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Title: Soldiers' Stories of the War
Author: Various
Language: English
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                           SOLDIERS’ STORIES
                              OF THE WAR

                            [Illustration:

                           [_Frontispiece._

                       L BATTERY’S HEROIC STAND.

“Another battery of horse-gunners was dashing to the rescue” (p. 130).]



                           SOLDIERS’ STORIES
                              OF THE WAR

                               EDITED BY
                              WALTER WOOD

                               AUTHOR OF
      “MEN OF THE NORTH SEA,” “SURVIVORS’ TALES OF GREAT EVENTS,”
                “NORTH SEA FISHERS AND FIGHTERS,” ETC.

                 _WITH TWENTY FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS
                           BY A. C. MICHAEL_

                                LONDON
                        CHAPMAN AND HALL, LTD.
                                 1915


                      PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY
                      RICHARD CLAY & SONS, LIMITED,
                      BRUNSWICK ST., STAMFORD ST., S.E.,
                      AND BUNGAY, SUFFOLK.



INTRODUCTION


All the stories in this volume are told by men who were seen personally,
and who, with one or two exceptions--cases of soldiers who had returned
to the front--read the typescripts of their narratives, so that accuracy
should be secured. The narrators spoke while the impressions of fighting
and hardships and things seen were still strong and clear; in several
cases full notes had been made or diaries kept, and reference to these
records was of great value in preparing the stories. When seeing an
informant I specially asked that a true tale should be told, and I
believe that no unreliable details were knowingly given.

I have been fortunate in getting a good deal of exclusive matter--the
full record of the noble achievement of L Battery, Royal Horse
Artillery, for example, has not been given anywhere in such detail as is
presented here, and the same remark applies to the story of the three
torpedoed cruisers.

During the earlier periods of the war British soldiers told me tales of
barbarities and outrages committed by German troops which were so
terrible that it was impossible to believe them, and I omitted many of
these details from the finished stories; but I know now, from reading
the Report of the Committee on Alleged German Outrages, presided over by
Viscount Bryce, formerly British Ambassador at Washington, that even
the most dreadful of the statements did not do more than touch the
fringe of the appalling truth.

Though much has been already published in the form of tales and letters
from our soldiers at the front, yet I hope that this collection of
stories will be accepted as a contribution from the British fighting man
to the general history of the earlier stages of the war--those memorable
preliminary operations which have made a deep and indelible impression
on the British race throughout the world.

WALTER WOOD.



CONTENTS


                                                                    PAGE

CHAPTER I
MONS AND THE GREAT RETREAT                                             1
PRIVATE J. PARKINSON, 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders.

CHAPTER II
GERMAN ATROCITIES                                                     17
DRIVER G. BLOW, Royal Field Artillery.

CHAPTER III
“GREENJACKETS” IN THE FIRING LINE                                     29
RIFLEMAN R. BRICE, King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

CHAPTER IV
THE STRUGGLE ON THE AISNE                                             41
PRIVATE HERBERT PAGE, Coldstream Guards.

CHAPTER V
“THE MOST CRITICAL DAY OF ALL”                                        54
CORPORAL F. W. HOLMES, V.C., M.M., 2nd Battalion
King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

CHAPTER VI
BRITISH FIGHTERS IN FRENCH FORTS                                      70
PRIVATE J. BOYERS, Durham Light Infantry.

CHAPTER VII
GERMAN TREACHERY AND HATRED                                           82
CORPORAL W. BRATBY, Middlesex Regiment.

CHAPTER VIII
LIFE IN THE TRENCHES                                                  94
PRIVATE G. TOWNSEND, 2nd Battalion East Lancashire
Regiment.

CHAPTER IX
SAPPING AND MINING: THE “LUCKY COMPANY”                              108
SAPPER WILLIAM BELL, Royal Engineers.

CHAPTER X
L BATTERY’S HEROIC STAND                                             118
GUNNER H. DARBYSHIRE, Royal Horse Artillery.

CHAPTER XI
SIXTEEN WEEKS OF FIGHTING                                            135
PRIVATE B. MONTGOMERY, Royal West Kent Regiment.

CHAPTER XII
A DAISY-CHAIN OF BANDOLIERS                                          146
PRIVATE W. H. COOPERWAITE, Durham Light Infantry.

CHAPTER XIII
DESPATCH-RIDING                                                      158
CORPORAL HEDLEY G. BROWNE, Royal Engineers.

CHAPTER XIV
THE THREE TORPEDOED CRUISERS                                         169
ABLE-SEAMAN C. C. NURSE.

CHAPTER XV
THE RUNAWAY RAIDERS                                                  182
SAPPER W. HALL, Royal Engineers.

CHAPTER XVI
CAMPAIGNING WITH THE HIGHLANDERS                                     191
PRIVATE A. VENESS, 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.

CHAPTER XVII
TRANSPORT-DRIVING                                                    203
PRIVATE JAMES ROACHE, Army Service Corps.

CHAPTER XVIII
BRITISH GUNNERS AS CAVE-DWELLERS                                     213
CORPORAL E. H. BEAN, Royal Field Artillery.

CHAPTER XIX
WITH THE “FIGHTING FIFTH”                                            225
PRIVATE W. G. LONG, 1st Battalion East Surrey Regiment.

CHAPTER XX
THE VICTORY OF THE MARNE                                             236
CORPORAL G. GILLIAM, Coldstream Guards.

CHAPTER XXI
AN ARMOURED CAR IN AMBUSH                                            256
TROOPER STANLEY DODDS, Northumberland Hussars.

CHAPTER XXII
EXPLOITS OF THE LONDON SCOTTISH                                      264
PRIVATE J. E. CARR, 14th (County of London) Battalion
London Regiment (London Scottish).

CHAPTER XXIII
THE ROUT OF THE PRUSSIAN GUARD AT YPRES                              277
PRIVATE H. J. POLLEY, 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire
Regiment.

CHAPTER XXIV
THE BRITISH VICTORY AT NEUVE CHAPELLE                                291
SERGEANT GILLIAM, Coldstream Guards.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                           _To face page_

L Battery’s heroic stand: “Another battery of horse-gunners
was dashing to the rescue”                                 _Frontispiece_

“We were helped by the Germans throwing searchlights on us”            2

“Some of our cavalry caught him”                                      16

“The Germans came on and hurled themselves against us”                38

“From behind trees we kept up a destructive fire on the enemy”        50

“I hoisted the trumpeter into the saddle”                             62

“We found a fair lot of Germans in houses and farms”                  80

“We were so near the Germans that they could hurl bombs at us”       102

“We had a very warm time of it”                                      112

“Planted a maxim on his knees and rattled into the Germans”          128

“The men were told to lay hands on anything that would float”        168

“Good swimmers were helping those who could not swim”                180

“The _Hogue_ began to turn turtle; the four immense funnels
broke away”                                                          188

“A bullet struck him in the back and killed him”                     202

“We were in a real hell of bursting shrapnel”                        222

“I took him up and began to carry him”                               234

“Before they knew what was happening the car was in the river”       244

“Cavalry and Guards got in amongst the Germans and fairly
scattered them”                                                      254

“I made a lunge at him, but just missed, and I saw his own
long, ugly blade driven out”                                         286

“The infantry dashed on with the bayonet”                            302



SOLDIERS’ STORIES OF

THE WAR



CHAPTER I

MONS AND THE GREAT RETREAT

     [History does not give a more splendid story of courage and
     endurance than that which is afforded by the battle of Mons and the
     subsequent retreat. The British Expeditionary Force, straight from
     home, with no time for preparation, and only two days after a
     concentration by rail, was confronted by at least four times its
     number of the finest troops of Germany, and, after a four days’
     furious battle, remained unconquered and undismayed. What might
     have been annihilation of the British forces had become a throwing
     off of the weight of the enemy’s pursuit, allowing a preparation
     for the driving back of the German hordes. At Mons the 1st
     Battalion Gordon Highlanders lost most of their officers,
     non-commissioned officers and men in killed, wounded and missing.
     This story is told by Private J. Parkinson, of the Gordons, who was
     invalided home at the finish of the Great Retreat.]


To be rushed from the routine of a soldier’s life at home in time of
peace into the thick of a fearful fight on the Continent is a strange
and wonderful experience; yet it happened to me, and it was only one of
many amazing experiences I went through between leaving Southampton in a
transport and coming to a London hospital.

We landed at Boulogne, and went a long journey by train. At the end of
it we found ourselves, on Saturday, August 22nd, billeted in a
gentleman’s big house and we looked forward to a comfortable night,
little dreaming that so soon after leaving England we should be in the
thick of a tremendous fight.

It was strange to be in a foreign country, but there was no time to
dwell on that, and the British soldier soon makes himself at home,
wherever he is. Those of us who were not on duty went to sleep; but we
had not been resting very long when we were called to arms. That was
about half-past three o’clock on the Sunday morning, August 23rd.

There was no bugle sound, no fuss, no noise; we were just quietly roused
up by the pickets, and as quietly we marched out of the château and went
along a big, sunken road--the main road to Paris, I think. We started at
once to make trenches alongside the road, using the entrenching-tool
which every soldier carries; and we went on steadily with that work for
several hours on that August Sunday morning--a perfect Sabbath, with a
wonderful air of peace about it. The country looked beautiful and
prosperous--how soon it was to be turned into a blazing, ruined
landscape, with thousands of dead and wounded men lying on it!

It would be about nine o’clock when we heard heavy firing in a wood near
us--there is plenty of wooded country about Mons--and we were told that
the engineers were blowing up obstacles; so we went on entrenching, for
although we knew that the Germans were not far away, we had no idea they
were as close as they soon proved to be.

I am a first-class scout, and, with a corporal and three men, I was sent
on picket some time before noon.

Just on the right of us was a farm, and the people who came out gave us
some beer and eggs. We drank

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 2._

“WE WERE HELPED BY THE GERMANS THROWING SEARCHLIGHTS ON US” (p. 10).]

the beer and sucked the eggs, and uncommonly good they were, too, on
that blazing hot August Sunday, when everything looked so pleasant and
peaceful. You had it hot at home, I know; but I dare say we had it
hotter, and we were in khaki, with a heavy kit to carry.

There was a big tree near us, and I made for it and climbed up, so that
I could see better over the countryside. I was hanging on to a branch,
and looking around, when all at once a bullet or two came, and we knew
that the Germans had spotted us. I got down from that tree a vast deal
quicker than I had got up into it, and we made ready to rush back to the
trenches; but before scuttling we told the civilians to clear out at
once, and they began to do so. The poor souls were taken aback,
naturally, but they lost no time in obeying the warning, leaving all
their worldly treasures--belongings which they were never to see again,
for the German barbarians were soon to destroy them shamefully and
mercilessly, and, worse than that, were to take the lives of innocent
and inoffensive people who had not done them the slightest wrong in any
way.

As soon as we had raised the alarm a whole section of Germans opened
fire on the four of us, and as we could not do anything against them,
being heavily outnumbered, we ran for it back to the trenches. Yes, we
did run indeed, there is no mistake about that. Luckily for us we knew
the way back; but if the Germans had been able to shoot for nuts with
their rifles, not one of us would have been spared. We laughed as we
ran, and one of the scouts, named Anderson, laughed so much that he
could scarcely run, though there was nothing special to laugh at; but,
as you know, there are some odd chaps amongst Highlanders. They don’t
care a rap for anything.

It was soon reported that there were in front of us about 15,000
Germans, including some of the finest of the Kaiser’s troops, amongst
them the Imperial Guard, who have worked military miracles--at peace
manœuvres. And to oppose that great body of men we had only the 8th
Brigade, consisting of the Royal Scots, the Royal Irish, the
Middlesex--the old “Die-Hards”--and the Gordon Highlanders, of which I
was in B Company.

The Royal Scots were on our right, and the Royal Irish and the Middlesex
on our left. We had Royal Field Artillery, too, and never did British
gunners do more splendid work and cover themselves with greater glory
than in the battle of Mons.

The Royal Irish were getting their dinners when the Germans opened fire
on them with their machine-guns, doing some dreadful damage straight
off, for they seemed to have the range, and there was no time for the
Royal Irish to get under cover.

That, I think, was really the beginning of the battle; but I had better
try and give you an idea of the battlefield, so that you can understand
what actually took place.

Mons itself is a fair-sized manufacturing town, with plenty of
coal-mines about, and we were in a pleasant village near it, the main
road to Paris cutting through the village. From our trenches we could
see across the country, towards the mines and other villages, and we had
a clear rifle-range of well over a mile, because a lot of obstruction in
the shape of hedges, foliage and corn had been cut away.

To our rear, on each side of us, was a forest, and between the two
forests were our splendid gunners, who were to do such awful mischief in
the German hosts. The “Die-Hards” were in a sort of garden, and I saw
only too clearly what happened to them when the fight was in full swing.

It was just before noon when the most fearful part of the battle
started, and that was the artillery duel. Our own guns were making a
terrible commotion near us; but the din was a very comforting sound,
because it meant something very bad for the German gunners, who were
making havoc in our brigade.

I saw the awful effects of the German shrapnel amongst the men of the
Middlesex in that fair Belgian garden on what should have been a
peaceful Sunday afternoon. The Middlesex were practically blown to
pieces, and the fearful way in which they suffered was shown later, when
the casualty lists were published, and it was seen that most of them
were either killed, wounded or missing.

Then the Gordons’ turn came. The Germans had got our position, and they
opened fire on us; but we were lucky--perhaps the German batteries were
too far away to be really effective. At any rate, they did not harm us
much.

The battle had opened swiftly, and it continued with amazing speed and
fury, for both sides soon settled into their stride--and you know, of
course, that the Germans were on the promenade to Paris and were going
to mop the British Army up. It took a lot of mopping!

Our own field-gunners were doing magnificently, and the Germans were
first-rate hands at the deadly game. If they had been anything like as
accurate with the rifle as they were with the artillery I think that
very few British soldiers would have been left to tell the tale of
Mons. But with the rifle they were no good.

The Germans came out of their trenches in big heaps in close formation,
because their game was to rush us by sheer weight of numbers; but we
just shot them down. Yet as soon as we shot them down others came out,
literally like bees. No wonder the poor chaps are called by their
officers “cannon-fodder”! British officers don’t talk of their men in
that brutal way; and the British officer always leads--shows the way;
but the German officer seems to follow his men, and to shove and shoot
them along.

It was marvellous to watch the Germans come on in their legions, and
melt away under our artillery and rifle fire. We simply took deliberate
aim at the masses of figures, grey clad, with their helmets covered with
grey cloth; but it seemed as if not even our absolutely destructive fire
would stop them. On they came, still on, the living actually sheltering
behind the dead. But it was no use. We kept them off, and they kept
themselves off, too, for it was perfectly clear that they had a horror
of the bayonet, and would not come near it.

The nearest the Germans got to us, as far as I can tell--that is, to the
Gordons--was about 300 yards; but that was near enough, seeing that they
outnumbered us by four to one, and were amongst the finest troops of
Germany. Some of the enemy’s cavalry--I suppose the much-talked-of
Uhlans--came into the sunken road in front of us, hoping to do business;
but our machine-guns got on them, and we had a go at them with our
rifles, with the result that the Uhlans made a cut for it and most of
them got away. Even so, there were plenty of riderless horses galloping
madly about.

Our officers had told us to carry on--and carry on we did, then and
later.

What was I feeling like? Well, of course, at the start I was in a bit of
a funk and it wasn’t pleasant; but I can honestly say that the feeling
soon vanished, as I’m certain it did from all of us, and we settled down
to good hard pounding, all the time seeing who could pound the hardest
and last longest. And I can assure you that, in spite of everything, men
kept laughing, and they kept their spirits up.

You see, we had such splendid officers, and there is always such a fine
feeling between officers and men in Highland regiments. Our colonel, a
Gordon by name and commanding the Gordons, was a real gallant Gordon,
who won his Victoria Cross in the South African War--a regular warrior
and a veteran; amongst other things he was in at the storming of Dargai,
and he had more experience of actual fighting, I should think, than all
the Germans in front of us put together.

Another brave officer was Major Simpson, my company officer, a Companion
of the Distinguished Service Order, which is the next best thing to the
V.C. Major Simpson and a private went to fetch some ammunition. To do
that they had to leave shelter and rush along in a literal hail of
fire--shrapnel and bullets. It seemed as if no living thing could exist,
and they were watched with intense anxiety. Shells were bursting all
around us--some in the air and others on the ground, though there were
German shells that did not burst at all.

Suddenly, with a fearful shattering sound, a shell burst just beside the
major and the private, and for the moment it looked as if they had been
destroyed. Some Gordons rushed towards them, and picked them up and put
them on a horse. It was seen that they were badly hurt, but even so,
and at a time like that, the major actually laughed, and I am sure he
did it to keep our spirits up. He was taken away to hospital, and was
laughing still when he said--

“It’s all right, lads! There’s nothing much the matter with me! Carry
on!”

Oh, yes! There were some fine cool things done on that great Sunday when
the Germans were like bees in front of us in the turnip-fields at Mons,
and we were settling down into our stride.

And the N.C.O.’s were splendid, too.

Our section sergeant, Spence, when the firing was fiercest, popped up to
take a shot, which is always a risky thing to do, because a bullet is so
much swifter than a man’s movements. The sergeant fired, and the instant
he had done so he fell back into the trench, saying, “I believe they’ve
got me now!” But they hadn’t. He was taken to hospital, and it was found
that a bullet had come and so cleanly grazed his head--on the left side,
like this--that the hair was cut away in a little path, just like a big
parting, as if it had been shaved. It was touch and go with death, the
closest thing you could possibly see; but, luckily, the sergeant was all
right, and he made no commotion about his narrow shave.

There was a gallant young officer and brave gentleman of the
Gordons--Lieutenant Richmond--who had been doing his duty nobly
throughout that Sunday afternoon.

Dusk was falling, and Lieutenant Richmond made his way out of the trench
and over the open ground, crawling, to try and learn something about the
Germans. He was crawling back--that is the only way in such a merciless
fire--and was only about three yards from the trench when he rose up
and was going to make a final dash for it. Just as he rose, a bullet
struck him in the back and came out through his heart--and killed him
straight away. He was in my trench, and I saw this happen quite clearly.
It was such sights as that which made the Gordons all the more resolved
to carry on and mow the Germans down as hard as they could--the Germans
who seemed to be for ever rushing at us from the turnip-fields in front
and never getting any nearer than their own barriers of dead.

I never thought it possible that such a hell of fire could be known as
that which we endured and made at Mons. There was the ceaseless crackle
of the rifles on both sides, with the everlasting explosions of the guns
and the frightful bursting of the shells. They were particularly
horrible when they burst on the cobbled road close by--as hundreds
did--so near to us that it seemed as if we were certain to be shattered
to pieces by the fragments of shrapnel which did so much mischief and
killed so many men and horses, to say nothing of the gaping wounds they
inflicted on the troops and the poor dumb beasts.

But you can best understand what the German artillery fire was like when
I tell you that all the telegraph-poles were shattered, the very wires
were torn away, and trees were smashed and blown to pieces. It seemed
miraculous that any human being could live in such a storm of metal
fragments and bullets.

From before noon until dusk, and that was a good eight hours, the battle
of Mons had been truly awful; but we had held our own, and as the
evening came I realised what a fearful thing a modern battle
is--especially such a fight as this, brought on in a peaceful and
beautiful country whose people had done no wrong.

All the villages in front of us were burning, either set on fire
deliberately by the Germans, or by shells; but there was no halting in
the fight, and when we could no longer see the enemy because it was dark
we blazed away at the flashes of their rifles--thousands of spurts of
flame; and the field-gunners crashed at the straight lines of fire which
could be seen when the German artillerymen discharged their guns. We
were helped, too, in a way that many of us never expected to be, and
that was by the Germans throwing searchlights on us. These long, ghastly
beams shone on us and gave a weird and terrible appearance to the
fighters in the trenches, and more so to the outstretched forms of
soldiers who had fought for the last time.

It was a dreadful yet fascinating sight, and one which I shall never
forget; nor shall I ever forget the extraordinary fact that, in spite of
the annihilating hail of missiles and the deafening din of battle, some
of our fellows in the trenches went to sleep, and seemed to sleep as
peacefully and soundly as if they were in feather beds. They went to
sleep quite cheerfully, too. I should say that half our chaps were
having a doze in this way and taking no notice of the fight and the
screech and roar of shells and guns.

Sunday night--and such a night! The sky red with burning villages, the
air rent with awful noises of guns and rifles, men and horses--a
terrible commotion from the devilish fight that was going on. The
villagers had left; they had fled on getting our warning, but they were
not too far away to see the utter ruin of their homes.

I do not want to say too much about the villagers--it is too sad and
makes one too savage; but I will tell of one incident I saw. An old man
was running away, to try and get out of danger, when he was hit in the
stomach. I saw him fall, and I know that he bled to death. Think of
that--an absolutely innocent and inoffensive old man who had done
nothing whatever to harm the brigands who were over-running Belgium!

Just about midnight we got the order to retire. We joined the survivors
of the 8th Brigade and began a march which lasted nearly all night. We
were weary and worn, but as right in spirit as ever, and didn’t want to
retire. There was no help for it, however, and the Great Retreat began.
Everything that the Red Cross men could do had been done for the
wounded; but there were some who had to be left, as well as the dead.

It was fearfully hot, and we were thankful indeed when we were able to
lie down in a field and get about two hours’ sleep--the sleep that you
might suppose a log has.

When we awoke it was not to music of birds, but of shrapnel; for the
Germans were following us and began to fire on us as soon as we started
to retire again. Hour after hour we went on, feeling pretty bad at
having to retreat; but a bit cheered when, at about two o’clock on the
Monday afternoon, we began to dig trenches again. We had the
field-gunners behind us once more, and joyous music it was to hear their
shells screaming over our heads.

It was about dinner-time on the Monday when we had one of the most
thrilling experiences of the whole fight--one of the extraordinary
incidents that have become part and parcel of a modern battle, although
only a very few years ago they were looked upon as mad fancies or wild
dreams. We were marching along a road when we sighted a German
aeroplane--a bird-like-looking thing in the sky. It was keeping watch on
us, and signalling our position to the main German body. It gave the
position, and the Germans promptly gave us some shells. The thing was
most dangerous and unpleasant; but the German airman was not to have it
all his own way.

Two of our own aeroplanes spotted him and went for him, just like
immense birds--the whole business might have been carried out by living
creatures of the air--and there was as fine a fight in the air as you
could hope to see on land--firing and swift manœuvring with the
object of killing and destroying, and both sides showing amazing pluck
and skill. It was an uncommonly exciting spectacle, and it became all
the more thrilling when we opened fire with our rifles.

I blazed away as hard as I could, but an aeroplane on the wing is not an
easy thing to hit. Whether I struck the machine or not I can’t say, but
it came down in the road just where my company was. As far as I know the
aeroplane was not struck--the chap that was in it planed down. He was
determined not to be caught cheaply, for as soon as he landed he fired
his petrol tank to destroy his machine, and then ran for it. He went off
at a hard lick, but some of our cavalry rushed after him and caught him,
and it was found that he was not hurt.

Just on our right was a railway, with a big cutting, and we were ordered
to retire down into it; so into the cutting we got and along the line we
went, retreating all that day by the railway and the roads, our gunners
giving the Germans socks throughout that hard rearguard action.

On the Tuesday we were still retreating, and a miserable day it was,
with a deluge of rain that soaked us to the skin. We reached a village
and slept in barns, and a good sleep we got, without the trouble of
undressing or drying our clothes or taking our boots off.

Early on the Wednesday morning the pickets quietly roused and warned us
again, and we went out in front of the village and entrenched.

There was a big lot of coal-mines in front of us, about a mile away,
with the refuse-heaps that are common to mines. Behind one of these
great mounds a battery of German artillery had got into position, and
one of the finest things you could have seen was the way in which our
own grand gunners got on the Germans. They seemed to have found the
range of the enemy exactly, and that was a good job for us, because the
German shells were dropping just between us and our own artillery, and
we expected to have them bang on us. But our guns silenced our
opponents, and, what was more, scattered a lot of German infantry, about
1,500 yards away, who were making for us.

We got straight into our trenches, and in this respect we were lucky,
because we went into one that the Engineers had made, while most of the
other companies had to dig their own.

Our trench was in a cornfield. The corn had been cut down, and we spread
it and other stuff in front of the trenches, on top of the earth, to
make us invisible. From that queer hiding-place we resumed our blazing
away at the pursuing Germans.

When Wednesday came we were at Cambrai, where hell itself seemed to be
let loose again; for first thing in the morning we heard heavy artillery
fire on all sides of us, and it was clear that a fearful battle was
going on. We were utterly worn and weary, but were cheered by looking
forward to a good dinner. We knew that the food was in the field
cookers, in preparation for serving out to the men. But the dinner never
came, and it was not until next day that we heard the reason why--then
we learned that a German shell had blown the field cookers to
smithereens.

Now all this time, from the moment the battle opened at Mons till we
were blazing away again at the Germans at Cambrai we were waiting for
the French to come--waiting and longing, for we were utterly outnumbered
and completely exhausted; but we never had a glimpse of a Frenchman, and
we know now, of course, that the French themselves were so hard pressed
that they could not spare any help at all for the British.

At about half-past four in the afternoon we resumed the retreat, for a
major of artillery had galloped up and shouted “Retire!” B Company
retired across the level ground behind us. This was a good bit off a
sunken road that we wanted to get back to, because it would give us
comparative safety. Eventually we reached it, and were thankful to find
that we were pretty secure, though shells were still bursting all around
and over us.

From that time we never saw any more of the rest of the regiment, and I
lost sight of our gallant colonel. He became numbered with the
missing.[1] There were only about 175 of my own company and parts of
other companies who had got away and joined us.

A terrible time it was at Cambrai, and one that I sha’n’t forget in a
hurry. The last I clearly remember of the place is that several men were
killed near me; but by that time killing had become a matter of course.
The Red Cross men did noble work, but they could not cover all the
cases. I am sorry to say it, but it is true that the Germans
deliberately fired on the hospitals at Mons and also at Cambrai. It
sounds incredible, but there were many things done in Belgium by the
Germans that you could not have believed unless you had seen them.

Well, from that dreadful carnage at Cambrai we went on retreating, and
we never really rested until the Sunday, seven days after the battle
started, when we reached Senlis, about forty miles from Paris. We had
then marched between 130 and 140 miles, and had made one of the longest,
hardest, swiftest and most successful retreats in history--I say
successful, because Sir John French and his generals had got us out of
what looked like a death-trap. We were cursing all the time we were
retreating--cursing because we had to retire, though we knew that there
was no help for it.

A wonderful change came with the Wednesday, because we did no more
fighting. We forged ahead, blowing up bridges and doing all we could to
stop the Germans.

We had a splendid time going through France, as we had had in going
through Belgium, and when we reached Paris there was nothing the French
people thought too good for us. We were taken across Paris in
char-a-bancs, and flowers, cigarettes and five-franc pieces were thrown
at us. A lot of Americans spoke to us, and were very kind. They were
particularly anxious to know how we were getting on, and what we had
gone through. It was very pleasant to hear our own language, as most of
us did not understand a word of French.

We trained to Rouen, but had not the slightest idea that we were going
to England--we thought we were being sent to hospital at Havre; but at
that port we were put into motors and driven down to the quay and shoved
on board a transport and brought at last to London.

I am not wounded. I was struck on the leg by a bullet, but it did not
really hurt me. I was utterly worn out and exhausted, however, and
rheumatism set in and crippled me, so I was sent to hospital; and here I
am. But I’m almost fit and well now, and all I want to do is to fall in
again before the fighting’s done.

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 16._

“SOME OF OUR CAVALRY CAUGHT HIM” (p. 12).]



CHAPTER II

GERMAN ATROCITIES

     [The war was begun by Germany in a spirit of ruthlessness which was
     to spare neither man, woman nor child, and was to leave innocent
     people “only their eyes to weep with.” The neutrality of Belgium
     was outraged and German hosts poured into that country. In
     repelling them an immortal part was played by the British
     Expeditionary Force, which fought against enormous odds. This story
     of the earlier days of the war is told from the narrative of Driver
     George William Blow, Royal Field Artillery, who was invalided home
     after having two of his ribs broken and five horses killed under
     him.]


It was a blazing hot Sunday, and the place was Mons. We had got into
camp about one on the Saturday afternoon, and had billeted till four on
the Sunday morning, when we were ordered to harness up and prepare for
action, but we did not receive actual fighting orders until noon; then
we had to march into a place in the neighbourhood, and as soon as we
reached it German shells burst over us.

That was the beginning of a long and terrible battle. We went straight
into it, without any warning; but the Germans were ready, and knew what
to expect, because they had been waiting for us for forty-eight hours.

It was field artillery we were up against. The Germans at that time had
not got the big siege guns, which we called Black Marias, Jack Johnsons
and Coal Boxes. I will tell you about them later.

We, the drivers, took the guns up into action, then we retired under
cover with the horses. While we were retiring the bullets from the
German shells were dropping all around us, and farther away our men at
the guns and the other troops were carrying on that desperate fight
against immense odds which will be always known as the battle of Mons.
From start to finish we were heavily outnumbered, but we knocked them
out.

We were soon hard at it, pounding away, while our infantry were simply
mowing the Germans down. We had some terrible fire to put up with, and
at the end of about four hours we were forced to retire from the
position. At that time we were the only battery left in action out of
the whole of our brigade.

An officer was sent to reconnoitre, to see where we could retire to, and
he picked out a little valley, a sort of rain-wash, and the battery
thundered into it. This was a hard place to tackle, and all our
attention was needed to keep the horses from falling down, because the
ground was so rough and steep.

So far we had not seen any of the German infantry at close quarters, but
as soon as we had got into the level of the valley we ran into a lot of
them, and saw that we were ambushed. In this ambush I had one of the
experiences that were so common in the retreat, but I was lucky enough
to come out of it safely. Many gallant deeds were done there which will
never be officially known--for instance, when we were going through the
valley and were being heavily fired on, and it seemed as if there was no
chance for us, Corporal Holiday ran the gauntlet twice to warn us that
the enemy had us in ambush.

We made a desperate effort to get out of the valley, but before we could
get clear many horses were shot down, amongst them being the one I was
riding. I did the only thing I could do--I lay there amongst the dead
horses. I had had a narrow shave, for my cap had been shot off by a
piece of shell.

The first gun and two waggons had got through, and our corporal could
have got safely out, but he wasn’t built that way, and wasn’t thinking
about himself.

He shouted, “Well, boys, your horses are down, and the best thing you
can do is to run for it.”

I scrambled up and dashed through some brambles--they nearly scratched
me to pieces. Just as I and one or two more men got out five Germans
potted at us. I had no weapon--nothing except my whip--if we had had
arms we could have settled a lot of Germans that day--so I had to make a
dash for cover. But the corporal, with his rifle, did splendidly, for he
picked off three of the Germans, and the other two bolted.

If it had not been for the corporal I should not have been here to tell
the tale; I should either have been killed or made a prisoner. Had it
not been for him, in fact, they would have wiped the lot of us
completely out.

We were in that deadly ambush for about five hours--from five till
ten--no gunners with us, only drivers. It was night and dark, but the
darkness was made terrible by the glare of the villages which the
Germans had set fire to.

There we were, ambushed and imprisoned in the valley, unable to move
either backward or forward, because the roadway was choked up with dead
horses.

At last our major went away some distance, and inquired of a woman in a
house which would be the best way for us to get out of the valley. While
he was talking with her the house was surrounded by Germans, and it
seemed certain that he would be discovered; but in the darkness they
could not make him clearly out, and he was clever enough to shout to
them in their own language. It was a critical and dangerous time, but
the major scored. He baffled the Germans, and got himself out of the
house, and us out of the ambush in the valley. It was a splendid
performance and I believe the major was recommended for the D.S.O. on
account of it.

We were thankful when we were clear of the valley, but about two miles
farther on we ran into some more Germans; there were Germans everywhere,
they swarmed over the whole countryside, day and night, and, as I have
told you, they heavily outnumbered us all the time and at every turn.
But by this time we were better able to meet them, for we had plenty of
infantry with us--Gordons, and Wiltshire and Sussex men--who were
joining in the retreat.

That retirement was a terrible business. Our infantry had been fighting
in the trenches and in the open, and they were fighting all the time
they were retiring. The Germans gave them no rest, and, like the
barbarians some of them are, they showed no mercy to our wounded, as we
discovered when we got back to Mons again, as we did in time. We saw
lots of our wounded who had been killed by the butts of the Prussian
bullies’ rifles. They had the finest troops of Prussia at Mons, and I
suppose the braggarts wanted to get some of their own back for having
been so badly mauled by Sir John French’s “contemptible little army.”

In the earlier hours of the battle, during that awful Sunday at Mons and
in the neighbourhood, the British had suffered heavily. Twelve men of my
own battery and a dozen of the horses had been killed, and a waggon
limber had been blown to pieces. Mind you, I am talking only of our own
battery and our own brigade, and dealing with only a very small part of
the battle. No man who shared in it can do more. Our brigade consisted
of three batteries of six guns each.

It had been a day of ceaseless fighting and terrific strain on men and
horses, and we were utterly done up when we got into camp at about one
on the Monday morning. We hoped we might rest a bit, but we had to
harness up at two, and shift off at three, because the Germans were
preparing to shell the village we were in.

There was a hospital in the village, and by that time a good many of our
wounded were in it. The Germans could see plainly enough that it was a
hospital, and knew that it must be filled with wounded, but they
deliberately shelled it and set fire to it. Our captain and my sergeant
were in the hospital when the Germans fired it, but I don’t know whether
they got away or were left in the burning building.

By the time we were on the move again it was full daylight. We dropped
into action again three or four times, but were forced to resume our
retirement, harassed all the time by the Germans.

During the retirement we had several shots at German aeroplanes, which
were flying about spying out our positions and signalling them to their
own people; but field-guns are not much use against aircraft, because
the muzzles cannot be elevated sufficiently high. You need howitzers for
the work, because they are specially made for high-angle fire and can
throw their shots right over aeroplanes.

We were retiring from the Monday till the Wednesday; then we got the
order to drop into action again. That was at eight o’clock in the
morning, and by that time we were at Cambrai, a good distance from Mons,
as you can see from the map.

Mons was bad, but Cambrai was far worse. We had been retreating all the
time, day and night, fighting a heavy rearguard action, so that men and
horses were utterly worn out. Again the artillery did splendid work, and
had to pay for it. The 6th Battery had lost two guns and a waggon at
Mons, because the horses were killed, and they also had another gun put
out of action. They lost a further gun at Cambrai, and the battery was
almost completely cut up, but for their loss we in the 23rd Battery were
able to make up in a way.

Our own guns were concealed so cleverly that the Germans could not find
them anyhow. The nearest they could get to us was about fifty yards in
front or fifty yards behind, and in dropping shells fifty yards make a
lot of difference, as the Germans found to their cost. Our concealed
battery did heavy execution amongst them, and they deserved all they
got.

When I was clear of the valley I got two fresh horses; but at Cambrai,
on the Wednesday, they were both killed. A shell burst and took off the
head of the riding horse, and bullets killed the off horse, so I was
dismounted again; and not a few of my chums were in the same unfortunate
position.

Cambrai was the last battle we had before we turned the tables on the
Germans, and began to drive them back at the Marne, where a tremendous
fight went on for many days. Altogether we had been retiring pretty well
a week, and we rejoiced when the advance began.

The advance made new men of us, especially when we saw what the Germans
had done. There were plenty of wrecks of our convoys on the roads, where
the enemy had got at them. That sort of thing was all right, of course,
and came in fairly enough in warfare; but it made our blood boil to see
the wanton damage that these so-called civilised soldiers had committed
on a people who had done no greater crime than defend their hearths and
families.

You ask about German cruelties and barbarities. Well, I will tell you
something about what I saw myself, and people can form their own opinion
as to what generally happened.

When the British troops retired from Mons the villages and the country
were untouched. No words can tell how kind the Belgians and the French
were to us, and I am glad to say that they were no worse for our passage
through their towns and villages and farms. They gave us food and wine,
and helped our sick and wounded, and wherever they were they did all
they could for us.

Villages and towns and farms were peaceful and prosperous when we passed
through them first; but they were terribly changed when we returned and
went through them a second time, after the Germans had been at their
foul work. Sword, rifle, artillery and fire had done their dreadful
mischief, and deeds had been committed which filled us with horror. I
will mention two or three things by way of illustration, and these are
only instances of hosts of cases.

On the first day of the advance we were passing through a small village.
I saw a little child which seemed to be propped up against a window.
There were some infantry passing at the same time as ourselves--Gordons,
I think they were--and one of the officers went into the cottage and
took the little creature from the window. He found that it was dead. The
Germans had killed it.

The officer had a look over the house, and in the next room he found the
mother. She was dead also, and mutilated in a most ferocious way.

The interior of the cottage was in a state of absolute wreckage. The
barbarians had not spared anything. They had destroyed the furniture,
thrown everything about, and done their best to ruin inoffensive people
whose country they had laid waste, and who had not done them the
slightest wrong. When our men saw that, they went almost mad.

I will give you another instance. We passed through a village about two
hours after some of the braggart Uhlans had visited it, and we saw how
courageous they can be when they have only old men and women and
children to deal with. They sing a different song when the British
cavalry are after them. There was a farmhouse which had been the home
of two old people, a farmer and his wife. I believe the poor old couple
looked after the farm themselves.

We found the old lady at the farm all alone, and I saw her. A pitiful
spectacle she was, and well she might be, for the Uhlans had come and
taken her poor old husband out into a field and shot him, and left his
dead body there. They had robbed the house of everything--all the money
and every bit of food--and had left the old lady almost demented.

When our own troops came up they gave the poor old soul--she was sitting
outside the house, crying--the bully beef and biscuits which had been
served out to them that very morning, and which they themselves needed
badly.

We heard of several cases like that from the people of the country as we
returned through it, and cases of these German bullies holding revolvers
to women’s heads and forcing the frightened creatures to give them their
rings and jewellery and everything they could lay their hands on. This
was the sort of thing we saw, or heard at first hand, and it made us all
the more thankful that we were driving the Germans back and getting
level with them.

We fell into action that morning about seven o’clock. We had to make our
way straight across country, regardless of fields or roads; and all the
time the Germans shelled us. It didn’t matter where we were, the shells
fell beyond us; but the enemy weren’t clever enough to find our twelve
batteries, which were in action, and which properly “gave them socks.”

We held that village till about eight o’clock, then we started on the
advance again, driving the Germans back; and when once they start going
they travel very quickly--when the enemy is after them.

That was the last battle we had before we got to the river Marne. So
far, we had had a lot to do with the German field-guns; now we were to
make the acquaintance of the bigger chaps I have referred to--Black
Marias, Coal Boxes and Jack Johnsons, as I have said we called them,
because they fired a big shell, a 90-pounder, which burst and made a
thick cloud of filthy, greasy smoke which was enough to poison you if it
got at you. I believe that the fumes of some of the German shells will
actually kill you if you get them properly into your system.

The Battle of the Marne was a long and big affair, lasting about three
weeks, and the Black Marias did a good deal of mischief. On the Sunday,
as our ambulance waggons retired, the Germans shelled them with these
siege guns, and blew them to pieces. At the finish there was not an
ambulance waggon available. Yes, that is what they did, and it was done
deliberately, because any soldier can tell an ambulance waggon when he
sees it.

The Germans stuck at nothing to gain their ends; no trick is too dirty
for them to play. One particularly vile one was the using of ambulance
waggons for the purpose of carrying machine-guns. Our troops did not
dream of firing at ambulance waggons; but when we saw that this wicked
use was being made of them--and we did see it, for they came quite close
to us--we gave the Germans in them what for.

The Germans tried three or four times to break through our lines, but
our Tommies were too good for them, and sent them back a great deal
faster than they had come on. They swept them away with rifle fire, and
the Germans never had a chance when our men could get fairly in with the
bayonet.

During that long month of fighting we were in a good many places in
France and Belgium. At one time we were actually on the field of
Waterloo, and could see in the distance the monument put up in memory of
the battle. I dare say the Germans fancied they were going to do a lot
with us at Waterloo; but it all ended in fancy, and we kept on the
driving game with them till they were altogether forced back.

When we could get at them we could beat them, though they were sometimes
about ten to one, and in one little affair I saw twenty of our
“Jocks”--Gordons, I think they were--scatter something like two hundred
Germans. The Jocks badly wanted to get at the Germans with the steel,
but the Germans just as badly didn’t want to be bayoneted, and those who
weren’t shot scuttled.

The fighting was not the only hard part of the Battle of the Marne. For
nearly three weeks we never had a dry shirt on owing to the wet weather,
and we never had our boots off; we hadn’t time for it, and we were kept
too well at it. The poor horses were fearfully knocked up. They were
like us--never had a chance to rest--and were three or four days without
food.

Once, during the retirement, we had only two hours’ rest in four days;
but we daren’t stop. Sometimes we were on foot, sometimes in the saddle,
and the Germans were after us in motor-lorries, full of troops.

But however badly they handled us, I think it was nothing to the way in
which we mangled them when our artillery got really to work, and
especially when it came to “gun fire”--that is, rapid firing, each gun
firing as soon as it is loaded. This means that you take no time between
rounds; you simply blaze away, and the guns become quite hot. In one
particular position every sub-section fired 150 rounds, so that, taking
a whole battery, I should think they pretty well fired a thousand rounds
in a day.

It was on the Marne that my fifth horse was killed under me. A shell
struck him, and before I could clear myself I fell over into a ditch,
the horse on top of me, shot and shell flying all around as I went over.
Two of my ribs were broken, and I was put out of action. I was picked up
and carried down to the camp. I was in hospital there for three days
before I was sent to London.

I had a complete Uhlan’s uniform with me, and wanted to bring it home,
but this bit of the saddle is all I have left. The Uhlan’s saddle is a
wonderful thing, weighing 78 lb., compared with 12 lb. for the British
saddle. Here is the piece; you can see that it is filled in with
lead--why, I don’t know. And here is the torn khaki jacket I was wearing
when my fifth horse was killed under me at the Marne--and this part is
sodden with his blood.

I had a round month of fighting, retreating, advancing, and fighting
again, and apart from the broken ribs I was utterly done up; but I am
pretty well again now. I am just off to see the doctor; the day after
to-morrow I am to get married, the next day I rejoin, and after
that--well, who can tell?



CHAPTER III

“GREENJACKETS” IN THE FIRING LINE

     [The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, the famous old 60th Rifles, the
     “Greenjackets,” I have had a large share in the war and have added
     to their glorious distinctions. Many of the officers of this
     regiment have given their lives for their country, amongst them
     being Prince Maurice of Battenberg. Some details of the Prince’s
     service in the war before he was killed in action are given in this
     story by Rifleman Brice, of the 60th, who was wounded at the Battle
     of the Aisne and invalided home.]


When we first landed in France we were welcomed and cheered by crowds of
French people who decked us with flowers and couldn’t do too much for
us, and they kept that kindness up all the time I was over there until I
was sent home with a lot more wounded. Throwing flowers at us was a
great deal pleasanter than the shells and bullets which were shot at us
a few days later, when we were in the thick of trench-digging and
fighting. It’s astonishing how soon you settle down to a state of things
that you’ve never been used to and how extraordinarily war alters life
and people.

The Greenjackets are very proud of themselves, especially in time of
peace, and have many little ways of their own; but a war like this makes
all soldiers chums and equals and even the officers are practically just
like the men. Our own colonel did his share in the trench-digging, and a
royal officer like Prince Maurice of Battenberg, who is now resting in
a soldier’s grave, was living the same life as the rest of us. Many an
act of kindness did the Prince show to his riflemen, and many a fierce
fight he shared in before he was killed in battle; many a word of cheer
did he utter to men who were almost exhausted and nearly dying of
thirst, and I have seen him go and buy fresh bread, when it could be
got, and give it to us as a treat--and a glorious treat it was!

One of the first things we had to do after the retirement from Mons was
to bury German dead, and you will get some idea of the awful losses they
suffered, even at the beginning of the war, when I tell you that in one
place alone we were about eight hours in doing this unpleasant task.

We got used to digging ourselves in and being shelled out, and to
guarding towns and villages while the panic-stricken inhabitants escaped
to safety. It was a pitiful sight to see people turned out of their
houses, taking their belongings, when they could, in carts,
perambulators, wheelbarrows and every available conveyance. They always
kept as close to us as they could keep, and our fellows used to collect
money amongst themselves for the poor souls and give them all the food
they could spare--and they were very grateful if we gave them only a
biscuit.

It was terrible work on our way to the Aisne; but the hardships were
lightened for us in many little ways that counted a lot. Some of our
officers would carry two rifles, when men became too weary to carry
their own; the colonel would jump off his horse and give an exhausted
man a lift in the saddle, and he would take apples from his pockets and
pass them along the ranks to the men. These acts of kindness helped us
all enormously. And we were helped on the way by smoking--what a joy it
was to get a fag, especially when cigarettes ran so short that one would
go round a dozen times, passed from man to man, and a chap was sorely
tempted to take a pull that was almost enough to fill him with smoke.
When we hadn’t a scrap of tobacco of any sort we would roll a fag of
dried tea-leaves which had been used for making tea--and that was better
than nothing.

It was fighting all the way to the Aisne, heavy rearguard actions most
of the time, though in a lesser war many of these affairs would have
been reckoned proper battles. One night, at about ten o’clock, after a
hard march, we had reached a town, and had thankfully gone into our
billets--houses, barns, any sort of place that came handy, and we were
expecting a peaceful time; but we were no sooner settling down than we
got the alarm to dress and fall in. Getting dressed was the work of
seconds only, because undressing was merely a case of putting the pack
and equipment and rifle down and resting on the flags or earth, or, if
we were lucky, hay or straw; and so, when the alarm was given, we very
soon fell in, and with fixed bayonets we rushed for a bridge across the
river that we had been ordered to take.

At the point of the bayonet the bridge was carried with a splendid rush,
then we had to hold it while our transport and ammunition column got out
of the town, and there we were till seven o’clock next morning. The main
body of the troops retired and left us as a rearguard; but they had not
gone from the town more than ten minutes when we saw the Germans coming
towards the bridge in swarms. There was no help for it--we had to get
away from the bridge which we had held throughout the night.

We began to retire in good order, fighting desperately, and our men
falling killed and wounded. Yard by yard we fell back from the bridge,
firing as furiously as we could at the German masses, and for half a
mile we kept up an unequal rearguard struggle. It seemed that we should
be hopelessly outnumbered and that there was little hope; then we saw
two divisions of the French advancing, and knew that we should pull
through. The French came on and gave us help, and, covering our
retirement, enabled us to get away from the bridge.

It was in one of the charges on a bridge which was held by the Germans,
just before we got to the Aisne, that Prince Maurice distinguished
himself. He was very daring and was always one of the first in the
fighting, no matter where or what it was. I was not actually in the
charge, being in the supports behind; but I saw the charge made, and a
grand sight it was to watch our fellows rush forward with the steel and
take the bridge. At another time the Prince was in action with a German
rearguard and narrowly escaped death. I was in this affair, and saw a
German shell burst about a yard away. It plugged into the ground and
made a fine commotion and scattered earth and fragments around us; but a
chum and myself laughed as we dodged it, and that was the way we got
into of taking these explosions when we became used to the war. You
could not help laughing, even if you were a bit nervous. During this
fight Prince Maurice was shot through the cap, so that he had a shave
for his life, but he made light of his escape, and was very proud of the
hole in the cap, which he showed to us when he talked with us, as he
often did, before he fell.

There were so many incidents of coolness and disregard of wounds that it
is not easy to recollect them all; but I call to mind that our adjutant,
Lieutenant Woods, was shot in a little affair with the Germans. A
sergeant had taken a maxim gun to put in position at a certain spot; but
he had gone the wrong way and the adjutant went after him to put things
right. He was too late, however, for the sergeant was spotted by the
Germans and was killed. The adjutant himself was struck, but managed to
get away, and he came back laughing and saying, “Oh! damn those Germans!
They’ve shot me in the leg!” But in spite of the wound he would not lie
up or let anybody do anything for him--he bound up the wound himself and
carried on.

I saw another case, later, which illustrates the coolness of the British
officer and his determination not to leave the fight till he is forced
to do so. I was by that time wounded and in a temporary hospital, and
the artillery were keeping up one of the endless duels. The officer had
been struck, and he came into the hospital, and I saw that his hand had
been partially blown off; but instead of caving in, as he might well
have done, he had the hand bound up and put it in a sling, then he went
back to his battery just outside the windows and kept on pounding away
at the Germans.

We had plenty of excitement with the German aeroplanes, and often potted
at them, but I did not see any of the machines brought down. I remember
one day when an aeroplane was trying to locate our position--we were
retiring through a French village--and a brigade started firing at it.
Just when the aeroplane appeared, the little boys and girls of the
village were giving us delicious plums, which they were getting from the
trees. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, and the youngsters liked
it too, when the aeroplane swooped along and we instantly started firing
at it. So many rifles going made a tremendous rattle, and the poor
little boys and girls were terrified and ran off screaming, and
scattered in all directions. We shouted to them and tried to bring them
back, but they didn’t come, and disappeared in all sorts of
hiding-places. The aeroplane got away, I believe, but at any rate it did
no mischief at that particular spot. The French civilian folk got used
to running off and hiding. In another village we passed through we came
to a large house and found that three young ladies and their parents had
been forced into the cellar and locked there by the Germans. When we
entered the house, the prisoners were starving, and were thankful for
anything that we gave them; but they would not take any money from us.
The young ladies spoke English quite nicely.

We got quite used to aeroplanes--our own, the Germans, and the French,
and saw several thrilling fights in the air. Once we saw a French
aeroplane furiously fired on by the Germans--a regular cannonade it was;
but the shells and bullets never got at it, and the aeroplane escaped.
It was wonderful to see the way the machine shot down, as if nothing
could prevent it from smashing on the ground, then to watch it suddenly
turn upward and soar away as safely and swiftly as a bird. The airman’s
idea seemed to be to dodge the fire, and he darted about in such a
bewildering fashion that no gunner or rifleman could hope to do
anything with him. We were all greatly excited by this thrilling
performance in the air, and glad when we knew that the plucky Frenchman
had been swift enough to dodge the shells and bullets.

We had had some very trying work to do, and now we were going to get our
reward for it. Some of the hardest of the work was that about which
people hear nothing, and perhaps never even think--on sentry at night,
for instance, about the most nerve-racking job you can imagine. We were
always double sentry, and stood for two hours about five yards from each
other, like statues, never moving. I always felt funky at this sort of
work at the start--you can imagine such a lot in the dark and the strain
is so heavy. At the slightest sound the rifle would be presented, and
the word “Halt!” ring out--just that word and nothing more, and if there
wasn’t an instant satisfactory reply it was a bad look-out for the other
party. The Germans were very cunning at getting up to some of the
British outposts and sentries, and as so many of them speak English very
well, they were dangerous customers to tackle, and this added to the
heavy strain of sentry work at night.

Now I come to the Battle of the Aisne. I had three days and nights of it
before I was bowled out.

A strange thing happened on the first day of the battle, and that was
the appearance of a little black dog. I don’t know where he came from,
or why he joined us, but he followed the battalion all the rest of the
time I was with it, and not only that, but he went into action, so he
became quite one of us.

Once, in the darkness, we walked into a German outpost. We found it
pretty hard going just about there, for the German dead were so thick
that we had to walk over them. That march in the night was a wonderful
and solemn thing. Three columns of us were going in different
directions, yet moving so quietly that you could scarcely hear a sound.
All around us, in that Valley of the Aisne, were burning buildings and
haystacks, making a terrible illumination, and showing too well what war
means when it is carried on by a nation like the Germans, for this
burning and destroying was their doing.

Silently, without any talking, we went on, and then we fell into the
outpost. I heard the stillness of the night broken by the sharp sound of
voices, a sound which was instantly followed by shots, and the furious
barking of our little dog, which up to that point had been perfectly
quiet. The shots were fired by Captain Woollen, who killed two of the
Germans, and one of our men shot a third. We left them where they fell
and retired as quickly as we could; but we had done what we started out
to do, and that was to find the position of the enemy.

While advancing again we caught a column of Germans. Our brigade-major
saw them and came tearing back and told us that they were about fourteen
hundred yards to the left of us. Within ten minutes we had a firing line
made and our artillery was in position as well. It was a grand sight to
see our fellows running into the firing line smoking cigarettes, as cool
as if they were doing a bit of skirmishing on training.

We gave the Germans about three hours’ hot firing, then a company went
round to take the prisoners. The white flag had been shown, but we had
not been allowed to take any notice of that until we were sure of our
men, because the Germans had so often made a wrong use of the signal of
surrender. When the company got round to the Germans it was found that
they had already thrown down their rifles. Our brigade took about 500
prisoners, and the rest we handed over to the 1st Division. The Germans
had about a mile and a half of convoy, which got away; but the French
captured it in the evening, and so made a very nice little complete
victory of the affair.

At that time, early in the war, the Germans thought they were going to
have it all their own way, and they considered that any trick, white
flag or otherwise, was good enough. So certain were they about victory
that in one village we passed through we saw written on a wall, in
English, evidently by a German, “We will do the tango in Paris on the
13th.” We laughed a good deal when we read that boast, and well we
might, for it was on the 13th that we saw the writing on the wall, and
the Germans by that time were getting driven a long way back from the
French capital.

On the Monday morning we went out as flank guard on the Aisne, and were
going along behind some hills when our captain spotted swarms of Germans
coming up over a ridge about twelve hundred yards away. He ordered two
platoons to go out and line the ridge, and for the ridge we went. When
we reached it, our captain told us that not a man was to show his head
over the ridge until he gave the word to fire.

The Germans came on, getting nearer and nearer, in dense masses, and it
was the hardest thing in the world not to let fly at them. They advanced
till they were about seven hundred yards away, then we showed them what
British rifles could do. We simply went for them, and our rifles got so
hot that we could scarcely hold them. Despite that awful hail of
bullets the Germans came on, and hurled themselves against us till they
were not more than a hundred yards away; then we wanted to charge them,
and begged to be let loose with the bayonet, but our captain told us
that there were not enough of us to do it. So we retired to our own
battalion, the whole of which had the joy of going for them. But the
Germans didn’t wait for us. They don’t like the British steel, and when
we had pushed them right back, without actually getting at them, they
cleared off.

This was the kind of thing that went on in the Valley of the Aisne. It
was work in the open and work in the trenches, on top of the incessant
fighting we had had. On the third day, at night, we had just come out of
the trenches, having been relieved by another company. We were in good
spirits, for we had been sent to a barn, where we were to spend the
night. That was a splendid bit of luck, because it meant that we were to
get a nice rest and have a good time. The barn had hay in it, and we
simply packed the place. It was on a farm, and during the day we had
seen the farmer and his wife. There was a village near, with a church
and houses, and it had proved a fine target for the Germans, who
constantly shelled the place. We had got quite into the way of watching
the shells burst about fifty yards in front of us, and it really was a
grand sight to sit and gaze at them. We sometimes did this when we were
so heavily bombarded that we could do nothing with the rifle or bayonet.
Little did we know what was in store for us at the barn from shells.

The night passed and the morning came. We breakfasted and made ready to
march; but were

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 38._

“THE GERMANS CAME ON AND HURLED THEMSELVES AGAINST US.”]

ordered to hold back a bit, and so we put aside our packs and rifles and
had a sing-song to pass the time. It was one of the most surprising
concerts ever held, I daresay, because all the time about three German
batteries were shelling us, and occasionally a shell burst very near us
and made an awful commotion. We were still packed in the barn, quite
cheerful, when the sergeant who was in charge of us, and was acting as
sergeant-major, told us to fall in.

He had hardly spoken the words when the very building seemed to
collapse, the wall was blown in, the roof fell, timbers crashed down and
the barn was filled with a horrible smoke and dust, and there were
deafening and awful cries--screams and groans where a few moments
earlier there had been the sound of merriment, for a German shell had
crashed through the wall and exploded in the very thick of us.

I was lying down in the barn, with my pack on, when this thing happened.
I sprang to my feet and dashed to the door and rushed into the open air,
but as soon as I had left the building a second shell came and burst and
I was knocked down. I tried to rise, but my leg was numb, and so I had
to wait till the stretcher-bearers came and took me to a big white house
about three hundred yards away, which had been turned into a hospital,
and there I was put with the rest of the wounded. For about ten minutes
I had to wait outside, and there I was struck by a piece of spent shell,
but not much hurt. When we were carried off in the stretchers we were
kept near the bank of the road, to avoid as much as possible the German
fire.

At the hospital it was found that I had been wounded in the leg; but I
did not care so much about myself, I wanted to know what had happened
in the barn. I soon learned the dreadful truth--the shells had killed
eleven of the men and wounded thirty-two, some of whom died afterwards.

Prince Maurice was close at hand when this happened, and at night he
attended the burial of the poor fellows near the barn. About an hour
after the men were killed he came into the house to see us. “How are you
getting on?” he asked me. “I am so sorry such a dreadful thing has
happened.” And he looked it, too.

I was in the hospital three days before being sent home. All that time
there were villagers in the cellars of the hospital, terrified people
who were hiding from the German fire, and were fed from our transport.

A lot was crowded into that retirement from Mons and the advance to the
Aisne. We had kept our spirits up and had not been downhearted, and when
the great day came which brought the order to advance and fight the
enemy, we positively shouted and sang. And this was not just swank; it
was a real expression of our feelings, for we wanted to do our bit for
the Empire.



CHAPTER IV

THE STRUGGLE ON THE AISNE

     [The Battle of the Aisne began on Sunday, September 13th, 1914,
     when the Allies crossed the river. The Germans made furious efforts
     to hack their way through to Paris, but after a struggle lasting
     three weeks they were driven back with enormous losses. The British
     losses were: 561 officers and 12,980 men in killed, wounded and
     missing. The beginning of this tremendous conflict is told by
     Private Herbert Page, of the Coldstream Guards, who was wounded and
     had a wonderful escape from instant death on the battlefield.]


There was fierce fighting all day on Sunday, September 13th, when the
Battle of the Aisne began; but the Coldstreamers were not in it till the
Monday. We had had a lot of heavy fighting, though, since the beginning
of the business at Mons, and we had had a fine fight at Landrecies--a
fight which has been specially mentioned in despatches. At the end of it
all the men in my company--Number 2--had their names taken, but I don’t
know why. Anyway, it was a grand affair, and no doubt some day the real
full story of it will be told and everybody will know what the
Coldstreamers did there. Landrecies is particularly an affair of the 3rd
Coldstreamers.

We had had a very hard time, fighting and marching and sleeping in the
open during the cold nights and in thick mud or in trenches that were
deep in water; but with it all we kept very cheerful, especially when
we knew that we had brought the Germans up with a jerk and were
beginning to roll them back.

The Coldstreamers were in the open all day on the Sunday, right on the
side of the artillery, behind a big hill, and were very comfortable. The
artillery on both sides were hard at it, but the Germans could not get
our range and no shells came near us. It was harvest time, and we were
lying down on sheaves of wheat, and making ourselves as cosy as we
could. That was not altogether easy to do, because it was raining during
the best part of the day and everything was rather depressing and very
wet. But we put our oilsheets on the ground, our greatcoats over the
oilsheets, and straw on the top of ourselves, so that we were really
pretty snug, taken altogether. The straw, I fancy, was put there not so
much to give us comfort as to hide us from the view of the chaps who
were always flying about in the German aeroplanes, trying to spot us and
make our positions known to their own gunners.

Our own aeroplanes and the Germans’ were very busy during that Sunday,
and shells were flying about them on both sides, but I don’t think they
were doing much mischief. We ourselves were doing very nicely indeed.
Our transport came up and issued new biscuits, and we got a pot of jam
each--and delicious they were, too. We enjoyed them immensely, and
didn’t care a rap about the German shells. Our transport was splendid,
and we always had something to go on with. There was no fixed time for
any meal, there couldn’t be, for we used to march about fifty minutes
and take ten minutes’ halt. If we were on a long day’s march we would
get an hour or two at dinner-time, usually from one o’clock. It was a
funny country we were in, hot in the daytime and cold at night; but we
soon got used to that. We were helped enormously by the kindness of the
French, and we got on very well with the people and had not much
difficulty in making ourselves understood, especially as we picked up a
few words of the language--and we could always make signs. When we
wanted a drink we would hold out our water-bottles and say “loo,” and
they laughed and rushed off and filled our bottles with water.

On the way to the Valley of the Aisne we passed through towns and
villages where the Germans had been and we saw what outrages they had
committed on both people and property. They had recklessly destroyed
everything. They had thrown poor people’s property out of the windows
into the streets and pulled their bedding into the roads to lie on
themselves. The Germans acted like barbarians wherever they went--I saw
one poor child who was riddled with bullets. We ourselves had strict
orders against looting of any sort, but we did not dream of touching
other people’s property. Whenever we came to a town or village we warned
the people to get away, as the Germans were coming, and they went. It
was always pleasant to hear them say--as they did to our officers, who
spoke to them in French--that they felt safe when the English were
there.

The river Aisne runs through lovely country, which looks a bit of a
wreck now, because we had to rush across the open and trample down the
wheat to get at the Germans. The country’s crops were spoiled, but the
damage we did was trifling compared with the devastation that the
Germans caused.

Throughout that Sunday when the Battle of the Aisne opened we had no
casualties, and the day passed pretty well. At night we slept in a barn,
which was better than the wet fields. There were no rats, but plenty of
rabbits, for the people of the farm seemed to breed them and to have
left the hutches open. That night in the barn gave me the best rest I
had had since Mons, as I was not even on guard. We had a good breakfast
in the barn, tea, bully beef and biscuits, and marched off soon after
six in the morning, which was very wet and cold. We marched about four
miles, until we came to the Aisne, to a bridge that had been blown up
and so shattered that there was only a broken girder left. The rest of
the bridge was in the river, which was very deep in the middle, after
the heavy rains.

We were now properly in the thick of the battle and a fierce business it
was, because the Germans had the range of us and were dropping shells as
fast as they could fire. Some of the Guards were got across by boats,
but we had to wait our turn to cross over a pontoon bridge which the
Engineers had put up, in spite of the heavy fire.

We felt the German artillery fire at this place, near the village of
Vendresse, but we could not see them. We watched the Loyal North
Lancashires cross the pontoon bridge and saw them march away on the
other side of the river, which was well wooded, then we heard them
firing hard and knew that they were in action with the Germans. We were
not long in following the North Lancashires and over the pontoon bridge
we went, going very quietly, as we had been told to make as little noise
as possible. In about an hour we were properly in the business
ourselves.

After crossing the river we began to feel that at last we were really
at the Germans. We made the best of the shelter that the wood gave us,
and from behind trees and from the sodden ground we kept up a
destructive fire on the enemy, getting nearer to him all the time.
Things were growing very hot and the whole countryside rang with the
crashing of the guns and the everlasting rattle of the rifles and
machine-guns. We were expecting more of our men to cross the river and
reinforce us, but the German guns had got the range of the pontoons and
no more of our men could cross, so that for the time being we were cut
off and had to do as best we could with one of the very strong
rearguards of the enemy.

When we had put some good firing in from the wood we left the shelter of
the trees and got into the open country, and then we were met by a shell
fire which did a great deal of mischief amongst us. These shells were
the big chaps that we called Jack Johnsons, and one came and struck an
officer of the North Lancashires who was standing on the right of his
line. I was not far from him, being on the left of our own line. The
shell shattered both his legs and he fell to the ground. I hurried up,
and the first thing the officer asked for was a smoke. We propped him up
against a haycock and a chap who had some French tobacco made a fag and
gave it to the officer--nobody had a cigarette ready made. He smoked
half of it and died. By that time the stretcher-bearers had come up and
were taking him away. Before he left for the rear I gently pulled his
cap over his face. This affair filled the men around with grief, but it
put more heart into us to go on fighting the Germans.

Our artillery now began to fire rapidly and the Germans started to
retire. There was a big bunch of them, and they made for the hill as
fast as they could go, meaning to scuttle down the other side and get
away. But our gunners were too sharp for them, and they were properly
roused up by that time. They came up in splendid style--the 117th Field
Battery, I think they were--and just as the Germans reached the top of
the hill in a solid body our gunners dropped three shells straight into
them, and three parts of the flying Germans stopped on the top of the
hill--dead.

I could not say how many Germans there were against us at this place,
but I know that they came on in swarms, and they went down as fast as we
could fire. But their going down seemed to make no difference to their
numbers. They were only a few hundred yards away, and we could see them
quite plainly. They were running all over the place, like a lot of mad
sheep, they were so excited. And they were blowing trumpets, like our
cavalry trumpets, and beating drums and shouting “Hoch! Hoch!” as hard
as they could shout.

They kept blowing their charge and banging their drums till they were
about 300 yards away, and shouting their “Hochs!” They shouted other
words as well, but I don’t know what they were.

When our chaps heard the trumpets and drums going and the German cheers
they answered with a good old British “Hooray!” and a lot of them
laughed and shouted, “Here comes the Kaiser’s rag-time band! We’ll give
you ‘Hoch!’ when you get a bit nearer!” And I think we did. At any rate
we kept on firing at them all the time they were advancing; but they
swept ahead in such big numbers that we were forced to retire into the
wood.

As soon as we got into the wood we came under very heavy machine-gun
fire from the Germans, and the bullets rained about us, driving into the
earth and into the trees and whizzing all around us everywhere. The
German shells were smashing after us, too, but were not doing much
damage at that point.

It was now that I lost a very old chum of mine, a fine chap from
Newcastle named Layden, a private. He was in the thick of the
machine-gun fire, a few paces from me, when he suddenly cried out and I
knew that he was hit. The first thing he said was, “Give me a cigarette.
I know I shan’t go on much longer.” When we asked him what the matter
was he said he was hurt. “Are you wounded?” he was asked. “Yes, I’m hit
in the stomach,” he answered--and he was, by about seventeen bullets.

The call went round for a cigarette, but nobody had one--lots of
cigarettes were sent out to the soldiers that never reached them--but
poor Layden was soon beyond the need of fags. He was delirious when our
stretcher-bearers came and took him to a barn which had been turned into
a temporary hospital. He lingered there for some time; but the last I
saw of him was on the field. I missed him badly, because we had been
good chums, and whatever we got we used to give each other half of it.

For about five hours, until two o’clock in the afternoon, that part of
the battle went on, and all the time we were holding the Germans back;
then we were reinforced by the remainder of our troops, who came across
the pontoon bridge to our assistance.

The Germans now seemed to think that they had had enough of it and they
held up white flags, and we left the shelter of the wood and went out to
capture them. I should think that there were about three hundred of the
Germans at that point who pretended to surrender by holding up the white
flag; but as soon as we were up with them their people behind fired at
us--a treacherous trick they practised very often. In spite of it all we
managed to get the best part of the prisoners safe and drove them in
before us to our own lines. When they really surrendered, and did not
play the white flag game, we used to go up and take all their rifles,
bayonets and ammunition, and throw them away out of their reach, so that
they could not make a sudden dash for them and turn on us. When we had
chased a few prisoners and had seen what the Germans meant by the white
flag signal, we were told to take no notice of it, but to keep on
shooting till they put their hands up.

A lot of the prisoners spoke English and said how glad they were to be
captured and have no more fighting to do. Some said they loved England
too much to want to fight against us, and a German said, “Long live King
George, and blow the Kaiser!” But I don’t know how many of them meant
what they said--you can’t depend on Germans.

We had plenty of talks with the German prisoners who could speak
English. Some of them who had lived in England spoke our language quite
well, and it was very interesting to hear what they had to say about us
and the French and the Belgians. They couldn’t stand the British
cavalry, and one man said, “We don’t like those Englishmen on the grey
horses at all,” meaning the Scots Greys. Several of the prisoners said
they didn’t mind so much fighting the French, because the French
infantry fired too high, nor the Russians, because they fired too low;
“but,” they said, “every time the Englishman pulls the trigger he means
death.” That was a very nice compliment to us, and there was a great
deal of truth in what was said about the British rifle fire. I can
assure you that when we settled down to the work we often enough plugged
into the Germans just as if we were on manœuvres.

At the very first--and I’m not ashamed to say it--I shook like a leaf
and fired anyhow and pretty well anywhere; but when that first awful
nervousness had passed--not to return--we went at it ding-dong all the
time and fired as steadily as if we were on the ranges. The men were
amazingly cool at the business--and as for the officers, well, they
didn’t seem to care a rap for bullets or shells or anything else, and
walked about and gave orders as if there were no such things in the
world as German soldiers.

Most of the poor beggars we took were ravenous for want of food, and
those who could speak English said they had been practically without
food for days, and we saw that they had had to make shift with the oats
that the horses were fed with. This starvation arose from the fact that
a few days earlier we had captured the German transport and left them
pretty short of food.

That rush after the Germans and bagging them was exciting work. It was
successful and everything seemed to be going very well. But there was a
nasty surprise in store for me and one which very nearly ended my career
as a fighting man. I had really a miraculous escape.

I had charge of about four prisoners, and kept them well in front of me,
so that they could not rush me. I kept them covered with my rifle all
the time, and as I had ten rounds in my magazine I knew that they
wouldn’t have a ghost of a chance if they tried any German tricks on
me--I could easily have finished the lot before they could have got at
me.

As I was driving the prisoners I felt as if some one had come up and
punched me on the ear. I did not know whether I had been actually hit by
somebody or shot, but I turned my head and at once fell to the ground. I
was swiftly up again on my feet and scrambled about. I knew that I was
hurt, but the thing I mostly cared about just then was my bag of
prisoners, so I handed them over to another man, and he took them in. I
then found that I had been shot in the neck by a bullet. It had gone in
at the collar of the jacket, at the back of the neck--here’s the hole it
made--and through the neck and out here, where the scar is, just under
the jaw. A narrow shave? Yes, that’s what the doctor said--it had just
missed the jugular vein. The shot bowled me out, but it was a poor
performance by the German who fired, because he could not have been more
than three hundred yards away, and being six foot one I made a big
target at that short distance. Anyway, he missed me and I was told to go
to a barn not far away which had been turned into a hospital, bed
mattresses having been placed on the floor. Here my kit was taken off me
and I was looked after at once, my kit being given to a North Lancashire
man who had lost his own and had been without one for three days. He had
been in a small battle and had had to take his choice between dropping
his kit and being caught; so he got rid of his kit and was able to
escape. When he left the barn he went into the firing line, but he only
lasted about ten minutes there. I had seen him leave

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 50._

“FROM BEHIND TREES WE KEPT UP A DESTRUCTIVE FIRE ON THE ENEMY.” (p.
45).]

and I saw him brought back by the stretcher-bearers. As soon as he was
inside the barn he asked where I was, and he was told and was laid down
close to me. “Look here, old chap,” he said pleasantly, “if you’d only
been ten minutes later I shouldn’t have been here, because I shouldn’t
have got your kit and gone into the firing line and got hit.”

Perhaps he was right. He might have escaped; but as it was he had been
shot through both legs.

I didn’t like being in the barn and out of the fighting. It was better
to be in the firing line, with all its excitement and the knowledge that
you were doing your bit to help things along and drive the Germans back
to the best place for them, and that’s Germany; but our officers, who
never lost a chance of cheering and helping us, came in when they could
to see how we were getting on. During the afternoon my company officer,
Captain Brocklehurst, and the adjutant, came in to see how things were
going. Captain Brocklehurst saw me and said, “There are not many of the
company left; but we’re doing wonderfully well. We’ve killed a good many
of the Germans and taken about five hundred prisoners.” That was good
news, very good, but it was even better when the captain added, “And
we’re pushing them back all the time.”

The guns were booming and the rifles were crackling all around us while
we were lying in the barn, and wounded men were being constantly brought
in, keeping the doctors and the ambulance men terribly busy--and you can
imagine what it must have meant for the Germans if it was like that for
us; because we fought in open order, so that we were not easy to hit,
whereas the Germans were in their solid formation, which meant that
they could not advance against the British fire without being mown down.

I was in the barn, which was crowded with wounded, till about one
o’clock in the morning, then we were taken in Red Cross vans to another
hospital about three miles away, and as we left the French people showed
us all the kindness they could, giving us water, milk and food, in fact
all they had. We crossed the pontoon bridge and were put into another
barn which had been turned into a hospital, and we stayed there for the
night. We left that place in the morning for La Fère, about twenty miles
away. There were a great many motor waggons being used as ambulances,
and they were all needed, because of the crowds of wounded. All of us
who could walk had to do so, as all the vans and lorries were wanted for
the bad cases. I could manage to walk for about a mile at a stretch, but
I could not use my arms. When I had done a mile, I rested, then went on
again, and so I got to the end of the journey, with a lot more who were
just about able to do the same. We didn’t grumble, because we were
thankful to be able to walk at all and not to be so badly wounded that
we could not shift for ourselves. When we got to La Fère the hospital
was so full that we were put straight into a hospital train, and I was
in it for two days and nights, stopping at stations for brief halts.
Again the French people were kindness itself and pressed food and drink
on us. We got to Nantes, where my wound was dressed and we had supper,
and then I had what seemed like a taste of heaven, for I was put into a
proper bed. Yes, after sleeping for so many nights on the ground, anyhow
and anywhere, often enough in mud and water, it was like getting into
heaven itself to get into a bed. On the Saturday they put us on board a
ship and took us round to Liverpool, a four days’ journey on the sea.
First we went to Fazackerley, and then I was lucky enough to be sent on
to Knowsley Hall, where Lady Derby, who has a son in France with the
Grenadiers, had turned the state dining-room into a hospital ward. There
were sixteen Guardsmen in the ward, with four trained nurses to look
after us. Wasn’t that a contrast to the barns and flooded trenches! Now
I’m back in London, feeling almost fit again, and soon I shall have to
report myself.

I have only told you about the little bit I saw myself of the tremendous
Battle of the Aisne. Considering the length of it and the fearful nature
of the firing, it sometimes strikes me as a very strange thing that I
should be alive at all; but stranger still that some men went through it
all, right away from the beginning at Mons, and escaped without a
scratch.



CHAPTER V

“THE MOST CRITICAL DAY OF ALL”

     [In the first four months of the war nineteen Victoria Crosses were
     gazetted for valour in the field, and of these no fewer than five
     were awarded for the sanguinary fighting at Le Cateau on August
     26th, 1914. In his despatch dealing with the retreat from Mons Sir
     John French described the 26th as “the most critical day of all.”
     It was during this crisis of the battle that Corporal Frederick
     William Holmes, of the 2nd Battalion The King’s Own (Yorkshire
     Light Infantry), “carried a wounded man out of the trenches under
     heavy fire and later assisted to drive a gun out of action by
     taking the place of a driver who had been wounded.” Corporal Holmes
     has not only won the Victoria Cross, but he has been also awarded
     the Médaille Militaire of the Legion of Honour of France. His story
     gives further proof of the wondrous courage and endurance of the
     gallant British Army in Belgium and in France.]


For seven years I was with the colours in the old 51st, which is now the
Yorkshire Light Infantry, then I was drafted to the Reserve; but I was
called back only a fortnight later, when the war broke out.

The regimental depôt is at Pontefract, in South Yorkshire, which some
unkind people say is the last place that God started and never finished,
and in August, having become a soldier again, after marrying and
settling down to civil life in Dublin, I found myself in a region which
was almost like the South Yorkshire coalfields. There were the same
pit-heads and shale-heaps, so that you could almost think you were in
England again--but how different from England’s calmness and security!
It was around these pit-heads and shale-heaps that some of the fiercest
fighting of the earlier days of the war took place.

We had left Dublin and reached Havre at midnight; we had been to the
fortified town of Landrecies, where the Coldstreamers were to do such
glorious things, and had got to Maroilles, where Sir Douglas Haig and
the 1st Division became heavily engaged. We were at Maroilles, in
billets, from the 18th to the 21st. Billets meant almost anything, and
we lived and slept in all sorts of places as well as the trenches--but
being in the open in summer was no hardship. The fields had been
harvested and we often slept on the stacks of corn.

The people were really most kind; they gave us every mortal thing as we
marched, beer, wine, cigarettes and anything else there was.

At five o’clock on the Saturday afternoon we were billeted in a brewery,
where we stayed till Sunday noon, when, as we were having dinner, shells
were bursting and beginning things for us. We were ordered to take up a
position about two miles from Mons, and on that famous Sunday we went
into action near a railway embankment.

People by this time know all about Mons, so I will only say that after
that hard business we retired towards Le Cateau, after fighting all day
on the 24th and all the following night. After that we took up a
position on outpost and stayed on outpost all night, then, at about two
in the morning, we dropped into some trenches that we had previously
occupied.

I know what Mons was and I went through the battles of the Marne and the
Aisne; but nothing I had seen could be compared for fury and horror
with the stand of the 5th Division on the 26th. It was essentially a
fight by the 5th, because that was the only division employed at Le
Cateau. The division was composed of three brigades, the 12th, 13th and
14th. My battalion, the 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry, was in the 13th,
the other battalions with us being the West Riding, the King’s Own
Scottish Borderers and the West Kent.

There were some coal-pit hills in front of us and the Germans advanced
over them in thousands. That was about eleven o’clock in the morning,
and the firing began in real earnest again.

The Germans by this time were full of furious hope and reckless courage,
because they believed that they had got us on the run and that it was
merely a question of hours before we were wiped out of their way. Their
blood was properly up, and so was ours, and I think we were a great deal
hotter than they were, though we were heavily outnumbered. We hadn’t the
same opinion of German soldiers that the Germans had, and as they rushed
on towards us we opened a fire from the trenches that simply destroyed
them.

Some brave deeds were done and some awful sights were seen on the top of
the coal-pits. A company of Germans were on one of the tops and an
officer and about a dozen men of the “Koylis” went round one side of the
pit and tried to get at them. Just as they reached the back of the pit
the German artillery opened fire on the lot, Germans and all--that was
one of their tricks. They would rather sacrifice some of their own men
themselves than let any of ours escape--and they lost many in settling
their account with the handful of Englishmen who had rushed behind the
pit at a whole company of Germans.

Hereabouts, at the pits, the machine-gun fire on both sides was
particularly deadly. Lieutenant Pepys, who was in charge of the
machine-gun of our section, was killed by shots from German
machine-guns, and when we went away we picked him up and carried him
with us on the machine-gun limber until we buried him outside a little
village in a colliery district.

He was a very nice gentleman and the first officer to go down. When he
fell Lieutenant N. B. Dennison, the brigade machine-gun officer, took
charge. He volunteered to take over the gun, and was either killed or
wounded. Then Lieutenant Unett, the well-known gentleman jockey, crawled
on his stomach to the first line of the trenches, with some men,
dragging a machine-gun behind them. They got this gun into the very
front of the line of the trenches, then opened fire on the Germans with
disastrous effect. Lieutenant Unett was wounded and lay in the open all
the time.

This gallant deed was done between twelve noon and one o’clock, and I
was one of the few men who saw it. I am glad to be able to pay my humble
tribute to it.

There was a battery of the Royal Field Artillery on our left rear, about
800 yards behind the front line of trenches. Our gunners had such
excellent range on the Germans that the German gunners were finding them
with high explosive shell. It was mostly those shells that were dropping
on them till they got the range and killed the gunners. There were only
about five who were not either killed or wounded. The officer was
wounded; but in spite of that he carried a wounded man round the bottom
of the hill, then went back and fetched another man and repeated the
journey until he had taken every one of the five away. After that he
returned, picked up a spade and smashed the sights of the gun and made
it useless. We heard some time afterwards that he had been killed.

This brave deed was witnessed by most of us who were in the front line
of trenches.

When the German guns were got into position in front of us and the
Germans tried their hardest to blow us out of our trenches, they
searched for our artillery and, failing to discover it, they grew more
determined than ever to rout us out of the place from which we were
doing deadly damage.

In spite of the heavy losses around us we held on, and all the more
stubbornly because we expected every moment that the French would come
up and reinforce us. The French were due about four o’clock, but owing
to some accident they did not arrive, and it seemed as if nothing could
save us.

There was a falling off in our artillery fire, and it was clear that one
of our batteries had been put out of action. And no wonder, for the
German guns were simply raining shells upon us. The Germans at that time
were sticking to the dense formations which had been their practice
since the war began--and they hurled themselves forward in clouds
towards the 37th Field Battery.

So furiously did they rush, so vast were their numbers, and so certain
were they that they had the guns as good as captured, that they actually
got within a hundred yards of the battery.

It was at this terrible crisis that Captain Douglas Reynolds and
volunteers rushed up with two teams and limbered up two guns, and in
spite of all the German batteries and rifles did one gun was saved. This
was a wonderful escape, in view of the nearness of the German infantry
and their numbers, and for their share in the desperate affair the
captain and two of the drivers--Drane and Luke--who had volunteered, got
the Victoria Cross.

In a way we had got used to retiring, and we were not at the end of it
even now, by a good deal, for on our left the Borderers were withdrawing
and on our right the Manchesters were being forced right back; fighting
magnificently and leaving the ground littered with their dead and
wounded.

The Yorkshire Light Infantry were left in the centre of the very front
line of the trenches, where we were heavily pressed. We made every
mortal effort to hold our ground, and C Company was ordered up from the
second line to reinforce us in the first.

Imagine what it meant for a company of infantry to get from one trench
to another at a time like that, to leave shelter, to rush across a space
of open ground that was literally riddled with shrapnel and rifle
bullets, and in the daytime, too, with the Germans in overwhelming force
at point-blank range.

But the order had been given, and C Company obeyed. The men sprang from
their trench, they rushed across a fire-swept zone--and the handful of
them who were not shot down made a final dash and simply tumbled into
our trench and strengthened us. They had just about lost their first
wind, but were soon hard at it again with the rifle and did murderous
work, if only to get something back on account of the comrades who had
fallen.

It was a help, a big help, to have C Company with us in the front
trench; but even with this reinforcement we could do nothing, and after
we had made a hot stand the order came to retire. That was about
half-past four in the afternoon.

Things had been bad before; they were almost hopeless now, for to retire
meant to show ourselves in the open and become targets for the German
infantry; but our sole chance of salvation was to hurry away--there was
no thought of surrender.

When the order was given there was only one thing to do--jump out of the
trenches and make a rush, and we did both; but as soon as we were seen a
storm of bullets struck down most of the men.

At such a time it is every man for himself, and it is hardly possible to
think of anything except your own skin. All I wanted to do was to obey
orders and get out of the trench and away from it.

I had rushed about half-a-dozen yards when I felt a curious tug at my
boot. I looked to see what was the matter and found that my foot had
been clutched by a poor chap who was wounded and was lying on the ground
unable to move.

“For God’s sake, save me!” he cried, and before I knew what was
happening I had got hold of him and slung him across my back. I can’t
pretend to tell you details of how it was all done, because I don’t
clearly remember. There was no time to think of much besides the bullets
and the fastest way of getting out of their reach. Rain was falling, not
heavily, but it was drizzling, and this made the ground greasy and
pretty hard going.

I had not gone far before the poor chap complained that my equipment
hurt him and begged me to get it out of his way. The only thing to be
done was to drop the equipment altogether, so I halted and somehow got
the pack and the rest of it off, and I let my rifle go, too, for the
weight of the lot, with the weight of a man, was more than I could
tackle.

I picked my man up again, and had struggled on for twenty or thirty
yards when I had to stop for a rest.

Just then I saw the major of the company, who said, “What’s the matter
with him?”

I could not speak, so I pointed to the man’s knees, which were shot with
shrapnel; then the major answered, “All right! Take him as far as you
can, and I hope you’ll get him safely out of it.”

I picked him up again and off I went, making straight over the hill at
the back of the position we had taken, so that he should be safe from
the German fire. The point I wanted to reach was about a mile away, and
it was a dreadful journey; but I managed to do it, and when I had got
there, after many rests, I started to carry my man to the nearest
village, which was some distance off.

I got to the village, but the German heavy shells were dropping so fast
that I could not stay there, and they told me to carry him into the next
village. I was pretty well worn out by this time, but I started again,
and at last with a thankful heart I reached the village and got the man
into a house where wounded men were being put.

How far did I carry him?

Well, it was calculated that the distance was three miles; but I never
felt the weight. Yes, he was quite conscious and kept on moaning and
saying, “Oh!” and telling me that if ever he got out of it he would
remember me; but I said that he mustn’t talk such nonsense--for I wanted
him to stop thanking me and to keep his spirits up.

I don’t know how long I was in getting him over the ground, for I had no
idea of time.

Having put my man in safety I left the house and began to go back to the
position, expecting to find some of the regiments to rejoin, but when I
reached the firing line there were no regiments left. They had been
forced to retire, and the ground was covered with the dead and wounded,
as it was impossible to bring all the wounded away.

There was a road at this particular point, and on reaching the top of it
I saw the Germans advancing, about 500 yards away. Between them and
myself there was a field-gun, with the horses hooked in, ready to move
off; but I saw that there was only a wounded trumpeter with it.

I rushed up to him and shouted, “What’s wrong?”

“I’m hurt,” he said. “The gun has to be got away; but there’s nobody
left to take it.”

I looked all around, and saw that there were no English gunners
left--there were only the Germans swarming up, 500 yards away and badly
wanting to get at the gun.

There was not a second to lose. “Come on,” I said, and with that I
hoisted the trumpeter into the saddle of the near wheel horse, and
clambering myself into the saddle of the lead horse we got the gun going
and made a dash up the hill.

There was only the one road, and this was so littered up and fenced
about with wire entanglements

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 62._

“I HOISTED THE TRUMPETER INTO THE SADDLE.”]

that we could not hope to escape by it. Our only chance was by dashing
at the hill, and this we did--and a terrible business it was, because we
were forced to gallop the gun over the dead bodies of our own
men--mostly artillerymen, they were. Many of the poor chaps had crawled
away from their battery and had died on the hillside or on the road.

We carried on over the hill, and when the Germans saw what we were doing
they rained shells and bullets on us. One or two of the horses were hit,
and a bullet knocked my cap off and took a piece of skin from my
head--just here. But that didn’t hurt me much, nor did another bullet
which went through my coat. We carried on, and got over the hill, just
driving straight ahead, for we couldn’t steer, not even to avoid the
dead.

I daresay the bullet that carried off my cap stunned me a bit, at any
rate I didn’t remember very much after that, for the time being; all I
know is that we galloped madly along, and dashed through two or three
villages. There was no one in the first village; but in the second I saw
an old lady sitting outside a house, with two buckets of water, from
which soldiers were drinking. She was rocking to and fro, with her head
between her hands, a pitiful sight. Shells were dropping all around and
the place was a wreck.

I carried on at full stretch for about ten miles, tearing along to get
to the rear of the column. I don’t remember that I ever looked back; but
I took it that the trumpeter was still in the saddle of the wheel horse.

At last I caught up with the column; then I looked round for the
trumpeter, but he was not there, and I did not know what had become of
him. That was the first I knew of the fact that I had been driving the
gun by myself.

Willy-nilly I had become a sort of artilleryman, and from that time
until the 28th I attached myself to the guns; but on that day I rejoined
what was left of my old regiment.

I had been in charge of twelve men, but when I inquired about them I
found that only three were left--nine had been either killed or wounded,
and the rest of the battalion had suffered in proportion. That gives
some idea of the desperate nature of the fighting and the way in which
the little British army suffered during the first three days after Mons.

The officer who had seen me carrying the man off did not see me go back,
but a sergeant who knew me noticed me passing through the village with
the gun and he was the first man of my battalion that I saw. This was
Sergeant Marchant, who, for his gallantry in helping another sergeant,
who was wounded, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. In that
fine affair he was helped by Company-Sergeant-Major Bolton, and both of
them were mentioned in despatches.

Of course I never thought of saying anything about what I had done; but
I was sent for and asked if it was true, and I said I had got the man
away and helped to take the gun off, and this was confirmed by the major
who had seen me carrying the man.

For the day’s work at Le Cateau two Victoria Crosses were given to my
regiment--one to Major C. A. L. Yate, “Cal,” he was called, because of
his initials, and one to myself.

Major Yate was a very fine officer. He joined us and took command of B
Company just before we went out to the war. On this day he was in the
trenches, on our left rear, not very far from where I was. When we went
into action he had 220 men, but they caught so much of the hot fire
which was meant for the battery behind that he lost all his men except
nineteen when he was surrounded and captured. The day before this
happened the major declared that if it came to a pinch and they were
surrounded he would not surrender--and he did not surrender now.
Reckless of the odds against him he headed his nineteen men in a charge
against the Germans--and when that charge was over only three of the
company could be formed up. All the rest of B Company were either killed
or wounded or taken prisoners, though very few prisoners were taken. The
major was one of them; but he was so badly wounded that he lived only a
very short time, and died as a prisoner of war. His is one of the cases
in which the Cross is given although the winner of it is dead. Major
Yate was an absolute gentleman and a great favourite with us all. He had
had a lot of experience in the Far East and at home, and I am sure that
if he had lived he would have become a general. He was always in front,
and his constant cry was “Follow me!”

From Le Cateau we got to the Valley of the Aisne and were in trenches
for ten days. At midnight on September 24th we advanced two miles beyond
the river, which we had crossed by pontoons because all the other
bridges had been blown up.

We reached a little village and stayed there in shelters underneath the
houses, where all the inhabitants slept. We stayed in one of these
cellars and went on outpost at four in the morning and came off at four
next morning, then went on again at four a.m.

We were only 250 yards from the Germans, who were in a small wood
outside the village, opposite the houses. They had snipers out and were
sniping at us all the time. We barricaded the windows of the houses and
knocked bricks out of the walls to make loopholes, and through these
loopholes we sniped the Germans, and they did their level best to pick
us off too. Every time your head was shown a dozen bullets came, and you
could not see where they came from. Two or three of our men were killed
by snipers; but there was no real chance of getting to grips, for there
was barbed wire everywhere, and nothing could be done till this was cut.
Night was the only time when the wire could be cut--and night work was
both eerie and nerve-racking.

We had “listeners” to listen for any movement by the enemy. A sentry in
peace times means a man who walks up and down, smartly dressed, but in
war time, at night, he is a listener, and in the daytime he is a
“watcher”--he can see in the daytime and hear at night. That is one of
the little things which show how greatly war changes the customs of
peace.

It was outside Béthune, when we were in reserve to the rest of the
brigade, that I was wounded. We had got well into October and we were
behind trenches, with French infantry on our right. At night we
advanced, on a level with the firing line, and in the darkness we dug
trenches. We were then next to the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. We
finished the trenches before the early hours of the morning and stuck in
them till five in the afternoon, when we heard some shouts, and on
looking over we saw that the Germans were making a charge.

We opened rapid fire and the Germans answered very smartly, having
dropped down. But they were not down long, for up they sprang and with
further shouts on they came and got within three hundred yards of us.
Then we were ordered to fix bayonets and be ready to charge at any
moment; but before we started charging we rushed into another line of
trenches in front of us, and there we mixed with the Borderers.

This fight in the night was a thrilling affair, the chief guide on each
side being the flashes of the rifles, and these were incessant. The
Germans were firing rapidly at anything they could see; but there was
little to see except the tiny forks of flame. They must have heard us,
however, and that, of course, would help them. One strange thing
happened when we reached the trench, and that was that we had to wake up
some of the men. In spite of the fighting they were sleeping--but war
turns everything upside down, and the British soldier reaches a point
when it takes a lot to disturb him.

Suddenly, at this crisis, I felt as if my leg had been struck by
something that vibrated, like a springboard, and I dropped down. I was
dizzy, but did not think I was hit, and I supposed that if I stayed down
for a few minutes I should be all right and able to go on. So I sat
down, but quickly found that I could not move, and on feeling my leg I
discovered that it was wet and warm, and I knew what that meant, so I
took off my equipment and put it down and began to crawl back to the
trench I had left when we charged.

I crawled across a mangel-wurzel field to a house of some sort, then I
must have become unconscious, for the next thing I knew was that I was
being carried along on a stretcher.

It was only yesterday that a friend in my battalion wrote to tell me
that we were crawling pretty close together through the mangel-wurzel
field. He was shot in the arm and stopped two of the Borderers’
stretcher-bearers just in time to have me put on a stretcher.

I had a natural walking-stick which I had cut from a vine, and of which
I was very fond. I had fastened it to my rifle and was so proud of it
that I said I would carry it through the war, if I could. My friend must
have known how I prized the vine-stick, for when he was sent home he
brought it with him, and it’s waiting for me when I leave hospital.

I also had a letter from my company officer a few days ago. He says he
missed me that night, but he could not make out what had happened. He
heard that a complete set of equipment had been found, and on learning
that I was wounded he assumed that it was mine, and that I had been
carried away and left it. He told me that on the very night I was
wounded they were relieved by the French infantry, and that he himself
was hit ten days afterwards. It was the day before I was wounded that I
heard that I was recommended for the French Military Medal, and that was
as big a surprise to me as the news that I had been given the Victoria
Cross.

That equipment of mine had a tragic history. During the first day of the
Aisne I was without equipment and set to work to get some. A bugler of
my battalion had been killed by shrapnel and I was told by my officer
to go and get his equipment. “Treat him gently, poor chap,” said the
officer, and you may be sure I did. I helped myself, and thinking that
the poor lad’s mother might like a memento I brought away his
“iron-rations” tin. This is riddled with bullet-holes, just as the
bugler was.

There is one thing more that I would like to say, and it is about my
birthday, which falls on September 7th. As I had left the colours and
gone into the Reserve I thought I could look forward to a fine
celebration of the anniversary. And there _was_ a fine celebration, too,
for on September 7th our retiring before the Germans ended and we
started to advance and drive them back.

Could any British soldier want a finer birthday celebration than that?



CHAPTER VI

BRITISH FIGHTERS IN FRENCH FORTS

     [We very slowly learned something of the many extraordinary
     features of this amazing war. Nothing is too astonishing or
     stupendous to happen in connection with the fight to crush the
     militarism of Prussia. Through this story by Private J. Boyers, of
     the Durham Light Infantry--the old 68th Foot, long known by reason
     of its devotion on many a bloody field like Salamanca and Inkerman
     as the “Faithful Durhams”--we get to know something of the British
     and French fighting side by side in the forts at Lille, one of the
     strongest of the famous fortresses of France. Lille is a great
     manufacturing town, the Manchester of France, and early in October
     1914, and later, it was the scene of much desperate fighting
     between the Allied Armies and the Germans.]


I went from England with the first party in the Expeditionary Force, and
after landing on the other side of the Channel, we had a march of fifty
miles to Mons, where I had my first battle.

I was in the great retirement--but I suppose you have heard enough about
that and Mons already, so I will leave it. After that beginning, I took
part in the Battle of the Marne and the Battle of the Aisne, and later
on I was shot in the thigh and bowled out.

I am only a young soldier--I am a native of Sunderland, and was born in
1891--and I have only been in the army a few months--in the old 68th,
the “Faithful Durhams,” so I think I have seen a fair lot of the big war
and have got to know what it means.

The Durhams have done splendidly and suffered terribly, and many a chum
of mine is sleeping with thousands more British soldiers on the
battlefields of France and Belgium. A great many have been wounded, and
of course there are a number of missing, mostly men, I dare say, who are
prisoners of war.

I had been at sea before joining the army, and thought I knew something
about roughing it; but even the North Sea in bad weather was nothing
compared with the hardships of the retirement from Mons, and the living
and sleeping in the trenches when the ground was sodden and deep in
water.

Sometimes we were very short of food, and once for several days on end
we were almost starving, because the supplies could not get up to us,
and we had been forced to throw away a lot of our packs and things.

A good many of us had to carry a seven-pound tin of bully beef in
addition to our heavy packs and a great many rounds of ammunition. In
the fearfully hot weather we could not carry all this weight, and the
tins of beef had to go. We should have been thankful for them later on,
when we ran short and some of the beef we had with us had gone bad
through the tins getting punctured, which happened in all sorts of
strange ways, including bullet-holes and bayonet pricks. But these were
things that couldn’t be helped, and in spite of them all we kept very
cheerful, and often enough, both on the march and in the trenches and
French forts, when we got to them, we sang and joked and whistled as if
there was no such thing going on as war.

Our officers shared everything with us, and suffered just as we did,
though often worse, so that whenever we got a bit downhearted, their
example cheered us up and put us right. I don’t think there’s a man
who’s fought in this great war who won’t say the same thing about his
officers.

We had so much fierce fighting when the work really began, and saw so
many strange and dreadful things, that it is not easy to say what stands
out most clearly in our minds in such a business, but one of the things
I do remember, and shall never forget, is the week or so we spent in one
of the big French forts at Lille, fighting side by side with French
soldiers. I will tell you about that later, but we did a lot before we
got to Lille.

When we were on the march we had a great deal of exciting work to do in
hunting Germans. Small bodies of them were everywhere, apart from the
immense numbers of spies who were in the Lille district and elsewhere.

The French bagged a lot of spies and gave them short shrift. They hid in
all sorts of queer places--some of them got into the tall mill
chimneys--but they were routed out and shot.

We found a fair lot of Germans in houses and farms when we were on the
march. We examined these places thoroughly. When we arrived at
farmhouses and suchlike places, a non-commissioned officer, with a small
party of men would make inquiries, often with the help of French
cavalrymen who were with us and could speak English, and we always found
that threats of fearful punishment to the womenfolk had been made by the
Germans if they told us that any Germans had been seen about. But the
women told us readily enough, especially when there happened to be any
Germans in hiding--those who were too drunk to get away and had been
left behind. It didn’t take long to make these fellows prisoners, and
they rubbed their eyes a lot when they got sober and found that the
British had bagged them--though I fancy that most of them were glad to
be caught and out of the fighting.

We saw some dreadful sights in these farms and houses that we entered,
and it was no uncommon thing for us to bury the women who had been done
to death by these invaders who were worse than heathens. We had to carry
out this sad work at night, to escape the German fire, for no matter
what we were doing they went for us with rifles and machine-guns and
anything else that came handy.

Time after time on the march we saw proof of the terrible way in which
the French and Germans fought, and saw how bravely the French had
defended their country and how freely they had given their lives to get
something like even with the enemy.

The Frenchmen were naturally even more upset than the British soldiers
were at many of the sights that met us, and in the streets along which
we marched we often saw dead bodies of Frenchmen and Germans lying close
together, where they had fallen after a desperate fight on the pavements
or in the roadway. They had met and fought to the death, and it looked
as if no quarter had been given. And with all this there had been a
perfectly savage destruction of everything that the Germans could lay
their hands on.

The Germans had thieved and killed wherever they had gone, led on in the
work by their officers, and little supposing, I fancy, that the day of
reckoning had come for them and that their brutal game was being
spoiled. There is no doubt that they had been taught that they were
going to have a walk over in France and were going to have a good time
in Paris; but some of them were poor enough specimens when we caught
them or they surrendered.

After the terrific battles of the Marne and the Aisne we were
transferred rather quickly to La Bassée, which is not far from Lille,
and then we had to take a share in defending Lille, in one of the big
forts just outside the town.

The Germans had got up into that part of the country in very strong
force, and they were making furious efforts to smash the forts and get
hold of Lille, which had become a most important place for them.

Lille is a large manufacturing town and was very strongly defended by
forts and in other ways. These big forts, about half-a-dozen in number,
form a ring round the town and command all the countryside, or rather
did, for they have been pretty badly hammered by this time; while the
town itself is protected in other ways. Lille was also one of the big
centres for French troops, but owing to the heavy drain caused by the
immense numbers of Germans that had to be dealt with at the Aisne there
were not a great many first-rate troops left, and a good deal of the
defence had to fall on the territorials.

The particular fort where I had my strangest experiences was about a
mile from Lille, and from the outside it looked like a low hill-top, so
much so that when we were getting near it the fort seemed like a little
round hill rising from the plain.

The fort was built of immense blocks of stone, and, as far as one could
tell, great quantities of steel, so that its strength must have been
enormous.

It was a romantic sort of business to get into the fort, because, first
of all, we had to pass the sentries, then some huge stone sliding doors
were opened, by a lever, I suppose, in the same way as the midway doors
of a District Railway carriage open and shut. They were very big and
heavy doors, yet they opened and shut quite easily, and when they were
closed you could hardly see a crack between them.

Past this gloomy entrance was a narrow walled slope which led into
darkness. We went down the slope into what looked like an archway and
then we got into proper blackness. It was some time before you could get
used to such darkness, but at last I saw that we had reached a large
vault; but I can’t pretend to give details, because I never had a chance
of properly making them out, and we were more concerned about the
Germans than we were about the fort.

Of course it can be easily understood that owing to the presence of
great quantities of ammunition and inflammable stores, only the dimmest
lighting was possible--in fact, there was practically no lighting at all
except by little portable electric lamps, and as for smoking, that was
absolutely off.

The instant we reached the fort we were told that smoking was most
strictly forbidden, and that disobedience was punishable by death. The
French soldier is as fond as the British Tommy of his smoke, but it is a
remarkable thing that in the darkness of the fort we didn’t feel the
want of smoking, which isn’t much of a catch in the pitch darkness. As a
matter of fact I had no wish to smoke when we were in the fort, so I was
never tempted to run the risk of being shot.

Cooking, like smoking, was out of the question, for you can no more
smoke with safety in a magazine like that than you can in a coal-mine--a
spark is enough to do tremendous mischief, let alone a fire; so our
rations had to be brought to us by the Army Service Corps, though they,
with their carts, were a long way off.

The A.S.C. chaps were splendid all through, and the men in the fighting
line owe a lot to them.

In this black dungeon, with such cunning Germans about, a sentry’s
challenge was a good deal more than a formality; but it nearly became
one when the welcome commissariat man arrived. But for his coming we
should have had to fall back on our emergency rations. These were good,
of their kind, but they can’t compare with the best efforts of the
A.S.C.

But I’m getting off the track a bit. In the side of the vault, or
cavern, there was a low, shallow dug-out which was meant to hold a
rifleman lying at full stretch. This was something like a small cubicle
in size and shape, and to enter it in the darkness was a proper problem.
After a try or two, however, you got into the way of stumbling
comfortably into it. By crouching and creeping, and using your hands and
knees, you could secure a position from which it was fairly easy to draw
yourself up into the dug-out. I dwell on this because I think it is
important, seeing that four of us took two-hour watches throughout the
twenty-four hours, so that getting to and from such a dug-out becomes an
event in your daily life.

At one end of the dug-out was a loophole for a rifle or a maxim-gun, and
here we patiently waited for those pests, the snipers. These German
potters gave us no rest; but many a German who thought he was well
hidden got the finishing touch from one of our loopholes.

This was thrilling fighting, especially when things became hot, and we
manned all the loopholes in the fort, to the number of four, and at a
pinch we could use two maxims at each. There were fourteen of us in the
fort altogether, four officers and ten men. The orders, being in French,
sounded very strange at first, but to my surprise, I soon fell into the
way of understanding what was said around me, certainly so far as
ordinary little things were concerned. I shall never forget the French
for water so long as I remember the thirst I had in the black depths of
the fort.

The life in the fort was one of the strangest parts of the whole of the
fighting. It was queer enough to be in France, fighting with the French,
but a good deal queerer to be living in one of the big famous French
forts which the Germans were trying to pound to bits with their enormous
siege guns. But we soon settled down and got fairly well used to the
sound of the fort’s guns and the row of the German artillery and the
crashing of the shells around us.

We were told off into parties in the fort, each party being commanded by
a non-commissioned officer, who used to light the way for us with an
electric lamp that he carried in front of him, hung round his neck.

We ate and drank and slept with the French gunners, and taken altogether
we were very comfortable, and were spared something of the awful noise
of the firing, for when the guns of the forts were fired the noise was
worse than thunderbolts, and everything about was shaken in the most
extraordinary manner.

The Germans were mad to get at us and they shot tons and tons of shells
at us, and time after time made efforts to storm the forts and Lille
itself. In these attempts they lost immense numbers of men, and when we
got outside of the fort we saw the dead bodies of the Germans lying
about in thousands--so thick on the ground were they that we had to
clamber over them as best we could.

Our own fort was pretty lucky, but the next one to us was very badly
damaged, huge holes being made where the monster shells got home, and
most of the defenders of the fort being wiped out. The German big guns
certainly did a vast amount of mischief against forts--so the Germans
will know what to expect when our own big guns get to work on forts in
Germany.

It was soon clear that it would not be possible to hold on at Lille for
long, because we were so hopelessly outnumbered. The fight went on, day
and night, for a full week, and the Germans bombarded everything.

On Sunday, October 4th, there was some desperate fighting in the streets
of the town and the outskirts. German troops were rushed up in armoured
trains and motors, but when it came to hand-to-hand fighting they were
not much good, and on the Monday they were driven away with heavy loss.

We had a few goes at them with the bayonet, and that charging was very
hard work. It had to be done in short rushes of about a hundred yards,
but we could not get near enough to them to give the bayonet a fair
chance. In that respect it was the same old story--the Germans would not
face the steel. In anything like equal numbers they can’t stand up
against a charge. They would mostly run for it, firing at us over their
shoulders as they bolted, but not doing a great deal of mischief that
way. When they could run no more and saw that the game was up, they
would throw away their rifles and surrender, and we then brought them
in.

Before the fighting began, and while it was going on, a good many of the
inhabitants got into a panic and fled to Boulogne and Calais; but the
French troops held out gamely, and on the Tuesday a fearful lot of
execution was done amongst the masses of Germans by the French artillery
fire. Neither the German guns nor the infantry could make a stand
against this onslaught, and at this time the German losses were
particularly heavy, hundreds of men falling together. At the end of that
part of the battle the Germans for the time being were completely
routed, and they were driven back a good dozen miles.

The Durhams suffered greatly in the fighting, and the good old West
Yorkshires, who had seen a lot of hard work with us, had been badly cut
up too. Some splendid help was given by the little Gurkhas, who had
joined the British; but unfortunately I was not able to see much of what
they did, because soon after they appeared with their famous knives I
got my wound.

Some of the most exciting and dangerous work was done at night, when we
tried to get at the Germans with the bayonet and rout them out of their
trenches and positions. We had to do everything so quietly--creep out of
the forts, creep along the ground, and creep up to the enemy as near as
we could get, and sometimes that was not very close, because of such
things as barbed wire entanglements.

These entanglements were particularly horrible, because they were so
hard to overcome and tore the flesh and clothing. At first we had a
pretty good way of destroying them, and that was by putting the muzzles
of our rifles on the wire and blowing it away; but there were two
serious drawbacks to that trick--one was that it was a waste of
ammunition, and the other was that the noise of the firing gave us away,
and let the Germans loose on us with guns and rifles.

We soon got too canny to go on with that practice, and just before I was
wounded and sent home a very ingenious arrangement had been fixed to the
muzzle of the rifle for wire-cutting--a pair of shears which you could
work with a swivel from near the trigger, so that instead of putting the
muzzle of the rifle against the wire, you could cut it by using the
pliers.

It was in one of these night affairs that I was nearly finished as a
soldier. I was ordered to join a reconnoitring party. We got clear of
the fort, and made our way over the country for about a mile. We were
then in a field which had been harvested and harrowed, so that it was
pretty hard ground to go over. In spite of it all we were getting on
very nicely when the Germans got wind of our movements and opened a
terrible fire with rifles and maxims.

We lost a lot of men, and where a man fell there he had to lie, dead or
living.

Suddenly I fell plump on the ground, and found that I could not get up
again, though I did my best to keep up with my chums. Then I felt an
awful pain in my thigh and knew that I was hurt, but I must have been
struck five minutes before I fell, by a bullet from a German rifle. It
had gone clean through my right thigh. They told me afterwards that I
had had a very narrow shave indeed; but a miss is as good as a mile.

I knew there was nothing for it but pluck and patience, so I made the
best of things, and waited till the day broke and brought the battalion
stretcher-bearers,

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 80._

“WE FOUND A FAIR LOT OF GERMANS IN HOUSES AND FARMS” (p. 72).]

who always came out just about dawn to collect the wounded.

I was lying on the ground, in a sort of ditch, for six hours before I
was picked up by the stretcher-bearers and carried to a stable which was
being used as a temporary hospital.

The Germans fired on the wounded as they were being carried off in the
grey light, but they didn’t hit me again.

I lay in the stable for about eight hours, waiting for the ambulance,
which took me to the rail-head, and then I was put in a train and taken
to Rouen--and that travelling was simply awful, because the French
trains jolt like traction-engines.

All the same, I had a pleasant voyage to Southampton, and hoped that I
might be sent to a hospital near home, but I was too ill to go a long
journey to the north, so I was taken to Woolwich, and afterwards sent
here, to the Royal Hospital at Richmond, where everybody is kindness
itself, and can’t do enough for you, it seems.

I’ve had a month in bed, so far, but I’m hoping to be out of it soon and
hobbling about.



CHAPTER VII

GERMAN TREACHERY AND HATRED

     [“Die hard, my men, die hard!” shouted the heroic Colonel Inglis,
     when, at Albuhera, in the Peninsular War, his regiment, the 57th
     Foot, were furiously engaged with the enemy. And the regiment
     obeyed, for when the bloody fight was ended twenty-two out of
     twenty-five officers had been killed or wounded, 425 of 570 rank
     and file had fallen and thirty bullets had riddled the King’s
     Colour. The 57th is now the 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment, but
     the regiment is still best known by its gallant nickname of the
     “Die-Hards.” It has suffered exceptional losses in this war, and
     the story of some of its doings is told by Corporal W. Bratby, who
     relates a tale which he has described as a brother’s revenge.]


The old “Die-Hards” went into action at Mons nearly a thousand strong;
but when, after Mons had been left behind, a roaring furnace, the roll
was called, not more than 270 of us were left. D Company came out a
shattered remnant--only thirty-six men, and no officers. When what was
left of us marched away, other regiments were shouting, “Three cheers
for the Die-Hards!” And three rousing cheers they gave; but I had no
heart for them, because I had left my younger brother Jack, a “Die-Hard”
like myself. They told me that he had been killed by a bursting shell
while doing his duty with the machine-gun section.

I did not say much. I asked the adjutant if any of the machine-gun
section had returned, and he answered sadly, “No, they’ve all gone.”

Jack and I were brothers and had been good old chums all our lives--I
had taught him a bit of boxing and he was most promising with the
gloves, and we had a widowed mother to keep; so I really felt as if
something had gone snap in my head and that all I cared for was to get
my revenge from the Germans. The last words I heard him say were, “Well,
Bill, I’m going right into the firing line,” and I remember laughing and
saying, “Yes, Jack, but you’re not the only one who’s going to do that.”

Jack laughed too and said, “All right, Bill, I’ll see you in the firing
line,” and with that he went and I saw no more of him.

I had been in the regiment five years and nine months when the war broke
out and Jack had served more than two years. I had become a corporal and
he was a lance-corporal.

The days in the beginning were swelteringly hot; but the “Die-Hards,”
being typical Cockneys, made the best of them. Our Brigade consisted of
ourselves (the 4th Middlesex), the 2nd Royal Scots, the 1st Gordon
Highlanders and the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles. We began operations with
trench digging, one particular trench, the machine-gun trench, being
allotted to B Company. I helped to superintend the construction of the
trenches, and I was proud of the work when I saw what was done from them
when the Germans showed themselves.

Our machine-gun caused enormous havoc amongst the German ranks, and I am
sure that my brother did his part in settling a lot of them, for he was
keen on his work and full of go. The Royal Irish at this stage were
doing splendidly--they were not more than 350 yards from the enemy,
separated from them by a railway--and they were lucky enough to fetch
one gun out of action again, but the enormously superior numbers of the
Germans told and the famous retreat began. The machine-gunners had
suffered very heavily and it was hard to learn anything definite about
the position in the trenches.

Officers and men were falling everywhere on both sides, and I saw a
reconnoitring patrol of Uhlans bowled over in trying to avoid some of
the 4th Royal Fusiliers. An officer and seven men of the Uhlans were
killed in that little affair without getting in a shot in return. It was
not much, but it was something cheering after what we had gone through
at Mons. We looked upon it as a bit of sport, and after that we went
into châteaux, cafés and other places, and discussed affairs in a proper
Tommy-like spirit. It is very strange, but if it had not been for the
language I could have thought at times that I was back in Kilburn or in
London, on strike duty again, as I was at the time of the railway
trouble three years ago.

We were fighting a rearguard action for three days right off the reel,
and doing that wonderful march to which “Kitchener’s test” or anything
like it was a mere nothing. Owing to the heat, we discarded overcoats,
kits and in some cases rifles and equipment. Our transport was blown to
pieces three days after Mons, which to the 8th Brigade is known as _the_
Wednesday.

But lost kit and shattered transport mattered little to most of us, and
certainly had slight significance for me, because the only thing I had
in mind was this determination to get revenge. I am not exaggerating in
the least, I am merely putting down on record the state of my feelings
and wishing to make you understand how remarkable a change had come
over me, an alteration such as is brought about, I take it, by war, and
war alone. Perhaps, too, the excessive stress and strain of those early
days of the war had something to do with my condition; but whatever the
cause, there it was. Danger itself meant nothing, and I, like the rest
of us, took the ordinary fighting and the incessant and truly horrible
shell fire as a matter of course, a part of the day’s work. I bided my
time, and it came.

We had crossed the Aisne, a dangerous unit still, in spite of our
losses, for we had received reinforcements from the base; but just
before crossing the river we sat down on the road, waiting for a
favourable opportunity to cross by a pontoon bridge which the Engineers
were building. That pontoon replaced a bridge which had been blown up.

On the word “Rise” we fell in, and in doing so a man had the misfortune
to shoot himself through the hand.

The colonel came up at once and ordered the injured man to go back to
the hospital in a village about a mile and a half up the road, in rear
of the bridge. I was told off to take him, and we went to a house that
had been turned into a hospital, the people in it being typically
French. There were some sad cases there, amongst them one of our own
fellows who had been severely wounded and a trooper of the 4th Hussars
who was the only survivor of a reconnoitring party. He had been shot
while going through the village that morning. Just at that time we had
had many losses of small bodies--in one case a sergeant and five men had
been blown to pieces.

After I had got the wounded man into the hospital I asked the
“monsieur” in charge of the house for some tea, which he very willingly
produced--it had no milk in it, of course, but by that time I had almost
forgotten that milk existed.

At this time the village was being shelled, but that did not affect the
enjoyment of my tea-drinking, and after that refreshing draught and a
chunk of “bully” and some biscuit crumbs which I found in the corner of
a none-too-clean haversack, I “packed down” for the night.

At about four o’clock next morning I awoke and went back to the bridge,
which my battalion had crossed on the previous day, the “Die-hards”
being the first to have the honour to cross. By this time we had got
past the sweltering stage of things and had become accustomed to soaking
weather, and on this particular morning I was thoroughly cold and wet
and generally “fed up” with things; but I still glowed with the longing
to get level with the Germans.

You must bear in mind that regiments had been broken up and scattered in
the most astonishing manner and had become mixed up with other
regiments, and I had lost my own and had to set to work to find it.

I got over the bridge and reached some artillery.

“Have you seen anything of the Middlesex?” I asked.

“Yes,” the gunners answered, “they’ve just gone into action on the brow
of the hill.”

I made my way towards the top of a neighbouring hill and found that my
battalion had taken up a position there, but I had to wander about
aimlessly, and I did so till I came across one or two men who were
separated from the battalion. They directed me to the actual position,
which was on the ridge of the hill, and to the ridge I went and found
that it was lined with remnants of the brigade.

I tried to find my own company, but could not do so, as it had been
surprised in the night; so I attached myself to another and lay down
with the corporal on the sodden ground.

Wet through, cold, hungry and physically miserable, but still tough in
spirit, we lay there, wishing that all sorts of impossible things would
happen.

The corporal showed me where he had hit a German scout. We watched the
poor devil rolling about--then we finished him off.

In addition to the wet there was a fog, and under cover of this the
Germans crept up and were on us almost before we knew of their presence.

The alarm was first given by a man near us who was suffering from ague
or some such ailment and had been moaning and groaning a good deal.

Suddenly he cried, “Here they are, corporal! Fire at ’em!”

My loaded rifle was lying just in front of me. I snatched it up, and as
I did so the Germans jumped out of the mist on to us, with loud shouts.
I brought the first German down and my chum dropped one; and we managed
to fetch the officer down. He was carrying a revolver and a stick, like
most German officers, so that you had no difficulty in distinguishing
them.

When the alarm was given I gave a quick look over a small hump in the
ground and then we were rushed; but I hated the idea of retiring, and
kept on shouting, “Crawl back! Crawl back!”

Machine-guns and rifles were rattling and men were shouting and
cursing. In the midst of it all I was sane enough to hang on to my fire
till I got a good chance--and I did not wait for nothing.

Up came two Germans with a stretcher. They advanced till they were not
more than twenty-five yards away, for I could see their faces quite
clearly; then I took aim, and down went one of the pair and “bang” off
the stretcher fell a maxim. The second German seemed to hesitate, but
before he could pull himself together he had gone down too. I began to
feel satisfied.

By this time the order to retire had been given and I kept on shouting,
“Keep down! Crawl back!” and the lads crawled and jumped with curious
laughs and curses.

In that excited retirement the man who was with me was shot in the
chest. I halted for a little while to see what had really happened to
him, and finding that he was killed I took his waterproof sheet and left
him. I hurried on until I was in a valley, well away from the ridge;
then an officer managed to get us together and lead us into a wood.

As we got into the wood I spotted a quarry. I said to the officer, “Is
it best to go down here, sir?”

“I’ll have a look--yes,” he answered.

We went into the quarry, where there were Royal Scots, Middlesex,
Gordons and Royal Irish.

The officer was afraid that we might be rushed, in which case we should
be cut up, so he put a man out on scout. We were not rushed, however,
and when the firing ceased we filed out and lined the ridge again, and
there we lay, expecting the Germans to come back, but for the time being
we saw no more of them.

By some means one of the Irishmen had got drunk and wanted to fight the
Germans “on his own.” He was shouting for them to come on and was
wandering about. Soon afterwards he was found lying on the top of the
hill, having been shot in the thigh. He was carried out of action and I
have never heard of him since.

After that affair of the hill-crest we had a lot of trench work, and
very harassing it was. For five days we stayed in trenches, so near to
the enemy that it was death to show your head.

Trench fighting is one of the most terrible features of the war, for not
only is there the constant peril of instant death, which, of course,
every soldier gets accustomed to, but there is also the extreme
discomfort and danger of illness arising from insanitary surroundings.
Often enough, too, when a new trench was being dug we would find that we
were working on ground that had been previously occupied, and the spades
brought up many a ghastly reminder of an earlier fight.

Sometimes in this wonderful warfare we were so very close to the Germans
that when we sang hymns--and many a hymn that a soldier has sung at his
mother’s knee has gone up from the trenches from many a brave lad who
has given his life for his country--the Germans would harmonise with
them. It was strange to hear these men singing like that and to bear in
mind that they were the soldiers who had done such monstrous things as
we saw during the retreat, when they thought that certain victory was
theirs. Time after time, with my own eyes, I saw evidence of the brutal
outrages of the German troops, especially on women and children, yet it
seems hard to convince some of the people at home that these things
have been done.

At one time in the trenches, for a whole week, we were so situated that
we dare not even speak for fear of revealing our position--we were
subjected to an enfilade fire and did not dare to speak or light a fire,
which meant that we had no hot food for a week, and we could not even
smoke, which was the biggest hardship of all for a lot of the lads. We
were thankful when we were relieved; but were sorry indeed to find how
dearly the newcomers paid for their experience. We had been cramped and
uncomfortable, but pretty safe, and the Germans had not been able to get
at us to do us any real mischief, but our reliefs walked about as
unconcernedly as if they were on furlough, with the result that on the
very first night they went into action they lost a hundred men.

The system of trenches grew into a sort of enormous gridiron, and if you
walked about--which you could only attempt to do at night--you were
almost certain to drop into a trench or a hole of some sort. This made
getting about a very exciting job, and it added enormously to the
intense strain of fighting in the trenches, a strain which was hardest
to bear in the night-time, when we were constantly expecting attacks and
when the Germans adopted all kinds of devices to get at us.

The Germans are what we call dirty fighters, and they will take
advantage of anything to try and score over you. They have no respect
for anything and made a particular point in many of the places they
overran of desecrating the churches. They never hesitated to turn a
place of worship into a scene for an orgy, and I remember going into one
church after the Germans had occupied it and being shocked at their
conduct. In this particular place they had been able to lay hands on a
good deal of champagne and they had drunk to excess, turning the church
into a drinking-place, so that when we reached it there was an
indescribable scene--filthy straw on the floor, empty champagne bottles
littered everywhere, and the whole building degraded and desecrated.

The Germans had got a French uniform and stuffed it with straw and
propped it up to resemble a man, and on the uniform they had stuck a
piece of paper with some writing on it in German. I do not know what the
writing was, but I took it to be some insult to the brave men who were
defending their country and preventing the Germans from getting anywhere
near Paris. I could tell you much more and many things of the Germans’
dirty fighting, and of things that were far worse than such an incident
as turning a church into a drinking-place; but perhaps enough has been
said on that point of late.

But that dirty fighting does not mean that the Germans do not fight
bravely--far from it; they are hard cases, especially when they are in
overwhelming numbers, which is the form of fighting that they like best
of all. They are great believers in weight and hurling masses of men at
a given point, and they are absolutely mad at times when their opponents
are the English.

I will tell you of a case which illustrates this particular hatred. One
night we were attacked by the Germans, though there was but little hope
of them doing anything serious, in view of the fact that we were in
trenches and that there were the barbed wire entanglements everywhere.
There had been no sign of an attack, but in the middle of the night a
furious assault was made upon us and a young German by some
extraordinary means managed to get through the entanglements. An officer
of the Buffs was near us, and in some way which I cannot explain the
German managed to reach him. With a fierce cry he sprang directly at the
officer, put an arm round his neck, and with the revolver which he held
in the other hand shot him.

It was the work of a moment; but it succeeded--so did our bayonet attack
on the German, for almost as soon as his shot had rung out in the night
a dozen bayonets had pierced him. He died very quickly, but not before
he had managed to show how intensely he hated all the English. He was a
fine young fellow, not more than seventeen or eighteen years old, and it
was impossible not to admire the courage and cleverness he had shown in
getting through the awful barbed wire entanglements and hurling himself
upon us in the trenches in the middle of the night. The point that
puzzles me even now, when I recall the incident, is how the young German
managed to make such a clean jump for the officer. I daresay there was
something more than luck in it.

At this time we were with the Buffs, who told us that they were being
badly troubled by snipers. I was in a trench with Lieutenant Cole, who
was afterwards killed, and he said to me, “Corporal, the snipers are
worrying our people, but it’s very difficult to locate them. Try and see
what you can make out of it.”

It was very difficult, but I set to work to try and make something out.
Before long, with the help of the glasses, I concluded that the sniping
came from a wood not far away, and I told the officer that I thought
they were in a tree there. The consequence was that a platoon loaded up,
went round, concentrated their fire on this particular spot and brought
down two German roosters from a tree. We were glad to be rid of the
pests, and they ought to have been satisfied, for they had had a very
good innings.

I have been telling about the determination I had to be revenged for my
brother’s death. That was my great object, and I kept it in mind before
anything else--and I think I carried it out. Apart from any motive, it
is the British soldier’s duty to do everything he can to settle the
enemy, especially the Germans, and I am glad that I did my bit in this
respect.

Now listen to what has really happened. After all that fighting and
suffering with the grand old “Die-Hards” I got my own turn, after many
wonderful escapes. A shell burst near me and the fragments peppered me
on the right hand here and about this side of the body, and bowled me
out for the time being. I was sent home, and here I am in London again,
getting well and expecting the call to come at any time to go back to
the front. When it comes I shall be ready to obey.

Look at this postcard. It is written, as you see, by a British soldier
who is a prisoner of war in Germany, and it tells the glad news that my
brother, who, I was told, was killed months ago by a bursting shell, is
not dead, but is alive and well, although he is a prisoner of war.



CHAPTER VIII

LIFE IN THE TRENCHES

     [The winter of the war was marked by an abnormal rainfall and
     storms of uncommon severity: also by the extraordinary development
     of trench warfare. The rain and storms, the frost and snow, made it
     impossible to carry out the greater operations of campaigning, with
     the result that both sides dug themselves in and fought from rival
     trenches which in many cases were separated by only a few yards.
     This story deals with life in the trenches, at La Bassée, and it
     gives a wonderful understanding of the privations that have been
     uncomplainingly borne by British soldiers. The teller is Private G.
     Townsend, 2nd Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, who has had more
     than six years’ service with the colours. These long-service men
     have compelled the attention of even the Germans who despised the
     “contemptible little army,” for they have admitted that the
     seasoned British private soldier is the equal of a German
     non-commissioned officer.]


When the rebellion broke out in South Africa we--the old “Lily
Whites”--were the only imperial regiment kept in that country. We were
sitting still and stiff for twenty days, till General Botha got his own
troops ready. During that time we were guarding Cape Town, and it took
us all we knew to hold in, because the big war was on, and we were about
seven thousand miles away from the seat of it. We had to wait till
General Botha was ready, and that was not for more than a month after
the British and the Germans met in Belgium.

We were eager to get away from South Africa, and at last we sailed--but
what a slow voyage it was! Almost a record, I should think. We were
thirty-two days getting to Southampton; but that was because we had
halts on the way and were convoyed by some of the British warships which
have worked such marvels in this war. We had with us a noble cruiser
which on a later day, though we thought her slow, knocked more speed out
of herself than the builders ever dreamed of, and that was when she
helped to sink the German warships off the Falkland Islands.

By the time we reached the south of England some big things had
happened, and we were keener than ever to get to the front. We had not
long to wait. We landed, and in less than a week we left England and
crossed over to France, where we went into billets for four days, to
settle down. From the billets we marched nearly seven miles and went
into trenches. For three full months, in the worst time of a very bad
year, I ate and drank, and slept and fought, in trenches, with intervals
in billets, sometimes up to the hips in water and often enough sleeping
on a thick couch of mud. I cannot go into too much detail, but I can say
that our officers always tried to go one better than the Germans, for
the sake of the men--and for the most part they succeeded. We have
picked up a lot from the Germans in this trench game. They have a main
trench and about four trenches behind that, the first of the four being
about twenty yards away; so that if you knock them out of one you knock
them into another.

That march to the trenches was a thing that can never be forgotten. It
was very dark and raining heavily, so that we were thoroughly soaked;
but we had no time to think of that, for we were bound for the firing
line, we were going to fight for the first time, and we wondered who
amongst us would be absent when the next roll was called. The trench to
which we were bound was in its little way famous. It had been the scene
of some terrible fighting. The Indian troops were holding it, but they
had been driven out by the Germans, who took possession and thought they
were going to hold it; but the Connaught Rangers made a desperate
charge, routed the Germans with the bayonet and retook the trenches. The
Connaughts won, but at a very heavy cost, and about 150 of the brave
fellows fell and were buried near the little bit of sodden, muddy ground
on which they had fought. It was to relieve the Connaughts that we went
into the trenches on La Bassée Road that stormy night.

It was not a very cheerful beginning, and as much unlike going into
action as anything you can imagine. But we felt queer, this being our
first taste of fighting, as we slipped into the trenches with our rifles
loaded and prepared to fire in the wild night at an enemy we could not
see. As soon as we went into the trenches we were ankle-deep in mud, and
we were in mud, day and night, for seventy-two hours without a break.
That was the beginning of three solid months of a sort of animal life in
trenches and dug-outs, with occasional breaks for the change and rest in
billets without which it would not be possible to live.

In a storm-swept trench--a barricade trench we called it--pointing my
rifle at an enemy I could not see, I fired my first shot in battle. My
section of thirteen men was in the trench which was nearest to the
Germans, and that meant that we were separated from them by only a very
few dozen yards. An officer of the Connaughts had given a descriptive
object to fire at, and this was a small white outhouse which could be
dimly made out in the darkness. The outhouse had the German trenches
just in front of it, and we made a target of the building in the hope of
potting the men in the trenches.

The order came, one man up and one man down, which meant that a man who
was firing was standing for two hours and the man who was down was
sitting or otherwise resting, or observing, as we call it.

Throughout that long night we kept up fire from the trenches, all
anxious for the day to break, so that we could see what sort of a place
we were in and what we were doing; but when the melancholy morning broke
there was nothing to see in front of us except the portholes of the
German trenches.

We had got through the first night of battle safely and had given the
Germans good-morning with what we came to call the “awaking fire,”
though it sent many a man to sleep for the last time--and we were
settling down to make some tea. That was shortly after midday of our
first day in the trenches. I was working “partners” with my left-hand
man, Private Smith, who said, “I’ll just have a look to see what’s going
on.”

He popped his head over the top of the trench and almost instantly he
fell into my arms, for he had been shot--there must have been a sniper
waiting for him--and had received what proved to be a most extraordinary
wound. A bullet had struck him on the side of the head, just below the
ear, and gone clean through and out at the other side, leaving a hole
on each side.

“I’m hit!” said Smith, as he fell--that was all.

I was badly upset, as this was the first man I had seen shot, and being
my special chum it came home to me; but I didn’t let that prevent me
from doing my best for him. Smith was quite conscious, and a plucky
chap, and he knew that there was nothing for it but to see it through
till night came. We bandaged him up as best we could and he had to lie
there, in the mud and water and misery, till it was dark, then he was
able to walk away from the trench to the nearest first-aid station,
where the doctor complimented him on his courage and told him what an
extraordinary case it was and what a miraculous escape he had had. Later
on Smith was invalided home.

During the whole of that first spell in trenches we had no water to
drink except what we fetched from a natural trench half-a-mile away. Men
volunteered for this duty, which was very dangerous, as it meant
hurrying over open ground, and the man who was fetching the water was
under fire all the time, both going and coming, if the Germans saw him.
This job was usually carried out a little before daybreak, when there
was just light enough for the man to see, and not enough for the Germans
to spot him; and a chap was always thankful when he was safely back in
the trench and under cover.

At the end of the seventy-two hours we left the trenches. We came out at
ten o’clock at night, expecting to be out for three days. We marched to
an old barn which had been pretty well blown to pieces by shells, and
into it we went; but it was no better than the trenches. The rain
poured on to us through the shattered roof and it was bitterly cold, so
that I could not sleep. We had everything on, so as to be ready for a
call instantly, and without so much as a blanket I was thoroughly
miserable. Instead of having three days off we were ordered to go into a
fresh lot of trenches, and next afternoon we marched into them and there
we stayed for six weeks, coming out seven or eight times. In these
trenches we were in dug-outs, so that we got a change from standing
sometimes hip-deep in mud and water by getting into the dug-out and
resting there. A dug-out was simply a hole made in the side of the
trench, high enough to be fairly dry and comfortable.

During the whole of these six weeks it meant practically death to show
yourself, and so merciless was the fire that for the whole of the time a
dead German soldier was lying on the ground about a hundred yards away
from us. He was there when we went and was still there when we left. We
could not send out a party to bury him and the Germans themselves never
troubled about the poor beggar. One day a chum of mine, named Tobin, was
on the look-out when his rifle suddenly cracked, and he turned round and
said, “I’ve hit one.” And so he had, for he had knocked a German over
not far away and no doubt killed him.

What with the weather and the mud and the constant firing we had a very
bad time. Each night we had four hours’ digging, which was excessively
hard work, and if we were not digging we were fetching rations in for
the company. These rations had to be fetched at night from carts
three-quarters of a mile away, which was the nearest the drivers dare
bring them. These expeditions were always interesting, because we never
knew what we were going to get--sometimes it would be a fifty-pound tin
of biscuits and sometimes a bag of letters or a lot of cigarettes, but
whatever it was we took it to our dug-outs, just as animals take food to
their holes, and the things were issued next morning.

One way and another we had between fifty and sixty men wounded in our
own particular trenches, mostly by rifle fire, though occasionally a
shell would burst near us and do a lot of mischief; and what was
happening in our own trenches was taking place all around La Bassée. We
should have suffered much more heavily if we had not been provided with
periscopes, which have saved many a precious life and limb.

We paid very little attention to the German shell fire, and as for the
“Jack Johnsons” we took them as much as a matter of course as we took
our breakfast. Some of the German artillery fire actually amused us, and
this was when they got their mortars to work. We could see the shot
coming and often enough could dodge it, though frequently the great fat
thing would drive into the ground and smother us with mud. For some of
the German artillery fire we were really very thankful, because in their
rage they were smashing up some farm buildings not far away from us. The
cause of our gratitude was that this shelling saved us the trouble of
cutting down and chopping firewood for warmth and cooking in the
trenches. When night came we simply went to the farmhouse, and the
firewood, in the shape of shattered doors and beams and furniture, was
waiting for us. The farm people had left, so we were able to help
ourselves to chickens, which we did, and a glorious change they were on
the everlasting bully beef. A chicken doesn’t go very far with hungry
soldiers, and on one occasion we had a chicken apiece, and remarkably
good they were too, roasted in the trenches. Another great time was when
we caught a little pig at the farm and killed it and took it to the
trenches, where we cooked it.

When we had finished with the second lot of trenches we went into a
third set, and I was there till I was wounded and sent home. These
trenches were only about a hundred and twenty yards from the second lot,
so that the whole of the three months I spent in trenches was passed in
a very little area of ground, an experience which is so totally
different from that of so many of our soldiers who were out at the war
at the very beginning, and covered such great distances in marching from
place to place and battle to battle. These chaps were lucky, because
they got the change of scene and the excitement of big fighting, but the
only change we had was in going out of one trench into another.

It was now the middle of December and bitter weather, but we were
cheered up by the thought of Christmas, and found that things were
getting much more lively than they had been. One night a splendid act
was performed by Lieutenant Seckham, one of our platoon officers, and
two of our privates, Cunningham and Harris.

An officer of the Royal Engineers had gone out to fix up some barbed
wire entanglements in front of our trenches. The Germans were firing
heavily at the time, and they must have either seen or heard the
officer at work. They went for him and struck him down and there he lay
in the open. To leave the trenches was a most perilous thing to do, but
Mr. Seckham and the two men got out and on to the open ground, and bit
by bit they made their way to the Engineer officer, got hold of him, and
under a furious fire brought him right along and into our trench, and we
gave a cheer which rang out in the night above the firing and told the
Germans that their frantic efforts had failed. Mr. Seckham was a
splendid officer in every way and we were greatly grieved when, not long
afterwards, he was killed. Another of our fine young platoon officers,
Lieutenant Townsend, has been killed since I came home.

We were so near the Germans at times that we could throw things at them
and they could hurl things at us, and we both did, the things being
little bombs, after the style of the old hand-grenade. We got up a
bomb-throwing class and hurled our bombs; but it was not possible to
throw them very far--only twenty-five yards or so. The West Yorkshires,
who were near us, got a great many of these missiles thrown at them, but
they did not all explode. One day a sergeant of ours--Jarvis--was out
getting wood when he saw one of them lying on the ground. He picked it
up and looked at it, then threw it down and instantly it exploded, and
he had no fewer than forty-three wounds, mostly cuts, caused by the
flying fragments, so that the bomb made a proper mess of him.

Our own bombs were made of ordinary pound jam tins, filled with
explosive and so on, like a little shell, which, as the case of the
sergeant showed, was not anything like as sweet a thing to get as jam.
The

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 102._

“WE WERE SO NEAR THE GERMANS THAT THEY COULD HURL BOMBS AT US.”]

Germans were very fond of flinging these hand-bombs and seemed to have a
great idea of their value in attacks and defence.

Christmas Eve was with us, Christmas Day was soon to dawn--and what a
strange and terrible Christmas it was to be!

On Christmas Eve itself we plainly heard the Germans shouting.

“A merry Christmas to you!” they said, and there was no mistaking the
German voices that came to us in our trenches out of the darkness.

“A merry Christmas to you!”

Again the Germans greeted us, though we could not see them, and there
was something pathetic in the words, which were shouted in a lull in the
fighting. Some of our men answered the wish, but I did not--I had no
heart to do so, when I knew that the message meant so little.

It may have been a matter of sentiment, because this was the time of
peace on earth and goodwill towards men, or it may not; but at any rate
the order came that if the Germans did not fire we were not to fire. But
Christmas or no Christmas, and in spite of their greetings, the Germans
went on firing, and we were forced to do the same, so throughout the
night of Christmas Eve we had our rifles going and did not stop till it
was daylight.

But the rifle fire was not the only sound of warfare that was
heard--there was the sharp booming of artillery. The field batteries
were hard at it and we knew they must be doing fearful mischief amongst
the Germans. The night became truly awful; but how dreadful we did not
know till Christmas Day itself, then, the firing having ceased, we saw
that the ground in front of us, not very far away, was littered with
the German dead.

A Merry Christmas!

The very men who had sent the greeting to us were lying dead within our
sight, for the Germans had started to change their position and the
British shells had shattered them. Something like two hundred and fifty
of the Germans were lying dead upon the field, and sorry indeed must the
dawn of Christmas Day have been to those who were left.

Peace on earth! There _was_ peace of a sort, for as we looked on the
German dead from our trenches we saw two Germans appear in full view,
holding up their hands, to show us that they were unarmed.

You can imagine what a solemn spectacle that was--what a Christmas Day
it was which dawned upon us in the trenches. We knew instinctively what
was wanted--the ground was littered with the German dead and the Germans
wanted an armistice so that they could bury them.

One of our officers went out and talked with the two Germans who were
holding up their hands--covered by British rifles. He soon learned what
they wanted, and the armistice was granted.

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon of Christmas Day when the
Germans set to work to bury their dead, and as they did so we left our
trenches and stood on the open ground and watched them. We saw them
perfectly clearly, because the main German trench was not more than 120
yards away, and the burial took place a few yards behind this.

I have seen a photograph of British and German soldiers fraternising on
Christmas Day; but there was nothing of this sort with us. The only
incident I witnessed was a British officer shaking hands with a German
officer. That was all. I did not shake hands with them--and I had not
the least wish to do so, though I bore them no ill-will on that sad
Christmas Day.

I was thankful when Christmas was over and we had settled down to
ordinary routine work, killing and being killed, for it is astonishing
how soon you get accustomed to the business of firing on and being fired
at.

The trenches had got from bad to worse. When I first went into them
there was eighteen inches of water and five inches of mud; but now it
was a matter of standing almost up to the waist in water. They became so
bad that instead of using the communication trenches, which you might
almost call tunnels, it was decided that we should cross the open
country to get to our fighting-place, the main trench--indeed, we had no
option, because the communication trench was almost impassable.

On a mid-January night, and very bad at that, we began the journey to
the trenches. If there had been just ordinary honest darkness we should
have been all right and quite satisfied; but though there was darkness
enough there was plenty of light--the uncanny brightness which came from
the star-shells.

Star-shells were going up all along the line and bursting. They are a
sort of firework, giving a brilliant light, and as they exploded they
showed us up almost as clearly as if we had been in daylight.

We had only a very short distance to go, but the star-lights made the
journey to the trenches a desperate undertaking.

In single file, a little bunch of ten of us, crouching down, holding our
loaded rifles and carrying all we possessed--we went along, losing no
time.

From the stealthy way in which we started on our little trip you might
have thought that we were burglars or villains bent on some fearsome
job, instead of ordinary British soldiers getting back to their
trenches.

We went with caution, and had not covered more than ten yards when what
I take to be machine-gun fire was opened on us.

All at once, without the slightest warning, a real hail of bullets
struck us, and of the ten men of us who were advancing in single file
three were killed and four were wounded. The three who were shot down in
the ghastly glare of the star-shells were ahead of me.

When that happened we were ordered to keep well apart and open out, but
there was not much chance for those of us who were left; at any rate, no
sooner had we obeyed and were making a little headway than I was struck
myself on the head.

For half-an-hour or so I was unconscious; then I recovered and picked
myself up and found that I was all alone. I crawled a few yards to a
trench and got into it; but finding it full of water I thought I might
as well be killed as drowned, so I got out, and not caring in the least
for the German bullets or the star-shells, I made my way as best I could
to the nearest dressing-station, and received attention. After that I
found myself in a motor-car, and later at a clearing-station and on the
boat for home.

You can see the scar of the wound here; but I don’t bother about that. I
suffer terribly from sleeplessness--and too often I see again the German
soldiers who had wished us a merry Christmas--and were buried at the
back of their trenches on the gloomy afternoon of Christmas Day.



CHAPTER IX

SAPPING AND MINING: THE “LUCKY COMPANY”

     [In blowing up bridges, repairing the ravages of the enemy, in
     throwing pontoons over rivers, and in countless other ways, the
     Royal Engineers have contributed largely to the success of the
     British operations in the war. These splendid men, known a century
     ago as the Royal Sappers and Miners, have not only worked with the
     greatest energy since the war began, but they have also seen some
     hard fighting. This story of Sapper William Bell, 23rd Field
     Company, Royal Engineers, gives a picture of the many-sided
     operations of the magnificent corps whose mottoes are “Everywhere”
     and “Where right and glory lead.”]


Sheer hard work was the order of the day for our chaps from the time I
landed in France from an old Irish cattle-boat till the day when I was
packed off back to England suffering from rheumatic fever.

We worked excessively hard, and so did everybody else. Wherever there
was an obstacle it had to go, and the infantry themselves time after
time slaved away at digging and clearing, all of which was over and
above the strain of the fighting and tremendous marching. It was a rare
sight to see the Guards sweeping down the corn with their
bayonets--sickles that reaped many a grim harvest then and later.

It was during the early stage of the war that bridges were blown up in
wholesale fashion to check the German advance, and the work being
particularly dangerous we had some very narrow escapes. A very near
thing happened at Soissons.

We had been ordered to blow up a bridge, and during the day we charged
it with gun-cotton, and were waiting to set the fuse until the last of
our troops had crossed over. That was a long business, and exciting
enough for anybody, because for hours the men of a whole division were
passing, and all the time that great passing body of men, horses, guns,
waggons and so on, was under a heavy artillery fire from the Germans.

At last the bridge was clear--it had served its purpose; the division
was on the other side of the river, and all that remained to be done was
to blow up the bridge. Three sections of our company retired, and the
remaining section was left behind to attend to the fuse.

Very soon we heard a terrific report, and the same awful thought
occurred to many of us--that there had been a premature explosion and
that the section was lost. One of my chums, judging by the time of the
fuse, said it was certain that the section was blown up, and indeed it
was actually reported that an officer and a dozen men had been killed.

But, to our intense relief, we learned that the report was wrong; but we
heard also how narrowly our fellows had escaped, and how much they owed
to the presence of mind and coolness of the officer. It seems that as
soon as the fuse was fired the lieutenant instinctively suspected that
something was wrong, and instantly ordered the men to lie flat, with the
result that they were uninjured by the tremendous upheaval of masonry,
though they were a bit shaken when they caught us up on the road later.
This incident gives a good idea of the sort of work and the danger that
the Royal Engineers were constantly experiencing in the earlier stages
of the war, so that one can easily understand what is happening now in
the bitter winter-time.

An Engineer, like the referee in a football match, sees a lot of the
game, and it was near a French village that we had a fine view of a
famous affair.

We had been sent to the spot on special duty, and were resting on the
crest of a hill, watching the effects of the enemy’s field-guns.

Suddenly in the distance we saw figures moving. At first we could not
clearly make them out, but presently we saw that they were Algerian
troops, and that there seemed to be hosts of them. They swarmed on
swiftly, and took up a position in some trenches near us.

The Algerians, like our Indian troops, hate trench fighting, and long to
come to grips with the enemy. We knew this well enough, but we realised
the peril of leaving cover and advancing towards an enemy who was very
close, and who was sweeping the ground with an uncommonly deadly fire.

Putting all fear aside, remembering only their intense desire to come to
grips, giving no thought to what must happen to them, the Algerians with
enthusiastic shouts sprang from the trenches and bounded, like the sons
of the desert they are, across the shell-swept zone that separated them
from the annihilating gunfire of the enemy.

What happened was truly terrible. The Algerians were literally mowed
down, as they charged across the deadly zone, and for a piece of sheer
recklessness I consider that this attack was as good--or as bad--as the
charge of the Light Brigade.

The Algerians were cut to pieces in the mad attempt to reach the German
batteries, and the handful of survivors were forced to retire. To their
everlasting credit be it said that, in withdrawing under that terrible
fire, they did their best to bring their wounded men away. They picked
up as many of the fallen as they could and slung them across the
shoulder, as the best way of carrying them out of danger.

I shall never forget the scene that met my eyes when we returned to the
village. Women were weeping and wringing their hands as the survivors
carried their wounded through the streets--for the French are deeply
attached to their Colonial troops--and the men of the place were nearly
as bad; even some of our chaps, who are not too easily moved, were
upset.

While in this locality we had a very warm time of it, for we were
continuously under artillery fire. We were in a remarkably good position
for seeing the battle, some of our batteries being on our right, some on
our left, and the German guns in front. It was really hot work, and when
we were not hard at it carrying out our own duties, we took cover on the
other side of a hill near the road; but some of our men got rather tired
of cover, and found the position irksome; but if you so much as showed
yourself you were practically done for. One day our trumpeter exposed
himself, just for a moment; but it was enough. He was instantly struck
and badly wounded.

At another time we were in our sleeping-quarters in a school-house, and
had an escape that was truly miraculous. We had settled down and were
feeling pretty comfortable, when the Germans suddenly started shelling
us; suddenly, too, with a terrific crash, a shell dropped and burst in
the very midst of us.

Theoretically, the lot of us in that school-house ought to have been
wiped out by this particular shell, but the extraordinary fact is that
though every one was badly shaken up, only one of our men was
wounded--all the rest of us escaped. Luckily we had the hospital men at
hand, and the poor chap who had been knocked over was taken away at once
to the doctors.

We had had a very hard, hot time, and were glad when the French came and
relieved us, and gave our division a bit of rest and change. The Germans
in that particular part were thoroughly beaten, and a batch of 500 who
were covering the retreat were captured by the French.

They had started for Paris, and were very near it when they were bagged.
I dare say they got to Paris all right. So did we, for we entrained for
the city, but stayed there less than an hour. I had a chance of seeing
something of the thorough way in which Paris had been prepared for
defence, and on my way to Ypres I noticed how extensively the bridges
that were likely to be of any use to the Germans had been destroyed. The
loss in bridges alone in this great war has been stupendous.

When we entered Ypres it was a beautiful old cathedral city; now it is a
shapeless mass of ruins, a melancholy centre of the longest and
deadliest battle that has ever been fought in the history of the world.
We had a rousing reception from the British troops who were already in
the city, and a specially warm greeting from our own R.E. men, who gave
me a huge quantity of pipes, tobacco and cigarettes from home, to divide
amongst our company.

We were soon in the thick of the fiercest and most eventful part of the
fighting. We were put to work digging trenches for the infantry and
fixing up wire entanglements. The wire was in coils half a mile

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 112._

“WE HAD A VERY WARM TIME OF IT” (p. 111).]

long, and what with that and the barbs and the weight, the carrying and
dragging and fixing was a truly fearsome job.

And not only that, but it was extremely dangerous, because we were
constantly under fire--sometimes we were fixing up wire within a few
hundred yards of the German lines. Before getting to Ypres we had
covering parties of infantry to protect us from snipers and sudden
attacks; but at Ypres this protection was rarely given, because of the
very heavy pressure on the firing line. We were ceaselessly sniped; but
on the whole our casualties were remarkably few--but we were always
known as the “Lucky Company.”

In addition to doing this hard and dangerous work, we were roughing it
with a vengeance. Our sleeping-quarters were dug-outs in a wood, and
were lined with straw, when we could get it. The enemy always make a
special point of “searching” woods with shells, and we were so situated
that we were pestered day and night by the German gunners, who were
hoping to draw our artillery fire and so locate our own batteries.
Anything like rest was utterly out of the question owing to these
artillery duels, which were the bane of our life.

Silence was essential for our work, and we used muffled mauls--our big
wooden mallets.

One moonlight night we were going to our usual duties when a shell flew
past, exploding with terrific force within ten paces of us. We took it
to be one of the Germans’ random shots, but after going a short distance
we had more shells bursting about us, and bullets whizzing, telling us
that the enemy’s snipers were at it again. Once more we justified our
nickname of the “Lucky Company,” for we had only one man hit--a fine
chap, whose fighting qualities were well known to us, so we grinned when
he said to me, after being struck on the shoulder, “I should like to
have a look at that German, Bill!”

In the moonlight we offered a first-rate target to the hidden German
snipers, and they certainly ought to have done more with us than just
hit one man; but compared with British soldiers, the Germans, with rare
exceptions, are only “third-class” shots. I have mentioned this little
affair chiefly by way of showing the constant danger to which field
engineers are exposed.

The Germans at that time had their eyes on us properly, and the very
next day they did their level best to make up for their sorry
performance in the moonlight.

We had been told off to dig trenches for the infantry on our left, and
we started out on the job. Rain had been falling heavily, the ground was
like a quagmire, and we had to struggle through marshy ground and
ploughed fields.

This was bad enough in all conscience, but to help to fill the cup of
our misery the German snipers got at us, and gave us what was really a
constant hail of bullets. We floundered on, doing our dead best to reach
a certain wood. After floundering for some time, we were ordered to
halt. By that time we had reached the wood, and the fire was truly
awful.

Behind our tool-carts we usually fasten a big biscuit-tin, which is a
big metal case, and as the sniping became particularly furious, four of
our men bolted for shelter behind the biscuit-tin. I don’t know what it
is in the British soldier that makes him see the humour of even a fatal
situation, but it happened that the rest of us were so tickled at the
sight of our comrades scuttling that we burst out laughing.

But we didn’t laugh long, for shells as well as bullets came, and we saw
that the Germans were concentrating their fire upon us. They were going
for all they were worth at the wood, and our only chance of safety lay
in securing cover. We made a dash for the trees, and I sheltered behind
one.

Then an extraordinary thing happened. A shell came and literally chopped
down the tree. The shell spared my life, but the tumbling tree nearly
got me. Luckily I skipped aside, and just escaped from being crushed to
death by the crashing timber.

The firing was kept up for a long time after that, but we went on with
our work and finished it, and then we were ordered to occupy the
trenches we had just dug. We were glad to get into them, and it was
pleasant music to listen to our own infantry, who had come into action,
and were settling the accounts of some of the German snipers.

Later on we were told to get to a farmhouse, and we did, and held it for
some hours, suffering greatly from thirst and hunger, in consequence of
having missed our meals since the early morning. Some of our tool-carts
had been taken back by the infantry, and this was a far more perilous
task than some people might think, for the carts are usually filled with
detonators, containing high explosives like gun-cotton, and an exploding
shell hitting a cart would cause devastation.

The farmhouse was ranked as a “safe place,” and we reckoned that we were
lucky to get inside it; but it proved anything but lucky, and I grieve
to say that it was here that my particular chum, an old schoolmate, met
his death. We had scarcely reached the “safe place” when the cursed
shells began to burst again, and I said to myself that we were bound to
get some souvenirs. And we did.

My comrades had brought their tea to a hut, and I went there to get my
canteen to take to the cookhouse. No sooner had I left the hut than I
heard a fearful explosion. One gets used to these awful noises, and I
took no notice of it at the time; but shortly afterwards I was told that
my chum had been hit, and I rushed back to the hut. Terrible was the
sight that met me. Eight of our men were lying wounded, amongst them my
friend. With a heavy heart I picked him up, and he died in my arms soon
afterwards. Two other men died before their injuries could be attended
to--and this single shell also killed two officers’ chargers.

It was soon after this that I went through what was perhaps my most
thrilling experience. Again it was night, and we were engaged in our
usual work, when suddenly we heard the sound of heavy rifle fire.
Throwing down our tools, we grabbed our rifles. We had not the slightest
idea of what was happening, but looking cautiously over the parapet of
the trench which we were working on, we could dimly see dark figures in
front, and took them to be Germans.

We were ordered to fire, the word being passed from man to man to take
careful aim; but owing to the darkness this was not an easy thing to do.
We fired, and instantly we were greeted with terrific shouting, and we
knew that the Germans were charging. Not an instant was lost. With fixed
bayonets, out from the trench we jumped, the infantry on our right and
left doing the same.

Carrying out a bayonet charge is an experience I shall never forget. One
loses all sense of fear, and thinks of nothing but going for and
settling the enemy. For my own part I distinctly recollect plunging my
bayonet into a big, heavy German, and almost instantly afterwards
clubbing another with the butt of my rifle. It was only a short fight,
but a very fierce one. The Germans gave way, leaving their dead and
wounded behind them.

When the charge was over we went back to our trenches, taking our
wounded with us. Our company’s casualties numbered about a dozen, the
majority of the men suffering from more or less serious wounds; but we
were pretty well satisfied, and felt that we had earned our sleep that
night.

The next day I had another close shave, a shell bursting very near me
and killing twelve horses belonging to the 15th Hussars, who were on
patrol duty.

After seven weeks of this famous and awful fighting at Ypres, I was
taken ill with rheumatic fever--and no wonder, after such work, and
sleeping in such places as we were forced to occupy. After a spell in
the hospital at Ypres, I was moved on from place to place, till I made
the final stage of the journey to England.

A remarkable thing happened during one of the heavy bombardments that we
endured. A shell came and fell plump in the midst of us, and it really
seemed as if we were all doomed. But the shell did not explode, and on
examining the cap, it was found to bear the number “23.” That, you will
remember, is the number of my own company, so you can understand that we
felt more justified than ever in calling ourselves the “Lucky Company.”



CHAPTER X

L BATTERY’S HEROIC STAND

     [Not one of the almost numberless valiant deeds of the war has
     proved more thrilling and splendid than the exploit of L Battery,
     Royal Horse Artillery, at Nery, near Compiègne, on September 1st,
     1914. After greatly distinguishing itself at Mons, the battery
     helped to cover the retreat of the Allies, and fought a heavy
     rearguard action. On the last day of the retirement the battery
     unexpectedly came into action at very close range with an
     overwhelmingly superior German force. So destructive was the fire
     which was brought to bear on the battery that only one British gun
     was left in action, and this was served, until all the ammunition
     was expended, by Battery-Sergeant-Major Dorrell, Sergeant Nelson,
     Gunner H. Darbyshire and Driver Osborne, all the rest of the
     officers and men of the battery having been killed or wounded. At
     the close of the artillery duel the Queen’s Bays and I Battery came
     to the rescue, and the shattered remnant of L Battery came
     triumphant out of the tremendous fray. This story is told by Gunner
     Darbyshire, who, with Driver Osborne, was awarded the great
     distinction of the Médaille Militaire of France, while the
     sergeant-major and Sergeant Nelson for their gallantry were
     promoted to second-lieutenants, and awarded the Victoria Cross.]


As soon as we got into touch with the Germans--and that was at
Mons--they never left us alone. We had a hot time with them, but we gave
them a hotter. Mons was a terrible experience, especially to men going
straight into action for the first time, and so furious was the
artillery duel that at its height some of the British and German shells
actually struck each other in the air. In less than an hour we fired
nearly six hundred rounds--the full number carried by a battery of six
guns. But I must not talk of Mons; I will get to the neighbourhood of
Compiègne, and tell of the fight that was sprung on the battery and left
only three survivors.

All through the retreat we had been fighting heavily, and throughout the
day on August 31st we fought till four o’clock in the afternoon; then we
were ordered to retire to Compiègne. It was a long march, and when we
got to Nery, near Compiègne, early in the evening, both horses and men
were utterly exhausted and very hungry. As soon as we got in we gave the
horses some food--with the mounted man the horse always comes first--and
made ourselves as comfortable as possible.

Outposts were put out by the officers, and the cavalry who were with us,
the 2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays), were in a small field on the side
of a road which was opposite to us. That road was really a deep cutting,
and I want you to bear it in mind, because it largely proved the
salvation of the few survivors of the battery at the end of the fight.
For the rest, the country was just of the sort you can see in many
places in England--peaceful, fertile and prosperous, with farms dotted
about, but nobody left on them, for the warning had been given that the
German hordes were marching, and the people had fled in terror.

Having made all our dispositions, we went to sleep, and rested till
half-past three in the morning, when we were roused and told to get
ready to march at a moment’s notice.

The darkness seemed to hang about more than usual, and the morning was
very misty; but we did not pay much attention to that, and we
breakfasted and fed the horses. We expected to be off again, but the
battery was ordered to stand fast until further notice.

In war-time never a moment is wasted, and Sergeant-Major Dorrell thought
that this would be a good opportunity to water the horses, so he ordered
the right half-battery to water, and the horses were taken behind a
sugar factory which was a little distance away. The horses were watered
and brought back and hooked into the guns and waggons; then the left
half-battery went to water.

Everything was perfectly quiet. Day had broken, and the landscape was
hidden in the grey veil of the early morning. All was well, it seemed,
and we were now expecting to move off. A ridge about 600 yards away was,
we supposed, occupied by French cavalry, and a general and orderly
retreat was going on in our rear. Then, without the slightest warning, a
“ranging” shot was dropped into the battery, and we knew instantly that
the Germans were on us and had fired this trial shot to get the range of
us.

Immediately after this round was fired the whole place was alive with
shrapnel and maxim bullets, and it was clear that the battery was almost
surrounded by German artillery and infantry. As a matter of fact, the
French cavalry had left their position on the ridge before daybreak, and
a strong German force, with ten guns and two maxims, had advanced under
cover of the mist and occupied the position, which was an uncommonly
good one for artillery.

We were taken completely by surprise, and at first could do nothing, for
the “ranging” shot was followed by an absolute hail of shrapnel, which
almost blew the battery to pieces.

The very beginning of the German fire made havoc amongst the battery and
the Bays, and the losses amongst the horses were particularly severe and
crippling. But we soon pulled ourselves together, with a fierce
determination to save the battery, and to do our best to give the
Germans a vast deal more than they were giving us.

“Who’ll volunteer to get the guns into action?” shouted Captain
Bradbury.

Every man who could stand and fight said “Me!” and there was an instant
rush for the guns. Owing to heavy losses in our battery, I had become
limber gunner, and it was part of my special duty to see to the
ammunition in the limbers. But special duties at a time like that don’t
count for much; the chief thing is to keep the guns going, and it was
now a case of every one, officer and man, striving his best to save the
battery. The officers, while they lived and could keep up at all, were
noble, and worked exactly like the men. From start to finish of that
fatal fight they set a glorious example.

We rushed to the guns, I say, and with the horses, when they were living
and unhurt, and man-handling when the poor beasts were killed or maimed,
we made shift to bring as heavy a fire as we could raise against the
Germans. The advantage was clearly and undoubtedly with them--they were
in position, they had our range, and they had far more guns and men,
while we had half our horses watering by the sugar mill and shells were
thick in the air and ploughing up the earth before we could get a single
gun into action.

Let me stop for a minute to explain what actually happened to the guns,
so that you can understand the odds against us as we fought. The guns,
as you have seen, were ready for marching, not for fighting, which we
were not expecting; half the horses were away, many at the guns were
killed or wounded, and officers and men had suffered fearfully in the
course literally of a few seconds after the “ranging” shot plumped into
us.

The first gun came to grief through the terrified horses bolting and
overturning it on the steep bank of the road in front of us; the second
gun had the spokes of a wheel blown out by one of the very first of the
German shells, the third was disabled by a direct hit with a shell which
killed the detachment; the fourth was left standing, though the wheels
got knocked about and several holes were made in the limber, and all the
horses were shot down. The fifth gun was brought into action, but was
silenced by the detachment being killed, and the sixth gun, our own,
remained the whole time, though the side of the limber was blown away,
the wheels were severely damaged, holes were blown in the shield, and
the buffer was badly peppered by shrapnel bullets. The gun was a wreck,
but, like many another wreck, it held gallantly on until the storm was
over--and it was saved at last.

In a shell fire that was incessant and terrific, accompanied by the hail
of bullets from the maxims, we got to work.

We had had some truly tremendous cannonading at Mons; but this was
infinitely worse, for the very life of the battery was in peril, and it
was a point-blank battle, just rapid, ding-dong kill-fire, our own
shells and the Germans’ bursting in a fraction of time after leaving the
muzzles of the guns.

As soon as we were fairly in action, the Germans gave us a fiercer fire
than ever, and it is only just to them to say that their practice was
magnificent; but I think we got the pull of them, crippled and shattered
though we were--nay, I know we did, for when the bloody business was all
over, we counted far more of the German dead than all our battery had
numbered at the start.

The thirteen-pounders of the Royal Horse Artillery can be fired at the
rate of fifteen rounds a minute, and though we were not perhaps doing
that, because we were short-handed and the limbers were about thirty
yards away, still we were making splendid practice, and it was telling
heavily on the Germans.

As the mist melted away we could at that short distance see them
plainly--and they made a target which we took care not to miss. We went
for the German guns and fighting men, and the Germans did all they knew
to smash us--but they didn’t know enough, and failed.

As soon as we got number six gun into action I jumped into the seat and
began firing, but so awful was the concussion of our own explosions and
the bursting German shells that I could not bear it for long. I kept it
up for about twenty minutes, then my nose and ears were bleeding because
of the concussion, and I could not fire any more, so I left the seat and
got a change by fetching ammunition.

And now there happened one of those things which, though they seem
marvellous, are always taking place in time of war, and especially such
a war as this, when life is lost at every turn. Immediately after I
left the seat, Lieutenant Campbell, who had been helping with the
ammunition, took it, and kept the firing up without the loss of a second
of time; but he had not fired more than a couple of rounds when a shell
burst under the shield. The explosion was awful, and the brave young
officer was hurled about six yards away from the very seat in which I
had been sitting a few seconds earlier. There is no human hope against
such injuries, and Mr. Campbell lived for only a few minutes.

Another officer who fell quickly while doing dangerous work was
Lieutenant Mundy, my section officer. He was finding the range and
reporting the effects of our shells. To do that he had left the
protection of the shield and was sitting on the ground alongside the gun
wheel. This was a perilous position, being completely exposed to the
shells which were bursting all around. Mr. Mundy was killed by an
exploding shell which also wounded me. A piece of the shell caught me
just behind the shoulder-blade. I felt it go into my back, but did not
take much notice of it at the time, and went on serving the gun. Mr.
Mundy had taken the place of Mr. Marsden, the left-section officer. The
latter had gone out from home with us; but he had been badly wounded at
Mons, where a shrapnel bullet went through the roof of his mouth and
came out of his neck. In spite of that dreadful injury, however, he
stuck bravely to his section.

I am getting on a bit too fast, perhaps, so I will return to the time
when I had to leave the seat of the gun owing to the way in which the
concussion had affected me. When I felt a little better I began to help
Driver Osborne to fetch ammunition from the waggons. I had just managed
to get back to the gun with an armful of ammunition, when a lyddite
shell exploded behind me, threw me to the ground, and partly stunned me.

I was on the ground for what seemed to be about five minutes and thought
I was gone; but when I came round I got up and found that I was
uninjured. On looking round, however, I saw that Captain Bradbury, who
had played a splendid part in getting the guns into action, had been
knocked down by the same shell that floored me. I had been thrown on my
face, Captain Bradbury had been knocked down backwards, and he was about
two yards away from me. When I came to my senses I went up to him and
saw that he was mortally wounded. He expired a few minutes afterwards.
Though the captain knew that death was very near, he thought of his men
to the last, and repeatedly begged to be carried away, so that they
should not be upset by seeing him or hearing the cries which he could
not restrain. Two of the men who were wounded, and were lying in the
shelter of a neighbouring haystack, crawled up and managed to take the
captain back with them; but he died almost as soon as the haystack was
reached.

By this time our little camp was an utter wreck. Horses and men were
lying everywhere, some of the horses absolutely blown to pieces; waggons
and guns were turned upside down, and all around was the ruin caused by
the German shells. The camp was littered with fragments of shell and our
own cartridge-cases, while the ground looked as if it had been ploughed
and harrowed anyhow. Nearly all the officers and men had been either
killed or wounded.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Germans literally rained shrapnel
and bullets on us. A German shell is filled with about three hundred
bullets, so that with two or three shells bursting you get as big a
cloud of bullets as you would receive from a battalion of infantry.

The Germans had ten of their guns and two machine-guns going, and it is
simply marvellous that every man and horse in our battery was not
destroyed. Bear in mind, too, that the German artillery was not all
field-guns--they had big guns with them, and they fired into us with the
simple object of wiping us out. That is quite all right, of course; but
they never gave a thought to our wounded--they went for them just as
mercilessly as they bombarded the rest.

There was a little farmhouse in our camp, an ordinary French farm
building with a few round haystacks near it. When the fight began, we
thought of using this building as a hospital; but it was so clear that
the place was an absolute death-trap that we gave up that idea very
quickly, and got our wounded under the shelter of one of the haystacks,
where they were pretty safe so long as the stack did not catch fire,
because a good thick stack will resist even direct artillery fire in a
wonderful manner. But the Germans got their guns on this particular
stack, and it was a very bad look-out for our poor, helpless fellows,
many of whom had been badly mangled.

As for the farmhouse it was blown to pieces, as I saw afterwards when I
visited it, and not a soul could have lived in the place. Walls,
windows, roof, ceilings--all were smashed, and the furniture was in
fragments. A building like that was a fair target; but the haystack was
different, and the Germans did a thing that no British gunners would
have done. At that short distance they could see perfectly clearly what
was happening--they could see that as our wounded fell we got hold of
them and dragged them out of the deadly hail to the shelter of the
stack, about a score of yards away, to comparative safety. Noticing
this, one of the German officers immediately concentrated a heavy shell
fire on the heap of wounded--thirty or forty helpless men--in an attempt
to set fire to the stack. That was a deliberate effort to destroy
wounded men. We saw that, and the sight helped us to put more strength
into our determination to smash the German guns.

The Germans were mad to wipe us out, and I know that for my own part I
would not have fallen into their clutches alive. My mind was quite made
up on that point, for I had seen many a British soldier who had fallen
on the roadside, dead beat, and gone to sleep--and slept for the last
time when the Germans came up. On a previous occasion we passed through
one place where there had been a fight--it must have been in the
darkness--and the wounded had been put in a cemetery, the idea being
that the Germans would not touch a cemetery. That idea proved to be
wrong. One of the German aeroplanes that were constantly hovering over
the battery had given some German batteries our position, but we got
away, and the German gunners, enraged at our escape, instantly dropped
shells into the cemetery, to wipe the wounded out. If they would do that
they would not hesitate to fire deliberately on our wounded under the
haystack--and they did not hesitate.

It was not many minutes after the fight began in the mist when only
number six gun was left in the battery, and four of us survived to serve
it--the sergeant-major, who had taken command; Sergeant Nelson, myself,
and Driver Osborne, and we fired as fast as we could in a noise that was
now more terrible than ever and in a little camp that was utter
wreckage. There was the ceaseless din of screaming, bursting shells, the
cries of the wounded, for whom we could do something, but not much, and
the cries of the poor horses, for which we could do nothing. The noise
they made was like the grizzling of a child that is not well--a very
pitiful sound, but, of course, on a much bigger scale; and that sound of
suffering went up from everywhere around us, because everywhere there
were wounded horses.

It was not long before we managed to silence several German guns. But
very soon Sergeant Nelson was severely wounded by a bursting shell, and
that left only three of us.

The Bays’ horses, like our own, had been either killed or wounded or had
bolted, but the men had managed to get down on the right of us and take
cover under the steep bank of the road, and from that position, which
was really a natural trench, they fired destructively on the Germans.

British cavalry, dismounted, have done some glorious work in this great
war, but they have done nothing finer, I think, than their work near
Compiègne on that September morning. And of all the splendid work there
was none more splendid than the performance of a lance-corporal, who
actually planted a maxim on his own knees and rattled into the Germans
with it. There was plenty of kick in the job, but he held on gamely, and
he must have done heavy execution with his six hundred bullets a minute.

This rifle and maxim fire of the Bays had a wonderful

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 128._

“PLANTED A MAXIM ON HIS OWN KNEES AND RATTLED INTO THE GERMANS.”]

effect in silencing the German fire, and it helped us greatly when we
came to the last stage of the duel.

I don’t know how many of the Bays there were, but it was impossible for
them to charge, even if they had had their horses, owing to the fact
that the road in front of us was a deep cutting. If the cutting had not
been there the Uhlans, who alone considerably outnumbered us, would have
swept down on us and there would not have been anyone left in L Battery
at any rate.

By the time we had practically silenced the German guns the three of us
who were surviving were utterly exhausted. Osborne, who was kneeling
beside a waggon wheel, had a narrow escape from being killed. A shell
burst between the wheel and the waggon body, tore the wheel off, and
sent the spokes flying all over the place. One of the spokes caught
Osborne just over the ribs and knocked him over, backwards.

I looked round on hearing the explosion of the shell, and said, “I think
Osborne’s gone this time,” but we were thankful to find that he was only
knocked over. One of his ribs was fractured, but we did not know of this
till afterwards.

Meanwhile, the men who had gone to water the horses of the left-half
battery had heard the firing, and had tried hard to get back to help us;
but they were met on the road by an officer, who said that the battery
was practically annihilated, and it would be useless for them to return.
The Germans had seen them watering the horses, and had begun to shell
the sugar factory. This caused the remaining horses of the battery to
gallop away, and a lot of them were killed as they galloped, though a
good many got away and were afterwards found in the neighbouring town
of Compiègne, wandering about. As for the men, they “mooched” in any
direction as stragglers, and eventually we came up with them.

The three of us had served the gun and kept it in action till it was
almost too hot to work, and we were nearly worn out; but we went on
firing, and with a good heart, for we knew that the Germans had been
badly pounded, that the Bays had them in a grip, and that another
battery of horse-gunners was dashing to the rescue. On they came, in
glorious style--there is no finer sight than that of a horse battery
galloping into action.

Two or three miles away from us I Battery had heard the heavy firing,
and knew that something must be happening to us. Round they turned, and
on they dashed, taking everything before them and stopping for nothing
till they reached a ridge about 2000 yards away; then they unlimbered
and got into action, and never was there grander music heard than that
which greeted the three of us who were left in L Battery when the saving
shells of “I” screamed over us and put the finish to the German rout.

In a speech made to I Battery Sir John French said--

“No branch of the Service has done better work in this campaign than the
Royal Horse Artillery. It is impossible to pick out one occasion more
than another during this campaign on which I Battery has specially
distinguished itself, because the battery has always done brilliant
work. Your general tells me that you were in action continuously for ten
days....”

We had been pretty well hammered out of existence, but we had a kick
left in us, and we gave it, and what with this and the Bays and the
bashing by the fresh battery, the Germans soon had enough of it, and for
the time being they made no further effort to molest us.

At last the fight was finished. We had--thank God!--saved the guns, and
the Germans, despite their frantic efforts, had made no progress, and
had only a heap of dead and wounded and a lot of battered guns to show
for their attempt to smash us in the morning mist. We had kept them off
day after day, and we kept them off again. We had been badly punished,
but we had mauled them terribly in the fight, which lasted about an
hour.

Three of our guns had been disabled, two waggons blown up, and many
wheels blown off the waggons.

Some strange things had happened between Mons and Compiègne, and now
that the duel had ended we had a chance of recollecting them and
counting up the cost to us. Corporal Wheeler Carnham was knocked down
while trying to stop a runaway ammunition waggon, and one of the wheels
went over his legs. He managed to get on his feet again, but he had no
sooner done so than he was struck on the legs by a piece of shell. At
Compiègne two gunners were blown to pieces and could not be identified.
Driver Laws had both legs broken by a waggon which turned over at Mons,
and afterwards the waggon was blown up, and he went with it.
Shoeing-Smith Heath was standing alongside me at Compiègne when the
firing began. I told him to keep his head down, but he didn’t do so--and
lost it. The farrier was badly wounded, and the quartermaster-sergeant
was knocked down and run over by an ammunition waggon. Gunner Huddle, a
signaller, was looking through his glasses to try to find out where the
shells were coming from, when he was struck on the head by a piece of
bursting shell.

Our commanding officer, Major the Hon. W. D. Sclater-Booth, was standing
behind the battery, dismounted, as we all were, observing the fall of
the shells, when he was hit by a splinter from a bursting shell and
severely wounded. He was removed, and we did not see him again until we
were on the way to the base. As far as I remember, he was taken off by
one of the cavalry officers from the Bays.

Lieutenant Giffard, our right section officer, was injured early in the
fight by a shell which shattered his left knee, and he was taken and
placed with the rest of the wounded behind the haystack, where in a very
short time they were literally piled up. As soon as the officers and men
fell we did the best we could for them; but all we could do was just
simply to drag them out of the danger of the bursting shells. Luckily,
this particular haystack escaped fairly well, but very soon after the
fight began nearly every haystack in the camp was blazing fiercely, set
on fire by the German shells.

The first thing to be done after the fight was to bury our dead and
collect our wounded, and in this sorrowful task we were helped by the
Middlesex Regiment--the old “Die-Hards”--who have done so splendidly and
suffered so heavily in this war. They, like I Battery, had come up, and
we were very glad to see them. Some of our gallant wounded were beyond
help, because of the shrapnel fire.

We buried our dead on the field where they had fallen, amidst the ruins
of the battery they had fought to save, and with the fire and smoke
still rising from the ruined buildings and the burning haystacks.

Another thing we did was to go round and shoot the poor horses that were
hopelessly hurt--and a sorry task it was. One waggon we went to had five
horses killed--only one horse was left out of the six which had been
hooked in to march away in the mist of the morning; so we shot him and
put him out of his misery. We had to shoot about twenty horses; but the
rest were already dead, mostly blown to pieces and scattered over the
field--a dreadful sight.

When we had buried the dead, collected our wounded, and destroyed our
helpless horses, the guns of our battery were limbered up on to sound
waggon limbers, and a pair of horses were borrowed from each sub-section
of I Battery to take them away. Everything else was left
behind--waggons, accoutrements, clothing, caps, and so on, and the
battery was taken to a little village about four miles from Compiègne,
where we tried to snatch a bit of rest; but we had no chance of getting
it, owing to the harassing pursuit of big bodies of Uhlans.

From that time, until we reached the base, we wandered about as best we
could, and managed to live on what we could get, which was not much. We
were in a pretty sorry state, most of us without caps or jackets, and we
obtained food from other units that we passed on the road.

We were marching, dismounted, day and night, till we reached the
rail-head, where I was transferred to the base and sent home. The
sergeant-major and Osborne came home at the same time, and the
sergeant-major is now a commissioned officer. So is Sergeant Nelson.

After such a furious fight and all the hardships and sufferings of Mons
and the retreat, it seems strange and unreal to be back in peaceful
London. I don’t know what will happen to me, of course, but whatever
comes I earnestly hope that some day I shall be able to go back to the
little camp where we fought in the morning mist in such a deadly hail of
shell, and look at the resting-places of the brave officers and men who
gave their lives to save the battery they loved so well.



CHAPTER XI

SIXTEEN WEEKS OF FIGHTING

     [Indomitable cheerfulness and consistent courage are two of the
     outstanding features of the conduct of the British soldier in the
     war, and these qualities are finely shown in this story of some of
     the doings of the 1st Battalion Queen’s Own Royal West Kent
     Regiment, which has greatly distinguished itself and suffered
     heavily. Private Montgomery is a member of a fighting family, for
     he has a brother in the Royal Navy, two brothers in the Rifle
     Brigade, one in the Army Service Corps, and one in the Royal Army
     Medical Corps, so that there are six brothers serving their country
     in this time of urgent need.]


I don’t know whether you have seen the picture of the retreat from
Moscow, showing everybody going along in a drove, this, that, and the
other way. You know it? Well, that wasn’t a patch on some parts of the
great retirement on Paris; but there was this enormous difference, that
the retreat from Moscow was just that and nothing more, while our
retirement was simply the beginning of what was to be a splendid
victory.

It led up to the present tremendous fighting and this terrific trench
work; and let me say that it is impossible for anybody who has not taken
part in that trench warfare to realise what it means. Words and pictures
will enable you to understand the life to some extent, but only by
sharing in it will you fully realise its awful meaning.

But I’m not grumbling--I’m only stating a fact. Trench life is hard and
dismal work, especially in a winter like this; but everything that it
has been possible to do for the British soldier by the folk at home has
been done.

Look at this--one of the new skin coats that have been served out to us.
This is the way we wear it--yes, it certainly does smell, but it’s
goat-skin, and might have done with a bit more curing--and I can tell
you that it takes a lot of even the wet and wind of the Low Countries to
get through the fur and skin. These coats are splendid, and a perfect
godsend.

I won’t attempt to tell you about things exactly as they happened; I’ll
talk of them just as they come into my mind, so that you can understand
what the Royal West Kents have done.

I can speak, I hope, as a fully-trained soldier, for I served eight
years with the colours and two years in the Reserve before I was called
up, and I did seven years abroad, in China, Singapore, and India; so I
had got into the way of observing things that interest a soldier.

Well, one of my first and worst experiences was when at about ten-thirty
at night the order for a general retirement was given, but through some
mistake that order did not reach a sergeant and fourteen of the West
Kents, of whom I was one, and it was not until just before four o’clock
in the morning that we got the word, and began to try and pull ourselves
out of it.

The Germans were then not more than eighty yards away from us, and our
position was desperate. To make matters worse, the bridge by which we
had to get across a neighbouring canal had been blown up, but as it
happened the detonator on the overhead part of the bridge had not
exploded, so that there was still a sort of communication across the
water.

The bridge was full of wire entanglements and broken chains--a mass of
metal wreckage--and the only way of crossing was to scramble along the
ruins and crawl along what had been the iron parapet, which was only
eight or nine inches wide. You will best understand what I mean if you
imagine one of the iron bridges over the Thames destroyed, and that the
principal thing left is the flat-topped iron side which you often see.

Under a terrible fire we made for the parapet and got on to it as best
we could. I was the last man but one to get on to it. Just in front of
me was Lance-corporal Gibson, and just behind me was Private Bailey.

With the Germans so near, so many of them, and keeping up such a heavy
fire on us, you can imagine what it meant to crawl along a twisted
parapet like that. The marvel is that a single one of us escaped, but a
few of us did, which was no credit to the German marksmanship.

The bullets whizzed and whistled around us and very soon both the man in
front of me and the man behind were struck.

The corporal was knocked straight over and disappeared. Bailey was shot
through the instep, but he managed to hold on to the parapet, and to
make a very singular request.

“Mont,” he said, “come and take my boot off!”

I turned round and saw what had happened to him; but, of course, it
wasn’t possible to do what he asked, when it needed every bit of one’s
strength and skill to hang on to the parapet and keep crawling, so I
cried back, “Never mind about taking your boot off--come on!”

It was no use saying anything; poor chap, he would insist on having his
boot off, so I said, “For Heaven’s sake get along, or we shall all get
knocked over!” And with that I started to crawl again, and to get ahead
as best I could.

The corporal, as I have said, had gone; he had been hit right between
the shoulder-blades, and I just saw him roll over into the horrible
barbed-wire entanglements.

What exactly happened to poor Bailey I don’t know. I hadn’t a chance of
looking back, but I heard afterwards that both he and the corporal were
found lying there, dead, with their faces spattered with blood.

At last, after what seemed like a miraculous escape, I got clear of the
parapet, with a few more, and landed safely on the other side of the
canal, looking for the West Kents; but it had been impossible to re-form
any battalion, and regiments were walking about like flocks of sheep.
Efforts were being made to re-form our own men, but at that time there
was no chance of doing so.

It was the sight of these disorganised and wandering soldiers that
brought to my mind the picture of the retreat from Moscow.

It was not until we reached Le Cateau that the handful of us rejoined
the regiment, and so far as fighting went we merely changed from bad to
worse.

At Le Cateau the West Kents held the second line of trenches, and the
Yorkshire Light Infantry were in the first line, so that we were
supporting them. We had the 121st and 122nd Batteries of the Royal
Field Artillery in front of us--and no troops could wish for better
gunners than the British.

We got into the trenches at about four-thirty on the morning of the
26th, and remained in them for something like twelve hours, and during
that time we took part in what was probably the fiercest battle that had
ever been fought up to that time, though there was worse to follow in
the Ypres region. We were rather unlucky, as it happened, because we
were forced to lie in the trenches and watch the other regiments and our
artillery shelling the enemy without our being able to fire a shot, for
we were so placed that we could not do anything effective against the
enemy just then.

The Yorkshire Light Infantry retired, and then came the order for the
West Kents to go. It was an order that needed the greatest care and
courage to carry out, but it had been given, and, of course, the West
Kents always do just what they are told to do. We did so now, with the
result, I am proud to say, that we carried out Colonel Martyn’s command
to the letter.

“Don’t get excited in any way,” he said. “Just go off as if you were on
battalion parade.”

And we did, and the colonel showed us how to do it, for he walked off
just as he might have walked off the barrack square, though all the time
we were under heavy shell fire and our men were falling. We lost a fair
number, but not many, considering the nature of the fire upon us.

We got as far as St. Quentin, which is a big town, trying to find out
where our regiment had gone; but we got cold comfort, for a man came up
and said: “It’s no good going in there. The town’s surrounded. The best
thing you can do is to put down your arms and surrender.”

We didn’t relish the surrender suggestion, and we started to make
inquiries. A sergeant who spoke French went up to a gendarme who was at
the side of the railway station, and asked him if it was true that the
town was surrounded.

The gendarme replied that he didn’t know, but he believed the statement
was true; anyway he advised us to remain where we were.

Not satisfied with that, about half a dozen of us went up to a French
cavalry officer and put the question to him.

The cavalry officer, like the gendarme, said he didn’t know, but told us
that the best thing we could do was to go on to a place, which he named,
about eight miles away, and off we went; but before we reached it we
came across a cavalry division, and learned that it was not safe to go
farther. Again we were advised to remain where we were, and we did for
the time being.

It was not until later that we discovered what a narrow escape we had
had, for three German cavalry divisions had been ordered to pursue the
retiring troops hereabouts, but through a blunder the order had
miscarried and the Uhlans did not follow us.

In such a serious business as this we had, of course, lost heavily, and
we continued to lose. Major Buckle, D.S.O., one of the bravest men that
ever stepped in a pair of shoes in the British Army, lost his life in
attempting to distribute the West Kents. That is merely one of many
instances of officers and men who were killed under fire.

Sometimes men were lost in the most extraordinary manner, especially
owing to shell fire. At one time about six big shells burst, and in the
wreckage caused by one of the explosions ten men were buried.

Men volunteered to go and try to dig these poor fellows out, but as fast
as the volunteers got to work they, too, were shelled and buried, so
that in the end about thirty men were buried--buried alive. It was
useless to attempt to continue such a forlorn hope, and it was
impossible to dig the men out, so they had to be left. It was hard to do
this, but there was nothing else for it.

Bodies of men were lost, too, as prisoners, when overpowering numbers of
Germans had to be met, or when the Germans rushed unarmed men and left
them no alternative to capture. A doctor and twenty-five men of the West
Kents who were acting as stretcher-bearers were taken. Very splendid
work is done by the stretcher-bearers, who go to the trenches every
night to collect the wounded, and bring them in to the hospitals. All
sorts of buildings and places are used as hospitals, and in this case it
was the cellar of a house in a village that was utilised. The men were
not armed, as they were acting as members of the Royal Army Medical
Corps, to render first aid.

Just about midnight the Germans broke through the line and surrounded
the village, and rushed in and captured the stretcher-bearers, and took
them off, no doubt thinking they had gallantly won a very fine prize.

I remember this particular occasion well, because on the following
morning we were reinforced by some of the native Bhopal Infantry, from
India, and that took me back to the time I spent in that country. Little
did I think in those days, when we were associated so much with the
troops of the Indian Army, that the day would come when, in the heart of
winter, we and the Indians would be fighting side by side in the awful
Low Countries.

I got used to the heat of the day and the cold of the night in India,
but it wasn’t easy to become accustomed to the sweltering heat of the
earlier days of the war, or the bitter cold of the winter.

One day, not long before I came home, we had six miles to do, after a
very heavy fall of snow. We ploughed through the snow in the daytime,
and at night we travelled in the transport, but what with the snow by
day and the bitter freezing by night, we were fourteen hours covering
that short distance--which works out at something under half a mile an
hour. And that was the roundabout way we had to go to get at some enemy
trenches which were only about fifty yards away from us. But, in spite
of this terrific weather, we had only one or two cases of frost-bite.

A change on trench work and actual fighting came with my being told off
as an ammunition carrier. There are two ammunition carriers to each
company, and our duty was to keep the firing line well supplied with
ammunition. This we fetched from the pack-mules, which were some
distance away, and we took it to the men in the firing line in
bandoliers, which we filled from the boxes carried by the mules. It was
lively work, especially when the mules turned awkward and the firing was
hot; but we got through it all right--Lance-Corporal Tweedale and
myself.

One night, when the shell and rifle fire was very heavy, we went up to
the firing line with ammunition, which was badly wanted, and we had such
a hot time of it that the officer in charge advised us to remain for a
couple of hours, till the firing slackened or ceased; but we had a
feeling that it would be more comfortable in the rear, and as the matter
rested with us we started off to get back.

This was one of the most uncomfortable bits of journeying I ever
undertook, for in order to shelter from the fire of the Germans, which
threatened every second to kill us, we had to crawl along a ditch for
fully three-quarters of a mile. We crawled along in the darkness, with
the bullets whizzing and shells bursting; but we lay low, and at last
got out of it and landed back at the rear, which was certainly more
agreeable than being in the very thick of the firing line.

I am proud to be one of the Royal West Kents, because they have done so
well in this great war. “Give ’em a job and they’ll do it,” a general
said of us, just after Le Cateau. One day another general said, “What
regiment is that coming out of the trenches?” The answer was, “The Royal
West Kent, sir,” and the general promptly said, “For Heaven’s sake give
them a rest--they’ve earned it!” But we hadn’t gone more than two
hundred yards when a staff officer told us to get into position in a
field and dig ourselves in--and we were the last out of action that day.

At another time, when we had been hard at it, a general said: “Come on,
West Kents! In another half-hour you’ll be in your billets.” And we went
on, for that sounded very cheerful; but, instead of going into billets,
we had half-an-hour’s rest for a drop of tea--then we went on outpost
duty for the night, and woke in the morning in a big scrap.

I am mentioning these things just to show how unexpectedly
disappointments came at times; but we soon got into the way of taking
these set-backs as part of the day’s work.

When the winter advanced, the strain became uncommonly severe, but we
were able to bear it owing to the first-rate system of relief we had--a
relief which gave us as much change as possible on the confinement and
hardship of the actual trenches.

Some very strange things happened in the trenches, and none were
stranger than those cases of men being in them for long periods under
heavy fire and escaping scot free, to be succeeded by others who lost
their lives almost as soon as they got into their places.

There was one youngster--he could not have been more than seventeen or
eighteen--who had been in France only about a fortnight. He was having
his second day in the trenches, and, like a good many more who are new
to the business, he was curious to see what was going on. This was
particularly dangerous, as the Germans were only sixty yards away, and
any seen movement on the part of our men brought instant fire.

The officer kept telling the youngster to keep down, and more than once
he pulled him down; but the lad seemed fascinated by the port-hole of
the trench--the loop-hole, it is generally called--and he looked through
it again; once too often, for a German marksman must have spotted him.
Anyway, a bullet came through the port-hole and struck the lad just
under the eye, went through his brain, and killed him on the spot.

I will give you another curious instance, that of Sergeant Sharpe. It
was his turn to be in reserve, but he had volunteered to go up to the
trenches, to look round. He had scarcely had time to put his feet in
them before a shot came and struck him between the eyes, killing him
instantly.

I specially remember the sad case of the inquisitive youngster, because
it happened on the very day I was wounded, and that was December 16. I
was in a trench, sitting over a coke fire in a biscuit tin, when a
bullet struck me on the chin--here’s the scar--then went to the back of
the trench, where it struck a fellow on the head, without seriously
hurting him, and came back to me, hitting me just over the right eye,
but not doing any serious mischief. After that I was sent into hospital,
and later on came home.

On the way back I came across two very singular cases. One was that of a
man who had had his arm amputated only a fortnight previously, and he
was not used to it. He used to turn round and say, “I keep putting up my
hand to scratch the back of it--and the hand isn’t there!”

I saw another poor fellow--quite a youngster--who was being carried on a
stretcher to the train. Both his legs had been blown off by a shell. I
was right alongside when he said, “For Heaven’s sake cover up my
feet--they’re cold!” He lived for about half an hour after that, but
never reached the train.

There is one thing I would like to say in finishing, and that is to
thank our own flesh and blood for what they have done for us. I’m sure
there never can have been a war in which so much has been done in the
way of sending presents like cigarettes and tobacco; but I think that
too much has been sent at one time, and that friends would do well to
keep some of the good gifts back a bit. They will all be wanted later
on.



CHAPTER XII

A DAISY-CHAIN OF BANDOLIERS

     [In this story we become acquainted with a brilliant bit of work
     done by our brave little Gurkhas, fresh from India, and we learn of
     a splendid achievement under a deadly fire--the sort of act for
     which many of the Victoria Crosses awarded recently have been
     given. The teller of this story was, at the time of writing, home
     from the front. He is Private W. H. Cooperwaite, 2nd Battalion
     Durham Light Infantry, a fine type of the Northerners who have done
     so much and suffered so heavily in the war.]


I was wounded at Ypres--badly bruised in the back by a piece of a “Jack
Johnson.” There is nothing strange in that, and people have got used to
hearing of these German shells; but the main thing about this particular
customer was that it was the only one that burst out of eighteen “Jack
Johnsons” I counted at one time. If the other seventeen had blown up, I
and a lot more of the Durhams would not have been left alive. That same
shell killed two of my comrades.

We went into action very soon after leaving England. We had had plenty
of tough marching, and on the way we grew accustomed to the terrible
evidences of the Germans’ outrages.

In one place, going towards Coulommiers, we came across tracks of the
German hosts. They had ravaged and destroyed wherever they had passed,
and amongst other sights our battalion saw were the bodies of two young
girls who had been murdered. The men didn’t say much when they set eyes
on that, but they marched a good deal quicker, and so far from feeling
any fear about meeting the Germans, the sole wish was to get at them.

After a four days’ march we got to Coulommiers, where we came up with
the French, who had been holding the Germans back and doing fine work.
That was in the middle of September, when the Battle of the Aisne was in
full swing. On the 19th we went into the trenches, and after a spell in
them we were billeted in a house. We had settled down nicely and
comfortably, when crash came a shell, and so tremendous was the mischief
it did that we had only just time to make a rush and clear out before
the house collapsed.

It just sort of fell down, as if it was tired out, and what had been our
billet was a gaping ruin. That was the kind of damage which was being
done in all directions, and it told with sorry effect on those who were
not so lucky as we had been, and were buried in the smash. All the
cellars were crowded with people who had taken refuge in them, and they
lived in a state of terror and misery during these continuous
bombardments by German guns.

After that lively bit of billeting we returned to the trenches, and on
Sunday, the 20th, with the West Yorkshires on our right, we were in the
very thick of heavy fighting. The artillery on both sides was firing
furiously, and the rifles were constantly going. Our own fire from the
trenches was doing very heavy mischief amongst the Germans, and they
were losing men at such a rate that it was clear to them that they
would have to take some means of stopping it, or get so badly mauled
that they could not keep the fight going.

Suddenly there was a curious lull in the fighting and we saw that a
perfect horde of the Germans were marching up to the West Yorkshires,
carrying a huge flag of truce.

It was a welcome sight, and we thought, “Here’s a bit of pie for the
Tykes--they must have been doing good.” They had lost heavily, but it
seemed from this signal of surrender that they were to be rewarded for
their losses.

A large party of the West Yorkshires went out to meet the Germans with
the flag, and I watched them go up until they were within fifty yards of
the enemy. I never suspected that anything wrong would happen, nor did
the West Yorkshires, for the surrender appeared to be a fair and
aboveboard business.

When only that short distance separated the Germans and the West
Yorkshires, the leading files of the surrender party fell apart like
clockwork and there were revealed to us, behind the flag of truce,
stretchers with machine-guns on them, and these guns were set to work at
point-blank range on the West Yorkshires, who, utterly surprised and
unprepared, were simply mown down, and suffered fearfully before they
could pull themselves together.

Now, this dastardly thing was done in full view of us; we could see it
all, and our blood just boiled. What we would have liked best of all was
a bayonet charge; but the Germans were too far off for the steel, and it
seemed as if they were going to have it all their own way.

They had given us a surprise, and a bad one; but we had a worse in
store for them--we also had machine-guns, and they were handy, and we
got them to work on the dirty tricksters and fairly cut them up. The
whole lot seemed to stagger as our bullets showered into them. That was
one of the cowardly games the Germans often played at the beginning of
the war; but it did not take the British long to get used to them, and
very soon the time came when no risks were taken, and the stretcher
dodge was played out.

That Sunday brought with it some heavy fighting, and some very sad
losses. There was with us an officer whose family name is very
particularly associated with the Durham Light Infantry, and that was
Major Robb, as good and brave a gentleman as ever breathed.

After that proof of German treachery he received information that the
Germans meant to attack us again; but Major Robb thought it would be
better to turn things about, and let _us_ do the attacking. I dare say
he was burning to help to avenge the losses of the West Yorkshires, the
poor fellows who were lying dead and wounded all around us.

To carry out an attack like that was a desperate undertaking, because
the Germans were six hundred yards away, and the ground was all to their
advantage. It rose towards them, and they were on the skyline, so that
it became doubly difficult to reach them.

Well, the order was given to advance, and we got out of our trenches and
covered most of the distance in good order. Bit by bit we made our way
over the rising ground towards that skyline which was a blaze of fire,
and from which there came shells and bullets constantly.

There could be no such thing, of course, as a dash, however swift,
towards the skyline; we had to creep and crawl and make our way so as to
give them as little to hit as possible; but it was terrible--too
terrible.

We fell down under that deadly blast, and though I am not a particularly
religious man, I’ll own that I offered up a prayer, and the man on my
left said something of the same sort too. Poor chap! He had scarcely got
the words out of his mouth, when over he went, with a bullet in his
neck, and there he lay, while those of us who were fit and well kept up
and crept up.

At last we were near enough to the skyline to give the Germans rapid
fire, and we rattled away as fast as we could load and shoot, till the
rifles were hot with firing. After that rapid fire we crept up again,
and it was then that I saw Major Robb lying down, facing us, and smoking
a pipe--at least he had a pipe in his mouth, just as cool as usual. He
sang out to my platoon officer, “How are you feeling, Twist?”

Lieutenant Twist answered, “Oh, I’m about done for.” I looked at him and
saw that he was wounded in the chest and arm. We had to go on, and we
could not take him back just then.

The lieutenant had scarcely finished speaking when I saw Major Robb
himself roll over on his side. A poor lad named Armstrong, with four
more of our men, crept up to attend to the major, but a piece of
shrapnel struck the lad on the head and killed him--and other men were
falling all around me.

There was no help for it now--we had to get back to our trenches, if we
could; that was our only chance, as the Germans were hopelessly greater
in number than we were. So we made our way back as best we could, and we
took with us as many of the wounded as we could get hold of.

Time after time our men went back for the wounded; but, in spite of all
we could do, some of the wounded had to be left where they had fallen.

We got back, the survivors of us, to the trenches, and we had hardly
done so when we heard a shout. We looked up from the trenches, and saw
Major Robb on the skyline, crawling a little way.

Instantly a whole lot of us volunteered to go and fetch the major in;
but three were picked out--Lance-Corporal Rutherford, Private Warwick,
and Private Nevison.

Out from the trenches the three men went; up the rising ground they
crawled and crept; then, at the very skyline, Rutherford and Nevison
were shot dead, and Warwick was left alone. But he was not left for
long. Private Howson went to help him, and he actually got to the ridge
and joined him, and the two managed to raise the major up; but as soon
as that had been done the officer was shot in a vital part, and Warwick
also was hit.

More help went out, and the major and Warwick were brought in; but I
grieve to say that the poor major, who was loved by all of us, died soon
after he reached the trenches.

That furious fight had cost the Durhams very dearly. When the roll was
called we found that we had lost nearly 600 men, and that in my own
company only one officer was left. This was Lieutenant Bradford, one of
the bravest men I ever saw. At one time, when we had lost a young
officer and a man with a machine-gun, Lieutenant Bradford worked the
gun himself. I am sorry to say that he was killed in another battle
later on.

Now I am going to leave the Valley of the Aisne and get round to
Flanders, where we found ourselves near Ypres, faced by a big force of
Germans.

Again we were with our friends the West Yorkshires--they were on our
right, and on our left we had the East Yorkshires, so that there were
three North-country regiments together. Near Ypres we soon had to carry
out a smart bit of work which, in a way, proved very pathetic. The
Durhams were ordered to take a small village, and we went for it. We
reached a farmhouse, and there we found about a score of women and
children. Some of our men were sent into the house, but they could not
make the women and children understand English. The poor souls were
terrified; they had had to do with Germans, and as they were not
familiar with our uniforms they thought we were Germans too--another lot
of the breed from which they had suffered so much.

We fetched Captain Northey to explain things to the women, and as he
entered the house a shell burst near him and took off part of one of his
trouser-legs, but without hurting him. The captain took no notice of
this little drawback, and into the house he went, and made the women
understand that we were English troops; and I can assure you that when
they realised that they simply went wild with joy, and hugged and kissed
us.

We had gone out to learn, if we could, something about the enemy’s
strength, and we got to know that there were about 30,000 Germans in
front of our brigade, and that they were entrenched.

The Sherwood Foresters, who were in reserve to us, were ordered to
relieve us, and it was wonderful to see they way in which they came into
the village we had taken, smoking cigarettes as if they were doing a
sort of route-march, although they came right up against a hail of
bullets, with the usual shells. In face of such tremendous odds they had
to retire; but, like good soldiers, they prepared another lot of
trenches near the village, and later on we went into them.

In such fighting as this war brings about there are many, many sad
incidents, and one of the saddest I know of occurred at this particular
village. There was a fine young soldier named Matthews, who came from
West Hartlepool, I think it was. He was struck by shrapnel, and we saw
that he was badly hurt. We did what we could for him, but it was clear
that he was mortally wounded, and that he knew it. His last thought was
for home and wife, and he said he would like his cap-badge to be sent to
her, to be made into a brooch. I believe that a comrade, who was also a
neighbour of his, undertook to do this for him.

It was my good fortune to see the little Gurkhas rout the enemy, who had
attacked them, and to give the Germans a most unpleasant shock.

The Germans had been shelling the East Yorkshires, who were now on the
right of the Durhams. The enemy had the range almost to an inch, and the
effect of the shelling was terrible. Hour after hour this shelling was
kept up pitilessly, and the German aeroplanes--“birds,” we called
them--swooped about and saw the havoc that was being done. This sort of
thing went on till after dark, and the Durhams wondered if any of the
East Yorkshires were left.

There was a surprise in store for us at dawn next day when we awoke, for
the East Yorkshires’ trenches were full of Gurkhas, who had slipped in
during the night. The Germans knew nothing of this. All they knew was
that their shells had been pounding on the East Yorkshires for hours,
and doubtless they had satisfied themselves that no troops on earth
could stand such a gruelling.

The Germans came on pretty confidently, after dawn, to the position of
the East Yorkshires--came on in a cloud. That was after we had repulsed
an attack on ourselves, but not finally, owing to the vast numbers of
the Germans. Perhaps they expected to find the trenches filled with
English dead and wounded, and certainly to us it seemed as if the
trenches must be in that condition, for the Gurkhas let the Germans come
on without showing a sign of life.

The Germans gave enough warning--as they always do. Bugles sounded, and
they rushed on, shouting and yelling; but still there was no sound from
the trenches, no sign of life was seen. Even we, who had a fine view of
the trenches, could see nothing. We were intensely interested, though we
had plenty of hard work to do ourselves in firing at the enemy.

When the Germans got to within about forty yards of the trenches on our
left, the little brown fellows, who had been lying so low, sprang up and
simply poured over the tops of the trenches. That performance was one of
the most extraordinary things seen in the war. The Gurkhas never even
attempted to fire; they just seemed to roll over the ground, gripping
their long, curved knives.

We were too far off to see exactly what sort of expression came on the
Germans’ faces when the trenches, which were supposed to be choked with
dead and wounded Britons, vomited these Indian warriors; but we saw the
whole shouting, yelling line of Germans pull up sharp.

The Germans made a half-hearted effort to come on, then they wavered
badly, and well they might, for by this time the little Gurkhas were on
them with fury, and the blades flashed like lightning about the mass of
startled Germans.

Stunned by the unexpectedness and swiftness of the Indian onslaught,
terrified by the deadly wielding of the knives, the Germans made no real
effort to withstand the rush from the trenches, and they broke and ran
like rabbits, throwing down their rifles as they scuttled, with the
Gurkhas leaping after them and doing fearful execution.

It was truly great, and as the victorious little warriors came back we
gave them a cheer that was a real hurrah. We were as pleased as the
Gurkhas were, and they showed their joy as they came back wiping their
knives. They seemed all grin and knife as they returned, and we felt all
the better for it, too, especially as we gave the broken, flying Germans
a heavy peppering.

Only the Germans who were behind got away, or had a chance. Those in
front, who had had to meet the Indians’ swift, fierce spring, were done
for as soon as the curved blades were whirling amongst them.

I had had a pretty good innings by this time, and had escaped serious
injury, but I was very soon to be bowled out. The Durhams were
supporting the West Yorkshires, who had been badly cut up. We received
word that the West Yorkshires had run short of ammunition, and that
fresh supplies were urgently wanted. We advanced with supplies, and
found that we had to cover about fifty yards of open ground. The Germans
had got the exact range of this open ground, so that it was impossible
to advance over it, except singly. The shell and rifle fire was
particularly heavy, and it seemed as if nothing could live on that
exposed stretch.

One by one we made a dash across that awful space towards the trenches
where the Yorkshiremen were hungering for fresh ammunition, and each of
us carried a full bandolier for the Tykes. A good many of our men fell,
but a lot got through and took part in a very strange bit of work.

I got through myself, after being blown down by the force of a shell
explosion near me--thank Heaven it was the force and not the shell
itself that knocked me over for the moment! It was terrible going, for
we soon found, after we began to make the journey, that we could not
quite reach the Yorkshires’ trenches.

There were some haystacks on the open ground, and we dodged behind them
and dashed from one to the other, every dash meaning a shower of bullets
from the Germans.

There was still the last fifty yards I have mentioned to be covered; but
now it meant almost sure destruction to be seen, so we threw the
bandoliers to the end man in the trenches, the man nearest to us; but a
full bandolier is a heavy thing, and there was not much chance of taking
aim. We were almost at our wits’ end, but we tried another way. We made
a sort of daisy-chain of several bandoliers, and paid this out as best
we could towards the trenches.

The nearest man in the trench--a plucky chap he was--slipped out and
made a dart for the end of the chain. He just made a mad grab and got
it. Then he dashed back to his trench, and it seemed as if the business
was all over, and that the daisy-chain would be safely hauled in; but to
the grief of all of us the chain broke when a few yards of it had been
pulled in.

This was a dreadful disappointment, but still something had been done,
some rounds of ammunition, at any rate, had been got into the trenches,
and we were determined that the Tykes should have some more. We had to
wait a bit, for as soon as the Yorkshireman had shot back to his trench,
the ground that he had scuttled over was absolutely churned up by
shells, and if he had been caught on it he would have been blown to
rags. We lost no time in making other efforts, and at last the
ammunition was safely delivered to the West Yorkshires in the trenches,
and they did some rattling good business with it.

I have mentioned “Jack Johnsons,” and I want to speak of them again by
way of finish. It was at Ypres that I was bowled out. These “J.J.’s”
were falling heavily, but many of them were what you might call
dumb--they didn’t speak. As I have said, I counted eighteen as they
came, and out of the whole of that number only one exploded. But it was
enough. I have already told you what happened to two of my comrades, and
as for myself it settled me for the time being by badly bruising my
spine and back.

And that’s the reason why I was invalided home.



CHAPTER XIII

DESPATCH-RIDING

     [Particularly hard and responsible work has been done for the
     British Army by motor cycle despatch-riders. Many members of this
     fine branch of our fighting men abandoned very promising careers in
     civil life to go to the seat of war. Amongst them is Corporal
     Hedley G. Browne, Captain of the Norfolk Motor Cycle Club, who when
     war broke out volunteered for active service and became a motor
     cycle despatch-rider, attached to a signal company of the Royal
     Engineers. It is his story which is here retold. Of the work of the
     motor cycle despatch-riders Sir John French has spoken in terms of
     high praise, and when the King visited the front recently a number
     of the riders were specially brought to his Majesty’s notice.]


I was in Ypres, billeted in a brewery, when that beautiful old city was
still intact; I was there when the first German shell came and began the
ruthless bombardment which has laid the city in ruins and added one more
to the list of heavy debts which the Germans will have to pay when the
war is over. The sooner that time comes the better, especially for those
who have been at the front since the beginning, and have had to endure
things which people at home cannot possibly realise. Five days ago I
left the front for a flying visit home, and now I am on my way back. It
has seemed a very short spell, and a big slice of the time has been
eaten up in travelling. A nice batch of us came over together, and here
we are assembling again, though it’s a good hour before the boat-train
starts.

We go to Boulogne, and then we shall get into motor lorries and be
trundled off back to the fighting line. This is the kit we work and live
in--even now my revolver is loaded in every chamber. No, so far, I
haven’t used it on a German; but it’s shot a pig or two when we’ve
wanted pork, and really there isn’t much difference between the two. It
is hard to believe that human beings committed some of the acts of which
I saw so many during those four months at the front. The astounding
thing is that the Germans don’t realise that they have done anything
wrong, and quite lately I was talking with some German prisoners who
spoke English, who not only did not see this, but were also quite sure
that the war will end in favour of Germany. By this time, however, they
are changing their tune.

When I got to the front I was attached to a signal company, which
consists of establishing communication between headquarters and three
brigades, and that meant when we were on the march riding through about
seven miles of troops, guns, waggons and hosts of other things. When in
action we had to go quite up to the firing line, and very soon I hardly
knew myself, as I got quite used to the bursting of shells and to the
shocking condition of the killed and wounded. It was astonishing to see
how soon men, who had been used to every comfort at home and who knew
nothing of war in any shape or form, got accustomed to the hardships of
campaigning and developed a callousness which is altogether foreign to
their real nature.

One of the most amazing things about the war is the way in which it
changes a man and makes him callous. I know that before I had anything
to do with the Army I was so sensitive in some ways that the mere
thought of blood was almost enough to make me ill, yet now, after being
for more than four months in the war, and having seen the havoc of the
most terrific battles the world has ever known, I tear along the lonely
roads and remain almost unmoved by the most dreadful sights. The dead
pass unnoticed, and as for the wounded, you can do nothing, as a rule.
You have your orders, and they must be obeyed without loss of time,
because a motor despatch-rider is always on the rush.

I well remember the very first German I saw lying dead. He was an Uhlan,
and was on the roadside. I was greatly distressed at the sight of him,
there was something so sad about it all, but now there is no such
sensation at the sight of even great numbers of the dead. A strange
thing happened in connection with the Uhlan. I took his cap as a
memento, and brought it home, with several other German caps and
helmets, chunks of shell, clips of cartridges, and relics of
altar-cloths; and now, for some cause which I can’t quite fathom, the
Uhlan’s cap has turned a queer sort of yellow.

That strange callousness comes over one at the most unexpected times,
and often enough a motor despatch-rider has to dash through a crowd of
refugees and scatter them, though the very sight of the poor souls is
heart-breaking. When Ypres was bombarded, the men, women and children
thronged the roads, and all that was left to them in the world they
carried in bundles on their backs; yet they had to be scattered like
flocks of sheep when the motor despatch-riders rushed along. There was,
however, one pleasing feature in the matter, and that was that these
poor people knew that we were tearing along in their interests as well
as our own, and that we did not mean to hurt anybody--which was
different, indeed, from the spirit of the enemy, whose policy was to
spread terror and havoc wherever he could, and to destroy mercilessly.
When I first went into Ypres it was a beautiful old city, very much like
Norwich, but I saw the German guns smash the place and the shells set
fire to glorious old structures like the Cathedral and the Cloth Hall.
The two pieces of altar-cloth which I brought home were taken from the
Cathedral while it was burning.

Though you soon get used to war, still there are always things coming
along which are either particularly interesting or very thrilling.
Perhaps the most exciting incident I can call to mind is the bringing
down of a German aeroplane by a British brigade. That was on October
27th, when I was with the brigade. It was afternoon, and the aeroplane
was flying fairly low, so that it was a good target for the rain of
bullets which was directed on it. Even when flying low, an aeroplane is
not easy to hit, because of its quick, dodging movements, but this
machine was fairly got by the brigade. Suddenly there was an explosion
in the aeroplane, flames shot out and the machine made a sickening,
terrible somersault. I took it that a bullet or two had struck the
petrol tank and blown the machine up--anyway, the airman was shot out
and crashed to earth with fearful speed. You wanted to look away, but an
awful fascination made you keep your eyes on what was happening. At
first the man looked like a piece of paper coming down, then, almost
before you could realise the tragedy that was taking place, the piece of
paper took the form of a fellow-creature--then the end came. The man
himself smashed to earth about two hundred yards from the spot where I
was watching, but the machine dropped some distance off. That was really
one of the sights that no amount of war will accustom you to, and I
shall never forget it as long as I live.

At first the weather was very hot, which made the work for the troops
very hard. The machine I had soon struck work, and was left to be handed
over to the Kaiser as a souvenir; and several other machines gave up the
ghost in like manner. When a machine went wrong, it was left and a new
one took its place--the list of casualties for motors of every sort is
an amazingly heavy one; but casualties were inevitable, because in many
places the roads that we had to take were perfect nightmares.

It was very hard going till we got used to it. During the first month at
the front I had my boots off about three times--I am now wearing my
fourth pair, which is an average of one a month--and we reckoned that we
were lucky if we slept in a barn, with straw; if we couldn’t manage that
we turned in anywhere, in our greatcoats. When I say sleep, I mean lying
down for an hour or two, as sometimes we did not billet till dark. Then
we had some grub, anything we could get, and after that a message. Next
day we were off, five times out of six, at 3.30 to four o’clock, and got
long, hard days in.

Amongst the messages we had to carry there were none more urgent than
those which were sent for reinforcements, the men upon whose coming the
issue of a battle depended. It was tear and scurry all along, but
somehow the message would get delivered all right and the reinforcements
would hurry up and save the situation. Often enough a message would be
delivered at midnight to a tired officer who was living in a dug-out,
and I scarcely ever reached one of these warrens without being invited
to take something of whatever was going--it might be a drink of hot
coffee, with a biscuit, or a tot of rum, which was truly grateful after
a bitter ride. That is the only thing in the way of alcoholic drink at
the front, and very little of it. This is, for the British, a teetotal
war; but for the Germans it has been the very reverse, and time after
time we came across evidence of their drunken debauches.

The shell fire was so incessant that it was soon taken as part of the
day’s work. At first it was terrible, though one got used to it. My
first experience of rifle fire did not come until I had been at the
front for some weeks, and then I was surprised to find what a
comparatively small thing it is compared with shells--it is not nearly
so bad.

It was getting dark, and it was my duty to go down a lane where snipers
were hidden in the trees. This was just the kind of lane you know in
England, and you can easily picture what it meant. Imagine leaving your
machine, as I did, in a tree-lined lane at home, and going down it,
knowing that there were fellows up the trees who were on the watch to
pot you, and you will realise what it meant; but you will have to
picture also the sides of the lane being littered, as this was, with
dead and wounded men. Well, I had to go down that lane, and I
went--sometimes walking, sometimes running, with the bullets whizzing
round and the shells bursting. But by good luck I escaped the bullets,
though a piece of shell nearly nailed me--or would have got me if I had
been with my machine. The fragment struck the cycle and I picked it up
and brought it home with the other things as a souvenir.

That escape was practically nothing. It was a detail, and came in the
day’s work; but I had a much more narrow shave a few days later. It was
a Saturday and I had had a pretty hard time--amongst other things I had
done a thirty-mile ride after one o’clock in the morning--the sort of
ride that takes it out of you.

There was one of our orderlies with a horse near me and I was standing
talking to him. We heard a shrapnel shell coming, and ducked our heads
instinctively to dodge it--but the shell got at us. The horse was killed
and the orderly was so badly hit that he died in less than an hour. He
was buried in the afternoon, and very solemn the funeral was, with the
guns booming all around. I was deeply shocked at the time, but war is
war, and in a very short time the incident had passed out of my mind.
Our fellows told me that I was one of the lucky ones that day.

That was the beginning of one of the most awful periods of the war,
especially for the despatch-riders, for we were at it night and day. The
roads were hopelessly bad, and as we were not allowed to carry any lamps
at night the danger of rapid travel was greatly increased. We were,
however, relieved to some extent by mounted men. The fighting was
furious and incessant, and we were in the thick of a good deal of it.
After a very hard spell I was quartered all day in a little stable, and
it proved to be about the most dangerous place I had come across. On
October 29th the Germans went for the stable with high explosives and
the everlasting “scuttles.” For some time these big shells came and
burst in the locality, and two houses within a score of yards of us
were blown to pieces and enormous holes were driven in the ground.

From the stable we went to a house, and then we fairly got it. Four huge
shells came, one after the other, and one came and ripped the roof just
like paper. We were amazingly lucky, however, for the worst thing that
happened was that a fellow was wounded in the leg. I was thankful when
the order came to pack up and stand by, for there were in that little
place about twenty of us from different regiments, and a single
explosion would have put us all well beyond the power of carrying either
despatches or anything else. For a while we could not understand why the
enemy should so greatly favour us, but we soon learned that they were
going for some French guns near us. So the firing went on, and when we
went to sleep, as we did in spite of all, bullets ripped through the
roof, coming in at one side of the building and going out at the other,
and four more big shells paid us a most unwelcome visit.

I was thankful when we moved out of those unpleasant quarters and took
up our abode in a large farmhouse about three hundred yards away. This
was one of the very few buildings that had escaped the ravages of the
German artillery fire. We made the move on the 30th, when the cannonade
was very heavy, yet the only casualties were a pig and two horses. We
were now much better protected from the Germans’ fire, though the very
house shook with the artillery duel and the noise grew deafening and
almost maddening. I wrote home pretty often, and I remember that at this
time I got behind a hedge to write a letter, and as I wrote bullets
whizzed over my head, fired by German snipers who were up some trees
not very far away. They were going for our chaps in the trenches a mile
away.

Mons had been bad, and there had been many harrowing sights on the
retreat, but at the end of October and the beginning of November the
climax of horror was reached. The Germans, mad to hack their way through
to the coast, and perhaps realising that they would never do it, stuck
at nothing. They were frantic, and I saw sights that would sicken any
human being. No consideration weighed with them, they simply did their
best to annihilate us--but they are trying still to do that and not
succeeding.

We had left the farmhouse and gone into a large château, which served as
headquarters, and here, on November 2nd, we had a ghastly experience. It
is likely that the Germans knew the particular purpose to which the
château had been devoted; at any rate they shelled it mercilessly, and
no fewer than six staff officers were killed, while a considerable
number were wounded. Again I was lucky, and came out of the adventure
unscathed. On the following day, however, I was nearly caught. I had
taken a message to headquarters and was putting my machine on a stand.
To do this I had to leave a house, and go about fifty yards away, to the
stand. I had scarcely left the building when two shells struck it fair
and plump, and killed two motor cyclists and wounded three others. Like
a flash I jumped into a ditch, and as I did so I heard the bits of burst
shell falling all around me. When I got out of the ditch and went back
along the main road I saw a huge hole which a shell had made. It was a
thrilling enough escape, and shook me at the time, because I knew the
two poor fellows who were killed. That was the kind of thing we went
through as we jogged along from day to day.

I am not, of course, giving a story of the war so much as trying to show
what it means to be a motor cycle despatch-rider at the front. He is
here, there and everywhere--and there is no speed limit. He is not in
the actual firing line, yet he sees a great deal of what is going on.
Sometimes he is very lucky, as I was myself one day, in being allowed to
witness a fight that was taking place. I had taken a despatch to an
officer, and perhaps conveyed some cheering news. Anyway, I had the
chance to go to an eminence from which I could view the battle, and I
went, and it was wonderful to see the waging of the contest over a vast
tract of country--for in a war like this the ordinary fighter sees very
little indeed of the battle. At this special point I had the rare chance
of witnessing a fight as I suppose it is seen by the headquarters staff,
and one of the strangest things about it was the little there was to be
seen. There were puffs of smoke and tongues of flame--and the
everlasting boom of guns; but not much more. Men are killed at long
distances and out of sight in these days.

War is excessively wearing, and it was a blessed relief when a day came
which was free from shells and bullets. That, indeed, was the calm after
the storm. It came to us when we were snug in a farmyard about a mile
away from a big town, with our motor-cars, cycles and horses so well
under cover that the German aeroplanes did not find us out. Thankful
indeed were we for the change, because the whole region where we were
had been pitilessly bombarded, and there was nothing but devastation
around us. Shells had done their work, and there was a special kind of
bomb which fired anything it touched that was inflammable. A great many
petrol discs, about the size of a shilling, were discharged by the
Germans, and these things, once alight, did amazing mischief. Villages
were obliterated, and in the big town where we were billeted the
engineers were forced to blow up the surrounding houses to prevent the
entire place from being destroyed.

The glad time came when our Division was relieved for a time. We got a
bit of rest, and I crossed the Channel and came home for a short spell.
One of the last things I saw before I left the front was the Prince of
Wales making a tour. At that time he was about fifteen miles from the
firing line.

What was the most noticeable thing that struck me when I came back over
the Channel? Well, that is not easy to say, but I know that I
particularly noticed the darkness of the London streets.

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 168._

“THE MEN WERE TOLD TO LAY HANDS ON ANYTHING THAT WOULD FLOAT” (p.
172).]



CHAPTER XIV

THE THREE TORPEDOED CRUISERS

     [Within a few minutes, on the morning of Tuesday, September 22nd,
     1914, three large British cruisers, sister ships, foundered in the
     North Sea, after being torpedoed by German submarines, and nearly
     1,500 officers and men perished. The ships were the _Aboukir_,
     _Cressy_ and _Hogue_. Each was of 12,000 tons, with a speed of
     twenty-two knots, and each cost £750,000. The vessels were fine
     warships, but almost obsolete, and before the war it had been
     decided to sell them out of the Navy. The _Aboukir_ was torpedoed,
     and while the _Hogue_ and _Cressy_ had closed, and were standing by
     to save the crew, they also were torpedoed. All three ships
     speedily sank. The boats were filled, and, later, destroyers and
     other vessels came up and rescued many of the survivors, amongst
     whom was C. C. Nurse, an able seaman of the _Hogue_, whose story is
     here retold. The casualties were very heavy; but, said the
     Admiralty, the lives lost were “as usefully, as necessarily, and as
     gloriously devoted to the requirements of his Majesty’s service as
     if the loss had been incurred in a general action.”]


The three cruisers, sister ships, were on patrol duty in the North Sea
early on the morning of September 22nd. They were alone, protecting our
own merchant ships and on the look-out for vessels that were
mine-laying. The weather was nice, with a rather heavy swell on the
water. There had been plenty of bad weather, and this was the first good
day we had had for a week.

I had done my twelve years in the Navy and had been called up from the
Royal Fleet Reserve. We had settled into our stride and had been in at
the tail-end of the scrap in the Heligoland Bight, where the _Hogue_
got hold of the _Arethusa_ and towed her away. At that time the
_Arethusa_ had been commissioned only about two days. We knew that she
was just beginning her life; but we little thought that the _Hogue_ was
ending hers.

It was my watch below, and I was asleep in my hammock when the bugles
sounded the _réveillé_, and we were shaken up and told that one of our
ships was going down. We had turned in all standing, and lost no time in
rushing on deck. Then I saw that the _Aboukir_, which was about six
hundred yards away, was heeling over, and that we were steaming up to
her assistance. At first we thought she had been mined; but we quickly
learned that she had been torpedoed by German submarines. We were very
soon alongside of her, and were doing everything we could to save the
survivors. It was very clear that she was sinking, that a good many of
the crew had been killed by the explosion, and that a lot of men, who
were far below, in the engine-room and stokeholds, would have no chance
of escaping.

We instantly started getting out the few boats that were left in our
ship. There were only three, because we were cleared for action, and as
it was war-time the great majority of them had been taken away. This has
to be done so that there shall be as little woodwork as possible to be
splintered by shells. With extraordinary speed some of the _Aboukir’s_
men had got to the _Hogue_, and some, who were badly hurt, had been
taken to the sick-bay and were being attended to. The attack had come
swiftly, and it was for us the worst of all attacks to guard against;
but there was nothing like panic anywhere, and from the calmness of
things you might have thought that the three ships were carrying out
some ordinary evolution.

I was standing on the starboard side of the after-shelter-deck of the
_Hogue_, and could see a great deal of what was going on. With
remarkable smartness and speed our two lifeboats were got away to the
_Aboukir_, our men pulling splendidly on their life-saving errand. Our
main derrick, too, was over the side and had got the launch out. The
launch was a big rowing-boat, which would hold about a hundred men, and
not a second had been lost in getting her afloat under the direction of
Lieutenant-Commander Clive Phillipps-Wolley. He worked the derrick to
get the launch out, though he was not in the best of health, and only a
little while previously he had been ill in his bunk. He was near me on
the after-bridge, which was above the shelter-deck, and I saw and heard
him giving orders for the getting out of the launch. That was the last I
knew about him. He was one of the lost.

The launch was afloat, and the men were ready to hurry up to the
_Aboukir_; but before she could get away the very deck under my feet was
blown up. There was a terrific explosion, and a huge column of wreckage
rose. I was stunned for a moment by the force of the explosion. I
thought we had been mined; but almost instantly there was a second
explosion under me, and I knew that we had been torpedoed. The _Hogue_
had been badly holed, and she began to heel over to starboard
immediately.

It is only telling the plain truth to say that there was practically no
confusion, and that every man was cool and going about his business as
if no such thing as a calamity like this had happened. War is war, and
we were ready for all sorts of things--and the discipline of the British
Navy always stands firm at a crisis.

There was naturally a good deal of noise, shouting of orders, and
orderly rushing to and fro as men carried them out; but everything was
done with wonderful coolness, and the splendid courage of the officers
was reflected in the men. A noble example was set, and it was
magnificently followed. The men waited until they got their orders, just
as they did at any other time.

The captain was on the fore-bridge, and I heard him shouting; but as I
was so far aft I could not clearly make out what he said. I know,
however, that he was ordering every man to look after himself. The men
were told to take their clothes off, and to lay hands on anything that
would float. They promptly obeyed, and at the word of command a lot of
them jumped overboard. There was then hope that we could all get to the
_Cressy_, which was still uninjured, standing by and doing all she could
to rescue the survivors of her two sister ships. Soon, however, she
herself was torpedoed, and in a few moments it was perfectly clear that
the three ships were going to the bottom of the sea.

All the cruisers shared the same fate, and were doomed. They were the
only British ships at hand, and we did not expect the enemy, being
Germans, to do anything for us. But everything that skill and resource
could do was done by our own survivors without a moment’s loss of time.
In the sea there was an amazing collection of things that had been
thrown overboard--tables, chairs, spars, oars, hand-spikes, targets and
furniture from the officers’ cabins, such as chests of drawers. And
everything that could float was badly wanted, because the sea was simply
covered with men who were struggling for dear life, and knew that the
fight would have to be a long and terrible one.

It takes a long time to talk of what happened, but, as a matter of fact,
the whole dreadful business, so far as the loss of the ships was
concerned, was over in a few minutes. As far as I can reckon, the
_Hogue_ herself was struck three times within a minute or so. The first
torpedo came, followed almost immediately by a second in the same place,
and by a third about a minute afterwards. The war-head of a torpedo
holds a very big charge of gun-cotton, which, when it explodes against
the side of a ship, drives an enormous hole through. An immense gap was
driven in the _Hogue’s_ side, and there seems to be no doubt that the
first torpedo struck her under the aft 9·2in. magazine. That fact would
account for the fearful nature of the explosion.

As soon as the _Hogue_ had been torpedoed, she began to settle by the
stern; then she was quite awash aft, and began to turn turtle. Our ship
sank stern first before she heeled over. There was a frightful turmoil
as the four immense funnels broke away from their wire stays and went
over the side, and the sea got into the stokeholds and sent up dense
clouds of steam.

The Germans boast about the work having been done by one submarine, but
that is nonsense. No single submarine could have done it, because she
could not carry enough torpedoes. I am sure that there were at least
half-a-dozen submarines in the attack; certainly when I was in the water
I saw two rise. They came up right amongst the men who were swimming
and struggling, and it was a curious sensation when some of the men felt
the torpedoes going through the water under their legs. I did not feel
that, but I did feel the terrific shock of the explosion when the first
torpedo struck the _Cressy_; it came through the water towards us with
very great force.

We had a fearful time in the cold water. The struggle to keep afloat and
alive, the coming up of the submarines, and the rushing through the
water of the torpedoes--all that we had to put up with. Then we had
something infinitely worse, for the _Cressy_ spotted the submarines, and
instantly opened a furious fire upon them. The chief gunner, Mr.
Dougherty, saw one of them as soon as her periscope appeared, and he
fired, and, I believe, hit the periscope; then he fired again--and
again, getting three shots in from a four-pounder within a minute, and
when he had done with her, the submarine had made her last dive--and
serve her right! The Germans played a dirty game on us, and only a
little while before we had done our best to save some of them in the
Heligoland Bight, but never a German bore a hand to save the three
cruisers’ men from the water. Of course, a sailor expects to be hit
anyhow and anywhere in a straight piece of fighting, but this torpedoing
of rescue ships was rather cold-blooded, and I don’t think British
submarines would have done it.

There were some awful sights--but I don’t want to dwell too much on
them. Men had been torn and shattered by the explosions and falling
things, and there was many a broken leg and broken arm. Great numbers of
men had been badly hurt and scalded inside the ship. In the
engine-rooms, the stokeholds, and elsewhere, brave and splendid fellows
who never left their posts had died like heroes. They never had a chance
when the ships heeled over, for they were absolutely imprisoned.

When once I had reached the shelter-deck I never tried to go below
again; but some of the men did, and they were almost instantly driven
out by the force of the huge volumes of water which were rushing into
the side through the gaping holes.

One man had an extraordinary escape. He had rushed below to get a
hammock, and had laid hands on it when the ship heeled over. It seemed
as if he must be drowned like a rat in a trap, and would have no chance,
but the rush of water carried him along until he reached an
entry-port--one of the steel doorways in the ship’s sides--and then he
was hurled out of the ship and into the sea, where he had, at any rate,
a sporting chance, like the rest of us, of being saved.

I saw the three ships turn turtle, and a dreadful sight it was. The
_Hogue_ was the first to go--she was not afloat for more than seven
minutes after she was struck; then the _Aboukir_ went, but much more
slowly--she kept afloat for rather more than half-an-hour; and the last
to go was the _Cressy_. The _Cressy_ heeled over very slowly and was
quite a long time before she had completely turned turtle. When that
happened the bottom of the ship, which was almost flat for most of its
length, was where the deck had been. And on this big steel platform,
which was nearly awash, the Captain was standing. I saw him quite
clearly--I was not more than forty yards away--and I had seen men
walking, running, crawling and climbing down the side of the ship as she
heeled over. They either fell or hurled themselves into the sea and
swam for it; but the captain stuck to his post to the very last and went
down with his ship. It was the old British Navy way of doing things,
though probably he could have saved himself if he had taken his chance
in the water.

One thing which proved very useful in the water, and was the means of
saving a number of lives, was a target which had been cast adrift from
the _Cressy_. Targets vary in size, and this was one of the smaller
ones, known as Pattern Three, about twelve feet square. It was just the
woodwork without the canvas, so it floated well, and a lot of the
survivors had something substantial in the way of a raft to cling to.
Many of them held on gamely till the end, when rescue came; but other
poor chaps dropped off from sheer exhaustion, and were drowned.

It must be remembered that not a few of the men had had an experience
which was so shattering that, perhaps, there has never been anything
like it in naval warfare. They were first torpedoed in the _Aboukir_,
then they were taken to the _Hogue_ and torpedoed in her, and then
removed to the _Cressy_ and torpedoed for the third time. Finally they
were cast into the sea to take their chance, and, in some cases, they
had to float or swim in the water for hours until they were rescued. No
wonder it became a question of endurance and holding on more than a
matter of swimming.

The sea was covered with men who were either struggling for life or
holding on to wreckage. The boats were packed, and well they might be,
because no effort had been spared to get struggling men into them. The
men who were in the best of health and good swimmers were helping those
who could not swim, and in this way many a man was saved who would have
been lost.

When I was in the water I did not utter a word to anybody--it was not
worth it, and you needed all your breath; but I never abandoned hope,
even when I saw the last ship go down, because I knew that we should
have assistance.

Wireless calls were made, and appeals for help were being sent out all
the time, and when I looked around at all, it was in the hope of seeing
some of our own ships tearing down to the rescue. My mind was easy on
the point--I knew that the call must have been made, and it was merely a
question of time for the response to come.

I was supported by a plank and clung to it with all my strength, though
from time to time I endured agony from cramp. In spite of the torture I
never let go. I gripped my plank, but I saw men near me forced to let go
their hold of things they had seized, and they were drowned. In many
cases cramp overcame them, and quite near to me were poor fellows who
were so contracted with it that they were doubled up in the water, with
their knees under their chins. I could see their drawn faces and knotted
hands--and in several cases I saw that the grip which was on the
floating objects was the grip of death. I floated past these poor chaps,
and it was pitiful to see them. Thank God some of the struggling in the
water did not last long, because many of the men had been badly burnt or
scalded, or hit by heavy pieces of wreckage, and these soon fell away
exhausted, and were drowned. Some, too, were dazed and lost their nerve
as well as their strength, so that they could not keep up the fight for
life. For long after the cruisers had sunk, carrying hundreds of men
with them, the sea for a great space was covered with floating
bodies--dead sailors, as well as those who had managed to live.

Whenever a boat came up I tried to help a man into it; but it was not
possible to do anything except with the aid of the boats. The two
cutters acted splendidly, picking up all the men they could. Captain
Nicholson, of the _Hogue_, was in charge of one of them, and he did some
rousing rescue work.

There were some fine deeds of courage and unselfishness that sad morning
in the North Sea. The launch and the cutter were packed, of course, and
seeing this, and knowing that there were men in the water who were more
badly wanting a place in the boat than he was, a Royal Fleet Reserve
man, named Farmstone, sprang into the sea and swam for it, to make room
for a man who was exhausted.

I was thankful indeed when I saw smoke on the horizon--black clouds
which showed that some ships were steaming up as hard as they could
lick. Very soon, some of our own destroyers--blessed and welcome
sight--came into view, and as they did so, I believe, they potted at
submarines which were slinking away, but I can’t say with what result.
The destroyers came up. The _Lucifer_, a small cruiser, came up too, and
the work of rescue began as hard as it could be carried out, every
officer and man working with a will. There were two or three other ships
about, two Lowestoft trawlers--which did uncommonly good work--and two
small Dutch steamers, one called the _Titan_ and the other the _Flora_.
The next thing that I clearly remember was that I had been hauled out of
the bitter-cold water and lifted on board the _Flora_, and that she was
soon packed with half-dead men like myself.

The _Flora_ was a very small Dutch cargo boat, and with so many men on
board she was crammed. It is impossible to say how some of the men got
on board, and they could not explain themselves, they were so utterly
exhausted. The Dutch could understand us, though words were hardly
necessary, and they shared everything they had--clothes, food, drink and
accommodation. They wrapped their bedding round us and gave us hot
coffee. The stokehold was crowded with men who had gone down into it to
get dry and warm. Some of the men were suffering dreadfully from burns,
wounds and exhaustion, and one of them died on board the _Flora_. He was
my next messmate, Green. He lived for only about an hour. I saw him in
one of the seamen’s bunks, and he was then in great agony. I think he
had been struck very badly in the explosion. We took him away from the
bunk, laid him on the fore-hatch and covered him with a tarpaulin, where
he lay till about five o’clock in the afternoon, when we landed at
Ymuiden. Poor Green was buried there with full honours, the British
chaplain at Amsterdam conducting the service.

One very strange incident of the disaster was the way in which the
ensign of the _Hogue_ was saved. I don’t know how it happened, but one
of the stokers who had managed to escape got hold of the ensign when he
was in the water, and hung on to it all the time he was in--two or three
hours. He had the ensign with him when we were in Holland, and had his
photograph taken with it in the background.

Another remarkable fact is that four brothers, who came from the
Yorkshire coast, I think, were in the _Hogue_, and all of them were
saved!

Talking of photographs, I was one of a group which was taken at
Ymuiden, when we were rigged out in the kit of Dutch bluejackets. There
I am, in the back row. At that time I was wearing a beard and moustache,
as there was neither much time not inclination for shaving.

We had lost everything we had, and were almost naked, so we were very
glad of the clothes that were given to us by the Dutch. These people
were kindness itself to us, and did everything they could to make us
comfortable and happy. I was taken to a small café and went to bed.

A Dutch soldier was in charge of us, but he had no fear of us doing any
harm. Next evening they took us by train to a place in the north of
Holland; then we had a sixteen miles’ tramp along the level roads to a
concentration camp where there were some Belgian prisoners, who gave us
a cheer.

We marched those sixteen miles whistling and singing. Had we not been
snatched from death?

We had to rough it, of course, but that came easy after such an
experience as ours. There was only one blanket amongst thirteen men, and
we had to sleep on straw, and eat with our fingers. We had plenty of
food, though--rough, but very nice, and we were very glad of it, and
thankful to get a drink of water.

Next morning, when we left the straw and solitary blanket, it was very
raw and cheerless, and there was a heavy mist. The Belgian prisoners had
a football, and we borrowed it and played a game, and got warm. We were
covered with straw, and our clothes were filled with it when we woke,
but we soon shook it clear when we got going with the ball. We enjoyed a
basin of coffee and a big lump of brown bread which

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 180._

“GOOD SWIMMERS WERE HELPING THOSE WHO COULD NOT SWIM” (p. 176).]

the Dutch cook gave us, then we got the time on by turning our tents
out, and were quite in clover when the British Consul supplied us with
knives, forks, spoons, towels, overcoats and boots.

We spent the first morning washing and drying our socks, and wondering
what was going to be done with us. We kept on wondering, but soon knew
that we were not going to be detained in Holland, but were to be sent
home. On the Friday we had definite news that we were to go back to
England, and on the Saturday morning we left, and did the sixteen miles’
tramp again; but it was easier this time, because we were prepared for
it. We stopped at a farm, and they gave us milk and food, cigars and
cigarettes, and before entering a special train for Flushing, the Dutch
gave us milk again, and cake, bread and apples.

From Flushing we came on to Sheerness, and then we went on leave--and
here I am; but I go back in a day or two. I don’t know what will happen,
for owing to the explosion the sight of my left eye has practically
gone. Besides that, I seem to have been completely shattered in nerves,
though I reckoned that I was one of those men who have no nerves--I have
been a steeple-jack since I left the Navy, and just before I was called
up I was cleaning the face of Big Ben.

It is when I wake in the middle of the night, as I often do, that the
whole fearful thing comes back with such awful vividness, and I see
again the dreadful sights that it is better to forget.

Yes, the Germans got three good hauls in the cruisers; but I don’t think
they’ll have another chance like it.



CHAPTER XV

THE RUNAWAY RAIDERS

     [“Practically the whole fast cruiser force of the German Navy,
     including some great ships vital to their fleet and utterly
     irreplaceable, has been risked for the passing pleasure of killing
     as many English people as possible, irrespective of sex, age or
     condition, in the limited time available. Whatever feats of arms
     the German Navy may hereafter perform, the stigma of the
     baby-killers of Scarborough will brand its officers and men while
     sailors sail the seas.” So wrote the First Lord of the Admiralty
     (Mr. Winston S. Churchill) on December 20th, 1914, in reference to
     the German raid on Scarborough, Whitby, and the Hartlepools on
     December 16th. In that cowardly bombardment of unprotected places,
     the Huns killed more than a hundred men, women, and children in the
     Hartlepools alone, and altogether the casualties numbered more than
     six hundred. This story is based on the narrative of Sapper W.
     Hall, R.E., one of the few English soldiers who have been under an
     enemy’s fire on English soil. Sapper Hall was badly wounded.]


It is just a fortnight to-day since the German warships came up out of
the mist, bombarded Hartlepool, wrecked many of the houses, killed a lot
of defenceless women, children and men, and then tore away into the mist
as hard as they could steam. Our own warships nearly got up with them,
and if it had not been for the mist, never one of those vessels which
were so valiant in bombarding helpless towns would have got back to
Germany.

A great deal of confusion has been caused in telling the story of the
raids on the Hartlepools, the two places being hopelessly mixed up. They
are, as a matter of fact, quite separate towns, with separate mayors and
corporations.

Hartlepool itself, where we now are, is on the coast, facing the sea;
West Hartlepool is two miles inland. Both towns were bombarded, but it
is hereabouts that most of the damage by shells was done, and many
children and grown-up people killed. It was just over there, too, that
eight Territorials were standing on the front, watching the firing, when
a shell struck them and killed seven of the men and wounded the
eighth.[2]

It was soon after eight o’clock in the morning when we rushed out of our
billets into the streets, and, looking seaward, we saw warships firing.

In our billets we had heard the booming of guns, and supposing that it
was our own warships practising or fighting, we had hurried out to see
the fun. A few seconds was enough to tell us that there was no fun in
it, but that this was a bombardment in deadly earnest by the enemy.

The German ships were easily visible from the shore, and did not seem to
be very far away--about two miles. They were firing rapidly, and there
was a deafening noise as the shells screamed and burst--the crashing of
the explosions, the smashing of immense numbers of window-panes by the
concussion, and the thudding of the shells and fragments against walls
and buildings.

Coming so unexpectedly, the bombardment caused intense excitement and
commotion, and men, women and children rushed into the streets to see
what was happening--the worst thing they could do, because the splinters
of shell, horrible jagged fragments, were flying all about and killing
and maiming the people they struck. A number of little children who had
rushed into the streets, as children will, were killed or wounded.

As soon as we realised what was happening, we rushed back and got our
rifles and hurried into the street again, and did what we could; but
rifles were absolutely useless against warships, and the incessant
bursting of shells and the scattering of fragments and bullets made it
most dangerous to be in the open.

Shells were striking and bursting everywhere, wrecking houses, ploughing
into the ground, and battering the concrete front of the promenade.

The houses hereabouts, overlooking the sea, were big and easy targets
for the Germans, who blazed away like madmen, though they must have been
in terror all the time when they thought that their cannonading was sure
to fetch British warships up. How thankful they must have felt for that
protecting mist!

The Hartlepool Rovers’ Football Ground is very near the sea and the
lighthouse, and it came under heavy fire. One of our men, Sapper Liddle,
was near the wall of the ground when a shell burst and mortally wounded
him, injuring him terribly. It was not possible to get at him and bring
him into hospital for a long time, but when he was brought here
everything that was humanly possible was done for him. He lingered for
a few hours, then died.

Meanwhile, death and destruction were being dealt out all around us, and
the land batteries were making such reply as they could to the Germans’
heavy guns. This reply was a very plucky performance, for Hartlepool is
not a fortified place in anything like the real meaning of the word, and
our light guns were no match for the weapons of the German
battle-cruisers.

As it happened, no damage was done to the guns; but fearful mischief was
caused to buildings near us. A shell struck the Baptist Chapel fair and
square on the front, and drove a hole in it big enough for the passage
of a horse and cart; then it wrecked the inside and went out at the
other end of the chapel, again making a huge hole.

House after house was struck and shattered, in some cases people being
buried in the ruins. Some of the houses are very old, and pretty well
collapsed when a shell struck them and burst.

While the bombardment was in progress we were doing our best, but that
could not be much. There was not much cause for laughter, but I remember
that a shell came and burst near us, and made us see the humour of a
little incident. The explosion itself did no actual damage, but the
concussion and force of it were so violent that a sapper was jerked up
into the air and came down with a crash. He picked himself up and
scuttled as hard as he could make for shelter.

The firing was so sudden and so fierce that it was begun and finished
almost before it was possible to realise that it had taken place. Most
of the men of Hartlepool were at work when the bombardment started, and
some of them were killed at their work, or as they were rushing home to
see to their wives and children, while some were killed as they fled for
safety.

The streets were crowded with fugitives during the bombardment, and it
was owing to this that so many people were killed and wounded. The
shells burst among them with awful results.

While the Germans were firing point-blank at the buildings facing the
sea, and deliberately killing inoffensive people, they were also
bombarding West Hartlepool, and doing their best to blow up the
gasworks, destroy the big shipbuilding yards there, and set fire to the
immense stacks of timber which are stored in the yards.

People were killed who were five or six miles from the guns of the
warships, and in one street alone in West Hartlepool seven persons,
mostly women, were killed. Several babies were killed in their homes,
and little children were killed as they played in the streets.

A good deal has been said about the number of shells that were fired
from the German warships, and some people had put down a pretty low
total; but from what I saw, I should think that certainly five hundred
shells of all sorts were fired by these valiant Germans, who knew that
they were perfectly safe so far as the shore was concerned, and took
mighty good care not to be caught by British ships of their own size and
power; but that will surely come later, and the men of the North will
get their own back.

I cannot say anything about the actual defences, or what the military
did; but the few troops who were here did their best, and a couple of
destroyers bore a brave part in the affair.

A shell fell in the lines of the Royal Engineers, and several dropped in
the lines of the 18th Service Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry.

It was very quickly known, as I have mentioned, that seven out of eight
men of the Durhams, who were watching the firing--thinking, like
everybody else, that it was some sort of battle practice, till they
learned the real truth--had been killed by the explosion of a shell, and
that the eighth man had been wounded; but there were several other cases
of men being wounded which were not known about until later, because of
the great difficulties of discovering the men amongst the ruins which
the shell-fire had caused.

From the moment the bombardment began there was an awful commotion, and
the noise grew until it was simply deafening. The whole town literally
shook, and while the firing lasted there was a tremendous and continuous
vibration--everything shivered and rattled. One shell struck the wall of
the football ground, which faces the sea; not far away a hole was dug in
the ground by one of the very first of the shells that were fired; the
fine old church of St. Hilda was damaged, and the side of the rectory
was simply peppered by a bursting shell.

In the particular place where I and my chums were, the shells were
coming in a shower, and doing enormous mischief. We could see that
plainly enough. But it was not until later, when the German warships had
steamed away as hard as they could go, that we knew how great the damage
had been, and how many lives had been lost and people wounded.

The German ships fired from one side to begin with, then they turned
round and continued the bombardment from the other side, so they must
have been ready loaded all round. The size of the shots varied from the
12-inch shells, perfect monsters, to the small ones which came so fast
and did so much havoc. The fact that some of the huge shells were found
unexploded after the bombardment proves that ships of great size took
part in the raid.

Some time after the firing began I felt a blow on my thigh, and fell to
the ground, helpless, though I did not know at the time what had
happened. At last, when the firing--which continued for about forty
minutes--ceased, stretcher-bearers and volunteer ambulance workers set
about collecting the wounded, and I was picked up and brought to the
hospital here.

It was then found that I had been struck on the thigh by part of the cap
of a shell, and that I had sustained a compound fracture. The piece of
metal was still sticking in me--you can see it later. It was taken out,
and I was promptly and most kindly looked after, as were all our men who
had been wounded and were brought in. Poor Liddle, as I have told you,
was not discovered for some time; then he was found and brought here,
and died late at night, in spite of all the efforts that were made to
save him. He had a real soldier’s funeral--just as had the rest of the
soldiers who had been killed.

As soon as the bombardment was over the people set to work to collect
the dead as well as save the wounded, and both were heavy tasks; but
there

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 188._

“THE ‘HOGUE’ BEGAN TO TURN TURTLE. THE FOUR IMMENSE FUNNELS BROKE AWAY”
(p. 173).]

were many willing hands. Even in half-an-hour a wonderful difference had
been made in the streets, and those people who had been rushing towards
the country for safety began to return. They brought in reports of
losses which had been suffered in the outskirts through shells; but, as
I have said, the worst cases of all were just about here.

One house was completely demolished, and the father, mother, and
half-a-dozen children were killed, so that home and family were wiped
out in an instant. One part of the Old Town is so utterly destroyed that
it is called “Louvain,” and if you look at the houses there you will
find that they are just heaps of rubbish and ruins, with beds and
furniture and so on, buried.

Shells had exploded in the streets, in houses, fields, at the gasworks,
in shipyards--anywhere and everywhere--and one big thing stuck itself in
a house and is kept as a relic. Another crashed through four railway
waggons, and another shell, which travelled low on the ground, went
through several sets of the steel metals on the railway, which shows the
fearful penetrative power of the projectile.

If the Germans had had their way, no doubt this place would have been
wiped out altogether. They made a dead set at the gasworks, but did not
do a great deal of mischief there, though it meant that that night a lot
of people had to burn candles instead of gas. And though more than a
hundred people were killed, and the Germans fondly supposed that they
had struck terror into the place, they had done nothing of the sort.

The residents were soon clearing up the ruins and settling down again as
if nothing had happened. The most pitiful of all the tasks was that of
dealing with the dead and wounded children, and the remembrance of the
sad sights will be the best of all inspirations for some of our fellows
when the day comes on which they will get their own back from the
Germans.

It was not long before we learned that at about the same time as we were
being shelled at Hartlepool, German warships had appeared off the
entirely undefended places of Whitby and Scarborough. They call these
old fishing ports fortified, but that is an absolute untruth, and they
know it. But the Germans were out to kill and destroy, and they did both
in a manner which showed that they had made calculations to a minute,
and that their spies had been long at work.

At Scarborough the raiders did a lot of damage before they ran away.
They had prepared one of their boasted surprises for us, and we got it;
but that was nothing to the surprise we gave them on Christmas morning
at Cuxhaven--a real fortified place--and nothing, I hope and believe, to
the surprises that our Navy has in store for the German naval runaways.

You ask how long shall I be in hospital.

That is hard to tell; but I have been here two weeks already, and I
suppose that I shall be here for at least six weeks longer.

I keep the piece of shell which struck me, in a bit of brown paper in
the cupboard near the head of the bed. I cannot rise to get it myself,
but if you will open the little door you will find it. It’s the sort of
thing which caused such havoc in the Hartlepools when the German
warships came and bombarded us.



CHAPTER XVI

CAMPAIGNING WITH THE HIGHLANDERS

     [The Highland regiments have made a great impression upon the
     Germans since the war began, and the kilted troops have added to
     their laurels in the field. This story of fighting with the
     Highlanders is told by Private A. Veness, 2nd Battalion Seaforth
     Highlanders, who was wounded and invalided home.]


I have served eight years in the Seaforth Highlanders. To begin with I
was a bandsman, but when the war broke out and I was recalled to the
colours, I became an ordinary private, and the only music that the
Germans heard me play was the rattle of my rifle. When we landed in
France and marched off to the front the girls seemed to have a special
fancy for the kilted men--at any rate they crowded up and hugged and
kissed those they could get hold of; so we went off in very good
spirits, singing and whistling popular tunes, not forgetting the
Marseillaise and “Tipperary.”

Being a strange country we saw a good many things that were new and very
strange to us till we got used to them. One amusing incident happened as
soon as we were in Belgium, and that was the sight of a big fat man
being pulled in a little cart by two dogs. It was funny, but still it
made us angry, for we rather looked upon it as cruelty to animals; so we
shouted, “Lazy brute!” “Get out and give the dogs a ride!” and so on,
and I daresay the man was greatly surprised, though he didn’t know what
we were saying. In a little while we understood that dogs are
extensively used for haulage purposes in Belgium and we ceased to take
any special notice of them.

It was not long after landing before we were told to be ready for the
Germans, but that proved a false alarm. We were, however, to get our
baptism of fire in a dramatic fashion, and that baptism naturally dwells
in my mind more vividly than many of the far bigger things which
happened later in the war.

A terrific thunderstorm broke, and a party of us were ordered to billet
in a barn. We climbed up into a loft and began to make ourselves
comfortable and to make some tea. We had scarcely got the welcome tea to
our lips when the hurried order came to clear out of the building, and
into the thunderstorm we dashed. Then the German shells began to fly and
burst, and in a few minutes the barn was struck and shattered, so that
we had a very narrow escape.

It was at this stage that we had our first man killed. He was a chum of
mine, a bandsman, named Dougal McKinnon. While we were having our tea
Dougal was under cover in the trenches, in front of the barn, with his
company. They were under shell fire, and he was killed by bursting
shrapnel. He was buried close to the spot where he fell, and being the
first of our men to be killed in action we felt it very deeply. Many
times after that, when our chums were killed, we had to leave them,
because we had no time to bury them.

We got on the move, and when night came it was awful to see the whole
countryside lit up with the flames of burning buildings--farms and
houses and other places which had been set on fire by the Germans.
There was a farm which was blazing furiously and I shall never forget
it, for the good reason that in marching we managed to circle it three
times before we could get properly on the march and go ahead.

We pushed on to Cambrai, where the cannonading was truly terrible. My
company was in support of another company in advance. We lay behind a
bank, sheltering, for a few hours. At the back of us was a British
howitzer battery, in a bit of a wood, so that we were between two awful
fires. It was indescribable--the deafening din, which never ceased or
lessened while the duel raged, the excitement, the danger, and the
nerve-strain; yet there was something fascinating in watching the firing
and wondering what was going to happen.

It is wonderful to think of the working of the human mind at such a
time, and strange to recall the odd things one does. In our own case, as
we had to go on sheltering and watching, we amused ourselves by counting
the number of shells that dropped within a certain area which was well
under our observation. The area was, roughly speaking, about 200 yards
square, and in three-quarters of an hour no fewer than seventy-six
shells exploded over that particular spot. They were shrapnel and high
explosive and never struck the ground--they burst in the air, and at one
time I counted six shells bursting in the air together. That gives you
some idea of the tremendous nature of the German shell fire. Luckily a
great number of the shells did not explode at all, or few if any of us
could have got away.

It is impossible to praise too highly the British artillery’s work. To
my own personal knowledge there was one battery that day--I don’t know
which it was--which was under fire for at least seven hours continuously
without shifting; and during the whole of that time they were replying
to the German guns.

After that shattering experience we camped in a cornfield at night, and
were settling down to sleep when were we ordered to move again. For
hours, worn and weary though we were, we were on the march, and thankful
we were when we halted in a village and got a box of biscuits from the
French as a midday snack. We had been forced to part with most of our
equipment and many of the greatcoats were thrown away; but I felt that I
should want mine and I stuck to it--and I am wearing it now. It has had
plenty of rough usage--and here are the holes made by a piece of flying
shrapnel.

I am proud to say that the general in command of our division
congratulated the regiment on its splendid marching, and I think we did
a fine thing, for in about twelve hours we covered about thirty-two
miles--actual marching, with just a halt here and there. The Germans had
done their best to trap us, but they had not succeeded, and we escaped,
to turn the tables on them with a vengeance.

That night I had to report sick--there was something wrong with my
ankles. I was unable to march, so I got a lift on a limber-waggon of the
88th Battery of the Royal Field Artillery. During the ride, which lasted
all night, I went through some of the finest country I ever saw. It was
particularly beautiful because of the time of the year, late autumn, and
the clear light of the full moon. This moonlight ride on a limber will
be always associated in my memory with the grandest spectacle of its
sort I saw during the war.

The battery was travelling along a switchback road, and I was wrapped up
in the beautiful and peaceful scenery--it was hard to believe that this
calm landscape was the scene of war and that the splendid British
gunners I was with had been dealing death and destruction amongst the
Germans so lately.

Not far away was a river, winding like a silver thread over the face of
the country, and suddenly, from the river, there rose an immense mass of
flame and smoke, followed quickly by a thunderous rumbling roar.

I knew at once that a bridge had been blown up. I cannot tell you who
destroyed it--Germans or French; all I know is that I saw the sight and
it was the most remarkable of its kind that I witnessed--and I saw four
splendid bridges destroyed in this manner.

At one time we had crossed a fine bridge and as soon as we had done so a
hole was dug and a mine was laid in the centre. Then our cyclist section
was sent out to report what was going to happen and the bridge was blown
up. In this case we were the last to cross before the explosion
occurred.

At an early stage of the operations I was lucky enough to see a very
fine fight in the air, a duel between a French airman and a German
airman. I was able to follow the duel for miles. The men in the
aeroplanes were firing revolvers at each other and we could hear the
crack of the shots, though we could not see any definite results,
because the duel got too far away. This was the first fight in the air
that I saw, and I watched it with extraordinary interest, especially as
we all keenly hoped that the German would be brought down, because he
had been flying over our lines and quickly directed shell fire on us
owing to his signals. For fully twenty minutes I watched this air fight.
It was wonderful to see the swiftness with which the machines dived and
dodged. The Frenchman circled over the German in the most skilful and
daring manner and time after time threatened his existence.

Another remarkable incident I witnessed at this time was the escape of a
German cavalryman. He was an Uhlan, a scout, I take it, and quite alone.
We were on the march and had been told that the German cavalry were in
large numbers near us, and so that we should be ready for them we took
up a position, with some Irish infantry to the left of us.

We were lying in position on a hill, and in front of us was three or
four miles of good flat country, so that we should have had a fine view
of cavalry in force. We watched and waited, but the threatened cavalry
did not come--all we saw was this solitary Uhlan, a mere speck on the
wide plain.

As soon as the Uhlan was seen the rifles rattled and it was expected
that he would be potted; but he seemed to bear a charmed life. The Irish
battalion gave him a particularly heavy fire--the Seaforths were too far
off to reach him with the rifle; but the Uhlan galloped gaily on, and it
was quite amusing to watch him. No doubt he thoroughly enjoyed
himself--at any rate he galloped unscathed across two or three miles of
open country, and got away.

It was not until we were within about eighteen miles of Paris that the
retirement ended and we began the offensive. We had had a very hard
time, and were to have a few days’ rest, but we never got it. Yet in
spite of the hardships we had some very pleasant times, because of the
beauty of the country and the season.

Joyful indeed was the day when we began to drive the Germans back, and
it was the more joyful because the advance was almost as swift as our
retirement had been.

On that wonderful advance we saw some horrible things--I will not dwell
on German barbarities, though there were many proofs of them--including
great numbers of horses which had been killed or wounded and left just
where they had fallen. No attempt had been made to dispose of the
decaying carcases and many a poor brute had died a lingering death.

I was greatly struck by the Germans’ cruelty to their horses, in leaving
them like this; but that was one proof of the hurriedness of the enemy’s
retreat--the Germans who had got so near Paris and were then flung right
away back from the city. I need hardly say that whenever a sign of
movement was noticed in a horse a man was sent to put the poor thing out
of its misery.

There was still plenty of hardship to put up with, but that did not
matter so much when we were driving back the Germans.

I remember very well one day and night of uncommon wretchedness. It was
raining heavily and continuously, and in the deluge I and three more men
were sent on outpost--to observe and keep our eyes open, and so that we
could do that to the best advantage we took up a position on the top of
a hayrick. A perfect hurricane was blowing, and the almost solid rain
was fairly driven into us; but we stuck it through, and hung on to the
top of the haystack till it was dark, then we thankfully got down and
went into an open shed for shelter--a building that was just a
protection for wheat-stacks.

I had had my turn of picketing and was lying down to get a snatch of
sleep when I was ordered to go up a road about a mile and a half away,
to find out whether our relief had come. So out into the darkness and
the wind and rain I staggered and fought my way through what was the
worst night for weather that I ever saw. On and on I and my comrades
went, looking hard for our relief, but we never saw it, and we waited
there till next morning, when we rejoined our brigade.

Those were times when there was little rest for the Seaforths, or
anybody else.

The aeroplanes gave us little chance of rest, and at times they had an
uncanny knack of finding us.

One day, after a long, hard march, we put into a wood for shelter. A
French supply column was already in the wood and doubtless the Germans
knew of or suspected this; at any rate a German aeroplane came over us,
with the result that in a few minutes we were shelled out. We rested in
another part of the wood till it was dark, then we were taken on to
billets, but we had to make another move, because we were shelled out
again. That was the sort of thing which came along as part of the day’s
work; and as part of the day’s work we took it cheerfully.

When we got the Germans on the move we took prisoners from time to
time. I was on guard over a few prisoners, part of a crowd, when one of
them came up to me and to my amazement I recognised him as a German who
had worked in Soho Square and used often to go to the same place as
myself for dinner--a little shop in Hanway Street, at the Oxford Street
end of Tottenham Court Road. The prisoner recognised me at once and I
recognised him. To show how ignorant the Germans were of the enemy they
were fighting, I may tell you that this man said to me, “If we had known
we were fighting the English, I would never have left London!”

Was it not strange that the two of us, who had so often met as friends
for dinner in the little foreign shop, should meet again as enemies on
the banks of the Marne?

I am now coming to a sorrowful personal incident--the loss of my chum,
Lance-Corporal Lamont. We had been together from the beginning of the
war and had shared everything there was, even to the waterproof sheet.
He would carry the sheet one day and I would carry it the next, and
whenever such a thing had to be done as fetching drinking-water, often a
very dangerous task, we would share that too.

Throughout one awful night of ceaseless rain, which soaked us to the
skin, the two of us were in the trenches--we had dug ourselves in, with
just ordinary head cover. We lay there till next morning, when an
officer came along my platoon and asked if we had any drinking-water.

We told him that we had not.

The officer said, “If you care to risk it, one of you can go and fetch
some water.”

We decided to take the risk, which was great, because to get the water
meant getting to a farmhouse just behind us, under a heavy fire.

My chum volunteered to go, and, taking the water-bottles, he left the
trench and started to cross the open ground between us and the
farmhouse. While he was doing this the order came for us to advance--and
I never saw him again.

It was soon my turn to be put out of action. A pretty stiff fight was
going on and the fire was so heavy that it was very dangerous to be in
the open; but it was necessary for me and a few more men to cross a bit
of open ground, and we made a start. We had not gone far when a shell
came between me and another man who was at my side. The shell struck him
fair on the arm and shattered it. He fell over on his side, and as he
did so he said, “For Heaven’s sake cut my equipment off!”

I took out my jack-knife and slit the equipment across the shoulders and
let it drop away from him.

He crawled off and I was told afterwards that while he was trying to
creep to shelter he was struck again and killed.

I crawled as best I could up to the firing line, but when I got there I
found that there was no room in the trenches for me, so I had to lie in
the open. I had not been there long before a fellow next to me asked me
what time it was. I took out my watch and told him it was about
eleven-fifteen--and the next thing I knew was that I felt as if someone
had kicked me on the top of the head.

I turned round and said, “Tommy, I’m hit!” I became unconscious for some
time, then, when I recovered, I said, “Tommy, is it safe to crawl
away?”

“No,” said Tommy, “it’s risky. It’s a bit too hot!”

“Never mind,” I answered. “If I stay here much longer I shall collapse.
I’m going to have a shot at it--here goes!”

I began to crawl away, but I must have taken the wrong direction, for I
was soon under two fires. I was approaching the mouths of two or three
of our own guns, which were in front of a farmhouse.

I soon found that this was a bit too warm for me, and so I turned and
took what I supposed was the right direction. I had had enough of
crawling, which was very slow work. I wanted to get out of it, and I
made up my mind to rise and run. That does not sound very brave, but it
was the better part of valour.

I started to run, as best I could; but I had hardly got going when a
bullet struck me, as I supposed, and I collapsed alongside some of my
own comrades.

Stretcher-bearers came up, in time, and I was carried to the field
hospital. Then a curious discovery was made, which was, that a bullet
had gone through four or five pleats of my kilt and had stuck in my leg,
high up. This is the place where it struck and stuck and here’s the
bullet, which the doctor easily pulled out with his fingers, for it had
not penetrated deeply, owing, I think, to the resistance of the pleats
of my kilt. Apart from this bullet wound I was struck by shrapnel four
times, but I managed to keep going.

I left the field hospital the next day and joined an ambulance column
which was shelled by the Germans as it went along. I escaped myself, but
one of the waggons was completely wrecked.

Having recovered from my wound to a certain extent I went back to the
regiment, but after a few days I had to be invalided home, and I have
had a long and tedious spell in hospital.

There is one more incident I would like to mention by way of closing. We
halted in a village in France where we saw some of the Turcos, one of
whom was very noticeable because he was proudly wearing the greatcoat of
a German officer which he had secured on the battlefield, after killing
the officer.

While we halted, a batch of German prisoners was brought into the
village, and they were put into a courtyard between two rows of
cottages. No sooner had this been done than an old man rushed out, and
if it had not been for the guard he would have hurled himself upon the
prisoners and done his best to thrash them.

The act was so strange that I inquired the reason for the old man’s
fury. And the answer I received was, “He remembers 1870.”

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 202._

“A BULLET STRUCK HIM IN THE BACK AND KILLED HIM” (p. 9).]



CHAPTER XVII

TRANSPORT DRIVING

     [It was estimated that, early in the war, no fewer than 10,000
     vehicle workers were serving with the colours--3000 taxicab
     drivers, 3000 tramway men, and 4000 motor-’bus drivers. These
     trained men went from London and the provinces, some being
     Reservists, and others joining various regiments; but a very large
     number went into the Transport Section, and did splendid work. From
     this story by Private James Roache, Mechanical Transport Section,
     Siege Artillery Brigade, we learn something of the heavy and
     perilous work that falls to the lot of the Transport Section, and
     can realise the enormous extent to which the Army depends upon its
     transport.]


I got into Ypres about seven days after the Germans had left the city,
and I learned from a school-teacher who spoke English that they had
commandeered a good many things, and had pillaged the jewellers’ shops
and other places of business.

At that time the Germans did not seem to have done any exceptional
damage; but they made up for any neglect later on, when they acted like
barbarians in bombarding and destroying the beautiful old city, and
smashing its priceless ancient buildings into ruins. That is part of the
system of savagery which they boast about as “culture.”

We had been in Ypres about a week when the first German shell came. It
was the beginning of a fearful havoc. That was about ten o’clock in the
morning. The shell dropped plumb into the prison. There were a good
many civil prisoners in the gaol at the time, but I do not know what
happened to them, and I cannot say whether any of the helpless creatures
were killed or wounded.

At that time I was helping to supply the Siege Artillery Brigade, the
guns of which--the famous 6 in. howitzers--were a mile or so out of the
city. We had four cars, each carrying three tons of lyddite--twelve tons
in all--standing in the Market Square, and exposed to the full artillery
fire of the enemy.

It was a perilous position, for if a shell had struck that enormous
amount of lyddite probably the whole city would have been wrecked, and
the loss of life would have been appalling. We had to wait for several
hours before we could move, because of the difficulty in communicating
with the brigade; but when the order did at last arrive, we lost no time
in getting to a safer place than the Market Square.

It was while we were standing under fire that I saw a mother and her
child--a girl--struck by a fragment of a bursting shell. They were the
first people to be wounded in Ypres.

The shell--a big brute--burst on the roof of a house, and the fragments
scattered with terrific force all around. People were flying for their
lives, or hiding, terror-stricken, in the cellars; and the woman and her
daughter were struck as we watched them fly.

Some of us rushed up and found that one of the boots of the woman had
been ripped open, and that the child had been struck on the face and
badly cut.

I picked her up, and saw that she was unconscious; but I got at my
field-dressing and did all I could for her, and was thankful to find
that she soon came back to her senses, though she was suffering
terribly from shock and began to cry bitterly.

The mother also was dreadfully upset, but not seriously hurt. We lost no
time in getting them into the underground part of a café near at hand,
and there we had to leave them. I don’t know what became of them, but I
suppose they were taken away. I often wonder what has happened to the
poor little soul and her mother, victims, like so many thousands more,
of the German invaders. I am glad to know that with our field-dressings
we were able to help a good many civilians who were wounded.

The four cars I have mentioned were big transport-lorries, made
specially for the war, and very fine work can be done with them. But how
different the work is from that which we used to do at home as
motor-drivers!--and I had a fair experience of that before I joined the
Transport Service. There was as much difference between the two as there
is between this war and the South African War, in which I served in the
Imperial Yeomanry.

These lorries carried immense quantities of ammunition, and so the
Germans made a special point of going for them, in the hope of bringing
about a destructive explosion; but, taken on the whole, they had very
poor luck that way.

When the order came to us in the Market Square at Ypres to march, we
left the city and travelled along the roads till it was dark; and after
that we returned to the city, taking the stuff with us. No sooner were
we back in Ypres than the Germans started shelling again, after having
ceased fire for about four hours.

What we carried was wanted for the guns, but we could not reach them,
owing to the excessive danger from the German fire. It is a strange fact
that as soon as any stuff was going through by transport the Germans
started shelling it, which seems to show that they had word when
transports were on the move. They shelled us constantly, and we got to
take the thing as a very ordinary part of the day’s work.

It was only when some uncommon explosion occurred that we were roused to
take notice; and such an event took place one day when one of the very
biggest of the German shells burst in the air not far away from me with
a tremendous crash, and made an immense cloud of awful smoke and rubbish
as the fragments struck the ground.

This explosion was so near and so unusual that I thought I would get
hold of a souvenir of it. And so I did. I secured a piece of the base of
the shell, and meant to bring it home as a trophy; but I had to leave
it, for the weight of the fragment was 95 lb., and that’s a trifle heavy
even for a transport-driver. This was certainly one of the very biggest
and most awful of the German shells of the immense number I saw explode.

There is, or was, a skittle-alley in Ypres, near the water-tower, and
some of the Munsters were billeted there. I was near the place when some
very heavy shelling was going on, and I saw one shell burst on the
building with a terrific report. I knew at once that serious damage was
done, and that there must have been a heavy loss of life, for I saw
wounded and unwounded men rushing into the street from the ruined
building. Some of the men were bandaging themselves as they rushed out.
I knew that there must be a shocking sight inside the building; so when
the commanding officer said, “Would you like to go inside and look at
it?” I replied that I would rather not. And I was glad afterwards, for I
learned that six poor fellows had been killed. That was the sort of
thing which was constantly happening to our fighting men, and it was bad
enough; but it was infinitely worse when the victims were women and
children, as they so often were, and it was the sight of these innocent
sufferers which was the hardest of all to bear. Some of our youngsters
were particularly upset.

There was a little trumpeter of the Royal Garrison Artillery, to which
we were attached, and a fine youngster he was, about sixteen years old.
We called him “Baggie.” He used to stick it very well, but at times,
when he saw women and children hurt, he gave way and cried. But that
kind-heartedness did not prevent him from being always eager to come
with us when we took the ammunition up to the guns in the firing line.
“Baggie” never knew fear for himself, but he felt it badly when others
were hit or hurt, and that took place day after day.

There was another little trumpeter of the Royal Engineers who got badly
upset for the same reason. He was billeted in a timber-yard, and I saw a
shell fall in the yard and burst and send the timber flying in all
directions. It seemed as if tremendous mischief had been done, and that
there must have been a heavy loss of life; but, as a matter of fact,
only one man was injured on the head and face by splinters.

The trumpeter rushed out, and I went up and talked with him to cheer him
up a bit.

“It’s no good!” he said. “I can’t stick it any longer! I try to be
brave, but I have to give way!”

Then he broke down and fairly cried, and a very pitiful sight it was,
for he was only a kiddie, fifteen or sixteen years old.

I was always troubled myself when I saw how these little chaps were
upset; but they did not break down through anything like fear--they were
not afraid, and were splendid when they were with the men--it was the
suffering and the fearful sights they saw that bowled them out.

These trumpeters--mere lads--went through all the marching and fighting
that led up to the fearful business at Ypres, and they came out of the
business splendidly. Little “Baggie,” for example, was right through it
from the Aisne, and was up and down with the Siege Artillery all the
time. He was present when one of the lieutenants was killed, and when I
last heard of him he was still on the move and well; and I sincerely
hope that he is all right now, and will come safely home.

I mention these things about the youngsters particularly, because they
struck me as being out of the common, and so you notice them more than
the ordinary matters.

While speaking of the earlier days of the war, I might say that, after
the Marne and the Aisne, when we were going back over ground that we
knew and on which we fought, we saw some sickening slaughter scenes, and
realised to the full what an awful thing a war like this is.

One very peculiar incident which comes into my mind was the finding of a
dead Uhlan in a wood. He had evidently been badly wounded, and had made
his way into the wood for safety, but he had died there. When we found
him he was sitting in a crouching position. On examining him, we found
two postcards which he had written. We could not read them, but, as far
as we could tell, they were addressed to women of the same name, but
living in different places. We buried the Uhlan in the wood, and handed
the postcards to a German officer who had been made prisoner, and he
gave us to understand that he would see that they were sent to their
destinations when he got a chance to despatch them. That incident was
only one of many similar sights we came across in our part of the
business.

Transport work, as a rule, was very uncomfortable, because it was mostly
done at night, when the roads were very dark, and we had to do as best
we could without lights. Anything like an ammunition or supply column
was a particular mark for the Germans, and whenever they got the chance
they would do their best to find us out; and a favourite way of doing
this was to fire a few shots in one place and a few in another, in the
hope that we should be drawn and reveal our position. But we didn’t give
the show away quite so easily as that.

I had many opportunities of seeing the fine work which was done by our
armoured trains, and I saw something of the performances of the
aeroplanes. I witnessed several air fights, but there was not really a
lot to see, because there was so much swift manœuvring. There was
plenty of firing at the aircraft, but they are most difficult things to
hit. One of the German aeroplanes dropped a bomb on Ypres. It fell on a
doctor’s house near the town station and exploded, but it did not do any
great amount of mischief. It broke the front door and shattered the
windows and knocked the place about, but I fancy that it did not hurt or
kill anybody.

What was the finest sight I saw while I was at the front? Well, I think
the best thing I ever saw was the way some of our lancers scattered a
far superior body of Uhlans and made them fly. That was on the
retirement from Mons. It was a very bad time, and there were some
fearful sights, for the roads leading from the town were crowded with
fleeing women and children. In any case it was bad enough to get along
the road, but it was infinitely worse to make our way along through the
crowds of refugees with our motor-lorries, especially in view of what we
carried. To make matters worse, we had got on the wrong road, and it was
necessary to turn back. To do this we had to turn round, and, as there
were eighty cars, I need not tell you what a business that meant,
especially with the enemy harassing us, and I dare say fondly thinking
that they had us in a proper grip. The Germans were quite close to us,
and firing, and we were ordered to get down and defend the cars. The
road at this point was very narrow, and it seemed as if we were trapped,
though we were covered by cavalry.

The country thereabouts did not seem very favourable for cavalry work,
but it was all right from the point of view of the Uhlans, who, from
their horses, potted at us from the brow of the hill on which they
stood. The weather was miserable, dull, and it was raining, and,
altogether, it was not an exhilarating business. The Uhlans seemed to be
having it all their own way; then the scene changed like magic, and that
was when the gallant 9th Lancers appeared, to our unspeakable joy. I
can claim to understand something in a modest way about cavalry, as an
old Imperial Yeoman, and I do know that there was no finer sight ever
seen than the spectacle of those splendid fellows of the 9th, who,
without any sound of trumpet or any noise, came up and charged the
Uhlans. One body of Uhlans was on the brow, two more bodies were in a
wood. But these two did not take any active part in the fighting; they
seemed to wait till their comrades on the brow had paved the way with
us, so that they could swoop down. But the Uhlans did not get a chance
to swoop, though they were three to one against our lancers.

Jumping a ditch and galloping across the country, our cavalry were after
the Uhlans like the wind. But the Uhlans never stopped to face the
lance; they vanished over the brow of the hill, and the fellows who were
watching and waiting in the wood vanished, too. They bolted, and must
have been thankful to get out of it. All they knew, probably, was that
our men came along a road in the wood till they got to a clear part, and
that through that opening the 9th were on them like a flash, without
firing a shot. They managed to get in amongst the first line of the
Germans with the lance and empty some of the saddles, while they
themselves had only one or two men bowled over.

I had a splendid view of this brilliant little affair--I should think
there were not more than 120 of the 9th--and I shall never forget the
way in which the lancers went for the enemy, nor the swiftness with
which the boasted Uhlans scuttled off behind the brow. It was an
uncommonly fine piece of work, and it saved our column.

The Uhlans had another shot at us two or three days later. They were at
quite close range, not more than four or five hundred yards away, but we
managed to keep them off and go about our business, which was to reach
the Marne and the Aisne, and then start back. We had about a month on
the Aisne without making much progress, though our troops were hard at
it all the time.

I had got out of Ypres--thankful to go--and had gone towards another
town. It was about midday, and we had halted. The hot weather had gone
away, and the cold had come. I was walking up and down to keep myself
warm. Shells were falling and bursting, as usual, but I did not pay much
attention to them. At last one burst about fifty yards away, and a
fragment struck me and knocked me round, after which I fell. At first I
thought I had been struck by a stone or a brick which somebody had
thrown, and it was not for some time that I realised that I had been
wounded in the thigh by a piece of shell. I was sent to England in due
course, and here I am, in a most comfortable hospital at the seaside,
ready to leave for home in two or three days.

My own experience with regard to the wound is not uncommon. It is not
easy to say how you have been hit, and I have known men who have been
shot through the body and have been quite unable to say whether the
bullet went in at the front or the back.



CHAPTER XVIII

BRITISH GUNNERS AS CAVE-DWELLERS

     [Sir John French has repeatedly praised the splendid work of the
     Royal Artillery during the war and glowing tributes to the courage
     and resourcefulness of British gunners have been paid by the other
     branches of the Army. Many a critical battle has been turned into a
     success by the artillery, some of the batteries of which have
     particularly distinguished themselves. Amongst them is the 134th,
     of whose officers and men no fewer than five were mentioned in Sir
     John French’s list, published on February 18th, of names of those
     whom he recommended for gallant and distinguished conduct in the
     field. This story of some of the work of our gunners is told by
     Corporal Ernest Henry Bean, of the 134th Field Battery, who was
     severely wounded and invalided home.]


You cannot exaggerate anything in this war. I am of a cheerful and
hopeful disposition, but I never thought I should live through the awful
business; yet here I am, cheerful still, though shot through both feet,
and forced to hop when I want to get from place to place.

I have had some strange adventures during the last few months, and one
of the oddest was in this good old Yarmouth. That was when the Germans
came and bombed us. But I will tell you about the air raid later. Here
are two eighteen-pounder shells, not from the front, but from
practice-firing, and it was such shells as these that made havoc amongst
the German troops, especially when we got to work on big bodies of
them.

The war came upon us so suddenly that even now it seems amazing that I
left peaceful England on a summer day and went straight into the very
thick of things. There was no waiting, for I sailed from Southampton on
the day after Mons was fought, and when we got into action it was at Le
Cateau. We had had a short spell in a rest camp, then we had some hard
marching. Throughout the whole of one night we kept at it, and soon
after breakfast next morning we were in the thick of one of the most
terrible artillery fights that has ever been known. For six mortal hours
we were under an incessant shell-fire. The experience itself was enough
to leave its mark for ever on your mind, but I shall always remember it
because of what happened to our horses. They were not used to this awful
business and they stampeded, galloping all over the place, and defying
every effort of the drivers to control them. The horses bolted with the
waggons and tore madly over the country, taking pretty nearly everything
that came in their way. The drivers were on the horses, but they were
powerless to control the frightened animals.

The battery itself was in action. I was with the teams--on an open road
with half-a-dozen of them, and no protection whatever, for the road ran
between open fields. We were a fine target for the Germans, and they saw
it and began to shell us hell for leather. The fire was deadly and there
is no wonder that the horses bolted.

What was to be done? What could be done except make a dash for shelter?
I did my level best to get out of the open and seek shelter. But shelter
seemed far away, there was nothing near at hand, but in the distance I
saw something that seemed hopeful, so I galloped towards it with my
teams. We went furiously along, and as I got nearer to the object I
could make out that it was a long brick wall which separated an orchard
from the road.

For about a mile, under a constant and furious fire, I dashed on; then I
got to the wall, and instantly I drew in as many of the bolting horses
as I could lay hands on. It all happened so swiftly that it is not easy
to tell how this was done; but I know that I was safely mounted on my
own horse when the stampede began, and that I dashed at the bolting
animals and grabbed as many as I could, and that I hurried them to the
shelter of the wall, and I fancy that they were just about as glad of
the protection as I was. The gallop was a mad affair, and very likely it
would never have ended as it did if all the shells the Germans fired had
burst; but some of them did not explode, though I did not know of this
till later, when I picked some of them up from the ground.

While I was in the thick of this exciting business Farrier-Sergeant
Scott was rushing about and securing other runaway teams, and he did so
well and his work was considered so brilliant and important that the
French gave him the decoration of the Legion of Honour.

For the best part of an hour I was under cover of the wall, doing the
best I could with the horses, and it was a funny old job to keep them
anything like quiet with such a heavy fire going on all the time; yet so
complete was the protection that practically no damage was done, the
worst that occurred being the shattering of a pair of wheels by a
bursting shell.

By the end of the hour both myself and the horses were pretty well
settling down; then things calmed down a bit. The Germans appeared to be
tired of pounding at us, and perhaps they thought that they had blown us
to pieces. At any rate we began to get out of it, and we had no sooner
started to do that than the firing instantly re-opened.

There was a village not far away and we made a dash for it; but we were
forced to clear out, for the enemy’s artillery set the little place on
fire and all the stacks and buildings were in flames. There was a good
deal of confusion and mixing up of all sorts of troops. I had lost touch
with my own lot and was ordered by a captain to join another column for
the night, and this I did. I joined the 2nd Brigade Ammunition Column
and next day I was with my own battery again, thankful to have got
safely through a very dangerous business.

Next day we picked up another position, and had no sooner done that than
information came that immense bodies of Germans were on the move in our
direction. The outlook was serious, because we were in the open and
there was nothing for it except a fight to the death. The Germans were
expected along a certain road and we made ready to fire at what is
practically point-blank range, using Fuses 0 and 2, so that at 500 and
1000 yards the masses of the enemy would have had the shells bursting
amongst them.

We had been through some tough times; but not in any situation which was
as unpromising as this. We knew that we could make a long stand, and mow
down the Germans as they swept along the open country; but we knew also
that in the end vastly superior forces must tell against us; but we
held our ground and the stern order went round, “Each take charge of
your own gun--and God help us!”

How long that awful strain lasted I cannot tell. It could not have been
long, but it seemed an eternity. While it lasted the strain was almost
unendurable; then it suddenly snapped, an immense relief came over us
and even the bravest and most careless amongst us breathed more freely
when we knew that the prospect of almost sure annihilation had passed,
for the German hosts, instead of coming by the expected road, had gone
another way.

With lighter hearts we limbered up, and day after day, night after
night, for eleven days, we kept hard at it, marching and fighting, and
whenever we got into action it was against very heavy odds. I was with
my own special chum, Sergeant Charlie Harrison, and often enough,
especially in the night-time, we would walk alongside our horses and
talk as we dragged ourselves along--talk about anything that came into
our minds, and all for the sake of keeping awake and not falling down
exhausted on the road; yet in spite of everything we could do we would
fall asleep. Sometimes we would continue walking while practically
asleep--we wanted to save our horses as much as we could--and more than
once, when I was riding, I went to sleep and fell out of the saddle.
There was one good thing, however, about the shock--it acted as a very
fine wakener-up. As for sleeping, when we got the chance of it, we could
do that anywhere--in ploughed fields, deep in mud and water, and on the
road itself.

All sorts of strange and unexpected things happened. While I was with
the Ammunition Column the Engineers were putting all their smartness and
skill into the building of a pontoon, and the Germans were specially
favouring them with “Coal Boxes.” This was my introduction to these big
brutes of shells, and it was not pleasant, especially as the column was
not more than twenty-five yards from the spot where they were exploding
with a terrific roar.

I was standing by my horse, feeling none too comfortable, when a big
shell burst and made awful havoc near me. A piece of it came and struck
me. I thought I was done for, then I looked around at myself, and found
that the two bottom buttons of my greatcoat had been torn away, but that
no further damage had been done. I was glad to have got off so easily,
and just as pleased to find that the horses had escaped.

At this time we were wanting food pretty badly, so that every ration
became precious. We were bivouacked when a file of infantrymen brought
in a German prisoner. Of course we gave him a share of pretty well
everything there was going, hot tea, bread, biscuits and bully beef, and
he did himself well. The prisoner was not exactly the sort to arouse
compassion, for he looked well fed and was dressed in a very smart
uniform. An officer came up, saw the captive, and said, “Do you think
this fellow looks as if he wanted anything?” Truth to tell, the fellow
didn’t, and as we did want things badly, he was sent somewhere else, and
we were not sorry to see him go.

After being kept so constantly on the rack, we had a welcome and
remarkable change--we became cave-dwellers. We spent five days and
nights in some of the famous caves at Soissons, and had a thoroughly
comfortable and happy time. We had a fine chance of resting and
enjoying ourselves, and we made the most of it.

Originally these caves were occupied by very primitive people; lately
they were used as a French hospital, and the French made all sorts of
interesting pictures and carvings on the outsides, by way of decoration,
then the British took them over as billets. By nature the caverns were
queer gloomy places, but a good deal had been done to make them
habitable, such as fitting in doors and windows. There had been a lot of
fighting near the caves, with the result that there were graves at the
very entrances of some of these uncommon billets; but this had no effect
on our spirits. We did not allow ourselves to be depressed. What is the
use of that in war-time? The British soldier has the happy knack of
making himself at home in all kinds of odd places, and so we did in our
billets in the rocks and hillside. We called one of our caves the “Cave
Theatre Royal,” and another the “Cave Cinema,” and many a cheerful
performance and fine sing-song we had. The only light we had came from
candles, but you can sing just as well by candle-light as you can by big
electric lamps, and I don’t suppose that ever since the caves were
occupied they rang with more cheerful sounds than were heard when the
British soldiers were joining in a chorus of the latest popular song
from home.

Another great advantage of the caverns was that they gave splendid cover
to our guns, and protection to ourselves, so that these five days and
nights gave us a real rest and complete change, and we were very sorry
when we left them and resumed the work of incessant fighting and
marching. We were constantly at the guns, and by way of showing what a
fearful business the artillery duels became at times, I may tell you
that from a single battery alone--that is, half-a-dozen guns--in one day
and night we fired more than 4000 rounds.

It was a vast change from the comfort and safety of the caverns, where
never a German shell reached us, to the open again, but we got our quiet
times and little recreations still, and one of these intervals we
devoted to football. We were at Messines, and so was a howitzer battery,
and as we happened to be rather slack, we got up a match. I am keen on
football, and things were going splendidly. I had scored two goals and
we were leading 3-1, when the game came to a very sudden stop, for some
German airmen had seen us running about and had swooped down towards us,
with the result that the howitzer chaps were rushed into action and we
followed without any loss of time. We took it quite as a matter of
course to let the football go, and pound away at the Germans, who had so
suddenly appeared. It was getting rather late, so we gave the enemy
about fifty rounds by way of saying good-night. We always made a point
of being civil in this direction; but our usual dose for good-night was
about fifteen rounds.

Talking of football recalls sad memories. On Boxing Day, 1913, when I
and an old chum were home on leave, I played in a football match, and at
the end of the game a photograph was taken of the team. On last Boxing
Day, if the roll of the team had been called, there would have been no
answer in several cases--for death and wounds have claimed some of the
eleven. Little did we think when we were being grouped for the picture
that it was the last muster for us as a team.

We had got through the tail end of summer and were well into autumn, and
soon the gloom of November was upon us, then came my change of luck and
I was knocked out. It was November 2, and almost as soon as it was
daylight we were in the thick of an uncommonly furious artillery duel,
one of the very worst I have seen. The Germans seemed to be making a
special effort that morning. They had got our position pretty
accurately, and they fired so quickly and had the range so well that we
were in a real hell of bursting shrapnel, indeed, the fragments were so
numerous that it is little short of a miracle that we were not wiped
out.

We had not been long in action when a shell burst on the limber-pole,
smashed it in halves, penetrated through the wheel, blew the spokes of
the wheel away and shot me some distance into the air. For a little
while I had no clear idea of what had happened, then I found that three
of us had been wounded. My right boot had been blown to shreds, and
there was a hole right through the left boot. So much I saw at once--a
mess of blood and earth and leather; but of the extent of my wounds I
knew very little, nor did I trouble much about them at the time. The
first thing I did was to get into the main pit by the side of the gun,
the captain and one or two chums helping me, and there, though the pain
of my wounds was terrible, I laughed and chatted as best I could, and I
saw how the battery kept at it against big odds.

Number 1, Sergeant Barker, who was in charge of the gun, had been struck
by a piece of shrapnel, which had fractured his leg; but though that was
quite enough to knock him out of time, he never flinched or faltered. He
held on to his gun, and went on fighting pretty much as if nothing had
happened. Number 2, Gunner Weedon, had been wounded through the thigh, a
bad injury about three inches long being caused; but he, too, held
gamely on.

I tried to crawl out of the pit; but could not do so, and I passed the
time by trying to cheer my chums, just as they did their best to help me
to keep my own spirits up.

The sergeant found time occasionally to turn round and ask how I was
getting on.

“It’s all right, old Bean,” he shouted cheerily. “Keep quiet. We can
manage without you.” And he went on firing, while the officers continued
to give orders and encourage the men.

I was getting very thirsty and craved for a drink; but I saw no prospect
of getting either water or anything else at such a time.

The sergeant noticed my distress and gave me the sweetest drink I ever
tasted, and that was a draught from his own canteen. He managed to stop
firing for a few seconds while he did this--just long enough to sling
his canteen round, let me take a pull, and sling it back. I learned
afterwards that throughout the whole of that day, in that inferno of
firing and bursting shells, the sergeant stuck to his gun and kept it
at. For his courage and tenacity he has been awarded the Distinguished
Conduct Medal, and no man has ever more fully deserved it.

I was lying in the gun pit for about an hour, then a doctor came and my
wounds were dressed, but there was no chance of getting away for the
time being, so I had to wait till the firing ceased. At last a stretcher
was brought, and I was carried into a barn which was at the rear of our
battery. One of the bearers was

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 222._

“WE WERE IN A REAL HELL OF BURSTING SHRAPNEL” (p. 221).]

Sergeant E. Leet, the right-back in our battery team. He left the fight
to bear a hand with me, and as soon as I was safely in the barn he
returned to his post. He had no sooner done that than he too was struck
down by a wound in the ankle and had to be invalided home.

When I was carried away the major and the sergeant-major said good-bye,
and I rather think they expected that that was the last they would ever
see of me. I certainly felt bad, and I daresay I looked it; but I was
quite cheerful. I particularly felt it when I passed my chum, Charlie
Harrison, because for more than six years we had kept together without a
break. We shouted good-bye as we passed, and I did not know whether I
should ever see him again.

When I reached the barn I wanted to get back to the battery, to be at my
own gun again, to bear a hand once more in the fighting that was still
going on and seemed as if it would never stop; but when I tried to stand
up I collapsed, through pain and loss of blood. Soon after this I heard
that Charlie Harrison too had been wounded. He was struck on the neck
just after I was carried away from the gun pit and had shouted good-bye
to him; but he bandaged himself and refused to leave the battery.

What became of him? Why, he got home from the front a day or two ago,
and you’ve just seen him. There he is. And let me show you this
shattered foot, to let you see how it is that I’m forced to hop when I
want to get about.

And now to get back to the air raid on the East Coast, which to me and
other soldiers from the front who saw it, was an extraordinary
experience, though I fancy that we took it more or less as a matter of
course, because you so soon get used to that kind of thing.

I had scarcely settled down at home when one night there was a fearful
commotion, caused by dull explosions. I was a bit taken aback, for I
knew what the sounds meant, and thought that I had done with the Germans
and fighting for a spell at any rate.

As soon as the sound of the explosions was heard, people rushed into the
streets--the most dangerous thing they could do--to see what it all
meant, and there were cries that the Germans had come.

So they had. They had come in a gas-bag or two, and were dropping bombs
on the good old town, which was lighted as usual, though that was soon
altered.

I hopped into the street--hopping is the only thing I can do at
present--and there I found that there was intense excitement and that
women in particular were badly scared. But really the thing did not
upset me at all--it was mere child’s play compared with what I had been
through, so I made myself useful, and hopped away and bought some
brandy, which suited some of the scared people very well--so well that
there wasn’t a drop left for myself.

The raid was soon over, and so was the scare, and I hopped back to the
house. There have been several frantic alarms since then, and more than
once I have been shaken out of my sleep and told that the Germans have
come again; but all I have said has been that it will take something far
worse than a German gas-bag raid to make me turn out of bed in the
middle of the night.



CHAPTER XIX

WITH THE “FIGHTING FIFTH”

     [One of the battalions which composed the 5th Division of the
     British Expeditionary Force was the 1st East Surrey Regiment. It
     was on the 5th Division that so much of the heavy fighting fell on
     the way to the Aisne, and in that heavy fighting the East Surreys
     suffered very severely. This story is told by Private W. G. Long,
     who rejoined his regiment from the Reserve. He has been wounded by
     shrapnel, and has permanently lost the use of his right arm.]


When I went out with my old battalion, the Young Buffs, we were more
than 1,300 strong. When I came back, after six weeks’ fighting, we had
lost more than half that number. This simple fact will show you what the
East Surreys have done during the war, as part of the famous “Fighting
Fifth” which has been so greatly praised by Sir John French.

I had got up to start my day’s work after the August Bank Holiday; but
that day’s work was never done, for the postman brought the mobilisation
papers, and off I went to Kingston, after kissing my wife and baby
good-bye. Many a fine fellow who marched off with me is sleeping in or
near a little forest which we called “Shrapnel Wood.” That was near
Missy, where we crossed the Aisne on rafts.

We lost our first man soon after we landed in France, and before we met
the Germans. That was at Landrecies, where we went into French barracks,
and were told off into rooms which we called rabbit-hutches, because
they were so small--no bigger than a little kitchen at home. We were
crowded into these, and the only bed we had was a bit of straw on the
floor. The nights were bitterly cold, but the days were hot enough to
melt us; so we had a bathing parade, and had a fine old time in the
canal till one of our men was missed.

I looked around, and saw that one of our fellows was having artificial
respiration tried on him. He came round, and then he told us that
another man had gone under the water. Then began a really first-class
diving display, many of our chaps plunging into the canal to try to find
the missing soldier.

At last one of the divers rose and shouted, “I’ve got him!” And, sure
enough, he had brought a poor chap to the surface. Lots of strong arms
were stretched out, and in a few seconds the rescued man was got on to
the bank, and every effort was made to bring him back to life. But
nothing could be done. The man was drowned, and we buried him. This
little tragedy threw quite a gloom over us till we moved away.

I am going to tell of a few of the things that happened and affected me
personally. They took place mostly when we were retiring, and some of
them occurred in the early days, when we were forging along in fearfully
bad weather. We were soaked to the skin, and at night did our best to
get some sort of shelter by building up the stacks of corn that had been
cut for drying, but it was no use. The rain came through so heavily that
we gave the task up, and waited for daylight again. When the day came it
brought another rain of shells and bullets with it. The place got too
warm for us, so we had to leave and retire again. We went on, getting as
much shelter as we could; and then we had to halt, and here the sorry
discovery was made that we had not a round of ammunition left. At this
time there were advancing towards us some men in khaki, and our
sergeant, thinking they were our own men, told us not to fire at them.

The order was not necessary, seeing that we had nothing to fire with. As
soon as these men got level with us on our flank they opened fire, and
then we knew that they were Germans, who had stripped some of our men,
or had picked up British caps and greatcoats which had been thrown
aside.

In this desperate position a man who belonged to the Cornwall Light
Infantry was shot just below the left ear. He was knocked down, but got
up, and kept saying, “Help me! Help me!”

I shouted to him to lie down and keep under cover, but he took no
notice, and kept on calling for help. He came up to me, and when he was
near enough I pulled him down and forced him to lie on the ground. All
this time there was a very heavy fire. We were getting shots from the
front and on our flanks, and there was nothing for it but to get away as
best we could.

I could not bear the thought of leaving this Cornwall man where he was,
so I took him up and began to carry him, but it was very slow going. It
was all uphill, the ground was sodden with rain, and I had to force a
way through a field of turnips, which were growing as high as my knees.
It was bad enough to make one’s own way through such a tangle as that;
but I am young and strong, and I managed to make progress, although I
was hit five different times--not hurt, but struck, a shot, for
instance, hitting my cap, another my water-bottle, and another the
sleeve of my coat.

After going a long distance, as it seemed, and feeling utterly
exhausted, I put my man down under what I thought was safe shelter. I
wanted to give him a drink, but I could not do so, as the shot-hole in
my water-bottle had let the water run to waste.

At last we reached a roadway, where we saw some more of our men, who had
got there before us, and had commandeered a horseless cart and filled it
with wounded men.

I got the wounded man into the cart, and then off we all went. It was as
much as we could manage to get the cart along, for it was such a great
big thing; but we worked it willingly, the officers taking their turn in
the shafts.

We dragged the cart along the heavy roads, but it was such hard going
that we saw that we should be forced to get a horse from somewhere; so
we looked around at the first farm we came to--and a sorry place it was,
with everything in confusion, and the animals about suffering terribly
and starving--and there we found a horse of the largest size.

With great difficulty we got together bits of harness, string and rope,
and tied the horse in the shafts with the ropes for traces, and when we
had finished we did not know whether we had harnessed the horse or tied
the cart on to it. Anyway, we got along very well after that.

The cart had amongst its wounded an infantry officer who had been saved
by one of our fellows, though the officer belonged to another regiment.
He had got entangled in some barbed wire, and, as he had been wounded
in the leg, he could not move either one way or the other. He was
absolutely helpless, and under a heavy fire.

Our fellow went out and got to the helpless officer, and, by sticking at
it and doing all he could, being himself pretty badly cut in the
operation, he freed the officer from the entanglement, and carried him
safely up to the cart. We were getting on very nicely with our little
contrivance when we ran into the 2nd Dragoons, but we soon left them
behind us, and found ourselves amongst some of our own transport. We
joined up with it, adding another and a very strange waggon to the
column, and on we went until we reached a large town and halted.

During the whole of this time I had been carrying a canteen which had
belonged to a Frenchman. It was quite a big canteen, and I kept it
filled with apples, of which we got an enormous number, and on which at
times we had practically to live for two or three days together.

We had reached a stage of fighting when we had to make continuous short
rushes against the Germans, under hails of shrapnel. In making these
rushes it often happened that we sheltered behind a little sort of
earthwork which we threw up. We just made a bit of head cover and lay
behind that; but sometimes this head cover could not be made, and that
was where I scored with my Frenchman’s canteen.

During one of our rushes shrapnel burst right over my head, and one
fellow said to me, “I wouldn’t carry that thing, George, if I were you.”
But, having kept it for so long, I was not going to throw it away.

Away we went. I was carrying the canteen in my left hand, and my rifle
in the right; but I changed them over, and I had no sooner done that
than crash came a shell, and, in bursting, a fragment hit the canteen,
and took a great piece out of it. I should have been badly wounded
myself, but I had filled the canteen with earth, and so it had protected
me and acted as a first-rate cover. The man who was on my right received
a nasty wound.

After this we had to advance over open country, where there was not so
much as a blade of grass for cover. We went on till we reached a ditch,
which was full of water. Some of us had to wade through it, but others,
by going farther back, were able to cross a tiny footbridge--one of
those narrow planks which only allow one man at a time to cross. The
Germans had a machine-gun trained at this little bridge so we lost no
time in getting off it. It was here that our captain was mortally
wounded by a shot, and we had other casualties in crossing the bridge.

From this point we had to climb to the top of a hill, which was so steep
that we had to dig our fixed bayonets into the ground to help us up.
There was a wood at the top of the hill, and there we took shelter; but
we had no sooner got amongst the trees than the shrapnel was on us
again, causing many casualties.

There were many funny incidents at this place, and one I particularly
remember was that there were three of us in a sort of heap, when a piece
of shell dropped just alongside. There was not any great force in it,
because before falling the piece had struck a tree; but, as it dropped,
fellows started turning up the collars of their coats, and rolling
themselves into balls--just as if things of that sort could make any
difference to a bursting shell; but it is amusing to see what men will
do at such a time as that.

From this wood we got into what seemed a wide roadway between two other
woods, and here we were under a never-ending rain of bullets, which hit
the trees, sending splinters all over us, cutting branches off and
ploughing up the ground on every side. One of our officers said, “Keep
your heads down, lads,” and he had scarcely got the words out of his
mouth when he was shot in the body and killed, and we had to leave him
where he fell.

So heavy and continuous was the fire that we could not get on between
these two woods, and we had to try another way; so we started to go
through a vineyard, but we were forced to lie down. We sheltered as best
we could amongst the vines, with bullets coming and actually cutting off
bunches of grapes. Like good British soldiers, we made the best of the
business, for we were both hungry and thirsty, and we devoured a good
many of the bunches that were knocked off by the German bullets.

After this we got into an orchard, but we did not remain there long, as
the place was later on blown to smithereens. We hung on to the orchard
till it was dark, then we advanced farther into the wood, and again got
through into the open, and lay down to try and get some sleep; but that
was almost impossible, because it was raining and perishingly cold, and
we had nothing at all for cover. Then, in whispers, we were ordered to
get out as silently as we possibly could.

At first I could not understand the meaning of this secrecy, but it soon
became known that we had been actually sleeping amongst the enemy,
though we were not aware of this until we were again on the move. We
crept about like a lot of mice, till we reached a village, where we were
to get some breakfast.

We were settling down, and making ourselves comfortable under a wall
which gave us some cover. There were some men from another regiment with
us, and we thought we were going to have a good time, for we had got
hold of some biscuits and jam. Then over the wall came a shell, which
exploded and wounded about seven men from the other regiment. We did not
stop for any more breakfast, and some of the men who had had nothing to
eat did not trouble to get anything, and they went without food for the
rest of the day.

We went back to the wood, and there we soon again found the Germans, and
plenty of them. We fired at them for all we were worth, after which we
advanced a little, and came across so many dead that we had to jump over
them every pace we took. One thing which particularly struck me then,
and which I remember now, was the great size of some of these German
soldiers. At a little distance they looked just like fallen logs.

After that our officer called us together to wait for reinforcements. I
thought I would have a look around me, and while I was doing so I saw
one German running off to our left, about fifteen yards away. I took aim
and fired, and down he went. I got down on my knee and unloaded my
rifle, when I saw another German going in the same direction. I was just
getting ready to take aim again, but this time I did not fire--in fact,
I did not even get to the aim, for I felt something hit my arm.

For the moment I thought that some chap behind me had knocked me with
his rifle or his foot. I turned round, but there was no one behind me,
so I concluded that I had been hit. I stood up, and then my arm began to
wobble, and the blood streamed out of my sleeve. Some one shouted,
“You’ve got it, George.” And I replied: “Yes; in the arm somewhere, but
where I don’t know.”

I did my best to get back again, and then a fellow came, and ripped the
sleeve open and dressed my arm, and there was all my elbow joint laid
open, and some of the bones broken. This chap wanted to take me back to
the village, but I said I was all right, although in a sense I was
helpless. We started going back, and we got to the first house, where we
saw a poor old man and his daughter who had been there all through the
fighting. The place was filled with wounded, and the two were doing
their best for them.

I asked for a drink, for I was almost dying of thirst, and I got some
whisky. While I was drinking it a shell burst in the middle of the road,
and sent the mud and stones everywhere; so I shifted my quarters, and
went along to a big house which had been a fine place, but it had been
pulled to pieces, and was now being used as a hospital. The place itself
gave no protection, but we found a cellar and crowded into it, and there
we watched the Germans blowing the temporary hospital to pieces.

The night came, and it was terrible to hear the poor chaps moaning with
pain. I was in pain myself now, but my sufferings were a mere nothing
compared with those of some of the men around me. It seemed as if the
day would never break, but at last it came, and by that time some of the
poor fellows who had been making such pitiful noises were no more. Some
time after that, however, I got away in a field ambulance.

When we were at Le Cateau many spies were caught. I saw several of them.
They were young chaps, dressed up as women and as boys and girls, and it
was not very easy to detect them. One was disguised as a woman, with
rather a good figure. I saw this interesting female when she was
captured by our artillery. The gunners had their suspicions aroused,
with the result that they began to knock the lady about a bit, and her
wig fell off. Then her figure proved to be not what it seemed, for the
upper front part of it was composed of two carrier-pigeons! I did not
see the end of that batch of spies, but a battery sergeant-major
afterwards told me that they had been duly shot.

One of the most extraordinary things I saw was the conduct of a man who
had had his right arm shot off from above the elbow. I was standing
quite near him, and expected that he would fall and be helpless. Instead
of doing that, he turned his head and looked at the place where the arm
should have been. I suppose he must have been knocked off his balance by
what had happened. At any rate, he gave a loud cry, and instantly
started to run as fast as I ever saw a man go. Two or three members of
the Royal Army Medical Corps at once gave chase, with the object of
securing him and attending to him. The whole lot of them disappeared
over some rising ground, and what happened to them I do not know.

I saw many fellows who had queer tales to tell of what had happened to
them. One chap, a rifleman, who was in the ship coming home, was so
nervous that the slightest noise made him almost jump out

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 234._

“I TOOK HIM UP AND BEGAN TO CARRY HIM” (p. 227).]

of his skin. And well it might, for his nerves had been shattered. A
shell had buried itself in the ground just in front of him and exploded,
blowing him fifteen feet into the air, and landing him in a bed of mud.
He was so completely stunned that he lay there for about eight hours,
scarcely moving, though he was not even scratched. He came round all
right, but was a nervous wreck, and had to be invalided.



CHAPTER XX

THE VICTORY OF THE MARNE

     [One of the most moving statements in the earlier official reports
     dealing with the war was that about the fighting at Mons and
     elsewhere, which cost us 6000 men, and no paragraph was more
     stirring than that relating to Landrecies, a quiet little French
     town on the Sambre. “In Landrecies alone,” the report said, “a
     German infantry brigade advanced in the closest order into the
     narrow street, which they completely filled. Our machine-guns were
     brought to bear on this target from the end of the town. The head
     of the column was swept away, a frightful panic ensued, and it is
     estimated that no fewer than 800 to 900 dead and wounded Germans
     were lying in this street alone.” The story of that furious combat
     and the subsequent operations on the Marne is told by Corporal G.
     Gilliam, of the Coldstream Guards. On September 6, in conjunction
     with the French, the British assumed the offensive, and, after a
     four days’ desperate struggle, which is known as the Battle of the
     Marne, the Germans were driven back to Soissons, with enormous
     losses.]


It was early on the afternoon of August 26 when we entered Landrecies,
which is a little garrison town, consisting mostly of a single street in
which there are three cross-roads. We were billeted in the people’s
houses, and for the first time in three days we had a drop of tea and a
bit of dinner in comfort, and to crown our satisfaction we were told we
could lie down and rest, but we were to have our bayonets fixed and
rifles by our sides and kits ready to put on.

We were soon down to it and sound asleep. It was about eight o’clock
when some of us woke, and after a smoke were off to sleep again, but not
for long, for almost immediately we heard the sound of a motor-cycle,
and knew that the rider was travelling at a terrific rate.

Nearer and nearer came the sound, and the rider himself swept round the
corner of the street. He never stopped nor slackened speed; he simply
shouted one word as he vanished, and that was “Germans!” Only one word,
but enough.

Rifles in hand, we rushed to the top of the street and lined the three
cross-roads, lying down. Our officer, who was standing up behind us,
said, “Lie still, men”; and we did--perfectly still, not a man moving.
All at once, out of the darkness, an officer came and cried in English
to our commander, “Surrender!”

“We don’t surrender here!” our officer answered. “Take that!”--and
instantly shot him through the head with his revolver.

Our officer’s shot had scarcely died away when crash went a German
artillery gun, and a lyddite shell burst right over us. This was our
first experience of lyddite, and the fumes nearly choked us.

“Lie still, boys--don’t move!” said our officer; and we lay low.

Just then, from the opposite direction, we heard the sound of horses and
a waggon, in the distance, it seemed; but soon it was very near, and to
our great joy there dashed up the street one of the guns of the 17th
Field Battery. There was a shout of “Into action! Left wheel!” And in
truly magnificent style that gun was almost instantly laid and ready for
action.

Shells now came upon us rapidly, wounding several of our men; but our
maxim gunners had got to work, and very soon enormous numbers of Germans
were put beyond the power of doing any further mischief.

Many splendid things were done that night at Landrecies; but there was
nothing finer than the work of our maxim-gunner Robson, who was on our
left. Our machine-guns were by now at our end of the town, and they had
a solid mass of Germans to go at. Robson was sitting on his stool, and
as soon as the officer ordered “Fire!” his maxim hailed death. It
literally was a hail of fire that met the packed Germans, and swept down
the head of the column, so that the street was choked in an instant with
the German dead. Those who lived behind pushed on in desperation--shoved
on by the masses still further behind, the darkness being made light by
the fire of the maxims and the enemy’s rifles. Those behind, I say,
pressed on, with fearful cries, but only to be mown down and shattered,
so that the street became more than ever glutted with the dead and
wounded. The Germans were thrown into frenzy, and if sheer weight of men
could have driven the head of the column on to us not a British soldier
could have lived that night at Landrecies.

Meanwhile, we had been ordered to hold our fire. There were only 600 of
us opposed to an immense body of Germans; but the maxims were doing
annihilating work, and the artillery had got into action.

When the gun of the 17th had got the order to fire we heard a gunner
shout: “Watch me put that gun out of action!”--meaning a German gun
which had been brought up and laid against us. He fired, and the most
marvellous thing happened, for the shell from it went right down the
muzzle of the German weapon and shattered it to pieces.

Then we heard a shout, and before we could look round about 4000 German
infantry were charging us, with horns blowing and drums beating--adding
to the fearful din.

“Don’t shoot, boys,” shouted our officer, “till I give the word!”

On the living mass of Germans came. They rushed up to within 80 yards of
us; then the order rang out: “Fire!”

Again the Germans got it--fifteen rounds to the minute from each rifle,
for the front rank men had their loading done for them. As soon as a
rifle was emptied it was handed to the rear and a fresh loaded rifle was
handed back. In this way the rifles were kept from getting too hot, and
an incessant fire was poured into the Germans.

In spite of this hail, a few Germans managed to break through their
walls of dead and wounded. One of them, disguised as a French officer,
and wanting us to think he had been a prisoner, but had just broken away
from the Germans, rushed up to Robson and patted him on the shoulder and
said: “Brave fellow!” And with that he whipped round his sword and
killed our maxim gunner on the spot; but he himself was instantly shot
down by our enraged fellows.

There was another case of treachery, this time, unhappily, from inside
our ranks. Our guide, a man claiming to be a Frenchman, at about one
o’clock in the morning, turned traitor, and went and told the Germans
how many there were of us, and by way of indicating our position he
fired a haystack; but he had no sooner done that than two bullets
settled him.

One of our corporals dashed away to put the fire out, but before he
reached the haystack he was killed. It was at this time that Private
Wyatt, of my company, rushed out--everything was done at a rush--and
brought in a wounded officer. The colonel, who was on his horse, and saw
what had happened, said: “Who is that brave man?” He was told, and
afterwards Wyatt was taken before the general and recommended for a
decoration.

Hour after hour, all through the time of darkness, and until daylight
came, that terrible fight went on. For seven long hours a few hundred
British Guards had kept at bay an enormous body of Germans--and at the
end of the firing we had killed far more than the whole of our force
numbered when the battle began. We had given them wholesale death from
our machine-guns, our rifles, and our artillery, and they had faced
it--they had been driven on to it. Now they were to have the bayonet.

We gave them two charges; but they didn’t stop long, for as soon as they
saw the cold steel on the ends of our rifles they were off like a shot,
throwing down a lot of rifles and equipment. When this happened it was
between five and six o’clock on the morning of the 27th, and we then got
the order to retire.

We were told that we had lost 126 in killed and wounded. That was a
heavy list, but not so big as we had expected, bearing in mind the
furious nature of the fight. The marvel was that we had not been wiped
out, and we should certainly have been in a very serious state if it had
not been for the 17th Field Battery. There is this to be said, too: if
the Germans had broken through our lines it would have meant that, in
all probability, the whole Second Division of our army would have been
cut up.

We fell in and were soon on the march again, retiring, and we marched as
fast as we could go till we halted at a rather large town about ten
miles from Landrecies. Here we were in clover, in a way of speaking,
because we sheltered in a clay-pit where the French had been making
bricks, and we all sat down and waited for our tea of German shells.

They soon came and we were on the move again, and we were constantly at
it, retiring and fighting, until we halted about thirty miles from
Paris; then we were told that after retiring another dozen miles it
would be our turn to advance.

Didn’t we cheer? It was glorious to hear we were going to chase the
Germans instead of their chasing us. At this time we had our first wash
for a fortnight, and it was as good as having a thousand pounds given to
us.

The fiercest fighting of the war has taken place on Sundays, and it was
on a Sunday that the Battle of the Marne began. The Germans had had the
biggest surprise of their lives on a Sunday, and that was at Mons.
Though we had been kept on the go because they outnumbered us so
hopelessly, we mauled them mercilessly on the retreat, teaching them
many bitter lessons. When we got to the Marne and were able to tackle
them on equal terms, they scarcely had a look in. The Germans had almost
reached the forts of Paris, and, I daresay, had their bands ready to
play them into the city. Soon, however, they were hurrying back on their
tracks a good deal faster than they had come. We heard the German bands
playing a good many times, but every time we heard the music it was
farther away from Paris.

We covered such big tracks of country, and saw so many great happenings,
that it is the most difficult thing in the world to know where to start
a story of the Marne; but I will come down to the time just before the
battle, when we were still retiring, and had got used to marching twenty
or twenty-five miles a day. We had left the Germans very sore for coming
too close to us, and we had gone through a small town and entered a
great wood.

While we were in the wood I had to fall out. Almost instantly I heard
the sound of talking which wasn’t English, and in the distance I saw six
Germans coming after me as hard as they could. I thought it was all up
with me, but I said “Come on, chum, let’s clear!”--“chum” being my
rifle, which I had placed on the ground. I snatched it up and sprang
behind a tree, and felt fairly safe. It’s wonderful what a feeling of
security a good rifle and plenty of ammunition give you. I waited till
the Germans got within a hundred yards of me; then with a good aim I
fetched down two; but my position was becoming very critical, as the
other four dodged from tree to tree, watching for a chance to pot me,
and it looked very much as if they wouldn’t have long to wait. I don’t
know what would have happened, but to my intense relief three men of the
17th Field Battery, which was passing, rushed up and shouted, “Don’t
move. We’ll have ’em!”

By this time the four Germans were within about fifty yards, continually
sniping at me--how I blessed them for being such bad shots!--and at last
they came out into the open and made straight in my direction. But they
only dashed about twenty yards, for my rescuers put “paid” to the four
of them, and saved me from being made a prisoner and worse, far worse,
for by that time we had seen proof enough of the monstrous things they
did to men they captured--things you might expect from savages, but
certainly not from soldiers of a nation that boasts so much of its
civilisation.

The last day of our retirement was September 4, and on that day we never
saw the enemy. We had crossed and recrossed the River Marne, and had
blown up bridges as we retired; but the Germans threw their own bridges
over the river with amazing speed, and kept up the pursuit. Sometimes
they overdid their zeal, and were a trifle too quick for their own
comfort.

We had blown up two bridges that crossed the Marne, one a railway bridge
and the other a fine stone structure. I was one of the last of our men
to cross the stone bridge before the engineers, who had made it ready
for destruction. The bridge ran between two high banks, so that it was a
considerable height above the water. When the explosion took place there
was a tremendous shattering roar, almost like a salvo of Black Marias,
then a crashing and grinding and thudding as the middle of the bridge
was utterly wrecked, and fell into the river, leaving an immense gap
between the banks. The work of months, costing thousands upon thousands
of pounds, had been smashed in a few seconds.

I was looking back at the ruins when I saw a motor-car, with several
Germans in it, tearing after us, meaning to cross the bridge as we had
done. The car came on at a tremendous speed, and the Germans in it must
have had eyes only for us and none for the road in front of them, for
they rushed on right into the blank space, and before they knew what was
happening, the car was in the river.

We had had battle after battle, each one in itself enough to make a long
story. We had fought and marched in the fearful August heat, and had
been thankful when we could lie down with a little heap of sand or a
sheaf of corn as a pillow. At last we were so near Paris that the forts
opened fire, and that was the beginning of what I’m sure will be the end
of the Germans.

Now at last we were in touch with the French, and we got the Germans in
a proper grip. The French got round the Germans and turned them towards
Coulommiers, a town on the Marne; then the British took the job on and
drove the Germans through the town. That part of the work fell largely
on the Guards, and what we were doing was being done, of course, over an
enormous stretch of country by other British and French troops.

We had got to the night of September 5 and were lying in trenches which
we had dug along a canal bank about Coulommiers. We waited for the
Germans to come, and they came in fine style. It was getting dark and we
could make out three of their aeroplanes sweeping in the air like big
birds. We had seen a good deal of the German aeroplanes by this time and
knew what to expect. These were trying to find out our positions, so
that they

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 244._

“BEFORE THEY KNEW WHAT WAS HAPPENING THE CAR WAS IN THE RIVER.”]

could signal to their gunners and give them the range.

Suddenly the aeroplanes dropped some balls of blue fire, and very pretty
the fireworks looked; but we hadn’t time to admire them, because the
German artillery instantly opened fire on us with such fury that we felt
the very ground shake as we lay in our trenches.

Under cover of their guns the Germans--the 32nd Infantry Brigade, I
think it was--dashed up to the other side of the canal bank and blazed
away at us; but we blazed harder at them. We gave them a fair hell of
rifle fire and very soon they were forced to clear out, leaving the
whole of the canal bank littered with their dead and wounded.

A fine little “tiffey” we had at the Marne was a rearguard action, in
which there was one of those British cavalry and infantry charges that
have shaken a lot of the Germans to pieces, especially the Uhlans, who
are a pretty poor crowd in spite of all their boasting.

Our scouts had returned with the news that the Germans were entrenched
about a mile and a half away, on the bank of the Marne. We got the order
to extend the usual three paces, and our advance guard went out, while
our main body lay down. Our advance guard had gone about 900 yards when
the German infantry opened fire. We took it up, and there was a
ceaseless rattle. We kept the Germans well employed, and our advance
guard were pouring in a proper good peppering. But there was a little
surprise in store for them. We had with us a couple of the magnificent
British cavalry regiments--the Scots Greys and the 16th Lancers, and
they swept on till they got to a little wood, where they had the
Germans on the left wing of their rearguard, fairly at their mercy. When
they were ready for the charge the signal was given to our advance
guard, and, with a perfect roar of cheering, the British cavalry and
infantry hurled themselves on the Germans, a tremendous weight of horse
and man. The Greys and the 16th fairly thundered over the earth, and the
Guards rushed up in splendid style, though we had our heavy packs, and
in such hot weather a big weight adds enormously to the terrific work of
charging. But you don’t think of heat or weight at such a time--you feel
only the thrill and excitement of the battle and have the joy of knowing
that you are settling the account of a suffering and outraged nation.

Cavalry and Guards got in amongst the Germans and fairly scattered them.
I got one German in the back and another sideways, and all around me
chums were doing the same, while the cavalry were cutting the Germans
down everywhere. Limbs literally flew about as they were lopped off with
the sword, and Germans in the open and in the trenches--for we routed
them out--fell to the bayonet.

That was a fierce and bloody “tiffey,” and there have been many like it.
At the end of it we had settled that particular German rearguard and had
a nice bag of prisoners. A lot of these prisoners were glad to be out of
the business; most of the Germans we captured seemed to feel like that,
and I remember hearing one of them--an officer--say, in good English,
“Thank God I’m caught! Now I shall not starve any more!”

Talking of charges, I might tell you that there is a great difference
between the British and the German ways of doing it. The Germans make as
much noise as possible--a perfect devil of a row, with drums thumping
and trumpets sounding, and, of course, their banners flying. We carry no
colours into action (we leave them at home), we have no drum-thumping
and no bugles sounding--often enough the signal for a charge is just
something like a hand wave or a word of command; but that answers all
practical purposes and starts us on the business as quickly and full of
fire as any amount of noise.

When we had got through our first rearguard action we thought we had
driven the Germans to the other side of the Marne and got them fairly on
the move back to Berlin; but to our surprise we were attacked by a
strong force of their cavalry, who had been in ambush not a thousand
yards away. The German horsemen came on us at a full gallop and swept on
until they were about two hundred yards away. At this particular spot
there were Guards, Worcesters, and Camerons, and it looked very much as
if the Germans would dash up and do a lot of mischief.

The commander of the Worcesters shouted, “Fix bayonets! Make sure of
your men.”

On came the German cavalry, with a roar and a rattle, until they were
less than a hundred yards away; then we let go and the troopers tumbled
out of their saddles like ninepins. The going was too hard for German
cavalry, and as one of their officers shouted an order, they wheeled
round and made off, rushing, as they supposed, for a safe place and a
way out; but they galloped straight up to a spot where some French
artillery were in position.

The Germans thundered on towards their fancied safety; then there were
crashes from the French artillery, and shells went plump into the
horsemen and practically annihilated them. Horses and men were
shattered, and of those who escaped the French took about one hundred
and fifty prisoners. It was a fine little performance, and helped us to
fix in our memories the first meeting with the Frenchmen on the Marne.

The artillery fire on the Marne was awful in its destructiveness and
earsplitting in its noise--sometimes the very air seemed to be solid
matter that was broken into chunks and knocked about you; but we soon
got used to it all, and laughed and smoked and joked in the trenches,
where, at the back, we had dug-outs which we called rabbit-hutches.
These were shelter-places, well covered at the top, and were most useful
protections against shells. When the enemy’s fire became too hot we
would go into our rabbit-hutches.

About noon on the 6th we had re-formed and advanced to the bank of the
river, and there we found that we were opposed to a large body of
Germans and that they had howitzer batteries with them. These howitzers
do deadly mischief, and the fumes from their lyddite shells are
perfectly poisonous--they spread through a good big patch of air and
suffocate the men. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when the
Germans began to pour into us a fearful fire, and we were enfiladed; but
our trenches gave us some fine shelter, and the Germans did not have
their own way for long, nor did they do much damage at that point. Here
again the British had ready one more of the many surprises that the
Germans met with on the banks of the Marne. One of our batteries of
short howitzers, four guns, went along the river bank and hid in some
bushes on the right of the German howitzers, while a battery of our
field artillery dashed up and took a commanding position which got the
Germans between two fires. Then the command was given, “Ten rounds rapid
fire!”

But ten rounds were not needed--only four were fired before the German
battery was put to rest. But the crippling of the German howitzers did
not seem to have much effect on the enemy at that point, for they rushed
up more of the infantry, which, brought along by immense numbers of
trains and motors, literally swarmed over the countryside.

At this time we renewed our acquaintance with some of the Germans who
were known to us as the “drop-shots.” I believe there is only one
brigade of them in the German Army, and I will do them the justice to
say that they are very good at the game. They kneel down, and putting
the butt of the rifle on the thigh, fire in the air at an angle of about
forty-five degrees. The bullet makes a big arc and drops right on top of
you in such places as trenches. These “drop-shots” were about four
hundred yards away, but they hadn’t got just the right range of us and
the bullets plugged into the wrong places.

The “drop-shots” tried their queer game on us for about half an hour,
but finding that they could not damage us, they stopped, especially as
we were beginning to shift them out of their positions. There was some
furious rifle firing between the troops entrenched on both banks of the
Marne, and often enough the reddened water bore away many a dead
soldier.

The fighting was always most fierce when the Germans were in masses and
hurled their regiments against us in their attempt to hack their way
through to Paris. Any street fighting that came about was sure to be
terrific, and one of the most furious of the fights took place in the
streets of Coulommiers, a town similar to Reading.

Coulommiers, of course, was almost entirely given up to troops, for the
inhabitants had been warned by us to leave and get as far away from the
Germans as they could go. Poor souls, they did not need much persuading,
knowing what they did of German “culture,” and, carrying with them only
such few oddments as they could quickly collect, they fled, the roads
leading to Paris being thick with them. During this fighting in
Coulommiers there was such brilliant moonlight that you could see almost
well enough to shoot a rabbit.

It was about eight o’clock at night when we got to Coulommiers. We were
just going to stop to have some food when the Germans put two big shells
into us, killing four of our men, and wounding fourteen. We jumped up,
fixed bayonets, and rushed for the Germans; but we were brought up by
some more shells, and for a couple of hours the guns were banging at us.
Fortunately the shells had a bit too long a range, and instead of
hitting us they went over the back of us.

We lay down until ten o’clock, when the order was given to prepare to
charge. Up again we sprang--we were getting used to charging--and made
another rush, running as hard as we could down the street for a hundred
yards, then lying flat in the roadway.

All this time the Germans were pouring in on us a fire which, if it had
been accurate, would have swept us out of existence. But it was very
poor stuff, and we were lucky enough to escape with the loss of a very
few men. We were lying down for five minutes, then we were up and off
again, dashing along the main street.

It was a rousing bit of work, and we gloried in it, especially when,
from every doorway in the street, Germans dashed out and made a bolt for
their lives. They had been firing at us from bedroom windows, and tore
frantically downstairs and out of doorways when they saw that we were
fairly on the job and after them.

That bolting gave us just the chance we wanted. We drove after the
flying Germans as hard as we could go, and being big and powerful men,
with plenty of weight in us, we literally picked some of them up on the
bayonets. We rushed them through the town and out of it; then we came
across a gang of Germans who were no good at all. They had looted all
the wine-shops and soaked themselves with liquor. Many a German from
Mons to the Marne was drunk when he died or was made a prisoner.

When we had dashed through Coulommiers we had to halt, because the
Germans had four batteries of guns and a division of cavalry waiting for
us. So we retired to the cross-roads in the middle of the town, and had
to take up almost exactly the same position as we did at Landrecies,
where the Coldstreamers wiped out a strong German force in the street.
We waited at Coulommiers till our heavy howitzer batteries were fetched
up, then we lined the cross-roads, two howitzers were placed at the end
of each street and we were in at the finish of the fight.

It was about midnight when the Germans started shelling us again, and
the town blazed and boomed with the awful gunfire. We did not suffer
much damage, but the houses were wrecked, and bricks and stones and
pieces of timber were flying all about. A few of the bricks struck us,
but we paid no heed to trifles like that. The Germans kept up the firing
till about half-past two in the morning. Then, to our great surprise,
they charged down the street.

“Lie still, boys, and let them come!” our officers shouted.

We lay perfectly quiet, and let the Germans rush on till they were
almost upon us; then the sharp order came: “Ten rounds rapid fire!”

There was an absolute fusillade, and the ten rounds were fired in less
than a minute, and simply struck the Germans down. Their dead and
wounded were lying thick in the roadway and on the pavements when we
sprang up and were after the survivors with the bayonet. This time we
chased them up to the very muzzles of the guns, where we had a splendid
bit of luck. The German gunners flew when they saw us, and we were on
top of them and on top of the infantry. We dashed straight through the
batteries, the enemy flying before the bayonet, and there, in the
moonlight, which was almost as strong as daylight, I accounted for two
of them with my own steel.

For fully three miles that furious chase was kept up, the Germans flying
in all directions. It was a long and fierce fight in the moonlight, but
at the end of it Coulommiers was ours, and six batteries of German guns
and a thousand prisoners were ours, too, to say nothing of the killed
and wounded.

You might have thought that enough had been done, but we had scarcely
settled down to have a little drop of something hot to drink--and we
needed it badly--when the cry arose, “Come on, boys; let’s get after
them again!” We emptied our canteens, which were full of hot coffee and
rum, and were after the Germans again as hard as we could go. By
daylight we had put the finish on them at Coulommiers. We were well
pleased, too, with the fine haul of guns.

We had fought fiercely, and had not spared the Germans--no one could
have any mercy on them who saw the proofs, as we had seen them, of their
barbarities. When we advanced into Coulommiers we saw the bodies of two
little girls who had been murdered and mutilated in a shocking manner.
There were in that locality alone scores of such atrocities committed by
the brutes who came from the land of “culture” and are being driven back
to it.

I had a fair innings at the Marne, and saw a good deal of the beginning
of the fight which started the Germans on the run. I had two days and
nights of it; then I was bowled out by a piece of shell which struck me
on the thigh and went off with a piece of flesh. I felt as if a brick
had hit me, and when I saw the blood I thought it was all up with me.
The doctor told me that this might easily have happened if the wound had
been a little deeper. He was Lieutenant Huggin, of the Royal Army
Medical Corps, a kind and brave gentleman, who was soon afterwards
killed while doing his duty under fire. He was mentioned in despatches,
with other officers who did so much. I remember one of them, a field
officer of the Coldstreamers, during a very hot fight standing with his
hands in his pockets watching to see how things were going, and saying,
“Men, this is beautiful! We shall soon be on the other side of the
river.”

And we soon were--though to cross the Marne meant that we had at one
time to fight waist deep in its waters.

The Battle of the Marne was hard, long work, following a long and
terrible retreat; but it was a glorious victory. We had many privations,
but also many compensations, and we were always cheerful, and very often
singing. “Tipperary” was an easy first.

We often saw Sir John French and General Joffre, and I can tell you that
when our own great field-marshal appeared it was as good as a victory
for us, for we fairly worship him. Sir John is a thorough gentleman, and
the friend of every soldier. He used to come into the trenches with his
hands in his pockets and take no more notice of the German shells and
bullets which were bursting and flying about than if they were peas shot
by little boys.

One morning Sir John came round the trenches, and said, as usual, “Is
everything all right, men?”

“Well, sir,” he was told, “we want a drop of water, please.” And we did
want it, badly, because the weather was so fearfully hot, and we were
almost boiled in our uniforms and heavy kits.

“Certainly; I’ll see to that at once,” replied the field-marshal. He
immediately turned round, called to some men of the transport who were
at hand, and told them to bring us some water at once.

General Joffre, too, was a great favourite. He speaks English well. Once
when he came into the

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 254._

“CAVALRY AND GUARDS GOT IN AMONGST THE GERMANS AND FAIRLY SCATTERED
THEM” (p. 246).]

trenches he asked if there was anything we should like. Well, we wanted
some cigarettes badly, and told him so, and he promptly took a box of
about a hundred from his pocket, and handed them round. They went almost
as fast as the Germans.

I am now well enough to be back at the front, and I’m keen to get into
the firing line again, and rush along in some more bayonet charges--for
those are the swoops that roll the Germans up as much as anything we do.

I have been a Coldstreamer for more than a dozen years, and have always
been proud of it; but I never felt prouder than I do now, after reading
what our great chief has said about us in despatches.

We have sometimes been called feather-bed soldiers; but we’re known as
“Coldsteelers” now, and try to live up to the reputation of our
motto--“Second to none.”



CHAPTER XXI

AN ARMOURED CAR IN AMBUSH

     [Sir John French, in one of his despatches, expressed his great
     admiration of the splendid work which has been done at the front by
     our Territorials--that work, indeed, by this time has become almost
     equal to the glorious achievements of our Regular troops. The first
     of our Territorials to go into action during the war were the
     Northumberland Hussars, and this story is told by Trooper Stanley
     Dodds, of that fine corps, who was serving as a despatch-rider and
     on being wounded was invalided home. He afterwards returned to the
     front. Trooper Dodds is one of the best-known motor cyclists in the
     North, and winner in the competition of the summer of 1914 promoted
     by the North-Eastern Automobile Association. This was decided in
     North Yorkshire, over difficult country.]


I fancy there are people in England who imagine that the life of a
despatch-rider is one long unbroken joy ride. They seem to think that he
gets somewhere near the front, and spends all his days careering over
beautifully kept military roads between headquarters and the firing
line, and seeing and enjoying everything that goes on; but I can assure
such people that in practice despatch-riding does not work out like that
at all.

I am only a humble member of the fraternity, but I have had a fair share
of despatch work, and I do know that I have not had a single joy ride
since I took the business on, and I can vouch for the fact that
beautifully kept roads do not exist anywhere near the front, at any
rate in Flanders. Even some of the so-called roads have never been
roads--they were simply tracks to start with, and when military traffic
had been going over them for some time they had lost all resemblance to
roads, and you could scarcely tell the difference between them and the
ordinary countryside.

The fact is that the life of a despatch-rider, though exciting enough to
satisfy the cravings of any ordinary man, is largely an endless battle
amongst bad roads, bullets and shell fire, want of sleep, and the
hundred-and-one other things which often wreck the nerves; but the life
is well worth living, all the same.

In work like this there is a good deal of nerve-racking riding and all
sorts of difficult jobs have to be tackled. One of the worst I had to
carry out while I was at the front was riding back to a patrol which was
in our rear, and which had been lost sight of in the strain and turmoil
of a rapid retirement.

The patrol had been left at a corner where there were some forked roads,
and in order to reach them it was necessary to go through a village.

The Germans were everywhere and keenly on the look-out for a chance of
sniping, so that there was plenty of excitement in the affair,
especially as it was night and there was a darkness which was literally
black.

This made the task doubly dangerous, for in addition to the ordinary
risks of being shot there was the great danger of coming to serious
grief on the road--a road which you could feel but scarcely see. I don’t
mind saying that when I started in the pitch darkness on this expedition
I did not feel any too comfortable.

It is the custom at such times to ride without lights, because lights
serve as targets, but in spite of this I was forced to light up, because
it would have been utterly impossible to ride without some sort of
guide.

After a good deal of trouble and a lot of risk I reached the village and
then I had a most unpleasant shock, for a Belgian peasant told me that
the Germans were actually occupying some of the houses.

That was a startling announcement, but the added danger forced me to set
my wits to work to decide what it was best to do. At last I determined
to make tracks down a side street.

I was riding very slowly and carefully when I was pulled up short with a
sharp cry of “Halt” and I knew that a loaded rifle was covering me not
far away.

I did halt--I didn’t need to be told twice, not knowing what fate had in
store for me; but thank heaven I quickly found that it was a British
sentry who had spoken.

I rapidly told him what I was out to do, and I was very glad to have his
help and advice.

The sentry told me that the patrol, like wise men, had acted on their
own initiative and had fallen back on the village--and that was joyful
news, because it meant that my work was practically done.

Being greatly relieved I could not resist the temptation to tell the
sentry that I might have scooted past him and got clear, but my humour
vanished when another British soldier from the darkness said grimly,
“Yes, you might have got past _him_, but _I_ should have put a bullet
into you!”

I have not the slightest doubt that this smart fellow spoke the
truth--anyway, if he had missed me I should doubtless have been potted
by a chum of his, because there were four sentries posted at short
distances from this place. I could not see a sign of them, but of course
they had my light as a target and they were as keen as mustard, knowing
that the Germans were in the village.

There were a good many little thrilling experiences for all of us which
came in as part of the day’s work, and most of them were thoroughly
enjoyable--a few in particular I would not have missed for worlds. One
of these was a little jaunt with an armoured motor-car.

Incidentally, this experience showed me that we have learnt a good deal
from the South African War. It is pretty common knowledge by this time
that the Germans sprang something of a surprise on the world with their
big guns; but our own armoured cars came on the Germans with even more
stunning effect. It was the South African War which to a great extent
gave us the most useful knowledge we now possess of armoured cars and
armoured trains.

The armoured car is a development of the idea of the armoured train,
with this enormous advantage, that you can get your car pretty nearly
anywhere, while the train is limited in its operations to the lines on
which it runs. Remarkably good motor-car work at the front has been done
by Brigadier-General Seely and Commander Sampson. Some of these cars are
extremely powerful and fast, with huge wheels, and in the hands of
skilful drivers they can overcome almost any obstacle.

In order to meet the exceptional demands which a war like this makes
upon them the cars have to be specially protected and strengthened. The
body itself is protected with toughened steel, which has so much
resistance that bullets simply make no impression on it, and light guns
can therefore be mounted behind the metal which can do enormous
execution amongst bodies of the enemy’s riflemen or troops who are not
protected by anything but rifles. If you want excitement, therefore, you
can get it to the full by being associated with these machines. Whenever
they go out they simply look for trouble--and they can afford to do so,
because they despise ordinary cavalry and infantry tactics. Their chief
gain has been Uhlan patrols, which they have wiped out with the greatest
ease.

Scouts bring in word of enemy patrols on the road; off swoop the cars
straight to the spot, and the fun begins.

My own little job was not actually in an armoured car, but accompanying
one. Very often, in the case of a retreat, the cars remain behind the
main line, to do the work of wiping out as many of the enemy’s advanced
guards as they can get under fire, and an affair of this description
took place during the retreat from Roulers.

I happened to be there, armed with my rifle, which I carry in preference
to a revolver, because I have found it more useful.

I stayed behind to keep in touch with the armoured car. This was at a
corner of one of the roads, and a prominent feature of the district was
a brewery, the entrance to which commanded the approach by road.

Matters at that particular time were very lively and the car was swiftly
run into the yard, where with astonishing skill and speed it was
disguised as much as possible and then it was ready to give the Germans
a surprise.

I left my machine round the corner, and made my way into one of the
nearest of the houses. Rushing upstairs, I entered a bedroom and went to
the window, where I took up a position with my rifle, and kept properly
on the alert, for you never knew from which quarter a bullet would come
and settle your account for ever.

There was every reason to believe that the enemy would come--and they
did. They came along as if they were satisfied that nothing could happen
to them--certainly the German body that was making its way along the
road had no idea that a disguised motor-car was ready to give it a
welcome as soon as it got within striking distance of the entrance to
the brewery. Being Germans, doubtless their thoughts, when they saw the
brewery, were more concentrated on beer than on the British troops in
ambush.

On the Germans came, and one could not help feeling how awful it was
that they should be advancing utterly unsuspectingly into a perfect
death-trap.

From behind my bedroom window, rifle in hand, I watched them come up to
their doom. They got nearer and nearer to the innocent-looking brewery
entrance and to the houses and other places where the unseen rifles were
covering them; then, just at the right moment, the maxims from the
armoured car rattled and the rifles kept them company.

The German ranks were shattered and scattered instantly. It was a swift
and destructive cannonade and the Germans went down in the fatal roadway
just like ninepins. I do not think I exaggerate when I say that
practically the whole of the enemy’s advanced guard was wiped out in a
few moments.

This little affair was as short as it was brilliant and decisive, and
almost before there was time to realise fully what had happened the car
was stripped of its disguise and was triumphantly driven out of the
brewery yard and back to the British lines.

When I saw the car going I took it as a signal that I had better make
tracks myself, so I hurried away from the bedroom, got clear of the
house, jumped on to my machine, and lost no time in following it.

This fine performance, typical of a great number of such deeds done in
the war by resourceful men of which nothing has been heard and perhaps
never will be, strikes me as being a very good illustration of doing
exactly those things which the enemy does not expect you to do.
Personally, I have always made a point of putting this principle into
practice. If the enemy is waiting for you to take the highroad, the
obvious thing, it seems to me, is to take to the fields, especially as
in bad weather, in a country like Flanders, there is very little
difference between the fields and the roads.

There is one interesting point which I may mention, and it is that so
far I have had no difficulty in finding petrol. Nearly all the Belgian
farmers use gas-engines, and their stores are very useful for motor
cycles. I need hardly say that I never saw any want of willingness on
the part of Belgian farmers to help the fighters who are doing their
best to get the country back for them.

At present I am not a bit useful as a fighting man, because when I was
going into the trenches I heard the ping of a German bullet and found
that blood was running down my arm.

When I was actually struck I felt only a numb sensation, and did not
for some time know what had happened; but later it was discovered that
the bullet had struck me between the wrist and elbow of the right arm
and had gone clean through, leaving a hole on each side of the arm.

Strange though it may seem, I felt little pain at any time, in spite of
the fact that one of the bones of the arm was broken, and I am glad to
say that this wound--and there have been an enormous number like it
since the war began--is making a first-class recovery, and I shall soon
be all right again.

A man does not go to war for fun, but there is a bright side to the grim
business, as I found when I reached a Belgian hospital. I spent three
very comfortable days there, and when I was sent off to England the
nurse who was attending me very gravely made me a little present, which
I as gravely accepted. She paid me three-halfpence! I did not know what
it meant, but I concluded that I had received the Belgian’s rate of
daily pay as a soldier, and his keep. I was perfectly satisfied, and I
hope my excellent nurse was the same.



CHAPTER XXII

EXPLOITS OF THE LONDON SCOTTISH

     [“Eye-Witness,” in his descriptive account of November 4th, dealing
     with the first phase of the desperate fight for Ypres, said that a
     special feature of the battle was that it formed an epoch in the
     military history of the British Empire, and marked the first time
     that a complete unit of our Territorial Army has been thrown into
     the fight alongside its sister units of the Regulars. That unit was
     the 14th (County of London) Battalion London Regiment, better known
     as the London Scottish. Its ranks contained many prominent men who
     gave up everything at their country’s call and went to the front.
     Amongst them was Mr. J. E. Carr, Managing Director of Scremerston
     Colliery, Northumberland, a well-known breeder of Border Leicester
     sheep, a keen rider to hounds and a thoroughly good sportsman.
     Private Carr served with the London Scottish until he was wounded
     and invalided home and it is his story which is here retold.]


It is very difficult to keep within defined limits the varied
experiences that are crowded into a few months at the front in a war
which is waged on such a vast scale as the present conflict. Every day
has its own fresh and particular excitements which are worth
remembering, and one can scarcely pick out, off-hand, the most startling
or interesting phases of the campaigning. However, the earliest
impressions undoubtedly cling most tenaciously, and I have vivid
recollections of the thrill I experienced when our transport swung to
her moorings and the London Scottish disembarked on the other side of
the Channel.

I should like to say here that the London Scottish have been the subject
of a good deal of comment, mostly favourable, I am glad to know; but
there has been undue exaltation. The blame for this certainly does not
rest with the London Scottish, but in other perfectly well-meaning
quarters.

I am proud indeed to belong to the London Scottish, because they are
good boys to be amongst, so good that there was no reason whatever why
people should have expressed surprise that the first Territorials to go
into action did so well. I don’t think there was any reason for
astonishment, for the London Scottish had been a well-trained body of
Volunteers before the Territorial system came into being. And if they
pulled through, as they did, when the actual fighting began, do not let
it be forgotten that they had some glorious examples to follow. On their
left and on their right were some of the very finest soldiers in the
world, and it was for the London Scottish to prove that they were worthy
of fighting with these truly splendid fellows. Troops like the
Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Black Watch and the Cameron
Highlanders are men with whom it is indeed an honour to be associated.

Our landing on the Continent was an event which I shall remember all my
life. It meant that we were many miles nearer to the band of heroes who
had held the Germans up at Mons and had completely disarranged a whole
plan of campaign. Whenever I meet a man who fought in that greatest of
rearguard actions I want to take off my hat to him.

It was not long after the war began that we found ourselves on the lines
of communication and began to feel that we were really bearing a hand
in the things that mattered. This was in September, and the weather
being good we found it no great hardship to guard railways, escort
prisoners, run up ammunition for the fighting lines and do any odd job
that came along. There was not a man amongst us who did not put his back
into the business, realising that it was all a part of the tremendous
game that was being played, monotonous and unexciting though the duties
might be, and with every day that passed we got fitter and keener and
better able to meet the heavy calls that came upon us later. We felt
that we were really “in” and part of the great adventure. In various
ways we did a good deal of wandering, and some of us went as far south
as Nantes.

This was about harvest time, and we saw the old men of France and the
women and the boys gathering in the sheaves. Later on we saw even the
women ploughing, and very good work they did. One thing which
particularly astonished us was their courage in working on the land
quite close up to the fighting line. They were often well within shell
fire, but they did not seem to be in the least disturbed. I suppose they
thought that if their husbands and sons and brothers could fight for
France at rifle and bayonet range they could go on working for their
country in spite of a stray shell or two.

A few weeks later we moved up to the firing line, and then we had the
opportunity of seeing how gloriously the Scottish Regular troops were
doing their work and maintaining the splendid traditions of the Highland
regiments.

People have become so used to amazing happenings in this war that it is
not easy to realise that only a very few months ago the mere sight of
an aeroplane was a novelty, and it was a thrill indeed for us when, near
Béthune, we had a splendid view of a fight in the air between British,
French and German airmen. The German, in a machine which looked exactly
like an enormous bird in the sky, came scouting over our lines, to find
out what was going on. The mere sight of him was enough to fetch along a
British ’plane and a Frenchman followed. This happened on a clear,
peaceful Sunday morning, and it was truly wonderful to see how the three
machines were manœuvred to get the top position and so spell doom to
the lowest ’plane. By extraordinary daring and skill, and because his
very life hung in the balance, the German managed to get away, in spite
of the most desperate efforts of his opponents to bag him. But I don’t
think he would escape to-day, when the British and French airmen have so
fully established their superiority over the German flyers and when it
has been proved that the machines of the Allies are far better than any
of the craft that the German airmen use.

One of our first experiences of real fighting came when we were ordered
to charge at Messines. I do not care to say much about that charge,
because I think too much has been said of it already; so I will not go
beyond saying that it was hot and sanguinary work with the bayonet and
that we lost many good fellows. I cannot help thinking that the London
Scottish got too much praise for Messines, and they are the first to
admit that; but this was due to the fact that correspondents and others
spread themselves out on the charge and gave special attention to the
matter because of the fact that up to that time practically nothing had
been heard of Territorials in action.

The praise that was given to the regiment had the effect of making us
rather unpopular with the Regulars, and naturally enough, too, seeing
that they had been constantly doing the same sort of work ever since the
beginning of the war. It was pride enough for us to be in the same
brigade as the Coldstreamers, the Scots Guards, the Black Watch and the
Camerons, and to feel that we had done just what we were told to do. It
was, of course, a source of great satisfaction to us afterwards to be
congratulated by General Munro on what he was good enough to term our
“steadiness as a battalion.” Now that is all I am going to say about the
charge of the London Scottish at Messines.

Speaking generally the fighting from November until the time I was
wounded can be divided into two distinct parts, the actions around Ypres
and the affairs at La Bassée. At Ypres about fifty men of our regiment
were in the city during the siege, and a very exciting time we had.
Shells were constantly bursting all around and no matter where the
people were they did not seem to be able to keep clear of danger. Even
the cellars, in which large numbers of men and women and children sought
refuge, were at times blown in and there were some very distressing and
unpleasant sights. Personally, I was uncommonly lucky, because I escaped
being hurt.

I had the good fortune to sleep for two nights in the beautiful and
famous Cloth Hall, of which the story is told that it was particularly
spared by the German artillery because the Kaiser meant to enter it in
state at the head of his victorious troops. But when I was in it the
shells came pounding on the walls and roof of the hall, doing grievous
damage, though our own men had the good luck to escape. Not so lucky
were some men of the Suffolk Regiment who followed us, for one afternoon
a huge shell came through and burst and killed five of the Suffolks and
wounded a number of other men of that fine regiment.

So much has been said of the enormous German shells which have become
known as Jack Johnsons that people have almost ceased to be affected by
their performances; but nothing that I have heard or read conveys any
real idea of the extraordinarily destructive nature of these awful
engines of war when they explode--and that, luckily, does not always
happen. One afternoon, however, we counted no fewer than thirty of them
which _did_ explode, and the results were absolutely devastating.

When the Germans really set to work to bombard Ypres, the Cloth Hall and
the splendid cathedral were soon practically destroyed; but one of the
most noticeable things in connection with this destruction was that many
sacred objects were undamaged whilst there was ruin all around them.
Take the case of the crucifix of Ypres Cathedral--it is literally true
that this was found entire and upright amongst such general ruin that it
seemed as if only a miracle could have saved it. In several other places
I saw crucifixes hanging uninjured on walls of houses although the
structures themselves had been practically wrecked. On the other hand,
while we were in the trenches I saw a little nickel crucifix with a
bullet-hole right through it.

With the King’s Royal Rifles on their right, and fired by their glorious
example, the London Scottish were in some furious fighting in the
earlier days of November, and the coming of Christmas brought more hot
work. On December 22nd we marched about twenty-six miles with the
brigade, and the Coldstreamers, gallant as ever, went straight into
action after their arrival. They did fine work that day, and paid for it
accordingly. There followed a rest at Béthune and then we went into more
trouble in the neighbourhood of Givenchy.

Very little of what may be called spectacular fighting was seen
hereabouts; it was mostly trench work, and this was all the more
difficult because the German trenches were so close to our own, and the
real old-fashioned way of conducting a battle was out of the question.
But all the same we got some variations, and one of these was a fight
for a brick-field which was a good hot performance while it lasted.

At this period we made a change on the usual form of trench by lining
our own trenches with bricks, which were handy for the purpose. These
trenches were more comfortable than the general type, but they were more
dangerous, because when a shell burst near us the bricks splintered, so
that the flying bricks had to be added to the dangers and discomforts of
the flying metal fragments.

One of the brick splinters struck my hand and poisoned it, and another
unwelcome attention that was paid to me was a piece of shrapnel in the
back of the neck; but these were really very minor details compared with
the injuries that were received by other members of the London Scottish,
and I am not for a moment complaining, nor can I, for when I came home
my company had only twenty left out of 119. There had been the
casualties in the charge and in other affairs, and a number of men had
been killed and wounded in the trenches.

At Givenchy we had to endure as best we could that most unpleasant
engine of war which is called the trench mortar. This affects high-angle
fire and plumps a shell into the trenches when the aim is good. One
shell dropped into a trench of ours and exploded, killing one man and
wounding five others--a round half-dozen fine fellows as toll to a
single German shot.

There were the snipers, too, pests who are intensely disliked by the
British soldier. These fellows find a lodging in what seems to be an
impossible sort of place, often enough high up a tree, and being well
supplied with food and ammunition they can go on potting for a long time
without going down from their perch. It was always matter for rejoicing
when one of these queer birds was winged.

I spent Christmas in the trenches, with the boys. It is odd to be
talking about Christmas at this time of the year, but that season was an
outstanding feature of the experiences of the London Scottish, just as
the New Year was. Christmas Day was comparatively comfortable because
there was a lull in the fighting. New Year’s Day was unforgettable to
those who saw it in and did their best to keep up the national custom.

I think that of all the strange incidents that have been recorded in
connection with this war, and they have been many--and some of them have
proved how soon soldiers become impervious to the most terrible
happenings of campaigning--one of the strangest must have been the sight
we saw on New Year’s Eve.

When the New Year actually came in we fired three rounds rapid, and the
pipes of the Black Watch rose on the night, while our own voices broke
into “Auld lang syne.” Wonderful and affecting it was to hear the pipes
and the dear old tune and many of us were deeply moved.

The effect on the Germans was very curious. Apparently they judged from
the sounds of the pipes and the roll of the song that the Scots were
going to pay them a special visit with the bayonet, and by way of being
ready for it and giving us a welcome, they sent up star-lights, and
these, bursting in the air, gave a sinister illumination of the
landscape and would have shown us up if we had had in mind the purpose
of an assault on the German trenches. But we had no intention of letting
the New Year in upon them in such an unfriendly manner, although later
in the day we were of necessity hard at it again in the ordinary way of
firing.

From day to day the London Scottish kept at it, doing their best, I
hope; then, on January 25th a spell of uncommonly hard work came along.
The Coldstreamers, who had held out gloriously and successfully against
great odds, had to withdraw from their trenches owing to an overwhelming
attack by the enemy. For the time being the Germans had scored and no
doubt they were exulting in their best manner, but the London Scottish
were sent up to reinforce the Coldstreamers--and proud they were to do
it. Later in the afternoon the Black Watch, with the Sussex Regiment and
the Royal Rifles, came up too, and the combination proved too much for
the Germans, who, after a brilliant attack, were sent flying back to
their own trenches.

I have heard that many old and young Germans have been taken prisoners
at various parts of the immense battle-front of the Allies; but those
that I saw pass through our lines were neither very old nor very young.
Occasionally we observed signs that they required a good lot of leading,
that is to say, “leading” from behind; but generally speaking they
seemed to be the best men that Germany had and on the whole they were
undoubtedly good fighters.

While talking of German prisoners I am reminded of a particularly ugly
incident. When I was taken to the hospital I was with a number of German
prisoners.

The hospital rule is that everything shall be taken away from the
patient until the time comes for him to be discharged. Well, when one of
these prisoners was searched I learned to my amazement, disgust and
anger, that he carried with him a bomb which was powerful enough to blow
up the whole place--but prompt steps were taken to prevent him from
making any use of it. How on earth he had got so far from the lines with
the deadly thing I cannot understand; but he had it with him all right.

We got a good deal of amusement and help from a new set of “Ten
Commandments for Soldiers in the Field,” which were duly but not
officially published. I will quote one or two by way of showing their
character and indicating that incorrigible British cheerfulness which
the German, with all his “culture,” cannot understand. Number Three ran:
“Thou shalt not use profane language except under extraordinary
circumstances, such as seeing thy comrade shot or getting petrol in thy
tea.” Number Four was worded: “Remember that the soldier’s week consists
of seven days. Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work, and on
the seventh do all thy odd jobs!” “Honour thy King and country,” was the
Fifth. “Keep thy rifle oiled, and shoot straight, in order that thy days
may be long upon the land the enemy giveth thee.” Then we had, “Thou
shalt not steal thy neighbour’s kit,” and “Thou shalt not kill--time!”
By Number Nine it was enjoined, “Thou shalt not bear false witness
against thy comrade, but preserve discreet silence on his outgoings and
incomings.” Last of all came Number Ten, full of a wonderful hope for
the lowly: “Thou shalt not covet thy Sergeant’s post, nor the
Corporal’s, nor the Staff-Major’s, but do thy duty and by dint of
perseverance rise to the high position of Field-Marshal.”

       *       *       *       *       *

(This is one of the first detailed stories to be told of some of the
achievements of the London Scottish at the front, and its modest vein is
in keeping with the general point of view of the members of this
distinguished corps. It has been for others, not of the London Scottish,
to tell us something of what the regiment really did at Messines and
elsewhere in those early days of the Ypres fighting on which such vast
issues depended. What happened at Messines was this: The regiment was in
reserve when unexpectedly the order came to hurry up to the support of
the hard-pressed Regular troops, who were being fiercely assailed by
very much superior German forces. Crowding on to motor-buses the London
Scottish were hurried along in the course of the afternoon and while
some of them spent the night in deserted cottages others bivouacked in
the streets, waiting for daylight.

After much marching and wandering, the zone of fire was entered, and the
fine battalion which not many weeks before had marched along London
streets after being embodied made acquaintance with the German shells
and got ready to show what the British Territorials could do with the
rifle and the bayonet.

The regiment was amused and interested in the antics of a windmill the
sails of which turned constantly and oddly, although there was no wind.
It was not until later that the phenomenon was explained and that was
when the windmill was visited and a German spy was caught in the act of
signalling, by means of the sails, the position and movements of the
British troops.

It was at Hollebecke and at Messines, between Ypres and Warneton, that
the British lines were hard pressed owing to the determined attempts of
the Germans to break through and hack their way to Calais, and it was
here that the London Scottish went to support the Cavalry Brigade who
were holding the trenches.

Forming up under the crest of a hill they advanced over the crest and
found themselves right in the battle line. Hurrying down the slope,
struggling over heavy ground which was made all the harder because of
beet crops, the regiment went into a most destructive artillery and
rifle and machine-gun fire.

Many a splendid fellow was shot down before he could use his own rifle,
and others were wounded; but nothing could stop the advance. By short
rushes, and taking cover, the men in time reached the trenches and had
to encounter an overwhelming assault of Germans with the bayonet.

Now it was that a wonderful and splendid thing was done, for these
Territorials, fresh from civil life, hurled themselves with the bayonet
upon the finest troops of Germany. They were thrown back. Again they
charged, only to be driven off once more; but the regiment was not to be
denied or beaten and with a final furious rush the Germans were
scattered and the day was won for the British. No wonder that Colonel J.
H. Scott, late of the Gordon Highlanders and formerly adjutant of the
London Scottish, wrote on hearing the glorious news: “Hurrah for the
London Scottish! From my knowledge of them I knew they would do it!”)



CHAPTER XXIII

THE ROUT OF THE PRUSSIAN GUARD AT YPRES

     [The official writers have told us of the almost superhuman efforts
     made by the Germans to break through to Calais so that they might,
     from that place, either raid or bombard England. For a whole month
     a little British army round Ypres held its ground against the
     repeated onslaughts of overwhelming German hosts. These actions
     were divided into two phases, the first lasting from October 20th
     to November 2nd, and the second from November 3rd to 17th. German
     infantry of the Line having failed to win success, the vaunted
     Prussian Guard was hurried up, and, encouraged by the presence of
     the braggart Most High War Lord himself, hurled itself in frenzy
     against the British troops, only to be thrown back and broken. This
     crushing of the crack corps of Prussia was a bitter blow to the
     Kaiser and the German people, who believed it to be invincible. In
     these unexampled contests the Glorious Seventh Infantry Division
     bore the brunt of battle, and the tale of the first phase is told
     by Private H. J. Polley, 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment.
     Lieutenant-General Sir H. S. Rawlinson, commanding the Division,
     said in an order: “You have been called to take a conspicuous part
     in one of the severest struggles of the war.... The Seventh
     Division has gained for itself a reputation for stubborn valour and
     endurance in defence.” When the Glorious Seventh was withdrawn from
     the firing line only forty-four officers were left out of 400 who
     had sailed from England, and only 2,336 out of 12,000 men.]


All the world knows now how furiously the Germans tried to hack their
way through to Calais, so that they could have their fling at the hated
English. It is known too that they were held and hurled back.

I am going to tell you something of the way in which this was done, for
I belong to the Bedfordshire Regiment, the old 16th Foot, and the
Bedfords were part of the Glorious Seventh Division, and did their share
in keeping back the German forces, which included the Prussian Guards,
the Kaiser’s pet men. They had been rushed up to this position because
it was thought that no troops could stand against them.

These idols of the German nation are picked men and brave fellows, and
at that time had an absolute belief in their own invincibility; but
events proved that they were no match for the British Guards and the
rest of the British troops who fought them at Ypres, and practically
wiped them out. I saw these Prussian Guards from Berlin mown down by our
artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire, and I saw them lying dead in
solid masses--walls of corpses.

The Kaiser had planned to enter Ypres as a conqueror, at the head of his
Guards; but he hurried off a beaten man, leaving his slaughtered Guards
in heaps.

Originally in the 1st Battalion of the Bedfords, I later went into the
2nd, and I was serving with the 2nd in South Africa when the European
War broke out. It is an interesting fact that nearly all the battalions
which formed the Seventh Division came from foreign service--India,
Egypt, Africa and elsewhere--which meant that many of the men of the
Seventh had seen active service and were veteran fighters. They had not
learned their warfare at peace manœuvres in Germany. Our Division
consisted of the 1st Grenadier Guards, the 2nd Scots Guards, the 2nd
Border, 2nd Gordon Highlanders, 2nd Bedfordshire, 2nd Yorkshire, 2nd
Royal Scots Fusiliers, 2nd Wiltshire, 2nd Royal West Surrey, 2nd Royal
Warwickshire, 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 1st South Staffordshire, and
the Northumberland Hussars; and we had a pom-pom detachment and horse,
field and garrison artillery. We were under Major-General Sir T. Capper,
D.S.O.

We had been sent to help the Naval Division at Antwerp, and early in
October we landed at Zeebrugge--the only division to land at that port.
But we were not there long, for we soon learned that we were too late,
and that Antwerp had fallen. We were sorry, but there was no time for
moping, and we were quickly on the move to the quaint old city of
Bruges, where we were billeted for a night. Sir Harry Rawlinson had
moved his headquarters from Bruges to Ostend, so next day we marched
towards Ostend and took up outpost. Then we had a forced march back to
Bruges, and from Bruges we started marching, but we did not know where
we were going till we got to the city of Ypres.

So far we had not had any fighting. We had been marching and marching,
first to one place, then to another, constantly expecting to come into
action, and very nearly doing so, for the Germans were swarming all over
the countryside. We had to be content with being on outpost and guarding
bridges, and so on--hard and necessary work, we knew; but we wanted
something more thrilling, something bigger--and we eventually got it.

There was practically only the Seventh Division available for anything
that turned up. The Northumberland Hussars were able to give a very good
account of themselves, and were, I believe, the first Yeomanry corps to
go into action. The few Uhlans I saw while I was at the front had been
taken prisoners by these Hussars, who brought them in, lances and all.
But there is very little to say about cavalry work; it was mostly a
matter for the infantry, and, of course, the artillery--the wonderful
British gunners who have punished the Germans so severely whenever they
have met them.

While we were around Ypres, waiting for the Germans to come and break
through, we heard a good deal, indirectly, of what was going to happen
to us and to England. The Germans had all sorts of monster guns, and
with these they were going to bombard England across the narrow Channel
when they got to the French coast, and they were going to work all sorts
of miracles with their airships and aeroplanes.

We soon heard, too, that the Kaiser himself was in the field; but the
only effect of that information was to make us more keen to show what we
could do. Truth to tell, we were far from being impressed by the
presence of either the Kaiser or his vaunted Guards. We were in the best
of spirits, and had a sublime belief in Sir John French and all his
staff and our own officers.

It was on October 31st--which has been called _the_ decisive day of the
fight for Ypres, and which was certainly a most terrible day in every
way--that the Seventh Division was ordered to attack the German
position. The weather was very fine, clear and sunny, and our spirits
were in keeping with it. We were thankful to be on the move, because we
had had nearly three weeks in the trenches, and had been billeted in all
sorts of queer places--above and below ground--under an everlasting
shell fire, which became unendurable and was thoroughly
nerve-destroying.

We knew what a desperate business the advance would be, because the
Germans greatly outnumbered us, and they had planted vast numbers of
guns. They had immense bodies of men in trenches, and in a large number
of the houses and buildings which commanded the ground over which we had
to advance they had placed machine-guns, with their villainous muzzles
directed on us from bedroom windows and holes which had been knocked in
walls.

From start to finish the advance was a terrible business--far more
terrible than any words of mine can make you realise. The whole Division
was on the move, stretching along a big tract of country; but of course
no man could see much of what was happening, except in his own immediate
locality. Neither had he much chance of thinking about anything or
anybody except himself, and then only in a numbed sort of way, because
of the appalling din of the artillery on both sides, the crash of the
guns and the explosions of the shells, with the ceaseless rattle of the
rifles and the machine-guns.

At the beginning, the regiments kept fairly well together, but very soon
we were all mixed up, and you could not tell what regiment a man
belonged to, unless he wore a kilt; then you knew that, at any rate, he
wasn’t a Bedford. Some of us had our packs and full equipment. Others
were without packs, having been compelled to throw them away. But there
was not a man who had let his rifle go: that is the last thing of all to
be parted from; it is the soldier’s very life. And every man had a big
supply of ammunition, with plenty in reserve. The general himself took
part in the advance, and what he did was done by every other officer
present. There was no difference between officer and man, and a thing
to be specially noticed is the fact that the officers got hold of rifles
and blazed away as hard as any man.

Never, during the whole of the war, had there been a more awful fire
than that which we gave the Germans. Whenever we got the chance, we gave
them what they call the “Englishman’s mad minute”--that is, the dreadful
fifteen rounds a minute rapid fire. We drove it into them and mowed them
down. Many a soldier, when his own rifle was too hot to hold, threw it
down and snatched the rifle of a dead or wounded comrade who had no
further use for it, and with this fresh, cool weapon he continued the
deadly work by which success could alone be won. I do not know what the
German losses were, but I do know that I saw bodies lying around in
solid masses, while we passed our own dead and wounded everywhere as we
advanced. Where they fell they had to stay; it was impossible to do
anything for them while the fighting continued.

The whole of the advance consisted of a series of what might be called
ups and downs--a little rush, then a “bob down.” At most, no one rush
carried us more than fifty yards; then we dropped out of sight as best
we could, to get a breather and prepare for another dash. It was pretty
open country hereabouts, so that we were fully exposed to the German
artillery and rifle fire, in addition to the hail from the machine-guns
in the neighbouring buildings. Here and there we found little woods and
clumps of trees and bits of rising ground and ditches and hedges--and
you may take it from me that shelter of any sort was very welcome and
freely used.

A remarkable feature of this striving to hide from the enemy’s fire was
that it was almost impossible to escape from the shells and bullets for
any appreciable time, for the simple reason that the Germans altered
their range in the most wonderful manner. So surely as we got the
shelter of a little wood or ditch, they seemed to have the distance
almost instantly, and the range was so accurate that many a copse and
ditch became a little graveyard in the course of that advance.

At one point as we went along I noticed a small ditch against a hedge.
It was a dirty, uninviting ditch, deep in water; but it seemed to offer
promising shelter, and so some officers and men made a rush for it,
meaning to take cover. They had no sooner scrambled into the ditch and
were thinking themselves comparatively safe than the Germans got the
range of them with machine-guns, and nearly the whole lot were
annihilated. In this case, as in others, the enemy had been marvellously
quick with their weapons, and had swept the ditch with bullets. I don’t
know what happened to the fine fellows who had fallen. We had to leave
them and continue the advance.

The forenoon passed, noon came, and the afternoon was with us; still the
fighting went on, the guns on both sides crashing without cessation, and
the machine-guns and the rifles rattling on without a break. The air was
filled with screaming, bursting shells and whistling bullets, and the
ground was ploughed and torn everywhere. It was horrible beyond
expression, yet it fired the blood in us, so that the only thing that
mattered was to put the finish to the work, get up to the Germans, and
rout them out of their positions.

At last, after endless spells of lying down and jumping up, we got near
enough to make it possible to charge, and the order went round to get
ready. We now saw what big, fine fellows we had to tackle. Clearly now
we could distinguish the Prussian Guards, and a thing that particularly
struck me just then was that their bayonets looked very cruel. The
Guards wore cloth-covered brass helmets, and through the cloth we could
see the gleam of the brass in the sunshine.

The nearer we got, the more clearly we saw what splendid chaps they
were, and what a desperate business it would be when we actually reached
the long, snaky blades of steel--much longer than our own bayonets--with
longer rifles, too, so that the Germans had the pull of us in every way.
But all that counted as nothing, and there was not a man amongst us who
was not hungering to be in amongst them.

The order to fix bayonets came quietly, and it was carried out without
any fuss whatever, just as a part of the day’s work. We were lying down
when the order came, and as we lay we got round at our bayonets, drew
them and fixed them, and I could hear the rattle of the fixing all along
the line, just as I had heard it many times on parade or at
manœuvres--the same sound, but with what a different purpose!

A few of the fellows did not fix their bayonets as we lay, but they
managed to do it as we ran, when we had jumped up and started to rush
along to put the finish to the fight. There was no bugle sound, we just
got the word to charge, an order which was given to the whole of the
Seventh Division.

When this last part of the advance arrived we started halloaing and
shouting, and the Division simply hurled itself against the Prussian
Guard. By the time we were up with the enemy we were mad. I can’t tell
you much of what actually happened--and I don’t think any man who took
part in it could do so--but I do know that we rushed helter-skelter, and
that when we got up to the famous Guards there were only two of my own
section holding together--Lance-Corporal Perry and myself, and even we
were parted immediately afterwards.

The next thing I clearly knew was that we were actually on the
Prussians, and that there was some very fierce work going on. There was
some terrific and deadly scrimmaging, and whatever the Prussian Guard
did in the way of handling the steel, the Seventh Division did better.

It was every man for himself. I had rushed up with the rest, and the
first thing I clearly knew was that a tremendous Prussian was making at
me with his villainous bayonet. I made a lunge at him as hard and swift
as I could, and he did the same to me. I thought I had him, but I just
missed, and as I did so, I saw his own long, ugly blade driven out at
the end of his rifle. Before I could do anything to parry the thrust,
the tip of the bayonet had ripped across my right thigh, and I honestly
thought that it was all up with me.

Then, when I reckoned that my account was paid, when I supposed that the
huge Prussian had it all his own way, one of our chaps--I don’t know
who, I don’t suppose I ever shall; but I bless him--rushed up, drove his
bayonet into the Prussian and settled him. I am sure that if this had
not been done I should have been killed by the Prussian; as it was, I
was able to get away without much inconvenience at the end of the
bayonet fight.

This struggle lasted about half-an-hour, and fierce, hard work it was
all the time. In the end we drove the Guards away and sent them
flying--all except those who had fallen; the trench was full of the
latter, and we took no prisoners. Then we were forced to retire
ourselves, for the ample reason that we were not strong enough to hold
the position that we had taken at such a heavy cost. The enemy did not
know it then, though perhaps they found out later, that we had nicely
deceived them in making them believe that we had reinforcements. But we
had nothing of the sort; yet we had stormed and taken the position and
driven its defenders away.

We were far too weak to hold the position, and so we retired over the
ground that we had won, getting back a great deal faster than we had
advanced. We had spent the best part of the day in advancing and
reaching the enemy’s position; and it seemed as if we must have covered
a great tract of country, but as a matter of fact we had advanced less
than a mile. It had taken us many hours to cover that short distance;
but along the whole of the long line of the advance the ground was
littered with the fallen--the officers and men who had gone down under
such a storm of shells and bullets as had not been known since the war
began.

Retiring, we took up a position behind a wood, and were thinking that we
should get a bit of a rest, when a German aeroplane came flying over us,
gave our hiding-place away, and brought upon us a fire that drove us out
and sent us back to three lines of trenches which we had been
occupying.

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 286._

“I MADE A LUNGE AT HIM, BUT JUST MISSED, AND I SAW HIS OWN LONG, UGLY
BLADE DRIVEN OUT” (p. 285).]

By this time our ambulances were hard at work; but ambulance or no
ambulance, the pitiless shelling went on, and I saw many instances of
German brutality in this respect. The ambulance vehicles were crowded,
and I saw one which had two wounded men standing on the back, because
there was not room enough for them inside. Shells were bursting all
around, and a piece struck one of the poor chaps and took part of his
foot clean away. He instantly fell on to the road, and there he had to
be left. I hope he got picked up by another ambulance, though I doubt
it, for the shell-firing just then was heavy, and deliberately aimed at
helpless ambulances by people who preach what they call culture!

We made the best of things during the evening and the night in the
trenches. The next day things were reversed, for the Germans came on
against us; but we kept up a furious fight, and simply mowed them down
as they threw themselves upon us. We used to say, “Here comes another
bunch of ’em!” and then we gave them the “mad minute.” We had suffered
heavily on the 31st, and we were to pay a big bill again on this 1st of
November, amongst our casualties being two of our senior officers.

The battalion was in the peculiar position of having no colonel at the
head of it, our commanding officer being Major J. M. Traill. I should
like to say now, by way of showing how heavily the Bedfords suffered,
that in one of Sir John French’s despatches, published early in the
year, seven officers were mentioned, and in the cases of six of them it
had to be added that they had been killed in action. Major Traill and
Major R. P. Stares were killed not far from me on the day I am telling
of--and within two hours of each other.

We were lying in trenches, and the majors were in front of us, walking
about, and particularly warning us to be careful and not expose
ourselves. Their first thought seemed to be for us, and their last for
themselves.

Just at that time there was some uncommonly deadly sniping going on, and
any figure that was seen even for a fraction of time was a certain
target. The sniper himself was a specially chosen German, and he had as
a companion and look-out a smart chap with field-glasses, to sweep the
countryside and report to the sniper anything promising that he saw in
the way of a target. Working in pairs like this, the snipers were able
to pick off the two majors as they walked up and down directing and
encouraging us. They were shot, and, as far as we could tell, killed
instantly. We felt their loss very greatly.

Major Stares had very much endeared himself to his men, and he was a
great favourite in South Africa before the war began. We were all eager
to get to the front, of course, and were constantly talking about what
we should do, and wondering what would happen when we met the Germans.
The major was never tired of explaining what we ought to do in tight and
dangerous corners, and asking us what _we_ should do. I have known him
stop us in the street to ask us these questions, so keen and anxious was
he for our welfare.

The second day of the fighting passed and the third came. Still we held
on, but it became clear that we were too hopelessly outnumbered to hope
for complete success at the time, and so we were forced to leave the
trenches. Withdrawing again, we took up positions in farmhouses and
woods and any other places that gave shelter. All the time there was a
killing fire upon us, and it happened that entire bodies of men would be
wiped out in a few moments. A party of the Warwicks got into a wood near
us, and they had no sooner taken shelter than the German gunners got the
range of them, shelled them, and killed nearly all of them.

There was not a regiment of the Glorious Seventh that had not suffered
terribly in the advance during the three days’ fateful fighting. The
Bedfords had lost, all told, about 600, and it was a mere skeleton of
the battalion that formed up when the roll was called. But there was one
pleasant surprise for me, and that was meeting again with Lance-Corporal
Perry. We had lost sight of each other in the hand-to-hand fighting with
the Prussian Guard, and met again when we were reorganised at an old
château; and very thankful we were to compare notes, especially as each
of us thought that the other was a dead man. There were a good many
cases of soldiers turning up who were supposed to be either killed or
wounded, or, what is worse, missing. In the inevitable disorder and
confusion of such a battle they had got separated from their own
regiments and had joined others; but they turned up in due course in
their right places.

I had become a member of the grenade company of the battalion, which was
something like going back to the early days of the Army, when the
grenadier companies of the regiments flung their little bombs at the
enemy. So did we, and grim work it was, hurling home-made bombs, which
had the power of doing a great amount of mischief.

I was with the grenade company, behind a brick wall close to the
trenches, and was sitting with several others round a fire which we had
made in a biscuit-tin. We were quite a merry party, and had the dixie
going to make some tea. There was another dixie on, with two or three
nice chickens that our fellows had got hold of--perhaps they had seen
them wandering about homeless and adopted them.

Anyway, they found a good home in the stew-pot, and we were looking
forward to a most cosy meal. As a sort of change from shelling by
batteries in the ordinary way, we were being shelled from an armoured
train, but were taking little notice of it, being busy with the tea and
chickens.

The Germans were close enough to fling hand-bombs at us. They gave us
lots of these little attentions, so that when I suddenly found myself
blinded, and felt a sharp pain in my left hand, I thought they had made
a lucky shot, or that something had exploded in the fire in the
biscuit-tin.

For some time I did not know what had happened; then I was able to see,
and on looking at my hand, I found it to be in a sorry mess, half the
thumb and half a finger having been carried away.

I stayed and had some tea from the dixie, and my chums badly wanted me
to wait for my share of the chickens; but I had no appetite for fowls
just then. I made the best of things till darkness came, and under cover
of it a couple of stretcher-bearers took me to the nearest
dressing-station.

I suffered intensely, and lockjaw set in, but the splendid medical staff
and the nursing saved me, and I was put into a horse ambulance and
packed off home. And here I am.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE BRITISH VICTORY AT NEUVE CHAPELLE

     [On the road from Béthune to Armentières, four miles to the north
     of La Bassée, is the little straggling frontier village of Neuve
     Chapelle, which first came into notice in October during the
     British advance to the north of La Bassée. At that time the village
     was held by the Germans, but on October 16th they were driven out
     by the British. As a result of the tremendous efforts of the
     Germans in trying to reach Calais we were not able to hold the
     village, which again was held by the enemy at the beginning of
     November. The British were driven back a short distance and for
     more than four months they remained near Neuve Chapelle; then, on
     March 10th they began an attack which ended in the village being
     retaken by us and held. The German Westphalian Army Corps in
     October and November had forced the British out of Neuve Chapelle,
     but in March these troops were routed and severely punished by part
     of Sir John French’s “contemptible little army.” What the battle
     meant and how it was fought is told by Sergeant Gilliam, 1st
     Battalion Coldstream Guards.]


The battle of Neuve Chapelle began at half-past seven o’clock on the
morning of March 10th, and ended at about half-past nine on the night of
the 12th. Earlier on the morning of that famous day our battalion was
ordered to stand to, as supports of the 1st Brigade. We were told to be
ready to turn out at ten minutes’ notice; and we _were_ ready, for we
were longing to have a settlement with the Germans, who had dug
themselves in at Neuve Chapelle, and made themselves very comfortable
and thought that no power on earth could drive them out. But we had a
big surprise in store for them, and we sprung it on them like a
thunderbolt when our massed guns roared soon after sunrise on that early
day in March. Whatever advantages the Germans might have had at the
beginning of the war we had been getting the better of them, and we were
certain that we were now much superior to the enemy in every way. We
knew that the British Army was becoming too much for them, and we were
anxious to prove it that morning, when the biggest bombardment the world
has ever known began, and along a tremendous front there came into
action hundreds of the largest and the smallest guns that we had out in
France.

I am sure that every man who was in at the beginning of this war, from
Mons to the Marne and the Aisne, as I was, till I was invalided home
wounded, will agree with me that there had been nothing like the British
artillery fire at Neuve Chapelle. It was truly fearful. Something like
five miles away, nearly five hundred British guns were bombarding the
village, the batteries being on a front four or five miles in extent, so
that there was only a few yards space between each gun. The result was
that an immense wall of fire was seen where the artillery was in
position, while the village itself was a target on which shells rained
and made havoc. Nothing could withstand that awful cannonading--houses
and buildings of every sort were shattered, and often enough a single
shell was sufficient to destroy an entire house. When we got into the
place at the end of the battle it looked as if some tremendous
earthquake had upheaved it and thrown it down in a mass of wreckage. It
was almost impossible to tell where the streets had been, and so
enormous was the power of some of the shells that were fired and burst
in the ground, that the very dead had been blown up from their
resting-places in the churchyard, only to be re-buried by the falling
walls around. The bombardment was bad enough for those who were out of
it; for those who were in it the effect of the shell fire was
paralysing. The Germans had had nothing like it, and more than one
prisoner declared that it was not war, it was murder. We didn’t quite
see how they made that out; but it was near enough for the Germans, and
we told them that we were only getting a bit of our own back for Mons.
“And,” we said, “this is only a taste of what’s in store for you. It’s
nothing to what’s coming!”

The roar of these massed guns was so deafening, and the noise of the
exploding shells was so incessant, that we could not hear one another
speak. The air was all of a quiver and you could see the heat in the
atmosphere just as you see it when looking at the horizon in a tropical
country, and as I saw it many times when we were in Egypt. The heat from
the shells made the day for all the world like a hot summer day, and the
fumes and flashes caused a strange mist that looked like rain, though
the sun was shining.

The bombardment was grand and terrible beyond description; but there was
one good thing about it, and that was that the Germans did not reply
very often--they seemed numbed and stunned--and when they did, their
fire was very slight and feeble, and so far as I could tell not one of
their shells did any serious damage amongst the British forces.

For half-an-hour the British artillery bombarded the enemy’s first line
of trenches, and this fire to the Germans must have seemed as if hell
had been let loose, because everything that was in the line of fire was
blown away or levelled to the ground--walls, trees, buildings, sandbags,
even the barbed wire entanglements were carried away by shell splinters
and shrapnel bullets, though unfortunately some of the entanglements
escaped injury, and became death-traps for a number of our fine fellows
who were hurling themselves upon the Germans.

Perhaps I should explain, so that my story is quite clear, that Neuve
Chapelle, or what is left of it, stands on perfectly flat ground, with
plenty of enclosed gardens and orchards and some wooded country near.
The Germans had dug themselves into very complete trenches, and had
built some strong breastworks near the highroad into which they had put
a large number of machine-guns. In houses and elsewhere these weapons
had been planted, and in some places they fairly bristled. Our object
was to rout the Germans out of their trenches and houses and barricades,
and in view of the deadly nature of machine-guns and rifles the work was
bound to be long and heavy and costly. How desperate the assault was has
been shown by the losses of some of our splendid line battalions.

When the bombardment of the first line of trenches was over, the way had
been paved for the infantry, who were lying in their trenches, not far
from the village. They were waiting eagerly for the order to advance,
and when it came, they sprang out of their trenches with such shouts
that you might have thought a lot of lunatics had been let loose. They
dashed forward, and almost before it was possible to realise what had
happened they were in the nearest German trench.

Then it was, even so soon after the battle had opened, that we knew how
destructive the fire of our guns had been, for when the trench was
reached there was hardly a German left to tackle. Our shells had landed
plump into the enemy, and the result was that the trench was full of
dead and wounded Germans. The few survivors did not hesitate to explain
that they felt as if they could shake hands with themselves and to
marvel that any one of them had come out of such a fire alive.

Our men were full of joy at such an ending to their rush, full of
satisfaction to feel that they were making such a fine score, then came
one of those misunderstandings and mishaps which are part and parcel of
a fight in which the artillery cannot always see what it is doing--our
own poor fellows suddenly found themselves under the fire of our
gunners, who had started bombarding the trench again under the
impression that it was still held by the Germans.

Imagine, if you can, what it meant to be in a trench like that, at such
a time--a long narrow pit which had been knocked about by shells and was
crowded with débris and killed and wounded men, and then to be under our
own shell-fire. With unerring aim the shells came into the trench,
causing consternation, and yet a sort of grim humour. Above the cries of
the wounded and the shouts of the men came the loud voices of the
officers, saying, “What is our artillery thinking of? What are they
doing?” And at the same time doing their dead best to get their men out
of it and back to their own trenches.

The order was now given to retire to our old position, and at last the
order was carried out, but still some of our men were puzzled to know
what had taken place, and they shouted, “What’s wrong?” “What’s
happened?” and so on, while there were many cries for help and water. It
was soon seen that there had been a mistake, and the best was made of
it, though that was not much consolation for poor chaps who had been
badly mauled and knocked about by fire that was meant for the enemy.

Noon came round on that first day of the battle and the chief thing we
knew was that what we thought was finished had not been done, and we had
to start afresh; but there was no grumbling or whining. It was realised
that there had been a mistake, and it was taken in the way of British
soldiers. And we were well rewarded, for suddenly our artillery
re-started. They knew by this time what had happened, and I think they
must have felt pretty savage, judging from the nature of their fire. We
could see the destructive effects of it from our trenches, and it was a
wonderful yet awful sight to watch the Germans being blown out of their
trenches into the air, some of the bodies being shot twenty or thirty
feet high. I am not going to dwell on the havoc that was caused amongst
men; but you can imagine how dismembered parts were scattered by such a
continuous bursting of shells.

The bombardment stopped abruptly, and in the strange calm that followed
it we went off again, in just the same high spirits as before. This time
we were lucky; there was no mishap, things went well and right, and by
half-past two we had the joy and pride of knowing that we had made
ourselves masters of the first line of the German trenches.

This line was piled up with the German dead, and the first thing we did
was to get to work to clear some of the bodies away, so as to make a bit
of room for ourselves to stand, keeping at the same time well under
cover in case the enemy tried to get their own back; but they had been
too badly shaken, and nothing of this sort took place. The Germans
believed that Neuve Chapelle could not be taken, as it was so strongly
fortified, and we now had a chance of seeing how much ground they had
for their belief. A particularly strong defence was the barbed wire
entanglements, which had been made uncommonly thick and complicated.
This was the reason why even our destructive fire did not cut through
the entanglements and why some of our infantry suffered so heavily. The
Liverpool Regiment lost terribly, as so many of the officers and men
were caught in the wires and had no chance of escaping from the fire
which the Germans mercilessly directed upon them. The Liverpools were
caught between the cross-fire of two German maxims as they tried to cut
through the barbed wire, just in front of the German trenches. It was
real heroism on the part of the Liverpools and it was a ghastly sight to
see the brave fellows being cut down like flies.

In our captured trench, which was nothing more than a huge grave, we
began, when we had made ourselves secure, to snatch a few mouthfuls of
food; but we had no sooner started on this pleasant task than down came
the order to prepare to advance.

“That’s right!” the men shouted. “The music’s started again! Let’s get
at the German pigs!” Not very polite, perhaps, but in this war a good
deal has been said on both sides about swine.

We sprang out of our trench and went full swing for the second
trench--there were four trenches to storm and take before our object was
accomplished. Very soon we were in amongst the Germans in the second
trench, and it was a fine sight to see them being put through the mill.

Just in front of us, amongst the enemy, the shells from our own guns
were bursting--a wonderful instance of the accuracy of modern artillery
fire--and it was fascinating to see the shells sweeping every inch of
the ground, and marvellous that human beings could exist in such a
deadly area. Every now and then in would go one of the German parapets,
and the almost inevitable accompaniment was the blowing into the air of
limbs and mangled bodies. These things were not a laughing matter, yet
often enough, as we watched a shell burst and cause havoc we laughed
outright--which shows how soon even the most dreadful of happenings are
taken as matters of course.

Now came the order for us to assault and away the infantry went, right
into the German trench, with such a rush and power that the enemy seemed
to have no chance of standing up against the onslaught.

The men of the Leicestershire Regiment hurled themselves into the thick
of the bloody fray, not once, nor twice, but five times in succession
did they rush the Germans with the bayonet--and at the end of that
tremendous onslaught they had not a single German prisoner! Never while
a German lives who survived the charges of the Leicesters will he forget
what happened in the trenches at Neuve Chapelle--and what the Leicesters
did was done by the Irish Guards. No prisoners--and no man who has been
through the war from the start will blame them, for he knows what the
Germans have done to our own brave fellows, not in fair fight, but when
they have been lying helpless on the roadside, especially in the
retreat from Mons.

The long and thrilling day was ending, darkness was falling, and we
pulled ourselves together and prepared for a lively night. We fully
expected a counter attack, but no--it seemed to be the other way about,
for on our left we had our famous Gurkhas and Sikhs, and they were
getting ready for work.

It was quite dark, about half-past nine, when suddenly there was a shout
in the German trenches, and as it rose in the night a pair of our
star-lights burst, like bright, beautiful fireworks in the sky, and
showed us what was happening. It was this--the Indians had moved swiftly
and silently in the night, they had crept and crawled up to the German
position, and before the enemy knew what was taking place the heavy
curved knife, which is the Gurkha’s pride, was at work, and that is a
weapon against which the German soldier, especially when in the
trenches, seems to have no chance whatever. It is almost impossible to
get over your surprise at the way in which these brave little Indians
cover the ground in attacking. They crawl out of their trenches at
night, lie flat on their stomachs, with the rifle and the bayonet in the
right hand, and wriggle over the ground like a snake and with amazing
speed. Having reached the enemy’s trenches they drop the rifle and
bayonet and out come the knives--and woe betide the Germans that are
within reach. The Gurkhas are born fighters, the love of battle is in
their very blood, and they fight all the more readily and gladly because
they believe that if they are slain they are sure to go to heaven. If a
German makes a lunge at him, the Gurkha seizes the bayonet with the left
hand and gets to work with the knife. The plucky little chaps get their
hands badly ripped with the German bayonets, and many came into Neuve
Chapelle with half their left hands off.

The Germans hate the sight of these Indians, and those who could do so
escaped from the trench. They lost no time in going--they fled, and no
wonder, for they had suffered terribly, not only from the Indians, but
also from the Black Watch, who had been at them with the bayonets. The
Highlanders took a large number of prisoners; but the German dead were
everywhere, and the trench was packed with them--indeed, all the
trenches at the end of the battle were filled with Germans.

During the 10th and 11th we made such good progress that we had taken
three of the four trenches; then came the worst day of all, the 12th,
for on that we were ordered to take the fourth trench which the Germans
held. This was on the outskirts of the village and was strongly
fortified. There was a strong blockhouse at the back of the trench which
added greatly to the security of the position.

We were up and ready early--at half-past six--and as soon as day had
broken the guns began their dreadful booming, and very solemn they
sounded in the cold grey light, which is always so cheerless. The guns
cleared the way again and did some excellent work in smashing away the
wire entanglements and blowing up German works; then came the order to
charge.

I was not in at the actual taking of this last trench, but I was lucky
in being close enough to be able to see what was going on, and what I
saw was some of the most furious fighting in the whole of the battle.
The first charge was made with all the dash and courage of the infantry,
who had already done so well. Our men rushed gallantly at the Germans;
but so withering was the fire with which they were met and so hopeless
seemed the obstacles that they were repulsed with heavy loss, and I know
of nothing more heart-breaking to us who were watching than the sight of
these soldiers being sacrificed and suffering as they did without,
apparently, winning any success.

Again the artillery shelled the German position, then, across the ground
which was littered with our dead and dying our brave fellows charged
again. They sprang up from the shelter of their trenches, and with even
greater fury than before threw themselves upon the enemy, only to be
beaten back for the second time, by the cross fire of the machine-guns.
In spite of all these losses and the awful odds against them our men
kept their spirits up and vowed that they would still drive the enemy
completely out of Neuve Chapelle, and get their own back for Mons and
the rest of it, and so, while our artillery took up its tune again the
men got a breather, and after a bombardment which lasted at least
three-quarters of an hour there were shouts of “Now, boys, again! Let
’em have it!” And up the infantry sprang once more and dashed across the
fatal ground. The men who were nearest to me were the 2nd Black Watch,
and it did one’s heart good to see the way the kilties swung towards the
enemy’s position. But it all seemed in vain, for at this point there was
the blockhouse to be reckoned with. It was right in the centre and was a
veritable little fortress which seemed a mass of flame and sent
machine-gun and rifle bullets like hail. No troops could live or stand
against such a fusillade, and so our men had to fall back even once
more to the protection of the trenches.

By this time the position and danger of the blockhouse were known, and
our artillery got the range of it, and that having been done, the end
was merely a matter of time. A battery of British guns was trained on
the blockhouse and the fire was so accurate that the fourth shell went
through the left corner and the building was riddled with shrapnel and
put out of action.

It was about this time that our fellows spotted an observation-post on
the church in the village. As you know, churches and houses are objects
that the British always avoid firing upon if they can, though the
Germans have wantonly destroyed large numbers of both. There was the
observation-post, plainly to be seen, and as the Germans were directing
their artillery fire from it and the post was a danger and a nuisance to
us and hindered our progress, a special effort was made to wipe it out.
And the effort succeeded, for the British gunners got on it a “Little
Harry,” a shell that puts to shame even the Jack Johnsons and the Black
Marias of the enemy. “Little Harry” settled the observation-post swiftly
and finally, and then the fourth and last charge for Neuve Chapelle was
made.

And what a charge it was! It was magnificent. Every bit of strength and
courage that was left seemed to be put into it, and while the infantry
dashed on with the bayonet and put the finish to the stubborn German
resistance in the trenches and got the enemy fairly on the run, the
Gurkhas and the famous Sikhs and Bengal Lancers hurled themselves on the
flying regiments and cut them down with lance and sword.

[Illustration:

[_To face p. 302._

“THE INFANTRY DASHED ON WITH THE BAYONET.”]

It was a wonderful swirl of fighting. This time the blockhouse was
stormed by the 2nd Middlesex and the Royal Irish Rifles.

All at once the guns had finished, and with wild cheers the old
“Die-Hards” and the Irishmen rushed to the German trench and would not
be driven back. By about half-past three the blockhouse was taken, and
then it was seen that it had been defended by no fewer than half-a-dozen
machine-guns and two trench mortars, to say nothing of rifles. These
weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition were captured and the
Germans who had not been killed were found hiding under cover as best
they could and they were thankful to surrender.

While this splendid piece of work was being finished our Indians on the
left were doing heavy execution. The Bengal Lancers were driving the
fleeing enemy straight through the village, if that could be called a
village which was now an almost shapeless mass of burning and smoking
ruins. And spies and snipers had to be searched for in the shattered
buildings, while we had to leave the captured trenches for two reasons,
because they were filled with dead, and at any moment we might be blown
out of them by mines which the Germans had laid. So we had to set to
work, even while the fight was being finished, to construct new
trenches, and we worked hard on these so as to make ourselves secure in
case of a counter attack.

It was not long before we saw the victorious Indian cavalry returning.
At about six o’clock we heard the thud of horses’ hoofs, and looking up
from the new trenches that we were making we saw the Bengal Lancers
coming back from their pursuit and rout of the Germans. They had chased
the enemy right through the village and into a big wood on the other
side of Neuve Chapelle, and what they had done was shown by their
reddened lances and the helmets and caps that were stuck on the steel.
There were about six hundred of these fine horsemen and not one of them
had less than two trophies on his lance, while I saw one of them with no
fewer than eight skewered on, and he was smiling all over his dark
handsome face. So were the rest of them--they were all delighted with
the success that had crowned their work, and we cheered them mightily
and laughed too, for somehow we couldn’t help doing both.

Meanwhile we were being shelled from a spot which we could not locate
for some time, then we learned that the firing came from a fort on the
left of the village which was known as Port Arthur. We were in the
direct line of fire from it, and our position became very uncomfortable.
The Germans who were in Port Arthur were a plucky and stubborn lot, for
they refused to surrender when they were asked to do so, and declared
that they would not cave in either for British or French or Russians.
That showed a fine and right spirit, but at last these chaps had to
stop, because our gunners got two or three “Little Harrys” into Port
Arthur, and it came tumbling down about the defenders’ ears.

It was now dark, past nine o’clock, and it seemed that the enemy was a
long time making up his mind to attack us; but at about twenty minutes
past the hour they began firing with their artillery. The very first
shell they sent came right into my two sections of trenches, and killed
one man and wounded half-a-dozen of us, including myself. The poor
fellow who was killed had his head completely taken off his shoulders.
I helped to bandage the other five before I troubled about myself. Then
I looked around again and found that the Germans were well into the
night attack; but they never got within fifty yards of our trenches.

What happened after that I am not able to tell you. I was sent to the
field ambulance to have my wounds dressed, then I learned that I had got
two shrapnel bullets in me, one in the left thigh and one on the other
side, to keep it company.

In the ambulance train I went to Béthune, then on to Boulogne, then, on
a Sunday afternoon--the 14th of March--I landed at an English Channel
port and once again had experience of the care and kindness of friends
and nurses in the hospitals at home.

For the second time I had been sent home wounded from the front. I was
proud enough when I felt that I had tried to do my duty in the glorious
rearguard fighting after Mons and in the battles of the Marne and Aisne;
but I was prouder still to know that I had shared in the victory of
Neuve Chapelle, in which we got our own back, with a lot of interest,
from some of the finest troops of Germany.

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FOOTNOTES:

 [1] Colonel Gordon was twice reported killed; but it was definitely
 ascertained, later, that he was a prisoner of war.

 [2] I saw the “eighth” man not far from the spot where he and his
 comrades were standing when the shell burst. He had been wounded by
 shell splinters on the head, which, when I saw him, was bandaged. The
 effect of the explosion, he said, was terrible. He declared that the
 German warships were flying the British white ensign, and that he
 could distinguish their flags quite clearly.--W. W.





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