'Everyday Life on the Western Front'
by Basil Clarke


Everyday Life on the Western Front

This is a reproduction of a long feature-length article that appeared in one of the many British war-time magazines. The writer's views of 'Everydaylife on the Western Front' are interesting to read but naturally quite incomplete. For instance the goings-on in villages behind the front lines reads like a grade school fairy tale. Soldiers are almost invariably polite and well-behaved (as was usually but not always the case) but they were also portrayed as being incredibly chaste and temperate. But this article was written in 1917, not all that long after Queen Victoria's reign and so there were many things one did not mention, especially in print.

Nonetheless such articles contain a wealth of information and are well worth taking the time out for reading.

British Soldiers Buying Small Items from French Children


Everyday Life on the Western Front

by Basil Clarke

'The Great War - The Standard History of the All Europe Conflict'
Vol. 8 - Amalgamated Press Ltd. London 1917

PRECEDING chapters have shown the very definite change for the better that came over the British campaign in the west as a result of the events of July, 1916, and the succeeding months. The close of the year found the offensive still going hardily forward, notwithstanding weather conditions that would have dismayed most. troops and reduced many generals to inertia. But with British moral unimpaired, with British hopes and confidence never so high, British activity also remained unceasing, and till the year's end new gains, if comparatively small ones, accrued almost every day. The enemy, on the other hand, as shown in Chapter CLV on German moral (which, after being written for this history by an independent witness, was amply confirmed later in a despatch by the British Commander-in-Chief), was losing not only ground and strength and resource, but even hope. The trend of the war by the end of 1916 had become unmistakable : victory for the Allies was dawning, defeat had become impossible.

Leaving the British Army's fortunes in this satisfactory state, we may step aside for a moment from the main path of the historical survey of that Army's fighting achievements to look in detail into its more personal and domestic doings. What were the daily life and habit and environment of our troops in the west at this time? How did they live and fare as they so bravely fought for their country this striking amelioration of her fortunes?

Thought for a moment of the immensity of Great Britain's enterprises in France and Flanders at the time will enable one the better to realise. how varied and multiform were daily life and habit and environment. Had anyone. with an eagle's wings and double an eagle's range of vision soared high above Northern France on say December 31st, 1916, he could have seen hardly a thing below him that was not either susceptible to British influence in some major or minor degree, or wholly dependent upon it. The ships that he would see - as mere little smoking ellipses on a grey sea - few of them there would be that were not on missions mainly or wholly British. Men, munitions, stores under one or other head from this comprehensive trinity of war needs could be classified the errand of almost every craft - even to that squat, dirty, yellow little ship lurching through the sea with a hold full of British stone, destined for the mending of French war roads.

Or take the railways that this. aerial observer would see threading through the land, forking this way, branching that way, like the lines on a palm, and whitened at frequent intervals with moving pennons and swelling dots of steam. He would have been unwise to risk definite statement that anyone of those trains was not carrying British troops or British stores or British munitions, or that it was not being operated by British railwaymen and clerks - in soldier garb - or for that matter, that it was not even being driven by a British engine-driver uniformed for the time being in the blue dungarees and the cap and "RE" badge of the Royal Engineers, Railway Section.

Many canals, straight and long, would be visible from above, like rods of polished steel. Had that aerial observer’s hearing been as keen as his sight with which we have endowed him; he might have overheard exchanges of views between the uniformed crews of these barges shouted out, not in mellifluous French - or guttural Flemish, but in the rich, primal vernacular of Wapping, whence not a few of these crews came.

As with the canals and railways, so with the roads; their population of vehicles and people alike might be mainly British. But wherever you looked down upon Northern France upon that day, it would have been difficult to point to any place or object and say definitely that it had no touch with British affairs. Any village you chose might be billeting British troops of one sort or another; any of the many factory chimneys pouring smoke towards you might prove on examination to be part of a British Army machine shop or repair depot, swarming with British soldier mechanics; even the little village school you chanced upon might prove to be harbouring that afternoon - for December 31st was a Sunday - a quiet congregation of British soldiers, fighters or labourers, or miners or others - singing hymns and listening to the advice of their regimental 'padre’ - with perhaps Holy Communion to follow.

British soldiers, combatant or non-combatant were everywhere. They seemed to have permeated in greater or lesser degree the whole scheme of things civil and military throughout the North of France. To survey thoroughly, therefore the everyday life of this diffused population one would need to peep into every nook and cranny of French affairs.

Though the British soldier was in greater or lesser evidence wherever one stopped between coast and front, this chapter will deal with him mainly where he was spread thickest at the front and close behind it.

The signs of British occupancy were unmistakable as soon as you entered a British Army town or village. The policeman, for instance, who stopped you at the cross-roads just outside it, walking out of his little road shelter with a flag in one hand and the other palm uplifted in the trite London police manner would be a British policeman; though a soldier policeman, wearing the red-and-black badge of the military police on his khaki coat. His colleague in the shelter would be a Frenchman, clothed in pale blue, and together they saw to it that no undesirable or un-accredited person, British or French, passed out of or into that town or village. At night they had a lantern apiece, which they waved to your approaching car as a stopping signal, and with which they examined your papers and passes. It was part of everyday life at the front to have your "papers" handy.

Once past the police wicket, it would be noticed that new name-boards had been put up for most of the roads and streets, and that the new names were English names. Pall Malls, Rotten Rows, and Piccadillies, High Streets and Church Streets, Station Roads and Cemetery Roads; Sandy Lanes, Love Lanes, and all the rest of the great family of British thoroughfare names were as frequently met with in villages of France as in those of this country.

That no time had been wasted, however, in thinking out new English names for French streets and roads was amply testified by 'the occurrence of such names as Slush Avenue, Porridge Street, Bumpy Road, and Becareful Corner. In some cases indeed it would seem that the practice if not the resource of the name-finders who re-christened those thoroughfares had quite petered out; for in one busy neighbourhood was to be found a little street called Sausage Street, with a companion street called Mash Street. Dammit Street also suggested a name-finder short either of time or of patience.

Traffic directions were also posted in English as well as in French along the roads. On the signposts 'Drive Slowly’ rubbed, shoulders with "Ralentir" and ‘Arretez’ with ‘Stop.’

The only British road travel traditions which our soldier drivers seemed quite to have sacrificed in France were those of reckoning distances in miles and driving on the left- hand side of the road. After two years in France our drivers were quite as happy to keep. to the right side of the road (as do most nations but the British), and hardly one of them would name distances in miles.

Kilometres had become the universal standard. One sometimes saw new comers who had to do little lightning sums in their head or on their fingers before they could reckon a distance; but before long they too were thinking quite freely in measures adopted in kilometres. Miles seemed quite to have dropped out of the English vocabulary so far as wheeled traffic was concerned, though the infantry still clung to miles and always marched their three miles and not five kilometres an hour. Pints, quarts, and gallons gave way to some slight extent in favour of halflitres and litres. Pounds and hundredweights too grew scarcer but tons always remained. Our men never left hold of the British ton.

The French people had quickly appreciated our national distaste to speaking any language but our own, and by December 1916, most of the French shop people who had dealings with our troops had their word. or two of English. Many of our men had picked up words of French and, very often a transaction would begin bravely in French but as difficulties of expression and understanding came along the language of one or the other of the two negotiants forced itself to the front and held the field.

The more self-conscious of the two was generally the Briton, and the conversation ended in English. Here is an example of the kind of thing, taken from real life in a French village shop in Amiens, just before Christmas.

English Soldier (entering) : "Bonjour, monsieur.”

French Shopkeeper: "Bonjour, monsieur."

E. S. (painfully. and carefully) : "Est-ce que vous avez des plumes fontaines?”

F. S. (mystified but polite) : "Comment, monsieur?”

E. S. (a little less confidently) : " Des plumes fontaines."

F. S. (after a moment's hesitation) "Ah, monsieur veut une porte plume ?”

E.S. (Waving hands about and looking round shop as though in search of something): "Non. Mais non. Je voudrai de plume fontaine er er - plume fontaine, er - fountain-pen, you know; fountain-pen for the pocket, you know."

F. S. "Ah, yes monsieur! Fountain-pen. I have him. What fabrique will you have monsieur? Automatique ; ze self-fill or …”

F. S. “Any old sort will do. What are those in the case there ? " etc. (then everything is in English).

A little good-humour on both sides was all that was necessary to make these negotiations pleasant as well as possible and that grain of good-humour was generally forthcoming. For French civilian and British soldier had come to know one another and to understand one another and each found the other than much more reasonable and intelligent than had seemed the case two years earlier. Our men used the shops and cafés and restaurants without any diffidence, and by this time their presence had come to attract little attention. A peep into any café or restaurant in one of the towns near the British front would have shown you British soldiers and French civilians side by side in perhaps. equal numbers and without criticism one for another. This marked an advance, for at the beginning of the war the French people undoubtedly thought our men "queer."

Their lack of conventional manners the little bowings and noddings and elegances of deportment before strangers that mean so much to the French, made the French regard them as a little hard and unfeeling. And once an idea has got into people's heads it is always easy to find corroborative detail. The French would point to the British soldier's way of taking bad news, his easy recovery from it, and his ability to put even the cares of war on one side in a game or a song.

All these things, natural to the British soldier and his race counted against him at first, and while his plain manners were counted as evidence enough of his utter callousness to the war and to France's troubles. But after two years. of the British soldier's presence in their midst the French had learnt to assess these little differences of bearing at their proper worth. An understanding had been established at last, and our men had come to be living on the best of terms with the French civil population. Each recognised the other's good points, and differences of character and manners were seen to be not incompatible with friendship and good feeling. There were quarrels. at times, of course. Where would there not be between different communities? But these were exceptional. British soldiers might get bad treatment from French people but this was exceptional.

For the most part the French, peasantry and townspeople alike, who had the billeting of British troops took their duties in a spirit of friendship rather than of hard business; they sought how comfortable they could make them rather than bow much money they could make out of them.

As almost every British private who had done duty in France between 1914 and 1917 had been in billets with French people at some time or other it may be interesting to give a picture of these billets. Here is a description taken from a letter received fo6m a clever young author then serving as a private in the Royal Fusiliers:

"We have been back (from the line) for ten days, and at present I am biIleted with three of our fellows in a French cottage. It is the usual little affair, a brick foundation rising to a height of about three feet, then bent old timber beams and whitewashed plaster as far as the roof, which. is of red weather-stained tiles. There is Pere Juvenal, a farm worker, his wife and three children ranging from four years to ten. There is also grandpere the wife's father who sits by the fire most of the day, but who feels himself thoroughly important when he is commissioned by Madame to blow the fire with an old anl huge pair of bellows. His cheeks puff in and out with every stroke of the bellows so that between the two of them the fire gets a double draught. At first we all had the impression that the people did not want us and did not like us. The neighbours certainly used to scowl at us when we went out and washed under the pump in the morning - there was nowhere else to wash - and Mere Juvenal used certainly to keep out of the way and would scurry into their kitchen when she saw us coming in. But the children broke the ice. The baby is a very jolly little soul. I had gone into the kitchen to ask Madame where the village cobbler lived (we wanted a bit of leather). She told me the way coldly enough, and I came out. But the kiddie came running after me and said: 'Eh, mon Dieu ! Tu seras perdu.' (Oh, dear.! Thou wilt get lost.) I laughed and joked with her a bit, and she said in her baby French: 'It is necessary that I come with thee to show thee the way and then thou wilt not be lost.'

I told her to come along, then, never thinking she would, but she toddled alongside to the gate and came. After a yard or two she looked up at me and said: 'But it is necessary for thee to take care of the cars and the motors. They will surely kill thee. Thou must indeed hold my hand to be quite safe.' And I had to take the little lady's hand to be safe-guarded by her from the village traffic ! In this fashion we went to the cobbler, who was not more than a hundred metres away, and so we came home. On the way back who should come along but Pere Juvenal.

He wanted to take the kiddie, but she said 'No.' No, she was ‘guarding the English soldier’. She saw me home, and since then she has been many times to see us.

That was a week ago, and now the old French people cannot do too much for us. They insist on our sitting in the kitchen because it is warmer, and on giving us hot milk at nights, and now and again eggs; and there is quite a scene if we want to pay for them. During the first week the neighbours hid the handle of the yard pump so that we could not wash there in the morning, but they take no notice now and sometimes stop to have a chat. One of them gave me three apples yesterday morning. Another has given me some home-made dubbin’ for my boots. She said that only the farming people knew how to. make proper dubbin’ for boots, and she told me the secret of it. But it is quite safe with me, for I could not understand more than a word or two of her recipe. Three days. more and we go back into the line. I only wish we could take this old billet along with us. A dug-out, if we are lucky enough to get one this time, will not seem the more comfortable for our having just left this place. But when the wind whistles a note on the edge of my old tin hat and my feet have left me with cold, I just try to think of hot milk."

It was probably kindly treatment of this sort that made "billets" with French. families one of the most popular forms of housing among our troops in France The various alternatives to "billets" were huts, tents, shelters, cellars and dug-outs. And this order may be taken as representing their order of popularity and, in inverse ratio, their order of greatest distance from the front. Towards the end of 1916 huts - which earlier in the war were, hardly to be seen at all near the front nor in any of the British camps, save those well back - were becoming more common.

Even in camps within range of the enemy's "whistling Percys" (the name given to one of their longest-range guns, which sent a shell with a most unusual and characteristic whistle of its own), a hut or two was generally to be seen. Perhaps the majority were used as offices, but a few were in occupation as huts, and more were being brought. up.

"When are your huts coming up ?” was a commonplace of conversation just as was such a question as "When is your next leave due ?" A hut was something to look forward to. The earlier huts were of the Army pattern usually to be seen in the camps in Britain - darkened timber sides and roof, a little window and stained wood interior, smelling strongly of creosote. No need to describe these at length.

But a totally. new type of Army hut began to make its appearance about the end of 1916, and the authorities thought so well of it that they gave large orders for it, and before many months of 1917 had passed there were no fewer than twenty thousand of these huts in France. It was called the Nissen hut, after its inventor, a Canadian officer, who designed it specially to meet the needs of this campaign.. Its chief characteristic was that it had no sides, but only a roof and ends and inner flooring. The roof was semicircular, and reached down to the ground on each side, so that there was no need for sides. It was just as though you took a railway arch and boarded up the ends. The arch of roof was of corrugated iron, made in forty-eight sections that fitted one into another, and were all the same size, so that no matter in what order they were fastened together they fitted exactly and made the complete roof. The flooring was also in sections that were interchangeable; also the ends and the wooden lining for the interior. One type of bolt was used throughout the construction, and the spannet for this bolt was enclosed with the parts. Printed instructions for erecting the hut were sent out with them just as though it might have been a boy's game. No single piece of the hut was heavier than two men could handle easily, and the whole thing could be packed on an Army waggon. Four men could put one together in four hours.

Twenty-four men slept in each hut, and in daytime the beds were rolled to the sides - where the standing room was, of course, least- leaning all the middle, where the roof was highest, available for use as a mess-room. Some fifty men could sit in the hut, even though this number could not walk about very freely. The roof was not shell-proof, but it was a fair protection from splinters. Each hut by the way, had a stove of the ordinary round Canadian pattern, with a flue-pipe passing through the circular roof. Doors of course, were at the ends. For warmth and comfort these huts proved to be superior to any other type of field dwelling.

Tents were next in popularity, though in really cold and windy weather many of our soldiers used to say that they would sooner be in a dug-out, for its warmth. Tents, though to be found in many camps, were most consistently used perhaps by "moving" units, such as telegraph linesmen, pipe-layers, and other working-parties whose work kept them on the move from place to place. Many little camps of merely three or four tents were to be found about the roads of France, and in them were usually small working-parties of this kind. Sometimes solitary tents figured by the roadside, especially at nights. You might look in to find that the occupant was perhaps an officer of motor-transport whose convoy of waggons had been for the night in some neighbouring spot, and who had come to spend the night under canvas, the men of the convoy sleeping in their waggons. His servant would be preparing the evening meal on a Primus stove, which served the double purpose of cooking the meal and adding something to the warmth, if not the healthiness, of the tent. For quite often you would find the tent filled with a thick fog, the heat of the stove having turned the moisture of the ground into mist. Little discomforts of this sort passed either unnoticed or merely as object for jest, though in the hospital reports bronchitis and rheumatism figured with unwelcome frequency.

Tents, or rather marquees, were much used at casualty clearing-stations as hospital wards. German prisoners' 'cages’, too were usually fitted with tents. Forty or fifty tall tents inside a high palisading of barbed-wire, with elevated sentry-boxes at each corner, formed the usual equipment of a "cage."

The "shelters" of France struck one as the queerest of all the very queer living places to which the war had given rise. They looked more like habitations fashioned by Rumanian and Hungarian gipsies than by British soldiers. The "shelter" was devoid of definite form, shape, or pattern; it was a fantasia in architecture. You built it in any shape and of any material. It might be above ground, or half above ground and half under or all under ground except the roof. If it sank any lower than this it became, of course, a "dug-out." The most orthodox of "shelters" had sides built of sand-bags and a roof of arched iron sheeting, rather stout in structure, dull red or black in colour, and capable of resisting a shell splinter or of turning a bullet. Covered with a foot or two of earth this iron roof became what was euphemistically termed "shellproof," which means that it would resist damage from any shell save one that hit it directly with all its force. This was the shelter-deluxe. One saw them sometimes' about artillery positions, about other posts that had not been disturbed for some time, and among luxurious people who were able to get iron roofs and sand-bags from the ordnance men. A man who could get -iron roofing for his shelter was continually being asked by jealous and facetious friends whether he had an uncle, or papa in the Cabinet.

From this luxurious type of edifice, shelters tapered down in degrees of respectability nicely graded. A shelter, for instance, might be made of sand-bags after the deluxe mode but the roof might be of clay and logs. The next type might be without the logs. After that may be classified the shelter that had no sand-bags, but merely some substitute such as square oil-cans filled with sand. These made especially solid shelters and were vaunted by their occupants as being even better than the sand-bag variety.

Next came the shelter made of odd-sized planks and timbers. Much ingenuity could be exercised in making a house out of planks, no two of which are of the same length or thickness. They may be scheduled perhaps, the shelter made of old packing-cases nailed on a framework of planks. This, though not a beautiful structure, might nevertheless be a warm and comfortable one, even though it advertised somebody's milk on its sides, or somebody else's tinned beef.

After that one reached the real stage of' makeshift in shelters. A timber framework filled in with clay was a fairly common form of all-patchwork shelter. In dry weather or in the event of the fire in the shelter drying the clay it tended to fall out, but the wetness of French weather was generally sufficient to prevent any calamity of that kind.

The all-patchwork shelter was one of the most common types. For patchwork almost any material would serve. Old tins, cut and stamped out flat sods of earth, pieces of cloth, particularly old felt and flannel and tarpaulin, and even sheets of thick brown paper. One of the most striking patchwork shelters to be seen in France at this time was probably the one a hundred yards off the Doullens road, south-east of that town. Among the component parts of its walls were two old coat - German - three oil-tins cut out and flattened, two box sides and two ends, one sack upon which were the telltale letters "P.O." one old umbrella cover, plus pad of the frame, two magazine covers, and one pan lid. How the genius who lived in this shelter managed to keep his house pads assembled was a mystery to all passers-by, and much facetious comment was shouted to him from the road by passing troops.

Locally it was known to fame as the "Hen Run," but its owner, if asked its name, would roll his eyes dramatically, and with clasped hands would tell you without a smile that it was "My little grey home in the West." I think the truth was that this lonely shelterer - who kept an Army coal-dump by the roadside, or some other unromantic thing of the sod - got so much fun out of the oddity of his house materials that if he had been offered. good Accrington bricks to build him a house he would have refused them. Certainly no one ever passed his little domain without a smile and he was generally in sight to return it.

Cellar billets were much in use at this time, but only within the shell zone and in neighbourhoods close behind it, in which the upper pads of the houses had been destroyed by shell fire. Thus in many of the villages captured from the Germans in our advance during the latter half of 1916 troops were billeted chiefly in cellars. In villages that had come to be out of shell range the upper pads of the houses were made use of if it were possible, but the houses fit for occupation, except in their cellars, were few and far between. A divisional general might be glad to. get hold of one. Certainly one of our Colonial generals was housed during December in a cottage which in peace time might have been occupied by the village postman. If a village were out of shell fire, such upper and ground-floor rooms as could be made weather-tight by patching up with sheeting and. ground-sheets were occupied, arid the writer spent a pleasant hour one wintry evening in a ground-floor room so patched up. The roof was gone, also the bulk of the ceiling of the ground-floor rooms, but the hole that remained served to let out smoke from the great open fire that had been built in the middle of the "parlour" floor.

The men sat round it on planks, laid across two little heaps of brick. Greatcoats were hung on the walls of the, room to dry, and also to keep out draughts that came through "leaky" walls. One party played cards on a box by the light of a candle stuck in a wine- bottle, but the bulk were content to sit and talk, or write letters. To sleep, men took off their boots and rolling themselves in their blankets, slept on the floor on their ground-sheets with feet towards the fire.

In many, villages German shell fire was so frequent that it was not safe to sleep anywhere on or above ground level. To find cellar billet, therefore, saved the trouble of digging dug-outs, and the hunting for cellars was very keen. Officers and men specially told off for this duty would rummage about the ruins of houses, and underneath the most dilapidated and unpromising ruin might be found cellars, quite intact. The stone steps leading to them might be blocked up with bricks and plaster and charred ash, but a fatigue-party under a corporal would soon put all this out of the way and lay bare a cellar which would be passed as fit for occupation. Only too often there were gruesome finds in these cellar from which the Germans had been driven - and if people who die a violent death leave ghosts behind them our men may be said to have slept amid congregations of Teuton ghosts.

Not that that seemed to weigh on their minds particularly. They were very much more bothered by the rats. These creatures were almost everywhere, and at first they were generally so hungry as to be ready sometimes to feed on anything, from a crust to a Sam Browne belt. But after the soldiers had been in occupation of a cellar for some time the rats picked up so much waste food that they became fat and lazy, and then they would fall an easy prey to the heel of a boot or a well-aimed bully-beef tin.

Fortunately, French village houses are well off for cellars. In some towns, in fact, such as Arras, there were found cellars extending under great areas, and supported by pillars of stone. They were called "boves," and were said to have been the quarries from which the stone for the houses above them was obtained. In garrisoned villages about Arras were to be found "boves" on a, smaller scale, and not a few of them served as quarters for our troops. The ordinary cellar billet, however, was a single cellar, with walls and an arched roof of brick. It was quite dark, and if it happened to have a fireplace and a smoke-flue the occupants counted themselves lucky. Many a cellar billet had no flue or outlet of any sort save the steps, and in these cases our men used often to make a flue out of piping or old tins to carry away the smoke from their little fire. This pipe issued to the upper air by way of the cellar steps, and when these steps were dark you might first learn of the pipe's existence by burning your hand on it. "Ware stove-pipe" notices were occasionally to be seen at cellar entrances.

The remaining type of dwelling-place used by our troops in' France was the "dug-out." These might be deep or shallow, small or big, dry or damp; in shod, of all the qualities, good and ill, that a habitation may possibly take to itself the dug-out lacked none; and of evil qualities it might have more than most dwellings. The term "dug-out" was used to cover a big variety of underground works, from the simple little grotto in the side of a trench, which a soldier could burrow out for himself in ten minutes with a trenching tool as some protection from wind and bullet and shell-chip, to the elaborate dug-outs made by the German - great underground warrens of passages and rooms and chambers, lighted by electricity, ventilated by electric fans, warmed by kitchen-ranges with tortuous and far-journeying flues.

The simplest kind of dug-out might evolve into quite an elaborate dug-out in the end. The first soldier came along the trench and found his bit of territory very exposed, so he took out his trenching tool and burrowed perhaps three feet laterally into the sand or gravel or white chalk wall of his trench. It was high enough only to admit of his crawling under it, and here, when not on sentry duty, He would lie and sleep, with his feet reaching out uncovered into the fairway of the trench. A day later he might think a larger dwelling would be more comfortable. With trenching tool, therefore he would enlarge his burrow so that perhaps both he and a mate could crawl underneath it and keep one another warm. Every day and every fresh lot of troops that came into that trench for duty would bring improvements to the dug-out. One man might add a bit of blanket or old coat as a screen door. The next man might feel uneasy as the dug-out shook with the fall of every enemy shell, and add wooden supports to the roof and sides: Soon they might begin to dig downwards; then to add steps; then to scoop out a bigger chamber underground, to add a fireplace, and so on.

There is not much doubt that many of the dug-outs used by our soldiers in the trenches were evolved, bit by bit, improvement on improvement, enlargement on enlargement, in the way described, and were not the product of any set and deliberate plan. Some very cosy dug-outs resulted from this evolution.

Other dug-outs. on the contrary, were planned and fashioned in their final form. A tunnelling party of miner soldiers would be called in for the enemy excavations, and the timber beams and balks and their planks for framework and lining would be brought up and solidly deposited on the building site. Most of the German dug-outs were made in this way, and our men were thankful for the enormous patience and care and skill that had been expended on elaboration of them, for thousands of them fell into our hands and served as quarters for our men. To rush forward into a newly-taken position and find dug-outs ready made was a piece of luck that fell to British troops very many times.

The position might have been battered by shell fire, but so deep were these German dug-outs, so well lined with timber, and so robustly made that after even the heaviest shell fire they were intact. The smaller ones were promptly "bagged" (that was the word) by billeting officers as quarters for their men. The larger ones might be taken for use as battalion headquarters, medical aid posts, advance dressing-stations and the like. More than one British soldier was cured of a slight wound or sickness without ever seeing daylight once during his "hospital" treatment. Some German dug-outs, which subsequently became British, were fitted with four-poster beds and with panelled sitting-rooms. The writer visited one such dug-out, the walls of which were panelled with white wood. In another room of the same dug-out the wall panels were coveted with china-silk drapery. It seemed evident from this and other signs that the wife of the German officer who had occupied the dug-out had been present in it for at least part of the time of his occupancy of the place. It stood near the River Ancre in a part of the line which the Germans had held for two years.

The only other type of dwelling occupied by British soldiers in any numbers - apart, of course, from the barge cabins occupied by the watermen's corps, the railway and station-rooms occupied by the railwaymen, and such special officers - were the various chateaux occupied by the Staffs and by privileged people such as the war correspondents, among whom the writer had the fortune to be numbered. These chateaux were big French houses taken over furnished from their tenants, and converted to the use of the British occupants. A general and his Staff were usually. to be found in one of these chateaux, some of which were of remarkable beauty. You might find a British general sitting in a room surrounded by trench maps, stretched out on drawing-boards placed on easels, and behind them on the walls pictures of age and greatest worth belonging to the family of the house. More than one general had his room floor covered with ground sheeting, so that the perfect parquet flooring underneath should not be ruined by the service boots of all the officers who came to see him. Some of these chateaux, unhappily, had not escaped shell fire.

So much for the different kinds of environment on the western front. What daily life in the surroundings was depended of course, entirely on the unit and on the duty that particular unit was doing at the time. A regiment in huts one week near the coast might be moved up to a village nearer the line the next, and put into tents or cellars. A week or two later might see them in trenches. Migration was a great part, therefore, of a soldier's life.

First would come a train journey, and it was one of the frequent sights of the war to see one of those low-built, sombre-coloured trains of the French railways passing painfully and slowly through a village station of Northern France with its barely upholstered carriages packed with British soldiers. In cold weather the train rattled like a ship-riveting yard with the noise of heavy boots stamped on wooden floors to take the chill off innumerable feet. As these trains stood in sidings, with pink, boyish faces, bareheaded, bunched like grapes at every carriage window. French cottars and farm folk would sometimes bring out water or apples and hand them to the travellers with cheery smiles and good wishes. Rations were carried in knapsacks for these train journeys, and at the end of one of them the carriages would present an amazing litter of crumbs and empty tins, chocolate wrappings, and cigarette-ends.

After the train journey would come a march by road of perhaps many miles or, if the case was one of especial urgency a ride by motor char-a-banc. Nothing more moving or picturesque could be imagined than the long columns of British troops one saw marching from "rail-head" to war zone, through the yellow sandy roads of France.

Here, from a diary, comes a little description written in December 1916, of troops on the road: "At noon to-day our car pulled up at a pretty spot on the road, and we got out for lunch by the roadside. The chauffeur had pulled the cork out of a bottle of white wine, and. M. had handed round the sandwich basket, when the curious. crawling music of a flute band floated up to us from somewhere over the hill-crest behind us. I walked up to the crest to see who was coming, and saw below, in patches, through the trees of the roadside, the rolling wave of a line of infantry on the march. Their cap tops caught dully the glint of the light, and made them look like facets of some dull stone, or like the faintly glinting scales of some mammoth snake crawling caterpillar fashion along the road below us. Soon the heads, then the bodies, then the horses of the leading officers rose over the crest of the hill - I had gone back to the car and hard behind came the troops.

The flute band was playing some lugubrious low-pitched melody, and the feet of the marchers were beating on the wet road a rhythmical 'trudge, trudge' in accompaniment. Why are the. lower notes of a flute so doleful in the open air? Fifes are of the flutes: bright and merry, but flutes on the lower notes! A flute band playing in a sleet shower might serve to represent the acme of miserableness. Every man was loaded 'heavy', full pack, greatcoats, trenching tool and the rest, with iron shrapnel helmets in little cotton coverings strapped on flat behind. Rifles were being carried anyhow, for it was easy marching. Pipes and cigarettes sent up a thin blue film of smoke that hung and wreathed like a pale spirit for a moment over the undulating head of the marching column, and then wafted away to the east in long curves. The boys were talking quietly and naturally as they passed. The sound of their voices made a faint, many-toned hum in the quiet country road.

"Then a sudden booming roar, from the west brings an equally sudden stillness in the ranks. Just here and there is a weak and forced laugh, but the majority maintain that quieter, less demonstrative, and truer bravery that neither laughs nor talks, but just 'carries on.' The booming continues and increases; a sudden tilt or lapse in the wind seems to have brought it closer. These are fine, serious, thoughtful faces that pass one, man after man, good, clear, steady eyes that look ahead or on the ground, leaning forward to the weight of the pack.

It is a grand sight this line of young British faces going into battle. They too will be in it to-morrow or soon after.

They know this as they march along the road. It will be the first battle to many of them. They are thinking their first thoughts about it all to the near sounding of the guns. The marching line ends. The stretcher-bearers with their little wheeled ambulances come along; the baggage column with its long-eared mules; then the field-kitchens, black, oily-looking boilers on wheels, with tiny. chimneys emitting yellow smoke, the boilers sending forth steam and the fragrance of a stew The column halts farther along the road. Packs are unloosed at once (one man taking off another’s) and dumped on the roadside. You see men stretching their pained shoulders with sighs of relief. Dinner is served. The men lie on the grass bank by the roadside. Then an order, and they form up once more. But now the khaki caps have been exchanged for iron shrapnel helmets of a dull, pale green. That change is significant. The flutes begin their crawling whimper once more and the men are off-to the front."

One did not need to travel much farther along a road such . as this to come upon the quarters of troops who were just out or who were just going into trenches. Their place might be some big camp on open ground, once green but now churned to a bright brown mud by the impression of innumerable footmarks and wheel-tracks. The utter disappearance of all grass from around the country-side about field camps was one of their most noticeable features. Field-kitchens would be smoking and steaming away, and here and there about the camp ground might be seen an open-air camp-fire, made perhaps of broken boxes, with a cluster of soldiers standing about it.

In. a prominent position in the camp would be a notice-board with a finger indicator for gas alarms upon it, and underneath it would be a queer apparatus with cylinders and a trumpet mouth. This indicator when pointing a certain way gave to the camp at large the knowledge that the atmospheric conditions were such as to admit of the enemy sending over "gas." With the indicator pointing this way, giving the "gas alert " as it was termed, it became a punishable offence for any man to go about without his gas-mask or helmet often nicknamed "gaspirator" - ready at hand and in good working order.

Press correspondents, too, had to have their gas-masks. When a gas attack began or was seen in advance, the trumpet arrangement, called. a Strombaus horn," blared out with brazen breath - drawn from its twin steel cylnder - a long wail of alarm, not unlike that of a factory buzzer. This was of course, the signal for the putting on of gas-helmets and for other precautions laid down by the "gas officer," an indispensable official in all encampments within range of the enemy’s gas or gas shells. Some of the smaller camps were not possessed of a "Strombaus horn," but in its place had probably an 18-pounder brass shell-case hung vertically by its base rim for use as a gong. Hit with a drum-stick or piece of wood, it gave out in good, resonant tone a note.

Every man of the camp knew that note - if not through real gas alarms, at least through frequent; practice alarms. The French used their 75 brass shell-cases as gongs in the same way. (They gave a note about half a tone higher than the British 18-pdunder shell-case). A village might have several of. these and if was an eerie thing to hear them going dong - dong - dong-a-long, like a Chinese festival.

Instead of having a camp in the open the troops might be quartered in a village. It might be a more or less intact village or one which had been shelled.

From a shelled village most of the civilian occupants would have departed, leaving the place to the British. Often it happened that French civilians were in some houses and British soldiers in others, and one or two little public buildings such as schools might be used by French children and British soldiers under a sod of Box-and Cox arrangement. Schools of this kind were especially used for church service on Sunday afternoons, and it was pretty to see the French children standing at the doors of their school passing jokes with the soldiers who were borrowing it for the time being.

"Ah, yes, monsieur soldier," one might say in French, "You come back to school once more? Yes? Be good pupil to-day, monsieur soldier." And they loved to pull the forms and desks into position for the service, and to stand out in the road and listen to the English hymn-tunes.

“Rest" billets were to be found behind the line in villages such as this. Any day you might see a regiment or a battalion marching in by the road leading from the front. And they would be very different-looking troops now from those you saw coming up the other way, especially troops that had been through the ordeal of "trenches" during the wet mud days of the Somme battles. With clothes and helmets covered with mud, wet or dry, with feet sore and limping, and eyes hollow with weariness and hardship, they came slowly and painfully along the road without smile or song, and with naught left but their pluck to help them make the last few miles into billets. Just one little fact to enable anyone who did not go through it to appreciate what that march home might mean. A soldier's greatcoat weighed normally about seven pounds. Greatcoats that had been in Somme mud were weighed at up to forty-eight pounds. Add to this load the soldier's kit, rest billets weighing five or six stones, and you have a big load for even a fresh and strong man to carry. For a man tired and war-worn it was a weary load. The last mile or two of the march into rest billets was often cruel work.

Sleep and kit-cleaning was their first day's work in rest, but after that began a round of duties that would seem very far from "rest" to most people. War roads might be so much out of repair that road-parties had to turn out on the second or third day's "rest," under direction of the engineers. If there was one task that came less welcome than another to tired troops it was "plank-carrying for the sappers" as men sometimes called these working tasks. In addition there might be need for working parties up in the line, and more than one soldier came out of trenches on day only to be sent back again by. the night of the next day - not as a fighter in the trenches, but as a member of a working-party working in the No-Man's Land between the trenches. Here there was always much work to be done. The enemy's shell fire played some trick or other almost every day on the trench defences, especially the barbed-wiring in front of the trenches, and this damage had to be made good. It was work that could not be done in the day, of course, for to be seen outside a trench was to be shot. Night, therefore, was the time always chosen, and working-parties came up from behind to do it.

In the quieter villages and neighbourhoods at the back of the front, therefore, you would often see about twilight soldiers quietly assembling in some lane or by the wall of some old barn to make up a working-party to go to the front and work the night in the open. Some would have planks or barbed-wire bobbins or barbed-wire corkscrews (the vertical looped rods of iron through which the barbed-wire is threaded) some would have spades, and others picks or other tools. But in many cases a good number of these men would have naught but rifle and bayonet as usual. These were the escort, whose duty it was to defend the working party in case of attack.

Many pretty fights there were at night between these working-parties and those of the enemy, who, of course, was under the same necesssity to send out night parties. It was often said, in fact; that the Germans sent out more night parties than the British did because they depended more on wiring and such things to keep them at bay. They did not like British soldiers to get near enough to begin bayonet and bomb fighting, if they could help it. On some nights our working-parties, finding themselves stalked and hunted, would set out in turn to stalk the hunters, and there were even fights in which men with shovel and made deadly war use of these peace-like weapons.

December, when mist was frequent, working-parties on one or two occasions owing to a sudden rising of the wind which rolled away the mists, found themselves working within a hundred yards or less of German army working-parties. British soldiers used to say - but whether jokingly or seriously one could not tell - that in these cases no one fired till one party or the other had finished its task and that this was an understood thing on both sides. If this was the case, one can imagine that work was pretty fast and furious on both sides with a view to getting that triple advantage of which the parodist, speaks - "his blow in just."

The daily life of the artilleryman was perhaps more tolerable than that of the infantryman - if only in that he was seldom in conditions of hardship such as infantry-men in advanced and exposed trenches might have to put up with. But his work was perhaps heavier and he would probably get a much longer spell of it at one time than the infantry-man ; for when the infantry of a division were "taken out" the gunners were often left behind. The gunners were generally well behind the front trenches.

First came field-guns, then the bigger guns, going back and back the furthest might be six or seven miles away. They were shelled of course whenever their positions could be located by the enemy and shell fire in a gun position was often more dangerous than shell fire in trenches.

There was not the same cover and some unlucky shell might blow gun and gun-crew to eternity. .If the enemy's shell fire however showed signs of being well on the mark, firing of that particular battery might be suspended for the time being and the men could take cover in their dug-outs and shelters.

More often, however it meant shifting the guns, a tremendous task in soft positions.'

Artillery positions were generally provided with dug-outs or shelters for their crews, but a change of position at a busy time might leave them in new places quite exposed to any shells that came over. Where the gunners really scored over the infantrymen was in the fact that they were always in better touch with supplies and could run cooking arrangements and fires whereat to get warm and dry for at least some time in a day. It was exceptional for gunners to have to go for days together wet through, cold and unable to get warm rations.

As the forces moved forward in the Somme battlefield, gunners might be moved forward in some positions to old infantry dug-outs; German or British, from which the occupants had moved on. Some of these older dug-outs that fell, to the artillery were an acquisition of doubtful desirability, for by this time they were in less good repair, and in addition the rats had had time thoroughly to establish themselves in them. The size and number and fearlessness of these vermin were extraordinary. Even in broad daylight they crawled "fatly" and slowly about the precincts of these underground dwellings, and nothing was safe from them.In the night they came among the sleepers on the dug-out floors, and even ran over their bodies.

Another dreadful thing about these old trenches and position; across which battle had raged, was the number of gruesome relics with which the ground was covered.

Salvage-parties, burial-parties, and others were at work doing what they could, but after fighting like that of July and August, 1916, there were for a long time arrears of work of this kind to be done, and there were very few old positions at the back of the front-such as those in which artillery might chance to be posted-that had not their grim trophies of some sort. Every heavy rain uncovered new bodies in the innumerable shell-holes. The rats might help the rain, and here and there amid a muddle of wet and mud-stained German uniforms might be seen bones picked white and clean. To walk back to your gun-pits on a cold, grey, bleak afternoon or on a stormy night with the moon dodging in and out of the flying scud overhead, over desolated country-side, past all these grim things with the rats scooting almost among your very boots, was an experience to make any normal man shudder. Yet the soldiers hardened themselves to such things and worse. Some day, no doubt, a Hogarth or a Dante will arise td show the horrors of this war as they were.

Even though in "rest billets" a soldier might be what he called "legged for a spell of work," and even though "rouser" parades in the early morning and drill and Swedish exercises and inspections were far from being unknown, the "rest " was nevertheless mightily welcome. Here, at least, he did get hot meals and full meals and warmth and comparative dryness, and also a great lessening, if not an elimination, of war risks. It was possible, too, to enjoy in rest billets some of the ordinary amenities of soldier life. There was football, for instance, and any good level field about the rest villages of the war zone of France was pretty sure to have goal-posts. These had been improvised in resourceful fashion of tree branches and rope. But the games were not less keen because the ground and the 'goal-posts were primitive. Regiments would play one another, and' different companies and sections of the same regiment might make up matches. Many commanding officers followed very keenly their men’s football and attended the matches. A British general was at tea one afternoon, when his aide-de-camp opened the office door and saluting said: "The Gunners are playing the Sappers this afternoon, sir, and they are wondering whether you'll be present."

The young man added, with a smile : ”It's to be a great game sir, fur and feathers!" The general looked at his watch.

“I'll get over to the field by about half-time," he said, "and see the last half of the game."

Soon the shouts of the game and its many spectators were heard from the adjoining field. "Great boys to play are mine," he. said appreciatively adding, after a moment, "and to fight, too."

That brigade had not long been out of the front lines, where they had taken a most prominent part in a big advance.

In rest camps and villages music and concerts were often to be had, .to which came many leading professional people from home to play and sing and entertain the men. The Y.M.C.A. huts, wherein to write letters were also a great boon that was not to be enjoyed at the front itself.

There would be letters to receive, too, an accumulation of "posts" for all the days that one had spent in trenches. Possibly a parcel as well, with which to make merry with one's friends who had received no parcels. Perhaps the most popular of all the little fatigues that fell to a man to do for the comrades of his billet was to go to "the post" for letters. There was never any difficulty in finding a man for this job. The local post-office might be no more than a half-ruined barn with a few upturned packing-cases in it to serve as sorting-tables. Or it might be a simple bell-tent in the corner of a field, flying a little red-and-white flag to proclaim its function. But these simple little places and, the soldier postmen who presided therein were perhaps the chief purveyors of pleasure in all France. Could their countrymen at home and overseas only have seen the knots of soldiers - waiting at these barns and tents for the mail to come up, and could they have observed the keenness with which each orderly hunted through his bundle, and then the shouting and pleasure with which he was received back at his billet, they would never have forgotten to write to their relatives and friends at the front.

For among the many hardships of soldiering, homesickness occupied no mean place. It was a great part of the everyday life of a soldier. To anyone leading the prosy, workaday ,life of peace, this may sound like an exaggeration; but to go week after week risking life every day, in fact every hour to know that friends are thinking of yet with anxious hearts and prayers and not to be able to see them for a moment, knowing as you did that you possibly might never see them again, was well calculated, to bring on a kind of mental sickness worthy of place among the category of serious soldier ailments.

A week-end at home set to rights men whom no medicines could cure. Towards the end of I9I6 this medicinal value of "leave" was becoming recognised by the authorities and every effort was being given to make leave more frequent and more general - for there were some men who had gone over a twelvemonth without leave.

"Hot meals and full meals" have been spoken of and in these things lay undoubtedly the secret of much of our men’s fighting efficiency. The food served out to the soldiers ijn France was undoubtedly excellent in quality and generous in quantity. In the Army as elsewhere, could be found cooks, of course, who would spoil any food no matter how good, but in the main the food supply and meals in all places save in very advanced and exposed positions where cooking was impossible and transport difficult - were good, and there was very little grumbling on the score of bad or insufficient food. In the early morning in these garrisoned villages behind the line it was interesting to stand near the cook-house and watch the mess and billet orderlies coming along with their mess-tins, to be carried away later to their quarters. filled with slices of excellent bacon. In the billets or messes, if there were many men; they would file with their plates past a corporal who stood behind the bacon-dish putting so many slices on to each plate. Each man usually carried a piece of bread, which he was allowed to dip in the fat in the dish. Marmalade and jam of excellent quality were also available for anyone who wanted them. A very good butter was served to the troops, though on some occasions margarine was served as substitute.

When asked on what system margarine was issued, the men said they could not tell; as a rule they were given nothing but butter, though now and again an odd tin of margarine was issued to them. They did not know why, and as the margarine was very like the butter; they did not trouble to ask.

For dinner the best joints were cooked -all fresh meat from England - and there might be puddings or stews and soups and dumplings were served at intervals. The milk issued to the forces was everywhere well spoken of. It was tinned milk, but neither so thick nor so sticky as the ordinary tinned milk and from a small hold stabbed through the top of the tin with a jack-knife it would flow quite easily - a white fluid of about the density of the cream usually sold at home in little brown pots.

Though plenty of jam was to be had, our soldiers often used to say that they missed the sweet dishes they used to get at home. One R.A M.C. specialist stated that soldiers who did not take alcohol to any great extent were more fond he had noticed of sugar than soldiers who took alcohol, and he had an interesting theory that the two things had some common property of which the body of people who worked hard stood in some need. Whether this view is chemically sound need not be gone into; but, in some corroboration of his view, the British Army is a temperate Army and it is a most sweet-toothed Army. The soldiers spent a good deal of their money on chocolate and sweets, and on such things as tinned fruit. The Army canteens sold them, and it was no uncommon sight to see a soldier after a spell in trenches buy a tinful of say, peaches, or apricots, or pears, prise open the cover with his knife, and eat the tinful without anything with it. The juice of the fruit be would drink from the tin as a beverage.

Nor was it rare to see a soldier eat a whole tin of jam by himself, without sugar and sweets bread or anything else. This very noticeable craving for sugar and sweet things on the part of our soldiers may have. been. partly due to a normal taste for luxuries; but the body has a curious way of its own of asserting its needs by giving the palate a taste for the things needed; and possibly the sugar of the men’s diet was not always sufficient to enable them to withstand the cold and the work they were called upon to endure. Certainly the doctors and food specialists of the Army were giving this view some attention at the time.

If the supply of food was good, so also was that of clothes, and though one or two cases had happened during 1916 of quartermasters being unable to get renewals of certain stores from the ordnance people, these were quite exceptional cases, and, as a rule new tunics, shirts, and other kit could be obtained by any soldier who could prove to the satisfaction of his quartermaster that he needed them. Some people in authority thought, in fact that clothes and such stores were given out too freely and towards the end of the year a slight tightening up was noticeable. Some of the soldiers' baths, for instance, had been drawing as many as a thousand new shirts a week for reissue, in addition to all those they had received from bathers and washed for reissue to the troops.

In the matter of small kit such as tooth-brushes, pocket-knives and razors, a new spirit of economy was becoming apparent, and soldiers who could not show that these things had been guarded with due care were invited to pay for any new stores of the kind that they wanted. Keeping trace of one's kit was no small part of the life of the soldier at the front. In makeshift quarters such as so many of them occupied, and under other such tiring conditions of war, it was difficult to account for all the little things missing from one's pack. Especially in trenches was this losing of things easy. A jack-knife might be laid down for a moment on the ground, and the next minute the mud had engulfed it, leaving no trace even of the spot in which if had been buried. The authorities were fairly tolerant however, about kit lost in trenches.

As life in the trenches was an all-important part of the life of all infantry soldiers in France it may be gone into more fully.

“Trenches” was an unwelcome but necessary duty that might come to a unit occasionally, or in a long and unpleasing succession. There seemed no rule about it and for the workaday soldier it was difficult. Sometimes to see why his regiment or battalion should be put in again for a second spell of duty while a friend’s unit perhaps was left to enjoy still further rest. They blamed the War Office, or ‘the Red Hats,' as the Staffs were always called, or their colonel, or their member of Parliament, blamed anybody in fact, but in a genial kind of way and especially they blamed "their luck."

But they went and did the duty well enough, and to soldiers who did this no one could deny the privilege of a grumble. Many reasons, of course, determined what regiments should go into the line at any particular place and any particular moment, and these were known, as a rule, only to the people who decided the matter, and the men were left guessing as to what they might be. But when orders for "trenches' came along ‘proceed to so-and-so’, and take over the such-and-such trenches from the such-and-such regiment" a new note of earnestness came over the men, speculations began as to whether "the old man," the general; was sending them in "for a quiet time or for a strafe"; in other words, did he mean them just to hold the position or had he some "stunt" (a great Army word for special military enterprises) for them to attempt against the enemy? No one knew, of course, and the matter was left, as it began, a subject for speculation.

The such-and-such trenches would be taken over most probably at night. For. some short time the old holders of the trenches and their relief would be in the trenches together, and in these moments quick summaries of the position and its character and of the character of the Germans opposed to it would be passed from man to man. Any "old scores" against the enemy opposite were sure to be handed on too. If those Germans were good, 'clean’ fighters, the fact was made known. If they had done anything "dirty," this fact also was made known, with injunctions to "strafe the blighters good and hard."

Then, with wishes of good luck and with happy faces, {he older force would move out, leaving the new in possession. The trench might be an old one, with dug-outs, machine-gun posts, saps and the rest all complete, or it might be a new one with all these things still to be provided, and in the latter case the men just groaned quietly and set up to provide them.

That night might find them sleeping in a little grove no more than a foot or two high which they had scooped out for themselves in the wall of the trench.

And with daylight or even in the dark hours if the case was urgent, might begin a steady round of work in making that trench more effective for war and more habitable as a dwelling.

Uncomfortable days these, and often days of greatest hardship. Some so called trenches might be no more than a line of shell holes stretching across a black and barren hillside - shell-holes filled with mud linked up by hillocks of slippery mud. The task of getting rations might be most difficult, and ration-parties might take seven or eight hours to cross the stretch between the trench and its supplies. Cases were known of these food-parties failing to get back at all. Officers in several cases had to order the opening of "iron rations" - that sacred little tin-case stored in a linen bag and containing beef, biscuits and tea, which is supplied to every soldier with his kit for use in such emergencies as this.

No hot drink might be available no matter how cold the weather but most regiments were served out a rum ration when in trenches, and very welcome it was, especially in the early morning.

On the other hand, the trench might be an old one, a dry one, and replete with every trench luxury - stout walls of sand or white chalk, a good parapet and parados, dug- outs deep and dry, duck-boards at the trench bottom to walk upon, thereby keeping its holders' feet out of the mud, finger-posts to show one the way, telephones to save long journeys, ammunition stores - and, in fact, all the fittings that had been devised by. this time for making trenches more effective and more tolerable as dwelling-places. To this trench it might be possible to bring rations still retaining some of the heat they had when they left the field-kitchens away behind.

If the enemy was quiet and if your own commander had no particular "stunt," to carry out at the time, trench duty in such a trench as this might be very dull and uneventful. You cleaned your rifle, wrote letters, whittled at little bits of wood with your knife, and ate and slacked, except when your turn for sentry duty came along. Sentry duty, however, came along very regularly and at night it could not be done in the cover of the trench with periscopes. Whatever the risk; your head must be kept above the trench and your eyes steadfast on the enemy's lines and the intervening No-Man's Land. On clear nights you might feel certain the enemy saw you, but you had to take the risk.

Oddly enough; the number of sentries shot on night duty was not in proportion to their numbers. Still, it was solitary work. A two hours' spell was quite long enough.

If the trench happened to be in a place where things were active, as was the case in nearly all the Somme positions for instance, during the latter half of 1916, trench duty would be anything but peaceful. Saps had to be run out of the trenches in the direction of the enemy, bombing-posts, machine-gun posts, listening-posts, and the like established, and with these tasks and looking out to dodge any shells and bombs and minenwerfen that came over, the infantryman's ‘ordinary day’ might be a very stirring one indeed.

Nor did the waning of daylight necessarily see these tasks finished. A raiding expedition might fall to a soldier's lot on any night. This meant careful preparations, much planning and understanding of detail, and at the time appointed men either crept out of their trench in secret or dashed out of it in the wake of a hurricane of shell fire or trench-mortar fire - it all depended whether the raid were to be a silent and secret one or one prepared by gun fire.

The word "raid," though accurate technically, is a poor one for this type of trench enterprise so much practised by British troops towards the end. of 1916 ! For it has rather a belittling effect, and tends to obscure the extent and the elaborateness of these expeditions as well as to hide their daring and their riskiness. A raid in fact, was almost identical with any ordinary attack with this exception: that whereas in an attack the idea was to take an "objective" and to hold it, the idea of a raid was merely to take a position, hold it for a time, and then to give it up again after killing as many of the enemy, taking as many prisoners and doing as much permanent damage as possible.

Raids were often prepared and prefaced by shell fire just as was an ordinary attack, though the area of it was less. The enemy's machine-guns might have to be faced in just the same way, and there was always the same dangerous movement in the open over exposed ground. For the soldier Nocturnal raids and doing trench duty a raid might be as dangerous as a general attack; but while attacks provided matter for ample despatches, raids were either ignored or made the matter for paragraphs. In the general perspective of things this was right, of course; but from the point of view of the soldiers taking part in a raid there naturally seemed a great disparity in treatment.

As the time for relief from trench duty drew nearer soldiers began to count the hours, and to tell one another of the things they meant to do as soon as they were "out" and were able to get a few hours leave. If they had had a hard, "grueling" time in trenches, as was only too often the case, almost the only. "treat" you would hear them promising themselves was a jolly hot bath, clean 'duds' (clothes), and a long. sleep.

And when men came out of the Somme trenches in those wet, winter days you might have imagined from their talk - if they were capable of talk - that all the pleasures mankind is heir to lay comprised in that simple recipe - a hot bath, clean clothes, and a long sleep. They certainly needed all three badly. But the recuperative powers of the British soldiers in those days, as always, were amazing.. After that long sleep - it might extend to twenty hours in some cases - little knots of friends would be seen putting heads together and planning some more elaborate form of enjoyment. Most of their stations, even those near the front were within travelling distance of some fair-sized town, or at least of some town where there was a good restaurant if nothing more. To get to this town several things were necessary. First leave. Leave for twelve hours or so was not very hard for "resting" troops to obtain.

Next there had to be some means of getting to the town, which might be six miles or more away. Some hardy souls would even set out to walk it, and to those young stalwarts twelve miles or so without a pack would be voted as easy. Often on moonlight nights these walking-parties might be seen returning, all jollity and laughter, to camp along the quiet, tree-lined roads of France But more generally it would be possible to get some friendly motor-waggon driver to give a free passage, and the three or four friends would travel to their destination in comfort. Once arrived there the most general thing seemed to be to go to the best restaurant and to order the best possible dinner. It was not so much that any of them had really gone short of food - except in some occasional cases - that they wanted food of a different kind, served in a fashion that differed from the rough-and-ready soldier way to which they had been subject for so long.

They would drink wine with their dinner, very often champagne, which they would pay for jointly and the sight of three or four privates sitting at dinner, sharing their bottle of Epernay, was quite one of the usual restaurant sights in the towns at the back of the front.

After dinner they could extract all the pleasure in the world from merely walking up and down the dimly-lighted streets of the town watching the passers-by-who very often were only fellow-soldiers from different camps - looking at the shops, buying stationery and picture postcards, or possibly visiting the local photographer's in a body.

After that the café might. be visited, and experiments made at the game of French billiards with its giant balls and pygmy tables. Great fun the French experts had watching the 'Britons' breezy and vigorous play. Quite a new industry sprang up in many of these French towns - namely that of the afternoon teashop. They often charged scandalous prices - tenpence for a small pot of tea for one person - but to have tea served daintily as at home, and of a china cup instead of a tin mug, our soldiers seemed quite willing to pay this. These visits to town were very orderly. Occasionally they ended in the visitors setting out on a 'jamboree,’ but this was very much the exception. Military police paraded the town, and for the most part they had nothing to do. The townspeople liked these visits, and often disinterested natives were to be seen showing out men the sights of the town - the cathedral, if it had one, or the Mairie, or any of its archeological curiosities. The Colonial troops seemed especially interested in these things.

Though these periodical visits to town did a great deal of good by coming as a pleasurable break to a life of great anxiety, hardship and monotony, they were, after all, a palliative sort of temporary stimulant rather than a tonic. The real tonic to which each and every British soldier looked forward was "leave" - leave, that is, to go home. Leave was looked forward to by the troops in France as keenly as is water by the thirsty. The wish to get home, even for an hour or two; just to see one's people, became at length a need - a need as pressing as hunger, as uncomfortable as an ache. Men who had gone through every hardship and suffering, every danger and horror, without a murmur might actually shed tears if their leave were unexpectedly cancelled, as sometimes happened. They had "talked leave" for months, dreamt leave; The only time that the men feared battle and death was when they had been "posted for leave." To be killed on the eve of leave was the only death that was spoken of in terms of real horror and fear. To "go west," as death was sometimes called, was misfortune, a thing that might happen to any man, but to lose your leave was tragedy.

Still all roads have a turning and after months of waiting perhaps, a lucky soldier's name would figure on the leave notice-board. Men posted for ‘leave,’ an old sergeant of the Grenadiers used to say, "are worse than brides and bridesmaids waiting for a wedding. They are not fit to live with. They are all on pins and needles, all questions, and all fidgets and anxiety. I’m always glad to see the back of them."

Your British soldier, with pack on back and a leave pass in his pocket, would leave his camp.

For the next four hours or so he might be waiting on a bleak station platform "up country" for the leave train to put in an appearance. Then, in a cold, dimly-lighted train, he would pass along to the coast. That train stopped and stopped. It seemed to trickle along its way, by fits and starts, like a raindrop falling down a windowpane but without the shoot at the end. In the early morning, perhaps, would come the coast. Great trouble! Report to man; show papers and passes to that man; be in such a place at such a time. There, more reporting; papers reported upon as being strictly in order dreadful thoughts and lecture from a corporal one had never seen before on the rules and regulations for a soldier bound on leave, with general comments unasked for on that soldier's paltry brain capacity and lack of common-sense. All this borne patiently

Fall in, march to the boat, and after it all with a weary sigh, your soldier bound for leave feels himself at last safe on board ship - all regulations and orders complied with. But not even yet is his anxiety over.

For that naval officer fellow in the blue and gold, on the pier, may even yet come along and stop the sailing of the ship that day on some naval ground or other. Not till the steel hawsers have been cast off the bollards, and the ship's screw is churning the yellow-green waters, not till the muddy, tatty piles of the old French harbour are gliding past is the leave-bound soldier sure that his has come true. He is going home at last, going home to mother or wife and children or sweetheart, going home again, alive and well! The wonder of it, after being where he has been ! Seeing what he has seen ! That is one of the great moments in the life of a British soldier.


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