutted out
of the darkness into the circle of light, and beneath it its black shadow
lay solid half-way across the light ring on the floor.

And into this light passed a constant procession of wounded, some halting
for no more than the brief seconds necessary for a glance at the placing
of a bandage and an injection of an anti-tetanus serum, some waiting for
long pain-laden minutes while a bandage was stripped off, an examination
made, in certain cases a rapid play made with cruel-looking scissors and
knives.  Sometimes a man would walk to the table and stoop a bandaged
head or thrust a bandaged hand or arm into the light.  Or a stretcher
would appear from the darkness and be laid under the light, while the
doctors' hands busied themselves about the khaki form that lay there.
Some of the wounds were slight, some were awful and unpleasant beyond
telling.  The doctors worked in a high pressure of haste, but the
procession never halted for an instant; one patient was hardly clear of
the light-circle before another appeared in it.  There were two doctors
there--one a young man with a lieutenant's stars on his sleeve; the
other, apparently a man of about thirty, in bare arms with rolled-up
shirt-sleeves.  His jacket, hooked on the back of a broken chair, bore
the badges of a captain's rank.  The faces of both as they caught the
light were pale and glistening with sweat.  The hands of both as they
flitted and darted about bandages or torn flesh were swift moving, but
steady and unshaking as steel pieces of machinery.  Words that passed
between the two were brief to curtness, technical to the last syllable.
About them the dust motes danced in the light, the air hung heavy and
stagnant, smelling of chemicals, the thick sickly scent of blood, the
sharper reek of sweat.  And everything about them, the roof over their
heads, the walls around, the table under their hands, the floor beneath
their feet, shook and trembled and quivered without cessation.  And also
without pause the uproar of battle bellowed and shrieked and pounded in
their ears.  Shells were streaming overhead, the closer ones with a rush
and a whoop, the higher and heavier ones with long whistling sighs and
screams.  Shells exploding near them crashed thunderously and set the
whole building rocking more violently than ever.  The rifle and
machine-gun fire never ceased, but rose and fell, sinking at times to a
rapid spluttering crackle, rising again to a booming drum-like roll.  The
banging reports of bombs and grenades punctuated sharply the running roar
of gun and rifle fire.

Through all the whirlwind of noise the doctors worked steadily.
Unheeding the noise, the dust, the heat, the trembling of the crazy
building, they worked from dawn to noon, and from noon on again to dusk,
only pausing for a few minutes at mid-day to swallow beef-tea and a
biscuit, and in the afternoon to drink tepid tea.  Early in the afternoon
a light shell struck a corner of the roof, making a clean hole on entry
and blowing out the other side in a clattering gust of flame and smoke,
broken tiles and splintering wood.  The room filled with choking smoke
and dust and bitter blinding fumes, and a shower of dirt and fragments
rained down on the floor and table, on the doctors, and on the men lying
round the walls.  At the first crash and clatter some of the wounded
cried out sharply, but one amongst them chided the others, asking had
they never heard a Fizz-Bang before, and what would the Doctor be
thinking of them squealing there like a lot of schoolgirls at a mouse in
the room?  But later in the day there was a worse outcry and a worse
reason for it.  The second room was being emptied, the wounded being
carried out to the ambulances that awaited them close by outside.  There
came suddenly out of the surrounding din of battle four quick car-filling
rushes of sound--sh-sh-sh-shoosh--ba-ba-ba-bang!  The shells had passed
over no more than clear of the cottage, and burst in the air just beyond,
and for an instant the stretcher-bearers halted hesitatingly and the
wounded shrank on their stretchers.  But next instant the work was
resumed, and was in full swing when a minute later there came again the
four wind-rushes, followed this time by four shattering crashes, an
appalling clatter of whirling tiles and brick-work.  The cottage
disappeared in swirling clouds of smoke and brick-dust, and out of the
turmoil came shrieks and cries and groans.  When the dust had cleared it
showed one end of the cottage completely wrecked, the roof gone, the
walls gaping in ragged rents, the end wall collapsed in jumbled ruins.
Inside the room was no more than a shambles.  There were twenty odd men
in it when the shells struck.  Seven were carried out alive, and four of
these died in the moving.  In the other room, where the two doctors
worked, no damage was done beyond the breakdown of a portion of the
partition wall, and there was only one further casualty--a man who was
actually having a slight hand-wound examined at the moment.  He was
killed instantly by a shell fragment which whizzed through the door-way.
The two doctors, after a first hasty examination of the new casualties,
held a hurried consultation.  The obvious thing to do was to move, but
the question was, Where to?  One place after another was suggested, only
for the suggestion to be dismissed for some good and adequate reason.  In
the middle of the discussion a fresh torrent of casualties began to pour
in.  Some plainly required immediate attention, and the doctors fell to
work again.  By the time the rush was cleared the question of changing
position had been forgotten, or, at any rate, was dropped.  The wounded
continued to arrive, and the doctors continued to work.

By now, late afternoon, the fortunes of the fight were plainly turning in
favour of the British.  It was extraordinary the difference it made in
the whole atmosphere--to the doctors, the orderlies, the
stretcher-bearers, and even--or, rather, most of all--to the wounded who
were coming in.  In the morning the British attack had been stubbornly
withstood, and thousands of men had fallen in the first rushes to gain a
footing in the trenches opposite.  The wounded who were first brought in
were the men who had fallen in these rushes, in the forward trench, in
the communication trenches on their way up from the support trench, and
from the shell fire on the support trenches.  Because they themselves had
made no advance, or had seen no advance made, they believed the attack
was a failure, that thousands of men had fallen and no ground had been
gained.  The stretcher-bearers who brought them in had a similar tale to
tell, and everyone looked glum and pulled a long face.  About noon,
although the advance on that particular portion was still hung up, a
report ran that success had been attained elsewhere along the line.  In
the early afternoon the guns behind burst out in a fresh paroxysm of
fury, and the shells poured streaming overhead and drenched the enemy
trenches ahead with a new and greater deluge of fire.  The rifle fire and
the bursting reports of bombs swelled suddenly to the fullest note yet
attained.  All these things were hardly noted, or at most were heeded
with a half-attention, back in the dressing station, but it was not long
before the fruits of the renewed activity began to filter and then to
flood back to the doctor's hands.  But now a new and more encouraging
tale came with them.  We were winning . . . we were advancing . . . we
were into their trenches all along the line.  The casualties bore their
wounds to the station with absolute cheerfulness.  This one had 'got it'
in the second line of trenches; that one had seen the attack launched on
the third trench; another had heard we had taken the third in our stride
and were pushing on hard.  The regiment had had a hammering, but they
were going good; the battalion had lost the O.C. and a heap of officers,
but they were 'in wi' the bayonet' at last.  So the story ran for a full
two hours.  It was borne back by men with limbs and bodies hacked and
broken and battered, but with lips smiling and babbling words of triumph.
There were some who would never walk, would never stand upright again,
who had nothing before them but the grim life of a helpless cripple.
There were others who could hardly hope to see the morrow's sun rise, and
others again grey-faced with pain and with white-knuckled hands clenched
to the stretcher-edges.  But all, slightly wounded, or 'serious,' or
'dangerous,' seemed to have forgotten their own bitter lot, to have no
thought but to bear back the good word that 'we're winning.'

Late in the afternoon the weary doctors sensed a slackening in the
flowing tide of casualties.  They were still coming in, being attended to
and passed out in a steady stream, but somehow there seemed less rush,
less urgency, less haste on the part of the bearers to be back for a
fresh load.  And--ominous sign--there were many more of the bearers
themselves coming back as casualties.  The reason for these things took
little finding.  The fighting line was now well advanced, and every yard
of advance meant additional time and risk in the bearing back of the
wounded.

One of the regimental stretcher-bearers put the facts bluntly and briefly
to the doctors: 'The open ground an' the communication trenches is fair
hummin' wi' shells an' bullets.  We're just about losin' two bearers for
every one casualty we bring out.  Now we're leavin' 'em lie there snug as
we can till dark.'

A chaplain came in and asked permission to stay there.  'One of my
regiments has gone up, he said, 'and they'll bring the casualties in
here.  I won't get in your way, and I may be able to help a little.  Here
is one of my men now.'

A stretcher was carried in and laid with its burden under the doctor's
hands.  The man was covered with wounds from head to foot.  He lay still
while the doctors cut the clothing off him and adjusted bandages, but
just before they gave him morphia he spoke.  'Don't let me die, doctor,'
he said; 'for Christ's sake, don't let me die.  Don't say I'm going to
die.'  His eye met the chaplain's, and the grey head stooped near to the
young one.  'I'm the only one left, padre,' he said.  'My old
mother. . . .  Don't let me die, padre.  You know how--it is, back home.
Don't--let me--die--too.'

But the lad was past saving.  He died there on the table under their
hands.

'God help his mother!' said the chaplain softly.  'It was her the boy was
thinking of--not himself.  His father was killed yesterday--old Jim
Doherty, twenty-three years' service; batman to the O.C.; would come out
again with young Jim and Walt.  Been with the Regiment all his life; and
the Regiment has taken him and his two boys, and left the mother to her
old age without husband or chick or child.'

The two doctors were lighting cigarettes and inhaling the smoke deeply,
with the enjoyment that comes after hours without tobacco.

Another man was borne in.  He was grimed with dust and dirt, and smeared
with blood.  The sweats of agony beaded his forehead, but he grinned a
twisted grin at the doctors and chaplain.  'An' 'ere we are again, as the
song says,' he said, as the stretcher was laid down.  'This makes the
third time wounded in this war--twice 'ome an' out again.  But this is
like to be the last trip I'm thinkin'.  Wot about it, sir?  Will I be
losin' 'em both?'  And he looked down at his smashed legs.  'Ah, I
thought so,' he went on.  'I'm a market gardener, but I dunno 'ow I'm
goin' to market-garden without legs.  Four kids too, the eldest six
years, an' an ailin' wife.  But she'll 'ave me, or wot's left o' me; an'
that's more'n a many'll 'ave.'

'That'll be all right, my lad,' said the chaplain.  'You'll have a
pension.  The country will look after you.'

'Ah, padre--I didn't see you, sir.  The country?  Arst my brother Joe
about the country.  Wounded in South Africa 'e was, an' never done a
day's work since.  An' the pension 'as been barely enough to starve on
decently.  It'll be the same again arter all this is over I don't doubt.
Any'ow that's 'ow we all feels about it.  No, sir, I don't feel no great
pain to speak of.  Sort of numb-like below there just.'

He went on talking quite rationally and composedly until he was taken
away.

After that there was another pause, and the ambulances, for the first
time that day, were able to get the station cleared before a fresh lot
came in.  The dusk was closing in, but there was still no abatement of
the sounds of battle.

'There must be crowds of men lying out in front there wanting attention,'
said the captain, reaching for his coat and putting it on quietly.  'You
might stay here, Dewar, and I'll have a look out and see if there's a
chance of getting forward to give a hand.'

The other doctor offered to go if the other would wait, but his offer was
quietly put aside.  'I'll get back in an hour or two,' the captain said,
and went off.  Dewar and the chaplain stood in the door and watched him
go.  A couple of heavy shells crashed down on the parapet of the
communication trench he was moving towards, and for a minute his figure
was hidden by the swirling black smoke and yellow dust.  But they saw him
a moment later as he reached the trench, turned and waved a hand to them,
and disappeared.

'His name's Macgillivray,' said the doctor, in answer to a question from
the chaplain.  'One of the finest fellows I've ever met, and one of the
cleverest surgeons in Great Britain.  He is recognised as one of the best
already, and he's only beginning.  Did you notice him at work?  The most
perfect hands, and an eye as quick and keen as an eagle's.  He misses
nothing--sees little things in a flash where twenty men might pass them.
He's a wonder.'

And Macgillivray was moving slowly along the communication trench that
led to the forward fire trench.  It was a dangerous passage, because the
enemy's guns had the position and range exactly and were keeping a
constant fire on the trench, knowing the probability of the supports
using it.  In fact the supports moving up had actually abandoned the use
of the approach trenches and were hurrying across the open for the most
part.  Macgillivray, reluctant at first to abandon the cover of the
trench, was driven at last to doing so by a fact forced upon him at every
step that the place was a regular shell-trap.  Sections of it were blown
to shapeless ruins, and pits and mounds of earth and the deep
shell-craters gaped in it and to either side for all its length.  Even
where the high-explosive shells had not fallen the shrapnel had swept and
the clouds of flies that swarmed at every step told of the blood-soaked
ground, even where the torn fragments of limbs and bodies had not been
left, as they were in many places.

So Macgillivray left the trench and scurried across the open with bullets
hissing and buzzing about his ears and shells roaring overhead.  He
reached the forward fire trench at last and halted there to recover his
breath.  The battered trench was filled with the men who had been moved
up in support, and there were many wounded amongst them.  He busied
himself for half an hour amongst them, and then prepared to move on
across the open to what had been the enemy's front-line trench.  It was
dusk now and shadowy figures could be seen coming back towards the
British lines.  At one point, a dip in the ground and an old ditch gave
some cover from the flying bullets.  Towards this point along what had
been the face and was now the back of the enemy front trench, and then in
along the line of the hollow, a constant procession of wounded moved
slowly.  It was easy to distinguish them, and even to pick out in most
cases where they were wounded, because in the dusk the bandages of the
first field dressing showed up startlingly white and clear on the shadowy
forms against the shadowy background.  Some, with the white patches on
heads, arms, hands, and upper bodies, were walking; others, with the
white on feet and legs, limped and hobbled painfully, leaning on the
parapet or using their rifles crutch-wise; and others lay on the
stretchers that moved with desperate slowness towards safety.  The line
appeared unending; the dim figures could be seen trickling along the
parapets as far as the eye could distinguish them; the white dots of the
bandages were visible moving as far along the parapet as the sight could
could reach.

Macgillivray moved out from the broken trench and hurried across the
open.  There were not more than fifty yards to cross, but in that narrow
space the bodies lay huddled singly and heaped in little clumps.  They
reminded one exactly of the loafers who sprawl asleep and sunning
themselves in the Park on a Sunday afternoon.  Only the dead lay in that
narrow strip; the living had been moved or had moved themselves long
since.  Macgillivray pushed on into the trench, along it to a
communication trench, and up and down one alley after another, until he
reached the most advanced trench which the British held.  Here a
pandemonium of fighting was still in progress, but to this Macgillivray
after the first couple of minutes paid no heed.  A private with a bullet
through his throat staggered back from his loophole and collapsed in the
doctor's arms and after that Macgillivray had his hands too full with
casualties to concern himself with the fighting.  Several dug-outs had
been filled with wounded, and the doctor crawled about amongst these and
along the trench, applying dressings and bandages as fast as he could
work, seeing the men placed on stretchers or sent back as quickly as
possible towards the rear.  He stayed there until a message reached him
by one of the stretcher-bearers who had been back to the dressing station
that he was badly needed there, and that Mr. Dewar hoped he would get
back soon to help them.

Certainly the dressing station was having a busy time.  The darkness had
made it possible to get back hundreds of casualties from places whence
they dare not be moved by day.  They were pouring into the station
through the doctors' hands--three of them were hard at work there by this
time--and out again to the ambulances as rapidly as they could be
handled.  Despite the open, shell-wrecked end and the broken roof, the
cottage was stiflingly close and sultry, the heavy scent of blood hung
sickeningly in the stagnant air, and the whole place swarmed with
pestering flies.  There was no time to do much for the patients.  All had
been more or less efficiently bandaged by the regimental
stretcher-bearers who picked them up.  The doctors did little more than
examine the bandagings, loosening these and tightening those, making
injections to ward off tetanus, performing an operation or an amputation
now and again in urgent cases, sorting out occasionally a hopeless
casualty where a wound was plainly mortal, and setting him aside to leave
room in the ambulances for those the hospitals below might yet save.

One of these mortal cases was a young lieutenant.  He knew himself that
there was little or no hope for him, but he smoked a cigarette and spoke
with composure, or simulated composure, to the doctor and the chaplain.

'Hello, padre,' he said, 'looks like a wash-out for me this time.  You'll
have to break it to the pater, you know.  Afraid he'll take it rather
hard too.  Rough luck, isn't it, doc.?  But then . . .'  His face
twitched with pain, but he covered the break in his voice by blowing a
long cloud of smoke.  '. . .  After all, it's all in the game, y' know.'
'All in the game,' the chaplain said when he had gone; 'a cruel game, but
gallantly played out.  And he's the fourth son to go in this war--and the
last male of his line except his father, the old earl.  A family that has
made its mark on a good few history pages--and this is the end of it.
You think it's quite hopeless for him, doctor?'

The doctor looked up in surprise from the fresh slightly wounded case he
was overhauling.  'Hopeless?  Why, it's not even----  Oh! him?  Yes, I'm
afraid so. . . .  I wish Macgillivray would come back,' he went on
irritably.  'He's worth the three of us here put together.  Where we have
to fiddle and probe and peer he would just look--just half-shut those
hawk eyes of his and look, and he'd know exactly what to do and what not
to do. . . .  That'll do, sergeant; take him off. . . .  Where's that
bottle of mine?  What's this?  Hand?  Bandage not hurting you?  All
right.  Pass him over there for the anti-tetanus.  Now, then! . . .'

A burly private, with the flesh of his thigh showing clear white where
the grimy khaki had been cut clear and hung flapping, limped in and
pushed forward a neatly bandaged limb for inspection.  'A doctor did that
up in the trenches,' he remarked.  'Said to tell you 'e did it an' it was
all right, an' I only needed the anti-tempus an' a ticket for 'ome.'

'That's Macgillivray, I'll bet,' said young Dewar.  'Where was this?'

'Fourth German trench, sir,' said the man cheerfully.  'You know we got
four?  Four trenches took!  We're winnin' this time orright.  Fairly got
'em goin', I b'lieve.  It'll be Glorious Vict'ry in the 'eadlines
to-morrow.'

'Things like this, you know, must be,' quoted the chaplain softly, as
another badly wounded man was brought in.  'I wonder what the victory is
costing us?'

'Never mind.  It's costing t'other side more, sir,' said the casualty
grimly, and then shut lips and teeth tight on the agony that followed.

'I wish Macgillivray would come,' said Dewar when that was finished.  'He
could have done it so much better.  It's just the sort of case he's at
his best on--and his best is something the medical journals write columns
about.  I wish he'd come.'

And then, soon after, he did come--came on a stretcher with a bandage
about his head and over his eyes.  'Macgillivray!' cried the young
doctor, and stood a moment staring, with his jaw dropped.

'Yes,' said Macgillivray with lips tight drawn.  'It's me.  That's Dewar,
isn't it?  No need to undo the bandage, Dewar.  It's my eyes--both
gone--a bullet through them both.  And I'll never hold a scalpel again.
You can give me some morphia, Dewar--and send me on to the ambulance out
of the way.  I'm no good here now--or anywhere else, now or ever.  I
won't die, I know, but----'

They gave him the morphia, and before he slid off into unconsciousness he
spoke a last word to the chaplain: 'You were right, padre.  You
remember . . . it's the women pay the hardest. . . .  I'm thinking . . .
of . . . my wife.'

The chaplain's thoughts went back to the wife and mother of the Dohertys,
to the legless market-gardener and his ailing wife, to the boy lieutenant
who was the last of his line, and a score more he knew, and his eyes
followed as the stretcher bore out the hulk that had been a man who had
done much to relieve pain and might have done so much more.

The voice of another new-arriving casualty broke his thoughts.  'We're
winnin', doctor,' it was saying exultantly.  'All along the line we're
winnin' this time.  The Jocks has got right away for'ard, an' the
Ghurkies is in wid their killin' knives on our left.  An' the Irish is in
front av all.  Glory be!  'Tis a big foight this time, an' it's winnin'
we are.  Me good arm's gone I know, but I'd rather be here wid wan arm
than annywhere else wid two.  An' what's an arm or a man more or less in
the world?  We're winnin', I tell ye--we're winnin'!'



A SMOKER'S COMPANION

Except for the address, 'No. 1, Park-lane,' marked with a muddy
forefinger on the hanging waterproof sheet which served as a door,
there was nothing pretentious about the erection--it could not be
called a building--which was for the time being the residence of three
drivers of the Royal Field Artillery.  But the shelter, ingeniously
constructed of hop-poles and straw thatch, was more or less rain-proof,
and had the advantage of being so close to the horse-lines that half a
dozen strides brought the drivers alongside their 'long-nosed chums.'
It was early evening; but the horses having been watered and fed, the
labours of their day were over, and the Wheel and Lead Drivers were
luxuriating in bootless feet while they entertained the Gunner who had
called in from his own billet in the farm's barn.

The Gunner was holding forth on Tobacco Gifts.  'It's like this, see,'
he said.  'An' I knows it's so 'cos I read it myself in the paper.
First you cuts a coo-pon out o' the paper wi' your name an' address on
it. . . .'

'But, 'ere, 'old on,' put in the Wheel Driver.  ''Ow does my name get
on it?'

'You write it there, fat'ead.  Didjer think it growed there?  You
writes your name same as the paper tells, see; an' you cuts out the
coo-pon an' you sends sixpence for one packet o' 'baccy. . . .'

'Wot sorter yarn you givin' us now?' said the Wheel Driver.  'I didn't
send no sixpence, or cut out a cow-pen.  I gets this 'baccy for
nothin'.  The Quarter tole me so.'

'Course you gets it,' said the Gunner impatiently.  'But somebody must
'a' paid the sixpence. . . .'

'You said I paid it--an' I never did,' retorted the Wheel Driver.

''E means,' explained the Lead Driver, 'if you was sendin' a packet of
'baccy you'd send sixpence.'

'Where's the sense in that?' said the Wheel Driver.  'Why should I sen'
sixpence when I can get this 'baccy for nothin'?  I got this for
nothin'.  It's not a issue neither.  It's a Gif'.  Quartermaster tole
me so.'

'We know that,' said the Gunner; 'but if you wanted to you could send
sixpence. . . .'

'I could not,' said the Wheel Driver emphatically.  'I 'aven't seed a
sixpence since we lef 'ome.  They even pays us in bloomin' French bank
notes.  An' how I'm goin' to tell, after this war's over, whether my
pay's in credit----'

'Oh, shut it!' interrupted the Lead Driver.  'Let's 'ear 'ow this Gift
thing's worked.  Go on, chum.'

'It's this way, see,' the Gunner took up his tale anew.  'S'pose you
wants to send a gift . . . or mebbe you'll unnerstan' this way better.
S'pose your best gel wants to sen' you a gift. . . .'

'I ain't got no bes' gel,' objected the Wheel Driver.  'I'm a married
man, an' you knows it too.'

The Gunner took a deep breath and looked hard at the objector.  'Well,'
he said, with studied calm, 'we'll s'pose your missis at 'ome there
wants to sen' you out some smokes. . . .'

'An s'pose she _does_ want to?' said the Wheel Driver truculently.
'Wot's it got to do wi' you, anyway?'

With lips pursed tight and in stony silence the Gunner glared at him,
and then, turning his shoulder, addressed himself deliberately to the
Lead Driver.

'S'pose _your_ missis . . .' he began, but got no further.

'He ain't got no missis; leastways, 'e ain't supposed to 'ave,' the
Wheel Driver interjected triumphantly.

That fact was well known to the Gunner, but had been forgotten by him
in the stress of the moment.  He ignored the interruption, and
proceeded smoothly.  'S'pose your missis, if you 'ad one, w'ich you
'aven't, as I well knows, seein' me 'n' you walked out two sisters at
Woolwich up to the larst night we was there. . . .'

The Wheel Driver chuckled.

'Thought you was on guard the las' night we was in Woolwich,' he said.

'Will you shut your 'ead an' speak when you're spoke to?' said the
Gunner angrily.

'Never mind 'im, chum.  Wot about this Gif' business?'

'Well,' said the Gunner, picking his words carefully.  'If a man's wife
_or_ gel _or_ sister _or_ friend wants to send 'im some smokes they
cuts this coo-pon, same's I've said, an' sends it up to the paper, wi'
sixpence an' the reg'mental number an' name of the man the gift's to go
to.  An' the paper buys the 'baccy, gettin' it cheap becos o' buyin'
tons an' tons, an' sends a packet out wi the chap's number an' name and
reg'ment wrote on it.  So 'e gets it.  An' that's all.'

The Wheel Driver could contain himself no longer.  'An' how d'you
reckon I got this packet, an' no name or number on it--'cept a pos'card
wi' a name an' address wrote on as I never 'eard before?'

'Becos some good-'earted bloke in Blighty[1] that doesn't 'ave no pal
particular out 'ere asks the paper to send 'is packet o' 'baccy to the
O.C. to pass on to some pore 'ard-up orphin Tommy that ain't got no
'baccy nor no fren's to send 'im like, an' 'e issues it to you.'

'It ain't a issue,' persisted the Wheel Driver.  'It's a Gif.  The
Quarter sed so 'isself.'

Splashing and squelching footsteps were heard outside, the door-curtain
swung aside, and the Centre Driver ducked in, took off a soaking cap,
and jerked a glistening spray off it into the darkness.

'Another fair _soor_ of a night,' he remarked cheerfully, slipping out
of his mackintosh and hanging the streaming garment in the door.  'Bust
me if I know where all the rain comes from.'

'Any luck?' asked the Lead Driver, leaning over to rearrange the strip
of cloth which, stuck in a jam-tin of fat, provided what--with some
imagination--might be called a light.

'Five packets--twenty-five fags,' said the Centre Driver.  'There was
two or three wantin' to swap the 'baccy in their packets for the fags
in the other chaps', so I done pretty well to get five packets for
mine.'

''Twould 'a' paid you better to 'ave kep' your 'baccy and made fags out
o' it wi' cig'rette papers,' said the Wheel Driver.

'Mebbe,' agreed the Centre Driver.  'An' p'raps you'll tell me--not
being a Maskelyne an' Cook conjurer meself--'ow I'm to produce the
fag-papers.'

The Gunner chuckled softly.

'You should 'a' done like old Pint-o'-Bass did, time we was on the
Aisne,' he said.  'Bass is one of them fag-fiends that can't live
without a cigarette, and wouldn't die happy if he wasn't smokin' one.
'E breathes more smoke than 'e does air, an' 'e ought to 'ave a
permanent chimney-sweep detailed to clear the soot out of 'is lungs an'
breathin' toobs.  But if Pint-o'-Bass does smoke more'n is good for 'im
or any other respectable factory chimney, I'll admit the smoke 'asn't
sooted up 'is intelleck none, an' 'e can wriggle 'is way out of a hole
where a double-jointed snake 'ud stick.  An' durin' the Retreat, when,
as you knows, cigarettes in the Expeditionary Force was scarcer'n
snowballs in 'ell, ole Pint-o'-Bass managed to carry on, an' wasn't
never seen without 'is fag, excep' at meal-times, an' sleep-times, an'
they bein' so infrequent an' sketchy-like, them days, wasn't 'ardly
worth countin'.  'Twas like this, see, that 'e managed it.  You'll
remember that, when we mobilised, some Lost Dogs' 'Ome or Society for
Preventin' Christian Knowledge, or something, rushes up a issue o'
pocket Testaments an' dishes out one to everybody in the Battery.
Bound in a khaki cover they was, an', comin' in remarkable 'andy as a
nice sentimental sort o' keepsake, most of 'em stayed be'ind wi'
sweet'earts an' wives.  Them as didn't must 'ave gone into "Base kit,"
cos any'ow there wasn't one to be raked out o' the Battery later on
excep' the one that Pint-o'-Bass was carryin'.  Bein' pocket
Testaments, they was made o' the thinnest kind o' paper an' Bass tole
me the size worked out exackly right at two fags to the page.  'E
started on the Creation just about the time o' Mons, an' by the time
we'd got back to the Aisne 'e was near through Genesis.  All the time
we was workin' up thro' France again Bass's smokes were workin' down
through Exodus, an' 'e begun to worry about whether the Testament would
carry 'im through the campaign.  The other fellers that 'ad their
tongues 'anging out for a fag uster go'n borrow a leaf off o' Bass
whenever they could raise a bit o' baccy, but at last Bass shut down on
these loans.  "Where's your own Testament?" he'd say.  "You was served
out one same as me, wasn't you?  Lot o' irreligious wasters!  Get a
Bible give you an' can't take the trouble to carry it.  You'd ha' sold
them Testaments at a sixpence a sack in Woolwich if there'd been buyers
at that price--which there weren't.  An' now you comes beggin' a page
o' mine.  I ain't goin' to give no more.  Encouragin' thriftlessness,
as the Adjutant 'ud call it; an', besides, 'ow do I know 'ow long this
war's goin' to last or when I'll see a fag or a fag-paper again?  I'll
be smoking Deuteronomy an' Kings long afore we're over the Rhine, an'
mebbe," he sez, turnin' over the pages with 'is thumb an' tearin' out
the Children of Israel careful by the roots, "mebbe I'll be reduced to
smokin' the inscription, 'To our Dear Soldier Friend,' on the fly-leaf
afore I gets a chance to loot some 'baccy shop in Berlin.  No," 'e sez.
"No.  You go'n smoke a corner o' the _Pet-it Journal_, an' good enough
for you, unprovident sacriligeous blighters, you--givin' away your own
good Testaments."

'Young Soapy, o' the Centre Section, 'im that was struck off the
strength at Wipers later through stoppin' a Coal-Box, tried to come the
artful, an' 'ad the front to 'alt the Division padre one day an' ask
'im if 'e'd any spares o' pocket Testaments in store, makin' out 'e'd
lost 'is through lendin' it to 'is Number One, who had gone "Missin'."
Soapy made out 'e couldn't sleep in 'is bed at night--which wasn't
sayin' much, seein' we mostly slep' in our seats or saddles them
nights--becos 'e hadn't read a chapter o' the Testament first.  An' the
old sky-pilot was a little bit surprised--he'd 'a bin more surprised if
'e knew Soapy as well as I did--an' a heap pleased, and most of all
bowed down wi' grief becos 'e 'adn't no Testament that was supernumary
to War Establishment, and so couldn't issue one to Soapy.  But two days
later 'e comes 'unting for Soapy, as pleased as a dog wi' two tails,
an' smilin' as glad as if 'e'd just converted the Kaiser; an' 'e lugs
out a big Bible 'e'd bought in a village we'd just passed through, an'
writes Soapy's name on the fly-leaf an' presents it to 'im, and tells
'im 'e'll come an' 'ave a chat any time 'e's near the Battery.  The
Bible was none o' your fiddlin' pocket things, but a good substantial
one, wi' pitchers o' Moses in the bulrushes an' Abraham scarifyin' 'is
son, an' such like.  An' the leaves was that thick that Soapy might as
well 'ave smoked brown paper or the _Pet-it Journal_.  But that wasn't
the worst of it.  Soapy chucked it over the first 'edge soon as the
padre 'ad gone, but next day the padre rolls up and tells Soapy a
Sapper 'ad picked it up and brought it to 'im--'im 'avin' signed 'is
name an' rank after "Presented by----" on the fly-leaf.  An' 'e warns
Soapy to be more careful, and 'elps 'im stow it in 'is 'aversack, where
it took up most the room an' weighed a ton, an' left Soapy to
distribute 'is bully beef an' biscuits an' cheese an' spare socks and
cetera in all the pockets 'e 'ad.  An even then poor Soapy wasn't
finished, for every time the padre got a chance 'e'd 'op round an' 'ave
a chat, as 'e called it, wi' Soapy, the chat being a cross-examination
worse'n a Court-Martial on what chapter Soapy 'ad been readin,' an'
full explanations of same.  Soapy was drove at last to readin' a
chapter, so 'e could make out 'e savvied something of it.'

The Gunner tapped out his pipe on the heel of his boot and began to
re-fill it.

'If you'll believe me,' he said, 'that padre got poor Soapy pinned down
so he was readin' near a chapter a day--which shows the 'orrible
results that can come o' a little bit of simple deception.'

'An' how is Pint-o'-Bass goin' on wi' his Testament?' asked the Lead
Driver.

''E don't need to smoke it, now we're in these fixed positions an'
getting liberal supplies from these people that sends up to the papers'
Tobacco Funds.  But 'e's savin' up the rest of it.  Reckons that when
we get the Germans on the run again the movin' will be at the trot
canter an' gallop, same's before; an' the cigarette supplies won't be
able to keep up the pace.  An' besides, 'e sez, 'e reckons it's only a
fair thing to smoke a cig'rette made wi' the larst chapter down the
'Igh Street o' Berlin the day Peace is declared.'



[1] England.



THE JOB OF THE AM. COL.

The wide door of the barn creaked open and admitted a swirl of sleety
snow, a gust of bitter cold wind, and the Bombardier.  A little group of
men round a guttering candle-lamp looked up.

'Hello, Father Christmas,' said the Centre Driver.  'You're a bit late
for your proper day, but we'll let you off that if you fill our stockin's
up proper.'

'Wipe yer feet careful on the mat,' said the Lead Driver, 'an' put yer
umbrella in the 'all stand.'

''Ere, don't go shakin' that snow all over the straw,' said the Wheel
Driver indignantly.  'I'm goin' to sleep there presently an' the straw's
damp enough as it is.'

'Glad you're so sure about sleepin' there,' the Bombardier said,
divesting himself of his bandolier and struggling out of his snow-covered
coat.  'By the look o' things, it's quite on the cards you get turned out
presently an' have to take up some pills to the guns.'

'Pretty busy to-night, ain't they?' said the Centre Driver.  'We heard
'em bumpin' away good-oh.'

'You don't 'ear the 'alf of it back 'ere,' said the Bombardier.  'Wind's
blowin' most o' the row away.  They're goin' it hot an' strong.  Now
where's my mess-tin got to?  'Aven't 'ad no tea yet, an' it's near eight
o'clock.  I'm just about froze through too.'

'Here y'are,' said the Centre Driver, throwing a mess-tin over.  'An' the
cook kep' tea hot for you an' the rest that was out.'

'Pull that door shut be'ind you,' said the Wheel Driver.  'This barn's
cold as a ice-'ouse already, an' the roof leaks like a broke sieve.
Billet!  Strewth, it ain't 'arf a billet!'

The Bombardier returned presently with a mess-tin of 'raw' (milkless and
sugarless) tea and proceeded to make a meal off that, some stone-hard
biscuits and the scrapings of a pot of jam.

'What sort o' trip did you 'ave?' asked the Centre Driver.  'Anyways
peaceful, or was you dodgin' the Coal-Boxes this time?'

'Not a Coal-Box, or any other box,' said the Bombardier, hammering a
biscuit to fragments with a rifle-butt.  'An' I 'aven't 'ad a shell drop
near me for a week.'

'If we keeps on like this,' said the Centre Driver, 'we'll get fancyin'
we're back on Long Valley man-oovers.'

'Wot you grousin' about anyway?' remarked the Wheel Driver.  'This is a
Ammunition Column, ain't it?  Or d'you s'pose it's an Am. Col.'s bizness
to go chasin' after bombardments an' shell-fire.  If you ain't satisfied
you'd better try'n get transferred to the trenches.'

'Or if that's too peaceful for you,' put in the Lead Driver, 'you might
apply to be sent to England where the war's ragin' an' the Zeppelins is
killin' wimmin an' window-panes.'

'Talkin' o' transferring to the trenches,' said the Bombardier putting
down his empty mess-tin and producing his pipe.  'Reminds me o' a
Left'nant we 'ad join us a month or two back.  It was the time you chaps
was away attached to that other Division, so you didn't know 'im.  'E'd
bin with a Battery right through, but 'e got a leave an' when 'e come
back from England 'e was sent to us.  'Is batman[1] tole me 'e was a bit
upset at first about bein' cut adrift from 'is pals in the Battery but 'e
perked up an' reckoned 'e was goin' to 'ave things nice an' cushy for a
bit.  An' 'e as much as says so himself to me the first time 'e was
takin' ammunition up an' I was along with 'im.  I'd been doin' orderly at
the Battery an' brought down the requisition for so many rounds, an' it
bein' the Left'nant's first trip up, an' not knowin' the road 'e 'as me
up in front with 'im to show the way.  It was an unusual fine mornin' I
remember, 'avin' stopped rainin' for almost an hour, an' just as we
started somethin' that might 'ave been a sun tried 'is 'ardest to shine.
Soon as we was on the road the Left'nant gives the word to march at ease,
an' lights up a cig'rette 'imself.

'"Great mornin' ain't it, Bombardier?" 'e sez.  "Not more'n a foot or two
o' mud on the roads, an' the temperature almost above freezin'-point.
I'm just about beginnin' to like this job on the Am. Col.  'Ave you bin
with a Battery out 'ere?"

'I tole 'im yes an' came to the Column after bein' slightly wounded.

'"Well," 'e sez, "you knows 'ow much better off you are 'ere.  You don't
'ave no standin' to the gun 'arf the night in the rain, an' live all the
rest o' the nights an' all the days in a dirty, muddy, stuffy funk-'ole.
That's the one thing I'm most glad to be out of," 'e sez.  "Livin' under
the ground, like a rabbit in a burrow with every chance of 'avin' 'is
'ead blowed off if 'e looks up over the edge.  I've 'ad enough o'
dug-outs an' observin' from the trenches, an' Coal-Box dodgin' to last me
a bit, an' it's a pleasant change to be ridin' a decent 'orse on a most
indecent apology for a road, an' not a Jack Johnson in sight, even if
they are in 'earing."

''E made several more remarks like that durin' the mornin', an' of course
I agreed with 'im.  I mostly does agree with an officer an' most especial
a young 'un.  If you don't, 'e always thinks 'e's right an' you're just
that much big a fool not to know it.  An' the younger 'e is, the more
right 'e is, an' the bigger fool you or anyone else is.

'Well, the Left'nant's enthoosy-ism cools off a bit when it begins to
rain again like as if some one had turned on the tap o' a waterfall, but
he tried to cheer himself remarkin' that most likely 'is Battery was
bein' flooded out of their dug-outs.  But I could see he was beginnin' to
doubt whether the Am. Col.'s job was as cushy as he'd reckoned when the
off-lead o' Number One wagon tries a cross-Channel-swim act in one of
them four-foot deep ditches.  The wagons 'ad to pull aside to let some
transport motor-lorries past an' One's off-lead that was a new 'orse just
come to the Column from Base Remounts an' had some objections to
motor-lorries hootin' in his ear an' scrapin' past a eighth of an inch
from his nose--'e side-slipped into the ditch.  'E stood there wi' the
water up to 'is shoulder an' the lead driver lookin' down on 'im an'
repeatin' rapid-fire prayers over 'im.  I may say it took the best bit o'
half an hour to get that blighter on to the road again an' the Left'nant
prancin' round an' sayin' things a parrot would blush to repeat.  But 'e
did more than say things, an' I'm willin' to admit it.  'E got down off
his horse an' did 'is best to coax the off-lead out wi' kind words an' a
ridin' cane.  An' when they missed fire an' we got a drag-rope round the
silly brute the Left'nant laid 'old an' muddied himself up wi' the rest.
We 'ad to dig down the bank a bit at last an' hook a team on the
drag-rope, an' we pulled that 'orse out o' the mud like pullin' a cork
from a bottle.  It was rainin' in tons all this time an' I fancy the
Left'nant's opinion o' the Am. Col.'s job had reined back another pace or
two, especially as he'd slipped an' come down full length in the mud when
haulin' on the drag-rope, an' had also slid one leg in the ditch well
over the boot-top in reachin' out for a good swipe wi' the cane.

'We plods off again at last, an' presently we begins to get abreast o'
some position where one o' our big siege guns was beltin' away.  A bit
further on, the road took a turn an' the siege gun's shells were roarin'
along over our heads like an express train goin' through a tunnel; an'
the Left'nant kept cockin' a worried eye round every time she banged an'
presently 'e sez sharp-like to the drivers to walk out their teams and
get clear of the line of fire.

'"If a German battery starts trying to out that feller," he sez to me,
"we just about stand a healthy chance of meetin' an odd shell or two
that's tryin' for the range."

'We had to pass through a bit of a town called Palloo,[2] an' just before
we comes to it we met some teams from one of the Column's other sections
comin' back.  Their officer was in front an' as we passed he called to
the Left'nant that Palloo had been shelled that mornin' an' the
Headquarter Staff near blotted out.

'I could just see the Left'nant chewin' this over as we went on, an'
presently he asks me if it's anyways a frequent thing for us to come
under fire takin' ammunition up.  I told 'im about a few o' the times I'd
seen it happen myself, an' also about how we had the airmen an' the
German guns makin' a dead set at the Column durin' the Retreat an'
shellin' us out o' one place after the other.

'Before I finished it we hears the whoop o' a big shell an' a crash in
the town, an' the drivers begins to look round at each other.  Bang-bang
another couple o' shells drops in poor old Palloo, an' the drivers begins
to look at the Left'nant an' to finger their reins.  He kep' on, an' of
course I follows 'im an' the teams follows us.

'"I see there's a church tower in the town, Bombardier," he sez.  "Does
our road run near it?"

'I told him we 'ad to go through the square where the church stood.

'"Then we come pretty near walkin' through the bull's-eye o' their
target," he sez; "for I'll bet they're reckonin' on an observation post
bein' in the tower, an' they're tyin' to out it."

'We got into Palloo an' it was like goin' through it at midnight, only
wi' daylight instead of lamp-light.  There wasn't an inhabitant to be
seen, except one man peepin' up from a cellar gratin', an' one woman
runnin' after a toddlin' kid that 'ad strayed out.  She was shriekin'
quick-fire French at it an' when she grabbed it up an' started back the
kid opened 'is lungs an' near yelled the roof off.  The woman ran into a
house an' the door slammed an' shut off the shriekin' like liftin' the
needle off a gramaphone disc.  An' it left the main street most awful
empty an' still wi' the jingle o' the teams' harness an' clatter o' the
wagon wheels the only sounds.  Another few shells came in an' one hit a
house down the street in front of us.  We saw the slates an' the chimney
pots fair jump in the air an' the 'ole 'ouse sort of collapsed in a heap
an' a billowin' cloud o' white smoke an' dust.  There was some of our
troops hookin' a few wounded civilians out as we passed and the road was
cluttered up wi' bricks an' half a door an' broken bits o' chairs an'
tables an' crockery.  Fair blew the inside out o' the house, that shell
did.

'When we come clear o' the town there was a long stretch o' clear road to
cover, an' we was ploddin' down this when we hears the hum o' an
airyplane.  The Left'nant squints up an' "It's a Tawb," he sez.

'"Beggin' your pardon sir," I told 'im, "but it's a German.  No mistakin'
them bird-shaped wings an' tail.  He's a German, sure enough."

'"That's what I just said, Bombardier," he sez, which it wasn't but I
knew it was no use sayin' so.

'The airyplane swoops round an' comes flyin' straight to us an' passed
about our heads an' circles round to have a good look at us.  The
Left'nant was fair riled.

'"Dash 'is impidence," he sez.  "If he'd only come a bit lower we might
fetch him a smack"; an' he tells the gunners to get their rifles out.
But the German knew too much to come close down though he flew right over
us once or twice.

'"Why in thunder don't some of our guns have a whale at 'im,'" the
Left'nant says angry-like, "'or our airmen get up an' shoot some holes in
'im.  He'll be droppin' a clothes-basketful o' bombs on my wagons
presently, like as not.  An' I can't even loose off a rifle at the
bounder.  Good Lord, that ever I should live to walk along a road like a
tame sheep an' let a mouldy German chuck parcels o' bombs at me without
me being able to do more'n shake my fist at 'im. . . ."  'An he swore
most vicious.  The airyplane flew off at last but even then the Left'nant
wasn't satisfied.  "He'll be off back 'ome to report this Ammunition
Column on this particular spot on the road," he sez, "if he's not tickin'
off the glad tidings on a wireless to 'is batteries now.  An' presently I
suppose they'll start starring this road wi' high-explosive shell.  Did
ever you know a wagon full to the brim wi' lyddite being hit by a
high-explosive, Bombardier, or hear how 'twould affect the Column's
health?"

'"I knew of a German column that one of our airyplanes dropped a bomb on,
at the Aisne, sir," I sez.  "I passed the place on the road myself soon
after."

'"An' what happened?" he asks, an' I told 'im it seemed the bomb exploded
the wagon it hit an' the wagons exploded each other.  "That Ammunition
Column," I sez, "went off like a packet o' crackers, one wagon after the
other.  An' when we came up, all that was left o' that column was a reek
o' sulphur an' a hole in the road."

'"That's cheerful," sez the Left'nant.  "With us loaded down to the
gunn'l wi' lyddite, an' the prospect o' being a target for every German
gun within range o' this road."  He fidgeted in his saddle a bit, an'
then, "I suppose," he sez, "they'll calculate our pace an' the distance
we've moved since this airman saw us, an' they'll shell the section o'
road just ahead of us now to glory.  I'd halt for a bit just to cheat
'em, for they'll shoot by the map without seein' us.  But that
requisition for lyddite was urgent, wasn't it?"

'I told him it was so, an' the Battery captain had told me to get it in
quick to the column.

'"Then we'll just have to push on an' chance it," sez the Left'nant,
"though I must own I do hate being made a helpless runnin'-deer target to
every German gunner that likes to coco-nut shy at me. . . .  Like a
packet o' crackers. . . .  Good Lord!"

'We plodded on, the Left'nant spurrin' his horse on and reinin' him back,
an' cockin' his ear for the first shell bumpin' on the road.  Nothin'
happened for quite a bit after that, an' I was just about beginnin' to
feel satisfied that the Germ bird 'ad run into a streak o' air that our
anti-aircraft guns kept strickly preserved an' that they'd served a
Trespassers-will-be-Spiflicated notice on 'im an' had punctured him an'
his wings.  But just as we rounded a curve an' came into a long straight
piece o' the road, I hears a high-risin' swoosh an' before it finished
an' before the bang o' the burst reached us, spout goes a cloud o' black
smoke 'way far down the road.'

'"This," says the Left'nant, "is goin' to be highly interestin', not to
say excitin', presently.  I figure that's either a four-point-two or a
five-point-nine-inch high-explosive Hun.  An' there's another o' the dose
from the same bottle, an' about a hundred yards this way along the road.
I dunno how their high-explosive will mix wi' ours, but if they get one
direct hit on a wagon we'll know all about it pretty quick.  A Brock's
Crystal Palace firework show won't be in it wi' the ensooin' performance.
An' that remark o' yours, bombardier, about a packet o' crackers recurs
to my min' wi' most disquietin' persistency.  'An' still they come,' as
the poet remarks."

'They was comin' too, an' no fatal error.  No hurry about 'em, but a most
alarmin' regularity.  They was all pitchin' plumb on that road, an' each
one about fifty to a hundred yards nearer our procession, an' us walkin'
straight into the shower too.  The swoosh-bang o' each one kep' gettin'
louder an' louder, an' not a single one was missin' the road.  I tell
you, I could feel the flesh creepin' on my bones an' a feelin' in the pit
o' my stomach like I'd swallowed a tuppenny ice-cream whole.  There was
no way o' dodgin', remember.  We'd a ditch lippin' full o' water along
both sides o' the road an' we knew without lookin'--though the Left'nant
did 'ave one squint--that they was the usual brand o' ditch hereabouts,
anythin' down to six foot deep an' sides cut down as straight as a cellar
wall.  It was no use trottin' 'cos we might just be hurryin' up to be in
time to arrive on the right spot to meet one.  An' it was no use haltin'
for exactly the same reason.  The Left'nant reins back beside the leadin'
team, an' believe me there wasn't one pair o' eyes in all that outfit
that wasn't glued on 'im nor a pair o' ears that wasn't waitin' anxious
for some order to come, an' I'm includin' my own eyes an' ears in the
catalogue.  There was nothin' to be done an' nothin' to be said, an' we
all knew it, but at the same time we was ready to jump to any order the
Left'nant passed out.  The shells was droppin' at about ten to fifteen
seconds' interval, an' we could see it was goin' to be a matter o' blind
luck whether one pitched short or over or fair a-top o' us.  They were
closer spaced, too, as they come nearer, an' I reckon there wasn't more'n
fifty or sixty yards atween the last two or three bursts.  An' we was
still walkin' on, every man wi' his reins short an' feelin' 'is 'orse's
mouth, an' his knees grippin' the saddle hard.

'"Bang!" one hits the road about one-fifty to two hundred yards short an'
we heard chips o' it whizz an' hum past us.  The Left'nant looks, round.
"When I say 'trot' you'll trot," he shouts, "an' no man is to stop or
slow up to pick up anyone hit."

'Next second, "Crash!" comes another about a hundred yards off, an'
before the lumps of it sung past, "Ter-r-rot!" yells the Left'nant.  Now
some people might call the en-sooin' movement a trot, an' some might call
it a warm canter an' first cousin to a gallop.  We sees the game in a
wink--to get past the spot the next crump was due to arrive on afore it
did arrive.  We did it too--handsome an' wi' some to spare, though when I
heard the roarin' swoosh of it comin' down I thought we was for it an' a
direck hit was due.  But it went well over an' none of the splinters
touched.

'"Steady there, steady," shouts the Left'nant "but keep goin'.  They'll
repeat the series if they've any sense."  We could hear the blighters
crumpin' away back down the road behind us, an' believe me we kep' goin'
all right.  But the Boshe didn't repeat the series; he went on a new game
an' just afore we came to the end o' the straight stretch four crumps
pitched down astride the road ahead of us about two hundred yards.  One
hit the edge o' the road an' the others in the fields on both sides an'
one of these was a dud an' didn't burst.  But we knew that the fellers
that did go off would make a highly unhealthy circle around an' the
prospect o' being there or thereabouts when the next boo-kay landed
wasn't none too allurin'.  The Left'nant yells to come on, an' we came,
oh, take it from me, we came a-humpin'.  There was some fancy driving
past them crump holes in the road, but we might have been at Olympia the
way them drivers shaved past at the canter.  We was just past the last
spot the four landed when I heard the whistle o' another bunch comin' an'
my hair near lifted my cap off.  Them wagons o' ours isn't built for any
speed records but I fancy they covered more ground in the next few
seconds than ever they've done before.  But goin' our best, there was no
hope o' clearin' the blast o' the explosions if they explosioned on the
same target, an' we all made ourselves as small as we could on our
horses' backs an' felt we was as big as a barn all the time the rush was
gettin' louder an' louder.  Then thud-thud-thud an' crash! three of 'em
dropped blind an' only the one exploded; an' it bein' in the ditch didn't
do any harm beyond sendin' up a spout o' water about a mile high.  Three
duds out o' four--if that wasn't a miracle I want to know.  But we wasn't
countin' too much on it bein' miracle day an' we kept the wheels goin'
round with the whistle over-'ead an' the crashes behind to discourage any
loiterin' to gather flowers by the way.

'An' when we was well past an' slowed down again I heard the Left'nant
draw a deep breath an' say soft-like ". . . a packet o' Chinese crackers."

'But 'e said something stronger that same night.  He'd just crawled back
to the Column wi' his empty wagons leavin' me as orderly at the Battery,
an' me havin' a pressin' message to take back for more shells I trotted
out an' got back soon after he did.  I took my message to the old farm
where the officers was billeted an' the mess-man takes my note in.  I got
a glimpse o' the Left'nant wi' his jacket an' boots off an' his breeches
followin' suit.  "I'd a rotten day," he was sayin', "but one good point
about this Am. Col. job--an' the only one I see--is that you get the
night in bed wi' your breeches off."

'But if you'd only 'eard 'im when he found he was for the road again at
once an' would spend 'is night in the rain an' dark instead of in
bed--well, I couldn't repeat 'is language, not 'aving the talent to 'is
extent.

''E was transferred to a battery soon after an' I 'eard that when he got
the orders all 'e 'ad to say was, "Thank 'Eaven.  I'll mebbe get shelled
oftener in a battery, but at least I'll 'ave the satisfaction o' shellin'
back--an' _I may_ 'ave a funk-hole handy to duck in when it's extry hot,
instead o' ridin' on the road an' expectin' to go off like a packet 'o
crackers."

'Mebbe he was right,' concluded the Bombardier reflectively.  'But I
s'pose it's entirely a matter o' taste, an' how a man likes bein' killed
off.'



[1] Servant.

[2] The identity of the town is very effectually placed beyond
recognition by the Bombardier's pronunciation.



THE SIGNALLER'S DAY

The gun detachment were curled up and dozing on the damp straw of their
dug-out behind the gun when the mail arrived.  The men had had an early
turn-out that morning, had been busy serving or standing by the gun all
day, and had been under a heavy shell fire off and on for a dozen hours
past.  As a result they were fairly tired--the strain and excitement of
being under fire are even more physically exhausting somehow than hard
bodily labour--and might have been hard to rouse.  But the magic words
'The mail' woke them quicker than a round of gun-fire, and they sat up
and rubbed the sleep from their eyes and clustered eagerly round the
Number One (sergeant in charge of the detachment) who was 'dishing out'
the letters.  Thereafter a deep silence fell on the dug-out, the
recipients of letters crowding with bent heads round the guttering
candle, the disappointed ones watching them with envious eyes.

An exclamation of deep disgust from the Signaller brought no comment
until the last letter was read, but then the Limber Gunner remembered
and remarked on it.

'What was that you was rearin' up an' snortin' over, Signals?' he
asked, carefully retrieving a cigarette stump from behind his ear and
lighting up.

The Signaller snorted again.  'Just 'ark at this,' he said, unfolding
his letter again.  'I'll just read this bit, an' then I'll tell you the
sort of merry dance I've 'ad to-day.  This is from an uncle o' mine in
London.  'E grouses a bit about the inconvenience o' the dark streets,
an' then 'e goes on, "Everyone at 'ome is wonderin' why you fellows
don't get a move on an' do somethin'.  The official despatches keeps on
sayin' 'no movement,' or 'nothin' to report,' or 'all quiet,' till it
looks as if you was all asleep.  Why don't you get up an' go for 'em?"'

The Signaller paused and looked up.  'See?' he said sarcastically.
'Everyone at 'ome is wonderin', an' doesn't like this "all quiet"
business.  I wish everyone at 'ome, including this uncle o' mine, 'ad
been up in the trenches to-day.'

'Have a lively time?' asked the Number One.  'We had some warmish
spells back here.  They had the range to a dot, and plastered us
enthusiastic with six- an' eight-inch Johnsons an' H.E. shrapnel.  We'd
three wounded an' lucky to get off so light.'

'Lively time's the right word for my performance,' said the Signaller.
'Nothin' of the "all quiet" touch in my little lot to-day.  It started
when we was goin' up at daybreak--me an' the other telephonist wi' the
Forward Officer.  You know that open stretch of road that takes you up
to the openin' o' the communication trenches?  Well, we're just nicely
out in the middle o' that when Fizz comes a shell an' Bang just over
our 'eads, an' the shrapnel rips down on the road just behind us.  Then
Bang-Bang-Bang they come along in a reg'lar string down the road.  They
couldn't see us, an' I suppose they was just shooting on the map in the
hopes o' catching any reliefs o' the infantry on the road.  Most o' the
shells was percussion, after the first go, an' they was slam-bangin'
down in the road an' the fields alongside an' flinging dirt and gravel
in showers over us.  "Come on," sez the Forward Officer; "this locality
is lookin' unhealthy," an' we picked up our feet an' ran for it.  Why
we wasn't all killed about ten times each I'll never understand; but we
wasn't, an' we got to the end o' the communication trench an' dived
into it as thankful as any rabbit that ever reached 'is burrow with a
terrier at 'is tail.  After we got a bit o' breath back we ploughed
along the trench--it was about ankle deep in bits--to the Infantry
Headquarters, an' the F.O. goes inside.  After a bit 'e comes out an'
tells me to come on wi' him up to the Observation Post.  This was about
eight ac emma [A.M.], an' just gettin' light enough to see.  You know
what that Observin' Post of ours is.  The F.O. 'as a fond de-looshun
that the Germs can't see you when you leave the support trench an'
dodge up the wreckage of that hedge to the old house; but I 'ave my own
opinions about it.  Anyway I've never been up yet without a most
un-natural lot o' bullets chippin' twigs off the hedge an' smackin'
into the ditch.  But we got into the house all right an' I unslings my
Telephone--Portable--D Mark III., an' connects up with the Battery
while the F. O. crawls up into the top storey.  'E hadn't been there
three minutes when smack . . . smack, I hears two bullets hit the tiles
or the walls.  The F. O. comes down again in about ten minutes an' has
a talk to the Major at the Battery.  He reports fairly quiet except
some Germ Pip-Squeak shells droppin' out on our right, an' a good deal
o' sniping rifle fire between the trenches in front of us.  As a
general thing I've no serious objection to the trenches snipin' each
other, if only the Germs 'ud aim more careful.  But mostly they aims
shockin' an' anything that comes high for our trench just has the right
elevation for our post.  There's a broken window on the ground floor
too, lookin' out of the room we uses straight at the Boshies, an' the
F.O. wouldn't have me block this up at no price.  "Concealment," sez
he, "is better than protection.  An' if they see that window sandbagged
up it's a straight tip to them this is a Post of some sort, an' a
hearty invitation to them to plunk a shell or two in on us."  Maybe 'e
was right, but you can't well conceal a whole house or even the four
walls o' one, so I should 'ave voted for the protection myself.
Anyhow, 'e said I could build a barricade at the foot o' the stairs,
where I'd hear him call 'is orders down, an' I'd be behind some cover.
This motion was seconded by a bullet comin' in the window an' puttin' a
hole in the eye o' a life-size enlargement photo of an old lady in a
poke-bonnet hangin' on the wall opposite.  The row of the splinterin'
glass made me think a Jack Johnson had arrived an' I didn't waste time
gettin' to work on my barricade.  I got a arm-chair an' the half of a
sofa an' a broken-legged table, an' made that the foundation; an' up
against the outside of them I stacked a lot o' table linen an' books
an' loose bricks an' bottles an' somebody's Sunday clothes an' a fender
an' fire-irons an' anything else I thought any good to turn a bullet.
I finished up by prizin' up a hearthstone from the fireplace an'
proppin' it up against the back o' the arm-chair an' sittin' down most
luxurious in the chair an' lighting up my pipe.  That's a long ways the
most comfortable chair I've ever sat in--deep soft springy seat an'
padded arms an' covered in red velvet--an' I was just thinkin' what a
treat it was when I hears the rifle fire out in front beginnin' to
brisk up, an' the Forward Officer calls down to me to warn the Battery
to stand by because o' some excitement in the trenches.  "Major says
would you like him to give them a few rounds, sir," I shouts up, an'
the F.O. says, "Yes--three rounds gun-fire, on the lines the guns are
laid."  So off goes your three rounds, an' I could hear your shells
whoopin' along over our heads.

'"Number One gun add twenty-five yards," calls down the F.O., an' then
gives some more corrections an' calls for one round battery fire.  By
this time the rifle fire out in front was pretty thick and the bullets
was hissin' an' whinin' past us an' crackin' on the walls.  Another one
came through the window an' perforated the old lady's poke-bonnet, but
none o' them was comin' near me, an' I was just about happily
concludin' I wasn't in the direct line o' fire an' was well covered
from strays.  So I was snuggin' down in my big easy chair with the D
Mark III. on my knee, puffin' my pipe an' repeatin' the F.O.'s orders
as pleasant as you please when crack! a bullet comes with an almighty
smack through the back o' the arm-chair, bare inches off my ear.
Comfort or no comfort, thinks I, this is where I resign the chair, an'
I slides out an' squats well down on the wet floor.  It's surprisin'
too the amount o' wet an ordinary carpet can hold, an' the chap that
designed the pattern o' this one might 'ave worked in some water lilies
an' duckweed instead o' red roses an' pink leaves if he'd known 'ow it
would come to be used.  This 'ouse 'as been rather a swagger one,
judgin' by the style o' the furniture, but one end an' the roof 'aving
gone west with the shellin' the whole show ain't what it might be.  An'
when the missus as it belongs to returns to 'er 'appy 'ome there's
going to be some fervent remarks passed about the Germs an' the war
generally.

'But to get on wi' the drill--the row in the trenches got hotter an'
hotter, an' our house might 'ave been a high-power magnet for bullets,
the way they was comin' in, through that open window special.  The old
lady lost another eye an' half an' ear, an' 'er Sunday gown an' a big
gold brooch was shot to ribbons.  A bullet cut the cord at last, an'
the old girl came down bump.  But I'd been watchin' 'er so long I felt
she oughtn't to be disgraced lyin' there on 'er face before the German
fire.  So I crawled out an' propped 'er up against the wall with 'er
face to the window.  I 'ope she'd be glad to know 'er photo went down
with flyin' poke-bonnet.'

'It was shortly after this our wire was first cut--about ten ac emma
[A.M.] that would be.  I sings out to the F.O. that I was disc[1], but
what wi' the bullets smackin' into the walls, the shells passin' over
us, the Coal-Boxes bursting around, an' the trenches belting off at
their hardest, the F.O. didn't 'ear me an' I 'ad to crawl up the stairs
to 'im.  Just as I got to the top a shrap burst, an' the bullets came
smashin' an' tearin' down thro' the tiles an' rafters.  The bullets up
there was whistlin' an' whinin' past an' over like the wind in a ship's
riggin', an' every now an' then _whack!_ one would hit a tile, sending
the dust an' splinters jumpin'.  The F.O. was crouched up in one corner
where a handful o' tiles was still clingin', an' he was peepin' out
through these with 'is field glasses.  "Keep down," 'e sez when 'e saw
me.  "There's a brace o' blanky snipers been tryin' for a cold
'alf-hour to bull's-eye on to me.  There they go again----," an' _crack
. . . smack_ two bullets comes, one knockin' another loose tile off, a
foot over 'is 'ead, an' t'other puttin' a china ornament on the
mantel-piece on the casualty list.

'I reported the wire cut an' the F.O. sez he'd come along wi' me an'
locate the break.  "We'll have to hurry," he says, "cos it looks to me
as if a real fight was breezin' up."  So we crawled out along the ditch
an' down the trench, followin' the wire.  We found the break--there was
three cuts--along that bit o' road that runs from the Rollin' River
Trench down past the Bomb Store, an' I don't ever want a more highly
excitin' job than we had mendin' it.  The shells was fair rainin' down
that road, an' the air was just hummin' like a harpstring wi' bullets
an' rickos.[2]  We joined up an' tapped in an' found we was through all
right, so we hustled back to the Post.  That 'ouse never was a real
'ealth resort, but today it was suthin' wicked.  They must 'ave
suspicioned there was a Post there, an' they kep' on pastin' shells at
us.  How they missed us so often, Heaven an' that German gunner only
knows.  They couldn't get a direct with solid, but I must admit they
made goodish shootin' wi' shrapnel, an' they've made that 'ouse look
like a second-'and pepper-caster.  The F.O. was 'avin' a most unhappy
time with shrapnel an' rifle bullets, but 'e 'ad 'is guns in action, so
'e just 'ad to stick it out an' go on observin', till the wires was cut
again.  This time the F.O. sez to look back as far as the wire ran in
the trench, an' if I didn't find the break up to there come back an'
report to 'im.  But I found the break in the hedge jus' outside, an'
mended it an' went back, the bullets still zipping down an' me breakin'
all the hands-an'-knees records for the fifty yards.  I found the F.O.
'ad reined back a bit from 'is corner an' was busy wi' the bedroom
poker breakin' out a loophole through the bricks of the gable-end wall.
'E came down an' told the Major about it.  It was getting too hot, 'e
said, an' the two snipers must 'ave 'im located wi' field-glasses.  One
bullet 'ad nearly blinded 'im wi' broken-tile dust, an' another 'ad
tore a hole across the side of 'is "British warm"[3]; so he was goin'
to try observin' through a couple of loopholes.  Then 'e went up an'
finished 'is chippin' an' brought the guns into action again.  Just in
the middle o' a series I feels a most unholy crash, an' the whole house
rocked on its toe an' heel.  The brickdust an' plaster came rattlin'
down, an' when the dust cleared a bit an' I got my sense an' my
eyesight back, I could see a splintered hole in the far corner of my
ceilin'.  I made sure the F.O. upstairs was blotted out, 'cos it was
that corner upstairs where 'is loophole was; but next minute 'e sings
out an' asks was I all right.  I never felt less all right in my life,
but I told 'im I was still alive, far as knew.  I crawled up to see
what 'ad 'appened, an' there was 'im in one corner at 'is peep-'ole,
an' the floor blowed to splinters behind 'im an' a big gap bust in the
gable wall at the other corner.  A shell had made a fair hit just about
on 'is one loophole, while he was lookin' thro' the other.  "I believe
we'll 'ave to leave this," he sez, "an' move along to our other post.
It's a pity, 'cos I can't see near as well."

'"If we don't leave this 'ouse, sir," I sez, "seems to me it'll leave
us--an' in ha'penny numbers at that."

'So he reports to the Major, an' I packs up, an' we cleared.  The
shelling had slacked off a bit, though the trenches was still slingin'
lead hard as ever.

'"We must hurry," sez the F.O.  "They're going to bombard a trench for
ten minutes at noon, and I must be in touch by then."

'We scurried round to the other post, and just got fixed up before the
shoot commenced.  And in the middle of it--phutt goes first one wire
an' then the other.  The F.O. said things out loud when I told him.
"Come along," he finished up; "we must mend it at once.  The infantry
assault a trench at the end of the ten minutes.  There they go now,"
and we heard the roar of the rifles swell up again.  He took a long
stare out through his glasses and then we doubled out.  The Germs must
have thought there was a big assault on, and their gunners were putting
a zone of fire behind the trenches to stop supports coming up.  An' we
had to go through that same zone, if you please.  'Strewth, it was hot.
There was big shells an' little shells an' middle-sized shells, roarin'
an' shrieking up and bursting H.E. shrapnel or smashing into the
ground.  If there was one threw dirt over us there was a dozen.  One
buzzed close past and burst about twenty feet in front of the F.O., and
either the windage or the explosion lifted him off his feet and clean
rolled him over.  I thought he was a goner again, but when I came up to
him he was picking himself up, an' spittin' dirt an' language out
between his teeth, an' none the worse except for the shakin'.  We
couldn't find that break.  We had to tap in all along the wire to
locate it and all the time it was a race between us finding the break
and a shell finding us.  At last we got it, where we'd run the wire
over a broke-up shed.  The F.O. was burnin' to talk to the Battery,
knowing they'd be anxious about their shoot, so he picked a spot in the
lee of a wall an' told me to tap in on the wire there.  Just as he
began talkin' to the Battery a Coal-Box soars up an' bumps down about
twenty yards away and beyond us.  The F.O. looks up, but goes on
talkin'; but when another shell, an' then another, drops almost on the
exact same spot, he lifted the 'phone closer in to the wall and stoops
well down to it.  I needn't tell you I was down as close to the ground
as I could get without digging.  "I think we're all right here," sez
the F.O., when another shell bust right on the old spot an' the
splinters went singin' over us.  "They look like keepin' on the same
spot, and we must be out of the line the splinters take."

'It looked like he was right, for about three more fell without
touchin' us, and I was feeling a shade easier in my mind.  There was
some infantry comin' up on their way to the support trenches, an' they
filed along by the wall that was coverin' us.  Just as they was passin'
another shell dropped.  It was on the same spot as all the others, but
blow me if it didn't get three of them infantry.  They fell squirmin'
right on top o' us an' the instrument, so I concluded that spot wasn't
as safe as the F.O. had reckoned, an' there was a flaw in 'is argument
somewheres that the Coal-Box 'ad found out.  The F.O. saw that too, an'
we shifted out quick-time.  After that things quietened down a bit, an'
the short hairs on the back o' my neck had time to lie down.  They
stood on end again once or twice in the afternoon, when we'd some more
repairin' under fire to do; an' then to wind up the day they turned a
maxim on just as we was comin' away from the post, an' we had to flop
on our faces with the bullets zizz-izz-ipping just over us.  We took a
trench, I hear; an' the Jocks in front of us had thirty casualties, and
the Guards on our left 'ad some more, 'cos I seed 'em comin' back to
the ambulance.

'On the 'ole, it's been about the most unpleasantest day I've spent for
a spell.  What wi' wadin' to the knees in the trench mud, getting
soaked through wi' rain, not 'aving a decent meal all day, crawlin'
about in mud an' muck, an' gettin' chivvied an' chased all over the
landscape wi' shells an' shrapnel an' machine-guns an' rifles, I've
just about 'ad enough o' this King an' Country game.'

The Signaller paused a moment.  But his gaze fell on the letter he
still held in his hand, and he tapped it with a scornful finger and
burst out again violently: 'King an' Country--huh!  An' a bald-'eaded
blighter sittin' warm an' dry an' comfortable by 'is fireside at 'ome
writes out an' tells me what the Country's thinkin'.  I come in 'ere
after a day that's enough to turn the 'air of a 'earse-'orse grey, an'
I'm told about my pals bein' casualtied; an' to top it all I gets a
letter from 'ome--"why don't you do somethin'?  Why don't you get up
an' go for 'em?"  Ar-r-rh!!'

''Ome,' remarked the Limber Gunner.  ''Ome don't know nuthin' about it.'

'They don't,' agreed the Signaller.  'But what I wants to know--an'
there's a many 'ere like me--is why don't somebody let 'em know about
it; let 'em really know.'



[1] Disconnected.

[2] Ricochets.

[3] Overcoat.





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