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Title: S.O.S. Stand to!
Author: Grant, Reginald
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.

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Libraries)



S.O.S.

STAND TO!

[Illustration: Patching up the "Pipped"]

S.O.S. STAND TO!

BY

SERGEANT REGINALD GRANT 1ST FIELD ARTILLERY BRIGADE, 1ST CANADIAN
DIVISION

ILLUSTRATED

D. APPLETON AND COMPANY NEW YORK LONDON 1918

COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

Printed in the United States of America



DEDICATION

IN HUMBLE, REVERENT SPIRIT I DEDICATE THESE PAGES TO THE MEMORY OF THE
LADS WHO SERVED WITH ME IN THE "SACRIFICE BATTERY," AND WHO GAVE THEIR
LIVES THAT THOSE BEHIND MIGHT LIVE, AND, ALSO, IN BROTHERLY AFFECTION
AND ESTEEM TO MY BROTHERS, GORDON AND BILLY, WHO ARE STILL FIGHTING THE
GOOD FIGHT AND KEEPING THE FAITH.



REMARK PREFATORY

The general purpose and scope of the rehearsal of my three years'
personal experience while in the artillery arm of the First Division of
Canada's overseas forces is to lay before the reader an outline of the
movement of our Division as it may be gathered from the performance of
my own specific duties, with especial reference to the battles of Ypres
(the 2nd), Givenchy, Sanctuary Woods (Ypres 3rd), the Somme and Vimy
Ridge.

Very little attention or space has been devoted to the detail of
initiatory camp life, drill, rations and the like; even had I the space
to do so, those features have been liberally covered by a number of
earlier writers; besides, I am of the opinion that the average reader is
more concerned with the desire to be imaginably transported as nearly as
possible to the heart of the struggle,--to live in his own mind the
strain and turmoil of the individual soldier in the desperate conflict
which now rages, the decision of which will determine whether democracy
or military autocracy shall be the predominating factor in the
governments of the peoples of the earth.



INTRODUCTORY


The devastating rush of the gray-clad hordes of Huns into the
peace-loving lands of Belgium and France has demonstrated conclusively
that to win this or any other war the one thing necessary is superiority
in artillery. Without this, an enemy sufficiently strong in numbers and
other equipment, can drive ahead, overcoming and crushing all obstacles.

The average lay reader is too apt to lose sight of the supreme
importance of this arm of the service, to which all other movements are
subsidiary; the dash of the charge by the infantry over the top,
magnificent in its appeal, submerges to a degree the real factor upon
which success or failure of the charge depends, i.e., the blazing of the
trail by the guns. Little thought is devoted to the man who, with hell
bursting on and around him, has to get his shell home in a certain
number of seconds so that the charge can be made.

Neither is it generally known that the percentage of loss in units is
greater in the unit known as the sacrifice battery than in any other
branch of the fighting machine.

Therefore, I may be pardoned if I feel a certain human pride in the fact
that it was my honorable lot to serve in this unit nearly a score of
times during my work over there, and I can account for my failure to be
seriously injured (a dislocation or a little gassing is comparatively
trivial) to nothing other than, as my Major emphatically expressed it,
"Damned horseshoe luck!"



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                   PAGE

I. CAN'T KILL ME                           1

II. THE FIRST NIGHT                       17

III. YPRES                                30

IV. MY HORSE SHOE WORKING                 48

V. HUN HELPERS                            58

VI. BITS OF BATTLE                        87

VII. SANCTUARY WOODS                     101

VIII. A BATH UNDER DIFFICULTIES          129

IX. HAM BONE DAVIS                       143

X. BEES, HONEY AND HELL                  157

XI. SCOTTY COMES BACK AT THE SOMME       170

XII. BEHEMOTH                            185

XIII. THE FAMILY LUCK                    203

XIV. THE DEAD SHELL                      210

XV. SATAN'S SHELLS AND SCENTED GAS       235

XVI. BEFORE VIMY                         262

XVII. VIMY                               275

XVIII. BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY             284



S.O.S. STAND TO!



CHAPTER I

CAN'T KILL ME


"Hello, Central, give me Queen 4000. Is that you, Burt? You are going,
aren't you?"

Burt Young was one of my pals and I had just learned from the morning
paper that enlistments for Canada's first overseas contingent were being
taken that day and I had called up to inquire if he were going.

"Sure, I am going. Where will I meet you?"

We arranged to meet at the exhibition ground and, taking French leave of
the office, I hastened to the camp where the recruiting was going on,
picking up Burt on the way.

It was as if a baseball championship series were on; the crowd
good-naturedly swayed and jammed as each man struggled to get to the
door and signed up before the quota was full. With only the loss of a
hat and some slight disarrangement of my collar and tie, I was one of
the lucky ones.

And we were lucky! Although visions of lands to be seen and adventures
to be had flitted rapidly through my mind, and although I believe none
of us on that day dreamed of what we were getting into, yet, looking
back over it all, I would not have missed my place in Canada's First
Division for anything I ever hope to have on earth.

In two hours I was in khaki and in another hour I had bade the folks
farewell and was standing on the station platform waiting for the train
that would take us to Valcartier, the greatest gathering place of
soldiers that Canada has ever known.

Some idea of my knowledge of things military may be gleaned from the
following:--chatting with Burt, he suddenly espied a large car, with two
girls, shooting up the street to the station, and called my attention to
it. One of the girls was my sister. I immediately scented trouble. I
skipped across to the other side of the depot, intending to board the
train from the other side when it came in; I was not going to have my
soldiering interfered with if I could help it. Standing in the shelter
of a pillar, I did not notice two husky recruits in khaki behind me.
"Is your name Grant?" they asked. "Yes." "The Colonel wants to see you
at once," they informed me, and they marched me back.

As I approached, my sister was talking earnestly and energetically to
the Colonel and I could plainly see I was the object of the
conversation. I waited.

"How is this, Grant, this lady says you are not of age. Is that so?"
asked the Colonel.

"I am of age and--"

"Stand to attention!" snapped the Colonel. I straightened up and folded
my arms respectfully across my chest.

"Stand to attention, damn you! Don't you know how to stand to
attention?" I shifted my feet a little uneasily, wondering how he wanted
me to stand.

"Put those heels together," he snorted. I did so. "Keep your toes
apart," he half hissed and half shouted. I spread my toes apart. I still
had my arms folded. Almost purple in the face with his violence, he
roared, "Put those damned hands of yours down!" and he grabbed my wrists
and flopped them down. "Young lady, you'll have to take this matter up
at Valcartier; there is no time to do anything now. You can go," this
to me. I turned on my heel.

"Here," he roared. "Don't you know enough to salute your superior
officer? Salute!" I gingerly raised my hand to my forehead and held it
there, much after the fashion, I think, of a man shading his eyes from
the sun, or a nautical chap gazing intently seaward.

"You idiot!" he bellowed, as he grabbed my hand and fiercely flung it
down. "Don't you know how to salute? Here, do this"--and he saluted. I
followed as well as I was able, but the utter disgust that was plastered
all over his visage as he turned on his heel would not have left much
hope for soldierly qualifications in one any less hopeful and
enthusiastic than I was.

My sister, in spite of her tears, could not keep back the smile as I
again kissed her good-by.

It was about noon next day when I reached Valcartier and after a month
of solid work, the like of which I had never before experienced, I was
as hard as a nail, and as tough, as indeed was every man in that honor
division of Canada's expeditionary forces.

We received orders to leave for England on the 14th day of September,
1914. I was detailed on a gun limber of my subsection of the First
Battery, the artillery being the arm of the service to which I was
assigned. Starting about 4:30 in the afternoon, in torrents of rain, we
headed for the city of Quebec. Along the way the people had thoughtfully
built large bonfires on either side of the road, serving the double
purpose of lighting our way during the night and enabling us to jump off
and warm ourselves, as we were thoroughly chilled.

The road was in a horribly bad condition and the rain did not improve it
any, and while the limber was lurching from side to side, like a ship
staggering in a storm, it was the better part of wisdom for me to keep
my eyes open to save myself from being thrown off and having my precious
neck broken.

To prevent in some measure the rain trickling down my neck, I took a
rubber sheet, used to cover the horses, tied the two corners together,
making a sort of cape of it, and put it round my neck.

Then I settled myself down to hold on to the limber and think at the
same time of the great game of which I had become an infinitesimal
part. I was sitting on the right hand side of the limber close to the
wheel and, before long, the effort to think and hold on at the same time
was too much for me, and I fell into a fairly sound sleep, Sergeant
Johnson, my companion, doing likewise.

While dozing, the string from the end of the cape engaged itself with
the axle, wound itself round and round and started pulling me down. When
I awoke it had a grip on me and every moment I was being drawn closer to
the wheel. I yelled to the driver to stop the horse, but the rattling
and rumble of the limber and the gun carriage drowned my call; neither
he nor the Sergeant heard me. Numb with cold, absolutely helpless, my
head almost down to the wheel, I gave one more yell for dear life. The
Sergeant suddenly and providentially woke up; he thought he had a
nightmare. I was almost choked and could hardly breathe, but managed to
make him understand, and he whipped out his knife, cut the string and
released me from what in a couple of seconds more would have been
instant death, as I would have been pulled from my seat and crushed to a
jelly between the wheels. This was my first close shave from death. I
had no horseshoe or four-leaf clover with me, and I can account for my
escape in no other way than that it was my lucky star that has
accompanied me throughout the long months of times that try men's souls
and that has never deserted me.

No further mishaps befell until I was safely aboard ship. I was in
charge of a fatigue party, bringing hay from the bulkheads of the ship
up on to the different decks for the horses; there was a pulley leading
to the bottom of the boat by means of which the hay was hoisted up, and
in going down each man gripped it and was slowly lowered. On the trip
down the men would cling to the rope, two or three at a time, with about
ten to twenty feet of space between them. In making a downward trip I
was second; the man ahead of me going down was over twenty feet from me;
and the rope suddenly slipping off the pulley and out of the hands of
the men running it, I dropped fifty feet. The man below on the rope
broke his leg and on top of him I fell. Although my drop was twenty or
thirty feet longer than his, on account of the space between us being
that much greater, I was none the worse except for a bad shaking-up.
Like all the men in Canada's First Division, my pal was in excellent
physical shape, and it was not long before his leg mended and he was
himself again. Nothing of further moment happened until we heard the
welcome call of land!

The different batteries were ordered to remove their guns, limbers and
horses from the boat, and I had charge of one party unloading guns and
limbers. A derrick and cable was used to lift our pets from the vessel's
hold, swing them up across the side of the boat and over on to the dock.
In my duty I was stationed on the dock, catching hold of the guns and
wagons as they were swung out and over by the derrick, and pulling them
across on to the dock. While pulling over a gun, the cable skidded and
the gun, coming on top of me, caught me partly under it, knocking me
unconscious. Luckily the weight of the gun did not fall on me in its
entirety; if it had, I would not be telling this story; it caught me on
the hip, dislocating the hip bone. I was removed to the ship's hospital
and was under the doctor's care till morning, and from there I went to a
hospital in Plymouth City for six weeks. From there I was removed to the
field general hospital in Salisbury Plain, where I tarried an
additional ten days. While here I had a two-fold adventure.

The hospital was in a tent where I reclined with forty other patients,
and directly opposite our tent was another in which were confined under
guard a number of patients who were subject to fits, some of a very
serious nature. Lying in bed, my leg encased in its plaster-of-paris
cast, about ten o'clock one night, when just dozing off, I was
frightened into wakefulness by a scream. A man, who turned out to be an
escaped epileptic, was standing in the doorway screaming, his eyes
bulging out of his head. He had escaped by striking the sentry over the
head with the fire brazier, used to keep the sentry warm. Staring wildly
about the room for a couple of seconds, he made a leap for the nearest
man and bit him in the arm; he then jumped at the next patient, biting
him; I was the following recipient of his devotions, getting a bite on
the wrist. Utterly unable to help or defend myself, as I was bound down
in my plaster-of-paris cast, I had to content myself with landing a
couple of punches on his mad mug, but he didn't seem to mind them in the
least,--rather enjoyed them, I fancy.

By way of diversion he then took hold of the beds and started upsetting
them, rolling the patients out on to the floor, causing a tremendous
amount of excitement, as well as pain and suffering to the men upset
who, some of them, like myself, had casts on their limbs. In the midst
of his mad capers the guard and orderlies rushed in, but before he was
subdued he managed to fasten his molars in the arm of a guard.

A bite from a man in his condition is no laughing matter and the doctors
took no chances; every man who was bitten had the wound immediately and
thoroughly cauterized and was inoculated.

My other adventure was the honor and pleasure of receiving a handshake
from their Majesties, the King and Queen of England, who were on a visit
of inspection to the camp. The visit of their Majesties was concluded by
a splendid little speech from Queen Alexandra in which she complimented
us and thanked us for our loyalty.

After my release from the hospital due to the effects of the accident at
Plymouth, I set to work looking after our horses and performing general
battery work. After my narrow escape from the gun wheel, the fall into
the hold of the vessel and the close shave I had had on the dock, I was
commencing to wonder whether I was destined ever to get to France.

Thus musing, I was riding one of the horses bare-back to a small creek
to give it a watering, and the rein, which was a long one, I held in my
right hand. I had to pass the targets where shooting practice was going
on, and the brute, taking fright, gave a sudden leap and threw me off
his back. I fell backwards and on the left side, and as I fell the long
rein wound itself round my right arm, keeping me tied as it were to the
horse; and my head came dangerously close to the animal's front hoofs
which he was kicking up every other second; with each jump he took,
those hoofs, in their upward motion of making a spring, almost struck my
face. I was dragged helpless for about twenty feet when, providentially,
the rein broke and I dropped to the ground, the horse dashing on in his
fright until he was finally captured.

I was picked up for dead and a stretcher was sent for; but, while on the
way, consciousness returned and in a few minutes I was able to navigate
without assistance. I then and there decided that I surely was
preserved for France and was not doomed to die an ignominious or
untimely death behind the front line trenches.

After supper that night I listened to the remarkable story of a man
whose lot was destined to be woven with mine to a degree:--"Aye, laddie,
they came on thick at Mons! There was one time there when there was only
Sandy MacFarlane and mysel' left out o' the whole company, and for two
or three hours we lay behind a wee bank, no higher'n your knee, fighting
them off. Lord how we plugged them! They died like flies! And then puir
Sandy got his, an' there was naething left for me tae do but tae beat an
honorable retreat, an' I grabbed Sandy's rifle an' retired on to the
main body, wi' the bullets buzzin' like bees around me. On my way back I
loaded both rifles as quick as I could and dropped every noo an' again
to let them hae it, and I was carefu' not to waste a damn shot; every
bullet told."

The speaker was Scotty Henderson, late of the Seaforth Highlanders, as
he informed us, and he was relating his experiences during the world
memorable retreat at Mons, when Britain's little regular army,
denominated by His Majesty, Wilhelm II, "The contemptible little English
army," was practically wiped out.

In the cookhouse we listened, open-mouthed, to the wonderful exploits of
this Scotch fighting man. "Were you wounded?" asked Lawrence. "Aye,
laddie, you're damned right I was," and he rolled up his trouser leg and
exhibited a large, broad scar on the inside of his right leg. "There's
where I got it."

"That's a funny looking wound,--looks like a burn," said Lawrence.

"You're damned right it's a burn," said Scotty, "it was the shell that
burned me as it grazed my leg."

The probable reason, I thought, why the shell could graze the inside of
one of his legs without injury to the other was because the fighter was
blessed with a pair of bow-legs that couldn't have stopped the
proverbial pig in the proverbial alley. In addition to this decided
detraction from his manly beauty, he was short, squatty, thick-necked, a
nose of the variety commonly known as a stub, and a couple of little
eyes that had a constant twinkle, half-shrewd and half-humorous, the
whole surmounted with a shock of shaggy red hair. But these detractions
from his beauty did not in the least lessen our admiration for his
personal bravery; he was in our eyes a first-class fighting man; he had
proven it by his work at Mons and had the scar to show for it.

"But how did you come to get into a Canadian unit?" asked another.

"Well, you see, after I was wounded in the leg and got my honorable
discharge, as soon as I was well, I wanted to do my bit again, and
knowing that you laddies get bigger pay than in the British army, I
thought I would kill two birds wi' the one stone,--get more money and
get into the game again. So I ups and goes to the Colonel and says I,
'Colonel, I'd like to get into the game again.' 'Well,' says he, 'I hae
na room for any more men in my command, but I do want a gude cook,' an'
it just happened that I was a cook by trade, and a gude one too, and
told him so, and says he, 'Well, you're just the man I want,' and he
signed me up there and then, and here I am."

He was a good cook and he was proud of it too; we had no reason to
complain of the way our meals were prepared. There was only one thing
about Scotty that caused a shade of dissatisfaction,--he was so
scrupulously careful to see that no man got more than his just share of
the grub that many a fellow grumbled about not getting enough to eat
and, in many cases, that they did not get what was coming to them. But
Scotty would shut them with the authority of an old soldier and,
besides, in his cookhouse he was monarch of all he surveyed. In a
half-humorous, half-scolding voice he would say, "Mon, what do you want
to be a hog for? Do you want to let someone else gang hungry? Tak'
what's given ye and thank God you're alive to eat it, because it won't
be long maybe before you'll be where ye won't need any grub--although
undoubtedly you'll need water."

This was an allusion to our probable future abode. So we had to be
content with what he chose to serve us. But there were speculations by
some as to whether or not Scotty really served us all the grub given him
by the quartermaster's department, and someone was so unjust, I thought,
as to venture the suggestion that he believed "the damned Scotch runt is
selling the grub to men in other units." "How does it happen," said he,
in support of his suspicion, "that he always has a little change when
the rest of us are broke?"

"Oh, nonsense," said I, "a good soldier wouldn't do such a thing, and we
all know he is a good soldier; there is no getting away from that."



CHAPTER II

THE FIRST NIGHT


I arrived in France early in February, 1915, and for three weeks we were
put into the hands of an Imperial battery, the Warwicks. They had taken
part in the battle of Mons, and the tales of the veterans of this
world's memorable retreat, told in their own modest way, gave me my
first clear impression as to what the boys of the Imperial Army really
had endured for civilization in that campaign.

At first I thought they were trying to bluff us Colonials, but the first
night I was in the lines I realized in the largest degree of human
intensity the fearful truth of their experiences.

The tuition given us by these warriors could not be excelled. They took
us to Fleurbaix, where their batteries were located on the outskirts of
the town, in cellars in the back part of a building destroyed by German
fire. There they had skillfully transformed the cellar into a gun pit,
with a loophole four feet in diameter overlooking an orchard at the
rear. Each time the gun spoke it would first be shoved into the hole and
the brush and sandbags removed, and as quickly as the message was sent,
the camouflage was replaced.

The color of the sandbags was a rusty gray and this, in conjunction with
the brushwood, prevented the spot taking on a dark appearance, which,
next to white, is the most easily distinguishable to an airplane; the
air birds are always on the lookout for these dark spots, watching them
intently to discover if any signs of activity are there, and immediately
anything smacking of life appears, the exact location is wired to their
trenches and the place is whirlwinded with showers of death and
destruction.

When the Warwicks had completed our educational course, there was no
detail of handling the guns with which we were not acquainted, and
thoroughly so, and I had the honor of being in charge of my gun, due to
the accuracy in my work. I think my chest expansion increased a trifle,
but my cap did not get any smaller.

At the end of ten days we left Meteren, arriving there February 28. It
was on the way from Meteren that I received my battle christening; the
ceremony was performed by a bevy of six airplanes, two of them flying
low and doing the sprinkling honors with a fusillade of bombs, dropped
on the road round about us. They left twenty or twenty-five of these
calling cards, but two of the batteries of anti-aircraft guns handled by
the Warwicks greeted them so warmly that they quickly decided they had
overstaid their welcome and made a hurried departure.

When the battery arrived at its designated point, we proceeded to
camouflage the guns with the artistry we had derived from our
instruction, covering them securely with grass and brushwood.

It was at this time that I lost not only my increased chest expansion,
but also a trifle more, because I was ordered to take my gun to a
position known as the sacrifice gun position, three hundred yards back
of the front line trench. It derives its name, "sacrifice gun," from the
fact that rarely, if ever, in case of a heavy enemy raid, does the gun
or any of its crew escape. This "honor" I was destined to receive many
times throughout my career in the Great Adventure.

I was in charge of the gun and I installed it in a hedge. The only time
we were to fire was when the enemy broke through and when our men in
retreating were on a line even with us; and we could not fire until we
got orders from the officer commanding or from headquarters.

The idea of a sacrifice gun is this: if the enemy broke through on
either or both flanks, pushing our men back, we had to wait for orders
from the commanding officer or from headquarters before firing; All the
ammunition carried was fifty shells; it was all we could get in those
days. In daytime the gun was covered with brush and other means of
concealment to keep it from the ever watchful eye of the Hun. At night
the crew consisted of two men, one on each side of the gun, and three
more in a ruined building a hundred yards in the rear of the gun. Our
shifts were two hours on and four off. The purpose pursued by the
sacrifice gun is to surprise the enemy when in full view and exposed,
killing as many of them as possible, blasting gaps through their line
and enabling our men to dig in in the position to which they have
retired, we knowing all the while that there is not one chance in a
thousand that the men connected with the sacrifice gun will escape
either death or capture. Our orders were under no circumstances to leave
the gun as long as a shell remained and a man lived. Deuced pleasant!
The ground in front of us was well drilled with concealed holes all the
way from four to six feet deep, in each of which strands of barbed wire
had been placed and the opening carefully concealed with clumps of
grass, brush and the like.

Blaisdell and I volunteered to take first shift on the gun on the first
night, about 10 o'clock. We had to take a narrow path on the way, with
Fritz sniping us every step; he had registered the path and it was a
constant target for his machine guns and snipers. Our pet was well
hidden in the hedge, with its nose poking through a hole in the leafage
and so cunningly camouflaged that it was absolutely impossible to be
noticed.

While lying stretched on each side of the gun between the muzzle and
wheel, any talking we did was to whisper cautiously to each other, as
the very grass beneath our feet contained spies in those days; the
country-side round about was as thickly infested with them as cells in
a honeycomb; and thus we waited.

Presently we heard the crackle of a piece of brushwood immediately out
in our front. The intruder had gotten into our entanglement. "Halt! Who
goes there?" No answer. I repeated the challenge; still no answer. We
made our way cautiously through the hedge, unclicked our safety catches
and were just about to fire in the direction of the sound when someone
yelled, "Where's the Durham Light Infantry lying?" We ordered them to
advance until within ten feet.

"Who are you?"

"Durham Light Infantry."

In the darkness we could not tell who they were but they spoke English
like natives.

"What are you doing out here wandering around in this fashion?"

"Well," one of them answered, "we were taking a stroll and got lost and
we want to find our way back."

We directed them and when they were lost sight of in the darkness, we
resumed our places on each side of the gun and thought no more of the
incident for the time. We again installed ourselves comfortably and
were comparatively safe from the sniping in front, which was going on
more or less all the time we were there, and about thirty minutes had
elapsed when, in the silence of the night, I thought I again heard the
crackling of a twig. Blaisdell heard it too. "Hist! Did you hear that,
Grant?"

"Yes," I whispered.

We listened intently and heard it again, this time a little closer. We
jumped up.

"Halt! Who goes there?"

No answer. Bang! Blaisdell fired, and these same fellows called, "Don't
shoot! We're looking for the Durhams." We emerged through the hedge.

"What in hell are you fellows doing around here again?" I asked.

"Well, we can't find the Durham Light Infantry."

"Well, you find some place away from here if you want to live to eat
your breakfast. If I find you around here again I'll shoot without
warning."

Again they asked us the way and again we directed them, and saw them
started on their way to the rear.

Once more we took our places on the gun between the wheels and were
hardly settled down when a sniper opened up on us from the rear, taking
a chip out of the wheel to my right. Ping! Ping! Ping! and the tree
standing ten feet in our rear was nipped. Ping! Ping! and the shield of
the gun got it this time. We were concealed behind the gun shield, which
protected us pretty thoroughly from the front fire and were
congratulating ourselves on our haven of safety when Ping! Ping! again
from our rear came the messages from a sniper hidden there. In glancing
back over my shoulder I noticed in the pitchy blackness the flash of a
rifle simultaneously with the report, and it seemed to come from a
haystack about 200 yards to our right.

"Blais, look back for a minute and tell me what you see."

Black darkness again for a few minutes, then another flare; we both
watched intently.

"By God!" exclaimed Blaisdell simultaneously with another report. "Right
out of the stack!" There was nothing for us to do but to lie there and
watch, and we absolutely confirmed our convictions that we were being
sniped at from this particular haystack.

When our watch was up I made my way to the ruin occupied by our relief,
woke them and told them to keep their eyes open for the haystack and
make themselves as small as midgets. Shortly after they started,
Blaisdell came in. He told me that the relief party had been sniped at
every step of the way to the gun. As Blaisdell entered, the open door
threw out a fitful glare of light from our flickering candle, and a
report from this particular haystack was followed by a bullet that
knocked off a chip of brick just above the doorway. Our friend was
certainly industrious, but I hoped to go him one better in the morning.
I grabbed the phone and called up headquarters, informing them of what I
had seen from the stock. The O.C. said the matter would be looked into
immediately.

There was no sleeping that night; we were too excited and chattered away
like school girls over our experiences, and to pass the time the
inevitable card game started. During the game the sniping was active and
continuous, the bullets chipping the building in all quarters. Our light
was from a candle jammed into a jam tin and set between a couple of sand
bags that we used for a table. Our mate, who had not yet taken his turn
on the gun-watch, was inclined to be rather skeptical about our story
of the sniper, declaring it couldn't be possible that Fritzie could be
carrying on such work in the very midst of our lines, and that our
imaginations had been running riot with us. We had been playing about
three-quarters of an hour when a gust of wind blew the door open,
throwing the faint gleam of the candle out in front. I jumped to close
the door, the light blowing out as I did so, and at the same instant I
heard a report from the same direction as before. I closed the door,
telling Blaisdell to light the candle. He fumbled for his matches and
lit it, and we were both stricken dumb for the moment; our chum was
lying stone dead with a hole squarely in his forehead. The gentleman in
the haystack was surely doing good work for his Kaiser.

Just before daylight we had a call from the O.C., accompanied by three
or four men; he had phoned us he was coming. He wanted all particulars
regarding my previous message. Under cover of the hedge we got to within
fifty yards of the stack and everybody was convinced of the certainty of
the information I had given, for, as we watched, two more flashes came
from the stack. Not a particle of doubt was left and the officer ordered
a bomb thrown into the haystack. Inside of a minute the red flames
began shooting out from all sides, in another minute it was ablaze, and
in five minutes we had the joy and satisfaction of hearing the muffled
shriek of the soldier who had so well served his Kaiser.

This ended for me a busy first night in the front line.

When the ashes of the fire were searched we found the charred body of a
man, the remains of a rifle and a complete set of telephone apparatus,
which was traced to our trenches, and from there to the German lines.

Wilhelm for a certainty lost an ace in the haystack. Besides our chum
and heavens knows what others, he had sniped the road along which relief
parties were passing up and down; and that same night one of the
soldiers of an infantry battalion of the Warwicks, winding its way to
the front trenches, got his death from a bullet squarely in the neck;
and the Germans having through him gotten an absolutely accurate range,
our gun was wiped out by a single shell, together with two members of
the crew.

Next afternoon, while resting in billets to where I had been ordered, a
shell struck the building, a splinter knocking out the eye of Ed.
Jackson, who was sitting beside me. He was not killed, but his wound was
a blighty, taking him out of the game for good. The unwelcome visitors
continuing to come, we were rushed to our battery of three guns in an
orchard near by; a curtain of sandbags was placed in front to prevent
the flash being seen. As soon as we started firing, rifle shots from our
left scattered the mud on all sides, coming at intervals of five or ten
minutes. Speculation was aroused and we set a man to watch, and
suspicion fastened on a farmer who was working his plow. Nothing was
found on him. Next day the same thing happened and again the watch was
set. This time our efforts were rewarded; the scout saw the farmer shoot
and throw the rifle down. He reported to the officer and we went over.
The horny-handed son of toil was very busy at the plow as he saw us
coming. He couldn't speak English. The officer sent to the nearest
French battery and presently a French soldier came who interpreted the
officer's questions and the man's replies. He knew nothing, whatever, he
said, about the rifle shots coming from his direction.

A search was then made for the rifle where the scout had seen him throw
it and not only one rifle, but several, including English, French and
German makes, were found in various parts of the field, partly buried in
the soil. When the guns were discovered the farmer threw up his hands,
wildly gesticulating and vehemently protesting that he knew nothing
whatever as to how they came there. His was a short shrift. He was tried
on the spot, tied to the pump of his own farm and shot.



CHAPTER III

YPRES


I remained in this spot with the guns until March, when the costly
victory of Neuve Chapelle was fought. My battery was playing on their
northern flank. The objective of the British Tommies was the city, which
they took, but at a terrible toll; 6,000 Indian troops, mostly Ghurkas,
were slain. The fearful mortality exacted from these troops was due to
their impetuosity; they do not know fear; it was impossible to hold
them; they rushed out before their time and some of them suffered from
the fire of our own guns. It was in this fight that our own famous and
gallant regiment, the "Princess Pats," was decimated, sustaining a loss
of over 700 men. This magnificent body of fellows went into the war
1,150 strong and at the last roll call but 22 of the original men
answered. The price paid was too much for what was accomplished.

We were then ordered to billets and stayed there until April 20th, when
we were ordered to Ypres, arriving there April 21. My battery was
stationed at St. Julien, one and a half miles northwest of the city.
Here I was detailed as observer, my duty being to get into the
front-line trench and from the most advantageous nook that I could find,
try to discover whatever I could about the movement of the enemy,
communicate my knowledge to the telephonist who would in turn send it to
headquarters.

Late in the afternoon I reported to the telephonist that a big fire was
in progress somewhere on our left, as an immense smoke cloud was rising
there and coming toward us. As shells had burst his wire, rendering it
useless, he started out to deliver the message by word of mouth, running
on top of the parapet as he started. That was the last I ever saw of
him; he did not come back; Fritz was coming and ahead of him rolled the
sinister-looking cloud on our left. Then happened the strangest thing!
The line trembled from one end to the other, as the Algerian troops
immediately on our left, jumped out of their trenches, falling as they
ran. The whole thing seemed absolutely incomprehensible--until I got a
whiff of the gas. They ran like men possessed, gasping, choking, blinded
and dropping with suffocation. They could hardly be blamed. It was a
new device in warfare and thoroughly illustrative of the Prussian idea
of playing the game.

When the great yellow clouds came rolling toward us, orders were roared
to wet our handkerchiefs and stuff them in our mouths, and half choked
and blinded we held for a day and a half. The buttons on our uniforms
were tinged yellow and green from the gas, so virulent was the poison.

Cooks and everybody else had been ordered into the line, as the giving
way of the Algerians necessitated our lengthening out so as to take over
their ground. Scotty of Mons fame was in the trench bay a few yards away
from me, and when the cloud had passed by I saw him rolling on the
ground, apparently blinded, tears streaming from his eyes. I helped him
to his feet and when he got his voice back his courage returned and,
yelling, "Let the barbarians come," he seized his rifle, rushed to the
parapet and fired point blank every cartridge in his rifle in the
direction of Fritz.

At the end of the second day another wave of hell's atmosphere came
across, more deadly than any of the others, followed by a smothering
fire from the German batteries, and the Germans broke in upon us on
our right and left. Yard by yard we retreated, fighting as we went, and
they occupied some of our front trenches--for a time.

[Illustration: A Chlorine Gas Attack from the Trenches]

That night Scotty and I received orders to report to a French dressing
station for treatment. I half-dragged and half-walked him to the doctor;
I had a feeling that he ought to have been able to make the trip without
my help as I was certain he wasn't suffering any more than I was. After
we left the doctor and got outside the dressing station, Scotty swayed
from side to side, groaning like a man who had lost his last hope on
earth, and the doctor told him to get away as quickly as he could as he
was playing the devil with the nerves of the men who were lying around
there half-dead from the poison fumes. He staggered over and sat down
beside me on the side of the road, still wringing his hands. I
remonstrated with him and told him that bad as it was it could not be
anything like Mons, and to my amazement he stopped his moaning all at
once and said with a twinkle in his eye, "Let's beat it to the dugout;
the doc won't see us." We took the chance and started. On the way Fritz
shot up the road and with a spring like an india-rubber man, Scotty
jumped behind a tree. We finally reached our destination and Scotty
proceeded to get something to eat. He lit a fire while I brought the
water. The cookhouse here was in the house of a farmer who had vacated,
and as the smoke coming from the chimney got thicker every moment, I was
apprehensive lest Fritz would see it and send over a shell message, but
Scotty pooh-poohed the idea.

Dinner was almost ready when--Kr-kr-kr-p! Kr-kr-kr-p! Bang! and a shell
shot clean through the joint. The concussion threw me to the floor,
covering me with lime and plaster-of-paris from the walls and ceiling. I
got up and looked around for the cook. The hero of Mons had been knocked
down, with the stove on top of him, and he was lying in the corner
praying like a good fellow. "Oh, Lord! look down in pity and save me!
Thou knowest, Lord, I am unworthy o' thy mercy, but please control the
shells o' those barbarians and send them in anither direction, and Thine
shall be a' the glory." Then he saw me standing there and he yelled, "Do
you think there'll be any more?" "No, that was merely a stray shell.
Let's get this grub, I'm starving." "Stray shell be damned," said he,
"they've seen the smoke and they'll be putting more over."

No sooner said than Kr-kr-kr-p! Kr-kr-kr-p! Kr-kr-kr-p! and three or
four more shells banged about the place, one of them blowing the pump
from outside through the shack past Scotty, out through the other wall,
and Scotty, ducking and dodging like a man trying to buck the line in a
football game, shot through the door and vanished in the night.

The pan of bacon he had been cooking was still intact except that it had
a coating of plaster-of-paris from the walls and ceiling of the room,
and I proceeded to put it under my belt as fast as my jaws would work,
and then made for my dugout. I was just settling down to a quiet smoke
when I heard the Major calling for Scotty at the top of his voice.
Getting no response, he called for me and I hastened to his quarters.

"Grant, go down and see if that Scotch cook has fallen in the soup; find
out if cookhouse is ready." "Yes, sir." I said nothing about what had
happened and returned to the cookhouse to find six Algerians devouring
the officers' rations in such fashion as to make one think of the man in
the side show who was advertised in letters twenty feet deep as the
original snake-eater of South America; there wasn't enough left for a
one-man meal. I reported to the O.C. that there were no signs of Scotty
but that the cookhouse had been hit by a shell.

"Go and see if he is at the dressing station." I went back to the
station. For nearly a mile the wounded and gassed men were lying on each
side of the road waiting for conveyances to remove them. I spoke to a
Tommy who had met with a peculiar accident; he had two plates in his
mouth and the concussion of a shell explosion in his immediate vicinity
had broken the plates into four pieces, leaving him practically
toothless.

Strongly suspecting by that time that if Scotty were anywhere on earth
he was at the rear in the wagon line, I waited around the station just
long enough to lend plausibility to my search before reporting to the
O.C. The Major was in a towering rage over our losses, and, damning the
cook, he dismissed me. The officers that night had to look to another
cookhouse for their evening meal.

Next morning I was sent for by the Major and dispatched to the wagon
lines on an errand;--at that time I was fulfilling the duties of a
runner for our unit;--he also told me to have a lookout for the cook
while there and make some inquiries about him. I saluted and left. The
first place I went to in the wagon lines was the cookhouse and as I got
there I thought I noticed the swish of someone quickly disappearing
round the corner and the cockney-cook there informed me that Scotty had
spent the previous evening with them and had only left a minute ago.

"'E's no slouch, that cook of yours," he said, "'e's a fighter, 'e is."

"That so?"

"You're right, 'e is. Wy, where 'e was stationed, when the Germans
rushed 'em in the trench, 'e 'eld 'em back, killin' two of 'em
single-handed until the others had retreated. 'E ought to get the
D.C.M., 'e ought; that's what hi say. By Gawd! when it comes to the real
thing, give me the Scotch! An' honly last night 'e was in his cookhouse
with some blighter by the name of Grant when the shells came along, and
this fellow must have 'ad a streak of yellow for he promised to 'elp
Scotty with the meal, but bolted like a bullet at the first shell."

"How did he come to be down here?" I asked.

"Wy, he got relieved."

"Where is he now?"

"Hover in the dugout."

I learned that the hero of Mons had regaled them with accounts of his
feats of valor in the trenches, very similar to the tales he had
recounted to us at Salisbury Plain of his achievements in the Great
Retreat, and the cook had given him a meal befitting a hero of his
caliber, which Scotty had devoured with the relish and avidity of four
heroes, while the others had shown him the due and necessary deference
becoming a man of action.

For the benefit of the cook I informed him that Scotty was a damned
liar; that it was I who had been with him; that he ran like a
white-livered cur under fire from his cookhouse and didn't stop until he
had reached the wagon lines; that he was there without being relieved
and that he would shortly have another tale to tell.

I hastened to the dugout he had indicated as Scotty's retreat and found
him in the innermost corner, pretending to be asleep; he didn't answer
until I called him three or four times.

"Scotty, the O.C. wants to know why you left the cookhouse without guard
permitting some Algerians to eat up his bacon and stuff, and, further,
why you ran away under fire. You are in for hell as sure as there is
heather in your hair." His countenance took on a greenish hue and he
mumbled something about being shell-shocked and refused to come. I
persuaded him, however, to come over to the Quartermaster of the wagon
line, and that officer asked him what he was doing there.

"Weel,--I was wounded and couldna' fight anither stroke; I was jeest
tired oot wi' killin' Boches and hadna' the strength to stand anither
minute; I jeest had to get away."

"Well, you've had a damned good rest now and you can get back to the
O.C. and tell him what you have told me and he will see that you get a
fitting decoration." This latter was spoken very grimly, and I could see
the great fighter's face fall. "You will see to it, Grant," said the
Q.M. "that Henderson doesn't hide his heroism from the O.C.; that he
gives it to him in detail, just as he has to me." "Yes, sir," and I left
with my prisoner.

We hurried along as night was falling and the German flares were
commencing to fly. On the way back we met two Algerian troopers and in
the gleam of a star shell and the fading twilight they looked more like
two escaped denizens of the chamber of horrors than anything I could
well imagine. Indeed, their appearance was so ghastly under the weird
light of the flares and the fading day, that I involuntarily shivered,
hardened though I was by that time to grim sights. Each of them carried
on his shoulder the hind-quarter of a cow that had been killed by a
shell at a nearby farm, and the dripping blood from the beast had
slopped all over their uniforms; under each arm was tucked a ham they
had "swiped" from the farmhouse and each had a young suckling pig
running ahead, squealing and grunting, tied by a string on the hind leg
and held by the left hand, while in the right hand each man carried a
sharply pointed stick to prod the pig when it veered from a straight
line, which was about every other step or so.

Just as we got immediately opposite the looters a burst of shell fire
from the German guns, followed by a hail of shrapnel, blazed all about
us, and the hero-cook jumped like a bullfrog, bumping plumb into one of
the Algerians, and he and the cook and the pig tumbled over and over,
the pig squealing like mad, the Algerian rolling out deep-throated oaths
in his native tongue, and Scotty cursing as only a redheaded gabby
Scotchman can, all amid an ear-splitting din of shrieking shells and
flare-gleams completing a _mise en scène_ as striking as anything ever
created by a master artist of stagecraft.

When Scotty extricated himself from the tangle his face and clothes were
smeared from the blood of the dripping beast, so that he could indeed
have passed for the blood-stained hero he had proclaimed himself in the
cookhouse, and in spite of his plight Scotty grinned as I suggested the
thought to him and the twinkle returned to his eye, and his spirits took
a decidedly upward turn until we reached the Major's quarters.

The Major was still cursing mad over the loss of the trenches in the gas
attack and I felt the moment he spoke that Scotty's fate looked black.

"Where have you been, Henderson?"

"I was in the cookhouse, sir, when a shell struck it, smashing
everything in sight, and I lost complete control o' my nerves and
started for the wagon lines wi'out knowing what I was doing or where I
was going, and didna' come to mysel' until Grant ran across me in the
dugout."

"That won't go, Henderson. Orderly room at ten-thirty in the morning.
It's the first case of cowardice in this unit and I'll take damned good
care that it will be the last. Grant, escort the prisoner back to the
wagon lines."

I could not help feeling sorry for the poor devil because, coward though
he was, his was one of those personalities that carried with it a sort
of likeableness, somewhat after the fashion of our time-honored
Falstaff, and his funk under fire made him liable to the extreme
penalty,--a firing squad. His teeth chattered like the keys of a
typewriter as he asked me, "What do you think will come o' it, Grant? Do
you think he really means it?"

I hadn't the heart to tell him what I really thought and strove to jolly
him by saying that the Major would feel in a better humor in the
morning, "and besides," said I, "when we take back those trenches
tomorrow, he will get over his flurry."

I turned my prisoner over to the guard of the wagon lines, first
informing the Quartermaster, and when he asked me what the trouble was,
I had to tell him of the variance of the prisoner's story told him and
that he told the Major, and that the Major directed that he be up for
orderly room in the morning. Without any further ceremony Scotty was
jammed in the clink.

It was now almost daybreak of the morning of the third day following our
first gas attack and, almost ready to drop with fatigue, I went over to
the wagon lines, gathered some straw and bags together under an
ammunition wagon, and was in a dead sleep in less time than it takes to
tell it.

At ten-thirty I reported to the orderly room to attend Scotty's trial.
The Major was in his appointed place and in due course the guard marched
in with the prisoner. His ammunition pouches and cap had been removed
and he stood to attention as well as the contour of his legs and the
thickness of his yellow streak permitted. Still I could not help
remembering what he had done at Mons; there was no doubt about that
because I had seen his scar and I knew that the ranks of the Seaforth
Highlanders had never held a coward; and I mentally concluded that he
must really have been suffering from shell shock or he would never have
left his post as he did, and I sincerely hoped that he would in some way
get through. The evidence was short and conclusive and the verdict was
curt and decisive:--"held in close confinement for general field court
martial at Steenwercke, May 12." And Scotty was led out looking as if he
hadn't a friend in the world; there was very little sympathy for him
from anyone.

The same evidence was repeated at the field court martial trial, but the
twinkle in Scotty's eye must have reached the heart of the commanding
officer for he was ordered deported to England, pending dishonorable
discharge. There he was sent to the military camp at Shorncliffe, put
under open arrest and utilized around the camp in a number of ways for
over a year.

That afternoon Colonel Morrison sent for me. "Grant, run to Colonel
Curry and find out how strong the Forty-eighth Highlanders and the Third
Brigade are, and how soon he can get the men together for attack."
"Yes, sir," and I started. I was running along the top of the canal bank
in broad daylight and in the open, expecting every second that one of
the missiles from the shower that was pattering the ground everywhere
would get me. In that race through that bullet-swept zone I felt a
common bond of kinship with the Irish soldier who was running as fast as
his legs could carry him from the Battle of the Wilderness in the
American Civil War and General Sherman, noticing him, turned his horse
in the direction of the fleeing soldier and halted him up.

"Here, you soldier, what are you running away for?"

"Because, Gineral--because I can't fly."

How I longed for wings! The Colonel later recommended me for a
commission and many times since have I wondered how he would feel about
that recommendation if he ever learned the real state of my feelings at
that moment. He did me the honor of requesting Colonel Morrison to
permit me to enter his unit and Colonel Morrison did me the additional
honor of refusing to let me go. I had gotten a somewhat painful scalp
wound on the way over, and I made my way to the French dressing station
in a half-unconscious condition. The French doctor nearly completed
matters by spilling the iodine in my eye and nearly blinding me. Some
dope was then administered that brought me to my full senses shortly
after.

When I was getting fixed up at the dressing station--I had a hard time
as the wounded men were swarming everywhere--I saw two women in the
station carrying baskets and speaking to the soldiers. They seemed to be
peasant women, but spoke very good English. They left after some little
time and wended their way up the road; but something in their appearance
directed attention to them and they were watched! After they had gone a
little bit up the road one of them was seen to open her basket and let a
pigeon go. They were at once arrested, handed over to the French police
and taken to Ypres.

The work of the gendarmerie was unexcelled; they were everywhere they
were needed; had it not been for their lightning-like acumen and prompt
service, the Lord only knows what would have become of us poor
Britishers in that country, as we were practically at the mercy of the
spies, not knowing who was who.

The two women were taken to Ypres and were treated to their deserved
fate--shot. But the pigeon did its work. Within an hour after their
arrest the hospital was shelled; it was packed with patients and in one
of the wards one of those flying ministers of death exploded, leaving
not a single living man.



CHAPTER IV

MY HORSESHOE WORKING


It was the fourth day of the second battle of Ypres. I was in charge of
my subsection at the guns and the men wanted water. I volunteered and
went to a farmhouse 150 yards off, got the water and had started back
for the guns. I had just stepped outside the door of the farmhouse when
Kr-kr-kr-p! a huge shell came over and blew the gun and gun crew into
kingdom come. A French captain was standing twenty feet from the door
and, following the report, I started for our gun. I had just taken a
step or two when another monster of death came hurtling through the air,
straight for me, as I thought, but, instead, it was a message for the
French soldier; it got him squarely, leaving not a fragment of his body
to be seen.

Immediately after the death of our gun crew and the French captain our
gun position was moved, and that same evening after supper, consisting
of the usual bread, jam and tea, Walter Hope and I were on our way to
the dugout. When half-way there a sudden emptiness entered into my life
and the next thing I knew I was being lifted on to a stretcher. I
rebelled and got to my feet. What had happened was this, as told me by
one of the boys who was standing a short distance off,--a shell had come
and exploded almost at my feet, throwing me in the air for a distance,
as he said, of fully twenty feet. It is impossible for me to personally
make an estimate of the distance, as I was unconscious when I went up
and when I came down.

When I recovered my senses, Hope was hopping around holding his right
hand with his left and exclaiming like a madman. His hand had been
almost severed by a fragment from the shell and was hanging to the wrist
by a shred. He ran to the cookhouse and the cook advised him to go at
once to the dressing station, as he couldn't do anything for him;
instead, in his frenzy, he ran to the gun pits, going from one to the
other, looking for help. Every man there wanted to help him, but he
wouldn't and couldn't stand still; the concussion of the shell had
affected his brain and this accounted for his ungovernableness. Then a
few of us grabbed him and I bandaged it as best I could, walked over to
the road with him and started him on his way to the dressing station; I
could go no further, as we had commenced firing, and he made his way
alone. When nearing the station his senses completely left him for the
time and he plucked off his hanging hand and threw it from him. The poor
lad was then taken into the station, properly attended to and sent to
England.

Thankful am I to tell that he came through all right and is now working
in Toronto earning his living by writing with his left hand, which he
has learned to manipulate with practically the same agility the lost
member possessed. We were deeply regretful at the loss of Hope from the
crowd--fearless Hope, as he was known, and, sometimes, hopeless
Hope--because never in all my experience have I seen a man who was so
utterly regardless of danger; he would expose himself to what seemed
certain death, and, as luck would have it, he got his blighty at a place
that ordinarily would be considered about as safe from harm as could be
found.

On the fifth day of the second battle of Ypres, April 25, 1915, McKay,
an orderly, came up the line with ammunition for the guns as our supply
was exhausted. As soon as the shells were delivered it was his duty to
report at once to the Captain for further orders. The poor fellow was
starving for something to eat and he thought he would steal the time to
slip up to the cookhouse and get a bite of grub. He rode his horse
across and was in the act of leaning over to get a couple of hardtacks
the cook was handing him, when a splinter of a shell that had exploded
at his horse's feet, struck him in the neck, killing him instantly,
slightly wounding his horse and destroying the rations and vessels in
the cookhouse. The Captain yelled, "Ammunition orderly wanted," and I
volunteered. I jumped on the horse, galloped him as well as his limping
leg would permit, and weathered the storm of shells through the fire
zone, making my way to the wagon lines, where I gave the Quartermaster
the order.

Then I had the pleasure of witnessing for the first time the admirable
celerity and effectiveness with which an order of this kind is carried
out.

"Ten loads of ammunition wanted at once, sir; ammunition pretty nearly
exhausted at the guns," was the message I delivered. The Quartermaster
blew his whistle--"Stand to! ammunition up!" he yelled. The Sergeant
then carried on; the men were standing easy by their horses waiting for
the word. In these days, when a battle is on, the men are always ready
for the word at a moment's notice, with their horses fully harnessed,
nothing being removed from the animals except the bit to enable them to
take their feed from the bag, and in no case is an ammunition wagon left
without its guard; at night when the guard would lie down to snatch an
hour's sleep, another one was there ready to carry on. "Prepare to
mount! Mount! Walk--march! Trot!" yelled the Sergeant in quick
succession, each command being executed with clock-like exactness, and
they trotted from under cover of the trees where they were concealed
from the airplanes and proceeded rapidly up the road under shell fire,
bumping and stumbling along.

I was guide for the party. We passed through Breeland, but could not
make the best kind of speed as the traffic was terribly congested. On
the left hand side of the road long lines of ambulances bearing wounded
men were going down, stretcher bearers were carrying their suffering
burdens and wounded men who were able to walk were making their way
around and through the wagons as best they could, among them being men
from every branch of the Imperial service, together with French and
Algerians; on the other side of the road supply wagons of all
descriptions were going forward. In the course of our journey the
harness of one of the horses rubbed the animal until he was lame,
stopping up the wagon. Immediately the Sergeant who was riding alongside
ordered the wagon to one side, removed the horse, installed his own,
jumped on the wagon and caught up with the others. The speed with which
he did the trick almost made me gasp with astonishment; in all my life I
never saw work of the kind handled so smoothly and swiftly. A dash of
the picturesque was added to the scene by the Algerian ration-bearers
winding their way in and out of the wagons, carrying trays of hot food
on their heads and shoulders. It was nothing short of marvelous, the
skillful manner in which they carried their precious burden of food, for
never did they have a spill unless killed or wounded.

One of the funniest sights a man can see was the way my chums of the
ammunition wagons defied the explicit and peremptory order, "No smoking
on the road at or around Ypres." There is something in the rise and
fall of the lighted cigarette when being smoked that attracts the
attention at long distances and many a man has had to pay the penalty,
which was most severe,--28 days field punishment, which means 28 days
without pay and breaking your back at fatigue duty around the camp, the
cookhouse and the wagon lines, in addition to four hours extra drill
each day. The temptation to smoke is so compelling that the punishment
does not deter most men and they take the chance. By taking the collar
of their coat and tucking it around their faces, lighting the match
under their coat next to their ribs, burying their faces in their coat,
they get a light without much danger of detection. In puffing it a man
will hold the fag in his closed fist to his mouth, take the inhale, and,
if there should happen to be a provo or other suspicious guardian of the
rules in sight, down into his stomach would go the smoke. I don't know
why it is but it has always seemed to me that the more stringent the
rules are against the forbidden luxury, the more chances men will take
to get their smoke.

We made the run to Ypres Square in an hour and a half. As soon as we
entered I noticed a woman clinging tightly to a little girl and hugging
the wall of the Nunshouse, a building standing immediately opposite the
town hall in the square. The square itself was a large open place in the
city about 350 feet long by 150 wide. I jumped off my horse, gave it to
the driver and went over. In broken English I learned they wanted to
cross, but on account of the fire continually bursting the woman would
not, so I picked up the child and carried her across to a cellar about
five doors out of the square. A chunk had been blown out of the building
and there was no difficulty in getting into the cellar, and as soon as I
got to this place the child murmured, "_Bon! bon!_" and indicated she
would go in there. I set her down and she turned her pretty little face
to me for a kiss. She then caught my arm as I was about to go and
slipping off a tiny locket from her little neck, handed it to me,
indicating that she wanted me to keep it. I have it to this day and I
prize it tenderly. It has a small picture of the patron saint of France,
Joan of Arc.

I ran back to her mother, pointed out where the child was, but she still
seemed afraid to venture across. Although my little adventure did not
occupy over three minutes, I could wait no longer, and jumped on my
horse and the train of wagons trotted sharply out of the square. As the
last wagon was leaving, I heard a sound like a train leaving a
depot--choo! choo! choo! choo! growing louder each instant, and as the
tail-end of the last wagon was trotting out of the square a shell, the
largest ever employed by the German command and called the Ypres
Express, landed full in the square, killing every living thing there and
destroying ambulances and wagons of every kind, catching our rear wagon
and blowing it up, wounding the driver and destroying the magnificent
Cloth Hall, the last vestige of this most beautiful piece of
architecture being destroyed by the resulting fire. That shell was from
one of two guns that were expressly manufactured for the purpose of
destroying the city of Ypres, a couple of months being taken to build
cement platforms in which to set the ordnance, and the death-dealing
monsters started on their mission of destruction from Dixmude, about 22
miles distant.

[Illustration: British Battery in Action]

Not long after, an airplane located these monsters and succeeded in
destroying one by a downpour of explosives he dropped on it, and the
other one, a couple of days following, when being fired by its crew,
the shell exploded in the gun itself, tearing it from its cement
foundation and destroying itself and crew. These were the only guns of
that caliber that have ever been used, so far as is known. The passage
through the air of those missiles of death, heralded by their choo!
choo! sent a shiver of dread up and down the lines as far as the sound
would reach, and deep and lasting was the satisfaction of all ranks when
the last of these mammoths of destruction wended its final flight.



CHAPTER V.

HUN HELPERS


On the sixth day after the first gas attack on the Canadians at Ypres,
we took up a new position in a hedge about three-quarters of a mile
north and a quarter of a mile east of Ypres, and about a thousand yards
from the German trenches. We galloped like mad over the shell-swept
road, taking just exactly an hour and a half to get the guns placed and
blazing. We had four guns when we pulled into this position, but were
latterly reinforced by two more from another battery, their sisters
having been smashed and the crews bayoneted, including their commanding
officers, and like friendless children they came to us looking for a
home and were gladly taken in, thus increasing our battery to six guns.

The hedge of the thickly growing thorn bushes ranged to the height of
four feet, making it incumbent upon us to continually assume a stooping
position when walking, involving a crick in the back for a good part of
the time while there, but the bush was as thick as could be and formed
an admirable shelter.

The beauty of these hedges in blossoming time is charming and the buds
were now coming out, their fragrance filling the air with sweet nectar.
To our right was a large farmhouse, of two stories and a gable roof, and
the nearest gun to the house was not over 30 feet off. The house was
occupied by a farmer, his wife and two young children, a boy and a girl.

The farmer's demeanor toward us was that of a systematic grouch and his
appearance did not belie his disposition--as surly and sulky looking as
a whipped criminal. He would stand in the doorway, watching us
continually, as if he feared we were going to steal his house from over
his head, and about the only thing he would say was to warn us not to
destroy the hedge. But our love for the shelter, to say nothing of our
love for the fragrant blossoms, made this injunction needless.

Over on the other side of the house, 40 feet to the right of it, was
another hedge behind which was a French battery of .75's. This battery
had been through the Marne and they were veterans of the finest order,
the very cream of the French artillery service, and their Captain was an
educated gentleman, speaking English as fluently as his native tongue.
They had come up from the Champagne district to reinforce the position
at Ypres and their battery also consisted of six guns, each gun capable
of 24 shells a minute.

In appearance these guns are the last in the world to give one the
impression of supreme efficiency; when we saw them coming down the road
we wondered what they could be and were amazed when informed that they
were the famous .75's that had made the work of the French guns ring
throughout the world; we couldn't at first bring ourselves to believe
that these were the famous guns until we saw them at work, because there
is nothing in the general aspect of the piece to make one think that
they are any better, if as good, as our old field pieces.

The secret of these magnificent guns lies in the buffer and in the
ability of the muzzle of the gun to cool off; after discharging 24
rounds they are just as ready to discharge another 24 as when they
started, while in the case of our pieces we have to let them cool, and
15 or 18 per minute is the limit of our effort, because any more would
cause them to jam from the heat. There is no gun on earth that can
compare with the .75's.

Our ammunition was supplied to us at this spot over a road running
between our wagon lines, half way between Flamingad and Breevland, about
a thousand yards away, but they had to go in a roundabout way, traveling
fully 800 yards out of the direct route on account of the ditches. It
was a physical impossibility for the horses to bring up sufficient
ammunition for the guns during the night, and they had to make the
perilous trip many times during the day, and with the German shells
pounding the road every foot of the way, their fire being guided by the
wireless directions from their planes, the number of horses that had
their lives smashed out on this road was something enormous. At one spot
is the famous Hell's Corner, so named because of the fierce fire that
continually rained upon it, and here I counted 40 dead horses, as fine
looking animals as ever were harnessed. Such is the toll of war.

On the day that we arrived, our attention was drawn to an Algerian who
seemed to be an inmate of the house. He could speak some English and
seemed to spend most of his time cleaning his revolver. On the first
afternoon I asked him why he was there and to what regiment he belonged.

"The Algerian-African troop."

"I understood they were in the trenches," I said. "Are you with the
infantry?"

"Yes," he replied, "I am."

"Are you wounded?"

"No."

"Then why are you not with your men?" I insisted.

"I was lost in the retreat," he answered.

"Why don't you go and look them up?"

"I did, but I can't find them."

Then he asked me if we were getting ammunition up.

"Oh, yes, lots of it," I said.

"When are you going to fire?"

"Oh, pretty soon," I said.

"What are you going to shoot at?" he asked.

I told him we were going to plug the German trenches and the buildings
around there, that we had orders to blow them up as they were filled
with machine guns. He grinned from ear to ear, saying, "Good! Good!
Shoot them all! Which ones you shoot first? I want to see them fall."

I pointed out the ones my battery was going to demolish and his big
white teeth were exposed in another grin, as he nodded approvingly, and
walked off.

That same afternoon my gun leveled the buildings assigned to me for
demolishment and knowing beyond all shadow of a doubt that they were
filled with men and machine guns, I watched through the glasses to see
the gray-clad inmates popping out of the doors and windows. Judge of my
astonishment! Not a solitary soul left the building my gun had
destroyed. I watched each one of them in turn and in turn was awarded
nothing for my pains. From others, however, hundreds of men rushed and
as they scurried away our guns shrapneled them, dropping them by the
score.

A sort of a subconscious connection between my conversation with the
Algerian and the effect of my gun fire found lodging in the back of my
head, but it was not until later that it became a direct consciousness.
Another thing that set me thinking was what seemed to me to be an undue
familiarity between this Algerian trooper and our farmer; he had the
entree of the house, apparently could go and come as he pleased,
drinking coffee with the inmates, sleeping there nights and making
himself generally at home. I didn't think much of it at the time, but
later events made these trivialities very significant indeed.

The bombardment was now commencing to have its effect on me, and McLean
and I were both tired out; we were dead beat and looked around for a
quiet spot where we could rest. Billy McLean was my especial pal ever
since I had set foot in France.

"Here is what the doctor ordered," he said, as we went off down the
hedge a bit and came to a little opening in the bush into which we both
crawled. It requires no effort for a man who has been sustaining the
sound, shock and work of a bombardment, to fall asleep anywhere, any
time, and we were soon Murphyized, as Mac expressed it.

The rain now commenced falling heavily and in the midst of our slumbers,
an orderly happened along and woke me up. I gave Mac a shove and he too
woke up. We were drenched and made for the barn. We found the Old Man
there with a lantern and told him we were going up in the loft, but he
scowled and said we were not to go. "To hell with you!"--and up we went,
finding five or six of the boys there taking advantage of the lull to
snatch an hour's sleep. We quickly followed suit, getting hold of some
straw and grain bags for a bed, and resumed our interrupted slumbers.

In the midst of our dreams "S.O.S. Stand to!" was ordered, but we did
not hear. One of our fellows, as we later learned, came running up to
the farmhouse and asked the farmer if he had seen any of our men.

"No," he scowled, "there are none here."

When we had our sleep out we made for the guns. It did not take us long
to see that a pretty thorough strafing had been going on, yet so dead
beat to the utter exhaustion point were we, that we had failed to hear
them.

"Where the hell were you fellows?" asked one.

"Asleep up there in the barn," said I; "why didn't you call us?"

"I did, I asked that old blankety-blank and he told me he hadn't seen
any of you fellows around there."

"Well," said I, "he knew that Mac and I were up there, because we told
him we were going, although he didn't want to let us go."

Here the incident dropped and was forgotten for the time. That afternoon
Fritz attempted to come over our way and on a "Stand to" we jumped to
the guns and drove him back, sending across 200 expressions of our good
will in record time. Then we "stood down." Following this we went
through the usual routine of cleaning up our pet and making her ready
for the next visitation, and while working away, friend farmer came
along with one of his cows, a large white animal, leading it with a rope
and permitting her to graze. He walked along in front of my gun where it
stopped and grazed awhile; going in like manner in front of each of the
guns. Then he led the animal over to the other side of the house, where
it grazed in front of the French .75's.

In the meantime we were working hard, getting our pets in shape, and
someone asked who would volunteer for water. We were all dirty, thirsty,
greasy and tired, and I offered to go. I ambled over to the farmhouse,
stopping to speak to the Captain for a moment on the way, when I heard
a shell explode; it had demolished No. 2 gun.

"Stand to!" yelled the Captain; then to the farmer, "Take that damned
cow away." He hurried the cow off and put it in the barn, but he had no
sooner gone than Kr-kr-kr-p! Kr-kr-kr-p! and the Captain and I were
knocked off our feet. The water bottle was broken and I did not take
time to get another but made for the guns. They were hammering our
batteries thoroughly now and I was told to take shelter. I ran over to
the farmhouse and asked the farmer's wife for a cup of coffee,--to sell
me a cup, which she refused; in fact, her husband would not permit any
of us to enter the house again. Then a smothering fire smashed the
French battery, the destruction being so accurate and complete that it
was done while I was asking and being refused the coffee! Just leaving
the house, I met one of the French captains. "Did you notice anything
peculiar in the farmer's actions?" he asked me; "I mean, with his white
cow?"

"I told him I hadn't noticed anything peculiar, that I had noticed he
had taken his white cow out in front of our battery, grazing her there
just before the battery was shot up.

"Did the cow stop in front of your gun?"

"Yes, it stopped before each one of them."

"So it did at ours," he said.

"_Merci_ Monsieur, you will hear from this." And he left in a hurry. He
phoned the gendarmes in the city of Ypres and in less than half-an-hour
they came. They entered the farmhouse and searched it thoroughly.
Upstairs they found parts of a heliograph lamp and a complete telephone
apparatus; there was also in his stove a system that had been
inaugurated for forcing up a shower of sparks; this apparatus had been
found in the houses of a number of spies who had paid the penalty for
their work. Then they made a search of the cellar in which were found
hundreds of tins of beef and jam, all of which had come from our
rations, and then was explained the mysterious disappearance of our
grub. There was no trace to be found of our Algerian trooper; he had
made a hasty exit.

Friend farmer and his wife were arrested, taken away with the children
and placed in the coop, and there the traitorous couple got their
deserts--they were taken to the square and shot.

After they had gone we made ourselves at home in the building, and the
comforts that awaited us there made us feel almost glad that they had
turned out to be spies. Among the rations we found that they had taken
stuff that had been purloined from other units as far back as three
months before. After a thorough ransacking and a feed that filled us to
our heart's content, we made for the battery, being greeted with a fresh
outburst on our arrival, and under the fire we pulled our remaining guns
away to another hedge 200 yards off, and waited for the storm to settle.

While lying there the brains of one of our geniuses got to working and
his ideas were quickly resolved into action. We went down to the barn,
took a couple of wagons, taking off the wheels and the poles, and made
up three dummy guns and placed them in the spot we had left, and in a
few minutes' time we had the satisfaction of seeing Fritz spend three or
four hundred good shells on our dummy battery.

A consuming thirst was parching my mouth and I took a chance and ran
along the open to the house for a drink. Then it was that the
disadvantageous side of our good work with the dummy guns was
exemplified; just as I was stepping out of the door, a shell tore a hole
in one corner of the building, knocking it out as clean as if it had
been drilled.

The customary methods employed by the Germans to get information as to
our guns, our troops, our supplies around Ypres, was to send a disguised
soldier to the different farmhouses and threaten them with instant
demolition by their guns if they did not furnish the information sought
for, and thus did Fritz make good his promise to the farmer. By reason
of our dummy guns and the strafing they got, and the fact that our guns
still were firing, he believed that the farmer had given him a bunco
steer, and he lost no time in making good his word.

Remaining in the hedge for a few hours, we dug holes for the guns,
covered them with tarpaulins and grass on top, giving them the usual
scenic shelter. We did this work in the open but only one man at a time
exposed; it was as much as life was worth for more than one to be seen
working. That evening, in the midst of our meal at cookhouse,--"Stand
to!" and we raced for our pets. When the concert was well under way,
Munsey noticed a light three or four hundred yards off that was acting
somewhat peculiarly; it would flare up and down oddly and seemed to be
in a farmhouse straight at our rear, but not much attention was paid to
it at the time. Next morning Munsey and I were in the cookhouse, trying
to moisten a couple of hardtack biscuits with what juice we could
extract from a piece of bacon rind, when an airplane hummed overhead and
the attention of one of our anti-aircraft guns was immediately diverted
to the bird. The cookhouse had formerly been a French dressing station,
dismantled by the fire of those devils that know no law of God or man,
composed of three huts in a row made of half-inch board. While eating,
one of our own shells, a shrapnel, that had been sent up at a German
stork and did not explode, dropped squarely into the middle of the
cookhouse, frightened the cook out of his wits and hit the dixies,
scattering them around our feet. "Stand to!" and we made our way
carefully, keeping out of sight as much as possible from the watching
bird overhead.

When I got to the gun the shell fire was commencing to get dangerously
close. "By God, there must be somebody giving our battery away," said
Munsey. A number of our men had been wounded at this time and the
airplane still buzzing above, made it impossible for us to fire, and we
got a "Stand down!"

"Come on over," Munsey proposed, "and we'll see what's in that building
where I saw the light." We found a family of civilians living there and
they were at once very solicitous about giving us coffee. "Never mind
the coffee," said Munsey; "we have come to examine the house." The old
man seemed quite willing to have us do so and pointed the way upstairs,
starting himself to go out the door. Munsey grabbed him by the
arm,--"Come along and show us the way." He indicated that we could find
the way ourselves, but my mate was insistent and he forced the old man
along and upstairs we went.

At first nothing resulted from our thorough search, but Munsey's eye
lighted on an Algerian serge lying in the corner of the room, and almost
at the same time I noticed some bricks in the chimney that seemed to be
loose. An old table in the middle of the room I pulled over to the
chimney, tugged at some of the brick that I had noticed, and the whole
thing caved in, part of a heliograph outfit falling out. The old fellow
made a dart for the door, but was peremptorily intercepted. "Damn you,
stay where you are!" I pulled out the rest of the stuff; there was a
complete heliograph apparatus, and a little red cap, such as the
Algerians wear, satisfying us both that the man doing the work used the
uniform of an Algerian.

On leaving the room, carrying the stuff with us and going down stairs,
we saw a box against the wall and I heard a funny noise from it as if it
contained something alive. I pulled it out and found it full of pigeons.
"Who owns these?" I asked.

"An Algerian soldier left them there," he answered.

We then examined the cellar and entire basement, but found nothing
further. We took the old fellow over to the gendarme who immediately
took charge of him, and returned to the battery where we imparted the
news of our find. It was the consensus of opinion that the spy was the
farmer himself, and that the Algerian uniform was a blind. We were
chatting away, discussing the matter, when the shells commenced flying
as thick as peas in a pod; so swift and smashing was the fusillade that
for awhile I thought hell's gate had opened wide. In less than no time
one of our guns was knocked out and, getting a "Stand to!" we replied as
fast as our legs and arms and heads would work.

The excellent quality of the work that Fritz did here made the fellows
unanimous that his information came from the farmer. Presently the duel
cooled down and we resumed our chat.

About a hundred yards off from the farmhouse where we had found the
heliograph and Algerian uniform, was a windmill of the kind commonly
seen in the farmhouses of the country, with large wings, and it happened
that while firing, one of the boys, Boxer, noticed that the mill was
going around in an irregular fashion,--going first one way and then
another, and then stopping, and he called our attention to it and we all
noticed it, and almost simultaneously with our observation of the mill,
four shells came over, knocking another of our guns into uselessness and
wiping out the crew, and after we got "Stand down!" and had cleaned up,
Boxer suggested that we go over and see what was in the windmill.

Together we went, going first to the house, and found the children
crying with fright; some of them tried to tell us something, but we
couldn't make out what they were saying. We crossed over to the windmill
and a phenomenon indeed met our eyes,--the wheel was turning in the
opposite direction from that in which the wind was blowing. We started
up the steps and--Ping! Ping! and Boxer fell with an oath and a bullet
in his leg. I assisted him to the farmhouse and then scooted over and
communicated with the O.C. I also informed a French battery that had
been terrifically shelled.

In the meantime a stretcher had been sent for, and Boxer was brought
back to the dressing station, where he had his wound dressed, which
luckily turned out to be slight.

That night I was filled full of the spirit of adventure and I wanted to
visit the windmill again. I got a pal to go with me and endeavored to
make it, but the flares were steadily burning and the snipers were so
busy we had to lie low. Again I went to the French battery and told the
officer commanding of my suspicions about the windmill. A smile of
intelligence and gratefulness lighted up his fine face. "Monsieur, we
shall see what we shall see," and he ordered a shell into the heart of
the structure, bringing it down in splinters. Then we made for the ruins
and found the body of a man dressed in an Algerian uniform; I looked him
over carefully; he was the artist I had met in the farmhouse at our
former station.

There remained still the case of the old man in whose house we had
discovered the heliograph and the pigeons. And the gendarmes were again
sent for and the Belgian farmer was haled before the officer. With white
face and streaming eyes he told the French Captain of the gendarmes that
this man had come to him and told him that if he didn't permit him to go
into his home, he would instantly signal for the shells and he and his
family and buildings would be blown to eternity. The old man was
permitted to go, as the French officer was satisfied he was sincere, but
that he was utterly powerless to prevent the spy carrying out his plans.

In conversation with us later, the farmer told us that the Algerian had
brought pigeons with him; that he had written notes, put them in the
little cup fastened to the bird's foot and sent some of them off, the
others remaining in the box when the Algerian went upstairs. "I could
hear the bricks falling, but he called to us not to come upstairs," went
on the old man. "Shortly afterwards a man dressed in the uniform of a
British soldier came, and he too went upstairs; he was carrying a bag.
When he came in he asked if I wanted coffee and I answered 'No.' When he
came in the Algerian called down to send him up, and he too went up.
Presently the British soldier left and a few minutes afterwards your
battery started firing. Then out ran the Algerian, saying he was going
to the windmill and warned all of us on pain of losing our lives, not to
come near the mill. That is the last I saw of him, Messieurs, until this
evening when I see his dead body.

"I am heart and soul with you, Messieurs; I know what you are doing for
us and for Belgium; but you can see that I had no chance whatever to
communicate with you; my life would have been the price, and what would
have become of my family? If there had been anything I could have done,
Messieurs, I would most gladly have done it, but I couldn't do
anything, and the spy would have accomplished his purpose just the same
had I made an attempt."

It was now about 6:30 and on our way back to the gun pit we met a woman
who seemed to be in the depths of despair, accompanied by a little girl.
The woman was weeping bitterly. Our nerves were on edge and we were
suspicious of everybody; trickery, deceit, traitor-work seemed to be in
the very air itself, and we made a resolve that we would shoot anybody,
man, woman or child, whom we saw loitering around our guns who had no
business there; that very day the O.C. had sworn that he would ask no
questions, but would shoot on sight. The woman's story was pitiful in
the extreme.

"Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do! My home is gone! My husband is
gone! My children are gone! And for what?"--wringing her hands and
gesticulating wildly. "For what, Messieurs? For being quiet,
inoffensive, loyal people!"

In my clumsy fashion I succeeded in somewhat calming the poor creature,
and she proceeded a little more coherently.

"Well, Messieurs, a man in Algerian uniform came to our house this
morning. He asked permission of my husband, who was a loyal Belgian, to
use our house--for what? To do spy work. My husband ran for a gun and
warned him off. He said, 'You had better think it over; if you don't let
me use your house you have not another day to live!' In spite of this,
my husband presented the gun at him and he made off, but as he was
leaving he called back, 'Do not on any account leave the house today,
any of you, or you will be killed.'

"We watched him and saw him go towards the hedge, and two or three men
with bags met him, and they made off in the direction of your battery.
Then, then--_Mon Dieu!_ How can I tell it!--a shell came and destroyed
our home, killing my dear husband and my two babies."

And again the poor woman burst into a paroxysm of weeping and sank to
the ground in an utterly exhausted condition, moaning aloud in the
despair of her misery. Her little daughter was screaming in terror at
the plight of her mother, and we all set about to comfort them as best
we could, but ah! God! how comfortless our words.

The thought that perhaps the child would be quieted if she had
something to eat suggested itself to me, but I had nothing except my
iron rations, and our orders are very stern that under no circumstances
must these be consumed except at the time designated, namely, when our
supply wagons are destroyed and cannot reach us, and the order is issued
from headquarters that we may use them. These rations are 16 ounces of
bully beef, two hardtack biscuits, some tea and sugar in small wax
envelopes. Each man must carry his own iron rations at all times and the
penalty for eating them without orders is 28 to 90 days, first field
punishment; therefore, I was taking a chance, but I hadn't the heart to
resist the pitiful wail of that kiddie, and I felt that the risk I took
was amply repaid by the cessation of her childish grief. The mother also
had had nothing to eat all day, and she partook of some of the
nourishment and was the better for it.

There was nothing more for them that we could do and they departed, the
poor creature with an expression in her eyes that plainly said, she
didn't know where on earth she was going, and cared less.

This was only an individual instance of the tens of thousands of blasted
and stricken homes and families, resulting from the rule or ruin policy
of the German "man of God."

Half an hour after they had departed a train of ammunition wagons came
galloping up, the driver telling us that in passing Hell's Corner they
were given an exceptionally heavy dose by Fritz. "His aim the nicht was
damn puir, however," said one of the Scotch drivers; "he never gave us a
scratch; but I noticed on the road a woman wi' a little bairn, a wee
thing, hardly higher than your knee, and as we were racing by them, a
shell exploded on the side of the road, right alongside o' them, blawin'
the puir things to their doom."

From the description furnished by the driver, I was convinced it was the
poor woman and child for whom I had taken the risk of punishment, and I
could not help thinking what a blessing it was that death had come to
them in the way it did, so soon after her inextinguishable sorrow.

Another evidence testamentary of the industry of the German agents came
to us that very night from the driver. After the wagons were loaded up
at the wagon lines, someone undid the locks of the wagons and on the way
to the guns the shells dropped out from time to time, scattering over
the cobble stones, causing them to lose more than half of their precious
loads.

"Aye," said the Scotch driver who had told us about the woman and her
child, "and a French battery coming up behind us, the horse kicked one
shell that we dropped, and I'm damned if it did na' explode and blaw the
puir beggars to the deil. By the Lord! They're doing gude work!" Good
work, indeed, Fritz, but your day is coming!

Next morning about ten o'clock we got a "Stand to!" as a bombardment had
begun and Fritz had started coming over. We stopped him, but no sooner
had we ceased firing than Kr-kr-kr-p! Kr-kr-kr-p! Bang! Bang! coming
down so fast that we made off for shelter at the cookhouse. While there,
Munsey thought he would like to have a look at the situation generally
in the surrounding country, through the medium of a hole in the side of
the cookhouse up near the roof and he hopped on top of a box and looked
out in the direction of Ypres. The most notable object there was the
town clock, and he had not been looking long before he noticed the hands
moving this way and that; he watched closely and then called, "Come
here, fellows, quick. Come and watch the clock!" We all jumped to a
point of vantage and watched, and in few minutes we were satisfied that
the shell fire that was raining upon us was being directed by the hands
of the clock. We observed that when the long hand moved right, the rain
of fire would increase; when it moved left, it decreased; each jump of
the hand five minutes meant 25 yards increase or decrease, as the case
might be. Every time the small hand moved one minute right, it meant
three yards right; two minutes, six yards, and so on; and the same if it
veered to the left. And when both hands turned at once to 12:00 o'clock
we deduced from their fire that some object was registered and when that
was done the large hand would go all the way around and the fire would
increase to a regular hurricane; if it went half way round, it would
decrease. The small hand going all the way round, the fire ceased.

We watched intently for some time, keeping our eyes glued on the
movement of the hands in conjunction with the fire, and then the matter
was phoned to headquarters. A result of their combination guns and
clockwork was the destruction of one of our pieces and two of the
French battery. Another battery observer had noticed the clockwork at
the same time that we were watching it, and the gendarmes were notified;
they made a trip to the top of the tower in double quick time, finding
there a man in a British uniform and one in French uniform; the man with
the British uniform wore a French cap and he in the French had a British
cap. They were taken and confined in the basement of a ruined building
and a guard set.

That night I was sent to the trench headquarters to do guard duty and
next day, about 11:00 o'clock in the morning, I was standing in the
doorway of the farmhouse where the pump had blown in on Scotty, and I
was accosted by two men who were walking rapidly. They asked me where a
certain Algerian Regiment was lying and I directed them, after giving
them a drink of water and a biscuit. They also asked me what those
headquarters were, and a number of other questions. However, no
suspicion of there being anything wrong entered my mind, as they spoke
perfect English. They left and had just turned the corner to cross a
pontoon bridge over Yser Canal, going toward the front-line trenches,
when three French guards came running like mad. They asked me some
questions excitedly, but it was some time before I could make out what
they wanted.

Finally I got it through my head and told them and they raced off. The
men who had accosted me were the two prisoners who had been taken in the
clock tower at Ypres, as I heard subsequently, but they did not get away
with their nervy trick; they were taken and paid the price.

That same night a bunch of the 48th Highlanders, of Toronto, were on our
right, and dug in in the bank, but there was considerable water in the
bottom of their holes, while ours, compared to theirs, were beautifully
dry. The Kilties came along, searching for blankets and whatever they
could get, and we spared them whatever we could. Then one of them
spotted a farmhouse, the occupants of which had been shelled out because
they would not comply with the orders of a German agent, and had lost
their home in consequence. They went in and helped themselves to straw
and came out loaded down with armfuls of it. I decided to follow suit
and went over, just reaching the barn, when Kr-kr-kr-p!--the first shell
that came going right amongst them, setting the barn on fire and
wounding several of the 48th. Their presence had been made known by a
secret service agent, as it is one chance in a hundred thousand for a
shell to hit so desirable a target at the first shot. The aim was
excellent and the work accomplished by the shell was splendid--from a
German point of view.



CHAPTER VI

BITS OF BATTLE


On the way over to the barn, where the shell hit the 48th, a piece of a
tree limb smashed into the ground at my feet, following the familiar
whiz just overhead of a large gun missive, with its accompanying wind
gust, and at the same moment something struck with a thud the tree from
which the splinter had come. Glancing up, I noticed a shell lodged in a
fork of the two main branches, that had stuck there without exploding.
For a shell to explode, it is necessary that the nose of the fuse,
containing the detonator, shall come in contact with a solid substance,
in order to make ignition and cause the explosion. This had not been
done; owing to the intervention of kind nature in the shape of the
crotch in that tree catching and holding the shell fast in a firm
embrace, we were saved from that additional disaster and death.

A dried-up creek that was being used by us for a trench on the Ypres
sector was crossed by a wooden bridge about thirty feet long. This
bridge was used as a means of transport at night and by Red Cross men in
the daytime, and was very useful; it was most important that it be kept
in constant repair. I was detailed in charge of the repair party. One
day during the great Ypres battle, about ten o'clock in the morning, the
bridge was smashed and I took my party up and made the necessary
repairs. We had hardly returned to cover when the bridge was smashed
again, and again we rushed out and fixed it up. As we ran, three men
forged ahead of me and got to the middle of the thirty-foot structure; I
was about twenty feet behind them, the rest of the party immediately
behind me. I was shouting an order to them, when a shell exploded in the
middle of the bridge, killing all three. I was saved by twenty feet.

In the late afternoon one day of the battle, I was resting in a hole I
had burrowed under a sand-bank; about 200 men were burrowed in the same
bank in the same way. A monster shell struck the bank immediately above
me, upheaving the ground and completely burying me and half a dozen
others. I was dug out in a half smothered condition, but soon was able
to assist in the work of resurrecting the rest. The only casualty that
occurred in that incident was innocently caused by myself; as I was
digging, my shovel struck the leg of an officer, inflicting such a gash
that when resuscitated he had to go to hospital.

A cunning device of the Germans to misuse the Red Cross came to light
during the next few days. It was in the vicinity of the woods where the
Imperial Batteries had lost their guns. In a counter attack to retake
these guns our men went over, accompanied by the engineers, to destroy
the guns, as it was thought it would be impossible to bring them back.
This turned out to be true, as the enemy advanced in such strong mass
formation that our fellows had their hands full fighting them off until
the engineers made good their work, which they did by smashing the
hydraulic buffers with picks, destroying the sights, blowing the guns
up, and taking the breech-blocks back with them.

In going over the ground that our barrage had covered a few minutes
before, we found lying there German soldiers who had acted as stretcher
bearers, wearing the red cross of Geneva on their arms, for the purpose
of running wires from trench to trench, from battery to battery, and to
headquarters, and the way they did the trick was to take a roll of wire
on a stretcher covered with a blanket, to represent a wounded comrade,
start the roll unwinding and running the wire between their legs as they
walked. The blankets on the stretchers were used to deceive our
observers and make them believe they were doing honest hospital work in
the field. This was only one of their many unprincipled practices, for
the Germans ignored all usages of war as practiced by civilization.

During the busiest days of May, 1915, between the second and third
battle of Ypres, I was on guard duty at field headquarters in the
trenches. The Staff was located in an old two-story building that was
much the worse for wear from German calling cards. My "go" was from
eight to ten P.M. Promptly at ten o'clock a rap came to the door and,
blowing out the light, I inquired who it was. It was my relief, Dave
Evans, one of the best pals whom it has ever been my lot to soldier
with. Dave was a heavy-set man, strong as an ox; I think he could have
almost felled a bull with his fist, so powerful was he. I re-lit the
candle after closing the door. This was Dave's first "go" at this
particular spot, and I cautioned him to be careful not to show himself
in the open doorway with the light behind him, as the building was under
observation and the splinters that were being continually chipped from
it demonstrated how keenly active and alert they were, and made it
necessary for a man to be on the lookout every second of the time. He
said he would take no chances. Dave had just obtained an Enfield rifle,
for which he had been very glad to exchange his Ross, as the Enfield is
better suited for trench purposes, and, not being thoroughly familiar
with its workings, he asked me to explain it to him, which I did. Then I
blew out the light, opened the door, whispered "good-night," and started
down the path. About a hundred feet away I heard Dave calling me back; I
turned; he was standing in the doorway, with the candle light gleaming
behind him. He called out, "Grant, I don't quite get this safety catch
and bolt; would you mind showing it to me again?"

"Blow out the light, you damn fool," I called.

"All right," and he did so and I started back. As he answered me I heard
simultaneously the report of a rifle and the whiz of a bullet passing
me. When I got to the door I stumbled over the body of my friend Dave;
he had received the summons through the head.

While standing guard at the open door, before Dave came, with the light
out, however, I suddenly got a start that frightened me more than
anything else that has happened me in France: In the gleam of a distant
flare, the white faces of two women peered around the corner of the
building, looking at me through the open door. There was something so
damnably uncanny in their appearance, and so startling, that a cold
sweat broke out over me, and I snapped my rifle to the present. Had they
not been women they would not have lived; a loiterer around headquarters
takes his life in his hands.

They had been there that same afternoon, saying they were the owners of
the place, and that they had stopped to take away some supplies. They
were permitted to take their goods with them, but were warned against
coming there again. They did not heed the warning. I reported their
presence to the O.C. and they were promptly arrested and handed over to
the French police. What their lot was I cannot tell, but to this day I
can't help thinking that in some way poor Dave owes his fate to those
women.

After two days' hard marching we reached Givenchy June 9, 1915, a little
town in France lying thirty miles south of Ypres. Our battery of two
guns took up its position immediately outside, on the southwest side of
the town. A few civilians were scattered through the town, living in the
cellars, the rest having fled at the German approach. We were ordered to
put our guns in the very front-line trench for the reason that the
opposing trenches being so close together, it was impossible for the
guns to do justice to themselves without inflicting serious casualties
on our own men. To make our work as noiseless as possible, we took a
number of old rubber tires, cut them in strips and wrapped them around
the gun wheels with hay wire; this facilitated both the movement of the
guns and the preservation of silence.

We again had the honor of being the sacrifice battery for the
division--in other words, having the profound pleasure of going
heavenward, or in the other direction, before any of the others, for the
purpose of working out the plan of action by the Command. We got the
guns into position under cover of night, and thoroughly camouflaged
them with grass and tree branches. We did the job so artistically that
the birds would come and chatter and sing immediately over the guns when
they were not telling their tale of love to Fritz.

Out in front of our guns was a small ridge or embankment, gradually
sloping up to a height of twenty feet and extending east and west for a
distance of three or four hundred yards. This rising piece of ground was
a decided obstacle to our progress and it was ordered mined for the
purpose of leveling it. The engineers attended to the task. It turned
out that Fritz also had mined the ridge in order to blow our sector
skyward.

The stage was set and the play started at 5:30 in the afternoon. Our
orders were to blow holes in the parapet wire which ran in a zigzag
direction every way out in front, for the purpose of enabling the
infantry to get through when they got over. Our ammunition was of the
best; we now took no chance on any defective goods. We had 20 rounds of
shell for each gun. When we got the order--"Fire!" gaps were torn in the
wire by my gun, and the other gun had blown away some small ridges. We
were going strong when a shell--the very first one--took our other gun,
blowing it and the crew into nothingness. We went on firing until we had
exploded 18 shells and had made several gaps in the wire, when, without
a moment's warning, our trench mine exploded. The trenches were packed
with troops ready for the word. A mountain of debris was shot in the air
and back over us, burying a number of soldiers in the trench, where they
died miserably from suffocation. The concussion was so powerful that it
blew the shield of my gun off downwards, cleaving Corporal King's skull
in twain and blowing Gunner MacDonald, who was sitting on the handspike
of the gun, 20 feet away. When we found him next day, every bone in his
body was broken. I was sitting on the gun alongside of Corporal King at
the time of his death, and how I escaped is more than I can tell. Again
I couldn't help speculating that my life must have been spared for some
good purpose; I sincerely hope so.

It was impossible to do any further firing, as the muzzle of the gun was
choked completely with the dirt that had been shot backward by the
explosion of our own mine. Our misfortune, however, did not prevent or
deter for a moment the intended movement. Unable to do anything further
as a gunner, I hopped into the charge with the 48th Highlanders of
Toronto, who had just started with one of their old-time yells to go out
and over. When we reached the German front lines,--or what was left of
them, for the explosion had blown from them all semblance of a
trench,--it was jammed full of German troops--dead. On we went,
inclining to the right and reaching an orchard in which was a nest of
them concealed in the trees. Those on mother earth were speedily driven
to hell or made good their escape, and we then attended to the case of
the squirrels in the branches. This was somewhat difficult, as the night
was excessively dark, but our snipers, circling everywhere underneath
them, finally got them; not a single baby-killer escaped; it was a case
of getting limburgers in an apple tree.

No sooner had we cleaned up the job than the Fritzies returned _en
masse_ formation, compelling us to beat a discretionary retreat to their
front-line trenches, where we held and are still holding, and then some.
Here we remained until the middle of the following month.

Some minor engagements took up my duties after Givenchy, until about
September 1, when my battery was instructed to proceed to Ploegsteert.

Ploegsteert sets in ruins about two miles northwest of Armentières;
there were no buildings that Fritz failed to level with the exception of
the tower, which they used for registry purposes,--a reference point in
artillery technology. We were stationed on this sector for eight months,
and our stay here was more or less of a recreation; battle firing was
only intermittent; and on the days that we did speak to Fritz, we rarely
sent over more than 10 to 12 messages.

Our battery was in a hedge here and we were having our wires cut several
times, causing us considerable trouble and annoyance.

Butler, one of my pals, was started out to make the necessary repairs.
He left on his dangerous mission, crouching along and taking advantage
of every bit of shelter on the way, but several ping! pings! warned him
that he was treading on danger ground. He kept at his work, busily
hunting for the break in the wire, with the sniping pills passing his
ears continually.

Crawling along on his hands and knees, with the wire running through his
hand, he came to a little bush, where it slipped away from him, denoting
that there was the break. At that moment the sniper got him in the leg,
but he held to until he repaired it, and was in touch with headquarters,
reporting that he had mended the break, when the wire was again cut. The
bleeding from his wound now made it necessary for him to mend that break
first, and he bandaged it as quickly as his nervous fingers would work.
Again he took hold of the wire, crawling and stumbling along until he
again came to the break, and again mended it. He was being closely
watched now, as the bullets were whistling about him ceaselessly. Again
he turned his attention to his wound, adjusting the bandage, and he
noticed a British soldier crawling toward him on his hands and knees.

"Hello, matey, what you doing out here?" he asked.

"I'm mendin' me bloomin' leg now," Butler answered.

"Well, if you hadn't been out here you wouldn't have got it. Why didn't
you stay in your trenches?"

"Someone's got to repair the wire," said Butler. He was growing
perceptibly weaker from the loss of blood.

"Oh, repairing the wire, were you? Well, don't repair any more"--and
Butler had just time to see him level his revolver and then he dropped
unconscious. The bullet had hit him in the thigh. But his communication
had reached headquarters that he was wounded and it was not long before
the stretcher bearers came out and found him. They took him to the
dressing station, where it was found necessary to amputate his leg, but
he parted gladly with his dented member when the O.C. told him that his
grit and endurance were a splendid example for the entire unit,--"Aye,"
he added, "and for the whole Empire."

       *       *       *       *       *

Service was being held here in the field one Sunday morning and an
incident occurred that makes me shake every time I think of it,--not so
much at the incident itself as in the surrounding circumstances. In the
midst of the service, a buzzing overhead announced the presence of
German hawks and a dropping of bombs further announced that they had
seen us and intended paying their respects.

A face turned upward is one of the most easily detected objects by an
airplane, and although we had strict orders on no account to look up,
the temptation for some was too strong. Meantime, the minister continued
to read the service, but the responses were not as hearty as they had
been, and he himself was standing with shoulders hunched up to the back
of his neck, the book pulled up to his nose, and furtively trying to see
through his eyebrows the danger-birds in the blue. In the midst of the
solemn moment an officer, glimpsing some of the men turning their faces
skyward, bellowed, "Damn you, keep those mugs down."

It was our good fortune that none of the messages reached their intended
destination.



CHAPTER VII

SANCTUARY WOODS

(_3rd Battle of Ypres_)


The third battle of Ypres commenced June 2, lasting until June 15, 1916.
Sanctuary Woods was a cluster of trees, comprising about one thousand in
number, and they were the very finest and noblest specimens of their
various types,--oak, elm, ash and beech. They were located just one mile
outside the city in a northwesterly direction. One of our trenches ran
northeast and southwest through the middle of the woods.

The line had been exceptionally quiet for the space of a week. My
battery of six guns was located at a château known as the Belgian
Garden, about 600 yards in the rear of the wood. Two guns were ordered
into the wood as a sacrifice battery, and my usual luck attached me to
one of them. We were located in a dry ditch, 300 yards back from the
front line. Our orders, as usual in the case of the sacrifice battery,
were to wait until the Germans, when they broke through, if they did,
were almost in line with our guns.

The morning of the 2nd was a beautiful summer's day; nature was in
perfect repose; the birds sang gayly, the humming of bees and fragrance
of flowers filled the air. We were busily engaged making our morning
ablutions in some shell holes when, like a bolt from the blue, hell
broke loose in the form of the most violent bombardment I had
experienced up to that time, lasting twenty minutes, missiles of every
kind raining down on us on all sides. "Stand to!"--and we waited.

At the end of twenty minutes our men started jumping out of their
trenches ahead of us and charging across. They were met by the enemy in
mass formation and overwhelmed. They died to a man. The Germans pressed
the attack home and came on, yelling like fiends incarnate, drunk with
the joy of their apparent success and promised victory. On they came,
apparently irresistible. We commenced firing, and I had the satisfaction
of seeing gaps blown in their ranks and many of them biting the dust.
Our poor little battery, however, feazed them but little.

And I want to say right at this time that the idea that seems to be
prevalent in the minds of many that the German is not a good fighting
man is a lamentable mistake; he is a good fighter. He has not perhaps
the initiative of the British, or the avalanche-like ardor in a charge
of the French soldier, but with his officers pressing him behind and in
mass formation, he is as formidable a foe as can be imagined.

Our ammunition was exhausted, not a shell remaining, and we grabbed our
rifles, retreating with the rest, and sniping and dropping as we fell
back. We took parts of the guns with us to prevent Fritz making use of
it, and threw them into a shell hole filled with water, as they were too
heavy to carry and manipulate our rifles at the same time, and that
ability was much more precious to us at that particular time than the
gun-parts. One of my chums had been wounded in the pit before we
retired, and was later taken prisoner, and two of my other chums were
killed in the general retreat. My pals with the other guns, forty feet
to our right, did not get all of their ammunition off before the Boches
were upon them, and they, too, died there; they were incinerated alive
in their little pit by smoke shells that started everything ablaze as
they exploded.

The retreat ended in Maple Copse Woods, where we established ourselves
and held the Germans, they resting at the edge of Sanctuary Woods. Under
orders, I and my partner started for Zillebeke, about 400 yards back
from Maple Copse, where we established an observation station, with the
necessary telephonic communication to headquarters, which, when done,
was taken in charge by a relief party from another battery, and I
returned to Belgian Gardens at 11:30 A.M., where I was put in charge of
another gun crew.

I thought I had done a fairly good morning's work and was hoping Fritz
would behave himself for the balance of the day, but my hope was a
delusion, for inside of half an hour Fritzie thought he would like to
see the scenery in Maple Copse, and came on for another try. Heavy
firing began, lasting about five minutes, and over they came again. We
opened up heavily with our battery of four guns, throwing a barrage in
his front as best we could; mine was the only battery left working on
this particular sector. Our fellows went out and met Fritz in a
hand-to-hand argument, backing up their contention so thoroughly with
the cold steel that they sent him flying back to the line he had
established at Sanctuary Woods.

But it was necessary, in order to keep him quiet, to keep up a barrage.
Our ammunition had run down to a point where we had only fourteen shells
left, and we received orders to hold two high explosive shells, one for
the muzzle and another for the breech of the gun, to put it out of
business in case they broke through.

If it became necessary to resort to the expedient of blowing up the gun,
it would be done by placing a shell in the breech of the chamber, the
breech closed, another shell inside the muzzle, the lanyard fastened to
the firing lever and strung out of the front pit door for a distance of
25 or 30 feet to a large tree standing at our rear, fastened to the
tree, and when retreating pull it from there, blowing the gun and the
gun pit into as many pieces.

We took all precautions when it became likely that we were going to be
overpowered and there was a chance of Fritz taking our gun. It is rarely
necessary to take this precaution nowadays, nor has it been for the last
two years; the shoe is on the other foot now and the returns showing
the number of heavy German guns that we have captured within the last
two years and a half, together with the fact that not a single British
gun has been lost, shows how well the work is in hand on the Western
Front.

[Illustration: Over the Top]

With their unexcelled means of observation, they soon discovered where
our little battery was hidden, and decided to end the argument with our
troublemaker there and then.

A smothering fire burst upon us, and one of the shells clipped a large
tree as easily as if it had been done with a giant razor, and it crashed
down directly in front of our gun, putting it out of business for the
time being.

In a few minutes more another shell landed on the gun forty feet to our
left, ending its usefulness, killing the crew to a man and leaving but
two guns working; a few moments more and another lit in the
telephonists' pit fifteen feet to our rear, wiping out three or four of
the fellows on duty there. Lord! it was getting hot!

We were then ordered to "Stand Down" (take cover), as the fire was
getting hotter each second and it had all the appearance of being a
wipe-out. I ordered my crew to beat it for the dugout, staying behind a
moment or two to set the sight and fasten the lanyard to blow up the gun
if needed. They started out of the gun pit, taking the turn to the
right, along the path to the dugout, which was fairly well sheltered by
big trees. I finished my work in a minute or two and took the turn to
the left. When I reached the dugout the O.C. inquired where the men
were.

"They ought to be here, sir; they left ahead of me. I will go at once
and find them."

"I'll go with you." And we started through the trees. The dugout was
only about forty yards in the rear of the gun pit and half way there we
came across my crew lying underneath a huge tree, dead. It had been
rooted from the ground, hurled in the air with the same ease as a toy
balloon and dropped on the men. The hole torn in the ground at the root
was big enough to swallow a horse and cart. Of the five members of my
crew four were dead; the remaining man, Bill Clark, had fourteen wounds
in one side of his body from splinters of the tree.

I took him to the dressing station, where his wounds were dressed. As
soon as he recovered consciousness he asked what had happened, and when
I told him that his pals, including his bosom chum, Jim Chandler, had
all been killed, he again lapsed into unconsciousness. He was later
taken to the hospital, where, after a nine-months' battle with the Grim
Reaper hovering constantly over his bed, he at last regained some of his
old-time health. But he will never again be on the firing line.

Every man was now weary, sore and thirsty, and my only grateful
recollection of that day's work was the O.C.'s command that we be given
an extra ration of rum. I am not a constitutional advocate of the brew
that glistens like gold, but that was one time when I thanked the good
Lord for that drink.

Information was conveyed to the wagon lines of the terrible toll that
had been exacted that day and the number of men that were needed to
replace the casualties. Our parson, hearing what was going on in front,
volunteered to come and officiate at the burial of the men that night,
and mounting his horse he started in company with Archie Meehan and a
small relief party.

In the meantime I had made my way back to the cellar of the château,
which we were using for a dugout, and the battery to our rear, an
Imperial battery, was firing when it received an "S.O.S." Suddenly a
German airplane hovered over the château, describing a half circle
behind the Imperial battery, spotting its flash, and immediately
wirelessing the location. Our observers, who were stationed at points on
either side, did not notice the manipulation of the airplane at the rear
of the battery. The "S.O.S." was accompanied by a burst of stars from
the Imperial British Infantry, the signal working its way down right
into the Canadian lines, where the ammunition was rapidly becoming
exhausted.

On account of the trees partially obscuring the flash of the guns of the
Imperial battery, the airship that the battery in the château saw did
not convey the exact information to the German batteries, and when they
opened up on the château, chunks out of the building and trees and a
general ripping up ensued, but their fire did not reach the battery. In
all my experience at the front, in three years, I have never known at
one time in one spot such a devastating fire as they put over at that
particular time. There were over seven batteries--forty guns--ranging
from 3 inch to 8 inch, constantly trip-hammering on the building, and
the earth trembled and quivered as though in the throes of an
earthquake.

Another gun of our Canadian battery of four guns was here put out of
action, leaving two guns out of the six. From off my gun we had removed
the fallen tree, enabling us to get it into action again. At this time
we were receiving the fire from the German batteries on the left rear,
left, front and right, leaving only our right rear free from the
destruction which was being waged on every other outlet.

Then we gathered up every shell on which we could lay hands,--shells
that had been discarded as defective, and rammed them in the guns as
fast as our arms and hands would work. At that moment the German
airplane returned, flying low and turning his machine gun upon us. We
sniped at him with our rifles, but failed to get him.

The Germans had been trying all day to reach Maple Copse, but we held
there. Our artillery observer at Zillebeke now phoned that the Huns were
massing in Sanctuary Woods--"Fire must come from somewhere." We pulled
the last two guns of the Imperial battery and shoved them out in the
open; the crews of the remaining guns of this battery were gone; these
guns were 4.05's. On they came, and we let them have it beautifully for
a good five minutes, and they faltered and fell back. In another ten
minutes they came again, when suddenly hell broke loose from our
lines,--the Empire batteries had opened up on them. These batteries
derived their name from the fact that they were comprised of Australian
guns, South African guns, guns from New Zealand, Canada, Scotland,
England, in fact every part of the Empire was represented. For a time
they smothered the German batteries in Sanctuary Woods. Then a flock of
German airplanes flew over these guns and smothered them partially for a
few minutes with their machine guns. This entire action had lasted an
hour, and at this moment the little relief party, accompanied by our
parson, arrived from the wagon lines. Again we were out of ammunition,
and the O.C. asked me if I would volunteer to go to the wagon lines
after it. "Yes, sir,"--and I mounted the parson's horse and started.

Although it had now started raining, I left the dugout with nothing on
but pants, shirt and boots; I had no gas helmet, no coat, no cap, no
puttees,--there was no time to be lost--and I was covered with grease
and dirt, and must easily have looked like an African.

I had scarcely started when a shell lifted a tree out of its roots and
threw it on the road right in front of me, but the horse cleared it with
a jump. I passed a dressing station and the sight was unspeakably sad;
laid in rows as thickly as they could be placed, the wounded men in all
stages of agony were patiently waiting their turn,--ah, God! how patient
those men were,--and scattered here and there on both sides of the road
were groups of men who had just begun their last sleep, and at sight of
them the horse would shy and balk every few yards. I had no spurs with
which to control the animal, and my work was cut out for me! he was an
ideal parson's horse, for the brute would hardly go faster than a walk.
Getting through the gas barrage, I came to a camouflage hedge, used to
screen and protect the traffic on the road, which sheltered me for four
or five hundred yards further, and then I emerged again into the open,
and again I was spotted. At this point a set of new dressing stations
had been established, and they were as busy as bees looking after
wounded men, and every moment of the time they were engaged in their
work the machine guns of the enemy planes were hammering the stretcher
bearers and the wounded men as industriously as though they were
attacking fighting men. It was quite evident they knew I was a dispatch
rider, and I was a target every step of the way, shells being planted
before me, behind me and on each side of me. But I knew the Major's
thought was with me every foot of the way; I knew he was counting the
seconds until I would reach the wagon lines and deliver the message--and
the only message--that would save the position; I knew he was praying
for me that very moment and I knew that every man in the battery was
doing the same thing. If I failed! It was not with me a question of my
life; I didn't care a damn for that, and every man of us, on that day
anyway, felt the same. But I must hasten with all the speed that was in
me, and I must keep my life, and my head as well, that the others might
live.

Finally, I got the horse started on a straight run, came to a bridge
crossing the Rampart Canal, but they were shelling the bridge so
violently it would have been certain destruction to have attempted
getting across. Jumping off, I pulled the horse into a ruined building,
and there in the twilight I had a splendid opportunity to view the
efficiency of the German observation work. They were making the most
determined effort to prevent any communication being sent to the wagon
lines for ammunition, and one continual stream of shells was following
me down the road; they were dropping as thickly as hailstones for the
entire distance up and down the road as far as I could see. I waited
there ten minutes and then led the horse out, walking a hundred yards
towards the bridge. Then came another burst of shells; again I stopped
for a few minutes, made another hundred yards, and another bursting
storm of shells. I was walking the horse all this time, but I made up my
mind the time had come to make a dash for it. I jumped on his back, lay
flat as a pancake, and with a good stout stick I lammed that poor brute
as few horses ever were lammed, made a dash for the bridge and got
safely across.

About 100 yards over and down came a burst of concussion shells, flying
and blowing everything around to smithereens. I was now very close to
the square and could see it was being strafed for fair. My experience in
watching and timing shell fire now stood me in good stead. I was able
by the action of the shells to instantly determine whether the German
guns were jumping, rendering their aim uncertain, and, also, to know
when the next burst would come, where it would strike, and about how it
would operate,--whether gas, shrapnel, or what not. Men were clinging to
the walls, trying to take shelter, and it was clearly impossible to get
through with the horse. I retraced my steps half way to the ruined
building I had just left ten minutes before; I was looking longingly at
it, wishing for its friendly shelter, when a shell struck it, blowing it
to dust. I then led the horse, hugging the walls as closely as I could,
until I got to the edge of the square, then made a run for it across,
and had just cleared it when another cluster burst, wounding the horse
in the leg. Notwithstanding his wound, he managed to bear me up until I
got to the railroad crossing, lying southwesterly from the square about
500 yards distant. Here the airplane spotted me again and directed a
barrage to stop me crossing, but I took the chance and got through it.
Every step of the way to the bridge crossing the Yser Canal, shells were
being planted at my heels. I can only liken my state of mind to that of
the tenderfoot in the saloon of the Wild and Woolly, when Halfbreed
Harvey, just for the fun of it, took a revolver in each hand and
commenced sending the nuggets of lead into the floor at the unoffending
feet of the "Lady from the East," just to see him dance. When I came to
within 50 yards of it I saw it was clearly impossible to cross on
account of the heavy shell clusters that were raining down.

I waited for a lull in the storm, then slipped on the animal's back, dug
my heels in its ribs and rushed for it. I was spattered with mud from
head to foot from the exploding shells, but not a single splinter
reached me.

As I left the bridge of the canal a hole was blown into it, and a
working party, that was kept there all the time for the especial purpose
of keeping it in repair, crawled out of their hiding places to engage in
their perilous task. It was vitally necessary to keep this bridge intact
to facilitate the supplies crossing and recrossing every minute of the
night.

The friendly cover of a hedge sheltered me for another hundred yards,
and here followed a row of buildings that I hugged until I came to a
narrow-gauge trench railroad. Clinging to the walls around were
hundreds of wounded men waiting for a conveyance. There was an open
stretch from this point and the fliers found me again; their machine-gun
fire was directed at once fairly into the middle of the road before me
and behind me; their range message was again flashed to their heavies
and cobblestones were uprooted and flying everywhere; but the good Lord
was with me and I pulled through it. A couple of large trees that had
been blown down across the road next intervened, but the horse, lame as
he was, cleared them.

I reached the Belgian Château; strafing was going on fearfully in an
endeavor to smash the headquarters; men were running hither and thither,
stringing telephone wires as quickly as they were shot away; battalions
of infantry, fresh troops who had not yet been up the line, were working
their way to their destination; chaos seemed to reign on every hand. And
yet, there was order. Leaving the Belgian Château, there was a hedge for
two or three hundred yards which afforded me cover until I got to the
road; there I saw a group of enemy airplanes gradually lowering until
they got down to within a few hundred yards of the railroad; they
dropped their bombs on the batteries here, starting monster ammunition
fires and killing and wounding the gunners.

Although pandemonium reigned everywhere, the guns never hesitated to go
on with their work as steadfastly as though they were digging drains in
peace time. The fierceness of the fire caused the horse to balk
continually, and I again had to get off its back and lead it. This fire
was from guns from practically every quarter of the Empire. It was
impossible to make any speed now, even with the horse, as the road was
black with holes everywhere, and I started to go around what is known as
Snake Road. Shells were dropping everywhere; dead horses were piled one
on top of the other; huge lorries were lying in the ditches and men were
emptying them of their contents and carrying the ammunition on their
backs up to the batteries. Here and there were small hills of empty
shell cases; there was also considerable danger from the loaded shells
that were scattered about that had been spilled from the ammunition
wagon, as a kick from the horse on the fuse would have exploded any one
of them.

As the lorries advanced up the Snake Road and delivered their
ammunition, they left by another road running straight south; this
latter was packed with ambulances waiting to take wounded out, and
civilians were running madly here and there endeavoring to get out of
the fire zone.

I reached Ouderham, which was at that time out of the range of the fire;
estaminets were getting ready to close for the night, the hour of ten
having struck. The ammunition drivers were lying around taking things
easy and not expecting an ammunition call, but the moment I hove in
sight they raced out to the wagon line. Many and eager were the
inquiries fired at me as to what was happening up the line. They knew
the parson had gone up and they were burning to know what was doing. I
told them as well as I could.

"Stand to!" from the Q.M. and they came running from their tents, not
waiting to take even a blanket, throwing in their equipment as fast as
they could, trotting their horses over to the ammunition trucks and
hitching them up.

"Stand to your horses! Prepare to mount! Mount!" came the three distinct
orders roared out by the Quartermaster, with scarcely a second's time
between each and its fulfillment. With a gunner in each wagon we
started in less than eight minutes from the time the order was given,
trotting as hard as horses could trot over the cobblestones.

It was not long before we came in contact with the fire, but luck was
with us and we escaped until we got to the ammunition dump, where we
loaded up with ammunition as fast as men ever worked; it was a joy
forever to see those boys work. We had to load up in chain fashion, as
it was impossible for the wagons to get to a dump more than four at a
time, and the loading was done by the men passing the shells from hand
to hand until each wagon was loaded. Then not a second was lost in
starting. The crossroads were reached, but the traffic was so congested
we could not pass for a while.

Shells were raining down when we finally started, one of them blowing
the body off one of our wagons, leaving the limber, but no further
damage beyond the driver, Luther, breaking his leg. A gunner took his
place and Luther was laid in the gutter until such time as he could be
picked up. We galloped past the Empire battery, got to the Belgian
Garden at last, taking cover under a clump of trees until the firing had
cooled somewhat, and then we took the chance--it was one in ten--to get
by. Starting on a dead gallop, shells commenced to chase us all the way
up the road. Keeping as well under cover of the hedge as we could, we
crossed the railroad bridge, and as we neared the entrance to Ypres
square the fire again cooled down; but on getting into the square 25
shells, exploding one after the other as quickly as so many seconds,
followed by thunderclaps of brain-splitting noise, ripped up the paving
stones, flinging them in all directions, and taking chunks out of the
eight wagons and wheels. Trotting sharply through the square, we got to
Rampart Bridge, which they were showering with shells to prevent our
engineers repairing it; it was badly smashed and we had to go a long way
around by Ypres Rampart.

Here we left the road and took a chance of getting across the open
country, picking our way in the fields among the shell holes, eventually
getting in back of the Garden, where we strung our wagons in the rear
until the order "Ammunition up!" was given, and out from the dugouts
rushed the men to unload the precious cargo. Here the captain and
lieutenant were wounded, but they refused to go to hospital, saying
their wounds were too slight; and, indeed, I can honestly say that
every man that night who was wounded and could manage to hold out, did
so; each one seemed to be imbued with the idea that his presence was
absolutely necessary for the success of the plan in hand.

"You did not need to come back, Grant," said the Major, upon my return.
"I intended you should stay at the wagon lines tonight."

"Thank you, sir, but I'd rather be back."

"That's right, that's how we all feel."

That I was more than pleased at this mark of approval from my O.C. goes
without saying.

Chains of men formed from the ammunition wagons into the gun pit, shells
were passed from hand to hand to the guns where the men were waiting
them, and I thought I saw tears of joy in the eyes of the Tommy as he
caressed the first shell handed him. "That's for luck," he cried, as he
spat on it. The gunners exploded them as fast as they were given them.
The work was proceeding nicely when an airplane, flying low over the
Garden, spotted our ammunition wagons; he signaled the place back to his
batteries and shells from the guns behind hill 60 opened up on us; it
became exceedingly violent; many of the horses and wagons were smashed.

This was the order all night long,--wagons arriving with shells, shells
passing from hand to hand to the guns, discharged by the gunners as fast
as they were received, and enemy shells rained at us without let-up. We
were at our posts all night long. Before daybreak the storm slackened
and we got a breathing spell for a few hours.

Immediately after breakfast, at daybreak, the concert opened up afresh,
and for full seven days, June 2, to June 9, no man got a full hour's
sleep at a time. When not being shelled by the German batteries, the
machine gun bullets were raining around; if neither of these agencies of
hell were busy, airplanes were flying, many times so low that they
seemed to be even with the tops of the trees and singing us their
humming hymn of hate. An idea of the deadly nature of the conflict may
be had from the first day's casualties, that covered several thousand of
our men.

On the seventh day the German fire was so heavy it was impossible to get
ammunition up to the guns, and we pulled the backs out of the gun pit as
fast as we could smash them, man-handled the guns out of the Garden
down on to a little unused road in the rear of the railroad,
three-quarters of a mile southwest of the Garden; here the grass was a
foot or two in length, and we covered the guns with it and some brush,
dug out some large shell holes for them, then the wagons pulled up
there, unloading the ammunition, eight hundred to a thousand rounds
apiece, and we got orders to open up as an "S.O.S." came from the
trenches.

Fritz was not aware of our new position, for his fire was wild, and in
the darkness we were safe from the airplanes, although their humming was
distinctly audible as they flew here and there vainly looking for our
new spot. We worked the guns until 2 o'clock, cleaned them up and got a
couple of hours' badly-needed sleep.

At 4:45 A.M. next day another "S.O.S." came from the trenches, and, as
fast as we could do so, we let them have it,--this time in Sanctuary
Woods. Fritz replied, but his fire was wild. Again the planes came, in
an effort to find us, and we got the "keep-firing" whistle. The planes
still hovered over us and, under the urgency of a new demand from our
trenches, we again had to open up, and this time the plane found us, and
the result was quickly seen by a group of visitors breaking directly
over us. To register our battery was the work of but a few minutes. The
first blast was too far to the right; the next fell short, and again the
correction was made; with just three corrections they had our number;
the fourth shell got its mark. The lighter German batteries then passed
the range back to the heavies, 5.09 Howitzer batteries, and inside of a
minute we were the object of their earnest attention. Their first shell
smashed No. 2 gun and crew, leaving us with two guns. We held up our end
for half an hour, each moment expecting to get the dose they gave No. 2.

The efficiency of our work was disclosed during the day by the efforts
Fritz made to smother us; his fire became so intense we were ordered to
leave the battery and take refuge in the basement of a French
schoolhouse near by, and from there we had to watch the destruction of
our remaining two guns from the concentrated fire of five German
batteries of all calibers poured upon them. Our ammunition was
completely destroyed, and they struck No. 2 gun repeatedly, but the two
other guns were left intact.

It was now about 11 o'clock A.M. and orders were flashed for more guns
and more ammunition; then the fire cooled down. During the day two more
new guns were brought up, together with one thousand shells, and
everything was ready for the retaking of Sanctuary Woods the following
morning. Between three and five o'clock the next A.M. the 13th, 15th and
16th Scotch-Canadian Battalion, some of Canada's finest regiments, along
with several others, streamed up the road. Wherever the sweep of the
kiltie went, there was going to be something doing.

Daylight. "Stand to the battery! Targets, front-line trenches!" We
opened up for thirty minutes; our telephonist reported there was such a
smoke from the barrage that they could not see the infantry, but the
woods were on fire. The Empire battery, together with heavy naval guns
that had been brought up, and armored trains, were all concentrating
their trip-hammers on the place. It was now evident that every living
thing in the woods must be dead, as nothing could live under the
hurricane of fire.

We next attacked the road, stopping the German reserves and ammunition
from getting near. Then--"Over!"

The net result of the day's work was--the woods, the German front-line
trenches, three thousand prisoners, German dead and wounded piled in
heaps; wherever the eye turned, the shell holes, trenches and ditches
were packed with wounded, dead and dying Huns.

Our captain asked for volunteer observers, and I offered. We went into
the place where once was Maple Copse Woods, but it was no more; here and
there was a standing tree, but not a leaf or limb left of it, and the
trunks were littered with pieces of steel and iron. Before the battle
commenced, this spot was one of the loveliest places in the country
round about that one could well imagine. Flowers, shrubbery and the
rarest of plants of all kinds were there in abundance. This day it was a
scarred ruin; the savagery of destruction was so terrible it is
indescribable.

We wound our way amongst the dead and the wounded to the top of Mont
Soreul, first stopping to take a peep at our old guns; they were still
there, but badly battered up; Fritz evidently thought it was barely
possible we might have a chance to use them again. We reached our old
telephonist's hut on the hill, looked around for Lieutenant Matthews,
but he wasn't there; he had been wounded and taken prisoner.

We established lines of communication at once, to hold the Germans back
while we built up our own front. Our men were now coming back from their
trip and our batteries put up one of the fiercest barrages I have ever
witnessed to protect them on their return.



CHAPTER VIII

A BATH UNDER DIFFICULTIES


Over near Hooge was a large naval gun of high velocity and long range,
mounted on an armored train. The particular purpose of this nautical
monster was to shoot up objects at short notice, such as a body of
moving troops, a battery on the road, a train of ammunition wagons. It
was concealed in a tunnel made for its specific use, and when it would
discharge its missives of destruction it would first project itself from
the tunnel, send the message, and then shoot back inside.

It was at this time paying particular attention to the Square in
Poperinghe,--the little station and the hospital there,--and it had
become such a diabolical nuisance that it was determined to resort to
heroic measures to "get it." A monster balloon was enlisted in the work
and the mission of the floating bag was to direct the correspondence of
one of our 9.2 naval guns, which was operating on a short railroad built
by the Canadian Pacific Railway. This railroad, I may add, has been
doing mostly all the track laying and railroad operating for the
Canadian forces in Flanders. It was a matter of amazement for the
natives to see how quickly a railroad could be placed and operated, and
even the soldiers who were all more or less familiar with the workings
of this magnificent system in Canada, were astonished at the speed with
which the new machine, especially built by the Company for army
purposes, would throw down the rails, fasten them--presto! a railroad to
order.

[Illustration: Victorious, But Dead Tired]

It was resolved that the first work of the balloon should be devoted to
putting this German naval gun out of action. In this section at this
time the German balloons were thick in the air, and this gave them good
control of the Ypres salient. We dared not attempt the experiment there
for a long time, but it was finally determined to launch this one, and
it was brought up one evening, with its volunteers, inflated during the
night, and launched in the morning. Promptly at 10:00 o'clock, when it
was ready for raising, the German planes hummed busily overhead. Despite
their activities, the balloon got well up and was doing good observation
work on its way over to the naval nuisance; there it reached its
objective, making the necessary notations and records. Then--Kr-kr-kr-p!
Kr-kr-kr-p! And the shells commenced to scatter around it. Then it was a
case of getting the bag down, which was not so easy. These observation
balloons are operated from a large armored truck, to which they are
fastened, and the truck runs along carrying the air-bag with it,
attached with a long cable; it is handled just as a toy balloon would be
carried by a boy,--when the boy runs along, the balloon runs with him.
Attached to the bottom of the gas bag is a basket, usually holding four
observers, with a parachute for each man, and while in the air they have
to work as fast as possible, because their stay in the azure is as short
as the energies of Fritz can make it. If the wind is up and the sky
cloudy, it is one chance in a dozen that they will escape before the
planes get them, as the swing of the basket makes it difficult in the
extreme for them to notice the danger until it is upon them.

On this morning the first indication that they had that their time was
up was the swooping down of a cluster of birds of death on all sides.
The weather was foggy, a stiff wind blowing and the basket swinging
from side to side. This was the first time an attempt had been made to
float a balloon in the Ypres salient, as the danger was too obvious to
take the risk. However, as I say, the chance was taken. It so happened
that our guns were taking a breathing spell, and we stood on the top of
our gun pit eagerly watching the fall of the balloon and its escape. The
road along which the armored truck had run ran at one point quite close
to the German lines, and the airplanes were now coming thicker every
moment and bombing it from every quarter. Telephone and telegraph wires
running from trenches to headquarters and all parts of the lines
intervened between the balloon and safety, and there was nothing for
them but to cut the wires to let the bag get through. Each minute the
danger increased, but the men in the truck scrambled up the poles,
nipped the wire with their nippers, and the balloon passed through. This
was done repeatedly before it reached its haven. Bets were freely made
by every man in my gun crew, with the odds of 5 to 1, that the Huns
would get it. Somehow I had an inspiration that she would navigate the
storm, and I took up all the offers in my battery against the bag--and
lost. Her mission of observation had been accomplished, but when she
got through the wires she floated to the wagon line, and the result of
her arrival here was disastrous in the extreme, as the German shells
followed the bag as assiduously as any bunch of schoolboys snowballing a
foe, and hundreds of splendid horses were mangled to a jelly by the
explosion amongst them.

When it got to the wagon line the crew on the truck commenced to pull it
down as rapidly as they could, but when half-way to the ground a flying
shell split the cable in twain as neatly as it could have been done with
a razor blade, and the bag floated away with the remaining two men out
over the German lines. When the descent had commenced two of the crew
had taken to their parachutes and got away safely.

Anti-aircraft guns now opened up on it from our lines in an endeavor to
destroy it and prevent it getting into the hands of the enemy, and
German airplanes and anti-aircraft guns were also firing at it, so that
it was a target for all concerned. This, perhaps, is about the only
incident in the entire war to date where both the British and the
Germans were equally bent upon the destruction of a common object.

The wind suddenly changed and a steady current of air in the other
direction brought it back over our own lines; then the two remaining men
seized the opportunity to leave the floater in their parachutes,
dropping to safety. A bevy of our planes then went after it, riddled it
with rifle bullets, causing the gas to escape, and it finally sank
majestically to the ground.

After the battle, I resumed my place at the gun and the usual day's
work. Two days later I was detailed to watch for airplanes and was
sitting crouched under a culvert, when the familiar humming struck my
ear. I could not at first locate it, and crawled out to have a better
look skyward, but still failed to place it. Presently the humming
stopped, and I thought it had departed, and seized the chance to go to
the cookhouse for a cup of tea. When almost there--Kr-kr-kr-p!
Kr-kr-kr-p! a slather of German guns had opened upon ours and the
fellows fled pell-mell from the gun pit and made for the culvert, taking
shelter underneath. They were there about a minute when a shell landed
straight on the culvert, going through eight feet of cement and brick,
blowing everything in all directions and killing 15 out of the 16 men
who had taken refuge there. Less than sixty seconds had elapsed since I
left the spot.

When the battle was at its greatest height a wonderful discovery was
made. Complaint had been made about the horses dropping on the road on
the way up. Some thought it was cramps, others, colic; the veterinary
officers were quite puzzled. One night 18 loads of ammunition, three
horses to a load, were on their way to the guns and ten of the horses
dropped. The vets then took it for granted there must have been poison
in the feed, and an examination disclosed that little steel oats were in
the grain. The oats had come from the United States and they had been
deposited in the grain there.

The discovery was so important that the O.C. offered a prize of five
francs to every man discovering these death-dealing pellets in a bag of
oats. The bellies of the horses were secure forevermore, as far as these
pills of Kaiser Bill were concerned; those five francs did the trick;
every grain of the feed that went down the animals' throats first passed
an individual examination through the hands of every money-hungry Tommy
in the bunch.

After the third battle of Ypres had cooled down, we were permitted to go
to the rear as far as Poperinghe, for the purpose of giving ourselves a
scouring, as we were filthy with dirt and lousy with lice. My particular
chum on this journey was the little telephonist, Fox, who had been
through every big battle up to that time, including the Sanctuary Woods
carnage. We got to the wagon lines, eight miles off, by stealing rides
on any passing vehicle upon which we could fasten a tooth or a finger
nail,--ammunition wagon lorries, ambulances, supply wagons,--as we were
thoroughly tired out.

At the wagon lines we persuaded the Q-M to loan us horses for the
balance of the journey, which he cheerfully consented to do. But the
horses, unfortunately, were mules, practically ready for the bone-yard;
the Quartermaster had put them to one side, as they were useless for any
further work, and they were awaiting the arrival of the veterinary
officer to receive capital punishment. Every time I dug my spurs in my
mount, in a mad endeavor to make it go, the only result was a kick in
the air with its hind feet.

There was another transportation service in vogue there,--a large
number of donkeys, and each time a donkey passed my charger, it would
stop dead and wag its ears much after the fashion of a Hebrew
gesticulating with his hands in selling a suit of clothes. This was
repeated every time we met one of the little donkeys, and each time I
had to get off and back the brute for some distance, until it again took
the notion to go forward; it was a case of one step forward and two back
before I reached my destination.

The most ridiculously funny instance connected with the meeting of the
mule and the donkey was the manner in which each indulged in its muleism
and donkeyism; the little donkey would shoot its head straight forward,
stick its ears out sidewise, at right angles, and commence its song of
greeting, which sounded exactly like a man sawing wood, and the mule
would warble its well-known lyric of sweetness,--"Hee-Haw! Hee-Haw!
Hee-Haw!" keeping time with the flapping of its long lugs.

When I got to Poperinghe Square the mule and myself were all in; save
for the ride on the Parson's charger to the wagon lines, I had not been
riding for the space of a month, and my legs were so chafed I was
compelled to walk like an aged rheumatic for three or four days; but I
had company,--the other fellows were similarly affected.

We made our way to the bath in a rush, as every man wanted to be in
first. The bath contained 200 men at a time, and 200 tubs; there was no
pool in which to bathe; every man had to do his swimming and slopping
and washing in a tub; and the sight of the women and girl attendants was
a welcome one, as it had been a couple of months before anything
feminine had come within the range of our vision. We had to take our
turn in going through the routine of the bath.

When I was next, the woman attendant handed me a shirt; a little further
along I got a pair of socks, then drawers. Thus equipped, I entered the
bathroom; there were about 100 men in there, splashing each other like
mad in their wild joy. In stepping along the water-soaked boards, I
happened to slip and fall in the wet, and my dry garments were soaked
with the water slopped on the boards, assisted by the splashing showers
the men were throwing around.

It so happened that one of the fellows had been particularly well
splashed by a chum and he was watching for a chance to get even; he
determined to wait until his chum had put on his clothes, so that he
could execute his vengeance with all the more fullness of perfection.
The avenger stood just inside an alley leading to the dressing room,
with a pail of water in hand for his intended victim; the water had been
scooped out of a tub that had just been used, and it was as dirty as
water could be.

As I came even with the alley opening, thinking I was the victim, he let
me have it full in the face. I was blinded for a moment with the greasy,
soapy, dirty water, and, when my eyes were sufficiently open, it was
impossible for me to learn who it was. However, like all things of that
kind, I took it in good part and hastened to undress. I filled my tub
with pails of water from the tap and started my bath. Oh, how refreshing
it was! I don't think I ever appreciated the luxury of a bath until that
moment. When through with my ablution it was necessary, before I could
dress, to grease my body with a vermin-killer that is supplied the men.
This done, I commenced dressing, and had donned my underwear and pants
when,--Kr-kr-kr-p! Kr-kr-kr-p!--and a shell landed right in the middle
of the bathroom, and the bunch of merry-hearted fellows was transformed
into a panic-stricken crowd, leaping and jumping out of the tubs in
every direction in a pell-mell rush, helter-skelter, of men, some half
dressed, others absolutely naked, intermingled with the women
attendants, in the scramble for safety. Civilians, coming from their
houses in a mad rush, added to the confusion.

When the smoke of the explosion cleared, thirty of the bathers lay dead
in, on and around the tubs, and forty were wounded, all more or less
badly. Inside of three minutes, more shells were planted, some of them
landing plumb in the square, and, to my intense sorrow, I learned later
that Fox, my little chum, there had paid the supreme price. These shells
were totally unexpected, coming from the Hooge district, 11 miles
distant.

Everybody sought shelter in the cellars, or any other hole they could
crawl into, until night. I searched out my mule, and was thankful to
find it where I had left it, tied to a tree, gave it a feed of oats,
waited until it munched, unperturbed by the crashing explosions breaking
in the immediate neighborhood, and utterly oblivious of the fact that I
was counting the seconds until it had finished.

Under cover of the night, I returned to the wagon lines, and in much
better time than coming down, for which I had to thank the feed of oats.
The bath gave me a new hold on life; I felt ten years younger and
several pounds lighter.

I learned next day that the station master at Poperinghe had been
arrested, tried as a spy and shot. It transpired that he had a wire
running from the station depot straight to the German lines, together
with some other signaling apparatus, and there was no doubt in the minds
of the trial board that it was due to this man's espionage that the
bathers lost their lives while in the tubs.

The spy system had so thoroughly impregnated every hole and corner of
the district around Ypres that it became the sorest thorn in the sides
of the Command, but we finally managed to root it out hip and thigh, and
that sector is now as immune from their activities as any other sector
in the front lines.

Going up to take my position with the gun next day I met a bomber of the
21st Canadian Infantry, carrying a bag of his wares--hand grenades. We
walked together for some distance, and just as I was on the point of
leaving him to turn off over to my battery I was appalled by one of the
most horrifying sights I have seen at the front. One of the pins of a
grenade worked loose in the bag and exploded, blowing his right hand and
leg completely off. I have seen scores of happenings, each of which in
its entirety was a thousand times more terrible, but there was something
about the suddenness, the total unexpectedness, and the fearful spurting
of his life's blood, that filled me more full of horror than anything
before or since.

In this conflagration that is shaking the world, death stalks on every
hand in a hundred different forms, entirely apart from the destruction
that the enemy can bestow. I was standing but three feet behind him. As
quick as I could I gave him first aid and yelled for a stretcher, but
there was nothing that could be done; he lived until sundown.



CHAPTER IX

HAMBONE DAVIS


One evening we were sitting outside of our bivouac watching some German
balloons being downed by one of our airplanes; our flier had good luck
that evening, accounting for three of the floating sausages; and as we
were awaiting the finish of the last sausage, and speculating on how
long it would take our air bird to get it, or whether he would get it at
all, the gambling spirit ran rife, and fast and furiously the bets were
placed.

Open-mouthed and eager we watched and, while watching, a strange-looking
figure of a soldier ambled, or shuffled, up the path toward our place.
He was a man about 45, though looking more like 55, quite grizzled,
furrowed face, and a stubby mustache, thickly stained with tobacco
juice, decorated his upper lip. He was chewing tobacco as if his life
depended on the quantity of juice he could extract from each mouthful,
and dried tricklings of the liquid ornamented his chin. As he came
toward us his face was turned upward, taking in the scrimmage in the
sky. "What's them bloody things?" he asked, indicating the air sausages.
He had evidently just come up the line fresh from England. I told him
and he jerked out an indelible pencil and made a note, sucking the lead
of the pencil two or three times before he finished, and this habit,
continuous with him, kept his lip constantly stained with the indelible
lead.

Just then a mighty roar of delight went up from the entire crowd, as our
bird gobbled the last remaining sausage, but our indelible friend paid
no attention to the uproar,--he simply took out his little book and made
another note.

The "Fall-in!" whistle was blown and we were a bit surprised as well as
amazed to see our strange friend fall in in front, still chewing
vigorously; he evidently didn't know or didn't care a damn whether it
was against the rules to chew tobacco when parading. The Sergeant-Major
eyed him curiously and then stepping to his side whispered something; we
knew he was explaining to him that he was infringing orders, but a
non-commissioned officer is not permitted to bawl out another non-com in
the presence of the men. Hastily bestowing the quid in his hand he
stood to attention. Roll call finished and we retired to our bunks.

Early next morning when we emerged from our quarters the first person we
saw was the odd-appearing individual that had joined up with us the
night before, with his inevitable note book in his hand. He was still
busily sucking his indelible pencil in the corner of his mouth, and, in
the light of the morning sun, there was nothing about his mug that was
any more prepossessing than appeared in the twilight of the previous
night. He also had on the sleeve of his coat a crown, indicating that he
was to be our acting Sergeant-Major in the absence of the regular
officer, and when not so acting, he was to be the First Sergeant of the
section.

The official activity of our new friend commenced to be evidenced in a
number of ways; he lost no time in making us understand that he was
First Sergeant. "Sergeant Grant, detail two men for the cookhouse!" Then
to the gunners, "Here, you, clean up your wagons and take off all that
mud; it's filthy"; this was absolutely unnecessary and the fellows swore
vehemently under their breath; to the drivers,--"Clean up that 'ere
'arness and get that mud hoff it"; he also compelled us to burnish the
steel and made the gunners scrub the paint off the brass and sandpaper
it up. This necessitated the men going to a shop and purchasing the
sandpaper themselves, as disobedience of the order meant a sojourn in
the clink and the excuse that he had no sandpaper would not go.

By the time old Sol had reached the meridian, the First Sergeant had
succeeded in getting himself thoroughly hated, and many and earnest and
unique were the resolutions to "get even." This feeling was intensified
by his order to gather up some scantlings of hard wood and bring them to
his quarters; he was a sort of a one-horse carpenter by trade and had
started manufacturing for his own especial use and benefit a wooden
structure large enough to house himself.

The idiosyncrasies of our newfound friend manifested themselves
variously, the first and chief characteristic by which he came to
acquire the _sobriquet_ of "Hambone Davis," was his habit of heading for
the cookhouse each morning before the men were dismissed from the horse
lines--which was necessary before we could appease our always ravenous
appetites--so that he could garner for himself an edible that was longed
for and looked for by every man who could get it, i.e., the ham bone,
because there were always more or less pickings on it and he was a lucky
fellow indeed who was successful in capturing the prize. But, in his
official capacity, Davis was able to get out and get over there ahead of
us every morning and during his entire stay in our crowd, he was the
only man who each morning got the ham bone. Hence his cognomen.

Long, earnest and secret conferences were had as to the way we had best
settle our grievances. Among the conspirators were Dynamite Pete,
so-called because of his habit of taking shells, fuses and bombs apart
and examining and prying into their contents. One time his curiosity
came nearly getting him a quick passage West. He was examining a bomb
and, taking out the pin, was holding it in his hand, looking at it for a
brief instant. Providentially an officer was standing beside him who saw
his mad act and, grabbing the bomb from his hand, flung it into the
field--and just in time! It exploded before it had well gotten on its
way.

Pete's answers to the officer, while respectful, were tantalizing to a
degree:

"What did you do that for?"

"What are they here for?"

"Why did you take the pin out?"

"Because it is made to come out."

"Did you want to kill yourself?"

"If I did it would have been my own funeral."

"How about the others?"

"They had no business here."

"Think it over in the clink--ten days."

I could think of nothing else but the fellow who was passing a private
residence one day with a pitchfork on his shoulder, and a big dog came
rushing out at him, and he jammed the dog through with his pitchfork,
killing him. The owner came out in a great rage.

"What did you do that for?"

"What did your dog run at me for?"

"Why didn't you hit him with the other end?"

"Why didn't he come at me with his other end?"

Gunboat Stevens was another of the plotters; his suggestions were so
unique and uncommon that each of them sent us into an uncontrollable
roar of laughter. Unfortunately, as we thought, they were usually as
impracticable as they were strange. This member of our gang derived his
alias from his warm adherence to the navy as against the army. Never was
there an argument started about the navy that it did not have a burning
advocate in Stevens; he would even go to the length of challenging any
man in the crowd to fight him then and there who had the temerity to
claim that the Empire had as good a defender in the military as in the
naval arm of the government.

We also had a Jesse James; his surname was really James and it was easy
fitting on the handle.

The conference finally resolved itself into a determination to burn his
new-made bivouac, but I dissuaded them and convinced them that it would
be much better for them to lug it over to the incinerator and throw it
into the pit. To complete the plot and give it an artistic finish, it
was necessary to have a ham bone, and Gunboat volunteered to get it.
"I'm on picket tonight," he said, "and I'll go to the cookhouse when the
cook is asleep and fix it." He did so; when the cook was dreaming of
everything but the front line, Gunboat quietly slipped in, unearthed
the ham that was in readiness for our breakfast, and with his knife he
quickly extracted the bone, taking care of the pickings with his teeth
while finishing his sentry go.

The next night everything was in readiness and when the opportune moment
arrived, with Hambone leaving with ammunition for the guns, I passed the
word. When he was well on his way we hurried over to his shack, rooted
it out and carried it bodily over to the incinerator, setting it
completely over the hole. Now for the artistic touch. We took the ham
bone, fastened it with wire to the end of a stick that we nailed across
the top of the shack, with the end protruding well out to the side, and
on the end of the ham bone we hung a placard, so that all could see,
reading, "Here lies the remains of Hambone Davis. Gone but not
forgotten." Then we scampered over to one side and with the glee of
mischievous schoolboys watched developments. Nearly every passing
soldier, noticing the odd sight, strolled over and read the sign, going
off snickering.

The following evening Hambone arrived back from the guns; he had with
him some of the conspirators carrying wood that he wanted; it was the
first time they experienced real pleasure in that work because they
foresaw the dénouement in store.

When they reached the spot where his home had been, Hambone looked
around in a dazed sort of fashion, almost swallowing a mouthful of
tobacco juice as he blurted out, "Where the bloody 'ell is my 'ouse?
What bloody well nonsense is this? Hi'll make someone pay for this!" The
rest of us were loitering in the immediate vicinity, listening with
sheer chucklings to his burning vows, and it was all we could do to
stifle our laughter. Then Hambone ran around like a looney, looking here
and there for his house, and when he found it and saw the bone and read
the placard, his feelings were so intense that he actually spat out his
mouthful of tobacco, juice and all.

"'Ere, you lobsters! You, Grant, who has done this?"

"I don't know; how should I know?"

"Hi bet you do know!"

"Aw, what the hell are you getting at? Don't try any of that on me or
I'll have you up for office," I threatened.

He didn't seem to be getting anywhere in his efforts to find out the
guilty ones, so he did the next best thing.

"Sergeant Grant, take six of your men and put that 'ouse back." There
was nothing for it but to obey, but I made a mental resolve he would
never sleep in that shack that night at least. We took hold all together
and lifted it up, and on the way over I purposely stumbled in such a way
that the mansion of Hambone fell on one corner and with the fall it came
tumbling to pieces.

Our arch-enemy composed himself to sleep that night in the guard room,
as none of us would give him room in our quarters, and it so happened
that Gunboat Stevens was in the clink at the time for having called him
"Hambone." They occupied the same room, his bed immediately opposite the
First Sergeant's, with just a foot or two of space between the bottom of
each bed. As may be imagined, no kindly good nights passed between the
two.

Now Davis had just been over from England but a short time and was
comparatively clean in his person, while Stevens was lousy, and to
complete the diabolism of the revenge, Gunboat, instead of throwing his
shirt on the floor as he usually did, watched his opportunity and when
he heard a snore from Hambone that had no camouflage in it, he slipped
his shirt in at the head of the bed where our official tormentor
reposed.

Our glee was positively fiendish next day when watching Hambone
wriggling uneasily in his clothes at parade. Gunboat had sent us an
underground message telling us what he did, and we did not fail to
recognize the symptoms at once; every moment he got a chance he was
scratching himself; and as soon as he had the opportunity he made for
the nearest tree and, rubbing his back violently against it, almost wore
a hole in his coat. Miserable were his moments throughout that day. "'Ow
in 'ell can a man fight an' scratch at the same time!" he would snort.

There was no let up to his officiousness, however; his damnable orders
were as numerous as before; so we concluded to hatch a scheme that would
most effectively put him on the blink, and the opportunity occurred the
very next night. Hambone was detailed to proceed to the guns, to relieve
the Sergeant-Major there, and it was his duty to take charge of the
supply wagon that carried the supplies for the men there, and by chance
there was among the rations this time a jar of rum. Accompanying Hambone
were Snow and Reynolds of our section, they sitting in the back end of
the wagon. They had barely started when Snow discovered the rum jar, and
he and Reynolds at once got their wits working as to how they could get
away with it. When about half-way there, Hambone, to stretch his legs,
got off the wagon and walked alongside, and Snow instantly whispered to
Reynolds, "get off and walk with him and tell him you hear a shell
coming." Reynolds did as directed and Hambone ducked for cover and the
wagon stood stock still. No sooner was the First Sergeant's back turned
than Reynolds threw the jar into the ditch.

A minute or two elapsed and no explosion taking place, Hambone rejoined
the wagon and the party proceeded. Then Snow slipped off the back and
went back for the jar, but instead of going up the road, he took the
railroad track, beating the wagon by some minutes and hiding his jar of
joy in my gun pit, immediately got back and was standing beside the
wagon when it arrived. Hambone seeing him there hadn't the remotest idea
that he had hopped off at any time, and supposed that he had ridden the
entire way with them. Snow gave Reynolds the wink and he knew the prize
was safe.

The first thing Hambone did was to go to the back of the wagon for the
jar. It was gone! He searched wildly about for a moment, asking first
one and then the other what had become of it, and Snow volunteered the
opinion that probably it had dropped off when the wagon lurched that
time he thought the shell was coming. There was nothing for it but to
report his loss, and the only excuse he could give was that the rum had
probably rolled off when they trotted at a coming shell, and what the
officer didn't say to Hambone for trotting, which was a violation of
orders, would not be worth repeating. He bellowed at him to go and
search for it, and with wicked delight we watched the duffer going back
over the route, peering from side to side of the road in his vain
search.

The journey was a nine-mile trot and he covered more than half the
distance, endeavoring to find the precious container, and when he came
back in a couple of hours without it, the poor devil thought he was
going to be licked, such was the anger of the men at missing their rum
rations, because they sorely needed it; none but those who have been
there can and do appreciate how sorely it is needed in that region of
the world.

I make no apology or attempt to excuse myself as an accessory after the
fact. It is an unwritten law among the men that the only crime involved
in stealing liquor is--using an Irishism--not to steal it.

The only men in the section that night who had a ration of the treasured
fluid were Dick Snow, Reynolds and myself, and in the midst of our
conviviality we prophesied that if Hambone survived this disaster, he
was immortal.

Toasting the health of the King, the army, the navy and our loved ones
at home, we retired in blissful consciousness of a good job well done.

Next morning, black looks and cursing threats in low voices greeted
Hambone on all sides, and his work that day was so fidgety, and he made
so many mistakes in getting the ranges on the sights, that the Major
performed the _coup d'état_ for which we were all anxiously waiting by
transmitting as quickly as he could to headquarters his recommendation
that he be retired, and Hambone, to our immense relief, was shipped back
to England.



CHAPTER X

BEES, HONEY AND HELL


On Tuesday, August 29, 1916, my battery pulled into Martinsaart, in the
Somme district, which lies three miles immediately west of Thiepval. The
Battle of the Somme had been raging since July 1. We took up our
position in a beautiful orchard, its trees laden down with apples, and
along the hedge on one side of the orchard were ten beehives, humming
and throbbing with busy bee life. Underneath some large apple trees we
placed our guns and the thickly woven hedge right in front of us gave us
a splendidly concealed nook; through the hedge we cut a hole for our
beauty's nozzle.

At 5:15 in the afternoon we started registering our "love letters," in
preparation for another phase of the big bombardment which had been more
or less continuously in operation since the commencement of the battle,
and after accomplishing our purpose we got a "stand down." The apples
clustering on the trees looked as tempting to us as did the apple of
our first father and before we started registering, every man in the
battery had mentally made his tree selection as the one he would climb
as soon as he got a minute to himself. It was unnecessary to climb,
however; with the advent of the explosion of our guns, the concussion
shook the trees as with a strong wind and the luscious fruit showered
upon our heads in abundance.

Then we cleaned up our guns, munching the red apples, and the enemy
planes were humming like bees over our heads, darting here and there
like bats, trying to find our place of concealment, but we were too well
hidden. When night fell, McLean and I started for the rear, passing the
hives on our way. "By, Golly, Grant, here's a chance for a mouthful; I
know how to handle this proposition," and he made for the hives. He
lifted off the top, with the bees flying all around, and handed me the
top to hold while he inserted his hand and took out a comb, which he
passed over to me, saying, "Take this till I get another, the damned
bees are stinging me." Thousands were around him. I took it and started
on the dead run for my billet, about 400 yards away, and in a minute or
two Mac followed with another comb. The fellows greeted us with
exclamations of delight and surprise; many of us had been two years in
the battle line without ever having seen, let alone tasted, such a
delicious morsel. Every man in the billet fell to, munching the honey
with expressions of sheer joy; every fellow in the bunch had his face
and hands littered with the sticky joy like so many kids munching taffy.
In the midst of our feasting, visitors called; the robbed bees came
flying into the room after their treasure. McLean, by this time, had
been stung about twenty times, and I had about a dozen nips on my hands
and face, and in the very heat of our argument with our visitors, "Stand
to!" was sounded, and honey, bees and everything else was dropped as we
raced for the guns. But the bees did not drop us; they chased us every
bit of the way; they attacked our hands, our mouths, our
necks,--wherever there was a particle of our anatomy exposed we were
stung.

On our way to the guns McLean brought a comb with him, leaving the other
alongside his bed. We had to pass the Major on our way, whose dugout was
close to the hives, and by that time he had an inkling of what was
going on and he yelled, "Grant, throw that honey down; you too, McLean."
As he yelled his orders I was passing the telephonist's hut and I threw
it in to him,--"Here, Graham, here's some honey for you, it's great,"
and continued my run down to the guns, the bees still following us up.

McLean laid his comb on a pile of shells beside the gun, and the heat of
the August day caused the honey to trickle over the shells. I commenced
pointing the gun while Mac worked the range drum; the angles were passed
to us and inside of a minute we were firing, and inside of another
minute we had the sternest kind of a battle on our hands, for thicker
than ever the bees came swarming around the gun.

"Who in hell broke into those hives?" yelled the Major.

No reply; we were busily working and "hadn't time" to answer. The honey
on our hands, coupled with the dust, made a grit that in opening and
closing the breech caused the mechanism to stick, and the honey clinging
to the shells caused the breech chamber to stick, making the shell cases
jam in the gun after being discharged, forcing us to pry open with a
sharp pick the breech each time to extract the empty cartridge. All
during the operation the Major was cursing like a madman at the men,
whoever they were, that brought the bees into the business.

It was my duty to set the sight, and as I did so, each time, the bees
would attack my hands and head, and in trying to attend to the sight and
wipe the bees off at the same time, my work was harder than can well be
imagined; but poor Billy's case was even harder, he had to keep a steady
hold of his range drum with both hands and he couldn't budge to brush
off his attackers, as it was absolutely necessary to hold dead steady to
enable us to do our shooting accurately.

"Grant, for God's sake knock this bee off my neck," he pleaded; "it's
stinging hell out of me"; but every time I made a move to help him, the
Major roared, "Get that angle on, Grant; get your range on, McLean." And
we had to take our medicine. Parker, who was passing shells, was in the
same plight as the rest of us; his hands were covered with the sugary
fluid that had settled between the copper splinters of the driving bands
on the shells and the slivers were slitting his hands. This is a
necessary accompaniment that the men passing the shells into the gun
have to contend with, and ordinarily it is a sore and painful piece of
business, but in conjunction with the swarm of the bees it was simply
hellish.

A change of angle was momentarily expected from the observer; we had
been looking for it for some minutes, and the Major was beginning to
rave and rant, very much like a theater manager when the star has not
yet put in her appearance and the impatient audience on the outside are
giving vent to catcalls. He could stand it no longer and ran as fast as
his legs would carry him over to the telephonist's hut; there he found
Graham crouching alongside of his telephone in the folds of a blanket
over his head and face. It was the usual field telephone that we used,
in conjunction with a telegraph buzzer, and Graham was endeavoring to
deliver his messages and fight off the bees at the same time, while
bringing to his aid the smoke of a fag that he was endeavoring to puff
into the faces of his antagonists in the hope that it would help some.

The Major bellowed, "You damned jackass! take off that blanket. What do
you mean?" Graham threw off the blanket and started working his buzzer,
but the bees had as little regard for the rank of the Major as they did
for that of Sergeant Graham, and three or four of them kept pinging away
at him, but as long as the Major was there his splendid discipline
enabled him to do his work. He got into communication at once with the
trenches, gave us our new targets and we kept on with our work until
darkness prevented further registering that night, although the twilight
still prevailed.

"Stand down!" came the order. "Clean up guns and lay on S.O.S. lines for
the night," meaning to load the gun with a fuse shell timed for a
certain range, or to burst on percussion, just as the target requires,
safety catch down, sight set, range on range drum and the gun laid on a
predetermined point to be covered, in both cases being the front line
trench, although it might be a machine-gun emplacement, barbed-wire,
bombing post, crossroads or observation station. For a front-line trench
and an attack started by the enemy, the S.O.S. signal is passed from the
trench, either through the telephonist in the trenches, or by means of
colored star shells. Immediately upon receipt of this signal by our
S.O.S. sentry or the telephonist at the battery, we get the order
"S.O.S. stand to the battery," and in the space of four seconds from
the time we receive that order, our first shell must be exploded in the
German lines under pain of the severest penalty. If a man were taking a
wash, he would have to jump out of the water and get to the guns as
quickly as God and nature would permit him.

Before retiring for our billets, Mac and I decided that we might as well
get some more honey, as we felt that the bees had done about all that
they could to us and we were deserving of a little further reward for
what we had endured, and arming ourselves with smoke helmets, we made a
further sortie on the camp of our winged enemies. As fast as if I were
ramming home a shell, I lifted off the hive while Mac pulled out a
couple of combs swarming with bees. We thought we were making a good job
of it this time and getting away scot free, when suddenly I felt a stab
under my coat sleeve and almost at the same moment Mac had the same
experience and we broke into a run for the billet. By the time we got
there we were being stung frightfully on our bodies, as the bees had
made their way up under our shirt sleeves and we ripped off our coats
and shirts, fighting the common enemy at the same time. The boys in the
billet beat it outside while we "carried on."

After a vigorous battle we seemed to have the foe beaten into submission
and the fellows returned; then we had a feed of honey, hung up the
remainder on the wall and retired for the night. Mac retired to his bunk
first and had scarcely settled down when he emitted another snort, then
a yell; the bees had settled in between the blankets of his bed and were
renewing their onslaught on his helpless body.

Everybody started laughing at McLean's plight, but no sooner were the
rest of us settled down till we too had a battle on our hands; and in
the middle of the fray, Fritz started shelling our billets with gas
shells, one of the missiles going clean through the tile roof and
knocking the tiles down on our heads. Then came a salvo--six
shells--followed by several others. "S.O.S." was signaled and "Stand
to," and out we raced for the guns, sans shirt, sans everything, bumping
into the trees on our way and falling in shell holes in the orchard.

The gas they were putting over at this time was more dangerous than any
I had yet experienced, it having a more direct effect on the lungs than
any they had yet given us. It had started to rain and the darkness was
black, but we reached the guns within scheduled time, and under great
difficulty we exploded our shells; but most of our work in that
discharge was guesswork.

It soon cooled down and we again sought our billets after laying the
guns on "S.O.S." and even the pain from the stings of the bees did not
prevent us getting into dreamland in short order.

At 3:30 in the morning I went out to visit the last guard shift, as was
my duty. Then, dawn breaking over the land, I went out to see what
damage the shells had done, and on the way I stumbled into a crop of the
most delicious mushrooms. Off came my helmet and I filled it to the brim
and hastened to the cookhouse with them; he had just got his fire
started and I asked him if he would oblige me by cooking them for me, as
I wanted them for my gun crew, and he gladly complied with my request.

Then cookhouse was called and the crew came to breakfast and when each
man got his portion of the mushrooms served him, his astonishment was as
great as when he got the honey. So that between the honey and the dewy
dainties I had gathered, together with a couple of jars of pickled pork
and two small jars of rolled butter found in one of the vacated cellars
by an industrious member of our crew, you can imagine the excited
condition of our minds that morning at breakfast.

During the course of the feasting the Sergeant-Major arrived on the
scene. "Well, for Heaven's sake! Who was the guy that got the
mushrooms?" He was informed that I was the lucky individual and he asked
me if I would show him the way, and I was just directing him when "Stand
to the battery!" intervened, and we bolted for the guns and opened up.
"Fifty rounds gunfire" was ordered; then "Second fire ten seconds," then
"Second fire five seconds," then "Gunfire steady"; next, "Independent
fire ten seconds"; then came the order for a sweeping fire to enable our
infantry to dig in in a trench they had just taken, and to prevent Fritz
getting it back. Our work was accomplished and "Stand down and lay on
day lines!" was ordered and I was cleaning the sight of my gun and
wiping off the effects of the gas fumes when the Sergeant-Major came
along and asked me to indicate where I had gathered the mushrooms; I
pointed the spot out to him, and he made a bee line. In a couple of
minutes I heard him calling and I looked up, "Here's a beauty you
missed, Grant; you must have been blind," and he held up a mushroom as
large as a breakfast plate. I laughed and replied, "Yes, you are lucky,
Sergeant-Major." Then Kr-kr-kr-p! Kr-kr-kr-p! and Fritz started getting
busy again as an airplane hovered about, and the pace getting too
deucedly hot, we started for the trenches; it was a ditch-trench half
full of water which came to our waists, and in it we paddled our way
until we got to a fairly good trench, and on the journey down
imprecations of all kinds were hurled on the head of the offending
Sergeant-Major. "Where is that damned fool of a Sergeant-Major?" asked
one; "It was his gathering those mushrooms in the open that started
Fritz." Just at that moment down the ditch came the Sergeant-Major
limping; he had been slightly wounded in the leg by a bit of shrapnel,
but he was hanging onto his mushrooms.

"'Ere, Grant, take this, will you, till I fix me leg," and he handed me
the mushrooms and started undoing his puttee where the blood was soaking
through. When he had bound up his wound I handed him his dainties and
he held them up admiringly.

"It was a bit dangerous, doncher know, but, blow me tight, if I wouldn't
do it again to get a beauty like that," holding up the large one he had
shown me when he was gathering them.

"You bleedin' idiot," I said, "don't you know a mushroom when you see
it? That's a toadstool! I passed it up."



CHAPTER XI

SCOTTY COMES BACK AT THE SOMME


The German lines were on the hills; every time we took a position it was
always uphill, until we got over Pozières Ridge and then our work was
downhill for the time. We arrived at the firing line on the 29th of
August, 1916. The accompanying map will convey a general idea of the
object intended to be attained by the great drive. The German
organization in this district was fed by railroads having terminals at
Bapaume and it was clearly evident that with this city in our possession
the supply organization of the enemy would be largely demoralized. Hence
the plan. Bapaume lay southwest from our trenches a matter of 15 miles;
intervening were the towns of Labazell, Pozières, Courcelette and
Martinpuieh,--all on the Albert-Bapaume road.

We arrived just in time to save Pozières. The Australian boys had driven
their way clean through to this place, but had not sufficient
reënforcements to hold it, and were being exterminated when we reached
the point and saved them with our guns and the wonderful work of our
infantry in driving the Boches half-a-mile over the ridge. The
opportunity for Canada to assist her sister dominion was a matter of
profound thankfulness to every man of us; to lend a helping hand under
such circumstances was indeed cheery work.

The Imperial troops and Australians, under great difficulties, had
blasted their way into Labazell, the crater of the mine blown up being
one of the largest I have seen on the Western front. This was the
commencement of the Somme offensive and happened on the 1st of July,
1916. When I reached this crater two battalions of Canadian troops were
stationed in its depths in holes burrowed all around the sides, and it
was used as an assembling point for reënforcements. This will convey an
idea of the extent of the mining operations.

The distance from the mine to our new position was three-quarters of a
mile and the ground was billeted with corpses all the way to our
battery; in the crater itself it was impossible to step without walking
on bits of human bodies, and the dugouts surrounding were filled with
German dead; there were thousands of them. It was so manifestly
impossible to give them any sort of a burial that the order was issued
to fill in the dugouts where they lay and this was done by heaving the
ground in on top of them. Never to my dying day can I forget the sight
of those German dead! Dead everywhere! In whatever direction the eye
turned there were the rigid warriors of the Kaiser cold in death. It was
many nights before I could get a straight sleep without seeing
mortifying Huns. But I have long since ceased to have any pity for them.
Although they are the victims of a system over which they have no
apparent control, yet they are supposed to be human beings with human,
red blood in their veins, and the numberless deeds of which they have
been guilty have branded them as nothing better than brute beasts in the
eyes of all humanity.

With the help of the Pozières Ridge we could observe Fritz quite clearly
now, and every time he attempted any digging-in work our guns would
speak to him in terms so convincing that he fain would desist. My
battery then moved up to within a thousand yards of the foe, one and a
half miles northwest of Labazell, where we had to dig right in the
open. At this point the dead were also strewn so thickly that it was
practically impossible to walk without stepping on a corpse, or part of
one, every other step, among them being many of our own fellows who here
paid the supreme price, and each time we came across a laddie in khaki
it was a signal for an outburst of swearing. Had we not sworn we would
have wept, and, naturally, as men we preferred to do the other thing.

While here our rations ran short; our prisoners numbered over 20,000 and
the policy of the British Government being to treat a prisoner as well,
if not better, than her own soldiers (their wants are always attended to
first), we were practically without food, and were compelled to resort
to the heroic method of taking the rations from the bodies of our poor
comrades who were lying cold on the ground and who would need them no
more.

Three-quarters of a mile north of Labazell we were in our gun pit one
night and "Ammunition up!" was the order. This meant that everybody,
including officers and down to cook, the telephonist on duty alone being
excepted, had to get out and help unload the life-saving material. I
remember thinking of the anomaly at the time,--how strange it was that
we should regard the ammunition as life saving, when it was in reality
so destructive of life. While working like Turks unloading the shells,
some of the drivers were talking about a strange sight they had seen
down the road near Albert (pronounced Albare), when loading up at the
ammunition dump. They told us that huge contraptions covered with
tarpaulin were lying on the side of the road, with six-pounder guns
protruding from their sides; in conversation the drivers referred to
them as land boats, and some, as land dreadnaughts. Speculation ran rife
as to their purpose. We were soon to see. Next morning as dawn was
breaking, "Stand to!" rang out. Waiting in our gun pits for the next
command, I heard the sound of an engine put-put-ing along the road,
something akin to that of a machine gun, but yet different.

I looked in the direction of the sound and presently there hove in sight
a colossal something of behemoth proportions;--something the like of
which I had never seen or heard of in all my life, and I was stricken
dumb with amazement. A monstrous monstrosity climbed its way without let
or hindrance, up, over, along and across every obstacle in its path.
Presently it reached the top of Pozières Ridge; every man who could see
had his eyes glued on it. It came down the ridge at about five miles an
hour with two small guns peering out of each side. It was the first
tank! We all thought at first it was an armored car of some kind. Then
it swung off the road, crossing a ditch 8 feet wide and 17 deep and when
we saw it perform this stunt our faculties were for the moment
spellbound, and then we burst into uncontrollable cheering.

From all quarters of the valley soldiers were running to see the
absurdly strange sight; it was as if a general fire alarm had been
sounded, with everybody hastening to the scene of the conflagration.
Passing close by our battery, it paused for a while, and I had the
opportunity of giving it the once-over, and then it waddled on its way
again. In a few minutes two companion land boats made their début
amongst us; up they went over the ridge, rolling down the German
barbed-wire entanglement as if it were so much thread and forcing huge
gaps for the Infantry to pass through, continuing their way placidly on
through the trenches of the Hun, flattening scores of German soldiers
under their bulk who were too awe-stricken to move.

Our Infantry then took up the beaten path, charging the enemy trenches,
and Fritz was an easy prey that morning.

Inside of half an hour after our tanks reached the lines of Fritz, the
prisoners in gray commenced to stream toward our lines; for a distance
of seven miles the road was jammed with captured Huns. Some of them
passing by our battery spoke to me in English, as good as, if not
better, than my own, and asked me what in hell was the meaning of waging
war in such fashion; they referred to the tank as Landfuerchtenichts. I
told them that was nothing to what was in store for them. "Why," I said,
"I've got reserved seats on one of them for Berlin."

"You'll never get that far," he retorted.

       *       *       *       *       *

The action on the Somme was well under way when one morning at daybreak,
making my way to the cookhouse, I was greeted, "Hello, Grant, hoos awa'
wi' ye, laddie? Ma sontes, but you're lookin' fine! An' damned if he
isn't a Sergeant!" It was Scotty, reinstated in our unit in his former
capacity of cook, and he had brought with him his nerve, his twinkle,
his bow legs and all. I must confess I was glad to see him, and when we
had a few minutes together he told me, with all the gusto imaginable, of
his exploits in London.

With his little eyes twinkling like pin points, he related how England
needing every available man, he was reinstated, and having observed
strict military discipline while in the camp he was, under the rule,
entitled to back pay, so that he had a year's wages coming. He obtained
leave of absence, hastened to London and procured in some manner a
British Major's uniform, in which he disported himself in first-class
hotels, restaurants and the like, receiving the homage that became a
returned fighting man, in the shape of dinner engagements, theater
invitations and drinks galore. The deception was discovered and he was
clinked for thirty days, at the end of which he was packed off to the
front lines.

He wound up by telling me that, he expected to get into the game
shortly, as he wanted to be in it when the Germans got what was coming
to them.

We were occupying at this time some splendid dugouts and trenches that
we had taken from Fritz; they were made of chalk as was also the
cookhouse. Of our battery of sixteen guns at this point my gun was
nearest to the cookhouse, and I was mightily tickled at the prospect of
having an opportunity now and again to slip in and have a drink of hot
tea, or something of the kind, with my old friend.

[Illustration: Ex-German "Pill Box" That Is Now a British Dugout]

That night I dropped in on Scotty and casually remarked that our guns
would speak shortly and I expected we would bring the German fire upon
us, as was the usual result. Scotty's voice quavered I thought, as he
asked me when we would begin. "Oh, in an hour, maybe. Have you got a sup
of hot tea, Scotty?" "No, I hae na tea, Grant; you'll get your tea at
the proper time and not before." "Well, of all the----." I couldn't find
words, and then I remembered his old-time habit of thriftiness, and I
made up my mind to keep a sharp lookout, and if I caught him
profiteering in rations he had saved from the men, I mentally resolved I
would show him no mercy.

Exactly at 2 o'clock that morning we started sending our messages to
Fritzie, and inside of a minute--Kr-kr-kr-p! Kr-kr-kr-p! Kr-kr-kr-p!
Kr-kr-kr-p! And his shells were flying all around us. The cookhouse was
only about 20 yards off and I wondered if Scotty would now loosen up a
bit, and I stepped over leaving Lawrence in charge of the gun. The cook
had crawled under his bunk, which was merely a slight wire mattress
raised a couple of feet off the floor. There was a dixie of hot tea
standing near and I started to help myself to a drink. He saw what I was
doing and with chattering teeth told me he would report me in the
morning. He had scarcely spoken when a shell tore through the cookhouse,
going clean through the wall over his bed, and as the roar of it passed
by, I heard Scotty again offering up supplications in a manner that
would arouse the admiration of the most earnest camp-meeting devotee.
The shells were commencing to pop all around and I knew instantly that
Fritz had located the cookhouse instead of the battery, and I roared to
Scotty to come out, but he wouldn't budge. I reached under and grabbed
him by the leg, dragging him to the door and leading him by the hand,
for he was shaking like a leaf, made my way to the battery. By that time
Fritz had got a better line on the guns and it was getting so hot that
we got orders to retire to our dugouts. I pushed the cook ahead of me
and when we got to the path leading to our quarters, about 200 yards
off, no sprinter ever lived that could equal the pace of the bow-legged
chef. I doubt if a moving picture machine could have caught the flash of
his legs.

The following day we got the welcome order of billets. When there the
O.C. made an announcement that he would give a prize of 20 francs to the
driver of the best pair of mules on inspection day, which was two weeks
hence. This was done for the purpose of encouraging the well-being of
the animals,--a most important factor in our own well-being. Scotty's
eye to thrift ever open, he entered into an engagement with one of the
drivers that he would feed his mules potato peelings if he would split
fifty-fifty with him on the prize. The driver agreed and a few days
later he and his helper appeared at the door of the cookhouse with one
of the mules to get his feed. In order to prevent spilling the peelings
at the entrance to the cookhouse, he backed the mule up against the
door. In France, as is well known, every farmhouse has a cesspool in
which all manner of refuse is distilled by means of a pump and straw,
and used to fertilize the soil. These pools are all the way from 8 to
10 feet deep. Immediately in front of the cookhouse and the mule was one
of these cesspools, our billets here being on a farm. It happened that
when Scotty was peeling his potatoes that day, he had thrown them so
close to the fire that they got thoroughly heated. He hastily gathered
them up and threw them in a pan which he handed to Tompkins, the man who
had charge of the mules and who had entered into the agreement with him;
the driver was still on the animal's back. When the mule stuck his nose
into the hot peelings he jerked backwards into the door of the
cookhouse, the driver's back struck the wall over the entrance and he
was shot clean off the mule's back head-foremost into the cesspool 10
feet away. When I say that the bone-grinding department of a stockyard's
plant is pleasant compared to the odor of the mixture contained in the
cesspool, some idea will be had of the driver's condition when he was
pulled out by Tompkins. In the meantime, Scotty was standing in the
cookhouse, laughing his sides out at the driver's plight, and he had
forgotten to notice that the mule was backing further and further into
the room. Just then Mr. Mule got his foot tangled up in one of the
dixies that were lying on the floor, and in attempting to kick it off,
his foot missed Scotty's head by about six inches. Scotty backed up and
so did the mule, still kicking, each kick bringing his hoof nearer
Scotty's mug.

"Take your damn mule out," he roared, but they returned the laugh on him
and made no move. The next kick brought the hoof and dixie within an
inch of the cook's skull and in desperation and fear for his life he
slid sidewise under the mule's belly and just escaped a vicious bite as
he was getting out of the door.

What the mule did not do in that room to the dinner preparations was not
worth doing and Scotty was peremptorily demoted for the loss of the
men's dinner and put to tending mules instead. He had no more idea of
caring for a mule than he had for performing a delicate operation on the
brain and, as a consequence, when inspection day came around, the hip
bones of the animals he had cared for could be used as a hat rack and
the officer ordered them shot and buried. The cook's thrift again came
to the front. "Grant, I'll tell ye what I'll do, if ye'll help me take
the carcasses to an abattoir we'll sell them for forty francs, and then
we can dig a grave and let on we've buried them, and I'll go half wi'
ye. What do you say?" The scheme looked plausible enough to me and I
consented, and I was the richer by 20 francs.

Owing to his misfortune with the mules the O.C. ordered him to report
for duty on my gun and Scotty came into the lines with us the following
week. I was in charge of a trench mortar and our duty was to send over 8
or 10 shells, instantly take the gun to pieces and remove it to another
position for the purpose of getting away from the return fire that Fritz
was sure to send. When the first 10 messages were sent across, I ordered
all hands to take their respective parts and carry them to the point
designated, I superintending the dismemberment of the gun. When the last
man, who happened to be Scotty, had taken away his respective part of
the gun, I picked up the range-finder and started for the spot about a
hundred yards off down the trench. I had scarcely gone 10 yards when an
ear-splitting roar came hurtling through the air and an explosion
followed that made the very earth tremble. I knew it was somewhere in
the neighborhood of our selected spot and I anxiously hastened my
steps. I got there to find every man of my gun crew with one exception
blown to atoms, the exception being Scotty, but he too had paid the
supreme price. With the help of another soldier, we carried him to the
rear of the cookhouse and covered him with a blanket. When daylight
broke I went over there with a party to give him as decent a burial as
possible, and the new cook, who was a Scotchman, came out to have a look
at the dead pal.

"Well, if it isn't Jock Henderson!" he exclaimed.

"Did you know him?" I asked.

"Know him! Why, mon, we were bakers taegither in Glascae. I could tell
him anywhere by his bow-legs, an' he's got a scar on one o' them as big
as your face."

"Yes, I know he has, where the shell grazed him at Mons."

"Shell grazed him at Mons? Shell hell! It was a pan o' hot dough that
fell on his leg in the bake-shop, and I'll never forget his yell tae my
dyin' day."

Like the last star of dawn the only remaining shred of poor Scotty's
valor faded away and was gone.



CHAPTER XII

BEHEMOTH


The Somme district is composed of chalk pits; wherever the ground was
dug up it showed white. This afforded an excellent opportunity for the
enemy birds to spot any work we were doing. While in this section every
man in the ranks looked very much like a white-wash artist--white dust
everywhere, filling our eyes, ears, noses, mouths. Lord! when I think of
that chalk dust!

For five days after the first advance of the tanks they were lying, six
of them, immediately at the right of our battery on the edge of the
road; no one seemed to know what they were doing there or what was
contemplated. Then they moved up four miles to the edge of Pozières
Woods, where they believed they would be safer from view, and for the
further reason that they would not have so far to travel when the next
drive was pulled off. They waddled in there at night, but the following
morning Fritz's keen eye searched them out, wirelessed the necessary
directions to their heaviest battery, and in almost less time than it
takes to write it tremendous shells came smashing around, damaging one
of them pretty severely, and the other five immediately waddled back to
a safer place in the rear.

That same night canvas dummies were drawn up by mules and set up in the
same place. Again the keen-eyed birds of the air spotted them, flashed
their range back to their heaviest mouthpieces, and for the better part
of the day the entire batteries of their heaviest caliber, expended
their energies and their shells on the dummies; there was no kind or
character of explosive shell that did not land on the frauds.

Late in the afternoon two of the air birds wanted to get down a little
closer, undoubtedly to satisfy themselves as to how the work of
destruction had progressed, and one of our little observation planes
gave battle to the visitors, engaging the nearest one first. His
companion bird made for ours, but before he could get underneath to do
anything, the first German bird had been winged and downed. Our
anti-aircraft guns now made it so warm for the other bird that he beat
it. The visit, however, must have had beneficial results for Fritz, for
immediately after the plane returned to their lines, he ceased paying
any attention whatever to the dummies. That night we put the real tanks
behind the dummies and the day following not a single shell broke over
or near them, and that same night they crept down into Pozières Valley
under shelter of a bombardment made to prevent the keen ear of Fritz
detecting the throbbing of their engines.

By this time batteries had been and were being installed everywhere at
Pozières where there was room to place a gun: like beavers the men were
working as busily as men could work, although they were constantly
subjected to the severest strafing; but on the Somme it seemed that
nobody minded. For my part I had the firm conviction that death would
come when it would come and not till then, and I went about my work
absolutely careless of any possible hurt. And I can positively testify
to the same state of mind in each one of my comrades,--not one of whom
seemed to think of his personal safety in any way whatsoever when there
was work to be done.

Here the British soldier's fatalism was exemplified in the superbest
manner!

On that same night that the tanks went forward again, I was detailed to
go to the trenches to assist the telephonist, who was hard pressed for
help, and in the morning I was in the front-line trench assisting the
Captain with his observation work. All the time on the Somme all hands
were busy doing something. Immediately after dawn, at five o'clock, the
guns belched forth with an ear-splitting, deafening roar and
simultaneously over the top appeared the five behemoths, one of them
passing within a few feet of me.

The gunfire from our pieces at this time was immensely superior to the
enemy's and his trenches had been flattened, but the wires still stood,
and here it was the tanks did the work. On they came! Rolling through
and making gaps 10 to 15 feet wide the Infantry plunging along in their
wake. Forgetting my orders to stay where I was, I hopped in with the
Infantry and reached Fritz' second-line trench.

"Gawd!" yelled a Tommy. "Wot the bloody 'ell will Fritz think of these
beauties? 'E'll think its Satan's advance guard!"

On and yet on they reeled and rolled, one of them dipping nose first
into a crater, and when I saw it going over the top of this huge hole my
heart gave a bound of fear, as I surely thought its usefulness was now
over. In this crater there were about 300 German soldiers when the tank
plunged into it, and under its huge bulk 75 of them had their lives
mashed out.

A spirit of wonderful fervor filled me as I saw that our behemoth was
not disturbed in the slightest by the fact that he had gone into a
crater; he continued to waddle all around the huge hole, his machine
guns playing on the balance of the men that were jumping this way and
that, and swarming like ants up, over and on top of it, to escape and
save their lives in some manner. In sheer mad desperation they climbed
over every part of the mammoth, discharging their revolvers at any seam
in the metal or place where they thought it might be effective, breaking
their bayonets on its iron coat--in vain! They could not overcome the
unknown! One man thrust a hand grenade into the muzzle of one of the
guns, but was blown to bits in the try. Still, over and over it they
swarmed, like bees searching for a nook in a flower, the difference
being that instead of getting honey they got hell. Then the poor
desperate devils, in the frenzy of despair, flung themselves from the
top and sides of the titan down into the crater and tried to scamper up
the sides to the top, only to be met with a hail of bullets when they
reached the edge and fall backwards into the crater depths, upsetting in
their fall their companions who were behind them, and also trying vainly
to get out of that hole of hell.

Language is futile to give anything like an adequate description of the
scene in the crater. A few of the Huns, more long-headed than the rest,
still clung to the tank, remaining there until it reached the top, when
they held up their arms, yelling Kamerad at the top of their lungs, and
these were all that were left of that 300--just 20.

The titanic ducks were each of them doing similar work on every part of
the line, but the particular one whose work I was able to follow then
made a call on a whiz-bang battery, smashing one of the guns when it
first stepped upon it, and mowing the gunners down, the rest fleeing as
though from the wrath to come. Many batteries and crews were similarly
smashed, and then their work being done for the day, they all returned
with the exception of one which lay in the German lines for about five
hours, due to engine trouble. While lying there, Fritz did his damndest
to place a mine underneath the helpless hulk, but the earnestness and
the energy with which our boys at the guns worked for the preservation
of their beloved behemoth, prevented him carrying out his purpose; and
while the concert was in full swing all around us, the preserving
messages from our guns whizzing past it in one direction, and the
destructive messages from the German guns coming at it from the other
direction, the tank crew quietly and industriously went about their
work, repaired the engine trouble, said "ta-ta" to Fritz and waddled
back home.

No returning hero from the scene of his glory ever received such a
greeting as did the crews of the mighty monsters when they stepped out
of the sheltering internals of their huge bowels. Clad in pants and
boots, littered with grease, dirt and oil, scarred with bruises incurred
as they were thrown from side to side of their armored shelter by the
swaying of the thing, when they stepped from the door to the ground, the
shouts and roaring cheers of ten thousand times ten thousand men
thrilled them with such a thrill, that they felt fully repaid for
everything that they had done that day.

The Tommies grabbed them in their arms, hugged them, slapped them on the
backs and chests until the wind was fairly knocked out of them, and if
we had been Frenchmen instead of Britishers, our mouths would have been
covered with black grease from kisses imprinted on their cheeks.

All night long, long lines of men in gray were passing through our
sector, in some places as many as 50 of them being escorted by one
soldier; German Red Cross men were carrying out our wounded, eagerly
volunteering for this work in the thought that they would find favor by
so doing.

After taking Pozières and driving over the ridge and on down into the
Courcelette Valley, we took up a position about 500 yards from the
German front lines. Here occurred another of those remarkable escapes
from the Grim Reaper's toll that won for me throughout the unit the
pseudonym, "Horseshoe Grant."

Eighteen loads of ammunition were being hauled to the guns and when
being unloaded, enemy fire opened up on the position, several horses
were hit, the doors of the wagons were flung open and the horses,
stricken with fright, galloped madly about, the shells being strewn over
the ground all the way to the bridge several hundred yards off,--a
bridge that was a vitally important structure to us, because over it
every pound of supplies and ammunition had to cross in order to get to
us. I have often thought what a disaster it would have meant to us had
Fritz ever got to this passageway. The drivers finally managed to close
the wagon doors and get most of them back over the bridge, but the shell
fire had then become so heavy that "Take cover!" was ordered.

The Hun kept up the bombardment for some time and the O.C. thought it
better to let the ammunition lie where it was until daylight, when he
intended to have it gathered up. He did not wait for daylight; in the
middle of the night we were called out to manhandle the ammunition from
an improvised sled that had been built and loaded with it and hauled
over the mud to the bridge. There was no slacking on that job, every man
carrying two of the shells--18 pounders--and when we finally got them
to the guns we were allowed to turn in.

[Illustration: Behemoth in Battle]

Just before daylight a counter attack started and we were ordered to
repel it, which we did with all the ammunition that was capable of being
used; lots of it we could not use as the mud and dirt prevented; it had
to be thoroughly cleaned and oiled before being fired. The battle lasted
well until noon, and having accomplished our work we got a "Stand down!"
after which came the usual hurry and scurry to clean and oil our pet and
get her all in readiness for the next act. There was still some
ammunition left lying on the ground that had been spilled, and we were
instructed to gather it in at once, clean and oil it and put it in the
gun pit. While busy at this job I glanced overhead and noticed an
airplane: "I believe that's a German," calling attention to it. The
fellows didn't agree with me, they holding it was a British bird, and we
all went on with our work. I kept my eye on it, however, for some
reason, and saw it finally go over the ridge and turn, and as it
turned--Kr-kr-kr-p! and a shell lit on the ridge 25 yards in our front;
it was about an 8-incher and showered the dirt in all directions. We
scurried like rabbits into our pit, emerging in a few minutes when the
dirt and dust had blown away. Glancing up again I noticed the air bird
turn again, and instantly another one came, this time landing near the
gun pit, throwing a shower of mud and dirt on it, and causing
considerable profanity for the extra work given us by Fritz. Instant
orders were given us to take cover as a strafing was in sight, and we
shot out of the gun pit, jumped into the trench and ran along. Two of
the fellows were immediately ahead of me, Dinghy and Graham, and
Graham's footwork was so slow that I jumped up on the parapet of the
trench to get past him, and over the top I skedaddled toward our 30-foot
dugout, which had formerly been the home of the Germans; like most of
their quarters it was large, roomy and comfortable. To get to the dugout
we had to go through a German gun pit which was then being used by us as
a cookhouse. Just before I reached my destination a shell had landed
squarely in this gun pit, where a number of the men were lined up
waiting for supper. The effect of this shell was not only deadly in the
extreme, but very peculiar in its action. At the right hand side corner
of the gun pit was the dugout for the left section, and the right
section occupied the dugout on the left hand side corner. The shell
struck the edge of the right section dugout in which four men at the
bottom were having a card game; the fuse tore its way down the steps,
knocking large chunks of the steps off in its course, and down into the
center of the card game, scattering the money in every direction and not
injuring a single member of the party. The back lash of the deadly
visitor, however, ripped the life out of the men waiting for supper at
the cookhouse and the side lash of its stroke caught the men in the
right hand side dugout in which were two soldiers sitting on a box,
munching biscuits. One of them had the upper half of his head blown off,
scattering the blood and brains over his chum, who escaped without a
scratch.

I reached the gun pit about one minute after the explosion. God in
Heaven! What a sight met my eyes! The floor of the pit was strewn with
the men in all directions, six of them dead and the balance fearfully
wounded. I dashed out for stretcher bearers and Fritz just then started
increasing his fire; he had kept an eye on the men running through the
trench to the gun pit. He therefore knew that there must be a nest of us
there.

In spite of the gain in the enemy's gunfire, we started our wounded pals
to the officers' dugouts; most of the lads had been so severely
shell-shocked that we had a most trying time to keep them in their
stretchers. Men who have been shell-shocked most usually exhibit it by
wanting to run off in all directions; I have seen them with wounds that
ordinarily would cause them to collapse, but under the influence of the
shock exert themselves with such strength and violence that it would
take a couple of sturdy men to hold them. There is a trite saying that
every disadvantage has a corresponding advantage and I wondered that
night when I got back to the gun pit if nature intended that the
advantage from this disaster was the increase in our supper ration due
to the death and wounding of my soldier pals!

A few days after, we were notified we were going to drive forward
another stage, and I went to the trench with the telephonist party for
the purpose of making our communication as clear as possible; I was
detailed especially to assist the Captain in this work.

The attack was launched at daybreak, with a ten-minute bombardment
preceding, and then our fellows were up and over. As before, the tanks
blazed the way, one of them passing about 30 feet to my right just
before I went over the top. As I lay in the trench, the darling old
titan passed me, leveling the wire in front, and I had then an even
keener realization of what it meant for Fritz to have these monsters
piling over and smashing him under foot just about as a man would tread
on a worm and mash it. And if there ever was one time during my entire
three years of campaigning, when I felt an atom of sympathy for the
gray-clad devils, it was at that moment.

But how can sympathy obtain for devils in human form?

My immediate family was strongly represented in this attack. To my right
among the men who went over, were the Canadian Grenadier Guards, of
which my young brother Billy was a member. This regiment had made an
undying place in the annals of Canadian history in the advance on
Courcelette, having out of its 950 men but 66 men left intact when the
roll was called after the battle, the balance being either killed or
wounded. But they achieved their objective, Courcelette!

Billy and his regiment, which had been mustered up to strength, passed
over the top within four hundred yards of me to the right. On my left,
my older brother, Gordon, who was supporting a trench mortar battery in
the front-line trench, was working away within 500 yards of me. I was
not aware of the presence of either until a comparison of notes later on
apprised me of their presence. To my right hand was Hughey and his
brother Archie and to my left Jim, three brothers, all of them my first
cousins.

Jim had enlisted in New Zealand, Archie in Australia and Hughey in
Canada. The only relative of whose presence in the battle I was aware,
was Hughey. Through a rule obtaining in the army, these three brothers
took the opportunity when they got to France, to get a transfer to the
Canadian army, all in the same unit. Later, however, the casualties
necessitated changing them around somewhat. All three had been wounded
and gassed, but were back again as full of fight as ever. We went over
under the shelter of such a terrific barrage that the German front line
and its occupants were practically annihilated; the work of our
artillery was nothing short of wonderful. Staying there ten minutes we
went on and took the second line, meeting a little more stubborn
resistance as we went forward, but finally taking it. In going over
between the first and second lines it was necessary to jump into shell
holes from time to time. The men ahead of us were mostly Brandenburgers,
Bavarians and Prussians. At one place I had leapt with my pal into a
small shell hole, and over to my right was a kiltie engaged in a
hand-to-hand struggle with a Hun. The kiltie was an undersized chap and
Fritz was about twice his size, and with a much longer bayonet, and Jock
seemed to be getting a bit tired. I didn't think it wise to wait, even
though I felt very certain that Jock could hold his own, and taking
careful aim with my revolver I tumbled the Fritzie over. Looking then to
the left I saw another kiltie in an argument with a Prussian; they were
fencing with their bayonets, and a second Hun was coming up behind and
again I took aim, but before I was able to get my pill started, my mate
robbed me of the honor and sent his pill crashing through Fritzie's
head. So I turned my attention to the immediate opponent, but before I
could shoot, the kiltie's body interposed in my line of vision, and when
I got a glimpse of the Prussian a second later, he was in the throes of
death with a bayonet in his bowels. Further over to my right, two Huns
were trying to bayonet a soldier, but our man was an expert and seemed
to be easily holding his own, in fact, getting the better of it a
little, and I noticed a Prussian jump out of a hole, aim his rifle at
our fellow, and I yelled, "Get that one, Walter!" But Walter had already
seen him and started blazing at him and winged him in the shoulder; he
was later gathered in among the prisoners.

Then we turned to the duel and blazed at one of the Prussians, being
lucky enough to land him, and at the same time Sandy got in his work
with the cold steel on the other Hun. Then, wiping the perspiration from
his face with a swipe of his hand, he looked toward us and hollered
"Gude work, laddies," and dashed on ahead.

All these scrimmages took place in less time than it takes to tell about
them; everywhere, as far as the eye could reach, the cleaning-up process
was going on. This was as far as I could go at this time, because I had
strict orders to remain with my party there for observation purposes,
the Infantry going on ahead and taking the third line.

Resistance was growing more stubborn with the advent of each successive
line, but they cleaned up and started for the fourth, and it fell. It
was on that day that I understood the expression "Seeing red"; there was
only one thought in my mind, kill! kill! kill! kill! The wave forged
ahead for the fifth German line, taking it and smashing down all
resistance in their way. They were in the middle of the cleaning-up
process of the fifth line when the welcome sight of friend tank again
hove in view, arousing cheers. They were needed just then.



CHAPTER XIII

THE FAMILY LUCK


At the fifth line the men stayed awhile, waiting for the word to take
the sixth line, and our barrage was directed on this trench line so
heavily, the Germans could not hold it. They left and our wave crossed
over, but could not reach the much sought-for ditch, as a massed
counter-attack drove them back. Our barrage again drove Fritz back, thus
converting the sixth-line trench into a No Man's Land.

The Boche made a determined effort to retain it and counter-attacked
time and time again, but each try met our machine guns, rifles and
grenades, together with the barrage, and a distorted heap of dead
Kaiserites was added to those already in this ditch of death.

Their ranks were getting woefully thin and pale; wave after wave came up
in a bull-headed effort to keep the line, and, finally, to assist the
fainting Prussians, a regiment of Brandenburgers jumped to their help,
and again they came. By this time the trench was literally filled with
dead, dying and wounded men. Over the Brandenburgers came, one thousand
strong, right in the teeth of our barrage; in mass formation they
charged, and it was impossible for a bullet to miss its billet in that
line. They fell like flies on a tanglefoot sheet, and back they wavered
into the trench. But there was no shelter for them there, as it had
ceased to be an abiding place, because their dead and wounded comrades
were piled in it clear up to the brink, and there was no place for them
to stoop or crouch to escape the rain of death.

Our O.C. paused awhile to see what Fritz would do further, but--nothing
stirring! So, over our fellows went. The corpse-filled trench offering
no attraction for shelter, the wave rolled on to the seventh line,
taking it and putting up there for the night.

A few hours later Fritz made a most determined attack on the seventh
line, and sorry am I to tell that they made a little headway, taking
some prisoners, among them being my cousin Jim; roll call the following
morning also disclosed Archie as missing. For my dear Auntie's sake it
is my sincere prayer that he may yet be alive and well.

When the wave reached the first line in this drive, the trenches were
filled with prisoners and orders were given to corral them in the
different dugouts and rush them into the holes, but there was no need
for hurrying them,--they were diving for them as fast as their legs
would carry them. My brother Billy and a party was put in charge of a
number of dugouts, Billy having one under his control. He did not know
how many were in the dugout he guarded, but outside was a captured
Prussian officer. The boys had now gone on ahead, leaving the prisoners'
escorts posted here and there along the trench to guard them. This
Prussian officer was standing a few feet away from Billy, on his right,
and something diverting Bill's attention from him, the Prussian officer,
in strict accordance with the Prussian code of honor, seized the
opportunity, grabbed a rifle, and was about to plunge the bayonet into
Billy, but he turned just in time to catch him in the act and avoid him.
He lunged with his bayonet, catching the dastard in the left shoulder,
and while tugging to get it out, the prisoners started rushing up the
steps of the dugout, and Bill was forced to let go of the rifle; as he
did so, the weight of the gun pulled the bayonet downward, ripping
through the Prussian's black heart. Bill then took a bomb--he had eight
of them--and let them go one after another into the dugout. Although
fighting for his life, he knew if he faltered for a moment he would be
lost, and he did not lose his head for a second; he realized that if he
let any of these bombs leave his hand and reach the dugout in sufficient
length of time before it exploded, they would seize them and hurl them
back at him, or else escape this particular bunch who were trying to get
him and who were strung on the steps leading down into the dugout. So,
in the midst of the scrap he kept his nerve and his head, not letting a
single bomb leave his hand until he was dead certain the time had
expired and that the moment it struck the top step of the dugout, their
mission of destruction would have been accomplished. This done, he
yanked his rifle out of the officer's shoulder and jumped to the
entrance of the pit for any others that might have escaped his fusillade
of grenades. None came.

"Billy, take those prisoners out of the dugout," sang out the
Sergeant-Major, "and get them to the rear, and tell the rest of the boys
to do the same."

"I don't know how many are there, sir."

"I'll take a look and see," and the Sergeant-Major jumped into the
dugout. In a moment he reappeared. "There are nine killed and three
wounded. Round up these three and get them to the rear and get over the
top as fast as you can."

Billy did so, catching up with his pals at the third line trench. When
he got to the sixth line, a shell exploded in front of him, hitting him
in the thigh and dislocating his hip bone, besides giving him a painful
flesh wound. He was knocked unconscious and thrown into a shell hole.
The hole was almost filled with water, but the horseshoe luck of the
Grant family was with him; when he fell in his head was just out of the
water.

There he lay for eight hours, when the moaning of a wounded pal, three
or four feet away, roused him and he pulled himself over to him; his
pal's leg had been shattered from the knee down and Billy, in spite of
his own condition, managed to drag him for some distance toward the
dressing station, hopping on his left foot as he went and then resting a
bit. Finally the pain became too great and he could go no further;
every nerve and fiber of his aching body was at the breaking point of
utter exhaustion, and the pain of the gangrene in his wound, inspired by
the mud and dirt, gave him his finishing touch and he dropped. Bill's
pal then took up the struggle; he tottered to his sound foot and dragged
him to the dressing station, where he dropped beside him.

The tremendous rush of wounded men waiting for treatment made it
necessary for them to take their turn, and it was three-quarters of an
hour before they could either of them get attention; the German wounded
were treated in turn along with our own men, no favors being shown. This
is in marked contradistinction to the untold and unspeakable brutality
exercised upon our wounded prisoners in the German lines.

In due time they were carried to the rear by German prisoners, and then
to England through the medium of the base hospitals and casualty
clearing stations.

It is with pardonable pride I can say that they were not long in the
hospital before they got word they were to receive a medal for their
magnificent work.

Billy's splendid physical condition rapidly brought him through,
although it was five months before he was really himself again, and he
has since then gone back to the lines, where he was again wounded and in
the hospital, and has again gone back and is still doing his bit.

On the following morning, I returned to the battery.



CHAPTER XIV

THE DEAD SHELL[1]


A late September mist, more hazy than foggy in its character, enveloped
the line following a heavy deluge of nearly two days that had poured
almost a foot of water in our trenches, and in some spots where holes
had formed in the trench-bed the water came gurgling over the knee. On
the whole, however, conditions were very much less worse than wading in
the water up to one's waist, which was our common lot in the earlier
days of the war. As one of our wags had it, "Mud under me, water around
me and hell above me."

[Footnote 1: _A dead shell is one that explodes at a predetermined time
after it strikes--from one minute to several hours._]

For nearly a month Fritz had been inordinately busy with his "dead"
shells; we had no rest from his activities. If there was an interval of
time when we were not being served with the "dead" messages, the hiatus
was filled with whiz-bangs and gas. Whichever his fancy dictated, for us
it was the Devil's choice.

Following orders, under the friendly shelter of night's curtain, I was
leading my squad to our gun positions in the front line, about three
miles distant, and in slipping and sliding over the muddy ground, pitted
with holes in such a manner as to suggest to one's mind that the earth's
surface had been scourged with an attack of elephantine smallpox, we
could not help chuckling, in spite of the discomforts of our journey, at
the ejaculation of a Cockney Tommy: "Strike me pink, Sergeant, but Fritz
would think we was his pals if he only saw this goose-step work." This
was an allusion to the fashion we had to employ in picking our steps on
the lookout for holes. In this region the fair face of nature is
distorted in every conceivable way with holes and ditches, some of the
holes big enough to engulf a house, and it is no mere desire to avoid
the water in these holes that compels us to pick our steps in this
hell-swept part of the world; it is the first law of nature, self
preservation, for many a poor lad has been done to death in them by
drowning.

On this night my squad, including myself, was composed of 13 men, and
although none of the men, if they did notice it, mentioned the
coincidence, I must confess, although I myself studiously refrained
from making any comment about it, the thought of the fateful number kept
recurring to my mind as we made our way to the spot where the visits of
the Grim Reaper were so frequent that death had ceased to be anything
but an every-day occurrence. It was only when some friend or chum paid
the supreme price that we gave the matter any particular attention, and
then it would be for but a short time. The necessity of every man's
looking out for his own life gave him but little time to think of much
else, unless, indeed, killing the Huns. Next to saving our own lives
that is the heartfelt desire of each man--get Fritz. And yet, although
the first thought of everyone is, naturally, for his own life, there is
no history in this war that can be written that can recount the number
of occasions when the seeming first thought of men was to do for their
pals, utterly regardless of their own safety. For sheer toying with
death and taking chances in situations that did not seem to offer the
slightest hope or chance of getting through, the Great War discloses
feats of valor with which nothing can compare that comes out of the mist
of "Days of old when knights were bold."

After goose-stepping for over an hour, and almost completely winded, we
flopped on the ground for a few minutes to catch our breath. We were
within about half-a-mile of the ridge over which we had to go in order
to get down into our dugouts, and Fritz' calling cards were commencing
to come in our direction; star shells were shooting up at short
intervals, the gleam of a flare every now and then plainly revealing
ourselves to each other. As we sat there the conversation seemed to lag
and a silence that struck me as somewhat ominous pervaded our little
group. I wondered if the rest were thinking of our number. One of my
best chums, Corporal Lawrence, was sitting next me, and I thought I
heard him sigh.

"What's the matter, Corporal, winded?" I asked.

"No, no, Sergeant, I was just thinking."

"Thinking? Thinking of what? The cookhouse? I'll bet we are all thinking
about that."

"No, Sergeant, it was not the cookhouse."

"Well, if it wasn't the cookhouse, is it that letter that is coming for
you tonight?" said I.

"No, you are wrong, Sergeant; it wasn't either of those things, much as
I would enjoy both the letter and the grub."

I felt that the gloom would become infectious if it were not immediately
dissipated, and I blurted out, "Well, for God's sake, don't keep us all
in suspense; how in hell are we going to go on until we know what you
are thinking about?"

His answer made me sorry I spoke.

"I was just thinking," said he, "that my number is up."

This is an expression of the men on the Western Front when they have a
premonition that their time on earth is short. A sudden fear smote me,
but I banished the thought and started jollying him profanely.

"Now, Corporal, you know what damn nonsense it is to talk that way! Do
you want to wish it on yourself?"

"No, Grant, I should say not, but I can't help thinking it, all the
same."

"Yes, Lawrence," said McLean. "For God's sake don't wish any trouble on
us more than we have got."

Billy McLean was my dearest pal; we had enlisted together and had formed
one of those attachments that men sometimes make and is only severed by
death, and we shared each other's most intimate thoughts. The words had
scarcely died on McLean's lips when--Woo-o-f! Bang! Bang! and shells
commenced to land all about us.

The spot we had selected to rest on was under observation; Fritz had
evidently become aware of the fact that it was our usual course in
coming to the trench and had registered the place for a target, just as
he registered battery roads, ammunition depots, railway heads, sleeping
quarters,--everywhere and anywhere that exhibited a trace of life
immediately became an observation target and was subject to a hail of
shell and shrapnel any hour of the day or night.

We were all slightly stunned by the dose, but recovered our senses in a
minute or so.

"All right, fellows, let's be going," I said, and up we jumped, all
except Lawrence.

"Come on, Corporal, finish your dream in the dugout." He made no reply.
With a sickening at my heart I went over and put my hand on his face; it
was wet with his life's blood; he was shot through the head. As
hurriedly and as gently as possible we laid him in a hollow place and
started for the ridge; we had no time for even a prayer, as we were
being treated to a fair-sized fusillade, and ducking and dodging, this
way and that, we made our way to the top as quickly as every ounce of
energy left in our legs would permit, and rolled, tumbled, scrambled and
fell--any old way--down the front side of the ridge into the ditch at
the bottom, that was dignified by the high-sounding title of trench. It
was as much a trench at that spot as any bog-hole. Its only virtue lay
in the fact that if we crouched low enough into the water and mud we
could escape the watchful eye of the enemy. We stumbled along through
the inky blackness toward our gun positions, shrinking our anatomy to
its smallest dimensions each time a flare shot up, and I was commencing
to congratulate myself that we would reach our destination without any
further hurt than the elimination of the thirteenth man;--I took a sort
of sad comfort in the superstitious thought;--but we had still another
target to pass. The Germans had made an observation point of a part of
our ditch just a little bit farther along, and when we got to the spot
we received a blast of shell fire that knocked us out of even our power
to swear; we hadn't the strength; as a matter of fact, we were suffering
with a slight shell shock. The dose consisted of about 200 shells,
administered in quantities, first, of six at a time, then ten, then
twenty-five.

One of the fellows nearest me again ventured the remark that he thought
our number was up, and I just had enough vocal power left to curse him
roundly for a damn fool. "You know what happened Lawrence, don't you?
Cheer up, you mutt! They will never get my number."

Throughout my three years' campaigning I persisted in repeating that
"they would never get my number," until it almost became second nature
with me, and the hairbreadth escapes I have had almost convinced me
"there is something in it." Be that as it may, hundreds of men all
around have "gone West" while I have been permitted to go through three
years of it comparatively unscathed.

We finally got past the observed spot. The trench now commenced to run
into a valley, and although there was water in it to a depth of fully
two and a half feet, through which we had to wade, we were glad we were
alive to paddle through it. But there was more trouble ahead. Fritz was
turning gas into the valley, and I, being in front, got the first
whiff.

"Masks, on with your masks," I roared, jamming on my own at the same
moment. In addition to the gas, our friends had succeeded in shooting up
a large ammunition dump, four hundred yards farther on, and the smoke
and fumes from the exploding bombs, shells and other ammunition, to say
nothing of the ear-splitting din, got me speculating as to whether our
13-squad was to go the way of so many reported thirteens. But my native
optimism came to the rescue, and, with a curse, I drove the thought from
me.

By this time our eyes were so blinded and stinging from the smoke of the
ammunition fire that we were making our way almost by instinct, as we
were half blinded, but the time-old provision of all things,--"Never a
disadvantage without a corresponding advantage,"--came to our help.
Under cover of the smoke we were practically secure from the shells and
snipers, and stumbling and staggering round the fire, giving it a wide
berth, we at last got to our gun position.

But, no rest! We had barely arrived when a delayed action shell battery
opened up on us with a steadily-increasing fire, and, as the pace grew
hotter every moment, I felt as if my nerves couldn't hold out longer;
but the knowledge that these men were in my care helped me again to take
hold of myself. But the rest of the fellows were commencing to show
signs of giving way to the shock effect. My best pal, Billy McLean,
staggered toward me. "They've got my number, they've got my number," he
shouted in my ear, and, beginning to give way to the shock, he fell at
my feet, in the mud. I grabbed him and pulled him to his feet. "Cheer
up, Billy, cheer up, old pal, how in hell are we going to pull through
if you give way like this?"

"It's no use, Reg, they've got my number," and he moaned half
hysterically as he leaned on me with an arm around my neck. Almost
desperate, I shouted in his ear, "Billy, old pal, think of your mother
and father; what would the old man say if he saw you acting like this?
You know those hounds haven't a shell for either of us."

He roused himself: "I guess I haven't got the guts, Sergeant; I must be
a damned coward."

"No, no, nothing of the kind, old fellow," I shouted, "but these boys
are in my charge and I want you to help me play the game." He braced
himself. "You're right, Sergeant, they haven't got our number and never
will have." "Of course they won't," I answered reassuringly.

Poor Billy! His was a nature that was never intended for the business of
killing; he was in constant dread and his nerves were always on edge
when he was within shelling distance of the enemy, and he couldn't seem
to shake off the terrible fear that was ever present except when in the
top-notch excitement of going over; that was the only moment that he was
able to throw off the blighting shadow that haunted him. Then indeed
have I seen him throw the very first instincts of prudence to the winds
and hurl himself into places where "angels fear to tread." But after the
mad frenzy of the charge, with its accompaniment of shooting, stabbing,
killing and maiming, he would collapse, and it would be some hours
before he could regain his wonted composure.

The fire gradually slackened, our spirits began to revive, nature
commenced to reassert herself, and we made our way to the cookhouse. We
got our mess-tins filled with bread, cheese and jam, puddled our way to
the dugout and fell to with the relish of healthy, hungry, tired men who
had fasted several hours. We gathered in the dugout occupied by Billy
and myself. Feeling thoroughly rejuvenated, someone suggested a game to
pass the time until mail arrived, and the well-worn deck was produced.
Billy was sitting on my right hand and held cards that ought to have
cleaned up, but he seemed to have lost the first instinct of a poker
player, and I couldn't refrain from telling him he ought to confine
himself to checkers. He whispered to me, "Reg, I can't get that out of
my head." "What's that?" I asked.

"Fritz has my number; my time's nearly up and I know it." "Oh, hell!" I
exclaimed, with a good-natured impatience, and giving him a poke in the
ribs, "Forget it!"

The rest of the fellows chimed in with recollections of several fellows
who persisted in saying that their number was up, and who were now
pushing poppies, and the little Cockney murmured, "The poor beggars, and
if they had kept their mouths shut they'd 'ave been with us yet."

It is a strange philosophy, but it is prevalent up and down the line.

At that moment the mail arrived, and Billy forgot his premonition for
the time, for along with letters from his mother and sister, there was a
photograph from his sweetheart that he showed me with suppressed joy.

"I say, fellows, what do you think of that for good time," said one, "my
letters were both mailed on the 13th and this is only the 29th."

"That's a rum go," says the Cockney, "mine, too, was mailed on the
13th."

An examination of the mailing dates of our letters revealed the somewhat
startling coincidence that every single letter we got that night had
been mailed on the 13th. I mentally cursed the fateful number, but the
news from home overshadowed the thought, as it did everything else, and
I was careful to do everything I could to prevent its recurrence in the
conversation. And, besides, the British soldier's fatalism, that death
will come when it will come, prevented for long any gloom or
oppressiveness in the atmosphere that might have been engendered by the
time-old superstition. It was only in the exceptional cases when a
soldier got into his head the premonition that his number was up that
his spirits took a drop. I wish it were possible to convey in exact
language the wonderful spirit of the men under circumstances and
conditions endured by no soldiers in any other war since primeval man
enforced his claims with his club.

Every man in the squad got letters and parcels that evening, and, all
things considered, it was a happy bunch that left us to seek their bunks
in their own dugouts. Billy and I remained up awhile after the others
had gone, chatting about the home folks and, particularly, about his
sweetheart, for at every opportunity he would turn the talk in her
direction; he was positive there was no other girl quite so sweet as
Aileen, for that was her name, and there was nothing for me to do but
affirm everything he said.

"Reg, I want you to promise me one thing," said Billy, after we had been
talking for an hour or more.

"What is it, Billy? You know I'll do it, old scout, if I can."

"Yes, I know you will. Well, it is this: I've told you how I came to
correspond with Aileen, and, altho' I've never seen her yet, I really
think she is one real girl. But here's the rub," he continued; "I don't
really love the girl; I'm not such an idiot as to fall in love with a
girl I have never seen; and you know lots of these photos are fifty per
cent camouflage, ain't they?"

"You're dead right, old chap," I replied.

"Well, now, this one may be in the other fifty, and I'm thinking she is;
and if you should get home before I do, will you look her up and let me
know just exactly what you think of her?"

"Why, of course I will."

"That's what I wanted, Reg. You see, God only knows when I may get home,
if I ever do, but I don't want to be nursing ideas about Aileen, and
perhaps causing thoughts to arise in her mind, that may never be
realized. You get me, Reg, don't you?"

"Surest thing, Billy, and you're damned right and sensible to look at it
that way."

So that when we finally tumbled in, it was long after the witching hour
of night.

The dugout we occupied we had built ourselves, and we took great pains
to make it as roomy and comfortable as possible; hence the tendency of
the fellows to make it their rendezvous. Our bunks consisted of sandbags
spread out on the floor, and the ceremony of retiring occupied about one
minute or less.

A half-muffled shriek woke me from a sound sleep and brought me bolt
upright in the bunk. In the blackness I could just discern the outline
of a man standing in the middle of the dugout and gulping as if trying
to catch his breath. I jumped up and went to him. It was Billy. "What is
it, Billy? What's the trouble?"

"Oh, Reg," he gasped, "I have had the most horrible dream!" He was
shaking like an aspen. I put my arm around him and drew him over to my
bunk. "Come, lie down with me, old man, and you will be as right as the
rain in a minute." He laid down alongside of me and, still shivering, he
recounted his dream to me.

"Do you remember that night I was telling you about when I was out
observing?"

"Yes," I answered.

"Where we lost Thompson and the others when the flare went up? Well, you
know that big Prussian I told you about, that came so near getting me?
Do you know that fellow's face has never been out of my thoughts since I
killed him, and I dreamed we were out there on that same spot again, and
again the flare went up and we were rushed, and who should come at me
but this man I had killed. I shrieked: 'You're dead! I killed you once.
Get to hell out of here!' But he only gave a ghoulish grin and came at
me. I dodged his blow and ran my bayonet through him, as I thought, but
there he was coming at me again. Again I dodged and plunged into him,
and again he was coming. Suddenly all power left me; my hands, arms and
legs became nerveless, and I stood rooted; he clubbed his rifle, and as
it crashed on my skull I awoke, and that must have been the time I cried
out. And, Reg, just as sure as I am lying here, my number is up. I am as
good as dead, I tell you."

"Now, don't talk such utter damn nonsense, Billy," I said, doing my
utmost to comfort him.

"No damn nonsense about it. You know yourself we started out yesterday
with thirteen men and Lawrence got it, and here tonight every letter we
got was postmarked the thirteenth, and I just can't get it out of my
nut, and I am not going to try any further."

"Billy, don't you want to live to get back home? Don't you know what it
will mean to your mother and your father if anything happens to you?
Well, what's the use of tempting fate? If it will come, it will come,
and nothing you or I can do will prevent it; but there is something
that helps a man--call it luck, or fate, or providence, or what you
will--by keeping the idea firmly fixed in your mind that nothing can
harm you."

I knew in my heart that nothing could prevent the dread messenger's
visit when it was actually headed for one, still my philosophy had
taught me that so far as I myself was concerned my determination to
think positively about the matter had sustained me through many a trying
moment when the fires of hell had surged about me, and up to that time I
was as much alive as any man could wish to be, and I determined to stick
to the philosophy, no matter how foolish it might seem when the cold
light of logic played upon it.

A deep sigh was his answer. I continued for half an hour to encourage
and jolly him, telling him that dreams always went by the contrary, and
my efforts were rewarded by his growing calm and promising he would
fight tooth and nail against the thought, and we finally dropped off to
sleep.

"Show a leg, Grant, show a leg, cookhouse up," was yelled at me as
daylight broke, and up we tumbled. I was much relieved that Billy was
looking and acting as if nothing whatever disturbed him, except the
possibility of being a second behind anybody else in getting to the
cookhouse.

Although we were bosom friends and companions, there was just a shade of
the big-brother idea on my part of the fellowship, and I kept track of
him whenever and wherever I could. This was not alone because of the
congenial soul that was within him, but, also, because I had learned
through him to know his mother. And such a mother! It is a forward
impetus on life's journey to know such a woman, and I knew instinctively
she would expect me to keep an eye on him. And so, while I was
fulfilling my duty, I had the double satisfaction of having combined
with it the pleasure of association with a fellow whose tastes and
ideals were absolutely akin to my own. There was no confidence we did
not share; we laid bare our hearts to each other; in short, we were
chums in every sense that the word implies.

Billy was ready for breakfast a second or two ahead of me, and he
started up the steps, out through the door of the dugout. "I'm coming,"
I called, and grabbed my mess-tin and went up the steps two at a time.
I reached the top and the door of the dugout, and, simultaneously, a
roar and rush of air struck me, and I was thrown to the floor, stunned
for the moment. My senses quickly recovered themselves, and I found my
face and clothes dripping with blood. I commenced looking for my wound,
but failed to find any. The discovery momentarily mystified me. It was
blood, but whose? There was no report or explosion. A dead shell! A
terrible fear took possession of me, and I shot up the steps into the
trench. The Thing that met my eyes stilled my heart with a chill. The
headless body of Billy lay at my feet. It was his life's blood that
covered my face and clothes. A mist shrouded my brain for a moment, as I
leaned against the side of the trench, utterly unable to speak or think.
Then as the truth of the Thing worked its way into my brain, I glanced
around for the cause. A large, jagged hole had been torn through in our
front trench wall by a 300-pound shell, had snuffed out my pal's life in
its course, and buried itself in the parados of the trench. There it
was, the rear end of it just inside the outside edge of the hind trench
wall, and when it exploded it meant death for any living thing within a
radius of several yards.

Nature's primal law asserted itself and I dragged the remains of my
best-loved friend several yards away and took from his pockets all his
belongings and trinkets, and when I came to the photograph, partly
stained with his heart's blood, hot, scalding tears blinded my eyes, and
in deference to my dead friend's desire, I retained the photo, intending
to get the news and picture back to her--in person, if possible. The
O.C. took charge of the balance of his effects.

Disregarding all thought of my own peril from the unexploded shell which
lay at the mouth of our dugout, I ran down the steps and got a blanket,
in which I wrapped the poor headless body, and then reported to the O.C.
and received orders to keep my men away from the spot for twelve hours.
I hastened to the cookhouse and imparted the news to the men, as well as
the orders. Heartfelt expressions of regret came from all, for in spite
of his constitutional nervousness, Billy was a prime favorite. But I
knew that I was the only one with whom the pain and sting would live;
the men were so calloused by such happenings that they no longer made a
lasting impression.

That was the longest and dreariest day I ever remember throughout my
three years of campaigning. No thought of my turn coming entered my
head, as I had so schooled myself into the belief that Fritz could not
make a shell for me that I had long since ceased to give the matter any
consideration whatsoever.

The day's work kept me from giving way to grief, and at nine o'clock
that night, when in the cookhouse, I heard a whistle and someone shouted
my name. It was our O.C., Major Wright. I hastened to his dugout.

"Sergeant Grant, I want you to take a party of six and make a grave and
bury poor McLean. I know something of the relationship that existed
between you, and I know that you will spare no effort to see that he is
properly buried. While you are working I will try and fashion a cross
for him. Report as soon as you are finished."

"Yes, sir," and I saluted and went to the dugout occupied by my squad.
The men were either reading or writing letters, and not only the six,
but the ten of them responded, dropping their letters and books, and
asked to take part in the burial. So we paddled through the darkness
and the mud to where the body lay, and as we approached we noticed
several huge rats scurrying away from it. A hatred for the vermin almost
as intense as for the Hun has possessed me ever since. Of course, the
bestiality of the latter has descended to such depths of infamy that it
is impossible quite to class them with any other breed of vermin; it
would be an insult even to the rat.

We dug the grave as well as we could, assisted by such light as we got
from the intermittent flashes of the guns and the edge of the flare
gleams sent up by the enemy every little while. When the melancholy work
was almost complete, I hurried over to the O.C. and he handed me the
simple cross he had made,--just two pieces of wood with the inscription,
"William McLean, C.E.F., September 30th, 1916, R.I.P."

"When you have finished, Grant, take the party and build up the part of
your trench that was shot away this morning."

I saluted and returned to the grave. The boys had finished; there was
nothing more on earth we could do for Billy.

"O.C. says to build up the hole in the trench that was shot away this
morning; you can go, fellows; get busy and I will be with you in a
minute." They started and I was alone. Bitter tears again half blinded
me as I placed the sign of the Christ at the grave's head; I couldn't
place it at Billy's, because the shell had obliterated all traces of his
head. With a short but very earnest prayer that God would help his
mother and dear ones to sustain their loss and soften their grief, I
hurriedly rejoined my men. On the way over I could not help thinking how
lonely it would be that night in the dugout without Billy, and memories
of the hundred and one incidents connected with our toil and trouble and
joy in fixing up our nest flocked through my tired mind.

They were hard at work mending the damage done at daybreak by that
messenger of hell. As I reached the spot, one of the boys remarked, "If
that shell explodes before we get through, there will be no need of a
grave for us." Very nearly fifteen hours had passed, however, since it
had struck, and none of us felt there was any danger from that
direction, as it was quite uncommon for any of them to burst if they had
not done so within at least twelve hours, and I answered, "Oh, no,
fellows, there is nothing to fear from it." I stepped to the back of the
trench where the shell was imbedded in the parados and examined the
spot. "I guess it is there for keeps," I said, and returned to work. In
a few minutes one or two of the boys complained of thirst, and I
volunteered to get water. I ran down the steps into my dugout, got
Billy's water bottle and my own, and doubled down to the cook's dugout,
filled them with drinking water, and was just starting back when the
ground under me shook with an explosion, splinters coming from all
directions, and one of them slightly wounding the cook. I thought at
first Fritz had struck an ammunition depot, so tremendous was the roar.
I grabbed the bottles and shot back to my party.

They did not need the water; they had been swept into eternity by the
dead shell, and I was the sole surviving man of the thirteen-squad that
I had taken into the line the night before.



CHAPTER XV

SATAN'S SHELLS AND SCENTED GAS


Prior to an attack in the morning, we cleaned up the gun and ammunition,
getting everything in shape and retiring at 11:30. "Stand to!" was
called at four o'clock, firing commenced at 4:30, and we worked our guns
for two hours, during which time the boys went over, took three lines of
trenches from Fritz and in a remarkably short time, hundreds of
prisoners were turning into our lines without escort.

That night the prisoners were employed going up and down our lines
carrying out wounded. I shall never forget the contented look on the
faces of these captives as they worked inside our lines; they did
everything required of them with a willingness and cheerfulness that at
first seemed to be amazing. Most of them were young Bavarians and
presented a very shabby appearance.

We then decreased our rate of fire, letting go one round every two
minutes, giving us time to sit around and chat about the big surprise
we had given Fritz and the success of our attack. Before giving the word
to fire I would first warn the men, so they could look out for their
eardrums, besides getting out of the way; we never fire unknowingly to
any of the men as the concussion works a severe hardship on the ears.
One of the boys was sitting on an ammunition box, leaning against the
gun wheel, with his feet on a little fireplace that we had taken a
chance on installing, thinking the fog was so thick Fritz would not
notice the smoke. As usual, our ammunition was stationed in our rear.
One fellow was squatting on the sand bags and leaning against the
shells; I was sitting in seat three, between the gun wheel and the left
side, while another was on seat four, also between the gun wheel and the
gun on the right; another man was standing ready to put a shell in the
muzzle.

"Fellows, are you ready?" I asked.

"All right."

"Fire!"

The next instant I felt my feet giving way from under me. The gun had
blown off at the shield, the muzzle being blown to pieces, gas and fumes
filled the air, the spokes were blown out of the wheels, splinters
striking me on the feet and legs. I started to the front of the gun and
fell on top of Graham.

"What happened?" he asked. "I don't know," I said. There were several
pieces of tube lying about that looked like parts of a German shell.
Graham yelled to know what had happened. "A German shell hit the gun," I
said. He was then seized with shell shock and became uncontrollable.
Park, who was leaning against the ammunition, was blown up, the shell
having driven clean through his spine; the man loading the shell had a
fragment driven clear through his stomach. The man leaning against the
gun wheel was beheaded as cleanly as any king's executioner with his ax
could do it, his head lying in the fireplace! The cartridge had exploded
but the shell did not.

The trouble was caused by what is known as a "defective" shell.

I left the gun pit to help Graham over to the dressing station and I had
a job on my hands; he was suffering from a bad attack of brain
concussion. After attention a couple of Fritzies carried him to the
rear.

Returning to the gun pit I found a state of wild confusion among the
fellows as to what had really happened. On examination I found it was
this defective shell; over to the right of the gun I picked up a chunk
of it over a foot long.

Those who remained of our gun crew went that night to the wagon lines,
spending a few days there while waiting for our gun to be replaced.

When our gun was replaced I started back from the wagon lines, carrying
a piston rod of the buffer, with Downey assisting me. We were on
horseback and getting into Labazell Valley, when a shell passed over our
head so close that we felt the wind of it; it was accompanied by a great
flare over to our right. The shell struck one of our ammunition dumps
containing about 50,000 rounds of shells and other explosives, such as
rifle grenades, Mills bombs, French mortar bombs, aerial torpedoes, high
explosive shells, shrapnel shells, star and gas shells. The disaster
resulting from this one single shell was almost inconceivable. It
started a fire that gathered strength each second, for all the world
like a prairie fire, and the scenic effect was that of a titanic
fireworks exhibition. The moon was brightly shining in a clear sky, but
the star shells shooting in the air and exploding with a constantly
increasing rapidity, the blaze of artificial light quickly obtained
ascendency over the mistress of the night; and the shrapnel shells,
throwing their contents of danger in all directions, together with the
hissing and roaring of all the other exploding missiles of death, formed
a diapason of sound that makes one of those wonder-moments that come so
seldom in a lifetime.

The reflection of the fire from the explosion was quickly observed by
Fritz, and in short order he had his airplanes hovering overhead, and
they too were dropping their bombs wherever human activities were noted.
We hastily dismounted, tying our horses to the barbed-wire iron pickets
in the side of the road, and rushed with a body of men, mostly wagon
drivers whose wagons were stalled on the road in the congestion, over to
do what we could to save the ammunition which is so badly needed at all
times.

In the first rush toward the pile an explosion snuffed out the lives of
thirty or forty of the men, knocking the rest of us off our feet like so
many nine-pins, besides killing several of the horses on the road, and
to add to the already indescribable chaos, several of the horses
stampeded, racing blindly into barbed-wire entanglements and adding to
the general destruction.

What with Fritz dropping bombs from his airplanes, our horses stampeding
and screaming like wild things, and our own explosives bursting in every
conceivable direction with a thousand different roars, the scene can be
better imagined than described. We saved about 10,000 rounds out of that
entire dump. For a distance of twenty miles the reflection of the fire
extended, the rockets themselves being visible for a space of ten miles.
I don't suppose since the world began was there ever a scene of such
awful beauty; it was a bursting Vesuvius with the co-mingled radiant
beauties of a thousand rainbows.

When there was nothing further that we could do, we regained our
frightened mounts and resumed our journey. Such a road of confusion! The
ground being wet, turning the chalky earth into white, the moving,
wriggling vehicles of every kind and description afforded a magnificent
target for the marksmen of the air and casualties here, there and
everywhere along the road was the order of the night.

A short distance along, the sounds of battle in the air reached our
ears, and looking up I saw two shadows passing between our eyes and
moon, then two more. Suddenly our searchlights opened up, and there, in
full view, were four planes, two British and two German, engaged in one
of those struggles which practically forms the only feature in this war
around which is thrown any of the elements of romance that appeals to
all the instinct of a vivid imagination. It was a fair field and no
favor. The battle had been on about three or four minutes when one of
the British birds landed on Fritz, driving him down nose first. He could
not regain control and he dashed headlong into the earth to destruction.
Our fellow then rose and went to the assistance of his pal and they made
short work of the second Taube.

That is the only time I have ever witnessed a scene of that kind under
those circumstances, and it is a rare occurrence indeed that one has the
privilege of seeing such a struggle with such a background.

We were now among the batteries; to the right and left of us the guns
had commenced speaking to the German roads, and the ammunition dumps
there, in retaliation for the destruction of our gun-food; the
anti-aircraft guns were also getting into the chorus, together with the
pom-poms, and the whole swelled into a mighty chorus of sound that
filled every crack and crevice in the air, making one feel as if he were
inhaling sound rather than ozone.

As we neared Pozières a 9.02 howitzer gun on our left fired a shell that
exploded in the gun and blew the gun and crew in all directions. The
shell also started some ammunition going that was lying about and it was
under the greatest difficulty that the men, whose lives were not lost in
the first explosion, managed to get away. The men were trying to
manhandle the remainder of the guns of the battery and we jumped off our
horses, fastened them to an old wagon lying in the ditch, and headed
over to lend a hand. With much tugging and perspiring we saved three of
the guns.

Explosions of these tremendous projectiles were deafening in the
extreme, and here there were two or three of them exploding at once in
our immediate neighborhood.

Again we mounted on our way to Pozières and, when reaching our journey's
end, Fritzie began pumping in his crying shells; these are the kind
that draw copious tears, inflame the eyes and make things generally
disagreeable. We had not brought our goggles and suffered from a
temporary spell of blindness; we had not had any trouble from this
particular kind of visitor for some time and had not bothered to keep
our glasses with us. Groping along, blinking my eyes to get a little
gleam of light, I stumbled across four or five dead horses and was
nearly thrown from my horse.

I warned Downey, who was behind me, and he avoided the trouble, but we
had to keep a tight rein on our thoroughly frightened animals. It was
impossible to get them past the dead horses until some others went by
and then, leading them by the bridle, we got by.

Traffic was now fearfully congested on account of some tanks that were
taking cover in the sunken road for their attack in the morning, and a
shower of shells dropping here and there along the road did not add to
our comfort. We passed through Courcelette Valley and came to a small
bridge crossing a trench; this particular bridge was the subject of hot
shellfire, as it was the only point where traffic could cross for about
a mile to the right or left, and Fritz was well aware of the fact. When
half-way across, a shell exploded, killing my horse, and the animal
rolled over with me on its back, twisting my leg. For a while I thought
my number was up; in a few moments I was able to get up behind Downey.

We had reached the end of our journey, got to the gun, delivered the
piston rod and reported to the Captain. He instructed us to stay there
for the night and told Downey to tie up his horse in one of the German
gun pits; then Downey was ordered to go on S.O.S. sentry duty. He had
our sincere sympathy, for the rest of us were just breaking into the
little old game for the balance of the night (morning).

In the middle of the game Downey came running in. "Say, fellows, there's
a hell of a smell out here,--something sweet, never smelt it before,
don't know what it is." "It's gas," I yelled, "the new kind! Get on your
masks!"

We adjusted our protectors and made for the entrance. Downey began to be
overcome by the fumes and I took over sentry; the warning gas horns were
booming up and down the line like a deep-throated buzzing,--a most
unearthly and weird sound.

The gas shells were now dropping plenteously round about and one of my
pals, Dory, was instructed to assist me in relighting our lamps, as they
were growing dim; these are our feed lamps that are lit every night with
candles and placed, one for each gun, about 50 feet in front, and on
these lights the sights are trained, so that it is vital to keep them
burning all night long.

We rapidly commenced replacing the burnt-out candles, and just then we
heard the warning roar of a coming shell, but before it burst I heard a
splash; it was Dory taking a header into a shell hole full of water; I
threw myself flat. In adjusting our lamps we had to remove our gas
helmets, and after waiting some time for the expected explosion and
hearing none, I looked up; white fumes were rising from the ground at
about the spot the shell had entered; there had been no explosion of
splinters.

This particular shell is very thin, is fired with great velocity, and
when meeting resistance it breaks and cracks and the white gas fumes
like steam come floating out. "What do you think of that, Grant!" from
Dory in the shell hole; "I thought the blankety-blank was a Jack
Johnson." His thought had cost him a soaking and the reflex action of
his thought was strongly in evidence during the balance of our watch.

The remainder of our lonely duty was not enhanced in pleasure by the
contemplation of scores of stretcher bearers carrying out men who had
been caught unprepared by the gas and who were choking and suffocating
from its effects.

So earnestly pernicious is the gas device as a fighting weapon that it
is a matter of common talk among the boys that Fritz, when he invented
his contrivance, must have been in direct communication with his Satanic
Majesty.

Working tooth and nail to smother the Hun, and he in turn working might
and main to smother us, was the order of the day continuously throughout
the campaign on the Somme, and a few nights following the happening
above, Dory and myself were on S.O.S. sentry.

About 3:00 o'clock A.M. the messages from Germany started coming and our
replies were mailed back as fast as the postal authorities at the guns
could handle the matter; in fact, throughout our campaign on the Somme
we mailed our replies and our additional messages so rapidly and so
effectively, that nine times out of ten Fritzie's working force was
swamped.

On this A.M. his shells were gas which glazed the feed lamps and the
sight of the lenses, as well as accumulating in the inside of the gun
muzzle, making it necessary to swab out the muzzle of the gun before
using, as otherwise it would rust badly, which would result in putting
the gun out of commission in short order. The fire developed into a
first-class artillery duel, our battery and nine others answering ten
German batteries. The net result of the duel was two of Fritzie's guns
put out of business.

Before long our lamps on the sandbags, by which we got our light to see
to work the guns, were knocked off by an explosion and we were in
darkness; following that, the springs in the buffer of my gun were
broken, making it necessary to put it back in place by hand. Each time
the gun is fired it recoils and is brought back to place by the
hydraulic buffer containing the spring; but we had to perform this work
in the darkness by hand. The coals of Hades were now coming in heavier
each moment, because heavier caliber pieces had opened up on us, and we
were getting the worst of it; our weightier sisters must take a hand at
the game, and we kept up our end of the argument until this could be
done.

It was Dory's duty to reload the gun and push it forward in place for
position, each time yelling "Ready!" One time the gun was shoved into
place and the man on the right,--Dory was on the left--gave the "Ready!"
and I fired. The darkness was still thick and I could not see that Dory
was pushing up on the gun with all his might, to bring it into place
when I fired, and the recoil drove him back into the corner against a
pile of ammunition, smashing his arm. We assisted him, and one of the
fellows volunteered to go with him to the dressing station, but Dory was
game to the core; he was one of the most happy-go-lucky boys I ever met.
"Hell! I will make it myself. Stay here while the fun is on. I wish to
God I could stay too!"

We renewed our duel, but the heavier caliber shells were commencing to
tell; number 3 gun was struck and part of the crew wiped out. Our
telephonist 'phoned headquarters for the weightier women to get busy,
telling them of our plight, and inside six minutes the ladies of larger
girth, the 9.02 howitzers, started debating the question with Fritzie so
vigorously that inside of thirty minutes not a single reply was to be
had from their guns.

"Stand down!"--and cleaning our guns, gun pits and carrying ammunition,
busied us. In the midst of our work a dizziness seized my head,
accompanied with a choking in the throat and lungs, and before I could
cry out or warn my pals, I dropped. I had unconsciously imbibed the
potion when I removed my mask to relight the feed lamps, and it is one
of the peculiar effects of this dose that it is some time after its
inhalation that the harmfulness becomes apparent;--so it was with me. I
was lifted onto a stretcher and carried to the dressing station near
what is known as the Sunken Road. The ground around the station was
dotted with men suffering from attacks of a similar nature; there were
56 of us in all.

The doctor's examination was brief,--"Gas," and I was laid alongside my
brothers in misery. We were ordered to keep absolutely quiet and on no
account to leave our stretchers; but while lying there the unwelcome
messages from the German guns began coming in our neighborhood; and the
ever terrifying sound of their explosions brought the nerves of the men,
already on edge, over the border line of reason, and a number of them
struggled up from their cots and started running away, forgetting or
ignoring the doctor's orders. The poor fellows paid dearly for it; some
of them dropped in their tracks, dying, where they dropped; some died
after they were brought back to the station, and some gave up the ghost
when in England they lost the last remaining tissue of their lungs, due
to the effect of their running. "I mustn't budge!" I kept repeating to
myself, for my own nerves were at the jumping-off point and I thought
the veins in my head would burst if I had to endure those
explosion-roars another minute. Happily they ceased as suddenly as they
began.

There is no kind of suffering endured in the battle front that has such
a horror for the men as the gas; it is that fighting for breath that
takes the life out of a fellow, and, God! how it chokes. Out of that
bunch of 56 gassed men, only six came out whole.

The following week we were ordered to leave the Somme. Although I felt
in the mood for sticking it as long as I had the strength to keep
going, yet I must confess the order filled my soul with a gratitude that
was unspeakable. I had been in the Somme campaign three months, and when
our guns swept into position at Martinsaart, my weight was 171; when I
left, I tipped the scales at 145. The men who had been with the guns
there and who know what it is to work 24 hours in the day for many days
in the week, rarely during the three months experiencing the refreshing
rest of a consecutive two hours' sleep, and working like veritable
demons during every waking moment, either at the guns or cleaning the
ammunition, or carrying the ammunition into place,--they will understand
what it means to lose 25 pounds in weight on the Somme.

My uniform was in rags and saturated so thickly with grease and dirt
that for many days it was one of my pet recreations to take a knife and
scoop it by the bladeful out of the khaki cloth. And my skin! What a
hide! The combination of cleaning and repairing guns, working them
constantly, driving horses, observation work, together with the gas, my
body was saturated with a mixture that took weeks to extract.

The cut-up-ground, pock-marked with shell holes as closely as the cells
in a honeycomb, was of course carefully noted by Fritzie's aerial
observers, and they were naturally led to believe that it would be
physically impossible for our batteries to be relieved,--that is, to
retire and another battery take our place. But we camouflaged. Under
cover of a fog we worked like beavers for a day and a night, filling in
shell holes, and made fairly decent roads under the conditions, and one
fine morning, still under the friendly shelter of the fog, leaving our
ammunition behind, we pulled out the gun; the entire Canadian Division
retired and were relieved by the English Tommies.

As we were going out we passed their batteries coming in and it was
heartening indeed to hear the compliments and praises that were showered
upon us by the lads of England, although we had not done a single thing
that they could not have done and done just as well as we, and maybe
better.

In some places where our guns were stationed the ground conditions made
it absolutely impossible to remove them for the time; in such cases the
Imperial batteries left their guns at the horse lines and took over the
Canadian guns, the Canadian gunners taking their pets instead. This
occasioned a real and heartfelt loss to both Canadian gunners and
Imperial boys who had to change over their pets, because every gunner
learns to acquire a real affection for his mistress, as he terms the
gun, and with many of the men it was like losing a good horse or a dog
to whom they had become sincerely and warmly attached, the attachment
being born of weeks and months of the most arduous trial and test.

We reached the wagon lines with our guns still intact and we felt as
safe as if we were back in our beloved Dominion. We were going back of
the lines, and the scene of breaking camp in our preparations for
returning to the rear was picturesque in the extreme. Bonfires made of
refuse and waste material for which we had no further use were burning
everywhere; men were hurrying hither and thither; and through it all you
could hear the steady digging, shoveling and pounding of the German
prisoners who were repairing the roads their own guns mangled. I felt a
large measure of satisfaction at seeing them working as hard as they
could go, restoring at least that much of their destructiveness; they
will never, they can never replace the wantonness, the frightfulness,
of which they have been the inspired tool in this the struggle of their
lords and masters for the earth's control.

Night and day for three days we traveled on our batteries, arriving at a
place called Camblain-Châtillon, a small town in a mining valley. Here
we were billeted in barns, but the inhabitants hearing that we were
Canadians who had been operating on the Somme, came out _en masse_ to
greet us and give us of their best. We were invited to their homes, and
their larders were placed at our disposal; a large bath made of
granite--a splendid outfit used by the miners of the town, was thrown
open to us, and it is needless to say we reveled in the luxury of a
plunge as quickly as we could tumble in. How we needed it! I had not
known a bath during all the time I was on the Somme and lousiness was
part and parcel of my make-up. I was so accustomed to it, however, that
it had long ceased to cause me more than a passing thought; there were
too many other things to think about during that session. But once
relieved from the tension of the daily struggle to save life, as well as
take it, the desire to become normal, decent, cleanly human beings took
possession of every man of us, and we wallowed in the bath until we
could once more look other respectable citizens in the face.

In this haven of rest and retirement we luxuriated for two weeks, then
moved into action on the Lens-Arras road. We placed our guns on the side
of the road, digging our trails in the edge of the cobble stone pavement
as a trail block, to hold the guns steady when firing. Chicken wire on
top, covered with grass and brushwood, completed the scenic protection.

Our work was the well-known ruse of a night raid in preparation for the
attack on Vimy Ridge, and carried out for the purpose of keeping the
Germans guessing as to where the next drive would be driven.

Leaving four men and the telephonist with the guns that night, we went
to Anges, half a mile from the gun position, to our billets; this was an
old French château, and comfortable beyond expression. As the foes of
our anatomies had again attacked in mass formation, this time we were
annoyed to a degree. Procuring creolin, we rubbed it on our bodies pure;
it should have been adulterated. During the night the natural
perspiration of our bodies caused the vermin grease to work through
the pores, and excessive stinging and smarting was the outcome. One
fellow awoke with a grunt of impatience and then a snort of anger, as a
sense of the stinging brought him to a realization of his discomfort;
then another, and another, until the entire bunch was in a fine frenzy,
fanning our bodies and running into the night air for relief. My carcass
was on fire and I wished to heaven I had left the lice alone; they could
not at least have prevented my sleeping. I determined for the future, as
against this cure, I would keep the curse. I felt as if I were suffering
from a severe sunburn over every inch of my body.

[Illustration: A First Line Hospital]

In the midst of our misery "Stand to!" was sounded, necessitating the
dropping of all our skin troubles and skedaddling to get to the guns. We
ran across an open field that had been converted into a graveyard after
the French drove the Germans over on to Vimy Ridge, but there was no
thought of sacrilege in our minds as we raced pell-mell over the
grave-filled land; there never is but one thought in our minds; we are,
every man of us, souls with but a single thought when "Stand to!"
sounds. We reached the guns practically in the nude, and fastening the
sights and scratching my hide at the same time kept me fairly busy.

We worked the guns for an hour; then "Ammunition up!" was the order for
the rest of the night. We were not allowed to return to our billets as
another attack was expected. At 5:30 the first snowstorm of the winter
swept over the land. The ground was fairly firm from the preceding
frost, and in a short time the country was resting underneath a mantle
of beautiful purity. With the enthusiastic ardor of a lot of school
boys, we grabbed up the beautiful element in our hands and an old time
snowball fight took place. Then the "Stand to!" of the morning was
given.

Our objective this time was to cut channels through the wire about 15 to
20 feet wide, to permit the infantry to pass. This work is effected by
means of shrapnel shells that cut the wire into little strands, then
high explosives are used to root out the remaining posts. When we had
accomplished our purpose and made everything ready for the charge,
"Stand down!" was sounded. The infantry took up the program and dashed
over and through the gaps we had made. They cleaned up the first line,
then on to the second, smashing their guns, trench mortars and
trenches, bombed the dugouts, destroyed their rations and sent back over
1800 prisoners. What I call a fair morning's work!

Now, as I have heretofore said, the objects most easily seen by an
airplane are white and black and the surface of the earth being covered
with a mantle of snow, naturally the things that the keen-sighted
airbirds would first look for would be dark-colored.

The snow around our battery by this time had been thoroughly melted by
the heat from our guns--as a matter of fact, the guns were steaming--and
one of our Sergeants, knowing how easily discernible our pieces would be
to the enemy airbirds, began gathering snow and spreading it all over
the places where it had melted. He was working hard throwing the snow
immediately in front of my gun when another "Stand to!" came. Let me
repeat, if I have not already made it entirely clear, that when this
most imperative order is sounded, there is only one thought in the mind
of every man of the battery, to get our message off as quickly as human
power can send it; and throughout every stage of the world's work that
we are doing over there, there is no time when the bodies of men are
entirely free of bruises received in collision with one another in the
absorbing endeavor of every man to respond. This will account for the
lamentable accident that occurred at this time.

The Sergeant, unthinkingly, after "Stand to!" was sounded, went on in
his earnest endeavor to camouflage the battery with the snow. Now it so
happened that at the identical time that the Sergeant was so engaged, a
kiltie battalion was making its way to the trenches on a foot path,
running diagonally across the front of the guns. In obedience to the
command to fire, the crew speeded to their respective guns, jammed back
the levers and the missiles started on their journey of destruction. The
shell from our gun in front of which the Sergeant was working killed him
before he knew what had happened and, as luck or the devil would have
it, the shell was a premature; it exploded at the point of the muzzle
and its 365 shrapnel pellets, each traveling at the rate of 2200 feet
per second muzzle velocity, and which when exploded assume the shape of
a gigantic fan, shot death and destruction into the kiltie battalion in
front. Sixty of the kilties paid with their lives the price of this
premature shell, including the Sergeant. For a hundred yards in every
direction the heads, arms and legs of the Scotch fighting men were
strewn all over the ground. It was one of those terrible things that is
a matter for the deepest concern and regret, and yet cannot be helped.

We were next ordered back to the wagon lines at Camblain-Châtillon,
arriving there on the evening of the 23rd of December, and preparations
for Christmas dinner were uppermost in the mind of every man. We were
delighted by a visit from the town authorities who asked us if we would
like to use the schoolhouse for our celebration and that we were most
heartily welcome to it, which offer we were most heartily glad to
accept, and the authorities proceeded at once to decorate the
schoolhouse in true holiday fashion, evergreens and lanterns filling
every nook and corner of the large room. The tables, of course, we
supplied ourselves.

For turkey we had a French pig purchased from a farmer for 300 francs,
each man chipping in three francs; new carrots, Irish potatoes, boiled
onions, cranberry sauce, the latter supplied by a large-hearted French
lady in the town, made up the accompaniment of the "Turkey." For dessert
we had a speech from Major Wright, congratulating us on our work in the
Somme. In a few well-chosen words he told us how we had lost over 60 per
cent of our men, counting the reinforcements, and that it was a matter
of sincere gratitude to every man of us that we were there to enjoy the
bounteous Christmas cheer.



CHAPTER XVI

BEFORE VIMY


In the course of ten days we arrived at Bully-Grenay, situated in the
very heart of the mining district, three mines being located in the town
itself. We were still working on the Vimy Ridge proposition. At no time
in France were our quarters more comfortable than here; each gun of my
battery was stationed in the cellar of a private house on the outskirts
of the town from which the civilians had been shelled, and at night in
the midst of a game of cards, or engaged in our letter writing, or
reading, when we got the "S.O.S." signal, the lanyard was at my hand and
I had only to pull the rope. Our quarters were heated by coal purchased
direct from the mine and furnished to us at ten cents per bag. Every
mine in this place was worked only at night, the smoke of the industry
indicating to Fritz where to plant his shells; therefore, the entire
coal mining was done during the hours of sleep.

The Huns were making a most determined effort to get possession of
Bully-Grenay and these most valuable coal mines, and they were anxiously
looking forward to the time when they could attack successfully, and
knowing how vital to us it was to get out this coal, they concentrated
their efforts through the daytime on the mine shafts in an effort to
destroy them; but having no smoke signals to guide their fire, their
efforts generally were futile.

A notable instance of the spirit controlling our ideas of warfare was
splendidly illustrated in this particular sector. Among the captured
French mines that the Germans were working was one in close proximity to
a church, of whose existence they took particular pains to let us know;
and the church, in addition to being used as a protection for the mine,
was also used as a camouflage for one of their batteries, the guns being
placed immediately in front of it. It is repugnant to the very soul of a
British soldier to level his gun at a church, so Fritz was able to get
away with his camouflage.

On the morning of the third day of our visit here we were treated to
another superb example of _kultur_. The school children were playing in
the school yard and Fritz dropped a shell in their midst, killing and
wounding several, following it up by two others that smashed the
schoolhouse. A panic followed among the teachers and children, and the
only thing we could do at the time was to stand there and watch the
devilishness. Some of the men of an infantry battalion who were billeted
on the outskirts of the town, rushed to the school and carried out the
wounded and dead. If Fritz could have seen and heard the maddened fury
of those rescuers as they carried out the maimed and bleeding little
ones, his first thought would have been to have given them as wide a
berth as possible; but when they did meet,--God help them!

At 1:00 o'clock in the morning Fritz opened up with gas shells,
smothering the civilian population, and the people who were running out
of the town, choking and suffocating, brought to my mind a most vivid
recollection of the city of Ypres. How can I describe the agony, the
despair on the faces of the inoffending citizens who were having their
homes blasted to bits, their lungs choked with suffocation, separated
from their loved ones in the wild scramble of the night for shelter and
safety! Any place, anywhere but there!

Donning our helmets we got to our guns and waited for orders, which we
presently received. I never worked with more love and energy than I did
that night, and never did I spit more liberally on each individual shell
as it was shoved into place for departure. Inside of twenty minutes
Fritzie decided that the pastime of shelling Bully-Grenay with gas
shells was not as funny as it was cracked up to be; he broke off short
and quick.

In the two weeks following we were at Estari Chic, another Vimy Ridge
position. Here we were stationed at the horse lines. While there, an
order was issued that we could not buy bread from the civilian
population for the reason that our military authorities considered the
rations we were getting were sufficient for all our needs. The
shop-keepers were quite willing to sell any soldier, however, and we
were more than anxious to get his bread if we could safely do so. The
manner in which we disobeyed orders was as follows: The bake-shop was
about half-a-mile from our billet and we had to pass several policemen
on the way down; two fellows would stand outside the building while I
went inside and purchased the bread, and if policemen were seen coming,
the man nearest to the officer would give the signal and I would duck
off into an alley-way and up the back streets into the billet, and it
would not be long before my outpost would join me; then the jam would be
produced and in short order the delicious French bread and jam would be
winding its way down into our voracious stomachs.

We left this point for Camblain-le-Abbeau for another nip at the ridge
from that angle, pulled into the wagon lines for two days and then got
into action on the Lens-Arras road. We laid the guns on the side of the
road, camouflaging them in the usual fashion. We were the first
battalion to arrive, but within four days 100 or more batteries were
there. Our work here was to cut the wire in preparation for one of the
usual raids, to blind Fritz and keep him guessing where the drive was to
be launched. We performed our work flawlessly, the boys of the infantry
going over through the gaps we had made and capturing several machine
guns and prisoners.

On the second day following, the Captain asked me to go into the
trenches to assist him in observation work. We found after inspection
that the point we wanted to get our data upon could not be obtained
from the low-lying trenches, and the Captain, wondering where we had
best go, happened to get his fancy settled on a mine shaft. "We will go
up there, Grant," he said, and together we made our way to the spot. The
climb to the top was no easy matter, and when we got there we set about
making ourselves as comfortable as possible. As soon as we had our
apparatus working, the Captain commenced registering the cemetery, the
tombstones of which were being carried away by Fritz to place around his
dugouts. The Captain flashed the necessary information and in ten
minutes they were pretty thoroughly shot up.

The Captain then directed his attention to a trench digging party, sent
his compliments to the guns--would they kindly take care of the trench
digging party, which they did. Then we were spotted; in a few seconds we
were the recipients of a blast of machine-gun fire; a _minenwerfer_
dropped at the foot of the mine shaft, blowing the entire corner away,
and it became very evident the place was ours no longer, and we started
for the bottom.

In going down it was necessary for me to execute a sort of slide, as I
had to hang on with my hands while my feet were going down, and the
Captain, in his naturally human haste to get to a place of safety,
inadvertently trod on my fingers.

"For God's sake, Captain," I yelled, "get off my fingers!"

"Take your damned fingers out of my way!" replied the Captain.

"How can I? Your foot is on them!" He eased up a bit and I was able to
release my mangled fingers, but Lord! he weighed about 200 pounds.

Now Captain Black was a man who was absolutely afraid of nothing in
human shape; his fighting spirit is unbeatable; every man in the battery
can testify to his absolute fearlessness, and I am glad to lend my
humble testament to his unquestionable bravery. However, in going down
the shaft the shots were coming thick and fast, and it was the most
natural thing in the world for him to tread on my fingers in his desire
to avoid the sniping shell or machine-gun bullet, but my fingers were
sadly in need of repair by the time we got to the bottom.

When we reached the foot we got into the shell hole blasted out by the
_minenwerfer_ that had torn the corner of the shaft away. We had not yet
completed our observations and Cap decided he would try the top of the
slag heap. To the top we crawled, placing our periscope and telephone in
position, and were nicely settled and doing good work, the Captain
congratulating himself audibly on his bright thought in selecting this
spot, when his congratulations were cut short by a shell smashing the
periscope glass, followed by a _minenwerfer_ striking the bottom of the
slag heap, making another huge excavation and causing the slag at the
top to roll down from under us, taking us with it. But the Cap was not
to be driven away so easily. "Come on, Grant, let's try it again," and
up we went again, and again another large shell at the bottom of the
pile caused a cave-in, and down we rolled. Still the Captain had not
enough, and up we went a third time. The same thing happened again, the
shells tearing away a large hole at the bottom of the slag heap, causing
the slag on which we were standing to give way and carrying us to the
bottom. By this time the shells were showering the entire place and
Captain Black reluctantly decided that it was no go, and we gave it up.

It was during the stay of my battery on the Lens-Arras road, during the
Vimy Ridge preparation, that I again personally encountered Fritz in
the form of his spy system. One night after the guns had been oiled and
prepared for their next job, and we were all busy cleaning up the
ammunition for the work in hand, I was accosted by a couple of British
officers, a Captain and a Major.

"Sergeant, would you kindly help us to a drink of water?" said the
Major. "Certainly, sir," I answered, saluting; "if you will wait here a
moment I will get it for you."

"Thank you," they replied, and I went for the water. Returning I found
the Major with one of our shells in his hand and the Captain examining
the gun.

"She's a beauty, Sergeant," said the Captain.

"Yes, sir," I smilingly answered, "and she is just as good as she is
beautiful,--never kicks or falters."

"By Jove!" laughed the Major, "that's a good one. How many messages did
you send them last night, Sergeant?"

"None, sir."

"You don't say! Why I thought I heard you firing. Where is your battery
operating?"

"Oh, we just sent off a few rounds at the crossroads."

"She seems to have been doing her bit today all right."

While conversing with the Major, I noticed the Captain talking with one
of my men about the gun sight and, hastily excusing myself to the Major,
I went over to him. "Pardon me for interrupting. Billy, you had better
go over to the Major and tell him the gun is ready at once for
inspection."

Billy excused himself to the Captain and started off. The officers then
prepared to leave.

"Won't you wait a moment, sir, and see the Major? He will be right
over."

"Well, we will see him on our way back. We're in a kind of a hurry,
Sergeant." And they bade me good night and left.

There was something told me that all was not well with these men, but
the suspicion had not become sufficiently rooted in my head to find
expression, and, consequently, I said nothing at the time.

The very next morning after inspection, orders were read and in the
instructions were explicit descriptions of two British officers who were
German agents and who were making the rounds of the lines, picking up
information wherever they could, and commanding all ranks to be on the
lookout and arrest them on sight, shooting them if they resisted, and
offering a prize of ten pounds to the man who succeeded in effecting
their arrest. "Good Lord!" I thought. "What a miss!" If my wits had been
properly working, I would have been ten pounds the richer, together with
a four-weeks' leave of absence.

These audacious agents had visited all sections and doubtless had
acquired a store of general information, and headquarters urged a most
rigorous search for them. The following night they were spotted in a
French _estaminet_, by a bunch of sharp-eyed Tommies, and, as luck would
have it, the men were chatting about the ten-pound prize for capturing
these same fellows, and their mouths were watering at the picture that
each one of them was painting of what he would do if he only had the
prize.

"I'll tell 'e what it is," said one, "if my blinkers falls on them chaps
I'll wet the whole damned outfit!"

As they entered, the soldier's eye went over the room and lit on the
very men in question, seated by themselves in a little side room of the
inn. In a low tone he communicated his thought to his companions.
"Blime me, I'll eat your mother-in-law if there ain't our meat!" There
was about 20 in the bunch, and they did not waste time in consultation.
At once they were in the anteroom, confronting these men.

"What do you want?" gruffly asked the Major.

"We have to come to tell you, sir, that the O.C. wants to see you and
the Captain at once."

"All right, tell your O.C. we will be over directly."

"'E wants you now, sir."

"Well, didn't you hear me say we'd be over there shortly?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, damn you, tell him so, and I'll see that you are taken care of
for your impertinence."

"I don't mean to be impertinent, sir, but I'm here to see that you come
and come now."

Like a flash both men drew their revolvers, but before they had a chance
to use them, the entire bunch was on top of them, and it was a somewhat
mussed up Major and Captain that appeared before the O.C. at the
headquarters of the Tommies who sleuthed them. The intuition of the
soldier proved correct; with absolute certainty he had falconed his prey
and the prize was his.

And he was as good as his word. What that bunch didn't have to eat and
drink while the money lasted wasn't purchaseable at the front.



CHAPTER XVII

VIMY


With Vimy Ridge in the possession of the Germans, their access for
observation placed us at a decided disadvantage; the Lens-Arras, the
Mont St. Eloi road--all vital feeding routes for our system--were
absolutely open to his inspection at all hours of the day or night;
there was no movement along these channels of communication of either
men, guns, ammunition, supplies of any kind, of which they were not
fully cognizant. So it will be seen that the possession of this
elevation was of wonderful advantage to the side holding it.

One of the chief gains to be derived from its possession was the control
of the vast coal mines of Lens, one of the richest coal producing
sections in France, and the benefit of which has been in German hands
since the gray rush first went through. And the possession of the output
of these mines gave Fritz a priceless advantage over us. His overlooking
position also made it impossible for us to work in the daytime the few
coal mines that we had; neither could we supply our guns with the
necessary ammunition during the hours of daylight; and further, the
possession of this vantage point would release for duty elsewhere a
tremendous number of men whose presence there was unavoidable, because
of the control he had over the valley and the surrounding country. So,
when the chief command decided to take the ridge, they went about the
job in a manner thoroughly characteristic of the Scotch commander, Sir
Douglas Haig, and his thoroughness was well borne out by the results.

For the space of a month prior to the drive, every hour of the darkness
was used to get guns, ammunition and supplies into place; all night long
the traffic on the roads was so congested that going faster than a walk
with any conveyance, over any part of the channels of communication, was
simply out of the question; but when day broke it was imperative that
not a single conveyance of any kind be in sight on any road.

Do not imagine, however, that we were free to work as long as the
shelter of night lasted; in the artificial light furnished by the
flares, Fritz did a lot of damage. On one single night during this work
of preparation on the Mont St. Eloi road alone, 156 horses were killed;
and on all through roads, each night that the stage was being set for
the production of the first scene, casualties were had with deadly
regularity.

When everything was in place and the curtain ready to be drawn up, 1400
batteries were in a position along the Lens-Arras road and valley,
standing wheel to wheel, many of them brought to bear over roads that
had been specially constructed for their conveyance, as regular routes
were not usable for them and a road one-and-a-half-miles long, made out
of three-inch thick planking, was placed ready for use in three days'
time, together with a narrow-gauge railroad, for rushing up ammunition
and taking back wounded men. This road and narrow-gauge railway took a
short cut across the valley and proved a godsend in relieving the
congestion on the regular road, and was of inestimable value in
achieving our end.

On the 2nd day of April, 1917, stage manager Haig ordered the curtain
raised and, with its raising, vengeance was let loose. Gaps 20 to 30
feet wide were blasted in the barbed wire; some of the mine shafts
about Lens were flattened and destroyed; Fritzie's supply roads were
rained upon with a steady hail of hell night and day, preventing the
entrance to his trenches not only of ammunition, but also of food, and
prevented the withdrawal of any men from his lines; his ammunition dumps
were set ablaze, the fires from them lighting up the whole country-side
for miles around. In the air the efficiency of our preparatory work was
equally demonstrated. A new type of flier winged his way back and forth
over the sausage-fed warriors, and the ability of our birds to hold the
line in the Heavens was amply demonstrated, one British airman, on the
28th of March, five days before the battle began, downing three German
eagles in quick succession. Spellbound I watched the magnificent work of
this flier.

Far up as the eye could reach, six British planes in battle formation,
the leader of the squad about three hundred yards in advance, four
others in a row, the sixth three hundred yards in the rear, winged their
way. Suddenly, the rear bird shot downward, volplaning and looping the
loop with as much abandon as if he were in an exhibition park. I
quickly discerned the object of his lightning-like descent. Hovering
over our trenches were three German vultures. As he dropped, Fritz
volleyed at him with his anti-aircraft mouthpieces, but failed to land.
The bird kept on his downward plunge until he reached his objective, and
as he dove into the vultures, our anti-aircraft guns, which had been
endeavoring to wing the German birds, ceased fire and all eyes were
turned heavenward. With bated breath we watched and waited the outcome.

The Fritzies spread out in circle formation, with a view to surrounding
it, each a little higher than the other. With a lightning-like swoop the
British bird, getting right in front of it and turning sharply, let fly
his machine gun in rapid fire, Fritz answering energetically. In less
than three minutes' time, a distinct wabbling was noticeable and the
British sparrow, seeing that his work there was done, turned his
attention to the others. His work was surely done; Fritz continued to
wabble and then plunged in a deadly drop until he got to the Lens-Arras
road, where he made a desperate attempt to alight on the highway; but he
got tangled up in the trees, his wings being smashed and remaining in
the branches, the body of the plane shooting down into a deep ditch and
embedding itself and its two occupants in the mud. They were dead. A
tremendous cheer greeted this victory over the first opponent. The other
two airmen followed our bird, volleying at him as they flew. With a
quick motion he turned upside down, swooping for the bird on his upper
left, and continued to chase and fight him in this position. The other
German bird was off to one side, put-put-put-put-ing! for all he was
worth, but his bullets were wasted by reason of the upside down
position. In a run of another 500 yards the work of our lad was
finished, his machine gun having done the trick; and Fritz and his pilot
being killed, the machine dashed rudderless to the ground, nose first.

There remained but one. Our bird again got on top, but there was no
fight left in Fritz; he scooted for a hundred yards in the direction of
home, but was winged while running, part of his left wing dropping off.
The rest was easy; his machine became unmanageable, an explosive bullet
smashed into his petrol tank and he dropped in flames.

The entire ceremony of sending the three German chickens to their
eternal hen-coop did not take ten minutes. As each bird fell to its
death, the entire valley resounded with wild cheering; and when the last
foe fell, the cheering wave of sound was followed by a tiger in the
shape of a volley from every rifle--in fact, everything that would
shoot, except the big guns.

Our bird then executed his stunt of victory, looping the loop several
times over Fritzie's trenches, and the spirit of Fritz was amply
exemplified by the thousand times ten thousand shots which were leveled
at the air king to bring him down. He bore a charmed life; although his
plane was perforated with machine-gun bullets, none touched a vital
spot.

But, suddenly, from out the clouds swooped a German swallow in a
frenzied attack to retrieve the disgrace. He had all the advantage of
position, and a great fear filled my heart that our champion might not
long enjoy the fruits of his victory. However, when about 400 yards
above our bird, our watchful boys at the Archee guns (the anti-aircraft
guns, so nicknamed because of their peculiar explosive sound) opened on
him, and with the third shot, off flopped his fish tail. He dove in a
wabble to the ground and, in his descent, his petrol tank was struck by
one of our explosive bullets. When it reached the ground in No Man's
Land, it was a mass of flames.

For seven days, every hour of the night and day, the mighty chorus of
1400 batteries rose and swelled unceasingly in a vast concourse of
sound.

Promptly at ten minutes past five, on the morning of the seventh day,
the word having passed from end to end of the lines, the men were up and
over. A mine that had been prepared in the Ridge by our engineers was
exploded, the shock rocking every German trench in the valley, killing
several thousand men and wounding twice as many more. The first and
second lines were taken without any trouble, and over we went into the
third. Some opposition was here met, but quickly overcome. The program
was repeated until the entire six lines of German trenches were in
Canadian hands, and late in the afternoon we were masters of the Ridge.

The personal comfort to the men taking a stroll through the streets of
Arras, after the Ridge was in our possession, had to be seen to be
appreciated. Heretofore such a thing as a pleasure walk or shopping tour
was out of the question, as the sniping was continuous, and the only way
now for Fritz to snipe the town was with his heavy naval pieces, six or
seven miles off, and as these visitors are a hundred times scarcer than
the callers from the short range boys, the peace and quiet of our
fellows were correspondingly increased one hundred fold.

No need now was there to hide our work in and around the coal mines, the
precious element being taken out of the bowels of bountiful nature in as
large abundance as was required; our hungry guns can now be supplied
with all the grub they require in any hour of the twenty-four; our wagon
lines moved forward behind the Ridge to a place of perfect security;
several army corps were released for service in other parts of the
lines, and the city of Lens, honeycombed with German soldiers, is
practically bottled up, they not daring to retreat, and it being
impossible for them to advance. But the over-weaning advantage of this
movement and the reduction of this obstacle is the tremendous impetus
that will be given our forces when the waves of the great drive that is
in contemplation sweep the gray-clad hordes of Huns from the land of
Sunny France. From a military point of view, it can be stated that our
success here was of far-reaching importance.



CHAPTER XVIII

BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY


I spent the two nights following at the wagon lines, taking a
much-needed rest, and after my first night's sleep there I sought out a
spot in a grassy nook, as far away from the road and bustle of the lines
as I could safely go, and lay at full length on the green sward; I felt
as if I wanted to lie there forever, without even exerting myself to
think. As the sun was setting, I awoke from my day dream, and my stomach
felt the call of the cookhouse.

On the day following, one of my chums, Mulhall and myself were ordered
to go to the line, gathering up the horses that were wounded or had
fallen out through exhaustion. Our errand of mercy to the dumb animals
had to be done on horseback, and, with the roads still under
observation, it was dangerous for more than two men to go together.

We corralled several of the poor beasts, and their condition of
suffering in many instances smote me with a kind of remorse; I couldn't
help feeling that we humans were responsible for the pain and misery of
these most useful animals that bounteous nature had put upon earth for
our comfort and help. We placed them in the ruins of a barn, made them
as comfortable as we could, and left them with a supply of water; for
feed they had to wait.

It is with much pleasure that I can commend the splendid work in
connection with caring for these wounded and sick horses that is being
done at the front by the societies organized for that purpose. The
amount of suffering alleviated in this, the noblest animal of all, would
be ample justification for the work done; but the economic advantage
derived in addition makes the object of the societies most worthy in
character. Two of the horses that were only slightly wounded I pulled to
the line, and as they were inclined to lie down at every step of the
way, the condition of my arms when I reached my destination may be
imagined; every nerve and muscle from the shoulder down was aching.

When we got to the line, Fritz was retaliating on the Ridge and a heavy
bombardment was in progress; our guns were vigorously answering, and
over we ran to the gun pit, getting into the game with both feet. After
an hour's hard drubbing, I took occasion to step over and see a man
whose friendship I had never ceased to curry--the cook, and I was just
swallowing the first mouthful of the fruits of my friendship when my joy
was rudely interrupted by an orderly.--"The Major wants to see you,
Grant." Over I went, wondering what was up, and ransacking my noodle for
some breach of discipline of which I might have been guilty.

"Did you want to see me, sir?"

"Yes, Grant," smiled the Major; two officers were standing by and they
beamed on me in a fashion that made me think my future mother-in-law had
gone on a long journey. "Listen carefully, Grant," said the Major, as he
started to read something. I paid strict attention and I could scarcely
believe my ears as the true import of the communication commenced to
dawn upon me;--the G.O.C. had granted me a furlough and I was instructed
to return to Canada immediately on a three-months' leave of absence. I
was walking on air for a few minutes, and it was quite some little time
before I could make myself really believe I wasn't dreaming.

I lost no time in bidding my pals good-bye, and when I had convinced
them that it was an actual fact, the gun Sergeant said, "Fellows,
Grant's going; we'll give him the best we've got; ten rounds of gun
fire. Ready! Fire!" and ten ear-drum splitters clove the air. I had no
cotton in my ears and the effects of that farewell stayed with me
several minutes after I left. I then went to say good-bye to the man
whose friendship I had always nursed, my good friend the cook. He urged
me to wait while he fixed me up the feed of my life, as he expressed it,
and you can understand the state of my feelings when I tell you that I
refused his bounty. I never did such a thing in my life!

I turned to go and found myself face to face with the Major. "What the
hell are you hanging around here for? Didn't I tell you to beat it to
the wagon lines before you got hit? Do you think your horseshoe luck is
going to stay with you forever? While you have got your furlough in your
hand, beat it!"

I hastened my steps. On the way I passed the burial party who were
laying to their last rest the men who had fallen the night before, and
as I glanced at the faces of the boys who would never again see their
beloved Canadian homes, tears, for the first time in many long months,
welled up into my eyes.

I doubled from there to a battery in the rear to say farewell to my
cousin Hughie, and while going from pit to pit in his battery, looking
for him, the guns were speaking as fast as they could, and retaliation
from Germany was blasting its way through the air. Right at this moment
the Major's warning was most beautifully exemplified; a splinter struck
me in the cheek, flooring me and knocking out two teeth in the upper
left jaw. When I recovered my balance, the diligence I exercised in
getting away from the scene of activity would have satisfied even the
Major; besides, I was doubly anxious that he should not know of my
mishap, as he would be bound to twit me unmercifully.

Holding my jaw, I made my way carefully to one of the horses I had
brought up, mounted, and kicked the poor brute in the ribs every step of
the way back to the wagon line. My feelings of sympathy for the animal
were completely submerged in the feeling in my jaw, my haste to get to a
dressing station, and home. For fear it would reach the Major's ears, I
told the doctor at the dressing station that the horse had kicked me. He
washed and dressed it with a bandage, but just before getting to the
wagon lines I removed it.

Here I had another hard time convincing the fellows that I was off for
home, but when they saw me go to the paymaster and draw 50 francs, they
were constrained to believe that there must be something in it, and I
was the recipient of hearty congratulations and well wishes. Forty of
the francs went for champagne and eats; I felt that this might be the
last time I would have the opportunity to enjoy the company of many of
them.

I departed next morning in the mess cart, and just before leaving I had
another send-off;--the entire wagon lines paraded and gave me a parting
cheer. Again the tears!

I arrived at Béthune, boarded a French civilian train and traveled for
five hours, reaching a junction point where, in company with a number of
wounded men who were able to walk, I boarded a box car.

The train was traveling at a funereal pace and the weather turned
sharply cold; neither the wounded nor the well men, with one exception,
had any blankets; the exception had seven blankets that he monopolized,
refusing to share an inch of them with anyone. Such unparalleled
hoggishness and meanness never went unpunished at the front, and I
resolved that he would be no exception to the rule. In order to take the
chill off ourselves, we jumped off the train every chance we got,
gathering up some coal, until we had accumulated enough to make a
fair-sized fire, which we kindled on the floor of the car; it was
necessary to shove the burning coals here and there over the surface to
avoid burning a hole through it. At one point I noticed a horse-car
filled with straw bedding for the animals, and the train going here at a
snail's pace enabled me to jump off and chuck an armful of the straw
into our car; I did this with my friend of the blankets in mind. I threw
the damp straw on top of the live coals and in a few minutes or less the
car was filled with rank, reeking smoke that fairly made the eyes water.
Up jumped the blanket monopolist, rushed to the window for a breath of
air, and while inhaling the ozone I chucked his blankets out of the car
door. When he returned to his nest, which was a nest no longer, he swore
several swears, both large and small, but he was forced to fare like the
rest of us,--on the bare boards.

All this time the pain in my jaw was gradually getting worse. A
swelling had started and I was feeling a little the worse for wear.

It was morning when we reached Abbeville Station, where we were to wait
until night before being able to resume our journey. Here there was a
horrible mass of dead horses--about 500 in all--lying in the railroad
yards; they had died in the cars on the way back for treatment. It was a
fearsome sight.

In an hour or so my face was commencing to throb violently, and I hunted
up the nearest dressing station, which was a casualty clearing station,
and addressed myself to the nurse.

"What's the matter, Canada?" she asked, looking at my jaw.

"Why, I got hit, nurse."

"I can plainly see that, but what makes it that color? It looks like
gangrene! Come in and see the doctor."

He examined me and found there was a piece left sticking there; I would
have to be operated on at once, he said, and there was no time lost
getting down to business. He extracted a small splinter.

"See that this man is put to bed at once; gangrene has just started."

When I got off the table my face was so bound up in bandages that only
my nose and one eye were visible.

"Go to bed, now," said the nurse. "Oh, no, I can't," I said; "I have got
to leave at once."

"No, no, you mustn't do anything of the kind; you must go to bed at once
and have the closest care for some weeks." She fixed up a cot for me in
the station and I went to bed. After lying there for three hours I asked
her if I might go up to the station and get my kit, that I had some
valuable souvenirs I didn't want to lose, and that I would like to
present her with some of them. She let me go, and at the station I saw
some box cars going through. Grabbing my kit, I slung myself aboard and
reached a station by nightfall, where I got off and waited for the
through train, which finally came along. The fellows on board with whom
I had become acquainted on the way down, told me the hospital orderly
was searching for me high and low.

After another wearisome day aboard those unspeakable box-cars, I reached
the base. My jaw, although not throbbing so fiercely, was still
painfully troublesome, and I sought out one of the hospitals and had to
swallow the unwelcome news that the condition of my face was such that
it would be necessary to luxuriate in a hospital bed for a week or ten
days, which I did.

The kindness of the nurses was beyond praise, and the efforts for the
wounded men left nothing to be desired; there was absolutely every
provision for the health and well-being of the men. The wonderful
organization of the British Red Cross and its workings in this war will
go down through the pages of history as the one spot in the nation's
management of the campaign that is absolutely flawless.

At the end of ten days I was permitted to leave the hospital, with the
understanding that I would take good care of myself and report daily for
dressing. I then went to the Y.M.C.A., making my home there for three or
four days, and here, also the treatment accorded me was most
praiseworthy; the provision made for the men's recreation will remain a
lasting tribute to this most beneficial organization.

I left the boys for England, embarking on board ship at 5:00 o'clock in
the evening, leaving about an hour later. On the way over submarines
were reported in the channel, but my horseshoe luck was still with me,
and I made the tight little isle in safety next morning. I arrived at
Southampton the latter part of May. My first errand in England was to
report to the O.C. at Camp Shorncliffe. Then I made haste to look up my
brother Billy, who was in the hospital 200 miles away. On my way to the
camp I happened to meet a pal of Billy's, and was delighted to learn
that he was well and out of hospital, fully recovered from his wound in
the thigh, and in a few minutes' time we were gripping hands.

I never before realized the large measure of affection in our hearts for
each other as I did on that morning. It seemed as if we had both been
through the Valley of the Shadow and had been led safely through by an
all-wise and bountiful Father.

In due time I embarked at Liverpool, on board the Mistress of the Seas,
the S.S. _Olympic_, the largest passenger boat afloat. For three days we
lay in the channel, awaiting our escort, four torpedo boat destroyers,
and, finally, as the wheel of the mighty leviathan commenced churning
the waters, I knew we were really off for home!

In starting, we followed the course mapped out for us by three or four
of the little channel pilot boats that threaded their way through the
maize of mines placed in the water there, and by night time we were on
the bosom of the Atlantic.

The following day was quiet, nothing happened to interrupt the usual
monotony of an ocean voyage, but that night at 9:15 the ship from stem
to stern was thrown into a turmoil of excitement by the firing of a gun
and the terrifying word--"Submarine!" The boat was darkened, not a light
showing, and everyone was rushing from their cabins in a mad state for
life belts, utterly ignoring the rigid command not to leave their
portholes open and expose the lights of the vessel. It was worse than
confusion confounded!

I had been appointed one of provo N.C.O.'s, and my duty was to see that
everybody was supplied with a lifebelt, wear it at all times except when
going to bed, and then they were ordered to have them at hand in case of
emergency. Although some of the people obeyed the instructions to the
letter, even going so far as to sleep in them, many others neglected the
order.

Some idea of the sense of responsibility on the Captain and his crew can
be had when I state that 1400 women and children on board were in his
absolute care and keeping. Everything possible was done to calm the
frantic people; nothing could convince them that that single shot had
sunk the sub. But so indeed it was! The steady nerve and unfailing aim
of the gunner had done the trick, and there was no more danger to be
feared from that particular snake of the sea. The gunner was an old
man-o'-war's man and was completely overwhelmed by the grateful and
heartfelt thanks of the passengers, he, in his native modesty,
apparently thinking he hadn't done any more than he ought to have
done,--which indeed was very true. But if he had missed!

There was only one sad mishap throughout the entire excitement. A woman,
losing her head and trying to climb into a lifeboat, before she was
ordered to do so, and carrying her baby in her arms at the time, as she
was clambering up the rail of the vessel to get into the boat, let her
baby slip from her arms into the dark waters below. With a frenzied
scream, she seemed as if about to throw herself after her little one,
but strong hands caught her and prevented.

In spite of the watchful eyes of the four escorts plowing along at each
corner of the vessel, and signaling constantly, never for a moment
during the time we were in the submarine zone did the ship cease its
zigzagging course, and lookouts were stationed on every point of the
boat from which observations could be had.

The trip was made in perfect safety and I arrived in Halifax, Nova
Scotia, five and a half days from the time I left Liverpool.

At last I was on the train for home! I commenced to count the minutes on
the last lap of my journey, and no blushing young girl, making her
début, was any more excited than I was when the iron horse choo-chooed
into the station at Ottawa two days later. As fast as a taxi could make
the trip without violating the rigors of the law against speeding, I
dashed homeward. I had sent no word ahead to my people, as I wanted to
give them a complete surprise and I succeeded most admirably, my
favorite sister fainting as I entered the door.





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