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Title: Life in a Tank
Author: Haigh, Richard, 1895-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Life in a Tank" ***

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LIFE IN A TANK

   [Illustration: A TANK ON ITS WAY INTO ACTION]



LIFE IN A TANK

_By_
RICHARD HAIGH, M.C.
CAPTAIN IN THE TANK CORPS

_With Illustrations_


[Illustration]


BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
The Riverside Press Cambridge



COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY RICHARD HAIGH

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

_Published June 1918_



Contents


I. The Meaning of the Tank Corps                                1

II. First Days of Training                                     11

III. Later Days of Training                                    37

IV. Moving up the Line                                         49

V. Preparations for the Show                                   61

VI. The First Battle                                           76

VII. The Second Battle                                         90

VIII. Rest and Discipline                                     120

IX. A Philosophy of War                                       128



Illustrations


A Tank on its Way into Action                      _Frontispiece_
  British Official Photograph

King George and Queen Mary inspecting a Tank on the British
  Front in France                                               8
  British Official Photograph

A British Tank and its Crew in New York                        20
  Photograph by Underwood & Underwood

A Tank moving to the Attack down what was once a Main Street   56
  British Official Photograph

A Tank going over a Trench on its Way into Action              72
  British Official Photograph

A Tank halfway over the Top and awaiting the Order to
  Advance in the Battle of Menin Road                          80
  Photograph by Underwood & Underwood

A Tank bringing in a Captured German Gun under Protection
  of Camouflage                                               112
  Photograph by Underwood & Underwood

A British Tank in the Liberty Loan Parade in New York         124
  Photograph by Underwood & Underwood



LIFE IN A TANK



I

THE MEANING OF THE TANK CORPS


TANKS!

To the uninitiated--as were we in those days when we returned to the
Somme, too late to see the tanks make their first dramatic
entrance--the name conjures up a picture of an iron monster, breathing
fire and exhaling bullets and shells, hurling itself against the
enemy, unassailable by man and impervious to the most deadly engines
of war; sublime, indeed, in its expression of indomitable power and
resolution.

This picture was one of the two factors which attracted us toward the
Heavy Branch Machine-Gun Corps--as the Tank Corps was known in the
first year of its being. On the Somme we had seen a derelict tank,
wrecked, despoiled of her guns, and forsaken in No Man's Land. We had
swarmed around and over her, wild with curiosity, much as the
Lilliputians must have swarmed around the prostrate Gulliver. Our
imagination was fired.

The second factor was, frankly, that we were tired of going over the
top as infantrymen. The first time that a man goes into an attack, he
as a rule enjoys it. He has no conception of its horrors,--no, not
horrors, for war possesses no horrors,--but, rather, he has no
knowledge of the sudden realization of the sweetness of life that
comes to a man when he is "up against it." The first time, it is a
splendid, ennobling novelty. And as for the "show" itself, in actual
practice it is more like a dream which only clarifies several days
later, after it is all over. But to do the same thing a second and
third and fourth time, is to bring a man face to face with Death in
its fullest and most realistic uncertainty. In soldier jargon he "gets
most awful wind up." It is five minutes before "Zero Hour." All
preparations are complete. You are waiting for the signal to hop over
the parapet. Very probably the Boche knows that you are coming, and
is already skimming the sandbags with his machine guns and knocking
little pieces of earth and stone into your face. Extraordinary, how
maddening is the sting of these harmless little pebbles and bits of
dirt! The bullets ricochet away with a peculiar singing hiss, or crack
overhead when they go too high. The shells which burst on the other
side of the parapet shake the ground with a dull thud and crash. There
are two minutes to wait before going over. Then is the time when a man
feels a sinking sensation in his stomach; when his hands tremble ever
so slightly, and when he offers up a pathetic little prayer to God
that if he's a bit of a sportsman he may be spared from death, should
his getting through not violate the divine and fatalistic plans. He
has that unpleasant lack of knowledge of what comes beyond. For after
all, with the most intense belief in the world, it is hard to
reconcile the comforting feeling of what one knows with that terrible
dread of the unknown.

A man has no great and glorious ideas that nothing matters because he
is ready to die for his country. He is, of course, ready to die for
her. But he does not think about it. He lights a cigarette and tries
to be nonchalant, for he knows that his men are watching him, and it
is his duty to keep up a front for their sake. Probably, at the same
time, they are keeping up a front for him. Then the Sergeant Major
comes along, cool and smiling, as if he were out for a stroll at home.
Suddenly he is an immense comfort. One forgets that sinking feeling in
the stomach and thinks, "How easy and jolly he is! What a splendid
fellow!" Immediately, one begins unconsciously to imitate him. Then
another thinks the same thing about one, and begins to imitate too. So
it passes on, down the line. But there is nothing heroic or exalting
in going over the top.

This, then, was our possible second reason for preferring to attack
inside bullet-proof steel; not that death is less likely in a tank,
but there seems to be a more sporting chance with a shell than with a
bullet. The enemy infantryman looks along his sight and he has you for
a certainty, but the gunner cannot be so accurate and twenty yards
may mean a world of difference. Above all, the new monster had our
imaginations in thrall. Here were novelty and wonderful developments.

In the end of 1916, therefore, a certain number of officers and men
received their orders to join the H.B.M.G.C., and proceeded
sorrowfully and joyfully away from the trenches. Sorrowfully, because
it is a poor thing to leave your men and your friends in danger, and
get out of it yourself into something new and fresh; joyfully, because
one is, after all, but human.

About thirty miles behind the line some villages were set aside for
the housing and training of the new units. Each unit had a nucleus of
men who had already served in tanks, with the new arrivals spread
around to make up to strength.

The new arrivals came from all branches of the Service; Infantry,
Sappers, Gunners, Cavalry, and the Army Service Corps. Each man was
very proud of his own Branch; and a wonderfully healthy rivalry and
affection sprang up between them. The gunner twitted the sapper, the
cavalryman made jokes at the A.S.C., and the infantryman groused at
the whole lot. But all knew at the bottom of their hearts, how each is
essential to the other.

It was to be expected when all these varied men came together, that
the inculcating of a proper _esprit de corps_--the training of each
individual in an entirely new science for the benefit of the
whole--would prove a very difficult and painstaking task. But the
wonderful development, however, in a few months, of a large,
heterogeneous collection of men into a solid, keen, self-sacrificing
unit, was but another instance of the way in which war improves the
character and temperament of man.

It was entirely new for men who were formerly in a regiment, full of
traditions, to find themselves in the Tank Corps. Here was a Corps,
the functions of which resulted from an idea born of the exigencies of
this science-demanding war. Unlike every other branch of the Service,
it has no regimental history to direct it, no traditions upon which to
build, and still more important from a practical point of view, no
experience from which to draw for guidance, either in training or in
action. In the Infantry, the attack has resulted from a steady
development in ideas and tactics, with past wars to give a foundation
and this present one to suggest changes and to bring about remedies
for the defects which crop up daily. With this new weapon, which was
launched on the Somme on September 15, 1916, the tactics had to be
decided upon with no realistic experimentation as ground work; and,
moreover, with the very difficult task of working in concert with
other arms of the Service that had had two years of fighting, from
which to learn wisdom.

With regard to discipline, too,--of all things the most important, for
the success of a battle has depended, does, and always will depend,
upon the state of discipline of the troops engaged,--all old regiments
have their staff of regular instructors to drill and teach recruits.
In them has grown up that certain feeling and loyalty which time and
past deeds have done so much to foster and cherish. Here were we,
lacking traditions, history, and experience of any kind.

It is easy to realize the responsibility that lay not only upon the
Chief of this new Corps, but upon each individual and lowest member
thereof. It was for us all to produce _esprit de corps_, and to
produce it quickly. It was necessary for us to develop a love of the
work, not because we felt it was worth while, but because we knew that
success or failure depended on each man's individual efforts.

But, naturally, the real impetus came from the top, and no admiration
or praise can be worthy of that small number of men in whose hands the
real destinies of this new formation lay; who were continually
devising new schemes and ideas for binding the whole together, and for
turning that whole into a highly efficient, up-to-date machine.

    [Illustration: KING GEORGE AND QUEEN MARY INSPECTING A TANK ON
    THE BRITISH FRONT IN FRANCE]

"How did the tank happen to be invented?" is a common question. The
answer is that in past wars experience has made it an axiom that the
defenders suffer more casualties than the attacking forces. From the
first days of 1914, however, this condition was reversed, and whole
waves of attacking troops were mown down by two or three machine guns,
each manned, possibly, by not more than three men. There may be in a
certain sector, before an attack, an enormous preliminary bombardment
which is destined to knock out guns, observation posts, dumps, men,
and above all, machine-gun emplacements. Nevertheless, it has been
found in actual practice that despite the most careful observation and
equally careful study of aeroplane photographs, there are, as a rule,
just one or two machine guns which, either through bad luck or through
precautions on the part of the enemy, have escaped destruction. These
are the guns which inflict the damage when the infantrymen go over and
which may hold up a whole attack.

It was thought, therefore, that a machine might be devised which would
cross shell-craters, wire and trenches, and be at the same time
impervious to bullets, and which would contain a certain number of
guns to be used for knocking out such machine guns as were still in
use, or to lay low the enemy infantry. With this idea, a group of men,
in the end of 1915, devised the present type of heavy armoured car. In
order to keep the whole plan as secret as possible, about twenty-five
square miles of ground in Great Britain were set aside and surrounded
with armed guards. There, through all the spring and early summer of
1916, the work was carried on, without the slightest hint of its
existence reaching the outside world. Then, one night, the tanks were
loaded up and shipped over to France, to make that first sensational
appearance on the Somme, with the success which warranted their
further production on a larger and more ambitious scale.



II

FIRST DAYS OF TRAINING


We were at a rest camp on the Somme when the chit first came round
regarding the joining of the H.B.M.G.C. The Colonel came up to us one
day with some papers in his hand.

"Does anybody want to join this?" he asked.

We all crowded around to find out what "this" might be.

"Tanks!" some one cried. Some were facetious; others indifferent; a
few mildly interested. But no one seemed very keen about it,
especially as the tanks in those days had a reputation for rather
heavy casualties. Only Talbot, remembering the derelict and the
interest she had inspired, said, with a laugh,--

"I rather think I'll put my name down, sir. Nothing will come of it,
but one might just as well try." And taking one of the papers he
filled it in, while the others stood around making all the remarks
appropriate to such an occasion.

Two or three weeks went by and Talbot had forgotten all about it, in
the more absorbing events which crowded months into days on the Somme.

One day the Adjutant came up to him and, smiling, put out his hand.

"Well, good-bye, Talbot. Good luck."

When a man puts out his hand and says "Good-bye," you naturally take
the proffered hand and say "Good-bye," too. Talbot found himself
saying "Good-bye" before he realized what he was doing. Then he
laughed.

"Now that I've said 'Good-bye,' where am I going?" he asked.

"To the Tanks," the Adjutant replied.

So he was really to go; really to leave behind his battalion, his
friends, his men, and his servant. For a moment the Somme and the camp
seemed the most desirable places on earth. He thought he must have
been a fool the day he signed that paper signifying his desire to join
another Corps. But it was done now. There were his orders in the
Colonel's hand.

"When do I start, sir? And where do I go?" he asked.

"You're to leave immediately for B----, wherever that is. Take your
horse as far as the railhead and get a train for B----, where the Tank
Headquarters are. Good-bye, Talbot; I'm sorry to lose you." A silent
handshake, and they parted.

Talbot's kit was packed and sent off on the transport. A few minutes
later he was shaking hands all round. His spirits were rising at the
thought of this new adventure, but it was a wrench, leaving his
regiment. It was, in a way, he thought, as if he were turning his back
on an old friend. The face of Dobbin, his groom, as he brought the
horses round was not conducive to cheer. He must get the business over
and be off. So he mounted and rode off through a gray, murky drizzle,
to the railhead about eight miles away. There came the parting with
Dobbin and with his pony. Horses mean as much as men sometimes, and
his had worked so nobly with him through the mud on the Somme. He
wondered if there would be any one in the new place who would be so
faithful to him as Polly. Finally, there was Dobbin riding away, back
to M----, with the horse, and its empty saddle, trotting along beside
him. It was simply rotten leaving them all!

One has, however, little time for introspection in the Army, and
especially when one engages in a tilt with an R.T.O. The R.T.O. has
been glorified by an imaginative soul with the title of "Royal
Transportation Officer." As a matter of fact, the "R" does not stand
for "royal," but for "railway," and the "T" is "transport," nothing so
grandiose as "transportation." Now an R.T.O.'s job, though it may be a
safe one, is not enviable. He is forced to combine the qualities of
booking-clerk, station-master, goods-agent, information clerk, and day
and night watchman all into one. In consequence of this it is
necessary for the traveller's speech and attitude to be strictly
soothing and complimentary. Talbot's obsession at this moment was as
to whether B---- was near or far back from the line.

If he supposed that B---- was "near" the line, the R.T.O. might tell
him--just to prove how kind Fate is--that it was a good many miles in
the rear. But no such luck. The R.T.O. coldly informed Talbot that he
hadn't the slightest idea where B---- was. He only knew that trains
went there. And, by the way, the trains didn't go there direct. It
would be necessary for him to change at Boulogne. Talbot noticed these
signs of thawing with delight. And to change at Boulogne! Life was
brighter.

Travelling in France in the northern area, at the present time, would
seem to be a refutation of the truth that a straight line is the
shortest distance between two points. For in order to arrive at one's
destination, it is usually necessary to go about sixty miles out of
one's way,--hence the necessity for Talbot's going to Boulogne in
order to get a train running north.

He arrived at Boulogne only to find that the train for B---- left in
an hour.

He strolled out into the streets. Boulogne had then become the Mecca
for all those in search of gaiety. Here were civilized people once
again. And a restaurant with linen and silver and shining glass, and
the best dinner he had ever eaten.

When he had paid his bill and gone out, he stopped at the corner of
the street just to look at the people passing by. A large part of the
monotony of this war is occasioned, of course, by the fact that the
soldier sees nothing but the everlasting drab of uniforms. When a man
is in the front line, or just behind, for weeks at a time he sees
nothing but soldiers, soldiers, soldiers! Each man has the same
coloured uniform; each has the same pattern tunic, the same puttees.
Each is covered with the same mud for days at a time. It is the
occasion for a thrill when a "Brass Hat" arrives, for he at least has
the little brilliant red tabs on his tunic! A man sometimes finds
himself envying the soldiers of the old days who could have occasional
glimpses of the dashing uniforms of their officers, and although a red
coat makes a target of a man, the colour is at least more cheerful
than the eternal khaki. The old-time soldier had his red coat and his
bands, blaring encouragingly. The soldier of to-day has his drab and
no music at all, unless he sings. And every man in an army is not
gifted with a voice.

So Talbot looked with joy on the charming dresses and still more
charming faces of the women and girls who passed him. Even the men in
their civilian clothes were good to look upon.

Riding on French trains is very soothing unless one is in a hurry. But
unlike a man in civil life, the soldier has no interest in the speed
of trains. The civilian takes it as a personal affront if his train is
a few minutes late, or if it does not go as fast as he thinks it
should. But the soldier can afford to let the Government look after
such minor details. The train moved along at a leisurely pace through
the lovely French countryside, making frequent friendly stops at
wayside stations. On the platform at Étaples station was posted a
rhyme which read:--

    "A wise old owl lived in an oak,
    The more he saw, the less he spoke;
    The less he spoke, the more he heard;
    Soldiers should imitate that old bird."

It was the first time that Talbot had seen this warlike ditty. Its
intention was to guard soldiers from saying too much in front of
strangers. Talbot vowed, however, to apply its moral to himself at all
times and under all conditions.

From nine in the morning until half-past two in the afternoon they
rolled along, and had covered by this time the extraordinary distance
of about forty miles! Here at last was the station of Saint-P----.

Talbot looked about him. Standing near was an officer with the
Machine-Gun Corps Badge, whom he hailed, and questioned about the
Headquarters of the Tank Corps.

"About ten miles from here. Are you going there?" the fellow asked.

Talbot explained that he hoped to, and being saturated with Infantry
ideas, he wondered if a passing motor lorry might give him a lift.

The man laughed. "Why don't you telephone Headquarters and ask them to
send a car over for you?" he asked.

Talbot did not quite know whether the fellow were ragging him or not.
He decided that he was, for who had ever heard of "telephoning for a
car"?

"Oh, I don't believe I'll do that--thanks very much for the hint, all
the same," he said. "Just tell me which road to take and I'll be quite
all right."

The officer smiled.

"I'm quite serious about it," he said. "We all telephone for cars when
we need them. There's really no point in your walking--in fact,
they'll be surprised if you stroll in upon them. Try telephoning and
you'll find they won't die of shock."

Partly to see whether they would or not, and partly because he found
the prospect of a motor car more agreeable than a ten-mile walk,
Talbot telephoned. Here he experienced another pleasant surprise, for
he was put through to Headquarters with no difficulty at all. A
cheerful voice answered and he stated his case.

"Cheero," the voice replied. "We'll have a car there for you in an
hour--haven't one now, but there will be one ready shortly."

Saint-P---- was a typical French town, and Talbot strolled around.
There were soldiers everywhere, but the town had never seen the
Germans, and it was a pleasant place. There was, too, a refreshing
lack of thick mud--at least it was not a foot deep.

Although Talbot could not quite believe that the car would
materialize, it proved to be a substantial fact in the form of a
box-body, and in about an hour he was speeding toward Headquarters. It
was dark when they reached the village, and as they entered, he
experienced that curious feeling of apprehensive expectancy with which
one approaches the spot where one is to live and work for some time to
come. The car slowed up to pass some carts on the road, and started
forward with such a jerk that Talbot was precipitated from the back of
the machine into the road. He picked himself up, covered with mud. The
solemn face of the driver did not lessen his discomfiture. Here was a
strange village, strange men, and he was covered with mud!

    [Illustration: _Copyright by Underwood & Underwood, N.Y._
    A BRITISH TANK AND ITS CREW IN NEW YORK]

Making himself as presentable as possible, Talbot reported to
Headquarters, and was posted to "J" Company, 4th Battalion. That night
he had dinner with them. New men were arriving every few minutes, and
the next day, after he had been transferred to "K" Company, they
continued to arrive. The nucleus of this company were officers of the
original tanks, three or four of them perhaps, and the rest was made
up with the newcomers.

Men continued to arrive in driblets, from the beginning of December to
the first of January. When a new man joins an old regiment there is a
reserve about the others which is rather chilling. They wait to see
whether he is going to fit in, before they make any attempts to fit
him in. In a way, this very aloofness makes for comfort on the part of
the newcomer. At mess, he is left alone until he is absorbed
naturally. It gives him a chance to find his level.

All this was different with the Tank Corps. With the exception of the
very few officers who were "old men," we were all painfully new, so
that we regarded one another without criticism and came to know each
other without having to break through the wall of reserve and
instinctive mistrust which is characteristically British. A happy bond
of good-fellowship was formed immediately.

The first few days were spent in finding billets for the men. They
were finally quartered at a hospice in the village. This was a private
almshouse, in charge of a group of French nuns, where lived a number
of old men and women, most of them in the last stages of consumption.
The Hospice consisted of the old Abbey of Ste. Berthe, built in the
twelfth century, and several outbuildings around a courtyard. In these
barns lived the men, and one large room was reserved for the officers'
mess. The Company Orderly Room and Quartermaster's Stores were also
kept in the Hospice, and four or five officers were quartered above
the Refectory. The buildings were clean and comfortable, and the only
drawback lay in the fact that one sometimes found it objectionable to
have to look at these poor old creatures, dragging themselves around.
They had nothing to do, it seemed, but to wait and die. One old man
was a gruesome sight. He was about ninety years old and spent his days
walking about the courtyard, wearing a cigarette tin hung around his
neck, into which he used to cough with such terrible effort that it
seemed as if he would die every time the spasm shook him. As a matter
of fact, he and many others did die before we left the village: the
extreme cold was too much for them; or perhaps it was the fact that
their quiet had been invaded by the "mad English."

It was during this time that Talbot developed a positive genius for
disappearing whenever a gray habit came into sight. The nuns were
splendid women: kind and hospitable and eager for our comfort, but
they did not like to be imposed upon, however slightly. The first
thing that Frenchwomen do--and these nuns were no exception--when
soldiers are billeted with them, is to learn who is the officer in
charge, in order that they may lose no time in bringing their
complaints to him. The Mother Superior of the Hospice selected Talbot
with unerring zeal. His days were made miserable, until in
self-defence he thought of formulating a new calendar of "crimes" for
his men, in which would be included all the terrible offences which
the Mother Superior told off to him.

Did the Colonel send for Captain Talbot, and did Talbot hurry off to
obey the command, just so surely would the Mother Superior select that
moment to bar his path.

"Ah, mon Capitaine!" she would exclaim, with a beaming smile. "J'ai
quelque chose à vous dire. Un soldat--"

Talbot would break in politely, just as she had settled down for a
good long chat, and explain that the Colonel wished to see him. As
well try to move the Rock. It was either stand and listen, or go into
the presence of his superior officer with an excited nun following him
with tales of the "crimes" his men had committed. Needless to say, the
Mother Superior conquered. Talbot would have visions of some fairly
serious offence, and would hear the tale of a soldier who had borrowed
a bucket an hour ago, promising, on his honour as a soldier of the
King, to return it in fifty minutes at the most.

"And it is now a full sixty minutes by the clock on the kitchen
mantel, M'sieu le Capitaine," she would say, her colour mounting, "and
your soldier has not returned my bucket. If he does not bring it back,
when can we get another bucket?"

And so on, until Talbot would pacify her, promising her that the
bucket would be returned. Then he would go on to the Colonel,
breathless and perturbed, his mind so full of buckets that there was
hardly room for the business of the Tank Corps. Small wonder that the
sight of a gray habit was enough to unnerve the man.

He, himself, was billeted with a French family, just around the corner
from the Hospice. The head of the family had been, in the halcyon days
before the war, the village butcher. There was now Madame, the little
Marie, a sturdy boy about twelve, and the old Grand'mère. The husband
was away, of course,--"dans les tranchées," explained Madame with
copious tears.

Talbot was moved to sympathy, and made a few tactful inquiries as to
where the husband was now, and how he had fared.

"Il est maintenant à Paris," said Madame with a sigh.

"In Paris! What rank has he?--a General, maybe?"

"Ah, M'sieu s'amuse," said Madame, brightening up. No, her husband was
a chef at an officers' mess in Paris, she explained proudly. He had
been there since the war broke out. He would soon come home, the
Saints be praised. Then the Captain would hear him tell his tales of
life in the Army!

The hero came home one day, and great was the rejoicing. Thrilling
evenings the family spent around the stove while they listened to
stories of great deeds. On the day when his _permission_ was finished,
and he set out for his hazardous post once more, great was the
lamenting. Madame wept. All the brave man's relatives poured in to
kiss him good-bye. The departing soldier wept, himself. Even
Grand'mère desisted for that day from cracking jokes, which she was
always doing in a patois that to Talbot was unintelligible.

But they were very kind to Talbot, and very courageous through the
hard winter. When he lay ill with fever in his little low room, where
the frost whitened the plaster and icicles hung from the ceiling,
Madame and all the others were most solicitous for his comfort. His
appreciation and thanks were sincere.

By the middle of December the Battalion had finally settled down and
we began our training. Our first course of study was in the mechanism
of the tanks. We marched down, early one morning, to an engine hangar
that was both cold and draughty. We did not look in the least like
embryo heroes. Over our khaki we wore ill-fitting blue garments which
men on the railways, who wear them, call "boilers." The effect of
wearing them was to cause us to slouch along, and suddenly Talbot
burst out laughing at the spectacle. Then he remembered having heard
that some of the original "Tankers" had, during the Somme battles,
been mistaken for Germans in their blue dungarees. They had been fired
on from some distance away, by their own infantry; though nothing
fatal ensued. In consequence, before the next "show" chocolate ones
were issued.

In the shadows of the engine shed, a gray armour-plated hulk loomed
up.

"There it is!" cried Gould, and started forward for a better look at
the "Willie."

Across the face of Rigden, the instructor, flashed a look of scorn and
pain. Just such a look you may have seen on the face of a young mother
when you refer to her baby as "it."

"Don't call a tank 'it,' Gould," he said with admirable patience. "A
tank is either 'he' or 'she'; there is no 'it.'"

"In Heaven's name, what's the difference?" asked Gould, completely
mystified. The rest of us were all ears.

"The female tank carries machine guns only," Rigden explained. "The
male tank carries light field guns as well as machine guns. Don't ever
make the mistake again, any of you fellows."

Having firmly fixed in our minds the fact that we were to begin on a
female "Willie," the instruction proceeded rapidly. Rigden opened a
little door in the side of the tank. It was about as big as the door
to a large, old-fashioned brick oven built into the chimney beside the
fireplace. His head disappeared and his body followed after. He was
swallowed up, save for a hand that waved to us and a muffled voice
which said, "Come on in, you fellows."

Gould went first. He scrambled in, was lost to sight, and then we
heard his voice.

McKnutt's infectious laugh rose above the sound of our mirth. But not
for long.

"Hurry up!" called Rigden. "You next, McKnutt."

McKnutt disappeared. Then to our further astonishment his rich Irish
voice could be heard upraised in picturesque malediction. What was
Rigden doing to them inside the tank to provoke such profanity from
them both? The rest of us scrambled to find out. We soon learned.

When you enter a tank, you go in head first, entering by the side
doors. (There is an emergency exit--a hole in the roof which is used
by the wise ones.) You wiggle your body in with more or less grace,
and then you stand up. Then, if it is the first time, you are usually
profane. For you have banged your head most unmercifully against the
steel roof and you learn, once and for all, that it is impossible to
stand upright in a tank. Each one of us received our baptism in this
way. Seven of us, crouched in uncomfortable positions, ruefully rubbed
our heads, to Rigden's intense enjoyment. Our life in a tank had
begun!

We looked around the little chamber with eager curiosity. Our first
thought was that seven men and an officer could never do any work in
such a little place. Eight of us were, at present, jammed in here, but
we were standing still. When it came to going into action and moving
around inside the tank, it would be impossible,--there was no room to
pass one another. So we thought. In front are two stiff seats, one for
the officer and one for the driver. Two narrow slits serve as
portholes through which to look ahead. In front of the officer is a
map board, and gun mounting. Behind the engine, one on each side, are
the secondary gears. Down the middle of the tank is the powerful
petrol engine, part of it covered with a hood, and along either side a
narrow passage through which a man can slide from the officer's and
driver's seat back and forth to the mechanism at the rear. There are
four gun turrets, two on each side. There is also a place for a gun in
the rear, but this is rarely used, for "Willies" do not often turn
tail and flee!

Along the steel walls are numberless ingenious little cupboards for
stores, and ammunition cases are stacked high. Every bit of space is
utilized. Electric bulbs light the interior. Beside the driver are the
engine levers. Behind the engine are the secondary gears, by which the
machine is turned in any direction. All action inside is directed by
signals, for when the tank moves the noise is such as to drown a man's
voice.

All that first day and for many days after, we struggled with the
intricacies of the mechanism. Sometimes, Rigden despaired of us. We
might just as well go back to our regiments, unless they were so glad
to be rid of us that they would refuse. On other days, he beamed with
pride, even when Darwin and the Old Bird distinguished themselves by
asking foolish questions. "Darwin" is, of course, not his right name.
Because he came from South Africa and looked like a baboon, we called
him "Baboon." So let evolution evolve the name of "Darwin" for him in
these pages. As for the Old Bird, no other name could have suited him
so well. He was the craftiest old bird at successfully avoiding work
we had ever known, and yet he was one of the best liked men in the
Company. He was one of those men who are absolutely essential to a
mess because of his never-failing cheer and gaiety. He never did a
stroke of work that he could possibly "wangle" out of. A Scotchman by
birth, he was about thirty-eight years old and had lived all over the
world. He had a special fondness for China. Until he left "K" Company,
he was never known by any other name than that of "Old Bird."

There was one man, from another Company, who gave us the greatest
amusement during our Tank-mechanism Course. He was pathetically in
earnest, but appeared to have no brains at all. Sometimes, while
asking each other catch questions, we would put the most senseless
ones to him.

Darwin would say, "Look here, how is the radiator connected with the
differential?"

The poor fellow would ponder for a minute or two and then reply, "Oh!
through the magneto."

He naturally failed again and again to pass his tests, and was
returned to his old Corps.

Somehow we learned not to attempt to stand upright in our steel
prison. Before long, McKnutt had ceased his remarks about sardines in
a tin and announced, "Sure! there is plenty of room and to spare for a
dozen others here." The Old Bird no longer compared the atmosphere,
when we were all shut in tight, with the Black Hole of Calcutta. In a
word, we had succumbed to the "Willies," and would permit no man to
utter a word of criticism against them.

It is necessary here, perhaps, to explain why we always call our
machines "Willies." When the tanks were first being experimented
upon, they evolved two, a big and a little one. Standing together they
looked so ludicrous, that they were nicknamed "Big" and "Little
Willie." The name stuck; and now, no one in the Corps refers to his
machine in any other way.

A few days before Christmas, our tank course was finished, and the Old
Bird suggested a celebration. McKnutt led the cheering. Talbot had an
idea.

"Let's get a box-body and go over to Amiens and do our Christmas
shopping," he said.

A chorus of "Jove, that's great!" arose. Every one made himself useful
excepting the Old Bird, who made up by contributing more than any one
else to the gaiety of the occasion. The car was secured, and we all
piled in, making early morning hideous with our songs.

We sped along over the snowy roads. War seemed very far away. We were
extraordinarily light-hearted. After about twenty miles the cold
sobered us down a little. Suddenly, the car seemed to slip from under
us and we found ourselves piled up in the soft snow of the road. A
rear wheel had shot off, and it went rolling along on its own.
Fortunately we had been going rather slowly since we were entering a
town, and no one was hurt. Borwick, the musician of the Company,
looked like a snow image; Darwin and the Old Bird were locked in each
other's arms, and had an impromptu and friendly wrestling match in a
snowdrift. McKnutt was invoking the aid of the Saints in his
endeavours to prevent the snow from trickling down his back. Talbot
and Gould, who had got off lightly, supplied the laughter. The wheel
was finally rescued and restored to its proper place, and we crawled
along at an ignominious pace until the spires of Amiens welcomed us.

We shopped in the afternoon, buying all sorts of ridiculous things,
and collecting enough stores to see us through a siege. After a
hilarious dinner at the Hôtel de l'Univers (never had the Old Bird
been so witty and gay), we started back about eleven o'clock, and
forgetting our injured wheel, raced out of the town toward home. A
short distance down the main boulevard, the wheel again came off, and
this time the damage could not be repaired. There was nothing for it
but to wait until morning, and it was a disconsolate group that
wandered about. All the hotels were full up. Finally, a Y.M.C.A. hut
made some of us welcome. We sat about, reading and talking, until we
dozed off in our chairs. The next morning we got a new wheel and ran
gingerly the sixty-odd miles back, to regale the others with enviable
tales of our pre-Christmas festivities.



III

LATER DAYS OF TRAINING


"Well, thank Heaven, that sweat's over," said the Old Bird the night
after we finished our tank course, and had our celebration. He
stretched luxuriously.

"Yes, but you're starting off again on the gun to-morrow morning,"
said the Major, cheerfully.

The Old Bird protested.

"But I can have a few days' rest, sir, can't I?" he said sorrowfully.

The Major laughed.

"No, you can't. You're down, so you'll have to go through with it."

So for three days we sat in the open, in the driving sleet, from
half-past eight in the morning until half-past four in the afternoon,
learning the gun. On the fourth day we finished off our course with
firing on the range. Surprising as it may seem, after two or three
rounds we could hit the very smallest object at a distance of four or
five hundred yards.

"How many more courses must we go through?" asked the Old Bird of
Rigden, as they strolled back one evening from the range. The Old Bird
was always interested in how much--or, rather, how little--work he had
before him.

"There's the machine gun; the signalling course,--you'll have to work
hard on that, but I know you don't object,--and also revolver
practice. Aren't you thrilled?"

"No, I'm not," grumbled the Old Bird. "Life isn't worth living with
all this work to do. I wish we could get into action."

"So do I," said Talbot, joining them. "But while we're waiting,
wouldn't you rather be back here with good warm billets and a
comfortable bed and plenty to eat, instead of sitting in a wet trench
with the Infantry?" He remembered an old man in his regiment who had
been with the Salvation Army at home. He would stump along on his flat
feet, trudging miles with his pack on his back, and Talbot had never
heard him complain. He was bad at drill. He could never get the orders
or formations through his head. Talbot had often lost patience with
him, but the old fellow was always cheerful. One morning, in front of
Bapaume, after a night of terrible cold, the old man could not move.
Talbot tried to cheer him up and to help him, but he said feebly: "I
think I'm done for--I don't believe I shall ever get warm. But never
mind, sir." And in a few minutes he died, as uncomplainingly as he had
lived.

"You're right, of course, Talbot," the Old Bird said. "We're very well
off here. But, I say, how I should like to be down in Boulogne for a
few days!" And until they reached the Mess, the Old Bird dilated on
the charm of Boulogne and all the luxuries he would indulge in the
next time he visited the city.

The rest of that week found us each day parading at eight o'clock in
the courtyard of the Hospice, and after instruction the various
parties marched off to their several duties. Some of us went to the
tankdrome; some of us to the hills overlooking historic Agincourt,
and others to the barn by the railroad where we practised with the
guns. Another party accompanied Borwick to a secluded spot where he
drilled them in machine-gun practice. Borwick was as skilful with a
machine gun as with a piano. This was the highest praise one could
give him.

That night at mess, Gould said suddenly:--

"To-morrow's a half day, isn't it?"

"Of course. Wake up, you idiot," said Talbot. "We're playing 'J'
Company at soccer, and on Sunday we're playing 'L' at rugger. Two
strenuous days before us. Are you feeling fit?"

Gould was feeling most awfully fit. In fact, he assured the mess that
he, alone, was a match for "J" Company.

Our soccer team was made up almost entirely of men who had been
professional players. We had great pride in them, so that on the
following afternoon, an eager crowd streamed out of the village to our
football field, which we had selected with great care. It was as flat
as a cricket pitch. A year ago it had been ploughed as part of the
French farmland, and now here were the English playing football!

Before the game began there was a good deal of cheerful chaffing on
the respective merits of the "J" and "K" Company teams. And when the
play was in progress and savage yells rent the air, the French
villagers looked on in wonder and pity. They had always believed the
English to be mad. Now they were convinced of it.

From the outset, however, "J" Company was hopelessly outclassed, and
wishing to be generous to a failing foe, we ceased our wild cheering.
"J" Company, on the other hand, wishing to exhort their team to
greater efforts, made up for our moderation, with the result that our
allies were firmly convinced that "J" Company had won the game! If
not, why should they dance up and down and wave their hats and shriek?
And even the score, five to one in favor of "K" Company, failed to
convince them entirely. But "K" went home to an hilarious tea, with a
sense of work well done.

And what of the rugger game the next day? Let us draw a veil over it.
Suffice it to say that the French congratulated "K" Company over the
outcome of that, although the score was twelve to three in favor of
"J"!

We awoke on Monday morning with a delightful feeling that something
pleasant was going to happen, for all the world the same sensation we
used to experience on waking on our birthday and suddenly remembering
that gifts were sure to appear and that there would be something
rather special for tea! By the time full consciousness returned, we
remembered that this was the day when, for the first time, the tank
was to be set in motion. Even the Old Bird was eager.

We hurry off to the tankdrome. One after another we slide in through
the little door and are swallowed up. The door is bolted behind the
last to enter. Officer and driver slip into their respective seats.
The steel shutters of the portholes click as they are opened. The
gunners take their positions. The driver opens the throttle a little
and tickles the carburetor, and the engine is started up. The driver
races the engine a moment, to warm her up. The officer reaches out a
hand and signals for first speed on each gear; the driver throws his
lever into first; he opens the throttle: the tank--our "Willie"--moves!

Supposing you were locked in a steel box, with neither portholes to
look through nor airholes to breathe from. Supposing you felt the
steel box begin to move, and, of course, were unable to see where you
were going. Can you imagine the sensation? Then you can guess the
feelings of the men in a tank,--excepting the officer and driver, who
can see ahead through their portholes,--when the monster gets under
way. There are times, of course, with the bullets flying thick and
fast, when all portholes, for officer, driver, and gunners, must be
closed. Then we plunge ahead, taking an occasional glimpse through the
special pin-point holes.

Thirty tons of steel rolls along with its human freight. Suddenly,
the driver rings a bell. He presses another button, and signals the
driver of the right-hand track into "neutral." This disconnects the
track from the engine. The tank swings around to the right. The
right-hand driver gets the signal "First speed," and we are off again,
at a right angle to our former direction.

Now we are headed for a gentle slope across the field, and as we
approach it, the tank digs her nose into the base of the hill. She
crawls up. The men in the rear tip back and enjoy it hugely. If the
hill is steep enough they may even find themselves lying flat on their
backs or standing on their heads! But no such luck. Presently they are
standing as nearly upright as it is ever possible to stand, and the
tank is balancing on the top of the slope. The driver is not expert as
yet, and we go over with an awful jolt and tumble forward. This is
rare fun!

But the instructor is not pleased. We must try it all over again. So
back again to attack the hill a second time. The top is reached once
more and we balance there. The driver throws out his clutch, we slip
over very gently, and carefully he lets the clutch in again and down
we go. The "Willie" flounders around for the fraction of a second.
Then, nothing daunted, she starts off once more. We have visions of
her sweeping all before her some day far behind the German lines.

Three or four weeks of this sort of thing, and we are hardened to it.

Our reward came at last, however. After mess one morning, when the
conversation had consisted mainly of the question, "When are we going
into a show?" with no answer to the question, we were called into the
Major's room, where he told us, in strictest secrecy, that in about
three weeks a big attack was to come off. We should go in at last!

For the next two or three weeks we studied maps and aeroplane
photographs, marking out our routes, starting-points, rear
ammunition-dumps, forward dumps, and lines of supply. At last, then,
our goal loomed up and these months of training, for the most part
interesting, but at times terribly boring, would bear fruit. Two
direct results were noticeable now on looking back to the time when we
joined. First, each man in the Battalion knew how to run a tank, how
to effect slight repairs, how to work the guns, and how to obtain the
best results from the machine. Second, and very important, was the
fact that the men and officers had got together. The crews and
officers of each section knew and trusted each other. The strangeness
of feeling that was apparent in the first days had now entirely
disappeared, and that cohesion of units which is so essential in
warfare had been accomplished. Each of us knew the other's faults and
the mistakes he was prone to make. More important still, we knew our
own faults and weaknesses and had the courage to carry on and overcome
them.

A few nights before we moved up the line, we gave a grand concert.
Borwick and the Old Bird planned it. On an occasion of this sort, the
Old Bird never grumbled at the amount of work he was obliged to do.
Some weeks before we had bought a piano from one of the inhabitants of
the village, and the piano was naturally the _pièce de résistance_ of
the concert. The Old Bird went around for days at a time, humming
scraps of music with unintelligible words which it afterwards
developed at the concert were awfully good songs of his own composing.
The Battalion tailor was called in to make up rough Pierrot costumes.
The Old Bird drilled us until we begged for mercy, while Borwick
strummed untiringly at the piano. At last the great night arrived.

A stage had been built at one end of a hangar, and curtains hung up.

The whole of the Staff and H.Q. had been invited, and the _maire_, the
_curé_, the _médecin_ of the village, and their families were also to
attend.

Promptly at eight o'clock, the concert began, with Borwick at the
piano. Everything went off without a hitch. Although "K" Company
provided most of the talent, the Battalion shared the honours of the
entertainment. Each song had a chorus, and so appreciative was our
audience that the choruses were repeated again and again. The one
"lady" of the Troupe looked charming, and "she" arranged for "her"
voice to be entirely in keeping with "her" dress and paint. The French
spectators enjoyed it hugely. They were a great encouragement, for
they laughed at everything uproariously, though it could not have been
due to their understanding of the jokes.

At ten o'clock we finished off with "God Save the King," and went back
to our billets feeling that our stay in the village had been
splendidly rounded off.



IV

MOVING UP THE LINE


Two or three days before we were due to leave, we had received orders
to pack our surplus kit, and have it at the Quartermaster's Stores at
a certain time. We drew a long breath. This meant that the actual
date, which up to the present had been somewhat indefinite, was close
at hand. We were given orders to draw our tanks and the whole Company
was marched over to work sheds about two miles away at E----, where
tanks and stores were issued.

The variety and number of little things which it is necessary to draw
when fitting out a tank for action is inconceivable. Tools, small
spares, Pyrenes, electric lamps, clocks, binoculars, telescopes,
petrol and oil funnels, oil squirts, grease guns, machine guns,
headlights, tail lamps, steel hawsers, crowbars, shovels, picks,
inspection lamps, and last, but not least, ammunition. The field-gun
ammunition has to be taken out of its boxes and placed in the shell
racks inside the tank. The S.A.A. (small arms ammunition) must be
removed from its boxes and stacked away. At the same time every single
round, before being put into the drum, must be gauged. All this has to
be done in the last two or three days, and everything must be checked
and countersigned. There is always a great deal of fun for Tank
Commanders in drawing their stores. It is a temptation, when in the
midst of all these thousands of articles, to seize the opportunity,
when no one is looking, to pocket a few extra spares and dainty little
tools, not, of course, for one's own personal benefit, but simply
because such things are always being lost or stolen, and it is
exasperating, to say the least, to find one's self, at a critical
moment, without some article which it is impossible to duplicate at
the time.

During these last few days it was a continual march for the men from
B---- to E----. Very often they were called back when their day's work
was over to draw some new article or make some alteration which had
been forgotten at the time they were in the workshops.

At last, however,--on the third day following the grand concert,--the
kits were packed, loaded on to the lorries, and sent off to E----. The
troops said "Good-bye" to the village which had been such a happy home
and school during that winter of 1916, and the officers made their
fond adieus to the mothers and daughters of the houses in which they
had been billeted.

The companies formed up and marched along to the workshops. Every one
was in high spirits, and there was a friendly race to see which
Company of the Battalion could load up their tanks in the shortest
time on to the specially constructed steel trucks.

A few days before all these activities commenced, Talbot and another
Tank Commander had gone on to the tanks' ultimate destination, A----,
a village which had been evacuated a few days before by the Germans on
their now famous retirement to the Hindenburg Line. It was a most
extraordinary sight to ride along the road from Albert to Bapaume,
which during the summer and winter of the preceding year had witnessed
such heavy fighting. The whole country on each side of the road was a
desolate vista of shell-holes as far as the eye could see. Where
villages had been, there was now no trace left of any sort of
habitation. One might think that, however heavy a bombardment, some
trace would be left of the village which had suffered. There was
literally nothing left of the village through which had run the road
they were now travelling. Over this scarred stretch of country were
dotted camps and groups of huts, with duck-boards crossing the old
shell-holes, some of which were still full of water.

On approaching B---- they saw traces everywhere of the methodical and
organized methods by which the Germans had retired. The first sign was
a huge shell-crater in the middle of the road, about forty feet deep,
which the Boche had arranged to prevent armoured cars from following
him up. If they did succeed, the transports would be delayed in
reaching them, at all events. These holes were rather a nuisance, for
the road itself was a mass of lesser shell-craters and the soft ground
on each side was impassable. The road was crowded with engineers and
labor battalions, filling in the shell-holes, and laying railways into
the outskirts of A----.

In A---- the old German notices were still standing as they had been
left. Strung across the road on a wire was a notice which read:
"Fuhrweg nach Behagnies." Every house in the town had been pulled
down. The wily Boche had not even blown them up. Instead he had saved
explosives by attaching steel hawsers to the houses and by means of
tractors had pulled them down, so that the roof and sides fell in on
the foundation. Every pump handle in the village had been broken off
short, and not a single piece of furniture was left behind. Later, we
found the furniture from this and other villages in the Hindenburg
Line.

Saddest of all, however, was the destruction of the beautiful poplar
trees which once bordered the long French roads built by Napoleon.
These had been sawn off at their base and allowed to fall on the side
of the road, not across it, as one might suppose. If they had been
allowed to fall across the road, the Boche, himself, would have been
hindered in his last preparations for his retreat. Everything was done
with military ends in view. The villages were left in such a condition
as to make them uninhabitable, the more to add to our discomfort and
to make our hardships severer. The trees were cut down only on those
parts of the road which were screened from observation from his
balloons and present trenches. In some places where the road dipped
into a valley the trees had been left untouched.

At the place where our tanks were scheduled to arrive, and which had
lately been a railhead of the Boche, all the metals had been torn up,
and in order to destroy the station itself, he had smashed the
cast-iron pillars which supported the roof, and in consequence the
whole building had fallen in. But nothing daunted, the British
engineers were even now working at top speed laying down new lines.
Some of the metals, which a few short weeks before had been lying in
countless stacks down on the quays at the Bases, now unrolled
themselves at the rate of about two and a quarter miles a day. One
interesting feature of this rapid track-laying was that when the tank
train left E----, on its two and a half days' journey down to the
railhead at A----, the track on which the train was to run was not
completed into A----. But, nevertheless, the track arrived ahead of
the train, which was the main point!

As they rode into the ruined village of A---- Talbot and his companion
came across still further evidence of the steps which the German will
take to inconvenience his enemy. In order to battle against the hordes
of rats which are so prevalent in the old parts of the line in France,
the Boche breeds cats in enormous numbers. Yet, in order to carry out
to the limit his idea that nothing of value should fall into our
hands, he had killed every cat in the village. In every house three or
four of these poor little creatures lay around with their heads
chopped off. Tabby cats, black cats, white cats, and little kittens,
all dead. Farther on, over a well at the corner of the main square was
posted a sign which read: "This well is poisoned. Do not touch. By
order. R.E."

Here and there a house had been left intact, with its furniture
untouched. It was not until later that it struck us as peculiar that
these houses had been spared from the general destruction. Two or
three days later, however, after we had moved in, and headquarters had
been established, we discovered that under many of these houses, and
at certain crossroads which had not been blown up in the usual manner,
the Boche had left mines, timed to go off at any time up to
twenty-eight days. One could never be sure that the ground underneath
one's feet would not blow up at any moment. These mines were small
boxes of high explosive, inside of which was a little metal tube with
trigger and detonator attached. Inside the tube was a powerful acid,
which, when it had eaten its way through, set free the trigger and
exploded the charge. The length of time it took for the mine to
explode was gauged by the strength or weakness of the acid in the
tube.

    [Illustration: A TANK MOVING TO THE ATTACK DOWN WHAT WAS ONCE
    A MAIN STREET]

We were also impressed with the mechanical genius of the German. The
Boche had made a veritable mechanical toy out of nearly every house in
the village which he had spared. Delightful little surprises had been
prepared for us everywhere. Kick a harmless piece of wood, and in a
few seconds a bomb exploded. Pick up a bit of string from the floor
and another bomb went off. Soon we learned to be wary of the most
innocent objects. Before touching anything we made elaborate
preparations for our safety.

One of the men was greatly annoyed by a wire which hung over his head
when he was asleep, but he did not wish to remove it. He had decided
that it was connected with some devilish device which would do him no
good. Finally, one morning, he could endure this sword of Damocles no
longer. With two boon companions, he carefully attached a string about
fifteen yards long to the wire. They tiptoed gently out of the house
to a discreet distance, and with a yell of triumph, the hero pulled
the string,--and nothing happened!

But there was another side to all this. McKnutt some time afterwards
came in with an interesting story. Some Sappers, he said, had been
digging under a house in the village, presumably for the mysterious
reasons that always drive the Engineers to dig in unlikely places. One
of them pushed his shovel into what had been the cellar of the house,
but as the roof had fallen in on the entrance, they did not know of
its existence. When they finally forced their way in, they found two
German officers and two Frenchwomen in a terribly emaciated condition.
One of the Boches and one of the women lay dead, locked in each
other's arms. The other two still breathed, but when they were brought
up into the open they expired within a few hours without either of
them giving an explanation. The only reason we could find for their
terrible plight was that the women had been forced down there by the
officers to undergo a last farewell, while the Germans were destroying
the village, and that the house had fallen in on top of them. Later,
probably no one knew where they had disappeared, and they were unable
to get out of the ruins or to make themselves heard. The village of
A---- gained a romantic reputation after that, and it was curious to
realize that we had been living there for days while this silent
tragedy was being enacted.

In addition to the destruction in the towns, the beautiful orchards
which are so numerous in France were ruined. Apple, pear, and plum
trees lay uprooted on the ground, and here again the military mind of
the German had been at work. He did not wish the fruit that the trees
would bear in future to fall into our hands.

But although the village was a pretty poor place in which to stay, the
near presence of a B.E.F. Canteen was a comfort. It is always amazing
to visit one of these places. Within perhaps four or five miles of the
firing line we have stores selling everything from a silver cigarette
case to a pair of boots, and everything, too, at nearly cost price.
The Canteen provides almost every variety of smoking materials, and
eatables, and their only disadvantage is that they make packages from
home seem so useless. As the tobaccos come straight out of bond, it is
far cheaper to buy them at the Canteen, than to have them forwarded
from home. These Canteens are managed by the Army, and are dotted all
over the country inhabited by the British troops. Since they have
sprung into existence life at the front has been far more comfortable
and satisfactory in France, and people at home are discovering that
money is the best thing to send out to their men.

Finally, one cold, sunny morning, about half-past five, the tank train
steamed slowly into A----, and drew up on a siding. It was not
possible to begin the work of unloading the tanks until night fell. So
the tired crews turned into the roofless houses which had been
prepared for them, and slept until dusk. When darkness fell, as if by
magic, the town sprang to activity.



V

PREPARATIONS FOR THE SHOW


That night the engines were started up, and one by one the tanks
crawled off the train. Although the day had begun with brilliant
sunshine, at dusk the snow had begun to fall, and by the time the
tanks came off, the snow was a foot thick on the ground. The tanks
moved down to the temporary tankdrome which had been decided upon near
the railway, and the sponson trucks were towed there. The night was
spent in fitting on the sponsons to the sides of the machines. It was
bitterly cold. The sleet drove in upon us all night, stinging our
hands and faces. Everything seemed to go wrong. We had the utmost
difficulty in making the bolt-holes fit, and as each sponson weighs
about three tons they were not easy to move and adjust. We drove ahead
with the work, knowing that it must be done while the darkness
lasted.

Finally, about two hours before dawn broke, the last bolt was
fastened, and the tanks were ready to move. The night was blacker than
ever as they lumbered out of the tankdrome, and were led across the
snow to a halfway house about four miles from the railhead, and an
equal distance from the front-line trenches. We had not quite reached
our destination when the darkness began to lift in the east, and with
feverish energy we pushed ahead, through the driving snow.

Late that afternoon, Talbot was again sent ahead with five or six
troopers and orderlies to a village in the front line. It was
necessary for us to spend three or four days there before the attack
commenced, in order to study out the vulnerable points in the German
line. We were to decide also the best routes for the tanks to take in
coming up to the line, and those to be taken later in crossing No
Man's Land when the "show" was on. We rode along across fields denuded
of all their trees. The country here was utterly unlike that to which
we had been accustomed in "peace-time trench warfare." This last
expression sounds like an anomaly, but actually it means the life
which is led in trenches where one may go along for two or three
months without attacking. In comparison with our existence when we are
making an offensive, the former seems like life in peace times. Hence,
the expression. But from this it must not be supposed that "peace-time
trench warfare" is all beer and skittles. Quite the contrary. As a
matter of fact, during four or five days in the trenches there may be
as many casualties as during an attack, but taking it on an average,
naturally the losses and dangers are greater when troops go over the
top. Curiously enough, too, after one has been in an attack the
front-line trench seems a haven of refuge. Gould, who was wounded in
the leg during a battle on the Somme, crawled into a shell-hole. It
was a blessed relief to be lying there, even though the bullets were
whistling overhead. At first he felt no pain, and he wished, vaguely,
that he had brought a magazine along to read! All through the burning
summer day he stayed there, waiting for the night. As soon as it was
dark he wriggled back to our trenches, tumbled over the parapet of the
front-line trench, and narrowly escaped falling on the point of a
bayonet. But he never forgets the feeling of perfect safety and peace
at being back, even in an exposed trench, with friends.

The fields across which we rode had been ploughed the preceding autumn
by the French civilians. Later, when the snow had disappeared, we
could see where the ground had been torn up by the horses of a German
riding-school of ten days before. On some of the roads the ruts and
heavy marks of the retreating German transports could still be seen.
It was a new and exciting experience to ride along a road which only
two or three days before had been traversed by the Germans in a
retreat, even though they called it a "retirement." The thought was
very pleasant to men who, for the last two years, had been sitting _in
front_ of the Boche month after month, and who, even in an attack, had
been unable to find traces of foot, hoof, or wheel mark because of
the all-effacing shell-fire. Here and there were places where the
Boche had had his watering-troughs, and also the traces of scattered
huts and tents on the ground where the grass, of a yellowish green,
still showed. The front line of defence here was really no front line
at all, but was merely held as in open warfare by outposts, sentry
groups, and patrols.

At night it was the easiest thing in the world to lose one's self
close up to the line and wander into the German trenches. In fact,
over the whole of this country, where every landmark had been
destroyed and where owing to the weather the roads were little
different from the soil on each side, a man could lose himself and
find no person or any sign to give him his direction. The usual guide
which one might derive from the Verey lights going up between the
lines was here non-existent, as both sides kept extremely quiet. Even
the guns were comparatively noiseless in these days, and were a man to
find himself at night alone upon this ground, which lay between two
and three miles behind our own lines, the only thing he could do
would be to lie down and wait for the dawn to show him the direction.

As we rode toward O---- our only guide was a few white houses two or
three miles away on the edge of the village. The German had not
evacuated O---- of his own free will, but a certain "Fighting
Division" had taken the village two days before and driven the German
out, when he retired three or four hundred yards farther to his rear
Hindenburg Line. The probable reason why he hung on to this village,
which was really in front of his line of advance, was because at the
time he decided to retire on the Somme, the Hindenburg Line was
incomplete. In fact, the Boche could still be seen working on his wire
and trenches.

We arrived in O---- at nightfall. Some batteries were behind the
village, and the Germans were giving the village and the guns a rather
nasty time. Unhappily for us, the Boche artillery were dropping
five-nine's on the road which led into the village, and as they seemed
unlikely to desist, we decided to make a dash for it. The horses were
a bit nervous, but behaving very well under the trying circumstances.
(With us were some limbers bringing up ammunition.) Shells were
exploding all around us. It would never do to stand still.

The dash up that hundred yards of road was an unpleasant experience.
As we made the rush, the gunners tearing along "hell for leather" and
the others galloping ahead on their plunging horses, we heard the dull
whistle and the nearer roar of two shells approaching. Instinctively
we leaned forward. We held our breath. When a shell drops near, there
is always the feeling that it is going to fall on one's head. We
flattened ourselves out and urged our horses to greater speed. The
shells exploded about thirty yards behind us, killing two gunners and
their mules, while the rest of us scrambled into the village and under
cover.

In the darkness, we found what had once been the shop of the village
blacksmith, and in the forge we tied up our horses. It was bitterly
cold. It was either make a fire and trust to luck that it would not be
observed, or freeze. We decided on the fire, and in its grateful
warmth we lay down to snatch the first hours of sleep we had had in
nearly three days. But the German gunners were most inconsiderate, and
a short time afterward they dropped a small barrage down the road. The
front of our forge was open, and we were obliged to flatten ourselves
on the ground to prevent the flying splinters from hitting us. When
this diversion was over, we stirred up our fire, and made some tea,
just in time to offer some to a gunner sergeant who came riding up. He
hitched his horse to one of the posts, and sat down with us by the
fire. The shell-fire had quieted down, and we dozed off, glad of the
interlude. Suddenly a shell burst close beside us. The poor beast,
waiting patiently for his rider, was hit in the neck by the shrapnel,
but hardly a sound escaped him. In war, especially, one cannot help
admiring the stoicism of horses, as compared with other animals. One
sees examples of it on all sides. Tread, for instance, on a dog's
foot, and he runs away, squealing. A horse is struck by a large lump
of shrapnel just under its withers, and the poor brute trembles, but
makes no sound. Almost the only time that horses scream--and the sound
is horrible--is when they are dying. Then they shriek from sheer pain
and fear. Strange as it may seem, one is often more affected by seeing
horses struck than when men are killed. Somehow they seem so
particularly helpless.

It was during these days at O---- that Talbot discovered Johnson.
Johnson was one of his orderlies. Although it did not lie in the path
of his duty, he took the greatest delight in doing all sorts of little
odd jobs for Talbot. So unobtrusive he was about it all, that for some
time Talbot hardly noticed that some one was trying to make him
comfortable. When he did, by mutual agreement Johnson became his
servant and faithful follower through everything. The man was
perfectly casual and apparently unaffected by the heaviest shell-fire.
It is absurd to say that a man "doesn't mind shell-fire." Every one
dislikes it, and gets nervous under it. The man who "doesn't mind it"
is the man who fights his nervousness and gets such control of
himself that he is able to _appear_ as if he were unaffected. Between
"not minding it" and "appearing not to mind it" lie hard-won moral
battles, increased strength of character, and victory over fear.
Johnson had accomplished this. He preserved an attitude of careless
calm, and could walk down a road with shells bursting all around him
with a sublime indifference that was inspiring. Between him and his
officer sprang up an extraordinary and lasting affection.

The wretched night in the forge at last came to an end, and the next
morning we looked around for more comfortable billets. We selected the
cellar of a house in fairly good condition and prepared to move in,
when we discovered that we were not the first to whom it had appealed.
Two dead Germans still occupied the premises, and when we had disposed
of the bodies, we took up our residence. Here we stayed, going out
each day to find the best points from which to view No Man's Land,
which lay in front of the village. With the aid of maps, we planned
the best routes for the tanks to take when the battle should have
begun. Not a detail was neglected.

Then something happened to break the monotony of life. Just back of
the village one of our batteries was concealed in such a fashion that
it was impossible to find it from an aeroplane. Yet every day,
regularly, the battery was shelled. Every night under cover of the
darkness, the position was changed, and the battery concealed as
cleverly as before, but to no avail. The only solution was that some
one behind our lines was in communication with the Germans, _every
day_. Secrecy was increased. Guards were doubled to see that no one
slipped through the lines. Signals were watched. The whole affair was
baffling, and yet we could find no clue.

Just in front of the wood where the battery was concealed, stood an
old farmhouse where a genial Frenchwoman lived and dispensed good
cheer to us. She had none of the men of her own family nor any
farmhands to help her, but kept up the farmwork all alone. Every day,
usually in the middle of the morning, she went out to the fields
behind her house and ploughed, with an old white horse drawing the
plough. For some reason she never ploughed more than one or two
furrows at a time, and when this was done, she drove the white horse
back to the barn. One day, an officer noticed that a German plane
hovered over the field while the woman was ploughing, and that when
she went back to the house, the plane shot away. The next day the same
thing happened. Later in the day, the battery received its daily
reminder from the Boche gunners, as unerringly accurate as ever.

Here was a clue. The solution of the problem followed. The woman knew
the position of the battery, and every day when she went out to
plough, she drove the white horse up and down, making a furrow
directly in front of the battery. When the men in the German plane saw
the white horse, they flew overhead, took a photograph of the newly
turned furrow, and turned the photograph over to their gunners. The
rest was easy.

    [Illustration: A TANK GOING OVER A TRENCH ON ITS WAY INTO
    ACTION]

The next day we missed three events which had become part of our daily
life. The German plane no longer hovered in the air. Our battery, for
the first time in weeks, spent a peaceful day. And in the field behind
her house, a woman with an old white horse no longer made the earth
ready for the sowing.

       *       *       *       *       *

For three days now we had received no rations, and were obliged to
subsist on the food which the Boche had left behind him when he fled.
Finally, when all our plans were complete, we were notified that the
point of attack had been shifted to N----, a village about four miles
away. This practical joke we thought in extremely bad taste, but there
was nothing for it but to pack up and move as quickly as possible. We
learned that our troops at N---- had tried twice to break through the
German lines by bombing. A third attempt was to be made, and the tanks
were depended upon to open the way. Hence the change in our plans.

Early the next morning we left O----, and dashed along a road which
lay parallel with our line, and was under direct observation from the
German trenches. Owing to the fact, probably, that he was not properly
settled in his new line, the Boche did not bother us much, excepting
at one place, where we were obliged to make a run for it. We arrived
at N---- just after the tanks had been brought up. They were hurriedly
concealed close up to houses, in cuttings, and under trees.

The show was scheduled to come off the next morning at 4.30. That
night we gathered at Brigade Headquarters and made the final plans.
Each tank had its objective allotted to it, and marked out on the Tank
Commander's course. Each tank was to go just so far and no farther.
Talbot and Darwin were detailed to go forward as far as possible on
foot when the battle was in progress, and send back messages as to how
the show was progressing. Talbot also was given the task of going out
that night to make the marks in No Man's Land which would guide the
tanks in the morning.

At eleven o'clock, in the bright moonlight, Talbot, with Johnson and a
couple of orderlies, started out. They climbed over the front line,
which was at present a railway embankment, crawled into No Man's Land,
and set to work. Immediately the Boche snipers spotted them and
bullets began to whistle over their heads. Luckily, no one was hit,
but a couple of "whizz bangs" dropped uncomfortably close. The men
dropped for cover. Only Johnson stood still, his figure black against
the white snow gleaming in the moonlight.

The shells continued to fall about them as they wriggled back when the
work was done. As they reached N---- the tanks were being led up
toward the line, so that later, under cover of the darkness, they
might be taken farther forward to their starting-points.



VI

THE FIRST BATTLE


At dawn the next morning, the tanks were already lined up, sullen and
menacing in the cold half-light. The men shivered in the biting air.
One by one the crews entered the machines, and one by one the little
steel doors closed behind them. The engines throbbed, and they moved
off sluggishly.

Darwin and Talbot, with their orderlies, waited impatiently. The
moments just before an attack are always the hardest. A few batteries
were keeping up a desultory fire. They glanced at their watches.

"Only a minute to go," said Darwin. "I bet the show's put off or
something. Isn't this snow damnably cold, though!"

Suddenly a sixty-pounder in our rear crashed out. Then from all sides
a deafening roar burst forth and the barrage began. As we became
accustomed to the intensity and ear-splittingness of the sound, the
bark of the eighteen-pounders could be faintly distinguished above the
dull roar of the eight-inches. The sky-line was lit up with thousands
of flashes, large and small, each one showing, for a second, trenches
or trees or houses, and during this tornado we knew that the "Willies"
must have started forward on their errand.

As the barrage lifted and the noise died down a little, the first
streaks of light began to show in the sky, although we could
distinguish nothing. No sign of the infantry or of the tanks could be
seen. But the ominous sound of machine guns and heavy rifle-fire told
us that the Boche was prepared.

We could stand this inactivity no longer. We trudged forward through
the snow, taking the broad bands left by the tracks of the busses as
our guide, the officers leading the way and the orderlies behind in
single file.

"The blighter's starting, himself, now," said Talbot, as a four-two
landed a hundred yards away, and pieces of earth came showering down
on our heads. Then another and another fell, each closer than the one
before, and instinctively we quickened our steps, for it is difficult
to walk slowly through shell-fire.

The embankment loomed before us, and big splotches of black and yellow
leaped from its surface. The deafening crashes gave us that peculiar
feeling in the stomach which danger alone can produce. We scrambled up
the crumbling, slaggy sides, and found when we reached the top that
the sound of the machine guns had died away, excepting on the extreme
left in front of B----, where the ordinary tap of ones and twos had
developed into a sharp crackle of tens and twenties. By listening
carefully one could feel, rather than hear, the more intermittent
bursts from the rifles.

"There's one, sir," shouted one of the orderlies.

"Where?"

"Half-right and about five hundred yards ahead."

By dint of straining, we discovered a little animal--or so it
looked--crawling forward on the far side of the Hindenburg Line.
Already it was doing a left incline in accordance with its
instructions, so as to enfilade a communication trench which ran back
to N----. The German observer had spotted her. Here and there, on each
side of her, a column of dirt and snow rose into the air. But the
little animal seemed to bear a charmed life. No harm came to her, and
she went calmly on her way, for all the world like a giant tortoise at
which one vainly throws clods of earth.

As it grows lighter, we can now see others in the distance. One is not
moving--is it out of action? The only motion on the whole landscape is
that of the bursting shells, and the tanks. Over the white snow in
front of the German wire, are dotted little black lumps. Some crawl,
some move a leg or an arm, and some lie quite still. One who has never
seen a modern battle doubtless forms a picture of masses of troops
moving forward in splendid formation, with cheering voices and
gleaming bayonets. This is quite erroneous. To an observer in a post
or in a balloon, no concerted action is visible at all. Here and there
a line or two of men dash forward and disappear. A single man or a
small group of men wriggle across the ground. That is all.

"Well, they haven't got it in the neck as I supposed," said Darwin.
"Remarkably few lying about. Let's push on."

"All right," Talbot assented. "If you like."

We crawled over the top of the embankment and continued down the side.
About two hundred yards to the left, we saw one of the tanks, with her
nose in the air. A little group of three or four men were digging
around her, frantically. We rushed over to them, and found that the
Old Bird's 'bus had failed to get over a large pit which lay in the
middle of No Man's Land, and was stuck with her tail in the bottom of
the ditch. Here occurred one of those extraordinary instances of luck
which one notices everywhere in a modern battle. The tank had been
there about ten minutes when the German gunners had bracketed on her,
and were dropping five-nines, all of them within a radius of seventy
yards of the tank, and yet no one was hurt. Finally, by dint of
strenuous digging, she started up and pulled herself wearily out of
the pit.

    [Illustration: _Copyright by Underwood & Underwood, N.Y._
    A TANK HALFWAY OVER THE TOP AND AWAITING THE ORDER TO ADVANCE
    IN THE BATTLE OF MENIN ROAD]

Suddenly, Darwin shouted:--

"Look here, you fellows! What are these Boches doing?"

Looking up, we saw about forty or fifty Germans stumbling over their
own wire, and running toward us as hard as they could go. For a moment
we thought it was the preliminary step of a counter-attack, but
suddenly we discovered that they carried no arms and were attempting
to run with their hands above their heads. At the same time something
occurred which is always one of the saddest sights in war. One hears a
great deal about the "horrors of war" and the "horrors" of seeing men
killed on either side of one, but at the time there is very little
"horror" to it. One simply doesn't have time to pay any attention to
it all. But the sad part was that the German machine gunners, seeing
their men surrendering, opened a furious fire on them. There they
were, caught from behind, and many of them dropped from the bullets of
their own comrades.

Twenty or thirty of them came straight on, rushed up to the pit where
the tank had come to grief, and tumbled down into this refuge.
Evidently, they knew of the British passion for souvenirs, for when
our men surrounded them, the Germans plucked wildly at their own
shoulder straps as if to entreat their captors to take the shoulder
straps instead of anything else!

We gave two or three of the wounded Germans some cigarettes and a
drink of water. They were then told to find their quickest way to the
rear. Like other German prisoners we had seen, they went willingly
enough. German discipline obtains even after a man has been made a
prisoner. He obeys his captors with the same docility with which he
had previously obeyed his own officers. Left to themselves, and
started on the right road, the prisoner will plod along, their
N.C.O.'s saluting the English officers, and inquiring the way to the
concentration camp. When they find it, they usually appear well
pleased.

The Old Bird's tank moved on.

"I suppose everything's going all right," said Talbot. "Suppose we
move on and see if we can get some information."

"Yes, or some souvenirs," Darwin replied with a laugh.

We pushed on slowly. Three tanks which had completed their job were
coming back and passed us. A little later we met some fellows who were
slightly wounded and asked them how the battle was going. Every story
was different. The wounded are rarely able to give a correct version
of any engagement, and we saw that no accurate information was to be
gleaned from these men.

We had been out now for an hour and a half and still had no news to
send back to Headquarters. We knew how hard it was for the officers
behind the lines, who had planned the whole show, to sit hour after
hour waiting for news of their troops. The minutes are like hours.

"My God, Darwin, look!" Talbot cried. "Something's happened to her.
She's on fire!"

In the distance we saw one of our tanks stuck in the German wire,
which at that point was about a hundred yards thick. Smoke was
belching from every porthole. A shell had registered a direct hit,
exploding the petrol, and the tank was on fire. We dashed forward
toward her.

A German machine gun rattled viciously. They had seen us. An instant
later, the bullets were spattering around us, and we dropped flat. One
man slumped heavily and lay quite still. By inches we crawled forward,
nearer and nearer to the blazing monster. Another machine gun snarled
at us, and we slid into a shell-hole for protection. Then, after a
moment's breathing space, we popped out and tried to rush again.
Another man stopped a bullet.

It was suicide to go farther. Into another shell-hole we fell, and
thought things over. We decided to send a message, giving roughly the
news that the Hindenburg Line and N---- had been taken. An orderly was
given a message. He crawled out of the shell-hole, ran a few steps,
dropped flat, wriggled along across the snow, sprang to his feet, ran
another few steps, and so on until we lost sight of him.

A moment or two later we started across the snow in a direction
parallel with the lines. Behind an embankment we came across a little
group of Australians at an impromptu dressing-station. Some of them
were wounded and the others were binding up their wounds. We watched
them for a while and started on again. We had gone about fifty yards
when a shell screeched overhead. We turned and saw it land in the
middle of the group we had just left. Another shell burst close to us
and huge clods of earth struck us in the face and in the stomach,
knocking us flat and blinding us for the moment. A splinter struck
Talbot on his tin hat, grazing his skin. Behind us one of the
orderlies screamed and we rushed back to him. He had been hit below
the knee and his leg was nearly severed. We tied him up and managed to
get him back to the Australian aid-post. Two of the original four
stretcher-bearers had been blown up a few minutes before. But the
remaining two were carrying on with their work as though nothing had
happened. Here he was bandaged and started on his way for the
dressing-station.

Far across the snow, we saw three more tanks plodding back toward the
rear. Little by little, we gained ground until we reached a more
sheltered area where we could make greater speed. We were feverishly
anxious to know the fate of the crew of the burning tank. "Whose tank
was it?" was on every tongue. We met other wounded men being helped
back; those with leg wounds were being supported by others less
seriously wounded. They could tell us nothing. They had been with the
infantry and only knew that two tanks were right on the other side of
the village.

A moment or two later, Talbot started running toward two men, one of
whom was supporting the other. The wounded man proved to be the
Sergeant of the tank we had seen on fire. We hurried up to him. He was
hurt in the leg. So, instead of firing questions at him, we kept quiet
and accompanied him back to the dressing-station.

Later we heard the tragic news that it was Gould's tank that had
burned up. None of us talked much about it. It did not seem real.
They had got stuck in the German wire. A crump had hit them and fired
the petrol tank. That was the end. Two men, the Sergeant and another,
escaped from the tank. The others perished with it. We tried to
comfort each other by repeated assurances that they must all have lost
consciousness quickly from the fumes of the petrol before they
suffered from fire. But it was small consolation. Every one had liked
Gould and every one would miss him.

We waited at Brigade Headquarters for the others to return. A Tank
Commander from another Company was brought in, badly wounded and
looking ghastly, but joking with every one, as they carried him along
on a stretcher. His tank had been knocked out and they had saved their
guns and gone on with the infantry. He had been the last to leave the
tank, and as he had stepped out to the ground, a shell exploded
directly beneath him, taking off both of his legs below the knee.

The last of the tanks waddled wearily in and the work of checking-up
began. All were accounted for but two. Their fate still remains a
secret. Our theory was that they had gone too far ahead and had
entered the village in back of the German lines; that the infantry had
not been able to keep up with them, and that they had been captured.
Two or three days afterwards an airman told us that he had seen, on
the day of the battle, two tanks far ahead of the infantry and that
they appeared to be stranded. Weeks later we attacked at the point
where the tanks had been, and on some German prisoners whom we took,
we found several photographs of these identical tanks. Then one day,
when we had stopped wondering about them, a Sergeant in our Company
received a letter from one of the crew of the missing machines, saying
that he was a prisoner in Germany. But of the officers we have never
heard to this day.

We sat around wearily, waiting for the motor lorries which were to
take some of us back to B----. Years seemed to have been crowded into
the hours that had elapsed. Talbot glanced at his watch. It was still
only eight o'clock in the morning. Again he experienced the feeling
of incredulity that comes to one who has had much happen in the hours
between dawn and early morning and who discovers that the day has but
just begun. He had thought it must be three o'clock in the afternoon,
at least.

The lorries arrived eventually, and took those who had no tanks, back
to B----. The others brought the "Willies" in by the evening.



VII

THE SECOND BATTLE


Ten days had now elapsed since that day when we had gone back to B----
with the officers and men who had survived. We had enjoyed every
minute of our rest and once more were feeling fit. The remainder of
the Company had been divided up into crews. The "Willies" themselves
had had the best of care and attention.

Most important of all, to the childish minds of that part of the
British Army which we represented, we had given another concert which
had been an even greater success than the first. The Old Bird and
Borwick had excelled themselves. We were convinced that something was
wrong with a Government that would send two such artists to the front!
They should be at home, writing "words and music" that would live
forever.

Toward the end of the week, plans for another attack were arranged.
This time it was to take place at C----, about five miles north of
N----. We were told that this was to be a "big show" at last. Part of
the Hindenburg Line had been taken, and part was still in the hands of
the enemy. It had been decided, therefore, that this sector of the
line, and the village behind it, must be captured. Our share in the
business consisted of a few tanks to work with the infantry. Two of us
went up three days before to arrange the plans with the Divisional
Commander. We wandered up into the Hindenburg Line as close as we
could get to the Boche, to see what the ground was like, and to decide
if possible on the routes for the tanks. In the line were innumerable
souvenirs. We found the furniture that the Germans had taken out of
the villages on their retirement, and had used to make their line more
comfortable.

We found, too, an extraordinary piece of engineering. A tunnel about
ten miles long ran underneath the whole of the Hindenburg Line. It was
about thirty or forty feet down, and had been dug, we heard, by
Russian prisoners. The tunnel was about six feet wide and about five
feet high. It had been roughly balked in with timber, and at every
twenty yards, a shaft led out of the tunnel up into the trench.
Borwick found a large mirror which he felt could not be wasted under
the circumstances. He could not resist its charm, so he started
lugging it back the six miles to camp. It was very heavy and its charm
had decreased greatly by the time he reached camp and found that no
one could make any use of it.

The day of the attack was still undecided, and in order to be quite
ready when it should come off, we left B---- with the tanks one
evening and took them up to Saint-L----, a little place about three
thousand yards away from the Hindenburg Line. Here we staged them
behind a railway embankment, underneath a bridge that had been
partially blown up. This was the same embankment, as a matter of fact,
behind which, four or five miles away, the Australian dressing-station
had been established in the last battle.

Here we spent two or three days tuning up the machines, and many of
our leisure moments in watching a howitzer battery which was just
beside us. This was fascinating. If you stand by the gun when it is
fired, you can see the shell leave the muzzle, and watch the black
mass shoot its seven or eight thousand yards until it becomes a small
speck and finally vanishes just before it hits the ground.

We also made an interesting collection of German and English
shell-cases. These cases are made of brass, and the four-fives,
especially, in the opinion of some people, make very nice rose-bowls
when they are polished, with wire arranged inside to hold the
blossoms. Weird music could be heard issuing from our dugout at times,
when we gave an impromptu concert, by putting several of these
shell-cases on a log of wood and playing elaborate tunes on them with
a bit of stone.

All this merry-making came to an end, though. One day we received word
that the attack was to come off the next morning. Then began the
preparations in earnest and the day went with a rush. At this part of
the Hindenburg Line, it was very easy to lose one's way, especially
at night. The tanks were scheduled to start moving up at ten o'clock.
Talbot and the Old Bird, with several men, set out at about eight, and
arranged for marks to guide the machines.

We had just reached a part of the Hindenburg Line which was now in our
possession, and were near an ammunition dump, when shells began to
fall around us. They were not near enough to do us any harm, and we
continued our work, when one dropped into the ammunition dump and
exploded. In an instant the whole dump was alight. It was like some
terrible and giant display of pyrotechnics. Gas shells, Verey lights,
and stink bombs filled the air with their nauseous odors. Shells of
all sizes blew up and fell in steely splinters. The noise was
deafening. Cursing our luck, we waited until it died down into a red,
smouldering mass, and then edged up cautiously to continue our work.
By this time, Borwick's tank came up, and he emerged, with a broad
smile on his face.

"Having a good time?" he asked genially.

There was a frozen silence, excepting for his inane laughter. He made
a few more irritating remarks which he seemed to think were very
funny, and then he disappeared inside his tank and prepared to follow
us. We had gone ahead a couple of hundred yards when we heard bombs
exploding, and looking back we saw the tank standing still, with
fireworks going off under one of her tracks. Presently the noise
ceased, and after waiting a moment we strolled back. As we reached the
tank, Borwick and the crew came tumbling out, making the air blue with
their language. They had run over a box of bombs, the only thing that
had survived the fire in the ammunition dump, and one of the tracks
was damaged. To repair it meant several hours' hard work in the cold
in unpleasant proximity to the still smouldering dump. Over Talbot's
face spread a broad smile.

"Having a good time?" he asked pleasantly of Borwick.

Infuriated growls were his only answer. He moved on with his men,
while Borwick and his crew settled down to work.

The night was fortunately dark. They went slowly forward and brought
the route almost up to within calling distance of the Germans. The
Verey lights, shattering the darkness over No Man's Land, did not
disclose them to the enemy. Suddenly, a Boche machine gun mechanically
turned its attentions toward the place where they were working. With a
tightening of every muscle, Talbot heard the slow whisper of the gun.
As it turned to sweep the intervening space between the lines, the
whisper rose to a shirring hiss. The men dropped to the ground,
flattening themselves into the earth. But Talbot stood still. Now, if
ever, was the time when an example would count. If they all dropped to
the ground every time a machine gun rattled, the job would never be
done. So, hands in his pockets, but with awful "wind up," he waited
while the soft patter of the bullets came near and the patter
quickened into rain. As it reached him, the rain became a fierce
torrent, stinging the top of the parapet behind them as the bullets
tore by viciously a few inches above his head. Then as it passed, it
dropped into a patter once more and finally dropped away in a whisper.
Talbot suddenly realized that his throat was aching, but that he was
untouched by the storm. The men slowly got to their feet and continued
their work in silence. Although the machine gun continued to spatter
bullets near them all through the hours they were working, not once
again did the men drop when they heard the whisper begin. The job was
finally done and they filed wearily back.

The attack was timed to come off at dawn. An hour before, while it was
still as black as pitch, the tanks moved again for their final
starting-point. McKnutt's machine was the first to go.

"Cheero, McKnutt," we said as he clambered in. "Good luck!"

The men followed, some through the top and some through the side. The
doors and portholes were closed, and in a moment the exhaust began to
puff merrily. The tank crawled forward and soon disappeared into the
blackness.

She had about fifteen hundred yards to go, parallel with the
Hindenburg Line, and several trenches to cross before coming up with
the enemy. We had planned that the tanks would take about three
quarters of an hour to reach their starting-point, and that soon after
they arrived there, the show would begin.

Since it was still dark and the attack had not commenced, McKnutt and
his first driver opened the windows in front of them. They looked out
into impenetrable gloom. It was necessary to turn their headlights on,
and with this help, they crawled along a little more securely. A
signal from the driver, and they got into top gear. She bumped along,
over shell-holes and mine-craters at the exhilarating speed of about
four miles an hour, and then arrived at the first trench to be
crossed. It was about ten feet wide with high banks on each side.

"One up!" signals the driver. The gears-men get into first gear, and
the tank tilts back as it goes up one side of the trench. Suddenly she
starts tipping over, and the driver takes out his clutch and puts on
his brake hard. McKnutt yells out, "Hold tight!" and the tank slides
gently down with her nose in the bottom of the trench. The driver lets
in his clutch again, the tank digs her nose into the other side and
pulls herself up slowly, while her tail dips down into the bottom of
the trench. Then comes the great strain as she pulls herself bodily
out of the trench until she balances on the far side.

It was now no longer safe to run with lights. They were snapped off.
Once more the darkness closed around them, blacker than ever. They
could no longer find their route, and McKnutt jumped out, walking
ahead with the tank lumbering along behind. Twice he lost his way and
they were obliged to wait until he found it again. Then, to his
intense relief, the moon shone out with a feeble light. It was just
enough to illumine faintly the ground before them and McKnutt
reëntered the tank, and started on.

Their route ran close to the sides of an old quarry and they edged
along cautiously. McKnutt, with his eyes glued to the front, decided
that they must have already passed the end of the quarry. That would
mean that they were not far from the spot where they were to wait for
the signal to go into action. The moon had again disappeared behind
the clouds, but he did not consider it worth while to get out again.
The journey would be over in a few minutes.

Suddenly, his heart took a great dive and he seemed to stop breathing.
He felt the tank balance ever so slightly. Staring with aching eyes
through the portholes, he saw that they were on the edge of the old
quarry, with a forty-foot drop down its steep sides before them. The
black depth seemed bottomless. The tank was slipping over. When she
shot down they would all be killed from concussion alone.

His heart was pounding so that he could hardly speak. But the driver,
too, had seen the danger.

"For God's sake, take out your clutch and put your brake on!" McKnutt
yelled, his voice almost drowned by the rattle and roar inside the
tank. The man kept his head. As the tail of the tank started tipping
up, he managed somehow with the brakes to hold her on the edge. For a
second or two, she swayed there. She seemed to be unable to decide
whether to kill them or not. The slightest crumbling of the earth or
the faintest outside movement against the tank would precipitate them
over the edge. The brakes would not hold them for long. Then the
driver acted. Slowly he put his gears in reverse, keeping the brake on
hard until the engine had taken up the strain. Slowly she moved back
until her tail bumped on the ground, and she settled down. Neither
McKnutt nor his driver spoke. They pushed back their tin hats and
wiped their foreheads.

McKnutt glanced back at the men in the rear of the tank. They, of
course, had been unable to see out, and had no idea of what they had
escaped. Now that the danger was passed, he felt an unreasonable
annoyance that none of them would ever know what he and the driver had
gone through in those few moments. Then the feeling passed, he
signalled, "Neutral left," the gearsman locked his left track, and the
tank swung over, passing safely by the perilous spot.

They settled down now to a snail's pace, shutting off their engine, as
the Germans could not be more than one hundred and fifty or two
hundred yards away. Running at full speed, the engine would have been
heard by them. In a few moments, they arrived at their appointed
station. McKnutt glanced at his watch. They had only a few moments to
wait. The engine was shut off and they stopped.

The heat inside the tank was oppressive. McKnutt and James opened the
top, and crawled out, the men following. They looked around. The first
streaks of light were beginning to show in the sky. A heavy silence
hung over everything--the silence that always precedes a bombardment.
Presumably, only the attacking forces feel this. Even the desultory
firing seems to have faded away. All the little ordinary noises have
ceased. It is a sickening quiet, so loud in itself that it makes one's
heart beat quicker. It is because one is listening so intensely for
the guns to break out that all other sounds have lost their
significance. One seems to have become all ears--to have no sense of
sight or touch or taste or smell. All seem to have become merged in
the sense of hearing. The very air itself seems tense with listening.
Only the occasional rattle of a machine gun breaks the stillness. Even
this passes unnoticed.

Slowly the minute-hand crept round to the half-hour, and the men
slipped back into their steel home. Doors were bolted and portholes
shut, save for the tiny slits in front of officer and driver, through
which they peered. The engine was ready to start. The petrol was on
and flooding. They waited quietly. Their heavy breathing was the only
sound. The minute-hand reached the half-hour.

With the crash and swish of thousands of shells, the guns smashed the
stillness. Instantly, the flash of their explosion lit up the opposite
trenches. For a fraction of a second the thought came to McKnutt how
wonderful it was that man could produce a sound to which Nature had no
equal, either in violence or intensity. But the time was for action
and not for reflection.

"Start her up!" yelled out McKnutt.

But the engine would not fire.

"What the devil's the matter?" cried James.

A bit of tinkering with the carburetor, and the engine purred softly.
Its noise was drowned in the pandemonium raging around them. James let
in the clutch, and the monster moved forward on her errand of
destruction.

Although it was not light enough to distinguish forms, the flashes of
the shell-fire and the bursts from the shrapnel lit up that part of
the Hindenburg Line that lay on the other side of the barrier. One
hundred and fifty yards, and the tank was almost on top of the
barricade. Bombs were exploding on both sides. McKnutt slammed down
the shutters of the portholes in front of him and his driver.
"Bullets," he said shortly.

"One came through, I think, sir," James replied. With the portholes
shut, there was no chance for bullets to enter now through the little
pin-points directly above the slits in the shutters. In order to see
through these, it is necessary to place one's eye directly against
the cold metal. They are safe, for if a bullet does hit them, it
cannot come through, although it may stop up the hole.

Suddenly a dull explosion was heard on the roof of the tank.

"They're bombing us, sir!" cried one of the gunners. McKnutt signalled
to him, and he opened fire from his sponson. They plunged along, amid
a hail of bullets, while bombs exploded all around them.

McKnutt and James, with that instinctive sense of direction which
comes to men who control these machines, felt that they were hovering
on the edge of the German trench. Then a sudden flash from the
explosion of a huge shell lit up the ground around them, and they saw
four or five gray-clad figures, about ten yards away, standing on the
parapet hysterically hurling bombs at the machine. They might as well
have been throwing pebbles. Scornfully the tank slid over into the
wide trench and landed with a crash in the bottom. For a moment she
lay there without moving. The Germans thought she was stuck. They
came running along thinking to grapple with her. But they never
reached her, for at once the guns from both sides opened fire and the
Germans disappeared.

The huge machine dragged herself up the steep ten-foot side of the
trench. As she neared the top, it seemed as if the engine would not
take the final pull. James took out his clutch, put his brake on hard,
and raced the engine. Then letting the clutch in with a jerk, the tank
pulled herself right on to the point of balance, and tipped slowly
over what had been the parapet of the German position.

Now she was in the wire which lay in front of the trench. McKnutt
signalled back, "Swing round to the left," parallel to the lay of the
line. A moment's pause, and she moved forward relentlessly, crushing
everything in her path, and sending out a stream of bullets from every
turret to any of the enemy who dared to show themselves above the top
of the trench.

At the same time our own troops, who had waited behind the barricade
to bomb their way down, from traverse to traverse, rushed over the
heap of sandbags, tangled wire, wood, and dead men which barred their
way. The moral effect of the tank's success, and the terror which she
inspired, cheered our infantry on to greater efforts. The tank crew
were, at the time, unaware of the infantry's action, as none of our
own men could be seen. The only indication of the fact was the
bursting of the bombs which gradually moved from fire bay to fire bay.

The Corporal touched McKnutt on the arm.

"I don't believe our people are keeping up with us, sir," he said.
"They seem to have been stopped about thirty yards back."

"All right," McKnutt answered. "We'll turn round."

McKnutt and James opened their portholes to obtain a clearer view.
Five yards along to the left, a group of Germans were holding up the
advancing British. They had evidently prepared a barricade in case of
a possible bombing attack on our part, and this obstacle, together
with a fusillade of bombs which met them, prevented our troops from
pushing on. McKnutt seized his gun and pushed it through the
mounting, but found that he could not swing round far enough to get an
aim on the enemy. But James was in a better position. He picked the
gray figures off, one by one, until the bombing ceased and our own men
jumped over the barricade and came down among the dead and wounded
Germans.

Then a sudden and unexplainable sense of disaster caused McKnutt to
look round. One of his gunners lay quite still on the floor of the
tank, his back against the engine, and a stream of blood trickling
down his face. The Corporal who stood next to him pointed to the
sights in the turret and then to his forehead, and McKnutt realized
that a bullet must have slipped in through the small space, entering
the man's head as he looked along the barrel of his gun. There he lay,
along one side of the tank between the engine and the sponson. The
Corporal tried to get in position to carry on firing with his own gun,
but the dead body impeded his movements.

There was only one thing to do. The Corporal looked questioningly at
McKnutt and pointed to the body. The officer nodded quickly, and the
left gearsman and the Corporal dragged the body and propped it up
against the door. Immediately the door flew open. The back of the
corpse fell down and half the body lay hanging out, with its legs
still caught on the floor. With feverish haste they lifted the legs
and threw them out, but the weight of the body balanced them back
again through the still open door. The men were desperate. With a
tremendous heave they turned the dead man upside down, shoved the body
out and slammed the door shut. They were just in time. A bomb exploded
directly beneath the sponson, where the dead body had fallen. To every
man in the tank came a feeling of swift gratitude that the bombs had
caught the dead man and not themselves.

They ploughed across another trench without dropping into the bottom,
for it was only six feet wide. Daylight had come by now and the enemy
was beginning to find that his brave efforts were of no avail against
these monsters of steel.

All this time the German guns had not been silent. McKnutt's tank
crunched across the ground amid a furious storm of flying earth and
splinters. The strain was beginning to be felt. Although one is
protected from machine-gun fire in a tank, the sense of confinement
is, at times, terrible. One does not know what is happening outside
his little steel prison. One often cannot see where the machine is
going. The noise inside is deafening; the heat terrific. Bombs shatter
on the roof and on all sides. Bullets spatter savagely against the
walls. There is an awful lack of knowledge; a feeling of blind
helplessness at being cooped up. One is entirely at the mercy of the
big shells. If a shell hits a tank near the petrol tank, the men may
perish by fire, as did Gould, without a chance of escape. Going down
with your ship seems pleasant compared to burning up with your tank.
In fighting in the open, one has, at least, air and space.

McKnutt, however, was lucky. They could now see the sunken road before
them which was their objective. Five-nines were dropping around them
now. It was only a matter of moments, it seemed, when they would be
struck.

"Do you think we shall make it?" McKnutt asked James.

"We may get there, but shall we get back? That's the question, sir."

McKnutt did not answer. They had both had over two years' experience
of the accuracy of the German artillery. And they did not believe in
miracles. But they had their orders. They must simply do their duty
and trust to luck.

They reached the sunken road. The tank was swung around. Their orders
were to reach their objective and remain there until the bombers
arrived. McKnutt peered out. No British were in sight, and he snapped
his porthole shut. Grimly they settled down to wait.

The moments passed. Each one seemed as if it would be their last.
Would the infantry never come? Would there be any sense in just
sitting there until a German shell annihilated them if the infantry
never arrived? Had they been pushed back by a German rush? Should he
take it upon himself to turn back? McKnutt's brain whirled.

Then, after hours, it seemed, of waiting, around the corner of a
traverse, he saw one of the British tin hats. Nothing in the world
could have been a happier sight. A great wave of relief swept over
him. Three or four more appeared. Realizing that they, too, had
reached their objective, they stopped and began to throw up a rough
form of barricade. More men poured in. The position was consolidated,
and there was nothing more for the tank to do.

They swung round and started back. Two shells dropped about twenty
yards in front of them. For a moment McKnutt wondered whether it would
be well to change their direction. "No, we'll keep right on and chance
it," he said aloud. The next moment a tremendous crash seemed to lift
the tank off the ground. Black smoke and flying particles filled the
tank. McKnutt and James looked around expecting to see the top of the
machine blown off. But nothing had happened inside, and no one was
injured. Although shells continued to fall around them and a German
machine gun raged at them, they got back safely.

    [Illustration: _Copyright by Underwood & Underwood, N.Y._
    A TANK BRINGING IN A CAPTURED GERMAN GUN UNDER PROTECTION OF
    CAMOUFLAGE]

Brigade Headquarters, where McKnutt reported, was full of expectancy.
Messages were pouring in over the wires. The men at the telephones
were dead beat, but cool and collected.

"Any news of the other 'busses?" McKnutt asked eagerly. The Buzzers
shook their heads wearily. He rushed up to a couple of men who were
being carried to a dressing-station.

"Do you fellows know how the tanks made out?" he asked.

One of them had seen two of the machines on the other side of the
German line, he said. In answer to the questions which were fired at
him he could only say that the tanks had pushed on beyond the German
front line.

Then on the top of the hill, against the sky-line, they saw a little
group of three or four men. James recognized them.

"Why, there's Sergeant Browning and Mr. Borwick, sir," he said.
"What's happened to their tank, I wonder?" He and McKnutt hurried over
to meet them.

Borwick smiled coolly.

"Hullo!" he said in his casual manner.

"What's happened to your 'bus?" "What did you do?" was fired at him.

"We got stuck in the German wire, and the infantry got ahead of us,"
he said. "We pushed on, and fell into a nest of three machine guns.
They couldn't hurt us, of course, and the Boches finally ran away. We
knocked out about ten of them, and just as we were going on and were
already moving, we suddenly started twisting around in circles. What
do you think had happened? A trench mortar had got us full in one of
our tracks, and the beastly thing broke. So we all tumbled out and
left her there."

"Didn't you go on with the infantry?" asked McKnutt.

"No. They'd reached their objective by that time," Borwick replied,
"so we saved the tank guns, and I pinched the clock. Then we strolled
back, and here we are," he concluded.

Talbot joined the group as he finished.

"But where's the rest of your crew?" he asked.

Borwick said quietly: "Jameson and Corporal Fiske got knocked out
coming back." He lit a cigarette and puffed at it.

There was silence for a moment.

Then Talbot said, "Bad luck; have you got their pay-books?"

"No, I forgot them," Borwick answered.

But his Sergeant handed over the little brown books which were the
only tangible remains of two men who had gone into action that
morning. The pay-books contained two or three pages on which were
jotted down their pay, with the officer's signature. They had been
used as pocket-books, and held a few odd letters which the men had
received a few days before. Talbot had often been given the pay-books
of men in his company who were killed, but he never failed to be
affected when he discovered the letters and little trifles which had
meant so much to the men who had carried them, and which now would
mean so much to those whom they had left behind.

In silence they went back to McKnutt's tank and sat down, waiting for
news. Scraps of information were beginning to trickle in.

"Have gained our objective in X Wood. Have not been counter-attacked."

"Cannot push on owing to heavy machine-gun fire from C----."

"Holding out with twenty men in trench running north from Derelict
Wood. Can I have reinforcements?"

These were the messages pouring in from different points on the lines
of attack. Sometimes the messages came in twos and threes. Sometimes
there were minutes when only a wild buzzing could be heard and the men
at the telephones tried to make the buzzing intelligible.

The situation cleared up finally, however. Our troops had, apparently,
gained their objectives along the entire line to the right. On the
left the next Brigade had been hung up by devastating machine-gun
fire. As McKnutt and Talbot waited around for news and fresh orders,
one of their men hurried down and saluted.

He brought the news that the other three tanks had returned, having
reached their objectives. Two had but little opposition and the
infantry had found no difficulty in gaining their points of attack.
The third tank, however, had had three men wounded at a "pill-box."
These pill-boxes are little concrete forts which the German had
planted along his line. The walls are of ferro concrete, two to three
feet thick. As the tank reached the pill-box, two Germans slipped out
of the rear door. Three of the tank crew clambered down and got inside
the pill-box. In a moment the firing from inside ceased, and presently
the door flew open. Two British tank men, dirty and grimy, escorting
ten Germans, filed out. The Germans had their hands above their heads,
and when ordered to the rear they went with the greatest alacrity. One
of the three Englishmen was badly wounded; the other two were only
slightly injured, but they wandered down to the dressing-station, with
the hope that "Blighty" would soon welcome them.

Although Talbot had his orders to hold the tanks in readiness in case
they were needed, no necessity arose, and after a few hours' waiting,
the Major sent word to him to start the tanks back to the embankment,
there to be kept for the next occasion. Better still, the men were to
be taken back to B---- in the motor lorries, just as they had been
after the first battle. Water, comparative quiet, blankets,--these
were the luxuries that lay before them.

As he sat crowded into the swaying motor lorry that lurched back along
the shell-torn road to B----, Talbot slipped his hand into his pocket.
He touched a cheque-book, a package of cigarettes, and a razor. Then
he smiled. They were the final preparations he had made that morning
before he went into action. After all he had not needed them, but one
never could tell, one might be taken prisoner. One needed no such
material preparations against the possibility of death, but a
prisoner--that was different.

The cheque-book had been for use in a possible gray prison camp in the
land of his enemies. Cheques would some time or other reach his
English bank and his people would know that he was, at least, alive.
The cigarettes were to keep up his courage in the face of whatever
disaster might befall him.

And the razor? Most important of all.

The razor was to keep, bright and untarnished, the traditions and
prestige of the British Army!



VIII

REST AND DISCIPLINE


We stayed in that region of the Front for a few more weeks, preparing
for any other task that might be demanded of us. One day the Battalion
received its orders to pack up, to load the tanks that were left over,
and to be ready for its return to the district in which we had spent
the winter.

We entrained on a Saturday evening at A----, and arrived at St.-P----
at about ten o'clock on Sunday night. From there a twelve-mile march
lay before us to our old billets in B----. As may well be imagined,
the men, though tired, were in high spirits. We simply ate up the
distance, and the troops disguised their fatigue by singing songs.
There were two which appeared to be favorites on this occasion.

One, to the tune of "The Church's One Foundation," ran as follows:--

    "We are Fred Karno's[1] Army,
    The ragtime A.S.C.,[2]
    We cannot work, we do not fight,
    So what ruddy use are we?
    And when we get to Berlin,
    The Kaiser he will say,
    Hoch, hoch, mein Gott!
    What a ruddy rotten lot,
    Is the ragtime A.S.C."

The other was a refrain to the tune of a Salvation Army hymn, "When
the Roll is called up Yonder":--

    "When you wash us in the water,
    That you washed your dirty daughter,
    Oh! then we will be much whiter!
    We'll be whiter than the whitewash on the wall."

Eventually the companies arrived in the village at all hours of the
morning. No one was up. We saw that the men received their meals,
which had been prepared by the cooks who had gone ahead in motor
lorries. They did not spend much time over the food, for in less than
half an hour "K" billets--the same Hospice de Ste. Berthe--were
perfectly quiet. We then wandered away with our servants, to be met
at each of our houses by hastily clad landladies, with sleep in their
eyes and smoking lamps or guttering candles in their hands.

The next morning the Company paraded at half-past nine, and the day
was spent in reforming sections, in issuing new kits to the men, and
in working the rosters for the various courses. On Tuesday, just as
breakfast was starting, an orderly brought a couple of memorandums
from Battalion Orderly Room for McKnutt and Borwick.

No one watched them read the chits, but Talbot, glancing up from his
plate, saw a look on Borwick's face. It was a look of the purest joy.

"What is it?" he said.

"Leave, my God!" replied Borwick; "and McKnutt's got it too."

"When are you going? To-day?" shouted the Old Bird.

"Yes; there's a car to take us to the station in a quarter of an
hour."

They both left their unfinished breakfasts and tore off to their
billets. There it was but a matter of moments to throw a few things
into their packs. No one ever takes any luggage when going on leave.
They tore back to the mess to leave instructions for their servants,
and we strolled out _en masse_ to see the lucky fellows off.

The box-body drew away from where we were standing. We watched it grow
smaller and smaller down the long white road, and turned back with
regrets and pleasure in our hearts. With regrets, that we ourselves
were not the lucky ones, and knowing that for some of us leave would
never come; with pleasure, because one is always glad that a few of
the deserving reap a small share of their reward.

Then, strolling over to the Parade Ground, we heard the "Five Minutes"
sounding. Some dashed off to get their Sam Brownes, others called for
their servants to wipe a few flecks of dust from their boots and
puttees.

When the "Fall In" began, the entire Company was standing "At Ease" on
the Parade Ground. As the last note of the call sounded, the whole
parade sprang to "Attention," and the Major, who had been standing on
the edge of the field, walked forward to inspect.

Every morning was spent in this manner, except for those who had
special courses to follow. We devoted all our time and attention to
"Forming Fours" in as perfect a manner as possible; to saluting with
the greatest accuracy and fierceness; and to unwearying repetition of
every movement and detail, until machinelike precision was attained.

All that we were doing then is the very foundation and essence of good
discipline. Discipline is the state to which a man is trained, in
order that under all circumstances he shall carry out without
secondary reasoning any order that may be given him by a superior.
There is nothing of a servile nature in this form of obedience. Each
man realizes that it is for the good of the whole. By placing his
implicit confidence in the commands of one of a higher rank than his
own, he gives an earnest of his ability to himself command at some
future time. It is but another proof of the old adage, that the man
who obeys least is the least fitted to command.

    [Illustration: _Copyright by Underwood & Underwood, N.Y._
    A BRITISH TANK IN THE LIBERTY LOAN PARADE IN NEW YORK]

When this war started, certain large formations, with the sheer lust
for fighting in their blood, did not, while being formed, realize the
absolute necessity of unending drill and inspection. Their first cry
was, "Give us a rifle, a bayonet, and a bomb, show us how to use them,
and we will do the rest." Acting upon this idea, they flung themselves
into battle, disregarding the iron rules of a preliminary training. At
first their very impetus and courage carried them over incredible
obstacles. But after a time, and as their best were killed off, the
original blaze died down, and the steady flame of ingrained discipline
was not there to take the place of burning enthusiasm. The terrible
waste and useless sacrifice that ensued showed only too plainly that
even the greatest individual bravery is not enough.

In this modern warfare there are many trials and experiences
unimagined before, which wear down the actual will-power of the men
who undergo them. When troops are forced to sit in a trench under the
most terrific shell-fire, the nerve-racking noise, the sight of their
comrades and their defences being blown to atoms, and the constant
fear that they themselves will be the next to go, all deprive the
ordinary mind of vital initiative. Having lost the active mental
powers that a human being possesses, they are reduced to the level of
machines. The officers and non-commissioned officers, on whom the
responsibility of leadership rests, have that spur to maintain their
equilibrium, but the private soldiers, who have themselves only to
think of, are the most open to this devastating influence. If these
machines are to be controlled, as they must be, by an exterior
intelligence, they must obey automatically, and if in the past
automatic obedience has not been implanted, there is nothing to take
its place.

The only means by which to obtain inherent response to a given order
is so to train a man in minute details, by constant, inflexible
insistence on perfection, that it becomes part of his being to obey
without thinking.

It must not be presumed that, in obtaining this almost inhuman
reaction, all independent qualities are obliterated. For, though a
man's mind is adjusted to carrying out, without questioning, any task
that is demanded of him, yet in the execution of this duty he is
allowed the full scope of his invention and initiative.

Thus, by this dull and unending routine, we laid the foundation of
that inevitable success toward which we were slowly working.

When the Company dismissed, the Major, Talbot, and the Old Bird walked
over to lunch together.

"Well, it's a great war, isn't it?" said the Major, turning to the
other two.

"It's very nice to have got through a couple of shows, sir," replied
Talbot. "What do you think about it, Old Bird?"

"Well, of course, war is all very well for those who like it. But give
me the Base every time," answered the Old Bird, true to his
reputation. Then, turning to the Major with his most ingratiating
smile, he said, "By the way, sir, what about a few days in Boulogne?"

FOOTNOTES:

[1] A late, third-rate English pantomime producer.

[2] Stands for Army Service Corps, and its equivalent in the American
Army is the Quartermaster's Corps.



IX

A PHILOSOPHY OF WAR


It has often been observed that if this war is to end war for all
time, and if all the sacrifices and misery and suffering will help to
prevent any recurrence of them, then it is well worth while.

In these days of immediate demands and quick results, this question is
too vague and too far-reaching to bring instant consolation. Apart
from that, too, it cannot decide whether any war, however great, can
ever abolish the natural and primitive fighting instinct in man.

The source from which we must draw the justification for our optimism
lies much nearer to hand. We must regard the effect that warring life
has already produced upon each individual member of the nations who
are and who are not engaged in it.

At the very heart of it is the effect on the man who is actually
fighting. Take the case of him who before the war was either working
in a factory, who was a clerk in a business house, or who was nothing
at all beyond the veriest loafer and bar-lounger. To begin with, he
was perhaps purely selfish. The foundation of his normal life was
self-protection. Whether worthless or worthy, whether hating or
respecting his superiors, the private gain and comfort for himself and
his was the object of his existence. He becomes a soldier, and that
act alone is a conversion. His wife and children are cared for, it is
true; but he himself, for a shilling a day, sells to his country his
life, his health, his pleasures, and his hopes for the future. To make
good measure he throws in cheerfulness, devotion, philosophy, humour,
and an unfailing kindness. One man, for instance, sells up three
grocery businesses in the heart of Lancashire, an ambition which it
has taken him ten years to accomplish. Without a trace of bitterness
he divorces himself from the routine of a lifetime, and goes out to
France to begin life again at the very bottom of a new ladder. He who
for years had many men under him is now under all, and receives,
unquestioningly, orders which in a different sphere he had been
accustomed to give. Apart from the mere letter of obedience and
discipline he gains a spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice, which
turns the bare military instrument into a divine virtue. He may, for
instance, take up the duties of an officer's servant. Immediately he
throws himself whole-heartedly into a new form of selfless generosity,
which leads him to a thousand ways of care and forethought, that even
the tenderest woman could hardly conceive. The man who receives this
unwavering devotion can only accept it with the knowledge that no one
can deserve it, and that it is greater gain to him who gives than to
him who takes.

What life of peace is there that produces this god-like fibre in the
plainest of men? Why, indeed, is it produced in the life of war? It is
because in war sordidness and petty worries are eliminated; because
the one great and ever-present fear, the fear of death, reduces all
other considerations to their proper values. The actual fear of death
is always present, but this fear itself cannot be sordid when men can
meet it of their own free will and with the most total absence of
cringing or of cowardice.

In commercial rivalry a man will sacrifice the friend of years to gain
a given sum, which will insure him increased material comforts. In war
a man will deliberately sacrifice the life for which he wanted those
comforts, to save perhaps a couple of men who have no claim on him
whatsoever. He who before feared any household calamity now throws
himself upon a live bomb, which, even though he might escape himself,
will without his action kill other men who are near it. This deed
loses none of its value because of the general belief among soldiers
that life is cheap. Other men's lives are cheap. One's own life is
always very dear.

One of the most precious results has been the resurrection of the
quality of admiration. The man who before the war said, "Why is he my
master?" is now only too glad to accept a leader who is a leader
indeed. He has learned that as his leader cannot do without him, so he
cannot do without his leader, and although each is of equal
importance in the scheme of affairs, their positions in the scheme are
different. He has learned that there is a higher equality than the
equality of class: it is the equality of spirit.

This same feeling is reflected, more especially among the leaders of
the men, in the complete disappearance of snobbishness. No such
artificial imposition can survive in a life where inherent value
automatically finds its level; where a disguise which in peace-time
passed as superiority, now disintegrates when in contact with this
life of essentials. For war is, above all, a reduction to essentials.
It is the touchstone which proves the qualities of our youth's
training. All those pleasures that formed the gamut of a young man's
life either fall away completely or find their proper place. Sport,
games, the open-air life, have taught him that high cheerfulness,
through failure or success, which makes endurance possible. But the
complicated, artificial pleasures of ordinary times have receded into
a dim, unspoken background. The wholesomeness of the existence that
he now leads has taught him to delight in the most simple and natural
of things. This throwing aside of the perversions and fripperies of an
over-civilization has forced him to regard them with a disgust that
can never allow him to be tempted again by their inducements of
delight and dissipation. The natural, healthy desires which a man is
sometimes inclined to indulge in are no longer veiled under a mask of
hypocrisy. They are treated in a perfectly outspoken fashion as the
necessary accompaniments to a hard, open-air life, where a man's
vitality is at its best. In consequence of this, and as the result of
the deepening of man's character which war inevitably produces, the
sense of adventure and mystery which accompanied the fulfilment of
these desires has disappeared, and with it to a great extent the
desires themselves have assumed a far less importance.

In peace, and especially in war, the young man's creed is casualness.
Not the casualness of carelessness, but that which comes from the
knowledge that up to each given point he has done his best. It is
this fundamental peace of mind which comes to a soldier that forms the
beauty of his life. The order received must be obeyed in its exact
degree, neither more nor less; and the responsibility, though great,
is clearly defined. Each man must use his individual intelligence
within the scope of the part assigned to him. The responsibility
differs in kind, but not in degree, and the last link of the chain is
as important as the first. There can be no shirking or shifting, and,
knowing this, each task is finished, rounded out, and put away. One
might think that this made thought mechanical: but it is mechanical
only in so far as each man's intelligence is concentrated on his own
particular duty, and each part working in perfect order contributes to
the unison through which the whole machine develops its power. Thus
the military life induces in men a clearer and more accurate habit of
thought, and teaches each one to do his work well and above all to do
his own work only.

From this very simplicity of life, which brings out a calmness of mind
and that equable temperament that minor worries can no longer shake,
springs the mental leisure which gives time for other and unaccustomed
ideas. Men who wittingly, time and again, have faced but escaped
death, will inevitably begin to think what death may mean. As the
first lessons of obedience teach each man that he needs a leader to
pass through a certain crisis, so the crisis of death, where man must
pass alone, demands a still higher Leader. With the admission that no
man is self-sufficient, that sin of pride, which is the strongest
barrier between a man and his God, falls away. He is forced, if only
in self-defence, to recognize that faith in some all-sufficient Power
is the only thing that will carry him through. If he could cut away
the thousand sins of thought, man would automatically find himself at
faith. It is the central but often hidden point of our intelligence;
and although there are a hundred roads that lead to it, they may be
completely blocked. The clean flame of the disciplined life burns away
the rubbish that chokes these roads, and faith becomes a nearer and
more constant thing.

The sadness of war lies in the loss of actual personalities, but it is
only by means of these losses that this surrender can be attained.

It must not be thought that faith comes overnight as a free gift. It
is a long and slow process of many difficult steps. There may be first
the actual literal crumbling, unknown in peace-time, of one's solid
surroundings, to be repeated perhaps again and again until the old
habit of reliance upon them is uprooted. Then comes the realization
that this life at the front has but two possible endings. The first is
to be so disabled that a man's fighting days are over. The other is
death. Instant death rather than a slow death from wounds. Every man
hopes for a wound which will send him home to England. That, however,
is only a respite, as his return to France follows upon his
convalescence. The other most important step is the loss of one's
friends. It is not the fact of actually seeing them killed, for in the
chaos and tumult of a battle the mind hardly registers such
impressions. One's only feeling is the purely primitive one of relief,
that it is another and not one's self. It is only afterwards, when
the excitement is over, and a man realizes that again there is a space
of life, for him, but not for his friend, that the loneliness and the
loss are felt. He then says to himself, "Why am I spared when many
better men have gone?" At first resentment swallows up all other
emotions. In time, when this bitterness begins to pass, the belief
that somehow this loss is of some avail, carries him a little farther
on the road to faith. This all comes to the man who before the war
believed that the world was made for his pleasure, and who treated
life from that standpoint. All that he wanted he took without asking.
Now, all that he has he gives without being asked.

Woman, too, gives more than herself. She gives her men, her peace of
mind and all that makes her life worth living. The man after all may
have little hope, but while he is alive he has the daily pleasures of
health, vitality, excitement, and a thousand interests. A woman has
but a choice of sorrows: the sorrow of unbearable suspense or the
acceptance of the end.

Yet it needed this war to show again to women what they could best do
in life: to love their men, bear their children, care for the sick and
suffering, and learn to endure. It has taught them also to accept from
man what he is able or willing to give, and to admit a higher claim
than their own. They have been forced to put aside the demands and
exactions which they felt before were their right, and to accept
loneliness and loss without murmur or question.

A woman who loses her son loses the supreme reason of her existence;
and yet the day after the news has come, she goes back to her work for
the sons of other women. If she has more sons to give she gives them,
and faces again the eternal suspense that she has lived through
before. The younger women, who in times of peace would have looked
forward to an advantageous and comfortable marriage, will now marry
men whom they may never see again after the ten days' honeymoon is
over, and will unselfishly face the very real possibility of widowhood
and lonely motherhood. They have had to learn the old lesson that work
for others is the only cure for sorrow, and they have learned too
that it is the only cure for all those petty worries and boredoms
which assailed them in times of peace. If they have learned this, then
again one may say that war is worth while.

What effect has the war had upon those countries who in the beginning
were not engaged in it? The United States, for instance, has for three
years been an onlooker. The people of that country have had every
opportunity to view, in their proper perspectives, the feelings and
changes brought about among the men and women of the combatant
countries. At first, the enormous casualties, the sufferings and the
sorrow, led them to believe that nothing was worth the price they
would have to pay, were they to enter into the lists. For in the
beginning, before that wonderful philosophy of spirit and cheerfulness
of outlook arose, and before the far-reaching effects of the sacrifice
of loved ones could be perceived, there seemed to be little reason or
right for such a train of desolation. They were perfectly justified,
too, in thinking this, when insufficient time had elapsed to enable
them to judge of the immense, sweeping, beneficial effects that this
struggle has produced in the moral fibre and stamina of the nations
engaged.

It must be remembered that the horrors of the imagination are far
worse than the realities. The men who fight and the women who tend
their wounds suffer mentally far less than those who paint the
pictures in their minds, from data which so very often are grossly
exaggerated. One must realize that the hardships of war are merely
transient. Men suffer untold discomforts, and yet, when these
sufferings are over and mind and body are at ease for a while, they
are completely forgotten. The only mark they leave is the
disinclination to undergo them again. But on those who do not realize
them in their actuality, they cause a far more terrifying effect.

Now, others, as well, have discovered that war's advantages outweigh
so much its losses. They who with their own eyes had seen the
wonderful fortitude with which men stand pain, and the amazing
submission with which women bear sorrow, returned full of zeal and
enthusiasm, to carry the torch of this uplifting flame to their own
countrymen.

Others will realize, too, that although one may lose one's best, yet
one's worst is made better. The women will find that the characters of
their men will become softened. The clear-cut essentials of a life of
war must make the mind of man direct. It may be brutal in its
simplicity, but it is clear and frank. Yet to counteract this, the
continual sight of suffering bravely borne, the deep love and humility
that the devotion of others unconsciously produces, bring about this
charity of feeling, this desire to forgive and this moderation in
criticism, which is so marked in those who have passed through the
strenuous, searing realities of war. Since the thirty pieces of
silver, no minted coin in the world has bought so much as has the
King's shilling of to-day.


THE END



The Riverside Press
CAMBRIDGE · MASSACHUSETTS
U·S·A





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