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Title: Norman Ten Hundred - A Record of the 1st (Service) Bn. Royal Guernsey Light Infantry
Author: Blicq, A. Stanley
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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Transcriber's note:

      A Table of Contents, not present in the original, was
      added for the convenience of the reader.



NORMAN TEN HUNDRED

by

A. STANLEY BLICQ.

A Record of the ----
1st (Service) Bn.
Royal Guernsey Light Infantry



Guernsey:
Printed at The Guernsey Press Co., Ltd.,
Smith Street and Le Marchant Street.
1920.



       This modest work is dedicated to:

               Mrs. P. EREAUX,

     in appreciation of her genial personality,
     strong moral courage and unhesitating
     adherence to duty as she conceived it.

       And also to:

           GEORGE W. CLARKE, Esq.,

     in memory of those Great Days when
     we marched the Long Trail together;
     shared the same sorrows, the same
     mirth;--and now the same memories, far away,
     indistinct; laughter merged with the
     tears.
                       A. STANLEY BLICQ.
       Guernsey, 1920.



NORMAN TEN HUNDRED.

A BATTALION OF THE OLDEST AND SMALLEST
DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD.

Guernsey--named Sarnia by the Romans--one of the Channel Isles from
out the sun swathed romance of whose shores rallied a fierce band
of Norman warriors to the aid of their Duke, William of Normandy;
afterwards the Conqueror, at Hastings, 1066. In reward for their
valour William granted the Isles the independence they maintain to
this day. From Guernsey something approaching 7,000 men have gone
out into the Great Undertaking. The Norman Ten Hundred is the 1st
Royal Guernsey Light Infantry offered by the States of Guernsey for
active participation side by side with the Mother Country's troops
in any of the fighting areas. The narrative is authentic.



CONTENTS

      I  SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER, 1917
     II  SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER, 1917           HENDECOURT
    III  NOVEMBER, 1917                    CAMBRAI REHEARSAL
     IV                                    MOVING UP
      V  NOVEMBER 20th, 1917               CAMBRAI OFFENSIVE
                                           THE ADVANCE
     VI                                    MARCOING--MASNIERES
    VII                                    HOLDING THE LINE
                                           MASNIERES
   VIII  NOVEMBER 30th-DECEMBER 1st, 1917  GERMAN ONSLAUGHT
     IX  DECEMBER-JANUARY, 1918            HOUVIN
      X  DECEMBER-JANUARY, 1918            FLERS--LE PARCQ--VERCHOCQ
     XI  DECEMBER-JANUARY, 1918            LEULENE--BRANDHOEK--YPRES
    XII                                    PASSCHENDAELE SECTOR
   XIII                                    PASSCHENDAELE SECTOR
                                           POPERINGHE--STEENVOORDE
                                              --BRANDHOEK
   XIV   MARCH-APRIL, 1918                 IN THE LINE
   XV    APRIL 10-14, 1918                 DOULIEU-ESTAIRES



NORMAN

TEN HUNDRED

By A. Stanley Blicq



I

SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER, 1917


Fed up! Every man of the Ten Hundred was fed up. Thirty-six hours cooped
in cattle trucks, thirty or forty in a truck and inhaling an atmosphere
that would have disgusted a pig--enough to feed anyone up.

The Belgian frontier was crossed at sunset and the fringe of war's
devastation penetrated. Little interest or casual comment was aroused,
although a reputable thirsty one remarked that he thought Jerry might
have spared the village pub.

The long line of dirty trucks stopped with an abrupt jerk and noisy
jarring of impact. Then it came! Grumbles ceased as if by common
consent. There was something indefinable but pregnant, and in tense
silence ears were strained intently. Was it only the rumble of a distant
cart on hard cobbles or...? Faintly over the damp air came a long,
insistent murmur. Hearts beat faster.... Guns!

Northward and then West the train panted up a slight grade, made a wide
curve and then abruptly shut off steam. Long white tapering lights
sprang up from nowhere, wavered and hesitated over the sky; caught in
their glare a silvery bird and followed it across the night. Without
warning an anti-aircraft gun launched with a deafening roar its whining
shell heavenwards. Boom! In the sudden uproar Le Page fell off the
train, jerking his tin of bully beef into Clarke's shaving water. The
Jerry airman circled higher, dived again--and dropped his bomb, missing
the train by hundreds of yards. He had spotted the smoke belching from
the engine. Again he spiralled higher, slipped the converging net of
searchlights and escaped ... ugh! The Ten Hundred breathed a sigh of
relief.

Disembarkation from a train at a point a few miles in the rear of the
Front Line always tends to put the wind up you. The mental survey of a
thousand men en bloc conveys immediately to the mind what an obvious and
unmistakable target a battalion forms. Eyes apprehensively search the
sky for the danger that each one knows lurks somewhere up there in that
black pall, the darker by contrast with the brilliant spearheads of
light searching to and fro.

And of course in such windy moments the order to march off is delayed.
Then when you ARE well on your way you wish you were not, for there is
an unutterable weariness in those marches to bivouacs amid dead silence
from end to end of the ranks; only ever present on the ear that
unceasing booming of heavies or the nearer and unpleasant kr-ru-up of a
not-far-distant German shell. Worn, sadly worn, beneath the staggering
weight of packs on aching shoulders, where chafed skin smarts under the
straps, head bent forward and downwards, one cared little for direction.
Onward, always onward, feet burning with heavy going in clogging Belgian
mud.... Sleep, one longs to lie down there and then to sleep, anyhow,
anywhere!

Bivouacs are under the best of circumstances mere makeshifts. "Stoke
Camp"--CAMP! The irony of it--was on a par with the average. Here and
there a scattered tent, here and there a sheet or two of oilcloth, and
everywhere an abundance of water.

Still it was a haven of rest. Men filed tiredly by in Companies, sorted
themselves out, and cast down packs; boots were jerked off anyhow,
rifles stacked. Each man wrapped around him that old and trusty
friend--his overcoat, heads rested on the hard packs ... doze and
dream....

Three headquarters scouts are turned out for guard!

Two hours swinging up and down, then four hours sleep: and then ... the
mind of the overworn first sentry sickens. Again and again over the
muddy uneven strip, watching fascinated the weird, mad shadows cast in
gaunt trees from a perpetual red glow eastwards. From amid the bivouacs
a lad cries fitfully in his uneasy sleep; a hardy few can be seen by the
glow of cigarettes sitting beneath a solitary tarpaulin.

From the distance something high in the heavens hummed softly the while
here and there far-off searchlights twinkled, one after another picking
up the trail until the whole sky was ablaze with wavering shafts of
light. The murmuring grew to a roar, accompanied by a deafening din of
an Archie (anti-aircraft) barrage and the unceasing rattle of machine
guns.

The enemy 'plane became visible, its sinister cross plainly discernible,
and dived. The sentry heard something sizzle down and--a mighty flash
lit up the woods: the whole earth trembled violently beneath a fierce
concussion. The roar echoed and re-echoed, was followed by a continuous
shower of litter tearing or trickling down through the trees. Unnerving
cries rose from a score or more stampeding horses in the adjacent camp;
but the subtler human ear caught on the damp night breezes a sound that
froze the blood ... pitiful low sobs of men dying from the hot flying
shrapnel.

The Guernseys slept on as if nothing had happened. Therein lies the
strange psychological mystery of the human mind.... The bomb failed to
disturb; but a solitary shot from the sentry would have roused half the
Battalion and sent them seeking half-consciously for their rifles.

In the morning the news spread rapidly. In it they found occasion to
accentuate a grousing born of the damp, uncheering vista around them.

"Bombed in the train, bombed first night up 'ere," said Ginger, "grub
late, no water to wash in; no baccy, no matches--only a blasted ole
rifle wot's gone too rusty to clean."

Washing WAS a complex problem, involving choice between half-a-mile's
walk to a doubtful pool or a canteen full (about a pint and a half) of
water obtained from a muddy puddle in the roadway. The latter method
requiring a minimum of physical exertion was by far the more popular and
each tin of valued water underwent utilisation to its very extreme
limits, i.e., until reduced to something approaching a soup.

There are always days when the Ten Hundred arouse within themselves by
their own exertions a shy, deep pride of their Regiment. It is a
characteristic happy knack of the boys to give their very best during
parades before the G.O.C., and that was undoubtedly a strong factor in
building up the Battalion's fame at Bourne Park.

They visibly and agreeably impressed the G.O.C., 29th Division, at their
initial appearance before him. Whether the Guernsey's exceptional
steadiness solicits approval, or if the rapid rhythmical movements in
handling arms--quicker than is customary with other regiments--pleases
the Official Eye cannot be accurately gauged. It is a concrete
certainty, however, that the unit composes an efficient, compact body
comparing very favourably with its contemporaries.

Fritz carried on his genial bombing expeditions night and day over the
surrounding district, thereby giving birth to defensive measures in the
form of an excavation inside each tent two feet in depth. Outside a wall
of similar height was constructed around the tent or bivouac--few have
the luxury of a tent. A degree of protection from flying shrapnel is
thereby obtained, unless, of course, Fritz registers a direct hit.

Miniature dug-out were cut down into the wet soil by the more
enterprising, but proved ghastly failures, even in the dry hours ... if
anything out there could be termed "dry." I doubt it, excepting the
thirst of a few reputables. Twenty-four hours' rain gave the most
ambitious dug-out an opportunity to demonstrate its exceptional
capability of receiving and RETAINING water. The scene presented in the
morning was unique.

A steel helmet sailed majestically behind an empty tin of bully, in turn
twirling by a pair of sunken boots. Clinging desperately to a few wet
sandbags, four marooned muddy individuals glared ferociously at the
interested onlookers and developed fearful vocal powers of emphasis that
shocked the genial enquirers who came in dozens to discover if: "A
rain-drop or two had trickled in."

The peculiarity of being bombed is such that a sense of personal
security takes a long while to outlive the insistent curiosity that
compels one to stare fascinated at the death above. An up-stretched neck
and straddle-legged attitude predominated--so did neck-ache.

White, during a raid, threw a stone upon Tubby's hat, causing the latter
to drop his mess-tin of dinner in hasty fright ... but the sight of the
stew sliding gracefully down White's blankets delighted the onlookers
and made "honours easy."

The Ten Hundred, of course, attempted to bring a Jerry down. Sergeant
Russel nightly pointed the muzzle of his Lewis-gun in the air and pulled
the trigger, in the hope perhaps that Fritz might inadvertently sail
into the track of his bullets. Unfortunately firing at so perpendicular
an angle caused the lead to fall into the adjacent infantry lines and
they--they returned the compliment, although neither Battalion inflicted
any "Blighty's" on the other.

Two Companies had to go up the line on a hazardous task. The twist of
the coin gave the honour to A. and D. And yet how forcible a factor was
that coin in deciding the unfathomable wherefore of existence. It was
thrown in the air; fell, wavered on edge, flattened out. And
implicitly, blindly obeying the indict conveyed from its face this or
that man passed from active, living phenomenon in the evolution of the
cosmic process to mere insensible matter.

Life, then, is chance, luck; to which no guiding factors, laws, or
binding principles can be adduced.

Before marching off from the bemudded "parade" ground we were fed up.
Constant rain had rendered an always muddy surface into a slimy
quagmire, in which every step forward was a conscious effort. There was
little singing in either Companies (A. and D.), during the short march
to the train conveying the party to near a shell-infested area where the
said party would partake of its outdoor picnic. "Party"--the ironical
humour of it!

Each lad was tired, wet, and hungry. Tempers easily ruffled. "Wot the
'ell do yer think year bumpin' into?" shouted Biffer at an unfortunate
who had side-slipped into him.

"Bumpin' into?" the other grunted, "nothing much by the look of it."
They glared at one another like fighting cats ... the contretemps
fizzled out; both were too tired to argue.

Disembarkation during the night in a blinding storm of rain that had
materially increased to a torrential downpour materially helped to damp
spirits already none too high. Bumping wildly into this figure or that,
slipping full-length into inches of water and thereby saturating what
little dry clothing that had remained so, they peered vainly into the
all absorbing blanket of night for the tents, bivouacs or shelters that
were not there. We have all had our minds permeated with a strong fear
of Hell.... After that night many will thank their stars that this abode
of ill-omen is HOT and therefore apparently DRY.

Each man was told to do the best for himself with a ground sheet. To
derive shelter in such a storm with a few feet of oilcloth, no props, no
light, is a task to which sweeping back the Atlantic with a toothbrush
is simple in comparison.

But they were up against it ... grumbles ceased. Someone by an
extraordinary stroke of luck stumbled upon an R.E. dump from which
sundry articles essential to the construction of shelters could be
filched. Filched must be emphasised, for therein lay the ulterior reason
for transformation from "fed-upity" to a genial anticipation of
forthcoming trouble. The C.R.E. in the morning would raise Hell when he
discovered half his dump appropriated and scattered by the Guernseys
over a wide area. The O.C.'s of A and D Companies would be hauled over
the coals.... There was the nucleus of the farce. The men pinched and
the officers stood the racket. The very thought sent the whole ranks
chuckling and up soared the high spirit barometer. There was, too, in
these repeated silent visits to the dump a possibility of discovery that
appealed to that venturesome spirit so characteristically a trait of the
Ten Hundred. They chuckled gleefully at each nefarious trip, almost
wished some interfering N.C.O. would appear from an R.E. depôt and
originate by his unpleasantries something of a rough house.

Shelters through which streams trickled were run up and the floors tiled
with a queer assortment of tins, empty cartridge cases and odd bits of
wood. Drenched to the very skin, shivering and sneezing with cold, they
gave no heed to the rain tattooing on their faces or to the enemy
shells. Within the rickety shelters damp figures, huddled together for
warmth, closed tired eyes and in utter weariness of limbs fell into a
fitful sleep.

Snatches of song, bursts of laughter, echoed here and there in the
night. Laughter! What on earth was there to laugh at? The wretched
improvised shelters on and into which rain crept, lashed earthwards by a
howling wind? The cold, chilly feet, clinging clothes and wet skin? Or
is there anything refreshingly humorous in the knowledge that Death
groped about in the night for his own ... found them? Is there a
mirth-provoking element in the ten to one chance that YOU may not see
the morrow?

All honour to you, Normans! From Valhalla, in his high seat with the
Anses, Rollo of old looked down on you with pride.

Langemarck, grim, windswept and desolate.

A few short weeks before it had by the flowing of British blood, by our
own Division, been wrenched from the German grasp. There is everywhere
about it an awesome sacredness. One hesitates to treat lightly over the
soil that belongs to those whose eyes were closed in the taking, and
whose warrior forms lie at rest beneath the pathetic white crosses
dotted over the gruesome waste. Those sad little emblems of Supreme
Sacrifice: "To the memory of a British Soldier." Simple but magnificent!
A farewell to some unknown--to some mother's son.

The first shell that scatters you in all direction, secretly feeling
yourself doubtfully all over, abruptly disperses any sentimentality that
may cling to the mind. The two Companies found it so when they marched
still further up the line and commenced work on two different sectors,
shelled--but comparatively lightly--for the first day or two.

The first line over-attacked in the mud, swept over Poelcapelle and
advanced on Passchendaele, pausing while the mobile artillery moved up
to support over roads that were daily filled in and rebuilt by fatigue
parties similar to the Guernseys. The German Headquarters concentrated
their guns upon the immediate British rear, with the intention of
hampering and impeding the movements of reinforcements and artillery.

The Guernseys got the cream of it. Ground was churned up for yards and
bodies buried weeks before were blown from their resting places,
grinning white and hideous at the sky. Work on the roads was one
perpetually interrupted operation, men ducking every few minutes to the
whine of a shell. Life was an unknown quantity--no man could gauge what
moments were still left him. Streams of wounded ran, hobbled or limped
painfully away from that sector of Hell. Artillery galloped steaming
horses through, sighing with relief upon attaining the other end.

There comes a time after his first baptism of fire, after his first view
of the shattered mutilated remnants of a shell-stricken body, that the
infantryman turns towards where invisible German guns from comparative
safety belch forth death, and shakes his impotent fist at this enemy. He
picks himself up, white and shaken, from where the concussion has thrown
him, and amid the cries of the dying, "Curse you," he sobs, "if ever the
chance comes----!"

A battery of R.F.A. within a few hundred yards of the road opened
salvoes lasting throughout every morning until the ears throbbed with
each successive roar and the earth trembled violently beneath the
6-in.'s concussion. Jerry airmen endeavouring to spot the gun-positions
swooped down unheard, pumping lead in heavy showers from machine-guns
upon the Guernseys and scattering them broadcast.

Pike stopped a "Blighty" with his foot, and Pleton, a shrapnel bullet
whistling clean through his chest, fell limply forward. Gas commenced,
coming over in shells ... in response to the alarm, respirators were
donned with an alacrity phenomenal in its hasty adjustment. De La Mare
discovered one of the eye-pieces missing. Holding his nose with one
hand, he spluttered: "Wa', wi' I do?" and instantly clapped his hand
over his mouth, jumping from one foot to another in apprehensive
uncertainty. From within every helmet choking bursts of laughter sounded
muffled on the air. The unfortunate lad held his breath until black in
the face, gasped in a frenzied intake of air, and gingerly felt himself.
Ultimately instructed to change into the P.H. helmet, he did so
nervously, succeeded, and sat down, inhaling deep breaths of relief.

"All Clear" was sounded, but from the moment he removed his mask and for
days afterwards he was the recipient of sly solicitations from a
chuckling platoon.

"I wonder why 'e was pullin' on 'is nose?" Le Page innocently inquired;
"ain't it long enough?"

"Dunno," Ginger replied; "p'raps 'e 'as chronic catarrh!"

Day followed day, bringing little change in the task. Casualties were
not exceptionally heavy, but the strenuous work and perpetual stress of
the nerves told on them. For there is no more nerve-shattering task than
to have to submit without active retaliation day after day to harassing
shell-fire. It is during this early initiating into a general
expectation of possible death that the young warrior has to conquer the
psychological instinct impressed with fear upon his imagination from
childhood that LIFE is his most valued asset, and must be safeguarded
before all things. And now his conception is revolutionised. He must
accept death as a daily possibility.

It is patent that dusk found them weary and worn, plodding and wading
silently "homewards," shovel on shoulder, across four or five kilos of
desolate mud; falling and tripping over stagnant bodies, masses of
tangled wire, bricks and jagged wood-work everywhere impeding progress.
And yet a consciousness of good work done reacted on their spirits. They
reflected contentedly of the meal awaiting, of their pipes, their sleep.

The inscrutable ways of Chance--Destiny, call it what you will--brought
about the greatest catastrophe that had so far obtained in the Guernsey
ranks. Major Davey moved his party over an area--at about 11 in the
morning of a warm, sunny Sunday--coming in for a spell of shelling
extraordinary in intensity. A labour unit retired because of the
exigencies of the precarious situation. Inflexible, the Normans carried
on, then--s-i-iz-z ... kr-rupp!

The leading platoon caught it in their very midst, a ghastly heap of
mangled flesh and shattered limbs were scattered to right and left. Two
unhappy lads were blown to unrecognisable fragments. No words can convey
the heart-rending cries of those whose bodies cringe and writhe from the
hell-hot agony of searing shrapnel. There is an unmistakable appeal for
pity that stirs the depth of feeling until a wild frenzy to right
matters sends Berserk passion to the brain. Oh, you German gunners in
your serene safety, if ever my chance comes...!

Thus the first of the Ten Hundred went over the Great Divide.

An order to retire was quietly obeyed. They marched back, some shaken,
some bleeding from minor wounds: bearing the stretcher cases and dead
with them. Some gazed eastwards, faces transfigured with impotent rage,
a few white faced boys stared hypnotised before them; but the remainder,
heads erect, looked grimly ahead ... they would not forget!

A day or so later the Normans came out. Cookie, black and grimy from
head to foot--the only condition in which he really felt at
home--prepared the removal of his cookers.

"I didn't 'alf 'ave the wind up," he confided me afterwards, "about that
there last dinner; becos, you see, a Jerry shell wot burst close chucked
a great chunk of mud into one of them cockers. Wot was I to do? Couldn't
throw away the grub ... didn't 'ave no more, so I just stirred it all
up. Anyhow," reflectively, "it made it thicker, and they sez it was
'tray bun.'"

And so they came away with out farewell glance across that tragic
countryside, lonely and desolate as if God-forsaken in its very
devastation. The eye took in the reflected light in a myriad pools, the
white crosses, sinister wire treking right away to where a few solitary
tree stumps stood up madly against the skyline. They thought with a pang
of those who slept the long last sleep in the clinging wet soil, whose
footsteps would no longer ring on the hard road in rythmic chorus with
the old Ten Hundred, whose voices would ne'er again swell the
Battalion's marching rallies....

Following a brief rest the 29th Division trained, from Poperinghe
southwards. The same weary cooping in cattle-trucks, same monotonous
crawl. And yet during a halt at Hazebrucke arose one of those moments
that live long in memory, when patriotism rises high in the breast. The
station was crowded with soldiers and civilians as the Guernseys' train
drew up in the cool, dusky evening light. Someone played a cornet: "The
long, long trail." From end to end of the train the Ten Hundred caught
it up and sang low in their soft southern accent. A hush fell on the
chattering onlookers, they turned and stared. The harmony enveloped
them, stirred them ... and we, ah, how the blood stirs even now. But the
memory saddens--for the voices of many are for ever still.



II

SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER, 1917

HENDECOURT


The mad rattle of strife in Belgium had throbbed on the ear-drums
incessantly day and night, but on the frontage beyond Hendecourt and
Arras little more than an occasional "Verey" light from the Fritz line
played hesitatingly on the grotesque landscape. Even the guns were
silent: the crack of a rifle-shot or far-off splutters from machine-guns
were the only sounds to mingle with the harsh jumbled tread of the Royal
Guernseys marching over cobbles and bad roads to the encampment of iron
huts.

The going from Beaumetz, through shell-shattered villages, by roads
twisting up and down long hills, commenced to tell on the men long
before the first halt was due. Breathing became, in many cases, long and
heavy; some stumbled blindly forward with heads strained down, and
others impotently cursed at the Higher Command for not calling a halt.
Sweat trickled over dust-begrimed countenances, feet were aching, the
tongue clove parched to the mouth, the pack ... oh, the utter hell of
it. And yet on the morrow you forgot!

On territory recaptured (during March, 1917) from Fritz and within a few
hundred yards of his original reserve line, still intact and heavily
protected with barbed wire, was the conglomeration of huts that formed
for nearly three weeks the home of the Ten Hundred.

The Infantryman sees far more of the trenches than of Rest Camps, and
therefore what precious days of absence from the joys of water-logged
dug-outs comes his way are seized upon and lived to the very full. The
Normans had not experienced very much--but they had had quite enough.
Ginger Le Ray, basking his fair unshaven features in the sun and
lovingly watching Lomar pulling at a fat (and dubious) cigar, aired the
Battalion's sentiments with: "This is orlright. Anything except
Paschendaele or my ole woman."

A Battalion offers widely divergent contrasts in the psychology of men
composing its ranks, and it is with the intention of bringing the reader
into intimate and personal touch with all these types of men that this
chapter is penned. Nick names are as common as daisies in the Army and
by this medium a large number of characters will be portrayed and the
fate awaiting each one later recorded. To those who imagine that Death
has set laws for claiming this or that type there will be ample
argumentative data--but this is a factor upon which no scientific
grounds can be used as a base for theories. Life is chance!

There are good, indifferent, and bad soldiers among the Normans. The
first can be disposed of briefly: They are never adrift, never for
Company Orders, always spotless and first on parade; perpetually shining
and exhibiting glistening buttons before the Company-Sergeant-Major in
vague hope of promotion. A detestable type, fortunately in the minority.
Of "indifferent" in the above sense but inordinately proud of their
Battalion on parade and who gave of their best when demanded, 80 per
cent. of the Norman element was formed.

And the bad! Dare devils and schemers of the deepest dye, ever on the
qui vive to dodge fatigues, caring not a brass button for the C.O.
himself. Martel, Leman, White, Evans. Good fellows all. Afraid of
nothing except hard work, shining-up and guards. Nebo, whose ankle when
its owner was nabbed for a working party, would twist beneath him and
features twisted in pain would murmur: "Can't--can't carry on." The Duo
(Blicq and Clarke), imperturbable and calm, had strong aversion to
exertion in any form. The appearance of a N.C.O. requiring "Four men for
fatigue." sent the two flying headlong for the doorway with a great show
of towels and soap. Always in trouble, they always wriggled out. Stumpy,
also, too tired to slip away, too tired to be anything but a hindrance
when they did put him on a job, but never too weary to eat a dinner not
his own. But to them all, good, indifferent or bad, the Battalion's name
and record came FIRST. To no unit, however famed, would they acknowledge
superiority and every General who reviewed them was unable to repress
appreciation of the outcome of this latent esprit de corps.

They tackled every Regiment in the Brigade at football and defeated one
and all, fought their way by sheer tenacity into the Brigade Cup
Final--and lost with good spirit.

Parades were few and light, sport compulsory. Moral and health were
excellent although the genial company of the leech-like post of active
service--lice--began to irritate some few and to send creepy sensations
down the spine of those who were still unblessed. The Duo scrubbed each
other daily in--a biscuit tin of water.

There were baths of course! You marched down in twenties to where a
"room" was screened from the eyes of those who were not there to see by
a bordering of sacking--this served also to "keep out" a shrieking cold
wind that played up and down your bare body with icy persistence, and
finally with a spiteful gust whisked away your solitary towel to the
skies and caused you to ponder how Adam warmed himself in a snowstorm.
To pass from this elaborate dressing-room to the actual torture-chamber
necessitated a short walk OUTSIDE--ugh! Once inside the twenty Spartans
waited for the water to be turned on them from the long spray pipes.
Sometimes this water froze your marrow, but generally it scorched away
the hair that should have been shaved off that morning. However,
splashing and blindly soaping each other you would be half-way through
the operations when steam was shut off with the order "clear out"--to
make way for another twenty animals. Thus, eyes clenched tight to omit
soap-suds, into the open again, a slip in the mud, and, forgetting,
abrupt opening of the eyes--how wonderfully expressive and voluminous is
our English tongue. Although I have heard a no more efficient flow of
useful blasphemy than Duport's vitriolic patois.

Rations were certainly plentiful--with the exception of bread, of which
one man's issue would not choke a winkle.

Breakfast was usually bacon or cheese and chah (tea)--the beverage
slightly tainted with sugar; although there is on record one memorable
occasion of exceptional sweetness of the drink--attributed to the fact
that cookie was startled by the shout of "Raid on," and in went the
whole bag--minus the quarter placed inside for himse--er, emergency.

Dinner, to-day, stew. To-morrow, stew, and the day after--stew! An awful
white concoction called rice went with it. Tea finds jam on the menu--on
your clothes too, because of a struggle with someone over disputed
possession of a pot that did not rightly belong to either. A 1 lb. jar
is shared among six--when it is not sixteen. Quantity and quality differ
frequently. The variety (Apple and Plum) NEVER. Supper, rice. Less
said....

Hendecourt proved a posh camp; memories of it and of the men who laughed
the heavy days away are pleasant. The Army, despite the grousings that
rise steadily to Tommy's lips, is a fine institution, and those who have
emerged safely from the Great Undertaking cannot but look back with
regretful pleasure upon those great days of the open, of bonne
camaraderie, of willing sacrifice.

Nightly the 29th Divisional troupe performed before an over-crowded
house of the most appreciative audience in the world. A cinema also
threw its ardent cowboy lovers and pig-tailed heroines upon a screen
whose far distant days may have been spotless and white. Tubby awaited
outside the "stage-door" for an hour to interview Tootsie (of the
Troupe) after the first night and found "she" wore Army boots, trousers,
and chewed plug.

Old theatre house of memory! There on Sunday row on row of mute khaki
forms bowed together in unspoken player or sang with quiet, earnest
harmony the hymn that tells home every time on the rough warriors'
heart: "Holy Father, in Thy keeping ... hear our anxious prayer," etc.
God, how they sang it! Some knew, perhaps, what awaited.

The short November days sent the mud-clogged lads into their huts with
the last pale glimmer of a weakly sun. Constructed of sloping corrugated
iron, in which no outlet for fire-smoke had been cut, these huts were
lined at the top with some substance of felt and through which the rain
trickled into puddles and miniature lakes on the ground floor. Clarke
had adjusted a tin like a sword of Damocles over his bed to catch the
drops--and it certainly conveyed, after falling twice when full upon
Stumpy, an apprehension akin to that wrought by the weapon. Over one of
these puddles near--TOO near--his bed Ginger was wont to sit with
melancholy mien, a rifle held out before him and from the muzzle a
string hanging over the water with a mess-tin attached.

"Wot's doin', Gin?"

"Fishin'."

"What for?"

"Me ticket!" (Discharge).

Braziers were rampant in every Company, swelling and overflowing
throughout the entire hutments in belching clouds of noxious smoke that
permeated an atmosphere impenetrable by human eyes with an odour of
smouldering wood, empty milk-tins and tobacco. Those nights!

Those nights of song and laughter, of anticipations, hope, and the
yearning for LIFE: of long-drawn-out confabs over the glowing embers of
a red-hot brazier, the crimson glow shining upon faces that showed so
little of aches, fears, longings, masked behind the curling smoke from
screening pipes. Silence fall oft-times upon the khaki figures clustered
round the genial warmth. Each man to his own dire thoughts ... home,
wife, or girl.

Tucked within blankets, heads propped on hands, pipes and cigarettes
going, they peered with unseeing eyes into the mad crackle of burning
timber. Softly would the melody of a song be hummed, caught up by chorus
and wafted out into the indigo mystery of the night. Quiet for a few
minutes, an occasional snore and then sure as fate a last parting shot
from the Duo.

No. 1: "No one knows."

No. 2: "No--and the impossibility--"

No. 1: "Yes. Yet they must. If not, how do they exist?"

Pause and a soft chuckle.

No. 2: "Of course they have. Yet the agony--."

Curiosity overcoming the remainder a series of questions popped up.
"What is impossible?", "Why must who?", "What agony?"

No. 1: "You see, no one knows?"

Exasperated chorus: "Knows what?"

No. 1: "Why, if flies have toothache."

And then oblivion claims into its own soundless peace the outstretched
forms of rough warriors and removes them from grim reality into the
passing realms of a fantastic dream--Arcadia.

Mail days are pleasant. Excited anticipation for your name as each
parcel or letter is read out, dull disappointment if your issue is
napoo.

Parcels. Oxo cubes, of course. Utilised because of adhesive qualities
for throwing at a target as darts. Café au lait, a useful preparation
for spreading on bread in lieu of posie (jam) that has mysteriously
evaporated. A pair of silk socks, purple with gold spots. Will come in
useful as a rifle rag. A long, wide woolly article resembling a cross
between a scarf and a blanket ... do as a pillow. A large cake, two
packets of chocolate and fifty fags. Hum, won't go far among ten. A pot
of jam--go fine on the cake or may tackle it with a spoon. And a brief
note hidden away at the bottom--"For my boy."

God, how it hurt. What surging memories of a mother's love, of a
mother's eternal tender care, swarmed up mistily before the eyes.
Secretly, half-ashamedly, are such missives carefully put away. The mind
vividly pictures the animated packing by willing hands in the humble
homestead--a lump forces its way into the throat. But WAR is WAR and in
it sentiment has no place.



III

CAMBRAI REHEARSALS

NOVEMBER, 1917


Uproar was rampant in one of D. Company's huts. Mingled laughter and
arguments formed the base of a volume of sound materially assisted in
high note effect by the banging of spoons on mess tins.

"An' now listen agin," said Tich, commanding and obtaining silence by
turning over his "Press", "some more exemptions. Just listen to this
'ere summary. Six months' renewable. Six months 'ere again. An''ere's a
poor blighter wots only got three months. Wot ARE the Tribunals doin' to
give 'im so short a time before 'e goes to the cruel wars?" He paused to
join in the ironical outburst that ensued and continued at the top of
his lungs: "There are twenty cases 'ere an' eighteen of 'em 'as some
more extensions. I ask you, boys, are they playin' fair to us at 'ome?"

"No! No! No!" in mighty chorus.

"But do we want them chaps out 'ere?"

"No!"

"They would disgrace the Bat.?"

"Yes!"

"Becos they ain't got any guts in 'em?"

"No!"

One of the two Guernsey scouts from Headquarters pushed open the door
and in the general pause said:

"Heard the latest?"

"Now, no funny games," Tich ejaculated.

"Not at all. We're going up the line again."

"Oh, 'ell," said Nabo, "wot for?"

"Stunt. Another Big Push."

"Oh, 'ell," repeated Nabo; "'ere, scout, goin' back to H.Q.?"

"Yes."

"Then tell 'em I'm indisposed--ain't 'ad a long enough rest yet. An',
'ere, lets 'ave a fag. Wot with that there news and my bad 'eart for
war...."

Nothing is left to chance in the offensive movements undertaken by that
unparalleled fighting mechanism disposed of in two words: British Army.
In following out the general scheme of perfecting every minor detail,
the Cambrai attack had more than its share of elaborate preparation.
Beyond the fact that a "Push" was to be inaugurated upon an entirely new
and experimental form of advance, nothing was disclosed even to the men.
The utter importance of maintaining absolute secrecy of this meagre
information was earnestly reiterated. The slightest inkling of the
impending intentions escaping to Fritz would have cast upon the troops
engaged a disaster perhaps unequalled in the annuals of even this
Armaggedon.

Following customary procedure the offensive was rehearsed mile for mile
even as in the actual undertaking; aeroplanes being allotted to
Divisions for scouting and observation.

The whole cycle of operations outlined by the G.H.Q. can be briefly
summarised as follows: The entire movement of troops, guns, and tanks by
NIGHT and to remain under cover from enemy 'planes during daylight. An
abrupt massing on a nine-mile front of the engaging force during the
night prior to launching of tanks and infantry. A furious bombardment
would be opened by artillery at daybreak. Three tanks per Battalion
moving forward would crush gaps in the enemy barbed wire through which
advancing lines of infantry would pour into the Fritz trenches. The
forward movement throughout the day to be carried on in relays of three
Divisions, the final Division attaining and digging in as its objective.
The Ten Hundred, forming the place of honour on the left flank of the
29th Division had to carry an objective situated, of all difficult
places, on the crest of a long rise in the ground--Nine Wood.

At Brigade Headquarters a huge map was built on the ground complete to
the most minute of details. From aero photographs the entire area,
confined to the activities of the 86th was plainly portrayed for
inspection and explanation to the Platoons. Fritz trenches, wire,
observation posts, lines of support and communication; the rise and fall
of the ground; villages; were all emphasised upon until Tommy became to
a certain degree familiar with the ground over which Fritz had to be
bundled back five miles in one day. Points where, possibly, a stubborn
resistance might be offered were indicated and the advisability of
AVOIDING open breaks in enemy wire constantly reiterated. (Obviously, if
openings are voluntarily left here and there in the second line of wire,
to one cogent factor only can such procedure be attributed, i.e., men
will for preference make in a body for a clear passage and machine guns
trained from the rear into these breaches would account for a hundred or
so casualties before the men realised a trap.)

To merely undertake an offensive "on paper" only would be fatuous.
Actual rehearsal over country as similar as possible to the original has
to be carried out; villages and towns having to be "imagined" on the
training area in the very position they filled on the actual territory.

Tanks were to be used on a scale calculated to put the wind up whatever
enemy units held that sector. Approximately three hundred of these
cumbersome but doughty caterpillars were to line up on a nine-mile
frontage. They would be "first over the top"--in itself a life-saving
factor that, had it been adopted earlier in the war, would have by a
large percentage reduced the British casualty roll.

The manner in which they would precede the infantry from zero (the hour
at which the advance is timed to begin) was practised over an old
stretch of trenches and wiring; infantry partaking in the manoeuvre.

Throughout the Norman camp a stir of suppressed excitement and slightly
apprehensive anticipation was apparent during the three days' training,
in conjunction with the remainder of the 86th Brigade, for the big
stunt. They rapidly grasped, after a hitch during the first day, what
was required of them, attaining on the completion of the rehearsals a
strong confidence in their powers to carry through their schedule.

They became conscious of an eagerness to try their mettle, to do
something "off their own bat." At the end of each day the Ten Hundred
swung in a long swaying column behind their band along the pavé roads
homewards. Company after company sending up defiant echoes with the
marching rallies peculiar to the Normans, they splashed noisily through
the almost interconnected line of puddles. Upright, fine, free fellows:
the very cream of Guernsey's manhood.

At night they were well content, after a late dinner, to crouch around
the glowing brazier and talk, while Biffer surreptiously was wont to fry
the bacon he had commandeered. His arch enemy--N.C.O.'s--invariably
endeavoured to trap him.

"Ere, you, where'd you get that bacon?"

"Bacon?" Biffer looked up with baby-like innocence. "'Ad it sent--ain't
'alf got a scent, too."

"Oh, an' that piece yesterday was sent, too, I s'pose?"

"Yes, same animal. 'E's got pink eyes."

"Wot, the pig?"

"Course--think you get bacon off a canary? Want a bit?"

"Well (mollified), only fat left, I s'pose?"

"No--only rind. 'Ere you are."



IV

MOVING UP


Ten Hundred men stood faintly outlined in the purple pall of a starless
night. Stripped to the very essentials of a battle--"Fighting Order" but
carrying the valise on the shoulders and the haversack by the side.
Steel helmets, gas masks and one hundred and seventy rounds of
ammunition per man; no overcoats; no blankets; simply the rough, furry
wolf-skin jacket for protection o' nights. Hoarse orders broke
grotesquely on the damp air.

"Move to the right in fours ... right----!" By Companies the Normans
moved away; glancing for the last time upon the dark bulk of old
Hendecourt.

The Undertaking had begun.

They halted a few hours later in the semi-darkness of a siding where a
great conglomeration of every corps stood leaning on rifles, awaiting
instructions to board one of the grinding, jarring lines of trains that,
shunting to and fro, emitted ghostly columns of white smoke high into
the darkened heavens.

The Normans boarded their train, tumbling clumsily one into another over
the dirty, evil-smelling floors of the cattle-trucks. Striking of
matches and smoking were forbidden ... a babel of confusion and curses
ensued while they sorted themselves out. It was impossible to wreak
vengeance on the man who inadvertently placed his boot in your eye ...
to turn abruptly in his direction would bring some other lad's rifle in
your teeth. Sit tight and hold tight!

The Duo, with the scouts from other Battalions, attached Brigade
Headquarters, succeeded in forcing their way into a genuine railway
carriage--trust them! Almost immediately they were up to mischief.
Having scrounged a tin of pork and beans they wanted to cook it. And
cook it they did, despite orders re lights. A foot of rag was wrapped
around a candle stump, placed in a tin (this paraphernalia they carried
everywhere) and lit. For twenty minutes the "maconichie" boiled, and
they then blew out the smouldering grease-saturated rag. The carriage
was fitted with FASTENED windows and a icor of smouldering candle-rag
with no outlet! The occupants were literally gassed. Coughing,
spluttering, they almost choked.

"Phew," gasped Clarke, waving at the fumes, "it's aw-aw-awful." The
other partner of the Duo could stand it no longer. Grasping his rifle he
pushed it through the window. Crash! Then he laughed.

"Anybody want, want any beans?" he chuckled.

"Eat it, phew, yer bloomin' self."

"Ugh, not now after that--er--aroma." He threw the tin through the
broken pane and added piously, "hope it hits someone."

PERONNE! To march after detraining during the morning along its deserted
streets, to gaze on the devastation of its large buildings, sent the
mind wandering over the past. Peronne: this was the town from which
Fritz had retreated "according to plan"; this was the goal towards which
the British had gazed undismayed through the black months of slow
progress, infinite hardship, and fast-flowing blood. But to-day the
khaki tread rang firm on its roads. They who had gone before had made
easy the way, and you, who were carrying it on eastwards, ever eastward.
The knowledge stirred something within you and you were glad.

The Ten Hundred swung out of the "suburbs" up the long incline of Mount
St. Quentin, travelled a few hundred yards along the crest and came to
a halt near a line of tents. At no point in the sky was there any
indication of enemy airmen, nor from the line did much rattle of distant
guns disturb the quiet of the day. From the concussion of some far-off
muffled explosion the earth trembled slightly; but these visitations, at
lengthy intervals, caused little comment. From 12 to 4.30 p.m. sleep was
compulsory. No man or N.C.O. was permitted to be seen outside his tent
or hut until dusk fell, and with it the command to fall in for the long
march northward to Equancourt.

Along one perpetual straight road, lined on either side with endless
rows of weird, sighing trees whose tops converged in faint outline
against the sky at an ever distant point; along one continual rough
surface of hard, slippery cobble paving an almost tail-less column of
marching troops, rumbling artillery and jingling transport crawled on
through the darkness. It went hard with the Normans that night. Night
and the silence, the mystery. Only the ring of many feet and the neigh
of a startled horse. On, ever onward to the Unknown that awaits. Aye.
Tommy, worn, rugged, rough Tommy, straining forward beneath the burden
that was yours--how little others know how staunch and true beat that
sturdy heart throbbing under its hard exterior. Step by step; left,
right, left; rigid and mechanical, controlled by a mind that ceased to
act and fell prey to wild fancies. You could hear them: the cooling
whispers of a sea upon your Sarnia's shore ... dear little country!
God's own Isle! Mental anguish and physical pain. And yet you came
up--smiling.

Monday passed quietly at Equancourt, although one or two Fritzy shells
bursting some few miles away with the unmistakeable kru-ump of his
heavies set the brain working and conjured up memories.

B. Company, without the customary O.C. (Captain Hutchinson, one of the
most popular officers among the men) of Company-Sergeant-Major "Tug"
Wilson (another splendid fellow) were temporarily under the command of a
Buff officer (Chapman). A., C. and D. commands were unchanged.
13 Platoon, so fictitiously unlucky(?), was probably the most "pally"
combination in the Battalion; both N.C.O.'s and men were on excellent
terms--especially with Sergt. T. Allez, one of the finest and most
courageous men in the Ten Hundred. Lieut. F. Arnold was in
command--another good fellow. This Platoon emerged with a very small
percentage of casualties.

Equancourt was disliked from the moment the Ten Hundred made the
disagreeable discovery that fatigues were rampant. Men began
to vanish in all directions. Mahy, doing the glide from one
Quarter-Master-Sergeant (the Q.M.S. is an individual who allots ten of
you to a one lb. loaf, and who endeavours to convince you that your
clothing issue must last for ever, and that you are far better rationed
than you deserve. P.S.--We are officially informed that there are no
Q.M.S.'s among the angels!)--to resume, Mahy did the gaby from one
exasperated Q.M.S. right into the yawning arms of another. An enormous
box was instantaneously bundled on to his shoulders, nearly bending him
double.

"You'd better be careful with that little lot," the N.C.O. advised.

"Why?" with a gasp.

"Becos (drily) it's full of bombs." The hair crinkled upwards into the
lad's steel helmet and he carried that box to its destination with all
the lavish care and tenderness of a mother for her babe. Placing it
gingerly down and unable to overcome the strong trait of inquisitiveness
latent in all soldiers, he forced up the lid and peeped upon--two heavy
sets of large transport waggon implements!

The march from Equancourt up to the "jumping off" point of the advance
was neither so long nor arduous as on the two previous nights. As mile
after mile was reeled off the incessant thunder of guns ten or twelve
miles northward became more and more distinct, but on the sector of the
line towards which the miles of marching columns were heading not a
sound disturbed the night from hour to hour. The rumble of that distant
artillery mingled with the jingle of unseen harness and the pad, pad, of
countless feet. Hazy starlight faintly lit up row upon row of men,
glinted dimly on brighter portions of the equipment and distinctly
silhouetted each breath on the damp night air. A tense, silent march:
nerves highly strung. A march to live long in memory.

Within five minutes of leaving the road for the downs there enveloped
you that indefinable sense that a fighting area has been entered.
Nothing could be seen, heard or felt, yet the proximity of trenches and
wire was frequently "scented," like the first approaches of a sea after
a long march inland.

Brigade Headquarters marched on--and with it the Duo--to where a long
line of duck-boards led into a line of wide trenches. The Ten Hundred
came to a halt in the immediate rear, received the order to lie
down--and waited.

A night of wondrous calm and quiet. Within one mile of a watchful foe
and not a sound. Once or twice a machine gun awoke wild echoes with
brief spluttering bursts ... in silence more acute for the interruption
hearts beat faster, hands tightened involuntarily about rifles.

Thus the young, full-blooded Normans awaited their first fray. Even as
the mighty Ragnar Lodbrok and his fierce men in mail launched merciless
onslaught with the breaking of day, so did Sarnia's young warriors look
eastward for the Dawn.



V

CAMBRAI OFFENSIVE

NOVEMBER 20th, 1917

THE ADVANCE


It was just after six in the morning of November 20, 1917, and the dew
lay thick on the soil. Men were quietly roused, rifles slung, and with
fast tattooing pulse paused for orders. First wave "over" stamped feet
impatiently in those interminable hours of waiting blended in what was
only a few short minutes; an almost frenzy of anxiety to get through the
waiting possessed them. Then the tanks, faintly outlined forms in the
grey light, moved ponderously forward.

A nerve-straining silence held momentary sway.

From point to point at a few yards' interval a milliard blinding flashes
of dull crimson flames leapt from out the gloom like one gigantic
sunset, casting sinister glares in ceaseless succession upon the heavy
mist. Roar upon roar, blending, echoing and re-echoing like unto the
roll of countless mighty drums, throbbed in one great deafening
crescendo. It was futile to count explosions: they all merged one into
another. But words are fatuously inadequate and convey little.

"Stand by." Your pipe is in your mouth, unlit, empty. You don't want to
smoke, really, but still ... the eye glances along the line of strained
white faces. Someone MUST go under; still, it might not be you. Anyhow,
if it is, funk will make no difference, so--one wild scramble over
the top, an almost imperceptible pause and then forward. A cry, a fall
here or there, and then on again. As in a dream you find yourself still
carrying on unhurt ... it's not so bad.

The Undertaking had commenced.

The Ten Hundred moved forward grouped in artillery formation, C., D.,
and B. Companies moving onward in that line from right to left; A.
Company and Battalion Headquarters followed in reserve.

The staggering surprise of the British attack completely shattered the
morale of what German elements were holding the sector. They surrendered
in twenties to the oncoming tanks and rapidly advancing lines of
infantry. Hun artillery started into frenzied action by this phenomenal
development commenced to hastily lob over an erratic series of shells.

The Normans, crossing a sunken road in column, fell again into correct
formation on the higher ground, progressed a few hundred yards beyond
what had an hour before constituted the Fritz front line, and halted.
Four light shells burst around and about the reserve Company; no one
stopped anything. One piece of iron crashed into a boulder near Le
Page's foot. He sprang a yard into the air and nearly put two men out of
mess with his bayonet. In the hot argument that ensued they almost
forgot that there was a war on and that the advance was moving on
without them.

A lad with half a leg hanging and placed by two bearers on a stretcher,
rose from a lying posture as the Royal Guernseys passed.

"'Ere, Guernseys," he hailed, "I was with you at Canterbury--Buffs. Jus'
got in the way of a Blighty. Anybody got a fag?" It was supplied and the
party moved on. About to descend into the sunken road the bearers
ducked to that fatal shell whine ... too late. Three blood-soaked
figures were visible through the lifting-smoke stretched inert on the
ground.

"If only 'e 'adn't stopped," muttered several hoarsely. Life is chance!

The first great onslaught of artillery fire slackened towards mid-day,
sharper crack of rifles and wicked splutter of machine guns becoming for
the first time noticeable. Enemy shells became fewer and fewer, his
power of resistance--weak from the opening--deteriorated to little more
than a rout. The prisoners were swelling an already long roll ... nine
or ten thousand on the nine-mile front.

Ribecourt, on the Normans' front, had fallen after a brief skirmish, the
German last line of defence reached and artillery support was still far
to the rear when the Ten Hundred, passing through the Division ahead,
took upon their own shoulders the responsibility to carry the Push
through its last two miles and to force the capitulation of Nine Wood,
now plainly visible at the top of the next long incline.

They went for it, hell for leather, in a long line of skirmishers. Their
rifles cracked with the rapidity that tells the marksmen--and they COULD
shoot. But Fritz would not have any. They did not like (those who had
time to look back on their record sprint) the nasty gleam of those
Norman bayonets. It was a soft thing; they moved onwards unchecked even
as during the rehearsal. Tanks ahead reached the hill-crest and stood
black and ugly against the sky; further to the right one was burning
with high leaping flames. The Normans panted up the slope, poured into
the two quarries in one bloodthirsty rush to find "nothing doing,"
scrambled out again, and reaching the Wood's edge calmly pushed their
way through with all the phlegm of veterans to their objective some
thirty yards beyond the last row of trees and commenced to dig in.
Someone spotted a sniper post, coolly stretched himself out on the
ground, muttered: "Three hundred yards," and squinted along the sights.
Ping, ping ... two bodies fell limp from a platform--up a leafy tree.
The Private slowly cut two notches on his rifle-butt.

Two black, charred figures grinned hideously from out of the smouldering
remains of a British aeroplane as the two Guernsey Brigade Scouts
hastened back to their Headquarters, to report the objective carried
with ONLY TEN CASUALTIES. Away by the narrow bridge above Marcoing one
living and three dead machine gunners were lying in a mangled heap.
Still further back a shattered lad, unable to move, stretched out right
in the track of an oncoming tank, shrieked frenziedly for succour ...
then abrupt silence as of a whistle shut off even while the eyes were
rivetted fascinated on the inexorable crushing machine. A ghastly heap
of tangled, mutilated bodies, unrecognisable as such except by the grey
German uniform, were lying beneath a tank blown in by a shell--the crew
huddled inside in a gruesome mass.

At the bottom of a hollow a grey-cloaked figure was bunched in that
strange posture bearing the hall-mark of fast approaching death. His
dull eyes filled with terror at the sound of my footsteps ... strange
ingrained knowledge of the Hunnish method of dealing with similar cases
pervaded his mind.

"It is--finish," he whispered pitifully in bad English.

"Where are you hit?" He shook his head slowly.

"It is finish," he reiterated weakly.

"Want anything--any water?"

"No." A battery of artillery rumbled noisily down the adjacent roadway.
His eyes brightened.

"You never win," he muttered, defiance strong in his tone. But one
glance took in those stoic mounted Britishers, five miles deep in the
enemy lines, yet unexcited, unmoved. Thus would they fall back thirty
leagues if need be, phlegmatic and unconcerned--knowing not when
defeated and therefore never beaten.

"I think we will if--"; but life had passed from out the other's tired
body. A rush of pity surged over one on looking into the pale boyish
face: eighteen, perhaps nineteen. Little grey, bloodstained German
warrior in the first flush of Youth: honour to you for the life you gave
your Fatherland; for the staunch patriotism so high in your breast. May
the Dawn into which you were ushered while a foe watched your passing
have great compensation.

Near the unscarred Crucifix a diminutive khaki figure, an inch or so
shorter than his rifle with bayonet fixed, stood peering haughtily from
beneath a steel helmet, several sizes too large, balanced on his ears.

"'Allo, Guernsey," he greeted, "what price my tame outangs?" indicating
a dozen grubby prisoners, "this one yere swallowed 'is false teeth wiv
fright an' this porker yere 'as got 'is knees out of joint wiv shaking."

"Why are they holding up their----?"

"Oh, becos I cut the braces. Even a prisoner won't run away if his
trousers are COMING DOWN. Nar then, Jerry--march. No comprene? Pushey
alongay roadie pour tootsie--see?" He, fag-end in mouth, helmet far on
the back of his head, rifle slung and hands in pocket, swaggered along
behind his "outangs" on their journey to the cages.

In Marcoing we of Brigade established comfortable Quarters with the
plentiful material Fritz had good naturedly (?) left behind for the
purpose. His blankets when you have none of your own are a decided
advantage. His jam, butter and potatoes were excellent eating, his
spring beds utilised especially for two German Staff Officers--made a
delightful sofa for two dirty, unshaven and grinning Tommies.

But his BREAD! Ye saints, the nightmare of that one rancid mouthful, not
three times the customary ration of rum could rinse out the flavour:
Martin, however, was of the opinion that another pint would do much to
save his life, and on being refused sadly observed that he could not
believe anyone could be so heartless....

     *       *       *       *       *

Drizzle, light during the afternoon, increased to a moderate downpour as
the Normans were digging, not the elaborate sandbagged trenches so very
familiar at home (and but little elsewhere), but mere shallow
excavations providing just sufficient cover for the body. An interesting
operation provided with a little mild excitement in the form of enemy
snipers, who, however, greatly assisted in the rapid and hurried
completion of the work. (N.B.--This undertaking in training required
half a morning!) Stumpy crawled up and down the line for a yard or two
in the vague hope that someone might have made a hole too large; nothing
doing, he started on one himself, grumbling audibly.

"That's it ... poor Tommy. Making a 'ole," pessimistically, "diggin' a
grave for his bloomin' self."

Normans gaze westward where the vague grey earth meets the overcast sky.
Five miles deep in less than twelve hours. The thrill of it--and what
you have you will HOLD.

With the coming of the night came the reaction. Wild excitement and vim
of victorious advance gave way for calm reflection and with it the
certain knowledge of counter-attack. They realised abruptly that they
were physically and mentally worn, the body clamoured madly for food and
drink, the mind for rest and sleep. Rain trickled incessantly down each
man's face and glistened in dusty beads upon foreheads, clothing at last
gave way to complete saturation, and water, collecting in pools until
over ankle deep, oozed slushily in and out of the eyelet holes.

Cold rapidly fastened its grip; dull agony pervaded the entire being
until nothing more than a mechanical row of figures staring tiredly out
upon No Man's Land, grasping rust-flaked rifles in numb, stiff hands.
Thinking not, caring not, moving not--only that uncertain stare into the
void. And over all the night, the wild shrieking of lost spirits in the
trees, the sharp crack of an occasional rifle or fitful bursts from the
poorly-timed enemy shrapnel.

Patrols were sent out into No Man's Land, groped blindly to and fro for
two hours and returned in the very last stage of complete exhaustion to
report "All Clear." Simple, is it not, to go on patrol from a line you
cannot see towards another line you also cannot see ... sometimes you
lost touch with the others and gazed round into the blackness with that
primordial fear of the unknown inspired by the night. Lost! God, it
nearly unmans you. With fast-thumping heart you hear the approach of
guttural Hun voices ... DOWN and QUIET. At last calm thinking points out
that yon burning house is in your own lines. Make for it and all is
well. Aye. Scouts, does the pulse quicken even now?

What is the thin veneer of a mere nine hundred years semi-civilisation?
Two thousand years before the Conquest the fierce warrior Northmen lived
by the might of the halbert, fighters one and all from the days when the
war-inspired mother croned of the battle-axe to her babe. And in the
Normans was that Norse spirit dormant; but one night of such hardship as
yet undreamt of had sufficed for an awakening.

In the dawn they looked out with nearly bloodshot eyes towards the
German front. He would counter-attack, would he? Let him come!

He came! They poured one long volley into the long-coated line. It
wavered, broke, thinned. At the junction with the Middlesex an
Englishman gazed in unfeigned astonishment at the ugly, set features of
his Norman companion.

"But," he said, "they might have wanted to be prisoners."

"Oh." Ozanne grunted, "don't want none," and squinting down the sights
let loose another trio. "This," he added, "is the Great Undertaking."

"Yes, well?"

"I am the undertaker. For my job ... must 'ave bodies ... and I,"
grimly, "I'm getting 'em."

The other shuddered slightly. War is war, but these wild unkempt men of
a strange tongue were something he could not quite grasp. Anyhow, they
knew how to fight. That is all that matters.

Duggie Le Page went into No-Man's Land and pluckily brought in a wounded
N.C.O. from one of the mounted regiments, but too late to save a life
fast nearing its ebb.

A weakly sun crept up from amid thick grey clouds and shone wanly on the
mud-spattered creatures lying each in his own water-logged trough. Hour
followed hour without further sign of hostile movement from the
enemy--nothing could be seen of him, and had the cavalry got through the
attack could have been continued and Cambrai taken.

Casualties (the supreme sacrifice in two instances) began to trickle
away from the Norman ranks, the majority from the attention of a sniper
in the long grass who held on alone with plucky audacity. Unfortunately
for his own welfare he was over-confident, exposed himself too long; and
ten rifles cracked spitefully--all who fired hotly claiming the right to
a notch.

Before mid-day it became apparent that Fritz had neither the heart nor
the troops for launching a counter-attack on a scale large enough to
make a definite impression on the newly-won area. His "strafing" was
fitful, poorly sighted, and of small calibre. Here and there he still
had the use of a machine gun or two and had concentrated a number of men
at Noyelles. This village was attacked by a company of the Royal
Fusiliers; fought for desperately in one brief, mad mêlée, during which
blood ran freely, but remaining in the hands of the British, formed the
nearest point in the Line to Cambrai.

At Nine Wood all was quiet--except for the unearthly sounds emanating
from the nostrils of one Tich sleeping in the reserve troughs with one
side of his features buried in an inch of brown mud. Desultory
conversation came down from the wide trough "Old man Casey" had dug and
had adorned with an empty whisky bottle found in the grass. He was
looking at it lovingly where it stood mouth downwards: for the obvious
reason, he observed, that its spirits were like his own--all run out.

The Ten Hundred were tired, dead-beat. Marching all Sunday night,
fatigue for hours on Monday, again marching in the night. Finally the
attack and its holding ... eyes were heavy with ache for sleep.

Between eight and nine they were relieved, stumbled away from the wood
until feet rang noisily on the rough surface of a sunken road winding
Marcoing-wards.

Near a side road a number of houses were used as billet--Marcoing was
untouched by shells on that date--and into these buildings Ten Hundred
unshaven, unwashed, worn-out Normans entered slowly, found corners for
the long-wished-for rest and threw down equipment and packs. Some jerked
off boots, some faked up pillows, but the majority turned on one side,
head on valise, and fell straightway into an oblivion that nothing could
disturb.

Lying across a doorway, his boots and equipment still on, a veritable
boy breathed regularly in the same attitude into which he had sunk the
moment he had passed inside. His pale, tired face was dimly visible in
the hazy starlight and one wondered at the peaceful serenity.

The last boot clattered loudly on the floor, the last rattle of a rifle
placed by the owner's side, the last long-drawn sigh of relief ...
Silence. Above them all Woden wove the magic spell Oblivion, the Rest of
the war-worn warrior.

Daybreak had long since passed and still no sound of movement from the
rows of tangled sleeping MEN. Tangle! They were lying in all directions
and at every angle; it was impossible to define whose feet were whose
or what had become of the chest and head of a pair of long legs leading
from a jumbled heap. Duport had his feet fast in the heel of someone
untraceable further than the knee--the first-named had munchers of the
star-like (removable) variety. No. 2, unfortunately, struck out in his
sleep, awakening the other to the fact that his teeth were promenading
about at the top of his throat. He struggled to a sitting posture with a
gasp, felt frenziedly for his "adjustables" and looked round upon the
mixture of dirty, frowsy figures. He stirred Nobby into wakefulness by
the simple expedient of tickling him beneath the chin with a grimy big
toe protruding from a rent in an obsolete and far from odourless sock.

"'Ere," he said, "got any change."

"Any wha'," sleepily, "any, phew, wot a bloomin' niff. Put them blessed
feet of your out of the winder. Change, wot of?"

"This yere trouser button."

"Funny, ain't it, like your face? 'It ole Wiffles there over the 'ead
wid your rifle an' tell 'im breakfus' is up." This kindly action having
succeeded, the victim looked around.

"Breakfus', where? What is it?"

"Oh, tin of Brasso; what d'you expect, 'am an' eggs or a filleted
sausage."



VI

MARCOING--MASNIERES


The Ten Hundred awoke, gazed about and laughed until the echoes rang
from rafter to rafter as the eye took in each black-featured, bearded
and grubby individual. Stumpy was requested to "leave that foot of
fungus on his face, as it hid what for weeks had been an infliction,"
and to which he cuttingly replied that the other gentleman had features
that would make a bomb burst.

But there could be detected in these rallies an undercurrent of strong
mutual respect, of which they had all hitherto had no cognisance. They
were each one intensely proud of what had been so efficiently carried
out; although very little WAR was spoken they were keenly alive to the
fact that personally and collectively the Ten Hundred had opened the
innings with an abundance of "runs" as far as the enemy was concerned.

Rations came up fairly regularly in the advanced areas unless the
ration-party becomes lost, drops a portion or makes an appointment with
a 9.2. There is a constant daily issue of hard-wearing substance
camouflaged as "biscuit," intended originally for the heel of concrete
ships and for bomb-proof blockhouses. It can be further utilised as a
body-shield, for paving roadways, or with the aid of a hammer and three
chisels (why three? In case the first two break) this "biscuit" could
be, and was, eaten.

Tea and sugar, enclosed in one tin, were soaked in water: boiled over a
small round tin of a form of solidified paraffin, set alight beneath the
mess tin.

Then bacon--Your issue might be red--and it might NOT. Perhaps the
faintest suspicion of lean fringed it or you might moodily survey a
square inch of fat--if there was not a buckshee inch of rind. The
flowing locks of hair with which this bacon was sometimes adorned has
convinced one that a number of farmers fatten their porkers on
"Thatcho"--it could be combed with a fork!

Bully Beef is, ugh! IT was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall
be ... NEVER AGAIN.

Bread!


    "Something attempted, someone done,
    A one-pound loaf among twenty-one."


Had the biscuit been again as hard the famished Ten Hundred would have
got their teeth deep into it. Hunger. A mad craving for food that cannot
be swallowed, because of a dry stickiness in the mouth a tongue that
somehow would not function; a moisture that would not come.

That tea! warm, refreshing, life-inspiring liquid. Drink, to drink long
and thirstily ... the relief, the new vitality. Food vanishes with
abnormal rapidity, every crumb, however minute, is carefully searched
for, gathered into the hand and eaten.

And afterwards you are still hungry, still thirsty.

The "schemers" slipped away quietly from the billets, crossed into the
main thoroughfare and commenced a scrounging expedition for grub.
("Scrounging," an exciting operation whereby the required article is
obtained by any means otherwise than legal.)

Winterflood, Mace and the Duo found their way by instinct born of
experience to an advanced dressing station where buckshee tea was being
doled out. Cups were not to be had, a milk can having to deputise in
three instances while the fourth dug his features deep into a foot long
tin with a quarter-inch layer of tea. Then Fritz dropped a shell,
kru-ump, clean into the centre of the courtyard. The jar caused a pint
of the tea to run caressingly down two tunics then again the genial
enemy sent over another. Si-izz-krump! One of the four scroungers
grunted.

"Boo--want, want any more tea?"--chuckling. They didn't! A third, a
fourth, and a fifth followed. Men looked significantly at each other.

"Bringin' his guns up."

"Yes--heavy stuff, too."

"Be as hot as Hades round 'ere soon."

It was. Hun artillery were adepts at "shooting off the map" (e.g.,
calculating the angle of elevation for concentration on a certain spot
by means of a map), and began to drop near the roadways and cross-roads
a series of heavy calibre shells. Here and there, as his guns went
searching across the town, a house crumbled under with a grinding,
spluttering crash. Hun aeroplanes, also, made an unpleasant announcement
of their presence above Marcoing, directing their artillery fire upon a
number of points.

Our Brigade Headquarters were situated, of all unhealthy spots, in a
house the last of a row culminating at a four-cross-road. Phew--and he
dropped one on it and got five of us. Wilshire (Royal Fusiliers) came in
for a fearful gash, ten or twelve inches long and three wide, right
across the spine. Conscious, but paralysed, he looked round on us with a
piteous, hopeless appeal for succour in his eyes and made wild,
inarticulate sounds for water. One of the signals (R.E.) fell face
downward on the floor in a widening pool of his own blood, one part of
his face blown away. Poor laddies, full of youth, vim, life--cursed
artillery from your far-off safety! Aye, hands clench; if ever OUR
chance comes....

He played on Marcoing throughout the night, inflicted a few light
casualties on the Normans, deprived a few more house of rafters, and
ploughed an occasional portion of the road.

One wondered grimly on looking up at a thin slate roof what protection
it would form against a "heavy," and into how many unrecognisable
fragments your person would be dispersed should he land one direct on
you. Close your eyes and sleep; then if he does plump one in, you won't
worry much about it.

We seemed to have no 'planes of our own to interfere with Fritz's
evening gambols, nor were there any Archie guns in the sector to give
the Hun aviators something with which to amuse themselves.

Coloured cavarly had ridden in, out and around Marcoing throughout the
day, but apparently were not going through. The advance was ended and
there was every indication of establishing this new line for the quieter
period of winter.

The Normans, with the 80th Brigade, moved in the evening dusk out from
Marcoing to Masnières--a town that constituted almost the apex of the
salient formed by the drive.

A strange march, although a mere couple of miles or so, in that
throughout the entire line of companies there could be sensed some
indefinable presentiment of a something to be feared. High above the
direct line of march could be discerned the black puffs of enemy timed
shrapnel bursting in the air. And you had to pass through it--it was
inconceivable that everyone could get through unharmed. Again, it might
not be you. The egotism of unconscious thought; the indisputable truth
of Darwin's "Will to Life."

At Rues Vertes the Battalion halted. The nerves were highly strung, men
gazed about with slight shudders as one is wont to do in the midst of
weird ghost stories when someone comes softly, unexpectedly down the
darkened stairs.

What was the unshakeable phenomenon? Was it the moaning of a lost wind
in the dark woods that reacted so upon that rudimentary, instinctive
Fear of the Unknown, the Night; inherited from the primitive man who
watched trembling throughout the wakeful hours when Fear was his sole
companion?

"I--I don't fancy this," Tich whispered hoarsely, "it puts a feelin' of
death on me." Fatal prophecy!

The Ten Hundred carried on, crossed a swampy field, and moving up nearer
the line, filed once again into the dismal occupation of trenches newly
dug, affording inadequate cover and protected by wire that would have to
be raised by their own efforts.

Winter was already getting a grip on the land, nights were cruelly cold
and days but little better. And this first night at Masnières was
frequented with that sensation of ill-omen pervading the minds of many
who felt--as Tich had said--somehow that their days were drawing to a
close. They would lie unmoving for an hour obsessed by their thoughts;
the brain flying with its lightning rapidity from picture to picture
resurrected from a happy past. In words would some communicate their
apprehensions.

"I feel--rotten to-night. Something's got on my nerves...."

But the rum ration soon soared the depressed spirits. Man is prey to his
inherited instincts. Even Tich recovered his nerve.

"I only felt like that once before," he said, "that's when I was
spliced."

"Wot, frightened of something?"

"Yes, and," gloomily in abrupt relapse, "it came right, too." The
cherubic tones of Stumpy emanated from somewhere.

"Wot I say is, respect a man's principles. Any teetotalers about yere
wot wants to find a 'appy 'ome for their rum ration? Wot I say is,
respe--yes, yere I am, old son, pass the sinful liquor over."

Half an hour later he warbled a jumbled melody:

"In Ari--Arizona. It's there a girl in Ari--Ari...."



VII

HOLDING THE LINE

MASNIERES


The night was far more lively than any preceding. Fritz trench mortar
batteries sending over a series of particularly nastily ranged shells.
This is a type of shell that can be heard coming from far in the air and
its flight, by an acute observer, can be gauged to within a dozen yards
or so of the point of impact with the earth. Situated right up in the
forward line this dangerous little weapon, at a range of one thousand or
less (according to distance between opposing lines) yards, is fired at
an almost perpendicular elevation and therefore descends again in
approximately a direct line into the trenches: this factor naturally
increases its probability of getting INTO the narrow excavation where a
long-range shell at a more acute angle would merely dig itself into the
parapet. And the havoc among human bodies confined within a small area
that this small shell creates is conceivable only by those who have been
of a party devastated by such a visitation. It must be borne in mind
that three men can be almost obliterated by an explosion while the
fourth may pick himself up dazedly, white and shaken, but unscathed.
Take it as a concrete fact that any man, however courageous, who comes
close enough into contact with a shell to be conscious of its hot breath
on his face and to be violently thrown by its concussion, will regain
his feet with shaken nerves to a degree necessitating half-hour or more
before restoration to normal. Some few never recover--hence the term
"shell shock."

There are tales of iron men who are unaffected by a dozen such
experiences--perhaps! The writer was blown clean through an open door in
Marcoing and had difficulty in keeping his hand steady afterwards to
light a pipe--but he does not consider himself particularly brave. Quite
the reverse. I could get round a corner with more rapidity than any man
in the Battalion if a shell came my way.

Masnières, if external and internal appearances of buildings is a
criterion of financial status, must have been peopled by a moderately
wealthy class. In fairness to Fritz it must be granted that in three
years' occupation he had not purloined to any large extent from the
larger houses--with the exception perhaps of a few dozen clocks, a piano
or two, and a few similar articles.

Tho cause of this may, of course, be found in the knowledge that right
up and during the British attack all these towns--Marcoing, Noyelles and
Masnières--unvisited by shell fire, were still occupied by their owners.
Coming up from where they had hidden trembling in their cellars during
our advance, they were immediately advised to go "down the line," and in
accordance treked away from their old homes with what few personal
belongings they could take with them. The road from Masnières to
Marcoing was strewn with the pitiful remnants of lost bundles, which,
unable to carry further, sobbing women had cast down by the wayside.

They had crowded in tearful, grateful groups around a few of the
Guernsey and other battalions. Young and old. Old! Bent of shoulder,
white-haired old dames; from whose kindly care-lined faces grateful
tears were fast flowing, poured out volumes of thanks to the Normans in
their mother tongue. Upon old backs that had long since earned repose
were bundles, sad little bundles, tied up in red handkerchiefs.
Ambulances were used for the conveyance of the old and spent to safety
zones. Rough, big Britishers picked up the frail old frames in muscular
arms, carried them with infinite gentleness to the ambulance and
esconsed them securely there.

"'Ow's that, mother. A bit of all right, eh?" And the ready tears would
course again down the old withered cheeks; words would not come; she
could only grasp tightly on the firm young hand. How that lump WOULD
rise in the throat; how one fought to appear unconcerned.

Big, awkward phlegmatic Britishers; unhappy beneath all this
honouring--it makes a man feel such a bally goat.

Thus the people returned to France, while on the ground near by the
still figures smiled serenely at the sky. Perhaps they knew! Renouf, a
plucky, good-humoured Private, walked down just afterwards with the
blood dripping from his side.

The ensuing week, during which the Ten Hundred partook in wiring off the
sector, completion of the poorly-dug trench system, and kindred work,
was ardous not only in the physical sense, but from the constantly
increasing attention of Hun airmen, artillery, and machine guns.
Casualties increased, and of them Death claimed a singularly high
proportion, one unfortunate Lewis-gun team coming in for a welter that
shattered practically every man and ended two young lives in a fearful
state of dismemberment.

Wiring constitutes in itself an operation of fatal possibilities. It has
to be constructed at night, without sound; but posts have to be driven
into the earth; someone will inevitably slip, accompanied by a loud
clatter. Then--ping, ping, ping!!! A hundred rounds fly whining through
the night from a Fritz machine-gun.

The utter wretchedness of that wiring; the sickening knowledge that any
moment a trail of bullets may spring without warning at you--and if ONE
machine-gun shot gets you, another FIVE will be somewhere in your body
before you reach the turf. It appears an impossibility to carry on alive
in such an undertaking from night to night; but still you DO IT. It is
funny--afterwards.

Robin hated it, after falling and introducing twenty barbs to that
portion of him utilised usually in a chair; he had to reline a little
to one side for a couple of days. Then blood poisoning set in, he
reported "sick," and was sent down the line as a casualty.

"Of all bloomin' luck." Stumpy growled; "'ere's me wots fallen down two
shell 'oles and nearly twisted me bloomin' neck, been knocked over by a
shell wot capsized all my rum issue--an' not a sign of a Blighty one."

"It's a pity you didn't," Le Huray observed.

"Wot?"

"Twist yer bloomin' neck."

"Look 'ere, my lad, if I comes over there I'll twist yer tongue and tie
it up behind yer 'ead, an' it wont be a Blighty yer'll 'ave--no, it'll
be a blooming' corfin."

"Shut yer row, the two of you," Casey shouted, "yer like a couple wots
been married a year, chewin' each others 'ead orf. Come yere an' give me
a 'and, Stumpy." And he turned again to the task of clearing a layer of
mud from his rifle bolt with a grimy piece of rag an inch square.

There is a refreshing originality (sic) in the al fresco meals partaken
of in the fresh open air, in a comfortable trench--so comfortable that
legs are twelve inches too long, knees in the way of your chin, and
somebody's boots making doormats of your tiny bit of cheese. Water and
tea--when you get it--has a most uncommon flavour of petrol due to being
transported in petrol cans. Stumpy was of the opinion that the War
Office should be advised to utilise rum jars instead.

Fritz has a gentlemanly knack of dropping a shell near you and
depositing a mighty chunk of black filth in the very midst of your grub.
Resultant language unprintable.

Slight falls of snow began to take place, the wind increased and nights
in the trenches became one long vista of drawn-out agony. Hands and feet
froze; maintain circulation was an absolute physical impossibility: but
it had to be faced through the long, over long, hours of waiting, and
there was no alternative, no remedy. You suffered, Royal Guernseys, men
of a warm, sunny isle, who had not hitherto known the harsh winter of
miles inland spots. But you stuck it well, rifle grasped in a hand gone
stiff, face cut and blistered from the fierce wind; feet aching with
inconceivable agony.

Gas, sent over in shells, made an unpleasant addition to the already
numerous "attractions" of the picnic. There is in this form of gas two
factors that materially assist in bringing about casualties. Firstly,
this type of shell cannot usually be distinguished from a "dud" and
therefore alarm is rarely given until three or four of these shells have
landed, by which time, if the wind is in your direction, the gas is on
you. Secondly, men are careless: "Oh, the wind won't blow it this
way ... might only be a 'dud,' too."

Men regard and withstand all this hardship with varying moral. There are
a few who sadly collapse before the onslaught of adverse circumstances,
who give way without a fight to nervous prostration, and who are subject
at times to wild spasms of uncontrolable trembling, finally going down
the line with a form of shell-shock altogether distinct to shock from
violent concussion.

Some are stoic, hanging on doggedly; characteristic of the quiet man
from tiny Sark, who, failing to understand the why and wherefore of
their presence in this Hell and yet individually conscious of a sacred
duty to carry on, gave a constant example of philosophic acceptance of
life as it was that indicated no lack of courage. Of very similar
psychological tendency were the men from Alderney--a fine, physically,
body of lads, if short--and from the more remote portions of Guernsey.

The town men were adept growlers, found something funny in everything
and calmly palmed off all the arduous tasks upon the good-natured but
less sly countrymen. It should be recalled, however, that a large
percentage of these men were "old soldiers," had seen service at
Guillemont with the Royal Irish, and were therefore au courant with
every form of deep scheming.

The greater portion of the remnants of Guernsey's volunteer companies in
the Royal Irish had after their first casualty been drafted into the Ten
Hundred, a large proportion receiving--and rightly--promotion. They were
fine types, born fighters, born soldiers, and, some of them, born
schemers.

It would be futile to endeavour to convey that nowhere in the Ten
Hundred were found men in whom a white streak was obviously apparent.
White of face and faint of heart; the first to avoid any undertaking
where their skin was endangered: crouched far below the parapet, and who
at the least indication of enemy activity gazed frenziedly rearward at
the nearest line for a headlong retreat. One in perhaps every hundred.

Fear, the instinct to guard life; the warning of danger; the
all-absorbing sense of primitive ancestors who have handed down an
almost uncontrollable Fear of the Unknown, indelibly imprinted upon the
brain and imbibed into the very blood from centuries of fearful watch
upon the Death that came out of the Darkness.

The fear of death overcome, there grasps the young warrior in a sudden
frenzy the revelation that in some critical moment he "might funk it."
There lies the crux of it. Afraid that he might BE AFRAID and bring upon
him from the lips of those whose opinions he values most the fatal slur
"Coward." For death is far better than that those men who have placed
upon you--and you upon them--the implicit reliance of MAN for MAN,
should find you wanting in the test and pass sentence upon you that a
lifetime regret could not one whit abate.

Two hundred, perhaps three hundred, yards from the Front Line a Fritz
blockhouse (a concrete, more or less shell-proof fortress, impervious to
rifle and machine gun fire, utilised on a large scale by the Germans and
garrisoned with machine guns) held an advantageous position bearing on
the lines of communication leading up from Masnières, thereby playing
pretty havoc upon ration parties and all movement within focus of the
enemy machine-gunners.

It HAD to be taken, without artillery support. The Ten Hundred were
nearly let in for the job, but owing to alteration of date the
Lancashire Fusiliers had the onus upon them.

Surprise was the great deciding factor.

It failed! Creeping over through the night one half of the journey was
accomplished ... in one piercing whine of spiteful machine-gun fire
Fritz almost wiped out the first wave. For an hour the British tried
again and again with constantly refilling gaps, while upon them was
turned every German machine gun in the area. From half a mile away the
creeping line of advance could be gauged by the tone of firing. Higher,
higher, in one mad high-pitched shriek, ten thousand shots in one minute
from twenty or more enemy machine-guns sang and hummed in the inky pall.
The high key lowered; the mind pictured the khaki line retreating,
reforming--forward again. Then up again the shrill staccato; line
drawing nearer. Higher, faster, louder the Satanic scream of lead.
Higher, still higher! The head throbbed, beads glistened on the
brow--surely the climax was reached. And then it lowered--failed again.


A minor operation, of no importance to Official Report!

In a field near Brigade Headquarters an unfortunate cow had investigated
the explosive powers of a 9.2, with the result that it no longer had to
waste its days chewing the cud. We cut away steaks by bringing the
bayonet into service, but had no fat in which to fry the savoury
article. The more tender portions were eaten raw--we were hungry--and
the remainder fried with water and a tot of rum. A rum steak--it was
"rum," inflicted us with gumboils for a week.

Some of the cheese now being issued found its way up without a ration
party and upon approaching Brigade caused a false alarm of gas to be
sounded. It has been found effective in poisoning lice. This little
adherent is now in dozens upon every other fellow. Folk at home have a
peculiar tendency for sending out powders, for the entertainment of
these pests, upon which they wax fat: dying sometimes of constipation.

The mail had arrived on the Thursday night (November 28th) that the Ten
Hundred came out of the line for the last time. The Division will move,
out on the morrow after nearly two weeks' marching and fighting.
Casualties had increased: the Lanes, and Royal Fusiliers numbering but
little over 500 men. (They entered the action about 700 strong.)

The Normans had lost between forty and fifty, inclusive of several
Supreme Sacrifices. Muray had one eye blown out by shrapnel from a
trench mortar without losing consciousness.

A draft should have joined the Battalion, but halted for the night in
Rue Vertes, coming in for a bout of shelling that put the wind up the
entire party, with inflicting much bodily harm.

A strange non-appearance of British 'planes has caused comment, nor did
there appear to be any heavy guns remaining on the sector apart from
such artillery that forms a Brigade complement. Fritz, on the other
hand, maintained uncomfortable concentration upon the towns and roads
with a large number of guns brought up from somewhere (Lille--where an
Army Corps had been awaiting transfer to Italy). The number of gas
shells indicates that his supply in this direction is unlimited, for
this type comes over regularly day and night. He concentrated, too, upon
the canal lock in the probable vague hope of flooding the district. His
shells fell by the scores around, above, short of and beyond the
objective, everywhere except, by extraordinary bad luck, upon it.



VIII

NOVEMBER 30th-DECEMBER 1st, 1917

GERMAN ONSLAUGHT


4.30 a.m., Friday, November 30th.--Quiet, comparative quiet everywhere.
Gas shells came over with an ever increasing frequency, but men slept on
without masks. A shell, heavy, unmistakably from a huge howitzer,
crashed with a mighty uproar into a small house and demolished it at a
stroke. Then another, and another, and still another ... phew, what was
he "searching" for? From the doorway of Brigade Headquarters I looked
into the night and listened to the whistle of shells passing overhead
from eastward into our lines. Our own artillery was silent. No sound
came from our near infantry lines, not the crack of a rifle, not the
splutter of a machine-gun.

Again the dull drone of the heavy stuff--the practised ear could gauge
its fall, and I retreated a few yards into the passage. The courtyard
outside caught it, and the entire chateau trembled violently at the
concussion. But why, why these big guns? Another landed in the yard,
followed by an unearthly tinkle of falling glass. Someone ran in from
the gateway with a headlong rush, gained the passage and paused.

"Phew," excitedly, "what the devil is Fritz up to? Heaviest shells on
this front."

"Yes. Might be coming over."

"Hardly."

"Why these heavies?"

"Dunno. He's shelling along the whole line--good God," in a shout, "look
at that chap there ... it, oh, my God, it's got him ... did you, did
you, see THAT?" A heavy had whined into the yard just as a runner
essayed a blind rush. Nothing was left. Nausea, a slight dizziness
enveloped us.

"What," he asked hoarsely, "what is this place?"

"86th Brigade."

"I want the Guernseys."

"In the Catacombs. The road up on the right." He walked out on to the
steps, stared intently into the night--in a flash we both sensed Death.
He ran down the flight:

"Good-night." He was a death casualty that night, and we HAD BOTH KNOWN
IT.

Presentiment of looming danger was pregnant, became accentuated with the
increase of heavy shelling falling from three angles: from directly
overhead, from the right rear flank and left rear.

It all culminated before dawn into a barrage on our lines, shells
raining in on every acre by the dozens. From the top of the chateau (it
was built on a hill) with the coming of day, wave upon wave of
grey-coated infantry could be discerned through the glasses. It was
impossible to estimate their number, line followed line in such rapid
sequence that the eye was bewildered.

They were up against the 29th. The Division wiped out, not partially but
completely, row after row. Rifles and machine-guns mingled in hasty
chorus, incessant, rapid, accurate. Fritz fell back.

The glasses swept over to the right: the heart gave one wild leap of
anxiety. The Division on the right had to face an advance it was unable
to stem, a first line had fallen and a bunch of khaki figures were being
hurried away into the German rear. Beneath pressure too heavy the line
gave, retired rapidly, and the 29th's flank was exposed at a mere
HALF-MILE'S distance.

A call was given for a Guernsey scout ... from the passage an inferno of
shells were visible bursting every few yards, instantaneously the mind
formed: "Impossible to go through alive." One wild frenzied run across
the vibrating yard, hearing everywhere the thunderous bursts, fumes
fouling the nostrils, breath coming and going in gasps; running like
Hades, bent almost double: any second the singing pieces of shrapnel
flying past will get you. Into the Brigade Headquarters with a wild
laugh! You're through, but you have got to get BACK.

In response to that message the Ten Hundred turned out.

They swung out into Masnières' cobbled hill, rifles slung, and marched
with all the nonchalance in the world towards the bridge, cigarettes and
pipes going, laughing and joking--thus have I a hundred times watched
them go on parade.

That march, a classic; let it go down into history as an emblem of the
old Ten Hundred. Their last march together, their last foot chorus on
the long trails. Square of shoulder, upright, I see even now those
figures that have long since been still. Every yard a man crumpled up,
any yard it might be YOU. And they laughed and smoked, went forth to
call "Halt!" to those waves of grey, advancing some hundred yards away,
as if they had a hundred lives to give. Let coming generations marvel.
The Farewell March of the First Ten Hundred. Before the sun had reached
its noon many had crossed the Groat Divide and passed the portals of
Valhalla to swell the throng of their Viking forefathers.

The enemy advance had continued with remarkable rapidity towards Rues
Vertes and Marcoing. Rear Brigade Headquarters, in Rues Vertes, or at
least above that village, had been seized, and the R.E.'s, a portion of
the N.C.O. staff, all rations and ammunition captured. A dressing
station filled with R.A.M.C. and wounded was taken, but Frit acted
honourably, placed a sentry over the entrance and allowed the Red Cross
men to carry on with their work.

From Marcoing the 88th Brigade formed a line running towards Masnières,
and with the dull, wicked bayonet went out to meet the grey forces. Here
and there bayonet met bayonet. Again it was the 29th. Blood poured into
pools on the grass, Hun after Hun clasped his weakening grip upon the
British bayonet rasping through his chest. He fell and with a foot on
the body for leverage a red, dipping blade was withdrawn. On again,
crack! crack!! Lunge, until the ribs snapped like dry sticks beneath
each thrust. Stoic British, unmoved, unexcited ... well might you
Germans call the 29th the Iron Division. Aye, the Cult of the Bayonet!

The enemy sickened ... ran.

Lining the roads above and below the broken Masnières bridges, with its
half sunk tank, the Ten Hundred pumped an annhilating shower or lead
into the lines of enemy creeping along the canal bank. He turned and
retreated, but a swarm of grey figures had taken Rues Vertes and were
consolidating their positions in what constituted a direct menace to
both the 88th Brigade at Marcoing and the other two (89th and 87th)
holding on against the onslaught on a line stretching from Masnières to
Nine Wood. In this village the enemy held a pivot from which a turning
movement, if supported with sufficient troops and guns, could be
enforced. He had both these essentials and his aeroplanes grasped in a
moment that an advance from here would, if successful, bring the Hun
infantry into the direct REAR of those British lines still intact, cut
the only line of retreat and force the capitulation of the Divisions at
the apex of the salient.

Fritz 'planes were up in scores flying in formation, and, having no
opposition, were frequently at an altitude of a mere sixty or eighty
feet. The scouts, peering down on the situation at Masnières, took in at
a glance the wide area that had to be covered by the solitary Norman
Battalion without support of any kind. This information was communicated
to the German Command. Inroad from Rues Vertes was prepared with certain
confidence; but they had not calculated with the Normans and before the
Command could move a finger THEY HAD LOST RUES VERTES!

There was not in that first storming of the village the desperate
hand-to-hand fighting that would inevitably have ensued had the Hun made
a stand. The Normans scampered wildly into the one narrow road in the
stop-at-nothing rush that came naturally to them; some slipped down the
fields with Lewis-guns, and Fritz aware that his left flank was falling
back before the grim counter-attack of the 88th, retired with abrupt
haste. The Lewis-guns (a machine gun firing 700, or slightly over, shots
a minute--in theory, 500 in actual practice) in the fields found that
the German retreating line was by force of circumstance brought into
that most-deadly fire, enfilade (e.g., firing across a line from a point
of vantage at the flank). The guns opened without warning on the three
waves, more or less in mass due to the involuntary retreat. No more
adequate simile can convey the picture of the fast-falling figures than
that of grass beneath the scythe. Five minutes, perhaps ten, and it was
over. Bodies lay thick everywhere, and upon this area of wounded and
dying shells were casting square feet of flesh yards into the air.

German 'planes, viewing this massacre from above, swept down in swift
retribution, and flying low turned their machine-guns upon the
unprotected Normans. An aeroplane travels at anything from eighty to one
hundred miles an hour, and this very speed restricted a lengthy
concentration on any one spot, but many a Norman fell forward on his
face, a dozen leaden bullets in his skull and chest.

Duquemin, conscious and moaning piteously in agony, was lying crosswise
over his rifle, one leg smeared with blood, and the other reclining
grotesquely against the hedge twenty yards away. Doubled up on a hedge
top, rifle still levelled at the foe, a figure lay and upon its
shoulders a ghastly mess of brains and blood crushed flat in the steel
helmet. Duval stumbled blindly towards the dressing station, the flesh
gleaming red down one side of his face and an eye almost protruding. Le
Lièvre limped away in the direction of Marcoing and walked for five
hours before succour came his way. Tich was lying face earthwards near
the Crucifix, a rifle shot in the very centre of his head. Rob, quiet,
gentle-natured Rob, fell forward against the semi-trench.

"I--I've got in--the head," he said weakly "I--I'm going, go--." He
collapsed ... life ebbed away and he was still.

BUT THE NORMANS HELD RUES VERTES.

The Germans launched a heavy offensive, for the retaking, wave after
wave, line after line, moving ponderously forward. The Norman rifles and
machine-guns shrieked out lead in a high staccato until the advance,
slackened, wavered and fell back. Hun artillery showered shell, gas, and
shrapnel over every yard of ground. For a period the Normans fell in
dozens everywhere. The canal in places was stained red, and Norman
bodies drifted twirling away on its fast-running waters before sinking.

AMMUNITION WAS SHORT. Scouts from Headquarters tried to get into
Marcoing with the information. Clarke moving along the road found
himself unable to return or to move because of a Fritz advanced post.
One of the Middlesex crossing a clearing in the trees was wiped out by
machine-gun fire and toppled over into the canal.

Mighty trees, a yard radius, bordered those waters, but at every few
paces forward the eye took in one of these monsters split open by a
shell. The pulse quickened; if it did that to a tree what would be left
of you--anyhow you wouldn't know much about it. Approaching Marcoing the
hum of an aeroplane, flying low sounded--in a second I feigned casualty,
but he got home on the other scout ahead. Phew, wind up!

The very streets of Marcoing were almost obliterated by the jumbled heap
of stone, wood-work and bricks lying across them. Bodies in every
inconceivable state of partial or whole dismemberment made a ghastly
array in the bleak sunlight, blood from man and animal formed dark pools
in the hollow sections of the shattered roadway. Progress could only be
made by moving apprehensively close up to what walls were still
standing, and to sprint wildly over the open. Wounded were streaming in
hundreds towards the dressing station in the square ... many failed to
reach there alive.

From the top of the Chateau in Masnières, Corporal Cochrane (the finest
little N.C.O. in the Battalion) and a few others were sniping at Hun
ARTILLERY some four hundred yards distant. AT LAST had the infantryman
his chance.

A steady glance down the sights. Crack! Miss! Crack! Got him but only
slightly. Crack, crack! The unholy glee of it. You could see by the way
he fell that it had gone home fatally. Crack--another five rounds are
rammed into the magazine ... pump it into them, play hell with that
Artillery while the chance lasts.

They stare wildly about in a frenzy. Crack, crack, crack! They have had
enough and retreat a few hundred yards further south. Still, there lies
a dozen or more who will not again pour into the quivering flesh
shrapnel's hell-hot agony.

A glance along the Norman ranks during the late afternoon showed
appreciably by the many gaps separating man from man how many casualties
had already obtained. Shells claimed a large toll of victims even among
the more or less screened rows of figures lying along the eastern edge
of the canal. Le Poidevin and Le Page, lighting cigarettes from the same
match, caught one in the right and the other the left leg, two flying
pieces of shrapnel from a shell bursting over one hundred yards distant;
fell and stared at each other in painful astonishment ... hobbled
laboriously on the long journey (for a wounded man) into Marcoing.

Stumpy, secure behind a small mound, had gazed with black pessimism on
life from the moment Tich had given ALL.

"Gawd," he observed generally, "ain't it orful. What with shells, an'
dead, an' gas! An' I ain't 'ad any rum since last night. Wot a pore
Tommy has got ter put up with."

Night. A night when men crouched over their rifle waiting to kill, when
the owl had gone far from the slaughter and even not the fitful flutter
of a bat sped through the dark pall. Only man: savage, primitive man,
glared at where each remained hidden. The blood lust to kill, always to
kill. Animal ferocity and passion: man's inheritance.

From No Man's Land came the sobbing call of wounded for succour. Far,
far across the void sounded those despairing frenzied shrieks. Hoarse,
appealing, incessant, until they weakened and nothing reached the ear
but the smothered sobs of men whose life's sands were running out for
want of that aid, so near, but which they were unable to reach.

Verey lights from Fritz's lines rose and fell with monotonous certainty,
throwing faint glows on the huddled heaps lying in all directions
between the two fronts. A gleam would catch reflection in the glassy
eyes of a stiff form, fade and leave you staring hypnotised into the
night. Was it distorted fancy ... then you would see it again, and
again, until in its very frequency you noticed--nothing.

Shelling slackened. Now and again a pause when the stillness could be
"heard." From the woods in intermittent intervals the one solitary gun
still intact in an entire battery belched forth a lone shell into the
enemy lines. In the fantastic flash of each explosion three
shirt-sleeved forms showed a ruddy silhouette of blackened hands and
features. A tearing, splintering crash awoke echoes as some great bough
was shattered in impact with a "heavy" and crackled its cumbersome way
past smaller branches to where it splashed into the canal.

Into an advanced dressing station about Rues Vertes one of the Duo
stumbled, bleeding profusely from several wounds, dripping with slimy
mud and water, features covered with the grey black dust that comes from
close contact with a shell. Ozanne stared at him.

"Gawd," he said, "'ow'd you get that?"

"Scrap--with a Fritz outpost--got a stretcher?" He bent down in a
half-faint, was carried to a stretcher and his wounds in body and arm
bound. Fag in mouth he dozed, was startled into wakefulness by a call
from the Padre.

"Boys," he was saying, "this village will be evacuated shortly--can't
possibly hold on. Those wounded who can had better walk to Marcoing."

To Marcoing! Two and a half miles. The Norman moved dizzily out of his
stretcher, stood up, and tottered to the entrance.

"Here, kid," a Corporal (R.A.M.C.) advised, "You can't do it."

"I can."

"You'll peg out on the way."

"Sooner that than--be--a prisoner. But I can--do it." He did!

Dawn! And with it an intensity of shelling over the whole area. Earth,
limbs, trees were constantly somewhere in the air. Bodies of yesterday
were torn asunder again and the wounded who had lasted out the night
shrank and writhed in the fiery hail of shrapnel. Fritz came over again.
He is a courageous warrior, not afraid of his own skin, but is at best
when fighting in numbers. A lone fight, back to the wall, is not his
métier; he, if at all threatened, retreats.

Rues Vertes fell.

It was a physical impossibility for the Ten Hundred to hold on. The
casualties already exceeded three hundred, every man was utterly worn,
hungry, had existed for twenty-four hours in a state of the highest
nerve tension. Not one was there who had not missed death a dozen times
by the merest of escapes. They had for ten or eleven days been engaged
in an offensive and what meagre rest had been theirs was woefully
insufficient to counteract the heavy demands made upon the stamina.

Out-numbered by twenty to one, completely out-gunned. No reserves, no
supports, and only one small line of retreat. No aerial observation, no
adequate cover, and an enemy who was aware that a mere shattered
Battalion stood between them and the capitulation of one or more
Divisions. They were half famished, tired out ... his troops were fresh.
He had no doubts as to the result.

Again the 29th Division repelled an attack on its original front line.
Fritz tried the flank, came on in waves stretching far over the hill
crest. A fire stopped him--COULD there be only ONE corps before him. He
rallied, swept on again, swarming over the canal banks and close up into
the outer Masnières' defences; but on his lines hailed a rapid fire from
the Normans, the like of which he had never deemed possible. Savident
ran alone into the centre of a roadway with his Lewis-gun and poured
every solitary shot by him in one long sweep up and down the wavering
lines. Rifles cracked with the rapid reloading action of marksmen until
the barrels burned hot in the hand. The Germans fell back. The Normans
went forward in that reckless rush.

Rues Vertes was retaken!

In the outskirts of this village a number of the draft were isolated,
became tangled in one great bloody mêlée with the angrily retreating
enemy. There was nothing for it but a fight to the death.

Through the glasses they could be seen to hold off the Hun for a few
brief minutes, met him in a ghastly lunging of bayonets, from which
beads of blood were dropping ... but they went under one by one, until
one thick-set lad remained, seized two Huns one after the other by the
neck, twisted them with his own hands and went over the Divide, a
bayonet through his heart.

But their example put the fear of death into the enemy and for an hour
the thinning line of Normans had no attack.

He reformed, sent a large number of machine-guns with his first wave,
concentrated a fearful artillery fire on the villages, and swept
forward. The same fire met him, again the lines wavered, but that hail
of lead was more than the men could withstand. They went back--many of
the gunners without their machine-guns, not back a hundred yards or so
but almost out of RIFLE RANGE.

The artillery fire had created havoc among the Normans. Twenty figures
writhed in agony in so many feet, a stream of blood-soaked lads were
moving slowly away towards Marcoing. One Lewis-gun team was lying about
in all directions, forms distorted, limbs missing and great bare
stretches of red flesh showing with sickening brilliancy of colour--and
the gun itself was UNTOUCHED. Irony of fate.

On the sloping grass seven inert khaki forms could be counted, on the
lower levels another five: stretched across the mound to the east of the
canal a dozen or more were visible at intervals of eight or so yards.
All from ONE spot without moving the head.

The casualties were more than the untouched.

Weary Normans, knowing that YOUR turn would not be long acoming--and you
would not be sorry when it did--knowing, too, that behind was no relief
force. You had to HOLD, there was no alternative. And each face lifted
earnestly in the light was set of jaw. God grant them life and they
would hold until the Hun himself called "Halt!"

Ammunition had come up ... therefore was there only one factor by which
they might fail--no men to use the rifles. They spoke sometimes in the
pauses.

"Wonder wot they'll say at 'ome about all these yere dead?"

"Dunno."

"Anyhow, we ain't done bad work."

"No; an' we'll hang on yere like 'ell, even if they brings the ole
bloomin' German army."

"Sure. If Jerry thinks 'e can show us 'ow to shoot 'e has made a 'ell of
a outer."

"D'you know," shyly, "we 'ave done somethin' big!"

"Yes; I s'pose we 'ave."

The very men who had fought on and made good in face of odds that no man
in his senses would have bet on at a thousand to one chance, opined that
they had "done something big," or at least they "s'posed so."

No Regiment in the Empire, or out of it, could have done more. They had
to "hang on" at any cost. They did: simply, doggedly.

The Guards--rushed up to the southern portion of the sector and launched
against the German advance--with a determination and tenacity of purpose
against which the offered opposition was futile, turned the enemy flank
and forced them back in the direction of their original (November 30th)
line through Cambrai.

A strong detachment fell back on the Masnières-Rumilly sector, thereby
enforcing on the small Norman remnant a further infliction of bloody
fighting and casualties. The Guards swept back the waves of grey upon
the Guernseys, who could not retreat--for a few hundred yards behind
them the rest of the Brigade were holding up a further enemy element.

Our own artillery, harassing the Fritz retreat, sent over a number of
shells into Masnières. Fritz batteries, in response to the urgency of
the situation, hailed down shrapnel on a scale only equalled on the
morning of their onslaught. The Normans came in for the thick of it.

The men holding the far end of the little town found themselves swamped
down in the overwhelming rush of an entire retreating Battalion. They
were prisoners before the abrupt alteration in the direction of the
German movement had dawned on them.

Above Rues Vertes the spiteful fire of the remaining scattered units of
the Ten Hundred impressed upon the Hun mind a fear of those riflers that
was pregnant enough to force him to rapidly verge away from the spot to
a safer distance of a mile or so.

The little village near the Crucifix was withdrawn from at dusk with no
molestation. Shelling slackened to a mere initial salvo from Rumilly.
The lull followed in which enemy reinforcement were being brought up to
be thrown in large forces upon those stubborn British regiments who were
clinging tenaciously, with unshaken obstinacy, to shattered trenches.

Lieut. Stone (afterwards M.C.) led a bombing raid under cover of night
into Rues Vertes, originating there an uproar that startled every Fritz
within a mile into a bad degree of "windy" apprehension. He fired into
the air a frenzied array of Verey lights in hope of discovering the
extent of the raid. Had the Ten Hundred been less war-worn they would
have chuckled delightedly over this successful bluff, but they hardly
commented upon it, stared wearily and disinterestedly at the flashes of
bursting grenades, turned away and banged arms and hands noisily on
thighs to enforce some little circulation into those cold, clammy limbs.

So utterly exhausted were a few of the youngsters that they had fallen
into unsettled sleep across their rifles, startled now and again into
fearful wakedness by a mind that had for days been awaiting something
that would inevitably come.

Men were little more than mechanical figures, but the brain ran rampant
and uncontrolled until the wild memories of furious German attacks
earlier in the day surged up with acute pregnancy and the victim fell
prey to poignant hallucination. The endless rows of grey figures would
advance yard by yard ... five hundred range, four hundred, three
hundred. God, we can't stop him. The crackle of rifles and machine-guns
shrieked higher ... two hundred; one hundred. Breath comes and goes in
sobs--in one minute he will be on you. Then he wavers. Now is the time;
pump the lead into him ... he turns.

And the lad regaining control of his distorted imagination discovers
that his rifle barrel is hot and that he has let fly a dozen rounds into
the void ... a shaky hand passes slowly over a sweat-covered brow.

The Higher Command, realising that the holding of Masnières with the
small remnants of troops in the sector was impossible, ordered the
withdrawal to a support line of the old Hindenburg system, and thus
straightening out or at least modifying the British frontage.

What remaining elements of the Ten Hundred still survived were allotted
the last task of covering the Brigade's withdrawal. They stood their
ground to the final stages of the movement and they only evacuated
because ORDERED TO DO SO.

Middlesex, Lancs. Fusiliers, Royal Fusiliers, each Battalion badly cut
up, moved away while the Normans held on, pumping lead in whining chorus
to convey to the German mind that troops were plentiful and to
camouflage the fact that a withdrawal was taking place.

Then they stumbled to their feet, weak from exhaustion, exposure and
hunger. The wind moaned in trees in company with their uncertain
footsteps, the still forms of brother Normans smiled up to the stars and
bade them mute farewell as they came away from that sacred ground,
sodden with their blood. The Germans in the morning would find
everywhere the honoured dead and would place them in their last resting
place in the damp soil for which they had willingly given of their LIVES
to hold.

Because no one would be there to resist him he would walk their
treasured strip of soil; but his footsteps would never have defiled it
while ONE NORMAN had remained.

Hands clenched in agony ... he would take it ... they had failed to
uphold those who had gone before. To leave it after all they had done,
to give it without a shot. Why, why----?

The Passing of the Old Ten Hundred.

A few over three hundred men marched without sound to where a train
awaited. Silent, haggard, worn!

The remnants of the Normans. Six or seven hundred casualties in two
days--they were aptly "remnants."

The train pulled out. The Cambrai Offensive was merely history.

The following letter was sent to the Bailiff of Guernsey by the C.O. of
the 29th Division shortly after the Cambrai battle, which the Bailiff
read at a sitting of the Royal Court:--


     "I want to convey to the Guernsey authorities my very high
     appreciation of the valuable services rendered by the Royal
     Guernsey Light Infantry in the Battle of Cambrai. Their's was a
     wonderful performance.

     "Their first action was on November 20th. and though their task of
     that day was not severe, they carried out all they were asked to do
     with a completeness that pleased me much. The C.O., De La
     Condamine, was then invalided, and I placed my most experienced
     C.O. in command. This was Lieut.-Colonel Hart-Synot, nephew of Sir
     Reginald Hart.

     "On November 30th, when the Germans, in their heavy surprise
     attack, pierced our line to the south of my sector, the enemy
     entered the village of Les Rues Vertes, a suburb of Masnières,
     which town was my right flank. It was the Guernsey Light Infantry
     which recovered this village twice by counter-attacks, and which
     maintained the southern defences of Masnières for two days against
     seven German attacks with superior forces and very superior
     artillery. When we were ordered to evacuate Masnières on the night
     of December 1st, it being a dangerous salient, with the enemy on
     three sides, it was the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry which covered
     the withdrawal. Guernsey has every reason to feel the greatest
     pride in her sons, and I am proud to have them under me fighting
     alongside my staunch veterans of three years' fighting experience.

     "Many officers and men greatly distinguished themselves, among whom
     I may first mention Le Bas, and after him Stranger, Stone and
     Sangster.

     "I enclose a copy of Special Order, and feel that Guernsey should
     participate in the pride we all feel in having done our duty. I
     regret the casualties of the Battalion were heavy, a further proof,
     if any were needed, that they fought magnificently."



IX

DECEMBER-JANUARY, 1918

HOUVIN


Detraining at a railroad the small force of Normans swung away upon a
long march to billets in Houvin, partaking at last of the rest that had
for so long been their dire need.

The plentitude of food, ample sleep, clean clothing, and the wholesome
cleanliness of pure water in which the body could be purified of a war's
protracted stagnations, acted visibly upon the spirits. They had had
access to papers portraying to the full how much had depended upon their
stand in those critical days, and now it was over they marvelled at how
they had done it.

From their connection with the 29th Division, in the previous September,
there had been borne upon them from friendly contact with brother
Battalions, the subtle esprit de corps permeating a Division who had won
fame at Gallipoli, who inspired when transferred to France a fear of
their arms in the Hun mind, and won from the recalcitrant foe eulogy in
the form of "The Iron Division."

A strong mutual respect was apparent between them and the remaining
regiments of the 86th Brigade. Each felt that reliance could at any time
be placed upon the other: had they not already put their mettle to the
test and come through with honours?

The old humour re-asserted itself among the wild, careless fellows who
had come through. Tich, one of the Duo, Birfer, and Ginger were no
longer there to plot out their daily round of "schemes." Clarke, Martel,
Stumpy, and Old Casey were left to carry on--and they were quite capable
of doing so.

Stumpy formed a friendship with another of his diminutive height and
large waistband in the Middlesex, and the two were frequently hobnobbing
together in each others' billets.

"We lost a lot of good fellows," Stumpy sighed heavily over his pipe,
"wot we couldn't spare. There was three wot never drank rum and who all
got 'it." A roar of laughter interrupted him. "Yes, all got 'it. And
there was pore old Jack who got a dose in the arm an' 'ad to walk a 'ell
of a way to the dressin' station. 'E was bleedin' bad an' asked me ter
take orf 'is pack, which I did, an' his water-bottle as well, becos it
was full of rum and--an' rum is 'eavy."

"Rum, full of rum," his little pal looked up at him with dry lip,
"you--you ain't got any left?"

"No, becos I put it aside, an' some scrounger pinched it. All I 'opes is
that it bloomin' well choked 'im." Someone bawled from the doorway that
"supper was up."

Billets are a form of barracking troops in a number of barns and stables
spread over as small an area as possible. The one salient advantage of
these shelters is fresh air; it comes in with icy gusts through these
apertures made for the purpose and whistles through cracks in the
door--if there is a door--and gaps where once glass had kept it out. For
those to whom the sky on a star-lit night provides an hour's ecstacy a
hole or two in the roof is a blessing, but to the common mortal is a
damnation by which the winter wind tints the nose o' nights a soft shade
of deep purple or gives passage to a gentle flow of rain that forms
lakes and pools on your overcoat and blanket and which at the slightest
movement runs like a small river down your chest until you wake with a
shivering gasp.

Rats and mice make their way interestedly in and out of sleeping forms,
investigate with deliberate intent the contents of your pack, or
perchance make a tentative nibble at an odd toe or so. If anything
digestible is found in an overcoat pocket the exasperating rodents do
not enter by the obvious pocket-flap, but CHEW their way in from the
outside.

The weary old monotony of daily routine common to the Army set in,
parades and inspections forced their unpleasant encroachments upon each
day. Men whom a few weeks before had been forced to face the heaviest
fighting they had ever experienced, now made the abrupt discovery that
they were again liable to fall foul of the miles of red-tapeism that is
everywhere rampant in Regulations respecting innumerable minor offences.

This perpetual inspection by an officer sickens. His minute survey of
every inch of the uncouth, Army-rigged mortals, peppered with
injunctions in relation to an absence of polish on boots or equipment,
was never favorably received. There was a grain of humour in the actions
of subalterns who were wont to jab up and down the bolt of a rifle with
the air of an expert and solemnly inform the owner (who had fired
several hundred rounds through it at tight moments) that he must "... be
careful to oil the bolt--most important."

Much new clothing had to be issued to replace the battle-scared remnants
of the Cambrai stunt. Thrown to the men in the happy haphazard Army
method--there were created a new series of Parisian modes for draping
the figure. Army-rig! There was no lack of space or originality in the
cut of Le Huray's enormous wide trousers (the leg would comfortably have
encircled his waist), turned up when worn without puttees two and
one-half inches at the bottom; the top if hitched well up had manifest
advantages as a muffler. Issued on the same logical lines, Mahy received
a tiny pair of nether garments for his loner legs and a little tunic
that hung limply like an undersized Eton-jacket six inches short of
where it should have reached. Some lads were lost in shirts with sleeves
generally associated with Chinese or other Eastern gentlemen, others
moodily surveyed themselves in small shrunken garments that with only
superhuman effort could be forced to meet the waistband without emiting
a warning rip. Duport found it so.

"Look 'ere," he growled, "trousers won't reach me waist upwards; shirt
won't either, downwards. Leavin' a bloomin' two inches orl round of bare
flesh."

"Camouflage it."

"'Ow d'you mean?"

"Paint the space brown an' pretend it's a belt."

The Quarter-Master Sergeant and his assistant found an avalanche of new
material and old on their hands. (The Q.M.S.'s are those individuals who
keep ALL the new clothing in store and by only the wiliest of Tommies
can such material be wangled.) The Q.M.S. of the Ten Hundred was not
exactly popular among the ranks. N.B.--Neither Q.M.S.'s nor C.Q.M.S.'s
are acquainted as a rule with the gentle solitude of the first line
trenches. Their duty it is to receive and issue the "plum and apple,"
the "road-paving" biscuit and the weekly change of under-garments.

In the Field no man has actual possession of shirt, sock, or
under-garments. These are all given in at each visitation to the baths
and others issued in return. Your shirt thrown over to you by the
C.Q.M.S. might be somewhat decrepit and holey or might have some
resemblance to a new one. You might have two odd socks or (if you were
among the bevy of schemers) two or three pairs would be in your
possession--illegally.

Parades were detestable. They had imagined that England was the training
camp for these operations. In France they had expectation of fighting
and resting, NOT marching up and down with occasional halts, while the
Platoon Officer furtively asks his sergeant what order he must give
next.

The pivot round which all parades manoeuvre is always with the
Regimental Sergeant-Major (the main function of all R.S.M.'s is to walk
round with a big stick). He, an old Regular, despite the iron discipline
so candidly hated, was withall a staunch supporter of fair play for the
ranker, a tartar on parade, and feared more by the junior N.C.O.'s than
the very inhabitor of lower regions.

An N.C.O. (Non-Commissioned Officer) is an individual whose main talent
lies in the ability to bawl out orders at men one yard distant in a
voice having a hundred yards range. The possessors of some subtle
superiority not descernible by ordinary individuals, they are for this
reason forbidden to converse or walk with the men when "off parade."

These stringent regulations never materialise in actual practice, but it
conveys a hint of the tinge of "Hindenburgism" with which the Army is
tainted--excepting Dominion forces, wherein the negligible gulf between
officers and men is easily bridged.

There will always, however, be a sneaking regard in the hearts of the
few Normans who rested there; for Houvin. It was there that men could
sleep far from the haunting spectre of anticipated death or devastation:
there, too, life could be enjoyed to the full in the happy knowledge
that no shells would pitch near by, no machine-gun turn its whining
trail of bullets across your path. And it was at first difficult to
realise that danger to limb was past, that movement to and fro was free
from the hovering shrapnel that had so long dogged their steps and
penetrated the mind with its presence until accepted as an everyday
visitation such as the sun.

Parcels and mail arrived with a glad regularity. There is no more
pregnant a "reviver" of downheartedness than letters from the old
people, nor is anything more liable to inspire the "pip" than the
absence of such personal touches with familiar scenes. Papers can never
replace the badly penned and still more badly worded missives despatched
from some humble cottage. Those two pages of scrawled information go far
nearer to the receiver's heart than twenty columns of polished well
written print. The letter is almost a living link with all that in which
he has the strongest interest ... he is far more delighted at the news
of Tilly's overthrow of Jim for Jack than a mere possible fall of the
British Cabinet which might be pending.

"Besides," Stumpy pointed out with unconscious irony, "you opens a paper
an' you knows there ain't nothin' in it, while the ole woman might 'ave
put ten bob in yer letter."

Tommy has never sufficient a supply of cash. Everywhere a few miles
behind the Line a canteen or Y.M.C.A. had been pushed forward and in
these places the five francs a lad receives about once a fortnight does
not go very far or last long. Nor does its purchasing value cover more
than a meagre supply of such commodities as cake, chocolate, tobacco and
beer. With regard to the latter, stress must be laid on the fact that
Tommy is far less often in a state of drunkenness than the average
civilian and that he is far more prone to derive humour out of it than
to drink it.



X

DECEMBER-JANUARY, 1918

FLERS--LE PARCQ--VERCHOCQ


Snow had fallen and sprinkled the countryside with a semi-transparent
white mantle. Roads due to freezing o' nights were hard and slippery,
making the going for men labouring beneath the burden of full pack
irksome and heavy. The Normans had no eyes for the countryside (there is
no beauty in the finest masterpieces of Nature if physical conditions
are not in harmony) but had the surface before them fixedly under focus
in the interest of the neck's safety.

Eighteen or so kilos (approximately 11-1/4 miles) over the long straight
levels common to France and which, although of course the shortest route
between two points is viewed by the marching columns as far longer than
it actually is because of the distant visibility. And Tommy would prefer
a more winding journey even if the distance covered is greater.

The night's rest at Flers in the midst of heavy falls of snow put the
wind up the men at the knowledge of a longer march on the morrow, but
the alarm was false and a trek of four kilos materialised--hard going
the whole way--to Le Parcq, a town situated on the top of a hill, the
discovery of a short cut causing the break from schedule. The "cut" was
made up a steep incline that proved a severe obstacle to the wildly
struggling horses of transport waggons on the vile surface. Several
lorries with the all-essential stores, blankets, etc., found the "glass"
road utterly impassable.

This unfortunate set-back reacted on the men, who, because of the
blanket shortage were doomed to but ONE per man throughout the winter
night of fierce cold, against which the shivering, suffering lads had as
protection billets without roofs and in some instances with mere relics
of sides. The pain was acute, sleep difficult. Some unable to withstand
the torture paced up and down the whole night through, banging arms
heavily across bodies to stimulate some semblance of warmth.

At the first indications of dawn they were started on what proved to be
one of the longest marches in their experience. The weather was harsher
than on any of the preceding days and the frozen snow surface of the
roads presented in itself a factor that materially magnified the heavy
labouring beneath full pack, arduous to a degree under the easiest of
conditions. Before mid-day the constant vigilance and care necessary if
a hard fall was to be avoided began to tell on the nerves, irritability
forced its grip, and they glared savagely at one another at every
sideslip--inevitable in a long trek over such roads.

After twenty or so kilos had been reeled off physical exhaustion invaded
man after man, growling ceased, heads bent forward and the eyes watched
unseeing the heels of the man ahead. Mechanical rigidity of monotonous,
torturous march again held sway, the old dryness of tongue and aching of
burning feet grew more and more acute at each heavy step forward.

An hour passed in painful silence, and another, but ever onward along
the long trail of miles--left, right, left. At each step you muttered it
softly--left right--or counted them one by one until the mind rambled on
confused in tens of thousands. A stage had been attained when one felt
nothing, knew nothing, but just the unending chorus of padding feet
guided by the mere instinct of a mind in a condition of peculiar coma.
The ten minute halts were taken at each hour with no comment. Men threw
themselves prone on the road, closed eyes, stood up unthinking at the
order and fell again into the harsh rigidity of movement.

Just before dusk the "machine" halted at Verchocq, after a march of
thirty-three kilos. They were tired, worn, hungry....

No lorries or cookers turned up that night!

Followed that abrupt revival of spirits that cannot but remain a
pyschological mystery. No cookers--no grub. They threw aside without an
effort complete exhaustion, the outcome of an entire day's strenuous
bodily exertion, sallied forth with remarkable sangfroid and certainty
in Verchocq, there conversing with the inhabitants, made themselves
thoroughly at home and gratefully partook of the hot fare hospitably
provided them--the fierce inroads upon food that only the utterly
famished can readily appreciate, and which indelibly impressed upon the
intellect of their hosts a certainty that British troops could never
have their appetite satiated.

They returned to billets in varying moods and conditions, one or two
ignoring a straight walk and zig-zagging an uncertain course across the
roads. Stumpy, who had received a generous welcome from a misguided
patriot, sat down with smug complacency, holding one hand lovingly over
an abdomen over-filled with good fare.

"Weren't 'alf orl right," he said "lawd, wot with five eggs an' 'am an'
bread; but there weren't any beer, only," with a shudder, "a 'ome-made
lemonade."

"Yus," Duquemin agreed, "dam good-hic-sort these French people. Fine
lil' daughter wi' blue-hic-eyes. 'Eld my 'and, and she hic-said was
brave-hic soldier. Ver' proud ... 'allo wot-hic-doing'."

A lad was kneeling in his corner, hands clasped in prayer. (He did so
night after night unmolested.) The crowd watched curiously--but had
anyone dare to scoff they, as Mahieu said, "would a' knocked the b----
scoffer's 'ead orf."

Strange ingrained instinctive assertion of fair play predominant in the
attitude of those wild, uncouth mortals. Few of them had thought of
outward expression of God--a fierce resentment world galvanise into life
at the slightest sneer upon the unprotected back of those who HAD the
pluck. From his couch in a solitary blanket the agnostic grunted.

"Fetish," he observed quietly, "the warrior appealing to his oracle of
Delphi like a savage to his moon. Passing gods of a passing
generation...."

"Yesh," Duquemin agreed sagely. "Passin' gen'ral rashon--no
rashon-hic-pore-Guernseys. Oonly wot people gi'...."

The friendship originated during the Normans' first night at Vorchocq
with the French grew as the days progressed, accentuated by the Norman
knowledge of the people's mother-tongue.

They made the utmost of their time, lived life to the very full,
inspired by the knowledge that the draft of four hundred Staffords and
two hundred or so Guernseymen (the ten per cent. who had not
participated at Cambrai) who were to become absorbed into the Ten
Hundred were auguries of an approaching further acquaintance with the
Front Line.

Christmas Day provided an ample fare in addition to the ordinary
rations, small parties engaging rooms in estaminets and farms,
purchasing the very limit of eatables obtainable with what financial
lengths were at their disposal, obtained bottles of port and gave vent
to an unbounded vein of hilarious humour and uproarious chorus in
celebration of a Christmas that many knew would be their last.

In a quiet room four of the ascetic rankers (Clarke, Martel, Lomar and
White) passed an evening that will long remain a pleasant memory,
tempered with pain for the one who soon afterwards paid the Supreme
Sacrifice.

Everywhere uproar was rampant. Light, laughter, and good cheer
maintained undisputed sway upon all. Rose-cheeked daughters of France
were toasted again and again, taken into muscular arms and kissed times
without number.

The old marching rallies of the Ten Hundred were roared out from every
tiny house ablaze with light, echoed out into the inscrutable pall of
black and wafted far away into the shadows.

And they toasted the "Old Battalion," the warriors who were lying in the
damp Masnières soil; the Future; and God's own Isle--their little
motherland. It hurt, how it hurt! How the tiny green island rose mistily
before the eyes in all its sun-bathed romance and mystery! How the sweet
aroma of its gold, furze-crowned cliffs, the laughter of blue waters,
the lowing of cattle, came flooding with glad memories on the mind ...
and YOU may not ever again scent that furze or glimpse those waters!

They laughed memory back into its dim past. WHAT of the future? Live
only for the present!

Bunny was happy. Reclining gracefully in the gutter he sang a jumbled
lullaby of melodies.


    "There's maggots in the cheese,
    You can 'ear the beggars sneeze--"


He struggled manfully to his feet, fell into a helpless fit of laughter
and collapsed again into the roadway with a heavy grunt. An N.C.O. found
him there a few minutes later.

"'Ere," he demanded, "wot are you doin' there?"

"Doin'," Bunny chuckled helplessly: "wot think I'm doin ... plantin'
daisies or diggin' for gold?"

"Look 'ere, me lad, if you're lookin' for trouble--!"

"Lookin' for trouble?--not lookin' for anything. Just 'avin' a rest by
the wayside an' gazin' at stars."

"Well, get up or I'll 'old you up, an' you'll SEE 'em then."

"Or-righ'. Want, want, lil' drop toddy?"

"Got much? Pass it over."

"Ain't got none. Only asked if you WANT a-a drop...." He moved away and
from far down the street his dirge carried faintly:


    "There's whiskers on the pork
    We curl 'em with a fork--."


In unhappy contract to Christmas. New Year proved to be a day of short
rations, bully beef and a rehearsal of an attack in the snow. The bread
ration dwindled down to Winkleian proportions.

A move up the line was pending in the near future and rumours that of
all hellish sectors they were going up the Passchendaele-Ypres areas,
were received with continuous outbursts of growling.

The young Staffords who had not the gruesome knowledge of Belgian
desolation were satisfied with a front anywhere near the magic Ypres.
They wanted to see the place where, as one of them was perpertually
saying. "A couple of Blighty regiments made a bloomin' 'ell of a mess of
the whole blooming' Jerry army."

There was everywhere a mutual recognition of a possible, a probable,
German attack on a scale to date unparalleled. Every battalion in the
Brigade was thoroughly cognisant that at some time during the next few
months they would be called upon to make another Cambrai stand. There
was a general feeling that he would attempt to crush the British Army at
a blow, seize the Channel ports, and thus isolate what armies had
escaped the first onslaught.



XI

DECEMBER-JANUARY, 1918

LEULENE--BRANDHOEK--YPRES


January 3.--Snow had, after three weeks on the ground beneath the
hardening influence of a temperature several degrees below zero, evolved
into a surface upon which a constant steady balance demanded no little
skill. Marching encumbered with a full pack, clumsy Army-shod feet, one
arm only free for a much hampered swing, increased the difficulties of
maintaining a secure foothold.

(Full pack: A conglomeration of articles intended in normal ages to be
transported by two mules, but under the influence of advanced
civilisation strapped on the back of one man, in addition to a rifle,
half a dozen Mills' bombs, a Lewis-gun, spade or shovel, sheet of
corrugated iron, or any other article that can be somewhere hung upon
him).

Weariness, fed-upity, after many miles had been laboriously reeled off,
was a factor in slackening vigilance on the semi-ice, many painful falls
resulting--to fall with a pack produces a situation resembling a beetle
on its back.

Stumpy pulled someone out of a snowdrift--then he fell into one himself,
unnoticed. He caught the Battalion up at the halt.

"Oh, 'ell," he shouted indignantly, "I might a' died for all you
bloomin' well cared."

"Why, wot's up?"

"Up? I fell into a bloomin' drift."

"Oh, an' wot the 'ell d'you do that for?"

"Do it for. Why, why...!" The crowd about him grinned.

"P'raps 'e saw 'is ole woman comin 'along the road."

"'E saw the bloomin' captain drop a 'skate' (fag-end) down an' went
after it."

"That's the way 'e 'as 'is weekly wash."

"He was playin' snowballs with 'is bloomin' self."

The command to "fall in" dropped the curtain.

In the grey of dusk the shadowy column marched into Leulene.

The Ten Hundred, after an eleven days' "rest" in the icy grip of a
winter's wind that clung to Leulene unabating throughout the period,
marched away and entrained upon their first portion of journey
front-linewards.

Cattle-trucks provide ample novelty, aroma and draughts. Refuse covering
the floor is swept by the occupants into a corner heap, but someone has
to sleep on it. An open space between a sliding door can comfortably
accommodate two with legs dangling over, but invariably has four or more
hunched-up, jumbled khaki figures.

These trains never hurry: always twist and turn and double back
half-a-dozen times in journeyings from one point to another. Jolting and
jarring is unnoticed--you are past noticing anything after the first
hour!

Officers have usually the luxury of railway carriages, but the private--

Privates: Individuals who form the large proportion of a Battalion.
Their salient duties embrace shining buttons, carrying up officers'
rations, dodging parades, scrubbing out sergeants' and officers' mess,
squad drill, guards, and C.B., picking up paper near the billets,
grousing and growing thin on short rations--during spare moments they
are used for fighting.

Detraining at Brandhoek, the Ten Hundred marched to Brake Camp, a
rambling collection of huts built in a wood near the main road running
between Poperinghe and Ypres, within a short distance of Vlamertynghe.

It was "Pop!" Unchanged, grim and grey, visited day and night by bomb
and shell with the ceaseless activity of that Belgian area. A battalion
of Worcesters, whom the Normans were relieving, painted a merry picture
of the sodden sector.

"Fritz ain't 'alf playin' 'ell wi' the front line. Washed out two
blasted regiments in less than a week...."

"No bloomm' trenches up there. Only shell 'oles an' hundreds of bodies.
Ration parties can't get up wi' the grub...."

"Jerry shells like 'ell orl night an' sends over gas in shells and cloud
orl day. Three 'undred casualties last week an' I 'eard that alf of 'em
kicked the bucket...."

"Old Jerry 'as a million troops from Russia waitin' to come over next
month for his offensive...."

"Yus, Sir Daggie 'Aig sez 'e must sacrifice 'is First Lines. An', wots
more, yer up to the neck in water...."

The Normans slept that night haunted by nightmare visitations created by
minds pervaded with strong "wind-upity." Stumpy succumbed to a. fit of
depression from which nothing could rouse him. Evans (a Stafford) gave
him a fag.

"Cheer up," he said.

"Can't? Bloomin' water up to yer neck an' they don't issue lifebelts an'
I can't swim."

"Garn. That's only wot they SEZ."

"Gas an' shells an' troops."

"Only bloomin' rumours."

"An' no ration parties can got up--oh gawd!"

"Wot about it?"

"No ration parties means no grub an' NO rum. Wot a pore Tommy 'as got
ter put up with."

The following day marching through Ypres they moved further up the Line
to a camp situated near St. Jean and from whence they would make their
final preparations and march towards the duckboard (a series of boards
resembling actual duck-boards and raised to a height above the ground
varying in accordance to the depth of water) track winding up the
wasted shell-torn soil to the communication trenches.

The "atmosphere" of the place was painfully reminiscent to the survivors
from the previous September of the nerve-wrecking task that had been
their unfortunate lot during that Baptism of Fire. The grim devastation
of the flat, water-covered countryside enforced upon the spirits
something of its own desolation. Everywhere the gaunt, shell-shattered
trees, through which o' nights the incessant red glow eastward
penetrated just as it had four months before. Day and night the
perpetual roar of artillery, the heavy shock of falling bombs, the
familiar KR-UMP!

And the knowledge that the brief security of life had passed. Again,
already, none knew who might not glimpse the dawn; again the hell-hot
shrapnel and the writhing human flesh. To-morrow that arm may be a
shattered, jagged hanging "thing" ... how firm, fine, and white it
looks: smooth, strong....

You look curiously along the line of adjacent faces. Can ALL come
through--impossible. Who will go under first ... will it be YOU? Wonder
what it is like to die? Men had often fallen limply near by, a small
round hole in the forehead and a trickle of blood. They seemed calm
enough ... wonder where they went ... did they KNOW they were dead? Do
you feel the bullet whistling through your brain ... do you have one
last lightning thought cut short, "This is Death!"...?

Anyhow, what of it ... others have done it. If they could, you could!

Before going up into the icy-cold of water-logged semi-trenches the feet
were treated with special attention to counteract the action of
continual wet and frost upon the flesh. If the utmost care is not taken,
and the dreaded "trench feet" fastens its fierce grip upon the victim,
there lies before him many weeks of agony in hospital, haunted daily by
a chance of losing one or both feet. All this without the glad
consolation of a WOUND!

Washed in warm water, the feet are greased and powdered and new socks
placed carefully over before setting out on the trudge Linewards.

Trench equipment is issued, two days' rations served out, and a start is
made in the night. Stumpy lost his "grub" by misadventure, but found
somebody else's, withstood a fierce argument for ten minutes and finally
pacified his opponent by "finding" still another issue.

Hoarse orders sent men probing about for their rifles and assortment of
equipment.

The Ten Hundred filed out.



XII

PASSCHENDAELE SECTOR


Eyes gazing eastward at the rising and falling Verey Lights in Jerry's
lines, the Ten Hundred trudged wearily along a sodden plank "road"
winding into a stretch of muddy track strewn on all sides with the
gruesome conglomeration of war's jetsam.

The way had to be carefully chosen past shell-holes full of water, with
here and there a slowly twirling body, a white face shining hideously in
the damp night air. To the south a wavering mass of searchlights flitted
over the sky. Archie guns were raising a fierce distant clamour, the
white puffs from their bursting shrapnel showing like gigantic snowballs
in the glare, but no trace of the Fritz airmen was visible. A series of
violent concussions and the faint high-up throb of aero engines were the
only indications of his gambols.

Then silent filing along a poor system of filthy trenches ... the other
battalion was relieving. Posting of men, reliefs....

To stand there in the night, suffering acutely from the cold, unmoving,
staring fascinated across the little stretch of desolation between the
lines and to watch fanciful shadows until the mind falls prey to
apprehensive imagination construing the posts and wiring into great
fantastic grey-cloaked figures. Then at the turn of the head--WHAT is
that? In one frenzied movement the rifle is levelled across the parapet,
first pressure of the trigger taken and the shadowy bulk watched. Five
long minutes of intense scrutiny--it MOVED, or was it mere fancy? There
again--crack!! And the figure has not fallen ... so through the
darkness, until day reveals a shrivelled form tangled up on the wire
where it died days ago.

Parts of the area were simply connected shell-holes, outposts, the
occupants of which might for hours at a stretch be completely isolated
from the remainder of their battalion, and, receiving no visit from
anyone, have not the merest inkling of what was going on outside of what
lies before their own limited vision.

The failure of water supply reaching these outposts increased an already
severe existence. Someone would go "over the top," crawl to and fill
water-bottles up at the nearest shell-hole. A body or limb might be at
the bottom--who cares! The water is rank, putrid, evil-smelling; but the
fierce, mad craving for drink is not to be denied.

A shell found one of the small advanced posts, killed a few outright and
gashed a long tear into the abdomen of the one survivor. He languished
there alone with the dead for eight hours--they had been "lost." He was
found, removed, died before reaching a Casualty Clearing Station.
Inexorable law of Chance.

Fritz sent over gas shells night and day, hampering rationing parties,
and enforcing prolonged agony inside the hot respirators. Gas, heavier
than air, hangs low over the ground, follows inundations up and down,
and slinks across water: hanging for days over damp soil, and permeating
water with a sickly colour--an obvious danger to troops drinking this
liquid.

Where the country was flooded duck-boards were raised to a height
sufficient to stand above the water and presented at night (all
movements are generally done at nightfall) an alluring task of
maintaining balance on a narrow planking (couple of feat or so) adorned
with no handrails or supports and invisible five feet away. When Fritz
sends over gas and respirators have to be donned during the intricate
negotiation of this "pathway"----!

Clarke and Bennet, moving gingerly beneath two heavy ration issues,
paused abruptly to duck to a whining shell. The latter slipped, fell off
into the miniature ocean, clambered out.

"Oh, 'ell, bloomin' bread too--LOOK OUT!"

"That's the second dud."

"Yes, must be gas." Respirators on they were unable to peer a foot
either way, sat down uncomfortably on the boards and waited for the
attack to move away. But when they did stand up and gazed about them ...
WHICH WAY WAS WHICH?

The absence in places of any line or wiring (posts would not stand up in
the watery soil) permitted men o' nights to wander unawares towards the
Fritz trenches. A crack, a fall--for weeks the body would lie outside
the enemy lines until it rotted and fell apart. And someone was posted
"Missing."

Trench feet began to find its victims among the young Staffords--they
trekked away in agony, but withal glad to get out of it. With the
puzzling rapidity of trench casualties the daily roll increased without
anyone quite grasping how or when this or that man went. He would be
with you this morning, to-morrow you would miss him; inquire and learn
that he had stopped a Blighty.

Evans, an adherent of the occult, vowed that he had been visited by some
eternal being of the spirit world. Stumpy was profoundly interested.

"Wot'd 'e say?"

"Nothing much. Only that somethin' would portend for me to-morrow."

"Oh, did 'e want a drink?"

"Course not."

"If 'e 'ad asked you for your rum ration, would you," anxiously, "'ave
given it to 'im."

"Couldn't: 'adn't any left."

"Wot woz 'e like?"

"Tall, shadowy."

"An' you really believes it?"

"Yus. I 'ave proof--"

"I see. I, I s'pose 'e could give you anything you asked 'im for?"

"Within reason."

"Then," whispered ironically, "ask 'im next time to give me a soft
Blighty an' a drop of toddy, an', oh, some bloomin' fags."

"Can't be done, for something will 'appen to me to-morrow."

He was wrong; decided that the spook had altered for his own good
reasons the daily course of his life and eagerly awaited a visit that
never materialised. Stumpy was disgusted.

"All me eye. I know it wasn't a bloomin' spook when I 'eard 'e 'adn't
asked for a drink. Wot on earth would anyone visit these yere bloomin'
trenches for unless he smelt rum?"

"You don't understand."

"No, an' bloomin' well don't want to. A spook wot rejoins 'is ole
friends on earth an' don't even offer 'em a drink is unnatural--that's
wot I say."

The large, dry and roomy dug-out beloved by the armchair artist, very,
very rarely offers its cosy hospitality to the warrior dwelling in the
Front Line--even if there is anything bearing a faint resemblance to
such an elaboration it is immediately seized by Company Headquarters.
The inter-connecting series of holes occupied by the Normans and
flattered with the term "trenches" had cut here and there into the wet
soil a number of side excavations of smart proportions that served the
purpose of shelter from the elements and shells alike--a heavy barrage
from a pea-shooter would have blown in the muddy roofs of these
water-logged death traps.

To reach the rear lines movement could only be made ON THE TOP and fully
exposed to enemy snipers, who, suffering badly from forced inactivity
and ennui, delighted to exercise their shooting powers by a few minutes'
pleasant concentration upon your helpless figure.

Mud and water, upon which floated an interesting conglomeration of
filthy rubbish, flowed saucily around your ankles, sometimes your
knees, and when you fell off a high duckboard, your neck.

The humour of it--afterwards! The acute misery and suffering of those
long, long nights standing in water; cold, hungry and weary. Body aching
from the fierce winter's blast and the fingers gone stiff, immovable,
almost unfeeling ... with no hope for the future, but always the
ceaseless watch and wait until the great Peace of Death overtakes the
tired body and a troubled soul leaves its burden to be carried on by
those who follow after.

Rain lashed stinging into the face, dripping in rivulets from off the
steel helmet and forcing its way into the neck ... the shrieking of an
unnerving wind ... the blast of mighty shell ... the gas ... death was
NOT the worst alternative.

Fritz played heavily on the back areas; we returned shell for shell, but
no infantry action took place on either side during the eight days of
Norman occupation. The enemy was concentrating his man-power for a Push
with the opening of finer days, and we did not have an excess of men to
waste after the heavy toll of the Cambrai stunt.

The Ten Hundred were relieved for a brief rest.



XIII

PASSCHENDAELE SECTOR

POPERINGHE--STEENVOORDE--BRANDHOEK


The Ten Hundred had revelled in the luxury of a hot bath. "Casey," who
had found and hurriedly slipped into his trouser pocket a full packet of
"fags" inadvertently left behind by some individual with an unbalanced
mind, portrayed his bare arm for general admiration of the four small
scars thereon.

"Waccinated," he said, "by good ole Kinnersley." (Dr.--Captain
Kinnersley, undoubtedly the one man who held the softest corner in the
hearts of all the old Normans, and whose friendly hand-shakes as from
man to man were never forgotten by the "boys" of the original 1st
Battalion).

"Wots the good?" Le Page demanded.

"Good--wot a question. Why, it stops fever, an' smallpox, an' almost
everythin'."

"Any good fer toothache?" The crowd chuckled noisily.

"Would it stop a clock?"

"Any good for a bloomin' non-stop thirst?"

"P'raps it might stop the war?"

"Ever tried it on yer ole woman's tongue, Casey?--but it wouldn't stop
that!"

They were interrupted by a command from the Company Officer to "get a
move on." Company Officer controls a Company. Main functions to dole out
pay (when he's not stopping it), C.B., and rum.

C.B. (Confined to Barracks) and similar punishments are usually granted
you by the genial administrator as an adequate reward for such crimes as
too little razor, too much beer, too weak a polish, or too strong a
language, late on fatigue or early OFF it....

Some men are always in trouble, but provided with a programme of glib
excuses and prepared at a moment's notice to call witnesses (false),
always escape punishment. Some do not care if punished or not and who
boast that they had full value for their "two days C.B." Heaume had a
cute dodge of replying to an officer's angry expostulation that he
(Heaume) had already been "up" twenty times with: "No, sir,--only
sixteen so far."

Seven or eight days at Brake Camp were followed by a week at English
Camp, from whence working parties daily moved up the Line by rail to the
vicinity of Merrythought Station. The Ten Hundred were put through the
mill as never before. "Out fer a rest," a Stafford summed up, "be 'anged
fer a yarn ... called the last place Brake ... breaking us in fer this."

Poperinghe made up for it. A week without one Jerry aeroplane dropping
an experimental bomb or two, without the unpleasant company of Jerry
shells and free from apprehensive hours of uncertainty following a gas
alarm from forward areas in an unfavourable wind.

To be able to purchase from the inhabitants almost every conceivable
necessity dear to the heart of the soldier, to mingle freely with
"civies," to walk on hard, firm roads, theatres, cinemas, and to mingle
nightly with other regiments compensated somewhat for what had passed.

They were shyly proud of their Cambrai record, said little of their
deeds before other men, but withal treasured up every meagre speech of
candid appreciation emanating spontaneously from those who had heard of,
but hitherto had not met the 1st Royal Guernsey. Stumpy, assisted by
his diminutive Middlesex pal, unofficially appointed himself an
authority on Normans and their place in European history.

"It was like this yere," he informed a crowd of Essex in the Church Army
Canteen one quiet evening, "we 'elped to make a 'ell of a mess of
England an' the chap wot we fought for made us, us----"

"Granted you democratic self-government."

"Eh, yes, wot you said."

"But you don't play games--football, cricket--in Guernsey."

"Why don't we?'

"You 'aven't any room ... you'd kick the ball over the side into the
sea." The Englishmen grinned.

"Wot do they wear--clothes or just a belt?"

"Don't s'pose they eat each other?"

"Wonder if any of 'em's black?"

"Wot do they live in--wigwams or caves?"

Stumpy, conscious of somehow saying the wrong thing and hurt by the
shower of friendly sarcasm, shrugged his shoulders.

"Orl right," he said, "take the bloomin' advantage of the tiny
isle--any'ow we 'ad the guts to come out yere."

"That's right, kid," someone offered him a fag, "you were a democracy, a
free country, long before England was ENGLAND at all, before the British
Empire was dreamed of. You were the first elements of that Empire...."

"'Ere," said Stumpy, grinning with delight, "'ave a bloomin' drink."

"Your Battalion saved a whole Division at Cambrai--."

"Ave a bloomin' nother!"

Even during this "rest" in Pop., working parties were daily sent up on
missions varying in detail but never in hardship or risk. They groused
and growled, maintained that their physical condition was becoming worn
down by the excess of work, insisted angrily that a rest should be a
REST and not a camouflaged existence of heavy fatigues, pointed out that
if Jerry came over he would find them too utterly washed out to jab a
bayonet into an ounce of butter, much less a man, and finally demanded
in disgust "if they were the only available Battalion in the Army and
whether they had to clean up the whole bloomin' Front?"

Once within the hospitable walls of Talbot House (can any Tommy ever
look back upon that oasis in war's grim desert without pangs of pleasant
memories) and ensconced deep down in armchairs they forget working
parties and fatigues.

From there they penned their difficult missives home-bound, there they
read and re-read what few lines of intimate information could be eagerly
cleaned from those brief treasured letters from home over the waters to
them.

There was something almost tragic in the downcast look of those who
turned their day's mail aimlessly over with anxious hands and at last
shamefacedly requested some sunny-natured fellow to read out what was
writ thereon. The awful reaping of ignorance, the great void of their
apathetic existence!

What pregnant apprehension of drawing blank pervaded the mind as the eye
expectantly watched the fast dwindling mail in the hands of the N.C.O.
bawling out each name. The exhilarating thrill of glad delight with
which you realised YOUR name and number had been called almost at the
end of the file ... the sense of lonely desolation when there has been
nothing for two days ... back to that torn copy of a magazine that has
been read, re-read, and re-read again and again. But you can't settle
down. They have forgotten you. You don't mind the hell of existence out
here, but their letter was due yesterday and now----"Bah!" bitterly,
"let them bloomin' well forget."

The Ten Hundred moved into Steenvoorde and found themselves entangled in
the intricacies of rehearsals for, and then later actual parade of
Ceremonial Reviews. Here also they had the opportunity of indulging in
that salient portion of training that appealed to them as nothing
else--"firing." Undamaged by shell, cosy, they would have appreciated a
lengthy spell with little to do, but rumours of an avalanche of troops
that were manoeuvring behind the enemy lines became the predominant
topic of discussion and lead to preparations for further movements.

All material (by ceaseless working parties) had been withdrawn from
forward areas. Troops moving out to rest were maintained at points
within a few miles of the Line, and could be rushed up without
appreciable delay into any gap that Jerry might by pure weight of
numbers force in the British lines--nothing was left to chance.

It was pointed out that he would never attempt Flanders mud after the
British experience in the Passchendaele-Poelcapelle stunts of
September-October, 1917. This was countered by that pivot of sentimental
strategy--Ypres. He wanted it--therefore....

He would not GET IT, anyhow!

In the midst of all these conflicting rumours and views the Normans
marched to Godewaersvelde and entrained there for a return to Brandhoek.
At Red Rose Camp they prepared for another lengthy period in the Line,
about the second week in March moved up to another camp in a shelled
area.

Jerry's offensive was expected at any moment; everybody was nervy: and
each Battalion as it came out of the Line thanked its lucky stars that
they had escaped the first onslaught. To even the ignorant strategist it
was patent that either side could, by a preconceived attack, penetrate a
mile or so into any chosen sector of a few miles frontage: but such a
salient had little absolute value in a scheme of operations having the
turning or breaking of a portion of front as objectives. A break had to
be made of twenty or thirty miles and ten or twelve deep, at a stroke,
otherwise with the wonderful elasticity of modern warfare the smashed-in
line would reform, the gap be lost temporarily and by slight withdrawal
of flanks the entire front straighten out and become once more a
concrete whole.

Jerry knew it--and we knew he knew it.



XIV

MARCH-APRIL, 1918

IN THE LINE


California Camp, the Normans' jumping off point for their IN and OUT
occupation of the trenches and working parties when not in the former,
was composed of a collection of tiny huts constructed on similar lines
to the Nissen. The attractions peculiar to this obnoxious assortment of
pygmy habitations were two: could not lie down straight in them,
absolutely impossible to stand up. Circular of roof, mode of entrance
was an enforced elegant attitude on hands and knees wherein a decided
advantage could be derived by going in lobster-wise--backwards, for
there was NOT an ample space in which to turn about.

Jerry artillery had fitful moods of strafing. Days of wild "searching"
with a disgusting series of violent heavies bursting in all directions,
blowing out candles with the concussion and in the darkness bringing
about language-provoking situations that culminated in clumsy searches
for matches ... light would reveal your watery rice careering smugly
about in a boot and half a dozen fags floating sadly in the remnant of
your mess tin of tea!

Bitter cold of night increased. Boots, however soft and pliable when
taken off, however well oiled, would be frozen hard and stiff in the
morning as if cut in steel. To force these essential protections on
called for painful, struggling efforts.... The only remedy was to sleep
with the boots next the body. Placing beneath a pillow was fatuously
inadequate.

They went into the line on a frontage beyond the actual Passchendaele
village and on the far side of the ridge looking down on Jerry trenches.
Watery mud again everywhere ... a further protection of sandbags around
the legs was not a success; trench feet became more and more prevalent
and the germs of trench fever placed Martel, Robin and a long roll on
the casualty list.

Eight days of it, followed by arduous fatigues and working parties in
the reserve lines. Trenches upon trenches in relays were with difficulty
cut into a spongy soil, having apparently one fixed intention, e.g., to
clog on to the spade in gummy lumps. Redoubts were constructed under
directions from R.E.'s and a series of strong points run up at brief
intervals.

When Jerry decided to come over he would have an ample reception. The
weather had developed a finer, milder tone, enabling the occupants of
enemy observation balloons to peer down on the mass of men engaged in
rapid construction of several reserve lines of defence. At times the fit
would take him to play on these exposed areas with his artillery,
raining on the troops a brief fierce barrage, blowing men, horses and
waggons to fragments in all directions, and playing mad havoc amongst
partially-completed earthworks ... but the work went on.

Another eight days in! Night raids, patrols--casualties. Jerry came over
once in the early morning--he went back!

A party of R.E.'s moving up from the south-ard brought with them tidings
of what had occurred near St. Quentin.

"Jerry started 'is little game. Came over in thousands," The speaker was
overwhelmed with eager inquiries.

"Anythin' doin'?", "Did we wash 'im out?", "Wot 'appened?"

"One at a time. Smashed in our line on a fifty mile front."

"WOT!" shouted in chorus.

"Yus. St. Quentin fallen. Fifth Army fair smashed up."

"Good Gawd!"

"Ten miles into our lines."

"Oh, 'ell!"

"Took thirty thousand prisoners--Gawd knows 'ow many guns."

"WOT!"

"Thousands of casualties."

"And 'ave we stopped 'im?"

"No--still fallin' back."

Pessimism, something akin to consternation, found a hold upon the mental
outlook of the troops in the sector. They had held an extraordinary
unshakeable faith in the might of the Army, in its absolute certainty of
holding impregnable what had been theirs from 1916, and upon which all
enemy attempts had realised no concrete success.

And now, at one mighty knock-out blow, the Army was in retreat on a
fifty mile front!

They glanced back upon Ypres. He would try for it ... take it? Day after
day the black budget of "falling back", "prisoners", "using up our
man-power," put the wind up them to such an extent that they began to
curse at their own impotency and helplessness; to fret angrily at a
forced comparative inactivity.

Why were they kept up there while "nothing was doing"? Why were they not
sent south to give a hand to the lads who were daily fighting a stubborn
retreat against avalanches of German reserves?

The Passchendaele sector remained unusually quiet; little strafing
occurred from either artillery, with the exception of a sunset
entertainment organised daily for the benefit of ration parties and
reliefs.

Aeroplanes, after prolonged reconnaissances far into Jerry's territory,
returned and the observers reported no movement or massing of enemy
troops, guns or transport were taking place on a scale beyond the
customary. No advance upon Ypres was at the moment anticipated unless he
still farther stretched out an already extended, far-flung battle zone.

The working parties put their backs into the work with every intention
of making a line upon which some thousands of Huns would be rendered
casualties before it capitulated. Jerry, watching them do it, with
ironical humour left them alone as if their labour were in vain, and
long before the trenches would be required the British Army would be cut
in two. Perhaps!

Fritz adopted a nasty habit in the form of lobbing over from fifteen
miles away a new type of heavy shell, apparently under experimental
observation. One fell among the Guernsey cookers, tearing a chunk cut of
Sergt. Le Lacheur (he had been waiting for a Blighty for months),
wounding several and mauling a few into fearsome masses of red flesh.

Grouser--he had not been with the Battalion long--found vent for his
feelings. "Ain't got any blarsted sense, them Germans aint. War--it
ain't war to smash up the bloomin' cookers ... 'ow the 'ell does 'e
think we'll do about grub now?"

"Complain. Grouser, ole son, to the C.O." (C.O.: Commanding Officer--the
colonel.--Draws the best paying winner in the Battalion Stakes and also
the softest job). He was let in for a baiting.

"Send Jerry a bar of chocolate in exchange for a new cooker."

"Ask 'em to confer the O.B.E. on the Jerry wot fired the shell."

"You needn't worry about the grub. Grouser--you can live on nuts."

"Plenty of hay with the transport."

"Oh," Grouser turned abruptly, "plenty of hay.... You found yer bloomin'
natural fodder, eh! Aye, ye're every bit such a donkey as ye look."

"Look 'ere, wot d'you take me for?"

"Take you for? Wouldn't take you fer a bloomin' gift. We used to have
one like you with our organ--'ad it on a chain."

The Ten Hundred prepared after a last night in the line to move back
during the first week in April for the long rest upon which their
anticipations had been longingly concentrated for weeks.

No Battalion moved more than a few miles behind the sectors owing to the
uncertainty of future enemy developments. His line of attack had been
lengthened from both original flanks until at the lull in his scheme of
offensive a length of over seventy miles had been attained.

He was preparing for a second wild onslaught, again to the far south of
Passchendaele ... of the result everyone felt a little uncertain. It was
obvious that sooner or later he would attempt a headlong rush upon those
lines of communication with the Home Country--Channel Ports--so vital a
factor in the efficient maintenance of the B.E.F.

The Normans came out. D Company was sent on in the direction of Proven,
attained within a kilo of the town and was intercepted by a despatch
rider, who carried with him orders for their immediate return. A stir of
apprehensive uncertainty spread through the ranks. What had happened?
Surely they were not going to be rushed into the line somewhere ... they
had only just come out.

They turned, encountered the Battalion at Brandhoek. A fleet of lorries
was awaiting them.

Something was ON.

A thunderstorm turned its lashing rain upon their unprotected forms,
drenched them utterly and damped their spirits. A sense of some
indefinable presentiment of future dimmer crept over the mind, that
subtle consciousness of approaching death forced its black pessimism
upon their thoughts. They watched the heavy grey clouds scuttling
overhead, watched the rain dropping from off each man's steel helmet,
and gazed across the long desolate stretch of watery earth, tangled
debris and shattered cottages.

Shivering with the cold, wet, hungry and weary. An hour before, marching
elated in the knowledge of a few days' freedom from the haunting
knowledge of Life's uncertainty--now they were in for something they all
pregnantly felt would involve them in a slaughter that might place Finis
to the Battalion. The Cambrai survivors stared sadly into the closing
gloom ... they had gone through Rues Vertes--COULD their luck hold
twice!

The lorries moved away ... the Norman Ten Hundred went out again to
hang-on or fall, to uphold the traditions dearly bought by those who had
gone over the Divide a few months before.

If they could DO IT then, they could do it NOW.



XV

APRIL 10-14, 1918

DOULIEU-ESTAIRES


The Ten Hundred slept in their lorries at Berquin before moving into
billets. No sign of enemy activity presented itself apart from the
incessant rumble of distant guns. A Jerry 'plane came over on
reconnaissance, taking little precaution and not flying high. They had
unpleasant recollections of enemy 'planes, turned their rifles on him,
and between C and D Companies brought him down--they took the occupants
prisoners.

At five o'clock received orders to move up in the direction of Doulieu
in reserve. They dug in with the inadequate implement carried in all
equipment, accompanied only by an unnatural quiet. No troops were
falling back on them, no hurried retreat or artillery, and no fierce
strafing from enemy guns.

Throughout the night they stared far away into the East watching for the
enemy who was coming. The silence was still undisturbed, they waited
with fast-beating pulse for the long rows of onward, sweeping grey....

Dawn! And with it orders to move forward to Doulieu itself and there
fill in the gap.

Almost into the objective before they saw him. Grey-coated forms swarmed
for miles in relay upon relay of everincreasing rows, advanced with
deadly certainty, and supported by an astonishing mass of machine-guns.

The grim old spirit came to the fore. They rained in on the approaching
waves a mad fire from smoking rifles and Lewis guns. His pace slackened
not one jot ... again the Normans pumped in the lead until the hands
blistered from hot rifles. Futile! They had not the men to stop
one-tenth of the foe moving in thousands over fields and hedges upon
them. Teeth clenched in agony. "Curse you," they sobbed, "curse your
numbers...."

His machine-guns whined over into their ranks ten or twelve thousand
rounds a minute along the frontage. Men fell in huddled heaps across one
another. The machine-gun barrage swept backwards and forwards over the
first and second lines, sweeping and intercrossing in one mighty net ...
the Normans were ordered to fall back, make liaison with battalion
relieving on either flank and dig in on a new line.

Again through the night they watched the pall before them, and again
Jerry made no sign. Orders were given just after daybreak for a further
retirement ... they marched back four or five kilos with heavy hearts.
Why not have fought to a standstill where they had first sighted him?
They shrugged shoulders wearily, and turned to the task of digging in.
He opened his machine-guns upon the thin row of khaki figures, a figure
here and there fell forward upon the little spade into a grave he had
prepared for himself. Two young Staffords collapsed side by side upon
the turf and smiled fixedly up into the sky, six or eight holes
perforating each chest.

The bullets whined and whistled everywhere, conveying to the mind a huge
swarm of bees. He tried a long sweep of low shots, just skirting the
tops of the semi-completed excavations ... got home every twenty yards
or so, clean through the neck or forehead.

The Normans settled down, opened fire steadily and played havoc amongst
the advanced enemy machine-guns. His progress stopped, the opposing
lines sniped at each other. The Normans were in their element--they knew
how to shoot.

"'Olding 'im up now."

"Yes. 'E can't shoot with 'is rifles."

"No--seems to 'ave all bloomin' machine-guns."

For two hours, they kept him pinned down to one position, wiped out his
one brief rush and inspired within him an unholy fear or their rifles.
They watched with fierce cunning the movements of fifty or so snipers
and "light" machine-gunners creeping upon them under cover of long
grasses ... a bloody fire was opened for ten minutes on the figures--the
grass stained red. Not one returned.

A Battalion on the Norman right fell back under the weight of enemy
forces, thereby exposing a Guernsey flank.... Another retirement and
again a wild scramble across fields interlaced by row after row of
irrigation canals conveying water in this wide net-like system over a
large area from one main source of supply. To avoid the larger
excavations men were wont to crowd into the roadways, make in a body for
ready gateways and openings. Upon these obvious points Jerry
concentrated a continuous stream of machine-gun fire; the casualties
here were heaped up hideously in small masses and the blood from one man
trickled over another.

Troops from half-a-dozen regiments, scattered confusedly in all
directions, moved rearwards side by side. It was almost an impossibility
to rejoin Battalions--Battalions!--a mere couple of hundred men and a
few officers formed what after two days of fighting constituted a
Battalion. But they had to DO the work of a full Battalion--and they
DID!

Wounded fell despairingly, gazed with appealing eyes at the lines of
ever distancing khaki, placed their rifles to one side and awaited the
onrushing enemy tide. Some few with what futile strength could be
mustered by superhuman effort tottered and staggered uncertainly in the
direction they dimly imagined their comrades had taken. One by one fell
prey to exhaustion, dropped with a last frenzied sob unto the earth;
some lay still and quiet, peppered by a second stream of lead. Others,
writhing in agony, dazed, mad, waited the Jerry approach and picked off
man after man until a bayonet thrust put finis to their last impotent
struggles.

In secluded corners a few bled slowly undiscovered, unthought of ...
there for days they remained until the bodies--lockjaw, gangrene, loss
of blood--were rolled together into one great hole or perchance buried
apart, and for tombstone the late owner's rifle stuck into the earth and
inscribed thereon that only too frequent epitath--an unknown British
soldier!

Back, ever back! The disheartening realisation that he CANNOT be stayed
for any lengthy period, that his reserves are undiminished and
constantly moving up to fill the gaps made in his ranks, cast a heavy
shadow of pessimism over the ragged, weary figures for ever moving
westward. At lengthy intervals no sign of the grey figures anywhere met
the eye, but the inevitable order to retreat was obeyed--grumbling,
cursing.

"Wot the 'ell are we goin' back again for? There ain't any sign of
Jerry."

"No, but 'e 'as got through too far to the south."

"Yes--an' we're moving back north-west now."

"Why?"

"Dunno. 'E's got round some'ow to the south."

An hour or undisturbed quiet. Nothing could be seen, no shells (his
artillery was unable to keep pace with the rapidity of advance), no gas.
Then through the silence, from nowhere it seemed, a half-spent bullet
whistled and buried itself with a spiteful "phut." After a pause ... a
whine, accompanied by others, falling short. In the distance his
machine-gunners and advanced screen of scouts appeared ... the whining
merged into a constant buzzing, men coughed furiously and bent forward,
fell awkwardly ... straightened out. Here and there a khaki figure
clutched fiercely at tufts of grass, writhed feverishly in one last
desperate fight for breath, looked a sad farewell at their living
comrades--a glance that went straight to the heart--and went their way
into the warrior's hall in Valhalla.

From far down the flank a further movement rearward could be noticed
spreading yard by yard until once more, weary of spirit, worn, hungry,
you stood up somewhere in the stream of lead and retired.

At nightfall he would be out of view. By morning his advanced posts
would be sniping at the thin khaki line. Night ... an ebony pall pierced
by a score of brilliant burning houses. Fantastic, grotesque. Crimson
glows upon which tired eyes rested unthinking, uncaring, the mind worn
under the ceaseless repetition: "When will we stop? Why don't they let
us fight it out? God, we'd make a mess of him anyhow." Then someone
would address no one in particular:

"Wonder 'ow many we 'ave left?"

"Gawd knows. About a 'undred an' fifty."

"See 'im toppling our lads out at Verbequie?"

"Yes. An' by that meadow gate. It makes me blood boil to think they
won't let us 'ave a go at 'im."

"Ah, well. I s'pose it will be my turn to-morrow."

That is the crux of it: Your turn to-morrow? Who can tell ... what does
it matter ... what is life after all? But the all-pervading ardour of
youth's "Will of Life" whispers with a bitter realisation of what death
really means that you WANT to live. Never before has existence been so
full of future possibilities, the wish for life so poignant!

His overwhelming numerical superiority gave no evidence of slackening,
his pressure on the gaping line of khaki continued unabated. No
reserves, or hope of relief, were apparent. There was no alternative but
to carry on day after day in continuous fighting retreat with very small
numbers spread over a wide area.

Over the fields and meadows roamed farm cattle, some bleeding and
running wildly about bellowing with fear. Cows moaned in agony for the
dire need of milking, but who was there to do it? In the farms were
styes full of half-starved pigs, grunting and groaning with hideous
effect. They were turned loose to fend for themselves, ran rampant over
the carefully sown ground and growing potatoes--the sad results of
months of painstaking effort. Fowls fluttered and screamed with wild
flapping wings, men seized the eggs and drank them down in a fierce
famished hunger.

Along all the roads for miles streamed a piteous spectacle of old women,
children and dogs. Before them a plaintive little barrow of belongings,
on the backs of the men small red bundles tied hastily together.
Wrinkled old men limped laboriously along on heavy sticks ... sometimes
by the wayside a white-faced, white-haired old dame sat exhausted,
crouching in fear over a poor little bundle; alone, trembling, deserted.
The whine of the bullets crept nearer and troops began to pass.

"'Ere, mother, can't you get on?" Not comprehending the words but fully
grasping the meaning, the unhappy old head was shaken. A passing
ambulance was stopped and the frail old form gently placed in with the
wounded--sometimes. There was not always an ambulance. Many a wrinkled,
bent old man or woman, shrinking in fear by the roadside, were left in
dire desolation to the mercy of their foe.

Some few old folks stood by their homes to the last, until the khaki
rows were far across the fields away, and shot whistling about the eaves
of the old thatched roof farm ... dotted here and there on their grass
land a still Britisher kept them company until the Germans passed over
and onward, collected the bodies, buried them.

Unshaven, tattered and unwashed, Stumpy, lamed in the left foot, potted
shot after shot at each retirement, aiming at no one target, but, as he
observed. "Even if I don't 'it 'im, I might puncture 'is bloomin' rum
ration."

"But wot are you aimin' at?"

"Nothin'. Just 'igh in the air. Like--that there. Who knows: why it
might just ketch ole Kaiser Bill in the bloomin' belly if 'e came up
close 'nough."

Uncouth, uncultured, rough of manner, of speech. Good-natured, full of
courage, humour. Stumpy ... short, fat and clumsy. Withal a man, a
warrior. Before mid-day blood was spouting from out five vital wounds
and in a few seconds faintness began to spread over him. His eyes filled
with tears.

"I feels bad," he said, "can't, can't the bleedin' be stopped? I don't
want to go under ... think they can get me away before Jerry comes?
Things some'ow ain't over clear: everything foggy." Casey came over to
him, white-faced and half-crying himself.

"You're orl right, ole pal," he said, "not bleedin' much now."

"No. But it's cloudy. D'you find it cloudy?"

"Yes. A 'ell of a mist creepin' up. Want any water?"

"No, but," with a faint grin, "got any rum?"

"'Ere you," an N.C.O. ran up and touched Casey, "Captain wants a runner.
Get a move on."

"But poor ole Stumpy yere----"

"D'you 'ear wot I said. Go on, 'op it, or I'll--well, put lead in
yer."

"Orl right. So long, ole pal."

"So long." Stumpy tried hard to see him through the mistiness before his
eyes, "but you'll get me away before Jerry comes...." Casualty list two
weeks later: "Pte.----." Missing. April 12th. He is still unheard of,
forgotten. His grave is undisturbed somewhere in peaceful loneliness.

Estaires and Doulieu were several miles in the enemy lines, the Normans
entangled with Staffords and Middlesex converged back past Bleu, moving
as far as any one direction could be determined, approximately
north-west.

There seemed to be no officers left, few over fifty Royal Guernsey ranks
could be counted. Company Headquarters were no more, the scattered few
had no means of access to their C.O., joined in and formed fighting
blocks with mutual consent and without actual leaders, and carried on
the hourly withdrawal. From out this remnant Lance-Corporal Hamel
scrambled away to a dressing station, two ominous trickles of blood
streaming down his legs. Winter Gregg (M.M.), too, got away in a
semi-conscious condition.

One of the few trench mortar shells burst within a yard of a tall
youngster. Unscathed, blackened, he turned with a piercing scream.

"God, oh my God! Where is the sun? The light 'as gone out. Someone, his
voice rose to a mad shriek, 'someone come 'ere. I can't see. I'm blind,
I'm blind, oh I'm blind." He threw himself on the earth and sobbed in
fearful agony. They helped him to his feet, led him away, but there
echoed back his remorseful wail; "I'm blind, blind!"

That gets you. Blind! Better death....

The hours sped. Men fell with none to replace them, and in the knowledge
that the enemy had fresh troops, was well supplied, and in his rear a
great artillery straining forward to take part in the slaughter,
aeroplanes above, the tail-end of a few decimated Battalions fought on
against the hopeless odds before them. As long as a man had life in his
body, rifle and shot, he used them to advantage. The next Britisher
might be forty yards away or more, but until he was ordered to retire he
would ... "'ang on like 'ell to that there strip."

The Staffords after three days of it, through the whole of which period
they had stuck doggedly, pluckily, to their task, had dwindled down to a
scattered few on the nightfall of the 15th April. Forty, perhaps fifty,
completely exhausted, filthy and tattered Normans still clung about
their C.O. on a frontage a few miles south of Merris. The very
mechanical stupor that at last commenced to give way beneath unceasing
hardship. Nature demanded sleep. Not the brief, wakeful moments snatched
at intervals in the night, but sleep, long, quiet, undisturbed.

From an observation balloon high in the air above its motor trolley
Jerry observers reported on the shattered remnant still holding out. He
pressed home his advantage upon the tired troops ... rifles grew hot.
The few Normans were again forced back.

Relief by Australians was effected near Merris. The tiny, devastated
string of Normans (53) came out. But in a situation of acute urgency
they were still used to construct trenches upon which withdrawal by the
newly engaged Divisions could be made.

The Brigadier. G.O.C., 80th Brigade, a few weeks later bade farewell to
the little force in a speech that sent a wild thrill of pride throughout
the small Battalion.

In their honour the Divisional band played them on their march to a
station ("Ebblingham"), from which they entrained for G.H.Q., where they
were to take over duties from the H.A.C.

And thus the Passing from the Great Undertaking!

Farewell, Norman warriors who this night in Valhalla sing of mighty
deeds of valour from high with the Anses.

Farewell, a sad farewell, to for ever lost echoes to ten hundred voiced
raised in rallying chorus to the swing of square shoulders and the ring
of manly feet.

The "old order changeth." Away from the strong fray ... free life ...
laughter, glamour, song ... the Great Open ... the MEN....

Back to the little world, its little things, to ITS LITTLE LIFE.


    See ye Masnières canal a flood
    And where yon green graves lay?
    There Norman warriors fled to their God
    Ne'er more to glimpse the day.
    But writ there, first, a name in blood--
          Norman Ten Hundred.

    At Doulieu, the night birds flits
    Across yon blue-gray water.
    And in dusk ghost warriors sit--
    Wraiths of a fearsome slaughter.
    There too in blood the name is writ--
          Norman Ten Hundred.

    And thus there the battle's flame
    Laid men out fast and low,
    So Young Sarnia died, but Fame
    Cast o'er their graves its glow,
    And honours wove about the name
          Norman Ten Hundred.





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