from 'the War Budget', September 20th, 1917
'Attack at Dawn'
by One of Them

Pen Picture of a Charge of Demigods

bringing up troops for the attack


For eight days now our cannon have been firing without rest, and for the last three days, above all, the bombardment has attained an unbearable violence. The earth shakes, the sky seems to vibrate, the entire horizon is outlined in flames and the crest in front of us is covered with a net of shell bursts. The air is filled with the sound of some giant railway train rumbling on invisible wheels, and great columns of earth and smoke leap ceaselessly from the vast terrain, apparently deserted, in which the enemy is hidden.

For how long we have waited for this great attack! For several weeks we have felt it earning. At last, all of a sudden, the last preparations, and to-day one feels that it is about to break. At last the confirmation tomorrow! We do not know the hour. All the evening, by moonlight, great truck loads of munitions have been arriving.


Monday Night. The artillery is still energetically at work. It has concentrated its fire on several mills on the flank of the ridge which were found to be peculiarly hard to destroy. Now we have found out they were cement built observation posts. They are crumbling to dust.

Before nightfall the brigade commander warned the battalion commanders that the attack would begin at half-past five in the morning. It makes one think! One ponders on the friends that are going out and who will never come back. Penned up in the shelters of the commander's post naturally one sleeps little. But it is still another thing across the way! A German taken yesterday says that for four days and nights they have been unable to sleep, and having consumed all their rations in two days, they have gone hungry since.

Three o'clock

We stretch ourselves. Some are reading an old magazine brought here to while away the weary hours of waiting. Everyone is nervous, more or less.

A slight noise outside! Eyes raised, inquiringly. Is it raining? No, it is hailing. The hailstones rebound with a hurried sound. Our spirits drop. To understand one would have to actually see those faces drawn, by the wait, by excitement and by sleeplessness. Their hopes are dashed. What will happen? Will the attack go on through this? One feels ready to burst into tears, and everyone experiences the same feeling of discouragement, that undefinable feeling that will pass away when half-past five comes round, the time for which we are waiting, with eager glances at our watches, carefully synchronated.


The solemn hour approaches in a grey and frozen half-light. The bombardment has slightly abated. The Canadian infantry, veterans of Ypres, Courselette and Contalmaison, are aligned in front of our positions, bayonets fixed, and are awaiting the word to vault over the trenches.

5.38, 6.29. "Cr-a-a-ash!" A great naval gun gives the signal. The raging fire of the field guns swells in intensity, the German '77s trying to pierce the curtain of our shells and limiting the horizon. The barrage files have started! Up over the terrain, protected by our curtain of fire, like demi-gods surrounded by fire, the Canadians go! From Givenchy to the South of Faribus the masses of their army sweep slowly over the shell craters, indistinct in the fog, and submerge the German trenches.


in the trenches


Waves of Assault

Outside the muddy trenches, through the fog of snow that shrouds all things, one can see several files of the advancing troops, moving forward without haste, and I remember that the waves of assault at the Mouquet Farm, the day of Thiepval, made me think of a partridge drive. They have hardly disappeared when other brigades of Canadians follow them, their signalmen behind them, laying their telephones wires. The telephone is installed! with a speed and precision that allows one to receive the news of the advance almost instantly. The first objective, which was to be attained in eight minutes, has been taken in eight minutes. Resistance? Local. Losses? Small. All goes well!


Tanks on the Warpath

The tanks, which we saw behind us, also have gone lumbering forward with sound of rumbling, groaning steel. We do not know their objective. The German. S.O.S. distress rockets flame continually, and the news front the advance is good. It seems as if the enemy were making this barrage fire by guesswork. Nevertheless, in a neighbouring shelter an officer has his head taken off, and one of our signalmen, entering, sinks dead on the threshold.


Brave Colonel's Six Wounds

Folie Crest, where so many Frenchmen have fallen, has been passed and Telegraph Hill soon will be in our hands. Thelus is ours, occupied on time. And it seems as if the entire assault would be pushed through on schedule. Colonel J-----, one of the bravest of the brave, comes back on a stretcher. He has received five or six wounds. Gay as ever, he is joking as they bring him in. But ho is very pale, and we give him a tot of rum. Then they carry him on to the rear.

The wounded and the prisoners are coming back now, across the area that has been fire swept. They appear and disappear among the shell craters like vessels on a troubled sea. Foot bridges have been rigged across the largest ones.


The Soft Blue Nightfall

For all who come out of the sea of mud of the first lines Neuville-Saint Vaast and the poor hamlet of La Targette have become almost peaceful - that is, in a manner of speaking.

The soft, blue nightfall, the end of a fine day, the British airplanes are coming in. And along the white roads, preceded by horsemen, the interminable files of prisoners pass us by, troops of a thousand and twelve hundred at a time a cohort grey, spotted with bandages; thin, haggard, at the point of collapse. A truly vanquished crowd.


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