CAPTAIN R. J. MANION, M.C.
CAPTAIN R. J. MANION, M. C.
OF THE CANADIAN ARMY MEDICAL CORPS
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
NEW YORK LONDON
COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
Printed in the United States of America
MY WIFE AND BOYS
I AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATE
THIS LITTLE BOOK
The greater part of A Surgeon in Arms was written before the United States entered the war in April, 1917. Therefore, the Americans are not mentioned in many paragraphs in which the soldiers of the other allies are spoken of. The Canadian soldiers on the Western front have won undying fame for their marvelous feats in many actions, from the first battle of Ypres in April, 1915, to Vimy Ridge in April, 1917. As soldiers they take a place second to none. And, I believe, the American soldiers will, in the lines, show the same courage, dash, and initiative, and win the same fighting reputation and honors as the Canadians; for do not Americans and Canadians inherit the same blood, literature, history, and traditions; do they not both live in the same wide spaces, speak the same mother tongue, aspire to the same ideals, and enjoy the same free institutions?
I. Life in the Trenches
II. Over the Top
V. The Language of the Line
VI. Just Looking About
X. The Sick Parade
XI. Caring for the Wounded
XIV. Air Fighting
XV. Staff Officers
XVI. The Battle of Vimy Ridge
XVII. A Trip to Arras
XVIII. Ragoût à la Mode de Guerre (Trench Stew)
XX. Paris During the War
XXI. Paris in Wartime
XXII. In a Château Hospital
XXIII. On a Transport
XXV. On a Hill
A SURGEON IN ARMS
Life "out there" is so strange, so unique, so full of hardship and danger, and yet so intensely interesting that it seems like another world. It is a different life from any other that is to be found in our world today. In it the most extraordinary occurrences take place and are accepted as a matter of course.
I am sitting in a dugout near Fresnoy. Heavy shelling by the enemy is taking place outside, making life in the pitch-dark trenches rather precarious. A number of soldiers of different battalions on this front are going to and fro in the trenches outside. The shelling gets a bit worse, so some of them crawl down into the entrance of my dugout to take a few minutes' rest in its semi-protection. They cannot see each other in the blackness, but with that spirit of camaraderie so common out there two of the men sitting next each other begin to chat. After exchanging the numbers of their battalions, which happen to be both Canadian and in the same brigade, one says,—
"But you're not a Johnny Canuck; you talk like a Englishman."
"That may be; I was born in England. But I am a Canadian. I've been out there for seventeen years," the other returned a little proudly.
"Hindeed! I was in Canada only three years. W'ere'd you come from in old England?"
"Faversham! Well, I'm blowed! That's my 'ome! What the 'ell's yer name?"
"W'y, blime me, I'm your brother Bill!" Affectionate greeting followed, then explanations: The elder brother had gone out to Alberta seventeen years before while the younger was still at school. Correspondence had stopped, as it so often does with men. Fourteen years later the other boy went out to Ontario. When the war broke out, they both enlisted, but in different regiments, and they meet after seventeen years' separation in the dark entrance to my dugout.
On the front of our division, an order came through telling us that information was reaching the enemy that should not reach him. For this reason all units were ordered to keep a sharp lookout for spies since we feared that some English-speaking Germans were visiting our lines.
In our battalion at that time was a very good and careful officer, Lieutenant Weston. Rather strangely, one of the men of his platoon was a Corporal Easton. Shortly after the above order had come forth, Lieutenant Weston was sent out on a reconnoitering expedition by night into No Man's Land. He took as his companion, Corporal Easton. Over the parapet they crept between flares, and proceeded to crawl cautiously about among the barbed wire entanglements, shellholes, and ghosts of bygone sins and German enemies. At each flare sent up by us or the enemy, splitting the thick darkness like a flash of lightning, they pushed their faces into the mud and lay perfectly still, in order to avoid becoming the target of a German sniper, or even possibly of some over-nervous Tommy. If there is any place in this war where Napoleon's dictum that "a soldier travels on his stomach" is lived up to in a literal and superlative degree, it is in No Man's Land by night.
Their reconnaissance had lasted some two hours when they started to return to what they thought was their own battalion front. But, as sometimes happens, they had lost their bearings. While they were correct as to the direction toward the Canadian lines in general, they were really crawling to the firing line of one of the brigades to our right. Suddenly Weston, who was leading, found his chest pressing against the sharp point of a bayonet. He heard a voice hissing:
"Who goes there?"
"Two Canadians," he whispered in reply.
"All right; crawl in here, and no funny tricks or we'll fill ye full o' lead." At the point of the bayonet he and his corporal crawled over the parapet. They found themselves in the enlarged end of a sap that was being used as a listening post. In the darkness they could dimly see that they were surrounded by soldiers with fixed bayonets.
"What's yer name?" hissed the voice, for out there no one is anxious to attract a hand grenade from the enemy on the other side of the line.
"An' yours?" to the corporal.
"Weston—Easton; that's too damn thin. Now you fellows march ahead of us to Headquarters, an' if ye so much as turn yer head we'll put so many holes through ye, ye'll look like a sieve. Quick march!" And they plowed through the deep mud of the trenches till they were well back, then they came out and proceeded overland to H.Q.—headquarters. Here, after a few sharp questions, a little telephoning, and some hearty laughter, they were given a runner to show them the shortest route back to their own battalion.
Trench warfare as it has been carried on during this great war is different from the warfare of the past. Here we had—and have at the time of writing—on the western front alone, a fighting line five hundred miles long, with millions of the soldiers of the Allies occupying trenches, dugouts, huts, tents, and billets, on one side of the line, and the millions of the enemy in the same position on the other. For months at a time there is no move in either direction.
Trenches are merely long, irregular ditches, usually, though not always, deep enough to hide a man from the enemy. Occasionally they are so shallow that the soldier must travel on his stomach, during which time any part of his anatomy which has too prominent a curve may be exposed to the fire of the enemy. Of course this all depends on the architectural configuration of the traveler. Except trenches far in the rear, they are always zigzag, being no more than ten to twenty feet in a straight line, to prevent any shell's doing too much damage. The front trench is called the firing line; the next one, fifty yards or so behind, but running parallel, is a support trench; and other support trenches exist back to about 1000 yards.
Communicating trenches run from front to rear, crossing the support trenches. Here and there a communicating trench runs right back out of the danger zone, and these long trenches are at times divided into "in" trenches, and "out" trenches. Shorter communicating trenches run from support to firing lines. These different trenches give the ground, from above, the appearance of an irregular checker board.
The front wall of the trench is called the parapet, and the rear wall, the parados. Above the trenches, on the intervening ground, is overland. In the bottom of the trenches, when the water has not washed them away, are trench mats, or small, rough board walks. Sometimes the mud or sand walls of the trench are supported by revetments of wire or wood.
No Man's Land is the area between the firing lines of the opponents. It is a barren area of shellholes, barbed wire, and desolation, and may be from forty yards to 300 or more yards wide. Commonly, on standing fronts its width is about one hundred yards. Saps are trenches extending out into No Man's Land, and used for observation purposes or for listening posts. They may end in craters, or large cavities in the ground, made by the explosion of mines.
Dugouts are cavities off from the trenches, connecting with them by narrow passages. The dugout proper is a cavity, small or large, used for living in and for protection from shell fire. They may be superficial, having only two or three feet of sandbags—more properly, bags of sand—for a roof; or they may have a roof ten to forty feet in thickness. But the term is often used carelessly for any kind of shelter at the front.
At dusk and dawn the men usually "stand to," that is they stand, rifle in hand, in the trenches ready to repel any attack of the enemy. During the dark hours the men take part in working parties, or fatigues, to bring in water, clean the mud from the trenches, carry rations or ammunition, and dig holes or dumps in which munitions, flares, or equipment are stored. Fatigues are rather disliked by the men, for they are laborious and just as dangerous as other work in the lines.
In speaking to each other, and often in official communications, abbreviations are much employed among officers and men. For example: O.C., or C.O., is used to signify the officer commanding any unit, whether it be the Lieutenant Colonel in charge of a battalion, or the Major, Captain, or Lieutenant in command of a company; the M.O., or the Doc., is commonly the shortened form for the Medical Officer; and H.Q. signifies headquarters, and may apply to company, battalion, brigade, divisional, corps, or army headquarters, any of which would, generally speaking, be specified, unless the conversation or communication made it plain which was meant.
After big advances there are varying periods during which trench life is more or less abandoned for open warfare. After an advance the consolidation of the land taken consists of again digging trenches and dugouts, preparing machine-gun emplacements, bringing up the artillery, and establishing communications. During this transitory period the losses are often heavy, because of the poor protection afforded the men and the fact that the enemy is well acquainted with the ground which he has abandoned, willingly or unwillingly.
When a man has gone over the top of a front line trench in an attack on the enemy, he has reached the stage in his career as a soldier at which the title, "veteran," may honorably be applied to him.
For, to climb out of your burrow where you have been living like an earthworm into God's clear daylight in plain view of enemy snipers, machine-gunners, and artillerymen, and, under the same conditions, to start across No Man's Land toward the Hun in his well-protected and fortified trenches, is indeed to earn that distinction.
Many there are who have courted death in this form, again and again, and "got away with it." But it is a good deal like trying your luck at Rouge et Noir in the Casino at Monte Carlo. The odds are against you, and if you keep at it long enough you are almost mathematically certain to lose out in the end.
The boys know this as well as you and I. In spite of that knowledge, over the top they go again and again, by day and by night, with a smile on their lips, blood in their eyes, and joy in their hearts at the thought of revenging themselves upon the despicable Hun for his breaking of all the laws of civilization, for his utter disregard of the principle that "between nation and nation, as between man and man, lives the one great law of right."
Attacks in which the men go over the top are of various kinds and on different scales. The commonest are simply raids in which a small sector of enemy lines is the object. By them we endeavor to obtain prisoners for purposes of identification of the troops opposing us, while at the same time we depress the morale of the enemy.
Then there are the immense attacks, called pushes, in which we mean to push back the enemy, take possession of his lines, consolidate and hold them, killing, taking prisoners, and putting hors de combat as many as we can in the process. These pushes are always on a greater scale and require thorough organization and preparation to be successful. If they should fail, our last condition is worse than our first. We have not only wasted all our immense preparations but we have lowered the spirits of our own men, and raised and encouraged the fighting spirit of the enemy.
The man who is sitting comfortably in his library five or six thousand miles from the scene of battle notes on the map on his wall that it is only five inches from the firing line of the Allies to the Rhine. He may decide that it should be an easy matter to bring up a few million troops, break through the enemy lines, push a million men through the gap, cut the communications of the opposing forces, hurl the enemy back into the Rhine, and make him sue for peace.
On paper, and with the aid of a vivid imagination, this may look easy. In reality the preparations for a great advance are enormous. For weeks before the push, even for months, the staffs of battalion, brigade, division, corps, and army are planning it.
Dummy trenches are laid out from aerial photographs, taken by aviators, and dummy advances are practiced with all the details as in real advances. Our information must be so complete that we know even where certain dugouts are in the enemy lines, and who occupies them. This knowledge comes from prisoners and deserters. Raids are put on to know what troops are opposing us by the identification of prisoners. Medical arrangements have to be completed so as to handle the hundreds or thousands of casualties that must occur.
Immense guns must be brought up, and millions of shells must be piled along the roads and stored in dumps ready for use during battle. Water arrangements have to be made to supply pure water to the troops when they cross into enemy territory, for the enemy may have destroyed or poisoned the water supplies as they retired. Extra food rations and equipment must be supplied the men. Places of confinement for the hoped-for prisoners must be built. And, finally, thousands of extra troops must be brought up and trained for the attack.
The above are only a few of the preparations that must be made, for the details are multitudinous. The most difficult thing is that these preparations must be carried out so far as possible without the enemy's knowledge. For he also has his aeroplane scouts taking photographs and looking about for information, his observation balloons and his spies, his raids and his prisoners. It is even possible that we might have a deserter who betrayed us to him, though one feels that this must be exceedingly rare.
If the armchair critic has read the above he will perhaps realize a little more vividly than he has done before how difficult advances are and why it is more easy to talk of getting the enemy on the run than to actually do it. Once he has started to retreat and you to advance, your difficulties multiply and go on increasing in direct proportion to the distance that you get from your base of supplies. Your munitions, food and water must be transported from the rear over strange roads pulverized by shell fire, while your enemy is backing into greater supplies hourly.
One of the most difficult propositions is to keep the different parts of your immense organization in communication with battalion, brigade, and divisional headquarters. Many different methods are used.
Perhaps the most reliable is by runner, or courier, on foot. The runner has an arduous, dangerous, and often thankless, task, which he performs as a rule patiently, bravely and tirelessly. The telephone, telegraph, and power buzzer—the latter being sometimes used without wires, at a distance as great as 4000 yards—are commonly employed, though they have many disadvantages. The first of these is the difficulty in installing them in the face of heavy shelling and counter attacks by the enemy. Secondly, they are likely to be put out of commission, their wires being destroyed by shells. Finally, their messages are often picked up through the earth by your opponents with some apparatus invented for the purpose.
There are the semaphore and flashlight methods of signaling, and signaling by flares, all naturally very limited in variety of use, the latter particularly so. But flares are of great service when a hurried artillery retaliation is desired, S.O.S. flares then being sent up. The wireless apparatus on aeroplanes and the throwing of flares by aviators are also used to good account. But there are times when all these different methods are found wanting. Through force of circumstance a battalion or company may be completely isolated, and then it is that the last and least employed method, that of carrier pigeons, is resorted to. In each battalion are a couple or more specially trained carrier pigeons, and to speak of the "O.C. Pigeons" is a standing joke. The pigeons are rarely employed. It may be almost forgotten that they are with a unit, as was practically the case of one battalion at the Somme of which the following story is told:
The commanding officer had waited in vain for hours for some message as to the success or failure of a show one company was putting on. He was impatiently striding up and down when a poor little carrier pigeon fluttered into his presence. He hurriedly caught it, and untied from its leg the following message: "I am bally well fed up carrying this damned bird about. You take it for a while."
After all this preparatory stage is completed, when transport, artillery preparation, communication, maps, training, dummy advances, extra rations, water, medical supplies and equipment, are in order, the next move is to get all troops taking part in the advance into the most advantageous positions, unknown to the Germans. The men are well fed, given extra water bottles, "iron rations" are in their kits—that is, bully beef and biscuit—they are equipped only in fighting dress. By night they are marched into the trenches from which they are to go over the top, and after a few hours of rest, broken by shell fire, the zero hour, or hour of attack, arrives.
Just before the great advance in which the Canadians took Vimy Ridge, that hill consecrated by the graves of thousands of French, British, and Canadian soldiers, our brigade had made all these arrangements. We were to march into the line on Easter Saturday and go over the top the following morning at daybreak. But at the last moment we were delayed by a brigade order, due to information obtained from a German deserter, information that said that the Huns knew that we were to attack on Easter Sunday.
While sitting in my tent I was visited by officers on various missions, some to get dressings to carry in their pocket, dressings that they neglected getting till the very last moment; others to tell me that such and such a man was afflicted with that grievous malady, "cold feet," and if he should visit me on pretension of illness, to bear this fact in mind; and again others with no object but a pleasant word.
Among those who always had a humorous word and a smile, and whose honest eyes always looked at one fearlessly through his gold-rimmed spectacles, was Lieutenant Henderson—"Old Pop," as the younger officers always called him. After his usual courteous and kindly greeting we joked about the possibility, or rather the probability, of some of us not coming back from the great advance. No doubt he voiced the opinion of most of us when he said with a hearty laugh—
"You know, Doc, the main objection I have to death is that it is so d—— permanent."
The following day "Old Pop" was no more. His jolly laugh and his voice with its pleasant burr were to be heard no longer in our ranks. He had met death while bravely leading his men across No Man's Land like the gallant Scotch gentleman that he was.
Something which struck me then, and which still impresses me as extraordinary in looking back at it, was the buoyant, cheerful, optimistic spirit in which our army of citizen-soldiers looked forward to the day when we were to take part in one of the greatest battles in history. We knew it was to be a fearful and magnificent trial of strength out of which many of us would never return to the people and the lands we loved. And yet all awaited it with a gay, hopeful, undaunted optimism, asking naught but the opportunity, anticipating nothing but victory. It is unbelievable that the blind obedience of a militaristic kaiserism can ever subdue a soldiery who so freely offer their all on the altar of liberty.
The normal position of man on the earth is on its surface.
Generally speaking, when he is under the surface he is in his wine cellar, or he is dead. But at the front all this is altered. Both the enemy and ourselves have reverted to the cave age, for if we wish safety in the lines—comparative safety, that is—we pass our time in caves or cellars, dugouts or trenches.
Not that living underground would be taken as a matter of choice in the piping times of peace. For the mud and dirt of the trenches and dugouts cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to be comfortable or pleasant.
The fact that your only chance against a hidden enemy is also to hide makes your desires subservient to necessity. In fact, both the enemy and ourselves are continually burrowing deeper and deeper in each other's direction. At the end of the burrow or tunnel we place charges of dynamite to blow each other out into the open. The fear that your enemy may succeed in doing it to you first, and that some fine day you may awaken to find yourself sailing about in the heavens with no support but the explosion which sent you there, makes many a man on a dark night hear imaginary tappings, causing him to report that he fears the enemy are mining underneath us. More than once out of the pitch darkness has come into my dugout some lonely sentry to tell me that he has heard mysterious hammering underfoot, and only when we had located the real cause as something other than he thought, did his—and perhaps our—nervousness disappear.
On one occasion a non-commissioned officer came hurrying into the H.Q. dugout of a certain Canadian battalion. With hair standing on end he reported that an augur had actually come through the bottom of the trench in which he had been standing. The colonel insisted on investigating this himself, and found that a mole had bored his way through the ground.
These fears may have an unconscious effect in making everyone wish to get out of the semi-darkness of the trenches into the bright sunlight which dispels clammy feelings and fears as if they were mists of the morning. But the real reason for traveling overland is that at all ages and in every clime the forbidden or dangerous has its attractions. Thus it is that out there both officers and men, contrary to orders and upon the flimsiest of pretexts, climb out of the trenches and in more or less plain view of enemy snipers or observation posts walk again like ordinary human beings on the face of the earth.
This practice is very common where the trenches are muddy, or knee or hip-deep in water. It is the recognized custom after dark when working parties are carrying up ammunition or rations. Not rarely some of the men of these parties are hit by bullets put across from fixed machine-guns. It is a weird sight on a dark night to go overland and, in the dim light of the flares or star shells, to discern long rows of men trudging along with packs of supplies. They loom up suddenly before you; or, perchance, a column of the ever-useful packmules pass, patiently carrying their burdens overland. And often by day one comes across the body of a mule that was given rest from its weary toil by a German bullet, at which times one cannot but wonder if in a happier land the patient, plodding, much-abused packmule is given his just meed of appreciation and kindness.
When someone pays the price of his recklessness in going overland, the price is most often exacted by a bullet. What insidious little things bullets are! They sneak in and hit you without forewarning you in any way, and they may hit so hard that you do not know you are hit even then. Most men out there have more respect for them than for shells, for often you have time to "duck" against the side of a trench and so partly dodge a heavy shell.
But you can't dodge a bullet. It gives you a most uncanny feeling to be taking a short cut overland, and suddenly to hear a "ping-thud" just beside you, thus learning that some German is trying to pot you as you potted an innocent red deer on your last hunting trip. Or you may be walking quietly through apparently safe trenches, maybe dreaming of your loved ones at home, when a bullet thuds into the trench wall a few feet from your head, insolently spattering mud into your face. Then you know you are alive only by the grace of God and the poor aim of the German.
But, despite these risks, all take the chance of going overland to lessen a quarter-mile trip by one hundred yards, or to miss a particularly muddy bit of trench. Any day you choose when you are five or six hundred yards from the front line you may see scattered parties of men crossing in the open.
The regimental aid post of the —— Canadian Battalion in October, 1916, when they were doing their tour in the lines, could be reached in two ways—one by trench, a roundabout route of over a mile; the other one-half mile by trench and one-quarter overland. The former route was never employed, except on regular relief days, officers and men passing daily the one-quarter mile overland, only about six hundred yards from the enemy front line. The field ambulance stretcher bearers made the trip twice daily, and one day when I was crossing over with their sergeant I asked him why the German snipers did not hit us.
"Oh, 'Heiny' is too busy keeping himself out of sight to notice us," was the careless reply. But at times those crossing this space heard a bullet whistling nearby, or ping-thudding into the ground close to their feet!
After a raid by our troops one early winter's morning when I had been attending the wounded for some time I came up to take a breath of air. A trench led from this cellar of mine some two thousand yards to a village of reasonable safety, but the road cut off two or three hundred yards of that distance. This road was in plain sight of the Germans, yet some of our wounded Tommies, walking cases, were leading a crowd of five or six wounded Huns by the road, the party altogether numbering ten or twelve. As we watched them, suddenly, within a few yards of them, burst two shells. All the men broke into a double and jumped into a trench beside the road while a few more shells fell about. It is an ironical truth that the only members of the party hit were three of the Germans.
On a certain relief day when food was scarce a medical officer started for a Y.M.C.A. canteen in Neuville St. Vaast for some chocolate, taking a short cut overland, as he could save one hundred yards by this route. Meeting a soldier he stopped to inquire as to direction, and this saved the life of the officer, for a shell struck the ground a few feet ahead on the spot where he would have been had he not stopped. As he and the Tommy hugged a tree nearby two more shells struck the same spot, sprinkling them with earth. They turned and ran in the direction from which the doctor had come, amidst the roars of laughter of some soldiers in a trench at the sight of the rather corpulent form of the medical officer on the double; so little is thought out there of narrow escapes! And when the officer made the same trip in the dusk of evening he found that the canteen had run out of chocolate!
In what had once been a little village, but was now a mass of ruins, the trenches ran through the streets. Our mess was situated in the cellar of a house to which we could get either in a roundabout way by trench, or by crossing a road overland. No one ever dreamed of going any other route than the overland, despite the fact that the road was in plain view of the Germans who had fixed on it a machine-gun with which they now and then swept it from end to end. I admit frankly that I never crossed that road without a sigh of relief when I reached the other side.
It was on a Christmas day. I started out to make an inspection of my lines with my sanitary sergeant and a runner who knew the best routes. Arriving at a support trench, and wishing to go to the firing line, the guide started over the parapet. On being asked the purpose he said that it was a much shorter way, but, to my relief, the sergeant told him to go by trench, for often one would rather go through a dangerous zone than appear afraid of it in the presence of his men.
However, we made the examination of the lines. After we had finished the firing line and were returning, we found ourselves crossing overland by the route over which he had attempted to take us to the front. He had led us up a gradually ascending communication trench, and so unknown to us had reached this overland trail. Nothing happened, nothing was said about it, but I certainly felt relieved when I was once again in a trench without having a German bullet sneaking between my ribs. How little Tommy cares about risking his life if it lessens his task!
In passing, it may be mentioned that on this Christmas day none of that fraternizing took place which had taken place the previous Christmas. In fact, early on the Christmas morning the battalion on our left, after a severe bombardment, put on a raid, and Christmas night the enemy retaliated with heavy stuff of all kinds. Probably this is as it should be, for while it may look well in print to read of our troops and the Germans exchanging cigarettes and eatables in No Man's Land, it is detrimental to discipline, and injurious to the best fighting spirit. It would be much more repugnant to the Anglo-Saxon at any rate to kill men with whom he had just passed a pleasant social half hour. This may appear heartless, but war is a heartless game, and fraternizing may very well be left until after the peace articles are signed.
Kelly is my batman or personal servant.
His name tells his nationality. His philosophy, especially as regards the war, is usually interesting and always instructive. Yesterday he accompanied me to headquarters out in front of the railway line at Vimy. We had to cross a few hundred yards in the open, where the Huns had an annoying habit of dropping shells at irregular moments.
Suddenly we heard the horrible shriek of an approaching whizz-bang. It passed over our heads and banged into the earth twenty feet or so beyond us. Knowing that others would probably follow it, and that they might have twenty feet less of a range, we jumped into a four-foot-deep shell hole which happily was beside us. We hugged affectionately the German side of the hole to take advantage of whatever protection it afforded. One after another, in rapid succession, three more of these shells shrieked toward us. Fortunately our unuttered prayer that they would not come to see us in our hole was answered, for they followed the first and struck twenty or twenty-five feet past us, just close enough to sprinkle us well with mud. While we waited a few more minutes to see if any more were coming, I turned over and faced Kelly.
"Don't you think, Kelly," I asked seriously, "that lying in a shellhole like this is rather an undignified position for two proud Anglo-Saxons?"
"No doubt it is, sor, but it's a good dale safer than stayin' where we wor. An' if there's one sound, Cap'n, that I've larned to rispict more than another in this war, it's the shriek of an oncomin' shell, whin it sames to be comin' in yer direction. Now, duds (shells that fail to explode) is different. D'ye remember, sor, the day we come in to relave the 28th Battalion here, as the colonel, the adjutant, and yersilf were comin' over the crest of the ridge, an' I bringin' up the rear with that luggage of yours?" He looked at me reproachfully, for, though looking after my luggage was part of his duties, he never pretended to like it. "A dud landed just besoide us. The sound of a dud thuddin' into the earth nearboy one is swater to me than ever was the gurglin' of a brook on a June day down the banks of the Lakes of Killarney."
Kelly's advice is often worth taking, for he has been out there well into his second year, and, while he has not yet been wounded, no one ever accused him of lack of courage. He occasionally does things with a slight, almost imperceptible, grimace of pained surprise. But he always does them—when ordered. In my early days I was prone at times to take a peep over the front line parapet at the always interesting No Man's Land.
"Oi wouldn't do too much of that if Oi was you, docthor," he said respectfully, though at the time I thought there was also a trace of pity in his brogue, "fer out here it's not considered healthy. Me poor ould father, Lord have mercy on him, always tould me to curb me curiosity. An' a padre who had been here a long toime tould me whin first Oi come that his one bit of advoice to me was, don't be curious." I always encouraged him to carry on with his philosophizing, except when the dull look in his eye and his exaggerated stand-at-attention told me that he had somehow obtained my rum ration as well as his own. "Oi notice, sor, that thim that are here longest peep the laist; that's why they are here longest."
"Do you dodge when you hear a shell coming, Kelly?"
"It's always woise to duck, sor, fer with very big shells, which come slower, ye may be quick enough to get aginst the soide of the trinch and have the pieces miss ye; an', whin it's a whizz-bang er bullet, if ye're able to duck ye know ye're not hit!"
Just at dusk of a warm spring evening as we crossed an open field, we had the misfortune to find ourselves bracketed by German gas shells. That is, some of the shells were falling just short of us, and others were passing a little over us. We recognized that they were gas shells by the whirring noise they make going through the air and by the soft thudding sound of their explosion. But, had we had any doubt, that sweetish, though well hated, pineapple odor of the gas was reaching our nostrils. The previous evening we had had for some hours a heavy gas shelling about our aid post, during much of which we were either strangling from the gas fumes, which made some of the men dreadfully ill, or we were smothering to death with our gas masks on, doing dressings for wounded men. So, taking all this into consideration, we had no desire for a repetition of the dose.
The shells were thudding into the earth about seventy or eighty yards on either side of us, and our dangers were two: a straight hit by one of the shells, the result of which would be mutilation or death; or the bursting of one at our feet, as the inhalation by us of such concentrated fumes might mean a little wooden cross above us.
Behind the lines the gas masks or respirators are worn flung over the shoulder. In the lines the rule is to wear them in the "alert" position, that is, on the front of the chest with the flap open, ready for instant use. We had them in this position and were carrying the apparatus in our hands, so as to be able to insert the tube into the mouth rapidly if need be. Had we adjusted them at once we should have found it difficult to avoid falling into the numerous shellholes, for seeing through the goggles on a dusky evening is most unsatisfactory. My companion's practiced eye noted that the shells, while bracketing us, were falling much more thickly on our right than on our left. After he had drawn my attention to this we turned quickly to the left, and we had the good fortune soon to be well away from the explosions—it need hardly be remarked, to our intense relief.
"That was a happy observation of yours, Kelly," I remarked when we were out of danger, and were literally breathing easily again.
"Dunno but what it was, sor. Course a man shouldn't need a wall to fall on him to know that somethin's comin' his way." I could almost see his sly squint in my direction. He dearly loved to display his hard-earned knowledge, and, as he was too valuable a man to get angry with except for good reason, his remarks were generally accepted good naturedly.
Kelly is a strict disciplinarian, at least so far as others are concerned. While he takes liberties in passing his own opinions to me, he resents any other private doing likewise. In his presence one day at a sick parade a soldier who had been marked by me, M & D—medicine and duty, that is, given medicine but fit for duty—muttered something to the effect that one never gets a fair deal from a military doctor anyway. Before I could reprimand him Kelly hustled him out of the room, saying angrily:
"Begobs, ye may have been exposed to discipline, but it niver took." In his insistence on everyone else's carrying out all the laws of military discipline, while breaking most of them himself, he is the equal of almost any officer.
On a delightful spring day after the Battle of Arras, our battalion was holding the front line out beyond Thelus. My aid post was on a sunken road near Willerval, one of the many sunken roads which are talked about by anyone who has ever been at the front. The wounded had to be brought to us by stretcher bearers at night, as the whole front here was a huge salient with the Huns pumping lead forget-me-nots from three sides by day on the least exposure of our men.
So our work was all night work, and I lay lazily on a stretcher in an abandoned German gunpit, taking a sun bath. There originally had been a roof over this gunpit. It was made up of one-inch boards laid carelessly across steel supports, and in the remains of this roof two little swallows were gaily chirping, love-making, and nest-building for their family-to-be, ignoring entirely man's inhumanity to man. Kelly was sitting on his haunches, his gray head held on one side, thoughtfully watching these happy little birds.
"Well, Kelly," I demanded, "of what are you dreaming?"
"I was jest thinkin', docthor," he answered, without turning his head, "what a puny sinse of humor man has in comparison with thim swallows yonder."
"Have swallows a sense of humor, Kelly?"
"Have they a sinse of humor? Whoy, they're laughin' at ye this very minute"; I turned my head a trifle sharply in his direction; "an' at me, an' the rist of humanity. Listen to thim laugh. An' whoy shouldn't they laugh, whin they think what a gay world they live in, with room fer all of thim an' all of us; an' yet whoile they live, an' love, an' have their young, an' doie in peace, we min, wid the brains of gods, so we say, spind our toime invintin' new manes of killin' aich other? An' fer whoy? For a few acres of bog land, fer the privilege of christianizin' an' chatin' the haithin by givin' him some glass beads in exchange fer his iv'ry, an' his indy rubber, an' his spoices. Take a look yander at that skoylark. Wouldn't he do yer heart good?"
And he pointed to where one of those joy-giving birds was soaring "higher still and higher," and lavishly pouring out upon an ungrateful world his flood of harmony divine.
"What about liberty as opposed to this cursed German militarism?"
"Oh, yis, Oi'll admit there's a bit o' truth in that, but at bottom it's mostly commerce that causes war. Yis, Oi shouldn't loike to have the Prushin military heel on moy neck. God knows the Englishman in his toime has left a heel mark or two on the Oirishman's neck, but at that Oi'd rather have him, especially of late years, than that cursed Hun, fer he wears nails in his boots. An' Oi've hated the Englishman all me loife——"
"What the devil did you come out here for anyway, Kelly?"
"Ye're the first person that's ever hinted t'me that there's anythin' proivate about this foight. Ain't the Russhin, an' the Prushin, an' the Frinch, an' the Eyetalian, an' aven the Turk in this foight? Is there any just raisin whoy an Oirishman shouldn't butt in, too?" he asked in an injured tone. "But ye've intherrupted me strain of thought."
"Don't mintion it. Oi was goin' to say that, though Oi've hated the Englishman all me loife, Oi'd be afeard to live in his counthry, fer Oi'd get to love him. He's got such a dape sinse of humor. Whoy he praises ye Canadians till he actially makes ye belaive ye're winnin' the war, wid yer two or three hundred thousand min, whoile he's got a couple of million in the field."
"Who took Vimy Ridge, Kelly?"
"We did, sor, we Canadians, wid fifty to sixty percint of British born loike mesilf. An' a damn foine bit o' fightin' it was, too. Sure, truly, sor, Oi wouldn't belittle it fer anythin'. But Vimy Ridge is on'y a couple o' miles long, an' British troops are defindin' somethin' loike a hundred and fifty moiles, an' most o' that is held boy English troops, wid a scatthering of the hated Oirish and Scotch. Look at the casialty lists over a period an' ye'll foind who it is that's doyin' fer liberty. It's mostly the English and the Frinch as fer as Oi kin see. The Canadians have done nobly, sor, no one could denoy it, but they mustn't think they're winnin' the war all boy thimselves.
"The las' toime Oi was in Lon'on, the funniest comedy Oi seen was a couple of young Canadian officers on a bus tellin' an edicated Englishman how the Empire should be run. An' the Englishman listened without aven crackin' a smoile, whoile they criticoized Lon'on fer not havin' a straight street, an' fer havin' old-fashioned busses; an' Lide George fer his lack of firmness wid Oireland; an' so on, an' so on. An' the Englishman listened as if they were the woise min o' the aist, bowin' his assint to all their talk; an' at last he said, wid a long face:
"'There's no doubt you young gintlemen are roight. If we had a few more min loike the Hon. Mr. Hughes of Australia an' Sir Sam Hughes of Canada, we'd be in better shape now. Oi'm very happy to have met yez'.
"An' he shook their hands an' left, whoile they swallied what he said, bait, hook, loine, an' all. So Oi slips up to thim, an' salutin', Oi says:
"'Beggin' yer pardon, sors,' says Oi, 'but Oi happin to know who that man was. It was Lord Rothchoild, the great international banker.' It may have bin the Imperor of Choina, fer all Oi know. But they swallied that, too, an' ignorin' me, one says, 'An' he shook hands wid us!' an' on their faces was a bland smoile of choild-loike satisfaction.
"Oh, ye Canadians are great snobs, so ye are. Whoy Oi've heard yersilf laud to the skoies the noble part taken in the war be the blue-bloods of England. Sure ye're just as big a snob as any of the others. Er—Oi—Oi beg yer pardon, sor, Oi'm sorry fer sayin' it."
"How about thinking it?"
"The on'y thing Oi kin call me own since Oi jined the army are me thoughts. But Oi wouldn't think it aginst yer wishes fer the world, sor," and he smiled slyly. "Oi agree that the blue-bloods have fought well, but no better than the rist of us. An' they have somethin' to foight fer, whoile Oi'd like to ask ye what has a poor divil loike me to foight fer? Who'd support moy childer if Oi was kilt?"
"Your children! I didn't know you were married."
"Who said Oi was married?"
"All classes out here foight well. Oi agree wid that writer who said that all min are aloike except fer their close. Now, except fer our close, Oi don't suppose anyone would be able to tell which was the cap'n, an' which his servant"; with another sly grin.
"Probably not, except for the whiskey you drink."
"Oi may drink a slightly greater amount than ye, sor, but Oi notice we drink the same brand."
"Yes, I've noticed that, too, Kelly. That's why there's never any to offer any of my friends when they call."
"Oi assure ye, docthor, there's none of it wasted."
"Probably not, from your standpoint. Now, Kelly, I'd like some tea. And see if you can put a little less candle, currants, and sand in it than you did this morning."
"If ye'd lave the last half inch in the bottom of yer cup, sor, ye'd never know there was any thin' but tea in it"; and he left to prepare as good a cup of tea as one could desire, except for these extras which a paternal quartermaster always inserts into the various articles of diet. Of course, the fact that the tea and sugar come in sandbags, and the candles are put into the sugar to prevent breaking them, adds to this complication.
Kelly is a good cook, and no mean philosopher. He continually emphasizes the importance of what he calls, "a sinse of humor." One night when he had taken too much of what he called at various times, "the crather," "humor producer," "potheen," or "honey dew," I heard him say to a companion:
"As me frind, Lord Norfolk, says, there remain these three, faith, hope, and charity, and the greatest of these is a sinse of humor."
A day came when Kelly, going for water with two old gasoline cans slung over his shoulder, was struck by a shell. He was some seven hundred yards from my aid post at the time. Fortunately some stretcher bearers nearby went to his aid. Though the shortest way out was rearward, and well he knew it, he insisted on being carried back "to explain his absince to the docthor." I saw them bringing him in, and ran to him for, in spite of any faults, his never-failing loyalty and his good-humored and faithful service had endeared him to me. He had been covered by a coat of a stretcher bearer, so I could not see at once what his injuries were.
"Where have you been hit, Kelly?" I demanded anxiously, for his face was pale.
"Do ye mane, sor, anatomically, or jayographically?" and a wan smile lit up the pallid face, as his quick-witted humor got the better of his suffering. But I had taken the coat away, and I saw that the wound was fatal. Keeping my head low so that he could not see the expression on my face, or the tears in my eyes, I gently dressed the wound. He bore the handling without flinching. As I finished he said bravely:
"Well, docthor, they've done fer me this toime. Oh, ye naydent throy to hoide it from me; Oi know; an' Oi'd not care to have on'y half of me hoppin' about, anyway."
"Oh, we'll pull you through, Kelly, old man. You promised to be my chauffeur after the war; but I know you never did like working for me and now you're trying to dodge," and I tried to smile, but he saw the tears running down my cheeks.
"None o' yer jokes, now, docthor. Oi know it's all over wid me. And, raly, it don't matther, fer there's no one that cares," and, as I looked at him reproachfully, "except you, sor. An' God knows whoy ye do, fer I've been but an impident servant to ye. But, docthor," looking at me imploringly, "ye forgive me now, don't ye, fer it was on'y taisin' Oi was?"
"Dear old Kelly," I said, as I pressed his cold hand, "what have I to forgive? You're the best friend I have in all France." A lump in my throat prevented me from saying more. His hand returned the pressure, but there was no strength in it. Then to cheer me up, he said:
"Ye know, cap'n, Oi always did respict the cross, in the abshtract, of course, since Oi knelt at the knees of me poor ould mother, rest her soul; but Oi niver had any great desire to look up at one of thim little wooden crosses through six fate of earth," and the paling face lit up with its whimsical smile. "What's worryin' me though, is who'll look after yersilf. Ye're such a crank about how yer bacon's cooked, an' the sand in the tay, an'——" but just at that moment the padre came in from a neighboring battalion headquarters.
He had made me promise that if ever anything should happen to the wayward Kelly who should have been, but wasn't, a regular attendant at his church parades, I should send at once for him. I had done so as soon as I saw that poor Kelly was hard hit. I laid Kelly's hand gently down and slipped away. I was called hurriedly back a few minutes later by the padre.
"He wants you, doctor," he said briefly.
Kelly's eyes met mine. His were getting dim. As I took his hand, his fingers feebly gripped mine. I bent my head to catch the whispered words that issued from his lips:
"Good-by, docthor; Oi'm lavin' fer the great beyant. There's no use grumblin' an' Oi don't, fer Oi've had a full loife—me frinds often said too full, but sure they didn't know," with the faint smile. "But since that day whin ye showed me the picture ye carry over yer heart of yer three foine little byes—God bliss thim—Oi've wanted, whin the war was over, to go back wid ye and see thim. Will ye do me a favor, docthor, boy?"
His voice was growing feeble. The tears were flowing unheeded down my cheeks. I could not speak, so I squeezed his hand in assent. "Will ye talk to thim sometimes of Kelly? An' tell thim that wid all me faults Oi loved their daddy an' troied to sarve him well; an' that if Oi was sure me death would cause ye to be taken safely back to thim, Oi'd doie happy an' contint. God bless ye an' thim an'——" His voice died away, his dim eyes closed, and his soul passed into "that undiscovered bourne from which no traveler returns."
That night the padre and I buried him in a shellhole, erecting over his grave a little wooden cross on which we wrote:
PRIVATE JAMES KELLY
—st CANADIAN BATTALION.
A LOYAL, GENEROUS, FAITHFUL,
SOLDIER AND FRIEND
Talleyrand once wittily said that language was given us to hide our thoughts, and this saying might be enlarged by adding that slang was given us to hide our language. The Frenchman, in making this witticism, was referring not only to the beautiful language of Corneille and Molière, but to speech in general. However, if he visited the lines of the Canadian or British troops today, even though his knowledge of English were perfect, he would hear many words and expressions not found in the dictionaries of any country or heard in polite society.
Necessity is the mother of invention. It seems that in all national or international games, such as the sport of our American allies—baseball—or the sport of kings and emperors—war—necessity demands that a special language shall evolve. And so, around each and in the midst of each, an expressive, though sometimes inelegant, slang has grown up, understood and employed only by the initiated. In the case of the present war this slang is made up of a mixture of English, French, pantomime, and American or Canadian.
Some people give North America credit for a language of its own. On a visit to Paris some years ago I was passing the entrance of a theater on the Boulevard des Capucines when a grisette approached me with a "bon soir, cheri"; and proceeded to ask if I were lonely. Not desiring to be bothered, I replied shortly that I did not speak French.
"Oh, zat ees tres bien, monsieur," she replied coyly, "I spik zee A-mer-ee-can."
And many of our own brothers of the motherland do not admit that we Canadians speak the same language as they, but an accented modification of it, though they admire the pointedness of many of our expressions. I well remember the amusement caused in an English officers' mess by one of them telling the others that he had heard a Canadian say that he liked "the Englishman's accent." And with that charmingly bantering way that Englishmen have, he said with a smile to a couple of us Canadians present:
"Rawtha a jolly bit of side! Cawnt you see it, you priceless old things?" And at his request we all filled our glasses again; while one of the Canadians, for the sake of argument, expressed the opinion that the term accent might as truly be applied to the Englishman's "rawtha," as to our rather; or to the English "bawth," as to our harder-sounding and not so euphonious, but probably equally correct pronunciation of the word, bath. Of course, he was met by good-natured smiles of tolerance and pity, and the reply that since we think their pronunciation shows more euphony, why do we not pronounce as they do?
"Because if we did someone at home would probably hand us an over-ripe egg," was the answer.
The slang of the lines resembles a new system of Esperanto, since it takes in, in a cosmopolitan manner, all the languages of the neighborhood, as well as some whose existence may be doubted. For example, "no bon" means no good, and is a mixture of English, French, and a disgusted look.
"Na poo" (which is probably a mutilated form of the French "il n'y en a plus,"—there is no more) has a most versatile meaning, and is used in many different senses. Sometimes it signifies that some article of the rations is finished, as "the rum is na poo"—a not uncommon state of affairs. At other times it is used as we employ the slang phrase, "nothing doing."
For instance, one man asks another to have a drink, and he, having put himself, or having been put, on the Indian list, replies, "na poo for mine." Then there is the sense in which it is used meaning "killed." Bill Jones is killed, and somebody says, "Well, they na poo'd Bill Jones last night. Poor Bill, he wasn't such a bad old —— —— —— after all." (In the air service, when a man is killed, they often employ the expression that "so-and-so is gone east.") The above will illustrate, but by no means exhaust, the versatility of "na poo," for in variety of meaning it is almost in a class by itself.
"Compree" is another sample of broken—one could not say Anglicized—French, and it is employed with the signification, "do you understand?" or, in slang-Canadian, "do you get me, Steve?" And here it may be remarked that a Tommy possessing the above three expressions, na poo, no bon, and compree, with some additions from the sign language, although he knows no other word of French, is able to do anything with the French peasant from using his cook-stove to heat a tin of pork and beans to making love to his daughter. Of course the latter effort is no doubt helped by the fact that love is much the same in all languages.
Then all the different shells and types of trench-mortar ammunition have their nicknames, such as pineapples, rum jars, flying pigs, Jack Johnsons, fish tails, and whizz-bangs, all according to their shape, their sound, or the fuss they make when landing.
"To put on a show," is to make an attack on the enemy. "To get pipped" means to get wounded. If the wound is severe enough to cause the recipient to be sent to England, it is called a "Blighty," in which case, if the wound is not dangerous to life or limb, the others stand about looking enviously at the wounded man, and telling him he is a lucky devil. But if the wound is fatal, they say "he got his R.I.P."
The above will serve to illustrate the more common slang phrases used by the soldier and officer alike, for what Tommy does today his officers do tomorrow. There are, of course, many other slang expressions, some being more vulgar than expressive. Occasionally a group of men will impress you with the idea that they are so accustomed to slang and swearing that to call each other "a blank liar" is a password, as Kelly expressed it to me one time. And in passing it may be said that though words which would be fighting words in western Canada are common enough, fighting among the men is exceedingly uncommon. Good nature and good fellowship are universal, and it is rare indeed that even the hottest argument leads to blows. Probably the boys have instinctively decided that blows are for your enemies, not for your friends, and that fighting enough is to be had on the other side of No Man's Land.
But slang, swearing, or general "toughness" is no proof that a man is not an excellent soldier. Out there we have found that cool courage and self-sacrifice are as common among the denizens of the slum or the employees of the workshop or factory as among those who spend their time following the hounds or adorning drawing-rooms. Education and culture may develop the virtues, but they do not create them. By the same token poor or unhealthy surroundings may stultify the same virtues, but do not kill them.
I well recall a rough, uneducated, Irish-Canadian boy from Griffintown, who was in charge of a group of machine-gunners, and who was afraid of nothing on the earth, under the earth or over the earth. Fagan—that name will do as well as another—went up with his company to go over the top in an attack, but at the last moment they were ordered not to advance. A company of Oxford and Bucks just to Fagan's right were going over, and he, being disappointed at the cancellation of his order, pretended that he had not received it, joined the British with his section and went into the fight with them. He was such a bonnie fighter, and was so useful to the British that they were loud in their praises of the work of him and his men; for with his machine-gun he did much useful slaughter which he described on his return as "some beautiful pickin's."
On account of his good work and the high praise that it received from the British he was given a special leave of a couple of weeks to the white lights—or what remains of them—in London. As he left his little group of the men of his unit, all of whom loved him and all of whom his generous, brave heart held as brothers, instead of the usual "Good-by, boys, and good luck," he turned to them with a broad grin on his face and said:
"To hell wid yez all! May yez have to go over the top every damn noight whoile Oi'm away;" and with a wave of the hand, and amidst the laughter of his "byes," he started for the railhead.
But slangy sayings and swearing are not limited in use to the boys. A Major Garwell was somewhat noted for this habit, and sometimes spat out remarks quite thoughtlessly in company in which it were better he had not done so. On one occasion he had to interview a staid, dignified Major General Osborne of an English Corps to our left, and, differing in opinion with the latter, to the horror of the other officers present, he exclaimed vehemently without even knowing that he said it:
"But, damn your eyes, Osborne, that trench should run the other way."
To everyone's surprise the Major General only stared at him, seeing no doubt that it was a slip of the tongue, and not intentional disrespect. He also probably took into account the fact that the Major was a Canadian, from whom Englishmen hardly ever know what to expect in the line of discipline.
But a week later the English General showed that beneath a serious and dignified exterior he had a well-developed sense of humor. He was again discussing some engineering problem with our gallant Major before much the same group of officers, and turning suddenly he blurted out:
"But, damn your eyes, Garwell, I want this done my way." The General himself and even Garwell joined in the roar of laughter which followed. And now you have the reason that from that day to this the Canadian Major is always spoken of as "damn-your-eyes-Garwell."
At the front you never need to go beyond the day on which you write to find things of interest to tell those who have not known the life, who are so unfortunate as to have to remain hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of miles from the center of interest in the greatest game the world has ever known—the game of war—being played at this moment by all the highly cultured, civilized, and refined peoples of the world!
It is a bright spring day in May, 1917, for so-called Sunny France is trying to redeem herself after an abominable winter. I am sitting on a tin biscuit box at the entrance of my R.A.P.—regimental aid post—just on the outskirts of a ruined village. Had I taken this position one month ago my stay in the land of the living would have lasted something under ten minutes, for then the German front line was about three hundred yards away. But since that time the Battle of Vimy Ridge has come and gone, and the Germans are pushed back well beyond the ridge. So it is comparatively safe to sit here, for the only danger is from a stray shell, as it happens at the moment the Huns are too busy defending themselves from a heavy assault from the Canadians on our right to send any shells this way.
This morning a number of villages opposite our right front are to be taken, and as I sit looking about our guns are firing so continuously that they make what the boys call drumfire, that is, a continuous roll such as kettledrums make. Our artillery is so immense in numbers of guns that drumfire is common by day. By night the sky on the horizon is lit up in all directions by the repeated flashes of the guns, giving the appearance of an immense fireworks exhibition.
All about me are the signs of war. I am looking toward a mass of ruins which occupy the site of what was once a well-built and prosperous little city. All that now remains of it is a stone wall here and there, and everywhere piles of stone and brick and mortar. Not one roof remains. There on the left, that high pile of demolished walls, is all that exists of a once elaborate church. Amidst the ruins the cellars are occupied as habitations for the troops. If you wander among them you will see some strange names given to their quarters by the wags of the companies—such names as The Devil's Inn, Home Sweet Home, The Savoy, The Sister Susie Hotel, and other such devices.
But there is one object amongst the ruins that strikes my eye. It is two hundred yards from where I am seated. It appears plainly to be the shattered trunk of a tree, two feet in diameter and twenty feet in height. It is the largest in the vicinity of those that remain to wave their withered and emaciated arms in mocking derision at our so-called civilization.
Let us walk across to it together. Until we are almost touching it we recognize nothing but a shattered tree-trunk. On closer inspection we find that what appeared to be the bark is only a good paper imitation of bark, and its irregular upper end has been made by hand, not, as we had supposed, by the impact of a shell. Behind the tree, at its root, is a passageway down which we go to find ourselves actually entering the trunk through a small door. Looking up we see a perfectly made steel cylinder, up which steps lead to the top. Here a seat is placed and an observer may look through a small slit in the steel casing and through a split in the imitation bark, getting a good view of things far in advance.
This is the explanation of this strange affair: A large tree which stood upon this spot had been shattered by a shell, the shattering having taken place when the Germans held Vimy Ridge. This shattered tree was only four hundred yards from the enemy front line. Months before the Battle of Vimy Ridge some quick-minded engineer noticed this tree, and the idea occurred that it could be utilized to good advantage. The steel frame was made and covered in exact imitation of the tree trunk, all other arrangements made, and one night the tree was removed and this counterfeit of it was put up. When day broke an observer was sitting comfortably in this strange observation post looking out upon the enemy trenches, watching the movements of the Germans, at the same time being safe from any danger except the straight hit of a shell.
Now let us return to our biscuit box and see what else there is of interest. All about are sitting boys with red crosses on their sleeves. They are stretcher bearers for a field ambulance. Here and there is a gun position from which a bang and a flash come spasmodically, as the guns throw their lead and steel souvenirs at the Germans. To our right as we face the enemy lines is a much used road, up which we can see motor lorries by the score pouring forward their loads of ammunition. Then there are packmules, motor cyclists, ambulances and—a strange sight—cavalry are going forward.
Is the war changing from the old trench warfare of the past three years into open warfare of the past century? Ah! There is still another sight, and a pleasant one. It is a group of German prisoners going to the rear, guarded by a couple of Tommies. Word comes back that the attack which began some hours ago, and at which the guns are still mumbling and rumbling in anger, has been a success; the objectives have been reached and many prisoners taken, though the Huns are making a stiff stand of it.
Overhead aeroplanes are humming to and fro, looking far in advance of our troops, seeing the effects of our gunfire, signaling instructions to our artillery, watching the movements of the enemy, and generally acting as the eyes of the army.
In front of us, and to the left, is a crater—an immense hollow in the ground, caused by the explosion by the enemy or ourselves at some earlier stage of the war, of a huge load of dynamite, ammonal or some other high explosive. This crater is situated in what was No Man's Land before April 9 and the great push, at which time it was used as a killing place for our enemies. Now it is a burial place for our friends. The French Government has notified us that if, in burying our dead, we will put the bodies in groups of fifty in each burial plot, they will buy the hallowed ground, keep it in repair, and present it to the British people. And the corps burying party has utilized Lichfield Crater for this purpose, has gathered together fifty or sixty of our gallant dead, and deposited their sacred remains in this spot, erecting over the grave a large wooden cross with the names of the dead upon it. In limestone they have laid out the following epitaph:
To THE BRAVE CANADIANS OF THE SECOND
DIVISION WHO GAVE UP THEIR LIVES ON
R. I. P.
What hallowed shrines these cemeteries of fifty will become after the war, when those whose loved ones paid their full measure of devotion in the cause of freedom are able to come to visit the deservedly honored graves of their husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, and sweethearts. I visited this little cemetery this morning. As I left it some Tommies passed with a large, red paper balloon sent across by the Germans with the message, "Canadians, we are ready to quit if you are."
But the Canadians, the British, the Americans, or the French, are not yet ready to quit! Nor will they be till the day comes when Prussian militarism is curbed so thoroughly that your boys and mine will not have to give up their lives in conquering it ten years from now!
About a month after the Canadians had taken Vimy Ridge we relieved the —— Canadian Battalion in the town of Vimy, where our battalion was in support to another battalion holding the front lines some distance in advance. Our Regimental Aid Post on our previous stay in this town had been in the cellar of a brewery near the railway station. Since we had left the shelling in the neighborhood had become so severe that this cellar had been abandoned. It had caught fire and all the woodwork had burned up. Out of curiosity I visited this old cellar on our arrival at Vimy and found it still hot as hades from the heating up of the brick and cement. It was absolutely uninhabitable. So we were forced to search for other quarters.
The officers of No. —— Canadian Field Ambulance, with that camaraderie so prevalent out there, invited us to share with them a couple of old cellars to which they had gone on deserting the brewery. We accepted gladly. One of their two cellars they used as sleeping and eating quarters, the other as a dressing station where they were kept exceedingly busy attending the wounded. The Germans had the range of Vimy to a nicety, and with true German love of destruction they poured five hundred to a thousand shells into the ruins daily. Whenever the Germans are driven from a village, their practice is to ruin it by high explosive shells sent from their new line of defense. And these two cellars were about the center of the Vimy target.
The previous day two officers of the field ambulance were standing a few feet apart in a little room off from the cellar used as sleeping quarters. A table stood between them, on which were two lighted candles. Suddenly through the floor above came a four-inch shell, just missing the table, and sinking into the floor. Fortunately for the two officers it did not explode—it was a dud. The rush of air caused by the shell extinguished one of the candles. The other remained lighted. It may be understood easily that the officers felt a bit unnerved. After staring at the hole in the floor for some moments, Captain M—— picked up the lighted candle in one hand and the extinguished one in the other and endeavored to light one from the other. His hands shook so that he could not make the candles meet. After a number of vain attempts to bring them together he gave it up. His nervous system was so shaken that he was sent to the rest station on two weeks' leave.
We arrived shortly after the shell had gone through the cellar. Captain M—— himself told us of it, and his humorous description of his attempts to get the candles within six inches of each other was ludicrous in the extreme.
After an appetizing supper eaten in the cellar with the officers of the field ambulance, we medical officers took turns attending to the many wounded who were arriving. All went well till eleven o'clock that night, when we heard the whirr of gas shells coming in our direction. As they burst close to us, we soon smelt their penetrating, pineapple odor. The Huns continued to pour them in large numbers in our direction, and, as the town of Vimy is in a hollow at the foot of Vimy Ridge, the atmosphere soon became laden with the poison gas which, being heavier than air, sinks to the bottom of any hollows. The air in our cellars became saturated with the filthy, death-dealing gases in spite of the wet blanket which we hung over the entrance to prevent their entering. Had we been able to stay in the cellar and keep the blanket tightly placed over the entrance, our misery would have been much less, but wounded were coming in from all directions and we had to keep going in and out, in turns, to the cellar in which we did our dressings. The gas kept thickening every minute.
To add to the discomfort these gas shells contained two gases. One entered the lungs, causing congestion of their tissues followed by inflammation, suffocation, and death if a sufficient amount were inhaled; the other, lachrymatory gas—called tear shell gas by the soldiers—which not only inflames temporarily the conjunctiva of the eyes, but is cursedly irritating while it lasts.
Naturally we quickly adjusted our gas masks. But, as it was fifty feet from one cellar to the other, and we dared not flash lights to pass over the stone and mortar of the fallen walls, we found it necessary to remove our masks for moving, as well as for the purpose of tying up the wounds in an acceptable manner. Thus, by midnight, our eyes were as red as uncooked beefsteak and they felt as if they had been sandpapered. Our lungs on each respiration felt as though they were gripped in a closing vise. The gas masks act by filtering the inhaled air through a chemical, which neutralizes the poisonous materials in the gases. When we removed them we had severe attacks of coughing which were relieved only by breathing through the mouthpiece of the masks.
Hours dragged slowly by. Still the whirr of approaching shells and the soft thud of their bursting continued. Misery? Never elsewhere had we experienced anything akin to it—the inflamed eyes; the suffocation in our lungs; the knowledge that inhalation of sufficient of the gas would put us into Kingdom Come. We knew that we could easily get out of this poisonous atmosphere by climbing to the top of Vimy Ridge, only a few hundred yards behind us. But we did not, for that would be deserting our posts.
All these things combined to make it the most miserable, soul-torturing night we had ever experienced. And, to add to it all, our artillery was in a hollow nearby where the gas was so thick that it prevented our gunners from retaliating, making it all take, and no give. We all learned that night what it felt like to long to desert. We learned that there are times when a man who is brave enough to be a coward deserves sympathy. But, thank God! there are few such men in our armies. The brave man and the coward, both, at times, experience the same sensation of fear, the coward allowing the emotion to conquer him, while the brave man grits his teeth and carries on.
For nearly five hours we endured this misery, wondering when we would have inhaled enough of the poison to put our names among the casualties. One of the strange things that struck me during that long night was that I heard no word of censure or condemnation of the Germans who were the cause of our suffering. We cursed war in general; we cursed Vimy and all that pertained to it; we cursed the inactivity of our artillery; and we cursed the gases; but the misery was taken as one of the fortunes of war, and no one wasted his breath in vain attempts to beat the Germans with his mouth—as Lord Roberts expressed it at the beginning of the conflict. Often when I am five thousand miles away from the firing line, sitting, perhaps, in a smoking-car, and listening to the abuse of our enemy, I think of this circumstance.
After nearly three hours of the wretched gassing, I had been lying for some little time in the upper of two bunks, wearing my mask, feeling very much smothered, and wondering if it were pleasanter to die quickly from the gas or slowly from the mask. For the masks give a most uncomfortable feeling of impending suffocation. Finally, I decided that I preferred the gas to the mask. I pulled it off, swore softly to myself, and muttered that I chose a quick death in preference to a slow one.
"Same here, doc," said a jolly voice from below me. "I took off my bally mask some time ago, and have been lying here wondering how long you were going to endure it."
Looking down I saw the smiling face of Captain S——, a chaplain, who had been there the previous day, burying some of our brave boys who had paid the greatest price that man can pay. He was a most courageous chap, always good-humored under any circumstances, and the gas had not lessened his courage. We joked for a few moments, then we tried, without success, to argue courage into a little cockney for whom this was a cruel initiation into the firing line, and whose "wind was up," as the boys express it when a man's nerve is about all gone. I don't know what happened to the little cockney in the end, but my last memory of him was that he was still arguing that this was no place for a white man, with which sentiment we all agreed. Shortly we were glad to reapply our masks, as the air became almost thick enough to cut with a knife, and that vise on our chests kept tightening.
Though the night seemed a thousand years long, it finally came to an end just as our nerves were at breaking point. The gas masks had been on our faces for the better part of five hours. What sighs of relief we gave as those abominable shells ceased to come over, and in their place we heard the crump of high explosive shells! Dame Nature completed the blessing by pouring down a drizzling rain which dissolved the gases and cleared the air, the rain then lying in opalescent pools in the shell-holes.
How glorious God's fresh air seemed to us after that atrocious experience! With what pleasure we laid aside our masks, though they had without doubt saved our lives! How exquisite to feel that the grains of sand between our eyelids and eyeballs seemed to be absorbing! And what a satisfaction to know that, despite the agony of it all, we had done our bit like men; for the greatest gifts that God can give are those necessary for the playing of a man's part!
Day was breaking when two runners came from the officer commanding B Company, to tell me that he wanted me to come over to the railway embankment, where his dugout was, to see a number of his men who were suffering severely from the gas. To come for me these boys had to cross a field for three hundred yards where the enemy were dropping Jack Johnsons—immense high explosive shells. The boys had nearly been caught by one of them, and they thought it unwise to recross the ground just then, as the shells were still falling. I leaned against the ruins of this old stone building, and watched the shells exploding for some minutes.
Gas attacks have a most depressing and demoralizing effect on everyone. I have never made a trip with as little pleasure as that I felt at the thought of this one before me. A medical officer can, but very rarely does, refuse to go to cases. He may insist on having them brought to him, as there is only one medical officer to a battalion, and his death may make it awkward for his unit till he is replaced by another surgeon from the nearest field ambulance.
However, though there was no let-up to the shelling, there was no alternative but to go. So I called the runners and my corporal and we started over. Whether it was due to the depressing effects of the gassing that we had gone through I know not, but at any rate this was the only occasion during my service at the front on which I had a real presentiment that death was going to meet me. Distinctly do I remember expressing to myself the following inelegant sentence:
"I believe this is the last damn walk that I am ever going to take!"
But, fortunately, presentiments seldom materialize. Our trip across that field was without even a narrow escape. The shells obligingly burst not closer to us than two or three hundred yards, and we reached B Company headquarters in safety. There a number of men were in rather a bad condition—as a matter of fact, one was dying—from the effects of a shell which had struck directly into their dugout. It killed one man by impact and gave the others such a concentrated dose of the gas as to put them into a dangerous condition.
As a result of this gas attack many of our men had to go to the hospital, and those of us who escaped that were depressed for several days. Gassing weakens the morale of troops. Men do not fear to stand up and face an enemy whom they have a chance of overcoming, but they do hate dying like so many rats in a trap, when death is due to a gas against which they cannot contend except by keeping out pure air and breathing through masks a mixture of carbon dioxide, poison gas, and air.
Fighting with gas is cowardly and is against the rules of civilized warfare. Only a race which cares for naught but success, no matter how attained, would employ it. True, we now retaliate in kind, but we should never have considered this method of warfare as worthy of civilized man, except in self-defense. If you are fighting a wild beast of the jungle, jungle methods are in order. I, for one, believe that retaliation is the only method to combat an enemy who has shown himself ready to use any means to attain his end.
When one battalion goes out of the line it is relieved by another, and no section or company of a battalion may go from its point of duty until a corresponding section or company has relieved it. Reliefs, except on very quiet parts of the line, are usually carried out by night to keep the enemy from being aware that they are going on. A severe shelling during a relief is always more likely to cause many casualties than at other times. Battalion H.Q. goes out last. As each company or section is relieved it notifies H.Q., and when all are relieved, H.Q. takes its departure, having handed over all necessary documents and information to the incoming battalion.
Because the human nervous system can stand only a certain amount of abuse battalions can be kept in the line only a certain length of time, which depends upon the activity upon that front, upon the exposure of the lines to the enemy, and so the extra nervous strain, or sometimes upon the urgency of advance or retreat. A relief may be very welcome, or very unwelcome, depending upon the same things, but also to a certain extent upon the quality of the dugouts in the lines, and the kind of accommodation outside. For, strange to say, the dugouts in the lines may be preferable, even with their added danger, because, on arriving at your rest station, your battalion may find, instead of the good billets they hoped for, a few forlorn-looking one-inch board huts, with only one-half the required accommodation, the temperature below freezing, and no stoves; or you may find only tents; or you may find virgin forest in which you are to build your own camp, while the rain comes down with monotonous persistence.
It is midnight in the late winter, and the adjutant, Major P——, and I are just leaving H.Q. dugout on our way to reserve billets. The trenches are very dark, the light from the stars overhead not reaching to their depths. We throw down a glare from a flashlight, and a Tommy's voice angrily cries:
"'Ave a 'eart there, myte; d'ye think ye're the only man in the army? Douse the glim." So we douse it, and decide that the best way to keep peace in the army is to pick our way along. Gradually our eyes become accustomed to the dark, and instinctively our feet keep on the trench mats as we twist and turn along the trenches. An occasional flare or star shell from the front lines aids us for a moment, but plunges us into deeper darkness afterwards. Our feet slip on the semi-frozen mud of the mats, over our heads in both directions shells sing at intervals, and we hear the pounding of the guns and bursting shells before and behind us. In the quieter moments we can hear a quarter of a mile away the rattle of transport wagons on the hard road as they bring their nightly loads of ammunition and food to the dump where we are going and where we expect to find our horses.
We arrive at the dump, and here one might think he was in the midst of a large city market just before the dawn. Limbers, general service wagons, pack mules and men make a jumble of hurrying, scurrying workers. No lights dare be shown for fear of drawing the shells of the Germans, who have the range of this dump and have been shelling it during the day. Someone tells us our horses are just around a bend in the road, and we make our way there, and find the grooms holding the animals, which have become cold and restive with waiting.
Mounting, we start on a five mile ride along a hard stone road, dodging and picking our way among transport wagons and foot soldiers all along it. The road is bordered with trees which look like phantoms in the sighing night breeze. The stars are twinkling brightly and peacefully; to our left the big guns flash and roar and their shells sing overhead, and on the other side flares are being thrown up by the battalions in the line. The north star is well up to our right, so we are riding due west.
We approach a corner where we turn a little northward. Flashing from the window of a small house on the corner is a light that should not be there. The adjutant who is a strict disciplinarian draws up his horse opposite the sentry and proceeds to "strafe" him for negligence. (How many new words during the next few years will be the result of the war!) We take the road to the right and a couple of miles in advance we see the dim shadows of those ancient and architecturally beautiful towers on the hill of Mont St. Eloy. The Huns have for some days been trying to complete their ruin, recently destroying a corner.
At 2 a.m. we arrive at wooden huts just behind the towers. Our Colonel, who had preceded us, with that fine thoughtfulness that characterized him, had arranged that a battalion in some adjoining huts supply us with tea and toast—a banquet after our cold night ride. By 3 a.m. we are sleeping fast on the floor in our Wolseley kits, as we are to rise at 6 a.m., for by 7 a.m. the battalion is to be on the march to a wood four miles back. As the camp we are in was shelled yesterday by the Germans, causing thirty casualties, we had better get out of range while we can.
At the appointed hour we are all up, our kits are rolled and piled on a transport by our batmen, and a hurried breakfast of bacon, bread and tea partaken of. I see a few sick and send a couple to the field ambulance, the battalion marches away, the camp is inspected to see that all is spick and span,—for each battalion must always leave a clean camp behind it—and we are on the road to map location W 17 c 4 9, the only description we have of our new home.
As we start we pass the bodies of five dead mules, victims of yesterday's shelling. The roads are crowded with soldiers, horses, and motor transports of all sorts. It is a bright cool day—Sunday by the way—and a picturesque scene meets the eye. In addition to the busy, hurrying roadway traffic, the fields show life of varying forms and pictures of interest to a seeing eye. On one side in a field stands a battalion forming three sides of a square. The fourth side is filled by the regimental band playing, "Lead, Kindly Light," the padre standing beside them. It is an open air church service. As far as the eye can see are military huts, tents, drilling soldiers, and piles of ammunition, but in the distance, overtopping all, is the spire of a church, dumbly supplicating us to send our thoughts upward to the Prince of Peace, as everything on earth seems to tell us to give our minds to the Gods of War. And sailing high above the church steeple are two military aeroplanes, like guardian angels ready to protect their loved ones. Beyond them in the dim distance hangs the lazy, sausage-shaped form of an observation balloon. Above the earth, on the earth, and under the earth, one sees war, war, war!
Here and there one passes white limestone farmhouses of France with red tiled roofs, the buildings forming a square about the court. The latter is filled to overflowing with its ever-present pile of manure, at one side of which always stands the well, raised, it is true, a little above the manure dump, but built of brick and mortar through which in many cases permeate the fluids from this cesspool in the center. A medical friend of mine once told me that the peasant farmer objects to chloride of lime being put on the manure, as it gives a disagreeable taste to the water!
Then as far as the eye can see the fields that are not employed for military purposes are tilled and cultivated. How it is done is something very difficult to understand, for one never sees anybody working in them except an aged man and woman, or a young child. Those in the prime of youthful manhood are all fighting for their adored country, la belle France. On the corner of one of these cultivated areas stands one of those small, stone shrines so common in France. This one was erected, so it said in carved letters, in 1816, "to the honor of his beloved child, Eugenie de Lattre, by her father."
The date unconsciously carries one back to the great Napoleon. If he could rise from his magnificent tomb in the Invalides and look about him in the midst of a war which dwarfs his famous battles into insignificance, what would his thoughts be? No longer would he see his famous guard on prancing steeds and with flowing plumes charging bristling British squares, as they did in his last great fight at Waterloo. He would find them in somber, semi-invisible garb, standing shoulder to shoulder with their one-time hated enemies, the latter clad in plain khaki, both facing the same foe, the Prussian, whom he had once humbled by marching into Berlin, but who had later helped the British defeat him at Waterloo. And many he would see groveling in the earth in trenches, dugouts, and tunnels, like so many earthworms. Some few he would discover who, with the French love of the spectacular, are sailing thousands of feet in the air, or leagues under the surface of the sea.
We pass through a village, Camblain L'Abbé, where we go into the town major's to inquire about water supplies for our men. The town major, a Canadian of fifty, reminds one of us of an old friend of the same name in Chicago, one of the many Canadians who has made good—very good—in the United States. It is a brother!
So, it is being continually shown that this war has made the world an even smaller place than it was before. Our information obtained, we move on to our new camp, a virgin forest one-half mile above Camblain L'Abbé, where there is no sign of tent, hut, or dwelling of any kind. But the men are already lolling happily on the bare ground, ignoring the pounding of our guns a few miles north and inhaling with anticipatory pleasure the fragrant odors of stew, steaming in the Battalion field cookers just below the brow of the hill.
The busy work of turning an open forest into a camp to be occupied by one thousand men for a week or more is already in progress. The tents have not arrived, but brigade has promised to get them along shortly. Plans are being made as to where each company is to be, where orderly room will be most convenient, what is the best position for the H.Q. and the other officers, where the cook houses, cookers, water carts, latrines, refuse dumps, canteen, batmen's quarters, medical inspection tent, shoemaker, tailor, transport department, and the hundred and one other departments and sections are to be located.
You see, it is not as easy as it sounds to take a thousand men and encamp them in a proper manner. Gradually the chaos is subdued, and as tents and half-built huts come they are quickly placed in their proper positions. While it is all in progress one is likely to stumble over the Colonel who has stolen half an hour from his busy work to sit on the ground and eat some bully beef, biscuits and chocolate, and who insists on everyone else doing the same; or to bump into the corpulent form of the R.S.M.—regimental sergeant major—who is everywhere, directing everything, in the way that only a R.S.M. can do, though his crossest word is usually grumbled through a smiling ruddy face, for his heart is proportionate to his large size.
The day advances, night is coming on, and the tents have arrived only in sufficient numbers to cover one-third of the officers and men. Fortunately the sun still shines, though the March air is getting colder. A sleep in the open air promises to require extra blankets which do not exist in the camp. However, everyone smiles, and there is at least a gradually, though slowly, increasing amount of cover for the men of the battalion. Some of the men, wiser perhaps through previous like predicaments, are choosing the sheltered side of a small hill, and are digging shelters for themselves over which they are putting coverings of boughs. As it turns out they are wise, for in the end only sufficient coverings come for two-thirds of the battalion, and consequently, a few officers and quite a few men sleep in the open with only a blanket and their overcoats for covering. And Nature, the deceitful jade, who had smiled kindly upon us all day and promised us a dry, though cold, night, about midnight and for two days succeeding poured torrents of rain down upon us.
The sick parade grew larger and the ground became lakes of mud. The cook-houses—so-called—which were only fires built in hollows, had their fires so drowned that we all ate primitive diet as well as lived most closely to nature. Everyone, as usual, had his consolation in laughing at the discomforts of the others, till order came out of chaos in the days that followed.
To anyone who has served any time at the front the above word will bring back recollections of various kinds, for dugouts are of varying types. The term is employed to denote any shelter in the neighborhood of the firing line, from the funk hole which is only a recess cut into the side of a trench with little or no shelter above it and none at the entrance, to the cavity dug down into the ground a distance varying from ten feet to seventy, and strengthened by supports of wood, steel, or concrete. It is also loosely used to denote cellars, caves, and shellholes which may be employed as means of protection from rifle bullet, shrapnel, or high explosive shell.
It is probably true in dugouts, as in many of the other necessities of war, that we learned much from the German, for he was probably the first to recognize the protection rendered by a well-built—or, rather, well-dug—reënforced hole in the ground. At various times when we have taken portions of the German lines we have found well-made homes underground, with two or more long entrances, one at either end, so that if one is hit by a shell, the other affords a means of exit to the inhabitants.
Those we took at Vimy seemed almost free of rats, which statement could not truthfully be made of our own dugouts. I don't know whether the German has some method of getting rid of rats, but I do know from practical and irritating experience that the German either has no method of freeing his dugouts of lice, or else thoroughly enjoys the company of vermin. None of us who occupied his underground dwellings, even if only for a few days, came back free from these annoying and disgusting companions. So tenacious and clinging were they that it took repeated baths and changes to free us of them. One might conclude that they had been treated in a brotherly way by the Hun.
Of course, as Kelly said, scratching is common in the best circles out there. The man who has to reach over his shoulder in an attempt to remove an irritation from that almost unattainable spot between the shoulder blades is not shunned or looked at askance, but serves only as a source of amusement to his companions. Underwear searching is a common, very common, form of pastime. Though you may have been a very dignified and sensitive soul, your sensitiveness gradually dulls until you care not a "hoot" who may see you sitting in a brilliant sunshine anxiously scanning your clothes; or rising at midnight from a much-troubled sleep and by dim candle light beginning the often well-rewarded inspection.
So far as the ordinary Tommy is concerned, he ignores not only his acquaintances but the world in general. There he sits in his bare pelt and performs a massacre which in numbers dwarfs almost to infinity the killings of the Armenians by the Turks. In the town of Vimy I one time passed a jocular, though profitable, hour at this occupation while I sat on the floor of the cellar of an old brewery with a Scotch padre on one side of me, and a Nova Scotia major on the other, all absorbed in the same intense search, while above our heads the shells every little while hit the fallen walls of our shelter. And through the thin-walled partition that separated us from our soldier-servants we heard propounded a most momentous question which showed us that they too were employing their time to advantage. The question was:—
"Say, Kelly, what the h—— will all the lice do for a living after the war?" And for once Kelly was floored.
Often dugouts are but shelters dug into the wall of a trench, a thin sheet-iron roof put on top, and two or three layers of sandbags on top of that. This gives protection against bullets, shrapnel, or bits of shell, but a straight hit from a medium-sized shell would go right through. And yet it is strange how seldom these are hit direct, considering their large numbers. This may in part account for one's feeling of relative security while in them, but this feeling is no doubt also partly due to our resemblance to the ostrich which hides its head to avoid danger. Be this as it may, many a good night's sleep have I passed in shelters such as this, with shells bursting within one hundred yards at frequent intervals during the night. During the month previous to the Battle of Arras my orderlies and I lived in an abode of this nature most of the time, only 500 yards from our front line trenches. Shells continually fell well within the hundred yard radius of it—as a matter of fact, shortly afterwards this dugout was completely blown in—yet no one worried in the least about it. This is not told as a strange experience, for all officers who have served at the front have often lived in the same surroundings. This experience is related only to illustrate one type of protective shelter.
Deep dugouts vary in depth anywhere from ten to forty or fifty feet in cases where the soldier has had to do all the digging, but in some cases where limestone quarrying has been extensively carried on there have often been found, ready to hand, caves, sixty to one hundred feet in depth, such as the famous Zivy cave, opposite Mt. St. Eloy. There are many of them about this region, some of which, as the one mentioned, are large enough to give shelter to 1000 men. Usually there is a circular airshaft in the center. This shaft in Zivy cave was the target for months for German gunners, as they had occupied this region, and knew it well. In fact the story is told that in this cave, or one of the others near about, 800 Germans were gassed and killed by the French when they retook this ground. How much truth is in the story it is difficult to say. But at any rate, all through the hard, cold winter of 1916-17 the Canadians who were holding this front found good protection and some warmth in this cave for many of their men, though at all times the air in it had a grayish tinge, as the ventilation was hardly up-to-date.
On one occasion at 11 p.m. Colonel J—— and the writer found Zivy cave as welcome a sight as ever struck the eye of man. Coming into the trenches, we stumbled into a heavy Hun artillery barrage. After a number of close shaves, in two of which we were buried in mud from the exploding shell, we were heavily dragging our feet through the thick mud of Guillermot trench when a shell struck full in the trench twenty feet in front of us, nearly bursting our ear drums. We pressed closely against the wall of the trench, awaiting the next. It came almost immediately, landing thirty feet behind us,—bracketing us.
"The next will get us, sir," I said.
"Not on your life, doctor," cheerfully replied Colonel J——. And he was right, for a few moments later we were stumbling into the entrance of Zivy cave, and that slimy, dark, four-foot opening was more welcome to us than would be today the spacious rotunda of the Savoy. I always admired the Colonel's cheerful confidence, but, as Kelly well said, "Confidence is a foine thing, but it raly has very little affict in stoppin' a Hun shell that's comin' yer way." This, the Colonel unfortunately found out in the Battle of Arras.
From one of these deep caves on the Vimy front previous to the battle of Easter Monday, tunnels miles in length, electric lighted, were built, leading to different headquarters, aid posts, ambulance depots, and to various points in No Man's Land. They were of inestimable service when the day of battle arrived. No doubt they will be among the show-places of France to encourage tourist traffic after the war.
The entrance to deep dugouts is usually only high enough to go through in a stooped position; and in this case the easiest way to enter them is to back down. After some practice one gets accustomed to this manner of progression, and it becomes easy—as if our bodies had reverted to the days of our cave-dwelling ancestry to accompany the turning back of civilization's clock. The two entrances preferably point away from the enemy lines, but in case of advance the enemy dugouts may be taken over in spite of the fact that their entrances seem to invite a shell to enter. And, rather strangely, shells rarely seem to make a straight hit on an entrance.
Cellars are quite often utilized as shelters where a little village has become incorporated in the lines. They often make comparatively luxurious places of residence for officers and men, as luxury goes in these parts. The fallen brick walls, in addition to the cellar roof, give fair protection, though a straight hit by a shell would mean a good chance of death to those within. As breweries are usually the most palatial buildings in French towns, they are often chosen as headquarters, or as dressing stations either for field ambulances or regimental aid posts. A brewery at Aix Noulette which, not excepting the church, was the only building not destroyed by shell fire, for many months served as a most complete advanced dressing station. The rats were plentiful, as they are in most dugouts, and often their little beady eyes would stare in a startled manner at one's flashlight, and their bodies remain in a sort of hypnotized immobility. But this brewery gave shelter to thirty or forty patients, and was exceedingly useful, till one day a selfish artillery officer came along and placed a battery of heavies just behind it to draw German fire on the brewery. This is a disagreeable habit of the artillery, to choose hitherto safe locations and to turn them into uninhabitable ones, to the disgust of those about.
One cellar dugout in Calonne is worthy of description. It was in the cellar of what had been a large residence. We used it as a regimental aid post, and it was by far the most luxurious that I have had the pleasure of seeing. In the room of the cellar occupied by the M.O. the walls had been papered, a fireplace installed, and it contained two comfortable beds, arm chairs, two carved oak-framed mirrors, and a well-tuned piano with a stool. This was only four hundred yards from the front line. Often as the shells dropped all about us a group of officers sat there in the warm glow of a coal fire—the coal probably filched by our batmen from the fosse nearby—while someone of a musical turn played the piano, and the others sang such classical ditties as, Annie Laurie, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, and Another Little Drink Wouldn't Do Us Any Harm.
One morning, after a night of jollity such as this during which the shelling had been fairly heavy, one of the orderlies found a "dud" in the next cellar which, had it exploded, would have jolted the piano a bit! An engineering officer mentioned to me that he had been passing the previous night, and could not believe his ears when he heard the singing and the piano accompaniment. Could he be blamed?
I hasten to add that this was the only dugout in which such luxury as this existed, or anything approaching to it. This cellar had one other advantage. It still had enough of the walls and roof standing to allow us in spare moments to look through the holes made by shells and see what was happening in No Man's Land. And on one occasion the writer stood up there and watched every detail of one of the most successful raids ever put on by a battalion on the British front.
It was a cold winter's day, and the ground had a complete covering of snow. Just at daybreak a box barrage was put on a part of the German line on our front. Our men climbed out of the trenches, and apparently at their leisure went across to the German lines. One of the men carried a telephone with wire coiled about it which he unrolled as he went, and Major R——, M.C., telephoned back to H.Q. in our lines that all was proceeding well. They returned with one hundred prisoners, at that time a record number for a raid. The boy, aged twenty, who had carried the telephone coolly rewound his wire, and brought phone and wire back with him, getting a bullet in the thigh, but finishing his work, and later receiving a military medal for his conduct. I was called down from this interesting sight to dress him and some others of our wounded, as well as many German wounded who were brought in prisoners.
For those who are unacquainted with barrages, it may be explained that a box barrage is a heavy shelling put on the enemy lines in the form of a box, taking in the front line and some of the supports in such a manner that those within it cannot get back and reinforcements are unable to come up from the rear. The enemy are then dependent upon shell, and machine-gun, and trench mortar fire in retaliating.
We obtain the identification of the troops opposite by the prisoners taken, as well as getting from them in different ways information useful to us and detrimental to the enemy. Of course the enemy employs like methods, but during the winter of 1916-17 on our different fronts we positively owned No Man's Land.
The handling of the sick is not so easy a matter as the caring for the wounded in the lines, for the reason that it is not what disease the man has that the medical officer must decide as much as whether he has any disease, or has simply joined the Independent Workers of the World. In other words, is he really ill, or is he just suffering from ennui, has he at last become so "fed up" with it all that he has decided to go sick, running the gauntlet of an irate M.O. with the hope of receiving a few hours or days of rest at the transport or in the hospital? It may be a lucky father who knows his own son, but it is a fortunate medical officer who knows his own battalion. If he does it is fortunate for the M.O., for it makes his toils lighter. But it may not be so fortunate for the poor devil who has just decided that once again he will endeavor to "put it over" the doctor. For the latter gets to know the regular parader, and meets him with a suspicious look of recognition.
"Well, Jones, and what is it this time?" asks the M. O. in tones so cold that the poor victim can almost taste Pill No. 9, or Castor Oil as he listens. If he is not ill, but is simply sick and tired of the mud, dirt, rats, lice, discipline, and discomfort—as we all get at times—he will have to tax his ingenuity and his acting ability to convince the doctor that his pains in his legs and back are real, not imaginary; or that his right knee is swollen, when the practised eye of the physician says it is not. If he is an old soldier and knows the game well, he may get away with it, sometimes with the tacit consent of a sympathetic medical officer.
Tommy is not the only one who endeavors at times to get out of the lines with imaginary ills. His officers, and some medical officers for the matter of that, occasionally set him the example. It is very human on occasions to long for comfort instead of discomfort; cleanliness in place of dirt; a decent, white-sheeted bed in exchange for a hard, uncomfortable, and possibly vermin-infested bunk; and to wish to indulge in peace, quietness, rest, safety, and civilization after the noise, fatigue, dangers, and barbarism that give truth to the saying that war is hell. But the officer gets the same treatment as does his men. On one occasion I saw a colonel removed from an ambulance to make room for a badly wounded Tommy.
And it may safely be said that if the ordinary soldier hates the sick parade, his abhorrence of it is mild in comparison to that felt for it by the battalion representative of the Army Medical Corps. It is a thorn in his side that makes itself felt daily. And the reason is that he is between three fires,—the Assistant Director of Medical Services who expects a low sick rate in the different units; the battalion and company commanders who expect the men on parade, which means fit and on duty, while at the same time insisting, quite rightly, that the men get every attention at the hands of the medical department; and a certain small percentage of the men for whom the novelty and glamour of the war has worn off and who have become tired of the food, and find the work arduous and monotonous. It is this small percentage of the men—not large in numbers, but present in most units—who make the work difficult, for they begin to wonder how they can escape the working parties or the dangers and hardships of the trenches, and if by any chance they have varicose veins, flat feet, rheumatism, short sight, or any of the thousand and one ills that man is heir to, they immediately begin "swinging the lead," as the boys call malingering. In the Royal Army Medical Corps they call it "scrimshanking."
The M.O. is not popular with leadswingers or scrimshankers. A witty Tommy once said that all you can get from an officer of the medical department is a pill number nine—made up mostly of calomel—"an' if 'e hain't got a pill nine 'e'll give ye a four an' a five."
No doubt the man who "swings the lead" is to be sympathized with at times. Often he is given work to do almost beyond human endurance, his dugout may be a mudhole, his clothes soaking from a downpour of rain, his rations short, and, finally, perhaps the rum ration, the one cheery thing on a dark day, is missing. He has done his bit anyway—or thinks he has—and his only possible relief is to say that he is too ill to go on the next day. Occasionally, he has an attack of what a sharp little French Canadian sergeant called frigidity of the feet, and he dreads his next tour in the front line. At any rate, for one cause or another, he decides to go before the M.O. And many funny stories are told of the attempts made by men to get a few days' "excuse duty," which means a few days with nothing to do. Two men are overheard at the following conversation:
"Say, Bill, what are you goin' to tell the croaker?"—a common name for a stern M.O.
"Oh, I've got bad rheumatic pains in my back."
"The devil you have; that's what I had. Well, I'll go strong on diarrhea."
Each tells his story. It depends on how sick they appear or how often they have been before his medical majesty in the past as to the result. The latter at least may work a day off, at the expense of a nauseating dose of castor oil, taken at once, and some lead and opium pills, consigned to the gutter as soon as the sick man is out of sight. The former probably gets M.&D., that is medicine and duty, which translated means, carry on, with perhaps a good rubbing of his back with a strong liniment.
My corporal told me a story of two men who opened a can of bully beef and for four days left it standing on the parapet during hot weather. Then they ate it with the hope of getting ptomaine poisoning.
Another chap is said to have feigned insanity by giving all his attention to snatching up every bit of paper he could find in the trenches or out of them, and studiously endeavoring to make the bits of paper into some important document. He carried out this apparently foolish search so long that at last he was pronounced insane and given his discharge from the forces. On receiving his discharge papers he studied them carefully as he walked away. Another soldier heard him murmur:
"Why, that's the paper I have been searching for all the time."
Deafness is one of the commonest complaints of a soldier who is scrimshanking. The soldier tells the M.O. that for some months past his hearing has been lessening and that at last he is so deaf that he cannot carry on. He claims that while on sentry duty or "standing to" in the front line he has already nearly shot one officer and three different men because he could not hear them giving him the password. The M.O. in a loud voice questions him as to his name, place of birth, age, and so on, and so on, keeping his face straight and his lips hidden, to avoid allowing the soldier, if really deaf, to read his lips. Gradually the voice of the officer is lowered, and the man who at first had difficulty hearing his loud tones, unconsciously, if faking, answers the lowered voice till he is answering to a voice that is almost a whisper.
Then comes suddenly a change in the manner of the "croaker." He becomes stern and rebukes the man, ordering him forth to do his duty like the other men of his battalion, and not ever again to dare to come on parade with a plea of deafness, under a threat of marking him plain "DUTY," which means criming and a likelihood of twenty-eight days first field punishment.
Looking backward one can think of many amusing incidents in which some chap tried to get out of the lines, and perhaps succeeded in so doing, by an imaginary ill. A soldier named Jones who had not been long in the lines became a regular caller upon me. As usual at first every consideration was shown to him, but as his face appeared and reappeared almost daily, and as the said face was suffused with the glow of health, his form of the robust type, and his complaints always functional—that is, consisting of symptoms only, with no signs of a real disease to cause them—I began to feel certain that he was a "lead-swinger." On his first call or two he had been "excused duty," but as my suspicions grew firmer that he was simply shifting his work onto the shoulders of some other poor Tommy, my manner toward him grew rather reserved, and finally antagonistic.
About this time he came to see me at one of my daily morning sick parades. He tried to look as ill and dejected as his very healthy appearance would permit.
"Well, Jones, what is the trouble this time?" I asked harshly when his turn came.
"I can't swallow, sir. I can't get any food down my throat. I don't know what's the matter, sir, but I had this happen to me ten years ago, and I nearly died. I was in the hospital for three months."
"How long since you have swallowed any food, Jones?"
"Well, I managed to get down a little, night before last, but not a bite since then, not a bite. And I'm feeling awful weak. I don't think I could carry on long like this. But of course I'll do my best, sir."
"Yes, I suppose so, Jones," I answered, feeling certain that he was lying. "Of course a few days without food really does most of us good. A friend of mine regularly goes a week on nothing but water whenever he feels a bit 'livery,' as the English say. And then you remember there was a man once who went forty days fasting. He became quite famous. So another day or two won't hurt you, Jones. However, if it went too long it might become serious. So I want you to report back here tomorrow morning, sure, if you have not succeeded in swallowing by that time. I have in my panier a stomach tube, and we'll pass it down through your esophagus and open it up. It's a very tender passage," I continued without smiling, "and you must expect severe pain from the passing of the tube; unfortunately we have nothing to deaden the pain, but you can stand it if you make up your mind to do so. Now you do your best to swallow like a good fellow, and I think you will succeed, but be sure to come back tomorrow if you don't. That'll do, Jones. Next."
As a matter of fact I had no stomach or esophageal tube, but I was just trying out a little Christian Science treatment, for, as Dooley says, if the Christian Scientists had a little more science and the medical men a little more Christianity it would not matter much which you called in, so long as you had a good nurse. And the moral treatment proved effective in this case, for Jones did not come back next day; nor did we see him again till nearly a week had passed when he came in on parade again.
"What's doing this time, Jones? Can't swallow again?"
"Oh, no, sir. I got my swallowing back all right." I could hardly resist the temptation to smile. "But since then I vomit all my food. Haven't kept a thing on my stomach since I saw you, sir. I saw your man, Kelly, the other day, and he was so unkind as to tell me that I had better take something with claws in it. He seemed to think I was swinging the lead, and I'm a sick man, sir," with an injured air which, however, did not take any of the healthy red from his cheek. I stepped outside and asked the corporal in charge of the sick from his company what diet Jones was able to eat.
"Diet! He don't eat no diet, sir. He eats every darn thing in sight and looks for more," was the sneering reply.
"I thought so. Now, Jones," I said sternly, "if you come on sick parade again, when you are not sick I'm going to put in a crime charge against you for malingering. Now, get out."
And he got out, and that was the last time I saw him on sick parade.
The chaps who fake are nearly always new arrivals in the line. One such came hopping into my dugout in the middle of the night, with his boot, sock, and puttee, off one foot which he carefully kept off the ground. He said he had been blown up by a shell and buried, severely injuring the foot he had bared. I examined the foot tenderly and found a swelling half the size of an egg just over the inner side of the ankle. He howled with pain when I touched it, so my examination was rather cursory—that is hurried. Without diagnosing the condition, I swabbed it with iodine, merely to do something, and applied a dressing, telling my assistant to make out a hospital entry card for him. After leaving him to go back to my bunk, for I was tired, I happened to glance around and saw a broad grin on his face. Stepping back I took off the dressing, and carefully examined the swelling notwithstanding his protest that it was very painful. I found then that it was simply a fatty tumor—an excess, but harmless, growth of fat in a localized area—which had probably been there for years. He then admitted the fact that the swelling had been there for years, but of course still claimed that he had hurt his ankle a few minutes before. As it showed no sign of it, he went back to duty!
Every medical officer has many such incidents after a few months of service. They often add a bit of humor to a dull business. Rather strangely, the parades are always larger out of the lines than in them, for the vast majority of the men hold it as a point of honor to stick it out, no matter how rough it may be, while in the line. But as soon as the battalion gets out of the line and hard training, route marches, equipment cleaning and inspection begin, the parades increase in size. Often the men hope that they will be given excuse duty, which means that they have nothing to do for that day. Or, should the parade be held at a late hour, some few of them prefer to stand about the M.O.'s tent awaiting their turn, to doing some drill or route march. The sick parade is held daily at a fixed hour, and as a rule the earlier the parade the smaller the number who come. If it is held before all other parades, only the really ill come, for the others would but add to their daily number of parades if they came pretending to be ill.
A medical friend of mine had an interesting way of keeping down the numbers at his parade. He was a young man with a ministerial air, wore eyeglasses, and was apparently very serious, though underneath the outer covering was a rich vein of humor. When his numbers grew too large to suit him, in other words when fifty to one hundred came, to practically all he gave an ounce of castor oil, to be taken in his presence. One day the colonel came to him and said that he had had some complaints from the men that the only thing they got from the M.O. for all complaints was castor oil. The medical officer's face remained long and serious, and looking at the colonel over his spectacles, he said:
"Well, do you know, my dear colonel, that castor oil is a wonderful remedy, marvelous, almost miraculous. Can you believe it on my sick parade a week ago today there were seventy-five sick who came. I have given them nothing but castor oil, and so many are cured that today only seventeen came to see me. It's really an astonishing remedy. Wouldn't you like to take an ounce of it, sir?"
"No, damn you, I wouldn't," roared the colonel, as he made his exit.
I was sitting in his tent one day when a lieutenant came in to see him, saying that ten years before he had broken his clavicle—"collar bone,"—and that over the old fracture he was having so much pain at times that he feared he would have to get a month off.
"Ah, yes, my dear Mr. Blank. Would you kindly divest yourself of your clothes till I examine the shoulder?" and the half of his face on my side screwed itself up into an exaggerated wink, which meant to me that he considered that this officer was trying to "put one over." He probably knew him!
When the officer had stripped, Capt. Smith asked him to show the exact spot of tenderness, and the lieutenant put his finger with exactitude on a certain point. Captain Smith touched the spot with his fingers, the officer exclaiming, "Oh, that hurts, doc," and drawing back in pain.
"Ah, yes, I'm sorry, but I'll be careful, Mr. Blank," and he examined gently the shoulder, arm and chest, but always finished the examination by pushing in fairly hard with his finger and saying, "Now that's where it hurts, Mr. Blank?" And Mr. Blank would each time cringe with the pain of the touch. He repeated this again and again, but I noticed that each time he came back to the tender spot he chose a point an inch or so from that which he had chosen the last time. Finally he had poor Blank saying, "Yes, that's the spot," when the spot touched was nearly six inches from the original sensitive point. At last the doctor said, very seriously:
"Yes, yes, Mr. Blank, that painful condition must be attended to. It is a strange condition, don't you know, for as I go on examining it, the tenderness shifts about a great deal, and I feel sure that with a little rubbing it may be driven out altogether. Now this liniment is the very thing, the very thing. Yes, yes, twice daily, night and morning. Good afternoon, my dear Blank. Don't fail to come back if it troubles you any more;" and Blank went out looking a bit sheepish, while the doctor turned to me again with his face wearing that exaggerated wink. Then he continued, as if he were just carrying on an interrupted conversation, "You know, Manion, some of these officers are exceedingly troublesome, exceedingly so, when they happen to swing the lead, for one must appear to have the greatest consideration for them. Now I have one extremely interesting case of laryngitis in one of the officers. It goes every now and then to the extent of complete loss of voice. Troublesome condition, for he cannot give his orders to his men, and to hurry him back into condition I have sent him twice to the hospital. Now, though this officer's courage is absolutely unquestioned, I find myself at times wondering if it may not be just that general fed-up feeling that we all get rather than laryngitis that affects him. Captain Thompson is a great friend of mine which makes it all the more difficult, but you know, my dear chap, really it's so easy to quit speaking aloud, and just whisper instead. I wonder does he talk in his sleep? By Jove, that would be interesting. I must make inquiries.
"But," he continued, "I told him off a bit a couple of nights ago. One of our companies was putting on a raid at daybreak, and the officer in charge of the raid is not overburdened with nerve. One-half hour before the raid he started to groan, when we were all in headquarters dugout together, and said he had a very severe pain in his stomach or bowels. Though I doubted the pain, I examined him carefully, and finding no real cause for it I allowed him to carry on, and, to do him justice, he went over the top like a man and did his bit in the raid as well as anyone could have done.
"But just after I had examined him Thompson stepped up familiarly to me and said: 'Do you really think, Smith, that So-and-so did have a pain?' 'Damn you, Thompson,' I replied, 'what right have you to ask me such a question?' 'Oh, come now, Smith, really, do you think he did have a pain?' 'Well, frankly, Thompson,' I answered, in a low, confidential tone, 'I am losing so much of my faith in humanity, don't you know, that I find myself doubting if you have any laryngitis when you lose your voice!' And with a good-natured burst of laughter he left me. But I somehow feel that he won't have laryngitis again for some time!
"But honestly, Manion, my great surprise always has been, and still is, not that so many try to get out of the line, but that in spite of the dangers and hardships 95 per cent. of officers and men do their hard, dangerous, trying jobs with a smile and without complaint. How very little cowardice there is in the world!"
And anyone who has served out there must agree with that opinion, particularly when he remembers the great numbers who have remained at home, facing no guns, braving no dangers, enduring no hardships. The above stories are told to illustrate the humorous side of the life; for all praise and gratitude is due to the men who have served out there in the noble cause of the allies. If at times some officer or man gets tired of the mud, rain, lice, shells, dirt, and dangers that he is daily encountering, and tries to get a few days in civilized surroundings, he is but showing a very human side to his nature.
Diagram Showing Route of Wounded from
Firing Line to Base Hospitals.
The method of caring for the wounded at the front depends a great deal upon whether a battalion is holding a set of trenches on a standing front, or advancing, either in a big push, or in a raid. The medical officer to a fighting battalion is the member of the Army Medical Corps who is closer to the firing line than any of the other officers of that corps in the whole theater of war. He is served by the nearest field ambulance, whose stretcher bearers not only evacuate the wounded from his R.A.P.—regimental aid post—but also keep him supplied with medicines, dressings, splints, and other medical and surgical necessities. His food is sent up with that of the remainder of his battalion from his own battalion transport.
The field ambulance evacuates the severe cases to the nearest C.C.S.—casualty clearing station—which is the closest hospital to the lines. It is at the C.C.S. that the necessary operations are performed. Here the real surgical work of the medical corps begins, for up to that station it is much a matter of first aid. From the casualty clearing station cases that look as if they will require protracted attention are transferred to ambulance trains, which convey the cases fifty, sixty, or more miles to the base hospitals at the rear, perhaps about Boulogne, Havre and other towns reasonably well out of danger. And from these hospitals the wounded or sick may be transferred again, this time to hospital ships which cross the channel to one of our channel ports. At these points they are once more put aboard ambulance trains and distributed to hospitals in London, Manchester, Canterbury, Edinburgh or any of the other large hospital centers.
Suppose that a battalion is holding a part of the entrenched front, roughly one thousand yards square. The medical officer always travels with his battalion. In an area such as this his R.A.P. would be in a dugout somewhere in the vicinity of the one which is used as headquarters for the battalion. A medical officer's position is toward the rear of his battalion whether the men are on the march, in an advance, or holding the lines, for the reason that the wounded and sick are naturally sent toward the rear. Very commonly the R.A.P. is about half way from the rear support trench to the firing line.
The dugout of the M.O. is generally of the superficial variety. It has a roof made up of two or three layers of bags of sand piled on top of a layer of boards, just sufficient to give one a feeling of security in a most insecure position. A straight hit from a shell on the roof of this type of dugout means that a new medical officer will be required for that battalion at once. I have a vivid recollection of my first experience in such a dugout, long before I had become accustomed to living in them by the week. It was on a fairly active front near Bully Grenay. I had been sent from a field ambulance to relieve the regular M.O. while he took a well earned leave. His palatial residence was only about two hundred yards from the front line, its ceiling was less than six feet from the floor, for my head hit it whenever I stood up, and the rain which poured for days trickled down our necks as it filtered through the roof in many places. The shells kept dropping most annoyingly that first day, hitting everywhere except exactly on the center of the roof, and I knew it was only a matter of minutes till one landed there. Then to add to my uneasiness the sergeant lit a fire with wet wood which made a black smoke that poured from the bit of tin which was used for a pipe in the roof. This was the finishing touch, for I felt certain that every gunner on that front was using that smoke for a target. Turning to the sergeant, I asked with as cool a manner as I could command:
"How close do those shells have to come before you would consider it advisable to move out?"
"To move out? Oh, coming through the roof, I guess," he answered, with a blank stare. I did not dare to ask any more questions, but I thought to myself,—"what a nice, healthy time to move!" It took some time for me to become accustomed to that billet, but out there one learns to become accustomed to anything.
In front of the Medical Officer are the men who hold the line. There are four platoons to a company, four companies to a battalion; and with each platoon is one stretcher bearer, making sixteen bearers to each battalion. These stretcher bearers are trained in first aid, dressings, setting fractures and so forth by the M.O. of their regiment when they are out at rest billets behind the lines. In the lines they accompany their platoons and companies, and when the men go over the top in raids and advances the stretcher bearers go with them, stopping to dress and care for the wounded as they cross the battle area.
No finer set of men serve out there than the stretcher bearers, whether they serve with a battalion, an ambulance, or any other unit. Their work is without the stimulation or excitement the fighting men get, but has the same dangers and hardships. They go over the top as do the others, and it is their duty to carry wounded with all haste through heavily bombarded areas. The fact that, out of thirty-two stretcher bearers used by me in three days, thirteen were hit, well illustrates the dangers that these boys cheerfully go through. A good story is told of one of them, a chap who in civil life had been a "tough" in the slums of one of our large cities, and who had seen the inside of a jail more than once, but who as a stretcher bearer faced coolly, even gayly, any extraordinary danger to get his wounded to the rear.
He was in charge of a squad for Number —— Canadian Field Ambulance one day. He and his men were taking a stretcher case over a ridge which was under constant and heavy shell fire. Tiring, he commanded his squad to stop and rest. They obeyed, but demurred, saying that it was too dangerous a place to rest.
"Naw," he said, lighting a cigarette after handing one to the wounded man, "there ain't no danger. Sit down an' take it easy."
"But, look here now, Tom," the others argued, "you may be the first to have one of those bally shells blow you into Kingdom Come."
"Not—by—one—damsite," he slowly replied, "I've got a hunch dat I'm goin' to slip me arm round Lizzie once agen before dey get me;" and he lay on the ground and thoughtfully puffed at his cigarette. So the others joined him, for their bravery was unquestioned; and with the philosophy so common out there, one said,—"Well, I guess we can stand it if you can." Tom had puffed at his fag a few moments with the shells dropping dangerously near, when, without changing his position, he asked:
"Did you mugs ever hear de story of de two specials wot met in Lon'on de oder day? Naw? Well, I'll tell yez. Two special constables met, an' one o' dem had no hat, coat all torn to rags, bot' eyes black, an' some hair gone. 'Hello, Brown,' says de oder, 'wot-a-hell's wrong wid yez?' An' de first answers: 'Ye know dat purty little Missus Smit wot lives behind de Lion an' Dragon whose husban's gone to de front? Well, he ain't gone!'"
Even the wounded man joined the laugh. They all finished their smoke without even glancing in the direction of the shells bursting nearby, when the stretcher was picked up and carried safely to the rear. His officers all say that they would as quickly trust Tom in a ticklish job as any other man in the world. But he is just an example of the thousands of loyal, life-risking stretcher bearers—some, like Tom, rough, uneducated, uncouth; many others with the culture acquired in college halls and drawing rooms—who are daily and nightly giving of their blood and their service to the men in the lines.
These bearers wear a red cross on the arm, are non-combatant troops and carry no rifles. Each two of them carry a stretcher, and all of them carry a little haversack slung over the shoulder and filled with large and small surgical dressings, bandages, scissors, splints, and perhaps a bottle of iodine. Being non-combatant troops they are supposed to be allowed to carry out their work in comparative safety, but they really run the same risks as the combatants. This is to be expected in severe actions, for a machine-gunner or artilleryman cannot even try to avoid the stretcher bearers when they are mixed up, as they always are, with the fighting troops.
But, at any rate, the Germans get the reputation of caring as little for red crosses or white flags as they do for scraps of paper. One afternoon I stood in a trench one-quarter mile from Willerval which was held by our troops, and in the ruins of which there was an advanced dressing station of a field ambulance. For some reason two ambulances came over the crest of Vimy Ridge in broad daylight, in plain view of the Germans, and ran rapidly down into Willerval. They arrived without mishap, but one-half hour later I saw them start back over the ridge a few minutes apart. The first one had got one-half way up the steep side of the ridge when a heavy German shell lit thirty feet behind it. And then shell after shell dropped behind it all the way up the steep slope. Fortunately the gunner's aim was short, for the car disappeared from view over the crest. Then the second car made the trip, the German shells falling behind it just as they had with the first one. They both got out in safety, but no thanks were due to the Huns who had done their best to get them with heavy shells. That was one instance in which I saw the Germans shell two ambulances which could not have been mistaken for any other type of vehicle.
Suppose a soldier is hit by a piece of shell or sniper's bullet while he is in a trench which his battalion is holding. He is first attended by the stretcher bearer nearest to him at the time, who should use the man's own aseptic dressing which each soldier is compelled to carry in the lining of his coat or tunic. The injured man is then taken to the dugout of the M.O., if necessary on a stretcher, where the M.O. rearranges the dressing, gives a dose of morphine if pain is severe, and after seeing that all hemorrhage is stopped and the man is comfortable, he hands the case over to the field ambulance stretcher bearers who always serve him and live in an adjoining dugout. This squad carries the case back—through the trenches if there is no hurry, but overland if haste is important—to the advanced dressing station of the field ambulance. If this should be a particularly hard trip it may be done in relays. For there relay post dugouts are established with other bearer squads.
The A.D.S. is usually situated a mile or so in the rear of the trenches, preferably in a large cellar, but at any rate in a fairly well sheltered area where cots are ready to receive fifty or more patients. At the A.D.S. one or two of the medical officers of the field ambulance are stationed with a large staff of men. The patient is here made comfortable; given coffee or cocoa; name, number and battalion recorded; and finally he is inoculated with anti-tetanic serum. This has practically wiped out tetanus, or lock-jaw, which was very prevalent at the beginning of the war. He is kept here till a convenient time, which may be after dark, when he and any others who may have come in are put into ambulances and taken to the M.D.S.—main dressing station—of the field ambulance, another two or three miles behind. The M.D.S. may be in some old château, or in a group of huts, or, if the weather is mild, in tents. Here a light case, or slightly wounded man, may be kept for a few days and then sent back to the line or to a rest station to recover his stamina and quiet his nerves. But if the case should be a serious one, such as a shattered leg or arm or a large flesh wound that will take a considerable time to heal, he is again transferred by ambulance to the C.C.S.—Casualty Clearing Station—another two to four miles back.
The C.C.S., usually in huts or tents, is the first real hospital behind the firing zone. It may have accommodation for a couple of hundred patients; is supplied with X-Ray equipment, a well-arranged operating room with expert surgical assistance, and is the nearest place to the line that trained nurses are sent. Here for the first time since he left the line the patient gets all those little motherly attentions that only a woman can give. The injured man may be kept here days, weeks, or even months if he happens to be a case that would be endangered by moving. All immediately necessary operations are at once performed, and often a seriously wounded man from the firing line may be lying anesthetized on the operating table of a C.C.S., being operated upon by expert surgeons within two or three hours of receiving his injury—practically as good attention as this type of injury would receive in civil life.
This is particularly the case where a man has been wounded in the abdomen, from which wound he may quickly develop peritonitis and reach the valley of the shadow of death in a few hours if prompt attention is not given. It is also done in cases of head or lung injuries, or in any wound causing uncontrollable hemorrhage. In any of these emergencies, after the M.O. in the line has given all immediately necessary attention, the patient is ticketed SERIOUS by him, and he is rushed with all speed to the A.D.S., perhaps at great personal risk to the stretcher bearers. Here he is quickly transferred to an ambulance which may have to rush him over heavily shelled roads, missing the main dressing station altogether, and taking him direct to the C.C.S. for his life-saving operation.
After varying periods in the C.C.S. the patients are sent by ambulance trains, which run almost to their doors, to base hospitals at the rear. From here they are re-transferred to hospital centers in England and Scotland.
So much for the methods used in caring for the wounded in the lines during stationary periods. The same principles and methods are employed during big advances, but of course on a larger and more thorough scale. All the arrangements are made during the weeks preceding a push; extra stretcher bearers are trained; the field ambulances increase their staffs, particularly just behind the firing lines, in order that the field may be cleared of wounded at the first lull in the fighting. The whole intricate system is so complete and so well arranged that hundreds of cases may be rushed through in a few hours, some of them being comfortably in bed in English hospitals the evening of the day on which they received their "Blighty."
It must be remembered that in actions of a severe nature, such as great advances, the first object of the advancing troops is to obtain their objective and to hold it. Therefore care of the wounded may not be possible till the action is over. But during these hours the wounded are by no means without attention. It is here that the battalion stretcher bearers do their finest and most self-sacrificing work. They go over the top with the fighting troops, and as the men are hit it is their duty to give them first aid, while the fight still goes on, with machine-gun bullets whistling by their ears and shells bursting all about them. Their duty it is, and nobly they perform it, to dress the wounded, stop bleeding if possible, and temporarily set fractures. Then they place the wounded men in the most protected side of a shellhole, or in any other sheltered spot, and pass on to the next needy one, after placing any bit of available rag on a stick or old bayonet to attract the attention of the field clearing parties who come over that area. In the meantime the wounded who can walk—walking cases—make their way to the point at which the M.O. is caring for the injured. After getting the required attention, they walk on back to the A.D.S. of the field ambulance.
At the first lull in the fighting it is the duty of the medical officer to see to the clearing of the field of those wounded who cannot walk. Any men going to the rear for supplies, and any German prisoners, are commandeered by the M.O. as stretcher parties. In big actions his own trained stretcher bearers are employed only as dressers. In the battle of Vimy Ridge which began at 5:30 a.m., it was twelve hours later ere all the wounded on our front were evacuated to the field ambulances. That was quick work when one considers that some battalions, including my own, had 35 per cent. of their men hit. One hundred German prisoners were sent up under escort to act as stretcher bearers, and gradually the field was cleared.
The only difference between the handling of the wounded during actions and during stationary warfare is the fact that in the former more unavoidable congestion takes place, though this is prevented as far as possible in the forward areas by rushing the cases to the rear or to England. In big actions, where many wounded are expected, this is always done.
After hospital treatment in England or Scotland the men are sent to convalescent homes in Ramsgate, Herne Bay, Whitstable, Sturry, Brighton, or any of the hundred and one other points that are suitable in the British Isles. Later these men are sent before medical boards which decide as to their disposal thereafter. They may be sent directly back to duty; to prolonged rest; to have some weeks, P.T.—physical training—which is not popular with the men, but is often needed; or, they may be marked P.B.—permanent base duty—which means that they are not fit for general service, but are able to perform some duties at the base or at home. Lastly, they may be discharged as permanently unfit for further service, the amount of their pensions being decided by the pension board.
Until the wounded man reaches the C.C.S. his wounds are dressed in very rough surroundings, not the aseptic dressing rooms of peace times. Dugouts, cellars or open trenches are employed for dressing stations. After the battle of Vimy Ridge my boys and I dressed our men for four days in an open, muddy trench, with the shells dropping about all the time. Dugouts are simply holes in the ground, and may be most primitive dressing rooms. Everyone knows how aseptic the ordinary cellar could be made, even with the greatest care on the part of an M.O.'s assistants. But our dressings are folded and wrapped in such a manner that they can be applied, even though the dresser's hands are covered with mud, without the aseptic part of the dressing, which is applied to the wound, being in any way soiled. I have given one hundred and fifty inoculations hypodermically for the prevention of typhoid in a tent in which the men and myself stood ankle deep in mud. Not one case of infection of the point at which the needle was inserted occurred. This illustrates the efficiency one reaches from being accustomed to working in filthy surroundings. Your stretcher bearers and dressers become as skilled in this art as yourself, so that the men really get good attention in spite of the many difficulties in the way. Of course, at the C.C.S., which is five to ten miles from the trenches, the surroundings are as good as they are in the average city hospital. And the base hospitals are often elaborate in their equipment, though they may be situated in large tents or newly constructed wooden huts with stoves to lessen the raw cold of the French winter weather. The base hospitals in England are the highly scientific city hospitals, simply put under military control.
Something that is noticed by all who have served at the front is the drollery of the men in dangerous or uncomfortable surroundings. Sometimes it is good-natured, sometimes ill-tempered and critical, but it is ever present. One cannot but believe that the wag of the company is better than a tonic to the men, in fact is almost as good a pick-me-up as the rum ration. Who has not felt the benefit of a good laugh? Who has not seen a well-developed sense of humor save a difficult situation, or at least alleviate it?
With Tommy the humor crops out in the most unexpected situations. Under circumstances in which the ordinary man would turn ghastly pale, Tommy cracks a joke. Crossing an open space toward a railway embankment I was fifty yards or so from a culvert through which I had intended passing, when a soldier reached it. He was carrying a load on his back, and was sucking on a pipe, his head bowed in thought. A whizz bang shrieked by me, and struck just at the entrance to the culvert, missing him only by inches. Fortunately it banged into the earth four or five feet beyond his position at the moment, so that the fragments spread from him, not towards him. He had escaped death by a hairbreadth. He stopped in his path, took his pipe from his mouth, raised his head and looked with a surprised air at the hole in the ground made by the bursting shell. His only comment was uttered in a slow voice:
"Well, I'll—be—jiggered!" And putting his pipe back into his mouth, he coolly resumed his walk and his meditation, without altering his course by one inch. Thus do men come to accept narrow escapes from death as a matter of course, where such escapes are as common as is plum jam in the rations.
The men are plodding along in thick tenacious mud, carrying sixty-pound trench mortars, each foot with its accumulated mud weighing at least twenty pounds, and feeling as if it weighed a ton. They are sweating, and blowing, and tired. They halt for a rest and lean up against the wet, muddy wall of the trench, carelessly chucking the heavy mortars into the mud. Then the wag begins by cursing the bally war, consigning the officers to perdition, condemning the food as unfit for "villyuns," and wishing the Kaiser "wuz in 'ell." "And the blighters hexpect hus to stand an' face the henemy. An' ye betcher life we'll do it too, coz we couldn't run if we want to: we're stuck in the mud!" A smile passes along the tired faces; their rest is over, and more or less rejuvenated, they take up their burdens and pass on.
Coming out of the front lines one day when we were relieved by another battalion, my corporal and I were going along a support trench when we came up with some officers of our battalion who were leaning against the parapet, waiting for the Germans to let up shelling the trench twenty-five yards in advance of us. We joined the other officers, and were soon joined by about sixty men who were trying to get out the same way. The Germans were persistent, so we all finally turned back to go out by another trench. The shells followed us along the trench, for which reason none of us slackened our pace. As we hurried along a rich Scotch voice said loudly enough for all to hear:
"By G——, these Hun shells are better than the pipes to make us march."
Passing along a muddy support trench, returning from a tour of inspection, we came upon a fatigue or working party of soldiers digging an ammunition dump. They were working on a ridge, and as it was a bright day they could be seen much of the time by the German snipers and might at any moment get some shells or bullets thrown into their midst. It was hard, dirty and dangerous work, but bantering voices reached us:
"What did you do in the great war, papa?" asks one.
"I dug 'oles, m'son," replies another.
"But that's not as bad as 'avin' 'oles dug in ye," adds a third.
"You're bally-well right, it's not," says a fourth. And the work proceeds.
Humor, of course, is not limited to the ordinary ranks, O.R.'s as they are called officially. Our battalion was putting on a big raid, "a show." In the end it was carried out very successfully, but owing to the fact that it was a daylight raid, and that a smoke barrage was to be employed, the wind had to be taken into account, and the raid was put off from time to time. Code words had to be arranged to be telephoned by brigade to the battalion. Codes are employed because of the danger of the Germans picking up the messages by a special apparatus for that purpose. An English officer present at the meeting to discuss plans suggested the following code which was employed:
If the raid was to be indefinitely postponed the word Asquith was to be used, meaning, wait and see. The word Haldane was employed with the signification, put off until tomorrow. And when it was finally decided to be put on, Lloyd George was the code word which meant, to be carried out at once.
Anyone familiar with British politics during the war will agree that it was rather a neat code.
And it is said that a French Canadian commanding officer, in whose battalion a murder had been committed, had inserted in his orders of the day the following bit of unconscious humor:
"It is to be regretted that a murder has been committed in this battalion. This is the second murder in our Canadian forces. It is to be distinctly understood that this pernicious habit must cease forthwith."
Many amusing stories are told of the contents of letters censored at the front. Usually all the letters of a company or section are censored by the officers of the company or section. One of the best stories was told me by an English officer. A Tommy of his section wrote to his beloved:
"Dear Maggie: I'd a bally sight rather be in your arms than in this trench with a dead German!"
I sat one evening smoking a cigar with a Canadian Colonel who was much incensed at the fact that he had served at Gallipoli where he caught an infectious diarrhea of which he nearly died, while in the meantime his other officers who served no better than he were decorated and promoted.
"Manion," he said to me in an angry voice, "I was promised that if I went to the Mediterranean I would get promotion and any decoration they could get for me, and the only d—— thing I got was dysentery, and I wouldn't have got that if my superior officers had had the giving of it."
A rather good story with a touch of dry humor provoked by a desire for justice is that of the lonesome soldier. One of our Tommies sent an advertisement to an English daily in which he hinted, rather than said, that he was a duty-loving Briton, honorably doing his bit, and being without friends in the world he would welcome a correspondence with some English girl. He implied that, as the diet was rough, a few comforts would not go amiss, signing his advertisement, "H.H., a lonesome soldier." He was rewarded by a mail large enough for Horatio Bottomley, accompanied by so many parcels that our mail department had to add another man to its staff to handle his portion. Instead of imitating the generosity of these English girls, and sharing his ill-gotten gains with his companions, he chose the selfish part, keeping most of the good things for himself, giving away only what he had no possible use for. And what was still worse, he started a correspondence with each of the priceless young things who had offered him their goods and their friendship. Had this been a fair and square correspondence it might have had nothing to condemn it. But though uneducated, he was sly enough to suit his letters to their recipients. To one he implied the possibility of a strong attachment; to another he was more reserved, speaking only of friendship; while to a third he would send a warm, date-making epistle, hinting at cozy hotels; all according to what he thought their letters to him showed him of their characters.
This went on for some time, the lonesome soldier writing many letters daily, all franked by a kindly government, and all to be censored by a group of H.Q. officers. The friendships he had worked up were getting more friendly, the intrigues deeper, and the passions warmer, when Major E—— decided that in fairness to the young women and in justice to the wily Tommy he would put an end to this planning and plotting. So, in censoring the letters Major E—— saw that the warm, passionate letter to "My Beloved Maisie" was, by mistake, of course, put into the envelope of "Dear Miss Jones;" Miss Jones' letter put into that of "Darling Kiddo," and the latter's into "My Own Emmey's," and so on. The result was a rapid cessation of the letters and parcels to the lonesome soldier, and the straightening out of what otherwise might have been an interminable tangle. To the really lonesome soldier—and there are such—all consideration is due, but to such a one as this may justice arrive swiftly, as it did to him.
Potash is a North American Indian. He was chief of his tribe, is very intelligent, well educated, and the best sharpshooter in his battalion. His intelligence is proven by the fact that he has never indulged in alcoholic drink, nor has he in any other manner allowed his close association with us whites of Canada to deprave him. In other words, he is a living refutation of the remark that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. If it were not for the copper tinge to his skin, one would take him for what he is,—a well-informed, educated North American. He is very proud of the fact that Sir Wilfrid Laurier, when Premier of Canada, presented to him and his bride at their wedding a silver tea set.
Being the only Indian in his battalion he is treated with a good deal of consideration by all. Colonel Blank stood chatting to him one day, the center of a group of officers.
"You are an Indian, Potash. Tell me why it is that alcohol has such a bad effect upon Indians in general."
"You know, Sir," seriously replied Potash, "that alcohol acts principally on the tissues of the brain. And so, the Indians having more brains than the whites, alcohol has a greater effect on them." The colonel and Potash joined in the general laugh.
Often shells do not explode, and Tommy calls them "duds," but up to the declaration of war by the United States in April last, these duds often got the nickname, "American shells—too proud to fight."
In the lines one often finds evidence of a prejudice against officers of the staff—nicknamed "Brass Hats" by the boys—this prejudice being due to the fact that Tommy looks upon staff jobs as being safety-first positions, and that the man in the line thinks, rightly or wrongly, that too many young fellows who should be doing their bit under fire remain at the rear through family pull or connection. There is also the impression that many of the staff only get under fire when they absolutely have to. Of course this is a much exaggerated idea, but that it exists is shown by the following humorous conversation overheard in the lines:
"Say, Bill, did you hear that peace has been declared?"
"Naw; nothin' to it; hot air; no sich luck."
"Sure it has. Didn't ye see those two Brass Hats goin' along the trenches just now?"
The Tommies call their helmets "tin hats," and on a certain occasion one soldier was heard to ask another if he thought a tin hat as safe as a Brass Hat.
Of course in a war such as that of today mistakes are inevitable at times. Occasionally battalions or companies are ordered to accomplish the impossible. The Charge of the Light Brigade has repeated itself more than once, and the staff get the credit, or discredit, for these mistakes. Sometimes it is the orders which cause the wag of the company to speak of these officers with his fine contempt. Everyone has seen Bairnsfather's picture of a subaltern under heavy fire in the front line, and at the same time having to answer a telephone message as to how many cans of apple jam had been sent in the rations in the past week. It seemed, no doubt, a ridiculous exaggeration, but is no more ridiculous than an order which came through one day to test out a certain rat poison, a sample of which accompanied the order. The battalion receiving this command was at the time holding a very bad bit of line where the Germans did much sniping and dropping over of pineapples, rum jars, whizz bangs, and so forth. The battalion was to test this poison with particular reference to the following points:
1. Adequacy of eight tins per 1,000 yards of trench.
2. Amount of bait consumed.
3. Number of sick or dead rats seen.
4. Post-mortem examination of dead rats.
5. As to diminution of rat population, "staleness of rat holes might be taken as corroborative evidence of diminution."
Then followed three foolscap pages of typewritten directions along this line. (Foolscap in the foregoing is not intentionally sarcastic.)
Do you wonder that the men made jokes? Imagine, if you can, a battalion under very heavy fire night and day trying to carry out tests that might easily be carried out behind the lines as to the efficiency of a rat poison. Imagine a Medical Officer, while not attending the wounded or sick, doing post-mortem examinations of dead rats, or estimating "the staleness of rat holes," with, perhaps, a German sniper trying to get a bead on him!
Of course such an order as this, written by some theorist in a comfortable room two or three hundred miles from the bursting shells, would usually be stopped by the practical men of the staff. When one has inadvertently filtered through, as in this case, can those in the lines be blamed for talking about foolkillers? As is to be expected, the order was ignored until the battalion some time later received a reminder. They protested that this test was surrounded by too many difficulties, and were told to "try it on a small scale."
The gruff voice of the Regimental Sergeant Major said that he supposed they would send up "some small scale rats to try it on." As they were not forthcoming, that is as far as the order got.
But though Staff Officers are disliked almost as much as Medical Officers, Tommy must bear with them, even if it be with a poorly disguised sneer of disgust and tolerance; for an army without a staff would be as incredible and undesirable as sick and wounded without attention. No doubt, in spite of Tommy's humor and banter, when the truth is told, both of the above types perform their duties as ably as they can according to their lights.
While dining with the officers of C Company one evening, I heard two of that company's likable young subalterns arguing as to whether the rum ration, so popular with most of the men out there on cold winter nights, would, after the war, conduce to temperance in the nation. The argument grew quite hot, as it often did there, and one of the debaters stuck his helmet on his head, and strode to the entrance of the dugout where he turned and clinched the argument with the sneering remark:
"By gad, Smith, you know less about more things than any other man I've ever met," then made a victorious exit.
And speaking of the rum ration, an old soldier once told me that, being the oldest man in his platoon, the serving out of the rum usually fell to his lot, whereupon he always took from his haversack a little tin vessel which held just the right amount for each man, thus showing his absolute fairness and impartiality. But, as he poured the liquor into the little cup, he kept his thumb on the inside, so that at the end of serving some thirty or forty of his comrades he had thirty or forty "thumbs" of the beverage left as his portion—a form of humor, no doubt, better appreciated by himself than it would have been by the rest of his platoon, had they known how absolutely (im-) partial he always was, to himself.
Practically all men and most women are brave when the occasion requires it. Out there one sees many types of brave men. There are few cases of cowardice in the face of the enemy, though in all the armies in this great conflict men have been shot for this crime. Conscience may make cowards of us all, but war makes brave men of most of us. In this war the pampered few, as well as those who earned their bread by the sweat of their brow, have shown a courage unsurpassed in the so-called chivalrous ages that are gone.
Death-dealing instruments have been multiplied and refined by the inventive resources of our times till they have reached a stage of perfection never even approached in the past. Aeroplanes, zeppelins, artillery, various types of trench mortars, mining, machine-guns, poisonous gases, liquid fire, and the many other means of killing and disabling our enemies have rendered this war the most horrible and terrifying in history. Yet it is rare at the front to see officers or men exhibit cowardice. With few exceptions all face death in its many forms with a smile on their lips, bearing at the same time indescribable hardships of mud, dirt, lice, work and weather with unbeatable stoicism. They are always ready to go forward with their faces to the foe, an irresistible army of citizen soldiers. The hardships are often more trying than the dangers, yet it is always an inspiration to hear gay peals of laughter at the discomforts and hardships borne by men accustomed to all the luxuries of comfortable homes and beloved families.
Just at dark on a zero-cold winter's day our battalion arrived at some new frame huts on the edge of a wood. The huts had just been built; they knew not the meaning of bunks, stoves, or other comforts. The gray sky could be seen through many chinks in the war-contract lumber, and the frozen earth through cracks in the floor. After a cold supper of bully beef, bread, and jam, there lay down on the bare floor of the H.Q. hut to sleep as best they could,—the colonel, a criminal lawyer of Vancouver; the second in command, a lumber dealer of Ottawa; an attached major, a lawyer of the same place; the adjutant, a broker of Montreal; the paymaster, a banker of Kingston; the signal officer, a bank clerk of Edmonton; the scout officer, son of a well-known high court judge of Quebec; and myself. Not a complaint was heard, but jokes were bandied to and fro, and shortly the regular breathing of some and the snoring of others testified that man may quickly become accustomed to strange surroundings. In the morning the boots of all were frozen to the floor!
Men are brave because of many motives. When they are standing shoulder to shoulder facing an enemy, few of them flinch, no matter how dark the outlook is at the moment. Their pride in themselves, their loyalty to their native land, their love of their comrades, and their hatred for the enemy combine to prevent them from allowing fear to conquer them. Fear, per se, is another matter. Practically all men experience fear under fire at times, but they grit their teeth and press on. The quality that makes them do this is what we call courage. Any man who could look into a hole in the ground into which you could drop a small house, and, knowing this hole was made by a large caliber shell, yet feel no fear on going through a barrage of such shells, is not a brave man; he's an imbecile. As Kelly said:
"A man that's not afeard o' thim shells has more courage than sinse."
But even outside of that natural fear of shells there is no doubt that at certain moments during the multitudinous dangers of war all men really feel afraid. It cannot be avoided if a man sets any value whatever upon his life; 999 out of 1,000 conquer that impulse to fly, and carry on, the thousandth allows the impulse to conquer him. He is thereafter branded, "coward," unless he retrieves himself later. Instinctively the brave man is recognized by his fellowmen. In a dangerous advance there are usually a few who drop behind, hide in a shellhole or dugout till the danger passes or lessens, and then rejoin their unit, claiming to have been lost or stunned by a shell. In this way they escape being accused of, and perhaps shot for, desertion. It may be that these men are more to be pitied than blamed. Self preservation is the first law of nature, but it is a physical law, and the moral law that man must not be a coward overrules it. A few hours after the advance over Vimy Ridge, my corporal and I, while dressing wounded on the field, met a number of stragglers, all going toward the front lines. They gave various excuses for being behind their companies, and some no doubt told the truth, but it is also certain that a few had shirked.
There is a legitimate nervousness, named "shell shock." The real cases of this condition, when they are extreme, are sad to see. An officer or Tommy, who has previously been an excellent soldier, suddenly develops "nerves" to such an extent as to be uncontrollable. He trembles violently, his heart may be disorderly in rhythm, he has a terrified air, the slightest noise makes him jump and even occasionally run at top speed to a supposed place of safety. He is the personification of terror, at times crying out or weeping like a child. He is unfit for duty, and will require rest for an extended time. Some cases are not so extreme as this and may simply display sufficient nervousness to prevent their going on.
Shell shock is brought about by the effects of severe shelling; by being buried by an explosion of shell or mine; or by the killing beside the sufferer of a companion. In short, these cases are due to the subjection of the nervous system to a strain which it is unable to withstand, making it collapse instead of resiliency rebounding. The extreme cases are pitiable to observe, and are just as ill as if they were suffering from insanity, or delirium tremens. It is doubtful if the man who has suffered from a severe attack of this malady is ever again fit to serve in the firing line. Only time can tell whether or not any permanent weakness will be left in the nervous system as its result. These are not cases of cowardice, though to a superficial observer they might appear so. Some of them six months later, after that full period of rest and care, still show marked tremor, a fast or irregular heart, are "jumpy" on the slightest sharp sound, and are generally unfit for service.
It is interesting to study the psychology of the coward, but it is more interesting and infinitely more inspiring to study that of the brave man. Brave men and courageous women are so common, as this war has amply proven, that we may find plenty of material for this study. The women—God bless them, and sustain them—have to show more courage than the men; for they have to endure in patience the life-sapping tedium of staying at home, while their loved ones go into danger—and perhaps to death. They have not, as their men have, the variety of change, the interest of novelty, or the excitement of battle to sustain them and occupy their minds. Their duty is to wait, wait, wait—praying and hoping that a good and merciful God will spare their loved ones. Oh, you wives, and mothers, and sweethearts, who wait, the world owes to you much more of honor and thanks than it owes to the men at the front! You, in your sublime unselfishness, prefer to see your beloved men-folks get the honors and praise, while you are content and happy to accept the reflected glory!
Every country in the world believes that it has the fairest women and the bravest men, and, to make an Irishism, each is right in believing it. It is only natural that each country should have a national pride in the deeds of its heroes, and this war will give to most countries enough acts of bravery and of chivalry to inspire their youth for a few generations.
Capt. Gammil was a handsome, dashing chap whose love of fine clothes, bright colors, silk pajamas—which he wore even in the lines, while the rest of us slept in our uniforms, according to orders—and immaculate cleanliness, gained for him the sobriquet, Beau Brummel. His farcical gayety was continuous, and rarely did he appear serious, even though a serious mien would have been more appropriate. His extremes of style made him a daily cause of humorous remarks on the part of his comrades; and yet his courage was unquestioned. I have seen him coolly walking along, daintily smoking his special brand of cigarette, apparently as much at ease as if he were in his own smoking room, with the shells at the same time bursting all about him. Good stories were told of his careless fearlessness at the Somme and elsewhere, as he carried out his duties in tight corners with the sang-froid of a veteran. Here was a fellow one would take to be the lightest of the light, a poseur, a farceur, a dandy of the ladies, who could be as gay and light in danger as in London. He is the type of chap who was, no doubt, "a sissy" in the opinion of his fellow-schoolboys, but is in reality of the stuff that men are made.
Major Billbower, an English bank-clerk who had lived some years in Canada, was rather the reverse of the above. He took life more seriously, and hardly a day went by that he did not put into the orderly room a complaint, great or small, until he got the name, "the grouser." Usually his complaints were on behalf of his men whom he seemed to think were always getting discriminated against by someone. Because he was of the rather extreme, unmixable, aristocratic type his men respected him rather than loved him (though he was a very likable chap to those who really knew him) but they would unhesitatingly follow him through hell-fire, for in danger his handsomely-chiseled features wore a scornful smile as he strode along, gayly swinging his cane, with the same air that he had worn in more peaceful days in Hyde Park. He had been decorated for conspicuous bravery, and well deserved it. On one occasion a large caliber dud shell struck in the doorway of a superficial dugout in which he was writing, and rolled to his feet. Without more than a glance at it, he coolly pushed it to one side with his foot, and continued writing.
Corporal Pare, a red-headed Irish boy, was for a long time my sanitary corporal in the lines and out. He had been serving in the lines for sixteen months at the time of which I write, and was tired of it. He frankly said he was afraid to do certain things, but when ordered to do them, he carried them out cheerfully and smilingly. At the Somme he won great praise as a runner for carrying messages through heavy barrages, always appearing terrified at the prospect, but always getting through. Many a time inspecting the trenches with me he would say, respectfully: "Those pineapples are dropping in just ahead of us, sir. Hadn't we better turn back?" Perhaps to tease him, I would go on, telling him to "come along." "Very good, sir," he would say with a cheerful smile on his red face, and he would trudge along like a faithful dog. He was "homely" in looks, red-headed, not clever, and said he was afraid, but no more faithful or more dependable soldier ever went to the front than Corporal Pare.
Sergeant Gascrain was a small, shriveled, sharp-tongued, five-foot-high, French Canadian who assisted me for some time. He was cynical as to the illnesses of the men, and treated them usually like so many cattle, believing them all to be malingerers, till one day I reminded him that a man may often malinger, but that did not prevent him from occasionally getting sick. He apparently did not believe it, though he often cursed the rheumatism that afflicted his own joints. He said they all had "frigidity of the feet, with a big F." He was at times addicted to alcohol and every few months he lost his stripes because of intoxication. Then he would labor incessantly till, by his good work, he won them back again. And when he did regain them he was as proud as if he had won his marshal's baton, until the next occasion when the great god Bacchus put him back to the ranks with one fell swoop. With all his faults he had an absolute disregard of danger. I sincerely believe that he thought that if a shell should strike him—well, so much the worse for the shell. At the Somme his cool, courageous work under heavy shell fire won for him, at the recommendation of a British colonel who had observed it, the military medal. But one deed he performed which I think deserved more praise than any other. While working on the field a Lieutenant Colonel was brought to him on a stretcher. The Lieutenant Colonel's wound was so slight as to cause a sneer to hover about the sergeant's lips as he dressed it. A stretcher squad carried the colonel to the rear, and another squad, under the sergeant's direction, carried a badly-wounded Tommy. An ambulance came for them. The sergeant had the soldier put in first and then the colonel. But the colonel angrily protested against the Tommy being allowed to go in the same ambulance with him.
"Tres bien, monsieur," replied the sergeant in his quick, sharp tones, and turning to a stretcher squad, said, "Remove the officer." It was quickly done, the colonel staring in angry astonishment, the sergeant coolly continuing his work while the officer awaited the coming of another ambulance. In my opinion this act of an N.C.O. was worthy of a V.C.
Major Peters.—This officer somehow impressed me as being without any semblance of nervousness under any conditions. He was always an interesting study. If a shell burst in our neighborhood, close enough to make most of us "duck," Pete would go on serenely as if on church parade. Rather slow thinking, he was sure in judgment. He never made haste to give his thoughts tongue, "nor any unproportioned thought his act." He had a quiet, dry humor, and generous, kindly nature. He was invariably late on parade, and probably improperly dressed. I have met him on one occasion wandering aimlessly across an area looking for his company, which he had somehow mislaid. If the orderly room gave out an order for some return to be made by company commanders by 8 a.m., his was never in before 10, and then only after he had been reminded of the order. After the Battle of Arras he forgot altogether to put in his recommendations for bravery on the part of any of his men, though by a rush movement he succeeded in getting them in on time.
But with all these faults he had the respect, trust and confidence of everyone. He had won the M.C. twice for coolness and bravery in action. If the holding of the front line was a particularly risky proposition at any time, he would probably be the man in charge of the task. He was never found wanting when cool, courageous action was needed, and all knew it. Many are the good tales told of him in his early front line days. By night he would quietly wander off over the parapet by himself, and an hour or so later would come strolling back, after having had a good look into the German lines, and perhaps into some of their dugouts. In his slow voice he would give any valuable information, not wasting any words in doing it. On one of these trips, as he stepped back over the parapet he was met by a senior officer who, knowing his junior's characteristics, said,—
"Well, Pete, what have you found out this time?"
Pete sat himself down on the firing step of the trench and gave him all the information that he had. Suddenly the senior noticed that a pool of blood was collecting where Major Peters sat.
"Are you wounded?" he cried.
"Well, yes," Peters answered slowly, "guess they got me that time," and he rose and strolled carelessly along to the R.A.P. where his wounds were found to be serious enough to put him out of action for a few weeks. The Germans had thrown a bomb at him.
The major loved dearly going into dangerous zones, just wandering off to see what he could see. After we had taken Vimy Ridge, but not yet progressed beyond it, we had outposts on the German side of it, looking down on Vimy and other German positions, 400 or 500 yards away. A good deal of sniping was going on against us, as our men were so much exposed on the side of the hill, where they had very little protection except an odd shellhole or a few feet of shallow trench here and there. Our battalion was holding this line, and I, on the day Vimy village was taken, April 13th, had occasion to make a hurried trip along this whole front, At one spot, where a trench two feet deep was the only protection from possible sniping or shell fire, Major Peters stood, leaning back against the parados, two-thirds of his body exposed, hands in pockets, gazing pensively across at the Vimy ruins.
"What are you trying to do? Get your bally head blown off?" I demanded.
Without looking around, or otherwise changing his position, he replied in his slow voice:
"I don't think there's anyone there to blow my head off." This shows his judgment, for he was right, as it proved a little later when our scout officer, followed by a single platoon, entered it. But it showed also his carelessness as to danger, for at the moment he was only guessing, or surmising, that there was no one in Vimy, and at any moment he might have found it out to his sorrow.
A few minutes after this the accidental explosion of a Mills bomb killed one man, wounded two officers severely, and six men almost as severely, and I was kept busy for some time attending to them. Having finished, I found Major Peters near me, looking longingly toward Vimy, into the ruins of which our scout officer, Lieutenant A——; our O.C. battalion, Major E——; and a platoon in charge of ever-smiling Lieutenant G—— had all disappeared. Major Peters was apparently impatient to go across, though he had no right to do so without orders. Leaving the wounded to be evacuated by my always trustworthy and fearless assistants, Corporal H—— and Private B——, M.M., and their stretcher bearers, I joined him. Though I had even less right to go across than he, we dared each other to go, and off we went. An odd shell was falling about and it was quite characteristic for Pete to remark, slowly and seriously,—
"I don't mind dodging shells, but I do hate dodging that damned orderly room of ours."
But he was as joyously gay as if he were a schoolboy going on some forbidden picnic.
Without encountering a Boche we leisurely strolled through the ruined and deserted streets, passing here and there a dead German, and one Canadian who must have got lost, and been killed while looking for his own lines. On the main road was a wagon of heavy shells with its wheels interlocked with those of another wagon—both apparently deserted in a hurry by the fleeing Germans, for an officer's complete kit lay beside them. We passed the station and went on out 500 yards to where our platoon was "digging in." We joined them, and then wandered on for one hundred yards into what was to be the new No Man's Land, without ever having encountered a German. They had deserted the village by dark, and had not left even the proverbial corporal's guard behind. Guided by the major through the streets which were now in the shadows of evening we unerringly found our way back whence we had come, for he had the path-finding instincts of the North American Indian. On arrival we found that, while my absence had been unnoticed, poor Pete's had been, and for some minutes in the orderly room he was in hot water explaining matters. His explanations ended, as they usually did, by being unsatisfactory, and our strict disciplinarian adjutant, Major P——, turned aside to hide a smile, and murmur,—
"Poor Pete! Always in trouble." No matter what breach he ever made in the rules, Peters was always forgiven, for his sterling worth was too well known to allow anyone in authority to hold anger against him.
One of the best stories told of him is so droll, and yet so typical, that it is worth repeating: He was attending a course of instruction with a number of other officers on measures to be taken during a gas attack. The gas expert had shown carefully how the gas masks should be put on quickly and correctly, and the officers were applying them. They were instructed to take off the masks, and to see which of them could have his on in the shortest time. To the surprise of all present the slow-moving major had his mask on before any of the others. On inquiring of him how it happened, he admitted with that humorous dry smile of his that he had not bothered taking his mask off after the first trial.
CAPT. J. A. CULLUM, C.A.M.C.
Some twelve years ago when I was studying in Edinburgh, at Scotland's famous university, I occupied rooms at the apartment house of a bonnie little Scotch woman on Marchmont Road. Miss Anderson was a mother to us all. How well I remember her smiling, sweet face, above which her white hair made an appropriate halo, as she came in to do for us some kindly, thoughtful act. May she still be in the land of the living and happy!
In the next suite of rooms lived Jack Cullum of Regina, Canada, and for the last month before examinations, the regular lessees of his rooms having returned, he and I occupied the same suite. He was a square-jawed, firm-mouthed, good-looking chap, with a strong arm and leg, made strong by breaking bronchos on the western Canadian ranch where he grew to manhood and prosperity. He was blunt, almost to a fault, but his word was good, his mind fair, and his manners sociable. Other Canadians who were post-graduating there at the same time will remember many a gay evening we passed in the old R.B. on Princes Street, that most magnificent thoroughfare in Scotland, with the old Castle which saw many of the happy and unhappy hours of poor Mary Queen of Scots as a background, Calton Hill and its unfinished Grecian architecture at one end, and that fine Gothic monument to Sir Walter Scott in the center. In all these jolly evenings dear old Cullum was foremost in pay-times and gay-times.
In serious moments and in times of leisure, however, his mind often carried him back in happy reminiscence to his homeland where a pretty Canadian girl, whose photo he carried and often showed, was anticipating his return.
When the war came Jack was among the first to come forward. He went across to France with a Western Canadian battalion. In the next year Cullum was decorated for conspicuous gallantry three times, twice by the King and once by the French Government with the Croix de Guerre. His first act of bravery was performed when the Huns blew up a mine in No Man's Land, injuring many of his battalion. He, heedless of danger—and orders—rushed over the top, and attended his men in plain view of the enemy. For this he was given the Military Cross by King George; and a bar to the M.C. and the French decoration came later for acts of almost reckless courage. He was the first Canadian to win three decorations, and now he was thought to bear a charmed life by his comrades. Shortly after the last bit of ribbon came to him he applied for transfer to the fighting forces, resigning his commission in the medical corps, to accept a lower rank in the infantry. And just following this noble act, while sitting in a mess hut two miles behind the lines at Noulette Wood, a stray shell came through the roof, slightly injuring two other officers, and mortally wounding Cullum. His generous soul displayed itself to the last, for he absolutely refused to have his wounds dressed until after the others had been attended to, maintaining that his injuries were slight. And the gallant Cullum died in the ambulance on his way to the hospital.
But of course they are not all the fine types. You occasionally meet what the English call a rotter, but his kind is exceedingly scarce. After all, the finest type is the ordinary common soldier, without any special qualifications, who, day in and day out, night in and night out, performs the dirty, rough, hard, monotonous, and often very dangerous, tasks of the Tommy; who does his duty, grumbling perhaps, swearing often, but does it without cowardice, without hope of honor or emolument, except the honor of doing his duty and doing it like a man. When his work is done he comes back, if still alive and well, to sleep in wet clothes, on a mud floor, under a leaky roof or no roof, often hungry, or his appetite satisfied by bully beef and biscuit.
Yes; with all his swearing, despite any lead-swinging, the finest type of all, the real hero of the war, is the ordinary common soldier!
Up to the present the greatest aid given by the air service to any of the armies in this war is that of acting as scouts; or, in other words, the air service supplies the eyes of the army and navy.
Much is said of the time when thousands of planes will be used as offensive weapons on a large scale. It is quite possible that in the future this will come to pass; but up to the present, spasmodic bombardments of fortified positions by a few planes, and the useless murder of non-combatants by German zeppelins, has been the limit of the attacking power of air fleets. There are spectacular fights in the air between airmen of the opposing sides; and, when one considers the limited perspective of a man living in a seven-foot ditch, the monotony of such a life, and man's natural love of competition, one can easily understand the deep interest taken in these air duels by the men in the trenches.
One sometimes sees six or seven battles in the heavens in one afternoon, and another dozen machines driven back by shells from our anti-aircraft guns. Tennyson's prophetic words, written long ago in Locksley Hall, are indeed fulfilled:—
For I dipped into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rained
a ghastly dew
From the nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue;
Let us hope that after this war for liberty and freedom has ended in the subjugation of militarism, his further prophecy in regard to "the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world" may also come true.
When airmen fly over their opponent's lines, they are first met by shells from anti-aircraft guns and bullets from machine-guns, and between the two they are often forced to return to their own side of the lines. It is a beautiful picture, on a clear day, to see these machines, swerving this way and that, diving, ascending, out of the path of this rain of shot and shell that greets them, though it rarely brings them down. The swaying machine, cutting its way through the hundreds of white and black puffy balls, caused by the bursting shells, is a sight for gods and men; and the men, at least, never tire of watching it.
A very amusing incident, in this connection, is told by the officers of a certain Canadian battalion of infantry. Their original Lieutenant Colonel, now a General, came of a well-known and able, though rather egotistical and bombastic Canadian family. When in the trenches this Lieutenant Colonel always insisted on being accompanied by his batman or a special runner whose duty it was to carry a Ross rifle ready loaded. When he saw a German plane soaring over No Man's Land toward him, anywhere from ten thousand to fifteen thousand feet in the air, he would cry:—
"Quick, give me that rifle!" and, putting it to his shoulder, he would pump shot after shot in the direction of the distant airman. If the latter chanced to go back from whence he came, the Lieutenant Colonel would turn to those about him with a satisfied and triumphant smile of self-approbation:—
"Ah, I've turned him back," he would say.
When he learned, as he occasionally did, that he had been filling the sky with lead in a mistaken effort to hit one of our own machines, it worried him not at all, for the knowledge he had that he had "turned back" hundreds of Hun planes prevented an occasional slight mistake from damping the ardor of a spirit such as his.
When the war is over he may rest assured, as he no doubt will, that no Canadian, no Britisher, yes, it might even be written, no man, had done more in this great war to accomplish the defeat of the Hun than he!
Very often, while you are looking up at a shelled aeroplane, the bits of shrapnel and shell are heard thudding into the earth all about. On one occasion my commanding officer and I lay on the ground in a shower of this kind, while a short distance away a soldier of another battalion was severely wounded by a piece of shell casing. It is strange that more men are not hit in this manner, and the same remark may be made of the few who are wounded in proportion to the number of shells poured over in an ordinary bombardment.
A young airman described his work to me as "much monotony, and a few damned bad frights"; and this may be taken as a description of almost any branch of the service at the front. The phrase, "a young airman," is very appropriate in speaking of most of our heroes of the air, for they are often only boys of nineteen or twenty years of age who, with the recklessness of youth, but the courage of veterans, risk their valuable young lives in dangerous reconnaissances or in battling with the enemy a mile or two in the air. Strange that buoyant, happy young fellows like these, with all their lives before them, should value the future less than those who have lived more than half of theirs. But this is the case; and it is stated, truly, that the steadiness of nerve of these heroic youngsters surpasses that of older men.
One day we relieved the —— battalion in the lines, and as the trenches were veritable mudholes, Major P—— and I took to the fields and crossed overland to our rear lines, passing through our long line of Howitzers and field guns on the way. As our batteries were just about to open a heavy strafe on the enemy, to find out the strength of their artillery on this front, we sat on the edge of a shellhole to smoke a cigarette and watch the effect of the bombardment. The batteries near us had eight or ten men to each gun, using a small derrick to carry into the dark breech of the gun the heavy shell. This was pushed home, and behind it was shoved in the charge of guncotton. Then the metal door—for all the world like the door of a small safe—was closed and bolted. The range having been given from a row of figures called across by an artillery lieutenant with field glasses, the gun was brought to the proper level by one man turning a wheel, while another, gazing through a clinometer, told when the proper range was attained. Another man pulled a string, the gun belched forth its death-dealing load, and we watched the shell bursting a mile or two away over the German lines, with a flash, a great upheaval of earth, and a cloud of smoke high in the air.
Presently to our right we heard a machine-gun playing its rat-a-tat-tat. Looking up we saw one of our own planes spitting its stream of fire at a large, red, German flyer that had been doing much damage to our machines on this front for some weeks. The Hun plane was above, thus having the advantage. Suddenly his machine made a nose-dive downward, like a hawk swooping down on its prey, and as the German had speed very much in his favor, he quickly arrived at the position he desired. His machine-gun poured forth bullets, and to our horror we saw that the tail of our aeroplane was cut cleanly off by them, as though by a huge sword. The machine, having no guiding rudder, immediately turned nose downward, and we sighed sadly and felt sick at heart as we thought of the gallant young chaps falling rapidly to their death.
It is always with a sinking feeling that you watch one of your own machines brought down. You can't be entirely without pity even for the enemy under the same conditions. For when a man dies in a charge, or even when he is mortally hit by a sniper's bullet or by a shell, he is either killed instantly, or he is brought back on a stretcher with hopes of recovery. But when an aviator is ten thousand feet in the air, carrying on a duel with a foe, it is often only his machine that is disabled, and while it noses down the long ten thousand feet, though it is only a matter of moments, he has time to realize that death is about to conquer him, and not in a pleasant manner.
Just before our unfortunate machine in this fight crashed into the earth one of the occupants fell or jumped from it. The other remained in his seat, facing his quickly-coming death with the same courage that made him take the chance. The tail of the machine, being the lighter, came down more slowly and struck the earth not far behind the body to which it had been attached.
In the meantime the German soared triumphantly above, but now he circled down, sailing close to the earth over his fallen opponents, apparently to see the result of his work. Then he soared aloft again, as all about him are fleecy white clouds or puffs of smoke from the explosions of shells from our anti-aircraft guns in the neighborhood. They burst everywhere except in his quickly-changing path, and he sailed back over his own lines in safety.
Stretcher bearers hurried forward from a nearby field ambulance dressing station to find that the man who had fallen from the machine was still alive, though probably fatally injured. He was hurried off to receive attention. The other was beneath the machine and beyond human aid. As the smashed machine was in plain view of the Germans it might at any moment become the target of their artillery, and the stretcher bearers here, as in all their work, showed an absolute disregard of personal danger. All honor to them! One-half hour later, being nearby with my corporal, we crossed over to the ruined aeroplane. Already the Royal Flying Corps had a guard on it to save it from souvenir hunters, and we were warned away, but were later allowed to go around it, and had a good view at close hand of its tangled mass of wires, machinery, and armament. There, with his youthful face looking up toward his Maker, lay the other occupant of the plane. Shortly his loved ones at home would receive the sad intelligence of the untimely, but honorable and courageous, death of this boy who gave up the life he was to live, the sons he was to father—"his immortality," to use the words of Rupert Brook—in order to do his share in holding aloft the lamp of liberty and freedom.
Sometimes it is difficult to say who has command of the air at a certain section of the line. This big red plane, and a few others of its type, seemed to be speedier than any of ours on this front; but just as we have gradually surpassed the German in artillery, in the morale of our men, in control of No Man's Land, and in general offensive power, it was only a matter of a short time till we again took control of the air on this front, as we have on others.
The control of the air depends in great part, not on the courage of the aviators, but on the efficiency of their machines. Two days later I saw this red plane, or one of its type, daringly fly over our lines, and only about 300 feet above them—an exceedingly low flight over enemy lines. A scouting plane of ours, much inferior in speed and fighting power, but manned by some brave boy who cared not for his life so long as he did his duty, flew straight at the red machine.
We watched in strained silence, while they circled about each other, their machine-guns spitting fire, and once they nearly collided, head on. The Hun decided to retreat, and flew back over his own lines; and our man, or boy, sailed away in another direction to continue the observation work he had been doing when the Hun came. Had our boy lost, his would have been just another name added to the long list of heroes of the Royal Flying Corps; for his act, in risking his life in attacking a much speedier and more dangerous machine than his own, was the act of a noble, courageous, fearless boy, well worthy of all praise, and of the finest decoration. Had he succeeded in downing his enemy, luck would have been on his side, for success in fighting in the air, as in ordinary life, often depends on chance.
Besides the courage displayed by the youthful members of the air service, they and their German enemy-rivals usually display toward each other a chivalry perhaps not equalled in any other branch of the army. It is partly due, no doubt, to the fact that the men who go into the air service, outside of their courage, are naturally lovers of the picturesque and spectacular. It is also due to the unconscious admiration one brave man has for another; the pity which he must feel for a fellowman whom he may shoot to his death ten thousand feet in the air; and finally, the knowledge that it is only a matter of time, if he remains in the service, till he meets a superior machine, if not a braver man, who may give him the same fate. This feeling does not prevent them fighting most fiercely, for each knows that while to the winner may come rewards and decorations, to the loser comes almost certain death. But if by chance they both escape through poor firing, exhaustion of ammunition, or that great element, chance, there is little or no personal hatred, but rather admiration for a brave foe.
The greatest of British airmen, the late Captain Ball, V.C., D.S.O., told of a contest in which he and a German both exhausted their machine-gun ammunition without serious injury to either; and then, after having done their best to kill each other, they sailed along side by side, laughing one at the other, till they parted company with a friendly wave of the hand to return to their own lines.
It was not uncommon, in the early part of the war, when one of our men was brought down behind the German lines, for the Germans on the following day to fly over our lines and to drop a note telling us that Lieutenant Blank had been killed in a fight on the previous day, and had been buried behind their trenches with all military honors. Needless to say our airmen displayed the same courtesy toward their opponents. The knowledge thus given often saved that depressing uncertainty on the part of the missing hero's relations and friends, which is more disheartening than the knowledge of his death.
Personal bravery is not the monopoly of any one nation. The airmen of our brave French, Belgian, Italian, or Russian allies require no praise from my feeble pen; and those of us who have been out there have seen too many incidents of the courage of our enemies to belittle them, and we have no desire to do so. They have often been barbarous in their uncalled-for cruelties and outrageous in their acts, but they have been sometimes brave, careless of death, and chivalrous.
On one occasion I saw a German airman fly so low over our lines from the front to the rear that we could see him leaning out over the side and looking down at us in the trenches. Some companies of infantry in the front lines raised their rifles and peppered away at him. But he carelessly flew on toward the rear where a company of pioneers were digging trenches; and so struck were they at this reckless trick that they pulled off their helmets, and swinging them in the air, they cheered him. Another instance of British—Canadian in this case—love of any brave act!
The annals of our British air service are so crowded with tales of heroic deeds that they seem almost to dwarf the heroism shown in the infantry, artillery, or naval branches of our forces. Many stories worthy of the classic heroes are yet untold of boys twenty-one or twenty-two years old who grappled with their enemies in the clouds with the same undaunted fearlessness displayed by Horatius at the bridge in the brave days of old.
Now, the ordinary combatant officer who perhaps will read these lines may expect a diatribe against what the boys call, "the brass-hats," but, if so, he will be grievously disappointed. Outside the fact that Staff Officers, like Medical Officers, are a necessary evil, the writer has the vivid recollection of one occasion on which he might have been court-martialed, and perhaps shot, for lèse majesté, or something akin to it, but for the good humor of a well-known Brigadier General. So there will be no scathing denunciation of Staff Officers here.
At noon I was sitting in a dugout in the lines when I received an order to immediately relieve Captain ——, of the —steenth Canadian Battalion. The order gave no information as to the whereabouts of this Battalion, and as it turned out the order had been wrongly transmitted, and I had been directed to go to a Battalion which was not on our front. However, I did not know this at the time, and so, I quickly got my things together, hung my steel hat, my cap, haversack, pack, overcoat, stick, and other odds and ends on various parts of my person,—for an officer, like a private, seems to be made to hang things upon.
To get out of the lines to where I was to be met by an ambulance was a long, hard trudge. The ambulance was over one hour late, and hours followed in which we searched everywhere to find a trace of the Battalion. Night came on and we were still searching, and as no food had accompanied us, and a mixture of snow and rain was falling, I was cold, wet, hungry and pugnacious, when I entered a Headquarters in order to try to get some information. Forgetting I was only a Captain, and stalking angrily in, I demanded:—
"Where the hell is the —steenth Battalion?" An officer rose, came forward and smilingly asked me what the trouble was.
"I have been hunting for hours," I replied hotly, not even looking for his rank, "searching for this bally Battalion, and I'm fed up to the neck with being pushed around like a basket of fruit," for I had had many moves recently.
"And a pretty healthy looking basket of fruit you are, too," he returned with a good-humored laugh, while he proceeded to put me on the right track, and at last I noted his rank. He was the General of my Brigade. So now you have the reason that I will say nothing against Staff Officers.
A story akin to this of an incident that happened in one of our trenches may be worth relating, though it has nothing to do with Staff Officers. My Colonel who always, even in his busiest times, had a vivid sense of humor, was sitting in his dugout when a Tommy's voice yelled down:—
"Say, Bub, how do we get to the Vistula railhead from here?" The Colonel's voice floated up giving directions. But the Tommy, thinking he was talking to another Private, said:—
"Oh, say, Bub, don't be so damned lazy, come up and show us the way," and the consternation of the Tommy as the Colonel good-naturedly came up and showed him the way was good to look at.
On a drizzling, rainy day when our Battalion occupied the front lines on part of the Vimy Ridge, I was standing in front of a so-called dugout, which consisted of a room about twelve feet by twelve, in which, through lack of space, two Medical Officers and their four Assistants and two batmen, ate, slept, and attended the wounded and sick. We were sheltered from shells by a tin roof, on which someone had piled two layers of sandbags.
The trenches were of sand with no revetments of any kind, so that the rain, which had been pouring for days, washed the earth down and formed mud to the knees. Sometimes the mud was rich and creamy, and, except for the fact that whoever happened to be in front of you spattered it in your face, it was easy to get through. The other variety of mud was mucilaginous and tenacious, and in getting through it one was very likely to lose his boots—particularly if they were the long rubber kind—and socks, or to get stuck fast. There were many cases where men had to be dug or pulled out; and not one but many men, and on one occasion an officer, came into this dugout of mine during the night in their bare feet. They had come for hundreds of yards in some cases in this manner.
On the day of which I speak I was standing in the creamy mud half way to my knees listening to the sharp crack made by bullets whizzing over head, and to the singing of shells, by way of a change from the rather poisonous atmosphere in the dugout, made offensive by the carbon monoxide from a charcoal fire, when I heard someone splashing along through the mud.
Looking up, I saw three Staff Officers with the distinguishing red bands on their caps, for they were not wearing helmets. Two of them wore raincoats, so that their rank could not be seen; the third wore no overcoat, but an ordinary officer's uniform with ankle boots and puttees. He strode doggedly behind the others, apparently caring nothing for mud or rain, and to my surprise he had upon his breast, though he looked no more than twenty years of age, the ribbons of a number of decorations.
They stopped just before they came to where I was. Taking out a map of these trenches they and their guide, or runner, began studying it, while I stood wondering how a boy of twenty could have won these coveted decorations, finally deciding that he must be in the Air Service. While I was still wondering he turned to me, and, though he was of my own rank, he saluted and, with a pleasant smile, asked me if I could give them any information as to this front. I joined them, and for some time I answered their questions, which, rather strangely, were in regard to a cemetery to which Guillemot trench—the one in which we stood—led on its way to the firing line 500 yards away.
"After we go there," asked one of the older officers, "what is the easiest way out?"
I explained that the easiest way was overland to Neuville St. Vaast, and then down the road, but as we still heard the bullets passing a few feet above the parapet it might not be the safest. He smiled whimsically, and said he would personally rather take the risk than plow through this dreadful mud, but perhaps they'd better stick to the trenches. We chatted a few moments more, and they put their feet once again to the task of getting them through the trenches, the rather thin legs of the young officer pushing him determinedly along behind the others.
That evening the Colonel informed me that he had learned at Brigade that my questioner of the afternoon was the Prince of Wales, who is Honorary Chairman of a Commission in charge of British cemeteries in France. And this removes, for me at least, the idea which many of us had that, while the Prince is in France, he is kept well out of the danger zone. For on this day he was well up toward the front lines and under filthy trench conditions at that. A Prince with as much red blood in his veins as he displayed in making that journey should not have enough blue blood to prevent his being some day a strong and righteous monarch.
On Easter Monday, April 9, 1917, occurred on the western front the great push which has been named by the press the Battle of Arras. For some days previously our bombardment of the enemy lines had been almost continuous, the so-called "drum fire" which sounded like rolls of thunder. At times during the night the rumble would become a roar, and one of my tent mates would half awaken, and say:
"Well, they're giving poor Heiny hell tonight," and the tone would almost imply pity. A grunt from the rest of us, and then we'd roll over on our steel-hard cots to try unsuccessfully to find a soft spot, and shortly the snores from one of the officers who was notorious for snoring would drown even the roll of the guns.
Since the Somme advance in 1916 no great pushback of the Germans had occurred. After all the many and great preparations had been completed, an attack was now to be made on a ten-mile front north and south of the ruined city of Arras by British and Canadian troops. To the Canadians fell the lot of taking the famous Vimy Ridge which they, with the absolutely necessary assistance of almost unlimited artillery, successfully took, consolidated, and held, on Easter Monday, April 9.
The argument which sometimes occurs as to whether the artillery or infantry did the greater work in the taking of the Ridge is beside the question; one was as necessary as the other. The artillery could have hammered the Ridge until it became absolutely uninhabitable by the enemy, but the artillery could not consolidate and hold the Ridge, which could be done only by foot-soldiers. Without the proper aid being given by artillery, no foot soldiers in the world, be they ever so valorous, could have taken this strongly fortified hill.
The taking of this Ridge was considered a most difficult achievement for the reason that the French in 1915 nearly captured it, but with losses estimated unofficially at from 150,000 to 200,000 men. Anyone who has been in this neighborhood and has seen the areas dotted with equipment and bones of killed French soldiers, and the trenches marked at almost every turn by little white wooden crosses, "Erected to an unknown French soldier," by their British allies, could hardly doubt these figures. Then the Allies, after holding the conquered part of the Ridge for some months, were pushed off it by the Germans, who successfully held it till the Battle of Arras.
Before this battle it was said that French and British were betting odds that the Canadians would not succeed in this project of taking the Ridge. These facts are not given in any spirit of rivalry or criticism, but only as points of interest and to give honor where honor is due. The Canadians certainly can never complain that they were denied their proper meed of praise by the British press and public for their work at Vimy, but neither can it be gainsaid that they deserved the praise accorded.
The advance was to have taken place much sooner, but preparations were not complete. Easter Sunday, then Easter Monday became the day decided upon, and 5.30 a.m. of that day was to be the zero hour, or hour of attack.
Promptly at that hour the wonderfully heavy artillery barrage multiplied one hundredfold. Three minutes later the soldiers began going over the top and following the barrage. So complete were the arrangements, and so successful every move, that objectives were taken almost to the minute as planned, and returns coming in to Brigade H.Q. on the immediate front on which our battalion attacked were as optimistic as could be hoped for by the most critical.
A little over one hour after the first wave of Canadians started across No Man's Land, our O.C., Lieutenant Colonel J——, with an orderly room staff, signalers and scouts, started for the German lines to open a battalion H.Q. at Ulmer House dugout, about 600 yards behind the trenches which two hours before this had been the enemy front line. I accompanied the party, for I was to establish a Regimental Aid Post somewhere near the H.Q.
When we stepped out of the tunnel which led from Zivy cave to the center of No Man's Land, we had the misfortune to arrive in a sap—a trench leading toward the Hun lines—which sap at the moment of our arrival was being very heavily shelled by German artillery. As the sides of the sap were no more than two or three feet in height, and as the shells were dropping so close that we were continually in showers of mud from them, our party became broken up, leaving the Colonel and five of us together.
Some two hundred yards on our way we stopped to rest. The Colonel and I were sitting behind a small parapet, our bodies touching, when a shell dropped beside him, pieces of it wounding him in five or six places. He pluckily insisted on going on toward our goal, but soon fell from exhaustion. The problem then was to get him back in safety, for there had been no cessation in the shelling. Fortunately this was accomplished with no other casualties, with great pluck on the Colonel's part, and some slight assistance on the part of his companions.
Major P——, M.C., then took charge, and with most of the original party set out for Ulmer House. Our route this time was slightly altered by dodging the unlucky sap and going directly overland. Stepping around shellholes and keeping well away from a tank stuck in a mud hole to our right, in order to avoid the numerous shells that the Germans were pouring about it, we proceeded on our trip through the German barrage, which was somewhat scattered now.
In passing it may be said that on this immediate front, because of the depth of the mud, the only assistance given by the five or six tanks to the troops was that of drawing and localizing the enemy fire to a certain extent, and so marking out areas of danger that it were well to avoid. None of them got even as far as our first objective, but remained stuck in the thick mud till they were dug out by hand. On hard ground they are no doubt dangerous weapons of war, but in this deep mud their only danger was to their occupants and to those about them.
Our trip across this time was not particularly eventful. Veering this way and that to avoid the most heavily shelled bits of ground, stepping over corpses of Germans, or, what was more trying, of our own Canadian boys, saying a word of comfort to some poor wounded chaps in shellholes, we gradually and successfully made our way across the shell-devastated and conquered territory to Ulmer House. We suffered only two slight casualties, a wounded hand to the assistant adjutant, Lieutenant C——, and a bruised chest to the signaling officer, Captain G——.
A couple of hours later the shelling had ceased so completely that it was comparatively safe for anyone to wander about the field which had so recently been the scene of one of the greatest battles in history. Here and there, in shellholes marked by a bit of rag tied to a stick, we found many of our own boys and the boys of other Canadian battalions who needed attention. Stretcher parties were made up, generally of German prisoners, and the wounded were cleared with all possible speed.
One poor young chap we discovered late in the afternoon in an advanced shellhole, with his leg badly wounded and broken, he having lain there from 6.15 in the morning. Yet he smiled good-humoredly and thanked us gratefully for what we did, asking only for a cigarette after we fixed him up. Field ambulance stretcher bearers and German prisoners under Captain K——, M.C., of No. — Canadian Field Ambulance, worked tremendously to clear the field. Other working parties were encountered at different points, all with the same object.
In our rounds we visited all that remained of Thelus and saw some of the many captured guns. One of the most interesting visits we made was to a cave at Les Tilleuls, near Thelus, which was being used as H.Q. for another battalion as well as H.Q. for C Company of our own. Here Lieutenant J—— greeted us warmly but failed to tell us the details of his own exploit, which has acquired a fame it well deserves and for which he received the Military Cross. Here is the story:
Lieutenant J—— was second in command of C Company, the C.O. being "Old Pop," who was killed early in the fight, the command of the company devolving upon his subordinate. He is a boy of twenty-two, a bank clerk in civil life, as mild, gentle and good natured a lad as one could find in a day's march. He had led his men on till they obtained their objective, and then he and a corporal who were scouting about came to this cave with its long, winding staircase. They threw down a couple of Mills bombs, drew their revolvers, and went down, to be confronted in flickering candle light by one hundred and five German officers and men, all armed.
Bluffing that they had a large force upstairs, they covered and disarmed the 105 Germans, took them prisoners, and, hunting up an escort for them, sent them to the rear. Those are the cold, bare, undecorated facts. And then to complete as pretty a bit of work as was done at Vimy Ridge, Lieutenant J—— took a German carrier pigeon that he found in the cave, tied to its leg a message giving the necessary essentials, and finishing with the words, "everything bright and cheery," he freed it. It found its way to our battalion H.Q. at Ulmer House, where we had the pleasure of reading the note!
To stand at the mouth of this cave and look about on all sides as far as the eye could see, and to know that all that shell-racked ground was won in a few hours by the citizen army of Canada made one feel a legitimate pride in being a native of that land. And the stories which kept dribbling in for days, as we held the line, of the gallantry of this man or the nobly inspiring death of that one, were of deep interest to us all.
Of our own battalion we lost on the 9th, 217 men out of a total of 657, and ten officers—not counting two who were slightly wounded—out of twenty-two of us. Three of our officers were killed outright: "Old Pop;" Lieutenant Beechraft, an American lawyer from Michigan, who often said to me with a confident smile: "The Germans have not yet made a shell to get me." And he was right, poor Tom, for I saw him lying dead that day on the field with a German rifle bullet wound in his head. The third of our officers killed was Major Hutchins, a man well past fifty, who had recently joined us and who had taken a Lieutenant's position of platoon commander in order to serve at the front. This was his first fight, and he was killed by a shell while leading his platoon across No Man's Land. All honor to his gray hairs, and may they ever be an inspiration to younger men!
One of the best stories of this battle concerned a Canadian Brigade on our left under the command of Brigadier General H——. This brigade on April 9 took all its objectives except one very difficult hill, No. 140, nicknamed, because of its shape, the Pimple. The General of the division sent word to Brigadier General H—— that he was going to send in some British troops to aid him in capturing this hill. Brigadier General H—— is a bonnie fighter, an Anglo-Indian who has been living some years in British Columbia, and he has a temper much resembling an Irish terrier's. He curtly sent back word that his Canadians needed no assistance. Knowing him well, the General of division good-naturedly replied that if General H—— succeeded in taking this difficult hill they would give him the title Lord Pimple. The next day the division received the following message:
Have taken, am consolidating, and will hold Hill 140.
(Sgd.) LORD PIMPLE.
The main facts of this story can be verified in the official records of this division.
I have a vivid recollection of General H—— when he was Lieutenant Colonel in command of the —th Canadian Battalion. I had been sent there to relieve the regular Medical Officer who was away on leave in England. Lieutenant Colonel H—— was also away on leave during my first few days' service with his battalion.
On a certain day when we were being relieved from the front line opposite Bully Grenay I had not yet seen General H——. On going out with my orderlies we were to pass along Damoisette trench, which was one of the front support trenches, and was an "out" trench that day. We found it blocked by some other officers of our battalion and a couple of platoons, for this trench was being heavily shelled just ahead of the block. We joined the others and waited some time, when an officer said:
"By G—, I take enough chances without waiting here for the Huns to drop those shells on our heads. I am going out Caron d'Aix," which was an "in" trench that day for this relief. But the relief was to have been completed at 10 a.m., and it was then 10:15, so we would hardly cause any obstruction. This fact, combined with the fact that probably everyone, as is often the case, was waiting for someone else to propose going back, made us all turn about and retrace our steps. We were going along Caron d'Aix trench when I heard an angry voice behind me demanding:
"Doctor, what are you doing in this trench? Don't you know that this is an 'in' trench?"
I turned and saw a thin-lipped, square-jawed Lieutenant Colonel who, I guessed at once, was our returned O.C. I explained that Damoisette was being shelled heavily, that relief was complete, and that only three of the men ahead were mine. His face was quite dark and frowning, and I could see that he was debating as to whether he should give me a strafing, or pass it over. Finally, he said sharply:
"All right; carry on."
That night at Bully I did not look forward with any great pleasure to my dinner, for I had heard of his reputation as to temper, and I expected he would say a few things to me, though, as Kelly well put it, "it's none of an officer's business to put his nose against an advancin' German shell." But I plucked up my courage and entered the H.Q. mess room, to be greeted in a kindly and friendly manner by Lieutenant Colonel H——.
"How are you, doctor? I have not had the pleasure of meeting you before," shaking my hand.
"Pardon me, sir, but you met me in a trench today where I had no right to be."
"No. You were quite right to be there. I made inquiries, and find you were right. And anyway, I had no damned right to be there myself."
In the time that I remained with his battalion I found him always to be a courteous gentleman, but with an irascible temper. One would not be surprised if, since his becoming a Brigadier General, his temper is less touchy. And the incident of the Pimple shows that he is an efficient officer, well worthy of the land of his forefathers, and a credit to the country of his adoption and of his men.
One day toward the end of March, 1917, our battalion was in reserve in huts and tents at Bois des Alleux, a mile or so back of Mt. St. Eloy, so I took advantage of a fine afternoon to ride about the country. Making a detour through fields to avoid being stopped by some officious transport control, I came to the Route Nationale running from Bethune to Arras.
To my surprise it looked like the Strand on a busy day, for it was full of marching troops, transport wagons, hurrying motor cars with staff officers, and double-decked motor busses painted gray, full of Tommies, gay and happy, going to a railhead to enjoy a well-earned leave. One could not but wonder in what part of London these motor busses used to carry their passengers, and think how strange it was to see them now hurrying along a French road within shell fire of the Germans. As I rode along the well-paved route, our trench lines could be seen in the nearby fields, and the picturesque towers of Mt. St. Eloy were on my left, seen through the nets stretched from tree to tree to hide the traffic from the watchful eyes of the German observers.
Riding toward Arras, eight kilometers away, I came up with an English officer riding in the same direction. When I joined him he was at first, as all English officers are, a little loath to be joined by a stranger, though the latter wears the same uniform. But gradually he thawed and became the likable, courteous chap that the English officer nearly always becomes on closer acquaintance. He informed me that one required a pass to enter Arras, but as he had one and was going in to see his commanding officer, he offered to take me in as the medical officer of his battalion. Availing myself of this brotherly offer, I rode with him along the net-guarded road till we came to the outskirts of Arras where a sentry allowed me to enter with him. We put up our horses at the old French cavalry barracks, now occupied by British—not Canadian—troops, and then we started out to search for his C.O.
We came first to what was once the attractive Boulevard Carnot, now "Barbwire Square," as it was nearly filled with this material to keep the soldiers out of it to prevent them from being hit by the German shells which landed there daily, either from the enemy lines only 100 yards away, or from hostile aeroplanes. The Huns had the range of this street to a nicety. As we walked along the street shells bursting a couple of blocks away threw pieces of rock so near our heads that we were glad when we reached the end of it.
We wandered about the streets, deserted by nearly all civilians except an old man here and there walking about with bowed head, or an old woman long past the days of her beauty being spoiled by the splinters of a shell. Except in a shop where I coaxed a young woman to sell me a souvenir spoon, in two hours I saw only one young woman in the streets. She was hurrying along with a parcel under her arm, paying no heed to the sharp, cutting explosions of our 18-pounders nearby or to the explosions of the German shells a few blocks away. She looked for all the world like a young housewife returning home after a morning's shopping.
The houses that lined the streets were nearly all closed. All of them showed marks of shell fire, some being completely demolished, others having only the rear walls standing with parts of the sides pointing outward like arms stretching forth for their loved ones. The immense station of the Chemin de Fer du Nord was a mass of ruins. The stone Cathedral was represented by the lower part of the tower, and a brass bell lying on the pavement, the bell that had in times of peace so often called the faithful to prayer. The Avenue Pasteur—France is a country that recognizes its scientists—showed few complete buildings, and ironically one noted the ruin that German shells had made of the Avenue Strassbourg.
Here and there a stone barricade had been built, loopholes being left for machine-guns, to prevent a possible German advance. Notices told all to keep near the walls and away from the open streets to avoid shell fire. Estaminets, cafés, épiceries, and restaurants were all damaged and closed. Joyful nights and gay days were things of the past in this shadow of a prosperous city. À la mode Parisienne, the sign over a ladies' suit store, was all that remained of the center of fashion of the women of Arras.
Altogether Arras, which had been a well-built and modern city of 25,000 people, had become a deserted village. What shutters remained were closed and riddled with shrapnel, and the place had a sad, forbidding air, as if the inhabitants had flown because of some horrible plague. It reminded one of the ruins of Pompeii. In one square stood the pedestal only of a monument erected, it said, in 1910, "in honor of the sons of Arras who had died for their native land." When the monument is rebuilt the dead heroes in whose honor it was erected will have been joined by many comrades.
I passed out of the walls, depressed by the unhappy wreck of a once prosperous city destroyed by the highly refined methods of warfare developed by twentieth century German kultur.
Usually hunting partridge or grouse is the pleasure only of those who remain at home; but one day, while sitting in a dugout, I enjoyed a wonderful meal.
Our dugout was in a communication trench some five hundred yards from the front line, and probably six hundred from the German. The dugout was one of those steel-roofed affairs, the roof forming a graceful semicircle of one-eighth-inch metal, covered with sand a foot thick, carelessly shoveled on. My orderlies were Corporal Roy, a Canadian boy of twenty; Private Jock whose well-developed sense of dry Scotch humor showed itself by his irritating the men about him by any method of teasing which came easiest, but whose personal good nature and loyal love of doing his duty, be it the most arduous and dangerous, made everyone forgive him any of his annoying tricks; and my batman, Private John, a decent, clean and brave Canadian boy who, by the way, was one of the best men I ever had to look after my comforts, or lessen my discomforts, whichever way you choose to put it.
This fine, cool winter day we had been standing at the door of our dugout peeping over a comparatively safe bit of parapet, watching some of our sixty-pound trench mortars hurtle through the air and burst in the German lines. At last, tiring of the performance, I went inside and sat down to read one of Jeffrey Farnol's latest books. A few minutes later Roy came hurrying in, grabbed his rifle, and went racing out again. Wondering what was the cause of this strange behavior, and hearing a shot, I went out.
Turning into the main communication trench, I was just in time to see Corporal Roy climbing back over the parapet with a plump, dead partridge in his hand. Only those of you who have been living for some months on army rations can appreciate the glorious anticipations which a fat, plump partridge can conjure up in one's imagination. His rifle was leaning against the parados, and Roy explained to us that he had seen two partridges, but had only succeeded in getting one. His impatience getting the better of his judgment, he did not wait till dark to go out and get his prize, but went over the parapet in plain view of German snipers only six hundred yards away, and brought in his bag of game.
The partridge was cleaned by John and Jock and with the addition of a little mutton and carrots from last night's rations, I made a stew of it. All agreed—perhaps my boys didn't dare to disagree—that it was delicious.
This is the recipe for Ragoût à la mode de guerre: Shoot a partridge over the parapet on a bright day; take your life in your hands to go out and get the victim; clean it—but not too clean; mix with it a little mutton and carrots; stew it in a canteen or dixie over a charcoal brazier, with plenty of the penetrating charcoal fumes entering your lungs; and perform all these rites in a dugout with enemy shells popping about in the neighborhood. If you have carefully carried out all these directions, then, being sufficiently hungry, add a goodly portion of that most savory of sauces—appetite—to the dish. I promise you that, though your tastes are blasé to the last degree, you will admit that Ragoût à la mode de guerre makes a meal fit for the discriminating palate of a king.
Leave is the be-all and end-all of anyone who has been at the front for any great time. It is supposed to come every three months. It never does, but you know that if you stay long enough it will come, for Army Headquarters, Corps H.Q., Divisional H.Q. and finally Brigade H.Q. (I don't dare mention Battalion H.Q.!) "may use all of the leave some of the time, and some of the leave all of the time, but they cannot go on using all of the leave all of the time," to paraphrase Mr. P. T. Barnum in regard to fooling the people.
So all you must do is to possess your soul in patience, avoid getting directly in front of a shell or bullet, and some day in the dim and distant future leave will come for you to expose yourself once again to the temptations of the World, the Flesh and the Devil in London; that is, if any of them remain when the Bishop of London, the Food Controller, the Anti-Treating Laws, and the Provost Marshal have done their work.
One day a fellow officer (in this connection I nearly said sufferer) informs you that his batman was told by the O.C.'s batman that he had heard that the Brigadier General was taking leave the end of the month. After that you go on hearing by devious routes that the Brigade Majors, Captains, and Lieutenants are going soon, and suddenly you realize that shortly your own Battalion Headquarters will find leave filtering through on them. And perchance, toward the end of the list, you know you come somewhere.
It is then you look up your bank account, if you happen to have any, and you take no extra chances either with shells or superstitions, for soldiers are almost as superstitious as sailors.
You could barely find in the British Armies ten men who would light three cigarettes with one match, and that despite the fact that the match ration is sometimes as absent as the rum ration. We none of us are superstitious, but we adhere to the same platform as did a very charming Canterbury lady. Her two sons, as fine chaps as England produces, were at the front, and as she and I, walking down St. George's Place, came to a ladder leaning against the wall of a building, she carefully walked round the other side of it, saying:
"You know, Doctor, I am not the faintest bit superstitious, but I am not taking any chances these days." And that is the position of the Army in the field. They are not taking any chances.
Your leave comes one day after many months beyond the three required of you. You start to a railhead where you put up for a night at an Officers' Club and mingle with the other happy beings who are leaving for the same purpose on the nine-mile-per-hour French train in the morning. As you sit about after a dinner that makes your ration meals for the past six months look literally like "thirty cents," you light a cigarette, cock up your heels, and look at the world through a beaming face, made ruddy by an extra portion of the grape juice of France, and wearing a smile that won't come off.
"You going on leave, too?" you ask genially of your neighbor, a young officer of that Suicide Club, the Royal Flying Corps. He is about twenty-one, and you feel old enough to almost patronize him. But before you do it you glance carefully at his left breast to see if it is, or is not, covered with D.S.O., M.C., and perhaps, V.C., ribbons. To your relief you find it isn't. However, on second thought, you decide you will keep your patronizing for the Army Service Corps and not for these smiling, gay, life-risking, dare-devil boys about you.
"Y-yes in a w-w-way," the young chap answers with a charming boyish smile, "sick leave. My old b-bus hit the earth s-s-suddenly, and I'm g-going for a rest. I d-d-didn't always talk l-l-like this." And in an engaging way he stammers out an invitation for you to take a Crême de Menthe with him. Of course, courtesy compels you, much against your desire, to accept. He has with him two others of the R.F.C., all young like himself, and for a couple of hours you listen to their modest tales of their really wonderful exploits, undreamed of except by the far-seeing few twenty-five years ago. One of the others has a scraped nose, blackened eye and swollen lip, which he says he received when his "waggon," in landing, struck a rough bit of ground which, "he tried to plow up and he must have hit the bally gravel underneath."
"W-were you t-t-tight?" asks the first with that boyish smile.
"Certainly not," indignantly replied the other, and he laughed. "Of course, I had had a couple in the morning, but I had a sleep afterwards, and anyway, the O.C. smelt my breath, and he wouldn't have allowed me up if he had smelt anything."
And you listen with fascination to their comparisons of their machines and their methods of diving; and "stalling," in which they drive up against the wind in such a way that they can keep stationary in relation to a certain bit of earth; and "corkscrewing," or nose-diving, towards the earth with a circular turning of the whole aeroplane, out of the midst of enemies, and righting the machine thousands of feet lower down out of danger.
You become quite an expert as you listen. They tell you that earlier in the war the German aviators were very chivalrous foes, returning courtesy for courtesy, never shooting a fallen enemy, and dropping notes as to the fate of some of our missing airmen. On one occasion the great German aviator, Immelman, who remained chivalrous till his death, dropped a box of cigars on the aerodrome of a great British pilot, "with the compliments of the German Air Service." The following night the Briton returned the compliment in the same manner. But now the Germans in the air, as on the sea and on land, are much less sportsmanlike and take mean advantages of a fallen foe.
You listen to stories of the great exploits of Baron Richtofen's "circus," and still greater of the "circus" of our own Captain Ball—unhappily since killed—who at times went up in his pyjamas. He had a trick of shooting straight up through the roof of his plane at an enemy overhead and, fearing that the enemy might some day try the same trick on him, he had a machine gun so placed that he could also shoot through the floor directly downwards. Oh, what entrancing, picturesque stories, beyond the wildest dreams of imagination two generations ago!
"I always take up with me a goodly supply of cigarettes in case I have to land where I can't get any. Do you?" asks one.
"N-no, I d-d-don't. That's looking for t-t-trouble. I order b-b-breakfast of p-porridge and cream and b-b-bacon and eggs," smiles our young stammering friend. "And then it's all ready when I c-c-come in."
You listen for hours to these gallant boys who have all the fine natural courtesy and modesty of the well-bred English, and the gayety of a Charles O'Malley. Unconsciously they make you feel that you really have seen such a prosaic side of the war in comparison with them. Then, like all good Britons, they for some time curse the Government, and you aid and abet them. The night wears on, the liqueur bottle runs low, and at last you must say good-night to these rollicking boys who insist that you must not fail when you come back to visit their mess, "for you C-C-Canadians, you know, are such d-damned fine chaps, and we l-love to meet you."
The little sin of flattery is so easily forgiven when it is accompanied by that frank, fascinating smile, and when you have all been tasting a drop of good French liqueur.
You wend your way up creaky old stairs to No. 13, or is it 31, and, luxury of luxuries, you find a tub of hot water—or it was hot at the hour for which you ordered it—awaiting you. Divesting yourself of your clothes you double your body this way and that in a vain endeavor to dip more than half of yourself at once.
At last you feel clean, and you struggle into pyjamas, and crawl into bed between real, white, clean linen sheets for the first time in six months, and you sleep as no emperor can sleep on the most silken of divans, while you dream of the morrow when you really begin your leave.
Leave! Ah, we were speaking of leave! Well, let us, you and I, take it together. Let us enjoy to the full the flesh-pots of London. For our leave lasts only ten days, and the war must go on till we have shown the Hun that he cannot autocratically put his Prussian militaristic crown of thorns on the fair brow of Civilization.
Paris, that queen of cities, has been an interesting study to all who have paid her a visit at any time, but particularly interesting is that study since the war began.
Previous to the war I had the good fortune to visit this city on a number of occasions, my last visit having been but a few months before the beginning of this great militaristic conflagration which is still sweeping over the civilized world. At that time I had just returned from a "grand tour," taking in Italy, Austria, and Southern Germany, where no signs were discernible on the horizon of the stupendous attempt at world domination which the Prussian junkers were to engineer within four months' time. Paris at that time was enjoying bright and balmy spring weather; the boulevards were crowded with visiting tourists, the Champs-Elysées with gay and merry crowds, and the Bois de Boulogne with riders and motorists in its wooded avenues, and rowers and paddlers on its lakes. It remained in my memory a picture of beauty, peace, gayety, and prosperity.
My return to it came within the year, at the beginning of 1915, when the war cloud that hung over the whole of Europe particularly dimmed the sun of Paris. I came into it in the afternoon from the north, and my first view of it showed that beautiful edifice, the Church of the Sacre Coeur, on the hill of Montmartre standing out en silhouette, "just as if cut from paper," as a traveling companion remarked.
Since the war began, on one's arrival at his hotel in Paris he has to give many particulars of himself not required in peace times. The following morning he must call at the nearest police station and obtain, after many more questions as to nationality, occupation, and reasons for being there, a permis de séjour—permit to remain—good for a certain length of time, at the expiration of which the permit must be renewed.
On stepping out of my hotel the following morning to go to the police station, the first thing that struck my attention was the large number of women in mourning, though it was then only a matter of months since the beginning of hostilities. The thought that flitted sadly through my mind was that one-half of the women of Paris are in mourning now, and ere long the other half will be. It must not be forgotten that the French wear mourning for relations much more distant than those for whom we wear it; but even at that the war must not have gone on many months before a very large percentage of the French homes had been touched by the deaths of those near and dear to them. For the soil of France was under the heel of the foreign invader, and there are no people in the world who love their mother country with a deeper devotion than the French. A very old woman, living away up in the north of France in a town that was shelled by the Germans almost daily showed me her love for la belle France and her hatred of its enemies in one expressive sentence. I had asked her if she did not tire of the continuous pounding of the guns.
"No, I love them, I love them," she answered passionately, "for when they cease it means that the accursed boche is being left alone; but when they roar, roar, roar, it means that we are driving him out of our beautiful France." Her face showed, as an old woman's wrinkled face can show so well, her hatred of the Germans. The soldiers of France by their traditional gallantry, their superb courage and their patience, have not only shown their love for their country, but have been an example of noble heroism to us all.
One of the next notable changes on the streets of Paris was the fact that one saw no young men in civilian clothes. All were serving their country in some capacity in the armies. The little hotel in the Rue Bergere at which I was a guest, a hotel of not many more than one hundred rooms, had given thirty men—waiters, porters, clerks—to the armies of France, for it was one of those small, select hotels that one finds scattered throughout Europe. The only male help that remained of its original staff was the concierge, and he was a Dutchman from Amsterdam. The manager, accountant, and all the other help were women. No meals were served except a French déjeuner—so hateful to hungry Anglo-Saxons—of bread, and tea, coffee, or cocoa.
And the same condition was noticeable all over the city. Anyone who has visited this fair metropolis of France in peace times will remember the delicious, snow-white bread that is served with the meals, that French bread with the crackly brown crust as delicious as pastry. The first day of my stay I noticed that this bread was served no longer. In its place we were given some of a much inferior quality and not nearly so white. When this had occurred in many different restaurants and cafés, I asked the reason.
"Mais, monsieur," was the reply, accompanied by that Gallic gesture of helplessness, the turning upward of the palms, "the good bakers are all serving with the armies." Of course, this reason was enhanced by the conservation of the wheat which prevented the mixing or blending of the superior qualities of grains to produce the high-grade flours used by the good bakers.
The streets by day were the same crowded thoroughfares as of old, except for the black of those in mourning, the blue-gray of the military uniforms, and the military cars and Red Cross ambulances. The touts who in peace times had tried to inveigle the tourist into moving picture houses in which the films had not been passed by the censor; or who offered to take him around the forbidden night-sights for a small honorarium; or who endeavored to sell him postcards so indecent that the ordinary man would not accept a fortune and have them found on his corpse; all these fellows still plied their trade. They were not quite so obtrusive or so numerous as usual, but it was difficult to cross the Place de l'Opéra without having one of them step up behind you and whisper his enterprise, whatever it was.
The girls of the boulevards were perhaps even more in evidence than at other times, for in those early months of the war few chose to cross the submarine-infested channel, and still fewer to cross the Atlantic through the areas laid out by the Huns as danger zones, unless good cause made them do so. Paris, usually the Mecca of tourists from all the countries of the world, had become instead the business and military headquarters of France. And to Paris came, instead of the gay youth bent on pleasure, the gray youth bent on business, whose eyes were so busy studying his engagement book, or reading the market reports, that they had not time to meet the roaming glances of the girls of the boulevards. New friends were hard to find, for les riches Américains came no more except on business, and the old friends in the persons of gay Pierre or gallant Paul were serving in the trenches—perhaps dead, for news of them came but seldom. So the girls had plenty of time to promenade and one found it necessary to keep his eyes fixed steadily on some imaginary object straight in front, as he walked down the Boulevard des Italiens or the Boulevard des Capucines, to avoid receiving too many inquiring glances from the boulevardières. Generally speaking the annoyances were limited to glances, as the rules of the city are strict.
One noticeable thing about these women was the fact that many of them wore black, probably for two reasons—on the one hand, war economy, and on the other, to attract sympathy for real or supposed losses at the front. Those who were not in black went with the prevailing styles which seemed to be governed also by war economy, for less and less materials were being used in the dresses: the waists were getting lower, and the skirts higher. One would imagine that if this kept on till they met, some kind of catastrophe would be likely to happen, even though it were Paris!
At that famous corner of the Café de la Paix the chairs on the street were well patronized, though the weather was chilly; and I found myself wondering if it were the same crowd who had occupied them a few months before on my last visit. No one ever passes here without taking a seat, unless he is pressed for time. Someone has said that if you sit here long enough you will see everybody in the world who is anybody in the world pass by. I took a seat and a cup of coffee and glanced about me. It was the usual mixed crowd, with, perhaps, fewer of those who chase Bacchus and Venus, and more of those who pursue Mammon. But, after all, men and women are much the same the world over, and this was much the same group of coffee-sipping, liqueur-tasting people that one finds in the cafés from 4 to 6 p.m. in any of the continental cities from Paris to Vienna, from Naples to Berlin. There were a few more men in uniform, a little less gayety than usual, a trifle more business talked in one's hearing. Otherwise, it was the same group.
A couple of tables from me was a handsome officer in a French uniform, but plainly, from his cast of features and his mannerisms, not a Frenchman. He wore the ribbon of the Legion of Honor on his tunic, and he was, perhaps for this reason, saluted by many of the officers who passed on the boulevard. Many glances of admiration were thrown in his direction by civilians. Some of the officers stopped for a moment and chatted with him. I watched him for some time, my curiosity increasing. He was sitting alone at the moment when I got up to leave, and I made the excuse of asking him something about British hospitals.
Apparently glad to hear his own tongue spoken he welcomed me, and we exchanged confidences for a few minutes, as strangers sometimes will when there is something in common between them. He was an Australian who had been in France when the war broke out, and he had not agreed with England's hesitation in entering the war by the side of Belgium and France; so he joined the French army.
"Oh, yes, that is the Legion of Honor," he returned smilingly to my remark as to his decoration. "A very ordinary bit of work at the front brought it to me," he continued modestly, apparently not caring to give details. Though I was in Paris some time, I did not come across him again, nor have I ever met since this Australian lover of freedom.
At that time the women of France were already doing much of the work usually performed by men. This was long before London had reached the stage that she has attained today, with women filling such a wide variety of occupations, so that it was very noticeable in France at that time. At the border my goods had been looked over by women customs inspectors; women guards in the train had examined my ticket; and in Paris women were everywhere, handling the motor buses, conducting on the tramways, collecting fares on the Metropolitan, or Underground, and filling the hundred and one other positions that, since the war, woman has proved herself so capable of filling.
All the women of the world have proved themselves heroines in this war, but none more than the women of France. At the early stage of the war of which I am writing, they showed those characteristics of patience, loyalty, and nobility of mind which have distinguished them in the straining times that have come and gone since then. They seemed to have become resigned to all things. If one spoke to them petulantly of the raw, cold weather:
"Ah, well," they returned, smiling, "it is the season, and one must expect bad weather." Or you may, perchance, have known some woman whose son or brother was serving in the lines. At that time the French Government gave out but little information as to any of the happenings at the front, and unless the government knew positively that a man was killed, no word of news was sent to the anxious friends. Often many weary months of waiting passed without knowledge on the part of the soldier's nearest of kin as to his fate. And if during this time of waiting you asked this woman whom you knew for tidings of her loved one, her reply invariably was:
"No, no. I have had no news of mon cher Jacques for a long time now. But I do not fear," she would continue with a patient smile, "for the good God will protect him, I am sure. And if it is necessary, we must give all for our beloved France." And it may have been many more long, long months, and it may have been never, that she learned the real fate of her "cher Jacques."
One morning during this visit, as I entered a car on the subway, a living picture of sorrow passed in ahead of me. The picture was made up of a beautiful young widow, leading tenderly by the hands her two lovely children, now fatherless. Her deep brown eyes looking sadly out from her pale face saw no one. Those eyes were looking into the far-off distance of the blank and lonely years to come, those years without hope "for the touch of a vanished hand, or the sound of a voice that is still." All that saved her from black despair was the knowledge that she had to bear up because of the helpless children at her side. But, God! The pity of the thousands of these lonely widows! What a contribution France and her allies are making to the cause of liberty!
At this period of the war the restaurants of Paris—and no other city is so famous for its restaurants—were not appreciably curtailed in their food supplies. They still served the well-seasoned, dainty dishes of the French chefs, though their clientèle was considerably smaller in numbers.
You could still get a delicious cut off the joint at Boeuf à la Mode near the Palais Royal; or you could have a choice of many luscious dishes at Voison's well-known dining place. If you preferred French society, you could still go to Larue's aristocratic restaurant, opposite the Madeleine, patronized by the society of Paris. Prunier's oyster house was apparently as busy as it had been in the piping times of peace and tourists; and the most deliciously cooked fish in Europe—according to my taste—was still being served at Marguery's under the title of Sole à la Marguery.
The less pretentious eating places of the modest diner, such as Duval's dining-rooms or the Bouillon Boulant, served good meals at reasonable prices. These latter are akin to the Child's restaurants in America. But already the food question was beginning to cause some anxiety throughout the world, because of the lessened production and increased consumption due to the millions of men taken from productive occupations who had to be kept fit as fighters.
For this reason I decided one day to see how cheaply I could obtain a satisfying meal during wartime in Paris. The Diner de Paris advertised exceptionally cheap meals, and they seemed to be well patronized, so I entered one of these eating places. The large dining-room was filled to overflowing with a well-dressed throng, no doubt mostly clerks from the adjoining business blocks. Here I partook of a tastily cooked meal of soup, roast pork and potatoes, apple pie, and a bottle of milk, all for the munificent sum of twenty-six cents, plus the regulation tip of two cents, most certainly a reasonable price for a good meal in the principal city of a country with the invader on its soil. Unfortunately since that time the food situation in all the countries at war has become much more complicated.
The hotels of the first class still kept open doors, and a few of them seemed to have an air of prosperity, but these were very few. Many of them who, in the season, considered it "infra-dig" to have more than a small card in the hotel columns of the daily papers, which card never hinted at their prices, had descended to the habit of advertising "special rates during the war." But others still preferred their small, select clientèle—and a deficit—to accepting prosperity obtained by any such plebeian method.
One point noticeable was the fact that unless the traveler carried them himself he saw no gold Louis or half-Louis, so much in evidence in times of peace. I had brought with me some English gold, but once it disappeared from my hand it never returned. A journalist friend of mine told me he was collecting the equivalent of one hundred dollars in gold to keep for an emergency, and was delighted when I gave him a few sovereigns in exchange for French money. The gold was being gathered in by the government, and today in France only paper money is used in exchange. All the smaller cities issue paper currency in denominations as low as one-quarter franc, or five cents.
Among my letters was one of introduction to the director of a large hospital in the Rue de la Chaise. This hospital was supported by funds collected by La Presse, a daily journal of Montreal, and so it was partial to any Canadian visitors, though it received as patients only French officers and soldiers. The institution was doing much good work, all of which was done by Paris medical men, Dr. Faure, a well-known surgeon, performing most of the operations. My reception was cordial, and I became a regular visitor to its operating theater during my stay in the city.
On one of my early visits I was watching Dr. Faure remove some dead bone from an old wound of the leg, when a tall, distinguished lady entered. She had donned a sterilized gown over her street dress, and was apparently a visitor like myself. Noting that Dr. Faure's English and my French were both a trifle labored, she, during my visits, acted as interpreter for us, her English having the soft intonation of the educated Britisher. She informed me that she was neither doctor nor nurse, but was simply learning something of nursing in order that she could be of service to her country in its need, though she had a little son and daughter of her own to care for. That was the extent of my knowledge of her, though I saw that she was treated with more than ordinary consideration by surgeons, and nurses, one of the younger surgeons, by the way, being a stepson of the idolized Joffre.
The last day I visited the hospital she was not there, and as I was leaving Paris the following day I left my card for her with one of the sisters, with a word of thanks scribbled upon it for her kindness to a stranger. That afternoon I went to Cook's to get my railway tickets, and as I came out of the door this lady stepped from an automobile to enter Cook's. Recognizing me, she told me that she had been at the hospital after I had left, and had been given my card. She was leaving the following day for Switzerland for a two weeks' rest; and hoped that when I returned to Paris I would call and meet her husband.
"I should be delighted, madam, but I fear I do not know your name."
"Comtesse (Countess) de Sonlac," she replied.
All the French women were doing their bit. A very clever, cultured woman-journalist whom I met at the home of a high Canadian official in Paris was leaving in a few days to take a position as cook on an ambulance train in the north of France!
At night the streets of Paris were well lit up, even more brightly than those of London, though a little later, after the Germans had made a couple of Zeppelin raids, the lighting was dimmed. When a raid was expected the police warned the people by the blowing of sirens, and the hurrying about of motor cars under police direction tooting foghorns. The warnings were given when word had been received that Zeppelins had been seen going toward Paris; and on receiving these warnings the street lights were extinguished, and all other lights that could be seen, including the headlights of motor cars, had to be switched off.
The Opera was closed, but most of the theaters were in full swing, for it had been found that the people must have some recreation, and the order issued at the beginning of the war closing all places of amusement had been rescinded. The far-famed and somewhat notorious Moulin Rouge music hall, well known to all visitors to Paris, had been burned a short time before, and had but recently reopened its doors at the Folies Dramatique in the Place République. Wandering one evening along the boulevards I came to it, and entered. A very ordinary vaudeville was in progress, equaling neither in quality nor in gayety the performances at the original Red Mill in Montmartre. Here and there throughout the evening skits in English were put on, in compliment to their British allies; just as French playlets are common today in the London theaters—a social touch to the Entente Cordiale.
About ten-thirty I tired of the rather tawdry performance, and made my exit to find the streets in pitch black darkness, only broken here and there by the small side-lights of a flitting automobile or a dim light far back in a boulevard café. A gendarme, with whom I accidentally collided as I strolled slowly along the street, told me that a warning had been sent out that the Zeppelins were coming. Rain was pattering on the pavement which glistened as the automobiles hurried by, and occasionally searchlights swept overhead, flashing from l'Étoile. The people were good naturedly jostling their way along, and as someone near me struck a match to help him grope his way, a giggle was heard and a bright-eyed French girl pulled herself back from the escort who had just kissed her. They apparently were not worrying about the Zeppelins that were coming, and so far as I could see neither was anyone else. As the people collided in the dark, jokes and friendly banter were bandied to and fro. Someone on the opposite side of the boulevard knocked something down which hit the pavement with a crash, and a gay voice cried:
"C'est un obus! Les bodies, les boches!" (It's a shell! The boches, the boches!) And a roar of laughter greeted the remark.
All took the expected raid as a joke; and yet a few nights before the Zeppelins had reached Paris and had done some damage to property and life by dropping what the Parisians gaily call "a few visiting cards." But this attack reached only the outskirts of the city, though the inhabitants had no way of knowing that such would be the case.
The following day I had dinner with some friends who live on the Champs Elysées, and the hostess was envying one of her maids who had had "the good fortune" to be spending the previous night with her family on the outskirts of the city, and had seen the Zeppelins!
In the more than two years since that time, I have been in London during a number of air raids, some by Zeppelins and others by aeroplanes. The last was on July 7, 1917, on which occasion twenty-two planes sailed over London, dropping bombs and doing considerable damage in broad daylight. The people of London accepted these raids as spectacles too precious to miss. I was writing a letter in the Overseas Officers' Club in Pall Mall at the moment when I received my first intimation that anything out of the ordinary was happening. This intimation came to me by my noticing that everyone in the club, men and women alike, was rushing into the streets to see the German planes overhead, surrounded by the bursting shells of our anti-aircraft guns. Only in the immediate neighborhood of the exploding bombs was anything but curiosity shown by the populace. The spots where the bombs struck attracted the curious during the rest of the daylight hours.
All of which goes to show that human nature is much the same the world over—except in Germany, where by some kind of perverted reasoning the people seem to imagine that these child-mutilating, women-killing raids cause widespread terror amongst the English and French people. The real result is disgust for such barbarous methods, hatred against the Huns who employ them, and a more firm determination on the part of the allies to continue the war until the German perpetrators of these atrocities, realizing the enormity of their offenses against the laws of civilization and real culture, decide to honor their treaties, abide by the laws of nations, and keep faith with the other people of the world.
On Sunday morning I visited Napoleon's old church, the Madeleine, noting as I walked along the streets that any business houses with German names had an extra allowance of French and allied flags across their fronts. These air raids made them nervous! The Madeleine was jammed to the doors, many of those present being, like myself, strangers in the city. The service was an elaborate high mass, and I found it high in more ways than one, for four collections were taken up: the first for the seats; the second for the clergy; the third for les blessés—the wounded; and the fourth for the soldiers. I could not help but think that they should have taken up a fifth from the soldiers, the clergy, and the wounded, for the rest of us, for when I got outside I possessed only my gloves and a sense of duty well done!
That afternoon I visited the Bois de Boulogne. Thousands were there. It might easily have been a Sunday during any of the previous forty years of peace. On superficial inspection one could not see any sign of the injury done to the trees due to many of them being cut down at the beginning of the war in preparation for the defense of Paris. The tea houses of the Bois were doing their usual business, and it was just as difficult as at other times to find a table.
Two of the famous sights of Paris to which the tourist always goes are Napoleon's Tomb in the Invalides, and Notre Dame. At the former in ordinary times one will always find a crowd of sightseers of various nationalities, admiring the beauty of the immense porphyry sarcophagus and its surroundings; dreaming of Napoleon's days of greatness as a youthful general in Italy, or as dictator of the whole of Europe except Britain; or giving a pitying thought to his last days at St. Helena. Today, as I strolled in, few were there, and they were mostly the veterans who live in the Invalides, and I have no doubt their thoughts consisted of hopes that another would arise with the military genius of Napoleon to drive the invader from the soil of France, and to once more dictate terms from Berlin.
On my return I went for a moment into the Louvre from which most of the art treasures, such as the Venus of Milo, have been removed to underground vaults, safe from bombs dropped by the destruction-loving Hun. And a painting that I looked for, but did not find, was Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, the lady of the mysterious smile, the stealing of which had caused such a furore in the world of art. It had just been returned before my last visit to the Louvre.
The following day I wandered across the Seine and viewed again that magnificent Gothic pile, the church of Notre Dame de Paris. It happened to be a holy day and immense crowds were entering. Someone said to me that the war seems to have brought back religion to the spirit of France. After all, there are few people in the world who, when beset by troubles, do not glance upward at times and utter a prayer that the Supreme Being will take notice of them and have pity on them. I joined those entering, and mingled with them as they made their way into the solemn interior of the great edifice. It seemed that thousands were there. Those entering were directed in such a way that they passed in order before two immense lifelike paintings arranged on one side of the church, one above the other—the Last Supper, and the Crucifixion. Before these paintings myriads of candles were burning, and as the people passed each took one or two or three more candles and lit them. It was a splendid, solemn, and impressive spectacle.
To send telegrams or cables from France was a most troublesome procedure. You had to get the written consent of the military police after they had interviewed you as to your objects in sending the message, and had scrutinized the message carefully to find if, perchance, you had hidden somewhere within it information that might be of service to the enemy.
But even this was an easy matter compared with getting out of Paris once you had entered. For to get out was very much more difficult than to get in. You had first to report to the police station nearest to your hotel that you were leaving the city. Then you had to go to the office of the Consul of the country to which you were going, explain the purpose of your change of residence, and have the consul or his representative visé your passport. Then finally you had to call at the Prefecture of Police—akin to our central police station in a large city—and again get your papers certified. Each of these moves meant considerable time lost, sometimes as much as a day, since long lines of people were at each of these places hours before they opened for business.
On my departure, during my visit to the British Consulate, I had an amusing experience that is worth relating. As I turned into the court of the building in which the consulate is situated, an automobile drove up, and out stepped a stylish and pretty woman of perhaps thirty years. She followed me into the court, and after looking about her doubtfully for a minute, she turned and asked if I could direct her to the office of the British Consul. I had walked there the day before to "learn the ropes," and so knew my way about. I replied that it was up a couple of flights of stairs, but as I was just going there I should be pleased to show her the way.
We went up the two flights of stairs, and reaching the waiting room found some thirty or forty people ahead of us. We took our place in the line to await our turn, which meant a delay of an hour or two. As the people waited conversation was quite free, as was also criticism of the consulate for not having more help at a time of pressure such as the present. The lady whom I had shown up was next to me in the line. She looked upon me as an American compatriot, for she was from New York, and apparently felt quite safe in carrying on a conversation with a stranger in a strange city. She mentioned that she was on her way back from Spain to England.
"Spain," I said in some surprise. "Might I be curious enough to ask why a young woman like yourself should be traveling in Spain in times like the present?"
"Oh, I'm a eugenist," she replied readily, "and I have been in Spain studying the effects of the war on the Spanish people in relation to eugenics for a book I am preparing for publication. I am going to spend some time in London, in the British Museum, looking up some data to complete my manuscript." And then quite voluntarily she went on to criticize the majority of all the cherished institutions of society, and as she became more enthusiastic her criticisms became more free, more radical, almost nihilistic. She ended in a tirade against civilization as we know it, not by any means becoming at all boisterous, but simply youthfully animated in her fault-finding with the world in general.
I could hardly believe my ears. Here was a pretty American woman of thirty, highly educated, whose outlook on life was more nihilistic than that of the most extreme German socialist. But finally she capped the climax by telling me frankly that she was an anarchist; had taken part in two anarchistic plots in Italy; and promised me that the next ruler who was going to pay the death penalty for his tyranny was King Alfonso of Spain. Beginning to feel certain that she was "ragging" me, I asked her jokingly if she expected me to believe her.
"Does it sound like something that a young woman would claim were it untrue?" she asked, and I was forced to admit that it did not. "I will tell you something further," she continued, "I dare not return to New York at the present time or I should be put in jail. For the last time I was there I was jailed for some of my writings. I obtained my freedom on bail of three thousand dollars, and, hearing that I was to be railroaded to prison, I jumped it."
"Why do you tell a stranger like myself this story?" I asked. "How do you know that I am not going to report you to the police?"
"I know you are not going to report me to the police," she answered coolly, "because if you did I would shoot you."
"Do you carry much of your artillery on your person?" I asked, laughing. And seeing that I was taking it all as a joke, she joined in the laugh.
"It's your turn, madam," said the porter to her, and she passed out of the line into the office of the consul, giving me a charming smile and curtsy as she left.
Whether her story was the result of mischief, insanity, or conviction, I really have no idea; but I do know that I have in my life passed many more tedious and less interesting hours than the one I passed while awaiting my turn at the office of the British Consul that day.
Early in the conflict, after the Germans had been pushed back from their rush on Paris, the French were in a bad way for many of the necessities of a country at war. Among the necessities that France lacked was sufficient hospital accommodation for the sick and wounded of her armies, and for the first year of the war this shortage was partially supplied by voluntary ambulances—the word ambulance in French being employed for a field hospital. Many rich Americans gave valuable service at this time to their sister republic, the American ambulances at Neuilly and Juilly being among the most noted of the war hospitals.
It was not at all difficult to get staffs for these hospitals, for thousands of young Americans with red blood in their veins and the love of romance in their hearts were only awaiting the opportunity to do something useful anywhere between Paris and the firing line. Between the people of the United States and the French there has always been a deep sympathy, possibly engendered up to half a century ago by their common antipathy to England, a sentiment forever removed by mutual sufferings and common interests and ideals in this war. A witty writer one time said that "good Americans, when they die, go to —— Paris"; jokingly showing the love which the people of the southern half of this continent have for the French. But, no matter what the reasons, the greatest republic in the world was early in responding to the call, and so placed her sister republic, France, under deep obligations for assistance of surgeons, nurses, and hospitals long before Mr. Wilson led the United States to join with the other civilized peoples in their fight against barbarism.
The British were very early up and doing in the same manner, and not many months after Kitchener's Contemptibles—a name now revered in Britain—had made their heroic retreat from Mons, many well-equipped hospitals manned by Britons were doing excellent work behind the French lines.
It was my good fortune to serve at the beginning of 1915 in one of these, the Château de Rimberlieu, just three miles from the point at which the German lines came nearest to Paris, and seven miles north of Compiègne where a little over one hundred years ago Napoleon for the first time met Marie Louise of Austria when she came to replace the unhappy Josephine.
I obtained the position after much searching for an opportunity to be of service. Going across from New York to London I had been refused a position by the British unless I could enlist, which personal reasons prevented at the time. Then, after two days interviewing, taxicabbing, viséing, pleading, and explaining, I obtained a permit to go to France. At Boulogne the authorities of the British Red Cross and St. Johns Ambulance Association told me they were oversupplied with surgeons and I decided to go to Amiens, where I had a surgical friend.
I could not get away till the following morning, so I spent the afternoon wandering about. The streets were filled with a cosmopolitan throng of soldiers of all shades of color—white, black, and brown—and of various nationalities, British and Canadian Tommies in their khaki, French poilus in their blue-gray uniforms, Ghurkas from India in their picturesque dress, and French Soudanese with strange accouterments. The better hotels were all occupied by the military authorities as headquarters, and the harbor was filled with hospital ships and transports. Walking about the streets one had to look sharp to avoid being run down by hurrying Red Cross ambulances or lumbering motor lorries.
I strolled to the beach, where on the sands Tommies were lounging, gazing longingly across at the shores of England, dimly visible in the distance. One of the soldiers turned to me with a smile and said:
"I was just taking a last look at the old 'ome, sir. Of course, I 'opes to see it again sometime if I don't 'appen to stop somethink." And it was all said most cheerfully. I added my wishes for his luck to his own.
On the slow train from Boulogne to Amiens we passed many military camps with their white tents in orderly rows. Here and there oxen were being used by old men and women on their farms, and in one little brook some boys were fishing. I could hardly believe that forty miles or less away two armies of millions of men were contending for the mastery, with civilization depending on the outcome. When, later, I was much nearer to the front I was struck again and again by the matter-of-fact manner in which the French peasant accepts his or her military surroundings. He works coolly in fields into which at times enemy shells are dropping, or over which long range guns are firing into some semi-ruined town of Northern France. Something which is always a cause of wonder and admiration to the observer is that, despite the fact that all the young and able Frenchmen are in the trenches, the women, old men and children who remain succeed in cultivating the farmlands of France right up to the lines.
At Amiens my surgeon friend, who had over twelve hundred war operations to his credit in the past six months, much regretted that I could not be used at the moment,—much regretted; but still regretted. I began to feel that the gods of ill luck were camping on my trail. I went on to Paris. Here my letters of introduction were looked at with anxiety and I with suspicion, for in the early months of the war some foreign surgeons were found to be giving information to the enemy. At any rate, though courtesies and promises were showered upon me, I remained a useless guest at my hotel in the Rue de Rivoli until I reached an almost desperate stage, realizing that, though surgeons were urgently needed, I could not be of service.
Sickly visions of returning home after a futile attempt to be of use came to me, when suddenly luck changed. The director of the Ambulance Anglo-Française in the Château de Rimberlieu came to Paris in search of assistance. Being an Englishman, he looked in at the British Red Cross in the Avenue d'Ièna where they told him of this forlorn Canadian who had been haunting their offices, but of whom they had lost track. By a bit of luck their commanding officer met me that afternoon on the Place de l'Opéra, and gave me the director's address at the Hotel de Crillon. I hurried at once to call upon him, and offered to take any position from chauffeur to surgeon. There is a biblical quotation that the meek are blessed, for they shall inherit the earth. I inherited the surgeoncy—not a lucrative inheritance, it must be admitted, for it carried no salary, no railway fares, no uniform, all of which must be supplied by the inheritor.
After obtaining a sauf conduit from the military authorities to take me as far as Creille, I left on the train that afternoon for Compiègne, sixty miles to the north, accompanied by an affable young Red Cross orderly, of English parents and Paris birth, who in civil life was a drygoods salesman. At Creille, which was the beginning of the war zone, our troubles began. I was in civilian dress, my uniform not yet being completed. The French military officers here were almost adamant. My passport, director's letter, Red Cross authority, all proved of no avail to get me further. Rather strangely, the letter which obtained the desired permission to proceed was an ordinary letter of introduction from a prominent French Canadian parliamentarian which I had in my pocket.
Presto! The officer knew his name, and by I went.
We arrived at Compiègne about midnight, and for the first time we heard the sound of the guns ten miles away. As we were now only seven miles from the Château, we thought our troubles were over. But we had reckoned without the sous-prefet de police, who said in the morning when we called that we could go no further without a special permit.
"That chap's a bit of an awss," remarked my young friend, expressing my sentiments to a nicety.
However, about 10 a.m. the director whirled into town in his 60-horsepower Rolls-Royce, and learning of our troubles, he smilingly said that he thought he could get around that difficulty. He pulled from beneath the rear seat a military overcoat and cap which I put on; and out of the town we whirled, past sentries at crossroads and railway crossings, to whom the director yelled the password—it was "Clairemont" that day. The password changes daily at a certain hour, and anyone without the new word when required is hailed before the authorities. The director ran some slight risk in thus smuggling me through the lines, but nothing ever came of it; and I gave a sigh of relief when we at last swung into the spacious grounds of the château.
The house was a large stone building, used in peace times as the summer home for the family of the Count de Bethune, one of the oldest titled families in France. His two daughters, the Countess de Ponge and the Marquise de Chabannes, lived in a small corner of the building, and gave their time to help us in our nursing work. They did everything in their power, and it was much, to make life pleasant for the patients and for the staff.
The building was ideal for a hospital with room for a couple of hundred patients. The reception hall was used as a general reception room for patients, as well as a lounging room for us in our spare time. Its immense, exquisitely carved mahogany mantel was one of the artistic ornaments that had not been removed to avoid injury. The drawing and reception rooms and the dining hall had been transformed into wards, called the Joffre, French, and Castelnau wards, as were also the larger of the bedrooms on the next floor. The surgeons, nurses, and staff occupied the servants' quarters on the top floor. The oak-paneled library and smoking room had become the operating theater and the X-ray studio. Our dining-room was the original servants' dining-room in the basement. The French officers and men who were cared for here received, as they deserved to receive, the best we had to give, the staff gladly taking second place in all things. And at that our life was so much easier than that of the boys in the trenches that we often felt a bit ashamed of the difference.
The château was surrounded by some two or three hundred acres of well-laid-out gardens, artificial lakes, fountains, and woods. These grounds had been cut up to a certain extent by trenches, wire entanglements, dugouts, funk-holes, and gun emplacements, all in order and ready for use if the enemy should drive the French back in this direction. The fighting trenches were only three or four miles to the north of us, this château being said to be the nearest hospital to the lines in the whole theater of war. We worked, slept, ate, and killed time to the sound of the guns and shells, the latter often bursting well within a mile of us.
The really interesting part of the hospital was the personnel of the staff. There were four surgeons, a French military medical officer, Villechaise; Allwood, a Jamaican, an old college friend of mine whom I had neither seen nor heard of for twelve years until the day I arrived at the château, when he came forward to give an anesthetic for me to a case which General Berthier had ordered me to operate upon; King, a Scotsman; and myself. And we four were practically the only members of the staff who were not paying for the privilege of being allowed to serve. The rest of the staff were well-to-do society people who not only financed the institution but also did the nursing and orderly work, gave their automobiles as ambulances, and their personal servants and chauffeurs to act as servants in the hospital.
Besides the Comtesse and the Marquise, we had as nurses a niece of an ex-president of France; a grand-niece of Lord Beaconsfield; and another was a sister-in-law to Lord Something-or-other in Scotland. The latter nurse had as a pal Miss C——, who had stumped her father's constituency for him during the last general elections in England. She was a clever girl of twenty-three, an exceptionally good nurse, but oh, what a Tory. She had all the assurance of her age, and Mrs. Pankhurst in her palmiest moments could not put Lloyd George "where he belonged" as could this charming girl of twenty-three. The son of a prominent Paris lawyer, a young, black-eyed chap of seventeen who was doing his bit there till he became old enough to join the army, was one of her great admirers; and when he was not scrubbing floors or performing some other necessary work, he sometimes wrote poetry to her. The last four lines of one of his rhymes I remember:
May your years of joy be many,
Your hours of sorrow few;
Here's success in all ambitions
To the man who marries you.
A Mr. and Mrs. G——, of Cambridge, originally of Belfast, were two of the most pleasant, kindly, and useful people the hospital possessed. Their automobile was now an ambulance which their chauffeur handled at their expense; they paid two hundred dollars per month in cash; they were continually buying luxuries for the patients and necessities for the hospital. Mrs. G—— acted as nurse in a most capable manner; and her husband as an orderly. A Mr. and Mrs. R—— from Cairo, Egypt, were also with us. In Cairo he was a professor in the University; here he acted as chauffeur on his own automobile ambulance, and his wife looked after the checking and arranging of the laundry for the whole hospital. One afternoon I went into Compiègne with him in his car, and he delighted some French African troops by chatting to them in Arabic, after which they followed him around like little boys. Mr. R—— also paid a goodly sum toward the upkeep of the hospital.
The director of whom I have already spoken, and the directress, both were heavy donors to the hospital, as well as giving automobiles and servants as assistants. A godly clergyman from York acted in the triple capacity of chaplain, chauffeur on his own auto-ambulance, which his parishioners had given him when he left, and general chore boy. One of my finest recollections of him is on a Sunday evening when he held service, while outside the guns roared and shells from the enemy burst a mile or so to the north of us in plain view from the windows of the room in which the clergyman was interpreting the word of God. It was a most impressive ceremony. My last recollection of him, and it's just as fine, he had thrown aside his tunic and was working with pick and shovel digging a dump for the refuse of the hospital, the sweat rolling down his honest face.
The above people are only among the most interesting of the staff. There were also a sheep farmer from the north of England, a journalist of London, a student from Oxford, and many other ladies and gentlemen who gave of their best, all of them, giving the French soldier scientific, sympathetic, and kindly attention. Those names mentioned will illustrate the personnel of hospitals such as this, for there were many of them on the western front in the early months of the war. Ours was a part of General Castelnau's army, and while nominally under the Red Cross we were under the discipline of the French army. General Berthier, who had charge at that time of the medical arrangements of that sector of the line, visited us daily, inspecting the whole institution, ordering this, advising that, and perhaps insisting upon something else. More ether and hydrogen peroxide were used by the French military surgeons in wounds than appealed to my ideas; but one little trick they had of sterilizing basins by rinsing them out with alcohol and touching a match to it—"flammer," they called it—was both rapid and thorough where steam sterilizers were not too common.
Sometimes we were also inspected by civilian surgeons on behalf of the military authorities. Dr. Tuffier, a famous Paris surgeon, who is as well known on this continent as in Europe, came to make one of these periodical inspections. I had first met him at a surgical congress in Chicago before the war; then in Paris I had called upon him.
"Ho, ho!" he said with a smile, "I have meet you one time in Chicago; then I have meet you in Paris; now I meet you here. Perhaps the nex' time it may be at the Nort' Pole that we meet"; and with a friendly slap on the shoulder he passed on. He had been very courteous to me in Paris, but had not given me the position that I desired so much. In fact I had found myself sometimes wishing that the French authorities had given me less politeness, but more opportunity to be of service.
In our spare hours of the day we watched the shells bursting in our neighborhood. By night we often sat and smoked in the dark while we watched the flashing of shells and guns and the flares sent up in the lines to prevent surprise attacks. We often saw aeroplanes being bombarded as they sailed to and fro along the lines directing the fire of the artillery. One soon got to recognize by ear the puff, puff, puff of the anti-aircraft shells bursting about the planes. Why the enemy did not shell our institution I know not, for we were well within range.
In passing, it may be mentioned that no Red Cross flag flew from our roof, and when I inquired the reason I was told that it would only serve as a target for German shells.
Our work alternated, as it always does on the battle front, between days of strenuous labor and days of ease. When the work was heavy all went to it with a will. In the hours of leisure the ladies, who in civil life knew nothing of danger and strife, begged and sometimes vainly insisted on being permitted to go with the ambulances as far as the trenches. We were all civilians and knew little of discipline and our lack of it at times was troublesome to the French military authorities, and some irritation arose because of it. For example,—lights were ordered not to be shown in the windows after dark till all the shutters were closed and curtains drawn. This rule was occasionally so carelessly obeyed that the military would at times sneeringly call our hospital "the lighthouse."
One afternoon there drove up to our entrance a cream-colored limousine, and out stepped an English society girl, saying that she had come to nurse. Some of those who were already there were friends of hers, but the authorities decreed that we had enough assistance and that she must return to Paris the following morning. In the morning she started in the limousine, ostensibly to return to Paris, taking the sister-in-law of Lord Something-or-other as company for a short run.
When outside the grounds she told the chauffeur to turn toward the lines instead of toward Paris. With the military pass which she had obtained through influence in Paris, they passed sentry after sentry till they were only a few hundred yards from the trenches. Here they were overtaken by a pursuing military motor cyclist who ordered them put under arrest, and they were taken before a high-up officer who told them he was forced to confiscate their automobile and send the ladies under arrest to the rear.
But beauty in distress—and one of them was a real beauty—made him relent. They were allowed to proceed rearward after a severe reprimand and a considerable fright. A few weeks later I met the lady of the automobile in a train near Paris and she told me that she had just sent up a big box of real cigarettes—not French ones—to the officer who should have confiscated her car, but didn't. I did not inquire how she had obtained his address!
There was another occasion when a plot was hatched to duck a disagreeable officer in the artificial lake at the lower end of the grounds. Fortunately the saner heads prevailed and averted any further complications. And "it would have served the creature bally well right, for what right had he anyhow to insist so strongly on his old rules," as one of the hotheads expressed it.
It was a trifle irritating at times to have a nurse, in reply to your order to give such and such a patient massage, say that she would do it presently, as she was just going for a short tramp in the grounds. Mais, que voulez vous? as the French say with that delightful shrug. Were they not paying to be there, and should not that fact have given them some rights over those horrid rules of discipline? And we men were the same on occasions, for discipline cannot be had outside of the trained army.
But the breaches of discipline were small in comparison to the really excellent work that the hospital was carrying on, so they were overlooked, and, as they occurred only at wide intervals, they but served to give a touch of humor to the life which was monotonous enough at times. The French realized full well the sacrifices that were made daily by these aristocrats who had given up their luxurious homes, their autos, their servants and their money, to live in the servants' quarters of this old château, and to wait hand and foot upon wounded poilus, with at any moment of the day or night the chance of a shell coming through the roof and stirring things up. No praise is too high for the self-sacrificing work of these men and women, all voluntary workers and untrained in this type of labor. The women were members of the V.A.D., Voluntary Aid Detachment, which has been the target at times of coarse jibes and criticisms, spoken by those who do not know whereof they speak. I have worked with members of this corps of women workers in hospitals in England and France, and I know that, taking it all in all, their work is beyond praise, and their nobility of character beyond estimate. This is vouched for by many a lonely, hard-hit common soldier, sick in a strange land, far from his home and his loved ones.
A field telephone line ran from the château up to the rear trenches. The cases were brought out of the trenches to a sheltered spot and one of our ambulances was telephoned for. One of us medical men accompanied the ambulances on these journeys, and they were often very interesting. On one of the trips on which I accompanied the ambulance we came to a ruined village, Gury by name, from which the civilian population had been sent away. It was occupied by French soldiers not in the front line. This village had just been shelled rather heavily by the Huns, one hundred and fifty shells having been dropped into it. After the first shell, which hit one of the houses but injured no one, the soldiers took shelter in the cellars and when the smoke had cleared away, just before our arrival, it was found that the only damage done was the killing of a cow and a pigeon! The soldiers were hilariously laughing at this waste of shells. An officer showed us the remains of a brass bed in a wrecked house, saying that he had been sleeping in that when the shelling began.
We were then taken to see a battery of the famous .75's—soixante quinze—perhaps the finest field gun on the western front, with which they said they were going to pay back the Germans for their audacity. They were like so many boys at play! The guns were set up in a cavity in the ground, a roof built over them on which sod had been placed in such a manner that from enemy planes it appeared like the surrounding fields. Dugouts led down from the gun position so that the artillerymen could come up from their disturbed slumbers at a moment's notice and send across a few rounds of their death-dealing shells. Round about were laid out flower beds with the flowers forming in French the words:
Gloire aux Allies—Glory to the Allies.
Honneur aux Soixante quinze—Honor to the .75's.
Wherever man lives he must have something to care for and to love, and these flowers gave the poilus an outlet for their affection.
Every few miles away from us in all directions except the north were other hospitals of the same type as our own. One very good example, ten miles away at Fayel, was under the direction of Countess H—— G——, a cousin of King George. She came sometimes to visit some acquaintances in our institution, and I spent a very pleasant afternoon on her first visit showing her our grounds, trenches, gun positions, wire entanglements, and other things of interest. She was as kindly mannered and democratic as anyone could desire, though she was King George's cousin and wore a number of ribbons for previous service in South Africa. Since that time she has served with the Italians in Italy and has been decorated by King Victor Emmanuel.
In Compiègne was another very interesting hospital presided over by that wonderful Frenchman, Alexis Carrel, of the Rockefeller Institute of New York. Here he has done research work that has made his name familiar in every scientific circle the world over. And here in Compiègne, in this newer field, his researches have brought forth new methods of treating wounds which have been adopted in hospitals throughout the war zone. His hospital was a government institution, not one of the voluntary ambulances of which our château was an example.
At the time of writing, two years from my period of service at the Château de Rimberlieu, it is still doing good service as a hospital, though now it is entirely directed by the French military authorities. But a number of the original people are still there, performing the same generous deeds which they performed in my time, though they are performing them many miles from the scene of fighting, for early in 1917 at this point the French happily pushed back the invaders for many miles.
Since the war began and the Germans undertook the drowning of women and children by the submarine method I have crossed the Atlantic four times. Two of these voyages were on troop transports. Traveling on a transport is really a pleasure voyage, except for the military discipline, always a bit obnoxious to the Anglo-Saxon of the North American continent—but absolutely necessary if an army is the thing desired, not a mob. On a transport the food and sleeping quarters are all that anyone could desire in a time of war, and they satisfied all, from the veriest batman to the highest military officer whose duty it is to maintain discipline.
On my first transport experience we took the ship at an Atlantic port some days before sailing, and no one knew the date or hour of our intended start except the first officer of the ship, who received his orders from the admiralty. Our crowd was an immense one, made up of men from all the different departments of the army, and women who were either trained nurses, or members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment, going overseas to do their bit in the hospitals or the convalescent and rest homes in England and France.
Until the boat started on its voyage, dances were held nightly on the main deck, but once we put out to sea, the ship traveled in darkness. No one was permitted on the decks at night except the guards, and they were forbidden to smoke for fear of attracting attention that was not desirable.
We were not long away from land till a fairly heavy swell made some of the uninitiated sea voyagers feel all the pangs of that nauseating illness, mal de mer,—seasickness. One of the nurses sitting in a deck chair, looking away off over the swelling billows, said languidly: "If the Germans torpedoed us now, I wouldn't even put on a life preserver." And another traveler, a Tommy with a markedly Jewish cast of countenance, as the ship took a more pronounced dip than heretofore, exclaimed loudly:
"My God! She's a submarine!" The usual sympathetic roar of laughter was the only solace that he received; but one of his pals who saw him leaning over the ship's side, giving an excellent dinner to the fishes, stepped up to him and, giving him a resounding slap on the shoulder, said:
"What's the matter, poor old Ikey? Are you seasick?"
"Am I seasick?" Ikey roared, glaring at him. "What da hell do ye tink I'm doin' dis for? For notting?"
We had not proceeded far on our voyage when a cast-iron order was issued that all must wear their life-belts at all hours of the day. And shortly, life-boat drill became a daily occurrence at irregular hours. A bugle call to drill would be given, a call that might be real for all that anyone knew, and each company, section, and unit took its apportioned part of the deck, to be inspected by the higher officers. Life boats were kept conveniently hanging over the side of the ship for emergencies, and certain officers were detailed to each boat whose duty it was in case of mishap, to maintain order during the loading and launching of that boat. Before long this drill was carried out with the most exact precision.
There were a few other parades daily for the different sections. A sick parade was held each morning, and a hospital established for those too sick to stay up and about. The medical officers and nurses were detailed in turn to do duty in this institution. But nothing of a very serious nature turned up on the voyage.
Otherwise time was whiled away much as usual on shipboard. Some of us took to the gymnasium, trying out all the exercises from throwing the medicine ball to riding the horse, at which some of the cavalry officers would give that excellent piece of advice to those beginning to learn to ride:
Keep your head and your heart up,
Your hands and your heels down;
Keep your knees close to your horse's side,
And your elbows close to your own.
The regular stewards, who were serving on the ship as in peace times, amused themselves by telling tales that they were supposed to have heard in confidence from the wireless operator, and which they would whisper into your ears in a supposedly friendly manner at any and every opportunity. They were tales to the effect that just ahead of us last night such-and-such a ship was torpedoed and sunk by the Germans with all on board, "and not a soul was saved." They would add that the Germans had a most intense desire to get our boat; why, it was common talk in New York, so a friend had written to them, that a sub would get us this trip; "as a matter of fact, sir, betting is five to one that they will sink us." What a ghastly sense of humor some of those stewards have!
However, the days slipped by, and no one seemed to be at all worrying as to his or her safety. The last couple of days out from England the guns, fore and aft, were gotten ready for business, in case the Hun dared to show the nose of his periscope in our neighborhood. Eyes looked in all directions searching for the tell-tale trail of a torpedo, and, though many were called out, few chose to materialize. Suddenly one morning someone spied out a couple of those fast, dangerous-looking torpedo boats which swung about, and crossed our bows, and thenceforth accompanied us like a pair of faithful bulldogs accompanying their master on horseback.
Though no one had expressed a word of fear of the submarines, and no person, man or woman, on board had seemed to worry in the least as to the possible dangers from torpedoes, it was noticeable at once that a pressure or tension had been withdrawn. In the smoking room the hum of voices rose to a much higher pitch than it had attained during the previous twenty-four hours of the voyage, during which we had felt that a danger might lurk unseen about us. The gayety on deck became appreciably more merry. These torpedo boats accompanied us till we reached the safety of the harbor; and as we once again placed our feet upon the soil we felt that in war as in peace the end of a voyage is often the most welcome part of it.
But was it the end of the voyage? Ah, no, it was but the beginning; because for the men there are many hard roads to travel ere they reach that which they set out to attain—a goal of peace and liberty for the small and the large nations, protected by the democracies of the old and the new world. And the women who accompanied us will soothe many a poor boy's pain or ease his troubled mind, and will write many a letter of comfort to his loved ones at home, ere they join us at that peaceful goal we all desire to reach.
To sneer at decorations is often much easier than to earn them.
It is true that more decorations, from the Victoria Cross down, have been awarded in this war than in the hundred years before it. It may be stated that for each of these distinctions given a man, ten others should now be wearing the bit of ribbon which signifies the award, if justice could only be done. Many a high-minded chap is lying out there, with only a small wooden cross to mark his last resting place, who, if the truth were but known, earned the finest that we had to give. And thousands of gallant others there are with naught but their khaki to distinguish them as soldiers of liberty, who have, with a smile on their lips and with no thought of awards or rewards in their minds performed feats of the noblest courage and self-sacrifice.
It was an inspiration of genius that made Napoleon institute the Legion of Honor. By that act he proved himself a student of human nature, as well as the greatest military leader of perhaps any age. For most men who are normally constituted would rather receive a decoration honestly earned for gallantry on the field, than accept a reward in money for the same deed. While it is true that:
Ambition has but one reward for all:
A little power, a little transient fame,
A grave to rest in, and a fading name;
a large proportion of humankind are so constituted that for "a little transient fame" they are willing, aye, even anxious, to risk getting only "a grave to rest in."
The difficulty lies in deciding who is most worthy of these coveted awards, for in the excitement of battle courageous acts are common, and often unobserved. For the occasional man who has unjustly received an award, there are thousands whose bravery should be rewarded, but who, for one reason or another, are overlooked. All who show courage and resource cannot be chosen for the bit of ribbon, so the attempt is made to choose the most conspicuous examples. And in this choosing it is inevitable that fallible human nature must often err, but the erring rarely goes to the extent of recommending someone who is wholly unworthy.
Someone has sneeringly remarked that the surest way to a decoration is to court the favor of one's commanding officer who usually puts in the recommendations for award; but there must be few officers commanding units who would be so unwise as to alienate the loyalty of their men by picking favorites in this manner. And men are not so depraved that there are many who would desire the recognition of the multitude without at least fair grounds for that recognition and praise. You might suppose that at the base or at home, where recognition is given rather for general good work than for special acts of honor, favoritism is more common. But it may safely be stated that decorations in all fields are usually honestly earned.
The saddest mistake is when a man has performed some lofty, noble, self-sacrificing act, yet receives no reward but his consciousness of duty well done.
I was one day assisting Colonel B—— to hold a board on a disabled soldier to decide the amount of his disability and his right to pension. His left arm was missing, and Colonel B——, in his sympathetic manner, asked him how he had lost it. The facts were that he and his officer, being one night out on a scouting trip in No Man's Land, were both wounded by rifle fire, the officer the more seriously. The private put his officer on his shoulders and carried him through a shower of machine-gun bullets to a place of safety in a shellhole near their own parapet, one of the bullets smashing the man's arm on the way. In the morning both were pulled in by comrades, and sent to the hospital. The officer died on the way without regaining consciousness, and the private's left arm had to be amputated. He alone knew the details of his heroic work, and he received an ordinary pension for a V.C. deed. He told his story at the colonel's request, in a quiet, modest, uncomplaining manner which gave it the stamp of truth. His case is one of many like it where no adequate reward has been given for great heroism; but their total avoidance is impossible.
Sergeant-Major D—— took part in the Battle of the Somme, and did such excellent work under dangerous surroundings that he was recommended for a decoration, which recommendation was approved. In the usual course of events it was published in divisional orders that Sergeant-Major D—— had been awarded the Military Medal. But then the powers bethought themselves that he, being a warrant officer, should have been given instead the Military Cross, and as a result the whole order was cancelled, and he was given nothing. However, at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, he was a Lieutenant in our battalion. Some months previously he had been given his promotion, really against his own desires as he said that he could do better work in the junior position—a not very common form of modesty in the army. After this battle he was chosen for courageous and able work, and was awarded the Military Cross. Thus he at last came into his own.
The Blank Highlanders held the lines to the right of a certain Canadian battalion. They planned to put on an important raid, but, being short a certain necessary section, they asked the loan of an officer and twenty men of this section of the Canadians on their left. The Canadians were glad of the honor of aiding this well-known Scottish unit in their raid. Twenty men gaily joined them, but for some reason the men were sent in charge of two officers, the regular officer of the section and a subaltern. The officer in charge remained at the Scottish H.Q., while his subaltern took part in the raid. So effectually did the Canadians aid the Scots that the latter were very high in their praise of the Canadians, and put in a recommendation that "the officer in charge of this Canadian Section be awarded the M.C. for gallantry," intending the award for the subaltern who had assisted them on the field.
But the "officer in charge of the Canadian Section" was he who had remained at the H.Q. By some twist in this recommendation he received, and accepted, the M.C. which had been meant for his junior who had really done the gallant work for which the decoration was given. The subaltern did not get even a mention in dispatches, and at a later date he was killed while fighting bravely.
The Canadian battalion to which the two officers belonged were so annoyed, and so ashamed of the decorated officer, that no word was said of the mistake to their Scottish friends. The officer was allowed to wear without comment his unearned award, but his stay with his battalion came to an abrupt end shortly afterward.
But it may be repeated safely that mistakes such as the above are very, very rare, and that most of those who win recognition on the field may wear their ribbons with pride and without shame.
Just before the great Vimy Ridge offensive a crowd of us stood on a small hillock beside our camp, which is in a wood six or seven miles behind our lines, to watch the "earthquake" that was to open on Thelus at 3 p.m., and of which we had been told by brigade. The "earthquake" was to take the form of a bombardment of Thelus,—a small town one mile behind the German lines, opposite our front, and which, from the lines, we could see very distinctly with the naked eye,—by every gun of ours that could throw a shell into it. As guns here are much more numerous to the square mile than they were even at the Somme, and as others are going forward day and night, some so large that it takes eight or ten horses to pull them, and as ammunition goes forward at the rate of three or four hundred motor lorries full daily for each mile of front, this means indeed an earthquake.
We stood on the hillock at the "zero" hour, and on the stroke of three, shells began to burst on the skyline. Some, high explosives probably, caused those immense black upheavals of earth which, except for their color, remind one of nothing so much as the spouting of a whale at sea. Others bursting higher in the air, shrapnel very likely, left large, white, fleecy clouds just above the skyline, and a third type burst with a flash of flame, and left brown clouds of smoke in their wake.
Higher in the air, all along the front, some near, some far, some ours, and others the enemy's, hung nine immense observation balloons; and soaring in and out among them were twenty-one aeroplanes by actual count at one moment. Some of them were being shelled, for fluffy clouds of smoke were about them showing the bursting shells from anti-aircraft guns, and while we watched two machines engaged in one of those ever-interesting air duels, out of which one of them came nosing down into the earth. Whether it was our machine or an enemy we could not tell at the distance.
Even the sights on the earth were of interest. The tall Gothic towers on the hill at Mt. St. Eloy were silhouetted against the blue of the sky, on our right. On the extreme left was an emaciated forest, standing out against the horizon; and between these two land-marks were countless acres of cultivated ground, just about to give forth the first sprouts of the hoped-for harvest. Here and there the white walls of the limestone farm houses, with their red-tiled roofs, broke the monotony; and about the center of the picture a group of them with the shell-shattered spire of a church in their midst formed the village of Villers aux Bois. To the left of this latter place lay a peaceful cemetery with some two thousand graves of British, French, and Canadian soldiers who had given up their lives on the blood-stained soil of France in the cause of liberty. Distinctly we could see through glasses a padre saying prayers for the dead over the bodies of some of the allied soldiers which were being laid in the newly-dug graves.
Beyond the cemetery a road twisted here and there, and along it hurried from time to time motor ambulances, with the large, red cross on their sides; motor lorries, full of food and munitions; limbers, painted in vari-colored patterns, and looking like a calithumpian procession, to make them inconspicuous against the earth to the German aviators; large guns drawn by strings of horses; pack mules with their burdens of shells; and motor cyclists hurrying forward or rearward with messages.
And all this in the cause of the great god, Mars!