'Kitchener’s Mob'
the Adventures of an American in the British Army in 1915
by James Norman Hall


New Lodgings

British troops marching up to battle at Loos


I : Moving In

We were wet and tired and cold and hungry, for we had left the train miles back of the firing-line and had been marching through the rain since early morning; but, as the sergeant said, "A bloke standin' by the side o' the road, watchin' this 'ere column pass, would think we was a-go'n' to a Sunday-school picnic." The roads were filled with endless processions of singing, shouting soldiers. Seen from a distance the long columns gave the appearance of imposing strength. One thought of them as battalions, brigades, divisions, cohesive parts of a great fighting machine. But when our lines of march crossed, when we halted to make way for each other, what an absorbing pageant of personality! Each rank was a series of intimate pictures. Everywhere there was laughing, singing, a merry minstrelsy of mouth-organs.

The jollity in my own part of the line was doubtless a picture in little of what was happening elsewhere. We were anticipating the exciting times just at hand. Mac, who was blown to pieces by a shell a few hours later, was dancing in and out of the ranks singing, —

"Oh! Won't it be joyful! Oh! Won't it be joyful!"

Preston, who was killed at the same time, threw his rifle in the air and caught it again in sheer excess of animal spirits. Three rollicking lads, all of whom we buried during the week in the same shell hole under the same wooden cross, stumbled with an exaggerated show of utter weariness singing, —

"We never knew till now how muddy mud is, We never knew how muddy mud could be."

And little Charley Harrison, who had fibbed bravely about his age to the recruiting officers, trudged contentedly along, his rifle slung jauntily over his shoulder, and munched army biscuit with all the relish of an old campaigner. Several days later he said good-bye to us, and made the journey back the same road, this time in a motor ambulance; and as I write, he is hobbling about a London hospital ward, one trouser leg pathetically empty.

I remember that march in the light of our later experiences, in the light of the official report of the total British casualties at Loos: sixty thousand British lads killed, wounded and missing. Marching four abreast, a column of casualties miles in length. I see them plodding light-heartedly through the mud as they did on that gray September day, their faces wet with the rain, " an' a bloke standin' by the side of the road would think they was a-go'n' to a Sunday-school picnic." The sergeant was in a talkative mood. "Lissen to them guns barkin'! We're in for it this time, straight!" Then, turning to the men behind, — "'Ave you got yer wills made out, you lads? You're a-go'n' to see a scrap presently, an' it ain't a-go'n' to be no flea-bite, I give you my word!"

"Right you are, sergeant! I'm leavin' me razor to 'is Majesty. 'Ope 'e'll tyke the 'int." "Strike me pink, sergeant! You gettin' cold feet?"

"Less sing 'im, 'I want to go 'ome.' Get 'im to cryin' like a baby."

"W'ere's yer mouth-organ, Ginger?" "Right-O! Myke it weepy now! Slow march!"


"I — want to go 'ome! I — want to go 'ome!
Jack-Johnsons, coal-boxes, and shrapnel, oh,
Lor'! I don't want to go in the trenches no more.
Send me across the sea
Where the Allemand can't shoot me.
Oh, my! I don't want to die!
I — want to go 'ome!"


It is one of the most plaintive and yearning of soldiers' songs. Jack-Johnsons and coal- boxes are two greatly dreaded types of high explosive shells which Tommy would much rather sing about than meet.

"Wite," the sergeant said, smiling grimly; "just wite till we reach the end o' this 'ere march! You'll be a-singin' that song out o' the other side o' yer faces."

We halted in the evening at a little mining village, and were billeted for the night in houses, stables, and even in the water-soaked fields for there was not sufficient accommodation for all of us. With a dozen of my comrades I slept on the floor in the kitchen of a miner's cottage, and listened, far into the night, to the constant procession of motor ambulances, the tramp of marching feet, the thunder of guns, the rattle of windows, and the sound of breaking glass.

The following day we spent in cleaning our rifles, which were caked with rust, and in washing our clothes. We had to put these, still wet, into our packs, for at dusk we fell in, in column of route, along the village street, when our officers told us what was before us. I remember how vividly and honestly one of them described the situation.

"Listen carefully, men. We are moving off in a few moments, to take over captured German trenches on the left of Loos. No one knows yet just how the land lies there. The reports we have had are confused and rather conflicting. The boys you are going to relieve have been having a hard time. The trenches are full of dead. Those who are left are worn out with the strain, and they need sleep. They won't care to stop long after you come in, so you must not expect much information from them. You will have to find out things for yourselves. But I know you well enough to feel certain that you will. From now on you'll not have it easy. You will have to sit tight under a heavy fire from the German batteries. You will have to repulse counter-attacks, for they will make every effort to retake those trenches. But remember! You're British soldiers! Whatever happens you've got to hang on!"

We marched down a road nearly a foot deep in mud. It had been churned to a thick paste by thousands of feet and all the heavy wheel traffic incident to the business of war. The rain was still coming down steadily, and it was pitch dark, except for the reflected light, on the low-hanging clouds, of the flashes from the guns of our batteries and those of the bursting shells of the enemy. We halted frequently, to make way for long files of ambulances which moved as rapidly as the darkness and the awful condition of the roads would permit. I counted twenty of them during one halt, and then stopped, thinking of the pain of the poor fellows inside, their wounds wrenched and torn by the constant pitching and jolting. We had vivid glimpses of them by the light from flashing guns, and of the Red Cross attendants at the rear of the cars, steadying the upper tiers of stretchers on either side. The heavy-Garrison artillery was by this time far behind us. The big shells went over with a hollow roar like the sound of an express train heard at a distance. Field artillery was concealed in the ruins of houses on every side. The guns were firing at a tremendous rate, the shells exploding several miles away with a sound of jarring thunder claps.


transport moving up the line through a French village


In addition to the ambulances there was a constant stream of outgoing traffic of other kinds: dispatch riders on motor cycles, feeling their way cautiously along the side of the road; ammunition supply and battalion transport wagons, the horses rearing and plunging in the darkness. We approached a crossroad and halted to make way for some batteries of field pieces moving to new positions. They went by on a slippery cobbled road, the horses at a dead gallop. In the red lightenings of heavy-gun fire they looked like a series of splendid sculptured groups.

We moved on and halted, moved on again, stumbled into ditches to get out of the way of headquarters cars and motor lorries, jumped up and pushed on. Every step through the thick mud was taken with an effort. We frequently lost touch with the troops ahead of us and would have to march at the double in order to catch up. I was fast getting into that despondent, despairing frame of mind which often follows great physical weariness, when I remembered a bit of wisdom out of a book by William James which I had read several years before. He had said, in effect, that men have layers of energy, reserves of nervous force, which they are rarely called upon to use, but which are, nevertheless, assets of great value in times of strain. I had occasion to test the truth of this statement during that night march, and at intervals later, when I felt that I had reached the end of my resources of strength. And I found it to be practical wisdom which stood me in good stead on more than one occasion.

We halted to wait for our trench guides at the village of Vermelles, about three miles back of our lines. The men lay down thankfully in the mud and many were soon asleep despite the terrific noise. Our batteries, concealed in the ruins of houses, were keeping up a steady fire and the German guns were replying almost as hotly. The weird flashes lit up the shattered walls with a fascinating, bizarre effect. By their light, I saw men lying with their heads thrown back over their pack-sacks, their rifles leaning across their bodies; others standing in attitudes of suspended animation. The noise was deafening. One was thrown entirely upon his own resources for comfort and companionship, for it was impossible to converse. While we were waiting for the order to move, a homeless dog put his cold nose into my hand. I patted him and he crept up close beside me. Every muscle in his body was quivering. I wanted to console him in his own language. But I knew very little French, and I should have had to shout into his ear at the top of my voice to have made myself heard. When we marched on I lost him. And I never saw him again.

There was a further march of two and a half miles over open country, the scene of the great battle. The ground was a maze of abandoned trenches and was pitted with shell holes. The clay was so slippery and we were so heavily loaded that we fell down at every step. Some of the boys told me afterward that I cursed like blue blazes all the way up. I was not conscious of this, but I can readily understand that it may have been true. At any rate, as a result of that march, I lost what reputation I had for being temperate in the use of profanity.

We crossed what had been the first line of British trenches, which marked the starting- point of the advance, and from there the ground was covered with the bodies of our comrades, men who had "done their bit," as Tommy says, and would never go home again. Some were huddled in pathetic little groups of two or three as they might have crept together for companionship before they died. Some were lying face downward just as they had fallen. Others in attitudes revealing dreadful suffering. Many were hanging upon the tangles of German barbed wire which the heaviest of bombardments never completely destroys. We saw them only by the light of distant trench rockets and stumbled on them and over them when the darkness returned.

It is an unpleasant experience, marching under fire, on top of the ground, even though it is dark and the enemy is shelling haphazardly. We machine gunners were always heavily loaded. In addition to the usual infantryman's burden, we had our machine guns to carry, and our ammunition, water supply, tools and instruments. We were very eager to get under cover, but we had to go slowly. By the time we reached our trench we were nearly exhausted. The men whom we were to relieve were packed up, ready to move out, when we arrived. We threw our rifles and equipment on the parapet and stood close to the side of the trench to allow them to pass. They were cased in mud. Their faces, which I saw by the glow of matches or lighted cigarettes, were haggard and worn. A week's growth of beard gave them a wild and barbaric appearance. They talked eagerly. They were hysterically cheerful; voluble from sheer nervous reaction. They had the prospect of getting away for a little while from the sickening horrors: the sight of maimed and shattered bodies, the deafening noise, the nauseating odor of decaying flesh. As they moved out there were the usual conversations which take place between incoming and outgoing troops.

"Wot sort of a week you 'ad, mate?" "It ain't been a week, son; it's been a lifetime!"

"Lucky fer us you blokes come in just w'en you did. We've about reached the limit." "'Ow far we got to go fer water?" "'Bout two miles. Awful journey! Tyke you all night to do it. You got to stop every minute, they's so much traffic along that trench. Go down Stanley Road about five 'unnerd yards, turn off to yer left on Essex Alley, then yer first right. Brings you right out by the 'ouse w'ere the pump is."

"'Ere's a straight tip! Send yer water fatigue down early in the mornin': three o'clock at the latest. They's thousands usin' that well an' she goes dry arter a little w'ile."

"You blokes want any souvenirs, all you got to do is pick 'em up: 'elmets, revolvers, rifles, German di'ries. You wite till mornin'. You'll see plenty."

"Is this the last line o' Fritzie's trenches?" "Can't tell you, mate. All we know is, we got 'ere some'ow an' we been a-'oldin' on. My Gawd! It's been awful! They calmed down a^ bit to-night. You blokes is lucky comin' in just w'en you did."

"I ain't got a pal left out o' my section. You'll see some of 'em. We ain't 'ad time to bury 'em."

They were soon gone and we were left in ignorance of the situation. We knew only approximately the direction of the living enemy and the dead spoke to us only in dumb show, telling us unspeakable things about the horrors of modern warfare.

Fortunately for us, the fire of the German batteries, during our first night in captured trenches, was directed chiefly upon positions to our right and left. The shells from our own batteries were exploding far in advance of our sector of trench, and we judged from this that we were holding what had been the enemy's last line, and that the British artillery were shelling the line along which they would dig themselves in anew. We felt more certain of this later in the night when working parties were sent from the battalion to a point twelve hundred yards in front of the trenches we were then holding. They were to dig a new line there, to connect with intrenchments which had been pushed forward on either side of us.

At daybreak we learned that we were slightly to the left of Hill 70. Hulluch, a small village still in possession of the Germans, was to our left front. Midway between Hill 70 and Hulluch and immediately to the front of our position, there was a long stretch of open country which sloped gently forward for six or eight hundred yards, and then rose gradually toward the sky-line. In the first assault the British troops had pushed on past the trenches we were holding and had advanced up the opposite slope, nearly a mile farther on. There they started to dig themselves in, but an unfortunate delay in getting forward had given the enemy time to collect a strong force of local reserves behind his second line, which was several hundred yards beyond. So heavy a fire had been concentrated upon them that the British troops had been forced to retire to the line we were then occupying. They had met with heavy losses both in advancing and retiring, and the ground in front of us for nearly a mile was strewn with bodies. We did not learn all of this at once. We knew nothing of our exact position during the first night, but as there appeared to be no enemy within striking distance of our immediate front, we stood on the firing-benches vainly trying to get our bearings. About one o'clock, we witnessed the fascinating spectacle of a counterattack at night.

It came with the dramatic suddenness, the striking spectacular display, of a motion- picture battle. The pictorial effect seemed extravagantly overdrawn.

There was a sudden hurricane of rifle and machine-gun fire, and in an instant all the desolate landscape was revealed under the light of innumerable trench rockets. We saw the enemy advancing in irregular lines to the attack. They were exposed to a pitiless infantry fire. I could follow the curve of our trenches on the left by the almost solid sheet of flame issuing from the rifles of our comrades against whom the assault was launched. The artillery ranged upon the advancing lines at once, and the air was filled with the roar of bursting shells and the melancholy whing-g-g-g of flying shrapnel.

I did not believe that any one could cross that fire-swept area alive, but before many moments we heard the staccato of bursting bombs and hand grenades which meant that some of the enemy, at least, were within striking distance. There was a sharp crescendo of deafening sound, then, gradually, the firing ceased, and word came down the line, " Counter-attack against the --- Guards; and jolly well beaten off too." Another was attempted before daybreak, and again the same torrent of lead, the same hideous uproar, the same sickening smell of lyddite, the same ghastly noonday effect, the same gradual silence, and the same result.


British soldiers at Loos


II : Damaged Trenches

The brief respite which we enjoyed during our first night soon came to an end. We were given time, however, to make our trenches tenable. Early the following morning we set to work removing the wreckage of human bodies. Never before had death revealed itself so terribly to us. Many of the men had been literally blown to pieces, and it was necessary to gather the fragments in blankets. For weeks afterward we had to eat and sleep and work and think among such awful sights. We became hardened to them finally. It was absolutely essential that we should.

The trenches and dugouts had been battered to pieces by the British artillery fire before the infantry assault, and since their capture the work of destruction had been carried on by the German gunners. Even in their wrecked condition we could see how skillfully they had been constructed. No labor had been spared in making them as nearly shell-proof and as comfortable for living quarters as it is possible for such earthworks to be. The ground here was unusually favorable. Under a clayish surface soil, there was a stratum of solid chalk. Advantage of this had been taken by the German engineers who must have planned and supervised the work. Many of the shell-proof dugouts were fifteen and even twenty feet below the surface of the ground. Entrance to these was made in the front wall of the trench on a level with the floor. Stairways just large enough to permit the passage of a man's body led down to them. The roofs were reinforced with heavy timbers. They were so strongly built throughout that most of them were intact, although the passageways leading up to the trench were choked with loose earth.

There were larger surface dugouts with floors but slightly lower than that of the trench. These were evidently built for living quarters in times of comparative quiet. Many of them were six feet wide and from twenty to thirty feet long, and quite palaces compared to the wretched little "funk-holes" to which we had been accustomed. They were roofed with logs a foot or more in diameter placed close together and one on top of the other in tiers of three, with a covering of earth three or four feet thick. But although they were solidly built they had not been proof against the rain of high explosives. Many of them were in ruins, the logs splintered like kindling wood and strewn far and wide over the ground. We found several dugouts, evidently officers' quarters, which were almost luxuriously furnished. There were rugs for the wooden floors and pictures and mirrors for the walls; and in each of them there was the jolliest little stove with a removable lid. We discovered one of these underground palaces at the end of a blind alley leading off from the main trench. It was at least fifteen feet underground, with two stairways leading down to it, so that if escape was cut off in one direction, it was still possible to get out on the other side. We immediately took] possession, built a roaring fire, and were soon passing canteens of hot tea around the circle. Life was worth while again. We all agreed that there were less comfortable places in which to have breakfast on rainy autumn mornings than German officers' dug-outs.

The haste with which the Germans abandoned their trenches was evidenced by the amount of war material which they left behind. We found two machine guns and a great deal of small-arms ammunition in our own limited sector of frontage. Rifles, intrenching tools, haversacks, canteens, greatcoats, bayonets were scattered everywhere. All of this material was of the very best. Canteens, water-bottles, and small frying-pans were made of aluminum and most ingeniously fashioned to make them less bulky for carrying. Some of the bayonets were saw-edged. We found three of these needlessly cruel weapons in a dugout which bore the following inscription over the door: —

"Gott tret' herein. Bring' glueck herein." It was an interesting commentary on German character. Tommy Atkins never writes inscriptions of a religious nature over the doorway of his splinter-roof shelter. Neither does he file a saw edge on his bayonet.

We found many letters, picture post-cards, and newspapers; among the latter, one called the " Krieg-Zeitung," published at Lille for the soldiers in the field, and filled with glowing accounts of battles fought by the ever victorious German armies.

Death comes swiftly in war. One's life hangs by a thread. The most trivial circumstance saves or destroys. Mac came into the half-ruined dugout where the off-duty machine gunners were making tea over a fire of splintered logs.

"Jamie," he said, "take my place at sentry for a few minutes, will you ? I've lost my water- bottle. It's 'ere in the dugout somew'ere. I'll be only a minute."

I went out to the gun position a few yards away, and immediately afterward the Germans began a bombardment of our line. One's ear becomes exact in distinguishing the size of shells by the sound which they make in traveling through the air; and it is possible to judge the direction and the probable place of their fall. Two of us stood by the machine gun. We heard at the same time the sound which we knew meant danger, possibly death. It was the awful whistling roar of a high explosive. We dropped to the floor of the trench at once. The explosion blackened our faces with lyddite and half-blinded us. The dugout which I had left less than a moment ago was a mass of wreckage. Seven of our comrades were inside.

One of them crawled out, pulling himself along with one arm. The other arm was terribly crushed and one leg was hanging by a tendon and a few shreds of flesh.

"My God, boys! Look wot they did to me!"

He kept saying it over and over while we cut the cords from our bandoliers, tied them about his leg and arm and twisted them up to stop the flow of blood. He was a fine, healthy lad. A moment before he had been telling us what he was going to do when we went home on furlough. Now his face was the color of ashes, his voice grew weaker and weaker, and he died while we were working over him.

High explosive shells were bursting all along the line. Great masses of earth and chalk were blown in on top of men seeking protection where there was none. The ground rocked like so much pasteboard. I heard frantic cries for "Picks and shovels!" "Stretcher- bearers! Stretcher-bearers this way, for God's sake!" The voices sounded as weak and futile as the squeaking of rats in a thunderstorm.

When the bombardment began, all off-duty men were ordered into the deepest of the shell-proof dugouts, where they were really quite safe. But those English lads were not cowards. Orders or no orders, they came out to the rescue of their comrades. They worked without a thought of their own danger. I felt actually happy, for I was witnessing splendid heroic things. It was an experience which gave one a new and unshakable faith in his fellows.

The sergeant and I rushed into the ruins of our machine-gun dugout. The roof still held in one place. There we found Mac, his head split in two as though it had been done with an axe. Gardner's head was blown completely off, and his body was so terribly mangled that we did not know until later who he was. Preston was lying on his back with a great jagged, blood-stained hole through his tunic. Bert Powel was so badly hurt that we exhausted our supply of field dressings in bandaging him. We found little Charlie Harrison lying close to the side of the wall, gazing at his crushed foot with a look of incredulity and horror pitiful to see. One of the men gave him first aid with all the deftness and tenderness of a woman.

The rest of us dug hurriedly into a great heap of earth at the other end of the shelter. We quickly uncovered Walter, a lad who had kept us laughing at his drollery on many a rainy night. The earth had been heaped loosely on him and he was still conscious.

"Good old boys," he said weakly; "I was about done for."

In our haste we dislodged another heap of earth which completely buried him again, and it seemed a lifetime before we were able to remove it. I have never seen a finer display of pure grit than Walter's.

"Easy now!" he said. "Can't feel anything below me waist. I think I'm 'urt down there."

We worked as swiftly and as carefully as we could. We knew that he was badly wounded, for the earth was soaked with blood; but when we saw, we turned away sick with horror. Fortunately, he lost consciousness while we were trying to disentangle him from the fallen timbers, and he died on the way to the field dressing-station. Of the seven lads in the dugout, three were killed outright, three died within half an hour, and one escaped with a crushed foot which had to be amputated at the field hospital.

What had happened to our little group was happening to others along the entire line. Americans may have read of the bombardment which took place that autumn morning. The dispatches, I believe, described it with the usual official brevity, giving all the information really necessary from the point of view of the general public.

"Along the Loos-La Bassée sector there was a lively artillery action. We demolished some earthworks in the vicinity of Hulluch. Some of our trenches near Hill 70 were dam- aged."

"Damaged!" It was a guarded admission. Our line was a shambles of loose earth and splintered logs. At some places it was difficult to see just where the trench had been. Had the Germans launched a counter-attack immediately after the bombardment, we should have had difficulty in holding the position. But it was only what Tommy called "a big 'ap'orth o' 'ate." No attempt was made to follow up the advantage, and we at once set to work rebuilding. The loose earth had to be put into sandbags, the parapets mended, the holes, blasted out by shells, filled in.


wounded at Loos on the way to aid-stations


The worst of it was that we could not get away from the sight of the mangled bodies of our comrades. Arms and legs stuck out of the wreckage, and on every side we saw distorted human faces, the faces of men we had known, with whom we had lived and shared hardships and dangers for months past. Those who have never lived through experiences of this sort cannot possibly know the horror of them. It is not in the heat of battle that men lose their reason. Battle frenzy is, perhaps, a temporary madness. The real danger comes when the strain is relaxed. Men look about them and see the bodies of their comrades torn to pieces as though they had been hacked and butchered by fiends. One thinks of the human body as inviolate, a beautiful and sacred thing. The sight of it dismembered or disemboweled, trampled in the bottom of a trench, smeared with blood and filth, is so revolting as to be hardly endurable.

And yet, we had to endure it. We could not escape it. Whichever way we looked, there were the dead. Worse even than the sight of dead men were the groans and entreaties of those lying wounded in the trenches waiting to be taken back to the dressing-stations.

"I'm shot through the stomach, matey! Can't you get me back to the ambulance? Ain't they some way you can get me back out o'this?"

"Stick it, old lad! You won't 'ave long to wite. They'll be some of the Red Cross along 'ere in a jiffy now."

"Give me a lift, boys, can't you? Look at my leg! Do you think it'll 'ave to come off? Maybe they could save it if I could get to 'os-pital in time! Won't some of you give me a lift? I can 'obble along with a little 'elp."

"Don't you fret, sonny! You're a-go'n' to ride back in a stretcher presently. Keep yer courage up a little w'ile longer."

Some of the men, in their suffering, forgot every one but themselves, and it was not strange that they should. Others, with more iron in their natures, endured fearful agony in silence. During memorable half-hours, filled with danger and death, many of my gross misjudgments of character were made clear to me. Men whom no one had credited with heroic qualities revealed them. Others failed rather pitiably to live up to one's expectations. It seemed to me that there was strength or weakness in men, quite apart from their real selves, for which they were in no way responsible; but doubtless it had always been there, waiting to be called forth at just such crucial times.

During the afternoon I heard for the first time the hysterical cry of a man whose nerve had given way. He picked up an arm and threw it far out in front of the trenches, shouting as he did so in a way that made one's blood run cold. Then he sat down and started crying and moaning. He was taken back to the rear, one of the saddest of casualties in a war of inconceivable horrors. I heard of many instances of nervous breakdown, but I witnessed surprisingly few of them. Men were often badly shaken and trembled from head to foot. Usually they pulled themselves together under the taunts of their less susceptible comrades.


pages from a British magazine


III : Rissoles and a Requiem

At the close of a gloomy October day, six unshaven, mud-encrusted machine gunners, the surviving members of two teams, were gathered at the C Company gun emplacement. D Company's gun had been destroyed by a shell, and so we had joined forces here in front of the wrecked dugout, and were waiting for night when we. could bury our dead comrades. A fine drenching rain was falling. We sat with our waterproof sheets thrown over our shoulders and our knees drawn up to our chins, that we might conserve the damp warmth of our bodies. No one spoke. No reference was made to our dead comrades who were lying there so close that we could almost touch them from where we sat. Nevertheless, I believe that we were all thinking of them, however unwillingly. I tried to see them as they were only a few hours before. I tried to remember the sound of their voices, how they had laughed; but I could think only of the appearance of their mutilated bodies.

On a dreary autumn evening one's thoughts often take a melancholy turn, even though one is indoors, sitting before a pleasant fire, and hearing but faintly the sighing of the wind and the sound of the rain beating against the window. It is hardly to be wondered at that soldiers in trenches become discouraged at times, and on this occasion, when an unquenchably cheerful voice shouted over an adjoining traverse, —

"Wot che'r, lads! Are we downhearted?" — ? a growling chorus answered with an unmistakable, —


We were in an open ditch. The rain was beating down on our faces. We were waiting for darkness when we could go to our unpleasant work of grave-digging. To-morrow there would be more dead bodies and more graves to dig, and the day after, the same duty, and the day after that, the same. Week after week we should be living like this, killing and being killed, binding up terrible wounds, digging graves, always doing the same work with not one bright or pleasant thing to look forward to.

These were my thoughts as I sat on the firing-bench with my head drawn down between my knees watching the water dripping from the edges of my puttees. But I had forgotten one important item in the daily routine: supper. And I had forgotten Private Lemley, our cook, or, to give him his due, our chef. He was not the man to waste his time in gloomy reflection. With a dozen mouldy potatoes which he had procured Heaven knows where, four tins of corned beef, and a canteen lid filled with bacon grease for raw materials, he had set to work with the enthusiasm of the born artist, the result being rissoles, brown, crisp, and piping hot. It is a pleasure to think of that meal. Private Lemley was one of the rare souls of earth, one of the Mark Tapleys who never lost his courage or his good spirits. I remember how our spirits rose at the sound of his voice, and how gladly and quickly we responded to his summons.

'"Ere you are, me lads! Bully beef rissoles an' 'ot tea, an' it ain't 'arf bad fer the trenches if I do s'y it."

I can only wonder now at the keenness of our appetites in the midst of the most gruesome surroundings. Dead men were lying about us, both in the trenches and outside of them. And yet our rissoles were not a whit the less enjoyable on that account.

It was quite dark when we had finished. The sergeant jumped to his feet.

"Let's get at it, boys," he said.

Half an hour later we erected a wooden cross in Tommy's grave-strewn garden. It bore the following inscription written in pencil:

Pte. § 4326 MacDonald. Pte. # 7864 Gardner. Pte. #9851 Preston. Pte. # 6940 Allen. Royal Fusiliers.

"They did their bit."

Quietly we slipped back into the trench and piled our picks and shovels on the parados.

"Got yer mouth-organ 'andy, Nobby ?" some one asked.

"She's always 'andy. Wot'll you 'ave, lads?"

"Give us 'Silk 'At Nat Tony.' That's a proper funeral 'ymn."

"Right you are! Sing up, now!"

And then we sang Tommy's favorite kind of requiem: —

"I'm Silk Hat Nat Tony, I'm down and I'm stony: I'm not only broke, but I'm bent. The fringe of my trousers Keeps lashing the houses, But still I am gay and content.

I stroll the West gayly, You'll see me there daily, From Burlington Arcade Up to the Old Bailey. I'm stony! I'm Tony! But that makes no diff'rence, you see. Though I have n't a fraction, I've this satisfaction, They built Piccadilly for me."


a stone quarry near Hulluch


"Sitting Tight"

I : Lemons and Cricket Balls

Throughout October we fulfilled the" prophecy of the officer who told us that "sitting tight" in the German trenches was to be our function. There were nightly counter-attacks preceded by heavy artillery fire, when the enemy made determined efforts to retake the lost territory. There were needless alarms when nervous sentries "got the wind up," to use the authentic trench expression, and contagious excitement set men to firing like mad into blank darkness. In the daytime there were moments of calm which we could not savor owing to that other warfare waged upon us by increasing hordes of parasitic enemies. We moved from one position to another through trenches where the tangled mass of telephone wires, seemingly gifted with a kind of malignant humor, coiled themselves about our feet or caught in the piling swivels of our rifles. There were orders and counter-orders, alarums and excursions. Through them all Tommy kept his balance and his air of cheery unconcern, but he wished that he might be "struck pink" if he knew "wot we was a-doin' of anyw'y."

Our ideas of the tactical situation were decidedly vague. However, we did know, in a general way, our position with reference to important military landmarks, and the amateur strategists were busy at all times explaining the situation to frankly ignorant comrades, and outlining plans for definite action.

"Now, if I was General French, I'd make 'Ulluch me main objective. They ain't no use tryin' to get by at this part o' the line till you got that village."

"Don't talk so bloomin' ignorant! Ain't that just wot they been a-tryin' ? Wot we got to do is go 'round 'Ulluch. Tyke 'em in the rear an' from both sides."

"W'y don't they get on with it? Wot to blazes are we a-doin' of, givin' 'em a chanct to get dug in again? 'Ere we all but got 'em on the run an' the 'ole show stops!"

The continuation of the offensive was the chief topic of conversation. The men dreaded it, but they were anxious to get through with the business. They believed that now if ever there was the chance to push the Germans out of France.

In the mean time the day's work was still the day's work. There were nightly bombing affairs, some of them most desperate hand-to-hand contests for the possession of small sectors of trench. One of these I witnessed from a trench sixty yards away. The advantage lay with us. The enemy held only the center of the line and were forced to meet attacks from either end. However, they had a communication trench connecting with their second line, through which carrying parties brought them a limitless supply of bombs.

The game of pitch and toss over the barricades had continued for several days without a decision. Then came orders for more decisive action. The barricades were to be destroyed and the enemy bombed out. In underground fighting of this kind the element of surprise is possible. If one opponent can be suddenly overwhelmed with a heavy rain of bombs, the chances of success for the attacking party are quite favorable.


in a quarry near Hulluch


The action took place at dusk. Shortly before the hour set, the bombers, all of them boys in their early twenties, filed slowly along the trench, the pockets of their grenade waistcoats bulging with "lemons" and "cricket balls," as the two most effective kinds of bombs are called. They went to their places with that spirit of stolid cheeriness which is the wonder and admiration of every one who knows Tommy Atkins intimately. Formerly, when I saw him in this mood, I would think, "He doesn't realize. Men don't go out to meet death like this." But long association with him had convinced me of the error of this opinion. These men knew that death or terrible injury was in store for many of them; yet they were talking in excited and gleeful undertones, as they might have passed through the gates at a football match.

"Are we downhearted? Not likely, old son!"

"Tyke a feel o' this little puffball! Smack on old Fritzie's napper she goes!"

"I'm a-go'n' to arsk fer a nice Blightey one! Four months in Brentford 'ospital an' me Christmas puddin' at We!"

"Now, don't ferget, you blokes! County o' London War 'Ospital fer me if I gets a knock! Write it on a piece o' pyper an' pin it to me tunic w'en you sends me back to the ambulance."

The barricades were blown up and the fight was on. A two-hundred-piece orchestra of blacksmiths, with sledgehammers, beating kettle-drums the size of brewery vats, might have approximated, in quality and volume, the sound of the battle. The spectacular effect was quite different from that of a counter-attack across the open. Lurid flashes of light issued from the ground as though a door to the infernal regions had been thrown jarringly open. The cloud of thick smoke was shot through with red gleams. Men ran along the parapet hurling bombs down into the trench. Now they were hidden by the smoke, now silhouetted for an instant against a glare of blinding light.

An hour passed and there was no change in the situation.

"Fritzie's a tough old bird," said Tommy.

"'E's a-go'n' to die game, you got to give it to 'im."

The excitement was intense. Urgent calls for "More lemons! More cricket balls!" were sent back constantly. Box after box, each containing a dozen grenades, was passed up the line from hand to hand, and still the call for "More bombs!" We couldn't send them up fast enough.

The wounded were coming back in twos and threes. One lad, his eyes covered with a bloody bandage, was led by another with a shattered hand.

"Poor old Tich! She went off right in 'is face! But you did yer bit, Tich! You ought to 'a' seen 'im, you blokes! Was n't 'e a-lettin' 'em 'ave it!"

Another man hobbled past on one foot, supporting himself against the side of the trench.

"Got a Blightey one," he said gleefully. " Solong, you lads! I'll be with you again arter the 'olidays."

Those who do not know the horrors of modern warfare cannot readily understand the joy of the soldier at receiving a wound which is not likely to prove serious. A bullet in the arm or the shoulder, even though it shatters the bone, or a piece of shrapnel or shell casing in the leg, was always a matter for congratulation. These were "Blightey wounds." When Tommy received one of this kind, he was a candidate for hospital in "Blightey," as England is affectionately called. For several months he would be far away from the awful turmoil. His body would be clean; he would be rid of the vermin and sleep comfortably in a bed at night. The strain would be relaxed, and, who knows, the war might be over before he was again fit for active service. And so the less seriously wounded made their way painfully but cheerfully along the trench, on their way to the field dressing-station, the motor ambulance, the hospital ship, and — home! while their un-wounded comrades gave them words of encouragement and good cheer.

"Good luck to you, Sammy boy! If you sees my missus, tell 'er I'm as right as rain!"

"Sammy, you lucky blighter! W'en yer convalescing 'ave a pint of ale at the W'ite Lion fer me."

"An' a good feed o' fish an' chips fer me, Sammy. Mind yer foot! There's a 'ole just Vre!"

"'Ere comes old Sid! Were you caught it, mate?"

" In me bloomin' shoulder. It ain't 'arf givin' it to me!"

"Never you mind, Sid! Blightey fer you, boy!"

"Hi, Sid! Tell me old lady I'm still up an' comin', will you? You know w'ere she lives, forty- six Bromley Road."

One lad, his nerve gone, pushed his way frantically down the trench. He had "funked it." He was hysterical with fright and crying in a dry, shaking voice, —

"It's too 'orrible! I can't stand it! Blow you to'ell they do! Look at me! I'm slathered in blood! I can't stand it! They ain't no man can stand it!"

He met with scant courtesy. A trench during an attack is no place for the fainthearted. An unsympathetic Tommy kicked him savagely.

"Go 'ide yerself, you bloody little coward!"

"More lemons! More cricket balls!" and at last, Victory! Fritzie had "chucked it," and men of the Royal Engineers, that wonderfully efficient corps, were on the spot with picks and shovels and sandbags, clearing out the wreckage, and building a new barricade at the farther end of the communication trench.

It was only a minor affair, one of many which take place nightly in the firing-line. Twoscore yards of trench were captured. The cost was, perhaps, one man per yard; but as Tommy said, —

"It ain't the trench wot counts. It's the more-ale. Bucks the blokes up to win, an' that's worth a 'ole bloomin' army corps."


from a British magazine


II : "Go It, The Norfolksl"

Rumors of all degrees of absurdity reached us. The enemy was massing on our right, on our left, on our immediate front. The division was to attack at dawn under cover of a hundred bomb-dropping battle-planes. Units of the new armies to the number of five hundred thousand were concentrating behind the line from La Bassée to Arras, and another tremendous drive was to be made in conjunction with the French, (As a matter of fact, we knew less of what was actually happening than did people in England and America.) Most of these reports sprang, full grown, from the fertile brains of officers' servants. Scraps of information which they gathered while in attendance at the officers' mess dugout were pieced together, and much new material of their own invention added. The striving was for piquancy rather than plausibility. A wild tale was always better than a dull one; furthermore the "batmen" were our only sources of official information, and could always command a hearing. When one of them came down the trench with that mysterious " I-could-a-tale-unfold" air, he was certain to be halted by willingly gullible comrades.

"Wot's up, Jerry? Anything new?" "Nor 'arf! Now, keep this under yer 'ats, you blokes! My gov'nor was a-talkin' to Major Bradley this mornin' w'ile I was a-mykin' 'is tea, an' says —

Then followed the thrilling narrative, a disclosure of official secrets while groups of warworn Tommies listened with eager interest.

"Spreading the News" was a tragi-comedy enacted daily in the trenches.

But we were not entirely in the dark. The signs which preceded an engagement were unmistakable, and toward the middle of October there was general agreement that an important action was about to take place. British aircraft had been patrolling our front ceaselessly for hours. Several battalions (including our own which had just gone into reserve at Vermelles) were placed on bomb-carrying fatigue. As we went up to the firing- line with our first load, we found all of the support trenches filled to overflowing with troops in fighting order.

We reached the first line as the preliminary bombardment started. Scores of batteries were concentrating their fire on the enemy's trenches directly opposite us. It is useless to attempt to depict what lay before us as we looked over the parapet. The trenches were hidden from view in a cloud of smoke and flame and dirt. The earth was like a muddy sea dashed high in spray against hidden rocks.

The men who were to lead the attack were standing rifle in hand, waiting for the sudden cessation of fire which would be the signal for them to mount the parapet. Bombers and bayonet-men alternated in series of two. The bombers wore their mediaeval-looking shrapnel-proof helmets and heavy canvas grenade coats with twelve pockets sagging with bombs. Their rifles were slung on their backs to give them free use of their hands.

Every one was smoking — some calmly, some with short, nervous puffs. It was interesting to watch the faces of the men. One could read, almost to a certainty, what was going on in their minds. Some of them were thinking of the terrible events so near at hand. They were imagining the horrors of the attack in detail. Others were unconcernedly intent upon adjusting straps of their equipment, or in rubbing their clips of ammunition with an oily rag. Several men were singing to a mouth-organ accompaniment. I saw their lips moving, but not a sound reached me above the din of the guns, although I was standing only a few yards distant. It was like an absurd pantomime.

As I watched them, the sense of the unreality of the whole thing swept over me more strongly than ever before. "This can't be true," I thought; " I have never been a soldier. There isn't any European war." I had the curious feeling that my body and brain were functioning quite apart from me. I was only a slow-witted, incredulous spectator looking on with a stupid animal wonder. I have learned that this feeling is quite common among men in the trenches. A part of the mind works normally, and another part, which seems to be one's essential self, refuses to assimilate and classify experiences so unusual, so different from anything in the catalogue of memory.

For two hours and a half the roar of guns continued. Then it stopped as suddenly as it had begun. An officer near me shouted, "Now, men! Follow me!" and clambered over the parapet. There was no hesitation. In a moment the trench was empty save for the bomb-carrying parties and an artillery observation officer, who was jumping up and down on the firing-bench, shouting —

"Go it, the Norfolks! Go it, the Norfolks I My God! Is n't it fine! Isn't it splendid!"

There you have the British officer true to type. He is a sportsman: next to taking part in a fight he loves to see one — and he says "isn't" not "ain't," even under stress of the greatest excitement.

The German artillery, which had been reserving fire, now poured forth a deluge of shrapnel. The sound of rifle fire was scattered and ragged at first, but it increased steadily in volume. Then came the "boiler-factory chorus," the sharp rattle of dozens of machine guns. The bullets were flying over our heads like swarms of angry wasps. A ration-box board which I held above the parapet was struck almost immediately. Fortunately for the artillery officer, a disrespectful N.C.O. pulled him down into the trench.

"It's no use throwin' yer life aw'y, sir. You won't 'elp 'em over by barkin' at 'em."

He was up again almost at once, coolly watching the progress of the troops from behind a small barricade of sandbags, and reporting upon it to batteries several miles in rear. The temptation to look over the parapet was not to be resisted. The artillery lengthened their ranges. I saw the curtain of flame-shot smoke leap at a bound to the next line of German trenches.

Within a few moments several lines of reserves filed into the front trench and went over the parapet in support of the first line, advancing with heads down like men bucking into the fury of a gale. We saw them only for an instant as they jumped to their feet outside the trench and rushed forward. Many were hit before they had passed through the gaps in our barbed wire. Those who were able crept back and were helped into the trench by comrades. One man was killed as he was about to reach a place of safety. He lay on the parapet with his head and arms hanging down inside the trench. His face was that of a boy of twenty-one or twenty-two. I carry the memory of it with me to-day as vividly as when I left the trenches in November.

Following the attacking infantry were those other soldiers whose work, though less spectacular than that of the riflemen, was just as essential and quite as dangerous. Royal Engineers, with picks and shovels and sandbags, rushed forward to reverse the parapets of the captured trenches, and to clear out the wreckage, while the riflemen waited for the launching of the first counter-attack. They were preceded by men of the Signaling Corps, who advanced swiftly and skillfully, unwinding spools of insulated telephone wire as they went. Bomb-carriers, stretcher-bearers, intent upon their widely divergent duties, followed. The work of salvage and destruction went hand in hand.

The battle continued until evening, when we received orders to move up to the firing-line. We started at five o'clock, and although we had less than three miles to go, we did not reach the end of our journey until four the next morning, owing to the fatigue parties and the long stream of wounded which blocked the communication trenches. For more than an hour we lay just outside of the trench looking down on a seemingly endless procession of casualties. Some of the men were crying like children, some groaning pitifully, some laughing despite their wounds. I heard dialects peculiar to every part of England, and fragmentary accounts of hairbreadth escapes and desperate fighting.

"They was a big Dutchman comin' at me from the other side. Lucky fer me that I 'ad a round in me breach. He 'd 'a' got me if it 'ad n't 'a' been fer that ca'tridge. I let 'im 'ave it an' 'e crumpled up like a wet blanket."

"Seeven of them, an' that dazed like, they wasna good for onything. Mon, it would ha' been fair murder to kill 'em! They wasna wantin' to fight."

Boys scarcely out of their 'teens talked with the air of old veterans. Many of them had been given their first taste of real fighting, and they were experiencing a very common and natural reaction. Their courage had been put to the most severe test and had not given way. It was not difficult to understand their elation, and one could forgive their boastful talk of bloody deeds. One highly strung lad was dangerously near to nervous breakdown. He had bayoneted his first German and could not forget the experience. He told of it over and over as the line moved slowly along.

"I could n't get me bayonet out," he said. "Wen 'e fell 'e pulled me over on top of 'im. I 'ad to put me foot against 'im an' pull, an' then it came out with a jerk."

We met small groups of prisoners under escort of proud and happy Tommies who gave us conflicting reports of the success of the attack. Some of them said that two more lines of German trenches had been taken; others declared that we had broken completely through and that the enemy were in full retreat. Upon arriving at our position, we were convinced that at least one trench had been captured; but when we mounted our guns and peered cautiously over the parapet, the lights which we saw in the distance were the flashes of German rifles, not the street lamps of Berlin.



III : Christian Practice

Meanwhile, the inhumanity of a war without truces was being revealed to us on every hand. Hundreds of bodies were lying between the opposing lines of trenches and there was no chance to bury them. Fatigue parties were sent out at night to dispose of those which were lying close to the parapets, but the work was constantly delayed and interrupted by persistent sniping and heavy shell fire. Others farther out lay where they had fallen day after day and week after week. Many an anxious mother in England was seeking news of a son whose body had become a part of that Flemish landscape.

During the week following the commencement of the offensive, the wounded were brought back in twos and threes from the contested area over which attacks and counterattacks were taking place. One plucky Englishman was discovered about fifty yards in front of our trenches. He was waving a handkerchief tied to the handle of his intrenching tool. Stretcher-bearers ran out under fire and brought him in. He had been wounded in the foot when his company were advancing up the slope fifteen hundred yards away. When it was found necessary to retire, he had been left with many dead and wounded comrades, far from the possibility of help by friends. He had bandaged his wound with his first-aid field dressing, and started crawling back, a few yards at a time. He secured food from the haversacks of dead comrades, and at length, after a week of painful creeping, reached our lines.

Another of our comrades was discovered by a listening patrol, six days after he had been wounded. He, too, had been struck down close to the enemy's second line. Two kind-hearted German sentries, to whom he had signaled, crept out at night and gave him hot coffee to drink. He begged them to carry him in, but they told him they were forbidden to take any wounded prisoners. As he was unable to crawl, he must have died had it not been for the keen ears of the men of the listening patrol. A third victim whom I saw was brought in at daybreak by a working party. He had been shot in the jaw and lay unattended through at least five wet October days and nights. His eyes were swollen shut. Blood-poisoning had set in from a wound which would certainly not have been fatal could it have received early attention.

We knew that there must be many wounded still alive in the tall grass between our lines. We knew that many were dying who might be saved. The Red Cross Corps made nightly searches for them, but the difficulties to be overcome were great. The volume of fire increased tremendously at night. Furthermore, there was a wide area to be searched, and in the darkness men lying unconscious, or too weak from the loss of blood to groan or shout, were discovered only by accident.

Tommy Atkins is n't an advocate of "peace at any price," but the sight of awful and needless suffering invariably moved him to declare himself emphatically against the inhuman practices in war of so-called Christian nations.

"Christian nations!" he would say scornfully. "If this 'ere is a sample o' Christianity, I'll tyke me charnces down below w'en I gets knocked out." His comrades greeted such outbursts with hearty approval.

"I'm with you there, mate! 'Ell won't be such a dusty old place if all the Christians go upstairs."

"They ain't no God 'avin' anything to do with this war, I 'm telling you! All the religious blokes in England an' France an’ Germany ain't a-go'n' to pray 'Im into it!"

I am not in a position to speak for Hans and Fritz, who faced us from the other side of No-Man's-Land; but as for Tommy, it seemed to me that he had a higher opinion of the Deity than many of his better-educated countrymen at home.



IV : Tommy

By the end of the month we had seen more of suffering and death than it is good for men to see in a lifetime. There were attacks and counter-attacks, hand-to-hand fights in communication trenches with bombs and bayonets, heavy bombardments, nightly burial parties. Tommy Atkins looked like a beast. His clothing was a hardened-mud casing; his body was the color of the sticky Flanders clay in which he lived; but his soul was clean and fine. I saw him rescuing wounded comrades, tending them in the trenches, encouraging them and heartening them when he himself was discouraged and sick at heart.

"You're a-go'n' 'ome, 'Airy! Blimy! think o' that! Back to old Blightey w'ile the rest of us 'as got to stick it out 'ere! Don't I wish I was you! Not 'arf!"

"You ain't bad 'urt! Strike me pink! You'll be as keen as a w'istle in a couple o' months. An"ere! Christmas in Blightey, son! S'y! I'll tyke yer busted shoulder if you'll give me the chanct!"

"They ain't nothin' they can't do fer you back at the base 'ospital. 'Member W they fixed old Ginger up? You ain't caught it 'arf as bad!"

In England, before I knew him for the man he is, I said, "How am I to endure living with him?" And now I am thinking, how am I to endure living without him; without the inspiration of his splendid courage; without the visible example of his unselfish devotion to his fellows? There were a few cowards and shirkers who failed to live up to the standard set by their comrades. I remember the man of thirty-five or forty who lay whimpering in the trench when there was unpleasant work to be done, while boys half his age kicked him in a vain attempt to waken him to a sense of duty; but instances of this kind were rare. There were not enough of them to serve as a foil to the shining deeds which were of daily and hourly occurrence.

Tommy is sick of the war — dead sick of it. He is weary of the interminable procession of comfortless nights and days. He is weary of the sight of maimed and bleeding men — of the awful suspense of waiting for death. In the words of his pathetic little song, he does "want to go 'ome." But there is that within him which says, "Hold on!" He is a compound of cheery optimism and grim tenacity which makes him an incomparable fighting man.

The intimate picture of him which lingers most willingly in my mind is that which I carried with me from the trenches on the dreary November evening shortly before I bade him good-bye. It had been raining and sleeting for a week. The trenches were knee-deep in water, in some places waist-deep, for the ground was as level as a floor and there was no possibility of drainage. We were wet through and our legs were numb with ifce cold. Near our gun position there was a hole in the floor of the trench where the water had collected in a deep pool. A bridge of boards had been built around one side of this, but in the darkness a passer-by slipped and fell into the icy water nearly up to his arm-pits.

"Now, then, matey!" said an exasperating voice, "bathin' in our private pool without a permit?"

And another, "'Ere, son! This ain't a swim-min' bawth! That's our tea water yer a-stand- in' in!"

The Tommy in the pool must have been nearly frozen, but for a moment he made no attempt to get out.

"One o' you fetch me a bit o' soap, will you?" he said coaxingly. "You ain't a-go'n' to talk about tea water to a bloke wot ain't 'ad a bawth in seven weeks?"

It is men of this stamp who have the fortunes of England in their keeping. And they are called, "The Boys of the Bulldog Breed."



illustrations of fighting at Loos and Hulluch


to part 1

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