BRUCE BAIRNSFATHER AND OLD BILL

Bullets&Billets

 

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Published in December 1916 by the publisher Grant Richards , was Bainsfathers first attempt at writting a book and a very good one to.The book covered Bairnsfathers first 6 months in france up untill his being wounded and exit in the second battle of Ypers .

The first edition of 50000 copies were sold out in the first week such was his popularity at the time.The book was reprinted at least seven times over the next two years,even today you can still buy a modern reprint of Bullets & Billets.A limited edition of 100 copies of the book was made each with a personalised sketch was printed in 1917.

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 PLEASE READ THE ENTIRE BOOK BELOW

 

Bullets & Billets

By Bruce Bairnsfather

1916

TO MY OLD PALS,
"BILL," "BERT," AND "ALF,"
WHO HAVE SAT IN THE MUD WITH ME

 


CONTENTS

CHAPTER I
  Landing at Havre--Tortoni's--Follow the tram lines--Orders
  for the Front.

CHAPTER II
  Tortuous travelling--Clippers and tablets--Dumped at a
  siding--I join my Battalion.

CHAPTER III
  Those Plugstreet trenches--Mud and rain--Flooded out--A
  hopeless dawn.

CHAPTER IV
  More mud--Rain and bullets--A bit of cake--"Wind up"--Night
  rounds.

CHAPTER V
  My man Friday--"Chuck us the biscuits"--Relieved--Billets.

CHAPTER VI
  The Transport Farm--Fleeced by the Flemish--Riding--Nearing
  Christmas.

CHAPTER VII
  A projected attack---Digging a sap--An 'ell of a night--The
  attack--Puncturing Prussians.

CHAPTER VIII
  Christmas Eve--A lull in hate--Briton cum Boche.

CHAPTER IX
  Souvenirs--A ride to Nieppe--Tea at H.Q.--Trenches once more.

CHAPTER X
  My partial escape from the mud--The deserted village--My
  "cottage."

CHAPTER XI
  Stocktaking--Fortifying--Nebulous Fragments.

CHAPTER XII
  A brain wave--Making a "funk hole"--Plugstreet Wood--Sniping.

CHAPTER XIII
  Robinson Crusoe--That turbulent table.

CHAPTER XIV
  The Amphibians--Fed-up, but determined--The gun parapet.

CHAPTER XV
  Arrival of the "Johnsons"--"Where did that one go?"--The
  First Fragment dispatched--The exodus--Where?

CHAPTER XVI
  New trenches--The night inspection--Letter from the
  _Bystander_.

CHAPTER XVII
  Wulverghem--The Douve--Corduroy boards--Back at our farm.

CHAPTER XVIII
  The painter and decorator--Fragments forming--Night on the
  mud prairie.

CHAPTER XIX
  Visions of leave--Dick Turpin--Leave!

CHAPTER XX
  That Leave train--My old pal--London and home--The call of
  the wild.

CHAPTER XXI
  Back from leave--That "blinkin' moon"--Johnson 'oles--Tommy
  and "frightfulness"--Exploring expedition.

CHAPTER XXII
  A daylight stalk--The disused trench--"Did they see me?"--A
  good sniping position.

CHAPTER XXIII
  Our moated farm--Wulverghem--The Cure's house--A shattered
  Church--More "heavies"--A farm on fire.

CHAPTER XXIV
  That ration fatigue--Sketches in request--Bailleul--Baths and
  lunatics--How to conduct a war.

CHAPTER XXV
  Getting stale--Longing for change--We leave the Douve--On the
  march--Spotted fever--Ten days' rest.

CHAPTER XXVI
  A pleasant change--Suzette, Berthe and Marthe--"La jeune
  fille farouche"--Andre.

CHAPTER XXVII
  Getting fit--Caricaturing the Cure--"Dirty work ahead"--A
  projected attack--Unlooked-for orders.

CHAPTER XXVIII
  We march for Ypres--Halt at Locre--A bleak camp and meagre
  fare--Signs of battle--First view of Ypres.

CHAPTER XXIX
  Getting nearer--A lugubrious party--Still nearer--Blazing
  Ypres--Orders for attack.

CHAPTER XXX
  Rain and mud--A trying march--In the thick of it--A wounded
  officer--Heavy shelling--I get my "quietus!"

CHAPTER XXXI
  Slowly recovering--Field hospital--Ambulance train--Back in
  England.

 


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


Bruce Bairnsfather: a photograph

The Birth of "Fragments": Scribbles on the farmhouse walls

That Astronomical Annoyance, the Star Shell

"Plugstreet Wood"

A Hopeless Dawn

The usual line in Billeting Farms

"Chuck us the biscuits, Bill. The fire wants mendin'"

"Shut that blinkin' door. There's a 'ell of a draught in 'ere"

A Memory of Christmas, 1914

The Sentry

A Messines Memory: "'Ow about shiftin' a bit further down the road, Fred?"

"Old soldiers never die"

Photograph of the Author. St. Yvon, Christmas Day, 1914

Off "in" again

"Poor old Maggie! She seems to be 'avin' it dreadful wet at 'ome!"

The Tin-opener

"They're devils to snipe, ain't they, Bill?"

Old Bill

 


FOREWORD


_Down South, in the Valley of the Somme, far
from the spots recorded in this book, I began
to write this story._

_In billets it was. I strolled across the old
farmyard and into the wood beyond. Sitting
by a gurgling little stream, I began, with the
aid of a notebook and a pencil, to record the
joys and sorrows of my first six months in
France._

_I do not claim any unique quality for these
experiences. Many thousands have had the
same. I have merely, by request, made a
record of my times out there, in the way that
they appeared to me_.

BRUCE BAIRNSFATHER.

 


CHAPTER I

LANDING AT HAVRE--TORTONI'S--FOLLOW
THE TRAM LINES--ORDERS FOR THE FRONT


[Illustration: G]

Gliding up the Seine, on a transport crammed to the lid with troops, in
the still, cold hours of a November morning, was my debut into the war.
It was about 6 a.m. when our boat silently slipped along past the great
wooden sheds, posts and complications of Havre Harbour. I had spent most
of the twelve-hour trip down somewhere in the depths of the ship,
dealing out rations to the hundred men that I had brought with me from
Plymouth. This sounds a comparatively simple process, but not a bit of
it. To begin with, the ship was filled with troops to bursting point,
and the mere matter of proceeding from one deck to another was about as
difficult as trying to get round to see a friend at the other side of
the ground at a Crystal Palace Cup final.

I stood in a queue of Gordons, Seaforths, Worcesters, etc., slowly
moving up one, until, finally arriving at the companion (nearly said
staircase), I tobogganed down into the hold, and spent what was left of
the night dealing out those rations. Having finished at last, I came to
the surface again, and now, as the transport glided along through the
dirty waters of the river, and as I gazed at the motley collection of
Frenchmen on the various wharves, and saw a variety of soldiery, and a
host of other warlike "props," I felt acutely that now I was _in_ the
war at last--the real thing! For some time I had been rehearsing in
England; but that was over now, and here I was--in the common or garden
vernacular--"in the soup."

At last we were alongside, and in due course I had collected that
hundred men of mine, and found that the number was still a hundred,
after which I landed with the rest, received instructions and a guide,
then started off for the Base Camps.

[Illustration: "Rations"]

These Camps were about three miles out of Havre, and thither the whole
contents of the ship marched in one long column, accompanied on either
side by a crowd of ragged little boys shouting for souvenirs and
biscuits. I and my hundred men were near the rear of the procession, and
in about an hour's time arrived at the Base Camps.

I don't know that it is possible to construct anything more atrociously
hideous or uninteresting than a Base Camp. It consists, in military
parlance, of nothing more than:--

  Fields, grassless   1
  Tents, bell       500

In fact, a huge space, once a field, now a bog, on which are perched
rows and rows of squalid tents.

I stumbled along over the mud with my troupe, and having found the
Adjutant, after a considerable search, thought that my task was over,
and that I could slink off into some odd tent or other and get a sleep
and a rest. Oh no!--the Adjutant had only expected fifty men, and here
was I with a hundred.

Consternation! Two hours' telephoning and intricate back-chat with the
Adjutant eventually led to my being ordered to leave the expected fifty
and take the others to another Base Camp hard by, and see if they would
like to have them there.

The rival Base Camp expressed a willingness to have this other fifty, so
at last I had finished, and having found an empty tent, lay down on the
ground, with my greatcoat for a pillow and went to sleep.

I awoke at about three in the afternoon, got hold of a bucket of water
and proceeded to have a wash. Having shaved, washed, brushed my hair,
and had a look at the general effect in the polished back of my
cigarette case (all my kit was still at the docks), I emerged from my
canvas cave and started off to have a look round.

I soon discovered a small cafe down the road, and found it was a place
used by several of the officers who, like myself, were temporarily
dumped at the Camps. I went in and got something to eat. Quite a good
little place upstairs there was, where one could get breakfast each
morning: just coffee, eggs, and bread sort of thing. By great luck I met
a pal of mine here; he had come over in a boat previous to mine, and
after we had had a bit of a refresher and a smoke we decided to go off
down to Havre and see the sights.

A tram passed along in front of this cafe, and this we boarded. It took
about half an hour getting down to Havre from Bleville where the Camps
were, but it was worth it.

Tortoni's Cafe, a place that we looked upon as the last link with
civilization: Tortoni's, with its blaze of light, looking-glass and gold
paint--its popping corks and hurrying waiters--made a deep and pleasant
indent on one's mind, for "to-morrow" meant "the Front" for most of
those who sat there.

As we sat in the midst of that kaleidoscopic picture, formed of French,
Belgian and English uniforms, intermingled with the varied and gaudy
robes of the local nymphs; as we mused in the midst of dense clouds of
tobacco smoke, we could not help reflecting that this _might_ be the
last time we should look on such scenes of revelry, and came to the
conclusion that the only thing to do was to make the most of it while we
had the chance. And, by Gad, we did....

A little after midnight I parted from my companion and started off to
get back to that Base Camp of mine.

Standing in the main square of the town, I realized a few points which
tended to take the edge off the success of the evening:

No. 1.--It was too late to get a tram.

No. 2.--All the taxis had disappeared.

No. 3.--It was pouring with rain.

No. 4.--I had three miles to go.

I started off to walk it--but had I known what that walk was going to
be, I would have buttoned myself round a lamp-post and stayed where I
was.

I made that fatal mistake of thinking that I knew the way.

Leaning at an angle of forty-five degrees against the driving rain, I
staggered along the tram lines past the Casino, and feeling convinced
that the tram lines must be correct, determined to follow them.

After about half an hour's walk, mostly uphill, I became rather
suspicious as to the road being quite right.

Seeing a sentry-box outside a palatial edifice on the right, I tacked
across the road and looked for the sentry.

A lurid thing in gendarmes advanced upon me, and I let off one of my
curtailed French sentences at him:

"Pour Bleville, Monsieur?"

I can't give his answer in French, but being interpreted I think it
meant that I was completely on the wrong road, and that he wasn't
certain as to how I could ever get back on it without returning to Havre
and starting again.

He produced an envelope, made an unintelligible sketch on the back of
it, and started me off again down the way I had come.

I realized what my mistake had been. There was evidently a branch tram
line, which I had followed, and this I thought could only have branched
off near the Casino, so back I went to the Casino and started again.

I was right about the branch line, and started merrily off again, taking
as I thought the main line to Bleville.

After another half-hour of this, with eyes feverishly searching for
recognizable landmarks, I again began to have doubts as to the veracity
of the tram lines. However, pretending that I placed their honesty
beyond all doubt, I plodded on; but round a corner, found the outlook so
unfamiliar that I determined to ask again. Not a soul about. Presently I
discovered a small house, standing back off the road and showing a thin
slit of light above the shutters of a downstairs window. I tapped on the
glass. A sound as of someone hurriedly trying to hide a pile of
coverless umbrellas in a cupboard was followed by the opening of the
window, and a bristling head was silhouetted against the light.

I squeezed out the same old sentence:

"Pour Bleville, Monsieur?"

A fearful cataract of unintelligible words burst from the head, but left
me almost as much in the dark as ever, though with a faint glimmering
that I was "warmer." I felt that if I went back about a mile and turned
to the left, all would be well.

I thanked the gollywog in the window, who, somehow or other, I think
must have been a printer working late, and started off once more.

After another hour's route march I came to some scattered houses, and
finally to a village. I was indignantly staring at a house when
suddenly, joy!--I realized that what I was looking at was an unfamiliar
view of the cafe where I had breakfasted earlier in the day.

Another ten minutes and I reached the Camp. Time now 2.30 a.m. I thought
I would just take a look in at the Orderly Room tent to see if there
were any orders in for me. It was lucky I did. Inside I found an orderly
asleep in a blanket, and woke him.

"Anything in for me?" I asked. "Bairnsfather's my name."

"Yes, sir, there is," came through the blanket, and getting up he went
to the table at the other end of the tent. He sleepily handed me the
wire: "Lieutenant Bairnsfather to proceed to join his battalion as
machine-gun officer...."

"What time do I have to push off?" I inquired.

"By the eight o'clock from Havre to-morrow, sir."

Time now 3 a.m. To-morrow--THE FRONT! And then I crept into my tent and
tried to sleep.

 


CHAPTER II

TORTUOUS TRAVELLING--CLIPPERS AND
TABLETS--DUMPED AT A SIDING--I JOIN
MY BATTALION


Not much sleep that night, a sort of feverish coma instead: wild dreams
in which I and the gendarme were attacking a German trench, the officer
in charge of which we found to be the Base Camp Adjutant after all.

However, I got up early--packed my few belongings in my valise, which
had mysteriously turned up from the docks, and went off on the tram down
to Havre. That hundred men I had brought over had nothing to do with me
now. I was entirely on my own, and was off to the Front to join my
battalion. Down at Havre the officials at the station gave me a
complicated yellow diagram, known as a travelling pass, and I got into a
carriage in the train bound for Rouen.

I was not alone now; a whole forest of second lieutenants like myself
were in the same train, and with them a solid, congealed mass of
valises, packs, revolvers and haversacks. At last the train started, and
after the usual hour spent in feeling that you have left all the most
important things behind, I settled down on a mound of equipment and
tried to do a bit of a sleep.

So what with sleeping, smoking and talking, we jolted along until we
pulled up at Rouen. Here I had to leave the train, for some obscure
reason, in order to go to the Palais de Justice to get another ticket. I
padded off down over the bridge into Rouen, found the Palais, went in
and was shown along to an office that dealt in tickets.

In this dark and dingy oak-panelled saloon, illuminated by electric
light and the glittering reflections from gold braid, there lurked a
general or two. I was here given another pass entitling me to be
deposited at a certain siding in Flanders.

Back I went to the station, and in due course rattled off in the train
again towards the North.

A fearfully long journey we had, up to the Front! The worst of it was
that nobody knew--or, if they did, wouldn't tell you--which way you
were going, or how long it would take to get to your destination. For
instance, we didn't know we were going to Rouen till we got there; and
we didn't know we were going from Rouen to Boulogne until, after a night
spent in the train, the whole outfit jolted and jangled into the Gare de
Something, down by the wharf at that salubrious seaport.

We spent a complete day and part of an evening at Boulogne, as our train
did not leave until midnight.

[Illustration: having a smoke]

I and another chap who was going to the next railhead to mine at the
Front, went off together into the town and had lunch at a cafe in the
High Street. We then strolled around the shops, buying a few things we
needed. Not very attractive things either, but I'll mention them here to
show how we thought and felt.

We first went to a "pharmacie" and got some boxes of morphia tablets,
after which we went to an ironmonger's (don't know the French for it)
and each bought a ponderous pair of barbed wire cutters. So what with
wire clippers and morphia tablets, we _were_ gay. About four o'clock we
calmed down a bit, and went to the same restaurant where we had
lunched.

Here we had tea with a couple of French girls, exceeding good to look
upon, who had apparently escaped from Lille. We got on splendidly with
them till a couple of French officers, one with the Legion of Honour,
came along to the next table. That took all the shine out of us, so we
determined to quit, and cleared off to the Hotel de Folkestone, where we
had a bath to console us. Dinner followed, and then, feeling
particularly hilarious, I made my will. Not the approved will of family
lawyer style, but just a letter announcing, in bald and harsh terms
that, in the event of my remaining permanently in Belgium, I wanted my
total small worldly wealth to be disposed of in a certain way.

Felt better after this outburst, and, rejoining my pal, we went off into
the town again and by easy stages reached the train.

At about one a.m. the train started, and we creaked and groaned our way
out of Boulogne. We were now really off for the Front, and the
situation, consequently, became more exciting. We were slowly getting
nearer and nearer to the real thing. But what a train! It dribbled and
rumbled along at about five miles an hour, and, I verily believe,
stopped at every farmhouse within sight of the line. I could not help
thinking that the engine driver was a German in disguise, who was trying
to prevent our ever arriving at our destination. I tried to sleep, but
each time the train pulled up, I woke with a start and thought that we'd
got there. This went on for many hours, and as I knew we must be getting
somewhere near, my dreams became worse and worse.

I somehow began to think that the engine driver was becoming
cautious--(he was a Frenchman again)--thought that, perhaps, he had to
get down occasionally and walk ahead a bit to see if it was safe to go
on.

Nobody in the train had the least idea where the Front was, how far off,
or what it was like. For all we knew, our train might be going right up
into the rear of the front line trenches. Somewhere round 6 a.m. I
reached my siding. All the others, except myself and one other, had got
out at previous halts. I got down from the carriage on to the cinder
track, and went along the line to the station. Nobody about except a few
Frenchmen, so I went back to the carriage again, and sat looking out
through the dimmed window at the rain-soaked flat country. The other
fellow with me was doing the same. A sudden, profound depression came
over me. Here was I and this other cove dumped down at this horrible
siding; nothing to eat, and nobody to meet us. How rude and callous of
someone, or something. I looked at my watch; it had stopped, and on
trying to wind it I found it was broken.

I stared out of the window again; gave that up, and stared at the
opposite seat. Suddenly my eye caught something shiny under the seat. I
stooped and picked it up; it was a watch! I have always looked upon this
episode as an omen of some sort; but of what sort I can't quite make
out. Finding a watch means finding "Time"--perhaps it meant I would find
time to write this book; on the other hand it may have meant that my
time had come--who knows?

At about eight o'clock by my new watch I again made an attack on the
station, and at last found the R.T.O., which, being interpreted, means
the Railway Transport Officer. He told me where my battalion was to be
found; but didn't know whether they were in the trenches or out. He also
added that if he were me he wouldn't hurry about going there, as I could
probably get a lift in an A.S.C. wagon later on. I took his advice, and
having left all my tackle by his office, went into the nearest estaminet
to get some breakfast. The owner, a genial but garrulous little
Frenchman, spent quite a lot of time explaining to me how those hateful
people, the Boches, had occupied his house not so long before, and had
punched a hole in his kitchen wall to use a machine-gun through. After
breakfast I went to the station and arranged for my baggage to be sent
on by an A.S.C. wagon, and then started out to walk to Nieppe, which I
learnt was the place where my battalion billeted. As I plodded along the
muddy road in the pouring rain, I became aware of a sound with which I
was afterwards to become horribly familiar.

"Boom!" That was all; but I knew it was the voice of the guns, and in
that moment I realized that here was the war, and that I was in it.

I ploughed along for about four miles down uninteresting mud
canals--known on maps as roads--until, finally, I entered Nieppe.

The battalion, I heard from a passing soldier, was having its last day
in billets prior to going into the trenches again. They were billeted at
a disused brewery at the other end of the town. I went on down the
squalid street and finally found the place.

A crowd of dirty, war-worn looking soldiers were clustered about the
entrance in groups. I went in through the large archway past them into
the brewery yard. Soldiers everywhere, resting, talking and smoking. I
inquired where the officers' quarters were, and was shown to the brewery
head office. Here I found the battalion officers, many of whom I knew,
and went into their improvised messroom, which, in previous days, had
apparently been the Brewery Board room.

I found everything very dark, dingy and depressing. That night the
battalion was going into the trenches again, and last evenings in
billets are not generally very exhilarating. I sat and talked with those
I knew, and presently the Colonel came in, and I heard what the orders
were for the evening. I felt very strange and foreign to it all, as
everyone except myself had had their baptism of trench life, and,
consequently, at this time I did not possess that calm indifference,
bred of painful experience, which is part of the essence of a true
trench-dweller.

The evening drew on. We had our last meal in billets--sardines, bread,
butter and cake sort of thing--slung on to the bare table by the soldier
servants, who were more engrossed in packing up things they were taking
to the trenches than in anything else.

And now the time came to start off. I found the machine-gun section in
charge of a sergeant, a most excellent fellow, who had looked after the
section since the officer (whose place I had come to fill) had been
wounded. I took over from him, and, as the battalion moved off along the
road, fell in behind with my latest acquisition--a machine-gun section,
with machine guns to match. It was quite dusk now, and as we neared the
great Bois de Ploegstert, known all over the world as "Plugstreet
Wood," it was nearly night. The road was getting rougher, and the
houses, dotted about in dark silhouettes against the sky-line, had a
curiously deserted and worn appearance. Everything was looking dark,
damp and drear.

On we went down the road through the wood, stumbling along in the
darkness over the shell-pitted track. Weird noises occasionally floated
through the trees; the faint "crack" of a rifle, or the rumble of limber
wheels. A distant light flickered momentarily in the air, cutting out in
bold relief the ruins of the shattered chateau on our left. On we went
through this scene of dark and humid desolation, past the occasional
mounds of former habitations, on into the trenches before Plugstreet
Wood.

 


CHAPTER III

THOSE PLUGSTREET TRENCHES--MUD AND
RAIN--FLOODED OUT--A HOPELESS DAWN


An extraordinary sensation--the first time of going into trenches. The
first idea that struck me about them was their haphazard design. There
was, no doubt, some very excellent reason for someone or other making
those trenches as they were; but they really did strike me as curious
when I first saw them.

A trench will, perhaps, run diagonally across a field, will then go
along a hedge at right angles, suddenly give it up and start again fifty
yards to the left, in such a position that it is bound to cross the
kitchen-garden of a shattered chateau, go through the greenhouse and out
into the road. On getting there it henceforth rivals the ditch at the
side in the amount of water it can run off into a row of dug-outs in the
next field. There is, apparently, no necessity for a trench to be in any
way parallel to the line of your enemy; as long as he can't shoot you
from immediately behind, that's all you ask.

It was a long and weary night, that first one of mine in the trenches.
Everything was strange, and wet and horrid. First of all I had to go and
fix up my machine guns at various points, and find places for the
gunners to sleep in. This was no easy matter, as many of the dug-outs
had fallen in and floated off down stream.

In this, and subsequent descriptions of the trenches, I may lay myself
open to the charge of exaggeration. But it must be remembered that I am
describing trench life in the early days of 1914, and I feel sure that
those who had experience of them will acquit me of any such charge.

To give a recipe for getting a rough idea, in case you want to, I
recommend the following procedure. Select a flat ten-acre ploughed
field, so sited that all the surface water of the surrounding country
drains into it. Now cut a zig-zag slot about four feet deep and three
feet wide diagonally across, dam off as much water as you can so as to
leave about a hundred yards of squelchy mud; delve out a hole at one
side of the slot, then endeavour to live there for a month on bully beef
and damp biscuits, whilst a friend has instructions to fire at you with
his Winchester every time you put your head above the surface.

Well, here I was, anyway, and the next thing was to make the best of it.
As I have before said, these were the days of the earliest trenches in
this war: days when we had none of those desirable "props," such as
corrugated iron, floorboards, and sand bags _ad lib_.

[Illustration: "ullo! 'Arry"]

When you made a dug-out in those days you made it out of anything you
could find, and generally had to make it yourself. That first night I
was "in" I discovered, after a humid hour or so, that our battalion
wouldn't fit into the spaces left by the last one, and as regards
dug-outs, the truth of that mathematical axiom, "Two's into one, won't
go," suddenly dawned on me with painful clearness. I was faced with
making a dug-out, and it was raining, of course. (_Note._--Whenever I
don't state the climatic conditions, read "raining.") After sloshing
about in several primitive trenches in the vicinity of the spot where we
had fixed our best machine-gun position, my sergeant and I discovered a
sort of covered passage in a ditch in front of a communication trench.
It was a sort of emergency exit back from a row of ramshackle,
water-logged hovels in the ditch to the communication trench. We decided
to make use of this passage, and arranged things in such a way that by
scooping out the clay walls we made two caves, one behind the other. The
front one was about five yards from the machine gun, and you reached the
back cave by going through the outer one. It now being about 11 p.m.,
and having been for the last five hours perpetually on the scramble,
through trenches of all sorts, I drew myself into the inner cave to go
to sleep.

This little place was about 4 feet long, 3 feet high, and 3 feet wide. I
got out my knife, took a scoop out of the clay wall, and fishing out a
candle-end from my pocket, stuck it in the niche, lit it and a
cigarette. I now lay down and tried to size up the situation and life
in general.

Here I was, in this horrible clay cavity, somewhere in Belgium, miles
and miles from home. Cold, wet through and covered with mud. This was
the first day; and, so far as I could see, the future contained nothing
but repetitions of the same thing, or worse.

[Illustration: rucksacks]

Nothing was to be heard except the occasional crack of the sniper's
shot, the dripping of the rain, and the low murmur of voices from the
outer cave.

In the narrow space beside me lay my equipment; revolver, and a sodden
packet of cigarettes. Everything damp, cold and dark; candle-end
guttering. I think suddenly of something like the Empire or the
Alhambra, or anything else that's reminiscent of brightness and life,
and then--swish, bang--back to the reality that the damp clay wall is
only eighteen inches in front of me; that here I am--that the Boche is
just on the other side of the field; and that there doesn't seem the
slightest chance of leaving except in an ambulance.

My machine-gun section for the gun near by lay in the front cave, a
couple of feet from me; their spasmodic talking gradually died away as,
one by one, they dropped off to sleep. One more indignant, hopeless
glare at the flickering candle-end, then I pinched the wick, curled up,
and went to sleep.

       *       *       *       *       *

A sudden cold sort of peppermint sensation assailed me; I awoke and sat
up. My head cannoned off the clay ceiling, so I partially had to lie
down again.

I attempted to strike a match, but found the whole box was damp and
sodden. I heard a muttering of voices and a curse or two in the outer
cavern, and presently the sergeant entered my sanctum on all fours:

"We're bein' flooded out, sir; there's water a foot deep in this place
of ours."

That explains it. I feel all round the back of my greatcoat and find I
have been sleeping in a pool of water.

I crawled out of my inner chamber, and the whole lot of us dived through
the rapidly rising water into the ditch outside. I scrambled up on to
the top of the bank, and tried to focus the situation.

From inquiries and personal observation I found that the cause of the
tide rising was the fact that the Engineers had been draining the
trench, in the course of which process they had apparently struck a
spring of water.

We accepted the cause of the disaster philosophically, and immediately
discussed what was the best thing to be done. Action of some sort was
urgently necessary, as at present we were all sitting on the top of the
mud bank of the ditch in the silent, steady rain, the whole party being
occasionally illuminated by a German star shell--more like a family
sitting for a flashlight photograph than anything else.

We decided to make a dam. Having found an empty ration box and half a
bag of coke, we started on the job of trying to fence off the water from
our cave. After about an hour's struggle with the elements we at last
succeeded, with the aid of the ration box, the sack of coke and a few
tins of bully, in reducing the water level inside to six inches.

Here we were, now wetter than ever, cold as Polar bears, sitting in this
hygroscopic catacomb at about 2 a.m. We longed for a fire; a fire was
decided on. We had a fire bucket--it had started life as a biscuit
tin--a few bits of damp wood, but no coke. "We had some coke, I'm sure!
Why, of course--we built it into the dam!" Down came the dam, out came
the coke, and in came the water. However, we preferred the water to the
cold; so, finally, after many exasperating efforts, we got a fire going
in the bucket. Five minutes' bliss followed by disaster. The fire bucket
proceeded to emit such dense volumes of sulphurous smoke that in a few
moments we couldn't see a lighted match.

We stuck it a short time longer, then one by one dived into the water
and out into the air, shooting out of our mud hovel to the surface like
snakes when you pour water down their holes.

Time now 3 a.m. No sleep; rain, water, _plus_ smoke. A board meeting
held immediately decides to give up sleep and dug-outs for that night. A
motion to try and construct a chimney with an entrenching tool is
defeated by five votes to one ... dawn is breaking--my first night in
trenches comes to an end.

 


CHAPTER IV

MORE MUD--RAIN AND BULLETS--A BIT OF
CAKE--"WIND UP"--NIGHT ROUNDS


  The rose-pink sky fades off above to blue,
    The morning star alone proclaims the dawn.
  The empty tins and barbed wire bathed in dew
    Emerge, and then another day is born.

I wrote that "poem" in those--trenches, so you can see the sort of state
to which I was reduced.

Well, my first trench night was over; the dawn had broken--everything
else left to break had been seen to by the artillery, which started off
generally at about eight. And what a fearful long day it seemed, that
first one! As soon as it was light I began scrambling about, and having
a good look at the general lie of things. In front was a large expanse
of root field, at the further side of which a long irregular parapet
marked the German trenches. Behind those again was more root field,
dented here and there with shell holes filled with water, beyond which
stood a few isolated remnants which had once been cottages. I stood at a
projection in one of our trenches, from where I could see the general
shape of our line, and could glimpse a good view of the German
arrangements. Not a soul could be seen anywhere. Here and there a wisp
of smoke indicated a fire bucket. Behind our trenches, behind the
shattered houses at the top of a wooded rise in the ground, stood what
once must have been a fine chateau. As I looked, a shrieking hollow
whistle overhead, a momentary pause, then--"Crumph!" showed clearly what
was the matter with the chateau. It was being shelled. The Germans
seemed to have a rooted objection to that chateau. Every morning, as we
crouched in our mud kennels, we heard those "Crumphs," and soon got to
be very good judges of form. _We_ knew they were shelling the chateau.
When they didn't shell the chateau, we got it in the trenches; so we
looked on that dear old mangled wreck with a friendly eye--that
tapering, twisted, perforated spire, which they never could knock down,
was an everlasting bait to the Boche, and a perfect fairy godmother to
us.

Oh, those days in that trench of ours! Each day seemed about a week
long. I shared a dug-out with a platoon commander after that first
night. The machine-gun section found a suitable place and made a dug-out
for themselves.

Day after day, night after night, my companion and I lay and listened to
the daily explosions, read, and talked, and sloshed about that trench
together.

The greatest interest one had in the daytime was sitting on the damp
straw in our clay vault, scraping the mud off one's saturated boots and
clothes. The event to which one looked forward with the greatest
interest was the arrival of letters in the evening.

Now and again we got out of our dug-out and sloshed down the trench to
scheme out some improvement or other, or to furtively look out across
the water-logged turnip field at the Boche trenches opposite.
Occasionally, in the silent, still, foggy mornings, a voice from
somewhere in the alluvial depths of a miserable trench, would suddenly
burst into a scrap of song, such as--

  Old soldiers never die,
    They simply fade away.

--a voice full of "fed-upness," steeped in determination.

Then all would be silence for the next couple of hours, and so the day
passed.

[Illustration: The Knave of Spades.]

At dusk, my job was to emerge from this horrible drain and go round the
various machine-gun positions. What a job! I generally went alone, and
in the darkness struck out across the sodden field, tripping,
stumbling, and sometimes falling into various shell holes on the way.

One does a little calling at this time of day. Having seen a gun in
another trench, one looks up the nearest platoon commander. You look
into so-and-so's dug-out and find it empty. You ask a sergeant where the
occupant is.

"He's down the trench, sir." You push your way down the trench, dodging
pools of water and stepping over fire buckets, mess tins, brushing past
men standing, leaning or sitting--right on down the trench, where, round
a corner, you find the platoon commander. "Well, if we can't get any
sandbags," he is probably saying to a sergeant, "we will just have to
bank it up with earth, and put those men on the other side of the
traverse," or something like that. He turns to me and says, "Come along
back to my dug-out and have a bit of cake. Someone or other has sent one
out from home."

We start back along the trench. Suddenly a low murmuring, rattling sound
can be heard in the distance. We stop to listen, the sound gets louder;
everyone stops to listen--the sound approaches, and is now
distinguishable as rifle-fire. The firing becomes faster and faster;
then suddenly swells into a roar and now comes the phenomenon of trench
warfare: "wind up"--the prairie fire of the trenches.

Everyone stands to the parapet, and away on the left a tornado of
crackling sound can be heard, getting louder and louder. In a few
seconds it has swept on down the line, and now a deafening rattle of
rifle-fire is going on immediately in front. Bullets are flicking the
tops of the sandbags on the parapet in hundreds, whilst white streaks
are shooting up with a swish into the sky and burst into bright
radiating blobs of light--the star shell at its best.

A curious thing, this "wind up." We never knew when it would come on. It
is caused entirely by nerves. Perhaps an inquisitive Boche, somewhere a
mile or two on the left, had thought he saw someone approaching his
barbed wire; a few shots are exchanged--a shout or two, followed by more
shots--panic--more shots--panic spreading--then suddenly the whole line
of trenches on a front of a couple of miles succumbs to that well-known
malady, "wind up."

In reality it is highly probable that there was no one in front near
the wire, and no one has had the least intention of being there.

Presently there comes a deep "boom" from somewhere in the distance
behind, and a large shell sails over our heads and explodes somewhere
amongst the Boches; another and another, and then all becomes quiet
again. The rifle fire diminishes and soon ceases. Total result of one of
these firework displays: several thousand rounds of ammunition squibbed
off, hundreds of star shells wasted, and no casualties.

It put the "wind up" me at first, but I soon got to know these affairs,
and learnt to take them calmly.

I went along with the platoon commander back to his lair. An excellent
fellow he was. No one in this war could have hated it all more than he
did, and no one could have more conscientiously done his very best at
it. Poor fellow, he was afterwards killed near Ypres.

"Well, how are things going with you?" I said.

"Oh, all right. They knocked down that same bit of parapet again to-day.
I think they must imagine we've got a machine gun there, or something.
That's twice we've had to build it up this week. Have a bit of cake?"

So I had a bit of cake and left him; he going back to that old parapet
again, whilst I struck off into the dark, wet field towards another gun
position, falling into an unfamiliar "Johnson 'ole" on the way.

No one gets a better idea of the general lie of the position than a
machine-gun officer. In those early, primitive days, when we had so few
of each thing, we, of course, had few machine guns, and these had to be
sprinkled about a position to the best possible advantage. The
consequence was that people like myself had to cover a considerable
amount of ground before our rambles in the dark each night were done.

One machine gun might be, say, in "Dead Man Farm"; another at the
"Barrier" near the cross roads; whilst another couple were just at some
effective spot in a trench, or in a commanding position in a shattered
farm or cottage behind the front line trenches.

I would leave my dug-out as soon as it was dark and do the round of all
the guns every night. Just as a sample, I will carry on from where I
left the platoon commander.

I slosh across the ploughed field at what I feel to be a correct angle
to bring me out on the cross roads, where, about two hundred yards away,
I have another gun. I scramble across a broken gateway and an old bit of
trench, and close behind come to a deep cutting into which I jump. About
five yards along this I come to a machine-gun emplacement, with a
machine-gun sentry on guard.

"Where's the corporal?"

"I'm 'ere, sir," is emitted from the slimy depths of a narrow low-roofed
dug-out, and the corporal emerges, hooking back the waterproof sheet as
he comes out to prevent the light showing.

"How about this gun, Corporal--is everything all right?"

"Yes, sir; but I was looking around to-day, and thought that if we was
to shift the gun over there, where the dead cow is, we'd get a better
field of fire."

Meeting adjourned to inspect this valuable site from the windward side.

After a short, blood-thirsty conversation relative to the perforating of
the enemy, I leave and push off into the bog again, striking out for
another visit. Finally, after two hours' visiting, floundering, bullet
dodging, and star shell shirking, accompanied by a liberal allowance of
"narrow squeaks," I get back to my own bit of trench; and tobogganing
down where I erroneously think the clay steps are, I at last reach my
dug-out, and entering on all fours, crouch amongst the damp tobacco
leaves and straw and light a cigarette.

 


CHAPTER V

MY MAN FRIDAY--"CHUCK US THE
BISCUITS"--RELIEVED--BILLETS


It was during this first time up in the trenches that I got a soldier
servant.

As I had arrived only just in time to go with the battalion to the
trenches, the acquisition had to be made by a search in the mud. I found
a fellow who hadn't been an officer's servant before, but who wanted to
be. I liked the look of him; so feeling rather like Robinson Crusoe,
when he booked up Friday, "I got me a man."

He lived in a dug-out about five yards away, and from then onwards
continued with me right to the point where this book finishes. This
fellow of mine did all my cooking, such as it was, and worked in
conjunction with my friend, the platoon commander's servant. Cooking, at
the times I write about, consisted of making innumerable brews of tea,
and opening tins of bully and Maconochie. Occasionally bacon had to be
fried in a mess-tin lid. One day my man soared off into culinary fancies
and curried a Maconochie. I have never quite forgiven him for this; I am
nearly right again now.

These two soldier servants never had to leave the trench. It was their
job to try and find something to make a fire with, and to do all they
could to keep the water out of our dug-out, a task which not one of us
succeeded in doing. My plan for sustaining life under these conditions
was to change my boots as often as possible. If there wasn't time for
this I used to try and boil the water in my boots by keeping my feet to
the fire bucket. I always put my puttees on first and then a pair of
thick socks, and finally a pair of boots. I could, by this means,
hurriedly slip off the sodden pair of boots and socks and slip on
another set which had become fairly dry by the fire. We lived
perpetually damp, if not thoroughly wet. My puttees, which I rarely
removed, were more like long rolls of the consistency of nougat than
anything else, thanks to the mud. Dug-outs had no wooden linings in
those days; no corrugated iron roofs; no floorboards. They were just
holes in the clay side of the fire trench, with any old thing for a
roof, and old straw or tobacco leaves, which we pinched from some
abandoned farm, for a floor. So, you see, there was not much of a chance
of dodging the moisture.

The cold was what got me. Personally, I would far rather have gone
without food than a fire. A fire of some sort was the only thing to
cheer. Coke was scarce and always wet, and it was by no means uncommon
to over-hear a remark of this sort: "Chuck us the biscuits, Bill; the
fire wants mendin'."

At night I would frequently sally forth to a cracked up village behind,
and perhaps procure half a mantelpiece and an old clog to stoke our
"furnace" with.

Well, after the usual number of long days and still longer nights spent
under these conditions, we came to the day when it was our turn to go
out to rest billets, and a relieving battalion to come in. What a
splendid day that is! You start "packing" at about 4 p.m. As soon as it
is dusk the servants slink off across that turnip morass behind and drag
our few belongings back to where the limbers are. These limbers have
come up from about three to four miles away, from the Regimental
Transport headquarters, to take all the trench "props" back to the
billets.

We don't leave, ourselves, until the "incoming" battalion has taken
over.

[Illustration: soldier at rest]

After what seems an interminable wait, we hear a clinking of mess tins
and rattling of equipment, the sloshing of feet in the mud, and much
whispered profanity, which all goes to announce to you that "they're
here!" Then you know that the other battalion has arrived, and are now
about to take over these precious slots in the ground.

When the exchange is complete, we are free to go!--to go out for our few
days in billets!

The actual going out and getting clear of the trenches takes a long
time. Handing over, and finally extricating ourselves from the morass,
in the dark, with all our belongings, is a lengthy process; and then we
have about a mile of country which we have never been able to examine in
the day time, and get familiar with, to negotiate. This is before we get
to the high road, and really start for billets.

I had the different machine-gun sections to collect from their various
guns, and this not until the relieving sections had all turned up. It
was a good two hours' job getting all the sections with their guns,
ammunition and various extras finally collected together in the dark a
mile back, ready to put all the stuff in the limbers, and so back to
billets. When all was fixed up I gave the order and off we started,
plodding along back down the narrow, dreary road towards our
resting-place. But it was quite a cheerful tramp, knowing as we did that
we were going to four days' comparative rest, and, anyway, safety.

On we went down the long, flat, narrow roads, occasionally looking round
to see the faint flicker of a star shell showing over the tops of the
trees, and to think momentarily of the "poor devils" left behind to take
our place, and go on doing just what we had been at. Then, finally,
getting far enough away to forget, songs and jokes took us chirping
along, past objects which soon became our landmarks in the days to come.
 On we went, past estaminets, shrines and occasional windmills, down
the long winding road for about four miles, until at last we reached our
billets, where the battalion willingly halted and dispersed to its
various quarters. I and my machine-gun section had still to carry on,
for we lived apart, a bit further on, at the Transport Farm. So we
continued on our own for another mile and a half, past the estaminet at
Romerin, out on towards Neuve Eglise to our Transport Farm. This was the
usual red-tiled Belgian farm, with a rectangular smell in the middle.

 


CHAPTER VI

THE TRANSPORT FARM--FLEECED BY THE
FLEMISH--RIDING--NEARING CHRISTMAS


It was about 9 p.m. when we turned into the courtyard of the farm. My
sergeant saw to the unlimbering, and dismissed the section, whilst I
went into the farm and dismantled myself of all my tackle, such as
revolver, field-glass, greatcoat, haversacks, etc.

My servant had, of course, preceded me, and by the time I had made a
partial attempt at cleaning myself, he had brought in a meal of sorts
and laid it on the oilcloth-covered table by the stove. I was now joined
by the transport officer and the regimental quartermaster. They lived at
this farm permanently, and only came to the trenches on occasional
excursions. They had both had a go at the nasty part of warfare though,
before this, so although consumed with a sneaking envy, I was full of
respect for them.

We three had a very merry and genial time together. We now had something
distinctly resembling a breakfast, a lunch, and a dinner, each day. The
transport officer took a lively interest in the efforts of Messrs.
Fortnum and Mason, and thus added generously to our menus. It was a
glorious feeling, pushing open the door of that farm and coming in from
all the wet, darkness, mud and weariness of four days in the trenches.
After the supper, I disappeared into the back kitchen place and did what
was possible in the shaving and washing line. The Belgian family were
all herded away in here, as their front rooms were now our exclusive
property. I have never quite made out what the family consisted of, but,
approximately, I should think, mother and father and ten children. I am
pretty certain about the children, as about half a platoon stood around
me whilst shaving, and solemnly watched me with dull brown Flemish eyes.
The father kept in the background, resting, I fancy, from his usual
day's work of hiding unattractive turnips in enormous numbers, under
mounds of mud--(the only form of farming industry which came under my
notice in Flanders).

The mother, however, was "all there," in more senses than one. She was
of about observation balloon proportions, and had an unerring eye for
the main chance. Her telegraphic address, I should imagine, was
"Fleecem." She had one sound commercial idea, _i.e._, "charge as much as
you can for everything they want, hide everything they _do_ want, and
slowly collect any property, in the way of food, they have in the
cellar; so that, in the future, there shall be no lack of bully and jam
in our farm, at any rate."

They had one farm labourer, a kind of epileptic who, I found out, gave
his services in return for being fed--no pay. He will regret this
contract of his in time, as the food in question was bully beef and plum
and apple jam, with an occasional change to Maconochie and apple and
plum jam. That store in the cellar absolutely precludes him from any
change from this diet for many years to come. Of course, I must say his
work was not such as would be classed amongst the skilled or
intellectual trades; it was, apparently, to pump all the accumulated
drainage from a subterranean vault out into the yard in front, about
twice a week, the rest of his time being taken up by assisting at the
hiding of the turnips.

After I had washed and shaved under the critical eyes of Angele, Rachel,
Andre and Co., I retired into an inner chamber which had once been an
apple store, and went to bed on a straw mattress in the corner. Pyjamas
at last! and an untroubled sleep. Occasionally in the night one would
wake and, listening at the open window, would hear the distant rattle of
rifle fire far away beyond the woods.

[Illustration: boy and bird]

These four days at the Transport Farm were days of wallowing in rest.
There was, of course, certain work to be done in connection with the
machine-gun department, such as overhauling and cleaning the guns, and
drilling the section at intervals; but the evenings and nights were a
perfect joy after those spent in the trenches.

One could walk about the fields near by; could read, write letters, and
sleep as much as one liked. And if one wished, walk or ride over to see
friends at the other billets. Ah, yes! ride--I am sorry to say that
riding was not, and is not, my forte. Unfortunate this, as the
machine-gun officer is one of the few privileged to have a horse. I was
entitled to ride to the trenches, and ride away from them, and during
our rest, ride wherever I wanted to go; but these advantages, so coveted
by my horseless pals in the regiment, left me cold. I never will be any
good at the "Haute Ecole" act, I'm sure, although I made several
attempts to get a liking for the subject in France. When the final day
came for our departure to the trenches again, I rode from that Transport
Farm.

Riding in England, or in any civilized country, is one thing, and riding
in those barren, shell-torn wastes of Flanders is another. The usual
darkness, rain and mud pervaded the scene when the evening came for our
return journey to the trenches. My groom (curse him) had not forgotten
to saddle the horse and bring it round. There it was, standing gaunt and
tall in front of the paraded machine-gun section. With my best
equestrian demeanour I crossed the yard, and hauling myself up on to my
horse, choked out a few commands to the section, and sallied forth on to
the road towards the trenches.

Thank Heaven, I didn't go into the Cavalry. The roads about the part we
were performing in were about two yards wide and a precipitous ditch at
each side. In the middle, all sorts and conditions of holes punctuated
their long winding length. Add to this the fact that you are either
meeting, or being passed by, a motor lorry every ten minutes, and you
will get an idea of the conditions under which riding takes place.

[Illustration: kit and kaboodle]

Well, anyway, during the whole of my equestrian career in France, I
never came off. I rode along in front of my section, balancing on this
"Ship of the Desert" of mine, past all the same landmarks, cracked
houses, windmills, estaminets, etc. I experienced innumerable tense
moments when my horse--as frequently happened--took me for a bit of a
circular tour in an adjacent field, so as to avoid some colossal motor
lorry with one headlight of about a million candle-power, which would
suddenly roar its way down our single narrow road. At last we got to the
dumping-ground spot again--the spot where we horsemen have to come to
earth and walk, and where everything is unbaled from the limbers. Here
we were again, on the threshold of the trenches.

This monotonous dreary routine of "in" and "out" of the trenches had to
be gone through many, many times before we got to Christmas Day. But,
during that pre-Christmas period, there was one outstanding feature
above the normal dangerous dreariness of the trenches: that was a slight
affair in the nature of our attack on the 18th of December, so in the
next chapter I will proceed to outline my part in this passage of arms.

 


CHAPTER VII

A PROJECTED ATTACK---DIGGING A SAP--
AN 'ELL OF A NIGHT--THE ATTACK--
PUNCTURING PRUSSIANS


[Illustration: O]

One evening I was sitting, coiled up in the slime at the bottom of my
dug-out, toying with the mud enveloping my boots, when a head appeared
at a gap in my mackintosh doorway and said, "The Colonel wants to see
you, sir." So I clambered out and went across the field, down a trench,
across a road and down a trench again to where the headquarter dug-outs
lay all in a row.

I came to the Colonel's dug-out, where, by the light of a candle-end
stuck on an improvised table, he was sitting, busily explaining
something by the aid of a map to a group of our officers. I waited till
he had finished, knowing that he would want to see me after the others,
as the machine-gunner's job is always rather a specialized side-line.
Soon he explained to me what he wished me to do with my guns, and gave
me a rough outline of the projected attack. He pointed out on the map
where he wished me to take up positions, and closed the interview by
saying that he thought I should at once proceed to reconnoitre the
proposed sites, and lay all my plans for getting into position, as we
were going to conduct an operation on the Boches at dawn the next day.

I left, and started at once on my plans. The first thing was to have a
thorough good look at the ground, and examine all the possibilities for
effective machine-gun co-operation. I determined to take my sergeant
along with me, so that he would be as familiar with the scheme in hand
as I was. It was raining, of course, and the night was as black as pitch
when we both started out on our Sherlock Holmes excursion. I explained
the idea of the attack to him, and the part we had to play. The troops
on our right were going to carry out the actual attack, and we, on their
left flank, were going to lend assistance by engaging the Deutschers in
front and by firing half-right to cover our men's advance. My job was
clear enough. I had to bring as many machine guns as I could spare down
to the right of our own line to assist as much as possible in the real
attack. My sergeant and I went down to examine the ground where it was
essential for us to fix up. We got to our last trench on the right, and
clambering over the parapet, did what we could to find out the nature of
the ground in front, and see how we could best fix our machine guns to
cover the enemy. We soon saw that in order to get a really clear field
of fire it was necessary for us to sap out from the end of our existing
right-hand trench and make a machine-gun emplacement at the end.

[Illustration: 'Ere, you leave that ---- rum jar alone.]

This necessitated the digging of a sap of about ten yards in length,
collecting all the materials for making an emplacement, and mounting our
machine gun. It was now about 11 p.m., and all this work had to be
completed before dawn.

Having rapidly realized that there was not the slightest prospect of any
sleep, and that the morrow looked like being a busy day, we commenced
with characteristic fed-up vigour to carry out our nefarious design.

A section, myself and the sergeant, started on digging that sap, and
what a job it was! The Germans were particularly restless that night;
kept on squibbing away whilst we were digging, and as it was some time
before we had the sap deep enough to be able to stand upright without
fear of a puncture in some part of our anatomy, it was altogether most
unpleasant. At about an hour before dawn we had got as far as making the
emplacement. This we started to put together as hard as we could. We
filled sandbags with the earth excavated from the sap, and with frenzied
energy tried to complete our defences before dawn. The rain and
darkness, both very intense that night, were really very trying. One
would pause, shovel in hand, lean against the clay side of the sap, and
hurriedly contemplate the scene. Five men, a sergeant and myself, wet
through and muddy all over; no sleep, little to eat, silently digging
and filling sandbags with an ever-watchful eye for the breaking of the
dawn.

Light was breaking across the sky before the job was done, and we had
still to complete the top guard of our emplacement. Then we had some
fireworks. The nervy Boches had spotted our sap as something new, and
their bullets, whacking up against our newly-thrown-up parapet, made us
glad we had worked so busily.

We were bound to complete that emplacement, so, at convenient intervals,
we crept to the opening, and after saying "one, two, three!" suddenly
plumped a newly-filled sandbag on the top. Each time we did this half a
dozen bullets went zipping through the canvas or just past overhead.
This operation had to be done about a dozen times.

A warm job! At last it was finished, and we sank down into the bottom of
the sap to rest. The time for the artillery bombardment had been fixed
to begin at about 6 a.m., if I remember rightly, so we got a little rest
between finishing our work and the attack itself.

Of course the whole of this enterprise, as far as the bombardment and
attack were concerned, cannot be compared with the magnitude of a
similar performance in 1915. All the same, it was pretty bad, but not
anything like so accurately calculated, or so mechanically efficient as
our later efforts in this line. The precise time-table methods of the
present period did not exist then, but the main idea of giving the
Opposition as much heavy lyddite, followed by shrapnel, was the same.

At about half-past six, as we sat in the sap, we heard the first shell
go over. I went to the end of the traverse alongside the emplacement,
and watched the German trenches. We were ready to fire at any of the
enemy we could see, and when the actual attack started, at the end of
the bombardment, we were going to keep up a perpetual sprinkling of
bullets along their reserve trenches. A few isolated houses stood just
in line with the German trenches. Our gunners had focussed on these,
and they gave them a good pasting.

"Crumph! bang! bang! crumph!"--hard at it all the time, whilst shrapnel
burst and whizzed about all along the German parapet. The view in front
soon became a sort of haze of black dust, as "heavy" after "heavy" burst
on top of the Boche positions. Columns of earth and black smoke shot up
like giant fountains into the air. I caught sight of a lot of the enemy
running along a shallow communication trench of theirs, apparently with
the intention of reinforcing their front line. We soon had our machine
gun peppering up these unfortunates, and from that moment on kept up an
incessant fire on the enemy.

On my left, two of our companies were keeping up a solid rapid fire on
the German lines immediately in front.

At last the bombardment ceased. A confused sound of shouts and yells on
our right, intermingled with a terrific crackle of rifle fire, told us
the attack had started. Without ceasing, we kept up the only assistance
we could give: our persistent firing half-right.

How long it all lasted I can't remember; but when I crept into a
soldier's dug-out, back in one of our trenches, completely exhausted, I
heard that we had taken the enemy trench, but that, unfortunately, owing
to its enfiladed position, we had to abandon it later.

Such was my first experience of this see-saw warfare of the trenches.

A few days later, as I happened to be passing through poor, shattered
Plugstreet Wood, I came across a clearance 'midst the trees.

Two rows of long, brown mounds of earth, each surmounted by a rough,
simple wooden cross, was all that was inside the clearing. I stopped,
and looked, and thought--then went away.

 


CHAPTER VIII

CHRISTMAS EVE----A LULL IN HATE--
BRITON CUM BOCHE


Shortly after the doings set forth in the previous chapter we left the
trenches for our usual days in billets. It was now nearing Christmas
Day, and we knew it would fall to our lot to be back in the trenches
again on the 23rd of December, and that we would, in consequence, spend
our Christmas there. I remember at the time being very down on my luck
about this, as anything in the nature of Christmas Day festivities was
obviously knocked on the head. Now, however, looking back on it all, I
wouldn't have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything.

Well, as I said before, we went "in" again on the 23rd. The weather had
now become very fine and cold. The dawn of the 24th brought a perfectly
still, cold, frosty day. The spirit of Christmas began to permeate us
all; we tried to plot ways and means of making the next day, Christmas,
different in some way to others. Invitations from one dug-out to another
for sundry meals were beginning to circulate. Christmas Eve was, in the
way of weather, everything that Christmas Eve should be.

I was billed to appear at a dug-out about a quarter of a mile to the
left that evening to have rather a special thing in trench dinners--not
quite so much bully and Maconochie about as usual. A bottle of red wine
and a medley of tinned things from home deputized in their absence. The
day had been entirely free from shelling, and somehow we all felt that
the Boches, too, wanted to be quiet. There was a kind of an invisible,
intangible feeling extending across the frozen swamp between the two
lines, which said "This is Christmas Eve for both of us--_something_ in
common."

About 10 p.m. I made my exit from the convivial dug-out on the left of
our line and walked back to my own lair. On arriving at my own bit of
trench I found several of the men standing about, and all very cheerful.
There was a good bit of singing and talking going on, jokes and jibes
on our curious Christmas Eve, as contrasted with any former one, were
thick in the air. One of my men turned to me and said:

"You can 'ear 'em quite plain, sir!"

"Hear what?" I inquired.

"The Germans over there, sir; 'ear 'em singin' and playin' on a band or
somethin'."

I listened;--away out across the field, among the dark shadows beyond, I
could hear the murmur of voices, and an occasional burst of some
unintelligible song would come floating out on the frosty air. The
singing seemed to be loudest and most distinct a bit to our right. I
popped into my dug-out and found the platoon commander.

[Illustration: hayseed]

"Do you hear the Boches kicking up that racket over there?" I said.

"Yes," he replied; "they've been at it some time!"

"Come on," said I, "let's go along the trench to the hedge there on the
right--that's the nearest point to them, over there."

So we stumbled along our now hard, frosted ditch, and scrambling up on
to the bank above, strode across the field to our next bit of trench on
the right. Everyone was listening. An improvised Boche band was playing
a precarious version of "Deutschland, Deutschland, uber Alles," at the
conclusion of which, some of our mouth-organ experts retaliated with
snatches of ragtime songs and imitations of the German tune. Suddenly we
heard a confused shouting from the other side. We all stopped to listen.
The shout came again. A voice in the darkness shouted in English, with a
strong German accent, "Come over here!" A ripple of mirth swept along
our trench, followed by a rude outburst of mouth organs and laughter.
Presently, in a lull, one of our sergeants repeated the request, "Come
over here!"

"You come half-way--I come half-way," floated out of the darkness.

"Come on, then!" shouted the sergeant. "I'm coming along the hedge!"

"Ah! but there are two of you," came back the voice from the other side.

Well, anyway, after much suspicious shouting and jocular derision from
both sides, our sergeant went along the hedge which ran at right-angles
to the two lines of trenches. He was quickly out of sight; but, as we
all listened in breathless silence, we soon heard a spasmodic
conversation taking place out there in the darkness.

Presently, the sergeant returned. He had with him a few German cigars
and cigarettes which he had exchanged for a couple of Maconochie's and a
tin of Capstan, which he had taken with him. The seance was over, but it
had given just the requisite touch to our Christmas Eve--something a
little human and out of the ordinary routine.

After months of vindictive sniping and shelling, this little episode
came as an invigorating tonic, and a welcome relief to the daily
monotony of antagonism. It did not lessen our ardour or determination;
but just put a little human punctuation mark in our lives of cold and
humid hate. Just on the right day, too--Christmas Eve! But, as a curious
episode, this was nothing in comparison to our experience on the
following day.

On Christmas morning I awoke very early, and emerged from my dug-out
into the trench. It was a perfect day. A beautiful, cloudless blue sky.
The ground hard and white, fading off towards the wood in a thin
low-lying mist. It was such a day as is invariably depicted by artists
on Christmas cards--the ideal Christmas Day of fiction.

"Fancy all this hate, war, and discomfort on a day like this!" I thought
to myself. The whole spirit of Christmas seemed to be there, so much so
that I remember thinking, "This indescribable something in the air, this
Peace and Goodwill feeling, surely will have some effect on the
situation here to-day!" And I wasn't far wrong; it did around us,
anyway, and I have always been so glad to think of my luck in, firstly,
being actually in the trenches on Christmas Day, and, secondly, being on
the spot where quite a unique little episode took place.

Everything looked merry and bright that morning--the discomforts seemed
to be less, somehow; they seemed to have epitomized themselves in
intense, frosty cold. It was just the sort of day for Peace to be
declared. It would have made such a good finale. I should like to have
suddenly heard an immense siren blowing. Everybody to stop and say,
"What was that?" Siren blowing again: appearance of a small figure
running across the frozen mud waving something. He gets closer--a
telegraph boy with a wire! He hands it to me. With trembling fingers I
open it: "War off, return home.--George, R.I." Cheers! But no, it was a
nice, fine day, that was all.

Walking about the trench a little later, discussing the curious affair
of the night before, we suddenly became aware of the fact that we were
seeing a lot of evidences of Germans. Heads were bobbing about and
showing over their parapet in a most reckless way, and, as we looked,
this phenomenon became more and more pronounced.

A complete Boche figure suddenly appeared on the parapet, and looked
about itself. This complaint became infectious. It didn't take "Our
Bert" long to be up on the skyline (it is one long grind to ever keep
him off it). This was the signal for more Boche anatomy to be disclosed,
and this was replied to by all our Alf's and Bill's, until, in less time
than it takes to tell, half a dozen or so of each of the belligerents
were outside their trenches and were advancing towards each other in
no-man's land.

A strange sight, truly!

I clambered up and over our parapet, and moved out across the field to
look. Clad in a muddy suit of khaki and wearing a sheepskin coat and
Balaclava helmet, I joined the throng about half-way across to the
German trenches.

It all felt most curious: here were these sausage-eating wretches, who
had elected to start this infernal European fracas, and in so doing had
brought us all into the same muddy pickle as themselves.

This was my first real sight of them at close quarters. Here they
were--the actual, practical soldiers of the German army. There was not
an atom of hate on either side that day; and yet, on our side, not for a
moment was the will to war and the will to beat them relaxed. It was
just like the interval between the rounds in a friendly boxing match.
The difference in type between our men and theirs was very marked. There
was no contrasting the spirit of the two parties. Our men, in their
scratch costumes of dirty, muddy khaki, with their various assorted
headdresses of woollen helmets, mufflers and battered hats, were a
light-hearted, open, humorous collection as opposed to the sombre
demeanour and stolid appearance of the Huns in their grey-green faded
uniforms, top boots, and pork-pie hats.

The shortest effect I can give of the impression I had was that our men,
superior, broadminded, more frank, and lovable beings, were regarding
these faded, unimaginative products of perverted kulture as a set of
objectionable but amusing lunatics whose heads had _got_ to be
eventually smacked.

"Look at that one over there, Bill," our Bert would say, as he pointed
out some particularly curious member of the party.

I strolled about amongst them all, and sucked in as many impressions as
I could. Two or three of the Boches seemed to be particularly interested
in me, and after they had walked round me once or twice with sullen
curiosity stamped on their faces, one came up and said "Offizier?" I
nodded my head, which means "Yes" in most languages, and, besides, I
can't talk German.

These devils, I could see, all wanted to be friendly; but none of them
possessed the open, frank geniality of our men. However, everyone was
talking and laughing, and souvenir hunting.

I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and
being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy
to some of his buttons.

We both then said things to each other which neither understood, and
agreed to do a swap. I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft
snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then
gave him two of mine in exchange.

Whilst this was going on a babbling of guttural ejaculations emanating
from one of the laager-schifters, told me that some idea had occurred to
someone.

Suddenly, one of the Boches ran back to his trench and presently
reappeared with a large camera. I posed in a mixed group for several
photographs, and have ever since wished I had fixed up some arrangement
for getting a copy. No doubt framed editions of this photograph are
reposing on some Hun mantelpieces, showing clearly and unmistakably to
admiring strafers how a group of perfidious English surrendered
unconditionally on Christmas Day to the brave Deutschers.

Slowly the meeting began to disperse; a sort of feeling that the
authorities on both sides were not very enthusiastic about this
fraternizing seemed to creep across the gathering. We parted, but there
was a distinct and friendly understanding that Christmas Day would be
left to finish in tranquillity. The last I saw of this little affair was
a vision of one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur
hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile
Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic
clippers crept up the back of his neck.

 


CHAPTER IX

SOUVENIRS--A RIDE TO NIEPPE--TEA AT
H.Q.--TRENCHES ONCE MORE


A couple of days after Christmas we left for billets. These two days
were of a very peaceful nature, but not quite so enthusiastically
friendly as the day itself. The Germans could be seen moving about in
their trenches, and one felt quite at ease sitting on the top of our
parapet or strolling about the fields behind our lines.

It was during these two days that I managed to get a German rifle that I
had had my eye on for a month. It lay out in the open, near one or two
corpses between our trenches and theirs, and until this Christmas truce
arrived, the locality was not a particularly attractive one to visit.
Had I fixed an earlier date for my exploit the end of it would most
probably have been--a battered second-lieutenant's cap and a rusty
revolver hanging up in the ingle-nook at Herr Someone-or-other's
country home in East Prussia. As it was, I was able to walk out and
return with the rifle unmolested.

When we left the trenches to "go out" this time I took the rifle along
with me. After my usual perilous equestrian act I got back to the
Transport Farm, and having performed the usual routine of washing,
shaving, eating and drinking, blossomed forth into our four days' rest
again.

The weather was splendid. I went out for walks in the fields, rehearsed
the machine-gun section in their drill, and conducted cheery sort of
"Squire-of-the-village" conversations with the farmer who owned our
farm.

At this period, most of my pals in the regiment used to go into
Armentieres or Bailleul, and get a breath of civilized life. I often
wished I felt as they did, but I had just the opposite desire. I felt
that, to adequately stick out what we were going through, it was
necessary for me to keep well in the atmosphere, and not to let any
exterior influence upset it.

I was annoyed at having to take up this line, but somehow or other I had
a feeling that I could not run the war business with a spot of
civilization in it. Personally, I felt that, rather than leave the
trenches for our periodic rests, I would sooner have stayed there all
the time consecutively, until I could stick it out no longer.

During this after-Christmas rest, however, I so far relapsed from these
views as to decide to go into Nieppe to get some money from the Field
Cashier. That was my first fall, but my second was even more strange. In
a truculent tone I said I would ride!

"Smith, go and tell Parker to get my horse ready!" It just shows how
reckless warfare makes one.

A beautiful, fine, still afternoon. I started off. Enormous success. I
walked and trotted along, past all sorts of wagons, lorries, guns and
despatch riders. Nearly decided to take up hunting, when the time came
for me to settle in England once more. However, as I neared the
outskirts of Nieppe, and saw the flood of interlacing traffic, I decided
to leave well alone--to tie this quadruped of mine up at some outlying
hostelry and walk the short remaining distance into the town where the
cashier had his office. I found a suitable place and, letting myself
down to the ground, strode off with a stiff bandy-legged action to the
office. Having got my 100 francs all right I made the best of my short
time on earth by walking about and having a good look at the town. A
squalid, uninteresting place, Nieppe; a dirty red-brick town with a good
sprinkling of factory chimneys and orange peel; rather the same tone as
one of the Potteries towns in England. Completing my tour I returned to
the horse, and finally, stiff but happy, I glided to the ground in the
yard of the Transport Farm.

Encouraged by my success I rode over to dinner one night with one of the
Companies in the Battalion which was in billets about a mile and a half
away. Riding home along the flat, winding, water-logged lane by the
light of the stars I nearly started off on the poetry lines again, but I
got home just in time.

During these rests from the trenches I was sometimes summoned to Brigade
Headquarters, where the arch machine gunner dwelt. He was a captain of
much engineering skill, who supervised the entire machine-gun outfit of
the Brigade. New men were being perpetually trained by him, and I was
sent for on occasion to discuss the state and strength of my section,
or any new scheme that might be on hand.

This going to Brigade Headquarters meant putting on a clean bib, as it
were; for it was here that the Brigadier himself lived, and after a
machine-gun seance it was generally necessary to have tea in the farm
with the Brigade staff.

I am little or no use on these social occasions. The red and gold mailed
fist of a General Staff reduces me to a sort of pulverized state of
meekness, which ends in my smiling at everyone and declining anything to
eat.

As machine-gun officer to our Battalion I had to go through it, and as
everyone was very nice to me, it all went off satisfactorily.

On this time out we were wondering how we should find the Boches on our
return, and pleasant recollections of the time before filled us with a
curious keenness to get back and see. A wish like this is easily
gratified at the front, and soon, of course, the day came to go into
trenches again, and in we went.

 


CHAPTER X

MY PARTIAL ESCAPE FROM THE MUD--THE
DESERTED VILLAGE--MY "COTTAGE"


Our next time up after our Christmas Day experiences were full of
incident and adventure. During the peace which came upon the land around
the 25th of December we had, as I mentioned before, been able to stroll
about in an altogether unprecedented way. We had had the courage to walk
into the mangled old village just behind our front line trenches, and
examine the ruins. I had never penetrated into this gloomy wreck of a
place, even at night, until after Christmas. It had just occasionally
caught our attention as we looked back from our trenches; mutilated and
deserted, a dirty skeleton of what once had been a small village--very
small--about twelve small houses and a couple of farms. Anyway, during
this time in after Christmas we started thinking out plans, and in a few
days we heard that it had been decided to put some men into the
village, and hold it, as a second line.

The platoon commander with whom I lived happened to be the man selected
to have charge of the men in the village. Consequently one night he left
our humble trench and, together with his servant and small belongings
from the dug-out, went off to live somewhere in the village.

About this time the conditions under which we lived were very poor. The
cold and rain were exceedingly severe, and altogether physical
discomfort was at its height. When my stable companion had gone I
naturally determined to pay him a call the next night, and to see what
sort of a place he had managed to get to live in. I well remember that
next night. It was the first on which I realized the chances of a change
of life presented by the village, and this was the start of two months'
"village" life for me. I went off from our old trench after dusk on my
usual round of the machine guns. When this was over I struck off back
across the field behind our trench to the village, and waded up what had
been the one and only street. Out of the dozen mangled wrecks of houses
I didn't know which one my pal had chosen as his residence, so I went
along the shell-mutilated, water-logged road, peering into this ruin and
that, until, at the end of the street, about four hundred yards from the
Germans and two hundred yards from our own trenches, I came across a
damp and dark figure lurking in the shadows: "'Alt! 'oo goes there?"
"Friend!" "Pass, friend, all's well." The sentry, evidently posted at
end of village.

I got a tip from him as to my friend's new dwelling-place. "I say,
Sentry, which house does Mr. Hudson live in?" "That small 'un down
t'other end on the left, sir." "Thanks." I went back along the deserted
ruin of a street, and at the far end on the left I saw the dim outline
of a small cottage, almost intact it appeared, standing about five yards
back from the road. This was the place the sentry meant right enough,
and in I went at the hole in the plaster wall. The front door having
apparently stopped something or other previously, was conspicuous by its
absence.

All was dark. I groped my way along round to the back, stumbling over
various bits of debris on the ground, until I found the opening into
what must be the room where Hudson had elected to live. Not a light
showed anywhere, which was as it should be, for a light would be easily
seen by the Boches not far away, and if they did see one there would be
trouble.

[Illustration: "Someone's been <u>at</u> this blinkin Strawberry"]

I came to an opening covered with an old sack. Pulling this a little to
one side I was greeted with a volume of suffocating smoke. I proceeded
further, and diving in under the sack, got inside the room. In the midst
of the smoke, sitting beside a crushed and battered fire-bucket, sat a
man, his face illuminated by the flickering light from the fire. The
rest of the room was bathed in mysterious darkness. "Where's Mr.
Hudson?" I asked. "He's out havin' a look at the barbed wire in front
of the village, I think, sir; but he'll be back soon, as this is where
'e stays now." I determined to wait, and, to fill in the time, started
to examine the cottage.

It was the first house I had been into in the firing line, and,
unsavoury wreck of a place as it was, it gave one a delightful feeling
of comfort to sit on the stone-flagged floor and look upon four
perforated walls and a shattered roof. The worst possible house in the
world would be an improvement on any of those dug-outs we had in the
trenches. The front room had been blown away, leaving a back room and a
couple of lean-tos which opened out from it. An attic under the thatched
roof with all one end knocked out completed the outfit. The outer and
inner walls were all made of that stuff known as wattle and daub--sort
of earth-like plaster worked into and around hurdles. A bullet would, of
course, go through walls of this sort like butter, and so they had. For,
on examining the outer wall on the side which faced the Germans, I found
it looking like the top of a pepper-pot for holes.

A sound as of a man trying to waltz with a cream separator, suggested
to my mind that someone had tripped and fallen over that mysterious
obstacle outside, which I had noticed on entering, and presently I heard
Hudson's voice cursing through the sack doorway.

He came in and saw me examining the place. "Hullo, you're here too, are
you?" he exclaimed. "Are you going to stay here as well?"

"I don't quite know yet," I replied. "It doesn't seem a bad idea, as I
have to walk the round of all the guns the whole time; all I can and
have to do is to hitch up in some central place, and this is just as
central as that rotten trench we've just come from."

"Of course it is," he replied. "If I were you I'd come along and stay
with me, and go to all your places from here. If an attack comes you'll
be able to get from one place to another much easier than if you were
stuck in that trench. You'd never be able to move from there when an
attack and bombardment had started."

Having given the matter a little further consideration I decided to move
from my dug-out to this cottage, so I left the village and went back
across the field to the trench to see to the necessary arrangements.

I got back to my lair and shouted for my servant. "Here, Smith," I said,
"I'm going to fix up at one of the houses in the village. This place of
ours here is no more central than the village, and any one of those
houses is a damn sight better than this clay hole here. I want you to
collect all my stuff and bring it along; I'll show you the way." So
presently, all my few belongings having been collected, we set out for
the village. That was my last of that fearful trench. A worse one I know
could not be found. My new life in the village now started, and I soon
saw that it had its advantages. For instance, there was a slight chance
of fencing off some of the rain and water. But my knowledge of "front"
by this time was such that I knew there were corresponding
disadvantages, and my instinct told me that the village would present a
fresh crop of dangers and troubles quite equal to those of the trench,
though slightly different in style. I had now started off on my two
months' sojourn in the village of St. Yvon.

 


CHAPTER XI

STOCKTAKING--FORTIFYING--NEBULOUS FRAGMENTS


Hudson, myself, his servant and my servant, all crushed into that house
that night. What a relief it was! We all slept in our greatcoats on the
floor, which was as hard as most floors are, and dirtier than the
generality; but being out of the water and able to stretch oneself at
full length made up for all deficiencies. Hudson and I both slept in the
perforated room; the servants in the larger chamber, near the fire
bucket.

I got up just before dawn as usual, and taking advantage of the grey
light, stole about the village and around the house, sizing up the
locality and seeing how my position stood with regard to the various
machine-gun emplacements. The dawn breaking, I had to skunk back into
the house again, as it was imperative to us to keep up the effect of
"Deserted house in village." We had to lurk inside all day, or if we
went out, creep about with enormous caution, and go off down a slight
slope at the back until we got to the edge of the wood which we knew
must be invisible to the enemy. I spent this day making a thorough
investigation of the house, creeping about all its component parts and
thinking out how we could best utilize its little advantages. Hudson had
crept out to examine the village by stealth, and I went on with plots
for fortifying the "castle," and for being able to make ourselves as
snug as we could in this frail shell of a cottage. I found a hole in the
floor boards of the attic and pulled myself up into it thereby.

This attic, as I have said before, had all one end blown away, but the
two sloping thatched sides remained. I cut a hole in one of these with
my pocket-knife, and thus obtained a view of the German trenches without
committing the error of looking out through the blown-out end, which
would have clearly shown an observer that the house was occupied.
Looking out through the slit I had made I obtained a panoramic view,
more or less, of the German trenches and our own. The view, in short,
was this: One saw the backs of our own trenches, then the "No man's
land" space of ground, and beyond that again the front of the German
trenches. This is best explained by the sketch map which I give on the
opposite page. I saw exactly how the house stood with regard to the
position, and also noticed that it had two dangerous sides, _i.e._, two
sides which faced the Germans, as our position formed two sides of a
triangle.

[Illustration: clogs and bucket]

I then proceeded to explore the house. In the walls I found a great many
bullets which had stuck in between the bricks of the solitary chimney or
imbedded themselves in the woodwork of the door or supporting posts at
the corners. Amongst the straw in the attic I found a typical selection
of pathetic little trifles: two pairs of very tiny clogs, evidently
belonging to some child about four or five years old, one or two old and
battered hats, and a quantity of spinning material and instruments. I
have the small clogs at my home now, the only souvenir I have of that
house at St. Yvon, which I have since learnt is no more, the Germans
having reduced it to a powdered up mound of brick-dust and charred
straw. Outside, and lying all around, were a miscellaneous collection of
goods. Half a sewing machine, a gaudy cheap metal clock, a sort of
mangle with strange wooden blades (which I subsequently cut off to make
shelves with), and a host of other dirty, rain-soaked odds and ends.

[Illustration: map of village]

Having concluded my examination I crept out back to the wood and took a
look at it all from there. "Yes," I thought to myself, "it's all very
nice, but, by Gad, we'll have to look out that they don't see us, and
get to think we're in this village, or they'll give us a warm time." It
had gone very much against my thought-out views on trench warfare,
coming to this house at all, for I had learnt by the experiences of
others that the best maxim to remember was "Don't live in a house."

The reason is not far to seek. There is something very attractive to
artillery about houses. They can range on them well, and they afford a
more definite target than an open trench. Besides, if you can spot a
house that contains, say, half a dozen to a dozen people, and just plop
a "Johnson" right amidships, it generally means "exit house and people,"
which, I suppose, is a desirable object to be attained, according to
twentieth century manners.

However, we had decided to live in the house, but as I crept back from
the wood, I determined to take a few elementary and common-sense
precautions. Hudson had returned when I got back, and together we
discussed the house, the position, and everything we could think of in
connection with the business, as we sat on the floor and had our midday
meal of bully beef and biscuits, rounded up by tea and plum and apple
jam spread neat from the tin on odd corners of broken biscuits. We
thoroughly talked over the question of possible fortifications and
precautions. I said, "What we really want is an emergency exit
somewhere, where we can stand a little chance, if they start to shell
us."

He agreed, and we both decided to pile up all the odd bricks, which were
lying outside at the back of the house, against the perforated wall, and
then sleep there in a little easier state of mind. We contented
ourselves with this little precaution to begin with, but later on, as we
lived in that house, we thought of larger and better ideas, and launched
out into all sorts of elaborate schemes, as I will show when the time
comes.

Anyway, for the first couple of sessions spent in that house in St.
Yvon, we were content with merely making ourselves bullet proof. The
whole day had to be spent with great caution indoors; any visit
elsewhere had to be conducted with still greater caution, as the one
great thing to be remembered was "Don't let 'em see we're in the
village." So we had long days, just lying around in the dirty old straw
and accumulated dirt of the cottage floor.

We both sat and talked and read a bit, sometimes slept, and through the
opening beneath the sack across the back door we watched the evenings
creeping on, and finally came the night, when we stole out like vampires
and went about our trench work. It was during these long, sad days that
my mind suddenly turned on making sketches. This period of my trench
life marked the start of _Fragments from France_, though it was not till
the end of February that a complete and presentable effort, suitable for
publication in a paper, emerged. It was nothing new to me to draw, as
for a very long time before the war I had drawn hundreds of sketches,
and had spent a great amount of time reading and learning about all
kinds of drawing and painting. I have always had an enormous interest in
Art; my room at home will prove that to anyone. Stacks of bygone efforts
of mine will also bear testimony to this. Yet it was not until January,
1915, that I had sufficiently resigned myself to my fate in the war, to
let my mind turn to my only and most treasured hobby. In this cottage at
St. Yvon the craving came back to me. I didn't fight against it, and
began by making a few pencil scribbles with a joke attached, and pinned
them up in our cracked shell of a room. Jokes at the expense of our
miserable surroundings they were, and these were the first "Fragments."
Several men in the local platoon collared these spasms, and soon after I
came across them, muddy and battered, in various dug-outs near by. After
these few sketches, which were done on rough bits of paper which I found
lying about, I started to operate on the walls. With some bits of
charcoal, I made a mess on all the four walls of our back room. There
was a large circular gash, made by a spent bullet I fancy, on one of the
walls, and by making it appear as though this mark was the centre point
of a large explosion, I gave an apparent velocity to the figure of a
German, which I drew above.

These daubs of mine provoked mirth to those who lived with me, and
others who occasionally paid us visits. I persisted, and the next
"masterpiece" was the figure of a soldier (afterwards Private Blobs, of
"Fragments") sitting up a tree staring straight in front of him into the
future, whilst a party of corpulent Boches are stalking towards him
through the long grass and barbed wire. He knows there's something not
quite nice going on, but doesn't like to look down. This was called "The
Listening Post," and the sensation described was so familiar to most
that this again was apparently a success. So what with scribbling,
reading and sleeping, not to mention time occupied in consuming plum and
apple jam, bully, and other delicacies which a grateful country has
ordained as the proper food for soldiers, we managed to pull through our
days. Two doses of the trenches were done like this, and then came the
third time up, when a sudden burst of enthusiasm and an increasing
nervousness as to the safety of ourselves and our house, caused us to
launch out into really trying to fortify the place. The cause of this
decision to do something, to our abode was, I think, attributable to the
fact that for about a fortnight the Germans had taken to treating us to
a couple of dozen explosions each morning--the sort of thing one doesn't
like just before breakfast; but if you've got to have it, the thing
obviously to do is to try and defend yourself; so the next time, up we
started.

 


CHAPTER XII

A BRAIN WAVE--MAKING A "FUNK HOLE"
--PLUGSTREET WOOD--SNIPING


On arriving up at St. Yvon for our third time round there, we--as usual
now--went into our cottage again, and the regiment spread itself out
around the same old trenches. There was always a lot of work for me to
do at nights, as machine guns always have to be moved as occasion
arises, or if one gets a better idea for their position. By this time I
had one gun in the remnant of a house about fifty yards away from our
cottage. This was a reserve gun, and was there carrying out an idea of
mine, _i.e._, that it was in a central position, which would enable it
to be rapidly moved to any threatened part of the line, and also it
would form a bit of an asset in the event of our having to defend the
village.

The section for this gun lived in the old cellar close by, and it was
this cellar which gave me an idea. When I went into our cottage I
searched to see if we had overlooked a cellar. No, there wasn't one.
Now, then, the idea. I thought, "Why not make a cellar, and thus have a
place to dive into when the strafing begins." After this terrific
outburst of sagacity I sat down in a corner and, with a biscuitload of
jam, discussed my scheme with my platoon-commander pal. We agreed it was
a good idea. I was feeling energetic, and always liking a little
tinkering on my own, I said I would make it myself.

So Hudson retired into the lean-to and I commenced to plot this
engineering project. I scraped away as much as necessary of the
accumulated filth on the floor, and my knife striking something hard I
found it to be tiles. Up till then I had always imagined it to be an
earth floor, but tiled it was right enough--large, square, dark red ones
of a very rough kind. I called for Smith, my servant, and telling him to
bring his entrenching tool, I began to prize up some of the tiles. It
wasn't very easy, fitting the blade of the entrenching tool into the
crevices, but once I had got a start and had got one or two out, things
were easier.

I pulled up all the tiles along one wall about eight feet long and out
into the room a distance of about four feet. I now had a bare patch of
hard earth eight feet by four to contend with. Luckily we had a pickaxe
and a shovel lying out behind the house, so taking off my sheepskin
jacket and balaclava, I started off to excavate the hole which I
proposed should form a sort of cellar.

It was a big job, and my servant and I were hard at it, turn and turn
about, the whole of that day. A dull, rainy day, a cold wind blowing the
old sack about in the doorway, and in the semi-darkness inside yours
truly handing up Belgian soil on a war-worn shovel to my servant, who
held a sandbag perpetually open to receive it. A long and arduous job it
was, and one in which I was precious near thinking that danger is
preferable to digging. Mr. Doan, with his back-ache pills, would have
done well if he had sent one of his travellers with samples round there
that night. However, at the end of two days, I had got a really good
hole delved out, and now I was getting near the more interesting
feature, namely, putting a roof on, and finally being able to live in
this under-ground dug-out.

This roof was perhaps rather unique as roofs go. It was a large mattress
with wooden sides, a kind of oblong box with a mattress top. I found it
outside in a ruined cottage. Underneath the mattress part was a cavity
filled with spiral springs. I arranged a pile of sandbags at each side
of the hole in the floor in such a way as to be able to lay this
curiosity on top to form a roof, the mattress part downwards. I then
filled in with earth all the parts where the spiral springs were placed.
Total result--a roof a foot thick of earth, with a good backbone of iron
springs. I often afterwards wished that that mattress had been filleted,
as the spiral springs had a nasty way of bursting through the striped
cover and coming at you like the lid of a Jack-in-the-box. However, such
is war.

Above this roof I determined to pile up sandbags against the wall, right
away up to the roof of the cottage.

This necessitated about forty sandbags being filled, so it may easily be
imagined we didn't do this all at once.

However, in time, it was done--I mean after we had paid one or two more
visits to the trenches.

We all felt safer after these efforts. I think we were a bit safer, but
not much. I mean that we were fairly all right against anything but a
direct hit, and as we knew from which direction direct hits had to come,
we made that wall as thick as possible. We could, I think, have smiled
at a direct hit from an 18-pounder, provided we had been down our funk
hole at the time; but, of course, a direct hit from a "Johnson" would
have snuffed us completely (mattress and all).

Life in this house and in the village was much more interesting and
energetic than in that old trench. It was possible, by observing great
caution, to creep out of the house by day and dodge about our position a
bit, crawl up to points of vantage and survey the scene. Behind the
cottage lay the wood--the great Bois de Ploegstert--and this in itself
repaid a visit. In the early months of 1915 this wood was in a pretty
mauled-about state, and as time went on of course got more so. It was
full of old trenches, filled with water, relies of the period when we
turned the Germans out of it. Shattered trees and old barbed wire in a
solution of mud was the chief effect produced by the parts nearest the
trenches, but further back "Plugstreet Wood" was quite a pretty place to
walk about in. Birds singing all around, and rabbits darting about the
tangled undergrowth. Long paths had been cut through the wood leading to
the various parts of the trenches in front. A very quaint place, take it
all in all, and one which has left a curious and not unpleasing
impression on my mind.

This ability to wander around and creep about various parts of our
position, led to my getting an idea, which nearly finished my life in
the cottage, village, or even Belgium. I suddenly got bitten with the
sniping fever, and it occurred to me that, with my facilities for
getting about, I could get into a certain mangled farm on our left and
remain in the roof unseen in daylight. From there I felt sure that, with
the aid of a rifle, I could tickle up a Boche or two in their trenches
hard by. I was immensely taken with this idea. So, one morning (like
Robinson Crusoe again) I set off with my fowling-piece and ammunition,
and crawled towards the farm. I got there all right, and entering the
dark and evil-smelling precincts, searched around for a suitable sniping
post. I saw a beam overhead in a corner from which, if I could get on to
it, I felt sure I should obtain a view of the enemy trenches through a
gap in the tiled roof. I tied a bit of string to my rifle and then
jumping for the beam, scrambled up on it and pulled the rifle up after
me. When my heart pulsations had come down to a reasonable figure I
peered out through the hole in the tiles. An excellent view! The German
parapet a hundred yards away! Splendid!

Now I felt sure I should see a Boche moving about or something; or I
might possibly spot one looking over the top.

I waited a long time on that beam, with my loaded rifle lying in front
of me. I was just getting fed up with the waiting, and about to go away,
when I thought I saw a movement in the trench opposite. Yes! it was. I
saw the handle of something like a broom or a water scoop moving above
the sandbags. Heart doing overtime again! Most exciting! I felt
convinced I should see a Boche before long. And then, at last, I saw
one--or rather I caught a glimpse of a hat appearing above the line of
the parapet. One of those small circular cloth hats of theirs with the
two trouser buttons in front.

Up it came, and I saw it stand out nice and clear against the skyline. I
carefully raised my rifle, took a steady aim, and fired. I looked:
disappearance of hat! I ejected the empty cartridge case, and was just
about to reload when, whizz, whistle, bang, crash! a shell came right at
the farm, and exploded in the courtyard behind. I stopped short on the
beam. Whizz, whistle, bang, crash! Another, right into the old cowshed
on my left. Without waiting for any more I just slithered down off that
beam, grabbed my rifle and dashing out across the yard back into the
ditch beyond, started hastily scrambling along towards the end of one of
our trenches. As I went I heard four more shells crash into that farm.
It was at this moment that I coined the title of one of my sketches,
"They've evidently seen me," for which I afterwards drew the picture
near Wulverghem. I got back to our cottage, crawled into the hole in the
floor, and thought things over. They must have seen the flash of my
rifle through the tiles, and, suspecting possible sniping from the farm,
must have wired back to their artillery, "Snipingberg from farmenhausen
hoch!" or words to that effect.

Altogether a very objectionable episode.

 


CHAPTER XIII

ROBINSON CRUSOE--THAT TURBULENT TABLE


By this time we had really got our little house quite snug. A hole in
the floor, a three-legged chair, and brown paper pushed into the largest
of the holes in the walls--what more could a man want? However, we did
want something more, and that was a table. One gets tired of balancing
tins of pl--(nearly said it again)--marmalade on one's knee and holding
an enamel cup in one hand and a pocket-knife in the other. So we all
said how nice a table would be. I determined to say no more, but to show
by deeds, not by words, that I would find a table and have one there by
the next day, like a fairy in a pantomime. I started off on my search
one night. Take it from me--a fairy's is a poor job out there, and when
you've read the next bit you'll agree.

Behind our position stood the old ruined chateau, and beyond it one or
two scattered cottages. I had never really had a good look at all at
that part, and as I knew some of our reserve trenches ran around there,
and that it would be a good thing to know all about them, I decided to
ask the Colonel for permission to creep off one afternoon and explore
the whole thing; incidentally I might by good luck find a table. It was
possible, by wriggling up a mud valley and crawling over a few scattered
remnants of houses and bygone trenches to reach the Colonel's
headquarter dug-out in daytime. So I did it, and asked leave to go off
back to have a look at the chateau and the land about it. He gave me
permission, so armed with my long walking-stick (a billiard cue with the
thin part cut off, which I found on passing another chateau one night) I
started off to explore.

I reached the chateau. An interesting sight it was. How many shells had
hit it one couldn't even guess, but the results indicated a good few.
What once had been well-kept lawns were now covered with articles which
would have been much better left in their proper places. One suddenly
came upon half a statue of Minerva or Venus wrapped in three-quarters of
a stair carpet in the middle of one of the greenhouses. Passing on, one
would find the lightning conductor projecting out through the tapestried
seat of a Louis Quinze chair. I never saw such a mess.

Inside, the upstairs rooms were competing with the ground-floor ones, as
to which should get into the cellars first. It was really too terrible
to contemplate the fearful destruction.

I found it impossible to examine much of the interior of the chateau, as
blocks of masonry and twisted iron girders closed up most of the doors
and passages. I left this melancholy ruin, full of thought, and
proceeded across the shell-pitted gardens towards the few little
cottages beyond. These were in a better state of preservation, and were
well worth a visit. In the first one I entered I found a table! the very
thing I wanted. It was stuck away in a small lean-to at the back. A nice
little green one, just the size to suit us.

I determined to get it back to our shack somehow, but before doing so
went on rummaging about these cottages. In the second cottage I made an
enormously lucky find for us. Under a heap of firewood in an outhouse I
found a large pile of coal. This was splendid, and would be invaluable
to us and our fire-bucket. Nothing pleased me more than this, as the
cold was very severe, and a fire meant so much to us. When I had
completed my investigations and turned over all the oddments lying about
to see if there was anything else of use to us, I started off on the
return journey. It was now dark, and I was able to walk along without
fear of being seen. Of course, I was taking the table with me. I decided
to come back later for the coal, with a few sandbags for filling, so I
covered it over and hid it as much as possible. (Sensation: Ali Baba
returns from the forest.) I started off with the table. I had about
three-quarters of a mile to go. Every hundred yards I had to sit down
and rest. A table is a horrible thing to accompany one on a mile walk.

I reached the chateau again, and out into the fields beyond, resting
with my burden about three times before I got to the road which led
straight on to our trenches. My task was a bit harder now, as I was in
full view of the German trenches. Had it been daylight they could have
seen me quite easily.

Fortunately it was dark, but, of course, star shells would show one up
quite distinctly. I staggered on down the road with the green table on
my back, pausing as little as possible, but a rest had to be taken, and
this at a very exposed part of the road. I put the table down and sat
panting on the top. A white streak shot into the air--a star shell.
Curse! I sprang off the green top and waltzed with my four-legged wooden
octopus into the ditch at the side, where I lay still, waiting for the
light to die out. Suspense over. I went on again.

At last I got back with that table and pushed it into our hovel under
the sack doorway.

Immense success! "Just the thing we wanted!"

We all sat down to dinner that night in the approved fashion, whilst I,
with the air of a conspirator, narrated the incredible story of the vast
Eldorado of coal which I had discovered, and, over our shrimp paste and
biscuits we discussed plans for its removal.

[Illustration: "Take away me rank and honour, but give me a bag of
coke."]

 


CHAPTER XIV

THE AMPHIBIANS--FED UP, BUT DETERMINED
--THE GUN PARAPET


So you see, life in our cottage was quite interesting and adventurous in
its way. At night our existence was just the same as before; all the
normal work of trench life. Making improvements to our trenches led to
endless work with sandbags, planks, dug-outs, etc. My particular job was
mostly improving machine-gun positions, or selecting new sites and
carrying out removals,

  "BRUCE BAIRNSFATHER.
  MACHINE GUNS REMOVED AT SHORTEST NOTICE.
  ATTACKS QUOTED FOR."

And so the long dark dreary nights went on. The men garrisoning the
little cracked-up village lived mostly in cellars. Often on my rounds,
during a rainy, windy, mournful night, I would look into a cellar and
see a congested mass of men playing cards by the light of a candle stuck
on a tin lid. A favourite form of illumination I came across was a lamp
made out of an empty tobacco tin, rifle oil for the illuminant, and a
bit of a shirt for a wick!

People who read all these yarns of mine, and who have known the war in
later days, will say, "Ah, how very different it was then to now." In my
last experiences in the war I have watched the enormous changes creeping
in. They began about July, 1915. My experiences since that date were
very interesting; but I found that much of the romance had left the
trenches. The old days, from the beginning to July, 1915, were all so
delightfully precarious and primitive. Amateurish trenches and rough and
ready life, which to my mind gave this war what it sadly needs--a touch
of romance.

Way back there, in about January, 1915, our soldiers had a perfectly
unique test of human endurance against appalling climatic conditions.
They lived in a vast bog, without being able to utilize modern
contrivances for making the tight against adverse conditions anything
like an equal contest. And yet I wouldn't have missed that time for
anything, and I'm sure they wouldn't either.

Those who have not actually had to experience it, or have not had the
opportunity to see what our men "stuck out" in those days, will never
fully grasp the reality.

One night a company commander came to me in the village and told me he
had got a bit of trench under his control which was altogether
impossible to hold, and he wanted me to come along with him to look at
it, and see if I could do anything in the way of holding the position by
machine guns. His idea was that possibly a gun might be fixed in such a
place behind so as to cover the frontage occupied by this trench. I came
along with him to have a look and see what could be done. He and I went
up the rain-soaked village street and out on to the field beyond. It was
as dark as pitch, and about 11 p.m. Occasional shots cracked out of the
darkness ahead from the German trenches, and I remember one in
particular that woke us up a bit. A kind of derelict road-roller stood
at one side of the field, and as we passed this, walking pretty close
together, a bullet whizzed between us. I don't know which head it was
nearest to, but it was quite near enough for both of us. We went on
across the field for about two hundred yards, out towards a pile of
ruins which had once been a barn, and which stood between our lines and
the Germans.

Near this lay the trench which he had been telling me about. It was
quite the worst I have ever seen. A number of men were in it, standing
and leaning, silently enduring the following conditions. It was quite
dark. The enemy was about two hundred yards away, or rather less. It was
raining, and the trench contained over three feet of water. The men,
therefore, were standing up to the waist in water. The front parapet was
nothing but a rough earth mound which, owing to the water about, was
practically non-existent. Their rifles lay on the saturated mound in
front. They were all wet through and through, with a great deal of their
equipment below the water at the bottom of the trench. There they were,
taking it all as a necessary part of the great game; not a grumble nor a
comment.

The company commander and I at once set about scheming out an
alternative plan. Some little distance back we found a cellar which had
once been below a house. Now there was no house, so by standing in the
cellar one got a view along the ground and level with it. This was the
very place for a machine gun. So we decided on fixing one there and
making a sort of roof over a portion of the cellar for the gunners to
live in. After about a couple of hours' work we completed this
arrangement, and then removed the men, who, it was arranged, should
leave the trenches that night and go back to our billets for a rest,
till the next time up. We weren't quite content with the total safety of
our one gun in that cellar, so we started off on a further idea.

Our trenches bulged out in a bit of a salient to the right of the rotten
trench, and we decided to mount another gun at a certain projection in
our lines so as to enfilade the land across which the other gun would
fire.

On inspecting the projected site we found it was necessary to make
rather an abnormally high parapet to stand the gun on. No sandbags to
spare, of course, so the question was, "What shall we make a parapet
of?"

We plodded off back to the village and groped around the ruins for
something solid and high enough to carry the gun. After about an hour's
climbing about amongst debris in the dark, and hauling ourselves up into
remnants of attics, etc., we came upon a sewing machine. It was one of
that sort that's stuck on a wooden table with a treadle arrangement
underneath. We saw an idea at a glance. Pull off the sewing machine, and
use the table. It was nearly high enough, and with just three or four
sandbags we felt certain it would do. We performed the necessary
surgical operation on the machine, and taking it in turns, padded off
down to the front line trench. We had a bit of a job with that table.
The parapet was a jumbled assortment of sandbags, clay, and old bricks
from the neighbouring barn: but we finally got a good sound parapet
made, and in about another hour's time had fixed a machine gun, with
plenty of ammunition, in a very unattractive position from the Boche
point of view. We all now felt better, and I'm certain that the men who
held that trench felt better too. But I am equally certain that they
would have stayed there _ad lib_ even if we hadn't thought of and
carried out an alternative arrangement. A few more nights of rain,
danger and discomfort, then the time would come for us to be relieved,
and those same men would be back at billets, laughing, talking and
smoking, buoyant as ever.

 


CHAPTER XV


ARRIVAL OF THE "JOHNSONS"--"WHERE
DID THAT ONE GO?"--THE FIRST FRAGMENT
DISPATCHED--THE EXODUS--WHERE?


Shortly after these events we experienced rather a nasty time in the
village. It had been decided, way back somewhere at headquarters, that
it was essential to hold the village in a stronger way than we had been
doing. More men were to be kept there, and a series of trenches dug in
and around it, thus forming means for an adequate defence should
disaster befall our front line trenches, which lay out on a radius of
about five hundred yards from the centre of the village. This meant
working parties at night, and a pretty considerable collection of
soldiers lurking in cavities in various ruined buildings by day.

Anyone will know that when a lot of soldiers congregate in a place it is
almost impossible to prevent someone or other being seen, or smoke from
some fire showing, or, even worse, a light visible at night from some
imperfectly shuttered house.

At all events, something or other gave the Boches the tip, and we soon
knew they had got their attention on our village.

Each morning as we clustered round our little green table and had our
breakfast, we invariably had about half a dozen rounds of 18-pounders
crash around us with varying results, but one day, as we'd finished our
meal and all sat staring into the future, we suddenly caught the sound
of something on more corpulent lines arriving. That ponderous, slow
rotating whistle of a "Johnson" caught our well-trained ears; a pause!
then a reverberating, hollow-sounding "crumph!" We looked at each other.

"Heavies!" we all exclaimed.

"Look out! here comes another!" and sure enough there it was, that
gargling crescendo of a whistle followed by a mighty crash, considerably
nearer.

We soon decided that our best plan was to get out of the house, and stay
in the ditch twenty yards away until it was over.

A house is an unwholesome spot to be in when there's shelling about. Our
funk hole was all right for whizz-bangs and other fireworks of that
sort, but no use against these portmanteaux they were now sending along.

Well, to resume; they put thirteen heavies into that village in pretty
quick time. One old ruin was set on fire, and I felt the consequent
results would be worse than just losing the building; as all the men in
it had to rush outside and keep darting in and out through the flames
and smoke, trying to save their rifles and equipment.

After a bit we returned into the house--a trifle prematurely, I'm
afraid--as presently a pretty large line in explosive drainpipes landed
close outside, and, as we afterwards discovered, blew out a fair-sized
duck pond in the road. We were all inside, and I think nearly every one
said a sentence which gave me my first idea for a _Fragment from
France_. A sentence which must have been said countless times in this
war, _i.e._, "Where did that one go?"

We were all inside the cottage now, with intent, staring faces, looking
outside through the battered doorway. There was something in the whole
situation which struck me as so pathetically amusing, that when the
ardour of the Boches had calmed down a bit, I proceeded to make a pencil
sketch of the situation. When I got back to billets the next time I
determined to make a finished wash drawing of the scene, and send it to
some paper or other in England. In due course we got back to billets,
and the next morning I fished out my scanty drawing materials from my
valise, and sitting at a circular table in one of the rooms at the farm,
I did a finished drawing of "Where did that one go," occasionally
looking through the window on to a mountain of manure outside for
inspiration.

The next thing was to send it off. What paper should I send it to? I had
had a collection of papers sent out to me at Christmas time from some
one or other. A few of these were still lying about. A _Bystander_ was
amongst them. I turned over the pages and considered for a bit whether
my illustrated joke might be in their line. I thought of several other
papers, but on the whole concluded that the _Bystander_ would suit for
the purpose, and so, having got the address off the cover, I packed up
my drawing round a roll of old paper, enclosed it in brown paper, and
put it out to be posted at the next opportunity. In due course it went
to the post, and I went to the trenches again, forgetting all about the
incident.

Next time in the trenches was full of excitement. We had done a couple
of days of the endless mud, rain, and bullet-dodging work when suddenly
one night we heard we were to be relieved and go elsewhere. Every one
then thought of only one thing--where were we going? We all had
different ideas. Some said we were bound for Ypres, which we heard at
that time was a pretty "warm" spot; some said La Bassee was our
destination--"warm," but not quite as much so as Ypres. Wild rumours
that we were going to Egypt were of course around; they always are.
There was another beauty: that we were going back to England for a rest!

The night after the news, another battalion arrived, and, after handing
over our trenches, we started off on the road to "Somewhere in France."
It was about 11.30 p.m. before we had handed over everything and finally
parted from those old trenches of ours. I said good-bye to our little
perforated hovel, and set off with all my machine gunners and guns for
the road behind the wood, to go--goodness knows where. We looked back
over our shoulders several times as we plodded along down the muddy road
and into the corduroy path which ran through the wood. There, behind us,
lay St. Yvon, under the moonlight and drifting clouds; a silhouetted
mass of ruins beyond the edge of the wood. Still the same old
intermittent cracking of the rifle shots and the occasional star shell.
It was quite sad parting with that old evil-smelling, rain-soaked scene
of desolation. We felt how comfortable we had all been there, now that
we were leaving. And leaving for what?--that was the question. When I
reached the road, and had superintended loading up our limbers, I got
instructions from the transport officer as to which way we were to go.
The battalion had already gone on ahead, and the machine-gun section was
the last to leave. We were to go down the road to Armentieres, and at
about twelve midnight we started on our march, rattling off down the
road leading to Armentieres, bound for some place we had never seen
before. At about 2 a.m. we got there; billets had been arranged for us,
but at two in the morning it was no easy task to find the quarters
allotted to us without the assistance of a guide. The battalion had got
there first, had found their billets and gone to bed. I and the
machine-gun section rattled over the cobbles into sleeping Armentieres,
and hadn't the slightest idea where we had to go. Nobody being about to
tell us, we paraded the town like a circus procession for about an hour
before finally finding out where we were to billet, and ultimately we
reached our destination when, turning into the barns allotted to us, we
made the most of what remained of the night in well-earned repose.

 


CHAPTER XVI

NEW TRENCHES--THE NIGHT INSPECTION--
LETTER FROM THE "BYSTANDER"


Next day we discovered the mystery of our sudden removal. The battle of
Neuve Chapelle was claiming considerable attention, and that was where
we were going. We were full of interest and curiosity, and were all for
getting there as soon as possible. But it was not to be. Mysterious
moves were being made behind the scenes which I, and others like me,
will never know anything about; but, anyway, we now suddenly got another
bewildering order. After a day spent in Armentieres we were told to
stand by for going back towards Neuve Eglise again, just the direction
from which we had come. We all knew too much about the war to be
surprised at anything, so we mutely prepared for another exit. It was a
daylight march this time, and a nice, still, warm day. Quite a cheery,
interesting march we had, too, along the road from Armentieres to Neuve
Eglise. We were told that we were to march past General Sir Horace Smith
Dorrien, whom we should find waiting for us near the Pont de Nieppe--a
place we had to pass _en route_. Every one braced up at this, and keenly
looked forward to reaching Nieppe. I don't know why, but I had an idea
he would be in his car on the right of the road. To make no mistake I
muttered "Eyes right" to myself for about a quarter of a mile, so as to
make a good thing of the salute. We came upon the Pont de Nieppe
suddenly, round the corner, and there was the General--on the left! All
my rehearsing useless. Annoying, but I suppose one can't expect Generals
to tell you where they are going to stand.

We reached Neuve Eglise in time, and went into our old billets. We all
thought our fate was "back into those ---- old Plugstreet trenches
again," but _mirabile dictu_--it was not to be so. The second day in
billets I received a message from the Colonel to proceed to his
headquarter farm. I went, and heard the news. We were to take over a new
line of trenches away to the left of Plugstreet, and that night I was to
accompany him along with all the company commanders on a round of
inspection.

A little before dusk we started off and proceeded along various roads
towards the new line. All the country was now brand new to me, and full
of interest. After we had gone about a mile and a half the character of
the land changed. We had left all the Plugstreet wood effect behind, and
now emerged on to far more open and flatter ground. By dusk we were
going down a long straight road with poplar trees on either side. At the
end of this stood a farm on the right. We walked into the courtyard and
across it into the farm. This was the place the battalion we were going
to relieve had made its headquarters. Not a bad farm. The roof was still
on, I noticed, and concluded from that that life there was evidently
passable. We had to wait here some time, as we were told that the enemy
could see for a great distance around there, and would pepper up the
farm as sure as fate if they saw anyone about. Our easy-going entry into
the courtyard had not been received with great favour, as it appeared we
were doing just the very thing to get the roof removed. However, the
dusk had saved us, I fancy.

[Illustration: Comin' on down to the Estaminet tonight, Arry?]

As soon as it was really dark we all sallied forth, accompanied by
guides this time, who were to show us the trenches. I crept along behind
our Colonel, with my eyes peeled for possible gun positions, and
drinking in as many details of the entire situation as I could.

We walked about ten miles that night, I should think, across unfamiliar
swamps and over unsuspected antique abandoned trenches, past dead cows
and pigs. We groped about the wretched shell-pitted fields, examining
the trenches we were about to take over. You would be surprised to find
how difficult a simple line of trenches can seem at night if you have
never seen them before.

You don't seem able to get the angles, somehow, nor to grasp how the
whole situation faces, or how you get from one part to another, and all
that sort of thing. I know that by the time I had been along the whole
lot, round several hundred traverses, and up dozens of communication
trenches and saps, all my mariner-like ability for finding my way back
to Neuve Eglise had deserted me. Those guides were absolutely necessary
in order to get us back to the headquarter farm. One wants a compass,
the pole star, and plenty of hope ever to get across those enormous
prairies--known as fields out there--and reach the place at the other
side one wants to get to. It is a long study before you really learn the
simplest and best way up to your own bit of trench; but when it comes to
learning everybody else's way up as well (as a machine gunner has to),
it needs a long and painful course of instruction--higher branches of
this art consisting of not only knowing the way up, but the _safest_ way
up.

The night we carried out this tour of inspection we were all left in a
fog as to how we had gone to and returned from the trenches. After we
had got in we knew, by long examination of the maps, how everything
lay, but it was some time before we had got the real practical hang of
it all.

Our return journey from the inspection was a pretty silent affair. We
all knew these were a nasty set of trenches. Not half so pleasant as the
Plugstreet ones. The conversations we had with the present owners made
it quite clear that warm times were the vogue round there. Altogether we
could see we were in for a "bit of a time."

We cleared off back to Neuve Eglise that night, and next day took those
trenches over. This was the beginning of my life at Wulverghem. When we
got in, late that night, we found that the post had arrived some time
before. Thinking there might be something for me, I went into the back
room where they sorted the letters, to get any there might be before
going off to my own billets. "There's only one for you, sir, to-night,"
said the corporal who looked after the letters. He handed me an
envelope. I opened it. Inside, a short note and a cheque.

"We shall be very glad to accept your sketch, 'Where did that one go
to?' From the _Bystander_"--the foundation-stone of _Fragments from
France_.

 


CHAPTER XVII

WULVERGHEM--THE DOUVE--CORDUROY
BOARDS--BACK AT OUR FARM


We got out of the frying-pan into the fire when we went to Wulverghem--a
much more exciting and precarious locality than Plugstreet. During all
my war experiences I have grown to regard Plugstreet as the unit of
tranquillity. I have never had the fortune to return there since those
times mentioned in previous chapters. When you leave Plugstreet you take
away a pleasing memory of slime and reasonable shelling, which is more
than you can say for the other places. If you went to Plugstreet after,
say, the Ypres Salient, it would be more or less like going to a
convalescent home after a painful operation.

But, however that may be, we were now booked for Wulverghem, or rather
the trenches which lie along the base of the Messines ridge, about a
mile in front of that shattered hamlet. Two days after our tour of
inspection we started off to take over. The nuisance about these
trenches was that the point where one had to unload and proceed across
country, man-handling everything, was abnormally far away from the
firing line. We had about a mile and a half to do after we had marched
collectively as a battalion, so that my machine-gunners were obliged to
carry the guns and all the tackle we needed all that distance to their
trenches. This, of course, happened every time we "came in."

The land where these trenches lay was a vast and lugubrious expanse of
mud, with here and there a charred and ragged building. On our right lay
the River Douve, and, on our left, the trenches turned a corner back
inwards again. In front lay the long line of the Messines ridge. The
Boches had occupied this ridge, and our trenches ran along the valley at
its foot. The view which the Boches got by being perched on this hill
rendered them exactly what their soul delights in, _i.e._, "uber alles."
They can see for miles. However, those little disadvantages have not
prevented us from efficiently maintaining our trenches at the far end of
the plain, in spite of the difficulty of carrying material across this
flat expanse.

I forget what night of the week we went in and took over those trenches,
but, anyhow, it was a precious long one. I had only seen the place once
before, and in the darkness of the night had a long and arduous job
finding the way to the various positions allotted for my guns, burdened
as I was with all my sections and impedimenta. I imagine I walked about
five or six miles that night. We held a front of about a mile, and,
therefore, not only did I have to do the above-mentioned mile and a
half, but also two or three miles going from end to end of our line. It
was as dark as could be, and the unfamiliar ground seemed to be pitted
like a Gruyere cheese with shell holes. Unlimbering back near a farm we
sloshed off across the mud flat towards the section of trench which we
had been ordered to occupy. I trusted to instinct to strike the right
angles for coming out at the trenches which henceforth were to be ours.
In those days my machine guns were the old type of Maxim--a very weighty
concern. To carry these guns and all the necessary ammunition across
this desert was a long and very exhausting process. Occasional bursts of
machine-gun fire and spent bullets "zipping" into the mud all around
hardly tended to cheer the proceedings. The path along to the right-hand
set of trenches, where I knew a couple of guns must go, was lavishly
strewn with dead cows and pigs. When we paused for a rest we always
seemed to do so alongside some such object, and consequently there was
no hesitation in moving on again. None of us had the slightest idea as
to the nature of the country on which we were now operating. I myself
had only seen it by night, and nobody else had been there at all.

The commencement of the journey from the farm of disembarkation lay
along what is known as corduroy boards. These are short, rough, wooden
planks, nailed crossways on long baulks of timber. This kind of path is
a very popular one at the front, and has proved an immense aid in saving
the British army from being swallowed up in the mud.

The corduroy path ran out about four hundred yards across the grassless,
sodden field. We then came suddenly to the beginning of a road. A small
cottage stood on the right, and in front of it a dead cow. Here we
unfortunately paused, but almost immediately moved on (gas masks weren't
introduced until much later!).

From this point the road ran in a long straight line towards Messines.
At intervals, on the right-hand side only, stood one or two farms, or,
rather, their skeletons. As we went along in the darkness these farms
silhouetted their dreary remains against the faint light in the sky, and
looked like vast decayed wrecks of antique Spanish galleons upside down.
On past these farms the road was suddenly cut across by a deep and ugly
gash: a reserve trench. So now we were getting nearer to our
destination. A particularly large and evil-smelling farm stood on the
right. The reserve trench ran into its back yard, and disappeared
amongst the ruins. From the observations I had made, when inspecting
these trenches, I knew that the extreme right of our position was a bit
to the right of this farm, so I and my performing troupe decided to go
through the farmyard and out diagonally across the field in front. We
did this, and at last could dimly discern the line of the trenches in
front. We were now on the extreme right of the section we had to
control, close to the River Douve, and away to the left ran the whole
line of our trenches. Along the whole length of this line the business
of taking over from the old battalion was being enacted. That old
battalion made a good bargain when they handed over that lot of slots to
us. The trenches lay in a sort of echelon formation, the one on the
extreme right being the most advanced. This one we made for, and as we
squelched across the mud to it a couple of German star shells fizzed up
into the air and illuminated the whole scene. By their light I could see
the whole position, but could only form an approximate idea of how our
lines ran, as our parapets and trenches merged into the mud so
effectively as to look like a vast, tangled, disorderly mass of
sandbags, slime and shell holes. We reached the right-hand trench. It
was a curious sort of a trench too, quite a different pattern to those
we had occupied at St. Yvon, The first thing that struck me about all
these trenches was the quantity of sandbags there were, and the
geometrical exactness of the attempts at traverses, fire steps, bays,
etc. Altogether, theoretically, much superior trenches, although very
cramped and narrow. I waited for another star shell in order to see the
view out in front. One hadn't long to wait around there for star shells.
One very soon sailed up, nice and white, into the inky sky, and I saw
how we were placed with regard to the Germans, the hill and Messines. We
were quite near a little stream, a tributary of the Douve, in fact it
ran along the front of our trenches. Immediately on the other side the
ground rose in a gradual slope up the Messines hill, and about
three-quarters way up this slope were the German trenches.

When I had settled the affairs of the machine guns in the right-hand
trench I went along the line and fixed up the various machine-gun teams
in the different trenches as I came to them. The ground above the
trenches was so eaten away by the filling of sandbags and the cavities
caused by shell fire, that I found it far quicker and simpler to walk
along in the trenches themselves, squeezing past the men standing about
and around the thick traverses. Our total frontal length must have been
three-quarters of a mile, I should think. This, our first night in, was
a pretty busy one. Dug-outs had to be found to accommodate every one;
platoons arranged in all the sections of trench, all the hundred-and-one
details which go to making trench life as secure and comfortable as is
possible under the circumstances, had to be seen to and arranged. I had
fixed up all the sections by about ten o'clock and then started along
the lines again trying to get as clear an idea as possible of the entire
situation of the trenches, the type of land in front of each, the means
of access to each trench, and possible improvements in the various gun
positions. All this had to be done to the accompaniment of a pretty
lively mixture of bullets and star shells. Sniping was pretty severe
that night, and, indeed, all the time we were in those Douve trenches.
There was an almost perpetual succession of rifle shots, intermingled
with the rapid crackling of machine-gun fire. However, you soon learn
out there that you can just as easily "get one" on the calmest night by
an accidental spent bullet as you can when a little hate is on, and
bullets are coming thick and fast. The first night we came to the Douve
was a pretty calm one, comparatively speaking; yet one poor chap in the
leading platoon, going through the farm courtyard I mentioned, got shot
right through the forehead. No doubt whatever it was an accidental
bullet, and not an aimed shot, as the Germans could not have possibly
seen the farm owing to the darkness of the night.

Just as I was finishing my tour of inspection I came across the Colonel,
who was going round everything, and thoroughly reconnoitring the
position. He asked me to show him the gun positions. I went with him
right along the line. We stood about on parapets, and walked all over
the place, stopping motionless now and again as a star shell went up,
and moving on again just in time to hear a bullet or two whizz past
behind and go "smack" into a tree in the hedge behind, or "plop" into
the mud parados. When the Colonel had finished his tour of inspection he
asked me to walk back with him to his headquarters. "Where are you
living, Bairnsfather?" said the Colonel to me. "I don't know, sir," I
replied. "I thought of fixing up in that farm (I indicated the most
aromatized one by the reserve trench) and making some sort of a dug-out
if there isn't a cellar; it's a fairly central position for all the
trenches."

The Colonel thought for a moment: "You'd better come along back to the
farm on the road for to-night anyway, and you can spend to-morrow
decorating the walls with a few sketches," he said. This was a decidedly
better suggestion, a reprieve, in fact, as prior to this remark my
bedroom for the night looked like being a borrowed ground sheet slung
over some charred rafters which were leaning against a wall in the yard.

I followed along behind the Colonel down the road, down the corduroy
boards, and out at the old moated farm not far from Wulverghem. Thank
goodness, I should get a floor to sleep on! A roof, too! Straw on the
floor! How splendid!

It was quite delightful turning into that farm courtyard, and entering
the building. Dark, dismal and deserted as it was, it afforded an
immense, glowing feeling of comfort after that mysterious, dark and
wintry plain, with its long lines of grey trenches soaking away there
under the inky sky.

Inside I found an empty room with some straw on the floor. There was
only one shell hole in it, but some previous tenant had stopped it up
with a bit of sacking. My word, I was tired! I rolled myself round with
straw, and still retaining all my clothes, greatcoat, balaclava,
muffler, trench boots, I went to sleep.

 


CHAPTER XVIII

THE PAINTER AND DECORATOR--FRAGMENTS
FORMING--NIGHT ON THE MUD PRAIRIE


Had a fairly peaceful night. I say fairly because when one has to get up
three or four times to see whether the accumulated rattle of rifle fire
is going to lead to a battle, or turn out only to be merely "wind up,"
it rather disturbs one's rest. You see, had an attack of some sort come
on, yours truly would have had to run about a mile and a half to some
central spot to overlook the machine-gun department. I used to think
that to be actually with one gun was the best idea, but I subsequently
found that this plan hampered me considerably from getting to my others;
the reason being that, once established in one spot during an open
trench attack, it is practically impossible to get to another part
whilst the action is on.

At the Douve, however, I discovered a way of getting round this which I
will describe later.

On this first night, not being very familiar with the neighbourhood, I
found it difficult to ignore the weird noises which floated in through
the sack-covered hole. There is something very eerie and strange about
echoing rifle shots in the silence of the night. Once I got up and
walked out into the courtyard of the farm, and passing through it came
out on to the end of the road. All as still as still could be, except
the distant intermittent cracking of the rifles coming from away across
the plain, beyond the long straight row of lofty poplar trees which
marked the road. A silence of some length might supervene, in which one
would only hear the gentle rustling of the leaves; then suddenly, far
away on the right, a faint surging roar can be heard, and then louder
and louder. "Wind up over there." Then, gradually, silence would assert
itself once more and leave you with nothing but the rustling leaves and
the crack of the sniper's rifle on the Messines ridge.

My first morning at this farm was, by special request, to be spent in
decorating the walls.

There wasn't much for anyone to do in the day time, as nobody could go
out. The same complaint as the other place in St. Yvon: "We mustn't look
as if anyone lives in the farm." Drawing, therefore, was a great aid to
me in passing the day. Whilst at breakfast I made a casual examination
of the room where we had our meals. I was not the first to draw on the
walls of that room. Some one in a previous battalion had already put
three or four sketches on various parts of the fire-place. Several large
spaces remained all round the room, however; but I noticed that the
surface was very poor compared with the wall round the fire-place.

The main surface was a rough sort of thing, and, on regarding it
closely, it looked as if it was made of frozen porridge, being slightly
rough, and of a grey-brown colour. I didn't know what on earth I could
use to draw on this surface, but after breakfast I started to scheme out
something. I went into the back room, which we were now using as a
kitchen, and finding some charcoal I tried that. It was quite
useless--wouldn't make a mark on the wall at all. Why, I don't know; but
the charcoal just glided about and merely seemed to make dents and
scratches on the "frozen porridge." I then tried to make up a mixture.
It occurred to me that possibly soot might be made into a sort of ink,
and used with a paint brush. I tried this, but drew a blank again. I was
bordering on despair, when my servant said he thought he had put a
bottle of Indian ink in my pack when we left to come into the trenches
this time. He had a look, and found that his conjecture was right; he
had got a bottle of Indian ink and a few brushes, as he thought I might
want to draw something, so had equipped the pack accordingly.

I now started my fresco act on the walls of the Douve farm.

I spent most of the day on the job, and discovered how some startling
effects could be produced.

Materials were: A bottle of Indian ink, a couple of brushes, about a
hundredweight of useless charcoal, and a G.S. blue and red pencil.

Amongst the rough sketches that I did that day were the original
drawings for two subsequent "Fragments" of mine.

One was the rough idea for "They've evidently seen me," and the other
was "My dream for years to come." The idea for "They've evidently seen
me" came whilst carrying back that table to St. Yvon, as I mentioned in
a previous chapter, but the scenario for the idea was not provided for
until I went to this farm some time later. In intervals of working at
the walls I rambled about the farm building, and went up into a loft
over a barn at the end of the farm nearest the trenches. I looked out
through a hole in the tiles just in time to hear a shell come over from
away back amongst the Germans somewhere, and land about five hundred
yards to the left. The sentence, "They've evidently seen me," came
flashing across my mind again, and I now saw the correct setting in my
mind: _i.e._, the enthusiastic observer looking out of the top of a
narrow chimney, whilst a remarkably well-aimed shell leads "him of the
binoculars" to suppose that they _have_ seen him.

I came downstairs and made a pencil sketch of my idea, and before I left
the trenches that time I had done a wash drawing and sent it to England.
This was my second "Fragment."

The other sketch, "My dream for years to come," was drawn on one wall
of a small apple or potato room, opening off our big room, and the
drawing occupied the whole wall.

[Illustration: porters]

I knocked off drawing about four o'clock, and did a little of the
alternative occupation, that of looking out through the cracked windows
on to the mutilated courtyard in front. It was getting darker now, and
nearing the time when I had to put on all my tackle, and gird myself up
for my round of the trenches. As soon as it was nearly dark I started
out. The other officers generally left a bit later, but as I had such a
long way to go, and as I wanted to examine the country while there was
yet a little light, I started at dusk. Not yet knowing exactly how much
the enemy could see on the open mud flat, I determined to go along by
the river bank, and by keeping among the trees I hoped to escape
observation. I made for the Douve, and soon got along as far as the row
of farms. I explored all these, and a shocking sight they were. All
charred and ruined, and the skeleton remains slowly decomposing away
into the unwholesome ground about them. I went inside several of the
dismantled rooms. Nearly all contained old and battered bits of
soldiers' equipment, empty tins, and remnants of Belgian property. Sad
relics of former billeting: a living reminder of the rough times that
had preceded our arrival in this locality. I passed on to another farm,
and entered the yard near the river. It was nearly full of black wooden
crosses, roughly made and painted over with tar. All that was left to
mark the graves of those who had died to get our trenches where they
were--at the bottom of the Messines ridge. A bleak and sombre winter's
night, that courtyard of the ruined farm, the rows of crosses--I often
think of it all now.

As the darkness came on I proceeded towards the trenches, and when it
had become sufficiently dark I entered the old farm by the reserve
trench and crossed the yard to enter the field which led to the first of
our trenches. At St. Yvon it was pretty airy work, going the rounds at
night, but this was a jolly sight more so. The country was far more
open, and although the Boches couldn't see us, yet they kept up an
incessant sniping demonstration. Picking up my sergeant at Number 1
trench, he and I started on our tour.

We made a long and exhaustive examination that night, both of the
existing machine-gun emplacements and of the entire ground, with a view
to changing our positions. It was a long time before I finally left the
trenches and started off across the desolate expanse to the Douve farm,
and I was dead beat when I arrived there. On getting into the big room I
found the Colonel, who had just come in. "Where's that right-hand gun of
yours, Bairnsfather?" he asked. "Down on the right of Number 2 trench,
sir," I answered; "just by the two willows near the sap which runs out
towards Number 1." "It's not much of a place for it," he said; "where we
ought to have it is to the right of the sap, so that it enfilades the
whole front of that trench." "When do you want it moved, sir?" I asked.
"Well, it ought to be done at once; it's no good where it is."

That fixed it. I knew what he wanted; so I started out again, back over
the mile and a half to alter the gun. It was a weary job; but I would
have gone on going back and altering the whole lot for our Colonel, who
was the best line in commanding officers I ever struck. Every one had
the most perfect confidence in him. He was the most shell, bullet, and
bomb defying person I have ever seen. When I got back for the second
time that night I was quite ready to roll up in the straw, and be lulled
off to sleep by the cracking rifle fire outside.

 


CHAPTER XIX

VISIONS OF LEAVE--DICK TURPIN--LEAVE!


Our first time in the Douve trenches was mainly uneventful, but we all
decided it was not as pleasant as St. Yvon. For my part, it was fifty
per cent. worse than St. Yvon; but I was now buoyed up by a new light in
the sky, which made the first time in more tolerable than it might
otherwise have been. It was getting near my turn for leave! I had been
looking forward to this for a long time, but there were many who had to
take their turn in front of me, so I had dismissed the case for a bit.
Recently, however, the powers that be had been sending more than one
officer away at a time; consequently my turn was rapidly approaching. We
came away back to billets in the usual way after our first dose of the
Douve, and all wallowed off to our various billeting quarters. I was hot
and strong on the leave idea now. It was really getting close and I
felt disposed to find everything _couleur de rose_. Even the manure heap
in the billeting farm yard looked covered with roses. I could have
thrown a bag of confetti at the farmer's wife--it's most exhilarating to
think of the coming of one's first leave. One maps out what one will do
with the time in a hundred different ways. I was wondering how I could
manage to transport my souvenirs home, as I had collected a pretty good
supply by this time--shell cases, fuse tops, clogs, and that Boche rifle
I got on Christmas Day.

One morning (we had been about two days out) I got a note from the
Adjutant to say I could put in my application. I put it in all right and
then sat down and hoped for the best.

My spirits were now raised to such a pitch that I again decided to ride
to Nieppe--just for fun.

I rode away down the long winding line, smiling at everything on either
side--the three-sailed windmill with the top off; the estaminet with the
hole through the gable end--all objects seemed to radiate peace and
goodwill. There was a very bright sun in the sky that day. I rode down
to the high road, and cantered along the grass at the side into Nieppe.
Just as I entered the town I met a friend riding out. He shouted
something at me. I couldn't hear what he said. "What?" I yelled.

"All leave's cancelled!"

That was enough for me. I rode into Nieppe like an infuriated cowboy. I
went straight for the divisional headquarters, flung away the horse and
dashed up into the building. I knew one or two of the officers there.
"What's this about leave?" I asked. "All about to be cancelled," was the
reply. "If you're quick, you may get yours through, as you've been out
here long enough, and you're next to go." "What have I got to do?" I
screamed. "Go to your Colonel, and ask him to wire the Corps
headquarters and ask them to let you go; only you'll have to look sharp
about it."

He needn't have told me that. He had hardly finished before I was
outside and making for my horse. I got out of Nieppe as quickly as I
could, and lit out for our battalion headquarters. About four miles to
go, but I lost no time about it. "Leave cancelled!" I hissed through the
triangular gap in my front tooth, as I galloped along the road; "leave
cancelled!"

I should have made a good film actor that day: "Dick Turpin's ride to
York" in two reels. I reached the turning off the high road all right,
and pursued my wild career down the lanes which led to the Colonel's
headquarters. The road wound about in a most ridiculous way, making
salients out of ploughed fields on either side. I decided to throw all
prudence to the winds, and cut across these. My horse evidently thought
this an excellent idea, for as soon as he got on the fields he was off
like a trout up stream. Most successful across the first salient, then,
suddenly, I saw we were approaching a wide ditch. Leave _would_ be
cancelled as far as I was concerned if I tried to jump that, I felt
certain. I saw a sort of a narrow bridge about fifty yards to the right.
Tried to persuade the horse to make for it. No, he believed in the ditch
idea, and put on a sprint to jump it. Terrific battle between Dick
Turpin and Black Bess!

A foaming pause on the brink of the abyss. Dick Turpin wins the
argument, and after a few prancing circles described in the field
manages to cross the bridge with his fiery steed. I then rode down the
road into the little village. The village school had been turned into a
battalion stores, and the quartermaster-sergeant was invariably to be
found there. I dismounted and pulled my horse up a couple of steps into
the large schoolroom. Tied him up here, and last saw him blowing clouds
of steam out of his nose on to one of those maps which show interesting
forms of vegetable life with their Latin names underneath. Now for the
Colonel. I clattered off down the street to his temporary orderly room.
Thank heaven, he was in! I explained the case to him. He said he would
do his best, and there and then sent off a wire. I could do no more now,
so after fixing up that a message should be sent me, I slowly retraced
my steps to the school, extracted the horse, and wended my way slowly
back to the Transport Farm. Here I languished for the rest of the day,
feeling convinced that "all leave was cancelled." I sat down to do some
sketching after tea, full of marmalade and depression. About 6 p.m. I
chucked it, and went and sat by the stove, smoking a pipe. Suddenly the
door opened and a bicycle orderly came in: "There's a note from the
Adjutant for you, sir."

I tore it open. "Your leave granted; you leave to-morrow. If you call
here in the morning, I'll give you your pass."

LEAVE!!

 


CHAPTER XX

THAT LEAVE TRAIN--MY OLD PAL--LONDON
AND HOME--THE CALL OF THE WILD


One wants to have been at the front, in the nasty parts, to appreciate
fully what getting seven days' leave feels like. We used to have to be
out at the front for three consecutive months before being entitled to
this privilege. I had passed this necessary apprenticeship, and now had
actually got my leave.

[Illustration: Leave!!!]

The morning after getting my instructions I rose early, and packed the
few things I was going to take with me. Very few things they were, too.
Only a pack and a haversack, and both contained nothing but souvenirs. I
decided to go to the station via the orderly room, so that I could do
both in one journey. I had about two miles to go from my billets to the
orderly room in the village, and about a mile on from there to the
station. Some one suggested my riding--no fear; I was running no risks
now. I started off early with my servant. We took it in shifts with my
heavy bags of souvenirs. One package (the pack) had four "Little Willie"
cases inside, in other words, the cast-iron shell cases for the German
equivalent of our 18-pounders. The haversack was filled with aluminium
fuse tops and one large piece of a "Jack Johnson" shell case. My
pockets--and I had a good number, as I was wearing my greatcoat--were
filled with a variety of objects. A pair of little clogs found in a roof
at St. Yvon, several clips of German bullets removed from equipment
found on Christmas Day, and a collection of bullets which I had picked
out with my pocket knife from the walls of our house in St. Yvon. The
only additional luggage to this inventory I have given was my usual
copious supply of Gold Flake cigarettes, of which, during my life in
France, I must have consumed several army corps.

It was a glorious day--bright, sunny, and a faint fresh wind. Everything
seemed bright and rosy. I felt I should have liked to skip along the
road like a young bay tree--no, that's wrong--like a ram, only I didn't
think it would be quite the thing with my servant there (King's
Regulations: Chapter 158, paragraph 96, line 4); besides, he wasn't
going on leave, so it would have been rather a dirty trick after all.

[Illustration]

We got to the village with aching arms and souvenirs intact. I got my
pass, and together with another officer we set out for the station. It
was a leave train. Officers from all sorts of different battalions were
either in it or going to get in, either here or at the next stop.

Having no wish to get that station into trouble, or myself either, by
mentioning its name, I will call it Creme de Menthe. It was the same
rotten little place I had arrived at. It is only because I am trying to
sell the "station-master" a copy of this book that I call the place a
station at all. It really is a decomposing collection of half-hearted
buildings and moss-grown rails, with an apology for a platform at one
side.

We caught the train with an hour to spare. You can't miss trains in
France: there's too much margin allowed on the time-table. The 10.15
leaves at 11.30, the 11.45 at 2.20, and so on; besides, if you did miss
your train, you could always catch it up about two fields away, so
there's nothing to worry about.

We started. I don't know what time it was.

If you turn up the word "locomotion" in a dictionary, you will find it
means "the act or power of moving from place to place"; from _locus_, a
place, and _motion_, the act of moving. Our engine had got the _locus_
part all right, but was rather weak about the _motion_. We creaked and
squeaked about up the moss-grown track, and groaned our way back into
the station time after time, in order to tie on something else behind
the train, or to get on to a siding to let a trainload of trench
floorboards and plum and apple jangle past up the line. When at last we
really started, it was about at the speed of the "Rocket" on its trial
trip.

Our enthusiastic "going on leave" ardour was severely tested, and nearly
broke down before we reached Boulogne, which we did late that night. But
getting there, and mingling with the leave-going crowd which thronged
the buffet, made up for all travelling shortcomings. Every variety of
officer and army official was represented there. There were colonels,
majors, captains, lieutenants, quantities of private soldiers, sergeants
and corporals, hospital nurses and various other people employed in some
war capacity or other. Representatives from every branch of the Army, in
fact, whose turn for leave had come.

I left the buffet for a moment to go across to the Transport Office, and
walking along through the throng ran into my greatest friend. A most
extraordinary chance this! I had not the least idea whereabouts in
France he was, or when he might be likely to get leave. His job was in
quite a different part, many miles from the Douve. I have known him for
many years; we were at school together, and have always seemed to have
the lucky knack of bobbing up to the surface simultaneously without
prior arrangement. This meeting sent my spirits up higher than ever. We
both adjourned to the buffet, and talked away about our various
experiences to the accompaniment of cold chicken and ham. A merry scene
truly, that buffet--every one filled with thoughts of England. Nearly
every one there must have stepped out of the same sort of mud and danger
bath that I had. And, my word! it is a first-class feeling: sitting
about waiting for the boat when you feel you've earned this seven days'
leave. You hear men on all sides getting the last ounce of appreciation
out of the unique sensation by saying such things as, "Fancy those poor
blighters, sitting in the mud up there; they'll be just about getting
near 'Stand to' now."

You rapidly dismiss a momentary flash in your mind of what it's going to
be like in that buffet on the return journey.

Early in the morning, and while it was still dark, we left the harbour
and ploughed out into the darkness and the sea towards England.

I claim the honoured position of the world's worst sailor. I have
covered several thousand miles on the sea, "brooked the briny" as far as
India and Canada. I have been hurtled about on the largest Atlantic
waves; yet I am, and always will remain, absolutely impossible at sea.
Looking at the docks out of the hotel window nearly sends me to bed;
there's something about a ship that takes the stuffing out of me
completely. Whether it's that horrible pale varnished woodwork, mingled
with the smell of stuffy upholstery, or whether it's that nauseating
whiff from the open hatch of the engine-room, I don't know; but once on
a ship I am as naught ... not nautical.

Of course the Channel was going to be rough. I could see that at a
glance. I know exactly what to do about the sea now. I go straight to a
bunk, and hope for the best; if no bunk--bribe the steward until there
is one.

I got a bunk, deserted my friend in a cheerless way, and retired till
the crossing was over. It _was_ very rough....


In the cold grey hours we glided into Dover or Folkestone (I was too
anaemic to care which) and fastened up alongside the wharf. I had a dim
recollection of getting my pal to hold my pack as we left Boulogne, and
now I could see neither him nor the pack. Fearful crush struggling up
the gangway. I had to scramble for a seat in the London train, so
couldn't waste time looking for my friend. I had my haversack--he had
my pack.

The train moved off, and now here we all were back in clean, fresh,
luxurious England, gliding along in an English train towards London.
It's worth doing months and months of trenches to get that buoyant,
electrical sensation of passing along through English country on one's
way to London on leave.

I spent the train journey thinking over what I should do during my seven
days. Time after time I mentally conjured up the forthcoming performance
of catching the train at Paddington and gliding out of the shadows of
the huge station into the sunlit country beyond--the rapid express
journey down home, the drive out from the station, back in my own land
again!

We got into London in pretty quick time, and I rapidly converted my
dreams into facts.

Still in the same old trench clothes, with a goodly quantity of Flanders
mud attached, I walked into Paddington station, and collared a seat in
the train on Number 1 platform. Then, collecting a quantity of papers
and magazines from the bookstalls, I prepared myself for enjoying to the
full the two hours' journey down home.


I spent a gorgeous week in Warwickshire, during which time my friend
came along down to stay a couple of days with me, bringing my missing
pack along with him. He had had the joy of carrying it laden with shell
cases across London, and taking it down with him to somewhere near
Aldershot, and finally bringing it to me without having kept any of the
contents ... Such is a true friend.

As this book deals with my wanderings in France I will not go into
details of my happy seven days' leave. I now resume at the point where I
was due to return to France. In spite of the joys of England as opposed
to life in Flanders, yet a curious phenomenon presented itself at the
end of my leave. I was anxious to get back. Strange, but true. Somehow
one felt that slogging away out in the dismal fields of war was the real
thing to do. If some one had offered me a nice, safe, comfortable job in
England, I wouldn't have taken it. I claim no credit for this feeling of
mine. I know every one has the same. That buccaneering, rough and tumble
life out there has its attractions. The spirit of adventure is in most
people, and the desire and will to biff the Boches is in every one, so
there you are.

I drifted back via London, Dover and Boulogne, and thence up the same
old stagnant line to Creme de Menthe. Once more back in the land of mud,
bullets, billets, and star shells.

It was the greyest of grey days when I arrived at my one-horse terminus.
I got out at the "station," and had a solitary walk along the empty,
muddy lanes, back to the Transport Farm.

Plodding along in the thin rain that was falling I thought of home,
London, England, and then of the job before me. Another three months at
least before any further chance of leave could come my way again.
Evening was coming on. Across the flat, sombre country I could see the
tall, swaying poplar trees standing near the farm. Beyond lay the rough
and rugged road which led to the Douve trenches.

How nice that leave had been! To-morrow night I should be going along
back to the trenches before Wulverghem.

 


CHAPTER XXI


BACK FROM LEAVE--THAT "BLINKIN' MOON"
--JOHNSON 'OLES--TOMMY AND "FRIGHTFULNESS"
--EXPLORING EXPEDITION

As I had expected, the battalion were just finishing their last days out
in rest billets, and were going "in" the following night.

Reaction from leave set in for me with unprecedented violence. It was
horrible weather, pouring with rain all the time, which made one's
depression worse.

Leave over; rain, rain, rain; trenches again, and the future looked like
being perpetually the same, or perhaps worse. Yet, somehow or other, in
these times of deep depression which come to every one now and again, I
cannot help smiling. It has always struck me as an amusing thing that
the world, and all the human beings thereon, do get themselves into such
curious and painful predicaments, and then spend the rest of the time
wishing they could get out.

My reflections invariably brought me to the same conclusion, that here I
was, caught up in the cogs of this immense, uncontrollable war machine,
and like every one else, had to, and meant to stick it out to the end.

The next night we went through all the approved formula for going into
the trenches. Started at dusk, and got into our respective mud cavities
a few hours later. I went all round the trenches again, looking to see
that things were the same as when I left them, and, on the Colonel's
instructions, started a series of alterations in several gun positions.
There was one trench that was so obscured along its front by odd stumps
of trees that I decided the only good spot for a machine gun was right
at one end, on a road which led up to Messines. From here it would be
possible for us to get an excellent field of fire. To have this gun on
the road meant making an emplacement there somehow. That night we
started scheming it out, and the next evening began work on it. It was a
bright moonlight night, I remember, and my sergeant and I went out in
front of our parapet, walked along the field and crept up the ditch a
little way, considering the machine-gun possibilities of the land. That
moonlight feeling is very curious. You feel as if the enemy can see you
clearly, and that all eyes in the opposite trench are turned on you. You
can almost imagine a Boche smilingly taking an aim, and saying to a
friend, "We'll just let him come a bit closer first." Every one who has
had to go "out in front," wiring, will know this feeling. As a matter of
fact, it is astonishing how little one can see of men in the moonlight,
even when the trenches are very close together. One gets quite used to
walking about freely in this light, going out in front of the parapet
and having a look round. The only time that really makes one
apprehensive is when some gang of men or other turn up from way back
somewhere, and have come to assist in some operation near the enemy.
They, being unfamiliar with the caution needed, and unappreciative of
what it's like to have neighbours who "hate" you sixty yards away,
generally bring trouble in their wake by one of the party shouting out
in a deep bass or a shrill soprano, "'Ere, chuck us the 'ammer, 'Arry,"
or something like that, following the remark up with a series of
vulcan-like blows on the top of an iron post. Result: three star shells
soar out into the frosty air, and a burst of machine-gun fire skims over
the top of your head.

We made a very excellent and strong emplacement on the road, and used it
henceforth. I had a lot of bother with one gun in those trenches, which
was placed at very nearly the left-hand end of the whole line. I had
been obliged to fix the gun there, as it was very necessary for
dominating a certain road. But when I took the place over from the
previous battalion, I thought there might be difficulties about this gun
position, and there were. The night before we had made our inspection of
these trenches, a shell had landed right on top of the gun emplacement
and had "outed" the whole concern, unfortunately killing two of the gun
section belonging to the former battalion. For some reason or other that
end of our line was always being shelled. Just in the same way as they
plunked shells daily into St. Yvon, so they did here. Each morning, with
hardly ever a miss, they shelled our trenches, but almost invariably in
the same place: the left-hand end. The difference between St. Yvon and
this place was, however, that here they always shelled with "heavies."
Right back at the Douve farm a mile away, the thundering crash of one of
these shells would rattle all the windows and make one say, "Where did
that one go?"

All round that neighbourhood it seemed to have been the fashion, past
and present, to use the largest shells. In going along the Douve one
day, I made a point of measuring and examining several of the holes. I
took a photograph of one, with my cap resting on one side of it, to show
the relative proportion and give an idea of the size. It was about
fourteen feet in diameter, and seven feet deep. The largest shell hole I
have ever seen was over twenty feet in diameter and about twelve feet
deep. The largest hole I have seen, made by an implement of war, though
not by a gun or a howitzer, was larger still, and its size was colossal.
I refer to a hole made by one of our trench mortars, but regret that I
did not measure it. Round about our farm were a series of holes of
immense size, showing clearly the odium which that farm had incurred,
and was incurring; but, whilst I was in it, nothing came in through the
roof or walls. I have since learnt that that old farm is no more, having
been shelled out of existence. All my sketches on those plaster walls
form part of a slack heap, surrounded by a moat.

Well, this persistent shelling of the left-hand end of our trenches
meant a persistent readjustment of our parapets, and putting things back
again. Each morning the Boches would knock things down, and each evening
we would put them up again. Our soldiers are only amused by this
procedure. Their humorously cynical outlook at the Boche temper renders
them impervious to anything the Germans can ever do or think of. Their
outlook towards a venomous German attempt to do something "frightfully"
nasty, is very similar to a large and powerful nurse dealing with a
fractious child--sort of: "Now, then, Master Frankie, you mustn't kick
and scream like that."

One can almost see a group of stolid, unimaginative, non-humorous
Germans, taking all things with their ridiculous seriousness, sending
off their shells, and pulling hateful faces at the same time. You can
see our men sending over a real stiff, quietening answer, with a
sporting twinkle in the eye, perhaps jokingly remarking, as a shell is
pushed into the gun, "'Ere's one for their Officers' Mess, Bert."

On several evenings I had to go round and arrange for the reconstruction
of the ruined parapet or squashed-in dug-outs. It was during one of
these little episodes that I felt the spirit of my drawing, "There goes
our blinking parapet again," which I did sometime later. I never went
about looking for ideas for drawings; the whole business of the war
seemed to come before me in a series of pictures. Jokes used to stick
out of all the horrible discomfort, something like the points of a
harrow would stick into you if you slept on it.

I used to visit all the trenches, and look up the various company
commanders and platoon commanders in the same way as I did at St. Yvon.
I got a splendid idea of all the details of our position; all the
various ways from one part of it to another. As I walked back to the
Douve farm at night, nearly always alone, I used to keep on exploring
the wide tract of land that lay behind our trenches. "I'll have a look
at that old cottage up on the right to-night," I used to say to myself,
and later, when the time came for me to walk back from the trenches, I
would go off at a new angle across the plain, and make for my objective.
Once inside, and feeling out of view of the enemy, I would go round the
deserted rooms and lofts by the light of a few matches, and if the house
looked as if it would prove of interest, I would return the next night
with a candle-end, and make an examination of the whole thing. They are
all very much alike, these houses in Flanders; all seem to contain the
same mangled remains of simple, homely occupations. Strings of onions,
old straw hats, and clogs, mixed with an assortment of cheap clothing,
with perhaps here and there an umbrella or a top hat. That is about the
class of stuff one found in them. After one of these expeditions I would
go on back across the plain, along the corduroy boards or by the bank of
the river, to our farm.

 


CHAPTER XXII

A DAYLIGHT STALK--THE DISUSED TRENCH--
"DID THEY SEE ME?"--A GOOD SNIPING
POSITION


Our farm was, as I have remarked, a mile from the trenches at the
nearest part, and about a mile and a half from the furthest. Wulverghem
was about half a mile behind the farm.

As time went on at these Douve trenches, I became more and more familiar
with the details of the surrounding country, for each day I used to
creep out of the farm, and when I had crossed the moat by a small wooden
bridge at the back, I would go off into the country near by looking at
everything. One day the Colonel expressed a wish to know whether it was
possible to get up into our trenches in day time without being seen. Of
course any one could have gone to the trenches, and been momentarily
seen here and there, and could have done so fairly safely and easily by
simply walking straight up, taking advantage of what little cover there
was; but to get right up without showing at all, was rather a poser, as
all cover ceased about a hundred yards behind the trenches.

The idea of trying attracted me. One morning I crept along the ragged
hedge, on the far side of the moat which led to the river, and started
out for the trenches. I imagined a German with a powerful pair of
binoculars looking down on the plain from the Messines Hill, with
nothing better to do than to see if he could spot some one walking
about. Keeping this possibility well in mind, I started my stalk up to
the trenches with every precaution.

I crept along amongst the trees bordering the river for a considerable
distance, but as one neared the trenches, these got wider apart, and as
the river wound about a lot there were places where to walk from one
tree to the next, one had to walk parallel to the German trenches and
quite exposed, though, of course, at a considerable range off. I still
bore in mind my imaginary picture of the gentleman with binoculars,
though, so I got down near the water's edge and moved along,
half-concealed by the bank. Soon I reached the farms, and by dodging
about amongst the scattered shrubs and out-houses, here and there
crawling up a ditch, I got into one of the farm buildings. I sat in it
amongst a pile of old clothes, empty tins and other oddments, and had a
smoke, thinking the while on how I could get from these farms across the
last bit of open space which was the most difficult of all.

I finished my cigarette, and began the stalk again. Another difficulty
presented itself. I found that it was extremely difficult to cross from
the second last farm to the last one, as the ground was completely open,
and rather sloped down towards the enemy. This was not apparent when
looking at the place at night, for then one never bothers about
concealment, and one walks anywhere and anyhow. But now the question
was, how to do it. I crept down to the river again, and went along there
for a bit, looking for a chance of leaving it under cover for the farm.

Coming to a narrow, cart-rutted lane a little further on, I was just
starting to go up it when, suddenly, a bright idea struck me. An old
zig-zag communication trench (a relic of a bygone period) left the lane
on the right, and apparently ran out across the field to within a few
yards of the furthest farm. Once there, I had only a hundred yards more
to do.

I entered the communication trench. It was just a deep, narrow slot cut
across the field, and had, I should imagine, never been used. I think
the enormous amount of water in it had made it a useless work. I saw no
sign of it ever having been used. A fearful trench it was, with a deep
deposit of dark green filthy, watery mud from end to end.

This, I could see, was the only way up to the farm, so I made the best
of it. I resigned myself to getting thoroughly wet through. Quite
unavoidable. I plunged into this unwholesome clay ditch and went along,
each step taking me up to my thighs in soft dark ooze, whilst here and
there the water was so deep as to force me to scoop out holes in the
clay at the side when, by leaning against the opposite side, with my
feet in the holes, I could slowly push my way along. In time I got to
the other end, and sat down to think a bit. As I sat, a bullet suddenly
whacked into the clay parapet alongside of me, which stimulated my
thinking a bit. "Had I been seen?" I tried to find out, and reassure
myself before going on. I put my hat on top of a stick and brought it up
above the parapet at two or three points to try and attract another
shot; but no, there wasn't another, so I concluded the first one had
been accidental, and went on my way again. By wriggling along behind an
undulation in the field, and then creeping from one tree to another, I
at last managed to get up into our reserve trenches, where I obtained my
first daylight, close-up view of our trenches, German trenches, and
general landscape; all laid out in panorama style.

In front of me were our front-line trenches, following the line of the
little stream which ran into the Douve on the right. On the far side of
the stream the ground gently rose in a long slope up to Messines, where
you could see a shattered mass of red brick buildings with the old grey
tower in the middle. At a distance of from about two to four hundred
yards away lay the German trenches, parallel to ours, their barbed wire
glistening in the morning sunlight.

"This place I'm in is a pretty good place for a sniper to hitch up," I
thought to myself. "Can see everything there is to be seen from here."

After a short stocktaking of the whole scene, I turned and wallowed my
way back to the farm. Some few days later they did make a sniper's post
of that spot, and a captain friend of mine, with whom I spent many
quaint and dismal nights in St. Yvon, occupied it. He was the "star"
shot of the battalion, an expert sniper, and, I believe, made quite a
good bag.

 


CHAPTER XXIII

OUR MOATED FARM--WULVERGHEM--THE
CURE'S HOUSE--A SHATTERED CHURCH
--MORE "HEAVIES"--A FARM ON FIRE


Our farm was one of a cluster of three or four, each approximately a
couple of hundred yards apart. It was perhaps the largest and the most
preserved of the lot. It was just the same sort of shape as all Flemish
farms--a long building running round three sides of the yard, in the
middle of which there was an oblong tank, used for collecting all the
rubbish and drainage.

The only difference about our farm was, we had a moat. Very superior to
all the cluster in consequence. Sometime or other the moat must have
been very effective; but when I was there, only about a quarter of it
contained water. The other three-quarters was a sort of bog, or marsh,
its surface broken up by large shell holes. On the driest part of this I
discovered a row of graves, their rough crosses all battered and bent
down. I just managed to discern the names inscribed; they were all
French. Names of former heroes who had participated in some action or
other months before. Going out into the fields behind the farm, I found
more French graves, enclosed in a rectangular graveyard that had been
roughly made with barbed wire and posts, each grave surmounted with the
dead soldier's hat. Months of rough wintry weather had beaten down the
faded cloth cap into the clay mound, and had started the obliteration of
the lettering on the cross. A few more months; and cross, mound and hat
will all have merged back into the fields of Flanders.

Beyond these fields, about half a mile distant, lay Wulverghem. Looking
at what you can see of this village from the Douve farm, it looks
exceedingly pretty and attractive. A splendid old church tower could be
seen between the trees, and round about it were clustered the red roofs
of a fair-sized village. It has, to my mind, a very nice situation. In
the days before the war it must have been a pleasing place to live in. I
went to have a look at it one day. It's about as fine a sample of what
these Prussians have brought upon Belgian villages as any I have seen.
The village street is one long ruin. On either side of the road, all the
houses are merely a collection of broken tiles and shattered bricks and
framework. Huge shell holes punctuate the street. I had seen a good many
mutilated villages before this, but I remember thinking this was as bad,
if not worse, than any I had yet seen. I determined to explore some of
the houses and the church.

I went into one house opposite the church. It had been quite a nice
house once, containing about ten rooms. It was full of all sorts of
things. The evacuation had evidently been hurried. I went into the front
right-hand room first, and soon discovered by the books and pictures
that this had been the Cure's house. It was in a terrible state.
Religious books in French and Latin lay about the floor in a vast
disorder, some with the cover and half the book torn off by the effect
of an explosion. Pictures illustrating Bible scenes, images, and other
probably cherished objects, smashed and ruined, hung about the walls, or
fragmentary portions of them lay littered about on the floor.

A shell hole of large proportions had rent a gash in the outer front
wall, leaving the window woodwork, bricks and wall-paper piled up in a
heap on the floor, partially obliterating a large writing desk. Private
papers lay about in profusion, all dirty, damp and muddy. The remains of
a window blind and half its roller hung in the space left by the absent
window, and mournfully tapped against the remnant of the framework in
the light, cold breeze that was blowing in from outside. Place this
scene in your imagination in some luxuriant country vicarage in England,
and you will get an idea of what Belgium has had to put up with from
these Teutonic madmen. I went into all the rooms; they were in very much
the same state. In the back part of the house the litter was added to by
empty tins and old military equipment. Soldiers had evidently had to
live there temporarily on their way to some part of our lines. I heard a
movement in the room opposite the one I had first gone into; I went back
and saw a cat sitting in the corner amongst a pile of leather-backed
books. I made a movement towards it, but with a cadaverous, wild glare
at me, it sprang through the broken window and disappeared.

The church was just opposite the priest's house. I went across the road
to look at it. It was a large reddish-grey stone building, pretty old, I
should say, and surrounded by a graveyard. Shell holes everywhere; the
old, grey grave stones and slabs cracked and sticking about at odd
angles. As I entered by the vestry door I noticed the tower was fairly
all right, but that was about the only part that was. Belgium and
Northern France are full of churches which have been sadly knocked
about, and all present very much the same appearance. I will describe
this one to give you a sample. I went through the vestry into the main
part of the church, deciding to examine the vestry later. The roof had
had most of the tiles blown off, and underneath them the roofing-boards
had been shattered into long narrow strips. Fixed at one end to what was
left of the rafters they flapped slowly up and down in the air like
lengths of watch-spring. Below, on the floor of the church, the chairs
were tossed about in the greatest possible disorder, and here and there
a dozen or so had been pulverized by the fall of an immense block of
masonry. Highly coloured images were lying about, broken and twisted.
The altar candelabra and stained-glass windows lay in a heap together
behind a pulpit, the front of which had been knocked off by a falling
pillar. One could walk about near some of the broken images, and pick up
little candles and trinkets which had been put in and around the shrine,
off the floor and from among the mass of broken stones and mortar. The
vestry, I found, was almost complete. Nearly trodden out of recognition
on the floor, I found a bright coloured hand-made altar cloth, which I
then had half a mind to take away with me, and post it back to some
parson in England to put in his church. I only refrained from carrying
out this plan as I feared that the difficulties of getting it away would
be too great. I left the church, and looked about some of the other
houses, but none proved as pathetically interesting as the church and
the vicar's house, so I took my way out across the fields again towards
the Douve farm.

Not a soul about anywhere. Wulverghem lay there, empty, wrecked and
deserted. I walked along the river bank for a bit, and had got about two
hundred yards from the farm when the quiet morning was interrupted in
the usual way, by shelling. Deep-toned, earth-shaking crashes broke into
the quiet peaceful air. "Just in the same place," I observed to myself
as I walked along behind our left-hand trenches. I could see the cloud
of black smoke after each one landed, and knew exactly where they were.
"Just in the same old--hullo! hullo!" With that rotating, gurgling
whistle a big one had just sailed over and landed about fifty yards from
our farm! I nipped in across the moat, through the courtyard, and
explained to the others where it had landed. We all remained silent,
waiting for the next. Here it came, gurgling along through the air; a
pause, then "Crumph!"--nearly in the same place again, but, if anything,
nearer the next farm. The Colonel moved to the window and looked out.
"They're after that farm," he said, as he turned away slowly and struck
a match by the fireplace to light his pipe with. About half a dozen
shells whizzed along in close succession, and about four hit and went
into the roof of the next farm.

Presently I looked out of the window again, and saw a lot of our men
moving out of the farm and across the road into the field beyond. There
was a reserve trench here, so they went into it. I looked again, and
soon saw the reason. Dense columns of smoke were coming out of the straw
roof, and soon the whole place was a blazing ruin. Nobody in the least
perturbed; we all turned away from the window and wondered how soon
they'd "have our farm."

 


CHAPTER XXIV

THAT RATION FATIGUE----SKETCHES IN
REQUEST--BAILLEUL--BATHS AND
LUNATICS--HOW TO CONDUCT A WAR

[Illustration: T]

They seemed to me long, dark, dismal days, those days spent in the Douve
trenches; longer, darker and more dismal than the Plugstreet ones. Night
after night I crossed the dreary mud flat, passed the same old wretched
farms, and went on with the same old trench routine. We all considered
the trenches a pretty rotten outfit; but every one was fully prepared to
accept far rottener things than that. There was never the least sign of
flagging determination in any man there, and I am sure you could say the
same of the whole front.

And, really, some jobs on some nights wanted a lot of beating for
undesirability. Take the ration party's job, for instance. Think of the
rottenest, wettest, windiest winter's night you can remember, and add to
it this bleak, muddy, war-worn plain with its ruined farms and
shell-torn lonely road. Then think of men, leaving the trenches at dusk,
going back about a mile and a half, and bringing sundry large and heavy
boxes up to the trenches, pausing now and again for a rest, and ignoring
the intermittent crackling of rifle fire in the darkness, and the sharp
"_phit_" of bullets hitting the mud all around. Think of that as your
portion each night and every night. When you have finished this job, the
rest you get consists of coiling yourself up in a damp dug-out. Night
after night, week after week, month after month, this job is done by
thousands. As one sits in a brilliantly illuminated, comfortable, warm
theatre, having just come from a cosy and luxurious restaurant, just
think of some poor devil half-way along those corduroy boards struggling
with a crate of biscuits; the ration "dump" behind, the trenches on in
front. When he has finished he will step down into the muddy slush of a
trench, and take his place with the rest, who, if need be, will go on
doing that job for another ten years, without thinking of an
alternative. The Germans made a vast mistake when they thought they had
gauged the English temperament.

       *       *       *       *       *

We went "in" and "out" of those trenches many times. During these
intervals of "out" I began to draw pictures more and more. It had become
known that I drew these trench pictures, not only in our battalion but
in several others, and at various headquarters I got requests for four
or five drawings at a time. About three weeks after I returned from
leave, I had to move my billeting quarters. I went to a farm called "La
petite Monque"; I don't know how it's really spelt, but that's what the
name sounded like. Here I lived with the officers of A Company, and a
jolly pleasant crew they were. We shared a mess together, and had one
big room and one small room between us. There were six of us altogether.
The Captain had the little room and the bed in it, whilst we all slept
round the table on the floor in the big room. Here, in the daytime, when
I was not out with the machine-gun sections, I drew several pictures.
The Brigadier-General of our brigade took a particular fancy to one
which he got from me. The divisional headquarters had half a dozen;
whilst I did two sets of four each for two officers in the regiment.

Sometimes we would go for walks around the country, and occasionally
made an excursion as far as Bailleul, about five miles away. Bailleul
held one special attraction for us. There were some wonderfully good
baths there. The fact that they were situated in the lunatic asylum
rather added to their interest.

The first time I went there, one of the subalterns in A Company was my
companion. We didn't particularly want to walk all the way, so we
decided to get down to the high road as soon as we could, and try and
get a lift in a car. With great luck we managed to stop a fairly empty
car, and got a lift. It was occupied by a couple of French soldiers who
willingly rolled us along into Bailleul. Once there, we walked through
the town and out to the asylum close by. I expect by now the lunatics
have been called up under the group system; but in those days they were
there, and pulled faces at us as we walked up the wide gravel drive to
the grand portals of the building. They do make nice asylums over there.
This was a sort of Chatsworth or Blenheim to look at. Inside it was
fitted up in very great style: long carpeted corridors opening out into
sort of domed winter gardens, something like the snake house at the Zoo.
We came at length to a particularly lofty, domed hall, from which opened
several large bathrooms. Splendid places. A row of large white enamelled
baths along one wall, cork mats on the floor, and one enormous central
water supply, hot and cold, which you diverted to whichever bath you
chose by means of a long flexible rubber pipe. Soap, sponges, towels,
_ad lib_. You can imagine what this palatial water grotto meant to us,
when, at other times, our best bath was of saucepan capacity, taken on
the cold stone floor of a farm room. We lay and boiled the trenches out
of our systems in that palatial asylum. Glorious! lying back in a long
white enamel bath in a warm foggy atmosphere of steam, watching one's
toes floating in front. When this was over, and we had been grimaced off
the premises by "inmates" at the windows, we went back into Bailleul
and made for the "Faucon d'Or," an old hotel that stands in the square.
Here we had a civilized meal. Tablecloth, knives, forks, spoons, waited
on, all that sort of thing. You could have quite a good dinner here if
you liked. A curious thought occurred to me then, and as it occurs again
to me now I write it down. Here it is: If the authorities gave one
permission, one could have rooms at the Faucon d'Or and go to the war
daily. It would be quite possible to, say, have an early dinner, table
d'hote (with, say, a half-bottle of Salmon and Gluckstein), get into
one's car and go to the trenches, spend the night sitting in a small
damp hole in the ground, or glaring over the parapet, and after "stand
to" in the morning, go back in the car in time for breakfast. Of course,
if there was an attack, the car would have to wait--that's all; and of
course you would come to an understanding with the hotel management that
the terms were for meals taken in the hotel, and that if you had to
remain in the trenches the terms must be reduced accordingly.

[Illustration: I hear you callin' me]

A curious war this; you _can_ be at a table d'hote dinner, a music-hall
entertainment afterwards, and within half an hour be enveloped in the
most uncomfortable, soul-destroying trench ever known. I said you can
be; I wish I could say you always are.

The last time I was at Bailleul, not many months ago, I heard that we
could no longer have baths at the asylum; I don't know why. I think some
one told me why, but I can't remember. Whether it was the baths had been
shelled, or whether the lunatics objected, it is impossible for me to
say; but there's the fact, anyway. "Na Pu" baths at Bailleul.

 


CHAPTER XXV

GETTING STALE--LONGING FOR CHANGE--
WE LEAVE THE DOUVE--ON THE MARCH--
SPOTTED FEVER--TEN DAYS' REST


The Douve trenches claimed our battalion for a long time. We went in and
out with monotonous regularity, and I went on with my usual work with
machine guns. The whole place became more and more depressing to me, and
yet, somehow, I have got more ideas for my pictures from this part of
the line than any other since or before. One's mental outlook, I find,
varies very much from day to day. Some days there were on which I felt
quite merry and bright, and strode along on my nightly rambles, calmly
ignoring bullets as they whisked about. At other times I felt thoroughly
depressed and weary. As time wore on at the Douve, I felt myself getting
into a state when it took more and more out of me to keep up my vigour,
and suppress my imagination. There were times when I experienced an
almost irresistible desire to lie down and sleep during some of my night
walks. I would feel an overwhelming desire to ignore the rain and mud,
and just coil up in a farm amongst the empty tins and rubbish and sleep,
sleep, sleep. I looked forward to sleep to drown out the worries of the
daily and nightly life. In fact, I was slowly getting ill, I suppose.
The actual rough and ready life didn't trouble me at all. I was bothered
with the _idea_ of the whole thing. The unnatural atmosphere of things
that one likes and looks upon as pleasing, peaceful objects in ordinary
times, seemed now to obsess me. It's hard to describe; but the following
gives a faint idea of my feelings at this time. Instead of deriving a
sense of peace and serenity from picturesque country farms, old trees,
setting suns, and singing birds, here was this wretched war business
hashing up the whole thing. A farm was a place where you expected a
shell through the wall any minute; a tree was the sort of thing the
gunners took to range on; a sunset indicated a quantity of light in
which it was unsafe to walk abroad. Birds singing were a mockery. All
this sort of thing bothered me, and was slowly reducing my physical
capacity to "stick it out." But I determined I would stick to the ship,
and so I did. The periodical going out to billets and making merry there
was a thing to look forward to. Every one comes up in a rebound of
spirits on these occasions. In the evenings there, sitting round the
table, writing letters, talking, and occasionally having other members
of the regiment in to a meal or a call of some sort, made things quite
pleasant. There was always the post to look forward to. Quite a thrill
went round the room when the door opened and a sergeant came in with an
armful of letters and parcels.

Yet during all this latter time at the Douve I longed for a change in
trench life. Some activity, some march to somewhere or other; anything
to smash up the everlasting stagnant appearance of life there. Suddenly
the change came. We were told we had to go out a day before one of our
usual sessions in the trenches was ended. We were all immensely pleased.
We didn't know where we were bound for, but, anyway, we were going. This
news revived me enormously, and everything looked brighter. The
departure-night came, and company by company we handed over to a
battalion that had come to relieve us, and collected on the road leading
back to Neuve Eglise. I handed over all my gun emplacements to the
incoming machine-gun officer, and finally collected my various sections
with all their tackle on the road as well. We merely marched back to our
usual billets that night, but next morning had orders to get all our
baggage ready for the transport wagons. We didn't know where we were
going, but at about eleven o'clock in the morning we started off on the
march, and soon realized that our direction was Bailleul.

On a fine, clear, warm spring day we marched along, all in the best of
spirits, songs of all sorts being sung one after the other. As I marched
along in the rear of the battalion, at the head of my machine-gun
section, I selected items from their repertoire and had them sung "by
request." I had some astonishingly fine mouth-organists in my section.
When we had "In the trail of the Lonesome Pine" sung by half the
section, with mouth-organ accompaniment by the other half, the effect
was enormous. We passed several battalions of my regiment on the road,
evidently bound for the Armentieres direction. Shouts, jokes and much
mirth showed the kindred spirits of the passing columns. All battalions
of the same regiment, all more or less recruited in the same counties.
When we reached Bailleul we halted in the Square, and then I learnt we
were to be billeted there. There was apparently some difficulty in
getting billets, and so I was faced with the necessity of finding some
for my section myself. The transport officer was in the same fix; he
wanted a large and commodious farm whenever he hitched up countless as
he had a crowd of horses, wagons and men to put up somehow. He and I
decided to start out and look for billets on our own.

I found a temporary rest for my section in an old brickyard on the
outskirts of the town, and the transport officer and I started out to
look for a good farm which we could appropriate.

Bailleul stands on a bit of a hill, so you can get a wide and extensive
view of the country from there. We could see several farms perched
about in the country. We fixed on the nearest, and walked out to it. No
luck; they were willing to have us, but it wasn't big enough. We tried
another; same result. I then suggested we should separate, and each try
different roads, and thus we should get one quicker. This we did, I
going off up a long straight road, and finally coming to a most
promising looking edifice on one side--a real large size in farms.

I went into the yard and walked across the dirty cobbles to the front
door. The people were most pleasant. I didn't understand a word they
said; but when a person pushes a flagon of beer into one of your hands
and an apple into the other, one concludes he means to be pleasant,
anyway.

I mumbled a lot of jargon to them for some time, and I really believe
they saw that I wanted to use their place for a billet. The owner, a man
of about forty-five, then started a long and hardy discussion right at
me. He put on a serious face at intervals, so I guessed there was
something rather important he was trying to convey to me. I was saved
from giving my answer by catching sight of my pal, the transport
officer, crossing the yard. He came in. "I've brought Jean along to
talk," he announced. (Jean was our own battalion interpreter.) "I can't
find a place; but this looks all right." Jean and the owner at once
dived off into a labyrinth of unintelligible words, from which they
emerged five minutes later. We sat around and listened. Jean turned to
us and remarked: "They have got fever here, he says, what you call the
spotted fever--how you say, spotted fever?--and this farm is out of
bounds."

"Oh! spotted fever! I see!" we both said, and slid away out of that farm
pretty quick. So that was what that farmer was trying to say to me:
spotted fever!

I went down the road wondering whether cerebral meningitis germs
preferred apples or beer, or perhaps they liked both; awful thought!

We went back to our original selection and decided to somehow or other
squeeze into the farm which we thought too small. Many hours later we
got the transport and the machine-gun section fixed up. We spent two
nights there. On the second day I went up into Bailleul. Walking along
in the Square, looking at the shops and market stalls, I ran into the
brigade machine-gun officer.

"Topping about our brigade, isn't it?" he said.

"What's topping?" I asked.

"Why, we're going to have about ten day's rest; we clear off out of here
to-morrow to a village about three miles away, and our battalion will
billet there. Where we go after that I don't know; but, anyway, ten
days' rest. Ten days' rest!!"

"Come and split one at the Faucon d'Or?"

"No thanks, I've just had one."

"Well, come and have another."

 


CHAPTER XXVI

A PLEASANT CHANGE--SUZETTE, BERTHE AND
MARTHE--"LA JEUNE FILLE FAROUCHE"--ANDRE


On the next morning we left Bailleul, and the whole of our battalion
marched off down one of the roads leading out into the country in a
westerly direction. The weather was now excellent; so what with a
prospect of a rest, fine weather and the departure from the Wulverghem
trenches, we were all very merry and bright, and "going strong" all
round. It seemed to us as if we had come out of some dark, wet
under-world into a bright, wholesome locality, suitable for the
habitation of man.

Down the long, straight, dusty road we marched, hop yards and bright
coloured fields on either side, here and there passing prosperous
looking farms and estaminets: what a pleasant change it was from that
ruined, dismal jungle we had so recently left! About three or four miles
out we came to a village; the main road ran right through it, forming
its principal street. On either side small lanes ran out at right angles
into the different parts of the village. We received the order to halt,
and soon learnt that this was the place where we were to have our ten
days' rest. A certain amount of billets had been arranged for, but, as
is generally the case, the machine-gun section have to search around for
themselves; an advantage really, as they generally find a better crib
this way than if somebody else found it for them. As soon as we were
"dismissed," I started off on a billet search. The transport officer was
again with me on the same quest. We separated, and each searched a
different part of the village. The first house I went into was a dismal
failure. An old woman of about 84 opened the door about six inches, and
was some time before she permitted the aperture to widen sufficiently to
allow me to go inside the house. A most dingy, poky sort of a place, so
I cleared off to search for something better. As I crossed the farmyard
behind, my servant, who had been conducting a search on his own,
suddenly appeared round the corner of the large barn at the end of the
yard, and came towards me.

"I've found a place over 'ere, Sir, I expect you'll like."

"Where?" I asked.

"This way, Sir!" and he led the way across a field to a gate, which we
climbed. We then went down a sort of back lane to the village, and
turned in at a small wicket-gate leading to a row of cottages. He led me
up to one in the centre, and knocked at the door. A woman opened it, and
I told her what I was looking for. She seemed quite keen for us to go
there, and asked if there was anyone else to come there with me. I told
her the transport officer would be coming there too, and our two
servants. She quite agreed to this, and showed me the rooms we could
have. They were extremely small, but we decided to have them. "Them"
consisted of one bedroom, containing two beds, the size of the room
being about fourteen feet by eight, and the front kitchen-sitting-room
place, which was used by everybody in the house, and was about twice the
size of the bedroom. I went away and found the transport officer,
brought him back and showed him the place. He thought it a good spot,
so we arranged to fix up there.

Our servants started in to put things right for us, get our baggage
there, and so on, whilst I went off to see to billets for the
machine-gun section. I had got them a pretty good barn, attached to the
farm I first called at, but I wanted to go and see that it was really
large enough and suitable when they had all got in and spread
themselves. I found that it did suit pretty well. The space was none too
large, but I felt sure we wouldn't find a better. There was a good field
for all the limbers and horses adjoining, so on the whole it was quite a
convenient place. The section had already got to work with their cooking
things, and had a fire going out in the field. Those gunners were a very
self-contained, happy throng; they all lived together like a family, and
were all very keen on their job.

I returned to my cottage to see how things were progressing. My man had
unrolled my valise, and put all my things out and about in the bedroom.
I took off all my equipment, which I was still wearing, pack,
haversacks, revolver, binoculars, map case, etc., and sat down in the
kitchen to take stock of the situation. I now saw what the family
consisted of; and by airing my feeble French, I found out who they were
and what they did. The woman who had come to the door was the wife of a
painter and decorator, who had been called up, and was in a French
regiment somewhere in Alsace.

Another girl who was there was a friend, and really lived next door with
her sister, but owing to overcrowding, due to our servants and some
French relatives, she spent most of her time in the house I was in.

The owner of the place was Madame Charlet-Flaw, Christian name Suzette.
The other two girls were, respectively, Berthe and Marthe. Ages of all
three in the order I have mentioned them were, I should say,
twenty-eight, twenty-four, and twenty. The place had, I found, been used
as billets before. I discovered this in two ways.

Firstly: On the mantelpiece over the old stove I saw a collection of
many kinds of regimental badges, with a quantity of English magazines.
Secondly, after I had been talking for some time, Suzette answered my
remarks with one of her stock English sentences, picked up from some
former lodgers, "And very nice too," a phrase much in vogue at that
time.

The transport officer, who had been out seeing about something or other,
soon returned, and with him came the regimental doctor, who had got his
billets all right, but had come along to see how we were fixed up. A
real good chap he was, one of the best. All six of us now sat about in
the kitchen and talked over things in general. We were a very cheery
group. The transport officer, doctor and myself were all thoroughly in
the mood for enjoying this ten days' rest. To live amongst ordinary
people again, and see the life of even a village, was refreshing to us.
We had a pretty easy afternoon, and all had tea in that kitchen, after
which I went out and round to look up my old pals in A company. They
had, I found, got hold of the Cure's house, the village parson's
rectory, in fact. It was a square, plain-looking house, standing very
close to the church, and they all seemed very comfortable there. The
Cure himself and his housekeeper only had three rooms reserved for
themselves, the rest being handed over to the officers of A company. I
stayed round there for a bit, having a talk and a smoke, and we each of
us remarked in turn, about every five minutes, what a top-hole thing it
was that we had got this ten days' rest.

I then went back to our cottage, where I had a meal with the transport
officer, conversing the while with Suzette, Berthe and Marthe. I don't
know which I liked the best of these three, they were all so cheery and
hospitable. Marthe was the most interesting from the pictorial point of
view. She was so gipsy-like to look at: brown-skinned, large dark eyes,
exceeding bright, with a sort of sparkling, wild look about her. I
called her "La jeune fille farouche" (looked this up first before doing
so), and she was always called this afterwards. It means "the young wild
girl"; at least I hope it means that. The doctor came back again after
dinner, and we all proceeded to fill the air in the small kitchen with
songs and tobacco-smoke. The transport officer was a "Corona Corona"
expert, and there he would sit with his feet up on the rail at the side
of the stove, smoking one of these zeppelins of a cigar, till we all
went to bed.

There was an heir to the estate in that cottage--one Andre, Suzette's
son, aged about five. He went to bed early, and slept with wonderful
precision and persistence whilst we were making noise enough to wake the
Cure a hundred yards away. But, when we went to bed, this little demon
saw fit to wake, and continue a series of noises for several hours. He
slept in a small cot alongside Suzette's bed, so it was her job, and not
mine, to smack his head.

Anyway, we all managed very comfortably and merrily in those billets,
and I look back on them very much as an oasis in a six months' desert.

 


CHAPTER XXVII

GETTING FIT--CARICATURING THE CURE--
"DIRTY WORK AHEAD"--A PROJECTED
ATTACK--UNLOOKED-FOR ORDERS


Military life during our ten days was to consist of getting into good
training again in all departments. After long spells of trench life,
troops get very much out of strong, efficient marching capabilities, and
are also apt to get slack all round. These rests, therefore, come
periodically to all at the front, and are, as it were, tonics. If men
stayed long enough in trenches, I should say, from my studies in
evolution, that their legs would slowly merge into one sort of fin-like
tail, and their arms into seal-like flappers. In fact, time would
convert them into intelligent sea-lions, and render them completely in
harmony with their natural life.

Our tonic began by being taken, one dose after meals, twice daily. In
the morning the battalion generally went for a long route march, and in
the afternoon practised military training of various kinds in the fields
about the village. My whole time was occupied with machine-gun training.
Morning and afternoon I and my sections went off out into the country,
and selecting a good variegated bit of land proceeded to go through
every phase of machine-gun warfare. We practised the use of these
weapons in woods, open fields, along hedges, etc. It was an interesting
job. We used to decide on some section of ground with an object to be
attacked in the distance, and approach it in all kinds of ways.
Competitions would follow between the different sections. The days were
all bright, warm and sunny, so life and work out in the fields and roads
there was quite pleasant. Each evening we assembled in our cheerful
billet, and thus our rest went on. My sketching now broke out like a
rash. I drew a great many sketches. I joked in pencil for every one,
including Suzette, Berthe and Marthe. I am sorry to say I plead guilty
to having cast a certain amount of ridicule at the Cure. He was so
splendidly austere, and wore such funny clothes, that I couldn't help
perpetrating several sketches of him. The disloyalty of his
parishioners was very marked in the way they laughed at these drawings,
which were pinned up in the row of cottages. Sometimes I would let him
off for a day, and then he would come drifting past the window again,
with his "Dante" face, surmounted by a large curly, faded black hat, and
I gave way to temptation again.

He didn't like soldiers being billeted in his village, so Suzette told
me. I think he got this outlook from his rather painful experiences when
the Germans were in the same village, prior to being driven north. They
had locked him up in his own cellar for four or five days, after
removing his best wine, which they drank upstairs. This sort of thing
_does_ tend towards giving one a bitter outlook. He preached a sermon
whilst we were there. I didn't hear it, but was told about it
simultaneously by Suzette, Berthe and Marthe, who informed me that it
was directed against soldiery in general. His text had apparently been
"Do not trust them, gentle ladies." A gross libel. I retaliated
immediately by drawing a picture of him, with a girl sitting on each
knee, singing "The soldiers are going, hurrah! hurrah!" (tune--"The
Campbells are coming").

I'm afraid I was rather a canker in his village.

One day, my dear old friend turned up, the same who accompanied me on
leave to England. He didn't know we were having our rest, and searched
for me first behind Wulverghem. He there heard where we were, and came
on. He was rather a star in a military way, and could, therefore, get
hold of a car now and again. I was delighted to see him, as it was
possible for me to go into Bailleul with him for the afternoon. We went
off and had a real good time at the "Faucon d'Or." We went out for a
short drive round in the evening, and then parted. He was obliged to get
back to somewhere near Bethune that night. The next day I was just
starting off on my machine-gun work when an orderly arrived with a
message for me. The Colonel wanted to see me at headquarters. I went
along, and arriving at his house found all the company commanders, the
second in command, and the Adjutant, already assembled there.

"Dirty work ahead," I thought to myself, and went into the Colonel's
room with the others. Enormous maps were produced, and we all stood and
listened.

"We are going to make an attack," started the Colonel, so I saw that my
conjecture wasn't far wrong. He explained the details to us all there,
and pointed out on the maps as many of the geographical features of the
forthcoming "show" as he could, after which he told us that, that very
afternoon, we were all to go on a motor-bus, that would come for us,
down to the allotted site for the "scrap," to have a look at the ground.
This was news, if you like: a thunderbolt in the midst of our rural
serenity. At two o'clock the bus arrived, and we, the chosen initiated
few, rattled off down the main street of the village and away to the
scene of operations. Where it was I won't say (cheers from Censor), but
it took us about an hour to get there. We left the motor-bus well back,
and walked about a couple of miles up roads and communication trenches
until we reached a line of trenches we had never seen before. A
wonderful set of trenches they were, it seemed to us; beautifully built,
not much water about, and nice dug-outs. The Colonel conferred with
several authorities who had the matter in hand, and then, pointing out
the sector in front which affected us, told us all to study it to the
best of our ability. I spent the time with a periscope and a pair of
binoculars drinking in the scene. It's difficult to get a good view of
the intervening ground between opposing lines of trenches in the day
time, when one's only means of doing so is through a periscope. Night is
the time for this job, when you can go in front and walk about. This
ground which we had come to see was completely flat, and one had to put
a periscope pretty high over the parapet to see the sort of thing it
was. It was no place to put your head up to have a look. A bullet went
smack into the Colonel's periscope and knocked it out of his hand.
However, with time and patience, we formed a pretty accurate idea of the
appearance of the country opposite. Behind the German trench was the
remains of a village, a few of the houses of which were up level with
the Boche front line. A great scene of wreckage. Every single house was
broken, and in a crumbling state. This was the place we had to take.
Other regiments were to take other spots on the landscape on either
side, but this particular spot was our objective. I stared long and
earnestly at the wrecks in front and the intervening ground. "About a
two-hundred yard sprint," I thought to myself. We stayed in the trenches
an hour or two, and then all went back to a spot a couple of miles away
and had tea, after which we mounted the motor-bus and drove back home to
our village. We had got something to think about now all right;--the
coming "show" was the feature uppermost in our lives now. Every one keen
to get at it, as we all felt sure we could push the Boches out of that
place when the time came. We, the initiated few, had to keep our
"inside" information to ourselves, and it was supposed to be a dark
mystery to the rest of the battalion. But I imagine that anyone who
didn't guess what the idea was must have been pretty dense. When a
motor-bus comes and takes off a group of officers for the day, and
brings them back at night, one would scarcely imagine that they had been
to a cricket match, or on the annual outing.

Well, the "tumbril," as we called it, arrived each day for nearly a
week, and we drove off gaily to the appointed spot and saturated
ourselves in the characteristics of the land we were shortly to attack.
In the mornings, before we started, I took the machine-gun sections out
into the fields, and by mapping out a similar landscape to the one we
were going to attack, I rehearsed the coming tribulation as far as
possible. My gunners were a pretty efficient lot, and I was sure they
would give a good account of themselves on "der Tag." We practised
bolting across a ploughed field, and coming into action, until we could
do it in record time. My sergeant and senior corporal were both
excellent men.

The whole battalion were now in excellent trim, and ready for anything
that came along. A date had been fixed for the "show," and now, day by
day, we were rapidly approaching it. It was Friday, I remember, when, as
we were all sitting in our billets thinking that we were to leave on
Sunday, a fresh thunderbolt arrived. A message was sent round to us all
to stand-to and be ready to move off that evening. Before the appointed
day! What could be up now? I was full of enthusiasm and curiosity, but
was rather hampered by having been inoculated the day before, and was
feeling a bit quaint in consequence. However, I pulled myself together,
and set about collecting all the machine gunners, guns and accessories.
We said good-bye to the fair ones at the billets, and by about five
o'clock in the evening the whole battalion, transport and all, was lined
up on the main road. Soon we moved off. Why were we going before our
time? Where were we going to? Nobody knew except the Colonel, but it was
not long before we knew as well.

 


CHAPTER XXVIII

WE MARCH FOR YPRES--HALT AT LOCRE--A
BLEAK CAMP AND MEAGRE FARE--SIGNS OF
BATTLE--FIRST VIEW OF YPRES


We marched off in the Bailleul direction, and ere long entered Bailleul.
We didn't stop, but went straight on up the road, out of the town, past
the Asylum with the baths. It was getting dusk now as we tramped along.

"The road to Locre," I muttered to myself, as I saw the direction we had
taken. We were evidently not going to the place we had been rehearsing
for.

"Locre? Ah, yes; and what's beyond Locre?" I pulled out my map as we
went along. "What's on beyond Locre?" I saw it at a glance now, and had
all my suspicions confirmed. The word YPRES stood out in blazing letters
from the map. Ypres it was going to be, sure enough.

"It looks like Ypres," I said, turning to my sergeant, who was silently
trudging along behind me. He came up level with me, and I showed him
the map and the direction we were taking. I was mighty keen to see this
famous spot. Stories of famous fights in that great salient were common
talk amongst us, and had been for a long time. The wonderful defence of
Ypres against the hordes of Germans in the previous October had filled
our lines of trenches with pride and superiority, but no wonderment.
Every one regarded Ypres as a strenuous spot, but every one secretly
wanted to go there and see it for themselves. I felt sure we were now
bound for there, or anyway, somewhere not far off. We tramped along in
the growing darkness, up the winding dusty road to Locre. When we
arrived there it was quite dark. The battalion marched right up into the
sort of village square near the church and halted. It was late now, and
apparently not necessary for us to proceed further that night. We got
orders to get billets for our men. Locre is not a large place, and
fitting a whole battalion in is none too easy an undertaking. I was
standing about a hundred yards down the road leading from the church,
deciding what to do, when I got orders to billet my men in the church. I
marched the section into a field, got my sergeant, and went to see what
could be done in the church. It was a queer sight, this church; a
company of ours had had orders to billet there too, and when I got there
the men were already taking off their equipment and making themselves as
comfortable as possible under the circumstances, in the main body of the
church. The French clergy had for some time granted permission for
billeting there; I found this out the next morning, when I saw a party
of nuns cleaning it up as much as possible after we had left it. The
only part I could see where I could find a rest for my men was the part
where the choir sits. I decided on this for our use, and told the
sergeant to get the men along, and move the chairs away so as to get a
large enough space for them to lie down in and rest.

It was a weird scene, that night in the church. Imagine a very lofty
building, and the only light in the place coming from various bits of
candles stuck about here and there on the backs of the chairs. All was
dark and drear, if you like: a fitting setting for our entry into the
Ypres salient. When I had fixed up my section all right, I left the
church and went to look about for the place I was supposed to sleep in.
It turned out to be a room at the house occupied by the Colonel. I got
in just in time to have a bit of a meal before the servants cleared the
things away to get ready for the early start the next day. I spent that
night in my greatcoat on the stone floor of the room, and not much of a
night at that. We were all up and paraded at six, and ready to move off.
We soon started and trekked off down the road out of Locre towards
Ypres. I noticed a great change in the scenery now. The land was flatter
and altogether more uninteresting than the parts we had come from. The
weather was fine and hot, which made our march harder for us. We were
all strapped up to the eyes with equipment of every description, so that
we fully appreciated the short periodic rests when they came. The road
got less and less attractive as we went on, added to which a horrible
gusty wind was blowing the dust along towards us, too, which made it
worse. It was a most cheerless, barren, arid waste through which we were
now passing. I wondered why the Belgians hadn't given it away long ago,
and thus saved any further dispute on the matter. We were now making for
Vlamertinghe, which is a place about half-way between Locre and Ypres,
and we all felt sure enough now that Ypres was where we were going;
besides, passers-by gave some of us a tip or two, and rumours were
current that there was a bit of a bother on in the salient. Still, there
was nothing told us definitely, and on we went, up the dusty,
uninteresting road. Somewhere about midday we halted alongside an
immense grassless field, on which were innumerable wooden huts of the
simplest and most unattractive construction. The dust whirled and
swirled around them, making the whole place look as uninviting as
possible. It was the rottenest and least encouraging camp I have ever
seen. I've seen a few monstrosities in the camp line in England, and in
France, but this was far and away a champion in repulsion. We halted
opposite this place, as I have said, and in a few moments were all
marched into the central, baked-mud square, in the midst of the huts. I
have since learnt that this camp is no more, so I don't mind mentioning
it. We were now dismissed, whereupon we all collared huts for our men
and ourselves, and sat down to rest.

We had had a very early and scratch sort of a breakfast, so were rather
keen to get at the lunch question. The limbers were the last things to
turn up, being in the rear of the battalion, but when they did the cooks
soon pulled the necessary things out and proceeded to knock up a meal.

I went outside my hut and surveyed the scene whilst they got the lunch
ready. It _was_ a rotten place. The huts hadn't got any sides to them,
but were made by two slopes of wood fixed at the top, and had triangular
ends. There were just a few huts built with sides, but not many. Apart
from the huts the desert contained nothing except men in war-worn, dirty
khaki, and clouds of dust. It reminded me very much of India, as I
remembered it from my childhood days. The land all around this mud plain
was flat and scrubby, with nothing of interest to look at anywhere. But,
yes, there was--just one thing. Away to the north, I could just see the
top of the towers of Ypres.

I wondered how long we were going to stay in this Sahara, and turned
back into the hut again. Two or three of us were resting on a little
scanty straw in that hut, and now, as we guessed that it was about the
time when the cooks would have got the lunch ready, we crossed to
another larger hut, where a long bare wooden table was laid out for us.
With sore eyes and a parched throat I sat down and devoured two chilly
sardines, reposing on a water biscuit, drank about a couple of gallons
of water, and felt better. There wasn't much conversation at that meal;
we were all too busy thinking. Besides, the C.O. was getting messages
all the time, and was immersed in the study of a large map, so we
thought we had better keep quiet.

Our Colonel was a splendid person, as good a one as any battalion could
wish to have. (He's sure to buy a copy of this book after that.) He was
with the regiment all through that 1914-15 winter, and is now a
Brigadier.

We had made all preparations to stay in the huts at that place for the
night, when, at about four o'clock in the afternoon, another message
arrived and was handed to the C.O.

He issued his orders. We were to march off at once. Every one was
delighted, as the place was unattractive, and what's more, now that we
were on the war-path, we wanted to get on with the job, whatever it was.

Now we were on the road once more, and marching on towards Ypres. The
whole brigade was on the road somewhere, some battalions in front of us
and some behind. On we went through the driving dust and dismal scenery,
making, I could clearly see, for Ypres. We ticked off the miles at a
good steady marching pace, and in course of time turned out of our long,
dusty, winding lane on to a wide cobbled main road, leading evidently
into the town of Ypres itself, now about two miles ahead. It was a fine
sight, looking back down the winding column of men. A long line of
sturdy, bronzed men, in dust-covered khaki, tramping over the grey
cobbled road, singing and whistling at intervals; the rattling and
clicking of the various metallic parts of their equipment forming a kind
of low accompaniment to their songs. We halted about a mile out of the
city, and all "fell out" on the side of the road, and sat about on
heaps of stones or on the bank of the ditch at the road-side. It was
easy enough to see now where we were going, and what was up. There was
evidently a severe "scrap" on. Parties of battered, dishevelled looking
men, belonging to a variety of regiments, were now streaming past down
the road--many French-African soldiers amongst them. From these we
learnt that a tremendous attack was in progress, but got no details.
Their stories received corroboration by the fact that we could see many
shells bursting in and around the city of Ypres. These vagrant men were
wounded in a degree, inasmuch as most of them had been undergoing some
prodigious bombardment and were dazed from shell-shock. They cheered us
with the usual exaggerated and harrowing yarns common to such people,
and passed on. This was what we had come here for--to participate in
this business; not very nice, but we were all "for it," anyway. If we
hadn't come here, we would have been attacking at that other place, and
this was miles more interesting. If one has ever participated in an
affair of arms at Ypres, it gives one a sort of honourable trade-mark
for the rest of the war as a member of the accepted successful Matadors
of the Flanders Bull-ring.

We sat about at the side of the road for about half an hour, then got
the order to fall in again. Stiff and weary, I left my heap of stones,
took my place at the head of the section, and prepared for the next act.
On we went again down the cobbled road, crossed a complicated mixture of
ordinary rails and tram-lines, and struck off up a narrow road to the
left, which apparently also ended in the city. It was now evening, the
sky was grey and cloudy. Ypres, only half a mile away, now loomed up
dark and grey against the sky-line. Shells were falling in the city,
with great hollow sounding crashes. We marched on up the road.

 


CHAPTER XXIX

GETTING NEARER----A LUGUBRIOUS PARTY--STILL
NEARER--BLAZING YPRES--ORDERS FOR ATTACK


[Illustration: A]

After about another twenty minutes' march we halted again. Something or
other was going on up the road in front, which prevented our moving. We
stood about in the lane, and watched the shells bursting in the town. We
were able to watch shells bursting closer before we had been there long.
With a screeching whistle a shell shot over our heads and exploded in
the field on our left. This was the signal, apparently, for shrapnel to
start bursting promiscuously about the fields in all directions, which
it did.

Altogether the lane was an unwholesome spot to stand about in. We were
there some time, wondering when one of the bursts of shrapnel would
strike the lane, but none did. Straggling, small groups of Belgian
civilians were now passing down the lane, driven out no doubt from some
cottage or other that until now they had managed to persist in living
in. Mournful little groups would pass, wheeling their total worldly
possessions on a barrow.

Suddenly we were moved on again, and as suddenly halted a few yards
further on. Without a doubt, strenuous operations and complications were
taking place ahead. A few of the officers collected together by a gate
at the side of the lane and had a smoke and a chat. "I wonder how much
longer we're going to stick about here" some one said. "What about going
into that house over there and see if there's a fire?" He indicated a
tumbled down cottage of a fair size, which stood nearly opposite us on
the far side of the lane. It was almost dark by now, and the wind made
it pretty cold work, standing and sitting about in the lane. Four of us
crossed the roadway and entered the yard of the cottage. We knocked at
the door, and asked if we might come in and sit by the fire for a bit.
We asked in French, and found that it was a useless extravagance on our
part, as they only spoke Flemish, and what a terrible language that is!
These were Flemish people--the real goods; we hadn't struck any before.

They seemed to understand the signs we made; at all events they let us
into the place. There was a dairy alongside the house belonging to them,
and in here our men were streaming, one after another, paying a few
coppers for a drink of milk. The woman serving it out with a ladle into
their mess tins was keeping up a flow of comment all the time in
Flemish. Nobody except herself understood a word of what she was saying.
Hardy people, those dwellers in that cottage. Shrapnel was dropping
about here and there in the fields near by, and at any moment might come
into the roof of their cottage, or through the flimsy walls.

We four went inside, and into their main room--the kitchen. It was in
the same old style which we knew so well. A large square, dark, and
dingy room, with one of their popular long stoves sticking out from one
wall. Round this stove, drawn up in a wide crescent formation, was a row
of chairs with high backs. On each chair sat a man or a woman, dressed
in either black or very dark clothes. Nobody spoke, but all were staring
into the stove. I wished, momentarily, I had stayed in the lane. It was
like breaking in on some weird sect--"Stove Worshippers." One wouldn't
have been surprised if, suddenly, one member of the party had removed
the lid of the stove and thrown in a "grey powder," or something of the
sort. This to be followed by flames leaping high into the air, whilst
low-toned monotonous chanting would break out from the assembly. Feast
in honour of their god "Shrapnel," who was "angry." I suppose I
shouldn't make fun of these people though. It was enough to make them
silent and lugubrious, to have all their country and their homes
destroyed. We sat around the stove with them, and offered them
cigarettes. We talked to each other in English; they sat silently
listening and understanding nothing. I am sure they looked upon all
armies and soldiers, irrespective of nationality, as a confounded
nuisance. I am sure they wished we'd go and fight the matter out
somewhere else. And no wonder.

We sat in there for a short time, and stepped out into the road again
just in time to hear the order to advance. We hadn't far to go now. It
was quite dark as we turned into a very large flat field at the back of
Ypres, right close up against the outskirts of the town. Just the field,
I felt sure, that a circus would choose, if visiting that
neighbourhood.

The battalion spread itself out over the field and came to the
conclusion that this was where it would have to stay for the night. It
was all very cold and dark now. We sat about on the great field in our
greatcoats and waited for the field kitchens and rations to arrive. As
we sat there, just at the back of Ypres, we could hear and see the
shells bursting in the city in the darkness. The shelling was getting
worse, fires were breaking out in the deserted town, and bright yellow
flames shot out here and there against the blackened sky. On the arrival
of the field kitchens we all managed to get some tea in our mess tins;
and the rum ration being issued we were a little more fortified against
the cold. We sat for the most part in greatcoats and silence, watching
the shelling of Ypres. Suddenly a huge fire broke out in the centre of
the town. The sky was a whirling and twisting mass of red and yellow
flames, and enormous volumes of black smoke. A truly grand and awful
spectacle. The tall ruins of the Cloth Hall and Cathedral were
alternately silhouetted or brightly illuminated in the yellow glare of
flames. And now it started to rain. Down it came, hard and fast. We
huddled together on the cold field and prepared ourselves to expect
anything that might come along now. Shells and rain were both falling in
the field. I think a few shells, meant for Ypres, had rather overshot
the mark and had come into our field in consequence.

I leant up as one of a tripod of three of us, my face towards the
burning city. The two others were my old pal, the platoon commander at
St. Yvon, and a subaltern of one of the other companies. I sat and
watched the flames licking round the Cloth Hall. I remember asking a
couple of men in front to shift a bit so that I could get a better view.
It poured with rain, and we went sitting on in that horrible field,
wondering what the next move was to be.

At about eleven o'clock, an orderly came along the field with a
mackintosh ground-sheet over his head, and told me the Colonel wished to
see me. "Where is he?" I asked. "In that little cottage place at the far
corner of the field, near the road, sir." I rose up and thus spoilt our
human tripod. "Where are you going 'B.B.'?" asked my St. Yvon friend.
"Colonel's sent for me," I replied. "Well, come back as soon as you
can." I left, and never saw him again. He was killed early the next
morning; one of the best chaps I ever knew.

I went down the field to the cottage at the corner, and, entering, found
all the company commanders, the second in command, the Adjutant and the
Colonel. "We shall attack at 4 a.m. to-morrow," he was saying. This was
the moment at which I got my _Fragment_ idea, "The push, by one who's
been pushed!" "We shall attack at dawn!"

The Colonel went on to explain the plans. We stood around in the
semi-darkness, the only light being a small candle, whose flame was
being blown about by the draught from the broken window.

"We shall move off from here at midnight, or soon after," he concluded,
"and go up the road to St. Julien."

We all dispersed to our various commands. I went and got my sergeant and
section commanders together. I explained the coming operations to them.
Sitting out in the field in the rain, the map on my knees being
occasionally brightly illuminated by the burning city, I looked out the
road to St. Julien.

 


CHAPTER XXX

RAIN AND MUD--A TRYING MARCH--IN THE
THICK OF IT--A WOUNDED OFFICER--HEAVY
SHELLING--I GET MY "QUIETUS!"


At a little after midnight we left the field, marching down the road
which led towards the Yser Canal and the village of St. Jean. Our
transport remained behind in a certain field that had been selected for
the purpose. The whole brigade was on the road, our battalion being the
last in the long column. The road from the field in which we had been
resting to the village of St. Jean passes through the outskirts of
Ypres, and crosses the Yser Canal on its way. I couldn't see the details
as it was a dark night, and the rain was getting worse as time went on.
I knew what had been happening now in the last forty-eight hours, and
what we were going to do. The Germans had launched gas in the war for
the first time, and, as every one knows now, had by this means succeeded
in breaking the line on a wide front to the north of Ypres. The Germans
were directing their second great effort against the Salient.

The second battle of Ypres had begun. We were making for the threatened
spot, and were going to attack them at four o'clock in the morning.

Ypres, at this period, ought to have been seen to get an accurate
realization of what it was like. All other parts of the front faded into
a pleasing memory; so it seemed to me as I marched along. I thought of
our rest at the village, the billets, the Cure, the bright sunny days of
our country life there, and then compared them with this wretched spot
we were in now. A ghastly comparison.

We were marching in pouring rain and darkness down a muddy, mangled
road, shattered poplar trees sticking up in black streaks on either
side. Crash after crash, shells were falling and exploding all around
us, and behind the burning city. The road took a turn. We marched for a
short time parallel to now distant Ypres. Through the charred skeleton
wrecks of houses one caught glimpses of the yellow flames mounting to
the sky. We passed over the Yser Canal, dirty, dark and stagnant,
reflecting the yellow glow of the flames. On our left was a church and
graveyard, both blown to a thousand pieces. Tombstones lying about and
sticking up at odd angles all over the torn-up ground. I guided my
section a little to one side to avoid a dead horse lying across the
road. The noise of shrapnel bursting about us only ceased occasionally,
making way for ghastly, ominous silences. And the rain kept pouring
down.

What a march! As we proceeded, the road got rougher and narrower: debris
of all sorts, and horrible to look upon, lay about on either side. We
halted suddenly, and were allowed to "fall out" for a few minutes.

I and my section had drawn up opposite what had once been an estaminet.
I entered, and told them all to come in and stay there out of the rain.
The roof still had a few tiles left on it, so the place was a little
drier than the road outside. The floor was strewn with broken glass,
chairs, and bottles. I got hold of a three-legged chair, and by
balancing myself against one of the walls, tried to do a bit of a doze.
I was precious near tired out now, from want of sleep and a surfeit of
marching. I told my sergeant to wake me when the order came along, and
then and there slept on that chair for twenty minutes, lulled off by the
shrapnel bursting along the road outside. My sergeant woke me. "We are
going on again, sir!" "Right oh!" I said, and left my three-legged
chair. I shouted to the section to "fall in," and followed on after the
battalion up the road once more. After we had covered another horrible
half-mile we halted again, but this time no houses were near. How it
rained! A perfect deluge. I was wearing a greatcoat, and had all my
equipment strapped on over the top. The men all had macintosh capes. We
were all wet through and through, but nobody bothered a rap about that.
Anyone trying to find a fresh discomfort for us now, that would make us
wince, would have been hard put to it.

People will scarcely credit it, but times like these don't dilute the
tenacity or light-heartedness of our soldiers. You can hear a joke on
these occasions, and hear the laughter at it too.

In the shattered estaminet we had just left, one of the men went behind
the almost unrecognizable bar-counter, and operating an imaginary
handle, asked a comrade, "And what's yours, mate?"

Again we got the order to advance, and on we went. We were now nearing
the village of Wieltj, about two miles from St. Jean, which we had
passed. The ruined church we had seen was at St. Jean.

The road was now perfectly straight, bordered on either side by broken
poplar trees, beyond which large flat fields lay under the mysterious
darkness. As we went on we could see a faint, red glow ahead. This
turned out to be Wieltj. All that was left of it, a smouldering ruin.
Here and there the bodies of dead men lay about the road. At intervals I
could discern the stiffened shapes of corpses in the ditches which
bordered the road. We went through Wieltj without stopping. Passing out
at the other side we proceeded up this awful, shell-torn road, towards a
slight hill, at the base of which we stopped. Now came my final orders.
"Come on at once, follow up the battalion, who, with the brigade, are
about to attack."

"Now we're for it," I said to myself, and gave the order to unlimber the
guns. One limber had been held up some little way back I found, by
getting jammed in a shell-hole in the road. I couldn't wait for it to
come up, so sent my sergeant back with some men to get hold of the guns
and tackle in it, and follow on as soon as they could. I got out the
rest of the things that were there with us and prepared to start on
after the battalion. "I'll go to the left, and you'd better go to the
right," I shouted to my sergeant. "Here, Smith, let's have your rifle,"
I said, turning to my servant. I had decided that he had best stay and
look after the limbers. I seized his rifle, and slipping on a couple of
bandoliers of cartridges, led on up the slight hill, followed by my
section carrying the machine guns. I felt that a rifle was going to be
of more use to me in this business than a revolver, and, anyway, it was
just as well to have both.

It was now just about four o'clock in the morning. A faint light was
creeping into the sky. The rain was abating a bit, thank goodness!

We topped the rise, and rushed on down the road as fast as was possible
under the circumstances. Now we were in it! Bullets were flying through
the air in all directions. Ahead, in the semi-darkness, I could just see
the forms of men running out into the fields on either side of the road
in extended order, and beyond them a continuous heavy crackling of
rifle-fire showed me the main direction of the attack. A few men had
gone down already, and no wonder--the air was thick with bullets. The
machine-gun officer of one of the other regiments in the brigade was
shot right through the head as he went over the brow of the hill. I
found one of his machine-gun sections a short time later, and
appropriated them for our own use. After we had gone down the road for
about two hundred yards I thought that my best plan was to get away over
to the left a bit, as the greatest noise seemed to come from there.
"Come on, you chaps," I shouted, "we'll cross this field, and get to
that hedge over there." We dashed across, intermingled with a crowd of
Highlanders, who were also making to the left. Through a cloud of
bullets, flying like rice at a wedding, we reached the other side of the
field. Only one casualty--one man with a shot in the knee.

Couldn't get a good view of the enemy from the hedge, so I decided to
creep along further to the left still, to a spot I saw on the left front
of a large farm which stood about two hundred yards behind us. The
German machine guns were now busy, and sent sprays of bullets flicking
up the ground all round us. Lying behind a slight fold in the ground we
saw them whisking through the grass, three or four inches over our
heads. We slowly worked our way across to the left, past an old, wide
ditch full of stagnant water, and into a shallow gully beyond. Dawn had
come now, and in the cold grey light I saw our men out in front of me
advancing in short rushes towards a large wood in front. The Germans
were firing star shells into the air in pretty large numbers, why, I
couldn't make out, as there was quite enough light now to see by. I
ordered the section out of the gully, and ran across the open to a bit
of old trench I saw in the field. This was the only suitable spot I
could see for bringing our guns to bear on the enemy, and assist in the
attack. We fixed up a couple of machine guns, and awaited a favourable
opportunity. I could see a lot of Germans running along in front of the
wood towards one end of it. We laid our aim on the wood, which seemed to
me the chief spot to go for. One or two of my men had not managed to get
up to the gun position as yet. They were ammunition carriers, and had
had a pretty hard job with it. I left the guns to run back and hurry
them on. The rifle-fire kept up an incessant rattle the whole time, and
now the German gunners started shelling the farm behind us. Shell after
shell burst beyond, in front of, and on either side of the farm. Having
got up the ammunition, I ran back towards the guns past the farm. In
front of me an officer was hurrying along with a message towards a
trench which was on the left of our new-found gun position. He ran
across the open towards it. When about forty yards from me I saw him
throw up his hands and collapse on the ground. I hurried across to him,
and lifted his head on to my knee. He couldn't speak and was rapidly
turning a deathly pallor. I undid his equipment and the buttons of his
tunic as fast as I could, to find out where he had been shot. Right
through the chest, I saw. The left side of his shirt, near his heart,
was stained deep with blood. A captain in the Canadians, I noticed. The
message he had been carrying lay near him. I didn't know quite what to
do. I turned in the direction of my gun section without disturbing his
head, and called out to them to throw me over a water-bottle. A man
named Mills ran across with one, and took charge of the captain, whilst
I went through his pockets to try and discover his name. I found it in
his pocket-book. His identity disc had apparently been lost.

With the message I ran back to the farm, and, as luck would have it,
came across a colonel in the Canadians. I told him about the captain who
had been carrying the message, and said if there was a stretcher about I
could get him in. All movement in the attack had now ceased, but the
rifle and shell fire was on as strong as ever. My corporal was with the
two guns, and had orders to fire as soon as an opportunity arose, so I
thought my best plan was to see to getting this officer in while there
was a chance. I got hold of another subaltern in the farm, and together
we ran back with a stretcher to the spot where I had left Mills and the
captain. We lifted him on to the stretcher. He seemed a bit better, but
his breathing was very difficult. How I managed to hold up that
stretcher I don't know; I was just verging on complete exhaustion by
this time. I had to take a pause about twenty yards from the farm and
lie flat out on the ground for a moment or two to recuperate
sufficiently to finish the journey. We got him in and put him down in an
outbuilding which had been turned into a temporary dressing station.
Shells were crashing into the roof of the farm and exploding round it in
great profusion. Every minute one heard the swirling rush overhead, the
momentary pause, saw the cloud of red dust, then "Crumph!" That farm was
going to be extinguished, I could plainly see. I went along the edge of
the dried-up moat at the back, towards my guns. I couldn't stand up any
longer. I lay down on the side of the moat for five minutes. Twenty
yards away the shells burst round and in the farm, but I didn't care,
rest was all I wanted. "What about my sergeant and those other guns?" I
thought, as I lay there. I rose, and cut across the open space again to
the two guns.

"You know what to do here, Corporal?" I said. "I am going round the farm
over to the right to see what's happened to the others."

I left him, and went across towards the farm. As I went I heard the
enormous ponderous, gurgling, rotating sound of large shells coming. I
looked to my left. Four columns of black smoke and earth shot up a
hundred feet into the air, not eighty yards away. Then four mighty
reverberating explosions that rent the air. A row of four "Jack
Johnsons" had landed not a hundred yards away, right amongst the lines
of men, lying out firing in extended order. I went on, and had nearly
reached the farm when another four came over and landed fifty yards
further up the field towards us.

"They'll have our guns and section," I thought rapidly, and hurried on
to find out what had become of my sergeant. The shelling of the farm
continued; I ran past it between two explosions and raced along the old
gulley we had first come up. Shells have a way of missing a building,
and getting something else near by. As I was on the sloping bank of the
gully I heard a colossal rushing swish in the air, and then didn't hear
the resultant crash....

All seemed dull and foggy; a sort of silence, worse than all the
shelling, surrounded me. I lay in a filthy stagnant ditch covered with
mud and slime from head to foot. I suddenly started to tremble all over.
I couldn't grasp where I was. I lay and trembled ... I had been blown up
by a shell.

       *       *       *       *       *

I lay there some little time, I imagine, with a most peculiar sensation.
All fear of shells and explosions had left me. I still heard them
dropping about and exploding, but I listened to them and watched them as
calmly as one would watch an apple fall off a tree. I couldn't make
myself out. Was I all right or all wrong? I tried to get up, and then I
knew. The spell was broken. I shook all over, and had to lie still, with
tears pouring down my face.

       *       *       *       *       *

I could see my part in this battle was over.

 


CHAPTER XXXI

SLOWLY RECOVERING--FIELD HOSPITAL--AMBULANCE
TRAIN--BACK IN ENGLAND


How I ever got back I don't know. I remember dragging myself into a
cottage, in the garden of which lay a row of dead men. I remember some
one giving me a glass of water there, and seeing a terribly mutilated
body on the floor being attended to. And, finally, I remember being
helped down the Wieltj road by a man into a field dressing station. Here
I was labelled and sent immediately down to a hospital about four miles
away. Arrived there, I lay out on a bench in a collapsed state, and I
remember a cheery doctor injecting something into my wrist. I then lay
on a stretcher awaiting further transportation. My good servant Smith
somehow discovered my whereabouts, and turned up at this hospital. He
sat beside me and gave me a writing-pad to scribble a note on. I
scrawled a line to my mother to say I had been knocked out, but was
perfectly all right. Smith went back to the battalion, and I lay on the
stretcher, partially asleep. Night came on and I went off into a series
of agonizing dreams. I awoke with a start. I was being lifted up from
the floor on the stretcher. They carried me out. It was bright
moonlight, and looking up I saw the moon, a dazzling white against the
dark blue sky. The stretcher and I were pushed into an ambulance in
which were three other cases beside myself. We were driven off to some
station or other. I stared up at the canvas bottom of the stretcher
above me, trying to realize it all. Presently we reached the train.
Another glimpse of the moon, and I was slid into the ambulance car....

In three days I was back in England at a London hospital--"A fragment
from France."

[Illustration: FINIS]

FROM MUD TO MUFTI

When the war ended in 1918 Bairnsfather was back in England working on a new book
 again for Grant Richards.It followed on were Bullets & Billets left off and covered his
 wide range of travels to many place and adventures during the war finishing with his 
arrival back in England from America in October 1918.The book again as with 
Bullets and Billets was a great success. 


Image
 
FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

BY 
BRUCE BAIRNSFATHER 



PRINTED BY 

GARDEN CITY PRESS 

LETCHWORTH, HERTS 

1919




London : Qrant Richards Ltd 










. DEDICATED TO 
MY MASCOT MOTHER 

who, though way back at home, has helped 

me so much in inspiration through all these 

years of war, and who, in her anxiety, has 

endured more than I have. 












PREFACE 

I WRITE this Preface after the war. Those 
four years of horror are over, and I doubt 
whether anyone is happier than myself to 
think so. 

I look back on a sea of adventures and 
episodes, painful and otherwise. I think of 
pals I have lost, and friends I have gained. 
In Bullets and Billets I have recounted my 
story in the mud, and here my story after I 
had left the mud for Tabs and Travelling. 







CONTENTS 

PAGE 

CHAPTER I 13 

Begins in Hospital A Surprise Visit Find 
myself in request. 

CHAPTER II 19 

The Medical Board Mystery Awaiting the 
Verdict Light Duty. 

CHAPTER III - - 24 

The Dep6t Barracks and Botany Settling 
in. 

CHAPTER IV - - 31 

Take over a Company Old Soldiers' Tricks 
Company Pay-Day. 

CHAPTER V 41 

Barrack routine A Disciplinarian Major 
Ordered to Salisbury Plain. 

CHAPTER VI - - 46 

Handing over Arrival at Divisional H.Q. 
I dig myself in. 

CHAPTER VII 52 

Those Field Days Who's Won ? A keen 
Division. 

CHAPTER VIII - - - - 59 

My Soldier Servant Blobbs' Love Affair. 

CHAPTER IX - 65 

The Censor defied Machine-gun training Ru- 
mours of War Blobbs gets into trouble. 

CHAPTER X 73 

The Final polish A one-horse Township In 
" the Island " again Detailed for Aldershot 
The Old Guard. 

7 



8 CONTENTS 

PAGE 

CHAPTER XI - - 83 

Those Autograph Albums Fits A Wire from 
War Office New Appointment. 

CHAPTER XII - - 90 

Overseas once more Our ever-growing Army 
Trains and tribulations My destination at 
last. 

CHAPTER XIII - - 98 

The Last Lap A peaceful Scene Meet my 
C.O. A French bed. 

CHAPTER XIV - ----- 107 

My new job A typical day's programme 
How " Fragments " are evolved. 

CHAPTER XV - - 116 

Diversions in Amiens H6tel du Rhin An 
extended Inspection tour Birthplace of " Old 
Bill." 

CHAPTER XVI - - - 123 

The old Fighting Grounds Something wrong 
Hospital in Bailleul Home Sickness. 

CHAPTER XVII - - - - 131 

Evacuated to Base Monastic seclusion Re- 
turn to London Convalescence. 

CHAPTER XVIII - - 139 

Sick Leave Summoned to War Office 
Amazing Interview A unique Job. 

CHAPTER XIX - - 146 

Off to French Front Loneliness in Paris 
Folies Bergeres. 

CHAPTER XX - - 152 

Where Wire meets Sea Cracked Coxyde 
Cordial Reception Chilly quarters. 

CHAPTER XXI - - 161 

Going the Rounds Mud and Monotony 
Verdun Heroes Thoughts on Shelling. 



CONTENTS 9 

PAGE 

CHAPTER XXII - - 169 

Methods of Work A wonderful Tunnel An 
" airy " bit of Line Back to Coxyde. 

CHAPTER XXIII - 177 

An Invitation to Dinner In Paris again Off 
to Verdun Bar-le-duc. 

CHAPTER XXIV - - - -182 

Verdun Underground Halls Death and De- 
vastation. 

CHAPTER XXV - - 191 

Supplying " copy " A Crowded Existence 
Ordered to Italy. 

CHAPTER XXVI - 197 

En route to Milan Hotel brigands Spaghetti 
On to Udine. 

CHAPTER XXVII 204 

Arrival on Carso Bersaglieri A heated War 
Tranquil Udine. 

CHAPTER XXVIII - 212 

Monfalcone Camouflaged Roads A peep at 
Trieste. 

CHAPTER XXIX 219 

An International Dinner Off to th Mountains 
My Ducal Guide A precipitous Motor 
drive. 

CHAPTER XXX 226 

More Mountains Ordeal by Mule The Alpini. 

CHAPTER XXXI - - - - - 236 

Rome Return to London The Better 'Ole 
A Request from America. 

CHAPTER XXXII - - 240 

Start for American Front Common-sense 
Methods Neufchateau A Cordial Welcome. 



10 CONTENTS 



PAGB 



CHAPTER XXXIII - - 248 

A primitive " Hotel "-Yanks in Training 
Visit to Marine H.Q. Keenness and Efficiency. 

CHAPTER XXXIV - - 257 

Visits to Shelled Areas Salvation Army Can- 
teen A Brewery Billet An Omen. 

CHAPTER XXXV - - 269 

En route to England An Unexpected Meeting. 

CHAPTER XXXVI - - - 273 

Start for America Held up A devious 
Course New York Liberty Loan Speech- 
making Go sick Start for Home. 

CHAPTER XXXVII - 4 292 

England Armistice End. 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



Les Joyeaux - - Frontispiece 



TO FACE PAGE 



Nao!! I ain't pinched yer paper - - 17 

Memories of Rouen - 32 

By Means of a Turkish Bath - 49 

I don't think I'll dress for dinner - 64 

A sharp Rise in Tin - 81 

Spinnin' a Web ? - - 96 

A Hopeless Dawn - - 1 13 

Lookout, Bill! - 128 

A Prophecy - 145 

In the Next War - 160 

The Sort of Thing at the Base - 177 

The Spahi - 192 

A Memory of the Yser - - 209 

There's 'eaps of ice 'round 'ere - 224 

Getting the Italian Victoria Cross - 241 

Chateau-Thierry - - 256 

The Man Who Came 3,000 Miles - - 260 

The Sort of Man I Dislike intensely - 273 
If They had Electrified the Barbed Wire - - 288 



ii 



CHAPTER I 

BEGINS IN HOSPITAL A SURPRISE VISIT FIND 
MYSELF IN REQUEST 

THOSE who have endured Bullets and Billets 
and have possessed sufficient mental control 
and iron determination to have finished the 
last chapter, will remember that, subse- 
quently to being wafted out of the second 
battle of Ypres by a " Johnson," I was in 
due course deposited in a London hospital. 
This was a large building, one of the finest 
hospitals in London, I should say. One of 
those Olympic palaces with endless stone 
corridors, lifts, rice puddings and temperature 
charts. 

But what a harbour of refuge it seemed! 
I really think it is quite worth while going 
through an offensive in order to get that 
marvellous feeling of rest, security, and the 
good will of human beings which comes 
slowly over you on admission to one of our 
British hospitals. After months of satura- 
tion in all the excessively masculine and 

13 



14 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

harsh ways of war, to recline in a comfort- 
able bed and watch a nurse moving towards 
you across a carpet, with nothing more 
dangerous than a thermometer or a tonic, 
one feels that the world is a nice, kind 
thing after all. Those marvellous hospitals ! 
Day after day, week after week, month 
after month, thousands of new cases come 
in and yet the staff turn on an enthusiastic 
and cheery welcome each time with unfailing 
regularity. One feels that one is the first 
and only case with which they have had to 
do. It's the same in all our hospitals, and 
I've had experience of one or two. 

I was pretty rotten for some little time, 
and had to put up with those well-known 
long and weary days in bed. Days when 
you look forward to the doctor's visit on his 
rounds, after which you spend the rest of 
the time watching the daylight fading into 
the evening, and then wait for the night 
nurse to come and take that confounded 
temperature of yours again prior to wishing 
you good night. During these days my mind 
seemed to be going all through the war again, 
from the day I began. All the varied scenes 
and episodes I had been in, in which I had 



BEGINS IN HOSPITAL 



15 



taken part, culminating in that big bother 

at Ypres ; all these thoughts went surging 

through my mind, 

tumbling and tossing 

about in fantastic 

profusion. I rushed 

into the salient and 

fired machine-guns /y, 

into writhing, hate- / V 

ful masses of Boches ] 

about twice nightly 

in my dreams. 




Struth 



I think everyone who gets " knocked 
out " knows this sensation of " fighting one's 
battles over again." 

It's just like one of those long perforated 
paper rolls used in pianolas : you have the 
tune first, re-wind, and then have it all over 
again. 

I wasn't allowed to see "strangers" for 
some time ; only my mother was allowed to 
be with me, and she read to me and brought 
me things. 

At last came the time when I was pro- 
nounced " distinctly better." It was no 
longer necessary to have that Y-shaped tube 
thing of the doctors, groping its way through 



16 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

my pyjama jacket to listen to my heart. 
Everything seemed brighter, and I was 
immersed in one enormous, enthusiastic 
desire to go out and see the world again. 
Not a sand-bag, shell, and corrugated iron 
world, but to go out and roam at ease 'midst 
all the soft and comfortable things of peace 
and security. At the front one feels it's 
one's business not to live, but to die, and 
here I was, after an intervening mystical 
period of repairs in a hospital, entitled to 
go forth and place a greater importance on 
living than dying. Result : a vast sparkling 
joy in life, and all the things that go with it, 

But one's ideas about recovery are always 
in advance of the hospital's views on the same 
subject. I had to remain there, in spite of 
my daily protest : "I'm all right now, doctor." 

At this time, as I mentioned in Bullets and 
Billets, I had done only a few sketches. The 
first Fragments had gone in and been ac- 
cepted. My Ypres affair and subsequent 
hospital had temporarily knocked out draw- 
ing desires, but now, as I revived, a torrent 
of ideas came pouring into my head, and I 
started off again. My mother brought me a 
sketch-book, and in it I weaved a series of 




! ! I AIN'T PINCHED YKR BLINKIN' PAPER; AND NEXT TIME TAKE 

YER ! AT OFF WHEN YE COME INTO MY 'OUSE." 



A SURPRISE VISIT 17 

rough drawings depicting various scenes, 
painful at the time, yet humorous to look 
back on ; incidents, in fact, of the last few 
months. Yet the continuance of Fragments 
from France was not for a moment in my 
mind. The wealth resulting on my first few 
drawings was perhaps not such as would 
create a wild desire to " send up " more. 

But now a certain day arrived. I was 
beginning to be allowed to see people, and 
one morning I was told that a gentleman had 
called to see me. He sent up his card, with 
the announcement that he was a representa- 
tive of the Bystander. I was glad I knew 
this, as his " make-up " was " an under- 
taker " to the life, and I should have un- 
doubtedly thought that the doctor had been 
lying about my recovery. A young man of 
about thirty summers (as the novelists say) 
entered the room. He placed his funereal 
bowler and umbrella on a table and advanced 
to my bed. I shot out a tattooed arm from 
under the red blanket, and shook hands. 

The Bystander presented its compliments 
and hoped I was better. After which my 
visitor informed me that the Bystander had 
had applications for the originals of the 



18 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

drawings I had so far sent up, and also com- 
plimentary letters. Finally, the Bystander 
would be pleased to see any other drawings 
I might do. 

I pointed out that I was, at that moment, 
closed for structural alterations, but on re- 
opening would see what I could manage. 

The mournful one left. I recoiled into my 
red blanket and grinned into the pillow. I 
then sat up and grinned at the room, at my 
mother, at the bunch of grapes, and the 
temperature chart. 

" Well I'm d d! Fancy them wanting 

some more drawings! " 

A great enthusiasm got hold of me. I 
should have wanted a mental tennis racquet 
to fence off the ideas which hurtled into my 
mind. 

" Just wait till I get out of here," I said 
to myself. 

And in the next few days I got out of 
there, and went home to convalesce and 
think. 



CHAPTER II 

THE MEDICAL BOARD MYSTERY AWAITING THE 
VERDICT LIGHT DUTY 

MY home being in the country, a restful 
recovery was aided in every way. I pro- 
gressed from day to day, and rapidly sailed 
along in the direction of one of those 
mysterious and problematic institutions a 
Medical Board. 

The London hospital had given me sick 
leave, marking its termination with a com- 
pulsory visit to the above-mentioned Medical 
Board. 

Now a Medical Board is a curious institu- 
tion. For very good reasons, no doubt, it 
has the following peculiarities. You never 
know where it's going to be held, or when, 
until a few hours before it comes oft. Say 
you have two months' sick leave ; well, you 
get your notice to attend the Medical Board, 
at the last place you have thought of, on the 
last day of that leave. A wire arrives giving 
time and place in such a way as to leave you 
a mere wisp of a chance for catching the only 
train that day to the appointed spot. My 

19 



20 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

board was in Birmingham. I had for some 
days had my money on Salisbury or War- 
wick, but just as in the three-card-trick, I 
was " wrong again." 

The Birmingham Medical Board was held 
in an enormous impregnable building. With 
a few others I awaited my turn in a vast 
stone corridor. A row of massive, polished 
doors faced us. On these are the various 
titles of the different medical and temporary 
owners. One by one my companions dis- 
appeared through one of these apertures. I 
felt like Ulysses as he watched the Cyclops 
daily reducing the number of his com- 
panions. 

At last your turn comes. A different 
door opens to the one youVe had y our eye 
on, and an hilarious combatant who has just 
got another month's sick leave is ejected. 
Behind him you see the Cyclops a medical 
major generally, who barks at you from be- 
hind the mahogany to come in. 

Inside you stand before an immense table 
covered with papers. Behind the table sit 
two of the Board. The third member (there 
is generally a third) seems to have a sort of 
roving commission lurking by the window, 



THE MEDICAL BOARD MYSTERY 21 

or standing by the fire, ready, I suppose*, to 
do anything from chucking you out to calling 
someone else in. 

You stand before the table. Nobody 
speaks, but the heaviest member of the 
Board looks through a folio of papers. This 
folio comprises your history. The Board 
read it to themselves, and mutter to them- 
selves ; then with an air of suspicion, as if 
they didn't believe for a moment that there 
had ever been anything the matter with you, 
one of them tells you to take off your coat. 

(Business with Sam Browne and tunic.) 

You now shyly approach them from the 
row of clothes hooks, where you have hung 
your trappings, minus dignity and rank, 
which, of course, you have left on the sleeves 
of your tunic. 

They've got you now, and they know it. 

They ask you how you feel. You are 
mesmerized into saying cheerfully, " Quite 
all right." 

One of them produces that Y-shaped 
silver tube thing, and fitting it to his ears he 
insinuates the loose end into the opening of 
your khaki shirt, 

A moment or two of this, then the Board 



22 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

exchange mystic words, and finally start 
writing on blue paper. One of them looks 
up and says, " That will do, you can put your 
coat on." You retire to the clothes rack 
like an artist's model and put your tunic on 
again. 

The Board, suddenly : " Two months' 
light duty ! " 

It's over! You know your fate, and to 
creep from the room is all that remains to be 
done. I left the room with as much military 
demeanour and nonchalance as I could 
summon, but on arriving out in the stone 
corridor I found that that flapping noise I 
heard behind me came from my braces, which 
I had omitted to put over my shoulders 
before replacing my tunic. 

It just shows how nerves can bring about 
one's undoing. I regained the entrance hall 
and thence passed out into the open air. 

" Two months' light duty ! " Well, that 
meant a return to my regiment's reserve 
depot. I hadn't been there since the start 
of the war, and now I was going back after 
many months of wanderings, trials and 
adventures. I was keen and interested at 
the thought of going. Those far-away days 



LIGHT DUTY 23 

at the beginning of the war seemed weird, 
romantic memories. Days when we had 
marched around and drilled and played ; 
each day awaiting the command which we 
all longed for the command to be sent to 
the front! 

I had left for the war, a second-lieuten- 
ant, from a bell-tent in a sodden field. I was 
now returning a captain, with six months' 
war behind me. The second lap of my war 
race was beginning. 



CHAPTER III 

THE DEPOT BARRACKS AND BOTANY SETTLING 

IN 

THE Isle of Wight is my regimental depot, 
and very nice too, you might think; but you 
must not confuse the war-time Isle of Wight 
with the peace-time version. White flannels, 
yachts, and romantic hotel life, punctuated 
by regattas, were all sent West when the war 
began. Now, you have a mighty armed 
camp ; one congealed mass of khaki. You 
can't escape ; the island is quite small, so 
you must cheerfully resign yourself to living 
under the full force of British militarism. 
It had all changed immensely when I re- 
turned this time. The old, primitive collec- 
tion of bell-tents, whence I had sprung, had 
disappeared, and my battalion was now 
housed in red-brick grandeur. There are 
large and spacious barracks at the depot, 
and latterly a myriad of supplementary huts. 
All this change was distasteful to me. No 
doubt things were more comfortable and all 
that, but I missed the old, haphazard, primi- 
tive tents in the sodden field. Things had 

24 



THE DEPOT 25 

become more businesslike and definite. The 
buccaneering glamour had gone. Well, I 
returned to " the Island " and reported 
myself to the colonel. Reporting yourself 
to anyone means that you've got to find 
him first. Not always an easy matter at 
large regimental depots. An old soldier, 
however, gets a fev; elementary rules into 
his head for this job. 

If you are looking for colonels, try the 
orderly room first. If you are looking for 
second-lieutenants, try the ante-roorn. If 
you are looking for captains, have a look at 
the leave book before taking any further 
trouble. 

I went across the enormous barrack 
square that gravel desert which seems 
essential to military incubation and entered 
the orderly room. There I found the colonel, 
the adjutant, and a host of minor stars. 
They had had notice that I was returning, 
so had plenty to say when I turned up. 

" Glad to see you back again," said the 
colonel ; " hope you're better." 

I have known this colonel for a long time, 
as I was in the same battalion with him be- 
fore the war on militia training. He and the 



26 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



adjutant had evidently settled my fate long 
before I got there, for I was at once posted 
to a company and given all instructions. 

I left the orderly room and set about 
looking for quarters. I found the quarter- 
master, and also found that there was a 

fearful rush on 
quarters. The pros- 
pect of no quarters 
didn't in the least 
disturb me, and 
never more in this 
life will disturb me. 
To one who is 
thoroughly versed 
in rolling oneself up 
in a mackintosh 
sheet in a clay-hole 
in Belgium, " no 
quarters " conveys 

nothing disagreeable. Leaning against one 
of the barrack blocks in a greatcoat for the 
night is good enough for me. A week in a 
greatcoat under Westminster bridge is better 
than one night in some trenches I have known. 
Since I had left the island to go to war the 
military outfit there had grown enormously. 




THE DEPOT 27 

The number of officers was treble what it 
used to be. All the large officers' buildings 
were full up. I got hold of a hut that night, 
and kept a greedy, jealous eye on a certain 
upper chamber in the main block of buildings. 
The owner, a captain, was about to leave for 
the front, so they said. I met him in mess 
frequently, and took an immense interest in 
his departure. He had " been out " before, 
but had now finished his light duty and was 
waiting for the word to go out again. One 
day he went, and I got his room. 

I know of nothing, with the exception of a 
base camp, quite as distressingly plain and 
uninteresting as the average barrack quarters : 
this room I had got was the plainest of plain 
cubes. It had the barest necessities in the 
way of furniture, a large plain window, no 
blind, no carpet, and a small wooden board 
hanging up on which was printed a list of 
the meagre articles which had been supplied 
by the quartermaster's stores. I don't 
mean to say this was a unique room. All 
barrack rooms are the same. After all, why 
should they be different ? They are only 
meant as a case to contain you at night, to 
keep you safely till the next day, when the 



28 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

adjutant gets you in his grip again from 
about 6 a.m. onwards. 

You mustn't look for domestic pleasures 
in an army. You are one of a vast horde of 
trained gladiators. You are only alive by 
an accident. The proper use for a soldier is 
putting him on to shooting, clubbing or 
sticking someone else who happens to get 
in the way of his country's welfare. Unless 
he is in one of these attitudes he is wasting 
the country's money. A certain amount of 
time is, of course, allowed for perfecting 
these arts. Anyway, bothering about such 
things as window blinds, carpet on the floor, 
etc., is sheer froth. This necessary simplicity 
and Spartan atmosphere doesn't end with 
your room. In fact you'll soon find out that 
this forbidding cube is about the best place 
in the whole barracks. Your window looks 
out on to about six acres of gravel. Round 
this barren waste are ranged a series of oblong 
red-brick blocks like so many workhouses. 
It is here that the soldiers are kept. Behind 
these outrageously ugly buildings are others 
nearly as bad, but not quite. They comprise 
a variety of offices and stores. The chances 
of the owners of living there longer than 



BARRACKS AND BOTANY 29 

an ordinary soldier puts in generally lead 
them into such anti-military acts as growing 
a geranium in an empty ammunition box in 
the window, or training a bit of something 
up the wall. Three sides of the square have 
to put up with what I have described above, 
but on the fourth side you come to the piece 
de resistance i.e., the officers' mess. 

It is just like the other huge blocks in 
shape but has a few extra adornments stuck 
on the front. You generally have to go up 
some steps to the entrance hall. Some 
garden-beds are under the windows. Perhaps 
some tender-looking pansy faces gaze out 
from amongst a geranium or two what a 
mockery! Pansy faces and geraniums for a 
soldier! His job is gravel squares, rations, 
feet inspections, and shooting or getting shot. 
Away with all this sentimental pansy busi- 
ness. 

The two main component parts of the 
officers' mess are : the ante-room and the 
mess room. They are both plain, but might 
be worse. I'll take the ante-room first. It 
is very large and is furnished mainly with 
leather chairs and divans, tables for matches 
and ash-trays, and tables for papers. The 



30 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

wall decorations nearly always consist of one 
or two portraits of Royalty or famous 
generals, an engraving of Wellington meet- 
ing Bliicher, and the intervening spaces are 
filled up with subscription lists for things 
you haven't either the time or the inclination 
to take advantage of. Now the mess-room : 
empty, except for several long tables and a 
sufficient number of chairs to accommodate 
the surging mass of officers which debouches 
into the room three times daily. 

This is a barracks, and this was where I 
now had to put in two months' "light duty." 

When you are in a precarious shell-hole, 
with shrapnel squibbing overhead at 4 a.m. 
in France, you look back on barracks as one 
of the bright spots of life. When you get 
back to those barracks, and have had a 
week of them, you'd pay quite a handsome 
sum of money to be miraculously transported 
back to the shell-hole. Anyhow, that's how 
I felt after the first week of two months' 
light duty. 



CHAPTER IV 

TAKE OVER A COMPANY OLD SOLDIERS' TRICKS 
COMPANY PAY-DAY 

BEING on light duty, my first job was to be 
put on to a company which also went in for 
light duty. A couple of companies were kept 
there in those days, which were entirely com- 
posed of men who had been out to the war, 
but who, having been either wounded or 
temporarily invalided, had gravitated back 
to the depot. 

I was posted to one of these companies, 
and was now, therefore, responsible for its 
entire welfare. There were several men 
there who had been with me in France ; men 
who had ben through the winter in the 
trenches, and who, at varying dates, had 
been wounded and had left the front in 
consequence. The whole company was a 
collection of " has beens." This company 
of mine (I'll call it X company) was not 
remarkable for a thirst for barrack-life work. 
It was astonishing how bad those old wounds 

31 



82 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

became on the day that the route march 
came round. But how could you blame 
them ? They had all had a fearful time in 
France, and really did deserve a bit of a 
slack. To get them completely fit again was 
the main point, and this with the minimum 
amount of toil to them. I confess I am 
leniently inclined to these people. I think 
others who have " been out " and " had 
some " feel the same. But at that period 
there were a good many in authority who had 
not been to France, and who consequently 
had little sympathy for easy work. 

Everyone, now, has " been out," but the 
time I write about is late 1915. Those 
veterans I had in my company were the most 
work- evading group that ever existed, yet 
if they had been ordered out to an attack 
they would have sailed into it with the good 
old original " Battle of Mons " spirit, or held 
any line till all was blue. I love those old 
work- evading, tricky, self-contained slackers 
old soldiers ! They are the 'cutest set of 
old rogues imaginable, yet with it all there 
is such a humorous, childlike simplicity. 

They can size up their officers better than 
any Sherlock Holmes. I'll guarantee that 




MEMORIES OF ROUEN. 



OLD SOLDIERS' TRICKS 



33 



an " old soldier " will know to a nicety how 
dirty he can keep his buttons without being 
hauled up by his new officer after doing one 
parade under him. An " old soldier " will 
pinch a tunic from a man in another company 
because he has pawned his own, and come on 
parade with it, entirely to deceive you, tem- 
porarily. If you were lying wounded in the 
middle of 
a barrage, 
that same 
man would 
come and 
pull you 
out. 

And good 
"old Bill" 
belongs to 
these lova- 
ble humor- 
ists. Total 
Outlook: As 

little work as possible. Total Ability: Fight 
like hell, and can't be beaten. 

Many is the time I have come across their 
quaint and cunning tricks amongst them- 
selves, or directed against me ; and many a 

c 




34 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

time I have had to go off behind some huts 
to laugh it out to myself. 

Company work is all right, but company 
upkeep is another matter. 

This company of mine was about two 
hundred strong, and when I " took over " I 
was, of course, immediately put in charge of 
all the documents and books which appertain 
to the looking after of a company. 

Now this is where I am no good whatever. 
I do not think that I shall ever live to see a 
day when I can say I understand that back- 
bone of the army, " The Pay and Mess Book." 

It is only one of a set of books necessary 
to company upkeep, but it has an atmosphere 
all its own. It consists simply in a statement 
of what a soldier ought to get, and what he 
does get, and I think you subtract one from 
the other (I'm not quite certain). Sounds 
simple ; but it's only in about one case in a 
million that a soldier does get exactly what 
he is theoretically entitled to. He has either 
borrowed some in advance, been fined, or has 
had some compulsorily deducted at the request 
of a turbulent wife. This makes the interior 
of the pay and mess book a treatise on 
mathematics to me. If you are a halfpenny 



COMPANY PAY-DAY 35 

out at the end of the week, you spend an 
afternoon with your quartermaster- sergeant 
trying to find it. You would willingly pay 
the halfpenny yourself and call it square, but 
that doesn't do at all. Throws the whole 
thing out. At about 4.30 p.m., when all 
signs of troops have melted away, everyone 
has gone to play, the sun is shining outside 
and distant laughter comes from the football 
field, the quartermaster-sergeant looks up 
from the pay and mess book, and turning to 
you says, " I've found it, sir! ' : 

He points a perspiring finger at a pencilled 
halfpenny in one of the columns, and explains 
that there is a halfpenny due back from Mrs. 
Dubbs, the washerwoman, on behalf of 
Private Stickleback's shirt which ought to 
have gone to the wash but didn't. Relief! 
The pay and mess book is now temporarily 
correct and can be put away only tem- 
porarily though. It is going to come out 
again next time you " pay out." 

This " paying out " comes once a week. 
X company got paid on a Friday. Barring 
the part where you have to carry a couple of 
sacks of assorted coins up from the bank to 
do it with, it's a comparatively easy job. 



86 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

This is how the whole operation goes : 
Friday comes. There's going to be no parade 
in the afternoon because it's pay day, and 
after attending battalion orders at 2 p.m. in 
the orderly room, you are due to go to your 
sergeant-major's hut and pay your company 
out. 

In the morning, whilst you are drilling 
your company, inspecting their huts, etc., 
you have sent one of your subalterns down 
to the bank, wherever it may be, with a 
cheque for the amount required. This 
officer goes to the bank, gets the money, and 
then tries to return with it. If he is in good 
health and hasn't any heart trouble he will 
probably turn up with the sack of half- 
crowns, shillings and sixpences before lunch, 
and have them ready for you. About a 
hundred and fifty pounds' worth of nothing 
larger than a half-crown, is a rotten thing 
either to walk or bicycle with. 

Orders are over, and paying out time has 
arrived. You and the subaltern who is going 
to help you go to the sergeant-major's hut. 
He is there ready for you, likewise your 
company-quartermaster-sergeant, who has 
covered a table with a G.S. blanket and has 



COMPANY PAY-DAY 37 

produced that bogey the pay and mess 
book and has laid it on the table. You, the 
company commander, now sit at the table, 
and your subaltern shoots out all the money 
in front of you and starts making neat little 
piles of half-crowns, shillings and sixpences. 
The quartermaster-sergeant sits at your 
side, ready to interpret the mathematical 
enigmas in the pay and mess book. The 
quartermaster- sergeant, by the way, knows 
everything there is to know about company 
upkeep, book-keeping and everything else. 
To me he stands out like a human lighthouse 
in a sea of trouble. 

The company is now surging about outside 
the hut, like hens waiting to be fed. Some 
of the bolder ones put their heads round the 
corner of the door and let their eyes feast 
on the dazzling array of half-crowns. They 
are frightened off by the sergeant-major, 
who has now taken complete charge of the 
scene. 

He turns to you and says : " Are you 
ready, sir ? " You hastily review the piles of 
wealth and murmur, "Are you ready, quar- 
termaster-sergeant ? " 

He murmurs, " Quite ready, sir." 



38 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

You then suddenly remember that you 
must get two witnesses to the " paying out." 
These are hurriedly obtained, after which 
you say, in a loud, truculent voice : 

" Carry on, sergeant-major." 

You've started ; paying out has begun. 

The quartermaster- sergeant reads out the 
names. He does it like this : " Eighty-four 
ninety-eight Blobbs ! " (8498 Blobbs). 

A face of avarice is framed in the doorway, 
salutes and comes forward. Quartermaster- 
sergeant murmurs to you, " shilling, sir." 

You hand a shilling to Mr. Blobbs, who 
takes it, forgets to salute, makes a left-about 
turn, and walks away ; but is immediately 
stopped by the sergeant-major at the door, 
who makes him go all through the motions of 
taking a shilling on pay-day again this 
time correctly which is : salute, take 
money, salute, right-about turn, and exit. 

Private Blobbs goes out and darts off 
amongst the huts to get into some lonely 
corner where he can figure out how much 
amusement and worldly benefit can be 
derived from that shilling. He should have 
had more, only he is being fined for having 
three days before slit a mattress from end to 



COMPANY PAY-DAY 39 

end with his bayonet, in an outburst of 
untimely jocularity. 

Quartermaster- sergeant again : 

" Forty-six eighty-three Perkins ! " (Turn- 
ing to you.) " Six shillings, sir." 

You look up to see who this model of 
virtue may be who is entitled to all his pay, 
and you hand him six shillings with a thrill 
of admiration. He salutes and departs. 

Quartermaster- sergeant again : 

" Thirty-two sixty-four Smith ! " 

A freckled giant shoots in at the door. 

Sergeant-major is suspicious. ' What's 
your number ? " 

Freckled giant : " Twenty-nine thirty-five 
Smith." 

Sergeant - maj or, quartermaster - sergeant 
and company commander (together, petu- 
lantly) : " Wrong number ! ! It's thirty- 
two sixty-four Smith we want ! ' : 

The real Smith appears, and gets his 
money, and so the job goes on. 

Paying out X company used to take me 
about an hour and a half. 

Paying is easy enough, but at the end you 
have to " balance the books " and " enter 
things up." This, as I said before, may lead 



40 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



to anything. In my case it generally led to 
another couple of hours grappling with 
figures. I think this must have been the 
fate of anyone who had X company under 
his care. 




CHAPTER V 

BARRACK ROUTINE A DISCIPLINARIAN MAJOR 
ORDERED TO SALISBURY PLAIN 

LIFE at the front and life in one of these 
enormous English depots are two very differ- 
ent things. And so they should be. In the 
island, just as at all the other home depots 
for training reserves and recruits, the work 
consists of nothing but training. Other side 
lines which go on, such as " Commanding 
Officer's orders," " pay day," " kit inspec- 
tions," etc., are all necessary accessories to 
the one great important feature which is 
tirelessly being carried out, and that is pro- 
viding a ceaseless flow of efficient men for 
our great armies in the field. When at a 
depot, you are regarded as an amateur 
learning the art. When in France, you are 
there as a professional. It is, therefore, easy 
to see that the mode of life and work must be 
very different in the two places. I must say 
I prefer the front. I think everybody does. 
There is something very adventurously attrac- 
tive about being in a real war. There are 

4 1 



42 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

times, though, when I admit frankly that I 
have thought the adventurous side a bit 
overdone. Being sprayed with machine-gun 
bullets whilst you are lying in an insufficient 
fold in the ground, at dawn in a thin drizzle, 
throws up the life of a bank clerk in a deli- 
cious bas-relief of security ! 

As time went on, and my light duty was 
waning, I was shifted to a more arduous 
company. I was now much better, but far 
from quite right. Anyhow, I was better, and 
was now on quite a different line in com- 
panies. This time I was posted to a recruit 
company, full of activity and ambition. I 
was a company commander, but two com- 
panies were clubbed together and the whole 
outfit was under a higher command that of 
a major. Some major too! one of the real 
old chutney variety ; the old British Army 
epitomized. One felt something like a Zulu 
must have felt at a witch hunt, when the 
devil doctors " smell you out " to be thrown 
to the crocodiles on one of his parades. I 
don't know who was the most frightened, 
my company or myself. (I think I was.) 
Discipline was, and is, his motto, and quite 
right, too. There's nothing like it for winning 



A DISCIPLINARIAN MAJOR 43 

wars ; but it's damned uncomfortable when 
you are on parade. 

If that major thought you a bit shaky 
about company drill, out you'd come ; and 
there, standing in the middle of the square, 
you'd have a good chance of improving 
yourself. And moving companies about a 
square is no easy matter, as all who have 
tried will know. It's easy enough to start 
them moving, but to move 'em where you 
want to, and get them back where you want 
to, " aye, there's the rub." 

You stand about the centre of the gravel 
desert and with one mighty lung-tearing 
shout you order the company to move. 
Before you can think of the next command 
to get them back again, and before you have 
recovered from the first exhausting vocal 
outburst, the company is " marking time " 
against the barrack wall, as they can't march 
through it. " Bairnsfather ! you must give 
your commands quicker and louder." Blush, 
and try again. 

In the evenings, when all this strafing was 
over, I and a few pals went off down in the 
town about a mile and a half away and played 
about till time for mess. At week-ends we 



44 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

progressed further and perhaps went over 
to Cowes, Ryde, or Ventnor. So the time 
went on. I was slowly getting through my 
light duty, and the question was now looming 
up, " What next, when this is finished ? ' : 

In the ordinary course of events I should 
be put on the list of those ready to return to 
France again, but, of course, date uncertain. 

Anyway, the prospect of nearing the end 
of my time at the island was exciting. The 
idea of something new happening, of some 
new move in existence, always cheers when 
one's bored. I was bored. There's a very 
bottled-up sensation in the Isle of Wight, 
after you have been there some time. It's 
aggravated by seeing one's pals disappearing 
out to the front at odd moments on the 
receipt of telegrams. You yourself, somehow, 
always seem to be the last to go. It's strange, 
the magnetic influence of those torn and 
mutilated plains of France and Belgium. I 
can see the old cracked remnant of Smelly- 
Pig Farm in my mind's eye as I write, and I 
feel I want to be there. 

One day the call came. A telegram came 
to the orderly room, and it contained a 
message for me. To go to the front ? No ! 



ORDERED TO SALISBURY PLAIN 45 

I went to the orderly room and there heard 
the worst. I was to go to a new division, 
then forming, as machine-gun instructor. 

A good job, I thought, as I had been a 
machine-gun officer all my time in the 
trenches so far. I found out all about this 
division, or rather as much as I could, and 
eventually when I was to go. It appeared 
that I had to be off as soon as possible. That 
evening I packed my traps, and pondered 
on the coming move. Machine-gun in- 
structor to a new division ; a division that 
would shortly be going to France. An inter- 
esting job, forsooth, and as I had had a pretty 
varied experience in this business, from the 
practical point of view, I felt that I could be 
of some use in this new departure. My Isle 
of Wight job was over ; so was the light duty, 
and now I was bound for a new division 
somewhere on Salisbury Plain. I knew, also, 
that I was taking another step in the direc- 
tion of the front soon I should be back 
again, back amongst the dilapidated estam- 
inets, the shattered chateaux, the land of 
" bullets and billets." 



CHAPTER VI 

HANDING OVER ARRIVAL AT DIVISIONAL H.Q. 
I DIG MYSELF IN 

INSTRUCTIONS for most military movements 
are run on the same lines as instructions for 
attending Medical Boards. You get a curt 
wire about two hours before you have to 
start. As a general rule, the more drastic 
the move you have to make, the less warning 
you get. For instance, if you have got to be 
at a lecture one day, you will probably be told 
about it a week in advance. If you've got 
to go to the front which entails packing, 
collecting everything you may need, handing 
over your company, and saying good-bye 
you will probably get a wire half an hour 
before starting. 

This exodus of mine to the new division 
was arranged just in this way. I had to shin 
off from the island with the greatest rapidity. 
I collected all my worldly goods, and hand- 
ed over my company to another captain. 
" Handing over " meant, in my case, palming 

off a set of disorganized accounts, and paying 

4 6 



HANDING OVER 47 

for all losses out of my own pocket. I forget 
exactly what it cost me this time, but I know 
that running a company is an expensive 
amusement unless you are very careful. 

Early one morning, my valise and I set 
forth on this new life. We left from Cowes 
and watched the island fade into the mist as 
we glided up the Solent. 

Salisbury Plain was where rumour said this 
new division lived. In due course I arrived 
there. 

Pretty vague, that, I know, for Salisbury 
Plain is a vast expanse, larger than something 
or other, and nearly as big as anything you 
like (no, the Germans are not going to get any 
information out of me). At the time of 
which I write, enormous numbers of soldiers 
were quartered all over the plain, in different 
parts. It was winter time, and phenomenally 
wet, so it really represented life in a levia- 
than bog. There were many divisions there. 
Each of course had a divisional headquarters, 
and then each divisional headquarters had 
a divisional general. It was just like a 
lot of bees, in several different swarms. 
Each day the bees would all stagger forth 
into the treacle round about and mix with 



48 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

each other, practising field days, route 
marches, and all that sort of thing, and at 
night all the different hives would swarm 
round their various queen bee divisional 
commanders again. It was to this humming 
hive of industry that I came. I arrived at 
the station frequented by my particular 
swarm, and inquired the way to their hive. 

The divisional headquarters, was, I found, 
about three miles from the station. I got 
hold of a taxi and, putting my traps into it, 
drove off through the squalid little town out 
into the country towards divisional H.Q. 
This part of Salisbury Plain I was in was 
certainly one of the best parts, but there is 
not much choice. Except for the fact that 
it isn't shelled and mutilated, it is nearly 
as bad as the front to look at. In fact, if 
someone would lend me a couple of howitzers 
for a day, I could make quite a passable 
imitation of the Somme valley near Fricourt, 
out of Salisbury Plain. I drove along in the 
taxi full of interest, combined with a certain 
amount of nervousness at the coming new job 
that lay before me. It was all so very differ- 
ent to the front. It's far easier to be one of 
the crowd doing a real job, and putting 




I'.V MEANS OF A TURKISH I'.ATH OLD UlLI. HOJ'ES SOME DAY TO HOII. THE 

EFFECTS OF J>LVM AND Al'l'LE, BOLSHEVISM AND DEMO1U I.I/.ATIOX 

rOMT'l.KTET^' Ol'T Ol HIS SYSTEM. 



ARRIVAL AT DIVISIONAL H.Q. 49 

everything you do to a practical and immedi- 
ate use, than having to demonstrate the same 
things to warfare students in the security of 
Salisbury Plain. The H.Q of the division 
had a very charming house situated in very 
charming grounds. H.Q's. always know 
what they are about as regards where they 
are going to fix up. No bell tents for them, 
and quite right too ; for the complications 
and impedimenta necessary for running a 
division, particularly a new one in course of 
formation, are beyond comprehension. I 
shot along the curved gravel drive in the taxi, 
and pulled up in front of the noble front door 
of the mansion. Here I was at last no hope 
of escape now. Having discharged my taxi 
I entered, and broke the news of my arrival 
as gently as possible. 

As luck would have it, there was already an 
officer doing the job I was booked for, and 
although he was leaving to return to France 
his departure had been postponed for another 
week. This was very fortunate for me as I 
soon found out how he had arranged things, 
and what was the correct method to adopt. 
He was a most expert machine gunner, and 

had put in a long and arduous time in the 
D 



50 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

Ypres salient. He had been wounded at 
Ypres on the same day on which I received 
my "knock out" at the same place, although 
he was, of course, in another regiment and 
in a different part of the show. I we,nt 
to see him the night I arrived, and finding 
him down at his hut, talked the whole thing 
over. 

For a week I lived up at the divisional 
chateau, and daily absorbed his methods for 
instruction. At the end of that time he left, 
I bagged his hut, and started on the job by 
myself. 

A point which may strike readers here is, 
" Why bag his hut when you are living at the 
chateau?" 

There were two reasons. First and fore- 
most, I far prefer a hut to a chateau. I am 
much happier in a match-board box with a 
corrugated iron roof and a smoky stove, than 
in one of England's sumptuous country-house 
bedrooms. My line is rough, straightforward, 
masculine freedom in simple surroundings, 
and I deteriorate, mentally arid physically, to 
a ridiculous degree in grand houses. The 
other secondary reason for leaving the chateau 
was, that it was rapidly filling up with more 



I DIG MYSELF IN 51 

important people than I, and rooms were 
getting scarce. 

I went to the huts, as I have said, and felt 
better all round. The huts were attached to 
a brigade headquarters. A division contains 
a number of brigades. I was now living with 
a brigade although on the divisional staff. 



CHAPTER VII 

THOSE FIELD DAYS WHO'S WON ? A KEEN 
DIVISION 

IT didn't take me long to size up this new 
division. It was just the most hard-working 
and keen division that ever was, but at that 
time I think the whole of Salisbury Plain was 
crammed with such divisions. It was almost 
entirely composed of men from the north 
country, and was just bursting to reach the 
last stage of proficiency and go out to France 
or anywhere, to have a smack at the Boches. 

When I arrived, the situation was that at 
any time the order for the exodus might come. 
Training and final equipment was going on 
with relentless vigour. The work of the 
divisional and brigade staffs was enormous. 
Enthusiasm ran like an electric current 
through the entire concern. 

My little part consisted of getting hold of 
all the machine-gun sections of the division 
with their officers, and imparting practical 
tips for Prussian puncturing. 

I took a group out daily into the country 
round about, and reconstructed actual front- 

52 



THOSE FIELD DAYS 58 

line scenes and episodes, coupling it all with 
as good word pictures and advice as I could 
command. 

I took about fourteen men out at a time. 
We marched off into a new bit of country 
daily, and there spread ourselves for perfect- 
ing the gentle art of machine gunning. I 
arranged " attacks " of all descriptions on all 
sorts of places, and at the end of an arduous 
morning, sat in the middle of a perspiring 
group, correcting faults and illustrating them 
with examples from my knowledge of the front. 

The rest of the division was almost invari- 
ably out on a field day or a route march. 
The machine-gun department nearly always 
worked on its own. Occasionally there came 
a great day of combined work, in the shape 
of a full-blown field day, in which all the 
component parts of the division took part. 
These days, though very hard and tiresome, 
are generally tinged with humour humour 
arising out of pain generally. This division 
I was with was great on field days. About a 
week before one came off, all the " crowned 
heads " of the division were given what is 
known as the " general idea." This consists 
of a group of intricate documents laying out 



54 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



concisely what sort of a field day the divisional 
general is going to have, say, "next Tuesday." 
Then comes the " special idea," and finally 
out of all this the fact dawns on the mere 
regimental officer that on Tuesday next there 
is to be a field day when " a Brown force " 
will be opposed to "a White force," which 

is the invariable 
army method 
for distinguish- 
ing the two sides 
for the "battle." 
For a week 
the staff officers 
have worked 
themselves to 
red - tabbed 
shadows pre- 
paring for this 
monster game of 
hide and seek. 
The general's 
right-hand man 
in army par- 
performs miracles of 




lance, "The G.S.O. 1 



work on these occasions. 
At last Tuesday arrives. It is pouring with 



WHO'S WON? 55 

rain generally, but the plan is far too vast to 
be interfered with by any considerations of 
weather. The Brown force has been set in 
motion against the White force and now no 
power on earth, except the general being 
suddenly superseded, can possibly avert the 
ultimate collision of these two ponderous 
pieces of human mechanism that have now 
been set in motion. 

At about 6 a.m. the Brown and White 
forces, numbering thousands each, covered 
with equipment and ammunition, exuding 
profanity and determination, stagger forth 
into the surrounding morass and disappear 
into the neighbouring country. 

The two forces, of course, take different 
paths immediately. They will ultimately meet 
in a fearful mock collision (arranged by the 
G.S.O. 1) in about three hours' time. 

The great charm about these onslaughts is 
that from that day on you never really know 
who has won the battle. There being no 
convincing argument such as real barrages 
and devastating machine-gun fire, it is always 
possible for each side ever afterwards to 
prove to its own satisfaction that it " won 
hands down." 



56 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

A whole battalion, with enormous self- 
satisfaction and consciousness of undisputed 
strength, storms a hill and refuses staunchly 
to believe (though repeatedly told) that a 
solitary machine gun concealed in a hedge 
has entirely murdered them (in theory) 
whilst they were approaching the hill. In 
actual war one is apt to get painful and 
convincing arguments of an exceedingly 
practical nature. At home, rehearsing, it's 
left to words and superior judgment. I have 
often thought that if only we were Spartan 
enough what a valuable training a real scrap 
would be. There is nothing in the world 
illustrates better what a mistake it is to 
march in fours down an enfiladed road than a 
couple of real live machine guns at the end of 
it. The appearance of a red-tabbed military 
apostle in an apoplectic temper at the end 
of the said road announcing in uncomplimen- 
tary terms that " the whole lot of you would 
have been simply wiped out " leaves one 
cold. 

But anyway one learns a lot on these field 
days. They are great training in endurance. 
Nothing could keep one in better training. 
My only comment is that they rarely, if ever, 



A KEEN DIVISION 57 

are the least bit like the real thing in the way 
of an attack. It is quite impossible to make 
them so. Other wars may have been a bit on 
the lines of a field day, but not this one. War 
wouldn't be half so bad if it was like a field 
day, with all its marching and " outflanking 
movements," etc., etc. 

There is some sporting adventure and "go" 
about that. But the Germans have, wisely 
for themselves, taken to mud and mechanics 
and have thereby spoilt the true sporting 
idea of a battle. 

My division always threw themselves with 
whole-hearted enthusiastic vigour into these 
field days. These were days before the great 
battle of the Somme. How little those fine 
chaps knew of the kind of thing the real field 
days would shortly be! 

I used to try, by means of sketches and 
word pictures, to give my machine gunners 
as clear a vision as possible of the front and 
what it means ; but it's very, very hard 
nearly impossible to convey the correct idea. 
Nobody who has not actually been to the 
front can know what it is really like, and by 
going to the front I don't mean going to some 
headquarters and being taken to "as near as 



58 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

it's safe," and then be given a pair of field 
glasses. 

A visitor to the front knows he can leave 
when he has seen it. A soldier knows that he 
can't and isn't going to. There's the differ- 
ence. 

Being accidentally caught in a bit of 
shelling whilst visiting the front, doesn't 
give you the idea either. You are buoyed up 
by the knowledge that a car is waiting back 
there near the cross roads to whisk you off 
to security and a good lunch. 

You want to be in a morning's shelling and 
then, having escaped when it stops, realize 
that you'll probably get the same thing again 
to-morrow morning. 

I have heard of people saying, when shown 
Ypres, that they thought it would be much 
worse. 

If they will come to me, I will soon tell them 
how to get that opinion altered. 

This division, of course, didn't know and 
couldn't appreciate it, but what they did 
know was that they were ready for anything, 
and would go through anything. They fully 
acted up to it, too, in their splendid perfor- 
mance on the Somme, a few months later. 



CHAPTER VIII 



FIELD days on the grand scale came off 
about once a week. The intervening times 
were filled up with all sorts of highly im- 
portant training, so life for the division was 
one of ceaseless activity and hard labour. 

I used to be free at about 4 p.m. when I 
would retire to my wooden hut to have a rest, 
decide what I was going to do that evening 
and plan the next day. 

It was the usual simple sort of officer's hut, 
and all I had inside was a camp bed, a wash- 
stand, a tin bath, and a table. My bag and 
valise was all my luggage and that was in the 
corner. 

It was winter time and pretty cold, too, so 
a fire was urgently necessary in the little 
stove. 

A few days after I had adopted this hut for 
a home, I had procured my "soldier servant." 
He belonged to a regiment coming from one 
of England's eastern counties. 

59 



60 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

He was the most charming example of that 
rapidly dying class, the ploughboy yokel, that 
you could possibly find. The whole simplicity 
of his life and mind, combined with the con- 
stitution of a rhinoceros, gave him a most 
lovable aspect to me. 

Until I caught this specimen, I didn't know 
that such things still lived, and when I found 
that they did, I was annoyed and troubled to 
think of the danger that such a genuine, 
simple creature ran, of having his outlook 
altered by this ideal-shaking war. 

He was about twenty years old, and as 
strong as an ox. Thick set, short, with a 
healthy red complexion, he was just the 
sort of rustic type that, on the stage, sucks a 
straw and wears a smock. 

His head was delightfully thick as well. It 
took him a long time to fully grasp anything 
you wanted him to do, but when he had got 
hold of the idea and digested the fact that you 
wanted him to do whatever it might be, he 
went at it with the relentless vigour of a 
charging bison. 

This blossom hadn't done any soldier- 
servant work before, so all was new to him, 
and I used to derive considerable amusement 



MY SOLDIER SERVANT 61 

by knowing full well that he thought I was 
insane in most of my desires and tastes. 

I told him how to look after the hut and 
when to light the stove. He thought it all 
slowly over and then carried out these items 
with unfailing precision and thoroughness. 
I remember the first time when I told him I 
wanted a bath. He was standing in the 
doorway, having finished whatever it was, 
and was evidently waiting for me to tell him 
something else to do. " Blobbs," I said, " I 
want a bath. Hot water, do you see, and 
then fill up this tin thing here." I indicated 
the bath. 

In a queer hesitating manner he repeated, 
" Oi see, you wants a bath." I said, " Yes, 
I want a bath." 

He fingered the bath about a bit, half went 
to the door and then stood looking at me in a 
hesitating way. After a few moments' pause 
he suddenly jerked out, " I'd better get it 
now," and disappeared like a jack-in-the-box 
through the doorway. 

He returned later with a vast volume of 
scalding water, about enough for three baths, 
all having been conveyed there by himself 
in a collection of canvas buckets. I wished 



62 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

I'd asked him for the bath itself as well. I'm 
sure he would have gone to some house and 
severed a porcelain one from its pipe con- 
nections and brought it along. 

He had no personal initiative, but when 
guided and commanded he was nearly as good 
as one of those dear old genii in the Arabian 
Nights " rub-the-lamp-and-it-appears" sort 
of thing. 

He woke me in the mornings by a method 
all his own. (I watched him once or twice 
with eyes feigning sleep.) He would bring 
along my clothes and boots and put them 
near the one and only chair, then he would 
bring a pail of hot water and then hesitate a 
bit. He appeared to be thinking deeply. 
After a minute or two's hesitancy he would 
suddenly come to the side of my bed and say 
in a loud voice, " Shall you be wantin' the 
stove?" This sentence, you will observe, 
combined waking me with getting instruc- 
tions. Why he always did it this way good- 
ness knows ; I soon ceased to try and probe 
into his beautiful mind. 

He interested me intensely, this man. I 
soon began leading him on into conversations 
about himself and about his private and home 



BLOBBS' LOVE AFFAIR 63 

life. Later on I encouraged him into dis- 
courses on his love affairs. It appeared that 
he had a " gurl," in other words he was " a- 
courtin'." "Splendid!" I thought, "now 
I'll get some funny stuff out of this cove." 
And I did. Conversation one morning con- 
ducted something like this. 

Me : Have you had any leave yet. Blobbs ? 
I expect you'd like to go back to your home 
for a day or two, eh ? Go back and see that 
girl of yours. 

Blobbs (with a rubicund grin) : Oi ! I 
shouldn't 'arf loike a bit o' leave. The ser- 
geant says the other night, that 'e thought 
as 'ow Oi was a-goin' soon, and (bashfully) she 
won't 'arf be pleased to see me, too, I reckon 
(business, of critically examining a row of 
chilblains on the back of his hand). 

Me: What did she say when you joined 
the army, Blobbs ? 

Blobbs : Just afore I joined she wouldn't 
speak to me. It was because I was drivin' 
Dad's thrashin' machine down the road past 
'er 'ouse. She says, "Arthur, you never looks 
at me now that you are a- drivin' that there 
thrashin' machine." You see, she thought I 
was a-doin' the grand, soon as I got to drivin' 



64 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

Dad's big engine. One day I sees 'er by the rick 
in 'er Dad's farm, and I picks up a pitchfork 
and I runs at 'er this like (imitation, savage 
run with pitchfork). 

She says, " Why do you do that, Arthur? " I 
says, " Cos I'm goin' to join the Army, Ciss, 
that's why." So I chucks down me pitchfork 
and she says as she was proud o' me, and now 
she writes to me reg'lar every week. 

Me : That's right, Blobbs. You stick to her 
and she'll stick to you. Now you might just go 
and get me a bucket of water as I want to 
have a wash before lunch time. 

Duologue closed. I have often wished that 
I could hear that that splendid simple country 
jake got back safely to Ciss and his thrashing 
machine out of all this devastating turmoil. 




I DON'T THINK I'LL DRESS FOR DINNER TO-NIGHT, BERT." 



CHAPTER IX 

THE CENSOR DEFIED MACHINE-GUN TRAINING 
RUMOURS OF WAR BLOBBS GETS INTO TROUBLE 

Now I wonder if I shall incur the odium of 
the authorities or prolong the war by saying 
where it was that we lived in those days on 
Salisbury Plain. I should like to say the 
name, as it was a nice place, the nicest in the 
neighbourhood. I wonder if I dare shall I? 
No yes, I will. It was Sutton Veney ! (The 
German mark goes up in value on all the 
exchanges consternation in Wall Street - 
wish I hadn't said it now.) Well, I've done 
it, so there you are. Sutton Veney was the 
place ; a delightful little English village it 
must have been before all we khaki locusts 
settled upon it. It was quite a pleasure 
having all this military training set in such 
delightful surroundings. The headquarters 
themselves possessed most charming gardens, 
but as I have said in a previous chapter, such 
luxuries always seem painful to me. Mailed 
fist work and charming gardens are so 
desperately out of harmony with each other. 
Yet all the Sutton Veney times seemed 

E 65 



66 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

mighty pleasant to me. Perhaps it was that 
I had not long since come out of that drab 
whirl of events, the front : houses without 
roofs and chateaux turned inside out, still 
lingered in my mind's eye. On the whole, it 
was a short but happy time at Sutton Veney, 
standing out with pleasing brightness in all 
my war life. 

I do not write all this sort of stuff which 
you've just read (or slurred over) with the 
idea of demonstrating that I am thinking 
differently to anyone else about war. I do so 
in the hopes and, indeed, with the knowledge, 
that there were, and are, many who have 
looked on their various war experiences in the 
same way that I have. 

I was merely a common or garden captain, 
leading a common or garden captain's life, 
and now as I write I wonder why the diabolo 
I have the cheek to write about it at all. I 
have apologized once in the preface of 

Bullets and Billets. I won't do it again. 
..... 

Here at Sutton Veney, and all over the 
plain, thousands of men were leading the most 
arduous and dullest of lives imaginable. It 
was a new picture altogether to me. Pre- 



MACHINE-GUN TRAINING 67 



viously I had only seen the practical appli- 
cation of warlike skill. Now here, at Sutton 
Veney, all the technique was being acquired. 

In my 
daily work 
with the 
machine 
gunners I 
used to 
make des- 
perate at- 
tempts to 
brighten up 
the job for 
them b y 
giving them 
as vivid 
word pic- 
tures of the 
front and 
its ways as 
possible. 

Occasion- 
ally I or- 
ganized and ran a small 




battle 



in some 

part of the surrounding country. This led 
to quite exciting times. I galvanized the 



68 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

opposing gun teams into enthusiastic action 
by means of prizes and competitions. Whilst 
all this training was in progress an assistant 
trainer joined me a second lieutenant, who 
had been wounded, and was on light duty 
like myself. He was a most efficient machine 
gunner, in fact, I have never seen his equal 
at machine-gun mechanism. 

We both went out and each took a hand 
in the competitions. Over a wide tract of 
variegated land, two sides, composed of two 
gun teams in each, would attack each other. 
We invented a series of rules so that decisions 
could be arrived at, and then had breath- 
lessly exciting mornings. We crept about the 
country after each other, and butchered each 
other silently round hedges and ditches, until 
the overwhelming superiority of one side over 
the other became apparent owing to someone 
sticking a head lathered in mud out of a 
culvert and announcing that "We've been 
enfilading you for at least half an hour." 
Dispute, verdict, then "Fall in on the road." 

So we'd all march back to barracks 
beguiling the tedium of the way home by 
arguments as to which side had really won. 

Things were now getting pretty ship-shape 



RUMOURS OF WAR 69 

with the division all round. The air was 
full of rumours. 

Sample rumours : " I hear we're going to 
Egypt," or, "I shouldn't be surprised if we 
had orders to go to France any day now." 

All this made life much more interesting 
and exciting. 

Leave was being granted in great profusion, 
which was a good sign. It looked as if "they" 
were trying to let everyone have home leave 
before going out. The whole circus was 
bristling with equipment and excitement. 
Amongst the gentlemen to have leave was 
Mr. Blobbs, my servant. That dense but 
happy rubicund face burst into my hut one 
morning, and gave forth the following : 
" Sergeant says as I'm in the next lot for 
leave." 

" Are you, Blobbs? " I said, " that's a good 
job. You'll be able to go along and see that 
girl of yours and go for a spin in your 
father's thrashing machine if you're lucky." 
A bovine grin, followed with " That's roight, 



sir." 



In due course Blobbs got his leave, and 
went to his home in Suffolk. Like all good 
soldiers he, of course, overstayed his pass. 



70 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

(Always suspect a soldier who comes back on 
the day he's been told to.) Then, like all good 
soldiers, he had to be hauled up and punished. 
The first step in this procedure consists of the 
offender coming up before his immediate 
commander. In this case Blobbs had to be 
" got at " by me. He had returned two 
days late, so I sternly asked him why. 

" Well, it was like this, sir," he replied. 
" Me and my mate started to come back the 
day as was on the pass for us to come back, 
and we left Bury St. Edmunds in the mornin' 
to come along to Lunnon. When we got 
there, a bloke on the platform says to us, 
' Where are ye for ? ' says 'e. And I, silly 
like, says 'Bury St. Edmunds ' ; and he took us 
along to a train and the next thing was we 
was back at Bury. You see, sir, I thought 
as the man was askin' us where we 'ad come 
from, not where we was a-goin' to. Well, 
there weren't a train back to Lunnon not till 
night time, so we comes on that, and we got 
to Lunnon about six o'clock in the mornin'. 
Me and my mate 'ad never been to this 'ere 
station before, and we wasn't goin' to ask no 
more questions again ; we'd 'ad enough o' 
being sent back to Bury. Presently, up 



BLOBBS GETS INTO TROUBLE 71 

comes a lady, an' she says as she would show us 
'ow to go. She says, ' Where are you goin' ? ' 
she siays. So I says, ' Sutton Veney ' ; so she 
says, ' Come along with me, then,' and we went 
down a lot of tunnels to where the trains was 
a-runnin' into a 'ole like. She says as she 
couldn't stop, but she says, ' Take the next 
train as comes in.' Well, sir, I reckon we 
watched about 'alf a dozen of them trains go 
out afore we got into one." 

"What made you do that, Blobbs?" I 
inquired. " What did you want to wait 
there for ? " 

"Well, sir," replied Blobbs, "this is 'ow it 
was. A carriage would come into the station, 
shuntin' like, without any injun on, and I 
says to my mate, 'There's 'eaps of time,' I 
says; 'the train can't go without an injun on.' 
And just as we was sittin' on that there 
seat, the carriage would go off by itself down 
the 'ole at the end. I knows what it was 
now ; but ye see, sir, I didn't understand 
anythin' about them 'lectric trains as 
'aven't got no injuns, and no more did my 
mate." 

Poor old Blobbs and mate ! They know 
something about trains by now. The knock- 



72 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

about wanderings that will have led them 
through Southampton, Havre, Rouen, 
Amiens, will have gone a long way to destroy- 
ing the old-world, cabbage-like simplicity 
which at that time they possessed. 



CHAPTER X 

THE FINAL POLISH A ONE-HORSE TOWNSHIP IN 

" THE ISLAND " AGAIN DETAILED FOR ALDERSHOT 

THE OLD GUARD 

Now came a day of fearful excitement and 
anticipation. Not an order for the division 
to leave, but a much more delicate hint that 
departure was at hand. Sun helmets were 
issued all round. They spelt two things: 
The East ! and early departure likely ! All 
was joy. The months of mud and training 
were nearly over, and now for the war ! 

I was still on " light duty," so was a bit 
nervy as to what my chances were of being 
allowed to go with them. I hoped for the 
best, and looked forward with a buoyant 
interest to the departure. The time was 
now entirely filled up, so far as I was con- 
cerned, in machine-gun firing on the ranges, 
We were served out with great masses of 
practice ammunition and a full rig-out of guns, 
so the machine-gun end of the butts gave forth 
a splendidly nerve shattering rattle for the 
surrounding neighbourhood until we left. 
The inhabitants of Sutton Veney, however, 
had no hope of escape. We were not the first 

73 



74 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

division to be there, nor were we to be the last. 
When we left another division took our places. 

The weather was terribly wet. We stood 
about in pouring rain squirting lead into the 
hillside from our Maxims for about a week. 
The entire division was firing all day long in 
ceaseless practice, until the word came for 
departure. As is the way with all military 
movements, you never know exactly what is 
going to happen till it happens. Suddenly 
all the sun helmets were " called in." 
Hullo ! Egypt " off," everyone thought, and 
they were quite right. 

The soldiers didn't mind where they went 
as long as they went somewhere. They were 
all for " up and at 'em " now. They would 
willingly part with all the simple little joys 
provided by the neighbouring township of 
Warminster. They would cheerfully relin- 
quish the pleasures of penny shows and cheap 
cinemas which grew thickly in the neighbour- 
hood. What they wanted now was to have a 
real live try-out of their skill and energy 
combined with all the romantic attraction of 
" foreign parts." 

Every evening, when work is over, the one 
idea possessing the minds of all soldiers is to 



A ONE-HORSE TOWNSHIP 75 

walk into the nearest town. This crowd that 
I was with walked into Waroinster, which 
was only about three miles distant from our 
huts. Apart from this, Warminster had 
little else to recommend it. In the dark 
winter evenings, with its anti-Zeppelin 




lighting arrangements and squalid streets, 
this little one-horse township presented as 
rotten and unattractive appearance as you 
could wish for. It served as a very good 
incentive to hurry back to the camps at the 
time requested by the authorities. The road 



76 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

from Sutton Veney to Warminster was, at 
about 6 p.m., almost a solid mass of soldiers, 
all walking in to partake of the meagre delights 
of the town. A few movable side-shows, 
seeking to add to the paucity of Warminster's 
attractions, had taken root in the fields on 
either side of the road. A few men were 
seduced off into these places, lured by the 
light of a naphtha flare, or the exaggerated 
announcements shouted out by a half-caste 
negro showman. The bulk of the division, 
however, got down into Warminster itself and 
flooded out the various cinema palaces. 

Rain, soldiers, mud and poor lighting, 
gaudy fronted cinemas with " Charlie 
Chaplin " posters, those are my impressions 
of Warminster. I went down several times 
whilst I was at Sutton Veney. I suppose 
even now it is still the same old thing. Now 
that our departure was imminent, I went 
down more frequently. It seemed to look a 
bit brighter somehow brighter, I suppose, 
because we were leaving. Any way, the vast 
congealed masses of soldiers on the road 
were brighter. They knew they were going, 
and that was all they wanted. 

In a few days they left, and a finer division 



IN 'THE ISLAND" AGAIN 77 

never went anywhere. About half of it was 
composed of Scottish regiments, so when the 
whole lot took to the road with their bands 
and pipes playing and skirling, the division 
presented as fine an assortment of British 
Army types as one could wish to see. The 
East was " off," as the sun helmet episode 
had foreshadowed, and now it was to be 
France. On the day of departure I got my 
orders. I was not to go with them, as I had 
only been attached and did not belong to the 
division. Where was I to go ? Back to the 
Isle of Wight, they said. I could have " cried 
my eyes out " as they say of children. 

The Isle of Wight again ! Oh, help ! I 
should have liked to rush into the head- 
quarters and flung myself at the feet of the 
General imploring him to stay this dread 
sentence. Instead of which I walked away 
amongst the huts and pondered on the 
advisability and possibility of stowing away 
in a machine-gun case, or a blanket wagon, 
and thus " getting over." 

The Isle of Wight ! The Isle of Wi oh, 
curse the no, I won't say it again. The 
division went. So did I, and although I 
didn't know it at the time, I, too, was to be in 



78 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

France within three weeks. I sorrowfully 
trekked off back to the island, and rolled up 
to the red brick barracks on the square again. 
Things hadn't changed much. Several 
officers had gone, others had come, and the 
Roll of Honour in the ante-room had grown a 
bit longer. Somehow I found the island was 
not now so objectionable as I had anticipated. 
Couldn't make this out at the time, but I 
know what it was now. I was feeling better 
myself, my nerves were settling into a more 
placid condition. Sutton Veney had done 
good. I had been a long time in getting 
right after my knock-out at Ypres far 
longer than I knew myself at the time. I 
became quite exuberant in the island on 
this tour. Took a lively and active part in 
a series of soldiers' " gaffs " which we held in 
the barracks. Merry shows these were. You 
suddenly find on these occasions that quite 
half the regiment are comedians. When 
feeling particularly hilarious, I am " induced 
to give a song," and when I do it always takes 
a comedy turn. Red nose, bowler hat and 
umbrella effect, I find is about my mark when 
I'm roped into a soldiers' gaff. We were now 
having these convivial evenings about once a 



DETAILED FOR ALDERSHOT 79 

week, and I was invariably to be found at 
them. Huge audiences crushed their way 
into the large gymnasium, and sang the 
choruses through clouds of smoke. 

Sometimes we took these shows over to one 
of the towns on the island, and one particular 
occasion I remember well, when we " did a 
show " at Ryde. The proceeds were, of 
course, for charity, and at this entertainment 
my job was to draw lightning sketches on the 
stage, to be auctioned amongst the audience. 
Yes, I was altogether much brighter on my 
second return to the Isle of Wight. Just 
when I was really thinking that " Jove, this 
isn't half a bad place," I got orders to join a 
Works company and take them to Aldershot. 
It's a curious thing, that you always seem to 
like a place best when you know you've got 
to leave it. Join a Works company and go to 
Aldershot that didn't sound particularly 
attractive. I went to influential quarters and 
tried to get a reprieve no good had to go. 

The Works company was a sort of company 
used for doing odd jobs and " dirty work " 
such as carrying uninteresting military objects 
from one place to another, clearing up 
mangled roads and being generally useful. 



80 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

Sort of scene shifters and stage carpenters to 
the army. They were " non-combatants " 
-wouldn't have been able to be combatants 
if you'd paid 'em any amount. No doubt 
they had all fought splendidly in the Crimea, 
but I could see at a glance that they would 
never wield a battle-axe against Prussian 
militarism. Dear old chaps they were, but 
taking them to Aldershot caused me great 
anxiety. I managed to get to Southampton 
without losing any in the Solent, but, when 
arrived there, had unfortunately very little 
time to catch the train which left the station 
a long way from the docks. This brought on 
a sort of rout of the company down the 
main streets of Southampton Napoleon's- 
retreat-from-Moscow appearance, or " Chelsea 
Pensioners' hundred yards handicap at the 
annual sports." It was a fearful rush, but 
thanks to the R.T.O., who kept the train back 
a little, we caught it, baggage and all, and 
glided off to Aldershot. 

We arrived at Farnborough and apparently 
weren't in the least expected. We waited 
about for a bit, hoping for someone to say 
something about us, but as nothing happened 
I lined the Old Guard up outside the station, 




A SHAKI' RISK IN TIN." 



THE OLD GUARD 81 

stood them at ease, and went off to telephone 
in all directions to find out who would like a 
Works company. In about a couple of hours' 
time I found that the Aerodrome at Farn- 
borough wanted one. A lot of aerial goods had 
to be shifted. I took the company along to this 
place about a mile and a half away. Here, 
in a worn-out field, were a set of empty bell 
tents. We collared those tents and the com- 
pany collapsed inside them in batches of ten. 

I went and reported the arrival of the 
company, found out what they were to do, 
when they had to start, and then set about 
arranging for their life there. 

It was first of all necessary to see about 
rations for them, also plates and cups and 
knives and things. Here was a Works 
company, homeless and destitute as it were. 
Nobody knew, and nobody cared. We had 
nothing but a set of old bell tents pitched in 
a squalid field of the sort that you generally 
find round a gas works. 

I went off that evening to Aldershot, and 
by visiting several offices, eventually obtained 
a permit to get a camp equipment at a certain 
store. I and the driver of a motor lorry I 
had got hold of spent a heated hour packing 



82 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



assorted bowls, plates, knives and forks into the 
lorry, and wrapping the lot up in straw. We 
then returned and tackled 
the local canteen for food. 
The outfit was now com- 
plete, and the Works com- 
pany was saved. That night 
I got an empty room in one 
of the huts at the aero stores, 
and rolling out my valise 
on the floor in the corner, 
went to sleep. 

I awoke early, as the floor 
boards were particularly 
hard in that hut, somehow. 
A valise on the ground is all 
right, but is mighty hard on 
floor boards. I lay awake, 
thinking. Very fed up with 
prospects now, I was. I took 
another Gold Flake from the 
yellow packet always beside me, and inhaled it 
as an antidote to temper. " Curse this Aero- 
drome ; why can't I go to France ? I wish 
I had gone with that division." Later I rose 
and went on with my job of seeing to the 
welfare of the Works company. 




CHAPTER XI 

THOSE AUTOGRAPH ALBUMS FITS A WIRE FROM 
WAR OFFICE NEW APPOINTMENT 

FOR a couple of days I stuck pretty solidly 
to my Works company and my little wooden 
hut, as there was a lot to be done in getting 
the men's domestic affairs in order ; also 
I wanted to grasp fully the " ins " and 
" outs " of the whole job myself, and to 
see what was required by the Aerial Poten- 
tates of the neighbourhood. 

After a few days things straightened 
out, and I was then free to spend the 
evenings more or less as I liked. "As I 
liked," of course, meant going off into 
Aldershot. 

I walked up the Farnborough road, and 
in due course reached the Queen's Hotel. 
Many of my readers will know this " resort 
of the Slite." I admit I am at times lured 
by a whisky and soda, but in this case I 
expected a letter or two as I had given 
the hotel as an address. Not knowing 
the neighbourhood, it was a good central 
spot to call at. 

83 



84 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

I went in and up to the Box Office. 

" Any letters for me ? " I ask. 

Sweet Maiden with smile (and a brooch 
made out of a second lieutenant's metallic 
star culled from a " British warm ") : " Are 
you Captain Bairnsfather ? ' 

Me : " Guilty, me lord." 

S.M. with s. (only a bit wider) : " Here 
are three letters for you, and I wonder if 
I dare ask you, but would you be awfully 
good and put something in my autograph 
album ? Any little thing will do." 

I smilingly reply, " Righto, with pleasure." 
False creature that I am, I don't say that 
this makes the five hundredth album I've 
seen, and that the sight of one more will 
make me commit some diabolical atrocity. 
I can't say that, as the owners of those 
five hundred albums would think me " stuck 
up," and I should hate to be thought 
"stuck up." 

So I take the morocco bound volume 
scented with Shem-el-Nessim, with the 
golden word " Album " scrawled about its 
concave padded cover, and turn over the 
multi-coloured pages, in the hopes of finding 
one on which it may be possible to make 



FITS 85 

a rapid scribble. I held converse with the 
damsel and then had dinner. By easy 
stages I returned to my wooden hut, slipped 
myself into my canvas scabbard i.e., my 
valise and went to sleep. Next morning, 
as usual, I emerged into the daylight and 
confronted my Works company. I found 
them standing in two ranks at a variety 
of angles and I proceeded to inspect them. 
I had to be careful whom I spoke to about 
dirty buttons, or no buttons at all in that 
group. I knew by rumour that at least one 
member of the party went in for having fits. 
I saw a fit in progress on one occasion, but 
owing to the crowd surrounding the patient, 
I couldn't see what he was like, so I never 
was able to recognize him on parade. I 
wasn't going to risk a strafe on buttons 
which might end in one member of the 
party flipping about on the ground like a 
landed trout ; particularly in front of the 
Commander of the Aerial Stores. 

I had hardly begun the parade, when an 
orderly approached from the main offices 
across the field. He handed me a military 
telegram. 

Having squirted out that time-honoured 



86 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

formula, " Carry on, sergeant-major," I 

turned away to read the wire. 

I can't remember the exact wording, but 

it was very much to this effect : 

" Captain Bairnsfather to proceed at once 

to join the Expeditionary Force, Staff Capt. 

Fourth Army Railheads." 

I nearly had a fit myself then. My great 

wish had been granted. I was to go at 

once to France, 
and be amongst 
the real stuff 
once more. But 
what was all this 
about "Staff 
Captain," and 
" Fourth Army 
Railheads?" 
All that was 
Greek to me. 
I felt frightened 
of the job. I 

knew the ordinary regimental front, but this 

staff captain business was something quite 

different. However, I didn't worry about 

that ; all I cared about was the fact that 

I was going out. 




NEW APPOINTMENT 87 

It's a curious feeling, this wanting to go 
back. Nobody could possibly want to go 
back to life in the trenches or to participate 
in an offensive, if one looks at it from that 
point of view alone. But it's because all 
your pals are out there at the front, and all 
the people who really matter are at the front ; 
that's why you long to be one of them, and 
in with them, in the big job on hand. 
The satisfaction of feeling that you are in 
the real, live, and most important part of 
the war, is very great. The feeling that 
you are amongst all the gang who have the 
nasty part to do, and that you are ac- 
cepted by them as one of the throng, is 
enormous. 

But people must never be misled into 
thinking that just being " out in France " 
is sufficient to produce this feeling of satis- 
faction. Oh dear no ! You must have been 
either in the Infantry or the Flying Corps. 
Infantry is the thing. You can take your 
hat off to anyone in any infantry battalion 
anywhere at the front, to a distance of not 
more than two miles from the firing line. 
You can then be certain that you have 
saluted men who have gone to the hub 



88 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

of the show. Those are the chaps to be 
amongst. 

That I was to go to France again was my 
one great joy, but I could see by the wire 
I was not going as I had done before. I 
was now a staff captain! No more sitting 
through long days and nights in water- 
logged trenches with "Bill," "Bert" and 
" Alf." No more picking my way past the 
stiff and swollen cows at Dead Pig Farm, on 
my way to the ration dump. No more 
sand-bag filling on rainy nights. I was both 
pleased and sorry sounds curious, but it's 
true. I was pleased at the honour of being 
promoted to staff captain (vision of red 
tabs), but sorry that I should not be one of 
the " Jungle Folk of the trenches," as I 
always used to call them. 

However, I knew I should be right up 
close to the front, and would see it all, and 
also I was glad to think that I should now 
be able to observe the war from a different 
and wider point of view. I was red-hot 
keen for going out, and forthwith began to 
set about making arrangements for handing 
over the Works company. 

I left next day, and as the train slid out 



NEW APPOINTMENT 89 

of the station I felt that now at last I was 
off to where this war life appealed to me 
most. The Isle of Wight, Salisbury Plain, 
Aldershot, all this was over. Now for France, 
Flanders, and adventure. 



CHAPTER XII 

OVERSEAS ONCE MORE OUR EVER-GROWING ARMY 
TRAINS AND TRIBULATIONS MY DESTINATION AT 

LAST 

BEING a rotten sailor I was relieved to find 
that I was to go out at the narrow end of 
the Channel ; i.e., by the Folkestone- 
Boulogne route. By setting my teeth and 
staring intently at some object on deck, 
such as a life belt, or a deck chair, I can 
generally survive this passage, if the sea is 
calm. A staff captain with red tabs, and 
a red hat, leaning against the bulwarks like 
a gymkhana dummy, is lowering to oneself 
and encouraging to the enemy. 

I kept well, thank goodness, and staggered 
down the corrugated gangway at Boulogne 
in a most efficient manner. I have crossed 
to France about eight times so far in this 
war, and up to the time of writing this, have 
dra\m it lucky. 

I walked down the wharf I knew so well, 
and on past the Hotel de Louvre to the 
station. Near the A.M.L.O.'s office (I don't 
know what that means, but countless 

thousands will know the place), I stumbled 

90 



OVERSEAS ONCE MORE 



91 



across a " Fragment from France " right 
away. A war-weary " Bert," elated by 
prospects of going on leave, was approaching 
the docks. He had just asked the French 
porter some question. A torrent of explana- 
tory French 
f ol lowed . 
"Our Bert," 
weighed down 
byhaversacks 
and equip- 
ment, stood 
stolidlylisten- 
ing and gaz- 
ing intently 
at the porter. 
The verbal 
torrent 

ceased, and * ft/ztfl < \\jC^ct </K tta, Ni 
Bert slowly 

asked, " And 'ow does the chorus r go ? " 

A slight effect, but it amused me at the 
time, and making a mental note of the scene, 
I drew a picture of it later. 

I got all my ticket business fixed up by the 
R.T.O. (Railway Transport Officer) and found 
I had some time to wait for a train. 




92 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

I took a stroll through Boulogne. Very 
amusing it was to me. This was the place 
where, after the second battle of Ypres, I 
was put into hospital. This was the place 
where I stopped for a day when I first came 
out to the war. 

I mentally fought those days over again. 
But Boulogne was altered. Everywhere 
were the signs of the growing British army. 
Things were looking more settled and 
business like. The primitive military 
arrangements which we had of necessity 
when the war first broke out, were all gone. 
One could feel the ever growing British army 
was "digging itself in," and slowly but 
surely settling down to " make a job of 
beating the Bounder Boche." I lurked 
about the town for a bit and then returned 
to the Hotel de Louvre and had a final meal 
before pushing off on the train in the Amiens 
direction. 

All good trains in France seem to start 
in the evening, and you get to wherever you 
want to go some time the next morning. 

I had never been to the battle area 
between Arras and Amiens before, as all 
my time previously had been put in between 



TRAINS AND TRIBULATIONS 93 

Ypres and Epinette (south of Armentieres). 
This journey in a new direction was quite 
a novel experience to me. I found it just 
like all other war time French journeys. 
Twelve hours in an overcrowded first-class 
carriage with all the windows shut. 

The R.T.O. had grasped where I wanted 
ultimately to get to, and had made out one 
of those bilious looking yellow forms entitling 
me to go to a place called Longpre. When 
arrived there I was possibly to be met by a 
car. Longpre conveyed nothing to me, 
except that I knew it was somewhere down 
Amiens way. 

An overcrowded train pushed off from 
Boulogne some time in the evening, and we 
drivelled about through Etaples and Abbe- 
ville all through the night. I have done a 
fair amount of travelling in France in war 
time, but if you really want a good sample 
of a boring journey, Boulogne to Amiens or 
vice versa is as good as any to experiment 
with. 

You leave Boulogne late in all prob- 
ability and after gazing for about two 
hours at some grass -grown derelict railway 
siding just outside the station, the train 



94 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

moves on until you get a commanding view 
of a sodden cabbage patch in a fifteen acre 
field, from which mammoth faded wooden 
hoardings regale you with allurements, 
such as : " CHOCOLAT MENIER " or " THE 
HELIOPOLIS HOTEL CAIRO (close to golf 
course)." These are varied with " THE 
LIPTON " or " HEINTZ PICKLES, 57 Different 
Varieties." You now move on another 
hundred yards in the twilight and come 
opposite a vast yellow board with faded and 
scabby chocolate coloured lettering, exhort- 
ing you to take "DUBONNET aprees le bain." 
Sleep now overpowers you, and by means 
of balancing your head against the screwed- 
on ash tray in the " Fumeur " carriage, you 
doze, and finally slumber. 



You awake with a start, and remove your 
legs from the French major's lap who is sleep- 
ing next to you, and who, through continen- 
tal politeness, has raised no objection to them 
being placed there. You rub your eyes and 
try to look out of the window. Great 
scare ! What time is it ? Wonder how 



TRAINS AND TRIBULATIONS 95 

long I've been asleep ; wonder if we've 
passed Longpre. 

Your watch tells you that you have been 
asleep four hours. You rub the fog off the 
carriage window in a panic. " Great Scott ! 
We may have passed Longpre and be at 
Amiens ! ! " 

As you can't see through the foggy window 
you rise and open the one over the door. 
Some weed -overgrown lines and the sharp end 
of a low platform are visible, but not a soul 
is about. Presently a figure looms out of the 
darkness and comes along the line at the side 
of the train. You don't know the French 
for " Is this Longpre* ? r So you blurt out 
" Longpre, Monsieur ? " with as much in- 
terrogation about it as possible. 

Indignant answer from figure on lines : 
" Non ! Non ! Non ! Etaples ! " 

" Merci, Monsieur." You collapse into 
the carriage. " Etaples ! ! ! Caesar's Ghost ! 
Etaples ! Why that's the^jiext station to 
Boulogne." . . . Sleep again. 

The train rattled and jolted its shameless 
way into Longpre" at about 8 o'clock in the 
morning, as far as I can remember. 

Longpre is a ridiculously small place with 



96 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

an importance quite out of proportion to 
its size, owing to the war. It happens to 
be a junction. 

I got out on to the line (no platform ever 
near the train when it stops), and pulling 
out my meagre belongings after me, deposited 
them on the track. 

There's something about the way a valise 
flops on to the grass covered line that says, 
" Here you are now, and it's going to be a 
- of a time before you go away again." 

I wandered to the R.T.O.'s office, a 
small wooden hut complete with telephone 
and maps. 

I told him who I was, and where I was 
going. A very nice chap he was, too. He 
started off a telephone call to the place I was 
bound for, asking whether they would send a 
car or whether I should go on by train, and 
then invited me to have some breakfast in 
his place, which was a small cottage about a 
hundred yards away. 

I went with him when he had finished 
with that train, and after an excellent 
breakfast kicked around the place until an 
answer rolled up on the 'phone. 

The answer when it arrived, was pleasing. 




WHAT THE 'ELL ARE YOU DOIN', SPINNIN' A WEB?'' 
NAO ! MY PUTTEE'S UNDONE, SARGINT." 



MY DESTINATION AT LAST 97 

A car was being sent and would be there at 
3 o'clock. 

This was now the last lap of my journey. 
In a few hours I should start off for Montrelet, 
the place where I was to carry out my new 
job. 

The R.T.O. had told me that Montrelet 
was my headquarters, but beyond that he 
knew nothing, except that it was a very 
small village on the way to Doullens, and 
that it was in my Army area. 

At 3 o'clock the car arrived, and bundling 
my valise and bag into it, I started off for 
Montrelet, which was to be my home for some 
little time to come. 



CHAPTER XIII 

THE LAST LAP A PEACEFUL SCENE MEET MY C.O. 
A FRENCH BED 

THE car buzzed along the dusty country 
roads under the efficient guidance of an 
A.S.C. chauffeur, and I surveyed the scenery 
at ease. It all struck me as so very, very 
different from the Ypres-Armentieres Sector. 
This was far more France, and consequently 
prettier. The little villages amongst the 
valleys, and the wooded hills and streams, 
all combined to give an entirely different 
tone to the war in this area. 

I talked to the driver. Montrelet, I found, 
was a small village not far from Candas, 
which in turn was not far from Doullens. It 
was there that the present Army Adminis- 
trative Commandant had fixed up his 
temporary abode. How long he was staying 
there the chauffeur didn't know. He, the 
chauffeur, had to drive about all over the 
army area and knew it all, so I soon got the 
hang of things. I gazed around me at the 
scenery ; it was really quite nice. For the 

first time in the war I was able to get an idea 

9 8 



THE LAST LAP 99 

of the country in which hostilities were being 
carried on. That's the advantage of a 
staff job. If you are bound for the trenches 
and a battalion life your horizon is extremely 
limited. You go by night into the war zone, 
and your life from then onwards is cast 
amongst mangled estaminets, ruined villages 
and trenches. On a staff job, although you 
see all the mangled-up part, yet now and 
again you do 
catch sight of 
what the normal 
country looks like. 
It is a fairly 
hilly coun- 
try about 
Montrelet, 
and the 
road twist- 
ed about 
amongst valleys 
and in and out 
of woods, until at last we reached a 
pretty little village, with a few scattered 
cottages and an ancient church, and 
turned into a farm-yard. Hens hysteri- 
cally scattered in all directions, and the car 




100 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

pulled up at the farm-house front door. The 
village was Montrelet, and this farm-house 
was to be my billet. My things were carried 
in and, entering the house, I met a corporal in 
the hall. It appeared that the colonel was 
out. He had to be out nearly all day and 
every day, but would be back in the evening. 
So I left my traps in a heap at the foot of the 
stairs, and strolled out to look around. 
" This is a curious job I'm in now," I thought 
to myself. " How different from my last 
time out here ! Fancy being able to live 
in a house like this ! ): For the house was 
certainly a good one. I always have thought 
that houses without the front torn out and a 
couple of holes in each gable end are much 
better than those possessing that doubtful 
decoration. This was a real old square- 
built farm-house with the farm sprawling 
round it on three sides, and a garden behind. 
Beyond the garden was a little old grey stone 
church which stood on the edge of a very large 
wood. 

It was a beautiful evening in early summer, 
and the whole outfit was really very pretty 
and peaceful. I strolled about the garden, 
and mused around the church and wood. 



A PEACEFUL SCENE 101 

It all struck me most forcibly as beautiful, 
but sad. There was such a quiet melancholy 
about this place, an effect produced, I think, 
by the close proximity of war to this scene 
without that proximity having disturbed the 
place or knocked it about. 

Here was normal, peaceful French village 
life. Only a few miles away were the 
trenches before Albert, with all the mangled- 
up desolation which surrounds them. 

Somehow I found that the village of 
Montrelet, on this still summer evening, 
with its little cottages in the sunlit valley, 
its old grey church and the peaceful farm- 
yard, had the effect of emphasizing the 
pathos of this devastating war in a greater 
degree than many a ruined landscape that 
I had previously seen. 

I returned to the farm-house after my stroll 
around, and sat down to smoke in one of the 
front rooms. Quite a good room it was, with 
a lavish distribution of looking-glass in gilt 
frames, and a highly- coloured ornamental 
ceiling like the top of a Christmas cake. 

Presently a car rolled into the yard and 
up to the door. The colonel had returned. 
I felt, somehow, that he would be a terrifying 



102 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

person who would come into the hall and be 
heard saying, " Fee. Fi, Fo, Fum, I smell the 
blood of an Englishman," or something on 
those lines ; but he didn't. Instead, he 
walked into the room where I was, and I 
introduced myself to him. He was as nice 
a colonel as ever I have met. A Scotsman, 
in a Highland regiment. Discipline with 
understanding were his chief props, and he 
was a real good sort. I can always allude to 
him as " The colonel " after this, which 
saves me putting down his real name or 
inventing a false one (tiicky fellows these 
authors, you know). 

It was about 7.30 p.m. now, so it was 
dinner time, and the colonel's batman pro- 
ceeded to get the meal ready. He disappeared 
into the room across the hall, and one could 
hear him working off crude French with a 
Scotch accent on to the people of the farm. 
A pretty considerable quantity of this farm- 
load of soldiers was Scottish as I soon 
found. 

The colonel, his servant, and a party of 
soldiers billeted in a loft, completed the 
military outfit which came from the north of 
the Tweed. There were a couple of other 



MEET MY C.O. 103 

fellows who could claim nothing more than 
Middlesex, Essex or Suffolk for their origin. 

The dinner appeared and was spread on 
the table by Clark, the colonel's man, who 
darted about the room in a kilt, full of 
timidity of the colonel, and a desire to 
please. We sat down to a plain but efficient 
meal, and the colonel outlined the job that 
]&y before me, after which we got to discussing 
things in general, including, of course, the 
war. The colonel, I found, had been serving 
in many parts of the show where I myself 
had been, and had experienced all sorts of 
wild and strenuous times. We coincided, 
as regards knowledge of the front, at 
Messines and Ypres, and I soon saw that he 
had had what the vulgar might term " a 
skin full " of the Ypres salient so had I 
and our conversation resulted in consider- 
able mutual understanding. He had had a 
terrific overdose of Hooge, a spot I have 
never been to, but I can thoroughly guaran- 
tee that part of the line as a first-class 
sample of modern war. 

For an hour or two we regaled each other 
with stories of trials, tribulations and grim 
jokes, in the manner that you will notice 



104 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

any two do who find that they both have 
known the same part of the front, and we 
laughed a lot about h% too. When one 
looks back on some of the pickles one has 
been in, they do seem funny. They are 
anything but amusing at the time, but 

everyone laughs at 
them after. 

I Jr em ember trying 
to smile in the middle 
of the second Ypres 
tornado, just to see 
whether my face could 
crack up into that 
facial contortion 
known as a grin. 1 was 
curious to see whether 
the death-charged 
and hateful atmo- 
sphere pervading the 
salient had permanently stopped my capa- 
bilities in this direction. 1 tried to think 
of something to smile at. I looked around 
me as I lay in a fold of the ground under a 
machine-gun deluge, and surveyed the 
scene, " Crumphs " exploding in all direc- 
tions. Every house with the roof off, or in 




A FRENCH BED 105 

the act of coming off, and then I thought 
" What a world ! We build houses to live 
in and enjoy ourselves, and have doctors 
to mend us as much as possible to prevent 
decease, and yet here we are ; all trying to 
knock everything down and kill as hard as 
we can." I smiled at the incongruity. The 
colonel and I aired these thoughts to each 
other that night, and we smiled again. 

I was to start on my job next day. I 
knew nothing about it as yet, but I was to 
go out with the colonel in the morning to 
a railhead south of Albert, and so I would pick 
up what I had to do. 

We sat and smoked a bit and then went to 
bed. It was a curious old place, this farm- 
house. Good old - fashioned rooms. My 
bedroom overlooked the farm-yard and 
contained two huge wooden beds with those 
canopy sort of structures sticking up at the 
pillow end, from which curtains hang in 
regal festoons. 

I had my valise and boxes dragged up- 
stairs, and by the light of a candle pro- 
ceeded to " dig myself in." 

The chief ingredient of a French bed seems 
to be a nondescript sort of a pillow-eider- 



106 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

down - mattress. An enormous feather- 
stuffed cushion it's a mile too large for 
a pillow, and not large enough for anything 
else. 

What you are supposed to do with it, I 
don't know. You are nearly smothered if 
you use it as a pillow, and your feet would be 
frozen, if you use it as a counterpane. Each 
of the beds had one of these monstrosities 
and feather beds as well. I decided to be 
continental, and risk it. I chose the bed 
nearest the window, sank out of sight into 
the feathers and pulled the other thing over 
the top of me; thus enveloped I went to 
sleep. 



CHAPTER XIV 



MY NEW JOB A TYPICAL DAY'S PROGRAMME HOW 



I DISCOVERED in the morning that the 
colonel maintained an office in the place. 
What had been a sort of jam and pickle 
storeroom had been given over to us, and 
in these I found the colonel writing at one 
table by the window, whilst a youthful 
clerk encased in khaki was toiling at a tall 
sloping desk on which was strewn all the 
inevitable impedimenta of a military office. 
Blue forms, white forms, buff forms and 
buff " slips," all were here. A gaudy 
assortment of coloured pencils and rubber 
stamps, files and O.H.M.S. envelopes : in 
fact everything that can bring joy to the 
heart of a quartermaster- sergeant or an 
orderly-room clerk. Now I am sorry to say 
I'm very poor at this sort of thing, in fact 
it might be said, rotten ; so I saw at once 
that to stay efficiently in this new job of 
mine, without incurring the odium of British 
militarism, I should have to buckle to, and 
pump up as much knowledge and enthusiasm 

'107 



108 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

as possible over all these buff slips and indent 
forms. 

The colonel, it appeared, came down 
early and did a bit before breakfast, as he 
had to be out so much in the day, so I made 
a mental note, " I must do the same." 

I turned over a variety of papers dealing 
with the work until breakfast was ready, 
and tried to get the hang of things. The 
colonel at breakfast amplified my scanty 
knowledge by giving an outline of the job. 
It appeared that he was responsible for 
discipline on all the communications in the 
area, approximately between Doullens and 
Amiens. I was to be his adjutant, as it 
were. Each army has an administrative 
commandant and each one of them has a 
staff officer. 

Now I do not want to be confused with 
the real staff officer. By real, I mean those 
on Corps, Divisional or Brigade staffs. They 
are all " combatant " officers. My job was 
now on communications. I had got from 
strafe to staff, and this was as much staff 
as my physical ability at that time would 
permit of. 

I was a staff officer right enough as per 



MY NEW JOB 109 

" book of the words," but I never can con- 
sider anyone quite the real thing, quite the 
neat stuff, who is in any job other than the 
active strafing department. 

Of course, an army must have people 
behind it. If you took the A.S.C. away, the 
army would be done in a week. 

Anyway this job was as much as I could 
do, and I soon found that it was going to 
provide me with a view of the war such as I 
had never had before. 

After breakfast the colonel ordered his 
car round, and we both started off for one 
of the daily jobs. 

He had chosen Montrelet as his head- 
quarters, as it was about central for the 
whole area he had to see to. 

This day we had about twenty miles to 
go, and this was my first view of the Somme 
country, a country shortly to be made 
famous by our mighty effort, "The Battle 
of the Somme." 

It was very hot and dusty. The car 
buzzed along through long poplar-lined 
lanes, and in and out of ramshackle dusty 
villages. The colonel, with a map spread 
on his knee, would every now and then 



110 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

shout instructions to the driver. Some- 
times we were on a broad, white high road, 
passing a whole stream of giant motor lorries 
taking supplies to the dumping grounds, 
and at othor times going slowly through a 
billeting village crammed with dusty khaki- 
clothed soldiers, resting from a spell in the 
trenches. As we neared the front all the 
villages seemed to be hives of soldiery. 
The land seemed alive with men in khaki, 
and out in the fields vast groups of horses 
were tethered or limbers stacked in rows. 
Dust and ponderous motor traffic everywhere. 
Mile after mile we sped on through this 
varied scene, and now we were approaching 
the place we were making for a certain 
railhead. What horrible dry, dusty, un- 
interesting places railheads are, and how 
fearful it must be to be an R.T.O. ! Imagine 
a paltry French wayside station for a home. 
A railhead is a place where stuff of any 
description for the front arrives and is 
subsequently taken over for distribution by 
motor lorries and wagons. 

The station selected may be small or 
large ; it all depends on the position of the 
trench line in that area. If the station is 



TYPICAL DAY'S PROGRAMME 111 

small, then an army of assorted huts springs 
up round it, and in these lurk the individuals 
who operate the railhead. Presiding over 
this industrious scene is the Railway Trans- 
port Officer or R.T.O. He is usually 
selected from the ranks of those who have 
" done their bit," and are only fit for some- 
thing a bit milder than life in the trenches. 

It all depends on the railhead as to what 
sort of a time this cove has. Some rail- 
heads have a frenzied hour's work a day, 
when everything seems to happen at once, 
after which there is nothing to do but take 
a pride in the dandelions on the siding, or 
get on with the latest E. Phillips Oppenheim 
sent out from home. 

Other railheads never leave off being a 
pandemonium day or night. Six howitzers 
arrive from the Sinai Peninsula at four 
o'clock in the morning, or an Army Corps 
of Portuguese Infantry are passing through 
and have to change at midnight. 

The railhead we visited the morning 
I write about was a cross between the two. 
There was a good bit of ammunition work 
to see to there, and that is a more regular 
sort of occupation. 



112 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

We stopped the car by a goods shed, and 
the colonel and I got out. The colonel 
was monarch of all railheads ; they were 
one of the units under his command. I 
trailed along beside him, absorbing the 
scene and trying to learn the job for the 
future. 

I looked around at the huts and the 
station. A face, distorted by the hate of many 
inquisitive interruptions, suddenly appeared 
at a window and hastily disappeared again. 
I guessed it was the R.T.O., and I was right. 
The door of the hut opened and this potentate 
came out. We now, all three, had to evince 
an interest in the deadly dull details of the 
railhead. 

I have, of course, percolated through a 
host of railheads, so I will only describe, 
not an individual, but a typical one. 

A railhead nearly always gives you the 
impression that it is a station which the 
railway company have been disappointed 
with, and have readily given away to the 
military authorities. It mostly consists of 
apparently inconsequent sidings, no plat- 
forms and a row of uninteresting huts. It 
appears to be always a kind of derelict 




A HOPELESS DAM~X. 

iST HACK OKI' I.EAYE. AMIENS IS ONLY 34 HOURS MOKE IX THE TRAIN 

NOW. Yot' KNOW THAI' BECAUSE YOU TAN SER THE CATHEDRAL 

OUITE CI. EARLY. 



TYPICAL DAY'S PROGRAMME 113 

terminus in a forty-acre field. When it's 
not raining all day this enthralling scene is 
enveloped in an opaque cloud of dust. The 
occupation of the inhabitants, moreover, 
is most inartistic, and soul destroying. 
Counting rusty truck loads of howitzers, 
or tins of jam ; anxiously regarding a pro- 
digious quantity of fifteen-inch shells and 
wondering when they can be got rid of ; those 
are the daily joys and sorrows of the R.T.O. 
and his assistants. Added to these activities, 
he of course worries over an interminable 
correspondence which he finds on many 
coloured forms (chiefly buff and white) 
which come floating in to him from all parts 
of France and from every angle imaginable. 

For instance : 

' We have as yet received no news of the 
trench mortar dispatched from Khartoum, 
and last seen at Abbeville," etc., etc. 
or 

' Re your indent for a drinking trough for 
sparrows at your railhead. Please state 



size." 



The colonel, the R.T.O. and myself, all 
three fully conscious of these dull and 
uninteresting shortcomings, but determined 



H 



114 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

to serve our King and country, wandered 
round the railhead. 

The three parts played by the colonel, the 
R.T.O. and myself were : 

The Colonel : To summon as much mailed 
fist and military severity as possible, and to 
frame cunning, terrifying questions to the 
R.T.O. on the details of his work. 

The R.T.O. : To attractively walk along- 
side the colonel and be ready with a plausible 
answer with a substratum of truth for 
everything ; occasionally volunteering to 
show something which he had previously 
ascertained was in perfect order. 

Myself : To walk along looking as clever 
as possible, and refrain from letting the least 
sign leak out that I knew less than either 
about the job. 

And so these visits proceeded, week after 
week, and after each inspection the colonel 
and I would return across the miles of that 
sad, bleak country, back to our headquarters 
at Montrelet. During this time I employed 
all my leisure in drawing further " Fragments 
from France." Jokes that appeared week 
after week in the Bystander how little 
people know where they were made, and 



HOW " FRAGMENTS " EVOLVED 115 

how ! It somehow pained me when I 
knew that the result spelt laughter to 
think how often the idea had come to me 
through the infinite sadness of the Somme 
valley. In the evenings I have often 
wandered around a mutilated little village, 
and gone off by myself to inspect the deserted 
and partially smashed church, or the silent 
weed -grown courtyard of an old farm, and 
have sat and reflected on the whole monstrous 
conflict, and as often as not with that same 
feeling that prompted me to smile during the 
second battle of Ypres. I have smiled here, 
and thought of a ridiculous and amusing 
situation amusing to those who KNOW, 
because founded on truthful pain, but merely 
light comedy to those who don't and can't 
know. 

I have now emerged from the war, and 
look back on a vast sea of episodes and 
curious incidents, but nothing strikes me 
more forcibly than the various and extra- 
ordinary places in which I have drawn my 
pictures. In weird, safe, dangerous and 
unique spots, which range from the North 
sea to Goritzia and the Austrian Alps. But 
of that anon. 



CHAPTER XV 

DIVERSIONS IN AMIENS HOTEL DU RHIN AN 

EXTENDED INSPECTION TOUR BIRTHPLACE OF 

" OLD BILL " 

FOR many, many weeks this job went on, 
full of a variety of small incidents, good, bad 
and indifferent. I got to know my work 
and continued to persevere with life in that 
peculiar resigned but optimistically deter- 
mined fashion which is common to all the 
component parts of the Allied armies in the 
field. 

I liked the job, I liked those I lived with, 
and those I met. Now and again we went 
into Amiens, and this was always a great 
event for us. Something like market day 
to a farmer, who lives a crowded rural life 
ten miles from a station, and drives a con- 
sumptive horse in once a week to the nearest 
apology for a town. 

Whenever the colonel had to visit a 
railhead near Amiens he went there either 
before or after his inspection, and you can 
bet I was always on for being in that expedi- 
tion. I am glad I saw Amiens in those days 

116 



DIVERSIONS IN AMIENS 117 

because I saw it afterwards, and I can feel 
for the inhabitants in that terrible trial 
which befell the city during the last big 
dying flicker of the Prussian push. 

Amiens was about fifteen miles from our 
headquarters, but it was well worth the 
trouble of getting there. Montrelet was 
very nice and picturesque, and all that, but 
I confess I like a bit of crowded humanity and 
sparkle now and again. Not that one got 
much in Amiens, but still it was better than 
nothing. We used to go there after a 
devastating and dry visit to Longeau or 
Heilly, or some miserable oasis near by. 
The great thing was to lunch somewhere. 
If anybody ever reads this book he is almost 
sure to have a gladiator relation or friend who 
has been to Amiens, and has had lunch at one 
of the restaurants or at the " Hotel du Rhin." 
All my pals seem to have drifted in to the 
' Hotel du Rhin " in fact if I come across 
an old sport who " knows " the front I 
succulently murmur something about the 
" Hotel du Rhin," and it at once conveys 
visions to his feverish mind of the gladdest 
nights that were then permissible. How 
many, many of those wonderful, courageous 



118 PROM MUD TO MUFTI 

chaps have wandered in to Amiens and had 
what was to them the best of fun a lunch 
in Amiens ; and then gone back to their 
squadron, battalion or platoon never to 
return. The buccaneering romance of this 
is enormous and sad. 

Well, anyway, we used to go to Amiens, 
and in a crowded, frowsy restaurant down 
one of the main streets, we would lunch, 
and revel in the joys of fried fish, mysterious 
meat, and red wine. 

It was a dear old town, and to see the 
cathedral with a pyramid of sandbags at the 
front door makes one very annoyed at these 
perpendicular-haired gentlemen who have 
elected to disturb the world so violently. 

And so the weeks went on. Work and 
travel, evenings full of war gossip and 
rumours of great events to come, now and 
again punctuated by these visits to Amiens 
I went on with it all ; but slowly, and bit by 
bit, the whole environment was reducing 
me to a very low ebb. Those who read may 
wonder why and possibly those who read 
may never understand, but to me, the sum 
total of the " idea " and real horrible reality 
of this terrible, elementary, and brutal war 



A CLEAR PERSPECTIVE 



119 



was burning a hole into my mind and system 
which time can never heal. 

Somehow, when I sat in that dreadful 
death- charged mud, I felt it less, but here 
outside and behind it I got a clear perspec- 
tive of the frightfulness of the thing. It's 
not the actual danger or the death and sorrow, 




it's the idea of this drastic antagonism of 
humanity, separated by merely national 
aims. 

But why should I bore or wound people 
with these thoughts of mine ? I will return 
to the real great and inspiring idea of war; 



120 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

bright uniforms heroic victories, medals, 
and cheering multitudes. I write these lines 
as our mighty and wonderful nation, with 
the assistance of others, has just reached the 
glorious and hard-fought conclusion which 
was vitally necessary. I have only digressed 
for a few moments in order not to forget the 
amazing wonder of those simple, valorous 
souls, who, as component parts, did things 
the greatness of which few realize and none 
can grasp things which in their country 
and home-loving way (although submerged 
owing to their smallness) are mightier than 
the war itself. 

There came a time, at Montrelet, when it 
became necessary for the colonel to wander 
further afield. There was a tendency for 
journeys to be taken north of Doullens. I 
welcomed this, and was still further elated 
when one morning he announced that he 
had to go right up north to Ypres in fact. 
This was splendid I was more than keen 
to see, once more, the old stamping-ground : 
Armentieres, Bailleul, Locre and Ypres; they 
were all places with a big fascination for me. 

The day came when we started. The 
colonel, the driver and myself slid off in a 



AN EXTENDED INSPECTION TOUR 121 

large ear, and soon were rolling along the 
winding, dusty road from Montrelet. It's a 
great game, being able to go about the front 
in a car you can loll back amongst the 
upholstery, and calmly survey the ruins as 
they flash past you ; now and again having 
the satisfaction of being accidentally mis- 
taken for a general, as some dust-covered 
pedestrian catches sight of you as you flit 
past. When one really has acquired that 
" Limousine loll " it's a great sensation. 
Beats sitting in a frozen dugout, with 
" stand to " at 4 a.m. ; beats it hollow. We 
went through a vast mass of dull, blackened 
country, and wound our way over the cobbled 
streets of innumerable small towns and 
villages, now and again stopping to try and 
reconcile an unintelligible signpost with the 
road on our map, or listening to the still 
more unintelligible explanations and direc- 
tions of some Frenchman, from whom, in a 
weak moment, we had asked the way. 

Anyway, on we went, and bit by bit 
approached that mystic and romantic area 
known as the Ypres-Armentieres sector. As 
I began to recognize the once familiar land- 
marks the whole of the old time war atmo- 



122 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

sphere came back with clear vigour. Here 
were the roads I knew so well, the broken 
houses, shelled-out woods, etc. Here was 
the land of Bullets and Billets ; that weird 
country which holds in its keeping a certain 
dank and mysterious horror, " Plugstreet " 
wood the birthplace of " Old Bill" 



CHAPTER XVI 

THE OLD FIGHTING GROUNDS SOMETHING WRONG 
HOSPITAL IN BAILLEUL HOME SICKNESS 

WE arrived at Bailleul. In those days it was 
still a respectable and reasonable town. In 
fact it was much the same as when I had 
been there before. A few more restaurants 
and officers' clubs had sprung up, but that was 
all. It had not been much shelled. Of course 
it occasionally had to go through an air raid 
or something of that sort, but on the whole 
it was still quite a presentable spot. We 
didn't stop, but went straight on to the 
colonel's destination which was Locre. It 
was here that a certain division had its 
headquarters, and it was here that the 
colonel had someone he particularly wanted 
to see. Locre is a nasty spot, becoming 
nastier still towards the end of the war ; but 
at this period, and even before, it w r as charged 
with a most unpleasing atmosphere air 
raids, and back-area shelling were its speci- 
alities. I remember disliking this spot in- 
tensely, when I spent the night with my 

machine-gun section in its unwholesome 

123 



124 



PROM MUD TO MUFTI 



surroundings on the night before the second 
battle of Ypres ; but now I found myself 
disliking it still more. The place looked 
horribly mutilated and dismal. The colonel 
went to a headquarters I waited outside. 
As he was going to be some time I went to 



\ 




have a look at the various parts of the place 
I knew. I went to the large church there, 
and entered. Here it was that I had billeted 
on that turbulent night, the 23rd of April, 
1915, and had stabled my machine-gun 
section by means of piling up some pews 



THE OLD FIGHTING GROUNDS 125 

and chairs around the part where the organ 
is fixed. 

It was from this place that, at dawn, we 
had all moved off to Vlamertinge, the day 
before that scrap in front of St. Julien. 

Outside the church several long rows of 
crosses (new ones being daily added) testified 
to the severity of holding that part of the 
line. Later on I joined the colonel, who 
asked me to come with him to a house where 
a certain staff was located I went, and there 
had the honour of meeting Colonel Congreve, 
the famous and valorous son of the equally 
famous general of that name. Congreve 
was perhaps one of the most wonderful and 
courageous characters in the war. 

With a row of decorations, earned during 
the war, he was one of the youngest senior 
staff officers in the army. An unaffected, 
courtly young man, with a lion's courage ; 
shortly after this he was killed on the Somme. 

While sitting in this office I noticed that 
I was feeling very quaint. This wasn't due 
to the office, for I had suspected, whilst 
coming along in the car, that I was not 
very well. I remember feeling astonishingly 
bad as I left that office, and waiting by the 



126 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

car outside, I realized I was feeling worse 
every moment, and a fearful pain had started 
at the back of my neck. Feeling for the 
cause of this disorder I found a nasty sort 
of swelling below the hair at the back of my 
head. Most annoying just when I wanted 
to be going strong for my visit to The 
Salient, and "What the devil is it?" I 
wondered to myself. 

However, I didn't say anything ; but we 
all went off to see a battalion headquarters 
near Kemmel. My ! I did feel bad, and 
got worse every minute. I can scarcely 
remember that old farm we went into near 
the front-line trenches. I can dimly recollect 
a hospitable but drastically plain lunch, a 
crowd of officers, and seeing a lot of my 
cartoons torn from the papers pinned on 
the dilapidated walls. I don't know how I 
pulled through that meal. 

Eventually we somehow got back to 
Bailleul and, not being able to stick the pain 
longer, I told the colonel that I had symp- 
toms of an obscure and unattractive kind, 
and that I thought I was going to be ill. 

He immediately said he thought I ought 



HOSPITAL IN BAILLEUL 127 

to see a doctor in Bailleul. He was right ; 
for, by the time we reached Bailleul, I felt 
like a dead fly in a cream jug. 

They took me to a hospital a converted 
convent or monastery, or something ; and 
there I waited in a collapsed heap on a form 
till my turn came for inspection. At last a 
doctor came, and suspiciously examined me. 
Verdict : ' Very feverish, with a carbuncle 
on the back of his neck." 

If you look up the word carbuncle in a 
reasonable dictionary you will see that it 
means c 6 A beautiful gem of a deep red colour"; 
or " A painful and highly inflamed tumour." 
I had the latter. In fact I had, I think, a 
mixture of the two, something that might 
be described as " A gem of a highly inflamed 
tumour, of a beautiful deep red colour." 

I felt rotten. They gave me some medicine 
and said I must go to a clearing station in 
other words, a field hospital. 

Here was a disaster ! Me, ill ! Got to 
leave my job and be sent to hospital what 
a blow ! I knew this would mean weeks, and 
heaven knows what might happen after that. 
However, there it was, and as by now I was 
feeling thoroughly ill I resigned myself to 



128 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



my fate. I spent that night in a bunk at the 
Bailleul hospital. 

This was my second time of collapsed 
removal from the salient evidently an un- 
suitable place for me. My first exit was after 
that little affair I had with a shell near St. 
Julien the second, this infernal carbuncle. 
But how unheroic this second exit ! To have 
to leave the Ypres salient owing to a car- 
buncle on the back of the neck is to my mind 
one of the most degraded forms of heroism. 

There are worse places 
than the back of the 
neck to have car- 
buncles. I found that 
out most painfully, 
later, whilst languish- 
ing on the Italian 
alpine front; but I 
will come to that in 
time. 

Next morning I was 
taken in an ambulance 
from the monastic Bailleul hospital off 
along the dusty, dreary roads, down to the 
old sector around Doullens, and as I was 
carted along I dwelt with some sadness and 




I: 




LOOK OUT, BILL, YOU'KE SITTIN' ON A WASP'S NEST." 



HOME SICKNESS 129 

depression on my bad fortune. Here was 
the end of my first staff job. I somehow felt 
that, once inside that hospital, I should lose 
all the ground I had gained, and return, 
when repaired, to my same old life that of 
a regimental captain. 

Visions of interminable months of trenches, 
billets, and ordering people to carry corru- 
gated iron, floorboards, or something . . . 
Well, anyway, here I was now staff-captain, 
complete, with carbuncle, turning in at the 
gates of a beautiful chateau which at that 
time had just been converted into a hospital. 

The ambulance stopped at the front door. 
I got out and entered. In half an hour I was 
in a suit of pyjamas (giant's size) and lying 
on an iron bed by a window. One of the 
hospital doctors was coming to see me 
shortly. 

I lay and pondered. I thought of the 
farm at Montrelet. I thought of the colonel. 
What would happen now ? Would I return 
there when I was well again, or not ? 

Outside the sun was shining in the beauti- 
ful grounds of the beautiful chateau. On 
the spacious lawn several nurses were walking 

about those who at the moment were off 
i 



130 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

duty. Several officers were out there too, 
convalescents and others. At the far end of 
the lawn, under the shade of a clump of 
lofty trees, a regimental band was assembling. 

The scene was one of delightful summer 
calm. " What band is that ? " I asked. 
Somebody answered me through the window : 
" The Royal Warwickshire Regiment." 

That was my own regiment, and as I lay 
there they started up the Warwickshire 
march. Warwickshire is my county, and I 
love everything belonging to it. I don't 
know why I was ill, perhaps but that 
tune, floating across that sunny tranquil 
lawn, made me nearly cry with an intense 
love and longing for England. 



CHAPTER XVII 

EVACUATED TO BASE MONASTIC SECLUSION 
RETURN TO LONDON CONVALESCENCE 

THE doctor came and examined me. He did 
a few conjuring tricks with that half golf ball 
at the back of my neck and gave me things 
to take. I read, and thought, and slept, and 
incidentally felt very ill. 

Time went on, and after a week I appeared 
to be no better. I was apparently very " run 
down." 

After ten days there the doctor who 
watched me came and said that any idea of 
my going back to Montrelet was " off," and 
that I must be " evacuated to the base." 
" That's done it," I thought ; but I little 
knew that that moment was the turning- 
point in the whole of my war career, and 
that I was soon to find myself in a position 
which I had never dreamt of. 

What I took to be an unfortunate termina- 
tion to my staff career was in reality the first 
premonitory sign of being wafted into a job 
which was the only one of its kind in the 
army. I didn't know it then, and with a 
depressed spirit I went off with a gang of 

13* 



132 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

others, all correctly labelled with our various 
complaints, down to the base. 

You never could say what base it was 
going to be, or what hospital there. Those 
mysterious labels they tie on you may 
convey a wealth of meaning to the medical 
authorities, but nothing to yourself. 

After the usual form of train journey (I 
refer to the sixty-miles-with-sixty-hours-to- 
do-it-in variety) we arrived at Rouen, and 
were split up into several different groups 
and sent in ambulances to the various 
hospitals. I went to a fine big one on the 
hill above the town. This one, again, was a 
trifle ecclesiastical it had been, I think, a 
sort of incubator for would-be monks. These 
hermits had all been roped in for service 
with the French Army, and the building was 
rented at a preposterous figure by the 
British authorities for use as a base hospital. 

It was a fine hospital, too ; platoons of nurses 
and V.A.D.'s, doctors, and all the whole outfit. 

I was put into a room by myself. That 
sounds very grand, but in reality it was a 
sort of cubicle in a long corridor. There were 
open wards there as well, but a lot of us were 
kept in the cubicles. I imagine these box- 



MONASTIC SECLUSION 133 

like creations were in ordinary times used 
by the budding monks they were austere 
enough for anything. One almost wanted to 
get up twice a night to scourge oneself so as 
to complete the picture. 

In this harbour of refuge they were all 
very good to me. The doctors said I was 
very run down and must rest quietly. There 
was really no physical reason for this, but I 
have had such miserable times with my state 
of mind and imagination about the war that 
it is difficult for me to explain to others what 
a terrible ordeal it can be. There is no reason 
why one should not attempt to explain this 
phenomenon. It is simply this : there are 
types of men who can go to a war such as 
this and only see its practical and physical 
side. Such a man, on returning home, will 
say, " It was terrible at Ypres! J: Somebody 
will say, 'Why?' He will then explain 
that the mud was something awful, and that 
they had to be up all night in pouring rain, 
and never had a wink of sleep. Moreover, the 
ceaseless shelling necessitated them working 
on the trenches every day. I envy that man. 

I know there are others, like myself, to 
whom all that, though objectionable, is not 



134 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

the worst feature. It's the horrible idea of 
the thing the sudden reduction in the value 
placed on human life. The thoughts on the 
devastating pain and sorrow caused away back 
at home at each casualty. The precarious con- 
ditions regarding the mode of burial, which 
all depend on the local conditions prevailing 
at the time. These thoughts, and a host of 
others, make such a mess of one that physical 
ills are nothing compared to them. 
In fact, to sum up : 

The pain and devastation to the indi- 
vidual is directly proportional to the 
amount of imagination that individual 
possesses. 

The most suitable man for a war is a 
butcher ; the most unsuitable, a poet. 
And so it was that I was ill and run down. 
But, thanks to an inherited juvenile spirit, 
I can permanently camouflage a lot of 
troubles, come up to the surface and drink 
in the joys of life. Under the soothing in- 
fluences of kind-hearted nurses, aided by 
succulent substantial assets, such as chicken 
and occasional champagne, I slowly recuper- 
ated in my cubicle, and in a few days began 
to look back on past events and ache for 



A NICE OLD TOWN 135 

pencils, paints and paper. I got these, and 
dived off into a volume of scribbles, sketches 
and jokes on a host of topics which ironically 
amused me. If ever that monk goes back to 
that cubicle of his, he's going to find a fine 
mess on the walls. I perpetrated a series of 
most worldly drawings on the sides of his 
ethereal cell. 

I added enormously to the already nau- 
seating number of autograph albums which 
I have from time to time scribbled in. 

Later on I was better still, and went out. 
The medical officers very kindly invited me 
to their mess. I disgraced their walls with 
further efforts, and later still I reached that 
state of physical fitness which entitled me 
to go outside the grounds and roam around 
the town. I wasn't long in taking advantage 
of this, and daily went for a couple of hours 
off into Rouen. 

It's a nice old town, and was very pleasing 
in those summer days. I examined it all 
thoroughly. I sat in cafes and amused 
myself as I always do with Pelmanizing the 
place and the people. I wandered around 
and observed the life of the place. Rouen 
had been swooped down upon by the British 



136 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

army and had become a large military base. 
This, of course, leads to a lot of " Back of 
the Front " departments. " Brass hats " 
shone all over the place. The Hotel de la 
Poste fairly glittered with them. Some, ex- 
gladiators from the front ; others, who had 
only heard about the front through the 
papers or their friends. It was a merry 
town Rouen. 

So the time passed. I was better, but 
again the Medical Board at that hospital 
decided that I ought not to return to the 
front. Now this showed me a new and 
painful difficulty. I knew that if sent to 
England, by the approved rules of the game, 
this would automatically cause me to be 
struck off the lists of the British Expedition- 
ary Force, and I should be put back in the 
home forces. 

More depression and forebodings. How- 
ever, I am very fatalistic, and I curled up 
mentally in order to await the day which I 
knew was coming, i.e., to have a label tied 
on my tunic directing me to England. At 
last it came, and I left that kind, hospitable 
Red Cross monastery and was shipped with 
a crowd of others for England. We all 



RETURN TO LONDON 



137 



went on the Asturias, which most people 
will remember was subsequently torpedoed. 
The boat was 
crowded, almost 
entirely with 
wounded return- 
ing from the battle 
of the Somme, that 
great and glorious 
conflict which cost 
us so much. 

I had a bunk in 
a crowded ward 
on the ship, and 
we all were very 
cheerful. A hos- 
pital boat return- 
ing to England 
contains an aston- 
ishing amount of 
cheer and bright- 
ness. The idea in every man's mind that he 
is being taken by Englishmen back to Eng- 
land, and the visions that he sees of dear old 
Blighty, are enough to make them cheerful. 
It's the best tonic I know. 

A chap with an arm in a sling and with all 




138 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

his clothes torn to ribbons would be sitting 
on the side of a bed smoking a " stinker " 
and recounting, laughingly, exactly how they 
all got held up in the barbed-wire in front of 
a Boche machine-gun. His companion would 
follow up this story with a grouse that his 
" push " had all been north of the battle, and 
" heard all the row goin' on, but hadn't had 
a look in." 

That's the stuff to give 'em. 

When the Asturias reached Southampton 
we were all put into ambulance trains and 
sent to various parts of the country. My lot 
was London. At midnight I and a few others 
were removed from the station by motors and 
taken to a hospital, but with the strange 
coincidence, in my case, that it was the same 
hospital which had received me after my 
blowing-up at Ypres. 

I entered that hospital at Camberwell, and 
when I left, cured, it was to start on the most 
extraordinary part of my war life, viz., my 
tours round all the fronts. Before the end 
of the war I was to see the fronts from the 
North sea to the Adriatic, and the backs of 
the fronts, from Rome to New York ; and 
so I start another chapter. 



CHAPTER XVIII 

SICK LEAVE SUMMONED TO WAR OFFICE AMAZING 
INTERVIEW A UNIQUE JOB 

IN due course I was better, and after going 
before a Medical Board I was given sick 
leave. I then went home and wondered 
about the future. It was " Good-bye, Mon- 
trelet! 5: I knew that, but what would be 
my next job ? Back in the old "apple and 
plum," I supposed. 

I spent two weeks amongst the leafy calm 
of Warwickshire getting better every day. 
In a few days now I should have my final 
Medical Board and then report at the head- 
quarters of my Battalion Reserve Depot. 
The days slid on and I was just about to go 
through the above formula when the blow 
fell or the squib exploded or whatever you 
like to call it. I awoke one morning to find, 
amongst other letters, a long envelope with 
O.H.M.S. on the cover. 

I was summoned to London to the War 
Office ! 

Now, my feeling about the War Office is 
almost identical with that one has at school, 

139 



140 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



when you are requested to visit the head- 
master's study after " prep." with a view to 




being caned. I don't know why, but perhaps 
it's that wonderful and unique chill which 



SUMMONED TO WAR OFFICE 141 

one associates with long unfurnished stone 
corridors. 

The War Office is well worth a visit to 
those who haven't been there. A vast pile 
with an intricate labyrinth of long, dull- 
coloured corridors one almost expects to 
find the mummied corpse of a king when one 
gets to the centre something like entering 
the Great Pyramid at Gizeh. 

You feel that somewhere in the middle 
there must be some vast and highly coloured 
potentate maybe, a super-general who is, 
perhaps, dead in a sarcophagus, or alive like 
a queen bee ; but, anyway, guarded by a 
host of officials, minor satellites and girl 
guides. 

You, of course, never get near or see this 
personage ; you merely feel the gloom and 
awe which his presence creates. 

I haven't been to the War Office very 
often, but I have never lost this sensation. 
You enter the building and fill up a form. In 
time you are boisterously told by a Boer 
War veteran to " follow the girl." The girl 
a guide of sorts in a dark brown engineer's 
overall sets off sullenly down a cement 
passage with a group of assorted officers 



142 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

pursuing. She, I fancy, revels in the intri- 
cacies of these stone catacombs. Having 
apparently described a complete parallelo- 
gram by means of walking round the edifice 
in a forbidding looking corridor, you sud- 
denly come upon a lift. It is always dis- 
appearing upwards when you arrive, so the 
whole group silently wait for its return. It 
comes down suddenly and disgorges an 
assorted crowd, when, headed by the girl 
guide, you enter and are taken up. Now we 
all repeat the corridor and parallelogram 
business again ; this time you have to 
abandon trying to realize where you are. 
Nothing but the girl guide can save you 
now. 

Lost in the War Office ! ! how awful that 
would be! I can imagine a visitor, having 
lagged behind the guide a bit, suddenly 
realizing that he was lost! How he would 
vainly beat on those stone walls and scream 
for help how his skeleton would be found 
by a typist, weeks later, in an attitude which 
evidently showed that he had succumbed 
while endeavouring to gnaw his way through 
a door ... I followed the guide, and after 
being handed to several officials who take 



AMAZING INTERVIEW 143 

you to other officials, at last came up with 
THE official, whose duty it was to prevent, 
if possible, anyone seeing the officer who had 
summoned me by letter from my rural 
retreat. 

The official took my paper form and 
reverently asked me to " wait a minute." 
He then disappeared through a door ten feet 
high and five feet wide, and closed it behind 
him. 

I now sat on a chair and idly listened to 
the suburban gossip of a couple of typists, 
which floated out from behind a couple of 
screens. " Have you been to Chu Chin 
Chow, dear?" 

" No, darling ; I was going but something 
happened, I don't know what. Harold told 
me he had seen you there." 

A rattling burst of typewriting indicates 
that another monstrous door has opened 
down the passage, and a staff officer has 
come out. 

He passes the typists and me, carrying an 
armful of buff-coloured papers, then all is 
still again. 

My door opens. The official comes out. 
He beckons me in. I go in. I am in. I hear 



144 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

the ponderous door close softly behind. I 
am face to face with the occupants of the 
room. 

The interview was brief, but to the point. 
I was complimented on the effect of my 
pictures. I was told that the War Office 
would not only like me to continue as I 
pleased with my ordinary cartoons, but that 
I was to be placed in the Intelligence Depart- 
ment, to be used, pictorially, for certain work 
which they wanted done. They then hinted 
that in the near future they might require 
me to visit the French and Italian armies, 
and to produce similar work to that which, 
during many months, had grown out of the 
mud, as it were, on the British front. I was 
told of certain work to get on with immedi- 
ately, and initiated into a lot of details 
dealing with the Intelligence Department. 
I left the War Office as an official and fully 
licensed humorous cartoonist, and have con- 
tinued in that capacity up to the end of the 
war. 

I left Whitehall and nearly ran down the 
street outside I was so bucked. I went 
into the " Old Ship," a restaurant which you 
will find nearly opposite Cox's bank. Here, 



A UNIQUE JOB 145 

with a cup of coffee and a Gold Flake I sat 
and thought it all over. I looked back at 
the start of it all. Back into those dank 
dark days of early 1914, when I, as a very 
poor and submerged second - lieutenant, 
slushed around the Messines mud, and at 
night drew my first sketches by the light of 
a candle-end stuck on an empty tin, keeping 
myself warm by the heat of a fire-bucket. 

"From that to this," I thought, and I 
smiled with sadness as I recollected the 
various ups and downs and trials of those 
early days. 

Here I was now attached to the Intelligence 
Department of the War Office! "The War 
Office like my drawings!! " Overcome with 
pride, I paid my bill and went across the 
road to draw as much as I could out of that 
one pound nineteen and elevenpence that 
still remained to my credit at Cox's. 



CHAPTER XIX 

OFF TO FRENCH FRONT LONELINESS IN PARIS 

FOLIES BERGERES 

Now I want to ask all readers of this book 
to exonerate me from any charge of egoism. 
I feel that many will be interested to hear 
exactly all about what my job as a cartoonist 
was like, and how and where the pictures 
were drawn ; also, it is necessary for me to 
give a general idea of the results of the 
pictures and a variety of personal details, 
if I am to explain fully. The vast mass 
of letters that I have received from all 
over the world has emboldened me to put 
as much as I can of the personal note into 
these pages. I have felt there are so many 
who would like to know the " inside " of 
Fragments from all Fronts that I am going 
to describe the actual work in connection 
with my drawings, as well as the geographical 
adventures which led to them. 

My first return to the Continent after the 
events related in the last chapter was to the 
French Army. The French Army Intelli- 
gence Department applied for me to be sent 



OFF TO FRENCH FRONT 147 

to their front, to live amongst the troops 
there and to bring out pictorially, and in 
my own way, a series of cartoons. At the 
time this came about as an order, my pictures 
in the Bystander had been bound into several 
books under the title of Fragments from 
France, and had had an enormous circula- 
tion. The French papers had commented 
on them, and ultimately the application 
which I have mentioned above occurred. 

I went to the War Office and having 
received my pass and certain papers, I set 
off for France. 

A large and complicated paper had been 
given to me amongst others, which told me 
the number of a certain corps in the French 
army I had to report to. It said nothing 
about the part of the line where I should 
find this corps ; but somehow or other I 
got it into my head that this particular 
corps lurked about somewhere near Rheims 
or Soissons. 

After a suffocating all-night journey, fol- 
lowing a nauseating passage to Boulogne, I 
arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris, where 
I reported to the French Provost Marshal's 
headquarters. I was shown into an office. 



148 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

A very courtly French colonel explained 
most politely and gently to me that the 
corps in question was near Rosendael. 

" And where is that ? " I asked. He turned 
to a large map and pointed a finger prac- 
tically at Ostend. 

"Heavens! near Ostend! and here have 
I come all the way down to Paris! " (Vision 
of another long, suffocating journey with a 
suit-case, almost back to where I had started 
from.) 

I thanked the colonel and returned to 
the station to find out the trains for next 
morning. I really couldn't get into a train 
again that night. 

" I'll stay the night in one of these pubs 
here," I thought to myself, and, acting on 
this impulse, selected the Hotel Terminus du 
Nord, which faces the station. 

Mine was to be a lonely job. During all 
my wanderings from this date on I was cast 
for long, solitary train journeys, and nights 
in various hotels, estaminets and billets, all 
on my own. Here I was now in Paris, just 
about to have a sample of the kind of evening 
I have had so many of. 

I went that night to the Boulevards and 



LONELINESS IN PARIS 149 



wandered around. I sat in several cafes, 
always with my notebook and pencil, and 
watched the cosmopolitan and semi-mili- 
tary crowd as it moved in an apparently 
endless stream down the Boulevard des 
Italiennes. 

It was late autumn, and the interior of the 
cafes were crowded. Looking out from the 
brightly lighted interior the street seemed 
to be a joyous 
mass of hu- 
manity, all for 
ever moving 
onward. 

I sat back 
on the frowsy 
seats, and 
with a sheet 
of paper and 
a drink on 
the marble- 
topped table 
in front, fol- 
lowed my 
customary habit of weaving pictures in the 
tobacco smoke around. 

Later I went to the Cafe de Madrid and 




150 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

had dinner. To-morrow I was starting for 
Rosendael and the front. 

After dinner, shunning the dull quiet of 
the Hotel Terminus clti Nord, I decided to 
go to a show somewhere, and soon con- 
cluded that what would be about my mark 
would be the Folies Bergeres. So off I went, 
and after the usual robbery at the entrance, 
roamed around the palm court, listened to 
the band, and with the aid of a whisky and 
soda, watched the fountains squirting water 
out into the smoke-laden atmosphere. What 
a mass of women they have in that place, 
somehow! Gaudy, doubtful women, foun- 
tains and lazy bands form a very curious 
background to that front which, not so 
many miles away, is dealing exclusively in 
death, toil and devastation. 

But here it was ; all going strongc " Eat, 
drink and be merry, for to-morrow " some- 
body else dies. 

There was some show going on on the 
stage, but as I can't understand a word of 
French at the speed the natives talk it I 
contented myself with absorbing the sights 
of the palm court. 

Having sat in the palm court at the Folies 



FOLIES BERGERES 151 

Bergres and in kindred theatres a score of 
times, I have come to the conclusion that 
there are other dangers beside the trenches. 
This fancy (it's probably only a stupid 
hallucination of mine) I have recorded in 
the shape of a drawing which you will find 
in one of the books of Fragments, namely, 
" Come on, Bert, it's safer in the trenches! " 
I left before the end of the show, and walked 
back to the hotel. Having overhauled my 
baggage and told a swarthy rogue of a Boots 
to call me in the morning, I went to bed, and 
recuperated for my journey to Rosendael in 
the morning. 



CHAPTER XX 

WHERE WIRE MEETS SEA CRACKED COXYDE 
CORDIAL RECEPTION CHILLY QUARTERS 

ROSENDAEL is a paltry, unattractive little 
town near the sea in the Dunkirk direction. 
I and my suit-case arrived there in due 
course. I presented myself to the corps 
general. He graciously saw me in a chateau 
just outside the town, which he used as his 
headquarters. He was a very famous French 
general, but there is no need to mention his 
name. I showed him my papers and ex- 
plained to him at his request exactly what 
I would like to do. I wanted to go into the 
French trenches in that sector, and thoroughly 
get into the spirit of what holding that part 
of the line was like ; also J wanted to 
familiarize myself with the way the French 
soldiers lived and fought. He quite under- 
stood, and gave a few rapid orders to an 
officer who was in the room. He then told 
me that he had decided that I should go to 
a certain division who were at the time 
holding that part of the line which runs 

152 



WHERE WIRE MEETS SEA 153 

alongside the Yser canal, and which had its 
left flank on the sea. 

This sounded very interesting, as this 
sector comprised places of such war-historic 
interest as Dixmude, Nieuport, Furnes, etc. 

A car was placed at my disposal and I was 
whirled off along the flat, bleak, and occa- 
sionally poplar-lined roads up towards the 
front and towards the great Yser canal, the 
scene of so much Belgian gallantry. It was 
very, very cold, and the long drive in the 
open car as the evening came on was not a 
particularly exhilarating performance. 

We at last arrived at a lot of sand-hills, 
amongst which were some scattered villas 
of the sort that you will inevitably find at 
Belgian seaside resorts. This place the driver 
announced was Coxyde and this was where 
the division had its headquarters. My 
destination at last! 

Personally, the architecture and total 
surroundings of a Belgian seaside resort in 
peace time, I consider fairly unattractive, 
but under war conditions I confess that I 
was bordering on a feeling of absolute 
revulsion at the general appearance. A 
cheap stucco and red-tiled villa on a wind- 



154 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

swept sand-hill is bad enough at any time, 
but when there is a shell hole through the 
roof, a couple of windows missing and a 
corner chipped off, its appearance is still 
more repulsive. 

There were a good number of these sea- 
side atrocities standing about, and it was 
in one of these that I found the divisional 
commander and all his staff, to whom I 
reported myself. They had heard that I 
was coming, and as luck would have it 
knew all about my pictures, and therefore I 
was saved that painful explanation which I 
have from time to time had to indulge in 
that of telling officials what my work con- 
sists of. To explain my business to a man 
who has never heard of me or my work is a 
terrible ordeal. 

The subject is so large, and the whole 
story so peculiar, that I never know where 
or how to begin. Fortunately now-a-days 
there don't seem to be many people who are 
unaware that there is such an individual 
existing as Bruce Bairn sfather, and that 
he happens to make a series of marks on 
bits of paper which a kind-hearted world 
has taken to calling cartoons. Things are 



CORDIAL RECEPTION 



155 



not so hard for me now as they used to be. 

But you can imagine that for some time after 

I began to draw cartoons, it was a bit trying 

to explain to some fire-eating general who 

had never heard of 

me, and whose one 

" bete noir " was 

cartoons, that I was 

a licensed military 

cartoonist, and 

wished to be allowed 

to wander all around 

his trenches so as 

to get the " atmo- 

sphere" and feeling 

of that particular 

sector. After a life 

spent in pondering 

on the theory and 

value of howitzers, 

road maps, discipline ^ u/wrfl* 

tte 

and battles, a gene- 

ral is naturally a bit 

strange to the flimsy unreality and ap- 

parent uselessness of art. 

Oh yes, I've had some trying times, believe 
me! 




156 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

However, here at Coxyde, I was most 
cordially, understandingly and enthusias- 
tically received by this French army com- 
mander, and my introduction was followed 
by my being allotted quarters and then going 
to lunch with the staff. They were a most 
happy, light-hearted group of officers, and 
all worked hard. The general himself, a 
short, thick-set, swarthy, strong man, was 
one of the brightest and most cheerful 
ornaments of the mess; a general at his 
work, and a human being when it was 
over. All the group of officers connected 
with him were perfectly free and happy 
at that mess. All was brightness and 
freedom, with, whenever necessary, a rigid 
and vigorous return to work and hard 
discipline. I was very much struck with 
that headquarters mess. I had occasion 
to have many meals there and I also saw 
all the members at work, and was most 
forcibly impressed by the difference between 
their headquarters and the equivalent in 
the English army. Since then, having had 
similar experiences with the Italian and 
American armies, I am still more struck 
with the same difference to our own English 



CORDIAL RECEPTION 157 

equivalent. That frigid atmosphere which 
some of our " headquarters " can and do 
assume is entirely lacking in any foreign 
army. In any other army but ours, a 
second lieutenant, when at some " off duty " 
period, say at dinner, can talk with his 
general and be answered and talked to by 
his general like two human beings who have 
respect for each other's knowledge, each in 
his own sphere, You will frequently find 
with us that, under similar circumstances, a 
gloomy, unintellectual silence is maintained, 
with an occasional remark from the general 
which is followed by a sycophantic answer 
from someone of a rank no lower than a 
captain ; whilst a second lieutenant (if 
there is one present) munches his toast in 
dead silence, consigned as he is to unques- 
tionable ignorance at the far end of the 
table. 

I've 'ad some myself. 

No offence meant only a slight digression 
on insularity. 



After lunch at that Coxyde villa, I was 
was taken round and shown where I was to 



158 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

be stabled, and from where I would make 
excursions to the various trenches in the 
sector. The place I was to live at was a 
hotel on the sea front. You will notice I 
say " was," and I still stick to that word. 
Of all the chilly, horrible hotels, I think this 
one was the peach. Being almost winter it 
was dark when I and my guide got there, and 
as I was taken up the uncarpeted, creaky, 
cheap stairs, with a Zouave leading the way 
with a candle stuck in a bottle, I couldn't 
help thinking how unfavourably the place 
compared with the Savoy. A long, bare 
corridor with the wind whistling down it 
through a window with no glass in it greeted 
us at the top of the stairs. Macbeth's castle 
was a cosy invalids' home compared with 
this place. The Zouave, with his dark red 
Turkish - looking hat, led the way. The 
candle spluttered and blew about in the 
breeze. We opened a door on the right and 
the candle went out in the draught. 

The Zouave entered and re-adjusted the 
sheet of sacking across a broken pane of 
glass in the window at the far end. He then 
re-lit the candle and showed me my room. 
A bed, one chair, and a washstand, all made 



CHILLY QUARTERS 159 

out of a horrible, bilious yellow- coloured 
wood, and standing on a carpetless floor. 

Those were the contents, the other attrac- 
tions consisting of a rattling window and a 
mouldy smell such as one, I imagine, would 
associate with a derelict hotel. The Zouave, 
of course, could speak nothing but French. 
I can't do much at that, and as I fancy he 
threw in a little Arabic now and again, I 
found I could do nothing to establish an 
" entente." I indicated with a smile and 
a few gestures, that I was " quite alright 
now, thanks very much," and leaving me the 
candle, he went away. I sat on the bed 
which was damp from the sea air blowing 
through the open window. Outside I 
heard the waves breaking on the shore, 
whilst inside the hotel was emitting a 
variety of creaky, weird noises. 

The candle, burning with sullen dullness, 
was standing on the cheap wasiistand, and 
apparently it was all it could do to illuminate 
the surface of that unattractive piece of 
furniture. 

' Here I am at Coxyde, and this is where 
I have got to live with the French soldiers, 
find ideas and draw them," I thought to 



160 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

myself. " If you knows of a better 'ole, go 
to it." 

There was no better 'ole, and if there had 
been I couldn't go to it, so I resigned myself 
to forthcoming life at " Coxyde les Bains." 




J)ont 1Wet,thar when 
are out* doin^ a 
on jyour oiun , 

eel like tHe 
marKed tuitH SL 
Cross in Tfiis 
JDicture 




CHAPTER XXI 

GOING THE ROUNDS MUD AND MONOTONY 

VERDU*N HEROES THOUGHTS ON SHELLING 

THE next day I began my work. The 
general had arranged for me to have a 
guide, and to be taken to a regiment that 
was in front line trenches to the right and 
in front of Nieuport. 

It was a bleak, grey, dismal day as we 
went down the long, monotonous, shell-pitted 
road towards Nieuport. What a dreary 
waste that country round the Yser Canal 
is, particularly in all the wild, wet weather 
of winter. We went as far as we safely could 
in the car, and then walked a short 'way to 
the place where the regimental commander 
lived. He had a fairly large, well-built 
subterranean dugout, where my guide ex- 
plained all about me, and what I wanted to 
see and do. 

It appeared that the colonel had been 
already rung up on the telephone about me, 
and he readily grasped the idea. He pre- 
pared to come round with us and show 
us all over his particular command. All 

L 161 



162 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



through my many visits to the various parts 

of the stupendous battle-line from Ostend 

to Goritzia 

I have been 

particularly 

impressed 

by the will- 

ing cour- 

tesy shown 

by the dif- 

ferent com- 

mand er s 

whom I 

have had 

thepleasure Q 

of meeting. T 

In spite of 

the strenu- 




they had 
to live they always found time to do 
all that was possible to show me every- 
thing in their power, and were invariably 
most hospitable. Trench hospitality is a 
wonderful and touching thing. Every one 
of my official hosts would turn out extra- 
ordinarily good meals in my honour, and on 



GOING THE ROUNDS 163 

many occasions I have known that this 
must have meant curtailing their own none 
too luxurious rations. The colonel got ready, 
gave some orders, and then started to show 
us round. We followed close behind. I 
shall never forget that water-logged, dreary 
waste near Nieuport. Vast, perfectly flat 
country, with long, mournful grass waving 
about in the cold wind under a lead-coloured 
sky. We went along " duck boards " most 
of the way, occasionally passing groups of 
war-worn poilus, who were toiling at that 
everlasting necessity the battle between 
Man and Mud. To these men the colonel 
would always say something perhaps praise, 
perhaps criticism. But to those poor, cold, 
wet devils, even a harsh corrective word of 
command must have been relief. Those 
winter months on the Yser were a triumph 
for our Belgian and French allies. 

We went on, and at last slushed our way 
into a series of muddy trenches. It is hard 
for those who have never seen those trenches 
to imagine the fearful conditions under which 
the soldiers lived ; no worse, indeed, than 
what our own army has had to contend 
with, but they were just as bad as you could 



164 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



want. There is so much marsh land in these 
parts, that to make anything but a sloppy 
bog for your home is nearly impossible. 
Dark days, mud, rain, danger and death. 
When you add those ingredients together 
and multiply it by the length of a whole 
winter you'll find it wants a lot of beating. 
And these were the soldiers, these were 
some of those amazing fellows who had 

"stuck out" so much. 
These were some of 
those wonders who 
had astonished the 
world by their heroic 
performance at Ver- 
dun. I looked at them 
all keenly, and thought 
hard as I followed 
behind the colonel 
down trench after 
trench. Here were 
these splendid men, 
in old, dirty uniforms 
covered with mud ; 
some sitting down 
back of the mud and 
and others standing 




on ledges at the 
sand-bag parapet, 



VERDUN HEROES 165 

about with their hands in their pockets, 
stamping their feet on the old worn 
" duck boards " to keep warm ; while 
others, again, were occupied on their ceaseless 
watch for the enemy over the parapet. An 
English officer following their colonel round 
was an unusual sight I was the first they 
had ever seen there, and they all looked with 
silent curiosity as I passed, and then muttered 
something amongst themselves. I don't 
know what they said, but if it had been me 
I should probably have said, " What's this 
- fool doin' muckin' around here." 

I expect they said that I hope so; it's 
human and friendly. 

I don't know many things more tiring than 
being shown round miles and miles of 
trenches. To begin with, you can't walk 
normally you always seem to be stepping 
over things or stooping under things ; added 
to which, you have occasionally to do about 
half a mile in a bent-up attitude, because 
the parapet is low. This latter procedure 
is advisable owing to a latent desire on the 
part of those Rhineland gentlemen to snipe 
your head if it shows. 

I got tired out that day, but I saw and 



166 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

learnt a lot. I scrambled about in various 
ditches known technically as communication 
trenches. I went on " all fours " into sundry 
dugouts or trench mortar emplacements. I 
slushed through hundreds of yards of dirty, 
marshy, shell-torn ground, tripped on old 
rusty barbed wire, in fact " saw J! those 
trenches thoroughly. We stopped for lunch 
at the dugout of a company commander, 
and there we sat round a low table a 
survival of some mutilated home close by, 
and partook of a plain but very welcome ration 
lunch, given to us with the utmost cordiality 
and hospitality ; after which a smoke, and 
a removal of as much mud as one could. 

They are invariably a cheery and friendly 
crowd, these French officers, and there is 
invariably a " happy family ' atmosphere 
in all French regiments. 

During this visit of mine to these Nieuport 
trenches there was very little shelling or 
violent interruptions of any kind a little 
rifle firing and a little " back area " strafing, 
that was all. That form of amusement 
indulged in by artillery and known as 
" back area " shelling, consists of lobbing 
nice, large, juicy shells over the heads of the 



THOUGHTS ON SHELLING 167 

trench holders, way back on to some town, 
village, camp or building ; occasionally 
varying this by deluging a certain road so 
as to make it unattractive if not impossible 
to use. Of the various forms of irritant 
which this war has possessed, I hate shelling 
most. Against one of those large, flying 
umbrella stands, in the shape of a fifteen- 
inch shell, you can do nothing. It's mere 
delusion to think you are safe in a house, 
dugout or cellar. These shells have a 
persistent and noisy way of penetrating 
anywhere, with the almost inevitable result 
that you go out either bodily or in pieces. I 
can laugh, and have laughed, at the rattling 
splutter of machine-gun bullets against a 
wall when I have been on the other side, 
but when those mammoth howitzers start 
squirting those explosive drainpipes over 
at you, I confess my smile fades. That 
" Boom " (very soft in distance), then the 
swirling, rotating, swishing crescendo over- 
head ; the ghastly momentary pause, as you 
see an earth fountain waft a cottage a hundred 
yards into the air, followed by a crash like 
a battleship being dropped into Olympia 
No! No! I don't like it. 



; 



168 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

These Nieuport trenches were compara- 
tively quiet that day, but when the time 
came for us to retrace our steps along the 
sodden " duck boards " I wasn't sorry. They 
were a clammy, horrible, depressing sight, 
and very reminiscent to me of those dark, 
dank ditches I used to live in before Messines. 

I looked back when we had gone about 
half a mile; under the darkening, dreary, 
wet sky the flat war-torn country lay in 
gloomy silence. The long waving grass, a 
skeleton farm roof silhouetted against the 
lemon-coloured light of the setting sun, and 
beyond, the dark, hazy mystery of where 
those primitive trenches lay, and where, 
night after night, week after week, month 
after month, those muddy, weather-beaten, 
war-worn poilus for ever " held the line." 



CHAPTER XXII 

METHODS OF WORK A WONDERFUL TUNNEL AN 

" AIRY " BIT OF LINE BACK TO COXYDE 

MY life now consisted in going daily to come 
new part of the line, seeing different regiments 
and noting a host of various incidents. At 
night, back in that drastic hotel by the light 
of two candles stuck in their own grease, I 
worked away on my detail drawings and 
wrote notes on all the little effects and points 
which I had observed in character and design 
amongst the soldiers and in the trenches. 
I have sketch-books and note-books full 
of the various characteristics of different 
trenches, localities and soldiers. Thinking 
it may interest readers of this book, I am 
having a typical page from one of my sketch- 
books reproduced. It is a hurried detail 
drawing made at about the time of which 
I have just written. A cracked and deserted 
cold hotel is not the best studio on earth, 
but here it was that I collected all the 
material that I wanted in the way of 
technical detail. I made no attempt to get 
ideas for pictures ; I never do, at this period. 

169 



170 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



I just go in for letting the whole scene and 
conditions of life soak into my system; 

live with them 
all, and feel 
what it is to 
live there with 
them all, then 
afterwards 
when I come 
away, a 
clearer vision 
of what it was 
struck me 
most comes 
along and 
then I can 
carry on. 

The times 
I have had 

in fearful 
"studios!" 

-- - from * hat 

Ul dugout where 

I drew m 7 
first " Where 

did that one go ? 5! picture to a cabin in 
mid-Atlantic. 




METHODS OF WORK 171 

Incidentally having perpetrated sketches 
in a broken-down estaminet in the Vosges, a 
swimming-bath on the Carso, and a host of 
other weird and unstimulating spots. 

I thoroughly investigated that Yser area, 
and will not describe any more of the ordinary 
trench life there, as it is all much the same 
everywhere. I will, however, give you an 
idea of what the line was like in those days 
on the extreme left. This, by the way, 
was to me a very interesting spot. This was 
where the whole battle line ended. The 
line was, as everyone knows, approximately 
from Ostend to Belfort. 

The part I am about to describe was the 
North Sea end of it all, about eight miles 
westward from Ostend. 

Here the trenches ended because of the 
sea, and the barbed wire defences of each 
side ran out into the sea for a finish. 

This thought amused me, I don't exactly 
know why. I somehow felt how ridiculous 
it was for vast numbers of twentieth 
century human beings, who more or less 
all prided themselves on progress and en- 
lightenment, to be facing each other in two 
long slots in the ground, with the ends 



172 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



stopped up, one by the North sea, the other 
by the Alps. 

A Zouave regiment was holding these 
trenches, and I was most interested to see 
the men and to absorb all the characteristics 
of the places around. As before, we went 




in a car as close to the line as possible, 
and afterwards had to walk, but this time 
we had to leave the car a long way behind the 
front. This precaution was very necessary, 
as a lot of shelling went on here, and the 
Germans, having a good view from some 



A WONDERFUL TUNNEL 178 

high sand-hills and towers in the distance^ 
were able to send a pretty nasty occasional 
burst of shelling down into the lines which 
led to the Zouave trenches. To circumvent 
this, the regiment had made a long tunnel 
under the sand, over a mile in length. This 
was really a wonderful piece of work. It 
was impossible to detect the tunnel from 
the outside, and yet inside it was big enough 
for two people to walk abreast, and was 
completely wood lined from end to end, with 
electric light and telephone wires running its 
whole length. The carpentry of it and its 
general structure were excellent truly a 
wonderful bit of work for an infantry battalion 
to have accomplished. Now and again in 
the course of its length there was a slot left 
open on the sea-ward side from which, as 
you passed, you could see the ocean. 

I went along this tunnel affair, and came 
out at the far end, just at the mouth of the 
Yser canal. A few terribly mutilated houses, 
miniature lighthouses and ruined canal lock- 
gates marked the end of this historic Ysei 
canal. 

Beyond the canal, about a thousand yards 
away, were the sand-hills which formed the 



174 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

Allied front line. I don't claim to be a 
military genius, but I confess that, at the 
very time I first saw those trenches it struck 
me as a dangerously airy place to have them. 
For, against the advantage of having got 
a thousand yards of sand-hill beyond the 
canal towards the enemy, there was the 
obvious disadvantage that the canal was 
behind our lines. It was very wide at that 
part, and, moreover, supplies were entirely 
dependent on our being able to maintain 
intact a series of bridges across the water. 
I said nothing, of course, and imagined that 
there was some good reason for our line 
being thus thrown forward, but subsequently 
when we got that very nasty smack from the 
Huns in these very sand-hills, I read the 
account and saw that the canal and the 
ruptured bridges had been the cause of the 
trouble. 

The Germans had concentrated artillery 
fire on the only bridges by which reinforce- 
ments could come to the aid of the garrison 
of the sand-hills which was held in a deathly 
struggle with overwhelming numbers. 

The Zouaves are a magnificent crowd, 
and this particular crew had done wonders 



AN "AIRY' BIT OF LINE 175 

at Verdun. They were here " resting." 
Holding these trenches compared to Verdun 
was indeed resting but " resting " in this 
war has been a much abused word. A few 
of my pals in the trenches will endorse that 
sentence, I know. 

I spent the day crashing about amongst 
Zouaves and sand, and began my journey 
back to Coxyde towards evening. 

I was now accompanied by my guide and 
a Zouave officer. We thought we would 
chance it and go above ground instead of 
bothering to walk back along the tunnel. 
We started off, but about three-quarters 
of a mile back, as we walked down 
the main but completely shattered street 
of Nieuport Bains, a shell or two whizzed 
over our heads and landed with a nasty 
bang a hundred yards ahead of us. We all 
thought the tunnel advisable after this I 
most certainly did. We dived down a hole in 
the basement of a house and by means of an 
underground passage constructed out of a 
series of cellars, reached the tunnel by the 
sea again. 

In due course we emerged, and as we got 
into the car we saw another couple of shells 



176 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

burst in the road we had lately left. We 
motored off back to Coxyde, arriving there 
without further incident. 

Before leaving that sector I was taken to 
see the old city of Nieuport. I have seen 
a lot of ruined cities, but this one wants a 
deal of competing with for thorough ruina- 
tion. I asked the commandant, more 
jokingly than otherwise, if there was such 
a thing as a whole unbroken house in the 
town. He said that a careful examination 
had been made, and it had been found that 
there was not. 

The town was in a fearful mess. Every 
house was knocked to pieces, and the streets 
were a mass of shell holes. The town hall 
and church were appalling wrecks. 1 took 
a lot of photographs, made sundry sketches 
and left. I left by moonlight, and an eerie 
sight it was. 

A clear night, and a large, full moon 
shining down on the deserted, ruined, silent 
city. Far away in the trenches out in front 
an occasional rifle shot would cause a harsh 
echo amongst the still, cold ruins as they 
stood there under the moon. 





is THIS SORT OF THING ALWAYS DOWN AT THE BASE, WHERE MEDALS 

KEEP COMING OUT ON HIM I. IKK A RASH ? 



CHAPTER XXIII 

AN INVITATION TO DINNER IN PARIS AGAIN OFF 
TO VERDUN BAR-LE-DUC 

MY time in this North sea area was drawing 
to a close. I had got all I wanted, a crowd 
of impressions and a forest of detail. Now 
came the big event, the star turn, the thing 
I was longing to do. I was now to go to 
Verdun! Verdun, with all its epic story of 
cast iron endurance and its mighty battles ! 
Verdun, the Ypres of the French army! 

I was glad, in a way, to leave that damp and 
dismal Rosendael sector, but I was sorry to 
leave the jolly, friendly crowd of French 
officers at Coxyde who were more than good 
to me. Before leaving I received an invita- 
tion on which I will say a few words. I was 
invited to dine with Prince Alexander of 
Teck who lived over at La Panne, and was 
the British representative with the King of 
the Belgians. His senior staff officer was a 
friend of mine, and I went over one night 
and enjoyed a very pleasant evening. I had 
the honour of sitting next the Prince who 

M 177 



178 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

told me a lot of interesting things about 
the sector and the Belgian army. 

I mention this dinner, you see, to show 
that I don't always live on bully beef in dug- 
outs, but now and again glide off up into the 
realms of table d'hote* 

This pleasant little episode happened just 
before I left. Another invitation to go to 
the Naval Division, who operated some veno- 
mous looking naval guns in the sand-hills 
close by, I had to cancel, as I was leaving for 
Paris. After a variety of small bothers, 
such as getting one's papers and ''authority 
to proceed," etc., I left Rosendael for Paris. 

I went to the French authorities and saw 
an Intelligence Department lieutenant who 
gave me a couple of reams of paper entitling 
me to go to Verdun. 

I managed to snatch a night in Paris. I 
wanted something to contrast with the joys 
of the Rosendael mud wastes. 

What a rotten thing loneliness in great 
cities is! One night is quite enough for me, 
but circumstances have caused me to have a 
great many. 

After one evening in Paris I started for Ver- 
dun. I rattled off from my hotel in one of 



OFF TO VERDUN 179 

those reckless petrol-driven bathing machines 
known as taxis, and having paid my Jehu 
a hundred per cent, over his fare (daren't 
argue, as I don't know enough French), I 
walked into the station. It's a mighty 
station, is the Gare de 1'Est, and I have 
never seen it without its being packed to 
suffocation with people. All the Paris 
stations seemed to be the same during the 
war. One large seething mob of soldiers, 
civilians, women and children. Trains 
about a mile long are always standing at 
the platforms and are allowed about two 
hours to load up with passengers. They 
seem to believe in a few trains of staggering 
length to a greater number of reasonable 
proportions. My heart bleeds for the engine 
that has to start pulling that enormous dead 
weight out of the station. I'm sure the 
station-master must give the train a bit of a 
shove so as to make things easier. It is 
very rarely that I have managed to evade 
carriages with eight a side, the floor covered 
with baggage, and a family of assorted 
babies sprawling over it. 

I have done hundreds of miles in a carriage 
like the Black Hole of Calcutta. 



180 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

This journey to Verdun was crowded, 
but minus babies, I think that sector is 
unsuitable for babies, but it apparently deals 
largely in farm labourers, who seem to live 
exclusively on garlic and onions (at least so 
I surmise from my travelling experiences 
and a keen sense of smell). 

A boisterously healthy, swarthy Hercules, 
with a luxuriant moustache, will sit in a first- 
class carriage and open a parcel in which is 
wrapped a lunch enough to feed a platoon. 
Then, with a brigand-like pocket knife, he will 
proceed to cut cheese against a monstrous, 
dirty thumb, looking blandly out of the win- 
dow with eyes like "The Soul's Awakening." 

It was just such a journey as this that I 
made towards Verdun. You can't go the 
whole way to Verdun by train only as far 
as Bar-le-duc then hope for the best. 

I arrived at Bar-le-duc in the evening, and 
was motored out that night to a certain 
army headquarters which was established in 
an old stone town hall in a small town. 
An effective, romantic sort of a place I 
remember noticing a lot of shields and old 
historical spears hung on the walls. 

Everything was very solid and gloomy. 



BAR-LE-DUC 181 

I was told what was the procedure necessary 
before being allowed to enter and see Verdun, 
In about half an hour I was in the French 
staff car again, and being motored back to 
Bar-le-duc. It was late at night when I got 
there, and I found a room in one of the few 
hotels in the main street. Somehow the 
whole air seemed charged with a quaint air 
of excitement and mystery. Bar-le-duc 
to-night, and to-morrow I was to be called 
for and taken to Verdun. I was mighty keen 
on this visit. Verdun spelt to me such a 
mysterious, romantic charm, and at this 
time the world was echoing the great story 
of the ceaseless German attacks, and the 
amazing tenacity of the French troops in 
holding the town and the salient. 

Verdun, Douaumont, Vaux; all magic, 
terrifying names ; each one conveying a 
wealth of martial meaning to every man and 
woman in France. One big story of the 
courageous spirit of undefeatable France, 
and one big necropolis for the Germans. 

I spent a fairly reasonable night in a fairly 
reasonable hotel, and when daylight broke 
again I prepared myself for my visit to the 
mighty fortress of Verdun. 



CHAPTER XXIV 

VERDUN UNDERGROUND HALLS DEATH AND 

DEVASTATION 

A LARGE French staff car appeared before the 
hotel at about nine o'clock in the morning. 
I left with a French officer guide and a 
chauffeur. The road was long and winding, 
and it is a famous road that, being the main 
artery which feeds the salient. As we 
went along, we passed an incessant stream 
of motor lorries proceeding in both direc- 
tions. A vast traffic was here, I could see, 
and my mind immediately flew to thoughts 
of the mighty mechanism behind it all. 
Long, apparently never-ending, streams of 
motor lorries carrying food and ammunition, 
followed by another stream carrying fresh 
soldiers for the fray. 

The backward freight consisted of battle- 
worn poilus being taken back for short but 
urgent rest. That road was charged with all 
the tense, electrical seriousness of the great 
battles of Verdun. Our car dashed along 

past all this traffic, and I gathered from the 

183 



VERDUN 188 

milestones that we would soon be in sight of 
the historic city. 

At last we were there. We entered under 
a huge, stone-built gateway, giving entrance 
through the walls of the citadel. Guards 
challenged us, and looked at our passports. 
All was well, and entering the town we 
proceeded slowly along. Huge, massive 
walls were on either side ; walls built for 
defensive purposes at a very much earlier 
date. We stopped before an arched, dark 
opening on the left. This opening was the 
entrance to a massive stone tunnel, and led 
to the interior of the underground fortress. 
We got out of the car and the French officer 
led me into the tunnel. 

That underground system at Verdun is 
truly wonderful. Long, electrically lit 
passages take one into great arched stone 
halls where there is room and equipment for 
everything and everybody, We went along 
a series of passages and up sundry stone 
stairs, down others more passages until 
we arrived at the quarters of the French 
general commanding the citadel. Here I 
was introduced to the general, arid my visit 
explained. The general expressed a wish 



184 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

to show me the town and fortress that day ; 
this more than pleased me as, of course, I 
wished to see everything, and as soon as 
possible. 

The general ordered his car round and was 
good enough to ask me to come with him on 
a tour of inspection. We drove slowly 
through the town. It was impossible for the 
Germans to see into the town, as they had 
been prevented from gaining the heights 
commanding the place, but from the mon- 
strous shell holes and demolition round 
about I clearly saw that they went in for 
extensive shelling on the off chance of making 
themselves a nuisance. I was shown a lot 
of the interesting historic buildings of Ver- 
dun all more or less knocked about. The old 
walls of the city were very curious ; the 
terrific shelling had blown away so much 
masonry and so many houses, that another 
set of ancient walls had been exposed to 
view! 

Verdun is a most ancient town, and has 
a very great historical interest. Mr. Atilla 
and his Huns originally dashed through this 
place, in their customary rude and pushing 
way, and were ultimately defeated utterly at 



VERDUN 185 

Chalons-sur-Marne which is not very far 
away. 

I went into the Cathedral. Such a pitiful 
mess it was in ! Piles of smashed and twisted 
metal originally priceless wrought iron 
work were lying on the chipped and scarred 
stone floor. The great decorative domed 
ceiling had a huge, gaping shell hole in it, 
whilst several of the altars were torn and 
lacerated by shrapnel. It is a very ancient 
cathedral, and is most massive and magni- 
ficent in structure. 

We spent the rest of the day cruising 
around the various spots of interest in the 
city. Verdun stands on the Meuse, and is 
surrounded by a series of hills, all about two 
miles away from the town, and all held 
by the French. It was these hills that 
the Germans were after, and had they 
ever got them they could have dominated 
the town and knocked the bottom out of all 
the defences. This they were precious near 
doing at one time, but the magnificent 
courage and heroic endurance of the French 
were too much for them. 

Towards evening we drove back to the 
underground department. The general in- 



186 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

vited myself and my officer guide to dinner 
that night, and ordered someone to show me 
where I was to sleep. 

I was led into a sort of dormitory full of 
wooded cubicles, one of these was to be mine. 
I sat on my bed and made some notes and 
rough sketches, then had a wash and brush- 
up tor dinner. 

At a little before the time a French soldier 
called for me ; something like the jailer 
coming tor the doomed man to take him to 
the scaffold. I followed this soldier to my 
doom. We went down another set of maze- 
like passages and ultimately entered the 
dining-hall. A huge, vaulted hall, with 
several rows of tables, met my gaze. The 
room was rapidly filling with a great number 
of French officers. The whole scene was full 
of life and bustle. The pulsating flicker of 
rather yellow electric light flooded the place. 
Soldier servants and cooks were working with 
enthusiastic vigour at preparing the feast. 

Two tables ran down the centre of this 
vaulted hall, and one across the top end at 
right angles to the others. 

The room was soon full, and the general 
entered. He took his seat at the centre of 



UNDERGROUND HALLS 187 

the top table and summoned me to sit beside 
him. The dinner started, I wish he had let 
me be at the far end of the junior officers' 
table, or amongst the cooks and waiters. 
High places at these functions always end 
in my eating nothing. A great rattling roar 
of people talking and eating now filled the 
place, and I worked hard at my poor French 
to evolve sentences for the benefit of the 
general and the other officers round about. 
I'm sure that dear old general mistook me 
for an ambassador or something. At the 
end of dinner he made a speech, referring to 
me in the middle of it, and later on a band 
played " God save the King," during which 
I had to bear the scrutiny of about two 
hundred pairs of eyes, whilst all stood to 
attention. I was honoured, but uncomfort- 
able. The evening concluded in a most 
cordial and happy way with a smoking 
concert. 

The next few days I spent in examining the 
outer defences of Verdun. I went to see the 
famous forts of Douaumont and Vaux. I 
was shown where the various German attacks 
had been beaten, and all the ground over 
which the French had fought during those 



188 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

long anxious months which were vital to the 
whole cause of the Allies. And what a 
dreadful country it was! I looked out from 
Souville fort on to the ground around Fleury 
and Douaumont. The land seemed to radiate 
nothing but an atmosphere of death and 
decay from its dull brown, shell-churned 
surface. As I looked heavy shells were 
bursting continuously over the French ad- 
vance trenches, and over the broken remains 
of Douaumont fort. Souville marked the 
spot that had proved a Waterloo for the 
Germans. Out on the ground in front lay 
the unburied remains of many who had 
fallen, and everywhere the ground was 
littered with old, rusty, broken rifles, bayon- 
ets and bombs. 

Mud was everywhere in gigantic quantities, 
and everything within sight seemed to be 
blasted and destroyed. A truly ghastly sight 
was this land around those outer forts, 
steeped as it was in all the full fury of the 
worst kind of war that man could make. 
As I had anticipated, this Verdun salient 
was quite on a par with the horror of Ypres. 
I picked up an old bayonet to take away 
with me as a souvenir, and it now hangs, 



DEATH AND DEVASTATION 189 

with other trophies, in my Warwickshire 
home. We had just left Souville to return, 
and had hardly gone thirty yards when a 
heavy shell crashed alongside the place 
where we had been standing. Almost im- 
mediately the woods behind seemed to burst 
into life with French guns, barking more 
death and more destruction at the Germans. 

And so that relentless argument went on, 
and day after day the death-charged atmo- 
sphere reigned over the Verdun salient, 
ultimately bringing the world's greatest dis- 
appointment to Germany and its gospel of 
brute force. 

I was glad to leave that area. It was a 
long time before I could forget the horrible 
look of that unearthly ground before the 
forts. 

We returned through the mutilated Sou- 
ville forest into Verdun I went to see the 
general, and, thanking him very much for 
the facilities he had so kindly granted me, 
awaited the car to take me away. I was glad 
now, and very pleased with things in general. 
I had spent a night in Verdun, and had seen 
it all ; this seemed to form the cap to my in- 
teresting French army experiences. Now I 



190 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

would return to Paris and then to England, 
after which I should begin my series of draw- 
ings from the French front. I had seen them 
in comparative quiet on the Yser, and in 
hell at Verdun. I knew their story. I knew 
their feelings and outlook. I was charged 
with the " atmosphere," and had amassed a 
great volume of detail. My job was over for 
the present. Now for civilization by which 
I mean escape from the devastating mental 
nausea of the war areas. 

The car came round, and took me to Bar- 
le~duc, from where I went by train to Paris. 
In a few days I was back in England once 
more. 



CHAPTER XXV 

SUPPLYING " COPY " A CROWDED EXISTENCE- 
ORDERED TO ITALY 

ALL through these wanderings and ad- 
ventures I was always at work on my weekly 
contributions to the Bystander. I worked in 
any old place that I could find, and by means 
of a compact portable set of implements and 
paints, spread myself out into an artist in 
a " studio." 

From the day I began to the present time 
I have never missed getting a drawing back 
somehow or other to the Bystander offices in 
time for the weekly publication. Once or 
twice I got men, going on leave to England, 
to take a parcel and post it in London ; and 
once when I drew a picture in my cabin, 
somewhere off Newfoundland I got the 
Turkish bath attendant on the ship to post 
it on his return to Liverpool ; so you see, 
what with my own precarious existence, 
followed by the equally precarious posting 
and delivery, those weekly cartoons have 
seen a bit of life before they emerged in the 
paper. 



192 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

Having returned from this French visit I 
started out full steam ahead to work out 
my finished pictures, and in due course they 
were completed. 

I have a sort of idea that a lot of people 
imagine that this job of mine is a delightful, 




easy and simple occupation. This sort of 
thing: "Fancy! How topping it must be 
to be a cartoonist ; nothing to do but draw 
pictures ; no fighting, only going on visits 
to the fronts and making jokes ; isn't he a 
lucky chap ? " 




THE SPAHI : THE MOST PICTURESQUE MAN IN THE WAR. 



A CROWDED EXISTENCE 193 

In case I am right (and this idea undoubtedly 
does prevail), I will tell you the real story. 

First of all, it would have been wholly and 
completely impossible for me to have made 
one joke or drawn one line on the subject, had 
I not originally been burnt in the fire of the 
war, and badly burnt, too. My life in the 
original mud, and the consequent strafing, 
pain and anguish, were the foundations of 
my war drawings 

If I had started life in any other capacity 
than the infantry, these drawings would have 
been impossible. No amount of looking at 
the war is any good ; you must have been 
in it, with a darn good chance of never 
leaving it. I believe this to be the one and 
only reason for the popularity of my war 
drawings. 

Following this initial necessity comes the 
actual work ; few can realize how much and 
how hard it is, and nobody except myself 
and a very intimate few will ever know what 
I have been through. Work of this class has 
to be in your system all the time. You don't 
leave an office at six o'clock, as it 'were, and 
then forget all about your work till nine 
o'clock next morning. 

N 



194 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

For over three years now I have done on 
an average three or four drawings a week, 
out of which, possibly, two have been what 
I thought suitable to use. Added to this, I 
have been deluged with letters and autograph 
albums from all parts of the world. These can- 
not be ignored, and I ha\ e always done my best 
to get all such applications attended to in 
some way or other. Each drawing takes me 
about two days to complete. In the "spare" 
time resulting on all this I have worked on 
another book, Bullets and Billets a fore- 
runner of this volume. I have written the 
play entitled The Better 'Ole, also one or two 
short theatrical sketches. Add to all this 
innumerable drawings for charities of all 
kinds, and you will observe that I have had 
rather a crowded existence, and by the time 
it is realized that the material for all these 
activities has been collected by personal 
visits to the war zones on all the fronts, with 
the consequent fatiguing journeys and hard 
fare, you will see that to be " Bruce Bairns- 
father " has been an intricate and arduous 
job. But I am lucky, though, I fully 
appreciate that. Here I am, at the end of 
the war, with a complete set of component 



ORDERED TO ITALY 195 

parts : two legs, two arms, two eyes, a nose 
and a mouth. How many of my pals have 
been less fortunate! 

After a short session of work in England I 
was told by the War Office that I was shortly 
to go to the Italian front. I was most elated 
at this, as I was longing to see Italy and the 
war there. The accounts of the fighting on 
the Carso and in the mountains seemed to 
be so full of interest compared with the mud 
scrambles in France. Italy, with its warm 
sun and bright days! I felt things couldn't 
be quite so bad there as elsewhere, and that 
the grandeur of the scenery would outweigh 
a lot of the nasty parts which are inseparable 
from visits to war zones. 

I was keen on the Italian job, and presently 
the day arrived when I was to start. I went 
to the War Office and was told a lot of things 
that I must observe, and details in connec- 
tion with my journey. I got my passport 
and papers, and went back to my hotel. 
Here I overhauled my " props," and having 
procured various articles I wanted for my 
work, I left Charing Cross on my way to 
Italy. Same old Folkestone and Boulogne 
journey, with Paris to follow. 



196 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

I arrived at the Gare du Nord, Paris, and 
dragged myself and baggage into the same 
old hotel. I always make tor railway hotels 
as they are generally more " up " in the 
trains, and in my case are easier to do things 
from. The next morning I drove off in a 
taxi for the Gare de Lyon, there to catch 
a train for the frontier on my way to Italy. 



CHAPTER XXVI 



EN ROUTE TO MILAN -HOTEL BRIGANDS SPAGHETTI 

ON TO UDINE 

BY some extraordinary lucky chance I got 
a seat in the train. The usual trouble was 
prevailing, and 
you almost needed 
a shoehorn to get 
the last few people 
into that train. 
We pushed off. 

It's a beautiful 
journey, the run 
from Paris to 
Milan. First of 
all, of course, one 
pas s e s down 
through the best 
part of France 
trees, meadows, old 
towns, villages and 
chateaux. Right 
down through the 
centre of France one goes, and then comes 
the Riviera. Splendid scenery here. At last 

197 




198 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

the train reached Modane. This place is a 
very important feature en route to Italy, 
as it is the frontier station, and here in war 
time it was necessary to change trains. In 
the days before the war one could go from 
Paris to Rome without a change, but now 
it was different. I got out at Modane, and 
was crowded, pushed and banged about on a 
super-crowded platform, in an endeavour to 
board the train v/hich was to take me on to 
Italy. 

The scenery had all changed now. Huge 
mountains on either side, and the line run- 
ning along cuttings in the sides of the cliffs, 
over precarious looking bridges, or through 
long tunnels. This was Italy ! Everything 
looked different now, even the character of 
the houses ; I was mighty pleased to have 
got as far as this on the journey. 

We went on through a host of wonderful 
mountain sights and arrived at Turin (I call 
it Torino at times, like the Italians ; sounds 
well, I think). Turin is a fine, bright-looking 
town. I didn't stop there, but went on to 
Milan, which brought me to the end of the 
first half of my journey. 

Udine, on the Carso, was my destination, 



HOTEL BRIGANDS 199 

but a pause in Milan was necessary for the 
purpose of picking up a train to that area. 
I wasn't sorry either. Milan is good enough 
for me for twenty-four hours. I got out of 
the train, and was nearly bitten in half by 
a swirling mass of hotel porters. Brigands 
in all sorts of uniforms, with the name of 
their hotel written in gold letters round a 
military hat. I got my back against the 
train and turned to face my attackers (effect : 
Horatius Cockles defending his suit-case). 
I didn't know which hotel would suit me 
best, so I goc out of the difficulty by asking 
in French which hotel was nearest the 
station. A tall, dark, thin outlaw imme- 
diately sprang at me, and grabbed my 
baggage. He evidently was unquestionably 
the clutching hand belonging to the nearest 
hotel. The rest of the group looked menac- 
ingly at this man, and sullenly began to 
move off. Some, however, still skulked 
along close to me and my porter as if there 
might be a chance that either I should change 
my mind, or that the porter would drop my 
baggage, in which case they would spring 
in and seize it. One swaithy child of Milan 
followed me and my porter right across the 



200 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

station square outside, keeping up a seduc- 
tive barrage of Italian as to the absurdity of 
my going to any other hotel but his, and 
occasionally glancing venomously at my 
own porter with all the hate and vendetta 
of ages in his eyes. I suppose that after 
trains have come in and travellers have been 
dragged in to the various hotels, these men 
go to some lonely spot and fight it out. 
The mortality amongst foreign hotel porters 
must be terrible. 

My hotel was quite a nice one, and the 
management could speak English. This, of 
course, is a blessing to one who doesn't know 
a word of Italian. A good mixture of French 
and English can get you to most places now- 
a-days though. 

It was a beautiful evening when I arrived 
at Milan, and the whole scene was most 
pleasing. The feeling of the South was 
borne in upon me strongly. My mother has 
told me that: I was born somewhere in India. 
For several years I lived there, and I fancy 
that the frying I had in the days of my 
infancy has never quite got out of my 
system. I love the sun, and warm, balmy 
breezes. One seems to be able to swell out 



SPAGHETTI 201 

two sizes larger in that sort of a climate, and 
to look altogether more blandly and lazily 
on life. 

I had dinner outside on a sort of terrace 
where all the tables were set, and remember 
being most interested in an Italian officer 
dining at a table a few feet away. The 
object of my interest was his marvellous 
dexterity with his macaroni, or rather 
spaghetti. I didn't dare to eat mine after 
watching him. He could dip a fork into about 
a hundredweight of this stuff in a bowl in 
front of him, and bring it out with a tight 
knot wound round the end. My fork had a 
lot of strings dangling from the prongs like 
a dozen anaemic worms. He could do it 
every time with deadly precision practice, 
I suppose. Before going to Italy again I 
shall attend a college and take a spaghetti 
course, because one is always up against 
having to eat this stuff there. I wandered 
round Milan and went, of course, to see 
the Cathedral. I mingled with the crowds 
taking their evening strolls, sat about in 
various cafes and had a touch of the " lonely " 
nuisance again. 

It's extraordinary how, when one is by 



202 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

oneself in a crowded city, everyone else 
seems to have someone to be with or talk to, 
and all are apparently laughing in your face 
with the sheer joy of life. I liked Milan, 
but was anxious to get along up to the front 
and see the wonders of the war in the 
mountains. 

The next morning I caught the train for 
Udine. From Milan to Udine takes the 
best part of a day. Udine is on the Carso, 
and at that period was very close to the 
front, which ran fiom Monfalcone on the 
Adriatic, through Goritzia up towards the 
mountains. You miss Venice by about 
twelve miles on your right, on the journey 
to Udine. I arrived that evening, and 
drove from the station in an open, tumble- 
down carriage to the headquarters of the 
British Mission. I drove sedately along 
behind what sounded like a three-legged 
horse, looking at the town as I passed. A 
very old place is Udine, full of odd corners 
and ancient monuments. The Romans 
spread themselves a good bit around here 
in days gone by. I found the British 
Mission headquarters and reported myself. 
There was a British general there who helped 



ON TO UDINE 203 

me very much during my visit to the Italian 
front. He was head of the Mission, and as 
such was very much in touch with the 
Italian Army Command. I dined with the 
general that night, and he very kindly set 
about making arrangements for me to visit 
various parts of the front, beginning on the 
morrow. I was given a room in the building, 
which had been appropriated as the Mission's 
billets, and passed off into a pleasant sleep, 
dreaming mostly of spaghetti, hotel porters, 
generals and Alps. 



CHAPTER XXVII 

ARRIVAL ON CARSO BERSAGLIERI A HEATED WAR 

TRANQUIL UDINE 

IT wasn't long before I started my exami- 
nation of the Italian front. The next 
morning the general very kindly arranged 
for me to go down in a car to see life on the 
Carso. He had fixed it all up with the 
Italian authorities, and I was free to go 
right up to the front towards Trieste. We 
set off in an English car, and made for some 
spot with a name something like sarsa- 
parilla, in order to see a famous regiment of 
Bersaglieri who were then in trenches south 
of Goritzia. Any liking I had about warmth 
and sunshine was fully gratified here. It 
was scorching hot. The roads were white 
with burning dust, the trees simply frizzling 
in the summer sun. To touch the leather 
upholstery or the metal sides of the car was 
nearly impossible. The heat was immense. 
Fighting battles in this weather must be 
a " poor line," I thought. 

And now was to come my first view ot the 
Italian army in the field. I conjured up 

304 



BERSAGLIERI 



205 



ideas, founded mostly on coloured pictures 
I had seen of the famous Bersaglieri with 
their plumed hats and gallant charges across 




open country, shouting soul-stirring phrases 
as they pushed heroically for ever onward, 
the flag of Italy waving proudly in the breeze. 
I arrived on the Carso and found, apparently, 



206 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

a group of organ-grinders playing cards 
under a tree, all very swarthy, healthy and 
happy. " These are Bersaglieri," said my 
officer guide. . . . You should never go 
by appearances. A Guards' parade outside 
Buckingham Palace is a very sorry indication 
of the same regiment in billets behind Ypres. 

These Bersaglieri were resting, and even 
if they weren't, they did the battle business 
minus any of the highly- coloured hero- 
ism beloved of artists. Those wonderful 
plumed hats, where were they? Back in 
Milan or Rome, I suppose, in a wardrobe 
with camphor bags. There was a great mob 
of these men sitting about under shrubs 
and trees, in the blazing heat. 

The trenches were a short way off, being 
held in shifts, as it were. There was no 
shelling no rifle fire. A delightful calm 
Italian day with the sun shining down on 
the tranquillity of the Carso. This is the 
sort of war I like, much better than that 
noisy, dangerous running about water-logged 
ploughed fields I had been used to. Unfor- 
tunately, I found it had not always been like 
this. There had been some terrific scraps 
with the Austrians around this spot, and 



A HEATED WAR 



207 



I was shown how far these people had been 
driven back. The Bersaglieri. which are 
some of the finest troops in Europe, had, to 
put it plainly, " wiped the floor " with the 
Austrians around there, and had suffered 
very heavily in doing so. 

I went all around that area and saw 
thousands of Italian soldiers, some resting, 
some in the 
trenches. They 
are a wonderfully 
swarthy, healthy 
crowd. 

But what a dif- 
ferent landscape 
to fight in from 
our front ! 

Instead of the 
sticky mass of 
sloppy sand-bags 
along the edge of 
a narrow canal 
which constitute 
the normal trench 
on the Western front, these men had nothing 
but rocks and sand to deal with. The Carso has 
about two inches of soil over solid rock, so you 




208 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

can imagine what making trenches is like. 
Moreover, when a shell lands on ground like 
this, the resulting explosion is greatly aug- 
mented by flying bits of rock. 

The first thing that struck me about the 
Carso itself was, what on earth did anybody 
want to fight about it for ? I would willingly 
give it away, if I owned it. It's a huge, 
barren, rocky desert, that's all. 

The part I was now inspecting was just 
opposite Goritzia. 

To the south lay Trieste, and it was 
possible to see from this place I was in, the 
mountainous difficulties lying between the 
Italians and the capture of that city. There 
is a nasty looking mountain called the 
Hermada which is right in the way of a 
march on Trieste. 

The Italians had made wonderful progress 
prior to my visit, but were now sitting down 
a bit to consider what was the best way to 
snooker the Austrians who had fortified 
this Hermada with howitzers and barbed 
wire to an alarming degree. 

A day doesn't go very far when one starts 
looking at a front. I spent the whole of this 
first day squinting about round this one 




A MEMORY OK THK YSKR. 



TRANQUIL UDINE 209 

regiment, its trenches, and its billets, and in 
the wonderful Kalian evening drove back 
to Udine. Those warm southern days breed 
wondrous evenings. There is a stfll, clear 
warmth under the glorious deep night blue ; 
the people are all sitting outside their houses, 
and everything is bathed in a sort of Venetian 
tranquillity. When I got back it was about 
six o'clock, and I went out for a prowl around 
the town. 

I have most pleasing memories of Udine ; 
so picturesque and so tranquil. Except for 
the fact that there were a good many 
assorted kinds of Italian soldiers strolling 
about, you wouldn't have known there was 
a war on. The architecture, too. was old- 
world and pier sing. A lot of Roman efforts 
still remamed, and a goodly spi inkling of 
the Venetian period. What bold lads those 
Romans were ! I stood bashfully in the 
main square of the town looking at a group 
of rude statues, and dwelt upon the lack of 
Y.M.C.A's. and the absence of Mrs. Grundy 
in the days of Vespasian. 

They are a hsppy, healthy crew these 
Italians, and I've half a mind to live in 

Udine when I retire, 
o 



210 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

I had dinner in some cafe or other, and 
sat out in the courtyard under the wonderful 
sky. A distant song, or perhaps a mandoline 
being played, were the only noises which 
broke on that calm evening air. 

In this curious, unwarlike scene, full of 
all the beauty of this wonderful land, I 
couldn't help visioning my past career in 
the war. How little I thought as I went 
forth to the war, an impecunious, submerged 
second lieutenant, that one day I should see 
all the fronts, have dinners with the Great 
Ones and be sitting in the character of a 
"free lance" under the southern evening sky 
in old Udine. I even thought further back 
still ; back to the weird, dark abyss in my 
life when, as an electrical engineer earning 
two pounds ten shillings a week, I returned 
in a wood pulp carrying ship from Canada just 
in time to participate in this mighty conflict. 

If someone had come to me whilst I sat 
on that ship with the cook who was peeling 
potatoes, and told me that one day I should 
be having dinner with the Duke of Milan 
in an old Italian garden near Venice, I should 
have told him to go to well, never mind; 
anyway, I shouldn't have believed him. 



TRANQUIL UDINE 211 

It's a comic world, but there are times 
when the comedy is hard to see. 

And yet these things have actually hap- 
pened to me. 

I wandered back to my billets late at 
night, and keenly awaited the next day. 

I was to go to see Monfalcone which was 
the nearest point possible to Trieste, and 
there would be able to survey the whole of 
the battle line, which meant so much to 
Italy. I should also be able to get a distant 
view of Trieste which can be seen from 
Monfalcone. This, then, was my programme 
for the following day. 



CHAPTER XXVIII 

MONFALCONE CAMOUFLAGED ROADS A PEEP AT 

TRIESTE 

THE car turned up in good time, and the 
officer guide and myself were driven off in 
the direction of Monfalcone. On the way 
we stopped at the interesting old village of 
Aquilia. This is the site of an old Roman 
town of the same name, and contains a 
wonderful old church dating from that 
period. Part of this church was once a 
Roman swimming-bath or something of the 
kind, and had an amazing mosaic floor. 
When I was there some antique employees 
of the church were endeavouring to restore 
this marvellous floor which had been broken 
and obscured in many parts. Restoring it 
mainly consisted of searching through end- 
less piles of rubbish for the minute particles 
of mosaic, and piecing them together. Solv- 
ing a jig-saw puzzle is child's play compared 
to this. 

Outside the church, in a charming cypress- 
tree graveyard, one of the ancient walls had 
a large marble slab fixed to it, bearing a 



212 



MONFALCONE 218 

short, inspired verse by Gabriel d'Annunzio, 
the famous Italian poet. A few minutes after- 
wards I saw the poet himself inside the church, 
looking round its ancient, inspiring relics. 

We went on from here to Monfalcone. 
Monfalcone what a mess it was in! Here 
was the same old war that I knew. Tangled 
masses of plaster, iron, and brick-work that 
once were houses. It is a typical Italian 
looking town, and before being demolished 
in this way must have been a pleasant spot 
to live in. Judging by the look of the 
camouflaged roads which we encountered on 
the way there, the Austrian artillery must 
have been a big nuisance. The town, of 
course, was entirely denuded of civilians, 
which fact was very apparent as we drove 
through its deserted streets. 

We had to be careful, though, as at any 
moment a bother might break out and a 
lively shelling commence. The car was left 
at a good hidden spot where chances of its 
being hit were remote, and we got out to 
walk the rest of the time. We examined the 
town and I made sundry sketches and took 
a few photographs. Nothing but ruin and 
desolation everywhere. 



214 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

Now for the docks ; that was the " star 
turn " of Monfalcone, which boasts of quite 

a big ship- 
ping yard 
situated, of 
course, on the 
Adriatic. The 

v 



docks are 
some way 
from the 
town, so we 
fished the car 
out again for 
this job. We 
drove down 
an elabor- 
ately camou- 
flaged road. 
These are just 
ordinary 
roads, with a 

screen constructed from a kind of rush 

matting fixed up on the side nearest the 

enemy. 

The appearance of these roads from a 

distance is just like the rest of the country. 

Of course this doesn't prevent the enemy 




CAMOUFLAGED ROADS 215 

from firing at such roads which they know 
exist, but it prevents deliberate aim at a 
definite object and therefore it would prob- 
ably be a sheer waste of shells to fire on the 
off chance of hitting something. It's not a 
very nice sensation driving along these 
camouflaged roads, but there it is, and the 
danger is not really great. 

We reached the outskirts of the docks, hid 
the car and walked on to them. We had 
now arrived at the nearest point for a view 
of Trieste. 

It was a stifling hot day. A blazing sun 
shone out of a cloudless blue sky with true 
southern vigour. The ground had that 
trembling haze over it from the heat. We 
entered the ship-building sheds and the first 
thing that caught my eye was a bit of 
machinery stamped with the name of a fa- 
mous English firm of shipbuilding engineers. 
I roamed about all over these yards. Several 
Austrian submarines, all rusty and derelict, 
in dry dock, caught my eye. The Austrians 
had shinned off out of Monfalcone very 
quickly, and had been obliged to leave these 
things behind them. 

We were joined by an Italian officer or 



216 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

two who knew all about this place. They 
led us further into the maze of silent, deserted 
dockyards. I listened to an unintelligible 
torrent of sound from one of these men who 
was talking to my officer guide. When 
interpreted I found it meant that there was 
a large, half- finished liner in the docks, inside 
which the Italians had made an observation 
post, and from which it was possible to get 
the best view of Trieste. 

I was keen on this, so we all made for the 
ship. 

It was a monster. A great wall of rusty 
iron plates seemed to spring out of the earth 
and tower upwards above our heads. We 
walked alongside this metallic mammoth, 
and arrived at a set of wooden steps which 
ran up its side. I followed the others up 
this stairway : temperature about 400 
degrees I should think. It was a real 
scorching day impossible to touch the iron 
side of the ship without burning your 
fingers. The ladder led us up on to some 
deck or other, and we proceeded along a 
dark corridor towards the sharp end of the 
boat, by which I mean the part furthest from 
the rudder. 



A PEEP AT TRIESTE 217 

The walk down this stifling corridor being 
over we arrived at a sort of wooden hut 
built up inside the ship, and turned into a 
telegraphist's and observer's office. The 
heat here was almost unbearable. 

The sun was streaming down on this huge 
iron box of a ship, and inside there was not 
a breath of air. It was all I could do to 
evince an interest in Trieste. Someone 
handed me a pair of German binoculars, 
and I looked out through a narrow slot cut 
in the side of che ship. 1 saw Trieste. It 
was about as interesting as seeing Tunbridge 
Wells from Clapham on a clear day. How- 
ever, I didn't want to dishearten the Italians 
in their quest, so I remarked that it was 
" very interesting." One could just see a 
lot of blue hills with a town of the Monfalcone 
order, only larger, at their base. 

I turned away from the slot in the ship's 
side, and handed the binoculars to someone 
else to have a look. The close, oppressive 
heat was terrific. I had seen Trieste and 
that was enough for me. When everyone 
of the party had satisfied their gloating 
ambitions by looking at Trieste we returned 
from the ship to the car. No shelling 



218 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

interrupted our movements. All was silent, 
hot, and rusty in that shipyard. 

We bade farewell to the officers who had 
kindly shown us round, and then drove back 
towards Udine. 

I knew the war in the plains fairly well 
by now, and subsequently had several ex- 
periences in the way of seeing more trenches 
and more troops. I went to all sorts of 
battalion headquarters and saw the Italian 
soldiers in every phase of their life on the 
plains. 

By the time I had seen all this I felt I 
" knew v the war on the Carso. Goritzia, 
Monfalcone, Udine, Trieste : all this was 
a definite story to me. Now for what I 
was after most the war in the mountains. 
I applied to the authorities for permission 
and extorted a promise that I should go 
there. 

I waited in Udine for the day on which 
I should be permitted to start, and in the 
meantime, was invited to a famous dinner 
which I must really describe. 



CHAPTER XXIX 

AN INTERNATIONAL DINNER OFF TO THE 

MOUNTAINS MY DUCAL GUIDE A PRECIPITOUS 
MOTOR DRIVE 

UDINE was the Italian General Head- 
quarters at this time ; consequently, if any 
foreign powers had representatives with 
the Italians, they were located there. Well, 
the Italian army did suffer from foreign 
representatives, and whilst I was at Udine 
I found a nest of them consisting of English, 
French, Russian, Belgian, Roumanian, Ser- 
bian and Japanese. So you see the Italians 
were not hard up for encouragement from 
their Allies. 

It was the custom once a week for a dinner 
to be given to this assembly, at a certain 
chateau in the town, and whilst in Udine I 
was honoured by being asked to join these 
functions. I went once, and that once I 
will describe. 

I should have gone more often only, as I 
have hinted previously in this book, I prefer 
a " sausage and mash " in a pub round a 

corner to table-d'hote at the Ritz. I hate 

219 



220 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



meals elaborated by means of marble pillars, 
sycophantic head waiters, and publicity. 
This International dinner was a fearfully 

swell affair. It 
war> held in a 
beautiful garden 
behind this old 
world chateau, 
and was really a 
most picturesque 
sight. An old 
Venetian chateau 
which possessed an 
equally old garden 
and a lawn, with 
a border of tall 
do y^ dark cypress trees 
Italy surrounding it. 
On the lawn was a 
long dinner-table, 
and there, prior 
to dinner, the 
I n ternat ional 
guests assembled. 

One by one the guests arrived, and what a 
sight! Each one in the full peace time 
uniform affected by his particular Army. I 




AN INTERNATIONAL DINNER 221 

had, of course, to turn up in khaki which had 
a miserably sombre effect in the midst of so 
much grandeur. By dinner time the lawn 
was a mass of different coloured cloth and 
gold braid. A circus procession was tawdry 
compared to this. 

Again, another axiom which experience 
has taught me : 

" The gaudiness of uniform is inversely 

proportional to the size and importance 

of the Power." 

A haughty stiffness filled the air, partly due 
to the starch in these fancy dresses, and 
partly to the different languages. In time 
we all folded at the middle, and sat down to 
dinner. I had an Italian officer on my right, 
a Roumanian general on my left, a Cossack 
officer and a Serbian A.D.C. opposite. I 
can only talk English properly, with merely 
a diabolical attempt at French, so you can 
imagine that the soup went down amidst 
almost complete silence. As I gazed at the 
Cossack's shaved head and grey uniform, I 
made a mental note "Sausage and mash at 
a cafe in Udine, for you, me lad, in the 
future." 

The dinner progressed with all the polite 



222 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

stiffness inseparable from these orgies, but 
the scene was certainly romantic and pic- 
turesque. A wonderful setting sun behind 
the cypress trees, the dark olive-green lawn 
and these mighty ones in their fancy dresses. 
I again thought of that mud hole in the 
trench near Messines and realized what a 
long way I had come. 

All these Allied representatives dispersed 
each day to various offices and represented 
their different countries, which to boil it 
down I feel sure means being a " damn 
nuisance" to the Italian Army Headquarters, 
who of course had to diplomatically please 
them, and at the same time get on with the 
war. 

Am I right, Cadorna ? 

After this one visit to see the " Sea lions 
fed " I decided that I would not be lured 
into that again. I in my " customary suit 
of solemn " khaki was a damper on this 
wonderful, kaleidoscopic colour - display. 
Besides, dinner in a cafe in Udine, with a 
Gold Flake and coffee to follow, was much 
more in my line. 

I now waited for the day on which I was 
to go off to the mountains. 



OFF TO THE MOUNTAINS 223 

One morning I heard all about it. I was 
to go with the Duke of Milan who was at the 
Italian Army Headquarters. We were to 
start in a car, and stay some days with the 
Alpine regiments who were in the line up 
in the Dolomite Alps. 

This was splendid. The Duke was an 
exceedingly nice companion who talked 
English, and the Dolomites were what I 
particularly wanted to see. 

The day arrived, and we set off. We 
whirled along over the dusty flat roads, 
heading for the mountains. In the distance 
one could see the mighty forms of the red- 
coloured Dolomites towering high above, 
with their snow-capped peaks. With my 
faculty for seeing the ridiculous in the 
sublime I could not help thinking that they 
looked like a row of gigantic strawberry 
ices. 

We got nearer and nearer to the mountain 
region and at last began to leave the baking- 
hot plains and mount the foot-hills which 
led to the mountains. We drove along the 
narrow, winding roads, past innumerable 
beautiful villages, now and again passing 
over a bridge and a raging torrent of emerald 



224 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

coloured water. The atmosphere was, needless 
to say, as clear as crystal, and as we gained 
in height the great heat diminished. Occa- 
sionally we would pass a stream of motor 
lorries on their way to or from some part of 
the battle line, and now and again we would 
nearly collide with an Italian staff car 
which was doing its usual ninety miles an 
hour round impossible corners. 

Higher and higher we went ; always 
spiralling upwards along the mountain roads. 
It seemed an endless drive. One seems to 
have to do so much road work to get such 
a little distance. Always going round and 
round the same mountain to get to a point 
you have seen half an hour before. 

We were making for Belluno because from 
there we would make a second day's journey 
to see the Alpini. Belluno was a good 
convenient spot to make a start from for 
the last lap of the business, and moreover 
contained a lot of military headquarter 
officials with power to give permission for 
various visits. We scaled a crowd of moun- 
tains in that car, and crashed along through 
many a lonely forest glade. 

The water in the radiator started to boil 







THERE'S 'EAPS OF ICE 'ROUND 'ERE, BILL, ALL WE WANTS is A DROP 
OF VANILLA." 



A PRECIPITOUS MOTOR DRIVE 225 

in the middle of one mountainous forest, 
and we had to explain radiators and their 
need for water to two aboriginal girls who 
were living in a wood-cutter's hut hard by. 
They fetched us some water, and were 
suitably rewarded by the Duke. 

The same evening we started our spiral 
descent down towards Belluno which lies 
in a valley in the mountains. About six 
o'clock we crossed the bridge into the town, 
and glided up to the courtyard of an hotel, 
just off the main square. So ended the 
first stage in the journey. 



p 



CHAPTER XXX 



MORE MOUNTAINS ORDEAL BY MULE THE ALPINI 

ANOTHER night, in another hotel, and then 
came the visit to the Alpini. In the morning 
we went round to see some potentate or 
other, who lurked in the Town Hall which 
had been taken over by the military authori- 
ties. He gave us some permission to do 
something which I did not catch, and off 
we started. It was necessary to do about 

twenty 
miles in 
the car 

before we got near 
these mountain 
trenches, and then 
came the most ter- 
-, rible feat of all. We 

djSp had been driving 

^9* along the usual 

J^ mountain spiral 

f roads, rushing 

through forests, over cascades on thin, 
flimsy-looking bridges, past vast waterfalls, 

half of which were usually frozen and 

226 




MORE MOUNTAINS 227 

covered with snow. At length we came 
to a halt. I wasn't surprised, as the road 
had ended, and a colossal mountain stuck 
up on either side. "Are we there?" I 
asked. " Not quite," replied someone, and 
with that I became aware of a group of 
mules being led towards us. I hoped they 
would pass, but no. " What do we do 
now?" I asked again. 

The Duke interpreted the cataract of 
conversation he had been listening to. " We 
now have to do about an hour and a half's 
ride on these mules," he said. He seemed to 
relish this idea. Dukes are prone to riding, 
I have noticed I am not. I would have 
given a large sum of money to have seen a 
glacier or something slide down the hill and 
obliterate those mules. 

We all got out of the car, and the Duke 
and I, plus a few assorted officers who were 
to act as guides, made for the mules. I 
clambered up the side of my mount, and 
was relieved to notice that an Alpini soldier 
was going to lead the beast with a rope. The 
Duke and the others rode these mules as if 
they liked nothing better. I sat like a pair 
of compasses on mine. 



228 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



We started off. First of all over a perilous 
wooden bridge, and then off up a precarious 
slope at an angle of forty-five degrees. 




Oh! that ride! For one hour and a half 
I was busily engaged trying to avoid 
sliding off over the mule's tail. That road 
was a disgrace, if you could call it a road. It 



ORDEAL BY MULE 229 

was a narrow, twisting track, winding 
through a pine forest at an almost impossible 
angle. 

Many times on that journey I felt it was a 
toss up as to whether my mule and I would 
go sliding all the way back to the bottom 
of the hill. The path was made of large, 
rough stones with occasional wood struts 
across it, and apparently the object of the 
designers had been to take one round the 
most frightful hair-raising corners and nerve- 
shattering ravines. I confess that, when 
crossing a mighty chasm full of a raging 
mountain torrent on a three-foot bridge, I 
was in a funk. These mules were amazing. 
They seemed to think nothing of crossing 
one of these elementary bridges with a half- 
melted glacier underneath, on three legs, 
with the other over the side. 

They ought to ride monkeys, not mules, 
in these places. " An hour and a half of 
this!" I thought, as I rode along. My Alpini 
guide was ahead, assisting the mule and me, 
by means of a long rope fixed somewhere 
near the mule's nose (I couldn't see where). 
I wished he wouldn't do this, as it forced a 
pace on me which was very uncomfortable, 



230 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

especially about the seat of the trousers. 
I didn't like to speak about it though, as I 
hate hurting people's feelings, even an 
Alpini's. 

It seemed to last for hours, that trip. A 
never-ending forest and a path that seemed 
to have been designed to include everything 
in the way of excitement. 

At last, when my stamina and nerve were 
at the lowest ebb, I became aware of the 
fact that there was humanity about. This 
phenomenon manifested itself by means of 
sundry swarthy faces which peeped at one 
from behind trees. The woods became alive 
with curious dark brown eyes, glaring out 
of the undergrowth. These faces belonged 
to the Alpini, whose forest home we had now 
reached. The sight of an English officer 
awakened them a bit. The first they had 
ever seen, and a poor specimen at that. 

I must have looked like a sort of mascot 
officer on a toy mule ; of the sort you might 
see at Carnage's. I did my best to throw 
an expression of " I-love-hunting-and-am-a- 
devil-for-riding " into my face, but I fear I 
failed. These mountaineers saw through 
it. At last our cavalcade came to a welcome 



THE ALPINI 



231 



halt. The Duke, who had enjoyed the ride, 
I think, dismounted, and I removed my 
stiffened, battered body to the ground. 
The mules were dragged off to some cavern, 
but were unfortunately fostered for our 
return. We now had to do the rest of the 




journey on foot. We scaled a precipice, and 
at last reached what we were looking for: 
the forest mountain home of the Alpini. 

We saw the colonel of this regiment, and 
he showed us all around. 1 still felt I was 
riding the mule. The Duke, on the other 
hand, was walking about as if nothing had 



232 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

happened. I looked with pain at the various 
means of defence and offence employed by 
these wonderful mountaineers. (Oh, that 
mule !) I was shown ridiculous trenches 
which ran up to the side of an almost per- 
pendicular mountain of solid rock. In some 
cases I observed that the Austrians and 
Italians shared a mountain. Appalling dis- 
comfort and no result. The only offensive 
that occurred in these volcanic regions was 
occasionally when an Italian would unex- 
pectedly meet an Austrian round a boulder, 
and would at once engage in mortal com- 
bat, ending probably by having a dagger 
or possibly a bayonet stuck in each, and 
both rolling down six thousand yards of 
mountain, there to be marked hereafter by 
two neat, but small wooden crosses. Such 
is national antagonism. After an exhausting 
few hours looking at these wonders we were 
piloted back to lunch. 

These Alpini saw other human beings 
about once a year, so when I was dragged in 
to lunch they were determined to make the 
best of it. Being a British officer, too, the 
interest was intense. 

The Ancient Mariner, stopping one of 



THE ALPINI 



233 



three, was nothing to this. They held me 
in conversation tor an incredible period. I 
thought that lunch would never end. From 
about half-past twelve till four o'clock it 
lasted, and during that time I had to describe 
what was going on on other fronts, and war 




news generally. Poor devils, they were 
stuck away up in these impossible mountains 
without any chance of coming into the world ; 
I suppose some day, years hence, they will 
come back to the world and find that the war's 
over they will never hear about it otherwise. 



234 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

I spent many days after this going to see 
various forms of mountain fighting, and I 
wandered through many miles of Alpine 
scenery, spent hours in many a still mountain 
forest glade, and pondered on this distant, 
obscure warfare which was being relentlessly 
pursued. 

I saw all the celebrated mountains which 
had been captured, and had many a meal 
with various mountain detachments. Night 
and silence midst those vast mountains was 
a wondrous thing very depressing to me 
somehow. The futility of it all seemed to hit 
me hard. I remember, near Monte Piave, 
coming to some few isolated wooden crosses, 
marking a few graves on the icy shadows of 
the mighty mountain, and I couldn't help 
evolving a small verse as I looked at the 
scene, and have since made a large painting 
of the theme : 

Here, amidst the frozen Dolomites, 

A battered cross some mountain flowers 

a breeze ; 
A hero of a hundred Alpine fights ; 

One hears his story from the whispering 
trees. 



A VISIT TO ROME 285 

I left the mountains one fine morning and 
returned to Udine. My time was up now 
on the Italian front. I had seen many things 
and had absorbed the many wonderful 
details in connection with the peculiar war 
which it was necessary for Italy to cope with. 
The main feature which struck me most 
forcibly was their great engineering ability. 
Their rapid rebuilding on devastated areas, 
their great wire rope transport schemes in 
the mountains, etc., etc. I left the Italian 
front, taking my hat off deep and low to 
their ability. 

Before leaving Italy I asked permission 
to visit Rome en route I was very keen to 
do this. As I was so near, I was most 
anxious to have a day amidst the historic 
wonders of Rome. I was readily given 
leave, so off I started, and left Treviso in a 
Pullman-car seat for the ancient city on the 
Tiber. After Rome, I was to return to 
England to turn the mass of impressions 
and detail I had obtained into a set of 
pictures of life on the Italian front. I 
determined to work a bit in Rome, and then 
return, via Paris, to London to complete the 
job. I arrived in Rome. 



CHAPTER XXXI 

ROME RETURN TO LONDON " THE ] 

A REQUEST FROM AMERICA 

WHAT a charming spot Rome is ! Here 
one was clean out of the war. Hotels, cafes, 
theatres, bright sunny days, with people all 
amusing themselves, I had only two days in 
Rome, but I got busy in that time. I bribed 
a motor merchant to take me everywhere 
worth seeing ; I took his car for a morning 
and went off to the Appian Way, Saw the 
baths of Caracalla and the Coliseum. I 
should have liked a week in Rome to let all 
these wonders soak in. A good look round 
St. Peter's and the Vatican completed my 
sightseeing. I stayed at the Grand Hotel 
near the station, and found it to be the 
usual sort of pomp, glitter and marble 
business, which apparently is inseparable 
from grandeur in all countries. 

At this date, besides my pictures, which had 
been appearing regularly every week, I had 
completed another effort with which most 
people are now familiar, namely the play, 
The Better 'Ole. 



RETURN TO LONDON 237 

It had been finished just prior to my 
departure for Italy, and the theatre manage- 
ment had been getting on with the produc- 
tion. I picked up papers in Rome which 
announced its forthcoming appearance in 
London. Being particularly anxious to be 
back in time to look over the final rehearsals 
and details I was not sorry that the Italian 
tour had ended at such an opportune moment. 
I was not going to stay long in Rome, but 
hurry along back, so that whilst getting on 
with my finished sketches, I could also now 
and again go to superintend rehearsals at 
the theatre. 

After the usual journey Rome, Paris, 
London I settled down to work hard on 
all the subject matter I had culled in Italy. 
Each day, and all day, I have worked for 
months on end at the real hard labour which 
drawing cartoons entails. I started on my 
Italian drawings, and found time in the 
evenings to go to rehearsals of that show, 
The Better 'Ole. Now that it is an accom- 
plished fact, I want you to exonerate me 
from any idea of ego or advertisement 
whilst I tell you the result of this show. 

It played in London for over a year, 



238 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

twice daily. Five touring companies toured 
and are touring as I write, and have played 
in the same towns over and over again. It 
is an equal success in America, Canada and 
Australia, whilst amongst its minor activities 
it has toured India. Yet on the night before 
the first production, I would willingly have 
accepted a small fee to have the whole show 
cancelled. 

I felt that I could place little or no reli- 
ance on others sufficiently understanding to 
interpret the real meaning of " Old Bill," 
"Bert" and "Alf" for they are the 
embodiment of my idea of a great and 
curious phenomenon : the psychological 
temperament of the British race. Added to 
which there was the peculiar atmosphere 
and romance which this unique war has 
possessed. 

However, the play started, and has had 
the results above mentioned, much to the 
surprise of the management and sundry other 
individuals whose ideas, of necessity, largely 
rotate round girls, tights and rag music. 

The Better 'Ole having been fairly launched 
on its run, I worked all day and every day on 
my drawings for the War Office, which 



A REQUEST FROM AMERICA 239 

subsequently went to papers all over the 
world. 

Now came another big and interesting 
move for me. I was suddenly informed that 
the American Propaganda Department had 
applied to know whether it was possible for 
me to go to visit and live with the American 
army in the field, " there to find and create 
similar characters to " Bill," " Bert," and 
" Alf." So said the cable. 

This was great news. I had been with the 
British, French and Italian armies, and now 
was to go to the last joined army of all the 
American. 

America was just beginning to send her 
first troops to France, and I was to be with 
them on their initial appearance. 

I received my orders and instructions, and 
forthwith set oft to join the ever-rising tide 
of the American army, and to see life way 
out in Alsace-Lorraine. I little thought that 
this was to be my last front in the war ; but 
after the long session I spent out round this 
area, I left it to hear of the armistice before 
my return again to France. I left for the 
American front full of enthusiasm, vigour 
and curiosity. 



CHAPTER XXXII 

START FOR AMERICAN FRONT COMMON-SENSE 
METHODS NEUFCHATEAU A CORDIAL WELCOME 

I THINK, perhaps, I was keener on going to 
this front than any. This arrival in Europe 
of a vast army of our own kith and kin, from 
over three thousand miles away, was a great 
and wonderful event ; and what was no 
small consideration in my case, I was going 
amongst soldiers who spoke my own mother 
tongue. Moreover, the American army was 
taking over the most romantic part of the 
whole French battle-line, Alsace-Lorraine. 

All ways to the front run through Paris 
at least, all fronts except the British, and, 
consequently, I found myself once more in 
the French capital, thus making the eleventh 
time I had crossed the Channel. Back at the 
old Gare du Nord, and a lonely night or two 
in Paris. I reported at the Headquarters 
of the American Intelligence Department in 
the Rue St. Anne, off the Avenue de FOpera, 
and there received intelligent consideration 
and answers, which somehow one expects 

but does not always find in an Intelligence 

240 




AS FAR AS THEY CAN MAKE OUT WITH THE 15INOCULARS, FROM MONTE 

MACARONI ACROSS THE VALLEY, THE MAN MARKED "x" is ALMOST 

CERTAIN TO GET THE ITALIAN VICTORIA CROSS. 



COMMON-SENSE METHODS 241 



department. The American staff officers 

were most courteous, and without any loss 

of time ex- 

plained how I 

was to get to 

my destination. 

Going to the 

American front 

was made the 

easiest thing in 

the world, if you 

were authorized 

to go, and your 

mission was 

genuine. 

The American 
methods are di- 
rect and to the 
point. " Com- 



mon sense 



is 




^ 



turned on rapid- 
ly and clearly, 
and a decision 
one way or the other arrived at without a month 
or two of "passed for necessary action." 

I left Paris for the railhead most suitable 
for my ultimate destination, which was 
Q 



242 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

Gondricourt, and made very much the same 
journey that I had taken before, when going 
to Verdun. We passed through Bar-le-duc, 
and trickled along a desolate line of rails 
until we reached the dull-looking, war-worn 
town known as Gondricourt. This was an 
American railhead, and this was my first 
sight of the American army. There were a 
few of these children of the West hanging 
about the station, and I could feel at once 
the type of soldier they were. My first big 
impression of America in our European war, 
and an impression I still retain, is : that they 
seemed to jump in at the point which it had 
taken us four years to get to. Within a week 
of landing they looked as if they had been in 
the war since 1914. They wallowed off into 
the mud, misery and destruction, without 
any amateurish-looking deportment. 

The men at the station were probably 
waiting around for the arrival of military 
stores, or something of that sort, whilst, of 
course, the collection comprised one or two 
military police, which you find anywhere. 
All fine, healthy-looking men, a hint of what 
I was to see later. 

A car was waiting for me at the station, and 



NEUFCHATEAU 243 

in I got, with my baggage. We drove off 
towards Neufchateau, which was at that 
time the headquarters of one of the first 
American divisions to arrive in France. The 
chauffeur had been told where to take me, so 
I lay back behind my suit-case and half 
under a rug and looked out at the scenery. 
A very grey, bleak country, undulating 
and desolate. Now and again we would 
flash through a muddy, dilapidated village, 
frightening a lot of hens, causing a pig or 
two to stare, or some man or woman to pause 
in his or her work to gaze at us. We had 
several miles of this sort of thing to do, but 
finally we topped a rise and began a descent 
on a winding road into Neufchateau. Every- 
where now were the signs of the American 
army. Rows of motor lorries on the road, 
groups of soldiers, men working on the tele- 
graph and telephone lines at the side, men 
standing around their billets, a general busy 
confusion, getting thicker and thicker as we 
approached the town. We reached the main 
street and reduced our speed as we wended 
our way through the mass of soldiers moving 
about in the narrow, old-world street. Here I 
was now right amongst the Americans. First 



244 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



impressions : big, strong, healthy, cheerful, 
with all the effective cowboy looks, strap of 
hat behind their heads, and the familiar large 
felt hat. 

I felt at once, " I shall be all right here." 
Driving down the main street we at length 




turned up a still narrower lane, and reached 
a market-square with the inevitable statue 
in the middle. Turning out of this square 
we descended a hill and came at last to an 
hotel. Of course, the word " hotel " is 
absurd ; but the proprietor's feelings might 



A CORDIAL WELCOME 245 

possibly be hurt if I described it as anything 
else. 

A room had been booked for me here. My 
bags were dragged in, and I went to this 
room. It was only one stage better than 
the hotel at Coxyde, but had the advantage 
of not being shelled, or living in fear of a 
shelling. You can have no idea how much 
nicer a hotel is when there is no prospect of 
a few '" five-point nines " coming through 
the roof during your stay. 

My bedroom was a plain, uncarpeted 
room, no fire-place, and a plain, yellow 
wood bed. A candle furnished the only 
illumination. I sat on the bed and surveyed 
the situation, after which I unpacked and dug 
myself into the room as much as possible. 
After repeated imprecations down the stair- 
case, a young, but portly, Alsatian girl 
brought up some hot water and placed it in 
the enamel tin basin. Whilst I was having 
a wash and brush-up, there was a knock at 
the door, and on opening it I found an officer 
from the Press Censor's office, who gave me 
a message from the Divisional general. The 
general had very kindly asked me to dine 
with him that night. I was very tired, but 



246 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

still, of course, I decided at once to accept 
this hospitality, and consequently prepared 
myself to go. The officer told me how to get 
to the Headquarters, and by dinner time I 
reached the place. The general was most 
cordial and hospitable. I have seldom met a 
nicer man, and several times after this I had 
the privilege of being taken by him round 
the sights in his area. He, of course, had a 
group of staff officers around him, and they 
were in every way the most friendly group I 
have ever met. They gave me permission 
to do everything I liked in the divisional 
area. The general talked a lot about my 
pictures. He had a collection of them all, 
and was most interested in my war wander- 
ings and the adventures I had met with. He 
was only just recovering from an attack of 
pneumonia, and this worried him consider- 
ably, as it prevented him from being as 
active as he wished. Altogether a most 
kindly and genial headquarters ; I wish all 
were like this one. 

I explained exactly what I had to do, and 
how I liked to do it. They did everything 
in their power to assist. The general told 
one of his A.D.C.'s to go with me next day, 



A CORDIAL WELCOME 24? 

and to show me as far as possible over the 
various component parts of his divisional 
area. Late that night I left the head- 
quarters and wended my way back to my 
old hotel. I mounted the creaky stairs, 
entered my bleak, cold room, and crept into 
bed. 



CHAPTER XXXIII 

A PRIMITIVE " HOTEL " YANKS IN TRAINING 

VISIT TO MARINE H.Q. KEENNESS AND EFFICIENCY 

THE weakest point in that outrageous hotel 
was, I found, the question of breakfast. I 
asked for breakfast ; I talked about break- 
fast ; I intimated that I was perfectly willing 
to pay for breakfast but I couldn't ever 
get any. Whilst living there I had to be up 
early and off on some expedition or other in 
the cold mornings, and I never could start 
the day right owing to this defect in the 
management. The hotel was a French one, 
and was not patronized by the Americans, 
who lived in billets and arranged for their 
own breakfasts. For several days I made 
repeated attempts to encourage the manage- 
ment into some effort towards a breakfast, 
but no it was useless. The best that hap- 
pened was that I had a cup of atrocious 
coffee on a damp, marble-topped table, with 
a roll of unbreakable bread about two feet 
long. The room was a saloon bar, the time 
usually about seven a.m. Opposite me 

sometimes sat the manager in shirt sleeves 

348 



A PRIMITIVE 'HOTEL" 249 

and carpet slippers, eating an enormous slab 
of repellent cheese, and washing it down by 
drinking a quantity of red wine. This sight 
alone, at seven a.m., is unnerving. 

Later, I bought some biscuits and a tin 
of jam in order to deaden the taste of the 
coffee. 

My first views of the American army were 
made in the vicinity of Neufchateau, in this 
divisional area. A great quantity of train- 
ing was, of course, on at this time, and every- 
where one could see strenuous work and 
enthusiasm. One felt and saw at once that 
these people had not come over from so far 
in any mood of a light and breezy expedition. 
There was business and determination in the 
air, and what was more, that which ulti- 
mately meant the crushing of Germany I 
mean the " big outlook " which you could 
see the American General Staff was taking. 
They realized that the war was going to be 
a big job. Everywhere were signs that the 
work was not going to be underdone. If 
need be, Germany was to be swamped by 
the might of America. This early, clear 
vision, arid its resulting big, relentless, effort, 
was as instrumental as anything in starting 



250 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

the demoralization of the enemy, which 
ultimately led to his downfall. 

I went to a certain bayonet exercise 
school. Here an English sergeant was 
giving instruction to the American soldiers. 
He was a gymnastic sergeant and a " Non. 
Com." in the old " regulars," and I don't 
suppose a finer instructor could have been 
found anywhere. The Americans all appre- 
ciated his value, and he appreciated their 
rising ability. 

It was a vigorous school, that. Bayonet 
charges over fields and trenches, rifle ranges, 
and all the arts necessary to efficient Prus- 
sian puncturing. 

Near this place I saw huge hospital arrange- 
ments, some finished, others being constructed. 
I drove with the general in his car one day 
to some of the outlying camps, and saw the 
American army at work on all phases of 
war training. It was a busy live sector this 
Neufchateau. 

In the evenings, when I got back, I used 
to prowl around the men's billets and cook- 
houses and watch their life there. 

There was a French and American officers' 
club at Neufchateau, and a great place it 






YANKS IN TRAINING 251 

was, too. I had dinner here several times 
and met many different men. 

Cocktails, tobacco smoke, talking and 
laughter dinner then more co ckt ails, 
tobacco, talk and laughter : a truly cheery 
spot. 1 felt that Americans way back in 
the homeland would have liked to know 
what a cheerful job their countrymen made 
of things. One can say with truth in this 
war that the nearer one was to the front 
the more cheerfulness one found around. 

There were several war correspondents 
in this area, representing several different 
papers in the States, and I had the pleasure 
of meeting some of them. They, too, like 
myself, had " hotels " as their temporary 
homes. 

On a certain day it happened that one or 
two of them were going over to stay at a 
place about twenty-five miles away, in 
order to live with the Marines for a bit. 
They asked me whether I would like to come. 
" Rather ! " I replied enthusiastically. So 
a morning was fixed for our departure. A 
large car stood outside one of the " hotels " 
at about seven in the morning ; we all got 
in, and started off. I have had much motor- 



252 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

ing to do during my war life, and have 
known what it is to be motored alongside 
a precipice on a four-foot road, over a yawn- 
ing chasm on an amateur bridge, etc., but 
heaven preserve me from an American 
war-time chauffeur again. He reduces his 
speed to about eighty miles an hour whilst 
passing through towns and villages, but 
in the country, when he doesn't know 

the roads, 
that's when 
he goes " all 
out." I ar- 
rived at the 
Marine area 
in what you 
might have 
taken to be 
the winning 
car in a Cup 
Race ; tears 
were pouring 
out of my 
eyes, and frozen stiff on my cheeks. 

The Marines are the star troops of the 
American army, and are simply splendid ; 
their countrymen may well be proud of them. 




VISIT TO MARINE H.Q. 253 

We went to a Battalion colonel's house 
and found him in. I have seen a good 
many colonels in my time, but never a 
better from a military point of view than 
this one. He had, as a regular soldier, 
seen service in all parts of the world, and 
subsequently told me many interesting 
adventures of his campaigns. With him 
were several regimental officers who all 
lived in quite a nice little house in the village. 
The Marines were billeted all around, and 
also occupied several wooden huts. 

We had a most hospitable reception, and 
I knew at once that this area was going to 
be of great use to me in my job. I went 
about amongst the lines, making rough notes, 
and taking photographs. 

Here was a typical sample of the American 
army dumped down in this strange land to 
take part in a most peculiar and mighty 
war. And a jolly good job they meant to 
make of it. The housing, feeding and 
general upkeep of the American soldier is 
excellent, and the health and strength of the 
Marines I saw was perfect. 

We all had lunch in the little house, and 
afterwards the colonel took myself and a 



254 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

couple of the war correspondents for a 
walk around his area. The discipline he 
maintained was that of a battleship. He 
called out a few men here and there and 
ordered certain things to be done to show 
us details of their routine. He ordered out 
a squad of men to do some bayonet work 
and turned a strict, acid criticism on the 
performance. Everywhere the whole of his 
command worked with alacrity and smart- 
ness. Now and again he caught a male- 
factor, and in a few warm phrases made him 
think that perhaps there was a " better 
'ole " elsewhere than that particular spot 
at that particular moment. The Marines 
are comparable to our Guards, and one 
cannot say more than that. 

I got a wealth of material on this visit. 
I made drawings from life of several of the 
soldiers, and listened to stories of Cuba and 
Mexico. I went into one billet, and after 
I had been talking for some time to those 
around me, one man asked me whether I 
had ever met Bairnsfather, "the man who 
draws the pictures." This was rather 
embarrassing. I said I had known Bairns- 
father for about thirty years, in fact that 






KEENNESS AND EFFICIENCY 253 

I myself was Bairnslather. This caused 
great merriment to those in the place, and 
bashful confusion to my questioner. 

I had tea up at the chateau where the 
Marine Brigadier General lives, and one day 
attended a tea party given by the French 
owner of the chateau and his wife. They 
were very nice people, and made very light 
of the evil times they and their estate had 
fallen on. I found all my picture stuff 
well known to them, as Madame had kept 
on buying it at Brentanos whenever she 
went to Paris. 

Finding that I am known in advance 
before I arrive at a place is always a great 
relief to me, as I hate explaining. I have 
been very fortunate in this respect. The 
first general I met up in the Italian Alps 
immediately produced my book Bullets 
and Billets, and told me he had got it in 
Rome. 

The conversation amongst the Marines 
at this time almost entirely consisted of 
the theme " when are we going to be allowed 
to go to the trenches and begin?" 

The keenness was terrific. No better news 
could have come to them than that a big 



256 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

battle called for their immediate attendance. 
Poor chaps ; they got their wish before long, 
when they performed their splendid achieve- 
ment at St. Mihiel, and took that long- 
enduring salient from the Boches. 








^ 




CHAPTER XXXIV 

VISITS TO SHELLED AREAS SALVATION ARMY 

CANTEEN A BREWERY BILLET AN OMEN 

ONE cannot recount every episode which 
befalls in times so varied and full as these. 
My visits on all fronts have led to so many 
adventures and afterthoughts that the length 
of a book is barely space enough in which to 
fit them. But these chapters of mine are 
merely intended to pick out the salient 
features, and so I will not enumerate a lot 
of little incidents which happened on this 
front, but go ahead with an account of a visit 
to quite another part of the American line. 
Afterwards I shall tell of my last billet 
in the war and how I saw in it a big omen 
which I correctly interpreted as foreshadow- 
ing an early termination to my war- wander- 
ings. 

One day I saw a chance of visiting a 
sector in which reposed much artillery. I 
took the chance, and went with an officer 
in a car. We passed through many places 
of interest ; towns whose names I had seen 
on maps, and which had always pricked 

R 257 



258 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

up my imagination. Nancy, Toul, Lune- 
ville were on the route, and I spent a few 
hours in each place. Luneville attracted 
me ; it wasn't so very badly knocked about 
and the town was very reminiscent of 
historic interest. Stanislaus, the King of 
Poland, used to live around here, apparently 
preferring it to Poland. From photographs 
and accounts of that country I see his 
wisdom. We went to Baccarat, famous 
as everyone knows for " shove-halfpenny," 
and other gambling attractions. We also 
paid a short visit to Vittel, the famous 
watering-place, where I walked through 
miles of deserted but beautiful Pump Room 
gardens. 

The artillery bunch that I went to see 
were right up at the front line. They were 
actively in the war, and this fact became 
painfully noticeable before I left. We 
entered a completely ruined village, hid the 
car and proceeded to the battery colonel's 
house. 

Here we sat and talked for a good while, 
and then he took us round the sights. What 
a mess! The whole place was nothing but 
a pile of blackened bricks and mud. We 



VISITS TO SHELLED AREAS 259 



saw the punctured tower of the old church, 
and went to look through a crack in a 
mangled-up house at the German positions. 
Whilst there, 
the old fa- 
miliar gurg- 
ling whistle 
sounded in 
the air, and 
was followed 
by a cloud 
of dust and 
earth flying 
upwards. A 
shell had 
burst down 
the road, and 
we knew that 
the Germans 
had started 
their daily an- 
noyance. We 
went back 
into a barn 
where a group of American soldiers were 
busy staring down the road. As we 
looked, another shell came over and landed 




WITH ALL THAT SHORTAGE OF 
TONNAGE, TOO! 



260 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

on the road. Out of the ensuing cloud of 
dust and smoke shot a motor-bicycle. A 
dispatch rider had just missed the explosion. 
He motored past us totally unconcerned, 
and went on his way. The colonel thought 
it inadvisable for us to move away until 
this riot had subsided, and I mentally 
conjured up a vision of what would happen 
if one of those shells hit our car, which it 
easily might. We retired to a sandbagged 
dugout the colonel's headquarters and had 
a smoke. 

Whilst there, the Germans endeavoured 
to drop shells in as many unpleasant places 
as possible, but in about an hour the firing 
ceased. This was our opportunity, so we 
got out the car and motored to Beauvais, 
a little village not far away. Near here we 
begun to feel mighty hungry, so the allure- 
ments of a roadside Salvation Army canteen 
held us tightly. We halted at this canteen, 
which we found had been established in an 
old, shell-shattered barn. A large tar- 
paulin formed the roof, and here and there 
a hole in it let the bright daylight stream 
through down on the heads of a crowd of 
American " dough boys " who were rest- 



KyvKc-c 




TllE MAN WHO CAME jOOO MILES. 



SALVATION ARMY CANTEEN 261 

ing from their labours. They were either 
eating, playing cards or lying around 
smoking, and it struck me as a weird scene. 
The tarpaulin and the patches of sunlight 
striking their cowboy hats and sunburnt 
faces gave a beautiful effect of light and 
shade. At the end of this room some girls 
were frying eggs, and making toast and 
coffee. It was such a human scene, and I 
could not help admiring the courage of 
these Salvation Army girls, living up at 
such a place, and working as they were 
doing. 

What a terror an American soldier is for 
eggs! I saw a plate containing a dozen 
fried eggs, and found on inquiry that they 
were all for one man. Those hens around 
there must have been doing overtime for 
many months now. 

I took away many pleasant recollections 
of that scene. The tired, strong soldiers in 
their muddy clothes and rough felt hats, 
the girls working away for their comfort, 
such as it could be, under such surroundings. 
We all had fried eggs and coffee and very 
good they were. Feeling much better after 
this scratch meal we started on our return 



262 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 




"SAY, WHO ARE THOSE GUYS OVER THERE?" 
"Y.M.C.A. OFFICIALS." 

"YES, I KNOW THAT, BUT I MEAN THOSE TWO BY 
THE TREE." 

"SOLDIERS MAY BE." 



A BREWERY BILLET 263 

to that ancient, dingy borough of Neuf- 
chateau. 

Towards the end of my visit I again went 
to the Officers' Club. I turned to this as a 
welcome relief from the chilly horrors of 
my " hotel." On this occasion I was dining 
with Mr. Floyd Gibbons of the Chicago 
Tribune. As we left the place together late 
that night he asked me where I was staying. 
I confessed to my " hotel." 

He, an open-hearted companion in my 
misfortune, suggested my coming for a 
couple of nights to his place. He had, it 
appeared, discovered a "peach" in the way 
of billets ; an old brewery at the far end of 
the town. Of course no beer in it, but a 
few rooms, looked after by the wife of the 
manager, who was away fighting some- 
where. We reached the place, and Gibbons 
took me up to the rooms he had got hold of. 
Very nice too, and a hundred per cent, 
advance on that " hotel." There were two 
chambers, one leading out of the other, with 
two beds in the inner one; I had one bed, 
he had the other, and next morning bacon 
and eggs ! My first decent breakfast since 
arrival ! 



264 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

Gibbons had to go off somewhere that day 
whilst I drew hard at sketches till the evening, 
when, following my usual custom, I went 
round seeing what I could. These prowls 
on my own in Nieuport, Ypres, Verdun, 
Udine, Neufchateau, etc., etc., have been 
perhaps the least painful parts of the war 
for me. That night, again, I went to the 
Club and there got a message that Gibbons 
would not be at dinner, but that he would 
go straight to the brewery billets as he 
would be back late. Somehow or other I 
got enveloped in a very convivial evening. 
It was my last prior to my return to England, 
and it's a curious thing how one's last evening 
at a place always seems to be the best. It 
was very late when I emerged into the dark- 
ness, and plodded off to the brewery. Feel- 
ing sure that Gibbons would probably be in 
bed and have left the door open, I went along 
whistling and revelling in the joys of my 
return towards England on the morrow. 
A good night's rest, I thought, then every 
hour will bring me nearer civilization and 
good old Angleterre. 

I arrived at the brewery ; all was dark 
and still, the huge and double doors of the 



A BREWERY BILLET 265 

yard were shut. I had forgotten about 
these doors, but didn't regard them as an 
insurmountable barrier as I felt sure that 
there must be a small side door somewhere 
that was open. So I didn't worry, but 
looked casually for the side door. I looked, 
I groped, I scratched, and then the truth, 
in all its chilly horror, dawned on me. I was 
locked out! Locked out of a brewery at 
midnight! I stood, silent and still, under 
the moonlight, coupling other words begin- 
ning with B to the brewery. " What the 

-," " Why the ," etc., etc. 

One doesn't expect to be locked out of a 
brewery under the moonlight at midnight ; I 
had a sort of feeling that something romantic 
ought to happen. A lattice should open 
somewhere above one's head, and a pale, 
delicate hand drop a little scented note with 
a seal on it ; a momentary light in her 
window, a rustle somewhere in the shadows, 
and Madeline is beside you. 

But no ! This was just a cold, dark 
brewery, hermetically sealed. 

I began at last to be practical. I searched 
the brewery's outer defences for the least 
crack that would permit of my getting into 



266 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

the yard, and thus reach the door of the 
house. Finding nothing that would help 
me, I decided to climb the wall. There was 
a dark, narrow passage along one side of the 
left-hand wall, dividing the brewery from 
a private house. I entered this passage 
and kicked against some projecting wood 
sheds which I hadn't seen. Looking up- 
wards, I saw the tiled top of the yard wall, 
grim and clear against the moonlit sky. 

I began to climb up these wooden out- 
houses. I got on the roof, but slipping, 
removed most of the skin from my left hand, 
and allowed a leg with a military top-boot 
on to crash through a window covered with 
wire netting. Then, what a tornado! The 
sheds were filled with rabbits and hens, which, 
till then, had presumably been paralysed by 
fright into silence. The top-boot broke the 
spell. A wild, scratching scamper, mixed 
with hysterical clucking of terrified hens, broke 
the still night air, and I lay dumbfounded 
on the tiled roof about two yards from the 
top of the brewery wall. A lattice did open 
now, and a gnarled and twisted brown hand 
gesticulated wildly in emphasizing a barrage 
of unintelligible French, which was hurled 



AN OMEN 267 

out of the window. When the first furious 
blast was over I, sitting on my tiled roof, en- 
deavoured to instil calm and understanding 
into this proud possessor of hens and rabbits. 
Short gaps in his speeches (when he was 
pausing for breath) enabled me to get quick, 
jerky little conversational stabs at him, and 
ultimately one of these got home. He at 
last understood that I was an officer who 
lived in the brewery, and had got locked out. 
His grizzled head disappeared, and presently 
I heard the door-key of his house turn and he 
came outside. He wasn't at all annoyed now, 
but opened the side door of the brewery yard. 
I thanked him and entered. At last! time, 
about half-past one. " I shall soon reach my 
bed, and to-morrow I have to get up early to 
drive off to Gondricourt, on my way back to 
England," I thought to myself. 

I stood for a few moments outside the 
door of the house on some stone steps, moon- 
light and stillness flooding the large yard of 
the deserted brewery. An old waggon and 
an empty cask or two stood in the shadows 
of an open shed. 

" Here I am," I thought, " in 1918, stand- 
ing in a brewery in Alsace, far, far away from 



268 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

the spot where I first started in the war." I 
thought of all the host of things that I had 
done and seen since those early days. As I 
thought on these things I suddenly remem- 
bered that my very first billet in the war had 
been a brewery: the old deserted brewery 
at Nieppe, near Armentieres. " What an 
omen ! " I thought ; " my first billet a brewery, 
and now a brewery again." Did it mean 
that this was to be my last war billet ? It did. 



CHAPTER XXXV 

EN ROUTE TO ENGLAND AN UNEXPECTED MEETING 

GIBBONS, with his own private key, got back 
and to bed sometime or other during that 
night, as I found him there on waking next 
morning. He was most amused at my ad- 
venture, and was sorry he had forgotten 
to tell me about the yard shutting after a 
certain hour. These episodes amuse me too 
when they are over. 

This was the day I left the American front. 
I had seen these Western soldiers, training, 
fighting, resting I knew the story and I 
felt their part, and now had come the time 
for me to leave. I enjoyed my visits to the 
American army as I have enjoyed no others. 
I look upon those times as the best I have 
spent in the war. Both officers and men are 
a fine crowd. I thanked Gibbons for his 
kindness to me, and incidentally mentioned 
to him the omen of the night before. He 
smiled. Poor fellow! I'm sure he thought 
the war was going to last till the Fall of 
1925. 

269 



270 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

I left old Neufchateau in an American 
Press car, and was whirled away to Gondri- 
court. En route one passes the birthplace 
of Jean d'Arc, at Domremy. It's a weird 
little place, and most gloomy. I don't wish 
to be disrespectful to the Maid of Orleans, 




but I feel that had I been born there myself 
I should have been bothered with visions 
too. I reached Gondricourt, and of course 
had the usual hour's wait on a grey, bleak 
platform, on a grey, bleak day. At last the 
train of preposterous length rattled into the 
station, and I found a seat on it somehow. 
And now we left Gondricourt farewell to the 



AN UNEXPECTED MEETING 271 

American army and all the times I had had 
there. We passed through Chateau-Thierry, 
of course, and I little thought that so soon 
would be coming that terrific German on- 
slaught which took this place, and that, in 
the ensuing battles, those chaps I had left 
so recently would be playing such a glorious 
part. The American resistance at Chateau- 
Thierry forms an episode that will live in 
golden letters on the pages of American 
history. I returned to Paris and went to the 
Rue St. Anne to thank the authorities for 
my visit and for all the facilities they had 
given me. The next day I left for England, 
via Boulogne, and had the good fortune to 
run into my young brother on the wharf 
there. He is one of those people of whom 
h dies say, " He has got on so well, you know." 
He is a Staff-Captain. You know what I 
mean ; a red hat, two strawberry marks on 
the collar of his coat, highly nuggeted top- 
boots, spurs and shorts. He condescended 
to lean against a counter in the Hotel 
Folkestone and have a cocktail with me. 
We hadn't seen each other for ages, and he 
was going back to his corps up north, some- 
where. 



272 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

Beginning his life in the war by being 
nearly assassinated at Morval, in the Somme 
battle, he, bit by bit, has " risen high in his 
profession." He's a good lad, is my brother. 

England! that's where I was going now. 
I went, and so begin the closing chapters of 
my war career. 




THE SORT OF MAN I DISLIKE INTENSELY: WHO SAYS IN A LOW BARITONE 
VOICE THAT HE HAS HEARD FROM THE CABIN HOY THAT IT WAS JtlST 
HERE THAT THE f.VSOMWA WAS STRUCK AND WENT DOWN IN UNDRR 

THREE MINUTES. 



CHAPTER XXXVI 

START FOR AMERICA HELD UP A DEVIOUS 

COURSE NEW YORK LIBERTY LOAN SPEECH- 
MAKING GO SICK START FOR HOME 

IT has been a wonderful war this, full of 
surprises for everyone, and I somehow think 
the Germans have been more surprised than 
anybody. But, way down amongst the 
ordinary small mortals, who form the com- 
ponent parts of this monstrous catastrophe, 
I doubt whether anyone has been cast for a 
more varied or unexpected role than myself. 
" It's an 'ell of a time way back to 1914," 
as Old Bill would say, and when I, fastidi- 
ously but firmly, stepped into that historical 
Flanders mud, I little thought that, ere my 
part was done in this conflict, I should num- 
ber a visit to the United States of America 
amongst my other wanderings. And yet, 
here I am, penning these lines on a troopship 
crossing the Atlantic on my return from 
America. (" Penning these lines," by the 
way, consists in searching for the paper with 
an oscillating fountain-pen, and occasionally 
stabbing it down to the bed ; then waiting 
till the next wave comes.) 

S 273 



274 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

On a troopship in mid-Atlantic that's 
where I start to write " The Eleventh and 
Last Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor," as it 
were ; but it is in England where this last 
yarn begins. 

When the startling and bewildering news 
that I was to go to the United States was 
squirted at me by the powers that be, I was in 
London, recently returned from the American 
front in France. Whilst with the Americans 
I had frequently wished that sometime or 
other I could go to the country they came 
from. To my mind, one's judgment of an 
army is quite incomplete unless one knows 
what sort of a thing is behind that army, 
what sort of a feeling those behind have for 
those they have sent to war, and what those 
behind are doing, saying and thinking. I 
little thought that this vague wish of mine 
would be so soon realized. 

Anyway, events developed. One night I 
received my orders, and two days later off I 
started. Now, in these days of strife, going 
to America is, as everyone knows, a com- 
plicated and secretive sort of business. There 
is scarcely any doubt that the Germans do 
not like us. In fact, they have gone still 



HELD UP 275 

further, and what's more have been very 
nasty about this sailing to and from America. 
I shall, therefore, in accordance with what is 
best for all concerned, refrain from mention- 
ing where I sailed from, the name of the ship 
I travelled in, and any other details which I 
feel might cause jubilation, information, or 
gratification in Cuxhaven, Berlin, or else- 
where. 

I left London, swathed in the garments 
which we have all grown to associate with 
Captains in the British Army, with three 
boxes, complete with labels. 

After a frantic and exhausting rush to a 
certain sea-port, in order to catch the boat 
which threatened to leave hourly, I then 
languished for a week in an hotel, as the 
sailing was cancelled on arrival. This, of 
course, was part of some cunning nautical 
plan, but I also learnt from sundry philoso- 
phers of the neighbourhood that there was 
some trouble about coal either there was 
no coal, or too much coal, or nobody to poke 
the fire, or something, I don't quite know 
what (I'm no sailor) ; but, anyway, some 
bother about coal had something to do with 
the delay. The days of ships driven by means 



276 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

of twisted elastic being now quite past, we 
all had to wait for this coal crisis to right 
itself. Hence that week in the hotel. I hate 
hotels as I have said before ; I am unmanned 
by an hotel. Vast palm-courts and marble 
dining-halls depress me. This hotel was one 
of those gigantic new structures with several 
revolving front doors and an array of haughty 
females safe behind mahogany counters, who 
book you a room " if there is one." 

Time dragged along slowly in this gilded 
and stupendous edifice. I discovered a 
Turkish and swimming bath somewhere 
down below in a labyrinth of halls and pas- 
sages, and spent most of my time down there. 
At last, after several false alarms, I finally 
got notice of the day and time I was ordered 
to embark. 

It's extraordinary in hotels how news of 
your departure leaks out, and what a lot of 
interest it evokes. Strangers, in Field- 
Marshal's uniforms, enter your room with a 
skeleton key, and offer to remove your 
luggage, order you a taxi or take your 
clothes away to be brushed. The whole staff 
of housemaids who have your room in hand 
from one anaemic-looking wench to about six 



"GETTING ON BOARD" 277 

monarchs of physical culture all visit your 
room. Two lift boys take you down, and in 
the hall your boxes are struggled for by a 
platoon of swarthy foreigners in red jackets, 
like goldfish after crumbs. Then, finally, 
on both sides of the rotating doors, you 
encounter an array of giants in costumes of 
blue with gold braid, which would put to 
shame the diplomatic uniform of even the 
smallest Balkan State. 

You want to set aside about five pounds 
for this side of hotel life. 

I drove off down to the docks, and was not 
long in getting on board. 

What dread words those are for me 
" Getting on board." 

There can never have been a worse mariner 
than I. 

If I catch sight of the funnels of a ship 
from the hotel windows, a mile away, I feel 
ill. 

And as for the final walk up the gangway 
I am from that moment onwards a strange 
and unearthly being. 

There is something about the whole con- 
struction and personality of a ship that 
adversely permeates my whole system. I 



278 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

have endured several thousand miles on 
various oceans, and never have I got any 
better. That peculiar smell which hits you 
as soon as you get on a ship, that compound 
of paint, oil and stuffiness is worse than a 
gas attack to me. Well, anyway, I drove off 
down to the docks on this occasion, and 
courageously went on board. 

It was a big ship (the larger the better for 
my purpose), and was about the 25,000 tons 
sort of thing. 

Two days were now spent slowly and 
laboriously extricating ourselves from the 
aftermath of the aforementioned coal crisis, 
and the complications of the local docks ; 
then we pushed off. 

The Teuton, in his agony of thwarted hate, 
had certainly succeeded in making the trans- 
Atlantic passage peculiar, if nothing else. 
The submarine was conquered, but consider- 
able strange mannerisms were still retained. 
The most objectionable one, to my mind, was 
the fact that a voyage lasted twice as long as 
normally. This left me with the incessant 
worry as to whether we can ever reach the 
other side before it becomes " very rough 
indeed." I live from hour to hour on a ship. 



NEW YORK 279 

I can strut truculently about the deck if the 
sea is as flat as a looking-glass, and can fight 
that nauseating gust which comes at you up 
a ventilator, but, if at all rough, I am down 
and out in a second. 

I am thinking of leaving a large sum of 
money to establish a fund for promoting 
kindness to passengers amongst stewards. 
Oh! the anguish of a voyage, sometimes. 
This voyage of which I write was, fortunately, 
a smooth one : this was lucky as it lasted 
twice as long as it usually did. 

After an eccentric and mysterious passage 
we at last knew that in a few hours we would 
come within sight of New York. 

Everything from now onwards seemed to 
go rapidly. I stood on the front of the ship 
by some railings (I don't know what the part 
is called, but it is towards the sharp end of 
the boat) watching for the first vision of New 
York. At last ! The mammoth Woolworth 
building reared its head, dim and pale yellow, 
over a confused mass of other buildings, lost 
in morning haze. The voyage was over. In 
a few hours we had passed up the Hudson 
and were safely secured in a dock. An hour 
or two more and we had emerged from the 



280 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

suspicious and curt scrutiny of the Customs 
officials, and were, most of us, waiting for 
scarce taxis, surrounded with luggage and 
coloured porters. New York! New York in 
war-time, that's what I was to see. I was 
very familiar with the three other large 
capitals at war London, Paris and Rome, 
and now, here was the headquarters of the 
newest additional nation to the determined 
company of Kaiser Crushers. 

I drove along in a taxi, gorging on all the 
new sights. 

After a life spent mostly amongst two and 
four storey buildings, I confess the Wool- 
worth building strikes one more like a night- 
mare than anything else. It's a bit dwarfed 
in New York owing to the fact that there are 
so many other buildings which have run to 
seed. An ordinary three or four storied 
house in New York would probably get run 
over by a tram or something ; people's 
attention is centred much higher. In the 
distance the effect of these monstrous build- 
ings is peculiar. They are all so geometrically 
uninteresting. Giant cubes, or triangles, or 
parallelograms ; one of these habitations near 
my hotel was of the shape of a safety-razor 



NEW YORK 281 

blade on its end, enlarged millions of times 
a giant wedge, as it were. My hotel was on 
Broadway. A mighty cube, entrance as 
usual by means of rotating glass doors. My 
rooms in the hotel luckily looked out on 
Broadway, and, as Broadway crosses Seventh 
Avenue just in front of the Hotel Astor, the 
view is more varied still. The chaotic whirl- 
pool in front of the Hotel Astor is known as 
Times Square. 

Well, here I was at last, fixed up in New 
York in the Hotel Astor. Now, before going 
on further with this narrative, I must first 
explain a few little points which may not 
have occurred to the reader and which, if they 
did, he might set down as egoism or swelled 
head, or sell-advertisement on my part. 
But, in order to give a clear and concise 
picture of my time in America, it is necessary 
for me to tell you exactly how things went 
with me. He of the domed head and 
starched, wide collar Shakespeare to wit 
once said " What's in a name ? " and I now 
know he was joking. A name can nearly kill 
you, that's my experience. 

The news of my going to America had 
preceded me. I smelt a rat when I was 



282 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

asked to sign a volume of Fragments from 
France on coming down the gangway from 
the ship, but after a few hours at the Hotel 
Astor, any hope that I had ever entertained 
of being in America quietly was completely 
dispelled. The first signs of the riot which 
was to come took the shape of the telephone 
ringing incessantly. Later on, I used to 
spring up with a start when the telephone 
stopped the silence jarred on me so. 

Then came the interviews. For several 
days I told a sequence of pleasant but perfect 
strangers what I thought of New York, what 
I thought of the war and what I thought of 
the American soldiers in the field in France. 
Occasionally this would vary with how I 
came to think of Old Bill, and what places 
and battles I had been to. All these inter- 
viewers were very pleasant and clever people. 
On reading the torrent of articles which 
followed in the papers afterwards, I was 
amazed at what practice can do for them, in 
the taking of interviews. One man, I remem- 
ber, to whom I talked solidly for nearly three- 
quarters of an hour, took no notes down 
whatever, but he had bottled all I had said, 
and got most of it right too. 



LIBERTY LOAN 283 

As I sat in that room at the Astor, giving 
word pictures of my travels and adventures, 
I couldn't help thinking much of those dim, 
distant days, when first I slushed around on 
those bleak Flanders fields, and of my first 
meeting with Old Bill. 

A big jump! The trenches at Messines to 
the Astor, New York ; but war is full of 
surprises. 

My visit exactly coincided with the stu- 
pendous and all-absorbing movement the 
raising of the Fourth Liberty Loan. I have 
seen war loans in various forms raised from 
time to time in England ; I have seen our 
methods of doing so ; I have read advertise- 
ments which pointed out in clear, dictatorial 
terms the small-minded stupidity of anyone 
who failed to be enticed by four and a half 
per cent. I have seen all our English methods 
at work ; but for real, prodigious, enthusi- 
astic effort New York, during the Loan drive, 
beats everything I've ever seen. 

Soon after I arrived I had reason to be 
shot around the city in a car and, incident- 
ally, passed down Fifth Avenue. My first 
impression was that the war was over. 
From one end to the other, on both sides of 



284 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

the street, and festooned down the middle, 
hung every flag of every size and description. 
A vast canopy of coloured cloth in kaleido- 
scopic profusion seemed to block out the 
sky and the walls of the cube-like, monstrous 
buildings on either side of the Avenue. 

Here and there, through the chinks of this 
mammoth Joseph's coat, minor activities 
were rioting with each other for predomi- 
nance. Here, perhaps, you might see a 
patriot standing on a platform in front of a 
picture depicting the entry of Honduras 
into the war, who, by means of dramatic 
gestures and in unintelligible words, was 
holding the attention of a cosmopolitan, 
swaying crowd, the rear ranks of which ran 
the risk of heavy casualties from the passing 
crush of taxis, lorries, decorated fire engines 
and private cars. 

There again you might see four frantic 
and sexless-looking women, framed in an 
avalanche of flags, candidly advertising the 
size of their mouths as they brandished 
Liberty Bond forms in the air and shouted 
exhortations, which nobody listened to. A 
few yards further on you ran into a proces- 
sion. No amount of inquiry could tell you 



LIBERTY LOAN 285 

what procession ; you just had to use your 
judgment and experience, picked up by 
travel, to find out what procession it was. 
For instance, if you suddenly came upon a 
crashing band of cymbals, and over the sea 
of cars and people caught sight of a couple 
of hundred Mongolian faces wearing top-hats 
with the Stars and Stripes wound round 
them, you might safely conclude that this 
was Siam, Java, or Juan Fernandez showing 
unmistakably that she, too, was in favour 
of raising the loan ; whilst a decorated furni- 
ture wagon or fire engine, with the words 
" Juan Fernandez has sent more than half 
a platoon to the Western Front" inscribed 
thereon, would evoke frenzied applause and 
show clearly that Juan Fernandez approved 
of the United States, and that there was no 
chance of a rupture for years to come. 

Fifth Avenue at Loan time is really a 
mighty sight. I knew that even when 
peace was declared London would be unable 
or, shall I say, unwilling to equal it. 

I saw these wondrous and enthusiastic 
sights soon after my arrival, just before all 
the papers had really got going with " Car- 
toonist Bairnsfather says " or " Bairnsfather 



286 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 




A PAGE FROM ONE OF MY SKETCH-BOOKS. 




SPEECH-MAKING 287 

praises U.S. soldiers," etc., etc., but I was 
soon to be drawn into the Liberty Loan 
whirlpool. Everybody had something to do 
with it. Everywhere all effort was directed 
towards the big aim in view " Six billion 
dollars," and very soon the Big Clutching 
Hand said, "I see by the papers that there 
dwelleth in an upper chamber at the Hotel 
called Astor, a cartoonist by name Bairns- 
father. He must forthwith be extracted and 
used in our enterprise." 

In two days' time letters, telephone mes- 
sages and callers arriving in massed forma- 
tion, left me no further doubt as to my future 
in New York. Out of the usual average of 
about twenty applications a day, I selected 
one or two meetings at which I would speak, 
and determined I would do my best, such as 
it was, in the cause of the Liberty Loan. 

I would rather have a day in the trenches 
than make a speech. Once I get up on the 
platform or whatever it is, I feel better, but 
in that ten minutes before I go on, I tremble 
like a blancmange in an east wind. All the 
little things which I have previously decided 
to say, and which I have repeated to the 
bedroom looking-glass with enormous sue- 



288 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

cess, are of course completely forgotten ; 
instead, some lukewarm phrases are exuded 
through trembling lips and chattering teeth, 
and finally, by some miraculous piece of luck, 
I squirt out a lucky, pithy and perhaps 
pertinent or humorous remark, which saves 
me from a catastrophe, then sit down in a 
bath of perspiration. 

I made speeches in various parts of New 
York and the country round ; sometimes at 
theatres, sometimes on a platform in a hall, 
once on a platform at a railway station, and 
once in a church. Besides these horrible 
activities I held forth at innumerable dinners. 
The after-dinner speaking is the easiest 
brand, as you have nearly always got your 
hearers in a comatose state before you begin. 
I made one speech at a dinner where nothing 
but iced water was provided. I found it far 
harder to " get it over," as they say on the 
stage. I like an audience that has been 
built up on a good foundation of cocktails, 
table-d'hote, good wine and cigars. 

And now, whilst all this rattle and bang 
was going on in New York and America 
generally, came the creaking and cracking 
of the war. The papers daily recorded signs 




IK THEY HAD ONLY ELECTRIFIED THE BARBED WIRE. 



GO SICK 289 

and portents that all was not well with the 
Germans and their Allies. Bulgaria had left 
the cast, then Turkey, then Austria! 

The excitement in America was intense. 
On all sides people felt that our turn had 
come at last. The Germans, deserted by 
their dupes, were at last ringed round by the 
ever-increasing power of the Allies. The 
weight of America at the right moment was 
turning the scale. I read the papers with great 
eagerness. I searched every line for any 
indication of the end. The end of the war ! I 
It hardly seemed possible that such a thing 
was near. The American public, I could see, 
couldn't fully grasp what a long business it 
had meant for us. The four years which 
Britain and France had endured were, for 
them, difficult to realize. 

Whilst in New York I got ill. A serious 
trouble broke out in my left ear, and rapidly 
reduced me to a very low level of cheerfulness 
and vigour. Specialists told me that it was 
due to my being in a very low state of health, 
and excessive nerve strain. I felt very bad 
indeed. An acute attack of melancholia, 
coupled with an incessant pain from an abscess 

behind the drum of my ear, obliged me to 
T 



290 FROM MUD TO MUFTI 

cancel any further engagements. Never in 
my life have I felt quite so ill as I was then. 
I went to the British Consulate and explained 
the whole situation. They quite understood, 
and on the advice of a specialist I decided 
that further work out there was useless. I 
was really on my way across America to 
Australia, but I knew inwardly that my 
" number was up " on this trip. I was very 
ill, and I realized it. People that are about 
me when I get ill, rarely take in how bad 
I'm feeling, as I, unfortunately, instinctively 
camouflage myself over with a film of 
jocularity. 

However, some very friendly British officers 
understood, and did everything possible to 
arrange for my passage home. I went back 
to the hotel again and, until the boat left, 
made the best of it. I lay on my bed most 
of the time, occasionally pulling myself 
together to go downstairs for a meal. I think 
the accumulated strain of the past four years 
had at last got me, and that I now, for a 
space, had to put up with a " nervous break- 
down," and the side-lines that go with it. 

I caught a Cunard boat, and started on the 
return voyage to England. 



START FOR HOME 291 

For four consecutive days and nights I 
lay asleep in my cabin. I was completely 
exhausted. After that I began to sit up and 
" take notice," as they say of babies. 

In two days more I pulled myself together 
sufficiently to draw a picture which, I am 
glad to say, brought 100 for the Seamen's 
Orphanage. It was auctioned at a " gaff " 
on the ship. 

They were a jolly crowd on that boat. It 
was a troopship, packed to the lid with 
American soldiers bound for France. A 
large, crowded convoy steadily plodded over 
its zig-zag course on its way to England. 
Meanwhile, the Marconi daily news was 
filling the hearts of those on board with the 
hopes of the successful termination of the 
war. 



CHAPTER XXXVII 

ENGLAND ARMISTICE END 

THE crowded transports reached the Mersey. 
I went on deck, and lovingly gazed on the 
docks of Liverpool, bathed in the rose-pink 
light of the dawn. The forest of masts and 
funnels, the distant tower of the Royal Liver 
building ! England once more ! Hours, of 
course, must elapse now, before they pull 
your boat round impossible looking corners, 
through absurdly narrow lock-gates, until 
they finally fix you up alongside a wharf, 
with just enough distance to prevent you 
jumping ashore. 

At last the time came for disembarkation, 
and having said good-bye to the officers of 
the ship I went on shore with all my tackle 
and got a taxi. 

I bought papers as soon as I got to the 
station bought them in large quantities. 
" Yes," I thought as I read, " this war is 

breaking." One could feel in the air that 

292 



ARMISTICE 293 

this mighty catastrophe which had lain like 
a cloud over the world for four years, was 
drawing to a close. By an extraordinary 
but painful coincidence I was back in Eng- 
land just when all this wonderful News was 
giving England wonderful Peeps into what 
would be wonderful Peace. It seemed hard 
to realize that the end might be near. 

I arrived in London, and felt myself 
slowly recovering. 

There is no tonic like getting back to 
England, but what a tonic the world was to 
have in a moment ! Suddenly the great news 
of the Armistice Terms echoed round the 
world, followed by those tense hours of 
waiting. 

I was in London, spending my days rest- 
ing in bed, striving for complete recovery. 

Then came the great news. The Germans 
had signed. The war was over. 

My own private war was over too, for on 
that night I felt that there were many strains 
and worries that now would be no more. 

The war over ! I wondered what Old Bill 
thought. I could see those muddy, bat- 
tered trenches, the land soaked with all the 
tragedy of years, the faces of those war-worn 



294 



FROM MUD TO MUFTI 



soldiers, as the news spread down the long 
line, which runs from the North Sea to 
Switzerland. The war was over ! 
Old Bill would go to Maggie. 




Finis 



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From mud to mufti with old 
Bill on all fronts 



 

 

 



 

 

 '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''

old bill back to work!!

Old Bill has come out of retirement and is working part/full time for Old Bill Books.  Wages are still under negotiation but at present 2 rations of rum and a half ounce of baccy a day is on the table.  Several interviews were held with a number of interested parties including R Bear Esq, Mr A Capp and a rather shady character known only as Hubert.  Old Bill claims to have experience and I have taken him on for a trial period.

 

 Old Bill Books specialise in rare, low print, antiquarian books, also various collectables.  Lots of military interest books available.  Please click on the link below to see what's available, if nothing takes your fancy please do not hesitate to email me and let me know what you are looking for.
 
 
 
 
 
WELCOME TO ALL OUR CUSTOMERS BOTH OLD & NEW..........WE SELL & SHIP WORLDWIDE..........OVERSEAS BUYERS WELCOME..........SOMETHING FOR EVEVERYONE!
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