Sunday, May 10, 2015


This excerpt is by Fredrick Coleman written in 1917 from the book, "Mons to Ypres with General French'

He describes his first hand account of warfare in September 1914.


Clean straw strewn on the stone flags of a farmyard made a bed fit for the gods, and at four o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, the 8th, I was as fresh as a daisy and ready and eager for a further push to the north.

Feranbry was a woe-begone sight on that lovely September morning. The Germans had dirtied the town inconceivably, smashing and looting the little shops and the dwelling houses. Many dead horses were scattered about the town.

We were treated to a wonderful sunrise. As we started for La Ferté Gaucher the sky along the eastern horizon showed salmon pink and palest blue. The fields by the roadside were full of cavalry units and batteries of guns. Regiments advancing over the meadows in line of squadrons, an imposing array; batteries, belated, galloping into position with an inspiring rattle and bang over any and all obstructions; motor-cycles dodging and panting past less swift users of the road; and even the push-bicyclists putting every ounce of energy into their pedalling - it was good to be alive that morning as the salmon in the east changed to pale gold and the blue to turquoise.

Over the brow of the steep hill leading down into La Ferté a splendid panorama was spread below. The white buildings, red-capped with roofs of tile, nestled in the valley and the rolling hills, well-wooded, rose beyond in myriad shades of green. Away to the right we could see French cavalry mounting the far rise. The morning air was heady as wine. The sun mounting upward, gathered all the rainbow hues of the sky into one great flaming ball, that gave promise of scorching heat when the delightfully cool morning breezes had left us.

La Ferté was cruelly smashed; the bridge over the Grand Morin blown up, but repaired for our passage. By the roadside at the top of the steep hill to the northward were slight trenches full of sleeping Tommies, lying rifle in hand.

Dense woods opened out into fields covered with signs of German bivouacs. Broken bottles were strewn everywhere. Dead Germans in ones and twos by the roadside, and dead horses in numbers, already fouled the pure air.

A German aeroplane soared above us. We were used enough to see enemy aircraft, but that morning the numerous troops were in the mood for action of some sort, and the appearance of the air scout was the signal for every man with a rifle to have a sh6t at the aerial target. The machine-guns began it, and when the infantry joined in a roll of sound swelled about us like the roar of a battle. On came the aeroplane, sailing high above in apparent safety. When it came over us our troopers took up the challenge. The bugles were ordered to sound 'Stop firing,' but were unheard in the din. Higher and higher soared the plane, and the rifles behind us popped intermittently, then settled into a rattle and roll as ours had done.

But all to no effect, as far as one could see.

On to the north we went through Rebais, more war-scarred than any of her sister towns to the south. Houses burnt and burning on either side of the street, dead Germans and dead horses so numerous they failed to attract more than a passing glance, the marks of shell-fire here and there - Rebais had seen a hard fight and bore the traces of it.

The Germans had been in Rebais two days, the townsfolk said.

I had orders to proceed to La Tretoire, but a kilometre from the town I found the 1st reserve line of the 4th Guards Brigade lying on the grass and waiting orders to move up and join the stiff fight the Coldstreams were having in the town in front of us.

Our field-guns on left and right were in action, and German shrapnel were bursting just ahead. The 2nd Division of Haig's Corps was spread along the road from Rebais, the tired men asleep by the roadway in all postures and positions. The wounded from the fight in La Tretoire trickled back in increasing numbers. Clouds had gathered and the day became suddenly cool. The reserve line moved up where the rattle of small arms told of the thick of the battle and our guns hammered away like mad.
One of General Haig's staff officers told me 100,000 Russians had come through England via Archangel, and were in Ostend. The story spread like wildfire, and I heard it from a score of others before the day was over.
The 2nd Cavalry Brigade had crossed the fields to the right. Putting the car at the stubble, I left the road and followed.
Watching batteries for a time, then moving on after the advancing squadrons, I reached the tiny village of Mont Vaudron, opposite the Petit Morin from the town of Sablonnieres. Leaving the car in the shelter of a stout stone house, I crept down the hill to a point of vantage from which I could see the bridge below and the town to the right across the little river.

The German shrapnel were bursting on my right and behind me. Our shells were singing overhead, and bursting on the hill across the stream.

Down the wooded hill went the 4th Dragoon Guards and into the thick foliage. For a moment they flashed into sight as they dashed across the approach to the bridge. Straight on they rode, full into and over a mud parapet that the enemy had hastily thrown up across the further end of the bridge. After them ran the kilt-clad forms of a Battalion of Jocks, who charged the town in the face of a heavy fire from in and behind the buildings. Sooner than it takes to tell it, the Scots, who, I later learned, were the Black Watch, had put to rout those of the enemy that were not killed or captured. Unable to catch more than fleeting glimpses of the fighting, I could see we had won the bridge and the town. Gaining my car, I wound down the roadway past a number of our dead, along the steep descent, and over the bridge to a group of thirty German prisoners, who had been taken in the town.

Pushing on up the long, winding, wooded hill to Hondevillers, I reached the town with our advance patrols, the last German disappearing over a farmyard wall and into the cover of the woods as we hove in sight.

Searching for General de Lisle, I ran to Le Petit Villers. There a couple of batteries of 18-pounders, soon to be reinforced by a couple more, were sending shrapnel as fast as they could fire into the retreating enemy.

A cloud of dust on the roadway on a distant hillside would tell of a line of enemy transport chased by our shells; while in the nearer distance a dozen shrapnel, well- placed in a cluster of houses, sent the Germans scurrying up the hillside like so many rabbits.

General Monro, commanding the 2nd Division, stood by the batteries, and watched the fleeting enemy with intense interest. All were engrossed with the work of the gunners, the noise being incessant and deafening. Suddenly, from a wood 800 yards to the left of us, a volley of Mauser bullets came. The Germans had crept into the edge of the trees and let fly at short range. There was a quick scamper for cover. Backing the car down the road into the protection of a wall, I found myself in a lane that had been chosen as an avenue for the battery horses and limbers.

A detachment of the Highland Light Infantry was on the double for a point where they could stop the fire on the batteries, which were spattering away merrily. Rain started to fall. I raised my hood, getting a bullet through it a moment later. Told in strenuous language that I was in the way, I dashed down a lane that ended in a ploughed field. Fortunately it was dry, so I made my way back to Hondevillers, and from there to Basseville, our night quarters. Fairdough and I made a night journey to La Tretoire in search of our Brigade cyclists, but could not find them.

After a late and meagre dinner, I tried to sleep in the tonneau of the car, which proved cramped quarters for my somewhat ample proportions, and when called at 2.45 on the morning of Wednesday, the 9th, I woke stiff and cold. An egg, a cracker, and a cup of black coffee warmed me, and we were soon on the road in the dark, headed for the Marne.

The crossing of the River Marne promised, we thought, a hard and costly fight. The rapid retreat of the Germans, withal we were hard on their heels, was more orderly than might have been expected.

Little, indeed, did they leave behind except their dead. At La Tretoire we heard that the 1st Corps had captured men and guns, but that portion of the enemy's rearguard with which the cavalry had to deal succeeded in keeping his guns well out of our grasp.

Challenged every few minutes by sentries guarding sleeping detachments along the lesser lanes, twisting here and there in a vain endeavour to find anyone who knew the general route of any particular unit save his own, I lost the 2nd Cavalry Brigade before dawn that morning. Proceeding straight where I should have turned, I pushed past regiments of slowly moving cavalry until a peremptory order to put out the side-lights of my car, accompanied by the information that not even a cigarette was allowed thereabouts, led me to ask where I was.

"On the road to Nogent, and but a short way from it," was the reply, "and not far from the head of the 1st Cavalry Brigade."

Truly, thought I, a bit of luck. Briggs, I knew, had been assigned the attack on the bridge across the Marne at Nogent-Artraud, which lay midway between La Ferté St. Jouarre, which was to be taken by Pulteney's 3rd Corps, and Chateau-Thierry, where the 1st Corps was to force the passage of the river.
The line of the Marne, many of us thought, would be stubbornly held by the enemy.

Briggs, his Brigade confirmed, was to take the Nogent bridge at daybreak. We waited on the hill above, the tall trees looming taller still in the dim light of the earliest morning. Straining our ears, we heard no sound of firing. Daybreak came and passed, and still no guns. Not even a rifle-shot sounded from the valley below us.

It was an eerie vigil. We wondered what had gone wrong, when the show would commence, and whether the enemy would shell the main road on which we were waiting, in what was no doubt fair range of his guns across the river.

A French liaison officer chatted cheerily. He told us Maunoury had a strong line from Meaux north along the Ourcq, and would soon be across it and endangering the existence of Von Kluck's right and rear. He told us, too, of a savage battle for Montmirail the night before - he had just come from somewhere down that way-and how d'Esperey had taken the town at the point of the bayonet, and was ready to push forward on our right.

As five o'clock came without noise of battle, I drove on. Just above the town of Nogent, which is on the south bank of the river, a bicycle orderly stood panting from his exertions in coaxing his machine up the hill. He was the bearer of good news. The Germans had prepared the bridge for defence in a most careful manner, and guarded it till 4:30. Some said it was mined. At all events it was well nigh impassable. At 4:30, for some inexplicable reason, the enemy evacuated the position, and fled without firing a shot, just as our advance guard reached the approach to the bridge.

I thereupon lost no time in reaching the bridge. Our troops were still crossing it. Briggs was swinging a regiment up the hill preparatory to getting our guns on the higher ground without delay.

Colonel Tommy Pitman, of the 11th Hussars, who had started for Nogent at half-past one in the morning, showed me the evidences of the thorough manner in which the enemy had blocked the way. The railway-gates at the south end of the bridge had been wound about with wire. Carts and obstructions all the way across had been woven into barricades with lengths of wire.

Colonel Pitman said his men were hard at work for three-quarters of an hour cutting their way through. And that without molestation from the Germans, the last one of whom was seen departing by motor-car in the distance, as the 11th came through Nogent. Walking over the bridge I strolled down the steep bank to the river's edge, meditating on the ease with which we had crossed the Marne, and with difficulty realising that I then stood on its northern bank.

The ground was strewn with bedding and miscellaneous loot. A mess of potatoes, pared and washed to an inviting whiteness, sat in a pot of water placed on carefully prepared twigs waiting the match. Just before daybreak, said an aged riverman, the Bosches had moved all the barges and boats from the south bank and moored them on the opposite side. A novice could see the German departure from Nogent was a surprise to the enemy rearguard.

Regaining the bridge I watched long lines of our 2nd Corps infantry file past. Guns had begun long since, away to the west, and told of an argument over the crossing of the river at La Ferté St. Jouarre. There the 3rd Corps was to fight well through the day without winning the passage of the Marne until the German defenders of the town were compelled to retire by other 3rd Corps troops, who had crossed the stream further west at Changis.

At 7.30 our guns on the hill behind us dropped a couple of shrapnel on the ridge in front. A couple of minutes later the air was full of the sound of whistling shells as they sped high above the valley, bursting over the wooded crests to the north. White clouds in miniature lined the heights.
I was admiring the picture when a horseman came down the road and up to the bridge at a gallop. It was General Briggs.

"That your car?,' he questioned sharply.

"Yes, sir."

"Go like the devil to that battery and stop its firing. It is shelling my men."

I went up the hill road, blocked with two descending lines of ammunition trains and regiment on regiment of foot soldiers, at a speed which would have caused a Surrey magistrate to search the statute-books for the extreme penalty of the law, had I been driving at such a rate on the Brighton road.

Luckily I found General Findlay, of the Royal Artillery, without delay and delivered my message, which I was told to repeat to a Brigade C.R.A. further to the rear. That mission accomplished I proceeded more leisurely down to Nogent again, and thence to Romeny, on the Chateau-Thierry road, searching for news of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade.

Dippers of delicious fresh milk, proffered by charming French lassies, were ample excuse for a momentary halt. Stories of the fleeing Germans were on every lip. For two days and nights the hated invader had been pouring north in two lines through Charly and Chezy. The Germans, but few of whom passed Romeny, laughed at the villagers, they said, some of them crying out as they passed that they were Anglais, et bon amis. Whereat the French girls chattered their disapproval. The German smiles fell on barren soil in Romeny, where the true French hearts beat hot with hate of the Bosche, be he ever so genial to the non-combatant by the way Rattle " Barrett, with an echelon of the 2nd Brigade transport, put in a welcome appearance, and suggested my looking for General de Lisle toward Chezy, to the westward. By half-past nine I had found him with General Allenby, at a farm south of Chezy. We pressed on the north, our objective being the village of Le Tholet, a few kilometres west of Chateau-Thierry, which had seen a stubborn fight.

The valley of the Marne afforded a beautiful view. White, fleecy cloudlets sailed lazily in a perfect blue sky. Chezy took the romance out of the panorama round about, however. Its churchyard was littered and its buildings smashed. The Germans left what had been a quaint, clean little town, dirty and foul with their passing. We climbed slowly up Mont de Bonneil after crossing the Marne. At noontide the heat was intense.

I followed Generals Allenby and de Lisle and the Divisional and Brigade Staffs across country. The dry stubble and hard meadows, free of fence or hedge, all6wed ample scope for scouting a point of vantage whereby to cross the few ditches, and my progress was watched with interest by the mounted officers. A halt was made when the main Paris-Chateau-Thierry road was reached.

News came that Baker-Carr, one of the R.A.C., leading half-a-dozen other cars, had declined the cross-country run and pushed on to Coupru. Approaching the village at a smart pace, a rifle volley stopped them short at a thousand yards. Such a competition in rapid backing and quick turning ensued as is rarely seen at the most lively gymkhana. Good luck for the little cavalcade of cars that the Germans opened fire at a distance, instead of waiting till their quarry had reached a sure range. Fortunately, none of the occupants of the cars were hit, though more than one of the vehicles bore marks of Mauser bullets.

A squadron of the 18th Hussars was sent to round up the enemy, and soon returned with a couple of dozen prisoners in tow, having killed the officer in command of the detachment and four or five of his men.

A strong, fine4ooking lot, the prisoners. From Schleswig-Holstein, they said. Looked more like Danes than Germans. They were frankly glad to be out of the further fighting. I spent the afternoon watching our gunners smash away at retreating columns of enemy transport, tearing northwards from Chateau-Thierry, where the 1st Corps had captured a number of prisoners, we were told, and a gun or two after a stiff fight.

Our night quarters were a near-by farm. I awoke on the morning of Thursday, September 10th, with a dawning realisation of the fact that the passage of the Marne was gained, and a great strategical victory had been won by the Allies.

We were well across the river as far east as Chateau-Thierry, where our right had been reached by d'Esperey's left. The news from further east was vague, but rumours of a great victory on the far right were afloat.

The Germans were on the run in earnest, and all was going well. Exactly what Maunoury on our extreme left and Foch in front of Chalons had accomplished was as yet unknown to us, but rumour was persistently cheerful.

So good was my bed of straw in the great yard of the farm that the rain at half-past two in the morning well soaked my clothing before I wakened sufficiently to realise the advisability of changing my billet for the drier, if less comfortable, shelter of the tonneau of the car.

There I slept so soundly that at four o'clock, when a member of the Staff called me, breakfast was over, and I was told I had best be ready to depart instantly. A good- hearted woman of the household gave me a quart or so of milk in lieu of the breakfast I had missed.

An attempt to move my car was utterly abortive. At that most inconvenient of seasons I learned much of the theory of construction of a French farmyard. Built as it was in the form of a square or quadrangle, the centre devoted to an accumulation of manure and general refuse, one was wise to keep to the stone-paved roadway round the sides.

Barrett and I had arrived "home" tired out at 11.30 p.m., and I had run the car well off the firm, stone-paved portion of the farm courtyard. The morning found it a couple of feet below the surface of the surrounding fringe of roadway. I enlisted the sympathy and assistance of the farmer, and the car was brought to firm ground by a team of fine French draught horses. This badly bent the car's back axle. Later, a cyclist informed me that this was a blessing in disguise, for if ordered to follow my car, he could always depend on marking its passage by its peculiarly unorthodox wheel tracks.

Some 1st Division troops filed through the farm while the rescue work was in progress. Proceeding to the Paris-Chateau-Thierry road, I was ordered by General de Lisle to take charge of our two-seated brigade car, the motor-cyclists and the common or garden cyclists, and keep on to the right of the Brigade, which was to proceed across country to the northward. I obeyed these orders until I was informed I was leading my mixed, if small, command over somewhat new territory in the sense that no patrols had preceded us, when I changed my plans, and returned whence I had come with all my following.

Starting again, I followed the advance of the 1st Division to the left of the cavalry. Passing the long lines of infantry and many batteries was trying work. It was seven o'clock before I reached the head of the Division. Past Lucy and Torcy we went discussing at times with passing officers the wonder we felt that the retreating enemy took no advantage of such splendid positions. Just north of Torcy I reached the head of the Sussex Regiment, which was in the lead. In front was Captain Nicholson with a squadron of i5th Hussars, Divisional Cavalry to the 1st Division.

Up a long steep hill into the village of Courchamps, the Scouts informing us of Germans just ahead, and then a halt for a moment and a chat with the villagers. " For five days and nights," said a woman, who was busy filling bowls of fine, fresh milk for the soldiers without a thought of remuneration, "the Germans have hurried northwards." The bulk of the retreating invaders had passed two days before, but some infantry went by later. The German cavalry were in the village an hour and a half before us. The villagers said many guns were with the German columns.

A drizzling day. Shortly after eight o'clock we halted in front of the town of Priez. On our left a transport column of the enemy raced northward, and shortly afterwards we could see a line of motor lorries away on our right tearing along at high speed, as though belated to a point of great danger and in full realisation of it.

A fierce cannonade on our left told us of the 3rd Corps at La Ferté Jouarre.

General Bulfin, commanding the 1st Brigade, asked me to what I was attached. On learning I was with the cavalry he bemoaned the fact that the cavalry were not on his left, as the fast-disappearing transport of the enemy would have fallen an easy prey to one of our Cavalry Brigades on that flank.
Major Frazer, of General Allenby's staff, drove by at nine 0 clock, and asked why I was making no progress toward joining the Cavalry Division. I explained that the only available road to the east had but recently been reached by the infantry advance, and was even then being fired over by the machine-guns dinning away a few hundred yards in front of us.

Priez lay in a valley. The top of the slope beyond was plainly visible from where we stood. Bulfin's brigade was advancing up the far hillside as we chatted, and nearing the crest. An ideal spot, I thought, for a stiff German rearguard action.

Frazer suggested our proceeding as far as the village. I accompanied him, leaving my convoy of cycles behind. We dismounted from our cars in the hollow, after passing the village proper. The deployed lines-consisting of Sussex and South Hants Regiments- had reached the crown of the hill in front. Their arrival was the signal for the commencement of a very pretty little fight.

The rifle fire grew in volume until singing bullets were so frequent at the point we had chosen that I took cover in a roadside ditch. My attention was arrested by the frantic efforts of a scared woman to close the shutters of an adjacent house, the side of which was being well peppered.

Turning from my momentary aberration, I discovered that Frazer's car had returned from whence it had come. A lonesome feeling coming over me, I left the ditch and the car, and ran across the road to the shelter of a bank, behind which a number of the Sussex Regiment were taking cover. I found the detachment was A Company, Captain Bond commanding.

After a quarter of an hour of enjoyment of good shelter from the increasing Mauser pellets, an order came to A Company to advance up the hill to the firing line. They started off to the right, taking such cover as the low bank afforded. A disinclination to be left alone in such a warm corner led me to accompany them.

The enemy had succeeded in driving back the left of the British line, which enabled them to cover our advance up the hill from our left flank. A number of our party were hit, particularly at an open space fifty feet in extent, where the bank at the roadside was quite unnecessarily low. The two men immediately in front of me and the man just behind me were hit, all three being wounded in the head.
The German guns opened on the village behind us and the slope away to the rear. Our guns replied, but their range was short, some of the shells bursting over us.

To me the situation seemed somewhat bizarre. Our enjoyment of our surroundings was by no means augmented by one of the Sussex men from the line in front, who came running back with the news of a general retirement. Rifle fire in front, rifle fire from our left, and shrapnel from both front and rear, made us wonder whether retirement was not less wise than staying where we were. But orders are orders, so we headed down the slope for the village.

Reaching the fifty-foot gap, a couple of bold ones rushed at it, only to fall before they had got across. That part of our journey must, it seemed, be taken in full sight of the enemy. While pausing and contemplating this fact, a herd of a score or more cows galloped, bellowing, down the hedge-side in the field by us. Suddenly blessed with an inspiration, we sprinted down the road in the lee of the barrier thus providentially imposed between us and our friends the enemy. "We're all right so long as the beef holds out," panted a Tommy, as the bullets went "puck-puck" into the cattle.

In a matter of seconds I had reached the car, and was mentally consigning it and its contents to the Bosches, when a major of the Sussex Battlion asked me if I would take it back with as many of the wounded as we could pack on it. I was of the belief that any occupant of a car that tried to pass through the village and up the slope in plain sight of the enemy, and in the direct path of his shrapnel, would stand little chance of escape, but the wounded were tossed into the tonneau, into the front seats, on the folded hood at the rear, and all about, wherever space could be found. I jumped into the driving seat, and backed the car to the cross-roads in the town, suffering a collision with a wall en route.

The car's steps were lined with soldiers, and one was mounted on a front wing.

"Now boys," I said, as I headed the car round for the dash up the hill, "the rise is steep, and this is no 'general' omnibus. All that are not wounded hop off, and I'll see if I can get the rest out of it."

With a cheery word they jumped off, except one, who stood on the step at my side
"Are you hit?" I queried.

"No, but I'm all right. I won't fall off, guv'nor," he replied with a grin.

"If you are bound to come with us," said I," vault up behind me and stick on."

He did so, and as I felt his hand on my shoulder I looked up at him and remarked, "I've got you between me and the Germans whatever happens."

But we found that ride no joke.

Up the hill we crawled. My load was eleven, some badly hit. Two cyclists in front gave promise of blocking the way as we gathered speed, but a shell burst over us that knocked one of the pair off his wheel. He careered into his fellow; the pair rolled into the ditch together. Bang! went another shell, seemingly a few feet over us. Four men from a group ahead of us were hit, so falling that they almost blocked the roadway. Bullets sang all about. Someone hanging on one of the steps was hit, and cried out as he dropped off. As the slope became less steep I overtook an ammunition limber, the team - minus driver-in full flight toward the rear. Off the road and into the dry stubble field I guided the groaning car, past the tired horses, galloping their poor best, and into the road again, urged by a quartette of shrapnel that seemed to burst - oh !-so close to us!

A mile or so in the rear, we found a hastily improvised hospital, in a field by the road, where I delivered my load. An orderly came to me as I drove up, saying laconically, "Wounded?"
"Yes," I answered, "All but one." Turning, I sought the persistent one whom I had mounted at my back.

“I stopped one, coming up the hill," said the object of my remark, with a grin - " I stopped one proper, I did !" And as he disentangled his feet from those of a sadly wounded comrade on whom he had been supporting himself, he opened his tunic and showed me a blood-soaked side. "Through," he explained. "Might have got you if I hadn't been there," he added, "So maybe it was just as well. I couldn't have brought the others back in this thing." And he grinned again as I put him down where the orderlies could get him.

"Good luck, son," I said, with a lump in my throat. His teeth were set as he was borne by two hospital men to where the doctors could attend to him.

As they took him down the bank the corners of his mouth twitched in another half-smile, and he said, "Thanks. Don't you worry about me; I'm all right. It's nothing!”

I have often thought of him, and hoped he came through in good shape. His spirit was so very, very fine.

Wiping some of the red off the cushions of the car, I turned it again towards Priez, and ran as far as a haystack, to the right of the road. The rain had ceased. I sat with some of the King's Royal Rifles in the lee of the stack for a time. Shrapnel was bursting near by. Two big high-explosive shells went over us, and lit not far behind. Some of General Lomax's staff and a number of 1st Division officers were in front of the stack. I joined them and distributed some chocolate I had in the car, which was very cheerily greeted. Shells came closer. As an excuse to get back for a breathing space, I picked up three or four passing wounded, to take them to the dressing station. No sooner had I started than a blinding flash in front, and a black smoke cloud in our eyes and nostrils, told of the arrival of another high-explosive shell. It had lit in the road, striking two mounted orderlies. The horses and men were literally blown to pieces, and the r6ad scarred with a huge hole.

One poor chap in the car was so near gone when we arrived at the hospital that his chances were declared by the doctor to be one in a thousand.

Through the middle of the day and into the early afternoon our guns hammered at the enemy. Another infantry Brigade was sent up and forced the Germans to retire. The action was only a rearguard fight, but the considerable number of wounded in the dressing station, and all along the road, told of the efficiency of it. A constant procession of stretchers went past. General Findlay, seated beside the road, not far from the haystack that gave me shelter for a time, was hit by shrapnel and killed.

The Sussex Regiment lost heavily. Not only were their casualties considerable, but among the list were some of their best officers. Altogether, Priez cost us between three and four hundred killed and wounded.

Shortly after mid-day one of General Lomax's staff asked me to take a message to General Allenby.
This required my going south, and then turning east and north again. The left of d'Esperey's 6th Army was in touch with our right. Passing Grisolles and Rocourt, and proceeding north toward Oulchy-Ie-Chateau I saw many French troops, but could get no word of Allenby. I watched a couple of batteries of 75's shell Oulchy. The French officers were very friendly. As the white shell clouds burst against the dark green foliage in front we chatted of prospective victory. They were pleased when I told them that one of our Divisions, checked for a moment at Priez, had taken it and pushed on to shell Neuilly-St. Front. Soissons and Braisnes were their objectives, the French officers said.

I pushed on to a high point, and at last met General Allenby, whom I had almost despaired of finding. I delivered my message, and mounting a hay-stack watched the French infantry attack north of Oulchy, supported by French and English batteries.

In the evening, with General de Lisle, I visited Grisolles, Latilly, Nanteuil and Rozet- Ablin. These little towns in the valley of the Ourcq were charming in their simple beauty. The Germans had not stopped long nor done much damage thereabouts. The coming of the Allies had restored confidence in the twinkling of an eye. Already the peasant folk were at work digging their hidden stores of flour from out their straw stacks.

Captain Barrett and I spent most of the night searching for our Brigade transport, which had gone astray. Discovering it at last, and providing the officer in charge with a map, we ran back to our night quarters at Rozet. There we slept 6n couches in the partially dismantled drawing-room of a house which a villager described as the property of a French Field-Marshal. Dinner having been consumed in our absence, Barrett and I made a hearty meal off cold soup, bread and jam, and slept soundly until four o'clock the next morning.

The first hours of the next day we spent in careering about the country for news of horse transport, which had gone stubbornly astray in spite of maps and instructions. Through village after village we searched for a time to no avail. Three small detachments had spent the night in the same little village without any one of them being in the least aware of its proximity to the others. At daybreak the three had left, still unconscious that their fellows were hard by, each to go in a different direction. We found them all at last, after unravelling Gilbertian blunders on the part of thoroughly muddled "non-coms." It is easy to laugh at such "mix-ups" when they become disentangled, but truly difficult to do so until the trouble is over. Horse transport trains breed short tempers more often than not.

Our course bore eastward, and then north for Braisnes. Close to us on the right Conneau's French cavalrymen were advancing. They bore signs of campaign wear. Our appearance was far from prepossessing. A wash was a luxury and a shave unknown. Dirty as we were I think the French were dirtier. Their rusty cuirasses helped to give one such an impression, as did the once white bits of trimming on their uniforms. The Chasseurs d'Inde looked a wiry lot. Their baggy blue trousers, red jackets, and red fez on yellow turban looked still gay, though well-begrimed. Their dapper little Arabs stepped gingerly, aware all eyes were on them.

We passed several groups of German prisoners. General de Lisle told me our 1st and 2nd Divisions captured over 1,000 of the enemy the day before, and with them seven guns. Later reports swelled this to double the number of prisoners and guns, and rumour told that machine-guns and transport had also been taken.

Breakfast in an open field found us munching bully and dry bread with true ardour. For luncheon we brought similar appetites to an identical menu. Blinding downpours of rain fell for most of the afternoon. Our forward movement was curtailed by orders from above. The 9th Lancers had pressed well on toward Soissons. De Lisle sent me to Maast to recall them. Major Beale-Browne, commanding the 9th, said Lucas Tooth's squadron was beyond Nanteuil, and well up the Soissons road. Would I run on and pass the order to reassemble? Certainly. Reaching them in the rain Lucas Tooth told me they had chased the Uhlans just over a ridge beyond. One of his troopers saw three or four of the enemy and rode at them with a yell. They dashed back and soon overtook seventy of their comrades. Catching sight of the larger body the 9th trooper turned and galloped for assistance. The Uhlans came on slowly behind him. Gathering together the troop of which he was a member, the handful started full tilt for the enemy. The moment the troop came over the brow of a rolling hill, and in sight of the Germans, the latter, disregarding their greatly superior numbers, turned and fled. Our cavalry was gaining a sinister reputation.

We spent the night of Saturday, the uth, in Arcy, where a good dinner cheered us all. A hot bath in a wash-tub, and a blanket-bed on the clean tiles, made for solid comfort.

On the morning of Sunday, the 12th, a French officer told us how well the Allied Forces were succeeding. Foch had pressed on and might soon be at Rheims, he said.

I was with the extreme advance during the forenoon. Rifle shots close at hand; pools of fresh blood in the roadway; dead horses, not yet cold, and scared peasants, all told of cavalry patrols in collision at daybreak. We stopped on a line of hills. Down the slopes in front lay Braisnes and the crossing of the Vesle. We were afforded a splendid view of the field-gun battle for the river. The horizon in front and away to the right, as far as the eye could reach, was one long line of black or white shell-clouds. Dozens, scores, hundreds of cloudlets, ever changing, new ones born with every second, yet no two alike in form. Before eleven we lunched. A big round loaf of bread, to obtain which a kindly native walked two miles, a tin of sardines, two tins of bully beef, a tin of marmalade and a tot all round of wonderful Army rum, provided a hearty meal, not only for our own staff but for General Allenby and many of the Divisional Staff as well. Rain fell in sheets while we were lunching, our dining-room being the shelter, more imaginary than real, of a small haystack. The fight for Braisnes was within earshot. The Germans had barricaded the bridge and the main street of the town, and were putting up a strong rearguard action.

Some of the 3rd Division Infantry Battalions trudged by at a good pace unmindful of the downpour or the mud underfoot. Many of the Tommies had ponchos, some had overcoats, and here and there a blanket or brown gun-cover, kept off the wet. Only a few of them were without protection of a sort. By noon-time the bridge was taken, and a couple of hours after we moved up. The Queen's Bays had been in the limelight, and greatly distinguished themselves. From the winding wooded road down into the valley the hills across the river loomed grey-green in a rain-mist. On the bank by the way lay the dead body of Bertram Stewart of the Intelligence, who had taken a rifle and gone down to lend a hand. Beyond him a wounded trooper sat propped against a milestone gasping with pain.
Across the bridge we came upon a broken bit of loop-holed wall, then a barricade of sand-bags in the street, a score or more of German prisoners, a crowded ambulance, and behind it an old rickety one-horse landau, creeping slowly so as not to jar the wounded soldier stretched on a door laid crosswise over the carriage superstructure. The main thoroughfare was full of infantry. The 1st Cavalry Brigade that had taken Braisnes was on ahead, winning the German positions on the slopes beyond the town. 
Shops were emptied in short order of what little the Germans had left untouched. A dear old Sister of Mercy, not five feet tall, found me endeavouring to make a purchase of viands of some sort and took me under her wing. Calls on storekeepers proving futile she guided me to a pretentious dwelling. 'Here we found an old lady who gave me a half a loaf of bread, a small pat of butter, and a bottle of wine for our mess. She could not be induced to take any remuneration. A shell hole had ruined the grass plot in the centre of her dainty garden, having first passed through her bedroom. The Germans had demanded her keys at the point of a pistol and had well ransacked her house, he said. She was a sweet old lady. How a human being could maltreat her I could not imagine.

The fight for the hill north of Braisnes was not over, but after half-an-hour's wait behind a haystack outside the town I was allowed to proceed. At the base of the hill our shrapnel had played on the roadway with deadly accuracy. The ditches were full of dead and wounded Germans. The steep slopes were lined with well-made trenches one above another. On up the winding road that mounted the slope we toiled, three lines abreast, squadrons of cavalry, lines of ammunition wagons, motor-cars and horse- guns all together. The rifle and rapid gun-fire from the crown of the hill was still telling of the stubborn fight while we were crawling round the lower curves of the ascent. As I gained the crest I saw a group of over 100 German prisoners and piles of broken German rifles by the road. Still more lines of trenches disfigured the fields on either side.

Our billet for the night was the quaint village of Longueval, less than two miles from the Aisne. I was alone in the car with General de Lisle when we entered the village. We were well ahead of our troops. Personally, I felt some qualms at such a reconnaissance, but we found no Germans thereabouts. The people were most cordial in their welcome, and told us the enemy's troops had been billeted on them for the past ten days. A big stone farm with an ample yard housed the headquarters' contingent. After dinner, I took Raymond Hamilton-Grace to General Allenby's headquarters for orders. That run in the dark, rain, wind and mud, was a veritable nightmare.

Several times carefully followed instructions as to the localisation of Divisional Headquarters were proved to have been utterly wrong. Once we went past our last outpost and into the light of the still burning ruins of farms beyond it. When we at last located the head of the Division, we found it planted in an awful hole, approachable only through a sea of mud. Our quest for orders was in vain, as no orders had yet been issued. I had hoped for a letter from home, as not one line from London had reached me since my departure nearly a month before. But no letter awaited me. It was late when we returned to Longueval, and a bundle of straw on a stone floor made a tempting bed.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

The Retreat From Mons

 from 'T.P.'s Journal of Great Deeds of the Great War' October 17, 1914

'The Retreat from Mons'

by W. Douglas Newton

This is, I believe, the first attempt which has appeared in print to give a full, clear, and connected account of the great Battle of Mons. Studying maps, reading between the lines of Sir John French's historic dispatch, analysing and comparing the sparse and lean accounts of the war correspondents, above all, picking- up bits here and there from the soldiers' letters, my brilliant contributor, Mr. Douglas Newton, has succeeded, I believe, in giving a picture of the battle, not merely dramatic and moving, but full and accurate. Unfortunately, he has had to break off the story at one of the most critical points ; but the story will be continued in the next number, and brought to a conclusion. This is my method of carrying out what I regard as the purpose of this publication — namely, to substitute a clear for a chaotic picture of the chief events in the story of our own army. I trust that such a narrative, brilliant, accurate, and orderly, will bring home more clearly than detached accounts, the stirring, moving and inspiring story of our gallant soldiers. — T. P.

The hawk that is called by the Germans the dove (Taube) came sliding with its sinister grace over the entrenched lines of the English. It hung over the camp like a bird searching out its prey, and the jolly British Tommy tried to bring it down with his rifle. Then, in a long curve, the aeroplane turned and swept north again. A few minutes later there flowered above the British army the first delicate white balloon of shrapnel-smoke. The battle of Mons had begun.

Germany over the Borders

There had been much fighting before. After the irreparable act of August 3rd, when Germany in arms had come with ruthless stride over the borders of Belgium, the whole of Europe had sprung to arms, and had used them. Germany, following its iron-bound gospel of attack by time-table, had lunged a great covering army through the core of the easy Flemish plains, in order to pave the way for the advance of her huge military machine in its attack on the heart of France, Paris. Across the road of these forces the devoted Belgians flung themselves. Their cavalry fought the Germans inch by inch along the road of their advance; and when the cavalry had done its best and fell back, the steel and concrete of Liege's forts took a hand in the stern game. It was the awful impact of Liege that definitely shat- tered for all time the German military rule-of-thumb rush. Before the Homeric ardour of Liege's defence the invading armies were held up, and under the screen of that check the corps of England and France mobilised and flung themselves into the battle line. On August 14th France was in touch with Belgian arms, and on August 16th England woke up to find that, after a lapse of ninety-nine years, a British army was again out campaigning on its most glorious battle-ground, the Continent. Five days later this army was at work in its age-old way, playing the same old game it had played to the downfall of its enemies throughout the centuries. It was fighting a rearguard action with superb and smiling equanimity. With unhurried gait it was retreating before overwhelming odds, even as its fathers had retreated in 1809. And even as Sir John Moore had done, Sir John French was doing. He was falling back with a line unbroken and undismayed, and . as he retired he was blunting the attack of his foes with smashing victories.

The Battle Front

The battle front of England at Mons was planned on the grand scale of modern war. It was twenty-five miles long, though for all that it was but a segment of the monstrous line of the Allies, which extended well over two hundred miles. The main body of the British force lay along two sides of a very flat triangle that had its apex at Mons. Cut in a rigid trench fifteen miles from end to end, and facing dead north, a canal ran from the village of Condé to the town of Mons; then the line turned a little back and ran eastward ten miles to Binche. Condé was on of the main British army; Binche right.

Behind the moat of this canal lay the major portion of General Smith- Dorrien's force (the 2nd Corps), and his outposts were strung beyond it. From Mons to Binche were Sir Douglas Haig's men (the 1st Corps). Massed about Binche lurked the eager British cavalry. The 3rd Corps was only just coming up, but, even with their absence, eighty thousand men waited along the line for the attack of Germany. The country in which the men lay was a gentle country, and with the August sun mellowing it, it reminded the English of their own Cotswold valleys. Little villages gemmed it, and towards Binche it was rolling gently in small hills. About Mons and its canal the ground was flat and much cut up with many deep dykes filled with muddy water. In front of the English line the country was dense with undergrowth and young woods. Out of these woods, and in the serene air of the afternoon of Sunday, August 23rd, the German hordes came rolling.

The first abrupt surprise of shrapnel shelling caught some of the outposts, the West Kents, for example, at the awkward moments of bathing parade and dinner. Some of the men were only armed with towels, and some only with food pannikins. For an instant there was a whirl of confusion. Then the infantry pulled themselves together and sprang for their arms. In a flash they had lined out in their trenches and were ready to meet the enemy.

To Arms!

All along the immense battle front the British hurried to arms without confusion. The infantry moved out to their stations and stood ready in their trenches. Those who had not entrenched dug themselves in at once. They prepared their lines, as an eye-witness declared, with extraordinary rapidity, sometimes doing so under a lash of shrapnel so deadly that the men had to lay flat on their stomachs as they dug.

In the heart of the screening woods facing the lines the infernal symphony of the German artillery got to work; it beat up and up in terrible roarings. Every gun seemed to concentrate to shatter the lines in the trenches in such a way that the blue-grey rush of the German military machine might sweep them aside in its first effort. All the sky above the waiting British became palled with the soft, fleecy cloud of exploding shrapnel, and the earth was threshed with the iron hail of the down-slashing bullets. The British infantry lay on its face and laughed They could not as yet strike back, but they could wait.

The Artillery's Job

Meanwhile the artillery was doing its job, and it did it extraordinarily well. The English artillery has a reputation which it will exchange with no one; it lived up to that reputation. The guns smashed at the enemy with devastating effect. At one time they picked out a German battery, and, getting the range prettily, they loosed a squall of shell at it. The German guns fought for a moment, grew feeble, became silenced altogether.

The German artillery at the outset began as it was not going to go on. It ranged badly. The shells leaped the trenches and killed a myriad worms in the fields behind, but no Englishmen. The English Tommy sat back in his earth and delivered himself of much shrewd humour at the expense of the feeble shooting; caps were hoisted on sticks to encourage the gunners. Presently over the billowing cumulus of shrapnel-smoke the aeroplanes again came sliding. They reached the British trenches, hovered over them, then some shiny object or a small black-smoke bomb dropped from the machines. Immediately the hidden German gunners gripped themselves together, and the shrapnel came beating on top of the trenched men, striking right and left with its prodigal hands of iron. The irrepressible British infantrymen flattened themselves to earth, coiled into the smallest possible compass behind their earthworks, and took to playing marbles with the bullets from the shrapnel shells.

The Blue-Grey Mass

As the thunder of the guns deepened, the general advance of the German force began. On the extreme right — that is, on the Binche line — the enemy were soon pressing with desperate force. Under cover of the awful rain of the artillery fire, the dense masses of the blue-grey infantry were trying to push their charge home. Here the trenches were weakest, for the British had gone to earth in haste, and some of the men, the Royal Irish and the Suffolks, for example, had only just come off a long and trying march under a hot sun. Still, though his lines may be weak in theory, the British soldier can prove himself strong enough in practice. The attack that was meant to overwhelm failed to overwhelm. As the packed ranks of Germans came on like a crowd breaking away from a football match, the British private, disdaining the lash of the shrapnel, held his fire.

The Dashing Cavalry Leader

The Germans rolled forward, singing hymns, some say, evidently exultant, evidently certain that the massed rush was going to sweep the English out of the field. The English lines remained inscrutably calm. So they remained until the enemy arrived at the most deadly point of their rifles' trajectory. Then in a crash every trench loosed, every spitting maxim was turned on full at the tap. "It was like cutting down hay," the privates said. Before that awful pelting of nickled bullets, rank after rank of the blue-grey host went sinking into the earth. The Germans stuck to it gamely, pushing on in a dazed way; but the gale of that awful, steadily calm British firing was too much for them; its scythe-like cut threw them down in heaps. They wavered, broke, and went back.

The German hosts were charging English infantry for the first time in history. They were in for the lesson that other nations had learnt since the bowmen taught it at Cressy; they were suffering as others had suffered in their ignorance. "Our line in the trenches was thin, but our shooting was very accurate and the fellows were very cool," one man wrote home in a letter; and this was quite true. The infantry were not only shooting, they were aiming as though they were out for efficiency marks at the butts. Even when they got the order for rapid firing, they did not throw a shot away, and in any case it was almost a difficulty to miss the massed Germans, for they moved forward against the positions in flat grey plaques that gave the riflemen a target like a wall. "It was like shooting down rabbits. They fell down in heaps." In one place a breastwork five feet high was formed of the corpses, and the men had to run from the trenches to find out when and how the Germans were advancing. It was an awful reaping of slaughter. Greedy as he is for a fight, the English private was filled with disgust at this wholesale and abominable killing.

But it went on. The English had formed the habit of sitting tight, and they sat tight. They felt that in time the force of the attack must expend itself, for they still remained under the impression that they were facing an enemy no more than their equal in strength. "From information I received from French headquarters I understood that little more than one, or at the most two, of the enemy's army corps, with perhaps one cavalry division, were in front of my position; and I was aware of no attempted outflanking movement by the enemy. I was confirmed in this opinion by the fact that my patrols had encountered no undue opposition in their reconnoitring operations. The observations of my aeroplanes seemed also to bear out this estimate." So wrote General French. Even while he was thinking this, at least three German corps were moving on to his front, and a fourth was menacing his extreme left flank, endeavouring to turn his line, held with extreme gallantry by the Black Watch and the artillery, at Tournai.

The Battering-ram

Yet if he did not know in actual fact, the awful pressure on his front was telling him something. Hour after hour the enormous battering- ram of the German advance was pressing his line, trying to buckle it, trying to pierce it altogether with the lunging effort of the German rush. The English were fighting them back, but against the enormous odds their strength was draining. The Royal Irish, holding, with the Middlesex, the Roval Scots, and the Gordons, an important cross road, were subjected to awful attacks of shell fire and infantry. They thrust back the infantry, but under the tempest of lead their ranks were woefully thinned. Cavalry was hurled at their line in the hope of breaking it with the terror of the charge. The Gordons and the Irish Rifles blew great wounds in the hurling ranks, and the stuttering maxims in the trenches carved and slashed the squadrons into rags.

The Grinding Pressure

Still the pressure grew more and more awful. The bayonet was attempted against the swarming hordes. But the Germans were not built of the stuff that can meet the steel with a sprinting English regiment behind it. The Cheshires tried it, but at the chilly glint of steel the advancing waves wilted, broke, and "went on squealing." Only at one place along the battle line did the charge get home. "The South Lancashires did it," said a man. "The Germans don't want any more of that stuff." They were not so lucky when the English horsemen got busy. There was no holding the horsemen once they were loosed. As the dense masses of German infantry worked right up to the trenches, the trenches would cease fire. Then the cavalry were on them. "Hell's fury blazed from the eyes of the trapped Germans." As the horsemen drove home, they tried to hold their ground, the flail-like sabres sank and hacked amid them; then, "with a bloodcurdling wail, they ran as though the fiends were after them"; and as they ran they cast aside their rifles, caps, bandoliers, and everything — anything that would hamper.

The Last Shell and Man

Yet, as the day went on, the trenched line was wearing thin. The awful tempest of artillery fire was eating the heart out of the defence. Slowly but surely as the evening drew near the British batteries were silenced. They fought in the artillery's way to the last shell and the last man. One half battery drew the attention of the German guns by the accuracy of its fire. Several batteries combined to crush it out of existence. It was a fight between a David and half a dozen Goliaths. One by one the guns were silenced as the men serving them were killed. At last one man, Driver Butcher, was left. He went on working, doing his best steadily and calmly. He was ready to fight the whole massed force of German artillery by himself, and it was only with reluctance that he retired when an officer called him off. The calmness was not his alone. The whole of the superb corps was imbued with it. When another battery was put out of action, an officer, apparently oblivious of the torrent of shell bursting about him, walked from gun to gun, making each useless. At another point, rather than lose their guns, two drivers took their horses through a storm of shell, limbered up, and brought them away safely.

As night came on it was seen that this right wing of the Army was too greatly outnumbered to hold its own. It had fallen back already to a position on higher ground; now, as evening came on, and after being as many as fifteen hours under fire, it learnt for the first time of the vast forces massed against it. Worse, it heard of the retirement of the French on its right. Slowly, therefore, and with its line yet unbroken, the right wing fell back. And as it fell back General Sir Philip Chetwode's happy cavalry, with its tunics off, broke up every effort of the enemy to cut up the rear with the yelling electricity of their headlong charges. "We went through the Uhlans like brown paper," said the enthusiastic General.

A Weakened Line

When the right wing fell back to the high ground, the force under General Smith-Dorrien lined along the canal had been left in a weakened position. At any moment the enemy might break through the angle of the two forces and fall upon his flank. When the right wing actually retired his line was endangered. They, too, had been fighting heavily all day. The enemy's dragoons and Uhlans had endeavoured to win the canal, and had been driven back; and after this the enemy played its usual game — had tried to suffocate the British line by sheer weight of numbers. They wanted to get to the canal and over it, either by the bridges still standing or by pontoons they carried with them. The English were determined they would not. Lined along the canal and in the ground about it the Scots Borderers, the East Surreys, the West Kents, the Suffolks, and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders raked the advance of the German infantry for hours, drove them back, and continued to do so without flinching under a rain of shells. As elsewhere, the Germans paved the way for their infantry advance by a tremendously concentrated artillery fire. With their brothers all over the field, the lined-out regiments took this awful bombardment with heads "bloody but unbowed." They sang the war-chant of their legions, "It's a long, long way to Tipperary," and they cheered to a man every time the enemy tried to hit the big gasometer in Mons and missed it, though it probably meant death to every man in the line if that fateful coup had been brought off.

Out of its Native Air

Over their prone ranks, too, the aeroplanes came soaring, giving the range to the avid gunners with their smoke signals and Deitz morse- discs. But here one aeroplane at least played the game too long and too daringly. He came flying above the lines, and he flew too near. The gunners behind let him come on. Then suddenly out of his native air a shell punched him. The machine shivered, crumpled, and fell in a trailing wreck across the sky. It was a score against the air-scouts; but it mattered little. The enemy had got the range, and they hammered away mercilessly at the wearing-down tactics.

The Juggernaut

Some of the West Kents, the Scottish Borderers, and the East Surreys were across the canal holding the bridge heads against the enemy. There was a battery of guns with them. The Germans concentrated on these guns, and, fighting to the last man, all the gunners died. When the pieces were silenced, the grey-green, juggernaut infantry came on. The outposts on the further bank fought with desperation. Attack after attack came at them, and was driven back; but each wave left the little force weakened, and, though reinforcements came, in the end the juggernaut process was successful and the mastery of the further bank was gained. Those who could, made their escape across the bridges. Those who could not, stayed and fought. A detachment of the Surreys was hemmed in in this way. As soon as they discovered their predicament they resolved to sell their lives dearly. They took cover, and fired until firing was no longer possible; then the heroic few fixed bayonets and charged armies. They were all but exterminated, but they died game.

The Battle of the Bridges

With the bank held by the Germans, a series of battles began to burn with fury about the bridges. The Engineers had been busy all day blowing up the barges in the canal with gun-cotton; now they blew up all that they could of the viaducts. They did it under fire with the calm audacity of the Engineers. One bridge they shattered so effectively that there was nothing of it left when the smoke lifted. At one of these bridges the fuse failed to act. It was a bridge held by a devoted company of the Scottish Borderers. When the failure was made obvious there was no hesitation about what must be done. In an instant a sergeant and three men of the company dashed out on to the bridge, and under the fire of the enemy ran at the fuse. The three men dropped in their tracks, but the sergeant gained his object. Without losing a precious moment in thought of self, he hacked the fuse short and fired it. When the bridge was destroyed, he, too, Was destroyed.

Over the Smoking Water

Foiled at the bridges, the enemy massed on the bank, and tried to win a way across with their pontoons. The artillery duel built up to an indescribable clamour as each side strove to drive the other from the mastery of the canal bank. Masses of men advanced on the German side, and were blown out of existence almost immediately by the English guns and rifles. Still they pressed on, and slowly, slowly, they began to work their pontoon bridge across the smoke-clouded face of the water. They did so under frightful loss and in a battling that had become a positive butchery. As they built out their flat spans the clustering shrapnel puff-balls formed a deadly corona about them, and the startling accuracy of the British guns destroyed their work of blood and wounds. Ten times they got their pontoons nearly over, and ten times the gunners splintered them to ruin.

But by now it was beginning to be understood that the splendid effort of the British was in vain. The enemy were attacking with an increasing, and not a decreasing, force. Away to the east Namur had, quite unexpectedly, fallen; nearer along the same line the French were going back. Fresh hordes, possibly released from the investing lines of Namur, were hurling into the fight. Behind the German front great motor transports were hurrying more and more men to attack the English. Away tô the far west, ,at Tournai, a giant turning movement had unexpectedly developed, and a small force, 700 strong, found itself battling against 5, Sir John French's flanks were in grave danger. It was time to retire here as well as on the right wing.

The "Dirty Shirts" of Delhi

With great reluctance Sir Smith-Dorrien's men began to fall back in the evening of Sunday and throughout the morning of Monday. They still did it fighting desperately against the ever-increasing odds. And they did it with acts of heroism that blazed like diamonds in the fine fabric of the retreat. The Munsters, the "Dirty Shirts" of Delhi fame, wrote for themselves across the scroll of this retirement a story of undying glory. Called to the aid of a stricken Royal Horse battery, they flung themselves in the path of a charging regiment of Lancers and beat them off with terrific impetuosity. To these guns, and under a storm of shell, they clung throughout the day, and when the order for retirement came, so furious were the Irish lads at having to leave the pieces that they had so bravely saved, that they harnessed themselves to the limbers and, scorning the shell-fire, dragged them themselves right out of action to safety. Only one battery was lost in the retreat; the other batteries limbered up, and, with traces taut, bits jingling, and steady in line, they came out from under fire with all the coolness they showed on parade at Woolwich in the piping times of peace.

A Night of Terror

Throughout that night the men fell back in a movement that was terrible but superb. The enemy were determined that the cloak of darkness should not save the force, and all through the black hours they strove to catch and crush the moving columns. The covering, troops, the Guards among them, beat the attacks back with an unfaltering fire, refusing to be annihilated. In their determination to overwhelm the British the Germans had resort to every mechanical means for searching them out. All night long the frigid beams of the searchlights moved their uncanny arms over the countryside, feeling for the troops. When they found their quarry they held steady, bathing the men in their callous, unwinking, inhuman glare, while down the lane of light the shrapnel and the singing bullets poured in a spate of death. When the searchlight failed, the aeroplanes took up the task. They hung over the retreat, dropping star shell that lit the country for miles with its pallid flame, and all the men it showed were shelled. But these efforts were unavailing. The troops were superbly handled; nothing went amiss. Through the night and its terrors the British went stumbling, but they stumbled under brilliant guidance. When the dawn came they were still retiring — but they were still unbroken, still undefeated.

To Crush the British

Writing to his son Joseph, the great Napoleon once said that the General who went forward without having first prepared a line of retreat deserved to be shot. General Sir John French was not of the type of leader that came under that drastic ban. He had not only prepared a line of retreat, but he knew exactly how he was going to retreat. It had now become perfectly obvious that the Germans were concentrating every effort to drive the English right out of the field, that they meant by hook or by crook to smash for the rest of the war "French's contemptible little army." The enemy were crowding every possible man into the volume of attack, and his masses were making desperate efforts to turn the left. He was determined to crush the British if he could, and if he could not, at least to drive the army into the fortress of Maubeuge, where they might be bottled up and presently smashed to pieces by the big siege howitzers he had in his train. It was an excellent plan; its one fault was that the English were commanded by a man with brains enough to see through the cunning move. It was Sir John French who dictated the line of retirement, not the German Headquarters Staff.

Unbreakable Stuff

Throughout Monday the English held fast to a new position resting on the fortress of Maubeuge, while the army from the Mons line fell back and worked themselves into safe positions. A demonstration was made on the right towards Binche, and this thrust the Germans back and enabled the tired forces to retire. The day was a reiteration of Sunday. The British lines were sowed with the awful storm of shell, and under this cloud of shrapnel the dense infantry masses pushed forward to buckle the front. The English line was made of unbreakable material; it stood rigid. More of our troops were hurried up from the communications and came to help their fellows in t'he battle; but, in spite of this relief, the pressure was too enormous. Soon Sir Charles Fergusson, on the left, was complaining of the abnormal strain, and General Allenby's cavalry was moved out to his aid. Here they did brave work, checking with headlong charges the over-impetuous Germans. Sometimes they smashed right into the very lines of their foe with irresistible brilliance. So charged the 9th Lancers at Thulin.

The Modern Balaklava

In the line before them a battery of heavy guns was cutting the English front with the savagery of their fire. The guns were well concealed under straw thatching, and the English artillery could make no impression upon them. Word was sent to the 9th Lancers that these guns were to be cleared out. Colonel Campbell formed his squadrons up, and as the first three wheeled into line, the fourth, C Squadron, determined not to be left behind, wheeled, cheering with them. The command snapped out, and over a field laced with shell, fogged with battle smoke, and drenched with pouring rifle bullets the 9th went racing to the guns. Long lines were torn in their ranks, the shells sank into them, flaring redly, wire concealed in the long grass tripped the leaders up. But on, with unparalleled élan, the swinging horsemen lunged. They were on to the guns, they were stabbing and slaughtering the gunners; the guns were theirs. The splendid dash had done its work.

Captain Grenfell

With the guns put permanently out of action the Lancers came back, but it was a terrible return. Batteries caught them on the flank, and the rifles screamed up and up in a furious desire to slaughter them all. They suffered heavily, and many were dispersed. It was in this state that the heroic Captain Grenfell extricated his men. Wounded in both legs, he led his squadron under the cover of a railway embankment and gave them the necessary breather. From here he charged the foe again, and was again wounded, but he got the remnants of his squadron away, and though he was taken to a temporary hospital, he broke out and took his place at the head of his men.

The Operation was Full of Danger

Heroic deeds were, however, unavailing against such odds. The pressure continued unabated. The French were still falling back, and the British had no support to face the determined efforts of the enemy to get round the left flank and so end the first great engagement of the war in complete disaster for the Allied arms. General Sir John French determined to retire again. "The operation," he laconically admits, "was full of danger and difficulty, not only owing to the very superior force in front of me, but also to the exhaustion of the troops." In this terse sentence does he discuss one of the most brilliant military feats of modern times. The "very superior force" stood for no less than 120,000 of picked German troops. They were animated by a burning determination to crush the force before them. They felt that they must beat the English now or never.

On Tuesday, August 25th, the most critical phase of the battle of Mons began to develop. The Germans were receiving greater and greater accumulations of men, and they determined to use them with all their force and power. To stand before that horde was to court disaster. "Once more, therefore," as a military writer has put it, "our troops drew off from the deathtrap and fell back on to Cambrai and Le Cateau." The British troops had been legging it for two days; they had been subjected to an attack that has no parallel in the history of warfare; they were crying out for rest and sleep. But they went back stubbornly facing their foe with undiminished ardour. As the infantry retired the cavalry was loosed at the Germans again, and again they went in, yelling, to the terror of their foes. The German cavalry and infantry simply turned and ran from them. Every now and then the English infantry faced about, and from hastily dug trenches swept their foe back with devastating volleys. The English artillery., turned, and with an electric "Action front," fell into position and fought the Germans off. As usual, they fought until every spark of life had been extinguished. The 80th Battery R.F.A. worked their guns to the last gasp. The .two other batteries brigaded with them had been silenced, and one by one five of their own pieces had gone out of action; yet, undismayed, Lieutenant Mirrlees and two gunners kept a gun going at a sound rate of fire until the last shell had been expended, and they were forced to retire, all of them unwounded.

The Fight in the Air

Again, as in previous battles, the enemy's aeroplanes were brought into use to locate the defending lines; only by now our own aviators had taken their measure. As one soared over the army, up went a British plane after him; the German swerved and tried to make off, but the

Englishman was too skilful. He rose up in the sweeping spirals of flight, working to get above his rival. With all his cunning the German strove to break away. For two minutes the gaping army played audience to the new and thrilling drama of air fighting. Then both men -began to fire, the little jetting puffs of smoke breaking away from the machines. They fired and circled in a breathless way; all at once the German machine checked and came swooping earthwards on a long vol-plane. When it touched ground the aviator was dangerously wounded, and the waiting infantry captured his machine and burnt it.


By noon of this day General French's army was-trenched in the cornfields about the villages, principally that of Cateau, and holding the enemy for the time. But only for the time. To aid the devilish work of his field batteries and his infantry attacks; the German had brought up his heavy howitzers. The huge shells from these burst with vast and shattering explosions all along the English line, blowing men in groups to fragments, slaying by sheer concussion, and digging for themselves with their explosion great cavities that would bury men by the half-dozen. And as the day went on these monsters were moved closer and closer, until they seemed right on top of the defending trenches. Flesh and blood, one thought, could not stand this Gargantuan attack, but the British soldier stood it. Cheerfully he made jokes about the personal appearance of the shells, coolly he smoked his "fag," admired the self-sacrifice of his officers, talked football; and sat tight. When the Germans advanced their packed infantry, the packed infantry "got it in the neck." The rain of shells has yet to be fired that will damp the courage of the British infantryman.

Exhausted but Stubborn

Another night, and another repetition of the old story. The French still retiring, and the overwhelming enemy pushing forward with all his strength to envelop the left flank. And in actions the same old story, too. Once more the tired but stubborn English lifted themselves out of their trenches and went back. Far into the evening Sir Douglas Haig was manoeuvring his men and getting them back, with the skill of infinite capacity, along the road that goes through the eastern fringes of the Forêt de Mormal. As his men moved back, Sir Horace Smith- Dorrien stood firm, fending off the attack to the west. At ten o'clock the retiring force arrived in Landrecies. Here the utter exhaustion of the force called a halt, as it was seen to be impossible to move them further. The army bivouacked, and it was hoped that the enemy would hold off for the night at least.

Treachery !

It was a vain hope. At 9.30 and in the dark of the summer night the pickets of the Coldstreams guarding the road that came out of the forest heard the muffled approach of an armed force. They challenged, and out of the darkness there came a voice crying out, "We are the French. Do not fire." The men held their fire; for the French, in answer to an urgent demand from the English commander, were expected to arrive. The men were not the French. A soldier in a French uniform certainly got among the Guards; he put his hand out to a private to shake hands, and as the private responded he stabbed the defenceless Englishman in the stomach. Then at that signal the Germans in French clothing made a rush. They caught the Guards unaware, but only for a minute. The Coldstreams opened on them briskly, and soon the first line was falling back. But they came on again in enormous numbers, pouring down into the narrow streets .of the little town from out the forest in a river of men. The Guards, 150 in number, were not to be beaten back. They lay on their faces across the road and sprayed a withering fire on to the head of the advancing column. Their maxims, mounted in the road and on house-tops commanding the road, were rap-rap- rap-rapping all night, whirling their bullets into the Germans with the nervous urgency of sewing machines.

150 Guards Save the Army

The clamour of battle that filled the narrow canon of the street was indescribable. The attacking infantry were carved down in solid chunks of death. All night the Guards battled, while behind them an exhausted army snatched the life-giving sleep. If they had broken, that army would have been overwhelmed. The enemy brought up a gun, and at point-blank range it began to fire on the devoted Coldstreams. For a moment it seemed as though the defence must cave under that decimating impact of shell-fire. Finely the major rallied them: "For God's sake, boys, don't retire. Come on up," he yelled, and the ranks closed and fought afresh. Rush after rush was made at the little band, but it held firm. One of its gunners silenced the German. gun with a well-aimed shot, and under the relief of its silence the maxims and the rifles worked a more vigorous havoc in that congested place. By the time the little affair was finished the German dead were piled in heaps across the road, and 1,500 are said to have been accounted for. Further along the line, near Le Cateau, the 5th Cavalry Brigade were busy cutting up the advancing army and covering the retreat. The Royal Lancaster Regiment was doing the same thing, checking all assertiveness on the enemy's part by a disturbing rush of British steel. The Dublin Fusiliers were in the thick of it, fighting like demons, in the usual Irish way.

Visions of a Second Sedan

The morning of the 26th broke ominously. The left wing, under Smith- Dorrien, lay in an exposed position, and was meeting the full force of the concentrated German attack. Three hundred thousand Germans were trying their hardest to encircle the tiny force, 700 guns were firing at it and trying to batter it to pieces. It seemed impossible that anything could save the corps. The Germans were apparently of this opinion, for the Berlin Press Bureau came out with the triumphant pœan of a message that said, "The British Army, beaten before Maubeuge, has been forced to retire south. It is completely surrounded." Berlin became wild with joy, and visions of a second Sedan floated before the enraptured imagination of the populace. Indeed, the situation was desperate enough. Smith-Dorrien's force was attacked so fiercely that it became dangerous to withdraw it, because withdrawal would mean complete annihilation. It was impossible for General French to send any support; the French cavalry appealed to was far too exhausted to make a move in any direction. Alone General Smith-Dorrien's army faced an enemy pouring forward with the exultance of men certain of victory. On itself it alone depended, in itself was its own salvation.

A Magnificent Front

"There had been no time to entrench the position," and from unprotected fields " the troops showed a magnificent front to the terrible fire which confronted them," wrote the English commander, covering in those few words one of the most glorious days in the history of English arms. All day long the infantry fought under a shrapnel fire that might have "been turned on through a hose." All day long the English infantry stood firm against the swarming attacks thrust out against them. Six times did the enemy try to break the line, and six times the attack itself was broken and driven back. The enemy raged at the defenders with a hatred that was ferocious. Not only had the "contemptible little army" frustrated all their efforts to turn the flank and win the great battle for the German arms, not only had it saved the whole Allied line by the unshakable valour of its resistance, but it was scorning all the accepted rules of warfare, and refusing to be beaten when all the text-books could prove them crushed. No wonder the German raged at General Smith-Dorrien's men with all the passion of his packed masses. Smith-Dorrien stood between him and Paris. Smith-Dorrien held the door to France.

Brave Work

There was brave work done by brave regiments. The Dublin Fusiliers were well in it, and piling up honours for themselves. Whole ranks of the advancing foe were blotted out by the withering leaden blast from their rifles. The Dubliners were lying in a turnip field quite unprotected, and the enemy's machine guns played sad havoc with the ranks; but they gave as much as they took, and a trifle more. The Somerset Light Infantry did as well. Not only did they hold the Germans, but they turned back in their retreat and charged a line of hills set with villages. They had been marching for twenty-seven hours, but that made no difference; they went sweeping through the shrapnel straight at them. They got into the villages all right, but the enemy opened on them from a cornfield, and they had to retire. After the battle only two hundred men of the battalion answered the roll-call.

Desperate Moments

The Connaughts, too, got home with a magnificent charge, going through the enemy and tossing them aside like hay; in this way they retook from the enemy six of our guns. They were not even thoroughly satisfied with retaking them, for they went forward, driving the foemen back, and under their screen the gunners were able to creep up and draw the guns off. The Pompadours (Essex Regiment) were the heroes of a more dramatic moment. The heavy German cavalry came at them and tried to break them. The Britishers had only a moment to prepare, but without hesitation they came out of their trenches and rallied in groups. As they rallied, their rifle-magazines rapped off with the crisp fervour of defiance, and men and horses went down in ugly sprawling heaps. Still the horsemen came on. The thin voices of the officers could be heard against the din of the battle, and the naked sabres came slanting to the engage. The busy rifles flared again: and the cavalry charge was ended. The artillery, although outmatched by at least four to one, made a splendid fight and inflicted heavy losses. Five hours the guns fought under a determined shelling, and when they had to retire they went without flinching over open country through a fire that followed and searched every movement.

The Retirement

"At length it became apparent that, if complete annihilation was to be avoided, a retirement must be attempted," Sir John French's report states. This retirement was begun in the early afternoon, and the artillery and the cavalry covered it with fearless devotion. Smith- Dorrien fell back, as he had held on, fighting. Slowly and calmly the lines withdrew, and the enemy, exhausted by the determination of the resistance, was powerless to push home a victorious attack. So the day of days was over, and General Smith-Dorrien had saved the Army. "I say without hesitation that the saving of the left wing of the Army could never have been accomplished unless a commander of rare and unusual coolness, intrepidity, and determination had been present to personally conduct the operations." In those grave and sincere words Sir John French registers General Smith-Dorrien's claim to eternal fame. On that day the General commanding the British left wing took his stand beside Sir John Moore in the annals of his country.

Glorious Wednesday

That day, "the Glorious Twenty-sixth," was the last day on which the British arms had to bear alone the brunt of the huge German attack. On the two following days French forces, cavalry under General Sordct and reserve divisions under General D'Amade, came into line with our force and eased the awful pressure of the thrust. The retirement still went on, but the British took it more easily. On the 27th and 28th there was brisk fighting, in which the English cavalry scored well. In and about the woods of St. Quentin there was some grim work adoing. The German rush had not expended itself yet, and with their last efforts they still hoped to get through the Allies. But now they were held all along the line. When the pressure was at its height the Queen's Bays came in for a hot moment. They were surprised while watering their horses, and the horses were stampeded.

Tables Turned

As they were capturing them, shrapnel, canister, and mitraille were "just making the air scream" about their ears. The Bays got out their maxims and answered the foe with a calmer, better-directed fire, ho'ding on until the artillery came to their aid. In spite of their galling,

they remained firm, and when at length the guns arrived they were able to turn the tables with a vengeance. At the call of the trumpet the Bays were into their saddles and at the enemy that had teased them so long. Their charge swept on to the guns in a way. the Germans have not yet learnt to stop, and the net result of that little engagement was eleven Krupp guns and many prisoners.

As at Waterloo

On the field of St. Quentin, too, the Scots Greys and the Black Watch repeated history and made it afresh. They went at the enemy as they had done at Waterloo, the Greys charging, the Black Watch clinging to the stirrup leathers. "Our men came on with a mighty shout, and fell upon the enemy with the utmost violence. The weight of the horses carried them right into the close-formed ranks of the Germans." When they were well home the Black Watch broke loose, and joined the wild work of the bayonet to the slashing flail of the heavy cavalry sabres. The Germans, taken completely by surprise, were broken up and repulsed with tremendous losses.

The Last Phase

But by now the tide of the German advance was all but expended; it flowed on over the Aisne and to within striking distance of Paris, and then it slackened. In its expiring strength it caught the brave Munsters and cut them up severely. The Munsters had been left behind, and had to bear the brunt of the German attack. "They came at us from all points — horse, foot and artillery and all — and the air was raving with screaming, shouting men waving swords and blazing away at us like blue murder." The Irish lads stood up to them without the least sign of fear, and when the cavalry came down on them they caught them on their fixed bayonets, the rear ranks firing steadily. The Munsters would not surrender, and they tried their hardest to cut through the hemming wall of Germans. It was a brave, mad, awful fight, and if the battalion was all but exterminated, it went down with the colours of its high courage flying. And, in any case, it was a meet ending to the splendour of the retreat. For by now the tide had turned and was soon to be ebbing. There was to be a lull for a few days — and then Compiègne and all the glorious rush of the Allied advance that made the battle of the Marne.

Friday, February 28, 2014

With the British Army in August 1914

A Soldiers tale of the Great War

'Tales of the First British Expeditionary Force to France'

'Impressions of a Subaltern'

Told by "Casualty" (Name of Soldier Suppressed)

With the British Army in August 1914

I — When The First Battalion Swung Out

No cheers, no handkerchiefs, no bands. Nothing that even suggested the time-honored scene of soldiers leaving home to fight the Empire's battles. Parade was at midnight. Except for the lighted windows of the barracks, and the rush of hurrying feet, all was dark and quiet. It was more like ordinary night operations than the dramatic departure of a Unit of the First British Expeditionary Force to France.

As the Battalion swung into the road, the Subaltern could not help thinking that this was indeed a queer send-off. A few sergeants' wives, standing at the corner of the Parade ground, were saying good-bye to their friends as they passed. "Good-bye, Bill;" "Good luck, Sam!" Not a hint of emotion in their voices. One might have thought that husbands and fathers went away to risk their lives in war every day of the week. And if the men were at all moved at leaving what had served for their home, they hid it remarkably well. Songs were soon breaking out from all parts of the column of route.

In an hour the station was reached. An engine was shunting up and down, piecing the troop trains together, and in twenty minutes the Battalion was shuffling down the platform, the empty trains on either side. Two companies were to go to each train, twelve men to a third- class compartment, N.C.O.s second class, Officers first. As soon as the men were in their seats, the Subaltern made his way to the seat he had "bagged," and prepared to go to sleep. Another fellow pushed his head through the window and wondered what had become of the regimental transport. Somebody else said he didn't know or care; his valise was always lost, he said; they always make a point of it.

Soon after, they were all asleep, and the train pulled slowly out of the station.

When the Subaltern awoke it was early morning, and they were moving through Hampshire fields at a rather sober pace. He was assailed with a poignant feeling of annoyance and resentment that this war should be forced upon them. England looked so good in the morning sunshine, and the comforts of English civilization were so hard to leave. The sinister uncertainty of the Future brooded over them like a thunder cloud.

Isolated houses thickened into clusters, streets sprang up, and soon they were in Southampton.

The train pulled up at the Embarkation Station, quite close to the wharf to which some half-dozen steamers were moored. There was little or no delay. The Battalion fell straight into "massed formation," and began immediately to move on to one of the ships. The Colonel stood by the gangway talking to an Embarkation Officer. Everything was in perfect readiness, and the Subaltern was soon able to secure a birth.

II — Crossing The Channel On Transports

There was plenty of excitement on deck while the horses of the regimental transport were being shipped into the hold.

To induce "Light Draft," "Heavy Draft" horses and "Officers' Chargers" — in all some sixty animals — to trust themselves to be lowered into a dark and evil-smelling cavern, was no easy matter. Some shied from the gangway, neighing; others walked peaceably onto it, and, with a "thus far and no farther" expression in every line of their bodies, took up a firm stand, and had to be pushed into the hold with the combined weight of many men. Several of the transport section narrowly escaped death and mutilation at the hands, or rather hoofs, of the Officers' Chargers. Meanwhile a sentry, with fixed bayonet, was observed watching some Lascars, who were engaged in getting the transport on board. It appeared that the wretched fellows, thinking that they were to be taken to France and forced to fight the Germans, had deserted to a man on the previous night, and had had to be routed out of their hiding- places in Southampton.

Not that such a small thing as that could upset for one moment the steady progress of the Embarkation of the Army. It was like a huge, slow-moving machine; there was a hint of the inexorable in its exactitude. Nothing had been forgotten — not even eggs for the Officers breakfast in the Captain's cabin.

Meanwhile the other ships were filling up. By midday they began to slide down the Solent, and guesses were being freely exchanged about the destination of the little flotilla. Some said Bolougne, others Calais; but the general opinion was Havre, though nobody knew for certain, for the Captain of the ship had not yet opened his sealed orders. The transports crept slowly along the coast of the Isle of Wight, but it was not until evening that the business of crossing the Channel was begun in earnest.

The day had been lovely, and Officers and men had spent it mostly in sleeping and smoking upon the deck. Spirits had risen as the day grew older. For at dawn the cheeriest optimist is a pessimist, while at midday pessimists become optimists. In the early morning the German Army had been invincible. At lunch the Battalion was going to Berlin, on the biggest holiday of its long life!

The Subaltern, still suffering from the after-effects of inoculation against enteric, which had been unfortunately augmented by a premature indulgence in fruit, and by the inability to rest during the rush of mobilization, did not spend a very happy night. The men fared even worse, for the smell of hot, cramped horses, steaming up from the lower deck, was almost unbearable. But their troubles were soon over, for by seven o'clock the boat was gliding through the crowded docks of Havre.

Naturally most of the Mess had been in France be-tore, but to Tommy it was a world undiscovered. The first impression made on the men was created by a huge negro working on the docks. He was greeted with roars of laughter, and cries of, "Hallo, Jack Johnson!" The red trousers of the French sentries, too, created a tremendous sensation. At length the right landing-stage was reached. Equipments were thrown on, and the Battalion was paraded on the dock.

III — Landing in France — Tommies in Havre

The march through the cobbled streets of Havre rapidly developed into a fiasco. This was one of the first, if not the very first, landing of British Troops in France, and to the French it was a novelty, calling for a tremendous display of open-armed welcome. Children rushed from the houses, and fell upon the men crying for "souvenirs." Ladies pursued them with basins full of wine and what they were pleased to call beer. Men were literally carried from the ranks, under the eyes of their Officers, and borne in triumph into houses and inns. What with the heat of the day and the heaviness of the equipment and the after-effects of the noisome deck, the men could scarcely be blamed for availing themselves of such hospitality, though to drink intoxicants on the march is suicidal. Men "fell out," first by ones and twos, then by whole half-dozens and dozens. The Subaltern himself was scarcely strong enough to stagger up the long hills at the back of the town, let alone worrying about his men. The Colonel was aghast, and very furious. He couldn't understand it. (He was riding.)

The camp was prepared for the troops in a wonderfully complete fashion — not the least thing seemed to have been forgotten. The men, stripped of their boots, coats and equipments, were resting in the shade of the tents. A caterer from Havre had come up to supply the Mess, and the Subaltern was able to procure from him a bottle of rather heady claret, which, as he was thirsty and exhausted, he consumed too rapidly, and found himself hopelessly inebriate. Luckily there was nothing to do, so he slept for many hours.

Waking up in the cool of the evening he heard the voices of another Second-Lieutenant and a reservist Subaltern talking about some people he knew near his home. It was good to forget about wars and soldiers, and everything that filled so amply the present and future, and to lose himself in pleasant talk of pleasant things at home. The dinner provided by the French caterer was very French, and altogether the last sort of meal that a young gentleman suffering from anti-enteric inoculation ought to have indulged in. Everything conspired to make him worse, and what with the heat and the malady, he spent a very miserable time.

After about two days' stay, the Battalion moved away from the rest camp, and, setting out before dawn, marched back through those fatal streets of Havre, this time deserted in the moonlight, to a sort of shed, called by the French authorities a troop station. Here as usual the train was waiting, and the men had but to be put in. The carriages could not be called luxurious; to be frank, they were cattle- trucks. But it takes more than that to damp the spirits of Mr. Thomas Atkins. Cries imitating the lowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep broke out from the trucks!

The train moved out of the depot, and wended its way in the most casual manner through the streets of Havre. This so amused Tommy that he roared with laughter. The people who rushed to give the train a send-off, with many cries of "Vive les Anglais," "A bas les Bosches," were greeted with more bleatings and brayings.

IV — -Quartered in a Belgian Water-Mill

The journey through France was quite uneventful. Sleeping or reading the whole day through, the Subaltern only remembered Rouen, passed at about midday, and Amiens later in the evening. The train had paused at numerous villages on its way, and in every case there had been violent demonstrations of enthusiasm. In one case a young lady of prepossessing appearance had thrust her face through the window, and talked very excitedly and quite incomprehensibly, until one of the fellows in the carriage grasped the situation, leant forward, and did honor to the occasion. The damsel retired blushing.

At Amiens various rumors were afloat. Somebody had heard the Colonel say the magic word "Liege." Pictures of battles to be fought that very night thrilled some of them not a little.

Dawn found the Battalion hungry, shivering and miserable, paraded by the side of the track, at a little wayside station called Wassigne. The train shunted away, leaving the Battalion with a positive feeling of desolation. A Staff Officer, rubbing sleep from his eyes, emerged from a little "estaminet" and gave the Colonel the necessary orders. During the march that ensued the Battalion passed through villages where the three other regiments in the Brigade were billeted. At length a village called Iron was reached, and their various billets were allotted to each Company.

The Subaltern's Company settled down in a huge water-mill; its Officers being quartered in the miller's private house.

A wash, a shave and a meal worked wonders.

And so the journey was finished, and the Battalion found itself at length in the theater of operations.

I have tried in this chapter to give some idea of the ease and smoothness with which this delicate operation of transportation was carried out. The Battalions which composed the First Expeditionary Force had been spread in small groups over the whole length and breadth of Britain. They had been mobilized, embarked, piloted across the Channel in the face of an undefeated enemy fleet rested, and trained to their various areas of concentration, to take their place by the side of their French Allies.

All this was accomplished without a single hitch, and with a speed that was astonishing. When the time comes for the inner history of the war to be written, no doubt proper praise for these preliminary arrangements will be given to those who so eminently deserve it.

V — At Madam Mere's — Before The Storm

Peace reigned for the next five days, the last taste of careless days that so many of those poor fellows were to have.

A route march generally occupied the mornings, and a musketry parade the evenings. Meanwhile, the men were rapidly accustoming themselves to the new conditions. The Officers occupied themselves with polishing up their French, and getting a hold upon the reservists who had joined the Battalion on mobilization.

The French did everything in their power to make the Battalion at home. Cider was given to the men in buckets. The Officers were treated like the best friends of the families with whom they were billeted. The fatted calf was not spared, and this in a land where there were not too many fatted calves.

The Company "struck a particularly soft spot." The miller had gone to the war leaving behind him his wife, his mother and two children. Nothing they could do for the five Officers of the Company was too much trouble. Madame Mere resigned her bedroom to the Major and his second in command, while Madame herself slew the fattest of her chickens and rabbits for the meals of her hungry Officers.

The talk that was indulged in must have been interesting, even though the French was halting and ungrammatical. Of all the companies' Messes, this one took the most serious view of the future, and earned for itself the nickname of "Les Miserables." The Senior Subaltern said openly that this calm preceded a storm. The papers they got — Le Petit Parisien and such like — talked vaguely of a successful offensive on the extreme right: Mulhouse, it was said, had been taken. But of the left, of Belgium, there was silence. Such ideas as the Subaltern himself had on the strategical situation were but crude. The line of battle, he fancied, would stretch north and south, from Mulhouse to Liege. If it were true that Liege had fallen, he thought the left would rest successfully on Namur. The English Army, he imagined, was acting as "general reserve," behind the French line, and would not be employed until the time had arrived to hurl the last reserve into the melee, at the most critical point.

And all the while, never a sound of firing, never a sight of the red and blue of the French uniforms. The war might have been two hundred miles away!

Meanwhile Tommy on his marches was discovering things. Wonder of wonders, this curious people called "baccy" tabac! "And if yer wants a bit of bread yer awsks for pain, strewth!" He loved to hear the French gabble to him in their excited way; he never thought that reciprocally his talk was just as funny. The French matches earned unprintable names. But on the whole he admired sunny France with its squares of golden corn and vegetables, and when he passed a painted Crucifix with its cluster of flowering graves, he would say: "Golly, Bill, ain't it pretty ? We oughter 'ave them at 'ome, yer know." And of course he kept on saying what he was going to do with "Kayser Bill."

One night after the evening meal, the men of the Company gave a little concert outside the mill. The flower-scented twilight was fragrantly beautiful, and the mill stream gurgled a lullaby accompaniment as it swept past the trailing grass. Nor was there any lack of talent. One reservist, a miner since he had left the army, roared out several songs concerning the feminine element at the seaside, or voicing an inquiry as to a gentleman's companion on the previous night. Then, with an entire lack of appropriateness, another got up and recited "The Wreck of the Titanic" in a most touching and dramatic manner. Followed a song with a much appreciated chorus —

"Though your heart may ache awhile, Never mind! Though your face may lose its smile, Never mind! For there's sunshine after rain, And then gladness follows pain, You'll be happy once again, Never mind!"

The ditty deals with broken vows, and faithless hearts, and blighted lives; just the sort of song that Tommy loves to warble after a good meal in the evening. It conjured to the Subaltern's eyes the picture of the dainty little star who had sung it on the boards of the Coliseum. And to conclude, Madame's voice, French, and sonorously metallic, was heard in the dining-room striking up the "Marseillaise." Tommy did not know a word of it, but he yelled "March on" (a very good translation of "Marchons") and sang "lar lar" to the rest of the tune.

Thus passed peacefully enough those five days — the calm before the storm.