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Title: A Temporary Gentleman in France
Author: Dawson, A. J. (Alec John)
Language: English
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                                   A
                         "Temporary Gentleman"
                               in France

                    Home Letters from an Officer at
                               the Front

                     With Introductory Chapters by

                         Captain A. J. Dawson
                   Border Regiment (British Forces)

                            [Illustration]

                          G. P. Putnam's Sons

                          New York and London

                        The Knickerbocker Press

                                 1918



                            COPYRIGHT, 1918

                                  BY

                          G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS


                   The Knickerbocker Press, New York



PUBLISHERS' NOTE


Permission has been given by the British War Office for the
publication of this series of Letters written by a Temporary Officer
of the New Army. No alteration has been made in the Letters to prepare
them for the Press beyond the deleting or changing, for obvious
reasons, of certain names used.



BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION


The writer has introduced this "Temporary Gentleman" to many good
fellows in England, France, and Flanders, and is very anxious to
introduce him on a really friendly footing to all his brothers-in-arms
across the Atlantic; from New York to San Francisco, and from Quebec
to Vancouver Island, also. But how best to do it? It really is no very
easy matter, this, to present one simple, very human unit of the New
Armies, to a hundred millions of people.

"Dear America: Herewith please find one slightly damaged but wholly
decent 'Temporary Gentleman' who you will find repays consideration."

I think that is strictly true, and though, in a way, it covers the
ground, it does not, somehow, seem wholly adequate; and I have an
uncomfortable feeling that the critics might find in it ground for
severe comments. But it is just what I mean; and I would be well
content that all the kindly men and women of America should just find
out about this "Temporary Gentleman" for themselves, and form their
own opinion, rather than that I should set down things about him in
advance. If these letters of his do not commend him to America's heart
and judgment, I am very sure no words of mine would stand any chance
of doing so. Yes, for my part, warmly anxious as I am for America to
know him, and to feel towards him as folk do in France and Flanders
and Britain, I am perfectly prepared to let him stand or fall upon his
own letters, which certainly discover the man to you, whatever you may
think of him.

Withal, in case it may interest any among the millions of American
families from which some member has gone out to train and to fight,
to save the Allied democracies of the world from being over-ridden by
the murderous aggression of its remaining autocracies, I take pleasure
in testifying here to the fact that among the officers now serving in
Britain's New Armies (as among those who, whilst serving, have passed
to their long rest) are very many thousands who are just for all the
world like the writer of these letters. I have watched and spoken with
whole cadet-training battalions of them, seen them march past in column
of fours, chins well up, arms aswing, eyes front, and hearts beating
high with glad determination and pride--just because their chance has
nearly come for doing precisely what the writer of these letters did:
for treading the exact track he blazed, away back there in 1915; for
the right to offer the same sort of effort he made, for God and King
and Country; to guard the Right, and avenge the Wrong, and to shield
Christendom and its liberties from a menace more deadly than any that
the world's admitted barbarians and heathens ever offered.

I know there are very many thousands of them who are just like this
particular "Temporary Gentleman,"--even as there must be many thousands
of his like in America,--because there have been so many among those
with whom I have lived and worked and fought, in the trenches. And it
does seem to me, after study of the letters, that this statement forms
something of a tribute to the spirit, the efficiency, and the devotion
to their duty, of the whole tribe of the Temporary Officers.

Their lost sense of humour (withered out of existence, I take it,
by the poison gas of Prussian _Kultur_) would seem to have made the
German nation literally incapable of forming an approximately correct
estimate of the capacities of any people outside the confines of their
own machine-made, despotically ordered State, in which public sentiment
and opinion is manufactured from "sealed pattern" recipes kept under
lock and key in Potsdam and the Wilhelmstrasse. Their blunders in
psychology since July, 1914, would have formed an unparalleled comedy
of errors, if they had not, instead, produced a tragedy unequalled in
history. With regard to America alone, the record of their mistakes and
misreadings would fill a stout volume. In the earlier days of the War,
I read many German statements which purported (very solemnly) to prove:

(_a_) That in the beginning of the War they killed off all the British
officers.

(_b_) That the British officer material had long since been exhausted.

(_c_) That, since it was impossible for the British to produce more
officers, they could not by any effort place a really big Army in the
field.

And the queer thing is that German machine-made illusions are of
cast-iron. They "stay put"; permanently. During 1917 I read again
precisely the same fatuous German statement regarding America and her
inability to produce an army, that one read in 1914 and 1915 about
Britain. The British New Armies (which Germany affirmed could never
seriously count) have succeeded in capturing nearly three times as
many prisoners as they have lost, and more than four times as many
guns. From 1916 onward they steadily hammered back the greatest
concentrations of German military might that Hindenburg could put up,
and did not lose in the whole period as much ground as they have won in
a single day from the Kaiser's legions. Yet still, in 1917, the same
ostrich-like German scribes, who vowed that Britain could not put an
army in the field because they could never officer it, were repeating
precisely the same foolish talk about America and her New Armies.

Perhaps there is only one argument which Germany is now really able
to appreciate. That argument has been pointedly, and very effectively,
presented for some time past by the writer of these letters, and all
his comrades. From this stage onward, it will further be pressed home
upon the German by the armies of America, whose potentialities he has
laboriously professed to ridicule. It is the argument of high explosive
and cold steel; the only argument capable of bringing ultimate
conviction to the Wilhelmstrasse that the English-speaking peoples,
though they may know nothing of the goose-step, yet are not wont to cry
"Kamerad," or to offer surrender to any other people on earth.

I know very well that the writer of these letters had no thought as
he wrote--back there in 1916--of any kind of argument or reply to
Potsdamed fantasies. But yet I would submit that, all unwittingly,
he has furnished in these letters (on America's behalf, as well as
Britain's) what should prove for unprejudiced readers outside Germany
a singularly telling answer to the Boche's foolish boasts of the
Anglo-Saxon inability to produce officers. As a correspondent in the
Press recently wrote: "Why, for generations past the English-speaking
peoples have been officering the world and all its waters--especially
its waters!" And so they have, as all the world outside Germany knows,
from the Yukon to Tierra del Fuego; from the Atlantic round through the
Philippines to the golden gate and back.

It is a high sense of honour, horse sense, and sportsmanship, in our
Anglo-Saxon sense, that lie at the root of successful leadership. And
one of Prussia's craziest illusions was that with us, these qualities
were the sole monopoly of the men who kept polo ponies and automobiles!

Only the guns of the Allies and the steel of their dauntless
infantrymen can enlighten a people so hopelessly deluded as the Germans
of to-day. But for the rest of the world I believe there is much in
this little collection of the frank, unstudied writings of an average
New Army officer, who, prior to the War, was a clerk in a suburban
office, to show that sportsmanship and leadership are qualities
characteristic of every single division of the Anglo-Saxon social
systems; and that, perhaps more readily than any other race, we can
produce from every class and every country in the English-speaking half
of the world, men who make the finest possible kind of active service
officers; men who, though their commissions may be "Temporary" and
their names innocent of a "von," or any other prefix, are not only fine
officers, but, permanently, and by nature, gentlemen and sportsmen.

Withal, it may be that I should be falling short of complete
fulfilment of a duty which I am glad and proud to discharge, if I
omitted to furnish any further information regarding the personality
of the writer of these letters. And so, if the reader will excuse yet
another page or two of wire entanglement between himself and the actual
trenches--the letters, I mean--I will try to explain.

                                                          A. J. DAWSON,
                                                             _Captain_.

 LONDON, 1918.



THE GENESIS OF THE "TEMPORARY GENTLEMAN"


In the case of the Service Battalion officer of Britain's New Army who,
with humorous modesty, signs himself "Your 'Temporary Gentleman,'" what
is there behind that enigmatic signature that his letters do not tell
us? The first of these homely epistles shows their writer arriving with
his Battalion in France; and the visit is evidently his first to that
fair land, since he writes: "I wonder if I should ever have seen it had
there been no war!" That exclamation tells a good deal.

But of the man and his antecedents prior to that moment of landing with
his unit in France, the letters tell us nothing; and if it be true that
the war has meant being "born again" for very many Englishmen, that
frequently quoted statement at all events points to the enjoyment of
some definite status before the war.

Inquiry in this particular case speedily brings home to one the fact
that one is investigating the antecedents of a well-recognised New
Army type, a thoroughly representative type, as well as those of an
individual. In his antecedents, as in the revolutionary development
which the war has brought to him, this "Temporary Gentleman" is clearly
one among very many thousands who have, so to say, passed through
the same crucibles, been submitted to the same standard tests, and
emerged in the trenches of France and Flanders, in Gallipoli and in
Mesopotamia, in Africa, and in other places in which the common enemy
has endeavoured to uphold his proposed substitution of _Kultur_ for
civilisation, as we understand it.

In the year 1896 there died, in a south-western suburb of London,
a builder and contractor in a small, suburban way of business. An
industrious, striving, kindly, and honourable man, he had had a number
of different irons in the fire, as the saying goes, and some of them,
it may be, would have provided a good reward for his industry if he
had lived. As the event proved, however, the winding-up of his affairs
produced for his widow a sum representing no more than maintenance upon
a very modest scale of a period of perhaps three years. The widow was
not alone in the world. She had a little daughter, aged five, and a
sturdy son, aged eight years. Nineteen years later that boy, into whose
youth and early training not even the mention of anything military
ever crept, was writing letters home from fire trenches in France, and
signing them "Your 'Temporary Gentleman.'"

For seven years after his father's death the boy attended a day school
in Brixton. The tuition he there received was probably inferior in
many ways to that which would have fallen to his lot in one of the big
establishments presided over by the County Council. But his mother's
severely straitened circumstances had rather strengthened than lowered
her natural pride; and she preferred to enlarge the sphere of her
necessary sacrifices, and by the practice of the extremest thrift and
industry to provide for the teaching of her two children at private
schools. The life of the fatherless little family was necessarily a
narrow one; its horizon was severely restricted, but its respectability
was unimpeachable; and within the close-set walls of the little Brixton
home there never was seen any trace of baseness, of coarseness, or
of what is called vulgarity. The boy grew up in an atmosphere of
reticence and modesty, in which the dominant factors were thrift, duty,
conscientiousness, and deep-rooted family affection.

The first epoch of his fatherless life closed when our "Temporary
Gentleman" left school, at the age of fifteen, and mounted a stool in
the office of a local auctioneer and estate agent, who, in the previous
decade, had had satisfactory business dealings with the youth's father.
This notable event introduced some change into the quiet little
mother-ruled _ménage_; for, in a sense, it had to be recognised that,
with the bringing home of his first week's pay, the boy threatened
to become a man. The patient mother was at once proud and a little
disconcerted. But, upon the whole, pride ruled. The boy's mannishness,
brought up as he had been, did not take on any very disconcerting
shapes, though the first cigarette he produced in the house, not very
long after the conclusion of the South African War, did prove something
of a disturbing element just at first.

The South African War affected this little household, perhaps, as much
as it would have been affected by a disastrous famine in China. It
came before the period at which the son of the house started bringing
home an evening newspaper, and while the only periodicals to enter the
home were still _The Boy's Own Paper_ and a weekly journal concerned
with dressmaking and patterns. As a topic of conversation it was not
mentioned half a dozen times in that household from first to last.

The next really great event in the life of the auctioneer's clerk was
his purchase of a bicycle, which, whilst catastrophic in its effect
upon his Post Office Savings Bank account, was in other respects a
source of great happiness to him. And if it meant something of a wrench
to his mother, as a thing calculated to remove her boy a little farther
beyond the narrow confines of the sphere of her exclusive domination,
she never allowed a hint of this to appear. Her son's admirable
physique had long been a source of considerable pride to her; and she
had wisely encouraged his assiduity in the Polytechnic gymnasium of
which he was a valued supporter.

For the youth himself, his bicycle gave him the key of a new world,
whilst robbing the cricket and football clubs to which he belonged of
a distinctly useful member. He became an amateur of rural topography,
learned in all the highways and by-ways of the southern Home Counties.
His radius may not have exceeded fifty miles, but yet his bicycle
interpreted England to him in a new light, as something infinitely
greater and more beautiful than Brixton.

Quietly, evenly, the years slid by. The boy became a youth and the
youth a man; and, in a modest way, the man prospered, becoming the
most important person, next to its proprietor, in the estate agent's
business. The mother's life became easier, and the sister (who had
become a school-teacher) owed many little comforts and pleasures to the
consistent kindliness of one who now was admittedly the head of the
little household and its chief provider. He never gave a thought to the
State or felt the smallest kind of interest in politics; yet his life
was in no way self-centred or selfish, but, on the contrary, one in
which the chief motive was the service of those nearest and dearest to
him. Whilst rarely looking inward, his outward vision was bounded by
the horizon of his well-ordered little home, of the Home Counties he
had learned to love, and of the south-coast seaside village in which
the family spent a happy fortnight every summer.

They were in that little seaside village when the Huns decreed
war and desolation for Europe in August, 1914, and the three were
a good deal upset about the whole business, for it interfered with
the railway service, and broke in very unpleasantly upon the holiday
atmosphere, which, coming as it did for but one fortnight in each
year, was exceedingly precious to the little family. However, with the
Englishman's instinct for clinging to the established order, with all
the national hatred of disturbance, they clung as far as possible to
the measured pleasantness of their holiday routine, and, after a week,
returned to the workaday round of life in Brixton.

Then began a time of peculiar stress and anxiety for the little
household, the dominating factor in which was the growing strangeness,
as it seemed to them, of its actual head and ruler; of the man in the
house. At first he talked a great deal of the war, the overpowering
news of the day, and he passed many scathing criticisms upon the
conduct of the authorities in their handling of the first stages of the
monstrous work of preparation. He had much to say of their blunders
and oversights; and somewhat, too, of what he called their criminal
unpreparedness. He stopped talking rather abruptly at breakfast one
morning; and one of the headlines which subsequently caught the eyes
of his sister, in the newspaper her brother had propped against the
coffee-pot, put this inquiry, in bold black type:

  "WHOSE FAULT IS IT, MR. CITIZEN, THAT THE COUNTRY IS UTTERLY
  UNPREPARED FOR WAR?"

Those nightmarish early days of the great war slowly succeeded one
another, and the mother and daughter grew perturbed over the change
they saw creeping over their man. He talked hardly at all now. All the
old cheery, kindly good humour which had provided half the sunshine
of their lives seemed to be disappearing and giving place to a queer,
nervous, morose sort of depression. It was as if their man lived a
double life. Clearly he was much affected, even absorbed, by some
mental process which he never so much as mentioned to them. Morning
and evening they saw him, and yet it was as though he was not there,
as though he lived and had his being in some other world, aloof from
the old cosy, familiar, shared world in which they had always been
together. The house-wifely eye of his mother noted with something like
alarm that his bedroom candlestick required a fresh candle every day.
One had been wont to serve him for a fortnight. Always, she thought he
would unburden himself when he kissed her good-night. But he said never
a word; and the nerve strain in the little household, which had been so
quietly happy and bright, became almost unendurable.

Then the end came, with the beginning of the third week in September.
The evening was extraordinarily peaceful and fine. The sister and a
girl friend were at the little cottage piano. The visitor had a rather
rich contralto voice, and sang with considerable feeling. In the middle
of her third song the master of the house rose abruptly and walked out
of the room, closing the door sharply behind him. The song was one of
those called a "recruiting song." Late that night, when the visitor had
departed, the brother apologised to his mother and sister for leaving
them so abruptly, and spoke of a sudden headache. And the next evening
he brought home the devastating news that he had enlisted, and would be
leaving them next day for a military depot.

The news was received in dead silence. In some mysterious way neither
of the women had contemplated this as possible. For others, yes. For
their man--the thing was too wildly, remotely strange to be possible.
There was his business; and, besides--It was merely impossible. And
now he was an enlisted soldier, he told them. But, though they hardly
suspected it, not being given to the practice of introspection,
their man was not the only member of the little household in whom
a fundamental and revolutionary change had been wrought by the
world-shaking news of the past six weeks. In the end the women kissed
their man, and the central fact of his astounding intelligence was
not discussed at all. They proceeded direct to practical, material
arrangements. But when the time came for her good-night kiss, the
mother said, very quietly, "God bless you, dear!"; and the sister
smiled and showed a new pride through the wet gleam of her eyes.

And then the auctioneer's clerk disappeared from the peaceful purlieus
of Brixton and went out alone into an entirely new world, the like
of which had never presented itself to his fancy, even in dreams. He
became one of fifteen men whose home was a bell tent designed to give
easy shelter to perhaps half that number. He began to spend his days
in a routine of drill which, even to him with his gymnasium training,
seemed most singularly tiresome and meaningless--at first.

At the end of four weeks he returned home for a Saturday night and
Sunday in the Brixton house; and he wore one stripe on the sleeve of
his service jacket. To his intelligence there now was nothing in the
whole intricate round of section, platoon, and company drill which was
meaningless, however wearing it might sometimes seem. There was a tan
on his cheeks, a clear brightness in his eyes, an alert swing in his
carriage, and a surprisingly crisp ring in his voice which at once
bewildered and delighted his womenfolk. He seemed not so much a new man
as the man whom they had always loved and respected, in some subtle way
magnified, developed, tuned up, brought to concert pitch.

In November he was advised by his Company Commander to apply for a
Commission. The officer badly wanted him for a Sergeant, but this
officer had long since learned to place duty first and inclination a
long way behind; and it was apparent to him that in this tall, alert
Lance-Corporal of his, as in so many hundreds of other men in the
ranks, there was the making of a good officer.

Shortly before Christmas, 1914, he was gazetted a Second Lieutenant,
and on New Year's Day he found himself walking across a parade ground
to take his place in front of the platoon he subsequently led in
France, after long months of arduous training in several different
English camps.

Three-quarters of a year passed between the day of this "Temporary
Gentleman's" enlistment and his writing of the first of the letters now
published over his pseudonym; and it may well be that all the previous
years of his life put together produced no greater modification and
development in the man than came to him in those nine months of
training for the New Army. The training had its bookish side, for he
was very thorough; but it was in the open air from dawn till dark, and
ninety per cent. of it came to him in the process of training others.

The keynotes of the training were _noblesse oblige_, sportsmanship and
responsibility, that form of "playing the game" which is at the root
of the discipline of the British Army. While he taught the men of his
platoon they taught him, in every hour of the day and many hours of the
night. They learned to call him "A pretty good sort," which is very
high praise indeed. And he learned to be as jealous of his men as any
mother can be of her children. He learned to know them, in fair weather
and in foul, for the splendid fellows they are; and in the intensely
proud depths of his own inner consciousness to regard them as the
finest platoon in the New Army.

And then came the longed-for day of the departure for France, for the
land he was to learn to love, despite all the horrors of its long
fighting line, just as he learned most affectionately to admire the
men and reverence the women of brave, beautiful France. In the letters
that he wrote from France he had, of course, no faintest thought of the
ultimate test of publication. That is one reason why his name is not
now attached to documents so intimate, even apart from the sufficiently
obvious military reasons.

                                                               A. J. D.



CONTENTS


                                    PAGE

    THE FIRST LETTER                   1

    THE FIRST MARCH                    9

    THE TALE OF A TUB                 18

    THE TRENCHES AT LAST              28

    A DISSERTATION ON MUD             37

    TAKING OVER ON A QUIET NIGHT      46

    "WHAT IT'S LIKE"                  56

    THE DUG-OUT                       67

    A BOMBING SHOW                    79

    OVER THE PARAPET                  89

    THE NIGHT PATROL                  99

    IN BILLETS                       111

    BOMBARDMENT                      121

    THE DAY'S WORK                   132

    TOMMY DODD AND TRENCH ROUTINE    142

    STALKING SNIPERS                 152

    AN ARTFUL STUNT                  160

    THE SPIRIT OF THE MEN            169

    AN UNHEALTHY BIT OF LINE         179

    THEY SAY----                     188

    THE NEW FRONT LINE               197

    A GREAT NIGHT'S WORK             210

    THE COMING PUSH                  220

    FRONT LINE TO HOSPITAL           229

    THE PUSH AND AFTER               239

    BLIGHTY                          250



                        A "Temporary Gentleman"
                               in France



THE FIRST LETTER


Here we are at last, "Somewhere in France," and I suppose this will
be the first letter you have ever had from your "Temporary Gentleman"
which hasn't a stamp on it. It is rather nice to be able to post
without stamps, and I hope the Censor will find nothing to object to in
what I write. It's hard to know where to begin.

Here we are "at last," I say--we were nearly a year training at home,
you know--and I shall not easily forget our coming. It really was a
wonderful journey from Salisbury Plain, with never a hitch of any sort
or kind, or so much as a buttonstick gone astray. Someone with a pretty
good head-piece must arrange these things. At ten minutes to three this
morning we were on the parade ground at ---- over a thousand strong. At
twenty minutes to eleven we marched down the wharf here at ----, well,
somewhere in France; and soon after twelve the cook-house bugle went
in this camp, high up on a hill outside the town, and we had our first
meal in France--less than eight hours from our huts on the Plain; not
quite the Front yet, but La Belle France, all the same. I wonder if I
should ever have seen it had there been no war?

Our transport, horses, mules, and limbers had gone on ahead by another
route. But, you know, the carrying of over a thousand men is no small
matter, when you accomplish it silently, without delay, and with all
the compact precision of a battalion parade, as this move of ours was
managed. Three minutes after our train drew up at the harbour station,
over there in England, the four companies, led by Headquarters Staff,
and the band (with our regimental hound pacing in front) were marching
down the wharf in column of route, with a good swing. There were four
gangways, and we filed on board the steamer as if it had been the
barrack square. Then off packs and into lifebelts every man; and in ten
minutes the Battalion was eating its haversack breakfast ration, and
the steamer was nosing out to the open sea, heading for France, the
Front, and Glory.

The trip across was a stirring experience in its way too. The wide sea,
after all, is just as open to the Boche as to us, and he is pretty
well off for killing craft and mines. Yet, although through these long
months we have been carrying troops to and fro every day, not once
has he been able to check us in the Channel. The way the Navy's done
its job is--it's just a miracle of British discipline and efficiency.
All across the yellow foam-flecked sea our path was marked out for us
like a racecourse, and outside the track we could see the busy little
mine-sweepers hustling to and fro at their police work, guarding the
highway for the British Army. Not far from us, grim and low, like a
greyhound extended, a destroyer slid along: our escort.

The thing thrilled you, like a scene in a play; the quiet Masters of
the Sea guarding us on our way to fight the blustering, boastful,
would-be stealers of the earth. And from first to last I never heard a
single order shouted. There was not a single hint of flurry.

It is about seven hours now since we landed, and I feel as though
we had been weeks away already--I suppose because there is so much
to see. And yet it doesn't seem very foreign, really; and if only I
could remember some of the French we were supposed to learn at school,
so as to be able to understand what the people in the street are
talking about, it would be just like a fresh bit of England. Although,
just a few hours away, with no sea between us, there's the Hun, with
his poison gas and his Black Marias and all the rest of the German
outfit. Well, we've brought a good chunk of England here since the war
began; solid acres of bully beef and barbed wire, condensed milk and
galvanised iron, Maconochie rations, small-arm ammunition, biscuits,
hand grenades, jam, picks and shovels, cheese, rifles, butter, boots,
and pretty well everything else you can think of; all neatly stacked in
miles of sheds, and ready for the different units on our Front.

I think the French are glad to see us. They have a kind of a welcoming
way with them, in the streets and everywhere, that makes you feel as
though, if you're not actually at home, you are on a visit to your
nearest relations. A jolly, cheery, kindly good-natured lot they are,
in spite of all the fighting in their own country and all the savage
destruction the Huns have brought. The people in the town are quite
keen on our drums and bugles; marching past them is like a review. It
makes you "throw a chest" no matter what your pack weighs; and we are
all carrying truck enough to stock a canteen with. The kiddies run
along and catch you by the hand. The girls--there are some wonderfully
pretty girls here, who have a kind of a way with them, a sort of style
that is French, I suppose; it's pretty taking, anyhow--they wave their
handkerchiefs and smile. "Bon chance!" they tell you. And you feel they
really mean "Good luck!" I like these people, and they seem to like us
pretty well. As for men, you don't see many of them about. They are in
the fighting line, except the quite old ones. And the way the women
carry on their work is something fine. All with such a jolly swing and
a laugh; something brave and taking and fine about them all.

If this writing seems a bit ragged you must excuse it. The point of
my indelible pencil seems to wear down uncommonly fast; I suppose
because of the rough biscuit box that is my table. We are in a tent,
with a rather muddy boarded floor, and though the wind blows mighty
cold and keen outside, we are warm as toast in here. I fancy we shall
be here till to-morrow night. Probably do a route march round the town
and show ourselves off to-morrow. The C. O. rather fancies himself in
the matter of our band and the Battalion's form in marching. We're not
bad, you know; and "A" Company, of course, is pretty nearly the last
word. "Won't be much sleep for the Kaiser after 'A' Company gets to
the Front," says "the Peacemaker." We call our noble company commander
"the Peacemaker," or sometimes "Ramsay Angell," as I think I must have
told you before, because he's so deadly keen on knuckle-duster daggers
and things of that sort. "Three inches over the right kidney, and when
you hear his quiet cough you can pass on to the next Boche," says "the
Peacemaker," when he is showing off a new trench dagger. Sort of, "And
the next article, please," manner he has, you know; and we all like him
for it. It's his spirit that's made "A" Company what it is. I don't
mean that we call him "the Peacemaker" to his face, you know.

We can't be altogether war-worn veterans or old campaigners yet,
I suppose, though it does seem much more than seven hours since we
landed. But everyone agrees there's something about us that we did not
have last year--I mean yesterday. From the Colonel down to the last man
in from the depot we've all got it; and though I don't know what it is,
it makes a lot of difference. I think it is partly that there isn't any
more "Out there" with us now. It's "Out here." And everything that came
before to-day is "Over in England," you know; ever so far away. I don't
know why a man should feel more free here than in England. But there
it is. The real thing, the thing we've all been longing for, the thing
we joined for, seems very close at hand now, and, naturally, you know,
everyone wants to do his bit. It's funny to hear our fellows talking,
as though the Huns were round the corner. If there's anything a man
doesn't like--a sore heel, or a split canteen of stew, or a button torn
off--"We'll smarten the Boche for that," they say, or, "Righto! That's
another one in for the Kaiser!"

You would have thought we should have had time during the past
six months or so to have put together most of the little things a
campaigner wants, wouldn't you? especially seeing that a man has
to carry all his belongings about with him and yet I would make a
sporting bet that there are not half a dozen men in the Battalion who
have bought nothing to carry with them to-day. There is a Y. M. C.
A. hut and a good canteen in this camp, and there has been a great
business done in electric torches, tooth-powder, chocolate, knives,
pipe-lighters, and all manner of notions. We are all very glad to be
here, very glad; and nine out of ten will dream to-night of trenches
in France and the Push we all mean to win V.C.'s in. But that's not to
say we shall forget England and the--the little things we care about
at home. Now I'm going to turn in for my first sleep in France. So
give what you have to spare of my love to all whom it may concern, and
accept the rest yourself from your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



THE FIRST MARCH


We reached this long, straggling village in pale starlight a little
after six this morning; and with it the welcome end of the first stage
of our journey from the port of disembarking to our section of the
French Front.

In all the months of our training in England I never remember to
have seen "A" Company anything like so tired; and we had some pretty
gruelling times, too, during those four-day divisional stunts and in
the chalk trenches on the Plain; and again in the night ops. on the
heather of those North Yorkshire moors. But "A" Company was never so
tired as when we found our billets here this morning. Yet we were in
better form than any other company in the Battalion; and I'm quite sure
no other Battalion in the Brigade could march against our fellows.

The whole thing is a question of what one has to carry. Just now,
of course, we are carrying every blessed thing we possess, including
great-coats and blankets, not to mention stocks of 'baccy, torches,
maps, stationery, biscuits, and goodness knows what besides; far fuller
kits, no doubt, than tried campaigners ever have. (I found little
M----, of No. 3 Platoon, surreptitiously stuffing through a hedge a
case of patent medicines, including cough-mixture and Mother Somebody's
Syrup!) If you ever visit France you probably won't travel on your own
ten toes; but if you should, be advised by me and cut your kit down to
the barest minimum; and when you've done that, throw away a good half
of what's left.

Boots and socks. Some people will tell you that stocks and shares and
international politics are matters of importance. I used to think the
pattern of my neckties made a difference to our auctions. I know now
that the really big things, the things that are really important, are
socks and boots, and hot coffee and sleep, and bread--"Pang--Compree?"
says Tommy to the French women, with a finger at his mouth--and then
socks and boots again. You thought we paid a good deal in the shop for
those swanky trench boots, W---- and myself. That was nothing to what
we've paid since for wearing 'em. Excellent trench boots, I dare say;
but one has to walk across a good bit of France before getting to the
trenches, you know. Those boots are much too heavy to carry and no good
for marching. They look jolly and workmanlike, you know, but they eat
up too much of one's heels. Tell all the officers you know to come out
in ordinary marching boots, good ones, but ordinary ankle boots. Plenty
time to get trench boots when they get to the trenches. Good old Q.M.
Dept. will see to that. Our respected O.C. Company had no horse, you
know (we haven't yet made connection with our transport), and his heels
to-day look like something in the steak line about half-grilled.

We left camp at the port I mustn't name about eight o'clock last
night, and marched down the hill to the station in sort of thoughtful
good spirits, the packs settling down into their grooves. To save
adding its immensity to my pack, I wore my imposing trench coat, with
its sheep-skin lining; waist measurement over all, say a hundred
and twenty-five. Two of us had some difficulty about ramming "the
Peacemaker," through his carriage door into the train, he also being
splendid in a multi-lined trench coat. Then we mostly mopped up
perspiration and went to sleep.

Between twelve and one o'clock in the morning we left the train (not
without emotion; it was a friendly, comfortable train), and started to
march across France. The authorities, in their godlike way, omitted to
give us any information as to how far we were to march. But the weather
was fine, and "A" Company moved off with a good swing, to the tune of
their beloved "Keep the Camp Fires Burning." The biggest of packs seems
a trifle, you know, immediately after four hours' rest in a train. But
after the first hour it's astonishing how its importance in your scheme
of things grows upon you; and at the end of the third or fourth hour
you are very glad to stuff anything like bottles of Mother Somebody's
Syrup through a gap in the nearest hedge.

It was at about that stage that word reached us of one or two men
falling out from the rear companies. At this "the Peacemaker" began
jogging up and down the left of our Company--we march on the right of
the road in France--and, for all his sore heels and tremendous coat,
showing the skittishness of a two-year-old. And he's even good years
older than any of the rest of us, or than anyone else in the Company.
I chipped my fellows into starting up another song, and my Platoon
Sergeant cheerfully passed the word round that if anybody in No. 1
dared to fall out he'd disembowel him with a tin-opener.

As an actual fact not a single "A" Company man did fall out, though in
the last lap I was a bit nervy about old Tommy Dodd in 3 Section, whose
rifle I carried, and one or two others. At the end "the Peacemaker" was
carrying the rifles of two men, and everybody was thankful for walls to
lean against when we stood easy in this village. My chaps were splendid.

"Stick it, Tommy Dodd!" I said to the old boy once, near the end. His
good old face was all twisted with the pain of his feet and the mass of
extra kit which no doubt his wife had made him carry.

"Stick it!" says he, with his twisted grin. "Why, I'm just beginning
to enjoy it, sir. Just getting into me stride, I am. I wouldn't 've
missed this for all the beer in England, sir. But you wait till we get
alongside them blighted Boches, sir, an' see if I don't smarten some of
'em for this. I'll give 'em sore 'eels!"

It was only by lying to the extent of at least ten years that the old
thing was able to enlist, and you couldn't get him to "go sick" if you
drove him with a whip. The only way old Tommy Dodd's spirit could be
broken would be if you sent him to the depot and refused him his chance
of "smartening them blighted Boches."

Everyone in the village was asleep when we got there, but on the
door we found chalked up (as it might be "Lot So-and-so" at a sale)
"1 Officer, 25 men, 'A' Coy.," and so on. We officers shed our packs
and coats in the road--the joy of that shedding!--and went round
with our platoons picking out their quarters, and shepherding them
in before they could fall asleep. We knocked up the inhabitants, who
came clattering out in clogs, with candle-ends in big lanterns. Most
remarkably cheery and good-natured they all seemed, for that time of
day; mostly women, you know, you don't find many home-staying men in
France to-day. The most of the men's billets are barns and granaries,
and there is a good supply of straw. I can tell you there was no need
to sound any "Lights Out" or "Last Post." No. 1 Platoon just got down
into their straw like one man, and no buck at all about it.

Then when we had seen them all fixed up, we foraged round for our
own billets. Mine proved a little brick-floored apartment, in which
you might just swing a very small cat if you felt like that kind of
jugglery, opening out of the main room, or bar, of an estaminet--the
French village version of our inn, you know. Here, when they had had
their sleep, the men began to flock this afternoon for refreshment.
The drinking is quite innocent, mostly café au lait, and occasionally
cider. The sale of spirits is (very wisely) entirely prohibited. It's
most amusing to hear our chaps "slinging the bat." They are still at
the stage of thinking that if they shout loudly enough they must be
understood, and it is rather as a sort of good-humoured concession to
the eccentricities of our French hosts, than with any idea of tackling
another language, that they throw in their "Bon jor's" and the like.

"Got any pang, Mum?" they ask cheerfully. Another repeats it, in
a regular open-air auction shout, with a grin and an interrogative
"Compree?" at the end of each remark. Some, still at the top of
their voices, are even bold enough to try instructing the French.
"Françaisee, 'pang'--see? In Engletairy, 'bread'--see? Compree?
B-R-E-A-D, bread." And the kindly French women, with their smiling lips
and anxious, war-worn eyes, they nod and acquiesce, and bustle in and
out with yard-long loaves and bowls of coffee of precisely the same
size as the diminutive wash-hand basin in my room. I tell you one's
heart warms to these French women, in their workmanlike short frocks
(nearly all black), thick, home-knitted stockings, and wooden clogs.
How they keep the heels of their stockings so dry and clean, I can't
think. The subject, you notice, is one of peculiar interest to all of
us just now--sock heels, I mean.

There have been a good many jobs for officers all day, so far, and
only an hour or so for rest. But we have arranged for a sumptuous
repast--roast duck and sausages and treacle pudding--at six o'clock,
and the C.O. and Providence permitting, we shall all turn in before
eight. We don't expect to move on from here till early the day after
to-morrow, and shall have our transport with us by then. I gather we
shall march all the way from here to the trenches; and really, you
know, it's an excellent education for all of us in the conditions of
the country. People at home don't realise what a big thing the domestic
side of soldiering is. Our C.O. knew, of course, because he is an old
campaigner. That's why, back there in England, he harried his officers
as he did. We have to know all there is to know about the feet, boots,
socks, food, cleanliness, and health of each one of our men, and it has
been made part of our religion that an officer must never, never, never
eat, sleep, or rest until he has personally seen to it that each man in
his command is provided for in these respects. He has made it second
nature to us, and since we reached France one has learned the wisdom
of his teaching. I must clear out now--a pow-wow at Battalion Orderly
Room: the village Ecole des Filles. The weather has completely changed.
There's a thin, crisp coating of snow over everything, and it's clear
and dry and cold. We're all rather tired, but fit as fleas, and awfully
thankful to be getting so near the firing line. So make your mind quite
easy about your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



THE TALE OF A TUB


If inclined to revile me for apparent neglect of you these last few
days, be charitable and revile lightly.

It's astonishing how full one's days are. And then when late evening
arrives and arrangements for next morning are complete, and one's
been the round of one's platoon billets and seen all in order for the
night--then, instead of being free to write one's own letters, one
must needs wade through scores written by the men of one's platoon,
who--lucky beggars!--have three times the leisure we can ever get.
Their letters must all be censored and initialed, you see. Rightly
enough, I suppose, the military principle seems to be never to allow
the private soldier to be burdened by any responsibility which an
officer can possibly take. The giving away of military information in
a letter, whether inadvertently or knowingly, is, of course, a serious
offence. (German spies are everywhere.) When I have endorsed all my
platoon's letters, the responsibility for their contents rests on my
shoulders and the men run no risks.

If I were an imitative bird now, you would find my letter reading
something after this style:

"Just a few lines to let you know how we are getting on, hoping this
finds you in the pink as it leaves me at present. We are getting very
near the Germans now, and you can take it from me they'll get what for
when we come up with 'em. The grub here is champion, but we are always
ready for more, and I shan't be sorry to get that parcel you told me
of. Please put in a few fags next time. The French people have a queer
way of talking so you can't always understand all they say, but they're
all right, I can tell you, when you get to know 'em, and I can sling
their bat like one o'clock now. It's quite easy once you get the hang
of it, this bong jor and pang parley voo. Milk is lay, and not too easy
to get. The boys are all in the pink, and hoping you're the same, so no
more at present," etc.

One sometimes gets mad with them for trifles, but for all the things
that really matter--God bless 'em all! By Jove! they _are_ Britons.
They're always "in the pink" and most things are "champion," and when
the ration-wagon's late and a man drops half his whack in the mud, he
grins and says, "The Army of to-day's all _right_"; and that, wait till
he gets into the trenches, he'll smarten the Boches up for that! Oh,
but they are splendid; and though one gets into the way of thinking
and saying one's own men are the best in the Army, yet, when one means
business one knows very well the whole of the New Army's made of the
same fine stuff. Why, in my platoon, and in our Company for that
matter, they are every mother's son of them what people at home call
rough, ignorant fellows. And I admit it. Rough they certainly are;
and ignorant, too, by school standards. But, by Jingo! their hearts
are in the right place, and I'd back any one of them against any two
goose-stepping Boches in the Kaiser's Prussian Guard.

And, with it all, mind you, they're so English. I mean they are
_kind_, right through to their bones; good fellows, you know;
sportsmen, every one of 'em; fellows you'd trust to look after
your mother. They're as keen as mustard to get to the strafing of
Boches; but that's because the Boche is the enemy, war is war, and
duty is duty. You couldn't make haters of 'em, not if you paid 'em
all ambassadorial salaries to cultivate a scowl and sing hymns of
hate. Not them. Not all the powers of Germany and Austria could make
baby-killers, women-slayers, and church-destroyers of these chaps of
ours. If I know anything about it, they are fine soldiers, but the
Kaiser himself--"Kayser," they call him--couldn't make brutes and
bullies of 'em. Warm their blood--and, mind you, you can do it easily
enough, even with a football in a muddy field, when they've been on
carrying fatigues all day--and, by Jove! there's plenty of devil in
'em. God help the men in front of 'em when they've bayonets fixed! But
withal they're English sportsmen all the time, and a French child can
empty their pockets and their haversacks by the shedding of a few tears.

But I run on (and my candle runs down) and I give you no news. This
is our last night here, and I ought to be asleep in my flea-bag, for
we make an early start to-morrow for our first go in the trenches. But
it's jolly yarning here to you, while the whole village is asleep, and
no chits are coming in, and the Battalion Orderly Room over the way is
black and silent as the grave, except for the sentry's footsteps in
the mud. I'm in rather good quarters here, in the Mayor's house. When
we left that first village--I'm afraid I haven't written since--we had
three days of marching, sleeping in different billets each night. Here
in this place, twelve miles from the firing line, we've had five days;
practising with live bombs, getting issues of trench kit, and generally
making last preparations. To-morrow night we sleep in tents close to
the line and begin going into trenches for instruction.

But, look here, before I turn in, I must just tell you about this
household and my hot bath last night. The town is a queer little place;
farming centre, you know. The farm-houses are all inside the village,
and mine--M. le Maire's--is one of the best. From the street you see
huge great double doors, that a laden wagon can drive through, in a
white wall. That is the granary wall. You enter by the big archway into
a big open yard, the centre part of which is a wide-spreading dung-hill
and reservoir. All round the yard are sheds and stables enclosing
it, and facing you at the back the low, long white house, with steps
leading up to the front door, which opens into the kitchen. This is
also the living-room of M. le Maire and his aged mother. Their family
lived here before the Revolution, and the three sturdy young women and
one old, old man employed on the farm, all live in the house.

M. le Maire is a warm man, reputed to have a thorough mastery of the
English tongue, among other things, as a result of "college" education.
So I gather from the really delightful old mother, who, though bent
nearly double, appears to run the whole show, including the Town Hall
opposite our Battalion Headquarters. I have never succeeded in inducing
the Mayor to speak a word of English, but he has a little dictionary
like a prayer-book, with perfectly blinding print, and somehow carries
on long and apparently enjoyable conversations with my batman (who
certainly has no French), though, as I say, one never heard a word of
English on his lips.

I know what the newspapers are. They pretend to give you the war
news. But I'll bet they'll tell you nothing of yesterday's really
great event, when the Commander of No. 1 Platoon took a hot bath, as
it were under municipal auspices, attended by two Company Headquarters
orderlies, his own batman, and the cordially expressed felicitations
of his brother officers, not to mention the mayoral household, and the
whole of No. 1 Platoon, which is billeted in the Mayor's barns and
outbuildings. Early in the day the best wash-tub had been commandeered
for this interesting ceremony, and I fancy it has an even longer
history behind it than the Mayor's pre-Revolution home. It is not
definitely known that Marie Antoinette used this tub, bathing being
an infrequent luxury in her day; but if she had been cursed with our
modern craze for washing, and chanced to spend more than a year or
so in this mud-set village of M----, she certainly would have used
this venerable vessel, which, I gather, began life as the half of a
cider barrel, and still does duty of that sort on occasion, and as a
receptacle for the storing of potatoes and other nutritious roots, when
not required for the more intimate service of M. le Maire's mother, for
the washing of M. le Maire's corduroys and underwear, or by M. le Maire
himself, at the season of Michaelmas, I believe, in connection with the
solemn rite of his own annual bath, which festival was omitted this
year out of deference to popular opinion, because of the war.

The household of the Mayor, headed by this respected functionary
himself, received me at the portals of his ancestral home and ushered
me most kindly and graciously, if with a dash of grave, half-pitying
commiseration, to what I thought at first was the family vault,
though, as I presently discovered, it was in reality the mayoral
salon or best parlour--as seen in war time--draped in sacking and
year-old cobwebs. Here, after some rather embarrassing conversation,
chiefly gesticulatory on my side--my conversational long suit is "Pas
du tout! Merci beaucoup," and "Mais oui, Madame," with an occasional
"Parfaitement," stirred in now and again, not with any meaning, but as
a kind of guarantee of good faith, because I think it sounds amiable,
if not indeed like my lambs in their billets, "Bien gentil," and "Très
convenable, Monsieur." It is thus they are invariably described to me
when I go inspecting. As I was saying, here I was presently left alone
with the household cat, two sick rabbits in a sort of cage which must
once have housed a cockatoo or parrot, my own little towel (a torn
half, you know, designed to reduce valise weight), my sponge (but,
alack! not my dear old worn-out nail-brush, now lying in trenches on
Salisbury Plain), and the prehistoric wash-tub, now one quarter filled
by what the Mayor regarded, I gathered, as perhaps the largest quantity
of hot water ever accumulated in one place--two kettles and one oil-can
full, carried by the orderlies.

The cat and the rabbits watched my subsequent proceedings with the
absorbed interest of an intelligent mid-Victorian infant at its first
pantomime. The cat, I blush to say, was female, and old enough to know
better, but I trust the rabbits were of my own sex. Anyhow, they were
sick, so perhaps it doesn't matter. The entire mayoral household, with
my batman and others, were assembled in the big kitchen, separated
from the chamber of my ablutions only by a door having no kind of
fastening and but one hinge. Their silence was broken only by an
occasional profound sigh from the Mayor's aged mother, and three sounds
of reflective expectoration at considerable intervals from the Mayor
himself. So I judged my bathing to be an episode of rare and anxious
interest to the mayoral family.

My feet I anointed copiously with a disgusting unguent of great
virtue--it's invaluable for lighting braziers when one's only fuel is
muddy coke and damp chits--called anti-frostbite grease, that is said
to guard us from the disease known as "Trench Feet," rumoured prevalent
in our sector by reason of the mellow quality and depth of its mud,
which, whilst apparently almost liquid, yet possesses enough body
and bouquet--remember how you used to laugh at our auction catalogue
superlatives in cellar lots?--to rob a man of his boots at times. For
my hands--chipped about a bit now--I used carbolated vaseline. (Do you
remember the preternaturally slow and wall-eyed salesman, with the
wart, in the Salisbury shop where we bought it?) And then, clothed most
sumptuously in virginal underwear, I crawled into my flea-bag, there to
revel from 10.40 P.M. to 6 A.M., as I am about to do now, less one hour
in the morning. How I wish one could consciously enjoy the luxury of
sleep while sleeping! Good night and God bless you! God bless all the
sweet, brave waiting women of England, and France, and Russia; and I
wish I could send a bit of my clean comfort to-night to as many as may
be of our good chaps, and France's _bon camarades_, out here.

When next I write we shall have seen a bit of the trenches, I hope, and
so then you should have something more like real news from your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



THE TRENCHES AT LAST


You must forgive my not having sent anything but those two Field
Service post cards for a whole week, but, as our Canadian subaltern,
Fosset, says, it really has been "some" week. My notion was to write
you fully my very first impression of the trenches, but the chance
didn't offer, and perhaps it's as well. It couldn't be fresher in my
mind than it is now, and yet I understand it more, and see the thing
more intelligently than on the first night.

We are now back in the village of B----, three miles from our
trenches. We are here for three days' alleged rest, and then, as a
Battalion, take over our own Battalion sub-sector of trenches. So
far, we have only had forty-eight hours in, as a Battalion; though,
as individuals, we have had more. When we go in again it will be as
a Battalion, under our own Brigade and Divisional arrangements, to
hold our own Brigade front, and be relieved later by the other two
Battalions of our Brigade.

"A" Company is, I am sorry to say, in tents for these three days out;
tents painted to look like mud and grass (for the benefit of the Boche
airmen) and not noticeably more comfortable than mud and grass. An old
fellow having the extraordinary name of Bonaparte Pinchgare, has been
kind enough to lend us his kitchen and scullery for officers' mess and
quarters; and we, like the men, are contriving to have a pretty good
time, in despite of chill rain and all-pervading mud. We are all more
or less caked in mud, but we have seen Huns, fired at 'em, been fired
at by them, spent hours in glaring through rag and tin-decked barbed
wire at their trenches, and generally feel that we have been blooded to
trench warfare. We have only lost two men, and they will prove to be
only slightly wounded, I think; one, before he had ever set foot in a
trench--little Hinkson of my No. 2 section--and the other, Martin, of
No. 3 Platoon, only a few hours before we came out.

Hinkson was pipped by a chance bullet in the calf of the leg, as we
passed through a wood, behind the support trench. Very likely a Boche
loosed that bullet off in mere idleness, a couple of thousand yards
away; and I doubt if it will mean even a Blighty for Hinkson. He may
be put right in the Field Ambulance or Clearing Station near here,
or, at farthest, down at the Base. Or he may chance to go across to
Blighty--the first casualty in the Battalion. The little chap was
furiously angry over getting knocked out before he could spot a Hun
through the foresight of his rifle, but his mate, Kennedy, has sworn to
lay out a couple of Boches for Hinkson, before he gets back to us, and
Kennedy will do it.

First impressions! Do you know, I think my first impression was of
the difficulty of finding one's way about in a maze of muddy ditches
which all looked exactly alike, despite a few occasional muddy
notice-boards perched in odd corners: "Princes Street," "Sauchiehall
Street," "Manchester Avenue," "Stinking Sap," "Carlisle Road," and the
like. I had a trench map of the sector, but it seemed to me one never
could possibly identify the different ways, all mud being alike, and
no trench offering anything but mud to remember it by. In the front or
fire-trench itself, the firing line, one can hop up on the fire-step,
look round quickly between bullets, and get a bearing. But in all these
interminable communication and branch trenches where one goes to and
fro, at a depth varying from six to ten or twelve feet, seeing only
clay and sky, how the dickens could one find the way?

And yet, do you know, so quickly are things borne in upon you in this
crude, savage life of raw realities, so narrow is your world, so vital
your need of knowing it; so unavoidable is your continuous alertness,
and so circumscribed the field of your occupation, that I feel now I
know nothing else in the world quite so well and intimately as I know
that warren of stinking mud: the two sub-sectors in which I spent last
week. Manchester Avenue, Carlisle Road, Princes Street, with all their
side alleys and boggy by-ways! Why, they are so photographed on the
lining of my brain that, if I were an artist (instead of a very muddy
subaltern ex-clerk) I could paint the whole thing for you--I wish I
could. Not only do I know them, but I've merely to shut my eyes to
see any and every yard of them; I can smell them now; I can feel the
precise texture of their mud. I know their hidden holes and traps,
where the water lies deep. I know to an inch where the bad breaks are
in the duck-boards that you can't see because the yellow water covers
them. Find one's way! I know them far better than I know the Thames
Embankment, the Strand, or Brixton Hill! That's not an exaggeration.

Duck-boards, by the way, or duck-walks, are a kindly invention (of
the R.E., I suspect) to save soldiers from the bottomless pit, and to
enable officers on duty to cover rather more than a hundred yards an
hour in getting along their line of trench. Take two six-or eight-feet
lengths of two inches by four inches' scantling; nail two or three inch
bits of batten across these with two or three inch gaps between, the
width of the frame being, say, eighteen inches. Thus you have a grating
six or eight feet long and narrow enough to lie easily in the bottom of
a trench. If these gratings rest on trestles driven deep down into the
mud, and your trenches are covered by them throughout--well, then you
may thank God for all His mercies and proceed to the more interesting
consideration of strafing Boches, and avoiding being strafed by them.
If you haven't got these beneficent inventions of the R.E., and you are
in trenches like ours, then you will devote most of your energies to
strafing the R.E., or some other unseen power for good, through your
own headquarters, for a supply of duck-walks, and you will (if you are
wise) work night and day without check, in well and truly laying every
single length you can acquire.

("Acquire" is a good, sound word. I would never blame a man for
stealing duck-walks from any source whatsoever--providing, of course,
he is not so far lost to all sense of decency as to steal 'em from "A"
Company; and even then, if he could manage it, his cleverness would
almost deserve forgiveness; and, equally, of course, that he's going
to use 'em for their legitimate purpose, and not just to squat on in a
dug-out; least of all for the absolutely criminal purpose of using as
fuel.)

"What a fuss you make about mere things to walk on!" perhaps you'll
say. "I thought the one thing really important was getting to grips
with the enemy." Mmmf! Yes. Quite so. It is. But, madam, how to do it?
"There be ways and means to consider, look you, whateffer," as Billy
Morgan says. (Billy was the commander of No. 2 Platoon, you remember,
and now, as reserve Machine-Gun officer, swanks insufferably about
"the M.G. Section," shoves most of his Platoon work upon me, and will
have a dug-out of his own. We rot him by pretending to attribute these
things to the influence of his exalted compatriot, the Minister of
Munitions. As a fact, they are due to his own jolly hard work, and
really first-rate abilities.)

This trench warfare isn't by any means the simple business you might
suppose, and neither, of course, is any other kind of warfare. There
can be no question of just going for the enemy bald-headed. He wishes
you would, of course; just as we wish to goodness _he_ would. You have
to understand that up there about the front line, the surrounding
air and country can at any moment be converted into a zone of living
fire--gas, projectiles, H.E. (High Explosive, you know) flame, bullets,
bursting shrapnel. If you raise a finger out of trenches by daylight,
you present Fritz with a target, which he will very promptly and
gratefully take, and blow to smithereens. That's understood, isn't it?
Right. To be able to fight, in any sort of old way at all, you must
continue to live--you and your men. To continue to live you must have
cover. Hence, nothing is more important than to make your trenches
habitable, and feasible; admitting, that is, of fairly easy and quick
communication.

To live, you see, you must eat and drink. The trenches contain no
A B C's. Every crumb of bread, every drop of tea or water, like
every cartridge you fire, must be carried up from the rear on men's
shoulders, along many hundreds of yards of communicating trenches.
Also, in case you are suddenly attacked, or have to attack, quick
movement is vital. Nature apparently abhors a trench, which is a kind
of a vacuum, and not precisely lovable, anyhow; and, in this part of
the world, she proceeds wherever possible to fill it with water. Pumps?
Why, certainly. But clay and slush sides cave in. Whizz-bangs and H.E.
descend from on high displacing much porridge-like soil. Men hurrying
to and fro day and night, disturb and mash up much earth in these
ditches. And, no matter how or why, there is mud; mud unspeakable and
past all computation. Consider it quietly for a moment, and you will
feel as we do about duck-walks--I trust the inventor has been given
a dukedom--and realise the pressing importance of various material
details leading up to that all-important strafing of Boches.

But there, the notion of trying to tell you about trenches in one
letter is, I find, hopelessly beyond me, and would only exhaust you,
even if I could bring it off. I can only hope gradually to get some
sort of a picture into your mind, so that you will have a background
of sorts for such news of our doings as I'm able to send you as we go
on. Just now, I am going to tackle an alarming stack of uncensored
letters from Nos. 1 and 2 Platoons--some of the beggars appear to be
extraordinarily polygamous in the number of girls they write to; bless
'em!--and then to turn in and sleep. My goodness, it's a fine thing,
sleep, out of trenches! But I'll write again, probably to-morrow.

The men are all remarkably fit and jolly. One or two old hands here
have told me the line we are taking over is really pretty bad.
Certainly it was a revelation to our fellows, after the beautiful,
clean tuppenny-tubes of trenches we constructed on Salisbury Plain.
But one hears no grousing at all, except of the definitely humorous
and rather pleased kind--rather bucked about it, you know--the men are
simply hungry for a chance to "get" at the Hun, and they work like
tigers at trench betterment. We are all well and jolly, and even if
sometimes you don't hear often, there's not the slightest need to worry
in any way about your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



A DISSERTATION ON MUD


The second of our rest days is over, and to-morrow night we shall go
into the firing line and relieve the ----s. We shall march back the
way we came out, down the sad-looking green valley round the lips of
which some of our batteries are hidden; through the deserted streets
of ----, with its boarded-up shops and houses; on over the weed-grown
railway track, through a little village whose church is still unbroken;
though few of its cottage windows have any glass left in them; across
the busy little river to Ambulance Corner--a favourite target for Boche
shells, that bit of road--and so through the wooded hollow where the
German gas lies deadly thick when it comes, into the foot of Manchester
Avenue, the long communication trench leading up to the Battalion's
trench headquarters in the support line, where "A" Company will branch
off to the right, "B" to the left, and "C" to the extreme left of our
sub-sector.

That town I mentioned--not the little village close to Ambulance
Corner, where most roofs and walls show shell-torn rents and a few are
smashed to dust--is rather like a city of the dead. It has a cathedral
which the gentle Hun has ranged on with thoughtful frightfulness.
But though, under the guidance of his aerial observers, the Boche
has smashed up that cathedral pretty thoroughly, and its tower has
great gaping chunks riven out of its sides by shells, yet, as folk
say miraculously, its crowning attraction, a monstrous gilt figure of
the Madonna and Child, thirty to fifty feet high, remains intact. But
this remarkable gilt statue has been undermined at its base by H.E.
shell, and now hangs over at right angles to the street far below it--a
most extraordinary sight. The devout naturally claim that no German
projectile will prove powerful enough to lower the sacred emblem any
farther. Boche savagery in France has not weakened anyone's faith, I
think; possibly the reverse.

A foundry or factory near by is now a tangled mass of scrap iron, and
as one marches through the town one has queer intimate glimpses of
deserted bedroom interiors, with homely furnishings exposed to all the
weather, where a shell has sliced one wall clean down from a first or
second storey and left the ground floor intact.

But I was going to tell you about trenches. When I first began to walk
up Manchester Avenue, my thought was, "There's nothing much to grumble
at here. I call this pretty good. A little sloppy under foot perhaps,
but really nothing to write home about." I've often laughed at that
since. For several hundred yards it cuts through a ridge of chalk. It
is wide enough to enable one to pass a man in it anywhere with comfort.
Its parapet and parados tower white, clean, and unbroken a foot or so
over your head. Its sides are like the sides of a house or a tunnel;
good, dry, solid chalk, like our Salisbury trenches, with never a sign
of caving in about them. And on the hard bottom under foot-perhaps two
or three inches of nice clean chalky slime and water. It has a gentle
gradient which makes it self-draining.

You could easily go right up it to Battalion Headquarters in the
support trench in ordinary marching boots, and be none the worse.
And since then I've known what it means to get a bootful of muddy
water, when wearing trench boots; rubber thigh-boots, you know, with
straps buckling to your belt. The change begins a little way above the
Battalion Headquarters dug-out, in support line. You leave the chalk
behind you and get into clay, and then you leave the clay behind you
and get into yellow porridge and treacle. And then you come to a nice
restful stretch of a couple of hundred yards or so, in which you pray
for more porridge; and it seems you're never coming to any more. This
is a vein of glue in the section which "A" will go to-morrow night.

"Very old and curious!" "Remarkably fine, full body!" Oh! that glue
vein is from the end bin, genuine old-vatted, I can assure you. It must
have eaten up some hundreds of pairs of boots by now, and a regular
Noah's Ark full of trench stores, ammunition, and other useful material.

The glue vein probably had a bottom in bygone days, but now I fancy
the Hun has knocked the bottom out of it. In any case, we never met
anyone who had found bottom in that bit of line, and as the tallest man
in the company is only six foot two, I hope we never shall. At first
you think you will skip along quick, like skating fast on very thin
ice, and with feet planted far apart, so as to get the support of the
trench sides. That bit of trench is possessed of devils, and they laugh
when you stretch your legs, meaning to get through with it as quick as
you can. The glue's so thick and strong, after the soupy stuff you've
been wading through, that you welcome the solid look of it. (That's
where the devils begin their chuckling.)

Perhaps at the first few steps you only sink about a foot, leaving your
knees easily clear. "Oh! come!" you say (and that's where the devils
of the glue patch laugh out loud). At the next step you go in a little
deeper, and in your innocence give quite a sharp tug to lift your
foot. You lift it all right, perhaps half-way up the leg of your boot,
possibly ripping off a brace button in the process, if you've been
unwise enough to fasten up the top straps of your boots that way. (The
devils go on laughing.) Then you pause, reflectively, while shoving
your foot down in your boot again, and take a good look round you,
wondering what sort of a place you've struck. (This is where the devils
have to hold their sides in almost painful hilarity.)

While you reflect you sink, so slowly and softly that you don't notice
it till you try the next step. And then, with the devils of that
section roaring their ugly Hunnish heads off all round you, if you
have no better luck than Tommy Dodd had, his first night in, you may
continue reflecting for quite a long while, till somebody comes along
who knows that particular health resort. Then two or three Samaritans
with picks and shovels and a post or two will be brought, and, very
laboriously, you'll be dug and levered out; possibly with your boots,
possibly without either them or your socks.

But what reduces the devils to helpless, tearful contortions of
merriment, is a coincidental decision on the part of a Boche gunner
to start peppering that bit of trench with shrap., or a machine-gun,
during your reflective period. Then it's great; a really first-class
opportunity for reviewing the errors of your past life.

After this substantial _pièce de résistance_ (yes, thanks, I'm
progressing very nicely with my French this term), you come to a
delicately refreshing dessert in Sauchiehall Street, where the water
lies very deep in most parts, but so sweetly liquid as to wash the glue
well off up to our coat pockets. This innocent stuff can be pumped
out quite easily, and is pumped out every day, into a gully, which
we devoutly hope leads well into a Boche sap. But pump as you will,
it fills up very rapidly. And so, with new washed boots (and coat
pockets) to Whizz-bang Corner, where Sauchiehall Street enters the fire
trench, and the Hun loves to direct his morning and evening hymns of
hate in the hope of catching tired ration-carriers, and, no doubt, of
spilling their rations. It was there that Martin of No. 3 Platoon got
his quietener on the morning we came out. But with luck and no septic
trouble, hell be back in a month or so. The surroundings are a bit
toxic, as you may imagine. That's why, after even the slightest wound,
they inoculate with anti-tetanus--marvellously successful stuff.

The fire trench in this particular bit is rather a mockery, as "the
Peacemaker" said, when he tried to climb out of it, our first night
in, to have a look at the barbed wire and No Man's Land. He had a
revolver in one hand and a bomb in the other, but I am pleased to say
the safety-pin of that bomb was efficient; and, in any case, I relieved
him of it after he fell back the second time. The sides of that trench
have been so unmercifully pounded by the Boche, and the rain has been
so persistent of late that the porridge here is more like gruel than
the breakfast dish, and the average sand-bag in the parapet, when
not submerged, is as unfriendly to get a grip on, as one of those
crustaceous pink bombs they sometimes swindle you with at restaurants.
You know, the kind you chase round your plate and find splinter-proof.

Thirty or forty yards north from Whizz-bang Corner, in the fire trench,
you come to a loop turn to the rear called Whitehall, not because
there's a War Office there, but because there's a queer little vein
of chalk which disappointingly peters out again in less than a dozen
paces. That leads to the Company Headquarters dug-out; an extraordinary
hole, I thought, when I first saw it; a jolly nice, homely dug-out
I think it now, and with a roof--well, not shell-proof, you know,
but water-tight, and quite capable of standing a whizz or a grenade,
or anything short of serious H.E. You stride over a good little dam
and then down two steps to get into it, and it has a real door,
carried up, I suppose, from the village in the rear. It also has a
gilt-edged looking-glass, a good packing-case table, the remains of two
wooden chairs, two shelves made of rum-jar cases, and two good solid
wire-strung bunks, one over the other. There's no doubt it is some
dug-out.

And, madam, don't you go for to think that there's anything
contemptible about our trenches, anyhow. Perhaps I pitched it a bit
strong about that glue patch. In any case, I promise you two things:
(1) They'll be very different trenches before long if "A" Company has
two or three turns of duty in them. (2) They're every bit as good as,
and a bit better than, the trenches opposite, where the Hun is; and I
know it _because I've been there_. I meant to have told you of that
to-night, but I've left it too late, and must wait for my next letter.
But it's quite right. I've had a look at their front line and found it
distinctly worse than ours, and got back without a scratch, to sign
myself still your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



TAKING OVER ON A QUIET NIGHT


Last evening brought an end to our rest cure, as I told you it would,
and saw us taking over out section of the firing line. Now I have just
turned into the Company dug-out for a rest, having been pretty much on
the hop all night except for a short spell between two and four this
morning. As I think I told you, this is not at all a bad dug-out, and
quite weather-proof. It has two decent bunks one over the other. We all
use it as a mess, and "the Peacemaker," Taffy Morgan, and myself use it
for sleeping in; Tony and "the Infant" kipping down (when they get the
chance) in a little tiny dug-out that we made ourselves when we were in
here for instruction, just the other side of Whizz-bang Corner, in the
fire trench.

You remember "the Infant," don't you? No. 4 Platoon. His father's
doctoring now in the R.A.M.C. He's a nice boy, and has come on a
lot since we got out here. He was to have been a land surveyor, or
something of that sort, and has a first-rate notion of trench work and
anything like building.

In writing to you I'd like to avoid, if I could, what seems to be a
pretty common error among men at the front, and one that leads to some
absurd misapprehensions among people at home. I remember listening once
in a tram-car at home to two Tommies, one of whom had returned from
the front. The other was asking him how they managed in the matter of
shifting wounded men back to some place where they could be attended to.

"Oh! that's simple enough," said the chap who'd been out. "They've a
regular routine for that. You see, there are always barges waiting, and
when you're wounded they just dump you on board a barge and take you
down the canal to where the dressing station is."

"I see; so that's the way it's done," said the other man.

And I could see that the impression left on his mind was that barges
were in waiting on a canal right along the five hundred miles of
Franco-British line.

You see what I mean. A fellow out here knows only his own tiny bit
of front, and he's very apt to speak of it as if it were _the_ Front,
and folk at home are apt to think that whatever is applicable to
their man's particular mile or so is applicable to the whole Front.
Which, of course, is wildly wrong and misleading. When in trenches one
battalion may find itself in a wood, another on a naked hillside, one
in the midst of a ruined village, with the cellars of smashed cottages
for dug-outs, and another with its trenches running alongside a river
or canal. So don't make the mistake of thinking that what I tell you
applies to the Front generally, although in a great many matters it may
be typical enough.

Now you'd like to know about the business of taking over these
trenches. Well, this was the way of it. "The Peacemaker," our noble
Company Commander, came on here in advance yesterday afternoon,
with the Company Sergeant-Major. Our Company S.M., by the way, is a
remarkably fine institution, and, I think, the only real ex-regular
we have in the Company. He's an ex-N.C.O. of Marines, and a really
splendid fellow, who is out now for a V.C., and we all hope he'll get
it. He and "the Peacemaker" came along about three hours ahead of us,
leaving me to bring the Company. "The Peacemaker" went carefully all
over this line with the O.C. of the Company we relieved, noted the
sentry posts and special danger spots--unhealthy places, you know, more
exposed to Boche fire than others--and generally took stock and made
his plans for us.

I forgot to say that a Sergeant from each platoon accompanied "the
Peacemaker" and the S.M., so as to be able to guide their respective
platoons in to their own bits of the line when they arrived. Then the
S.M. checked over all the trench stores--picks, shovels, wire, pumps,
small-arm ammunition, rockets, mud-scoops, trench repair material,
and all that--with the list held by the S.M. of the Company we were
relieving, which our own beloved "Peacemaker," had to sign "certified
correct," you know. Meantime, "the Peacemaker" took over from the other
O.C. Company a report of work done and to be done--repairing parapets,
laying duck-walks, etc.--though in this case I regret to remark the
only very noticeable thing was the work to be done, or so it seems to
us--and generally posted himself up and got all the tips he could.

Just about dusk "A" Company led the way out of B----, and marched the
way I told you of to Ambulance Corner. Needless to say, they presented
a fine soldierly appearance, led and commanded as they were for the
time by your "Temporary Gentleman." There was a certain liveliness
about Ambulance Corner when we reached it, as there so frequently is,
and I am sorry to say poor "B" Company in our rear had two men wounded,
one fatally. I took "A" Company at the double, in single file, with
a yard or so between men, across the specially exposed bit at the
corner, and was thankful to see the last of 'em bolt into the cover of
Manchester Avenue without a casualty. It gave me some notion of the
extra anxiety that weighs on the minds of O.C. Companies who take their
responsibilities seriously, as I think most of 'em do.

Then, when we were getting near Whizz-bang Corner, we were met by the
four platoon N.C.O.'s who had gone on in advance with the Coy. S.M.,
and they guided the platoons to their respective sections of our line.
Meantime, you understand, not a man of the Company we were relieving
had left the line. The first step was for us to get our platoon
Sergeants to post sentries to relieve each one of those of the other
Company, on the fire-step, and we ourselves were on hand with each
group, to see that the reliefs thoroughly understood the information
and instructions they got from the men they relieved. Then our advance
N.C.O.'s showed the other men of their platoons such dug-outs as were
available for them--a pretty thin lot in this section, but we shall
tackle the job of increasing and improving 'em as soon as we can, while
we Platoon Commanders had a buck with the Platoon Commanders of the
other Company.

Finally, "the Peacemaker" shook hands with the O.C. of the Company
we relieved outside Company Headquarters--that's this dug-out--the
other fellow wished him luck, both of them, separately, telephoned
down to Battalion Headquarters (in the support trenches) reporting
the completion of the relief, and the last of the other Company filed
away out down Sauchiehall Street to Manchester Avenue, billets and
"alleged rest." As a matter of fact, they are to get some real rest, I
believe, another Company of our Brigade being billeted in the village
just behind the lines this week, to do all the carrying fatigues at
night--bringing up trench-repair material and all that.

It was a quiet night, with no particular strafing, and that's all to
the good, because, in the first place, it gives us a better chance to
study the line again by daylight, and, again, it enables us to get on
quickly with certain very necessary trench repairs. We had half the
Company working all night at the parapet, which had some very bad gaps,
representing a serious multiplication of unhealthy spots, which have
to be passed many times day and night, and must always be dangerous
to pass. The Boche is pretty nippy in locating gaps of this sort and
getting his snipers and machine-gunners to range on them, so that
unless they are repaired casualties are certain. One repairs them by
building up the gaps with sand-bags, and for these it is necessary to
find approximately dry earth: a pretty difficult job in this section.

No strafing and a quiet night! I wonder how you, and people generally
at home, interpret that? "The rest of the Front was quiet"; "Nothing of
interest to report"; "Tactical situation unchanged," and so on. They
are the most familiar report phrases, of course.

Well, there was a time last night, or, rather, between two and four
this morning, when on our particular section there was no firing at
all beyond the dropping rifle fire of the Boche sentries opposite and
a similar desultory fire from our sentries. Now and again a bullet so
fired may get a man passing along a communication trench, or, more
likely, of course, a man exposed, either on patrol in No Man's Land or
in working on the parapet. More often they hit nobody. During the same
time, in our particular section, a flare-light went up from the Boche
line opposite, I suppose about every other minute. That's to give their
sentries a chance of seeing any patrol we may have creeping about in
their direction.

During all the rest of this quiet night of no strafing there was
just "normal fire." That is to say, the Boche machine-guns sprayed
our parapet and the intervening bit of No Man's Land, maybe, once
every quarter of an hour. Their rifle fire was more continuous; their
flares and parachute and star-lights the same. Eight or ten times in
the night they gave us salvoes of a dozen whizz-bangs. Twice--once
at about ten, and again about twelve--they gave our right a bit of a
pounding with H.E., and damaged the parapet a little. Once they lobbed
four rifle grenades over our left from a sap they have on that side.
But we had been warned about that, and gave 'em gyp for it. We had a
machine-gun trained on that sap-head of theirs, and plastered it pretty
effectually, so quickly that I think we must have got their grenadiers.
They shut up very promptly, anyhow, and a bombing patrol of ours that
got to the edge of their sap half an hour later found not a creature
there to bomb.

Our fire during the night was similar to theirs, but a bit less. "The
Peacemaker" has a strong prejudice in favour of saving his ammunition
for use on real live targets, and I think he's right. We had one man
slightly wounded, and that's all. And I think that must be admitted
to be pretty good, seeing that we were at work along the parapet all
night. That is a specimen of a really quiet night.

At Stand-to this morning Fritz plastered our parapet very thoroughly
with his machine-guns, evidently thinking we were Johnny Raws. He
wasted hundreds of rounds of ammunition over this. We were all
prepared. Not a head showed, and my best sniper, Corporal May, got one
of their machine-gun observers neatly through the head. Our lines are
only a hundred yards apart just there.

But I must turn in, old thing, or I'll get no rest to-day. I know
I haven't told you about the look I had at the Boche trenches. But
perhaps I'll have something better to tell when I next write.

Meantime, we are as jolly as sand-boys, and please remember that you
need not be in the least anxious about your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



"WHAT IT'S LIKE"


The wonder is, not that I didn't get the one post card you mention,
but that you apparently have had everything I have written. Really, I
do think the British postal arrangements out here are one of the most
remarkable features of the war. The organisation behind our lines is
quite extraordinary. Right up here in the firing line itself we get
our letters and parcels every day. In the midst of a considerable
bombardment I have seen fellows in artillery shelters in the line
reading letters and opening parcels of little luxuries just received
from home.

It's very nice of you to copy out my letters for friends at home to
read. One simply can't hope to write to a number of different people,
you know, because any spare time going one wants to use for sleep. I'm
sorry I've omitted to tell you about some things I promised to explain,
and must try to do better.

As to the time I saw into the Boche trenches while we were in for
instruction, that was nothing really; due to my own stupidity, as a
matter of fact, and I dare say that's why I said nothing about it. It
was our second night in for instruction, and the Company we were with
was sending out a small bombing patrol, so, of course, I asked if I
could go too, and see what was to be seen. The O.C. of the Company
very kindly let me go, and take with me Corporal Slade, of my platoon,
an excellent chap, and very keen to learn. I wish he could have had a
better teacher.

While close to the Boche wire our little party--only five, all
told--sighted a Boche patrol quite twenty strong, and our officer in
charge very properly gave the word to retire to a flank and get back
to our own trench, or, rather, to a sap leading from it, so as to give
warning of the Boche patrol. This was where, in my experience, I went
wrong and led Slade astray. I was very curious, of course, to have a
good look at the Boche patrol--the first I'd seen of the enemy in the
open--and, like a fool, managed to get detached from the other three of
our lot, Slade sticking close to me with a confidence I didn't deserve.

When I realised that the others were clean out of sight, and the Boche
party too, I made tracks as quickly as I could--crawling, you know--as
I believed for our line, cursing myself for not having a compass, a
mistake you may be sure I shall not make again. Just then a regular
firework display of flares went up from the Boche line, and they opened
a hot burst of machine-gun fire. We lay as close as we could in the
soggy grass, Slade and myself, and got no harm. Things were lively for
a while, with lots of fire from both sides, and more light from both
sides than was comfortable.

Later, when things had quietened down, we got on the move again, and
presently, after a longish crawl through barbed wire, reached the
parapet, and were just about to slide in, side by side, pretty glad to
be back in the trench, when a fellow came round the traverse--we were
just beside a traverse--growled something, and jabbed at Slade with his
bayonet.

Bit confusing, wasn't it? Makes you think pretty quick. I suppose we
realised we had struck the Boche line instead of our own in something
under the twentieth part of a second, and what followed was too
confused for me to remember much about. No doubt we both recognised
the necessity for keeping that chap quiet in the same fraction of time
that we saw we had reached the wrong trenches. I can remember the jolly
feeling of my two thumbs in his throat. It was jolly, really, though I
dare say it will seem beastly to you. And I suspect Slade did for the
chap. We were lying on a duck-board at the bottom of the trench, and I
know my little trench dagger fell and made a horrid clatter, which I
made sure would bring more Boches. But it didn't.

I am sorry to say I left the little dagger there, but I collared the
Boche's rifle and bayonet, thinking that was the only weapon I had, and
clean forgetting the two Mills bombs in my pockets. Slade was a perfect
brick and behaved all through like the man he is. We were anxious
to make tracks without unnecessary delay, but, being there, thought
we might as well have a look at the trench. We crept along two bays
without hearing or seeing a soul. And then we heard a man struggling
in deep mud and cursing in fluent German. I've thought since, perhaps,
we ought to have waited for him and tried a bomb on him. But at the
same time came several other different voices, and I whispered to Slade
to climb out and followed him myself without wasting any time. The
trench was a rotten bad one at this point, worse, I think, than any
of ours. And I was thankful for it, because if it had been good those
Boches would surely have been on us before we could get out. As it was,
the mud held them, and the noises they made grovelling about in it
prevented them from hearing our movements, though we made a good deal
of noise, worrying through their wire, especially as I was dragging
that Boche rifle, with bayonet fixed.

There were glimmering hints of coming daylight by the time we got into
the open, which made it a bit easier to take a bearing, and also pretty
necessary to have done with it quickly, because in another half-hour
we should have been a target for the whole Boche line. Here again
Slade was first-rate. He recognised a big shell-hole in the ground,
which he had noticed was about fifty yards north of the head of a sap
leading from our own line, and that guided us in to the same opening
in our wire from which we had originally started. Fine chap, Slade!
Three minutes later we were in our own trench, and I got a good tot of
rum for both of us from the O.C. Company, who'd made up his mind he'd
have to report us "Missing." So, you see, you didn't miss much by not
being told all about this before, except an instance of carelessness
on my part, which might have been more costly if I hadn't had a most
excellent chap with me. "The Peacemaker's" going to recommend him for
Lance-Sergeant's stripes, by the way, when we get out of trenches this
time.

You know, that question of yours about what it is really "like" here at
the front isn't nearly so easy to answer as you might suppose. You must
just be patient. I'll tell you things as I learn them and see them,
gradually; and, gradually, too, you must try to piece 'em together till
they make some sort of picture for you. If I were a real writer I might
be able to make it all clear in one go, but--well, it's not easy.

I've told you about the trenches on the way up from Ambulance Corner,
the communication trenches, that is, running up at right angles to
the firing line. The chief difference between the firing line and the
communication trenches, of course, is that it faces the Boche front
line, running roughly parallel to it, and that, say eighteen inches
above the bottom of it, there is a fire-step running along its front
side. When you get up on that you have a fire position: that is, you
can see over the parapet, across No Man's Land, to the Boche front
line, and fire a rifle.

The lines of trenches are not straight, of course. They curve about
according to the nature of the ground. Running out from them on both
sides towards the enemy lines there are saps, at the end of which we
station listening posts at night with wired-up telephone and bell
connections with the firing line. Roughly speaking, a fire trench is
cut out rather like this:


--------+   +------------+   +------------+   +--------
        |   |            |   |            |   |
-----+  +---+  +------+  +---+  +------+  +---+  +-----
     |         |      |         |      |         |
     +---------+      +---------+      +---------+


with traverses every twenty or thirty paces, so as to make it
impossible for an enemy on your flank to get what is called enfilade
fire down and along the trench. Enfilade fire is deadly, of course.
Fire from the front, on the other hand, if it falls short or overshoots
the mark even by a yard lands in front of or behind your trench. You
get that?

And what does it look like when one stares out from one's front
trench? Well, it depends. It's always pretty queer, but it's queerest
at night, when the Boche is sending up his ghostly flares, or when
there's enough moonlight to make you fancy all the time you can see all
manner of things. First, there's your own parapet, anything from five
to five-and-twenty feet of it, sloping gradually down to the open grass
of No Man's Land. That's what stops the bullets destined for your head.
When Boche shells are well enough placed to blow it in, you must build
it up again as soon as you can, or the bit of trench behind it will be
exposed, and as your men pass to and fro there will be casualties.

Well, then, anything from ten to twenty or thirty feet beyond the lip
of your trench, your wire entanglements begin, and extend, say a good
thirty or forty paces out into No Man's Land. You've seen barbed-wire
entanglements in pictures: row after row of stakes (some of ours are
iron screw standards now, that can be set up silently) laced together
across and across by barbed wire, forming an obstacle which it is
particularly difficult and beastly to get through, especially at night,
which, of course, is the only time you could even approach it without
being blown to bits.

Here and there all through our wire are old bells, tin cans, bits of
flattened tin, and oddments of that sort hanging loosely, so that when
even a rat begins cavorting about in the wire at night your sentries
know about it, and the Boche is neither so slim nor so agile as a rat.
Say that he comes by night with bombs in his hand. One cannot throw a
bomb with any accuracy of aim more than twenty or thirty yards. Boche
finds himself stopped by our wire, say fifty or sixty yards from our
line. If he slowly worms himself in, say twenty paces, without being
heard--and he won't--and lobs a bomb at our line, imagine the hail
of lead that's coming about him as he tries to wriggle his way back
through the wire after shying his bomb!

But, as a matter of fact, the Boche is not good at that game. He does
not shine at all at creep-in on our line. When he leaves his trenches
at all he seems to prefer coming out in pretty close formation, rubbing
shoulders with his pals. Our fellows are a good deal better at sculling
about over the sticks than he is.

Here and there in the wire, among the tin cans and things, you can see
fluttering bits of weather-worn uniform and old rags, and, at times,
things more gruesome. Beyond the wire you see the strip of No Man's
Land. Where we are, the average width of it is round about a hundred
yards. In some places it's more, and in one place we can see, perhaps
a mile off, it narrows down to much less than half that. Then begins
the Boche wire, and through and across that you see the Boche front
line, very much like your own, too much like your own to be very easily
distinguished from it at night.

But that's a wonderful thing, that strip we call No Man's Land,
running from the North Sea to Switzerland, five hundred miles. All
the way along that line, day and night, without a moment's cessation,
through all these long months, men's eyes have been glaring across that
forsaken strip, and lead has been flying to and fro over it. To show
yourself in it means death. But I have heard a lark trilling over it
in the early morning as sweetly as any bird ever sang over an English
meadow. A lane of death, five hundred miles long, strewn from end to
end with the remains of soldiers! And to either side of it, throughout
the whole of these five hundred miles, a warren of trenches, dug-outs,
saps, tunnels, underground passages, inhabited, not by rabbits, but by
millions of rats, it's true, and millions of hiving, busy men, with
countless billions of rounds of death-dealing ammunition, and a complex
organisation as closely ordered and complete as the organisation of any
city in England!

It's also inhabited at this moment by one man who simply must stop
scribbling, and have some grub before going on duty. This one among the
millions, with the very healthy appetite, manages, in despite of all
the strafing, to think quite a lot about you, and hopes you will go on
thinking equally cheerily of him--your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



THE DUG-OUT


Here's an odd coincidence. The second sentence in your letter that
reached me last night (with our rations of candles and coke) says: "Do
tell me just what a dug-out is like." You are always asking me what
something or other is "like," which forces upon me the sad conclusion
that my letters are not in the least descriptive. But, "Do not shoot
the pianist: he is doing his best," and if I had the pen of a readier
writer you may be sure I'd use it. Yet the odd thing is, with regard to
this particular command for information, I have the pen of a readier
writer. You know Taffy Morgan--Billy--of our Company? Well, it seems
he's quite a bit of a writer, and occasionally sends things home to his
father who, is trying to keep a consecutive narrative of the doings of
the Battalion. Now last night, within an hour of getting your letter,
I read a thing Taffy showed me that he was sending home, all about a
Company Headquarters dug-out in the line: much more decent than my
scribbles. So I've asked him to let me copy some of it, and here it is
pat, in answer to your question:

"'Dug-out' is the only word for it. I don't know who did the
christening, but it is, like so many words and phrases adopted without
question by Tommy at the front, the one proper, exact, and adequate
name for the places we inhabit in the trenches. The particular dug-out
I have in mind is a Company Headquarters, situated, like a good many
others, in a loop trench, perhaps seventy to a hundred yards long,
which curves round at a distance of twenty or thirty yards in rear
of the fire-trench. The average depth of this little back-water of a
trench is, say, seven feet. It was made by the French before we took
over, and is very wide at the top. It has no made parapet, but is just
a gaping ditch, its ragged, receding top edges eight or ten feet apart,
the lower part, in which one walks, being two to three feet wide. The
bottom of this ditch is duck-walked: that is to say, it has wooden
gratings six feet long and eighteen inches wide laid along it. Each
length of duck-walk is supported at either end by a trestle driven deep
down into the mud.

"Here and there at a bend in the trench there will be a gap of several
inches between duck-walks. Again one finds a place where one or two
slats have been broken. These are cheerless pitfalls on a dark night,
in which it is easy to sink one leg in mud or water over the knee.
In places a duck-walk has canted over by losing its bearings on the
trestle at one corner, giving the whole a treacherous list to one side
or the other, simple enough to negotiate by day, but unpleasant for
anyone hurrying along at night. Still, the trench is 'ducked' and, so
far, luxurious, and a vast improvement on the sort of trench (common
over the way among the Boches, I believe) in which men lose their
boots, and have to be dug out themselves.

"It happens that my picture of this Company Headquarters dug-out is a
three o'clock in the morning picture: moonless, and the deadest hour of
the night, when Brother Boche is pretty generally silent, save for a
mechanical sort of dropping rifle fire: a fire which one knows somehow,
from its sound, means nothing, unless perhaps it means a certain number
of German sentries sleepily proving to themselves that they are awake.
In the same desultory fashion, Boche, nearly two hundred yards away
across the wire entanglements and the centre strip of No Man's Land,
sends up a flare of parachute light every few minutes, which, for half
a minute, fills our black ditch with a queer, ghostly sort of radiance,
making its dank and jagged sides to gleam again, and drawing curses
from anyone feeling his way along it, even as motor lights in a country
lane at home make a pedestrian curse on a dark night.

"As one gropes along this ditch one comes to narrow gaps here and
there in the side farthest from the enemy. These lead to all kinds of
odd necessary places: the homes of signallers, runners, and others,
refuse pits, bomb and trench stores, and so on. Presently a thin streak
of light shows like a white string in the blackness. This is one of
the gaps, about four feet high and eighteen inches wide. A dripping
waterproof sheet hangs as a curtain over this gap: the white string is
the light from within escaping down one side of the sheet. Lift the
sheet to one side, take two steps down and forward--the sheet dripping
on your neck the while--and you are in the Company Headquarters
dug-out: a hole dug out of the back of the ditch, its floor two feet
below the level of the duck-boards outside, its internal dimensions ten
feet by eight by six.

"At the back of this little cave, facing you as you enter--and
unless you go warily you are apt to enter with a rush, landing on the
earthen floor in a sitting position, what with the wet slime on your
gum boots and the steps--are two bunks, one above the other, each two
feet wide and made of wire netting stretched on rough stakes fastened
to stout poles and covered more or less by a few empty sand-bags. One
of these is the bunk of the O.C. Company, used alternatively by one of
his subalterns. In the other, a Platoon Commander lies now asleep, one
gum-booted leg, mud-caked well above the knee, dangling over the front
edge, a goatskin coat over his shoulders, his cap jammed hard down over
his eyes to shut out the light of the candle which, stayed firmly to
the newspaper tablecloth by a small island of its own grease, burns as
cheerily as it can in this rather draughty spot, sheltered a little
from the entrance by a screen consisting of a few tins half full of
condensed milk, butter, sugar, and the like. The officer in the bunk is
sleeping as though dead, and the candle-light catching the mud-flecked
stubble on his chin suggests that his turn in the trenches should be
at least half over. Another few days should bring him to billets and
shaving water."

(Here, then, in addition to the description of a dug-out, you have a
portrait of your "Temporary Gentleman," rather unmercifully touched in,
I thought!)

"The table--say, 30 inches by 20 inches--was made from a packing-case,
and is perched on rough stake legs against the earthen side of the
dug-out, with a shelf over it which was formerly a case holding two
jars of rum. On the shelf are foodstuffs, Very lights, a couple of
rockets, a knobkerrie, a copy of _Punch_, a shortbread tin full
of candles, a map, an automatic pistol, and, most curiously, a
dust-encrusted French cookery-book, which has taken on the qualities
of an antique, and become a kind of landlord's fixture among 'trench
stores' in the eyes of the ever-changing succession of company
commanders who have 'taken over,' week in and week out, since the
French occupation in '14.

"Hung about the sides of the dug-out are half-empty canvas packs or
valises, field-glasses, a couple of periscopes, a Very pistol, two
sticks caked all over with dry mud, an oilskin coat or two similarly
varnished over with the all-pervading mud of the trench, a steel
helmet, a couple of pairs of field boots and half a dozen pictures
from illustrated papers, including one clever drawing of a grinning
cat, having under it the legend, 'Smile, damn you!' The field boots
are there, and not in use, because the weather is of the prevalent
sort, wet, and the tenants of the place are living in what the returns
call 'boots, trench, gum, thigh.' Overhead is stretched across the
low roof tarred felt. Above that are rough-hewn logs, then galvanised
iron and stones and earth: not shell-proof, really, but bullet- and
splinter-proof, and for the most part weather-proof--at least as much
so as the average coat sold under that description.

"The trench outside is very still just now, but inside the dug-out
there is plenty of movement. All round about it, and above and below,
the place is honeycombed by rats--brown rats with whitish bellies, big
as young cats, heavy with good living; blundering, happy-go-lucky,
fearless brutes, who do not bother to hunt the infinitely nimbler mice
who at this moment are delicately investigating the tins of foodstuffs
within a few inches of the head of the O.C. Company. The rats are
variously occupied: as to a couple of them, matrons, in opposite
corners of the roof, very obviously in suckling their young, who
feed with awful zest; as to half a dozen others, in courting, during
which process they keep up a curious kind of crooning, chirruping
song wearisome to human ears; and as to the numerous remainder, in
conducting a cross-country steeplechase of sorts, to and fro and round
and round on the top side of the roofing felt, which their heavy bodies
cause to bulge and sag till one fancies it must give way.

"There is a rough rickety stool beside the table. On this is
seated the O.C. Company, his arms outspread on the little ledge of
a table, his head on his arms, his face resting on the pages of an
open Army Book 153, in which, half an hour ago, he wrote his morning
situation report, in order that his signallers might inform Battalion
Headquarters, nearly a mile away down the communication trench to the
rear, with sundry details, that there was nothing doing beyond the
normal intermittent strafing of a quiet night. The O.C. Company is
asleep. A mouse is clearing its whiskers of condensed milk within two
inches of his left ear, and the candle is guttering within two inches
of his cap-peak. During the past few days he has had four or five such
sleeps as this, half an hour or so at a time, and no more, for there
has been work toward in the line, involving exposure for men on the
parapet and so forth, of a sort which does not make for restfulness
among O.C. Companies.

"There comes a quiet sound of footfalls on the greasy duck-boards
outside. Two mice on the table sit bolt upright to listen. The
cross-country meeting overhead is temporarily suspended. The O.C.
Company's oilskin-covered shoulders twitch nervously. The mother rats
continue noisily suckling their young, though one warily pokes its
sharp nose out over the edge of the felt, sniffing, inquiringly. Then
the waterproof sheet is drawn aside, and the O.C. Company sits up with
a jerk. A signaller on whose leather jerkin the raindrops glisten in
the flickering candle-light thrusts head and shoulders into the dug-out.

"'Message from the Adjutant, sir!'

"The O.C. reads the two-line message, initials the top copy for return
to the signaller, spikes the carbon copy on a nail overhead, where many
others hang, glances at his wrist-watch, and says wearily:

"'Well, what are the signallers strafing about, anyhow? It's ten
minutes before time now. Here you are!'

"He tears two written pages from the Army message book which was his
pillow, signs them, and hands them up to the signaller.

"'Call the Sergeant-Major on your way back, and tell him I've gone
down to the sap-head. He can bring the wiring party along right away.
It's nearly three o'clock. Send a runner to tell the officer on duty
I'm going out myself with this party. You might just remind the
Sergeant-Major I want two stretcher-bearers at the sap-head. Tell 'em
to keep out of sight till the others are out over the parapet. Right!
Messages will go to Mr. ----, of course, while I'm out.'

"Brother Boche may remain quiet. Three o'clock is a good quiet time.
And there is no moon. But, Brother Boche being dead quiet just now, may
conceivably have patrols out there in No Man's Land. They may carry
valuable information quickly to his line, and two or three machine-guns
may presently open up on the O.C. Company and his wiring party, who,
again, may be exposed by means of flare lights from the other side.
One hopes not. Meanwhile, after a glance round, the O.C. picks up
his mud-caked leather mitts, settles the revolver pouch on his belt,
blows out the guttering candle, feels his way out past the dripping
waterproof sheet into the black trench, and leaves the dug-out to his
sleeping brother officer (who was on deck from 10 to 1, and will be out
again an hour before dawn) and the rats.

"Theoretically, this O.C. Company may be himself as much in need of
sleep as anyone in the trench. Actually, however, apart from his needs,
he is personally responsible for whatever may happen in quite a long
stretch of dark, mysterious trench: of trench which in one moment may
be converted by the ingenious Boche into a raging hell of paralysing
gas and smoke, of lurid flame and rending explosion. German officers
seated in artillery dug-outs a mile or so away across the far side
of No Man's Land may bring about that transformation in one moment.
They did it less than a week ago, though, by reason of unceasing
watchfulness on this side, it availed them nothing. They may be just
about to do it now, and, unlike the average of German O.C. Companies,
our officers never ask their men to face any kind of danger which they
themselves do not face with them. And so, for this particular O.C.
Company, the interior of that queer little dug-out (where the men's rum
stands in jars under the lower bunk, and letters from home are scanned,
maps pored over, and reports and returns made out) does not exactly
bring unmixed repose. But the rats love it."

So there you are! By the judicious picking of Taffy's brains I have
been enabled to present you with a much better picture of a dug-out
than my own unaided pen could give. Reading over, there seems something
melancholy and sombre about it; I don't know why. It's a jolly little
dug-out, and Taffy's a thundering fine officer; nothing in the least
melancholy about him. Then why--? Oh, well, I guess it's his Celtic
blood. Maybe he's got a temperament. I must tell him so. By the way,
that wiring job he mentions came off all right; a nasty exposed place,
but "the Peacemaker" got his party through without a single casualty,
or, as the men always say, "Casu_al_ity."

Taffy writes a much better letter, doesn't he? than your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



A BOMBING SHOW


Very many thanks for the parcel with the horse-hide mitts and the torch
refills, both of which will be greatly appreciated. The mitts are the
best things of the kind I've seen for trench work, and as for electric
torches, I don't know what we should do without them.

I've come below for a sleep, really. Taffy Morgan was very much off
colour yesterday, and is far from fit to-day. I had to take his duty as
well as my own last night, so came off pretty short in the matter of
rest. But I must stop to tell you about the lark we had last night; the
jolliest thing that's happened since we came in, and no end of a score
for "A" Company. My batman tells me "B" are mad as hatters about it.

Our signalling officer happened to be along the front yesterday
afternoon with a brand-new telescope that someone had sent the C.O., a
very fine instrument. Signals wasn't interested in our bit of line, as
it happens, but was dead nuts on some new Boche machine-gun emplacement
or other away on "B's" left. When he was coming back through our line
I got him to lend me the new glass while he had some tea and wrote
reports in our dug-out. Perhaps you think there's not much need of a
telescope when the Boche line is less than a couple of hundred yards
away. Well, now you'd hardly believe how difficult it is to make things
out. At this time of the year the whole of this place is full of mist,
for one thing. And then, you see, the ground in front is studded all
over with barbed wire, stakes, long rank grass, things thrown out: here
and there an old log, and, here and there, of course, a dead body. One
has to look along the ground level, since to look from a higher level
would mean exposure, and I can assure you it's surprisingly easy to
miss things. I've wasted a good many rounds myself, firing at old rags
or bits of wood, or an old cape in the grass among the Boche wire,
feeling sure I'd got a sniper. The ground is pretty much torn up, too,
you understand, by shells and stuff, and that makes it more difficult.

Well, I was looking out from a little sheltered spot alongside the
entrance to what we call Stinking Sap. It has rather a rottener smell
than most trenches, I think. And all of a sudden I twigged something
that waked me right up. It was nothing much: just a shovel sticking up
against a little mound. But it led to other things. A yard away from
where this shovel lay the C.O.'s fine glass enabled me to make out a
gap in the wet, misty grass. You may be sure I stared jolly hard, and
presently the whole thing became clear to me. The Boches had run out
a new sap to fully sixty yards from their fire trench, which at this
particular point is rather far from ours: over 250 yards, I suppose. It
was right opposite our own Stinking Sap, and I suppose the head of it
was not more than 100 yards from the head of Stinking Sap. There was
no Boche working there then; not a sign of any movement. I made sure
of that. Then I got my compass and trench map, and took a very careful
bearing. And then I toddled round to Company Headquarters and got hold
of "the Peacemaker," without letting Signals know anything about it.
If the O.C. liked to let Battalion Headquarters know, that was his
business.

Of course, "the Peacemaker" was delighted. "It's perfectly clear they
must have cut it last night," he said. "And as sure as God made little
apples, they'll be going on with it to-night. Let's see, the moon rises
about 9.45. Splendid! They'll get to work as soon as it's dark."

He was awfully decent about it, and agreed to let me go, since I'd had
the luck to spot it. As a matter of fact, he did the more important
spotting himself. He twigged what I'd overlooked: a whacking big
shell-hole, shallow but wide, about fifteen or twenty feet to one side
of their sap-head; an absolutely ideal spot for cover, and no more
than a hundred yards from the head of Stinking Sap. I decided to take
Corporal Slade with me, because he's such a fine bomber, besides being
as cool as a cucumber and an all-round good chap. You remember he was
with me that time in Master Boche's trench. Somehow, the thing got
round before tea-time, and the competition among the men was something
awful. When Slade gave it out that I was taking all the men I wanted
from No. 1 Platoon, there was actually a fight between one of my lot
and a fellow named Ramsay, of No. 3 Platoon; a draper, I'll trouble
you, and a pillar of his chapel at home. Then a deputation of the other
Platoon Sergeants waited on "the Peacemaker," and in the end, to save
bloodshed, I agreed to take Corporal Slade and one man from my own
Platoon, and one man from each of the other three Platoons. To call
for volunteers for work over the parapet with our lot is perfectly
hopeless. You must detail your men, or the whole blessed Company
would swarm out over the sticks every time, especially if there's the
slightest hint of raiding or bombing.

"The Peacemaker's" idea was that we must reach that shell-hole from the
end of Stinking Sap, if possible, before the Boche started work in his
new sap, because once he started he'd be sure to have a particularly
sharp look-out kept, and might very well have a covering party outside
as well. Before it was dark my fellows were champing their bits in
Stinking Sap, fretting to be off. If one gave the beggars half a chance
they'd be out in the open in broad daylight. But, of course, I kept
'em back. There was no reason why Boche should be in a violent hurry
to start work, and I was most anxious he shouldn't suspect that we
suspected anything.

As it turned out, we were all lying in that shell-hole close to his
new sap for three-quarters of an hour before a single Boche made a
move. There was a fine rain all the time, and it was pitch dark.
The only thing we didn't like was the fact that all the flares and
parachute lights ever made seemed to be being sent up from the Boche
line, right alongside this new sap. However, we lay perfectly still
and flat, hands covered and faces down, and as long as you do that all
the flares in the world won't give you away much, in ground as full of
oddments and unevenness as that is.

By and by Slade gave a little tug at my jerkin. I listened hard, and
just made out footsteps, probably in the Boche fire trench itself, near
the entrance to their new sap. Two or three minutes later we began
really to enjoy ourselves. As far as we could make out Fritz hadn't a
notion that we were on to his game. Six or eight of 'em came shuffling
along the sap, carrying picks and shovels, and jabbering and growling
away nineteen to the dozen. We could hear every sound. One fellow,
anyhow, was smoking. We got the whiff of that. We could hear 'em spit,
and, very nearly, we could hear them breathe. I did wish I knew a
little more German than "Donnerwetter" and "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"

I could feel the man on my left (the draper from No. 3) quivering like
a coursing greyhound in a leash, and had to whisper to him to wait for
the word. But Corporal Slade on my right might have been on the barrack
square. I saw him use a match to pick his teeth while he listened.
I'd rehearsed my fellows letter perfect in our own trench before we
started, and when the Boches were fairly under way digging, I gave the
signal with my left hand. There was a bomb in my right. Waiting for it
as I was, I could distinctly hear the safety-pins come out of our six
bombs, and could even hear the breathed murmur of the pugnacious draper
at my shoulder:

"A hundred an' one, a hundred an' two, a hundred an' three!" (He was
timing the fuse of his bomb, exactly as I'd told 'em.)

And then we tore a big hole in the night. Our six bombs landed, one on
the edge and the other five plumb in the sap-head before us, right in
the middle of the six or eight Boches digging there. Two seconds after
they left our hands they did their job. It was less than two seconds
really. And when the rending row was done we heard only one Boche
moaning, so I knew that at least six or seven were "gone West" for
keeps, and would strafe no more Englishmen.

Now the idea had been that directly our job was done we should bolt
for the head of Stinking Sap. But, while we'd been lying there, it had
occurred to me that the Boches, knowing all about what distance bombs
could be thrown, and that we must be lying in the open near their
sap-head, ought to be able to sweep that ground with machine-gun fire
before we could get to Stinking Sap, and that, having done that, they
would surely send a whole lot more men down their new sap, to tackle
what was left of us that way. Therefore I'd made each of my fellows
carry four bombs in his pockets: twenty-four among the lot of us. And
we'd only used six. Quite enough, too, for the Boches in that sap.
Therefore, again, we now lay absolutely still, and just as close as
wax, while Fritz rained parachute lights, stars, flares, and every kind
of firework in the sky, and, just as I had fancied, swept his sap-head
with at least a thousand rounds of machine-gun bullets, not one of
which so much as grazed us, where we lay spread-eagled in the mud of
that shell-hole.

And then--dead silence.

"Get your bombs ready, lads," I told my fellows. In another few
seconds we heard the Boches streaming along their narrow new sap.
They took it for granted we had cleared back to our line, and they
made no attempt to disguise their coming. In fact, from the rate at
which they rushed along that narrow ditch I could almost swear that
some came without rifles or anything. We waited till the near end of
the sap was full, and then: "A hundred and one," etc. We gave 'em our
second volley, and immediately on top of it our third. It must have
been a regular shambles. Slade and I, by previous arrangement, lobbed
ours over as far as ever we could to the left, landing quite near the
beginning of the sap, and so getting the Boches who were only just
leaving their own fire trench. Then I laid my hand on the draper to
prevent his throwing, and Slade and the other three gave their last
volley, and bolted full pelt for Stinking Sap.

There was no bucking at all in the part of the sap near us. The Boches
there wouldn't trouble anyone any more, I fancy. But a few seconds
after Slade disappeared, we heard a fresh lot start on their way down
the sap from their fire trench. We gave 'em up to about "A hundred
and three" and a half, and then we let 'em have our last two bombs,
well to the left, and ourselves made tracks like greased lightning
for Stinking Sap. The luck held perfectly, and Slade was hauling the
draper in over the parapet of Stinking Sap before a sound came from the
Boches' machine-guns. And then, by Gad! they opened on us. They holed
my oilskin coat for me, as I slid in after Ramsay, and spoiled it. I've
jotted it down against 'em and in due course they shall pay. But not
one of my crowd got a scratch, and we reckon to have accounted for at
the very least twenty Boches, maybe double that--a most splendid lark.

What makes "B" Company rather mad is that, strictly speaking, this
new Boche sap is a shade nearer their line than ours. The C.O. came
up to look at it this morning, on the strength of our O.C.'s morning
situation report, and was most awfully nice to me about it. He said we
did well to wait for the Boches' coming down from their line after our
first scoop, and that plans must be made to fit circumstances, and not
held to be ends in themselves, and all that kind of thing--initiative,
you know, and so on--very nice indeed he was. And the best of it is our
artillery has registered on that sap this morning, and this afternoon
is just about going to blow it across the Rhine. So altogether "A"
Company is feeling pretty good, if you please, and has its tail well
up. So has your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



OVER THE PARAPET


We are back again in billets, but so close to the line this time that
it's more like being in support trenches. That is to say, one hears
all the firing, and knows just what is happening in the line all the
time. Also, we do carrying fatigues in the trenches at night. Still,
it's billets, and not bad. One can get a bath, and one can sleep dry.
I must tell you about billets sometime. At the moment the letter from
you lying in front of me contains clear orders. I am to tell you what
patrolling is--quite a big order.

Well, there are many different kinds of patrols, you know, but so far
as we are concerned, here in trenches, they boil down to two sorts:
observation patrols and fighting patrols, such as bombing and raiding
parties. It's all night work, of course, since one cannot do anything
over the parapet by day without getting shot; anything, that is, except
a regular attack preceded by bombardment of the Boche lines. On the
whole, I think it's about the most interesting part of our work, and I
think it's safe to say it's a part in which our fellows can run rings
round the Boches. In masses (well primed with rum; ether and oxygen,
too, they say) the Boche can do great things. He will advance, as it
were blindly, in the face of any kind of fire you like; even the kind
that accounts for sixty or seventy per cent. of him in a hundred yards.
But when he comes to act as an individual, or in little groups, as in
patrolling--well, we don't think much of him. We think our worst is
better than his best in all that sort of work. I'm perfectly certain
that, man for man, the British and French troops are more formidable,
harder to beat, better men all round, than the Boche.

The first kind of patrol I mentioned--observation--is part and parcel
of our everyday routine in the firing line. This kind goes out every
night, and often several times during the night, from every Company.
Its main objective is observation: to get any information it can about
the doings of the Hun, and to guard our line against surprise moves of
any sort. But, though that's its main object, it does not go unarmed,
of course, and, naturally, will not refuse a scrap if the chance
comes. But it differs from a bombing or raiding patrol in that it does
not go out for the purpose of fighting, and as a rule is not strong,
numerically; usually not more than about half a dozen in the party.
In some Companies observation patrols are often sent out under a good
N.C.O. and no officer. We make a point of sending an officer always;
not that we can't trust our N.C.O.'s; they're all right; but we talked
it over, and decided we would rather one of us always went. As I said,
it's interesting work, and work with possibilities of distinction in
it, and we're all pretty keen on it. Every Company in the Battalion is.
(Boche patrols, one gathers, hardly ever include an officer.)

With us, it is decided during the afternoon just what we are going
to do that night in the patrol line, and the officer whose turn it is
chooses his own men and N.C.O.'s. And within limits, you know, "the
Peacemaker" lets us work out our own plans pretty much as we like,
providing there's no special thing he wants done. It often happens, you
see, that during daylight the sentries or the officer on duty have been
able to make out with glasses some signs of work being done at night by
the Boche, in his front line, or in a sap or a communication trench.
Then that night it will be the job of the patrols to investigate that
part of the opposite line very carefully. Perhaps half a dozen Boches
will be found working somewhere where our patrol can wipe 'em out by
lobbing a few bombs among 'em. That's a bit of real jam for the patrol.
Or, again, they may observe something quite big: fifty to a hundred
Boches carrying material and building an emplacement, or something of
that kind. Then it will be worth while to get back quickly, having got
an exact bearing on the spot, and warn the O.C. Company. He may choose
to turn a couple of machine-guns loose suddenly on that spot, or he may
find it better to telephone to Battalion Headquarters and let them know
about it, so that, if they like, they can get our "heavies" turned on,
and liven the Boche job up with a good shower of H.E., to smash the
work, after a few rounds of shrap. to lay out the workers.

Then, again, if you all keep your eyes jolly well skinned, there's a
sporting chance of getting another kind of luck. You may spot a Boche
patrol while you're crawling about in No Man's Land. "B" Company had
the luck to do that three nights ago, and our fellows are so envious
now they all want to be patrolling at once; it's as much as one can
do to keep them in the trench. They're simply aching to catch a Boche
patrol out, and put the wind up "B." You see "B" lost two out of a
Boche patrol of six; killing three and taking one prisoner. "A" can't
say anything about it, of course, because we've not had the luck yet to
see a Boche patrol. But God help its members when we do, for I assure
you our fellows would rather die half a dozen times over than fail to
wipe "B's" eye. It's the way they happen to be built. They don't wish
the Boche any particular harm, but if they can get within sight of a
Boche patrol, that patrol has just got to be scuppered without any
possible chance of a couple getting clear. The performance of "B" has
just got to be beaten, and soon.

Honestly, it isn't easy to hold these chaps back. The observation
patrol I was out with the night before we came out of the trenches
really needed holding. There were no Boche patrols for them to scupper,
and just to humour the beggars I kept 'em out nearly an hour longer
than I had any right to; and then, if you'll believe me, they were so
disappointed at having to head back with nothing in the bag, so to say,
that the Corporal was deputed to beg my permission for a little raid on
the Huns' front trench. And there were just five of us, all told; our
only weapons knobkerries and two bombs each, and my revolver and dagger.

By the way, the survivor of the Hun patrol that "B" rounded up was
not the first prisoner taken by the Battalion. No; we had that honour
nearly a week ago. A queer episode that, on our second night in. There
was a bit of line on our extreme right which was neither for use nor
ornament; a horrible place. It had been all blown in by trench mortars
and oil-cans, and hardly had a strand of unbroken wire in front of it.
(You may be sure it's in different shape now. We worked at it for two
nights in succession, and made a good job of it.) Well, it was so bad
for fifty yards or so that sentries could not occupy it properly; no
fire-step left, and no cover worth speaking of. Taffy Morgan was nosing
about in front of this bit just after dark, out beyond where the wire
had been, marking places for new entanglements, when he spotted a big
Boche patrol making slowly up that way from their front. They were
fifteen or twenty strong.

Taffy lay very low, and crawled back into our line without being
seen. Then he raced down the trench for his pet machine-gun--a Lewis,
you know--and got it along there with a Corporal and a couple of
machine-gunners in rather less than no time. By then the messenger
he had sent off had got back with "the Peacemaker" and myself and
the Sergeant-Major. We all kept as quiet as mice till we were able
to make out the movement of the Boche patrol. We let them get fairly
close--thirty or forty yards--and then let blaze at 'em, firing just as
low as we could.

I suppose we gave 'em about four hundred rounds. We heard a bit of
moaning after "the Peacemaker" gave the word to cease fire, and then,
to our amazement, a Hun talking, apparently to another Boche, telling
him to come on, and calling him some kind of a bad hat. I tell you, it
was queer to listen to. The Boche who was doing the talking appeared
to have worked a good bit down to the left of the bunch we had fired
at, and had evidently got into our wire. We could hear him floundering
among the tin cans.

"Don't fire," said "the Peacemaker." "We'll maybe get this chap
alive." And, sure enough, the Boche began singing out to us now, asking
first of all whether we were Prussian, and then trying a few phrases in
French, including a continuously repeated: "Je suis fatigué!"

Most extraordinary it was. "The Peacemaker" couldn't tell him we were
Prussian, but he kept inviting the fellow to come in, and telling him
we wouldn't hurt him. Finally I took a man out and lugged the chap in
out of the wire myself. We got tired of his floundering, and I guess he
must have been tired of it too, for he was pretty badly cut by it. He
had no rifle; nothing but a dagger; and the moment I got him into our
trench he began catting all over the place; most deadly sick he was.

We led him off down the trench to the S.M.'s dug-out and gave him a
drink of tea, and washed the wire cuts on his face and hands. He was a
poor starveling-looking kind of a chap; a bank clerk from Heidelberg,
as it turned out afterwards, and a Corporal. He told us he'd had
nothing but rum, but we thought him under the influence of some drug;
some more potent form of Dutch courage, such as the Huns use before
leaving their trenches. Our M.O. told us afterwards he was very
poorly nourished. We blindfolded him and took him down to Battalion
Headquarters, and from there he would be sent on to the Brigade. We
never knew if they got any useful information out of him; but he was
the Battalion's first prisoner. The other Boches we got in that night
were dead. That burst of M.G. fire had laid them out pretty thoroughly,
nine of 'em; and a small patrol we kept out there wounded three or four
more who came much later--I suppose to look for their own wounded.

There's a creepy kind of excitement about patrol work which makes it
fascinating. If there's any light at all, you never know who's drawing
a bead on you. If there's no light, you never know what you're going to
bump into at the next step. It's very largely hands-and-knees' work,
and our chaps just revel in it. My first, as you know, landed me in the
Boche trenches; and that's by no means a very uncommon thing either,
though it ought never to happen if you have a good luminous-faced
compass and the sense to refer to it often enough. My second patrol was
a bit more successful. I'll tell you about that next time. Meanwhile,
I hope what I've said will make you fancy you know roughly what patrol
work is, though, to be sure, I feel I haven't given you the real thing
the way Taffy could if he set out to write about it. He could write it
almost better perhaps than he could do it. He's a wee bit too jerky and
impulsive, too much strung up rather, for patrol work. My thick-headed
sort of plodding is all right on patrol; suits the men first-rate. I
suppose it kind of checks the excitement and keeps it within bounds.
But you mark my words, our fellows will get a Boche patrol before long,
and when they do I'll wager they won't lose any of 'em.

We're going to play a team of "B" Company at football to-morrow
afternoon, if the Boche doesn't happen to be running an artillery
strafe. We play alongside the cemetery, and for some unknown reason the
Boche gunners seem to be everlastingly ranging on it, as though they
wanted to keep our dead from resting. We're all as fit and jolly as can
be, especially your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



THE NIGHT PATROL


Here in billets the amount of letter-writing the men do is something
appalling--for the officers who have to censor their letters. As you
know, our training in England included some time in four different
parts of the country, and our fellows have sweethearts in each place.
And they seem to get parcels from most of 'em, too. Then there are the
home letters. They all describe their writers as being "in the pink,"
and getting on "champion," as, I believe, I told you before.

My billet--or, rather, our billet, for all "A" Company officers
are under the one roof here--is in the church house, and there's a
candlestick three feet high in the bedroom I share with Taffy. There's
no glass in the windows, and the roof at one end has had a shell
through it, and so the room gets a bit swampy. Otherwise, the place
is all right. Our own batteries near by shake it up at times, and
the shell-holes, in the road outside show it's had some very narrow
squeaks; but neither it nor the church has suffered very much, though
they stand well up on a hill, less than half a mile from our support
line of trenches, which the Battalion billeted here mans in event of
alarm--gas attack, you know, or anything of that sort. So while we're
here we sleep fully equipped at night. But in our next week out, at the
village farther back, we are more luxurious, and undress of a night.

But I promised to tell you about that second patrol of mine. We were
greatly interested in some kind of an erection we could see just behind
the Boche front line on our left. All we could see was sand-bags;
but, somehow, it looked too big and massive for a mere machine-gun
emplacement, and we were all most anxious to find out what it could be.
So "the Peacemaker" agreed that I should take a patrol that night and
try to investigate. This was the first patrol we sent out as a Company
in the line on our own. My first was when we were in with another
Company for instruction, you know, and they apparently had not noticed
this sand-bag structure. At all events, they made no report to "the
Peacemaker" about it when we took over.

The moon was not due to rise till about eleven that night, so I
decided to go out at nine. The Company Sergeant-Major asked if he
could come, so I arranged to take him and one Platoon scout from each
Platoon. They had none of them been out as yet, and we wanted them to
have practice. Getting out into No Man's Land marks a distinct epoch
in a man's training for trench warfare, you know. If it happens that
he has some considerable time in trenches without ever going over the
parapet, he's apt to be jumpy when he does get out. I fancy that must
be one reason why the Boches make such a poor show in the matter of
individual effort of an aggressive sort. They're so trench-bound that
their men seem no use out of trenches, except in massed formation.

Don't make any mistake about it; there's some excuse for a man
being jumpy over the parapet when he's never had a chance of getting
accustomed to it. That's why I think our O.C. is very wise in the way
he tries to give all the men a turn at work over the parapet, wiring,
patrolling, improving saps, and what not: because it's a pretty eerie
business until you get used to it. Behind our line you have graves
and crosses, and comparatively friendly things of all kinds--rubbish,
you know, and oddments discarded by fellow humans no longer ago
than a matter of hours. But out in No Man's Land, of course, the
dominant factor is the swift, death-dealing bullet, and the endless
mass of barbed-wire entanglements which divides Boches from Britons
and Frenchmen for so many hundreds of miles. There are plenty of
dead things out there, but, barring the rats, when you get any other
movement in No Man's Land you may reckon it's enemy movement: creeping
men with bombs and daggers, who may have been stalking you or may not
have seen you. But it wouldn't do to reckon much on anyone's not having
seen you, because if there's one place in the world in which every
man's ears and eyes are apt to be jolly well open it's out there in the
slimy darkness of No Man's Land.

You may very well chance to stick your hand in the upturned face of
a far-gone corpse, as I did my first time out; but if you do so you
mustn't shiver--far less grunt--because shivering may make your oilskin
coat or something else rustle, and draw fire on you and your party.
So a man needs to have his wits about him when he's over the parapet,
and the cooler he keeps and the more deliberate are his movements the
better for all concerned. One needn't loaf, but, on the other hand,
it's rather fatal to hurry, and quite fatal to flurry, especially
when you're crawling among wire with loose strands of it and "giant
gooseberries" of the prickly stuff lying round in all directions on the
ground to catch your hands and knees and hold you up. If you lose your
head or do anything to attract attention, your number's pretty well up.
But, on the other hand, if you keep perfectly cool and steady, making
no sound whatever happens, and lying perfectly flat and still while
Boche flares are up or their machine-guns are trying to locate you,
it's surprising how very difficult it is for the Hun to get you, and
what an excellent chance you have of returning to your own line with a
whole skin.

I had an exact compass bearing on the spot we wanted to investigate,
taken from the sap on our left from which we were starting. "The
Peacemaker" ran his own hands over the men of the party before we
climbed out, to make sure everyone had remembered to leave all papers
and things of that sort behind. (One goes pretty well stripped for
these jobs, to avoid anything useful falling perchance into Boche
hands.) We each carried a couple of bombs, the men had knobkerries, and
I had revolver and dagger, to be on the safe side. But we were out for
information, not scrapping.

It was beautifully dark, and, starting from a sap-head, clear of our
own wire, we crossed the open very quickly, hardly so much as stooping,
till we were close to the Boche wire, when a burst of machine-gun fire
from them sent us to ground. The Companies on each flank in our line
had been warned we were out. This is always done to prevent our own men
firing at us. Such little fire as was coming from our line was high,
and destined for the Boche support lines and communications; nothing to
hurt us.

Now, when we began crawling through the Boche wire I made the sort
of mistake one does make until experience teaches. I occupied myself
far too much with what was under my nose, and too little with what lay
ahead--and too little with my compass. To be sure, there's a good deal
in the Boche wire which rather forces itself upon the attention of a
man creeping through it on hands and knees. The gooseberries and loose
strands are the devil. Still, it is essential to keep an eye on the
compass, and to look ahead, as well as on the ground under one's nose,
lest you over-shoot your mark or drop off diagonally to one side or the
other of it. I know a good deal better now. But one has no business to
make even one mistake, if one's a "Temporary Officer and Gentleman,"
because one's men have been taught to follow and trust one absolutely,
and it's hardly ever only one's own safety that's at stake.

Suddenly I ran my face against the side of a "giant gooseberry" with
peculiarly virulent prongs, and in that moment a bullet whizzed low
over my head, and--here's the point--the bolt of the rifle from which
that bullet came was pulled back and jammed home for the next shot--as
it seemed right in my ear. We all lay perfectly flat and still. I could
feel the Sergeant-Major's elbow just touching my left hip. Very slowly
and quietly I raised my head enough to look round the side of that
"giant gooseberry," and instinct made me look over my right shoulder.

We were less than ten paces from the Boche parapet. The great, jagged
black parados, like a mountain range on a theatre drop scene, hung
right over my shoulder against a sky which seemed now to have a most
deadly amount of light in it. I was lying almost in a line with it,
instead of at right angles to it. Just then, the sentry who had fired
gave a little cough to clear his throat. It seemed he was actually with
us. Then he fired again. I wondered if he had a bead on the back of my
head. He was not directly opposite us, but a dozen paces or so along
the line.

Now, by the queer twisty feeling that went down my spine when my eyes
first lighted on that grim black line of parados just over my shoulder,
I guessed how my men might be feeling. "Little blame to them if they
show some panic," thinks I. I turned my face left, so as to look down
at the Sergeant-Major's over my left shoulder. He'd seen that towering
parados against the sky, and heard that sentry's cough and the jamming
home of his rifle bolt. By twisting my head I brought my face close to
the S.M.'s, and could see that he fancied himself looking right into
his own end. I had to think quick. I know that man's mind like the palm
of my hand, and I now know his splendid type: the English ex-N.C.O. of
Marines, with later service in the Metropolitan Police--a magnificent
blend. I also know the wonderful strength of his influence over the
men, to whom he is experienced military professionalism, expertness
incarnate. At present he felt we had come upon disaster.

"My Gawd, sir!" he breathed at me. "Why, we're on top of 'em!"

That was where I thought quick, and did a broad grin as I whispered to
him: "Pretty good for a start--a damn fine place, Sergeant-Major. But
we'll manage to get a bit nearer before we leave 'em, won't we?"

It worked like a charm, and I thanked God for the fine type he
represents. It was as though his mind was all lighted up, and I
could see the thoughts at work in it. "Oh, come! so it's all right,
after all. My officer's quite pleased. He knew all about it and it's
just what he wanted; so that's all right." These were the thoughts.
And from that moment the S.M. began to regard the whole thing as a
rather creditable lark, though the pit of his stomach had felt queer,
as well it might, for a moment. And the wonderful thing was--there
must be something in telepathy, you know--that this change seemed to
communicate itself almost instantly to the men--bless their simple
souls!--crouched round about behind. I'd no time to think of the
grimness of it, after that. A kind of heat seemed to spread all over me
from inside, and I had been cold. I think a mother must feel like that
when danger threatens her kiddies. The thought in my mind was: "I've
brought these fellows here in carelessness. I'll get 'em back with
whole skins or I'll die at it."

I never had any Hymn of Hate feeling in my life, but I think I'd have
torn half a dozen Boches in pieces with my hands before I'd have let
'em get at any of those chaps of mine that night.

Now I was free; I knew the men were all right. I whispered to the S.M.,
and very slowly and silently we began to back away from that grim
parados. The sentry must have been half asleep, I fancy. My compass
showed me we must be forty or fifty yards left of the point in the
Boche line we wanted; so as soon as we were far enough back we worked
slowly up right, and then a bit in again. And then we found all we'd
hoped for. It was a regular redoubt the Boche was building, and he had
nearly a hundred men at work, including the long string we saw carrying
planks and posts. Some were just sitting round smoking. We could hear
every word spoken, almost every breath. And we could see there were
sixty or seventy men immediately round the redoubt.

That was good enough for me. All I wanted now was to get my men back
safely. I knew "the Peacemaker" had two machine-guns trained precisely
on the redoubt. All I wanted was to make sure their fire was all a
shade to the left, and every bullet would tell. We should be firing
fairly into the brown of 'em; because the little cross communication
trench which we had watched them working in was no more than
waist-deep; just a short-cut for convenience in night work only. We had
'em absolutely cold. The S.M. told me the men wanted to bomb 'em from
where we were. But that was not my game at all.

With the compass bearing I had, getting back was simple. I saw the
last man into our sap, and found the O.C. waiting there for me.
I'd no sooner given him my news than he was at the guns. We had
twenty or thirty rifles levelled on the same mark, too, and, at "the
Peacemaker's" signal, they all spoke at once. Gad! it was fine to see
the fire spouting from the M.G.'s mouth, and to know how its thunder
must be telling.

Four belts we gave 'em altogether, and then whipped the guns down into
cover, just as the Boche machine-guns began to answer from all along
their line. It was a "great do," as the S.M. said. The men were wildly
delighted. They had seen the target; lain and watched it, under orders
not to make a sound. And now the pressure was off. Listening now, the
Boche guns having ceased fire, our sentries could plainly hear groaning
and moaning opposite, and see the lights reflected on the Boche parados
moving to and fro as their stretcher-bearers went about their work. A
"great do," indeed. And so says your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



IN BILLETS


You have asked me once or twice about billets, and I ought to have told
you more about them before; only there seems such a lot to pick and
choose from that when I do sit down to write I seldom get on to the
particular story I mean to tell.

And that reminds me, I didn't tell you of the odd thing that happened
the night we came out into billets this time. The Boche had finished
his customary evening Hymn of Hate, or we thought he had, and while the
men were filing into their different billets the C.S.M. proceeded to
post our Company guard outside Company Headquarters. He had just given
the sentry his instructions and turned away, when Boche broke out in a
fresh place--their battery commander's evening sauerkraut had disagreed
with him, or something--and half a dozen shells came whistling over the
village in quick succession. One landed in the roadway, a yard and a
half in front of the newly-posted sentry. Had it been a sound shell, it
would have "sent him West"; but it proved a dud, and merely dug itself
a neat hole in the macadam and lay there like a little man, having
first sent a spray of mud and a few bits of flint spurting over our
sentry and rattling against his box.

Now that sentry happened to be our friend Tommy Dodd; and Tommy was
about tired out. He'd been on a wiring party over the parapet three
parts of the night, taken his turn of sentry-go in the other part; and
all day long had been digging and mud-scooping, like the little hero he
is, to finish repairing an impassable bit of trench that master Boche
had blown in the evening before, to make it safe before we handed over
to the Company relieving. He was literally caked in clay from head to
foot; eyebrows, moustache, and all; he hadn't a dry stitch on him, and,
of course, had not had his supper. It was an oversight that he should
have been detailed for first sentry-go on our arrival in billets. I had
noticed him marching up from the trenches; he could hardly drag one
foot after another. What do you think the shell landing at his feet and
showering mud on him extorted from weary Tommy Dodd? I was standing
alongside at the time.

"'Ere, not so much of it, Mister Boche! You take it from me an' be a
bit more careful like. Silly blighter! Wotjer playin' at? Didn't yer
know I was on sentry? Chuckin' yer silly shells about like that! If yer
ain't more careful you'll be dirty'n me nice clean uniform nex', an'
gettin' me paraded over for bein' dirty on sentry-go!"

It's a pretty good spirit, isn't it? And I can assure you it runs right
through; warranted fast colour; and as for standing the wash--well,
Tommy Dodd had been up to his middle in muddy water most of the day.
The Kaiser may have a pretty big military organisation, but, believe
me, Germany and Austria together don't contain anything strong enough
to dull, let alone break the spirit of the men of the New Army. The
Army's new enough; but the tradition and the spirit are from the same
old bin. It isn't altered; and there's nothing better; not anywhere in
the world.

And I'm supposed to be telling you about billets!

Well, I told you before, how we took over from another Company; and
the same holds good of how the other Company takes over from us in
the trenches; and when it's over our fellows file out down the long
communication trench, by platoons, with a goodish interval between
men, so as to minimise the effect of chance bullets and shells; every
man carrying all his own mud-caked goods and chattels, and all in good
spirits at the prospects of a little change. Nothing Tommy welcomes so
much as change--unless it's the chance of a scrap.

We cannot very well form up and march properly directly we get out of
trenches at Ambulance Corner, because Fritz is so fond of directing his
field-gun practice there; so we rather straggle over the next quarter
of a mile, by platoons, till we come to the little river. It's a jolly
little stream, with a regular mill-race of a current, and a nice
clear shallow reach close to the bridge, with clean grass alongside.
We wade right in and wash boots. Everyone is wearing "boots, trench,
gum, thigh," so he just steps into the river and washes the mud off.
Then he gets back to the bank, and off with the gum-boots and on with
the ordinary marching boots, which have been carried slung round the
neck by their laces. The trench boots, clean and shiny now, are handed
into store at Brigade Headquarters, ready for our next turn in, for
anyone else who wants 'em. In store, they are hung up to dry, you
know, for, though no wet from outside will ever leak into these boots
(unless they're cut), yet, being water-and air-tight, they get pretty
wet inside after a week's turn in trenches, from condensation and the
moisture of one's own limbs which has no chance of evaporation. It's
the same with the much-vaunted trench-coats, of course; a few hours'
wear makes 'em pretty damp inside.

After handing in the boots, we form up properly for marching into the
village. Our Company Quartermaster-Sergeant, with a N.C.O. from each
platoon, has been ahead a few hours before us, to take over billets
from the Q.M.S. of the Company that relieved us; and so each platoon
has a guide to meet it, just as in taking over a line of trenches.
Either in or close to every billet, there are cellars marked up outside
for so many men. These are our bolt-holes, to which every man is
instructed to run and take shelter the instant a bombardment begins.
"Abri 50 hommes"; or "Cellar for 30 men"; these are the legends you see
daubed outside the cellars. And chalked on the gates of the house-yards
throughout the village you will see such lines as "30 Men, 'A' Coy.";
or "2 Off.'s, 30 Men, 'B' Coy."; and, perhaps, the initials of the
regiment.

But when I mention billets you mustn't think of the style in which you
billeted those four recruits last spring, you know. By Jove, no! It is
laid down that billets in France mean the provision of shelter from the
elements. Sometimes it's complete shelter, and sometimes it isn't; but
it's always the best the folk can give. In this village, for instance,
there are hardly any inhabitants left. Ninety per cent. of the houses
are empty, and a good many have been pretty badly knocked about by
shells. I have often laughed in remembering your careful anxiety about
providing ash-trays and comfortable chairs for your recruits last year;
and the trouble you took about cocoa last thing at night, and having
the evening meal really hot, even though the times of arrival with your
lodgers might be a bit irregular. It's not _quite_ like that behind the
firing line, you know.

In some places the men's billets are all barns, granaries, sheds and
stables, cow-houses, and the like. Here, they are nearly all rooms in
empty houses. As for their condition, that, like our cocoa of a night,
and cooking generally, is our own affair. In our Division, discipline
is very strict about billets. They are carefully inspected once or
twice during each turnout by the Commanding Officer, and every day
by the O.C. Company and the Platoon Commanders. We have no brooms,
brushes, or dusters, except what we can make. But the billets have to
be very carefully cleaned out twice a day, and there must be no dirt
or crumbs or dust about when they are inspected. Even the mire of the
yards outside has to be scraped and cleared away, and kept clear; and
any kind of destruction, like breaking down doors or anything of that
sort, is a serious crime, to be dealt with very severely. The men
thoroughly understand all this now, and the reason of it; and they are
awfully good. They leave every place cleaner and better than they found
it.

In the same way it has been strictly laid down that in their attitude
towards the inhabitants the men must be scrupulous. And, by Jove, they
are! Wherever our troops are you will find men in khaki helping the
women with their washing, drawing water, feeding stock, bringing in
cows, getting in wood, and all such matters; and if our fellows haven't
much French, I can assure you they are chattering in some sort of a
language most of the time. And if all this is incomprehensible to the
good Frenchwomen, how is it that the latter respond with so lively a
chatter, and why are they always smiling and laughing the while--even
when one sees that in their eyes which tells more plainly than the
mourning they wear of sacrifices they have made in the service of
France? Come to think of it, do you know, that sums up the attitude of
all the French women I have met, and of the old men of France, too;
and it's an attitude which compels respect, while it elicits sympathy.
They smile with their lips, and in the brave hearts of them they smile,
too; even though they cannot altogether hide either the wearing anxiety
of waiting, or, where bereavement has come, the grief of mourning for
brave men lost, which shows in their eyes.

In the first convenient archway handy to our billets you will find the
Company's field cooker. You have seen them trailing across the Plain
down Salisbury way on field days--the same old cookers. The rations
come there each day, from the Battalion Q.M. store, three miles away;
and there the men draw them in their cooked form at meal-times. In
every village there is a canteen where men buy stuff like chocolate,
condensed milk, tinned café-au-lait, biscuits, cake, and so forth.

In the day-time, when there are no carrying fatigues, we have frequent
inspections, and once the first day out of trenches is past, every
man's equipment has to be just so, and himself clean-shaven and smart.
We have a bath-house down near the river, where everyone soaks in huge
tubs of hot water; and in the yard of every billet you will find socks,
shirts, and the like hanging out to dry after washing. By 8.30 at night
all men not engaged in carrying fatigues have turned in. During the
week out of trenches we get all the sleep we can. There are football
matches most afternoons, and sing-songs in the early evenings. And all
and every one of these things are subject to one other thing--strafe;
which, according to its nature, may send us to our cellars, or to the
manning of support trenches and bridge-head defences.

With regard to the officers, our batmen cook our grub, moderately well
or atrociously badly, according to their capacity. But, gradually, they
are all acquiring the soldierly faculty of knocking together a decent
meal out of any rough elements of food there may be available. More
often than not we do quite well. Our days are pretty much filled up in
looking after the men, and in the evenings, after supper, we have their
letters to censor, our own to write, if we are energetic enough, and a
yarn and a smoke round whatever fire there may be before turning in;
after which the Boche artillery is powerless to keep us awake. At this
present moment I doubt whether there's another soul in "A" Company,
besides myself, who's awake, except the sentry outside headquarters.
And I shall be asleep in about as long as it takes me to sign myself
your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



BOMBARDMENT


The day before we came back into trenches I meant to have written you,
but the chance didn't arise. Now we have been in just twenty-four
hours, and though the time has gone like lightning, because one has
been on the jump all the while, yet, looking back, it seems ever so
long since we were in billets. A good deal has happened.

For the first time since we've been out here we took over in broad
daylight yesterday afternoon, and I've never known Fritz so quiet as he
was. Not only were there no shells, but very few bullets were flying
while we were taking over, and the ----s were clearing out for their
week in billets. We had everything in apple-pie order and the night's
duties mapped out, stores checked, and ammunition dished out--the extra
night supply I mean--before tea, and were just thinking how remarkably
well-behaved the Boche was and what a great improvement it was to take
over by daylight. And then the band played!

I had been counting the supply of bombs in the Company grenade store,
and was in the act of setting my watch by Taffy's, standing there in
the trench at a quarter to five, when, with a roar, shells landed in
six different parts of our line; not in the trench, you know, but
somewhere mighty close handy. Of course, you might say there was
nothing very startling about half a dozen shells landing near us,
especially as nobody was hit. And that's true. But there was something
queer about it, all the same. We both felt it. Taffy looked at me, and
I looked at him, and "Oho!" said Taffy. And I entirely agreed.

Perhaps it was partly the unusual quietness that had come before.
Anyhow, we both started at the double for Company Headquarters, and I
know we both had the same idea--to see whether "the Peacemaker" wanted
the word passed for everyone to take cover in such artillery shelters
as we have now in this sector; and, mind you, they're miles better than
they were when we first took over.

But, bless your heart! we needn't have bothered getting word about
it from the O.C. Before we got near the Company dug-out the men were
seeing to that for themselves, as they have been taught to do, and
the trenches were empty except, of course, for the sentries and their
reliefs, who, with the observation officer, would remain at their posts
even if the bottom fell out of the world.

Such a raging frenzy of fire as there was when we met "the Peacemaker,"
outside the signallers' cabin, you never could imagine in your life,
not if I wrote about it all night. One knows now that, on the average,
there were not more than ninety projectiles per minute coming over us.
But at the time, I assure you, it seemed there must be about ten a
second, and that shells must be literally jostling each other in the
air. Apart from anything else, the air was full of falling earth, wood,
and barbed wire. It was clear they had begun by ranging on our parapet
and entanglements. The oddest things were falling apparently from the
sky--bits of trench boots, bully beef tins, shovel handles, stakes six
feet long, lengths of wire, crumpled sheets of iron, and all kinds of
stuff.

I yelled to the O.C. that I would take observation duty, and Taffy
wanted to take it with me. But "the Peacemaker" very properly insisted
on his going to ground. We had to shout right in each other's ears.
The O.C. told me our telephone wires were cut to ribbons already. "But
Headquarters will know as much about this as we could tell 'em by now,"
he yelled. But he had sent off a chit by runner, just to let the C.O.
know that our fellows had all taken cover, and that the heavy stuff
seemed to be mostly landing on our front and the communication trenches
immediately in rear. The O.C. made a cup of his hands and shouted in my
ear as we crouched in the bottom of the trench:

"What you've got to do is to watch for the lifting of the curtain to
our rear. Must have every man on the fire-step then. They must surely
mean to come across after this."

"I hope so. 'A' Company 'll eat 'em if they do."

"That's if we can keep cover now without too many casualties. Keep as
good a look-out as you can. You'll find me here, by the signallers."

So I left him, and made my way along to a little observing shelter
we had made near the centre of our bit of firing line. But, when I
got there, I found that shelter was just a heap of yeasty mud and
rubbish. Fritz was pounding that bit out of all recognition. By this
time, you know, one could hardly see six paces ahead anywhere. The
smoke hung low, so that every shell in bursting made long sheets of
red flame along the smoke. And just then I got my first whiff of gas
in the smoke: not a gas cloud, you know, but the burst of gas shells:
lachrymatory shells some of 'em were. So I went hurrying along the line
then, ordering all gas helmets on. I found most of the men had seen to
this without being told.

By the way, I ought to say that, so far as I can tell, bombardment
doesn't affect one's mind much. You don't feel the slightest bit
afraid. Only a lot more alert than usual, and rather keyed up, as you
might be if you were listening to a fine orchestra playing something
very stirring. It's rather a pleasant feeling, like the exhilaration
you get from drinking champagne, or hearing a great speech on some big
occasion when there are thousands of people listening and all pretty
well worked up. As I scrambled along the fire trench I laughed once,
because I found I was talking away nineteen to the dozen. I listened,
as though it were to someone else, and I heard myself saying:

"Let her rip! Let her rip, you blighters! You can't smash us, you
sauer-krauters. You're only wasting the ammunition you'll be praying
for presently. Wait till our heavies get to work on you, you beauties.
You'll wish you hadn't spoken. Let her rip! Another dud! That was a
rotten one. Why, you haven't got the range right even now, you rotters!"

Wasn't it queer, jawing away like that, while they were hammering the
stuffing out of our line? By the way, though I couldn't tell it then,
our artillery was blazing away at them all the time. The fire was
so tremendous that we positively had no idea our guns were in it at
all. But, as a matter of fact, they were lambasting Old Harry out of
the Boche support lines and communications, and the countless shells
roaring over our heads were, half of them, our own.

It seemed pretty clear to me that this bombardment was on a very
narrow front, much less than our Company front even. It didn't seem
to be much more than a platoon front. So I hurried along to the
signals and let the O.C. know this. As I had expected, he told me
to concentrate all the men, except sentries, on the flanks of the
bombardment sector, all with smoke helmets on, rifles fully charged,
bayonets fixed, and everything ready for instant action. He had already
got our Lewis guns ready in the trench on both flanks. As a fact, "the
Peacemaker" was doing as much observing as I was, and I made bold to
tell him I thought it wasn't the thing for him to expose himself as
much as he did.

"That's all right, old man," he shouted. "I'm looking out. I'll be
careful, and you do the same. Here, stick your pipe in your mouth! It
helps with the men."

I'd had to tell him that in the centre and on the extreme left we had
had a few casualties. The stretcher-bearers were doing their best for
them.

Not many minutes afterwards the curtain of fire appeared to be shifting
back. The row was just as great, or greater. The smoke was just as
dense, and there was a deal more gas in it. But it seemed to me there
were very few shells actually landing along our front, and I could see
the flashes of them bursting continuously a little in our rear.

As I got to the left flank of the bombarded sector I found Taffy
directing the fire of a machine-gun diagonally across the front. The
men were all out there, and you could see them itching for the word to
get over the parapet. Their faces were quite changed. Upon my word, I'd
hardly have known some of 'em. They had the killing look, and nearly
every man was fiddling with his bayonet, making sure he had the good
steel ready for Fritz. Seeing they were all serene, I made my way along
to the other flank. I hardly thought about it, but just went, and that
shows there's something shapes our ends, doesn't it? I should have been
pretty sick afterwards if I hadn't made that way when I did.

The first thing I saw on that flank was a couple of men lifting poor
R----'s body from the bottom of the trench. The Infant had been killed
instantaneously. His head was absolutely smashed. He had been the most
popular officer in our mess since we came out.

There was no time to think, but the sight of the Infant, lying there
dead, sent a kind of sudden heat through me from inside; as I felt it
on patrol that night. I hurried on, with Corporal Slade close on my
heels. The gassy smoke was very dense. Round the next traverse was the
little bay from which the other machine-gun had been firing. It wasn't
firing now. Two men were lying dead close beside it, and another badly
wounded; and half across the parapet was Sergeant T----, who'd been in
charge of the gun, being hauled out by his arms by two Boches, while
two other Boches stood by, one holding his rifle with bayonet fixed,
in the thrust position, as if inclined to run T---- through. The other
Boches were shouting something in German. They wanted to make T----
prisoner. There was blood on one side of his neck. The insolence of the
thing made me quite mad for the minute, and I screamed at those Boches
like a maniac.

It seems rum, but they turned and bolted into the smoke; I after them
as hard as I could pelt. I shot one in the back with my revolver. He
fell and, as I came up with him, I snatched his rifle from the ground
beside him. I was like a lunatic. Then, just as suddenly, I came to my
senses. The other Boches were out of sight in the smoke. I jumped back
into the trench and put Corporal Slade on to the machine-gun, telling
him to keep traversing that front. I ran farther down the trench to
discover what had happened. The fire trench dipped there into a wooded
hollow. The pounding of it had levelled the whole place till you could
hardly make out the trench line.

Here I found the bulk of my own platoon furiously scrapping with
thirty or forty Boches over the parapet. It was splendid. I can't
describe the feeling, as one rushed into it. But it was absolutely
glorious. And it gave me my first taste of bayonet work in
earnest--with a Boche bayonet in my hand, mark you. Made me quite glad
of the bayonet practice we had at home with Sergeant W----, after he'd
had the course at Aldershot. No. 1 Platoon had never let the beggars
get as far as our trench, but met 'em outside. To give them their due,
those Boches didn't try any of their "Kamerade" business. They did
fight--until they saw half their number stuck and down; and then they
turned and bolted for it into the dense smoke over No Man's Land.

They were most of 'em bayoneted in the back before I could get my
fellows to turn. I didn't want them to go far in that dense fog of
gassy smoke, and there was hardly any daylight left. I didn't want them
tumbling into any ambush. On the way back we gathered up a score of
Boche knives, a lot of their caps, two or three rifles, and a whole box
of their hand grenades, with not one missing.

That was the end of the first bombardment we've seen. It lasted
exactly an hour, and our gunners tell us the Boche sent more than 5000
shells over in that time. He has certainly knocked our line about
rather badly. All hands are at work now repairing the trench and
the wire, with a whole Company of R.E. to help. Our casualties were
eighteen wounded and seven killed. We buried thirty-one dead Boches,
and they removed a good many dead. We got eleven wounded and nine
unwounded Boche prisoners. Of course, they took a lot of their wounded
away. They captured no prisoners from us.

I am sorry to say that another of our officers, Tony, is among the
wounded, but the M.O. says he'll be back with us in a week. If only
we could say that of the Infant! We are all sad about him; such a
brave lad! but mighty pleased with the Company. The Brigadier says the
Company has done splendidly. He was specially glad to know that the
Boche collared no prisoners from us. It was our first taste, really,
of bombardment, and of hand-to-hand fighting; and the men are now much
keener even than they were before to get the Boche. They swear he shall
pay dearly for the Infant and for six of their mates. They mean it,
too, believe me. And we mean to help them get their payment. There
isn't so much as a scratch on your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



THE DAY'S WORK


Your letters are a great joy, and I feel that I give mighty little
in return for their unfailing regularity. But I am sure you will
understand that out here, where there's no writing-table to turn
to, one simply cannot write half as much as one would like. It's
astonishing how few moments there are in which, without neglect, one
can honestly say there is nothing waiting to be done.

In your letter of the fifteenth, at this moment propped up in front of
me against a condensed milk tin, you say: "When you can, I wish you'd
jot down for me a sort of schedule of the ordinary, average day's work
in the trenches when there is nothing special on, so that I can picture
the routine of your life." Oh, for more ability as a jotter down! I
know by what I used to see in the papers before leaving England there's
a general idea at home that the chief characteristic of trench life is
its dreary monotony, and that one of our problems is how to pass the
time. How the idea ever got abroad I can't imagine. I don't see how
there ever could have been a time like that in trenches. Certainly we
have never had a hint of it; not the shadow of a hint. If anyone has
ever tasted the boredom of idleness in the trenches--which I don't
believe, mind you--there must have been something radically wrong with
his Battalion; his Company Commander must have been a rotter. And I
don't see how _that_ could be.

A trench, especially in such country as this we're in, is not unlike a
ship; a rather ancient and leaky wooden ship. If you don't keep busy
about her she leaks like a sieve, gets unworkably encrusted and choked
by barnacles, and begins to decay. If you don't keep improving her, she
jolly soon begins to go to pieces. Only, I imagine the disintegrating
process is a great deal quicker in a trench in this part of the world
than it could be in the most unseaworthy of ships.

The daily routine? Well, it would be wrong to say there isn't any.
There is. But it differs every day and every hour of the day, except in
certain stable essentials. Every day brings happenings that didn't come
the day before. One fixed characteristic is that it's a twenty-four
day, rather than twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night. Of
course, the overruling factor is strafe. But there's also something
pretty bossy about the condition of your trench. Some kind of repairs
simply cannot wait. The trench must continue to provide cover from
observation, and some sort of cover from fire, or it ceases to be
tenable, and one would not be carrying out one's fundamental duty of
properly holding the sector of line to which one is detailed; which,
obviously, would be unthinkable. Still, as I say, there are some
elements of stable routine. Well, here goes. It won't cover the ground.
I'm not a competent enough jotter down for that, but such as it is----

We think of every fresh day as beginning with "Stand-to." The main
idea behind this function is that dawn is the classic moment for an
attack. I'm not quite sure that this or any other classic idea holds
good in trench warfare, but "Stand-to" is a pretty sound sort of an
institution, anyhow. We Stand-to one hour before daylight. In some
Companies the precise hour is laid down overnight or for the week. Our
skipper doesn't believe in that. He likes to make a sort of a test of
every Stand-to, and so gives no notice beforehand of the time at which
he is going to order it. And I think he's right.

You will easily understand that of all things in trench warfare
nothing is more important than the ability of your Company to man the
fire-step, ready to repel an attack, or to make one, on the shortest
possible notice. When the order comes there must be no fiddling about
looking for rifles, or appearing on the fire-step with incomplete
equipment. See how useless that would be in the event of a surprise
attack in the dark, when the enemy could creep very close indeed to
your parapet before the best of sentries could give any alarm! Troops
in the firing line must be able to turn out, equipped in every detail
for fighting--for days on end of fighting--not only quickly, but
instantly; without any delay at all. That is why, in the British Army,
at all events--and I've no doubt the French are the same--nobody in
the firing line is allowed to remove his equipment. Officer and man
alike, when we lie down to sleep, we lie down in precisely the same
order as we go into action: haversack and water-bottle, ammunition
and everything complete. That detail of the filled water-bottle, for
instance, may make all the difference between a man who is an asset to
his country in a critical action and a man who is useless and a bad
example. You never know the moment at which an action that will last
forty-eight hours or more is going to begin; and, though a man may keep
going a long while without food, he's not much use if he cannot rinse
his mouth out after a bit.

But at this rate I shall never get done. It's always so when I set out
to write to you about any specific thing.

Well, we Stand-to an hour before dawn. It happens this way: "the
Peacemaker" is in the trench doing something, or he comes out of the
dug-out. He looks at his watch and at the sky, and he tells his orderly
to bring another orderly. Then he says to the pair of them: "Pass the
word to Stand-to." One bolts along the trench to the left and one to
the right; and as they hurry along they give the word to every sentry
and to everyone they see: "Stand-to!" Meanwhile "the Peacemaker" pokes
about and observes, and jumps like a hundred of bricks on any man
whose bayonet is not fixed, whose belt is unbuckled, or who is slow in
getting to the fire-step. All this time he has his watch in his hand.

Pretty soon the first of those two orderlies comes racing back.
Very often they see each other approaching the Officer Commanding
from opposite directions, and make a real race of it, and report
breathlessly: "All correct, sir." To be able to do this, they must have
got the word from each Platoon Sergeant. Probably about this time the
officer on duty comes along from whatever part of the line he happens
to have been patrolling at the time. And he also reports that all was
correct in the part of the line he has come from, or that such and such
a section was a bit behind this morning, and that Corporal So-and-so
wants a little stirring up.

Also, by this time the Company Sergeant-Major will have arrived,
with a couple of runners, each carrying under his arm a jar of
mixed rum-and-water, half and half. Rum is never served out in any
circumstances, save in the presence of an officer. So the officer on
duty goes to one end of the line, and "the Peacemaker" to the other,
and both work slowly back toward the centre, watching the serving out
of the rum, and looking carefully over each man and his equipment. In
the centre, the officer on duty probably waits, while the O.C. Company
goes right on, so that he may see the whole of his line and every
single man in it. So you see, in a way, Stand-to is a parade, as well
as an important tactical operation. Because, remember, the sentries
are keenly watching all this while, and so are a good many more pairs
of eyes than look out at any other time. But, whereas the sentries are
steadily gazing into the rapidly greying mysteries of No Man's Land,
the other pairs of eyes are only taking occasional sharp glances, and
then down again, below the parapet.

There has probably been very little firing from either side during
this time. Now, very suddenly, a violent crackling starts along to
the left of the line. Instantly, every exposed head ducks. Fritz has
started the first verse of his morning Hymn of Hate. He always thinks
to catch us, and never does. We enjoy his hymn, because we love to see
him waste his ammunition, as he proceeds to do now in handsome style.
Br-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r! The spray of his machine-guns traverses very
neatly up and down the length of our parapet. His gunners are clearly
convinced that at Stand-to time they are certain to get a few English
heads. Then, as suddenly as he began, he stops; and--every head remains
ducked. We've been at some pains to teach 'em that. Twenty seconds
later--or it may be two minutes--the spray begins again, just where
it stopped, or a hundred yards to right or left of that. The Boche is
quite smart about this; only he seems to act on the assumption that we
never learn anything. That's where he's rather sold.

And, while Fritz sends forth his morning Hymn, our snipers in their
carefully-hidden posts have their eyes glued on the neighbourhood of
his machine-gun emplacements; and every now and again they get their
reward, and the head of a Boche machine-gun observer, or some other
Teuton whose curiosity overcomes his discretion, drops never to rise
any more.

Before the Hymn began, you understand, the greying mystery has grown
considerably less mysterious, and one has been able to see almost as
much in the pearly dawn light as one will see at high noon, especially
in these misty localities.

When Fritz has got through the last verse of his Hymn he is almost
invariably quiet and harmless as a sucking dove for an hour or two. I
take it he makes a serious business of his breakfast. And there again
he often pays. Our snipers have their brekker later, and devote half an
hour now to observation of the neighbourhood of all the little spirals
of smoke in the Boche lines which indicate breakfast fires. They
generally have some luck then; and sometimes it becomes worth while
to turn on a machine-gun or two, where Fritz's appetite has made him
careless.

It is now broad daylight, and our ration parties appear, four to each
platoon, trailing up the trenches from the rear with the breakfast
tea and bacon. Each party dumps its dixey of tea down in the centre
of the sector of its platoon, and the Platoon Sergeant dishes out to
the section commanders the whack of bacon for their sections, while
all hands draw their mugs of tea. The bread and jam and "dry rations"
were drawn overnight. And so to breakfast, in the dug-outs or along the
fire-step, according to the state of the weather. It's breakfast for
all hands, except the sentries, and they are relieved to get theirs
directly the men to relieve them have eaten. With the exception of
those who are on duty, the officers get along to the Company dug-out
for their breakfast, which the batmen have been preparing. They cook
it, you know, over a brazier--some old pail or tin with holes punched
in it, consuming coke and charcoal mixed, or whatever fuel one has.
Fried bacon, tea, and bread-and-jam; that's our usual menu. Sometimes
there may be a tin of fruit as well, or some luxury of that sort from
home. Always there are good appetites and no need of sauce.

But, look here, I've just got to stop now. And yet I've only reached
breakfast in my jotting of the day's routine in trenches. Isn't it
maddening? Well, I'll get another chance to-night or to-morrow, and
give you some more of it. I really will finish it, and I'm sorry I
couldn't have done it in one letter, as it would have been done by a
more competent jotter-down of things than your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



TOMMY DODD AND TRENCH ROUTINE


You'll be grieved to hear that cheery, indomitable little Tommy Dodd
was rather badly laid out this morning; four or five nasty wounds from
shrapnel. But I think he'll pull through. He has so much of the will to
live, and I am sure a soul so uniformly cheerful as his must make its
body easier to heal.

I wasn't six paces from him at the time. We were fastening some
barbed-wire stays on screw standards we meant to put out to-night. I
had just lent him my thick leather gloves after showing him exactly
how I wanted these stays fixed, with little stakes bound on at the end
of them, so as to save time to-night when we are over the parapet. He
was busy as a beaver, as he generally is; a bit nearer to Whizz-bang
Corner than was quite wise--I shall always reproach myself for not
keeping him farther from that ill-omened spot--when the shell burst low
overhead. I got a dozen tiny flicks myself on hands and head, which the
M.O. touched up with iodine after he bandaged Tommy Dodd. But Tommy was
badly hit in the thigh, one arm, and the left shoulder.

He was parchment-colour by the time I got the stretcher-bearers along,
and that was only a matter of seconds. We were close to their little
dug-out, as it happened. He'd lost a lot of blood. But he grinned at
me, with a kind of twist in his grin, as I helped lift him into the
trench stretcher.

"Looks almost like a Blighty for me, sir, don't it? Well, even the
Boche must hit something sometimes. It's only an outer this time, an'
look at the thousands o' rounds when he don't get on the target at
all! Sorry I couldn't 've finished them stays, sir. If you send for
Davis, o' Number 5 Section, you'll find him pretty good at it, sir."
And then he turned to the stretcher-bearer in front, who had the strap
over his shoulder, and was just bracing himself to start off when he'd
done talking. "Home, John!" he says, with a little kick up of his head,
which I really can't describe. "An' be sure you don't exceed the limit,
for I can't abide them nasty low perlice courts an gettin' fined."

And yet, when we got down to Battalion Headquarters, the M.O. told
me Tommy Dodd ought by all rights to have been insensible, from the
blood he'd lost and the shock of those wounds: not surface wounds,
you know. He'll have two or three months of hospital comfort now. I
hope to goodness nothing septic will intervene. The Battalion would be
the poorer for it if we lost Tommy. The M.O. says he'll pull through.
The M.O. cropped little patches of hair off round my head, to rub the
iodine in where I was scratched, so I look as if I had ringworm.

But to get back to business. I've got to "jot down" this everyday
trench routine for you, haven't I? And I only got as far as breakfast
in yesterday's letter. We'll get a move on and run through it now. I'm
due on deck directly after lunch to relieve Taffy; and it's past eleven
now.

After breakfast one-half the men kip down for a sleep, and the other
half turn to for work. Then after the mid-day dinner, the half that
rested in the forenoon, work; and throughout the night all hands
stand their turn at sentry-go. That's the principle--in our Company,
anyhow. But, of course, it doesn't always work out quite like that.
Everything naturally gives way to strafing considerations, and at times
urgent repairing work makes it necessary to forgo half or all the day
rest-time. As for the officers--there are only three of us now, besides
"the Peacemaker"--one officer is always on duty, day and night. We take
that in three-hour spells, the three of us. Then in the day-time, while
the turn of duty is a fixed thing, we are, as a matter of fact, about
at some job or another all the time; just as the O.C. Company is about
all the twenty-four hours. At night we three do take our time off for
sleep after a tour of duty, unless in some emergency or other. "The
Peacemaker" just gets odd cat-naps when he can.

You might think that if there'd been no particular artillery strafing
going on there would be no necessary repair work for the men to do in
the trench. But you see, we've practically always got a new dug-out
in course of construction, and a refuse pit to be dug, and a sniping
shelter to be made, and a new bit of trench to be cut. We have nine
separate sumps where pumps are fixed in our line. And if those pumps
were not well worked each day we'd soon be flooded out. There's
generally some wire and standards to be got ready for putting out at
night, with a few "Gooseberries" and trip wires where our entanglements
have been weakened by shell fire. I've never yet seen a trench that
wasn't crying out for some sort of work on it.

At breakfast "the Peacemaker" will generally talk over the jobs he
specially wants us to put through during the day, and give us any notes
he may have taken during the night, round the trenches. Then chits
begin coming in by 'phone from Battalion Headquarters; and chits,
however short and innocent they may look, nearly always boil down to a
job of work to be done. In fact, one way and another, jobs invariably
invade the breakfast table and every other meal-time; and before the
tea-mugs are filled up a second time one nearly always hears a batman
told to "clear this end, will you, to make room for me to write a chit."

Then there will be a visitor, probably the C.O., pretty soon after
breakfast, and "the Peacemaker" will trot round our line with him,
discussing. Ten to one that visit will mean more jobs of work; and,
occasionally, what's a deal more welcome, a new plan for a little
strafe of some sort.

And then one sees the ration parties trailing up again from the rear,
and dinner has arrived; some kind of a stew, you know, as a rule, with
bully as alternative; potatoes if you're lucky, jam anyhow, more tea,
and some sort of pickings from home parcels in the way of cake or
biscuits, figs or what not. During and immediately after dinner--in the
dug-out we call it lunch, from habit, but it's about the same thing
as the evening meal, as a rule--we always plan out the night's work,
patrols, wiring, any little strafe we have on, and that sort of thing.

We are a bit luxurious in "A" Company, and generally run to a mug of
afternoon tea; sometimes (if the recent mails have been heavy) to
an outburst of plum cake or shortbread with it. And an hour before
dark comes evening Stand-to. Technically, this has some tactical
significance, even as the morning Stand-to has actually. But as a
matter of fact, in the evening it's a parade, more than anything else,
to inspect rifles, check up ammunition, call the roll, and see the men
are all right.

By the way, you asked me something about the rum. I don't think it's
issued at all in the summer months. What we issue now, once a day,
is, I think, one gill per man of the half-and-half mixture of rum and
water. I think it's a gill; a pint mug has to supply eight men. I
think, on the whole, it's a useful issue, and can't possibly do any
harm. It's thundering good rum; good, honest, mellow stuff, and very
warming.

About seven o'clock we generally have a feed, from habit, you know,
that being the time we used to have dinner in camp in England. It's the
same sort of feed we have in middle day. And after that, the officer
who is going on duty at midnight, say, will generally get a sleep. The
usual round of night work is well under way by now--patrols, wiring
parties, work on the parapet, and so on, according to what the moon
allows. If there's too much light, these things have to come later.

With regard to work for sentry reliefs, the way we have in our Company
is this: a sentry's relief--the sentries are always double by night and
single by day--must always be within call of the sentry; therefore we
never let him go beyond the bay next to the one the sentry occupies,
that is, round the next traverse. Well, we hold the reliefs responsible
for keeping those two bays in good order; clean and pumped, sides
revetted, fire-step clear and in repair, the duck-boards lifted and
muck cleared out from under them each day, and so forth. All used
cartridges have to be gathered up and put in the sand-bag hung over the
fire-step for that purpose, for return to store.

Unless there is real strafing going on the trenches grow pretty silent
after midnight. At least, it seems so to the officer on duty as he
makes his way from one end of his line to the other. One gets very
tired then. There's never any place where you can sit down in a trench.
I am sure the O.C. Company is often actually on his feet for twenty-two
out of the twenty-four hours. I say it's very quiet. Well, it's a
matter of comparison, of course. If in the middle of the street at two
o'clock in the morning at home you heard a few rifles fired, you would
think it remarkably noisy. But here, if there's nothing going on except
rifle fire, say at the rate of a couple of shots a minute, the trenches
seem extraordinarily quiet; ghostly quiet.

You go padding along in your gum boots, feeling your way with your
stick, which usually carries such a thick coat of mud on it that its
taps on the duck-boards are hardly audible. You come round the corner
of a traverse, and spot a sentry's helmet against the sky-line. "Who
goes there?" he challenges you, hoarsely, and you answer, "Lieutenant
So-and-so, ---- Regiment," and he gives you leave to pass.

One has to be careful about these challenges. At first the men were
inclined to be casual and grunt out, "Tha's all right!" or just the
name of the Regiment when challenged. One had to correct that tendency.
It is easy for a Boche to learn to say "Tha's all right," or to mention
the name of a Regiment opposite his line. Plenty of them have been
waiters, barbers, clerks, bakers, and so on in London. So we insist
on formal correctness in these challenges, and the officer or man who
doesn't halt promptly on being challenged takes his chance of a bullet
or a bayonet in his chest.

One stops for a word or two with every sentry, and one creeps out
along the saps for a word with the listening posts. It helps them
through their time, and it satisfies you that they're on the spot,
mentally as well as physically. There's hardly a man in "A" Company who
is not an inveterate smoker, but, do you know, I have never once got
a whiff of 'baccy smoke in the neighbourhood of a sentry since we've
been in trenches, never a suspicion of it! Neither have I ever found a
sentry who was not genuinely watching to his front; and if the Colonel
himself comes along and asks one a question there's not one of them
ever betrayed into turning his eyes from his front. They're good lads.

And so the small hours lengthen into the rather larger ones, and
morning Stand-to comes round again. It isn't often it's so absolutely
uneventful as my jottings on the subject, of course. But you must just
regard this as the merest skeleton outline of the average routine of
trench days. And then, to be sure, I've left out lots of little things.
Also, every day brings its special happenings, and big or little
strafes. One thing we do not get in trenches, and I cannot believe we
ever should, from what I've seen of it; and that is monotony, boredom,
idleness, lack of occupation. That's a fancy of the newspaper writers
which, so far as I know, has literally no relation whatever to the
facts of trench life on the British Front in France; certainly not to
anything as yet seen by your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



STALKING SNIPERS


We are trying to work one of our little cunning stunts to-day. Last
night I had an observation patrol out, and having no special job on,
decided to devote our time to the examination of the Boche wire--their
entanglements, you know, in the sector opposite our particular line.
I had only two men with me: one of my own Platoon scouts and a lad
named Hankin, of whom I have great hopes as a sniper. He's in my No.
3 Section, and a very safe and pretty shot with a rifle, especially
at long ranges. He'd never been on patrol and was most anxious to go,
and to have an opportunity of looking at the Boche line, to verify his
suspicions regarding certain holes in the ground which he thought their
snipers used. Our patrol had two interesting results, for one of which
we have to thank Hankin's intelligence. The other was a bit of luck.
The reason I took such a small patrol was that the aim was observation
pure and simple; not strafing; and the men were more than usually
tired, and had a lot of parapet repair work which had to be put through
before daylight.

It was about a quarter to one in the morning when we went out, there
having been too much moonlight before then. Hankin had prepared a
regular chart of the Boche line from his own observations from his
sniping post; quite a clever little map it is, showing clearly his
suspected sniping shelters, of which there are four. We drew a blank
in the first two of these, and for the third had to tack back from the
line of the Boche wire, towards our own, along the side of an old sap,
all torn to bits and broken in with shell fire. Hankin felt certain he
had seen the flash of rifles from this hole; but I thought it was too
near our own wire to attract any Boche sniper for regular use.

I need hardly say that on a job of this sort one moves very slowly,
and uses the utmost possible precaution to prevent noise. It was
now absolutely dark, the moon having gone down and the sky being
much overcast. But for my luminous-faced compass (which one consults
under one's coat flap to prevent it from showing) we should have been
helpless. As it was, on the bearings I worked out before starting, we
steered comfortably and fairly accurately.

All of a sudden came a shock, a rifle fired, as it seemed, under our
noses, actually from about twenty-five paces ahead on the track we were
making.

"That's him, sir," breathed Hankin in my right ear.

I looked at the compass. The shot came from dead on the spot where
Hankin's third hole should be; the one we were making for then.

"How about a little bomb for him, sir?" whispered the scout on my left.

But I shook my head. Too much like looking for a needle in a bundle of
hay, and too much like asking the Boche for machine-gun fire. It was
fair to assume the Boche sniper who fired that shot would be facing our
trenches; the same direction in which we were facing at that moment,
since we were working back from the German wire towards our own. I
pushed my lips close up to Hankin's ear and whispered: "We'll try
stalking him." Hankin nodded, quite pleased.

Then I whispered to the scout to follow us very, very carefully, and
not too closely. I didn't want him to lose touch, but, for the sake
of quietness, one would sooner, of course, go alone. We kept about
six paces between us laterally, Hankin and myself, and we advanced by
inches.

I must say I should have been grateful for a shade more light, or less
inky blackness. The edge of that sniper's hole was not sloping, but
sheer; and, crawling slowly along, I struck my right hand clean over
it into nothingness, letting my chest down with an audible bump. Right
before me then I heard a man's body swing round on the mud, and the
sniper let out some kind of a German exclamation which was a sort of
squeal. It was, really, much more like some wild animal's cry than
anything human. I had to chance it then. The sound was so amazingly
close. I couldn't see him, but-- And when I sprang, the thing my hands
gripped on first was not the beggar's windpipe or shoulders, as I had
hoped, but his rifle, carried in his left hand on his left side.

It was rather like tom-cats coming to blows. I swear he spat. As you
know, I'm rather heavy, and I think my spring, slightly to his left,
knocked him off his balance. He hadn't any chance. But, though I got
his left wrist, and covered his mouth with my chest, I was a bit uneasy
about his right hand, which for the moment I couldn't find. Lucky for
me he hadn't got a dagger in it, or he might have ripped me open. But
Hankin pretty soon found his right hand, and then we hauled him up to
his feet. I passed his rifle to the scout, and we just marched him
along the front of our wire to Stinking Sap, and so into our own front
trench; Hankin holding one of his arms, I taking the other, and the
scout coming behind with the muzzle of the man's own rifle in the small
of his back. There was no need to crawl, the night being as black as
your hat; and in three or four minutes we had that sniper in front of
"the Peacemaker" in the Company dug-out.

It was neat, wasn't it? And all thanks to the ingenious Hankin's
careful observations and his chart. He'll get his first stripe for
that, and very soon have another to keep it company, or I'm much
mistaken. "The Peacemaker" was delighted, and wrote a full report of
the capture to be sent down to Headquarters with the prisoner. Snipers
are worth capturing, you know, and this looked like an intelligent chap
whose cross-examination might be useful to our Brass-hats.

Queer thing about this sniper, he spoke English almost like a native.
We are not allowed to examine prisoners on our own account. All that's
done by the powers behind the line. But this fellow volunteered a
little talk while we were getting the report made out. He was quite
satisfied when he realised we were not going to harm him in any way,
but it was perfectly clear he had expected to be done in. You'd
have thought he would have known better. He'd spent nine years in
London, part of the time a waiter, and later a clerk. He had lived at
Kennington, and then in lodgings on Brixton Hill, I'll trouble you.
Extraordinary, isn't it? He'd been told that London was practically
in ruins, and that the Zepps had made life there impossible. He also
thought that we in France were completely cut off from England, the
Channel being in the hands of the German Navy, and England isolated
and rapidly starving! I gather the Boches in the fighting line have no
notion at all of the real facts of the war.

Well, having been so far successful, we decided to resume our patrol,
the main purpose of which--examination of the Boche wire--hadn't been
touched yet. So off we went again down Stinking Sap; and I could see
that Hankin and Green, the scout, bore themselves as victors, with
something of the swank of the old campaigner and hero of a thousand
patrols. A great asset, mind you, is a reasonable amount of swank.
These two had not been out before this night, but already they climbed
over the parapet and moved about in No Man's Land with a real and
complete absence of the slightest hint of nervousness.

Now I must cut this short because I have to go an errand for "the
Peacemaker," to have a little talk with a Battery Commander. We had a
pretty good prowl up and down the Boche wire, and made an interesting
discovery on the extreme left of our sector. There was a shade more
light then; not from the moon, of course, but from stars; the sky
having become less overcast. I ran my nose right up against a miniature
sign-post; a nice little thing, with feathers stuck in cracks near the
top of it, presumably to give Boche patrols their bearings. I should
have liked to take it away as a souvenir, but I didn't want to arouse
Hun suspicions, so left it. The interesting thing was that this little
sign-post--about eighteen inches high, planted among the front wire
stakes--pointed the way in to the Boche trenches by an S-shaped lane
through their wire entanglements; so shaped, of course, as to prevent
it from being easily seen from our line.

We crawled along this lane a bit, far enough to make sure that it was
a clear fairway into the Boche front trench. Then I got a careful
bearing, which I subsequently verified half a dozen times; and we made
our way back to Stinking Sap. I haven't time to tell you of our cunning
plan about this discovery. That's what I'm to see the Battery Commander
about. But if we can make the arrangement we want to make with the
gunners, we'll bring off a nice little bombing raid to-night, and I'll
let you know all about it in my next letter. Meanwhile I must scurry
off, or I shall miss the Battery Commander in his rounds, and there
will be a telling-off for your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



AN ARTFUL STUNT


Out of trenches again. I wanted to write you yesterday to tell you
about the bombing raid of our last night in; but we had a full day, and
were not relieved till late evening; so I got no chance of writing till
this afternoon. But I can tell you we came out with our tails well up
this time, and "A" Company putting on more side than ever. I dare say
"D" Company, our closest rivals, will put up something pretty startling
when we go in again. They're very determined to beat our record in
every kind of strafing, and I'm bound to say they do put up some good
shows. They've two more officers than we have now, and the Boche has
discovered that they are very much out for business.

Whether we get Bavarians or Prussians opposite us it makes small odds;
they've no earthly chance of a quiet time while we're in the line. The
public at home read about the big things, and I suppose when they read
that "The rest of the Front was quiet," they're inclined to wonder how
we put our time in. Ah, well! the "quiet" of the dispatches wouldn't
exactly suit a conscientious objector, I can assure you. It's a kind of
"quiet" that keeps Master Boche pretty thoroughly on the hop. But on
the whole, I'm rather glad the dispatches are like that. I'd be sorry
to see 'em make a song and dance about these little affairs of ours.
Only, don't you run away with the idea that when you read "Remainder
of the Front quiet," it means the Boche was being left alone; for he
isn't, not by long odds.

You will remember that opposite our extreme left I had discovered an
S-shaped opening leading through the barbed wire to the Boche front
line, so cut, no doubt, for the convenience of their patrols at night.
We decided that we would make use of that opening for a bombing raid
on our last night in. Now, you must understand that one of the chief
uses of the barbed-wire entanglements is to keep off the prowling
bomber. The entanglements extend to, say, forty to sixty paces from
the trench. You cannot hope to make accurate practice in bomb-throwing
at a distance of more than thirty yards. Consequently, as I explained
before, to shy bombs into the average trench the bomber must worry his
way through twenty paces or so of barbed-wire entanglements. It is very
difficult to do that without attracting the attention of sentries, and
impossible to do it quickly with or without noise. Hence you perceive
the unpleasant predicament of the bomber when he has heaved his first
bomb. He has offered himself as a target to the Boche machine-guns and
rifles at a moment when he is in the midst of a maze of barbed wire,
from which he can only hope to retreat slowly and with difficulty.

Then why not cut a lane through the Boche wire by means of shells, just
before dark, and use that to bomb from after dark? Excellent. Only, if
you were the Boche and we cut a lane through your wire one evening just
before dark, wouldn't you train a machine-gun or two on that opening so
that you could sweep it with fire at any moment you wished during the
night; and wouldn't you have a dozen extra rifles with keen eyes behind
'em trained on the same spot; and wouldn't you be apt to welcome that
nice little lane as a trap in which you could butcher English Tommies
like sitting pheasants? Wouldn't you now?

Well, my business with the Battery Commander was to get on his right
side and induce him to expend a certain number of rounds from his dear
little guns that afternoon in cutting a nice line through the Boche
entanglements opposite the extreme right of our line. It happened that,
without interfering with the sort of sinking fund process by which the
lords of the guns build up their precious reserves of ammunition, this
particular lord was in a position to let us have a few rounds.

Of course, our attitude towards the gunners is not always strictly
reasonable, you know. We are for ever wanting them to spend ammunition,
while their obvious duty is to accumulate ammunition greedily and all
the time against the hours of real need, so that when these hours come
they may simply let everything rip--take the lid right off. However,
for reasons of their own, apart from mine, it happened fortunately that
the gunners were not at all averse from giving that bit of the Boche
line a mild pounding; and, accordingly, they promised us a nice neat
lane on the extreme right by nightfall.

We said nothing about the beautiful S-shaped lane on the extreme
left, which Master Boche thought was known only to himself. Observe
our extreme artfulness. We proceeded to train a grenade rifle on the
extreme right, likewise a machine-gun. Then we proceeded to tell off
our best bombers, and overhaul carefully a good supply of hand-grenades
for use in the S-shaped opening on our extreme left.

Until midnight there was a certain amount of moonlight, and for several
hours we kept the Boche very busy on our extreme right, where, with
a trifling expenditure of ammunition, the guns had cut a lane for us
through his barbed wire. I've no doubt at all that Fritz had several
machine-guns concentrated on that spot, and a bunch of rifle-men too.
He made up his mind he would have the English on toast in that lane,
and we encouraged him to think so.

You know, at night-time it is not very easy to tell the difference
between the explosion of a hand-grenade and that of a rifle-grenade.
But whereas the hand-grenade could only be lobbed in from among the
wire, the rifle-grenade could easily be sent over from our trench at
that particular spot on our right. So we sent 'em over at all kinds
of confusing intervals. And then, when Boche opened machine-gun fire
across the lane, under the impression that our bombers were at work
there, we replied with bursts of machine-gun fire on his parapet
opposite the lane, thereby, I make no doubt, getting a certain number
of heads. It is certain they would be looking out, and equally certain
they would not be expecting fire from our trenches, when they thought
we had our own bombers out there.

It was an attractive game, and we kept it going till nearly midnight.
Then we stopped dead, leaving them to suppose we had given up hope of
overcoming their watchfulness. We arranged to reopen the ball at 1.30
A.M. precisely, with rifle-grenades and machine-gun fire as might prove
suitable, but with no end of a row in any case.

At one o'clock I started from Stinking Sap, on our extreme left, with
twelve of our best bombers, each carrying an apronful of bombs. There
wasn't a glimmer of any kind of light. We made direct for the S-shaped
opening, and lay down outside the wire there. In our own trench, before
starting, we had made all arrangements. I had six men on either side
of me, and each man knew precisely what his particular job was. "The
Peacemaker" never tires of insisting on that principle, and, of course,
he is right. Nothing is any good unless it is worked out beforehand so
that each man knows exactly his job, and concentrates on that without
reference to anyone else, or any hanging about waiting instructions.

At 1.20 we began crawling down the S-shaped opening in our proper
order. At 1.30 the first rifle-grenade ripped over from the extreme
right of our line. Others followed in quick succession, and on the
report of the sixth we jumped to our feet and ran forward, extending
to right and left from me as we reached the inside of the wire, and
chucking our first bombs--thirteen of 'em--as we got into position. It
was so close there was no possibility of missing, and I can tell you
thirteen bombs make some show when they all explode beautifully right
inside a trench a few yards in front of you.

Then we all scrambled over the parapet down into the trench over a
front of, say, thirty paces. The six men on my right hand at once
turned to their right, and those on my left to their left. It worked
splendidly. Each party travelled along the trench as quickly as it
could, bombing over each traverse before rounding it. The row was
terrific.

In that order each party went along six successive bays of the trench.
Then immediately they began to reverse the process, travelling more
slowly this time and bombing more thoroughly. They were working back
on their centre now, you understand, still bombing outward, of course.
We had the luck to strike a splendid piece of trench with no fewer
than three important dug-outs in it, and we made a shambles of each of
them. It was wildly exciting while it lasted, but I suppose we were not
more than four or five minutes in the trench. We exploded thirty-two
bombs during those few minutes, every single one of them with good
effect; and when we scrambled out into the S-shaped opening again we
took with us an undamaged Boche machine-gun and four prisoners, one of
them wounded and three unwounded. We killed nine men in the trench, and
a good round number in the three dug-outs. I had a bunch of maps and
papers from the first of those dug-outs. And we didn't improve their
trench or the dug-outs. Thirty-two bombs make a difference.

The machine-gun hampered us a bit, but I can tell you we made pretty
good time getting across to Stinking Sap. The Boches were hopelessly
confused by the whole business, and while we were crossing to the
extreme left of our own line they were wildly blazing at our extreme
right and pouring flares and machine-gun fire over the lane through
their wire. Naturally, nobody was in the least exposed on our right,
except perhaps the man operating the machine-gun, which probably did
good execution among Boche observers of that neat little lane our
artillery had cut for us.

It was a delightful show and cost us nothing in casualties, except
two men very slightly wounded, one in the right foot and the other in
the left hand and arm from our own bomb splinters. But, as our good
old bombing Sergeant said, it "fairly put the wind up them bloomin'
sauer-krauters." Incidentally, and owing far more to the fine behaviour
of the men than to anything I did, it earned a lot of bouquets from
different quarters for your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."

P.S.--Next day's report as served up to you and the public in the
newspapers at home would, of course, and rightly enough no doubt,
include our sector in the "remainder of the Front," which was "quiet."
Or we might be included in a two-line phrase about "minor activities,"
or "patrols were active on various points of the line"--as they
certainly are all the time.



THE SPIRIT OF THE MEN


The parcels from W----'s arrived all safe and sound, thanks to your
careful arrangements, and we are, in consequence, living in the lap
of luxury. The tinned fruit is specially appreciated, and very good
for us, I've no doubt. By the way, you will be glad to know that the
boiler-maker's suit in one piece of water-proofed canvas is a huge
success. I wore it on that last bombing raid. For patrol work, or
wiring, for anything over the parapet, and in the trench, too, at
night-time, for instance, I don't think there's anything to beat it.
There's nothing to catch or get in one's way, and it's a great joy to
keep one's ordinary clothes clean and decent. On patrol it's better
than oilskin, because it's silent--doesn't rustle.

I dare say you've heard that phrase--I forget whose it is--about the
backbone of the Army being the non-commissioned man. I suspect it was
all right when it was written, and goodness knows, there's not much
the matter with the non-commissioned man to-day. Only, there isn't the
difference that there was between the N.C.O. and the "other ranks"--the
men. The N.C.O. isn't the separate type he was, because the N.C.O. of
to-day is so often the man of yesterday; promotion having necessarily
been rapid in the New Army. We had to make our own N.C.O.'s from the
start. They're all backbone, now, men and N.C.O.'s alike. And the
officers are quite all right, thank you, too. I doubt whether officers
in any Army have ever worked harder than the officers of our New
Army--the "Temporary Gentlemen," you know--are working to-day. They
have had to work hard. Couldn't leave it to N.C.O.'s, you see, because,
apart from anything else, they've had to make the N.C.O.'s out of
privates; teach 'em their job. So we're all backbone together.

And when you hear some fellow saying "The men are splendid," you
need not think he's just paying a conventional tribute or echoing a
stereotyped kind of praise. It's true; "true as death," as Harry Lauder
used to sing; it's as true as anything I know. It's Gospel truth. The
men are absolutely and all the time splendid.

I'm not an emotional sort of a chap, and I'm sure before the war I
never gave a thought to such things; but, really, there is something
incurably and ineradicably fine about the rough average Englishman, who
has no surface graces at all. You know the kind I mean. The decency of
him is something in his grain. It stands any test you like to apply.
It's the same colour all the way through. I'm not emotional; but I
don't mind telling you, strictly between ourselves, that since I've
been out here in trenches I've had the water forced into my eyes, not
once, but a dozen times, from sheer admiration and respect, by the
action of rough, rude chaps whom you'd never waste a second glance on
in the streets of London; men who, so far from being exceptional, are
typical through and through; just the common, low-down street average.

That's the rough, rude, foul-mouthed kind, with no manners at all,
and many ways that you hate. But I tell you, under the strain and
stress of this savage existence he shows up for what he really is,
under his rough, ugly hide: he's jewel all through without an ounce of
dirty Boche meanness or cruelty in his whole carcass. You may hate his
manners if you like but you can't help loving him; you simply can't
help it if you work alongside of him in the trenches in face of the
enemy.

And that's not the only type we've got that makes you want to take
your hat off to Tommy, and that puts a real respect, which perhaps the
civilian doesn't understand, into your salutes. (It's only silly puppy
boys, or officers who've never been in the presence of an enemy, or
faced immediate danger with men, who can't be bothered properly and
fully acknowledging salutes. You watch a senior, one who's learned his
lessons in real service, and you'll find nothing grudging or casual
or half-hearted. We get into the French way here, with a hint of the
bow, a real salutation in our salutes.) Even more striking, I sometimes
think, is the sterling stuff we find in types of men in the ranks who
haven't naturally anything rough or hard about them: like my ex-draper
chap, you know, in No. 3 Platoon, Ramsay. We've a number of the same
calibre. He was a pillar of his chapel at home and--of all things--a
draper: a gentle, soft-spoken dealer in ribbons and tape. I told you, I
think, how he fought with a man in his section when he fancied he was
not going to be allowed to go out one night with a bombing party.

You read about calling for volunteers. With our lot it's hopeless to
call for volunteers for a dangerous job. The only thing to do would be
to call for volunteers to stay behind. The other thing's simply a way
of calling out the whole Company; and if it happens to be just half a
dozen you want, that's awkward.

Then there's the matter of grousing--growling among themselves about
this and that. You would be deceived about this until you got to know
them a bit. It's a queer thing, and not easy to explain, but grousing
is one of the passions of their lives, or, perhaps it would be truer
to say, a favourite form of recreation. But, mark you this, only when
everything is going smoothly, and there is nothing real to grumble
about. It would seem to be absolutely forbidden to growl when there's
anything to growl about; a sort of unwritten law which, since we've
been out here, anyhow, is never transgressed.

It's rather fine, this, you know, and very English. So long as there's
a little intermittent grousing going on you can be quite sure of two
things--that there's nothing wrong and that the men are in good spirits
and content. If there's no grousing, it means one of two things--either
that the men are angered about something, in which case they will be
unusually silent, or that we are up against real difficulties and
hardships involving real suffering, in which case there will be a lot
of chaffing and joke-cracking and apparent merriment.

Queer, isn't it? But I think it's a true description. If a long day's
hard labour--clearing out a trench and building up a parapet, we'll
say--is undone and washed out just as it's finished by a succession of
Boche oil-cans, mortars, and general bombardment, which also lays out a
few good men, and blows the next meal rations sky-high, so that there's
the prospect of a long night's extra hard work where some rest had been
expected, and all on an empty stomach--then you'll hear no grousing at
all, but any number of jocular remarks:

"I tell you, the Army of to-day's _all right_!" "We don't get much
pay, but, my word, we _do_ see life!" "Save me a lot o' trouble, this
will. My fightin' weight was goin' up a lot too fast, but this'll save
me givin' up my port wine an' turtle soup!" Then some wag pretends
to consult his newspaper, and, looking up, announces that: "On the
remainder of the Front the night was comparatively quiet." "Yes,"
says another, quoting further from the imaginary news, "and the
banquet which had been arranged for 'A' Company was pos'poned till the
following day." "When it is hoped," adds yet another joker, "that a
number of prominent Boche prisoners will attend." Elaborate winks and
nods; and one man positively licks his lips as he mutters: "Gosh! If
only they really _would_ come over the sticks to-night; if only they
would!" "Reg'ler bloomin' pacifist, isn't he?" remarks a student of the
Press, "longin' to welcome the gentle Hun with open arms, he is--not
'arf!" "We'll welcome him all right, if only the beggar 'd come. I'd
like to use a section or two of 'em for buildin' up this bloomin'
parapet. Be stiffer than these sand-bags full o' slush." "Shame! An'
you a yewmanitarian, too. Why, how'd our poor chaps ever be able to
stand the smell of all them potted Huns, an' so close, too? You're too
harsh, mate; reg'ler Prussian, I call you."

So it goes on. It's a bitter cold night. They are up nearly to their
thighs in half-frozen slush. Their day's work has been entirely undone
in half an hour, and has to be done over again without any interval
for rest; and the supper ration's "gone West." You can hardly imagine
what the loss of a meal means, with a night like that ahead of you,
and occasional shells still dropping round the bit you must repair.
They look awful ruffians, these chaps; caked all over with mud, hair
and eyebrows and all; three or four days' stubble on their chins, and
all kinds of ribaldry on their lips. They love their ease and creature
comforts at least as much as any conscientious objector could; and God
knows they are here as far removed from ease and creature comfort as
men well could be--entirely of their own free will. And they will carry
on all night, cracking their simple jokes and chaffing one another, and
jostling each other to get to the front if one or two are required for
anything extra dangerous. And the spirit that dictates their little
jokes, isn't it as fine as any shown in bygone days by the aristocrats
of France and England? If you told these fellows they were aristocrats,
imagine how they'd take it! "'Ere, 'op it! Not so much of it! Wotcher
givin' us?"

But aren't they--bless 'em! I tell you, when I come to compare 'em
with the fellows we're up against across the way; with those poor
devils of machine-driven Boches, with their record of brutish murder
and swinishness in Belgium--why, there's not a shadow of doubt in my
mind they are real aristocrats. The war has helped to make them so, of
course. But, whatever the cause, they stand out, with the splendidly
gallant _poilus_ of France: true aristocrats--five hundred miles of
'em from the North Sea to Switzerland, pitted against the deluded and
brutalised, machine-driven Boches. There are no officers and machine
driving our fellows, or the cheery, jolly French soldiers. Held back
occasionally, directed always, they may be. There's no need of any
driving on our side. Unquestioning obedience to an all-powerful machine
may be a useful thing in its way. I know a better, though; and that's
convinced, willing, eager determination, guided--never driven--by
officers who share it, and share everything else the men have and do.
And that's what there is all down our side of the line, from the North
Sea to Switzerland.

But, look here; I've just read through my last page, and it seems to
me I've been preaching, ranting, perhaps. I'd better stow it and get on
with my work. You see, one can't _talk_ this kind of thing; and yet--I
don't know, one feels it pretty often, and rather strongly. It's a bit
of a relief to tell you something about it--in writing. Even to you, I
probably shouldn't, by word of mouth, you know. One doesn't, somehow;
but this sort of chatting with a pen is different. All I actually want
to say, though it has taken such a lot of paper to say it on, is that
the men really are splendid. I love them. (It certainly is easier
writing than talking.) I want you to know about it; to know something
about these chaps--they come from every class of the community--so that
you'll love 'em, too. I wish we could make every woman, and every man
and child, too, in England understand how fine these fellows are, and
how fine, really, the life they're leading is.

For sheer hardness and discomfort there's nothing in the life of the
poorest worker in England to compare with it. They are never out of
instant danger. And the level of their spirits is far higher than
you'd find it in any model factory or workshop at home. Death itself
they meet with little jokes; I mean that literally. And the daily
round of their lives is simply full of little acts of self-sacrifice,
generosity, and unstudied, unnoted heroism, such as famous reputations
are based upon in civil life in peace time. I feel I can't make
it plain, as it deserves to be. I wish I could. But you must just
accept it because I say it, and love 'em all--the French as well as
ours--because they've made themselves loved by your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



AN UNHEALTHY BIT OF LINE


Rather to the general surprise, we have been moved into a new sector of
the line, immediately south of what we called "our own." We have not
been told why--the Olympians do not deal in whys and wherefores--but,
according to gossip, we can take our choice between the wish to make
us all familiar with the general lie of the land round here, to be the
better prepared for a push; and the undoubted fact that a new Division
is being moved into the line, and that our move southward facilitates
this. Perhaps the real reason of the move is a mixture of both these;
but, whether or no, the move itself provides striking evidence of the
marked differences which exist between different parts of the line, and
the extremely narrow and circumscribed nature of the knowledge one gets
of the Front while serving in trenches.

Our "B" Company is holding just now the subsection which actually
adjoins the right of the sector we used to hold. We are on the right of
"B," and "C" is on our right, with "D" back in the support line. Even
"B's" bit, though it does adjoin our old beat, differs greatly from
that; and our present short line is hemispheres away from the sector
we knew before. There's not very much of it--about half the length of
the line we last held--but what there is is hot and strong, I can tell
you. The way in which "B" Company's bit differs is chiefly that it's
in sandy soil, instead of all clay, and so is much drier and cleaner,
more habitable in every way than anything we are accustomed to. But
our bit, variously known as Petticoat Lane (why, I can't imagine),
Cut-Throat Alley (obvious enough), and The Gut--well, our bit is, as
"the Peacemaker" said directly he saw it, "very interesting." I think
that's about the kindest thing you can say of it; and interesting it
certainly is.

To begin with, the greatest distance between any one spot in it and
the Boche front line is seventy or eighty yards; and there's a place at
which it's only half that. But the salient point in the whole sector
is this: the half of our line that is seventy or eighty yards from
the Boche line has between it and the Boche line a string of craters,
the far lips of which are not more than fifteen to twenty paces from
Fritz's sentries. These craters are sometimes occupied by the Boche and
sometimes by us; but nobody attempts to hold them by day; they don't
give shelter enough for that; and the betting as to who is to hold them
on any given night is about even.

You might almost say, "But why should anybody want to hold the beastly
things?" And if you ever set foot in one of them, you'd say it with
some feeling, for it's like trying to walk, or rather to crawl, in a
bottomless pit of porridge. When dusk is coming on of an evening half
a dozen of our bombers may start crawling from our parapet, making
for the nearest crater. Maybe Fritz is dull and misses them. Maybe
he opens such a hot fire they have to shin back quick. Maybe, just
as we are getting close to the near edge of a crater, and flattering
ourselves we've been a bit too nippy for the Boche this time, we get a
rousing welcome from the crater itself, in the shape of three or four
well-aimed bombs among us. Then those of us who are still able to think
realise that the Boche has been a bit beforehand and got there first.
Next night the process is reversed. During last night those confounded
craters changed hands three times, remaining at last, I am glad to say,
with us. We lost one man killed and two wounded. But we brought back
two wounded and one dead Boche, and we reckon to have knocked out at
least six others.

It was a nightmare of a night, to tell the truth, but nothing big
enough to get into dispatches. One point about the holding of these
craters is that it enables you to lob bombs, or almost anything else
for that matter, into the Boche front trench. Down here we really are
learning something about oil-cans, mortars, and short range heavy stuff
generally. It's very much hand-to-hand warfare, and, I suppose because
of that, much more savage and more primitive than anything we've seen
before. There practically isn't any No Man's Land here. It's just our
trench and their trench and the muddy, bloody cock-pit between, all
churned into a slushy batter by high explosives, and full of all manner
of ghastly remains. Souvenirs! By Heavens! the curio hunters could find
all they wanted here within a few yards of where I'm sitting, but not
many of 'em would have the spunk to gather 'em in. You see, I haven't
any great respect for the souvenir hunter. He seems a ghoulish sort of
a creature to me, and I can't believe the cynical old "Peacemaker" when
he says the bulk of them, and all the more inveterate sort, are women.

The C.O. tells "the Peacemaker" he is so arranging things that no
Company will get more than four days on end in Petticoat Lane, and then
the other three days of the turn in trenches, in the support line,
where Battalion Headquarters is. "A" Company, of course, takes glory
to itself for having been the first to be sent in here, and I think
this fully compensates them for the fact that nobody's had any rest
worth speaking about since we got in. We shall probably do better in
that respect when we have time to get used to the change. In fact, I
can see a difference already in the men's attitude. But, mind you, the
change is radical, from two hundred yards' interval between yourself
and Fritz, down to fifty yards. It affects every moment of your life,
and every mortal thing you do. More, it actually affects what you say.
You don't make any telephonic arrangements about patrols and that sort
of thing here. We are learning German at a great rate. But it was
very startling to our fellows the first night, when they found they
could hear voices in the enemy line. It seemed to bring Fritz and his
ingenious engines very close indeed.

But already the men have begun to crack their little jokes about it,
and pretend to be careful about setting down a canteen of tea or a
bit of bread lest one of "them bloomin' sauer-krauters lean over and
pick it up before you can turn round--hungry blighters!" I confess I'm
conscious that the nearness represents a great deal of added nerve
strain; but, thank goodness, the men don't seem to feel it a bit.
They're just as jolly as ever. But it is mighty intimate and primitive,
you know.

Imagine! The first thing I laid my hand on when I got into a crater on
our first night, after we'd bombed Fritz out of it, was the face of a
wounded Boche; and he bit my little finger to the bone, so that I had
to have it washed and dressed by the M.O. for fear of poisoning. It's
nothing; but I mention it as an instance of the savage primitiveness of
this life at close quarters with the Boche.

There's simply no end to his dodgy tricks here. Three or four of 'em
will cry out for help from a crater--in English, you know--and pretend
to be our own men, wounded and unable to move, or Boches anxious to
give themselves up. And then, if anyone's soft enough to get over the
parapet to go and lend a hand, they open a hot fire, or wait till we
get very near and then bomb. We had verbal warnings in plenty from the
Company we relieved, but it's experience that teaches; and, whilst they
may not be brilliant tricksters--they're not,--our fellows will at all
events never allow the same trick to be worked off twice on us.

By his fondness for all such petty tricks as these--and, of course,
they have dozens of dirtier ones than this--the Boche has rather shut
the door on chivalry. Given half a chance, the natural inclination of
our men is to wage war as they would play cricket--like sportsmen.
You've only to indicate to them that this or that is a rule of the
game--of any game--and they're on it at once. And if you indicated
nothing, of their own choice they'd always play roughly fair and
avoid the dirty trick by instinct. But the Boche washes all that out.
Generosity and decency strike him as simply foolishness. And you cannot
possibly treat him as a sportsman, because he'll do you down at every
turn if you do; and here in Petticoat Lane being done down doesn't only
mean losing your money. As a rule, you haven't any of that to lose. It
means--"going West for keeps"; that is, being killed. It's that sort of
thing that has made Petticoat Lane life savage and primitive; and the
fact that it's so close and intimate as to be pressing on you all round
all the time, that is what gives the additional nerve strain.

It is, of course, a great place for little raids. The trenches are
so close that you're no sooner out of your own than you're on top of
theirs. And I take it as evidence of the moral superiority being on
this side of the line, that we see very much more of their trenches
than they ever see of ours. It is a great deal more difficult to repair
trenches here than it was when we were a couple of hundred yards away
from the enemy, because of the frequency of the oil-cans and bombs. The
consequence is that, from the point of view of the cover they give,
both our trenches and the Boches' are much inferior to those we had
before. But, curiously enough, we have some very decent dug-outs here,
deep and well protected.

In fact, take it all round, we are not so badly off at all. And
"interesting" the place most certainly is. ("The Peacemaker" generally
means "dangerous" when he says "interesting.") There's something doing
in the strafing line pretty nearly all the time; and strafing is a
deal more interesting than navvying, pumping, and mud-shovelling. The
chances for little shows of one sort and another are more numerous here
than where we were before. We've tried one or two already, and when we
get back into the support line you shall have full particulars from
your somewhat tired but quite jolly

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



THEY SAY----


We were relieved in Petticoat Lane by "D" Company last night, and
took the place they'd held in the support line; "a corner of Heaven
itself," of course, after The Gut. And I have had a most luxurious and
delightful day to-day, out of trenches altogether.

Our O.C. "the Peacemaker"--you do remember, don't you, that the
Officer Commanding the Battalion is the C.O., and the Officer
Commanding the Company the O.C.: saves confusion--is an awfully good
chap. He didn't say anything about it, but I feel sure he put me on my
job of to-day--chose me for it--because he thought it would be good for
me. He was ordered to send an officer to arrange about billets for the
Company in ---- ready for when we go out. Taffy's been a bit under the
weather in Petticoat Lane, and is able to get a rest here in support.
This meant rather more sticking to it for me in the front line, and,
as a matter of fact, I didn't get an hour's sleep while we were there.
We had little strafes going most of the time, and I was rather cheap
when we came out last night; bit shaky, you know; that's all. Two
Boche mines were exploded in The Gut while we were there; both with
extraordinarily little loss to us. But I was lifted out of the trench
by one of 'em; and I suppose these things do indirectly affect one a
bit, somehow, even when there is nothing to show for it; at all events,
when they are combined with shortage of sleep.

Anyhow, I'm as right as ninepence to-night, and had a fine sleep after
midnight yesterday. And to-day, with "the Peacemaker's" horse for
company, I've been playing the country gentleman at large and fixing
up billets for the Company, and done pretty well for 'em, too. It was
something of a race between Grierson of "D" and myself for the best
officers' mess and sleeping quarters in ----; but Grierson hadn't much
chance, really. He hasn't even my smattering of French, and his O.C.
had not lent him a horse.

The goodwife at the place I've got for ourselves is a torrential
talker, and in rounding up the boys and girls working on her farm she
shows a bit of a temper; but I'm certain she's a jolly capable manager,
and she has promised to cook for us, which will mean a fine change from
the batman's efforts in that line. Also the billets themselves are
good, those for the men being the best I've seen anywhere: dry as a
chip, and thoroughly sheltered from the wind. We shall be in clover for
our week out, especially as I think ---- is a bit too far back to admit
of our being on trench fatigues at all while out.

I did enjoy the pottering about on my own, and the nearest firing
being three or four miles away all the time, made everything seem
so extraordinarily peaceful after the roaring racket and straining
watchfulness of Cut-Throat Alley; where one's eyes sort of ache from
trying to look all ways at once, and one's ears and head generally
get dead from the effort of recording the precise meaning of each
outstanding roar in the continuous din. Also I met two or three
interesting people, including the Town Major in ----.

I had some grub about one o'clock in a big _estaminet_, almost a
restaurant, really; and it was most interesting, after the trenches,
to listen to the gossip and eat without feeling you had to look out
for anything. There are a number of French residents left in this
place, and this makes it different from the village we were last in,
just behind the line, where the inhabitants have left, and the place
is purely a camp, and partly in ruins at that. This place still has a
natural human sort of life of its own, you know. And there are women in
it, and a priest or two, and cows and sheep, and a town-crier, and that
sort of thing--something fascinatingly human about all that, though it
is within four miles of the firing line.

The café was simply full of rumours and gossip. Military gossip is,
of course, taboo with strangers and civilians, and rightly, since one
cannot be sure who is and who is not a spy. But I suppose there's
no harm in it among people who can recognise each other's uniforms
and badges. Anyhow, I heard a lot to-day, which may or may not have
anything in it.

The things that interested me most were things about our own bit
of front, and there were two definite reports about this. First, I
heard that we are to throw out a new front-line trench to bridge
the re-entrant south of Petticoat Lane. And then I heard we are to
make a push to collar the Boche front line on the bend opposite us,
because a few hundred yards of line there would mean a lot to us in
the straightening of our front generally, and in washing out what is
undoubtedly a strong corner for the Boche now, because it gives him
some fine enfilading positions. If this were brought off it would wash
out The Gut altogether as firing line, and that in itself would be a
godsend. Also it would mean a real push, which is naturally what we
all want. We think the fact of that extra Division having been fitted
into our line rather endorses the report, and are feeling rather
bucked in consequence. The whole Battalion, and for that matter the
whole Division, is just spoiling for the chance of a push, and I doubt
whether we've a man who wouldn't volunteer for the front line of the
push at this moment, and jolly glad of the chance.

I said in my last letter that I'd tell you about our little strafing
stunts while we were in Petticoat Lane. But, really, this new prospect
of a push and the report about the new front-line trench to be cut make
them seem pretty small beer, and quite a long way off now, anyhow. You
remember I told you there was a startling difference between the left
of our present sector and the right of the one we were in before. It
wasn't only the difference between clay and sand, you know. It was
that, whereas the right of the old sector was hundreds of yards away
from the Boche--as much as six and seven hundred in parts--the left of
the present sector runs down to sixty or seventy yards where it joins
Petticoat Lane.

That means a big re-entrant in the line, of course, and a part
where our front runs almost at right angles to Fritz's, instead of
parallel with it. The new trench would be to bridge the mouth of
this re-entrant, and equalise the distance between our line and the
Boche's, right along. Apart from anything else, it would make any
subsequent push much easier. It's a low-lying, wet, exposed bit, that
re-entrant; but this wouldn't matter if we were just going to use it as
a jumping-off place, which is what we hope.

However, as there's no official news, one mustn't think too much about
it.

It seems there's been some sickness at our Brigade Headquarters,
which is a château marked large on the map, though out of sight from
the Boche line. The sickness among the orderlies was attributed to
something queer about the drains, and I suppose the thing was reported
on. Anyhow, as the story I heard to-day goes, a tremendous swell
arrived in a car to have a look at the place; an Olympian of the first
water, you understand. No doubt I should be executed by means of
something with boiling oil in it if I mentioned his name. As he stepped
from his car outside the château two shells landed, one on the lawn and
one in the shrubbery. The Olympian sniffed at Fritz's insolence. Before
he got into the doorway another shell landed very near his car, and
spattered it with mud from bonnet to differential. The august one is
reported to have greeted the Brigadier by saying rather angrily:

"This is obviously a most unhealthy spot, sir; most unhealthy. Ought
never to have been chosen."

But a better yarn was the one a subaltern of the R.E. told me as I
was jogging back to the trenches. This was about the sector next but
one north of us. It seems a Boche 'plane was being chased by a British
'plane, and making heavy weather of it. The Englishman had perforated
the other fellow's wings very badly, and partly knocked out his engine,
too. Anyhow, the Boche 'plane was underdog, and descending rapidly
midway between our front line and his own, right over the centre of No
Man's Land. Naturally the men in the trenches on both sides were wildly
excited about it. The story is they forgot everything else and were
simply lining the parapets, yelling encouragement to their respective
airmen as though they had front seats at Brooklands or the Naval and
Military Tournament. Seeing this, a pawky old Scot--it was a Highland
regiment on our side--slipped quietly down on the fire-step in the
midst of the excitement, and began making accurate but leisurely target
practice; carefully picking out Boches forty or fifty yards apart from
each other, so as not to give the show away too soon. He did pretty
well, but was bitterly disappointed when the Boche's Archibald forced
our 'plane to rise, just as the Boche airman managed to jigger his
machine somehow into his own support lines, and the spectators took
cover.

"Och, no a'thegither sae badly, surr," says Scotty to his Platoon
Commander. "Ah managed to get nine o' the feckless bodies; but Ah hopet
for the roond dizen!"

Rather nice, wasn't it?

Those little shows of ours in Cut-Throat Alley were practically all
bombing, you know; but we did rather well in the matter of prisoners
taken in the craters, and of Boches otherwise accounted for. Our own
casualties for the four days were two killed--both in my Platoon,
and both men with wives at home, I grieve to say; thundering good
chaps--and six wounded; two only slightly. We reckon to have got twenty
or thirty Boches wounded, and at least ten killed; and there is no sort
of reckoning needed about the eleven prisoners we certainly did take in
the craters and sent blindfolded down to Headquarters. I believe this
beats the record of the Company we relieved, which, of course, knew the
place better; and our C.O. is pleased with us. I have to go now and
tell off a small carrying party. Though feeling a bit shaky yesterday,
I'm as right as right can be again now, so mind, you have no earthly
reason to worry about your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."

P.S.--"The Peacemaker" has just got word from Battalion Headquarters
itself that it's perfectly correct about the new front-line trench to
be cut; and it is believed "A" Company is to have something to do with
it. So that's real news; and we feel sure it means a push to come.
Everybody very cock-a-hoop.



THE NEW FRONT LINE


A turn out, a turn in, and now we're out again, and barring three Field
Service post cards, I believe all that time has gone without my writing
to you. You must try to forgive me. I can assure you things have been
happening. There hasn't been much idle time. When I last wrote we
had only begun to talk about the new front trench, hadn't we? Things
certainly have hummed since then.

The first move was a tour of inspection and survey of the proposed
new line, by the O.C. of our Field Coy. of R.E., with some other
officers. Somewhat to my surprise--I suppose he really ought not to
expose himself to that extent--our C.O. accompanied this party. The
next night, when the pegs were driven in, definitely marking the whole
new line, the O.C.R.E. allowed me to go with him. The new line, as we
marked it out, was 760 yards long; from down near The Gut right across
to what used to be our centre, cutting off the whole big re-entrant and
equalising the whole sector's distance from the Boche.

The next day our C.O. sent for O.C. Companies, and "the Peacemaker"
took me along when he went, as I'd been over the ground, and he guessed
the pow-wow would be about the new trench. The C.O. told us all about
it, and what the ideas of the authorities were. He said it was the sort
of job which might possibly prove costly in lives. But it had got to
be done, and he was of opinion that if everyone concerned made up his
mind never for a moment to relax the care and watchfulness he would
use in the first half-hour, the job might be done with comparatively
few casualties. He talked longer than he generally does, and I think
he felt what he said a good deal. He said he never expected to have
one moment's anxiety as to the bearing of any officer, N.C.O., or man
of the Battalion in the face of danger. He knew very well we were
all right on that score. But what he did want to impress upon us, as
officers, was that our duty went a good deal beyond that.

"I know very well that none of you would ever show fear," he said;
"and I think you are satisfied that your N.C.O.'s and men will never
fail you in that respect. But, remember, your greatest asset is the
confidence the men have in you. Never do anything to endanger that. If
you use all the care and judgment you can, and if each one of your men
understands exactly what the job before him is, and your influence is
such as to prevent anyone from losing his head, no matter what happens,
then the casualty list will be low. Every casualty you prevent on a job
like this is as good as an enemy casualty gained. When we have to lose
our men, let us lose them fighting, as they themselves would choose to
go down if go down they must. But in this job of the new trench, we pit
our wits and our coolness and discipline and efficiency against those
of the Boche; and it's your job to see to it that the work is carried
through at the minimum cost in man-power."

He said other things, of course, but that was the gist of it, and I
think we were all impressed. He's a martinet all right, is our C.O.;
and, as you know, his tongue is a two-edged sword. He's as stern a man
as I ever knew; but, by Gad! he's just, and, above and before all else,
he is so emphatically a man.

Well, the upshot of our plans was that "A" Company was to provide the
covering party and be responsible for the tactical aspect of the show,
and "C" Company--all miners and farm workers--with one Platoon of "D,"
was to do the digging, for a start, anyhow. The R.E. were to run the
wire entanglement right along the front of the new line, and this was
to be the first operation. It was obvious that as much as possible must
be done during the first night, since, once he had seen the job, as he
would directly daylight came, the Boche might be relied on to make that
line tolerably uncomfortable for anyone working near it without cover.

While we were out of trenches that week our fellows were pretty busy
during the first half of each night carrying material up to the front
line. There was a good number of miles of barbed wire to go up, with
hundreds of iron screw standards for the wire, and hundreds more of
stakes; a lot of material altogether, and I am bound to say I think the
R.E. arranged it very well. They had all their material so put together
and stowed up at the front as to make for the maximum of convenience
and the minimum of delay when they came to handle it in the open and
under fire--as men always must be when doing anything in No Man's Land.

Our men were bursting with swank over the Company's being chosen to
act as covering party; delighted to think that what they regarded as
the combatant side of the show was theirs. Indeed, I rather think
a lot of 'em made up their minds that they were going to utilise
the opportunity of having a couple of hundred men out close to the
Boche trenches for a real strafe of the men in those trenches. "The
Peacemaker" had to get 'em together and talk very seriously and
straight about what our responsibilities were in this job. This was
necessary to make the beggars realise that ours was a defensive and not
an offensive stunt; in which success or failure depended mainly upon
our ability to be perfectly silent.

"All the scrapping will come later," said "the Peacemaker." "We
mustn't invite one single bullet while we've a couple of hundred men
behind us using picks and shovels, and working against time to get
cover. If Boches come along our line, it will be our job to strafe 'em
with our naked fingers if we possibly can. The last thing we'll do will
be to fire a shot. And the one thing that must not happen, not in any
case at all--no, not if the whole Prussian Guard turns out--is for a
single Boche in any circumstances whatever to get through our line."

And that was the basis on which we tackled the job. Of course, the
O.C. knew better than to try to handle his Company as a Company on
the night. Orders could only be given in whispers, you understand. As
a matter of fact, in all such work, as in night attacks, one must be
able to rely, not alone on Platoon Sergeants and senior N.C.O.'s, but
on Corporals and Section Commanders. And if they have not been trained
so that you can rely on their carrying out instructions exactly, one's
chances of success are pretty small.

It was dark soon after five, and by a quarter to six we were moving
out into the open. One and two Platoons went out down Stinking Sap,
myself in command, and three and four Platoons went out from just a
little way above Petticoat Lane. I led my lot and "the Peacemaker" led
the other half-Company, the idea being that when he and I met we should
know that we were in our right position, and could stay there. We moved
with about three paces' interval between men, and kept three or four
connecting files out on our inside flank and a couple on the outer
flank; the business of the inside men being to steer us at an average
distance of forty paces to the front of the foremost line of pegs,
which was the line to be followed by the barbed-wire entanglements; the
line of the new trench itself being well inside that again.

This meant that one flank of our line, just above Petticoat Lane, would
rest within 150 yards of the Boche front trench, and the other flank
about 225 yards. We had drilled the whole business very carefully into
the men themselves, as well as the Section Commanders and Sergeants. We
got out on our line without a sound; and then "the Peacemaker" made his
way back to Stinking Sap to report to Captain ----, of the R.E., that
we had taken on the duty of protection and were all ready for his men
to go ahead. He marched his carriers out then, stringing them out along
the whole line, and the whole of his Company set to work putting up the
screen of wire entanglements behind our line.

This whole business has given me a lot of respect for the R.E.;
a respect which, I think, is pretty generally felt throughout the
Service. The way they planned and carried out that wiring job was fine.
No talk and no finicking once they were in the open; every last peg and
length of binding wire in its right place; sand-bags at hand to fold
over anything that needed hammering; every man told off in advance,
not just to make himself as generally useful as he could, but quite
definitely to screw in standards, or drive in stakes, or fix pegs, or
carry along the rolls of wire, or strain the stays, or lace in the
loose stuff, as the case might be. Every man knew precisely what his
particular part was, and went straight at it without a word to or from
anyone.

Meanwhile, I was working carefully along from end to end of our line,
checking up the intervals, altering a man's position where necessary,
and making sure that all our men were properly in touch and keeping
their right line, watching out well and making no sound. Nobody in our
lot moved, except the officers. All the others lay perfectly still. We
kept moving up and down in front the whole time, except when flares
were up or machine-gun fire swept across our way, and then, of course,
we dropped as flat as we could.

But no machine-gun spoke on that sector, not once while the wire was
going up. Before half-past seven "the Peacemaker" came along to me with
orders to lead my men off to Stinking Sap. The wiring was finished.
There had been a hundred and fifty men at it, and at that moment the
last of 'em was entering Stinking Sap--casualties, nil.

"The Peacemaker" marched his half-Company round the end of the wire
above Petticoat Lane, and I took mine round the end in front of
Stinking Sap-head. Then we wheeled round to the rear of the new wire
entanglement and marched out again, immediately in rear of it, till
"the Peacemaker" and I met, as we had previously met in front. So we
took up our second and final position and got down to it exactly as we
had done in the first position.

When the O.C. reported that we were in position, "C" Company marched
out, half from each end of the line, under their own officers, but with
the O.C.R.E. in command, and his officers helping. They were at three
yards' interval. There was a peg for every man, and the first operation
was for each man to dig a hole in which he could take cover. It had all
been thought out beforehand, and every man knew just what to do. Their
instructions were to dig as hard as ever they knew how, but silently,
till they got cover. All the sections were working against each other,
and the O.C. Company was giving prizes for the first, second, and third
sections, in order of priority, to get underground.

We couldn't see them, of course, and had all the occupation we cared
for, thank you, in looking after our line. I was glad to find, too,
that we could only hear them when we listened. They were wonderfully
quiet. It's a wet clayey soil, and they had been carefully drilled
never to let one tool touch another. I am told they went at it like
tigers, and that the earth fairly flew from their shovels. In our line
there wasn't a sound, and every man's eyes were glued on his front.

The evening had been amazingly quiet, nothing but desultory rifle fire,
and unusually little of that. At a quarter to nine a Boche machine-gun
dead opposite the centre of my half-Company began to traverse our
line--his real objective, of course, being, not our line, but the line
of trench, the old fire trench, in our rear. I know now that at that
moment the slowest of "C's" diggers was underground. That burst of fire
did not get a single man; not a scratch.

A fine rain, very chilling, began to fall, and got less fine as time
went on. The wind rose a bit, too, and drove the rain in gusts in our
faces. By good luck it was coming from the Boche trenches. At half-past
ten they sent over ten or twelve whizz-bangs, all of which landed in
rear of our old front line, except two that hit its parapet. Rifle fire
was a little less desultory now, but nothing to write home about. They
gave us an occasional belt or two from their machine-guns, but our
men were lying flat, and the diggers were below ground, so there was
nothing to worry about in that.

By half-past eleven I confess I was feeling deuced tired. One had been
creeping up and down the line for over five hours, you know; but it
wasn't that. One spends vitality; it somehow oozes out of you on such
a job. I never wanted anything in my life so much as I wanted to get
my half-Company through that job without casualties. And there was one
thing I wanted even more than that--to make absolutely certain that no
prowling Boche patrol got through my bit of the line.

Down on our flank at The Gut there were half a dozen little bombing
shows between six and midnight, and one bigger scrap, when the Hun
exploded a mine and made a good try to occupy its crater, but, as we
learned next day, was hammered out of it after some pretty savage
hand-to-hand work. Farther away on the other flank the Boche artillery
was unusually busy, and, at intervals, sent over bursts of heavy stuff,
the opening salvoes of which rather jangled one's nerves. You see, "A"
Company could have been extinguished in a very few minutes had Boche
known enough to go about it in the right way.

If only one enterprising Boche, working on his own--a sniper,
anybody,--without getting through our line just gets near enough to
make out that it is a line, and then gets back to his own trenches,
our little game will be up, I thought. It wasn't restful. The men were
getting pretty stiff, as you may guess, lying still in the wet hour
after hour.

At half-past two "the Peacemaker" came along and whispered to me to
take my men in: "Finished for to-night."

I wasn't sorry. I put my senior Sergeant on to lead, and myself brought
up the rear. I was, of course, the last to get into Stinking Sap, and
my Platoon Sergeant was waiting for me there to tell me that not one of
our men had a scratch, nor yet a single man of "C" Company. One man of
No. 3 Platoon, in "the Peacemaker's" half-Company, had a bullet through
his shoulder; a Blighty, and no more. And that was our record.

But, look here, I absolutely must stop and censor some of the
Platoon's letters before turning in. I'll write again as soon as ever I
can and tell you the rest of it. But--a trench nearly 800 yards long,
wire entanglements in front--casualties, one man wounded! Nobody felt
much happier about it than your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



A GREAT NIGHT'S WORK


In my last letter I think I told you all about our first night's work
on the new trench; how it was cut, and the wire entanglements run out,
between six in the evening and half-past two in the morning; and the
casualty list just one man wounded! It may not seem much to you, but to
us it seemed almost miraculous. I think the powers that be would have
been quite pleased with us if we had managed it with, say, thirty or
forty casualties.

Two and a half hours or so later, round about five o'clock, although
you would have thought we should all be pretty tired, as no doubt we
were (though not so tired, I fancy, as we mostly felt at midnight),
everyone was interested in turning out for the morning Stand-to. We
were all anxious to watch Mr. Boche's first glimpse of our night's
work; not that we could see the expression on the faces of the Germans
or hear their comments; but we could imagine a good deal of it, and
wanted to see just what happened, anyhow.

A few sentry groups had been posted along the new line when we came
in from it at half-past two; but these were withdrawn at the first
glimmerings of coming dawn, since we could watch the front as closely
from the original fire-trench, and it was possible, of course, that
Fritz might just plaster the new line with shrap. and whizzes and so on
as soon as he clapped eyes on it.

I was watching before the first greying of the dawn, from a sniper's
post pretty close to the Boche line down near the beginning of
Petticoat Lane. The first thing I made out in the Boche line, when the
light was still only very faint, was the head of a sentry raised well
above the parapet level, as he stared out at the nearest bit of our new
wire. I turned half round and grabbed a rifle from a man in the trench,
but the Boche had disappeared when I looked round again. Then the
idea struck me, "Perhaps he'll bring an officer to look; a sergeant,
anyhow." So I drew a very careful bead on that spot, and got my rifle
comfortably settled on a mud rest.

Sure enough, in a couple of minutes that sentry's head bobbed up again
in the same spot. I held my fire, waiting, on the officer theory. And,
next moment, another head rose beside the sentry's, and came up a good
deal less cautiously. I won't swear to its being an officer because
I couldn't see well enough for that. But I think it very likely was.
Anyhow, I had him most perfectly covered when I fired, and they both
disappeared the instant I had fired, and never showed up again, so I am
certain I got the second one. He was visible down to about his third
tunic button, you see, and with a resting rifle, I don't think I could
miss at that range. It wasn't more than 120, if that; sights at zero,
of course.

It really was rather thrilling, you know, that Stand-to. We had all
our machine-guns ready, and traversed Fritz's parapet very thoroughly.
Upon my word, in the fluster of that first daylight minute or two, with
the new wire under his nose, I believe Fritz thought we were going to
make a dawn attack. I never saw so many Boches expose themselves. As a
rule, they are a good deal better than we are in the matter of keeping
out of sight; they take far fewer chances. But they didn't seem able
to help looking this time, and our sniper did pretty well. So did the
machine-guns, I think; I don't see how they could have helped it.

Then Boche got his machine-guns to work, and poured thousands of
rounds all along our front--a regular machine-gun bombardment, for
which he got precisely nothing at all, none of our people being
exposed. But can't you imagine the excitement in the Boche line? The
evening before they had seen our line exactly as usual. In the night
they had apparently heard and suspected nothing. And now, with the
first morning light, they saw a line of brand-new wire entanglement and
a new trench line, that must have looked most amazingly close to them,
and actually was in parts an advance of 400 yards from the old line.
And then the length of it, you know--just on 800 yards. It certainly
must have startled 'em.

We quite thought they'd start lambasting Old Harry out of the new
line at any moment; but they didn't. I guess they had sense enough to
conclude that we had nobody out there. But during the forenoon Master
Boche registered on the new line at several points; about twenty rounds
of whizzes and H. E., just to encourage us with regard to our work for
that night, I suppose. And beyond that he didn't go--dignified silence,
you know. But I bet he was pretty mad to think of all he'd missed
during the night. In the afternoon Fritz sent a couple of 'planes up,
I dare say with cameras, to get a record of the new line. But our
Archibalds in the rear made it so hot for them I don't think they can
have got any snap-shots.

When "A" Company filed out at six o'clock that night to take up
protective duty along the new wire, as before, while the new trench was
proceeded with, I think we might have been excused for feeling a bit
creepy. I can't say how the men felt, but I confess I had made up my
mind that my own chances of getting back were tolerably thin. One must
move about a good bit to do one's job properly, and keep touch with a
hundred men strung out over 300 yards of ground in pitch darkness. As a
matter of fact, it was barely dark when we filed out. We daren't leave
it a minute later, in case a strong Boche patrol should have worked
inside our line, and been waiting for the working party when it came
out with bombs. We simply had to be beforehand with 'em; and there was
no getting away from the fact that the Boche had had all day in which
to study this new line of ours and make his plans. I say I don't know
how our men were feeling. I do know they were cracking little jokes
themselves about it before we left the sap.

"This way for motor ambulances!" "Change here for Blighty and the Rest
Cure!" "Where'll you have yours, matey?" I heard plenty of remarks like
that as I worked my way down Stinking Sap to get to the head of my lot
before we moved out.

"You'll be all right," said one of mine to a "C" Company man as he
entered the sap. "Mister blooming Fritz can't get at you with 'A'
Company out in front, you take it from me. We'll twist his tail
properly if he does come." The "C" men were for digging again, you know.

It's impossible for an officer to feel shaky, however slight his
experience, when he has men like ours to work with.

It wasn't exactly a proper trench that "C" Company went to work in
that night. There were bits that were almost finished; and then, again,
there were other lengths where it was only a chain of holes, linked
together by bits a yard or two long, in which the surface had been
shifted, just to mark out the trace of the new line. But every man was
able to get into cover right away, even in the worst bits, because of
these holes, and then, being in a hole, his job was to cut his way
along into the next hole just as quick as his strength would allow
him. The trench was cut narrow, you know; not a quarter the width of
the old trenches we have occupied. This doesn't make for comfort in
getting to and fro; but it does give far safer cover from every kind of
projectile, and especially from the deadly shrap. and the slippy whizz.

While "C" slogged away at making connection right through, we lay out
by the wire, as we had done the night before, and I crept up and down
our line. There was no rain, and the night was so quiet that we could
hear every little move among the diggers much more plainly than on
the night before. I wondered if the Boches could hear it. They sent
us little bursts of machine-gun fire now and again, such as they send
throughout every night; and there was the normal amount of rifle fire
and the normal number of flares and different kinds of lights going up
from the enemy lines. Our men all lay as still as mutton, and when the
lights rose near our way, or the M.G. fire came, I naturally kept very
still.

Once I distinctly made out a figure moving very slowly and cautiously
outside the wire. I should like to have fired, and, better still, to
have been able to get quickly and silently through the wire and on to
that moving figure, getting to grips, as we did with that German sniper
not long since, without a sound. But there was no opening in the wire
near; and with regard to firing, my orders were not to draw fire by
expending a single round unnecessarily, and to fire only in defence.
What I did was to get the O.C.'s permission shortly afterwards to
take three men and patrol beyond the front of the wire. But we found
nothing. No doubt I had seen one member of a Boche observation patrol
on the prowl to find out what we were doing; and if only I could have
got him it would have been excellent. From that time on we kept a
continuous patrol going in front of the wire.

Then came a salvo of four whizz-bangs, all landing fairly near the new
trench; three in rear of it, and one most infernally close in front of
us. I suppose we all told ourselves the ball was just about to begin.
But nothing happened for over an hour. Then came nine shells in quick
succession, one of which, on my left, robbed my half-Company of four
men, one killed and three wounded. The rest accomplished nothing. Then
silence again, followed by occasional bursts of M.G. and the usual sort
of rifle fire. Corporal Lane, of No. 2 Platoon, stopped a M.G. bullet
with his left shoulder, I regret to say, and one man in the trench--"C"
Company--was killed by a bullet through the head.

With every little burst of fire, one braced oneself for the big strafe
that we naturally felt must come. It seemed the Boche was playing with
us as a cat plays with a mouse. "I wonder what devilry he's got up his
sleeve?" We probably all asked ourselves that question fifty times.

At two o'clock there wasn't a break anywhere in the new line. It was a
connected trench throughout, and nowhere less than six feet deep, with
two communicating trenches leading back to our original front line.
At three o'clock the word came along that the working party had been
withdrawn, and that I was to take my men in. As before, we left a few
sentry groups, to be relieved at dawn by fresh sentries, since the new
line was now to be guarded by day and manned by night.

And that was the end of it. I got my men safely in. Half an hour
later the Boche sent over another ten or dozen shells on the new line,
and once again before dawn he did the same, with the usual periodical
bursts of M.G. fire and dropping rifle fire during the rest of the
time. And nothing more. Wasn't it extraordinary, when he had had a
whole day to think about it, and must have known we should be at work
there that night? Possibly, however, in his crafty way, he assumed we
should not go near the new line that second night for fear of strafing,
and held his hand for that reason. And, possibly, our General assumed
he'd think that, and acted accordingly. But there it is. We got our
work done at next to no cost.

I was going to tell you about the rumours as to our push to straighten
out the line, but my time's up. That will have to wait for my next
letter. We are having an easy time now, but there were no free minutes
last week. You'll hear again soon, from your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



THE COMING PUSH


You are quite right in saying that I don't feel much interest in
political affairs at home these days. The fact is, we do not often
see the newspapers, and when we see them there isn't much time for
really reading them or giving much consideration to what they say. The
war news is interesting, of course; but all this endless talky-talky
business, why, I can hardly tell you how queerly it strikes us out
here. You see, we are very close to concrete realities all the time,
and to us it seems the talky-talky people are most amazingly remote
from realities of any kind. They seem to us to be very much interested
in shadows, notions, fads, fancies, and considerations of interests
which we think were washed out of existence at the very beginning of
the war. They even seem able to strive mightily and quarrel virulently
over the discussion of the principles and abstractions involved in
things they propose to do when the war is over!

M-m-m-m-m-m! Seems to us the thing is to get it over, and in the
right way. No, we are not much interested in the political situation.
The tangible actualities of the situation out here seem to us very
pressing; pressing enough to demand all the energies and all the
attention; every atom of the strength of all the people of the British
race; without any wastage over more remote things, abstractions, things
_ante_ and _post bellum_. Here in France I can assure you men, women,
and children are all alike in that they have no life outside the
war. Every thought, every act, everything is in and for the war. The
realities are very close here.

One thing in that last letter of yours especially pleases me. "We have
now got to the point in England at which all the people of both sexes
who are worth their salt are busy at war work of one kind or another."

That's excellent. Well, now rope in the ones who are not "worth their
salt." You'll find they're all right, once they're roped in. I don't
believe in this idea of some people not being worth their salt; not in
England, anyhow. The stock is too good. You know the type of hoodlum
who, with licks of hair plastered over his forehead, seems to spend his
days leaning against a lamp-post. The fellow I mean has a perfectly
beastly habit of spitting over everything in sight; when riding on top
of a 'bus, for instance. Despised by decent men, he's a real terror to
decent women. Same type, I suppose, as the Apache of Paris. Every big
city breeds 'em.

Well, all I want to tell you about this gentleman is, never to run
away with the notion that he can't be worth his salt. All he needs is
to be taught the meaning of authority. It's only a matter of months;
even weeks. With my own eyes I have watched the process at work.
Nobody will ever again be able to delude me about it. In a country
like ours there are no people "not worth their salt." The worst type
of man we've got only needs a few months in a Battalion like ours,
during the training period, to learn the meaning of authority, and, by
means of discipline, to have his latent manhood developed. It's there
all right. Only he'll never develop it of his own accord. Authority
must be brought to bear. The Army method is the quickest and best. In
a few months it makes these fellows men, and thundering good men at
that. Worth their salt! They're worth their weight in--well, to take
something real and good, say in 'baccy and cartridges--real men and
real fighters.

Out here in billets, we get a deal more information about things
generally than ever reaches us in the line. All the rumours come our
way, and among 'em, here and there, I dare say, hints of the truth.
We know that out there in the new trench we cut no dug-outs are being
made. There's no evidence of any intention to inhabit that new front
line. It is just fully manned by night and held by a few sentry groups
in the day. (It's a deuce of a job getting along it by night when it's
full of men. Being kept so narrow, for safety's sake, there are not
many places where you can pass men, so you have to get along somehow
over their heads or between their legs. Oh, it's great going on a wet
night!) And this, in our eyes, is proof positive of the truth of the
rumour which says we are to use it almost immediately as a jumping-off
place, in a push designed to strengthen and straighten our front line
by cutting off that diabolical corner of the Boche line opposite The
Gut; to wash out The Gut, in fact, altogether, putting it behind our
front line, with all its blood-soaked craters.

I don't think I ought to write much about it, though I suppose the
Censor won't mind so long as I mention no places or names to indicate
the part of the front we're on. But, in effect, if we can take several
hundred yards of Boche trenches here, the gain to us, apart altogether
from strategic considerations, will be equivalent to at least a mile.
It's much more than just that, really, because it means getting a very
advantageous and commanding position in exchange for a very exposed and
deadly one, depriving Boche of a great advantage and gaining a great
advantage for ourselves. Even the lesser of the two possible schemes,
concerning less than 200 yards of Boche front, would give us all that.
But the general opinion seems to be that we are to tackle the larger
scheme, involving the seizure of a good mile or more of Boche front. We
all think we know, and we none of us know anything, really.

But I must clear out. We have a new issue of improved gas-helmets,
and I've got to see to dishing 'em out. Then every man will have two
anti-gas helmets and one pair of anti-lachrymatory gas goggles. We are
also renewing our emergency, or "iron," ration--and that all looks like
a push, and is therefore exhilarating.

       *       *       *       *       *

  _Later._

Great and glorious news! The push is a fact. I mustn't say which day,
and, just in case this letter fell into wrong hands, I think I'll hold
it back, and not post just yet. The main thing is we are to push;
and we are jolly well going to wipe out that Boche corner. It is the
lesser of the two schemes--a local affair pure and simple, so I suppose
you'll learn next to nothing about it from dispatches. You know our
British way in the matter of official dispatches. The British have no
shop window at all. One ought to be glad of it, I suppose. Ours is
the safer, better, more dignified way, no doubt, and certainly never
raises hopes doomed to possible disappointment. At the back of my mind
I approve it all right. (Which should be comforting to the G.O.C. in
C.) But, as touching ourselves, one cannot help wishing the dispatches
would give you news of our show. Of course they won't.

"The night was quiet on the remainder of the Front." "Some elements
of trenches changed hands in the neighbourhood of ----, the advantage
being with us." That's the sort of thing. At least, I hope it'll read
that way. It will, if "A" Company can make it so.

I'm particularly glad we had that turn in Petticoat Lane, you know.
Now that I think we shall never occupy it again as a front line--by
the time you get this, please the pigs, it'll be well behind our front
line, and we'll be snugly over the rise where the Boche now shelters--I
don't mind admitting to you that it's a heart-breaking bit of line.
There's no solid foothold anywhere in it, and there's next to no real
cover. It's a vile bit of trench, which we never should have occupied
if we'd had any choice in those early days when the Boche first dug
himself in opposite, and the French, having no alternative, scratched
in here. For our sins we know every inch of it now, and, thanks to good
glasses and long hours of study, I think I know the opposite lines
pretty well--the lines I hope we shall be in.

Our fellows are queer, you know. Perhaps I've told you. Any kind of
suffering and hardship they have to endure they invariably chalk up to
the account against Mr. Boche. There's a big black mark against him for
our spell in Petticoat Lane, and, by Jupiter! he'll find he'll have
to pay for every mortal thing our chaps suffered there; every spoiled
or missed meal; even lost boots, sore feet, and all such details. Our
chaps make jokes about these things, and, if they're bad enough, make
believe they almost enjoy them while they last. But every bit of it
goes down in the account against Fritz; and if "A" Company gets the
chance to be after him, by Gad! he'll have to skip! He really will.

I'm not going to risk giving away military information by telling you
any more now. It will all be over, and Cut-Throat Alley will be behind
us when next I write. And, understand, you are not to worry in the
least bit about me, because I promise you I'll get through. I should
know if I were not going to; at least, I think I should. But I feel
perfectly certain we shall bring this thing off all right anyhow; and
so, even if I did chance to go down, you wouldn't grieve about that,
would you? because you'd know that's the way any fellow would like
to go down, with his Company bringing it off; and, mind you, a thing
that's going to make a world of difference to all the hundreds of good
chaps who will hold this sector of the front before the war's over.

We've got a mighty lot to wipe out in this little push. It isn't only
such scraps of discomfort as we suffered, nor yet the few men we lost
there. But, French and British, month in and month out, for many a long
day and night, we've been using up good men and true in that bloody,
shell-torn corner. Why, there's not a yard of its churned-up soil that
French and English men haven't suffered on. We've all that to wipe out;
all that, and a deal more that I can't tell you about. I'll only tell
you that I mean to get through it all right. Every man in the Battalion
means real business--just as much as any of the chaps who fought under
Nelson and Wellington, believe me. So, whatever you do, be under no
sort of anxiety about your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."


P.S.--Seeing that you and I, and all our lot, never have known
anything about military matters before this war came, I think it may
interest you, as it interests me, to know that I have never seen the
Company as a whole jollier, or in higher spirits than it is with this
job before it; and, do you know, I never felt happier myself, never. I
feel this makes it worth while to be alive and fit; more worth while
than it ever was in civil life before the war.



FRONT LINE TO HOSPITAL


Perhaps this address will be quite a shock to you if you know what
it means. So I hasten to say that I am perfectly all right, really.
"Clearing Station"--perhaps that won't have the ominous look to you
that "Hospital" would, though it means the same thing. But the point
is, I am all right. I told you I'd get through, and I have. The fact
that I'm lying in bed here--in luxurious comfort--is only an incident.
I am quite safe and perfectly all right.

They tell me here that directly an officer is wounded information to
that effect is sent home to his people. Well, I hope you will get this
word from me first, and accept my assurance that there's nothing to
worry about. These good folk here will put me as right as ninepence in
no time, and I hope very shortly to be back with the Company and in the
new line.

It was shrapnel, you know, and got me in the left leg and a bit in the
right arm just when I was most wanting the use of both of 'em. I hope
they haven't told you I'm going to lose my leg or anything, because I'm
not. The surgeon here--a first-rate chap and a splendid surgeon--has
told me all about it, and my leg will very soon be as good as ever.

This is just a line to let you know I am perfectly all right. I'll
write and tell you all about it to-morrow.

I wonder whether the dispatches will have told you anything. The push
was splendid. We've got that corner, and The Gut is well behind our
front line now.

       *       *       *       *       *

My letter of yesterday will have assured you that I am all right;
nothing at all to worry about. I meant to have written you fully to-day
about the push. But we've been busy. The surgeon's been cleaning me
up--getting rid of useless souvenirs, you know; and it seems I'm better
keeping pretty still and quiet to-day. Shall be out and about all the
quicker, you see. This is a perfectly heavenly place, where you don't
hear a vestige of gun-fire, and everything is sweet and clean, quiet
and easy; no responsibility, no anything but comfort and ease. What a
luxurious loaf I'm having! I'll write to-morrow.

       *       *       *       *       *

I'm going ahead like a house afire; but so confoundedly lazy, you'd
hardly believe it. I suppose this pencil will be legible, though
it hardly looks it to me. As I say, I'm too lazy for words; simply
wallowing in comfort and cleanliness. Thought I would just pencil a
line now, so that you would know I was perfectly all right and then I
can write properly to-morrow.

       *       *       *       *       *

Another lazy day. I really ought to be at work, you know, so well
and fit I am. But I just laze in this delightful bed, and watch the
busy orderlies and sisters flitting to and fro, as though I were in
a dream and other folk had to do all the world's work. The good old
"Peacemaker" has come in to see me, and is writing this for me; chiefly
because of my laziness, and partly that I like to spare you the work of
deciphering the hieroglyphics I make with my left hand. The right arm
is pretty good, you know, but it seems I'll get it entirely sound again
rather quicker by not using it just now; and it's rather jolly to have
one's O.C. Company working for one in this way.

He says that while I was about it I was a duffer not to get a real
Blighty, and so have a holiday and come and see you all. As a fact,
I've no doubt he's profoundly grateful that he will not be robbed of my
invaluable services for long. "A" Company was relieved last night by a
Company of the ----; in our new trenches, you know; the trenches that
used to belong to Mister Boche; so our fellows are having a bit of a
rest, I'm glad to say. Not the luxurious rest I'm having, of course;
but something to be going on with.

I meant to tell you a whole lot of things, but for the laziness that
makes me so greedy for naps and dozes. Also, they say visitors have
to leave now, and "the Peacemaker" has a good way to ride. I'll write
properly to-morrow. Meantime "the Peacemaker" is good enough to say he
will write you to-night particulars as to how I got my scratches; so I
won't ask him to write any more now. He will carry this on himself when
he gets back to-night--while I laze and sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

As promised, I am adding a few lines to this for our good friend. I
have not yet told him, but as a fact I am the only unwounded officer
in "A" Company at the moment, and we were relieved last night in order
that we might reorganise. Lieutenant Morgan--"Taffy"--was killed, I
grieve to say, in the beginning of the advance, and our casualties for
the Company were thirty-two killed and seventy-eight wounded. It's a
terrible price, of course, but you will understand that a big loss was
inevitable in our Company, when I tell you that we not only led the
advance, but led it from the notorious Petticoat Lane, where the front
is extraordinarily difficult to cross. We were very proud to be chosen
for the lead, and compared with the net gain for the line, our loss is
small, really. Indeed, if the entire casualties in the whole advance
are weighed up against the position won, I believe I am right in saying
that the cost was remarkably low. The gain in the line is immense, and
there is not the smallest chance of the Boches taking it back again.
Although our bombardment knocked his trenches about pretty badly--they
were very strong trenches indeed, to begin with, very strongly placed
and favourably situated--since our occupation we have worked day and
night to make of the corner practically a fortified position, and one
from which we can punish the Boche pretty severely on both flanks. I
think this gain will lead to other gains before long in this sector.
Our information is that the Boche casualties were very heavy. However,
I did not mean to run on like this with regard to the military aspect.
It is our friend you will want to hear about.

Now, in the first place, I should like to be allowed to say what
you perhaps have guessed: that he is a very fine and a very valuable
officer. I am not a bad judge, not only because I command his Company,
but because, unlike himself, I am not quite without military knowledge
of the kind that came before the war, having a good many years behind
me of service as a Volunteer, and then as a Territorial, down to
within seven months of the beginning of the war when I joined this
Service Battalion. And I have no hesitation in saying that our friend
is a fine and valuable officer. I know that a big share of any credit
due for the fine training and discipline of our Company--which is, I
think, admitted to be the crack Company of the best Battalion in the
Brigade--is due, not to me, but to the Commander of our No. 1 Platoon.
It is a very great loss to me to have him laid aside now; but I am so
thankful his life is spared that I have no regret to waste over his
being wounded. But I do very sincerely hope that he will be able to
return to us, to the reorganised "A" Company, for I have never met an
officer I would sooner have beside me. The men of the Platoon, and,
indeed, of the whole Company, are devoted to him; and I regard it as
little short of marvellous that in so comparatively short a time a man
who had never had even the slightest hint of military training should
have been able to become, all round, so efficient, so well posted
technically, and, above all, so confident and absolutely so successful
a leader of men. For that has been his greatest asset: that his men
will go anywhere with him, do anything for him, trust him without the
slightest reserve or doubt.

You know more about his character than I do, but I venture to say that
the character you know has been wonderfully developed by the war and by
his military training. He may have been the most lovable of men before,
but I cannot believe that he was anything like so strong a man or so
able a man. Confidence, fearlessness, decisiveness--strength, in fact;
these qualities, I am sure, have developed greatly in him since he
joined. I sometimes think there is nothing more wonderful in all this
wonderful period of the war than the amazing development it has brought
in the thousands of young Englishmen who now are capable and efficient
officers, loved and trusted by their men, and as able in every way as
any officers the British Army ever had, although the great majority of
them have no military tradition behind them, and before August, 1914,
had no military training. That is wonderful, and I am convinced that
no other race or nation in the wide world could have produced the same
thing. The men, fine as they are, might have been produced elsewhere,
or something like them. But this apparently inexhaustible supply of
fine and efficient officers--no, I think not.

The newspapers will have told you something of our little push, and I
will not trouble you with any technical detail. We advanced over a very
narrow front after a short but intense bombardment. Our friend led the
right half of "A" because I did not want to rob his own Platoon of his
immediate influence. His is No. 1. The pace was hot, despite the torn
and treacherous nature of the ground. The right half did even better
than my half, and stormed the first Boche line with extraordinary dash
and vigour. It seemed as though nothing could stop their impetuosity;
and in the midst of the tremendous din I caught little waves of their
shouting more than once.

Our friend had crossed the first line, and successfully led his men to
the very edge of the second line, shouting to his men to join him in
taking it, when the shell burst that brought him down. The same shell
must have laid some Boches low, if that is any consolation. Not that we
need any consolation. I feel sure you will agree with me in that.

But I want to tell you that the wounds in the right arm--not serious,
I am thankful to say--were not from the same shell. They came in the
neighbourhood of the first Boche line. That same right arm (after it
was wounded), carrying a loaded stick, knocked up a Boche bayonet that
was due to reach the chest of a man in No. 1 Platoon and then served to
support the same man on the parapet of the Boche trench--he was already
wounded--for a few moments till a stretcher-bearer got him. It was not
possible for our friend to stay with him, of course. A few seconds
later he was leading his men full pelt towards the second line; and all
that after his first wound. I thought you would like to know that. Our
C.O. knows it, and I venture to hope it will find mention in dispatches.

And now with regard to his condition. Whilst he is not quite so
forward as he thinks--there is, of course, no question of his coming
back to duty in a few days, as he fancies--there is, I think, no
cause whatever for anxiety. In fact, the M.O. at the Clearing Station
assured me of so much. His general health is excellent; nothing septic
has intervened; it is simply a question of a little time. The worst
that is likely to happen is that the left leg may be permanently a
shade shorter than the right, and it is hoped this may be averted. His
Company--all that is left of us--will be very sincerely glad to see him
back again. Meantime we rejoice, as I am sure you will, in the manner,
the distinction, of his fall, in the certainty of his enjoying the rest
he has earned so well, and in the prospect of his recovery.



THE PUSH AND AFTER


The Battalion being now out of the line, the O.C. Company has kindly
sent my batman along to me here--you remember my batman, Lawson, on
Salisbury Plain--and he is writing this for me, so that I can preserve
my present perfect laziness. I point this out by way of accounting
for the superior neatness of the handwriting, after my illegible
scrawls. Lawson was a clerk at ----'s works before the war, and, as you
perceive, has a top-hole "hand of write."

I got rather a fright, as I lay dreaming here, half awake and half
asleep, at six o'clock this morning. An orderly came along with a blue
ticket and a big safety-pin, like those the Highlanders use in their
petticoats, and pinned his label on the bottom of my counterpane.

"Hallo!" says I; "what's this? Are they putting me up for sale?"

Mentally, I began to describe myself for the catalogue. (How strong
are the habits of civil life!) "One full-size, extra heavy Temporary
Officer and Gentleman; right arm and left leg slightly chipped, the
whole a little shop-worn, but otherwise as new. Will be sold absolutely
without reserve to make room for new stock." (They have to keep as many
beds as possible vacant in Clearing Stations, you know.)

The orderly just grinned and faded away like the Cheshire cat. A Sister
came along shortly afterwards, and I asked her the meaning of my blue
label.

"Oh! that," she said, very casually, "that's the evacuation card."

I am to be evacuated, like a pulverised trench, a redoubt that has
become useless or untenable. Jolly, isn't it? Seriously, I was a good
deal worried about this, until I had seen the M.O., because I had an
idea that once one was evacuated out of the Divisional area, one was
automatically struck off the strength of one's unit, in which case,
goodness knows when, if ever, I should see my own "A" Company again.
But the M.O. tells me it's all right, so long as one remains in France.
One is only struck off on leaving France, and when that happens one can
never be sure which Battalion of the Regiment one will return to. So
there's nothing to worry about. It's only that these Clearing Stations
have to keep plenty of vacant accommodation ready for cases fresh out
of the line; and so fellows like me, who are supposed to require a bit
more patching up than can be given in two or three days, have to be
evacuated to one or other of the base hospitals. Hence the label, which
makes of your Temporary Gentleman an "evacuation case."

It's uncertain when I shall be moved, or to which base, so I cannot
give you a new address for letters. The generosity, the kindness, the
skill, and the unwearying attentiveness and consideration shown one
in this place could not possibly be improved on; but their official
reticence in the matter of giving one any information regarding one's
insignificant self, future movements, and so on, can only be described
as godlike. I shall always associate it in my mind with a smile of
ineffable benevolence (also rather godlike), as who should say, with
inexhaustible patience, "There, there, my little man; there, there."
And that's all. Perhaps it's good for us, taken, as medicine must be,
with childlike trust and faith. We must hope so.

Come to think of it, there is a hint in the gentle air of this
place--never torn by shot or shell, or penetrated by even the faintest
odour of defunct Boches in No Man's Land--of a general conspiracy
of reticence. It has infected mine own hitherto trusted batman (who
presumes to chuckle as he writes these lines at my dictation),
whose professed ignorance, regarding most points upon which I have
this morning sought information, suggests that I have in the past
consistently overrated his intelligence and general competence. It is
clearly very desirable that I should get back to my Platoon as soon as
possible.

Lying here at mine ease, I think a great deal; but of the quality
of my thinking I fear there is little to be said that is favourable.
Perhaps the medicine I take so trustfully has contained some of the
soporific stuff of dreams, and that is why the pain in my leg has been
so trifling since the first day here. I feel my thoughts stirring in
my mind; but they move in a swaying, dreamy fashion, as though they
were floating in, say golden syrup, and were not really interested
in getting out of it. I wanted to tell you all about our push, but,
do you know, though it was not very many days ago, it seems already
extraordinarily remote, so far as the details are concerned, and I am
hazy as to what I have told you and what I have not told.

One thing stands out so clearly in my otherwise treacly mind that I
feel I never, never shall forget it; and that is the sensation of
the moment when the order reached us to advance. We had been a long
time waiting for it, even before our bombardment began, and when it
came-- But, although the sensation is very clear to me, I'm not at all
sure I can convey any idea of it to you. I've just asked Lawson what he
felt like when it came; but the conspiracy of reticence, or something,
leads him to say he doesn't know. I found myself muttering something at
the moment, and he says he did, too. That's something of a coincidence.
He believes the actual words he muttered were: "What ho!" But that's
not exactly illuminating, is it?

I believe my thought, as we scrambled over the parapet was that now,
at last, we were going to wipe Petticoat Lane off the map as a front
line. Good-bye to this hole! That was the idea, I think. We did so hate
that bit of line, with its quicksand craters in front, and the sodden
lowness that made it a sort of pocket for the receipt of every kind of
explosive the Boche liked to lob in on us.

The struggle through the craters, before we got to the first Boche
line, was pretty beastly, and, I am afraid, cost us rather dear,
although we got to the near lip of the craters before the punishment
began, thanks to a quick start and the fine accuracy of our gunners
in their curtain fire. You know the sort of thing that happens in
nightmares, when each of your feet weighs a ton and a half, at the
moment when speed is the only thing to save you from the most hideous
kind of spiflication. Getting through the craters was like that.

Our good time began when the craters were passed, and there was
nothing but Boche trenches in front of us. Then it was we began to
feel the jolly feelings you've read about; the glorious exhilaration
of the charge. And, really, it wouldn't be possible to exaggerate
about that. You can take it from me that the most highly coloured
chromo-lithographs can't overdo that, in the essential spirit of the
thing. Their detail is pretty groggy, of course--no waving plumes,
gay colours, flashing swords, and polished top-boots, you know. My
goodness, no! We were all the colour of the foul clay we'd come
from--all over. But the spirit of it! It's perfectly hopeless for me
to try to tell you, especially in a letter. They say they pump spirits
and drugs into the Boches before they leave their trenches. No drug
and no champagne, even of the choicest, could have given us any more
exhilaration, I fancy, than one felt in that dash from the craters to
the first Boche line. Heavens! but it was the real thing; real, real,
real; that's what it was, more than anything else. Made you feel you'd
never been really and fully alive till then. Seven-leagued boots, and
all that kind of thing, you know. The earth seemed to fly under your
feet. I can see the dirty, earth-smeared faces in that Boche trench
now. (They were scuffling and scrambling out from the dug-outs, where
they'd sheltered from our bombardment, to their fire-steps.) They
seemed of no more importance than so many Aunt Sallies or Dutch dolls.
Things like that to stop _us_! Absurd!

And how one whooped! I was fairly screaming "'A' Company!" at the very
top of my voice as we jumped into that trench. The man on my left was
Corporal Slade (Lance-Sergeant, I should say) and, as we reached their
parapet I could hear him yelling beside my ear, through all the roar of
the guns: "Hell! Give 'em hell! Give 'em hell, boys!" Most outrageous!

In the trench it was a sort of a football scrum glorified; oh! very
much glorified. Most curiously, the thing passing through my mind
then was "the Peacemaker's" old gag, apropos of the use of his trench
dagger, you know: "When you hear that cough, you can pass on to the
next Boche. Get him in the right place, and three inches of the steel
will do. Don't waste time over any more." Queer wasn't it?

Galloping across the next stretch--by the way, it was the very devil
getting out over the Boche parados, so high and shaly. A fellow grabbed
my right ankle when I was half-way up; the very thing I'd always
dreaded in dreams of the trenches, and, by Gad! if I didn't kick out
you must let me know about it. I'd sooner have had a bayonet thrust
any day than the ram of my field boot that chap got in his face. The
next stretch, to the Boche second line, yes! The champagney feeling was
stronger than ever then, because one felt that front line was smashed.
Sort of crossing the Rhine, you know. One was on German soil, so to
say. My hat, what scores to pay!

And mixed up with the splendid feeling of the charge itself--by long
odds the finest feel I ever had in my life--there was a queer, worrying
little thought, too. I knew some of our men were dropping, and-- "Damn
it, I ought to be doing something to save those chaps." That was
the thought. It kind of stung; sort of feeling I ought to have some
knowledge I had failed to acquire. They're your men, you ought to know.
That sort of feeling. But I don't think it slowed one's stride at all.
The champagne feeling was the main thing. I was absolutely certain we
were bringing it off all right. The Boche guns were real enough; but
their men didn't seem to me to count.

Queer thing about the wire in front of that second line. It wasn't
anything like so good or extensive as front-line wire, and I dare say
our guns had knocked a good deal of the stuffing out of it. Still,
there was a lot left, more than I expected for a second line. Do you
know, "A" Company went through it as though it had been paper. It was a
glorious thing that. You know how gingerly one approaches barbed wire
or anything like that; a thorn hedge, if you like. And you've seen how
fellows going into the sea to bathe, at low tide, will gallop through
the rows of little wavelets where the water's shallow; feet going high
and arms waving, the men themselves whooping for the fun of the thing.
That's exactly how our chaps went through that wire. I'll guarantee
nobody felt a scratch from it. And yet my breeches and tunic were in
ribbons from the waist down when I got to the field ambulance, and from
the waist to the knee I'll carry the pattern of that wire for some time
to come. Might have been swan's-down for all we knew about it.

And then, unfortunately, on the parapet of the second line I got my
little dose, and was laid out. Goodness knows, that shell certainly
laid out some Boches as well as me. I'll say this for 'em, they met us
on the parapet all right. But "A" Company's business was urgent. We
had scores to settle from Petticoat Lane and other choice spots; and
the Kaiser's got no one who could stop us. I do wish I could have seen
it through. I know they tried hard to counter us out of that line. But
they couldn't shift old "A," who did just as well when I dropped out
as before--the beggars! Lawson tells me I was yelling like a madman on
that parapet for some time before I went to sleep, you know: "I'll be
there in a minute!"--there in a minute! How absurd!

Next thing I knew I was being lifted out of a trench stretcher, right
away back at Battalion Headquarters in the old support line. Then
the good old Batt'n M.O. prodded around me for a bit, and gave me a
cigarette, I remember. I remember hearing him say: "Oh! well, _you're_
all right." And then I must have had another doze.

Next thing I remember I was lying in a right-hand lower stretcher
in a motor ambulance, and soon after that I was in bed in the Field
Ambulance at ----. The same night I came on here, the Field Ambulance
being pretty busy and full up. It's only a few miles off. I know there
was snow all round when I was being lifted out of the motor ambulance
into the hall here.

And then comfort, and cleanliness and quiet; most wonderful peace, and
English nursing sisters. My goodness, aren't English nursing sisters
lovely? English women, all of 'em, for that matter. And they say there
are still some men at home who don't want to join! Seems queer to me.

Well, Lawson is rapidly developing writer's cramp, and I don't wonder
at it.

And so I'm to move on somewhere else soon from here. In any case, you
understand, don't you, that I'm all right, wanting for nothing, and
most kindly looked after. I'll write again very soon, and whatever you
do, don't have the smallest feeling of anxiety about your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."



BLIGHTY


This is to be evacuation day. A dozen officers and nearly a hundred
other ranks are to leave this place to-day for one or other of the
bases. The life of a permanent official in one of these Clearing
Stations must be curious, handling as he does a never-ending stream
of the flotsam and jetsam of the great war. The war knocks chips off
us, and as we are broken we stream in through the hospitable portals
of this beautifully organised and managed place; are put in plaster of
Paris, so to say, and off we go again to another place to be further
doctored; the more newly chipped arriving by one gate, as we go
trickling out by another. And this process is continuous. Along the
British front alone a score or more of men are bowled over every hour.
In a place like this the process is brought home to one.

So, too, is the ordered precision and efficacy of the system of
dealing with the wreckage. It is wonderfully methodical and well
thought out. And over all, as I told you before, broods the spirit of
benevolent reticence, which makes one feel a little like a registered
parcel entrusted to a particularly efficient postal service. "When are
we going?" Benevolent smile. "Presently; presently." "What base are we
going to?" Benevolent smile. "You'll see by and by." "About how long
shall we be on the journey?" Benevolent smile. "Oh! you'll be made
quite comfortable on the journey. Don't worry about that." "Well, I'm
very much better this morning, don't you think?" Benevolent smile. "Do
you think I shall be able to sit up in a day or two?" Benevolent smile.
"We shall see."

So it is always. I dare say the thirst of patients for information
often becomes very trying to the authorities. But they never in any
circumstances show any impatience. They never omit the benevolent
smile. And they never, never, for one instant, relax the policy of
benevolent reticence; never. The man next to me is very keen about his
temperature; it is, I believe, the chief symptom of his particular
trouble. But the bland familiar smile is all the reply he can ever
get to his most crafty efforts to ascertain if it is higher or lower.
I haven't the slightest doubt it is all part of a carefully devised
policy making for our benefit; but I wouldn't mind betting the man in
the next bed sends his temperature up by means of his quite fruitless
efforts to ascertain that it has gone down.

       *       *       *       *       *

  _Later._

Here's another strange handwriting for you. The present writer is
Lieut. R----, whose left arm has had a lot more shrap. through it
than my right got, and who has kindly lent me the services of his
right. My left-handed writing is still, as you will have noted, a
bit too suggestive of a cryptogram in Chinese. We are lying opposite
one another in very comfortable bunks in the Red Cross train, making
from ---- to a base, we don't yet know which. There are nearly 500
"evacuation cases" on board this train. Its progress is leisurely, but
I believe we are to reach our destination round about breakfast time
to-morrow. We found books and magazines in the train when we came on
board. That's a kindly thought, isn't it? They bear the stamp of the
Camps Library. The doctors and nurses get round among us on the train
just as freely as in hospital. The whole thing is a triumph of good
management.

While we were lying in our stretchers waiting for the train, having
arrived at the station in motor ambulances from the Clearing Station,
we saw miles of trains pass laden with every conceivable sort of
thing for the French firing line; from troops to tin-tacks; a sort of
departmental store on wheels; an unending cinematograph film, which
took over an hour to roll past us, and showed no sign of ending then.
All the French troops, with their cigarettes and their chocolate, had
kindly, jovial greetings for the stretchered rows of our chaps as we
lay in our blankets on the platform waiting for our train, especially
the jolly, rollicking Zouaves. Good luck, and a pleasant rest; quick
recovery, and--as I understand it--return to the making of glory,
they wished us, and all with an obviously comradely sincerity and
play of facial expression, hands and shoulders, which made nothing of
difference of language. And our chaps, much more clumsily, but with
equal goodwill, did their level best to respond. I think the spirit
of their replies was understood. Yes, I feel sure of that. The war's
a devastating business, no doubt; but it has introduced a spirit of
comradeship between French and English such as peace could never give.

       *       *       *       *       *

  _Next morning._

You will forgive the left-handedness of the writing, won't you? My
friend opposite has had a good deal of pain during the night, and I
cannot ask him to write for me now. It was a strange night, and I don't
think I'll ever forget it, though there's really nothing to tell;
"Nothing to write home about," as the men say. I didn't sleep much,
but I had quite a comfortable night, all the same, and plenty to think
about. When the train lay still between stations, as it sometimes
did, I could hear snatches of talk from different parts of the train
itself--doctors, nurses, orderlies, patients, railway officials, and so
on. Then perhaps another train would rumble along and halt near us, and
there would be talk between people of the two trains: French, English,
and the queer jumble of a patois that the coming together of the twain
in war has evolved. Also, there was the English which remains English,
its speaker not having a word of any other tongue, but which yet, on
the face of it, somehow, tells one it is addressed to someone who must
understand it from its tone or not at all.

"Oh, that's it, is it? Cigarettes? You bet. Here, catch, old chap!
Bong, très bong Woodbine. What ho! Same to you, old chap, an' many
of 'em. Yes, yes; we'll soon be back again, an' then we'll give the
blighters what for, eh? Chocolate, eh? Oh, mercy, mercy! No, no; no
more; we got plenty grub; much pang, savvy. You're a brick, you are.
You bong, très bong; compree? Hallo! Off again! Well, so long, old
sport! Good luck! Bong charnce! See ye 'gain some time! Bong sworr!"

There's a poor chap in the bunk under mine who's been delirious most
of the night. He looks such a child. A second lieutenant of the ----s;
badly shaken up in a mine explosion, and bombed afterwards. The M.O.
says he'll get through all right. He's for Blighty, no doubt. Odd,
isn't it? This time to-morrow he may be in England, or mighty near it.
England--what an extraordinary long way off it seems to me. There have
been some happenings in my life since I was in England; and as for the
chap I was before the war, upon my word, I can hardly remember the
fellow. Pretty sloppy, wasn't he? Seems to me I must have been a good
deal of a slacker; hadn't had much to do with real things then.

We know at last where we're bound for; in fact, we're there. The train
has been backing and filling through the streets of the outskirts of
Havre for the last half-hour or more. But last evening, when I was
writing, we could only ascertain that we were going to ----. Benevolent
smiles, you know.

It's frightfully interesting to see the streets. I see them through the
little narrow flap at the top of my window that's meant to open. It
seems quite odd to see women walking to and fro; and row after row of
roofs and windows, all unbroken. No signs of shell-shock here. But on
the other side of the train, nearest the harbour, one sees acres and
acres of war material; I mean really acres and acres of rations, barbed
wire, stores of all kinds.

There's a sort of bustle going on in the train. I think we must be near
the end, so I'll put my notebook away.

       *       *       *       *       *

  10.45 A.M.

We are in what they call the Officers' Huts, on some quay or another.
It's a miniature hospital or clearing station, built of wood, and very
nicely fitted up. Sitting-room at one end, then beds, and then baths
and cooking-place and offices; all bright and shining and beautifully
clean, with Red Cross nurses, doctors, orderlies, and no end of
benevolent smiles. They've taken our temperatures and fixed us up very
comfortably, and somebody's started a gramophone, and I've just had a
cup of the glutinous, milky stuff I used to hate, you remember. I don't
hate such things nowadays; not really, you know; but I pretend I don't
care much about 'em for the sake of the virtuous glow it gives to take
'em.

Everyone has asked everyone else where we are going next, and everyone
has been given benevolent smiles and subsided into a Camps Library
magazine or book. The sitting-up cases are pottering about in the
sitting-room, where there are basket chairs and the gramophone. I can
see them through the open door. The nurses have fixed jolly little
curtains and things about, so that the place looks very homely. I
gather it's a sort of rest-house, or waiting-place, where cases can be
put, and stay put, till arrangements have been made for their admission
into the big hospitals, or wherever they are to go. We have all been
separately examined by the Medical Officer. My arm is so much better, I
think it must be practically well. I don't know about the leg. I asked
the M.O.--an awfully decent chap--to try to arrange things for me so
that I should not be cut adrift from my own Battalion, and he said he
thought that would be all right.

       *       *       *       *       *

  3.30 P.M.

I'm for Blighty. The M.O. came and sat on my bed just now and told
me. He certainly is a decent chap. He said the Medical Board had no
hesitation at all about my case, and that I was to cross to England
to-night. But he said I need not worry about my Battalion. He was
awfully good about it; and he's giving me a letter to a brother of his
in London. He thinks I shall be able to get back to my own Battalion
all right, and he thinks I shall be ready for duty much quicker by
going right through to Blighty than by waiting here. But what do you
think of it? Fancy going to Blighty; and to-night, mind you! I'd
never dreamt of it. And what about poor old "A" Company? It's a queer
feeling. We've all been sorted out now; the goats from the sheep. I
suppose it's a case of the worst-chipped crockery for Blighty, and the
rest for tinkering here. But I can't help thinking a week, or two, at
the outside, will put me right.... Here come Army Forms to be signed.

       *       *       *       *       *

  9.30 P.M.

In bed on board the Red Cross ship. All spotless white enamel and
electric light, and spotlessly-aproned nurses, just as in hospital.
I've just been dressed for the night; clean bandages and everything
comfortable. From the last benevolent smile I elicited I shouldn't
be surprised if we weighed anchor round about midnight; but I may be
quite wrong. Anyhow, I feel remarkably comfortable. I think there must
have been something specially comforting in the medicine I had when
my bandages were changed. I shall sleep like a top. I don't think
I've quite got the hang yet of the fact that I am actually bound for
Blighty. But there it is; I'm on the ship, and I suppose it's on the
cards I may see you before this scribble of mine can reach you by post.
In which case, it seems rather waste of time writing at all, doesn't
it? I think I'll go to sleep. I haven't slept since the night before
last. That boy I told you of who was bombed, after being in a mine
explosion, is sleeping like an infant in the next cot but one to mine.
Nice-looking chap. I'm glad he's sleeping; and I bet somebody will be
glad to see him in Blighty to-morrow. To-morrow! Just fancy that!

       *       *       *       *       *

  _Next day._

To-day's the day. When I woke this morning I had glimpses, as the ship
rose and fell, of a green shore showing through the portholes on the
far side of the deck. That was the Isle of Wight. Had a magnificent
sleep all night; only opened my eyes two or three times. We were rather
a long time getting in. Then came Medical Officers of the Home Service;
and with surprisingly few benevolent smiles--not that they lack
benevolence, at all--I learned that I was for London. It hardly seemed
worth while to write any more, and I could not get off the ship to send
a wire.

Now I am in a Red Cross division of an express train bound for
Waterloo. I'll send you a wire from there when I know what hospital
I am for. Shan't know that till we reach Waterloo. Meantime--that's
Winchester we've just passed. Old England looks just the same. There
is a little snow lying on the high ground round Winchester. It looks
the same--yes, in a way; and in another way it never will look just the
same again to me. Never just the same, I think. It will always mean a
jolly lot more to me than it ever did before. Perhaps I'll be able to
tell you about that when we meet. I find I can't write it. Queer thing,
isn't it, that just seeing these fields from the windows of a train
should bring the water to one's eyes? Very queer! One kind of sees it
all through a picture of the trenches, you know.

"The Old Peacemaker" didn't tell me, but I know now that nearly half
"A" Company are casualties; and there's a good many "gone West." Poor
Taffy's gone. Such a clever lad, Taffy. My Platoon won't be quite
the same again, will it? Platoon Sergeant, one other Sergeant, two
Corporals, and a lot of men gone. We were in front, you see. Oh! I know
there's nothing to grieve about, really. Petticoat Lane's behind our
front now, thank goodness. That'll save many a good man from "going
West" between now and the end of the war.

I'm not grieving, but it makes a difference, just as England is
different. Everything must be different now. It can't be the same
again, ever, after one's been in the trenches. If Germany wants to
boast, she can boast that she's altered the world for us. She certainly
has. It can never be the same again. But I think it will be found, by
and by, she has altered it in a way she never meant. Of course, I don't
know anything much about it; just the little bit in one's own Brigade,
you know. But it does seem to me, from the little I've seen, that where
Germany meant to break us, she has made us infinitely stronger than we
were before. Look at our fellows! Each one is three times the man he
was before the war. The words "fighting for England" had next to no
meaning for me before August, 1914. But now! that's why these fields
look different, why England can never again look the same to me as it
did before. I know now that this England is part of me, or I'm part
of it. I know the meaning of England, and I swear I never did before.
Why, you know, the very earth of it--well, when I think how the Boche
has torn and ravaged all before him over there, and then think of our
England, of what the Hun would do here, if he got half a chance....
It's as though England were one's mother, and some swine were to----

But it's no good. I can't write about it. I'll try to tell you. But,
do you know, it wasn't till I saw these fields that the notion came
over me that I'm sort of proud and glad to have these blessed wounds;
glad to have been knocked about a bit. I wonder whether you and Mother
will be glad, too; I somehow think you will--for your

                                               "_Temporary Gentleman_."


THE END



                        _A Selection from the_
                            _Catalogue of_

                          G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

                       Complete Catalogues sent
                            on application



                              FIRST CALL

                         GUIDE POSTS TO BERLIN

                                  BY
                           ARTHUR GUY EMPEY



                      _Author of "OVER THE TOP"_

              _12°. Illustrated. $1.50 (By mail, $1.65)_

In the amazingly vivid and simple way that has made =Over the Top= the
most widely read and talked of book in America, and the most successful
war book in all history, Empey tells the new soldiers

                        What they want to know
                        What they ought to know
                        What they'll have to know

and what their parents, sweethearts, wives, and all Americans, will
want to know, and can do to help.

A practical book by an American who has been through it all.

The chapters headed "Smokes" and "Thank God the Stretcher Bearers" will
stand among the war classics.

Here is advice, here are suggestions, overlooked in other books, that
will safeguard our boys in France.


                          G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
                          New York    London

       *       *       *       *       *



                        _IT IS THE REAL STUFF_

                             OVER THE TOP

                   BY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER WHO WENT

                           ARTHUR GUY EMPEY
                   MACHINE GUNNER, SERVING IN FRANCE

                              _AUTHOR OF_
                            "_FIRST CALL_"

For a year and a half, until he fell wounded in No Man's Land, this
American soldier saw more actual fighting and real warfare than any war
correspondent who has written about the war. His experiences are grim,
but they are thrilling and lightened by a touch of humor as original as
the Soldiers Three. And they are true.

           _12°. 16 Illustrations and Diagrams. $1.50 net._
                           _By mail, $1.65_


                TOGETHER WITH TOMMY'S DICTIONARY OF THE
                               TRENCHES

                   "_Over The Top with the Best of_
                      _Luck and Give Them Hell!_"

         _The British Soldier's War Cry, as he goes over the_
                   _top of the trench to the charge_

       *       *       *       *       *



                         By Bruce Bairnsfather


          "=A War Lord of Laughter=."--_The Literary Digest._

                            Fragments from
                                France

                               Author of

                          "Bullets & Billets"

              _8°.  143 Plates.  15 Small Illustrations_
                     _$1.75 net.  By mail, $1.90_

Captain Bruce Bairnsfather's sketches set all England chuckling,
when they first appeared in the _Bystander_, and they have met with
as hearty a welcome by Americans who have had the luck to see them.
Greatest of all commendation, German prisoners have been known to
become hilarious over these indescribable pictures of life in the
trenches, and war-fed "Tommys" roar over them. Now, with their amusing
captions, they have been gathered into one volume.

These pictures have won in England for the author the title "The man
who made the Empire laugh," and caused the _Literary Digest_ to refer
to him as "A War Lord of Laughter." They are all war pictures, but
calculated to take a deal of the bitterness out of war.

       *       *       *       *       *



                           Bullets & Billets

                                  By

                          Bruce Bairnsfather

                   Author of "Fragments from France"

_12°. 18 Full-page and 23 Text Illustrations. $1.50 By mail, $1.60_


"'Bill,' 'Bert,' and 'Alf' have turned up again. Captain Bairnsfather
has written a book--a rollicking and yet serious book--about himself
and them, describing the joys and sorrows of his first six months in
the trenches. His writing is like his drawing. It suggests a masculine,
reckless, devil-may-care character and a workmanlike soldier.
Throughout the book he is as cheerful as a schoolboy in a disagreeable
football match."--_London Evening News._

                          G. P. Putnam's Sons
                         New York      London



Transcriber's Note:

Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Other
errors are noted below.

- Changed typo on pg. 2: "out" > "our" ("with out regimental
  hound pacing in front")
- Removed extraneous comma pg. 23 ("opposite, our Battalion
  Headquarters.")

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.

Word combinations that appeared with and without hyphens were changed
to the predominant form if it could be determined, or to the hyphenated
form if it could not.

Italicized words are surrounded by underline characters,
_like this_. Words in bold characters are surrounded by equal signs,
=like this=. Underlined text in advertisements not marked up.





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