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Title: From Bapaume to Passchendaele, 1917
Author: Gibbs, Philip, 1877-1962
Language: English
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FROM BAPAUME TO
PASSCHENDAELE



FROM BAPAUME TO
PASSCHENDAELE

1917

BY

PHILIP GIBBS

AUTHOR OF

"THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME," "THE SOUL
OF THE WAR," ETC.

_WITH MAPS_


TORONTO

WILLIAM BRIGGS

1918



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY THE COMPLETE PRESS
WEST NORWOOD ENGLAND



CONTENTS


    CHAP                                        Page

  INTRODUCTION                                     1

  PART I
  RETREAT FROM THE SOMME

      I. A NEW YEAR OF WAR                        23
     II. AN ATTACK NEAR LE TRANSLOY               28
    III. THE ABANDONMENT OF GRANDCOURT            31
     IV. THE GORDONS IN THE BUTTE DE WARLENCOURT  33
      V. THE BATTLE OF BOOM RAVINE                36
     VI. THE ENEMY WITHDRAWS                      38
    VII. OUR ENTRY INTO GOMMECOURT                39
   VIII. WHY THE ENEMY WITHDREW                   44
     IX. THE AUSTRALIANS ENTER BAPAUME            49
      X. THE RESCUE OF PÉRONNE                    55

  PART II
  ON THE TRAIL OF THE ENEMY

      I. THE MAKING OF NO MAN'S LAND              60
     II. THE LETTER OF THE LAW                    63
    III. THE ABANDONED COUNTRY                    66
     IV. THE CURÉ OF VOYENNES                     70
      V. THE CHÂTEAU OF LIANCOURT                 73
     VI. THE OLD WOMEN OF TINCOURT                77
    VII. THE AGONY OF WAR                         79
   VIII. CAVALRY IN ACTION                        83

  PART III
  THE BATTLE OF ARRAS

      I. ARRAS AND THE VIMY RIDGE                 87
     II. LONDONERS THROUGH THE GERMAN LINES       96
    III. THE STRUGGLE ROUND MONCHY                99
     IV. THE OTHER SIDE OF VIMY                  108
      V. THE WAY TO LENS                         113
     VI. THE SLAUGHTER AT LAGNICOURT             124
    VII. THE TERRORS OF THE SCARPE               125
   VIII. THE BACKGROUND OF BATTLE                133
     IX. HOW THE SCOTS TOOK GUÉMAPPE             137
      X. THE OPPY LINE                           139
     XI. THE BATTLE OF MAY 3                     142
    XII. FIELDS OF GOLD                          148

  PART IV
  THE BATTLE OF MESSINES

      I. WYTSCHAETE AND MESSINES                 152
     II. THE SPIRIT OF VICTORY                   159
    III. AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE                    164
     IV. THE EFFECT OF THE BLOW                  172
      V. LOOKING BACKWARD                        176
     VI. THE AUSTRALIANS AT MESSINES             180
    VII. A BATTLE IN A THUNDER-STORM             183
   VIII. THE TRAGEDY AT LOMBARTZYDE              186
     IX. THE STRUGGLE FOR HELL WOOD              190

  PART V
  THE BATTLES OF FLANDERS
  AND THE CANADIANS AT LENS

      I. BREAKING THE SALIENT                    195
     II. FROM PILKEM RIDGE TO HOLLEBEKE          201
    III. THE BEGINNING OF THE RAINS              206
     IV. PILL-BOXES AND MACHINE-GUNS             211
      V. THE SONG OF THE COCKCHAFERS             221
     VI. WOODS OF ILL-FAME                       226
    VII. THE BATTLE OF LANGEMARCK                230
   VIII. CAPTURE OF HILL SEVENTY                 234
     IX. LONDONERS IN GLENCORSE WOOD             242
      X. SOMERSETS AT LANGEMARCK                 246
     XI. THE IRISH IN THE SWAMPS                 251
    XII. THE WAY THROUGH GLENCORSE WOOD          255
   XIII. THE SLAUGHTER-HOUSE OF LENS             261
    XIV. THE AGONY OF ARMENTIÈRES                269
     XV. THE BATTLE OF MENIN ROAD                274
    XVI. THE WAY TO PASSCHENDAELE                294
   XVII. THE BATTLE OF POLYGON WOOD              298
  XVIII. ABRAHAM HEIGHTS AND BEYOND              308
    XIX. SCENES OF BATTLE                        321
     XX. THE SLOUGH OF DESPOND                   329
    XXI. THE ASSAULTS ON PASSCHENDAELE           339
   XXII. ROUND POELCAPPELLE                      343
  XXIII. THE CANADIANS COME NORTH                356
   XXIV. LONDON MEN AND ARTISTS                  372
    XXV. THE CAPTURE OF PASSCHENDAELE            376



FROM BAPAUME TO PASSCHENDAELE

INTRODUCTION


1917.... I suppose that a century hence men and women will think of that
date as one of the world's black years flinging its shadow forward to
the future until gradually new generations escape from its dark spell.
To us now, only a few months away from that year, above all to those of
us who have seen something of the fighting which crowded every month of
it except the last, the colour of 1917 is not black but red, because a
river of blood flowed through its changing seasons and there was a great
carnage of men. It was a year of unending battle on the Western Front,
which matters most to us because of all our youth there. It was a year
of monstrous and desperate conflict. Looking back upon it, remembering
all its days of attack and counter-attack, all the roads of war crowded
with troops and transport, all the battlefields upon which our armies
moved under fire, the coming back of the prisoners by hundreds and
thousands, the long trails of the wounded, the activity, the traffic,
the roar and welter and fury of the year, one has a curious physical
sensation of breathlessness and heart-beat because of the burden of so
many memories. The heroism of men, the suffering of individuals, their
personal adventures, their deaths or escape from death, are swallowed up
in this wild drama of battle so that at times it seems impersonal and
inhuman like some cosmic struggle in which man is but an atom of the
world's convulsion. To me, and perhaps to others like me, who look on at
all this from the outside edge of it, going into its fire and fury at
times only to look again, closer, into the heart of it, staring at its
scenes not as men who belong to them but as witnesses to give evidence
at the bar of history--for if we are not that we are nothing--and to
chronicle the things that have happened on those fields, this sense of
impersonal forces is strong. We see all this in the mass. We see its
movement as a tide watched from the bank and not from the point of view
of a swimmer breasting each wave or going down in it. Regimental
officers and men know more of the ground in which they live for a while
before they go forward over the shell-craters to some barren slope where
machine-guns are hidden below the clods of soil, or a line of concrete
blockhouses heaped up with timber and sand-bags on one of the ridges.
They know with a particular intimacy the smallest landmarks there--the
forked branch among some riven trees that are called a "wood," a dead
body that lies outside their wire, the muzzle of a broken gun that pokes
out of the slime, a hummock of earth that is a German strong point. They
know the stench of these places. They know the filth of them, in their
dug-outs and in their trenches, in their senses and in their souls. I
and a few others have a view less intimate, and on a wider scale. We go
to see how our men live in these places, but do not stay with them. We
go from one battle to another as doctors from one case to another,
feeling the pulse of it, watching its symptoms, diagnosing the prospects
of life or death, recording its history, as observers and not as the
patients of war, though we take a few of its risks, and its tragedy
darkens our spirit sometimes, and the sight of all this struggle of men,
the thought of all this slaughter and sacrifice of youth, becomes at
times intolerable and agonizing. This broad view of war is almost as
wearing to the spirit, though without the physical strain, as the closer
view which soldiers have. The wounded man who comes down to the
dressing-station after his fight sees only the men around him at the
time, and it is a personal adventure of pain limited to his own
suffering, and relieved by the joy of his escape. But we see the many
wounded who stream down month after month from the battlefields--for
three and a half years I have watched the tide of wounded flowing back,
so many blind men, so many cripples, so many gassed and stricken
men--and there is something staggering in the actual sight of the
vastness and the unceasing drift of this wreckage of war. So we have
seen the fighting in the year 1917 in the whole sweep of its bloody
pageant; and the rapidity with which one battle followed another after
an April day in Arras, the continued fury of gun-fire and infantry
assaults, and the long heroic effort of our men to smash the enemy's
strength before the year should end, left us, as chroniclers of this
twelve months' strife, overwhelmed by the number of its historic
episodes and by its human sacrifice.

The year began with the German retreat from the Somme battlefields. It
was a withdrawal for strategical reasons--the shortening of the enemy's
line and the saving of his man-power--but also a retreat because it was
forced upon the enemy by the greatness of his losses in the Somme
fighting. He would not have left the Bapaume Ridge and all his elaborate
defences down to Péronne and Roye unless we had so smashed his divisions
by incessant gun-fire and infantry assaults that he was bound to
economize his power for adventures elsewhere. On the ground from which
he drew back, more hurriedly than he desired because we followed quickly
on his heels to Bapaume, he left some of his dead. Many of his dead.
Below Loupart Wood I saw hundreds of them, strewn about their broken
batteries, and lying in heaps of obscene flesh in the wild chaos of
earth which had been their trenches. On one plot of earth a few hundred
yards in length there were 800 dead, and over all this battlefield one
had to pick one's way to avoid treading on the bits and bodies of men.
From the mud, arms stretched out like those of men who had been drowned
in bogs. Boots and legs were uncovered in the muck-heaps, and faces with
eyeless sockets on which flies settled, clay-coloured faces with broken
jaws, or without noses or scalps, stared up at the sky or lay half
buried in the mud. I fell once and clutched a bit of earth and found
that I had grasped a German hand. It belonged to a body in field-grey
stuck into the side of a bank on the edge of all this filthy
shambles.... In the retreat the enemy laid waste the country behind him.
I have described in this book the completeness of that destruction and
its uncanny effect upon our senses as we travelled over the old No Man's
Land through hedges of barbed wire and across the enemy's trenches into
his abandoned strongholds like Gommecourt and Serre, and then into open
country where German troops had lived beyond our gun-fire in French
villages still inhabited by civilians. It was like wandering through a
plague-stricken land abandoned after some fiendish orgy, of men drunk
with the spirit of destruction. Every cottage in villages for miles
around had been gutted by explosion. Every church in those villages had
been blown up. The orchards had been cut down and some of the graves
ransacked for their lead. There had been no mercy for historic little
towns like Bapaume and Péronne, and in Bapaume the one building that
stood when we entered--the square tower of the Town Hall--was hurled up
a week later when a slow fuse burnt to its end, and only a hole in the
ground shows where it had been. The enemy left these slow-working fuses
in many places, and "booby-traps" to blow a man to bits or blind him for
life if he touched a harmless-looking stick or opened the lid of a box,
or stumbled over an old boot. One of the dirty tricks of war.

We followed the enemy quickly to Bapaume northwards towards Quéant, but
with only small patrols farther east, where he retired in easy stages
with rear-guards of machine-gunners to his Hindenburg line behind St.
Quentin. The absence of large numbers of British soldiers in this
abandoned country scared one. Supposing the enemy were to come back in
force? It was difficult to know his whereabouts. We were afraid of
running our cars into his outposts. "Can you tell me where our front
line is," asked a friend of mine to a sergeant leaning against a ruined
wall and chatting to a private who stood next to him. The sergeant
removed his cigarette from his mouth and with just the glint of a smile
in his eyes said, "Well, sir, I am the front line." It was almost like
that for a week or two. I went down roads where there was no sign of a
trench or a patrol and knew that the enemy was very close. One felt
lonely. Sir Douglas Haig did not waste his men in a futile pursuit of
the enemy. He wanted them elsewhere, and decided that the Germans would
not return over the roads they had destroyed by mine-craters to the
villages they had laid waste. He was concentrating masses of men round
Arras for the battles which had been planned in the autumn of '16.

The Commander-in-Chief has explained in one of his dispatches how the
general plan of campaign for the spring offensive was modified because
of the German retreat which relieved us of another battle of the Ancre.
It was readjusted also, as he has written, in order to meet the wishes
of the French Command, so that the attack on the Messines Ridge, to be
followed by operations against the Flanders ridges towards the coast,
had to be made secondary to the actions around Arras and the Scarpe.
They were intended to hold a number of German divisions while the French
undertook their own great offensive in the Champagne under the supreme
command of General Nivelle. In the Arras battles our troops were to do
the "team work" for the French, and if the combined operations did not
produce decisive results the British Armies might then be transferred to
Flanders, according to the original plan. It was a handicap to our own
strategical ideas, and was certain to weaken our divisions without
increasing our prestige before they could be sent to Flanders for the
most important assaults on our length of front. In loyalty to our Allies
it was decided to subordinate our own plan to theirs, and this agreement
was carried out utterly. By bad luck the Italians were not ready to
strike at the same time, and the Russian revolution had already begun to
relieve the enemy of his Eastern menace, so that the Anglo-French
offensive did not have the prospect of decisive victory which might have
come if the German armies had been pressed on all fronts.

Our regimental officers and men knew nothing of all this high strategy,
nothing of the international difficulties which confronted our High
Command. They knew only that they had to attack strong and difficult
positions and that the immediate success depended upon their own
leadership and the courage and training of their men. They were sure of
that and hoped for a victory which would break the German spirit. They
devoted themselves to the technical details of their work, and only in
subconscious thought pondered over the powers that lie behind the
preparations of battle and decide the fate of fighting men. The scenes
in Arras and on the roads that lead to Arras are not to be forgotten by
men who lived through them. Below ground as well as above ground
thousands of soldiers worked night and day for weeks before the hour of
attack. Above ground they were getting many guns into position, making
roads, laying cables, building huts and camps, hurrying up vast stores
of material. Below ground they were boring tunnels and making them
habitable for many battalions, with ventilation shafts and electric
light. All the city of Arras has an underground system of vaults and
passages dug out in the time of the Spanish Netherlands when the houses
of the citizens were built of stone quarried from the ground on which
they stood. These subterranean passages were deepened and lengthened
until they went a mile or more beyond Arras to the edge of the German
front lines. The old vaults where the merchants kept their stores were
propped up and cleaned out, and in this underground world thousands of
our men lived for several days before the battle waiting for "zero" hour
on April 9, when they would come up into the light and see the
shell-fire which was now exploding above them, unloosing boulders of
chalky rock about them and shaking the bowels of the earth. The enemy
knew of our preparations and of this life in Arras, and during the week
before the battle he flung many shells into the city, smashing houses
already stricken, "strafing" the station and the barracks, the squares
and courtyards, and the roads that led in and out. During the progress
of the battle I went many times into the broken heart of Arras while the
bodies of men and horses lay about where transport columns had gone
galloping by under fire and while the shrill whine of high velocities
was followed by the crash of shells among the ruins. In the town and
below it there were always crowds of men during the weeks of fighting
outside. I went through the tunnels when long columns of soldiers in
single file moved slowly forward to another day's battle in the fields
beyond, and when another column came back, wounded and bloody after
their morning's fight.

The wounded and the unwounded passed each other in these dimly lighted
corridors. Their steel hats clinked together. Their bodies touched.
Wafts of stale air laden with a sickly stench came out of the vaults.
Faint whiffs of poison-gas filtered through the soil above and made men
vomit. For the most time the men were silent as they passed each other,
but now and then a wounded man would say, "Oh, Christ!" or "Mind my arm,
mate," and an unwounded man would pass some remark to the man ahead. In
vaults dug into the sides of the passages were groups of tunnellers and
other men half screened by blanket curtains. Their rifles were propped
against the quarried rocks. They sat on ammunition boxes and played
cards to the light of candles stuck in bottles, which made their shadows
flicker fantastically on the walls. They took no interest in the
procession beyond their blankets--the walking wounded and the troops
going up. Some of them slept on the stone floors with their heads
covered by their overcoats and made pillows of their gas-masks. Under
some old houses of Arras were women and children--about 700 of
them--among our soldiers. They were the people who had lived underground
since the beginning of the war and would not leave. Only four of them
went away when they were told of the coming battle and its dangers. "We
will stay," they said with a certain pride because they had seen so much
war. A few women were wounded and one or two killed. Later, after the
first day's battle, in spite of some high velocities from long-range
guns, the streets and squares were filled with soldiers, and Arras was
tumultuous with the movement of men and horses and mules and wagons. The
streets seethed with Scottish soldiers muddy as they came straight out
of battle, bloody as they walked in wounded. Many battalions of Jocks
came into the squares, and their pipers came to play to them. I watched
the Gordons' pipers march up and down in stately ritual, and their
colonel, who stood next to me, looked at them with a proud light in his
eyes as the tune of "Highland Laddie" swelled up to the gables and
filled the open frontages of the gutted houses. Snowflakes fell lightly
on the steel hats of the Scots in the square, and mud was splashed to
the khaki aprons over their kilts--no browner than their hard lean
faces--as a battery rumbled across the cobbled place and the drivers
turned in their saddles to grin at the fine swagger of the pipers and
the triumph of the big drumsticks. An old woman danced a jig to the
pipes, holding her skirt above her skinny legs. She tripped up to a
group of Scottish officers and spoke quick shrill words to them. "What
does the old witch say," asked a laughing Gordon. She had something
particular to say. In 1870 she had heard the pipes in Arras. They were
played by prisoners from South Germany, and as a young girl she had
danced to them.... There was a casualty clearing-station in Arras, in a
deep high vault like the crypt of a cathedral. The way into it was down
a long tunnelled passage, and during the battle thousands of men came
here to have their wounds dressed. They formed up in queues waiting
their turn and moved slowly down the tunnelled way, weary, silent,
patient. Outside lay some of the bad cases until the stretcher-bearers
carried them down, and others sat on the side of the road or lay at full
length there, dog-weary after their long walk from the battlefields.
Blind boys were led forward by their comrades, and men with all their
heads and faces swathed about. They were not out of danger even yet, for
the enemy hated to leave Arras as a health resort, but it was sanctuary
for men who had been in hell fire up by Monchy.

The first day of the Arras battle was our victory. We struck the enemy a
heavy blow, and the capture of the Vimy Ridge by the Canadians and the
Highland Division was as wonderful as the great thrust by English and
Scottish battalions along the valley of the Scarpe across the
Arras-Cambrai road. By April 14 we had captured 13,000 prisoners and
over 200 guns. But it was hard fighting after the first few hours of the
9th, and the operations that followed on both sides of the Scarpe were
costly to us. The London men of the 56th Division, and the old county
troops of the 3rd and 12th and 37th, and the Scots of the 15th suffered
in heroic fighting against strong and fresh reserves of the enemy who
were massed rapidly to check them and made fierce, repeated
counter-attacks against the village of Roeux and its chemical works,
north of the Scarpe, and against Monchy-le-Preux and Guémappe, south of
the river. Again and again these counter-attacks were beaten back with
most bloody losses to the enemy, but our own men suffered each time
until they were weary beyond words. I saw the cavalry ride forward
towards Monchy, where they came under great fire, and I saw the body of
their General carried back to Tilloy. It was a day of tragic memory.

At this time, as Sir Douglas Haig has recorded, the battle of Arras
might have ended. But the French offensive was about to begin, and it
was important that the full pressure of the British attacks should be
maintained in order to assist our Allies. A renewal of the assault was
therefore ordered, and after a week's postponement to gather together
new supplies, to change the divisions, and complete the artillery
dispositions, fighting was resumed on a big scale on April 23. It was on
a front of about nine miles, from Croisilles to Gavrelle. Important
ground was taken west of Chérisy and east of Monchy, where our troops
seized Infantry Hill, but the violent counter-attacks of the enemy in
great strength prevented the gain of all our objectives on that day, and
once more put our troops to a severe ordeal. Roeux and Gavrelle on the
north of the Scarpe, Guémappe on the south, were the focal points of
this struggle and the scene of the bitterest fighting in and out of the
villages. On April 23 and 24 the enemy made eight separate
counter-attacks against Gavrelle, and each was shattered by our
artillery and machine-gun fire. On April 28 there was another great day
of battle when the Canadians had fierce hand-to-hand fighting in the
village of Arleux, and English troops made progress towards Oppy over
Greenland Hill and beyond Monchy. Gavrelle was attacked seven times more
by the enemy, who fell again in large numbers. The night attack of May 3
was unlucky in many of its episodes because some of our men lost their
way in the darkness and had the enemy behind them as well as in front of
them, and suffered under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire. It was
"team work" for the French, and many of our sons fell that day not
knowing that their blood was the price of loyalty to our Allies and part
payment of the debt we owe to France for all her valour in this war. On
May 3 the battle front was extended on a line of sixteen miles, and
while the 3rd and 1st Armies attacked from Fontaine-lez-Croisilles to
Fresnoy, the 5th Army stormed the Hindenburg line near Bullecourt. The
Australians carried a stretch of this Hindenburg line. Chérisy fell into
the hands of East county battalions, Roeux was entered again by
English troops, and in Fresnoy, north of Oppy, the Canadians fought
masses of Germans assembled for counter-attack and swept them out of the
village. Heavy counter-attacks developed later, so that our men had to
fall back from Chérisy and Roeux--Fresnoy was abandoned later--but the
rest of the ground was held. During this month's fighting twenty-three
German divisions had been withdrawn exhausted from the line, and we had
captured 19,500 prisoners, 257 guns including 98 heavies, 464
machine-guns, 227 trench mortars, and a great quantity of war material.
We advanced our line five miles on a front of over twenty miles,
including the Vimy Ridge, which had always menaced our positions. Above
all, we had drawn upon the enemy's strength so that the French armies
were relieved of that amount of resistance to their offensive against
the Chemin des Dames. That was the idea behind it all, and it succeeded,
though the cost was not light. The battle of Arras petered out into
small engagements and nagging fighting when on June 7 the battle of
Messines began.

It was a model battle, and the whole operation was astonishing in the
thoroughness of its preparations through every detail of organization,
in the training of its method of attack, in generalship and staff work,
and in its Intelligence department. The 2nd Army had long held this
part of the Ypres salient, and knew the enemy's country as well as its
own. The observers on Kemmel Hill, which looked across to Wytschaete
Ridge, had watched every movement in the enemy's lines, and every sign
of new defensive work. Aeroplane photographs, stacks of them, revealed
many secrets of the enemy's life on this high ground which gave him
observation of all our roads and villages in the flat country between
Dickebusch and Ypres. A relief map on a big scale was built up in a
field behind our lines, and the assault troops and their officers walked
round it and studied in miniature the woods and slopes, strong points
and trenches, which they would have to attack. For eighteen months past
Australian and Canadian miners had been at work below ground boring deep
under the enemy's positions and laying charges for the explosion of
twenty-four mines. All that time the enemy, aware of his danger, had
been counter-mining, and at Hill 60 there was constant underground
fighting for more than ten months when men met each other in the
converging galleries and fought in their darkness. As Sir Douglas Haig
has written, at the time of our offensive the enemy was known to be
driving a gallery which would have broken into the tunnel leading into
the Hill 60 mines. By careful listening it was judged that if our attack
took place on the date arranged, the enemy's gallery would just fail to
reach us. So he was allowed to proceed. Eight thousand yards of gallery
had been bored, and there were nineteen mines ready charged with over a
million pounds of explosives. I saw those nineteen mines go up. The
earth rocked with a great shudder, and the sky was filled with flame. It
was the signal of our bombardment to break out in a deafening tumult of
guns after a quietude in which I heard only the snarl of enemy
gas-shells and the shunting and whistling of our railway engines down
below there in the darkness as though this battlefield were Clapham
Junction. Round about the salient a network of railways had been built
with great speed under the very eyes of the enemy, and though he had
shelled our tracks and engines he could never stop the work of those
engineers who laboured with fine courage and industry so that the guns
might not lack for shells nor the men for supplies on the day of attack.
The battle of Wytschaete and Messines was a fine victory for us,
breaking the evil spell of the Ypres salient in which our men had sat
down so long under direct observation of the enemy on that ridge above
them. Kemmel Hill, which had been under fire in our lines for three
years, became a health resort for Australian boys whose turn to fight
had not yet come, and they sat on top of the old observation-post where
men had hidden below ground to watch through a slit in the earth,
staring through field-glasses at the sweep of fire from Oostaverne to
Pilkem, and eating sweets, and putting wild flowers in their slouch
hats. Dickebusch lost its horror. The road to Vierstraat was no longer
bracketed by German shells, and there was no further need of camouflage
screens along other roads where notice-boards said: _Drive slowly--dust
draws fire_. On the morning of battle after the capture of the ridge an
Irish brigadier sat outside his dug-out on a kitchen chair before a deal
table, where his maps were spread. "It's good to take the fresh air," he
said. "Yesterday I had to keep below ground." All that made a difference
on the right of the salient, but Ypres was still "a hot shop," as the
men say, and the roads out of Ypres--the Lille road and the Menin
road--were as abominable as ever, and worse than ever when at the end of
July the battles of Flanders began.

The Wytschaete-Messines Ridge is the eastern spur of that long range of
"abrupt isolated hills," to use the words of Sir Douglas Haig, which
divides the valleys of the Lys and the Yser, and links up with the
ridges stretching north-eastwards to the Ypres-Menin road, and then
northwards to Passchendaele and Staden. One of the objects of our
campaign in 1917 was to gain the high ground to Passchendaele and
beyond. A mere glance at a relief map is enough to show the formidable
nature of the positions held by the enemy on those slopes which
dominated our low ground. When one went across the Yser Canal along the
Menin road, or towards the Pilkem Ridge, those slopes seemed like a wall
of cliffs barring the way of our armies, however strongly our tide of
men might dash against them. The plan to take them by assault needed
enormous courage and high faith in the mind of any man who bore the
burden of command, and his faith and courage depended utterly on the
valour of the men who were to carry out his plan against those frowning
hills. The men did not fail our High Command, and for three and a half
months those troops of ours fought with a heroic resolution never
surpassed by any soldiers in the world, and hardly equalled, perhaps,
in all the history of war, against terrible gun-fire and innumerable
machine-guns, in storms and swamps, in bodily misery because of the mud
and wet, in mental suffering because of the long strain on their nerve
and strength, with severe casualties because of the enemy's fierce
resistance, but with such passionate and self-sacrificing courage that
the greatest obstacles were overcome, and the enemy was beaten back from
one line of defence to another with large captures of prisoners and guns
until, in the middle of November, the crest of Passchendaele was gained.

Before the first day of the battle the 5th Army, with the 1st French
Army on its left, below the flooded ground of St.-Jansbeek, crossed the
Yser Canal and seized 3000 yards of the enemy's trench system. During
that night the pioneer battalion of the Guards, working under fierce
fire, built seventeen bridges across the canal for the passage of our
troops on the day of assault. On that day, July 31, at 3.50 in the
morning, battle was engaged on a front of fifteen miles from Boesinghe
to the River Lys, where the 2nd Army was making a holding attack on our
right wing. The German front-line system of defence was taken
everywhere. Our troops captured the Pilkem Ridge on the left,
Velorenhoek, the Frezenberg Redoubt, the Pommern Redoubt, and St.-Julien
north of the Ypres-Roulers railway, and were fighting forward against
fierce resistance on both sides of the Ypres-Menin road. They stormed
through Sanctuary Wood and captured Stirling Castle, Hooge, and the
Bellewaerde Ridge, and by the end of the day had gained the crest of
Westhoek Ridge. On the 2nd Army front the New-Zealanders carried the
village of La Basseville after close fighting, which lasted fifty
minutes, and English troops on their left captured Hollebeke and
difficult ground north of the Ypres-Comines Canal. Over 6000 prisoners,
including 133 officers, surrendered to us that day.

It was in the afternoon of the first day that the luck of the weather
was decided against us and there began those heavy rain-storms which
drenched the battlefields in August and made them dreadful for men and
beasts. All this part of Flanders is intersected by small streams or
"beeks" filtering through the valleys between the ridges, and our
artillery-fire had already caused them to form ponds and swamps by
destroying their channels so that they slopped over the low-lying
ground. The rains enlarged this area of flood, and so saturated the
clayey soil that it became a vast bog with deep overbrimming pits where
thousands of shell-craters had pierced the earth. Tracks made of wooden
slabs fastened together were the only roads by which men and pack-mules
could cross this quagmire, and each of these ways became taped out by
the enemy's artillery, and very perilous. They were slippery under moist
mud, and men and mules fell into the bogs on either side, and sometimes
drowned in them. At night in the darkness and the storms it was hard to
find the tracks and difficult to keep to them, and long columns of
troops staggered and stumbled forward with mud up to their knees if they
lost direction, and mud up to their necks if they fell into the
shell-holes. It was over such ground as this, in such intolerable
conditions, that our men fought and won their way across the chain of
ridges which led to Passchendaele. I saw some of the haunting scenes of
this struggle and went over the ground across the Pilkem Ridge, and
along the Ypres-Menin road to Westhoek Ridge, and up past Hooge to the
bogs of Glencorse Wood and Inverness Copse, and beyond the Yser Canal to
St.-Jean and Wieltje, where every day for months our gunners went on
firing, and every day the enemy "answered back" with scattered and
destructive fire, searching for our batteries and for the bodies of our
men. The broken skeleton of Ypres was always in the foreground or the
background of this scene of war, and every day it changed in different
atmospheric phases and different hours of light so that it was never the
same in its tragic beauty. Sometimes it was filled with gloom and
shadows, and the tattered masonry of the Cloth Hall, lopped off at the
top, stood black as granite above its desolate boulder-strewn square.
Sometimes when storm-clouds were blown wildly across the sky and the
sunlight struck through them, Ypres would be all white and glamorous,
like a ghost city in a vision of the world's end. At times there was a
warm glow upon its rain-washed walls, and they shone like burnished
metal. Or they were wrapped about with a thick mist stabbed through by
flashes of red fire from heavy guns, revealing in a moment's glare the
sharp edges of the fallen stonework, the red ruins of the prison and
asylum, the huddle of shell-pierced roofs, and that broken tower which
stands as a memorial of what once was the splendour of Ypres. A
military policeman standing outside the city gave an order to all going
in: "Gasmasks and steel hats to be worn," and at that moment when one
fumbled at the string of one's gas-bag and fastened the strap of a steel
hat beneath one's chin, the menace of war crept close and the evil of it
touched one's senses. It was very evil beyond the Lille gate and the
Menin gate, where new shell-holes mingled with old ones, and men walked
along the way of death. The spirit of that evil lurked about the banks
of the Yser Canal with its long fringe of blasted trees, white and
livid, with a leprous look when the sunlight touched their stumps. The
water of the canal was but a foul slime stained with gobs of colour. The
wreckage of bridges and barges lay in it. In its banks were unexploded
shells and deep gashes where the bursts had torn the earth down, and
innumerable craters. The Yser Canal holds in a ghostly way the horror of
this war. Yet it is worse beyond. Out through the Menin gate the view of
the salient widens, and every yard of the way is bleeding with the
memory of British soldiers who walked and fought and died here since the
autumn of '14. How many of them we can hardly guess or know. The white
crosses of their graves are scattered about the shell-churned fields and
the rubbish-heaps of brick, though many were never buried, and many were
taken back by stretcher-bearers who risked their lives to bring in these
bodies. There is no house where the White Château used to be. There is
no grange by the Moated Grange where men crept out at night, crawling on
their stomachs when the flares went up. Hundreds of thousands of men
have gone up to Hell-fire Corner, some of them with a cold sweat in the
palms of their hands and brave faces and an act of sacrifice in their
hearts. It was the way to Hooge. It was a corner of the hell that was
here always under German guns and German eyes from the ridge beyond.
They had high ground all around us, as the country goes up from
Observatory Ridge and Sanctuary Wood and Bellewaerde to the Westhoek
Ridge and the high plateau of Polygon Wood. No men of ours could move in
the daylight without being seen. The Menin road was always under fire.
Every bit of broken barn, every dug-out and trench, was a mark for the
enemy's artillery. During the Flanders fighting all this ground was
still in the danger zone, though the enemy lost much of his direct
observation after our first advance. But he was still trying to find the
old places and hurled over big shells in a wild scattered way. They
flung up black fountains of earth with frightful violence. Everywhere
there were shell-holes so deep that a cart and horse would find room in
them. One looked into these gulfs with beastly sensations--with a kind
of animal fear at the thought of what would happen to a man if he stood
in the way of such an explosion. There was a sense of old black brooding
evil about all this country, and worst of all in remembrance were the
mine-craters of Hooge. I stared into those pits all piled with stinking
sand-bags on which fungus grew, and thought of friends of mine who once
lived here, with the enemy a few yards away from them, with mines and
saps creeping close to them before another upheaval of the earth, with
corpses and bits of bodies rotting half buried where they sat, always
wet, always lousy, in continual danger of death. The mines went up and
men fought for new craters over new dead. The sand-bags silted down
after rain, and machine-gun bullets swept through the gaps, and men sank
deeper into this filth and corruption. The place is abandoned now, but
the foulness of it stayed, with a lake of slime in which bodies floated,
and the same old stench rose from its caverns and craters. Bellewaerde
Lake, to the north of Hooge, is not what it used to be when gentlemen of
Ypres came out here to shoot wild-fowl or walk through Château Wood
around the White Château of Hooge with a dog and a gun. There are still
stumps of trees, shot and mangled by three years of fire, but no more
wood than that, and the lake is a cesspool into which the corruption of
death has flowed. Its water is stained with patches of red and yellow
and green slime, and shapeless things float in it. Beyond is the open
ground which goes up to Westhoek Ridge above Nonne Boschen and Glencorse
Wood, for which our men fought on the first day of battle and afterwards
in many weeks of desperate struggle. The Australians took possession of
this country for a time and had to stay and hold it after the excitement
of advance. They came winding along the tracks in single file through
this newly captured ground, carrying their lengths of duck-board and
ammunition boxes with just a grim glance towards places where shells
burst with monstrous whoofs. "A hot spot," said one of these boys,
crouching with his mates in a bit of battered trench outside a German
pill-box surrounded by dead bodies. Our guns were firing from many
batteries, and flights of shells rushed through the air from the heavies
a long way back and from the field-guns forward. It was the field-guns
which hurt one's ears most with their sharp hammer-strokes. Now and
again a little procession passed to which all other men gave way. It was
a stretcher-party carrying a wounded man shoulder high. There is
something noble and stately about these bearers, and when I see them I
always think of Greek heroes carried back on their shields. There was a
vapour of poison gas about these fields, not strong enough to kill, but
making one's eyes and skin smart. The Australians did not seem to notice
it. Perhaps the stench of dead horses overwhelmed their nostrils. It was
strong and foul. The carcasses of these poor beasts lay about as they
had been hit by shrapnel or shell splinters, and down one track came a
living horse less lucky than these, bleeding badly from its wounds and
ambling slowly with drooping head and glazed eyes. Worse smells than of
dead horse crept up from the battered trenches and dug-outs, where
Glencorse Wood goes down to Inverness Copse. It was the dreadful odour
of dead men. It rose in gusts and waves and eddies over all this ground,
for the battlefield was strewn with dead. I saw many German bodies in
the fields of the Somme, and on the way out from Arras, and on the Vimy
Ridge, but never in such groups as lay about the pill-boxes and the
shell-craters of the salient. Everywhere they lay half buried in the
turmoil of earth, or stark above ground without any cover to hide them.
They lay with their heads flung back into water-filled craters or with
their legs dangling in deep pools. They were blown into shapeless masses
of raw flesh by our artillery. Heads and legs and arms all coated in
clay lay without bodies far from where the men of whom they had been
part were killed. God knows what agonies were suffered before death by
men shut up in those German blockhouses, like Fitzclarence Farm, and
Herenthage Château, and Clapham Junction, which I passed on the way up.
Some of the garrisons had not stayed in the blockhouses until our troops
had reached them. Perhaps the concussion of our drum-fire was worse
inside those concrete walls than outside. Perhaps the men had rushed out
hoping to surrender before our troops were on them, or with despairing
courage had brought their machine-guns into the open to kill our first
waves before their own death. Whatever their motive had been, many of
these men had come out, and they lay in heaps, mangled by shell-fire
that came across the fields to them in a deep belt of high explosives.
Here under the sky they lay, a frightful witness against modern
civilization, a bloody challenge to any gospel of love which men profess
to believe. Over Nonne Boschen and Inverness Copse, and Polygon Wood
beyond, and the long claw-like hook of the Passchendaele Ridge, the sky
was clear at times and the water-pools reflected its light. But these
places had no touch of loveliness because of the light. Once in history
meek-eyed women walked in Nonne Boschen, which was Nun's Wood, and in
Inverness Copse, as we call it, maids went with their mates in the
glades. Now they are places haunted by ghastly memories, and there rises
from them a miasma which sickens one's soul. Yet bright above the evil
of them and clean above their filth there is the memory of that youth of
ours who came here through fire and flame and fell here, so that the
soil is sacred as their field of honour.

In the first phase of the battle of Flanders the new system of German
defence was formidable. It was that "elastic system" by which Hindenburg
hoped to relieve his men from the destructive fire of our artillery by
holding his front line thinly in concrete blockhouses and organized
shell-craters with enfilade positions for machine-gun fire, keeping his
local reserves at quick striking distance for counter-attack. Our first
waves of men flowed past and between these blockhouses in their struggle
to attain their objectives, and were swept by cross-fire as they went
forward, so that they were thinned out by the time they had reached the
line of their advance. The succeeding waves were sometimes checked by
German machine-gunners still holding out in undamaged shelters, and our
troops in the new front line, weak and exhausted after hours of
fighting, found themselves exposed to fierce counter-attacks in front
while groups of the enemy were still behind them. For several weeks
there were episodes of this kind, when our men had to give ground,
though the line of advance seldom ebbed back to its starting line, and
some progress was made however great the difficulties. Still the
"pill-box" trouble was a serious menace, costly in life, and new methods
of attack had to be devised during the progress of fighting when the
area of the 2nd Army was extended on our left so that the 5th Army was
relieved of some of its broad battle front. Our heavy howitzers
concentrated on every blockhouse that could be located by aeroplane
photographs or direct observation, with such storms of explosive that if
they were not destroyed the garrisons of machine-gunners inside were
killed or stupefied by concussion. Our method of attack in depth, as at
Wytschaete and Messines--battalions advancing in close support of each
other, so that the final objective was held by fresh troops to meet the
inevitable counter-attacks--succeeded in a most striking way, in spite
of the fearful condition of the ground. The enemy changed his new method
of defence to meet this new method of attack. He went back to strongly
held lines with support troops close forward, and had to pay the penalty
by heavier losses under our artillery. The abominable weather and state
of ground were his best lines of defence, and in August and October he
had astounding luck.

Through all these battles our men were magnificent--not demi-gods, nor
saints with a passion for martyrdom, nor heroes of melodrama facing
death with breezy nonchalance while they read sweet letters from
blue-eyed girls, but grim in attack and stubborn in defence, getting on
with the job--a damned ugly job--as far as the spirit could pull the
body and control the nerves. They were industrious as ants on this great
muck-heap of the battlefield. Transport drivers, engineers, signallers,
and pioneers laboured for victory as hard as infantry and gunners, and
worked, for the most part, in evil places where there was always a
chance of being torn to rags. The gunners, with their wheels sunk to the
axles, served their batteries until they were haggard and worn, and they
had little sleep and less comfort, and no hour of safety from infernal
fire. They were wet from one week to another. They stood to the tags of
their boots in mud. They had many of their guns smashed to spokes and
splinters. They were lucky if lightly wounded. But their barrage-fire
rolled ahead of the infantry at every attack and they shattered the
enemy's divisions. The stretcher-bearers seemed to give no thought to
their own lives in the rescue of the wounded; and down behind the
lines--not always beyond range of gun-fire--doctors and hospital
orderlies and nurses worked in the dressing-stations with the same
dogged industry and courage as men who carried up duck-boards to the
line, drove teams of pack-mules up tracks under fire, or unloaded
shells from trains that went puffing to the edge of the battlefields. It
was all part of the business of war. Wounded men who came back from
battle were dealt with as so many cases of damaged goods, to be packed
off speedily to make way for others. There was no time for
sentiment--and no need of it. I used to go sometimes to an old
mill-house on days of battle. During the Flanders fighting thousands of
wounded men came to this place as a first stage on their journey to base
hospitals. The lightly wounded used to sit in a long low tent beside the
mill, round red-hot braziers, waiting in turn to have their wounds
dressed. These crowds of men were of many battalions and of all types of
English, Scottish, and Irish troops, with smaller bodies of Australians,
New-Zealanders, Canadians, South-Africans, Newfoundlanders. They were
clotted with mud and blood, and numb and stiff until the warmth of the
braziers unfroze them. They sat silent as a rule, with their steel hats
tilted forward, but there was hardly a groan from them, and never a
whimper, nor any curse against the fate that had hit them. If I
questioned them they answered with a stark simplicity of truth about the
things they had seen and done, with often a queer glint of humour--grim
enough, God knows, but humour still--in their tale of escape from death.
Always after a talk with them I came away with a deep belief that the
courage, honesty, and humanity of these boys were a world higher than
the philosophy of their intellectual leaders, and I hated the thought
that we have been brought to such a pass by the infamy of an enemy
caste, and by the low ideals of Europe which have been our own law of
life, that all this splendid youth, thinking straight, seeing straight,
acting straight, without selfish motives, with clean hearts and fine
bodies, should be flung into the furnace of war and scorched by its
fires, and maimed, and blinded, and smashed. Only by the dire need of
defence against the enemies of the world's liberty can such a sacrifice
be justified, and that is our plea before the great Judge of Truth. Such
thoughts haunt one if one has any conscience, but when I went among the
troops on the roads or in their camps, and heard their laughter after
battle or before it, and saw the courage of men refusing to be beaten
down by the vilest conditions or heavy losses, and was a witness of
their pride in the achievements of their own battalions, I wondered
sometimes whether the sufferings of these men were not so pitiful as I
had thought. Their vitality helps them through many hardships. Their
interest in life is so great that until death comes close it does not
touch them--not many of them--with its coldness. In their comradeship
they find a compensation for discomfort, and their keenness to win the
rewards of skill and pluck is so high that they take great risks
sometimes as a kind of sport, as Arctic explorers or big game hunters
will face danger and endure great bodily suffering for their own sake.
Those men are natural soldiers, though all our men are not like that.
There are some even who like war, though very few. But most of them
would jeer at any kind of pity for them, because they do not pity
themselves, except in most dreadful moments which they put away from
their minds if they escape. They scorn pity, yet they hate worse still,
with a most deadly hatred, all the talk about "our cheerful men." For
they know that however cheerful they may be it is not because of a jolly
life or lack of fear. They loathe shell-fire and machine-gun fire. They
know what it is "to have the wind up." They have seen what a battlefield
looks like before it has been cleared of its dead. It is not for
non-combatants to call them "cheerful." Because non-combatants do not
understand and never will, not from now until the ending of the world.
"Not so much of your cheerfulness," they say, and "Cut it out about the
brave boys in the trenches." So it is difficult to describe them, or to
give any idea of what goes on in their minds, for they belong to another
world than the world of peace that we knew, and there is no code which
can decipher their secret, nor any means of self-expression on their
lips.

In this book the messages which I wrote from day to day are reprinted
with only one alteration--though some are left out. For reasons of space
(there is a limit to the length of a book) I have not included any
narrative of the Cambrai battles, and thought it best to end this book
with the gain of Passchendaele. The alteration is one which makes me
very glad. I have been allowed to give the names of the battalions,
which I could not do during the progress of the fighting because the
enemy wanted to know our Order of Battle. For the first time, therefore,
the world will know the regiments who fought without fame in the dismal
anonymity of this war, with such Spartan courage, up to that high crest
of Passchendaele which was their goal, beyond the bogs and the beeks
where masses of men struggled and fell. There is no criticism in this
book, no judgment of actions or men, no detailed summing up of success
and failure. That is not within my liberty or duty as a correspondent
with the Armies in the Field. The Commander-in-Chief himself has
summarized the definite gains of the campaign in Flanders:

     "Notwithstanding the many difficulties, much has been achieved. Our
     captures in Flanders since the commencement of operations at the
     end of July amount to 20,065 prisoners, 74 guns, 941 machine-guns,
     and 131 trench-mortars. It is certain that the enemy's losses
     greatly exceeded ours. Most important of all, our new and hastily
     trained armies have shown once again that they are capable of
     meeting and beating the enemy's best troops, even under conditions
     which required the greatest endurance, determination, and heroism
     to overcome. The total number of prisoners taken in 1917, between
     the opening of the spring offensive on April 9 and the conclusion
     of the Flanders offensive, not including those captured in the
     battle of Cambrai, was 57,696, including 1290 officers. During the
     same period we captured also 109 heavy guns, 560 trench-mortars and
     1976 machine-guns."

These are great gains in men and material, and the capture of the ridges
has given us strong defensive positions which should be of high value to
us in the new year of warfare calling to our men, unless the world's
agony is healed by the coming of Peace.

       *       *       *       *       *

[_I am indebted to Mr. Robert Donald, editor of the_ Daily Chronicle_,
for permission to republish the articles which I have written for that
newspaper as a war correspondent with the British Army in the Field. My
letters from the Front also appeared in the_ Daily Telegraph _and a
number of Provincial, American, and Colonial papers, and I am grateful
for the honour of serving the great public of their readers._]



PART I

RETREAT FROM THE SOMME



I

A NEW YEAR OF WAR


NEW YEAR'S EVE, 1916

Last New Year's Eve--the end of a year which had been full of menace for
our fighting men, because, at the beginning, our lines had no great
power of guns behind them, and full of hopes that had been unfilled, in
spite of all their courage and all their sacrifice--an artillery officer
up in the Ypres salient waited for the tick of midnight by his
wrist-watch (it gave a glow-worm light in the darkness), and then
shouted the word "Fire!" ... One gun spoke, and then for a few seconds
there was silence. Over in the German line the flares went up and down,
and it was very quiet in the enemy trenches, where, perhaps, the
sentries wondered at that solitary gun. Then the artillery officer gave
the word of command again. This time the battery fired nine rounds. A
little while there was silence again, followed by another solitary shot,
and then by six rounds. So did the artillery in the Ypres salient salute
the birth of the New Year, born in war, coming to our soldiers and our
race with many days of battle, with new and stern demands for the lives
and blood of men.

To-night it is another New Year's Eve, and the year is coming to us with
the same demands and the same promises, and the only difference between
our hopes upon this night and that of a year ago is that by the struggle
and endeavour of those past twelve months the ending is nearer in sight
and the promise very near--very near as we hope and believe--its
fulfilment. The guns will speak again to-night, saluting by the same
kind of sullen salvo the first day of the last year of war. The last
year, if we have luck. It is raining now, a soft rain swept gustily
across the fields by a wind so mild after all our wild weather that it
seems to have the breath of spring in it. For a little while yesterday
this mildness, and the sunlight lying over the battlefields, and a
strange, rare inactivity of artillery, gave one just for one second of a
day-dream a sense that Peace had already come and that the victory had
been won. It was queer. I stood looking upon Neuville-St.-Vaast and the
Vimy Ridge. Our trenches and the enemy's wound along the slopes in wavy
lines of white chalk. There to my right was the Labyrinth and in a
hollow the ruins of Souchez. When I had first come to these battlefields
they were strewn with dead--French dead--after fighting frightful and
ferocious in intensity. Unexploded shells lay everywhere, and the litter
of great ruin, and storms of shells were bursting upon the Vimy Ridge.

The last time I went to these battlefields the high ridge of Vimy was
still aflame, and British troops were attacking the mine-craters there.
Yesterday all the scene was quiet, and bright sunlight gleamed upon the
broken roofs of Neuville, and the white trenches seemed abandoned. The
wet earth and leaves about me in a ruined farmyard had the moist scent
of early spring. A man was wandering up a road where six months ago he
would have been killed before he had gone a hundred yards. Lord! It
looked like peace again! ... It was only a false mirage. There was no
peace. Presently a battery began to fire. I saw the shells bursting over
the enemy's position. Now and again there was the sullen crump of a
German "heavy." And though the trenches seemed deserted on either side
they were held as usual by men waiting and watching with machine-guns
and hand-grenades and trench-mortars. There is no peace!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was enormously quiet at times in Arras. The footsteps of my companion
were startling as they clumped over the broken pavement of the square,
and voices--women's voices--coming up from some hole in the earth
sounded high and clear, carrying far, in an unearthly way, in this great
awful loneliness of empty houses, broken churches, ruined banks and
shops and restaurants, and mansions cloistered once in flower gardens
behind high white walls. I went towards the women's voices as men in
darkness go towards any glimmer of light, for warmth of soul as well as
of body.

A woman came up a flight of stone steps from a vaulted cellar and stared
at me, and said, "Good day. Do you look for anything?"

I said, "I look only into your cellar. It is strange to find you living
here. All alone--perhaps."

"It is no longer strange to me. I have been here, as you say, alone, all
through the war, since the day of the first bombardment. That was on
October 6, 1914. Before then I was not alone. I was married. But my
husband was killed over there--you see the place where the shell fell.
Since then I am alone."

For two years and two months she and other women of Arras--one came now
to stand by her side and nod at her tale--have lived below ground,
coming up for light and air when there is a spell of such silence as I
had listened to, and going down to the dark vaults when a German "crump"
smashes through another roof, or when German gas steals through the
streets with the foul breath of death.

I asked her about the Kaiser's offer of peace. What did she think of
that? I wondered what her answer would be--this woman imprisoned in
darkness, hiding under daily bombardments, alone in the abomination of
desolation. It was strange how quickly she was caught on fire by a
sudden passion. All the tranquillity of her face changed, and there were
burning sparks in her eyes. She was like a woman of the Revolution, and
her laughter, for she began her answer with a laugh, was shrill and
fierce.

"Peace! William offers peace, you say? Bah! It is nothing but humbug [la
blague]. It is a trap which he sets at our feet to catch us. It is a
lie."

She grasped my arm, and with her other hand pointed to the ruins over
the way, to the chaos of old houses, once very stately and noble, where
her friends lived before the fires of hell came.

"The Germans did that to us. They are doing it now. But it is not
enough. What they have done to Arras they want to do to France--to smash
the nation to the dust, to break the spirit of our race as they have
broken all things here. They wish to deceive us to our further ruin.
There will be no peace until Germany herself is laid in ashes, and her
cities destroyed like Arras is destroyed, and her women left alone, with
only the ghosts of their dead husbands, as I live here alone in my
cellar. Peace! Je m'en fiche de ça!"

There was a queer light in her eyes for a moment, in the eyes of this
woman of Arras who saw down a vista of two years and two months all the
fire and death that had been hurled into this city around her, and the
bodies of little children in the streets, and her dead husband lying
there on the cobble-stones, where now there was a great hole in the
roadway piercing through to the vaults.

       *       *       *       *       *

I met other women of Arras. Two of them were young, daintily dressed as
though for the boulevards of Paris, and they walked, swinging little
handbags, down a street where at any moment a shell might come to tear
them to pieces and make rags of them. Another was a buxom woman with a
boy and girl holding her hands. The boy had been born to the sound of
shell-fire. The girl was eight years old, but she now learns the history
of France, not only out of school books, but out of this life in the
midst of war.

"They are frightened--the little ones?" I asked. A solitary gun boomed
and shook the loose stones of a ruined house.

The woman smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

"They are used to it all. Peace will seem strange to them."

"Will there ever be peace?" I asked.

The woman of Arras looked for a moment like the one I had spoken to on
the steps of the cellar. Then she smiled, in a way that made me feel
cold, for it was the smile of a woman who sees a vengeance for the
wreckage of her life.

"There is no peace at Verdun," she said. "Our soldiers have done well
there."

I said good day to her and went through the ruins again and out of the
city, and stood watching an artillery duel up towards Souchez. The stabs
of flame from our batteries were like red sparks in the deepening mist.
They were like the fire in the eyes of the women who lived in cellars
away back there in Arras, with a smouldering passion in the gloom and
coldness of their lives.

       *       *       *       *       *

In many French villages the pipes are playing the New Year in, and their
notes are full of triumph, but with a cry in them for those who have
gone away with the old year, lying asleep on the battlefields--so many
brave Scots--like "the flowers o' the forest" and last year's leaves. I
heard the pipes to-day in one old barn, where a feast was on, not far
from where the guns were shooting through the mist with a round or two
at odd moments, and though I had had one good meal, I had to eat
another, even to the Christmas plum pudding, just to show there was no
ill-feeling.

It was the pudding that threatened to do me down.

But it was good to sit among these splendid Seaforths and their feast,
all packed together shoulder to shoulder, and back to back, under high
old beams that grew in French forests five centuries ago. They were the
transport men, who get the risks but not the glory. Every man here had
ridden, night after night, up to the lines of death, under shell-fire
and machine-gun fire, up by Longueval and Bazentin, carrying food for
men and guns at their own risk of life. Every night now they go up again
with more food for men and guns through places where there are now
shell-craters in the roads, and the reek of poison gas.

The young transport officer by my side (who once went scouting in
Delville Wood when the devil had it all his own way there) raised his
glass of beer (the jug from which it had been poured stood a yard high
in front of me) and wished "Good luck" to his men in the New Year of
war, and bade them "wire in" to the feast before them. So in other
Scottish billets the first of the New Year was kept, and to-night there
is sword-dancing by kilted men as nimble as Nijinski, in their
stockinged feet, and old songs of Scotland which are blown down the wind
of France, in this strange nightmare of a war where men from all the
Empire are crowded along the fighting-lines waiting for the bloody
battles that will come, as sure as fate, while the New Year is still
young.

       *       *       *       *       *

The queerest music I have heard in this war zone was three days ago,
when I was walking down a city street. The city was dead, killed by
storms of high explosives. The street was of shuttered houses, scarred
by shell-fire, deserted by all their people, who had fled two years ago.
I walked down this desolation, so quiet, so dead, where there was no
sound of guns, that it was like walking in Pompeii when the lava was
cooled. Suddenly there was the sound of a voice singing loud and clear
with birdlike trills, as triumphant as a lark's song to the dawn. It was
a woman's voice singing behind the shutters of a shelled city! ...

Some English officer was there with his gramophone.



II

AN ATTACK NEAR LE TRANSLOY


JANUARY 28, 1917

The "show" (as our men call it) near Le Transloy yesterday was more than
a raid--those daily in-and-out dashes which are doing most deadly work
along our line. It was an attack for the definite purpose of gaining an
important bit of ground on the slope which goes down to the ruined
village and of driving the enemy out of some strong points. The interest
of it, involving the capture of six officers and 352 men of picked
regiments, is the way in which we caught the enemy utterly by surprise
and the rapid, easy way in which the whole operation was done. A touch
which seems fantastic came at the end of the adventure when these young
Germans, still breathless with the amazement of their capture, were
bundled into omnibuses which had been brought up near the lines to wait
for them--the old London omnibuses which used to go "all the way to the
Bank--Bank--Bank!" in the days before the world began to crack--and
taken to their camp on our side of the battlefields.

It was a grim, cold morning--piercingly cold, with a wind cutting like a
knife across the snowfields. Not a morning when men might be expected to
go out into the nakedness of No Man's Land. It was a morning when these
German officers and men of the 119th and 121st Regiments, the
Würtembergers of Königin Olga, were glad to stay down in the warmth of
their dug-outs, cooking coffee on the little stove with which each man
of these favoured troops was provided, to the great envy of Bavarians on
their right, who go on shorter rations and fewer comforts. They had some
good dug-outs in and near the Sunken Road--which runs up from Morval to
Le Transloy, and strikes through a little salient in front of our
lines--till yesterday morning. The trenches on either side of the Sunken
Road were not happy places for Würtembergers. For months past our guns
had been pounding them so that they were mostly battered down, and only
held here and there by little groups of men who dug themselves in. There
was no wire in front of them, and here during the wet weather, and now
during the great frost, the German troops (as we know from the prisoners
to-day) suffered badly from trench-feet and stomach troubles, and in
spite of their moral (they were all stout-hearted men) from what the
French call the "cafard," and we call the "hump."

[Illustration: Map of the Bapaume Sector]

Yesterday morning one or two shivering wretches stood sentry in the
German line trying to gain shelter from the knife-blade of the wind. All
others were below ground round the "fug" of their braziers. They
believed the British over the way were just as quiet in the good work of
keeping warm. That was their mistake. In our trenches the men were
quiet, but busy, and above ground instead of below. They were waiting
for a signal from the guns, and had their bayonets fixed and bombs slung
about them, and iron rations hung to their belts. A rum ration was
served round, and the men drank it, and felt the glow of it, so that the
white waste of No Man's Land did not look so cold and menacing. They
were men of the Border Regiment and the Inniskillings of the 29th
Division. Suddenly, at about half-past five, there was a terrific crash
of guns, and at the same moment the men scrambled up into the open and
with their bayonets low went out into No Man's Land, each man's
footsteps making a trail in the snow. I think it took about four
minutes, that passage of the lonely ground which was a hundred yards or
so between the lines, all pock-marked with shell-holes, and hard as iron
after the freezing of the quagmire. There was no preliminary
bombardment. As soon as the guns went off the men went, with the line of
shells not far in front of them. They found no men above ground when
they pierced the German line. It was curious and uncanny--the utter
lifelessness of the place they came to capture. Good, too, for men
attacking, for men who always listen for the quick rush of bullets,
which is the ugliest sound in war. Not a single machine-gun spat at
them. They knew quickly that they had surprised the enemy utterly. They
found the dug-outs and called down the challenge and heard it answered.
The Würtembergers came up dazed with the effect of the capture, hardly
believing it, as men in a dream. One of the officers explained: "We
thought it was just a morning strafe. We kept down in the dug-outs till
it was over. We had no idea of an attack. How did you get here so
quickly?"

They were abashed. They said they would have put up a fight if they had
had any kind of chance. But they were trapped. They could do nothing but
surrender with the best grace possible. On the right, from two isolated
bits of trench, there came a burst of rifle-fire. A few Germans there
had time to recover from the stunning blow of the first surprise and
fought pluckily till overpowered. The Borders and the Inniskillings went
on farther than the objective given to them, to a point 500 yards away
from the German first line, and established themselves there. From
neighbouring ground, through the white haze over the snowfields, red
lights went up with the SOS signal, and presently the German gunners got
busy. But the prisoners were bundled back to the omnibuses, and the men
took possession of the dug-outs. Proper organization was difficult above
ground. It was too hard to dig. From the farthest point, later in the
day, the men were withdrawn to the ground given to them for their
objectives and German attempts to organize counter-attacks were smashed
by our artillery, because we have absolute observation of their
movements from the higher ground won by great fighting in the Somme
battles. To-day there was much gunning in all the neighbourhood of the
fight, and the roar of guns rolled over the desolate fields of snow, the
wide lonely waste which makes one's soul shiver to look at it as I
stared at the scene of war, to-day and yesterday, in the teeth of the
wind.



III

THE ABANDONMENT OF GRANDCOURT


FEBRUARY 8

That the troops of our Naval Division (the 63rd) should have been able
to walk into Grandcourt yesterday and take the place after its
abandonment by the enemy (except for a few men left behind to keep up
appearances as long as possible, poor wretches) is a proof that the
German High Command prefers, at this point of the struggle, to save
casualties rather than to hold bad ground at any cost. It is a new
phase, worthy of notice. A year ago he would not let his pride do this.
Less than a year ago, when we took ground from him by a sudden assault,
he would come back with a frightful counter-blow, and there would be a
long and bloody struggle, as at the Bluff and St.-Eloi, over trenches
taken and retaken. Combles was the first place from which he crept away
without a fight. Grandcourt is the second place, abandoned for the same
reason--because it was caught in the pincers of our forward movements.
It lies low on the south side of the Ancre, below Miraumont, and it
became a place of misery to German troops after the capture of Beaucourt
and Beaumont-Hamel, on the other side of the river--still worse when on
Sunday last our men advanced north of Beaucourt, capturing a couple of
hundred prisoners and consolidating on a line of ground dominating
Grandcourt, on the north-west. It was probably then that the enemy
decided to withdraw to a stronger and higher position south of Miraumont
and Pys, which he has been digging and defending with rapid industry in
spite of the hard frost, which double the labour of the spade. Fear,
which is a great General makes him a hard digger, and he will burrow
underground while our men are scraping the snow away on our side of the
line. A few men, as I have said, were left behind to make a show. They
were seen moving about in the neighbourhood of a German trench barring
the way to Grandcourt on the south-west. It was some time before our
patrols, creeping out over the snow, saw that this half-mile of line was
empty of men, and that the enemy had gone back to some place unknown. On
Tuesday our troops moved into this position, watched by those few men,
left as scarecrows, who are now our prisoners, and who saw the English
soldiers get up out of their ditches and shell-craters and cross the
snowfield in open order with a steady trudge, their bayonets glittering,
and then drop down into the battered trench in which there was nothing
but the litter of former habitation and some dead bodies. Yesterday it
was decided to push on to Grandcourt. Observing officers could see the
snow on the broken roofs and ruined walls of that village, where bits of
brick and woodwork still stand after heavy bombardment. They could not
see whether the place was still held. Only actual contact would show
whether those quiet ruins would be noisy with the chatter of machine-gun
fire if our men went in. A sinister spot--with an evil-sounding name to
soldiers of the Somme, because here for many months the enemy had massed
his guns which fired down to Contalmaison and flung high explosives over
the country below the Pozières Ridge.

It was in the afternoon that the entry was made beneath a great barrage
of our shells advancing beyond the infantry and through a heavy fire
from the enemy's guns, which did not check the advance of our men. A few
German soldiers were taken in rear-guard posts. They came out of
shell-craters with their hands up, and were sent back to our lines.
There was no fighting in the ruins of the village. Grandcourt was ours,
with its deep dug-outs littered with German clothes and stored with
rations of German soldiers, which our own men enjoyed as a change of
diet, while they took cover from the enemy's shell-fire over his old
home.

Last night in the light of a full moon, curiously red so that the snow
was faintly flushed, two more attacks were made and two more positions
taken, north and south-east of Grandcourt. On the north side of the
Ancre Baillescourt Farm was seized, and in its neighbourhood eighty
soldiers and one officer were made prisoner. They belonged to the same
corps as those I saw last Sunday, and were recruited from the
Hamburg-Altona district; all stout fellows, well nourished and well
clothed. They had not expected the attack, not so soon, anyhow, and were
caught in dug-outs by the ruined farmhouse, which some months ago was a
good landmark with its white walls and barns still standing. Now it is
but a litter of beams and broken plaster, like all houses along the line
of battle.



IV

THE GORDONS IN THE BUTTE DE WARLENCOURT


FEBRUARY 9

The frost lasts. Even in times of peace I suppose it would be remembered
years hence because of its intensity of cold and continuance. Here on
the Western Front it will be remembered by men who live, now very young,
and then with hair as white as the snow which now lies in No Man's Land,
because of its unforgettable pictures in sunlight and moonlight, its
fantastic cruelties of coldness and discomfort, and its grim effect upon
the adventures of war when the patrols go out by night and British
soldiers crawl across snow-filled shell-holes.

There was a queer episode of Canadian history--only a few days
old--which began when a sprightly young Dados (he's the fellow that gets
all the chaff from the Divisional Follies) startled a respectable old
lady behind the counter of a milliner's shop in a French village by
demanding 100 ladies' "nighties" ("chemises de nuit" he called them) of
the largest size. The village heard the story of this shopping
expedition, listened to the old lady's shrill cackle of laughter, and
wondered what joke was on among the Canadian troops. It was one of those
jokes which belong to the humours of this war, mixed with blood and
death. Up in the Canadian trenches there were shouts of hoarse laughter,
as over their khaki a hundred brawny young Canadians put on the
night-dresses. They had been tied up with blue ribbon. The old moon, so
watchful there in the steel-blue sky, had never looked down upon a
stranger scene than these white-robed soldiers who went out into No
Man's Land, with rifles and bombs. Some of the night-dresses, so clean
and dainty as they had come out of the milliner's shop, were stained red
before the end of the adventure. And Germans in their dug-outs caught a
glimpse of these fantastic figures before death came quickly, or a shout
of surrender. The Pierrots went back with some prisoners in the
moonlight, and Canadian staff officers chuckled with laughter along
telephone wires when the tale was told.

Some of the prisoners who are taken do nothing but weep for the first
few days after capture. "The prisoners are young," reports the
Intelligence officer about the latest batch, "and have wept copiously
since their capture." The men I have seen myself during the past few
days had a look of misery in their eyes. They hate these midnight raids
of ours, coming suddenly upon them night after night through the white
glimmer of the snowfields. They have taken dogs into the trenches now to
give a quicker and surer warning than young sentries, who are afraid to
cry out when they see white figures moving, because they think they see
them always, when shadows stir in the moonlight across the snow. Our men
during recent nights have heard these dogs giving short, sharp barks.
One of them came out into No Man's Land and sniffed about some black
things lying quiet under the cover of snow. No alarm was given when some
friends of mine went out to make an attack some nights ago, and it was
lucky for them, for if they had been discovered too soon all their plans
would have been spoilt, and white smocks would not have saved them.

They were the 8/10th Gordons of the 15th Division. Some of my readers
will remember the crowd, for I have described my meetings with them up
and down the roads of war. It is they who arranged the details of the
night's adventure, and because it is typical of the things that
happen--of the Terror that comes in the night--it is worth telling. The
Highlanders, when they took up their attacking line, were dressed in
white smocks covering their kilts, and in steel helmets painted white.
Their black arms and feet were like the smudges on the snow. They lay
very quiet, visible on the left, from the Butte de Warlencourt, that old
high mound in the Somme battlefields which was once the burial-place of
a prehistoric man and is now the tomb of young soldiers in the Durham
Light Infantry who fought and died there. The moon was bright on the
snow about them, but a misty vapour was on the ground. Each man had been
warned not to cough or sneeze. Their rifles were loaded, and with
bayonets fixed, so that there should be no rattle of arms or clicks of
bolts. They were in two parties, and their orders were to overthrow the
advanced German posts which were known to be in front of the Butte, and
to form a ring of posts round the position attacked while its dug-outs
were being dealt with. A heavy barrage was fired suddenly up and down
the German lines, so as to bewilder the enemy as to the point of attack,
and the Gordons in their white smocks rose up and advanced. Two shots
rang out from one of the German posts. No more than that. The two waves
of men went on. Those on the right flank had trouble in crossing the
ground. Several of them fell into deep shell-craters frozen hard. A
machine-gun was fired on the left, but was then silenced by our
shell-fire. The men inclined a little to the left, and came round on the
west side of the position, where there was a small quarry. On their way
they surprised an enemy post and took six prisoners.

[Illustration: THE RETREAT FROM THE SOMME

London: W^m. Heinemann _Stanford's Geog^l. Estab^t., London_]

A little way farther on they came across a trench-mortar, a dug-out, and
two terror-stricken men. An officer put a Stokes bomb down the mortar
and blew it up. The men were taken, and the dug-out was destroyed. Then
the Gordons went on to the Butte de Warlencourt. Underneath it were the
dug-outs of a German company, snow-capped and hidden. The Scots went
round like wolves hunting for the way down. There were four ways down,
and three of them were found low down about four yards apart. Men were
talking down there excitedly. Their German speech was loud and there was
the note of terror in it.

"Come out!" shouted the Gordons several times; but at one entrance only
one man came out, and at another only one, and at the third twelve men,
who were taken prisoners. The others would not surrender. Some bombs and
a Stokes shell were thrown down the doorways, and suddenly this nest of
dug-outs was seen to collapse, and black smoke came up from the pit,
melting the edges of the snow. Down below the voices went on, rising to
high cries of terror. Then flames appeared, shedding a red glare over No
Man's Land.

On the left the Gordons had been held up by machine-gun fire and
rifle-fire, which came across to them from a trench to which they were
advancing. At the west side of the trench, in a wired enclosure, the
machine-gun was troublesome. Some of the white smocks fell. An attempt
was made to rush it, but failed. Afterwards the gun and the team were
knocked out by a shell. A group of Germans came out of the trench and
started bombing, until a Stokes bomb scattered them. Then the Gordons
went down and brought out some prisoners, and blew up a dug-out.

It was time to go back, for the German barrage had begun; but the
Gordons were able to get home without many casualties. Nearly two hours
afterwards a loud explosion was heard across the way, as though a bomb
store had blown up. The sky was red over there by the flare of a
fire.... In the dug-outs of the Butte de Warlencourt a whole company of
Germans was being burnt alive.



V

THE BATTLE OF BOOM RAVINE


FEBRUARY 15

On the way to Miraumont there was a deep gully called Boom Ravine, and
here on February 17 there was fierce fighting by the Royal Fusiliers,
the Northamptons, and the Middlesex men of the 29th Division.

In difficulty, in grim human courage, in all its drama of fog, and
darkness, and shell-fire, and death, it seems to me to hold most of what
this war means to individual men--all that can be asked of them in such
hours.

The thaw had just set in and the ground was soppy, which was bad luck.
In spite of the thaw, it was horribly, damply cold, but the men had been
given a good meal before forming up for the attack, and officers brought
up the rum ration in bottles, so that the men could attack with some
warmth in them. In the utter darkness, unable to make any glimmer of
light lest the enemy should see, the brigades tried to get into line.
Two companies lost themselves, and were lost, but got into touch again
in time. It was all black and beastly. A great fire of high explosives
burst over our assembly lines. The darkness was lit up by the red
flashes of these bursting shells. Men fell, wounded and dead. The Royal
Fusiliers were specially tried, and their brigadier wondered whether
they would have the spirit to get up and attack when the hour arrived.
But when the moment came the survivors rose and went forward, and fought
through to the last goal. They were the first to get to Grandcourt
Trench, which lay between them and the Boom Ravine. The wire was not
cut, and there was a hammering of machine-guns and the swish of
machine-gun bullets. This battalion had already lost all its officers,
who had gone forward gallantly, leading their men and meeting the
bullets first. A sergeant-major took command, shouted to his men to keep
steady, and found a gap through the wire. They forced their way through,
passed Grandcourt Trench, and, with other men, dropped into Boom Ravine.

That place is a sunken road, almost parallel with Grandcourt Trench, and
with South Miraumont Trench beyond. Before war came--even last summer,
indeed--it was like a Devonshire lane, with steep shelving banks, thirty
to forty feet high, and trees growing on either side, with overhanging
roots. It was not like a Devonshire lane when our men scrambled and fell
down its banks. It was a ravine of death. Our shell-fire had smashed
down all the trees, and their tall trunks lay at the bottom of the
gulley, and their branches were flung about. The banks had been opened
out by shell-craters, and several of the German dug-outs built into the
sides of them were upheaved or choked. Dead bodies or human fragments
lay among the branches and broken woodwork. A shell of ours had entered
one dug-out and blown six dead men out of its doorway. They sprawled
there at the entrance. Inside were six other dead. From dug-outs not
blown up or choked came groups of German soldiers, pallid and
nerve-broken, who gave themselves up quickly enough. One man was
talkative. He said in perfect English that he had been coachman to an
English earl, and he cursed our artillery, and said that if he could get
at our blinking gunners he would wring their blighted necks--or words to
that effect.

But the battle was not over yet. While Boom Ravine was being cleared of
its living inhabitants by the Royal Fusiliers other waves were coming
up; or, rather, not waves, but odd groups of men, dodging over the
shell-craters, and hunting as they went for German snipers, who lay in
their holes firing until they were pinned by bayonet-points. Their
bodies lie there now, curled up. Some of them pretended to be dead when
our men came near. One of them lay still, with his face in the moist
earth. "See that that man is properly dead," said an officer, and a
soldier with him pricked the man. He sprang up with a scream, and ran
hard away--to our lines. Six prisoners came trudging back from the
Ravine, with a slightly wounded man as an escort. On the way back they
found themselves very lonely with him, and passed some rifles lying in
their way. They seized the rifles and became fighting men again, until a
little Welsh officer of the South Wales Borderers met them, and killed
every one of them with a revolver.



VI

THE ENEMY WITHDRAWS


FEBRUARY 18

The enemy is steadily withdrawing his troops from many positions between
Hebuterne and the ground south-west of Bapaume, and our patrols are
pushing forward into abandoned country, which they have penetrated in
some places for nearly three miles beyond our former line. They are
already north-west of Serre, south of Irles, above Miraumont,
Petit-Miraumont and Pys, which are now in our hands without a battle. We
have gained a number of German strongholds which we expected to win only
by heavy fighting, and the enemy has yielded to our pressure, the
ceaseless pressure of men and guns, by escaping to a new line of defence
along the Bapaume Ridge. This is the most notable movement which has
taken place in the war since the autumn of the first year. The German
retirement in the battle of the Marne was forced upon them only by
actual defeat on the ground. This is a strategical retreat, revealing a
new phase of weakness in their defensive conditions. It has not come to
our Generals as a surprise. After the battle of Boom Ravine, there were
several signs that the enemy contemplated a withdrawal from the two
Miraumonts, and our recent capture of Baillescourt Farm and the ground
on the north of the Ancre seriously menaced Serre. Yesterday morning,
through a heavy grey mist, fires were seen burning along the German
front line. For several days the enemy's field-batteries had been firing
an abnormal amount of ammunition, and it seemed likely that they were
getting rid of their supplies in the forward dumps before withdrawing
their guns. Patrols sent out had a queer, uncanny experience. It was
very quiet in the mist, almost alarmingly quiet. They pushed in after
the enemy. Not a sound, not a shot came from Serre.... These reports
were sent back, and more patrols were sent forward in various
directions. They pushed on, picking up a few prisoners here and there
who were sniping from shell-holes and serving solitary machine-guns.
These men confessed that they had been left behind with orders to keep
firing and to make a show so that we might believe the ground was still
strongly held. Farther on the right the same thing was happening.
Patrols went out and sent back messages saying that no enemy was ahead.
They went into Miraumont, and in the centre of the main road a mine blew
up with a loud explosion; but by great good luck none of our men were
hurt. At the end of the street six Germans were seen among the ruins.
They were fired at and disappeared. Miraumont was taken without another
shot than this, and with it Little Miraumont, next door.

Last night our troops advanced towards Warlencourt and south of Irles,
and they took possession of the famous Butte, that high mound above the
bones of some prehistoric man, for which there had been so much bloody
fighting in the autumn and the first month of this year. From the
direction of Bapaume the noise of heavy explosions was heard, as though
ammunition dumps were being blown up, and for the first time perhaps
since the German retreat from the Marne the enemy was destroying his own
material of war on his way back.



VII

OUR ENTRY INTO GOMMECOURT


FEBRUARY 28

Last night the German troops abandoned Gommecourt and Pusieux and our
men followed the first patrols, who had felt forward and took possession
of the salient which keeps to the line of the park surrounding the
famous old château.

This entry into Gommecourt without a fight was most sensational. It was
here on July 1 of 1916 that waves of London men of the 56th Division
assaulted an almost impregnable position, and by the highest valour and
sacrifice broke and held its lines until forced back by massed gun-fire
which threatened them with annihilation. Many of our dead lay there, and
the place will be haunted for ever by the memory of their loss and great
endurance. At last the gates were open. The enemy's troops had stolen
away in the dusk, leaving nothing behind but the refuse of trench life
and the litter of trench tools. In order to keep the way open for their
withdrawal, strong posts of Germans with machine-guns held out in a
wedge just south of Rossignol Wood and in Biez Wood, which is west of
Bucquoy. These rear-guard posts, numbering an officer or two and
anything between thirty to sixty men with machine-guns, and telephones
keeping them in touch with the main army, were chosen for their tried
courage and intelligence, and stayed behind with orders to hold on to
the last possible moment.

All the tricks of war are being used to check and kill our patrols. In
addition to trip-wires attached to explosives, German helmets have been
left about with bombs concealed in them so as to explode on being
touched, and there are other devices of this kind which are ingenious
and devilish. The enemy's snipers and machine-gunners give our men
greater trouble, but are being routed out from their hiding-places.
There were a lot of them in the ruins of Pusieux, but last night, after
sharp fighting and a grim man-hunt among the broken brickwork, the enemy
was destroyed in this village, and our line now runs well beyond it to
Gommecourt, on the left and down to Irles on the right. The enemy has
destroyed Irles church tower, as he has destroyed the church of
Achiet-le-Petit, and the famous clock tower of Bapaume, on which we
tried to read the time from the high ground westward during the battles
of the Somme. This is to get rid of observation which might be useful to
us in our advance.

Heavy shell-fire has been concentrated by enemy batteries on the village
of Irles, and he is also barraging with high explosives upon Serre,
Miraumont, Grandcourt, and other places from which he has withdrawn. It
is probable that he is using up his reserves of ammunition in the dumps
along the line of his retirement. Many of his heavy guns still remain
on railway mountings behind Bapaume--we are now less than a mile from
that town--and they are doing double duty by quick firing. The latest
village to fall into our hands is Thilloy, north of Ligny-Thilloy, and
just south of Bapaume, and the enemy is now retiring to Loupart Wood,
Achiet-le-Petit, and Bucquoy, strongly defended for the time being by a
thick belt of wire.

It is enormously interesting to speculate upon this new plan of the
German High Command. It is a plan forced upon him by steady pressure of
our attacks, which thrust him into bad ground, where the condition of
his troops was hideous, but, beyond all, by the fear that our fighting
power in the spring might break his armies if they stayed on their old
line. Now he is executing with skill, aided by great luck--for the foggy
weather is his luck--a manoeuvre designed to shorten his line, thereby
increasing his offensive and defensive man-power, and to withdraw in the
way that he intends to make it difficult for pursuit, and so to gain
time to fall back upon new and stronger lines of defence.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is difficult to describe the feelings of our men who go forward to
these villages and capture them, and settle down in them for a day or
two, unless you have gazed at those places for months through narrow
slits in underground chambers, and know that it would be easier to go
from life to eternity than cross over the enemy's wire into those
strongholds while they are inhabited by men with machine-guns.

You cannot imagine the thrill of walking one day into Gommecourt, or
Miraumont, or Irles, without resistance, and seeing in close detail the
way of life led by the men who have been doing their best to kill you.
There is something uncanny in handling the things they handled, in
sitting at the tables where they took their meals, in walking about the
ruins which our guns made above them. I had this thrill when I walked
through Gommecourt--Gommecourt the terrible, and the graveyard of so
many brave London boys who fell here on July 1--and up through
Gommecourt Park, with its rows of riven trees, to a point beyond, and to
a far outpost where a group of soldiers attached to the Sherwood
Foresters of the 46th Division, full of spirit and gaiety, in spite of
the deadly menace about them, had dragged up a heavy trench-mortar and
its monstrous winged shells, which they were firing into a copse 500
yards away where Fritz was holding out. So through the snow I went into
Gommecourt down a road pitted with recent shell-holes, and with a young
Sherwood Forester who said, "It's best to be quick along this track. It
ain't a health resort."

It was not a pretty place at all, and there were nasty noises about it,
as shells went singing overhead, but there was a sinister sense of
romance, a look of white and naked tragedy in snow-covered Gommecourt.
Our guns had played hell with the place, though we could not capture it
on July 1. Thousands of shells, even millions, had flung it into
ruin--the famous château, the church, the great barns, the school-house,
and all the buildings here. Not a tree in what had once been a noble
park remained unmutilated. On the day before the Germans left a Stokes
mortar battery of ours fired 1100 shells into Gommecourt in a quarter of
an hour.

"No wonder old Fritz left in a hurry," said the young officer who had
achieved this record. He chuckled at the thought of it, and as he went
through Gommecourt with me pointed out with pride the "top-hole" effect
of all our gun-fire. To him, as a gunner, all this destruction was a
good sight. He stopped in front of a hole big enough to bury a country
cottage, and said, "That was done by old Charley's 9·45 trench-mortar.
Some hole, what?"

"Looks as if some German officer had had to walk home," said the
trench-mortar officer, who was a humorous fellow, as he glanced at a
shattered motor-car.

So many of the young officers of ours are humorous fellows, and I am
bound to say that I never met a merrier party than a little lot I found
at a spot called Pigeon Wood, far beyond Gommecourt, where the enemy
flings shells most of the day and night, so that it is a litter of
broken twigs and branches.

A sergeant-major took me up there and introduced me to his officers.

"This is the real Street of Adventure," he said, "though it's a long way
from Fleet Street"--which I thought was pretty good for a sergeant-major
met in a casual way on a field of battle. It appeared that there was to
be a trench-mortar "stunt" in half an hour or so, and he wanted me to
see "the fun." Through the driving snow we went into the bit of wood,
trampling over the broken twigs and stepping aside from shell-holes, and
because of the nasty noises about--I hear no music in the song of the
shell--I was glad when the sergeant-major went down the entrance of a
dug-out and called out for the officer.

It was one of the deep German dug-outs thirty or forty feet down, and
very dark on the way. In the room below, nicely panelled, were the merry
grigs I had come to meet, and in less than a minute they had made me
welcome, and in less than five I was sitting on a German chair at a
German table, drinking German soda-water out of German glasses, with a
party of English boys 500 yards from the German outposts over the way.

They told me how they had brought their trench-mortar up. It was an
absolute record, and they were as proud and pleased as schoolboys who
have won a game. They roared with laughter at the story of the senior
officer chased by two Boches, and roared again when the captain sent
round to the "chemist's shop" next door for some more soda-water and a
bottle of whisky. They had found thousands of bottles of soda-water, and
thousands of bombs and other things left behind in a hurry, including a
complete change of woman's clothing, now being worn by one of our
Tommies badly in need of clean linen.

"This dug-out is all right," said one of the younger officers, "but you
come and see mine. It's absolutely priceless."

It was one of the best specimens of German architecture I have ever seen
on a battlefield. It was not only panelled but papered. It was furnished
elegantly with a washhand-stand and a gilded mirror and German coloured
prints--and not all our shells could touch it, because of its depth
below the ground. ... I saw the trench-mortar "stunt," which flung up
volcanoes in the German ground by Kite Copse, and stood out in the snow
with a party of men who had nothing between them and the enemy but a
narrow stretch of shell-broken earth, and went away from the wood just
as the enemy began shelling it again, and sat down under the bank with
one of the officers when the enemy "bracketed" the road back with
whiz-bangs, and stopped on the way to take a cup of tea in another
dug-out, and to make friends with other men who were following up the
enemy, and moving into German apartments for a night or so, before they
go farther on, with that keen and spirited courage which is the only
good thing in this war. They are mostly boys--I am a Rip Van Winkle to
them--and with the heart of boyhood they take deadly risks lightly and
make a good joke of a bad business, and are very frightened sometimes
and make a joke of that, and are great soldiers though they were never
meant for the trade. The enemy is falling back still, but these boys of
ours are catching him up, and are quick in pursuit, in spite of the foul
ground and the foul weather and the barrage of his guns.



VIII

WHY THE ENEMY WITHDREW


MARCH 3

The weather is still favourable to the enemy in his plan of withdrawal.
Yesterday there was over all the battlefields such a solid fog, after a
night of frost which condensed the earth's moisture, that one could not
see fifty yards ahead. Our airmen, if they had thought it worth while
mounting, would have stared down into this white mist and seen nothing
else. Our gunners had to fire "off the map" at a time when direct
observation would have been most valuable. I do not remember to have
seen anything so uncanny on this front as the effect of our men moving
in this heavy wet darkness like legions of shadows looming up in a grey
way, and then blotted out. The fog clung to them, dripped from the rims
of their steel helmets, made their breath like steam. The shaggy coats
of horses and mules plastered with heavy streaks of mud were all damp
with little beads of moisture as white as hoar-frost.

Nothing so far in this German movement has been sensational except the
fact itself. Fantastic stories about gas-shells, battles, and great
slaughter in the capture of the enemy's positions are merely conjured up
by people who know nothing of the truth.

The truth is simple and stark. The enemy decided to withdraw, and made
his plans to withdraw with careful thought for detail in order to
frustrate any preparations we might have made to deal him the famous
knock-out blow and in order to save his man-power, not only by escaping
this great slaughter which was drawing near upon him as the weeks
passed, but by shortening his line and so liberating a number of
divisions for offensive and defensive purposes. He timed this
strategical withdrawal well. He made use of the hard frost for the
movement of men and guns and material, and withdrew the last men from
his strongholds on the old line just as the thaw set in, so that the
ground lapsed into quagmire more fearful than before the days of the
long frost, and pursuit for our men and our guns and our material was
doubly difficult. He destroyed what he could not take away, and left
very little behind. He fired many of his dug-outs, and left only a few
snipers and a few machine-gunners in shell-holes and strong posts to
hold up our patrols while the next body of rear-guard outposts fell back
behind the barbed wire in front of the series of diagonal trench lines
which defend the way to Bapaume. In Gommecourt our troops found only one
living man, and he was half dead and quite blind. He had been wounded
twenty-four hours previously by a bomb from one of our scouts and had
crawled back into a dug-out. It is astounding, but, I believe, quite
true, that he knew nothing about the abandonment of Gommecourt, even
when it had been achieved. He would not believe it when our men told
him. He had lain in his earth-hole wondering at the silence, believing
himself deaf as well as blind, except that he could hear the crash of
shells. He was frightened because he could hear no movement of his
fellow-soldiers.

The German scheme is undoubtedly to delay our advance as much as
possible and at the cheapest price to himself, so that much time may
have elapsed (while his submarines are still at work, and his diplomats,
and his propaganda) before we come up to him with all our weight of men
and metal upon the real lines to which he is falling back. By belts of
barbed wire between the lines of retirement, down past Loupart Wood, and
then past Grevillers and Achiet, and outside Bapaume, as well as by
strong bodies of picked troops holding on to these positions until the
last moment before death or capture or escape, and by massing guns
eastward of Bapaume in order to impede our pursuit by long-range fire
from his "heavies," and to hold the pivot while his troops swing back in
this slow and gradual way, he hopes to make things easy for himself and
damnably difficult for us.

       *       *       *       *       *

MARCH 12

Loupart Wood, a high belt of trees, thick and black against the sky, is
the storm-centre of the battle line on this part of the front. Our guns
were busy with it, flinging shells into its network of naked branches.
The shell-bursts were white against its blackness, and the chalky soil
in front of it was tossed up in spraying fountains. From the enemy's
side high explosives were dropping over Miraumont, and Irles was being
heavily bombarded. It was like a day in the first battles of the Somme,
and brought back to me old memories of frightfulness. Behind me were the
Somme battlefields, one vast landscape of the abomination of desolation
strewn still with the litter of great conflict, with thousands of
unexploded shells lying squat in mud, and hideously tormented out of all
semblance of earth's sweet beauty by millions of shell-holes and the
yawning chasms of mine-craters, and the chaos of innumerable trenches
dug deep and then smashed by the fury of heavy guns. That is an old
picture which I have described, or failed to describe, a score of times
when over this mangled earth, yard by yard, from one ruin to another,
from one copse of broken woodland to another group of black gallows
which were trees, our men went fighting, so that here is the graveyard
of gallant youth, and the Field of Honour which is sacred to the soul of
our race. It was the old picture, but into it came to-day as yesterday
new men of ours who are carrying on the tale to whatever ending it may
have. They came through mud and in mud and with mud. The heavy horses of
the gunners and transport men were all whitened with the wet chalk to
the ears. Mules were ridiculous, like amphibious creatures who had come
up out of the slime to stare with wicked eyes at what men are doing with
the earth's surface. Eight-inch guns were wallowing in bogs from which
their shiny snouts thrust up, belching forth flame. Over the wide,
white, barren stretch of hell which we call the battlefield their
monstrous shells went howling after the full-throated roars which
clouted one's ear-drums like blows from a hammer. And between the guns,
and in front of the guns, and past the guns went our marching men, our
mud men, with wet steel helmets, with gobs of mud on their faces, with
clods of mud growing monstrously upon their boots at every step.

A grim old war, fantastic in its contrasts and in its stage properties!
Once when I heard the chimes of midnight in Covent Garden and stood
drinking at a coffee-stall by Paul's Church I never guessed I should
find such a place of wayside refreshment, such a house on wheels, in
the middle of Armageddon. But there it was to-day, a coffee-stall bang
in the middle of the battlefield, and there, asking for a "mug o'
thick," stood a crowd of English soldiers, worse scarecrows than the
night birds of the London slums and more in need of warmth for body and
soul. Not far away, well under shell-fire, was a London omnibus, and as
a mate in evil days, a Tank.

The rain came down in a thick drizzle. Loupart Wood disappeared like a
ghost picture. Irles was blotted out. Our eight-inch shells went howling
out of a cotton-wool mist. Our men went marching with their steel hats
down against the beat of the rain. It was a wintry scene again--but on
the moist air there was a faint scent not of winter--a smell of wet
earth sweeter than the acrid stench of the battlefields. It was the
breath of spring coming with its promise of life. And with its promise
of death.

       *       *       *       *       *

The enemy is still holding out in Achiet-le-Petit and Bucquoy, though I
believe his residence there is not for long. From what I saw to-day
watching our bombardment of the line to which he has retreated, it seems
certain that he will be compelled to leave in a hurry, just as he left
Loupart Wood the night before last.

As I went over the battlefields to-day it was made visible to me that
the enemy has suffered most devilish torments in the ground from which
he is now retreating. All north of Courcelette, up by Miraumont and Pys,
and below Loupart Wood, this wild chaos--all so upturned by shell-fire
that one's gorge rises at the sight of such obscene mangling of our
mother earth--is strewn with bodies of dead German soldiers. They lie
grey wet lumps of death over a great stretch of ground, many of them
half buried by their comrades or by high explosives. Most of them are
stark above the soil with their eye-sockets to the sky. I stood to-day
in a ravine to which the Regina Trench leads between Pys and Miraumont,
and not any morbid vision of an absinthe-maddened dream of hell could be
more fearful than what I stared at standing there, with the rain beating
on me across the battlefield, and the roar of guns on every side, and
the long rushing whistles of heavy shells in flight over Loupart Wood.
The place was a shambles of German troops. They had had machine-gun
emplacements here, and deep dug-outs under cover of earth-banks. But our
guns had found them out and poured fire upon them. All this garrison had
been killed and cut to pieces before or after death. Their bodies or
their fragments lay in every shape and shapelessness of death, in
puddles of broken trenches or on the edge of deep ponds in
shell-craters. The water was vivid green about them, or red as blood,
with the colour of high-explosive gases. Mask-like faces, with holes for
eyes, seemed to stare back at me as I stared at them, not with any
curiosity in this sight of death--for it is not new to me--but counting
their numbers and reckoning the sum of all these things who a little
time ago were living men. Some of our dead lay among them, but out of
850 lying hereabouts, 700 were German soldiers.

Our gun-fire, continued to-day as yesterday, leaves nothing alive or
whole when it is concentrated on a place like this, deliberate in
smashing it. Here it had flung up machine-gun emplacements and made
rubbish-heaps of their casemates and guns. It had broken hundreds of
rifles into matchwood, and flung up the kit of men from deep dug-outs,
littering earth with their pouches and helmets and bits of clothing.
Where I stood was only one patch of ground on a wide battlefield. It is
all like that, though elsewhere the dead are not so thickly clustered.
For miles it is all pitted with ten-feet craters intermingling and
leaving not a yard of earth untouched. It is one great obscenity,
killing for all time the legend of war's glory and romance. Over it
to-day went a brave man on his mission. He was not a soldier, though he
had a steel hat on his head and a khaki uniform. He was a padre who,
with a fellow-officer and a few men, is following up the fighting men,
burying those who fall, our own and the enemy's. He collects their
identity discs and marks their graves. For weeks he has done this, and,
though he is sickened, he goes on with a grim zeal, searching out the
new dead, directing the digging of new graves, covering up Germans who
lie so thick. He waved his hand to me as he went up to Loupart Wood, and
I saluted him as a man of fine enthusiasm and good courage in the
abomination of desolation which is our battle-ground.

The secret of the German retreat is here on this ground. To save
themselves from another such shambles they are falling back to new
lines, where they hope to be safer from our massed artillery. But as I
saw to-day our gun-fire is following them closely and forcing them back
at a harder pace, and killing them as they go. The horror of war is
still close at their heels, and will never end till the war ends, though
that may be long, O Lord! from now.



IX

THE AUSTRALIANS ENTER BAPAUME


MARCH 17

To-day quite early in the morning our Australian troops entered Bapaume.
Achiet-le-Petit and Biefvillers also fell into our hands and the enemy
is in retreat across the plains below the Bapaume Ridge.

I had the honour of going into Bapaume myself this morning, and the luck
to come out again, and now, sitting down to tell the history of this
day--one of the great days in this war--I feel something of the old
thrill that came to all of us when the enemy fell back from the Marne
and retreated to the Aisne.

Bapaume is ours after a short, sharp fight with its last rear-guard
post. I don't know how much this will mean to people at home, to whom
the town is just a name, familiar only because of its repetition in
dispatches. To us out here it means enormous things--above all, the
completion or result of a great series of battles, in which many of our
best gave their lives so that our troops could attain the ridge across
which they went to-day, and hold the town which is the gateway to the
plains beyond. For this the Canadians fought through Courcelette, where
many of their poor bodies lie even now in the broken ground. For this
the Australians struggled with most grim heroism on the high plateau of
Pozières, which bears upon every yard of its soil the signs of the most
frightful strife that mankind has known in all the history of warfare.
For another stage on the road to Bapaume London regiments went up to
Eaucourt-l'Abbaye, and the Gordons stormed the white mound of the Butte
de Warlencourt. For the capture of Bapaume our patrols with machine-guns
and trench-mortars, and our gunners with their batteries, have pushed on
through the day and night during recent weeks, gaining La Barque and
Ligny and Thilloy, not sleeping night after night, not resting, so that
beards have grown on young chins, and the eyes of these men look glazed
and dead except for the fire that lights up in them when there is
another bit of work to do. For this, thousands of British soldiers have
laboured like ants--it is all like a monstrous ant-heap in
commotion--carrying up material of war, building roads over quagmires,
laying down railroads under shell-fire, plugging up shell-craters with
bricks and stone so that the horse transport can follow, and the guns
get forward and the way be made smooth for the fall of Bapaume.... So
Bapaume is ours. Years ago, and months ago, and weeks ago, I have
travelled the road towards Bapaume from Amiens to Albert, from that city
of the Falling Virgin, past the vast mine-crater of La Boisselle to
Pozières and beyond, and always I and comrades of mine have glanced
sideways and smiled grimly at the milestones which said so many
kilometres to Bapaume--and yet a world of strife to go. Now those stones
will not stare up at us with irony. There is no longer a point on the
road where one has to halt lest one should die. To-day I walked past the
milestones--ten, seven, four, three, one--and then into Bapaume, and did
not die, though to tell the truth death missed me only a yard or two. I
have had many strange and memorable walks in war, but none more
wonderful than this, for really it was a strange way this road to
Bapaume, with all the tragedy and all the courage of this warfare, and
all the ugly spirit of it on every side. I walked through the highway of
our greatest battles up from Pozières, past Courcelette, with
Martinpuich to the right, past the ruins of Destremont Farm, and into
the ruins of Le Sars. Thence the road struck straight towards Bapaume,
with the grey pyramid of the Butte de Warlencourt on one side and the
frightful turmoil of Warlencourt village on the other. I did not walk
alone along this way through the litter of many battles, through its
muck and stench and corruption under a fair blue sky, with wisps of
white cloud above and the glitter of spring sunshine over all the white
leprous landscape of these fields. Australian soldiers were going the
same way--towards Bapaume. Some of them wore sprigs of shamrock in their
buttonholes, and I remembered it was St. Patrick's Day. Some of them
were gunners, and some were pioneers, and some were Generals and high
officers, and they had the look of victory upon them and were talking
cheerily about the great news of the day. It was in the neighbourhood of
a haunted-looking place called "La Coupe-gueule," which means
Cut-throat, once I imagine a farmstead or estaminet, that the road
became the scene of very recent warfare--a few hours old or a few
minutes. One is very quick to read how old the signs are by the look of
the earth, by smells and sounds, by little, sure, alarming signs. Dead
horses lay about--newly dead. Shell-craters with clean sides pock-marked
the earth ten feet deep. Aeroplanes had crashed down, one of them a few
minutes ago. A car came along and I saw a young pilot lying back
wounded, with another officer smoking a cigarette, grave-eyed and
pallid. Pools of red mud were on either side of the road, or in the
middle of it. Everywhere in neighbouring ground hidden batteries were
firing ceaselessly, the long sixty-pounders making sharp reports that
stunned one's ears, the field-guns firing rapidly with sharp knocks. Up
in the blue sky there was other gunning. Flights of our aeroplanes were
up singing with a loud, deep, humming music as of monstrous bees. Our
"Archies" were strafing a German plane, venturesome over our country.
High up in the blue was the rattle of machine-gun fire. Down from
Bapaume came a procession of stretcher-bearers with wounded comrades
shoulder high, borne like heroes, slowly and with unconscious dignity,
by these tall men in steel helmets. The enemy had ruined the road in
several places with enormous craters, to stop our progress. They were
twenty yards across, and very deep, and fearful pitfalls in the dark.
Past the ruins of La Barque, past the ruins of Ligny-Thilloy and
Thilloy, went the road to Bapaume. Behind me now on the left was Loupart
Wood, the storm-centre of strife when I went up to it a few days ago,
and Grevillers beside it, smashed to death, and then presently and quite
suddenly I came into sight of Bapaume. It was only a few hundred yards
away, and I could see every detail of its streets and houses. A street
along the Bapaume road went straight into the town, and then went
sharply at right angles, so that all the length of Bapaume lay in front
of me. The sun was upon it, shining very bright and clear upon its
houses. It was a sun-picture of destruction. Bapaume was still standing,
but broken and burnt.

[Illustration: Map of the front from Arras to Soissons]

In the middle of Bapaume stood the remnant of the old clock-tower, a
tower of brown brick, like the houses about it, but broken off at the
top, only two-thirds of its former height, and without the clock which
used to tell us the time miles away when we gazed through telescopes
from distant observation-posts, when we still had miles to go on the way
to Bapaume. On the right of the old tower the town was burning, not in
flames when I entered, but with volumes of white smoke issuing slowly
from a row of red villas already gutted by fires lighted before the
Germans left.

A Colonel came riding out of Bapaume. He was carrying a big German
beer-jug, and showed me his trophy, leaning down over his saddle to let
me read the words:

    Zum Feldgrauen Hilfe

"Is it pretty easy to get into Bapaume?" I asked.

"Barring the heavy stuff," he said. "They're putting over shells at the
rate of two or three a minute."

They were, and it was not pleasant, this walk into Bapaume, though very
interesting.

It was when I came to an old farmhouse and inn--the shell of a place--on
the left of the road (Duhamel-Equarriseur, Telephone No. 30) that I knew
the full menace of this hour was above and about. The enemy was firing a
great number of shells into Bapaume. They came towards us with that
rushing, howling noise which gives one a great fear of instant death,
and burst with crashes among the neighbouring houses. They were high
explosives, but shrapnel was bursting high, with thunderclaps, which
left behind greenish clouds and scattered bullets down. I went through
the outer defences of Bapaume, walking with a General who was on his way
to the town, and who pointed out the strength of the place. Lord! It was
still horribly strong, and would have cost us many lives to take by
assault. Three belts of wire, very thick, stood solid and strong, in a
wide curve all round the town. The enemy had dug trenches quite
recently, so that the earth was fresh and brown, and dug them well and
perfectly. Only here and there had they been broken by our shell-fire,
though some of the dug-outs had been blown in.

Just outside Bapaume, on the south-east side, is an old citadel built
centuries ago and now overgrown with fir-trees which would have given a
great field of fire to German machine-gunners, and I went afterwards
into snipers' posts, and stood at the entrance of tunnels and
bomb-proof shelters, not going down or touching any of the litter about
because of the danger lurking there in dark entries and in
innocent-looking wires and implements. There was a great litter
everywhere, for the German soldiers had left behind large numbers of
long-handled bombs and thousands of cartridges, and many tools and
implements.

Before getting into Bapaume I crossed the railway line from Arras,
through Biefvillers, which was now on fire. They had torn up the rails
here, but there was still the track, and the signal-boxes and signs in
German.

    Im Bahnhof
    Nur 10 Km.

That is to say, the speed of trains was to be only 10 kilometres an hour
into the station.

Another signboard directed the way for "Vieh" and "Pferde" (cattle and
horses), and everywhere there were notice-boards to trenches and
dug-outs:

    Nach 1 Stellung
    Für zwei Offizieren

As I entered Bapaume I noticed first, if my memory serves, the Hôtel de
Commerce, with "garage" painted on a shell-broken wall, and immediately
facing me an old wooden house with a shoot for flour. Many of the houses
had collapsed as though built of cards, with all their roofs level with
the ground. Others were cut in half, showing all their rooms and
landings, and others were gutted in ways familiar to English people
after Zeppelin raids. Higher up on the right, as I have said, rows of
red-brick villas were burnt out, and smoke was rising in steady volumes
from this quarter of the town. The church, a white stone building, was
also smouldering. There were no Germans in the town, unless men are
still hiding there. The only living inhabitant was a little kitten which
ran across the square and was captured by our patrols, who now have it
as a pet.

There were other men living early in the morning, but they are now dead.
It was a company of German machine-gunners who held out as the last
rear-guard. They fired heavily at our men, but were quickly overpowered.
The first message that came back from the entering troops was laconic:

     "While entering Bapaume we came across a party the whole of which
     was accounted for. The mopping-up of Bapaume is now complete."

I did not stay very long in the town. It was not a health resort. High
explosives were crumping every part of the town, and the buildings were
falling. Pip-squeaks were flung about horribly, and when I came out with
the General and another officer a flush of them came yelling at us and
burst very close, flinging up the ground only a few yards away. The
roadway of "pavé" had been hurled up in huge chumps of stone, and
shrapnel was again breaking to the right of us. I struck across country
eastwards to see the promised land, and on the way to the near ridge
turned and stared back at Bapaume in the glow of the sunset. Ours at
last!

The fires were still burning in the other villages, and it was such a
scene of war as I saw first when Dixmude was a flaming torch and Pervyse
was alight in the beginning of the world-conflict.... At about half-past
nine that night the enemy fired several quick rounds from his
field-batteries. Then there was a strange silence, unbroken by any
shell-fire. The Germans had fired their last shot in the battles of the
Somme.



X

THE RESCUE OF PÉRONNE


MARCH 18

To-day at 7 A.M. a battalion of the Royal Warwicks of the 48th Division
entered Péronne.

Standing alone that statement would be sensational enough. The French
fought for Péronne desperately through more than two years of war, and
now it is the luck of the British troops to enter it, as yesterday we
entered Bapaume, after a short action with the enemy's rear-guards. But
the news does not stand alone. The whole of the old German line south of
Arras, strong as one vast fortress, built by the labour of millions of
men, dug and tunnelled and cemented and timbered, with thousands of
machine-gun redoubts, with an immense maze of trenches, protected by
forests of barbed wire, had slipped away as though by a landslide, and
the enemy is in rapid retreat to new lines some miles away. As he goes
he is laying fire and waste to the countryside. North-east of Bapaume,
into which I went yesterday with our troops, and west of Péronne, scores
of villages are burning. One of them, larger than a village, the town of
Athies, is a flaming torch visible for miles around. Others are
smouldering ruins, from which volumes of smoke are rolling up into the
clear blue sky. Of all this great tract of France, which the enemy has
been forced to abandon to avoid the menace of combined attack, there is
no beauty left, and no homesteads, nor farms, but only black ruins and
devastation everywhere. The enemy is adopting the full cruelty of war's
malignancy. He has fouled the wells in his wake, so that if our
soldiers' horses should drink there they will die. Over the water-ways
he has burnt his bridges. Cross-roads have been mined, opening up
enormous craters like those I saw yesterday outside Bapaume.
High-explosive traps have been placed in the way of our patrols, to
scatter them in fragments if they lack caution.

It is impossible to give our exact line at the present moment. We have
no exact line. Village after village has fallen into our hands since
midday yesterday. Our cavalry patrols are over the hills and far away.
Our infantry patrols are pushing forward unto new territory, so that
only aeroplanes know the exact whereabouts. As one aviator has reported:

     "Our men are lighting fires and taking their dinners at places off
     the map. They are going into pubs which have been burnt out to find
     beer which is not there."

North and east of Bapaume our patrols have gone beyond the villages of
Rocquenes, Bancourt, Favreuil, and Sapignies. Intelligence officers
riding out on bicycles to these places were scared to find themselves so
lonely, and believed that the enemy must be close at hand. But the enemy
was still farther off. Our cavalry, working up past Logeast Wood,
penetrated east of Acheit-le-Grand and turned the German line of
Behagnies-Ytres.

Much farther south, in the neighbourhood of Nesle, French and British
cavalry patrols came into touch to-day, and one of our aviators reports
that he saw French civilians waving flags and cheering them.

The Germans have a cavalry screen behind their rear-guards. They were
seen yesterday north of Bapaume and southwards beyond Roye. And some of
them were chased by a British airman at a place called Ennemain. He
swooped low like an albatross, and brought a man off his horse by a
machine-gun bullet. Others stampeded from this terrible bird.

This morning our troops were through Eterpigny beyond Barleux, and found
the villages of Misery and Marchelepot. There was some fighting last
night and this morning in the neighbourhood of Péronne. The enemy had
snipers and machine-gunners about, and kept some of their batteries back
until the last possible moment, flinging 5·9's and smaller shells over
our side of the lines, and firing heavily until about ten o'clock. Then
the gun-fire ceased, and there was not a shot. His guns were going back
along the dark roads, his rear-guards moved away, leaving behind them
their great defensive works of the Bapaume Ridge, and burning villages.

       *       *       *       *       *

MARCH 19

Refusing to give battle, the enemy has retired still farther over open
country east of Bapaume, and our cavalry patrols are in touch with his
mounted rear-guards. The exact location is vague, as the movement
continues, and our cavalry is in small units, moving cautiously between
a large number of burning villages, which are everywhere alight. Small
parties of the enemy were encountered last night in the open near Ytres
and Berthincourt, and some snipers in an omnibus opened fire upon a
cavalry patrol, and were scattered by an aeroplane which swooped low,
sweeping them with machine-gun bullets.

South of the Somme our cavalry got in touch with German cavalry at Rouy
and with German cyclists at Potte. All the bridges have been destroyed
to cover the enemy's retreat, as at Rouy and Breuil, and all the wells
have been filled with filth and rubbish.

It is a most extraordinary experience to follow up through this
abandoned country from which the enemy has fled, as I have found to-day
in tramping through the district of Péronne and into that deserted and
destroyed town. A few weeks ago I went a journey to the new lines we had
taken over from the French south of the Somme. Then it was under the
full blast of shell-fire, and not a day passed without the enemy
flinging high explosives into the ruined villages of Herbécourt,
Estrées, Flaucourt, and Biaches. From Mont-St.-Quentin, on the flank of
Péronne, he had the observation of all our ground, so that it was
horrible to see that hill staring down on one, and by daylight in the
open country one moved always under the menace of death. To-day that
menace had gone. The evil spell had lifted, and we moved freely in the
sight of Mont-St.-Quentin, unafraid and with a strange sense of safety.
He had gone from there yesterday morning, and, at the same time, had
crept away from the trenches at Biaches, and across his wooden bridges
to Péronne, and out of this town to the open country, hurrying through
the night to escape from our pursuit.

I went down into Biaches, a wild chaos of trenches and dug-outs and
ruin, and passed through the front line held by our troops until about
6.30 yesterday morning, and went with difficulty through the German
barbed wire still uncut, so that we were tangled and caught in it. Then
I passed into the old German lines, and went across the wooden causeway
built by them over the marshes down to the bank of the Somme. On the
other side of the river loop I saw for the first time Péronne, taken by
the enemy in the autumn of 1914, and fought for furiously by the French,
who regained it for a while and lost it again. It was dead quiet over
there. No shell burst over it, but a little smoke rolled above its
houses. From that distance, the broad river's width, it did not look
much destroyed. It was only afterwards that I saw how much. Several
wooden bridges spanned the Somme, and I tried two of these to get
across, but there were great gaps which I could not jump. Before leaving
the enemy had broken them and tried to hide the damage from the view of
our airmen by putting up straw screens. All the trees in the marshes had
been slashed by our shell-fire. Empty barrels floated in the water with
broken boats, and the old barge, called Notre Dame d'Amiens, was blown
in half. Snipers' posts had been built, outfacing our lines, and German
ammunition and bombs and coiled wire and a great litter of timber lay
about.

I managed at last to get into Péronne by a wide curve through the
Faubourg de Paris, over the piled stones of a broken bridge with planks
across the gaps put there by our soldiers so that the enemy could be
followed in pursuit. He had been careful to check us as long as
possible, though it was not very long, for an hour after his going the
Royal Warwicks and some Londoners marched unto the Grande Place. Down
the Faubourg de Paris all the trees had been cut down, so that they had
crashed across the street, making a great barricade. Before going,
firebrands had been at work, setting alight all the houses not already
smashed by shell-fire. They were burning, when I passed them, so
fiercely that the hot breath of the flames was upon my face. Even now it
was possible to see that Péronne had once been a little town of
old-world dignity and charm. Frontages of some of these gutted houses
were richly carved in Renaissance style, among them being the ruins of
the Palais de Justice and the Hôtel de Ville and the Maison Municipale.
Here and there along the Rue St.-Fursy and in the Grande Place was an
old French mansion built before the Revolution, now just a skeleton of
broken brickwork and timber. Though many houses were still standing
enough to see they were houses, there was hardly one that had escaped
the wrath of war. It was pitiful to see here and there old signs,
showing the life of the town in peace, such as the "Librairie Nouvelle,"
the "Teinturerie Parisienne" belonging to Mme. Poitevineau, the Notary's
house, full of legal books and papers scattered on a charred floor
beneath a gaping roof, a shop for "articles de chasse" kept by one
Monsieur Bourdin. Those signboards, reminding one of Péronne before the
war, were side by side with other signboards showing the way of German
life until 6.30 yesterday morning. At the entrance to the town is a
notice: "Durchgang bei Tage streng Verboten."

Most houses are labelled, "Keller für 60 Mann." At the entrance to a
dug-out below the town hall is the notice, "Verwundete und Kranke" (For
wounded and sick). The only inhabitants of the Grande Place were a big
black cat, looking sick and sorry for itself, and a dummy figure dressed
as a French Zouave, sprawling below the pedestal of a statue to
Catherine de Poix, heroine of the siege of 1870. The statue had been
taken away, like that of Faidherbe in the square of Bapaume. On top of
the pedestal had been laid the dummy figure in French uniform, but our
soldiers removed it. Péronne was a dead town, like Ypres, like Bapaume,
like all those villages in the wake of the German retreat. Over its old
fortifications, built by Vauban, and over its marshes wild duck are
flying.



PART II

ON THE TRAIL OF THE ENEMY



I

THE MAKING OF NO MAN'S LAND


MARCH 21

For several days now I have been going with our advancing troops into
towns, villages, and country abandoned by the enemy in his retreat. It
has been a strange adventure, fantastic as a dream, yet with the tragedy
of reality. The fantasy is in crossing over No Man's Land into the
German lines, getting through his wire, and passing through trenches
inhabited by his soldiers until a day or two ago, travelling over roads
and fields down which his guns and transport went, and going into
streets and houses in which there are signs of his recent occupation. He
has ruined all his roads, opening vast craters in them, and broken all
his bridges, but our men have been wonderfully quick in making a way
over these gaps, and this morning I motored over the German trenches at
Roye, zigzagging over this maze of ditches and dug-outs by bridges of
planks before getting to the roads behind his line.

After passing the area of shell-fire on our side and his, the field of
shell-craters, the smashed barns and houses and churches, the tattered
tree-trunks, the wide belts of barbed wire, one comes to country where
grass grows again, and where the fields are smooth and rolling, and
where the woods will be clothed with foliage when spring comes to the
world again--country strange and beautiful to a man like myself, who has
been wandering through all the filth and frightfulness of the Somme
battlefields. German sentry-boxes still stand at the cross-roads. German
notice-boards stare at one from cottage walls, or where the villages
begin. Thousands of coils of barbed wire lie about in heaps, for the
enemy relied a great deal upon this means of defence, and in many places
are piles of shells which he has not removed. Gun-pits and machine-gun
emplacements, screens to hide his roads from view, observation-posts
built in tall trees, remain as signs of his military life a mile or two
back from his front lines, but behind the trenches are the towns and
villages in which he had his rest billets, and it is in these places
that one sees the spirit and temper of the men whom we are fighting. The
enemy has spared nothing on the way of his retreat. He has destroyed
every village in his abandonment with a systematic and detailed
destruction. Not only in Bapaume and in Péronne has he blown up, or
burnt, all the houses which were untouched by shell-fire, but in scores
of villages he has laid waste the cottages of the peasants, and all
their farms and all their orchards. At Réthonvillers this morning, to
name only one village out of many, I saw how each house was marked with
a white cross before it was gutted with fire. The Cross of Christ was
used to mark the work of the Devil.

In Bapaume and Péronne, in Roye and Nesle and Liancourt, and all these
places over a wide area, German soldiers not only blew out the fronts of
houses, but with picks and axes smashed mirrors and furniture and
picture-frames. As a friend of mine said, a cheap-jack would not give
fourpence for anything left in Péronne, and that is true, also, of
Bapaume. There is nothing but filth in those two towns; family portraits
have been kicked into the gutters. I saw a picture of three children in
Bapaume, and it was smeared with filth in the writing of a dirty word.
The black bonnets of old women who once lived in those houses lie about
the rubbish-heaps, and by some strange, pitiful freak are almost the
only signs left of the inhabitants who lived here before the Germans
wrecked their houses. The enemy has left nothing that would be good for
dwelling or for food. Into the wells he has pitched filth so that the
people may not drink.

But that is not the greatest tragedy I have seen. The ruins of houses
are bad to see when done deliberately, even when shell-fire has spared
them in the war zone. But worse than that is the ruin of women and
children and living flesh. I saw that ruin to-day in Roye and Nesle. I
was at first rejoiced to see how the first inhabitants were liberated
after being so long in hostile lines. I approached them with a queer
sense of excitement, eager to speak with them, but instantly when I saw
those women and children in the streets, and staring at me out of
windows, I was struck with a chill of horror. The women's faces were
dead faces, sallow and mask-like, and branded with the memory of great
agonies. The children were white and thin--so thin that their
cheek-bones protruded. Hunger and fear had been with them too long.

The Mayor of Nesle told me that after the first entry of the Germans on
August 29, 1914, and after the first brutalities, the soldiers had
behaved well, generally speaking. They were well disciplined, and lived
on good terms with the people, as far as possible. Probably he tells the
truth fairly, and I believe him. But the women with whom I spoke were
passionate and hysterical, and told me other stories. I believe them
too. Because these women, who are French, had to live with the men who
were killing their husbands and brothers, and that is a great horror.
They had to submit to the daily moods of men who were sometimes sulky
and sometimes drunk. The officers were often drunk. They had to see
their children go hungry, for though the Germans gave them potatoes,
sometimes they took away the hens, so that there were no eggs, and the
cows, so that there was no milk, and the children suffered and were
thin. On October 5, 1914, the Kaiser came to Nesle with an escort of
five motor-cars, and the soldiers lined the square and cheered him; but
the women and children stared and were silent, and hated those
white-haired men with the spiked hats. During the battles of the Somme
many wounded passed through the town, and others came with awful stories
of slaughter and fierce words against the English. Once twenty men of
the 173rd Regiment came in. They were half mad, weeping and cursing, and
said they were the sole survivors of their regiment.

Then, quite recently, there came the rumour of a German retreat. On
Thursday, March 15, the German commandant sent for the Mayor and
announced the news. He gave orders for all the inhabitants to leave
their houses at 6.30, and to assemble in the streets, while certain
houses and streets indicated were to be destroyed. The German
commandant, whose name was Herwaardt, said he greatly regretted this
necessity. The work was to be carried out by his Oberleutnant Baarth.
The people wept at the destruction of their homes, though the houses in
the centre of Nesle were spared. But they were comforted by the promise
of liberation. For a week previously the enemy had been withdrawing his
stores. The garrison consisted of about 800 to 1000 men of the 38th
Regiment of Chasseurs and Cyclists. The gunners were the last to leave,
and went away at midnight with the rear-guard of infantry. By half-past
seven in the morning there was not a German soldier left in Nesle, and
at half-past nine a British patrol entered, and the women and children
surrounded our men, laughing and weeping. To-day they were being fed by
British soldiers, and were waiting round the field-kitchens with wistful
eyes.



II

THE LETTER OF THE LAW


MARCH 23

On both sides cavalry patrols are scouting in the woods and villages,
and for a few days at least the situation has been extraordinarily like
those early days of the war in October of 1914, when our cavalry was
operating in Flanders, feeling forward cautiously to test the enemy's
strength. For the first time since those days German Uhlans have again
been seen on the Western Front. They have been seen moving about the
woods and on the skyline.

Little parties of them are in hiding behind the broken walls of villages
destroyed in the German retreat. Now and again they bump into our
advanced posts and then bolt away, not seeking a fight. These are the
manoeuvres of open warfare not seen on our Front since the trenches
closed us in. Our cavalry patrols are working in the same way. Yesterday
one of them encountered some of the enemy on the road to St.-Quentin and
very close to that town, where fires are still burning. Our mounted men
were suddenly called to a halt by a sharp fusillade of rifle and
machine-gun bullets. The enemy this time was unmounted and entrenched,
and after reconnoitring this position our patrol galloped back.

It is difficult to know always the exact whereabouts of the enemy's
advanced posts, as they were scattered about the countryside without any
definite trench line, so that officers of corps and divisional staffs
who are going out to examine the lie of the land, with a secret hope of
finding an adventure on the way, are taking out revolvers, which have
long been idle. I found a young staff officer to-day fastening his
holster to his belt before starting out on his morning's expedition, and
he slapped it and laughed, and said, "I haven't done this for over two
years. It is quite like old times." It brings back reminiscences to me
also of old days, when with two comrades I moved about the roads of war
ignorant of the enemy's position and narrowly escaping his
advance-guards. But, after all, it is no joke, and I should hate to get
into the middle of an enemy patrol somewhere in this country of burnt
and abandoned villages, through which I have been wandering with tired
eyes in the sight of all this destruction, so wanton, so brutal, and so
ruthless.

For the enemy has adopted the letter of the law in that code of cruelty
which governs war, and I can think of nothing more damnable than the
horror which came to some hundreds of poor souls, mostly women and
children and old stricken men in the village of Rouy-le-Petit above the
Somme.

Many of them had been driven into this hamlet from neighbouring
villages, which the Germans set on fire. Huddled in the streets of Rouy,
they saw the smoke and flames rising from their homesteads, and they
were terrorized and crushed. Presently the last German rear-guard went
out from Rouy, not cheering and singing as they came in August of 1914,
but silent and grim, conscience-stricken also, it seemed, so the French
people have told me, because of the law which made them do the things
they had done. They had been friendly with the villagers before they
smashed their houses, and had been good to the children before breaking
their bedsteads and making them homeless. They said again and again in
self-excuse, "It is war; it is the order of our high officers! We are
bound to do it."

The German guns rumbled through the street of Rouy, and went away with
gunners and cyclists and infantry. Night came, and all the noise of
distant artillery died down, and there was hardly the sound of a shot
over all the country where for nearly three years there has been the
ceaseless fire of artillery. Early next morning a British patrol entered
the village, and the people crowded round, clasping the soldiers' hands
and thanking God for deliverance, and telling of their hunger, which was
near starving-point. Then the worst happened. Suddenly shells began to
fall over the village, crashing through the roofs and flinging up the
ground in the roadway. They were German shells fired by the German
gunners who had left only a few hours before. They were not meant to
kill the civilians who had been gathered at Rouy, all the women and
children and old, weak men. They were meant to kill the British patrols,
and so were lawful as an act of war. But one could not be done without
the other, and there were civilians who were wounded in Rouy-le-Petit
that day. Weeping and wailing, they rushed down into the cellars and
took refuge there, while flights of shells followed and tore holes in
rooms and walls, and filled the village with smoke and splinters. And
that is the lawfulness of war and the horror of war.

When the enemy left he blew up all the cross-roads and made many
mine-craters along the way of his retreat. They have scarcely checked us
at all, and a tribute of praise is due to our infantry and our labour
battalions, who have been repairing those roads with quick, untiring
industry. To-day I have met with much traffic of war, French as well as
British traffic, the men in blue marching by the men in brown through
country where both armies meet. The French soldiers were marching with
their bands and colours through the ruined villages, and I never saw
more splendid men even in the early days of the war, when the great
armies of France went forward with a kind of religious passion and flung
back the Germans from the Marne. Our own men had no bands and no
colours. There was not the same sense of drama as they passed, but these
clean-shaven boys of ours, hardened by foul weather, by frost, and
rain-storms, and blizzard, go forward into the great waste, which the
enemy had left behind him, in their usual matter-of-fact way, whistling
a tune or two, passing a whimsical word along the line, settling down to
any old job that comes in a day's work, and finding as much comfort as
they can at the end of a long day's march on the lee side of a
shell-broken wall.



III

THE ABANDONED COUNTRY


MARCH 24

After long days of tiring adventure in the wake of the German
rear-guards, following through places only just evacuated, and tramping
through the great ruin they have left behind them, I have tried to give
some idea of the tragic drama of it all, the uncanny quietude of the
abandoned country, the frightful wreckage of towns and villages
destroyed, not by shell-fire, but by picks and axes and firebrands, the
deep mine-craters blown under roads, the broken bridges across the
Somme, the crowds of starved civilians surrounding our patrols in market
squares where they had been herded while their homes were in flames
around them, the little bodies of British troops advancing through
barbed-wire entanglements into fortress positions like Bapaume and
Péronne, and our cavalry patrols feeling their way forward into unknown
country where the enemy's rear-guards are in hiding.

That, in a few lines, is the historical picture of this strange new
phase of warfare in which we have been pushing forward during the past
two weeks. But through it all, to me, an onlooker of these things, there
has been one special theme of interest. It is the revelation of the
German way of life behind his lines--these abundant lines--his military
methods of defence and observation and organization, and the domestic
arrangements by which he has tried to make himself comfortable in the
field of war. Along every step of the way by which he has retreated
there are relics which show us exactly how our enemies lived and fought
when they were hidden from us across No Man's Land, and their philosophy
of life in war. All that is worth a little study.

Everywhere--outside Bapaume and Péronne and Chaulnes, and all those
deserted places near the front lines--one ugly thing stares one in the
face: German barbed wire. It is heavier, stronger stuff than ours or the
French, with great cross-pieces of iron, and he has used amazing
quantities of it in deep wide belts in three lines of defence before his
trench systems, and in all sorts of odd places, by bridges and roads and
villages even far behind the trenches, to prevent any sudden rush of
hostile infantry or to tear our cavalry to pieces should we break his
lines and get through. His trenches were deeply dug, and along the whole
line from which he has now retreated they are provided with great
concreted and timbered dug-outs leading into an elaborate system of
tunnelled galleries perfectly proof from shell-fire, and similar to
those which I have described often enough in the Somme battlefields. As
a builder of dug-outs the German soldier has no equal. But in addition
to these trench systems he made behind his lines a series of strong
posts cunningly concealed and commanding a wide field of fire with
dominating observation over our side of the country.

I found such a place quite by accident yesterday. My car broke down by a
little wood near Roye looking across to Damery and Bouchoir, and the
woody, wired fields which till a week ago were No Man's Land. When I
strolled into the wood I suddenly looked down an enormous sand-pit
covering an acre or so, and saw that it was a concealed fortress of
extraordinary strength and organization--an underground citadel for a
garrison of at least 3000 men perfectly screened by the wood above. Into
the sand-banks on every side of the vast pit were built hundreds of
chambers leading deeper down into a maze of tunnels which ran right
round the central arena. Before leaving the enemy had busied himself
with an elaborate packing up, and had taken away most of his movable
property, but the "fixtures" still remained, and a litter of mattresses
stuffed with shavings, empty wine-bottles, candles which had burnt down
on the last night in the old home, old socks and old boots and old
clothes no longer good for active service, and just the usual relics
which people leave behind when they change houses.

The officers' quarters were all timbered and panelled and papered, with
glass windows and fancy curtains. They were furnished with bedsteads
looted from French houses, and with mirrors, cabinets, washhand-stands,
marble-top tables, and easy chairs. The cross-beams of the roofs were
painted with allegorical devices and with legends such as "Gott mitt
uns," "Furchtlos und treu," "In Treue fest."

Each room had an enamelled or iron stove, so that the place must have
been snug and warm, and I noticed in several of them empty cages from
which singing birds had flown when German officers opened the doors
before their own flitting.

The men's quarters were hardly less comfortable, and the whole place was
organized as a self-contained garrison, with carpenters' shops and
blacksmiths' sheds, and a quartermaster's stores still crowded with
bombs and aerial torpedoes--thousands of them, which the enemy had left
behind in his hurry--and kitchens with great stoves and boilers, and a
Red Cross establishment for first aid, and concrete bath-houses with
shower-baths and cigar-racks for officers, who smoke before and after
bathing. Outside the artillery officers' headquarters was a board
painted in white letters, with the following couplet:

    Schnell und gut ist unser Schuss
    Deutscher Artilleristen Gruss.

    (Quick and good is our shooting
    Of the German gunners' greeting.)

Shell-craters in the open arena showed the French gunners had returned
the greeting, and that the garrison of this citadel had done well to
arrange their life mainly as a subterranean existence. But at times when
the French guns were quiet and when the French sun was shining they had
built alfresco corners with garden seats and tables, round which
enormous stacks of wine-bottles were littered, showing, as I have seen
in all these abandoned places, the enormous quantity of drink consumed
by German officers in their lighter moments.

This citadel in the wood is only one out of similar strong points all
along the lines now abandoned by the enemy. Péronne, with
Mont-St.-Quentin on its flank, and with the Somme winding around it, and
with forests of barbed wire in the marshes below it, could be called
impregnable if any place may defy great armies. It was wonderfully
fortified with great industry and great skill for over two years, and
walking into these places now, marvelling at their strength, I can only
ask one question, which certainly the enemy will find it hard to answer.
Why has he abandoned such formidable strongholds? It seems to me that
there is only one answer. It is because they had to go and not because
they wanted to go. It was because they have no longer the strength to
hold their old line against the growing gun-power and the growing
man-power of the British Armies, and have been compelled to attempt a
new strategy which will save their reserves and shorten their line.

Behind the lines the German officers and men lived comfortably in French
billets, and organized amusements for battalions in rest. At Bapaume
they had a little theatre with painted scenery. Two of the wings were
among the few things left in the rubbish-heaps of that poor destroyed
town, burnt and sacked by the Germans before they left, and when I went
in there with our troops some Australian soldiers propped them up
against the walls of a gutted house and inscribed upon them in white
chalk the name "Maison de la Co-ee," inviting their comrades to walk up
and see the finest show on earth. In Nesle the Germans turned the Café
de Commerce into their casino, and played military bands, whose music
did not cheer the hearts of wan women whose children were starving.

Strange fellows! Who knows what to make of them? The French people just
liberated from their rule, which was a reign of terror in the severity
of its official regulations, contradict themselves in expressing their
white-hot hatred of the German character and their liking for the
individual soldiers who were quartered on them.

     "They were kind to the children ... but they burnt our
     houses."--"Karl was a nice boy. He cried when he went away.... But
     he helped to smash up the neighbours' furniture with an axe."--"The
     lieutenant was a good fellow ... but he carried out the orders of
     destruction."

A woman told me, with a quivering rage in her voice, that a German
officer rode his horse into her room one day. Another woman showed me
the cut down her hand and arm which she had received from a German
soldier who tried to force his way into her house at night. Other
stories have been told me by women white with passion.... Yet it is
clear that, on the whole, the Germans behaved in a kindly, disciplined
way until those last nights, when they laid waste so many villages and
all that was in them.



IV

THE CURÉ OF VOYENNES


MARCH 25

In the village of Voyennes, not far from Ham, and one of the few hamlets
not utterly destroyed, because the people of the district were herded
here while their own houses were being burnt, I went into the ruins of
the church. It was easy to see how the flames had licked about its old
stones, scorching them red, and how the high oak roof had come blazing
down before the walls and pillars had given way. Everything had been
licked down by flame except one figure on an encalcined fragment of
wall. Only one hand of the Christ there had been burned, and the body
hanging on the Cross was unscathed, like so many of those Calvaries
which I have seen in shell-fired places.

But this place had not been touched by shell-fire, for it had been far
beyond the range of French or British guns; it had been destroyed
wilfully. The village around had been spared because of the large number
of people driven into it from the neighbouring countryside, and when I
called upon the priest who lives opposite the ruin of the church, where
he served God and the people of his little parish, I heard the story of
its burning.

It was a queer thing to me to sit to-day in that room of the French
presbytery talking to the old Curé. Just a week before, on Sunday, at
the very hour of my visit, which was at midday, that old church outside
the window had become a blazing torch, and this priest, who loved it,
had wept tears as hot as its flames, and in his heart was the fire of a
great agony. He sat before me, a tall old man of the aristocratic type,
with a finely chiselled face, but thin and gaunt, and as sallow as
though he had been raised from the dead. If I could put down his words
as he spoke them to me with passion in his clear, vivid French, with
gestures of those transparent hands which gave a deeper meaning to his
words, it would be a great story, revealing the agony of the French
people behind the German lines. For the story of this village of
Voyennes is just that of all the villages on the enemy's side of the
barbed wire.

Here in a few little streets about an old church were the bodily
suffering, the spiritual torture, the patient courage, the fight against
despair, the brooding but hidden fears, which have been the life over a
great tract of France since August 1914. "For a year," said M. le Curé
Caron, "my people here have had not a morsel of meat and not a drop of
wine, and only bad water in which the Germans put their filth. They gave
us bread which was disgusting, and bad haricots and potatoes, and
potatoes and haricots, and not enough even, so that the children became
wan and the women weak. The American people sent us some food-stuffs,
but the Germans took the best of them, and in any case we were always
hungry. But those things do not matter, those physical things. It was
the suffering of the spirit that mattered, and, monsieur, we suffered
mentally so much that it almost destroyed our intelligence, it almost
made us silly, so that even now we can hardly think or reason, for you
will understand what it meant to us French people. We were slaves after
the Germans came in and settled down upon us, and said, 'We are at home;
all here is ours.' They ordered our men to work, and punished them with
prison for any slight fault. They were the masters of our women, they
put our young girls among their soldiers, they set themselves out
deliberately at first to crush our spirit, to beat us by terror, to
subdue us to their will by an iron rule. They failed, and they were
astonished. 'We cannot understand you people,' they said; 'you are so
proud, your women are so proud.' And that was true, sir. Some women, not
worthy of the name of French women, were weak--it was inevitable,
alas!--but for the most part they raised their heads and said, 'We are
French, we will never give in to you, not after one year, nor two years,
nor three years, nor four years.'

     "The Germans asked constantly, 'When do you think the war will
     end?' We answered, 'Perhaps in five years, but in the end we will
     smash you,' and this made them very angry, so our people went about
     with their heads up, scornful, refusing to complain against any
     severity or any hardship.

     "Secretly among ourselves it was different. We could get no news
     for months except lies. We knew nothing of what was happening.
     Starvation crept closer upon us. We were surrounded by the fires of
     hell. As you see, we are in the outer section of the great Somme
     battle line, and very close to it. For fifty hours at a time the
     roar of guns swept round us week after week, and month after month,
     and the sky blazed around us. We were afraid of the temper of the
     German officers after the defeat on the Marne, and after the
     battles of the Somme Germany was like a wounded tiger, fierce,
     desperate, cruel. Secretly, though our people kept brave faces,
     they feared what would happen if the Germans were forced to
     retreat. At last that happened, and after all we had endured the
     days of terror were hard to bear. From all the villages around, one
     by one, people were driven out, young women and men as old as sixty
     were taken away to work for Germany, and an orderly destruction
     began, which ended with the cutting down of our orchards and ruin
     everywhere. The Commandant before that was a good man and a
     gentleman, afraid of God and his conscience. He said, 'I do not
     approve of these things. The world will have a right to call us
     barbarians.' He asked for forgiveness because he had to obey
     orders, and I gave it him. An order came to take away all the bells
     of the churches and all the metalwork. I had already put my church
     bells in a loft, and I showed them to him, and said, 'There they
     are.' He was very sorry. This man was the only good German officer
     I have met, and it was because he had been fifteen years in America
     and had married an American wife and escaped from the spell of his
     country's philosophy. Then he went away. Last Sunday, a week ago,
     at this very hour when the people were all in their houses under
     strict orders, and already the country was on fire with burning
     villages, a group of soldiers came outside there with cans of
     petroleum, which they put into the church. Then they set fire to
     it, and watched my church burn in a great bonfire. At this very
     hour a week ago I watched it burn.... That night the Germans went
     away through Voyennes, and early in the morning, up in my attic,
     looking through a pair of glasses I saw four horsemen ride in. They
     were English soldiers, and our people rushed out to them. Soon
     afterwards came some Chasseurs d'Afrique, and the Colonel gave me
     the news of the outer world to which we now belong after our years
     of isolation and misery. Our agony had ended.... The Germans know
     they were beaten, monsieur; a Commandant of Ham said, 'We are
     lost.' After the battles of the Somme the men groaned and wept when
     they were sent off to the Front. 'God,' they cried, 'the horror of
     the French and English gun-fire; O Christ, save us!' During the
     battles of the Somme the wounded poured back, a thousand or more a
     day, and Ham was one great hospital of bleeding flesh. The German
     soldiers have bad food and not enough of it, and their people are
     starving as we starved. The German officers behaved to their men
     with their usual brutality. I have seen them beat the soldiers
     about the head while those men stood at attention, not daring to
     say a word, but as soon as the officers are out of the way, the men
     say, 'We will cut those fellows' throats after the war. We have
     been deceived! After the war we will make them pay.'"

So the Curé talked to me, and I have only given a few of his words, but
what I have given is enough.



V

THE CHÂTEAU OF LIANCOURT


MARCH 28

Day by day our soldiers push farther forward across the country which
the Germans have laid waste, so that even when peace comes there will be
no dwelling-places where there were once fine châteaux of France, and
thriving little towns and hamlets clustering about old farmsteads, and
great barns; nor any orchards, where for miles there was white blossom
in the Aprils of many centuries, and ruddy fruit in all the autumns of
the past.

These men of ours take all this desolation in a matter-of-fact way, as
they take everything in this war, and pass almost without thought scenes
more than usually fantastic in piled ruins, and it is only by some such
phrase or two as "Did you ever see the like?" or "They've made a pretty
mess of that!" that they express their astonishment in this wide belt of
death which the enemy has left along his tracks. Secretly I think some
of them are stirred with a sense of the sinister drama of it all, and
are a little staggered by a ruthlessness of war beyond even their own
earlier experience, which covers the battle of the Somme. All this is
something new, something which seems unnecessary, something more
devilish, and our men go poking about among the burnt houses and into
the German underground defences searching among the rubbish and
examining the relics of the old life there, as though to discover the
secret of the men who have gone away, the secret of "Old Fritz" their
enemy.

Sometimes they find messages written to them by the enemy in good
English, but with dark meanings. In one German dug-out the other day an
officer of ours found a note scribbled on the table.

     "We are going away, Tommy dear, and leave some empty bottles of
     Rhein wine. It is the best wine in the world. Take care it is not
     the best for you."

     "When are they coming?" was another note. "Enlist at once, Tommy my
     boy."

But those things do not explain. It is difficult to find any clue to the
character of these German soldiers, who have left behind them proofs of
wonderful labour and skill, and proofs of great sentiment and religious
piety, and proofs of an ordered cruelty worse than anything seen in
France since barbarous days. How can one explain?

Yesterday I went to a village called Liancourt. There is a big château
there. Even now at a little distance it seems a place of old romance,
with a strong, round tower and high peaked roofs, and great wings of
dark old brick. In such a place Henri IV lived. It was centuries old
when the Revolution made its heraldic shields meaningless, but until a
year or two ago its walls were still hung with tapestries, and its halls
were filled with Empire furniture, and its great vaulted cellars with
wine. When the Germans came they made it a hospital for their
wounded--their Red Cross is still painted on one of the sloping
roofs--and though it was far behind their lines, surrounded it with
barbed wire which is now red with rust, and built enormous dug-outs in
its grounds in case French guns should ever come near. When the Germans
went a few days ago they left but an empty shell. They stripped the
walls of panelling and tapestry, they took all the clocks and pictures
and furniture and carpets, and I wandered yesterday through scores of
rooms empty of everything so that my footsteps echoed in them. The
Château of Liancourt had been looted from attic to cellar. But quite
close to the château the Germans have left the bodies of many of their
soldiers, as all over this country, by roadsides and in fields, there
are the graves of German dead. Here there was one of their cemeteries,
strongly walled with heavy blocks of stone, each grave with its big
wooden headpiece, with a stone chapel built for the burial service, and
with a "Denkmal," or monument, in the centre of all these dead. It was a
memorial put up by Hessian troops in July 1915 to the honour of men
taken on the field of honour.

In this graveyard one sees the deep respect paid by the Germans to the
dead--French dead as well as German dead.... But just a hundred yards
away is another graveyard. It is the cemetery of the little church in
the grounds of the château, and is full of vaults and tombs where lay
the dust of French citizens, men, women, and children, who died before
the horror of this war.

The vaults had been opened by pickaxes. The tombstones were split across
and graves exposed. Into these little houses of the dead--a young girl
had lain in one of them--rubbish had been flung. From one vault the
coffin had been taken away.... The church had been a little gem, with a
tall, pointed spire. Not by shell-fire, but by an explosive charge
placed there the day before the Germans went away the spire had been
flung down and one end of the church blown clean away. The face of its
clock lay upon the rubbish-heap. The sanctuary had been opened and the
reliquaries smashed. The statues of the saints had been overturned, and
the vestments of the priest trampled and torn.

       *       *       *       *       *

I went into the village of Crémery not far away. Here also the graves
had been opened in the churchyard, and in the church the relics of
saints had been looted--a queer kind of loot for German homes--and in
the sacristy fine old books of prayer and music lay tattered on the
floor.

       *       *       *       *       *

I went again yesterday to the great area of destroyed villages which the
enemy left behind him on his retreat to St.-Quentin, and from Holnon
Wood, which our cavalry were the first to enter a few weeks ago, looked
across the open country between our outposts and that old city whose
cathedral rises as a grey mass above the last ridge, so near and so
clear when the sunlight falls upon it that our men can see the tracery
of the windows. It still stands unbroken and beautiful, though houses
have been destroyed around it to clear the enemy's field of fire.
German officers use its towers as observation-posts, and can see every
movement of our men in the fields below.

     "They snipe us with five-point-nines," said a young officer,
     smoking a cigarette, with his back to a broken wall in a heap of
     ruins. "They scatter 'em about on the off-chance of hitting some
     one, and you never can tell where they are likely to drop."

Some of them came whirring across to the Holnon Wood and down into the
village of Francilly as I stood looking across to Savy Wood, but not
close enough to hurt any one. It is the queerest thing to be in this
part of our Front. Go a little too far down a road, mistake one village
for another--and it is quite easy, for they all look alike in ruin--and
if you are an absent-minded man you can get into the enemy's lines
without realizing your danger. Yesterday only occasional shell-bursts
and short spasms of machine-gun fire from the edge of Savy Wood came to
prove that here masses of men are watching out to kill each other.
Pigeons cooed in the woods. The ground at my feet was spangled with
anemones, and the sunlight chased shadows across the fields of spring
below the city, where soon the streets may be noisy with battle. Our
men, living amidst ruin this side of St.-Quentin, have settled down to
this life of open warfare as though they had known nothing else. Whether
the tragedy of it all sinks into them I do not know, but they whistle
music-hall tunes in the vast rubbish-heaps which were once old châteaux
of France, and sleep and stack their rifles in ancient crypts among the
coffins of French aristocrats who died before, or just a little after,
the French Revolution, and find shelter from wind and rain in poor
little sacristies filled with statues of saints adjoining churches
wrecked by explosive charges before the German soldiers went their way.

One sees the strangest contrasts of life and death in all this
countryside, as when yesterday I came across a Highlander playing his
pipes in a wild and merry way on an avalanche of old red bricks which
once formed part of the mansion of Caulaincourt, with many terraces
lined with white statues of Greek goddesses now lying maimed and
mutilated among the great rubbish-heaps.

By the roadside on my way I saw some English soldiers resting, and close
to them was a marble tablet stuck up in a heap of earth. I read the
words carved on the stone, and it told me that here was the heart of
Anne-Joséphine Barandier, Marquise de Caulaincourt, who died in Paris on
January 17, 1830.

Poor dead heart of Madame la Marquise! In a vault near by all the
tablets of her family had been smashed, and the coffins laid bare, but
there was no little niche to show where the lady's heart had been.

Outside in the churchyard there was a great tomb to the memory of the
French soldiers who fell in 1871, and next to them the graves of German
soldiers killed in this war, and a wooden cross to Second Lieutenant
Nixon, of the Royal Flying Corps, killed here behind the German lines on
July 19, 1915.



VI

THE OLD WOMEN OF TINCOURT


MARCH 29

One scene on the roadside of war will remain sharp in my memory among
all these scenes in the wilderness which the Germans have made behind
them, through which I have been passing. It is because of the courage of
old women who sat there on the way.

It was beyond Péronne, and through the open country where our cavalry
patrols are working, and in the village of Tincourt. Up beyond
Lagnicourt the guns yesterday were firing heavily, and sharp gusts of
wind blew forward the noise of a greater and farther bombardment, deep
and low. Quite close, the village of Roisel, taken by our troops the day
before, was still smouldering, and all around for miles was the long
black trail of war with hundreds of villages and farmsteads laid low by
fire and dynamite before the Germans left them in retreat. But in
Tincourt only the outer streets and the neighbouring, separate buildings
had been destroyed. The main part of the village was still standing,
though the enemy had shelled it a little the day before. When I came
into it I saw that it was one of the few places left by the Germans,
because it was a concentration camp of civilians driven in from other
villages while they were being smashed.

The people were gathered about the roadway, about two hundred of them,
sitting or standing among piles of bundles, like refugees in the old
days of the war. There were many old, old women among them in black
dresses and bonnets, and a group of young girls, of fifteen or so, and
small boys and children in arms. They were looking down the road
anxiously, and I found that they were waiting for British lorries and
ambulances to take them away to safer country, beyond the reach of
German shell-fire. They were people who had just been liberated from
hostile rule. The grey tide of the German army had swept back from them,
and they found themselves once again free people of France, with news of
France, and of the world on the other side of the trenches and the wire
which for two years and a half had shut them in with the enemy.

I spoke with the old women, these brave old grandmothers who were
sitting homeless and houseless on their bundles in the midst of a ruined
countryside, within reach of the guns. They were not weeping but
smiling. They were not afraid but scornful of the perils through which
they had passed.

They were thin because they had stinted for their grandchildren, and
they had suffered great misery, but they held their old grey heads high,
and said, "For our sons' sake we endured all things."

They are the grandmothers of the babes who know nothing of all this war,
and one day will be told, and the mothers of men who have fought and
died, and who fight and die with supreme self-sacrifice in the shambles
of this war. They are women worthy of hero sons, themselves heroic. They
were not passionate against the enemy, only contemptuous of him, and of
his rule of them. They liked some of the German soldiers and made no
accusations of individual brutality, but cursed the spirit which had
laid waste their villages, and destroyed their houses and orchards, and
taken away their young girls and all men to the age of fifty. They spoke
with the dispassionate eloquence of people who have been in earthquakes
and shipwrecks and tornadoes. German cruelty was natural, inevitable,
and unarguable, and the soldiers who had done these things were the
slaves of the fate which ordained their acts.

     "I was taken to Roisel from my own village farther back," said one
     old lady. "They burnt my house and my neighbours' houses and drove
     us forward. Roisel was all in flames when we passed through. The
     fires came out of the houses, and the heat of them scorched us.
     Then we came to Tincourt, and yesterday they shelled us. The little
     ones were afraid. Our young girls were weeping and full of terror.

     "You will understand that it is hard to see one's village
     destroyed, and to see one's sisters taken away, and not to know
     what is to happen next. For us old women it was not so bad. We are
     too old to weep, having wept too much. We thought of our sons who
     have died for France. We showed our scorn for the enemy by hiding
     our fear."

     "They know they are beaten," said the old ladies. "They ask always
     for peace. They are afraid of the punishment which God holds in
     store for them for all this wickedness."

     "Yes," said one of the old women, "they will be punished. What we
     have suffered they will suffer. All this"--she thrust up a skinny
     hand towards the ruined land behind her--"must be paid for."

     "It is William who will pay," said another old woman, "with his
     head."

It was like the talk of the Greek Fates, the three old women who held
the thread and spun the thread and snipped the thread--this talk of the
old women of Tincourt, so passionless, so hard, so fair, so certain. But
I marvelled at their courage, sitting there on their bundles, after
tramping away from their blazing homesteads, waiting for British lorries
to take them away from a place which, even then, was registered by
German guns, with the young girls, and the babies who were born under
hostile rule.



VII

THE AGONY OF WAR


MARCH 31

I am moved to write again of the old men and women and of the young
women and children who have been liberated by our advance, because I
have just been among these people again, seeing their tears, hearing
their pitiful tales, touched by hands which plucked my sleeve so that I
should listen to another story of outrage and misery.

All they told me, and all I have seen, builds up into a great tragedy.
These young girls, who wept before me, shaken by the terror of their
remembrance, these old brave men, who cried like children, these old
women who did not weep but spoke with strange, smiling eyes as to life's
great ironies, revealed to me in a fuller way the enormous agony of life
behind the German lines now shifted back a little so that these people
have escaped. It is an agony which includes the German soldiers,
themselves enslaved, wretched, disillusionized men, under the great doom
which has killed so many of their brothers, ordered to do the things
many of them loathe to do, brutal by order even when they have gentle
instincts, doing kind things by stealth, afraid of punishment for
charity, stricken both by fear and hunger.

     "Why do you go?" they were asked by one of the women who have been
     speaking to me.

     "Because we hope to escape the new British attacks," they answered.
     "The English gun-fire smashed us to death on the Somme. The
     officers know we cannot stand that horror a second time."

They spoke as men horribly afraid.

     "I was the bailiff of Mme. la Marquise de Caulaincourt," said an
     elderly man, taking off his peaked cap to show me a coronet on the
     badge. "When the Germans came first to our village they seized all
     the tools, and all the farm-carts, and all the harvesting, and then
     they forced us all to work for them, the men at three sous an hour,
     the women at two sous an hour, and prison for any who refused to
     work. From the château they sent back the tapestries, the pictures,
     and anything which pleased this Commandant or that, until there was
     nothing left. Then in the last days they burnt the château to the
     ground and all the village and all the orchards."

     "It was the same always," said a woman. "There were processions of
     carts covered with linen, and underneath the linen was the
     furniture stolen from good houses."

     "Fourteen days ago," said an old man who had tears in his eyes as
     he spoke, "I passed the night in the cemetery of Vraignes. There
     were one thousand and fifteen of us people from neighbouring
     villages, some in the church and some in the cemetery. They
     searched us there and took all our money. Some of the women were
     stripped and searched. In the cemetery it was a cold night and
     dark, but all around the sky was flaming with the fire of our
     villages--Poeuilly, Bouvincourt, Marteville, Trefçon, Monchy,
     Bernes, Hancourt, and many more. The people with me wept and cried
     out loud to see their dear places burning and all this hell.
     Terrible explosions came to our ears. There were mines everywhere
     under the roads. Then Vraignes was set on fire and burnt around us,
     and we were stricken with a great terror. Next day the English came
     when the last Uhlans had left. 'The English!' we shouted, and ran
     forward to meet them, stumbling, with outstretched hands. Soon
     shells began to fall in Vraignes. The enemy was firing upon us, and
     some of the shells fell very close to a barn quite full of women
     and children. 'Come away,' said your English soldiers, and we fled
     farther."

Russian prisoners were brought to work behind the lines, and some French
prisoners. They were so badly fed that they were too weak to work.

"Poor devils!" said a young Frenchwoman. "It made my heart ache to see
them."

She watched a French prisoner one day through her window. He was so
faint that he staggered and dropped his pick. A German sentry knocked
him down with a violent blow on the ear. The young Frenchwoman opened
the window, and the blood rushed to her head.

"Sale bête!" she cried to the German sentry.

He spoke French and understood, and came under the window.

"'Sale bête'? ... For those words you shall go to prison, madame."

She repeated the words, and called him a monster, and at last the man
spoke in a shamed way and said:

"Que voulez-vous? C'est la guerre. C'est cruelle, la guerre!"

This man had kinder comrades. Pitying the Russian prisoners, they gave
them stealthily a little brandy and cigarettes, and some who were caught
did two hours' extra drill each day for a fortnight.

"My three sisters were taken away when the Germans left," said a young
girl. She spoke her sisters' names, Yvonne, Juliette, and Madeleine,
and said they were eighteen and twenty-two and twenty-seven, and then,
turning away from me, wept very bitterly.

"They are my daughters," said a middle-aged woman. "When they were taken
away I went a little mad. My pretty girls! And all our neighbours'
daughters have gone, up from sixteen years of age, and all the men-folk
up to fifty. They have gone to slavery, and for the girls it is a great
peril. How can they escape?"

How can one write of these things? For the women it was always worst.
Many of them had surpassing courage, but some were weak and some were
bad. The bad women preyed on the others in a way so vile that it seems
incredible. There was no distinction of class or sex in the forced
labour of the harvest-fields, and delicate women of good families were
forced to labour on the soil with girls strong and used to this toil.
There were many who died of weakness and pneumonia and under-feeding.

"Are you not afraid of being called barbarians for ever?" asked a woman
of a German officer who had not been brutal, but, like others, had tried
to soften the hardships of the people.

"Madame," he said very gravely, "we act under the orders of people
greater than ourselves, and we are bound to obey, because otherwise we
should be shot. But we hate the cruelty of war, and we hate those who
have made it. One day we will make them pay for the vile things we have
had to do."

What strange little dramas, what tragic stories I have heard in these
recent days! I have told the tale of one old priest. Here is the tale of
another, as he told it to me in the midst of ruin.

He is the Abbé Barbe, of Muille, near Ham. In the neighbourhood was an
enemy, too, a Frenchman, who was once a Christian brother, and now,
unfrocked, a drunkard and a debauchee. He accused the abbé of having a
telephone in his cellar from which he sent messages to Paris about
German military secrets. One night there came a bang at the door of the
abbé's study. Five soldiers entered with fixed bayonets and arrested the
old priest. He was taken to the fortress of Ham and put into a dark cell
with one small iron grating and a plank bed. Here he was interrogated by
a German officer, who told him of the grave accusation against him.

"Search my cellars," said the abbé. "If there is a telephone there,
shoot me as a spy. If not, set me free, after your court martial."

There was no court martial. After four days in the darkness the abbé was
taken away by German soldiers and set down, not at Muille, but at
Voyennes, ten kilometres or so away, and forbidden to go back to his
village or his church. He went back a few days ago, when the Germans
left. When he went into his house he found that it had been sacked. All
the rare old books in his library had been burnt. There was nothing left
to him.

"Sir," said a sister of charity, "these people whom you see here were
brave but tortured in spirit and in body. Beyond the German lines they
have lived in continual fear and servitude. The tales which they have
told us must make the good God weep at the wickedness of his creatures.
There will be a special place in hell, perhaps, for the Emperor William
and his gang of bandits."

She spoke the words as a pious aspiration, this little pale woman with
meek and kindly eyes, in her nun's dress.



VIII

CAVALRY IN ACTION


APRIL 2

Our troops have advanced since yesterday on to a line of high ground
overlooking St.-Quentin and sweeping in a curve round the wood of
Holnon, which is the last strong point between us and the trenches
immediately before the cathedral city. This morning our outposts were in
Bihucourt and Villecholles, and advancing to Maissemy, thereby holding
all the roads except one on the western side of the Hindenburg-Siegfried
line between Péronne and St.-Quentin. Our enemy is shelling the villages
from which he has lately retired with long-range guns, and we are now
drawing very close to his new line of trenches and fixed positions.

Northwards of Péronne and east of Bapaume our troops have taken
Doignies, above the forest of Havrincourt, and hold Neuville and
Ruyaulcourt to the south of it, so that this great wood is encircled
like that of Holnon; and the enemy must escape quickly from the shelter
of the trees or be trapped there.

Northwards again, above Bapaume, we have made to-day a heavy and
successful attack south-east of Croisilles, where a few days ago there
was sharp fighting and several German counter-attacks, because the
position threatens that sector of the Hindenburg line which is
immediately behind the village striking down at an angle south-eastwards
in front of Quéant, from which we are three miles distant. Two small
villages below Croisilles, named Longatte and Ecoust-St.-Mien, have also
fallen to us.

Our attack to-day was preceded by great gun-fire, and the enemy has
defended himself with desperate courage, acting upon Hindenburg's orders
that the position must be held at all costs. We have brought back over a
hundred prisoners, and have inflicted great losses upon the garrison.

One of the most interesting and extraordinary features in all the
fighting east of Bapaume has been the work of our cavalry squadrons in
reconnaissance and attack. I confess that, after two and a half years of
trench warfare, I was utterly sceptical of the value of mounted troops,
in spite of the little stunt (as they called it) south of High Wood,
after we took the Bazentins and Longueval in July of last year, when the
Royal Dragoons and Deccan Horse rode out and brought back prisoners.
Conditions have changed since then by a great transformation scene,
owing to the enemy's abandonment of his old fortress positions on the
Somme under our frightful onslaught of gun-fire. The country into which
we have now gone is beyond the great wide belt of shell-craters, which
made the battlefields of the Somme a wild quagmire of deep pits and
ponds. The roads between the ruined villages are wonderfully smooth and
good where they have not been mined, and the fields are as nature and
French husbandry left them after last year's harvest. Then there has
been a glorious absence of heavy shell-fire while the enemy has been
drawing back his guns to emplacements behind the Hindenburg line; and
this to cavalry, as well as to infantry, makes all the difference
between heaven and hell. So the cavalry has had its chance again after
the old far-off days when they rode up the Mont des Cats and chased
Uhlans through Meteren, and scouted along the Messines Ridge in the
autumn of 1914.

There have been no great sensational episodes, no shock of lance against
lance in dense masses, no cutting up of rear-guards nor slashing into a
routed army, but there has been a great deal of good scouting work
during the past three weeks. Eight villages have been taken by the
Canadian cavalry under General Seely, and they have captured a number of
prisoners and machine-guns. They have liked their hunting. I have seen
the Indian cavalry riding across the fields with their lances high, and
it was a great sight, and as strange as an Arabian Nights tale in this
land of France, to see those streams of brown-bearded men, as handsome
as fairy-book princes, with the wind blowing their khaki turbans.

Night after night our cavalry have gone out in patrols, the leader ahead
and alone; two men following; behind them a small body keeping in touch.
They ride silently like shadows, with no clatter of stirrup or chink of
bit. They find the gaps in the enemy's wire, creep close to his infantry
outposts, ride very deftly into the charred ruins of abandoned villages,
and come back with their news of the enemy's whereabouts. A week ago one
of their patrols went into the Forest of Holnon, which is still held by
the enemy, and listened to Germans talking. Our men were undiscovered.
They took the villages by sweeping round on both sides in a great
gallop, with their lances down, and the enemy fled at the first sight of
them.

When the cavalry charged at Equancourt, a body of British infantry, who
had come on to the ground six hours earlier than they need have done, in
order (as they said) not to miss the show, cheered them on with the
wildest enthusiasm.

"Look at those beggars," shouted one man as the cavalry swept past;
"that's the way to take a village. No blighted bombs for them, and hell
for leather all the way!"

It was a difficult operation, this taking of Equancourt, and was carried
out in the best cavalry style according to the old traditions. The
village and a little wood in the front of it were held by Germans with
machine-guns, and another village to the right named Sorel was defended
in the same way, and commanded the field of fire before Equancourt. The
cavalry had two spurs of ground in front of them divided by two narrow
gullies, or re-entrants. One gully ran straight to the village of
Equancourt, but was directly in front of the German machine-gun
emplacements. The other gully was to the right, and it was through this
that the cavalry rode, sweeping round in a curve to Equancourt. Before
their charge of two parties, a third party was posted on the left on
rising ground, and swept the wood below Equancourt with machine-gun
fire, and a smaller body of cavalry to the right occupied the attention
of the enemy in Sorel in the same way. Then the two attacking parties
were launched, and rode hard at a pace of twenty-three miles an hour.

The enemy did not stand. After a few bursts of machine-gun fire, which
only hit a few of our mounted men, they fled behind the shelter of a
railway embankment beyond the village, and most of them escaped.

All this is an interlude between greater and grimmer things. We have not
yet come to the period of real open warfare, but have only passed over a
wide belt of No Man's Land: and the fantasy of cavalry skirmishes and
wandering Germans and civilians greeting us with outstretched hands from
ruined villages will soon be closed by the wire and walls of the
Hindenburg line, where once again the old fortress and siege warfare
will begin, unless we have the luck to turn it or break through before
the Siegfried divisions have finished their fortifications.



PART III

THE BATTLE OF ARRAS



I

ARRAS AND THE VIMY RIDGE


APRIL 9

To-day at dawn our armies began a battle which, if Fate has any kindness
for the world, may be the beginning of the last great battles of the
war. Our troops attacked on a wide front including the Vimy Ridge--that
grim hill which dominates the plain of Douai and the coalfields of
Lens--and the German positions around Arras. In spite of bad fortune in
the weather at the beginning of the day, so bad that there was no
visibility for the airmen, and our men had to struggle forward in a
heavy rain-storm, the first attacks have been successful, and the enemy
has lost much ground, falling back in retreat to strong rear-guard lines
where he is now fighting desperately.

The line of our attack covers a front of some twelve miles southwards
from Givenchy-en-Gohelle, and is a sledge-hammer blow threatening to
break the northern end of the Hindenburg line, already menaced round
St.-Quentin. As soon as the enemy was forced to retreat from the country
east of Bapaume and Péronne, in order to escape a decisive blow on that
line, he hurried up divisions and guns northwards to counter our attack
there, while he prepared a new line of defence known as the Wotan line,
as the southern part of the Hindenburg line, which joins it, is known as
the Siegfried position, after two great heroes of old German mythology.
He hoped to escape there before our new attack was ready, but we have
been too quick for him, and his own plans were frustrated. So to-day
began another titanic conflict which the world will hold its breath to
watch, because of all that hangs upon it.

I have seen the fury of this beginning, and all the sky on fire with it,
the most tragic and frightful sight that men have ever seen, with an
infernal splendour beyond words to tell. The bombardment which went
before the infantry assault lasted for several days, and reached a great
height yesterday, when coming from the south I saw it for the first
time. I went up in darkness long before light broke to-day to watch the
opening of the battle. It was very cold, with a sharp wind blowing from
the south-east and rain-squalls. The roads were quiet until I drew near
to Arras, and then onwards there was the traffic of marching men going
up to the fighting-lines, and of their transport columns, and of many
ambulances. In darkness there were hundreds of little red lights, the
glow of cigarette ends. Every now and then one of the men would strike a
match, holding it in the hollow of his hands and bending his head to it,
so that his face was illumined--one of our English faces, clear-cut and
strong. The wind blew sparks from cigarette ends like fireflies. Outside
one camp a battalion was marching away, a regiment of shadow-forms, and
on the bank above them the band was playing them out with fifes and
drums, such a merry little tune, so whimsical and yet so sad also in the
heart of it, as it came trilling out of darkness. On each side of me as
I passed by men were deeply massed, and they were whistling and singing
and calling out to each other. Away before them were the fires of death,
to which they were going very steadily, with a tune on their lips,
carrying their rifles and shovels and iron rations, while the rain
played a tattoo on their steel hats.

I went to a place a little outside Arras on the west side. It was not
quite dark, because there was a kind of suffused light from the hidden
moon, so that I could see the black mass of the cathedral city, the
storm-centre of this battle, and away behind me to the left the tall,
broken towers of Mont-St.-Eloi, white and ghostly looking, across to the
Vimy Ridge. The bombardment was now in full blast. It was a beautiful
and devilish thing, and the beauty of it and not the evil of it put a
spell upon one's senses. All our batteries, too many to count, were
firing, and thousands of gun-flashes were winking and blinking from the
hollows and hiding-places, and all their shells were rushing through
the sky as though flocks of great birds were in flight, and all were
bursting over German positions, with long flames which rent the darkness
and waved sword-blades of quivering light along the ridges. The earth
opened, and pools of red fire gushed out. Star-shells burst
magnificently, pouring down golden rain. Mines exploded east and west of
Arras, and in a wide sweep from Vimy Ridge to Blangy southwards, and
voluminous clouds, all bright with a glory of infernal fire, rolled up
to the sky. The wind blew strongly across, beating back the noise of
guns, but the air was all filled with the deep roar and the slamming
knocks of single heavies and the drum-fire of field-guns.

The first attack was at 5.30. Officers were looking at their
wrist-watches as on a day in July last year. The earth lightened. In
rank grass, looking white and old, scrubs of barbed wire were black on
it. A few minutes before 5.30 the guns almost ceased fire, so that there
was a strange, solemn hush. We waited, and pulses beat faster than
second-hands. "They're away," said a voice by my side. The bombardment
broke out again with new and enormous effects of fire and sound. The
enemy was shelling Arras heavily, and black shrapnel and high explosives
came over from his lines. But our gun-fire was twenty times as great.
Around the whole sweep of his lines green lights rose. They were signals
of distress, and his men were calling for help. It was dawn now, but
clouded and storm-swept. A few airmen came out with the wind tearing at
their wings, but they could see nothing in the mist and driven rain. I
went down to the outer ramparts of Arras. The eastern suburb of Blangy
was already in our hands. On the higher ground beyond our men were
fighting forward. I saw two waves of infantry advancing against the
enemy's trenches, preceded by our barrage of field-guns. They went in a
slow, leisurely way, not hurried, though the enemy's shrapnel was
searching for them.

"Grand fellows," said an officer lying next to me on the wet slope. "Oh,
topping!"

Fifteen minutes afterwards groups of men came back. They were British
wounded and German prisoners. They were met on the roadside by medical
officers, who patched them up there and then before they were taken to
the field-hospitals in ambulances. From these men, hit by shrapnel and
machine-gun bullets, I heard the first news of progress. They were
bloody and exhausted, but claimed success.

"We did fine," said one of them. "We were through the fourth lines
before I was knocked out."

"Not many Germans in the first trenches," said another, "and no real
trenches either, after our shelling. We had knocked their dug-outs out,
and their dead were lying thick, and living ones put their hands up."

There were Tanks in action. Some of the men had seen them crawling
forward over the open country, and then had lost sight of them. In the
night the enemy had withdrawn all but his rear-guard posts to the
trenches farther back, where he resisted fiercely with incessant
machine-gun fire. The enemy's trench system south of Arras was
enormously strong, but our bombardment had pounded it, and our men went
through to the reserve support trench, and then on to the chain of posts
in front of the Hangest Trench, which was strongly held, and after heavy
fighting with bombs and bayonets to the Observatory Ridge, from which
for two years and a half the enemy has looked down, directing the fire
of his batteries against the French and British positions. Our storm
troops in this part of the line were all men of the old English county
regiments--Norfolks, Suffolks, Essex, Berkshires, Sussex, Middlesex,
Queen's, Buffs, and Royal West Kents of the 12th Division. There was
fierce fighting in Tilloy, to the south of Arras, by the Suffolks,
Shropshire Light Infantry, and Royal Welsh Fusiliers of the 3rd
Division, and afterwards they were held up by machine-gun fire from two
formidable positions called the "Harp" and "Telegraph Hill," the former
being a fortress of trenches shaped like an Irish harp, the latter
rising to a high mound. These were taken by English troops and the Scots
of the 15th Division, with the help of Tanks, which advanced upon them
in their leisurely way, climbed up banks and over parapets, sitting for
a while to rest and then waddling forward again, shaking machine-gun
bullets from steel flanks, and pouring deadly fire into the enemy's
positions, and so mastering the ground.

North of the Scarpe (north-east of Arras) the whole system of trenches
was taken; and north again, along the Vimy Ridge, the Canadians and
Highlanders of the 51st Division achieved a heroic success by gaining
this high dominating ground, which was the scene of some of the
fiercest French battles in the first part of the war, and which is a
great wall defending Douai. It was reckoned up to noon to-day that over
3000 prisoners had been taken. They are streaming down to prisoners'
camps, and to our men who pass them on the roads they are the best
proofs of a victorious day.

Those of us who knew what would happen to-day--the beginning of another
series of battles greater perhaps than the struggle of the Somme--found
ourselves yesterday filled with a tense, restless emotion. Some of us
smiled with a kind of tragic irony, because it was Easter Sunday. In
little villages behind the battle lines the bells of French churches
were ringing gladly because the Lord had risen; and on the altar steps
priests were reciting the old words of faith, "Resurrexi et adhuc tecum
sum! Alleluia!" The earth was glad yesterday. For the first time this
year the sun had a touch of warmth in it--though patches of snow still
staved white under the shelter of the banks--and the sky was blue, and
the light glinted on wet tree-trunks and in the furrows of the
new-ploughed earth. As I went up the road to the battle lines I passed a
battalion of our men--the men who are fighting to-day--standing in a
hollow square with bowed heads, while the chaplain conducted the Easter
service. It was Easter Sunday, but no truce of God. I went to a field
outside Arras, and looked into the ruins of the cathedral city. The
cathedral itself stood clear in the sunlight, with a deep black shadow
where its roof and aisles had been. Beyond was a ragged pinnacle of
stone--the once glorious town hall and a French barracks--and all the
broken streets going out to the Cambrai road. It was hell in Arras,
though Easter Sunday. The enemy was flinging high explosives into the
city, and clouds of shrapnel burst above, black and green. All around
the country too, his shells were exploding in a scattered, aimless way,
and from our side there was a heavy bombardment all along the Vimy
Ridge, above Neuville-St.-Vaast, and sweeping round above St.-Nicholas
and Blangy, two suburbs of Arras, and then south-west of the city on the
ridge above the road to Cambrai. It was one continuous roar of death,
and all the batteries were firing steadily. I watched our shells burst,
and some of them were monstrous, raising great lingering clouds above
the German lines.

There was one figure in this landscape of war who made some officers
about me laugh. He was a French ploughman who upholds the tradition of
war. Zola saw him in 1870, and I have seen him on the edge of the other
battlefields; and here he was again driving a pair of sturdy horses and
his plough across the sloping field--not a furlong away from the town
where the German shells were raising rosy clouds of brick-dust. So he
gave praise to the Lord on Easter morning, and prepared the harvests
which shall be gathered after the war.

All behind the front of battle was a great traffic, and all that modern
warfare means in the organization and preparation of an enormous
operation was here in movement. I had just come from our outpost lines
down south from the silence of that great desert which the enemy has
left in the wake of his retreat, east of Bapaume and Péronne, and from
that open warfare with village fighting, where small bodies of our
infantry and cavalry have been clearing the countryside of rear-guard
posts. Here, round about Arras, was the concentration for the old form
of battle attack upon entrenched positions, fortified hills and strong
natural fortresses, defended by massed guns as before the battles of the
Somme. For miles on the way to the front were great camps, great stores,
and restless activity everywhere. Supply columns of food for men and
guns moved forward in an endless tide. Transport mules passed in long
trails. Field-batteries went up to add to the mass of metal ready to
pour fire upon the German lines. It was a vast circus of the world's
great war, and everything that belongs to the machinery of killing
streamed on and on. Columns of ambulances for the rescue, and not for
that other side of the business, came in procession, followed by an army
of stretcher-bearers, more than I have ever seen before, marching
cheerily as though in a pageant. In some of the ambulances were Army
nurses, and men marching on the roads waved their hands to them, and
they laughed and waved back. In the fields by the roadsides men were
resting, lying on the wet earth, between two spells of a long march or
encamped in rest, the same kind of men whom I saw on July 1 of last
year, some of them the same men--our boys, clean-shaven, grey-eyed, so
young-looking, so splendid to see. Some of them sat between their
stacked rifles writing letters home. And the tide of traffic passed them
and flowed on to the edge of the battlefields, where to-day they are
fighting.

[Illustration: LENS, VIMY RIDGE AND ARRAS

London: W^m. Heinemann _Stanford's Geog^l. Estab^t., London_]

       *       *       *       *       *

APRIL 10

The enemy has lost already nearly 10,000 prisoners and more than half a
hundred guns, and in dead and wounded his losses are great. He is in
retreat south of the Vimy Ridge to defensive lines farther back, and as
he goes our guns are smashing him along the roads. During the night the
Canadians gained the last point, called Hill 145, on the Vimy Ridge,
where the Germans held out in a pocket with machine-guns, and this
morning the whole of that high ridge, which dominates the plains to
Douai, is in our hands, so that there is removed from our path the high
barrier for which the French and ourselves have fought through bloody
years. Yesterday before daylight and afterwards I saw this ridge of Vimy
all on fire with the light of great gun-fire. The enemy was there in
strength, and his guns were answering ours with a heavy barrage of high
explosives. This morning the scene was changed as by a miracle. Snow was
falling, blown gustily across the battlefields, and powdering the capes
and helmets of our men as they rode or marched forward to the front. But
presently sunlight broke through the storm-clouds and flooded all the
countryside by Neuville-St.-Vaast and Thélus and La Folie Farm, up to
the crest of the ridge, where the Canadians and Highlanders of the 51st
Division had just fought their way with such high valour. Our batteries
were firing from many hiding-places, revealed by short, sharp flashes of
light, but few answering shells came back, and the ridge itself, patched
with snowdrift, was quiet as any hill of peace. It was astounding to
think that not a single German stayed up there out of all these who had
held it yesterday, unless some poor wounded devils still cower in the
deep tunnels which pierce the hill-side. It was almost unbelievable to
me, who have known the evil of this high ridge month after month and
year after year, and the deadly menace which lurked about its lower
slopes. Yet I saw proof below, where all Germans who had been there at
dawn yesterday, thousands of them, were down in our lines, drawn up in
battalions, marshalling themselves, grinning at the fate which had come
to them and spared their lives.

The Canadian attack yesterday was astoundingly successful, and carried
out by high-spirited men, the victors of Courcelette in the battles of
the Somme, who had before the advance an utter and joyous confidence of
victory. On their right were the Highland Brigades of the 51st Division
who fought at Beaumont-Hamel, and who shared the honour of that day with
the Canadians, taking as many prisoners and gaining a great part of the
ridge. They went away at dawn, through the mud and rain which made
scarecrows of them. They followed close and warily to the barrage of our
guns, the most stupendous line of fire ever seen, and by 6.30 they had
taken their first objectives, which included the whole front-line system
of German trenches above Neuville-St.-Vaast, by La Folie Farm and La
Folie Wood, and up by Thélus, where they met with fierce resistance. The
German garrisons were for the most part in long, deep tunnels, pierced
through the hill as assembly ditches. There were hundreds of them in
Prinz Arnault Tunnel, and hundreds more in Great Volker Tunnel, but as
the Canadians and Scots surged up to them with wave after wave of
bayonets German soldiers streamed out and came running forward with
hands up. They were eager to surrender, and their great desire was to
get down from Vimy Ridge and the barrage of their own guns. That barrage
fell heavily and fiercely upon the Turco Trench, but too late to do much
damage to our men, who had already gone beyond it. The Canadian
casualties on the morning of attack were not heavy in comparison with
the expected losses, though, God knows, heavy enough, but the German
prisoners were glad to pay for the gift of life by carrying our wounded
back. The eagerness of these men was pitiful, and now and then
grotesque. At least the Canadian escorts found good laughing matter in
the enormous numbers of men they had to guard and in the way the
prisoners themselves directed the latest comers to barbed-wire
enclosures, and with deep satisfaction acted as masters of the ceremony
to their own captivity. I have never seen such cheerful prisoners,
although for the most part they were without overcoats and in a cold
blizzard of snow. They were joking with each other, and in high good
humour, because life with all its hardships was dear to them, and they
had the luck of life. They were of all sizes and ages and types. I saw
elderly, whiskered men with big spectacles, belonging to the professor
tribe, and young lads who ought to have been in German high schools.
Some of their faces looked very wizened and small beneath their great
shrapnel helmets. Many of them looked ill and starved, but others were
tall, stout, hefty fellows, who should have made good fighting men if
they had any stomach for the job. There were many officers standing
apart. Canadians took over two hundred of them, among whom were several
forward observing officers, very bad tempered with their luck, because
the men had not told them they were going to bolt and had left them in
front positions. All officers were disconcerted because of the
cheerfulness of the men at being taken. I talked with a few of them.
They told me of the horrors of living under our bombardment. Some of
them had been without food for four days, because our gun-fire had boxed
them in.

"When do you think the war will end?" I asked one of them.

"When the English are in Berlin," he answered, and I think he meant that
that would be a long time.

Another officer said, "In two months," and gave no reason for his
certainty.

"What about America?" I asked one of them. He shrugged his shoulders,
and said, "It is bad for us, very bad; but, after all, America can't
send an army across the ocean."

At this statement Canadian soldiers standing around laughed loudly, and
said, "Don't you believe it, old sport. We have come along to fight you,
and the Yankees will do the same."

By three o'clock in the afternoon the Canadians and the Highland
Brigades had gained the whole of the ridge except the high strong post
on the left of Hill 145, captured during the night. Our gun-fire had
helped them by breaking down all the wire, even round Heroes' Wood and
Count's Wood, where it was very thick and strong. Thélus was wiped
utterly off the map. This morning Canadian patrols pushed in a
snow-storm through Farbus Wood, and established outposts on the railway
embankment. Some of the bravest work was done by forward observing
officers, who climbed to the top of Vimy Ridge as soon as it was
captured, and through the heavy fire barrages reported back to the
artillery all the movements seen by them in the country below.

In spite of the wild day, our flying men were riding the storm and
signalling to the gunners who were rushing up their field-guns. "Our
60-pounders," said a Canadian Officer, "had the day of their lives."
They found many targets. There were trains moving in Vimy village and
they hit them. There were troops massing on sloping ground and they were
shattered. There were guns and limber on the move, and men and horses
were killed.

Above all the prisoners taken yesterday by the English, Scottish, and
Canadian troops the enemy's losses were frightful, and the scenes behind
his lines must have been hideous in slaughter and terror. On the right
of Arras there was hard and costly fighting in Blangy and Tilloy and
onwards to Feuchy. On this side the Germans fought most fiercely, and
the Shropshires, Suffolks, Royal Fusiliers, and Welsh Fusiliers of the
3rd Division were held up near Feuchy Chapel and other strong points
until our gun-fire knocked out these works and made way for them.
Fifty-four guns were taken here on the east side of Arras, and to-day
the pursuit of the beaten enemy continues.



II

LONDONERS THROUGH THE GERMAN LINES


The Londoners' attack at dawn was one of the splendid episodes of the
battle. They went through the German lines in long waves, and streamed
forward like a living tide, very quick and very far, taking a thousand
prisoners on their way through Neuville-Vitasse and Mercatel. Later in
the day they were held up in their right flank by enfilade fire, as the
troops on their right were in difficulties against uncut wire and
machine-guns, and from that time onwards the London men of the 56th
Division had perilous hours and hard, costly fighting. They were forced
to extend beyond their line on the left to join up the gap between
themselves and the troops to their north, and to work down with bombing
parties on the right to gain ground in which the Germans were holding
out desperately and inflicting many casualties on our men. In the centre
the 56th Division was ordered to attack fortified villages from which
machine-gun bullets swept the ground and where our assault was checked
by stout belts of wire with unbroken strands. It was in those hours on
April 9 and 10 that many young London men showed the highest qualities
of spirit, risking death, and worse than death, with most desperate
gallantry.

A young subaltern of the Middlesex Regiment saw those wire traps in the
centre of Neuville-Vitasse, and led the way to them with a party of
bombers and Lewis-gunners, smashed them up, and jumped on the
machine-guns beyond. It opened the gate to all the other
Londoners--Kensingtons, Rangers, and London Scottish--who swept through
this village and beyond. Many officers fell, but there was always some
one to take command and lead the men--a sergeant with a cool head, a
second lieutenant with a flame in his eyes.

It was a boy of nineteen who took command of one company of the
Middlesex Regiment when he was the only one to lead. He had never been
under fire before, and had never seen all this blood and horror. He was
a slip of a fellow, who had been spelling out fairy-tales ten years ago,
which is not far back in history. Now, he led a company of fighting men,
who followed him as a great captain all through that day's battle, and
from one German line to another, and from one village to another, until
all the ground had been gained according to the first plan. This gallant
boy was afterwards reported missing, and his comrades believe that he
was killed.

It was a battle of second lieutenants of London, owing to the heavy
casualties of commanding officers. One of them was wounded in the head
early in the day, but led his men until hours later he fell and fainted.
Another young officer went out with three men in the darkness, when the
infantry was held up by serious obstacles, and under heavy fire brought
back information which saved many lives and enabled the whole line to
advance.

There was a second lieutenant of the London Rangers who behaved with a
quick decision and daring which seemed inspired by something more than
sound judgment. The enemy was holding out in a trench and sweeping men
down with that death-rattle of bullets which is the worst thing in all
this fighting. In front of them was uncut wire, which is always a trap
for men. Our London lieutenant did not go straight ahead. He flung his
platoon round to the flank, smashed through the wire here, and sprang at
the German gun-team with a revolver in one hand and a bomb in the other.
The whole team was destroyed except one man, who fell wounded, and above
those dead bodies the second lieutenant waved his revolver to his men
and said, "Let's get on."

The London men went on for nine days, which is like ninety years on such
a battlefield. They went on until they were checked and held by the
enemy, who had time to rush up strong reserves and bring up new weight
of guns. But they smashed through the Cojeul Switch and broke the
Hindenburg line at Héninel.

Shell-fire increased hour by hour. From many hidden places machine-guns
poured bullets across the ground. German snipers lay out in shell-holes
picking off our men. This sniping was intolerable, and a second
lieutenant and sergeant crawled out into No Man's Land to deal with it.
They dragged three snipers out of one hole, and searched others and
helped to check this hidden fire. One London rifleman went forward to
kill a machine-gun with its hideous tat-tat-tat. It was a bolder thing
than St. George's attack on the dragon, which was a harmless beast
compared with this spitfire devil. The rifleman armed himself with a
Lewis gun, carried at his hip, and fired so coolly that he scattered the
German team and captured the gun.

All through those nine days, and afterwards in a second spell worse than
those, the London men lived under great fire, those that had the luck to
live, and though their nerves were all frayed with the strain of it, and
they suffered great agonies and great losses, they never lost courage
and kept their pride--London Pride.

One medical officer's orderly never tired of searching for stricken men,
and seemed to have some magic about him, with shells bursting everywhere
round about his steps and bullets spitting on each side of him. He
organized stretcher-bearer parties, gave some of his own magic to them,
and saved many lives. A captain of the R.A.M.C. went out under heavy
fire and dressed the wounds of men lying there in agony and brought them
back alive. A London private remained out looking after the wounded in
an exposed place, and in his spare time saved other men attacked by
small parties of Germans, by killing nine of them and taking one man
prisoner. Another second lieutenant, one of those boys who have poured
out the blood of youth upon these battlefields, took two Vickers guns
with their teams through two barrages--only those who have seen a
barrage can know the meaning of that--and by great skill and cunning
brought his men through without a single casualty, so that the infantry
followed with high hearts.

Out of a burning billet and out of an exploding ammunition dump, a
transport driver brought out some charges urgently needed for the
battle. A man who entered a cage of tigers to draw their teeth would not
want greater nerve than this.

When the blinds were drawn across the windows of many little London
houses, when dusk crept into Piccadilly Circus and shadows darkened down
the Strand, when the great old soul of London slept a while in the
night, these boys who had gone out from her streets were fighting, and
are fighting still, in the greatest battle of the world, and as they lie
awake in a ditch, or wounded in a shell-hole, their spirit travels home
again, through the old swirl of traffic, to quiet houses where already,
perhaps, there is the scent of may-blossom.



III

THE STRUGGLE ROUND MONCHY


APRIL 11

This morning our men advanced upon the villages of Monchy-le-Preux and
La Bergère, on each side of the Cambrai road, beyond the ruins of
Tilloy-les-Mofflaines, and occupied them after heavy fighting. British
cavalry were first into Monchy, riding through a storm of shrapnel, and
heavily bombarded in the village so that many of their horses were
killed and many men wounded.

I saw the whole picture of this fighting to-day, and all the spirit and
drama of it. It was a wonderful scene, not without terror, and our men
passed through it alert and watchful to the menace about them. Going out
beyond Arras through suburbs which were in German hands until Monday
last--they had scribbled their names and regiments on broken walls of
strafed houses, and men of English battalions who captured them had
scrawled their own names above these other signatures--I came to the
German barbed wire which had protected the enemy's lines, and then into
three systems of trenches which had been the objectives of our men on
the morning when the battle of Arras began. Here was Hangest Trench, in
which the enemy had made his chief resistance, and Holt Redoubt and
Horn Redoubt, where his machine-guns had checked us, and a high point on
the road to Tilloy, to which a Tank had crawled after a lone journey out
of Arras to sweep this place with machine-gun fire, so that our men
could get on to the village. It is no wonder that the Germans lost this
ground, and that those who remained alive in their dug-outs surrendered
quickly, as soon as our men were about them. The effect of our
bombardment was ghastly. It had ploughed all this country with great
shell-craters, torn fields of barbed wire to a few tattered strands, and
smashed in all the trenches to shapeless ditches.

Tilloy still had parts of houses standing, bits of white wall having no
relation to the wild rubbish-heaps around. The Germans had torn up the
rails to make barricades, and had used farm carts, ploughs, and
brick-heaps as cover. But they could have given no protection when the
sky rained fire and thunderbolts. Dead bodies lay about in every shape
and shapelessness of death. I passed into Devil's Wood--well named,
because here there had been hellish torture of men--and so on to
Observatory Ridge and ground from which, not far away, I looked into
Monchy and across the battlefields where our men were fighting then. The
enemy was firing heavy shells. They fell thick about Monchy village and
on the other side of the Cambrai road, roaring horribly as they came and
flinging up volumes of black earth and mud. The enemy's gunners were
scattering other shells about, but in an aimless way, so that they found
no real target, though they were frightening, especially when some of
these crumps spattered one with mud.

Flights of British aeroplanes were on the wing, and German aeroplanes
tried to fight their way over our lines. I saw several with the swish of
machine-gun bullets and the high whining shells of British "Archies"
about them. I have never before seen so great a conflict in the skies.
It was a battle up there, and as far as I could see we gained a mastery
over the enemy's machines, though some of them were very bold.

On the earth it was open warfare of the old kind, for we were beyond the
trenches and our men were moving across the fields without cover. Some
of our machine-gunners were serving their weapons from shell-holes, and
the only protection of the headquarters staff of the cavalry was a
shallow ditch in the centre of the battlefield sheltered by a few
planks, quite useless against shell-fire, but keeping off the snow,
which fell in heavy wet flakes. There the officers sat in the ditch,
shoulder to shoulder, studying their maps and directing the action while
reports were called down the funnel of a chimney by an officer who had
been out on reconnaissance.

"It is villainously unhealthy round here," said this officer, who spoke
to me after he had given his news to the cavalry general. He looked
across to Monchy, and said, "Old Fritz is putting up a stiff fight." At
that moment a German crump fell close, and we did not continue the
conversation.

Across the battlefield came stretcher-bearers, carrying the wounded
shoulder high, and the lightly wounded men walked back from Monchy and
Guémappe very slowly, with that dragging gait which is bad to see. I
spoke to a wounded officer and asked him how things were going.

"Pretty hot," he said, and then shivered and said, "but now I feel cold
as ice."

Snow fell all through the afternoon, covering the litter of battle and
the bodies of all our dead boys, giving a white beauty even to the ugly
ruins of Tilloy and changing the Devil's Wood by enchantment to a kind
of dream-picture. Through this driving snow our guns fired ceaselessly,
and I saw all their flashes through the storm, and their din was
enormous. Away in front of me stretched the road to Cambrai, the high
road of our advance. It seemed so easy to walk down there--but if I had
gone farther I should not have come back.

In a hundred years not all the details of this battle will be told, for
to each man in all the thousands who are fighting there is a great
adventure, and they are filled with sensations stronger than drink can
give, so that it will seem a wild dream--a dream red as flame and white
as snow.

For this amazing battle, which is bringing to us tides of prisoners and
many batteries of guns, is being fought on spring days heavy with snow,
as grim as sternest winter except when in odd half-hours the sun breaks
through the storm-clouds and gives a magic beauty to all this whiteness
of the battlefields and to trees furred with bars of ermine and to all
the lacework of twigs ready for green birth. Now as I write there is no
sun, but a darkness through which heavy flakes are falling. Our soldiers
are fighting through it to the east of Arras, and their steel helmets
and tunics and leather jerkins are all white as the country through
which they are forcing back the enemy.

While the battle was raging on the Vimy heights English and Scottish
troops of the 15th, 12th, and 3rd Divisions were fighting equally
fiercely, with more trouble to meet round about Arras. Beyond the facts
I have already written there are others that must be recorded quickly,
before quick history runs away from them.

Some day a man must give a great picture of the night in Arras before
the battle, and I know one man who could do so--a great hunter of wild
beasts, with a monocle that quells the human soul and a very "parfit
gentil knight," whose pen is as pointed as his lance. He spent the night
in a tunnel of Arras before getting into a sap in No Man's Land before
the dawn, where he was with a "movie man," an official photographer
(both as gallant as you will find in the Army), and a machine-gunner
ready for action. Thousands of other men spent the night before the
battle in the great tunnels, centuries old, that run out of Arras to the
country beyond, by Blangy and St.-Sauveur. The enemy poured shells into
the city, which I watched that night before the dawn from the ramparts
outside, but in the morning they came up from those subterranean
galleries and for a little while no more shells fell in Arras, for the
German gunners were busy with other work, and were in haste to get away.
The fighting was very fierce round Blangy, the suburb of Arras, where
the enemy was in the broken ruins of the houses and behind garden walls
strongly barricaded with piled sand-bags. But our men smashed their way
through and on. Troops of those old English regiments were checked a
while at strong German works known as the Horn, Holt, Hamel, and Hangest
positions, and at another strong point called the Church Work. It was at
these places that the Tanks did well on a day when they had hard going
because of slime and mud, and after a journey of over three miles from
their starting-point knocked out the German machine-guns, and so let the
infantry get on. Higher north at a point known as Railway Triangle,
east-south-east of Arras, where railway lines join, Gordons, Argylls,
Seaforths, and Camerons of the 15th Division were held back by
machine-gun fire. The enemy's works had not been destroyed by our
bombardment, and our barrage had swept ahead of the troops. News of the
trouble was sent back, and presently back crept the barrage of our
shell-fire, coming perilously close to the Scottish troops, but not too
close. With marvellous accuracy the gunners found the target of the
Triangle and swept it with shell-fire so that its defences were
destroyed. The Scots surged forward, over the chaos of broken timber and
barricades, and struggled forward again to their goal, which brought
them to Feuchy Well, and to-day much farther. A Tank helped them at
Feuchy Chapel, cheered by the Scots as it came into action scorning
machine-gun bullets. The Harp was another strong point of the enemy's
which caused difficulty to King's Own Liverpools, the Shropshire Light
Infantry, Royal Fusiliers, East Yorks, Scottish Fusiliers, and Royal
Scots, as I have already told, on the first day of battle, and another
Tank came up, in its queer, slow way, and the gallant men inside served
their guns like a Dreadnought, and so ended the business on that
oval-shaped stronghold.

So English and Scottish troops pressed on and gathered up thousands of
prisoners. "So tame," said one of our men, "that they ate out of our
hands." So ready to surrender that a brigadier and his staff who were
captured with them were angry and ashamed of men taken in great numbers
without a single wounded man among them. Fifty-four guns were captured
on this eastern side of Arras, and six were howitzers, and two of these
big beasts were taken by cavalry working with the troops. Some of the
gunners had never left their pits after our bombardment became intense
four days before, and were suffering from hunger and thirst.
Trench-mortars and machine-guns lay everywhere about, in scores,
smashed, buried, flung about by the ferocity of our shell-fire. German
officers wearing Iron Crosses wept when they surrendered. It was their
day of unbelievable tragedy. A queer thing happened to some German
transport men. They were sent out from Douai to Fampoux. They did not
know they were going into the battle zone. They drove along until
suddenly they saw British soldiers swarming about them. Six hours after
their start from Douai they were eating bully-beef on our side of the
lines, and while they munched could not believe their own senses. Our
troops treated them with the greatest good humour, throwing chocolates
and cigarettes into their enclosures and crowding round to speak to men
who knew the English tongue. There seemed no kind of hatred between
these men. There was none after the battle had been fought, for in our
British way we cannot harbour hate for beaten enemies when the
individuals are there, broken and in our hands. Yet a little farther
away the fighting was fierce, and there was no mercy on either side.

       *       *       *       *       *

APRIL 12

In spite of the enemy's hard resistance and the abominable weather
conditions which cause our troops great hardships, we are making steady
progress towards the German defensive positions along the Hindenburg
line.

North of Vimy Ridge this morning his lines were pierced by a new attack,
delivered with great force above Givenchy; and south of the village of
Wancourt, below Monchy-le-Preux, we have seized an important little
hill-top.

Monchy itself is securely in our hands this morning, after repeated
counter-attacks yesterday and last night. In my last dispatch I
described in the briefest way how I went up towards Monchy yesterday
across the crowded battlefield and looked into that village, where
fierce fighting was in progress. Then the village was still standing,
hardly in ruins, so that I saw roofs still on the houses and unbroken
walls, and the white château only a little scarred by shell-fire. Now it
has been almost destroyed by the enemy's guns, and our men held it only
by the most resolute courage. It is a small place that village, but
yesterday, perched high beyond Orange Hill, it was the storm-centre of
all this world-conflict, and the battle of Arras paused till it was
taken. The story of the fight for it should live in history, and is full
of strange and tragic drama.

Our cavalry--the 10th Hussars, the Essex Yeomanry, and the Blues--helped
in the capture of this high village, behaving with the greatest acts of
sacrifice to the ideals of duty. I saw them going up over Observation
Ridge, and before they reached that point; the dash of splendid bodies
of men riding at the gallop in a snow-storm which had covered them with
white mantles and crowned their steel hats. Afterwards I saw some of
these men being carried back wounded over the battlefield, and the dead
body of their general, on a stretcher, taken by a small party of
troopers through the ruins of another village to his resting-place. Many
gallant horses lay dead, and those which came back were caked with mud,
and walked with drooping heads, exhausted in every limb. The bodies of
dead boys lay all over these fields.

[Illustration: Map of the Arras front GEORGE PHILIP & SON LTD 32 Fleet
St., E.C.]

But the cavalry rode into Monchy and captured the north side of the
village, and the enemy fled from them. It is an astounding thing that
two withered old Frenchwomen stayed in this village all through this
fighting. When our troopers rode in these women came running forward,
frightened and crying "Camarades," as though in face of the enemy. When
our men surrounded them they were full of joy, and held up their
withered old faces to be kissed by the troopers, who leaned over their
saddles to give this greeting. Yet the battle was not over, and the
shell-fire was most intense afterwards.

The women told strange stories of German officers billeted in their
houses. After the battle of Arras began on Monday these officers were
very nervous; but, although the sound of gun-fire swept nearer they did
not believe that the English troops would get near Monchy for some days.
Late on Wednesday night, after preparing for the defence of the village,
they went to bed as usual, looking exhausted and nerve-racked, and told
the women to wake them at six o'clock. They were awakened by another
kind of knocking at the door. English and Scottish soldiers were firing
outside the village, and the German officers escaped in such a hurry
that they had no time to pull down the battalion flag outside their
gate, and our men captured it as a trophy.

The attack on Monchy was made by English and Scottish troops--the Scots
of the 15th Division--who fought very fiercely to clear the enemy out of
Railway Triangle, where they were held up for three hours. Afterwards
they fought on to Feuchy Redoubt, where they found that the whole of the
German garrison had been buried by our bombardment, so that none escaped
alive. At Feuchy Weir they captured a German electrical company, a
captain and thirteen men, who were unarmed. The enemy shelled Feuchy
village after our troops had passed through and gone far forward, where
they dug in for the night under heavy shelling. Here they stayed all day
on Tuesday close by a deep square pit, where four eight-inch howitzers
had been abandoned to our cavalry.

Meanwhile English troops of the 37th Division--Warwicks and Bedfords,
East and West Lancashire battalions, and the Yorks and Lanes--were
advancing on the right and linking up for the attack on Monchy in
conjunction with the Jocks. On the left bodies of cavalry assembled for
a combined attack with Hotchkiss and machine guns; and at about five
o'clock yesterday morning they swept upon the village. The cavalry went
full split at a hard pace under heavy shrapnel-fire, and streamed into
the village on the north side. They saw few Germans, for as they went in
the enemy retreated to the southern side, hoping to escape by that way.
Here they found themselves cut off by our infantry, the English
battalions mixed up with Scots before the fight was over. It was hard
fighting. The enemy had many machine-guns, and defended himself from
windows and roofs of houses, firing down upon our men as they swarmed
into the village streets, and fought their way into farmyards and
courtyards. It was a house-to-house hunt, and about two hundred
prisoners were taken, though some of the garrison escaped to the trench
in the valley below, where they had machine-gun redoubts. At about eight
o'clock yesterday morning, twenty Scots and a small party of English
went forward from Monchy with a Tank which had crawled up over heavy
ground and shell-craters, and now trained its guns upon bodies of
Germans moving over the ridge beyond. By this time English troops had a
number of machine-guns in position for the defence of the village
against any counter-attacks that might come. Some of our men had already
explored the dug-outs and found them splendid for shelter under
shell-fire. Under the château was a subterranean system furnished
luxuriously and provided with electric light. Half an hour after the
capture of the village some English and Scottish officers were drinking
German beer out of German mugs.

The peace of Monchy did not last long. At nine o'clock the enemy shelled
the place fiercely, and for a long time, with 5·9 guns, as I saw myself
at midday from Observation Ridge, which was also under fire.

German airmen, flying above, watched our cavalry and infantry, and
directed fire upon them. They were terrible hours to endure, but our men
held out nobly; and when the enemy made his counter-attacks in the
afternoon and evening, advancing in waves with a most determined spirit,
they were hosed with machine-gun bullets and fell like grass before the
scythe. Our 18-pounders also poured shell into them. This morning our
men are in advance of the village, and the enemy has retreated from the
trench below. The night was dreadful for men and beasts. Snow fell
heavily, and was blown into deep drifts by wind as cold as ice. Wounded
horses fell and died, and men lay in a white bed of snow in an agony of
cold, while shells burst round them. As gallant as the fighting men were
the supply columns, who sent up carriers through blizzard and
shell-fire. At four o'clock in the morning a rum ration was served out,
"And thank God for it," said one of our officers lying out there in a
shell-hole with a shattered arm. Strange and ironical as it seems, the
post came up also at this hour, and men in the middle of the
battlefield, suffering the worst agonies of war, had letters from home
which in darkness they could not read.

That scene of war this morning might have been in Russia in midwinter,
instead of in France in spring-time. Snow was thick over the fields,
four foot deep where it had drifted against the banks. Tents and huts
behind the lines were covered with snow roofs, and as I went through
Arras this poor, stricken city was all white. Stones and fallen masonry
which have poured down from great buildings of mediæval times were
overlaid with snow--until, by midday, it was all turned to water. Then
our Army moved through rivers of mud, and all our splendid horses were
pitiful to see.



IV

THE OTHER SIDE OF VIMY


APRIL 13

The enemy's Headquarters Staff is clearly troubled by the successes
gained by our troops during these first days of the battle of Arras, and
all attempts to repair the damage to his defensive positions upon which
his future safety depends have been feeble and irresolute. It is certain
that he desired to make a heavy counter-attack upon the northern edge of
the Vimy Ridge. Prisoners taken yesterday all believed that this would
be done without delay. The 5th Grenadiers of the Prussian Guards Reserve
were hurriedly brought up to relieve or support the Bavarian troops, who
had suffered frightfully, and massed in a wood, called the Bois
d'Hirondelle, or Swallows' Wood, in order to steal through another
little wood called Bois-en-Hache to a hill known by us as the Pimple,
and so on to recapture Hill 145, taken by the Canadians on Monday night
after heavy and costly fighting. This scheme broke down utterly.
Swallows' Wood was heavily bombed by our aeroplanes, so that the massed
Prussians had an ugly time there, and yesterday morning Canadian troops
made a sudden assault upon the Pimple, which is a knoll slightly lower
than Hill 145, to its right, and gained it in spite of fierce
machine-gun fire from the garrison, who defended themselves stubbornly
until they were killed or captured. At the same time Bois-en-Hache,
which stands on rising ground across the little valley of the River
Souchez, was attacked with great courage by the 24th Division, and the
enemy driven out.

It was difficult work for our infantry and gunners. The ground was a bog
of shell-craters and mud, and there was a blizzard of snowflakes. The
attack was made with a kind of instinct, backed with luck. Our men
stumbled forward in a wake of snow-squalls and shells, fell into
shell-holes, climbed out again, and by some skill of their own kept
their bombs and rifles dry. Machine-gun bullets whipped the ground about
them. Some fell and were buried in snow-drifts; others went on and
reached their goal, and in a white blizzard routed out the enemy and his
machine-guns. It was an hour or two later that German officers,
directing operations at a distance and preparing a counter-attack on the
Vimy Ridge, heard that the Pimple and Bois-en-Hache had both gone--the
only places which gave observation on the south side of Vimy and made
effective any attack. Their curses must have been deep and full when
that message came over the telephone wires. They ordered their batteries
to fire continuously on those two places, but they remain ours, and our
troops have endured intense barrage-fire without losing ground. Now we
have full and absolute observation over Vimy Ridge to the enemy's side
of the country reversing all the past history of this position, and we
are making full and deadly use of it. The enemy still clings to Vimy
village on the other side of the slopes, and to the line of railway on
the eastern side of Farbus, but it is an insecure tenure, and our guns
are making life hideous for the German soldiers in those places, and in
the villages farther back in the direction of Douai, and along the road
which he is using for his transport. In the village of Bailleul down
there are a number of batteries which the enemy has vainly endeavoured
to withdraw. We are smothering them with shell-fire, and he will find it
difficult to get them away, though he can ill afford the loss of more
guns. The enemy has been in great trouble to move his guns away rapidly
enough owing to the dearth of transport horses. Even before the battle
of Arras began the German batteries had to borrow horses from each other
because there were not enough for all, and some of his guns have been
abandoned because of that lack. He cannot claim that he has left us only
broken and useless guns.

When the Scottish and South African troops of the 9th Division made the
great attack on Monday last the South-Africans were led forward by their
colonels, and took the first German line without a single casualty.
Afterwards they fought against wicked machine-gun fire, but, sweeping
all before them, and gathering in hundreds of prisoners, they seized a
number of guns, including several 5·9 howitzers. A vast amount of
ammunition lay about in dumps, and our men turned the guns about, and
are using them against the enemy. To South-Africans who fought in
Delville Wood--I have told the story of this tragic epic in the battle
of the Somme--this is a triumph that pays back a little for old memories
under German gun-fire. Their revenge is sweet and frightful, and they
call the captured guns, those monstrous five-point-nines, their
trench-mortar battery.

During this fighting our airmen have flown with extraordinary valour,
and have done great work. They flew in snow-storms, as I saw them and
marvelled, on the east side of Arras, and circled round for hours taking
photographs of the enemy's positions and spotting his batteries so
accurately, in spite of weather which half blinded them, that the German
gunners who are now our prisoners say that they were terrorized by being
made targets for our fire.

Farther south yesterday and to-day we have made new breaches in the
Hindenburg line by the capture of Wancourt and Héninel, villages south
of Monchy. The fighting here has been most severe, and our men of the
14th and 56th Divisions--London Rangers, Kensingtons, Middlesex, London
Scottish, and King's Royal Rifles--lying out on open slopes in deep snow
and under icy gales at night, swept by machine-gun barrages from
Guémappe and with the sky above them flashing with shrapnel bursts and
high explosives, have had to endure a terrible ordeal. They have done so
with a noble spirit, and young wounded men to whom I spoke yesterday, in
the great crypt to which they had crawled down from the battlefield, all
spoke of their experience as though they would go through as much again
in order to ensure success, without bragging, with a full sense of the
frightful hours, but with unbroken spirit.

"I am not out here to make a career," said a Canadian; "I am out to
finish an ugly job."

It is to end this filthy war quickly that our men are fighting so grimly
and with such deadly resolution. So the Londoners have fought their way
into Wancourt and Héninel, and there were great uncut belts of wire
before them--the new wire of the Hindenburg line--and trenches and
strong points from which machine-guns gushed out waves of bullets. One
of the strong points hereabouts is called the Egg, because of its oval
hummock, which was hard to hatch and crack, but as one of our officers
said to-day, the Egg gave forth two hundred prisoners.

In the fighting for the two villages the Londoners were held up by those
great stretches of wire before them and were menaced most evilly by the
enfilade fire of machine-guns from Guémappe and a high point south. Two
Tanks came to the rescue, and did most daring things.

"Romped up," said an officer, though I have not seen Tanks romping.

Anyhow, they came up in their elephantine way, getting the most out of
their engines and most skilfully guided by their young officers and
crews, who were out on a great and perilous adventure. Climbing over
rough ground, cleaving through snow-drifts and mud-banks with their
steel flanks, thrusting their blunt noses above old trenches and
sand-bag barricades, they made straight for the great hedges of barbed
wire, and drove straight through, leaving broad lanes of broken strands.
One cruised into Wancourt, followed from a distance by the shouts and
cheers of the infantry. It wandered up and down the village like a bear
on the prowl for something good to eat. It found human food and trampled
upon machine-gun redoubts, firing into German hiding-places. The second
Tank struck a zigzag course for Héninel, and in that village swept down
numbers of German soldiers, so that they fled from this black monster
against which bombs and rifles were of no avail. For forty hours those
two Tanks--let me be fair to the men inside and say those officers and
crews--did not rest, but went about on their hunting trail, breaking
down wire and searching out German strong points, so that the way would
be easier for our infantry.

Even then our men had no easy fighting. The enemy defended themselves
stubbornly in places. Their snipers and bombers and machine-gunners did
not yield at the first sight of the bayonets. While some of our troops
bombed their way down trenches towards Wancourt, others worked up from
the south, and at last both parties met exultantly behind this section
of the Hindenburg line, greeting each other with cheers. Nearly two
hundred prisoners were taken hereabout, all Silesian mechanics, like
those I met at Loos in September 1915--rather miserable men, with no
heart in the war, because, as Poles, it is none of their making.

It is true to say--utterly true--that all the prisoners we have taken
this week, Prussians, Bavarians, Hamburgers, have lost all spirit for
this fighting, hate it, loathe it as a devilish fate from which they
have luckily escaped at last with life. Not one prisoner has said now
that Germany will win on land. Their best hope is that the submarine
campaign will force an early settlement. Their pockets are stuffed with
letters from wives, sisters, and parents telling of starvation at home.
It is not good literature for the spirit of an army. The prisoners
themselves come to us starving. It is not because their rations in the
trenches are insufficient. They are on short commons, but have enough
for bodily strength. It is because our bombardment prevented all
supplies from reaching them for three or four days. In one prisoners'
enclosure, when our escort brought food, the men fought with each other
like wild beasts, ravenous, and had to be separated by force and
threats. The officers in charge of these prisoners' camps are
overwhelmed by the masses of men. In one of them, where 4000 were
gathered, they broke the barriers. A captain and subaltern of ours were
alone to deal with this situation; but their own non-commissioned
officers helped to restore order.

The position of the enemy now is full of uncertainty for him. It is
possible that he will try to avoid any disaster by falling back farther
to the Drocourt-Quéant line, and by slipping away farther north. The
Hindenburg line is pierced, but he has established a series of
switch-lines which will enable him to stand until our guns are ready
again to make those positions untenable. The weather so far is in his
favour, except that his troops are suffering as much as ours from cold
and wet.



V

THE WAY TO LENS


APRIL 14

The capture of the Vimy Ridge by heroic assault of the Canadians and
Scots, and their endurance in holding it under the enemy's heavy fire,
have been followed swiftly by good results. Our troops have pushed
forward to-day through Liévin, the long and straggling suburb of Lens,
clearing street after street of German machine-gunners and rear-guard
posts, and our patrols are on the outskirts of Lens itself, the great
mining town, which is famous in France as the capital and centre of her
northern mine-fields.

The retaking of this city of mine-shafts and pit-heads, electrical power
stations, and great hive of mining activity, where a population of
something like 40,000 people lived in rows of red-brick cottages, under
a forest of high chimneys and mountainous slag-heaps, would cause a
thrill through all France, and be one of the greatest achievements of
the war--a tremendous feat of arms for the British troops. I looked into
the city to-day, down its silent and deserted streets, and I saw a body
of our men working forward to get closer to it. They attacked the little
wooded hill called the Bois de Riaumont, just to the south of the city,
and with great cunning and courage encircled its lower slopes, and made
their way into the street of houses behind the line of trees which is
the southern way towards Lens. From the western side, up through Liévin,
the other troops were advancing cautiously. The enemy was still there in
machine-gun redoubts, which will be very troublesome to our men. But
they are only rear-guards, for the main body of the enemy has already
retreated. When the Canadians swept over the Vimy Ridge, capturing
thousands of prisoners, and when yesterday our 24th Division and
Canadian troops seized the Bois-en-Hache and the Pimple, two small
ridges or knolls below Hill 145, at the northern end of the Vimy Ridge,
the enemy saw that his last chance of successful counter-attack was
foiled, and at once he was seized with fear and prepared for instant
retreat in wild confusion. Lens and Liévin had been stacked with his
guns. Both towns had been fortified in a most formidable way, and were
strongholds of massed artillery. It is certain that the enemy had at
least 150 guns in that great network of mines and pit-heads. But they
were all threatened by an advance down the northern slopes of Vimy, and
the Canadians were not likely to stay inactive after their great
triumph. They were also threatened by the British advance from the Loos
battlefields by way of that great pair of black slag-hills called the
Double Crassier, famous in this war for close, long, and bloody
fighting, where since September of 1915 our men have been only a few
yards away from their enemy, and where I saw them last a month or two
ago through a chink of wall in a ruined house. German staff officers
knew their peril yesterday, and before. From prisoners we know that wild
scenes took place in Lens, frantic efforts being made to get away the
guns and the stores, to defend the line of retreat by the blowing up of
roads, to carry out the orders for complete destruction by firing
charges down the mine-shafts, flooding the great mine-galleries so that
French property of enormous value should not be left to France, and
withdrawing large bodies of troops down the roads under the fire of our
long-range guns. Up to dawn yesterday the enemy in Lens hoped that the
British pursuit would be held back by the German rear-guards in Vimy and
Petit-Vimy villages. But that hope was flung from them when the
Canadians swept down the ridge and chased the enemy out of those places
on the lower slopes towards Douai.

To-day, as I went towards Lens over Notre-Dame-de-Lorette and the valley
beyond, I met a number of those men coming back after their victorious
fighting. Amongst them were Nova-Scotians and young lumbermen and
fishermen from the Far West. They came in single file, in a long
procession through a wood--the Bois de Bouvigny--where once, two years
ago, young Frenchmen fought with heroic fury and died in thousands to
gain this ground, so that even now all this hill is strewn with their
relics.

The boys of Nova Scotia came slowly, dragging one foot after another in
sheer exhaustion, stumbling over loose stones and bits of sand-bags and
strands of old wire. They were caked with clay from head to foot. Even
their faces had masks of clay, and they were spent and done. But through
that whitish mud their eyes were steel-blue and struck fire like steel
when they told me of the good victory they had shared in, and of the
enemy's flight before them--all this without a touch of brag, with a
fine and sweet simplicity, with a manly frankness. They have suffered
tragic hardships in those five days since the battle of Arras began, but
there was no wail in them. When they first emerged from the tunnels on
the morning of the great attack they had been swept by machine-gun fire,
but by good luck escaped heavy casualties, though many fell.

"Our losses were not nearly so high as we expected," said one lad, "but
it was pretty bad all the same. Old Heine had an ugly habit of keeping
one hand on his machine-gun till we were fifty paces from him, and then
holding up the other hand and shouting 'Mercy! Mercy!' I don't call that
a good way of surrendering."

The enemy surrendered in hundreds on that day, as I have already
described, and the worst came afterwards for the Canadians. The enemy's
barrage was heavy, but even that was not the worst. It was difficult to
get food up, more difficult to get water. I met lads who had been
without a drop for three days. One of them, a fine, hefty fellow, strong
as a sapling, could hardly speak to me above a whisper. All of them had
swollen tongues and licked their dry lips in a parched way. Some of them
had been lucky enough to find French wine in the German dug-outs. Then a
wild snow-storm came. "I thought I should die," said one man, "when for
hours I had to carry wounded through the snow over ground knee-deep in
mud and all slippery. All my wounded were terribly heavy."

But, in spite of all this, those brave, weary men went down the Vimy
slopes at dawn yesterday with the same high, grim spirit to clear "Old
Heine," as they call him, out of Vimy and Little Vimy villages.

"They didn't wait for us," said a young Canadian officer. "One would
think that the war would be over in a month by the way they ran
yesterday."

"Old Heine was scared out of his wits," said another lad. "He ran
screaming from us. In a dug-out I found two Germans too scared even to
run. They just sat and trembled like poor, cowed beasts. But there was
one fellow we took who got over his fright quick, and spoke in a big
way. He had been a waiter and spoke good English.

"'When will the war end?' we asked.

"'Germany will fight five years,' he said, 'and then we will win.

"'Don't you believe it, old sport,' said we, 'you're done in now, and
it's only the mopping up we have to do.'"

Down in the Bois-en-Hache one of our English soldiers of the 24th
Division on the Canadians' left had a grim adventure, which he describes
as "a bit of orl rite." His way was barred by a burly German, but not
for long. After a tussle our lad took him inside, and there found the
dead body of a German officer lying by the side of the table, which was
all spread for breakfast. It was our English lad who ate the breakfast,
keeping one eye vigilant on his living prisoner and not worrying about
the dead one.

There was another soldier of ours, one of the Leinsters, also of the
24th Division, who ate his breakfast in Angres, but he was in jovial
company. He came across a German at the entrance and fought with him,
but in a friendly kind of way. After knocking each other about they came
to an understanding, and sat down together in a dug-out to a meal of
German sausage, cheese, black bread, and French wine. They found a great
deal of human nature in common, and were seen coming out later arm in
arm, and in this way the Irishman brought back his prisoner.

The colonel of the Leinsters told another queer tale of an Irishman in
the outskirts of Lens. The colonel saw him after the battle of
Bois-en-Hache, which was a terrible affair and a fine feat of arms in
the mud and snow, bringing back a German horse under machine-gun fire
and shrapnel. He was guiding this poor lean beast over frightful ground,
round the edge of monstrous shell-craters, through broken strands of
barbed wire, and across trenches and parapets. "What are you doing with
that poor brute?" asked the commanding officer. "Sure, sir," said the
Irishman, "I'm bringing the horse back for Father Malone to ride." The
horse was in the last stages of starvation, and the padre weighs
nineteen stone, according to the popular estimate of the men, who adore
him, and that is part of the story's humour, though the Irish soldier
was very serious. It is a tribute, anyhow, to the affection of the men
for this Irish padre-a laughing giant of a man--who is always out in No
Man's Land when there are any of his lads out there, going as far as
the German barbed wire to give the last rites to dying men. To-day, when
I called on the Leinster battalion, he was away burying the poor boys
who lie in the mud of the battlefield. There is no humour in that side
of war, though Irish soldiers, and English soldiers too, refuse to be
beaten by the foulest conditions until the last strength is out of them.
In addition to the ordeal of battle they are enduring now a weather so
abominable, when it is in the fields of battle, that men fight for days
wet to the skin, lie out at night frozen stiff, and struggle after the
enemy up to the knees in mud. So it was in this little battle of
Bois-en-Hache, an historic episode in the battle of Arras, because it
broke the enemy's last hope of a counter-attack against Vimy Ridge.
Through the blinding blizzard of snow, the English and Irish troops
attacked this hill above the River Souchez, and had to cross through a
quagmire, so that numbers of them stuck up to the waist and could go
neither forward nor backward, while they were swept by machine-gun and
rifle fire. From that other hill, called the Pimple, to their right,
which was not yet taken by the Canadians, one man came back wounded over
that abominable ground under rifle-fire which spat bullets about him. He
stumbled into shell-holes and crawled out again, and just as he reached
the trench, fell dead across the parapet. Nearly all our men were hit in
the head and body, none in the legs. That was because they were
knee-deep in mud. Our men came back from this fighting like figures of
clay, and so stiff at the joints that they can hardly walk, and with
voices gone so that they speak in whispers.

All over this lower slope of the Vimy Ridge is a litter of enormous
destruction caused by our gun-fire. German guns and limbers,
machine-guns and trench-mortars lie in fragments and in heaps in
infernal chaos of earth, which is the graveyard of many German dead. The
first hint that the Germans were in retreat from Liévin, near Lens, was
given by the strange adventure of two of our airmen. They had to make a
forced landing near Lens, and one of them was wounded in the leg. Our
observing officers watching through glasses expected them to be made
prisoners, but they were seen afterwards smoking cigarettes and slapping
themselves to keep warm. It now turns out that the German soldiers did
not wait to take them, and finding one man wounded left the other to
look after him. The next sign that the enemy was about to go was when
the fires and explosions went up in Liévin and Lens, and when he began
to shell his own front lines outside those places. All through the night
the sky was aflame with these fires, and this morning I saw that the
enemy was making a merry little hell in Lens and all its suburbs and
dependent villages. I had no need to guess the reason of all this. On
the way I had met two young Alsatian prisoners just captured. They had
been left with orders and charges to blow up mine-shafts, but had been
caught before they had done so. They had no heart in the job anyhow,
being of Alsace, and with their comrades had already petitioned to fight
on the Eastern instead of the Western Front. They described the panic
that reigned in Lens, and the fearful haste to destroy and get away. For
hours to-day I watched that destruction while our troops were working
forward through Liévin to get the better of the nests of machine-gun
redoubts at the entrance to Lens, from which intense fire still came.

I had an astounding view of all this work in Lens, and it was as
beautiful as a dream-picture and weird as a nightmare. The snows had
melted, and the wind had turned south, and the sun was pouring down
under a blue sky across which white fleece sailed. Below, outspread, was
a wide panorama of battle, from Loos to Vimy, the great panorama of
French mining country, with all its slag-hills casting black shadows
across the sun-swept plain, and thousands of miners' cottages, "corons"
as they are called, all bright and red as the light poured upon them,
all arranged in straight rows and oblong blocks of streets in separate
townships. Not one of these houses was without shell-holes and broken
walls, for the war has swept round them and over them for two years and
more, but they looked strangely new and complete. Between them and
beyond them and all about them tall chimneys stood and enormous steel
girders and gantries of pit-head and power stations. To the left of Lens
the tower of the main waterworks was crowned with a white dome like a
Grecian temple, and to the right was Lens Church, behind a hill where I
saw our men fighting. It was like looking at war in Bolton or Wigan, but
more beautiful than those towns of ours, because the walls were not
black and there was a bright, fine light over all this mining country.
The Double Crassier on the edge of the Loos battlefields was to the
left of where I stood, curiously white and chalky as the sun flung its
rays upon those two close hillocks. Moving forward towards Lens I looked
straight down the streets of that city. If a cat had moved across one of
those roads I should have seen it. If Germans had come out of any of
those houses I should have seen them. But nothing moved up the streets
or down them. All those straight streets were empty. It looked as if
those thousands of red houses were uninhabited. But all the time I
watched enormous explosions rose in Lens and Liévin, sending up volumes
of curly smoke. The enemy was destroying the city and its priceless
mining works. As the mines exploded it looked as if the earth had opened
among all this maze of works and cottages, letting forth turbulent
clouds of fire and smoke. It was mostly smoke with a stab of flame in
the heart of it. Some of these thick, rising clouds were richly coloured
with the red dust of cottages, but others were of absolute black,
spreading out in mushroom shape monstrously.

The explosions continued all the morning and afternoon, and after seeing
those Alsatian prisoners I could imagine the German pioneers under the
same orders going about with charges in the cellars of the houses and
deep down in the mine-shafts and galleries setting their fuses and
touching them off from a safe distance. It was dirty work. Meanwhile,
our men advancing from Liévin, and through it, were having a hard and
costly task to rout out the machine-gun emplacements, especially in two
terribly strong redoubts known to us as Crook and Crazy Redoubts,
defending the western side of Lens. But though these were strong,
fortified positions, there were machine-guns in many other places among
all those groups of miners' cottages.

I ought to explain that each group or collection of streets in the
square blocks is called a "cité." In the northern part of Lens there are
the Cité St.-Pierre, the Cité St.-Edouard, the Cité St.-Laurent, the
Cité Ste.-Auguste, and the Cité Ste.-Elisabeth. Westward there are the
Cité Jeanne-d'Arc and the Cité St.-Théodore. South there are the Cité du
Moulin and the Cité de Riaumont. Each one of these places had its own
separate defences of barbed wire and sand-bag barricades, and each a
nest of machine-guns. It is clear that when these guns were served by
rear-guard posts, ordered to hold on to the last, a quick advance
through Lens would have been at great and needless sacrifice of
life. When our men were checked a while by the terrible sweep of
bullets in the northern and western cités our artillery opened heavy
fire and poured in shells, which I watched from ground below
Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. I had walked on from that ridge and was looking
into Lens when I saw a movement of men below an embankment to the right
of the small hill in the south of the city called Bois de Riaumont.
Between the embankment and the hill was a sunken road leading just below
the hill to a long straight street of ruined houses lined with an avenue
of dead trees. There were belts of wire fixed down the hill-side from
the wood on the crest. This ground, swept by sunlight, was the scene of
a grim little drama which I watched with intense interest. At first I
thought our men were about to make a direct assault upon the hill-side.
They came swarming across the open ground in small groups widely
scattered, but in two distinct waves. For a while they took cover under
the embankment, while other groups crept up to them; then, after half an
hour or so, they advanced again, half-left, at the double, led by an
officer well in advance of all his men. They crossed the sunken road and
went up the slope on the south side of the hill; but, instead of
pressing up to the crest, suddenly disappeared into the long, straight
street fringed with trees. No sooner had they gone down that sinister
street then the enemy flung a barrage right along the embankment where
they had first assembled. If they had still been there it would have
been a tragic business, and I felt joyful that they had not waited
longer. Other men crept up from the ground below where I stood, steered
an erratic course, took cover in old German trenches, and then made
short, sharp rushes till they dropped also into the sinister street.
Later in the afternoon the enemy barraged his old line of trenches with
heavy crumps--which is a way he has when he leaves a place--and
presently shells began to fall unpleasantly near to where I stood,
getting closer as time passed. I found it wise to shift three times, but
on scaling the high ridge of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette again I lingered to
look at the great picture of war outspread below--that long seven-mile
stretch of miners' villages crowding densely up to Lens--the great
outbursts of red and black smoke between the slag-heaps and chimneys
away to the battlefield of Loos, across which sunlight and shadows
chased in long bars--and our shell-fire heavy around Lens church and far
beyond where enemy's troops and transport were hurrying in retreat.
Overhead there was the loud droning of many aeroplanes and flights of
invisible shells, shrill-voiced as they travelled with frightful speed.

       *       *       *       *       *

LATER

The weather has changed again since yesterday, and there is no blue in
the sky to-day and no sunshine, but cold rain-storms, cloaking all the
line of battle in shrouds of mist. Fires are still burning in Lens, the
grey smoke is drifting across the mine-fields, and every hour there are
big explosions, showing that the German pioneers are still busy
destroying all the wealth of machinery in the city and blowing up the
roads before leaving. New prisoners describe all this frankly enough.
Down one mine-shaft they flung 20,000 hand-grenades. They have enormous
stores of explosives of every kind for this purpose, because this mining
district was crammed with German stores. They had to leave Liévin in
such haste that they could neither carry away this ammunition nor
destroy all of it, and vast quantities of bombs, trench-mortars and
shells have fallen into our hands.

Yesterday the English and Irish troops who had taken Bois-en-Hache with
such fine courage, in spite of the most severe conditions of weather and
ground, worked farther forward through Liévin. Explosions from concealed
charges burst around them, and machine-gun fire from many redoubts swept
down the long, straight streets of miners' cottages; but they worked
their way up under cover, rushed several of the concrete emplacements,
and took heroic risks with a most grim spirit. During the evening the
enemy recovered from his first panic and sent supporting troops back
into Lens to hold the line of trenches and machine-gun forts on the
western side in order to delay our advance on to Lens until he has had
more time to make ready his positions in the Drocourt-Quéant line, the
Wotan end of the Hindenburg line, upon which we are forcing him to
withdraw. It makes a difference to a number of poor souls expecting
deliverance. According to prisoners there are about 2000 people, mostly
women, old men, and children, living in the district of Lens, and
waiting to break their way through to our side of the lines.

I set out to find them this morning, as there were reported rumours that
they had escaped through Liévin. But this is untrue. Owing to the German
rally they are still hemmed in by the enemy's machine-gun redoubts, and
I am told that they are down in the cellars of a neighbouring village,
taking cover from the shell-fire which we are pouring on the hostile
strong points located in their cités.

Meanwhile our guns are finding human targets for slaughter. The
sufferings of our men are great, their courage is tested by fire; but
the fate of the enemy's soldiers is atrocious beyond all imaginings. I
have seen with my own eyes the effect of our gun-fire during the last
fortnight, and it is annihilating. Owing to our destruction and capture
of many batteries and the necessity of the German retreat to save
further disaster, the enemy's infantry have been in desperate plight and
have suffered torture. We have smashed their trenches, broken their
telephone wires, imprisoned them in barrages through which no food can
come. In captured letters and memoranda we find cries for rescue,
pitiful in their despair. Here is a message from the 3rd Battalion, 51st
Infantry Regiment:

     "Since the telephone connexion is so inadequate it becomes doubly
     necessary to call on the artillery by light signals. These are only
     of use if attended to. Failing to get artillery reply to the
     enemy's fire I sent up red star-shells. The artillery took no
     notice. The artillery should be bound to reply to such signals.

     "For our infantry, which since the Somme battles has been on the
     defensive, it is, from the point of view of moral, of importance to
     count on artillery support with certainty. The infantry that comes
     to regard itself morally as a target for the hostile artillery must
     in the long run give way."

Here is an extract from a memorandum sent by a German machine-gunner:

     "The relief of this detachment is earnestly requested. We have
     already spent seven days in the greatest tumult. One section of
     trench after another gets blown in. The detachment, which now
     consists of three men, has eaten nothing since yesterday morning.
     To-morrow what remains of the front trenches will probably be
     shattered. If the position were not so frightfully serious, I would
     not have written this report."

Yesterday I spent half an hour with one of our own batteries of
60-pounders, those long-nosed beasts which have a range of five miles
and have helped in this great slaughter of the enemy. The commanding
officer, once a judge-advocate of Johannesburg, was a man whose
joviality covered a grim, resolute spirit.

"My beauties," he said, "fired 1000 high-velocity shells at Old Fritz
before breakfast on Monday morning. We did some very pretty work on the
German lines."

I saw his store of shells--monstrous brutes--in spite of all this
expenditure; and listened to details of destruction in a wooden hut,
provided with a piano--made by a Paris firm and captured recently in a
German dug-out.

"Don't your gunners get worn out?" I asked.

He laughed and said, "They stick it till all's blue, night and day. What
they hate are fatigues and carrying up the shells for other batteries.
They'll work till they drop, serving their own guns."

He looked over to Lens and said, "We'll soon have old Fritz out of
that." I think they were some of his shells that I saw bursting behind
the Bois de Riaumont.

All through this battle our airmen have been untiring, too. Two of our
men, a pilot and an observer, were attacked by a squadron of
twenty-eight hostile machines, and the pilot was grievously wounded. He
was badly hit in the leg, and one of his eyes hung only by a thread.
But, with a supreme act of courage, he kept control of his machine and
landed safely. He was dying when he was helped on to a stretcher and
brought home to camp; but he made his report very clearly and calmly
until he was overcome by the last faintness of death.

Our men have still most bloody fighting before them. The enemy is still
in great strength. We shall have to mourn most tragic and fearful
losses. But the tide of battle seems to be setting in our favour, and
beating back against the walls of the German armies, who must hear the
approach of it with forebodings, because the barriers they built have
broken and there are no impregnable ramparts behind.



VI

THE SLAUGHTER AT LAGNICOURT

APRIL 16

What happened at Lagnicourt yesterday is one of the bloodiest episodes
in all this long tale of slaughter. At 4.30, before daybreak, the enemy
made a very heavy attack upon our lines, where we are far beyond the old
system of trenches and for a time in real open warfare of the old style,
which I, for one, never believed would come again. The enemy's lines
were protected with a new belt of barbed wire, without which he can
never stay on any kind of ground; but it was this which proved his
undoing. His massed attack against Australian troops had a brief
success. Battalions of Prussian Guards, charging in waves, broke through
our forward posts, and drove a deep wedge into our positions. Here they
stayed for a time, doing what damage they could, searching round for
prisoners, and waiting, perhaps, for reserves to renew and strengthen
the impetus of their attack. But the Australian staff officers were
swift in preparing and delivering the counter-blow, which fell upon the
enemy at 7.30. Companies of Australians swept forward, and with
irresistible spirit flung themselves upon the Prussians, forcing them to
retreat. They fell back in an oblique line from their way of advance,
forced deliberately that way by the pressure and direction of the
Australian attack. At the same time our batteries opened fire upon them
with shrapnel as they ran, more and more panic-stricken, towards their
old lines. The greatest disaster befell them, for they found themselves
cut off by their own wire, those great broad belts of sharp spiked
strands which they had planted to bar us off.

What happened then was just appalling slaughter. The Australian infantry
used their rifles as never rifles have been used since the first weeks
of the war, when our old regulars of the first expeditionary force lay
down at Le Cateau on the way of their retreat and fired into the
advancing tide of Germans, so that they fell in lines.

Yesterday, in that early hour of the morning, the Australian riflemen
fired into the same kind of target of massed men, not far away, so that
each shot found the mark. The Prussians struggled frantically to tear a
way through the wire, to climb over it, crawl under it. They cursed and
screamed, ran up and down like rats in a trap, until they fell dead.
They fell so that dead bodies were piled upon dead bodies in long lines
of mortality before and in the midst of that spiked wire. They fell and
hung across its strands. The cries of the wounded, long tragic wails,
rose high above the roar of rifle-fire and the bursting of shrapnel. And
the Australian soldiers, quiet and grim, shot on and on till each man
had fired a hundred rounds, till more than fifteen hundred German
corpses lay on the field at Lagnicourt. Large numbers of prisoners were
taken, wounded and unwounded, and five Prussian regiments have been
identified. The Prussian Guard has always suffered from British troops
as by some dire fatality. At Ypres, at Contalmaison, in several of the
Somme battles, they were cut to pieces. But this massacre at Lagnicourt
is the worst episode in their history, and it will be remembered by the
German people as a black and fearful thing.



VII

THE TERRORS OF THE SCARPE


APRIL 23

The battle of Arras has entered into its second phase--that is to say,
into a struggle harder than the first days of the battle on April 9,
when by a surprise, following great preparations, we gained great
successes all along the line.

This morning, shortly before five o'clock, English, Welsh, and Scottish
troops made new and strong assaults east of Arras upon the German line
between Gavrelle, Guémappe, and Fontaine-lez-Croisilles, which is the
last switch-line on this part of the Front between us and the main
Hindenburg line. It has been hard fighting everywhere, for the enemy was
no longer uncertain of the place where we should attack him. As soon as
the battle of Arras started it was clear to him that we should deliver
our next blow when we had moved forward our guns upon this "Oppy" line,
as we call it, which protects the Hindenburg positions north and south
of Vitry-en-Artois. His troops were told to expect our attack at any
moment, and to hold on at all costs of life. To meet our strength the
enemy brought up many new batteries, which he placed in front of the
Hindenburg line, and close behind the Oppy line, and massed large
numbers of machine-guns in the villages, trenches, and emplacements,
from which he could sweep our line of advance by direct and enfilade
fire. These machine-guns were thick in the ruins of Roeux, just north
of the River Scarpe; in Pelves, just south of it, in two small woods
called Bois du Sart and Bois du Vert, immediately facing Monchy, on the
slope of the hill; and in and about the village of Guémappe, which we
had assaulted and entered twice before. Many German snipers, men of good
marksmanship and tried courage, were placed all about in shell-holes
with orders to pick off our officers and men, and the enemy's gunners
had registered all our positions so that they were ready to drop down a
heavy barrage directly our men made a sign of attacking. For some days
after the second day of the battle of Arras they had fired a great many
shells along and behind our front lines in order to shake the nerve of
our troops, and had poured fire into Monchy-on-the-Hill after its
capture by our cavalry and infantry during those deadly hours of
fighting already described. It was only to be expected that this second
phase of the battle of Arras should be extremely hard. For our men it is
a battle to the death. Fighting is in progress at all the points
attained by our troops, and there is an ebb and flow of men--beaten back
for a while by intensity of fire, but attacking again and getting
forward. It is certain that Gavrelle is ours (thus breaking the Oppy
line north of the River Scarpe); that our men are beyond Guémappe, on
the south of the Scarpe, though the enemy is still fighting at this hour
of the afternoon in or about that village; and that on the extreme right
of the attack the enemy has suffered disaster north of Croisilles, and
has lost large numbers of men in killed and prisoners.

[Illustration: _Line on April 23, 1917_]

At the outset of the attack the enemy showed himself ready to meet it
with a fierce resistance. Last night was terribly cold, and our troops
lying out in shell-holes or in shallow trenches dug a day or two ago,
suffered from this exposure. The Scottish troops of the 15th Division on
the south of the Scarpe had fought in the first days' battles of Arras,
and, with English troops of the 37th, had gone forward to Monchy and
into the storm-centre of the German fire. Some of the men I met to-day
had been buried by German crumps, and had been dug out again, and as
they lay waiting for the hour of attack shells fell about them and the
sky was aflame with flashes of our bombs. The men craved for something
hot to drink. "I would have given all the money I have for a cup of
tea," said one of them. But they nibbled dry biscuits and waited for the
dawn, and hoped they would not be too numb when the light came to get up
and walk. The light came very pale over the earth, and with it the
signal to attack. Our bombardment had been steady all through the night,
and then broke into hurricane fire. As soon as our men left the trenches
our gunners laid down a barrage in front of them, and made a moving wall
of shells ahead of them--a frightful thing to follow, but the safest if
the men did not go too quick or fail to distinguish between the line of
German shells and our own. It was not easy to distinguish, for our men
had hardly risen from the shell-holes and ditches before the enemy's
barrage started, and all the ground about them was vomiting up fountains
of mud and shell-splinters. At the same time there came above all the
noise of shell-fire a furnace-blast of machine-guns. Machine-gunners in
Roeux and Pelves, in the two small woods in front of Monchy, and in
the ground about Guémappe were slashing all the slopes and roads below
Monchy-on-the-Hill.

"It was the most awful machine-gun fire I have heard," said a young
Gordon this morning, as he came back with a bullet in his hip. "The
beggars were ready for us, and made it very hot. But we folk went on,
those of us who weren't hit quickly, and made an attack on the village
of Guémappe."

"The enemy dropped his barrage on to us mighty quick," said a
Worcestershire lad, "but we managed, most of us, to get past his crumps.
It took a lot of dodging in shell-holes, and the worst was his
machine-gun fire, which was terrific."

Below Monchy the enemy was in trenches defended by enfilade fire from
redoubts along the Cambrai road, and when our English troops swept down
on them the Germans ran at once up their own slope to the cover of a
wood called Bois du Sart. Only one officer and two men remained, and
they were taken prisoner, and I saw them being marched back under
escort. The officer was a young Bavarian without a hat; he bore himself
very jauntily, though his face was white and he was covered with dirt.

The Worcesters and Hampshires of the 29th Division, farther north and
just south of the Scarpe, were held up for some time by the intensity of
the machine-gun fire, and before getting on had to wait the arrival of a
Tank which was crawling up by way of the lone copse. They were then
fighting heavily about Shrapnel-and-Bayonet Trench, and afterwards made
their way forward again under heavy fire, and passed a number of German
snipers lying in shell-holes to right and left of them. They were swept
by machine-gun fire and heavily counter-attacked.

To the north of the River Scarpe our progress was quicker, and Scottish
battalions of the 15th Division made their advance towards Roeux by
way of a fortified farm and chemical works, in which machine-guns were
hidden. Round about here the enemy lost very heavily. In trying to
escape from the ruins of the farm many of them were killed and lay in a
row to the left of the place. In the chemical works those who had not
escaped before our men were upon them surrendered at once. The attack
and capture of Gavrelle, which broke the Oppy line, was the best thing
done on the left of the attack. This is important ground for future
operations.

Guémappe, to the south of the river, is the scene of the most severe
attacks and counter-attacks; and it is clear that the enemy sets a great
price on this heap of bricks, because of its position on the Cambrai
road. Before this morning it has been the scene of fierce encounters;
and to-day the 3rd Bavarian Division (which has taken the place of the
18th Division, at whom they had jeered for losing so many prisoners in
recent battles) is at close quarters with our men; and round about the
village there is deadly hand-to-hand fighting. The trenches here are
full of Germans, and the enemy has sent up supports.

The 101st Pomeranian Regiment, belonging to the 35th Reserve Division,
surrendered in solid masses to our men in the neighbourhood of
Fontaine-lez-Croisilles. For several days they had suffered under our
bombardment, and it so shook their nerve that as soon as our troops
advanced they came out of their dug-outs in the support trenches--the
front line was not held at all--and gave themselves to our men in blocks
of 500 without any attempt to fight. On this ground between the Cojeul
and Sensée rivers, where our advance was on a curved line following the
shape of the rising ground, we took at least 1200 prisoners and a
battery of field-guns.

It is fortunate--in counting the high price of the battle--that many of
our wounded are only lightly touched by shrapnel and machine-gun
bullets. I saw these walking wounded coming back; tired, brave men, who
bore their pain with most stoic endurance, so that there was hardly a
groan to be heard among them. Now and again overhead was the shrill
whine of an approaching shell, "Whistling Percy" by name, but they paid
no heed after their great escape from the far greater peril. They formed
up in a long queue outside the dressing-station, where doctors waited
for them, and where there was a hot drink to be had. They were covered
with mud, and were too weary and spent to talk. That long line of
silent, wounded men will always remain in my memory.

Outside in the sunlight, waiting their turn to enter the
dressing-station, some of the men lay down on the bank in queer,
distorted attitudes very like death, and slept there. Others came
hobbling with each arm round the neck of the stretcher-bearers, or led
forward blind, gropingly. It was the whimper of these blind boys and the
agony on their faces which was most tragic in all this tragedy, those
and the men smashed about the face and head so that only their eyes
stared through white masks. Near by were German prisoners standing
against the sunlit wall, pale, sick, and hungry-looking men, utterly
dejected. A German aeroplane flew overhead on the way behind our lines,
shot at all the way by our anti-aircraft guns, but very bold. Our
kite-balloons, white as snow-clouds in the blue sky, stared over the
battlefield where our men are still fighting in the midst of great
shell-fire.

       *       *       *       *       *

APRIL 25

This battle which is still in progress east of Arras is developing
rather like the early days of the Somme battles, when our men fought
stubbornly to gain or regain a few hundred yards of trenches in which
the enemy resisted under the cover of great gun-fire, and to which he
sent up strong bodies of supporting troops to drive our men out by
counter-attacks. In the ground east of Monchy, between the Scarpe and
the Sensée rivers, the situation is exactly like that, and, as I said
yesterday, the line of battle has ebbed to and fro in an astounding way,
British and German troops fighting forwards and backwards over the same
ground with alternating success.

An attack made by Scottish troops of the 15th Division yesterday
afternoon, and by English troops of the 29th at 3.30 this morning,
re-established our line on this side of the two woods called Bois du
Vert and Bois du Sart, and on the farther side of Guémappe. Parties of
British troops who had been cut off and were believed to be in the hands
of the enemy were recovered yesterday, having held out in a most gallant
way in isolated positions. Among them were some of the Argylls and men
of the Middlesex Regiment. Our barrage preceding an infantry attack
actually swept over them, and they gave themselves up for lost, but
escaped from the British shells and the German shells which burst all
round them and seemed in competition for their lives.

A similar case happened with a party of Worcester men recovered last
night. They were cut off in a small copse, and lay quiet there for
several days, surrounded by the enemy. They had their iron rations with
them, and lived on these until they were gone. They were then starving
and suffering great agony from lack of water. But still they would not
surrender, and last night were rewarded for their endurance by seeing
the enemy retire before the advancing waves of English troops.

The enemy is suffering big losses, but is replacing them each time by
fresh battalions. The Fourth Division of the Prussian Guards has now
been brought up against us, among several other new divisions. They
continue to show determination to hold us back from a nearer approach to
the Hindenburg line in spite of the frightful casualties already
suffered. There have been no fewer than eight counter-attacks already
upon the village of Gavrelle, and not one of them has reached our men,
but they have been broken and dispersed.

In the first counter-attack upon our line opposite Monchy, between 2000
and 3000 Germans left the Bois du Vert, but after many hundreds had
fallen retired to reorganize. The second attack was in greater numbers
and rolled back our line for a time, but has now been forced to retire
to its old position in the woods, which we keep continually under
intense fire, so that much slaughter must be there.

Our guns never cease their labouring night and day, and are shelling the
enemy's infantry positions, batteries, lines of communication,
rail-heads, and cross-roads, so that no troops may move except under the
menace of death or mutilation. Nevertheless, faced by great peril to his
main defensive lines, the enemy is massing troops rapidly for battle on
even a bigger scale. Our own men are passing through fiery ordeals with
that courage which is now known to the whole world, so that I need not
labour to describe it--a patient courage in great hardships,
self-sacrifice in the midst of great perils, sane and unbroken in spite
of horrors upon which the imagination dare not dwell.

From the colonel of the Worcesters of the 29th Division I heard to-day a
narrative which would surely make the angels weep, but though just out
of the infernal ordeal he told it calmly, and his hand only trembled
slightly as he pointed on his trench-map to positions which his men had
taken and where they had most suffered. His story deals with only a
small section of the battle front, and all the fighting which he
directed had for its object certain trenches which would mean nothing if
I gave their names. (They were Strong and Windmill Trench.)

His battalion headquarters were in a dug-out actually in the front
trench line from which his men attacked, and it was lucky, for after the
troops had gone forward the enemy's barrage fell behind them and
destroyed the ground. The colonel, with his adjutant, his
sergeant-major, and his servant, shared this battle headquarters with
the commanding officer and staff of the Hampshires, but not for long.
Heavy German crumps were smashing round them, and the enemy's
barrage-fire swept up and down searching for human life. The colonel of
the Hampshires was wounded, and two of his officers were killed. The
colonel of the Worcesters, who was left to record this history, could
tell very little of what was happening to his men there in the battle
less than a thousand yards away. A wounded sergeant came back and said
that the left company was holding out against German counter-attacks.
Later two young officers came back to Pick-and-Shrapnel Trench with a
party of men and said they had been ordered to retire by a strange
captain. The colonel rallied the men, and they went back and retook
Windmill Trench near by. Messages came down that men were half mad for
lack of water. The colonel sent up water by a carrying-party, but he
believes that they delivered it to the enemy, who had crept up through
the darkness which had now fallen. All through the day on each side of
this Worcestershire colonel great bodies of troops were fighting forward
under intense shell-fire. He saw the enemy's massed counter-attacks
slashed by our shrapnel and machine-gun fire, and our field-batteries
galloping to forward positions, but he could see nothing of his own men
after they had once gone forward down the sloping ground. His runners
were killed or fell senseless from shell-shock. He himself was buried by
a shell and dug out again by his sergeant-major. In the night he was
left quite alone, surrounded by dead.

That is one experience in the great battle, and thousands of our men
endured and are enduring dreadful things in the fierce fighting and
under intense fire. Once out of it, they are calm and self-controlled,
as I saw many of them to-day just as they had been relieved, and the
strongest expression they use is, "It is very hot, sir," or "I didn't
think I should come back."

The wounded are marvellous. The lightly wounded have a long way to walk,
hobbling for miles down unsafe roads. Many of them walked back through
Monchy when it was a flaming torch. Weary and dazed they came to the
casualty clearing-station, not even now beyond the range of shell-fire,
so that men who have escaped from the battlefields, waiting to have
their wounds dressed, hear the old shrill whistle of the approaching
menace, but do not care. It is only by such courage that our men can
gain any ground from the enemy, and it is such courage that beats back
all those heavy counter-attacks which the enemy is now hurling against
us up by Gavrelle and by Monchy-on-the-Hill.



VIII

THE BACKGROUND OF BATTLE


APRIL 30

There has been but little time lately to describe the scene of war or to
chronicle the small human episodes of this great battle between Lens and
St.-Quentin, with its storm-centre at Arras, where men are fighting in
mass, killing in mass, dying in mass. Some day one of our soldiers now
fighting--some young man with a gift of words--will write for all time
the story of all this: the beauty and the ugliness and the agony of it,
the colour and the smell and the movement of it, with intimate and
passionate remembrance. It is a memorable battle-picture in modern
history, and in the mass of hundreds of thousands of men, obedient to
the high command, which uses them as parts of the great war machine, is
the individual with his own separate experience and initiative, with his
sense of humour and his suffering, and his courage and his fear.

The scene of battle has changed during these last few days because
spring has come at last, and warm sunshine. It has made a tremendous
difference to the look of things, and to the sense of things. A week ago
our men were marching through rain and sleet, through wild quagmire of
old battlefields which stretch away behind our new front lines, through
miles of shell-craters and dead woods and destroyed villages. They
fought wet and fought cold, and their craving was for hot drink.
Yesterday, after a few days of warmth, our troops on the march were
powdered white with dust, and they fought hot and fought thirsty, and
the wounded cried for water to cool their burning throats. Men going up
to the lines in lorries stared out through masks of dust which made then
look like pierrots. Their steel helmets, upon which rain pattered a week
ago, were like millers' hats. More frightful now, even than in the worst
days of winter, is the way up to the Front. In all that broad stretch of
desolation we have left behind us the shell-craters which were full of
water, red water and green water, are now dried up, and are hard, deep
pits, scooped out of powdered earth, from which all vitality has gone,
so that spring brings no life to it. I thought perhaps some of these
shell-slashed woods would put out new shoots when spring came, and
watched them curiously for any sign of rebirth, but there is no sign,
and their poor, mutilated limbs, their broken and tattered trunks, stand
naked under the blue sky. Everything is dead with a white, ghastly look
in the brilliant sunshine except where here and there in the litter of
timber and brickwork which marks the site of a French village, a little
bush is in bud, or flowers blossom in a scrap-heap which was once a
garden. All this is the background of our present battle, and through
this vast stretch of barren country our battalions move slowly forward
to take their part in the battle when their turn comes, resting a night
or two among the ruins where other men who work always behind the lines,
road-mending, wiring, on supply columns, at ammunition dumps, in
casualty clearing-stations and rail-heads, have made their billets on
the lee side of broken walls or in holes dug deep by the enemy and
reported safe for use. Dead horses lie on the roadsides or in
shell-craters. I passed a row of these poor beasts as though all had
fallen down and died together in a last comradeship. Dead Germans, or
bits of dead Germans, lie in old trenches, and these fields are the
graveyards of Youth.

Farther forward the earth is green again in strips. The bombardment has
not yet torn it and pitted it, and the shell-craters are scarcer and
their sloping sides are fresh. One gets to know the date of a crater,
and its freshness is a warning sign that the enemy's guns dislike this
patch of ground and anything that may live there. So it is that one gets
close to the present fighting, and now under this first sunshine of the
year there is a strange and terrible beauty in the battle-picture.

I watched our shelling of the Hindenburg line at Quéant from the ground
by Lagnicourt, where the Australians slaughtered the enemy in the recent
counter-attack. White as fleecy clouds in the sky was the smoke of our
shrapnel bursts, and there was the glinting and flashing of shells above
the enemy's trench, which wound like a tape on the slope of the rising
ground above the village of Quéant, and through the fringe of trees
below. A storm of shells broke over Bullecourt to the left, and the
enemy was answering back with 5·9's, searching the valley which runs
down from Noreuil, as I watched it while it was under fire. The Germans
were barraging the crest of the hill, with their universal-shell
bursting high with black oily clouds. One of our aeroplanes had fallen,
and the enemy's gunners in the Hindenburg line tried to destroy it by
long-range sniping. Our own guns were firing steadily, so that the sky
was filled with invisible flights of shells, and always there came down
the humming song of our aeroplanes, and their wings were dazzling and
diaphanous as they were caught by the sun's rays. That is the picture
one sees now along any part of our line, but the adventure of the men
inside the smoke-drifts is more human in its aspect.

It was a queer scene when the Australians went into Lagnicourt. Some
Germans were still hiding in their dug-outs, and the Australian troops
searched for them with fixed bayonets. In some of these hiding-places
they found great stores of German beer, and it was a good find for men
thirsty and glad of a smoke. So this mopping-up battalion, as it is
called, mopped up the beer, which was very light and refreshing, and,
with fat cigars between their teeth, a bottle of beer in one hand and a
bayonet ready in the other, continued their hunt for prisoners. During
the fighting hereabouts 200 German soldiers came across under the white
flag as a sign of surrender, but they were seen by their own
machine-gunners, who shot them down without mercy. So one gets comedy
and tragedy hand-in-hand here, and, indeed, the whole tale of this
fighting on the way to Quéant is a mixture of gruesome horror and
fantastic mirth, which makes men laugh grimly when telling the tale of
it.

I went about three days ago over the battlefield with a young Australian
officer, a gallant man and a quick walker, who was the first to get news
of the enemy's attack. He was at headquarters, awake but sleepy, in the
small hours of morning.

Presently the telephone bell tinkled. "Hallo," said the Australian
officer, and yawned. A small voice spoke: "The enemy has broken through.
He has got to Lagnicourt."

"What's that?" said the officer at the 'phone. It seemed a silly joke at
such an hour. The message was repeated, and my friend was very wide
awake, and what happened afterwards was very rapid.

The Australian Gunner-General gave orders to stop up the gaps in the
German wire through which the enemy had come. They were closed by
shell-fire. The attacking column, having failed in time to destroy the
field-guns, tried to escape, but found their retreat cut off. Three
thousand of them suffered appalling casualties, and I saw some of their
dead bodies lying on the ground three days ago, though most have now
been buried.

On another part of the line held by the English troops a queer bird was
captured the other day. It was a blue bird in the form of a German
officer wearing a gay uniform, with a big cloak and spurs, brought down
by one of our airmen. He seemed sleepy when caught, and yawned politely
behind a closed hand, and explained the cause of his unfortunate
appearance behind our lines. It appears that the commanding officer of
his air squadron at Cambrai went on leave, and his officers and other
friends consoled themselves by drinking good red wine. In the morning,
after a late night, they decided to go out on reconnaissance; and the
officer in the sky-blue cloak agreed that he also would make a flight,
and so perform his duty to the Fatherland. A pilot took him up; but,
instead of making a reconnaissance, he fell fast asleep and saw nothing
of a British aeroplane swooping upon him from a high cloud. A bullet in
the petrol-tank drove down the German machine, and the officer in the
sky-blue cloak stepped out, saluted, surrendered, and a little later
fell asleep again.

An air prisoner is always more noticeable than the batches of infantry
who come back to our lines after one of our attacks, but there was
something unusual in the sight of seventy-three Germans led by a young
English soldier from the zone of fire in this latest fighting. Our man
was a young private of Suffolks, chubby-faced and small in body, though
of a high spirit.

"What are you doing with those men?" asked an officer. "Why isn't there
a proper escort?"

"They are my prisoners," said the boy; "they have just surrendered to
me, and I'm taking them back to our camp."

During attacks near Monchy one of our young officers was lying in a
shell-hole with a thin line of men, mostly wounded. Presently a Tank
crawled up, and a voice spoke from it: "That's a hot spot of yours. You
had better come inside for a bit."

"How shall I get in?" said the young infantry officer. A voice from the
Tank said: "Come round to this side." The young officer climbed in
through a hole, and said "Thanks very much" to the Tank officer, who
drove him close to the enemy's line, enabled him to see the position,
and then brought him back to his shell-hole.

These things are happening on the field of battle, and there are many of
our officers and men who have such fantastic experiences, and tell them
as though they were normal adventures of life.



IX

HOW THE SCOTS TOOK GUÉMAPPE


MAY 1

Birds are singing their spring songs on this May Day in the woods very
close to where men are fighting, and the fields on the edge of the
shell-crater country are yellow with cowslips, so that war seems more
hateful than ever, when the earth is so good, and all the colour and
scent of it. But the work of war goes on whatever the weather. To-day,
as well as yesterday, the enemy's chief targets were Arleux, captured by
the Canadians, and Guémappe, which fell to Scottish troops, both of
which places he has tried to take back by repeated and violent
counter-attacks. He is still in a trench on the east side of Guémappe,
running down to a bit of ruin called Cavalry Farm, where there has been
close fighting for several days since the great battle on April 23, when
Guémappe was taken by the Scots of the 15th Division.

That battle round Guémappe is a great episode in the history of the
Scottish troops in France. It was fighting which lasted for nearly a
week after the hour of attack in the first daylight of April 23. At that
hour long waves of the Seaforths, Black Watch, and Camerons left the
trenches they had dug under shell-fire, and went forward towards
Guémappe. They were faced at once by blasts of machine-gun fire, and
although our artillery barrage crashed across the field some of the
German strong points were still held in force. At one, about which I
know most, there was a gap between the Seaforths and Camerons owing to
the feeble light of the dawn, in which men could only dimly see, but
this was filled up by some companies of the Black Watch. For nearly
three hours the Scots were held up by the fire of German machine-guns
and artillery, and suffered many casualties, but they fought on, each
little group of men acting with separate initiative, and it is to their
honour as soldiers that they destroyed every machine-gun post in front
of them. One sergeant of the Black Watch fought his way down a bit of
trench alone and knocked out the gun-crew so that the line could
advance. Two hundred prisoners were taken in that first forward sweep,
when the Seaforths advanced in long lines and went through and beyond
the village of Guémappe with loud shouts and cheers. They were checked
again by machine-gun fire from many different directions, and
immediately from the ruin called Cavalry Farm ahead of them. This was
afterwards cleared, and many Germans lie dead there. Then between eleven
and twelve in the morning the enemy developed his first counter-attack.
He massed masses of men in the valley below Guémappe, flung a storm of
shells on to the village, and then sent forward his troops to work round
the spur on which the Highlanders held their line. It was then that the
Camerons and Black Watch showed their fierce and stubborn fighting
spirit. They tore rents in the lines of advancing Bavarians with
Lewis-gun and rifle-grenade fire, and the enemy's losses were great, so
that the supporting troops passed over lines of dead comrades. But the
attack was pressed by strong bodies of men, and the thin lines of the
Scots, exhausted by long hours of fighting, were forced to swing back.

We now know that first reports were wrong, when it was said that the
enemy retook Guémappe for a time. He never set foot in it again, though
the Scottish line fell back. Little groups of Highland officers and men
refused to retreat. Some of them held the cemetery and defended it
against all attacks. A captain of the Black Watch with seventy men
remained in the north of the village for four hours, though they had no
protection on either flank. One officer and twelve men of the Camerons
at another spot refused to leave during the retirement, and were found
still holding out when their comrades renewed their attack and regained
the ground. Another officer of the Camerons lost all the men of his
machine-gun team, but brought up the gun himself and worked it with
another officer already wounded. Afterwards, to save ammunition, he
sniped the enemy with their own rifles which they had dropped on the
field. Later the village of Guémappe was isolated, for our artillery
bombardment prevented all approach by the enemy. Then another brigade of
Scots streamed round by the north of the village, and the whole line of
Highland troops swept back the enemy. By that time the Bavarian troops
had no more fight in them, and knew they were beaten. They retired in
great disorder, leaving great numbers of dead and wounded.

For a day and a half the Scots were able to rest a little, though always
under shell-fire; but afterwards there was fierce patrol fighting round
Cavalry Farm and in outposts near by. The enemy's fire was intense, and
he commanded this position from the high ground to the north, but small
parties of Scots held on doggedly outside the ruins of the farm until,
after five days, they were withdrawn.

I have told all this briefly; but, even so, I hope it may reveal a
little of the stubborn courage with which those men refused to give way,
and when forced back for a few hours after great losses, regained the
ground they had captured with a spirit which belongs to the history of
their fighting clans.



X

THE OPPY LINE


MAY 2

There have been no strong infantry attacks along our front to-day, none
of any kind as far as I know. It has been a day for the guns alone, and
as my ears could bear witness, and every nerve in my body, they have
made the most of it under the blue sky. All our batteries were hard at
work, heavy howitzers with broad blunt snouts, long-muzzled long-ranged
60-pounders, and farther forward, on the landscape of the battlefield,
field-guns drumming out salvos with staccato knocks above the full deep
blasts of the monsters behind them.

Somehow in this bright sunlight, flooding all the countryside with a
golden haze and painting the fields with vivid colour--yellow where the
new shell-holes had dug deep pits, red-brown where it had lain quiet
since the war, emerald-green where strips of grass grew between the
plots of barbed wire and a tangle of old trenches--on such a day as
this, with a light wind driving fleecy clouds through the sky, and wild
flowers like little stars at one's feet, and larks singing with a high
ecstasy, war and blood and death seemed abominably out of place. Yet
they were there all three, round about Oppy and Gavrelle, and on the
ground below Bailleul, thrust before one's eyes, rising to one's
nostrils, making hideous noises about one. It would have been so much
better in such a May as this to stroll on the way to Oppy, in this first
sunshine of the year, without a thought of what men might be watching.
But when, standing on the crest above, I showed half my body above a bit
of earth, an officer who lives below the earth said, "It's better to
keep down. The blighters can see us all right."

And to stroll into Oppy one must have many machine-guns with one, and be
preceded by a storm of heavy shells, making a steel wall before one. One
day soon, I suppose, our men will go in again like that, to find a
litter of men's bodies, some living men trembling in cellars, and
another little bit of hell. We were making a hell of it to-day for any
young Germans there. Our guns made good target practice of it, flinging
up rosy clouds of dust from its ruins of red brick. But one house still
stands in Oppy Wood. It is a big white château, which is clearly visible
with empty windows and broken roofs through a thin fringe of dead trees.
A sinister ghostly place, even at broad noonday, and no man alive would
sit alone there in its big salon unless he had gone mad with
shell-shock, for that white house is another target for guns, and while
I watched our shells crashed through the trees about it.

Below Oppy, where our men fought a few days ago, is Gavrelle, which is
ours, above Greenland Hill, where there is a broken village among the
trees, from which we can look down across the River Scarpe. To the left
of Oppy is Arleux-en-Gohelle, recently captured by Canadians, who fought
through its streets, and to the southern side of it is the ruin of a
sugar factory, 500 yards or so from the outskirts of Bailleul, an old
grey place, with broken walls and roofs, and a railway station with a
deep embankment. These places were targets for the German guns,
especially Arleux and Bailleul railway station, and heavy crumps came
whining and then crashing, and flinging up clouds of black smoke--as
black and as big as the evil genii that came from the bottle and played
the devil.

The enemy's guns were very active to-day, as our communiqué would say.
But one of our forward observing officers, a young man in a dusty ditch,
with a telescope and a telephone, and a steel hat which is only a faith
cure for heavy shell-fire, was chuckling over this morning's business.

"It was very funny," he said. "The Boche started counter-battery work,
but we answered back too quick, and knocked out one of his batteries
smack in the eye. That group has kept quiet since then."

He pointed to some broken things lying about the field outside Oppy, and
said: "The aeroplanes have been dropping about a good deal. There has
been some very hot work in this part of the sky." The sky above us then
was full of the throb and hum of aeroplanes, and to the tune of them
birds went on singing, but other birds, invisible, sang louder than the
larks, with high, shrill, whistling cries which make one feel cold and
crouch low if they sing too close overhead. So the battle of guns went
on, and troops, marching over dusty ground pock-marked with
shell-craters, all white and barren, between belts of rusty wire, paid
no heed to bursting crumps, and in the new-made craters or in old
trenches, or in special holes just dug for shelter, sat down out of the
wind and cooked their food, and slept so much like other bodies who will
never wake, that once or twice I thought they were dead, these single
figures sprawling in the dust, with sand-bags for their pillows. Away on
the skyline were a few dim towers faintly pencilled against the golden
haze, and one taller than the others standing apart.

"Douai," said a gunner officer. Yes; it was Douai, old in history and
full of ancient buildings, which hold many memories of faith and
scholarship and peace. The tall, lone tower which I saw was the great
belfry of Douai. It seemed very far away, with the German lines on this
side of it; but I remember how I used to see the clock-tower of Bapaume
(no longer standing, alas!) as far and dim as this, so that it seemed as
though we should never fight our way to it. But one day I walked into
Bapaume with the Australian troops, who had entered it that morning. And
so one day we may walk into Douai, if luck is with us.



XI

THE BATTLE OF MAY 3


MAY 3

Another day of close, fierce, difficult fighting is now in progress,
having begun early this morning in the darkness and going on down a long
front in hot sunshine and dust and the smoke of innumerable shells.

Among the battalions engaged were the Royal Scots, East Yorks,
Shropshire Light Infantry, the Norfolks, Suffolks, East Kents and West
Kents, Royal Fusiliers, East Surreys, Worcesters, Hampshires, King's Own
Scottish Borderers, East Lancs and South Lancs, Gloucesters, Argylls,
Seaforths and Black Watch, and the Middlesex and London Regiments. They
belonged to the 3rd, 12th, 37th, 29th, 17th, 15th, and 56th Divisions.

At many points our troops have succeeded in getting forward in spite of
great resistance from fresh German regiments and intense artillery-fire.
The most important gains of the day are in the direction of the village
of Chérisy, where ground has been won by English battalions, and round
Bullecourt by the Australians with Devons and Gordons on their left.

This thrusts the enemy by Fontaine-lez-Croisilles, where he is still
holding out, into a narrow pointed salient, which should be utterly
untenable. The way to Chérisy was taken rapidly by men of the West Kents
and East Surreys of the 18th Division without any serious check,
although there was savage machine-gun fire. At Fontaine-lez-Croisilles
our men found it very difficult to get forward owing to the strength of
the enemy's defences south of the wood, and an abominable barrage of
heavy shell-fire. They bombed their way down 600 yards of trench, and
established themselves round Fontaine Wood on the north-west side of the
village.

Farther north fighting carried our line out from Guémappe towards
St.-Rohart Factory, just above Vis-en-Artois, but signal rockets sent up
here by our men may only come from advanced posts ahead of the main
line.

South of the Scarpe, between Monchy and those two woods of ill repute,
the Bois du Vert and Bois du Sart, the battle has been similar to other
struggles over the same ground, where the enemy stares across to our
lines from good cover and has every inch of earth registered by his
guns, with a clear field of fire for his machine-guns, of which he has
got numbers in enfilade positions. English and Scottish battalions
attacked here this morning, and would not give way under the terrific
fire, but fought forward in small bodies until they gained the line on
the crest of Infantry Hill and 300 yards short of the two woods, now
linked together by the Germans with belts of wire and well-dug trenches.

North of the River Scarpe there is great fighting round Roeux,
Gavrelle, and Oppy by the Household Battalion, Seaforths, Royal Irish
Fusiliers, Warwicks, South African Scottish of the 4th, 9th, and 6th
Divisions, and other English and Scottish battalions.

Gavrelle has already been the scene of many attacks and counter-attacks.
It was here that in the fighting last month the enemy advanced time
after time in close waves, only to be scythed down by our machine-guns,
so that heaps of those field-grey dead lie out there on the barren land.
To-day those dead were joined by many comrades. When our men advanced
they were met by masses of Germans, and once more the line of battle had
an ebb and flow, and both sides passed over the dead and wounded in
assault and retirement. Four times an old windmill beyond the village
changed hands. Four times the Germans who had dislodged our men were cut
to pieces and thrust out. Men are fighting here as though these bits of
brick and wood are worth a king's ransom or a world's empire, and in a
way they are worth that, for the windmill of Gavrelle is one point which
will decide a battle or a series of battles upon which the fate of two
Empires is at stake. So it happens in this war that a dust-heap like
that other windmill at Pozières in the crisis of the Somme battles
becomes for hours or days the prize of victory or the symbol of defeat.

In Oppy, above Gavrelle, which I described yesterday as I saw it in the
golden haze, the Germans there, whom I could not see, have been very
busy. They knew this attack was coming; it was clear that it must come
to them, and at night they worked hard to protect themselves, fear being
their taskmaster. They made machine-gun emplacements not only in pits
and trenches, but in branches of many trees, and wired themselves in
with many twisted strands. The Second Guards Reserve, newly brought up,
held the village and wood and the white château, with its empty windows
and broken roofs, and kept below the ground when our gun-fire stormed
above them. So when our men attacked in that pale darkness of a May
night they found themselves at once in a hail of machine-gun bullets,
and later under shell-fire, which made a fury about them. They
penetrated into Oppy Wood, but owing to the massed German troops, who
counter-attacked fiercely, they did not go far into the wood or lose
themselves in such a death-trap. They were withdrawn to the outskirts of
Oppy, so that our guns could get at the enemy and drive him below ground
again.

Northwards we stormed and won long trenches running up from Oppy to
Arleux, and most necessary for further progress, linking up with the
Canadians, who made a great and successful attack upon the village of
Fresnoy, just south of Acheville.

That was certainly a very gallant feat in face of many difficulties of
ground and most savage fire. They completely surrounded the village and
caught its garrison in a trap from which they had no escape. After brief
fighting with bombs and bayonets the survivors surrendered, to the
number of eight officers and about 200 men belonging to the Fifteenth
Reserve Division of Prussians. What made them sick and sorry men is that
two of their battalions had just arrived in high spirits, having troops
in front of them who were weak, they had been told, and they were
ordered to attack Arleux this morning. The Canadians attacked first, and
by six o'clock these Prussians were sadder and wiser men. The prisoners
escaped our shell-fire, but were nearly done to death behind our lines
by their own guns. I saw this incident this morning. They had been put
in an enclosure, next to a Canadian field dressing-station flying the
Red Cross, when suddenly the enemy's guns began to shell the area with
five-point-nines. They burst again and again during half an hour with
tremendous crashes and smoke-clouds.

"If those Germans are still there," said a Canadian, "there won't be
much left of them."

When the shelling eased off I went towards their place but found it
empty. As soon as the shelling started their guards hurried them away to
safety farther back behind the lines, and the Canadian wounded were
diverted to another route. One of these Prussian officers was shown his
old lines captured on April 9, and he asked what regiment had done such
gallant work. "The Canadians did it," he was told, "and the same fellows
that captured Fresnoy this morning." The Prussian officer could hardly
believe it, but when he was convinced of its truth he complimented the
Canadian troops who had fought so hard and so far. They were proud young
officers, and when I spoke to one or two they would not admit that they
had been mastered in this war. They seem to have an unbounded faith in
Hindenburg's genius, and in the effects of submarine warfare.

I found no such spirit among the non-commissioned officers and men. They
spoke as men under an evil spell, hating the war, but seeing no end to
it. "Neither side will win," said one of them, "but who will stop it?
The papers write about the conditions of peace, but one party says one
thing and one party says another, and we don't know what to believe."

I asked them about the Russian revolution, and whether it had any
influence in the German trenches, but they seemed to have heard of it
only as a vague, far-off event, not affecting their own lives and ideas.
They were more interested about their food, and said their bread ration
had been reduced by one-third. Behind the lines the scene of war to-day
was on white, dusty plains under the glare of the sun, where men waiting
to go into battle slept beside their arms, where mules kicked and rolled
beside heavy batteries and transport. Guns were thundering close, and
hostile shells were bursting among the tents and kinema pavilions, and a
band was playing. No sane man would believe it unless he saw it with his
own eyes and heard it with his own ears, for it was all fantastic as a
nightmare of war, with wounded men hobbling back from the bloody strife
and wending their way through the old trenches, in which other men sat
polishing rifles, or whistling in tune with the band.

       *       *       *       *       *

MAY 21

Before darkness, when the shadows were lengthening across the fields and
the glow of the evening sun was warm on the white walls of the French
cottages, I went into an old village to meet some men who have just come
out of the fires of hate. They were the East Kents of the 12th Division,
whom I met last, months ago now, during the battle of the Somme, where
they had hard fighting and tragic losses. In the twilight and dusk and
darkness I heard their tales of battle--the things these men had done
just a little while ago before coming down to this village of
peace--tales of frightful hours, of life in the midst of death, of
English valour put to the most bloody and cruel tests.

Men of Kent and boys of Kent. There was one boy with black eyes sitting
with his tunic off on the window-sill above a terraced porch who seemed
too young to be one of the King's officers, and is no more than
nineteen, but ninety in the experience of life and death. He told me how
he was sent up with some signallers to keep touch with his company, who
had gone forward in the attack at Monchy in the darkness before daybreak
on the morning of May 3. He lost his way, as other men did, because of
the darkness, and found his men being hit by machine-gun bullets. He put
them into shell-holes, and worked from one hole to the other, dodging
the heavy crumps which flung the earth up about them, and the more
deadly sweep of bullets. When the first glimmer of dawn came he met a
man of his company bringing down two prisoners, and heard that the
objective had been taken. It seemed good news and good evidence. The
young officer pushed on with what men were with him, and presently saw a
body of men ahead of him. Our fellows, he thought, and signalled to
them. He thought it queer that they didn't answer his signals, but waved
their caps in reply. He thought it more queer that they were wearing
overcoats, and he was sure his company had gone forward without coats.
But if those were not his men, where were they? That was where they
ought to be, or farther forward. He went forward a little way, uneasy
and doubtful, until all doubts were solved. Those men waving caps to
him, beckoning him forward, were Germans. The enemy had got behind our
men, who were cut off. It was a narrow escape for this boy of nineteen,
and he had others before he got back with a few men, sniped all the way
by the enemy on the hill-side. It was worse for men who had been
fighting forward there. They had gone over the ground quickly to the
first goal, though many had lost their way in darkness and many had
fallen. Then the enemy had dribbled in from positions on each side of
them and closed up behind them. The East Kents were cut off, like other
men of other regiments fighting alongside. Many officers were picked
off by snipers or hit by shells and machine-gun fire. Second lieutenants
found themselves in command of companies, sergeants and corporals and
privates became leaders of small groups of men. The Buffs were cut off,
but did not surrender. One young officer was the only one left with his
company. He cheered up the men and said it was up to the Buffs to hold
out as long as possible, and they built cover by linking up shell-holes
and making a defensive position. Three times the enemy attacked in heavy
numbers, determined to get their men, but each time they were beaten off
by machine-gun fire and bombs. Fifteen hours passed like this, and then
night came, and with it grave and dreadful anxiety to the officer with
what remained of the company of men who looked to him for leadership.
There were no more bombs. If another attack came, nothing could stop it.

"We must fight our way back," said the second lieutenant. Between them
and their own lines were two German trenches full of the enemy. It would
not be easy to hack a way through. But the East Kents left their
shell-holes, scrambled up into the open, and, with the second lieutenant
leading, stumbled forward through the darkness as stealthily as possible
to the German lines between them and our old positions. Then they sprang
into the enemy's trench, bayoneting or clubbing the sentries. A German
officer came out of a dug-out with a sword, which is an unusual weapon
in a trench, but before he could use it our second lieutenant shot him
with his revolver. So to the next trench, and so through again to a
great escape.

There were other officers and men who had to fight desperately for life,
like this. Young Kentish lads behaved with fine and splendid bravery. A
private belonging to a machine-gun team remained alone in a shell-hole
when all his comrades were killed, and stayed there for three days,
keeping his gun in action until relieved by our advancing troops. Three
days had passed when he rejoined his unit, and they, after a brief rest,
were moving forward again to the front line. The escaped man was given
the offer of remaining behind, but he said, "Thanks, but I'll go up
along, with the rest of the chaps," and back he went.

Another young private saw his company commander fall by his side. The
stretcher-bearers had not yet come up to that spot, though all through
the battle they did most noble work; and this private soldier was
desperate to get help for his officer. He resolved to make the enemy
help him, and went forward to where he saw Germans. By some menace of
death in his eyes, he quelled them--six of them--into surrender, and,
bringing them back as prisoners, made them carry the young officer back
to the dressing-station, so saving his life. I have told the story of
the Buffs, or a brief glimpse of it, and they will forgive me when I add
that what they have done has been done also by other English battalions,
not with greater valour but with as great, in many battles and in these
now being fought. Our English troops, through no fault of mine, get but
little praise or fame though they are the backbone of the Army, and are
in all our great attacks. The boys of England, like those of its garden
county of Kent, have poured out their blood on these fields of France,
and have filled the history of this appalling war with shining deeds.



XII

FIELDS OF GOLD


MAY 23

The beauty of these May days is so intense and wonderful after the cold,
grey weather and sudden rush of spring that men are startled by it, and
find it outrageously cruel that death and blood and pain should be
thrust into such a setting. Once in history two fat kings met in a field
of France, between silken tents and on strips of tapestry laid upon the
grass, so that this scene of glitter and shimmer was called for every
age of schoolboys "The Field of the Cloth of Gold." Out here in France
now there is a field of honour, stretching for more than a hundred
miles, held by British soldiers; and that is a true field of cloth of
gold, for everywhere behind the deep belt of cratered land, so barren
and blasted that no seed of life is left in the soil, there are miles of
ground where gold grows, wonderfully brilliant in the warm sunshine of
these days. It is the gold of densely growing dandelions and of
buttercups in great battalions. They cover the wreckage of old trenches,
and bloom in patches of ground between powdered fragments of brick- and
stone-work which are still called by the names of old villages swept off
the face of the earth by fierce bombardments.

If you wish to picture our Army out here now, the landscape in which our
men are fighting--and they like to think you want to do so--you must
think of them marching along roads sweet-scented with lilac and
apple-blossom, and over those golden fields to the white edge of the
dead land. They are hot under heavy packs all powdered with dust, so
that they wear white masks like a legion of Pierrots, and on their steel
helmets the sun shines brazenly. But there is a soft breeze blowing, and
as they march through old French villages showers of tiny white petals
are blown upon them from the wayside orchards like confetti at a wedding
feast, though it is for this dance of death called war. And these hot,
dusty soldiers of ours, closed about by guns and mule teams and
transport columns surging ceaselessly along the highways to the Front,
drink in with their eyes cool refreshing shadows of green woods set upon
hill-sides where the sun plays upon the new leaves with a melody of
delicate colour-music, and spreads tapestries of light and shade across
sweeps of grass-land all interwoven with the flowers of France.

Our soldiers do not walk blindly through this beauty. It calls to them,
these men of Surrey and Kent and Devon, these Shropshire lads and boys
of the Derbyshire dales, and at night in their camps, before turning in
to sleep in the tents, they watch the glow of the western sun and the
fading blue of the sky, and listen to the last song of birds tired with
the joy of the day, and are drugged by the scent of closing flowers and
of green wheat growing so tall, so quickly tall, behind the
battlefields. These tents are themselves like flowers in the darkness
when candlelight gleams through their canvas, and at night the scene of
war is lit up by star-shells and vivid flashes of light as great shells
fall and burst beyond the zone of tents, where British soldiers crouch
in holes and burrow deep into the earth. It is under the blue sky of
these days, and in this splendour of spring-time, that English boys and
young Scots go into the fires of hell, where quite close to them the
birds still sing, as I heard the nightingale amidst the crash of
gun-fire.

They were Shropshire lads of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry of the
glorious 3rd Division, who helped to turn the tide of battle on one of
these recent days when there was savage fighting through several days
and nights. The officer in command of one of their companies found the
ruined village of Tilloy-les-Mufflaines in front of him still held by
the enemy when our troops assaulted it. They were working their
machine-guns and raking another body of infantry.

"Come on, Shropshires," shouted the young officer, and his boys followed
him. They worked round the flank of the village, cut off ninety of the
enemy and captured them, and thereby enabled other troops to get
forward. One of these Shropshire officers went out with only a few men
200 yards beyond the front line that night, and took twenty prisoners in
a dug-out there.

Into that same village of Tilloy cleared by Shropshires an officer of
the King's Own Liverpools, with a lance-corporal, dashed into a ruined
house from which the enemy was sniping in a most deadly way, and brought
out two officers and twenty-eight men as prisoners. It was a subaltern
of the Suffolks who went out in daylight under frightful fire to
reconnoitre the enemy's lines and brought back knowledge which saved
many lives. On the night of May 3, when all the sky was blazing with
fire, it was the Royal Scots of the 3rd Division who held part of the
line against heavy counter-attacks. The men had been fighting against
great odds. Many of them had fallen, and the wounded were suffering
horribly. Thirst tortured them, not only the wounded but also the
unwounded, and there was no chance of water coming up through the
hellish barrage. No chance except for the gallantry of the adjutant of
the Royal Scots away back at battle headquarters near Monchy, where
heavy crumps were bursting. He guessed his men craved for water, and he
risked almost certain death to take it to them, going through all the
fire with a few carriers and by a miracle untouched. This same adjutant
went out again across the battle-ground under heavy fire to reorganize
an advanced signal-station where there were many dead and wounded, and
all the lines were cut. It was a young second lieutenant of the Royal
Fusiliers of the 3rd Division who took command of two companies when all
the other officers had been killed or wounded, and so comforted the men
that under his leadership they dug a line close to the German position
east of Monchy, and all through the day and night of tragic fighting
held it against strong attacks and under infernal shell-fire. Day after
day, night after night, our men are fighting like that. And when for a
little while they are relieved and given a rest they come back across
those fields of the cloth of gold, beyond those barren fields where so
many of their comrades lie, and look around and take deep breaths and
say, "By Jove, what perfect weather!" and become a little drunk with the
beauty of this world of life, and hate the thought of death.



PART IV

THE BATTLE OF MESSINES



I

WYTSCHAETE AND MESSINES


JUNE 7

After the battle of Arras and all that fierce fighting which for two
months has followed the capture of Vimy and the breaking of the
Hindenburg line, and the taking of many villages, many prisoners, and
many guns, by the valour and self-sacrifice of British troops, there
began to-day at dawn another battle more audacious than that other one,
because of the vast strength of the enemy's positions, and more stunning
to the imagination because of the colossal material of destructive force
gathered behind our assaulting troops. It is the battle of Messines.

It is my duty to write the facts of it, and to give the picture of it.
That is not easy to a man who, after seeing the bombardments of many
battles, has seen just now the appalling vision of massed gun-fire
enormously greater in intensity than any of those, whose eyes are still
dazed by a sky full of blinding lights and flames, and who has felt the
tremor of earthquakes shaking the hill-sides, when suddenly, as a
signal, the ground opened and mountains of fire rose into the clouds.
There are no words which will help the imagination here. Neither by
colour nor language nor sound could mortal man reproduce the picture and
the terror and the tumult of this scene.

Our troops are now fighting forward through smoke and mist--English
regiments, New-Zealanders, Protestant and Catholic Irishmen. Their
Divisions from north to south were the 23rd, 47th (London), 41st, 19th,
16th (Irish), 36th (Ulster), 25th, New Zealand, and 3rd Australian.
They are fighting shoulder to shoulder in an invisible world, from
which they are sending up light signals to show the progress they have
made to the eyes of men flying high above the storm of battle, and to
watchers in the country from which they went just as the faint rays of
dawn flushed a moonlight sky. They have made good progress up the slopes
of Wytschaete and Messines. Prisoners are already coming back with tales
of how our men swept over them and beyond. So far it seems that the day
goes well for us, but it is early in the day, and I must write later of
what happens later on that ridge hidden behind the drifting clouds of
smoke.

[Illustration: LINE BEFORE THE BATTLE OF MESSINES]

For two and a half years the Messines Ridge had been a curse to all our
men who have held the Ypres salient--a high barrier against them, behind
which the enemy stacked his guns, shooting at them every kind of
explosive, directed upon these troops of ours in the swamps of the
Douve, in the broken woods of Ploegsteert, in all the flat ground north
and west of Kemmel, by German observing officers very watchful behind
their telescopes on that high ground which rises up from Wytschaete to
Messines. In the early days of the war, before the enemy's grey legions
had swept down through Belgium in a great devastating tide, some of our
artillery and our cavalry rode along the hog's back of the ridge and
held it for a time against the enemy's advanced patrols. On November 1,
1914, some of our guns were parked in the market square of Warneton
beyond the ridge, and on the next day found a good target in German
cavalry attacking from the woods, and held their fire until these
mounted men were within a thousand yards of them, when riders and horses
fell under a merciless storm of shrapnel. Many Germans died that day,
but behind them was the vast army which came on like a rolling sea,
beating back our ten divisions--those first ten wonderful divisions who
fought against overwhelming odds and massed artillery which gave them no
kind of chance. So we lost Wytschaete--Whitesheet, as our men have
always called it--and the Messines Ridge, and not all our efforts could
get it back again.

It is more than two years ago now--it was in March of 1915--that I saw
an attack on Wytschaete, the first of our British bombardments which I
watched after adventures in Belgium and France. Standing upon the same
ground to-day, looking across the same stretch of battlefield, watching
another attack up those frightful slopes, I thought back to that other
day, upon that early demonstration of our artillery covering an infantry
advance, and the remembrance was amazing in its contrast to this new
battle in the dawn. Then our shrapnel barrage was a pretty ineffective
thing--terrible as it seemed to me at the time. In those two years our
gun-power has been multiplied enormously--by vast numbers of heavy guns
and monstrous howitzers, and great quantities of field-guns--so that at
daybreak this morning, before our men rose from their trenches to go
forward in assault, the enemy's country up there was upheaved by a wild
tornado of shell-fire, and the contours of the land were changed, and
the sky opened and poured down shrieking steel, and the earth was torn
and let forth flame.

This battle of ours has started with such preparations as to ensure all
but that last certainty of success which belongs to the incalculable
fortune of war. It is not an exaggeration to say that they began a year
ago, when miners began to tunnel under the slopes of Wytschaete and
Messines, and laid enormous charges of ammonal, which at a touch on this
day should blow up the hill-sides and alter the very geography of
France. For a year Sir Herbert Plumer and his staff prepared their plans
for this attack, gathered their material, and studied every detail of
this business of great destruction. While other armies were fighting in
the Somme, and all the world watched their conflict, the Second Army
held the salient quietly, always on the defensive, not asking for more
trouble than they had. They waited for their own offensive, and trained
their own troops for it. A week ago they were ready, with railways,
guns, Tanks, every kind of explosive, every kind of weapon which modern
science has devised for the killing of men in great masses. A week ago
all the guns that had been massing let loose their fire. Night and day
for seven days it has continued with growing violence, working up to the
supreme heights of fury as dawn broke to-day. For five days at least
many Germans were pinned to their tunnels as prisoners of fire. No food
reached them; there was no way out through these zones of death. A new
regiment which tried to come up last night was broken and shattered. A
prisoner says that out of his own company he lost fifty to sixty men
before reaching the line. For a long way behind the line our heavy guns
laid down belts of shell-fire, and many of the enemy's batteries kept
silent.

Our gunners smothered his batteries whenever he revealed them to the
airmen. Those flying men have been wonderful. A kind of exaltation of
spirits took possession of them, and they dared great risks and searched
out the enemy's squadrons far over his lines. In five days from June 1
forty-four separate machines were sent crashing down, and this morning,
very early, flocks of aeroplanes went out to blind the enemy's eyes and
report the progress of battle. In the darkness queer monsters moved up
close to our lines, many of them crawling singly over the battlefields
under cover of woods and ruins. They were the Tanks, ready to go into
action on a great day of war, when their pilots and crews have helped by
high courage to victory.

Last night all was ready. Men knowing the risks of it all--for no plans
are certain in war--had a sense of oppression, strained by poignant
anxiety. Many men's lives were on the hazard of all this. The air was
heavy, as though nature itself were full of tragedy. A summer fog was
thick over Flanders, and the sky was livid. Forked lightning rent the
low clouds, and thunder broke with menacing rumblings. Rain fell
sharply, and on the conservatory of a big Flemish house where officers
bent over their maps and plans the rain-drops beat noisily. But the
storm passed and the night was calm and beautiful. Along the dark roads,
and down the leafy lanes, columns of men were marching, and brass bands
played them through the darkness. Guns and gun-limbers moved forward at
a sharp pace. "Lights out" rang the challenges of the sentries to the
staff cars passing beyond the last village where any gleam was allowed,
and nearer to the lines masses of men lay sleeping or resting in the
fields before getting orders to go forward into the battle zone. All
through the night the sky was filled with vivid flashes of bursting
shells and with steady hammer-strokes of guns, and from an
observation-post looking across the shoulder of Kemmel Hill, straight to
Wytschaete and the Messines Ridge, I watched this bombardment and waited
for that moment when it should rise into a mad fury of gun-fire before
our men lying in these dark fields should stumble forward. During those
hours of waiting in the soft warm air of the night I thought of all I
had heard of the position in front of us. "It's a Gibraltar," said an
officer who was there in the early days of the war. "The enemy will
fight his hardest for the Messines Ridge," said another officer, whose
opinion has weight. "He has stacks of guns against us." Such thoughts
made one shiver, though the night was warm, so warm and moist that wafts
of scent came up from the earth and bushes. A full moon had risen,
veiled by vapours until they drifted by and revealed all her pale light
in a sky that was still faintly blue, with here and there a star. The
moon through all her ages never looked down upon such fires of man-made
hell as those which lashed out when the bombardment quickened. That was
just before three o'clock. For two hours before that fires had been
lighted in the German lines by British shell-fire--big rose-coloured
smoke-clouds with hearts of flame--and all round the salient and the
Messines Ridge our guns flashed redly as they fired, and their
shell-bursts scattered light against which the trees were etched
sharply. I could hear the rattle of gun-wagons along the distant roads,
and the tuff-tuff of an engine driving very close up to the
firing-lines, and above the great loudness of our gun-fire the savage
whine of German shrapnel coming over in quick volleys. The drone of a
night-flying aeroplane passed overhead. The sky lightened a little, and
showed black smudges like ink-blots on blue silk cloth where our
kite-balloons rose in clusters to spy out the first news of the coming
battle. The cocks of Flanders crowed, and two heavy German shells roared
over Kemmel Hill and burst somewhere in our lines. A third came, but
before its explosion could be heard, all the noise there had been, all
these separate sounds of guns and high explosives and shrapnel were
swept up into the tornado of artillery which now began.

The signal for its beginning was the most terribly beautiful thing, the
most diabolical splendour, I have seen in war.

Out of the dark ridges of Messines and Wytschaete and that ill-famed
Hill 60, for which many of our best have died, there gushed out and up
enormous volumes of scarlet flame from the exploding mines and of earth
and smoke, all lighted by the flame, spilling over into fountains of
fierce colour, so that all the countryside was illumined by red light.
Where some of us stood watching, aghast and spellbound by this burning
horror, the ground trembled and surged violently to and fro. Truly the
earth quaked. A New Zealand boy who came back wounded spoke to me about
his own sensations. "I felt like being in an open boat on a rough sea.
It rocked up and down this way and that."

Thousands of British soldiers were rocked like that before they
scrambled up and went forward to the German lines--forward beneath that
tornado of shells which crashed over the enemy's ground with a wild
prolonged tumult just as day broke, with crimson feathers unfolding in
the eastern sky, and flights of airmen following other flights above our
heroes.

Rockets rose from the German lines--distress signals flung up by men who
still lived in that fire zone--white and red and green. They were
calling to their gunners, warning them that the British were upon them.
Their high lamps were burning as lost hopes in God or man, and then
falling low and burning out. Presently there were no more of them, but
others which were ours in places which had been German. Smoke drifted
across and mingled with the morning mist. One could see nothing but a
bank of fog thrust through with short stars of light. The first definite
news that I had was from German prisoners, who came down in batches,
carrying our wounded when any help was needed for our own
stretcher-bearers. They described how our men came close behind the
barrage, some of them, by a kind of miracle, in advance of the barrage.
The Germans had not expected the attack for another two days, and last
night were endeavouring to relieve some of their exhausted troops by new
divisions, the 3rd Bavarians relieving the 24th Saxons, and the 104th
Infantry Reserve the 23rd Bavarians. They lost heavily on the way up to
the lines by our fire, and were then, after a few hours, attacked by our
waves of infantry.

The story of this great battle and great victory--for it is really
that--cannot be told in a few lines, and it is too soon yet to give
exact details of the fighting. But from the reports that have now come
in from all parts of the battle front it is good enough to know that
everywhere our men have succeeded with astonishing rapidity, and that
the plan of battle has been fulfilled almost to the letter and to the
time-table. The New-Zealanders reached and captured Messines in an hour
and forty minutes after the moment of attack, in spite of heavy fighting
in German trenches, where many of the enemy were killed. Irish troops,
Nationalists and Ulstermen, not divided in politics on the battlefield,
but vying with each other in courage and self-sacrifice, stormed their
way up to Wytschaete, and after desperate resistance from the enemy
captured all that is left of the famous White Château, which for years
our soldiers have watched through hidden glasses as a far high place
like the castle of a dream. By midday our men were well down farther
slopes of the ridge, while our field-batteries rushed up the ridge
behind them to take up new positions. Farther north along the shoulder
of the Ypres salient our English troops of the 19th, 41st, 47th, and
23rd Divisions advanced along a line including Battle Wood, south of
Zillebeke, and now hold all but a small part of it. Meanwhile the
Germans are massing troops at Warneton and its neighbourhood, as though
preparing a heavy counter-attack, and are shelling Messines Ridge with
some violence. For to-day at least, in spite of fierce fighting that
must follow, our men have achieved a victory, with light losses
considering the severity of their task. The evil spell of the Ypres
salient is broken. The salient itself is wiped out, and if we can hold
the Messines Ridge, Ypres and its countryside will no longer exact that
toll of death which for nearly three years has been a curse to us. The
roads and fields are under a glare of sunshine as I write, and down
them, through the dust and the fierce heat, come troops of German
prisoners, exhausted and nerve-broken, but glad of life. And passing
them come the walking wounded who attacked them in their tunnels at dawn
to-day and conquered. The lightly wounded men are happy and proud of
their victory.

"We New-Zealanders can afford to be a little cocky," said one of these
bronzed fellows with eyes of cornflower blue. "My word, I'm glad we had
the luck." He was wounded in the foot, but the man just hugged the news
of victory. "We shall be no end stuck up," he said, and then he laughed
in a simple way, and said, "I'm glad New Zealand did so well--that's
natural. But they tell me the Irish were splendid, and the Australians
could not be held back. It's good to have done the job, and I hope it
will help on the end."

That New-Zealander spoke the thought of thousands who have been fighting
in this battle. They have a right to be proud of themselves, for they
have broken the curse of the salient and relieved it of some of its
horror.



II

THE SPIRIT OF VICTORY


JUNE 8

I have never seen the spirit of victory so real and so visible among
great bodies of British troops since this war began. It shines in the
eyes of our officers and men to-day up in the fighting zone and in the
fields and woods below Wytschaete and Messines, where they are resting
and sleeping after the battle, regardless of the great noise of
gun-fire which is still about them. Our men have a sense of great
achievement, something big and definite and complete, in this capture of
Messines Ridge. They knew how formidable it was to attack, and they
count their cost--the price of victory--as extraordinarily light. Many
brave men have fallen, and along the roads come many ambulances where
prone figures lie with their soles up as a reminder that no battle may
be fought without this traffic flowing back; but the proportion of
lightly wounded was high and the number of wounded amazingly low among
most battalions. I met one company of Irish Fusiliers to-day who took
their goal without a single casualty and marched into Wytschaete without
firing a shot. That was a rare episode. But on all sides I hear
astonishment that our losses were so small considering the immensity of
their task. It is this which makes the men glad of victory--not having
it clouded by such heavy sacrifices of life as in the battles of the
Somme. "We got off light," said an Irish boy to-day; "we had the best of
luck."

All along the way to Wytschaete, where I went through places which two
days ago still lived up to the reputation of evil names--Suicide Corner,
V.C. Walk, Shell Farm--and in woods like the Bois de Rossignol, where
the death-birds came screaming until a moment before yesterday's dawn,
officers and men, generals, brigadiers, sergeants, privates, spoke of
victory with an enthusiasm that made their eyes alight. An officer
reined in his horse and leaned over his saddle to speak to me. "It was a
great day for Ireland," he said. Yesterday another man, with an arm in a
sling, also used the words "a great day," but said, "It's a great day
for New Zealand." And another officer, speaking of the way in which all
our men went forward to victory, English troops advancing with their old
unbroken courage in spite of hard fighting through a year of war, said:
"This is the best thing our armies have ever done, the most complete and
absolute success. It all went like clockwork."

One great proof of victory is the relief of some of those deadly places
in the salient under direct observation from Messines Ridge--screens of
foliage which I passed to-day are no longer needed, and one may walk
openly in places where German eyes had been watching for men to kill for
two years and a half. And another proof, written in human figures, is
one huge mass after another of German prisoners, a thousand or more in
each assembling place in the fields along the roadsides. They were lying
and standing to-day in the sunshine, with coloured handkerchiefs tied
above their heads, many of them stripped to the waist to air their
shirts, some still wearing their heavy shrapnel helmets with sackcloth
covering, all drowsed with fatigue and the prolonged strain of our
shell-fire, so that they sleep with heads on knees or lying as though
dead in huddled postures. They wake at intervals, asking for water, and
then sleep again. There are such crowds of these field-grey men that
they are astounded by their own numbers, and when questioned speak
gloomily of the doom that is upon their rule.

"What do you think of it all?" asked an Irish officer of a German
officer whom he captured in Wytschaete village. The man shook his head
and said in good English, "We are done for." Another officer taken by
English troops on the northern sector of the attack was frank in
revealing his tragic thoughts when he heard the mines go up. He thought,
so he says, "Thank Heaven the British are attacking. Now I can
surrender. Yesterday my division had three good regiments, now they do
not exist. This attack ought to end the war." Let us not base too much
optimistic belief on such words by German prisoners.

In that northern part of the attack by the London battalions of the 47th
and the Yorkshires and other English troops of the 23rd Division, who
started near Triangle Wood, there was bad ground for assembly before the
battle known as the Mud-Patch. There were no trenches there, and our
lads had to lie out all night in the open without any cover from the
shell-fire. It seemed that the Germans saw them, and their commanding
officer was in a fever of anxiety, thinking they were discovered and
would be shelled to death. But, as though expecting a raid from one
point, the enemy only barraged round a group of mine-craters, from which
our men had been withdrawn, because their shafts were packed with
explosives ready to be touched off at dawn. In one mine-crater held by
the Germans a shaft ran underneath called the Berlin Shaft--the way to
Berlin, according to the Australians who dug it months ago. Above it was
a half-company of Germans, and when the mine was blown at dawn not a man
escaped. Beyond was the Damstrasse, where the enemy had deep trenches
and strong emplacements in the hollow, so that our Generals were afraid
of trouble here, but when our men came to it they found nothing but
frightful ruin, obliterating all the trenches and redoubts, and the men
who still lived there shouted: "Don't shoot, don't shoot, Kamerad!"

The taking of Wytschaete by the Irish Nationalists, with Ulster men next
to them, was one of the great episodes of the battle, vying with the
exploit of the men of New Zealand in carrying Messines Ridge. I went
among them to-day up there by Wytschaete Wood across our old trenches
and by "the great wall of China," built a few months ago as a barrier--a
wonderful place of sand-bag defences and deep dug-outs. Not much is left
of Wytschaete Wood, once 800 yards square, now a pitiful wreckage of
broken stumps and tattered tree-trunks. The slopes of the ridge are all
barren and tortured with shell-fire like the Vimy Ridge, and across it
unceasingly went flights of heavy shells, droning loudly as they passed
over the crest, and with all our heavy howitzers firing with thunderous
ear-stunning strokes. But the Irish soldiers paid no heed to this noise
of gun-fire, for the enemy was answering back hardly at all, and the
battle-line had gone forward. An Irish major was asleep under a little
bit of a copse within a few yards of a 6-in. howitzer, splitting the
heavens with its sharp crack of sound, and he slept in his socks as
sweetly as a babe in the cradle until wakened to speak to me, which made
me sorry, because he had earned his rest. But he sat up smiling, and
glad to talk of his Irish boys, who had done gloriously. Away off near a
sinister little wood, where many men have died in the old days, sat the
brigadier of the Irish troops, the South and West Country Irish who went
through Wytschaete Wood and took the village. "Go and see my boys up in
their trenches," he said; "they will tell you all they have done, and it
was well done. Old Ireland has done great things."

The boys, as he called them, though some are old soldiers who fought at
Suvla Bay, and the youngest of them are old in war and remember as far
back in history as the days when they stormed through Guillemont and
Ginchy, were sitting with German caps on their heads, and examining
German machine-guns, and sorting all their souvenirs of battle. I talked
with many of them, and they told their adventures of yesterday with a
touch of Irish humour and a sparkle in their eyes. It was the little
things of battle which they remembered most; the rations and soda-water
they found in German dug-outs; the way they groped around for souvenirs
as soon as they gained their ground. But stupendous still in their
imagination was the drum-fire of our guns and the explosion of the
mines.

[Illustration: THE MESSINES RIDGE AND PASSCHENDAELE

London: W^m. Heinemann _Stanford's Geog^l. Estab^t., London_]

"As soon as the barrage began," said an Irish sergeant of the Munsters,
"a mine only a few hundred yards away from us at Maedelstede Farm went
up, and we went down. The ground rocked under us, and fire rushed up to
the sky. The fumes came back on to us and made us dizzy, but we--the
Royal Irish and the Munsters--went on to Petit-Bois Wood, and then to
Wytschaete Wood, and other Irish lads passed through us to the attack on
the village."

The only trouble was in and about the wood. In the centre of it was a
small body of Germans, with a machine-gun, who held out stubbornly and
swept the Irish with fire. But they were destroyed, and the attack swept
on. There was another post hereabout, in which a party of Germans held
out with rifle-fire. An Irish officer of a famous old family led an
attack on this, and fell dead with a bullet in his brain at five yards
range, but a sergeant with him, whom I met to-day, helped to surround
the enemy, and this hornets' nest was routed out. A German officer had
climbed a tree, and in the coolest possible way signalled with his hand
to his men beyond. An Irishman brought him down, and made him a
prisoner.

Wytschaete village was a fortress position, with machine-gun
emplacements made for defence on all sides, but the Irish closed round
it and captured it easily. The garrison was demoralized by prolonged
shell-fire, which had made a clean sweep of the hospice ruins and the
church and château, and every blade of grass above their tunnels. "I am
an old soldier," said one of their officers, "and I hate to be a
prisoner, but human nature cannot stand the strain of such
bombardments."

On the right of Irish Nationalists fought the Ulstermen, keeping in
absolute line with their comrades-in-arms, in friendly rivalry with them
to give glory to Ireland. They advanced through Spanbroekmolen, a
fortress position, through Hell Wood, to the top of Wytschaete Ridge,
and it is curious that these two bodies of Irish troops had an almost
identical experience. The South and West Country Irishmen of Dublin and
Munster took 1000 prisoners. So did the Ulstermen. When the Catholic
Irishmen were shaken by the mine explosion a whole company of Germans
was hurled high in its eruption, and this awful fate happened to another
company of Germans in front of the Ulstermen. Without thought of old
strife at home, these men fought side by side and are proud of each
other. Their Irish blood has mingled, and out of it some spirit of
healing and brotherhood should come because of this remembrance. An
Irish soldier poet has made a new version of "The Wearing of the Green,"
inspired by the guns that wear green jackets of foliage and cover the
advance of the Irish brigade. I heard some of the verses this morning:

  _They love the old division in the land the boys come from,
  And they're proud of what they did at Loos and on the Somme.
  If by chance we all advance to Whitesheet and Messines,
  They'll know the guns that strafe the Huns were wearing of the green._

Wytschaete and Messines are safe in our hands, and our troops are far on
the other side. A party of the enemy is holding out in Battle Wood, but
that will not be for long, and is only a small episode. To-day and
yesterday German troops massed at Warneton, as though for a
counter-attack, but each time were scattered by our guns. From our new
ridge, so long an evil barrier against us, we have observation on them,
and the tables are turned.



III

AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE


JUNE 9

The ground gained by our troops in the great battle of Messines remains
firmly in our hands, and enemy attempts to counter-attack have been
broken by our artillery, in most cases before the German troops have
been able to advance. Last evening shortly before dusk of another day of
brilliant sunshine, almost too hot for our men in shadeless country of
the battlefields, SOS signals all along the line gave warning of German
endeavours to thrust back our new front line far beyond the Messines
Ridge, and away north of St.-Eloi on the old line of the Ypres salient,
now by our victory no longer a salient.

Our gunners got to work again, in spite of a night-and-day strain for
more than a week, and for several hours there was another tremendous
bombardment from all our heavies and field-guns, watched for miles
around by Flemish peasants sitting outside their windmills and outside
cottage doors, looking at this lightning in the sky, which is a
revelation to them of the mighty growth of that British Army since those
early days when a few divisions and a few guns came to these fields of
Flanders and fought to a thin, ragged line round Ypres. In many cases
the rockets which rose from our lines last night calling for the help of
the gunners were hardly needed, for though the enemy was seen to be
assembling, he did not try to break through our barrage. In many places
massed bodies of his men were caught round Warneton by this new storm of
fire which burst upon them, and the night scenes behind the German lines
must have been full of terror and tragedy for those poor wretches urged
forward along the roads ploughed up by our shells. Only at Klein
Zillebeke, on the northern flank of our battle-line, did they gain a
temporary footing, and many of them lie dead there after the fierce
fighting which is still in progress.

It is no wonder that, after such experiences of our gun-fire, the German
prisoners show no regret at being in British hands. I saw new batches of
them to-day, mopped up last night as an aftermath of the battle, young
boys and middle-aged men, all very sturdy and strong, and astonishingly
clean after their escape from the tumult of that frightful ground by
Wytschaete and Messines. They stretched themselves in the sunshine, and
took their ease in green fields, drinking quarts of water provided by
their guards. It is not with resignation but with joy that they find
themselves on our side of the lines, away from all that horror of the
fire zone.

"Now we shall go on leave," they said to one of our officers; "we are
sick of this war." He spoke to two German boys who have been fighting
for a year, and are now only seventeen and look much younger. "You ought
to be spanked and sent home to your mothers," he said. They laughed, and
said: "That is what we should like, sir, if you please."

All the prisoners are extraordinarily ignorant of the feeling of hatred
they have aroused against them in the world, and expect that they should
be admired for the way they have fought. But they want the war to end
quickly, and the rank and file do not seem to mind very much whether it
ends by a German victory or German defeat, so that it ends somehow. One
human being, shattered in nerves, half senseless, was dragged back after
Hill 60 was mined, and he said that he had seen only two men of his
company after the great explosion. All the others had been hurled
sky-high by the flames and gases, or buried in the fall of earth.

The work of this mining under the German lines has been carried on for a
year or more by a number of tunnelling companies from Australia, New
Zealand, and our mining districts. It was hard, dangerous toil, for the
enemy was down counter-mining, and there were frightful moments when the
men who heard the working of picks very close to them had to be rushed
out lest they should be blown into the next world. Their own work was
done quickly lest the enemy should discover the secret of these borings
beneath their lines before the ammonal with which they were packed was
detonated on the morning of the battle. It was in darkness that the
miners relieved each other lest enemy aircraft or eyes that always
stared down from the ridges should see and suspect. Some of our English
troops took Hill 60 after this explosion, which flung some of them to
the ground as they rose at the signal of attack. From the craters they
dragged that dazed and terror-stricken officer, who had lost all his
company after that vibration of an electric wire in contact with hellish
forces.

Just south of these men, astride the Ypres-Comines Canal, a number of
London battalions of the 47th Division were fighting forward to the
ruins of the famous White Château, south of the canal, on the west of
Hollebeke. It is the Château Matthieu, once a noble mansion, with a park
in which a stream flowed from a lake to the canal, and fine stables
south of the lake, surrounded by woods. For more than a year only ruins
of the château stood, and the wood was like all these woods of war,
lopped and torn by shell-fire, with black, dead limbs. Some of the
London men were having a hard fight north of the canal in face of
machine-gun fire sweeping them from two triangular spoil-banks, as they
are called, where earth from the canal sides has been stacked, forming
strong points for the enemy above their tunnelled defences. They took
one of these heaps of earth with eighty prisoners, but fell back from
the other holding the canal bank opposite White Château, where their
comrades, London men all, were fighting heavily. The Germans here did
not yield without a desperate resistance. A company and a half of men
held the ruins of the château, and flung out bombs to keep our
assaulting troops at bay. A gallant platoon crept round the château
walls, and hurled bombs over these bits of brickwork, and after some
time of this fighting the enemy hoisted a white flag of surrender, and
sixty prisoners, survivors of this garrison, were taken. The Londoners
still had a hard way to go across the stream from the lake, twenty feet
broad at points, and past the stables and through the old stumps of the
wood, but they kept to the time-table of the battle and added 450
prisoners to the great captures of the day. It was an historic day in
the record of the London men of the 47th Division, who have fought with
such glorious valour since they first came out to France.

       *       *       *       *       *

JUNE 10

On the right of the London troops were some English county regiments of
the 41st Division--the 60th Rifles (King's Royal Rifles), West Kents,
and others--men who fought a great battle in the Somme fields that day
when a Tank waddled up the high street of Flers with cheering men
behind.

On the night of June 6 they lay by St.-Eloi, in the salient opposite the
Mound, a famous heap of earth taken over by the glorious old 3rd
Division, and lost when the Canadians were violently attacked a year
ago. This mound had been cratered by deep mines in those bad old days of
fighting, but the enemy did not know that new shafts had been tunnelled
under them, and that explosive forces enormously greater than in the
first mines were about to be touched off. When the metal discs were
fired by tunnelling officers the sound of thousands of our men cheering
with the wild madness of enthusiasm could be heard even above the
deafening uproar of the explosions. Then waves of riflemen ran forward,
round the vast craters that had been flung open and across the first
line of German trenches, frightfully upheaved and shattered. There were
not many living Germans here, and they were dazed by the shock and
terror of the mines and made no kind of fight. Beyond them was a strong
place known as the Damstrasse, a street of concrete houses built of
great blocks six feet thick, and so enormously solid that not even heavy
shell-bursts could do much damage to them. This position had given great
anxiety to our officers, who knew its strength, but as it happened, the
violence of our shell-fire was so amazing that many of these blockhouses
were blown in, and the garrison of Damstrasse was utterly cowed, so that
they were captured by hundreds.

The King's Royal Rifles pressed forward into the frightful chaos of
country, with charred tree-trunks, upturned trenches, rubbish-heaps
which had been German strong points, and a litter of machine-guns,
twisted wire, bomb stores, and dead bodies. The first check came outside
the ruin of an estaminet, in which a party of Germans, with machine-guns
and rifles, determined to sell their lives dearly. They poured fire into
our men, who suffered a good many casualties here, but would not be
baulked, whatever the cost. They took what cover they could, and used
their rifles to riddle the place with shot. One by one the Germans fell,
and their fire slackened. Then the Rifles charged the ruins and captured
all those who still remained alive. Fresh waves of men came up and went
forward into Ravine Wood, with its tattered trunks and litter of broken
branches. Here there was another fight, very fierce and bloody, between
some of the West Kents and German soldiers of the 35th Division who
attempted a strong counter-attack. The men of Kent had their bayonets
fixed, and at a word from their officers they made a quick, grim dash at
the Germans, advancing upon them through the dead wood with their
bayonets ready also, so that the morning sun gleamed upon all this
steel. The bayonets crossed. The men of Kent went through the enemy
thrusting and stabbing, but though they saw red in that hour they gave
quarter to men who dropped their rifles and cried "Kamerad!" Twenty-five
prisoners were taken in that encounter, and over 800 prisoners were
taken between the Mound and Ravine Wood before the day was done, with a
great store of booty, including eight trench-mortars and nearly thirty
machine-guns, though many more lie buried in this ground, and two
searchlights and sacks of letters from German soldiers to their homes.
The enemy's losses hereabouts were very heavy. An officer taken
prisoner said his own company had been reduced to thirty men before the
battle began owing to our bombardment. Many of their batteries were
knocked out, and the gunners lie dead before them. Several Tanks came up
to share in the fight, and climbed over all this broken ground, but did
not find much work to do as the strong parts had been knocked out.

The completeness of this victory, the march through of our troops, the
utter despair of the German troops, was due in an overwhelming way to
the guns, and the gunners who served them. It is only right and just
that the highest tribute should be paid to these men, who have worked
day and night for nearly a fortnight, under the intense strain, in an
infernal noise, without sleep enough to relieve the nerve-rack, and
always in danger of death. Gunner officers are hoarse with shouting
under fire. They are hollow-eyed with bodily and mental exhaustion. The
ammunition-carriers worked themselves stiff in order to feed the guns.
They have used up incredible numbers of shells. The gunners of one
division alone fired 180,000 shells with their field-batteries, and over
46,000 with their heavies. On the same scale has been the ammunition
expenditure of all other groups of guns.

An historic scene took place after our troops had gained the high ground
of Wytschaete and Messines. An order passed along to all the batteries.
Gun horses were standing by. They were harnessed to the guns. The
limbers of the field-batteries lined up. Then half-way through the
battle the old gun positions were abandoned, after two and a half years
of stationary warfare in the salient, searched every day of that time by
German shells fired by direct observation from that ground just taken.
The drivers urged on their horses. They drove at a gallop past old
screens, and out of camouflaged places where men had walked stealthily,
and dashed up the slopes. The infantry stood by to let them pass, and
from thousands of men, these dusty, hot, parched soldiers of ours, who
were waiting to go forward in support of the first waves of assaulting
troops, there rose a great following cheer, which swept along the track
of the gunners, and went with them up the ridge, where they unlimbered
and got into action again for the second phase of the fighting down the
farther slopes.

As scouts of the gunners, as their watchers and signallers, were the
boys of the Royal Flying Corps. I said yesterday that they were uplifted
with a kind of intoxication of enthusiasm. A youthful madness took
possession of them. Those squadrons which I saw flying overhead while it
was still dark on Thursday morning did daredevil, reckless, almost
incredible things. They flew as men inspired by passion and a fierce joy
of battle. They were hunters seeking their prey. They were Berserkers of
the air, determined to kill though they should be killed, to scatter
death among the enemy, to destroy him in the air and on the earth, to
smite him in his body and in his works and in his soul by a terror of
him. This may seem language of exaggeration, the silly fantasy of a
writing-man careless of the exact truth. It is less than the truth, and
the sober facts are wild things. Early on June 7 they were up and away,
as I described them, passing overhead on that fateful morning before the
crimson feather clouds appeared over the battlefield. They flew above
German railway stations far behind the lines, and dropped tons of
explosives, blowing up rolling stock, smashing rails and bridges. They
attacked German aerodromes, flying low to the level of the sheds and
spattering them with machine-gun bullets so that no German airmen came
out of them that day. One man's flight, told in his own dry words, is
like the wild nightmare of an airman's dream. He flew to a German
aerodrome and circled round. A German machine-gun spat out bullets at
him. The airman saw it, swooped over it, and fired at the gunner. He saw
his bullets hit the gun. The man ceased fire, screamed, and ran for
cover. Then our airman flew off, chased trains and fired into their
windows. He flew over small bodies of troops on the march, swooped,
fired, and scattered them. Afterwards he met a convoy going to Comines,
and he circled over their heads, hardly higher than their heads, and
fired into them. Near Warneton he came upon troops massing for a
counter-attack, and made a new attack, inflicting casualties and making
them run in all directions.

One of our flying men attacked and silenced four machine-gun teams in a
strong emplacement. Others cleared trenches of German soldiers, who
scuttled like rabbits into their dug-outs. They fired everything they
carried at anything which would kill the enemy or destroy his material.
Having used up all his Lewis-gun ammunition upon marching troops, one
lad fired his Very-lights, his signal-rockets, at the next group of men
he saw. They flew at field-gunners and put them to flight, at heavy guns
crawling along the roads on caterpillar wheels, at transport wagons,
motor-lorries, and one motor-car, whose passengers, if they live, will
never forget that sudden rush of wings four feet overhead, with a spasm
of bullets about them. The aeroplane was so low that the pilot thought
he would crash into the motor-car, but he just planed clear of it as the
driver steered it sharply into a ditch, where it overturned with its
five occupants. The airman went on his journey, scattered 500 infantry
and returned home after a long flight never higher than 500 feet above
the ground.

Meanwhile during the progress of the battle our air squadrons appointed
for artillery observation work were all over the enemy's batteries,
signalling to our gunners and sending back "O.K." flashes when our
counter-battery work was effective. There were an amazing number of
"O.K.'s." One air squadron alone helped a group of heavies to silence
seventy-two batteries. Everywhere over the battle-ground our air scouts
were out and about, watching the progress of infantry, speaking to them
by signals, picking up their answers, flying back to headquarters with
certain information; so that the direction of the battle was helped
enormously by this quick intelligence. It was a day of triumph for the
Royal Flying Corps, and for all those boys with wings on their breasts,
who, after their day's flight, come down to the French estaminets to
rattle ragtime on untuned pianos, and give glad eyes to any pretty girl
about, and fling themselves into the joy of life which they risk so
lightly.

In this battle of Messines there was not any body of our men who did not
spend all their strength and take all risks with a kind of passionate
exultation of spirit. The Manchester men dug a six-foot deep trench-line
to our new front on the ridge, beating all records. Flinging off tunics
and shirts so that they were naked to the waist, New-Zealanders who took
Messines dug as inspired diggers, fast and furiously, and before next
day had dawned had two long, deep trenches as secure defences against
German counter-attacks.

The stretcher-bearers, the water-carriers, the transport men with their
pack-mules went up through shell-fire as I saw them yesterday, and never
tired. The stretcher-bearers were heroic fellows, as in every battle
from which I have seen them coming back with their burdens across the
cratered ground of dreadful fields such as that of Wytschaete and
Messines, still shelled heavily by the enemy, whose fury at losing that
long-held ground is proved by his bombardment of their ruins--the red
brick-heap of Wytschaete Château, the black tree-stumps which is all
that is left of Messines.

Our casualties remain light, as figures of losses go in this war and in
proportion to the greatness of this battle. My own estimates, based upon
what I can hear of the losses of different bodies of troops engaged,
work out at something like 10,000 for the day of battle. It is less than
a fifth of what I should have reckoned to be the cost of this capture of
Messines Ridge, and gives the lie to German claims. It is one of the
greatest and cheapest achievements of British arms throughout this war,
though the loss of so many gallant men is sad enough, God knows, and for
the enemy it is as hard a blow as our taking of the Vimy Ridge two
months ago, when he was staggered by his loss.



IV

THE EFFECT OF THE BLOW


JUNE 11

The effect of our capture of Messines and Wytschaete has been such a
stunning blow on the enemy that he has not as yet made any attempt at
counter-attacking on a big scale. The rapid advance of our men below the
farther slopes of the ridge and the rush forward of our guns made it
impossible for him to rally his supporting troops quickly, and as the
hours pass it becomes more impossible for him to storm his way back. His
early attempts to assemble troops in the Warneton neighbourhood were
annihilated instantly by enormous shell-fire directed by the new
observation we had gained at Messines, and during the past twenty-four
hours, up to the time I write, he shows no further sign of asking for
trouble, but is obviously engaged in reorganizing his forces,
demoralized by defeat, and getting his guns into safer positions. Many
of his guns lie battered and buried about the battlefield, and some of
his batteries, put out of action by our bombardment, remain between our
new lines and his, but so covered by our fire that he has a poor chance
of getting them away. His losses in guns, trench-mortars and
machine-guns must be alarming to him, for I have no doubt at all, after
seeing the frightful effect of our bombardment, that these were
destroyed on a great scale, so that the number of our trophies will not
at all represent his actual loss in weapons and material of war.

That is the human mechanical side of things. More horrible to the
unfortunate soldiers of the German army is the devilish punishment
inflicted upon them during the past ten days, culminating on that day of
battle when every weapon for the slaughter of men, from the heaviest of
high explosives to boiling oil and gas-shells, was let loose upon them
in one wild tempest of destruction, which blew them out of the earth and
off the earth, and frizzled them and blinded them, and choked them and
mutilated them, and made them mad.

One German boy, who looked not more than fifteen years of age--a
child--was found yesterday lying in a shell-hole by the side of a dead
man who had been shot through the temple, and he was a gibbering idiot
through fear. Not the only one. German officers say that many of their
men went raving mad under the strain of our bombardment, and tried to
kill their comrades or themselves, or fell into an ague of terror,
clawing their mouths, with all the symptoms of the worst shell-shock.

Many of our prisoners believe they were betrayed, and were sacrificed
coldly and deliberately by their higher command. Before the battle an
order of the day was issued to them, telling them to hold out if
surrounded and fight their way back with the bayonet, because behind
them would be fresh divisions ready to support immediate
counter-attacks. Those fresh divisions never appeared. We know that they
had no chance of getting near our lines because of our far-reaching
fire, and the work of our aircraft--and the men of Messines and
Wytschaete and all the ground south of St.-Eloi were cut off and
captured, if they did not die. After our first assaults, the enemy,
panic-stricken, were more concerned in getting away their guns than in
protecting their troops, and they were left to our mercy.

Walking about those monstrous mine-craters which we tore out of the
earth at dawn on June 7, and across the old German lines beyond St.-Eloi
on the left of our attack, southwards by Wytschaete and the lower slopes
of Messines, to-day, as after the morning of battle, I pitied any human
souls who had to suffer what these German soldiers must have suffered in
the agony of fear before death came to many of them. All this wide area
of country is blasted and harrowed and holed with monstrous pits. There
was at least one great shell to every nine yards, and at 200 yards its
flying steel has a killing power. No idea of it all can be conveyed by
many words describing this upheaval of sand-bags and barricades and
trenches and redoubts, and this sieve of earth, pitted by countless
shell-craters. All the woods where the Germans lived--Oaten Wood and
Damstrasse Wood and Ravine Wood, down to Wytschaete Wood and Hell
Wood--are but gaunt stumps sticking out of ash-grey heaps of earth.
German dead lie here and there in batches or in rows as they were shot
down by enfilade fire, but I have seen very few bodies, for the most of
them were buried in the upheaved earth, as one can tell by the foul
vapours which creep out from the smashed trenches, where the deep
dug-outs have collapsed and tunnels have fallen in, so that all this
battle-ground is a graveyard of men, buried as they died or before they
died.

Three men escaped by some wild freak of chance from a mine-crater under
the Mound by St.-Eloi. I stood on the lip of it to-day, high above its
shelving sides, and find it hard to believe that any living thing could
have escaped from its upheaval. But the Germans had many dug-outs in the
old craters which existed here before this last one was blown, and after
that ferocious fighting a year ago, when we lost this ground. One of
those dug-outs remained firm when our mine was touched off four days
ago, and out of its mouth crept, two days later, three haggard men,
still shaking and dazed, who had been deep in the ground when all about
them was hurled sky-high, with a rush of gas and flame and a monstrous
uproar. They were unscathed, except in their souls, where terror lived.

By my side to-day, as I looked down into this pit of hell, stood a man
who had worked for a year in the making of it--an Australian officer of
engineers. He stood smoking his pipe on the edge of the shell-crater,
and said in a cheerful way, "It is good to be in the fresh air again."
The fresh air did not seem to me very good there this morning. It was
filled with abominable noise, which is a menace of death--the savage
whine of German shrapnel flung about between the Bluff and St.-Eloi in a
haphazard way, and heavy crumps searching for our batteries in their new
positions, and our shells whistling over in long flights. Hideous sounds
in a ghastly scene which filled me with nausea, so that I wanted not to
linger there.

But I understood this Australian's craving for open-air life, even such
open air as this, when he told me that he had been working underground
for nearly two years in the dark saps pierced under the German lines,
and running very close to German saps nosing their way, and sometimes
breaking through, to ours, so that the men clawed at each other's
throats in these tunnels and beat each other to death with picks and
shovels, or were blown to bits by mine explosions. It was always a race
for time to blow up the charges, and sometimes the enemy was first, and
sometimes we were, and once the enemy in a great attack against the
Canadians got in and blew up our shafts and sapheads and cut off our
tunnellers. That Australian officer was one of those. For forty-eight
hours he was buried alive, and had to dig his way out. So now after his
job was done he likes the open-air life.

"No more underground work for me after this war," he said. "I've had
enough of it."

The German ground hereabouts was taken by those troops of ours whose
fighting across the Damstrasse and in Ravine Wood I described yesterday.
Through them went another body of troops--the troops of the 24th
Division--whose fortunes I have described in other battles, including
some Leinster lads who have a padre for their hero, and English county
troops who knew the look of Vimy Ridge before the Canadians reached the
crest of it. They had to make the final assault to the farthest line of
attack, passing through masses of men who had taken the first lines. All
this was rehearsed in fields behind the battle-ground so thoroughly that
the men could have gone forward blindfold. It all went like clockwork,
and though the enemy fought hard on that last line beyond the Damstrasse
by Rose Wood and Bug Wood, one post holding out with machine-guns, our
men captured it with few casualties. They took 300 prisoners that day,
with six field-guns, and their spirit is high after victory. Next
morning the Irish padre was seen sitting outside a shell-hole with a
clean white collar and white socks with his boots off. "Well done,
boys!" he said, and they were glad to see him there.

All our men were wonderfully inspired by a belief in the guns, so that
they walked close behind a frightful barrage. Each body of troops vied
with other regiments in a friendly rivalry. There was a race between the
South and North Irish as to whether a green flag or an orange should be
planted first above the ruins of Wytschaete. I don't know which won, but
both flags flew there when the crest had been gained.



V

LOOKING BACKWARD


JUNE 12

"The enemy must not get the Messines Ridge at any price."

This sentence stands out as an absolute command in the German order
issued to their troops before the battle which they knew was coming. The
words are peremptory, among promises of artillery support and immediate
counter-attacks from divisions behind the first-line troops, which would
be read now as a hollow mockery by those men who are our prisoners,
captured in crowds from their welter of mined and cratered earth. While
half-way through the battle their artillery tried to drag their
field-guns back to something like safety in the wake of heavy guns,
which even before the battle had been withdrawn to the farthest possible
range of action, though forward observing officers tried to conceal this
from the infantry by coming to their usual posts. The battle is over.
Messines Ridge, which was not to be ours at any price, is ours at a
price which our Army thinks very cheap--though many brave men paid for
it with their lives--and our outposts are pushing forward towards
Warneton, far beyond the farther slopes, after an enemy retiring upon
that place. Only our men who have fought in the Ypres salient know the
full meaning of that order. "The enemy must not get the Messines Ridge
at any price."

The Messines Ridge was our curse, and the loss of it to the enemy means
a great relief to that curse by straightening out the salient south of
Hooge, and robbing the enemy of direct observation over our ground and
forcing his guns farther back.

From Messines and Wytschaete he had absolute observation of a wide tract
of country in which our men lived and died--how complete an observation
I did not realize until after this battle, when standing in Wytschaete
Wood and on the Mound by St.-Eloi, and on the ground rising up to
Messines, I looked back, and saw every detail of our old territory laid
out like a relief map brightly coloured. "My God," said an officer by my
side, "it's a wonder they allowed us to live at all." He had fought in
the old days in the salient, had lived like a hunted animal there,
hiding in holes from the monstrous birds of prey screeching and roaring
overhead in search of human flesh. Before us now, looking as the Germans
used to look, we saw all this countryside, which is a field of honour,
where our youth has fallen in great numbers, a great graveyard of
gallant boyhood. The enemy could see every movement of our men, unless
they moved underground, or under the cover of foliage on Kemmel Hill and
its leafy lanes, or behind the camouflage screens which run along the
roadways, or between the gaps in the ruined villages. Startlingly clear
were the red roofs of Dickebusch and the gaunt ribs of its broken
houses, into which for two years and a half the enemy has flung big
shells, and the church tower of Kemmel, where the graves are opened by
shell-fire and old bones laid bare. The roads to Voormezeele and
Vierstraat, through which I went yesterday, are still under the old
spell of horror, and all those obscene ruins of decent Flemish hamlets.
Southward one saw Neuve-Eglise, with its rag of a tower, and Plug Street
Wood, where bullets snapped between the branches about Piccadilly Circus
and down the Strand and across to Somerset House, and where at Hyde Park
Corner I first heard the voice of "Percy," a high-velocity fellow, who
kills you with a quick pounce. German eyes staring from Wytschaete and
Messines, making little marks on big maps, talking to their gunners over
telephone wires, and registering roads and cross-roads, field-tracks,
camps, billets, farmhouses tucked into little groups of trees through
which their red roofs gleamed, watching through telescopes for small
parties of British soldiers or single figures in a flowered tapestry of
fields between the winding hummocks of sand-bag parapets, had all this
ground of ours at the mercy of their guns, and that was not merciful.

Day by day two years ago I used to see Dickebusch in clouds of smoke,
and hated to go through the place. They shelled separate farmhouses and
isolated barns until they became bits of oddly standing brick about
great holes. They shelled the roads down which our transports came at
night, and communication-trenches up which our men moved to the front
lines, and gun-positions revealed by every flash, and dug-outs foolishly
frail against their frightful 5·9's, which in early days we could only
answer with a few pip-squeaks. Yet by some extraordinary freak, not
certainly by any kind of charity, for that does not belong to war, there
were places they failed to shell, though they were clearly
visible--little groups of Flemish cottages with flaming red tiles, a big
old house here or there with pointed roofs rising above a screen of
poplar-trees, fields still cultivated, as I saw them yesterday, by old
Flemish women who bent over the beetroots and hung out washing under
German eyes and German guns, and went up and down with plough-horses
close to our gun-positions, and sold bad beer to English soldiers glad
of any kind of beer in places where death was imminent and where, as
they drank, the glass might be smashed out of their hand by a flying
scythe or a yard of wall.

"Why do you stay here?" I asked an old woman in Plug Street village a
year and a half ago. Four children played about her, though at the time
shells were whining overhead and crashing but half a field away. "It is
my home," she said, and thought that a good enough answer.

"How about the children?" I asked, and she said, "It's their home, and
we earn a little money."

Even when this last battle began those peasants still remained encircled
by our batteries and with German crumps falling about their fields;
blear-eyed old men gazed up to the sky, watched the flame-bursts of the
mines, then turned to their earth again; and the battle itself was
heralded at dawn by the crowing of cocks in little farmsteads somewhere
down by Kemmel. Chanticleer sounded the battle-charge with his clarion
note, as in old dawns when English and French knights were drawn in line
of battle.

An officer who was with me in Wytschaete Wood, looked down at these old
places where he had lived in the menace of death, and remembered his
escapes; that time when the back of his dug-out was hit by a huge shell
as he sat in his pyjamas, smoking a cigarette; and that other time when
his servant was buried alive quite close to him, and the nights and days
under constant shell-fire. But these little homesteads in or about the
salient are few in their strange escape, and elsewhere there is not a
building which stands unpierced or in more than a fragment of ruin.
Young officers of ours lived within these ruins wondering whether it
would be this day or next, now, as they spoke, or in the silence that
followed, that some beastly shell would burst through and tear down the
Kirchner prints which they had pinned to broken timbers, and smash the
bits of mirror they used for shaving-glasses and lay them out in the
wreckage. When he goes home on leave and sits at his own hearthside
these dream-pictures come back to him with their old horror, as to
thousands of men who have fought in the salient, like those London boys
I met one night in Ypres cooking cocoa under shell-fire, like those
King's Royal Riflemen I saw going up to a counter-attack after the first
attack by "flammenwerfer," and the padre who went up to the canal bank
at night and found five dead men in a Red Cross hut and not a soul alive
about him, and the Canadians who fought through a storm of shells in
Maple Copse.

The horror of that salient in its old evil days lives in its sinister
place-names: Dead Horse Corner and Dead Cow Farm, and the farm beyond
Plug Street, Dead Dog Farm, and the Moated Grange on the way to
St.-Eloi, Stinking Farm, and Suicide Corner, and Shell-Trap Barn. I
passed by some of these places and felt cold in remembrance of all the
evil of them. Boys of ours have been smashed in all these ill-famed
spots. Every bit of ruin here is the scene of foul tragedy to young
life. To these places women will come to weep when the war is done, and
the stones will be memorials of brave hearts who came here in the
darkness with just a glance at the lights in the sky and a word of
"Carry on, men," before they fell.



VI

THE AUSTRALIANS AT MESSINES


JUNE 17

The sun is fierce and hot over Flanders, giving great splendour to this
June of war, but baking our troops brown and dry. Up in the battle-line
thirst is a cruel demon in that shadowless land of craters, where the
earth itself is parched and cracked, and where there is a white,
blinding glare.

On the day of the Messines battle water went up quickly, with two lemons
for each man, "to help them through the barrage," according to a young
staff officer with a bright sense of humour at the mess-table. But there
was never too much, and in some places not enough for the wounded men,
whose thirst was like a fire, and yet not greedy, poor chaps, if there
was only a little to go round.

"Can you spare a drop," said a group of them--all Australian lads--to a
friend of mine who was going up one day with a kerosene-tin full of
water to the front line. "The fellows up in front want it badly," said
my friend, "and I promised to get it there, but if you'll just take a
sip----"

Those Australians were all in a muck of wounds and sweat. But they just
moistened their lips and passed the water on. One man shook his head and
said, "Take it to the fellows in front." It was the old Philip Sidney
touch by way of Australia, and it is not rare among all our fighting
men--lawless chaps when they are on a loose end, but great-hearted
children at times like this.

All this pageant of war in France and Flanders is on fire with sun, and
it is wonderful to pass through the panorama of the war zone, as I do
most days, and get a picture of it into one's eyes and soul--columns of
men marching with wet, bronzed faces through clouds of white dust, or
through fields where there is a patchwork tapestry of colour woven of
great stretches of clover drenching the air with its scent, and of
poppies which spill a scarlet flood down the slopes, and of green wheat
and gold-brown earth. Gunners ride in their shirts with sleeves rolled
up. About old barns men work in their billets stripped to the belt. Up
in the "strafed" country of the old salient men sit about ruins between
spells of work on roads and rails on the shady side of shell-broken
walls, dreaming of bottled beer and rivers of cider, and the
New-Zealanders are as brown as gipsies under their high felt hats.

Talk to any group of men, or go into any officers' mess, and one hears
about new aspects and angles of the recent fighting by our Second Army;
episodes which throw new light on the enemy's losses and our men's
valour, and sufferings--because it wasn't a "walk-over" all the way
round--and incidents, which ought to be historic, but just come out in a
casual way of gossip by men who happened to be there.

I only heard yesterday about twenty German officers who were dragged out
of one dug-out near Wytschaete. They were all huddled down there in a
black despair, knowing their game was up as far as the Messines Ridge
was concerned. Their men had all gone to the devil, according to their
view of the situation, abandoned by the guns, which might have protected
them. The Second Division of East Prussians had been wiped out. Of a
strength of 3600 we captured over 2000, whilst most of the remainder
must be killed or wounded. In the counter-attack the Germans brought up
a new division and flung them in, and the queer thing is that our men
were not aware of this, but just marched through them to their final
goal, believing they belonged to the original crowd on Messines Ridge,
and not the counter-attacking troops who had just arrived.

The Australians had some great adventures in this battle, and not enough
has been told about them, because they took a good share of the
fighting, especially in the last phase of it, when they passed through
some of our first-wave troops and held a broad stretch of new front
under violent fire and against the enemy's endeavours to retake the
ground. On the extreme right of our line, forming the pivot of the
attack, was a body of Australian troops who had to get through the
German barrage and fling duck-board bridges over the little Douve river,
and cross to the German support line under machine-gun fire from a
beastly little ruin called Grey Farm. The enemy was sniping from
shell-holes, and bullets were flying about rather badly. A young
Australian officer dealt with Grey Farm, crawling through a hedge with a
small party of men, and setting fire to the ruin, so that it should give
no more cover. Meanwhile, farther to the north, the Germans were still
about in gaps not yet linked up, and in strong points not yet cleared. A
body of them gave trouble in Huns' Walk on the Messines road, where
there was a belt of uncut wire when the Australians arrived. "Hell!"
said the Australians. "What are we going to do about that?" There was
heavy shell-fire and machine-gun fire, and the sight of that wire was
disgusting.

"Leave it to me," said a young Tank officer. "I guess old Rattle-belly
can roll that down." He and other Tank officers were keen, even at the
most deadly risks, to do good work with their queer beasts alongside the
Australians for reasons that belong to another story.

They did good work, and this Tank at Huns' Walk crawled along the hedge
of wire and laid it flat, as its tracks there still show. Another Tank
was slouching about under heavy shelling in search of strong posts, with
the Australian boys close up to its flanks with their bayonets fixed.
Suddenly, a burst of flame came from it, and it seemed a doomed thing.
But out of the body of the beast came a very cool young man, who mounted
high with bits of shell whistling by his head. He stamped out the fire,
and did not hear the comments of the Australian lads, who said, "Gosh,
that fellow is pretty game. He's all right."

Much farther north another Tank came into action, with the Australians
near. A few old remnants of charred wall and timber, where there was a
strong post of Germans in concrete chambers, were causing our troops
loss and worry. "Anything I can do to help you?" asked a Tank officer
very politely through the steel trap-door. "Your machine-guns would be
jolly useful in our trench," said an Australian officer. "We are a bit
under strength here."

The Tank officer was a friend in distress. He dismantled his
machine-guns, took them into the trench and fought alongside the
Australians until they were relieved.

Just west of Van Hove Farm, in a gap between the Australians and the
English, the Germans got into a place called Polka Estaminet--don't
imagine it as a neat little inn with a penny-in-the-slot piano in the
front parlour--and they had to be driven out by sharp rifle-fire. Next
morning one of our men walked into a pocket of a hundred Germans, and a
young Australian officer was told off with twenty men to bomb them out.
There was a battle of bombs, which was very hot while it lasted, and
then the Germans bolted off under machine-gun and rifle fire. Australian
patrols went out and brought in forty wounded Germans and counted sixty
to eighty dead.



VII

A BATTLE IN A THUNDER-STORM


JUNE 29

In a violent thunder-storm whose noise and lightning mingled in an
awesome way with the tumult and flame of the great artillery a minor
battle broke out last evening round Lens and southwards beyond Oppy. The
Canadians fought their way into Avion, a southern suburb of Lens, to a
line giving them the larger half of the village, and driving the enemy
back across the swamps to the outer defences of Lens city. Outside Oppy
and south of it troops of old English county regiments seized the
front-line system of German trenches and captured about 200 prisoners
and several guns. West of Lens some Midland troops stormed and gained a
line of trenches which belong to the main defences of the city, and
north of it there was a big raid which caused great loss of life to the
enemy. It was a heavy series of blows falling suddenly upon him, and
giving him no time for a leisurely retirement to his inner line of
defence in Lens.

I saw the beginning of the battle, and watched the frightful gun-fire
until darkness and dense banks of smoke blotted out this vision of the
mining cities in which men were fighting through bursting shells. That
beginning was a terrifying sight, and a sense of the enormous tragedy of
the world in conflict overwhelmed one's soul, because of the strange
atmospheric effects, and that most weird mingling of storm and
artillery, as though the gods were angry and stirred to reveal the
eternal forces of their own thunderbolts above this human strife. Just
in front of where I crouched in a shell-crater was Swallows' Wood, or
the Bois d'Hirondelle, and beyond that La Coulotte, which the Canadians
had just taken, and a little way farther the long straggle of streets
which is Avion, leading up to Lens, with its square-towered church and
high water-towers and factory chimneys. Straight and long, bordered by
broken trees, went the Arras-Lens road, on which any man may walk to a
certain rendezvous with death if he goes far enough, and I saw how it
crossed the Souchez river by the broken bridge of Leauvette, from which
the Canadians were going to make their new attack. A gleam of sunlight
rested there for a while, and the little river was a blue streak this
side of Avion. But the sky began to darken strangely. The air was still
and hushed. A blue dusk crept across the landscape. The trees of
Hirondelle Wood and the towers of Lens blackened. Far behind Vimy, old
ruins--of Souchez and Ablain-St.-Nazaire--were white and ghostly.

One of my companions in a shell-hole looked up and said: "Is the 'good
old German God' at work again?" Other powers were at work. Huge shells
from our heavy howitzers, now away behind us, passed overhead with a
noise such as long-tailed comets must have. I watched them burst,
raising volumes of ruddy smoke in Avion and Lens. To the right of Lens
by Sallaumines there was some other kind of explosion, rolling up and up
in big, curly clouds. In the still air there was the drone of many
engines. The darkening sky was full of black specks, which were British
aeroplanes flying out on reconnaissance over Lens and Avion. "O brave
birds!" said a friend by my side, waving up to them. German shrapnel
puffed about their wings, bursting with little glints of flames, but
they flew on.

It was then just seven o'clock. Our guns had almost ceased fire. There
were strange sinister silences over all the battlefield, broken only by
single gun-shots or the high snarl of German shrapnel or the single thud
of a German crump. It was almost dark. The blue went out of the little
Souchez river. Lens and Avion were in gulfs of blackness. A long rolling
thunderclap shook all the sky, and flashes of lightning zigzagged over
the Vimy Ridge, whitening the edges of its upheaved earth. The sky
opened, and a storm of rain swept down fiercely.

"Yes, the 'good old German God' is busy again," said my fellow-tenant of
the shell-crater and of the pond that welled up in it. "Just our beastly
luck!" It was ten minutes past seven, and we had heard that the battle
was to begin at seven. Perhaps it had been postponed.

As the thought was uttered the battle began. It began with one great
roar of guns. Not only behind us but far to our right and left. Flights
of shells passed over our heads as though long-tailed comets of the
spheres had broken loose from the divine order of things. In a wide
sweep round Lens they burst with sharp flashes and lighted fires there.
Outside the Cité du Moulin, at the western edge of Lens, a long chain of
golden fountains rose as though little mines had been blown, and they
were followed by a high bank of white impenetrable smoke. On the right
of Avion another smoke-barrage was discharged, and above it there rose
one of the strangest things I have seen in war. It was the figure of a
woman, colossal, so that her head seemed to reach the heavens. It was
not a fanciful idea, as when men watch the shapes of clouds and say,
"How like Gladstone!" or "There is a camel!" or "A ship!" This woman
figure of white solid smoke was as though carved out of rock, and she
seemed to stare across the battlefield, and stayed there unchanged for
several minutes. The guns continued their fury. Rockets went up out of
Avion, and the German guns answered these signals. There was one wild
tumult of artillery beating down the lines southward to Oppy, and beyond
and above and through and into all this violence of sound there was the
roll and rattle of thunder--heavy claps--and the rattle of the
storm-drums. Lightning flashed above the flashes of our batteries, gave
a livid outline to black trees and chimneys, and pierced the heart of
all this darkness with long light swords. It was bad luck for our men,
as I have heard since from messages which came back out of those
smoke-banks through which no mortal eye could see. The men were drenched
to the skin as soon as they started to attack. The rain beat into their
faces and upon their steel hats. In a few minutes all the shelled ground
across which they had to fight became as slippery as ice, so that many
of them stumbled and fell. In Avion the enemy had already let loose
floods to stop the way to Lens, and by the rain-storm they spread into
big swamps. But the Canadians went ahead straight into the streets of
Avion, leaving little searching-parties on their trail to make sure of
the ruined houses, where machine-guns might be hidden.

This street fighting is always a nasty business, but in the south and
western streets there was not much trouble from German infantry. Round
Leauvette many of them lay dead. The living rear-guards surrendered in
small parties from cellars and tunnels. The chief trouble of the
Canadians was on the right, by Fosse 4 and a huddle of pit-heads where
the enemy was in strength with many machine-guns, where he fired with a
steady sweep of bullets, which I heard last night above all the other
noise. The Canadians swing to the left a little to avoid that
stronghold, and established themselves on a diagonal line, striking
north-west and south-east through the slums, where they took what cover
they could from the German shell-fire. To the left of Lens our Midland
troops had some hard fighting in front of the Cité du Moulin, and gave a
terrible handling to the Eleventh Reserve Division, who have previously
suffered on the Canadian front, so that they were disgusted to find
themselves near their old enemies again. They relieved the Fifty-sixth
Division, which is down to one-seventh of its strength since fighting
against the Leinsters in the Bois-en-Hache, near Vimy. The raid farther
north inflicted frightful losses on the enemy in his dug-outs. In one
big tunnelled dug-out not a man escaped.

The attack at Oppy, in the south, was a successful advance by
Warwickshire lads and other English troops, who followed a great barrage
into the enemy's front-trench system and captured all those of the
garrison who were not quick enough to escape. They were men of the Fifth
Bavarian Division, which is one of the best in the German army, and made
up of very tough fellows.

So the evening ended in our favour, and our losses were not heavy, I am
told. Not heavy, though always the price of victory has to be paid by
that harvest of wounded who came back under the Red Cross down the
country lanes of France.



VIII

THE TRAGEDY AT LOMBARTZYDE


JULY 13

The Germans have claimed a victory near Lombartzyde, and it is true that
by heavy gun-fire they have driven us from our defences in a
wedge-shaped tract of sand-dunes between the sea and the Yser Canal.
This reverse of ours is not a great defeat. It is only a tragic episode
of human suffering such as one must expect in war. But what is
great--great in spiritual value and heroic memory--is the way in which
our men fought against overwhelming odds and under annihilating fire,
and did not try to escape nor talk of surrender, but held this ground
until there was no ground but only a zone of bloody wreckage, and still
fought until most of them were dead or disabled.

The men who did that were the King's Royal Rifles and Northamptons of
the 1st Division, and this last stand of theirs beyond the Yser Canal
will not be forgotten as long as human valour is remembered by us. It is
wonderful to think that after three years of war the spirit of our men
should still be so high and proud that they will stand to certain death
like this. Those men who came back from the other side of the canal came
back wounded, and had to swim back. They were a remnant of those who
have stayed, lying out there now in the churned-up sand, or have been
carried back to German hospitals. They were soldiers of the Northamptons
and the Sixtieth. Among the King's Royal Rifles there were many London
lads, from the old city which we used to think overcivilized and soft.
Well, it was men like that who have shed their blood upon the
sand-dunes, so that this tract by the sea is consecrated by one of the
most tragic episodes in the history of this war.

It was on the seashore, when a high wind ruffled the waters on the
morning of July 10, that the enemy began his attack with a deadly fire.
His position was in a network of trenches, tunnels, concrete
emplacements, and breastworks of thick sand-bag walls built down from
the coast to the south of Lombartzyde. Facing him were other trenches
and breastworks which we had recently taken over from the French. Behind
our men was the Yser Canal, with pontoon bridges crossing to Nieuport
and Nieuport-les-Bains. Without these bridges there was no way back or
round for the men holding the lines in the dunes. The enemy began early
in the morning by putting a barrage down on our front-line system of
defences from a large number of batteries of heavy howitzers. Most of
his shells were at least as large as 5·9's, and for one long hour they
swept up and down our front, smashing breastworks and emplacements and
flinging up storms of sand. After that hour the enemy altered his line
of fire. There was a five minutes' pause, five minutes of
breathing-space for men still left alive among many dead, and then the
wall of shells crossed the canal and stayed there for another hour,
churning up the sand with a tornado of steel. The guns then lifted to
the front line again, and for another hour continued their work of
destruction, pausing for one of those short silences which gave men hope
that the bombardment had ceased. It had not ceased. It travelled again
to the support line and stayed smashing there for sixty minutes--then
across the canal again, then back all over again.

There was one interval of a whole quarter of an hour, and the officers
had time to tell their men that it must be a fight to the death, because
the position must be held until that death. There must have been few of
them who did not know that after that bombardment they would meet the
enemy face to face if they still remained alive.

The commanding officer of the Sixtieth became convinced by three o'clock
in the afternoon that all this destructive fire was preparatory to a big
attack. He saw that his bridges had gone behind him, so that there was
no way of escape, and he saw that the enemy was trying to cut off all
means of relief and communication. He tried to get messages through, but
without success. Two shells came into his battalion headquarters,
killing and wounding some of the officers and men crowded in this
sand-bag shelter and dug-out in the dune. He took the survivors into a
tunnel bored by the miners along the seashore, and here for a time they
were able to carry on. But it was almost impossible to get out to
reconnoitre the situation, or to give some word of comfort or courage to
men standing to arms amongst the wreckage. Flights of hostile aeroplanes
were overhead, and they flew low and poured machine-gun fire at any
living man who showed. Away behind they were searching for our
batteries.

At 6.15 all the German batteries broke into drum-fire and flung shells
over the whole of our position for three-quarters of an hour without a
second's pause. After all these previous barrages it reached the utmost
heights of hellishness, destroying what had already been destroyed,
sweeping all this wide tract of sand-dunes right away from the coast to
the south of Lombartzyde with flame and smoke and steel, and reaping
another harvest of death.

There are many details of this action which may never be known. No man
saw it from other ground, and those who were across that bank of the
Yser could see very little beyond their own neighbourhood of bursting
shells. But a sergeant of the Northamptons, who had an astounding
escape, saw the first three waves of German marines advance with bombing
parties. That was shortly after seven o'clock in the evening. They were
in heavy numbers against a few scattered groups of English soldiers
still left alive after a day of agony and blood. They came forward
bombing in a crescent formation, one horn of the crescent trying to work
round behind the flank of the Rifles on the seashore as the other tried
to outflank the Northamptons on the right.

A party of German machine-gunners crept along the edge of the sands,
taking advantage of the low tide, and enfiladed the support line, now a
mere mash of sand, in which some wounded and unwounded men held out, and
swept them with bullets. Another party of the marines made straight for
the tunnel, which was now the battalion headquarters of the Sixtieth,
and poured liquid fire down it. Then they passed on, but as if uncertain
of having completed their work, came back after a time and bombed it.
Even then there was at least one man not killed in that tunnel. He
stayed there among the dead till night and then crept out and swam
across the canal. Two platoons of Riflemen fought to the last man,
refusing to surrender. One little group of five lay behind a bank of
sand, and fired with rifles and bombs until they were destroyed.

Meanwhile the Northamptons, on the right, were fighting desperately.
Seeing that the German marines were trying to get behind them on the
right flank and that they had not the strength to resist this, they got
a message through to some troops farther down in front of Lombartzyde to
form a barrier so that the enemy could not come through, and these
fought their way grimly up, thrusting back the enemy's storm troops, and
then made a defensive block through which the marines could not force
their way.

The Northamptons fought without any chance of escape, without any hope
except that of a quick finish. The German marines brought up a
machine-gun and fixed it behind the place where the Northampton officers
had established their headquarters, and fired up it. Our machine-guns
were out of action, filled with sand or buried in sand. One gunner
managed to get his weapon into position, but it jammed at once, and with
a curse on it, he flung it into the water of the Yser, and then jumped
in and swam back. Another gunner lay by the side of his machine-gun,
hit twice by shells, so that he could not work it. One of his comrades
wanted to drag him off to the canal bank, in the hope of swimming back
with him. To linger there a minute meant certain death. "Don't mind
about me," said the machine-gunner of the Northamptons. "Smash my gun
and get back." There was no time for both, so the gun was smashed and
the wounded man stayed on the wrong side of the bank.

The fighting lasted for an hour and a half after the beginning of the
infantry attack. It was over at 8.30. The wounded sergeant of the
Northamptons who swam back saw the last of the struggle. He saw a little
group of his own officers, not more than six of them, surrounded by
marine bombers, fighting to the end with their revolvers. The picture of
these six boys out there in the sand, with their dead lying around them,
refusing to yield and fighting on to a certain death, is one of the
memories of this war that should not be allowed to die.

Over the Yser Canal men were trying to swim, men dripping with blood and
too weak to swim, and men who could not swim. Some gallant fellow on the
Nieuport side--there is an idea that it was a Lancashire man--swam
across with a rope under heavy fire and fixed it so that men could drag
themselves across. So the few survivors came over, and so we know, at
least in its broad outline, how all this happened. It is a tragic tale,
and there will be tears when it is read. But in the tragedy there is the
splendour of these poor boys, young soldiers all who fought with a
courage as great as any in history, and have raised a cross of sacrifice
beyond the Yser, before which all men of our race will bare their heads.

The enemy did not reach the canal bank, but stayed some 300 yards away
from it. He was beaten back from the trenches south of Lombartzyde, and
gained no ground there.



IX

THE STRUGGLE FOR HELL WOOD


JUNE 14

Between Wytschaete and Messines is a wood, horribly ravaged by
shell-fire, called on our trench-maps Bois de l'Enfer, or Hell Wood.
North of it was a German strong point, with barbed-wire defences and
heavy blocks of concrete, called l'Enfer--Hell itself--and south of it,
behind a labyrinth of trenches, some broken walls above a nest of
dug-outs, known as Hell Farm. These filthy places were central defences
of great fortified positions held by the enemy just north of Messines,
and just south of Wytschaete, and round them and beyond them was some of
the fiercest fighting which happened on that day of battle when we
gained the Messines Ridge.

Until now I have left out that part of the battle story--one cannot
write the history of a battle like that in a day or two--but it must be
told, because it was vastly important to the success of the general
action, and the troops engaged in it showed the finest courage. They
were men of the 25th Division, including Cheshires, Irish Rifles,
Lancashire Fusiliers, North Lanes, and Worcesters, and other country
lads who were blooded in battles of the Somme, where once I watched them
surging up the high slopes under a heavy fire and fighting their way
into the German trenches. In this battle of Hell Wood they were so
wonderful in the cool, steady way they fought that when an airman came
down to report their progress he said to their General, "I knew your
fellows, because they advanced in perfect order as though on parade."

Before the battle, when they lay about Wulverghem, opposite the fortress
positions they had to attack, they did some great digging in the face of
the enemy assembly trenches, as plain as pikestaves to German observers,
and advertising, as did the enormous ammunition dumps, new batteries and
wagon-lines, the awful stroke of attack that was being prepared.

It was a record night's work of twelve hundred Lancashire lads who went
out into the dead strip between their trenches and the enemy's, and dug
like demons. When at dawn they crept back to their own lines they left
behind them a trench four-feet-six deep and 1050 yards long for a
jump-out line on the day of battle. The enemy officers saw it, and must
have sickened at the sight. They marked it on their maps, which were
captured afterwards. It was frightful ground in front of these troops of
ours, as I have seen it partly for myself from ground about the
mine-craters looking over Hell Wood.

The first part of our men's advance after the moment of attack was
hardly checked, and they went forward in open order as steadily as
though in the practice fields, through buttercups and daisies. Their
trouble came later, when they found themselves under machine-gun fire
from Hell Wood, on the left of their advance line, and from Hell Farm in
front of them. It was a body of Cheshires who side-slipped to the left
to deal with that fire from the wood. They made a dash for those scarred
tree-trunks, from which a stream of bullets poured, and fought their way
through to the German machine-gun emplacements, though a number of them
fell. As they closed upon the enemy the German gunners ceased fire in a
hurry. Many of them stopped abruptly, with bullets in their brains, and
fifty men surrendered with fourteen machine-guns. Hell Farm was gained
and held, and at the top of Hell Wood the Cheshires routed out another
machine-gun, so that all was clear in this part of the field.

Meanwhile the main body of assaulting troops--Lancashire Fusiliers,
North Lanes, Irish Rifles, and Worcesters--had passed on to another
system of defences known as October Trench, which was a barrier straight
across their way. Here, as they drew close, they came to a dead halt
against a broad belt of wire uncut by our gun-fire, and hideously
tangled in coils with sharp barbs. Behind, as some of the officers knew,
the enemy had brought up twenty-six machine-guns, enough to sweep down a
whole battalion held by wire like this. Even now the men don't know how
they went over that wire. They knew instantly that they must get across
or die. From October Support Trench, farther back, with another belt of
uncut wire in front of it, heavy fire was coming from Germans who had
their heads up. "Over you go, men," shouted the officers. The men flung
themselves over, scrambled over, rolled over, tearing hands and faces
and bits of flesh on those rusty prongs, but getting over or through
somehow and anyhow. Parties of them raced on to October Support Trench,
flung themselves against that wire and got, bleeding and scratched, to
the other side, unless they were killed first. Some of them fell. It was
the most deadly episode of the day, but the Germans paid a ghastly price
for this resistance, and 300 German dead lie on that ground round the
old ruins of Middle Farm behind the wire.

Away back when fighting here began was a body of Irish Rifles who had
gone as far as they had been told to go. They saw what was happening,
watched those other men flinging themselves against the barbed hedge.
"To hell with staying here," shouted one of them. "To hell with it,"
said others. "We could do a power of good up there."

"Come on then, boys," said the first men, beginning to run. They ran
fast towards the end of the wire belt, slipped round it, and fell on the
flank of the enemy. It was timely help to the other men, some of whom
owe their lives to it.

The second phase of the battle began when another body of the same
troops passed through those who had already assaulted and won their
ground, and went forward to a new line beyond. They passed through in
perfect order, which is a most difficult manoeuvre in battle when the
ground is covered with troops who have already been fighting, with
wounded men and stretcher-bearers, and souvenir-hunters and moppers-up
and runners, and all the tumult of new-gained ground. But in long,
unbroken waves the fresh troops lined up beyond these crowds, and made
ready to advance upon the new line of attack. Again, groups of them had
to be separated from the main body in order to seize isolated positions
on the wings, where groups of Germans were holding out and sweeping our
flanks with fire.

North-east and south-east of Lumm Farm were bits of trench from which
the enemy was routed after sharp bouts of fighting. Beyond were some
holed walls called Nameless Farm, and these were captured before the
call of "cease firing," which was the signal for the party to halt while
our guns began a new bombardment over the new line of attack.

It was this silence which scared an officer of the Cheshires, who had
led his men away forward to capture a body of Germans trying to escape
from Despagne Farm, right out in the blue this side of Owl Trench, which
was the next position to be attacked, after our guns had dealt with it.
A sergeant and two men of the Cheshires ran right into Despagne Farm and
bayoneted the German machine-gunners who had been spraying bullets on
our men. Then the officer seemed to feel his heart stop. He looked at
his wrist-watch, and was shocked at the time it gave. The realization of
the frightful menace approaching as every second passed made every nerve
in his body tingle. It was our new bombardment. A vast storm of
explosives which was about to sweep over this ground, already pitted
with deep shell-holes, it seemed as though nothing could save this body
of Cheshires, who had gone too far and could not get back before their
own guns killed them. There was only one chance of escape for any of
them, and that was for each man to dive into one of those
eight-feet-deep shell-holes and crouch low, scratching himself into the
shelving sides before the hellish storm of steel broke loose. The
Cheshires did this, flung themselves into the pits, lay quaking there
like toads under a harrow, and hugged the earth as the bombardment burst
out and swept over them. By an amazing freak of fortune it swept over
them quickly, and there were only two casualties among all those men
huddled in holes, expecting certain death. A bit of luck, said the men,
getting up and gasping. Weaker men would have been broken by shell-shock
and terror-stricken. These Cheshires went on, took the next German
defences and many prisoners, and then dug in according to orders and
prepared for anything that might happen in the way of trouble. It was
the German counter-attack which happened. Six hundred men came
debouching out of a gully called Blawepoortbeek, with its mouth opposite
Despagne Farm. The Cheshires had their machine-guns in position and
their rifles ready. They held back their fire until the German column
was within short range. Then they fired volley after volley, and those
600 men found themselves in a valley of death, and few escaped.



PART V

THE BATTLES OF FLANDERS



I

BREAKING THE SALIENT


JULY 31

The battle which all the world has been expecting has begun. After weeks
of intense bombardment, not on our side only, causing, as we know, grave
alarm throughout Germany and anxiety in our enemy's command, we launched
a great attack this morning on a front stretching, roughly, from the
River Lys to Boesinghe. We have gained ground everywhere, and with the
help of French troops, who are fighting shoulder to shoulder with our
own men, in the northern part of the line above Boesinghe, we have
captured the enemy's positions across the Yser Canal and thrust him back
from a wide stretch of country between Pilkem and Hollebeke. He is
fighting desperately at various points, with a great weight of artillery
behind him, and has already made strong counter-attacks and flung up his
reserves in order to check this sweeping advance. Many Tanks have gone
forward with our infantry, sometimes in advance and sometimes behind,
according to the plan of action mapped out for them, and have done
better than well against several of the enemy's strong points, where,
for a time, our men were held up by machine-gun fire.

So far our losses are not heavy, and many of these are lightly wounded,
but it is likely that the enemy's resistance will be stronger as the
hours pass, because he realizes the greatness of our menace, and will,
beyond doubt, bring up all the strength he has to save himself from a
complete disaster. During the past few weeks the correspondents in the
field have not even hinted at the approach of the battle that has opened
to-day, though other people have not been so discreet, and the enemy
himself has sounded the alarm. But we have seen many of the preparations
for this terrific adventure in the north, and have counted the days when
all these men we have seen passing along the roads, all these guns, and
the tidal wave of ammunition which has flowed northwards should be ready
for this new conflict, more formidable than any of the fighting which
raged along the lines since April of this year.

I am bound to say that as the days have drawn nearer some of us have
shuddered at the frightful thing growing ripe for history as the
harvests of France have ripened. Poring over maps of this northern
front, and looking across the country from the coast-line and newly
taken hills, like those of Wytschaete, the difficulty of the ground
which our men have to attack has been horribly apparent. Those swamps in
the north around Dixmude, the Yser Canal, which must be bridged under
fire, the low flats of our lines around Ypres, like the well of an
amphitheatre, with the enemy above on the Pilkem Ridge, were so full of
peril for attacking troops that optimism itself might be frightened and
downcast.

As I have written many times lately, the enemy has massed great
gun-power against us, and has poured out fire with unparalleled ferocity
in order to hinder our preparations. Our bombardments were more
terrific, and along the roads were always guns, guns, guns, going up to
increase the relative powers of our own and the German artillery. There
was little doubt that in the long run ours would be overwhelming, but
meanwhile the enemy was strong and destructively inclined. All the time
he was puzzled and nerve-racked, not knowing where our attack would fall
upon him, and he made many raids, mostly unsuccessful, to find out our
plans, while we raided him day and night to see what strength he was
massing to meet us. Russia lured him, and in spite of our threat he has
sent off some six divisions, I believe, to his Eastern theatre of
operations, but at the same time he relieved many of the divisions which
had been broken by our fire in the lines, replacing them by his freshest
and strongest troops. They did not remain fresh, even after only a few
hours, for our guns caught some of them during their reliefs, as late as
two o'clock this morning in the case of the 52nd Reserve Division, so
that they stepped straight into an inferno of fire.

[Illustration: The Passchendaele ridge]

The weather was against us, as many times before a battle. Yesterday it
was a day of rain and heavy, sodden clouds, so that observation was
almost impossible for our flying men and kite-balloons, and our
artillery was greatly hampered. The night was dark and moist, but luck
was with us so far that a threatening storm did not break, and our men
kept dry. The darkness was in our favour, and the assaulting troops were
able to form up for attack very close to the enemy's lines--lines of
shell-craters in fields of craters from which our storms of fire had
swept away all trenches, all buildings, and all trees. The enemy held
these forward positions lightly by small groups of men, who knew
themselves to be doomed, and waited for that doom in their pits like
animals in death-traps. In their second-line defences, less damaged, but
awful enough in wreckage of earthworks, the enemy was in greater
strength, and from these positions flares went up all through the
night, giving a blurred white light along the barriers of mist, and
rising high into the cloudy sky. Scores of thousands of our men, lying
on the wet earth in puddles and mud-holes, watched those flares and
hoped they would not be revealed before the second when they would have
to rise and go forward to meet their luck. They lay there silently,
never stirring, nor coughing, nor making any rattle of arms, while
German shells passed over them or smashed among them, killing and
wounding some of those who lay close. Enemy aircraft came out in the
night bolder than by day, since they have been chased and attacked and
destroyed in great numbers by British flying men, determined to get the
mastery of the air, and to blind the enemy's eyes before this battle,
and beyond any doubt successful as far as this day goes. The night-birds
swooped over places where they thought our batteries were hidden and
dropped bombs, but as they could see nothing their aim was bad, and they
did no important damage, if any at all. So the hours of the night crept
by, enormously long to all those men of ours waiting for the call to
rise and go. Our gun-fire had never stopped for weeks in its steady
slogging hammering, but shortly after half-past three this ordinary
noise of artillery quickened and intensified to a monstrous and
overwhelming tumult. It was so loud that twelve miles behind the lines
big houses moved and were shaken with a great trembling. People farther
away than that awakened with fear and went to their windows and stared
out into the darkness, and saw wild fireballs in the sky, and knew that
men were fighting and dying in Flanders in one of the great battles of
the world. This morning I watched the fires of this battle from an
observation-post on the edge of the salient. I knew what I should have
seen if there had been any light, for I saw those places a day or two
ago from the same spot. I should have seen the ghost-city of Ypres, and
the curve of the salient round by Pilkem, St.-Julien, and Zillebeke, and
then Warneton and Houthem below the Messines Ridge. But now there was no
light, but hundreds of sharp red flashes out of deep gulfs of black
smoke and black mist. The red flashes were from our forward batteries
and heavy guns, and over all this battlefield, where hundreds of
thousands of men were at death-grips, the heavy, smoke-laden vapours of
battle and of morning fog swirled and writhed between clumps of trees
and across the familiar places of death round Ypres, hiding everything
and great masses of men. The drum-fire of the guns never slackened for
hours. At nine o'clock in the morning it beat over the countryside with
the same rafale of terror as it had started before four o'clock.
Strangely above this hammering and thundering of two thousand guns or
more of ours, answered by the enemy's barrage, railway whistles screamed
from trains taking up more shells, and always more shells, to the very
edge of the fighting-lines, and in between the massed batteries, using
them as hard as they could be unloaded.

Over at Warneton and Oostaverne, in the valley below the Messines Ridge,
the enemy was pouring fire along our line, shells of the heaviest
calibre, which burst monstrously, and raised great pillars of white
smoke. It was a valley of death there, and our men were in it, and
fighting for the slopes beyond.

It is a battle, so far, of English, Scottish, and Welsh troops, with
some of the Anzacs--New-Zealanders as well as Australians--and all along
the line they have fought hard and with good success over ground as
difficult as any that has ever been a battlefield, because of the canal
and the swamps and the hollow cup of the Ypres area, with the enemy on
the rim of it.

Among the battalions who fought hardest were the Liverpools, the South
and North Lancashires, the Liverpool Scottish and Liverpool Irish, the
Lancashire Fusiliers, Lancashire Regiment, the King's Royal Rifles, West
Kents, Surreys, Durham Light Infantry, the Cheshires, Warwicks,
Staffords, Sussex, Wiltshires and Somersets, the Royal Irish Rifles, the
Black Watch, Camerons, Gordons and Royal Scots, the Welsh battalions,
and the Guards. From north to south the Divisions engaged were the
Guards, the 38th (Welsh), the 51st (Highland), the 39th, the 55th, the
15th (Scottish), the 8th, 30th, 41st, 19th, and Anzacs on the extreme
right.

One can always tell from the walking wounded whether things are going
ill or well. At least, they know the fire they have had against them,
and the ease or trouble with which they have taken certain ground, and
the measure of their sufferings. So now, with an awful doubt in my mind,
because of the darkness and the anxiety of men conducting the battle
over the signal-lines, and that awful drum-fire beating into one's ears
and soul, I was glad to get first real tidings from long streams of
lightly wounded fellows coming along from the dressing-station. They
were lightly wounded, but pitiful to see, because of the blood that
drenched them--bloody kilts and bloody khaki, and bare arms and chests,
with the cloth cut away from their wounds, and bandaged heads, from
which tired eyes looked out. One would not expect good tidings from men
who had suffered like these, but they spoke of a good day, of good
progress, of many prisoners, and of an enemy routed and surrendering. "A
good day"--that was their first phrase, though for them it meant the
loss of a limb or sharp pain anyhow, and remembrance of the blood and
filth of battle. They were eager to describe their fighting, and I saw
again the pride of men in the courage of their comrades, forgetting
their own, which had been as great. These lads told me how they lay out
in the night, and how the German planes came over, bombing them; how
they rose and went forward in attack. The enemy was quickly turned out
of his front line of shell-craters, and there were not many of him
there. In the second line he was thickly massed, but some of them threw
up their hands at once, crying "Mercy!"

The Scots came up against a strong emplacement fitted with machine-guns,
and here the German gunners fired rapidly, so that our men were checked.
They rushed the place, and at the last a German hoisted a white flag,
but even then others fired, and I met one young Scot to-day who had a
comrade killed after that sign of surrender.

Beyond Ypres, on the way to Menin, there was a big tunnel where our
English lads expected trouble, as it could hold hundreds of Germans. But
when they came to the tunnel and ferreted down it they only found
forty-one men, who surrendered at once. Some of the enemy's troops were
quite young boys of the 1918 class, but most of them were older and
tougher men. The success of the day is shared by English troops,
including the Guards, with the Welsh, who fought abreast of them with
equal heroism, and with Scottish and Anzacs. The Welsh have wiped out
the most famous German regiment of the Third Guards Division, known as
the "Cockchafers."

Fighting with us, the French troops kept pace with their usual
gallantry, carrying all their objectives according to the time-table.
In one great and irresistible assault, these troops of two nations swept
across the enemy lines and have reached heights on the Pilkem Ridge, as
I hope to tell to-morrow in greater detail. For the day, it is enough to
say that our success has been as great as we dared to hope.



II

FROM PILKEM RIDGE TO HOLLEBEKE


AUGUST 1

The weather is still abominable. Heavy rain-storms have water-logged the
battlefields, and there are dense mists over all the countryside. It is
bad for fighting on land, and worse for fighting in the air. But
fighting goes on. Yesterday the enemy made strong counter-attacks at
many points of our new line, and especially to the north of Frezenberg,
west of Zonnebeke, where, at three in the afternoon, his infantry
advanced upon the 15th (Scottish) Division after a violent bombardment.
They were swept down by artillery and machine-gun fire. At five o'clock
they came on again, moving suddenly out of a dense smoke-barrage, and
gained 300 yards of ground. Our guns poured shells on to this ground,
and at nine o'clock last night our men went behind the barrage and
regained this position. The enemy's gun-fire is intense over a great
part of the country taken from him, and his long-range guns are shelling
far behind the lines. Generally the situation is exactly the same as it
stood at the end of the first day of battle, when our advance was firm
and complete at the northern end of the attack, where the Guards and the
Welsh had swept over the Pilkem Ridge without great trouble, and where
farther south the troops who had advanced beyond St.-Julien had to fall
back a little, partly under the pressure of counter-attacks, but chiefly
in order to get into line with their right wing, which had been engaged
in the hardest fighting, and had not reached the same depth of country.
That was in the wooded ground south-east of the salient, where the enemy
had a large number of machine-guns in the cover of Glencorse Copse,
Inverness Wood, and Shrewsbury Forest, and repulsed the very desperate
attacks of the 8th and 30th Divisions.

Outside one copse there was a very strong position, known to our men as
Stirling Castle. It was once a French château, surrounded by a park and
outbuildings, long destroyed but made into a strong point with concrete
emplacements. Rapid machine-gun fire poured out of this place against
our men, but it was captured after several rushes. The trenches in front
of it were also gained by the Royal Scots and Durham Light Infantry of
the 8th Division. Later a counter-attack was launched against them by
the Germans of one of the young classes, and here at least these lads,
who do not seem to have fought very well elsewhere, came on like tiger
cubs and gained some of their trenches back. From all the woods in this
neighbourhood there was an incessant sweep of machine-gun bullets, and,
as I have already said in earlier dispatches, many small counter-attacks
were launched from them, without much success, but strong enough to make
progress difficult to our men, now that the weather had set in badly, so
that our guns were hampered by lack of aeroplane observation. All
through the night and yesterday the enemy's barrage-fire was fiercely
sustained, and our men dug themselves in as best they could, and took
cover in shell-holes.

Hard fighting had happened that day southward and on the right of our
attack past Hollebeke and the line between Oostaverne and Warneton.
Opposite Hollebeke there were English county troops of the 41st
Division--West Kents, Surreys, Hampshires, Gloucesters, Oxford and
Bucks, and Durham Light Infantry--and they went "over the bags," as they
call it, in almost pitch-darkness, like the men on either side of them.
This was the reason of an accident which was almost a tragedy. As they
went forward over that shell-destroyed ground they left behind them
Germans hidden in shell-pits, who sniped our men in the rear, and picked
off many of them until later in the day they were routed out. Beyond
this open country the ruins of Hollebeke were full of cellars, made into
strong dug-outs, and crowded with Germans who would not come out. They
will never come out. Our men flung bombs down into these underground
places, and passed on to the line where they stay on the east side of
the village. At a little bit of ruin there was some delay because of the
machine-guns there, and for some time it was uncertain whether we held
the place, as a messenger sent down to report its capture was killed on
his journey. Along the line of the railway here there was a row of
concrete dug-outs, and a bomber of the Middlesex went up alone climbed
the embankment, and dropped bombs through their ventilator. So there was
not much trouble from them.

In some of the dug-outs in this neighbourhood about a score of bottles
of champagne were found, for a feast by German officers. But our
soldiers drank it; indeed, one--a Canadian fellow--drank a whole bottle
to himself, being very thirsty, and after that he found one of the
officers for whom the drink was meant, but for the fortune of war. He
was lying on his truckle bed below ground, hoping, perhaps, to be asleep
when death should come to him out of the tornado of fire which had swept
over him for days. "Come out of that," shouted the Canadian, and then,
having left his arms behind him, dragged him out by the hair.

South of Hollebeke three little rivers run. One of them is the
Rozebeek, and another is the Wambeek, and the third is the
Blawepoortbeek, and there is a small ridge between each of them, and
a copse between them. Two bodies of English troops of the 19th and 37th
Divisions--Lancashires, Cheshires, Warwicks, Staffords and Wiltshires,
Somersets, Bedfords, South Lancashires, and Royal Fusiliers--attacked
these positions, those on the right making their assault four hours
later than those on the left. They had already pushed out by small raids
and rushes half-way to the copse before the attack, and when the signal
to go forward came they made the rest of the way very quickly, so that
the copse fell. The enemy here fought hard, and had cover in concrete
emplacements, with underground entries. Beyond he held out stoutly under
machine-gun and rifle barrage. Meanwhile, on the extreme right of attack
were the Australians and New-Zealanders in the ground below Warneton. It
was difficult country. The enemy had gone to great trouble to wire his
hedges and camouflage the shell-holes with wire netting, below which he
hid machine-guns and snipers. The village of La Basseville, like all the
places we call villages, a mere huddle of broken bricks, had already
been taken once and lost in a counter-attack. Now it was the
New-Zealanders who took it. The same thing happened as at Hollebeke. The
enemy refused to leave his dug-outs and was bombed to death in them.
"Can't make any use of the cellars," came a message through, "as they
are choked with dead." Not far from La Basseville was the stump of an
old windmill standing lonely on a knoll. Because of its observation it
was important to get, and it was the Australians who captured it after
hard fighting. At 9.30 in the morning the Germans came out in waves
across the Warneton-Gapaard road and so encircled the windmill that the
Australians had to draw back and leave it. But at midnight, after it had
been shelled for several hours, they went back, routed out the garrison,
and now hold it again. At half-past three the same afternoon the
New-Zealanders were counter-attacked at La Basseville, but the Germans
were beaten back.

So the fortunes of the day were alternating, but at the end of it the
position became clear. We had made and held all the ground that we
intended. Then our men dug in, and the rain, which had begun on the
afternoon of the battle, grew heavier. It has rained ever since. The
ground is all a swamp and the shell-holes are ponds. The Army lies wet,
and all the foulness of Flemish weather in winter is upon them in
August. Through the mist the enemy's shell-fire never ceases, and our
guns reply with long bombardments and steady barrages. The walking
wounded come back over miles of churned-up ground, dodging the shells,
and when they get down to the clearing-stations they are caked with mud
and very weary. War is not a blithe business, even when the sun is
shining. In this gloom and filth it is more miserable.

The weather has been bad for flying men. Impossible, one would say,
looking up at the low-lying storm-clouds. Yet on the day of battle our
airmen went out and, baulked of artillery work, flew over the enemy's
country and spread terror there. It was a flying terror which, when told
in the barest words of these boys, is stranger than old mythical stories
of flying horses and dragons on the wing. Imagine one of these winged
engines swooping low over one as one walks along a road far from the
lines, and above the roar of its engine the sharp crack of a revolver
with a bullet meant for you. Imagine one of these birds hovering above
one's cottage roof and firing machine-gun bullets down the chimneys, and
then flying round to the front and squirting a stream of lead through
the open door, and, after leaving death inside, soaring up into a
rain-cloud. That, and much more, was done on July 31. These airmen of
ours attacked the German troops on the march and scattered them, dropped
bombs on their camps and aerodromes, flying so low that their wheels
skirted the grass, and were seldom more than a few yards above the
tree-tops. The narrative of one man begins with his flight over the
enemy's country, crossing canals and roads as low as thirty feet, until
he came to a German aerodrome. The men there paid no attention, thinking
this low flier was one of theirs, until a bomb fell on the first shed.
Then they ran in all directions panic-stricken. The English pilot
skimmed round to the other side of the shed and played his machine-gun
through the open doors, then soared a little and gave the second shed a
bomb. He flew round and released a bomb for the third shed, but failed
with the fourth, because the handle did not act quickly enough. So he
spilt his bomb between the shed and a railway train standing still
there. By this time a German machine-gun had got to work upon him, but
he swooped right down upon it, scattering the gunners with a burst of
bullets, and flew across the sheds again, firing into them at twenty
feet. His ammunition drum was exhausted, and he went up to a cloud to
change, and then came down actually to the ground, tripping across the
grass on dancing wheels, and firing into the sheds where the mechanics
were cowering. Then he tired of this aerodrome and flew off, overtaking
two German officers on horses. He dived at them and the horses bolted.
He came upon a column of 200 troops on the march, and swooped above
their heads with a stream of bullets until they ran into hedges and
ditches. He was using a lot of ammunition, and went up into a cloud to
fix another drum. Two German aeroplanes came up to search for him, and
he flew to meet them and drove one down so that it crashed to earth.
German soldiers gathered round it, and our fellow came down to them and
fired into their crowd. A little later he flew over a passenger train
and pattered bullets through its windows, and then, having no more
ammunition, went home.

There was a boy of eighteen in one of our aerodromes the night before
the battle, and he was very glum because he was not allowed to go across
the German lines next day on account of his age and inexperience. After
many pleadings he came to his squadron commander at night in his pyjamas
and said, "Look here, sir, can't I go?" So he was allowed to go, and set
out in company with another pilot in another machine. But he soon was
alone, because he missed the other man in a rain-storm. His first
adventure was with a German motor-car with two officers. He gave chase,
saw it turn into side roads, and followed. Then he came low and used his
machine-gun. One of the officers fired an automatic pistol at him, so
our boy thought that a good challenge and, leaving go of his
machine-gun, pulled out his own revolver, and there was the strangest
duel between a boy in the air and a man in a car. The aeroplane was
fifty feet high then, but dropped to twenty just as the car pulled up
outside a house. The young pilot shot past, but turned and saw the body
of one officer being dragged indoors. He swooped over the house and
fired his machine-gun into it, and then sent a Very-light into the car,
hoping to set it on fire. Presently he was attacked by a bombardment
from machine-guns, "Archies," and light rockets, so he rose high and
took cover in the clouds. But it was not the last episode of his day
out. He saw some infantry crossing a wooden bridge and dived at them
with rapid bursts of machine-gun fire. They ran like rabbits from a
shot-gun, and when he came round again he saw four or five dead lying on
the bridge. From the ditches men fired at him with rifles, so he stooped
low and strafed them, and then went home quite pleased with himself.

There were scores of flying men who did these things. The pilots of two
units alone flew an aggregate of 396 hours 25 minutes, and fired 11,258
rounds of machine-gun bullets at ground targets, to say nothing of
Very-lights. Those machines were not out in France for exhibition
purposes, as gentlemen now abed in England are pleased to think. All
this sounds romantic, and certainly there is the romance of youthful
courage and fearless spirit. But apart from human courage, the ugliness
and foulness of war grow greater month by month, and if anybody speaks
to me of war's romance I will tell him of things I have seen to-day and
yesterday and make his blood run cold. For the sum of human agony is
high.



III

THE BEGINNING OF THE RAINS


AUGUST 1

A violent rain-storm began yesterday afternoon after our advance across
the enemy's lines to the Pilkem Ridge and the northern curve of the
Ypres salient, and it now veils all the battlefield in a dense mist. It
impedes the work of our airmen and makes our artillery co-operation with
the infantry more difficult, and adds to the inevitable hardships of our
men out there in the new lines where the ground has been cratered by our
shell-fire into one wild quagmire of pits. To the enemy it is not
altogether a blessing. His airmen get no observation of our movements,
and his gunners do not find their targets, while his poor, wretched
infantry, lying out in open ground or in woods where they get no cover
from our fire, must be in a frightful condition, unable to get food
because of our barrages behind them, and wet to the skin.

The enemy's command has been unable to organize any effective
counter-attacks, and so far has sent forward small bodies of storm
troops moving vaguely to uncertain objectives and smashed by our fire
before they have reached our lines. There were many of these attacks
yesterday. Against the Lancashire regiments of the 15th and the Scots of
the 55th Division they were repeated all through the day, beginning at
three o'clock in the afternoon, and coming again at eleven o'clock,
1.45, and 7.15 this morning.

The Lehr Regiment, whom the Kaiser called his brave Coburgers during the
battles of the Somme, were very severely mauled yesterday and suffered
heavy losses. Both the 235th Division and the Third Guards Division,
engaged by our men on the Steenbeek line, have been shattered. So great
has been the alarm of the enemy at the menace to his line that he has
been rushing up reserves by omnibuses and light railways to the
firing-line over tracks which are shelled by us day and night. The
suffering of all the German troops, huddled together in exposed places,
must be as hideous as anything in the agony of mankind, slashed to bits
by storms of shells and urged forward to counter-attacks which they know
will be their death.

I saw this morning large numbers of prisoners taken during the past
twenty-four hours and just brought in. They had the look of men who have
been through hell. They were drenched with rain, which poured down their
big steel helmets. Their top-boots were full of water, which squelched
out at every step, and their sunken eyes stared out of ash-grey faces
with the look of sick and hunted animals. Many of them had cramp in the
stomach through long exposure and hunger before being captured, and
they groaned loudly and piteously. Many of them wept while being
interrogated, protesting bitterly that they hated the war and wanted
nothing but peace. They have no hope of victory for their country. An
advance into Russia fills them with no new illusions, but seems to them
only a lengthening of the general misery. They do not hide the
sufferings of their people at home, and say that in the towns there is
bitter want, and only in the rural districts is there enough to eat. In
the field they are filled with gloomy forebodings, and live in terror of
our tremendous gun-fire. The older men, non-commissioned officers who
have come back after wounds, and other soldiers of long training, say
that the boys of the young classes who are now filling up the ranks have
no staying power under shell-fire and no fighting spirit. Among the
prisoners I saw to-day I think about a quarter of them, or perhaps a
little less, were these young boys, anæmic-looking lads, with terror in
their eyes. The others were more hardy-looking men, though pale and
worn. It is certain that they made no great fight yesterday when our men
were near them, except when they still had cover in concrete
emplacements. And it is no wonder that all fight has gone out of them.
Some even of our own men were startled and stunned by the terrific blast
of our gun-fire. Some of these men have told me that when they went
forward to get into line before the attack, they had to pass through
mile after mile of our batteries, the heavy guns behind, and gradually
reaching the lighter batteries forward, until they arrived at the
field-guns, so thickly placed that at some points they were actually
wheel to wheel. The night was dark, but there was no darkness among
these batteries. Their flashes lit up their neighbourhood with lurid
torches, blinding the eyes of the troops on the march, and all about the
air rocked with the blast of their fire and the noise was so great that
men were deafened. As the troops went forward for five or six miles to
the assembly-lines flights of shells passed over their heads in a great
rush through space, and it was terrifying even to men like one of those
I met to-day, who has become familiar with the noise of gun-fire since
the early days of Ypres and the fury of the Somme. But the worst came
when the field-guns began their rapid fire before yesterday's dawn. It
was like the fire of machine-guns in its savage sweep, but instead of
machine-gun bullets they were 18-pounder shells, and each report from
thousands of guns was a sharp, ear-splitting crack.

An Irish fellow who described his own adventures to me as he lay wounded
and told his tale as vividly as a great orator, because of the perfect
truth and simplicity of each phrase, said that he and all his comrades
hurried to get away from their own lines when the signal of attack came
in order to escape from the awful noise. They preferred the greater
quietude of the enemy's positions. They went across blasted ground. It
had been harrowed by the sweep of fire. Trenches had disappeared,
concrete emplacements had been overturned, breastworks had been flung
like straws to the wind. The only men who lived were those who were
huddled in sections of trench which were between the barrage-lines of
our fire. Our men had no fear of what the enemy could do to them. They
went forward to find creatures eager to escape from this blazing hell.
It was only in redoubts like the Frezenberg Redoubt which had escaped
destruction that the German machine-gunners still fought and gave
trouble. Many of the enemy must have been buried alive with machine-guns
and trench-mortars and bomb stores. But there were other dead not
touched by shell-fire, nor by any bullet. They had been killed by our
gas attack which had gone before the battle. Rows of them lay clasping
their gas-masks, and had not been quick enough before the vapour of
death reached them. But others, with their gas-masks on, were dead. One
of our men tells me that he came across the bodies of a group of German
officers. They belonged to a brigade staff, and they were all masked,
with tin beast-like nozzles, and they were all stone dead. It is the
vengeance of the gods for that gas, foul and damnable, which they used
against us first in the second battle of Ypres and ever since. It is the
worst weapon of modern warfare, and has added the blackest terror to all
this slaughter of men.

Because there was not great fighting with infantry yesterday, it must
not be thought that our men had an easy time. The enemy was quick to put
down his barrage, and although it was not anything like our annihilating
fire, it was bad enough, as any shell-fire is. I met some young Scots of
the Gordons and Camerons to-day, who had been through an episode of a
thrilling kind, which was horrible while it lasted. When the signal for
attack came yesterday, they were a little mad, like some of their
comrades, because they said they saw the Germans running away on the
other side of our wall of shells. Without waiting for the barrage to
creep forward, these Scots ran forward right among our own shells, and,
by some miracle, many of them escaped being hit, and went forward in
pursuit. A party of about a hundred went right beyond their goal and
found themselves isolated and out of touch with the main body. They were
heavily shelled and attacked by bombing parties. They sent runners back
asking for reinforcements, but none came because of their far-flung
position. They tried to signal for an artillery barrage to protect them,
but this call was not seen. They ran out of ammunition, and saw that
death was coming close to them. It touched some men with great chunks of
hot shell, and they fell dead in their shell-craters. Other men were
buried by the bursts of 5·9's. These boys of the 8/10th Gordons were
proud. They did not want to retire, though they knew they had gone too
far, but at last, when all their officers had been killed but one, the
order was given to this little remnant of men to save their lives and
get back if they could. They went back through heavy fire, and I talked
with two of them this morning, happy to find themselves alive and
bright-eyed fellows still. It is extraordinary what escapes many of them
have had. A group of them in the farthest line of advance lay down in
craters under a rapid sweep of machine-gun fire from a redoubt in front
of them. They watched over the edge of their craters how two Tanks came
up, heaving and lurching over the tossed earth, until they were within
gun-range of the redoubt. Then they opened fire. But the enemy's gunners
had seen them, and tried to get them with direct hits. Most of the
shells fell short all around those English lads hiding in the craters.
Some of these were buried and some killed. But the others held on to
their ground, which is still in our hands.

The stretcher-bearers were magnificent, and worked all day and night
searching out the wounded and carrying them back under fire. Many of the
German prisoners gladly lent a hand in this work on their way back. At
the dressing-stations to-day I saw them giving pickaback to
men--ours--who were wounded about the legs and feet. They prefer this
work to fighting.

After yesterday's battle our line includes the whole of the Pilkem
Ridge and the ground in the valley beyond to the line of the Steenbeek
river, and southwards in a curve that slices off the old Ypres salient.
It has been a heavy blow to the enemy. Now it is all rain and mud and
blood and beastliness.



IV

PILL-BOXES AND MACHINE-GUNS


AUGUST 3

The weather is still frightful. It is difficult to believe that we are
in August. Rather it is like the foulest weather of a Flemish winter,
and all the conditions which we knew through so many dreary months
during three winters of war up here in the Ypres salient are with us
again. The fields are quagmires, and in shell-crater land, which is
miles deep round Ypres, the pits have filled with water. The woods loom
vaguely through a wet mist, and road traffic labours through rivers of
slime. It is hard luck for our fighting men. But in spite of repeated
efforts the enemy has not succeeded in his counter-attacks, after our
line withdrew somewhat at the end of the first day south and south-east
of St.-Julien. In my first accounts of the battle I did not give full
measure to the hardness of the fighting in which some of our troops were
engaged, nor to the stubbornness of the enemy's resistance. It is now
certain that, whereas many of the German infantry, terror-stricken by
our bombardment, surrendered easily enough, others made good use of
strong defences not annihilated by our fire, and put up a desperate
defence. Fresh troops, like the 221st Division, were flung in by the
German command in the afternoon of the first day and made repeated
attacks, under cover of the mist, against our men, who were tired after
twenty-four hours in the zone of fire, who in some sectors had suffered
heavily, but who fought still with a courage which defied defeat. A
commanding officer of a Lancashire battalion went to meet some of his
men coming back yesterday. They were wet and caked with mud and unshaven
and dead-beat, and they had lost many comrades, but they had the spirit
to pull themselves up and smile with a light in their eyes when the
commanding officer said he was proud of them, because they had done all
that men could, and one of them called out cheerily, "When shall we go
on again, sir?" An officer who was left last out of his battalion to
hold out in an advanced position said to the padre, who has just visited
him in hospital, "I hope the General was not disappointed with us." The
General, I am sure, was not disappointed with these men of the 55th
Division. No one could think of them without enthusiasm and tenderness,
marvelling at their spirit and at the fight they made in tragic hours.
Because it was a tragedy to them that after gaining ground they had been
asked to take, and not easily nor without losses, they should have to
fall back and fight severe rear-guard actions to cover a necessary
withdrawal.

These Lancashire men, with many men of the Liverpool battalions, had to
attack from Wieltje through successive systems of trenches. This ground
is just to the right of St.-Julien and to the left of Frezenberg, below
the Gravenstafel Spur, Zonnebeke, and Langemarck. The way lay past a
number of German strong points--Beck House, Plum Farm, Pound Farm, and
Square Farm--once small farmsteads, long blown to bits, but fortified by
concrete strongholds with walls of concrete two yards thick. Our
gun-fire wrecked all the ground about them and toppled over a few of
these places, but left a number untouched, and that was the cause of the
trouble. Each one had to be taken by a separate action led by our young
platoon commanders, and it was a costly series of small
engagements--costly to officers, especially, as always happens at such
times. These young subalterns of ours handled their men not only
gallantly, but skilfully, and the men followed their lead with cunning
as well as pluck, and got round the concrete works by rifle-fire and
bombing until they could rush them at close quarters. In this way two
strongly held farms were taken, while from the right the Lancashire men
were swept by enfilade fire from a third farm until its garrison was
routed out and 160 of them captured. There was hard fighting farther on
for a line of trenches where some of the wire was still uncut, with
machine-gun fire rattling from the left flank.

But the fiercest fighting came after that against another series of
those concrete forts, among them the Pommern Redoubt, where separate
actions had again to be made by little groups of men under platoon
commanders. The enemy's machine-gunners served their weapons to the
last. In this ground, too were five batteries of German field-guns, who
fired upon our men until they were within 500 yards. The gunners had to
be shot down, and our men streamed past the guns in perfect order just
as they had rehearsed the attack beforehand, sending back reports,
carrying through the whole operation as though on a field-day behind the
lines. Yet by that time their strength had been ebbing away, and many of
them had fallen. They reached the extreme limit of their advance with
outposts at two more fortified farms--Wurst and Aviatik Farms--from
which two days later a delayed report came back from the last remaining
officer of the party that he had reached this high ground in front of
Wurst Farm, and that his battalion was badly depleted. That was an
heroic little message, but a few hours later that ground was no longer
in our hands. The troops of the 39th Division on the left of the
Lancashire men had found some trouble with uncut wire, and the enemy
developed a strong counter-attack from the north, taking advantage of
that exposed flank. They prepared for attack by a heavy artillery
barrage, controlled by low-flying aeroplanes and co-operating with the
infantry. At the same time another counter-attack came down from the
high ground on the right to strike between the Lancashire men of the
55th Division and the Scottish troops of the 15th on their right. It was
decided to withdraw to a better defensive line, and 160 Lancashire
Fusiliers got into Schuler Farm, and held it against heavy odds in order
to cover this movement. They stayed there, using machine-guns and rifles
until only thirty of them were left standing, and all around them were
dead and dying. Their work was done, for they had held out long enough
to protect the withdrawing lines, and the thirty survivors decided to
fight their way back through an enemy fast closing in upon them. So they
left the farm, and of the thirty ten reached the new line. Since then
the enemy has made repeated attacks from the high ground on the right,
and especially against the Pommern Redoubt, but every time he has been
cut up by the fire of our guns and rifles. I hear that this afternoon he
is again massing for another attempt, according to the orders given to
the German troops that they must get back all the ground they have lost,
and at all costs, by August 3, which is to-day.

I have already told in a general way in previous dispatches how the
Scots of the 15th Division farther south than the Lancashire men fought
their way up to the Frezenberg Redoubt, coming under a blast of
machine-gun fire from a neighbouring farm until they captured its
garrison, and then going on to two other enemy redoubts. They had the
same trouble as the Lancashire men with these concrete forts, but
attacked them with stubborn courage, and put them out of action. One of
my good friends was wounded in front of one of these emplacements in
command of his battalion of 8/1Oth Gordons, and it was by an odd chance
that I saw him as he lay wounded in a casualty clearing-station a few
hours later. "I hear my men have done well," he said. They did as well
as they have always done in many great battles, and not only well, but
wonderfully, and they went as far as they were allowed to go, and held
on in their old grim way when things were at their worst. The whole line
of the Scottish troops below the Langemarck-Zonnebeke road was attacked
at two in the afternoon, or thereabouts, and their advanced line
gradually withdrew under a fierce fire. At six o'clock the enemy
slightly penetrated the advance line, driving the Gordons back a hundred
yards, but the Camerons drove them out and away. This was on a front to
the east of St.-Julien and south of Zonnebeke.

The general position remains the same. The weather remains the same, and
the mud and the discomfort of men living under incessant rain and
abominable shell-fire do not decrease: nevertheless, they have smashed
up attack after attack, and their spirit is unbreakable. The enemy is
suffering from the same evil conditions, and his only advantage is that
perhaps he has better cover in which to assemble his men, and that,
owing to his defeat, he is nearer to his base, so that they have not so
far to tramp through the swamps in order to get up supplies of food for
guns and men. As usual, we have behind us a wide stretch of shell-broken
ground, which, in foul weather like this, becomes a slough.

       *       *       *       *       *

AUGUST 5

For the first time for four days and nights the rain has stopped, and
there is even a pale gleam of sunshine, though the sky is still heavy
with rain-clouds. Oh, foul weather! What a curse it has been to our men!
But the guns have never ceased their fire because of the rain and the
mist, and all last night again and to-day there has been tremendous
gunning. Our gunners have been working at high tension for several
weeks, and the admiration of the infantry goes out to these men who,
though they do not go over the top, are under heavy fire from German
counter-battery work and bombed by German aeroplanes and strained by the
enormous responsibility of protecting the infantry and keeping up
barrage-fire without rest. In this battle the gunners have done
marvellously, to the very limit of human endurance. As for the infantry,
words are not good enough to describe the grit of them all. Apart from
all the inevitable beastliness of battle, they have had to fight in this
filthy weather, and it has made it a thousand times worse. In August men
don't expect to get drowned in shell-holes, nor to get stuck to the
armpits in mud before they reach the first German line. It was not as
bad as that everywhere, but exactly that in parts of the line even
before the heavy rains came on. The men of the 8th and 30th Divisions
who attacked over ground like this east of Zillebeke went through
abominable adventures. It was almost pitch-dark when they went forward,
and the first thing that happened was that battalions became hopelessly
mixed because of the darkness and the nature of the ground; and the
second thing that the barrage went ahead of them so that they had to
struggle behind in the morass unsupported by its fire, and shot at by
Germans on their flanks.

Two lines of trenches known to our men as Jackdaw Support and Jackdaw
Reserve were captured without much difficulty as far as the enemy was
concerned, about eighty prisoners being taken in them, but with enormous
difficulty on account of the boggy ground. Imagine these men, loaded up
with packs and rifles and sand-bags and shovels, slipping and falling
among the shell-pits, which were full of mud, water, and wire. Fellows
stopped to pull out their comrades and were dragged in after them. It
took them three-quarters of an hour to get over two lines of undefended
trenches, whole platoons getting bogged in them and slipping back when
they tried to climb out. It was a trying time for the officers who saw
the barrage of our guns getting away ahead. Beyond them was high ground,
from which German machine-gun and rifle fire swept them, and not far
away German snipers potted our men, and especially our officers, as they
climbed in and out of shell-craters. Two officers of the Manchesters had
been killed by one of these fellows when a private crept out alone on
his flank, stole round him very quietly, pounced and killed him. It took
two and a half hours to get to Jackdaw Reserve Trench in Sanctuary Wood,
and the enemy's riflemen who had been firing at close range then ran
back, or as our men say, "hopped it." The Menin road from Ypres runs
through the high ground just here, and it was about here that the
hardest time came for the 30th Division, because of the fierce
machine-gun fire. It was here, also, that many gallant deeds were done
by men who had lost their officers, and by the officers who had lost
their men but collected stragglers and groups from mixed units to get on
with the attack. A young private soldier of a machine-gun company
advanced with his Lewis gun and by rapid fire put a German machine-gun
out of action, so that a bombing party could get on. A lance-corporal of
the Manchesters rallied up stragglers, organized groups, and rushed some
of the German strong points. A captain behaved throughout the battle
with the most fearless gallantry, and when his men wavered and fell back
before the blast of machine-gun bullets that drove across the Menin
road, rallied them and gathered up lads from other units, and captured
two strong points with these storming parties. He was wounded in this
action, but paid no heed to that, and continued to lead his men. It was
here that the great tunnel ran across the Menin road, from which
forty-one Germans were taken. To the right of the road this side of
Inverness Copse and the Dumbarton Lakes stood Stirling Castle on the
high ground of a semi-circular ridge surrounded by deep shell-pits. The
"castle" itself was just a heap of broken bricks on this commanding
ground, and behind those bricks were German machine-gunners, who served
their weapons until our men were close to them. Then they "hopped it"
again, but stayed on the other side of the ridge, firing at any men who
showed themselves over the crest. Our men fought round the castle for
hours, heavily shelled as soon as the enemy's gunners knew it was in our
hands, and meeting counter-attacks which developed later.

A thousand and more acts of courage were done in those hours by men who
knew that their comrades' lives and their own depended upon "getting on
with the job," as they call it. It was necessary to get reports back to
brigade headquarters at all costs, so that supplies and supports might
be sent up, and to get into touch with battalion and company commanders
from the advanced line. It was not easy either to write or to send down
these messages. Wires were cut and runners killed. But it had to be
done. A company sergeant-major, though lightly wounded first and then
badly wounded after leading his men up under a sweep of machine-gun
bullets, sat down in the mud and scribbled out his report. There was a
young Irish private in these Manchesters who did wonderful work as a
runner with these messages. He volunteered whenever there was a
dangerous bit of work to do, exposing himself over and over again, and
gathering up stragglers to fill up gaps in the line of defence. A
sergeant acted as runner when two of his own had been killed, and got
through under intense fire. And one of these runners had a great
adventure all to himself on his journey under fire. This young private
was going up with a message when he saw something move outside a
dug-out. He went forward cautiously, and saw a German soldier disappear
into the dark entry. The Manchester lad was all alone, but he followed
the German into the hole, down a flight of mud stairs and into an
underground cave. He stood face to face with eighteen men. One of them
was a non-commissioned officer. They stared back at him with brooding
eyes, as though wondering whether they should kill him. He shouted at
them, "Now then, come out, and look sharp about it," and made a sign to
the door. They put their hands up and said, "Kamerad." "Well, then, get
out," said the boy. They filed out past him, and he waited till the last
had gone. Then he went up the mud stairs to open ground again, and saw
that the eighteen men had scattered, finding that he was all alone. He
shouted to them and fired his rifle over their heads, so that they
thought twice of escape, and then came back to him meekly. So he formed
them up, and marched behind them down to the prisoners' cage, where he
took his receipt for eighteen prisoners.

There was now great shelling, and the enemy was massing for a
counter-attack. Through this fire a young Irish officer in the
machine-gun section brought up nine out of his twelve guns in order to
meet the attack, and without that great courage of his the position
would have been very bad. A sergeant of machine-gunners stood in a bit
of a trench with his team when a shell burst, killing two men and
wounding others. He stood there, splashed with blood and in great danger
of death, without losing his nerve or his spirit, and after helping the
wounded he "carried on" and kept his guns in action.

Meanwhile, down at brigade headquarters the situation was very obscure;
so obscure that the brigadier sent up a young captain, his brigade
major, to find out the situation and report on it. Not a safe and easy
job to do at such a time; but this officer, whom I met to-day, went up
to Stirling Castle, where he found mixed units still under heavy
machine-gun fire, and only one or two officers without knowledge of the
general situation owing to the difficulty of getting communications. The
brigade major reorganized the situation with a cool head and a fine
courage, collected parties of mixed riflemen, and took them to the high
ground, where there was a good field of fire, and then, with his
orderly, moved across the Menin road, which was at that time
unprotected. He organized the support of this, and on the way came
across the entrance to the tunnel under the road. He stopped and
listened. It seemed to him that he could hear movements and voices. He
went into the tunnel, and heard and saw a German there. He covered him
with a revolver, and the man put his hands up. But the German was not
alone. There was a shuffling of feet farther down, and the German said,
"There are four of us farther in the tunnel." The brigade major went
farther down, with his revolver ready, and met the four men and told
them in French and English that he would kill them if they moved a step.
They surrendered, two of them speaking good English, and the brigade
major's orderly took one of their rifles, not being armed himself, and
with that weapon escorted them back. They were men of the 238th
Regiment, and had only been in that line twenty-four hours. It was the
brigade major's report that cleared up the situation from his
headquarters and made it more easy of control.

Some Scottish troops who fought alongside the Manchesters at Stirling
Castle behaved with equal valour. They endured long and intense
shelling, while through the murk and smoke enemy aeroplanes flew very
low, firing their machine-guns at the troops, batteries, and mule
convoys, with a good imitation of our own air pilots. What I have told
so far covers only a small section of the Front, but I have now given a
broad picture of all the length of battle, and these episodes I have
just described will give a closer idea of the way in which all our
soldiers have been fighting in this country around Ypres, and of all
they have suffered in the foulest weather I have ever seen in summer.

       *       *       *       *       *

AUGUST 4

The Tanks have justified themselves again, and won their spurs--spurs as
big as gridirons--in the battle of Flanders. They had plenty of chance
to show what they could do.

As I described yesterday, the way of our advance was hindered by a
number of little concrete forts built in the ruin of farmsteads which
had withstood our gun-fire. At Plum Farm and Apple Villa, and in
stronger, more elaborate, fortified points, like the Frezenberg and
Pommern Castle and Pommern Redoubt, the enemy's machine-gunners held out
when everything about them was chaos and death, and played a barrage of
bullets on our advancing men. Platoons and half-platoons attacked them
in detail at a great cost of life, and it was in such places that the
Tanks were of most advantage. It was at Pommern Castle, east of
St.-Julien, that one of the Tanks did best. Don't imagine the castle as
a kind of Windsor, with big walls and portcullis and high turrets, but
as slabs of concrete in a huddle of sand-bags above a nest of deep
dug-outs. On the other side of it was Pommern Redoubt, the same in style
of defence. Our men were fighting hard for the castle, and having a bad
time under its fire. The Tank came to help them, and advanced under a
swish of bullets to the German emplacement, lurching up the piled bags
over the heaped-up earth, and squatting on top like a grotesque creature
playing the old game of "I'm the King of the Castle; get down, you dirty
rascals." The dirty rascals, who were German soldiers, unshaven and
covered in wet mud, did not like the look of their visitor, which was
firing with great ferocity. They fled to the cover of Pommern Redoubt
beyond. Then the Tank moved back to let the infantry get on, but as soon
as it had turned its back the Germans, with renewed pluck, took
possession of the castle again. The men who were fighting round about
again gave a signal to the Tank to get busy. So it came back, and with
the infantry on its flanks made another assault, so that the enemy fled
again. Pommern Redoubt was attacked in the same way with good help from
the Tank.

The Frezenberg Redoubt was another place where the Tanks were helpful,
and they did good work at Westhoek, the remnant of a village to the
right of that. One of them attacked and helped to capture a strong point
west of St.-Julien, from which a good many Germans came out to
surrender, and afterwards some Tanks went through the village, but had
to get out again in a hurry to escape capture in the German
counter-attacks. It was not easy to get back in a hurry, as by that hour
in the afternoon the rain had turned the ground to swamp, and the Tanks
sank deep in it, with wet mud half-way up their flanks, and slipped and
slithered back when they tried to struggle out. Many of the officers and
crews had to get out of their steel forts, risking heavy shelling and
machine-gun fire to dig out their way, and in the neighbourhood of
St.-Julien they worked for two hours in the open to de-bog their Tank
while German gunners tried to destroy them by direct hits. In a farm
somewhere in this neighbourhood no fewer than sixty Germans came out
with their hands up in surrender as soon as the Tank was at close
quarters, and a story is told, though I haven't the exact details, that
in another place the mere threat of a Tank's approach was enough to
decide a party of eight to give in. It is certain beyond all doubt that
the enemy's infantry has a great fear of these machines, and does not
see any kind of humour in them. In this battle there is not a single
case of an attack upon a Tank by infantry, though we know that they have
been given special training behind their lines with dummy Tanks
according to definite rules laid down by the German Command.

One fight did take place with a Tank, and it is surely the most
fantastic duel that has ever happened in war. It was queer enough, as I
described a day or two ago, when one of our airmen flew over a
motor-car, and engaged in a revolver duel with a German officer, but
even that strange picture is less weird than when a German aeroplane
flew low over a Tank, and tried to put out its eyes by bursts of
machine-gun bullets. Imagine the scene--that muddy monster crawling
through the slime, with sharp stabs of fire coming from its flanks, and
above an engine, with wings, swooping round and about it like an angry
albatross, and spattering its armour with bullets. It was an unequal
fight, for the Tank just ignored that waspish machine-gun fire, and went
on its way with only a scratch or two. The Tanks were in action around
the marshes and woodlands by Shrewsbury Forest. Here, as I have already
said, there was very severe infantry fighting, in which the Leicesters,
Northamptons, and above all the Middlesex Regiment had desperate
engagements, and the enemy made many counter-attacks, so that the
progress of our men was slow and difficult. The Tanks helped them as
best they could.

So goes the tale of the Tanks on the first day of the battle of
Flanders. It will be seen from what I have written that they gave good
help to the troops. The pilots and crews behaved with splendid
gallantry, and not only took great risks, but endured to the last
extremity of fatigue in that narrow, hot space where they work their
engines and their guns.



V

THE SONG OF THE COCKCHAFERS


AUGUST 8

One of the most bitter blows to Germany, if she has heard the news, must
be the destruction of the famous regiment of "Maikaefer," or
Cockchafers, by our Welsh troops. The Kaiser called them his brave
Coburgers. In Germany the very children sang in the streets about them.
And proud of their own exploits, they had their own soldier poets who
wrote songs about the regiment, to which they marched through Belgium
and France and Galicia. I saw one of these songs yesterday, picked up on
the battlefield near Pilkem. It was written by one Paul Zimmermann of
theirs, and was printed in a leaflet sold at ten pfennigs (a penny). It
tells how the Cockchafers come out in the spring and how the children
sing when they come. They are ready for battle then, wherever it may be.
The call comes for them wherever there is the hardest fighting, so the
Cockchafers swarmed through Belgium, and taught the French a lesson, and
pressed after the wicked English, who--so the lying legend goes--used
dumdum bullets, and swept back the Russians through Galicia. Old
Hindenburg calls for them every time when there are brave deeds to be
done. I have copied out two verses for those who read German:

    _Der Mai der bringt uns Sonnenschein,
      Er bringt uns Bluhtenpracht;_
    _Der Mai der bringt uns Kaeferlein
      Viel tausend über Nacht;
    Und von der Kinderlippen klingts:
      "Maikaefer, fliege, flieg"
    Und durch den Frühlingesjubel dringts:
      "Dein Vater ist im Krieg."_

    _Uns Garde Fusiliere nennt
      Maikaefer jeder Mund,
    Weil unser stolzes Regiment
      Im Mai stets fertig stand._

Well, old Hindenburg will call in vain now for his Cockchafers, the
Guard Fusilier Regiment of the 3rd Guards Division, for nearly six
hundred of them are in our hands and others lie dead upon the ground
near Pilkem. They had relieved the 100th Infantry Reserve Regiment on
the night of July 29, and lay three battalions deep in their trench
systems across the Yser Canal north-east of Boesinghe, scattered thinly
in the shell-craters which were all that was left of the trenches in the
front lines, more densely massed in the support lines, and defending a
number of concrete emplacements and dug-outs behind. The 9th Grenadier
Regiment and a battalion of the Lehr Regiment reinforced the Cockchafers
and lay out in the open behind the Langemarck-Gheluvelt line, and in the
support lines a battalion of the Lehr of the 3rd Guards Division had
already relieved a regiment of the 392nd Infantry Reserve Regiment. Some
sections of the 3rd Battalion of the 9th Grenadier Regiment had been
sent forward from Langemarck to act as sniping posts, and two special
machine-gun detachments were also pushed up to check our assault. They
were enough to defend this part of the Pilkem Ridge, and the ground
itself was in their favour as our men lay in the hollow with their backs
to the Yser Canal, across which all their supports and supplies had to
pass.

What was in the favour of the Welsh was that they knew the ground in
front of them in every detail from air photographs and from night and
day raids, having lived in front of it for several months, digging and
tunnelling so as to get cover from ceaseless fire, and storing up a
great desire to get even with the enemy for all they had suffered. They
had suffered great hardships and great perils, intensified before the
battle because of violent shelling by high explosives and gas-shells, so
that when the hour for attack came they had been hard tried already. It
made no difference to the pace and order of their assault. Our
bombardment had been overwhelming, and the heavy barrage which signalled
the assault was, according to all these Welshmen, perfect. They followed
it very closely, so closely that they were on and over the Cockchafers
before they could organize any kind of defence. Many of the enemy's
machine-guns had been smashed and buried. Those still intact were never
brought into action, as their gunners had no time to get out of the
concrete shelters in which they were huddled to escape from the
annihilating fire.

It was in these places that most of the prisoners were taken--there and
in a big trench, ten feet wide and twelve deep, on the outskirts of
Pilkem village, where there is no village at all. The Cockchafers came
out dazed, and gave themselves up mostly without a show of fighting. In
some of their concrete shelters, like those at Mackensen Farm--don't
imagine any buildings there--and Gallwitz Farm and Boche House and
Zouave House, there were stores of ammunition, with many shells and
trench-mortars.

So the Welsh went on in waves, sending back the prisoners on their way,
through Pilkem to the high ground by the iron cross beyond, and then
down the slopes to the Steenbeek stream. On the left were the Royal
Welsh Fusiliers, who took the ground of Pilkem itself. On the right were
men of the Welsh Regiment. In the ground beyond Pilkem they found the
regimental headquarters in finely built dug-outs, but the staff had fled
to save their skins. There was another big dug-out near by used by the
enemy as a dressing-station. It had room enough for a hundred men. There
were fifty men. The Welsh swarmed round it--thirty wounded and twenty
unwounded Germans. The doctor in charge was a good fellow, and, after
surrendering his own men, attended to some of the wounded Welsh. Two
machine-guns and sixteen prisoners were taken out of a place called
Jolie Farm, and thirty prisoners out of Rudolf Farm--concrete kennels in
a chaos of craters--and three officers and forty-seven men came out of
the ruins of a house somewhere near the Iron Cross. All the Welsh troops
behaved with great courage, and a special word is due to the runners,
who carried messages back under fire, and to the stretcher-bearers, who
rescued the wounded utterly regardless of their own risks. Afterwards
the mule drivers and leaders were splendid, bringing up supplies under
heavy barrage fire. Wales did well that day, and the Welsh miners, who
had already proved themselves as great diggers and great tunnellers and
very brave men, showed themselves cool and fearless in the assault.

       *       *       *       *       *

AUGUST 6

I am now able to mention more of the troops whose adventures I have
described in previous dispatches, in addition to the Guards and the
Welsh, who in a great assault, hardly checked by the enemy, captured the
heights of Pilkem and went down the slopes beyond to the Steenbeek
stream.

The Manchesters, with Royal Scots, Royal Irish Rifles, and Durham Light
Infantry of the 8th Division, were amongst those who attacked Stirling
Castle below Inverness Copse, as I narrated in full detail yesterday,
with the incident of the runner who captured eighteen prisoners in a
dug-out and of the young brigade major who reorganized the position and
found five Germans in the great tunnel under the Menin road.

As I have already said, it was the men of Lancashire with battalions of
the Liverpool Regiment of the 55th Division who went up from Wieltje
against the concrete forts, where they fought in many independent little
actions under platoon commanders, who shot down the gunners of five
German batteries, and went forward as though on the drill-ground, in
spite of heavy losses and great fire, to Wurst Farm and the high ground
below the Gravenstafel, until they were forced to fall back somewhat
under a heavy German counter-attack, when 160 men covered the
withdrawal, and ten alone got back.

Farther south, they were Scots of the 15th Division who attacked the
Frezenberg--Gordons and Camerons among them--and farther south still on
their right were Sherwood Foresters and others of the 39th Division, who
had some of the hardest fighting of the day, up through Hooge, that
place of old ill-fame, round Bellewaerde Lake and across the Menin road
to the Westhoek Ridge.

It was these Scots and these English who bore the brunt of the great
German counter-attack on the afternoon of August 1. After fighting their
way forward past the pill-box emplacements or concrete redoubts with a
stiff and separate fight at the ruin of an estaminet on the cross-roads
at Westhoek, where a sergeant and ten or twelve men captured forty of
the enemy, the Sherwood Foresters and their comrades took "cover" during
the night, exposed to fierce shell-fire and drenched in the rain, now
falling steadily, and filling the shell-craters with mud and water, so
that men were up to their waist in them. It was at about 2.30 on the
following afternoon that the enemy developed his counter-attack from the
direction of Bremen Redoubt and the high ground beyond our line, taking
advantage of the mist to assemble and get forward. It was the critical
hour of the battle.

The enemy's attack was preceded by a heavy artillery barrage, and by an
incessant and wide-stretching blast of machine-gun fire. His assaulting
troops drove first at the Midland men south of the Roulers railway, and
the Sherwoods and Northamptons tried to hold their line by rifle-fire,
Lewis-gun fire, and bombs. When officers fell wounded the
non-commissioned officers and men carried on and fought a soldiers'
battle. One Lewis-gunner drove the enemy back from a gap in the lines
and others held back the enemy's storm troops long enough to give their
comrades time to get into good order as far as was possible in a fight
of this kind. The Germans forced their way forward among the
shell-craters and ruins hoping to surround the Sherwoods and the men of
Nottingham and Derby, who were steadily firing and fighting, so that the
enemy's losses were not light. Meanwhile the Scots of the 15th Division
on the left were meeting the attack and found their flank exposed owing
to these happenings on their right. It became more and more exposed as
the attack proceeded, and just before three o'clock the Gordons, who
were in this perilous position, had to swing back. This movement
uncovered the battalion headquarters, where one of the officers, acting
as adjutant, had turned out his staff, which fought to defend the
position. He then gathered all the Gordons in his neighbourhood and held
on to the station buildings. Meantime the left of the Gordons had been
swung back to form a defensive flank, and with two Vickers guns they
swept the rear lines of the storm troops with deadly fire. The enemy
fell in great numbers, but other waves came on and nearly reached the
top of the crest upon which our men had formed their line. There a young
officer of the Gordons seized the critical moment of the battle and by
his rapid action proved himself a great soldier. With some of the
Camerons he led his men forward down the slopes towards the advancing
enemy, each man firing with his rifle as he advanced, making gaps in the
German wave. The enemy stood up to this for a minute or two, but when
the Highlanders were within fifty yards of them they broke and ran. As
they fled our gunners, who had not seen the first S O S signals owing to
the mist, came into action and inflicted great losses upon the
retreating men. But the day was saved by the action of the Scottish
infantry, who had learned the use of the rifle in open warfare, and who
had been trained for this kind of action in small groups, acting largely
on individual initiative. Many of the enemy were surrounded by fire, and
one officer and seven men gained our line in safety, while the others
were caught in a death-trap. There were moments when, but for the
courage and discipline of our troops, the enemy's counter-attack had a
great chance of success, and the history of this battle might have been
less victorious for us.



VI

WOODS OF ILL-FAME


AUGUST 12

There was violent fighting yesterday. After our successful advance at
dawn across the Westhock Ridge, when more than 200 prisoners were taken,
the right of our attack in Glencorse Wood, or Schloss Park as the
Germans call it, and among the tree-stumps which were once woods south
of that, was heavily engaged with an enemy concealed in the usual
concrete emplacements, and defending himself with well-placed
machine-guns.

Among our troops who had the hardest struggle were the Irish Rifles,
Cheshires, Lancashire Fusiliers, North Lancashires, and Worcestershires
of the 25th Division against Glencorse Wood, and the Bedfords and
Queen's of the 18th Division against Inverness Copse.

As on the ridge, the infantry came to close quarters and fought with
bombs and rifles and bayonets, but it was mainly gun-fire again which
decided the issues of the day and caused most losses on both sides. As I
have said many times, since the battle of July 31 the enemy has massed a
great power of artillery against us, and has apparently no immediate
lack of ammunition. For miles the horizon was seething with the smoke
of heavy shells. The enemy's barrage-fire was great. Ours was greater.
Between Glencorse Wood and Inverness Copse, and all about Stirling
Castle and the Frezenberg, he made a hell of fire, and many of our men
had to pass through its fury, and not all passed or came back again. But
afterwards the enemy's turn came, and masses of his men, thick waves of
them, sent forward with orders to counter-attack, were caught under the
fire of our guns and smashed to pieces.

The enemy attempted five separate counter-attacks yesterday, and in
spite of all his losses renewed his efforts this morning with great
determination, so that, after the exhaustion and ordeal of the night
under continual fire, our men were compelled to give way in Glencorse
Wood. That was necessary, because farther south the enemy had held their
ground, and the copse was a salient exposed to harassing fire from large
numbers of guns in the neighbourhood of Polygon Wood and the country
east. It is a favourite device of the enemy to withdraw his guns on to
the flanks of our advance, as soon as we have penetrated his lines, in
order to check further progress, and he did this as soon as the battle
of July 31 was fought, though he had to leave many of his field-guns in
the mud of No Man's Land, where they still lie.

This method of defence did not ensure the success of his
counter-attacks, though it had made the progress of our men hard south
of Glencorse Wood. It was at about midday yesterday that our troops, who
had made good their ground along Westhoek Ridge, had to call for further
help from the guns. At the same time aeroplanes, taking advantage of
wonderful visibility after the rains, were above the German lines, and
saw a great gathering of German troops in Nuns' Wood and Polygon Wood.
The calls were answered by large groups of batteries over a stretch of
country miles deep. The heavies, far behind the lines, answered with
15-inch and 12-inch shells. The 9·2's heard the call in the quiet
fields, where wild flowers grow over old shell-holes. Their 8-inch
brothers heard the call and came quick into action. Six-inch and 4·2's
made reply, and from them broke out one great salvo, followed by long
rolls of drum-fire. Among the shell-craters of Nuns' Wood there were
hundreds of men lined up for attack. They had their rifles at the slope,
and they were hung round with bombs and trench-spades and cloth bags
with iron rations, and they began to move forward just as that
bombardment opened upon them. All the shell-fire burst over them and
into them. They were swept by it. They were killed in heaps. Afterwards
one of our airmen flew low over that stricken wood where they had been,
and he came back with his report. Never before, he said, had he seen so
many dead men. The German soldiers were lying there in great numbers.
Other attempts were made to get forward, but it was only on the right,
where there was close fighting, that the enemy made any progress.

At about six in the evening there was another call on our gunners, and
this time the report came that the enemy was assembling in the valley of
the Hanebeek. Two battalions of them were able to advance into the open
towards our lines before our guns found their target. Then they flung
themselves down under this new storm of fire or tried to escape from it
by running or plunging into shell-craters. There were not many who
escaped.

One of them who became a prisoner in our hands said that two battalions
were annihilated--he used the phrase "wiped out." Perhaps that was an
exaggeration. There are always some men who slip through, but in this
case whole ranks of men were blown to bits.

I talked to-day with some of our own wounded who came limping through
the casualty clearing-stations. They were men of the Worcesters and
Bedfords and Queen's, whose battalions I have met before after battles.
One of them told me how he lay out all night waiting for the attack in
the dawn on Glencorse Wood and Inverness Copse. There are only
tree-stumps there in the great white stretch of shell-craters, and the
enemy was holding the place lightly with machine-guns in those pits that
had been made by our fire. Our men were upon them quick after the
barrage, and they were routed out of their holes before they had time to
put up a strong defence. By bad luck, as sometimes happens, owing to the
eagerness of our men to cover as much ground as possible, the Irish
Rifles and the North Lancashires of the 25th Division went at least 200
yards beyond their goal, and were caught in our barrage, which was
preventing supports coming up to the enemy. As soon as they realized
their deadly error they fell back again, carrying their wounded.

       *       *       *       *       *

LATER

There was sharp hand-to-hand fighting on the Westhoek Ridge by the
Lancashire Fusiliers, North Lancashires, and Cheshires. Both sides at
last came into the open, the enemy standing about his concrete houses as
our men advanced upon them, and using machine-guns and rifles. Most of
these Germans were men of the 54th Reserve Division, and bold fellows
who did not surrender so easily as I first imagined, in spite of the
intense and prolonged barrage that had swept over them and wrecked their
ground. In a strong point at the south end of the ridge, one of those
concrete blockhouses which shelter machine-guns, they held out for three
hours, and it was only taken when it had been battered by trench-mortars
brought up into action at close range by some gallant men of ours, and
when it was rushed from the flanks while the ground was still being
swept by bullets. After that the ridge was ours on its forward slopes,
at the northern end dropping below the western slopes southwards.

In Glencorse Wood the Lancashire men were enfiladed by machine-guns when
a large part of the wood was no longer in our hands. It is on high
ground, and with other slopes beyond, like those of Nuns' Wood and
Polygon Wood, forms the barrier guarding the vital centres of the German
position in the north, so that he fights to hold it with the full weight
of his power in men and guns. Both are powerful, and his fire on Friday
and Saturday was the fiercest ever faced by men who have fought through
the Somme and later battles.

But his counter-attacks have failed against our Westhoek positions, and
everything I have heard shows that his battalions, above all the 27th
Regiment, were massacred by our artillery. Those Germans did not all die
by shell-fire. The Lancashire Fusiliers and the North Lancashires fired
their rifles all through Friday and Saturday at human targets they could
not fail to hit. German reserves hurried up to relieve the shattered
battalions and flung straight into the counter-attacks, wandered about
in the open, ignorant of our men's whereabouts, like lost sheep. They
were in full field kit, and as they came into the open our men shot at
them with deadly effect. The first sign of the first great
counter-attack on Friday was when seventy men or so came forward on the
left and tried to rush an old German gun-emplacement. They were seen by
the Lancashire Fusiliers, and the commanding officer, believing that an
attack was imminent, sent through the call for the guns which led to the
bombardment I have described in my earlier message.

We also opened a widespread barrage of machine-gun fire, and this caused
heavy slaughter. All the country was aflame throughout the afternoon of
Friday, and it was before the attack, at 6.40 in the evening, that the
enemy's artillery concentrated in full and frightful fury. This
artillery-fire has never ceased since then, though slackening down a
little from time to time, and to-day it was in full blast again. It is a
day of wonderful light, so that every tree and house and field of
standing corn is seen for miles from any height in a stereoscopic
panorama below a fleecy sky with long blue reaches between the cloud
mountains. There was a lot of air fighting this morning because of this
light across the landscape, and wherever I motored to-day there was the
loud drone of the flying engines, and little fat bursts of shrapnel
trying to catch German planes who came over on bombing adventures above
our camps and villages. The enemy is all out, and it seems to me likely
that he wishes to make this battle a decisive one of the war. I do not
see how he can hope to decide it in his own favour after the loss of the
Pilkem and Westhoek Ridges, but he is out to kill regardless of his own
losses.



VII

THE BATTLE OF LANGEMARCK


AUGUST 16

This morning our troops made a general advance beyond the line of our
recent attacks and gained about 1500 yards of ground on a wide front,
which includes the village of Langemarck, and goes southward in the
region of Glencorse Copse and Polygon Wood. From north to south the
divisions engaged were the 29th, 20th, 11th, 48th, 36th (Ulster), 16th
(Irish), 8th, and 56th.

On the left of our troops the French went forward also, and struck out
into the swampy neck of ground which they call the Peninsula or
Presqu'ile, surrounded on three sides by deep floods. On the right of
our attack the fighting has been most violent, and the enemy has made
strong and repeated counter-attacks over all the high ground which
drops down to Glencorse Wood from the Nuns' Wood to the Hanebeek. His
losses have been high, for although the weather is still stormy, making
the ground bad for our men, there is light for our flying men and
artillery observers, and at various parts of the Front his assembly of
troops has been signalled quickly, so that our guns have smashed up his
formations and caused great slaughter.

The Germans used to call the battles of the Somme the "blood-bath."
Their diaries and their letters revealed the horror they had of the
shambles into which they were driven. In the early days of this year
they made a strategic retreat, under the guidance of Hindenburg, with
the one object of escaping from our intense artillery-fire, but their
methods of defence have been entirely changed by holding the front lines
lightly by weak troops and scattered machine-gun emplacements, and
concentrating their best troops behind for counter-attacks, in order to
save man-power and lessen the tide of casualties. It is a sound system
of defence, but it is the policy of an army fighting a retreat and
giving up ground at the highest possible cost, never getting back by
counter-attack to quite the same line over which the enemy had flowed.
As a life-saving policy, however, the success has not been great, for it
is certain that the German troops are suffering hideously from our
shell-fire, and their counter-attacks have been costly in blood.

I suppose these words of mine convey nothing to people who read them.
How could they when for three years we have been talking in superlatives
without exaggerating the facts, but without understanding them, as minds
are numbed by colossal figures? But out here, seeing the flame of
shell-fire night after night stretching away round a great horizon, and
hearing from near and from afar the ceaseless hammer-strokes of great
guns, and watching the starlit sky, as I watched it last night from
quiet cornfields, all red and restless with winking lights leaping up in
tongues and spreading lengthwise in a sullen glare, one does realize a
little the monstrous scale of all this and the destruction that is being
done among the masses of men in the dark and in the hiding-places of the
woods and trenches.

Experts are wrangling over the numbers of the German reserves. Fantastic
figures are given of the millions of Germans still under arms. Well,
there is no exact data, and all we know with any certainty is that the
enemy is still outwardly strong--strong at least in defence. But the
magnitude of his losses during three years is revealed by the fact of
to-day's fighting and the place in which it happened. It was in the
autumn of 1914, during the first battle of Ypres, that the Germans
attacked our Third Brigade at Langemarck, where our English troops made
a great and victorious assault to-day. Three years ago they were the
German lads of the 1914 class who marched up to our lines, linked arm in
arm to be mowed down by the most deadly rifle-fire in the world, because
those men of our old Army were the finest marksmen. Yesterday at Lens,
or rather at Hill 70, there were boys of the 1919 class who helped to
hold the German lines, and that fact is one great tragedy of German
hopes and the great proof of her defeat.

Last night our English troops who were going to attack the village of
Langemarck, the old ghost-village which has been wiped out of all but
history, went across the Steenbeek stream and lay there waiting for the
hour of their assault. They were all light-infantry men, the King's, the
Duke of Cornwall's, Somerset, the "Koylies" (King's Own Yorkshire Light
Infantry), the King's Royal Rifles, and the Rifle Brigade of the 20th
Division.

As we know now from captured orders a German regiment was ordered to
attack our lines at 3.45 this morning. Only forty men of that regiment
were seen advancing and they were annihilated. Our men went forward when
there was light enough. Immediately on their right, in front of them,
was the ruin of an old estaminet called Au Bon Gîte, made into a
fortified emplacement and defended by machine-guns. It was a nasty
place, and our men avoided it, and swept both sides of it and beyond, so
that its garrison of gunners had to surrender. Keeping a steady line as
much as possible over bad ground, they went forward, leaving the waves
that followed them to deal with batches of prisoners who had been left
alive after our bombardment of the night, and made their way toward
Langemarck. Here they were in real trouble, but not from the enemy. It
was the state of the ground that threatened them with the worst
disaster. All round Langemarck the floods were out, and the heavy rains
of the week had filled old shell-holes to the brim and made a bog
everywhere. Men sank up to their waists as in the worst days of the
fighting during the winter on the Somme. It was not water but wet mud
that made their cold bath, and they had to use their rifles to keep
themselves from sinking deep, and men on little islands of more solid
ground had to haul out their comrades. All this meant loss of time, so
that our barrage would sweep ahead of them and the German gunners would
be able to do dirty work.

On the left of Langemarck the men were delayed by these bogs. On the
right they were able to push up with great difficulty, but still to get
on and work up to the village. The enemy ran as soon as they saw that
our men were near. There were some spasmodic bursts of machine-gun fire,
but the defence was feeble, and here, anyhow, the enemy had been
demoralized by our frightful gun-fire.

A regimental commander, a full colonel, was taken here, and that is a
rare bird to catch, as in most cases German officers of that rank are
well behind the line. He was dejected and nerve-shaken, and spoke freely
of the great losses of his men. They were men of the 79th Reserve
Division who had been holding Langemarck, and they have suffered most
severely, having lost large numbers of men in the previous attacks.
Other prisoners came from the 214th Division, holding the line north of
the Staden Railway--the railway to the ground above Bixschoote. The
regiment which perhaps suffered worst of all was a battalion of the
262nd, which was broken to pieces in the British attack across the
Steenbeek.

To the right of the attack on Langemarck our light-infantry men were
successful, and in spite of concrete blockhouses and some deadly
machine-gunning, won all the ground they had been asked to get. The men
report that they saw large numbers of German dead, and that little
groups of men fled before them as they advanced. Later in the morning
the enemy rallied, and came back in counter-attacks, one of which seems
to have come within ten yards of our men before it withered away under
rifle and machine-gun fire.

It was on the right centre of the attack that, as I have said, the
fighting was most uncertain. The Irish Divisions were heavily engaged
here working towards Polygon Wood and the high ground thereabouts. They
had to advance over frightful ground, and against the enemy in his
greatest strength, because he is determined to defend these high slopes
if he loses all else.



VIII

CAPTURE OF HILL SEVENTY


AUGUST 15

This morning, at dawn, the Canadians captured Hill 70, attacked and
gained a maze of streets and trenches forming the mining colonies of
St.-Laurent and St.-Emilie, and are now fighting on the outskirts of
Lens. A fair number of prisoners have been taken--I saw parties of them
marching down under escort an hour or two ago. Some of the enemy's
troops were seen running away from the wreckage of the red houses in the
suburbs of Lens as soon as Hill 70 was taken, but in some parts of the
outer defences north and west of the city the garrison is fighting
fiercely. The Canadians have, at any rate, gained most of the outward
bastions of Lens formed by the separate colonies, or cités, as they are
called, made up of blocks of miners' cottages and works united in one
big mining district.

Hill 70 is ours again after two years since we took it and lost it. I
don't know whether that will cause a thrill to people at home. I think
it will to those whose men fought there in the September of 1915. One of
my own great memories of the war is of those days in the battle of Loos,
when the Scots of the 15th Division and the Londoners of the 47th, and
afterwards the Guards, went through the village of Loos and gained that
dirty ridge of ground among old slag-heaps under frightful shell-fire.
It was gained in the first great rush of the Londoners and the Scots.
The Londoners played a football up the slopes, and the Scots went up
with their pipes--do you remember?--and for a few hours they had a quiet
time here and collected souvenirs, until later the enemy came back in
fierce counter-attacks, and the Guards and the 1st Division fell back
after heroic fighting and great losses. I saw the Jocks on that first
day coming back with German helmets on their heads, laughing in spite of
their wounds, and for the first time I saw masses of German prisoners
taken by British troops, and in the square of Béthune, through which, in
driving rain, there went a steady tide of men and artillery, there was a
group of German guns as trophies of victory. It seemed a great victory
at first. It was only afterwards we knew how much more might have been
gained. And there was a tragic story to tell. Some of the Jocks went as
far as an outlying northern suburb of Lens, but few of them ever came
back again. Now to-day, after two years less a month, the Canadians have
fought over the same ground, and have gone over and beyond Hill 70 and
linked up many of their former gains in these mining cités on the
outskirts of Lens.

In describing former fighting round Lens I said it was like a war in
Wigan. The comparison is true. But to-day, when I watched the scene of
the Canadian attack with heavy shell-fire over all these houses and
pit-heads, I thought of another northern town which would look very much
like this if the hell of war came to it. I thought of Bolton and its
suburbs, Entwistle and other straggling little towns on the edge of the
moors, with Doffcocker and rural villages among cornfields, and factory
chimneys on the horizon, and slag-heaps beyond green fields. That will
give an image to English people of the scene of war to-day, except that
Lens and its suburbs were never so black as our English factory towns,
and its walls are still red in spite of their shell-holes.

Before the attack began at dawn wild flights of shells passed over this
little world of ruin to Hill 70, which is no hill at all, but just a low
hummock of ground criss-crossed with trenches and burrowed with dug-outs
and barren and filthy with relics of death, on the northern side of the
city of Lens. From all the ruins around, separate villages of ruin
joining up with the streets of Lens itself, red flames gushed up when
our batteries fired at a hot pace, and where the shells burst there were
long low flashes spreading across a sky heavy and black with
storm-clouds. Over the German lines and the houses where they held the
cellars the shells burst in a tumult which had a sudden beginning just
before the dawn, and above all their smoke and fire there were fountains
of wonderfully bright light, of burning gold and of running flame all
scarlet and alive. The light was from our smoke-producing rockets, and
the running flame was from drums of boiling oil which we fired into the
enemy's trenches to burn him alive if we caught him there. I saw the far
spread of gun-fire in the early morning after the thin crescent moon had
faded, and when there was a grey, moist light over the city and fields.

Soon after the Canadians had taken Hill 70 the enemy flung back a great
barrage, so that the ridge was vomiting up columns of black smoke like
scores of factory chimneys on a foggy day. And in all the suburbs of
Lens, those cités of St.-Laurent and St.-Emilie and St.-Pierre, and into
Liévin and Calonne, and Maroc and Grenay, he pitched heavy shells which
came howling across the wilderness of bricks and slag-heaps, and broke
into gruff enormous coughs out of which black demons of smoke rose like
the evil genii out of the bottle, darkening the view. An hour or so
later the sun came brightly through the clouds, and these cités of
strife, girdled by cornfields in which the stooks are standing, and by
green hills across which the tide of slaughter has swept, leaving them
in peace again, were flooded with fresh, glinting light, so that the
scene was rich in colour. There was not a figure to be seen on Hill 70,
not a movement of life among the houses around Lens. The Canadians had
gone across in the smoke, and now they were hidden among the ruins. The
only life was that of shell-fire, and it has a life of its own, though
it is meant for death.

A little to the left in front of me was one of the fosses which rise
among the broken houses. For some reason the enemy had special spite
against it, and every few minutes a great shell came with a yell and
smashed about it. The German gunners were flinging their stuff about in
a random way, searching for our batteries and hoping to kill collections
of men. They did not have much luck, and they all but caught sixty of
their own men who had just come along as prisoners, and, having escaped
from the barrage-fire, hoped for safety from their own guns. One of
their shells fell within twenty yards of them, but before the next one
came their guards told them to quick march, and they ran hard. They were
wretched-looking men, more miserable in physique than any I have seen
for a long time, and sallow and pinched and gaunt. Some of them were
very young, but not all, and there were none so young as those described
to me by some Canadian soldiers who fought with them to-day.

"They were children," said one man, "no bigger than schoolboys. I call
it cruel to send such youngsters into the fighting-line."

Another man told me that he saw boys lying dead who looked no older than
fourteen, and it made him feel sick. They could not all have been like
that, these men of the 155th and 156th Reserve Regiments, regiments from
whom some of the prisoners come, because they are making a very stiff
fight in some parts of their defensive system, and the Canadians have
real men against them. It seems that Hill 70 was held lightly and by the
younger class of soldiers, the best Prussian troops being kept back to
hold the inner defences of Lens, and to make counter-attacks.

"It was a walk-over," said a Canadian, describing the assault on the
hill. "Our barrage was great, and it had simply smashed the ground to
pulp. I thought it a worse wreck than Vimy, which was some wreck. One
could just see a faint suggestion of trenches, but everything was clean
swept. There were two or three machine-gun emplacements which gave us a
bit of trouble, but not much. We jumped on them and wiped them out. I
can't say I saw many German dead, but just a few boys. I expect the
others were buried and smashed up." These Canadians were wonderful. They
went into the battle with an absolute confidence. "I knew we should do
the trick," said one of them, who came walking back with a wound in his
thigh, "and all my pals were of the same mind."

He said one amazing thing, lying there waiting for his operation in the
back parlour of a miner's cottage, in one of these mazes into which the
enemy was plugging shells at times: "I enjoyed the show very much," he
said, "it was a fair treat."

Next to him lay another badly wounded man with a piece of wire plucked
from his own flesh wrapped up in a piece of cotton-wool as a trophy, and
a hole through his leg. He grinned at me and said: "We put it across
them all right. I wouldn't have missed it, but I'm sorry I got this leg
messed up. I didn't come over to get a Blighty wound. I want to see the
end of this war. That's what I want to do. I want to be in at the end."

The wounded men came back like that unless they came back with only the
soles of their boots showing over the edge of the ambulance.
Fortunately, up to midday at least, there were not many badly wounded
men. The spirit of men who have fought and fought and seen the worst
horrors of war, and suffered its most hideous discomforts, is one of
those miracles which I do not understand. I only record the fact about
these hardy Canadians and the Canadian Scottish.

Of the same character are the civilian inhabitants of one of these
mining cités on the edge of the battlefields, where they have remained
since the beginning of the war. Nearer even than the edge. They live in
streets where most of the houses have been hit and many of them wrecked.
Death comes about and above them. Many of the people have been killed,
and the children go to school in cellars with gas-masks because of the
poison, that comes on an east wind or a north. They were there again
to-day: old women drinking early morning coffee in little rooms that
have stood between masses of ruin; a widow in black weeds, like a
dowager duchess, walking slowly down a street shelled last night and
to-day; girls with braided hair standing at street corners, among
soldiers in steel helmets, watching shells bursting a little way off,
with no certainty that that is their limit.

One of these girls came along, and I saw that she had a bandaged head.

"Wounded?" I asked. She nodded and said, "Yes, a day or two ago."

"Why do you stay in such a place?" I said. "Aren't you frightened?"

She laughed. "What can one do? My mamma keeps living here, so how can I
go away? Besides, one gets used to it a little."

I am bound to say I don't get used to these things, but see them always
with amazement.

       *       *       *       *       *

A FEW DAYS LATER

Lens itself is now no better than its outer suburbs, a town of battered
houses without roofs and with broken walls leaning against rubbish-heaps
of brickwork and timber. The enemy sent out a wireless message that the
English gunners were destroying French property by bombarding the city,
and then made a deep belt of destruction by blowing up long blocks of
streets. After that our guns have completed the ruin, for there was a
German garrison in every house, and in this kind of warfare there must
be no tenderness of sentiment about bricks and mortar if the enemy is
between the walls. So now in Lens the only cover for Germans and their
only chance of safety is below ground in the tunnels and cellars
reinforced by concrete and built by the forced labour of civilians two
years and more ago when the city was menaced by a French attack. Into
these tunnels the German garrisons of Lens make their way by night, and
in them they live and die. Many die in them it is certain, for a tunnel
is no more than a death-trap when it is blocked at the entrance by the
fall of houses, or when it collapses by the bombardment of heavy shells
which pierce down deep and explode with monstrous effect. That has
happened, as we know, in many parts of the German line, and recently on
the French front whole companies of German soldiers were buried alive in
deep caves. It is happening in Lens now, if the same effect is produced
by the same power of artillery. But death comes to the German soldiers
there in another way, without any noise and quite invisible, and very
horrible in its quietude. Many times lately the Canadians have drenched
the city of Lens with gas that kills, and soaks down heavily into
dug-outs and tunnels, and stifles men in their sleep before they have
time to stretch out a hand for a gas-mask, or makes them die with their
masks on if they fumble a second too long. The enemy, who was first to
use poison-gas, should wish to God he had never betrayed his soul by
such a thing, for it has come back upon him as a frightful retribution,
and in Lens, in those deep, dark cellars below the ruins, German
soldiers must live with terror and be afraid to sleep.

Yesterday, when I went to that neighbourhood, I saw four German soldiers
who had come out into the open, rather risking death there than by
staying in their dungeon. They appeared for a minute round the corner of
some brick-stacks in the Cité St.-Auguste. I was watching the German
lines there, and staring at the ruined houses and slag-heaps and broken
water-towers of Harnes and Annay, beyond the outer fields of the mining
city. The church towers in both those villages still stand, though a
little damaged, and some of the red roofs are still intact. The German
lines were away beyond a strip of No Man's Land, and here not a soul was
to be seen, no trace of life in all this land of death until suddenly I
saw those four figures come stealthily up behind the brick-stacks. They
stood up quite straight and looked towards our ground, and then after a
second crouched low so that only their heads showed above a little dip
in the ground. A few minutes later I saw two more Germans. They ran at a
jog-trot along a hedge outside the Cité St.-Auguste and made a bolt
through a gap. It was as strange to see them as though they were
visitors from another planet, for, in this district of Lens, no man
shows his body above ground unless he is careless of a quick death, and
one may stare for days at the empty houses and the broken mine-shafts
and the high black slag-heaps without seeing any living thing.

On our side of the lines, during a long walk yesterday to the crest of
Hill 70, I saw only a few lonely figures above ground, although below
ground there were many, and in one dug-out where I was lucky to go I
found a luncheon-party of officers discussing the psychology of Kerensky
and news of the world one day old, and the chances of three years more
of war or thirty, as men do round a London dinner-table, though there
were loud, unpleasant noises overhead, where German shells were in
flight to a trench which had been recommended to me as a nice safe place
for a Sunday walk. Somehow, I did not believe in the safety of any walk
in this neighbourhood, because there were fresh shell-holes along the
tracks between the ruined houses which could not inspire the simplest
soul with confidence. There is not a house there which has not been
knocked edgewise or upside down, and the little village church I passed
is no longer a place for worship but a nightmare building, inhabited by
the menace of death. The German gunners cannot leave these mining
villages alone, though they are as deserted as the Polar regions, with
no cheerful Tommy's face to be seen through any of the empty
window-frames, or through any of the holed walls or down any of the
sand-bag shelters which used to be the homes of British soldiers when
the fighting was closer this way.

It is the loneliness which one hates most in these places, especially
when shells come along with a beastly noise which seems a particular
menace to one's own body as there is nobody else to be killed. So I was
glad to fall in with a young officer who was working his way up the
line. He had just brought down a wounded man, and was stopping a while
in a wayside dressing-station, where there was a friendly and lonely
doctor, who offered the hospitality of his sand-bags and steel girders
to any passer-by, and said "Stay a bit longer" when bits of shell could
be heard whining outside. We went along the way together, close to the
grim old muck-heap, the Double Grassier, where Germans and English lived
cheek by jowl for two years until recent weeks, fighting each other with
bombs when they were bored with each other's company, and so past the
village of Loos.

The way up to Hill 70 is historic ground, and every bit of brickwork,
every stump of a tree, every yard or so of road, is haunted by the
memory of gallant men, who in September just two years ago came this way
under frightful shell-fire and fell here in great numbers. Among them
were the Londoners of the glorious 47th Division and the Scots of the
15th--as I walked by the village of Loos I thought of some friends of
mine in the Gordons who had great adventures there that day amongst
those dreadful little ruins--and Hill 70 was taken and lost again after
heroic fighting and tragic episodes, which are still remembered with a
shudder by men who hate to think of them.

It is only a few weeks ago that we took the ground beyond in that great
Canadian assault upon Hill 70 which I described at the time, and up
there on the hill-side--it is not much of a hill, but goes up very
gradually to the crest--the trenches are still littered with German
relics, and in the deep dug-outs burnt out and blown out there are still
German bodies lying. The smell of death comes out of these holes, and it
is not a pleasant place.

Before the Canadian assault English troops of the glorious old 6th
Division captured and held the approaches and raided the Germans in Nash
Alley, which is a famous trench in the history of the Durhams and the
Essex Regiment and of the Buffs and West Yorkshires, and resisted
ferocious German attacks with the most grim courage. Under their
pressure the Germans yielded part of their line one night, withdrawing
to another line of trenches secretly, but these troops of ours followed
them up so quickly that they were in the German dug-outs before the
candles had gone out. The Canadian capture of Hill 70 was a great blow
to the German command, and they tried vainly to get it back by repeated
counter-attacks. They will never get it back now, and Lens, which lies
below it, remains for them a death-trap, which only pride makes them
hold, and where in the cellars men are forced to live hellishly under
our shells and gas in order to uphold that pride in men who do not take
the risks nor suffer the agony of this hidden death.



IX

LONDONERS IN GLENCORSE WOOD


AUGUST 17

The battle of Langemarck yesterday, and all the struggle southward to
the ground about Glencorse Wood and Inverness Copse was one of the most
heroic as well as one of the bloodiest days of fighting in all this war.
The enemy put up a fierce resistance except at points where underfed
boys had been thrust out in shell-holes, as in the neighbourhood of
Langemarck, to check the first onslaught of our men if possible, and if
not to die. Behind them, as storm troops for counter-attack, were some
of the finest troops of the German army. Among them was the 54th
Division, which had already been severely mauled by our gun-fire and was
utterly exhausted. But other divisions, like the 34th, who were in front
of our Londoners, were fresh and strong, only just brought into the
battle-line. Behind the immediate supporting troops were massed reserves
whom the German command held ready to hurry up in wagons and light
railways to any part of the field where their lines were most
threatened, or when instant counter-attacks might inflict most damage on
our men.

In gun-power the enemy was and is strong. He had prepared a large
concentration of guns south-east of our right flank, and whatever may be
his reserves of ammunition he has gathered up great stores for this
present battle. On the right of our attack he stood on high ground, the
crest of Polygon Wood, and the slopes down from Abraham Heights and the
Gravenstafel Ridge. It is the big door which he must slam in our face at
all costs, because it opens out to his plains beyond; and against it he
has massed all his weight. Our men, it will be seen, were not likely to
have a walk-over. They did not, but took all they gained by hard
fighting. It could in no sense of the word be a walk-over. The ground
was hideous, worse than in the winter on the Somme. That seems strange,
with a hot sun shining overhead and dust rising in clouds along traffic
roads behind the battle-line as I saw it to-day. That is the irony of
things. Where our men were fighting yesterday and to-day there are
hundreds of thousands of shell-holes, some three feet deep and some ten
feet deep, and each shell-hole is at least half full of water, and many
of them are joined so that they form lakes deep enough to drown men and
horses if they fall in. So it was, and is, around the place where
Langemarck village stood, and where the old lake of the château that no
longer stands has flooded over into a swamp, and where a double row of
black tree-stumps goes along the track of the broken road where the
people of Langemarck used to walk to church before the devil did in so
many old churches and established little hells of his own on their
rubbish-heaps. So it was yesterday and remains to-day all about, the
stumps of trees sticking up out of a mush of slimy, pitted ground which
go by the romantic names of Glencorse Wood and Inverness Copse, and
Shrewsbury Forest and Polygon Wood. The photographs of our airmen taken
yesterday in low flights over these damned places reveal the full
foulness of them. Seen from this high view, they are long stretches of
white barren earth pock-marked by innumerable craters, where no man or
human body is to be seen, though there are many dead and some living
lying in those holes, and they are all bright and shining, because the
sun is glinting on the water which fills them, except where dense clouds
of smoke from great gun-fire drift across.

The courage of men who attacked over such ground was great courage. The
grim, stubborn way in which our soldiers made their way through these
bogs and would not be beaten, though they slipped and fell and stuck
deep while the enemy played machine-gun bullets on to their lines and
flung high explosives over the whole stretch of bog-land through which
they had to pass, is one of the splendid and tragic things in our poor
human story.

I told yesterday how some of our English battalions took Langemarck like
this, leaving many comrades bogged, wounded, and spent, but crawling
round the concrete houses, over the old cellars of the village and
routing out the Germans who held them with machine-guns. At the
blockhouse on the way up, called Au Bon Gîte, an oblong fort of concrete
walls ten feet thick, the Germans bolted inside as soon as they saw our
men, slammed down an iron door, and for a time stayed there while our
bombers prowled round like hungry wolves waiting for their prey. Later
they gave themselves up because our line swept past them and they had no
hope.

In another place of the same kind, called Reitre Farm, from which came a
steady blast of machine-gun fire, our men made several desperate rushes
and at last, when many lay wounded, a machine-gunner of ours got close
and thrust the barrel of his weapon through a slit in the wall and swept
the inner chamber with a flood of bullets.

There were savage fights in some of the dark cellars of Langemarck
between men who would not surrender and men who would not turn back, and
men who fell heavily against other men and knew that in these
underground holes it must be their life or the other's, and the quicker
the better. They fought their way beyond Langemarck yesterday, and on
the left of our advance we hold to-day all the ground that was taken,
which follows the curve of the Langemarck-Gheluvelt line, dug and wired
by months of labour according to the orders of the German command,
afraid of our coming menace, and now blotted out. The fighting all about
this ground was by groups of English soldiers, in some cases without
officers, and in some cases led by privates with a sense of leadership
and fine, stern courage. They were Royal Fusiliers, Lancashire
Fusiliers, Middlesex, Guernseys, and other battalions of the 29th
Division, the Light Infantry battalions of the 20th Division, the
Yorkshires, Lancashires, South Staffords, Lincolns, and Borderers of the
11th Division, and the Oxfords, Gloucesters, and Berkshires of the 48th
Division. So things happened on the left of the battle. All ground was
gained as it had been planned, and all held, and many hundreds of
prisoners were taken, though that is not the best proof of success.

On the right it was different. It was on the right that the enemy fought
hardest, counter-attacked most fiercely and most often, and concentrated
the heaviest artillery. There were the Irish Brigades here, and English
county troops of the 8th Division, and London battalions of the 56th.
All this side of the attack become involved at once in desperate
fighting. The ground was damnable--cratered and full of water and
knee-deep in foul mud--and beyond them was high ground, struck through
with gully-like funnels, through which the enemy could pour up his storm
troops for counter-attack; and away in the mud were the same style of
concrete forts as up north, still unbroken by our bombardments and
fortified again with new garrisons of machine-gunners, taking the place
of those who on July 31 were killed or captured when this ground was
stormed and, later, lost.

The English and the Irish battalions made progress in spite of heavy
fire on them and no light losses; but in the afternoon of yesterday they
had to withdraw from their advanced positions under the pressure of
fierce counter-attacks by fresh troops. They fought these rear-guard
actions stubbornly. Irish as well as English fought sometimes in small
groups in isolated posts, until they were killed or captured. They made
the enemy pay a big price in blood for his old ground, but their own
casualties could not be light in view of the desperate character of this
struggle.

As yet I know very few details of the Irish side of things. I know more
about the Londoners, for I have been to see them to-day, and they have
told me the facts of yesterday. They are tragic facts, because for
English troops it is always a tragedy to withdraw from any yard of soil
they have taken by hard fighting, and many good London lads will never
come back from that morass. But there is nothing the matter with London
courage, and to me there is something more thrilling in the way these
boys fought to the death, some of them in the bitterness of retreat,
than in the rapid and easy progress of men in successful attack. Lying
out all night in the wet mud under heavy fire, they attacked at dawn up
by Glencorse Wood, in the direction of Polygon Wood. On the right they
and their neighbours at once came under blasts of fire from five
machine-guns in a strong point, and under a hostile barrage-fire that
was frightful in its intensity They could not make much headway. No
mortal men could have advanced under such fire, and so their comrades on
the left were terribly exposed to the scythe of bullets which swept them
also.

Men of London regiments--the Queen's Westminsters and the old "Vics" and
the Rangers and the Kensingtons--fought forward with a wonderful spirit
which is a white shining light in all this darkness--through Glencorse
Wood and round to the north of Nuns' Wood, avoiding the most deeply
flooded ground here, where there was one big boggy lake. Parties of the
Middlesex went into Polygon Wood, which is a long way forward, and
actually brought prisoners out of that place. At a strong point near the
Hooge-Gheluvelt road they killed thirty-four Germans and captured the
redoubt. But there were Germans still left in other concrete houses
near by, and they were very strong at the Zonnebeke position on the
north-west.

Very soon counter-attacks developed from the south out of Inverness
Copse, and from the north. The Londoners were exhausted after their
dreadful night and all this fighting over foul ground; they were in
exposed positions, and they were shut in by the most terrible gun-fire.
What happened with the Irish and other troops happened here. Our airmen,
flying low, saw small isolated groups of London boys fighting separate
battles against great odds. The enemy was encircling them, and they were
trying to hold rear-guard positions, so that their comrades could
withdraw in good order. A signalled message that found its way to
headquarters tells one such story. I read to-day the little pink slip
bearing the words as they came in. They are from a Middlesex officer.
"Am in shell-hole before second objective, and two strong points held by
the enemy. Have ten men with me. We are surrounded, and heavy
machine-gun fire is being turned on us. Regret no course but to
surrender. Can't see any of our forces."

That message was the only one of its kind received, but there were many
small groups of London men, led by young officers, or without officers,
who held on to the last like that, and did not let down the pride of
their great city, so gay, so ignorant yesterday afternoon, with a tide
of traffic swirling down its streets, while out here on the wet barren
earth, under the same sun, these boys of London fought and died, or in
small groups rose from among their dead and wounded and went white-faced
into the circle of the enemy who had surrounded them.



X

SOMERSETS AT LANGEMARCK


AUGUST 19

The enemy, after denying our taking of Langemarck, now admit their loss
of it. Our prisoners who were brought through the place had the German
wireless read out to them and were abashed by the untruth of the
message. It was a German sergeant-major who put up the only excuse. He
laughed and said: "In this war it is only those who win who can afford
to tell the official truth. A reverse is always covered by a lie."

We are well beyond Langemarck, and to-day I went among the men who got
there first--the 20th Division--fighting their way past machine-gun
blockhouses, which is the new system of German defence, past the deadly
machine-gun fire that came out of them, and through to the village and
its surrounding swamps. These young officers, who have lost many of
their comrades, and these men of theirs belonging to light-infantry
battalions, were sleeping and resting in their tents behind the
fighting-lines, and cleaning themselves up after days in wet mud and the
filth of the battlefield. But they were keen to tell the tale of their
adventures, and if I could put them down just as they were told, one man
adding to another man's story, the excitement of remembrance rousing
them from their weariness, and queer grim laughter breaking out when
they spoke of their greatest dangers, it would be a strange narrative.
They were men who had escaped death by prodigious chance, and officers
and men greeted each other joyfully and with a splendid spirit of
comradeship as brothers-in-arms who were glad to see each other alive
and remembered how they had stuck it together in the worst hours. They
belonged to the Somerset Light Infantry of the 20th Division, and they
came from old towns like Bridgwater and Crewkerne and Yeovil, which seem
a million miles away from such scenes of war. One young officer of the
Somersets knew most of what had happened, and his own adventures that
day would fill a book if told in detail. He took me into his tent and
showed me how his kit had been pierced by bullets and torn by the blast
of shell-fire, and he marvelled that he had no more than a hurt hand cut
against the teeth of a German sniper and a body bruised all over, but
with a whole skin. "A bit of luck," he said. This young man must have
been born under a lucky star, for the things he went through that day
would have frightened a cat relying on nine lives and taking a hundred
chances on the score of them.

On the way up to Langemarck to the left of that solid blockhouse called
Au Bon Gîte, where the enemy held out behind iron doors while our troops
went past them swept by machine-gun fire, there were many German snipers
lying about in shell-holes. They were very brave men, put out into
these holes to check our advance, and knowing that they were bound to
die, because that is the almost certain fate of snipers on such ground.
They lay doggo, pretending to be corpses when any of our men were near
enough to see, but using their rifles with deadly aim when they had any
elbow-room. I heard that one man killed four of our officers, and
another killed fourteen men and wounded eleven before he was shot
through the head. One of these men well behind our advancing waves lay
very still, close to the young officer of the Somersets of whom I spoke,
and who saw the fellow move and raise his rifle. He pounced on him and
struck him across the face with his bare fist and tore his hand open
against the man's teeth. They were bad teeth, and the hand is now
festering. Another sniper gave himself away, and the young officer shot
him through the head with a revolver, which was very busy all that day.
I have already told how these light-infantry men had to struggle through
bogs around Langemarck, how they fell into shell-holes full of water,
and how, under great fire, they made their way into the place where
Langemarck village had once been and attacked the dug-outs and
blockhouses there. Some of the strangest episodes happened between the
village and a point called the Streiboom. There were two more
blockhouses on the Langemarck road girdled by machine-gun fire. The
first one was rushed by twenty men, led by this young officer I have
been telling about, and bombed until thirty Germans tumbled out and
surrendered. But beyond was the other blockhouse, and upon this the
officer of the Somersets advanced with only six men. A machine-gun was
firing from the right of it, and it was a strong place of concrete with
no open door. The seven Somersets went straight for it, and the officer
flung two bombs through the loopholes, but they did not seem to take
effect. Then he hurled two more bombs, which were his last, at the iron
door, but they did not burst. With his bare fists he beat at the door
and shouted out, "Come out, you blighters, come out." Presently, to his
surprise, they came out, not two or three, nor six or seven, but
forty-two stout and hefty men. Among them was an English soldier badly
wounded, who had been taken prisoner three days before. He was a
Yorkshireman, who had lain among the enemy, well treated, but dying. The
Germans could not send him behind their lines because of our
bombardment, which had cut off their supplies, so that they were four
days hungry when they surrendered. In another dug-out was another
Yorkshireman, and he is now safe and well behind our own lines.

There were eight machine-guns in that last blockhouse, one of which I
saw to-day, and two of them, fitted up with new springs, were used
against the enemy. One of them was worked on a hydraulic lift, so that
it could be got into action very quickly from its underground place. In
the blockhouse from which the forty-two had been taken by this small
body of Somersets was a great store of 5·9 shells. All told this little
group of men took 100 prisoners that day, and their officer himself is
said to have killed sixteen Germans and to have wounded many more. After
the blockhouse affair he chased a number of the enemy running down the
Langemarck road, and, using his revolver in the cowboy fashion, dropping
his wrist from the shoulder, he plugged them as he ran. After that he
went on and held an exposed advanced post with a mixed lot of Somersets
and "Koylies" (King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) and Rifle Brigade
men. They had next to no ammunition, but they held on all night, hoping
for the best, but not sure of it. And this young officer who was their
leader told me to-day that--great God!--he "enjoyed" himself and was
"fearfully bucked" with his day's work. The excitement of it all was in
his eyes, as he told me, in much more detail than I have given, the
story of the thirty-six hours.

It is indeed an astounding chapter of courage all this attack on
Langemarck by men who before the attack had been bombarded with gas and
other shells, and who then floundered in deep bogs, where they got stuck
up to the waist, but worked in small parties up and on, fighting all the
way against an enemy who put up a gallant and stubborn resistance and
sold every hundred yards of ground as dearly as he could. The runners
who went back again and again through that slough of despond under
damnable fire were real heroes. The stretcher-bearers who carried down
the wounded all that day and night regardless of their own lives were
beyond words splendid, and the carriers who brought up rations so that
the men in front should have enough to eat and drink were as brave as
those who fought. In the midst of all this turmoil, all this death, all
this mud and blood, men kept their sense of humour and their shrewd wit
in a way which beats me. "Do you speak English?" said a sergeant-major
to a German non-commissioned officer who came out of a dug-out full of
men. "Nein, nein," said the man. "Well, you've got to learn bally
quick," said the sergeant-major, "so go and tell those pals of yours to
come out before something happens to them." And the German learnt enough
English in the sergeant-major's eyes to deliver the command correctly
enough.

I have spoken only of the Somersets. Other light infantry--the Durhams
and the "Koylies" and the D.C.L.I.--who worked with them and who took
Reitres Farm and other strong points, were not less dogged, and this day
at Langemarck was a glorious revelation of the old spirit of the West
Country, which is still strong and fine.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now I must write again about the Canadians, whose attack towards
Lens I watched the other day among our guns.

That story is not yet finished, and has been going on ever since that
morning when the Canadians took Hill 70 and the cités of St.-Emile and
St.-Laurent, working forward towards the heart of Lens. It is clear that
the enemy's command issued orders for Hill 70 and the other ground to be
retaken at all costs. There have been no fewer than thirteen
counter-attacks against the Canadian troops, and men of the 4th Guards
Division, and later of the 220th Regiment, have come forward in wave
after wave and hurled themselves with desperate courage against the
Canadian defence.

Time after time they have been seen assembling by our flying men and
observers, and time after time their ranks have been shattered by our
guns. To the north of Lens there is a chalk quarry, which was not gained
by the Canadians in their first attack, so that they established their
line on the west side of it, and it was against this line that repeated
efforts were made. Each attempt was smashed up, and then the Canadians
advanced into the quarry and captured ninety men of many units and
twenty machine-guns. The prisoners complain that their officers had lost
their heads, and had been utterly demoralized. After violent attacks on
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the enemy made a great effort with
every weapon of frightfulness on Friday evening, using poison-gas and
flame-jets and a hurricane of high explosives in order to drive the
Canadians off Hill 70. It failed with great losses to themselves when
the German infantry attacked, and the attacks yesterday have had no
greater success. The Canadians claim that the enemy's losses must be at
least three times as great as their own. There were moments when the
Canadians were hard pressed, and one of them was when a battalion
commander was warned that the Germans were behind him. "I'm all right,"
he said cheerily, and then suddenly he said, "Good Lord, so they are."
He was not heard from again for two hours and a half, and in that time
he had organized his clerks and batmen and signallers and driven out a
party of Germans who had worked out round No Man's Land and thrust a
wedge behind him. The fighting has been savage and fierce, and the
Canadians have used the bayonet at close quarters and fought hand to
hand in the dark cellars of the mining cités. This phase of the war is
as bloody as anything that has been done in the history of human strife.



XI

THE IRISH IN THE SWAMPS


AUGUST 21

It is of the Irish now that I will write, though their story is four
days old and not a tale of great victory. It is easier to write of
success than of failure, and of great advances than of grim rear-guard
actions fought by men desperately tried but still heroic. But I want to
tell the story of the Irish who went forward over bad ground on the
morning of August 16, that morning when there was great success at
Langemarck on the left, and something less than success on the right.

These Irishmen had no luck at all. They gained ground but lost it again.
It is up to the Irish to tell this tale, for they were grand men and
they fought and fell with simple valour. They were the Southern Irish
and the men of Ulster side by side again, as they were at Wytschaete,
where I met them on the morning of the battle and afterwards, glad
because they had taken a great share in one of the finest victories of
the war. Their laughter rang out then as they told me their adventures,
all their young officers keen to say how splendid their men had been,
and the men themselves drawing cheerful comparisons between this day's
luck and that other day at Ginchy, on the Somme, when they gained
another victory, but with thinned ranks, so that when I met them
marching out they had but the remnants of battalions, and their general
called out words of good cheer to them with a break in his voice. After
Wytschaete they were in high spirits. Quick in attack, full of the old
Irish dash, they were the men for a sudden assault, needing an impetuous
advance, while they were fresh and unspoilt. But they had no luck this
time.

Let me tell first the happenings of the Irish troops on the right, the
Catholic Irish, whose own right was on the Roulers railway, going up to
the Potsdam Redoubt. An hour or so before the attack the enemy, as
though knowing what was about to come, flung down a tremendous and
destructive barrage, answered by our own drum-fire, which gave the
signal for the Irish to advance. The Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal
Irish Rifles went forward on the right and the Inniskillings on the
left. In front of them were numbers of German strong points, the now
famous pill-boxes, or concrete blockhouses, which the enemy has built as
his new means of defence to take the place of trench systems. They were
Beck House, Borry Farm, and the Bremen Redoubt--sinister names which
will never be forgotten in Irish history. There were also odd bits of
trench here and there for the use of snipers and small advanced posts.
As the first wave of the Irish assaulting troops advanced Germans rose
from those ditches and ran back to the shelter of the concrete works,
and immediately from those emplacements and from other machine-gun
positions echeloned in depth behind them swept a fierce enfilade fire of
machine-gun bullets, even through the barrage of our shell-fire, which
went ahead of the Irish line. Many men in the first wave dropped, but
the others kept going, and reached almost as far as they had been asked
to go. The Royal Irish Rifles worked up the Roulers railway to the level
crossing, and captured two German officers and thirty prisoners. The
Dublin Fusiliers, on their left, were held up by machine-guns from the
Bremen Redoubt, and later a message came down from that small party. It
was from a young Irish subaltern. "I am lying out here in a shell-hole.
All officers and men killed or wounded." Other men joined him, but were
cut off and taken prisoners. On the left the Inniskillings, who had
crossed over the Zonnebeke river, made good and rapid progress,
capturing two strong redoubts and seizing an important little hill--Hill
37--which was one of the keys of the position. The success of the day
would have been gained if the centre had been carried, and if the
supporting troops could have come up. But neither of these things
happened. The supporting waves were caught by the cross-fire of
machine-guns, and they could make hardly any headway. The Borry Farm
Redoubt gave most trouble. It contained five machine-guns and a garrison
of sixty expert and determined gunners, and never fell all day. It broke
the centre of the Irish attack, and was the cause of heroic but deadly
efforts by the Irish Rifles, followed by Inniskillings. The Royal Irish
Fusiliers attacked it by direct assault, knowing that everything was
staked on their success. They went for it like tigers, but without
avail. One of the battalion officers, seeing this failure, but knowing
how all depended upon the capture of that fort, thereupon led another
attack by a company of the Royal Irish Rifles. This met the same fate.

Meanwhile the men of the Ulster Division were fighting just as
desperately. They had ahead of them several of the concrete forts, one
of which, near Pond Farm, was a strong defensive system with deep
dug-outs and overhead cover proof against shell-fire. This and other
strong points had wooden platforms above the concrete walls, on which
the gunners could mount their machines very quickly, firing them behind
two yards thickness of concrete.

Opposite the Pommern Redoubt stands a small hill which the enemy has
used for a long time as one of his chief observation-posts, as it gives
a complete view of our ground. Beyond that the country rises to a
saddle-back ridge, with double spurs guarded on the lower slope by a
small fort called Gallipoli, and from these spurs he could fling a
machine-gun barrage across the low ground. An ugly position to attack.
It was worse for the Ulster men because of the state of the ground,
which was a thin crust over a bog of mud. On the left some of the
Inniskillings and Irish Rifles rushed forward as far as a network of
trenches and wired defences, which they took in a fierce assault against
a Bavarian garrison, who fought to a finish. Here they recaptured one of
our Lewis guns lost in the fighting on July 31. On the right the Irish
Rifles and the Fusiliers, walking through the fire of many machine-guns,
made a straight attack upon Hill 35, which dominated the centre of the
Ulster attack. Before it were some gun-pits, and the Ulster men, by most
desperate efforts, took and crossed these pits and fought up the slopes
of the hill beyond. But they could not keep the hill nor the pits. So
after many hours of frightful fighting the situation was that some
scattered groups of Dublins and Royal Irish held out on a far goal with
exposed flanks, with some Inniskillings clinging to the slopes of Hill
37, while on the other side of the Zonnebeke river the Ulster men had
been forced off their little hill, and had been unable to get beyond the
German chain of concrete houses.

The enemy's aeroplanes came over to survey the situation, and, taking a
leaf from our book, flew very low, firing their machine-guns at the
advanced posts of Irish lying in shell-holes and in the hummocky ground.
They were in a desperate position, those advanced posts.... Then the
enemy launched his counter-attack from the direction of Zonnebeke, and
gradually the shattered lines of the Irish fell back, slowly fighting
little rear-guard actions in isolated groups. Many of them were
surrounded and cut off, or had to fight their way back in the night or
the dawn of next day.

All through the worst hours an Irish padre went about among the dead and
dying, giving absolution to his boys. Once he came back to headquarters,
but he would not take a bite of food or stay, though his friends urged
him. He went back to the field to minister to those who were glad to see
him bending over them in their last agony. Four men were killed by
shell-fire as he knelt beside them, and he was not touched--not touched
until his own turn came. A shell burst close, and the padre fell dead.

There were many other men who gave up their lives for their friends that
day--stretcher-bearers, who had a long way to go under fire, and
runners, who had to crawl on their stomachs from shell-hole to
shell-hole, and carrying-parties and medical officers. Near the
Frezenberg Redoubt, which was on the right of the Catholic Irish, a
doctor worked, never sleeping for days and nights, but going out of his
dug-out to crawl after wounded men and bandaging up their wounds under
heavy fire. The first man he found was not one of his Irish. Away in
front of the line, in No Man's Land, was a bogged Tank, and Irish
sentries heard a wail from it. The doctor heard of this and crept out to
the Tank and found a Scottish soldier there badly wounded, as he had
crept into this shelter days before. The doctor bandaged him, and,
without calling for help, carried him back on his own shoulders. Another
Scot was found in a shell-hole wounded in both legs. He was one of the
Gordons, and had been lying there since July 31. He is "in a good state
of health," was the report of the Irish patrol, and will be sent home
to-night.

Before the battle and after it the Bavarians behaved decently about the
wounded, and allowed the stretcher-bearers to work in the open without
being shelled, though some of them were hit in the machine-gun barrage.
It is good to know that, and fair to say it. The Bavarians against the
Irish fought, as I am told by Irishmen, in a clean, straight way, and
their defence was stronger than our attack. The Irish troops had no
luck. It was a day of tragedy. But poor Ireland should be proud of these
sons of hers, who struggled against such odds and fought until their
strength was spent, and even then held on in far posts with a spirit
scornful of the word "surrender." Some very noble young officers gave up
their lives rather than say that word, and all these dear Irish boys
went to the last limit of human endurance before they fell back. Not by
any hair's-breadth did they lose the honour they won at Wytschaete and
Ginchy.



XII

THE WAY THROUGH GLENCORSE WOOD


AUGUST 22

There was severe fighting again to-day eastwards of St.-Julien (3-1/2
miles north-east of Ypres), extending south across the Zonnebeke, beyond
the Frezenberg Redoubt, while on the right our troops again penetrated
Glencorse Copse (due east of Ypres), and fought on that ugly rising
ground which the enemy is defending in great strength. The Divisions
engaged, from north to south, are the 29th, 38th, 11th, 48th, 18th,
61st, 15th, 19th, 47th, 14th, and 24th.

On the left progress has been made from the high road of St.-Julien to
the Zonnebeke-Langemarck road, which cuts across it, guarded on the
enemy's side by two strong points with the usual concrete shelters which
the Germans have adopted as their new means of forward defence. Below
them there is another strong position called Winnipeg, about which our
men were heavily engaged in the early hours of this morning, and below
that again the same series of pill-boxes and concrete blockhouses
against which the Irish battalions went forward with such desperate
valour on the 16th of this month, as I described in my message
yesterday.

Scottish troops of the 15th Division attacked to-day where the Southern
Irish were engaged six days ago. Before them they had those sinister
forts, Beck House and Borry Farm, and Vampire Point guarding the way to
the Bremen Redoubt, which will be remembered always in the history of
the Irish brigades as places of heroic endeavour, just as now this
morning they will take their place in the annals of our Scottish
fighting. To the left of them are other forts, round which the Ulster
men were fighting last week--Pond Farm, Schuler Farm, and others on the
way to the Gallipoli Redoubt. About these places Warwickshires and other
Midland troops of the 61st Division have been fighting, and have met
with the same difficulties, apart from the state of the ground, which
has dried a little. It has not dried much, for our shell-fire has broken
up the gullies and streams with which it was drained, and the country is
water-logged, so that the pools remain until the sun dries them up. The
shell-holes and these ponds are not so full of water as when the Irish
went across, and the surface of the shell-broken earth is hardening. But
it is only a thin crust over a bog, so that the Tanks which went forward
to-day here and there could not get very far without sinking in. One
Tank was taken by a gallant crew almost as far as a German strong point
nearly half a mile beyond our old front line very early in the morning,
and did good work up there. The enemy put down a furious barrage-fire
soon after the attack had started to-day, and kept the Frezenberg
Redoubt under intense bombardment. But as soon as the attack developed
he could not use his artillery against our men at many points, not
knowing what forts and ground were still held by his own troops. He
relied again upon the cross-fire of machine-guns, arranged very
skilfully in depth, for enfilade barrages, and upon the garrisons who
held his concrete redoubts in the advanced positions. In one of the
blockhouses this morning our Warwickshire men captured forty-seven
prisoners, who, when they were surrounded, took refuge in tunnelled
galleries running to the right of the main fort, called Schuler Farm.
Some of our men fought through the enfilade fire of machine-guns as far
as the slopes of Hill 35, and to the right of this the Scots made a
gallant and fierce assault towards Bremen Redoubt.

       *       *       *       *       *

AUGUST 30

The sky of Flanders is still full of wind and water, and heavy
rain-storms driven by the gale sweep over the battlefield, flinging down
trees already broken by shell-fire. Behind the lines some of the
hop-fields round Poperinghe and other villages are sadly wrecked. Many
of the hop-poles have fallen, and the long trailing hops lie all tangled
in the mire. Many telephone wires were down also just after the gale,
and the signallers had a rough windy time in getting them up again. But
it is on the field of battle that this weather matters most, and there
in such places as Glencorse Wood and Inverness Copse and Sanctuary Wood
on our side of the lines, the linked shell-craters are ponds. In and
between them is a quagmire.

I write of Glencorse Wood and Inverness Copse rather than of the ground
farther north, in the valley of the Steenbeek, though that is just as
bad, or a little worse, because yesterday I went to see the troops of
the 14th Division who made the last attack in those sinister woodlands
in the track of the London men who fought there so desperately on July
31.

The last attack, beginning on August 22, was made by light-infantry
regiments, among whom were the Duke of Cornwall's and the Somerset Light
Infantry. They were fine well-trained men--trained hard and trained long
in the tactics of assault--and though they took ground which they could
not hold, because the enemy was in great strength against them and they
were weakened after hard fighting in frightful ground, they held off
repeated counter-attacks and indicted great loss upon the enemy, and
held their original line intact against most fierce assaults. The
enemy's storm troops advanced against them through Inverness Copse, and
in encircling movements which tried to get round and through their
flanks again and again during two days of violent fighting, they
counter-attacked behind the barrage-fire of many batteries, so that all
the ground held by our men was swept by high explosives and shrapnel
hour after hour, and when these waves of Saxons and Prussians were
broken or repulsed, others came with a sheet of flame before them--from
"flammenwerfer" machines, which project fire like water from a fireman's
hose. Our riflemen and light infantry did not break before this
advancing furnace, but fired into the heart of it, and saw some of the
"flammenwerfer" men go up in their own flame like moths bursting in the
light of a candle with loud reports, "a loud pop" as the men describe
it, so that nothing of them was left but a little smoke and a few
cinders.

But that was at the end of the battle, and the light-infantry battalions
had fought through terrible hours before they faced that last ordeal.
Before the attack they held a line opposite Glencorse Wood on the left
and running down on the right past Stirling Castle, the old German fort
above a nest of dug-outs, which has become famous in all this fighting.
In front of them lay Inverness Copse, a thousand yards long by 500 deep,
with many concrete blockhouses hidden, or half hidden, among the fallen
trees and tattered stumps and upheaved earth of this blasted wood; and
north-east of that, ruins of an old château called Herenthage Castle.

Facing our left were three lines of battered trenches north of Inverness
Copse, and two blockhouses called L-shaped Farm--on an aeroplane
photograph it looks exactly like the capital letter--and Fitzclarence
Farm. These places were strongly garrisoned, and the German
machine-gunners were safe within their concrete walls from any
shell-splinters. Our barrage swept on to the enemy's lines, flung up the
earth, crashed among the trees, and tore all this belt of land to chaos,
where already it was deeply cratered by the earlier bombardment. Behind
that barrage went over the light-infantry battalions, and immediately
they came under gusts of machine-gun fire from the blockhouses which
still stood intact. It was then 7 o'clock in the morning. They forced
their way into Inverness Copse, followed by some Tanks, and roved round
one of the blockhouses, where thirty Germans sat inside with their steel
doors shut and their machine-guns firing through the loopholes. Some
sappers were sent for, and blew in the doors, and the garrison were
killed fighting.

The Duke of Cornwall's men were checked for a time by machine-gun fire
from Glencorse Wood, and advance waves were held up round a blockhouse
with a garrison of sixty men north of Inverness Copse, but after fierce
fighting this place fell, and not a man escaped. The Somerset Light
Infantry passed on, and fought their way to the rubbish-heap called
Herenthage Château, where a hundred and twenty Germans of the 145th
Infantry Regiment held out in concrete chambers. Only their officer
remained alive after the fighting here, and he was brought in a
prisoner.

The Somersets established themselves in their goal with posts in front
of Inverness Copse and Herenthage Castle, but on the left the Cornish
lads were held up by machine-gun fire east of "Clapham Junction," where
there was another fortified farm with sixty men and six machine-guns
inside. A Tank came up and sat outside the place, firing point-blank at
its walls, and the Cornwalls followed it and burst the doors in and
fought until again not a single German remained alive, after a terrible
bayonet contest. So the attack had succeeded, but with forces now
heavily reduced. It was now ten o'clock in the morning. The story that
follows is one long series of counter-attacks. It began with a barrage
which came down with a tempest of shells half-way through Inverness
Copse. For miles around the German batteries concentrated their fire on
this ground and raked it. From the east of Inverness Copse, and at the
same time from the south, storming parties of Germans advanced behind
this great gun-fire and, though the first attack was broken and then the
second by rifles and machine-guns, a third developed in greater
strength. A runner came down from the Somersets--one of those brave
runners who all day long and next day worked to and fro through dreadful
barrage-fire until many were killed and other men went out to search for
those dead boys and look for their dispatches, unless they had been
blown to bits. The message from the Somersets reported that they could
not hold on. They were being enclosed on both flanks, and proposed to
fall back half-way through Inverness Copse, and this was done. Some
reserves from light-infantry battalions were thrown in to strengthen the
line, and the Cornwalls threw out a defensive flank with strong points.

At midday another attack was made on the Somersets, and driven off by
rifles and machine-guns, and at two o'clock they reported that the enemy
was massing in an attempt to turn their left flank, which was then
weak. The artillery answered an urgent call, and the German assembly was
destroyed. So the evening came and the night, and the Light Infantry
held on east of Stirling Castle and partly in Inverness Copse with many
dead and wounded about them, and lines of German dead in front of them,
awaiting riflemen coming to their support.

In a brigade headquarters a group of officers waited more anxiously for
this help, having more responsibility. They sat with wet towels about
their heads and eyes, in poisonous fumes and dreadful stenches which
crept down from above, where heavy shells burst incessantly, shaking all
the earth and blowing out the candles. The concrete ceiling bulged in.
Runners came in white-faced and shaking, after frightful journeys, and
officers bent to the candlelight to read scribbled messages sent down by
hard-pressed men. Outside were the groans of wounded men.

At dawn, Tanks went out to attack the strong points north of Inverness
Copse, where the enemy had rallied again, and one of them approached
Fitzclarence Farm and broke up a counter-attacking preparation there.
Some Germans ran into the blockhouse there and shot down the steel doors
and lay doggo. Others came out of a trench to attack the Tank, but fled
before the fire. Later in the morning German aeroplanes came out and
flew very low and played their machine-guns on to our men, but without
doing much harm.

From 1 A.M. to 3.30 A.M. the enemy kept a terrific barrage over all our
ground, and then flamed out all along the line the signal of a new
counter-attack. It was the "flammenwerfer" attack against the Duke of
Cornwall's Light Infantry, and the whole sky was red with the light of
these advancing fire-jets. For a time, in spite of the enemy's heavy
losses, the Cornwalls had to retire before these far-reaching flames,
but they rallied and went forward again, driving the enemy part of the
way back, where he was swept by our artillery-fire. The enemy kept up a
steady barrage-fire over three wide belts, and an officer who went up to
report the position had the worst hours of his life on that journey
through bursting shells and over the fields of dead. But in spite of a
message that had come down reporting a new withdrawal, it was found that
the line was intact, and that the thin ranks of Light Infantry and
King's Royal Rifles had beaten back all the enemy's assaults, and had
destroyed their spirit for further attacks by most deadly losses. We
could not hold Inverness Copse, but the fighting here was worthy of men
who, during two years of war, have fought with steadfast courage and
have many acts of heroism in their long record.



XIII

THE SLAUGHTER-HOUSE OF LENS


AUGUST 23

One day, when it is possible to get in and around Lens, the veil will be
torn from a human charnel-house, or, rather, from charnel-houses which
none of us may yet enter or see through the drifting smoke. Yesterday I
looked down on Lens and saw its roofless buildings and its gaping walls,
but I could only guess at the scenes which are hidden below ground there
in the tunnels where the Germans assemble for their counter-attacks
against the Canadians, and to which they drag back their dead and
wounded. Those places must reek with the smell of death and corruption,
for the losses of the Prussian Guards during the last few and of other
divisions who have come up against the Canadians, have been, I am told
and believe, enormous. The Canadians tell me that their troops have
never had harder or more prolonged fighting, not even in their old days
of the Ypres salient nor on the Somme. Every hundred yards of the ground
they have taken, and during the last week or so they have taken
thousands of yards of open country and of ruined streets in and about
the mining cités, until they have forced their way into Lens itself,
have been contested by desperate fighting and held against unceasing
counter-attacks delivered by great bodies of picked German troops
supported by monstrous bombardments. Imagination can, if it likes,
picture the slaughter involved in all this to those German assault
troops, because they have not succeeded in gaining their purpose, and
counter-attacks like that, in those numbers and in that strength, are
shattered when they do not succeed. It is a wonderful tribute to the
Canadians and to their grim tenacity that, after all the repeated
counter-attacks against them, and after storms of fire from batteries
which have increased in number every day, they hold their lines round
Lens intact as they stood on August 15 and 16, and have gained an entry
into the streets of Lens and swung up southwards with increasing
pressure.

Lens is packed tight with German troops. They belong to the 4th Guards
Division, and latterly to the 1st Guards Reserve, the crack division of
the German army, which had a month's rest at Cambrai before being sent
into this slaughter-house. For although that city is tunnelled
throughout, all the cellars being linked up and strengthened with
massive concrete, so that even heavy shells cannot pierce down to them,
men cannot fight in tunnels if they are on the offensive, and must get
out of them to make their counter-attacks. It is at those times that
they suffer more hideously than in any other battle.

Our aeroplanes are always watching for these assemblies. To take only
one case out of many, they reported a mass of men in a certain square of
Lens the day before yesterday. Our guns turned on to them, not only our
field-guns but our heavies, up to those howitzers which could batter
down a massive fortress after a few rounds. Men under the fire of such
shells as those things send do not escape in great numbers. Most of them
die. The Prussians in the square of Lens were caught by this hurricane
fire, and before they could get into the tunnels many were blown to
bits.

Yesterday as I looked down on Lens the fire had quietened on both sides,
as though the guns were tired. For several minutes at a time there was a
great quietude over the city of doom, and as the afternoon sun lay warm
upon its red walls, and cast black shadows across its deserted streets,
where no single figure walked, it was hard to believe that a few hours
before swarms of men had been fighting on the edge of those houses, and
that the place was full of new dead and old. The water of the Souchez
river was as blue as the sky, which was deep bright blue above wispy
clouds. A little light glinted from the white church tower which a shell
has smashed off at the top. Perhaps some German officer was there
staring through his glasses, or perhaps it was only a bit of metal
caught by the sun. A smoke-barrage drifted densely across the northern
side of the city, and every now and then there came a sharp vicious
hammering of machine-guns to show that somewhere in those ruins men wore
alive and watchful. Then the guns got busy again, but in a slow,
unhurried way. The enemy had a hate against the outer edge of Liévin,
and every two minutes smote it with a great shell, which burst with big
billowing smoke-clouds, and a flash which was followed by a low, sullen
roar. He flung shells as big as this into Angres and Avion, but seemed
to rely on machine-gun fire to barrage our lines nearest to his own.
Behind me to the right were some of our big howitzers, old friends of
mine, whose voices I prefer at a mile or two's distance. They tuned up
their bass viols and played their dead march. Perhaps it was their
shells I saw smashing on to the German defences. Rosy clouds went up,
and in those clouds the dust of red-brick houses went up, too, leaving
gaps of nothingness where the buildings had once been. There was a
kite-balloon in the sky behind me with the wispy clouds like white
horse-tails all curled about it, and presently there came riding above
it several coveys of aeroplanes, so that the sky was filled with their
loud drone-song. They flew round about Lens, and only a few German
"Archies" tried to strafe them with bursts of shrapnel. They flew not
very high above the mining city, circling round and round like hawks
before swooping to their prey. The guns were loud but shrill; and sweet
and clear above them a bugle sounded from some camp of ours behind the
lines among the cornfields all gold and glowing in the evening light,
with a little shadow sleeping beside each stook; and it blew the evening
retreat. It is the first time I have heard a bugle play that call so
near to the guns, and it stirred one's heart with a queer sense of
emotion, as though its music belonged to the spirit world. The night
closed down on the battlefields but did not bring peace. Below the stars
there were many strange lights and fires and sounds. A tall bank of
clouds was pierced with lightning so like shell-fire, except for a
longer tremor of light, that men looked and wondered what devilry was on
over there in the back areas. The devilry was round about. It was time
for the German raiders to come out under the cover of darkness, and they
came and dropped their bombs over quiet villages and among the
cornfields and the hop-gardens. The explosions came up with sharp
flashes and gruff roars from dark fields between black belts of trees.
From the earth hands of light stretched up, reaching up to the clouds
and touching them with their finger-tips. They felt their way for those
flying raiders, groped about like hands searching in a dark room, and
then clasped each other. In the archway below their long straight arms
shrapnel glinted like confetti. Our anti-aircraft guns had got their
target. Along the lines rockets were rising, giving a second or two of
white steady light to No Man's Land, with fringes of trees etched
blackly against it. Somewhere a dump--ours or the enemy's--had been hit,
and the clouds above it were tipped with scarlet flame. So then the
night scene began as usual, and as it is played out below the stars
every night. And somewhere in Lens the Prussians were preparing for a
new counter-attack, while German doctors in deep tunnels stared down
upon a mass of wounded which was their day's harvest. Into one of the
houses there the night before, where fifteen German soldiers lay in the
cellar after a day of prodigious fighting, a party of Canadian raiders
appeared and dragged them all out to a ditch over the way in the
Canadian lines. Well may the German prisoners say to these men of ours,
"You give us no rest." There is never a night's rest in Lens nor round
about it unless men are put to sleep for ever. Many of them were put to
sleep by thousands of gas-shells fired into the town by our artillery a
night ago as an answer to German gas. Perhaps they were glad of it, for
the wakeful hours in Lens must be hell on earth.

       *       *       *       *       *

AUGUST 24

To the south of Lens there is a slag-heap overgrown with weeds called
the Green Crassier. It is clearly visible across the Souchez river
beyond a broken bridge, and I have often seen it from the lower slopes
of Vimy. It was the scene of fierce fighting yesterday, for in the
morning the Canadians, who are showing an indomitable spirit after ten
days of most furious attacks and counter-attacks, launched an assault
upon it and seized the position. Later in the day the enemy came back in
strength and, after violent efforts, succeeded in thrusting the
Canadians off the crest of this old mound of cinders, though they still
cling to the western side. It is another incident in the long series of
fierce and bloody encounters which since the battle of Vimy, on April 9,
have surrounded the city of Lens and given to its streets and suburbs a
sinister but historic fame. The Canadians have fought here with
astounding resolution. They have hurled themselves against fortress
positions, and by sheer courage have smashed their way through streets
entangled with quick-set hedges of steel, through houses alive with
machine-gun fire, through trenches dug between concrete forts, through
tunnels under red-brick ruins, sometimes too strong to be touched by
shell-fire, and through walls loopholed for rifle-fire and hiding
machine-gun emplacements designed to enfilade the Canadian line of
advance. Through the cités of St.-Laurent, St.-Théodore, and St.-Emilie,
to the north and west of Lens, they have fought past high slag-heaps and
pit-heads, along railway embankments, and down sunken roads, until they
have broken a route through frightful defences to the western streets of
the inner city.

Every day, and sometimes many times a day, they have been
counter-attacked by swarms of Germans coming up out of their tunnels,
and between these attacks they have been under terrific gun-fire from a
wide semicircle of heavy batteries. In the early days of the war the
French fought like this through the streets of Vermelles, smashing their
way from one wall to another, from one house to another, and over
trenches dug across the streets. That fighting in Vermelles stands as
one of the most frightful episodes of the war, and when I first went
there I stood aghast at the relics of this bloody struggle. But
Vermelles is hardly more than a village, and the mining district of
Lens, with all its suburbs, covers several square miles of ground, so
that the Canadians have had a longer and a harder task. Six German
divisions have attacked them in turn, and have been shattered against
them. These are the 7th and 8th, the 4th Guards Division, the 11th
Reserve, the 220th, and the 1st Guards Reserve Division. In addition to
these six divisions, some portions, at any rate, of the 185th Division
and of the 36th Reserve Division have been engaged. The total German
strength used at Lens must well exceed fifty battalions, and the German
losses may perhaps be estimated at between 12,000 to 15,000 men.

The Canadians themselves have been hard pressed at times, but have
endured the exhaustion of a savage struggle with amazing strength of
spirit, grimly and fiercely resolved to hold their gains, unless
overwhelmed by numbers in their advanced positions, as it has sometimes
happened to them. But it is no wonder that some of the men whom I met
yesterday coming out of that city of blood and death looked like men who
had suffered to the last limit of mental and bodily resistance. Their
faces were haggard and drawn. Their eyes were heavy. Their skin was grey
as burnt ash. Some of them walked like drunken men, drunk with sheer
fatigue, and as soon as they had reached their journey's end some of
them sat under the walls of a mining village with their chalky helmets
tilted back, drugged by the need of sleep, but too tired even for that.
They were men of the battalions who three days ago came face to face
with the enemy in No Man's Land, a stretch of barren cratered earth
between St.-Emilie and the northern streets of Lens, and fought him
there until many dead lay strewn on both sides, and their ammunition was
exhausted. An officer of one of these battalions came out of a miner's
cottage to talk to me. He was a very young man with a thin, clean-shaven
face, which gave him a boyish look. He was too weary to stand straight
and too weary to talk more than a few jerky words. He leaned up against
the wall of the miner's cottage, and passed a hand over his face and
eyes, and said:

"I'm darned tired. It was the hell of a fight. We fought to a finish,
and when we had no more bombs of our own we picked up Heine's bombs and
used those." [The Canadians call their enemy Heine and not Fritz.]
"Heine was at least three times as strong as us, and we gave him hell.
It was hand-to-hand fighting--rifles, bombs, bayonets, butt-ends, any
old way of killing a man, and we killed a lot. But he broke our left
flank, and things were bloody in the centre. He had one of his strong
points there, and swept us with machine-gun fire. My fellows went
straight for it, and a lot of them got wiped out. But we got on top of
it and through the wire, and held the trench beyond until Heine came
down with swarms of bombers."

This young Canadian officer was stricken by the loss of many of his men.
"The best crowd that any fellow could command," and he had been through
indescribable things under enormous shell-fire, and he had had no sleep
for days and nights, and could not sleep now for thinking of things. But
he smiled grimly once or twice when he reckoned up the enemy's losses.
The remembrance of the German dead he had seen seemed like strong wine
to his soul. "We made them pay," was his summing up of the battle. The
nightmare of it all was still heavy on him, and he spoke with a quiet
fierceness about the enemy's losses and the things he had endured in a
way which would scare poor, simple souls who think that war is a fine
picturesque business.

A senior officer of a battalion on the flank of his was a different type
of man--a very tall, strong-featured man of middle age, like an English
squire of the old style, with a fine smiling light in his eyes, in spite
of all he had been through, and with a vivid way of speech that would
not come fast enough to say splendid things about his men, to describe
the marvellous way in which they had fought in frightful conditions, to
praise first one and then another for the things they had done when
things were at their worst. He had been addressing some of the survivors
of this battle when I came upon him, and I saw them march away,
straightening themselves up before this officer of theirs, and proud
because he was pleased with them. He thanked them for one thing above
all, and that was for the gallant way in which, after all their
fighting, they had gone out to fetch in their dead and wounded, so that
not one wounded man lay out there to die or to be taken prisoner, and
the dead were brought back for burial. He said a word, too, for Heine,
as they call him. The Germans had not sniped or machine-gunned the
stretcher-bearers, but had sent their own men out on the same mission
too. That was after the battle, and there was no surrendering while the
fighting was on.

This officer's story was as wonderful as anything I have heard in this
war. And the man himself was wonderful, for he had had no sleep for six
days and nights, and had suffered the fearful strain of his
responsibility for many men's lives; yet now, when I met him straight
from all that, he was bright-eyed and his mind was as clear as a bell,
and the emotion that surged through him was well controlled. He
described the things I have attempted to describe before--the fortified
streets and houses of Lens, which make it one great fortress, tunnelled
from end to end with exits into concrete forts two yards thick in
cement, in the ruined cottages. On the morning of our attack the enemy
was expecting it, and within a minute and a half of our barrage put down
his own barrage with terrific intensity. So there were the Canadians
between two walls of high explosives, and it was between that inferno
that they fought in the great death struggle. For the Canadians had
already advanced towards the enemy's line, and in greater numbers--three
times as great--he had advanced to ours, and the two forces met on the
barren stretch of earth crossed by twisted trenches, which for a time
had been No Man's Land.

While the battalion on the left was heavily engaged fighting with rifles
and bombs until their ammunition gave out, and then with bayonets and
butt-ends, the battalion on the right was working southward and eastward
to the northern outskirts of Lens. They came up at once against the
fortress houses from which machine-gun and rifle fire poured out. The
Canadians in small parties tried to surround these places, but many were
swept down. Some of them rushed close to the walls of one house, which
was a bastion of the northern defences of Lens, and were so close that
the machine-guns, through slits in the walls, could not fire at them.
They even established a post behind it and beyond it, quite isolated
from the rest of their men, but clinging to their post all day. The
enemy dropped bombs upon them through the loopholes and sand-bagged
windows, fired rifle-grenades at them, and tried to get machine-guns at
them, but there were always a few men left to hold the post, until at
last, when the line withdrew elsewhere, they were recalled. One house
near here, into which a party of Canadians forced their way, was a big
arsenal. Its cellars were crammed with shells and piled boxes of bombs.
In other cellars were dead bodies, and the stench of corruption mingled
with the stale vapour of gas. Down in one of these vaults a young
Canadian soldier stayed with his officer, who was badly wounded, and
could not leave him, but waited until night, when he carried the officer
back to safety.

Before that night came there were great German counter-attacks. Masses
of men carrying nothing but stick-bombs, which they had slung around
them, advanced down the communication-trenches and flung these things at
the Canadians of the left battalion, who were fighting out in the open,
and in another communication-trench with the right battalion. The enemy
walked over the piled corpses of his own dead before he could drive back
the Canadians, but by repeated storming parties he did at last force
them to give way and retreat down the trench to gain the support of
their comrades of the other battalion, which had not been so hard
pressed. These came to the rescue, and for a long time held the German
grenadiers at bay. The fighting was fierce and savage on both sides.

At last, weakened by their losses and with failing stores of ammunition,
these two battalions were given the order to retire to a trench farther
back, and the survivors of the most desperate action in Canadian
history withdrew, still fighting, and established blocks in the
communication-trenches down which the enemy was bombing, so that they
could not pass those points to the line upon which here on the north of
Lens the Canadians had fallen back. Southward there had been no
withdrawal, and other battalions had forced their way forward a good
distance, shutting up that entrance to the city and getting down into
the deep tunnels, over which there howled the unceasing fire of the
German heavies. Our own guns were hard at work, and I have already told
how the Prussians were destroyed in the square of Lens by 12-inch shells
and shrapnel.

I could write more, but I have written enough. The Canadians never had
fighting so hard as this, but the losses they have inflicted upon the
enemy have made Lens a Prussian tomb, so that its tunnels are death
vaults. The heart of the city is still a fortress, and the new garrison
is still strong there, so that, like Thiepval, which held out for many
weeks after it was enclosed on three sides, Lens will not fall in a
night. But as a dwelling-place for German troops it is a city of
abomination and dreadfulness.



XIV

THE AGONY OF ARMENTIÈRES


SEPTEMBER 15

The harvests of France and Flanders have been gathered in, and already
the plough, driven by men too old to fight or boys too small and young,
or by peasant women whose men are somewhere near St.-Quentin or Verdun,
is turning up the stubble in the fields and making a brown landscape
where three weeks ago it was all gold and bronze.

The trees are turning brown also, deepening to a reddish tint in all the
woods between Boulogne and the battlefields, where there are only dead
trees. Round about Poperinghe the trailing hops have been pulled down
from their poles, already stripped in places by last month's gale, and
the sticks are all bare. Outside the wooden huts built on the edge of
war by refugees from Ypres and shell-broken villages, Flemish women sit
with the hops in their laps and in great baskets beside them, and
British soldiers on the march with dry throats exchange remarks about
the good beer which they may never have the luck to drink. White
cloud-mountains which turn black and threaten a deluge between bursts of
sunshine are banked up above the russet foliage and the brown earth and
the old black windmills which wave their arms across the landscape, and
in the wind there is a smell of moisture and mist, and the first faint
sniff of rotting leaves. It is the autumn touch--the autumn touch of a
war in which some of us have seen four harvests gathered into French
barns and four winters come. It makes one feel a bit sad, that thought.
It puts an autumn touch for a second or two into the souls of men coming
back from leave as I came back with some of them two days ago.

By day the sky out here is full of interest, for one cannot go anywhere
near the lines without seeing that aerial activity which has become
intense and fierce lately. Yesterday I saw a great flight of our
aeroplanes over the dead town of Armentières. There were between twenty
and thirty of them making their way over the German lines, and the enemy
hated the sight of them. His anti-aircraft guns got to work savagely and
bursts of black shrapnel filled the sky all about those steady wings,
but did not bring them down. He hated other aircraft watching over his
lines--a long line of kite-balloons, "clustered like grapes," as some
one described them, in our side of the sky. They were as white as snow
when the sun touched them, and made tempting targets for long-range
guns. Some German gunners registered on one of them nearest to
Armentières, and I saw a terrific burst of yellow smoke, so close to it
that it seemed like a hit. But the smoke cleared, and the kite balloon
stayed calmly on its wire, and there was no parachute demonstration by
our observers in the basket. The drone of our aeroplanes and the reports
of German anti-aircraft guns made the only noise in Armentières--that
and the sound of two men's footsteps as I and another walked through the
streets of that town which is dead.

It is a queer thing to walk through a big town out of which all life has
gone, and queer to me especially in Armentières, because I knew it not
long ago when there were many women and girls about its streets, and
when one could take one's choice of tea-shops--though only eighteen
hundred yards away from the German line--and get an excellent little
dinner in more than one restaurant. One could have one's hair cut and a
shampoo to the musical accompaniment of field-batteries outside the
town, and buy most of the things a man wants in the simple life of war
(except peace) in shops kept by brave Frenchwomen--women too brave and
too rash because they lived within 1800 yards of the enemy's line as
though it were eighteen miles. Armentières was a modern little
manufacturing town for lace and thread, with neat red-brick houses kept
by well-to-do people who liked good comfortable furniture, and put a
piano into their front parlour and a little marble Venus and other
knick-knacks of art on the drawing-room table as a proof of good taste
above the mere sordid interest of money-making.

For a long time in the war that town has been known to British soldiers
who have passed it on their way to Plug Street as "Armentears." They
made friends with some of the girls in the tea-shops, and said "Hallo,
granny! Tray bong!" to old ladies who sold them picture post cards. Now
it is a town of tears to any people who once lived there. The tea-shops
have been smashed to bits and the women and the girls have gone, unless
their bodies lie in the cellars beneath the ruins. The agony of
Armentières began at the end of June, when the enemy first began to
bombard it with systematic violence, and though there is no life left in
it the broken houses are still battered by more shells when the enemy's
gunners have nothing else to do. When I walked through its streets
yesterday I was the witness of the horror that had passed. The German
bombardment began quite suddenly one night, and the old women and the
girls and the children were in their beds. They rushed down into their
cellars, not for the first time, because during nearly three years of
war stray shells had often come into the town. But never like this.
These were not random shells, scattered here and there. They came with a
steady and frightful violence into every part of the town, sweeping down
street after street, blowing houses to dust, knocking the fronts off the
shops, playing fantastic, horrible tricks of choosing and leaving, as
shell-fire does in any town of this size. There were gas-shells among
the high explosives, and their poison filtered down into the cellars. A
fire broke out in one of the squares beyond the old church of St.-Vaast,
and the houses were gutted by flames, which licked high above their
roofless walls.

The fires were out when I walked there yesterday, and the church of
St.-Vaast was surrounded by its own ruins--great blocks of masonry
hurled from its dome and buttresses amidst a mass of broken glass.
Inside there is a tragic ruin, and rows of cane chairs lie in wild chaos
among the broken pillars and the piled stones. The pipes of the great
organ have been flung out of their framework, but curiously the side
altars, with the figures of apostles and saints, and the central figure
of the Sacred Heart, are hardly touched, and stand unscathed amidst this
great destruction. There is nothing new in all this. For three years I
have been walking through destroyed towns and villages, but it has the
grim interest of recent history, and Armentières is the scene of a
tragedy to its civilian population which makes one's heart ache with a
new revolt against this monstrous cruelty of war upon the innocent and
the helpless.

It was easy to see what had happened during those days and nights of
terror some weeks ago. I looked into the blown-out fronts of little
shops and houses, and saw how everything had been abandoned in that rush
of women and children to the cellars. In spite of the wreckage of the
upper stories and of the walls about them, some of the rooms were
intact. Here were the remains of an estaminet, with its cash-box on the
bar counter, and games such as soldiers love--dominoes and darts, and
quoits and bagatelle, set out as though for an evening's entertainment.
Here was a chemist's shop, with many bottles unbroken on the shelves,
though most of the house was blown across the street. I looked through a
hole in the wall to a drawing-room, with a piano, standing amid a litter
of broken furniture, as though some madman had wreaked his fury on the
sofa and chairs.

But it was in the cellars that the pitiful drama had been--in those
cellars down which I peered wondering whether any poor bodies lay there
still. The shells had pierced down to some of the women hiding in them.
Poison-gas came to choke some of them. Rescue parties of our R.A.M.C.
went into Armentières immediately to get the poor creatures away, and
risked their lives a score of times on each journey they made. It is an
amazing thing that even then, in spite of their terror and their agony
and their wounds, many of the old women could hardly be made to leave
the town, and clung desperately to their homes, though these had fallen
down on top of them.

Outside Armentières yesterday I met one of the R.A.M.C. lads who had
helped in this rescue work--he has been given a Military Medal for
it--and he told me of his trouble with two old ladies when things were
at their worst. Neither had a rag of clothing on except the blankets he
wrapped round them as they lay on stretchers; but when his attention
wandered from them, owing to shells which burst close to the ambulance,
one of these old dames scrambled up and ran off naked down the street.
He went after her, and on his return found that the other old lady had
given him the slip.

He had astounding experiences, this Wessex boy who is an expert in
bandaging wounds, and through many days of dreadfulness and many nights
he worked in Armentières under heavy fire, and did not turn a hair. He
was such a Mark Tapley that when everything was falling about him and
Hell was let loose he became more and more cheerful and refused to take
things seriously.

"I don't think I ever laughed so much," he told me yesterday. "I don't
know how it was, but I couldn't help seeing the comical side of it all,
in spite of the ghastly sights." I suppose this boy's sense of humour
was touched by the monstrous idiocy of the shell-fire, which produced
effects like those on a music-hall stage when the funny man breaks all
the crockery and brings the roof down over his head. He laughed like
anything when he was shelled out of his makeshift dressing-station on
one side of the street, and had to establish his quarters on the other
side of another street.

"How's it going, my lad!" asked his officer, who came to visit the aid
post.

"Well, sir," he answered, "it's rather hotter than the last place,
except for direct hits."

He laughed "like anything" again when a shell came through the kitchen
and smashed up the stove, and failed to kill an old lady, already
covered with bruises but very talkative. He laughed again when they had
to pack up traps in a hurry, with the stiff body of a small dead child
on the top of the kit and a barrage down the street.

"This is the funniest old show I ever did see," was the comment of the
boy from Wessex, and certainly, when one comes to think of it, it is a
funny thing that such things should happen in this civilized world of
ours and in this Christian age. But the boy from Wessex, and others like
him, did not let their sense of humour get the better of their pity or
their work of rescue. They crawled out and dragged in the bodies of
dead or wounded people.

Down below in the cellars was a crowd of poor people, mostly women and
girls, and when the shell-fire was at its height their wailing and their
prayers were rather troublesome to the Wessex boy and his comrades
upstairs bandaging the wounded. The R.A.M.C. men, at most deadly risk to
themselves, managed to clear most of the cellars, carrying out the
people on shutters, and taking them away in ambulances to hospitals. To
one of these casualty clearing-stations was brought a boy of nineteen,
who had been gassed. He was a life-long paralytic and wizened like an
old man, and deaf and dumb. Nobody knew where he had come from or to
whom he belonged, but he had one creature faithful to him. It was a
small dog, who came on the stretcher with him, sitting on his chest. It
watched close to him when he lay in the hospital, and went away with
him, sitting on his chest again, when he was sent farther away to
another clearing-station. This dog's fidelity to the paralysed boy, who
was deaf and dumb and gassed, seems to men who have seen many sights of
war and this agony in Armentières the most pitiful thing they know.

Yesterday, apart from the knocking of anti-aircraft guns and the drone
of our planes, it was all quiet there, and I walked through the silent
streets over the broken bricks and glass, and was startled by the utter
death of the town. For this quietude and ruin of a place that one has
seen full of life gives one a sinister sensation, and one is frightened
by one's loneliness.



XV

THE BATTLE OF MENIN ROAD


SEPTEMBER 20

Our troops attacked this morning before six o'clock on a wide front
north and south of the Ypres-Menin road, and have gained important
ground all along the line. It is ground from which during the past six
weeks there has been that heroic and desperate fighting which I have
described as best I could in my daily messages, giving even at the best
only a vague idea of the difficulties encountered by those men of ours
who made great sacrifices in great endeavours. It is the ground which
in the centre rises up through the sinister woodlands of Glencorse Copse
and Inverness Wood to the high ground of Polygon Wood and the spurs of
the Passchendaele Ridge, which form the enemy's long defensive barrier
to the east of the Ypres salient. Until that high land was taken
progress was difficult for our troops on the left across the Steenbeek,
as the enemy's guns could still hold commanding positions. The ground
over which our men have swept this morning had been assaulted again and
again by troops who ignored their losses, and attacked with a most
desperate and glorious courage, yet failed to hold what they gained for
a time, because their final goal was attained with weakened forces after
most fierce and bloody fighting. The Empire knows who those men
were--the old English county regiments, who never fought more gallantly;
the Scots, who only let go of their forward positions under overwhelming
pressure and annihilating fire; the Irish divisions, who suffered the
most supreme ordeal, and earned new and undying honour by the way they
endured the fire of many guns for many days. As long as history lasts,
the name of these woods, from which most of the trees have been swept,
and of these bogs and marshes which lie about them, will be linked with
the memory of those brave battalions who fought through them again and
again. They are not less to be honoured than those who with the same
courage, just as splendid, attacked once more, over the same tracks,
past the same death-traps, and achieved success. By different methods,
by learning from what the first men had suffered, this last attack has
not as yet been high in cost, and we hold what the enemy has used all
his strength and cunning to prevent us getting. He used much cunning and
poured up great reserves of men and guns to smash our assaulting lines.
For the first time on July 31 we came up against his new and fully
prepared system of defence, and discovered the power of it. Abandoning
the old trench system which we could knock to pieces with artillery, he
made his forward positions without any definite line, and built a large
number of concrete blockhouses, so arranged in depth that they defended
each other by enfilade fire, and so strong that nothing but a direct hit
from one of our heavier shells would damage it. And a direct hit is very
difficult on a small mark like one of those concrete houses, holding
about ten to twenty men at a minimum, and fifty to sixty in their
largest. These little garrisons were mostly machine-gunners and picked
men specially trained for outpost work, and they could inflict severe
damage on an advancing battalion, so that the forward lines passing
through and beyond them would be spent and weak. Then behind in reserve
lay the German "Stosstruppen," specially trained also for
counter-attacks, which were launched in strong striking forces against
our advanced lines after all their struggle and loss. Those blockhouses
proved formidable things--hard nuts to crack, as the soldiers said who
came up against them. There are scores of them whose names will be
remembered through a lifetime by men of many battalions, and they cost
the lives of many brave men. Beck House and Borry Farm belong to Irish
history. Wurst Farm and Winnipeg, Bremen Redoubt and Gallipoli, Iberian
and Delva Farm, are strongholds round which many desperate little
battles, led by young subalterns or sergeants, have taken place on the
last day of July and on many days since. English and Scots have taken
turns in attacking and defending such places as Fitzclarence Farm,
Northampton Farm, and Black Watch Corner in the dreadful region of
Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood. To-day the hard nut of the concrete
blockhouse has been cracked by a new method of attack and by a new
assault, planned with great forethought, and achieved so far with high
success.

Among the troops engaged on the 2nd Army front were the Australians and
South-Africans, Welsh and Scottish battalions, and many of the old
English regiments, including the Cheshires, Warwicks, Worcesters,
Staffords, Wiltshires, Gloucesters, Berkshires, Oxford and Bucks, York
and Lancashires, Sherwood Foresters, and Rifle Brigade. The Divisions to
which they belonged were, from north to south, the 2nd Australians, 1st
Australians, the 23rd and 41st (with the 21st and 23rd in reserve), the
39th, the 19th, the 30th, 14th, and 8th.

I should like to give the full details of the preparations which have
made this success possible and the methods by which some at least of the
terrors of the blockhouse have been laid low, but it cannot yet be done,
and it is enough now that good results have been attained. One thing was
against us as usual last night. After several fine days the weather
turned bad again, and last night many men must have looked up at the
sky, groaned, and said, "Just our luck." At half-past ten it began to
rain heavily, and all through the night there was a steady drizzle. It
was awful to think of that ground about the woodlands, already full of
water-holes and bogs, becoming more and more of a quagmire as the time
drew near when our men have to rise from the mud and follow the barrage
across the craters. All through the night our heavy guns were slogging,
and through the dark wet mist there was the blurred light of their
flashes. Before the dawn a high wind was raging at thirty miles an hour
across Flanders, and heavy water-logged clouds were only 400 feet above
the earth. How could our airmen see? When the attack began they could
not see even when they flew as low as 200 feet. They could see nothing
but smoke, which clung low to the battlefields, and they could only
guess the whereabouts of German batteries. Later, when some progress had
been made at most points of the attacking line, the sky cleared a
little, blue spaces showed through the black storm-clouds, and there
were gleams of sun striking aslant the mists.

This sky on the salient was a strange vision, and I have seen nothing
like it since the war began. It was filled with little black specks like
midges, but each midge was a British aeroplane flying over the enemy's
lines. The enemy tried to clear the air of them, and his anti-aircraft
guns were firing wildly, so that all about them were puffs of black
shrapnel. Behind, closely clustered, were our kite-balloons, like
snow-clouds where they were caught by the light, staring down over the
battle, and in wide semicircles about the salient our heavy guns were
firing ceaselessly with dull, enormous hammer-strokes, followed by the
shrill cry of travelling shells making the barrage before our men, and
having blockhouses for their targets and building walls of flying steel
between the enemy and our attacking troops. In the near distance were
the strafed woods of old battle-grounds like the Wytschaete Ridge and
Messines, with their naked gallows-trees all blurred in the mist.

Our men had lain out all night in the rain before the attack at
something before six. They were wet through to the skin, but it is
curious that some of them whom I saw to-day were surprised to hear it
had been raining hard. They had other things to think about. But some of
them did not think at all. Tired out in mind and body under the big
nervous strain which is there, though they may be unconscious of it,
they slept. "I was wakened by a friend just before we went over," said
one of them. The anxiety of the officers was intense for the hours to
pass before the enemy should get a hint of the movement. It seemed that
in one part of the line he did guess that something was in the wind and
in the mist. This was on the line facing Glencorse Wood. An hour or two
before the attack he put over a heavy barrage, but most of it missed the
heads of the battalions. There were many casualties, but the men stood
firm, never budging, and making no sound. They all thought that some of
their comrades must have been badly caught, but, as far as I can find,
it did not do great damage.

All along the line the experience of the fighting was broadly the same.
Apart from local details and difficulties, the ground was not quite so
bad as had been expected, though bad enough, being greasy and boggy
after the rain, but not impassable. The shell-holes were water-logged,
and they were dangerously deep for badly wounded men who might fall in,
but for the others there was generally a way round over ground which
would hold, and our assaulting waves who led the advance were lightly
clad, and could go at a fair pace after the barrage. "I saw wounded men
fall in the shell-holes," said a Warwickshire lad to-day, "and God knows
how they got out again, unless the stretcher-bearers came up quick, as
most of them did; but as for me, I had lain in a shell-hole all night up
to the waist in mud, and I was careful to keep out of them." The barrage
ahead of them was terrific--the most appalling fence of shells that has
ever been placed before advancing troops in this war. All our men
describe it as wonderful. "Beautiful" is the word they use, because they
know what it means in safety to them.

In the direction of Polygon Wood the plan of attack seems to have worked
like clockwork. The Australians moved forward behind the barrage stage
by stage, through Westhoek and Nonne Boschen, and across the Hanebeek
stream on their left, with hardly a check, in spite of the German
blockhouses scattered over this country. In those blockhouses the small
garrisons of picked troops had been demoralized, as any human beings
would be, by the enormous shell-fire which had been flung around them.
Some, but not all, it seems, of the blockhouses had been smashed, and in
those still standing the German machine-gunners got their weapons to
work with a burst or two of fire, but then, seeing our troops upon them,
were seized with fear, and made signs of surrender. At nine o'clock this
morning the good news came back that the Australians were right through
Glencorse Wood. Later messages showed that our troops were fighting
their way into Polygon Wood. They swept over the strong points at Black
Watch Corner, Northampton Farm, and Carlisle Farm. There was stiff
fighting round a blockhouse called Anzac Corner, east of the Hanebeek
stream, and it was necessary to organize two flank attacks and work
round it before the enemy machine-gun fire could be silenced by bombs.
In another case near here the enemy came out of a blockhouse ready to
attack, but when they saw our men swarming up, they lost heart and held
up their hands. It is difficult to know how many prisoners were taken
here in these woods and strong points. The men's estimates vary
enormously, some speaking of scores and others of hundreds.

All this time the enemy's artillery reply was not exceptionally heavy,
and, though it was prompt to come after the first SOS signals went up
from his lines, it was erratic and varied very much in the success of
our counter-battery work, which all through the night and for days past
has been smothering his guns. South of the attack in Glencorse Copse and
Polygon Wood the assault in Inverness Copse and Shrewsbury Forest,
across the bog-lands round the Dumbarton Lakes, was made by English
battalions, including the Queen's, the East and West Kents, the
Northumberland Fusiliers, Sherwood Foresters, the King's Royal Rifles,
and the West Riding battalions. It was the vilest ground, low-lying and
flooded, and strewn with broken trees and choked with undergrowth, but
the troops here kept up a good pace, and flung themselves upon the
blockhouses which stood in their way. At an early hour our men were
reported to be on a ridge south-east of Inverness Copse and going strong
towards Veldhoek. The enemy's barrage came down too late, and one
officer, who was wounded by a shell-splinter, led his men, 160 of them,
to their first position with only nine casualties.

Most of our losses to-day were from machine-gun fire out of the
blockhouses, and that varied very much at different parts of the line.
There was some trouble at Het Pappotje Farm in this way, where a party
of German machine-gunners put up a desperate resistance, shutting
themselves in behind steel doors before they were routed out by a
bombing fight. Southward from a strong point called Groenenburg, or
"Green Bug" Farm, to Opaque Wood by the Ypres-Comines Canal, the attack
by the Cheshires, Wiltshires, Warwicks, Staffords, and Gloucesters was
successful, though the enemy still holds out up to the time I write in
Hessian Wood, where he is defending himself in a group of blockhouses
against the Welsh Regiment and Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

I have dealt so far with the centre of the attack, and I know very
little as to the fighting on the north by the 5th Army, except that the
Highlanders, London Territorials, Lancashire and Liverpool battalions,
and Scots and South-Africans have swept past a whole system of
blockhouses, like Beck House and Borry Farm, running up through
Gallipoli, Kansas Cross, and Wurst Farm, across the Langemarck-Zonnebeke
road. All through the morning our lightly wounded men came filtering
down to the safer places in the Ypres salient and then to the quiet
fields behind, and they were in grand spirits in spite of the mud which
caked them and the smart of their wounds. Some of them were brought down
on the trolley trains, which go almost as far as the battle-line, and
some in open buses, and some by German prisoners, but there were many
Germans among the wounded--some of them with very ghastly wounds, and
these took their place with ours and mingled with them in the
dressing-stations, and were given the same treatment. Our wounded told
some strange tales of their experiences, but there was no moan among
them, whatever they had suffered.

One man of the Cheshires described to me how he saw a German officer run
out of a dug-out, which had been a blockhouse blown in at each end by
our heavy shell-fire, and make for another one which still stood intact.
With some of his comrades, our man chased him, and there was a great
fight in the second blockhouse before the survivors surrendered, among
them the officer, who gave to my friend a big china pipe and a case full
of cigars as souvenirs. He was killed afterwards by one of his own men,
who sniped him as he was walking back to our lines. In another strong
point there was a great and terrible fight. The Prussian garrison
refused to surrender, and a party of ours fought them until they were
destroyed. "It was more lively than Wytschaete," said a man who was in
this fight. "It was less tame-like, and the Fritzes put up a better
show." They fought hard round Prince's House and Jarrock's Farm and
Pioneer House, not far from Hollebeke Château.

The prisoners I saw to-day were shaken men. Most of them were young
fellows of twenty-one, belonging to the 1916 class, and there were none
of the youngest boys among them. But they were white-faced and haggard,
and looked like men who had passed through a great terror, which indeed
was their fate. They belonged mostly to the 207th Prussian Division, and
had suffered before the battle from our great shell-fire, which had
caused many casualties among their reliefs and ration parties. Many
other prisoners belonged to the 121st Division. I can only give this
glimpse or two of the crowded scenes and the many details of to-day's
battle. To-morrow there will be time perhaps to write more, giving a
deeper insight into this day of good success, which is cheering after so
much desperate fighting--over the same fields, although never to so far
a goal.

       *       *       *       *       *

SEPTEMBER 21

In spite of many German counter-attacks yesterday and many vain and
costly attempts to counter-attack to-day, we hold all the ground gained
by our men yesterday, except at one or two strong points, after their
victorious progress. This morning when I went again among the men who
have been fighting--there was a blue sky over the rags and tatters of
the City of Ypres, and behind the tall, solitary tree-stumps on the
ridge that goes up to Polygon Wood by way of Glencorse Copse, and all
the air was filled with the song of many aeroplanes--all that I learned
yesterday about the battle was made more certain by the narratives of
these young soldiers, who are proud and glad of what they call a real
good show. The wounded men walking down over the wide stretch of fields,
which are still under gun-fire, weak with loss of blood, suffering the
first pain of their wounds, and shaken by their experiences under shells
and machine-gun fire, spoke with a quiet enthusiasm of the day's
success, and said "It was easy" behind such a colossal barrage as our
guns rolled in front of them. Some of them in their eagerness went too
fast for the barrage in order to chase the enemy, and I have met
Australians here and there and some men of the Welsh Regiment, who
fought farther south, wounded because they ran in front of the
barrage-lines, and were caught in our shell-splinters. But that was a
rare episode, and along the whole line of attack the men followed the
moving walls of shells, vast shells that fling up masses of earth like
suburban villas, and the smaller shells that fell like confetti, all
glinting in the wet mist, and felt sure that the enemy in front of them,
would have lost all his fight when they reached his hiding-places, if
any lived. Many Germans died on that ground, so that the shell-holes
between the blockhouses are wet graves in which their bodies lie, and
many of the blockhouses which resisted so long in former attacks are
smashed, or at least so battered that the garrisons inside were dazed
and demoralized by the fearful hammering at their walls.

There was a broad belt of death across that mile deep of woods and
ridges and barren fields, but here and there, as I have already told,
men stayed alive in the concrete houses and fought with their
machine-guns to the last, and even kept sniping from shell-holes in
which they had escaped, up to the time our troops reached them. They
were brave men, most of them, for it needs great courage to show any
fighting spirit after such a fury of gun-fire, and 50 per cent. of our
prisoners are wounded, as I have seen myself, and the others are haggard
and spent after their frightful adventure. An hour or two ago I met a
column of them on the road, marching down slowly through a ruined
village, and staring hollow-eyed at all the movement of our troops, at
all the transport behind our lines, at all our whistling, busy Tommies,
who glance back at them without any malice now that the battle is over.
In a dressing-station a young wounded German sprang to his feet as I
came in, and said, "Good day, sir," very politely, but the pallor of his
face was that of a dead man. The German officers who are prisoners show
the same kind of eagerness to salute, which is a rare thing for them,
and I hear that they do not disguise that yesterday was a day of great
defeat for themselves, and of great victory for us. The completeness and
quickness of it staggered them, and they speak of our barrage-fire as an
awful phenomenon that has undone all their plans and destroyed the new
method of defence which they believed could save them to the end. As
wounded men or prisoners they see things darkly, and we should be deep
in folly if we believed that all the enemy's strength of resistance is
destroyed. But at least this is clear after yesterday, that the new
German method of holding his lines lightly by small garrisons in
blockhouses, with reserves behind for counter-attacks, has broken down,
and by reverting to the old system of strong front lines he would suffer
again as he suffered in the Somme under the ferocity of our artillery.

The German officers have hard words to say about their Higher Command
which has led them into this tragedy, and their own pride is broken.
Yesterday the reserve divisions, which were brought up in buses and then
assembled in places near our new front, to be flung against our advanced
lines, had a dreadful time, and must have suffered great losses. After
the rain of the night and the mist of the morning, the weather cleared
in time for our airmen to go out reconnoitring, as I saw them in swarms
in yesterday's sky, and they were quick to report the massing of the
enemy. Our guns were quick to fire at these human targets. These
counter-attacks developed several times against the English and Highland
troops, who were fighting across the Zonnebeke-Langemarck road,
north-west of the Gravenstafel and Abraham Heights, at a place called
the Schreiboom, north of Langemarck. Some of the Rifle Brigade and
King's Royal Rifles, with other light-infantry troops, failed at first
to get a certain trench, and very hard fighting took place during the
day in a pocket with desperate courage. At the same time the Highlanders
south of them were fighting very hard also round about the blockhouses
by Rose House, Pheasant Farm, and Quebec Farm beyond the Pilkem Ridge,
into which I looked a week or two ago, when things were quiet on the
line. The Highlanders were driven back for a while, and the enemy's
counter-attacks were made in strong force at about ten o'clock in the
morning, and several times later. But they were broken up each time by
the rifle-fire of the Scottish troops, and by our field-batteries.

Large numbers of the enemy were killed here in our first attack and
afterwards. Besides the artillery, a heavy bombardment was made before
the men went out by trench-mortars, which raked a small area of
shell-holes so thoroughly that the German snipers in them were
destroyed, and an important trench was taken by the Scots with hardly
any casualties. A good deal more than 100,000 rounds of shells must have
gone over from the guns before the battle, and afterwards the German
storm troops who tried to recover the ground were smothered with fire.
Six times they came on with much determination, and six times their
waves were broken up. Some London Territorials had to repel part of the
assaulting waves, after a gallant struggle for their objectives, and one
young officer among them earned special honour by gathering a company of
men together and leading them against the advancing enemy, whom they
scattered with bombs and rifles.

Most of the Germans here in this district round Wurst Farm, east of
Winnipeg, were men of the 36th and 208th Divisions, and were a mixture
of Prussians and Poles, who seem to have been stout-hearted fellows.
Their local reserves were quickly exhausted, and in the afternoon, when
they threw in further reserves, these were broken up in the same way. A
frightful fate met a German division which was brought up in the
afternoon near Roulers to be hurled against the Londoners and
Highlanders. Our guns broke up their columns, and when they rallied and
re-formed, broke them again. Our aeroplanes flew low over them, strafing
them with machine-gun fire, and at intervals gas clouded about them, so
that they had to put on their masks, if they had time to put them on
before they fell, and marched blindly forward to another doom, for some
of those who came within range were shot down by the London men, little
fellows, some of them, with the Cockney accent which makes me homesick
for the Fulham Road when I hear it along the roads of Flanders, but with
big, brave hearts. Three of the German battalions deployed and drove
against the Highlanders at Delva Farm and Rose House, and fought so hard
that they could only be driven back when the Highlanders rallied, and at
eight o'clock in the evening swept them out and away. Strong
counter-attacks were made between six and seven in the evening in the
neighbourhood of Hill 37 and the country round Bremen Redoubt, against
the King's Liverpools, where the South-African Scots held their line.

There were a great many blockhouses in this district, some of them
damaged and some still intact, and in those undamaged forts little
parties of men, who fired their machine-guns to the last moment before
death or surrender. Hill 37 was a hard place to attack, as the Irish
found it, and here Lancashire men fought their way up and round in spite
of the waves of machine-gun bullets that swept the ground about them.
The Bremen Redoubt, which had been so costly to the Irishmen on July 31,
was carried by the South-Africans in a fine assault, while Scottish
troops were gaining other strong points and drawing tight nets round any
blockhouse from which came any fire. Out of these places, in all that
part of the line, many prisoners were taken, and they made their way
down anxiously through their own shell-fire, which was barraging these
fields. A great party of Germans, white-faced and afraid, were found in
the long galleries running out of a fortified place called Schuler Farm.

South of all this the Australians were fighting in the centre of
yesterday's great attack where the ground rises to the foul heights of
Polygon Wood. The Australian lads were in their most perfect form. They
had had some rest since the hard, bad days at Bullecourt and in the
dreadful valley of Noreuil, where I went to see them outside the
Quéant-Drocourt line. Since then I had seen them in the harvest-fields
of France, in the market squares of Flemish towns, along the dusty roads
which lead up to the Front. Always I felt it good to see those
easy-going fellows in their flap hats, so lithe, so clean-cut, so fresh.
It was an honour to get a salute from them now and then, for they are
not great at that sort of thing, and one could see with half an eye that
they have not lost any of their quality since some of them fought their
great epic at Helles and Suvla Bay, and afterwards at Pozières gained
and held their ground under months of great shell-fire, and then at
Bullecourt fought with the grim endurance of men who will not yield to
any kind of hammering if their pride is in the job. They are boys, many
of them, and simple-looking fellows who were not cut to the model of
barrack-room soldiers. They have a wildish gipsy look when one sees them
camped in the fields, and free-and-easy manners in the village
estaminets. When I heard they were going to attack Polygon Wood I knew
that we should get it, if human courage could have the say, for the
Australians are not easily denied if they set their mind on a thing, and
for all their boyishness--though they have middle-aged follows among
them too--they have a grim passion in them at such times. Yet they are
free-and-easy always, even on the battlefield, and a bit impatient of
checks and restraints. Knowing them, and the heart and soul of them, one
of their commanding officers arranged a method of preventing them from
getting bored with the long strain of a two hours' wait, which was
ordered when they should have gained their first objective. He sent up
to them by the carrying parties bundles of the previous day's papers,
all the picture papers especially, and large quantities of cigarettes.
The idea worked beautifully, and it was the strangest thing that has
happened in any great battle. The Australian lads got at the papers, and
on the ground which they had just captured spread them out and studied
the news of the day and smoked their cigarettes with quiet enjoyment,
while ahead of them rolled a stupendous barrage, with thousands of heavy
shells that came screaming over their heads from our guns behind them,
answered by other shells that came the other way, and burst farther back
on the battlefield. So they were seen by one of our airmen, who was
surprised by what he saw.

The going had been pretty bad before then, as I was told to-day by some
of the men whom I met slightly wounded along the Menin road. The enemy
seemed to smell danger in the night and put over a heavy barrage just
before the attack started. It was on the tail of the Australians, and
might have demoralized them if they had not been so high in heart. They
got away in good order, and kept going to keep pace with the travelling
storm of shells which broke before them. One queer thing happened near
Clapham Junction. The enemy had apparently planned a raid with
"flammenwerfer," or flame-jets as we call these devilish engines, at the
very time of the attack and they were met by the Australian shock of
assault, and fell before it. While some of the Australians worked round
Glencorse Copse and Nonne Boschen or Nuns' Wood, others fought up by
Westhoek across the Hanebeek towards the post called by a curious
coincidence Anzac Corner. After heavy fighting for a little while at one
of the blockhouses the Australian flag was planted at Anzac Corner and
waves there still. In Nonne Boschen the ground was marshy and encumbered
with fallen trees, but the boys struggled through somehow, and then
started for the Polygon Wood, where there is no wood, as there seldom is
in these places when our artillery has done its work, but only some
blasted trunks and stakes. In Glencorse Wood and round about it there
were a good many Germans, and they fought hard. Fifty of them were
killed in hand-to-hand fighting, or fighting at close quarters, and a
blockhouse on the north-west of the wood, where the garrison would not
surrender, but kept his machine-guns going, was taken by a bombing
attack. So after a two hours' wait at the end of the first lap the
Australians flung away their cigarettes and the assaulting waves passed
on to the ridge of Polygon Wood. They could not take all the line they
had been asked to take in the first attempt, and were checked on the
right by machine-gun fire. So they dug in on a crescent, which had its
right ear somewhere by Carlisle Farm to the north of Black Watch Corner,
until supports came up to make good their losses on the way, and they
were able to go forward and straighten out. After that the
counter-attacks began. All of them were broken up by artillery-fire, and
when one of the German divisions was flung in, the only men who reached
our lines were those who tried to escape from the barrage which our guns
put over their assembly position. I should like to give a fuller history
than I did yesterday about the taking of Inverness Copse and the bogs of
the Dumbarton Lakes, and the tangled ground of Shrewsbury Forest, but I
have no time, as the wires wait, except to pay a tribute to the men who
fought there over most difficult country, crowded with blockhouses, and
under severe fire from the enemy's guns. Men from Surrey and Kent, from
the Midlands, from Wales, from the North, the battalions of the 8th and
14th Divisions, all fought and won with equal courage and success.

       *       *       *       *       *

SEPTEMBER 23

The enthusiasm of the troops who fought in Thursday's battle of the
Menin road is good enough proof that they achieved success that morning
without those great losses which take the heart out of victory. All the
men I have seen are convinced that the enemy's losses are heavy. Not so
much in the actual attack, where he held his blockhouse system with
small garrisons, as afterwards, when he tried to counter-attack.

I have already put on record some of the attempts he made to regain
ground on the afternoon of the battle. Yesterday and to-day he has
continued his efforts with even more disastrous results to his unhappy
troops. About midday yesterday a German regiment was sent up in
motor-omnibuses to a point behind the enemy's lines to make a new
assault upon our positions in Polygon Wood. The three battalions then
took to the road, and were seen very quickly by our observers. The
artillery made that road a way of fire, and the German soldiers were
caught in it and dispersed. Odd companies of them worked their way
forward by other tracks, but lost themselves in the chaos of
shell-craters, where other heavy shells burst among them. They were no
longer battalions or companies, but a terror-stricken collection of
individual soldiers, taking cover in holes and without guidance or
command. An officer collected fifty of them and led them back to
reorganize. He had no notion of what had happened to the rest of the
regiment, except that it was broken and ineffective, in this wild
turmoil of crater earth. He went forward again on reconnaissance, and
walked into a body of Australians, who took him prisoner.

So it happened with another column at Zandvoorde. One of our aerial
observers watched the long trail of men marching up the road and sent a
message to the guns. They were the heavy guns which found the target
with 9·2 shells and with twelve-inchers, which are monstrous and
annihilating. Down there at Zandvoorde it must have been hell. We can
only guess how many men were blown to pieces, and it is not a picture on
which the imagination should care to linger. It was a bloody shambles.

Along the Menin road later in the day came another long column of
marching men. They were men of the Sixteenth Bavarian Division, who had
been sent up in urgent haste without knowledge of the ground, without
maps, and with officers who seem to have had no definite instructions
except to fling their men in an attack somehow and anyhow. Over their
heads in the darkness under the stars flew a British aeroplane with a
bomb of the heaviest kind. When our airman saw these hostile troops
advancing, flying low like a great black bat he dropped his frightful
thing on the head of the column. It burst with a deafening roar and
scattered the leading company. Flying in the same sky-space as the big
aeroplane was a number of other night raiders of ours. They also flew
low above the marching troops, and all down the road dropped their
explosives. Our guns added their help, and they fired many rounds down
the Menin road, bracketing the ditches. It is a dreadful thing to walk
along a road which is being "bracketed," and with those birds of prey
above them the Bavarians must have suffered the worst kind of horror.
They did not get near to our lines with any counter-attack.

None of these counter-attacks has reached our lines near Polygon Ridge,
which is the ground most wanted by the enemy, and the nearest seems to
have been yesterday afternoon, when some of the Australian boys with
whom I talked to-day saw the movement of men and the glint of bayonets
in a little wood on an opposite spur. They saw the movement of men for a
minute of two, and after that a fury of shells which fell into the wood
and filled it with flame and smoke.

"I don't know how a mortal man could have lived through that," said one
of these lads. "If any Fritz got out of that without being cracked he
must have had the luck of Old Harry."

There were many of these Australian boys among whom I went to-day before
they had cleaned themselves of the dirt of battle, and while they were
still on fire with the emotion of their amazing adventure. Some of them
had escaped only by enormous luck. I talked with one stretcher-bearer, a
fine, big, bullet-headed fellow with an unshaven chin and a merry smile,
who was astounded to find himself alive. He had spent the day and night
bandaging wounded, and, with his mates, carrying them down to the
dressing-station, a mile and more back. All the time he walked and
worked with bursting shells about him. They knocked out several of his
mates, but left him untouched. They killed two or three of the wounded
on his stretchers going down, but did not scratch him. They blew up
dug-outs just as he had gone out of them, and trenches through which he
made his way. He was buried in earth flung up by heavy shells, and he
fell many times into deep craters, and men dropped all round him, but
to-day he still had a whole skin and a queer, lingering smile, in which
there is a look of wonderment because of his escape.

An Australian officer, who was through the Dardanelles and the Somme and
Bullecourt, a slim, small-sized Australian, with a delicate, clean-cut
face, thoughtful and grave, with a fine light in his eyes, was helping a
wounded lad on to a stretcher when a shell came over his head, killed
the boy, but left the officer unscathed. It was this officer, this
slight, delicate-looking man, who captured, with three lads, sixty men
and a German battalion staff in their headquarter dug-outs below Polygon
Wood.

"Where is your revolver?" he said to the captain. The German hesitated,
and said: "You will shoot me if I fetch it." "I will shoot you if you
don't," said the little Australian. And he meant what he said, as I
could see by the set of his lips when he told me the tale. But the
German captain handed over his revolver quietly, and his maps, which
were very useful.

It was a wonderful scene to-day among all these Australian lads, who had
just been relieved and were talking over the scenes of yesterday's
history in small groups while they scraped off the mud and shaved before
bits of broken mirror, and polished up German rifles and machine-guns
and handled their souvenirs, found in the dug-outs and blockhouses. Many
of them were stripped to the waist, some of them wore German caps, some
of them slept like drugged men in spite of all the noise about them.
After taking the first objective they had to wait for two hours before
they went on, and there were queer scenes about the blockhouses and in
the felled woods. They had found the German rations, and besides the
sausages and bread and gallons of cold coffee in petrol-tins, which the
boys shared among themselves, quantities of long, fat, and excellent
cigars. Hundreds of Australians smoked these cigars while they waited
for the barrage to lift, and when they went on again hundreds of them
were still puffing them as they trudged on to Polygon Wood. They had a
good day. I have met some of them, who said they enjoyed it, and would
not have missed it for worlds. The excitement of it all kept them going.
The battlefield was a wild pandemonium of men, and the imagination of
people who have never seen war will hardly visualize such scenes, with
lads laughing and smoking while others lay dead, with groups fighting
and falling round blockhouses while others were eating German sausages
and joking in captured emplacements, with stretcher-bearers carrying men
back under heavy shell-fire and German prisoners dodging their own
barrage-fire on their way to our lines. An Australian doctor had his arm
smashed, but stayed among the boys, regardless of his own hurt. A V.C.
officer of the Dardanelles was killed as he went back wounded on a
stretcher. German wounded lay crying for help, and our men rescued them.
So about Glencorse Wood and Polygon Wood human agony and the wild
spirits of Australian youth, death, and the vitality of boyhood in the
passion of a great adventure were queerly mixed, and one side of this
picture of war would be hopelessly untrue if it left out the other side.

One enthusiasm of the Australians was about the English soldiers who
fought on their right, the Yorkshire boys and others who went through
Inverness Copse. Again and again yesterday I heard them loud in praise
of the Tommies.

"By gosh, they'll do for me! They went ahead in grand style. They
couldn't be stopped anyhow, though they came up against a durned lot of
machine-gun fire. They were just fine."

Far north of all this, above the Zonnebeke, were the Londoners of the
58th Division and the Highlanders of the 51st Division, and, as I have
already written in previous messages, they had severe fighting and had
to bear the brunt of great counter-attacks. The ground in front of the
London Territorials was bad and difficult--bad because it was
intersected with swamps and cut up by weeks of shell-fire, and horribly
difficult because of a ridge rising up on the left to the German strong
point of Wurst Farm.

The London boys swung left in order to attack Wurst Farm, and, avoiding
a frontal assault, worked left-handed all the time till they reached the
ridge, and then rushed the blockhouse from the rear. The garrison was
surprised and caught. They fought desperately, but the Londoners
overpowered them. The surviving Germans complained bitterly, and said it
was impossible to use their machine-guns on every side at once. "It is
not a fair way of fighting," said a German officer, and the Londoners
laughed and said, "Not half!" and "I don't think!" and other ironical
words.

In a big dressing-station up there they captured two doctors and sixty
men, of whom many were wounded. The German doctors said, "Have you any
wounded we can help? We are not fighting men." And they made themselves
useful, and were good fellows.

Down in the valley the Londoners came face to face with a party of
Germans who showed fight, but the Londoners--little fellows some of
them--walked through them and over dead bodies who had fallen before
their rifle-fire. There was a lot of musketry both then and afterwards
when the enemy counter-attacked, and they fired like sharpshooters. Down
below them and almost behind them the line dropped away to the fort of
Schuler Farm, where the enemy still held out. "There are a lot of Boches
down there," said an officer on the brigade staff of the London
Territorials. "No," said the brigade major, and then: "Yes, and, by the
Lord, there's a German officer staring at me. The blighter is telling
one of his men to take a pot at me. See!" The brigade major ducked down
his head as a bullet flattened against the blockhouse wall.

It was an awkward situation for the Londoners, but they formed a
defensive flank and sent some lads to help the troops who were attacking
the position. "Domine dirige nos" is the London motto, and there were
many London boys who had it in their hearts that day, and said with the
dear old Cockney accent, "Gord 'elp us." That was when the German
counter-attacks developed, but were smashed by gun-fire.

In all this fighting, as far as I can find, the Highland Territorials of
the 51st Division upon the left had the bloodiest fighting. They gained
their ground with difficulty, because a battalion of the Royal Scots was
badly held up by wire and bogs and machine-gun fire at a stream called
the Lekkerbolerbeek. They had to fall back, reorganize, and attack
again, which they did with splendid gallantry, and held their ground
only by most grim endurance, because the enemy counter-attacked them
violently all day long after the objectives had been gained.

The enemy's losses were certainly appalling to him. Officers in this
fighting, who have been through many of our great battles, tell me that
they have never seen before so many dead as lie upon this ground. In one
section of Pheasant Trench a hundred yards long there are nearly a
hundred dead. Before the attack our barrage rolled forward slowly, like
a devouring fire. Instantly all along the German line green lights rose
as SOS signals, but as the barrage swept on, followed by the Scots, the
lights went out. They rose again from the farther lines, and then those
ceased as the shells reached them. Only in the blockhouses and the
dug-outs down by the Lekkerbolerbeek were any Germans left alive.

The blockhouses were dealt with by small parties of Highlanders, who had
been in training to meet them, and went like wolves about them, firing
their machine-guns and rifles through the loopholes if the garrisons
would not come out. So they swept on to their final goal, which was at
Rose House and the cemetery beyond Pheasant Farm. These men had some
terrible hours to face. By ill-luck their left flank was utterly
exposed, and hostile aeroplanes, flying very low, saw this and flew back
with the news. The enemy was already developing a series of
counter-attacks by his "Stosstruppen," or storm troops, of the 234th
Division, which from three o'clock in the afternoon till seven o'clock
that evening made repeated thrusts against the Highlanders' front, and
the heaviest weight of two and a half battalions was sent forward
against this flank. It was preceded by the heaviest German barrage ever
seen by these Scots, who have had many experiences of barrage-fire.
Officers watching from a little distance were horrified by that
monstrous belt of fire, and the garrison of Gordons seemed lost to them
for ever. It was not so bad as that. Eventually this flank fell back
from Rose House to Pheasant Farm Cemetery and other ground, where they
were rallied by a battalion commander, one of the youngest men of his
rank in the British Army, who supplied them with fresh ammunition and
directed them to hold up the German infantry advancing under cover of
their bombardment. In spite of their losses our men fought their way
back and regained part of the ground by desperate valour. Our guns wiped
out the other counter-attacks one by one, inflicting frightful losses on
the enemy. They were caught most horribly as they came along the road.
Thirty machine-guns played a barrage-fire on his lines where German
soldiers tried to escape across the shell-craters. The Highlanders used
their rifles effectively, one man firing over 500 rounds. And a gun was
brought into action from a Tank which had come up as far as an advanced
blockhouse, in spite of the boggy ground.

There was great slaughter among the enemy that day. Since then the
slaughter has gone on, for his counter-attacks have not ceased. His guns
have been very active, bombarding parts of our line intensely, and in
the air his scouts and raiders have been flying over our lines in the
endeavour to observe and destroy our troops and batteries, flying low
with great audacity, and using machine-guns as well as bombs. But we
hold all the important ground gained last Thursday.



XVI

THE WAY TO PASSCHENDAELE


SEPTEMBER 26

During the past forty-eight hours there has been hard and prolonged
fighting north and south of the Menin road, and in spite of formidable
counter-attacks by the enemy which began early yesterday morning and
still continue, our troops have made a successful advance in the
neighbourhood of Zonnebeke and southward beyond the Polygon Wood
racecourse, which now belongs to the Australians.

It is south of that, by Cameron House and the rivulet called the
Reutelbeek, that the enemy's pressure has been greatest, and where the
battalions of the 33rd and 39th Divisions on the right of the
Australians, including the Queen's, have had the hardest time under
incessant fire and attack since dawn yesterday, but on their right
Sherwood Foresters and Rifle Brigade men, also severely tried, have
swept across the Tower Hamlets Ridge in the direction of Gheluvelt.

It was fully expected that any new endeavour of ours to advance beyond
the ground gained in the battle of September 20 would be met by the
fiercest opposition. The capture of Polygon Wood and Westhoek seriously
lessened the value of Passchendaele Ridge, which strikes northward and
forms the enemy's great defensive barrier, and it was certain that in
spite of the heavy losses he has already suffered in trying to get back
that high ground above Inverness Copse he would bring up all his
available reserves to hinder our further progress at all costs.

For two days before yesterday he made no sign of movement in his lines,
and was kept quiet by the breakdown of all his previous counter-attacks,
which our men repulsed with most bloody losses to the enemy, so that
their divisions were shattered and demoralized. The German Command used
that time to drag the broken units out of the line and to replace them
or hurry up to their support the reserves who had been waiting in the
rest areas behind. These men were rushed up by motor-omnibus and
railways to points where it was necessary to take to the roads and march
to the assembly positions ready for immediate counter-attacks. Those
were in the Zandvoorde and Kruiseik neighbourhood, south-east of
Gheluvelt, ready to strike up to the Tower Hamlets Ridge while others
could be assembled behind the Passchendaele Ridge.

No doubt our attack for this morning did not leave out of account the
strength of resistance likely to be offered. The enemy showed signs of
desperate anxiety to check us on the Polygon Wood line, and the ground
going south of it to the Gheluvelt Spur, and he made a great effort by
massed artillery to smash up the organization behind our lines, and by a
series of thrusts to break our front. On Monday afternoon, increasing to
great intensity yesterday, he flung down his barrage-fire in Glencorse
Wood and Inverness Copse, fired large numbers of heavy long-range shells
over Westhoek Ridge, Observatory Ridge, Hooge, and other old spots of
ill-fame, and concentrated most fiercely on the ground about Cameron
House, Black Watch Corner, and the Tower Hamlets.

At six o'clock yesterday morning, supported by this terrific fire, he
launched his first attack on the Surreys, Scottish Rifles, Middlesex
Regiment, and other troops around the Tower Hamlets, and owing to their
losses they were obliged to fall back some little way in order to
reorganize for an assault to recapture their position. These fought
through some awful hours, and several of their units did heroic things
to safeguard their lines, which for a time were threatened.

While they were fighting in this way the 4th and 5th Australians, on the
high ground this side of Polygon Wood racecourse and the mound which is
called the Butte, also had to repel some fierce attacks which opened on
them shortly after eight o'clock in the morning. The enemy was unable to
pierce their line, and fell back from this first attempt with great
losses in dead and wounded. It was followed by a second thrust at midday
and met the same fate. At two o'clock in the afternoon the Australians
sent some of their men to help the Surreys and the English troops on
their right, who were passing through a greater ordeal owing to the
storm of fire over them and the continued pressure of the enemy's storm
troops, who were persistent through the afternoon in spite of the trails
of dead left in their tracks. It was a serious anxiety on the eve of a
new battle, but it failed to frustrate our attack. All the area through
which the enemy was trying to bring up his troops was made hideous by
artillery-fire and the work of the Royal Flying Corps.

It was a clear moonlight night, with hardly a breath of air blowing, and
all the countryside was made visible by the moon's rays, which silvered
the roofs of all the villages and made every road like a white tape. Our
planes went out over the enemy's lines laden with bombs, and patrolled
up and down the tracks and made some thirty attacks upon the German
transport and his marching columns. All his lines of approach were kept
under continual fire by our guns of heavy calibre, and for miles around
shells swept the points which marching men would have to pass, so that
their way was hellish. Our aircraft went out and flew very low, and
dropped bombs wherever they saw men moving through the luminous mists of
the night. Behind our own lines air patrols guarded the countryside.
They carried lights, and as they flew in the starlit sky they themselves
looked like shooting stars until they dropped low, when their planes
were diaphanous as butterfly's wings in sunlight. On the battlefield
then was no unusual gun-fire for several hours after dark. Guns on both
sides kept up the usual night bombardment in slow sullen strokes, but at
least on the Australian front it was not until about 4.45 in the morning
that the enemy opened a heavy barrage in Glencorse Wood. The Australian
troops were already massed beyond that ground for the attack which was
shortly due. On the north, up by Wurst Farm, on the lower slopes of the
Gravenstafel, our London Territorials were also waiting to go "over the
bags," as they call it. Against them the German guns put over a heavy
barrage, but that line of explosives failed to stop or check the
assault.

It was almost dark when our London lads went forward through a thick
ground mist, which was wet and clammy about them. Our artillery had
opened before them the same monstrous line of barrage-fire which they
had followed on the 20th. and they went after it at a slow trudge, which
gave them time to avoid shell-craters and get over difficult ground
without lagging behind that protecting storm. That violence of fire was
as deadly and terrifying this morning as on that other day. Through the
mist our men saw the Germans running and falling, and many of them did
not stay in the blockhouses, though it was almost certain death to come
out into the open before the barrage passed. There were dead men in many
shell-craters before our men reached them, and others afterwards, as
they passed through clumps of ruin which had once been hamlets and
farms. There was such a mess of brickwork and masonry at Aviatik Farm,
where Germans hiding in concrete walls fired machine-guns and rifles for
a time until the British troops closed on them.

Something like 150 prisoners were taken in this section of the attack,
and one of them was a queer bird who belonged to the sea. That is to
say, he had been a sailor on the _Dresden_ and was in the battle of
Falkland Island and off Coronel, where he was picked up by a Swedish
boat and taken back to Germany. To his disgust he was put in the 10th
Ersatz Division, and now, after his soldier life, wants to work in a
British shipyard. He was surprised at the food given to him, and thought
it was a bribe to get information from him, believing that England is
agonizing with hunger.

About a hundred and fifty prisoners were taken also, by the troops on
the right of this section, belonging mostly to the 23rd Reserve
Division, with some of the 3rd Guards. Our men who attacked in the
direction of Zonnebeke village were Leicesters, Notts and Derbys, East
Yorks, Royal Scots, Gordons, and King's Own, and they had some stiff
fighting on the way to the Windmill Cabaret and Hill Forty, which seems
to be the key to the position. Here they came against some of the
blockhouses at Toronto Farm and Van Isackere Farm, but did not meet
great trouble there. Some of them had been so badly knocked by
shell-fire that the garrisons inside were killed, by concussion, and
from others men came out to surrender as soon as our men were near them.
Near the village of Zonnebeke the fight was more serious against the
Royal Scots and East Yorks, and the enemy's gun-fire, which had not been
very heavy on the other ground of attack, smashed along the line of the
railway embankment.

The Australian advance across the racecourse of Polygon Wood and
northward across the spur to below Zonnebeke Château was steady and
successful. There was a regular chain of blockhouses on the way, but
there again the old black magic of the pill-box failed. The men rallied
inside them, many of them being Poles of the 49th Regiment, who hate the
Prussians in a fierce way and ask us to kill as many as possible for
their sake. Most of them were quick and glad to surrender. A platoon of
them were taken in some wooden dug-outs below the high mound of Polygon
Wood, that old Butte which is supposed to be the burial-place of a
prehistoric chief, though by the Australians it is believed to be the
observation-post of Sir Douglas Haig in 1914.

The enemy's gun-fire was heavy over part of the ground, and there was a
nest of machine-guns along a road which gave some trouble, but in the
main attack the losses of the Australians were not heavy up to the time
they gained the last objective. It was our aircraft which brought back
the first news of the Anzacs on the racecourse in Polygon Wood, and
later they had reached the farthest goal, where prisoners were
surrendering freely. On the left of their front the Australians were
quite satisfied with their position. On the right they had great anxiety
because of the check to the troops below them. At one time it was found
advisable for the Australians to swing back their flank a little in
order to avoid its exposure. But the Australians are full of confidence
and are sure that they can handle any counter-attack which may be
launched against them. It has been a hard day for all our men,
especially for those who bore the brunt of the enemy's fire, and I
believe will be counted as one of the biggest days of fighting in this
war. Its decision is of vital importance to the enemy and to ourselves,
and so far it is in our favour.



XVII

THE BATTLE OF POLYGON WOOD

SEPTEMBER 27

The battle which began yesterday morning, after a whole day of
counter-attacking by the enemy, in great numbers and by great gun-fire,
lasted until nightfall, and, as I told yesterday, did not pass without
anxious hours for those in command, and trying hours for some of our
fighting men.

From the left above Zonnebeke down to the Australian front on the
heights of the Polygon Wood Racecourse the advance was made with fair
ease through the blockhouse system and without severe losses, as they
are reckoned in modern warfare, in spite of difficult bits of ground and
the usual snags, as our men call them, in the way of unexpected
machine-gun fire, odd bits of trench to which small groups of Germans
clung stubbornly, dirty swamps which some of our men could not cross
quickly enough to keep up with the barrage, and danger zones upon which
the enemy heaped his explosives.

There were incidents enough for individual men to be remembered for a
lifetime, hairbreadth escapes, tight corners in which men died after
acts of fine heroism, and strong points like Hill 40, on the left of the
ruins of Zonnebeke, around which some of our troops struggled with
fortune.

[Illustration: The Ypres salient]

Apart from local vicissitudes here and there during those first hours of
the battle it became clear by midday, or before, that from the extreme
left of the attack down to the vicinity of Cameron House, on the right
of the Australians, the general success of the day was good. The
critical situation was on the right of the 4th and 5th Australians, and
involving their right because of the enemy's violent pressure on
British troops there during the previous day, and again when our new
attack started, so that their line had been somewhat forced back and the
Australian right flank was exposed.

Hour after hour reports coming from this part of the field were read
with some anxiety when it was known how heavily some of our battalions
were engaged. This menace to our right wing was averted by the courage
of men of the Middlesex and Surrey Regiments of the 33rd Division, with
Argylls and Sutherlands and Scottish Rifles, and by the quick, skillful,
and generous help of the Australian troops on their left. It is an
episode of the battle which will one day be an historic memory when all
the details are told. I can only tell them briefly and in outline.

After terrific shelling, on Tuesday last, the enemy launched an attack
at six o'clock against our line by Carlisle Farm and Black Watch Corner,
south of Polygon Wood, and forced some of our English troops to fall
back towards Lone House and the dirty little swamp of the Reutelbeek.
These boys of Middlesex and Surrey suffered severely. For some time it
was all they could do to hold out, and the enemy was still pressing. A
body of Scottish Rifles was sent up to support them, and by a most brave
counter-thrust under great gun-fire restored part of the line, so that
it was strong enough to keep back any advancing wave of Germans by rifle
and machine-gun fire.

Another body of men, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, held out on
exposed ground, isolated from the main line, and threatened with being
cut off by the enemy's assault troops. Sir Douglas Haig has mentioned
them specially in his message yesterday, and they deserve great honour
for the heroic way in which they held on to this ground for many hours
that day and night under harassing fire from coal-boxes, or 5·9's, which
threatened to wipe out their whole strength. Yesterday they had strength
and spirit left to renew the attack, and to make another attempt to get
back the lost ground into which the enemy had driven a wedge.

At the same time the Australians had realized the dangerous situation
which exposed their right flank, and they directed a body of their own
troops to strike southward in order to thrust back the German outposts.
Those Australian troops shared the peril of their comrades on the
right, and withstood the same tornado of shelling which was flung over
all the ground here; but in spite of heroic sacrifice did not at first
wholly relieve the position of the Australian right, which remained
exposed. After the great attack by the Anzacs in the morning their line
was thrust right out beyond Cameron House, but the English and Scottish
troops of the 33rd Division, who had also gone forward in the new attack
south of them, were again met by a most deadly barrage-fire and checked
at a critical time. I was with some of the Australians yesterday when
all this was happening, and when there was cause for worry. They were
unruffled, and did not lose confidence for a moment.

"Give us two hours," said one of them who had a right to speak, "and we
will make everything as sound as a bell." In those two hours they drew
back their flank to get into line on a curve going back towards Lone
House, and established defensive posts which would hold off any attack
likely to be launched against them.

"It is hard luck on the English boys down there," said the Australians,
"but they have had a bad gruelling, and they will come along in spite of
it. There is not an Australian in France who doesn't know how the
Tommy-Boys fought on the 20th, and that will do for us."

The "Tommy-Boys," as the Australians call them, fought as they have
fought in three years of great battles, and in spite of the ordeal
through which they had passed--and it was not a light one--they saved
the situation on that ground below Polygon Wood, and made it too
dangerous and too costly for the enemy to stay. Early this morning the
survivors of the Germans who had thrust a wedge between our lines past
Cameron House crawled out again and our line was straightened.

How the Australians established themselves on Polygon Wood Racecourse
and beyond the big mound called the Butte I told in my message
yesterday. Farther north the Leicesters, Notts and Derbys, Royal Scots,
Gordons, and King's Own of the 59th and 3rd Divisions had attacked north
of the Ypres-Roulers railway, running at right angles to the
Langemarck-Zonnebeke road. On that road, barring the way, was the
station of Zonnebeke, now a mass of wreckage, fortified with
machine-gun redoubts, and farther south the ruins of Zonnebeke church
and village. Across the road was the Windmill Cabaret, an old inn which
has been blown off the map on the high ground of Hill 40, which rises
gradually to a hump a hundred yards or so north of the station. It was
bad ground to attack, and strewn with little blockhouses of the new
type, though they are still called pill-boxes after an older and smaller
type. The blockhouses did not give much trouble. Our new form of
barrage, the most frightful combination of high explosives and shrapnel
that has yet appeared in war, rolled backwards and forwards about them,
so that the garrisons huddled inside until our men nipped behind them
and thrust rifles or bombs through the machine-gun loopholes, if they
had not previously escaped to shell-craters around where they might have
more chance of escape.

And here I might say in passing that the enemy has already modified his
methods of holding the blockhouses, and while only a few men remain
inside, distributes the rest of the garrison in shell-holes on either
side, with their machine-guns in the organized craters. Some of them
were found by our men, and though many of them had been killed by our
gun-fire, others remained shooting and sniping until they were routed
out.

The worst part of the ground on this line of attack was around a
blockhouse called Bostin Farm, where there was a dismal, stinking swamp
so impassable that the Royal Scots, Scottish Fusiliers, and East Yorks
of the 3rd Division who tried to make their way through it lost touch
with the barrage, which rolled ahead of them, and had to work round and
up towards Hill 40. Here they came under machine-gun fire, and although
some men forced their way up the slope of the knoll on which the
Windmill Cabaret stood, they did not quite reach the crest.

Meanwhile men of the Gordons, Suffolks, and Welsh Fusiliers were
attacking round about Zonnebeke, where the ground was swept by
machine-gun bullets, and seized the ruin of the church and the outskirts
of the station yard. There was heavy shelling from the enemy all day,
which caused the line to fall back a little, and at six o'clock
yesterday evening the enemy launched two counter-attacks from Zonnebeke
and another around Hill 40. Half an hour later the Royal Scots and
Royal Scottish Fusiliers moved forward to thrust the enemy back, and at
exactly the same time another counter-attack of his advanced in their
direction. Each body of men were protected by barrage-lines of heavy
shell-fire, and our shells and the German shells mingled and burst
together in a wide belt of fury, and sometimes neither side could cross
it.

Farther north South Midland men did well. They advanced from Zevenkote
on the right and Schuler Farm on the left to Van Isackere Farm and Dochy
Farm and other blockhouses on each side of the high road between
Langemarck and Zonnebeke with hardly a check. They found many of the
blockhouses badly damaged after the heavy fire that had been poured on
each one of them, and if they were not damaged the men inside were so
nerve-shaken that they were eager to surrender. Apparently they had not
expected the attack to follow the hurricane bombardment, because there
had been other shoots of this kind before, and they made no real attempt
to get their machine-guns into action. It was from the slopes of the
Gravenstafel and the Abraham Heights beyond that machine-gun fire fell
upon the Midland men, and the enemy's guns were shooting down the
gullies between these ridges. But the ground in this part of our attack
yesterday was taken without grave trouble and without great losses.

Most of the prisoners taken on this ground were Saxons, and those I have
seen marching down to a captivity which they prefer to the field of
battle are men of a good physique, and smart, soldierly look. It is
astonishing how quickly they recover from the effect of bombardment and
the great horror of battle as soon as they get beyond the range of
shell-fire. But they are gloomy and disheartened. The officers
especially acknowledge that things are going badly for Germany, and say
that there is, for the time at least until the new class is ready, a
dearth of men of fighting age, so that the drafts they get are miserable
and unfit. They are overwhelmed with the thought of the monstrous
gun-power which we have brought against them to counteract their own
artillery, which once had the mastery, and they are struck by the
audacity of our air service.

Certainly our flying men have been doing all in their power to make life
intolerable on the German side of the lines. I have already described
how they went out on Tuesday night and broke up the columns of men
marching to attack us. One of these birds found a different kind of
prey. It was opposite the Australian front where a team of German
gunners were getting a gun away. Our airman flew low over the heads of
the gunners and played his machine-gun on to them and dropped bombs. He
smashed up the gun-limber and laid out the gunners, and the gun remains
there still, with the bodies of men and horses around it. To-day out
beyond Ypres I saw flights of our men going out again beyond the German
lines for that battle in the air which has never ceased since the battle
of Flanders two months ago.

The weather is still in our favour, and there is a blue sky to-day and a
soft, golden light over all this Flemish countryside where our troops go
marching up to the lines with their bands playing, or lie resting in the
hop-fields on the way. That old place of horror, the Yser Canal,
reflected the blue above, and in the air there was that sense of peace
which belongs to the golden days of autumn. But the guns were loud, and
the flight of their shells went crying through the sky.

       *       *       *       *       *

OCTOBER 2

Through the haze which lies low over Flanders, though above there is
still a blue sky, the noise of great gun-fire goes on, rising and
falling in gusts, and, like the beat of surf to people who live by the
sea, it is the constant sound in men's ears, not disturbing their work
unless they are close enough to suffer from the power behind the
thunder-strokes. The trees are yellowing into crinkled gold, and there
is the touch and smell of autumn in the night air, and the orchards of
France are heavy with fruit. Wonderful weather, the soldiers say. The
artillery battle is endless, and on both sides is intense and
widespread. It was followed yesterday by five German counter-attacks,
which did not reach our lines. In a very desperate way the enemy is
trying to push us back from positions which are essential to the
strength of his defence. All his guns are at work. Is it the last phase
of the war? Does the enemy know that he must win or lose all? Our men
have that hope in their hearts, and fight more grimly and with higher
spirit because of it. The success of the last two battles has deepened
the hope, and men come back from the line, back to the rest-billets,
with the old conviction newly revived that at last they have the enemy
down and under and very near hopelessness. In the rest-billets are the
men who come back. They come marching back along the dusty roads from
the fire-swept zone, first across ground pitted with new-made
shell-holes, with the howl of shells overhead, and then through broken
villages on the edge of the battlefields, and then through standing
villages where only a gap or two shows where a haphazard shell has gone,
and then at last to the clean, sweet country which no high explosives
reach, unless a hostile airman comes over with his bombs.

In any old billet in Flanders one hears the tale of battle told by men
who were there, and it is worth while, as yesterday, when I sat down at
table with the officers of a battalion of Suffolks in a Flemish
farmhouse. The men were camped outside, and as I passed I liked the look
of these lads, who had just come out of one of the stiffest fights of
the war. They looked amazingly fresh after one night's rest, and they
stood in groups telling their yarns in the good old dialect of their
county, laughing as though it had all been a joke, though it was more
than a joke with death on the prowl.

"Your men look fit," I said to the colonel of the Suffolks, and he
smiled as though he liked my words, and said, "You couldn't get their
tails down with a crowbar. It was a good show, and that makes all the
difference. They have been telling the Australian boys that you have
only got to make a face at the Hun and he puts his hands up. They
knocked the stuffing out of the enemy."

Inside the farmhouse there was the battalion mess, at one long table and
one short, because it was felt better for all the officers to be
together instead of splitting up into company messes. I looked down the
rows of faces, these clean-cut English faces, and was glad of the luck
which had brought so many of these young officers back again. They told
the tale of the battle, and each of them had some detail to add, because
that was his part of the show, and it was his platoon, and they had left
the fighting-line the night before. They spoke as though all the things
had happened long ago, and they laughed loudly at episodes of gruesome
interest and belonging to those humours of war which are not to be
written.

There was a thick mist when they went away at dawn, so dense that they
could not see the line of our barrage ahead, though it was a deep belt
of bursting shells. They had been told to follow close, and they were
eager to get on. They went too fast, some of them almost incredibly
fast, over the shell-craters, and round them, and into them, and out of
them again, stumbling, running, scrambling, not turning to look when any
comrade fell.

"I was on the last position three-quarters of an hour before the barrage
passed," said a young officer of the Suffolks. He spoke the words as if
telling something rather commonplace, but he knew that I knew the
meaning of what he said, a frightful and extraordinary thing, for with
his platoon he had gone ahead of our storm of fire and had to wait until
it reached and then passed them. Some of their losses were because of
that, and yet they might have been greater if they had been slower
because the enemy was caught before they could guess that our men were
near. They put up no fight in the pill-boxes, those little houses of
concrete which stank horribly because of the filth in them, and from the
shell-craters where snipers and machine-gunners lay men rose in terror
at the sight of the brown men about them, and ran this way and that like
poor frightened beasts, or stood shaking in an ague of fear. Some ran
towards their own lines with their hands up, shouting "Kamerad,"
believing they were running our way. They were so unready for attack
that the snipers had the safety-clip on their rifle-barrels, and others
were without ammunition.

In one shell-hole was an English-speaking German. "I saved him," said
one of the young Suffolk officers. "He was a downhearted fellow, and
said he was fed up with the war and wanted nothing but peace."

Near another shell-hole was a German who looked dead. He looked as if he
had been dead for a long time, but an English corporal who passed close
to this body saw a hand stretch out for a bayonet within reach, and the
man raised himself to strike. Like a man who sees a snake with his fangs
out, the corporal whipped round, grabbed the German's bayonet and ran
him through. The way to the last objective was easy on the whole, and
the enemy was on the run with our men after them until they were ordered
to stop and dig in. The hardest time came afterwards, as it nearly
always comes when the ground gained had to be held for three more days
and nights without the excitement of attack and under heavy fire. That
is when the courage of men is most tried, as this battalion found. The
enemy had time to pull themselves together. The German gunners adapted
their range to the new positions and shelled fiercely across the ways of
approach, and scattered 5·9's everywhere. It was rifle-fire for the
Suffolk men all the time. They had not troubled to bring up a great many
bombs, for the rifle has come into its own again, now that the old
trench warfare is gone for a time, or all time, and with rifle-fire and
machine-gun fire they broke down the German counter-attacks and caught
parties of Germans who showed themselves on the slopes of the
Passchendaele Ridge, and sniped incessantly. They used a prodigious
quantity of small-arms ammunition, and the carriers risked their lives
every step of the way to get it up to them. They fired 30,000 rounds and
then 16,000 more. There was one officer who spent all his time sniping
from a little patch of ground that had once been a garden. He lay behind
a heaped ruin and used his field-glasses to watch the slopes of rising
ground on his left, where human ants were crawling. Every now and then
he fired and picked off an ant until his score reached fifty. German
planes came flying over our troops to get their line, flying very low,
so that their wings were not a tree's height above the shell-craters,
and our boys lay doggo not to give themselves away. Some of the hostile
planes were red-bellied, and others which came searching the ground were
big, porpoise-like planes. They dropped signal-lights and directed the
fire of the 5·9's. A private of the Suffolks, lying low but watchful,
saw a light rise from the ground as one of these machines came over, and
it was answered from the aeroplane. "That's queer," he thought; "dirty
work in that shell-hole." He crept out to the shell-hole from which the
signal had come, and found three German soldiers there with rockets.
They tried to kill him, but it was they who died, and our man brought
back their rifles and kit as souvenirs.

More rifle ammunition was wanted as the time passed, and the carriers
took frightful risks to bring it. The drums of the Suffolks did well
that day as carriers and stretcher-bearers, passing up and down through
the barrage-fire, and there was a private who guided a party with
small-arms ammunition--ten thousand rounds of it--to the forward troops,
with big shells bursting over the ground. Twice he was buried by
shell-bursts, which flung the earth over him, but on the way back he
helped to carry a wounded man 800 yards to the regimental aid post under
hot fire. He was a cool-headed and gallant-hearted fellow, and went up
again as a volunteer to the forward positions, and on the same night
crawled out on a patrol with a young lieutenant to reconnoitre a
position on the left which was still in German hands. From farther left,
on rising ground, the Germans sprinkled machine-gun fire over the
battalion support lines, and the earth was spitting with those bullets.
But in their own lines the German soldiers were moving about with Red
Cross flags picking up their wounded, and they did not fire at our
stretcher-bearers, apart from the barrage-fire of 5·9's through which
they had to make their way. Only once did they play a bad trick. Under
the Red Cross flag some stretcher-bearers went into a pill-box which had
been abandoned, and shortly after machine-gun fire came from it. That is
the kind of thing which makes men see red.



XVIII

ABRAHAM HEIGHTS AND BEYOND


OCTOBER 4

Another great battle has opened to-day, and in a wide attack from the
ground we captured on September 26, north and south of the Polygon Wood
crest, our troops have advanced upon the Passchendaele Ridge, and have
reached the Gravenstafel and Abraham Heights, which crown a western spur
of the ridge, and Broodseinde, which is the high point and keystone of
the enemy's defence lines beyond Zonnebeke. South of that they are
fighting between Cameron House and Becelaere, across the Reutelbeek and
its swampy ground, and down beyond Polderhoek to the south end of the
Menin road. The divisions engaged, from north to south, were the 29th,
4th, 11th, 48th, New Zealand, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st Australians.

This morning I saw hundreds of prisoners trailing back across the
battlefield, and crowds of them within the barbed-wire enclosures set
apart for them behind our lines. Our lightly wounded men coming down the
tracks for walking wounded speak, in spite of their blood and bandages,
of a smashing blow dealt against the enemy and of complete victory. "We
have him beat," say the men, and they are sure of this, sure of his
enormous losses and of his broken spirit, although the fighting has been
bloody because of the great gun-fire through which our men have had to
pass. It has been a strange and terrible battle--terrible, I mean, in
its great conflict of guns and men--and the enemy, if all goes well with
us, may have to remember it as a turning-point in the history of this
war, the point that has turned against him with a sharp and deadly edge.
For, realizing his great peril if we strengthened our hold on the
Passchendaele Ridge, and knowing that we intended that--all signs showed
him that, and all our pressure on these positions--he prepared an attack
against us in great strength in order to regain the ground he lost on
September 26, or, if not that, then so to damage us that our advance
would be checked until the weather choked us in the mud again. His small
counter-attacks, or rather his local counter-attacks, for they were not
weak, had failed. Even his persistent hammering at the right wing by
Cameron House, below Polygon Wood, had failed to bite deeply into our
line, though for a time on September 25 it had been a cause of grave
anxiety to us and made the battle next day more difficult and critical.
But these attacks had failed in their purpose, and now the German High
Command decided for a big blow, and it was to be delivered at seven
o'clock this morning. It was a day and an hour too late. Our battle was
fixed for an hour before his.

And so it happened that our men had to pass through a German barrage to
follow their own, a barrage which fell upon them before they leapt up to
the assault, and it happened also most terribly for the enemy that our
men were not stopped, but went through that zone of shells, and on the
other side behind our barrage swept over the German assault troops and
annihilated their plan of attack.... They did not attack. Their defence
even was broken. As our lines of fire crept forward they reached and
broke the second and third waves of the men who had been meant to
attack, caught them in their support and reserve positions, and we can
only guess what the slaughter has been. It is a slaughter in which five
German divisions are involved.

This battle of ours, which looks like one of the greatest victories we
have had in the war, was being prepared on a big scale as soon as the
last was fought and won. No words of mine can give more than a hint of
what those preparations meant in the scene of war. For several days past
the roads to the Front have been choked with columns of men marching
forward, column after column of glorious men, hard and fit, and
hammering a rhythm on the roads with the beat of their feet, and
whistling and singing, in tune and out of tune, with the fifes and drums
far ahead of them. Always, night and day, there was the sound of this
music, always in the stillness of these moonlight nights the thud, thud
of those tramping feet, always, along any track that led towards the
salient, the vision of these battalions led forward by young officers
with their trench sticks swinging and a look of pride in their eyes
because of the fellows behind them. Their steel helmets flashed blue in
the sun so that a column of them seen from a distance was like a blue
stream winding between the hop-fields, or the broken ruins of old
villages, or the litter of captured ground. With them and alongside of
them went the tide of transport--lorries, wagons, London buses,
pack-mules, guns and limbers, and the black old cookers with their
trailing smoke. Everywhere there has been a fever of work, Tommies,
"Chinkies," coloured men piling up mountains of ammunition to feed the
guns. Under shell-fire, bracketing the roads on which they worked,
pioneers carried on the tracks, put down new lengths of duck-board, laid
new rails. The enemy's artillery came howling over to search out all
this work, which had been seen by aeroplanes, and at night flocks of
planes came out in the light of the moon to drop bombs on the men and
the work. Now and again they made lucky hits--got a dump and sent it
flaming up in a great torch, killed horses in the wagon-lines or
labouring up with the transport, laid out groups of men, smashed a train
or a truck; but the work went on, never checked, never stopping in its
steady flow of energy up to the lines, and the valour of all these
labourers was great and steady in preparing for to-day. Knowing the
purpose of it all, the deadly purpose, the scene of activity by any
siding filled one with a kind of fear. It was so prodigious, so vastly
schemed. I passed a dump yesterday, and again to-day, in the waste
ground on the old battlefield near Ypres and saw the shells for our
field-batteries being unloaded. There were thousands of shells,
brand-new from the factories at home, all bright and glistening and
laid out in piles. The guns were greedy. Here was food for a monstrous
appetite. We watched all this--the faces of the men going up so
bright-eyed, so splendid in their youth, so gay, and all these shells
and guns and materials of war, and all this movement which surged about
us and caught us up like straws in its tide, and then we looked at the
sky and smelt the wind, and studied a milky ring which formed about the
moon. Rain was coming. If only it would come lightly or hold another day
or two--one night at least.

Rain fell a little yesterday. The ground was sticky when I went up
beyond Wieltje to look at the Passchendaele Ridge to see some boys
getting ready for the "show" to-day, and to watch the beginning of the
great bombardment.... Curse the rain! It would make all the difference
to our fighting men, the difference perhaps between great success and
half a failure, and the difference between life and death to many of
those boys who looked steadily towards the German lines which they were
asked to take. What damnable luck it would be if the rain fell heavily!
Last night the moon was hidden and rain fell, but not very hard, though
the wind went howling across the flats of Flanders. And this morning,
when our men rose from shell-holes and battered trenches and fields of
upheaved earth to make this great attack, the rain fell still but
softly, so that the ground was only sticky and sludgy, but not a bog.
The rain was glistening on their steel helmets, and the faces of our
fighting men were wet when they went forward. They had passed already
through a fiery ordeal, and some of them could not rise to go with their
comrades, and lay dead on the ground. Along the lines of men, these
thousands of men, the stretcher-bearers were already busy in the dark,
because the enemy had put over a heavy barrage at 5.30, and elsewhere
later, the prelude to the attack he had planned. His old methods of
defence and counter-attack had broken down in two battles. The spell of
the pill-box, which had worked well for a time, was broken, so that
those concrete blockhouses were feared as death-traps by the men who had
to hold them. The German High Command hurried to prepare a new plan,
guessing ours, and moved the guns to be ready for our next attack,
registered on their own trenches, which they knew they might lose, and
assembled the best divisions, or the next best, ready for a heavy blow
to wind us before we started and to smash our lines, so that the advance
would be a thousand times harder. The barrage which the Germans sent
over was the beginning of the new plan. It failed because of the fine
courage of our troops first of all, and because the German infantry
attack was timed an hour too late. If it had come two hours earlier it
might have led to our undoing--might at least have prevented anything
like real victory to-day. But the fortune of war was on our side, and
the wheel turned round to crush the enemy.

The main force of his attack, which was to be made by the Fourth Guards
Division, with two others, I am told, in support, was ready to assault
the centre of our battle-front in the direction of Polygon Wood and down
from the Broodseinde cross-roads. It was our men who fought the German
assault divisions at the Broodseinde cross-roads, and took many
prisoners from them before they had time to advance very far. The
enemy's shelling had been heavy about the ground of Inverness Copse and
Glencorse Wood, where a week or so ago I saw the frightful heaps of
German dead, and spread over a wide area of our line of battle along the
Polygon Wood heights and the low ground in front of Zonnebeke. The men
tell me that it did not do them as much harm as they expected. The
shells plunged deep into the soft ground, bursting upwards in tall
columns, as I saw them this morning on the field, and their killing
effect was not widespread. Many of them also missed our waves
altogether. So, half an hour later, our men went away behind our own
barrage, which was enormous and annihilating. The wet mist lay heavily
over the fields, and it was almost dark except for a pale glamour behind
the rain-clouds, which brightened as each quarter of an hour passed,
with our men tramping forward slowly to their first objective.

The shell-craters on the German side were linked together here and there
to form a kind of trench system, but many of these had been blown out by
other shell-bursts, and German soldiers lay dead in them. From others,
men and boys, many boys of eighteen, rose with their arms upstretched,
as white in the face as dead men, but living, and afraid. Across these
frightful fields men came running towards our soldiers. They did not
come to fight, but to escape from the shell-fire, which tossed up the
earth about them, and to surrender. Many of them were streaming with
blood, wounded about the head and face, or with broken and bleeding
arms. So I saw them early this morning when they came down the tracks
which led away from that long line of flaming gun-fire.

The scene of the battle in those early hours was a great and terrible
picture. It will be etched as long as life lasts in the minds of men who
saw it. The ruins of Ypres were vague and blurred in the mist as I
passed them on the way up, but as moment passed moment the jagged stump
of the Cloth Hall, and the wild wreckage of the asylum, and the fretted
outline of all this chaos of masonry which was so fair a city once,
leapt out in light which flashed redly and passed. So it was all along
the way to the old German lines. Bits of villages still stand, enough to
show that buildings were there, and where isolated ruins of barns and
farmhouses lie in heaps of timber and brickwork about great piles of
greenish sand-bags and battered earthworks. Through shell-holes in
fragments of walls red light stabbed like a flame, and out of the
darkness of the mist they shone for a second with an unearthly
brightness. It was the light of our gun-fire. Our guns were everywhere
in the low concealing mist, so that one could not walk anywhere to avoid
the blast of their fire. They made a fury of fire. Flashes leapt from
them with only the pause of a second or two while they were reloaded.
There was never a moment within my own range of vision when hundreds of
great guns were not firing together. They were eating up shells which I
had seen going up to them, and the roads and fields across which I
walked were littered with shells. The wet mist was like one great damp
fire, with ten miles or more of smoke rising in a white vapour, through
which the tongues of flames leapt up, stirred by some fierce wind. The
noise was terrifying in its violence. Passing one of those big-bellied
howitzers was to me an agony. It rose like a beast stretching out its
neck, and there came from it a roar which clouted one's ear-drums and
shook one's body with a long tremor of concussion. These things were all
firing at the hardest pace, and the earth was shaken with their blasts
of fire. The enemy was answering back. His shells came whining and
howling through all this greater noise, and burst with a crash on either
side of mule tracks and over bits of ruin near by, and in the fields on
each side of the paths down which German prisoners came staggering with
their wounded. Fresh shell-holes, enormously deep and thickly grouped,
showed that he had plastered this ground fiercely, but now, later in the
morning, his shelling eased off, and his guns had other work to do over
there where our infantry was advancing. Other work, unless the guns lay
smashed, with their teams lying dead around them, killed by our
counter-battery work with high explosives and gas; for in the night we
smothered them with gas and tried to keep them quiet for this battle and
all others.

I went eastward and mounted a pile of rubbish and timber, all blown into
shapelessness and reeking with foul odours, and from that shelter looked
across to the Passchendaele Ridge and Hill 40 on the west of Zonnebeke
and the line of the ridge that goes round to Polygon Wood. It was all
blurred, so that I could not see the white ruins of Zonnebeke as I saw
them the other day in the sunlight, nor the broken church tower of
Passchendaele. It was all veiled in smoke and mist, through which the
ridge loomed darkly with a black hump where Broodseinde stands. But
clearly through the gloom were the white and yellow cloud-bursts of our
shell-fire and the flame of their shell-bursts. It was the most terrible
bombardment I have seen, and I saw the fire of the Somme, and of Vimy,
and Arras, and Messines. Those were not like this, great as they were in
frightfulness. The whole of the Passchendaele Crest was like a series of
volcanoes belching up pillars of earth and fire. "It seemed to us," said
soldier after soldier who came down from those slopes, "as if no mortal
man could live in it, yet there were many who lived despite all the
dead."

I saw the living men. Below the big pile of timber and muck on which I
stood was a winding path, and other tracks on each side of it between
the deep shell-craters, and down these ways came batches of prisoners
and the trail of our walking wounded. It was a tragic sight in spite of
its proof of victory, and the valour of our men and the spirit of these
wounded of ours, who bore their pain with stoic patience and said, when
I spoke to them, "It's been a good day; we're doing fine, I think." The
Germans were haggard and white-faced men, thin and worn and weary and
frightened. Many of them, a large number of them, were wounded. Some of
them had masks of dry blood on their faces, and some of them wet blood
all down their tunics. They held broken arms from which the sleeves had
been cut away, and hobbled painfully on wounded legs. The worst were no
worse than some of our own men who came down with them and among them.

It has been a bad defeat for them, and they do not hide their despair.
They did not fight stubbornly for the most part, but ran one way or the
other as soon as our barrage passed and revealed our men. Our gun-fire
had overwhelmed them. In the blockhouses were groups of men who gasped
out words of surrender. Here and there they refused to come out till
bombs burst outside their steel doors. And here and there they got their
machine-guns to work and checked our advance for a time, as at Joist
Farm, on the right of our attack, and at a château near Polderhoek,
where there has been severe fighting. There was heavy machine-gun fire
from a fortified farm ruin to the north of Broodseinde, and again from
Kronprinz Farm on the extreme left. The enemy also put down a heavy
machine-gun barrage from positions around Passchendaele, but nothing has
stopped our men seriously so far.

The New-Zealanders and Australians swept up and beyond the Gravenstafel
and Abraham Heights, went through and past the ruins of Zonnebeke
village, and with great heroism gained the high ground about
Broodseinde, a dominating position giving observation of all the enemy's
side of the country. It has been a wonderful battle in the success that
surmounted all difficulty, and if we can keep what we have gained it
will be a victorious achievement. The weather is bad now and the rain is
heavier, with a savage wind blowing. But that is not good for the
enemy's plans, and may be in our favour now that the day has gone well.
Our English troops share the honour of the day with the Anzacs, and all
were splendid.

       *       *       *       *       *

OCTOBER 5

The men who were fighting in the great battle yesterday, and after the
capture of many strong positions held their ground last night in spite
of many German counter-attacks and heavy fire, tell grim tales, which
all go to build up the general picture of the most smashing defeat we
have inflicted on the enemy.

On one section of the Front, where the Warwicks, Sherwoods, Lancashire
Fusiliers and other county troops of the 48th and 11th Divisions fought
up to Poelcappelle and its surrounding blockhouses, six enemy battalions
in the front line were either taken or killed. The men themselves do
not know those figures. They only know that they passed over large
numbers of dead and that they took many prisoners.

The New-Zealanders and the Australians on their right, fighting up the
Abraham Heights, took over 2000 prisoners, and say that they have never
seen so many dead as those who lay shapeless in their tracks. Other
Australians fighting for the Broodseinde cross-roads have counted 960
dead Germans on their way. The full figure of the German dead will never
be counted by us. They lie on this battle-ground buried and half-buried
in the water of shell-holes, in blockhouses blown on top of them, and in
dug-outs that have become their tombs. They fought bravely in some
places with despairing courage in or about some of the blockhouses which
still gave them a chance of resistance, and sometimes worked their
machine-guns to the last. Men lying in shell-craters still alive among
all their dead used their rifles and sniped our men, knowing that they
would have to pay for their shots with their lives. That is courage, and
New-Zealanders I met to-day, and English lads, were fair to their enemy,
and said Fritz showed great pluck when he had a dog's chance, though
many of them ran when we got close to them behind the barrage. It was
the barrage that made them break. The Fourth Guards Division seems to
have fought well on the line of our first objective, though after that
they would not stand firm, and ran or surrendered like the others.

Owing to the coincidence of the simultaneous attack from both sides
yesterday morning, and the complete overthrow of the German assault
divisions who were about to advance on us, there seems no doubt that
some confusion prevailed behind the German lines and on the left and
centre of our attack. All their attempts at counter-thrusts were badly
planned, and led to further disaster. They did not advance in orderly
formation, but straggled up from local reserves and supports, and were
smashed in detail by our artillery. So it happened with two battalions
who came down the road to Poelcappelle, but withered away. The
Lancashire Fusiliers of the 11th Division in that region say the thing
was laughable, though it is the comedy of war, and not mirthful in the
usual sense. Small groups of Germans wandered up in an aimless way, and
were shot down by machine-gun and rifle fire. On the right of the
battle-front the enemy's attacks have been more serious and thrust home
with grim persistence against the "Koylies," Lincolns, West Kents, and
Scottish Borderers of the 5th Division.

It was after the advance of our men on Polderhoek and its château by the
Gheluvelt spur of the Passchendaele Ridge. Some of the Surreys, Devons,
and Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry swung round the stream and
marshlands of the Reutel and accounted for many of the enemy in close
and fierce fighting. The Devons were astride the stream and, working
north of it, attacked a slope called Juniper Spur.

In Polderhoek was a nest of machine-guns, which fired out of the ruins
of the château, and for some time our men had difficult and deadly work.
This was worst against the Scottish Borderers, who were facing the
château grounds, but they dug in and made some cover, while behind the
prisoners, about 500 of them, were getting back to the safety of our
lines.

It was at three o'clock in the afternoon that the enemy sent a very
strong counter-attack down the slopes of the Gheluvelt Spur against the
5th and 7th Divisions. Six times through the afternoon masses of men
appeared and tried to force their way forward, but each time they were
caught under rifle-fire and machine-guns and artillery.

It was at seven o'clock that the heaviest attack came, under cover of
savage shelling, and our men had to fall back on the ground beyond
Cameron House, which is the scene of the enemy's fierce attacks on
September 25, when they were for some little time a serious menace to
us. This morning the enemy had driven a wedge into our line in this
neighbourhood, and it is quite possible that he will deliver other blows
in the same direction. Last night he made no great endeavour to get back
ground. It was a dirty night for our men, who had been fighting all day.
The rain fell heavily, filling the shell-holes and turning all the
broken ground of battle to the same old bog which made so much misery in
Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood and other positions attacked on July
31 and afterwards.

"I lay up to my waist in water," said one of the Devons who came down
wounded this morning; "it was bitter cold, and Fritz was putting over
his 5·9's; he was also putting over a lot of machine-gun fire, and the
bullets came over the heads of our men like the cracking of whips." It
was bad for the wounded and the stretcher-bearers--the splendid
stretcher-bearers, who worked all through the night up and down through
fierce barrage-fire. Most of them got through with their burdens by
that queer miracle of luck which is often theirs. But one little party
came down when the fire was fiercest, and took cover in a shell-hole
close beside some Warwickshire boys who were crouching in another hole
until the storm of shells had passed. Suddenly they heard the howl of a
monstrous shell--an eight-inch or even a twelve-inch by the noise if it.
It fell and burst right inside the shell-crater where the
stretcher-bearers were huddled with their wounded men, and they were
blown out of it yards high, so that their bodies were tossed like straws
in a fierce wind.... I met many men who worked their way down under fire
like that, and some who had been wounded already were wounded again, and
some of the comrades who trudged with them were killed.

The Warwickshire battalions of the 48th Division on the left of the
New-Zealanders had some very hard fighting, lasting all through the day,
which concluded with an attack on a position called Terrier Farm, above
the pill-boxes of Wellington House and Winchester House, which they had
captured after some bad quarters of an hour.

The Warwicks had started with great luck. In spite of the German
shelling they had got away to their first objective with only three
casualties. They went through the first line of blockhouses without much
trouble, picking up prisoners on the way in most of them. Their first
trouble came from one of these concrete places called Wellington House.
Machine-gun fire came crackling from it, and bullets were also sweeping
the ground from hidden emplacements. After twenty minutes' struggle
Wellington House fell, and the flanks on either side closed up and went
forward, the Warwicks helped on the right by a body of New Zealand men.
In the centre the machine-gun fire from those concrete walls ahead
caused a check and a gap, and although they tried many times with great
gallantry under brave officers, to silence that fire and work round the
blockhouses, they could not do this without greater loss, and decided to
link up with their flanks by digging a loop-line in front of those
positions, which make a small wedge, or pocket, in our line there.

The attack against Terrier Farm was done by other Warwickshire lads, who
were very game after a long day under fire, but for all their spirit
tired and cold. They stood almost knee-deep in mud, and they were wet
to the skin, as it was now raining steadily, so a Tank came up to help
them, and drew close enough to Terrier Farm to fire broadsides at its
concrete and machine-gun its loophole. A white rag thrust through a hole
in the wall was the sign of the enemy's surrender. But the conditions
were too bad for any greater progress, and the men dug in for the night,
while brother Tank crawled back.

All the Tanks used in the battle did well, in spite of the bad going,
and helped to reduce several of the blockhouses. They had only two
casualties among their crews, and most of them got back to their
hiding-places without damage from German shells.

It is astounding that the German counter-attacks were so quickly
signalled to the guns, for the light all day was bad, and the weather
was dead against the work of the flying men. They did their best by
flying low and risking the enemy's fire. There was one pilot who is the
talk of the Australians to-day. They watched that English child doing
the most amazing "stunts" over the fighting-lines. He was out all day,
swooping low, so that his plane seemed just to skim over the craters.
The Germans tried to get him by any manner of means. They turned their
"Archies" on to him and their machine-guns, and then tried to bring him
down with rifle-fire, and that failing, though they pierced his wings
many times, they called up the heavies and tried to snipe him with
5·9's, which are mighty big and beastly things. But he went on flying
till many of his wires were cut and his struts splintered, and his
aeroplane was a rag round an engine. He was bruised and dazed when he
came to earth, making a bad landing in our own lines, but not killing
either himself or the observer, who shares the honour and the marvel of
this exploit.

It was a great day for the Australians and the New-Zealanders, their
greatest and most glorious day. I saw them going up--these lithe,
loose-limbed, hatchet-faced fellows, who look so free and fine in their
slouch hats and so hard and grim in their steel helmets. There were many
thousands of them on the roads or camped beside the roads, and Flanders
for a time seemed to have become a little province of Australia.

Then the New-Zealanders came along, a type half-way between the English
of the old country and the Australian boys--not so lean and wiry, with
more colour in the cheeks, and a squarer, fuller build. It was good to
see them--as fine a set of boys as one could see in the whole world, so
that it was hard to think of them in the furnace fires up there, and to
know that some of them would come back maimed and broken. In a dug-out
on the battlefield I talked with some of them, and they were cheery
lads, full of confidence in the coming battle. They wanted to go as far
as the Australians, to do as well, and among the Australians also there
was a friendly rivalry, the new men wanting to show their mettle to
those who are already old in war, one battalion keen to earn the honour
which belongs by right of valour to another which had fought before. It
was certain they would get to the Broodseinde cross-roads if human
courage could get there against high explosives, and they were there
without a check, over every obstacle, regardless of the enemy's fire,
too fast some of them behind their own. So the New-Zealanders went up to
Abraham Heights and carried all before them. The hardest time was last
night in the mud and the cold, under heavy fire now and then, but they
have stuck it out, as our English boys have stuck it through many foul
days and in harder times than these, and that is good enough.

The German prisoners do not hide their astonishment at the spirit of our
men, and they know now that our troops are terrible in attack, and
arrive upon them with a strange, fearful suddenness behind the barrage.
One man, a German professor of broad intelligence and a frank way of
facing ugly facts, said that our artillery was too terrific for words.
They got harassed all the way up to the front line, and lost many men.
When they got there they had to lie flat in the bottom of shell-holes,
and the next thing they knew was when they were surrounded by masses of
English soldiers. He described our men as gallant and chivalrous. This
professor thinks it will not be long before Germany makes a great bid
for peace by offering to give up Belgium. By midwinter she will yield
Alsace-Lorraine, Russia will remain as before the war, except for an
autonomous Poland; Italy will have what she has captured; and Germany
will get back some of her colonies, he thinks. He laughed when an
indemnity was mentioned, and said "Germany is bankrupt." He describes
the German Emperor as a broken man and all for peace, the Crown Prince
posing as the head of the military party but being unpopular. If the
German people knew that the submarine threat had failed they would
demand that the war should stop at once. That is the opinion of one
educated German who has suffered the full horror of war and his words
are interesting if they represent no more than his own views.



XIX

SCENES OF BATTLE


OCTOBER 7

The scene of war since Thursday, when our troops went away in the wet
mist for the great battle up the slopes of the Passchendaele Ridge, has
been dark and grim and overcast with a brooding sky, where storm-clouds
are blown into wild and fantastic shapes. Yesterday over the country
round Ypres, which still in its ruins holds the soul of all the
monstrous tragedy hereabouts, white cloud-mountains were piled up
against black, sullen peaks and were shot through with a greenish light,
very ghastly in its revelation of the litter and the wreckage of the
great arena of human slaughter. Etched sharply against this queer
luminance were the lopped trunks of shell-slashed trees and bits of
ruined buildings with tooth-like jags above heaps of fallen masonry.
Rain fell heavily for most of the day, as nearly all the night, and as
it rains to-day, and a wet fog rose from the ground where the
shell-craters were already ponds brimming over into swamps of mud.
Through the murk our guns fired incessantly, almost as intense as the
drum-fire which precedes an attack, though there was no attack from our
side or the enemy's, and it was a strange, uncanny thing to hear all
that crashing of gun-fire and the wail of great shells in flight to the
German lines through this midday darkness.

I marvelled at the gunners, who have gone on so long--so long through
the days and nights--feeding those monsters. The infantry have a hard
time. It is they who fight with flesh and blood against the machinery of
slaughter which is set against them. It is they who go out across the
fields on that wild adventure into the unknown. But the gunners,
standing by the heavies and the 18-pounders in the sodden fields, with
piles of shells about them and great dumps near by, have no easy,
pleasant time. On the morning of the last battle I saw the enemy's
shells searching for them, flinging up the earth about their batteries,
ploughing deep holes on either side of them. They worked in the close
neighbourhood of death, and at any moment, between one round and
another, a battery and its gun teams might be blown up by one of those
howling beasts which seem to gather strength and ferocity at the end of
their flight before the final roar of destruction. Now and again a lucky
shell of the enemy's gets an ammunition dump, and a high torch rises to
the dark sky, and in its flames there are wild explosions as the shells
are touched off. But the gunners go on with their work in all the tumult
of their own batteries, deafening and ear-splitting and
nerve-destroying, and our young gunner officers, muddy, unshaven,
unwashed, with sleep-drawn eyes, pace up and down the line of guns
saying, "Are you ready, Number One?--Number One, fire!" with no sign of
the strain that keeps them on the rack when a big battle is in progress.
For them the battle lasts longer than for the infantry. It begins before
the infantry advance, it lulls a little and then breaks out into new
fury when the German counter-attacks begin. It does not end when the SOS
signals have been answered by hours of bombardment, but goes on again to
keep German roads under fire, to smother their back areas, to batter
their gun positions.

So yesterday, when the German guns were getting back behind the
Passchendaele, hauled back out of the mud to take up new emplacements
from which they can pour explosives on the ground we have captured, our
gunners could not rest, but made this work hideous for the enemy and
followed his guns along their tracks. The British gunners in these
frightful battles have worked with a courage and endurance to the limit
of human nature, and the infantry are the first to praise them and to
marvel at them. The infantry go marching in the rain and trudging in the
mud, and stumbling over the water-logged craters, and out on the
battlefield standing knee-deep in pools and bogs that have been made by
shell-fire, cutting up the beds of the Flemish brooks, like the Hanebeek
and the Stroombeek and the Reutelbeek, and by the heavy downpour on the
upheaved earth. Winter conditions have come upon us, too. They were the
old winter pictures of war that I saw yesterday round about the old
Ypres salient, when wet men gathered under the lee side of old dug-outs
with cold rain sweeping upon them, so that their waterproof capes
stream with water, and pattering upon their steel hats with a sharp
metallic tinkling sound. Along the roads Australian and New Zealand
horsemen go riding hard, with their horses' flanks splashed with heavy
gobs of mud. Gun-wagons and transports pass, flinging mud from their
wheels. Ambulances, with their red crosses spattered with slime, go
threading their way to the clearing-stations, with four pairs of muddy
boots upturned beneath the blankets which show through the flap behind,
and a dozen "sitting cases" huddled together, with their steel hats
clashing and their tired eyes looking out on the traffic of war which
they are leaving for a time. They come down cold and wet from the line,
but in an hour or two they are warm, inside the dressing-stations,
between sand-bagged walls built up inside ruined houses, still within
range of shell-fire, but safer than the fields from which these men have
come.

"If any man feels cold," said a medical officer yesterday, "give him a
hot-water bottle." To a man who had been lying in cold mud until an hour
or two before it was like offering him a place by the fireside at home.

The Y.M.C.A. is busy in another tent or another dug-out. It has a cheery
way of producing hot cocoa on the edge of a battlefield and of thrusting
little packets of chocolate, biscuits, cigarettes, and matches into the
hands of lightly wounded men as soon as they have trudged down the long
trail for walking wounded and reached the first dressing-station, where
there is a little group of men waiting to bandage their wounds, to say,
"Well done, laddy; you did grandly this morning," and to fix them up
with strange and wonderful speed for the journey to the base hospital,
where there are beds with white sheets--sheets again, ye gods!--and rest
and peace and warmth.

There are queer little groups between the sand-bags of those forward
dressing-stations. On one bench I saw a tall New-Zealander and some
Warwick boys--the Warwicks of the 48th Division did famously in this
battle--and a farmer's lad from the West Country, who said "It seems to
Oi," and spoke with a fine simple gravity of the things he had seen and
done; and a thin-faced Lancashire boy, who still wanted to kill more
Germans and put them to a nasty kind of death; and a fellow of the
Lincolns, who said, "Our lads went over grand."

Near by was a wounded German soldier who had clotted blood over his face
and a bloody bandage round his head. A friendly voice spoke to him and
said, "Wie gehts mit Ihnen?" ("How are you getting on?") And he looked
up in a dazed way and said, "Besser hier als am Kampfe" ("Better here
than on the battlefield.")

The tall New-Zealander said: "Fritz fought all right. His
machine-gunners fired till we were all round them."

"'Twas a bit of a five-point-nine that hit Oi in the arm," said the
farmer's lad. "He put over a terrible big barrage, and Oi was a-laying
up till the waist in a shell-hole all filled with mud, and Oi was
starved with cold."

"They're all cowards, them Fritzes," said the Lancashire boy. "They ran
so hard I couldn't catch them with my bayonet. Then a bullet came and
went slick through my head." The bullet failed to kill the Lancashire
boy by the smallest fraction of an inch, and had furrowed his skull.

The Warwickshire lads told queer tales of the battle, and they bear out
what I have heard from their officers elsewhere. There were numbers of
German soldiers who lay about in shell-holes after our barrage had
passed over their lines and their blockhouses, and sniped our officers
and men as they swarmed forward, though they knew that by not
surrendering they were bound to die. It was the last supreme courage of
the human beast at bay. There was one of these who lay under the
wreckage of an aeroplane, and from that cover he shot some of our men at
close range; but because there were many bullets flying about, and
shells bursting, and all the excitement of a battle-ground, he was not
discovered for some time. It was a sergeant of the Warwicks who saw him
first, and just in time. The German had his rifle raised at ten yards
range, but the sergeant whipped round and shot him before he could turn.
Some of these men were discovered after the general fighting was over,
and a nasty shock was given to a young A.D.C. who went with his
Divisional General to see the captured ground next day. The General, who
is a quick walker, went ahead over the shell-craters, and the A.D.C.
suddenly saw two Germans wearing their steel helmets rise before the
General from one of the deep holes.

"Now there's trouble," thought the young officer, feeling for his
revolver. But when he came up he heard the General telling two wounded
Germans that the English had won a very great victory, and that if they
were good boys he would send up stretcher-bearers to carry them down.

All over the battlefield there were queer little human episodes thrust
for a minute or two into the great grim drama of this advance by British
and Overseas troops up the heights of the Passchendaele Ridge, where
thousands of German soldiers who had been waiting to attack them were
caught by the rolling storm of shells which smashed the earth about them
and mingled them with its clods. One tragic glimpse like this was on the
Australian way up to the Broodseinde cross-roads, the key of the whole
position, after a body of those Australians had marched many miles
through the night over appalling ground under scattered shell-fire, and
were only in their place of attack half an hour before it started. The
story of that night march is in itself a little epic, but that is not
the episode I mean. The Australians drew close to one of the
blockhouses, and the sound of their cheering must have been heard by the
Germans inside those concrete walls. The barrage had just passed and its
line of fire, volcanic in its look and fury, went travelling ahead.
Suddenly, out of the blockhouses, a dozen men or so came running, and
the Australians shortened their bayonets. From the centre of the group a
voice shouted out in English, "I am a Middlesex man, don't shoot. I am
an Englishman." The man who called had his hands up, in sign of
surrender, like the German soldiers.

"It's a spy," said an Australian. "Kill the blighter." The English voice
again rang out: "I'm English." And English he was. It was a man of the
Middlesex Regiment who had been captured on patrol some days before. The
Germans had taken him into their blockhouse, and because of our gun-fire
they could not get out of it, and kept him there. He was well treated,
and his captors shared their food with him, but the awful moment came to
him when the drum-fire passed and he knew that unless he held his hands
high he would be killed by our own troops.

The New-Zealanders had many fights on the way up to the Gravenstafel and
Abraham Heights, and one thing that surprised them was the number of
pill-boxes and blockhouses inhabited by the enemy close to their own
lines. They believed that the foremost ones had been deserted. But it
must not be forgotten that running all through the narrative of this
battle is the thwarted plan of the enemy to attack us in strength the
same morning and at nearly the same hour. For that reason he had thrust
little groups of men into advanced posts and into these most forward
blockhouses with orders to hold them at all costs until the attacking
divisions should reach and pass them. And for that reason, as we know,
the enemy's guns laid down a heavy barrage over our lines half an hour
before our attack started.

The New-Zealanders did not escape this shelling, and their brigadiers
were under the strain of intense anxiety, not knowing in their dug-outs,
over which the enemy's fire passed, whether their boys were so cut up
that a successful assault would be impossible. As it happened, the
New-Zealanders were not seriously hurt nor thrown into disorder. When
the moment came they went away in waves, with the spirit of a pack of
hounds on a good hunting morning. As fierce as that and as wild as that.
They had not gone more than a few yards before they had fifty prisoners.
This was at a blockhouse just outside the New Zealand assembly line.
There was no fight there, but the garrison surrendered as soon as our
men were round their shelter. The Hanebeek stream flows this way, but it
was no longer within its bounds. Our gun-fire had smashed up its track,
and all about was a swamp made deeper by the rains.

The New Zealand lads had a devil of a time in getting across and
through. Some of them stuck up to the knees and others fell into
shell-holes, deep in mud, as far as their belts. "Give us a hand, Jack,"
came a shout from one man, and the answer was, "Hang on to my rifle,
Tom." Men with the solid ground under their feet hauled out others in
the slough, and all that was a great risk of time while the barrage was
travelling slowly on with its protecting screen of shells.

The only chance of life in these battles is to keep close to the
barrage, risking the shorts, for if it once passes and leaves any enemy
there with a machine-gun, there is certain death for many men. The New
Zealand boys nearly lost that wall of shells because of the mud, but
somehow or other managed to scramble on over 800 yards in time enough to
catch it up. Many blockhouses yielded up their batches of prisoners, who
were told to get back and give no trouble. The first fight for a
blockhouse took place at Van Meulen Farm, just outside the
New-Zealanders' first objective. The barrage went ahead and sat down--as
one of the officers put it, though the sitting down of a barrage is a
queer simile for that monstrous eruption of explosive force. From Van
Meulen Farm came the swish of machine-gun bullets, and New Zealand boys
began to drop. They were held up for half an hour until the "leap-frog"
battalions--that is to say, the men who were to pass through the first
waves to the next objective--came up to help.

It was a New Zealand captain, beloved by all his men for his gallantry
and generous-hearted ways, who led the rush of Lewis-gunners and bombers
and riflemen. He fell dead with a machine-gun bullet in his heart, but
with a cry of rage because of this great loss the other men ran on each
side of the blockhouse and stormed it.

On the left of the New-Zealanders' line, one of their battalions could
see Germans firing from concrete houses on the slopes of the
Gravenstafel, and although they had to lose the barrage, which was
sweeping ahead again, they covered that ground and went straight for
those places under sharp fire. Some of them worked round the concrete
walls and hauled out more prisoners. "Get back, there," they shouted,
but there was hardly a New-Zealander who would go back with them to act
as escort. So it happened that a brigadier, getting out of his dug-out
to see what was happening to his men away there over the slopes,
received the first news of success from batches of Germans who came
marching in company formation under the command of their own officers,
and without escort. That was how I saw many of them coming back on
another part of the field. From the Abraham Heights there was a steady
stream of machine-gun fire until the New-Zealanders had climbed them and
routed out the enemy from their dug-outs, which were not screened by our
barrage so that they were able to fire. Only the great gallantry of
high-spirited young men could have done that, and it is an episode which
proved the quality of New Zealand troops on that morning of the battle,
so keen to do well, so reckless of the cost. On Abraham Heights a lot of
prisoners were taken and joined the long trail that hurried back through
miles of scattered shell-fire from their own guns.

The next resistance was at the blockhouse called Berlin, and the
New-Zealanders are proud of having taken that place, because of its
name, which they will write on their scroll of honour. It is not an
Imperial place. It is a row of dirty concrete pill-boxes above a deep
cave, on the pattern of the old type of dug-outs. But it was a strong
fortress for German machine-gunners, and they defended it stubbornly. It
was a five minutes' job. Stokes mortars were brought up and fired thirty
rounds in two minutes, and then, with a yell, the New-Zealanders rushed
the position on both sides and flung pea-bombs through the back door,
until part of the garrison streamed out shouting their word of
surrender. The other men were dead inside. A battalion commander and his
staff were taken prisoners in another farm, and the New-Zealanders drank
soda-water and smoked high-class cigarettes which they found in this
place, where the German officers were well provided. After that
refreshment they went on to Berlin Wood, where there were several
pill-boxes hidden among the fallen trees and mud-heaps. They had to make
their way through a machine-gun barrage, and platoon commanders
assembled their Lewis-gunners and riflemen to attack the house in
detail. From one of them a German officer directed the fire, and when
the gun was silenced inside came out with another and fired round the
corner of the wall until our men rushed upon him. Even then he raised
his revolver as though to shoot a sergeant, who was closest to him, but
he was killed by a bayonet-thrust.

At other parts of the line our English boys were fighting hard and with
equal courage, and some of them against greater fire. It was on the
right that the enemy's gun-fire was most fierce, and our old English
county regiments of the 5th and 7th Divisions--Devons and Staffords,
Surreys and Kents, Lincolns with Scottish Borderers, Northumberland
Fusiliers, and Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry--opposite Gheluvelt and
Polderhoek and the Reutelbeek had to endure some bad hours. I have
already mentioned in earlier messages how the enemy made ceaseless
thrusts against this right flank of our attacking front, driving a wedge
in for a time, so that our men had to fall back a little and form a
decisive flank. It is known now that they were misled somewhat by some
isolated groups of the enemy who held out in pill-boxes behind Cameron
House. When these were cleared out our line swept forward again and
established itself on the far side of that wood. Our men hold the outer
houses of Gheluvelt.

The whole of the fighting here was made very difficult by the swamps of
the Reutelbeek, worse even than those of the Hanebeek, through which the
New-Zealanders crossed, and our English boys were bogged as they tried
to cross. But they fought forward doggedly, and by sheer valour
safeguarded our right wing in the hardest part of the battle. Meanwhile,
far on the north in the district of the Sehreiboom astride the Thourout
railway, Scottish and Irish troops were fighting on a small front but on
an heroic scale. It was the Dublin Fusiliers who fought most recklessly.
They had begged to go first into this battle, and they went all out with
a wild and exultant spirit. The ground in front of them was a mud-pit,
and they had to swing round to get beyond it. They did not wait for the
barrage. They did not halt on their final objective, but still went away
into the blue, chasing the enemy and uplifted with a strange fierce
enthusiasm until they were called back to the line we wanted to hold.
They excelled themselves that morning, and could not be held back after
the word "Go!"



XX

THE SLOUGH OF DESPOND


OCTOBER 9

Another battle was fought and another advance was made by our troops
to-day with the French, in a great assault on their left. Our Allies
gained about 1200 yards of ground in two strides, captured some hundreds
of prisoners and many machine-guns and two field-guns, and killed large
numbers of the enemy in this attack, and in the bombardments which have
preceded it. The Allied troops are within a few hundred yards of that
forest of which Marlborough spoke when he said, "Whoever holds Houthulst
Forest holds Flanders," and have gone forward about 1500 yards in depth
along a line beyond Poelcappelle across the Ypres-Gheluvelt road. The
enemy has suffered big losses again. Two new divisions just brought into
the line--the 227th straight from Rheims only getting into the line at
three o'clock this morning, and the 195th arrived from Russia--have
received a fearful baptism of fire, and at least three other
divisions--the 16th, 233rd, and 45th Reserve Division--have been hard
hit and are now bleeding from many wounds and have given many prisoners
from their ranks into our hands.

How was this thing done? How did we have any success to-day when even
the most optimistic men were preyed upon last night by horrid doubts?
Our troops, we know, are wonderful. There is nothing they could be asked
to do which they would not try to do, and struggle to the death to do.
But last night's attack might have seemed hopeless in the morning except
to men who had weighed all the chances, who had all the evidence in
their hands--evidence, I mean, of the measure of the enemy's strength
and spirit--and who took the terrific responsibility of saying "Go!" to
the start of this new battle.

It was a black and dreadful night, raining more heavily after heavy
rains. The wind howled and raged across Flanders with long, sinister
wailings as it gathered speed and raced over the fields. Heavy
storm-clouds hiding the moon and the stars broke, and a deluge came
down, drenching all our soldiers who marched along the roads and tracks,
making ponds about them where they stood. And it was cold, with a
coldness cutting men with the sharp sword of the wind, and there was no
glimmer of light in the darkness. To those of us who know the
crater-land of the battlefields, who with light kit or no kit have gone
stumbling through it, picking their way between the shell-holes in
daylight, taking hours to travel a mile or two, it might have seemed
impossible that great bodies of troops could go forward in assault over
such country and win any kind of success in such conditions. That they
did so is a proof, one more proof to add to a thousand others, that our
troops have in them an heroic spirit which is above the normal laws of
life, and that, whatever the conditions may be, they will face them and
grapple with them, and, if the spirit and flesh of man can do it,
overcome the impossible itself. This battle seems to me as wonderful as
anything we have done since the Highlanders and the Naval Division
captured Beaumont-Hamel in the mud and the fog. More wonderful even than
that, because on a greater scale and in more foul weather.

This morning I have been among the Lancashire and West Riding men of the
66th and 49th Divisions who lay out last night before the attack, which
followed the first gleams of dawn to-day, and who marched up--no, they
did not march, but staggered and stumbled up to take part in the attack.
These men I met had come back wounded. Only in the worst days of the
Somme have I seen such figures. They were plastered from head to foot in
wet mud. Their hands and faces were covered with clay, like the hands
and faces of dead men. They had tied bits of sacking round their legs,
and this was stuck on them with clots of mud. Their belts and tunics
were covered with a thick, wet slime. They were soaked to the skin, and
their hair was stiff with clay. They looked to me like men who had been
buried alive and dug up again, and when I spoke to them I found that
some of them had been buried alive and unburied while they still had
life. They told me this simply, as if it were a normal thing. "A shell
burst close," said a Lancashire fellow, "and I was buried up to the
neck." "Do you mean up to the neck?" I asked, and he said, "Yes, up to
the neck." There were many like that, and others, without being flung
down by a shell-burst or buried in its crater, fell up to their waists
in shell-holes and up to their armpits, and sank in water and mud.

A long column of men whom I knew had to make their way up at night to
join in the attack at the dawn. I had seen them the day before, with
rain slashing down on their steel hats and their shiny capes, and I
thought they were as grand a set of lads as ever I have seen in France.
They were men of the Lancashire battalions in the 66th Division.

It was at dusk that they set out on their way up to the battle-line, and
it was only a few miles they had to go. But it took them eleven hours to
go that distance, and they did not get to the journey's end until half
an hour before they had to attack. It was not a march. It was a long
struggle against the demons of a foul night on the battlefield. The wind
blew a gale against them, slapping their faces with wet canes, so that
their flesh stung as at the slash of whips. It buffeted them against
each other and clutched at their rifles and tried to wrench their packs
off their backs. And the rain poured down upon them in fierce gusts
until they were only dry where their belts crossed, and their boots were
filled with water. It was pitch-dark at the beginning of the night, and
afterwards there was only the light of the stars. They could not see a
yard before them, but only the dark figure of the man ahead. Often that
figure ahead fell suddenly with a shout. It had fallen into a deep
shell-hole and disappeared.

"Where are you. Bill?" shouted one man to another. "I'm bogged. For
God's sake give me a hand, old lad."

There was not a man who did not fall. "I fell a hundred times," said one
of them. "It was nigh impossible to keep on one's feet for more than a
yard or two."

So that little party of men went stumbling and staggering along, trying
to work across the shell-holes.

"My pal Bert," said one man, "fell in deep, and then sank farther in.
'Charlie,' he cried. Two of us, and then four, tried to drag him out,
but we slipped down the bank of the crater and rolled into the slime
with him. I thought we should never get out. Some men were cursing and
some were laughing in a wild way, and some were near crying with the
cold. But somehow we got on."

Somehow they got on, and that is the wonder of it. They got on to the
line of the attack half an hour before the guns were to start their
drum-fire, and they joined the thousands of other men who had been lying
out in the shell-holes all night, and were numbed with cold and
waist-high in water.

Not all of them got there. The German guns had been busy most of the
night, and big shells were coming over. Thirty men were killed or
wounded with one shell, and others were hit and fell into the
water-pools, and lay there till the stretcher-bearers--the splendid
stretcher-bearers--came up to search for them.

The Lancashires, who had travelled eleven hours, had had no food all
that time. "I would have given my left arm for a drop of hot drink,"
said one of them, "I was fair perished with cold."

Some of them had rum served out to them. They were the lucky ones, for
it gave them a little warmth. But others could not get a drop.

One man, who was shaking with an ague when I met him this morning, had a
pitiful tragedy happen to him. "I had a jar of rum in my pack," he said,
"and the boys said to me, 'Keep it for us till we get over to the first
objective. We'll want it most then.' But when I went over I dropped my
pack. 'Oh, Christ!' I said, 'I've lost the rum!'"

They went over to the attack, these troops who were cold and hungry and
exhausted after a dreadful night, and they gained their objective and
routed the enemy, and sent back many prisoners. I marvel at them, and
will salute them if ever I meet them in the world when the war is done.

There were a number of German blockhouses in front of them, beyond
Abraham Heights and the Gravenstafel. These were Yetta House and
Augustus House and Heine House on the way to Tober Copse and Friesland
Copse just outside their line of assault. On their left there was a
blockhouse called Peter Pan, though no little mother Wendy would tell
stories to her boys there, and instead of Peter Pan's cockcrow there was
the wail of a wounded man. Beyond that little house of death were Wolfe
Copse and Wolfe Farm, from which the fire of German machine-guns came
swishing in streams of bullets. There was no yard of ground without a
shell-hole. They were linked together like the holes in a honeycomb, and
the German troops, very thick because of their new method of
defence--very dense in the support lines though the front line was more
lightly held--were scattered about in these craters. Large numbers were
killed and wounded when our barrage stormed over them, but numbers
crouching in old craters were left alive, and as the barrage passed they
rose and came streaming over in small batches, with their hands
high--came to meet our men, hoping for mercy. Many prisoners were made
before the first objective was reached, and after that by harder
fighting. Some of the men in shell-holes, wet like our men and cold like
our men, decided to keep fighting, and fired their rifles as our lads
struggled forward. The boy who lost his rum-jar met three of these men
in a shell-hole, and he threw a bomb at them, and said, "This is to pay
back for the gas you gave me a month ago."

A little farther on there was another German in a shell-hole. He was a
boy of sixteen or so, and he raised his rifle at the lad of the rum-jar,
who flung the bayonet on one side by a sudden blow, but not quick enough
to escape a wound in the arm. "I couldn't kill him," said the Lancashire
lad; "he looked such a kid, like my young brother, so I took him
prisoner and sent him down."

Not all the prisoners who were taken came down behind our lines. The
enemy was barraging the ground heavily, and many of their own men were
killed, and some of our stretcher-bearers, as they came down with the
wounded. Up in the leafless and shattered trees on the battlefield were
Germans with machine-guns, and German riflemen who sniped our men as
they passed. Many of these were shot up in the trees and came crashing
down. Up on the left of the attack, where our troops were in liaison
with the French, the enemy were taken prisoners in great numbers,
officers as well as men, and the hostile bombardment was not so heavy as
on the right, so that the casualties seem to have been light there. In
spite of the frightful ground all the objectives were taken, so that our
line has drawn close to Houthulst Forest.

There was heavy fighting by the Worcesters of the 29th Division at a
place called Pascal Farm, and a lot of concrete dug-outs on the
Langemarck-Houthulst road gave trouble with their machine-guns. Adler
Farm, just outside our old line, somewhat south of that, also held out a
while, but was mastered, and opened the way to the second objective,
which on the right carried the attack through Poelcappelle. Here there
was hard fighting, by the Lancashire Fusiliers, South Staffords, and
Yorkshires of the 11th, and the German garrison put up a desperate
resistance in the brewery of Poelcappelle. On the right there has been
grim fighting again in the old neighbourhood of Polderhoek Château, but
on either side of it our troops of the 5th Division have made good
progress, in spite of intense and concentrated fire from many heavy
batteries. The enemy has again had a great blow, and has lost large
numbers of men--dead, wounded, and captured. That our troops could do
this after such a night and over such foul ground must seem to the
German High Command like some black art.

       *       *       *       *       *

OCTOBER 10

In my message yesterday I described the appalling condition of the
ground and of the weather through which our men floundered in their
assault towards Houthulst Forest and Passchendaele. That is the theme of
this battle, as it is told by all the men who have been through its
swamps and fire, and it is a marvel that any success could have been
gained. Where we succeeded--and we took a great deal of ground and many
prisoners--it was due to the sheer courage of the men, who refused to be
beaten by even the most desperate conditions of exhaustion and
difficulty; and where we failed, or at least did not succeed, in making
full progress or holding all the first gains, it was because courage
itself was of no avail against the powers of nature, which were in
league that night with the enemy's guns.

The brunt of the fighting fell yesterday in the centre upon the troops
of North-country England, the hard, tough men of Lancashire and
Yorkshire, and it was Lancashire's day especially, because of those
third-line Territorial battalions of Manchesters and East Lancashires
and Lancashire Fusiliers, with other comrades of the 66th Division.
There were some amongst them who went "over the bags," as they call it,
for the first time, and who fought in one of the hardest battles that
has ever been faced by British troops, with most stubborn and gallant
hearts. I know by hearing from their own lips, to-day and yesterday, the
narrative of the sufferings they endured, of the fight they made, and of
the wounds they bear without a moan.

The night march of some of these men who went up to attack at dawn seems
to me, who have written many records of brave acts during three years of
war, one of the most heroic episodes in all this time. It was a march
which in dry, fine weather would have been done easily enough in less
than three hours by men so good as these. But it took eleven hours for
these Lancashire men to get up to their support line, and then, worn out
by fatigue that was a physical pain, wet to the skin, cold as death,
hungry, and all clotted about with mud, they lay in the water of
shell-holes for a little while until their officers said, "Our turn,
boys," and they went forward through heavy fire and over the same kind
of ground, and fought the enemy with his machine-guns and beat
him--until they lay outside their last objective and kept off
counter-attacks by a few machine-guns that still remained unclogged, and
rifles that somehow they had kept dry. Nothing better than that has been
done, and Lancashire should thrill to the tale of it, because their sons
were its heroes. Dirty, blood-stained, scarecrow heroes, as I met some
of them to-day, lightly wounded, but hardly able to walk after the long
trail back from the line. It was eleven hours' walking on the way up,
and then, after the wild day and half a night under shell-fire and
machine-gun fire, eleven hours down again, in shell-holes and out of
them, falling every few yards, crawling on hands and knees through slimy
trenches, staggering up by the help of a comrade's arm and going on
again with set jaws, and the cry of "No surrender!" in their soul....
Gallant men. They had no complaint against the fate that had thrust them
into this morass, nor any whimper against their hard luck. They told of
the hard time they had had simply and gravely, without exaggeration and
without self-pity, but as men who had been through a frightful ordeal
with many thousands of others whose luck was no better than theirs and
whose duty was the same. They came under severe machine-gun fire from
some of the German blockhouses, especially on their flanks. Our
barrage-fire had gone travelling beyond them, and because of the swamps
and pools it was impossible to keep pace with it. Men were lugging each
other out of the bogs, rescuing each other free from the rain-filled
shell-pits. So they lost the only protection there is from machine-guns,
the screen of great belts of gun-fire, and the Germans had time to get
out of the concrete houses and to get up from the shell-holes and fire
at our advancing groups of muddy men. Many Germans were sniping from
these holes, and others were up broken trees with machine-guns on small
wooden platforms. I met one man to-day who had eleven comrades struck
down in his own group by one of the snipers. A party was detached to
search for the German rifleman, but they could not find him. They got
ahead through Peter Pan House and then they had to face another blast of
machine-gun fire. The German garrison, in a place called Yetta House,
gave trouble in the same way, and there was a nest of machine-guns ahead
at Bellevue. Some Yorkshire lads of the 49th Division went up there to
rout them out, but what happened is not yet known.

All through the day and last night the Lancashire men were under the
streaming bullets of a machine-gun barrage, which whipped the ground
about them as fast as falling hailstones, so that no man could put his
head above a shell-hole without getting a bullet through his steel hat.
I have seen many of those steel hats punctured clean through, but with
the men who wore them still alive and able to smile grimly enough when
they pointed to these holes. At night the lightly wounded men who tried
to get back had a desperate time trying to find their way. Some of them
walked away to the German lines and were up to the barbed wire before
they found out their mistake. It was difficult to get any sense of
direction in the darkness, but the German flares helped them. They rose
with a very bright light, flooding the swamps of No Man's Land with a
white glare, revealing the tragedy of the battlefield, where many
bodies lay still in the bogs, for many men had been killed. Before the
darkness German aeroplanes came over, as it were, in dense flocks. One
Lancashire boy declared he counted thirty-seven as he lay looking up to
the sky from a shell-hole, and they flew low to see where our men had
made their line. Our stretcher-bearers worked through the day and night,
but it was hard going even with empty stretchers, and they fell and got
bogged like the fighting men, and many were hit by shell-fire and
machine-gun bullets. With full stretchers they made their way back
slowly, and each journey took many hours, and on the way they stuck many
times in bogs and slipped many times waist-deep in shell-holes. The
transport and the carriers struggled with equal courage through the
slough of despond, trying to get up rations to their cold and hungry
comrades and ammunition wanted by riflemen and machine-gunners. Even in
water beyond their belts the men tried to clean their rifles and their
belts from the mud which had fouled them, knowing that later on their
lives might depend on this. And it is a wonderful thing that some
counter-attacks were actually repulsed by rifle-fire and by
machine-guns, which jam if any speck of dirt gets in their mechanism.
That was on the left, when the Coldstream, Irish, and Welsh Guards and
some old county regiments of England--Middlesex, Worcesters, Hampshires,
Essex--and a gallant little body of Newfoundlanders in the 29th Division
had fought forward a long way with rapid success.

The losses of the Guards in going over to the first objective were not
heavy. They preceded the attack by a tremendous trench-mortar
bombardment, which so frightened the enemy and caused such loss among
them that before the infantry advanced many of them came rushing over to
our lines to surrender. On the second objective there was heavy fighting
at a strong place called Strode House, which was surrounded with uncut
wire and defended by heavy machine-gun fire. The Guards, after being
checked, rushed it from all sides and captured it with all its garrison.
There was more fighting of the same kind farther south, at ruins close
to Houthulst Forest, on the edge of the swamps, which seem to be a No
Man's Land, because the ground is too wet for the Germans to live there.
Very quickly after the attack the enemy countered heavily on the Guards'
left, but the Guards held firm and beat it off.

Farther south the Middlesex, Royal Fusiliers, and the Newfoundlanders of
the 29th Division went straight through to their objective as far as
Cinq Chemins Farm (the Farm of the Five Roads), and they had to resist a
series of counter-attacks, starting before half-past eight in the
morning. The first of these was shattered by rifle-fire, and the second
by artillery-fire, but afterwards, owing no doubt to heavy shelling, our
line withdrew a little in front of the Poelcappelle road.

On the left centre of our attack our progress was not maintained. The
ground here was deplorable, as the two streams of the Lekkerbolerbeek
and the Stroombeek had been cut through by shell-fire, so that their
boundaries were lost in broad floods. Mortal men could not pass through
quick enough to keep up with a barrage, and after desperate struggles
they were forced to withdraw from the forward positions beyond Adler
Farm and Burns House.

Round the village of Poelcappelle, now no more than a dust-heap of ruin,
there was fierce fighting, and the enemy held out in the brewery, from
which he swept the ground with machine-gun bullets so that all approach
was deadly. The Yorkshire men of the 11th Division here made repeated
rushes, but without much success, it seems.

Meanwhile, on the extreme right of the attack some very grim and
desperate work was being done by English troops of famous old regiments
round about Reutel and Polderhoek. At Polderhoek the enemy had a nest of
dug-outs and machine-gun emplacements behind the château, and in spite
of the assaults of Warwicks and Norfolks held them by unceasing fire.

On the north of Polderhoek success was complete in the attack on Reutel,
though the village was defended by machine-guns in a cemetery beyond
Reutel, and several defended blockhouses. These were attacked and taken
by the H.A.C., Warwicks, and Devons, and our line of objectives was made
good beyond Reutel and Judge Copse, which have been thorns in our
side--spear-heads rather--for many days.

Splendid and chivalrous work was done on this part of the ground by the
stretcher-bearers. Out of two hundred and fifty labouring in these
fields over a hundred were hit, and all of them took the utmost risk to
rescue their fallen comrades in the fighting-lines. The sappers and the
pioneers, the transport and the runners, fought not against the enemy
from Germany, but against an enemy more difficult to defeat, and that
was the mud.



XXI

THE ASSAULTS ON PASSCHENDAELE


OCTOBER 12

OUR troops went forward again to-day farther up the slopes of the
Passchendaele Ridge, striking north-east towards the village of
Passchendaele itself, which I saw this morning looming through the mist
and the white smoke of shell-fire, with its ruins like the battlements
of a mediæval castle perched high on the crest.

It has been a day of very heavy fighting, and the supreme success will
only be gained by the spirit of men resolute to win in the face of
continual blasts of machine-gun bullets, heavy shelling, and weather
which has made the ground as bad as ever a battlefield has been. The
enemy, if we may believe what his prisoners say, expected the attack,
and that they did expect it is borne out by the quickness with which
they dropped down their defensive barrage, the violent way in which they
shelled our back areas during the night, and by other unmistakable signs
of readiness. Perhaps the last attack two days ago through the wild gale
and the mud warned them that not even the elements would safeguard them
against us, and that our troops, who had already achieved something that
was next to impossible, would attempt another and greater adventure.

To me these blows through the mud seem the most daring endeavours ever
made by great bodies of men. The strength of the enemy--and he is very
strong still--and the courage of the enemy, which is high among his best
troops, are not the greatest powers which our men are called upon to
overcome in this latest fighting. Given a good barrage, and they are
ready to attack his pill-boxes now that we have broken the first evil
spell of them. But this mud of Flanders, these swamps which lie in the
way, these nights of darkness and rain in the quagmires--those are the
real terrors which are hardest to win through. Yet our men were
confident of their fate to-day, and backed each other with astounding
courage to take the ground they were asked to take; and that pledge
which they made between their battalions was after that night, now three
nights ago, when the Lancashire and Yorkshire men made their march
through the mud which I have described in other messages--eleven hours'
going before they reached their starting-line after frightful
tribulations in the darkness and before they went into the battle, late
for their barrage and exhausted in body, but still with the pluck to
fight through machine-gun fire to their objectives. They did not go as
far as had been hoped, but they did far more than any one might dare
expect in such conditions, and the men in to-day's battle depended for
success upon the starting-line gained for them by those comrades of
North-country England.

The New-Zealanders who went over to-day swore that with any luck, or
even without luck, they would plant their flag high, and among those men
there was a grim, smouldering fire of some purpose which boded ill for
the enemy they should find against them. These are not words of
rhetoric, to give a little colour to the dark picture of war, but the
sober truth of what was in those New Zealand boys' minds yesterday when
they made ready for this new battle.

It was difficult to get the men anywhere near the line of attack, owing
to the foulness of the ground. Those who were in their positions the
night before--that is, on Wednesday night--found that they were not
utterly comfortless in the sodden fields. By a fine stroke of daring and
by the great effort of carriers and transport officers, who risked their
lives in the task, bivouacs were taken up and pegged out in the darkness
under the very nose of the enemy, so that the men should not lie out in
the pouring rain, and before dawn came they were taken away, in order
not to reveal these assemblies. There was food also, and hot drink close
to the fighting-lines, and some of the coldness and horrors of the night
were relieved. A clear line was made for the barrage which would be
fired by our guns this morning. But some troops had still to go up, and
some men had to march through the night as those Lancashire men had
marched up three nights before. They had the same grim adventure. They,
too, fell into shell-holes, groped their way forward blindly in a wild
downpour of rain, lugged each other out of the bogs, floundered through
mud and shell-fire from five in the evening until a few minutes only
before it was time to attack. The enemy was busy with his guns all night
to catch any of our men who might be on the move. He flung down a heavy
barrage round about Zonnebeke, but by good chance it missed one group of
men thereabouts, and scarcely touched any of the others in that
neighbourhood. But his heavy shells were scattered over a wide area, and
came bowling through the darkness and exploding with great upheavals of
the wet earth. Small parties of men dodged them as best they could, and
pitched into shell-holes five feet deep in water when they threatened
instant death. Then gas-shells came whining, with their queer little
puffs, unlike the exploding roar of bigger shells, and the wet wind was
filled with poisonous vapour smarting to the eyes and skin, so that our
men had to put on their gas-masks and walk like that in a worse
darkness. These things, and this way up to battle, might have shaken the
nerves of most men, might even have unmanned them and weakened them by
the fainting sickness of fear. But it only made the New-Zealanders
angry. It made them angry to the point of wild rage.

"To Hell with them," said some of them. "We won't spare them when we go
over. We will make them pay for this night." They used savage and
flaming words, cursing the enemy and the weather and the shell-fire and
the foulness of it all.

I know the state of the ground, for I went over its crater-land this
morning to look at this flame of fire below the Passchendaele spur. I
had no heavy kit like the fighting men, but fell on the greasy
duck-boards as they fell, and rolled into the slime as they had rolled.
The rain beat a tattoo on one's steel helmet. Every shell-hole was
brimful of brown or greenish water; moisture rose from the earth in a
fog. Our guns were firing everywhere through the mist and thrust sharp
little swords of flame through its darkness, and all the battlefields
bellowed with the noise of these guns. I walked through the battery
positions, past enormous howitzers which at twenty paces distance shook
one's bones with the concussion of their blasts, past long muzzled high
velocities, whose shells after the first sharp hammer-stroke went
whinnying away with a high fluttering note of death, past the
big-bellied nine-point-twos and monsters firing lyddite shells in clouds
of yellow smoke. Before me stretching away round the Houthulst Forest,
big and dark and grim, with its close-growing trees, was the
Passchendaele Ridge, the long, hummocky slopes for which our men were
fighting, and our barrage-fire crept up it, and infernal shell-fire,
rising in white columns, was on the top of it, hiding the broken houses
there until later in the morning, when the rain ceased a little, and the
sky was streaked with blue, and out of the wet gloom Passchendaele
appeared, with its houses still standing, though all in ruins. There
were queer effects when the sun broke through. Its rays ran down the wet
trunks and the forked naked branches of dead trees with a curious,
dazzling whiteness, and all the swamps were glinting with light on their
foul waters, and the pack-mules winding along the tracks, slithering and
staggering through the slime, had four golden bars on either side of
them when the sun shone on their 18-pounder shells. There was something
more ghastly in this flood of white light over the dead ground of the
battlefields, revealing all the litter of human conflict round the
captured German pill-boxes, than when it was all under black
storm-clouds.

It was at the side of a pill-box famous in the recent fighting that I
watched the progress of our barrage up the slopes of Passchendaele, and
it was only by that fire and by the answering fire of the German guns
with blacker shell-bursts that one could tell the progress of our men.

"How's it going?" asked a friend of two officers of the Guards who came
down the duck-boards from Poelcappelle way.

"Pretty well," was the answer. "We have cut off four Boche guns with our
barrage, though we only had a little way to go--on the left, you know."

"Big fellows?"

"No, pip-squeak. The usual seventy-seven."

It seemed that there had been a check on the left. Our men had come up
against abominable machine-gun fire. On the right things were doing
better. Our line was being pushed up close to Passchendaele, within a
few hundred yards or so. Some prisoners were coming down--there had been
a lot of bayonet fighting, and a lot of killing. The wounded are getting
back already, most of them with machine-gun wounds, the worst of them
with shell wounds. The New-Zealanders had hardly gone over before German
flares rose to call on the guns. The guns did not answer for some little
while; but instantly there was the chattering fire of many machine-guns;
and from places above the Ypres-Roulers railway, and all the length of
the Goudberg spur of the Passchendaele, where there were many
blockhouses and concrete streets, there was poured out a sweeping
barrage of bullets.

Our men, advancing on all sides of the Passchendaele Ridge and right up
to the edge of Houthulst Forest, were everywhere checked a while by the
swampy ground. The streams, or beeks, that intersect this country, like
the Lekkerbolerbeek and the Ravelbeek, had lost all kind of bounds, and
by the effect of shell-fire had flowed out into wide bogs. Here and
there the men crossed more easily, and that led to some parts of the
line getting farther forward then others and so to being enfiladed on
the right or left. It is on the left that we have had most difficulty,
round about Wolfe Copse and Marsh Bottom. On the right it is reported
that some of the Anzacs have been seen going up across the slopes of
Crest Farm, which is some 500 yards from Passchendaele village, on the
heights of the ridge. At the present time it is impossible to tell more
about this battle than to say it is being fought desperately. Our airmen
are unable to bring back exact news owing to the darkness which has
again descended, and all that is known so far is that our men are making
progress in spite of the deadly machine-gun fire against them, and that
they are resolute to go on. The enemy is fighting hard, and his Jaegers,
with green bands round their caps, and the men of the 223rd Reserve
Division, have not surrendered easily, though many of them are now our
prisoners. It is raining again heavily, and the mists have deepened.



XXII

ROUND POELCAPPELLE


OCTOBER 14

To-day there was a fine spell, though yesterday, after Friday's battle,
it was still raining, and looked as if it might rain until next April or
March. Our soldiers cursed the weather, cursed it with deep and lurid
oaths, cursed it wet and cursed it cold, by day and by night, by
duck-boards and mule-tracks, by shell-holes and swamps, by Ravelbeek and
Broenbeek and Lekkerbolerbeek. For it was weather which robbed them of
victory on Friday and made them suffer the worst miseries of winter
warfare, and held them in the mud when they had set their hearts upon
the heights. It was the mud which beat them. Man after man has said that
to me on the day of battle and yesterday.

"Fritz couldn't have stopped us," said an Australian boy, warming his
hands and body by a brazier after a night in the cold slime, which was
still plastered about him. "It was the mud which gave him a life
chance."

"It was the mud that did us in," said an officer of the Berkshires,
sitting up on a stretcher and speaking wearily. "We got bogged and
couldn't keep up with the barrage. That gave the German machine-gunners
time to get to work on us. It was their luck."

A young Scottish Borderer, shivering so that his teeth chattered, spoke
hoarsely, and there was no warmth in him except the fire in his eyes.
"We had a fearful time," he said, "but it was the spate of mud that kept
us back, and the Germans took advantage of it."

"Whenever we got near to Fritz he surrendered or ran," said a young
sergeant of the East Surreys. "We should have had him beat with solid
ground beneath us, but we all got stuck in the bog, and he came out of
his blockhouses and machine-gunned us as we tried to get across the
shell-holes, all filled like young ponds, and sniped us when we could
not drag one leg after the other."

No proof is needed of the valour of our men. It is idle to speak of it,
because for three years they have shown the height of human courage in
the most damnable and deadly places. But I have known nothing finer in
this war than the quality of the talk I have heard among the men who
fought all Friday after a night exposure in wild rain, and lay out all
that night in water-pools under gun-fire, and came back again yesterday
wounded, spent, bloody and muddy, cramped and stiff, cold to the
marrow-bones, and tired after the agony of the long trail back across
the barren fields. They did not despair because they had not gained all
they had hoped to gain. "We'll get it all right next time," said man
after man among them. They all stated the reasons for their bad luck.

"If you step off a duck-board you go squelch up to the knees, and
handling them big shells is no joke. All that means delay in getting up
ammunition." This was from a young soldier who had been flung 50 yards
and senseless away from a group of comrades who were all killed by a
big shell-burst. His senses had come back, and a quiet, shrewd judgment
of all he had seen and his old faith that our men can win through every
time if they have equal chances with the enemy. That faith, that
confidence in their own fighting quality, was not dimmed because on
Friday they did not go far. The fire of it, the beauty of it, the
simplicity of it shone in the eyes of these men, who were racked by
aches and shot through with pain, all befouled by the mud, which was in
the very pores of their skin, and seared by remembrances of tragic
things. To command soldiers like that should be the supreme joy of their
officers, and indeed there is not one of our officers who does not think
so, and is not proud of them with a pride that is full of comradeship
for his good company. Napoleon's Old Guard was not of better stuff than
these boys from English farms and factories, Scottish homesteads,
Australian and New Zealand sheep-farm runs.

In these recent battles home troops and overseas troops have been mixed
together in the mud of battlefields, and they come down together out of
the shell-fire to field dressing-stations, waiting to have their wounds
dressed and telling their tales of the fighting. There is no difference
there between them. They are all figures carved out of the same clay,
with faces and hands of the tint of clay, like men risen out of wet
graves. A moist steam rises from them as they group round the braziers,
and they know each other--Australian and English lad, Scot and Welsh,
Irish, New-Zealander--as comrades who have taken the same risks,
suffered the same things, escaped from death by the same kind of
miracle. They talk in low voices. There is no bragging among them; no
wailing; no excited talk. Quietly they tell each other of the things
that happened to them and of the things they saw, and it is the naked
truth, idle sometimes as truth itself. So when they say, as I heard them
say yesterday, "It is all right, it was only the mud that checked us,"
one knows that this is truth in the hearts of brave men, the truth of
the fine faith that is in them.

I told in my last message how the enemy was ready for attack and tried
to prevent it, before it started, by violent shelling over our back
areas, all through Thursday night, mixing his high explosives with
gas-shells and trying to catch our men on the move and our batteries
deep in the mud. It is certain that his aeroplanes, flying low through
mists, saw great traffic behind the lines and the work of thousands of
men laying down new tracks and getting forward with supplies. That could
not be hidden from them. We did not try to hide it, but worked in the
daylight under the eyes of their observers in Passchendaele and in Crest
Farm below it, and on the high ground above Poelcappelle, so that they
could see the tide of all this energy when the gunners, pioneers,
engineers, transports drivers, mule leaders, and the long winding
columns of troops surged up the arteries of the battlefields and choked
them about the Piccadilly Circus of the crater-land.

It was a supreme defiance of the enemy's power, a challenge louder than
any herald's trumpet announcing the beginning of a new battle. The enemy
accepted the challenge, though not, as we know, with any gladness of
heart. Behind his lines there was disorder and dismay, and his
organization had been horribly strained by the rapid series of blows
which had fallen on him and by his great losses. His local reserves had
been flung together anyhow, to meet the pressure we had put upon him.
Remnants of battalions were mixed up with other remnants, and our
prisoners are from many units. These divisions of his which have
withstood the brunt of this recent fighting, like the 195th and the 16th
and the 227th, were horribly mauled and broken, and other divisions
coming up to relieve them were caught by our long-range guns far back
from the lines, and lost their way in the swamps which are on their side
of the battlefield as well as on ours, and struggled forward in the
darkness and shell-fire to positions hard to find by troops new to this
ground. Their High Command issued new orders hurriedly, and made
desperate efforts to strengthen their lines. They put up new apron-wire
defences around their blockhouses. All the heavy machine-guns of the
supporting troops were sent forward to the front lines to reinforce
those already in position in their blockhouses and organized shell-holes
between the blockhouses and the narrow streets of concrete. Never before
did the enemy mass so many machine-guns on his front for continuous
barrage over a wide region, and to defend the last spurs of
Passchendaele. He had machine-guns up trees as well as on the ground,
and he scattered his riflemen among the shell-craters with orders to
shoot until they were killed or captured.

It is fair to these men to say that they obeyed their orders and fought
on Friday with most fierce courage. It was only here and there that
small bodies of German troops, caught in our barrage and nerve-broken by
the long agony of lying in water under a ceaseless shell-fire, ran
forward to our men as soon as the first brown lines appeared out of the
mud and surrendered. The men behind the machine-guns opened fire at the
moment of attack, and it was the noise of this light artillery, the
long-drawn swish of its bullets whipping the ground, and a devil's
tattoo of groups of machine-guns hidden up the slopes, that broke upon
our men as soon as they began to make their way through the mud.

I have already told how many of our men had spent the night. Large
bodies of them had lain out since Wednesday. Of these some had been
luckier than others, getting hot drink and food and shelter under
tarpaulin tents which did not keep them dry, but kept off the full force
of the beating rains. Others, not so lucky, had to lie in shell-holes
half full, or quite full, of ice-cold water, and rations had gone
astray, as many ration parties could not get up through the hostile
barrage or were bogged somewhere down below; and for some men at least
there was not the usual drop of rum to warm the "cockles of their
hearts" and to bring back a little glow of life to their poor numbed
limbs. Other men had spent the night in marching, spurred on by the
hateful fear of being too late to take their place in the battle-line,
so that their comrades would not have their help, but spurred to no
quickness because every yard of ground had its obstacle and its ditch,
and it was a crawl all the way, with many slips and falls and shouts for
help.

It was pitch-dark, and the rain beat against these men, driven by the
savage wind, plucking at their capes, buffeting their steel helmets,
straining at the straps of their packs, slashing them across the face.
Their boots squelched deep in the mud and made a queer, sucking noise as
these single files of dark figures went shuffling across along slimy
duck-boards, a queer noise which I heard when I went up with some of
them on the morning of the battle over duck-board tracks. Some of them
lost the duck-boards and went knee-deep into bogs, and waist-deep into
shell-holes, and neck-deep into swamps. In spite of all the
frightfulness of the night, the coldness, the weariness, and the
beastliness of this floundering in mud and shell-fire, they went forward
into the battle with grim, set faces, and attacked the places from which
the machine-gun fire came in blasts. The New-Zealanders attacked many
blockhouses and strong points immediately in front of their first
objective on the left above the Ypres-Roulers railway, and on the way to
the marsh bottom and rising slope of the Goudberg spur, where at
Bellevue the enemy's machine-guns were thickly clustered.

Below that, by Heine House and Augustus, the Australian troops were
trying to work their way forward to the hummock of Crest Farm, barring
the way to Passchendaele, and up on the left centre, from the
cross-roads and cemetery of Poelcappelle, the Scottish and English
battalions--Berkshires, East Surreys, West Kents, and others--assaulted
the brewery, which has been captured twice and twice lost, and a row of
buildings in heaps of ruin on the Poelcappelle road, which the Germans
use as cover for their machine-gunners. Many of these outposts were
captured by groups. Our men worked round then and rushed them, in spite
of the streams of bullets which pattered around them so that many fell
in the first attempts. Here and there the enemy fought fiercely to the
last, and fell under the bayonets of our men. Here and there, in the
open ground to the right of Poelcappelle and on the ground below
Passchendaele, batches of German soldiers made little fight, but came
rushing out of their holes with their hands up, terror-stricken.

But machine-gun fire never ceased from the higher ground, from tall
masts of branchless trees, from shell-craters beyond the reach of our
men. Our barrage travelled ahead, and slow as it was I saw it creeping
up the lower slopes of the Passchendaele ridge for the second objective
on Friday morning--our men could not keep pace with it. They were stuck
in the swamps at Marsh Bottom in the Lekkerbolerbeek below Poelcappelle
and in the bogs below Crest Farm. They plunged into these bogs, fiercely
cursing them, struggling to get through them to the enemy, but the men
could do nothing with their legs held fast in such slime, nothing but
shout to comrades to drag them out. While they struggled German snipers
shot at them with a cool aim, and the machine-gun bullets of the deadly
barrage lashed across the shell-craters.

Australian troops on the right made good and reached the edge of the
hummock called Crest Farm. Some of them swarmed up it and fought and
killed the garrison there, but beyond was another knoll with
machine-gunners and riflemen, and as our men came up to the top of Crest
Farm they were under close and deadly fire. They would have held their
ground here if they could have been supported on the left, but the
New-Zealanders were having a terrible time in Marsh Bottom and Bellevue,
and could not make much headway because of the deadly fire which came
down from the spur on which Bellevue is perched. All this time it was
raining hard, making the ground worse than before, and the wet mists
deepened, preventing all visibility for our machines working with the
guns. Orders were given not to continue the second stage of the attack,
because the weather was too bad, and the Australians on the right centre
withdrew their line in order not to have an exposed flank. In the
afternoon the enemy's heavy artillery, which had been very hesitating
and uncertain during the first stages of the attack, began to barrage
the ground intensely, and continued this fire all the night.

Meanwhile close and fierce fighting was all about Poelcappelle. English
and Scottish troops entered the ruins of the village, in spite of the
waves of machine-gun bullets which girdled it, drove the Germans out of
the brewery buildings for a time, fought their way among the brick-heaps
and ruined houses, killed many men who held out there, and with bayonet
and rifle defended themselves against counter-attacks which came down
the Poelcappelle road. It was as savage and desperate fighting as any
episode in this war at close quarters, without mercy on either side, one
man's life for another's. Our men were reckless and fierce. They fought
in small parties, with or without officers. Ground was gained and lost
by yards, and men fought like wild beasts across the broken walls and
ditches and shell-craters which go by the name of Poelcappelle. It was
five o'clock in the evening that another strong counter-attack by the
enemy came down Poelcappelle road and drove in our advanced posts. The
brewery then became a sort of No Man's Land--an empty shell between
opposing sides. Our men were spent after all that night and day in the
mud and all this fighting, and now dusk was creeping down, and it was
hard to see who was friend and who was enemy among the figures that
crawled about in the slime.

It was the turn for stretcher-bearers, those men who work behind the
fighting-lines and then come to gather up the human wreckage off it.
With great heroism they had worked all day under heavy fire, and now
went on working without thought of self. They were visible to the enemy,
and their Red Cross armlets showed their mission. Away on the slopes of
Passchendaele his stretcher-bearers could be seen working too. One body
of 200 men came out, waving the Red Cross flag, with stretchers and
ambulances, and went gleaning in these harvest-fields, and no shot of
ours went over to them. But on our side shots from German snipers were
still flying and our stretcher-bearers were hit. Three of them carrying
one stretcher were killed, and the officer with them directing this work
near Poelcappelle was fired with a flame of anger. He seized a Red Cross
flag and made his way very quickly over the shell-holes towards the
enemy's position, and standing there, this officer of the R.A.M.C.
shouted out a speech which rang high above the noise of gun-fire and all
the murmur of the battlefield.

Perhaps what he said was quite incoherent and wild. Perhaps no man who
heard him could understand a word of what he said, but there in the
shell-holes hidden from him in the mud were listening men with loaded
rifles, and they may have raised their heads to look at that single
figure with the flag. They understood what he meant. His accusing figure
was a message to them. After that there was no deliberate sniping of
stretcher-bearers, though they still had to go through shell-fire. It
was hard on the wounded that night. The lightly wounded made their way
back as best they could, and it was a long way back, and a dark way back
over that awful ground. God knows how they managed it, these men with
holes in their legs and mangled arms and bloody heads. They do not know.

"I thought I should never get back," said many of them yesterday. "It
was bad enough going up, when we were strong and fit. At the end of the
journey we could hardly drag our limbs along to get near the enemy. But
coming down was worse."

They fell not once but many times, they crawled through the slime and
then fell into deep pits of water with slippery sides, so that they
could hardly get out. They lay down in the mud and believed they must
die, but some spark of vitality kept alive in them, and a great desire
for life goaded them to make another effort to go another hundred yards.
They cried out incoherently, and heard other cries around them, but
were alone in some mud-track of these battlefields with a great
loneliness of the soul. One man told me of his night like that, told me
with strange smiling eyes that lightened up the mud mask of his face
under a steel hat that was like an earthenware pot on his head. All the
time he opened and shut his hands very slowly and carefully, and looked
at them as things separate from himself. They had become quite dead and
white in the night, and were now getting back to life and touch from the
warmth of a brazier over which he crouched.

"I crawled a thousand yards or so," he said, "and thought I was
finished. I had no more strength than a baby, and my head was all queer
and dizzy-like, so that I had uncommon strange thoughts and saw things
that weren't there. The shells kept coming near me, and the noise of
them shook inside my head so that it went funny. For a long time while I
lay there I thought I had my chums all round me, and that made me feel a
kind of comfortable. I thought I could see them lying in the mud all
round with just their shoulders showing humped up and the tops of their
packs covered in mud. I spoke to them sometimes and said, 'Is that you,
Alf?' or 'Come a bit nearer, mate.' It didn't worry me at first because
they didn't answer. I thought they were tired. But presently something
told me I was all wrong. Those were mud-heaps, not men. Then I felt
frightened because I was alone. It was a great, queer kind of fear that
got hold of me, and I sat up and then began to crawl again just to get
into touch with company, and I went on till daylight came and I saw
other men crawling out of shell-holes and some of them walking and
holding on to each other. So we got back together."

They came back to the field dressing-stations, where there was warmth
for them and hot drinks, and clean bandages for their wounds; and groups
of men, who had fought with the same courage, and now, in spite of all
they had endured, spoke brave words, and said it was not the enemy that
had checked them but only the mud. Their spirit had not been beaten, for
no hardships in the world will ever break that.

But while I was talking with these men a figure came and sat on a bench
among them speechless, because no one understood his tongue. It was a
wounded German prisoner, and I saw from his shoulder-strap that he
belonged to the 233rd Regiment of the 119th Division. Among all these
men of ours who spoke with a fine hopefulness of what they would do next
time he was hopeless. "We are lost," he said. "My division is ended. My
friends are all killed." When asked what his officers thought, he made a
queer gesture of derision, with one finger under his nose when he says
"Zut." "They think we are 'kaput' too; they only look to the end of the
war."

"And when do they think that will come?" He said, "God willing, before
the year ends."

In civilian life he was a worker in an ammunition factory at Thuringen,
by the Black Forest. He had seen many English there, and never thought
he should fight against them one day. His father, who is forty-seven, is
in the war. He himself looked a man of that age--old and worn, with a
week's beard on his chin; but when I asked him his age he replied, "I am
twenty-one. Last night I was twenty-one, when I lay after three days in
a shell-hole--['ein granatenloch']--and your men helped me out because I
was wounded."

"What do you think of our men?" he was asked, and he said, "They are
good. Your artillery is good. It is very bad for us. We are 'kaput.'"

On one side of the fire were the men who think they are winning,
whatever checks they may have, and who always attack with that faith in
their hearts. On the other side was the man who said "We are finished,"
and sat huddled up in despair. All of them had suffered the same things.

To-day the sky is clear again, and the pale gold of autumn sunlight lies
over the fields, and all the woods behind the lines are clothed in
russet foliage. It is two days late, this quiet of the sky, and if
Friday had been like this there would have been a flag of ours on the
northern heights of Passchendaele Ridge. But still the gunners go on
with their toil, those wonderful gunners of ours, who get very little
sleep and very little rest and go down for an hour or two into a hole in
the earth in those sodden fields where all day long and all night there
is the tumult of bombardment. Piles of shells lie on the ground, heaps
around them, and behind men are labouring to bring up more; and across
the battlefields, strangely close to the actual fighting-line, black
trains go steaming along rails which hundreds of men have risked their
lives to lay a hundred yards, so that the guns shall be fed and the
gunners have no respite. On the left of the line there is blue among
the brown of our armies, and on the morning of the battle I saw French
limbers and transport wagons using the same tracks as our own, and heard
the rattle of the "soixante-quinze" again below Houthulst Forest, where
there are still leaves on the trees and the beauty of a dense yellowing
foliage is there beyond all those other woods where there are only fangs
and stumps of trees in the fields where our men have fought.

       *       *       *       *       *

OCTOBER 23

The fighting yesterday east of Poelcappelle and on the right of the
French by Houthulst Forest across the Ypres-Staden railway showed a
curious inequality in the strength and determination of the German
defence. The French themselves had easy going, swinging up from Jean
Bart House across some trench works and through a cluster of
blockhouses. The German artillery-fire was slight against them, so that
their losses are very few--though they were held a while in the centre
by machine-gun fire--and it seems likely that the French gas-shells,
fired over the enemy's batteries before the attack, had had a paralysing
effect on some of the German gunners. Whatever the cause, there was a
strange absence of high explosives, and the line was not thickly held by
the men of the 40th Division, who have lately come from Russia. One
officer and a score of men were captured, and a number of dead lie about
the blockhouses, killed by the French bombardment. The others fled into
the forest. Behind them they left two field-guns.

East of Poelcappelle and on the right of our attack the German infantry
were also weak in their resistance, and our men of the Norfolk and Essex
Regiments who advanced hereabouts did not have much trouble with them at
close quarters. What trouble there was came from a machine-gun barrage
farther back, which whipped over the shell-craters and whistled about
the ears of our assaulting troops. The heavy gunning that we have put
over this ground for more than a week, with special concentration on
strong points like the ruined brewery outside the scrap-heap village of
Poelcappelle and the other blockhouses, had made this area a most
unhealthy neighbourhood for German garrisons, and they had withdrawn
some of their strength to safer lines, leaving small outposts, with
orders to hold out at all costs--orders easy to give and hard to obey in
the case of men dejected and shaken by a long course of concussion and
fear.

A Bavarian division, the Fifth Bavarian Reserve, had been living in
those pill-boxes and shell-holes until two nights ago, and whatever the
German equivalent may be of "fed up" they were that to the very neck.
Some of our Suffolk and Berkshire boys had taken prisoners among these
Bavarians on days and nights before the attack, and these men made no
disguise of their disgust at their conditions of life. Like other
Bavarians taken elsewhere, they complained that they were being made
catspaws of the Prussians, and put into the hottest parts of the line to
save Prussian skins. Some of the Bavarian battalions have had an
epidemic of desertion to the back areas, in the spirit of "I want to go
home." A fortnight ago there was a case of thirteen men who set off for
home. A few of them actually reached Nuremberg, and others were arrested
at Ghent.

One strange and gruesome sign of trouble behind the German firing-line
was found by one of our Cameronians the other day after an advance. It
was a German officer bound and shot. Opposite Poelcappelle the German
Command thought it well to pull out the 5th Bavarian Reserve and replace
them two nights ago by Marines of the 3rd Naval Division, who are stout
fellows, whatever their political opinions may be after the recent
mutiny at Wilhelmshaven, from which some of them have come. On our left
centre yesterday they fought hard and well, with quick counter-attacks,
but opposite Poelcappelle they did not resist in the same way and did
not come back yesterday to regain the ground taken by our men of the
Eastern Counties.

The Norfolk and Essex battalions had to make their way over bad ground.
In spite of a spell of dry weather one night of rain had been enough to
turn it all to sludge again and to fill and overflow the shell-holes,
which had never dried up. The Lekkerbolerbeek has become a marsh
waist-deep for men, not so much by rain-storms as by shell-storms which
have torn up its banks and slopped its water over the plain. Before the
attack yesterday morning our air photographs taken in very low flights
showed the sort of ground our men would have to cross. Everywhere the
shell-craters show up shinily in the aerial photographs, with their
water reflecting the light like silver mirrors. Higher up there are
floods about Houthulst Forest extending to the place where the enemy
keeps his guns behind the protection of the water, and no lack of
rain-filled shell-holes on each side of the Ypres-Staden railway.

Bad going; but our battalions went well, keeping close to their
whirlwind barrage of fire and keeping out of the water-pits as best they
could, and scrambling up again when they fell over the slimy ground.
Manchesters and Lancashire Fusiliers, Cheshires, Gloucesters, and Royal
Scots; Northumberland Fusiliers, Suffolks and Norfolks, Essex and
Berkshires--how good it is to give those good old names--went forward
yesterday morning in the thick white mist, and took all the ground they
had been asked to take whether it was hard or easy. It was hardest to
take, and hardest to hold, on the right of Houthulst Forest and on the
left of the Ypres-Staden railway. Here the enemy held his line in
strength, and protected it with a fierce machine-gun barrage and
enfilade fire from many batteries which were quick to get into action.

Houthulst Forest, in spite of all the gas that has soaked it, was full
of German troops of the 26th Reserve Division, under stern orders to
defend it to the death, with another division in support, and the
Marines on their right. They had many concrete emplacements in the cover
of the forest, from which they were able to get their machine-guns into
play, and along the Staden railway there were blockhouses not yet
destroyed by our bombardment, which were strongholds from which they
were not easily routed. There was hard fighting by the Royal Scots for
some huts along the railway, and after holding them they had to withdraw
in the face of a heavy counter-attack, which the enemy at once sent down
the line. Elsewhere the Manchesters had a similar experience, coming
under heavy cross-fire and then meeting the thrust of German storm
troops. They and the Lancashire Fusiliers behaved with their usual fine
courage, and were slow to give ground at one or two points, where they
were forced to draw back two hundred yards or so. The Cheshires and the
Gloucesters were severely tried, but the Gloucesters especially held out
yesterday in an advanced position, with the most resolute spirit against
fierce attacks and great odds, and still hold their ground. At daybreak
to-day, after all the exhaustion of yesterday and a cold wet night and
heavy fire over them, they met another attack, shattered it, and took
twenty prisoners. That is a feat of courage which only men out here who
have gone through such a day and night--and there are many thousands of
them--can properly understand and admire. It is the courage of men tried
to the last limit of human will-power and sustained by some burning
fire of the spirit in their coldness and their weariness. The
Northumberland Fusiliers, at another part of the line, and the Cheshires
and Lancashire Fusiliers dug in round an old blockhouse, using their
rifles to break up the bodies of Germans who tried to force through. At
night, or rather at eight o'clock last evening, when it was quite dark,
the enemy regained a post, but could do no more than that, and it was a
small gain. On the whole the progress made yesterday was good, and
considering the state of the ground, still our greatest trouble, was a
splendid feat of arms by those men of the old county regiments who are
given the honour they deserve by public mention.

The enemy losses were heavy. All last week they were heavy, owing to the
ceaseless fire of our guns, and the dead that lie about the ground of
this new advance, to a thousand yards in depth, show that his men have
suffered.



XXIII

THE CANADIANS COME NORTH


OCTOBER 26

Once again our troops, English and Canadians, have attacked in rain and
mud and mist. It is the worst of all combinations for attack, and during
the last three months, even on the dreadful days in August never to be
forgotten by Irish battalions and Scots, they have known that
combination of hostile forces not once but many times, when victory more
complete than the fortune of war has given us yet, though we have had
victories of real greatness, hung upon the moisture in the clouds and
the difference between a few hours of sunshine and the next storm.

To-day our men of the 5th Division have again attacked Polderhoek
Château, the scene of many fights before, and taken many prisoners from
that 400 men of four German companies who were its garrison, holding the
high ruins which looked down into swamps through which our men had to
wade. They have fought their way to the vicinity of Gheluvelt. This
ground is sacred to the memory of the British soldiers who fought and
died there three years ago. One of our airmen, flying low through the
mist and rain-squalls, is reported to have seen Germans running out of
Gheluvelt Château, a huddle of broken walls now after this three years'
war, and escaping down the Menin road. Nothing is very definite as I
write from that part of the line, as nothing can be seen through the
darkness of the storm and few messages come back out of the mud and
mist.

Northwards the Canadians have taken many "pill-boxes" and an uncounted
number of prisoners--not easily, not without tragic difficulties to
overcome in the valleys of those miserable beeks, which have been spilt
into swamps, and up the slopes of the Passchendaele spur, such as
Bellevue, with its concrete houses which guard the way to the crest.

North still, beyond Poelcappelle, where the Broenbeek and the
Watervlietbeek intermingle their filthy waters below two spurs, which
are thrust out from the main ridge like the horns of a bull, south of
Houthulst Forest, battalions of the London Regiment with Artists Rifles
and Bedfords have attacked the enemy in his stone forts through his
machine-gun barrages and have sent back some of their garrisons and
struggled forward up the slopes of mud in desperate endeavour. And on
the left of us this morning the French made an advance where all advance
seemed fantastic except for amphibious animals, through swamps
thigh-deep for tall men. This was west of a place falsely named
Draeibank, and surrounded by deeper floods, which would have made the
most stalwart "Poilus" sink up to their necks, and, with their packs on,
drown. It was no good going into that, though on the right edge of the
deep waters some French companies waded through and took a blockhouse,
with a batch of prisoners and machine-guns.

West of Draeibank there were several blockhouses, but their concrete had
been smashed under the French bombardments, and those Germans who had
not been killed fled behind the shelter of the waters. Their barrage of
gun-fire fell heavily soon after the attack began by the French, but for
the most part into the floods which our "Poilu" friends did not try to
cross, so that they jeered at these water-spouts ahead of them.

Our troops had a longer way to go and a worse way, and it has been a day
of hard fighting in most miserable conditions. Their glory is that they
have done these things I have named on such a day. The marvel is to me
that they were able to make any kind of attack over such ground as this.
In those vast miles of slime there has been from six o'clock this
morning enough human heroism, suffering, and sacrifice to fill an epic
poem and the eyes of the world with tears. It is wonderful what these
men of ours will do. But in telling their tale they smile a little
grimly in remembrance, or say just simply: "It was hell!"

There is more in a battle than fighting. What goes before it to make
ready for the hour of attack is as vital, and demands as much, perhaps a
little more, courage of soul. Before this battle there was much to be
done, and it was hard to do. Guns had to be moved, not far, but moved,
and out of one bog into another bog--those monsters of enormous weight,
which settle deeply into the slime. To be in time for this morning's
barrage, gunners, already worn, craving sleep and silence, dog-weary of
mud and noise after weeks and months of great battles, had to work like
Trojans divinely inspired to win another day's victory, and they spurred
themselves harder than their horses in this endeavour. They were often
under shell-fire. Not only the gunners, but all the transport men, all
the pioneers and working parties have done their utmost. Battalions of
fighting men, busy not with their rifles but with shovels and
duck-boards, worked in the mud--mud baulking all labour, swallowing up
logs, boards, gun-wheels, shells, spades, and the legs of men, the slime
and filthy water slopping over all the material of war urgently wanted
for this morning's "show." The enemy tried to harass the winding teams
of pack-mules staggering forward under a burden of ammunition boxes,
rations, every old thing that men want if they must fight. Those mule
leaders and transport men do not take a lower place than the infantry
who went away to-day. They took as many risks, and squared their jaws to
the ordeal of it all like those other men. The fighting troops went
marching up or driving up in the rain. Far behind the Front the roads
were filled with dense surging traffic, which we out here will always
see and hear in our dreams after peace has come, the great never-ending
tide of human life going forward or coming back, as one body of men
relieve those who have gone before. Rain washed their faces, so that
they were red with the smart of it. It slashed down their mackintosh
capes and beat a tattoo on their steel helmets. On the tops of London
buses, the old black buses which once went pouring up Piccadilly before
they came out to these dirty roads of war, all the steel helmets were
tilted sideways as the wind struck aslant the muddy brown men with
upturned collars on their way up to the fighting-lines.

But last night was fine. The sky cleared and the stars were very
shining. Orion's Belt was studded with bright gems. It was like a night
of frost, when the stars have a sharper gleam. Away above the trees
there was a flash of gun-fire, red spreading lights, and sudden quick
stabs of fire. The guns were getting busy again. "A great night for
bombing," said an officer; "and good luck for to-morrow." Our night
patrols were already out. In the garden where that officer spoke there
was a white milky radiance, so that all the trees seemed insubstantial
as in a fairy grove where Titania might lie sleeping. Far off beyond the
trees was a white house, and the moonlight lay upon it, and gave it a
magic look. Perhaps the work being done inside was the black magic of
war, and men may have been bending over maps strangely marked, and full
of mystery, unless one knows the code which deals with the winning of
battles. "For once we may have luck with the weather," said another
officer. About midnight there was a change. Great clouds gathered across
the moon. It began to rain gustily, and then settled down to a steady,
slogging downpour.

Our luck with the weather went out with the stars, and this morning when
our men went away the ground was more hideous than it has ever been this
year, and that would seem a wild exaggeration to men who tried to get
through Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood on the wet days of August.
They went into swamps everywhere, into the zone of shell-craters newly
brimmed with water, and along tracks without duck-boards, where men went
ankle-deep, if not knee-deep or waist-deep.

The enemy was expecting them. There seems no doubt of that. An hour or
so before the attack he began to barrage the ground in some parts, and
in their blockhouses the German machine-gunners got ready to sweep the
advancing battalions. Our own barrage thundered out shortly before six
from all the guns which had got to their places after the great struggle
in the mud. On the right the ground about Polderhoek Château was flooded
down in the hollow below that ruin, which is perched up on a rise. Our
men of the 5th Division--Devons, Scottish Borderers, Duke of Cornwall's
Light Infantry--were not far away from it, a few hundred yards, but it
was a difficult place to attack. The enemy had built concrete defences
inside and blockhouses on either side of it and in the wood behind. But
our men went very gallantly through the morass, in spite of the
machine-gun fire that swept over them, and worked on either side of the
château, closing round the blockhouse, while from the centre they made a
direct attack on the château ruins. In spite of the foul weather, with a
high wind blowing and a thick, wet mist, our airmen went out all along
the line and flew very low, peering down at our men. One of them
reported quite early that our boys were all round Polderhoek Château,
hauling out the Huns, while bombing fights were in progress on either
side of it. Later messages confirmed this. Sixty prisoners were seen
coming back down the Menin road. A wounded German officer said the
garrison of the château was 400 men, of four companies. It seems that
they must all have been taken or killed, for later it was established
that all the blockhouses and the château had been cleared, and our men
were fighting beyond Polderhoek Wood.

Farther south there was fighting round about Gheluvelt, by Devons and
Staffords of the 7th Division, and an observer reported that he had seen
Germans running out of that château down the high road east of it, but
it seems that there were a number of dug-outs in Gheluvelt Wood where
the garrisons held out after our advance attack had passed, and this was
a great menace to our men, so that they may have had to withdraw in
order to avoid that trap, or to keep in touch with the troops on their
right, who were held up at a couple of redoubts in the morning.

Meanwhile the fiercest battle was being fought by the Canadians near the
centre of the attack, up the slopes of Bellevue below Goudberg (which is
just west of Passchendaele), where the enemy had long and elaborate
defences of concrete, and to the right and left of that from Vienna
House, below Crest Farm on the right, to the ground on the left beyond
Wolfe Copse. It was from the direction of Peter Pan House and Wolfe
Copse that the Canadians succeeded in getting a grasp of the Bellevue
slopes, attacking a row of concrete huts in a sunken road which were
strongly held by German machine-gunners. The enemy counter-attacked
strongly and sharply down the northern end of the spur, and from the
direction of Passchendaele, and drove our men for a time down the
slopes, though only for a time. Farther left there was heavy fighting
round the pill-boxes. Two of them, Moray House and Varlet House, yielded
a score or more of prisoners each, but the ground all about the left of
our attack by the Broenbeek and the Watervlietbeek was one great deep
marsh, through which the men had the utmost difficulty in struggling.

The German wounded are in a terrible condition, covered in mud and
blood, and shaking as men with ague. They are full of despair, and their
officers say that Germany is only holding out in the hope of a U-boat
victory. The German people, they say, will suffer badly this winter from
lack of food. Our own wounded are men who seem to have come out of
watery graves, and are plastered from head to foot in a whitish slime.
In the field dressing-stations they are as patient as after all these
battles, and if in some places they had ill luck they blame the weather
for it. No words are too bad for that, but in spite of it our men did
wonders to-day.

       *       *       *       *       *

OCTOBER 28

The most important position in the attack yesterday was given to the
Canadians to carry, and the story of their capture of the Bellevue spur
is fine and thrilling as an act of persistent courage by bodies of men
struggling against great hardships and under great fire. Nothing that
they did at Courcelette and Vimy and round about Lens was finer than the
way in which on Friday they fought their way up the Bellevue spur, were
beaten back by an intense destructive fire, and then, reorganizing, went
back through the wounded and scaled the slope again and drove the German
machine-gunners out of their blockhouses.

I have seen those Germans as prisoners of the Canadians. They are men of
the 11th Bavarian Division, which includes the 3rd Bavarian Infantry
Regiment and two reserve infantry regiments. The other day I wrote about
undersized, half-witted fellows who were caught by our men, and said the
German man-power must be wearing thin if they sent recruits like this.
These Bavarian soldiers are not undersized, but tall, proper men, and
stout fellows who fought hard. They carried their mud with a certain
swagger, not as men who had surrendered easily, and were not utterly
dejected, like so many of our prisoners. They had been picked to hold
Bellevue because of their good moral, and they were full of confidence
in their defensive position. They were perched up above the swamps
through which our men had to wade to get at them. They had plenty of
concrete houses for their shelter, and their machine-guns. The weather
was in their favour. They guessed that the British would try to attack
them again, but they looked at the floods and rain-clouds, and felt
safe, or pretty safe. For some reason of psychology--which is greatly
influenced by shell-fire--these men of the 11th Bavarian Division were
not mutinous against discipline like other Bavarians, who are cursing
the Prussians because of too much fighting, and malingering, and jeering
at the officers, or refusing to go into the forward positions, like 800
men of the 99th Reserve Infantry Regiment, who, according to a prisoner,
revolted against going into the line at Lens.

"They were all sent to prison," says the man, "and seem to have been
very pleased with the change."

A look at a contour map explains the reason why the 11th Bavarians were
satisfied with their defensive position at Bellevue, on Goudberg or
Meetscheele spur, which strikes out westwards from the main
Passchendaele Ridge. The deep gully of the Ravelbeek rims below the
slopes on which Bellevue is raised, and down there there is one filthy
swamp of mud and water. On the other side of the gully is a hill which
rises to Passchendaele, and the separate hummock of Crest Farm,
south-east of that high pile of ruin, which commands the long, wide view
of the plains beyond. Bellevue on one side and Crest Farm and
Passchendaele on the other support each other from attack, and from
their blockhouses they are able to sweep machine-gun fire upon any
bodies of men advancing up either slope. So the Australians found in the
great attack on October 12, when they had to fall back, when
Passchendaele itself was almost in their grip, because of the enfilade
fire from the ground about Bellevue, while other Australians, trying to
work up those slopes on the west side of the Ravelbeek, were terribly
scourged by the machine-gun barrage. The Canadians knew all that. They,
too, had the black luck of that terrible twelfth of October, when
English and New Zealand and Australian troops advanced into bogs,
struggled through a sea of mud, and failed to gain a victory not by lack
of valour, for the courage of them all was almost super-human, or
rather human as we know it in this war, but by the sheer impossibility
of getting one leg after the other in the slime that covered all this
ground.

It was as bad on Friday morning--worse. The rain had poured down all
night and the shell-craters brimmed over, and every track was so
slippery that men with packs and rifles fell at every few steps. Beyond
the duck-board tracks there were no tracks for 1500 yards, and there was
a morass knee-deep and sticky, so that men had to haul each other to get
unstuck. In the darkness and pouring rain and shell-fire it was hard
going--a nightmare of reality worse than a black dream. But the men got
to their places and lay in the mud, and hoped they were not seen. As I
said in my last message, some of them seem to have been seen by hostile
aircraft coming out before the moon went down, and the enemy's guns
ravaged the ground searching for them.

The right body of Canadian troops worked up towards Crest Farm along the
main Passchendaele Ridge--that is to say, on the right of the Ravelbeek
gully. Their ground here was very bad, but nothing like that on the left
below Bellevue. They got close to Duck Wood, where there are a few
stumps of trees to give a meaning to the name, and on their right other
troops pushed forward towards Decline Copse, which protected their
flank. Heavy machine-gun fire came at them out of Duck Wood, from
shell-craters and "pill-boxes," and the enemy shelled very fiercely all
around with high explosives and a great number of whiz-bangs from
field-batteries very close to them just below Passchendaele. All the
Canadian soldiers speak of these whiz-bangs, directed, after the ground
was taken, by low-flying aeroplanes, who signalled with flash-lamps or
with a round or two of machine-gun fire when they saw any group of men.
The signals were answered rapidly by a flight of the small shells.

But from a tactical point of view, apart from the hardships and perils
of the men, the situation on the Canadian right was good. They had their
ground, and would have found it easier to hold if all had been well on
the other side of the Ravelbeek up by Bellevue. All was not well there
at that time. The Canadian troops on the left were having the same
tragic adventure as befell the Australians in the same place two weeks
before. In trying to work up beyond Peter Pan House they were caught in
the clutch of the mud, and moving slowly behind their barrage came under
the fire of many machine-guns worked by those 11th Bavarians from a row
of blockhouses along the road running across the crest of the ridge, and
from other strong points above and below that line. The Canadian Brigade
made most desperate attempts to get as far as those damnable little
forts, and small parties of grim, resolute fellows did get a footing on
the higher slopes, scrambling and stumbling and falling, with the deadly
swish of bullets about them, and those Bavarians waiting for them with
their thumbs on the triggers of their weapons behind the walls.

Behind, it was difficult to get news of that heroic Canadian Brigade.
Foul mists and smoke lay low over them; no signals or messages came
back. An airman, who flew along the line to work in contact with the
guns, could see nothing at two thousand feet, nothing when he risked his
wings at a thousand feet, nothing still on another journey at half that
height. The Canadian rockets were all wet, and no light answered the
airman's signals. Ten times he flew along the line, twice at last within
two hundred yards of the ground, when he did see the infantry struggling
through the enemy's lash of bullets. A bit of shrapnel or shell casing
smashed through the airman's engine, and his wings were pierced. He flew
in a staggering way on our side of the lines and crashed down and got
back with his report.

The next news was not good. It looked like a tragedy. Under the
continued fire the Canadian Brigade had to fall back from Bellevue
almost to their original line. It was then that officers and men of this
Canadian Brigade showed what stuff they were made of--stuff of spirit
and of body. Imagine them, these muddy, wet men, with their ranks
thinned out by losses up those hellish slopes of Bellevue, and with all
their efforts gone to nothing as they gathered together in the mist in
the low ground again. It was enough to take the heart out of these men.
Strengthened by a small body of Canadian comrades they re-formed and
attacked again. That was great and splendid of them. The barrage was
brought back and the lines of its shell-fire moved slowly before them
again as when they had first started. So they began all over again the
struggle through which they had already been, and went out again into
its abomination. Even now I do not know how they gained success where
they had failed. I doubt whether they know. The enemy was still up the
slopes and on the slopes, still protected in his concrete, and with his
machine-guns undamaged. But these Canadians worked their way forward in
small packs, and each man among them must have been inspired by a kind
of rage to get close to the blockhouses and have done with them. They
went through those who had fallen in the first attack, and others fell,
but there was enough to close round the concrete forts and put them out
of action. The garrisons of these places, thirty in the largest of them,
fifteen to twenty in the smaller kind, had been told to hold them until
they were killed or captured. They obeyed their orders, but preferred
capture when the Canadians swarmed about them and gave them the choice.
There were about 400 prisoners brought down from Bellevue, and nearly
all of them were taken from the blockhouses on the way up to the crest
and from a row of them along the road which goes across the crest.

It was a few hours before the enemy behind launched his counter-attacks,
after a heavy shelling of Bellevue, which he now knew was lost to him--a
bitter surprise to his regimental and divisional commanders. It is
uncertain what delayed his counter-attacks, but the mud had something to
do with it, for on the German side as well as on ours there are swamps
in which tall men sink to their necks, and bogs in which they are stuck
to their knees, so badly that some of our prisoners lost their boots in
getting free of this grip.

It was at about four o'clock in the afternoon that the first German
column tried to advance upon Bellevue from the northern end of the spur.
They were caught in our barrage and shattered. Half an hour later
another heavy attack was delivered against the Canadians on the main
Passchendaele Ridge, and this was repulsed after close and fierce
fighting, in which fifty prisoners were taken by our side.

All through the night, after those vain efforts to get back their
ground, the enemy shelled the Canadian positions heavily, but on the
left, by Bellevue, the men of that brigade, which had done such heroic
things, not only held their ground, but went farther forward to Bellevue
cross-roads, where there was another row of blockhouses. They were
abandoned by the enemy, who had fled hurriedly, leaving behind their
machine-guns and ammunition--eighteen machine-guns on 300 yards of
road, which shows how strongly this position was held by machine-gun
defence. Yesterday there were more counter-attacks, but they had no
success, and many lie on the ground.

The price of victory for the Canadians was heavy in physical suffering,
and unwounded men as well as wounded had to endure agonies of wetness
and coldness and thirst and exhaustion. It was only their hardness which
enabled them to endure. They lay in cold slime, and a drop of rum would
have been elixir vitæ to them. Away behind, carrying parties were stuck
in bogs as the fighting men had been stuck. Pack-mules were floundering
in shell-craters. Men were rescuing their comrades out of pits and then
sinking themselves and crying for help. At ten yards distance no shout
was heard because of the roar of gun-fire and the howling of shells and
the high wailing of the wind.

"I saw some fellows in front of me," said a wounded lad of the Devons,
"and I halloed to them because I wanted company and a bit of help. But
they didn't hear all my halloing, and they went faster than I could, and
I could not catch up with them because my leg was bad."

"It was water we wanted most," said a young Canadian, "and some of us
were four days thirsty in the front line. No blame to anybody. It was
the state of the ground."

"I had a poisoned finger," said a young field-gunner, "and my arm
swelled up, but I couldn't leave the battery before the show, as they
were short-handed."

Sitting round after the battle these men out of the slime, these muddy,
bloody men, spoke quietly and soberly about things they had seen and
suffered, and the tales they told would freeze the blood of gentle souls
who do not know even now, after three years of war, what war means to
the fighting men. But as they listened to each other they nodded, as
though to say, "Yes, that's how it was," and there was no consciousness
among them of extraordinary adventures, and neither self-glory nor
self-pity. They had just done their job, as when their wounds heal they
will do it again, if fate so wills.

What I have written about the Canadians is true of all English
battalions who were fighting on each side of them, and to whom I devoted
most of my message on the day of the battle. Those London Territorials,
Lancashire troops, Artists Rifles, Bedfords, and the old county
regiments of the 5th and 7th Divisions who were fighting around
Polderhoek Château and on the way to Gheluvelt had the same sufferings,
the same difficulties in bad ground, the same ordeal of shell-fire,
machine-gun fire, and German counter-attacks. They showed the same
courage, neither more nor less, and although the capture of Bellevue
spur was the most important gain of the day, it was only possible
because the English battalions on either side kept the enemy hotly
engaged, and assaulted his lines of blockhouses with repeated efforts.
The fighting of the Artists Rifles and Bedfords of the 63rd Division was
typical of all the history of this day in hardship and valour. Even the
German officers taken prisoners by them expressed their wonderment and
admiration. "Your men are magnificent," they said. "They have achieved
the impossible. We did not think any troops could cross such ground."
That belief was reasonable. The stream of the Paddebeek had become a
wide flood, like all the other beeks in the fighting ground. It seemed
unfordable and impassable, and on the other side of it was the old
German trench system with machine-gun emplacements. The 63rd plunged in,
wading up to their waists, and horribly hampered while machine-gun
bullets whipped the surface of the water. There was fierce fighting for
Varlet House, a strong blockhouse, and the Artists and Bedfords, Royal
Fusiliers and Shropshires swarmed round it, and finally routed the
garrison. Desperate attempts were made against other strong points, and
the men of the 63rd Division gained some of them, and captured about 140
prisoners.

Meanwhile on the left of our line, around the flooded areas to the west
of Houthulst Forest, the French have made great progress on Friday and
Saturday. The Belgians have made a dash too, and there was a gallant
episode, not without a gleam of humour, when a small party of Belgian
soldiers crossed the marshes in a punt, found the ground deserted by the
enemy, and went forward at a hot pace to join up with the French in the
freshly captured village of Merckem. The French themselves have cleared
a wide tract of marsh-land during these two days' operations, cleared it
of men and cleared it of guns, which the enemy had just time to drag
away round a spit of land on the edge of the floods. These floods are
very deep and broad above Bixschoote and below Dixmude, where the
St.-Jansbeek slopes over by Langewaade and swirls round a peninsula of
mud.

On Friday the French routed out the German outposts who guarded that
mud-bank, several thousands yards in length, and yesterday made a bigger
attack above St.-Jansbeek and Draeibank. Before their gallant infantry
advanced through these bogs, for it is all a bog, the French gunners
were in full orchestra, and played a terrible symphony on the 75's and
120's. Over 160,000 shells were fired by the "soixante-quinze" batteries
at the German positions in the marshes and on the west side of Houthulst
Forest. Then under cover of this fury of the fire the French infantry
advanced in waves. In spite of the ground they went very fast and very
far, and spread out in a fan-shaped phalanx between Merckem and Aschoop.
Their field-guns are now able to enfilade Houthulst Forest on the
western side, and the German guns north of that must be making their
escape. It is an important tactical success, which will make Houthulst
Forest less tenable by the enemy.

       *       *       *       *       *

OCTOBER 30

Following up the heroic capture of Bellevue spur, on October 26, the
Canadians attacked again this morning on both sides of the Ravelbeek,
working up from Bellevue to the top of Meetscheele spur on the left, and
gaining Crest Farm on the right, up the main ridge of Passchendaele. If
this ground can be held--and the taking is sometimes not so hard as the
holding--almost the last heights of the Passchendaele Ridge are within
our grasp, and all the desperate fighting of the last three months or
more, the great assaults on the ridges by English, Scottish, Irish,
Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian troops, through bogs and marshes
in the low ground, against concrete blockhouses and great numbers of
machine-guns, against masses of the finest German troops fighting every
yard of the way, and against incredibly bad luck with the weather, even
as far back as August, will have given us the dominating ground in
Flanders overlooking the plains beyond.

Crest Farm, on a knoll below the village of Passchendaele, is the outer
fort of Passchendaele itself, and its capture exposes the greater
fortress under the ragged ruins which stick up like fangs on the skyline
of the ridge.

Without Crest Farm Passchendaele was unapproachable, and the capture of
this hummock is of historical importance. But in order to take or hold
it, as the Australians found, it was necessary that Bellevue and
Meetscheele should also be ours. Both heights were taken this morning by
the Canadians.

It was not a great battle in numbers of men, and the longest distance to
go was not more than a thousand yards, but it was a hard battle, not won
lightly, because of the desperate resistance of the enemy, the
difficulty of the ground, the badness of the weather, and the physical
hardships endured by the men. The enemy had relieved his troops who met
the Canadians' attack on Bellevue on Friday last--the 11th Bavarian
Division, who are now said to be on their way to Italy--although I saw
one of their non-commissioned officers this morning, taken prisoner a
few hours before, after he had been lying in a shell-hole for three
days. He knew nothing about his division and nothing about the German
thrust in Italy. Nor did he care what had happened over there, but was
only glad to be out of the shell-fire with the hope that the war would
end soon, somehow and anyhow. His division had apparently been replaced
by the 238th, a strong and well-disciplined crowd of men, who knew the
value of the Passchendaele Ridge, and fought hard this morning until the
Canadians had forced their blockhouse when the rest of them ran back
into Passchendaele.

The German Command probably expected an attack this morning. As usual,
yesterday he shelled heavily over the neighbourhood of our tracks and
back areas of the battle zone in order to hinder the getting up of
supplies, and in the night he sent out his air squadrons to bomb the
country about Ypres and try to play hell generally behind our lines. Our
airmen were about in the night too. It was the night of the full moon,
wonderfully clear and beautiful in this part of Flanders, and many tons
of explosives were dropped over enemy dumps and batteries and routes of
march. The weatherwise, who have been gloomy souls for some weeks, and
no wonder, predicted heavy rain before the night was out, and a rising
gale of wind. They were right about the wind. It came howling across the
sea and the flats from somewhere in the west of Ireland, but it veered
to the east later in the night and the rain held off until after midday.
By that time our attack had gone away and gained the ground; and it is
in their new positions that the Canadians and other British troops are
now suffering the foul storm, with a cold rain slashing upon them. The
night was cold for them, and they lay out in shell-holes, getting
numbed and cramped and longing for the first gleam of light, when they
could get on the move and do this fighting. It is the waiting which is
always worst, and it was waiting under the heavy fire of big shells and
shrapnel and whiz-bangs and gas-shells and machine-gun bursts scattered
over the sodden fields in this wet darkness without aim, but sinister in
its blind search for men. The carriers trudged through all this,
stubborn in spirit, to get up ammunition and supplies. There was rum for
the fighting men, and they thanked God for it, because it gave them a
little warmth of body and soul in the cold quarter of an hour before an
attack at dawn, when the vitality of men is low.

Some of the Canadians say that the enemy started to barrage before our
own artillery gave the signal of attack by combined fire. Five minutes
before the start, they say, hostile shell-fire burst over them. Men get
this fancy sometimes when there is no truth in it, but it may have been
true. They all agree that the German SOS flared up instantly the attack
was begun, and that the enemy's gunners answered it without a second's
pause. At the same time many machine-guns began their sharp tattoo from
the blockhouses on the slopes above and from many hiding-places. In
front of the Princess Patricia's Light Infantry there was a number of
fanged tree-stumps called by the sylvan name of Friesland Copse. They
expected one or two machine-guns there, but found a nest of them. It was
a hornets' nest, not easily routed out. The German machine-gunners kept
up a steady stream of bullets across their field of fire, and the
Princess Pat's suffered in trying to rush the place. Small parties of
them assaulted it with grim courage, and when they fell, or took cover
in shell-craters, others made their way forward, trying to get round the
flanks of the position. It was in that way finally that they made the
last close dash upon the emplacements and destroyed them. Some of the
German gunners surrendered here, but not many. Hard and fierce was the
fighting at close quarters.

The Canadian troops pushed on to Meetscheele village--no village at all,
as you may guess, but just a tract of shell-craters and a few mounds of
broken brick about a few concrete chambers, with dead bodies of German
soldiers lying huddled outside the walls. That is a village in the
battlefields. The blockhouses gave trouble, for there were living men
inside with the usual weapon which spat out bullets. So there was
another struggle here, very fierce and bloody, and the place was only
taken by groups of men who crawled round it in the mud, sprang at it out
of shell-craters, and acted with individual cunning and courage. That at
least is how some of these men described it this morning, when they came
away with wounds. Beyond Meetscheele was another row of blockhouses on a
road, and another fight, desperate and exhausting and bloody. But it was
from that neighbourhood that the Germans began to run, and when they
were seen running the Canadians knew that the objectives had been won.
All that was on the left of the Ravelbeek stream, which is a No Man's
Land of slime between the slopes.

On the right, which is the main Passchendaele Ridge, another Canadian
Brigade was fighting up to Crest Farm. They, too, had to assault some
"pill-boxes" and had to fight hard for their ground, but they captured
Crest Farm and the farmer's boys, who were stalwart young Germans, and a
number of machines with which they plough the fields for the harvest of
death. These machine-guns and their ammunition store were used against
the enemy by the Canadians, and helped to smash up the counter-attacks,
which assaulted the new positions very quickly after their capture. On
the extreme right of the Canadians the enemy opened a very heavy
bombardment from the Keifburg spur, and it was so violent that special
artillery action was called for, and a number of Australian heavies took
measures to silence these guns. The first counter-attack developed at
about eight o'clock, from the direction of Mosselmarkt, but this was
dealt with by our guns, and did not reach the Canadian lines. Our
airmen, flying in the gale, reported groups of men retreating in a
disorderly way and the German stretcher-bearers were busy. At about 9.30
hostile infantry in extended order were seen advancing towards the
front, and our guns again got busy. Meanwhile the Artists, Bedfords,
Royal Fusiliers, and Shropshires of the 63rd Division, and London men of
the 58th Division were fighting in the low swampy ground to the north of
the Canadians. They have had a very hard time on both sides of the
Paddebeek and in other swamps, where little isolated garrisons of the
enemy hold their "pill-boxes" in a girdle of the machine-gun fire. The
rain is now heavy, and a thick, dank mist lies over the fields, and
what was bad ground is now worse ground. There is no aeroplane
observation this afternoon, and the Canadians, who are holding the
captured positions, can no longer be seen by the hostile air squadrons.
This morning they flew very low over the infantry in places, dropping
bombs and firing their machine-guns at groups of men. The battle is one
of those called "a minor operation," but the ground taken by heroic
effort is the gateway to Passchendaele.



XXIV

LONDON MEN AND ARTISTS


OCTOBER 31

We still hold the high ground about Crest Farm and the Meetscheele Spur,
from which Passchendaele is only 400 or 500 yards distant, and the
Canadians have consolidated their positions there, and with the help of
the guns have beaten off the enemy's counter-attacks. Up there the
ground is dry, and the Canadian soldiers are on sandy soil above the
hideous swamps of the valleys and beeks. The enemy's batteries are
shelling our new lines with intense fire, and are attempting as usual to
harass our tracks and artillery. To-day, after the battle, the weather
is clear and beautiful again, as it was on the day after the last
battle--a tragic irony which makes our men rather bitter with their
luck--and in the sunshine and fleecy clouds there are many hostile
aeroplanes overhead and many air combats between their fighting-planes
and ours. I saw the beginning of one over Ypres this morning before the
chase of the enemy machine passed out of sight with a burst of
machine-gun fire, and all through the morning our anti-aircraft guns
were busy flinging white shrapnel at these birds, who came with prying
eyes over our camps, their wings all shining in the sunlight and looking
no bigger than butterflies at the height they flew. Yesterday, during
the battle, it was almost impossible to fly, owing to the strength of
the gale, and impossible to see unless a pilot almost brushed the earth
with his wings. One of our airmen did fly as low as that, as I have
told, and went ten times on his business up and down the Canadian lines.
But elsewhere, above the dreadful swamps of the Paddebeek and the
Lekkerbolerbeek, the airmen had an almost hopeless task.

It was partly owing to this that it was very difficult to get any news
of the London Territorials of the 58th Division and the Artists,
Bedfords, and others of the 63rd who went away at the same time as the
Canadians in the low ground instead of on high ground. Even their
battalion commanders, not far behind, could see nothing of the men when
the attack had started, and could get no exact knowledge of them for
many hours. The wounded came back to give vague hints of what was
happening, but as a rule wounded men know nothing more than their own
adventures in their own track of shell-craters. Some of them have never
come back. No man knows yet what has become of them out there. Little
groups may still be holding on to advanced posts out there in the
swamps.

It is idle for me to try to describe this ground again, the ground over
which the London men and the Artists had to attack. Nothing that I can
write will convey remotely the look of such ground and the horror of it.
Unless one has seen vast fields of barren earth, blasted for miles by
shell-fire, pitted by deep craters so close that they are like holes in
a sieve, and so deep that the tallest men can drown in them when they
are filled with water, as they are now filled, imagination cannot
conceive the picture of this slough of despond into which our modern
Christians plunge with packs on their backs and faith in their hearts to
face dragons of fire a thousand times more frightful than those
encountered in the "Pilgrim's Progress." The shell-craters yesterday
were overbrimmed with water, and along the way of the beeks, flung out
of bounds by great gun-fire, these were not ponds and pools, but broad
deep lakes in which the litter and corruption of the battlefield
floated.

The London Territorials had in front of them a number of blockhouses
held by the enemy's machine-gunners on each side of the road which runs
from Poelcappelle to Spriet. Far out in front of their line was a place
called Whitechapel--a curious coincidence that Londoners should attack
in its neighbourhood--and nearer to them, scattered about in enfilade
positions, were other "pill-boxes." On hard ground in decent weather
these places could have been assaulted and--if courage counts, as it
does--taken by these splendid London lads of ours, whose spirit was high
before the battle, and who have proved their quality, not only before in
this Flanders battle, but also at Bullecourt and other places in the
line. But yesterday luck was dead against them. Archangels would have
needed their wings to get across such ground, and the London men had no
divine help help in that way, and had to wade and haul out one leg after
the other from this deep sucking bog, and could hardly do that. Hundreds
of them were held in the bog as though in glue, and sank above their
waists. Our artillery barrage, which was very heavy and wide, moved
forward at a slow crawling pace, but it could not easily be followed. It
took many men an hour and a half to come back a hundred and fifty yards.
A rescue party led by a sergeant-major could not haul out men breast
high in the bog until they had surrounded them with duck-boards and
fastened ropes to them. Our barrage went ahead and the enemy's barrage
came down, and from the German blockhouses came a chattering fire of
machine-guns, and in the great stretch of swamp the London men
struggled.

And not far away from them, but invisible in their own trouble among the
pits, the Artists Rifles, Bedfords, and Shropshires were trying to get
forward to other blockhouses on the way to the rising ground beyond the
Paddebeek. The Artists and their comrades were more severely tried by
shell-fire than the Londoners. No doubt the enemy had been standing at
his guns through the night, ready to fire at the first streak of dawn,
which might bring an English attack, or the first rocket as a call to
them from the garrisons of the blockhouses. A light went up, and
instantly there roared out a great sweep of fire from heavy batteries
and field-guns; 4·2's and 5·9's fell densely and in depth, and this
bombardment did not slacken for hours. It was a tragic time for our
valiant men, struggling in the slime with their feet dragged down. They
suffered, but did not retreat. No man fell back, but either fell under
the shell-fire or went on. Some groups of London lads were seen going
over a little rise in the ground far ahead, but no more has been heard
of them. Some of them got as far as the blockhouses, assaulted them
without any protective fire from our artillery, because the barrage was
ahead, and captured them. By this wonderful courage in the worst and
foulest conditions that may be known by fighting men they took Noble's
Farm and Tracas Farm.

It was by this latter farm that an heroic act was done by a young London
lieutenant--one of those boys of ours who heard the call to the colours
and went quickly round to the nearest recruiting office, not knowing
what war was, but eager to offer his youth. He knew the full meaning of
war yesterday by the concrete blockhouse on the Tracas road. He had a
group of men with him, his own men from his own platoon, and he asked
them to stick it out with him. They stuck it out until all were killed
or wounded, and the last of them still standing was this lieutenant. I
do not know if even he was standing at the end, for he had been wounded.
He had been wounded not once only, but eight times, and still he asked
his men to stick it out with him, and at last fell among them, and so
was picked up by the stretcher-bearers when they came searching round
this place under heavy fire, and found all the men lying there.

There was a queer kind of road going nowhere and coming from nowhere
east of Papa House. For some time before the battle Germans were seen
coming out of it, remarkably clean, and not like men who have been
living in mud-holes. It is a concrete street tunnelled and apertured for
machine-guns, and bullets poured from it yesterday, and the London lads
had a hard time in front of it. The London Regiment and the Royal
Fusiliers who fought this battle, and not far from them were the Artists
Rifles--the dear old "Artists" who in the old Volunteer days looked so
dandy in their grey and silver across the lawns of Wimbledon. They
suffered yesterday in hellish fire, and made heavy sacrifices to prove
their quality. It was a fight against the elements, in league with the
German explosives, and it was a frightful combination for the boys of
London and the clean-shaven fellows of the Naval Brigade, who looked so
splendid on the roads before they went into this mud. They did not gain
all their objectives yesterday, but what glory there is in human courage
in the most fiery ordeal they gained eternally.

The gunners were great too. They were in the mud like the infantry in
some places. They were heavily shelled, and the transport men and
gun-layers and gunner officers had to get a barrage down when it was
difficult to stand steady in the bogs. They have done this not for one
day and night but for many days and nights, and the strain upon them has
been nerve-racking. After the last battle, when the Londoners were
relieved and marched down past the guns, they cheered those gunners who
had answered their signals and given them great bombardment and worked
under heavy fire. I think the cheers of those mud- and blood-stained
men to the London gunners ring out in an heroic way above the noise and
tragedy of battle.



XXV

THE CAPTURE OF PASSCHENDAELE


NOVEMBER 6

It is with thankfulness that one can record to-day the capture of
Passchendaele, the crown and crest of the ridge which made a great
barrier round the salient of Ypres and hemmed us in the flats and
swamps. After an heroic attack by the Canadians this morning they fought
their way over the ruins of Passchendaele and into ground beyond it. If
their gains be held the seal is set upon the most terrific achievement
of war ever attempted and carried through by British arms.

Only we out here who have known the full and intimate details of that
fighting, the valour and the sacrifice which have carried our waves of
men up those slopes, starting at Messines and Wyschaete at the lower end
of the range in June last, crossing the Pilkem Ridge in the north, and
then storming the central heights from Westhoek to Polygon Wood through
Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood, from Zonnebeke to Broodseinde, from
the Gavenstafel to Abraham Heights, from Langemarck to Poelcappelle, can
understand the meaning of to-day's battle and the thrill at the heart
which has come to all of us to-day because of the victory. For at and
around Passchendaele is the highest ground on the ridge, looking down
across the sweep of the plains into which the enemy has been thrust,
where he has his camps and his dumps, where from this time hence, if we
are able to keep the place, we shall see all his roads winding like
tapes below us and his men marching up them like ants, and the flash and
fire of his guns and all the secrets of his life, as for three years he
looked down on us and gave us hell.

What is Passchendaele? As I saw it this morning through the smoke of
gun-fire and a wet mist it was less than I had seen before, a week or
two ago, with just one ruin there--the ruin of its church--a black mass
of slaughtered masonry and nothing else, not a house left standing, not
a huddle of brick on that shell-swept height. But because of its
position as the crown of the ridge that crest has seemed to many men
like a prize for which all these battles of Flanders have been fought,
and to get to this place and the slopes and ridges on the way to it, not
only for its own sake but for what it would bring with it, great numbers
of our most gallant men have given their blood, and thousands--scores of
thousands--of British soldiers of our own home stock and from overseas
have gone through fire and water, the fire of frightful bombardments,
the water of the swamps, of the beeks and shell-holes, in which they
have plunged and waded and stuck and sometimes drowned. To defend this
ridge and Passchendaele, the crest of it, the enemy has massed great
numbers of guns and incredible numbers of machine-guns and many of his
finest divisions. To check our progress he devised new systems of
defence and built his concrete blockhouses in echelon formation, and at
every cross-road, and in every bit of village or farmstead, and our men
had to attack that chain of forts through its girdles of machine-gun
fire, and, after a great price of life, mastered it. The weather fought
for the enemy again and again on the days of our attacks, and the
horrors of the mud and bogs in this great desolation of crater-land
miles deep--eight miles deep--over a wide sweep of country, belongs to
the grimmest remembrances of every soldier who has fought in this battle
of Flanders. The enemy may brush aside our capture of Passchendaele as
the taking of a mud-patch, but to resist it he has at one time or
another put nearly a hundred divisions into the arena of blood, and the
defence has cost him a vast sum of loss in dead and wounded. I saw his
dead in Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood, and over all this ground
where the young manhood of Germany lies black and in corruption. It was
not for worthless ground that so many of them died and suffered great
agonies, and fought desperately and came back again and again in massed
counter-attacks, swept to pieces by our guns and our rifle-fire.
Passchendaele is but a pinprick on a fair-sized map, but so that we
should not take it the enemy had spent much of his man-power and his
gun-power without stint, and there have flowed up to his guns tides of
shells almost as great as the tides that flowed up to our guns, and
throughout these months he has never ceased, by day or night, to pour
out hurricanes of fire over all these fields, in the hope of smashing up
our progress. A few days ago orders were issued to his troops. They were
given in the name of Hindenburg. Passchendaele must be held at all
costs, and, if lost, must be recaptured at all costs. Passchendaele has
been lost to the enemy to-day, and if we have any fortune in war, it
will not be retaken.

The Canadians have had more luck than the English, New Zealand and
Australian troops who fought the battles on the way up with most heroic
endeavour, and not a man in the Army will begrudge them the honour which
they have gained, not easily, not without the usual price of victory,
which is some men's death and many men's pain. For several days the
enemy has endeavoured to thrust us back from the positions held round
Crest Farm and on the left beyond the Paddebeek, where all the ground is
a morass. The Artists and Bedfords who fought there on the left on the
last days of last month had a very hard and tragic time, but it was
their grim stoicism in holding on to exposed outposts--small groups of
men under great shell-fire--which enabled the Canadians this morning to
attack from a good position. A special tribute is due to two companies
of Shropshires who, with Canadian guides, worked through a woodland
plantation, drove a wedge into enemy territory, and held it against all
attempts to dislodge them.

Heavy German counter-attacks were made during the past few days to drive
us off Crest Farm and the Meetscheele spur, but they only made a slight
lodgment near Crest Farm and were thrust back with great loss to
themselves. Meanwhile there was the usual vast activity on our side in
making tracks and carrying railroads a few hundred yards nearer, and
hauling forward heavy guns out of the slough in which they were deeply
sunk, and carrying up stores of ammunition and supplies for men and
guns, and all this work by pioneers and engineers and transport men and
infantry was done under infernal fire and in deep mud and filth. Last
night the enemy increased his fire as though he guessed his time was at
hand, and all night he flung down harassing barrages and scattered
shells from his heavies and used gas-shells to search and dope our
batteries, and tried hard by every devilish thing in war to prevent the
assembly of troops. The Canadians assembled--lying out in shell-craters
and in the deep slime of the mud, and under this fire, and though there
were anxious hours and a great strain upon officers and men, and many
casualties, the spirit of the men was not broken, and in a wonderful way
they escaped great losses. It was a moist, soft night, with a stiff wind
blowing. The weather prophets in the evening had shaken their heads
gloomily and said, "It will rain, beyond all doubt." But luck was with
our troops for once, and the sun rose in a clear sky. There was a great
beauty in the sky at daybreak, and I thought of the sun of Austerlitz
and hoped it might presage victory for our men to-day. Beneath the banks
of clouds, all dove-grey, like the wings of birds, the sun rose in a
lake of gold, and all the edges of the clouds were wonderfully gleaming.
The woods in their russet foliage were touched with ruddy fires, so that
every crinkled leaf was a little flame. The leaves were being caught up
by the wind and torn from their twigs and scattered across the fields,
and the wet ditches were deep with leaves that had fallen and reddened
in last week's rain. But it was the light of the dawn that gave a
strange spiritual value to every scene on the way to the battlefield,
putting a glamour upon the walls of broken houses and shining mistily in
the pools of the Yser Canal and upon its mud-banks, and the strange
little earth dwellings which our men once used to inhabit along its line
of dead trees, with their trunks wet and bright. When I went up over the
old battlefields this glory gradually faded out of the sky, and the
clouds gathered and darkened in heavy grey masses and there was a wet
smell in the wind which told one that the prophets were not wrong about
the coming of rain. But the duck-boards were still dry and it made
walking easier, though any false step would drop one into a shell-crater
filled to the brim with water of vivid metallic colours, or into broad
stretching bogs churned up by recent shell-fire and churned again by
shells that came over now, bursting with a loud roar after their long
high scream, and flinging up water-spouts after their pitch into the
mud. The German long-range guns were scattering shells about with blind
eyes, doing guesswork as to the whereabouts of our batteries, or firing
from aeroplane photographs to tape out the windings of our duck-board
tracks and the long straight roads of our railway lines. For miles along
and around the same track where I walked, single files of men were
plodding along, their grey figures silhouetted where they tramped on the
skyline, with capes blowing and steel hats shining. Every minute a big
shell burst near one of these files, and it seemed as if some men must
have been wiped out, but always when the smoke cleared the line was
closed up and did not halt on its way. The wind was blowing, but all
this grey sky overhead was threaded through with aeroplanes--our birds
going out to the battle. They flew high, in flights of six, or singly at
a swift pace, and beneath their planes our shells were in flight from
heavy howitzers and long-muzzled guns whose fire swept our with blasts
of air and smashed against one's ears. Out of the wild wide waste of
these battlefields with their dead tree-stumps and their old upheaved
trenches, and litter of battle, and endless craters out of which the
muddy water slopped, there rose a queer big beast, monstrous and
ungainly as a mammoth in the beginning of the world's slime. It was one
of our "sausage" balloons getting up for the morning's work. Its big
air-pockets flapped like ears, and as it rose its body heaved and
swelled.

It was beyond the line of German "pill-boxes" captured in the fighting
on the way to the Steenbeek, and now all flooded and stinking in its
concrete rooms, that I saw Passchendaele this morning. The long ridge to
which the village gives its name curved round black and grim below the
clouds, right round to Polygon Wood and the heights of Broodseinde, a
long formidable barrier, a great rampart against which during these four
months of fighting our men flung themselves, until by massed courage, in
which individual deeds are swallowed up so that the world will never
know what each man did, they gained those rolling slopes and the
hummocks on them and the valleys in between, and all their hidden forts.
Below the ridge all our field-guns were firing, and the light of their
flashes ran up and down like Jack o' Lanterns with flaming torches. Far
behind me were our heavy guns, and their shells travelled overhead with
a great beating of the wind. In the sky around was the savage whine of
German shells, and all below the Passchendaele Ridge monstrous shells
were flinging up masses of earth and water, and now and then fires were
lighted and blazed and then went out in wet smoke.

The Canadians had been fighting in and beyond Passchendaele. They had
been fighting around the village of Mosselmarkt, on the Goudberg spur.
It was reported they had carried all their objectives and were
consolidating their defences for the counter-attacks which were sure to
come. The enemy had put a new division into the line before our attack,
a division up from the Champagne, and, judging from the prisoners taken
to-day, a smart, strong, and well-disciplined crowd of men. But they did
not fight much as soon as the Canadians were close up on them. The
Canadian fighting was chiefly through shell-fire which came down heavily
a minute or so after our drum-fire began, and against machine-gun fire
which came out of the blockhouses in and around Passchendaele, from the
cellars there, and other cellars at Mosselmarkt.

The Canadians on the right were first to get to Passchendaele Church.
Wounded men say they saw the Germans running away as they worked round
the church. On the left the Canadians had farther to go, but wave after
wave of them closed in and got into touch with their right wing. The
enemy's machine-gun fire was very severe, especially from a long-range
barrage, but there was little hand-to-hand fighting in Passchendaele,
and the men who did not escape surrendered and begged for mercy. Up to
the time I write I have no knowledge of any counter-attack, but it was
reported quite early in the morning that there were masses of Germans
packed into shell-holes on the right of the village, and others have
been seen assembling on the roads to the north of Passchendaele. The
Canadians believe they will hold their gains. If they do, their victory
will be a fine climax to these long battles in Flanders, which have
virtually given us the great ridge, all but some outlying spurs of it,
and the command of the plains beyond.

       *       *       *       *       *

NOVEMBER 7

Hindenburg's command that Passchendaele must be held at all costs, or if
lost retaken at all costs, has not so far been fulfilled by the Eleventh
Prussian Division which garrisoned the crest of the great ridge.
Passchendaele and the high ground about it is firmly ours, and as yet
there have been only a few feeble attempts at counter-attacks by the
enemy. Why there was no strong and well-organized counter-attack is a
mystery to the German officers and men taken prisoner by us, and
especially to two battalion commanders whom I saw marching down to-day
behind our lines at the head of a small party of Prussian soldiers.

One of the German colonels was the commander of the support battalion.
He had apparently come up to Passchendaele the night before to confer
with the commander of the front line. Now from six o'clock yesterday
morning until four o'clock in the afternoon he sat, with his
brother-officer and four or five men, in that little stone house which
was already their prison and might be their tomb. For some queer reason
this pill-box of theirs, or dose-box as the Canadians call it, was
overlooked by the assaulting troops. As no machine-gun fire came from
it, it was passed by, perhaps as an empty house, and the moppers-up did
not trouble about it. The commander of the support line, a tall,
bearded man, very handsome and soldierly as I saw him to-day, urged the
other commanding officer, a younger, weaker-looking man, to stay quiet
and await the counter-attack. "Our men are sure to come," he said, "and
then we shall be rescued."

But hour after hour passed following the British attack at dawn, and
there was no sign of advancing Germans or of retreating Canadians.
Imagine the nervous strain of those two men, and of the soldiers who sat
watching them and listening to their conversation, as it could be heard
through the crashing of shells outside. At four o'clock neither of these
battalion commanders could endure the situation longer.

"If we stay here they will kill us when they find us," said the tall,
bearded man. "It is better to give ourselves up now," they decided. So
they have told their own story, and at four o'clock they went outside
and crossed a few yards of ground, until they were seen by some of the
Canadians, and raised their hands as a sign of surrender.

It may have been that the absence of the commander of the support line
was the reason for the poor effort made to counter-attack yesterday
after the Canadian assault had swept through Passchendaele and on the
right and on the left had fought along the crest of the Goudberg spur
through Meetscheele and Mosselmarkt. I think there must have been other
reasons, but whether or no it is certain that no big attack developed.
Groups of men were seen assembling yesterday at various places to the
north of Passchendaele, but these were scattered by our gun-fire. Other
groups were seen to the north of Mosselmarkt on the left, but these were
also broken up and did not draw near. One officer tried to get up his
men, but when he saw there was no support, and that our shell-fire was
heavy, he retired, and a few of his men were taken prisoners. After
fierce gun-fire yesterday afternoon all along the crest of the ridge,
the enemy's bombardment slackened off, and the night was quieter than
the Canadians had expected, though Passchendaele and its neighbourhood
could not be called a really quiet spot.

I have told already in my message yesterday the general outline of the
Canadian attack, which has won ground for which so many thousands of our
men have been fighting, up the slopes and through the valleys along the
spurs, and since the beginning of the battle of Flanders, until only
this crown at the northern end of the ridge remained to be dragged from
the enemy's grasp. In Passchendaele itself the Prussian garrison did
not fight very stubbornly, but fled, if the men had any chance, as soon
as the Canadians were sighted at close quarters. In spite of the severe
machine-gun fire the Canadian advance on that right wing was rapid and
complete, and they sent back about 230 prisoners from the blockhouses
and cellars and shell-craters during the morning. The action was more
difficult on the left, up from Meetscheele to Mosselmarkt and Goudberg,
a distance of more than a thousand yards, and a farther objective than
that of their comrades on the right. The Canadians here on the left were
confronted with a difficult problem, owing to the nature of the ground.
Below the Goudberg spur on its western side was the horrible swamp into
which the Artists, Bedfords, and others had plunged when they made their
desperate attack in the last days of October. The enemy had outposts in
these marshes at Vine Cottage--a sweet, pitiful name for such a
place--and Vanity Farm. For a time they had thrust a wedge into our line
here on the left of the Canadians between Source Trench and Source Farm,
but, as I have already told, an heroic little attack by English and
Canadian troops drove them out before yesterday's battle, and these
small groups of men held on grimly under great difficulties, quite
isolated in their bog. It was necessary to capture Vine Cottage in order
to defend the Canadian left flank in this last attack, and for that
purpose a small body of Canadians were sent off the night before last to
seize it and hold it, while the main assault of the Canadian left wing,
avoiding the swamp altogether there, was to attack along the Goudberg
spur. This plan of action was carried out, but not without hard fighting
round Vine Cottage in the swamp. All day yesterday there was very little
news of that fight, for a long time no news. The headquarters of the
brigade was having a hard time under intense shell-fire, and had lost
many signallers and runners. The men in the swamp had no communication
with the rest of the battle-front, and fought their fight alone and
unseen. It was a hard and bloody little action. The German garrison of
Vine Cottage fought with great courage and desperately, not making any
sign of surrender, and using their machine-guns savagely. By working
through the swamp and getting on short rushes to close quarters, the
Canadians were able at last to close round this blockhouse and storm it.
The survivors of the garrison then surrendered, and they numbered forty
men. Meanwhile on the high road of Goudberg the main left wing of the
Canadian troops took the ground that was once Meetscheele village in
their first wave of assault, and afterwards closed round Mosselmarkt.
Here in the desert of shell-craters and wreckage there were some
concrete cellars and forts, one of them being used as a battalion
headquarters and another as a field dressing-station. Over a hundred
prisoners were gathered in from this neighbourhood, not in big batches,
but scattered about the ground in shell-craters and cellars. Three
German field-guns were captured, with other trophies, including stores
of ammunition. It will never be known how many prisoners were taken
yesterday. Many of them never reached our lines, and never will. They
were killed by their own barrage-fire, which swept over all this
territory when the enemy knew that he had lost it. Rain fell in the
afternoon, and more heavily to-day, in sudden storms which are broken
through at times by bursts of sunshine gleaming over all the wet fields,
so that there is far visibility until the next storm comes and all the
landscape of war is veiled in mist. It is a dreary and tragic landscape,
and though I have seen four autumns of war and the long, wet winters of
this Flemish country, the misery of it and the squalor of it struck me
anew to-day, as though I saw it with fresh eyes. In all this country
round Ypres, still the capital of the battlefields, holding in
its poor, stricken bones the soul of all this tragedy, and still
shelled--yesterday very heavily--by an enemy who even now will not let
its dust alone, there is nothing but destruction and the engines of
destruction. The trees are smashed, and the ground is littered with
broken things, and the earth is ploughed into deep pits and furrows by
three years of shell-fire, and it is all oozy and liquid and slimy.

Our Army is like an upturned ant-heap in all this mud, and in the old
battle-grounds they have dug themselves in and built little homes for
themselves and settled down to a life of industry between one
shell-crater and another, and one swamp and another, for the long spell
of winter warfare which has now enveloped them, and while they are
waiting for another year of war, unless Peace comes with the Spring.


    PRINTED AT THE COMPLETE PRESS
    WEST NORWOOD LONDON


       *       *       *       *       *


Transcriber's Notes

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

In the captions, a caret (^) denotes that the following letter
is a superscript.

Thought breaks have been used consistently before a section that starts
with a new date.

Captions have been added to "Illustrations" where they
are lacking.

Hyphens added: battle-ground (p. 174), pock-marked (p. 243), bog-land
(p. 243), hop-fields (page 257), water-spouts (p. 379).

Hyphens removed: skyline (p. 141), blockhouse (p. 243), armpits (p.
331).

Page 58: "wooded" changed to "wooden" (his wooden bridges).

Page 62: "Oberlieutenant" changed to "Oberleutnant".

Page 82: "penumonia" changed to "pneumonia" (died of weakness and
pneumonia).

Page 150: "Tilloy-les-Mufflains" changed to "Tilloy-les-Mufflaines".

Page 160: "highly" changed to "lightly" (proportion of highly wounded).

Page 163: "Spanbeckmolen" changed to "Spanbroekmolen".

Page 203: "Blaupoortbeek" changed to "Blawepoortbeek".

Page 222: "büer" changed to "über" (Viel tausend über Nacht) and "durich
den Frühlinges jubel" changed to "durch den Frühlingesjubel".

Page 246: "deadful" changed to "dreadful" (their dreadful night).

Page 269: "Thiépval" changed to "Thiepval".

Page 323: "matellic" changed to "metallic" (metallic tinkling sound).





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