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Title: A Soldier’s Diary
Author: Scott, Ralph
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Soldier’s Diary" ***

                                                       A SOLDIER’S DIARY

                              _NEW NOVELS_

                 LOVE’S PILGRIM         J. D. BERESFORD
                 NONE-GO-BY        MRS. ALFRED SIDGWICK
                 PIPPIN              ARCHIBALD MARSHALL
                 LIFE            E. WINGFIELD-STRATFORD
                 ROWENA BARNES          CONAL O’RIORDAN

[Illustration: Collins’ Geographical Establishment, Glasgow.]

                            SOLDIER’S DIARY

                              RALPH SCOTT


                          LONDON: 48 PALL MALL
                       W. COLLINS SONS & CO. LTD.
                       GLASGOW MELBOURNE AUCKLAND

                            Copyright 1923.

                    _Manufactured in Great Britain_

                             TO THE P.B.I.



Lord Robert Cecil has said that he is amazed at the false picture of war
given by the history books, and that he trusts that the historians of
the future will give us a better picture of what war really is than have
historians of the past. I doubt if they will. They are concerned with
the statesmen who direct and the generals who control, rather than with
the soldier who fights, they have neither time nor space to concern
themselves with the things that mattered to the men in the ranks. We can
only get the things that matter, the misery, suffering, and endurance,
the filth, the horror, the desolation, which are a part and the greater
part even of the most triumphant progress in modern war, from the men
who have experienced them.

The reason for the publication of this diary is given by the author in
his entry for October 6. “The only way to stop war is to tell these
facts in the school history books and cut out the rot about the gallant
charges, the victorious returns, and the blushing damsels who scatter
roses under the conquering heroes’ feet. Every soldier knows that the
re-writing of the history books would stop war more effectively than the
most elaborately covenanted league which tired politico-legal minds can
conceive.” Again, in the last entry of all, written after the author has
been watching the Swedish Royal Troops changing guard at the Palace: “Is
there no one with the courage to tell them that war is not like this,
that there will come a day without music, and no admiring eyes, but when
‘the lice are in their hair and the scabs are on their tongue’? Surely
our years of sacrifice were vain if the most highly educated people in
Europe remain in ignorance of the real nature of war and are open
scoffers at the League of Nations.”

These are not the words of a conscientious objector, nor of a
neurasthenic, introspective man. They are written by a keen,
healthy-minded, sport-loving, young Englishman, who passed through the
war at the front, did his duty nobly, and behaved with great gallantry.
He describes in vivid, clear language, just what he saw, he does not
cover up the horrors with fine phrases, but just sets them down in their
place alongside the stories of devotion and sacrifice, which make up the
high lights in the picture.

It is remarkable that this story, which even to-day makes one shiver, is
not an account of the grim struggle for the defence of Ypres, of the
grimmer fight through the mud to Passchendaele, nor of the great retreat
when the Germans swarmed over our lines in March, 1918, but of the
period when the tide had turned definitely in our favour, and our armies
swept forward to final victory. It is an account of triumphant war as
seen in the front line. We are told that the public to-day is weary of
war books. It may well be weary of war books of a certain kind, but I
hope it is not weary of learning the truth about the war, and every word
in this book rings true. One of the surest ways to get another war is to
forget about the past war.

                                                             F. MAURICE.

 _30th Nov., 1922._

    “Hear now a song—a song of broken interludes,
    A song of little cunning—of a singer nothing worth,
        Through the naked words and mean,
        May ye see the truth between,
    As the singer knew and touched it in the ends of all the earth!”
                                  RUDYARD KIPLING.

                           A SOLDIER’S DIARY

_April 23, 1918._ Arrived at the R.E. Base Depot, Rouen, and was
delighted to find a pile of letters waiting for me. Damn fools that we
are, we are all fretting to get back into it again—the lines must be
very thin nowadays. In the evening had an excellent Mess Smoking
Concert, plenty of champagne, and a terrific “fug” in the ante-room.
Heaven knows when we will have another night like this as we are at the
last outpost of civilisation again.

_April 24._ Wasting time all day at the Demolitions School. God! what
fools we are. Up in the line men are dying like flies for lack of
reinforcements—here are thousands of troops and we cannot go because the
R.T.O.’s staff is too small to cope with the railway embarkation forms!

_April 25._ Several fellows posted to companies to-day, so that it looks
as if we shall soon be over the wall that Haig spoke about and with our
backs to it again.

_April 26._ More Demolitions—news still very bad—if they don’t let us go
to the Huns methinks they will come to us.

_April 27._ Demolitions again. We destroyed a steel rail and heard a
fragment of it go humming away over our heads just like a shell. About
ten minutes afterwards the Colonel came down with great wind-up and
chewed us all to pieces for being careless. Our piece of rail had
evidently gone right over the camp and landed somewhere near the
Revolver Range. Unfortunately, the Colonel had heard it humming over his
hut and it had nearly frightened him to death!

_April 28._ Church parade.

_April 29._ Learning how to make dug-outs as practised by an officer who
has never heard a gun go off—I wonder if the Huns do silly things like

_April 30._ Wasting ammunition all day on the Lewis Gun Ranges.

_May 1._ Bayonet fighting—so that it looks as if we may eventually get
into it again. One man down from the line to-day says that he has seen
R.E. Field Coys. holding the front lines with P.B.I. in support. Oh! let
us be joyful!

_May 2._ Had the day off as I am Orderly Officer to-morrow. Went out
with Lucas and two nurses and crossed the Seine by an old-fashioned rope
ferry. Climbed the hills on the far bank and spent a glorious day in the
woods—scenery magnificent and everything so unlike war. In the evening
we boarded a river steamer and went downstream four or five miles to
Rouen. Had tea (so-called), took the nurses back to their camp, and back
to ours by train. Rouen is a strange mixture—Gothic beauty and twentieth
century filth!

_May 3._ Quiet day. Could hear distant gunfire in the evening—presumably
at Amiens.

_May 4._ Lucas and Richards went up the line to-day.

_May 5._ Church parade. Wrote a lot of letters and pretended to be

_May 6._ Borrowed a horse from the Cavalry Depot and went for a ride
with one of the nurses. Had a ripping lunch at a little café in Petit
Couronne—omelettes and fresh butter (to say nothing of the nurse) are
much nicer than bully and dry biscuit. In the evening played the Cavalry
at Rugger and whacked them 8–6 after an abnormally hard game. We did
enjoy ourselves.

_May 7._ Lazy day! Sometimes I wonder if there really is a war on—these
people here don’t know about it, and in England they must naturally know

_May 8._ Very enjoyable ride in the Forêt de Rouvray with Major J. Had a
damn good nag.

_May 9._ Poor old Jock received news of his brother’s death in
Mespot—knocked him up badly.

_May 10._ Great joy. I am posted at last and to my old Coy.—good old war

_May 11._ AT LAST!!! Left Rouen in a crowded troop train and made myself
thoroughly miserable by wondering if I should ever come back and what
everybody was doing at home, etc., etc. Silly ass!

_May 12._ Sunday. Passed through Boulogne and Wimereux early in the
morning and then through Calais and Cassel and on to Heidelbeck, where
we slept in the train. Hun planes came over in the night and tried to
bomb the train, but they didn’t get anywhere near us.

_May 13._ Set off at 9 a.m. to find the company, and after walking
eleven miles with my pack found them at one of the old camps in the
Ypres Salient—quite like home again. The camp is surrounded by guns, and
a battery of 9.2 howitzers just behind us make life unbearable. In the
evening the Divisional Concert Party gave us a very good show in spite
of the fact that the “theatre” was continually shaken by shell

_May 14._ Went up the line with Mellor to take over his work on the
Green Support Line. Paid my respects to Ypres again—it doesn’t alter
much. Whilst I was writing a Bosche plane came over our camp and brought
down two of our Parseval balloons in flames. All the observers managed
to get into their parachutes and landed in the woods about 200 yards
away. Later on two more Bosche came over, but one was driven off and the
other forced to descend with a broken propeller.

_May 15._ Very heavy bombardment last night and early this morning—our
own batteries replied so we had very little sleep. The Hens laid five
eggs. Went up to Ypres again to make some gas-proof dug-outs.

_May 16._ Working in the line all day and saw several air fights but no
casualties on either side. At night went up again and had 200 P.B.I.
constructing a barricade on the main Ypres-Poperinghe road. Enemy
strafed the 9.2 howitzer on the Plank Road, and as we passed his shells
were falling about 20 yards away from us. We didn’t stay to observe his
shooting, which was a little too good to be comfortable! Arrived on the
job and found that half the working party had gone astray owing to
Brigade H.Q. giving wrong orders. Damned asses in their well-cut
breeches—if they had to flounder about in trenches all night they would
be more careful.

The Ypres Salient on an ordinary lively night is a sight to be
remembered. The rise and fall of the Verey Lights makes a circle of fire
all round us, and except just where the Poperinghe road connects us with
the rest of France we appear to be completely surrounded. It is more
than a marvel to me how they have failed to cut us off in that little
bottle-neck. On this particular night Fritz was raining shrapnel into
Dickebusch and our people were giving him a warm time in reply. The 4.5
howitzers were firing hammer-and-tongs, and as I watched the angry
shell-bursts on the ridge in front I began to feel quite sorry for the
Bosche infantry. However, his field guns sent some high explosive over
just to the left of my barricade, and my sympathy rapidly vanished.
Cycling back in the gray of the morning we saw a 9.2 howitzer being
tugged into position by a tractor and a cottage in Brandhoek just set on
fire by a direct hit. We didn’t linger!

_May 17._ Working on the barricade again. Much quieter night, but in the
direction of Kemmel there was a very violent bombardment lasting about
20 minutes. Probably a raid by the French. At midnight went into support
battalion dug-out for a whisky and whilst inside the Bosche got a direct
hit on top with a gas shell. On way home noted the cottage in Brandhoek
still smouldering after last night.

_May 18._ Finished the barricade except for wiring and the barrels of
earth for the fairway. Also completed No. 2 Post. Got strafed by a 5.9
on the way up, and had wind vertical—10 shells all to myself and very
close. Very quiet night except for a few rounds of shrapnel on the

_May 19._ Sunday. Rode round with the Skipper, taking over all the
demolitions from him as he goes to the Gunners to-morrow as Liaison
Officer. I am now responsible for the explosive charges under all the
bridges behind Ypres, and in case of evacuation of the salient I’ve got
to be the last man to leave, blowing up everything before I go. It’s a
regular suicide club, as I know that fully half the charges won’t go off
unless I fire my revolver into them—disadvantages of belonging to a
corps with high ideals—“blow yourself up rather than fail to blow the

A 9.2 battery fired just as we rode past them, frightening Blacker’s
horse and giving him rather a bad fall. Heavy drum fire in the evening
in the direction of Locre—heard later that the French got 300 prisoners.
Durhams are doing a raid on our right to-morrow night.

_May 20._ Busy all day on demolitions—hot day and very quiet.

_May 21._ Vlamertinghe very heavily shelled with H.E. and shrapnel just
as I was going in. Bosche got another direct hit on the old church tower
and brought more masonry down into the road. Cycling along the Switch
Road behind a lorry when a shell dropped into the swamp about 15 yards
on my right. Tore some big holes in the lorry cover and splashed me with
mud. Lucky the ground was so soft or else I should have had a little
more than wind-up! At night had 260 P.B.I. working for me on the Green
Line. They are the best workers we’ve had yet, and only came out of the
line last night. One of their officers told us a very amusing yarn of a
patrol stunt which he did the other night—captured a Bosche, killed
four, and got away with everything except his tin hat. Recommended for
M.C. Heavy barrage, for Durham’s raid started at 12 midnight and lasted
for three-quarters of an hour. Bosche retaliation on our roads and
forward areas.

At five minutes to twelve the moon was shining on a peaceful but
desolate scene; the frogs were croaking in the shell-holes, and the only
signs of war were an occasional Verey light beyond Ypres and the lazy
droning of a night bomber overhead. At midnight there was a crash behind
us and instantly our guns let out together, surrounding us with a wall
of noise and leaping, white-hot flame. The S.O.S. began to rise from the
German lines and shortly afterwards the steady crashing of his shrapnel
barrage was added to the din. This went on steadily for three-quarters
of an hour, while we grovelled on our stomachs in the mud, and
punctually at 12.45 settled down to the usual desultory shelling. Had
only one casualty in my party, but he was a nasty sight—chewed to pieces
by a direct hit. On the way back Mellor and I cycled into some gas and
swallowed a bit before we got our bags on—coughing and sneezing all
night and had devilish headache.

Just outside Vlamertinghe we ran into a smashed ambulance and four
limber mules and two drivers literally splashed about the road—our
wheels were wet with warm blood. Later on we found a saddle-horse blown
in two but could not see any signs of the rider. One of the worst nights
I have had since March!

_May 22._ Quiet day testing my charges on the bridges. Very hot and
water unobtainable—tried thirst quenchers, which were worse than
nothing. White with dust, and eyes, nose, and mouth full of it.

_May 23._ Another quiet day testing charges. Derry twice shelled off his
job but had no casualties.

_May 24._ Heavy rain last night converted everywhere into a quagmire.

_May 25._ Beautiful hot day again. Completed work on demolitions and
finished all preliminary testing.

_May 26._ Busy day handing over demolitions—jolly glad to be rid of them
although it means front line work instead. Very heavy shell-fire all
night followed by Bosche attack, in which he captured Ridge Wood and
Scottish Wood. Had seven casualties, and had to ride all the way home in
gasmask. Hear that the Durhams have been very badly hit—two companies
almost entirely gone.

_May 27._ Am posted as Reserve Officer to our forward company in
addition to my own work. Working under the new major on Main Reserve
Defences. Bosche still shelling very persistently all morning,
especially round Brandhoek, where he fired a large petrol dump. Picked
up some shrapnel which fell within two or three yards of me. Putting in
a double machine-gun post in the top of a ruined windmill—splendid field
of fire and view right away to the foot of Kemmel Hill. God help Jerry
if these gunners stick it! Also constructed a very strong double post in
a farm on the Switch road.

_May 28._ Up at 5.30 and working hard all day in the Green Line. Twice
shelled out of the front line, and eventually had to withdraw all men to
work on support. I have told Brigade Headquarters three times that it is
madness to work here in daylight and that I cannot accept any
responsibility for casualties—the German observation balloons can see us
all the time, and we are shelled continuously. However, _they_ don’t get
shelled, so it is “Carry on, the work has to be done!” The mists are the
only things that save us—as soon as there is a clear day we shall be
wiped out.

_May 29._ Had a whole battalion of P.B.I. working for me on Green
Line—in this blasted exposed position again—it makes me feel like a High
Church curate walking naked down the Strand! Shelled out of front line
about 11 a.m., so left Captain of the infantry in charge of parties and
went personally to the General—got his authority to do exactly as I
liked and not to work in front of the village after the morning mists
have cleared. Some one will be wild at my going direct to the General,
but I have shown him up and saved at least 50 lives—but what are 50
lives to the Staff?

_May 30._ Tried the front line again, but Fritz knows we are there and
shelled us out with low-bursting shrapnel—nasty stuff! After the men had
withdrawn I went back to see all clear and was damn nearly hit by a
whizz-bang. It burst in a pile of bricks about six paces away. I heard
the explosion, and on looking up saw a column of bricks and debris just
starting on its downward journey again. It rattled all over my tin hat
but I was otherwise untouched. Later on some shrapnel whizzed into the
parapet at my feet and some more crashed through an old notice board by
my head. Hadn’t a single casualty all morning. My luck is still
miraculous and it seems to extend to the men. Bosche aeroplane came over
in the afternoon and brought down three of our balloons in flames.

_May 31._ Two companies of Fusiliers working for me on Green Line. Misty
morning, so I started in front and got on very well for several hours.
About 9 a.m. a 5.9 ploughed into a breastwork that my corporal and I
were standing on, explaining things to some infantry. Three men were
wounded and the work wrecked, although by all the laws of reason we
should all be dead. Probably owed our safety to the fact that the earth
was newly placed and the shell penetrated a good distance before
exploding. After this our wire was hit three times and the men were
getting nervous, so I withdrew to support, where we spent a fairly quiet
day. Very bad news comes up from the south, and if the Bosche successes
continue we expect to be attacked here.

_June 1._ Uneventful day except that there are rumours that we are going
out of the line for a rest. Another huge piece of masonry was knocked
off Vlam. church tower last night and buried itself several feet in the
_pavé_. I should think it weighs over ten tons.

_June 2._ Sunday (I think!). Received orders to move out of the line and
proceed to Army Reserve Area for a rest. Great joy, and as we are much
below strength expect the rest to be a long one—the men need it badly,
and I suppose the Brigade Staff must get their hair cut! Company marched
wearily through dear old Poperinghe and spent a quiet night beyond. All
officers had feather beds although we messed in a granary. The whole
road from Pop. to Wormhoudt was lined with temporary shacks and caravans
where the refugees from Ypres are living. They were a noisy, dirty
crowd, and the music from the estaminets was simply appalling. However,
combined with French beer and women, it seemed to attract Tommy. Oh! ye
women of England, could you but see your heroes now—

                      “Singing songs of blasphemy,
                      At whist with naked whores!”

At home it is Sunday and you are enjoying the beauties of a June evening
after church. I daren’t think about it, my imagination is too keen.

_June 3._ Moved off early in the morning and had a long, tiring, and
dusty march, after which we entrained for our final destination. We
passed through very peaceful-looking country, and although not
interesting, it was like Paradise after the desolation of the Salient.
From rail-head we marched to our final billets and arrived there at 8.30
p.m. absolutely worn out. Like a damn fool I carried two of my fellows’
packs—but it makes them love me.

_June 4._ Spent a very quiet day washing, shaving, writing letters, and
generally trying to forget the war. In the afternoon I cycled alone to
Cassel Hill, but it was a misty day so that I could not enjoy the view.
Met a pretty little waitress at the estaminet on the top, where I drank
a bottle of filthy wine.

_June 5._ Did a little drill, etc., just to keep the men fit, and then
went for a short ride—it is good to be with our horses again.

_June 6._ Weather is very beautiful. Spent the day in meditating—how I
would love some books now. Gunfire is just audible at night.

_June 7._ Appointed Lewis Gun Officer to the company and spent the day
lazily, apart from giving two lectures.

_June 8._ We are going to move again, although, thank heaven, it is
still westwards. At 1.30 p.m. received orders to meet Staff Captain at
Brigade H.Q. at 2.15 p.m., and it is 12 miles away!!!!

What would they do with bloody fools like that in business at home? And
they make just the same kind of mistakes when lives are at stake. Set
off with 12 men as billeting party, and after a very tiring ride reached
the rendezvous at 6 p.m. to find the blasted captain not yet arrived. I
would love to write down the men’s remarks! When he turned up he told me
that our billets were a little farther on at the next village, but when
I got there I found nothing arranged. After three hours’ hard work (a
great strain on my French!) I had everything ready for the arrival of
the company. M. le Maire and the farmers were very obliging people and
extremely keen to help. If anything they were a little too hospitable,
and as I was in a dickens of a hurry it was rather trying to have to
stay and drink beer with 17 different farmers! About 10 p.m. Mellor
arrived with the main body of cyclists, and we went to the Maire’s to
eat a dry bully sandwich. The old man watched us very gravely, and when
we had absorbed the bully I poured a drink of greenish-looking water
from my bottle. He made an awful face and exclaimed, “Ah! Chateau de la
Pompe, pas bon!” He immediately rushed into his kitchen and brought us
each a huge glass of sparkling cider, and as we drank he roared with
laughter at the recollection of his joke on Chateau de la Pompe. After
this I went out to find the company, and met them on the far side of
Brigade H.Q. about 11.30. I shall never forget how they came back that
night. They were marching with our own Brigade, and long before I met
them I could hear the jingling of the transport, the rhythm of their
step, and occasionally catches of song floating down the valley—“Annie
Laurie!” They have left more than half their pals to “sleep” in Ypres
to-night, they are exhausted, limping, lousy, and white with dust, yet,
thank God! the spirit is still there. The ranks kept well together, and,
finished though they are, I believe they would try to struggle back
to-morrow if it were necessary. I am a sentimental ass even yet, but I
could have cried as I stood on the path and watched the P.B.I. go by.
Except where the fitful glare from a travelling kitchen threw them into
flickering relief it was impossible to see their faces, and yet I felt I
knew them—hard and scarred and ugly, brown as their rifle stocks, as a
real man’s face should be. And always I wonder if England understands,
if England will remember! How many of the ladies whom these darling
blackguards have saved would condescend to trail their dresses through
the hells these boys call home? I wonder and I doubt!

             “There are men in No Man’s Land to-night,
             In travail under a starless sky,
             Men who wonder if it be right
             That you should lie snug in your beds to-night
             While they suffer alone—and die!”

_June 9._ Spent a very quiet day settling down and getting used to the
beauty of our surroundings. We are in a charming little valley between
wooded hills with a pebbly trout stream to sing us to sleep at night. It
is just like Cefn on the Elwy in North Wales—a week here will do us
worlds of good.

_June 10._ Sunday. Was notified that a battalion of Middlesex is coming
to share our billets with us, so I rode over to see the Area Commandant
and had rather a stormy interview with him. Rode over again in the
afternoon to try to get some tents out of him, and again I was
successful, although between him and the Brigade I made myself generally
unpopular. It has been some sort of fête day in the village to-day and
the Sappers had a good time helping the inhabitants to decorate their
little village square—it was very charming.

_June 11._ Gave a lecture on the Lewis gun this morning—what profanity
in a charming place like this!

In the evening went fishing and met an old man casting with fly and
wading. I ventured on conversation and imagine my surprise when he
turned out to be an Englishman—he was very reticent and I should think
has a past!

_June 12._ Asked the Maire about my Englishman. Apparently he is a real
hermit, and although he has lived in the village for twenty-three years
they know nothing about him—he is a fishing maniac, and they say he
spends most of his time on the river. Pity I am not a novelist—what
wasted possibilities for a real thriller!

_June 13._ Starting working on the construction of a new rifle range up
in the hills so that the men can keep in trim. Pleasant evening fishing.

_June 14._ Busy day on the rifle range, but knocked off work early for
company inspection by the C.R.E. I think he was fairly pleased with us,
and he brought a message of congratulation to us from the Divisional
Commander for our work at Ypres.

_June 15._ Worked all morning on the rifle range with a battalion of
Pioneers. Progress was very slow, as we were working in solid chalk, and
every piece has to be drilled off. In the afternoon went for a ride with
two infantry friends over the hills towards the coast. A most perfect
day, and so very easy to forget that we are engaged in war. Once we came
up through dense pine forests on to the bare summit of the last ridge of
hills before the coast, and to my great delight we could see the spires
of Calais in the distance. Instantly I recalled Matthew Arnold’s lines
and felt certain that he had been on that selfsame ridge when he wrote

              “A thousand knights have reined their steeds
                To watch this line of sand hills run
              Along the never silent Strait
                To Calais glittering in the sun.”

——and fifty miles away the guns!

_June 16._ Sunday. Received orders to proceed to Corps Gas School for a
course of training in Anti-Gas Warfare, etc. Went with ten other
officers in a lorry from Brigade H.Q., and persuaded our driver (20
francs) to get lost in St. Omer. We had an excellent four-course lunch
in approved civilian style, and on arrival at the school at 3 p.m.

                      “Since ’twas very clear,
                      We drank only ginger beer;
                      Faith, there must have been
                      Some stingo in the ginger.”

_June 17._ Spent a quiet restful day, work starting at 9 a.m. and
finishing at 4 p.m. Wrote letters in the evening and early to bed.

_June 18._ Had a very interesting day making gas attacks and committing
sundry other barbarities—among them walking round a room smelling
bottles and trying to identify the contents by their stinks—my nose
feels as if the world were composed of one vast unmentionable stink! In
the evening went for an hour’s march in gasmasks—what sublime,
unutterable joy to get them off again!

_June 19._ Nothing doing at the School, so we made up a party and again
tasted the somewhat bitter-sweets of semi-civilisation.

_June 20._ Boring day—fed up.

_June 21._ Manufacturing stinks all day—will be heartily glad to see the
company again.

_June 22._ Examinations and end of the course—thank God! Felt rotten in
the afternoon and went to bed—pray it isn’t Spanish ’flu, as there is a
terrible lot about. Shortly after midnight a party came into our hut and
took out Captain Sparks and threw him in the pond. Served him right; I
never knew a more bombastic idiot.

_June 23._ Went back to the company in a motor lorry, arriving 3 p.m.
Found the others playing Badminton over a wire net and in field boots!
Still jolly feverish but cheered up to be with the company again.

_June 24._ There are rumours about to-day that we are going still
farther away from the war in order to be trained as “storm
troops”—apparently we are considered a good division and we are picked
for the Grand Forlorn Hope of the Allies. Even the most pale-faced
pacifist could hardly help feeling a thrill of pride when he learns that
he is picked for such a venture. Myself I am delighted—until I think of
the married men. It is at least certain that I am far too sentimental to
be a Staff Officer—a man who unconsciously visualises the widows and the
orphans could never do it, and to me it will always be something more
than a game of chess. But perhaps that is only the natural attitude of
the pawn!

_June 25._ Orders came through last night that we are moving again
to-day, but it is to be eastwards this time. Up all night in
consequence, and had company on the road with all transport by 8.30 a.m.
Marching all day, _via_ Watten to St. Omer, where we arrived at 6
p.m.—very weary. Had only three hours’ sleep and was roused by Orderly
Corporal at 1 a.m.—

_June 26._ ——with instructions to meet Staff Captain fifteen miles away
at 7 a.m. What a life! From Brigade went forward on bicycle and arranged
billets for company, which arrived at 4 p.m. Very poor accommodation and
officers had to sleep in tents.

_June 27._ Spent a quiet day resting and cleaning up after our travels.
Learnt that we are going into the line again south of Ypres, in the
neighbourhood of the Kemmel front.

_June 28._ Two officers went forward to the line to take over our work
from the French. Spent the day inspecting all our gear and cleaning guns
and ammunition. We are beginning to lose our ragamuffin appearance and
look something like soldiers again to-day. It is wonderful the way the
men can pull themselves together after the times they have had.

_June 29._ All details completed and we are ready—for what?

_June 30._ Sunday. At 2 p.m. we left our billets and should be in the
line about 6 p.m. When we set out the company looked smarter than I have
ever seen it, the men fit and well and marching like the Guards, the
horses fat and frisky, and the wagons and the harnesses shining like a
Dress Parade. The Major was away in front with Derry so that I was in
command. I felt sad as I rode round the ranks for the last time and took
my station at the head of the column. Then, turning in my saddle, I gave
the words, and as the lead chains tightened and the pontoons lumbered
slowly forward my sadness changed to pride—for the first time in my life
I was leading 250 magnificent men towards a battle, and I prayed that I
might never let them down.

Proceeded to Divisional H.Q. Area, where we installed our transport with
the exception of the limbers. The sections then went forward to billets
under the shadow of Kemmel, where we arrived about 7 p.m. Every one very
tired as it has been a broiling day and we are white with dust. Our area
does not seem to have been shelled very much, and the farms and cottages
where the men are billeted are almost intact. We are, however,
completely overlooked from Kemmel Hill and cannot move about in
daylight. The tool-carts were brought up and camouflaged after dark, and
when all was settled and the men had had a meal I went to investigate my
billet. It is a small room 10 feet by 6 feet and, with the exception of
a similar room adjoining it, is the only remaining part of what has once
been a decent cottage. The walls were papered with newspapers printed in
five different languages, and the general filth of the place was beyond
description. Following my usual practice, I put Marjorie’s large
photograph in my map case and hung it on the wall, after which the place
looked a little more cheerful. However, the guns were very active, the
lice were even more so, and not even the comfort of her photograph could
induce me to fall asleep.

_July 1._ Got up about 11 a.m. and spent the day until 4 p.m. lying in
the sun and listening to the Decca—and the guns! The last of the French
officers left us to-day after marking on our map where two women are to
be found on the Steenvorde road. Thank God we are not like that! About
4.30 p.m. all officers cycled forward to inspect work. Everything is
utterly destroyed, and the once prosperous little town in front of us is
now nothing but a pile of bricks. It requires large parties of men
working all night to keep one road clear for the transport. When one
considers that the town has been utterly wiped out in two months one can
form some conception of the intensity of the German shell-fire. After
struggling through the debris we left our cycles behind a hillock,
entered a trench, and walked round to the front.

Away on the left we could distinguish the ruins of Ypres shining faintly
in the evening sun, and smoking under a desultory bombardment. Closer to
us was the brick pile and swamp once known as Dickebusch, and in front,
a few hundred yards away, the bulk of Kemmel Hill towered above us. Two
months ago I saw it covered with beautiful woods and peaceful rest
camps; now it is a bare, brown pile of earth, and only a few shattered
tree-stumps in the shell-holes remain to mock the memory of its verdant
beauty. The whole of Kemmel Hill and the valley and the ravines in front
are one solid mass of shell-holes. The earth has been turned and turned
again by shell-fire, and the holes lie so close together that they are
not distinguishable as such. The ground in many places is paved with
shrapnel balls and jagged lumps of steel—in ten square yards you could
pick up several hundredweight.

There was a magnificent view of all the Bosche forward lines, but of
course he has a much better view of ours and also of our back areas.
They say it is death to move a finger in front of the hill and all our
work will have to be done at night.

On our way back we came across an old French battery position which had
apparently been defended to the end in the great struggle. The guns were
right in the open and must have caught the full blast of the German
fire, for the limbers were all shattered to pieces and many of them were
turned over into the shell-holes. The gunners were killed to a man round
their pieces, and could have no finer monument than their pile of empty
shell-cases. Their bodies still lay there unburied, mixed up with the
carcasses of the horses with which they had tried to get the guns away
at the last moment—some were headless, limbless, and with their entrails
strewn around them—most had had the clothing blown from their bodies,
and some had been half eaten by the rats. A noble end and yet—how
infinitely better if such true nobility could have served a better
cause—or must we, in despair, admit our civilisation to be a sham and
war the only reality which can show us at our best? If any man had the
power to picture the fearful indescribability of that scene I vow there
would be no war—but it is not to be—the world is so utterly detached
from all this blood and carnage, it doesn’t worry them, and besides,
they must have recreation, “the strain is so terrible, you know.” They
can hardly stand it, poor things—and besides, the air raids—terrible!
Meantime we die—without recreation. “Father, forgive them, for they know
not what they do.”

_July 2._ Before turning in last night I spent some time over my maps
and have now got a pretty clear idea of the hopelessness of our
position. There are no trenches, but we hold a broken line of outposts
about five hundred yards in front of an old main road which we are
defending. The key of our position is one solitary hill, a small
symmetrical hump not more than 100 feet high and entirely overlooked by
Mont Kemmel, which is ten times higher. And yet the whole line in
Northern France, and perhaps the result of the war, depends on our
holding this little hill. Between it and the coast the country is as
flat as a pancake, and if we lose the hill we lose Calais and the
Belgian ports—so much for the country, now for the men. We have a
division which, with the exception of the few days’ recent rest, has had
about six months of continuous hard fighting. Our front is twice as long
as it should be, we are still below half strength, and most of our
effectives are boys of 18–19 going into the line for the first time. On
the other hand, the Huns hold very superior positions and they are
flushed with victory. Such is our problem; the answer will be written in
blood around the slopes of Kemmel. I forgot to say that there are no
reserves between ourselves and Calais. Let us pray!

_July 3._ Went forward at 3 a.m. with the Major in the hope of laying
out new trenches for to-night’s work. Unfortunately the mists cleared
away very early and we were not able to do very much. Fritz was
apparently very sleepy and we didn’t get sniped—nevertheless I was jolly
glad to get into a trench again. I cycled back and spent the morning at
the Dump and in looking for material. In the afternoon went forward
again with my sergeant to show him the work, but was not able to do much
as the snipers were very active. Went forward again in the evening—did
another reconnaissance and got a party of about 30 men out on the job by
11 p.m. We were trying to put a belt of wire across the end of a valley
which offers a covered advance to Huns. Progress was very slow owing to
persistent enemy machine-gun fire and horrible condition of the valley
bottom. Fritz had apparently brought a gun forward specially to shoot up
the gully and we had to spend most of the night on our stomachs. In
addition, the transport got lost and we were held up for lack of

_July 4._ Got back to billets about 5 a.m., having been on my feet
twenty-six hours. Had a few hours’ sleep and went forward again with ten
men, showing them the tracks, etc., so that they will be available as
guides. Went forward again at 8 p.m. and after a terrific struggle got
two pontoons of material behind the hill by 11 p.m. On way up an 8–in.
shell landed between the wagons and knocked out two men whom we left
with R.A.M.C. The horses were terrified, and in trying to hold them
Baker was knocked down by one and badly kicked. I wanted him to go back,
but he insisted in carrying on. There was heavy shell-fire all the way
up and I was damn glad to get them all under cover. Work on the valley
was again very slow, owing to heavy machine-gun fire and lack of
carrying-parties. Jumping down into a shell-hole when the fire was
rather hot I caught on some wire and ripped my leg, and also cut my left
breeches leg right off. When the men had gone back I tried to do some
more taping out before the mists cleared but could hardly drag myself
along and nearly fell asleep in No Man’s Land.

_July 5._ Got back to billets to find that Derry had gone sick. More
work for the rest of us, and we are nearly tired out now. In the evening
Blacker crocked up and went sick too—pure undiluted funk on his part.
Three officers left now to do the work of ten and the Major will go
soon. He hasn’t been to bed for a week, and must have walked at least
twenty-five miles every day. I had a talk with him and persuaded him to
order the T.O. up from the horse-lines, so that will make four of us. I
have got two Brigades to look after now.

Forward again about 7 p.m. and nearly completed wire across the valley
in spite of usual machine-gun fire—two men hit in my party. Heavy
shell-fire all night.

_July 6._ Coming home about 4 a.m. I met the Major alone, and although
nearly finished I went back to help him to lay out a new line. Poor old
Major is nearly done, but he will drop before he gives in. I hope we can
last until some more officers come, but my eyes are jumping and my head
sings like a tornado—how few people must know what it is like to be
really exhausted in the body and yet to have a mind which drives you on.

            “To make your heart and nerve and sinew
            Still serve your turn long after they are gone,
            And so hold on when there is nothing in you
            Except the Will which says to them, ‘Hold on.’”

I hope we can.

_July 7._ Beginning to get used to feeling tired and think we can stick
it now. We are all jumpy and are too far gone to talk or read the
paper—the Decca hasn’t been touched for days. Had another cruel night,
and was on the go for twelve hours. Finished wire across the valley and
got well on with digging reserve trenches and wiring reserve line.

_July 8._ Had three hours’ sleep and went up again at night after a
heavy afternoon’s work. Very heavy thunderstorms all night made it
almost impossible to move about. Was so exhausted with falling into
shell-holes that I started to crawl about on my hands and knees in the
mud—once I almost cried with sheer weakness. On way home I fell off my
bike and was so weak I had to leave it in a shell-hole. Once or twice I
touched my revolver—there is always that. It is a terrible thought, and
even now, half an hour afterwards, I can’t understand it—how much less
can people at home!

_July 9._ Slept a bit, worked all afternoon, and up again at night.
Heavily shelled on way up but no casualties. Completed first wiring of
left Brigade front and most of their digging. Did an early morning
reconnaissance with Major and Brigade-Major, having been on the go
fifteen hours.

I think we can keep it up indefinitely now, but where our strength comes
from I don’t know—at least eighteen hours per day.

_July 10._ Usual sort of day. Had to walk all the way to line and back
as it was impossible to get a bike through the mud. Wretched night, with
pouring rain and howling wind—two poor devils killed.

_July 11._ Usual day—started clearing New Wood for digging to-morrow
night. Whole area heavily shelled. Could sleep for ever and would dearly
love to die.

_July 12._ Went up in the afternoon to take over two more jobs—making a
new roof for left Brigade H.Q.’s and tunnelling an underground First-Aid
Post for the Middlesex. Had tea with the Brigadier and then dinner with
the C.O. front line battalion. It is really very amusing the way in
which some of these old-time regulars endeavour to preserve their mess
formalities. The dug-out couldn’t have been more than 12 feet square,
and yet they managed to produce quite a respectable four-course dinner
for seven officers. It was handed on to the table by a perspiring
orderly, who crouched in the entrance to a tunnel which could not have
exceeded 3 ft. by 4 ft. How the food was cooked I could never imagine,
but the smells of cooking leaked out from behind the orderly, and
somewhere in the depths of the blackness behind him there was a voice
that swore, mightily and frequently. I judged that the Voice had
produced the meal and also that it had been a hot job. Most of the soup
got spilt before it left the end of the cavern, but the smell was
excellent and gave us quite an appetite for the tinned salmon which
followed. This had been brought up with ammunition and a bottle of
execrable French vinegar from Division that very afternoon. The next
course was excellent. Roast mutton, procured as the result of dark
dealings with the A.S.C., fresh peas from heavens knows where, and
lastly some sauce made from mint which they said had been growing last
night in No Man’s Land. The sweet was a treacle pudding. We drank thin
whiskies and sodas which were distinctly lukewarm in spite of all the
doctor’s efforts to keep the stuff cool. All things considered, a very
enjoyable meal and a great credit to the Voice.

Did a hard night’s work and got back, feeling as if I could sleep for
ever, about 5 a.m.

_July 13._ Was up again about 10 a.m. and inspected explosives before
lunch. Then up the line again to start another mining job—“B” Company,
H.Q. Front Line Battalion. Have now got two big mining jobs in hand and
the Colonel absolutely refuses to send me any timber. He says there is
plenty to be salved. True, O king! but to call it firewood would be
flattery. However, it doesn’t matter—if the whole damn shaft falls in
and kills twenty men there are plenty more in England. Life is much
cheaper than timber! Managed to get home for tea and dinner, but back
out again all night. While talking to one of the working-party officers
a piece of whizz-bang landed between us and another one smashed his
respirator. I am sure some one is going to be killed in the mines—the
earth runs like quicksand, and even with decent frames it would be a
dangerous job. Without, it is sheer suicide, and a shell anywhere near
us on the surface will cave the whole thing in. Fortunately, the men
don’t realise these things, lucky beggars.

_July 14._ Informed that the Division on our right are doing a raid
to-night, but working parties are to go out as usual! If I were
sentimental I should have to write a last letter home every night—then I
would certainly be killed.

Started work on a strong point in front of the hill, and shortly
afterwards our barrage started in conjunction with the raid. It was very
fierce, and the S.O.S. lights went up at once over the German lines. We
were watching the pretty colours when their protective barrage came
down, just like a sudden thunderstorm, and I realised to my horror that
we were working dead on their barrage line. Before I saw exactly what
had happened two men were knocked to pieces and the remainder were
running all over the place looking for cover. There were the ruins of a
farm on our left, and I was trying to get the men together into the
holes around this. We got about fifteen into this and several wounded,
and then they shortened range. A salvo came bang on top of us, there was
a great lurid flash and a roar by my feet and I thought I was done for.
I went clean off my feet and was blown several yards, but got up and
found I was untouched but nearly blind and awfully dizzy. I heard some
one calling, and found McDougall. He had been knocked over by the same
shell and was quite blind. We crawled into a hole together and waited to
get our breath. The shells were coming just round us in solid masses so
close that we could feel the earth heaving, and once or twice we were
half buried. I had lost my bearings completely, and McDougall was still
blind and apparently dazed, for he wouldn’t answer when I shouted in his
ear. Then I felt alone and I thought I would go mad—there were rats in
the same hole with us, screaming with terror, and all the time those
blasted shells, crash, crash, crash. I felt I must do something, so I
looked over into the next shell-hole and saw that it was part of an old
trench. I shoved McDougall over and together we flopped down into it and
felt much safer, as it was deeper than the one we had left. Then I
started to crawl along the trench, and to my great delight we found some
of the men.

For three-quarters of an hour we lay in that ditch with the earth
jumping and falling all round us—at times the whole trench seemed to
move three or four feet. A ration party out on the mule track hadn’t got
such good cover, and we could hear the poor devils moaning and screaming
as some of the others tried to drag them back to the aid post. Some of
the kids in our trench began to cry, and I felt like it myself. We were
all choking, and the valley was so full of smoke and dust that I
couldn’t even see the Verey lights which were less than 300 yards
away—only the great red splashes of fire where the shells burst.

It seemed to last for hours; the steady crashing of the bursts, the
whine of the flying pieces and all around the screaming of shattered men
who had once been strong. And then the smell which, if a man has known
it once, will haunt him to the end of time, the most sickly nauseating
stench in the world—the combined smell of moist earth, high explosive,
and warm human blood.

God, in Thy mercy, let me never again hear any one speak of the Glory of

About 1.30 the noise stopped almost as suddenly as it had begun, but he
put down two more barrages, one at 2 a.m. and one at 2.30. Had an awful
headache when I got to bed.

_July 15._ McDougall gone down with shell-shock and blindness, but I
managed to turn out, although very sore and stiff—that shell must have
been mighty close, and every one is agreed we should be dead. Dinner
with the Colonel again and promised to repair his dug-out, which got
badly smashed up last night.

Desultory shelling all night but comparatively quiet—my head feels like
a concertina and if we had more officers I would certainly go to
hospital. However——

_July 16._ All my men were sent back to the Reserve line to-day for a
rest, but as we are so short of officers there is no rest for me. In
fact the work is rather more, and I had a very heavy time explaining
things to the new sergeants.

Machine-gun bullet hit a stump about a yard in front of me and drove a
lot of dirt and splinters into my face.

I am worn out.

_July 17._ Was coming home this morning about 5 a.m. very weary, when
Jerry put down still another barrage. There were no trenches handy and I
spent a nasty half-hour in a ditch on the side of the track. When you
have once been strong it is awful to lie in a ditch and quiver like a
jelly when shells are falling fifty yards away. I am going all to pieces
and my imagination is killing me. Last night I was alone inspecting the
wire when for some hellish reason I saw a picture of myself disabled by
a bullet and lying for hours until I bled to death—days it would have
been, for my vitality is tremendous. For several minutes I couldn’t
move, covered with a clammy sweat and paralysed with fear.

Great wind-up to-day—the Huns are expected to make their last effort for
Calais to-morrow. Every available man working on battle positions, and
all guns fired a counter preparation on German roads. If they _do_
attack seriously it will be the end of my diary.

_July 18._ Worked like devils all last night and then spent an awful
hour before dawn, standing to and waiting for the attack. Every time an
odd shell came over we held our breath and waited for the crash of the
general bombardment. The strain was terrific and my stomach felt as if I
had eaten a whole live jelly-fish. The attack didn’t come—24 hours’

_July 19._ Another day of feverish activity, work, and strain. I have
been thinking of Piccadilly Circus and wonder if they realise how very
near they are to the end. Reconnoitred an old farm with a view to
erecting a Brigade H.Q. there in event of retreat to Reserve Line. Why,
Heaven knows, as if they _do_ attack there will be no one to
retreat—except, of course, the Brigade H.Q. with their trouser-presses,
etc. Derry came back to us and is going to take over this work.

Did very well in the line at night, and completed wire to Right Brigade
in spite of heavy shell-fire.

_July 20._ Words fail me—a new officer has arrived and I am going to
have a rest, at least a comparative one, on the Reserve Line.

After starting the parties I spent the night advising the P.B.I. on
trench drainage and got soaked up to the waist. Got three hours’ sleep
in my soaking clothes as German attack is still expected. I wish it
would come—the strain of waiting is terrible.

_July 21._ Life is getting quite enjoyable again. Spent the night
handing over to new officer. The company has received four more Lewis
guns which, I think, shows better than any words how well we did in the

_July 22._ Filthy wet day, spent in taking over Reserve Line from T.O.,
who returns to Horse-Lines. The threat of attack still hangs over us in
a state of suspended animation.

_July 23._ Poured all day; soaked and fed up.

_July 24._ Day goes on leave, so I took over his work in the line,
chiefly concrete pill-boxes. Thus ends my rest. Blessed is he that
expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed. Did a good night’s
work under a beautiful moon and met the Major in the morning before dawn
to reconnoitre some wire.

_July 25._ Derry went sick again, so we are now as badly off as ever.
Doing four men’s work and had a very rushed day. Why the _devil_ don’t
they send us reinforcements?

_July 26._ Four hours’ sleep and off up the line again—the first
Americans came within a few miles of the line to-day. I think we have
just about weathered the storm without them.

_July 27._ Four hours’ sleep, then spent the morning on Brigade H.Q.,
afternoon on the Reserve Line, paid the company, and spent all night on
wiring and completion of No. 1 Pill-box.

_July 28._ Our sister company went over last night to destroy wire for a
raid. They collared two Huns, so that the real raid never came off and
was unnecessary. Good work.

_July 29._ Completed No. 2 Pill-box. Work well on with Brigade H.Q. and
put up 300 yards of wire at Reserve Line. Two of our drivers and three
of the best horses were killed last night. It is difficult to make
comparisons where all men are so wonderful, but as an example of the
purest form of stolid courage I think the limber driver is unique. In a
place like this there is never more than one decent road, and in
consequence it is packed from dusk to dawn with every conceivable form
of wheeled transport. Food, water, ammunition, guns, wire, and
everything else which the linesman needs, must pass along this solitary
lane, and the German knows it. The shell-fire is seldom heavy, as the
line knows it, but it is persistent, wearing, and of the most deadly
accuracy. A very favourite trick is to shell some point on the road and
thus compel traffic to wait. In five minutes they know that there will
be a solid column of wagons on the far side of the block, and then they
lengthen range—preferably with shrapnel. Then it is like all hell let
loose. Half a dozen shells among those crowded limbers can do the most
terrific damage, and men and horses go down together in a welter of
blood and flying red-hot steel. Mules and horses go mad, and scream and
kick, the harness breaks, they climb into the limbers, ammunition
explodes, and in a few seconds there is nothing but a mass of wreckage
in the ditch and the cries of wounded men and dying horses.

Go through that and worse twice a night, every night for a month and
more, and at the end when you take the reins in the evening your hand
will quiver and your feet will tremble in the stirrups. And still they
go without a murmur, night after night, until a merciful shell shall
take them too, and they leave the saddle for ever. Each night they see
the last night’s wreckage, and, if times are very bad, the unburied
bodies of their one-time pals grinning at the stars until Time and the
rats have done their work. And always they know their time will come, so
that to me at least it is an eternal marvel how they find the strength
to go. Perhaps some thought of home, some pride of England drives them
on, or the memory of some dearly loved, dead officer sitting quietly on
a mule among those shrieking shells and telling them not to leave their
horses. But who can tell?—they do it, and England gains!

One thing is certain, they get no medals, for there are no Staff
Officers along these howling roads at night.

_July 30._ For the first time since we have been here our billets were
heavily shelled this afternoon. I had great wind-up, as I was upstairs
in my canvas bath and two or three splinters came through the wall.
There are some Americans near us, and as this was their first touch of
shell-fire it was quite amusing to see them falling over each other in
their efforts to get away across the fields. Beryl, our terrier bitch,
presented us with seven puppies of every breed and colour—the little

The Americans had their first night in charge of an infantry working
party and I went up to their line to have a look at them. It was a
pathetic sight, and when they came back in the morning they reported
being shelled off the job and that half the men’s clothes were cut to
pieces by shrapnel. Combination of wind-up, imagination, and loose
barbed wire on a dark night.

_July 31._ Put up 500 yards of wire at Reserve Line. Second party of
Americans arrived. Bosche plane came over very low in the evening and
spotted our billets and the guns round us. He got away through terrific
machine-gun fire, but we heard later that he came down over the lines in
flames—poor beggars!

_Aug. 1._ Billets shelled again, and thought we were hit several times.
Another daring Bosche came over in the evening but was brought down over
the lines. Our sister company pulled out of the line to prepare for an
attack, so again we are doing a two-Brigade front.

_Aug. 2._ Got soaked to the skin scrambling round Right Brigade trenches
and was quite worn out as I had to wear my respirator, all the
time—ghastly night, with continuous shell-fire and casualties all over
the place.

_Aug. 3._ Had great difficulty in getting material, as they shelled our
dump all night long. It is very hard to order men to go to a place when
you know that it is being steadily shelled, and yet the work has to be
done. So much easier for the Staff, who just say, “Do it,” and then
leave the details and the casualties to me. At 3.30 a.m. met the Major
and took him round the line to see our troubles. Coming back alone——

_Aug. 4._ ——over the ridge just before dawn I got dead in line with a
German M.G. firing straight down the road. I don’t think it was clear
enough for them to see me, but the bullets whizzed past first on my left
side and then on my right. I had to lie down for several minutes and
watch them kicking up sparks on the road a few yards ahead—most
unpleasant, and I found it another indication that my nerves are slowly
giving out.

_Aug. 5._ Heavy barrage in reply to a raid by the Division on our right
interfered with work and caused several casualties among the carrying

_Aug. 6._ The men had a night’s rest, but I was out all night with two
sappers laying out tapes and notice boards in preparation for the attack
on the 8th. Several times we had to go well out into No Man’s Land, and
once I was quite lost for about half an hour.

_Aug. 7._ Was out all night trying to get some work out of the
Americans, but found it a hard job as they are not yet accustomed to
working under shell and machine-gun fire, and are very nervous. Among
our own men I would have considered their behaviour rank mutiny, but I
kept them at it until 3 a.m. and got 150 yards done. Have never been so
unpopular or so violently cursed in my life before.

In the course of the wire we came across a shell-hole with a mule and
three rotting Frenchmen in it, and the Americans were very worried that
they had not been buried!

Poor devils, they have a lot to learn.

                          THE MERRYWAY ATTACK

The events that follow are necessarily somewhat confused, both from
their own nature and from the fact that I was not able to set them down
until some ten days after they occurred. They fell out somewhat as

The Merryway had once been a decent road, but after the fighting in June
there was little left but a shattered track running at right angles to
the main lines of trenches. The Huns had pushed out a very considerable
salient on both sides of this track, and as their ground was rather
higher than ours they were able to make life very unpleasant for every
one around them.

With the threat of more German attacks still hanging over us and the men
quite worn out, the Staff decided that we must keep up our morale by
trying to lower that of the Huns. An attack on the Merryway Salient was
decided upon as the best way of doing this.

Accordingly one Infantry Brigade and one Field Coy. R.E. went over on
the night of August 8th, and under cover of a terrific bombardment
surprised the Germans and gained practically all their objectives. All
was quiet for two days, the Field Coy. put up quantities of barbed wire
and the Staff went to sleep to dream of medals.

The morning of the 11th was cold and misty, and to our great
consternation the Huns delivered a very heavy counter-attack. This was
quite successful, and we were all driven back with the exception of one
post which held out on the Merryway. Here about 30 Huns got held up
against our wire and all surrendered, although most of the men wanted to
shoot, because we were too weak to find an escort. However we sent them
back with two men, but seeing that our flanks were gone and how weak the
escort was, they strangled the two men and joined the fight. Everything
was now completely mixed up, the gray-coated figures were all around,
and odd groups of men were fighting detached battles for their own skins
against heavy odds. Our telephone wire was cut, and rockets were useless
because of the mist; the casualties were heavy, and it looked as if the
line would go. Then I saw Bradley, a fearsome sight, with a piece of his
scalp hanging over his ear and his face covered with blood, trying to
collect some men. I joined him, and we got a few together and went
forward again. In technical language I suppose we led a charge or
counter-attack, but it never struck me in that way at all, and I’m sure
we had no clear idea what we intended to do.

Bradley was mad, and we went at the first group of Huns we saw. There
was a tussle, we killed two and the rest surrendered. Bradley collared
one of these himself, a poor miserable kid not more than twenty, and I
remember the sight of him put heart into us all.

In all we got forward about two hundred yards and got in touch with the
Merryway post, although, of course, we were still a long way behind our
original line.

This restored the line a little, and instead of pushing through the gaps
on either side of us the Huns hesitated a little and finally dug in
about 50 yards away. All the infantry officers were killed and every one
was out of touch, so that the Huns were not followed up. During the day
reliefs came up, and at night Brigade reported that we held a line of
posts in touch with one another about half-way between our first and
second positions.

I went up with a few men and some material to try to consolidate the
position, but when I got to Merryway post everything was in absolute
chaos and there was only a sergeant and six men in the post and
absolutely at their last gasp. Apparently they had been attacked again
during the day, and had only just kept off the Huns after suffering
heavy casualties from trench mortars. It was obvious the Huns thought a
lot of this post, and I felt sure they would try to take us during the
night. I put all my men on and tried to strengthen the place with
sandbags, and made it a little deeper by lifting some bodies out of the
bottom. I had 19 men with 150 rounds each and 1 Lewis gun with several
thousand rounds—this I placed at the end of the trench to fire up the

About 11.30 we were shelled heavily without sustaining casualties, and
immediately afterwards a crowd of infantry—about 100 I think—made a dash
at us, chiefly down the old track. The Lewis gun opened at once, and I
was terrified to find that the Huns had a gun on our flank which was
shooting straight at our gun and right into the trench. The gunner was
killed at once and Cox wounded, so that the gun was silent. Then the
infantry sergeant took it and was shot dead immediately. I shouted to
the men to keep shooting at the infantry in front and I took the Lewis
gun myself and turned it round at the German gun. I waited for him to
shoot, and then fired at the flash and silenced him. I noticed that the
men’s firing had died down, and on looking to the front I was relieved
to see that the first attack was beaten off—we must have killed a lot,
as they were right against the skyline—and there were a lot of them
moaning about in front. I felt certain we could hold them if we could
keep their gun quiet, so for the next twenty minutes we worked like
fiends to raise some protection across the open end of the trench. Then
they came again in a sudden rush, but I must have damaged their gun, and
without that to help them we could turn our gun right into them and
easily held them off. A small party sneaked close up to us on the left
away from the gun and threw some bombs right into us, blowing an
infantryman to bits and wounding a sapper. Then they shelled us steadily
for half an hour and got one of the look-out men in the shoulder—another
rifle useless. At this point we had our one piece of luck—found a rum
jar with just enough in it to give each man a mouthful—it put new heart
into us and helped us more than twenty reinforcements. Everything went
quiet for a time, and in thinking things over I had an awful job to keep
myself under control. The men were wonderful, but there were only 13 of
us left and fully 200 Huns all round. During the lull Cox died in my
arms—he was very game, but just before the end he sobbed like a child:
“My wife and kiddie, oh God! sir, what’s going to happen to them?—poor
kid, poor kid.” And so he died.

Shortly afterwards they came at us again, and thank God none of us
realised how many there were. On the right where the gun was we held
them off again, but we were hopelessly outnumbered, and a German officer
and a small party actually got into our trench at the other end. I heard
the row and, leaving the gun with Willis, was just in time to see a man
kill the officer with his bayonet and the others cleared off again. They
were very close all round us now, and as we could see nothing I told the
men to keep their ammunition and then split them up, some to shoot
forward and some to shoot back. I was frightened that we should be
bombed, and surely enough they started, but the throwing was rotten.

And then once more they tried us. A bomb came right in the trench and
laid out two more men, splashing me with blood. We shot like fiends and
the gun was nearly red-hot, but they were too many. About eight men got
into the trench and then we all went mad. It would be impossible for me
to give an accurate description because there was just one fierce wild
tussle, they trying to get at Willis and that blessed gun and we trying
to keep them off. We were too mixed to shoot; they used a sort of
life-preserver and we used our bayonets taken off the rifles. A German
about my own size slipped into the trench behind me and I just turned in
time to duck under a swing from his preserver. What I was doing I shall
never know, but by instinct I got my left hand on his throat, and before
I knew what had happened I had got the bayonet dagger-wise a good six
inches into his chest. He went down without a groan. There was no one in
front of me and I turned to find a big Hun with his back to me and a
life-preserver raised to hit McDonald, who had his back to the Hun, over
the head. If I had had sense I would have stuck the bayonet into his
back, but I was absolutely wild and dropped it. Before the Hun could
strike I got my hands on his throat and we fell down together. I fell
underneath but got on top and pressed until I thought my fingers would
break. He was terribly strong and once scratched a great piece out of my
left cheek. Gradually he weakened, and I kept my fingers on his throat
until he died.

Much the same thing had happened to all the other men except one, who
got badly mauled about the head and died shortly afterwards. For a
moment I felt we could fight the whole German army, especially when I
saw McDonald smash in a German head with the rum jar. Now the survivors
were shouting for help, but that blessed Willis (ex jail-bird) was
sitting with the gun out in the open, regardless of everything, swearing
like hell, and none of the Huns seemed anxious to accept the invitation.
We were all clean crazy, and I even had a job to keep the men in the
trench. McDonald said something about Cox’s missus, and wanted to kill
ten of the “bloody bastards.”

During the whole of that bloody night my hardest job was to restrain the
men in that moment of semi-victory; for it was still two hours until
dawn. Nine out of the nineteen of us were either dead or dying, and all
the rest of us were damaged in some way. Throughout the whole night I
had never thought of anything but death. Relief, I knew, was
impossible—if we surrendered they would kill us, and I never dreamed
that we could really hold them off till dawn. Writing now, it would be
easy to imagine impressions which I never really experienced, but I can
safely say that throughout the whole night I calmly regarded myself as a
dead man. It seemed quite natural that I should be, and I can’t remember
that I had the slightest regret. It even seems now that in some queer
way I was distinctly happier and more tranquil than I had ever been in
my life before. I felt nobler, mightier, than any human being on earth,
and death seemed welcome as the only fitting end. Recalling some of my
previous entries on the subject of war, I cannot understand my feelings
on this occasion and can only repeat that it was so—perhaps something of

                   “The stern joy which warriors feel
                   In foemen worthy of their steel.”

It was therefore almost with a feeling of annoyance, of having been
cheated of something, that I saw the first streaks of gray beyond
Kemmel. I thought they would still make a last effort and waited, but we
shivered in vain. In the semi-light we managed to get an odd shot at
some of them who had been behind us as they went round to the front—we
shot two or three more this way. Then I left my sergeant in charge and
went back for a crawl to see what I could find. It was almost light now,
and after about half an hour I came across a picket. They firmly
believed we were all dead, and said so, and once more that odd feeling
of annoyance returned. I remembered that during the night I had
visualised the Brigade report on the whole business: “Their Lewis gun
was heard firing until early in the morning but it was impossible to
reach them.”

However, I went back, left some fresh men in the post and brought my
fellows out, leaving orders for the dead to be brought down during the
day if possible. As we went back past Brigade I dropped in to report.
The General had apparently been up all night and looked very worried. He
insisted on seeing the men. They were lying in the mud outside, bleeding
and swearing—an awful but a sublime picture. He was deeply moved, and
several times under his breath I heard him say, “Marvellous, marvellous,
wonderful.” Afterwards, I was told that there were tears in his eyes
when he went back into the dug-out. He has had an awful time, poor

_Aug. 12._ Had my face dressed and slept like a baby during the day. At
night Brigade reported once more that we held a line of connected posts,
and again we went out to try to strengthen them. My party started to
wire the Merryway post and barricade the road, and Day went forward with
a party on the right. When he got forward to where our wire should have
been he found a German party well dug-in—fully 100 yards more forward
than they were expected to be. They turned a gun on Day’s party and
threw about a dozen bombs at them but he got all his fellows back with
only two casualties, and these were brought in later. On my side the
covering party were so nervous as to be absolutely useless, so I sent
them back, and after that my own revolver was the only cover which the
men had.

I was crawling about some 50 yards in front of the party when a light
went up and I spotted three Huns crouching in a shell-hole with a
machine-gun. I had no bombs, so I went back and told the infantry
officer, but he wouldn’t do anything. We ceased work about 25 yards away
from them.

We found the mutilated body of an infantry officer who was killed on the
11th and brought it in.

On calling at H.Q. on the way back we were informed, as we now knew to
our cost, that our posts were all much farther back than was at first
thought, and in some places the Huns were even on the near side of our
wire. But for our great good luck in getting bombed we should probably
have gone out and wired between the German outposts and their main line.

I have seldom known the line to be in a more chaotic state, and I think
one more attack would just about put us beyond the count. Every one is
nervous, and no one knows where anybody else is.

_Aug. 13._ Went out after dusk with an infantry subaltern to try to get
in touch with a post reported to be on the left of the Merryway post. We
groped about without success and eventually saw about 20 figures moving
about in one of the camps behind us. They were not more than 30 yards
away, so we took them for men from the post we were in search of and did
not challenge. Presently they began to move away down the hedge towards
the German lines, and my companion remarked that they were going a long
way forward, as a German post was known to exist at the corner. Almost
immediately afterwards they began to run and disappeared into a trench
about 50 yards away. Soon after this we found our own post, and they
reported having no men out and having seen no one! There was only one
possible conclusion—we had been in close touch with a strong German
patrol which had been moving about with the greatest audacity at least
50 yards behind our lines. Very unpleasant to think about.

Then we took a few of the better men and went out on a hunt, but found
nothing. It was impossible to wire because of very frequent lights and
heavy machine-gun fire. On the right of the track we could find neither
Huns nor our own people, and it appears that Brigade H.Q. don’t really
know anything about the situation at all. It _is_ in a mess. About 3
a.m. the Huns put down a heavy barrage but didn’t come over.

_Aug. 14._ Had a night in bed—the third in six weeks. Heard that my
infantry friend was killed, just after I left, by our own shrapnel
bursting short.

Hear also that I have been recommended for a D.S.O. for the scrap the
other night. This is the second time, and it is now some comfort to be
definitely sure that they will never give it me.

I would like to get something just for my father’s sake, but for
myself—I should almost hate it.

We are here to do a job, not to earn medals for the sake of being gushed
over by silly, simpering women who could never understand.

It is a hard creed and difficult to stand by at times—vanity is very

The following shows roughly some of the main points in the Merryway

_Aug. 15._ Started to wire from the barricade towards the right in order
to join up with Day, who was working from the other end. Got to our
first post but could get no farther, as there was a strong German post
across our line. Day bumped into this from the other side, and was
driven off with two casualties. I was lying down listening when the Huns
fired into Day and was surprised to find I was not ten yards away from
them. They sent up a light, and I could see about ten of them as plainly
as daylight, all looking along their rifles. I dropped a bomb into them
and departed, but if we had known they were there we could have collared
the whole lot.

_Aug. 16._ Was relieved at Merryway and spent the night wiring in the
right sector—quite a rest cure.

_Aug. 17._ Wiring again in front of County Camp. Shelled off the job
three times and had two casualties, so decided to work the wood
instead—shelled again.

_Aug. 18._ Quiet night in the wood. Slowly and surely I am breaking up,
and now I am so far gone that it is too much trouble to go sick. I am
just carrying on like an automaton, mechanically putting up wire and
digging ditches while I wait, wait, wait for something to happen—relief,
death, wounds, anything, anything in earth or hell to put an end to
this, but preferably death. I am becoming hypnotised with the idea of
Nirvana—sweet, eternal nothingness. My body crawls with lice, my rags
are saturated with blood, and we all “stink like the essence of
putrefaction rotting for the third time.”

And there are ladies at home who still call us heroes and talk of the
Glory of War—Christ!

[Illustration: Collins’ Geographical Establishment, Glasgow.]

                “If the lice were in their hair,
                And the scabs were on their tongue,
                And the rats were smiling there
                Padding softly through the dung.
                Would they still adjust their pince-nez
                In the same old urbane way
                In the gallery where the ladies go?”

Last night something went wrong in my head. A machine-gun was turned on
us, and instead of ducking I remember standing up and being quite
interested in watching the bullets kick sparks off the wire—Day pulled
me down into a hole and has been watching me ever since.

If ever again I hear any one say anything against a man for
incapacitating himself in any way to get out of this I will kill that
man. Not even Almighty God can understand the effort required to force
oneself back into the trenches at night—I would shoot myself if it were
not for the thought of my father—O God! why won’t you kill me?

               “To these from birth is Belief forbidden.
               From these till Death is Relief afar.”

And the pity of it all is this—that nobody will ever understand! It is
hell to be able to see these things, but in two years I know it will all
be forgotten. “It is over,” they will say, “we must forget it, it was so
terrible.” The world will go back into the old grooves, without honour,
without heroism, without ideals, and these dear, darling fellows of mine
will be “factory men” once more.

Even now Hardy’s sister is selling matches in Ancoats, and my sister
would refer to her as “that woman”—yet Hardy and I have saved each
other’s lives. And if I live they will say “Poor old beggar, he isn’t
much use now, he had rather a bad time in the war,” and they will pity
me—once a month when I am ill. Or, worst of all, if my vitality should
come back to a certain extent I will appear quite normal and they will
call me a slacker if I don’t take part in games—I, who once captained
one of the best Rugby teams in the north! Perhaps they will even be so
good as to make allowances for me!

And they will call me dull and morose and cynical—and even priggish when
I keep myself aloof from them.

And the ladies for whom I gave my strength and more will leave me for
the healthy, bouncing beggars who stayed at home—even as nationally the
Neutrals get the good things now. And there are thousands worse than
I—may we all die together in one final bloody holocaust and before the
Peace Bells usher in the realisation of our fears.

And then, on howling winter evenings, our spirits might ride the
cloud-wrack over these blood-soaked hills, shrieking and moaning with
the wind, to drown the music of their dancing, so that they huddle
together in terror, the empty-headed women and the weak-kneed, worn-out
men as we laugh at their petty, soulless lives.

Within a week I shall be dead or mad.

_Aug. 19._ Very hot to-day—feeling feverish and weak—what futile words!

_Aug. 20._ Division on our right attacked and captured objectives. Three
lines in the _Daily Mail_ to-morrow—three hundred corpses grinning at
the stars to-night—in three years oblivion—War!

_Aug. 21._ Working on Ferret Farm. On way up Fritz got six shells bang
into the middle of the parties in the sunken road—one sapper and several
P.B.I. hit and Day badly damaged in the face with a stone.

The limber horses behaved wonderfully, and one team didn’t move an inch
although a shell burst right under their tail board. Very lucky not to
have had lots more casualties. On the track we were shelled again and
had to pass through heavy gas in the region of the stream. Almost
immediately after starting work Bosche put down a heavy barrage and we
lay on our faces for three-quarters of an hour. Heavy shelling continued
all night with a lot of machine-gun fire and gas. Was busy with
casualties all night and feel like a corpse myself now.

_Aug. 22._ Beastly hot day and was tortured to death in the evening by
mosquitoes—during this warm weather one usually knocks about in the
day-time in one’s shirt which becomes saturated with sweat, and then
dries off again in the cool of the evening—the mosquitoes love the stink
and after dusk they feed on us in millions—there is no respite, you grow
tired of killing them and dawn finds you on the edge of insanity,
swollen like a long-dead mule. It is these things which constitute the
horror of war—death is nothing.

Wrote a cheerful letter home saying that I am very well and happy.

_Aug. 23._ Was riding up last night through a strafe with Day when a gas
shell exploded just in front of our bicycles—we jumped off at once but
before we could get our bags on we swallowed rather a large dose—didn’t
worry very much and carried on with the night’s work.

_Aug. 24._ In the morning bust up completely and spent the day in
bed—pulled myself together and managed to get up the line again at

_Aug. 25._ Riding home this morning we encountered a sudden whizz-bang
strafe on the road, and Day took a small fragment clean through his
handle-bars—rained hard all night and practically stopped work.

_Aug. 26._ Still raining heavily, and we notice the first signs of the
return of the mud era—surely they _must_ relieve us now if there is a
man to spare in France or England—otherwise, I am afraid a week of heavy
rain would clear the road to Calais. For myself, I am too far gone to
pick the lice out of my shirt—I have ceased to be a man—even my simian
ancestors used to remove their parasites.

_Aug. 27._ Still raining hard, but news comes through that we are going
to be relieved—as I am the only officer that really knows the forward
work I am to stay and hand over—only three more nights!

_Aug. 28._ Very busy day handing over all rear work to relieving
company—the attached infantry parties returned to their units to-day.

_Aug. 29._ Company transport left at 10 a.m. for Rest Area—the Sappers
marched off at 1.30 p.m. To-night is to be my last night in the line, I
hope, for a fortnight at least.

_Aug. 30._ Oddly enough, my last night was one of the most eventful
spent in the sector. It was a misty night, and I was crawling about with
the relieving officer to show him Day’s front line Coy. H.Q., when we
were shelled fairly heavily—to avoid the disturbance I made a detour of
about 100 yards and got completely lost. Eventually we heard muffled
voices behind us, and to my surprise, when I crawled back to
investigate, I found a Hun machine-gun post with about six men in it.

We avoided this and eventually struck our own line about a quarter of a
mile out of our course—they handled us rather roughly in the trench as
they believed us to be Bosche, particularly as my friend knew nothing
about the line. After sitting for twenty minutes with two bayonets in my
ribs, Miller of the Fusiliers came up and fortunately he knew me. Just
managed to complete handing over before dawn and got back for breakfast
with our reliefs. Left billets on horseback with Dausay as groom at
11.45. Passed through reserve billets and had an afternoon halt to water
the horses in a charming meadow just beyond Cassel. We reached the
company about 6 p.m. at a small village outside St. Omer—a very pleasant
but a tiring ride.

Day and I are living in a large white château—steeped in romance from
its turrets to its, no doubt, well-stocked cellars. Outside my bedroom
window there is a balcony where I can sit in the evenings and watch the
sun set beyond St. Omer—if only I had my books I might recapture myself
in a fortnight here.

_Sept. 1._ Quiet day, with the usual inspections and cleaning parades.
In the evening Major and I rode over to take dinner with the
C.R.E.—information had just come through that our outposts are on the
top of Kemmel Hill. Apparently the Huns have retreated, but it makes me
damn wild to think that we should hold that blood-soaked line and wear
down his resistance for other people to follow him up—I would have sold
my soul to see the old Division go over Kemmel, and if any one had the
right it was we.

_Sept. 2._ Went into St. Omer with Day and had tea at the club—succeeded
in obtaining some butter at 15 francs per kilo—verily the French are a
hospitable people! Returned to the mess to find the rumour about Kemmel
is confirmed—apparently the Bosche are evacuating forward positions with
a view to consolidating their line for the winter. This is all very
cheerful and no doubt makes good reading in the clubs at home, but
unfortunately it necessitates our return to the line to-morrow—our rest
has therefore been a deal of extra trouble for nothing—two days out of
the line do one more harm than good. Transport and pontoons started on
their return journey to-night.

_Sept. 3._ Entrained at 8.15 a.m. and detrained at rail-head about 12
noon. Marched forward past our old billets and eventually took over very
comfortable billets from a company of American Engineers. The line seems
to have gone far forward, all the old gun positions are empty and the
sausages are well in front of us now.

After all, I think that the ability to park our transport in the open in
full view of Kemmel will do us more good than the “rest” could ever have
done. The shadow of that ghastly hill has been over us for so long that
our relief at having regained it is out of all proportion to its
practical value. The effect on the men has been little short of
miraculous, and already they are joking about the possibilities of
Christmas at home—or at the worst in Berlin! Once more we look forward
to the possibilities of a semi-victory, and the dog-like fatalism which
upheld us through the weary summer is gradually changing to something
like Hope and Confidence in the Future.

But we can never again go forward with the same fiery ardour and
implicit faith in the Justice of our Cause, which drove us onwards in
the early days. We have seen brave Germans die with faith as great as
ours, and, knowing their intelligence to be not less, we must at least
doubt the validity of our first conclusions. Now we are infinitely wiser
men, growing sadder as the cold light of reason destroys our early
phantoms of enthusiasm. Already “the bones about the way” are far too
numerous to justify the best of possible results and—there will be more
before the end.

But these reflections are morbid and unbecoming in a soldier—to-morrow I
must inspect rifles with enthusiasm.

_Sept. 4._ Day and I working all day on our dug-out and in making a
place where we can have a bath—I shudder when I try to recall my last

_Sept. 5._ Up at 2 a.m. and working until 10 with the whole company
endeavouring to construct a road across a semi-dry lake. It is obviously
a staff project and would have been condemned by a first year
civil-engineering student—we cast our brick upon the waters in the vain
hope that it will return after many days.

Meanwhile the advance creeps forward across the swamps in front and
shows signs of being bogged as the resistance stiffens.

Yesterday our two line brigades had 500 casualties, and after gaining
the summit of Messines Ridge they had to fall back owing to lack of
support. Thus it seems that we shall play the German game once more by
following them into the worst of the mud for the winter—God help us if
we do, the 19–year olds would die like flies in a hard winter.

Had my bath and feel like a new man.

_Sept. 6._ Dumped a few more tons of brick into the lake—at least it is
a peaceful job and keeps the men out of mischief. Played Badminton and
wrote letters—the war seems to have fallen into abeyance.

_Sept. 7._ Heavy gas-shelling on the lake this morning robbed us of our
constitutional and forced an early return.

After dinner we turned out with torches and heavy sticks to hunt rats
round the dug-outs. There were no casualties among the rats, but Day
sprained an ankle.

_Sept. 8._ Still brick dumping, although no progress is apparent as yet.
During the morning I walked across the dyke to talk to the company
working in the morass on the far side and sincerely wished I hadn’t.
They had been finding bodies all morning, not more than a month dead and
just coming to the worst stages. Whilst I was there, they picked up two
kilted officers—glorious big men they must have been but looking so
childishly pathetic as they lay there. Unconsciously we all fell silent,
and I saw a D.C.M. Sergeant-Major with tears in his eyes. Hurriedly I
turned away and, walking back to the men, thanked God that people at
home can never even imagine the deaths their men are called upon to die.

We are going into the war again to-morrow. The rains are with us.

_Sept. 9._ Two sections moved into forward billets at Negro Farm—an
appalling place consisting of two stinking dug-outs under the ruins of
the former homestead—it beggars description but closely resembles that
famous Bairnsfather drawing, “We are staying at a farm.” It has poured
all day, and when we arrived about eleven this morning there wasn’t
shelter for a quarter of the men and none for the horses. I explored two
or three ruins in the neighbourhood, but they were all worse than our
own midden, so we had to make the best of it. Fortunately the
cheerfulness of the men seems to increase with their misfortunes and
they are now all under cover of some sort—even the horses are more or
less protected from the worst of the weather.

My home consists of three battered sheets of corrugated iron, a wagon
cover, and the back of a hen shed, reared miraculously against a bank of
earth which is the mainstay of the edifice. Light from a candle in a
port bottle, no H. and C. or modern conveniences of any sort. It is
cold, damp, miserable, and the headquarters of two sections, Royal
Engineers. Yet you wouldn’t offer it to a tramp at home and a pig would
scorn it—great are the blessings of civilisation!

I decided to keep one section in reserve, so took No. 3 up the line for
night work.


Arrived very late as all the tracks were knee-deep in slush and it was
dark, dark as the inside of an infidel.

We floundered around for several hours, but it was quite impossible to
do anything in the nature of serious work—the line was new to us, and
the difficulty of finding the posts was increased by persistent
machine-gun fire and the most devilish weather imaginable. The ground
was in an awful state, and it often took us twenty minutes to move a
hundred yards—the men swore sublimely and their humour was the only
dryness in the night.

On the return journey we struck some unpleasant shell-fire, and mud
wallowed with enthusiasm. Browning anticipated the Great War when he

                               “Will sprawl—
           Flat on his belly in the pit’s much mire,
           With elbows wide, fists clenched to prop his chin,
           And, while he kicks both feet in the cool slush,
           And feels about his spine small eft-things course,
           Run in and out each arm, and make him laugh.”

Twice we got lost in the woods and finally I had to give up all hope of
finding the lake track. We returned the long way, but even so the tracks
were knee-deep and I could feel the water trickling in over the tops of
my field boots. Sometimes it would be such a relief if only one could

The men had a drop of rum when we got back, and it was about 4 a.m. when
I crawled into my flea bag. A family of beetles played, “Come and sit on
my chair” across my toes, and an old brown rat wanted to keep me
company. I turned him out three times, but the poor devil was so
persistent and so pathetic that finally I let him stop. Immediately I
fell asleep he came and stroked my hair in gratitude and I,
misunderstanding his intentions, turned him out for good and all. But
have you ever tried to sleep in your soaking wet clothes, with your head
two feet under a sheet of corrugated iron on which it is raining hard? I
tried, but the rain and the beetles were against me. I got up, and the
morning and the evening were the first day.

_Sept. 10._ Still raining; and we spent another awful night in the
outpost line. Our own 18–pounders were shooting so short that some of
the shells were actually falling behind us and once we had to lie on the
Bosche side of the parapet to get cover from them. The weather is our
most dangerous foe now, and all wiring etc. is stopped until we can make
some sort of protection for the line troops. They are going down like
flies, there isn’t a dug-out worth the name in the whole sector, and the
water, already a foot deep in the best posts, is increasing hourly.

_Sept. 11._ Another terrible night—it is still raining and we have been
soaked through now for four days and nights. Most of the companies are
down to half strength and trench-foot is very prevalent—it is as much as
most of the men can do to carry two sheets of iron per night for their
own protection. Our own billets are flooded now and we are knee-deep in
mud everywhere—the horses feel it more than we do and I have had to send
them back.

We had to shift their position every three or four hours to prevent them
sinking, and it has been so bitterly cold—there is no protection from
this biting wind as it howls and shrieks across the swamps and mud

But one thinks of the line, for it is always the line, poor devils, who
get it worst—they could tell Dante many things.

There are men up there who have not been under a shelter of any
description during a week of almost continuous rain—they have forgotten
what it is to feel dry, and their minds are dull and stupid with the
cold and misery of it all—they have slept fitfully, wakening under the
necessity of shifting their position to avoid the mud or when an
unusually fierce downpour has stung their faces—and during the whole of
this time no warm food or drink has passed their lips. Small wonder that
they die—with gratitude.

_Sept. 12._ It is two feet deep on our best main road, and we had a wild
fight last night to get the necessary material up for the shelters—an
unlucky shell killed two men, wounded three, and knocked out two mules.
In spite of this we did a good night’s work and erected fourteen
shelters. The men seem to realise how much depends on them, and I have
seldom seen them work so well.

_Sept. 13._ Heavy shelling on roads and tracks disorganised all parties
and interfered with work. I was hit in the middle of the back with a
large fragment which bruised me badly.

If I stumbled and fell once last night I fell twenty times—we use
three-quarters of our strength in fighting through the mud and the
remaining quarter in actual work. We were so tired last night that I
tried the short way back again through the woods. Once we stumbled on a
colony of rats, feeding on the sodden corpse of a Frenchman. I shuddered
involuntarily as they scattered away, screaming, and then turned to
watch us with beady, malevolent eyes. The last time I was home on leave
I remember my mother asked me why the trench rats were so big. I nearly
told her, but then it occurred to me that I might be “missing” myself
and the thought would have driven her mad—so I said it was because of
the food we used to throw over the top. God help the mothers who really
know these things.

Derry crocked up again yesterday and went to hospital.

_Sept. 14._ It is still raining and we are still mud-slinging—would that
I had the time to describe it all.

My back was very sore to-day and I could hardly raise my right arm on
account of the smack I received last night.

The morale of the men is very low again, but fortunately the weather
prevents the Huns from doing anything but shell us.

_Sept. 15._ Signs of the weather improving at last, but mud is very
plentiful and we experience great difficulty in getting about. Artillery
and machine-guns were very active on both sides last night, and, as we
had unusually large parties out, I had a very worrying time. At one time
there were 150 men bunched together on the road for nearly an hour on
account of Brigade giving wrong orders. It was a great relief when we
were able to move them and no damage had been done—but a mistake like
that frequently costs twenty lives and no one is shot for it.

About 2 a.m. I went out in front to reconnoitre a line for wire when I
came across three dead Bosche in a shell-hole. One was an enormously fat
man, and as I was turning him over to cut off his shoulder numbers he
grunted fiercely like a man awakening from a heavy sleep. For a moment I
was horrified and put my hand on my revolver and waited, for perhaps
half a minute, undecided what to do. Then I saw the truth. The noise
which had startled me was due to the gases of decomposition being forced
through his mouth when I turned him over—another of the glories of war!

_Sept. 16._ A really fine day at last and our spirits rise
accordingly—our hopes are drowning and we have to clutch at the
flimsiest of straws.

Last night was very quiet and a lot of good work was done. The men went
back about 4 a.m. and I turned into Battalion H.Q. for a pow-wow with
the Colonel. As I was walking home about half an hour afterwards the Hun
put down a very heavy gas-shell bombardment, particularly around the
track. I lay in a hole for half an hour with my mask on and was
frightened to death lest I should be splashed with some of the infernal
liquid. The shells were not more than 18–pounders, but some of them were
unpleasantly close. This morning Division reports that some 3000 shells
came over in the half-hour.

A new officer joined us to-day. He is about thirty, wears gold-rimmed
glasses, and has never seen the war before. He looks around with the
wonderment of a little child and will be an infernal nuisance to us.
Still, I suppose there are no real men left now.

_Sept. 17._ Spent the night by myself crawling around in front and
noting the places most in need of wire. I came across a German post with
four men in it and a light machine-gun. They were well forward, quite
isolated and obviously nervous. I told the nearest company, but they
wouldn’t do anything, and even looked frightened to think that there
were real live Germans so near them.

A sod splashed down in the trench outside, and I noticed the orderly at
the door, a lad about eighteen, jump and nearly drop his rifle. It all
makes one very sad if you look back upon the days when there would have
been a clamour to go and snaffle that post. And this is the Division
which captured and lost one village seven times on one bloody day, and
finally held it against all attacks with a fifth of its effectives on
their feet.

_Sept. 18._ The men went back into reserve billets to-day, but I stayed
on with the relieving sections. The ground is beginning to dry again and
life becomes more pleasant.

There is great aerial activity and the Hun shoots very much on our roads
and back areas—surely we are not preparing a stunt?

_Sept. 19._ Received orders to return to reserve billets as we are going
out of the line. Spent a busy day handing over work and packing up, as
the whole company moves to-morrow.

_Sept. 20._ Trekked to our new billets in reserve, which are almost out
of the war—even the 60–pounders are well in front of us. Spent a quiet
day making cover for the men, rigging up horse-lines, and generally
settling down. There is more billeting accommodation than we have seen
for months and, greatest joy of all, we can sleep in our pyjamas.

_Sept. 21._ Apparently there is some kind of a stunt coming off, because
we have instructions to rest the men as much as possible and give them
an easy time. Accordingly we do a little drill, paint our transport,
clean rifles and ammunition, overhaul explosives, etc., etc.

There is some fascination about this war game, some inexplicable grip
which it has over us. In spite of everything we have gone through there
is, once more, a thrill of expectation in the air, and the men seem
keener, as though looking forward to something.

No one could hate war more than I do, and yet I would be bitterly
disappointed if sent on leave to-morrow. And if we, of all men, can
still feel moments of exhilaration, can there ever be a League of

_Sept. 22._ The usual instruction work and overhauling of equipment.
Orders came through to-day that we are to give the men instruction in
attack, open warfare, and extended order formations. The men enjoy it
and are cheering up tremendously.

There are now several new Divisions in our area, guns are coming forward
and more troops arrive every day, all of them apparently from the south.
They seem fresher and more confident than our own men, but they have
already had the experience of driving Huns before them—we, on the other
hand, have been fighting a losing fight with our backs to the wall for
over seven months. A lot of kilted troops arrived to-day.

_Sept. 23._ Had the men out all day practising attack formations. It is
hard to believe that these fiercely rushing groups of men are the same
troops who were fought to a standstill at Kemmel, and held that
blood-soaked line with such dogged fatalism through the weary summer.
And after two or three days’ rest they are expected to go forward
again—a man must feel proud!

_Sept. 24._ Training hard. In spite of high hopes dashed before, we seem
as keen as ever to make another effort. The atmosphere seems charged
with electricity, more troops are pouring in, and the broad-gauge
railway is up nearly as far as our billets.

Was recommended again for an M.C.—this time due to appear in the King’s
Christmas Honours List.

_Sept. 25._ We are still without orders, but the attack must be near at
hand now—expectation and excitement.

_Sept. 26._ Received preliminary orders that Day and I will take a
section each and join the Artillery Brigades to make roads and bridges
for them in the advance. Two sections remain in reserve under Cooper.
Attack before dawn on the 28th.

Went up to the Brigade to arrange details and went to bed on return.
Roused after an hour’s sleep to go out with a section to repair two
forward bridges near the front line before daybreak.

Got about twenty men and miscellaneous material on to two pontoon wagons
and started out in drizzling rain. I sat in the front of the first
wagon, and as we lumbered off into the dark I fell into a sort of
reverie. I thought lazily of home and of the 28th, and the things it
might mean, and in my mind I went again over the characters of the men,
the good ones and the doubtful ones, and detailed them off for different
jobs—these and a thousand other thoughts wandered idly through my mind,
punctuated by the jolting of the wagon and the barking of the
18–pounders. Then the men began to sing, very quietly and sweetly, and
the rise and fall of their voices seemed to add some special
significance to the night. We made good progress over the bad roads,
stopping occasionally to check our way or adjust a girth.

Now they were singing “Annie Laurie,” and I heard Garner say “Damn”
under his breath. I asked him what was the matter with them to-night,
and he said, “Dunno, sir, but I wish they wouldn’t sing like that.” The
rain had developed into a heavy Scotch mist which swallowed up the lead
driver and the mounted corporal. I shivered under my coat, and felt
unutterably lonely and sad.

At last the wagons stopped and we went forward on foot towards the work.
We bridged three trenches and then came to the main job, a 15–foot span
across a swollen _beek_, and not more than 400 yards from the German
lines. For about an hour the work went quietly and well and we got an
arch across the stream in the form of an old French steel shelter.

Suddenly there was a short, fierce whine, a crash, and a livid burst of
flame right in the party—three more followed almost instantaneously and
then for a second an awful silence. Some one said “Christ!” and began to
cry gently. Five men were killed, three of them practically missing, and
three badly wounded. By a miracle the work was practically undamaged.

We took the casualties to the wagons and returned to the job—how the men
worked there again I shall never know, but they did, and the bridge was
across an hour before dawn. The suddenness of the shock has knocked my
nerves to pieces and even as I write my hand trembles.

Looking back now I can see something unnatural in the whole of that ride
in the pontoons—little details were too impressive, and there was an
almost unhuman beauty in the way they sang that song. I am sure that
some of those men had a vague premonition of what was coming.

_Sept. 27._ Lay down for a few hours after we got back, but was unable
to sleep. At midday I took Nos. 2 and 3 Sections to forward billets at
Pig-stye Farm, and at 5 p.m. No. 3 Section moved out again to join their
Brigade. The company transport and reserve sections arrived about 9 p.m.

Major and I had a final talk together, and I turned in about 11 p.m. I
was nervous and excited, and although very tired, slept but little.

_Sept. 28._ No. 2 Section breakfasted at 2.15 a.m. and were ready on the
road at 3.30. Whilst I was inspecting them the barrage started on our
left for the Belgian attack, and the northern sky was bubbling with

We reached Brigade H.Q. at the château about 5.15 and at 5.30 our
barrage started and the front line troops went over. The scheme was that
we were to go forward at once and make a track passable for 18–pounders
from their present positions up to second jumping-off line. They were
expected to be there about noon and would then be in a position to
support the further advance of the infantry. Everything depended on
getting the field guns forward to support the second attack.

I left the transport at the château under the corporal and led the men
forward towards a half-dried-up canal which was the first break in the
road. It was raining heavily.

It soon became apparent that the Germans were maintaining a barrage on
this side of the canal, and as time was against us we had got to go
through it. It looked rough and ugly and the men were looking at each
other. For a moment I was tempted—we were absolutely alone and it was up
to me—nobody could blame us if we didn’t go through, and in an hour it
would probably have stopped. We were perhaps five hundred yards from the
canal and shells were bursting heavily—there was no cover and at times
the canal banks were obscured by the fumes and smoke from the bursts.
Something outside a man takes hold of him at these times and tells him
what to do. In half a minute I was calmly saying, “Come on,” and the men
were following in single file, about ten paces from man to man. I
thought we should never get across—we tried to run but we kept sticking
in the mud and bunching together—just like a nightmare. Once or twice I
looked round and the men were grand—two fellows were hit and the others
dragged them across—then a third went down and was picked up by the two
behind—eventually we were under the shelter of the canal bank with one
man killed and two wounded. It was great, and after that I felt we could
do anything.

By now we were soaked to the skin, but bunches of prisoners were coming
back and the worst seemed to be over. We worked steadily on the roads
under fairly continuous shell-fire, and by 10 a.m. the track was
completed. After this the German shell-fire weakened as the advance went
forward and his guns were either taken or forced to withdraw. The men
were worn out and literally covered with mud, so I withdrew to some old
dug-outs in the canal bank. A message was sent for the transport to come
forward and another one to the company for rum. The men had just lit
fires and were beginning to dry themselves when I received a message
that the guns had reached their destination but our further help was
wanted at once. At 11.30 the section moved forward again, and by 2 p.m.
the whole Brigade were standing to for action in their new positions.
The Division moved up into line during the afternoon and the advance
pushed on—Wytschaete-Messines, and the Warneton line are reported

At 4 p.m. the section returned to the canal, awaiting further orders.
The Brigade commander personally thanked me for the day’s work. At 4.30
I received news that the transport was stuck somewhere behind us, but
they were trying to get the limber forward with six horses in it instead
of the normal two—the tool-cart had been abandoned. Eventually the
limber arrived and then I sent four horses back for the tool-cart which
arrived about 6.30 _via_ Ypres—the roads are in a terrible state and
will do more than the Huns to hold us up.

At 7 the men had a meal—the first since 2 a.m. this morning—and after
that turned in to a more than well-earned rest. I went over to see the
Colonel and learnt that they are pushing on over the hills and Comines
is to be captured to-morrow. Every one is delighted, the show has been a
great success and casualties are light in comparison with the
results—the only trouble is the mud, with which we are literally covered
from head to foot.

_Sept. 29._ Our rations arrived about 5 a.m., but no forage for the
horses, and we were unable to move forward in consequence—my biggest
trouble is going to be to keep in touch with supplies and water during
this nomadic life. Roads were reported passable as far as the front, so
I left the section standing to under the sergeant and rode off to find
the company. I hunted about all morning and found them at last at the
old place but just ready to move off. Arranged to draw rations direct
from the company each day with my own limber. I took two nose-bags of
corn back with me on my mare, gave the limber horses a feed when I
reached the section, and then sent them back for rations. Somehow or
other the company has heard some very highly-coloured accounts of our
passage through the barrage on the 28th.

At 2 p.m. I rode forward with an orderly and visited the Brigade and all
batteries. Heavy rain set in again, and as every one seemed fairly
comfortable and there was no accommodation forward I decided to spend
another night at the canal. The road is blocked with traffic from
morning till night, and I am afraid it will break up badly if the rain
continues—the whole show depends on that one, blessed road, and
apparently it is going to be my job for two or three days more until the
Corps troops can get up. The Brigade was in action when I reached them
and a stiff fight was going on around the last ridges—the Huns are
sticking a bit and a fierce counter-attack had just been driven
back—rifle and machine-gun fire was very intense. I saw a lot of Hun
dead about the roads and a few of our fellows. The Huns have left a lot
of guns behind and should be fairly hard hit.

It was dark when I got back, and the horses could hardly crawl along.
Rations and forage came up shortly afterwards, so we turned in and had a
good night’s rest.

_Sept. 30._ Heavy rain all last night. At 8 a.m. I sent two orderlies up
to Brigade and my groom back to the company to change my mare—she was
completely exhausted. Pending receipt of orders we rigged up a shelter
for the horses, as they were shivering badly and I began to be
frightened for them—the poor beasts are caked with mud, and even their
eyes are hardly free from it.

At noon received orders to go forward as early as possible, so I sent
half the limber back for rations and moved up with the section. After a
really terrific struggle we got as far as the batteries and managed to
find a bit of cover in some old German concrete dug-outs. Worked till
dark on the road and then started to fix things up for the night. The
dug-outs were in the middle of a swamp about 500 yards from the road,
and in the dark it took us three-quarters of an hour to reach them. I
had to give up all idea of getting the horses across, and finally found
a place where they could stand about a mile from the dug-outs. The
drivers were quite worn out, so we had to mount a stable-guard of
sappers, with instructions to move the horses every hour to prevent them
sinking in the mud. It is still raining, bitterly cold, and I can’t
understand how the poor beasts live. The wagons are nearly axle deep.
Shortly after midnight I had every one settled and then crawled,
literally, into my own shack. It is an old Bosche concrete place and
stinks like Hell—there are two wooden bunks in it, but it is dry. My man
lit a fire on the floor and we warmed up some old tea in my shaving mug.
I was chilled to the bone and there was nothing to eat, but I shall
always believe that that tea saved my life. There was no room for
officer and servant there—just two very weary men, we sat on either side
the fire drying our socks and the smell mingled with the fetid odours of
the dug-out. Our eyes grew red and tearful with the smoke, which
eventually drove us to the uninviting boards, where we slept like the
Babes in the Wood. Several times during the night I woke up shivering
with cold and the clammy clothes sticking to my skin, but—we were over
the hills and I would not have missed that night for all the gold in

_Oct. 1._ Up at 5.30 and immensely cheered to see a blue sky, although I
didn’t begin to feel normally warm until about noon. Bully and biscuit
for breakfast as a change from the biscuit and bully of the preceding
days. Received an official note of thanks from the Brigade for our work,
and orders from the C.R.E. to rejoin the company. Apparently the advance
is held up for a few days until heavy guns and supplies can get forward
again. I sent No. 2 Section forward to work on the new plank avoiding
road and returned to meet the Major at 8 a.m. He returned to the company
and sent up Nos. 1 and 4 Sections to me from reserve billets. No. 3
Section also rejoined, so I fixed the lot in billets as well as possible
and then took out Nos. 1, 3, 4 to work on the road with No. 2. We have
now got all our limbers and tool-carts as far as the batteries, and I am
commanding all the sections—Cooper remains with the heavy transport on
the other side of the mud. Rode round the work during the afternoon and
met the C.R.E., who was full of congratulations. Withdrew to billets at
5 p.m. to give the men a chance to dry their clothes and have a warm
meal—the first they have had since the 27th.

We are without definite news, but apparently the whole show has been a
great success, and the Army is only waiting until we can get the roads
through. I can never forget the great change which seemed to spread like
wildfire over the spirit of the Army on the evening of the 28th–29th.

We were in the midst of the worst of the mud area, miles of transport
wagons were bogged along our single road, it was raining hard, and few
of us had eaten anything for twenty-four hours. Nobody was looking
forward to the dawn. But from somewhere behind us a rumour came through
that Bulgaria had asked for Peace. There was no cheering, no
demonstration of any sort, but the news seemed to put new spirit into
the tired troops. The weary mud-caked horses were lashed and spurred
again, men put their aching shoulders to the wheels, and once more the
limbers lumbered forward. All night long the wagons toiled painfully up
those fateful ridges where scores of thousands of our finest infantry
had died, and in the drizzling dawn they saw their reward at last—behind
them lay the dull, dead plain, with its memories of misery and
mud—before them, they looked down upon a new, unbroken country, and the
spire of Tenbrielen church, untouched of shot or shell, beckoned like a
winning post against the eastern sky.

_Oct. 2._ Heavy rain again last night, but it hasn’t damped our spirits.
We could meet almost any call again now.

At 5.30 a.m. an orderly came in with orders from the C.R.E. saying that
we are to work from six to nine on the Divisional main road. By dashing
off without any breakfast we were able to start at 7.30, and returned
for a meal at noon—our first since yesterday evening. In the afternoon
Day worked the sections on the road while the Major and I brought up the
heavy transport.

Artillery horse-lines just forward of our own were heavily shelled for
about five minutes and a lot of horses were knocked out—about 100 of the
poor beasts stampeded, and it was a pitiful sight to see some of them
dragging their entrails along the ground.

This incident made me realise that if the Germans have any fight left in
them at all we are in a very precarious position. Several Divisions are
herded together with the River Lys in front of them and an impassable
belt of swamp and mud behind. A really energetic counter-attack would
give us another Cambrai.

At night many fires were visible again where the enemy is burning
villages along his retreat—many of these appear to be very far off,
which looks as if they contemplate a big withdrawal—a favourite theory
is that they will withdraw as far as the Meuse for the winter.

_Oct. 3._ Company commenced work on a new plank road to relieve the
strain on the main road.

I went forward with three wagons to a dump on the Menin road to get
material, but it took us all morning to get there as the roads were
blocked with artillery limbers—we want ten times more transport and ten
times more labour than we have got if we are to make any reasonable
progress. The Field Companies are quite inadequate to cope with any
serious road-making in an advance like this.

In the afternoon scouted round with Cooper looking for what had once
been a first-class road, clearly marked on our maps.

We couldn’t find a stone, a tree, or any single thing that would
indicate where the road had been—we couldn’t even fix it from our maps,
as farms, houses, and landmarks of any description had totally
disappeared. We had some difficulty in getting back, and once Cooper’s
horse went down to her belly in the mud—we nearly lost her, but got her
out eventually.

_Oct. 4._ Took all wagons to the dump and got a lot of material up
during the day—made some appreciable progress on the road. Two new
officers have joined us, and Day has gone back to H.Q. wagon lines. Was
delighted to meet two old friends, Lucas and Mitchell of our left
Division, in the afternoon.

_Oct. 5._ Road is now going forward well, and we had another fine day
although very cold. Things seem to be sorting themselves out after the
last advance and we should soon be ready to try again.

_Oct. 6._ Orders from the C.R.E. that we shall probably move again
to-morrow and all ranks are to have as much rest as possible. Worked all
morning on the road and packed pontoons, etc., during the afternoon.

_Oct. 7._ Two sections moved at 7 a.m. to work again on the avoiding
road, and two sections moved across country towards the Menin road. At 9
a.m. I took the transport across in front of Ypres and picked up Cooper
with the pontoons in the afternoon. We made a horse-lines there, as it
was the only patch of dry earth available, but before getting in we had
to shift about fifteen dead mules which had been killed the night before
by a bomb.

Billeted the sections in an area containing one dug-out, just off the
Ypres-Menin road—a piece of ground probably more fiercely fought over
than any other during the war. The solitary dug-out was unusable owing
to prevalence of dead Bosche—as Mark Twain would say, “Fixed, so that
they could outvote us.” We couldn’t find a level piece of ground large
enough to take one tent without a lot of digging. The sergeants found a
very good place for their tent, but a dead Hun was in possession of the
freehold. They decided to bury him, and deepened a shell-hole
accordingly; then the problem, how to get him into it? The
Sergeant-Major took his boots and the Farrier very gingerly took his
sleeves; they lifted, but his arms came out in the Farrier’s hands. They
withdrew to windward and talked; it was growing dusk, the tent must go
up. Finally the Farrier put his gas mask on and literally buried him in
shovelfuls. _Pro patria——?_

The only way to stop war is to tell these facts in the school history
books and cut out the rot about the gallant charges, the victorious
returns, and the blushing damsels who scatter roses under the conquering
heroes’ feet. Every soldier knows that a re-writing of the history books
would stop war more effectively than the most elaborately covenanted
league which tired politico-legal minds can conceive.

_Oct. 8._ Working all day on the roads. It is a dreary job in this
blighted, featureless country.

_Oct. 9._ Received orders to report again at Artillery Brigade H.Q., so
there is obviously another stunt in the wind. In the meantime we are
still mud-slinging.

_Oct. 10._ Went forward into the outposts to reconnoitre tracks and ways
forward for the guns. We were in absolutely virgin country, and it was a
new experience to think of death lurking behind these green hedges and
quiet farm buildings.

At night took the section up and did a lot of work—filled in several
ditches, cleared a ride through a wood, and chopped down several trees
with which we made a small bridge—took the floor out of the farm kitchen
to cover it with.

_Oct. 11._ Out reconnoitring again all morning, and at night took a
company of Pioneers up to work on a second track. Had a very unpleasant
time on the Menin road, where we were heavily shelled—some artillery
transport suffered badly, but we got through without casualties.

The weather continues fine, and everything points to another show about
the 15th. The Huns have put up a lot of wire, but the field guns have
been shooting this down steadily for three days now, and the heavies are
coming into position. This morning when I was up, our shells were
falling dead in the belts of wire and cutting broad lanes through it.

Sent in two recommendations for Military Medals for work in the last

MOUNTED CORPORAL.—For great gallantry and devotion to duty in bringing
up transport and supplies under heavy shell-fire and at great personal
risk. His action greatly contributed to the success of the section in
its work of helping forward the guns.

A SAPPER.—For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when repairing
a bridge under heavy shell-fire for the advance of the artillery. He set
a fine example to his comrades, and persevered with his work until it
was completed, regardless of great personal danger.

It was hard to write the above, knowing that every man equally deserves
those medals—the whole institution of awards ought to be abolished;
except, perhaps, the V.C.

_Oct. 12._ Skipper returned from leave. Company still carrying on with
roads. No. 2 Section out with me all night widening a bridge. It was a
miserable night with heavy rain and howling wind, but the men worked
cheerfully and a lot of work was done. So far as we are concerned all is
now ready for the next attack.

_Oct. 13._ The attack is to start early on the morning of the 14th, and
will be general along the Army front. The company received orders to
move forward to-day, but I had to go on to Brigade before they started
or before I knew exactly where they were going. I left Brigade shortly
after dusk and returned to find two companies of Pioneers who were
detailed to work under me to-morrow. I knew they were somewhere in the
morass near the Menin road, but I blundered about for two hours before I
found them. It required all my will power to keep me going, and when
finally I saw their tents I was in the last stages of exhaustion—several
times I must have been very near to them, but it was impossible to see
more than 20 yards, and I had passed away again, going round and round
in circles. I was so weak towards the end that I used to lie still in
the mud for several minutes every time I fell, aching in every muscle,
and wondering how many more times I could fall without dropping off to

It was after 1 a.m. when I left the Pioneers and there was a four-mile
walk to where I thought the company would be. I wandered from battery to
battery asking for news of them, but no one could tell me where they
were. It was absolutely vital that I should find them before dawn, but
at last my legs failed completely and I collapsed in the middle of the
road. I crawled into a hole in the bank but, tired as I was, couldn’t
sleep because of the cold. I was tormented with fears as to what would
happen in the morning as I was the only officer who knew the gun tracks
and almost everything depended on the clearing of those.

_Oct. 14._ Dawn came at last, cold, clear, and very beautiful, and at
5.35 the barrage came to spoil it. I set off towards the batteries in
the hope of picking the men up there and found the Pioneers. I gave them
work to go on with and turned to try to find my own fellows. The din
from our own guns was terrific and the German retaliation seemed
unusually heavy. The hard, persistent rattle of machine-gun fire in
front seemed to indicate that we had stuck and a lot of wounded seemed
to be coming back—some shells exploded very near me and I dropped into a
ditch. I was cold, hungry, and tired, and at that moment would have sold
my soul to have been out of it all. Above me the sky was serenely blue
and peaceful, but eastwards it was shot with balls of multi-coloured
smoke, just as if an invisible artist were dabbing splotches of colour
on to a blue canvas.

Why, oh! why should I walk into that blazing inferno and die on a
morning like this? These thoughts were actually in my mind when I saw
Cooper coming down the road with the section—they thought I had been
killed. I shall always remember standing there in the road and chewing
ravenously at a hunk of bully which I held in my muddy fingers. It was
my first meal for seventeen hours, and I never enjoyed one better.

Then we went forward, and I began to get hold of myself again as the
work engaged my attention. I shall never forget one sight. A big
highlander with the lower part of his face blown off walking down the
railway with a prisoner in front of him—his right hand on the back of
the German’s neck and his left hand holding his face together with the
blood pouring through his fingers. Men coming back say the Huns stuck
hard at first, but we are going well forward now.

To-day’s programme was roughly as follows:—

The Army Corps is to form bridgeheads across the River Lys for a
defensive flank. One R.E. company takes all the Divisional pontoons and
stands by to bridge when the infantry get to the river. One section of
this to dash forward with Lewis guns and try to prevent destruction of
existing bridges.

The second company and two of our own sections are working on roads with
special instructions to search for and destroy land mines. One of our
remaining sections reporting on German dumps, and generally gathering
information, and the last section arranging temporary water supplies.

We went forward very well during the morning as there was practically no
shell-fire after the first two hours. The losses seem to have been
fairly heavy in forcing the first trenches, and there were a lot of
bodies lying crumpled up among the German wire. All that we saw were the
veriest youngsters, and they looked so out of place lying there dead in
the green fields on this beautiful autumn morning. Shortly after noon we
arrived at a large farm and found ourselves mixed up with the front line
infantry, who were held up. We lay behind a hedge and got a few shots
into a feeble German counter-attack, and after this the line went
forward again.

We remained at the farm and about two o’clock were heavily shelled by
German field guns. Several machine-gunners were hit and the Brigade
Commander, who had just arrived, had his leg blown off. For a few
minutes the place was in chaos, but two 18–pounders galloped up and
silenced the Hun battery with their first few shots. After these years
of trench warfare it is wonderful to see field guns galloping into
action and engaging the enemy over open sights.

Beyond the farm the roads were in perfect condition, so we returned to
the company and found them in tents on a hill about three miles behind.
I thought at one time the men would have to carry me back, I had never
felt so tired. Bad news awaited us—Cooper had been killed early in the
morning, about half an hour after the attack started—later in the day
the Sergeant-Major was wounded, and there were eleven casualties among
the men.

The passing of an old friend makes a big impression in a small mess, and
we were very silent at night as we sat and smoked after supper. The town
of Menin was burning fiercely and many other places farther to the east.

_Oct. 15._ Buried Cooper fairly decently in some old sacking at a
Belgian cemetery. No orders came through, and we had a day of welcome

_Oct. 16._ Company moved forward at 10.30 a.m. to battle areas and took
over billets from a company of our left Division.

There are no signs of war here, and almost every man in the company has
a bed to sleep in—splendid grazing for the horses and lots of vegetables
in the fields for ourselves. It is all like fairyland, and we walked out
solemnly this afternoon to look at a large green field without a single
shell-hole in it.

Reports state that we have taken Courtrai, and streams of refugees
coming back along the roads indicate that it may be true. Unfortunately,
they are all of the very lowest classes, and as they only speak Flemish
we were unable to get any information out of them.

It is a heartbreaking sight to see them trudging through the rain—old
men, women, and the tiniest of children.

Sometimes they wheel a barrow containing a few of their goods, but most
of them are without anything except the miserable rags they stand in.

_Oct. 17._ Had the company out all day doing road drainage. The tedium
of the work was relieved by a ghastly incident, showing how low these
poor refugees have sunk. A party of them were trudging listlessly along
the road when the leaders noticed a dead horse lying in the ditch. In a
few seconds the men and women had taken their knives and were fighting
like animals on the distended carcass, chattering and shrieking like a
crowd of hungry jackals. As they worked they threw the chunks of
bleeding meat into the road, where the children fought for them and
stowed them in the barrows. In a few minutes the horse was stripped to
his bones, the noise subsided, and the ghouls trudged on their way.

_Oct. 18._ Working on the road all day in heavy rain, but were called
out again at night to form a bridgehead across the river in front of us.
We are in possession of half the town on the near side of the river, but
the Germans have destroyed all the bridges and hold the eastern half of
the town.

The main road bridge in the centre of the town lay across the bed of the
river in a maze of twisted steel-work—we were required to make a foot
bridge across these ruins for the infantry to get across. Day climbed
across with three men and a Lewis gun on the ruins of the old bridge and
cleared a German machine-gun party out of the farther bank. After this
we started work and made fair progress considering the vile conditions.
With the river sucking and swirling below them and the cold rain numbing
their fingers, it was anything but an easy task for the men to keep
their foothold on the slippery, twisted girders. In addition we were
shelled persistently through the night, and seven men were down when the
first infantry went across about 4 a.m.

_Oct. 19._ An hour after our return to billets orders came through for
us to move forward again. The other companies got two pontoon bridges
across the river during the day and we billeted near at hand, to provide
maintenance parties. I was very tired and turned into bed early, looking
forward to a long night’s sleep.

Just as I was dozing off the orderly corporal came in with a message
from the bridge patrol asking me to go out as numerous things were going
wrong. There is no worse torture for a really tired man than to allow
him to get into a warm, comfortable bed for a few minutes and then turn
him out into a stormy night. And I had been living all day on the
strength of the night’s sleep that I was going to get!

Arrived at the bridges I had no time for regrets—the river was rising,
the traffic was absolutely continuous, and everything that could go
wrong was doing so.

However, we kept them going all night long with the exception of a
twenty-minute stopping of one bridge, and Day relieved me at 6 a.m. I
was relieved in more senses than one, for two or three times during the
night I felt things getting too much for me, things that I would have
enjoyed three years ago. Wild, angry thoughts went running through my
mind as we struggled with that creaking, groaning bridge, and nursed it
through the weary hours—and worst of all, the bitter thought that so
long as we succeeded none of the sleeping millions at home would ever
hear of the work we did. And thousands of men all over France were doing
just the same

                “That the Sons of Mary may overcome it,
                Pleasantly sleeping and unaware.”

Why should I be alone there in the dark with that nerve-racking
responsibility, and why should we splash in that freezing water, heaving
anchors, tightening trestle chains, and baling the leaky pontoons?—and
all unknown!

These are bitter thoughts, but I am worn out—for months I have been
living on my will power, but my body and my nerves were exhausted a year
ago. I find it cynically amusing to wonder what the idealistic,
rugby-playing self of 1913 would think of this introspective,
nerve-shattered crock. He would have sniffed and turned away—as the
world will do when we return.

_Oct. 20._ Standing to all day under one hour’s notice to move as the
forward Division are attacking the ridge which overlooks the Scheldt. In
the evening we heard that the attack was held up and failed, and we are
to try our luck to-morrow. At 9.30 p.m. I rode forward with No. 2
Section with orders to join the Fusiliers before dawn. It was abnormally
dark, raining persistently, and I had the greatest difficulty in finding
our way—worst of all, I had to conquer an evergrowing feeling that I
didn’t care whether I found it or not—even that little responsibility
was too much for me. I wanted to be alone to cry. After two hours I fell
into a coma and then dismounted and walked to prevent myself giving way

We found the Brigade at 3 a.m., and I put the men into a barn for two
hours’ rest. I gave orders to be called at five, and turned into an
arm-chair in the farm-house kitchen.

For the first time since I came to France my nerves gave way completely
and I was tormented with fears of the morrow. I had just been told that
we were to go forward with the Fusiliers against the banks of a canal
and help them across as well as we could—there would be machine-gun fire
and no cover. Those were the facts. We have done infinitely worse a
thousand times and thought nothing of it.

But I lay in that chair for two hours actually shivering with fear and
apprehension. My crazy mind wouldn’t rest, and I saw myself killed in a
dozen different ways as we rushed for the canal bank—at one time I had
the wildest impulse to run away and hide until the attack was over. I
knew that was impossible, and then I thought I would report sick and
pretend to faint. I was ready to do anything except face machine-gun
fire again—once we got so close that I could see a German’s face leering
behind his gun and the familiar death rattle was as loud as thunder in
my ears. I sat and watched my hand shaking on the edge of the chair and
had no more control over it than if it had belonged to some one else.

Somehow I pulled together when the orderly corporal came, paraded the
section, mechanically inspected the tools, and then marched off. In ten
minutes I was myself again and at 6.30 we reached the Fusiliers. At 7
the advance commenced in drizzling rain and we moved forward over the
sodden fields.

_Oct. 21._ It was very misty at first, and the whole affair reminded me
of a Laffan’s Plain manœuvre—the scattered groups of men worked steadily
forward over the open fields and occasionally a nervous civilian would
take a peep at us from a farm-house window—there was no sign of war
except, perhaps, an unnatural stillness which seemed to hang over the
countryside like a mist. It gave one an uncanny feeling, this blundering
forward in the mist across an unknown country—the only certainty, that
Death was in front and that we must walk on until He declared Himself.

By eleven we were within a thousand yards of the canal and could dimly
see the general line of the banks in front of us. Here, at least, we
knew that there would be resistance, but as yet there came no sound from
the rising ground in front. The ground between us and the canal was very
open, so we rested some minutes behind the last thick hedges and took
the opportunity of reorganising the units. Then we went forward again, a
long straggling line of crouching figures who cursed and panted as they
toiled over the swampy ground.

At last the storm broke, heavy machine-gun fire but at rather long
range. The line flopped down into the mud, and groups of men began to
work forward in short rushes to a ditch in front which seemed to offer
cover. We reached this with very few casualties, but the fire was too
hot for further progress. Sniping continued all day, and in places we
pushed two or three hundred yards nearer to the canal. No. 2 Section
took refuge in a farm-house and awaited developments.

After dusk I crawled forward with Jennings of the Fusiliers and got
through on to the canal towpath—there were a lot of Huns round the canal
and their outposts were fully 300 yards on our side of it. After some
difficulty we got within about 50 yards of the bridge and I noticed that
the Huns could still crawl across, although it was badly
damaged—allowing for further demolitions I didn’t think we should have
much trouble in getting a foot-bridge across the ruins—we were nearly
caught once, and lay between the water and the towpath while a party of
about ten Huns walked along the path not ten feet away. Got back safely
in the small hours and had a short rest in soaking clothes on the
farm-house floor.

I am too exhausted to feel tired.

_Oct. 22._ Apparently some of our people have got across the canal
farther to the north, and at 9 a.m. the attack was resumed on that side
with a view to forcing the Huns out of their position. Our orders were
to co-operate by means of a demonstration against the canal, but the
machine-gun fire was too heavy and we could do nothing except waste a
lot of ammunition. I only remember seeing a German once during the whole
day, and yet the slightest exposure on our part was answered by an
immediate burst of fire—they stuck it very well, because the fighting on
their right flank was very heavy and they would all have been taken if
we had got through. For several hours during the morning the rifle and
machine-gun fire on our left was very heavy, and the 18–pounders were
continuously in action. Towards noon a battery of 68–pounders came into
action and also some howitzers—several fires broke out in the houses,
but the shells had no effect on the concealed gunners in the canal
banks, and we waited in vain for the blue rocket that was to signal us
forward. About two o’clock an intelligence officer came round and we
learnt that the Germans stuck very hard this morning—we made practically
no progress as a result of the battle, and our losses have been heavy.

At 4.30 the attack on our left was resumed, and the Queens made a very
gallant advance which brought them down almost as far as our left flank
on the canal—unfortunately, there was no support, and before dusk the
weary men had to retreat to their original positions.

On our immediate right there was very little opposition, and the Durhams
are firmly established across the canal. Farther south, however, our
right Division repeated the performance of the Queens on a larger scale
and had to abandon a hardly-won bridgehead across the river after a day
of strenuous fighting.

At 8 p.m. I was informed by Brigade that owing to the retirement of the
Queens I was covering a half-mile gap, and “should take steps
accordingly.” I mounted a piquet with the Lewis gun a few hundred yards
forward of the farm, and sent out patrols every half-hour, but the night
passed off without incident. I took out two patrols myself but could
find neither our own people nor Huns.

We have had a bad day to-day—hard fighting, heavy losses, and no
progress—people at home seem to think that we are chasing a beaten army
which runs so fast that we cannot keep in touch with them. Would that it
were true; but we have been badly mauled to-day and there is precious
little offensive spirit in our nineteen-year-olds.

I saw a boy of the Middlesex coming back with a finger shot away—they
had run against a farm-house with three Huns and a machine-gun and had
lost four men in taking it. He said that the bloody “die-hards” had
lived up to their name again—four casualties!

And yet there was a day on Zandvoorde Ridge when twenty-three men, left
out of 800, lay behind the piled-up bodies of their dead and held the
line against the flower of the Pomeranian Guard—and they didn’t talk of
“die hards.”

_Oct. 23._ The Brigade was taken out of the line this morning and at
noon we had rejoined our transport. We were under orders to move almost
at once and dragged ourselves wearily on to the road, the men singing a
doleful dirge, “I’m sure we can’t stick it no longer.” For the sake of
example I hobbled too, but would have sold my soul to get on Rosie’s
back—to kill the temptation I loaded four men’s packs across her.

After dark we came across a battery of field guns standing to with their
trails half across the road—by skilful driving and occasionally taking a
wheel over the trails we got the limbers and the tool-carts past, but it
was too much for the last pontoon—her off hind-wheel hit a trail, the
wheel horses slipped on the pavé, and the whole contraption slithered
sideways into the ditch. I wanted to cry, but fortunately found the
necessary relief in telling the gunners what I thought of them. It took
us almost an hour to get the wagon clear, and it was midnight before the
men were into billets. There was a pile of straw for me in front of a
roaring fire in the farm-house kitchen. I collapsed on to this, too
exhausted even to loosen my boots or my tunic collar.

_Oct. 24._ Let there be no mistake—last night was the happiest night of
my life, and getting up at six o’clock this morning was the most
wonderful thing that I have ever done. I looked into a mirror and
realised with amusement why the old farmer was so terrified when I
staggered in last night. The scar under my left eye is still prominent,
my clothes were sodden and even my tousled hair was matted with mud;
with the exception of my tunic all my uniform is standard Tommy outfit,
and I wore a five-days’ growth of beard—surely a more unkempt looking
brigand never masqueraded as a British officer.

I looked at my great murderous maulers and wondered idly how they had
evolved from the sensitive, manicured fingers that used to pen theses on
“Colloidal Fuel” and “The Theory of Heat Distribution in Cylinder
Walls.” And I found the comparison good.

No orders came through for us during the day, but we heard that another
early morning attack on the canal had failed—all honour to those Hun

After a day of strenuous cleaning, the company paraded in the afternoon
and looked ready once more for anything that Hell could offer. I counted
the faces that I could remember from the beginning, but there were very
few left—and myself the only officer. It struck me, too, that the very
men left were the ones who had run the greatest risks—hard-bitten devils
like Stephens, who had been in the thick of every mess the company had
struck—perhaps it is true that where there is no fear there is no

_Oct. 25._ Spent another quiet day, but was rushed into the war again at
very short notice in the evening. Out all night with two sections
assisting forward company to put a trestle bridge across the canal lower
down. There was an enormous German timber dump close at hand, and
although most of the yard was burning fiercely we saved enough material
to make an excellent job of the bridge. The German engineers are very
thorough in their demolitions, and have made a perfect ruin of miles of
this canal—apparently their explosive charges are much more liberal than
we use ourselves.

Returned to the company in a drizzling dawn, but were cheered to note
droves of prisoners along the road and hear that we have gone forward

_Oct. 26._ At 4.30 received orders to move company to billets in a farm
far behind us and near to Courtrai—obviously to undergo a fattening
process for further slaughter. After our arrival in the evening I had
another of my black fits for no reason whatever—they occur more
frequently now, and I must surely break up soon. The sober truth is that
I am about as much use here now as my grandmother would be. But even if
I am a wreck it is sweet to feel that I have wanted ten times more
smashing than any of the others—I have given the Fates a run for their
money and I believe I blew them once or twice.

_Oct. 27._ I have been in the saddle all day and feel like a king
to-night. Silence and peace over the whole quiet countryside, and, as I
rode home in the twilight, a touch of frost in the air to catch the
horse’s breath and make my blood tingle. Oh! it was good to be alive, to
feel the power of the horse beneath me, to feel the strength returning
to my own shattered body and, above all, to think of cheerful firesides
down there among the trees, where the wood smoke mingled with the
gathering mists. It was “that sweet mood,

                    When pleasant thoughts
                    Bring sad thoughts to the mind.”

I saw an English village with a quaint old Norman church, and there,
too, the mists were gathering in the meadows round about.

_Oct. 28._ Now we know why we are here—to train, practise, and rehearse
for the crossing of the Scheldt. All the Corps Engineers met in
conference in the town and spent the day designing and testing various
types of foot-bridge. The men had the pontoons out and the officers
spent the day in polishing up their drill. I saw where we crossed the
first time in the driving rain, with the machine-guns hammering in the
houses in front of us, and I saw the spot where I nursed the first
pontoon bridge through an interminable night. But how different now!

A company of Canadian Railway troops were making a permanent bridge on
the very spot where my crazy pontoons had all but foundered. A
broad-gauge loco was hauling ballast up to the very edge of the river,
and a steam pile-driver hissed and chattered over the trestles.

After all, our pontoons had played their part and it was comforting to
see how our feeble, vanguard efforts were followed up.

Returned to the farm, I was delighted to hear that the recommendations
for Military Medals had passed through—my own D.S.O. has dwindled into
another “mention in despatches.”

_Oct. 29._ More conferences and bridge-building. I have been asked to
reconnoitre the existing bridges over the river, and the Huns are half a
mile on this side of them! Spent several hours studying maps and
aeroplane photos and discussing ways and means.

_Oct. 30._ More conferences and training. Completed my plans and decided
to take Stephens out with me on the night of the 31st.

_Oct. 31._ At 2.30 p.m. I lay down quite peacefully, intending to sleep
until dusk, when I could set out on my venture. I was looking forward to
it, and felt perfectly confident.

Just as I was dozing off the orderly corporal came in, bringing, of all
things, a warrant for me to go on leave to-morrow. Instantly the whole
affair changed, and I was seized with a blue shivering funk. In six
hours I was due to go through the German lines, and there, lying on the
table was a bit of paper waiting to take me to England in the morning.
It was the cruellest stroke of all, for I felt certain that I should
never return. I went back to my bunk and sweated and shivered with fear.
My mind and my body seemed to be completely separated from each other,
and I found it quite impossible to stop the quaking of my limbs. I saw
Death in a thousand forms just as on the night before the attack at
Courtrai. Sleep was impossible, so I got up at last and wrote these
lines with a trembling hand. The others are chipping me about “My Last
Will and Testament,” and there is the usual fatuous talk of medals. Day
says that if I come back they will roll all my previous non-fructifying
recommendations into one and make it a real V.C. at last. Oh! God, if
they only knew—and they look to me as a sort of Bayard.—_Written at
Calais waiting for leave boat._

After leaving the Mess and that infernal warrant, I calmed down somewhat
and was able to get my mind on to the work ahead—my old campaigning
instincts began to return and I became once more a scout, clear-headed
and fearless. It was a grand night for my work, miserable and stormy,
with rain and hail blowing in the gusty wind. Arrived in the outposts it
dawned on me that Stephens would be quite useless, and I couldn’t
remember why I had ever decided to take him—if things went all right he
could do nothing, and if they found us it would be two corpses instead
of one. He pleaded to come with me, and I had to hurt his feelings to
get rid of him.

I got all the information I could from the outpost officers, said
good-bye to them, and went forward towards the river. It was then about
half a mile in front of me, and separated from our posts by a belt of
marsh and flooded fields. This belt was traversed by two roads with a
small bridge in each where they crossed a stream running parallel to the
main river. I had to investigate these two roads and bridges and the
main bridge where the two roads joined across the river. It was my plan
to work up one road, look at the river, and the main bridge, and then
return down the other road.

There was practically no cover on the road, but the night was dark and I
felt fairly safe along the water’s edge. I calculated that I had gone
200 yards and then I waited, as I was a little nervous at having heard
nothing, and felt certain that there would be posts along the road.
After five minutes I heard the tapping of a mallet on stakes, and knew
that they were wiring some 200 yards down the road. Still I waited, but
I had no clear notion why. I assumed, of course, that there were
protective troops on this side of the wiring party, but it was instinct
rather than reason which made me halt. I was just preparing to go
forward again when two men rose out of the road not 15 yards away,
walked a few paces up and down the road, and then appeared to lie down
again. I had all but walked on to their rifles and my heart thumped
crazily. There was nothing for it but to take to the water and the
marsh. I retreated 20 yards and waded in, holding my revolver over my
head. It was deathly cold, and after about 100 yards I nearly gave it
up—at times the water was up to my shoulders and I seemed to make no
progress. The noise of the working party guided me, and eventually I
judged that I was behind them and therefore about in line with the first
small bridge.

About this time I realised that another five minutes in the water would
kill me, and I struck back for the road, regardless of everything except
a desire to get on dry land. Unfortunately, I blundered into a colony of
waterfowl, and they flew up all round my head, making a terrific noise.
My heart stood still and I waited again—was there a scout among those
Huns on the road, who could read the meaning of the terrified waterfowl?
Apparently not, for I still heard the regular tapping of the mallets,
and several minutes later I was lying exhausted by the roadside. I half
emptied my flask and pushed on up the road—I was right in the middle of
the Huns now and crawling on my stomach as I did not know how near or
far they might be—I thought the cold would kill me, and wondered what
the Huns would think to find a dead Englishman inside their lines. To my
unspeakable delight there was no one on the bridge, and I was able to
make a thorough examination. I laughed at the Huns working solemnly down
the road, and for a second forgot my terrible condition. Here I think my
mind went a little dull, as I blundered straight on down the road until
I had almost reached the river and the main bridge. It was sheer
madness, but I would certainly have perished without the movement to aid
my circulation. I remember thinking grimly that it would be just my fate
to die of a cold after all that I had been through. I found a lot of
Huns round the bridge, so I struck the river about 100 yards above it
and then worked down under cover of the banks. I spent some twenty
minutes under the bridge and all the time I could hear their voices in
the darkness above me—the meaning of their words was drowned by the
noise of the wind and the rain.

Now I had to get back down the other road before it began to grow light,
and, as I truly imagined, deliver my message before I died. Half a mile
inside the Hun lines, after spending two hours up to my shoulders in
water on a November night my condition is better imagined than
described. I ate a sodden mass of crumbs and bully that had once been
sandwiches in my pocket and finished the rum. I was nearly caught in
getting to the downstream side of the bridge and lay shivering under a
hedge for several minutes while a party marched by within three paces of
my head. I think they were the working party off the road and I noticed
that it was beginning to grow lighter—luckily the storm grew worse.
Eventually I got on to the second road and crawled back along the
water’s edge until I came to my last bridge—there was a German
machine-gun party sitting right in the middle of it. My brain was still
perfect, but I had lost all sense of feeling in my body—I wanted to
cry—they sat there between me and England, and I believe I had some idea
of getting up and asking them to let me go home. For a few minutes I had
no more will power than a child. Then some of our shells came over and I
could hear them bursting on the road over the bridge. There was only one
way back and that was as I had come—through the water. I forgot all
about the stream and waded in. The cold seemed to pull me together,
although, God knows, nothing could be colder than my own body. There was
a bit of dry land between the flood and the stream, but I got across
without being seen—I was keeping close to the bridge in the hope of
seeing something of it as I passed. If I couldn’t wade the stream I was
done, but I determined to try even if my head was under water and I had
to hold my breath. It was not more than five feet deep in the centre and
I got across and so over the bank into the flood on the far side. I had
still to keep to the water, as I was afraid there would be a patrol on
the road in advance of the people on the bridge. A few of our shells
were still falling on the road, and I could hear the angry hisses as the
red-hot bits of steel rained into the water round about. I did about 200
yards like this and then I gave up—it was either the road or collapse
and drown in the water. I got on to the road, worked back carefully
until I felt safe, and then ran like the devil until I knew I was inside
our posts. When I stopped I nearly fainted, so I set off again—my head
pulling me up into the clouds like a bubble and my legs holding me to
the road as if they were tons of lead.

Eventually I came across some gunners and they marvelled at the whisky I
drank. I told them I had been out scouting and slipped into some water—I
didn’t really know what had happened just at the time—I had vague
impressions of a mass of water and some Germans sitting on a bridge,
refusing to let me go home. Then I fell asleep, just sat down bang on
the mess floor and collapsed.

They woke me after a couple of hours, lent me a horse, and directed me
to the company.

To-morrow I shall be in England.

_Nov. 9._ In the paper this morning there is a brief announcement that
the Second Army is across the Scheldt. I was proud to see it and felt
amply rewarded for my terrible night in the water. It has left no
apparent after-effects, so there must have been more resistance left in
my old carcass than I gave myself credit for.

_Nov. 11._ It is over. These last few days I have hardly dared to hope
for it, and now that it has come I can hardly realise exactly what it
means. The thought of going back to it was killing me, and I have been
suffering from the most ghastly nightmare dreams—sometimes I am stuck in
the wire, unable to duck, with bullets whistling past my head—another
time I am trying to run through knee-deep mud with the shell-bursts
slowly overtaking me. I haven’t slept peacefully since my return, but
think it will be better now.

I went out to see the celebrations to-night, and had only one
regret—that my revolver was left in Flanders.

                  For of these how many know,
                    Or, how many knowing, care
                  Of the things that bought them this
                    In the mud fields over there.

It is most emphatically over and will forthwith be forgotten.

                                                    STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN,
                                                      _30th Aug., 1920_.

It is late at night and I am lying on the silken cushions of a private
yacht; my host’s daughter, a beautiful blue-eyed girl, is reclining by
my side, her hand on my shoulder.

All around us the harbour lights are twinkling merrily and the warm
breath of the idle breeze carries the sound of pleasant music from the
gardens in the town. The little waves whisper and sigh seductively under
the stem of the ship, and overhead, “the soft, lascivious stars leer
from the velvet skies.” I recall a similar night at Colwyn in 1914 and
wonder if these people, too, will fail to read the writing on the wall.

We are living once more in the days of “pomp and circumstance”—each
morning I see their Guards march to the Royal Palace with brazen music
and all the childish pageantry of war—each afternoon I see their
sartorially perfect officers parade the Strandvagen before the
gay-gowned beauties of the cafés.

Is there no one with the courage to tell them that war is not like this,
that there will come a day without music, when there are no bright
colours and no admiring eyes, but when “the lice are in their hair and
the scabs are on their tongue”? Surely our years of sacrifice were vain
if the most highly educated people in Europe remain in ignorance of the
real nature of war and are open scoffers at the League of Nations. They
believe that England is the biggest brigand in the world, and look upon
Germany as the home of all Progress, valiantly defending herself against
a league of jealous enemies. To me it is incredible and I
remonstrate—they mention Ireland, Egypt, India, and Versailles. Then I
realise that the bitterest passages in my diary are only too true—the
sway of the old men has returned, the dead are forgotten, and betrayed.
Please God that they may never know the futility of their sacrifice.

I am weary and tired of life myself; a mere shell of a man, without
health or strength, whose vitality was eaten out by the Flanders mud.
This ease and luxury is sent to mock me; I fling my cigar overboard with
angry contempt.

Along the northern sky the summer sunset is mingling with the dawn in a
riot of impossible colours. My mind turns back to a day when Gheluvelt
lay smoking in the sun, England still slumbered, and the flower of the
Prussian Army were pouring in overwhelming numbers along the road to
Calais. The 1st Division was fought to a standstill, dying in thousands
but yielding not an inch; the 7th was practically annihilated but
somehow held their line, counterattacking again and again until the
khaki drops were swallowed in the sea of gray; there was an open gap at
last. Haig himself rode down the Menin road to call for a last effort
from the weary men; a gunner officer, his arm hanging in shreds from the
shoulder, took his last gun on to the open road and fired into the gray
masses until he died; the Worcesters flung their remnants across the
road, and the line was made again.

The whitest gentlemen of England died that day, and I would that I had
rotted in their company before I saw their sacred trust betrayed. We
have dropped their fiery torch and the silken cushions call us.

                 GLASGOW: W. COLLINS SONS AND CO. LTD.



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                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES

 1. Silently corrected obvious typographical errors and variations in
 2. Retained archaic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings as printed.
 3. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.

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