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Title: Servants of the Guns
Author: Jeffery, Jeffery E.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  SERVANTS OF THE GUNS

  BY

  JEFFERY E. JEFFERY


      _By the ears and the eyes and the brain,
        By the limbs and the hands and the wings,
      We are slaves to our masters the guns,
        But their slaves are the masters of kings!_
                                          GILBERT FRANKAU.


  LONDON SMITH, ELDER & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE

  1917

  [_All rights reserved_]


  PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED LONDON AND BECCLES,
  ENGLAND


  _TO

  ONE WHO KNOWS NOTHING OF GUNS

  BUT MUCH OF LIFE

  MY MOTHER_



  CONTENTS


  PART I

  THE NEW "UBIQUE"

  BEGINNING AGAIN
  A BATTERY IN BEING
  "IN THE LINE"
  SPIT AND POLISH
  A BATTLE


  PART II

  AND THE OLD

  BILFRED
  "THE PROGRESS OF PICKERSDYKE"
  SNATTY
  FIVE-FOUR-EIGHT


  PART III

  IN ENEMY HANDS

  SOME EXPERIENCES OF A PRISONER OF WAR
  HENRY



PART I

THE NEW "UBIQUE"



BEGINNING AGAIN


As the long troop train rumbled slowly over the water-logged wastes of
Flanders, I sat in the corner of a carriage which was littered with all
the _débris_ of a twenty-four hours' journey and watched the fiery
winter's sun set gorgeously. It was Christmas evening. Inevitably my
mind went back to that other journey of sixteen months ago when we set
forth so proudly, so exultantly to face the test of war.

But how different, how utterly different is everything now! Last time,
with the sun shining brilliantly from a cloudless sky and the French
sentries along the line waving enthusiastically, we passed cheerfully
through the pleasant land of France towards our destination on the
frontier. I was a subaltern then, a subordinate member of a battery
which, according to pre-war standards, was equipped and trained to
perfection--and I can say this without presumption, for having only
joined it in July I had had no share in the making of it. But I had
been in it long enough to appreciate its intense _esprit-de-corps_, long
enough to share the absolute confidence in its efficiency which inspired
every man in it from the major to the second trumpeter.

But now it is midwinter, the second winter of the war, and the French
sentries no longer wave to us, for they have seen too many train-loads
of English troops to be more than mildly interested. The war to which we
set out so light-heartedly sixteen months ago has proved itself to be
not the "greatest of games," but the greatest of all ghastly horrors
threatening the final disruption of civilised humanity. More than a year
has passed and the end is not in sight. But the cause is as righteous,
the victory as certain now as it was then.... The methods and practice
of warfare have been revolutionised. Theory after theory has been
disproved by the devastating power of the high explosive and the giant
gun. Horse and field batteries no longer dash into action to the music
of jingling harness and thudding hoofs. They creep in by night with
infinite precautions and place their guns in casemates which are often
ten feet thick; they occupy the same position not for hours, but for
months at a time; they fire at targets which are sometimes only fifty
yards or even less in front of their own infantry, with the knowledge
that the smallest error may mean death to their comrades; and the
control of their shooting is no longer an affair of good eyesight and
common sense, but of science, complicated instruments, and a
multiplicity of telephones.

And I, a novice at all this kind of work, am no longer a subaltern. I am
directly responsible for the welfare and efficiency of the battery which
this long train is bearing into the zone of war. How we fare when we get
there, what kind of tasks are allotted to us, and how we succeed in
coping with them I hope to record in due course. But this I know
now--the human material with which I have to deal is good enough. We
have the advantage of being a homogeneous unit, for we belong to one of
the "locally raised" divisions. With only a very few exceptions (notably
the sergeant-major, who is a "serving soldier" of vast proportions and
great merit), the N.C.O.'s and men all come from the same district. Many
of them were acquainted in private life and enlisted in little coteries
of five or six. Christian names are freely used, which is fortunate
seeing that we have four Jones', five Davies', and no less than eight
Evans' on our roll. In moments of excitement or of anger they resort to
their own language and encourage or abuse each other in voluble
Welsh....

A few miles back we passed G.H.Q. I was vaguely impressed with the
silent dignity, the aloofness, as it were, of that now celebrated place.
Our train drew up in the station, which seemed as deserted as that of a
small English country town on a Sunday. "Here, within a mile of me," I
thought, "dwell the Powers that Be, whose brains control the destinies
of a million men. Here somewhere is the individual who knows my
destination and when I am likely to get to it." But this surmise proved
incorrect. It was three-thirty on Christmas afternoon and even the staff
must lunch. Presently a R.T.O.[1] issued from a cosy-looking office and
crossed the line towards me. His first question was positively painful
in its naïve simplicity.

[1] Railway Transport Officer.

"Who are _you_?" he inquired haughtily. My reply was not only correct
but dignified. "We know nothing about you," he said. "The staff officer
who should have been here to give you your instructions is away at
present." (I think I mentioned that it was Christmas Day!)

"Never mind," I replied, "but would it be disturbing your arrangements
at all if I watered my horses and gave my men some food here? They've
had nothing since last night, and the horses have been ten hours without
water."

"No time for that. You'll leave in two minutes."

And sure enough in half an hour we were off again!...

When, soon after five, we learnt that we were within a few minutes of
our journey's end I leant across and woke "The Child"--who is my junior
subaltern. If this war had not come to pass the Child would probably be
enjoying his Christmas holidays and looking forward to his last term at
his public school. Actually, he has already nine months' service, of
which three have been spent at the front. He has been home wounded and
is now starting out again as a veteran to whom less experienced persons
refer their doubts and queries. Last week he celebrated his eighteenth
birthday. He is the genuine article, that is he holds a regular
commission and has passed through "the Shop."[2] His clothes fit him,
his aspirates appear in the right places, he is self-possessed,
competent, level-headed and not infrequently amusing. Of his particular
type of manhood (or rather boyhood) he is a fine example.

[2] R.M.A. Woolwich.

"Wake up, Child," I said. "We're nearly there."

He rubbed his eyes and sat up, wide awake at once.

"_Some_ journey," he observed. "Hope it's not Hell's own distance to our
billets."

The R.T.O. at ---- where we detrained was an expert, the passion of whose
life it is apparently to clear the station yard in an impossibly short
space of time. He addressed me as follows, the moment I was out of the
train.

"You _must_ be unloaded and out of this in two hours. You can sort
yourselves in the road afterwards."

I promised to do my utmost, but the prospect of sorting men, horses,
vehicles, and harness on a narrow road flanked by deep ditches whilst
the rain streamed down out of a sky as black as tar, appealed only
vaguely to my optimistic spirit.

The R.T.O., having given minute instructions and made certain that they
were in course of being carried out with feverish haste, became
communicative.

"You see," he said, "there's been the dickens of a row lately. One unit
took four and a half hours to detrain and several have taken more than
three. Then 'Brass Hats' get busy and call for reasons in writing, and I
have to render a report and everybody gets damned. If you exceed your
time I shall _have_ to report you. I don't want to, of course, and I'm
sure you don't want me to."

But at this moment I spotted, by the light of an acetylene flare, my
prize-fool sergeant (every battery is issued with at least one of these)
directing his drivers to place their harness just where it could not
fail to be in everybody's way. I turned to the R.T.O.

"My good man," I said, "you can report me to any one you please. I've
reached the stage when I don't care _what_ you do." And I made for the
offending sergeant. The R.T.O., justly incensed, retired to the warmth
of his office.

As a matter of fact things went rather well; the men, heartened by the
thought that rest and food were not far distant, worked with a will, and
by the time the allotted two hours had elapsed we were not only clear of
the yard, but hooked in on the road and nearly ready to start. Moreover,
being the first battery of the Brigade to arrive we had had our choice
of billets, and knew that we had got a good one. The Child, preceded by
a cyclist guide whose knowledge of the country was palpably slight, and
followed by the mess cart, had gone off into the darkness to find the
way. It was his job to make all arrangements and then come back to meet
us. Since it was only drizzling now and not really very cold, the
outlook was distinctly brighter.

"Walk--march," I ordered, and we duly started. We progressed without
mishap for, roughly, twenty-five yards, when there was a shout from the
rear of the column. The sergeant-major took in its ominous purport
before I did. He forgot himself--and swore aloud. "G.S. wagon's
overturned in the ditch" was what I eventually heard. It was enough to
make an angel weep tears of vexation.

A battery is provided by a munificent government with two G.S. wagons.
One contains supplies (_i.e._ food for horse and man), the other
contains baggage and stores. To be without either is most unpleasant. I
went back to the scene of the disaster. The ditch was deep and more than
half full of water. In it, completely overturned and firmly wedged, was
the baggage wagon. Behind the wagon, also in the ditch and still mounted
upon a floundering steed, was our old farrier, talking very fast to
himself in Welsh. We got him out and soothed him--poor old man, he was
wet through from the waist downwards--and then looked sadly,
reluctantly, at the wagon. Evidently there was no hope of shifting it
without unloading, and that would take too long. So three unfortunate
gunners and a bombardier were told off to mount guard over it, given
some tins of bully beef and a few biscuits and marooned, as it were,
till the morning. All this took time. And we were very tired and very
hungry.

"I am the most unlucky devil on earth," I thought, as riding up to the
front again I found that the pole of an ammunition wagon had broken and
was going to cause still further delay. But it was a selfish thought.
There was a distant rumbling, not of thunder, far behind us. I looked
back. The night was clearing and the black horizon was a clear-cut line
against the heavens. Into the sky, now here, now there, kept darting up
tiny sparks of fire, and over the whole long line, for miles and miles,
a glimmer, as of summer lightning, flickered spasmodically. For in that
direction lay "the front." On this Christmas night in the year of grace
nineteen hundred and fifteen, from the North Sea to the Alps, there
stood men peering through the darkness at the dim shape of the parapet
opposite, watching for an enemy who might be preparing some sinister
scheme for their undoing. And I had dared to deem myself unlucky--I who
had hope that some time that night I should undress and slip into
bed--warm and dry....

       *       *       *       *       *

St. Stephen's Day! I wonder if the U.H.C. are meeting at Clonmult
to-day. Closing my eyes I can picture the village street with its crowd
of holiday-making farmers, buckeens, horse-dealers, pinkcoated officers
and country gentlemen, priests and "lads on jinnets," as it was when I
went to a meet there that Boxing Day the year that "Brad" and I spent
our leave in Cork. But now hunting is a thing of small importance and
Brad--is a treasured memory....

We are comfortable here, extraordinarily so. The whole battery is in one
farm and more than half the horses are under cover. The men sleep in a
roomy barn with plenty of straw to keep them warm, the sergeants have a
loft of their own. We have arranged harness rooms, a good kitchen for
the cooks, a washhouse, a gun park, a battery office, and a telephone
room. "_M. le patron_" is courtly and obliging, Madame is altogether
charming. Their parlour is at the officers' disposal for a living-room:
I've got a bedroom to myself. We are, in fact, in process of settling
down.

My admiration for the soldiers of the New Army increases daily. For I
perceive that they too, in common with their more highly trained, more
sternly disciplined comrades of the original "Regulars," possess the
supreme quality of being able to "stick it." The journey from our
station in England to this particular farm in northern France was no bad
test for raw troops--and we are raw at present, it is idle to deny the
fact. We marched to Southampton, we embarked (a lengthy and a tiring
process). We were twelve hours on the boat, and we had an exceptionally
rough crossing, during which nine-tenths of the battery were sick. We
disembarked, we groomed our horses and regarded our rusty harness with
dismay. We waited about for some hours, forbidden to leave the precincts
of the quay. Then we marched to the station and entrained. Any one who
has ever assisted to put guns and heavy wagons on to side-loading
trucks, or to haul unwilling horses up a slippery ramp, knows what that
means. And I may add that it was dark and it was raining. We travelled
for twenty-four hours--with a mess-tin full of lukewarm tea at 8 a.m.
to hearten us--and then we detrained at just the time when it was
getting dark again and still raining. Moreover, whilst we were in the
train, cold, hungry, dirty and horribly uncomfortable, we had ample time
to remember that it was Christmas Day, a festival upon which the soldier
is supposed to be given a gratuitous feast and a whole holiday. But all
this, to say nothing of a five-mile march to our billet afterwards and
the tedious process of unharnessing and putting down horse lines in the
dark, was done without audible "grousing." Truly this morning's late
_réveillé_ was well earned.

The sun is shining this afternoon. The gunners are busy washing down the
guns and wagons, the drivers sit around the courtyard scrubbing away at
their harness: through the open window I can hear them singing softly.
The poultry picking their way delicately about the yard, the old
_patron_ carrying armfuls of straw to his cattle, and Madame sitting
sewing in the kitchen doorway almost make one feel that peace has come
again into the world. But from the eastward occasionally and very
faintly there comes that ominous rumbling which portends carnage,
destruction--Death....

It was the quartermaster-sergeant's idea originally. He is a New Army
product, but he has already developed the two essential attributes which
go towards the making of a good quartermaster-sergeant--a suave manner
and an eye to the main chance. It was he who suggested, laughingly, that
since the men had missed their Christmas dinner, we should pretend to be
Scotch and celebrate New Year's Day instead. The arrangements are now
complete. The men are to be "paid out" to-morrow and they have all
agreed to subscribe a franc apiece. This will be supplemented until the
funds are sufficient. The Expeditionary Force canteen at ---- has been
visited, and in spite of the heavy demands previously made upon it for
Christmas has provided us with numerous delicacies. The old farmer,
entering cheerfully into the spirit of the affair, has offered beans and
potatoes which Madame proposes to cook for us. Bottled beer has been
purchased, beer on draught will be forthcoming. There are even crackers.
To crown all, the Child returns triumphantly seated upon the box seat of
a G.S. wagon which contains--a piano!...

In the end circumstances forced us to celebrate the birth of the year of
victory on the last day but one of 1915. For to-day two officers and a
large party of N.C.O.'s and men departed for the front on a course of
instruction. So we had to have our "day" before they went. And what a
day it was! The dinner--thanks largely to the energy and resource of the
"quarter-bloke" and the cooks--was an immense success. Every man ate
until, literally, he could eat no more. Then, after the issue of beer
and a brief interval for repose and tobacco, an inter-section football
match was started. The two subalterns whose commands were involved made
a sporting agreement that the loser should stand a packet of cigarettes
to every man of the winning section--some sixty in all. The game, which
was played in a water-logged meadow, ended in a draw, so they each stood
their own men the aforesaid packet--a highly popular procedure.

The piano, need I say, was going all the afternoon. It was necessary to
practise for the evening's concert, and besides we are Welsh and
therefore we are all musical. Moreover--and this I record with
diffidence--I saw the one sergeant we have who is _not_ Welsh but Irish
inveigle the dairymaid into waltzing round the yard!

In the officers' mess we too "spread ourselves a bit." We had guests
and we gave them an eight-course dinner which began with _hors d'oeuvre
variés_ (but not very varied seeing that there were only sardines and
chopped carrots) and ended with dessert. Specially selected ration beef
was, of course, the _pièce de résistance_, but it was followed by roast
pigeon and a salad, the latter mixed and dressed by Madame's own fair
hands. But the pigeons, though cooked to a nicety, were undeniably
tough--a fact which was not surprising seeing that they were quite
possibly the oldest inhabitants of the farm!

Eventually, well pleased with ourselves and each armed with a brand of
cigar which one can buy at the rate of nine inches for twopence, we
adjourned to the smoking concert in the barn. The stage was our old
friend the G.S. wagon; the lights, siege lamps, hung round at intervals.
Bottled beer and cigarettes were in constant circulation; the performers
were above the average, and the choruses vociferous but always tuneful.

Every unit has its amateur comedian; but we have got a real professional
one--a "lad fra' Lancasheer" who is well known in the north of England.
I will not divulge his stage name, but he is a corporal now. His voice
is exceptional, his good-nature unlimited, and as for his
stories--well! Moreover, he is gifted enough to be always topical, often
personal, but never disrespectful.

The Child also performed. He has no great voice and had dined well, but,
since he _is_ the Child and sang a song about any old night being a
wonderful night, was wildly applauded. Then the saddler-sergeant, a
quaint character of whom more anon, brought the house down by playing a
quavering solo upon a penny whistle. Finally, the sergeant-major made a
speech which ended as follows:--

"Now there's just one point I want to remind you of. We all wear a badge
in our caps with a gun on it--those of us that is who haven't gone
against orders and given them away as souvenirs" (audible
giggles--although as a matter of fact this has not occurred). "We're all
members of the Royal Regiment. It's got a fine history--let's play up to
it. We'll now sing 'the King,' after which there'll be an issue of tea
and rum...."

The windows of our mess-room, as I have said, face the courtyard. We
were enjoying supper and a welcome drink whilst the long queue of men
waited for their tea at the cook-house door outside, when suddenly in a
dark corner of the yard a chorus started. But it was not an ordinary
chorus, raucous and none too tuneful. Neither was it music-hall
sentiment. It was Grand Opera, sung by a dozen picked men and sung
beautifully. We threw open the window to listen.

The effect was extraordinarily striking. It was a gorgeous starlit
night, and against the sky the farm buildings opposite looked like
silhouettes of black velvet. The voices of these unseen artists (for
they _were_ artists) came to us softly out of the darkness, rising and
falling in perfect cadence, perfect harmony. They sang two selections
from _Il Trovatore_ and then the "Soldiers' Chorus" from _Faust_.
Meanwhile the battery sipped its hot tea and rum and listened
critically. Then there followed a solo, "He like a soldier fell," from
_Maritana_. As a finale, most wonderful of all, they sang "Land of my
Fathers" in Welsh. The occasion, the setting, the way they put their
very souls into every note of it, made me catch my breath as I sat on
the window-sill and listened. And I went to bed feeling that there is
yet a thread of romance running through all the sordid horror which
vexes our unhappy world.



A BATTERY IN BEING


The author of a little red book "War Establishments," labelled "For
Official Use Only" (presumably a gentleman with a brain like
an automatic ready-reckoner), probably thought of nothing
whatever, certainly of no human being, when he penned the decree
"Farrier-Sergeants--per battery--1." But if he could only see the result
of his handiwork! For our farrier-sergeant David Evans is simply
splendid. He is small and sturdy and middle-aged, with grizzled hair
that shows at all times in front of his pushed-back cap. His soft Welsh
accent is a joy to hear; his affection for the horses is immense, his
industry unflagging, and his workmanship always of the very best. He
knows nothing about guns or drill or any kind of soldiering, he is an
indifferent rider and in appearance he would never be mistaken for a
guardsman! But we have only cast one shoe since he joined us months ago,
and he has been known to sit up all night with a sick horse and carry
on with his work as usual on the following day, whistling merrily (he
always whistles while he works) and hammering away as if his very ration
depended upon his shoeing the whole battery before dusk. The Child
summed him up with his customary exactitude.

"I love the old farrier," he said, "he's such a merry old man. I bet
he's a topping uncle to somebody!"

Then there is the saddler. I know that the formation of our new armies
has produced many anomalies, but it is my conviction that our saddler is
unique. To start with he is a grandfather! He is a little wizened old
man with a nose like a bird's beak and he wears huge thick spectacles.
He is sixty-two, and how he got into the service is a mystery. He has
never done a parade in his life, but when it comes to leather-work
(again I quote the Child) "he's a tiger." The battery was newly formed
and living in billets in North Wales when he joined it. His original
appearance caused a mild sensation, even amongst that motley and
ununiformed assembly. For he wore check trousers and a pair of ancient
brown shoes, a tweed tail-coat from the hind pocket of which protruded a
red handkerchief, and--most grotesque of all--a battered top hat of
brown felt! And in this costume he served his country, quite
unconcernedly, for two months before the authorities saw fit to provide
him with a khaki suit. It is his habit, no matter where the battery may
find itself--in barracks, camp or billets, to seek out a secluded spot
(preferably a dark one), to instal himself there with his tools and a
tangle of odd straps, threads and buckles, and proceed to make or mend
things. For he is one of those queer persons who really like work.

I was not fortunate enough to see him in his civilian garb, but I have a
vivid recollection of his first appearance after being issued with a
"cap, winter, overseas, with waterproof cover." This cap, though
practical, does not tend to add to the smartness of the wearer, even if
the wearer is in all other respects smart. But the saddler went to
extremes. He managed to put on the cover so that the whole, pulled well
down over his ears, resembled a vast sponge bag or an elderly lady's
bathing cap, beneath which his spectacles gleamed like the head-lights
of a motor-car. The wildest stretch of the imagination could not liken
him to any sort of soldier. Nevertheless, after his fashion, he is
certainly "doing his bit."

It is, of course, impossible to describe them all. Equally is it
impossible to understand them all. I wish I could, for therein lies the
secret to almost everything. The sergeant-major, for instance, who is
the personification of respectful efficiency--what does he think of this
infant unit? From the dignified way in which he says, "Of course in _my_
battery we did so and so" (meaning, of course, his old "regular"
battery), I gather that his prejudices are strong and that he harbours a
secret longing to go back whence he came. And I sometimes wonder whether
he finds himself quite at home in the sergeants' mess. But he shows no
outward sign of discontent and he allows no discord: his discipline is
stern and unbending. He knows all about every man and every horse, he is
always to be found somewhere in the lines, and he is extraordinarily
patient at explaining to ignorant persons of all ranks the "service"
method of doing everything--from the tying of a headrope to the actual
manoeuvring of a battery in the field. Last, but by no means least, he
is six foot three and broad in proportion, and his voice carries two
hundred yards without apparent effort on his part.

The quartermaster-sergeant--I learnt this only a day or so ago--is a
revivalist preacher in quieter times; the ration orderly, besides his
faculty for wheedling extra bacon out of the supply people, has a
magnificent tenor voice; the great majority of the rank and file are
miners. It is only comparatively recently that they have really settled
down to take a pride in themselves and an intelligent interest in the
reputation of their unit. For we are not KI. We are nearer to being KV
or VI, and we were not amongst the first to be equipped and trained. We
got our guns, our horses and our harness late in the day, and we were,
perhaps, the least bit rushed. Consequently we were slow to develop, but
we are making up for lost time now at an astonishing pace. I can
remember a time when, on giving the order "Walk--march" to any given
team, there was always an even chance that drivers and horses would
disagree as to the necessity for moving off. I can also remember a time
(and not so very long ago either) when our gunners had but the smallest
conception of what a gun was designed to do and (I know this) rather
shrank from the dread prospect of actually firing it. But now we drive
with no mean attempt at style; a narrow gateway off a lane is nothing to
us, and our horses, artistically matched in teams of bay or black, are
prepared to pull their two tons through or over anything within reason
with just a "click" of encouragement from the drivers they know and
understand. And we open the breech as the gun runs up after the recoil,
we call out the fuzes and slap in the next shell with more than mere
drill-book smartness; we're beginning to acquire that pride in our
working of the guns which is the basis of all good artillery work. In
fact we have reached a stage where it would be a wholesome corrective to
our conceit to be taken _en masse_ to see the harness, the horses and
the gun-drill of some regular battery that has borne the brunt of things
since Mons. Then we would go home saying to ourselves, "If the war lasts
another two years and we keep hard at it, we'll be as good as they are."

But in the meanwhile we are quite prepared to take on the Hun, moving or
stationary, in trenches or in the open, at any range from "point-blank"
to six thousand. And we have had it dinned into us, until we yawned and
shuffled our feet and coughed, that it is our _rôle_ at all times to
help our infantry, whose life is ten times more strenuous than ours, and
by whom ultimately victory is won. We know the meaning of the two
mottoes on our hats and we are distinctly optimistic. Which is as
well....

       *       *       *       *       *

To-day I visited "the Front." We rode up, a subaltern and I, to see the
battery to which our men are at present attached and which we will
eventually relieve. It is a strange experience for the uninitiated, such
as I am, this riding along the flat and crumbling roads towards the
booming of the guns and the desolation of "the line." The battery
position, we found, was just on the borderland of this zone of
desolation. One would never have suspected the presence of guns unless
one had known exactly where to look--and had gone quite close. A
partially ruined house on the road-side had its front and one gable end
entirely covered with a solid wall of sandbags, but these were the only
obvious indications of occupation. This house, however, was the mess and
officers' quarters, and the Child was there at the door to welcome us.

"We've had quite a busy morning," he said gaily. "They've been putting
four-two's and five-nine's into ----" (---- is a village about a quarter
of a mile up the road). "I was just going out to look for fuzes: but
perhaps you'd like to see round the position first."

We crossed the road and entered a small orchard. The Child led me up to
a large turf-covered mound which had a deep drain all round it and a
small door at the back.

"This," he said, rather with the air of a guide showing a visitor round
a cathedral, "is No. 4."

I bent my head and stepped inside. The gun-pit (which was not really a
pit since its floor was on ground level) was lit only by the narrow
doorway at the rear and by what light could filter through the hurdles
placed in front of the embrasure. But in the dimness I could just make
out the rows and rows of shells all neatly laid in recesses in the
walls, the iron girders that spanned the roof and held up its weight of
sandbags, brick rubble and--reinforced concrete. Ye gods! concrete--for
a field gun! And there, spotlessly clean, ready for instant action, was
the gun itself. I felt sorry for it--it seemed so hopelessly out of
place, so far removed from its legitimate sphere. To think that an
eighteen-pounder, designed for transit along roads and across country,
should have come to this!

"The detachment live here," said the Child, and showed me a commodious
dug-out connected with the gun-pit by a short tunnel. Inside this
dug-out were four bunks and a stove--also a gunner devouring what smelt
like a very savoury dinner.

"What will these keep out?" I asked.

"Oh!" replied the Child, airily, "they're 'pip-squeak'[3] and
splinter-proof, of course, and they might stop a four-two or even a
five-nine. But a direct hit with an eight-inch would make _some_ hole, I
expect. Come and see the telephonist's place. It's rather a show spot."

[3] German field gun shells.

As we were walking towards it a stentorian voice shouted, "Battery
action."

Instantly, the few men who had been working on the drains and on the
pits, or filling sandbags, dropped their tools and raced to the
gun-pits. In a few seconds the battery was ready to fire.

We entered the telephone room--a shell-proof cave really. A man sat at a
little table with an improvised but extraordinarily ingenious telephone
exchange in front of him and a receiver strapped to his ear. A network
of wires went out through the wall above his head. His instrument
emitted a constant buzzing of "dots" and "dashes," all of which he
disregarded, waiting for his own call. Suddenly he clicked his key in
answer, then said--

"Hullo, oh-pip[4]--yes. Target K.--one round battery fire--yes."

[4] "Oh-pip" is signalese for O.P. = Observation Post.

This order was repeated to the guns by megaphone.

_Bang_ went No. 1 and its shell whistled and swished away towards its
goal.

_Bang_ followed No. 2 just before "No. 1 ready" was called back.

It all seemed astonishingly simple, and it seemed, too, quite
unconnected with war and bloodshed. Orders to fire came by telephone
from some place thousands of yards in front. The guns were duly fired by
men who had no conception of what they were firing at, men who had in
all probability never been nearer to the enemy than they were at that
moment, and who had in fact not the slightest conception of what the
front line looked like. According to order these same men made minute
adjustments of angles, ranges, fuzes, until the battery's shells were
falling on or very close to some spot selected by the Forward Observing
Officer, the one man who really knew what was happening. And when this
exacting individual was satisfied, each sergeant duly recorded his
"register" of the target upon a printed form, reminding me vaguely of
the manner in which a 'bus conductor notes down mysterious figures on a
block after referring to his packet of tickets. After which the
detachments, receiving the order "Break off," returned to their work or
dinners with no thought whatever (I am sure of this) as to where their
shell had gone or why or how! But then this was not a "show" but just an
ordinary morning's shoot.

We lunched in the mess, a comfortable room with a red-tiled floor and a
large open fireplace on which logs of wood crackled merrily. On inquiry
I learnt that these same logs were once beams in the church at ----,
devastated not long since by heavy shells and now a heap of shapeless
ruins from which the marauding soldier filches bricks and iron work. And
that church was centuries old and was once beautiful. War is indeed
glorious.

I have heard it said that people who live close to Niagara are quite
unconscious of the sound of the Falls. I can believe it. Practically
speaking, in this part of the world, two minutes never pass, day or
night, during which no one fires a gun. But the human beings whose job
it is to live and work here evince absolutely no interest if the swish
of the shell is _away_ from them and very little if it is coming towards
them, unless there appears to be a reasonable chance that it is coming
_at_ them. Throughout lunch the next battery to this one was firing
steadily. Rather diffidently I asked what was going on. The major
commanding the battery shrugged his shoulders.

"Old ---- has probably got some job on--or he may be merely
retaliating," he replied.

I subsided, not knowing then that before the day was over I was to learn
more about this same retaliation.

After lunch we set out for the O.P.[5]

[5] Observation Post.

"We've got quite a jolly little offensive _strafe_ on this afternoon,"
remarked the major. "There's some wire-cutting, and while it's going on
the attention of the Hun will be distracted by the 'heavies' who are
going to bash his parapet a bit. Then at dusk the infantry are to slip
across and do some bombing. We'll be rather crowded in the O.P., but I
dare say you'll be able to see something."

The Child and my other subaltern, who from his habit of brushing his
hair straight back and referring constantly to his _blasé_ past is known
to his intimates as Gilbert, came too.

We passed through ----, which is shelled regularly. Some of its houses
are completely wrecked, but many are still partially intact. Infantry
soldiers lounged about the ruined streets, for this village is used as a
rest billet for troops waiting their turn in the trenches: the
expression "rest" billet struck me as euphemistic. I noticed that
several shells had burst in the graveyard near the church. Even the dead
of previous generations, it seems, are not immune from the horrors of
this war.

After going up the road for nearly a mile we turned off on to the
fields. Every ten yards or so it was necessary either to step over or
stoop under a telephone wire. These nerve strings of modern artillery
were all neatly labelled--they all belonged to some battery or other.
"They strafe this part fairly often," said the major unconcernedly.

It is this unconcern that amazes me. I suppose (or I hope anyway) that I
shall get used to this walking about in the open, but, at present, I am
far from feeling at ease. The odds against getting hit on this
particular bit of ground are enormous, but the chance exists all the
same. As a matter of fact we did get one salvo of "pip-squeaks" over as
we were going up. They were high, to our left, and at least two hundred
yards away, but they made me duck sharply--and then look rather foolish.

The Child pointed to a two-storied ruined house with a skeleton roof.

"Behold 'the Waldorf,'" he said. "Per_son_ally myself" (a favourite
phrase of his) "I think it's rather a jolly O.P."

Approaching it, we crossed some derelict trenches--our front line before
the battle of X----. I felt somehow that I was standing on holy
ground--on ground that had been wrested back from the invaders at a cost
of many hundreds of gallant lives and an infinite amount of pain and
suffering.

Several batteries observe from "the Waldorf," and I found that for all
its dilapidated appearance it was astonishingly strong inside. Telephone
wires ran into it from all directions, and there were several signallers
sitting about cooking over braziers or, if actually on duty, sitting
motionless beside their instruments.

Except for a narrow passage-way and a small recess for the operators,
the entire ground floor was blocked solid from earth to ceiling with
sandbags; there is a distinct feeling of security to be derived from
eight or ten feet thickness of clay-filled bags!

We climbed a wooden ladder and squeezed into the tiny room upstairs from
which the fire of this particular battery is directed. A long low
loophole carefully protected with sandbags and steel plates provided me
with my first view of the front.

I was now some fifteen feet or so above ground level and could see the
backs of all our lines of trenches, could see the smoke of burning fires
and men walking casually up and down or engaged in digging, planking,
revetting, and so on. Beyond was the front line--less distinct and with
fewer signs of activity in it; beyond that again a strip of varying
width, untrampled, green and utterly forsaken--No Man's Land. A few
charred tree-trunks from which every branch and twig had been stripped
by shell fire, stuck up at intervals. I could see the first German
parapet quite plainly and (with glasses) other lines behind it, and
numerous wriggling communication trenches.

So this was "the Front," that vague term that comes so glibly to the
lips of the people at home. I looked at it intently for a long time and
I found that one idea crowded all others from my mind.

"What madness," I thought, "this is which possesses the world! What
_criminal_ waste, not only of lives and money, but of brains, ideas,
ingenuity and time, all of which might have been devoted to construction
instead of to destruction."

The Child noticed my absorption, read my thoughts perhaps, and
translated them into his own phraseology thus:--"Dam' silly business,
isn't it, when you come to think of it?"

The expression fitted. It _is_ a damnably silly business, _but_, if we
are to secure what the whole world longs for--a just and lasting
peace--we have got to see this business through to the end, however
silly, however wasteful it may seem. We have got to "stick it," as the
soldier says, until the gathering forces are strong enough to break the
barrier beyond all hope of repair; to break it and then to pour through
to what will be the most overwhelming victory in the history of the
world....

The major turned his head and spoke into a voice-tube beside him.

"Battery action," he said.

The operator on the ground floor repeated his words into a telephone. I
pictured over again what I had seen in the morning; the detachments
doubling to the places and the four guns instantly ready to answer the
call.

It is altogether astonishing, this siege warfare. An officer sits in a
ruined house, strongly fortified, and not so many hundred yards from the
enemy. From there with ease and certainty he controls the fire of his
four guns. He knows his "zone" and every object in it as completely as
he knows his own features in a looking-glass. Further, he is connected
by telephone with the infantry which he supports, and through the medium
of his own headquarters with various other batteries. Normally this
"observation" work is done by a subaltern, who, nowadays, thank Heaven
and the munitions factories, shoots as much, if not more, than he is
shot at. But occasionally the enemy is stirred up and "retaliates." This
word, in its present military sense, was unknown before the war. It
means just this--

One side organises a bombardment. It carries out its programme, perhaps
successfully, perhaps not. The other side, sometimes at once, sometimes
afterwards, "retaliates" with its artillery on some locality known to be
a tender spot: this is by way of punishment. A year, six months ago
even, the aggression came almost entirely from the Germans, and our
artillery from lack of ammunition could only retaliate mildly, almost
timidly, for fear of drawing down still further vengeance on the heads
of its unfortunate infantry. But that state of things has passed for
ever. The aggression now is all on our side--I speak, of course, of an
ordinary day when there is no "show" on: moreover it is rigorous and
sustained and wearing. If and when the Germans reply to our aggression,
we re-retaliate, so to speak, with a bombardment that silences him. For
instance, to quote from "Comic Cuts" (the official Intelligence Summary
is thus named)--

"Yesterday the enemy fired thirty-five shells into ----. We replied with
500."

That is all: but the whole situation on the Western front _now_ is
summed up in that bald statement. In these days we have the last word
_always_....

On this particular afternoon, however, we had a definite object in view.
The "heavies" by two hours' methodical work made what the Child calls
"Hell's own mess" of a selected bit of parapet. Meanwhile a field
battery industriously cut the wire in front of it and other field
batteries caused "divarsions," as one says in Ireland, by little
side-shows of their own. The enemy went to ground, no doubt in
comparative safety, and sulked in silence. But as soon as dusk began to
creep over the sodden lines, he woke up and started to retaliate. It had
evidently occurred to him that we might be going to attack that hole in
his parapet.

I watched what seemed like a glorified firework display for five or ten
minutes, and somehow gathered the impression that I was merely a
spectator. Then there came three sharp cracks outside the
loophole--_just_ outside it seemed--followed by the peculiar but
unmistakable whirr of travelling splinters.

"Safer downstairs," observed the major, and we descended quickly.

For the next quarter of an hour it really seemed as though the enemy had
made up his mind to flatten out the "Waldorf." He had not, of course: he
couldn't even see it. What he was really doing was putting a "barrage,"
or wall of fire, on the road just in front of us to hamper the advance
of our supports in case we genuinely meant to attack on any scale. We
waited patiently downstairs until it was over; rather like sheltering in
a shop from a passing shower.

The signallers packed up their instruments and prepared to go home.
Personally I was inwardly none too happy about the prospect of sallying
forth into the open; but these men appeared to have no qualms whatever.
They were used to it for one thing, and for another they had had a long
day and wanted their tea. In such circumstances it takes much to deter
the British soldier.

"Seems to be over: might as well 'op it, Bill," said one.

"Righto," answered the other. "Bloomin' muddy this way. What say to
going down the road?"

_Tack-tack-tack-tack_ came from the direction of the road. Even war-worn
signallers retain their common sense.

"'Ark at that there [adjectived] machine-gun, it's 'ardly worth it;"
they agreed and squelched off through the thick clay, grousing about the
state of the country but perfectly indifferent to the deafening din
around them.

Five minutes later we followed them and walked back, facing the flashes
of our own guns, which were still firing steadily--just to make certain
of having the last word with the Hun....

It was nearly nine o'clock when we at last clattered into the courtyard
of our billet and slipped wearily off our horses. It had been a long
day but an interesting one, for we had seen, at close quarters, a
battery doing its normal job under the prevailing normal conditions. And
very soon now our battery will be in that position, putting the last
finishing touches to its education and doing that same job, I hope
efficiently. Then, and not till then, will it really be a Battery in
Being.



"IN THE LINE"


We are beginning now to regard ourselves as old stagers. We have been in
action for nearly three months and in that period our education, in all
the essential things, has advanced at a most surprising pace. Our most
cherished illusions--culled from the newspapers for the most part--have
been dissipated and replaced by the realities of this life. How often, I
wonder, have we read that this is a war of attrition, or of artillery,
or of finance, or of petrol! It is none of these things--at least not
from our limited perspective. It is rather, to us, a war of mud, of
paper (so many reams of it that the battery clerk's head buzzes and he
cannot sleep at night for thinking of the various "returns" that he must
render to headquarters by 9 a.m. on the following day), of routine, and,
above all, of marauding.

Wherefore we have adapted ourselves to circumstances. We have learnt
that mud in itself is harmless and, since it is impossible to avoid,
not worth noticing at any time; that unpunctuality in the submitting of
any report or return demanded (however senseless) leads to far more
unpleasantness from high quarters than any other sin one may commit;
that routine is an irksome fetish of the Powers, but that it makes each
day so like its predecessor that the weeks slip by and one forgets the
date and almost the month. Lastly, we have learnt that the way to get
things is to find them lying about; that while it is possible to indent
for material, it is also possible to collect it if one takes the
trouble. Timber, for instance, is required for building gun-pits, so are
steel girders and brick rubble and brushwood. Well, do not the winds
that shriek across this flat country blow down trees sometimes? Is there
not a derelict railway station less than a mile away, and are not piles
of rubble placed along the roadsides for mending purposes? It is
pleasant, too, to have a real door to one's dug-out instead of a hanging
corn sack: there is more than one partially ruined cottage near at hand.
We are beyond the borderland of civilisation here; We have left our
scruples behind us, for we know that if we refrain from taking those
rails, those doors and window frames, those stout oak beams, some one
else will have them shortly.

Circumstances, too, have brought it home to us that this war is not so
"stationary" as we imagined. The relative positions of the two opposing
armies remain the same, weary month after weary month. But the positions
of the units composing them do not. We, for example, soon after our
arrival in the country were sent up to be attached for instruction to a
battery which was in action. It was explained to us that we would
eventually "take over" from that battery when its division went out to
rest. We were at pains, therefore, to acquire all the knowledge we could
in the time. The subalterns learnt the "zone" which they would have to
watch and fire over--every yard of it. The sergeants mastered the
particular system of angles, "registrations," etc., in use; the
signallers knew the run of their wires and understood the working of the
circuit; the gun detachments, as a result of many hours of patient
sand-bag filling and building, had begun to regard the place as their
future home which it was meet to make as strong and (afterwards only) as
comfortable as possible. And I, as the battery commander, besides being
fairly confident of being able to "carry on," had noted, with
satisfaction, it being then midwinter, that there was a fireplace in
what would be my room.

But did we "take over" this position? Not we! Three days before the
relief was due to take place we were sent off to another battery about
which we knew nothing whatever and took over from it in a hurry and a
muddle. Which strange procedure may be accounted for in one of two
ways--as having been done expressly with a view to training us in
dealing with an unexpected situation or, more simply, as merely "Dam bad
staff work." We will leave it at that.

We occupied this new position, which, by the way, was a good one with a
quite comfortable billet close at hand, for just three weeks. At the end
of this time we had thoroughly settled down: we had done a great deal of
constructive work--strengthening gun-pits, improving dug-outs, fixing
voice-tubes for the passing of orders from the telephone-hut to the
guns; we had laid out an extra wire to the O.P. and relabelled all our
circuit: we had cleaned up the wagon-line, rebricked the worst parts of
the horse-standings and laid down brushwood so that the vehicles were
clear of the all-pervading mud. We had arranged a bathroom for the men
as well as a recreation room: we had built an oven (nothing acquires
merit more simply in the eyes of the Powers than a well-devised
oven--"Your horse-management is a scandal, Captain ----!" "Yes, sir: but
have you seen our oven?" Wrath easily deflected and the Great One
departs to make a flattering report). We had visualised at least twenty
various "stunts" that would make things safer, or more comfortable or
more showy. We had reached a moment, in fact, when we were secretly
rubbing our hands and saying "the place is not only habitable but
_good_: and we are about to enjoy the fruits of our labours thereon."
Which was a foolish attitude to adopt and one which, now that we are a
more experienced (and therefore a more cynical) unit, would not be
conceivable.

This time they moved the whole division, telling us (or the infantry
rather) that the order should be regarded as a compliment in that the
division had done so well that it was to be entrusted with a more
difficult--which is a euphemism for a more dangerous--portion of the
line.

Resignedly we packed up everything that we possessed, "handed over" to
the incoming battery, and, after failing to persuade the mess cat to
accompany us, trekked off in a howling gale to the new place. This
latter was not without merits, but had the great disadvantage that the
only house available for a mess was nearly a quarter of a mile from the
gun position.

The gun-pits, with the exception of one which had been partially
reconstructed on sound principles, were bad. They had been built in the
summer when every one was saying, "No use wasting material--we won't be
here next winter." But here we are all the same, regarding rather
gloomily the defects which it will take weeks of hard work to remedy.

I overheard one gunner expressing his opinion thus to a friend of his--

"Well now, Dai,[6] I don't know what battery was here before us now
just, but they weren't great workers, see! Our pit couldn't keep the
rain out last night--what'll it do if a shell comes along?"

[6] David.

So I indented on the Royal Engineers (who own vast storehouses called in
the vernacular "Dumps") for rails and bricks and cement and sandbags,
and I sent marauding parties out at night to collect anything that might
be useful.

The men with a good-will which was beyond all praise, seeing that this
was their third position within the month, started the arduous task of
dismantling the old pits and dug-outs and building them anew--guessing
by this time that in all probability they would be moved on elsewhere
before their labours were finished. For that is one very definite aspect
of this war....

Our mess is a cottage which we share with a French family. Monsieur
works in a mine close by, the numerous children play in the yard or are
sent on errands, Madame in her spare moments does our washing for us. In
the evening they all assemble in the kitchen and try to teach French to
our servants. It amazes me to watch the sangfroid with which they go
about their daily occupations regardless of the never-ceasing sound of
guns and shells, regardless of the fact that the German line, as the
crow flies, is less than two miles away. At 8 p.m. to the moment, whilst
we are at dinner, they troop through into their own room to bed, each
with a charming "Bon soir, messieurs." And on each occasion they make me
personally feel that we are rather brutal to be occupying two-thirds of
their house and spending our days making the most appalling havoc of
their country. But I console myself by remembering that these people
once had Uhlans in the neighbourhood and are therefore prepared to
disregard minor nuisances such as ourselves.

Seven to seven-thirty p.m. is generally rather a busy time. Official
correspondence, usually marked "secret" and nearly always "urgent," is
apt to arrive, and it is at this time that the intricate report on the
day's shooting has to be made out and despatched to Group Headquarters.
I am in the midst of this, working against time, with an orderly waiting
in the kitchen, when the door is flung open and the Child enters with a
cheery "Good evening, Master."

The Child calls me Master sometimes because I am always threatening to
send his parents a half-term report on his progress and general conduct,
or to put him back into Eton collars! He has now just returned from
forty-eight hours' duty at the O.P. and presents an appearance such that
his own mother would hardly recognise him. He wears a cap of a
particularly floppy kind which he refers to as "my gorblimy hat," an
imperfectly cured goatskin coat of varied hues which smells abominably,
fur gauntlets, brown breeches, and indiarubber thigh boots. Round his
person are slung field glasses, a prismatic compass, an empty
haversack, and a gas helmet. Moreover, he is caked with mud from head to
foot and flushed with his two-mile walk against the cold wind. For this
is still March, and we have had frost and snow and thaw alternately this
last week.

"Anything happen after I left?" I ask. I had been up at the O.P. in the
morning, and we'd "done a little shoot" together.

"Nothing much. The Hun got a bit busy with rifle grenades about lunch
time and started to put some small 'minnies'[7] into our second line. So
I retaliated on three different targets, which stopped him p.d.q. Later
on he put a few pip-squeaks round our O.P. and one four-two into the
church. That's about all, 'cept that I had to dodge a blasted
machine-gun when I was leaving at dusk--one of those 250-rounds-a-minute
stunts, you know--and I had to nip across that open bit, in between his
bursts of fire. The trenches are in Hell's own mess after this thaw--I
went down to the front line with an infantry officer to look at a
sniper's post he's located; we might get the 'hows'[8] on to it. Any
letters for me?"

[7] Minenwer, _i.e._ trench mortar bombs.

[8] Howitzers.

I push them across to him, but forbid him to remain in the room with
that smelly coat on.

"Righto," he grins; "I'm off to have a bath and a shave before dinner."

"But, my dear Child," I say, "you shaved last week! Surely----"

He grins again and saunters gracefully out. The Child is always graceful
even when wearing a goatskin coat and ungainly thigh boots. But he's
tired--I can see it in his eyes. His last two days have been spent as
follows: At seven p.m. the night before last he arrived, in the capacity
of liaison officer, at the headquarters of the battalion that we are
supporting. He dined there and slept, in his clothes of course and
always at the menace of a telephone, in a draughty hovel next door.
Before dawn the next morning he was groping his way along three-quarters
of a mile of muddy communication trench to the O.P. Arrived there it is
his business to make certain that the telephonists below in the dank
cellar are "through" on every line. Then he ascends the ladder of the
observation tower and stares through the loophole at the mists which
swathe the trenches in front of him. And there, alternately with the
subaltern of the other battery which uses this particular O.P., he must
remain until it is again too dark to shoot.

There are diversions, of course, which help to pass the long hours. One
is "shooting the battery." The F.O.O., as the subaltern on duty at the
O.P. is called, is allowed, within fairly wide limits, to shoot when and
at what he likes provided always that he has a reasonable objective. The
principles laid down for him are simple enough: whilst never wasting a
round if he can help it, he must also never miss an opportunity. That is
to say that he must keep ceaseless watch for signs of movement or of new
work being carried out by the enemy, for the flashes of hostile
batteries, for suspected O.P.'s, for machine-gun emplacements and
snipers' posts--for almost everything in fact. And when he sees, he must
shoot--at a rapid rate and for a few moments only. For it is useless to
"plaster" the same spot for any length of time: the enemy will not be
there--he must be caught unawares or not at all.

Another diversion is noting down the action of the hostile artillery, of
which a report has to be rendered every evening. This is easy enough
when he happens to be shelling at a convenient distance from you: it is
not so easy, however, to count the number of "pip-squeaks" that burst
within a few yards of the house in which you are, or of "minnies" that
arrive in silence and explode with a terrific report apparently just at
the foot of your tower, filling your observation room with acrid fumes.

Visitors appear at all hours--generals, staff officers, infantry
colonels, trench-mortar or sniping officers. Each wants to examine some
portion of the line from the vantage point of the tower, and each
expects to be told unhesitatingly everything he wants to know. But to
return to the Child and his tour of duty. After dusk he goes back to
infantry headquarters to feed and sleep. Then follows another long day
in the tower, at the end of which he is relieved by the "next for duty"
and returns to the battery with the privilege of breakfasting at any
hour he likes on the following morning. The Child, I may here remark,
has been known to eat poached eggs and marmalade at 12.30, and
unblushingly sit down to sausages and mashed potatoes at 1.15.

But those two days at the O.P. are a strain. No hot meals, long hours,
disturbed nights, shells for ever passing overhead, "mutual exchanges of
rifle grenades," snipers' bullets which have missed their mark in our
front line trenches flattening themselves against the outer wall of the
house--there are pleasanter ways of living than this. And two things are
always possible: one that the enemy may decide that this ruined house
that he has watched for so long really _is_ an O.P., and therefore well
worth razing to the ground with heavy shell; the other that an attack
(either with or without gas) may suddenly be launched against our line.
In the first case the cellar _may_ be a safe place, in the second there
will be what the Child calls "Hell's own job," requiring a quick brain,
keen vision, and the battery roaring in answer to sharp, curt orders.
But if the two occur at once, as is more than probable, why, then the
cellar is out of the question, for at no matter what cost the
guns--always ready, always hungry--must be effectively controlled, the
long-suffering, hard-pressed infantry must be supported. But at present
these are dull days. Neither side is trying to do more than annoy the
other.

"9.44 a.m. Working party seen at ----, fired on, dispersed."

"2.10 p.m. Fired 10 rounds at suspected O.P. at ----. One direct hit with
H.E. Drew quick retaliation on ----."

Thus is the daily report compiled. Is it worth all the trouble, the
science, the skill, the organisation? It is, for everything, every
little detail, every little effort helps to bring nearer the day when
our guns will be pulled out on to the roads again, to be used for their
legitimate purpose--the "quick thing," the fight in the open, "the
moving show."...

Our colonel is "some man"--which phrase, being expanded, means an
individual whose keen eye misses absolutely nothing from the too-sharp
rowel of a driver's spur to the exact levelling of a concrete
gun-platform; whose brain is for ever evolving schemes for the undoing
of the wily Boche; whose energy enables him to walk and ride fifteen to
twenty miles a day, deal with all his official correspondence and yet
find time to talk about hunting at odd moments. Periodically he holds
conferences of battery commanders at his Group Headquarters. After
seeing that every one is provided for, he produces a large scale map
with all the "zones" marked on it, sticks out his chin in a manner
peculiar to him, and says--

"The Hun is becoming uppish again and must be suppressed. Now, what I
propose to do is this"--and he proceeds to detail something entirely
original in the way of a bombardment. But he is seldom content to use
his own batteries by themselves: nearly always he manages to borrow a
few "heavies" and some trench mortars of various sizes. With these at
his disposal he feels that he can "put up a good show," as he says, and
it must be acknowledged that he generally does.

In addition to these definitely organised bombardments he is constantly
ordering small "joy strafes" to be carried out. For instance, he will
study the map and decide that two roads in a given area are in all
probability used by the enemy at night. He will forbid any one to shoot
on the northern one (say) and order two batteries to put salvoes on to
the southern one every night until further orders, "just to impress the
Hun," as he puts it, "with the idea that the southern road is a
distinctly unhealthy spot. Then he'll have double traffic on the
northern one. We'll wait till we know for certain that it's his relief
night and then we'll fairly plaster that road."

This thoughtful scheme was duly carried out about a week ago--with what
results, of course, it is impossible to say: but from the way the
hostile batteries woke up and retaliated, we gathered that something had
been accomplished.

And so the days and weeks pass by--quickly on the whole, so quickly that
we are already beginning to badger the adjutant with queries as to when
we are likely to get leave. There are rumours, too, that the division is
shortly going out "to rest." The infantry deserve it, for theirs is the
hard part: daily I admire them more, every man of them from the humblest
private who digs in the slushy trenches or stands on guard in a sap
thirty yards or less from the enemy and quite possibly on top of a mine
to their brigadier who conceals his V.C. and D.S.O. ribbons beneath a
rubber suit and spends more of his time in the front line trenches than
out of them.

But for us gunners it is different. We live in comfort and in perfect
safety (unless our actual position is spotted and "strafed," in which
case we merely withdraw our men until the enemy's allowance of
ammunition is expended). Except possibly for our hard-worked
telephonists we need no rest. Moreover, it would be heartbreaking to
leave the position that we have made so cosy, so inconspicuous, and, we
all believe, so strong.

We happen to be close to a main avenue of traffic. All sorts of people
pass by--"brass hats" going up to inspect the line, R.E. wagons laden
with every conceivable kind of trench store, mining officers caked in
yellow clay returning after a strenuous tour of duty underground, a
constant succession of small parties of infantry who are either "going
in" or "coming out," ration carts, handcarts filled with things that
look like iron plum-puddings but are really trench-mortar bombs and,
occasionally, an ambulance. Infantry officers or men who happen to halt
close by are generally invited to have a look at the gun-pits. More
often than not some one of them recognises a friend or a relation in the
battery: it must be remembered that we are a homogeneous division. If by
chance we are firing when a party of infantry (unaccompanied by an
officer) is passing, it invariably halts and watches the performances
with huge interest and quite often with a shout or two of encouragement.

"Go it, boys, give 'em a bit more marmalade," I heard one ribald private
yell out, when to his joy he heard the order, "Two rounds battery fire
one second." When the guns had flashed and roared in their sequence, and
the shells had gone rumbling away towards the distant lines, he picked
up his burden, hitched his rifle more comfortably across his shoulders,
and went upon his way, remarking, with a pleasant admixture of oaths--

"That'll give 'em something to think about for a while."

This, on a minor scale, is an example of the great principle of infantry
and artillery co-operation. I can picture that same private rejoining
his platoon in the trenches and saying to his "batty"--[9]

[9] = pal or friend.

"Look you, Trevor, as I was coming up the road now just, I see a battery
of our fellows givin' them ---- Hell."

And his friend would answer perhaps--

"Well, 'tis fine to hear our shells come singing over. What about them
fags, Tom? Did you get 'em?"

Neither of these men would know whether the rounds had been well or
badly placed, but each would be left with the impression that the
artillery exists for the purpose of helping him and his fellows when in
difficulties and of preparing the way when the time comes. A small
point, perhaps, but nevertheless a vital one....

It is fortunate that amid all the horror and the misery and the waste
that this war entails it is still possible to see the humorous side of
things sometimes. Here is an example. A major on his way up to the front
line saw a man hunting about amongst some ruins for "souvenirs"--and
this in a place which was in view of the Germans and only about 350
yards from their trenches. The major was justly annoyed: firstly, the
man was evidently wasting his time; secondly, there was every prospect
that hostile fire would be drawn to the spot. So he drew his revolver
and put a round into the brickwork about six feet to one side of the
man.

The effect was wonderful. The souvenir hunter, convinced that he had
escaped a sniper's bullet by a mere inch, made a wild dive into a handy
shell-hole and lay low. Twenty minutes later he emerged, crawling on
hands and knees through deep slime and eagerly watched by a working
party who had seen the incident. He arrived, panting and prepared to
give an account of his thrilling experience--only to be asked his name
and unit and placed in arrest on a charge of loitering unnecessarily in
a dangerous place thereby tending to draw fire.

Another incident, not devoid of humour (though I cannot say that I
thought so at the moment), occurred a week after we had arrived at our
present position. W----, the captain of the "regular" battery which we
had replaced, came over to inquire about a telescopic sight and a
clinometer belonging to his unit which had somehow got mislaid during
the muddle of "handing over."

"They must be somewhere here," W---- suggested politely, "and we _must_
have them because we are going back into action to-morrow."

I assured him that to the best of my belief I had only my own, "but," I
added confidently, "we'll go round and ask at each gun to make certain."

The sergeant of No. 1 was quite positive. The corporal of No. 2 was
apparently equally so, but I noticed the suspicion of a smile at the
corners of his lips.

"Are you certain," I repeated, "that you've only got your own telescope
and sight clinometer?"

The corporal's answer was positively brutal in its honesty. He
winked--an unmistakable wink--and said--

"Well, sir, o' course I've got those what I pinched off t' batt'ry that
was here before!"

If the mud had then and there engulfed me I should have been grateful.
As it was I could only weakly murmur, "Fetch them at once," and then
glance round to see the expression on W----'s face. But he, good soul,
was walking quietly away, though whether with the idea of relieving his
own feelings or of allowing me to vent mine upon the corporal, I never
dared to ask.

On the following day the corporal, who by the way is our professional
comedian from Lancashire, saw fit to apologise. He did so thus--

"Sir," he said, as I was walking past his gun-pit. I turned and regarded
him sternly, for I was still rather angry.

"I'm sorry about what happened yesterday," he observed contritely. "_I
didn't mean to make a fool of you!_"

The charm of the remark lies in the fact that, while disregarding the
enormity of his offence in "pinching" essential gun-stores from another
battery, he was genuinely upset at having made _me_ look ridiculous.
Which being the case I could do nothing but accept his apology in the
spirit in which it was offered.



SPIT AND POLISH


"Per_son_ally myself," said the Child, tilting back his chair until his
head touched the wall behind him, and stretching out a lazy arm towards
the cigarette-box--"per_son_ally myself, I've enjoyed this trip no
end--haven't you?"

"I have," I answered; "so much so, Child, that the thought of going back
to gun-pits and trenches and O.P.'s again fills me with gloom."

It was our last night in a most comfortable billet near ----, where, on
and off, we had spent rather more than a month of ease; on the morrow we
were going into the line again. The trip to which the Child was
referring, however, was an eight days' course at a place vaguely known
as "the ----th Army Mobile Artillery Training School," from which our
battery had but lately returned.

The circumstances were these. When, five weeks ago, the division moved
(for the _n_th time!) to a different part of the line, it transpired
that three batteries would be "out at rest," as there would be no room
for them in action. It also so chanced that it was our colonel's turn to
be left without a "group"[10] to command. This being so, he suggested to
higher authorities that the three batteries "out" should be those of his
own brigade, in order that he might have a chance "to tidy them up a
bit," as he phrased it. Thus it was that we found ourselves, as I have
said, in extremely comfortable billets--places, I mean, where they have
sheets on the beds and china jugs and gas and drains--with every
prospect of a pleasant loaf. But in this we were somewhat sanguine.

[10] A certain number of batteries.

The colonel's idea in having us "out" for a while was not so much to
rest us as to give us a variation of work. Being essentially a thorough
man, he started--or rather ordered me to start--at the very beginning.
The gunners paraded daily for marching drill, physical exercises, and
"elementary standing gun drill by numbers." N.C.O.'s and drivers were
taken out and given hours of riding drill under the supervision of
subalterns bursting with knowledge crammed up from the book the night
before and under the personal direction of a brazen-voiced sergeant
who, having passed through the "riding troop" at Woolwich in his youth,
knew his business. The strangest sight of all was the class of
signallers--men who had spent months in the foetid atmosphere of cellars
and dug-outs, or creeping along telephone wires in "unhealthy"
spots--now waving flags at a word of command and going solemnly through
the Morse alphabet letter by letter. Of the whole community, this was
perhaps the most scandalised portion. But in a few days, when everybody
(not excluding myself and the other officers) had discovered how much
had been forgotten during our long spell in action, a great spirit of
emulation began to be displayed. Subsections vied with one another to
produce the smartest gun detachment, the sleekest horses, the best
turned-out ride, the cleanest harness, guns, and wagons.

The colonel, after the manner of his kind, came at the end of a week or
so to inspect things. He is not the sort of man upon whom one can easily
impose. A dozen of the shiniest saddles or bits in the battery placed so
as to catch the light (and the eye) near the doorway of the harness room
do not necessarily satisfy him: nor is he content with the mere general
and symmetrical effect of rows of superficially clean breast-collars,
traces, and breechings. On the contrary, he is quite prepared to spend
an hour or more over his inspection, examining every set of harness in
minute detail, even down to the backs of the buckle tongues, the inside
of the double-folded breast collars, and the oft-neglected underside of
saddle flaps. It is the same thing with the guns and wagons. Burnished
breech-rings and polished brasswork look very nice, and he approves of
them, but he does not on that account omit to look closely at every
oil-hole or to check the lists of "small stores" and "spare parts."

For the next week or so we were kept very busy on "the many small points
which required attention," to quote the colonel's phrase. Nevertheless,
as a variation from the monotony of siege warfare, the time was regarded
by most of us as a holiday. Many things combined to enhance our
pleasure. The sun shone and the country became gorgeously green again;
the horses began to get their summer coats and to lose their unkempt
winter's appearance; there was a fair-sized town near at hand, and
passes to visit it were freely granted to N.C.O.'s and men; at the back
of the officers' billet was a garden with real flower-beds in it and a
bit of lawn on which one could have tea. Occasionally we could hear the
distant muttering of the guns, and at night we could see the "flares"
darting up from the black horizon--just to remind us, I suppose, that
the war was only in the next parish....

But it was not to be supposed that a man of such energy as our colonel
would be content just to ride round daily and watch three of his
batteries doing rides and gun drill. It occurred to him at once that
this was the time to practise the legitimate business--that is, open,
moving warfare. Wherefore he made representations to various quite
superior authorities. In three days, by dint of considerable personal
exertion, he had secured the following concessions: two large tracts of
ground suitable for driving drill and battery manoeuvre, good billets,
an area of some six square miles (part of the ----th Army Training area)
for the purpose of tactical schemes, the appointment of himself as
commandant of the "school," a Ford ambulance for his private use, three
motor lorries for the supply of the units under training, and a
magnificent château for his own headquarters. And all this he
accomplished without causing any serious friction between the various
"offices" and departments concerned--no mean feat.

Each course was to last eight days, and there were to be four batteries,
taken from different divisions, undergoing it simultaneously. It fell to
us to go with the second batch, and we spent a strenuous week of
preparation: it was four months since we had done any work "in the
open," and we knew, inwardly, that we were distinctly rusty. We packed
up, and at full war strength, transport, spare horses and all, we
marched out sixteen miles to the selected area. At the halfway halt we
met the commander of a battery of our own brigade returning. He stopped
to pass the time of day and volunteered the information that he was
going on leave that night. "And, by Jove!" he added significantly, "I
deserve a bit of rest. _Réveillé_ at 4 a.m. every morning, out all day
wet or fine, gun drill at every odd moment, schemes, tactical exercises,
everybody at high pressure all the time. The colonel's fairly in his
element, revels in it, and 'strafes' everybody indiscriminately. But
it's done us all a world of good though. Cheeriho! wish you luck." And
he rode on, leaving us rather flabbergasted.

We discovered quite early (on the following morning about dawn, to be
precise) that there had been no exaggeration. We began with elementary
driving drill, and we did four and a half hours of it straight on end,
except for occasional ten-minute halts to rest the astonished teams. It
was wonderful how much we had forgotten and yet how much came back to us
after the first hour or so.

"I want all your officers to drill the battery in turn," said the
colonel. "I shall just ride round and correct mistakes."

He did--with an energy, a power of observation, and a command of
language which I have seldom seen or heard surpassed. But the ultimate
result by midday, when all the officers and N.C.O.'s were hoarse, the
teams sweating and the carriages caked in oily dust--the ultimate result
was, as the Child politely says, "not too stinkin' awful." And it had
been good to hear once again the rattle and bump of the guns and wagons
over hard ground, the jingle of harness and the thud of many hoofs; good
to see the teams swing round together as they wheeled into line or
column at a spanking trot; good above all to remember that _this_ was
our job and that the months spent in concrete gun-pits and
double-bricked O.P.'s were but a lengthy prelude to our resumption of
it--some day.

In the evening, when the day's work was over and "stables" finished, we
left the tired horses picking over the remains of their hay and walked
down the _pavé_ village street, Angelo and I, to look at the church.
Angelo is my eldest but not, as it so happens, my senior subaltern.
Before the war he was a budding architect, with a taste for painting:
hence the nickname, coined by the Child in one of his more erudite
moods.

The church at L---- is very fine. Its square tower is thirteenth
century, its interior is pure Gothic, and its vaulted roof a marvel. For
its size the building is well-nigh perfect. We spent some time examining
the nave and chancel--Angelo, his professional as well as his artistic
enthusiasm aroused, explaining technicalities to me and making me
envious of his knowledge. It was with regret that we turned away at
last, for in spite of the tattered colours of some French regiment which
hung on the north side of the chancel, we had forgotten the war in the
quiet peacefulness of that exquisite interior. But we were quickly
reminded. At the end of the church, kneeling on one of the rough
chairs, was an old peasant woman: her head was bowed, and the beads
dropped slowly through her twisted fingers. As we crept down the aisle
she raised her eyes--not to look at us, for I think she was unconscious
of our presence--but to gaze earnestly at the altar. Her lips moved in
prayer, but no tear damped her yellow cheek. And, passing out into the
sunlight again, I wondered for whom she was praying--husband, brother,
sons?--whether, still hoping, she prayed for the living, or, faithfully,
for the souls of those lost to her. They are brave, the peasant women of
France....

Madame our hostess, besides being one of the fattest, was also one of
the most agreeable ladies it has ever been our lot to be billeted upon.
Before we had been in her house ten minutes she had given us (at an
amazing speed) the following information:--

Her only remaining son had been wounded and was now a prisoner in
Germany.

She had played hostess continuously since August, 1914, to every kind of
soldier, including French motor-bus drivers, Indian chiefs (_sic_), and
generals.

English officers arriving after the battle of Loos slept in her hall for
twenty-four hours, woke to have a bath and to eat an omelette, and then
slept the clock round again.

She remembered 1870, in which war her husband had fought.

The Boches were barbarians, but they would never advance now, though at
one time they had been within a few kilometres of her house.

The lettuce and cabbages in her garden were at our disposal.

She took an enormous interest in the Infant, who is even younger than
the Child and is our latest acquisition.

"Regardez donc le petit, comme il est fatigué!" she exclaimed to me in
the tones of an anxious mother--and then added in an excited whisper,
"A-t-il vu les Boches, ce petit sous-lieutenant?"

When I assured her not only that he had seen them, but had fired his
guns at them, she was delighted and declared that he could not be more
than sixteen. But here the Infant, considering that the conversation was
becoming personal, intervened, and the old lady left us to our dinner.

Towards the end of our week we packed up essentials and marched out to
bivouac two nights and fight a two days' running battle--directed, of
course, by our indefatigable colonel. After the dead flat ugliness where
we had been in action all the winter and early spring it was a delight
to find ourselves in this spacious undulating country, with its trees
and church spires and red-tiled villages. We fought all day against an
imaginary foe, made innumerable mistakes, all forcibly pointed out by
the colonel (who rode both his horses to a standstill in endeavouring to
direct operations and at the same time watch the procedure of four
widely separated batteries); our imaginary infantry captured ridge after
ridge, and we advanced from position to position "in close support,"
until finally, the rout of the foe being complete, we moved to our
appointed bivouacs.

In peace time it would have been regarded as a quite ordinary day,
boring because of its resemblance to so many others. Now it was
different. True, it was make-believe from start to finish, without even
blank cartridge to give the vaguest hint of reality. But there was this:
at the back of all our minds was the knowledge that this was a
preparation--possibly our last preparation--not for something in the
indefinite future (as in peace time), but for an occasion that assuredly
_is_ coming, perhaps in a few months, perhaps even in a few weeks. The
colonel spoke truly when, at his first conference, he said--

"During these schemes you must all of you force yourselves to imagine
that there is a real enemy opposed to you. The Boche is no fool: he's
got guns, and he knows how to use them. If you show up on crest lines
with a whole battery staff at your heels, he'll have the place
'registered,' and he'll smash your show to bits before you ever get your
guns into action at all. _Think_ where he is likely to be, _think_ what
he's likely to be doing, don't expose yourselves unless you must, and
above all, _get a move on_."

It was a delightful bivouac. We were on the sheltered side of a little
hill, looking south into a wooded valley. Nightingales sang to us as we
lay smoking on our valises after a picnic dinner and stared dreamily at
the stars above us.

"Jolly, isn't it?" said the Child; "but I s'pose we wouldn't be feeling
quite so comfy if it was the real business."

"Don't," said Angelo, quietly. "I was pretending to myself that we were
just a merry camping party, here for pleasure only. I'd forgotten the
war."

But I had not. I was thinking of the last time I had bivouacked--amongst
the corn sheaves of a harvest that was never gathered, side by side
with friends who were soon to fall, on the night before the first day of
Mons, nearly two years ago.

The following day was more or less a repetition of the first, except
that we made fewer mistakes and "dropped into action" with more style
and finish. We were now becoming fully aware of the almost-forgotten
fact that a field battery is designed to be a mobile unit, and we were
just beginning to take shape as such when our time was over. A day's
rest for the horses and then we returned to our comfortable rest
billets. It had been a strenuous week, but I think every one had
thoroughly enjoyed it....

We have had two days in which to "clean up," and now to-morrow we are to
relieve another battery and take our place in the line again. Our
holiday is definitely over. It will take a little time to settle down to
the old conditions: our week's practice of open warfare has spoilt us
for this other kind. We who have climbed hills and looked over miles of
rolling country will find an increased ugliness in our old flat
surroundings. It will seem ludicrous to put our guns into pits
again--the guns that we have seen bounding over rough ground behind the
straining teams. To be cooped up in a brick O.P. staring at a strip of
desolation will be odious after our bivouacs under the stars and our
dashes into action under a blazing sun. Worst of all, perhaps, is the
thought that the battery will be split up again into "gun line" and
"wagon line," with three miles or more separating its two halves,
instead of its being, as it has been all these weeks, one complete
cohesive unit. But what must be, must be; and it is absurd to grumble.
Moreover--the end is not yet.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Let's toss up for who takes first turn at the O.P. when the relief is
completed," suggested the Child.

"Wait a minute," said I, remembering something suddenly. "Do you know
what to-day is?"

"Friday," he volunteered, "and to-morrow ought to be a half-holiday, but
it won't be, 'cos we're going into action."

I passed the port round again. "It's only a fortnight since we
celebrated the battery's first birthday," I said, "but to-day the Royal
Regiment of Artillery is two hundred years old. Let's drink its health."

And we did.



A BATTLE


Somewhere about the middle of June, we knew definitely that we were "for
it," as the soldier says; we knew that our division was one of those
chosen for the great concentration which was to culminate in the "great
push"--and we were proud of the distinction. A three days' march brought
us to a certain training area, where we camped for a week and worked
some seventeen hours a day--counting, that is, from _réveillé_ at 4 a.m.
until the last bit of harness was hung up clean and ready for the morrow
at 9 p.m.

During this period two incidents of note occurred. One was that the
Child suddenly developed pleurisy, and was removed to hospital--a
serious loss at any time, but especially so at this particular moment.
The other was that a squadron of hostile aircraft flew over our
manoeuvre ground and actually dropped a bomb within 150 yards of the
tail of our column. Which, seeing that we were some twenty miles from
the nearest part of the line and at the moment only playing at soldiers,
was most disconcerting.

From the time when we left this training until, about three weeks later,
we were withdrawn to rest in a quiet part of the line, I kept a rough
diary of our particular share in the greatest battle ever fought by the
British Army. The following are some extracts from it, in no way
embellished, but only enlarged so as to make them intelligible.

_June 27._--Nine-hour night march southwards, arriving in comfortable
billets at 3.30 a.m. Aeroplanes (or at any rate, hostile ones) are the
curse of this war: if it was not for fear of them we could move by
daylight in a reasonable manner. The old saddler, dozing on a wagon,
fell off and was run over: nothing broken, but he will be lost to us. A
great pity, as he's a charming character and a first-class workman.

_June 28 and 29._--Rested, the continuation of the march having been
postponed.

_June 30._--Orders to move on to-night. Was sent off with a small party
on a road and river reconnaissance: this presumably with a view to
going forward "when the advance begins." By the time we got back to
where the brigade was to billet, had ridden about forty miles. Job only
half finished. Battery marched in at midnight.

_July 1._--Started at 5.30 a.m. with same party to finish
reconnaissance. Reached a point about four miles behind the line, at
7.15 a.m.: a tremendous bombardment in progress. Left our horses, and
walked on two miles to a river. Here learnt that the attack had been
launched at 7.30 and was going well. Walked north up the river-bank,
keeping well under the shelter of the steep ridge on the east side, and
only emerging to examine each bridge as we came to it. Thousands upon
thousands of shells of every size, from "Grannies" to 18 prs., passing
over our heads unceasingly: expected the enemy to retaliate. But not a
round came: probably the Boche was too busily engaged elsewhere. Met
streams of wounded coming down; some with captured helmets, nearly all
with grins.

Finished the river reconnaissance about 10.30 and walked back by a
roundabout (but less unpleasant!) way, and reached our horses about
midday. Rode back to the battery and spent the afternoon writing out
full report. Orders to move at 11.30 p.m. Long night march to new
billets, arriving 4.15 a.m.

_July 2._--Rested. In the course of the day the Child returned, having
in some amazing way persuaded the hospital authorities that pleurisy and
a temperature of 104° are the best possible things to have on the eve of
a great offensive. Swears he's all right now, and objects to being
ordered it to take it easy--while he can. Heavy bombardment all day, but
we are eight miles back here. Official _communiqués_ record further
successes.

_July 3._--Moved at 9.30 p.m., and arrived (5.30 a.m.) soaking wet at
the worst bivouac it has ever been our unhappy lot to occupy.

_July 4._--Saw about 150 German prisoners being brought back. In the
afternoon, after a violent thunderstorm, went to look at the position
which we are to take over. Found that it was immensely strong.
Originally it was only 1200 yards from the enemy front line, but now,
since the advance, is about 3000. Steady rain all the time. Got back to
find the camp converted into a veritable bog, and men of all the
batteries making shelters for themselves by cutting down trees and
looting straw. There will be a row over this, but--well, it is too much
to expect men to submit to such _unnecessary_ discomfort.

_July 5._--Took the Child and two telephonists and went up to new
position. Bombardment proceeding incessantly. Was amazed at the amount
of material already brought up, at the gangs already working on the
shell-wrecked roads, and at the crowd of spectators who lined a
convenient ridge to "watch the show."

Went with the Child and the battery commander from whom we were taking
over to get a look at the country and visit the O.P. Passed through
Fricourt--not long captured. Never could a bombardment have done its
work of destruction more thoroughly than here. Not figuratively, but
literally; no one brick stood upon another, scarcely one brick was
whole. Walked on up the sunken road that leads north from Fricourt past
the Dingle and Shelter Wood. For days this road had been a death-trap.
It was strewn with corpses, with stretchers on which lay wounded men
awaiting removal, with broken bits of equipment, English and German--and
it stank. We arrived at the headquarters of a battalion and asked if we
could see the colonel.

"No," they told us, "you can't at present. He's just been buried in his
dug-out by a shell, and it will be some time before we get him clear;
he's all right, but a bit shaken."

So we went on up a battered trench to the O.P. In it a subaltern and two
signallers, all three caked in mud. At the moment the wire to the
battery was intact. Two men had been killed and one wounded whilst
mending it. From here we could see the famous Quadrangle Trench, which
at that time was holding up the advance. Many batteries were shooting at
it. Having got our bearings, so to speak, we did not linger in this most
unhealthy spot, but returned to the battery position.

On the way home we met our own colonel bearing the news that the brigade
would probably go into action in quite a different area. This news
confirmed at H.Q. at 5 p.m. Turned back and reconnoitred the new
position, which was farther south, nearer Fricourt; rather cramped and
quite unprepared for occupation. Cadged dinner from an old friend whom
we met at D.H.Q. Met the battery on the road about 10 p.m. and led it to
new position. Work of getting guns in, ammunition and stores dumped, and
teams away completed by 3 a.m. Awaited dawn.

_July 6._--As soon as it was light went up the hill on the right front
of the battery to meet the colonel, choose an O.P. and "learn" the
country. The scene of wreckage upon this hill now is past all belief,
and is, I should imagine, a perfect example of the havoc wrought by a
modern "intense" bombardment. The whole face of the earth is completely
altered. On the German side of No Man's Land, not one square yard of the
original surface of the ground remains unbroken. Line upon line of
trenches and tunnels and saps have been so smashed that they are barely
recognisable as such: there are mine craters seventy to a hundred yards
across, and there are dug-outs (some of these still intact) which go
down fifty feet and more into the chalk. On every side is débris--rails,
timber, kit, blankets, broken rifles, bread, steel helmets, pumps,
respirators, corpses. And nowhere can one get away from the sickening
smell--the smell of putrescent human flesh....

The morning mist cleared at last and we were able to see the landscape.
From the O.P. we chose, the view, for our purposes, was ideal. Below us
lay the ruins that once were Fricourt, to the right Fricourt Wood,
farther off Mametz Wood and village, and on the skyline Contal-maison.
Returned, very dishevelled, to breakfast at 8 a.m. During the morning
ran out a wire, got "through" to the battery, but did not dare to start
shooting until further information as to the situation of the infantry
was available. Eventually gathered that we only hold the southern edge
of Mametz Wood, and that the Quadrangle Trench which lies to the left
(west) of it is not yet in our possession. Spent the afternoon
registering the guns, and then began shelling Mametz Wood. Was relieved
by the Child at tea-time. Came down to the battery and washed. Looked
forward to decent night's rest but was disappointed, viz.:--

_July 7._--Woken by Angelo at 1 a.m., who brought orders for a "strafe,"
which was to start at 2. Battery fired at a rapid rate from that hour
till 2.30. Went back to bed. Woken by the Infant, who had relieved
Angelo, at 6. Big bombardment to start at 7.20. Went to telephone
dug-out at 7.15, unwashed and half-dressed, and remained there all day;
meals brought in to me. The battery fired practically continuously for
fourteen hours at rates varying from one to twenty-four rounds a minute.
Targets various--mostly "barraging" Mametz Wood and ground immediately
to the west of it. Worked the detachments as far as possible in
reliefs, turning on spare signallers, cooks, and servants to carry
ammunition as it arrived.

The Child, who was at the O.P., sent down what information he could, but
reported that it was hardly possible to see anything owing to the smoke.
Passed on everything to Brigade H.Q. (communications working well), and
received their instructions as to changes of target, rate of fire, etc.
By dusk we were all very tired, and several of the men stone deaf. There
were several heavy showers during the day, so that the position became a
quagmire into which the guns sank almost to their axles and became
increasingly difficult to serve. Empty cartridge cases piled several
feet high round each platform: mud awful. No official _communiqué_ as to
result of the day's operation. Got eight hours' sleep.

_July 8._--Shooting, off and on, all day--mostly registration of new
points. In the intervals when not firing the detachments kept hard at
work improving and strengthening the position. Hostile artillery much
more active, but nothing really close to us. Fired 150 rounds during the
night into Mametz Wood: northern portion not yet in our hands.

_July 9._--A good deal of barrage work all day, but as it was mostly at
a slow rate the men managed to get some rest--goodness knows, they both
need and deserve it.

_July 10._--Went out with the colonel to reconnoitre an advanced
position. Got caught in a barrage, and had to crouch in a (fortunately)
deep trench for half an hour. Sitting there began to wonder if this was
the prelude to a counter-attack; just then, looking out to the left,
that is towards the south-west corner of Mametz Wood, saw a lot of men
running hard. Suddenly spotted the familiar grey uniform and spiked
helmets of the enemy.

"God!" I cried, "it is a counter-attack. Those are _Huns_!" Expected
every moment to have one peering in over the top of the trench: did not
dare to run for it, owing to the barrage, which was still heavy. T----,
who was with me, remained calm and put up his glasses.

"All right," he said; "they're prisoners. Look at the escort."

And so they were, running for their lives through their own
shrapnel--and the escort keeping well up with them!

The storm being over (no "hate" lasts for ever) returned as quickly as
we could, and reported that the position was possible but by no means
tempting! A lot of night firing.

_July 11._--Set out with the Child, two sergeants, and my trusty
"look-out man" to look for a more favourable spot. After a good deal of
walking about found one, a fairly snug place (though pitted with
shell-holes).

Intended to reconnoitre for an O.P. in the front edge of Mametz Wood,
but met a colonel just back from those parts who assured us that the
enemy front line ran there. Reluctantly (!) we abandoned the enterprise
and returned. At 6 p.m. the Child started off with a digging party to
prepare the new position. Move of the battery ordered for 9.30, then
postponed till 10.30. Road crowded with infantry and transport; progress
slow. To be mounted and at the head of a column of twelve six-horse
teams is a very different thing to being alone and ready to slip behind
a wall or into a trench if occasion calls for it. Luck was on our side,
however, and we got through before any shells came.

Occupied the position quickly, emptied the ammunition wagons, and got
the horses clear without casualties. The Child reported that a few
four-twos had come pretty close while he and his party were digging and
had stopped their work for a while: nevertheless, quite a lot already
done. Time now 12.30. Turned on every available man and continued
digging till dawn. Men very beat, but not a word of grousing.

_July 12._--At dawn went up to find a new O.P.: took the Child and two
signallers, the latter laying a wire as they went. Found excellent place
with good general view in an old German redoubt. Trenches, however,
crammed with sleeping infantry, over whom one had to step, and under
whom the signallers had to pass their line! Thick mist till 8 a.m., when
light became good enough to start on our task, which was to cut through
the wire at a certain spot in the German main second line north of
Mametz Wood. Observation difficult, as we were rather far back and the
whole line was being heavily bombarded by our "heavies." About 10.30
what was apparently an excursion party of generals and staff officers
arrived to see the fun, crowded us out of our bay in the trench and
lined up, with their heads and red hat bands exposed. Lay down in a
corner and tried to sleep, but got trodden on, so abandoned the idea.
Shoon (another of my youthful subalterns) came up to relieve us at 2.30,
so the Child and I returned to the battery and got about three hours'
sleep. The detachments with amazing industry and endurance again hard at
work digging. A good deal of hostile fire all round us, especially
close to the nullah, but nothing within 200 yards of the guns.

About 5.30 p.m. Shoon rang up from the O.P. to say that he and a
signaller had been wounded. Angelo went up to take his place. Poor old
Shoon, when he arrived down, was pretty shaken. Evidently the crowd of
spectators previously remarked upon had attracted the attention of some
cross Boche gunner. A five-nine dropped just beside the O.P. and knocked
both signallers and Shoon, who was observing his wire-cutting at the
moment, head over heels back into the trench below. While they were
picking themselves up out of the _débris_ a salvo landed on the parados
immediately behind them. One signaller was untouched (and rescued his
precious telephone), the other was badly cut about the head and leg and
departed on a stretcher--a good man too. Shoon got a scratch on his
forehead and some splinters into his left arm. Swore he was all right,
but since he didn't look it was ordered to bed.

Ammunition replenished in the evening in a tearing hurry. It is not
pleasant to have teams standing about in a place like this. Heard that
on the return journey to the wagon line last night a bombardier, four
drivers, and five horses had been wounded--all slightly, thank Heaven!

Shot all night at the wood (Bézantin-le-petit), and at the front line.

_July 13._--Continued wire-cutting and searching the wood all day.
Scores of batteries doing the same thing, and noise infernal. The Child
went off to find out if he could see the wire from the front edge of
Mametz Wood (which now really _is_ in our possession). Failing to see it
from there, he wandered on up an old communication trench known as
Middle Alley, which led direct from our own to the German front line.
Eventually he found a place from which he could see through a gap in the
hedge. The wire was cut all right--and, incidentally, he might have come
face to face with a hostile bombing party at any moment! But what seemed
to interest him much more was the behaviour of the orderly who had
accompanied him. This N.C.O., who is the battery "look-out man,"
specially trained to observe anything and everything, raised himself
from the ground a moment after they had both hurled themselves flat to
await the arrival of a five-nine in Mametz Wood, peered over a fallen
tree-trunk and said, "_That_ one, sir, was just in front, but slightly
to the left!"

Spent the afternoon preparing detailed orders and time-tables for
to-morrow's "big show." Slept from 11 till 2.45 a.m.

_July 14._--The "intense" bombardment began at 3.20 a.m.; the infantry
attack was launched five minutes later. Even to attempt to describe this
bombardment is beyond me. All that can be said is that there was such a
_hell_ of noise that it was quite impossible to give any orders to the
guns except by sending subalterns from the telephone dug-out to shout in
the ear of each sergeant in turn. The battery (in company with perhaps a
hundred others) barraged steadily, "lifting" fifty yards at a time from
3.25 till 7.15 a.m., by which time some 900 rounds had been expended and
the paint on the guns was blistering from their heat. We gathered
(chiefly from information supplied by the Child at the O.P., who got
into touch with various staffs and signal officers) that the attack had
been very successful. About 7.30 things slowed down a little and the men
were able to get breakfast and some rest--half at a time, of course.

At midday cavalry moved up past us and affairs began to look really
promising. Slept from 3 to 5 p.m., then got orders to reconnoitre an
advanced position in front of Acid Drop Copse. (It may here be noted
that from our first position this very copse was one of our most
important targets at a range of nearly 4000 yards.) Chose a position,
but could see that if and when we do occupy it, it is not going to be a
health-resort. And, owing to the appalling state of the ground, it will
take some driving to get there. Had a really good night's rest for once.
Battery fired at intervals all night.

_July 15._--Attack continued. By 10.30 a.m. our guns had reached extreme
range and we were forced to stop. (We started at 2700 in this position.)
News very good: enemy much demoralised and surrendering freely.
Practically no hostile shelling round us now--in fact, we are rather out
of the battle for the moment. After lunch formed up the whole battery
and thanked the men for the splendid way that they had worked. Shoon,
whose arm has got worse, sent under protest to hospital. Desperately
sorry to lose him.

In the afternoon switched to the left, where we are apparently still
held up, and fired occasional salvos on Martinpuich. Ditto all night.

_July 16._--Everybody much concerned over a certain Switch Trench, which
appears to be giving much trouble. Fired spasmodically (by map) on this
trench throughout the day. In the evening all guns removed to a
travelling Ordnance Workshop for overhaul--they need it. Late at night
received orders to dig the Acid Drop Copse position next day, and occupy
it as soon as the guns are sent back.

_July 17._--Took all officers and practically every man up to new
position at 7 a.m. and started to dig. Shells all round us while we
worked, but still no damage. This is too good to last. In the afternoon
went out with George (another B.C.[11] in the brigade), the Child, and a
telephonist to look for an O.P. whence to see this infernal Switch
Trench. After a while parted from George, whom we last saw walking
_forward_ from the villa, pausing occasionally to examine the country
through his glasses. We learnt afterwards that he spent a really happy
afternoon in No Man's Land carrying various wounded infantrymen into
comparative safety! For which he has been duly recommended.

[11] Battery Commander.

Got into the old German second line (taken on the 14th), and found that
it had been so completely battered by our bombardment that its captors
had been obliged to dig an entirely new trench in front of it. This part
of the world was full of gunner officers _all_ looking for an O.P. for
Switch Trench. Returned to Acid Drop Copse about 5 p.m. and found that
the digging had progressed well. Marched the men back to the old
position, where they got tea and a rest. Teams came up about 8. Packed
up and moved forward. Ground so desperately heavy that it became
necessary to put ten horses in a team for the last pull up the hill to
the position. Got all guns into action and twenty-one wagon loads of
ammunition dumped by 11 p.m.--no casualties. Work of the men, who were
much worn out, beyond all praise.

The noise in this place is worse than anything previously experienced.
Being, as we are now, the most advanced battery in this particular
sector, we get the full benefit of every gun that is behind us--and
there are many. Moreover, the hostile artillery is extremely active,
especially in the wood, where every shell comes down with a hissing rush
that ends in an appalling crash. About midnight the Boche began to put
over small "stink" shells. These seemed to flit through the air, and
always landed with a soft-sounding "phutt" very like a dud. One burst
just behind our trench and wounded a gunner in the foot. Found it
impossible to sleep, owing to the din.

_July 18._--At 4 a.m. the hostile bombardment seemed so intense that,
fearing a counter-attack, I got up to look round. Was reassured by
Angelo, who had already done so. Beyond the fact that the wood was being
systematically searched with five-nines, there was nothing much doing.
Returned to bed, but still failed to sleep.

Fired at intervals throughout the day at various spots allotted by
Brigade H.Q. Having no O.P. had to do everything from the map. Men all
digging when not actually firing: position now nearly splinter-proof. A
most unnerving day, however. A Hun barrage of "air-crumps" on the ridge
in front of us by the Cutting, another one to our right along the edge
of the wood, many five-nines over our heads into the dip behind us, and
quite a few into Acid Drop Copse on our left rear.

In the afternoon we had half a dozen H.E. "pip-squeaks" very close at a
moment when there were three wagons up replenishing ammunition. One
burst within four yards of the lead horses--and no damage. This _cannot_
last. Orders for a big attack received at 4 p.m. At 5 counter-orders to
the effect that we are to be relieved to-night. Fired continuously till
about 8.30, then packed up and waited for the teams, which arrived about
9.

We were just congratulating ourselves on our luck, it being then rather
a quiet moment and three out of the four teams already on the move, when
a big "air-crump" burst straight above our heads, wounding the
sergeant-major in the thigh. Put him up on the last limber and sent the
guns off as fast as they could go--ground too bad to gallop. Two more
shells followed us down the valley, but there were no further
casualties. At the bottom missed the Child: sent to inquire if he was at
the head of the column--no. Was beginning to get nervous, when he
strolled up from the rear, accompanied by the officers' mess cook.

"Pity to leave these behind," he observed, throwing down a kettle and a
saucepan!

Nervy work loading up our stores and kits on to the G.S. wagon, but the
enemy battery had returned to its favourite spot by the Cutting, and
nothing further worried us. Marched back to the wagon line (about five
miles). Much amused by the tenacity with which one of the sergeants
clung to a jar of rum which he had rescued from the position.[12] At the
wagon line collected the whole battery together, and while waiting went
across to see the sergeant-major in the dressing-station. Am afraid,
though it is nothing serious, that it will be a case of "Blighty" for
him. A very serious loss to the battery, as he has been absolutely
invaluable throughout this show.

[12] This jar was afterwards found to contain lime-juice!

Marched to our old bivouac at the swampy wood, but were allotted a
reasonable space outside it this time. Fell into bed, beat to the world,
at 3.30 a.m.

_July 19._--Much to do, though men and horses are tired to death. Moved
off at 6 p.m. and did a twenty-mile night march, arriving at another
bivouac at 2 a.m. Horses just about at their last gasp. Poor old things,
they have been in harness almost continuously throughout the battle
bringing up load after load of ammunition at all hours of the day and
night.

_July 20._--Took over a new position (trench warfare style) just out of
the battle area as now constituted, and settled down to--rest.

       *       *       *       *       *

The above is an accurate, though, I fear, far too personal record of the
doings of one particular unit during a fortnight's continuous fighting.
It is in no way an attempt to describe a battle as a whole. That is a
feat beyond my powers--and, I think, beyond the powers of any one
actually engaged. Thinking things over now, in the quiet of a well-made
dug-out, I realise that the predominant impressions left upon my mind,
in ascending order of magnitude so to speak, are: dirt, stink, horrors,
lack of sleep, funk--and the amazing endurance of the men. In the first
article of this series I wrote: "But this I know now--the human material
with which I have to deal is good enough." It is. I grant that our
casualties were slight (though in this respect we were extremely lucky),
and that compared with the infantry our task was the easier one of
"standing the strain" rather than of "facing the music." But still,
think of the strain on the detachments, serving their guns night and day
almost incessantly for fourteen days on end. In the first week alone we
fired the amount of ammunition which suffices for a battery in peace
time for thirty years! They averaged five hours' sleep in the
twenty-four, these men, throughout the time; and they dug three separate
positions--all in heavy ground. Nor must one forget the drivers,
employed throughout in bringing up ammunition along roads pitted with
holes, often shelled and constantly blocked with traffic.

The New Ubique begins to be worthy of the Old.



PART II

"AND THE OLD"



BILFRED

    ... Fellow-creature I am, fellow-servant
    Of God: can man fathom God's dealings with us?

      *       *       *       *       *       *       *

    Oh! man! we, at least, we enjoy, with thanksgiving,
    God's gifts on this earth, though we look not beyond.

    You sin and you suffer, and we, too, find sorrow
    Perchance through your sin--yet it soon will be o'er;
    We labour to-day and we slumber to-morrow,
    Strong horse and bold rider! and who knoweth more?

                                        A. LINDSAY GORDON.


I

In some equine Elysium where there are neither flies nor dust nor steep
hills nor heavy loads; where there is luscious young grass unlimited
with cool streams and shady trees; where one can roam as one pleases and
rest when one is tired: there, far from the racket of gun wheels on hard
roads and the thunder of opposing artillery, oblivious of all the
insensate folly of this warring human world, reposes, I doubt it not,
the soul of Bilfred.

His was a humble part. He was never richly caparisoned with embroidered
bridle and trappings of scarlet and gold. He never swept over the desert
beneath some Arab sheikh with the cry "Allah for all!" ringing in his
ears. He bore no general to victory, no king to his coronation. But he
served his country faithfully, and in the end, when he had helped to
make some history, he died for it.

It is eight years since he joined the battery--a woolly-coated babyish
remount straight from an Irish dealer's yard. Examining him carefully we
found that beneath his roughness he was not badly shaped; a trifle long
in the back perhaps, and a shade too tall--but then perfection is not
attainable at the government price. There was no denying that his head
was plain and his face distinctly ugly. From his pink and flabby muzzle
a broad streak of white ran upwards to his forehead, widening on the
near side so as almost to reach his eye. The grotesquely lopsided effect
of this was enhanced by a tousled forelock which straggled down between
his ears.

The question of naming him arose, and some one said, "Except for his
face, which is like nothing on earth, he's the image of old Alfred that
we cast last year."

Now a system prevailed in the battery by which horses were called by
names which began with the letter of their subsection.

"Well," said some one else, "he's been posted to B sub; why not call him
Bilfred?"

And Bilfred he became.

Our rough-rider at the time was a patient man, enthusiastic enough over
his job to take endless trouble with young horses. This was fortunate
for the new-comer, who proved at first an obdurate pupil. Scientists
tell us, of course, that in relative brain-power the horse ranks low in
the animal scale--lower than the domestic pig, in fact. This may be so,
but Bilfred was certainly an exception. It was obvious, too obvious,
that he _thought_, that he definitely used his brain to question the
advisability of doing any given thing. To his rebellious Celtic nature
there must have been added a percentage of Scotch caution. When any new
performance was demanded of him he would ask himself, "Is there any
personal risk in this, and even if not, is there any sense in doing it?"
Unless satisfied on these points he would plead ignorance and fear and
anger alternately until convinced that it would be less unpleasant to
acquiesce. For instance, being driven round in a circle in the riding
school at the end of a long rope struck him as a silly business; but
when he discovered (after a week) that he could neither break the rope
nor kick the man who was holding it, he (metaphorically) shrugged his
shoulders and trotted or walked, according to orders, with a
considerable show of willing intelligence. It took four men half a day
to shoe him for the first time, and he was in a white lather when they
had finished. But on the next and on every subsequent occasion he was as
docile as any veteran.

A saddle was first placed upon him, at a moment when his attention was
distracted by a handful of corn offered to him by a confederate of the
rough-rider's. He even allowed himself to be girthed up without protest.
But when, suddenly and without due warning, he felt the weight of a man
upon his back, his horror was apparent. For a moment he stood stock
still, trembling slightly and breathing hard. Then he made a mighty
bound forward and started to kick his best. To no purpose; he could not
get his head down, and the more he tried, the more it hurt him. The
weight meanwhile remained upon his back. Exhausted, he stood still again
and gave vent to a loud snort. His face depicted his thoughts. "I'm
done for," he felt; "this thing is here for ever." He was soothed and
petted until his first panic had subsided; then coaxed into a good
humour again with oats. At the end of a minute or so he was induced to
move forward--cautiously, nervously at first, and then with more
confidence. "Unpleasant but not dangerous," was his verdict. In half an
hour he was resigned to his burden.

Yet not entirely. Every day when first mounted he gave two or three
hearty kicks. He hated the cold saddle on his back for one thing, and
for another there was always a vague hope. ... One day, about a
fortnight afterwards, this hope fructified. A loose-seated rider, in a
moment of bravado, got upon him, and immediately the customary
performance began. At the second plunge the man shot up into space and
landed heavily on the tan. Bilfred, palpably as astonished as he was
pleased, tossed his head, snorted in triumph and bolted round the
school, kicking at intervals. For five thrilling minutes he enjoyed the
best time he had had since he left Connemara. Then, ignominiously, he
succumbed to the temptation of a proffered feed tin and was caught,
discovering too late, to his chagrin, that the tin was empty. It was
his first experience of the deceitfulness of man, and he did not forget
it.

Six weeks later he had become a most accomplished person. He could walk
and trot and even canter in a lumbering way; he answered to rein and
leg, could turn and twist, go sideway and backwards; greatest miracle of
all, he had been taught to lurch in ungainly fashion over two-foot-six
of furze.

But he had accomplished something beyond all this. He had acquired a
reputation. It had become known throughout the battery that there were
certain things which could not be done to Bilfred with impunity. If you
were his stable companion, for example, you could not try to steal his
food without getting bitten, neither could you nibble the hairs of his
tail without getting kicked. If you were a human being you could not
approach him in his stall until you had spoken to him politely from
outside it. You could not attempt to groom him until you had made
friends with him, and even then you had to keep your eyes open. You got
used to the way he gnashed his teeth and tossed his head about, but
occasionally, when you were occupied with the ticklish underpart of him,
he would show his dislike of the operation by catching you unawares by
the slack of your breeches and throwing you out of his stall.

But there was no vice in him. He was always amenable to kindness, and
prepared to accept gifts of sugar and bread with every symptom of
gratitude and approval. Rumour even had it that he had once eaten the
stable-man's dinner with apparent relish. And he flourished exceedingly
in his new environment. His baby roundness had disappeared and been
replaced by hard muscle. He no longer moved with an awkward sprawling
gait, but with confidence and precision. His dark-bay coat was sleek and
smooth, his mane hogged, his heels neatly trimmed. Only his tail
remained the difficulty. It was long and its hairs were coarse and
curly. Moreover, he persisted in carrying it slightly inclined towards
the off side, as if to draw attention to it. Frankly it was a vulgar
tail. But, on the whole, Bilfred was presentable.

When the time came to complete his education by putting him in draught
he surprised an expectant crowd of onlookers by going up into his collar
at once and pulling as if he had done that sort of work for years. And
so, as a matter of fact, he had. Irish horses are often put into the
plough as two-year-olds--a fact which had been forgotten. But he would
not consent to go in the wheel. He made this fact quite clear by kicking
so violently that he broke two traces, cut his hocks against the
footboard and lamed himself. Since ploughs do not run downhill on to
one's heels, he saw no reason why a gun or wagon should. Persuasion was
found to be useless, and for once his obstinacy triumphed. But he did
not abuse his victory nor seek to extend his gains. He proved himself a
willing worker in any other position, and soon, on his merits as much as
on his looks, he was promoted from the wagon to the gun and definitely
took his place as off leader. It was a good team; some said the show one
of the battery. The wheelers were Beatrice and Belinda, who knew their
job as well as did their driver, whom they justly loved. Being old and
dignified they never fretted, but took life calmly and contentedly. In
the centre Bruno and Binty, young both of them, and rather excitable,
needed watching or they lost condition, but both had looks. The riding
leader was old Bacchus, tall and strong and honest, a good doer and a
veteran of some standing. Moreover, he was a perfect match for Bilfred.
All six of them were of the same mottled dark-bay colour.

In course of time Bilfred, quick, like most horses, to pick up habits,
exhibited all the characteristics of the typical "hairy." (It is to be
observed that the term is not one of abuse but of esteem and affection.)
He became, frankly and palpably gluttonous, stamping and whinnying for
his food and bolting it ravenously when he got it. At exercise he shied
extravagantly at things which did not frighten him in the least. He
displayed an obstinate disinclination to leave other horses when
required to do so; and at riding drill he quickly discovered that to
skimp the corners as much as possible tends to save exertion. Artillery
horses are not as a rule well bred; one finds in their characters an
astonishing mixture of cunning, vulgarity, and docile good-tempered
willingness which makes them altogether lovable. Their condition
reflects their treatment, as in a mirror. Properly looked after they
thrive; neglected, their appearance betrays the fact to every
experienced eye. They have an enormous contempt for "these 'ere mufti
'orses," as our farrier once described some one's private hunter. Watch
a subsection out at water when a contractor's cart pulls up in the
lines; note the way they prick their ears and stare, then drop their
heads to the trough again with a sniff. It is as if they said, in so
many words, "Who the deuce are you? Oh! a mere civilian!"

Bilfred was like them all in many ways. But, in spite of everything, he
never lost his personality. He invariably kicked three times when he was
first mounted--and never afterwards on that particular day; he hated
motors moving or stationary; and he was an adept at slipping his head
collar and getting loose. It was never safe to let go his head for an
instant. With ears forward and tail straight up on end, he was off in a
flash at a trot that was vulgarly fast. He never galloped till his angry
pursuers were close, and then he could dodge like a Rugby three-quarter.
If he got away in barracks he always made straight for the tennis-lawns,
where his soup-plate feet wrought untold havoc. And no longer was he to
be lured to capture with an empty feed tin. Everybody knew him, most
people cursed him at times, but for all that everybody loved him.


II

I think that when a new history of the Regiment comes to be written
honourable mention should be made therein of a certain team of dark
bays that pulled the same gun of the same battery for so many years.
They served in England and in Ireland, in France and in the Low
Countries; they thundered over the grassy flats of Salisbury Plain; they
toiled up the steep rocky roads of Glen Imaal; they floundered in the
bogs of Okehampton. They stood exposed in all weathers; they stifled in
close evil-smelling billets, in trains, and on board ship. They were
present at Mons; they were all through the Great Retreat, they swept
forward to the Marne and on to the Aisne; they marched round to Flanders
in time for the first battle of Ypres. They were never sick nor sorry,
even when fodder was short and the marches long, even when there was no
time to slake their raging thirsts. They pulled together in patience,
and in dumb pathetic trust of their lords and masters, knowing nothing,
understanding nothing, until at last Fate overtook them.

At the beginning of August, 1914, the battery had just returned to its
station after a month's hard work at practice camp. Bilfred, a veteran
now of more than seven years' service, had probably never been in better
condition in his life. Ordinarily he would have been given an easy time
for some weeks, with plenty of food and just enough exercise and collar
work to keep him fit for the strain of the big manoeuvres in September.

But there were to be no 1914 manoeuvres. About August 6 things quite
beyond Bilfred's comprehension began to happen. Strange men arrived to
join the battery and in their ignorance took liberties with him which he
resented. Every available space in the lines became crowded with
unkempt, queer-looking horses, obviously of a low caste. Bilfred was
shod a fortnight before his time by a new shoeing-smith, for whom he
made things as unpleasant as possible. His harness, which usually looked
like polished mahogany decorated with silver, was dubbed and oiled until
it looked (and smelt) disgusting. When the battery went out on parade,
all these absurd civilian horses with bushy tails (some even with
manes!) went with it, and for a day or two behaved disgracefully. The
whole place was in confusion and everybody worked all day long. Bilfred,
ignorant of the term "mobilisation," was completely mystified.

A week or so later he was harnessed up in the middle of the night,
hooked in and marched to the station. Now it had been his habit for
years to object to being entrained. On this occasion he was doubly
obstinate and wasted much precious time. Other horses, even his own
team-mates, went in quietly in front of him; it made no difference, he
refused to follow them. A rope was put round his quarters and he was
hauled towards the truck. He dug his toes in and tried to back. Then,
suddenly, his hind legs slipped and he sat down on his haunches like a
dog, tangled in the rope and unable to move. In the dim light of the
station siding his white face and scared expression moved us to laughter
in spite of our exasperation. He struggled to his feet again, the
cynosure of all eyes, and the subject of many curses. Then, for no
apparent reason whatever, he changed his mind and allowed himself to be
led into the next truck, which was empty, just as though it was his own
stall in barracks. And once inside he tried by kicking to prevent other
horses being put in with him.

He continued in this contrary mood for some time and upheld his
reputation for eccentricity. Some horses made a fuss about embarking. He
made none. He showed his insular contempt for foreigners by making a
frantic effort to bite the first French soldier he saw--a sentry on the
landing quay, who, in his enthusiasm for his Allies, came too close. He
got loose during the night we spent at the rest camp, laid flat about an
acre of standing corn, and was found next morning in the lines of a
cavalry regiment, looking woefully out of place.

On the railway journey up to the concentration area, he slipped down in
the truck several times and was trampled on by the other horses. The
operation of extricating him was dangerous and lengthy. When we
detrained he refused food and water, to our great concern. But he took
his place in the team during the twenty-mile march that followed and was
himself again in the evening.

Where everybody was acutely conscious of the serious nature of the
business during the first day or so, it was something of a relief to
watch the horses behaving exactly as they normally did at home. We,
Heaven help us! knew little enough of what was in store for us, but
they, poor brutes, knew nothing. Oats were plentiful--what else
mattered? Bilfred rolled over and over on his broad back directly his
harness was removed, just as he always did; he plunged his head deep
into his water and pushed his muzzle to and fro washing his mouth and
nostrils; he raised his head when he had drunk, stretched his neck and
yawned, staring vacantly into space as was his wont. For him the world
was still at peace. Of course it was--he knew no better. But we who did,
we whose nerves were on edge with an excitement half-fearful,
half-exultant, saw these things and were somehow soothed by them.

Bilfred's baptism of fire came early. A few rounds of shrapnel burst
over the wagon-line on the very first occasion that we were in action.
Fortunately, the range was just too long and no damage was done. Some of
the horses showed momentary signs of fear, but the drivers easily
quieted them; and, besides, they were in a clover field--an opportunity
too good to be wasted in worrying about strange noises. Bilfred, either
because he despised the German artillery or because he imagined that the
reports were those of his own guns, to which he was quite accustomed,
never even raised his head. His curly tail flapped regularly from side
to side, protecting him from a swarm of flies whilst he reached out as
far as his harness would allow and tore up great mouthfuls of grass. He
had always been a glutton, and it was as if he knew, shells or no
shells, that this was to be his last chance for some time. It was; there
followed four days of desperate strain for man and beast. Through clouds
of powdery, choking dust, beneath a blazing August sun, parched with
thirst, often hungry and always weary, Bilfred and his fellows pulled
the two tons of steel and wood and complicated mechanism called a gun
along those straight interminable roads of northern France. Thousands of
horses in dozens of batteries were doing the same thing--and none knew
why.

Then, on the fifth day, our turn came to act as rear-guard artillery.
The horses, tucked away behind a convenient wood when we came into
action just before dawn, had an easy morning--and there were many,
especially amongst the new-comers received on mobilisation, who were
badly in need of it. Now the function of a rear-guard is to gain time,
and this we did. But, when at last the order to withdraw was given, our
casualties were numerous and the enemy was close. Moreover, his
artillery had got our range. The teams issuing from the shelter of their
wood had to face a heavy fire, and it was at this juncture that the
seasoned horses, the real old stagers, who knew as much about limbering
up as most drivers and more than some, set an example to the less
experienced ones. Bilfred (and I take him as typical of the rest) seemed
with a sudden flash of intuition to realise that his apprenticeship and
all his previous training had been arranged expressly that he might bear
himself courageously in just such a situation as this. Somehow, in some
quite inexplicable fashion, he knew that this was the supreme moment of
his career. Regardless of bursting shells and almost without guidance
from his driver he galloped straight for his gun, with ears pricked and
nostrils dilated, the muscles rippling under his dark coat and his
traces taut as bow-strings as he strained at his collar with every
thundering stride. He wheeled with precision exactly over the trail eye,
checked his pace at the right moment, and "squared off" so as to allow
the wheelers to place the limber in position. It was his job, he knew
what to do and he did it perfectly. B was the first gun to get away and
the only one to do so without a casualty....

More marching, more fighting, day after day, night after night; men were
killed and wounded; horses, dropping from utter exhaustion, were cut
loose and left where they lay--old friends, some of them, that it tore
one's heart to abandon thus. But there could be no tarrying, the enemy
was too close to us for that.

Then came the day when the terrible retreat southwards ceased as
abruptly and as unexpectedly as it had begun. Rejoicing in an advance
which soon developed into a pursuit we forgot our weariness and all the
trials and hardships of the past. And I think we forgot, too, in our
eagerness, that for the horses there was no difference between the
advance and the retirement--the work was as hard, the loads as heavy.
For our hopes were high. We knew that the flood of invasion was stemmed
at last. We believed that final victory was in sight. Reckless of
everything we pushed on, faster and still faster, until our strength was
nearly exhausted. It mattered not, we felt; the enemy retreating in
disorder before us must be in far worse plight.

And then, on the Aisne, we ran up against a strong position, carefully
prepared and held by fresh troops. Trench warfare began, batteries dug
themselves in as never before, and the horses were taken far to the rear
to rest. They had come through a terrible ordeal. Some were lame and
some were galled; staring coats, hollow, wasted backs, and visible ribs
told their own tale. A few, at least, were little more than skeletons
for whom the month's respite that followed was a godsend. Good forage in
plenty, some grazing and very light work did wonders, and when the
moment came for the move round to Flanders the majority were ready for a
renewed effort. Compared with what they had already done the march was
easy work. They arrived on the Yser fit and healthy.

But the first battle of Ypres took its toll. Bringing up ammunition one
dark night along a road which, though never safe, had perforce to be
used for lack of any other, the teams were caught by a salvo of high
explosive shell and suffered heavily. Four drivers and nine horses were
killed, seven drivers and thirteen horses were wounded. Bilfred escaped
unhurt, but he was the only one in his team who did. A direct hit on the
limber brought instantaneous death to the wheelers and their beloved
driver. A merciful revolver shot put an end to Binty's screaming agony.
Bruno and Bacchus were fortunate in only getting flesh wounds from
splinters. It was a sad breaking up of the team which had held together
through so many vicissitudes. It comforted us, though, to think that at
least they had died in harness....

The winter brought hardship for horse as well as man. We built stables
of hop-poles and sacking, but they were only a slight protection against
the biting winds, and it was impossible to cope with the sea of slimy
mud which was euphemistically termed the horse lines. In spite of all
our precautions coughs and colds were rampant. About Christmas-time
Bruno, always rather delicate, succumbed with several others to
pneumonia, and a month later Bacchus strained himself so badly, when
struggling to pull a wagon out of holding mud whilst the rest of the
team (all new horses) jibbed, that he passed out of our hands to a
veterinary hospital and was never seen again. Bilfred alone remained,
and Nature, determined to do her best for him, provided him with the
most amazingly woolly coat ever seen upon a horse. The robustness of his
constitution made him impervious to climatic conditions, but the loss of
Bacchus, his companion for so long, distressed him, and he was at pains
to show his dislike of the substitute provided by biting him at all
times except when in harness; then, and then only, was he Dignity
personified.

The end came one day in early spring. The battery was in action in a
part of the line where it was impossible to have the horses far away,
for in those days we had to be prepared for any emergency. It so
happened that the enemy, in the course of his usual morning "_strafe_,"
whether by luck or by intention, put an eight-inch howitzer shell into
the middle of the secluded field where a few of our horses were sunning
themselves in the warm air and picking at the scanty grass. Fortunately,
they had been hobbled so that there was no stampede. The cloud of smoke
and dust cleared away and we thought at first that no harm had been
done. Then we noticed Bilfred lying on his side ten yards or so from the
crater, his hind quarters twitching convulsively. As we went towards
him, he lifted his head and tried to look at the gaping jagged wound in
his flank and back. There was agony in his soft brown eyes, but he made
no sound. He made a desperate effort to get up, but could only raise his
forehand. He remained thus for a moment, swaying unsteadily and in
terrible distress. Then he dropped back and lay still. A minute later he
gave one long deep sigh--and it was over.

Our old farrier, who in his twenty years' service had seen many horses
come and go, and who was not often given to sentiment, looked at him
sadly.

"'E's gone," he said. "A good 'oss--won't see the like of him again in
the batt'ry this trip, I reckon."

And Bilfred's driver, the man who had been with him from the start,
ceased his futile efforts to stem the flow of blood with a dirty
handkerchief.

"Oh! Gawd!" he muttered in a voice of despair, and turned his back upon
us all to hide his grief.

We kept a hoof, to be mounted for the battery mess when peace comes, for
he was the last of the old lot and his memory must not be allowed to
fade. The fatigue party digging his grave did not grumble at their task.
He was an older member of the battery than them all and a comrade rather
than a beast of burden.

       *       *       *       *       *

I like to imagine that Bilfred had a soul--not such a soul as we try to
conceive for ourselves perhaps--but still I like to picture him in some
heaven suitable to his simple needs, dwelling in quiet peacefulness
among the departed of his race. What a company would be his and what
tales he would hear!--Tales of the chariots of Assyria and Rome, of the
fleet Parthians and the ravaging hosts of Attila; stories of
Charlemagne and King Arthur, of the lists and all the pomp of chivalry.
And so down through the centuries to the crossing of the Alps in 1800
and the grim tragedy of Moscow twelve years later. Would he stamp his
feet and toss his head proudly when he heard of the Greys at Waterloo or
the Light Brigade at Balaclava? But stories of the guns would delight
him more, I think--Fuentes D'Onoro, Maiwand, Néry, and Le Cateau.

It pleases me to think of him meeting Bacchus and Binty and the rest and
arguing out the meaning of it all. Does he know now, I wonder, the
colossal issues that were at stake during that terrible fortnight
between Mons and the Marne, and does he forgive us our seeming cruelty?

I hope so. I like to think that Bilfred understands.



"THE PROGRESS OF PICKERSDYKE"


I

Second Lieutenant William Pickersdyke, sometime quartermaster-sergeant
of the ----th Battery, and now adjutant of a divisional ammunition
column, stared out of the window of his billet and surveyed the muddy
and uninteresting village street with eyes of gloom. His habitual
optimism had for once failed him, and his confidence in the gospel of
efficiency had been shaken. For Fate, in the portly guise of his fatuous
old colonel, had intervened to balk the fulfilment of his most cherished
desire. Pickersdyke had that morning applied for permission to be
transferred to his old battery if a vacancy occurred, and the colonel
had flatly declined to forward the application.

Now one of the few military axioms which have not so far been disproved
in the course of this war is the one which lays down that second
lieutenants must not argue with colonels. Pickersdyke had left his
commanding officer without betraying the resentment which he felt, but
in the privacy of his own room, however, he allowed himself the luxury
of vituperation.

"Blooming old woman!" he said aloud. "Incompetent, rusty old dug-out!
Thinks he's going to keep me here running his bally column for ever, I
suppose. Selfish, that's what 'e is--and lazy too."

In spite of the colonel's pompous reference to "the exigencies of the
service," that useful phrase which covers a multitude of minor
injustices, Pickersdyke had legitimate cause for grievance. Nine months
previously, when he had been offered a commission, he had had to choose
between Sentiment, which bade him refuse and stay with the battery to
whose wellbeing he had devoted seven of the best years of his life, and
Ambition, which urged him, as a man of energy and brains, to accept his
just reward with a view to further advancement. Ambition, backed by his
major's promise to have him as a subaltern later on, had vanquished.
Suppressing the inevitable feeling of nostalgia which rose in him, he
had joined the divisional ammunition column, prepared to do his best in
a position wholly distasteful to him.

In an army every unit depends for its efficiency upon the system of
discipline inculcated by its commander, aided by the spirit of
individual enthusiasm which pervades its members; the less the
enthusiasm the sterner must be the discipline. Now a D.A.C., as it is
familiarly called, is not, in the inner meaning of the phrase, a
cohesive unit. In peace it exists only on paper; it is formed during
mobilisation by the haphazard collection of a certain number of
officers, mostly "dug-outs"; close upon 500 men, nearly all reservists;
and about 700 horses, many of which are rejections from other and, in a
sense, more important units. Its business, as its name indicates, is to
supply a division with ammunition, and its duties in this connection are
relatively simple. Its wagons transport shells, cartridges, and bullets
to the brigade ammunition columns, whence they return empty and begin
again. It is obvious that the men engaged upon this work need not, in
ordinary circumstances, be heroes; it is also obvious that their _rôle_,
though fundamentally an important one, does not tend to foster an
intense _esprit de corps_. A man can be thrilled at the idea of a charge
or of saving guns under a hurricane of fire, but not with the monotonous
job of loading wagons and then driving them a set number of miles daily
along the same straight road. A stevedore or a carter has as much
incentive to enthusiasm for his work.

The commander of a D.A.C., therefore, to ensure efficiency in his unit,
must be a zealous disciplinarian with a strong personality. But
Pickersdyke's new colonel was neither. The war had dragged him from a
life of slothful ease to one of bustle and discomfort. Being elderly,
stout, and constitutionally idle, he had quickly allowed his early zeal
to cool off, and now, after six months of the campaign, the state of his
command was lamentable. To Pickersdyke, coming from a battery with proud
traditions and a high reputation, whose members regarded its good name
in the way that a son does that of his mother, it seemed little short of
criminal that such laxity should be permitted. On taking over a section
he "got down to it," as he said, at once, and became forthwith a most
unpopular officer. But that, though he knew it well, did not deter him.
He made the lives of various sergeants and junior N.C.O.'s unbearable
until they began to see that it was wiser "to smarten themselves up a
bit" after his suggestion. In a month the difference between his
section and the others was obvious. The horses were properly groomed and
had begun to improve in their condition--before, they had been poor to a
degree; the sergeant-major no longer grew a weekly beard nor smoked a
pipe during stable hour; the number of the defaulters, which under the
new _régime_ was at first large, had dwindled to a negligible quantity.
In two months that section was for all practical purposes a model one,
and Pickersdyke was able to regard the results of his unstinted efforts
with satisfaction.

The colonel, who was not blind where his own interests were concerned,
sent for Pickersdyke one day and said--

"You've done very well with your section; it's quite the best in the
column now."

Pickersdyke was pleased; he was as modest as most men, but he
appreciated recognition of his merits. Moreover, for his own ends, he
was anxious to impress his commanding officer. He was less pleased when
the latter continued--

"I'm going to post you to No. 3 Section now, and I hope you'll do the
same with that."

No. 3 Section was notorious. Pickersdyke, if he had been a man of
Biblical knowledge (which he was not), would have compared himself to
Jacob, who waited seven years for Rachel and then was tricked into
taking Leah. The vision of his four days' leave--long overdue--faded
away. He foresaw a further and still more difficult period of
uncongenial work in front of him. But, having no choice, he was obliged
to acquiesce.

Once again he began at the beginning, instilling into unruly minds the
elementary notions that orders are given to be obeyed, that the first
duty of a mounted man is to his horses, and that personal cleanliness
and smartness in appearance are military virtues not beneath notice.
This time the drudgery was even worse, and he was considerably hampered
by the touchiness and jealousy of the real section commander, who was a
dug-out captain of conspicuous inability. There was much unpleasantness,
there was at one time very nearly a mutiny, and there were not a few
court-martials. It was three months and a half before that section
found, so to speak, its military soul.

And then the colonel, satisfied that the two remaining sections were
well enough commanded to shift for themselves if properly guided, seized
his chance and made Pickersdyke his adjutant. Here was a man, he felt,
endowed with an astonishing energy and considerable powers of
organisation, the very person, in fact, to save his commanding officer
trouble and to relieve him of all real responsibility.

This occurred about the middle of July. From then until well on into
September, Pickersdyke remained a fixture in a small French village on
the lines of communication, miles from the front, out of all touch with
his old comrades, with no distractions and no outlet for his energies
except work of a purely routine character.

"It might be peace-time and me a bloomin' clerk" was how he expressed
his disgust. But he still hoped, for he believed that to the efficient
the rewards of efficiency come in due course and are never long delayed.
Without being conceited, he was perhaps more aware of his own
possibilities than of his limitations. In the old days in his battery he
had been the major's right-hand man and the familiar (but always
respectful) friend of the subalterns. In the early days of the war he
had succeeded amazingly where others in his position had certainly
failed. His management of affairs "behind the scenes" had been
unsurpassed. Never once, from the moment when his unit left Havre till a
month later it arrived upon the Aisne, had its men been short of food
or its horses of forage. He had replaced deficiencies from some
apparently inexhaustible store of "spares"; he had provided the best
billets, the safest wagon lines, the freshest bread with a consistency
that was almost uncanny. In the darkest days of the retreat he had
remained imperturbed, "pinching" freely when blandishments failed,
distributing the comforts as well as the necessities of life with a
lavish hand and an optimistic smile. His wits and his resource had been
tested to the utmost. He had enjoyed the contest (it was his nature to
do that), and he had come through triumphant and still smiling.

During the stationary period on the Aisne, and later in Flanders, he had
managed the wagon line--that other half of a battery which consists of
almost everything except the guns and their complement of officers and
men--practically unaided. On more than one occasion he had brought up
ammunition along a very dangerous route at critical moments.

He received his commission late in December, at a time when his battery
was out of action, "resting." He dined in the officers' mess, receiving
their congratulations with becoming modesty and their drink without
unnecessary reserve. It was on this occasion that he had induced his
major to promise to get him back. Then he departed, sorrowful in spite
of all his pride in being an officer, to join the column. There, in the
seclusion of his billet, he studied army lists and watched the name of
the senior subaltern of the battery creep towards the head of the roll.
When that officer was promoted captain there would be a vacancy, and
that vacancy would be Pickersdyke's chance. Meanwhile, to fit himself
for what he hoped to become, he spent whole evenings poring over manuals
of telephony and gun-drill; he learnt by heart abstruse passages of
Field Artillery Training; he ordered the latest treatises on gunnery,
both practical and theoretical, to be sent out to him from England; and
he even battled valiantly with logarithms and a slide-rule....

From all the foregoing it will be understood how bitter was his
disappointment when his application to be transferred was refused. His
colonel's attitude astonished him. He had expected recognition of that
industry and usefulness of which he had given unchallengeable proof. But
the colonel, instead of saying--

"You have done well; I will not stand in your way, much as I should
like to keep you," merely observed--

"I'm sorry, but you cannot be spared."

And he made it unmistakably plain that what he meant was:

"Do you think I'm such a fool as to let you go? I'll see you damned
first!"

Thus it was that Pickersdyke, a disillusioned and a baffled man, stared
out of the window with wrath and bitterness in his heart. For he wanted
to go back to "the old troop"; he was obsessed with the idea almost to
the exclusion of everything else. He craved for the old faces and the
old familiar atmosphere as a drug-maniac craves for morphia. It was his
right, he had earned it by nine months of drudgery--and who the devil,
anyway, he felt, was this old fool to thwart him?

Extravagant plans for vengeance flitted through his mind. Supposing he
were to lose half a dozen wagons or thousands of rounds of howitzer
ammunition, would his colonel get sent home? Not he--he'd blame his
adjutant, and the latter would quite possibly be court-martialled.
Should he hide all the colonel's clothes and only reveal their
whereabouts when the application had been forwarded? Should he steal
his whisky (without which it was doubtful if he could exist), put
poison in his tea, or write an anonymous letter to headquarters accusing
him of espionage? He sighed--ingenuity, his valuable ally on many a
doubtful occasion, failed him now. Then it occurred to him to appeal to
one Lorrison, who was the captain of his old battery, and whom he had
known for years as one of his subalterns.

     "DEAR LORRISON," he wrote,

     "I've just had an interview with my old man and he won't agree
     to my transfer. I'm afraid it's a wash-out unless something can
     be done quickly, as I suppose Jordan will be promoted very
     soon." (Jordan was the senior subaltern.) "You know how much I
     want to get back in time for the big show. Can you do anything?
     Sorry to trouble you, and now I must close.

                                                 "Yours,
                                                     "W. PICKERSDYKE."

Then he summoned his servant. Gunner Scupham was an elderly individual
with grey hair, a dignified deportment, and a countenance which
suggested extreme honesty of soul but no intelligence whatsoever, which
fact was of great assistance to him in the perpetration of his more
complicated villainies. He had not been Pickersdyke's storeman for many
years for nothing. His devotion was a by-word, but his familiarity was
sometimes a little startling.

"'E won't let us go," announced Pickersdyke.

"Strafe the blighter!" replied Scupham, feelingly. "I'm proper fed up
with this 'ere column job."

"Get the office bike, take this note to Captain Lorrison, and bring back
an answer. Here's a pass."

Scupham departed, grumbling audibly. It meant a fifteen-mile ride, the
day was warm, and he disliked physical exertion. He returned late that
evening with the answer, which was as follows:--

     "DEAR PICKERS,

     "Curse your fool colonel. Jordan may go any day, and if we
     don't get you we'll probably be stuck with some child who knows
     nothing. Besides, we want you to come. The preliminary
     bombardment is well under way, so there's not much time. Meet
     me at the B.A.C.[13] headquarters to-morrow evening at eight
     and we'll fix up something. In haste,

                                                  "Yours ever,
                                                       "T. LORRISON."

[13] Brigade ammunition column.

There are people who do not believe in luck. But if it was not luck
which assisted Pickersdyke by producing the events which followed his
receipt of that note, then it was Providence in a genial and most
considerate mood. He spent a long time trying to think of a reasonable
excuse for going to see Lorrison, but he might have saved himself the
trouble. Some light-hearted fool had sent up shrapnel instead of high
explosive to the very B.A.C. that Pickersdyke wanted to visit. Angry
telephone messages were coming through, and the colonel at once sent his
adjutant up to offer plausible explanations.

Pickersdyke covered a lot of ground that afternoon. It was necessary to
find an infuriated artillery brigadier and persuade him that the error
was not likely to occur again, and was in any case not really the fault
of the D.A.C. section commander. It was then necessary to find this
latter and make it clear to him that he was without doubt the most
incompetent officer in the Allied forces, and that the error was
entirely due to his carelessness. And it was essential to arrange for
forwarding what was required.

Lorrison arrived punctually and evidently rather excited.

"What price the news?" he said at once.

Pickersdyke had heard none. He had been far too busy.

"We're for it at last--going to bombard all night till 4.30 a.m.--every
bally gun in the army as far as I can see. And we've got orders to be
ready to move in close support of the infantry if they get through. _To
move!_ Just think of that after all these months!"

Pickersdyke swore as he had not done since he was a rough-riding
bombardier.

"And that's boxed _my_ chances," he ended up.

"Wait a bit," said Lorrison. "There's a vacancy waiting for you if
you'll take it. We got pretty badly 'crumped'[14] last night. The Boches
put some big 'hows' and a couple of 'pip-squeak' batteries on to us just
when we were replenishing. They smashed up several wagons and did a lot
of damage. Poor old Jordan got the devil of a shaking--he was thrown
about ten yards. Lucky not to be blown to bits, though. Anyway, he's
been sent to hospital."

[14] Shelled.

He looked inquiringly at Pickersdyke. The latter's face portrayed an
unholy joy.

"Will I take his place?" he cried. "Lummy! I should think I would. Don't
care what the colonel says afterwards. When can I join? Now?"

"As soon as I've seen about getting some more wagons from the B.A.C.
we'll go up together," answered Lorrison.

Pickersdyke, who had no conscience whatever on occasions such as this,
sent a message to his colonel to say that he was staying up for the
night (he omitted to say precisely where!), as there would be much to
arrange in the morning. To Scupham he wrote--

"Collect all the kit you can and come up to the battery at once. _Say
nothing._"

He was perfectly aware that he was doing a wildly illegal thing. He felt
like an escaped convict breathing the air of freedom and making for his
home and family. Forty colonels would not have stopped him at that
moment.

       *       *       *       *       *


II

The major commanding the ----th Battery sat in his dug-out examining a
large-scale trench map. His watch, carefully synchronised with those of
the staff, lay on the table in front of him. Outside, his six guns were
firing steadily, each concussion (and there were twelve a minute)
shaking everything that was not a fixture in the little room. Hundreds
of guns along miles of front and miles of depth were taking part in the
most stupendous bombardment yet attempted by the army. From "Granny,"
the enormous howitzer that fired six times an hour at a range of
seventeen thousand yards, to machine-guns in the front line trenches,
every available piece of ordnance was adding its quota to what
constituted a veritable hell of noise.

The major had been ordered to cut the wire entanglements between two
given points and to stop firing at 4.30 a.m. precisely. He had no
certain means of knowing whether he had completed his task or not. He
only knew that his "lines of fire," his range, and his "height of burst"
as previously registered in daylight were correct, that his layers could
be depended upon, and that he had put about a thousand rounds of
shrapnel into fifty yards of front. At 4.29 he rose and stood, watch in
hand, in the doorway of his dug-out. A man with a megaphone waited at
his elbow. The major, war-worn though he was, was still young enough in
spirit to be thrilled by the mechanical regularity of his battery's
fire. This perfection of drill was his work, the result of months and
months of practice, of loving care, and of minute attention to detail.

Dawn was beginning to creep into the sky, and he could just distinguish
the silhouettes of the two right-hand guns. The flash as one of them
fired revealed momentarily the figures of the gunners grouped round the
breech like demons round some spectral engine of destruction. Precisely
five seconds afterwards a second flash denoted that the next gun had
fired--and so on in sequence from right to left until it was the turn of
Number One again.

"Stop!" said the major, when the minute hand of his watch was exactly
over the half-hour.

"Stop!" roared the man with the megaphone.

It was as if the order had been heard all along the entire front. The
bombardment ceased almost abruptly, and rifle and machine-gun fire
became audible again. On a colossal scale the effect was that of the
throttling down of a powerful motor-car whose engine had been allowed to
race. Then, not many moments afterwards, from far away to the eastward
there came faint, confused sounds of shouts and cheering. It was the
infantry, the long-suffering, tenacious, wonderful infantry charging
valiantly into the cold grey dawn along the avenues prepared by the
guns.

For Pickersdyke it had been a night of pure joy, unspoilt by any qualms
of conscience. He had been welcomed at the battery as a kind of returned
wanderer and given a section of guns at once. The major--who feared no
man's wrath, least of all that of a dug-out D.A.C. commander--had
promised to back him up if awkward questions were asked. Pickersdyke had
only one cause for disappointment--the whole thing had gone too
smoothly. He was bursting with technical knowledge, he could have
repaired almost any breakdown, and had kept a keen look-out for all
ordinary mistakes. But nothing went wrong and no mistakes were made. In
this battery the liability of human error had been reduced to a
negligible minimum. Pickersdyke had had nothing further to do than to
pass orders and see that they were duly received. Nevertheless he had
loved every moment of it, for he had come into his own--he was back in
the old troop, taking part in a "big show." As he observed to the major
whilst they were drinking hot coffee in the dug-out afterwards--

"Even if I do get court-martialled for desertion, sir, that last little
lot was worth it!"

And he grinned as does a man well pleased with the success of his
schemes. To complete his satisfaction, Scupham appeared soon afterwards
bringing up a large bundle of kit and a few luxuries in the way of food.
It transpired that he had presented himself to the last-joined subaltern
of the D.A.C. and had bluffed that perplexed and inexperienced officer
into turning out a cart to drive him as far as the battery wagon line,
whence he had come up on an ammunition wagon.

It was almost daylight when the battery opened fire again, taking its
orders by telephone now from the F.O.O.,[15] who was in close touch with
the infantry and could see what was happening. The rate of fire was slow
at first; then it suddenly quickened, and the range was increased by a
hundred yards. Some thirty shells went shrieking on their mission and
then another fifty yards were added. The infantry was advancing
steadily, and just as steadily, sixty or seventy yards in front of their
line, the curtain of protecting shrapnel crept forward after the
retiring enemy. At one point the attack was evidently held up for a
while; the battery changed to high explosive and worked up to its
maximum speed, causing Lorrison to telephone imploring messages for more
and still more ammunition.

[15] Forward observing officer.

The long-expected order to advance, when at last it came, nearly broke
the major's heart.

"Send forward one section," it said, "in close support of the 2nd
Battalion ----shire Regiment, to the advanced position previously
prepared in J. 12."

One section was only a third of his battery; he would have to stay
behind, and he had been dreaming nightly of this dash forward with the
infantry into the middle of things; he had had visions of that promised
land, the open country beyond the German lines, of an end to siege
warfare and a return to the varying excitement of a running fight. But
orders were orders, so he sent for Pickersdyke.

"I'm going to send you," he said, after showing him the order, "although
you haven't seen the position before. But the other lad is too young for
this job. Look here."

He pointed out the exact route to be followed, showed him where bridges
for crossing the trenches had been prepared, and explained everything in
his usual lucid manner. Then he held out his hand.

"Good-bye and good luck," he said. Their eyes met for a moment in a
steady gaze of mutual esteem and affection. For they knew each other
well, these two men--the gentleman born to lead and to inspire, and his
ranker subordinate (a gentleman too in all that matters) highly trained,
thoroughly efficient, utterly devoted....

There was not a prouder man in the army than Pickersdyke at the moment
when he led his section out from the battery position amid the cheers of
those left behind. His luck, so he felt, was indeed amazing. He had
about a mile to go along a road that was congested with troops and
vehicles of all sorts. He blasphemed his way through (there is no other
adequate means of expressing his progress) with his two guns and four
wagons until he reached the point where he had to turn off to make for
his new position. This latter had been carefully prepared beforehand by
fatigue parties sent out from the battery at night. Gun-pits had been
dug, access made easy, ranges and angles noted down in daylight by an
officer left behind expressly for the purpose; and the whole had been
neatly screened from aerial observation. It lay a few hundred yards
behind what had been the advanced British trenches. But it was not a
good place for guns; it was only one in which they might be put if, as
now, circumstances demanded the taking of heavy risks.

Pickersdyke halted his little command behind the remains of a spinney
and went forward to reconnoitre. He was still half a mile from his goal,
which lay on a gentle rise on the opposite side of a little valley.
Allowing for rough ground and deviations from the direct route owing to
the network of trenches which ran in all directions, he calculated that
it would take him at least ten minutes to get across. Incidentally he
noticed that quite a number of shells were falling in the area he was
about to enter. For the first time he began to appreciate the exact
nature of his task. He returned to the section and addressed his men
thus--

"Now, you chaps, it's good driving what's wanted here. We must get the
guns there whatever happens--we'll let down the infantry else. Follow me
and take it steady.... Terr-ot."

The teams and carriages jingled and rattled along behind him as he led
them forward. Smooth going, the signal to gallop, and a dash for it
would have been his choice, but that was impossible. Constantly he was
forced to slow down to a walk and dismount the detachments to haul on
the drag-ropes. The manoeuvre developed into a kind of obstacle race,
with death on every side. But his luck stood by him. He reached the
position with the loss only of a gunner, two drivers, and a pair of lead
horses.

As soon as he got his guns into action and his teams away (all of which
was done quietly, quickly, and without confusion--"as per book" as he
expressed it) Pickersdyke crawled up a communication trench, followed by
a telephonist laying a wire, until he reached a place where he could
see. It was the first time that he had been so close up to the firing
line, and he experienced the sensations of a man who looks down into the
crater of a live volcano. Somewhere in the midst of the awful chaos in
front of him was, if it still existed at all, the infantry battalion he
was supposed to have been sent to support. But how to know where or when
to shoot was altogether beyond him. He poked his glasses cautiously
through a loophole and peered into the smoke in the vain hope of
distinguishing friend from foe.

"What the hell shall I do now?" he muttered. "Can't see no bloomin'
target in this lot.... Crikey! yes, I can, though," he added. "Both guns
two degrees more left, fuze two, eight hundred...." He rattled off his
orders as if to the manner born. The telephonist, a man who had spent
months in the society of forward observing officers, repeated word for
word into his instrument, speaking as carefully as the operator in the
public call office at Piccadilly Circus.

The guns behind blazed and roared. A second afterwards two fleecy balls
of white smoke, out of which there darted a tongue of flame, appeared in
front of the solid grey wall of men which Pickersdyke had seen rise as
if from the earth itself and surge forward. A strong enemy
counter-attack was being launched, and he, with the luck of the tyro,
had got his guns right on to it. Methodically he switched his fire up
and down the line. Great gaps appeared in it, only to be quickly filled.
It wavered, sagged, and then came on again. Back at the guns the
detachments worked till the sweat streamed from them; their drill was
perfect, their rate of fire the maximum. But the task was beyond their
powers. Two guns were not enough. Nevertheless the rush, though not
definitely stopped, had lost its full driving force. It reached the
captured trenches (which the infantry had had no time to consolidate),
it got to close quarters, but it did not break through. The wall of
shrapnel had acted like a breakwater--the strength of the wave was spent
ere it reached its mark--and like a wave it began to ebb back again. In
pursuit, cheering, yelling, stabbing, mad with the terrible lust to kill
and kill and kill, came crowds of khaki figures.

Pickersdyke, who had stopped his fire to avoid hitting his own side and
was watching the fight with an excitement such as he had never hoped to
know, saw that the critical moment was past; the issue was decided, and
his infantry were gaining ground again. He opened fire once more,
lengthening his range so as to clear the _mélée_ and yet hinder the
arrival of hostile reserves, which was a principle he had learnt from a
constant study of "the book."

Suddenly there were four ear-splitting cracks over his head, and a
shower of earth and stones rattled down off the parapet a few yards from
him.

"We're for it now," he exclaimed.

He was. This first salvo was the prelude to a storm of shrapnel from
some concealed German battery which had at last picked up the section's
position. But Pickersdyke continued to support his advancing
infantry....

"Wire's cut, sir," said the telephonist, suddenly.

It was fatal. It was the one thing Pickersdyke had prayed would not
happen, for it meant the temporary silencing of his guns.

"Mend it and let me know when you're through again," he ordered. "I'm
going down to the section." And, stooping low, he raced back along the
trench.

At the guns it had been an unequal contest, and they had suffered
heavily. The detachments were reduced to half their strength, and one
wagon, which had received a direct hit, had been blown to pieces.

"Stick it, boys," said Pickersdyke, after a quick look round. He saw
that if he was to continue shooting it would be necessary to stand on
the top of the remaining wagon in order to observe his fire. And he was
determined to continue. He climbed up and found that the additional four
feet or so which he gained in height just enabled him to see the burst
of his shells. But he had no protection whatever.

"Add a hundred, two rounds gun-fire," he shouted--and the guns flashed
and banged in answer to his call. But it was a question of time only.
Miraculously, for almost five minutes he remained where he was,
untouched. Then, just as the telephonist reported "through" again the
inevitable happened. An invisible hand, so it seemed to Pickersdyke,
endowed with the strength of twenty blacksmiths, hit him a smashing blow
with a red-hot sledge-hammer on the left shoulder. He collapsed on to
the ground behind his wagon with the one word "_Hell!_" And then he
fainted....

At 8 p.m. that night the ----th Battery received orders to join up with
its advanced section and occupy the position permanently. It was after
nine when Lorrison, stumbling along a communication trench and beginning
to think that he was lost, came upon the remnants of Pickersdyke's
command. They were crouching in one of the gun-pits--a bombardier and
three gunners, very cold and very miserable. Two of them were wounded.
Lorrison questioned them hastily and learnt that Pickersdyke was at his
observing station, that Scupham and the telephonist were with him, and
that there were two more wounded men in the next pit.

"The battery will be here soon," said Lorrison, cheerily, "and you'll
all get fixed up. Meanwhile here's my flask and some sandwiches."

"Beg pardon, sir," said the bombardier, "but Mr. Pickersdyke 'll need
that flask. 'E's pretty bad, sir, I believe."

Lorrison found Pickersdyke lying wrapped in some blankets which Scupham
had fetched from the wagon, twisting from side to side and muttering a
confused string of delirious phrases. "Fuze two--more _right_ I
said--damn them, they're still advancing--what price the old ----th
now?..." and then a groan and he began again.

Scupham, in a husky whisper, was trying to soothe him. "Lie still for
Gawd's sake and don't worry yourself," he implored.

By the time Lorrison had examined the bandages on Pickersdyke's
shoulder and administered morphia (without a supply of which he now
never moved) the battery arrived, and with it some stretcher-bearers.
Pickersdyke, just before he was carried off, recovered consciousness and
recognised Lorrison, who was close beside him.

"Hullo!" he said in a weak voice. "Nice box-up here, isn't it? But I
reckon we got a bit of our own back 'fore we was knocked out. Tell the
major the men were just grand. Oh! and before I forget, amongst my kit
there's a few 'spares' I've collected; they might come in handy for the
battery. I shan't be away long, I hope.... Wonder what the old colonel
will say...." His voice trailed off into a drowsy murmur--the morphia
had begun to take effect....

Lorrison detained Scupham in order to glean more information.

"After 'e got 'it, sir," said Scupham, "'e lay still for a bit, 'arf an
hour pr'aps, and 'ardly seemed to know what was 'appening. Then 'e
suddenly calls out: 'Is that there telephone workin' yet?' 'Yes, sir,' I
says--and with that 'e made for to stand up, but 'e couldn't. So wot
does 'e do then but makes me bloomin' well carry 'im up the trench to
the observin' station. 'Now then, Scupham,' 'e says, 'prop me up by that
loophole so I can see wot's comin' off.' And I 'ad to 'old 'im there
pretty near all the afternoon while 'e kep' sending orders down the
telephone and firing away like 'ell. We finished our ammunition about
five o'clock, and then 'e lay down where 'e was to rest for a bit. 'Ow
'e'd stuck it all that time with a wound like that Gawd only knows. 'E
went queer in 'is 'ead soon after and we thought 'e was a goner--and
then nothin' much 'appened till you came up, sir, 'cept that we was
gettin' a tidy few shells round about. D'you reckon 'e'll get orl right,
sir?"

It was evident that the unemotional Scupham was consumed with anxiety.

"Oh! he _must_!" cried Lorrison. "It would be too cruel if he didn't
pull through after all he's done. He's a _man_ if ever there was one."

"And that's a fact," said Scupham, preparing to follow his idol to the
dressing station. As he moved away Lorrison heard him mutter--

"There ain't no one on Gawd's earth like old Pickers--fancy 'im
rememberin' them there 'spares.' 'Strewth! 'e _is_ a one!" Which was a
very high compliment indeed....

Official correspondence, even when it is marked "Pressing and
Confidential" in red ink and enclosed in a sealed envelope, takes a
considerable time to pass through the official channels and come back
again. It was some days before the colonel commanding a certain
divisional ammunition column received an answer to his report upon the
inexplicable absence of his adjutant. He was a vindictive man, who felt
that he had been left in the lurch, and he had taken pains to draft a
letter which would emphasise the shortcomings of his subordinate. The
answer, when it did come, positively shocked him. It was as follows:--

     "With reference to your report upon the absence without leave
     of Second Lieutenant Pickersdyke, the Major-General Commanding
     directs me to say that as this officer was severely wounded on
     September 25 whilst commanding a section of the ----th Battery
     R.F.A. with conspicuous courage and ability, for which he has
     been specially recommended for distinction by the G.O.C.R.A.,
     and as he is now in hospital in England, no further action will
     be taken in the matter."

To be snubbed by the Staff because he had reported upon the scandalous
conduct of a mere "ranker" was not at all the colonel's idea of the
fitness of things. His fury, which vented itself chiefly upon his office
clerk, would have been greater still if he could have seen his late
adjutant comfortably ensconced in a cosy ward in one of the largest
houses of fashionable London, waited upon by ladies of title, and
showing an admiring circle of relations the jagged piece of steel which
a very famous surgeon had extracted from his shoulder free of charge!

For, in spite of his colonel, the progress of Pickersdyke on the chosen
path of his ambition was now quite definitely assured.



SNATTY

    "This 'appened in a battle to a batt'ry of the corps
    Which is first among the women an' amazin' first in war."
                                                  --KIPLING.


I

Driver Joseph Snatt, K3 Battery, R.H.A., slouched across the
barrack-square on his way to the stables. Having just received a severe
punishment for the heinous crime of ill-treating a horse, in spite of
his plausible excuse that he had been bitten and had lost his temper,
Snatty, as he was always called, felt much aggrieved.

"'Orses," he thought to himself, "is everything in this 'ere bloomin'
batt'ry--men's nothing."

Nor, in his own particular case, was he far wrong. For the horses of K3
were certainly quite wonderful, and Snatty was undoubtedly a "waster."
His death or his desertion would have been a small matter compared with
the spoiling of one equine temper.

The officers disliked him because he was an eyesore to them; the
N.C.O.'s hated him because he gave them endless trouble; and the men had
shown their distrust of his personal cleanliness by ducking him in a
horse-trough more than once. Driver Snatt felt that every man's hand was
against him, and since he possessed neither the will power nor the
desire to overcome his delinquencies by a little honest toil, he not
infrequently drowned his sorrows in large potations of canteen beer. In
person he was small and rather shrivelled looking--old for his age
unquestionably. A nervous manner and a slight stammer in the presence of
his superiors, combined with a shifty eye at all times, served to
enhance the unpleasing effect which he produced on all who knew him.
There was but one thing to be said for him--he could ride. Before
enlisting he had been in a training stable, but had been dismissed for
drink or worse. On foot he lounged about with rounded shoulders and
uneven steps, always untidy and often dirty. But once upon a horse, the
puny, awkward figure that was the despair of N.C.O.'s and officers
alike, became graceful, supple, almost beautiful. The firm, easy seat
that swayed to every motion, the hands that coaxed even the hard-mouthed
gun-horses into going kindly, betrayed the horseman born. Snatty might
kick his horses in the stomach; he would never jerk them in the mouth.

At the conclusion of the midday stable-hour Snatt was summoned before
his section officer, one Briddlington by name, more frequently known as
"Biddie," and thus addressed--

"Now, look here: you've made a dam' poor show so far, and this is your
last chance. If you don't take it, God help you, for I won't. See?"

Snatt stared at his boot, swallowed twice, and then fixed his gaze on
some distant point above the opposite stable.

"Ye-es, sir," he said huskily.

"Very well. Now you've never had a job of your own, and I'm going to try
you with one. You'll take over the wheel of A subsection gun team
to-day, and have those two remounts to drive. I shall give you a
fortnight's trial. If I see you're trying, I'll do all I can for you.
Otherwise--out you go. Understand that?"

Again the deep interest in the distant point, but this time there was a
trace of surprise in the faintly uttered, "Yes, sir."

Snatty saluted and retired, wondering greatly. The wheel-driver of a gun
team is an important personage: he occupies a coveted position attained
only by those who combine skill, nerve, and horsemanship with the
ability to tend a pair of horses as they would their own children, and
to clean a double set of harness better than their fellows. Snatty at
first was resentful: "'E's put me there to make a fool of me, I s'pose.
All right, I'll show 'im up. I can drive as well as any of them." Then
he experienced a feeling of pleasurable anticipation. As it so happened
he detested the driver whose place he was to take, and he looked forward
with satisfaction to witnessing the fury of that worthy when ordered to
"hand over" to the despised waster of the battery. He was not
grateful--that was not his nature--nor was he proud of having been
selected. He was on the defensive, determined to show that, given a
definite position with duties and responsibilities of his own, he could
do very well--if he chose. Which was precisely the frame of mind into
which his thoughtful subaltern had hoped to lure him.

In the barrack-room Snatty met with much abuse. In a battery which
prides itself enormously on its horses, any ill-treatment of them is not
left unnoticed. Barrack-room invective does not take the form of
delicate sarcasm: on the contrary, it is coarse and directly to the
point. The culprit sat upon his bed-cot and sulked in silence, until a
carroty-headed driver, sitting on the table with his hat on the back of
his head, remarked--

"I see ole Biddie givin' you a proper chokin' off after stables."

The chance for which Snatty had waited very patiently had come, and he
retorted quickly--

"Oh! did yer? Well, p'raps you'll be glad to 'ear that 'e 'as given me
your 'orses and the wheel of A sub., says you're no ---- use, 'e does!"

Howls of derision greeted this sally, and Snatty relapsed into silence.
But that evening he whistled softly to himself as he led his new horses
out to water and watched his red-headed enemy, deprived of his
legitimate occupation, put to the unpleasant task of "mucking out" the
stable. The day, so Snatty felt, had not been wasted.


II

From that time dated the conversion of Driver Joseph Snatt. The change
was necessarily gradual, for no man can reform in a week: the habits
inculcated by years of idleness cannot be cast aside in a moment, nor
can the doubts and suspicions clinging to an untrustworthy character be
dispersed by one day's genuine work. But still a change for the better
was evident. The comments of the barrack-room were free but not
unfriendly, for Snatty was beginning to find his true level after his
own peculiar fashion. Briddlington, too, did not fail to notice the
success of his experiment. Whilst inclined to boast of it in a laughing
way to his brother officers, he had the good sense to overlook many
trivial offences and to make much of anything that he could find to
praise. What pleased him most of all was Snatty's behaviour to his
horses. Dirty he still was upon occasions, and scarcely as smart as most
drivers of the battery; nor was he always quite devoid of drink, but to
his horses from that first day onwards he became a devoted, faithful
slave. They were a pair of which any man might well have been proud.
Both were bright bays, well matched in colour and in size. In shape they
were almost the ideal stamp of artillery wheeler, which is tantamount to
saying that they might have graced the stud of any hunting gentleman of
fifteen stone or thereabouts. Snatty's pride in them was almost
ludicrous. A word said against them would put him up in arms at once,
and when Territorials borrowed the battery horses for their training on
Saturday afternoons his indignation knew no bounds.

"'Ow can I keep me 'orses fit," he used to say, "if a bloomin' bank
clerk goes drivin' 'em at a stretched gallop the 'ole o' Saturday?
Proper dis'eartenin', that's wot it is." And this in spite of the fact
that he was allowed a shilling for his trouble. The villainies that he
perpetrated for their wellbeing, if discovered, would have given him
small chance before a stern commanding officer. He stole oats from the
forage barn, bread and sugar from his barrack-room, and even the feeds
from the next manger. Snatty's moral sense, as we have seen, was not a
very high one. But pricked ears and gentle whinnies as he approached,
and velvety muzzles pushed into his roughened hand, betrayed the effect
of many a purloined dainty, and amply compensated for any qualms which a
guilty but belated conscience may have given him. Not that he was
particularly caressing in his manner. He would growl at each one as he
groomed him, or scold him as one does a naughty child, and his "Naow
_then_, stand still, will yer, Dawn?" was well known during stable-hour.
Who it was who had first called the off horse Dawn was never quite
clear, but Snatty in a fit of poetic inspiration had christened the
other Daylight. Dawn was difficult to shoe, so difficult indeed that his
driver's presence was required in the forge to keep him still. And when
Snatty went on furlough for a month both horses began to lose condition.

The years went by, and Snatty soldiered on, winter and summer, drill
season and leave season, content to drive the wheel of A and drink a bit
too much on Saturdays. But in that time he had become a man--not a
strong, determined man, certainly not a refined one, but for all that a
man. To Briddlington, who had raised him from the mental slough in which
he had lain to all appearances content, he at no time betrayed a sense
of gratitude. On the contrary, the position of a privileged person of
some standing which he had gained he attributed largely to his own
cunning in deceiving his superiors combined with his consummate skill
with horses. But still he had learnt his job, and was fulfilling his
destiny to more purpose than many better men. Moreover he was happy.
Crooning softly as he polished straps and buckles in the harness-room,
with a skill and speed born of long practice, he was contented, and was
vaguely conscious that the world was not a bad place after all. An
officer who knew him well once said--

"I wouldn't trust him to carry a bottle of whisky half a mile, but I'd
send him across England with a pair of horses--by himself. And as to
driving--well, I don't know about the needle and the camel's eye, but I
know that Snatty would drive blind drunk along the narrow road to Heaven
and never let his axles touch!" For two years in succession the battery
won the galloping competition at Olympia, with Snatty in the wheel. And
over rough ground, moving fast, he was unequalled.

When his time was up and Snatty had to go, there was never, perhaps, a
time-expired man who was so hard put to it to assume a joy at leaving
which he did not feel. Of course, like other men, he swaggered about
saying that he was glad to be "shut of" the army; that he had got a nice
little place to step into where there wasn't any "Do this" and "Do that"
and "Why the deuce haven't you done what I told you?" But in his heart
he was more affected than he had ever been before.

"Wot about yer 'orses, Snatty?" some one asked him; "who's going to 'ave
them when you're gorn?"

"'Ow should I know?" he answered, rather nettled.

"Nobbler Parsons, so I 'eard. 'E'll soon spoil 'em, I bet yer."

Then was Snatty very wroth, and he replied--

"You leave me and my 'orses alone, or you'll be for it, I warn yer,"
thereby revealing his inmost feelings most effectually.

On the eve of his departure he was treated by his friends till he grew
almost maudlin. Then he slipped away "just to say good-bye to 'em," and
even that hardened assembly of "canteen regulars" forbore to scoff. He
was found when the battery came down to evening stables, a pathetic
figure, in his ill-fitting suit of plain clothes, standing between his
beloved pair, an arm round the neck of one, his pockets full of sugar,
and tears of drink and genuine grief trickling down his unwashed cheeks.

"Six bloomin' years I've 'ad yer," they heard him say. "Six bloomin'
years, and no one's ever said a word against yer that I 'aven't knocked
the 'ead of. P'rades and manoeuvres, practice camp and ceremonial,
there's nothin' I can't do wiv yer and ... and, Gawd, I wish I wasn't
leavin' yer now to some other bloke." Then they led him gently away, and
on the morrow he was gone. For a week he was missed; in a month he was
forgotten. Only Daylight and Dawn still fretted for him, and turned
round in their stalls with anxious, wistful eyes.

For six months Snatty struggled to keep body and soul together, living
upon his reserve pay and upon such small sums as he could pick up by
doing odd jobs in livery stables. But the self-respect which he had won
so hardly slipped away from him, and he sank slowly in the social scale.
The lot of the ex-soldier whose character is "fair," and whose record of
sobriety leaves much to be desired, is not a happy one. Snatty was in
rags and well-nigh starving. Small wonder, then, that one day the
blandishments of an eloquent recruiting sergeant proved too much for his
resistance and that he succumbed to the temptations thrust upon him by
the great god Hunger. Manfully he perjured himself when brought before
the magistrate. His name was Henry Morgan, his age twenty-three years
and five months, and he had never served before, so help him God. All
false--but Snatty wished to live.

He asked to be put into the infantry, fearing that his knowledge of the
ways of troop stables would betray him if he joined a mounted branch.
The penalties attached to a "false answer on attestation" were heavy, as
he knew, and he would take no chances. In due course, therefore, he
found himself posted to a crack light infantry regiment, and his
troubles soon began. To be marched about a barrack-square followed by
shouts of objurgation was bad enough: to be pestered with the
intricacies of musketry was worse: but what galled him most of all was
to have to walk. He loathed the life. This was not the world of
soldiering that he had known and loved. His soul hungered for the rattle
of log-chains and the jingle of harness; the smell of the stable still
lingered in his nostrils. Moreover, he was in constant trouble, for
desperation made him reckless. Those who had known him in the battery
would scarcely have recognised in the sullen ne'er-do-well whom men
called Morgan, the cheerful Snatty of a former time. He had just passed
his recruit drills (with difficulty be it said) and taken his place in
the ranks, when the war which wise men had predicted as inevitable was
forced upon the nation with disconcerting suddenness. The regiment was
ordered out on service, and with it, amongst nine hundred other souls,
went Private Henry Morgan, _alias_ Snatty.


III

A hot sun beating down from a cloudless sky upon a land parched and
dusty from a lengthened drought; miles upon miles of rolling downs,
which once were green but which the driest summer for many years has
baked into a dirty yellow; here and there an oasis consisting of a copse
of fir-trees, farmstead, and a field or two of pasture marking the
presence of a kindly stream: a landscape in short so typical of hundreds
of square miles of this particular region that ordinarily it would fail
to interest. But to-day the peace of the country side is disturbed by
the boom of guns and the rattle of musketry. Two mighty armies are at
grips at last, and in the space between them hovers Death.

Upon a little rise commanding a good view of the surrounding country
there is a long line of khaki figures lying prone behind a scanty
earth-work. These are infantry, and shaken infantry at that; shaken
because they have marched all night and stormed that hill at dawn with
fearful loss, because they are weak from hunger and parched with thirst,
and because they feel in their hearts that the end is near. Relief must
come, or one determined rush will drive them back to ruin. Shells burst
over them with whip-like crack, rifle fire tears through their ranks,
and sometimes a harsh scream followed by a deafening report and clouds
of acrid smoke marks the advent of a high-explosive shell.

A much harassed brigadier sat behind a rock near the telephone awaiting
the answer to his urgent demand for guns. It came sooner than he
expected it, and took the tangible shape of a little group of horsemen
which appeared on the hill some way to his right. There was a quick
consultation as glasses swept the front. Then the horses were led away
under cover and the range-takers began operations. The brigadier
recognised the signs and gained fresh hope as he saw that his prayer was
answered. At the far end of the line Private Morgan, busily engaged in
excavating a hole for himself by means of an entrenching tool much
resembling a short-handled garden hoe, looked up quickly as he heard a
well-known voice say--

"All right, Biddie, I'll observe from here. Bring 'em in quick."

"Strewth!" muttered Snatty to himself, "it's the major. So the old
troop's comin' into action 'ere."

For weeks he had scanned every battery that had been near him, hoping
to meet his own. But Horse Artillery act with cavalry and work far ahead
of the toiling infantry in rear, so that it was not till now, when a
pitched battle was in progress, when the advanced cavalry had come in
and every available gun was being utilised, that Fate permitted Snatty
to see his old battery once more. Looking over his shoulder, he said--

"It's all right now, sergeant. There's some guns coming."

"You shut yer mouth and get on with yer work," was the rejoinder, "Wot
do you know about guns, I'd like to know?"

"Oh, nothink! But you watch 'em, that's all," said Private Morgan, with
an ill-suppressed gleam of pride, which made the sergeant wonder.

The line of six guns, each with its wagon behind it, thundered up the
rise. There was a shrill whistle, and a hand held up. Then the hoarse
voices of the sergeants shouted, "Action front," and the wheelers were
thrown into the breeching, almost sitting on their haunches to stop the
weight behind them: the gunners leapt from their horses and sprang to
the gun: a second's pause, then, "Drive on," and six limbers went
rattling away to the rear as six trails were flung round half a circle
and dropped with a thud. Hardly were they down before each gun had its
wagon up beside it and the horses unhooked. They too galloped to the
rear. In ten seconds there was not a sign of movement. The battery was
there, and that was all.

Of the weary infantry who lay and watched there was one at least who
could appreciate the merit of the performance.

"Couldn't ha' been better in the old days on Salisbury Plain," was his
comment. "But, Gawd! the 'orses 'ave fell away proper. Skeletons, that's
wot they are now."

But Private Morgan's soliloquy was again cut short by the remorseless
sergeant behind him.

A few curt orders passed rapidly down the battery, then came two sharp
reports, followed by the click of the reopened breech, as the ranging
rounds went singing on their journey. A spurt of brown earth showed for
a second in front of that thick black line a mile or more away, another
showed behind.

"Graze short--graze over," said the major, still staring through his
glasses. "Eighteen hundred, one round gun fire."

The order was repeated by a man standing behind him with a megaphone,
and followed almost instantaneously by a round from every gun. Some
puffs of smoke above the target, the echo of the bursting shell borne
back along the breeze, and then for perhaps a minute all Hell might have
been let loose, such was the uproar as every gun was worked at lightning
speed. A whistle--and in a moment all was still again.

"Target down--stop firing," was the laconic order. "But," added the
major, softly, "I think that sickened 'em a bit."

The attacking infantry had dropped down under cover, but not for long.
Nearer and nearer pressed the relentless lines, sometimes pausing a
while, or even dropping back, but always, like the waves of the incoming
tide, gaining fresh ground at every rush. The end was very near now, and
the bitterness of defeat entered into the defenders' hearts. For they
did not know that the struggle for this particular hill, though of vital
importance to themselves, was merely serving the subsidiary purpose of
diverting attention while greater issues matured elsewhere. They only
knew that ammunition was scarce, that they wanted water, and that now at
last the order to retire had come. They got away in driblets, slowly,
very slowly, until at last nothing was left upon the hillside but a
handful of infantry, the battery, and the dead and wounded. The
riflemen crawled closer to the guns, feeling somehow that there was
solace in their steady booming. The major looked at his watch, and then
at the attacking lines in front of him.

"In ten minutes we'll have to get out of this," he said, "bring the
horses up close behind us under cover." The minutes passed and the net
around them drew closer.

"Prepare to retire--rear limber up."

The few remaining infantry emptied their magazines and crept off down
the hill. The guns fired their last few rounds as the teams came
jingling up. Their arrival was the signal for a fresh outburst of fire.
The few moments required for limbering up seemed a lifetime as men fell
fast and horses mad with terror broke loose and dashed away. But years
of stern discipline and careful training stood the battery in good stead
now. The principle of "Abandon be damned: we never abandon guns," was
not forgotten. Through the shouting, the curses, and the dust, the work
went on. Dead horses were cut free and pulled aside, gunners took the
place of fallen drivers, and at last five guns were got away. The sixth
was in great difficulties. The maddened horses backed in every direction
but the right one, and the panting gunners strove in vain to drop the
trail upon the limber-hook. Beside the team stood Briddlington, trying
to soothe the horses and steadying the men in the calm, cool voice that
he habitually used upon parade.

Then suddenly from behind a rock there crawled out a strange figure.
Filthy beyond words, hatless, with an inch of scrubby beard, and one
foot bound up in blood-stained rags, this apparition limped painfully
towards the gun--

"Naow then!" a husky voice exclaimed, "stand still, will yer, Dawn?"

"By God! it's Snatty," cried Briddlington, and as he spoke the driver of
Snatty's horses gave a little grunt and pitched off on to the ground.
Without a word the erstwhile private of infantry stooped and took the
whip from the dead man's hand. He patted each horse in turn, then
climbed into the saddle.

"Steady now--get back, will yer?" he growled, and they obeyed him
quietly enough. The men behind gave a heave at the gun and a click
denoted that the trail was on its hook.

"Drive on," cried Snatty, flourishing his whip, and down the hill they
went full gallop.

Safety lay not in the way that they had come, but further to their
left, where the ground was bad. At the bottom of the hill there was a
low bank with a ditch in front of it, and just before they reached it
the centre driver received a bullet in the head and dropped down like a
stone. There was no time to pull up. The lead driver took his horses
hard by the head and put them at the bank. They jumped all right, but
the pair behind them, deprived of a guiding hand upon the reins, saw the
ditch at the last moment and swerved.

"My Gawd!" said Snatty, sitting back for the crash he knew would follow.
The traces and the pace had dragged the centre horses over in spite of
their swerve, but one of them stumbled as he landed. He staggered
forward, and before he could recover Snatty's horses and the gun were
upon him in a whirling mass of legs and straps and wheels. Briddlington,
who had been riding beside the team, leapt to the ground and ran to the
fallen horses.

"Sit on their heads," he cried. "Undo the quick release your side. Now
then, together--heave." There was a rattle of hoofs against the
footboard as Daylight rolled over kicking wildly to get free.
Briddlington, at the risk of his life, leant over and pulled frantically
at a strap. The two ends flew apart and the snorting horses struggled
to their feet, but Snatty lay very still and deathly white upon the
ground.

"Don't stand gaping. Hook in again--quick. We're not clear away yet by a
long chalk," said Briddlington. Then he bent down and putting his arms
round Snatty's crumpled figure lifted him very tenderly aside. "Lie
still now," he said with a catch in his voice as he saw that the case
was hopeless, "and you'll be all right." But those flashing hoofs and
steel-tyred wheels had done their work. Snatty's last drive was over.

"It warn't their fault. I should 'ave 'eld them up," was all he said
before he died.

The gun rejoined the battery safely, and defeat was turned to victory
ere nightfall, but Private Henry Morgan was returned as "missing" from
his regiment.


IV

To this day, on the anniversary of the battle, in the mess of K3
Battery, R.H.A., it is the custom, when the King's health has been
drunk, for the President to say----

"Mr. Vice, to the memory of the man who brought away the last gun." And
the Vice-president answers, "Gentlemen, to Driver Snatt."

Then the curious visitor is shown a large oil painting of a pair of
bright bay horses with a little wizened driver riding one of them.

"That's Snatty," they will say, "a drunken scoundrel if you like, but he
loved those horses, and he used to drive like hell."



FIVE-FOUR-EIGHT


I

Rain! pitiless, incessant, drenching rain, that seemed to ooze and
trickle and soak into every nook and cranny in the world, beat down upon
the already sodden ground and formed great pools of water in every
hollow. Fires blazed and flickered at intervals, revealing within the
glowing circles of their light the huddled forms of weary soldiers; and
all the myriad sounds of a huge camp blended imperceptibly with the
raindrops' steady patter.

According to orders the ----th Division had concentrated upon the main
army for the impending battle. At dawn that day its leading battalion
had swung out of camp to face the storm and the mud; not until dusk had
the last unit dropped exhausted into its bivouac. For fourteen hours the
troops had groped their way along the boggy roads: and they had marched
but one-and-twenty miles. Incredibly slow! incredibly wearisome! But
they had effected the purpose of their chief. They had arrived in time.

The headquarters of the divisional artillery had been established in a
ramshackle old barn at one corner of the field in which the batteries
were camped. Within its shelter the General and his staff of three
crouched over a small fire. The roof leaked, the floor was wet and
indescribably filthy; their seats were saddles, and their only light a
guttering candle. But to those four tired men, the little fire, the
dirty barn, the thought of food and sleep, seemed heaven.

Brigadier-General Maudeslay, known to his irreverent but affectionate
subordinates as "the Maud," was a fat little man of fifty, who owed his
present rank largely to his steady adherence to principles of sound
common-sense. For theoretical knowledge he depended, so he frankly
declared, upon the two staff officers with whom he was supplied.
Nevertheless, those who knew him well agreed that in quickness to grasp
the salient points of any given situation and in accuracy of decision he
had few superiors. It was his habit, when pondering on his line of
action, to walk round in a circle, his hands behind his back, humming
softly to himself. Then, swiftly and with conscious certainty, he would
act. And he was seldom wrong.

At the moment, however, his thoughts were not concerned with tactics but
with food. For some time he sat before the fire in silence, then
suddenly exclaimed----

"Thank the Lord! I hear the baggage coming in. Go and hurry it up,
Tony."

Tony, whose rarely used surname was Quarme, was an artillery subaltern
of seven years' service, attached to the General's staff as personal
A.D.C. On him devolved the irksome task of catering for the headquarter
mess. It was his principal, though not his only function: and, owing to
scarcity of provisions, a daily change of camp, and a General who took
considerable interest in the quality of his food, it was a duty which
often taxed his temper and his ingenuity to the utmost.

He got up, wriggled himself into his clammy waterproof, and splashed out
into the mud and darkness.

"Tony," observed the General to his Brigade-Major, "is not such a
failure at this job as you predicted."

"He's astonished me so far, I must confess," was the reply. "I always
thought him rather a lazy young gentleman, with no tastes for anything
beyond horses and hunting."

"My dear Hartley, he was lazy because he was bored." The General, being
devoted to hunting himself, spoke a little testily. "Peace soldiering,"
he went on, "_is_ apt to bore sometimes. Tony is not what _you'd_ call a
professional soldier. His military interests are strictly confined to
the reputation of his battery, and to his own ability to command two
guns in action. Naturally he was pleased when I appointed him A.D.C. The
part of the year's work which interested him, practice camp and so on,
was over. In place of the tedium of manoeuvres as a regimental
subaltern, he foresaw a novel and more or less amusing occupation on my
staff for the rest of the summer, and he knew that he would go back to
his own station in the autumn in time for the hunting season. But he did
not reckon on the possibility of war, and therefore he is now
dissatisfied. I know it as well as if he'd told me so himself."

"How do you mean, sir?"

"Oh! he doesn't dislike the job: I don't mean that. But he can't help
feeling that he's been sold. I can almost hear him saying to himself,
'Here have I struggled through seven years' soldierin' thinking always
that some day I should be loosed upon a battle-field with a pair of guns
and a good fat target of advancing infantry. And now that the time _has_
come, I'm stuck with this rotten staff job.'"

"By Jove!" said the other, "I never thought of that."

"No, Hartley, you wouldn't. In your case the 'gunner' instinct has been
obliterated by that of the staff officer. The guns have lost their
fascination for you. Isn't that so?"

"In a way, yes."

"Well, in some men--and Tony happens to be one of them--that fascination
lasts as long as life itself. Often enough in ordinary times it lies
dormant. But as soon as war comes it shows itself at once in the mad
rush made by officers to get back to batteries--that is, to go on
service _with the guns_. It is the curse of our regiment in some ways:
many potential generals abandon their ambitions because of it. But it's
also our salvation."

He relapsed into silence, staring into the fire. Perhaps he, too,
regretted for the moment that he was a General, and wished that, instead
of thirteen batteries, he commanded only one.

Meanwhile the subject of their discussion had succeeded in finding the
headquarters' baggage wagon. Ignoring the protests of infuriated
transport officers who were endeavouring to direct more than two hundred
vehicles to their destinations, he had lured it out of the chaos and
guided it to its appointed place. As the wagon came to a standstill
outside the barn the tarpaulin was raised at the back and the vast
proportions of the gunner who combined the duties of servant to Tony and
cook to the mess slowly emerged.

From his right hand dangled a shapeless, flabby mass.

"What the devil have you got there, Tebbut?" demanded Tony.

"Ducks, sir," was the unexpected reply. "We was 'alted near a farm-'ouse
to-day, so I took the chanst to buy some milk and butter. While the chap
was away fetchin' the stuff, I pinched these 'ere ducks. Fat they are,
too!"

He spoke in the matter-of-fact tones of one to whom the theft of a pair
of ducks, and the feat of plucking them within the narrow confines of a
packed G.S. wagon, was no uncommon experience.

"Well, look sharp and cook 'em. We're hungry," said Tony.

He stayed until he saw that the dinner was well under way, and then
floundered off through the mud to see his horses. Of these he was
allowed by regulations three, but one, hastily purchased during the
mobilisation period by an almost distracted remount officer, had already
succumbed to the effects of overwork and underfeeding. There remained
the charger which he had had with his battery in peace time, and which
he now used for all ordinary work--and Dignity.

The latter was well named. He was a big brown horse, very nearly
thoroughbred--a perfect hunter and a perfect gentleman. Tony had bought
him as a four-year-old at a price that was really far beyond his means,
and had trained him himself. He used openly to boast that Dignity had
taken to jumping as a duck takes to water, and that he had never been
known to turn from a fence. In the course of four seasons, the fastest
burst, the heaviest ground, the longest hunt had never been too much for
him. Always he would gallop calmly on, apparently invincible. His owner
almost worshipped him.

Horse rugs are not part of the field service equipment of an officer.
But to the discerning (and unscrupulous) few there is a way round
almost every regulation. Dignity had three rugs, and his legs were
swathed in warm flannel bandages. As he stood there on the leeward side
of a fence busily searching the bottom of his nosebag for the last few
oats of his meagre ration, he was probably the most comfortable animal
of all the thousands in the camp.

Tony spent some time examining his own and the General's horses, and
giving out the orders for the morning to the grooms. By the time he got
back to the barn it was past ten, and Tebbut was just solemnly
announcing "dinner" as being served.

"The Maud" eyed the dish of steaming ducks with evident approval, but
avoided asking questions. Loot had been very strictly forbidden.

"We ought by rights to have apple sauce with these," he said, drawing
his saddle close up to the deal low table and giving vent to a sigh of
expectancy.

"Hi've got some 'ere, sir," responded the resourceful Tebbut. "There was
a horchard near the road to-day."

He produced, as he spoke, a battered tin which, from the inscription on
its label, had once contained "selected peaches." It was now more than
half full of a concoction which bore a passable resemblance to apple
sauce.

For half an hour conversation languished. They had eaten nothing but a
sandwich since early morning, and the demands of appetite were more
exacting than their interest in the programme for the morrow.

But as soon as Tebbut, always a stickler for the usages of polite
society, had brushed away the crumbs with a dirty dish-cloth and handed
round pint mugs containing coffee, Hartley unrolled a map, and, under
instructions from the General, began to prepare the orders.

As a result of a reconnaissance in force that day the enemy's advanced
troops had been driven in, and the extent of his real position more or
less accurately defined. The decisive attack, of which the ----th Division
was to form a part, was to be directed against the left. Barring the way
on this flank, however, was a hill marked on the map as Point 548, which
was situate about two miles in front of the main hostile position. The
enemy had not yet been dislodged from this salient, but a brigade of
infantry had been detailed to assault it that night. In the event of
success a battery was to be sent forward to occupy it at dawn, after
which the main attack would begin. General Maudeslay had been ordered
to provide this battery.

"Don't put anything in orders about it, though, Hartley," he said. "It
will have to be one from the ----th Brigade, which has suffered least so
far. I'll send separate confidential instructions to the Colonel. Get an
orderly, will you, Tony?"

"I'll take the message myself, sir, if I may," suggested the A.D.C.
"It's my own brigade, and I'd like to look them up."

"All right; only don't forget to come back," said the General, smiling.

Tony pocketed the envelope and peered out into the night. The rain had
ceased and the sky was clear. Far away to right and left the bivouac
fires glimmered like reflections of the starry heavens. The troops, worn
out with the hardships of the day, had fallen asleep and the camp was
silent. Only the occasional whinny of a horse, the challenge of a
sentry, or the distant rumbling of benighted transport broke the
stillness.

Tony's way led through the lines of the various batteries. The horses
stood in rows, tied by their heads to long ropes stretched between the
ammunition wagons. Fetlock-deep in liquid mud, without rugs, wet and
underfed, they hung their heads dejectedly--a silent protest against the
tyranny of war.

"Poor old hairies!" thought Tony, as he passed them, his mind picturing
the spotless troop-stables and the shining coats that he had known so
well in barracks, not a month ago.

He found the officers of his brigade assembled beneath a tarpaulin.
Their baggage had been hours late, and though it was nearly eleven
o'clock the evening meal was still in progress. He handed his message to
the Adjutant and sat down to exchange greetings with his brother
subalterns.

"Oh! there's bully beef for the batteries, but we've salmon all right on
the staff," he sang softly, after sniffing suspiciously at the
unpleasant-looking mess on his neighbour's plate, which was, in fact,
ration tinned beef boiled hurriedly in a camp kettle. The song, of which
the words were his own, fitted neatly to a popular tune of the moment.
It treated of the difference in comfort of life on the staff and that in
the batteries, and gave a verdict distinctly in favour of the former. He
had sung it with immense success about 3 a.m. on his last night at home
with his own brigade.

"Now, Tony," said some one, "you're on the staff. What's going to happen
to-morrow?"

"A big show--will last two or three days, they say. But," he added,
grinning, "you poor devils stuck away behind a hill won't see much of
it. I suppose I shall be sent on my usual message--to tell you that
you're doing no dam' good, and only wasting ammunition!"

But though he chaffed and joked his heart was heavy as he walked back an
hour later. Somewhere out there in the mud was his own battery, which he
worshipped as a god. And he was condemned to live away from it, to be
absent when it dashed into action, when the breech-blocks rattled and
the shells shrieked across the valleys.

He found the others still poring over the map. From the wallet on his
saddle Tony pulled out a large travelling flask.

"I think that this is the time for the issue of my special emergency
ration," he announced.

"What is it, Tony?" asked "the Maud."

"Best old liqueur brandy from our mess in England," he replied, pouring
some into each of the four mugs.

Then he held up his own and added--

"Here's to the guns: may they be well served to-morrow."

Over the enamelled rim the General's eyes met Tony's for a moment, and
he smiled; for he understood the sentiment.

Tony crawled beneath his blankets, and fell into a deep sleep, from
which he roused himself with difficulty a few hours later as the first
grey streaks of dawn were appearing in the sky.


II

The press of work at the headquarters of a division during operations
comes in periods of intense activity, during which every member of the
staff, from the General downwards, feels that he is being asked to do
the work of three men in an impossibly short space of time. One of these
periods, that in which the orders for the initial stages of the attack
had been distributed, had just passed, and a comparative calm had
succeeded. Even the operator of the "buzzer" instrument, ensconced in a
little triangular tent just large enough to hold one man in a prone
position, had found time to smoke.

Divisional headquarters had been established at a point where five roads
met, just below the crest of a low hill. A few yards away the horses
clinked their bits and grazed. Occasionally the distant boom of a gun
made them prick their ears and stare reflectively in the direction of
the sound. The sun, with every promise of a fine day, was slowly
dispelling the mist from the valley and woodlands below.

It was early: the battle had scarcely yet begun.

A huge map had been spread out on a triangular patch of grass at the
road junction, its corners held down with stones. Staff officers lay
around it talking eagerly. Above, on the top of the hill, General
Maudeslay leant against a bank and gazed into the mist. The night
attack, he knew, had been successful, and he was anxiously awaiting the
appearance of the battery on Point 548.

Tony was stretched at full length on the grass below him. He was warm,
he was dry, and he was not hungry--a rare combination on service.

"This would be a grand cub-hunting morning, General," he said.

Ordinarily "the Maud" would have responded with enthusiasm, for hounds
and hunting were the passion of his life. But now his thoughts were
occupied with other matters, and he made no reply.

Then suddenly, as though at the rising of a curtain at a play, things
began to happen. The telephone operator lifted his head with a start as
his instrument began to give out its nervous, jerky, zt--zzz--zt. There
was a clatter of hoofs along the road, and the sliding scrape of a horse
pulled up sharply as an orderly appeared and handed in a message. Rifle
fire, up till then desultory and unnoticed, began to increase in volume.
The mist had gone.

"The Maud," motionless against the bank, kept his glasses to his eyes
for some minutes before lowering them, with a gesture of annoyance and
exclaimed--

"It's curious. That battery ought to be on 548 by now, but I can see no
sign of it."

"You can't see 548 from here, sir. It's hidden behind that wood," said
Tony, pointing as he spoke.

"What do you mean? There's 548," said the General, also pointing, but to
a hill much farther to their right.

"No, sir--at least not according to my map."

"The Maud" snatched the map from Tony's hand. A second's glance was
enough. On it Point 548 was marked as being farther to the left and
considerably nearer to the enemy.

He turned on Tony like a flash.

"Good Lord! Why didn't you tell me that before?" he cried. "There must
be two different editions of this map. Which one had they in your
brigade when you went over there last night--the right one or the wrong
one?"

But Tony, unfortunately, had no idea. His interest in tactics, as we
have seen, was small, and his visit had not involved him in a discussion
of the plan of battle. He had not even looked at their maps.

"The Maud" walked round in one small circle while he hummed eight bars.
Then he said--

"They must have started for the wrong hill, and in this mist they won't
have realised their danger. That battery will be wiped out unless we can
stop it." He looked round quickly. "Signallers--no--useless: and the
telephone not yet through. Tony, you'll have to go. There's no direct
road. Go straight across country and you may just do it."

Tony was already halfway to the horses.

"Take up Dignity's stirrups two holes," he called as he ran towards
them. "Quick, man, quick!"

It took perhaps twenty seconds, which seemed like as many minutes. He
flung away belt and haversack, crammed his revolver into a side pocket,
and was thrown up into the saddle. "The Maud" himself opened the gate
off the road.

"Like hell, Tony, like hell!"

The General's words, shouted in his ear as he passed through on to the
grass, seemed echoed in the steady beat of Dignity's hoofs as he went up
to his bridle and settled into his long raking stride.

Tony leant out on his horse's neck, his reins crossed jockey fashion,
his knees pressed close against the light hunting saddle. Before him a
faded expanse of green stretched out for two miles to the white cottage
on the hillside which he had chosen as his point. The rush of wind in
his ears, the thud of iron-shod hoofs on sound old turf, the thrill that
is born of speed, made him forget for a moment the war, the enemy, his
mission. He was back in England on a good scenting morning in November.
Hounds were away on a straight-necked fox, and he had got a perfect
start. Almost could he see them beside him, "close packed, eager,
silent as a dream."

This was not humdrum soldiering--cold and hunger, muddy roads and dreary
marches. It was Life.

"Steady, old man."

He leant back, a smile upon his lips, as a fence was flung behind them
and the bottom of the valley came in sight.

"There's a brook: must chance it," he muttered, and then, mechanically
and with instinctive eye, he chose his place. He took a pull until he
felt that Dignity was going well within himself, and then, fifty yards
away, he touched him with his heels and let him out. The stream, swollen
with the deluge of the previous day, had become a torrent of swirling,
muddy water, and it was by no means narrow. But Dignity knew his
business. Gathering his powerful quarters under him in the last stride,
he took off exactly right and fairly hurled himself into space.

They landed with about an inch to spare.

"Good for you!" cried Tony, standing in his stirrups and looking back,
as they breasted the slope beyond. From the top he had hoped to see the
battery somewhere on the road, but he found that the wood obstructed
his view, and he was still uncertain, therefore, as to whether he was in
time or not.

"It's a race," he said, and sat down in his saddle to ride a finish.

But halfway across the next field Dignity put a foreleg into a blind and
narrow drain and turned completely over.

Tony was thrown straight forward on to his head and stunned.

       *       *       *       *       *

A quarter of an hour later he had recovered consciousness and was
staring about him stupidly. The air was filled with the din of battle,
but apparently the only living thing near him was Dignity, quietly
grazing. He noticed, at first without understanding, that the horse
moved on three legs only. His off foreleg was swinging. Tony got up and
limped stiffly towards him. He bent down to feel the leg and found that
it was broken.

Slowly, reluctantly, he pulled out his revolver and put in a cartridge.
It was, perhaps, the hardest thing he had ever had to do. He drew
Dignity's head down towards the ground, placed the muzzle against his
forehead and fired.

The horse swayed for a fraction of a second then collapsed forward,
lifeless, with a thud: and Tony felt as though his heart would break.

Gradually he began to remember what had happened, and he wondered
vaguely how long he had lain unconscious. In front of him stretched the
wood which he had seen before he started, hiding from his view not only
the actual hill but the road which led to it. He knew that on foot,
bruised and shaken as he was, he could never now arrive in time. He had
failed, and must return.

Then, as he stood sadly watching Dignity's fast glazing eyes he heard
the thunder of hundreds of galloping hoofs, and looked up quickly. Round
the corner of the wood, in wild career, came, not a cavalry charge as he
had half expected, but teams--gun teams and limbers--but no guns. The
battery had got into action on the hill, but a lucky hostile shell, wide
of its mark, had dropped into the wagon line and stampeded the horses. A
few drivers still remained, striving in vain to pull up. They might as
well have tried to stop an avalanche.

Tony watched them flash past him to the rear. Still dazed with his fall,
it was some seconds before the truth burst upon him.

_He knew those horses._

"My God!" he cried aloud, "it's my own battery that's up there!"

In a moment all thought of his obvious duty--to return and report--was
banished from his mind. He forgot the staff and his connection with it.
One idea, and one only, possessed him--somehow, anyhow, to get to the
guns.

Dizzily he started off towards the hill. His progress was slow and
laboured. His head throbbed as though there was a metal piston within
beating time upon his brain. The hot sun caused the sweat to stream into
his eyes. The ground was heavy, and his feet sank into it at every step.
Twice he stopped to vomit.

At last he reached the road and followed the tracks of the gun-wheels up
it until he came to the gap in the hedge through which the battery had
evidently gone on its way into action. The slope was strewn with dead
and dying horses: drivers were crushed beneath them; and an up-ended
limber pointed its pole to the sky like the mast of a derelict ship. The
ground was furrowed with the impress of many heavy wheels, and
everywhere was ripped and scarred with the bullet marks of low-burst
shrapnel. But ominously enough, amid all these signs of conflict no
hostile fire seemed to come in his direction.

The hill rose sharply for a hundred yards or so, and then ran forward
for some distance nearly flat. Tony therefore, crawling up, did not see
the battery until he was quite close to it.

Panting, he stopped aghast and stared.

Four guns were in position with their wagons beside them. The remnants
of the detachments crouched behind the shields. Piles of empty
cartridge-cases and little mounds of turf behind the trails testified
that these four guns, at least, had been well served. But the others!
One was still limbered up: evidently a shell had burst immediately in
front of it. Its men and horses were heaped up round it almost as though
they were tin soldiers which a child had swept together on the floor.
The remaining gun pointed backward down the hill, forlorn and desolate.

In the distance, for miles and miles, the noise of battle crashed and
thundered in the air. But here it seemed some magic spell was cast, and
everything was still and silent as the grave.

Sick at heart, Tony contemplated the scene of carnage and destruction
for one brief moment. Then he made his way towards the only officer whom
he could see, and from him learnt exactly what had happened.

The Major commanding the battery, it appeared, deceived first by the map
and then by the fog, had halted his whole battery where he imagined that
it was hidden from view. But as soon as the mist had cleared away he
found that it was exposed to the fire of the hostile artillery at a
range of little more than a mile. The battery had been caught by a hail
of shrapnel before it could get into action. Only this one officer
remained, and there were but just enough men to work the four guns that
were in position. Ammunition, too, was getting very short.

Tony looked at his watch. It was only eight o'clock. From his vague idea
of the general plan of battle he knew that the decisive attack would
eventually sweep forward over the hill on which he stood. But how soon?

At any moment the enemy might launch a counter-attack and engulf his
battery. Its position could hardly have been worse. Owing to the flat
top of the hill nothing could be seen from the guns except the three
hundred yards immediately in front of them and the high ground a mile
away on which the enemy's artillery was posted. The intervening space
was hidden. Yet it was impossible to move. Any attempt to go forward to
where they could see, or backward to where they would be safe, would be
greeted, Tony knew well enough, with a burst of fire which would mean
annihilation. Besides, he remembered the stampeding wagon line. The
battery was without horses, immobile. To wait patiently for succour was
its only hope.

Having ascertained that a man had been posted out in front to give
warning of an attack, Tony sat down to await developments with
philosophic calm. The fact that he had no right to be there at all, but
that his place was with the General, did not concern him in the
slightest. It had always been his ambition "to fight a battery in the
real thing," as he would himself have phrased it, and he foresaw that he
was about to do so with a vengeance. He was distressed by the havoc that
he saw, but in all other respects he was content.

For hours nothing happened. The enemy evidently considered that the
battery was effectually silenced, and did not deign to waste further
ammunition upon it. Then, when Tony had almost fallen asleep, the sentry
at the forward crest semaphored in a message----

"Long thick line of infantry advancing: will reach foot of hill in about
five minutes. Supports behind." Almost at the same moment an orderly
whom Tony recognised as belonging to his General's staff arrived from
the rear. Tony seized upon him eagerly.

"Where have you come from?" he demanded.

"From the General, sir. 'E sent me to find you and to tell you to come
back."

"Did you pass any of our infantry on your way?"

"Yes, sir. There's a lot coming on. They'll be round the wood in a
minute or two."

"Well, go back to them and give _any_ officer this message," said Tony,
writing rapidly in his note-book.

"Beg pardon, sir, but that will take me out of my way. I'm the last
orderly the General 'as got left, and I was told to find out what 'ad
'appened 'ere, and then to come straight back."

"I don't care a damn what you were told. You go with that message
_now_."

The man hurried off, and Tony walked along the line of guns, saw that
they were laid on the crest line in front, and that the fuzes were set
at zero. This would have the effect of bursting the shell at the
muzzles, and so creating a death-zone of leaden bullets through which
the attacking infantry would have to fight their way. Then he took up
his post behind an ammunition wagon on the right of the battery, and
fixed his eyes on the signaller in front. He felt himself to be in the
same state of tingling excitement as when he waited outside a good
fox-covert expecting the welcome "Gone away!"

Suddenly the signaller rose, and, crouching low, bolted back towards the
guns. Just as he reached them a few isolated soldiers began to appear
over the crest in front. As soon as they saw the guns they lay down
waiting for support. They were the advanced scouts of a battalion.

A moment afterwards, a thick line of men came in sight. The sun gleamed
on their bayonets. There was a shout, and they surged forward towards
the battery.

"Three rounds gun fire!" Tony shouted. The four guns went off almost
simultaneously, and at once the whole front was enveloped in thick,
white smoke from the bursting shell. In spite of diminished detachments
the guns were quickly served. Again and once again they spoke within a
second of each other.

The smoke cleared slowly, for there was scarcely a breath of wind.
Meanwhile the assailants had taken cover, and were beginning to use
their rifles. Bullets, hundreds of them, tore the ground in front and
clanged against the shields. Tony stepped back a few yards and looked
down into the valley behind him. A thin line of skirmishers had almost
reached the foot of the hill. His message had been delivered.

He came back to the cover of his wagon. The enemy began to come forward
by rushes--a dozen men advancing twenty yards, perhaps.

"Repeat!" said Tony.

Again the guns blazed and roared: again the pall of smoke obscured the
view. A long trailing line of infantry began to climb the hill behind
him. But the enemy was working round the flanks of the battery and
preparing for the final rush. It was a question of whether friend or foe
would reach him first. For the second time that day Tony muttered, "It's
a race!"

Then, as he saw the whole line rise and charge straight at him----

"Gun fire!" he yelled above the din, knowing that by that order the
ammunition would be expended to the last round.

He jumped to the gun nearest him, working the breech with mechanical
precision, while the only gunner left in the detachment loaded and
fired.

"Last round, sir," came in a hoarse whisper, as Tony slammed the breech
and leant back with left arm outstretched ready to swing it open again.
In front they could see nothing: the smoke hung like a thick white
blanket. Tony drew his revolver and stood up, peering over the shield,
expecting every moment to see a line of bayonets emerge.

There was a roar behind. He heard the rush of feet and the rattle of
equipment. He was conscious of the smell of sweating bodies and the
sight of wild, frenzied faces. Then the charge, arriving just in time,
swept past him, a mad irresistible wave of humanity, driving the enemy
before it and leaving the guns behind like rocks after the passage of a
flood.

Tony fell back over the trail in a dead faint.

       *       *       *       *       *

Long afterwards, when the tide of battle had rolled on towards the
opposing heights, Tony, pale, grimy, but exultant, started back with the
intention of rejoining his General. Halfway down the hill he met him
riding up.

Tony turned and walked beside him.

"What's happened here, and where the devil have you been all day?" asked
"the Maud," angrily.

"I've been here, sir."

"So it appears. I sent an orderly to find you, and all you did was to
despatch him on a message of your own, I understand. We were in urgent
need of information as to what had happened up here. You failed to stop
this battery, and it was your duty to come straight back and tell me
so."

Tony had never seen the placid Maud so angry. He glanced up at him as he
sat there bolt upright on his horse looking straight to his front.

"It was my own battery," said Tony. Then, after a pause, he added
recklessly, "Would you have come back, sir, if you'd been me?"

The Maud stared past him up the hill. He saw the guns, with the dead and
wounded strewn around them, safe. He was a gunner first, a General only
afterwards. He hummed a little tune.

"No," he said, "I wouldn't."



PART III

IN ENEMY HANDS



IN ENEMY HANDS SOME EXPERIENCES OF A PRISONER OF WAR


_October 15, 1914._ Hospital, Bavai, France.--Woke up to find the ward
seething with excitement. One of the English wounded had escaped in the
night, leaving his greatcoat neatly placed in his bed in such a manner
as to suggest a recumbent figure. How he succeeded in evading the
attentions of a night-nurse, an R.A.M.C. orderly, a German sentry at the
main gate and two others in the courtyard outside the ward, is a
complete mystery. The situation for the French hospital authorities is
serious. So far, although the Germans are in occupation of the town,
have garrisoned it with a company of "Landwehr" and have appointed a
"Governor" with a particularly offensive polyglot secretary, they have
left the running of the hospital in the hands of the French staff. Bavai
has been looted but not sacked, no inhabitants have been shot and no
fine inflicted. But what will happen now?

Technically, of course, responsibility for the custody of the patients
rests with the Germans, since they have posted sentries at the hospital
and in the town. But conventions and technicalities do not count for
much in these days. The doctor, five or six nurses, and the lady by
whose charity the hospital is maintained hold a conference, animated by
many dramatic gestures and an astonishing flow of eloquence. They are
torn between fear of the consequences which may recoil upon the hospital
and admiration for the daring of the man who stole forth into the rain,
unarmed, and without a coat, to face the dangers of an unknown country
infested with the enemy--alone.

"Quelle bêtise!" cried one. "Oui, mais quel courage!" answered another.
"Si les Allemands l'attrapent, il sera fusillé, sans doute."

It is decided to inform the Governor, and a deputation is formed for the
purpose. In less than a quarter of an hour a squad of stolid Teutons
arrive and search the hospital from attic to cellar. They even enter the
apartments of the nuns, to the horror of our kind old priest. Of course
they find nothing. It is by now eight o'clock. At nine the edict is
given. In two hours every patient in the hospital who is able to crawl
is to be ready to leave. I ask my friend the doctor if he can in any way
pretend that I am worse than I am. "Pas possible," he replies, shaking
his head sadly.

So it is over--this long period of waiting and hoping; waiting for an
advance which never came, hoping where no hope was. Seven weeks have
passed since I was brought in here, left behind wounded when the tide of
war ebbed back towards Paris, and in that time I have gathered many
memories which will never fade. I have seen strong men racked with pain
day after day, night after night, until sometimes at last exhausted
Nature gave up the struggle and the nurses would come and whisper to me,
crossing themselves, "Il est mort, le pauvre. Ah! comme il a souffert."
I have realised to the full the compassion of Woman for suffering
humanity, irrespective of creed or nationality; and I have known the
blessing of morphia. Once, very early in the morning, just as the dawn
was beginning to creep in and light with a ghostly dimness the rows of
white beds and their restless, groaning occupants, I heard the tinkle of
the bell announcing the approach of the priest bearing the Host; and
drowsily (for I was under morphia) I watched Extreme Unction being
administered to a dying German officer. Death, the overlord, is a great
leveller of human passions. The old _curé_, whose face was that of a
medieval saint and in whose kindly eyes there shone a pity akin to the
divine, muttered the sacred words with a sincerity of conviction that
one could not doubt. A few hours before I had heard his sonorous voice
rolling out the Archbishop of Cambrai's prayer for victory: "Seigneur,
qui êtes le Dieu des armées et le maître de la vie et de la mort, Vous
qui avez toujours aimé la France...."

11 a.m.--We are ready to start. The dining-hall (in times of peace this
hospital is a school) is crowded as we are given our last meal. The
nuns, the doctor and his wife, the nurses, the village shoemaker who was
our barber and who always used to have a reassuring rumour of some sort
to retail--all are there to wish us a last sad "Au revoir." They ply us
with food and drink, but we are too miserable to take much. Then the
word is given--we file out slowly through the courtyard into the sunlit
street where two transport wagons are drawn up opposite the gate. There
are nineteen French soldiers, two English privates, and myself. Our
names are called by a German officer. Those who cannot walk are helped
(by their comrades) into the wagons. We three English are carefully
searched, but our money is not taken. It is decreed that the Englishmen
must be separated by at least two Frenchmen. Does our escort (twenty
armed men under a sergeant) fear a combined revolt, I wonder, or is this
done merely to annoy us? I suspect the latter. A crowd of inhabitants
forms round us, pressing close to say good-bye. Suddenly the German
officer notices this and in one second is transformed into a raging
beast. He wheels round upon the crowd, waves his stick and pours forth a
torrent of abuse. The people cower back against the wall and his anger
subsides. It is the first display of German temper that I have seen. To
hear women reviled, even in a strange tongue--and for nothing--is
horrible.

We start. At the corner I look back regretfully at the hospital where I
have received such kindness as I can never forget. From a top window a
handkerchief is waving. It is the nurse who, when I was really at my
worst, never left my bedside for more than five minutes during two long
nights and a day. To her, I think, I owe my life. For a moment the face
of the cobbler distinguishes itself from the others in the crowd. He
makes himself heard above the rattle of the wagons on the _pavée_
street. "Vous reviendrez après la guerre, mon lieutenant," he shouts.

"Oui, je vous assure--à bientôt," I call back as we turn out into the
open country and face the straight poplar-lined road that leads to
Maubeuge. Halfway we stop at an _estaminet_ for beer. The prisoners,
even the English, are allowed to purchase some. The German sergeant
chucks under the chin the attractive-looking French girl who serves him.
She smiles, but as he turns his back I note the sudden expression of
fierce hate which leaps into her eyes.

It is after 3 p.m. when we reach the outskirts of Maubeuge and cross the
drawbridge over the old moat, made, I believe, by Vauban. Inside the
town there are many signs of the devastation of war--buildings gutted,
whole streets of small houses laid flat in ruins. The pavements are
crowded and people throw chocolates and cigarettes to us. German
officers, wrapped in their long grey cloaks, swagger about, brushing
everyone aside in haughty insolence. From the windows of two or three
hospitals French soldiers peer out and wave to us in obvious sympathy.
Approaching the railway station we go past the identical spot where,
eight weeks ago to the day, the battery detrained. The logs on which we
sat to eat our belated breakfast after the long night journey up from
Boulogne are still there. Oh! the humiliation of it all; a week in the
country, one hour's fighting, seven weeks in hospital, and now--prison.

In the open space outside the station we are drawn up by the pavement.
The French are allowed to sit down on the curb; not so we three
unfortunate English. On our attempting to do so the sergeant in charge
shouts at us and one of the escort threatens us with a bayonet. Some
inhabitants who approach us with offers of food and drink are driven off
harshly. A crowd of German soldiers, some half-drunk, collects round us.
They all know the English word "swine." Pointing us out to each other
they use it without stint. One man has a more extended vocabulary of
abuse. Having exhausted it he proceeds to recount for our benefit the
damnable story that English soldiers use the marlinspike in their
clasp-knives to gouge out the eyes of German wounded. We have already
heard this allegation made before. The English-speaking secretary of the
Governor at Bavai was very fond of it. But he, who was educated and who
had lived in London for years, knew, I'm sure, that it was a malicious
lie invented by the authorities for the express purpose of exciting the
Germans against us. But these men undoubtedly believe it. They produce
knives of their own from their boots and threaten us with them. The
expression on their faces is that of angry, untamed beasts. And yet, I
dare say, at home these very men who now would like to tear us to pieces
are really simple, harmless working folk. Such is war.

It is an awkward moment. If either of my compatriots loses his temper
(which is not improbable, for the British soldier will not stand insult
indefinitely) he will let fly with his tongue or even his fist, in which
case we shall all three be put against the nearest wall and shot. So I
keep muttering, "For God's sake take no notice; try to look as though
you don't hear or understand"--knowing that besides being the safest
attitude this will also be the most galling for our revilers.
Contemptuous indifference is sometimes a dignified defensive weapon.
Finding that we are not to be drawn, the crowd gradually disperses, and
for an hour and a half we are kept standing in the gutter. Then another
long procession of dejected prisoners winds its way into the yard and we
are taken with them into the station. The wait inside is enlivened for
me by a conversation with a German N.C.O. who speaks English perfectly.
He has lived, he tells me, eighteen years in South Africa and fought for
us against the Matabele. Until this war he liked the English, he frankly
confesses. Now nothing is too bad for us. _We_ started it, _we_'re the
bullies of Europe, it's _we_ who must be crushed. Germany can't be
beaten. Napoleon the First couldn't do it. "We Germans," he says, "fight
without pay for love of our country, but you are mercenaries; you enlist
for money." From motives of personal safety I refrain from making the
obvious retort: "On the contrary, we are volunteers--you go into the
army because you're dam' well made to."

A diversion is caused by a wounded French soldier who faints, has to be
given brandy, and is discovered to be far too bad to travel. Why not
have left the poor devil in his hospital? He's surely harmless enough
from a military point of view.

6 p.m.--We file across the line on to the other platform. On the way one
of the English privates is kicked, hard, from behind by a passing
German soldier. His whispered comments to me are unprintable. Our train
appears to consist entirely of cattle trucks. Just as I am about to
enter one of these in company with some French soldiers, a German
captain touches me on the shoulder. "You are an officer, aren't you?" he
says in French, and motions me aside. Pointing at me, the sergeant who
had brought us from Bavai says something to the officer, the purport of
which, I gather, is that his orders were to put me in with the men.
Fortunately, however, this captain has gentlemanly instincts; he ignores
the sergeant, leads me down to the other end of the platform and
deposits me in a second-class carriage with three French officers. We
begin to exchange experiences. Two are doctors, the other a captain of
Colonial Infantry wounded during the siege of Maubeuge. They tell me
that there is another English officer on the train. I now begin to
realise that I am hungry and half dead with fatigue. To march eight
miles and then to stand upright for nearly three hours, after having
walked no more than the length of the hospital ward for weeks, is no
joke. The above-mentioned English officer comes in from the next
carriage and introduces himself as Major B., cavalry, wounded at the
very beginning and put into Maubeuge to recover; of course he was taken
prisoner when that place fell. He and the French officers give me food
and a blanket, for both of which I am more than grateful. An elderly
Landsturm private armed with a loaded rifle and a saw-bayonet occupies
one corner of our carriage, so that there is not much room to lie down.
We start about 7.30, but I am so over-tired and so cold that I get very
little sleep.

_October 16._--Woke to find that we had only gone about 20 miles and had
not yet reached Charleroi. A long, wearisome day, during which we
exhausted our supplies of food. Passed through Namur and Liége but were
unable to see signs of the bombardment of either place. In the evening
reached Aix, where we were given lukewarm cocoa and sandwiches made of
black bread and sausage--particularly nasty. But by this time we were so
hungry that anything was welcome. The guard in our carriage, finding
that we were not really likely to strangle him if he took his eyes off
us for a moment, relaxed considerably, accepted cigarettes, gave us some
of his bread, confessed to one of the Frenchmen who could speak a little
German that he hated the war and heartily wished that he was home
again; finally he put his rifle on the rack and slept as well as any of
us.

_October 17._--All yesterday and all this morning we passed train after
train of reinforcements going to the front; some of the carriages were
decorated with evergreens, and nearly all of them were labelled "Paris"
in chalk. Many of the men looked very young--hardly more than boys.
Several trains, crammed with wounded, overtook us. The sight of English
uniform was always enough to attract a crowd at any station where we
stopped. I wonder if the inhabitants of the Maori village at Earl's
Court experienced the same sensations as I did--sitting there to be
stared at, pointed at and not infrequently insulted.

At about 11.30 we were taken out of the train, and locked into a
waiting-room with about half a dozen Belgian officers, all wounded, who
had arrived from some other direction. An extremely fussy N.C.O. had
charge of us and persisted in counting us every ten minutes. Got into
another train about 1 p.m. and eventually arrived at our destination,
Crefeld, at 1.30. We were taken out of the station almost immediately,
marched through a large and rather hostile crowd and put into a tram. In
this we went up to the barracks--about two miles. Male inhabitants
shook their fists at us, females put out their tongues: so chivalrous!

In spite of the relief of at last being at the end of our journey, there
was something terribly depressing in the sound of the heavy gate
shutting to behind us. We were first taken up to an office and made to
fill in our names, ranks, regiments, and monthly rates of pay on a
special form; then put inside the palisade and left to find our way
about. There are about sixty French officers here, a dozen or so
Belgians (including the commander of Antwerp and his artillery general),
and seven English, one of whom is a retired captain who happened to be
in Belgium at the outbreak of war and who was arrested as a spy on no
evidence whatever. Spent the remainder of the day settling down and
writing home. It is a comfort, at any rate, to think that I can at last
let people know what has become of me. Comparing notes with the other
English here, we discover that they were all wounded early in the War,
on the Aisne. We learn for the first time details of the stationary
trench warfare into which the campaign is developing and hear all about
the German preponderance in heavy artillery. We feed here in the big
dining-hall attached to the canteen (in which by the way a great variety
of things can be bought, including beer, wine, and tobacco). We live and
sleep in the barrack rooms and we have the whole space of the barrack
square--200 yards long by about 80 wide--to play about in! Subalterns
are paid 60 marks a month, higher ranks 100. Every one is charged 2
marks a day for messing. The unfortunate subaltern, therefore, finds his
accounts flat at the end of the month--unless the month has thirty-one
days, in which case he owes the Imperial Government 2 marks! Am glad
I've got about a fiver with me, which ought to last until I can get more
from home. Slept like a log on a bed as hard as iron.

_October 18._--Five more English officers arrived this morning,
including Major V----. They were all more dead than alive, having spent
three days and three nights in a cattle truck, the floor of which was
covered with six inches of wet dung; the ammonia fumes had got into
their eyes and they could hardly see; they had had practically no food
and all through the journey they had been submitted to every conceivable
insult. The cattle truck contained fifty-two persons--officers,
privates, and civilians. Such treatment is beyond comment. From Major
V---- I heard for the first time of the tragic fate of the battery on
September 1. He could give no details beyond that it was surprised in
bivouac at dawn by eight "dug-in" German guns at 700 yards' range, that
it was simply cut to pieces, but that the guns were served to the last,
that the hostile batteries were silenced, and, in the end, captured. All
the officers were killed or wounded. It's too awful to be ignorant of
further particulars. Went to bed more depressed than I have been all
these weeks. I daren't think that "Brad"[16] has been killed.

[16] The late Captain E. K. Bradbury, V.C., R.H.A.

_October 19._--This morning we were made to parade at 10.30 to be
counted; this is to be a daily amusement. The food here might be worse
and at present there is plenty of it. Took some exercise round the
square--a deadly business. In the afternoon shaved off a month's beard
with a cheap German safety razor, which was a painful operation! Ordered
some underclothing from the town.

_October 20._--Employed a pouring wet day writing many letters,
including one to Bavai, though it is questionable if it ever gets there.

_October 22._--Two more English officers arrived, one wounded. Both
seemed to think that things were going well but neither knew much. This
morning the new commandant took over. He looks like an opulent and
good-natured butcher disguised as a Hungarian bandsman. Actually, I am
informed, he is a retired major of Hussars. In the course of a chatty
little discourse at the roll-call parade he informed us that in future
we are to be counted at 7.45 a.m. and 10 p.m.; further that alcoholic
liquors will no longer be obtainable. Thus we are robbed of two of our
luxuries--drink and sleep! Two new arrivals at midday, whose only news
is that British troops are now in N.W. Belgium. Football started on the
square. The monotonous horror of this life is just beginning to make
itself felt on me. The worst part of the whole thing is the total lack
of privacy. There is no room, no corner of a room even, where one can go
to escape the incessant racket and babble of talk. Reading and writing
are practically impossible.

This evening twelve more English arrived. Learned from them of the
transfer of our army from the Aisne to Belgium and realised from their
accounts the appalling losses that many regiments seem to have had. One
of these new-comers told me of Brad's heroic death when "L" was smashed
up. To the regiment and to the army his loss is great; to those of us
who knew him well and were privileged to serve with him, it is
irreparable. In everything he did he set up a standard which all of us
envied but none of us could attain. He lived as straight as he rode to
hounds--and no man rode straighter. To his brilliant mental gifts he
added a conscientiousness, a thoroughness, and a quick grasp of detail
which seemed to augur a great future. His was a personality which
stamped itself indelibly upon all with whom he came in contact, and the
influence for good which he wielded over both officers and men had to be
seen to be believed. The men feared him, for he was strict and was no
respecter of persons; but they loved him too, for he was always just. By
his brother officers he was simply worshipped. He was not a typical
British officer, he was far more than that, he was an ideal one. He died
as he had lived--nobly. And he was an only son.

_October 28._--A vile cold has added to my depression of the last few
days. A good many new prisoners have been brought in lately--mostly of
the 7th Division, which appears by all accounts to have had an awful
doing. The battle W. and N.W. of Lille still rages. A French officer
retails a rumour that he had heard before being captured that the Allies
had retaken Lille; a Belgian, that the Germans are retiring on the West
and that our fleet are doing great execution along the coast.

Am now sharing a room with an infantry captain and three subalterns of
the same regiment. We have bought cups and saucers and have tea in our
room every afternoon. New regulation that we may only write two letters
a month.

_October 31._--General von Bissing, commanding the district, inspected
the Landsturm battalion here to-day. Afterwards he visited some of the
prisoners' rooms. Seeing one English officer who, having only just
arrived, was far from clean, he asked him through an interpreter how
long he had had his breeches. The officer, who imagined that he was
being asked how long the British army had been clad in khaki, answered
politely, "Nearly fourteen years!" Whereupon von Bissing was pleased to
call our uniform "Dirty-coloured, disgusting, and bad." However, I hear
his son is a prisoner in France, so perhaps this undignified
vituperation relieves his feelings.

_November 1._--The Belgian officers departed to-day for some other camp.
Rumours of the arrival of 200 Russians not yet fulfilled. Have bought
some books, Tauchnitz edition, and tried to settle down to read. We have
started the formation of an English library, which will be a blessing.

_November 2._--We have often jokingly said: "We've got English, French,
Belgians, and Arabs here--all we want to complete the show is a party of
Russians." Well, now we've got them--200 arrived this evening. Such a
scene in the canteen before roll-call! The roar of voices, the
atmosphere of tobacco, and the pushing crowd in the bar reminded one of
the Empire on a boat-race night--minus the drink!

The authorities with their usual thoughtfulness for our comfort have
decreed that the English or French and the Russians are to be mixed up
in the rooms in approximately equal numbers. So three of us (G----,
T----, and myself) migrated to another block this afternoon and
installed ourselves in the beds nearest the window before the arrival of
our "stable companions." These when they did turn up seemed pleasant
enough, but as they could talk no English and only a few words of
French, conversation was limited. They could give us no news, having all
been prisoners in some other place for two months. One, however,
produced a map of Europe and showed us how the German columns were being
swept aside--one apparently to Finland, another to Constantinople, and a
third to Rome! Evidently an optimist! "_Neuf millions_" is all the
French he knows; it is his estimate of the strength of that portion of
the Russian army which is at present mobilised.

_November 3._--Letter from home--the first since I left England on
August 16. Infinitely cheering; no news, though, owing to fear of the
censor, except a few details about the battery on September 1.

_November 9._--Overcrowding becoming desperate. A seventh added to our
room to-day--a French lieutenant whom we nicknamed Brigadier Gerard,
because he's always twirling his moustache in front of the glass. There
are so many prisoners here now that we have to have two services for
each meal--_i.e._ breakfast 8 and 9 a.m., lunch 11.45 a.m. and 1.15 p.m.
supper 6.45 and 8 p.m. One does a week of each alternately, with the
idea presumably that constant change is good for the digestion. But the
day consists of fifteen long waking hours all the same. There are
moments when I hate all my fellow humans here. A youthful Russian who
inhabits this room irritates me almost beyond endurance by singing and
whistling the same tune all day long. Poor devil, he's got no books and
nothing on earth to do--but if only he'd go and make his noises outside.
I find myself unable to fix my mind on anything and sometimes I feel
that this life will drive me mad. It's a _hell_ of moral, physical, and
mental inactivity. I'd rather do a year here with a room to myself than
six months as things are at present.

_November 11._--Somebody got a bundle of old _Daily Graphics_ past the
censor, I can't think how. As they were the first English papers we'd
seen for ages they were most interesting.

_November 14._--Howling gale and heavy rain all yesterday and the day
before. Hope the German fleet is at sea in it! Have made great friends
with Tonnot, the French captain of Colonial Infantry with whom I
travelled from Maubeuge. He talks interestingly on a variety of subjects
and I am learning a certain amount of French from him. Curious how much
more well endowed with the critical spirit the average Frenchman is than
the Englishman of a corresponding class. The latter is more inclined to
take men and affairs and life for granted.

Am getting anxious about the non-arrival of my parcels. Clothes, books,
and tobacco are what I want. Dozens of officers who arrived after me
have received parcels. In my saner moments I know that it is purely a
matter of chance, but I have a tendency, when day after day a list of
names is put up and mine is not amongst them, to grind my teeth in rage
and regard it as a personal spite on the part of the German Government.
The arrival of letters and parcels is the only event of any importance
in this monotonous life. An officer who receives two or three of either
on the same day is regarded in much the same light, as, at home, one
regards some lucky person who has inherited a fortune. Every pleasure is
relative and depends on circumstances. Here, a tin of tobacco and two
pairs of pyjamas are joys untold.

_November 21._--The same continuous stream of rumours and
counter-rumours continues to flow in. Heard this week that Lille had
been retaken and that four French corps were marching on Mons. The
latter theory borne out by the arrival of some very badly wounded
prisoners from the hospital at that place. No confirmation, however.
Learnt of the Prime Minister's speech on War loans, in which he stated
that the war will not last as long as expected. This is comforting, as
he is not given to exaggeration. Perfect weather--dry, frosty, sunny.
Long to be on mountains instead of trudging round this damnable square.

_November 23._--Immense excitement this evening. Two Russians attempted
to escape; they had obtained civilian clothes, passports, and a motor,
but were given away by the man whom they had bribed to help them. They
now languish in the guardroom. The German authorities spent two hours
this evening searching all the rooms, I suppose for money.

_November 26._--All the bells in Crefeld ringing this evening and extra
editions of the papers announcing the capture of 40,000 Russians. Won't
believe it. That's always the tendency--to believe any rumour favourable
to us, however wild, and to discredit anything and everything the
Germans say.

_December 1._--The "Allies" who live in this room have now been more or
less educated by our pantomimic signs of disapproval and make less
noise. Have bought some more books and read all day except for an hour's
walk in the morning and another in the afternoon or evening. Daren't
play football owing to the bullet in my neck.

_December 15._--The deadly "even tenor of our way" continues. Have now
bought a small table and a lamp of my own. Ensconced in the corner
behind my bed I can read or work at French in comparative peace. But
C---- has had a box of games sent to him--amongst them (horror of
horrors!) "Pit." I do draw the line at the room being made into more of
a bear-garden than usual by the addition of various strangers who wish
to gamble on "Minoru"--and I foresee trouble and unpleasantness over it.
Of course it's selfish of me, but there is no other place where I can go
for peace and quiet, and--well--we're all inclined to be irritable here.
It's a marvel to me that there haven't been more quarrels already.

Wild rumours that Austria is suing for peace with Russia. As usual, no
confirmation.

_December 18._--To-day Major V---- escaped. Having gone down to the
dentist's in the town with two other officers and a sentry, he somehow
managed to slip past the latter into the street and find his way out of
the town. He speaks German like a native and was wearing a civilian
greatcoat. A very sporting effort, as he'll have a bad time if he's
caught, I'm afraid. If he can get home and lay our grievances before
our authorities there is a chance that, through the American Embassy,
the Germans, fearing similar treatment for their prisoners in England,
may make things pleasanter for us.

_December 19._--Wild scene in the canteen following the announcement
that no more tobacco would be sold after the 26th of this month. "The
prisoners are being too well treated," is apparently the popular clamour
in the town. Fierce scrimmage round the bar to purchase what was left.
However, the patriotism of the canteen contractor (who, need I say? is
making a fortune out of us) was not equal to his love of gain. He bought
up an entire tobacconist's shop, so that we were all able to lay in
three or four months' supply.

Rumours that Major V---- had crossed the frontier into Holland. Later,
that he had been caught in that country and interned.

Somewhere about this date a score or so of English soldiers arrived
here. This was the result of our repeated applications to be allowed to
have servants of our own nationality as the Russians and French have.
The appearance of these men horrified me. It was not so much that they
were thin, white-faced, ragged and dirty, though that was bad enough;
but they had a cowed, bullied look such as I have never seen on the
faces of British soldiers before and hope never to see again. Apart from
what they told us, it was evident from their appearance that for months
they had not been able to call their souls their own and that
temporarily, at any rate, all the spirit had been knocked out of them.
Better food and treatment will doubtless put them right again.

_December 25._--Christmas Day is Christmas Day even in prison. In the
morning we held a service and sang the proper hymns with zest. At lunch
we were given venison (said to be from the Kaiser's preserves) and had
some of an enormous plum-pudding which T---- had had sent him. Then
suddenly we rose as one man, toasted the King (in water and lemonade)
and sang the National Anthem. The French officers followed with the
Marseillaise and until that moment I had never realised what a wonderful
air it is. Then the Russians, conducted by an aged white-haired colonel,
sang their National Hymn quite beautifully. And we all shouted and
cheered together.

Into our room this afternoon, when we were all lying on our beds in a
state of coma after too liberal a ration of plum-pudding, there burst
the N.C.O. of the guard and four armed men. He shouted at us in German
and we gathered from his gestures that he was accusing us of looking out
of the window and making faces at the sentry. However, as we all went on
reading and took not the slightest notice of him, I think we had the
best of it. I imagine that, it being Christmas Day, he had "drink
taken," as one says in Ireland. We complained to the senior British
officer, who saw the commandant about it. This sort of thing is becoming
intolerable. The other night the guard entered a room, seized an
unfortunate English officer (it is always the English), accused him of
having had a light on after hours, although actually he was asleep at
the time, and dragged him off to the guardroom, where he spent the night
without blankets.

This evening we feasted on a turkey which we had bought and had had
cooked for us in the canteen, and more plum-pudding. Afterwards we sang
various songs, including "Rule, Britannia" (which the Germans hate more
than anything) until roll-call. I think "Auld Lang Syne" produced a
choky feeling in the throats of most of us--so many are gone for ever.
The authorities, fearing a riot, doubled all the pickets--and it was a
cold night!

_December 27._--It has been announced that, as a punishment for the
escape of Major V----, all smoking will be prohibited from January 2 to
15; all tobacco is to be handed in at 10 a.m. on the 2nd. I wonder if
we'll ever see it again. I dread this fortnight's abstention.

_December 28._--Received £5; also parcels containing food, books,
clothes, and tobacco.

_January 2, 1915._--Tobacco duly handed in and receipt given for it.
Some mild excitement caused over a letter which I had received from F.
P----, who is in India, part of which had been censored. The commandant
here wanted it back again. Fortunately I had destroyed it. I had not
been able to read the censored part, but had gathered from the preceding
sentence that it was something about the Indian troops. Wonder what the
Boches are after. Anyway I was hauled up before the permanent orderly
officer, who is an aged subaltern of at least sixty, known to the French
as "l'asperge" because he is long and thin and looks exactly like an
asparagus stalk when he's got his helmet on; and to us as "the chemist"
because he has rather the air of a suave and elderly member of the
Pharmaceutical Society. As a matter of fact, he is a baron! For a
German, he was quite polite, believed me when I told him I had
destroyed the letter, and seemed relieved when I mentioned that it was
dated September 13--which was true.

News gets scarcer and scarcer, German papers emptier and emptier. But
there are signs of shortage in the country. No more rolls or white bread
for us, for example.

_January 5._--Managed to smuggle through the parcels office a tin of 100
cigarettes which had arrived for me, but resisted the temptation to open
it. If any one was caught smoking during this fortnight it would mean no
more tobacco for any of us for months if not for ever. All the same, I
find the privation hard to bear.

_January 8._--It has become evident that the authorities do not desire
to take further steps in the tobacco question. Yesterday "the chemist"
searched various rooms. Entering one he found several Russians
smoking--whereupon he left without comment. This was the act of a
gentleman. This evening, therefore, we broached my tin of cigarettes.
Crouching round the stove we smoked them very carefully, blowing the
smoke up the chimney. Rather like school-days and very ridiculous.
Tobacco never tasted so good to me.

To-day one of the Russians who was implicated in the attempt to escape
some weeks ago returned here. His _rôle_ in the affair had been to stand
at the gate and keep watch while the other two slipped out to the motor.
All three of them, he says, have been kept handcuffed, in solitary
confinement, ever since, and fed only on black bread and weak
coffee--and this _whilst awaiting trial_! Eventually his case was
dismissed, as it was not proved that he was attempting to escape. The
other two are to undergo imprisonment for six more weeks. They are
desperate and want to commit suicide. And this is civilised warfare in
the twentieth century!

It is nearly a month since we had any fresh German official
_communiqués_ posted up in the dining-hall. Perhaps it is a sign that
things are going badly for them. From rumours it appears that Turkey is
getting a bad time from Russia--and so is Austria.

The quality of the food is rapidly deteriorating. The bread is black,
sour, and hard, with a large proportion of potato flour in it. The meat
is generally uneatable. Fortunately supplies are coming fairly regularly
from home and we subsist almost entirely on potted meats, tongues, etc.

_January 14._--The Russian New Year's Day. Went to their Church service
and was greatly impressed by the solemnity of it; also by their
beautiful singing. Toasted the Russian army at lunch; much bowing and
scraping and a great interchange of compliments.

_January 25._--Heard to-day of the second battle of Heligoland and of
the sinking of the _Blücher_--Good. Amused to notice that the German
papers claim this fight as a great victory--a Trafalgar, they called it.
Prefer to believe the statement of our Admiralty--quoted by the Crefeld
paper with many sneering comments and notes of exclamation interspersed.

There is, I think, no doubt that Germany has begun to feel the pinch.
The altered manner of our "kindly captors" towards us is remarkable.
There is a good deal less of the haughty conqueror about them.

The authorities here are compiling a list of those prisoners who are
wounded and unfit for further service. An astonishing number of officers
were brought forward by the doctors of each nationality for examination
by the German medico! Particulars of our cases were taken down, to be
forwarded to Berlin. I fear that, as far as I am concerned, there is not
much chance of getting sent home.

_February 3._--Permission granted to us to write eight letters a month
instead of two. Perhaps this is due to pressure brought to bear since
the arrival home of V----. We knew he'd reached England safely some time
ago, but have heard no details as to how he did it. Women conductors on
the trams in Crefeld now; and Carl, a German waiter, late of the
Grosvenor Hotel and at present underling here to the canteen manager, is
under orders for the front. Both facts are significant, especially the
latter, seeing that the aforesaid Carl is as good a specimen of the
physically unfit as one could wish to see.

_February 7._--Marked improvement of German manners continues unabated.
Carl still here. The civilian who heats the furnace for the bathroom
(doubtless an authority!) confesses quite openly that Germany is beaten,
that he has been convinced of it for months and believes nothing he sees
in the papers.

Our hosts having now condescended to allow us to hire musical
instruments, and having even granted us a garret to play them in, we
enjoyed quite a pleasant concert this evening. But the crowd and the
atmosphere were awful. The orchestra surprisingly good, considering its
haphazard formation: and a Russian peasant chorus beautifully rendered.

_February 8._--Fine day with a grand feeling of spring in the air.
Heading in a German paper: "The enemy takes one of our trenches near La
Bassée." But what an admission! Am convinced that at last the German
_people_ are beginning to realise what their Government must have known
from the time when the first great rush on Paris failed--namely, that
there can only be one end to this war for them--defeat.

_February 10._--Received a second £5 from Cox within three weeks. He
must have lost his head on finding me with a balance credit for about
the first time in my career.

_February 11._--There was a rumour to-night, apparently with some
foundation in it, that the first batch of wounded to be exchanged (two
English and nine French) are to go on Monday. I continue to hope that I
may get away later on, but can't really feel there is much chance, as
there is so little permanently wrong with me.

_February 12._--The incredible has happened. I'm to be sent home! I
hardly dare believe it. This afternoon Major D----, R----, and myself
were sent for by the commandant and told to be ready to start at 9
o'clock to-morrow. He further informed us that the authorities knew that
our wounds were not very serious, so that he hoped we would realise the
clemency of the Imperial Government. We were made to give our word of
honour not to take any letters, etc., from prisoners with us. Finally,
after an interview with the paymaster, who squared up our accounts, we
went through a ceremonious leave-taking with the commandant and "the
chemist." Felt quite sorry for the latter; he looks so old and careworn
and has lost two sons in the war, I believe. Spent the evening packing
my few paltry possessions in a hamper I managed to buy in the canteen.
Found it very difficult to conceal my elation from all the poor devils
we will leave behind to-morrow. Far too excited to sleep.

_February 13, Saturday._--The Germans evidently have been instructed to
make things as pleasant as possible for us. A taxi provided at 8.30 and
a most suave N.C.O. to accompany us. A large crowd of fellow-prisoners
assembled at the gate to see us off. In spite of the depression they all
must have felt at watching us go, not one of them showed a sign of it.
They were just splendid--French, Russians, and English--and wished us
"Good luck," "Bon voyage," and whatever the Slavonic equivalent may be,
as though they themselves might be following at any date, instead of
having to look forward to months and months more of that awful dreary
life.

At 8.35 turned out of the gate for ever.

At the station H---- joined us from the hospital; being partially
paralysed he was carried on a stretcher. R.'s kilt caused considerable
interest, but the onlookers, evidently knowing our circumstances, were
not in the least offensive--very different from four months ago. We were
taken charge of by an N.C.O. whom we knew well, as he was employed at
the barracks. He became most friendly, aired his small knowledge of
English, and continually asked us if we were glad to be going home. What
a question! When we changed trains and had about an hour to wait he
ordered our lunch for us and saw that we had everything that we wanted.
Travelling viâ Münster we reached Osnabrück at about 4 p.m. and were
conveyed in a motor to the hospital. Had thought, ever since last night,
that I could never be depressed again, but the sight of the ward with
nearly fifty empty beds in it, the smell of iodoform and the whole
atmosphere of the place had that effect on all of us for a bit. Found
another English officer here, wounded in the head months ago, and still
partially paralysed, but recovering. He is to join us. Gathered from
listening to his experiences that one might have been in much worse
places than Crefeld. No information as to when we are to move on. Later
in the evening another officer arrived--one leg shorter than the other
as the result of a broken thigh. Found the soft, comfortable hospital
bed most pleasant after the hard mattresses of the prison.

_February 14._--Spent a long dull day confined to the ward; occasionally
we were visited by some of the German wounded, of whom there were many,
more or less convalescent, in the hospital. They were quite agreeable.
Have noticed that the hate and malice engendered by the authorities
against the English manifests itself more amongst those Germans who have
not been to the front. Men who have actually been there and have come
back wounded are far more inclined to sympathise with fellow-sufferers
than to make themselves offensive. Moreover, I take it that by this time
the front line troops have acquired a wholesome respect for the British
army.

About midday we were all examined by a German doctor. This was nervous
work, especially for R---- and myself--we both being far from
permanently disabled. However, we seemed to satisfy his requirements. In
the evening an aged Teuton in shabby waiter's evening dress came and
informed us that we could order anything we liked to eat or drink if we
chose to pay for it. Evidently he was acting under instructions to make
himself pleasant. Anyway we ordered a good dinner but confined ourselves
to beer. Still no news of when we are to start, but presumably it will
be soon because of the "blockade," which starts on the 18th.

_February 15._--This morning a board of four German doctors made a
careful examination of all of us. They came in so unexpectedly that I
was obliged surreptitiously to withdraw the plug from the hole in my
palate and swallow it! However, I managed to convince them that I could
neither eat, drink, nor speak properly, and they passed me without
demur. Am sure that I went pale with fright at the prospect of being
dragged back to prison again, and perhaps this fact was of assistance to
me. There was a long consultation over R----. He was asked if he was
capable of instructing troops in musketry; whereupon he proceeded to
explain that, in spite of his three years' service, he himself was still
under instruction! In the end we were all passed as incapacitated.

We were told this afternoon that we might start to-night, but nothing
definite. At 7 p.m. were ordered to be ready in half an hour. Hurried on
our specially ordered dinner and split three bottles of wine amongst us.
At 7.45 started for the station in motors and were then put on board an
ambulance train. The "sitting-up" cases had distinctly the best of it
here; we were in comfortable second-class carriages, whereas the others
were put in slung-stretchers in cattle trucks. As this same train is to
fetch back the exchanged German wounded from Flushing, there was
evidently no malice aforethought in this rough-and-ready accommodation;
presumably it is the best they can produce. On the train are seven
officers, 200 or so N.C.O.'s and men, a few German nurses and Red Cross
men, and one civilian doctor. Started at 8.45 and reached the Dutch
frontier just after midnight.

_February 16._--Had dozed off but woke up when we reached the frontier
and was much amused when the Dutch Customs officials came and asked us
if we had anything to declare! They even pretended to search our few
miserable belongings. Can never forget the kindness of the Dutch both
here and everywhere we stopped all through the journey to Flushing. They
crowded into the carriages; they showered food, tobacco, cigarettes,
sweets, fruit, even English books and papers on us; they forgot nothing.
If they'd been our own personal friends they could have done no more for
us. Dutch doctors and guards boarded the train at the frontier, and also
an English newspaper correspondent with whom we talked for a couple of
hours, gradually picking up the thread of all that had happened since we
were cut off from the outer world. An exhilarating feeling to have left
Germany behind and to be amongst friends again.

Reached Flushing about 10.30 and were welcomed by the British Consul and
by several English people over there in connection with Belgian relief
work. Their hospitality was unbounded. Had a merry lunch with them in
the hotel, and then strolled out to see the town--followed by a large
and noisy crowd of school children. But what a joy to be a free man, to
be able to go where one likes and do what one likes! Wired home.

In the afternoon the boat which is to take us back arrived from England
with the German wounded. The two batches of men were close together on
the platform. What a contrast! the Germans, clean, well-cared for,
dressed either in comparatively serviceable uniform or new civilian
clothes; the English, white-faced, pinched and careworn, in threadbare
khaki (some even in tattered French or Belgian uniform) with no buttons,
most of them with no hats or badges. At first our men were
indignant--they had suffered much, and it was evident to them that the
treatment of prisoners in the two countries was very different. But soon
the inherent chivalry of the British private soldier overcame his other
feelings. The Germans were enemies but they were wounded--cripples for
life most of them--and they too were going Home. It formed a bond
between the two groups. In five minutes cigarettes were being exchanged
and conversation (aided by signs) in full swing.

There was an English corporal, paralysed, lying on a stretcher in the
waiting-room. I helped one of the English ladies to take him some tea.
She knelt beside him, put the cup to his lips, and, when he had drunk,
asked him how he felt. For a moment he didn't answer but merely stared
at her with great dark wondering eyes. Then he said slowly: "Are you
English?" That was all, just those three words, but they expressed
everything--the misery of all the months he had been in foreign hands,
his patience, his suffering, and now at long last his infinite content
at finding one of his own country-women bending over him. His head
dropped wearily back on to the pillow and he closed his eyes; he was
happy.

Had dinner at the hotel where we met the doctors who had come over with
the Germans and who were to go back with us. Afterwards went on board
the boat which, however, was not to start till the morning. To my dying
day I shall remember sitting in the saloon and watching the sad
procession of two hundred crippled N.C.O.'s and men being brought on
board. There were paralysed cases on stretchers, blind men, deaf men,
men with an arm or a leg gone, dozens hopelessly lame manoeuvring their
crutches with difficulty, helping each other, laughing at each
other--happy enough for the moment. But oh! the pity of it. What of the
future of these maimed and broken men? They are happy now because
they're thinking only of to-morrow, but what of the day after? what of
the thousands of days after? England is proverbially ungrateful to her
lesser kind of heroes as well as to her greater kind of poets. Geniuses
have been known to starve in garrets--and so have Balaclava survivors.
These men deserve well of their country. Will they be remembered or
forgotten?

Went to bed late, again too excited to sleep. Feel at last that it's a
reality and not a dream.

_February 17._--Woke to find that the boat had started, that it was
blowing half a gale, raining hard and that we were in for a vile
crossing. Too happy to be ill, however. A large number of Belgian
refugees on board. Talked to several of our men. All their stories
tallied in essentials. They had been underfed, under-clothed, singled
out for all the disagreeable work and all the abuse--_because they were
English_. Watched them playing cards, helping anxious Belgian mothers
with their sea-sick children. Listened to their talk and laughter and
choruses, of which the most popular was a version of "Tipperary" which
stated that the Kaiser would have a long way to go to St. Helena. At
intervals, every half-hour or so, a mighty shout would go up, "Are we
downhearted?" and all the crutches would rattle on the deck before the
crashing answer, "No!"

Disembarked at Folkestone Pier at about six p.m. No fuss, no worry,
everything done in perfect order. A buffet on the platform provided us
with English tea and English buns (there can be great joy in a common
penny bun) served by English ladies. The rain streamed down out of the
inky sky as the long ambulance train puffed its way out of the station
at 8 p.m. Even the weather was typically English, as if to welcome us!
Everything for our comfort had been thought of. In our saloon were
flowers, great bunches of violets, and a gramophone. And so at last,
just before eleven, we rolled over the darkened Thames and drew up in
Charing Cross--Home!



HENRY


His real name was Henri Roman, but we called him Henry because it was
easier to pronounce. His status in the French army was not high--he was
a private in the 1st Territorial Regiment; it was his custom, however,
when in conversation with unsuspecting strangers, to omit the word
Territorial and by merely pointing to the "1" on his _képi_ lead them to
suppose that he belonged to the First Regiment of the Line--a rather
more distinguished unit than his own. Like ourselves, he was a prisoner
of war, and in his capacity of _valet de chambre_ he was, if not
perfect, at any rate unusual. We first became conscious of his
possibilities as a source of merriment when, owing to the arrival of a
fresh batch of prisoners, we were ordered to change our room.

"Je viens avec messieurs," Henry announced simply, and proceeded to help
us pack our things. It is a fact that my hair brushes and razor made
the journey in one of his trouser pockets, G----'s pipes, a half-empty
pot of jam and a face towel in the other.

To us, accustomed to the diffidence of the English soldier in the
presence of his officers, it was refreshing to watch Henry enter our
room in the afternoon bearing on his shoulder the daily supply of coal.
He would lower the large bucket carefully to the ground and then wipe
his huge hands on his baggy and discoloured red trousers with the air of
a man who has done a hard job of work conscientiously and well. From a
pocket, the bottom of which was apparently somewhere in the region of
his knee, he would produce a half-smoked and much worn cigar, readjust
any loose leaves that might be hanging from it, and then light it with
all the care that a connoisseur bestows upon a corona. Having opened the
door of the stove to satisfy himself that the fire was "marching well,"
he would draw up a stool and sit down amongst us for five minutes' rest.

Conversation with him was of course an unequal contest. Our French was
weak--his, on the contrary, was powerful--in the sense that an express
train is powerful, that is, rushing, noisy, and only to be stopped by
signal. He was thirty-five, he told us, and it was obvious, from the
way he referred to himself as a _père de famille_ that he considered
himself as a man well past the prime of life, looking forward hopefully
to a complacent but always industrious old age. He came from Commines,
which is north of Lille on the Belgian frontier, and he had worked all
his life in a braces factory, for ten hours a day, six days a week,
earning thirty to forty francs, which he considered good wages. On the
outbreak of war his regiment had formed part of the garrison of
Maubeuge, which place, in his opinion, was undoubtedly sold to the
enemy. He had spent about a month at a prisoners' camp in Germany, and
then had been sent to us with twenty other French soldiers who were to
act as our servants and waiters. He confessed that he found the change
agreeable because he was better fed and had some work to do. The
idleness at the soldiers' camp had bored him. All of which led us to
believe that he was that kind of man to whom work is a necessity. Facts
proved otherwise.

He used to appear in our room in the morning at any time between seven
and half-past. His first objective was the fire. It had happened once
that the Russian officers who shared the room with us had in our
absence banked the stove up so high over-night that it was still burning
on the following morning; in consequence Henry had been saved the
trouble of laying and lighting the fire afresh. Just as a terrier who
has once seen a cat in a certain place will always take a glance there
when passing by, so Henry, hoping daily for a recurrence of such luck,
made straight for the stove. He was invariably disappointed; but the
action became a habit.

His next act was to go through the formality of waking us. His procedure
was to stand at the foot of each bed in turn and place a gigantic hand
on some portion of the occupant's anatomy. As soon as the sleeper
stirred, Henry would mutter, "Sept heures vingt, mon capitaine" (or "mon
lieutenant," as the case might be--he was most punctilious about rank),
and pass on to the next bed. The actual time by the clock made no
difference. He always said, "Sept heures vingt." All this, as I have
stated, was pure formality. His real method of waking us was to make a
deafening noise clearing out the grate and laying the fire. Having done
this he abandoned us in favour of his own breakfast.

He reappeared about 9 a.m. to give the room what he called _un coup de
balai_--his idiom for a superficial rite which he performed with a soft
broom after scattering water freely about the floor. The resultant mess
he picked up in his hands and put into the coal-box or pushed under a
cupboard if he thought no one was looking. He spent the rest of his time
till his dinner hour at eleven in cleaning the boots, making the beds,
and pretending to dust things--all the while giving vent to his opinions
on life in general and prison life in particular. In the afternoons we
seldom saw him after two o'clock, by which time he had brought the coal
and washed up the tea things, left dirty since the day before.

Henry possessed neither a handsome face nor a well-knit figure. When he
stood upright--which he only did if he had some really impressive
anathema to launch against the Germans--he was not more than five feet
eight. His skimpy blue blouse disclosed the roundness of his shoulders
and accentuated the abnormal length of his arms. The ends of his wide
trousers were clipped tight round his ankles, so that his heavy
hobnailed boots were displayed in all their vast unshapeliness. In
walking he trailed his short legs along, giving one the impression that
he had just completed a twenty-mile march and was about to go away and
rest for some hours. When we first knew him he had had a scraggy beard
of no particular colour, but he startled us one morning by appearing
without it, grinning sheepishly, and exposing to view a weak chin which
already had a tendency to multiply itself indefinitely. Except on
Friday, which was his bath day, his long moustache draggled
indiscriminately over the lower part of his face; but after his douche
he used to soap the ends and curl them up, giving to his rather foolish
countenance a ludicrous expression of semi-martial ferocity. On these
occasions he seldom failed to pay us a visit in the evening, shaved,
clean, and palpably delighted with himself.

The first time we saw him thus we asked him why he elected to wear his
moustache like the Kaiser. For a moment he was disconcerted; then
suddenly realising that a joke was intended, he threw back his head and
emitted a series of startling guffaws. Being of a simple nature he was
easily amused. Jokes about the war and the Germans, however, he
considered to be in bad taste. His political philosophy was summed up in
his simple phrase, "C'étaient _eux_" (the Germans) "qui ont voulu la
guerre," and on this count alone they stood condemned eternally before
God and man. Of history, diplomatic situations, international crises he
took no heed. In his eyes the Germans were a race of impoverished
brigands for ever casting greedy eyes upon the riches of peaceful
France. He told me once in all sincerity that before the war he had
never borne a grudge against any man, that he had been content to live
at peace with all the world, but that now he was changed--he hated the
Germans bitterly--"above all," he added, his voice quivering with
impotent rage, "this fat pig of an under-officer who occupies himself
with us orderlies. Nom d'un chien!" (his invariable expletive) "one can
only think he is put over us on purpose to annoy us."

Poor Henry! I knew the gentleman to whom he referred--a fine type of the
fat bully rejoicing in a position of power over unfortunate men who
could in no way retaliate.

At first we had accepted Henry gladly as a kind of unconscious buffoon
whose absurdities would enliven a few of our many dull hours. But in
course of time we discovered other and more pleasing traits in him. He
was a devout Catholic and, in his humble fashion, a staunch Republican.
One day I asked him why he attached so much importance to that form of
government.

"Sous la république, mon capitaine," he replied with dignity, "on est
libre."

Free! free to work sixty hours a week for twenty years and then to march
off to a war not of his making with but twelve francs in his pocket,
leaving a wife and three children behind him to starve!

Like most Frenchmen of his class Henry was thrifty to a degree; I doubt
if he spent sixpence a week on himself. With the blind faith of a child
he one day confided his savings to me because he was afraid the Germans
might search him. By their regulations he was only allowed to have ten
marks in his possession at once--the surplus he was supposed to deposit
with the paymaster. But I really think he would rather have thrown the
money away than done so. He kept a five-franc piece sewn in the lining
of his trousers "in case," he informed me, "we get separated when the
war is over. Of course you would send me the rest, but when I get back
to France I must be able to celebrate my return."

Each week he used to add to the little hoard which I kept for him,
knowing not only the total but even what actual coins were there.

Upon occasions he could be courtesy itself. One day a Russian officer
came into our room at a moment when Henry was standing idly by the table
looking at the pictures in an English magazine. The Russian, mistaking
him for a French officer, saluted, bowed, and held out his hand. An
English private would have been embarrassed--not so Henry. With that
true politeness which always endeavours to prevent others from feeling
uncomfortable he returned the salute and the bow and shook the proffered
hand! Could tact have gone further?

On Christmas Day we gave him a box of fifty cigars. He was immensely
touched and overwhelmingly grateful. Tears sprang to his eyes as he told
us that he had never had so many cigars before--even in France.

"Avec ça," he exclaimed, fingering the box, "je serai content pour un
an," and he insisted with charming grace, that we should each accept one
then and there.

His musical talent was discovered when some one received a concertina
from England. Coming into the room suddenly on the following morning I
surprised Henry sitting upon my bed giving what was a quite passable
rendering of "Tipperary." In no way abashed, he remained where he was,
only ceasing to play for a moment to tell me that the concertina was too
small--a toy, in fact. The truth was, I rather think, that his enormous
fingers found difficulty in pressing less than two stops at once. He
admitted that he had a passion for music, that he had learnt the
harmonium from a blind man in Commines, and that he had had an accordion
specially made for him in Belgium at a cost of 260 francs which had
taken him years to save. He was inclined to turn up his nose at catchy
airs and music-hall songs, preferring what he called _la grande
musique_, by which I think he meant opera. Eventually he was given the
concertina as a present and went off delighted--doing no more work that
day.

The optimism with which Henry had begun his prison life gradually faded
away. At one time he was certain that he would be home for Christmas,
then for Easter; finally I think he had resigned himself to remaining
where he was for life. It was his habit to believe implicitly every
rumour that he heard; and since there were seldom less than fifty new
ones current every day, he had a busy time retailing them, and was, in
consequence, always either buoyed up with false hope or weighed down
with unnecessary despair.

But it was at about the end of December that he began to get anxious and
worried. Up till then he had been more or less content. His was not a
super-martial spirit; he did not pine to be "at them" again nor did he
chafe under the restrictions of a life of confinement. He confessed
frankly that he was not anxious to fight again, but that when his day's
work (!) was done he enjoyed sitting by the stove in the stable "avec
les camarades" (the servants lived in the stables) "tandis que chacun
raconte sa petite histoire de la guerre."

One day he told me what was on his mind. He had had no news of his
family since leaving home five months before. At first he had not
worried, knowing that letters took a long time. But an answer was
overdue by this time--others had heard from home. "Every day," he said,
"there are letters, but none for me." I could proffer sympathy but not,
alas! advice, and I hadn't the heart to tell him that Commines was in
the thick of the fighting, and had probably been blown to pieces long
ago. His wife and children _might_ be safe, but they were almost
certainly homeless refugees. From that day on he used often to come and
talk to me about his happy life before the war, growing sadder and
sadder as the weeks passed and still he had no news.

I shall always remember Henry's pathetic little figure by the gate on
the morning I left the prison, his baggy trousers more discoloured than
ever, his enormous right hand at the salute, and his lips twisted into
that wistful smile of his. I wonder what has happened to his wife and
little daughters. I wonder if he or I or any one will ever know.



AUTHOR'S NOTE


     _Of the contents of this book_, SNATTY _and_ FIVE-FOUR-EIGHT
     _appeared in_ BLACKWOOD'S, _and were both written before the
     war broke out--a fact which I mention with the selfish object
     of excusing myself for various technical errors therein_: HENRY
     _appeared in_ THE NEW STATESMAN. _My thanks are due to the
     editors of both these journals for kindly allowing me to
     republish the stories. The remainder have all appeared in_ THE
     CORNHILL MAGAZINE, _to the editor of which I am deeply indebted
     for his unfailing courtesy and assistance._

    FLANDERS,
      _November, 1916_.


PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LTD., LONDON AND BECCLES, ENGLAND.





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