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Full text of "The battles of the Somme"

THE 

BATTLE S 
OF THE SOMME 



PHILIP GIBBS 












/ 



THE SOUL OF THE WAR 

By PHILIP GIBBS 

PRESS OPINIONS 

" A living piece of literature, dignified, unhysterical and strong . . . likely to 
survive as an historical document among the most suggestive and significant of its 
time." Daily Telegraph. 

" Mr. Gibbs has the mind of the descriptive writer, but what he has seen has got 
hold of his soul, so that he writes with passion, and with a depth of feeling that shakes 
off the conventions of journalism. . . . One of the books that will outlast the war." 
Daily Graphic. 

" One of the half-dozen war books that have any real value." Daily Express. 

" Has brought before us with an amazing clarity a panorama of invasion and 
retreat ; he has painted for us the Soul of Paris, brave, sensitive, and wayward ; and 
he has shown us how the horrors of war have struck one who holds that war is the very 
worst of human crimes." Daily Mail. 

" A splendid and fascinating book of realistic adventure." Standard. 

" A moving and sincere book of brilliant impressionism . . . the book is valuable ; 
it is so plainly true." Times. 

" By far the most vivid and realistic book on war so far published ... a living 
book and a book that will continue to live ... a real live full-blooded book, with 
a human story on every page." Sheffield Daily Telegraph. 

" THE SOUL OF THE WAR combines all the vividness of journalism written on the 
spot with much of the considered judgment of a man who can collate his first impres 
sions. Mr. Gibbs, too, has written with the deep desire, the sacred duty of preventing 
another war like this. He has determined to etch its images of cruelty into the 
brains of his readers. And he succeeds." Field. 

" Not a book for the faint-hearted or the empty-headed if there be any such 
left. The others should read it for its truth, its sincerity and the candour of its 
criticism." Punch. 

" Just before going to bed last night I picked up Philip Gibbs book THE SOUL OF 
THE AVAR. I read on and on until three o clock this morning. It is vivid, compelling, 
with fine splashes of raw, red truth." Evening News. 

" This delightful book. . . . Poetry runs through the book and deep feeling, and 
a very human sympathy with suffering. . . . admirably written, with a very clear 
insight. Its style is lively and entertaining. Nothing nearly so good has yet been 
written on the subject." Globe. 

" THE SOUL OF THE WAR is calculated better than any book I have read to 
stimulate the somewhat sluggish British imagination into a realization of the insanity 
and savagery of war generally, and of the special senselessness and devilishness of this 
titanic conflict." Truth. 

" This war is sure to produce some fine books : it can scarcely produce a finer 
than this one Mr. Philip Gibbs has written. It is moving, human, keenly seen, gravely 
bandied, and excellently written, and it makes an appeal to the senses that is almost 
enormous in its cogency. . . . That story is perhaps one of the severest indictments of 
war Mr. Philip Gibbs could make. It is part of his great scheme of illumination. His 
book is certainly valuable, and those who miss reading it are missing one of the most 
essential and powerful documents bearing on Armageddon." T.P. s Journal. 

One of the most readable books yet published . . . filled with love and pity, and 
is written with the natural and unforced sense of style that can never fail to appeal." 
Illustrated London News. 

" A very striking phantasmagoria . . . the present volume seems to us to mark 
his greatest literary success." Spectator. 



THE BATTLES OF 
THE SOMME 



THE BATTLES OF 
THE SOMME 



BY 

PHILIP GIBBS 

AUTHOR OF 
THE SOUL OF THE WAR " 



WITH MAPS 



MCCLELLAND, GOODCHILD, AND STEWART 

PUBLISHERS TORONTO 

1917 



Printed in Great Britain 






CONTENTS 

CHAP. PAGE 

INTRODUCTION 1 

I. THE HISTORIC FIRST OF JULY 21 

II. THE FIRST CHARGE 36 

III. THE FIELD OF HONOUR 43 

IV. THE DEATH-SONG OF THE GERMANS 52 
V. THE ATTACK ON THE LEFT 59 

VI. THE LONDON MEN AT GOMMECOURT 64 

VII. THE MEN WHO FOUGHT AT FRICOURT 71 

VIII. How THE PRUSSIANS FELL AT CONTALMAISON 78 

IX. A CAMEO OF WAR 85 

X. THE ASSAULT ON CONTALMAISON 89 

XI. THE BATTLE OF THE WOODS 97 

XII. THE FIGHT FOR OVILLERS 103 

XIII. THROUGH THE GERMAN SECOND LINE 110 

XIV. THE WOODS OF DEATH 126 
XV. PRISONERS OF WAR 131 

XVI. THE LAST STAND IN OVILLERS 135 

XVII. THE SCOTS AT LONGUEVAL 138 

XVIII. THE DEVIL S WOOD 143 

XIX. THE WORK OF THE GUNS 154 

XX. THE FIGHTING ROUND WATERLOT FARM 159 

XXI. THE PETER PANS OF WAR 163 

XXII. THE HIGH GROUND AT POZIERES 168 

XXIII. THE GERMAN SIDE OF THE SOMME 196 



vi CONTENTS 

CHAP. PAGE 

XXIV. THE ATTACKS ON THI^PVAL 202 

XXV. THE LAST FIGHTS IN DEVIL S WOOD 217 

XXVI. THE AUSTRALIANS AT MOUQUET FARM 223 

XXVII. THE CAPTURE OF GUILLEMONT 230 

XXVIII. THE IRISH AT GINCHY 246 

XXIX. THE COMING OF THE TANKS 253 

XXX. FIGHTING BEYOND FLERS 267 

XXXI. MONSTERS AND MEN 272 

XXXII. LONDON PRIDE 28 

XXXIII. THE SPLENDID NEW-ZEALANDERS 28 

XXXIV. THE CANADIANS AT COURCELETTE 294 
XXXV. THE ABANDONMENT OF COMBLES 29 

XXXVI. THE DOOM OF THI^PVAL 307 

XXXVII. NORTHWARD FROM THI^PVAL 317 

XXXVIII. THE WAY TO BAPAUME 326 
XXXIX. THE GERMAN VERDICT ON THE SOMME 

BATTLES 33] 



THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

INTRODUCTION 

THE COMING OF THE NEW ARMIES 

IN this book I have put together the articles which I have 
written day by day for more than three months, since that 
first day of July 1916 when hundreds of thousands of British 
troops rose out of the ditches held against the enemy for nearly 
two years of trench warfare, advanced over open country 
upon the most formidable system of defences ever organized 
by great armies, and began a series of battles as fierce and 
bloody as anything the old earth has seen on such a stretch 
of ground since the beginning of human strife. 

Before July 1 I had an idea of writing a book about all that 
I had seen for nearly eighteen months, since I abandoned the 
hazardous game of a free-lance in the war-zones of France and 
Belgium (to me those were the great and wonderful days) 
and became officially accredited as a correspondent with the 
British armies in the field. I had seen a good deal in the 
trenches and behind the lines nearly all there was to see 
of stationary warfare from Ypres to the Somme, and enough 
to understand with every nerve in my body not only the 
abomination of this doom which put fine sensitive men into 
dirty mudholes and sinister ruins, in exile from the comforts 
and beauty and decency of life, under the continual menace 
of death or mutilation, but also the valour of great numbers 
of simple souls who hated it all and yet endured it with a 
queer gaiety, and laughed even while they cursed its beastliness, 
and resigned themselves to its worst miseries like Christian 
martyrs with a taste for beer and the pictures of the " vie 

* A 



2 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

parisienne." I had seen, and suffered from, the boredom of this 
stationary warfare an intolerable boredom it is, demoralizing 
to men whose imaginations demand something brighter and 
more varied than a glimpse through the sandbags at the same 
old fringe of broken tree, the same old ruined house, the same 
old line of chalky trenches, from which death may come at 
any moment by rifle-grenade, sniper s bullet, or whizz-bang 
which is not an exciting form of death giving men the thrill 
of dramatic moments before they drop. Even in this danger 
there was no cure for the deadening monotony after the first 
few days of new experience. It was just another part of 
the dirty business, and, for men of nerves, a nagging appre 
hensive thought, varied by moments of cold, horrible fear. 
Behind the lines, on supply columns, at railheads, in billets, 
in squalid villages of Flanders and Picardy with their rows 
of miserable estaminets and evil-smelling farmyards, Boredom, 
monstrous and abominable, sat like a witch-hag on the shoulders 
of many men, divorced from the interests of their old home life, 
from their women-folk, from the reasonable normal routine of 
peaceful careers. Discipline and duty had taken the place of 
personal ambitions and the joy of life, and they are cold virtues, 
very comfortless. Artists, actors, barristers, writers, sportsmen, 
and men who had found good fun in youth and the wide world, 
or some corner of it, found themselves as officers on supply 
columns, R.T.O. s, D.A.D.O.S. s, and in other administrative 
jobs, condemned to a drudgery melancholy in its limitations 
and apparently interminable. To many of them their area of 
activity was confined between one squalid village and another, 
and the chance of a stray shell or of an aeroplane bomb did not 
really brighten up the scene. 

They fought against this desolation of mind valiantly and 
it wanted valour forced themselves to get absorbed in the 
minute details of their work, sent for the old banjo from home, 
organized canteens, smoking concerts, boxing matches, culti 
vated cheeriness as the first law of daily life until it became a 
second nature, beneath which the first nature only obtruded 
at night when they went back to sleep in their billets and before 
sleeping cried out in a kind of agony, " How long is this going 
on ? this Insanity, this waste of life, this unnatural, damned 
existence ! " 



INTRODUCTION 3 

The fighting men had all the danger and, on the whole, 
were less dull during the long period of stationary warfare. 
They too cultivated cheerfulness as the first law of daily life, 
and it was a harder job, yet they succeeded wonderfully in 
spite of the filthy trenches, the rats and vermin, the ice-cold 
water in which they waded up to the front line during the- 
long months of a Flemish winter (beginning in October and 
ending - -perhaps in April), the trench-feet which for a time 
-until rubbing-drill was adopted drained the strength of 
many battalions, and the enemy s shell-fire and mining activities 
which took a daily toll of life and limbs. Many of them found a 
gruesome humour in all this, laughed at death as a low comedian, 
guffawed if they dodged its knock-about tricks by the length 
of a traverse, and did not go very sick if it laid out their best 
pal. " You know, sir, it doesn t do to take this war seriously." 
So said a sergeant to me as we stood in a trench beyond our 
knees in water. It was a great saying, and I saw the philosophy 
which had kept men sane. Without laughter, somehow, 
anyhow, by any old joke, we should have lost the war long 
ago. The only way to avoid deadly depression was to keep 
smiling. And so for laughter s sake and to keep normal in 
abnormal ways of life there was a great unconscious conspiracy 
of cheerfulness among officers and men, and the most popular 
man in a platoon was the fellow who could twist a joke out 
of a dead German, or the subaltern who could lead a patrol 
into No Man s Land with men chuckling over some whimsical 
word about his widow, or the comic corporal who could play 
ragtime tunes on a comb and tissue-paper. Behind the lines 
there were variety theatres in old warehouses ventilated by 
shell-holes, packed by muddy men just out of the trenches, 
who found it difficult to laugh for the first half-hour and then 
roared with laughter at funny fellows dressed as Mrs. Twankey, 
or Charlie Chaplin, or the red-nosed comic turn who satirized 
4 brass hats and the Army Safety Corps and Kaiser Bill, and 
the effect of a 17-inch shell in the neighbourhood of Private 
Spoof kins, V.C. 

Discipline and hard work helped men to forget the voice 
that called back to the days of individual liberty and peace. 
There was always something to do up in the trenches, building 
up the parapets which in the Salient slipped down after every 



4 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

rain-storm, wiring, revetting, digging new communication- 
trenches (under the enemy s machine-gun fire), keeping German 
heads down by sniping every head that came up, between the 
stand-to at dusk and dawn. After the relief in the trenches- 
getting out was the risky job there was not much rest in 
the rest camps, what with parades, bombing schools, bayonet 
drill, machine-gun courses, and practice at the rifle-range. 
4 I d rather be in the blinkin 5 trenches again," groused the 
tired Tommy. 4 Oh, you ll soon be back again, my lad," 
said the sergeant. " Yet another week of your bright young 
life." 

It was the youngest men who were most cheerful young 
officers especially, just down from the Universities or the 
Public Schools. Life was beginning for them, and even here 
in the dirty ditches they found the thrill of life, the splendour 
of life, the beauty of life. They found it splendid to command 
men, to win their trust, to " make good with them. The 
comradeship with fellow-officers, the responsibility of their 
rank, the revelation of their own manhood and of their own 
courage they had been afraid of failing in pluck and their 
professional interest in their jobs as gunners or sappers or 
bombers, whatever they might be, were great rewards for 
the dirt and the danger. I saw many of these boys in places 
where death lay in wait for them, and they had shining eyes 
and strode along cheerily, talking proudly of some little " stunt 
they had done with their men, and not worrying about the 
menace overhead. It was all " topping " to them, until the strain 
began to tell. The ideals of the Public Schools, the old tradi 
tional ideals of British boyhood "Dulce et decorum est . . ." 
"Play the game," " Floreat Etona" or whatever the old school 
motto of chivalry and service might be inspired them and 
made a little white flame of enthusiasm in their hearts at 
which their spirit warmed itself when the body was very cold 
and everything comfortless. One by one many of them were 
soon picked off by German snipers or laid out by German 
shells, but others came out, and others, in an endless procession 
of splendid boyhood, still " to play the game." With them 
came new battalions of men, whistling and singing along the 
roads of France. 

I saw the first Territorial Divisions come out, and then the 



INTRODUCTION 5 

first of the " Kitchener crowd," and gradually, month after 
month, the building up of the New Army. The Old Army, 
that little Regular army which fought on the retreat from Mons 
to the Marne and then upon the Aisne, and then had swung 
up into Flanders to bar the way to Calais was gone for ever 
and was no more than an heroic memory. In the first Battle 
of Ypres and the second they had done all that human nature 
could do, and the fields were strewn with their dead until only 
a pitiful remnant held the lines of that salient against which 
the enemy had hurled himself in massed attacks supported by 
tremendous artillery. Battalions had been wiped out, divisions 
had been cut to pieces. A year ago a battalion commander told 
me that he was one out of only 150 officers belonging to the 
original Expeditionary Force still serving in the trenches and 
a year is a long time in such a war as this. I met men who 
had passed unscathed through all of that, but there were not 
many of them. The regiments remained, but they were filled up 
with new drafts. The old traditions remained, fostered by the 
old soldiers here and there, and by officers who know the 
value of tradition, but they were new men and new armies who 
were beginning to crowd the roads of France and to straighten 
the lines of defence. They were the lads who had been called 
to the colours by the shouts of the street placards : Your 
King and Country need you," l What did you do, daddy, in 
the Great War ? (I could not print the outrageous answers 
I have heard to that little simple question !) and What will 
your best girl say if you don t wear khaki ? They had been 
called by quieter and nobler voices also, speaking to their 
hearts above the clicking of typewriters in city offices and the 
whirr of machinery in great workshops and in the silence of 
the fields where they followed the plough. It was an army 
of amateurs hastily drilled, hastily trained, knowing very little 
of the real business of war, but quick to learn and full of pluck. 
They were led for the most part by temporary officers c for 
the period of the war only," with a few old " dug-outs " among 
them and some old non-commissioned officers to stiffen them. 
The Germans jeered at them not the enemy in the trenches 
but the enemy in hostile newspaper offices. * What can this 
rabble of amateurs do ? they asked. The answer was kept 
waiting for a little while. 



6 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

The New Armies were learning. They were bearing the 
hardships, the cruelties, the brutalities of war, and had to 
suffer and " stick them. They were learning the craft of 
modern warfare in trenches, mine-shafts, and saps, behind 
field-guns and " heavies," and they had to pay for their lessons 
by blood and agony. I went to see the New Armies learning 
their lesson in frightful places. Always the worst place was 
the Ypres Salient, where the enemy had the advantage of ground 
and observation, so that he could shoot at our men from three 
points of the compass and even hit them in the back. The 
names of all these places in the Salient are a litany of death- 
Pilkem, Potije, Hooge, Zillebeke, Vlamertinghe, Sanctuary Wood 
and Hooge was the concentration-ground of all that was 
devilish. Dead bodies were heaped there, buried and unburied. 
Men dug into corruption when they tried to dig a trench. 
Men sat on dead bodies when they peered through their peri 
scopes. They ate and slept with the stench of death in their 
nostrils. Below them were the enemy s mine-shafts ; beyond 
them were our own mine-shafts. It was a competition in 
blowing up the tumbled earth, and men fought like devils with 
bombs and bayonets over mine-craters which had buried 
another score or so of men. The story of Hooge was a serial 
carried on from week to week, but the place was only one 
of our little schools of war for bright young men. 

Always the City of the Salient the ghost-city of Ypres- 
stood as a memorial of death, and of that dreadful day in 
April of 1915 when the enemy first discharged his poison-gas, 
flung a storm of great shells into the streets and strewed them 
and the fields around with dead men, dead horses, and dead 
women. I had been first into Ypres in March, when the 
beauty of its Cloth Hall and of all its churches and of its 
quaint old houses was untouched. The Grande Place was full 
of cheerful English soldiers chaffing the Flemish girls at their 
booths and stalls, buying picture post cards and souvenirs 
in the shops, and strolling into the Cloth Hall to stare at the 
painted frescoes and the richness of its mediaeval decorations. 
I had tea with a party of officers in a bun-shop facing the 
Cathedral. . . . When I went into Ypres again, a few weeks 
later, there was a great hole where the bun-shop had been 
and only litters of stone and brickwork where the soldiers 



INTRODUCTION 7 

had bought their picture post cards, and the Grande Place 
was a desert about the tragic ruins of the great Cloth Hall 
and Cathedral, which were but skeletons in stone with broken 
arches, broken pillars, broken walls standing gaunt above great 
piles of masonry. The Horror had come, when suddenly on 
the breath of the wind a poisonous cloud stole into the city, 
and there was a wild stampede of people choking and gasping, 
terror-stricken, black in the face with the struggle to breathe. 
British soldiers and Indian soldiers joined the flight of the 
people of Ypres in a wild turmoil through the streets. Many 
of them fell and died on the way. A dispatch-rider rode the 
other way, towards the poison cloud. He had a message to 
carry to the lines beyond. The gas caught him in the throat 
and he fell off his motor-cycle and lay dead, while his machine 
went on until it crashed into a wall. Then the storm of shells 
burst over the city, flinging down houses, tearing great holes 
in them, and lighting great bonfires which blazed high, so that 
from a distance Ypres was one flaming torch. . * . There 
were people who could not get away, poor women and children 
who were caught in their cellars. One woman lay ill and 
could not be moved. An officer of the R.A.M.C. promised to 
get back to her if he could get an ambulance through the 
fires and shells. Late in the evening he found her in a field 
two miles away with a new-born baby by her side. A young 
French officer stayed with a crowd of wounded all huddled in 
an underground drain-pipe and tried to bandage them and 
keep them alive till other help came. For four days they could 
not move out of the hole, so that it was pestilential. Two little 
wounded girls lay there among the dead and dying. One of 
them, with eyes strangely bright, talked continually in a voice 
preternaturally clear, sharp and metallic, without intonation. 
She was a Flemish child, but again and again she spoke three 
words of French : Moi, morte demain. . . . Moi, morte 
domain. " She died in the arms of the young Frenchman. 

I am astonished that I did not go mad," says the young Baron 
de Rosen, remembering these hours. 

In the summer of 1915 I went into Ypres several 
times, and always the sinister horror of the place put its 
spell upon me. I spent a night there with a friend a 

strange, fantastic night, when shells came whirring overhead 



8 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

falling with heavy crashes into the ruins. Beyond, the line 
of the Salient was outlined by the white light of flares. In 
abandoned dug-outs were wild cats who spat at me when I 
peered in. A lonely sentry poor boy ! had the jim-jams 
and saw ghosts about ; and truly Ypres should be full of ghosts 
if they walk o nights the ghosts of all the men who have 
been buried alive here under the fallen masonry, and have 
been killed here by shells which have dug enormous craters 
in the roadways. One day two German aeroplanes flung 
down bombs as I stood in the Grande Place staring at its 
desolation. I was amazed to know how quickly I found a hole 
under a wall which I had not seen before. . . . Ypres was 
never a safe place, and in the minds of many thousands of 
British soldiers who once passed through its ruins it is etched 
as one of the ghastly pictures of war. 

All through 1915 we had in France not an army of attack 
but an army of defence. This was not properly realized by 
the people at home, by our Allies, or by some of our generals. 
There were demands for attack before we had enough men 
or enough guns or enough ammunition. It was a tragedy 
that we had to make several attacks without a real chance of 
success. Neuve Chapelle was one of them. Loos was 
another, more formidable and brilliantly carried out as far 
as Hill 70 by the 15th (Scottish) Division and the 47th 
(London Territorial) Division, supported on their left by 
the 9th (Scottish) Division and co-operating with a strong 
French attack on the right along the Vimy Ridge, but unable 
to inflict as much damage upon the enemy as we suffered in 
the assault and the following days when the Guards attacked 
at Hulluch. 

It was the first great bombardment of ours I had seen, 
though I had seen many small ones since an attack on Wyght- 
schaete in March of 1915, and was the first time when we 
showed any real strength in massed artillery, but we did not 
support the first assault with strong reserves, tactical blunders 
were made, and the enemy was able to rally after some hours 
of panic, when their gunners began to move away from Lens 
and we had a great chance. The disappointment came very 
quickly upon one s first hopes, but to me the memory of Loos 
is the revelation of the astounding courage of those men of 



INTRODUCTION 9 

the London, the Scottish, and the Guards Divisions who 
proved the mettle of the New Armies (for even most of the 
Guards were new men) and went into battle with a high-spirited 
valour which could not have been surpassed by the old Regulars. 
The Scots were played on by their pipers. The London men 
played mouth-organs, dribbled a football as every one knows 
all the way to Loos, and sang Who s Your Lady Friend ? 
amidst the crash of shell-fire. 

So now there were other classrooms in the school of war 
the Hohenzollern Redoubt, Hulluch, Loos, and other hot 
spots in that broad, flat, barren, villainous plain pimpled by 
black slag-heaps Fosse 8 and Fosse 14 bis which one 
approached through miles of communication-trenches under 
the whirring of many shells. I went to these places when the 
battle was on, and afterwards. Quite a long way away from 
them there were spots where one hated to linger, and through 
which one had to pass to get to the battlefields. Noyelles-les- 
Vermelles was one of them, and I had some nasty hours there 
when I went for afternoon tea with some officers and found 
the enemy searching for that house with four-inch shells, which 
knocked out three gunners in the back yard just as I arrived, 
and killed some horses as I walked across the field between the 
bursting crumps there was a blue sky overhead and fleecy 
clouds and a golden sunshine to a hall door where a number 
of young men were expecting death disliking it exceedingly, 
but chatting about trivial things with occasional laughter 
which did not ring quite true. Vermelles was another of them, 
and I never went without foreboding into that village of ruins 
where the French had fought like tigers from garden to garden 
and house to house before the capture of the chateau do you 
remember how they fought on the ground floor with the Germans 
above and below them, until the first-floor ceiling gave way 
and Germans came through and a young French lieutenant 
swung a marble Venus round his head in the midst of a writhing 
mob of men clutching at each other s throats ? Shells made 
smaller dust day by day of all these rubbish-heaps and bigger 
holes in the standing walls. The smell of poison-gas reeked 
from the bricks and the litter. Other smells lurked about like 
obscene spectres. At any moment of the day or night death 
might come here, and did, without warning. . . . Higher up 



10 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

one felt safer in the winding ditches leading to the front lines. 
But it was the ostrich sense of safety. One had only to mount 
a sandbag and glance over the side of the trench to see how 
the enemy s crumps were flinging up fountains of earth in 
all directions. They came whining with their high gobbling 
note overhead. Dead bodies lay about. Up in the front 
trenches, by Hulluch and the Hohenzollern, men lived always 
close to mine-shafts which might open the earth beneath them 
at any moment and bury them or hurl them high. There were 
bombing fights on the lips of the shell-craters. In some 
places a few yards only separated British soldiers and German 
soldiers. The)^ fought with each other in saps. It was another 
Hooge. 

I was only a looker-on and reporter of other men s courage 
and sacrifice a miserable game, rather wearing to the nerves 
and spirit. There were many places to visit along the front, 
and although they were not places where it is agreeable to pass 
a few hours for amusement s sake, there was an immense 
interest in these peep-shows of war where one saw the real thing 
and the spirit of it all and the ugliness, and the simple heroism 
of the men there. " Plug Street " was the elementary training 
school for many of the new divisions, with a touch of Arcadia 
in its woods in spite of the snipers bullets which came 
" zip-zip through the branches and the brushwood fringes 
along the outer walks, past which one had to creep warily 
lest watchful eyes should see one and stop one dead. A 
fairly safe place Plug Street was supposed to be, but men 
were killed there all right each time I went I saw a dead 
body carried down one of the glades and at Hyde Park 
Corner, on the edge of it, a colleague of mine was hit in the 
stomach by the nose of a shell, and here I first heard the voice 
of " Percy," a high- velocity fellow who kills you before you 
know he is coming. 

Then there was Kemmel and its neighbourhood for an 
afternoon s adventure any time one liked to be brave or felt 
inclined to look down into the German trenches from Hill 65, 
which gave a very fine view of them, up above Kemmel village, 
strafed into a miserable huddle of ruins and damnably sinister 
about the deep shell-craters and the overthrown crosses in a 
wrecked churchyard. I went there one day in a snowstorm, 



INTRODUCTION 11 

and coming back out of its desolation where plucky young 
men lived with their guns and wondered now and then, at 
their mess-table in a broken barn, whose number would be 
written up next saw a man in full evening dress without an 
overcoat and with a bowler-hat upon his head, walking in a 
leisurely way through the snowflakes and past the churchyard 
with its opened graves. A fantastic figure to meet on a battle 
field, but not madder than many things in this mad dream 
which is war. 

Up in the trenches at Neuve Chapelle, beyond the ruins of 
Croix Barbee, there were bits of open country across which 
one had to sprint between one trench and another because of 
German machine-guns trained upon them day and night. 
I ran across them on Christmas Day to wish good luck to some 
country boys who were sitting in puddles below the fire-step 
and chatting with grave irony about peace on earth, good 
will to men, and the Christmas stockings waders, really 
which they had hung up outside their dug-outs to see how the 
trick would work in war-time. It hadn t worked, and they 
groused against Santa Claus and laughed at this little joke of 
theirs to hide the sentiment in their hearts. 

Festubert and Givenchy, Armentieres and Houplines, were 
other familiar places which one approached through ruins 
before getting into the ditches where the British Army was 
learning its lessons. Then as the armies grew the British line 
was lengthened and we took over from the French, from 
Hebuterne to Vaux-sur-Somme, and afterwards, in February, 
when the Germans began their great attack upon Verdun, from 
the Vimy Ridge to the south of Arras. There was plenty of 
room here for the new Divisions who were coming out to learn, 
and plenty of practical object-lessons in the abominable business 
of war. We learnt a lot of French geography, and dozens of 
small villages unknown before to history are now famous among 
British soldiers as places where they lived under daily shell- 
fire, where they escaped death by the queerest flukes, or where 
they were hit at last after a thousand escapes. 

Sailly-au-Bois was a village on the way to Hebuterne. A 
charming little place it must have been once, with quaint old 
cottages and a market square. When I went there first the 
Germans disliked it, plugged shells into most of the houses 



12 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

and into one where a number of Sussex gentlemen were sitting 
down to lunch. It spoilt their meal for them and made a 
new entrance through the dining-room wall. Beyond the 
village was the road to Hebuterne. It led through open fields 
and past a belt of trees less than a thousand yards away, where 
the Germans lay watching behind their rifle-barrels. But the 
French had made a friendly little arrangement. If an open 
car crawled down slowly the Germans did not snipe. If it 
were a covered car, presumably a General s, or went fast, they 
had the right to shoot. Queer, though it seemed to work. 
But I was always glad to get the length of that road and to 
find some cover in the fortress-village of Hebuterne, with its 
deep dug-outs, proof against the lighter kind of shells. The 
Germans had been here first and had dug in with their usual 
industry. Then the French had turned them out after ferocious 
fighting there are many French graves there in the Orchard 
and in the trenches, and a little altar still kept in good order 
by British soldiers to Notre-Dame-des-Tranchees ; they had 
gone on digging and strengthening the place, and when our 
men took over the ground they continued the fortifications, 
so that it was a model of defensive work. But the Germans 
shelled it with method, and it was safer below ground than above. 
In the Orchard young fruit of life fell before it had ripened, and 
I did not like to linger there among the apple-trees. 

The taking over of Arras and its neighbourhood down from 
the Vimy Ridge to Souchez, Ablain-St.-Nazaire, La Targette, 
Neuville-St.-Vaast the very names make me feel cold libe 
rated a complete French army for the defence of Verdun, and 
it was our biggest service to France before the battles of the 
Somme. 

I went into Arras and saw the despoiled beauty of this old 
city of Artois, silent and desolate, in its ruined gardens where 
white statues lay in the rank grass, except when shells opened 
great craters in the Grande Place or tore off a gable from one 
of the Spanish houses in the Petite Place, or came crashing into 
the wreckage of the railway station or knocked a few 
more stones out of the immense walls of the Cathedral and 
the Bishop s Palace, through which I wandered, gazing up 
long vistas of white ruin. In the suburbs of St.-Laurent and 
St.-Nicholas the enemy was very close across the garden walls, 



INTRODUCTION 13 

and in the Maison Rouge one had to tiptoe and talk in whispers 
by chinks in the wall (there was a rosewood piano in the front 
room), through which one could look at the enemy s sandbags 
a few yards away. Wrinkled old women and wan-faced girls 
lived still in the deep cellars of the city, coming up for a little 
sunlight when the air was quiet, and scuttling down again at 
the scream of a shell. In the dusk small boys roamed the 
broken streets, searched among the litter of stones for shrapnel- 
bullets for games of marbles (I once played such a game in a 
night at Ypres), and cocked a snook at German shells falling 
a street or two away. Our soldiers became familiar with all 
these places, strode through them with that curious matter- 
of-fact way of the British Tommy, who makes himself at home 
in hell-on-earth as though it were the usual thing, and in 
Souchez, Neuville-St.-Vaast, Ablain-St.-Nazaire, and on the 
ridge of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette held the lines in spite of five- 
point-nines, aerial torpedoes, every kind of high-explosive 
force which tried to blast them out. For miles the ground 
was strewn with duds " so that one had to pick one s 
way lest one should kick a fuse and with the litter of men s 
clothes and bodies. 

The months passed. Spring came, and nightingales sang 
in the bushes of old French chateaux and the woodpecker laughed 
in the forest glades ; the fields were strewn with flowers, and 
the beauty of France sang a great song in one s heart. The 
wheat grew tall and green. And all this time the roads in the 
British war-zone were becoming more crowded with the traffic 
of men and horses and guns and lorries miles of motor-lorries 
as new Divisions came out, with belts and harness looking 
very fresh, making their way slowly forward to the firing-lines 
to learn their lesson like others who had gone before them. 
The billeting areas widened, became congested districts from 
Boulogne to the Somme. In Picardy and Artois there was 
khaki everywhere. In old market-places of St.-Omer, Bailleul, 
Bethune, St.-Pol, Hesdin, Fruges, Doullens, our Tommies 
jostled among the stalls and booths, among the old women 
and girls and blue-coated " poilus," making friends with them, 
learning a wonderful lingua franca, settling down into the 
queer life, which alternated between the trenches and the 
billets, as though it would last for ever. 



THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

The human picture changed. New types of men arrived 
and some of the old stagers departed. The Indian infantry 
also went, and the flat fields behind Neuve Chapelle, where 
the canals cut straight between the rushes, lost those grave, 
sad-eyed, handsome men who seemed like fairy-book princes 
to the French peasants, whose language they had learnt to 
speak with a courtesy, and with soft, simple manners which 
won the friendship of these people. In the winter trenches 
the Indians had shivered ; in the dank mists across the flats 
they had wandered dolefully. They had fought gallantly 
under officers who sacrificed their own lives with noble devotion, 
but they hated modern shell-fire and all the misery of trench- 
warfare in a wet, cold climate, and were, I think, glad to go. 

The Australians came, and for the first time we saw in 
France those bronzed, hatchet-faced, handsome fellows who 
brought a new character of splendid manhood into the medley 
of British types. The New Zealanders followed with Maoris 
among them. The Canadians were adding many new bat 
talions to their strength. The South African Scottish sent 
more kilts swinging down the roads of war. There were New 
foundlanders, West Indians from Barbados. All the Empire 
was sending her men. For what ? 

That was the question which we were all asking. How and 
when were these men going to be used ? The months were 
dragging on and there was no great attack. There had been 
savage fighting on a small scale up in the Salient at St.-Eloi 
and the Bluff. The Canadians lost ground under a sudden 
storm of shell-fire which flattened out their trenches, and 
retook it after bloody counter-attacks. The Vimy Ridge had 
seen heavy and costly fighting which gained nothing. All 
along the line there were raids into the enemy s trenches, but 
it was Red Indian warfare and not the big thing. France, 
after four months of desperate fighting at Verdun, asked when 
the English were going to strike. And British soldiers who 
had been in and out of the trenches, month after month, 
seeing heavy losses mount up by the usual daily toll, with 
nothing to show for them, began to despair a little. Was it 
going on for ever like this ? This existence was intolerable. 
To sit in a trench and be shelled to death what was the 
sense of it ? At the mess-table there were men who found 



INTRODUCTION 15 

the world all black, the war a monstrous horror, an outrage 
to God and life. I had queer conversations with men in dug 
outs, in wooden huts under shell-fire, in French chateaux 
inhabited by British officers, and heard the secrets of men s 
souls, their protests against the doom that had enchained them, 
their perplexities, their strivings to find some spiritual meaning 
in the devilish appearance of things, their revolt against the 
brutality and senselessness of war, their ironic laughter at 
the bloody contrast between Christian teaching and Christian 
practice, their blind gropings for some light in all the darkness 
and damnation. 

Then suddenly all changed. The " Big Push " was to come 
at last. Trench warfare was to end, and all this great army 
of ours in France was to get out of its ditches and out into the 
open and strike. Enormous hope took the place of the doubts 
and dolefulness that had begun to possess men of melancholy 
minds. It would be a chance of ending the business. At least 
we had the strength to deliver a smashing, perhaps a decisive, 
blow. All our two years of organization and training and 
building up would be put to the test, and the men were sure 
of themselves, confident in the new power of our artillery, 
which was tremendous, without a doubt in the spirit of attack 
which would inspire all our battalions. They would fight 
with the will to win. 

So we came to July 1, that day so great in hope, in achieve 
ment, and in tragedy, and what happened then and for three 
and a half months of fighting days is told in the articles now 
printed in this book. I might have rewritten them, polished 
their style, put in new facts here and there, and written a 
narrative of history with a more considered judgment than 
was possible day by day. But I have thought it best to let 
them stand as they were written at great speed, sometimes 
in utter exhaustion of body and brain, but always with the 
emotion that comes from the hot impress of new and tremen 
dous sensations. They may hold some qualities that would 
be lost if I wrote them with more coldness and criticism of 
words and phrases. Even the repetition of incidents and 
impressions have some value, for that is true of modern warfare 
-a continual repetition of acts and sounds, sights and smells 
and emotions. 



16 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

The method of attack has become a formula the intense 
preliminary bombardment almost annihilating the enemy s 
front trenches (but not all his dug-outs), the advance across 
No Man s Land under the enemy s curtain-fire, the rush over 
the enemy s broken parapets in the face of machine-gun fire, 
the bombing-out of the dug-outs, the taking of prisoners. One 
captured " village " destroj^ed utterly by shell-fire days before 
the final attack upon its earth-works is exactly like another 
in. its rubbish-heaps of bricks and woodwork. The pictures 
repeat themselves. Heroic acts the knocking-out of a 
machine-gun, the bombing down a section of trench, the rescue 
of wounded repeat themselves also through all the battles. 
In my chronicles these repetitions will be found, and the effect 
of them on the reader s mind should be the effect in a faint, 
far-off way of the real truth. 

Some people imagine, and some critics have written, that 
the war correspondents with the armies in France have been 
" spoon-fed with documents and facts given to them by 
General Headquarters, from which they write up their dispatches. 
They recognize the same incident, told in different style by 
different correspondents, and say, " Ah, that is how it is done ! 
They are wrong. All that we get from the General Staff are 
the brief bulletins of the various army corps, a line or two 
of hard news about the capture or loss of this or that trench 
such as appears afterwards in the official communiques. For 
all the details of an action we have to rely upon our own efforts 
in the actual theatre of operations day by day, seeing as much 
of the battle as it is possible to see (sometimes one can see 
everything and sometimes nothing but smoke and bursting 
shells), getting into the swirl and traffic of the battlefields, 
talking to the walking wounded and the prisoners, the men 
going in and the men coming out, going to the headquarters 
of brigades, divisions, and corps for exact information as to 
the progress of the battle from the generals and officers directing 
the operations, and getting into touch as soon as possible 
with the battalions actually engaged. All this is not as easy 
as it sounds. It is not done without fatigue, and mental as 
well as physical strain. It takes one into unpleasant places 
from which one is glad and lucky to get back. But we have 
full facilities for seeing and knowing the truth of things, and 



INTRODUCTION 17 

see more and know more of the whole battle-line than is possible 
even to Divisional Generals and other officers in high command. 
For we have a pass enabling us to go to any part of the front 
at any time and get the facts and points of view from every 
class and rank, from the trenches to G.H.Q. Because the 
correspondents sometimes tell the same stories it is because 
we tell them to each other, not believing in professional rivalry 
in a war of this greatness. Our only limitations in truth- 
telling are those of our own vision, skill, and conscience under 
the discipline of the military censorship. I have no personal 
quarrel with that censorship though all censorship is hateful. 
After many alterations in method and principle it was exercised 
throughout the battles of the Somme (and for months before that, 
when there was no conspiracy of silence but only the lack of 
great events to chronicle) with a really broad-minded policy of 
allowing the British people to know the facts about their fighting 
men save those which would give the enemy a chance of spoiling 
our plans or hurting vis. If there had been no censorship at 
all it would be impossible for an honourable correspondent to 
tell some things within his knowledge our exact losses in a 
certain action, failures at this or that point of the line, tactical 
blunders which might have been made here or there, the dis 
position or movement of troops, the positions of batteries and 
observation-posts. 

These are things which the enemy must not know. So 
I do not think that during the whole of the Somme fighting 
there was more than a line or two taken out of one or the 
other of my dispatches, and with the exception of those words 
they are printed as they were written. They tell the truth. 
There is not one word, I vow, of conscious falsehood in them. 
Bat they do not tell all the truth. I have had to spare the 
feelings of men and women who have sons and husbands still 
fighting in France. I have not told all there is to tell about 
the agonies of this war, nor given in full realism the horrors 
that are inevitable in such fighting. It is perhaps better 
not to do so, here and now, although it is a moral cowardice 
which makes many people shut their eyes to the shambles, 
comforting their souls with fine phrases about the beauty of 
sacrifice. 
w ~ One thing hurt me badly in writing my accounts and hurts 

B 



18 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

me still. For military reasons I have not been permitted to 
give the names of all the troops engaged from day to day, but 
only a few names allowed by our Intelligence. The Germans 
were counting up our divisions, reckoning how many men 
we had in reserve, how many were against them in the lines. 
It was not for us to help them in this arithmetic. But it is 
hard on the men and on their people. They do not get that 
mmediate fame and honour for their regiments which they 
have earned by the splendour of their courage and achieve 
ments. It is not my fault, for I would give all their names 
if I could, and tire out my wrist in praising them if it could 
give them a little spark of pleasure and pride. But, after all, 
each man who fought on the Somme shares the general honour 
which belongs to all of them. 

The correspondents with the armies in the field do not 
prophesy or criticize or sit in judgment. That is not within 
our orders, and belongs to the liberty of writing-men who sit 
at home with their maps and the official bulletins and our 
dispatches from the front. " There is not one of these indus 
trious men," writes a critic of our work, who has had the 
experience to form a military judgment." Well, that is as 
may be, though we have had more experience of war than 
most men will have, I think, for another fifty years. In our 
own mess we are critics and prophets and judges, and I fancy 
we could give a point or two to the experts at home, and, with 
luck, later on, may do so. Now in the war-zone we are but 
chroniclers of the fighting day by day, trying to get the facts 
as fully as possible and putting them down as clearly as they 
appear out of the turmoil of battle. Even now in this Introduc 
tion I shall attempt no summing up of the results achieved by 
these battles of the Somme, except by saying that by enormous 
sacrifices, by individual courage beyond the normal laws of 
human nature as I thought I knew them once, by great efficiency 
in organization and a resolute purpose not checked or weakened 
by any obstacles, our troops broke through positions which 
the enemy believed, and had a right to believe, impregnable, 
carried by assault his first, second, and third systems of trenches, 
drew in his reserves with many guns and men from Verdun 
so that the French could counter-attack with brilliant success, 
and inflicted upon the enemy heavy and irreparable loss which, 



INTRODUCTION 19 

as we hope and believe, though with imperfect knowledge, he 
cannot afford without weakening his line of defence on our own 
front and facing our Allies. These hammer-strokes were not 
decisive in victory. I believe that the German strength of 
resistance and attack is still great. I do not see a quick ending 
of this most horrible massacre in the fields of Europe. But 
it was only the weather which stopped for a time our forward 
progress when at the end of October the rain-storms made all 
the battlefield a swamp and obscured the observation which 
our men had won by three months and a half of uphill fighting 
and desperate strife. Even then in the mud they took many 
more prisoners in heavy fighting up by the Stuff and Schwaben 
Redoubts which the enemy hated us to hold because of their 
dominating ground to the north of Thiepval and then in the 
fog made that great, audacious attack on Beaumont-Hamel, 
which captured one of the stongest positions against our own 
front with over 6000 prisoners. Of that last attack I saw 
nothing, being home on sick-leave. 

I must say a word or two about the Tanks. After the first 
great surprise, the exaltation of spirits caused by these new 
motor-monsters, there followed a disappointment in the public 
mind and even among our soldiers. Some of the infantry, 
poor lads, hoped that at last the enemy s deadly machine-gun 
fire would be killed by these things and that in future infantry 
attacks would be a walk-over behind the Tanks. That was 
hoping too much. It would require thousands of Tanks to 
do that and we had only a few. But I have the record of 
what each Tank did in action up to the middle of October, 
and it leaves no room for doubt that, balancing success with 
failure, these new machines of war have justified their inventors 
a hundred-fold. They saved many casualties at certain points 
of the line and helped to gain many important positions, as 
at Thiepval and Flers, Courcelette and Martinpuich. If we had 
enough of them and it would be a big number trench warfare 
would go for ever and machine-gun redoubts would lose their 
terror. 

The battles of the Somme as we call this fighting, curiously, 
for on our side it is not very near the Somme are not yet 
finished. As I write these words it is only a lull which seems 
to end them, and does end at least the first phase with which 



20 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

I deal in the pages that follow. They are pages written on 
the evenings of battle hastily and sometimes feverishly, after 
days of intense experience and tiring sensation. Yet there is 
in them and through them one passionate purpose. It is to 
reveal to our people and the world the high valour, the self- 
sacrificing discipline of soul, the supreme endurance of those 
men of ours who fought and suffered great agonies and died, 
and if not killed or wounded, came out to rest a little while 
and fight again, not liking it, you understand hating it like 
the hell it is but doing their duty, with a great and glorious 
devotion, according to the light that is in them. 



THE HISTORIC FIRST OF JULY 



WITH THE BRITISH ARMIES IN THE FIELD, JULY 1, 1916 

THE attack which was launched to-day against the German 
lines on a 20-mile front began well. It is not yet a victory, for 
victory comes at the end of a battle, and this is only a beginning. 
But our troops, fighting with very splendid valour, have swept 
across the enemy s front trenches along a great part of the line 
of attack, and have captured villages and strongholds which 
the Germans have long held against us. They are fighting 
their way forward not easily but doggedly. Many hundreds 
of the enemy are prisoners in our hands. His dead lie thick in 
the track of our regiments. 

And so, after the first day of battle, we may say : It is, on 
balance, a good day for England and France. It is a day of 
promise in this war, in which the blood of brave men is poured 
out upon the sodden fields of Europe. 

For nearly a week now we have been bombarding the enemy s 
lines from the Yser to the Somme. Those of us who have 
watched this bombardment knew the meaning of it. We knew 
that it was the preparation for this attack. All those raids of 
the week which I have recorded from day to day were but 
leading to a greater raid when not hundreds of men but hundreds 
of thousands would leave their trenches and go forward in a 
great assault. 

We had to keep the secret, to close our lips tight, to write 
vague words lest the enemy should get a hint too soon, and 
the strain was great upon us and the suspense an ordeal to the 
nerves, because as the hours went by they drew nearer to the 
time when great masses of our men, those splendid young men 



22 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

who have gone marching along the roads of France, would be 
sent into the open, out of the ditches where they got cover 
from the German fire. 

This secret was foreshadowed by many signs. Travelling 
along the roads we saw new guns arriving heavy guns and 
field-guns, week after week. We were building up a great 
weight of metal. 

Passing them, men raised their eyebrows and smiled grimly. 
... A tide of men flowed in from the ports of France new 
men of new divisions. They passed to some part of the front, 
disappeared for a while, were met again in fields and billets, 
looking harder, having stories to tell of trench life and raids. 

The Army was growing. There was a mass of men here in 
France, and some day they would be ready, trained enough, 
hard enough, to strike a big blow. 

A week or two ago the whisper passed, We re going to 
attack." But no more than that, except behind closed doors 
of the mess-room. Somehow by the look on men s faces, by 
their silences and thoughtfulness, one could guess that some 
thing was to happen. 

There was a thrill in the air, a thrill from the pulse of men 
who know the meaning of attack. Would it be in June or 
July ? . . . The fields of France were very beautiful this June. 
There were roses in the gardens of old French chateaux. Poppies 
put a flame of colour in the fields, close up to the trenches, and 
there were long stretches of gold across the countryside. A 
pity that all this should be spoilt by the pest of war. 

So some of us thought, but not many soldiers. After the 
misery of a wet winter and the expectations of the spring they 
were keen to get out of the trenches again. All their training 
led up to that. The spirit of the men was for an assault across 
the open, and they were confident in the new power of our 
guns. . . . 

The guns spoke one morning last week with a louder voice 
than has yet been heard upon the front, and as they crashed 
out we knew that it was the signal for the new attack. Their 
fire increased in intensity, covering raids at many points 
of the line, until at last all things were ready for the biggest 
raid. 



THE HISTORIC FIRST OF JULY 23 



The scene of the battlefields at night was of terrible beauty. 
I motored out to it from a town behind the lines, where through 
their darkened windows French citizens watched the illumina 
tion of the sky, throbbing and flashing to distant shell-fire. 
Behind the lines the villages were asleep, without the twinkle 
of a lamp in any window. The shadow forms of sentries paced 
up and down outside the stone archways of old French houses. 

Here and there on the roads a lantern waved to and fro, and 
its rays gleamed upon the long bayonet and steel casque of 
a French Territorial, and upon the bronzed face of an English 
soldier, who came forward to stare closely at a piece of paper 
which allowed a man to go into the fires of hell up there. It 
was an English voice that gave the first challenge, and then 
called out " Good night with a strange and unofficia 
friendliness as a greeting to men who were going towards the 



guns. 



The fields on the edge of the battle of guns were very peaceful. 
A faint breeze stirred the tall wheat, above which there floated 
a milky light transfusing the darkness. The poppy-fields still 
glowed redly, and there was a glint of gold from long stretches 
of mustard flower. Beyond, the woods stood black against the 
sky above little hollows where British soldiers were encamped. 

There by the light of candles which gave a rose-colour to the 
painted canvas, boys were writing letters home before lying 
down to sleep. Some horsemen were moving down a valley 
road. Farther off a long column of black lorries passed. It 
was the food of the guns going forward. 

A mile or two more, a challenge or two more, and then a 
halt by the roadside. It was a road which led straight into the 
central fires of one great battlefield in a battle-line of 80 miles 
or more. A small corner of the front, yet in itself a broad 
and far-stretching panorama of our gunfire on this night of 
bombardment. 

I stood with a few officers in the centre of a crescent sweeping 
round from Auchonvillers, Thiepval, La Boisselle, and Fricourt 
to Bray, on the Somme, at the southern end of the curve. Here 
in this beetroot-field on high ground, we stood watching one of 
the greatest artillery battles in which British gunners have been 
engaged. ~ Up to that night the greatest. 



24 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

The night sky, very calm and moist, with low-lying clouds 
not stirred by wind, was rent with incessant flashes of light as 
shells of every calibre burst and scattered. Out of the black 
ridges and woods in front of us came explosions of white fire, as 
though the earth had opened and let loose its inner heat. They 
came up with a burst of intense brilliance, which spread along 
a hundred yards of ground and then vanished abruptly behind 
the black curtain of the night. It was the work of high explo 
sives and heavy trench mortars falling in the German lines. 
Over Thiepval and La Boisselle there were rapid flashes of 
bursting shrapnel shells, and these points of flame stabbed the 
sky along the whole battle-front. 

From the German lines rockets were rising continually. 
They rose high and their star- shells remained suspended for 
half a minute with an intense brightness. While the light 
lasted it cut out the black outline of the trees and broken roofs, 
and revealed heavy white smoke-clouds rolling over the enemy s 
positions. 

They were mostly white lights, but at one place red rockets 
went up. They were signals of distress, perhaps, from German 
infantry calling to their guns. It was in the zone of these red 
signals, over towards Ovillers, that our fire for a time was most 
fierce, so that sheets of flame waved to and fro as though fanned 
by a furious wind. All the time along the German line red 
lights ran up and down like little red dancing devils. 

I cannot tell what they were, unless they were some other 
kind of signalling, or the bursting of rifle-grenades. Sometimes 
for thirty seconds or so the firing ceased, and darkness, very 
black and velvety, blotted out everything and restored the 
world to peace. Then suddenly, at one point or another, the 
earth seemed to open to furnace fires. Down by Bray, south 
wards, there was one of these violent shocks of light, and then 
a moment later another by Auchonvillers to the north. 

And once again the infernal fires began, flashing, flickering, 
running along a ridge with a swift tongue of flame, tossing 
burning feathers above rosy smoke-clouds, concentrating into 
one bonfire of bursting shells over Fricourt and Thiepval, upon 
which our batteries always concentrated. 



THE HISTORIC FIRST OF JULY 25 

3 

There was one curious phenomenon. It was the silence of 
all the artillery. By some atmospheric condition of moisture 
or wind (though the night was calm), or by the configuration 
of the ground, which made pockets into which the sound fell, 
there was no great uproar, such as I have heard scores of times 
in smaller bombardments than this. 

It was all muffled. Even our own batteries did not crash out 
with any startling thunder, though I could hear the rush of big 
shells, like great birds in flight. Now and then there was a 
series of loud strokes, an urgent knocking at the doors of night. 
And now and again there was a dull, heavy thunder-clap, 
followed by a long rumble, which made me think that mines 
were being blown farther up the line. 

But for the most part it was curiously quiet and low-toned, 
and somehow this muffled artillery gave one a greater sense 
of awfulness and of deadly work. 

Along all this stretch of the battle-front there was no sign of 
men. It was all inhuman, the work of impersonal powers, and 
man himself was in hiding from these great forces of destruction. 
So I thought, peering through the darkness, over the beetroots 
and the wheat. 

But a little later I heard the steady tramp of many feet and 
the thud of horses hoofs walking slowly, and the grinding of 
wheels in the ruts. Shadow forms came up out of the dark 
tunnel below the trees, the black figures of mounted officers, 
followed by a battalion marching with their transport. I 
could not see the faces of the men, but by the shape of their 
forms could see that they wore their steel helmets and their 
fighting kit. They were heavily laden with their packs, but 
they were marching at a smart, swinging pace, and as they came 
along were singing cheerily. 

They were singing some music-hall tune, with a lilt in it, as 
they marched towards the lights of all the shells up there in the 
places of death. Some of them were blowing mouth-organs and 
others were whistling. I watched them pass all these tall boys 
of a North Country regiment, and something of their spirit seemed 
to come out of the dark mass of their moving bodies and thrill 
the air. They were going up to those places without faltering, 
without a backward look and singing dear, splendid men. 



26 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

I saw other men on the march, and some of them were 
whistling the " Marseillaise," though they were English soldiers. 
Others were gossiping quietly as they walked, and once the light 
of bursting shells played all down the line of their faces hard, 
clean-shaven, bronzed English faces, with the eyes of youth 
there staring up at the battle-fires and unafraid. 

A young officer walking at the head of his platoon called out 
a cheery good night to me. It was a greeting in the darkness 
from one of those gallant boys who lead their men out of the 
trenches without much thought of self in that moment of 
sacrifice. 

In the camps the lights were out and the tents were dark. 
The soldiers who had been writing letters home had sent their 
love and gone to sleep. But the shell-fire never ceased all night. 



A Staff officer had whispered a secret to us at midnight in a 
little room, when the door was shut and the window closed. 
Even then they were words which could be only whispered, 
and to men of trust. 

" The attack will be made this morning at 7.30." 

So all had gone well, and there was to be no hitch. The 
preliminary bombardments had done their work with the 
enemy s wire and earthworks. All the organization for attack 
had been done, and the men were ready in their assembly 
trenches waiting for the words which would hold all their fate. 

There was a silence in the room where a dozen officers heard 
the words men who were to be lookers-on and who would not 
have to leave a trench up there on the battlefields when the 
little hand of a wrist- watch said " It is now." 

The great and solemn meaning of next day s dawn made the 
air seem oppressive, and our hearts beat jumpily for just a 
moment. There would be no sleep for all those men crowded 
in the narrow trenches on the north of the Somme. God give 
them courage in the morning. . . . 

The dawn came with a great beauty. There was a pale blue 
sky flecked with white wisps of cloud. But it was cold and 
over all the fields there was a floating mist which rose up from 
the moist earth and lay heavily upon the ridges, so that the 
horizon was obscured. As soon as light came there was activity 



THE HISTORIC FIRST OF JULY 27 

in the place where I was behind the lines. A body of French 
engineers all blue from casque to puttees, and laden with their 
field packs, marched along with a steady tramp, their grave, 
grim faces turned towards the front. British Staff officers 
came motoring swiftly by and dispatch-riders mounted their 
motor-cycles and scurried away through the market carts of 
French peasants to the open roads. French sentries and 
French soldiers in reserve raised their hand to the salute as our 
officers passed. 

Each man among them guessed that it was England s day, 
and that the British Army was out for attack. It was the spirit 
of France saluting their comrades in arms when the oldest 
" poilu " there raised a wrinkled hand to his helmet and said to 
an English soldier, Bonne chance, mon camarade ! 

Along the roads towards the battlefields there was no move 
ment of troops. For a few miles there were quiet fields, where 
cattle grazed and where the wheat grew green and tall in the 
white mist. The larks were singing high in the first glinting 
sunshine of the day above the haze. And another kind of 
bird came soaring overhead. 

It was one of our monoplanes, which flew steadily towards 
the lines, a herald of the battle. In distant hollows there were 
masses of limber, and artillery horses hobbled in lines. 

The battle-line came into view, the long sweep of country 
stretching southwards to the Somme. Above the lines beyond 
Bray, looking towards the German trenches, was a great cluster 
of kite balloons. They were poised very high, held steady by 
the air-pockets on their ropes, and their baskets, where the 
artillery observers sat, caught the rays of the sun. I counted 
seventeen of them, the largest group that has ever been seen 
along our front ; but I could see no enemy balloons opposite 
them. It seemed that we had more eyes than they, but to-day 
theirs have been staring out of the veil of the mist. 



We went farther forward to the guns, and stood on the same 
high field where we had watched the night bombardment. 
The panorama of battle was spread around us, and the noise 
of battle swept about us in great tornadoes. I have said that 
in the night one was startled by the curious auietude of the 



28 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

guns, by that queer muffled effect of so great an artillery. But 
now on the morning battle this phenomenon, which I do not 
understand, no longer existed. There was one continual roar 
of guns, which beat the air with great waves and shocks of 
sound, prodigious and overwhelming. 

The full power of our artillery was let loose at about 6 o clock 
this morning. Nothing like it has even been seen or heard upon 
our front before, and all the preliminary bombardment, great as 
it was, seemed insignificant to this. I do not know how many 
batteries we have along this battle-line or upon the section of 
the line which I could see, but the guns seemed crowded in 
vast numbers of every calibre, and the concentration of their 
fire was terrific in its intensity. 

For a time I could see nothing through the low-lying mist 
and heavy smoke-clouds which mingled with the mist, and 
stood like a blind man, only listening. It was a wonderful 
thing which came to my ears. Shells were rushing through 
the air as though all the trains in the world had leapt their 
rails and were driving at express speed through endless tunnels 
in w r hich they met each other with frightful collisions. 

Some of these shells, firing from batteries not far from where 
I stood, ripped the sky with a high tearing note. Other shells 
whistled with that strange, gobbling, sibilant cry which makes 
one s bowels turn cold. Through the mist and the smoke 
there came sharp, loud, insistent knocks, as separate batteries 
fired salvos, and great clangorous strokes, as of iron doors 
banged suddenly, and the tattoo of the light field-guns playing 
the drums of death. 

The mist was shifting and dissolving. The tall tower of 
Albert Cathedral appeared suddenly through the veil, and the 
sun shone full for a few seconds on the golden Virgin and the 
Babe, which she held head downwards above all this tumult 
as a peace-offering to men. The broken roofs of the town 
gleamed white, and the two tall chimneys to the left stood 
black and sharp against the pale blue of the sky, into which 
dirty smoke drifted above the whiter clouds. 

I could see now as well as hear. I could see our shells falling 
upon the German lines by Thiepval and LaBoisselleand farther 
by Mametz, and southwards over Fricourt. High explosives 
were tossing up great vomits of black smoke and earth 
all along the ridges. Shrapnel was pouring upon these 



THE HISTORIC FIRST OF JULY 29 

places, and leaving curly white clouds, which clung to the 
ground. 

Below there was the flash of many batteries like Morse code 
signals by stabs of flame. The enemy was being blasted by 
a hurricane of fire. I found it in my heart to pity the poor 
devils who were there, and yet was filled by a strange and 
awful exultation because this was the work of our guns, and 
because it was England s day. 

Over my head came a flight of six aeroplanes, led by a single 
monoplane, which steered steadily towards the enemy. The 
sky was deeply blue above them, and when the sun caught their 
wings they were as beautiful and delicate as butterflies. But 
they were carrying death with them, and were out to bomb the 
enemy s batteries and to drop their explosives into masses of 
men behind the German lines. 

Farther away a German plane was up. Our anti-aircraft 
guns were searching for him with their shells, which dotted the 
sky with snowballs. 

Every five minutes or so a single gun fired a round. It spoke 
with a voice I knew, the deep, gruff voice of old " Grandmother," 
one of our 15-inch guns, which carries a shell large enough to 
smash a cathedral with one enormous burst. I could follow 
the journey of the shell by listening to its rush through 
space. Seconds later there was the distant thud of its explo 
sion. 

Troops were moving forward to the attack from behind the 
lines. It was nearly 7.30. All the officers about me kept 
glancing at their wrist-watches. We did not speak much then, 
but stared silently at the smoke and mist which floated and 
banked along our lines. There, hidden, were our men. They, 
too, would be looking at their wrist- watches. 

The minutes were passing very quickly as quickly as men s 
lives pass when they look back upon the years. An officer near 
me turned away, and there was a look of sharp pain in his eyes. 
We were only lookers-on. The other men, our friends, the 
splendid Youth that we have passed on the roads of France, 
were about to do this job. Good luck go with them ! Men 
were muttering such wishes in their hearts. 



30 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 



It was 7.30. Our watches told us that, but nothing else. 
The guns had lifted and were firing behind the enemy s first 
lines, but there was no sudden hush for the moment of attack. 
The barrage by our guns seemed as great as the first bombard 
ment. For ten minutes or so before this time a new sound had 
come into the general thunder of artillery. It was like the 
" rafale " of the French soixante-quinze, very rapid, with 
distant and separate strokes, but louder than the noise of field- 
guns. They were our trench-mortars at work along the whole 
length of the line before me. 

It was 7.30. The moment for the attack had come. Clouds 
of smoke had been liberated to form a screen for the infantry, 
and hid the whole line. The only men I could see were those in 
reserve, winding along a road by some trees which led up to 
the attacking points. They had their backs turned as they 
marched very slowly and steadily forward. I could not tell 
who they were, though I had passed some of them on the road 
a day or two before. But, whoever they were, English, Irish, 
or Welsh, I watched them until most had disappeared from 
sight behind a clump of trees. In a little while they would be 
fighting, and would need all their courage. 

At a minute after 7.30 there came through the rolling smoke- 
clouds a rushing sound. It was the noise of rifle-fire and 
machine-guns. The men were out of their trenches and the 
attack had begun. The enemy was barraging our lines. 



The country chosen for our main attack to-day stretches from 
the Somme for some 20 miles northwards. The French were to 
operate on our immediate right. It is very different country 
from Flanders, with its swamps and flats, and from the Loos 
battlefields, with their dreary plain pimpled by slack-heaps. 

It is a sweet and pleasant country, with wooded hills and little 
valleys along the river-beds of the Ancre and the Somme. and 
fertile meadow-lands and stretches of woodland, where soldiers 
and guns may get good cover. 4 A clean country," said one 
of our Generals when he first went to it from the northern war 
zone. 



THE HISTORIC FIRST OF JULY 31 

It seemed very queer to go there first, after a knowledge of 
war in the Ypres salient, where there is seldom view of the 
enemy s lines from any rising ground except Kemmel Hill 
and Observatory Ridge and where certainly one cannot walk 
on the skyline in full view of German earthworks 2000 yards 
away. 

But at Hebuterne, which the French captured after desperate 
fighting, and at Auchonvillers (opposite Beaumont), and on 
the high ground by the ruined city of Albert, looking over to 
Fricourt and Mametz, and farther south on the Somme, looking 
towards the little German stronghold at Curlu, beyond the 
marshes, one could see very clearly and with a strange, unreal 
sense of safety. 

I saw a German sentry pacing the village street of Curlu, and 
went within 20 paces of his outposts. Occasionally one could 
stare through one s glasses at German working parties just 
beyond sniping range round Beaumont and Fricourt, and to the 
left of Fricourt the Crucifix between its seven trees seemed very 
near as one looked at it in the German lines. 

Below this Calvary was the Tambour and the Bois Frangais, 
where not a week passed without a mine being blown on one 
side or the other, so that the ground was a great upheaval of 
mingling mine-craters and tumbled earth, which but half 
covered the dead bodies of men. 

It was difficult ground in front of us. The enemy was strong 
in his defences. In the clumps of woodland beside the ruined 
villages he hid many machine-guns and trench-mortars, and 
each ruined house in each village was part of a fortified strong 
hold difficult to capture by direct assult. It was here, however, 
and with good hopes of success that our men attacked to-day, 
working eastwards across the Ancre and northwards up from 
the Somme. 

8 

At the end of this day s fighting it is still too soon to give a 
clear narrative of the battle. Behind the veil of smoke which 
hides our men there were many different actions taking place, 
and the messages that come back at the peril of men s lives 
and by the great gallantry of our signallers and runners 
give but glimpses of the progress of our men and of their 
hard fighting. 



32 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

I have seen the wounded who have come out of the battle, 
and the prisoners brought down in batches, but even they can 
give only confused accounts of fighting in some single sector of 
the line which conies within their own experience. 

At first, it is certain, there was not much difficulty in taking 
the enemy s first line trenches along the greater part of the 
country attacked. Our bombardment had done great damage, 
and had smashed down the enemy s wire and flattened his 
parapets. When our men left their assembly trenches and 
swept forward, cheering, they encountered no great resistance 
from German soldiers, who had been in hiding in their dug-outs 
under our storm of shells. 

Many of these dug-outs were blown in and filled with dead, 
but out of others which had not been flung to pieces by high 
explosives crept dazed and deafened men who held their hands 
up and bowed their heads. Some of them in one part of the 
line came out of their shelters as soon as our guns lifted, and 
met our soldiers half-way with signs of surrender. 

They were collected and sent back under guard, while the 
attacking columns passed on to the second and third lines in 
the network of trenches, and then if they could get through 
them to the fortified ruins behind. 

But the fortunes of war vary in different places, as I know 
from the advance of troops, including the South Staffords, the 
Manchesters, and the Gordons. In crossing the first line of 
trench the South Staffordshire men had a comparatively easy 
time, with hardly any casualties, gathering up Germans who 
surrendered easily. The enemy s artillery fire did not touch 
them seriously, and both they and the Manchesters had very 
great luck. 

But the Gordons fared differently. These keen fighting men 
rushed forward with great enthusiasm until they reached one 
end of the village of Mametz, and then quite suddenly they were 
faced by rapid machine-gun fire and a storm of bombs. The 
Germans held a trench called Danzig Avenue on the ridge where 
Mametz stands, and defended it with desperate courage. The 
Gordons flung themselves upon this position, and had some 
difficulty in clearing it of the enemy. At the end of the day 
Mametz remained in our hands. 

It was these fortified villages which gave our men greatest 
trouble, for the German troops defended them with real courage, 



THE HISTORIC FIRST OF JULY 33 

and worked their machine-guns from hidden emplacements 
with skill and determination. 

Fricourt is, I believe, still holding out (its capture has since 
been officially reported), though our men have forced their 
way on both sides of it, so that it is partly surrounded. Mont- 
auban, to the north-east of Mametz, was captured early in the 
day, and we also gained the strong point at Serre, until the 
Germans made a somewhat heavy counter-attack, and succeeded 
in driving out our troops. 

Beaumont-Hamcl was not in our hands at the end of the 
day, but here again our men are fighting on both sides of 
it. The woods and village of Thiepval, which I had watched 
under terrific shell- fire in our preliminary bombardments, was 
one point of our first attack, and our troops swept from one end 
of the village to the other, and out beyond to a new objective. 

They were too quick to get on, it seems, for a considerable 
number of Germans remained in the dug-outs, and when the 
British soldiers went past them they came out of their hiding- 
places and became a fighting force again. Farther north our 
infantry attacked both sides of the Gommecourt salient with 
the greatest possible valour. 

That is my latest knowledge, writing at midnight on the 
first day of July, which leaves our men beyond the German 
front lines in many places, and penetrating to the country 
behind like arrow-heads between the enemy s strongholds. 



In the afternoon I saw the first batchs of prisoners brought in. 
In parties of 50 to 100 they came down, guarded by men of the 
Border Regiment, through the little French hamlets close behind 
the fighting-lines, where peasants stood in their doorways 
watching these firstfruits of victory. 

They were damaged fruit, some of these poor wretches, 
wounded and nerve-shaken in the great bombardment. Most 
of them belonged to the 109th and 110th Regiments of the 
1 4th Reserve Corps, and they seemed to be a mixed lot of 
Prussians and Bavarians. On the whole, they were tall, strong 
allows", and there were striking faces among them, of men 
lighcr than the peasant type, and thoughtful. But they were 
ery haggard and worn and dirty. 

c 



34 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

Over the barbed wire which had been stretched across a 
farmyard, in the shadow of an old French church, I spoke to 
some of them. To one man especially, who answered all my 
questions with a kind of patient sadness. He told me that 
most of his comrades and himself had been without food and 
water for several days, as our intense fire made it impossible to 
get supplies up the communication-trenches. 

About the bombardment he raised his hands and eyes a 
moment eyes full of a remembered horror and said, " Es war 
schrecklich (It was horrible). Most of the officers had 
remained in the second line, but the others had been killed, he 
thought. His own brother had been killed, and in Baden his 
mother and sisters would weep when they heard. But he was 
glad to be a prisoner, out of the war at last, which would last 
much longer. 

A new column of prisoners was being brought down, and 
suddenly the man turned and uttered an exclamation with a 
look of surprise and awe. 

" Ach, da ist ein Hauptmann ! He recognized an officer 
among these new prisoners, and it seemed clearly a surprising 
thing to him that one of the great caste should be in this plight, 
should suffer as he had suffered. 

Some of his fellow-prisoners lay on the ground all bloody and 
bandaged. One of them seemed about to die. But the 
English soldiers gave them water, and one of our officers emptied 
his cigarette-case and gave them all he had to smoke. 

Other men were coming back from the fields of fire, glad also 
to be back behind the line. They were our wounded, who 
came in very quickly after the first attack to the casualty 
clearing stations close to the lines, but beyond the reach of 
shell- fire. Many of them were lightly wounded in the hands 
and feet, and sometimes 50 or more were on one lorry, which 
had taken up ammunition and was now bringing back the 
casualties. 

They were wonderful men. So wonderful in their gaiety and 
courage that one s heart melted at the sight of them. They 
were all grinning as though they had come from a jolly " in 
which they had been bumped a little. There was a look of pride 
in their eyes as they came driving down like wounded knights 
from a tourney. 

They had gone through the job with honour, and have come 



THE HISTORIC FIRST OF JULY 35 

out with their lives, and the world was good and beautiful again, 
in this warm sun, in these snug French villages, where peasant 
men and women waved hands to them, and in these fields of 
scarlet and gold and green. 

The men who were going up to the battle grinned back at 
those who were coming out. One could not see the faces of the 
lying-down cases, only the soles of their boots as they passed ; 
but the laughing men on the lorries some of them stripped to 
the waist and bandaged roughly seemed to rob war of some of 
its horror, and the spirit of our British soldiers shows bright 
along the roads of France, so that the very sun seems to get some 
of its gold from these men s hearts. 

To-night the guns are at work again, and the sky flushes as 
the shells burst over there where our men are fighting. 



II 

THE FIRST CHARGE 



JULY 2 

IT is possible now to get something like a clear idea of the 
fighting which began yesterday morning at 7.30, when the 
furious tempest of our guns passed farther over the German lines 
and our infantry left their trenches for the great adventure. 

The battle goes on, with success to our arms. Fricourt, 
partly surrounded yesterday (by the 21st Division), was taken by 
assault to-day, and a German counter-attack upon Montauban 
was repulsed with losses that tore gaps into the enemy s ranks. 
Prisoners come tramping down in batches, weary, worn men, 
who have the gallantry to praise our own infantry and remember 
with a shudder the violence of our gunfire. 

Wounded men who are coming out of the fighting-lines ask 
one question, " How are we doing ? Men suffering great pain 
have a smile in their eyes when the answer comes, We are doing 
well." The spirit of our men is so high that it is certain we shall 
gain further ground, however great the cost. 

The ground we have already gained was won by men who 
fought to win, and who went " all out," as they say, with a 
fierce enthusiasm to carry their objective, quickly and utterly 
and cleanly. This wonderful spirit of the men is praised by all 
their officers as a kind of new revelation, though they saw them 
in trench life and in hard times. 

" They went across toppingly," said a wounded boy of the 
West Yorkshires, who was in the first attack on Fricourt. The 
fellows were glorious," said another young officer who could 
hardly speak for the pain in his left shoulder, where a piece of 
shell struck him down in Mamctz Wood. " Wonderful chaps ! 
said a lieutenant of the Manchcstcrs. " They went cheering 



THE FIRST CHARGE 37 

through machine-gun fire as though it were just the splashing 
of rain. ... They beat everything for real pluck." 

They beat everything for pluck except their own officers, who, 
as usual, led their men forward without a thought of their own 
risks. 



The attack on Montauban was one of our best successes 
yesterday. The men were mainly Lancashire troops (of the 
Manchester Regiment) supported by men of the Home 
Counties, including those of Surrey, Kent, Essex, Bedford, 
and Norfolk. They advanced in splendid order straight for 
their objective, swept over the German trenches, and captured 
large numbers of prisoners, without great loss to themselves. 

Their commanding officers were anxious about a German 
strong point called the Briqueterie, or brickfield, which had 
been full of machine-guns and minenwerfers, and the original 
intention was to pass this without a direct attempt to 
take it. 

But the position was found to be utterly destroyed by our 
bombardment, and a party of men (the Liverpools) were 
detached to seize it, which they did with comparative case. 
The remainder of the men in those battalions went on to the 
ruined village of Montauban and, in spite of spasmodic machine- 
gun fire from some of the broken houses, carried it in one great 
flood of invasion. 

Large numbers of Germans were taking cover in dug-outs and 
cellars, but as soon as our men entered they came up into the 
open and surrendered. Many of them were so cowed by the 
great bombardment they had suffered and by the waves of men 
that swept into their stronghold that they fell upon their knees 
and begged most piteously for mercy, which was granted to 
them. 

The loss of Mantauban was serious to the enemy, and they 
prepared a counter-attack, which was launched this morning, 
at 3 o clock, at a strength of two regiments. Our men were 
expecting this and had organized their defence. The Germans 
came on in close order, very bravely, rank after rank advancing 
over the dead and wounded bodies of their comrades, who were 
caught by our machine-gun fire and rifle-fire and mown down. 
Only a few men were able to enter our trenches, and these died. 



38 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

Mantauban remains in our hands, and so far the enemy has not 
attempted another attack. 



Our line winds round the village in a sharp salient which drops 
south-eastwards to Mametz, which is full of German dead and 
wounded, who are being found in the cellars and taken back to 
our hospitals. It was in the taking of Mametz that some of the 
Gordons suffered heavily. With English troops they advanced 
across the open with sloped arms. There was very little shell- 
fire and not a rifle-shot came from the enemy s broken trenches. 

4 Suddenly," says one of their officers, " a machine-gun 
opened fire upon us point-blank, and caught us in the face. I 
shouted to my men to advance at the double, and we ran forward 
through a perfect stream of shattering bullets. Many of my 
poor boys dropped, and then I fell and knew nothing more for 
a while. But afterwards I heard that we had taken Mametz, 
and hold it still. . . . My Gordons were fine, but we had bad 
luck." t 

It was the fire of German machine-guns which was most 
trying to our men. Again and again soldiers have told me 
to-day that the hard time came when these bullets began to 
play upon them. In spite of our enormous bombardment there 
remained here and there, even in a front-line trench, a machine- 
gun emplacement so strongly built with steel girders and 
concrete cover that it had defied our high explosives. And 
inside were men who were defiant also. 

A young officer of the Northumberland Fusiliers paid a high 
tribute to them. f "They are wonderful men," he said, and 
work their machines until they are bombed to death. In the 
trenches by Fri court they stayed on when all the other men had 
either been killed or wounded, and would neither surrender nor 
escape. It was the same at Loos, and it would not be sporting of 
us if we did not say so, though they have knocked out so many 
of our best." 

The same opinion in almost the same words was given to me 
to-day by many men whose bodies bore witness to these German 
Maxims, and though their words were a tribute to the enemy, 
they also proved the fine generosity in the heart of our own men. 

While the attacks were being made on Montauban and Mametz 



THE FIRST CHARGE 39 

very hard fighting was in progress on the left, or western, side 
of our line from Gommecourt downwards. So far I have heard 
very little of the action at Gommecourt, where the German 
salient was most difficult to assault owing to formidable defences. 
In that direction our progress has not been great. 

Farther south at Ovillers and La Boisselle our attacks were 
rather more fortunate, and some ground was gained with great 
loss in life to the enemy, though not without many casualties to 
ourselves. Fortunately, as in all this fighting, the proportion 
of lightly wounded men is wonderfully high. 

The advance upon the ridge of La Boisselle was a splendid 
and memorable thing. The men w r ho took part in it were hard, 
tough fellows who fear neither man nor devil, nor engines of war. 
They went forward cheering, and the Tynesidc pipers played 
on their men. The German guns were flinging Jack Johnsons 
over, but the3did not inflict much damage, and the men jeered 
at them. 

Silly old five-point-nine crumps ! said a young officer 
to-day who had been among them. " They only made a 
beastly stink and the devil of a noise. It was the machine-guns 
which did all the work." 

The machine-guns were enfilading our men from La Boisselle, 
and from the high ground above their bullets came pattering 
down in showers, so that when they hit men in the shoulder they 
came out at the wrist. They swept No Man s Land like a 
scythe. 

But our troops passed on steadily with fixed bayonets at 
parade step, not turning their heads when comrades dropped 
to right and left of them. Thev took the first line of German 



trenches, which were blown to dust-heaps with the bodies of 
the men who had held them. In the second line there, were 
men still living, and still resolute enough to defend themselves. 
They were bombed out of this position, and our men went on 
to the third line still under machine-gun fire. 

It seemed to me," said a Lincolnshire lad, " as if there was 
a machine-gun to every five men." Without exaggeration 
there were many of these machines and they were served 
skilfully and terribly by their gunners. Beyond La Boisselle, 
which was pressed on one side, the fire became very intense. 
High explosives, shrapnel, and trench-mortars ploughed up the 
ground. 



40 THE BATTLES OF THE SOM3V1E 

They threw everything at us except half-croons," said a man 
of the Royal Scots. 

It was the Royal Scots who charged with the bayonet into 
a body of German troops, and the other battalions advanced 
at the double and captured batches of men who had no more 
stomach for the fight. 

Some of the hardest fighting at La Boisselle was done by 
men of Dorset and Manchester with Highland Light Infantry 
and Borderers. They had an easy time over the front line, but 
when the second was reached had to engage in a battle of 
bombs with a large body of Germans. This resistance was 
broken down and when there was a show of bavonets the 



enemy surrendered. They were haggard men, who had suffered, 
like most of our prisoners, from long hunger and thirst as our 
bombardment had cut off their supplies and broken the water- 
pipes. 

Farther north there was a severe struggle for the possession 
of Thiepval, which was once in our hands but is now again in 
the enemy s grip. It is clear from all the evidence I can get 
that our men passed beyond to a further objective without 
staying to clear out the dug-outs where Germans were in hiding 
or to search for all the machine-gun emplacements. The 
enemy came out of their hiding-places and served their machine- 
guns upon the British troops who had gone forward. 

A sergeant-major of the Manchesters, who took part in one 
of the attacks which followed each other in waves upon the 
Thiepval positions, says that he and his comrades forced their 
way across the front trenches and had to walk over the bodies 
of large numbers of German dead, who had fallen in the 
bombardment. With his regiment he went forward into n 
wood known to the men as " Blighty," and then fell wounded. 

Machine-gun bullets and shrapnel were slashing through it 
with a storm of lead, lopping off branches andTicochetting from 
the tree-trunks. The men stood this ordeal superbly, and those 
who were not wounded fought their way through towards the 
village. Some battalions working on the left of Thiepval had 
a very severe ordeal. One of them, wounded, told me that 
they seized the first system of trenches in the face of machine- 
gun fire and captured the men who remained alive in the 
dug-outs. 

They were deep dug-outs, going 30 feet below ground, and in 



THE FIRST CHARGE 41 

some cases, even at that depth, had trap-doors leading to still 
lower chambers, so that our bombardment had not touched 
them. Many of them were elaborately fitted and furnished, 
and were well stocked with wine and beer. A great deal of 
correspondence was found and sent back to our lines in sand 
bags. 



It was when our men advanced upon the Thiepval woods 
that they had their hardest hours, for the enemy s fire was 
heavy, and they had to pass through an intense barrage. 
Meanwhile big fighting was in progress at Fricourt, and some 
of the North-countrymen had a great ordeal of fire. They have 
done magnificently, and Fricourt is ours. 

Other troops were engaged, for masses of men of many 
British regiments advanced on both sides of the village en 
deavouring to get possession of Shelter Wood, Lozenge Wood, 
and the high ground to the north of the village from the position 
known as the Crucifix. Large numbers of Germans were killed 
and wounded, but the garrison of Fricourt maintained a very 
stout resistance, and until this morning our attacks did 
not succeed in taking this stronghold, although it was nearly 
surrounded. 

Heroic acts were done by our men, as I know from the 
comrades w r ho were w r ith them. One boy of eighteen, to give 
only one instance, was so good a captain, although a private 
soldier, that when the officers of his platoon had fallen he 
rallied the men and led them forward. 4 Come on, my lads," 
he cried. " We ll get them out ! A pipe-major of the 
Royal Scots led this battalion forward to an old Scottish tune, 
and during the attack stood out alone in No Man s Land playing 
still until he fell wounded. 

Early this morning a very fine flanking attack \vas made on 
Fricourt by the men who had held on to the ground during the 
night, and Crucifix Trench was taken after the explosion of 
two big mines. The attack then closed in, one body of troops 
working round to the north and another fighting their way 
round the south side in order to get the village within a pair of 
tongs. 

The operation succeeded and the village was taken, but 
fighting still went on to gain possession of the high ridge above. 



42 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

A whole company of German soldiers were seen to come 
suddenly across the open with their hands up. Other men 
straggled singly over the shell-beaten ground to surrender to 
our men. 

But the enemy s guns put up a heavy barrage of shrapnel 
and high explosives when our men tried to advance along the 
ridge, and from the upper end of the Fricourt Wood there 
came the incessant clatter of machine-gun fire. Our attack 
did not falter, and as far as I can learn the position to-night is 
good. 

Here, then, are some scraps of fact about a great battle still 
in progress and covering a wide stretch of ground, in which 
many separate actions are taking place. It is impossible for 
an eye-witness to see more than a corner of these battlefields, 
and at this hour for one man to write a clear, straight chronicle 
of so great an adventure. I have been travelling to-day about 
the lines, trying to gather the threads together, talking to many 
of our fighting men, going among the wounded and the prisoners, 
and in the intense and immediate interest of this great drama of 
war which is all about me, trying to get at the latest facts of 
our progress from hour to hour. 

But what I have written is only the odds and ends of a long 
heroic story which must be written later with fuller knowledge 
of men and deeds. Only one thing is really very clear and 
shining in all this turmoil of two days of battle it is the 
unconquerable spirit of our men. 



Ill 

THE FIELD OF HONOUR 

i 

JULY 3 

As the hours pass we are gaining new ground and extending 
our line slowly but steadily to straighten it out between the 
German strongholds which have been captured by the great 
gallantry of our men after heavy fighting. 

To-day when I went into the heart of these battlefields in 
and around Fricourt, where we have made our most successful 
advance, I could see the progress we have made since the first 
day s attacks by the elevation of the shell-fire, which traced 
out the German and British lines. To the right of me was 
Mametz, held by our troops and our encircling loop no longer 
dipped so steeply southwards as before, but curved gradually 
westwards bleow the Bois de Mametz until it reached Fricourt 
itself. 

Here we are not only in possession of the village but have 
the wood on the high ground beyond, the Crucifix Trench on 
the edge to the left, and Lozenge Wood still farther to the left. 
Our line then runs to La Boisselle, most of which was in our 
hands early this morning after a fierce bombardment by our 
guns, followed by the infantry advance. It seemed to me, 
from my own observation to-day, that the German guns are 
retiring farther back to escape capture or direct hits, for many 
of their shrapnel shells appeared to come from an extreme 
range by high angle fire. All this shows that we are pressing 
the enemy hard, and that so far he is unable to bring up supports 
to secure his defence. 

The scene here was wonderful, and though I have been in 
many battlefields since this Avar began I have never watched 
before such a complete and close picture of war in its infernal 



44 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

grandeur. The wood of La Boisselle was to my left on the 
rising slopes, up which there wound a white road to that ragged 
fringe of broken tree-trunks, standing like gallows-trees against 
the sky-line. 

Immediately facing me was Lozenge Wood and the Crucifix, 
with two separate trees known as the Poodles, and just across 
the way to my right in the hollow that dips below the wood 
was Fricourt. Montauban, which our troops took by assault 
in the first day s fighting, was marked only by one tall chimney, 
the rest of its ruins being hidden behind a crest of ground, 
but to the right, near enough for me to see and count its ruined 
houses, was Mametz lying in a cup below the ridge. 

A great bombardment was raging from both sides, the enemy 
shelling the places we had taken from him, and our guns putting 
a heavy barrage on to his positions. La Boisselle was being 
shelled by shrapnel with great severity, and there was one spot 
at the northern end of the tree stumps where British and German 
shells seemed to meet and mingle their explosions. 

In what was once a village there were dense clouds of smoke 
which rose up in columns and then spread out into a thick 
pall. In the very centre of this place, which looked like one 
of Dante s visions of hell-fire, one of our soldiers was signalling 
with a flaming torch. 

The red flame moved backwards and forwards through the 
wrack of smoke, and was then tossed high, as a new burst of 
shrapnel broke over the place where the signaller stood. 

Our batteries were firing single rounds and salvos in the 
direction of Contalmaison from many places behind our lines, 
so that I was in the centre of a circle of guns all concentrating 
upon the enemy s lines behind Fricourt and Mametz Wood 
and La Boisselle. Shells from our heavies came screaming 
overhead with a high rising note which ends with a sudden 
roar as the shell bursts, and our field-batteries were firing 
rapidly and continuously so that the sharp crack of each shot 
seemed to rip the air as though it were made of calico. 

It was a tornado of shell-fire, and though one s head ached 
at it and each big shell as it travelled over seemed in a queer 
way to take something from one s vitality by its rush of air, 
there was a strange exultation in one s senses at the conscious 
ness of this mass of artillery supporting our men. Those were 
our guns. Ours ! 



THE FIELD OF HONOUR 45 

They had the mastery. They were all registered on the 
enemy. Our gims at last had given us a great chance. The 
infantry had something behind them, and it was not all flesh 
and blood against great engines, as in the early days it used 
to be. 



The enemy was replying chiefly on the ground about La 
Boisselle, so that I hated to think of our men up there, for 
though it was nothing like our bombardment it was heavy 
enough to increase the cost we have had to pay for progress. 
I could see nothing of the men in that smoke and flame, but 
I could see men going up towards it, in a quiet, leisurely way 
as though strolling on a summer morning in peaceful fields. 

It was curious to watch our soldiers walking about this 
battlefield. They seemed very aimless, in little groups, 
wandering about as though picking wild flowers some of 
those poppies which made great splashes of scarlet up to the 
trenches, or some of the blue cornflowers and purple scabious 
and white stitchwort which weaved the colours of France over 
these poor stricken fields of hers, now hers again, and the 
charlock which ran with a riot of gold in all this great luxuri 
ance between the tumbled earthworks where dead bodies lav. 

/ 

The shells were whining and rending the air above their 
heads, but they did not glance upwards or forwards to where 
the shells burst and vomited black smoke. They seemed as 
careless of war as holiday-makers on Hampstead Heath. 
Yet when I went among them I found that each man had his 
special mission, and was part of a general purpose guided by 
higher powers. Some of them were laying new wires for new 
telephones over ground just captured from the enemy. 

Others were runners coming down with messages through 
the barrage higher up the roads. Artillerymen and engineers 
were getting on with their job, quietly, without fuss. 

From over the ridge where Crucifix Trench runs from the 
Poodles into Fricourt Wood came a body of men. I could 
see their heads above the trench. Then they seemed to rest 
a while. After that thev came into full view below the ridsfe. 

t 

Had they been seen by the German gunners ? Why were 
they running like that down the slope ? Some shrapnel-clouds 
came white and curly above the sky-line ; others fluffed lower, 



46 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

nearer to the men. They were in such a bunch that one shell 
would do great damage there. . . . 

They scattered a little and I saw their figures taking cover 
in the hummocky ridges. It was only later that I heard that 
these men had been fighting heavily down near the two trees 
known as the Poodles, and that they had captured a number 
of German prisoners, who came towards them with uplifte^. 
hands. The prisoners were being brought down in small 
batches, whom I met on the road. 



Up at La Boisselle the shelling was still intense, but our 
troops had already surrounded part of the position, and after 
a concentration by our guns advanced and captured it. A 
number of Germans were there in their dug-outs, the remnant 
of a battalion which had suffered frightful things under our 
gun-fire. Some of the officers, it seems, from what the prisoners 
told me, went away to Bush Tree Copse, Contalmaison, saying 
that they were going to bring up reserves. But they did not 
come back. 

The other men about 250 of them stayed in the dug-outs, 
without food and water, while our shells made a fury above 
them and smashed up the ground. They had a German doctor 
there, a giant of a man with a great heart, who had put his 
first-aid dressing-station in the second-line trench and attended 
to the wounds of the men until our bombardment intensified 
so that no man could live there. 

He took the wounded down to a dug-out those who had 
not been carried back and stayed there expecting death. 
But then, as he told me to-day, at about eleven o clock this 
morning the shells ceased to scream and roar above-ground, 
and after a sudden silence he heard the noise of British troops. 
He went up to the entrance of his dug-out and said to some 
English soldiers who came up with fixed bayonets, " My 
friends, I surrender." Afterwards he helped to tend our own 
wounded, and did very good work for us under the fire of his 
own guns, whk4i had now turned upon this position. 

There was another German to-day at La Boisselle, but his 
work was not that of helping wounded men. It was one 
of those machine-gunners who kept up a fire of dropping bullets 



THE FIELD OF HONOUR 47 

upon our troops when we first made an assault upon this position. 
And to-day he was there still in his emplacement doing very 
deadly work, and though he was wounded in nine places when 
we found him he was still working his terrible little gun. 

Our men took him prisoner, and, in the English way, bore 
no grudge against him, but sang his praises. Many other 
machine-guns were captured, and round one of them all the 
team was laid out dead by one of our shells. 





At about 11.30 in the morning I warned down into Fricourt, 
which was captured yesterday afternoon. It was a strange 
walk, not pleasant, but full of a terrible interest. Fighting 
was still going on on the high ground above, a few hundred 
yards away, and while I had been watching the scene of war 
from a field near by I had seen heavy shells, certainly five- 
point-nines, falling near the village and raising clouds of black 
and greenish smoke, and they were falling into Mametz some 
distance to the right: 

Fricourt was not an inviting place, but other men had been 
there at a worse time. And the interest of it called to one to 
get into this bit of ruined ground with its broken brickwork 
which for more than a year we have stared at across barbed 
wire and through holes in the ground as an evil place beyond 
our knowledge, as a place from which death came to our men 
from trench-mortars and machine-guns, separated from us 
by lines of trenches full of snipers who waited and watched 
for any of our heads to appear, even for a second, above the 
parapet, and by No Man s Land into which seme of our brave 
boys went out at night at great peril, hiding in shell-holes, 
and avoiding the mine-fields of the Bois Fran9ais and other 
ground honeycombed below by German galleries which, night 
after night do you remember the line in the official com 
munique ? flung up the soil and formed another crater and 
buried some more of our men. " There was mining activity 
near Fricourt." Well, there will be no more of it there. 

I went across the fields Lord God ! that would have meant 
death a week or two ago, before the enemy was busy with other 
things close by and came down to our old system of trenches. 
Here were the little wooden bridges across which our men 



48 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

made their advance, and litters of sandbags no more to be used 
for the parapets here, and the abandoned properties of men 
who had left these old familiar places the old rat-holes, the bays 
in the trenches where they stood on guard at night, the dug-outs 
where they had pinned up photographs upon the morning of 
the great adventure, which was yesterday. 

Here was a redoubt from which I had first looked across 
to the Crucifix and the communication-trench up which the men 
used to come at night. Now all abandoned, for the men had 
gone forward. 

The flowers were growing richly in No Man s Land, red and 
yellow and blue, except where the earth was white and barren 
above the mine-fields of the famous Tambour, and brown and 
barren in the Bois Francais, where never a tree now grows. 

We walked across No Man s Land in the full sunlight of this 
July day, and though shells were rushing overhead, those 
from our batteries seemed low enough to cut off the heads ofi 
the flowers, and mine. They were mostly our shells. 

Lightly wounded men, just hit up there beyond the wood, 
walked along unaided, or helped by a comrade. One of them, 
a boy of 18 or so, with blue eyes under his steel helmet, stopped 
me and showed me a bloodv bandage round his hand, and said 

*/ 

with an excited laugh : 

They got me all right. I was serving my Lewis when a 
bullet caught me smack. Now I m off. And I ve had 18 
months of it." 

He went away grinning at his luck, because the bullet might 
have chosen another place. 

Some German prisoners followed him. Two of them were 
carrying a stretcher on which an English soldier lay with his 
eyes shut. A wounded German behind turned and smiled at 
me a strong, meaningful smile. He was glad to be wounded 
and out of it. 

Other Germans came down under guard, and little groups 
of English soldiers and Red Cross men. I struck across the 
field again to the old German lines of trenches, and saw the full 
and frightful horror of war. The German trenches were 
smashed at some places, by our artillery-fire, into shapelessness. 
Green sandbags were flung about, timbers from the trench 
sides had been broken and tossed about like match-sticks. 

I stumbled from one shell-crater to another, over bits of 



THE FIELD OF HONOUR 49 

indescribable things, and the litter of men s tinries and pouches 
and haversacks, and dug-outs. Rifles lay about, and the ground 
was strewn with hand-grenades, and here and there was a 
great unexploded shell which had nosed into the soil. There 
were many German dead lying there in Fricourt, and some of 
our own poor men. The Germans were lying thick in one 
part of the trenches. 

Thev had been tall, fine men in life. One of them Iving 

*/ +/ d 

with many wounds upon him was quite a giant. Another 
poor man lay on his back with his face turned up to the blue 
sky and his hands raised up above his body as though in 
prayer. . . . 

But I turned my head away from these sights, as most people 
hide these things from their imagination, too cowardly to 
face the reality of war. 

I followed an officer down into a German dug-out until he 
halted half-way down its steps and spoke a word of surprise. 
There s a candle still burning ! 

It gave one an uncanny feeling to see that lighted candle in 
the deep subterranean room, where yesterday German officers 
were living, unless dead before yesterday. 

It could not have been burning all that time. For a moment 
we thought an enemy might still be hiding there, and it was not 
improbable, as two of them had been found in Fricourt only 
a few hours before. But in all likelihood it had been lit by an 
English soldier after the capture of the place. 

The dug-out was littered with German books and papers. 
I picked up one of them, and saw that it was " Advice on 
Sport." Here was sad sport for Germans. There was a tragic 
spirit in that little room, and we went out quickly. I peered 
into other German dug-outs, and saw how splendidly built 
they were, so deep and so strongly timbered that not even our 
bombardment had utterly destroyed them. They are great 
workers, these Germans, and wonderful soldiers. 

Everywhere there lay about great numbers of steel helmets, 
some of them with vizors, and well designed, so that they 
come down to the nape of the neck and protect all the head. 
Some of our soldiers were bringing them back as souvenirs. 
One man had ten dangling about him, like the tin pots on a 
travelling tinker. 

In the wood beyond the Crucifix our machine-guns were 

D 



50 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

firing fiercely, and the noise was like that of a great flame 
beyond the village. Fricourt itself is just a heap of frightful 
ruin, with the remains of houses which the enemy had used as 
machine-gun emplacements. Every yard of it was littered with 
the debris of war s aftermath. Before our final attack yester 
day many of the German troops filtered out in retreat, leaving 
some of their wounded behind, and one poor puppy a fox- 
terrier which is now the trophy of one of our battalions. 

But a number of men about 150, I should say- could not 
get away owing to the intensity of our first bombardment, 
and when our men stormed the place yesterday afternoon they 
came up out of their dug-outs with their hands up for mercy. 
I saw them all to-day and spoke with some of them. 

They belonged to the 109th, 110th, and lllth Regiments of 
the 14th Reserve Corps, and were mostly from Baden. It 
would be absurd to talk of these fellows as being undersized 
or underfed men. They were tall, strong, stout men in the 
prime of life. Only a few were w T ounded, and lay about in a 
dazed way. The others answered me cheerfully, and expressed 
their joy at having escaped from our gunfire, which they de 
scribed as "schrecldich" terrible. They had had no food or 
drink since yesterday morning until their English guards gave 
it to them. 

I spoke also with a little group of officers. They were young 
men of an aristocratic type, and spoke very frankly and politely. 
They, too, acknowledged the new power of our artillery and 
the courage of our men, which was not new to them. It was 
here that I had a talk with the German medical officer whom I 
had seen walking down between two guards close to Fricourt. 
After describing his own experiences during the bombardment 
this morning he laughed in a sad way. 

" This war ! " he said. " We go on killing each other to no 
purpose. Europe is being bled to death, and will be im 
poverished for long years. It is a war against religion, and 
against civilization, and I see no end to it. Germany is strong 
and England is strong and France is strong. It is impossible 
for one side to crush the other, so when is the end to come ? : 
Because of his services to our own men he was given special 
privileges, and an English soldier had brought down all his 
personal belongings. A little apart from all his fellow-officers 
stood a German lieutenant-colonel who was charged with 



THE FIELD OF HONOUR 51 

having killed two of our officers by bombing them after his 
surrender. A tall, gloomy, truculent man of the worst Prussian 
type, he stood awaiting an inquiry, and I could only hope that 
he was not guiltv of such a crime. 

o / 

From personal observation I know nothing of what has 
happened elsewhere in the line to-day, but I have heard a 
story of an attack on the Gommecourt salient which shows 
that this action was one of the most tragic and heroic things 
in British history. The enemy had concentrated a great mass 
of guns here in the belief that our main attack was to be 
directed against this part of the front. The existence of this 
belief has been proved by German orders which have come into 
our hands. 

As soon as our men left their trenches after the bombard 
ment yesterday the enemy barraged our front and support 
trenches with a most infernal fire. Our men advanced through 

c5 

this barrage absolutely as though on parade, and in spite of 
heavy losses some of them made their way over 500 yards of 
No Man s Land to the enemy s front line. 

The German soldiers also behaved with great courage, and 
carried their machine-guns right through our barrage until 
they faced our men in the open and swept them with fire so 
that large numbers fell. 

The attack did not succeed in this part of the line. ^ But 
it drew on the enemy s reserves, and great honour is due to 
the valour of those men of ours who fought as heroes in one 
of the most glorious acts of self-sacrifice ever made by British 
troops. 



IV 

THE DEATH-SONG OF THE GERMANS 



Morning bright ; morning bright- 
Light that leads me to the grave 

Soon shall dawn with summons brazen 

Call me to my death to hasten 
I and many a comrade brave. 

* Morgenroth" (Dr. Blackie s translation) 

" Morgenroth," the haunting death-song of the forlorn hopes of the German 
armies, is the song which was sung so often in the Franco -Prussian War of 
1870 and is being sung again to-day. 

The words were written by Wilhelm Hauff, a patriotic German writer of the 
first half of the nineteenth century. 



JULY 4 

No sensational progress has been made by us since I wrote 
my last dispatch, yesterday, but our guns are in a good position 
to follow up our advance, and the battle is developing, I belieVc, 
according to the original plan, which anticipated slow and 
steady fighting from one German position to another. That 
is being done, and another point was gained to-day by the 
capture of Bernafay Wood, to the north-east of Montauban, 
from which I have just come back after seeing the shelling of 
this wood from close range. 

It is behind the lines on the outskirts of the battlefields that 
one sees most of the activity of war, as I saw it to-day again 
when I went up to this captured ground of Montauban. Up 
there where fighting was in progress not many men were visible. 
Until the advance, after the work of our guns, and the short, 
sharp rush from open ground under the client s shrapnel, 
our men arc hidden and the only movement to be scefl is that 
of the shells bursting and tossing up the earth. 

But on the way up, now that the war is no longer stationary, 



THE DEATH-SONG OF THE GERMANS 53 

there is a great turmoil of men and mules and guns and wagons, 
and again and again to-day I wished that I could put on to 
paper sketches rather than words to describe these scenes. 
For here all along the way were historic pictures of the campaign 
full of life and colour. 

Great camps had been assembled in the dips and hollows 
of the hills, with painted tents between the lines and great 
masses of horses and wagons and gun-limbers crowded together, 
with thousands of men busy as ants. Transport columns came 
down or w r ent up the hilly roads driven by tired men who 
drooped in their seats or saddles after three days of battle, in 
which they have had but little sleep. One of them was asleep 
to-day. He had fallen backwards in his wagon still holding the 
reins, and while he slept his horses jogged on steadily following 
the leaders of the column. On the roadside and among the 
wild flowers of uncultivated fields batches of infantry, w r ho 
had been marching all night, had flung themselves down 
and slept also while they had a half-hour s chance, with 
their arms outstretched, with their rifles and packs for their 
pillows. 

Other men were moving up towards the fighting-lines, 
marching with a steady tramp along the chalky roads, which 
plastered them with white dust from steel helmet downwards, 
and put a white mask upon their faces, except where the sweat 
came down in gullies. Artillerymen were leading up reserve 
horses, who put their ears back for a moment, as though to 
switch off flies, when heavy guns blared forth close to them 
and shells of at least 8-inch calibre went howling overhead to 
the enemy s lines. 

At wayside corners were field dressing-stations flying the 
Ued Cross flag, and surrounded by little parks of ambulances, 
where stretchermen were busy. And every now and then, 
at a cross-road or a by-path, a wooden notice-board directed 
the way in red letters and the words " Walking wounded." 

This was the Via Dolorosa of men who could hobble away 
from the battlefield up there and get back on their legs to save 
transport more badly needed by stricken comrades. 

Closer to the lines there was a scene which would make one 
weep if one had the weakness of tears after two years of war. 
Our dead were being buried in a newly made cemetery, and 
some of their comrades were standing by the open graves and 



54 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

sorting out the crosses the little wooden crosses which grow 
in such a harvest across these fields of France. 

They were white above the brown earth, and put into neat 
rows, and labelled with strips of tin bearing the names of those 
who now have peace. 

French troops were mingled among our own men. A working 
party of them came along shouldering picks and shovels. They 
were Territorials, past the fighting age, but tall, sturdy, hardened 
men, with a likeness to their young sons, who, with less weight 
but with the same hard bronzed look, are fighting the new 
battles of the war. 

It was the sound of French guns away to the south which 
was making most commotion in the air to-day. Big fighting 
was going on there, as though the French were making a 
further advance, and the " rafale of their field-guns was in 
cessant and like the roll of many drums. 



As I went over the battlefield of Montauban the enemy s 
shells and our own were falling over Bernafay Wood, where 
each side held part of the ground. A little to my left Mametz 
was being pounded heavily by the German gunners, and they 
were flinging shrapnel and " crumps into the ragged fringe 
of trees just in front of me, which marks the place where the 
village of Montauban once stood. They were also barraging 
a line of trench just below the trees, and keeping a steady 
flow of fivc-point-nines into one end of the wood to the right 
of Montauban, for which our men are now fighting. 

Other shells came with an irregular choice of place over the 
battlefield, and there were moments when those clouds oi 
black shrapnel overhead suggested an immediate dive into the 
nearest dug-out. 

I passed across our old line of trenches, from which on 
Saturday morning our men went out cheering to that great 
attack which carried them to the farthest point gained thai 
day, in spite of heavy losses. The trenches now were fillec 
with litter collected from the battlefield stacks of rifles anc 
kit, piles of hand-grenades, no longer needed by those whc 
owned them. 

This old system of trenches, in which French troops livec ( 



THE DEATH-SONG OF THE GERMANS 55 

for many months of war before they handed them over to our 
men, was like a ruined and deserted town left hurriedly because 
of plague, and in great disorder. Letters were lying about, 
and bully-beef tins, and cartridge-clips. Our men had gone 
forward and these old trenches are abandoned. 

It is beyond the power of words to give a picture of the German 
trenches over this battlefield of Montauban, where we now 
hold the line through the wood beyond. Before Saturday 
last it was a wide and far-reaching network of trenches, with 
many communication ways, and strong traverses and redoubts 
so that one would shiver at their strength to see them marked 
on a map. No mass of infantry, however great, would have 
dared to assault such a position with bombs and rifles. 

It was a great underground fortress, which any body of men 
could have held against any others for all time apart from the 
destructive power of heavy artillery. But now ! . . . Why 
now it was the most frightful convulsion of earth that the eyes 
of man could see. 

The bombardment by our guns had tossed all these earth 
works into vast rubbish-heaps. We had made this ground 
one vast scries of shell-craters, so deep and so broad that it 
was like a field of extinct volcanoes. 

The ground rose and fell in enormous waves of brown earth, 
so that standing above one crater I saw before me these solid 
billows with 30-feet slopes stretching away like a sea frozen 
after a great storm. We had hurled thousands of shells from 
our heaviest howitzers and long-range guns into this stretch 
of field. 

4 

3 

v 

I saw here and touched here the awful result of that great 
gunfire which I had watched from the centre of our batteries 
on the morning of July 1. That bombardment had annihilated 
the German position. Even many of the dug-outs, going 30 
feet deep below the earth and strongly timbered and cemented, 
had been choked with masses of earth so that many dead bodies 
lay buried there. But some had been left in spite of the 
upheaval of earth around them, and into some of these I crept 
down, impelled by the strong grim spell of those little dark 
rooms below where German soldiers lived only a few days ago. 

They seemed haunted by the spirits of the men who had 



56 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

made their homes here and had carried into these holes the 
pride of their souls, and any poetry they had in their hearts, 
and their hopes and terrors, and memories of love and life in 
the good world of peace. I could not resist going down to such 
places, though to do so gave me gooseflesh. 

I had to go warily, for on the stairways were uncxploded 
bombs of the " hair-brush " style. A stumble or a kick might 
send one to eternity by high-explosive force, and it was difficult 
not to stumble, for the steps were broken or falling into a 
landslide. 

Down inside the little square rooms were filled with the 
relics of German officers and men. The deal tables were strewn 
with papers, on the wooden bedsteads lay blue-grey overcoats. 
Wine bottles, photograph albums, furry haversacks, boots, 
belts, kit of every kind had all been tumbled together by 
British soldiers who had come here after the first rush to the 
enemy s trenches and searched for men in hiding. 

There were men in hiding now, though harmless. In one 
of the dug-outs where I groped my way down it was pitch- 
dark. I stumbled against something, and fumbled for my 
matches. When I struck a light I saw in a corner of the room 
a German. 

He lay curled up, with his head on his arm, as though asleep. 
I did not stay to look at his face, but went up quickly. And 
yet I went down others and lingered in one where no corpse 
lay because of the tragic spirit that dwelt there and put its 
spell on me. I picked up some letters. 

They were all written to " dear brother Wilhclm from 
sisters and brothers, sending him their loving greetings, praying 
that his health was good, promising to send him gifts of food, 
and yearning for his home-coming. " Since your last letter and 
card," said one of them, " we have heard nothing more from 



vou. 

/ 

t 



Every time the postman conies we hope for a little note 
from you. .... Dear Wilhclm, in order to be patient with 
your fate you must thank God because you have found fortune 
in misfortune." 

Poor, pitiful letters ! I was ashamed to read them because 
it seemed like prying into another man s secrets, though he 
was dead. 

There was a little book I picked up. It is a book of soldiers 



THE DEATH-SONG OF THE GERMANS 57 

songs, full of old German sentiment, about " the little mother 
and the old house at home and the pretty girl who kissed her 
soldier boy before he went off to the war. And here is the sad 
old " Morgenlied," which has been sung along many roads of 
France. 

" Red morning sun ! Red morning sun ! Do you light me to 
an early death ? Soon will the trumpets sound, and I must 
leave this life, and many a comrade with me. 

" I scarcely thought my joy w r ould end like this. Yesterday 
I rode a proud steed ; to-day I am shot through the chest ; 
to-morrow I shall be in the cold grave, O red morning 
sun ! 

On the front page of this book, which I found to-day at 
Montauban, there is an Army Order from Prince von Rupprecht 
of Bavaria to the soldiers of the Sixth Army. 

" We have the fortune," it says, " to have the English on 
our front, the troops of those people whose envy for years 
has made them work to surround us with a ring of enemies in 
order to crush us. It is to them that we owe this bloody and 
most horrible war. . . , Here is the antagonist who stands most 
in the way of the restoration of peace. Forward ! 

It seemed to me that the preface by Prince Rupprecht of 
Bavaria spoilt the sentiment in the German folk-songs, which 
were full of love rather than of hate. 



I. stood again above-ground, in the shell-craters. Other 
shells were coming over my head with their indescribable 
whooping, and the black shrapnel was still bursting about the 
fields, and the Germans were dropping five-point-nincs along 
a line a hundred yards away. 

" Be careful about those dug-outs," said an officer. " Some 
of them have charged mines inside, and there may be Germans 
still hiding in them." 

Two Germans were found hiding there to-day. Some of 
our men found themselves being sniped, and after a search 
found that the shots were coming from a certain section of 
trench in which there were communicating dug-outs. 

After cunning trappers work they isolated one dug-out in 
which the snipers w r ere concealed. 



58 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

" Come out of that," shouted our men. Surrender like 
good boys." 

But the only answer they had was a shot. 

The dug-out was bombed, but the men went through an 
underground passage into another one. Then a charge of 
ammonal was put down and the dug-out blown to bits. 



This afternoon, while I was still on the battlefield of Montau- 
ban, a great thunder-storm broke. It was sudden and violent, 
and rain fell in sheets. The sky became black with a greenish 
streak in it when the lightning forked over the high wooded 
ridges towards La Boisselle and above Fricourt Wood. 

" Heaven s artillery ! said an officer, and his words were 
not flippant. There was something awe-inspiring in the 
darkness that closed in upon these battlefields and the great 
rolls of thunder that mingled with the noise of the guns. 
Artillery observation was impossible, but the guns still fired, 
and their flashes were as vivid as the lightning, revealing 
through the murk the dark figures of marching men, and the 
black woods slashed with shell-fire just above Montauban. In 
a little while the low-lying ground was flooded, so that the 
guns in the valleys were in water, and the horse transport 
splashed through ponds, scattering fountains above their axles, 
and rivers ran down the broken trenches of the old German 
line. 

I stood in the storm watching this scene of war, and the 
gloom and terror of it closed about me. 



THE ATTACK ON THE LEFT 



JULY 5 

LAST night and this morning the enemy made attempts to 
drive our men out of their positions at Thiepval, but were 
repulsed with heavy losses. Their bombers advanced in 
strong numbers upon the Leipzig Trench, south of the village 
of Thiepval, and at the same time north of the cemetery to 
St.-Pierre-Divion, but in neither case did they have any 
success. 

At other parts of the line, between La Boisselle and Montauban, 
there were bombardments by the enemy s batteries and by 
our own ; and by hard fighting we have captured Peak Trench 
and the important system of trenches known as the Quadrangle, 
north-east of La Boisselle and on the way to Contalmaison. 

Standing to-day on the battlefield north of Ovillers-La 
Boisselle I was able to look over a wide area of the zone of fire 
and to see our new positions. Straight in front of me was 
Thiepval Wood, marked by a ragged fringe of broken trees, 
through which appeared the ruins of the village. 

Heavy shells were falling there and our shrapnel was bursting 
thickly upon the high ground held by the enemy. To the 
left of me was Beaumont-Hamel, opposite Auchonvillers, and 
the village of Authuille. 

It is historic ground. A hundred years hence men of our 
blood will come here with reverence as to sacred soil. For 
over this stretch of country, a few miles wide, has been fought 
one of the great battles of history, and here many thousands of 
our men advanced upon the enemy with a spirit of marvellous 
self-sacrifice, beyond the ordinary courage of men. 

They faced hellish fires, but without faltering. There was 



60 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

not one man who turned and fled at a time when the bravest 
of them might have quailed. They were all heroes worthy of 
the highest honour which may be given for valour in the field. 
Something supernatural seemed to animate these battalions 
of English boys and these battalions of Irish and Scots, so 
that they went forward into furnace fires at Bcaumont-Hamel 
and Gommecourt as though to fair fields, and when many of 
them stood in the very presence of death it was to the cry of 
4; No surrender ! Then they went forward again to meet 
their fate. 



Their losses were heavy. It is tragic as well as wonderful, 
this story of our advance upon the German lines, when we 
captured their trenches by an assault that could not be resisted 
at first even by overwhelming gun-fire. I have spoken to 
Brigadiers who mourn many of their dear men. The agony 
in their eyes made it difficult to face them. The number of 
casualties was high throughout the whole length of front on 
the left of our attack, and inevitable because the valour of the 
men counted no cost in their assault against positions terribly 
strong, as they knew, but not stronger than their resolve to 
carry them. 

The enemy s losses were frightful too, and his courage great. 
It was because very brave men were on both sides that the 
battlefield in this region was strewn with stricken men. 

They were men of the North Country who were on the left 
of our attack between Ovillers-La Boisselle and a point south 
of Hebuterne. As soon as our bombardment lifted at 7.30 on 
the morning of July 1 the brigade left its trenches and advanced 
line by line in perfect order as though on parade. 

The ground in front of them was wrecked by our shell-fire. 
Several times during the bombardment the trenches had 
heaved and changed their form, so that all the contours of the 
earth were altered. But there were many men still left alive 
below-ground in the German dug-outs, those deep dug-outs of 
theirs that go below the reach of even the heaviest shells, and 
with them were many machine-guns and deadly weapons. 

Behind them also was a great concentration of artillery, for 
it is evident that the enemy had expected attack here, perhaps 
our main attack, and had massed his heaviest guns at this 



THE ATTACK ON THE LEFT 61 

point. His barrage was immense in its effect of fire upon our 
trenches and the ground between ours and his. To reach his 
line our men had to pass through a wall of bursting shells. 
Our own barrage continued intensely, but at the moment of 
the infantry attack the German soldiers stood up on their 
parapets in the very face of this bombardment and fired upon 
our advancing men with automatic rifles. 

Their machine-gunners also showed an extreme courage, and 
with amazing audacity forced their way over the broken 
parapets into No Man s Land and swept our ranks with a scythe 
of bullets. Numbers of our men dropped, but others went on, 
charging the machine-guns with fixed bayonets, hurling bombs 
at the men on the parapets, and forcing their way into and 
across the German trenches. Wave after wave followed, and 
those who did not fall went on, into the enemy s first line, 
into the enemy s second line, then on again to his third line, 
and by a kind of miracle even to his fourth line. There were 
men who went as far as Serre. They never came back. 

The enemy s guns kept up a continuous bombardment from 
7.30 till midday, like an incessant roll of drums, and the ground 
over which our men continued to advance was cratered like a 
system of trous-de-loup. An orderly who tried to come back 
with a message from the men in front was buried three times 
on his way, but struggled out and delivered his report. Human 
courage could not reach greater heights than these men showed. 



On the right of these North -country men were other bodies 
of troops from the West of England, the Midlands, and Eastern 
Counties, with battalions of Irish and Scottish troops. They, 
too, had to face a great ordeal. When they went towards the 
German trenches, not at- a rush, but at parade step, under a 
storm of shells, the enemy came up out of their dug-outs 
with machine-guns and rifles, and fought very stubbornly 
even when the Midland men and other English troops reached 
them with bombs and bayonets. There was a fierce corps-a- 
corps in the first-line trench until most of the enemy were 
killed. 

Then our men went on to the second German line under 
still fiercer fire. By this time they were in an inferno of shell- 



62 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

fire and smoke, as nothing was seen of them by artillery observers 
until at 8.45 some rockets went up very far into the German 
lines, showing that some of the Territorials had got as far as 
their last objective. Some of the infantry (they were two of 
the Essex Regiments and the King s Own of the 4th Division) 
went as far as Pendant Copse south-east of Serre. Messages 
came through from them. Urgent messages calling for help. 
" For God s sake send us bombs." 

But the enemy s gun-fire was so violent and so deep in its 
barrage that nothing could pass through it, and it was impossible 
to send up relief to men who had gone too far in their keen 
desire to break the German lines. 

A little farther south were some Irish, Welsh, and Scottish 
troops. When they left their trenches our bombardment was 
still at its full weight, but suddenly the noise of it was obliterated 
entirely, so that not a gun was heard, by a new and more 
terrible sound. 

It was the sound as though great furnace fires were weeping 
flames across No Man s Land with a steady blast, and it came 
from German machine-guns in the stronghold of Beaumont - 
Hamel and from more German machine-guns in concrete 
emplacements which had escaped our gun-fire upon the enemy s 
trenches. 

Many of our men fell. Some of the Irish troops (the Ulster 
men) lost severely. But other ranks marched on, not quickly, 
but at a quiet leisurely pace, never faltering as gaps were made 
in their ranks. 

Some of them did not even trouble to wear their steel casques, 
but carried them, as though for future use if need be. And 
they went across the German trenches and right ahead into 
the very heart of a storm of fire, too quickly, in spite of their 
calm way of going, because they did not clear the German 
dug-outs as they passed, and men came out and bombed them 
from the rear. South of Beaumont-Hamel were some other 
battalions, whose advance was upon Thiepval Wood, and they 
fought with extraordinary resolution and hardihood. 

It was they who shouted " No surrender ! " as their battle- 
cry, and these tough, hard, gallant men forced their way forward 
over ground raked by every kind of shot and shell. The 
enemy s trenches could not resist their attack, and they stormed 
their way through, killing many of the enemy who resisted 



THE ATTACK ON THE LEFT 63 

them. In Thiepval Wood, where the trees were slashed by 
shrapnel, they collected their strength, formed into line, and 
stood the shock of several German counter-attacks. Then thev 

/ 

charged and flung down the enemy s ranks, taking more than 
200 prisoners. 

Another counter-attack w r as made upon the soldiers who had 
forced their way to the outskirts of Thiepval village, from 
which there came an incessant chatter of machine-gun fire. 
Some of them were cut off from all support, but they fought 
forward, and the shout of " No surrender ! " came from them 
again, though they were sure of death. 

This attack by our troops on the left of the theatre of attack 
is one of the greatest revelations of human courage ever seen 
in history. The tragedy of it for the loss of many brave men 
makes it tragic is brightened by the shining valour of all 
these splendid soldiers, to whom death, in those great hours, 
had no kind of terror. 

The lightly wounded men who came back, and there were 
large numbers of lightly wounded men, were proud of their 
adventure and hopeful of victory. They had no panic in their 
eyes or hearts. It w r as a weary w r alk for many of them down 
to the Red House, where their wounds were stanched. They 
had two miles to go, and it was a long two miles to men weak 
from the loss of blood, dizzy, tired to the point of death. Some 
of them staggered and fell at the very gate of the dressing- 
station, but even then they spoke brave words and said, 
" We ve got em on the run ! 

The enemy behaved well, I am told, to our wounded men 
at some parts of the line, and helped them over the parapets. 
This makes us loath to tell other stories not so good. Let us 

o 

not think, just now, of the ugliness of battle, but rather of the 
beauty of these men of ours, who were forgetful of self and 
faced the cruellest fire with a high and noble courage. 



VI 

THE LONDON MEN AT GOMMECOURT 



JULY 19 

As long ago as Loos, which seems an enormous time ago, it 
was proved that London produces men of great fighting 
qualities, not weakened by City life, and, in spite of more 
sensitive nerves than country-bred men, able to stand the 
strain of battle just as well, with a quick intelligence in a tight 
corner, and with pride and imagination that do not let them 
surrender self-respect. 

London men fight on their nerves," said one of our Generals 
the other day, " but they make great soldiers. More stolid 
men often give way to shell-shock and strain more easily than 
the Londoner, with all his sensibility." 

In our great attack of July 1 some of the London battalions 
again showed a very fine courage and a most self-sacrificing 
devotion to duty in hours of supreme ordeal. 

They broke the German line at Gommecourt and when 
ill-luck beset them on either side, so that they found themselves 
in utterly untenable positions, w r ith heavy losses, they held on 
stubbornly against the enemy s counter-attacks, and suffered 
all tht war can make men suffer there is hardly a limit to 
that, God knows with Stoic endurance. 

These men belonged to old Volunteer regiments, famous in 
times of peace, when once a year young City clerks and pro 
fessional men took a fortnight s leave at Easter for manoeuvres 
on Salisbury Plain, and came back rather stiff and rather 
bronzed, with stories of sham-fights and jolly bivouacs at night, 
and smoking concerts with good fellows who lead a chorus. 
It was a great adventure in times of peace ! 



But even when the Volunteers changed their form into the 



THE LONDON MEN AT GOMMECOURT 65 

Territorials and war tightened up in discipline, and attended 
more drills and had a harder time in camp, no man guessed 
that before a year or two had passed the Queen s Westminsters 
would be fighting through hell-fire in France, or that " the old 
Vies " the Queen Victoria Rifles would be smashing through 
German barbed wire under machine-gun fire, or that the 
Rangers and the London Rifle Brigade and the London Scottish 
would be crossing ground, strewn with dead and wounded, 
in a storm of high explosives. 

Punch made funny pictures about this amateur soldiering. 
The " Terriers " were not thought to count for much by military 
critics who had seen service in South Africa. . . . 

Well, in this war the Territorial infantry and the Territorial 
gunners have counted for a great deal, and during these last 
few days they have proved themselves, once again, great 
soldiers great in attack and great in resistance. 



When the four leading battalions left their trenches near 
Gommecourt at 7.30 after the great bombardment of the German 
position they had a long way to go before they reached the 
enemy s front lines. 

No Man s Land was a broad stretch of ground, 400 yards across 
in some parts, and not less than 200 yards at the narrowest point. 

It was a long, long journey in the open, for 50 yards, or 20, 
are long enough to become a great graveyard if the enemy s 
machine-guns get to work. 

But they advanced behind dense smoke-clouds, which rolled 
steadily towards the German trenches and kept down the 
machine-gunners in their dug-outs. Unlike the experience of 
most of our men in other parts of the line, they escaped lightly 
from machine-gun fire, and their chief risk was from the barrage 
of shell-fire which the enemy flung across No Man s Land with 
some intensity. 

But the Londoners started forward to this line of high explo 
sives and went on and through at a quick pace, in open order. 
On the left was the London Rifle Brigade, in the centre came 
the Rangers and "Vies," on the right the London Scottish, and, 
behind, the Queen s Westminsters and Kensingtons, who were 
to advance through the others. 



66 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

Men fell across the open ground, caught by flying bits of 
shell or buried by the great bursts of high explosives which 
opened up the earth. But the others did not look back, afraid 
to weaken themselves by the sight of their stricken comrades, 
and at a great pace, half walking and half running, reached the 
German line. It was no longer a system of trenches. 

It was a sea of earth with solid waves. Our heavy guns 
had annihilated parapet and parados, smashed the timbers 
into matchwood, strewn sandbags into rubbish-heaps, and 
made a great wreckage. But German industry below-ground 
was proof against all this shell-fire, and many of the dug-outs 
still stood. 

They were full of Germans, for the line was strongly held, 
and many of these men came up with their machine-guns and 
bombs to resist the attack. But the Londoners sprang upon 
them, swept over them, and captured the front network of 
trenches with amazing speed. 

It was not a steady-going business, slow and deliberate. 
The quick mind of the London man spurred him to quick 
action. 

He did not linger to collect souvenirs, or to chat with 
English-speaking Germans. " London leads ! was the shout 
of Victorias and Westminsters. 

The London Scottish were racing forward on the right with 
their brown kilts swinging across the broken ground. But the 
officers kept their heads and as much order as possible at such 
a time. 

They held back enough men to clear the dug-outs and collect 
prisoners the best kind of souvenirs. 

Two hundred of them were captured in the dug-outs and 
brought up and sent back over the place that had been No 
Man s Land and now, for a time, was ours. 

At least 200 came back, but there were many more who 
never got back, though they started on the journey under 
armed guard. 



The enemy s artillery was increasing the density of the 
barrage upon our old front-line trenches and the ground in 
front of them. 

He made a wall of high explosives through which no living 



THE LONDON MEN AT GOMMECOURT 67 

thing could pass. The escorts and their prisoners tried to 
pass and failed. 

At the time the London men fighting forward did not think of 
that barrage behind them. They were eager to get on, to be 
quick over the first part of their business before taking breath 
for the next. 

And they got on with astounding speed. In less than the 
time it has taken me to write this narrative No Man s Land 
had been crossed, the trenches had been taken, the prisoners 
collected and sent back on their way, and German strongholds 
and redoubts behind the first system of trench-work had been 
seized by London regiments. 

It would have taken them longer to walk from Charing Cross 
to St. Paul s Churchyard with no Germans in the way. It 
was the quickest bit of work that has been done by any freemen 
of the city. 

The Riflemen had swarmed into a strong point on the left, 
knocking out the machine-guns, and on the right the London 
Scots were holding a strong redoubt in a very ugly corner of 
ground. Everything had been wx>n that London had been 
asked to win. 

Before some hours had passed these London soldiers knew 
that they were in a death-trap and cut off from escape. 

Owing to the great strength of the enemy to the right and 
left of the position, where they had concentrated masses of guns 
and where the ground was more difficult to carry, the troops 
on either side of the Londoners, in spite of heroic courage 
and complete self-sacrifice, had advanced so far. 

The London men had therefore thrust forward a salient into 
the German lines, and were enclosed by the enemy. 

Behind them, on the way to their own lines, the enemy s 
barrage was steadily becoming more violent. Having stopped 
the other attacks to the north and south, he was now able to 
concentrate the fire of his guns upon the ground in the London 
area, and by the early afternoon he had smashed our trenches 
and communication -trenches, while still flinging out a line of 
high explosives to prevent supports coming up to the men who 
were in the captured salient. 

They were cut off, and had no other means of rorcue but 
their own courage. 

Desperate efforts were made by their comrades behind to 



68 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

send up supplies of ammunition and other means of defence. 
The carrying parties attempted again and again to cross No 
Man s Land, but suffered heavy casualties. 

One party of 60 men, with supplies of hand-grenades, set 
out on this journey, but only three came back. Single men 
went on with a few grenades, determined to carry some kind 
of support to the men in front, but fell dead or wounded before 
they reached their goal. 

On the right the London Scottish were holding on to their 
redoubt, building barricades and beating off the German 
bombers. But as the hours passed ammunition became scarce. 
Our supplies of bombs were almost exhausted, here and there 
quite exhausted. The London men went about collecting 
German bombs, and for some time these served, but not 
enough could be found to maintain effective fire. The position 
became more ugly. 

But the men did not lose heart. In those bad hours there 
were many men who showed great qualities of courage, and 
were great captains whatever their rank. One officer to 
mention only one w r as splendid when things were worst. 

He had taken command of a company when his senior 
officer was killed in the first assault, and kept his men in good 
heart so that they could organize a defence against the enemy s 
counter-attacks. 

They were surrounded by German grenadiers and suffered 
heavily from artillery, machine-gun, and sniping fire. The 
number of the wounded increased steadily. The bombing 
party keeping the enemy back flung all their bombs, and then 
had empty hands and were helpless. Not many rounds of 
ammunition were left for the riflemen. After that there would 
be no defence. But the officer would not give way to hopeless 
ness. He rallied six or seven good men about him, and ordered 
the others to retreat with the wounded and take their chance 
across No Man s Land while he put up a last fight. 

\\ith his small band he held the barricade until the others 
had gone away, and held on still until all but two of his men 
were killed. 

He was the last to leave, and by a miracle of luck came back 
to his own lines unwounded, except for a few scars and scratches. 
The courage of the man and his fine spirit saved the situation 
.at the most critical time, and saved also many good lives. 



THE LONDON MEN AT GOMMECOURT 69 

There were many men of fine valour there. Men of London, 
not bred for war, and liking life as one sees it when there are 
pretty faces in Kensington Gardens, and when there s sunlight 
on the windows in the Strand, and when the dome of St. Paul s 
rises like a white cloud above the buses in Ludgate Hill. 



4 

One of them was a lance-corporal who was wounded in two 
places, so badly that his right arm hung useless by his side. 
But he would not give in. 

4 If I can t use a weapon," he said, " I can give a lead to 
my chums." And he gave them a lead, taking charge of a 
group of men holding the left flank of a position, organizing 
them into bombing parties, and directing them to build 
barricades. He held on to his post until the German attack 
became too strong, and he was the last to leave. 

A boy in the London Scottish I played at ball with him 
once in an old garden when there was laughter in the world- 
escaped death by a kind of miracle. 

The trench he was in, with forty men, was being shelled to 
bits, and rather than fall into the hands of the Germans he 
decided to attempt escape. With one of his sergeants he made 
his way towards our lines, but had only gone a short distance 
when the sergeant was shot dead. 

A bullet came a moment later and struck my friend. It 
was deflected from his brandy-flask and went through his 
thigh, knocking him head over heels into a shell-hole. Here 
he lay for some hours until it was dark, when he succeeded in 
crawling back to his lines. 

He was the only one saved of his forty comrades. 

Gradually the men withdrew, straggling back across No 
Man s Land, which was still under great shell-fire, so that the 
way of escape was full of peril. 

It was the turn of the stretcher-bearers, and they worked 
with great courage. And here one must pay a tribute to the 
enemy. 

We had white men against us," said one of the officers, 
c and they let us get in our wounded without hindrance as 
soon as the fight was over." 

It is only fair to say that they acted with humanity, and one 



70 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

wishes to God that they would not use such foul means of 
destruction as those newly invented by chemists with devilish 
cruelty. 

The soldiers are better than their scientists, and in this case 
at least they remembered the spirit of chivalry which they 
have not often remembered in all the foulness of this war. 

It was difficult enough to get in the wounded. Many of 
them could not be found or brought back and stayed on the 
field of battle suffering great anguish for days and nights. 
One man who was wounded early in the battle of July 1 crawled 
over to three other wounded men and stayed with them until 
the night of July 6. 

During that time he tended his comrades, who were worse 
than he was, and went about among dead men gathering food 
and water from their haversacks and bottles. 

But for him his friends would have died. On the night of 
the 6th he succeeded in getting back to our lines across that 
awful stretch of No Man s Land, and then insisted upon going 
back as the guide of the stretcher-bearers who brought in the 
others. 



VII 

THE MEN WHO FOUGHT AT FRICOURT 

i 

JULY 6 

THERE is something strangely inhuman in the aspect of a 
battle watched from the edge of its furnace fires, or even as I 
stood watching it within the crescent of our guns. Battalions 
move forward like ants across the field, and one cannot see the 
light in men s eyes nor distinguish between one man and 
another. 

In this war and in this latest battle I have seen the quality 
of manhood uplifted to wonderful heights of courage beyond 
the range of normal laws ; and these soldiers of ours, these 
fine and simple men, go forward to the highest terrors with 
such singing hearts that one can hardly keep a little moisture 
from one s eyes when they go passing on the roads. 

They picked wild flowers and put them in their belts and 
caps red poppies and blue cornflowers and when the word 
came to march again they went forward towards the front 
with a fine swinging pace and smiling faces under the sweat 
and dust. Yet they know what battle means. 

I went to-day again among the men who fought at Fricourt. 
Some of them had come back behind the lines, and outside 
their billets the divisional band was playing, but not to much of 
an audience, for of those who fought at Fricourt in the first 
assault there are not large numbers left. The officers who came 
round the village with me had a lonely look. After battle, 
such a battle as this, it is difficult to keep the sadness out of 
one s eyes. So many good fellows have gone. . . . But they 
were proud of their men. They found a joy in that. The 
men had done gloriously. They had won their ground and 
held it through frightful fire. " The men were topping." 



72 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

There were a lot of Yorkshire men amon^ them who fought 

o o 

at Fricourt and it was those I saw to-day. They were the 
heroes, with other North-country lads, of one of the most 
splendid achievements of British arms ever written down in 
history. 

Some of them were still shaken. When they spoke to me 
their words faltered now and then, and a queer look came into 
their eyes. But, on the whole, they were astoundingly calm, 
and had not lost their sense of humour. Of the first advance 
over No Man s Land, which was 150 yards across to the enemy s 
front-line trench, some of these men could remember nothing. 
It was just a dreadful blank. 

I was just mad at the time," said one of them. " The 
first thing I know is that I found myself scrambling over the 
German parapets with a bomb in my hand. The dead were 
lying all round me." 

But a sergeant there remembered all. He kept his wits 
about him, strangely clear at such a time. He saw that his 
men were being swept with machine-gun fire, so that they all 
lay down to escape its deadly scythe. But he saw also that the 
bullets were just washing the ground so that the prostrate men 
were being struck in great numbers. 

He stood up straight and called upon the others to stand, 
thinking it would be better to be hit in the feet than in the 
head. Then he walked on and came without a scratch to the 
German front line. 



Here and in the lines behind there was a wreckage of earth 
from our bombardment, but several of the dug-outs had been 
untouched and in them during our gun-fire men were sitting 
30 feet down, with machine-guns ready, and long periscopes, 
through which they could see our lines and the first wave of 
advancing men. Before the word reached them, those German 
machine-gunners had rushed upstairs and behind the cover 
of their wrecked trenches fired bursts of bullets at our men. 

Each gun -team had with them a rifleman who was a crack 
shot, and who obeyed his army orders to pick off English 
officers. So they sniped our young lieutenants with cool and 
cruel deliberation. Two of them who were dressed as privates 
escaped for this reason. Many of the others fell. 



THE MEN WHO FOUGHT AT FRICOURT 73 

" With so many officers gone," said one of the Yorkshire 
lads, " it was every man for himself, and we carried on as 
best we could." 

They carried on as far as the second and third lines, in a 
desperate fight with German soldiers who appeared out of the 
tumbled earth and flung bombs with a grim refusal of surrender. 

" Well, if you re asking for it," said one of our men and he 
hurled himself upon a great German and ran his bayonet 
through the man s body. 

It was bloody work for boys who are not butchers by instinct. 
Passion caught hold of them and they saw red. 

I don t know how it was," said one of them, with a queer 
thoughtfulness in his eyes as he groped back to this moment 
of fierce excitement. " Before I went over I had no rage in 
me. I didn t want this hand-to-hand business. But suddenly 
I found myself fighting like a demon. It was my life or theirs, 
and I was out to kill first." 

There was not much killing at that spot. When most of our 
men were within ten yards many of the Germans who had been 
flinging bombs lifted up their hands and cried Mercy ! to 
those whom they had tried to blow to bits. 

It w r as rather late to ask for mercy, but it was given to them. 
There was a search into the dug-outs do you understand that 
all this was under great shell -fire ? and many Germans were 
found in hiding there. 

I surrender," said a German officer, putting his head out 
of a hole in the earth, " and I have a wounded man with me." 
All right," said a Yorkshire sergeant ; " fetch him up, and 
no monkey tricks." 

But out of the hole came not one man, but fortv, in a lon<c 

* *> CJ 

file that seemed never to end, all of whom said " Kamerad ! 
to the sergeant, who answered, " Good day to you ! and how 
many more ? 

They were a nuisance to him then. He wanted to get on 
and this was waste of time. But he sent back 42 prisoners 
with three lightly wounded fellows of his company he could 
not spare more and then advanced with his men beyond the 
German third line. 

Bunches of men were straggling forward over the shell- 
broken ground towards the German line at Crucifix Trench, 
to the left of Fricourt. 



74 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

They knew that this trench was important,, that their lives 
were well given if they could capture it. And these Yorkshire 
boys from the hills and dales thought nothing of their lives so 
that they could take it. 



They unslung their bombs, looked to the right and left, 
where German heavies were falling, cursed the chatter of 
machine-guns from Fricourt village, and said " Come on, 
lads ! to the men about them. Not one man faltered or 
turned back, or lingered with the doubt that he had gone 
far enough. 

They stumbled forward over the shell-craters, over dead 
bodies, over indescribable things. Crucifix Trench was reached. 
It was full of Germans, who were hurling bombs from it, from 
that trench and the sunken road near by. 

The Yorkshire boys went through a barrage of bombs, 
hurled their own, worried through the broken parapets and 
over masses of tumbled earth, and fought single fights with 
big Germans, like terrier dogs hunting rats and worrying them. 
Parties bombed their way down the sunken road. 

Those who fell, struck by German bombs, shouted " Get on 
to em, lads," to others who came up. In bits of earthwork 
German heads looked up, white German faces, bearded, and 
covered with clav like dead men risen. 

tj 

They put up trembling hands and cried their word of com 
radeship to those enemy boys. 

" Well, that s all right," said a Yorkshire captain. " We ve 
got the Crucifix. And meanwhile our guns are giving us the 
devil." 



Our gunners did not know that Crucifix Trench was taken. 
Some of our shells were dropping very close. 

" It s time for a red light," said the Yorkshire captain. He 
had a bullet in his ribs, and was suffering terribly, but he still 
commanded his men. 

A red rocket went up, high through the smoke over all this 
corner of the battlefield. Somewhere it was seen by watchful 
eyes, in some O.P. or by some flying fellow. Our guns lifted. 
The[shells went forward, crashing into Shelter Wood beyond. 



THE MEN WHO FOUGHT AT FRICOURT 75 

" Good old gunners ! " said a sergeant. " By God, they re 
playing the game to-day ! 

But other men had seen the red rocket above Crucifix 
Trench. It stood in the sky like a red eye looking down upon 
the battlefield. The German gunners knew that the British 
were in Crucifix Trench. They lowered their guns a point or 
two, shortening their range, and German shells came crumping 
the earth, on either side, registering the ground. 

" And where do we go next, captain ? : asked a Yorkshire 
boy. It seemed he felt restless where he was. 

The captain thought Shelter Wood might be a good place 
to see. He chose ten men to see it with him, and they were 
very willing. 

With the bullet in his ribs it hurt him horribly he climbed 
out of Crucifix Trench, and crawled forward with his ten 
men to the wood beyond. 

It was full of Germans. At the south-west corner of it was 
a redoubt, with machine-guns and a bomb-store. The German 
bombers were already flinging their grenades across to the 
Crucifix. 

The wounded captain said that ten men were not enough to 
take Shelter Wood it would need a thousand men, perhaps, 
so he crawled back with the others. 

They stayed all night in Crucifix Trench, and it was a dread 
ful night. At ten o clock the enemy opened an intense bom 
bardment of heavies and shrapnel, and maintained it at full 
pitch until two o clock next morning. 

There were 900 men up there and in the neighbourhood. 
When morning came there were not so many, but the others 
were eager to get out and get on. 

The Yorkshire spirit was unbeaten. The grit of the North 
Country was still there in the morning after the first assault. 



Queer adventures overtook men who played a lone hand in 
this darkness and confusion of battle. One man I met to-day 
-true Yorkshire, with steel in his eyes and a burr in his 
speech ; it was strange to hear the Saxon words he used 
rushed with some of his friends into Birch Tree Wood, which 
was not captured until two days later. 



76 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

There were many Germans there, but not visible. Suddenly 
the Yorkshire lad found himself quite alone, his comrades 
having escaped from a death-trap, for the wood was being 
shelled as I saw myself that day with an intense fire from 
our guns. 

The lonely boy, who was a machine-gunner without his gun, 
thought that things were " pretty thick," as, indeed, they 
were, but he decided that the risks of death were less if he 
stayed still than if he moved. 

Presently, as he crouched low, he saw a German coming. 
He was crawling along on his hands and knees, and blood was 
oozing from him. As he crawled, a young Yorkshire soldier, 
also badly wounded, passed him at a little distance in the 
wood. 

The German stared at him. Then he raised himself, though 
still on his knees, and fired at the boy with his revolver, so 
that he fell dead. The German went on his hands again to go 
on with his crawling, but another shot ripped through the trees, 
and he crawled no more. 

It was fired by the man who had been left alone the young 
man I saw to-day. "I killed the brute," he said, "and I m 
glad of it." 

Our shells were bursting very fiercely over the wood, slashing 
off branches and ploughing up the earth. The lonely boy 
searched about for a dug-out and found one. When he went 
down into it he saw three dead Germans there, and he sat with 
them for more than eight hours while our bombardment lasted. 
There was another lad I met who was also a machine-gunner, 
and alone in the battle zone. He was alone when fourteen of 
his comrades had been knocked out. But single-handed he 
carried and served his gun, from one place to another, all 
through the day, and part of next day, sniping odd parties of 
Germans with bursts of bullets. 

Another sturdy fellow I met came face to face with a German, 
who called out to him in perfect English : 

: Don t shoot. I was brought up in England and played 
footer for Bradford City. . . . By Jove ! I know your face, 
old man. Weren t you at the Victoria Hotel, Sheffield ? : 

It was a queer meeting on a battlefield. One of the grimmest 
things I have heard was told me by another Yorkshire boy. 
A German surrendered, and then suddenly, as this lad 



THE MEN WHO FOUGHT AT FRICOURT 77 

approached to make him prisoner, pulled the detonator of a 
bomb and raised it to throw. 

" I put my bayonet right close to him so suddenly that he 
was terrified, and forgot to fling his bomb. Then a queer kind 
of look came into his eyes. He remembered that the blooming 
bomb was going off. It went off, and blew him to bits." 

That is war. And the men who have told me these things 
are young men who do not like the things they have seen. 
But, because it is war, they go through to the last goal with a 
courage that does not quail. 

The men of this division next day took Shelter Wood and 
Fricourt, and captured many prisoners. 



VIII 

HOW THE PRUSSIANS FELL AT 
CONTALMAISON 



JULY 8 

AFTER the first four days of battle there was something like a 
lull of twenty-four hours a lull filled with the great noise of 
guns which was broken by fresh assaults made by our troops 
in the direction of Mametz Wood and Contalmaison. For two 
days now on Thursday and Friday there has been severe 
fighting in that territory, and although we lost Contalmaison 
last night after taking it in the morning, it is, I am sure, only a 
temporary set-back, for our position is strong in its neighbour 
hood, and great loss has been inflicted upon the enemy. The 
battle of Contalmaison, not yet finished, will be a distinct and 
important episode in the history of this campaign. 

I w r as able to see something of the battle all the fierce 
picture of our shell-fire but, at the time, with no accurate idea 
of what was really happening beyond our guns, and with that 
sense of confusion and mystery which all soldiers have when 
they are on the battlefield, knowing very little of what is going 
on to the left or right of them, not knowing what is happening 
to themselves, or why they stand where they do, or what order 
will next come to them, or whether our men are doing well or 
badly. 

2 

It was early in the morning that I went out beyond many of 
our batteries and watched the bombardment that was to pre 
cede the infantry attacks upon the enemy s positions in front 
of Contalmaison and, to the right, on Mametz Wood, where 
some of our men held the south-west corner. There were 



THE PRUSSIANS AT CONTALMAISON 79 

large bodies of troops about on high ground where our old 
trenches are, and bunched about in groups beyond, up a slope 
leading to the line from which our attack was to be made. They 
seemed to have nothing in the world to do except hang about 
in a casual way. Many of them were lying on the grass, or 
along roadsides, asleep. Not all the roar of the guns made them 
turn uneasily. They had been there all night, waiting to go up 
in support, and now, dog-tired, they were taking their chance 
of rest. 

It was not quite a safe spot for sleep. Although the enemy s 
guns were busy on different places, there was no knowing 
whether they might not shift a point or two this way at any 
moment. The roadway had already tempted some of their 
shells earlier in the morning. Tall beech-trees here and there 
had been cut clean in half, and a litter of branches and foliage 
lay below the broken stumps. There were new shell-craters 
in the field over the way, just where a company of R. A.M.C. men 
had sat down on their stretchers, waiting for work. But 
nobody seemed to worry. 

A captain of Pioneers spoke to me and said, " Any news ? : 

He was a middle-sized, keen-looking man, with a humorous 
look in his grey eyes, which were shaded by a steel helmet, 
khaki covered. He was as muddy as a scarecrow, and shivered 
a little after his night in the rain. 

" Dashed if I know what s happening," he said ; one never 
does. Our fellows are supposed to be going up, but no orders 
come along. There s our adjutant, waiting for em." I looked 
across the road and saw the adjutant. He was lying on his 
back, quite straight, at full length, with his head on his pack 
and his waterproof coat over him. He was profoundly asleep. 

The Pioneer captain pointed towards little masses of men 
below the crest of the rising ground, beyond which were hell- 
fires. 

" I thought they would go up an hour ago, but they re still 
waiting, poor lads. I expect they ll go in it all right in less than 
half an hour." 

He stared towards Mametz village. It was under a pall of 
greenish smoke, and not a minute passed without a big German 
shell bursting over it and raising black columns of cloud. 

Nasty kind of place," said the Pioneer. " Thought I 
should have to spend the night there. Glad I didn t, though ! 



80 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

And such a night ! I never saw anything like it. Exactly 
like hell, only worse ; a sky full of shells, and lights bursting 
like blazes. A regular Brock s Benefit. . . . Hallo, some of 
em are going up." 

The men who were in small bunches on the low ground were 
getting into a new kind of order. They were moving up towards 
the crest in extended formation. . . . 

A German shell was coming our way. I heard its high 
gobbling note, and shifted my steel hat a little, and hoped it 
might serve. There was a nasty crash fifty yards away below 
the road, where some of the men were bunched. ... A whistle 
sounded, and the R.A.M.C. men, who had been squatting on 
their stretchers, sprang up and ran, carrying their stretchers, 
down a side track. They had found some work to do. 

Two other shells came closer, and we changed our position 
a little. It was getting rather hot. 



But not so hot as other places, compared with which our 
ground was Paradise. Mametz village, behind our lines now, 
was being shelled heavily by the enemy, and was a very ugly 
spot, but even that was a health resort, as soldiers say, com 
pared with any of the German positions in the neighbourhood of 
Contalmaison. Our guns were concentrating their fire along 
a line north of Birch Tree Wood from Horseshoe Trench, now 
in our hands, across to Peak Wood and Quadrangle Trench away 
to Mametz Wood on the right. \Ve were also putting a terrific 
barrage round the village of Contalmaison and Acid Drop Copse. 
Our batteries, heavy and light, seemed to be in rings round this 
storm-centre. 

The heavies were away behind, and I could only know their 
existence by the great shells that came rushing overhead, from 
invisible places at long range, with a long drone like some great 
harp plucked by old god Thor, as each shell crossed the valley 
and smashed over the enemy s lines. They came in great 
numbers and from half the points of the compass, to fall upon 
that one stretch of ground a mile or so broad. Our field-guns 
were not invisible. 

I could see them winking and blinking in the valleys and up 
the slopes as far as the eye could range. They fired salvos or 



THE PRUSSIANS AT CONTALMAISON 81 

rounds with sharp and separated rat-tat-tats. Every kind of 
gun and howitzer old " Grandmothers," the long six-inchers, 
four-point-sevens, French soixante-quinze, and our own eighteen- 
pounders played the devil over the German lines. 

I think it was about eleven that they lifted and put a dense 
barrage of shells farther back. For the first time in my ex 
perience this moment was perceptible. It was a kind of hush 
for just a second, as though all the guns were taking breath. 
Then the tumult began again, while the infantry went forward 
into and through the smoke. A little while later I saw rockets 
high above the smoke in the direction of Contalmaison. Some 
thing told me, though without any certainty, that our men were 
in that village. 



From a visual point of view that is all I can tell, but to-day I 
have seen some of the officers who were directing this battle, 
and what happened is now much clearer, though not absolutely 
clear in all its details. The day before yesterday, after heavy 
fighting in the early stages of the battle, some of our battalions 
took possession of the Horseshoe Trench to the north-west 
of Birch Tree Wood and to the south-west of Contalmaison. 
Other battalions to the right were stretching along a line 
through Birch Tree Wood to the south of Mametz Wood. A 
curious affair was happening in a trench called the Old Jaeger 
Trench, running out of the Horseshoe towards a German 
redoubt to the west of Peak W 7 ood. 

Part of this trench was held by the troops on the left and part 
by the troops on the right, and both reported and believed that 
they held all of it. The truth was that a gap in the middle was 
still held by a party of Germans, who had machine-guns and 
bombs with which, presently, they made themselves unpleasant. 
Orders were sent to clear the trench of these ugly customers, 
and it was done by the troops on the left. Then orders were 
[*iven to clear forward to a triangle trench to the right of the 
Old Jaeger. It was a strong redoubt, and the Germans defended 
themselves so tenaciously at this point that it changed hands 
:hree times before our men held it for good. 

It yielded finally when the troops on the right fought their 

nvay up to Peak Wood, captured it, and enfiladed the enemy 

vvith machine-gun fire. At that moment they saw their position 

F 



82 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

was hopeless, and came running out with their hands up. 
Farther on there was a machine-gun emplacement which was 
giving us a good deal of trouble, but this was bombarded and 
rushed, and on the evening of July 6 the machine-gun, to use 
the words of one of the officers, was " done in." 

Yesterday morning the attack following the bombardment 
extended from these points south-west of Contalmaison away 
to the right. Unfortunately, although the fortune of war 
favoured us in another way, the troops on the right were unable 
to make much headway. But at this time an extraordinary, 
and, for the enemy, a terrible, thing happened. Some battalions 
of the Prussian Guard Reserve, hurriedly brought up a day 
or two ago from Valenciennes, and thrown into this battlefield 
without maps or guidance or local knowledge, advanced to meet 
our men on the right, and walked up, by an awful stroke of 
chance, straight into the terrific barrage which our guns had 
just started round Contalmaison. A whole battalion was cut 
to pieces. 

Many others suffered frightful things. I am told by some of 
the prisoners that they lost three-quarters of their number in 
casualties, and although this may be an exaggeration- 
prisoners always have the tendency to exaggerate their losses 
-it is certain that a mass of men were killed and wounded. 
As soon as our barrage lifted our troops on the right, most of 
them men of Yorkshire and northern counties, swept forward 
and without great trouble entered Contalmaison and Bailiff 
Wood to the north-west. It was their lights which I had seen 
signalling through the smoke. 

It was a magnificent success, not too dearly bought. But 
just when our position looked full of promise for the morrow 
disappointing news came in last night. It is here that the 
details of what happened are not clear. Germans were reported 
to be streaming out of Mametz Wood towards Contalmaison, 
apparently to make a counter-attack there. The enemy s guns 
were shelling the place. Rain fell heavily, and our men who 
had fought so well and so long were exhausted. 

Owing to the difficulty of communication and other troubles 
which happen at those times, the situation became confused, 
and late in the evening it was reported that Contalmaison had 
been evacuated as a temporary measure for defensive reasons. 

At the same time it was also reported that Mametz Wood had 



THE PRUSSIANS AT CONTALMAISON 83 

been so heavily shelled by our guns that much damage had been 
inflicted upon the Germans inside, some of whom had escaped 
to our lines. We are now holding the outskirts of Contal- 
maison, in, or in the neighbourhood of, the cemetery, and, I 
believe, Acid Drop Copse, so that we are in a sound position 
for further attack. 



A large number of prisoners were taken, and they came 
straggling back over the battlefield in miserable little groups. 
Some of them carried our wounded on stretchers or on their 
backs, and our men carried their wounded. 

They were the remnants of the 3rd Prussian Guard Division, 
which has been so utterly broken that it no longer exists as a 
fighting unit. Those who did not fall into our hands have been 
withdrawn from the line. The " moral " of the men as well as 
their fighting force has been smashed. Even the officers admit 
that they have no more stomach for the fight, and several of the 
men with whom I spoke to-day were frank in saying that they 
are glad to be prisoners to be safe at last from the frightfulness 
of this war. 

Some of them told me that after leaving Valenciennes a few 
days ago, after our attack had started, they were brought to 
Cambrai, and while the officers were sent on by motor-car they 
marched a long distance through unknown country to the 
front. They do not know the names of the villages through 
which they passed, their officers had no maps, and they had an 
ominous feeling that they were going to their doom. But the 
strength of our artillery and its deadly accuracy of aim sur 
prised them. 

.: They did not know the English had such gunners. Still more 
were they surprised by the dash of our infantry when they heard 
that they had against them " men of the New Armv.. We 
thought they were Guards," said these Prussian prisoners, who 
belonged chiefly to the Lehr, Grenadiers, and Fusiliers all 
Guards Divisions the 70th Jaeger and the 110th, 114th, and 
190th regiments of the line. Some of them I spoke to were 
Poles from Silesia -" Ich kann nur ein wenigDeutsch sprechen 
(I can only speak a little German), said one of them. Yet 
they were tall, hefty men of good physique and well fed. Some 
of them were middle-aged fellows and fathers of families, 



84 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

corresponding to the French Territorials. They spoke of their 
wives and children, and their tired, dazed eyes (for they were 
just down from the field of fire) lighted up at the thought of 
going home again after the war. 

C5 ^5 cj 

" God send a quick ending to the war ! " said one of them, and 
he spoke the words as a prayer with his hands upraised. 

I sat in a little dug-out, bomb-proof, perhaps, but not sound 
proof, because the noise of guns was appallingly close and loud, 
while some of the men were being brought in to be examined 
by a bright-eyed officer, who spoke their dialects as well as their 
language, and had an easy way with him so that they were not 
frightened. 

They answered frankly, in a manly way, and were grateful 
for our treatment of them. A queer scene inside these walls of 
sandbags, lighted by German candles, filled with all sorts of 
litter from German pockets great clasp-knives, leaden spoons, 
cartridge-clips, compasses, watches, pencils. One of the 
investigating officers was the son of a famous musician, and 
seemed to find an intense interest in his job, though new batches 
of prisoners keep arriving through day and night, so that his 
meals and his sleep are interrupted. 

But with his brother officers he is accumulating a store of 
information, and sees all the drama of the war, and all its 
misery for the enemy, between these sandbags, and in the dim 
candlelight which flickers upon the worn faces of German 
soldiers taken an hour before up there where the shells are 
falling. 



IX 

A CAMEO OF WAR 



JULY 9 

SLOWLY, but quite steadily, we are drawing our lines closer about 
the enemy s strong places along the whole extent of our attack 
ing front in order that one by one he must abandon them. 
Last night our troops captured new trenches about Ovillers- 
La Boisselle, so that the pressure upon that place is tighter, and 
during the past eighteen hours we have established ourselves 
in the Bois des Trones and its neighbourhood to the east of 
Montauban. 

The meaning of our attacking methods and of the hard 
fighting at different points may not be clear to people who do 
not realize the position which our men have to storm. It has 
often been said that the enemy s lines, which stretch from the 
sea to the Vosges, are one great fortress, and this is true, but 
it is more essentially and even technically true of the line 
through which we broke on the first day of July. 

The great German salient which curves round from Gomme- 
court to Fricourt is like a chain of mediasval fortresses connected 
by earthworks and tunnels. The fortresses, or strong places 
as we now call them, are the ruined villages stronger in defence 
than any old tower because they are filled with machine-guns, 
trench-mortars, and other deadly engines of Gommecourt, 
Beaumont-Hamel, Thiepval, Ovillers, La Boisselle, and Fricourt. 

In spite of the superb courage of those British battalions 
which flung themselves against those strongholds on the left 
side of the German salient they did not fall, but breaches were 
made in their defences which are now being widened and 
deepened. On the southern side, where the attack succeeded, 
La Boisselle and Fricourt, and farther eastwards Mametz and 



86 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

Montauban, are ours, and the attack is pushing farther in to 
turn the strong places on the left from within the fortress walls, 
as it were, while they are being weakened by assaults from 
without, gradually putting the strangle-grip upon them. If we 
have luck and keep striking deeper into the salient, as we have 
done during the past twenty-four hours at Contalmaison and 
Ovillers, it would seem to me as if the strong places on the 
left must either be evacuated by the enemy or surrounded and 
taken, with their imprisoned troops, by us. 

I saw the scene of this struggle for the enemy s strongholds 
to-day almost as if I were looking into the mirror of the Lady of 
Shalott. It seemed like that, strangely unreal, as though in an 
image and yet terribly real and vivid because I came upon 
it suddenly, by accident, arranged for me by a gap in a hedge 
and by two trees on each side of the gap, like the frame of a 
picture. 

I had been up to the lines in search of an officer whose head 
quarters is in dug-outs below the crest of a hill. Beyond this 
crest and another one beyond that the fires of hate were burning 
all right. I could tell that by the smoke-clouds which came 
black, and white, and green into the fleecy sky of this July day 
in France, and by the noise of the guns all about me. But I 
did not trouble to climb to the crest. There were interesting 
things to see below^ and fine men whom I wanted to meet again 
before they go nearer to those fires. 

I passed two friends on the roadway riding in the centre of a 
long column of troops, and when I waved my hands to them and 
shouted " Good luck ! " they turned in their saddles and waved 
back and smiled in a way that one remembers through a life 
time. I did not trouble to climb the crest because there were 
some captured German guns below it worth seeing as the first- 
fruits of victory. 

They were being fastened to our own gun-carriages and taken 
off to the place where such trophies go, cheered by French 
townsfolk on the way. Queer, beastly things were some of 
these captured engines. There were long wooden barrels 
hooped with steel, and with a touch-hole to fire the charge for a 
" plum-pudding bomb large enough to blow up ten yards of 
trench as primitive as the engines of war used in the fifteenth 
century. 

It was on the way back that I came upon the gap in the 



A CAMEO OF WAR 87 

hedge. I passed camps of men and horses, masses of guns and 
long lines of dug-outs in chalk banks, where soldiers sat in the 
entries on this Sunday afternoon, smoking their pipes with an 
air of profound peace in spite of the noise of shell-fire ; and 
large bodies of splendid troops, English and Scottish, tramping 
up the roads, all powdered with white dust, or lying under the 
shadows of wayside trees, sleeping on their backs with the 
sun full on their bronzed, sweat-begrimed faces. It was 
the madding crowd of war, with a tangle of traffic on the 
roads, and kicking mules making beasts of themselves at 
the sight of a motor-car, and artillery wagons with creaking 
axles plunging through it all under the daring guidance of 
red-faced boys with short whips. 

Turning off the road, away from all this turmoil, and presently, 
through the gap in the hedge, I saw, quite unexpectedly, the 
scene of war across the fields in front of me, all gold with that 
weed which is ruining so many harvest fields of France. It was 
Mametz Wood. I knew at once the queer shape of it with a 
great bite out of its western side. In spite of all our shell-fire 
it is still thick with foliage, upon which the sunlight lay, casting 
a great black shadow underneath. Just below it was Peak 
Wood, a row of broken trees by a sunken road, and a triangle 
trench, for which our men fought desperately, so that it changed 
hands three times before they won it finally, on Friday afternoon. 

To the left of Mametz Wood and on a line with it was Con- 
talmaison, and on the left of that Bailiff Wood, which we cap 
tured and lost again the day before yesterday, and then farther 
left Ovillers-La Boisselle, and completing the crescent, La 
Boiselle itself. 



Between the gap in the hedge I saw again one of the world s 
great battlefields, and every detail of it was so clearly and 
sharply defined in the sunlight that it was like a Pre-Raphaelite 
picture painted in vivid colours. I could count the shell-holes 
in the roofs of Contalmaison village, and the chateau there, 
standing to the right of a little wood, was brought so closely 
forward by a stereoscopic effect that I could look into the black 
ness of its broken windows. 

Down below me were our trenches, and I saw our men in 
them. Some of them were outside the trenches, strolling about 



88 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

in the open, in little groups, or walking about on a lone track, as 
though taking a quiet half-hour on this Sunday afternoon. 

And yet they were in the centre of the battlefield, and over 
their heads came an incessant flight of shells, our shells, which 
I could see falling in the German lines, and in the fields about 
them German shells, bursting with dull crashes and with 
clouds of black and greenish smoke. All the power of destruc 
tion was at work, but because of the utter calm and beauty of the 
sky and the golden light over all the scene it seemed to me, 
standing on the edge of it, less deadly, like a dream of war. 

It was no dream. Three of our shells followed each other in a 
group and burst with one explosion against the left-hand tower 
of Contalmaison chateau, smashing off a turret as though it 
were a card-castle. 

Our shells were flinging up fountains of black earth and 
smoke in the German lines beyond at Pozieres. All round the 
battlefield there were the black clouds of shell- fire breaking and 
rising and spreading over Bailiff Wood, at Ovillers, and between 
the broken tree-trunks of La Boisselle. Men were being killed as 
usual, over there. But our shells were doing most of the damage. 

An extraordinary thing happened as I looked across the 
chateau of Contalmaison. The earth seemed suddenly to open 
in the enemy s lines and let forth the smoke of its inner fires. 
It gushed out in great round, dense masses, and rose to a vast 
height, spreading like the foliage of some gigantic tree. It was 
not a mine. 

The explosion from a mine flings up a black mass with 
jagged edges like a piece of black cardboard cut into teeth. 
But this was a regular uprising of curly black clouds of great 
volume, getting denser, and coming continuously. I watched it 
for twenty minutes or more, and could not make out its meaning, 
but guessed that we had blown up an ammunition store. 

Two great explosions which came quite a few seconds after 
the first vomit of smoke suggested this. So I went away from 
the picture through the gap in the trees. Down in the valley 
where I passed the enemy s shells were coming rather near. A 
heavy crump burst on a knoll close by, and some officers and 
men were watching with that curious smile men have at times 
when they know their lives depend upon a freak of chance. It 
is an ironical smile, and rather grim. 



X 

THE ASSAULT ON CONTALMAISON 



JULY 9 

I HAD an idea that there would be " something doing " to-day at 
Contalmaison, and I went over the fields towards it, past some 
of our batteries, past columns of troops marching with their 
bands along the roads which powder them with white blind 
ing dust, past great camps and ammunition columns, and 
litters of empty shell -cases remaining over from the great 
bombardment, and past bodies of soldiers stretched out upon 
the grass and sleeping in the warm sunlight close behind the 
fighting-lines, until I came to a little crest looking down to 
Contalmaison village and the woods about it. 

Mametz Wood was very quiet this afternoon. As neither 
side could see exactly the position of its troops underneath the 
heavy foliage our men, who were fighting last night, hold a 
line about half-way through the gunners were chary of shelling 
it severely. Now and again a burst of shrapnel smoke puffed 
against the dark background of the trees, and the shell slashed 
through the branches, but that was not often, and the wood 
seemed very peaceful. Looking at it one s imagination found 
it difficult to realize that perhaps there were men there who had 
dug themselves into the earth beneath the spreading roots, 
and that British and German patrols were feeling their way, 
perhaps, from one tree to another, through the glades, until 
they came into touch and exchanged some rifle shots before 
falling back to their own line. I could only guess at that, and 
could see nothing but the tight foliage, yellow in the sun and 
black in the shadows. 

There were plenty of shells falling elsewhere, and it seemed to 
me that the enemy had brought up new batteries to strengthen 



90 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

his defence. His shell-fire was certainly more intense and 
wider-spreading than during the past few days round here. He 
was bombarding our positions from La Boisselle to Montauban 
very fiercely. The poor broken wood of La Boisselle, which 
our men captured after desperate fighting, was being searched 
by his black shrapnel, and every now and then by one of his 
" universals," which broke with a vivid cloud of greenish 
fumes, very prolonged in density, and forming fantastic shapes 
as it dissolved. One such cloud, metallic in the brilliance of 
its green, was like a winged woman with a Medusa face. 

High explosives were falling into Montauban village, raising 
volumes of rose-coloured clouds, beautiful in the sunlight. I 
think it must have been the dust of red bricks flung up from 
ruined houses. 



At half -past three in the afternoon the enemy put a very 
heavy barrage in a straight line below Contalmaison. One by 
one the shells burst, and so quickly down the line and back again 
that they formed a wall of black smoke with only a few gaps. 

" It is so nice to get a little fresh air ! " said a young gunner 
officer who was next to me, reporting for his battery, which 
speaks from afar with a very gruff voice. " During the first 
few days of the * show I lived indoors -he pointed to the 
dark entry of a dug-out " but now I m getting sunburnt 
again. The men enjoy this open fighting. Look at em ! 

There were men moving about the battlefield utterly regard 
less of the trenches the old German trenches, marked by 
billows of brown earth (brown because of our gun-fire, which 
ploughed it up), and more regular lines of white earthworks, 
which were our own parapets before the advance. A long 
column of them was winding very slowly round towards Con 
talmaison. 

" Looks as if they were going up to support an attack, 5 said 
an officer close to me. 

Other groups of khaki-coloured men were moving over the 
ground which one sees southward from the tall chimney of 
Poziercs village, which we were bombarding heavily. 

I thought back to the Ypres salient for a moment. Men do 
not move about so freely there ! Or between Loos and Hulluch, 
where over the wide barren stretch of desolation no human 



THE ASSAULT ON CONTALMAISON 91 

being is ever seen, or, if seen, killed. But It is nice to get 
a little fresh air " after the imprisonment in the trenches, and 
this open warfare is enormously better. It is better even to die 
in the open, with the wind upon one s face, standing among the 
poppies, underneath the blue sky, which to-day was glorious 
with white snow-mountains piled high with dazzling peaks in its 
sea of blue and sunlight. 

And so our men are touched Avith a kind of spiritual joy to be 
fighting above-ground again instead of crouching in ditches- 
though personally I like a handy hole at times. 

In the very centre of the battlefield, for which some of our men 
fought and died a day or two ago, one tall fellow was signalling to 
somebody about something. Now and then a German shell 
fell dangerously close to his position, sending up a fountain of 
earth and smoke, but he kept talking with his dot-and-dash 
to a far and invisible friend. It seemed an interesting mono 
logue, as though he had important things to tell. It seemed 
to be addressed to the ruins of Contalmaison. There were 
moments when its old French chateau, set in a little wood, was 
lit up by a splash of golden light as the white clouds drifted by, 
so that I could almost count its bricks, and could see how the 
shells which I watched yesterday had opened its roofs. But the 
left-hand tower was knocked off this morning by a direct hit 
from that same battery whose fire was being observed by the 
young gunner officer with whom I sat to-day. It is a wonder 
the shell did not smash the whole chateau to a pitiful ruin, 
but it took the tower " en passant " as chess-players say. 

At four o clock our guns concentrated upon Contalmaison, 
Acid Drop Copse the poor little straggly wood to the right of 
Mametz and the German trenches defending the Contalmaison 
ridge. Smoke belched over the battlefield, and the song of the 
shells was loud and high. It was under those shells falling 
beygnd them and through the smoke that a body of our men 
moved forward to the assault upon the village. 



3 

JULY 10 

The village of Contalmaison is ours again. Whether we ever 
held it before, by more than handfuls of men who went in and 
went out, is doubtful. Certainly some men succeeded in getting 



92 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

there from Caterpillar Wood and Acid Drop Copse, because I 
met them afterwards with wounds in. their bodies, but it is 
difficult to know what happened. 

One can only guess that Germans came up from their dug-outs 
after our men had penetrated the outskirts and made use of the 
darkness with their machine-guns and bombs. 

What happened last night is clear enough. I have already 
described in a previous dispatch how we concentrated our fire 
upon the positions in front of the village and then shelled the 
village itself with terrific intensity. 

I saw the beginning of this bombardment, and watched our 
men going up to support the attack which was to follow. It 
w r as begun when fresh troops who had been brought up to help 
the tired men who had been fighting in this part of the line 
under heavy shell-fire for several days advanced under the 
cover of our guns to the left and right of the village. 

It was already hemmed in on both sides, for other British 
troops were in firm possession of Bailiff Wood to the left, and 
during the evening, by a series of bombing attacks, Mametz 
W r ood to the right had been almost cleared of Germans, who are 
now only in the outer fringe of it. 

The enemy in Contalmaison knew that their position was 
hopeless. When our guns lifted they heard the cheers of our 
infantry on both sides of the village, and many of them- at 
least many of those who were still alive and unwounded 
streamed out of the village in disorderly retreat, only to be 
caught behind by our extended barrages between Contalmaison, 
Pozieres, and Bazentin-le-Petit. 

Our men were quickly into the village, and having learnt a 
lesson by the experience of other troops at other places made a 
thorough search of machine-gun emplacements and dug-outs, 
so that there should be no further trouble with this wasps 
nest. 



The men left in Contalmaison were"in~a dreadful state, having 
suffered to the very limit of human endurance, and beyond. 
They were surprised to find themselves living enough to be 
taken prisoners. 

One of these men, with whom I talked this morning, told me a 
tragic tale. He spoke a little English, having been a cabinet- 



THE ASSAULT ON CONTALMAISON 93 

maker in the Tottenham Court Road some years ago before 
he went back to Wiirtemberg, where, when the war began, he 
was, as he said, taken and put in a uniform and told to fight, 
though it was not his trade, poor devil. 

With other men of the 122nd (Bavarian) Regiment he went 
into Contalmaison five days ago. Soon the rations they had 
brought with them were finished, and owing to our ceaseless gun 
fire it was impossible to get fresh supplies. They suffered 
great agonies of thirst, and the numbers of their dead and 
wounded increased steadily. 

There was a hole in the ground," said this German cabinet 
maker, whose head was bound with a bloody bandage and who 
was dazed and troubled when I talked with him. It was a 
dark hole which held twenty men, all lying in a heap together, 
and that was the only dug-out for my company, so that there 
was not room for more than a few. 

4 It was necessary to take turns in this shelter, while outside 
the English shells were coming and bursting everywhere. Two 
or three men were dragged out to make room for two or three 
others. 

Then those who went outside were killed or wounded. 
Some of them had their heads blown off, and some of them 
had both legs torn off, and some of them their arms. 

But we went on taking turns in the hole, although those 
who w r ent outside knew that it was their turn to die very 
likely. At last most of those who came into the hole were 
wounded, some of them badly, so that we lay in blood. 

There was only one doctor there, an 4 unteroffizier -he 
pointed to a man who lay asleep on the ground, face down t 
wards " and he bandaged some of us till he had no mor-* a -" 
bandages. 

Then, last night, we knew the end was coming. Your guns 
began to fire all together the dreadful trommel-feuer, as 
we call it and the shells burst and smashed up the earth 
about us. 

We stayed down in the hole waiting for the end. Then 
we heard your soldiers shouting. Presently two of them came 
down into our hole. They were two boys and they had their 
pockets full of bombs. 

They had bombs in their hands also, and they seemed to 
wonder whether they would kill us. But we were all wounded, 



94 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

nearly all, and we cried Kameraden ! . . . And now we are 
prisoners and I am thirsty." 

Other prisoners told me that the effect of our fire was terrible 
in Contalmaison, and that at least half of their men holding it 
were killed or wounded, so that when our soldiers entered last 
night they walked over the bodies of the dead. 

These men who had escaped were in a pitiful condition. They 
lay on the ground utterly exhausted most of them, and that 
was strange with their faces to the earth. Perhaps it was to 
blot out the vision of things seen. 

I shall remember the cabinet-maker of the Tottenham Court 
Road. In spite of the clay which caked his face and clothes and 
the bloody rag round his head he was a handsome bearded fellow 
with blue eyes, which once or twice lighted up with a tragic 
smile, as when I asked him when he thought the war would 
end. 

In 1915," he said, " when I was wounded at Ypres, I thought 
the war would end in a few months. And a little while ago I 
thought so again ! 

Then he muttered something to himself, but loudly enough 
for me to hear the words " Surely we cannot go on much 
longer ? " 

I left these men, and farther down the road saw many more 
prisoners. There were nearly three hundred of them marching 
down a side track, between some ripening corn, under mounted 
escort, their grey-blue uniforms hardly visible until I was 
closer to them against the background of the wheat. 

Most of them were young, healthy-looking men, who walked 
mskly, and it was only a few behind who limped as they 
i Balked, and looked broken and beaten men. 



It was a good day for us in prisoners, for about 500 have come 
down from Contalmaison, Mametz Wood, and the Trones Wood 
as living proofs of our advance in all those places. 

All the prisoners speak of the terror of our artillery -fire, and 
documents captured in their dug-outs tell the same tale in words 
which reveal the full horror of bombardment. 

" We are quite shut off from the rest of the world," wrote a 
German soldier on the day before our great attack. " Nothing 



THE ASSAULT ON CONTALMAISON 95 

comes to us ; no letters. The English keep such a barrage on 
our approaches, it is terrible. To-morrow morning it will be 
seven days since this bombardment began ; we cannot hold out 
much longer. Everything is shot to pieces." 

" Our thirst is terrible," wrote another man. " We hunt for 
water and drink it out of shell-holes." 

Many of the men speak of the torture of thirst which they 
suffered during our bombardment. 

4 Every one of us in these five days has become years older. 
We hardly know ourselves. Bechtel said that, in these five 
days, he lost 10 Ib. Hunger and thirst have also contributed 
their share to that. Hunger would be easily borne, but the 
thirst makes one almost mad. 

" Luckily it rained yesterday, and the water in the shell- 
holes, mixed with the yellow shell -sulphur, tasted as good as a 
bottle of beer. To-day we got something to eat. It was 
impossible before to bring food up into the front line under the 
violent curtain-fire of the enemy." 

One other out of hundreds tells all in a few words : 

We came into the front line ten days ago. During those 
ten days I have suffered more than any time during the last two 
years. The dug-outs are damaged in places, and the trenches 
are completely destroyed." 

We do not gloat over the sufferings of our enemy, though we 
must make them suffer, and go on suffering, that they may 
yield. It is the curse of war, the black horror which not even 
the heights of human courage may redeem, nor all the splendour 
of youth eager for self-sacrifice. 

I have seen things to-day before which one s soul swoons, and 
which, God willing, my pen shall write, so that men shall 
remember the meaning of war. 

But now, when these things are inevitable, we must look only 
to our progress towards the end, and to-day we have made 
good progress. 

Yesterday I wrote of the position we attacked on July 1 as a 
great German fortress with a chain of strongholds linked by 
underground works. 

In ten days, by the wonderful gallantry of our men and the 
great power of our guns, we have smashed several of those forts- 
as strong as any on the Western front, and defended stubbornly 
by masses of guns and troops and have stormed our way in so 



96 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

deeply that the enemy is now forced to fall back upon his next 
line of defence. 

The cost has been great, but the enemy s losses and the 
present position in which he finds himself prove the success of 
our main attack. 

For the first time since the beginning of the war the initiative 
has passed to us, and the German Headquarters Staff is hard 
pushed for reserves. 



XI 

THE BATTLE OF THE WOODS 

i 

JULY 12 

FOR several days now I have been giving a chronicle of hard 
fighting at several important points on the way to the second 
German line, with such scenes as one eye-witness may describe 
in a great battle in which many different bodies of troops are 
engaged upon a wide front. 

The fortunes of war have varied from day to day, almost 
from hour to hour, so that positions taken one evening have 
been lost in the morning and again captured by the afternoon. 
Writing as events are happening, one s narrative becomes as 
confused as the confusion of the battlefield itself, where troops 
know nothing, or very little, of what is doing to their right 
and left, until some general scheme of operations is completed. 

By the capture of Contalmaison and ground to each side of it 
a general scheme of progress has been achieved, and, although 
fighting does not cease about these points, it is now possible 
to give a clearer idea of the battle as it has developed up to 
the present moment. 

I think it may very well be called the Battle of the Woods, 
for the chief characteristic of it has been the determined effort 
of our troops to take and hold a number of copses and small 
forests between the first and second German lines. 

On the left of Contalmaison is Bailiff Wood, north-eastwards 
of the Horseshoe Redoubt. If we could get that and keep it 
Contalmaison itself could be enfiladed and attacked from the 
west as well as from the south. Away to the right of Con 
talmaison is Mametz Wood, even more important both in 
size and pSsition, with Bernafay Wood still farther eastwards 
and Trones Wood on the right again. Other small woods or 

6 



98 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

copses to the south of Contalmaison were strong fighting points, 
from Shelter Wood to Round Wood and Birch Wood at the 
top of the Sunken Road and Peak Wood to the left of the 
Quadrangle Trench. 

Some of these places are but a few shell-slashed trees serving 
as landmarks, but Bailiff Wood, Mametz Wood, Bernafay 
Wood, and Trones Wood are still dense thickets under heavy 
foliage hiding the enemy s troops and our own, but giving no 
protection from shell-fire. 

It is for these woodlands on high ground that our men have 
been fighting with the greatest gallantry and most stubborn 
endurance, suffering more than light losses, meeting heavy 
counter-attacks, gaining ground, losing it, retaking it, and 
thrusting forward again, with a really unconquerable spirit, 
because they know that these woods are the way to the second 
bastion of the German stronghold. 

It would be good to say something about the different 
battalions who have been fighting the Battle of the Woods, 
and it is hard not to give some honour to them now by name. 
But there are reasons against it the enemy w r ants to know 
their names for other reasons and we must wait until some 
weeks have passed. They are men from nearly all our English 
counties from Northumberland, Durham, Lancashire, and 
Yorkshire, from the Midlands, the Home Counties, and the 
" W 7 est Countrie." Welshmen were there, and Irish and High 
landers and Lowlanders. It was a British battle, but the 
greater share of it fell to England alone, and it was English 
lads from the North, and English lads from old county towns 
like Worcester and Northampton, York and Bedford, Guildford 
and Arundel, Norwich and old London Town itself, who 
fought 011 the way to Contalmaison and took this stronghold 
of the w r oodlands. 

I passed some of them on the roads to-day. They w r ere the 
men who captured Contalmaison the day before yesterday, 
and they were marching with such a steady swing that it was 
hard to think they had been through such fighting and fatigues, 
and that they had left behind them many good fellows who 
will never come back along the road. 

They were bringing back trophies of victory. On their 
wagons, beside their own steel hats, were German helmets. 
Some of the enemy s machine-guns were passing back with 



THE BATTLE OF THE WOODS 99 

them, and although the men were tired they held their heads 
high and there was a fine pride in their eyes. An officer who 
watched them pass called out the names of their regiments 
and said, " Well done ! " and one of their own officers waved 
his hand and called back, " Cheery-O ! It was the greeting 
of gallant fighting men. 



But before the taking of Contalmaison the day before yester 
day there were other men who had done their best to take it, 
and did take it for a while, in spite of bad luck and every kind 
of hardship. 

Their attack depended a good deal upon the progress made 
by other troops who were fighting for Bailiff Wood on the left, 
and by troops who were attacking up to the line of Pearl Alley 
on the right. 

Neither of these attempts was successful at the time, and the 
men who had been ordered to take Contalmaison were not in 
a happy position. The weather had been foul, and it was this 
which on July 7 and 8 made all attacks difficult. When the 
troops of the attacking columns tried to get forward the 
ground was bogged, their rifles and bombs and machine-guns 
were covered with muddy slime, and they stumbled through 
water-logged trenches. Apart from this the way was perilous 
and tragic. 

The main trench leading up to Contalmaison was the Sunken 
Road which goes up between Round Wood and Birch Wood, 
and this was being heavily barraged by the enemy s guns 
sweeping down the valley from Pozieres. 

Farther up and slanting right to Pearl Alley was a shallow 
trench. 

Dead bodies lay there in the mud, and soon it was choked 
with wounded men. How could any one pass ? How was it 
possible to bring up bombs and ammunition and machine- 
guns and all the stores which must follow an attack ? That 
was not done, but our men, fellows who know the chimes of 
Worcester Cathedral, struggled forward over open ground and 
made a dash for Contalmaison, enfiladed by machine-gun fire 
from Bailiff Wood and Mametz Wood, which were not yet in 
our hands. Round the western side of Contalmaison was a 
shallow trench in which the enemy also kept his machine-guns, 



100 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

but when the remnants of the attacking force rushed forward 
these were withdrawn into the village, from which the German 
gunners swept the ground. 

It seems to me quite an astonishing feat of arms that our 
men, in such small numbers and in such adverse conditions, 
should have penetrated a good way into the village. And 
it is wonderfully to their credit that they should have taken 
eighty prisoners at such a time. 

They found themselves up in the air," as soldiers say, 
and they were being badly hurt by machine-gun fire. It was 
a bad position, and after rummaging through some German 
dug-outs and taking their prisoners they fell back to a strong 
point to the south of the village, which they held for two or 
three days, establishing a machine-gun post which did valuable 
service in the next attack. 

They did not succeed in holding Contalmaison, and in war, 
which is a hard thing, it is only success that counts. But I 
see nothing to blame in the adventure of those companies who 
got through at great hazard. Luck was against them, and 
against their other battalions. Luck and the weather. 



3 

In the meantime great fighting was in progress for the 
woods around. A very splendid body of men, among them 
true descendants of Sir Hugh Evans and other brave men 
across the Marches, had fought their way up on July 5 to 
Birch Tree Copse and Shelter Alley, to Quadrangle Trench on 
the 6th, then to Caterpillar Wood and Marlborough Wood, 
and they had placed, with a cunning that belongs to the genius 
of war, a machine-gun which covered an exit from Mametz 
Wood, where the enemy was still in force. 

At 3 o clock on Monday afternoon last our troops advanced 
to the capture of the wood a wood whose gloom was brightened 
by the frightful flash of shells, whose tree-trunks were broken 
and splintered and slashed by sharp axes hurtling through the 
leaves, and about whose gnarled roots, in shell-holes and 
burrows, German soldiers crouched with their bombs and 
machine-guns. A wood of terror. Yet not dismaying to 
those men of ours who went into its twilight. Our own guns 
were shelling it with a progressive barrage. 



THE BATTLE OF THE WOODS 101 

Our men were to pass forward in short, sharp rushes behind 
the barrage, but some of them in their eagerness went too 
fast and too far, and went through the very barrage itself 
until a signal warned a gunner officer sitting in an O.P. behind, 
so that he suddenly seized a telephone and whispered some 
words into it, and made the guns " lift " again. 

Waves of bullets were streaming like water through the trees 
from German machine-guns. Many of our men fell, and the 
others, checked a while, lay down in any holes they could find 
or dig. All through the night shells broke over them, and 
through the glades there came always that horrible chatter of 
machine-guns. 

It was a night to which men think back through a lifetime 
with a wonderment that it brought any dawn for them. But 
when dawn came their spirit was unbroken and they made a 
new attack, and went forward with bombs and bayonets to the 
encounter of other men not less brave. Not less brave, in 
truth and in fairness to them. There was a fierce fight before 
the last of them surrendered, so that Mametz Wood was ours, 
for a while at least. 



Meanwhile to the left of Contalmaison our left other men 
had worked their way up into Bailiff Wood and had established 
posts there. It was still impossible to attack Contalmaison 
from the south, and, as it happened, perhaps a lucky thing 
because the enemy had expected an attack from the south 
and had most of his machine-guns facing that way when our 
troops advanced upon him from the west. 

They advanced after a series of artillery barrages from a great 
number of batteries working in most perfect harmony with the 
plan of the infantry attack. 

At 4.50 the infantry went forward to their first stage in 
four waves and in extended order. They had to cover about 
1100 yards of open ground, and they travelled tight, without 
their packs, fighting troops, searching parties for house-fighting, 
and consolidating troops. 

They went across magnificently," said their General, and 
in spite of the enemy s shells and machine-guns penetrated the 
town. They worked across in time to the successive barrage 
which preceded them, and at 7 o clock they had the whole of 



102 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

Contalmaison. The enemy defended himself bravely, and there 
was some fierce hand-to-hand fighting, in which 200 Germans 
were killed, refusing to surrender. Many prisoners were taken 
in the dug-outs. 

So at last the stronghold of the Woods was ours, and there 
is good hope that we shall keep it. 

One other wood in this stretch of woodlands is still not ours. 
It is the Wood of Trones, where also there has been desperate 
fighting by the men who captured Bern af ay Wood and Cater 
pillar Wood and the ground about Montauban, shelled and 
shelled again by the enemy, who hates to have us there. 

We have taken it several times, but the evening s shell-fire 
forced us from part of it. When they come, our shell-fire 
slashes them to death. So much of it is No Man s Land, and 
a devilish place. 

But we hold a great stretch of ground after the Battle of 
the Woods. 



XII 

THE FIGHT FOR OVILLERS 

i 

JULY 13 

AT Ovillers there has been fierce fighting to-day, which has 
gained for us several important bits of trench and ground, 
linking up with other separate points already won, so that this 
German stronghold is closely besieged. 

The enemy to-day was bombarding our positions round 
Contalmaison and Mametz Wood with a most formidable 
barrage, and as I watched this from a vantage-point looking 
across a wide stretch of the battlefields it seemed to me that 
the Germans might be preparing a strong counter-attack along 
that line. 

Nearer to Thiepval it was strangely quiet after the great 
fighting a week and more ago. 

The village of Thiepval itself was deadly quiet in the German 
lines of brown, bombarded earth, beyond our whiter trenches. 
What was once a wood there, about red-roofed bams and houses 
and an old church tower, is now only a number of charred stumps 
sticking up from the brick-dust and ruin of these buildings. 

Behind Thiepval, captured and lost by our soldiers after 
heroic fighting and great sacrifice on July 1, could be seen the 
places which the enemy is holding in his second line of defence, 
the next line of village fortresses. 

They were marked by the tall chimney of Courcelette, the 
woods of Grandcourt, and the church spire of Irles. And 
there, standing high and clear above the ridge, was one land 
mark which has been famous before in the war and will be 
again before the war is ended. It was the clock-tower of 
Bapaume, and if the sun had been shining on it we could have 
read the time of day. 



104 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

On the ridge above Thiepval were little moving figures. 

Germans," said a sergeant with one eye to his glass. 

There was a lot of them, crawling about like ants, but none 
of our shells fell among them. All guns were busy on other 
work farther to the right, where^the smoke of great shells rose 
like smouldering fires over all " the ground from Ovillers to 
Montauban. 



The fighting for Ovillers has been hard, bloody, and close. 
Many of our men have died to gain a yard or two of earthwork. 
There have been great adventures in the capturing of some 
bits of broken brick or the working round a ditch below the 
remnants of a wall. 

Under a steady drive of machine-gun bullets sweeping all 
the ground, men of ours from Cheshire and another English 
county in the north have crept forward at night with a few 
hand-grenades and flung themselves against the enemy s 
bombing-posts and barricades and fought fiercely to smash 
dow r n the sandbags or brickwork and get a few more yards 
of clear ground. 

They have sapped their way underground and blown up the 
roofs of vaults where Germans lay in hiding with machine-guns. 
They have fought in small parties, gaining isolated points in 
the southern part of the village, and holding on to them under 
heavy fire until only a few men remained alive, still holding on. 

There have been fights to the death between a handful of 
English or Irish soldiers and a dozen or more Germans, meeting 
each other in the darkness of deep cellars quarried out from the 
chalk subsoil, and German gunners peering out of slits in concrete 
emplacements below-ground and firing bursts of bullets down 
the roadway have found themselves suddenly in the grasp of 
men covered with white clay rising out of holes in the earth, 
with no weapons but their picks. 

Ovillers is a place of abominable ruin. 

"Do you know Neuville-St.-Vaast ? " asked an officer this 
morning, and when I nodded (because I had a near call there) 
he said, " Ovillers beats it hollow for sheer annihilation." 

There is nothing left of it except dust. There is not a wall 
standing two feet high, or a bit of a wall. The guns have 
swept it flat. 



THE FIGHT FOR OVILLERS 105 

4 

But underground there are still great cellars quarried out 
by inhabitants who have long fled, and in these the Germans 
are holding out against our attacks and our bombardments. 

Heavy shells have opened up some of them, and filled them 
with dead and wounded, but many still stand strong, and out 
of them come the enemy s machine-guns and bombers to make 
counter-attacks against the ditches and debris from which our 
men are working forward. The, ground is pitted with enor 
mous shell-holes, in which men lie buried. Ovillers is perhaps 
more ghastly than any ruined ground along the front. 



3 

It was at 8 o clock on the morning of July 7 that the south 
eastern part of the village was taken by assault. The North- 
countrymen advanced from a line to the north of La Boisselle 
after a great bombardment, and went over open ground to the 
labyrinth of trenches which defend the village. These had 
been smashed into a tumult of earth and sandbags, but, as 
usual, some of the German machine-gunners had been untouched 
in their dug-outs, and they came up to serve their machines 
as soon as our barrage lifted. 

Other Germans defended themselves with bombs. There 
was savage fighting between the broken traverses, in shell- 
craters, and in ditches. Manv of our men fell, but others 

s 

came up and pushed farther forward. One officer and a man 
or two ran straight towards a German machine-gun which was 
doing deadly work, and knocked it out with a well-aimed 
bomb. But higher up on this maze of broken trenches was a 
German redoubt, from which machine-gun fire came in streams. 

Some Irish soldiers tried to storm the place but suffered 
heavy casualties in front of the redoubt. It was decided to 
fall back a little and re-form the line for the night, and all 
through the night the men worked to build up barricades to 
cut off the enemy from the southern end of the village. 

That end was being " cleaned out of Germans, who were 
routed out of cellars. Many of them were glad to surrender 
and grateful for the life they had expected to lose. 

We took bags of em," said an officer in charge of this 
work. 

Next day the men worked their way forward above-ground 



106 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

and below-ground. Some crept out of a ditch and worked up to 
a bombing-post made by others on the left of the village. 

Another body of troops made a sudden forward movement, 
and taking the enemy by surprise marched round the left and 
took up a line right across the south-west end of Ovillers 
without loss. That was a great gain, which enabled our men 
to link up from separate points. The fighting to-day has been 
a further process of fitting up this jig-saw puzzle of isolated 
groups who have been burrowing into the German stronghold. 



4 

A great adventure, or what the officers call a fine " stunt," 
was carried out by some Lancashire men on the right of the 
village. They were told to send out a patrol overland in the 
direction of Pozieres. 

I think, to the young officers in charge, it must have seemed 
rather like a pleasant suggestion to go and discover the North 
Pole or the Magnetic North. However, the idea appealed to 
them ; they would see some new country, and there was quite 
a chance of individual fighting, which is so much better than 
being killed in a ditch by shell-fire. 

With them went a young machine-gun officer, who is justly 
proud of having gone out with sixteen machine-guns and, as 
you shall hear, of coming back with twenty. 

I know that he is pleased with himself, as he ought to be, 
because he had a laughing light in his eyes when I gave him 
a lift in a car on the way back to a good dinner, and having 
escaped without a scratch (and four extra guns) it is no wonder 
that he thought this adventure " a topping bit of work." 

It was gallant work, and as far as the first day went, without 
loss. The little company of men struck north-eastwards up 
an old bit of communication-trench, and part of the way in 
the open, in the twilight and the darkness that followed. They 
were going steadily into German territory, to the high ground 
which slopes down from Pozieres. 

There were lots of Germans about thousands of them not 
enormously far away but they did not expect a visit like this, 
and were not watchful of this piece of ground. 

After working forward for something like a mile they came 
to a redoubt inhabited by German bombers. 



THE FIGHT FOR OVILLERS 107 

What happened then is not very clear to me, and was 
certainly not very clear to the Germans. But this place was 
passed successfully, and it was farther on that my machine-gun 
friend (the fellow with the sparkle in his eyes) increased his 
number of guns. 

This part of his adventure is also somewhat confused, as 
most fighting is. He tells me that he pinched the guns. 
Also that he made " a bag of em." Anyhow, he captured 
them, and has brought them back, which is a very good proof 
that they were taken. 

So far all went well. The night was spent in consolidating this 
extraordinary position right in the heart of German territory, 
and all next day our men stayed there. They had a wonderful 
view of the country below them, saw many things worth 
noting for future use, and sent bursts of machine-gun fire 
at the enemy s infantry moving down to attack our troops. 

But it was too good to last. The enemy became aware 
that they were being hit from a position where none of our 
troops could possibly be, according to the logic of things. 

They could hardly believe their eyes, I imagine, when they 
saw these illogical young gentlemen making themselves at 
home in this extremely advanced post. 

There must have been some frightful words used by German 
officers before they ordered an infantry attack to clear these 
Englishmen out. The infantry came down a trench from 
Pozieres, but as they came they were met by a stream of 
machine-gun fire directed by the young officer who had 
pinched " four more guns than he had taken out. 

They suffered heavy casualties, and the attack broke down. 
But then the enemy put his guns to work, as he always does 
when his infantry fails, and what had been a great adventure, 
with a sporting chance, became a deadly business, with all 
the odds against our men. 

The enemy s shell-fire was concentrated heavily upon this 
one bit of trench away out in the open, and the ground was 
ploughed up with high explosives. The machine-guns were 
taken back, but the British held on until at last only an officer 
and six men were left. 

Those who came back unwounded numbered in the end only 
one officer and one man with the exception of a sergeant who 
stayed behind with a wounded Irishman. He would not leave 



108 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

his comrade, and for thirty-six hours stayed out in his exposed 
position, with heavy shells falling on every side of him. 

The Irishman was delirious, and making such a noise that 
his friend knocked him on the head to keep him quiet. Every 
time a shell burst near him he shouted out, " You ve missed 
me again, Fritz." 

But the sergeant himself kept his wits. He is a Lancashire 
man and with all the dogged pluck of Lancashire. 

When the bombardment quietened down he brought back 
his friend, and then went out to No Man s Land to search for 
another one. 



But let us not forget that our men have not the monopoly of 
courage in this war. We have against us a brave enemy, and 
again and again during this battle our officers and men have 
paid a tribute to the stubborn fighting qualities of the German 
soldiers. 

For goodness sake," said one officer, " get rid of that 
strange idea in the minds of many people at home that we are 
fighting old men and boys and cripples. 

All the Germans we have met and captured have been big, 
hefty fellows, well fed until our bombardment stopped their 
food, and with plenty of pluck in them. 

The courage of their machine-gunners especially is worse 
luck for us quite splendid." 

As far as food goes the watchword of the German people is 
" soldiers first." 

That they are suffering themselves seems certain from the 
letters found in great numbers in their captured dug-outs. It 
seems to me incredible that these should be fictitious. 

They bear in every line the imprint of bitter truth, and they 
read like a cry from starving people. 

You reproach me with writing so little to you. What can 
I write ? If I told the truth about conditions here I should 
be locked up, and as I do not wish to write lies to you I had 
better say nothing. 

We have tickets for everything now flour, meat, sausage. 
butter, fat, potatoes, sugar, soup, etc. We are really nothing 
more than tickets ourselves." 

And in another letter from Cologne : 



THE FIGHT FOR OVILLERS 109 

" Hunger is making itself felt here. During the week none 
of the families received any potatoes. The allowance now is 
one egg per head per week and half a pound of bread and fifty 
grammes of butter per head per day. 

" England is not so wrong about starving us out. If the 
war lasts three months longer we shall be done. It is a terrible 
time for Germany. God is punishing us too severely." 

There is only one satisfaction in these pitiful letters. It is 
the hope it gives us that the enemy not these poor women 
and children, but the Devil at the back of the business will 
realize soon that war does not pay, and will haul down the 
flag with its skull and cross-bones. 



XIII 

THROUGH THE GERMAN SECOND LINE 

i 

JULY 15 

FOR a little while yes, and even now it has seemed something 
rather marvellous. We have broken through the enemy s 
second line ; through, and beyond on a front of two and a 
half miles, and for the first time since October of 1914 cavalry 
has been in action. Men who fought in the retreat from Mons, 
the little remnant left, look back on the old days when the 
enemjr s avalanche of men swept down on them and say, as 
one said to me yesterday, " Through the second line ?. Then 
we have broken the evil spell." So it seems to men who fought 
in the first battle of Ypres, or in the second, and then for a 
year more stood in their trenches staring through loopholes at 
the zigzag of German lines, barb-wired, deeply dug, fortified 
with redoubts, machine-gun emplacements, and strong places 
-a great system of earthworks on high ground, nearly always 
on high ground, which made one grow cold to see in aeroplane 
photographs supported by masses of guns which had been 
registered on every road and trench of ours. 

To smash through that could be done at a great cost. Given 
a certain number of guns on a certain length of front, with 
hardened troops ready for a big dash, and there wa s no doubt 
that we could break the enemy s first line, or system, as we 
broke through at Neuve Chapelle and at Loos. But after 
wards ? That was the hard thing to solve. No one on the 
Western front had found the formula to carry the offensive 
beyond the first line without coming to a dead check at a river 
of blood. The French troops who broke through in the 
Champagne fell before they reached the second line. At 
Loos, Highlanders and Londoners swept through the first line 



THROUGH THE GERMAN SECOND LINE 111 

and then, at Hill 70 and Hiilluch, were faced by annihilating 
fire, and could go no farther except to death. . . . But to-day 
we broke the second German line. 



2 

I had the luck to give the news to some of our men who had 
been wounded early in the battle. It was worth a king s 
ransom to see their gladness. " Have we got through, sir ? 
asked an English boy, bandaged about the head and face. 
When I told him a great light came into his eyes, and he said, 
" By Jove ! . . . That s pretty good ! " 

A wounded officer raised himself on a stretcher and called 
out to me as I passed, Any news ? . . . How are we doing 
up there ? . . . What, right through ? . . . Oh, splendid ! 
Because I had come down from the battlefield and might know 
something, officers and men on the roads asked eager questions. 
A doctor came out of an operating-theatre in a field -hospital. 
He was very busy there with men who could not answer 
questions. He stood for a moment in the doorway of the tent 
wiping his hands on a towel. 

44 How s it going ? Have we broken through ? 

He stared at me when I answered, as though searching for 
the truth in me, and said, Sure ? . . . I hardly thought we 
could do it." 

The news spread quickly behind the lines, and there has been 
a queer thrill in the air to-day, exciting men with the promise 
of victory. I think they, too, feel that an evil spell has been 
broken because British soldiers have broken the second German 
line. Their hopes run ahead of the facts. 

Their imagination has visions of an immediate German rout, 
and the enormous patience of the French people, incredulous, 
after two years, of any quick ending, is not shared by some of 
our young officers and men, who believe that we have the enemy 
on the run, not remembering his third line, and fourth, and God 
knows how many more. 

For a day, anyhow, victory has been in the air, and because 
it was the 14th of July, France s day, there are flags waving 
everywhere, on wayside cottages and barns and across the 
streets of an old French town. Women and children are 
carrying the tricolour, and as our wounded come down in 



112 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

ambulances and lorries, mostly lightly wounded men straight 
out of the battle, wearing German helmets on bandaged heads, 
waving bandaged hands, or staring out gravely, with a pain 
in their eyes, at the life of the roads which is theirs again, the 
flags flutter up to them and laughing girls cry, " Merci, 
camarades ! " and old men stand on the roadsides raising their 
hats to these boys of ours who have won back a mile or two 
more of the soil of France and have been touched by fire. 

All that is part of the emotion which belongs to war, the 
sentiment and the faith and the hope without which men could 
not fight nor women hide their tears. 

But the business of war itself is different and of a grimmer 
kind, not admitting sentiment to those Generals of ours who 
have been calculating chances based upon the position of 
their guns, the quantity of their ammunition, their reserves of 
men, the enemy s dispositions, resources, and difficulties, and 
all the mechanics of a great battle. They have had to study 
human nature, too, as well as the mechanism of war. To how 
great a test could they put these battalions of ours in the plan 
to smash the German second line ? How long, for instance, 
could they " stick it " in Bernafay Wood and the Trones Wood ? 
Was it possible to put in troops already tired by hard fighting ? 
How could they be replaced by fresh troops ? . . . A thousand 
problems of man-power and gun-power which must be reckoned 
out, without much margin of error, if all the cost of the first 
part of the battle a tragic cost were to be justified by success 
in the second part. 

Working night and day, snatching a little sleep and a little 
food at odd hours, in constant touch with telephones whispering 
messages from headquarters, batteries, battalion commanders 
in the field, receiving reports of local successes and local failures 
of German counter-attacks, of German reinforcements in guns 
and men, our Divisional Generals and Brigadiers, keeping in 
touch with Corps Generals and Army Generals, had to prepare 
for the second big blow. It would have to he quick and hard. 



There had been a whole fortnight s fighting since the great 
attack was launched on the First of July, and it had been 
very desperate fighting. On the left from Hebuterne down 



THROUGH THE GERMAN SECOND LINE 113 

to Beaumont-Hamel the heroic self-sacrifice of great numbers 
of men had not been rewarded by success. That side of the 
German fortress -lines had remained standing broken in places, 
but not carried nor held after the first bloody assaults. 

The enemy had concentrated his defensive strength at that 
part of the line, believing the main attack was to be delivered 
there, and it was one vast redoubt crammed with machine-guns 
which scythed down battalions of our men as they advanced 
with incomparable valour. Farther south the stronghold of 
Ovillers was not yet taken, though almost surrounded, and 
penetrated by bodies of grenadiers bombing their way into the 
quarries and cellars. 

It was through the southern bastion of the German fortress 
position that our troops had stormed their way, and in fourteen 
days of hard stubborn fighting they had struggled forward 
up the high ground from the Fricourt Ridge to the Montauban 
Ridge. In my dispatches I have endeavoured to record the 
narrative of these daily battles, and to give some faint idea 
of the wonderful courage and tenacity of our men, who captured 
Contalmaison and lost it and captured it again under terrible 
storms of fire, who went forward to the Battle of the Woods, 
fighting for every yard of the way in Bailiff Wood on the left, 
and Trones Wood on the right, and Mametz Wood in the centre, 
with little copses of naked tree-trunks round about, into which 
the enemy hurled his high explosives. 

Wave after wave of splendid men went up. Not one of 
these places was won easily. The spirit of our race, all the steel 
in it, all the fire in its blood, was needed to gain the ground 
swept by machine-guns and ploughed by shells. There were 
hours when men of weaker stock would have despaired and 
yielded. But these men of ours would not be beaten. Fresh 
waves of them went to get back in the morning what had been 
lost at night, or at night what had been lost by day because of 
the fire which had destroyed those who had gone up first. 
And every day they made a little progress, thrusting forward 
an advance post here, winning a new bit of wood there, bombing 
the Germans back from ground we needed for a new advance. 

There was not a man among all our men who had any 
misunderstanding as to the purpose of the struggle. I have 
spoken to hundreds of them, and all knew that it was "up to 
them," as they say, to push on to the second German line so 

H 



114 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

that other men could break it. I know that many of these 
men, quite simple fellows, felt individually that upon his 
single courage, his last bit of pushful strength, his last stumble 
over a yard of earth towards that second German line, depended, 
as far as one man s strength tells, the success of the great 
attack. It was this spirit which made them shout " No 
surrender ! when surrender would have been an easy way of 
escape, and stick it in places of infernal horror. I write 
the plain unvarnished truth. 

It was when Contalmaison the Stronghold of the Woods 
was finally and securely taken, when Mametz Wood and 
Bailiff Wood were mostly ours, and when our positions were 
strengthened at Montauban with some footing in Tro" nes Wood, 
that the attack upon the second German line became possible. It 
was for that moment that our Generals were now waiting and 
preparing. Men were there who had fought long in the Ypres 
salient, hardened to every phase of trench warfare, and men 
who had won great honour in the Loos salient, and men, all 
of them, who had the spirit of attack. 

I watched them passing along the roads towards the front, 
saw old friends in their ranks, and knew, as I looked, that in 
all the world there are not more splendid soldiers. Hardened 
by a long campaign, bronzed to the colour of their belts, 
marching with most perfect discipline, these handsome, clean- 
cut men went into the battlefield whistling as on the first day 
of the battle their comrades had gone singing, though they 
knew that in a few hours it would be hell for them. As I 
watched them pass something broke in my heart so that I 
could have wept silly tears. There were other men, harder 
than I, who were stirred by the same emotion, and cursed the 
war. 

4 

The attack was to begin before the dawn. Behind the lines, 
as I went up to the front in the darkness, the little villages of 
France were asleep. It was a night of beauty, very warm and 
calm, with a moon giving a milky light to the world. Clouds 
trailed across it without obscuring its brightness, and there was 
only one star visible a watchful eye up there looking down 
upon the battlefields. 

The whitewashed walls of cottages and barns appeared out 



THROUGH THE GERMAN SECOND LINE 115 

of great gulfs of shadow, and trees on high ground above the 
fields were cut black against the moonlight. Warm scents 
of hay and moist earth, and new-baked bread, and the acrid 
smell of French farmyards came upon the air. Farther for 
ward there was still great quietude along the roads, but here 
and there long supply columns and ambulance convoys loomed 
black under the trees. 

The ambulances were empty before the battle. For several 
miles only one figure stood at every cross-road. It was the 
figure of Christ on a wayside Calvary. Sentries gave their 
challenge, as on the first night of battle, and presently I saw 
other soldiers about in the dark entries of French courtyards, 
their bayonets shining like a streak of light, and officers standing 
together with whispered consultations, and, along side roads, 
men marching. 

A long column of them came to a halt to let our car pass, 
and I looked into the men s eyes. There was a young officer 
there whose face I should know if I saw him again in the world, 
because it was in the rays of a lantern, and had a white light 
on it. He had the look of Lancelot. 

The men were very quiet. Very quiet also were camps of 
men and horses in fields dipping down to hollows where a few 
lanterns twinkled, and presently quiet close to the edge of the 
battlefields I passed great columns of horse-gunners and horse 
transport and cavalry with their lances up, and Indian native 
cavalry, still as statues. The men were drawn up along the 
side of the road, and their figures were utterly black in the 
darkness between an old mill-house and some other buildings. 
Except for one man who was humming a tune, they were 
quite silent, and they hardly stirred in their saddles. They 
seemed to be waiting with some grim expectation. 

The road was lined with trees which made a tunnel with 
its foliage, and at one end of the tunnel which showed a patch 
of sky there were strange lights flashing, like flaming swords 
cutting through the darkness. We went up towards the 
lights and towards a monstrous tumult of noise, and walked 
straight across country towards the centre of a circle of fire 
which was all round us. Our artillery was smashing the German 
line. 



116 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 



I described, perhaps at too great length, the bombardment 
on the night before the 1st of July. Then it seemed to me that 
nothing could be more overwhelming to one s soul and senses. 
But this was worse more wonderful and more terrible. As 
I stumbled over broken ground and shell-holes, and got caught 
in coils of wire, a cold sweat broke out upon me, and for a 
little while I was horribly afraid. It was not fear for myself. 
It was just fear, the fear that an animal may have when the 
sky is full of lightning a sensuous terror. The hell of war 
encircled us, and its \vaves of sound and light beat upon us. 

Our batteries were firing with an intense fury. The flashes of 
them were away back behind us where the heavies have their 
hiding-places and over all the ground in front of our new line 
of attack. They came out of the black earth with short, sharp 
stabs of red flame whose light filled the hollows with pools of 
fire. And the sky and the ridges of ground and the earthworks 
and ruins and woods across our lines were blazing with the 
flashes of bursting shells. Blinding light leapt about like a 
will-o -the-wisp. For a second it lit up all the horizon over 
Contalmaison, and gave a sudden picture, ghastly white, of 
the broken chateau with stumps of trees about it. Then it 
was blotted out by a great blackness, and instantly shifted to 
Mametz Wood or to Montauban, revealing their shapes intensely 
and the shells crashing beyond them, until they, too, disappeared 
with the click of a black shutter. A moment later and Fricourt 
was filled with white brilliance, so that every bit of its ruin, 
its hideous rummage of earth, its old mine-craters, and its 
plague-stricken stumps of trees were etched upon one s eyes. 
Along the German second line by Bazentin-le-Grand, Bazentin- 
le-Petit, and Longueval, at the back of the woods, our shells 
were bursting without a second s pause and in great clusters. 
They tore open the ground and let out gusts of flames. Flame- 
fountains rose and spread from the German trenches above 
Pearl Wood. The dark night was rent with all these flames, 
and hundreds of batteries were feeding the fires. 

Every calibre of gun was at work. The heavy shells, 15-inch, 
12-inch, 8-inch, 6-inch, 4-7, came overhead like flocks of birds 
infernal birds with wings that beat the air into waves and 
came whining with a shrill high note, and swooped to earth 



THROUGH THE GERMAN SECOND LINE 117 

with a monstrous roar. The lighter batteries, far forward, were 
beating the devil s tattoo, one-two-three-four, one-two-three- 
four, with sharp knocks that clouted one s ears. I sat on a 
wooden box on the top of an old dug-out in the midst of all 
this fury. There was a great gun to my left, and every time 
it fired it shook the box, and all the earth underneath, with a 
violent vibration. 

The moon disappeared soon after 3 o clock, and no stars 
were to be seen. But presently a faint ghost of dawn appeared. 
The white earth of the old, disused trenches about me became 
visible. A lark rose and sang overhead. And at 3.30 there 
was a sudden moment of hush. It was the lifting of the guns, 
and the time of attack. Over there in the darkness by Mametz 
Wood and Montauban thousands of men, the men I had seen 
going up, had risen to their feet and were going forward to 
the second German line, or to the place where death was 
waiting for them, before the light came. 

6 

The light came very quickly. It was strange what a difference 
a few minutes made. Very faintly, but steadily, the dawn 
crept through the darkness, revealing the forms of things and 
a little colour in the grass. The sandbags at my feet whitened. 
Over at Ovillers there were clouds of smoke, and from its 
denseness red and white rockets shot up and remained in the 
sky for several seconds. Other rockets, red and white and 
green, rose to the right of Contalmaison towards Bazentin-le- 
Grand. Our infantry was advancing. 

A new sound came into the general din of gun-fire. It was a 
kind of swishing noise, like that of flames in a strong wind. I 
knew what it meant. 

Enemy machine-guns," said an artillery observer, who had 
just come out of his hole in the ground. There must have 
been many of them to make that noise. 

Our own artillery had burst out into a new uproar. I could 
see our shells bursting farther forward, or thought I could. 

I believe our men are getting on," said an officer, staring 
through his glasses. 

The gunner observer had one eye to a telescope. 
There s too much mist about. And, anyhow, one can t 



118 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

make out the confusion of battle. It s always hopeless. And 
what the devil is that light ? 

" Must be a signal," said the gunner officer. " I think I d 
better report it." 

He put his head into the dug-out, and spoke to a man sitting 
by a telephone. 

At 3.55 the light was clear enough for one to see German 
shrapnel, very black and thick, between Mametz Wood and 
Bazentin Wood. High explosives were bursting there too. 
The enemy had got his guns to work upon our infantry. 

At 4 o clock there was a humming sound overhead, and I 
looked up and saw the first aeroplane flying towards the German 
lines, just as I had seen one on the first day of battle. It flew 
very low no more than 500 feet high and w r ent very steadily 
on towards the furnace brave moth ! 

At 4.10 there was a red glow to the right of Montauban. 
It rose with a pulsing light and spread upwards a great torch 
with sparks dancing over it. 

" By Jove ! said one of the men near me. " That s 

, 

Longueval on fire ! 

In a little while there was no doubt about it. I could see the 
sharp edge of broken buildings in the heart of the red glow. 
The village of Longueval was in flames. 

From behind the north-west corner of Mametz Wood a great 
rosy light rose like a cloud in the setting sun, but more glowing at 
its base. It died out three times and rose again, vividly, and 
then appeared no more. The gunner observer was bothered 
again. Was it a signal or an explosion ? With so many lights 
and flames about it was difficult to tell. 

At about 4.30 I heard another furious outburst of machine-gun 
fire in the direction of Longueval, and it seemed to spread 
westwards along Bazentin-le- Grand and Bazentin-le-Petit. I 
strained my eyes to see any of our infantry, but dense clouds 
of smoke were rolling over the ground past Contalmaison and 
between Mametz and Bazentin Woods. It seemed as if we were 
putting up a smoke-barrage there, and later a great volume 
of smoke hid the ground by Montauban. 

The enemy s artillery was now firing with great violence. 
Enormous shell -bursts flung up the earth along the line of our 
advance, arid the black shrapnel smoke was hanging heavily 
above. It seemed to me that some of their guns were firing 



THROUGH THE GERMAN SECOND LINE 119 

wildly and blindly. High explosives burst down below Fri- 
court, where there was nothing to hurt, and in places far 
afield. The German gunners had got the wind up, as soldiers 
say, and now that darkness had gone and daylight come our 
men must have gone far ahead, if luck was theirs. Had they 
broken the second German line ? Men waging for any news 
of them found the strain of ignorance intolerable. . . . What 
were they doing up there ? 



The first men to come back from the battle were the wounded. 
They were the lightly wounded, or at least men who could 
walk. They came across the fields in twos and threes at 
first, or alone, single limping figures, at a slow pace. But 
after an hour or two they came in a straggling procession from 
the first-aid dressing- stations up in the lines men with 
bandaged heads, men with their arms in slings, men with 
wounded feet, so that they could only hop along with an arm 
round a comrade s neck. 

Some of them were all blood-stained, with blood on their 
faces and hands and clothes. Others had their uniforms torn 
to tatters, and there were men who were bare almost to the 
waist, with a jacket slung over one shoulder. There was 
hardly a man among them who wore his steel helmet, though 
some carried them slung to the rifle, and others wore German 
helmets and German caps. Ambulances were waiting for them, 
and the stretcher-bearers were busy with the bad cases. The 
stretcher-bearers had done their duty as gallantly as the 
fighting men, and some of their own comrades were among 
the wounded. 

But they had been reinforced by men who do not belong to 
the R.A.M.C. Some of the stretchers were being carried by 
men in grey uniforms with flat round caps, who walked stolidly 
looking about them, at all those British soldiers, and at those 
fields on the British side, with curious eyes as though every 
thing were strange to them. They were German prisoners 
paying for the privilege of life, and glad to pay. 

Later in the day there came down a long column of these 
men, not carrying stretchers, but marching shoulder to shoulder, 
under armed escort. There were over 700 of them in this 
one convoy, as a living proof that the day had gone well for 



120 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

British arms. They were tall, sturdy men for the most part, 
and in spite of their ordeal by fire most of them looked in good 
physical health, though haggard and hollowed-eyed and a 
little dazed. There was a number of wounded among them 
who dragged wearily by the side of their luckier friends, but 
those who were badly hurt travelled with our own wounded, 
and I saw several of them on the lorries with their hands on 
the shoulders of men who had gone out to kill them. 

So the backwash of battle came down like a tide, but long 
before then I knew that we had broken the second German 
line and that our men were fighting on the high ground beyond. 
The village of Longueval was ours. Bazentin-le-Grand, both 
wood and village, and Bazentin-le-Petit were ours. A gallant 
body of men had swept through Trones Wood, on the extreme 
right of the line, and patrols were pushing into Delville Wood 
and towards the highest ridge behind the broken German 
trenches. On the left our men had swept up and beyond 
Contalmaison Villa, which stands far north of the village. 

Every objective of the attack had been carried and our 
losses were not enormously heavy. The German lines had 
been captured on a front of nearly three miles and the cavalry 
was going in. 

Scottish troops were amongst those who went first into 
Longueval men belonging to famous old regiments and they 
fought very grimly, according to the spirit of their race, with 
their blood set on fire by the music of the pipes that went with 
them. Before the light of dawn came, and when our guns 
lifted forward, they rose from the ground just north of Montau- 
ban and went forward across No Man s Land towards the 
German trenches. They had to make a distance of 1200 yards 
over open ground and came at once under heavy shell-fire 
and an enfilade fire from machine-guns. 

The enemy also used smoke-bombs, and the ground was 
ploughed with high explosives. A number of men fell, but the 
others went forward shouting and reached the German line. 
In some parts the wire had not been cut by our bombardment, 
but the Highlanders hurled themselves upon it and beat their 
way. Machine-guns were pattering bullets upon their ranks, 
but not for long. The men poured through and surged in 
waves into and across the German trenches. Every man 
among them was a grenadier, provided with bombs and with 



THROUGH THE GERMAN SECOND LINE 121 

supplies coming up behind. It was with the bomb, the most 
deadly weapon of this murderous war for close combat, that 
the men fought their way through. The German soldiers 
defended themselves with their own hand-grenades when their 
machine-guns had been knocked out in the first-line trenches, 
but as they sprang out of their dug-outs when the bombardment 
lifted and our men were upon them they had but a poor chance 
of life unless they were quick to surrender. I hear that these 
trenches in the second German line were not deeply dug, and 
that the dug-outs themselves were hardly bomb-proof. 

For once in a way the enemy had been lazy and over-confident, 
and he paid now a bitter price for his pride in believing that the 
first line was impregnable. I do not care to write about this 
part of the fighting. It was bloody work, and would not be 
good to read. One incident was told me by a kilted sergeant 
as he lay wounded. From one of the dug-outs came a German 
officer. He had a wild light in his eyes, and carried a great 
axe. 

" I surrender," he said in good English. 

And in broad Scotch the sergeant told him that if he had an 
idea of surrendering it would be a good and wise thing to drop 
his chopper first. But the German officer swung it high, and 
it came like a flash past the sergeant s head. Like a flash also 
a bayonet did its work. 

8 

While men were " cleaning up " the dug-outs in the first-line 
trenches other men pressed on and stormed their way into 
Longueval village. The great fires there which I had seen 
in the darkness had died down, and there was only the glow 
and smoulder of them in the ruins. But machine-guns were 
still chattering in their emplacements. 

In one broken building there were six of them firing through 
holes in the walls. It was a strong redoubt sweeping the 
ground, which had once been a roadway and was now a shambles. 
Scottish soldiers rushed the place and flung bombs into it until 
there was no more swish of bullets but only the rising of smoke- 
clouds and black dust. Longueval was a heap of charred 
bricks above-ground, but there was still trouble below-ground 
before it was firmly taken. There were many cellars in which 
Germans fought like wolves at bay. And down in the darkness 



122 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

of these places men fought savagely, seeing only the glint of 
each other s eyes, and feeling for each other s throats, unless 
there were still bombs handy to make a quicker ending. It 
was primitive warfare. The cave-men fought like that, in 
such darkness, though not with bombs, which belong to our 
age in this Christian era of grace and civilization. 

To the right of Longueval and south of the second German 
line lies the Trones Wood, and as it was on the right flank of 
our attack it could not be left in the enemy s hands. We 
had held most of it once, a few days ago, and for a few hours, 
but the enemy s shell-fire had made the place untenable. It 
was into that fire that some of our English battalions advanced 
yesterday morning from Bernafay Wood. They shelled us 
like hell," said a boy who came from a quiet place in Sussex 
before he knew what hell is like. 

There were machine-guns sweeping the southern end of the 
woods with cross-fire, and with bursting shells overhead it was 
a place of black horror in the night. But these English boys 
kept crawling on to gain a yard or two before the next crash 
came, and then another yard or two, and at last they came up 
to the German line, and flung themselves suddenly upon 
German machine-gunners and German riflemen sheltered 
behind earthworks and trunks of trees. . . . The wood was 
captured again, and then a queer kind of miracle happened, 
and it seemed as if those who had been dead had come to life 
again. For out of holes in the ground, and from behind the 
fallen timbers of shelled trees, came a number of English boys, 
dirty and wild-looking, who shouted out, " Hallo, lads ! 
and " What cheer, matey ? " or just shouted and laughed with 
a sob in their throats and big tears down their grimy faces. 
They were West Kents, who had first taken the Trones Wood 
and then had been caught in a barrage of fire. With one 
officer 300 men had dug themselves into the roots of trees on 
the eastern edge of the wood and kept the Germans at bay 
with a machine-gun. 

9 

Meanwhile a number of battalions, mostly English, but 
with some Scots men who have done as well in this war 
since the early days of it as any troops who have fought in 
France were attacking the line between Longueval and the 



THROUGH THE GERMAN SECOND LINE 123 

two Bazentins. They, too, found the wire uncut in places, 
but they went through in a tearing hurry, hating the machine- 
gun fire and resolved to end it quickly. They stormed the 
German trenches and fought down them with bombs and 
bayonets. German soldiers came out of the dug-outs and 
begged for mercy. They came holding out their watches, 
their pocket-books, their helmets, anything that they thought 
would ransom their lives, and when they had been taken 
prisoners they made no trouble about carrying back the English 
wounded, but were glad to go. It was all in the darkness, 
except when shell-bursts lit the ground, and some of our 
battalions lost their sense of direction towards Bazentin Wood. 
Prisoners acted as guides to their own lines. Five or six of them 
unwillingly led the way back. A British officer of nineteen, a 
boy who had only been in France a month or two, led one of the 
companies forward because his brother-officers had fallen. 

4 Come on, lads ! he shouted. " I m only a kid, but I ll 
show you the way all right." 

They liked those words, " only a kid," and laughed at them. 
He s a plucked un, he is," said one of the men who followed 
him. They went after him into Bazentin Wood, and others 
followed on, into and through a heavy barrage of fire. 

So it was on the left, where other battalions were at work 
pressing forward in waves to Contalmaison Villa and the 
ground beyond. The second German line had fallen before 
our men, and they were over it and away. 



10 

It was at about 6 o clock in the evening that some British 
cavalry came into action. They were the men whom I had 
seen on my way up to the battlefield, a small detachment of 
the Dragoon Guards and also of the Deccan Horse. They 
worked forward with our infantry on a stretch of country 
between Bazentin Wood and Delville Wood, rising up to 
High Wood (Foureaux Wood), and then rode out alone in 
reconnaissance, in true cavalry formation, with the commander 
in the rear. Lord ! Not one in a thousand would have believed 
it possible to see this again. When they passed, the infantry 
went a little mad, and cheered wildly and joyously, as though 
these men were riding on a road of triumph. 



124 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

So they rode on into open country, skirting Delville Wood. 
Presently a machine-gun opened fire upon them. It was in a 
cornfield, with German infantry, and the officer in command 
gave the word to his men to ride through the enemy. The 
Dragoons put their lances down and rode straight into the wheat. 
They killed several men and then turned and rode back, and 
charged again, among scattered groups of German infantry. 
Some of them prepared to withstand the charge with fixed 
bayonets. Others were panic-stricken and ran forward crying 
" Pity ! Pity ! " and clung to the saddles and stirrup-leathers 
of the Dragoon Guards. Though on a small scale, it was a 
cavalry action of the old style, the first on the Western front 
since October of the first year of the war. 

With thirty-two prisoners our men rode on slowly, still 
reconnoitring the open country on the skirt of Delville Wood, 
until they came again under machine-gun fire and drew back. 
As they did so an aeroplane came overhead, skimming very 
low, at no more than 300 feet above ground. The cavalry 
turned in their saddles to stare at it for a moment or two, 
believing that it was a hostile machine. But no bullets came 
their way, and in another moment it swooped over the German 
infantry concealed in the wheat and fired at them with a 
machine-gun. Four times it circled and swooped and fired, 
creating another panic among the enemy, and then it flew off, 
leaving the cavalry full of admiration for this daring feat. 
They could ride no farther, owing to the nature of the ground, 
and that night they dug themselves in. German guns searched 
in vain for them, and the cavalry to-night is full of pride, be 
lieving with amazing optimism that their day may come again. 
[It was after all only a "fancy stunt," as soldiers call it, and it 
seems certain now that the cavalry is an obsolete arm of war 
on the Western front. The Tanks have taken their place.] 

The scene all through the afternoon behind the battle-lines 
and down in little villages beyond the reach of guns will stay 
in my mind as historic pictures. Numbers of wounded men 
with a very high proportion of lightly wounded among them- 
arrived at the casualty clearing-stations, and while they waited 
their turn for the doctors and nurses lay about the grass, 
fingering their souvenirs watches, shell-fuses, helmets, pocket- 
books, German letters, and all manner of trophies and telling 
their adventures in that wild battle of the night. 



THROUGH THE GERMAN SECOND LINE 125 

They seemed to have no sense of pain, and not one man 
groaned, in spite of broken arms and head wounds and bayonet- 
thrusts. Every dialect of England and Scotland and Ireland 
could be heard among them. There were men from many 
battalions, and as they lay there talking or smoking or sleeping 
in the sunlight, other processions came down in straggling 
columns, limping and holding on to comrades, hobbling with 
sticks, peering through blood-stained rags, tired and worn 
and weak, but with a spirit in them that was marvellous. 



XIV 
THE WOODS OF DEATH 



JULY 17 

WE are again in the difficult hours that inevitably follow a 
successful advance, when ground gained at the extreme limit of 
our progress has to be defended against counter-attacks from close 
quarters, when men in exposed positions have to suffer the ravag 
ing of the enemy s artillery, and when our own gunners have to 
work cautiously because isolated patrols of men in khaki may be 
mistaken in bad light for grey-clad men in the same neighbourhood. 
This period is the test of good generalship and of good captains. 

The weather was rather against us to-day. There was a 
thick haze over the countryside, causing what naval men call 
low visibility," and making artillery observation difficult. 
It was curious to stand on high ground and see only the dim 
shadow-forms of places like Mametz Wood and the other wood 
lands to its right and left, where invisible shells were bursting. 

Our shells were passing overhead, and I listened to their high 
whistling, but could see nothing of their bursts, and for nearly 
an hour an intense bombardment made a great thunder in the 
air behind the thick veil of mist. 

We were shelling High Wood, from which our men have had to 
retire for a time owing to the enemy s heavy barrage of high 
explosives, and we were also pounding the enemy s lines to the 
north of Bazentin-le-Grand and Longueval, where he is very 
close to our men. Hostile batteries were retaliating upon the 
woodlands which we have gained and held during the past 
three days. 

2 

This woodland fighting has been as bad as anything in this 
war most frightful and bloody. Dead bodies lie strewn 



THE WOODS OF DEATH 127 

beneath the trees, and in the shell-holes are wounded men who 
have crawled there to die. There is hardly any cover in which 
men may get shelter from shell-fire. 

The Germans had dug shallow trenches, but they were 
chvirned up by our heavies, and it is difficult to dig in again 
because of the roots of great trees, and the fallen timber, and 
the masses of twigs and foliage which have been brought down 
by British and German guns. When our troops went into 
Trones Wood under most damnable fire of 5*9 s they grubbed 
about for some kind of cover without much success. 

But some of them had the luck to strike upon three German 
dug-outs which were exceptionally deep and good. Obviously 
they had been built some time ago for officers who, before we 
threatened their second line, may have thought Trones Wood a 
fine dwelling-place, and not too dangerous if they went under 
ground. They went down forty feet, and panelled their rooms, 
and brought a piano down for musical evenings. 

A young company commander found the piano and struck 
some chords upon it at a time when there was louder music over 
head the scream of great shells and the incessant crash of high 
explosives in the wood. Farther on, at the edge of the wood, 
our men found a machine-gun emplacement built solidly of 
cement and proof against all shell splinters, and it was from 
this place that so many of our men were shot down before the 
enemy s gunners could be bombed out. 







One of the most extraordinary experiences of this woodland 
fighting was that of an English boy who now lies in a field- 
hospital smiling with very bright and sparkling eyes because 
the world seems to him like Paradise after an infernal dwelling- 
place. He went with the first rush of men into Mametz Wood, 
but was left behind in a dug-out when they retired before a 
violent counter-attack. 

Some German soldiers passed this hole where the boy lay 
crouched, and flung a bomb down on the off-chance that an 
English soldier might be there. It burst on the lower steps and 
Bounded the lonely boy in the dark corner. 

He lay there a day listening to the crash of shells through the 
-rees overhead English shell-fire not daring to come out. 



128 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

Then in the night he heard the voices of his own countrymen, 
and he shouted loudly. 

But as the English soldiers passed they threw a bomb into the 
dug-out, and the boy was wounded again. He lay there 
another day, and the gun-fire began all over again, and lasted 
until the Germans came back. Another German soldier saw 
the old hole and threw a bomb down, as a safe thing to do, and 
the boy received his third wound. 

He lay in the darkness one more day, not expecting to live, 
but still alive, still eager to live and to see the light again. If 
only the English would come again and rescue him ! 

He prayed for them to come. And when they came, captur 
ing the wood completely and finally, one of them, seeing the 
entrance to the dug-out and thinking Germans might be hiding 
there, threw a bomb down and the boy was wounded for the 
fourth time. This time his cries were heard, and the monoto 
nous repetition of this ill-luck ended, and the victim of it lies 
in a white bed with wonderful shining eyes. 



4 

The German prisoners have stories like this to tell, for they 
suffered worst of all under the fury of our bombardment and the 
coming and going of our troops in the woodland fighting. I 
spoke with one of them to-day one of a new batch of men, 
whose number I reckoned as 300, just brought down from 
Bazentin-le-Grand. 

He was a linguist, having been an accountant in the North 
German Lloyd, and gave me a choice of conversation in French, 
Italian, Greek, or English. I chose my own tongue, but let 
him do the talking, and standing there in a barbed-wire entangle 
ment, surrounded by hundreds of young Germans, unshaven, 
dusty, haggard, and war-worn, but still strong and sturdy men, 
he described vividly the horrors of the woods up by the two 
Bazentins where he and these comrades of his had lain under our 
last bombardment. 

They had but little cover except what they could scrape 
ut beneath the roots of trees. And the trees crashed upon 
them, smashing the limbs of men, and shells burst and buried 
men in deep pits, and the wounded lay groaning under great 
branches which pinned them to the ground or in the open where 



THE WOODS OF DEATH 129 

other shells were bursting. From what I can make out some 
of the men here retreated across the country between Bazentin 
and Delville Woods, for they were the men who were captured 
by our cavalry. 

" My comrades were afraid," said this German sergeant. 
" They cried out to me that the Indians would kill their prisoners, 
and that we should die if we surrendered. But I said, That 
is not true, comrades. It is only a tale. Let us go forward 
very quietly with our hands up. So in that way we went, and 
the Indian horsemen closed about us, and I spoke to one of 
them, asking for mercy for our men, and he was very kind, and a 
gentleman, and we surrendered to him safely." 

He was glad to be alive, this man who came from Wiesbaden. 
He showed me the portrait of his wife and boy, and cried a little, 
saying that the German people did not make the war, but had 
to fight for their country when told to fight, like other men. 
All his people had believed, he said, that the war would be over 
in August or September. 

44 Are they hungry ? " I asked. 

44 They have enough to eat," he said. " They are not 
starving." 

He waved his hand back to the woodlands, and remembered 
the terror of the place from which he had just come. 

44 Over there it was worse than death. 



Over there on the one small village of Bazentin-le-Grand our 
heavy howitzers flung an amazing quantity of shells on Friday 
morning. The place was swept almost flat, and little was left 
of its church and houses but reddish heaps of bricks and dust, 
and twisted iron, and the litter of destruction. Yet there were 
many Germans living here when the men of some famous 
regiments came through in the dawn with bayonets and bombs, 
Yorkshiremen and some of the Scottish all mixed together, as 
happens at such times. There was one great cellar underneath 
Bazentin-le-Grand large enough to hold 1500 men, and here, 
crouching in its archways and dark passages, were numbers of 
German soldiers. 

They came to meet our men and surrendered to them. And 
here also lay many wounded, in their blood, and unbandaged 

I 



130 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

just as they had crawled down from the ground above where 
our shells were smashing everything. 

If any man were to draw the picture of those things or to tell 
them more nakedly than I have told them, because now is not 
the time, nor this the place, no man or woman would dare to 
speak again of war s " glory," or of " the splendour of war," or 
any of those old lying phrases which hide the dreadful truth. 



XV 

PRISONERS OF WAR 
i 

JULY 17 

IN spite of bad weather, which has hampered operations so that 
no great advance has been possible, we have made some progress 
to-day in the direction of Pozieres. 

Some of our troops stormed a double line of trenches from 
Bazentin-ie-Petit to the south-east of Pozieres, a distance of 
1500 yards, strewn from one end to the other with German dead 
and wounded. 

High Wood, or the Bois de Foureaux, as it is properly called, 
is to a great extent No Man s Land, as lying over the crest of the 
hill our men could be shelled by the direct observation of the 
enemy s artillery, over the heads of their own men in the lower 
edge of the wood. 

Our line therefore has been drawn back from this salient and 
straightened out from Longueval to the long trench by Pozieres, 
which is now approached on both sides. 

Ovillers is ours, after a German post which had been bravely 
defended surrendered with two officers and about 140 men early 
this morning. There is no other news of importance to-day on 
the line of attack, but it is good enough, and the general position 
of our force is improved. 



What is the German point of view about our attack and the 
prospects of the war ? 

That is the question I have always had in my head during the 
last fortnight, when I have seen batches of prisoners being led 
down from the battlefields, and the question I have put to some 
of them in bad German or fair English. 



132 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

It is difficult to get any clear answer, or an answer of any real 
value. The men have just come out of dreadful places, many 
of them are still dazed under the shock of shell-fire, some of 
them are proud and sullen, others are ready to talk but ignorant 
of the battle-front in which they have been and of the situation 
outside the dug-outs in which they crouched. 

Yet there is something to be learnt out of their very ignorance, 
and by putting together answers from separate groups of men 
and individual soldiers one does get a kind of hint of the general 
idea prevailing among these German troops against us. 

Quite a number of them have told me that they and their 
people were sure that the war would be over in August or 
September. They have been promised that, but could not 
give any reason for belief except the promise. 

" Do you think you are winning ? " I asked one man of real 
intelligence. 

" We thought so," he answered. 

"And now?" 

He raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders. 

" The English are stronger than we believed." 

There seems to me no doubt that they were perfectly confident 
in the strength of their lines. They did not believe that such 
defences as those at Fricourt and Montauban could ever be 
broken. 

The new power of our artillery has amazed them they speak 
of it always with terror and the officers especially admit that 
they did not imagine that " amateur gunners," as they call our 
men, could achieve such results. 

For the courage of our infantry they have always had a great 
respect, remembering the two battles of Ypres, but they count 
the strength of armies by the strength of guns, and until recent 
days knew they had the greater power. 

The foundations of their belief are shaken, but only to the 
extent that they admit the possibility of their army having 
to retire to a new line of defence. 

I have not found one man speak of defeat. They are still 
convinced that the German army will never be beaten to the 
point of surrender. As the German doctor whom I have 
previously quoted said to me a few days ago, You are strong 
and we are strong. Neither side can crush the other. If the 
war goes on it will be the suicide of Europe." 



PRISONERS OF WAR 133 

These German soldiers do not want it to go on. That idea 
in their heads is clear enough. They are weary of war, and have 
a great craving for peace. They want to see their wives and 
children again. One strain of thought creeps out in their talk. 
It is the suggestion that they fight not as free men desiring to 
fight, but as men compelled to fight by higher powers, against 
whom they cannot rebel. 

" It is our discipline," said one of them to-day. ; We cannot 
help ourselves." 

I am told by one of the officers in charge of them that they 
talk of another inevitable war between Germany and England 
in ten years from now. 

They have been taught to believe, he says, that we thrust 
this \var :r>on them, that all through we have be ... the aggressors, 
and that Germany will seek her revenge. 



3 

Personally, I have not heard such w r ords spoken, but rather 
from several of these prisoners a frank hatred of war as the 
cause of horrors and suffering beyond the strength of man to 
bear. They talk as men under an evil spell put upon them by 
unknown powers beyond their reach. 

As I have said, all this does not amount to anything of real 
value in trying to see into the spirit of the German people. 
They are the opinions of prisoners, who have escaped from the 
worst terrors of war, but are immediately cautious of any 
interrogation, and perhaps a little tempted to say pleasing things 
to their captors. They cannot conceal their ignorance, which is 
enormous, because all but victories have been hidden from them 
until their own defeat, but they conceal their knowledge. 

I was interested, for instance, to hear them deny any great 
suffering from hunger in their own country. 

Our people have enough to eat," said several of them when I 
questioned them. When I told them of the letters captured in 
their dug-outs, all full of pitiful tales about lack of food, they 
stared at me with grave eyes, and said again, stoutly : 

They have enough to eat. Bread enough, and meat 
enough." 

Their first desire upon coming from the battlefields is water, 
which they get at once, and their next is permission to write 



134 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

* 

home to their people. All of them are anxious to be sent at 
once to England, where they expect greater comforts than in the 
fields with barbed-wire hedges, where they are kept on the way 
down until they can be entrained. 

/ 

As I watched them to-day again I thought of our men who 
are prisoners, and of all the great sum of human misery which 
has been heaped up in this war. Fortunately, in our treatment 
of prisoners we teach our enemies a lesson in chivalry, for it is 
not, I think, in our race or history, with rare exceptions, to kick 
men when they are down. 



XVI 

THE LAST STAND IN OVILLERS 



JULY 18 

IN all the fighting during the past fortnight the struggle for 
Ovillers stands out separately as a siege in which both attack 
and defence were of a most dogged and desperate kind. 

The surrender of the remnants of its garrison last night ends 
an episode which will not be forgotten in history. These men 
were of the 3rd Prussian Guard, and our Commander-in- Chief, in 
his day s dispatch, has paid a tribute to their bravery which 
is echoed by officers and men who fought against them. 
It is a tribute to our own troops also, who by no less 
courage broke down a stubborn resistance and captured the 
garrison. 

I have already described the earlier phases of the siege ; the 
first attack on July 1, when our men broke through the outer 
network of trenches and advanced through sheets of machine- 
gun fire, suffering heavy casualties, the seizure of separated bits 
of broken trench-work by little bodies of gallant men fighting 
independently, gaining ground by a yard or two at a time and 
attacking machine-gun posts and bombing posts by hand-to- 
hand fights ; the underground struggle in great vaulted cellars 
beneath the ruined town ; the surprise attack at night when a 
number of fresh troops sprang upon the defences to the western 
side of the town, and then, linking up with the men in the 
captured trenches and ruins, cut the place in half, took many 
prisoners, and isolated the enemy still holding out in the northern 
half of the position. 

Many different battalions had taken a share in the fighting, 
all had suffered, and then given way to new men who knew the 
nature of this business, but set grimly to work to carry on the 



136 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

slow process of digging out the enemy from his last strongholds. 
It was almost literally a work of digging out. 



The town of Ovillers does not exist. It was annihilated by 
the bombardments and made a rubbish-heap of bricks and dust. 
When our men were separated from the enemy by only a yard or 
two or by only a barricade or two the artillery on both sides 
ceased fire upon Ovillers, lest the gunners should kill their 
own men. 

They barraged intensely round about. Our shells fell 
incessantly upon the enemy s communication-trenches to the 
north and east so that the beleagured garrison should not get 
supplies or reinforcements. 

We made a wall of death about them. But though no shells 
now burst over the ground where many dead lay L , cwn, there 
was artillery of n lighter kind, not less deadly It was the 
artillery of machine-guns and bombs. The Prussian Guard 
made full use of the vaulted cellars and of the ruined houses. 

They had made a series of small keeps, which they defended 
almost entirely by machine-gun fire. As soon as we advanced 
the machine-guns were set to work, and played their hose of 
bullets across the ground which our men had to cover. One by 
one, by getting round about them, by working zigzag ways 
through cellars and ruins, by sudden rushes of bombing parties 
led by young officers of daring spirit, we knocked out these 
machine-gun emplacements and the gunners who served them, 
until, yesterday, there was only the last remnant of the garrison 
left in Ovillers. 

These men of the 3rd Prussian Guard had long been in a hope 
less position. They were starving because all supplies had been 
cut off by our never-ceasing barrage, and they had no water- 
supply, so that they suffered all the torture of great thirst. 

Human nature could make no longer resistance, and at last 
the officers raised a signal of surrender, and came over with 
nearly 140 men, who held their hands up. 

The fighting had been savage. At close grips in the broken 
earthworks and deep cellars there had been no sentiment, but 
British soldiers and Germans had flung themselves upon each 
other with bombs and any kind of weapon. 



THE LAST STAND IN OVILLERS 137 

But now, when all was ended, the last of the German garrison 
were received with the honours of war, and none of our soldiers 
denies them the respect due to great courage. 

They stuck it splendidly," was the verdict of one of them 
to-day, and though there is no love lost between our army and 
the enemy s, it is good at least that we should have none of that 
silly contempt for the foe which is sometimes expressed by 
people never by British soldiers who unconsciously discredit 
the valour of our men by underestimating the courage and 
tenacity of those who fight us. 



XVII 
THE SCOTS AT LONGUEVAL 



JULY 20 

THE present stage of our advance is causing us very hard 
fighting for important positions on high ground which must be 
gained and held before new progress over open country is 
possible. The enemy is gathering up his reserves and flinging 
them against us to check the onward movement at all costs, and 
it seems to me that he has brought up new batteries of heavy 
guns, because his artillery-fire is increasing. 

His prisoners reveal the grave anxiety that reigns behind 
the German lines, where there is no attempt to minimize the 
greatness of our menace. The enemy is undoubtedly straining 
every nerve to organize a new and formidable resistance. 

To-day, however, he has lost many men and valuable ground, 
not only in fighting with British troops, but with the French, who 
at Maurepas and other positions on our right have made a 
successful advance. 

In the early hours of this morning, after a long bombardment 
which made the night very dreadful with noise, and the sky 
vivid with the light of bursting shells such a night as I 
described at length a day or two ago an attack was made by 
our troops on the high ground between Delville Wood and High 
Wood and to the west of these positions. 

The enemy was in great strength, and maintained a strong 
defence, but he suffered severely, and was forced to retreat in 
disorder upon some parts of his line. 

2 

A good deal of the fighting fell to south-country boys who 
once followed the plough and still have the English sky in their 



THE SCOTS AT LONGUEVAL 139 

eyes. But not far from them were some of the " Harry Lauder 
lads," who used to man the battlements of Edinburgh Castle 
when Rouge Dragon knocked at the gate and asked admittance 
for the King. 

They had a bad night " the worst a man could dream of," 
said one of them who had known other bad nights of war. 
They lay under the cross-fire of great shells, British and German. 
Field-batteries were pumping out shells in a great hurry before 
breakfast-time, but these were as nothing compared with the 
work of the heavies. 

We were firing 6 Grandmothers and Aunties," those 
15-inch and 12-inch shells which go roaring through the air and 
explode with vast earth-shaking crashes. And the enemy was 
replying with his coal-scuttles. 

They were the real * Jack Johnsons, said a Devonshire lad 
who had a piece of one of them in his right shoulder. These 
brutes have not been seen, I m told, since Ypres, except 
in ones or twos. But they came over as thick and fast as 
hand-grenades. You know the kind of hole they make ? 
Tis forty feet across and deep enough to bury a whole 
platoon." 

The din fairly made me quake," said a tall lad with the 
straw-coloured hair one sees on market days in Ipswich, and he 
shivered a little at the remembrance of the night, though the 
sun was warm upon him then. 

But they did not suffer much from all this gun-fire as they 
manned their trenches in the darkness. The shells passed over 
them, and few were hurt. The attack was made before the 
dawn up the rising slope of ground towards high roads which 
used to go across from the Bois de Foureaux, or High Wood as 
we call it, to Delville Wood. 

Now there are no roads, for our bombardment had torn up the 
earth into a series of deep craters. The Germans had a line of 
dug-outs here, built in great haste since the 1st of July, but 
well built. 

As soon as our men were upon them, the German soldiers, who 
had been hiding below-ground, came up like rabbits when the 
ferrets are at work. Most of them ran away, as hard as they 
could, stumbling and falling over the broken ground. 

They ran so hard," said one of our men, " that I couldn t 
catch up with em. It was a queer kind of race, us chasing em, 



140 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

and they running. The only Germans I came up with were 
dead ? uns." 

But some of the Germans did not run. They came forward 
through the half-darkness of this dawn with their hands raised. 
One Cornish boy I knew took five prisoners, who crowded round 
him crying " Kamerad ! " so that he felt like the old woman in 

/ O 

the shoe. 

Up to that point our casualties were very slight, but later on, 
up the higher ground, the enemy s machine-gun fire swept 
across the grass and the brown, bare earth of the old trenches, 
and above the high rims of the shell-craters. But our men 
swept on. 

Other troops were working round High Wood on the left, and 
in the centre men were advancing into the wood itself, and 
forcing forward over the fallen trees and branches and the 
bodies of German dead. The enemy s shells crashed above 
them, but these regiments of ours were determined to get on 
and to hold on, and during the day they have organized strong 
points, and captured the western side and all the southern part 
of this position. 

3 

The situation at Longueval and Deville Wood, on the north 
east of that village, has been very full of trouble for our men ever 
since these places were taken by some of our Highland regiments 
on July 14. The enemy made repeated counter-attacks from 
the upper end of the village, where he still held some machine- 
gun emplacements, and kept a way open through his trenches 
here on the north so that he could send up supports and supplies. 

From the north also he concentrated heavy artillery-fire on the 
southern part of Delville \Vood, which was held by some of our 
South African troops, and maintained a violent barrage. 

Nevertheless the Highlanders have held on for nearly a week 
with a dogged endurance that has frustrated all the efforts of the 
enemy to get back on to their old ground. The gallantry of 
these men who wear the tartans of the old Scottish clans would 
seem wonderful if it were not habitual with them. 

Their first dash for Longueval was one of the finest exploits 
of the war. They were led forward by their pipers, who went 
with them not only towards the German lines but across them 
and into the thick of the battle. 



THE SCOTS AT LONGUEVAL 141 

It was to the tune of " The Campbells are coming " that one 
regiment went forward, and that music, which I heard last up the 
slopes of Stirling Castle, was heard with terror, beyond a doubt, 
by the German soldiers. Then the pipes screamed out the 
Charge, the most awful music to be heard by men who have the 
Highlanders against them, and with fixed bayonets and hand- 
grenades they stormed the German trenches. 

Here there are many concealed machine-gun emplacements, 
and dug-outs so strong that no shell could smash them. Some 
of them were great vaults and concreted chambers of great 
depth, where many Germans could find cover. But the High 
landers went down into them with great recklessness, two or 
three men flinging themselves into the vaults where enemies 
were packed. They were scornful of all such dangers. 

I am told by one of their colonels that in bombing down the 
communication-trenches they threw all caution to the wind, and 
while some of the men went along the trenches others ran along 
on top under heavy fire, cheering their comrades on, and then 
leaping down upon the enemy. 

The Germans defended themselves with most stubborn 
courage, and even now, or at least as late as last night, they still 
serve some machine-guns at one point, from which it has been 
found difficult to dislodge them. They are down in a concrete 
emplacement, from which they can send out a continual spatter 
of bullets down the ruined way of what once was a street. 

The Highlanders dug trenches across the village, and had what 
they call in soldiers language " a hell of a time," which is a 
true way of putting it. The enemy barraged the village with 
progressive lines of heavy shells, yard by yard, but by the best 
of luck his lines stopped short of where some ranks of High 
landers were lying down in fours, using frightful words to keep 
their spirits up. There were hours of bad luck, too, and one was 
when some of the transport men and horses were knocked out 
by getting into a barrage. Casualties were heavy among other 
officers and men, but the Highlanders held on with a wonderful 
spirit. , 

4 

It is a spirit which I saluted to-day with reverence when I met 
these men marching out of the fire-zone. They came marching 
across broken fields, where old wire still lies tangled and old 



142 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

trenches cut up the ground, and the noise of the guns was about 
them. 

Some of our heavy batteries were firing with terrific shocks of 
sound, which made mule-teams plunge and tremble, and struck 
sharply across the thunder of masses of guns firing along the 
whole line of battle. There was a thick summer haze about, 
and on the ridges the black vapours of shell-bursts, and all the 
air was heavy with smoke. It was out of this that the High 
landers came marching. They brought their music with them, 
and the pipes of war were playing a Scottish love-song : 

I lo e nae laddie but ane, 
An he lo es nae lassie but me. 

Their kilts were caked with mud and stained with blood and 
filth, but the men were beautiful, marching briskly, with a fine 
pride in their eyes. Officers and men of other regiments 
watched them pass and saluted them, as men who had fought 
with heroic courage, so that the dirtiest of them there and the 
humblest of these Jocks was a fine gentleman and worthy of 
knighthood. 

Many of them wore German helmets and grinned beneath 
them. One brawny young Scot had the cap of a German Staff 
officer cocked over his ear. One machine-gun section brought 
down two German machines besides their own. They were very 
tired, but they held their heads up, and the pipers who had been 
with them blew out their bags bravely, though hard up for wind. 

And the Scottish love-song rang out across the fields. What 
ever its words, it was, I think, a love-song for the dear dead 
they had left behind them. 



XVIII 

THE DEVIL S WOOD 
i 

JULY 21 

DELVILLE WOOD, to the right of Longueval, is a name marked 
on the war-maps, but some of our soldiers, who take liberties 
with all French place-names, giving a familiar and homely 
sound to words beyond the trick of their tongues, call this 
" The Devil s Wood." 

It is a reasonable name for it. It is a devilish place, which 
has been a death-trap to both the German and British troops 
who have held it in turn, or parts of it. It is here and 
in High Wood to the north-west of it that the fighting 
continues hotly. Last night and to-day the northern end 
was under the fire of our guns, the southern end under 
German fire, and somewhere about the centre the opposing 
infantry is entrenched as far as it is possible to dig in such 
a place. 

The German soldiers have the advantage in defence. They 
have placed their machine-guns behind barricades of great 
tree-trunks, hidden their sharpshooters up in the foliage of 
trees still standing above all the litter of branches smashed 
down by shrapnel and high explosives, and send a patter of 
bullets across to our men, who have dug holes for themselves 
below the tough roots. 

There is no need for either side to do any wood-chopping 
for the building of their barricades. Great numbers of trees 
have fallen, cut clean in half by heavy shells, and Jie across 
each other in the tangle of brushwood. Branches have been 
lopped off or torn off, and are piled up as though for a bonfire. 
The broken trunks stick up in a ghastly way, stripped of their 
bark, and enormous roots to which the earth still clings have 



144 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

been torn out of the ground as though by a hurricane, and 
stretch their tentacles out above deep pits. 

The wood is strewn with dead, and wounded men are so 
caught in the jungle of fallen branches that they can hardly 
crawl through it. Even the unwounded have to crawl on their 
way forward to fight, over, or underneath, the great trunks 
which lie across the tracks. 

The gallant South Africans who were here could not dig 
quickly enough to get cover from the shells which the enemy s 
guns pumped into the wood as soon as our men had gained it, 
and found it very hard to dig at all, but now, I hope, our 
troops are more secure from shell-fire and the enemy is suffering 
severely from our bombardment. His machine-guns chatter 
through the day and night from one or two strong emplacements, 
and our men, lying behind their own stockades, effectively 
reply. In the twilight of " The Devil s Wood the struggle 
goes on, but gradually we are enclosing the place and the 
Germans in it are not there for long. 



JULY 27 

At about ten o clock this morning our troops again took 
Delville Wood all but a narrow strip on the north and 
perhaps it is the last time that it will be necessary to send 
men to the assault of this evil position which has earned the 
nickname of " Devil s Wood from soldiers who have been 
through it and out of it. 

As one of our officers said to me this morning, " I wish to 
goodness we could wipe the place off the map, or burn it off. 
A good forest fire there would cleanse the ground of this filthy 
wreckage of trees which has been a death-trap to so many 
good fellows." 

It is a queer thing that so many trees are still standing, and 
that it still looks like a wood as I saw it the other day when the 
enemy was barraging this side of it. In spite of all the trees 
that have been cut down by shells the foliage still looks dense 
at a distance and hides all the horror underneath. 

To-day many more trees have been slashed off and hurled 
upon other fallen trunks. If the wood had been drier the 
forest fire would have blazed. I am told that our concentration 



THE DEVIL S WOOD 145 

of guns for this morning s bombardment secured the most 
intense series of barrages upon one position since the battle 
of Picardy began twenty-seven days ago ; twice as heavy as 
any similar artillery attack. 

The bombardment began early this morning, and took line 
after line from south to north above the ground held by our 
men, in progressive blocks of fire. Our batteries over an area 
of several miles, from the long-range heavies to the 18-pounders 
far forward, flung every size of shell into this " Devil s Wood," 
and filled it with high explosives and shrapnel so that one great 
volume of smoke rose from it and covered it in a dense black 
pall. 

It seems impossible that any Germans there could still be 
left alive, but it is too soon yet to know whether our men found 
any of them crouching in holes or lying under the shelter of 
great trunks and roots. Perhaps a few German soldiers may 
come out from this place of death, having escaped by what 
seems like a miracle, except that every day men do escape in 
the strangest way from shells which burst above them and 
under them and around them. 

But there will not be many who may tell the tale of this 
morning s bombardment of the wood, for the enemy has not 
had time to make an elaborate system of dug-outs here, deep 
enough to protect them from 6-inch or 8-inch shells, but had 
no more cover than our own men who held the wood when it 
was the turn of the enemy s artillery. 



3 

I was talking to some of these men this morning and they 
all had the same tale to tell. "Devil s Wood," said one of 
them a shock-headed Peter in shorts, who had not lost his 
*ense of humour, though a good deal of blood, up there 
this Delville Wood, as it is called politely by fellows who don t 
mow the look of it or the smell of it, is easily the worst place 
311 earth, as far as I can guess. 

It s just crowded with corpses, and to stay there is to join 
hat company. The only cover one can get is to crawl under 
i log and hope for the best, or crawl into a shell-hole and expect 
he worst which generally arrives. I had the devil s own 
uck a puncture of the left leg so I can t walk back there." 

K 



146 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

He was amazed to have come out so easily, and because he 
still had life, and could see the sun shining through the flap 
of a tent, he was in high spirits, like all our men who have had 
the luck to get a cushie wound," which in this war is the 
best of luck to men in such places as " Devil s Wood." 

The other men were eloquent about the German snipers 
who were hidden in the foliage of trees with rifles and machine- 
guns and waited very patiently until any of our men began to 
crawl through the tree-trunks. That game is finished. Our 
bombardment this morning must have swept away all such men 
with whatever weapon they had. 

Devil s Wood has become more crowded with dead, and it 
is over these bodies that our men stumbled this morning when 
they went forward slowly and cautiously behind the great 
barrage of our guns, which cleared the way for them. They 
advanced in waves, halting while another barrage was main 
tained for half an hour or more ahead. They had to cross 
Princes Street, which was a sunken road made into something 
like a trench by the South Africans, and afterwards by Scots 
from home, striking across the glades from west to east, and 
then they pushed northwards. 

I have no details of the fighting, which is still in progress, 
but it is probable that the attack has succeeded without many 
casualties. It is in holding the ground that the worst time 
comes to the men who capture it. 



Meanwhile another attack has been made this morning, 
advancing eastwards to Delville Wood from Longueval, which 
is partly in and partly out of the wood, with the object of 
clearing out the enemy from the northern part of the village 
and joining up with the men advancing into the wood from the 
south, as I have just described. 

Here, again, not much more of the fighting is known, but 
we know the difficulties of the position, and it is not surprising 
that the hardest fighting has been happening here. The 
history of the fight that has gone on in this corner of ground 
since July 14 is one of the most wonderful things, for sheer 
stubborn courage, that has been done in all this great 
battle. 



THE DEVIL S WOOD 147 

The Scottish troops who first took Longueval, as I have 
described in a previous dispatch, held part of the village in 
spite of heavy counter-attacks and incessant bombardments, 
while the South Africans were in the adjoining wood of devilish 
fame. 

The home-grown Scots had a trench a poor thing, but still 
called a trench running from east to west at the south end 
of the village, and two parallel roads going out of this trench 
northwards through the ruins of the village. 

There were barricades up these two roads held by the Scots 
with machine-guns, and on the other side of the barricade 
the roads were No Man s Land leading to the enemy, who were, 
and still remain, in bits of copse and ruined gardens and old 
orchards, with their own machine-guns protected by strong 
emplacements. 

The Scots had a severe time, under almost continuous fire, 
and lost heavily. At night they were attacked from the 
orchard land by parties of German bombers, who advanced 
with desperate courage although swept back again and again 
by rifles and machine-guns and hand-grenades. Meanwhile 
the South Africans were being shelled to death in Delville 
Wood close by, and, as I have already told, the poor remnants 
of them were withdrawn. 

The troops in Longueval were replaced by others, who 
succeeded in clearing the enemy out of part of the orchard and 
capturing some of his machine-guns, but not enough to " clean 
up this position, which was still very dangerous. It was 
another battalion of Scottish troops, together with English 
boys of the New Army, who captured Waterlot Farm, running 
down south-eastwards from Delville Wood, and made two or 
three very gallant attempts to get as far as Guillemont, and 
on July 22 another part of Longueval was taken a third time 
by these fine men, whose General has trained them to attack 
and to go on attacking. 



Delville Wood proved the stumbling-block again. One 
young officer who was wounded here yesterday told me that 
he could get no kind of cover where he lay with his men at the 
edge of Delville Wood and on the outskirts of Longueval. 



148 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

All night long there was the swish of machine-gun bullets 
above him, varied with shrapnel and bits of high explosive. 

He has only been out in France a fortnight, and two days 
ago came straight to " The Devil s Wood," into the heart of 
Inferno. 

On his first day he was surprised to come face to face with a 
German soldier. The young officer had been given orders to 
push out a patrol down a sap or shallow trench to reconnoitre 
the position of the enemy. He had not gone many yards 
before he met the enemy a tall fellow in a steel helmet, 
followed by forty others. 

There was surprise on both sides and considerable alarm, 
but the English boy was first in with a revolver shot. He 
thinks now that he made a mistake because the Germans 
made no attack upon him and ran back into the wood, so 
that it is likely enough they had come forward to surrender, 
as a means of escape from our shell-fire. 

Our lieutenant came back to report, dodging snipers who 
potted at him from several directions, and then lying in a 
ditch until a fragment of shell caught him. 

Longueval is the very devil," says this subaltern with 
two days experience of war and enough too. ; With 
Delville Wood on its right it s not a healthy neighbourhood. 
But of course Brother Boche is getting it in the neck all the 
time, so he can t be pleased with his position." 

To-day there are other men attacking the same position, 
up against the same difficulties, subject to the same fire. 

Those who went before them have gained the immortality 
of history a poor reward, perhaps, for great struggles and 
great suffering, but theirs, whatever the value of it, for all 
time, when the secrets of the war are told. 

The men who are now in are of the same breed, and will not 
fail for lack of courage, but as I write the guns are firing with a 
great tumult of noise over there, and new history is in the making 
so that it cannot yet be known. 



JULY 29 

I have already described in a previous dispatch the great 
difficulties that have confronted our men in Longueval and 



THE DEVIL S WOOD 149 

Delville Wood, and I left off my last narrative at a time when 
our troops were making a strong attack upon both of those 
positions the battalions on the left endeavouring to clear the 
enemy from the north of Longueval, where they had machine- 
gun redoubts, and those on the right working up from the 
south through Delville Wood. 

The infantry advanced stage by stage behind our shell-fire 
a very simple thing to write or read, but not at all a simple 
matter to troops walking under the hurricane of shells and 
depending for their lives upon the scientific accuracy of 
gunners calculating their range and their time-fuses a long way 
behind the lines, and unable to see the infantry advancing to 
attack. 

" It was queer to see the shells bursting in front of one, 
said a bright-eyed fellow r , who had just come out of c Devil s 
Wood with a lucky wound. " The line of them was just 
about seventy-five yards ahead of us, flinging up the ground 
and smashing everything. It was wonderful how the gunners 
kept it just ahead of us." 

Our men did not go through Delville Wood in one of those 
fine cheering rushes which are drawn sometimes by imaginative 
artists, and sometimes, but not often, happen. They went in 
scattered groups, keeping touch, but in extended ordc and 
scrambling, stumbling, or crawling forward as best they coiud, 
in a place which had no clear track. 

There were not two yards of ground without a shell-hole. 
Fallen trees and brushwood made a tangled maze. Old 
barricades smashed by shell-fire and shallow trenches scraped 
up by men who had been digging their own graves at the same 
time made obstacles and pitfalls everywhere. Our men, 
heavily loaded with their fighting kit, with bombs slung about 
them, and with their bayonets fixed, could not go forward at 
a bound through this infernal wood. 

This wood had been taken four times by four waves of British 
troops. It had been retaken four times by four waves of 
German troops. It had been the dumping-place of the artillery s 
most furious bombardments on both sides, so that these English 
boys of ours were advancing through a great graveyard of 
unburied dead. 

The ghastliness of the place has left its mark upon the minds 
}f many men who are not troubled much by the sights of 



150 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

battle. I notice that some of them wince at the name of 
Delville Wood, and others the officers mostly laugh in a 
way that is not good to hear, because it is the laughter of men 
who realize the great gulf of irony that lies between the decent 
things of life and all this devildom. 



When our men advanced they were surprised to see men 
running away through the broken trees, and astonished, also, 
to see bits of white rag fluttering above some of the shell-holes. 
These white rags, tied to twigs, bobbed up and down or waved 
to and fro as signals. It was the white flag of surrender, 
held by German soldiers crouched at the bottom of the shell- 
craters. From one of them a Red Cross flag waved in a frantic 
way. 

Our men went forward with their bayonets, and shouted, 
" Come out of it, there ! and from each shell-hole came a 
German soldier, holding his hands up, and crying " Pity ! 
Pity ! which is a word they seem to have learnt in case of 
need. 

Some of them were so small and young," said a man who 
was r hting in this part of the wood, " that their uniforms were 
mi ~n too big for them and their tunics came down to their 
knees." 

They were exceptional in youth and size, for all the prisoners 
I have seen since the beginning of our attack are tall, strapping 
fellows of the best fighting age ; but it is possible that our men 
have come up against some of the 1916 class. When the 
English poked their bayonets at them, but not into them, 
they fell on tiieir knees and cried for mercy. 

It was mercy asked and given at a time when our soldiers 
were angry, for the enemy was firing a large number of gas- 
shells. 

Early in the afternoon a good deal of the ground to the 
north of Longueval had been captured by very fierce fighting 
at close quarters in and about the orchard, where the enemy 
had machine-gun emplacements and a strong redoubt called 
Machine-gun House. Here they defended themselves stub 
bornly behind barricades of broken bricks and fallen tree- 
trunks and barbed wire, serving their guns in a deadly way. 



THE DEVIL S WOOD 151 

Several of our officers behaved with the utmost gallantry 
and led forward many bombing parties to the attack of the 
machine-gun emplacements, from which there came a continual 
swish of bullets. Our men were quite reckless in taking all 
risks, and made repeated attacks on this position left of Delville 
Wood until they captured or knocked out several of the machine- 
guns which had given most trouble. 



8 

In the meantime the troops on the right were gradually 
pushing their way up to the top of the wood, past Princes Street 
(an old trench dug by the Scots, and now battered out of shape 
by the morning s bombardment), and across a line of dug-outs 
made by the enemy and very well made in the time. They 
are master diggers, the Germans, and they have the industry 
of ants. It is sometimes an industry inspired by fear ; but, 
after all, fear is often the wisdom of defence, and in this case 
they fought longer because by night and day they had toiled 
to get shell-proof cover into which death could not enter 
easily. 

Some men of ours who were first to go into those dug-outs 
tell me that they were as deep as those they had seen in parts 
of the line where Germans have had months for their work. 
They had plenty of head cover, of timber balks and sandbags 
and earth, and inside them was room for twenty men or 
more. 

When our men came through the trees to them there 
were two officers sitting outside as though at a cottage 
doorway, and they seemed quite calm, except for their extreme 
pallor. 

They were both wounded, but not badly, and it is our 
men s idea that they had come to sit in the open in case 
they should be buried alive in the dug-outs by direct hits 
from our heavy shells. They rose and showed their wounds, 
and surrendered. 

Some of our men went into the mouths of the dug-outs, and 
cautiously, with their bombs handy, down the dark steps. 
There were forms huddled up in that narrow stairway, and they 
groaned at the touch of boots. They were badly wounded men, 
who had staggered down to get shelter and medical aid. D6wn 



152 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

below, in rooms about ten feet square and almost dark, were 
other wounded men lying about in their own blood. 

A lantern hanging on a nail in one of these places gave a 
dim flicker of light to the scene, and showed the white, unshaven 
faces of the men who, as our young soldiers came tramping 
and stumbling down, raised their heads, but had no strength 
to stand up. Two or three men, unwounded, or only slightly 
wounded, came forward with their hands held up a little, and 
bowed their heads as they muttered something which meant 
surrender. 

Early in the afternoon the enemy made a counter-attack 
upon the left of the wood and to the north of Longueval village. 
At the same time their artillery had received word somehow, 
by fugitives, that the wood was full of English, and that they 
could shell it without killing many of their own men. German 
crumps " now began to crash through the trees, and a counter- 
bombardment of high explosives fell into the cratered earth. 

The attack by German infantry was made by strong parties 
of grenadiers, who came down saps above Longueval and 
from a communication-trench between Delville Wood and 
High Wood. They came on with great resolution, followed 
by machine-gunners, but they were received with rifle-fire, 
bombs, and machine-gun fire from our own men. 

Some parties managed to work their way back into the 
orchard, and through the scattered trees about it, and there 
was some close and desperate fighting. For a time our men 
in one of the battalions were short of bombs, and sent back 
urgent messages for new supplies. 

" We had been hanging on to them," said one of the boys, 
" because it s always well to save them for a tight place, but 
of course we sent them up to the chaps in front." It was 
timely help, and all the German efforts to dislodge our men 
broke down with heavy loss, so that the ground was strewn 
with their dead and wounded. 

Many Germans were seen retreating over the high ground 
above Delville Wood, to the left. Parties of them ran along 
the sky-line, and then seemed to drop into a sunken road. 

So Delville Wood is ours again and it is again under the 
fire of German guns instead of British guns, and the trouble is 
to know whether it is possible for either side to hold such a 
place without too great a sacrifice of life. It is easier to hold 



THE DEVIL S WOOD 153 

now that the ground to the north of Longueval and in the 
western comer of the wood has been cleared of its hornets 
nests those hiding-places of machine-gunners who were able 
to send waves of bullets upon our advancing men. 

That trouble, anyhow, is gone, and the enemy feels the loss, 
because several new counter-attacks last night failed as com 
pletely as those made earlier. They were our machine-guns 
which met them in their old haunts, and made them pay back 
a heavy price for the toll they had taken before. 



XIX 

THE WORK OF THE GUNS 

i 

JULY 24 

MORE ground has been gained to-day at Pozieres, and the 
Australians after their first great assault before dawn yesterday 
have been pushing across the Bapaume Road, which goes 
through the town, and bombing out the German machine- 
gunners and holding parties on the western side, so that not 
many enemies are left among the ruins or underground in 
Pozieres itself. There is higher ground beyond, towards the 
Windmill, and farther north, for which a fight will have to 
be made before the key of the position is really captured, but 
the advance of English regiments on the left is a menace to 
the enemy which must cause him grave anxiety. The line 
has also been thrust forward a little by a series of posts and 
joined up with positions in the neighbourhood of High Wood, 
where the enemy is again bombarding heavily, so that no 
further progress has been made in this direction during the day. 
One curious incident was observed here by the troops holding 
the ground on the south of High Wood. They suddenly 
noticed a body of men coming out of the glades, and were 
surprised to see that they were in kilts. 

For a moment it may have occurred to them that they were 
some of the wounded Scots who had fought through High 
Wood a few days previously. That could hardly be possible, 
however, because the enemy is in strong numbers in the upper 
part of the wood. An officer staring through his glasses uttered 
a word of astonishment and two of anger. The men on the 
sky-line were Germans dressed up in kilts taken from the dead. 
Our guns put some shells over them, and they disappeared 
below the ridge. 






THE WORK OF THE GUNS 155 

For the past few days the increasing strength of the enemy s 
artillery, especially of heavy guns, has been noticeable, and he 
has been firing at longer range, and rather wildly " into the blue" 
in order to make things uncomfortable behind our lines. 

Owing to the great superiority of our observation and the 
complete failure of his own aircraft our anti-aircraft guns 
have hardly been called upon to fire a round during the last 
few weeks he is wasting a great deal of heavy ammunition. 
This is different from earlier davs of the battle when the 

H 

German gunners had to concentrate their fire upon very definite 
points of attack, and were completely mastered in many of 
their positions by the immensity of our bombardment. 



The work of our artillery is a wonderful achievement, and all 
the success we have gained during this great battle has been 
largely due to the science and daring of our gunners and to 
the labour of all those thousands of men at home who have 
sweated in soul and body to make the guns and the ammunition. 

It is only just and fair to the munition workers to say this 
thing and to let them know that their toil has helped enormously 
to break the German lines, and that without their untiring 
effort all the courage of our soldiers, all their sacrifice of blood, 
would have been in vain. If they slacken off now in the factories 
and workshops these men of ours in places like High Wood 
and Longueval and Pozieres will no longer have the support 
that is most desperately needed now that the enemy is bringing 
up many new batteries against us. 

Flesh and blood cannot fight against high explosives. It 
can only die, and the whole history of the battle is not to be 
written in reference to bayonets or rifles but to guns. It has 
been, and is still, a battle of guns, and our heroic infantry 
has only been able to get forward or to hold its ground when 
the artillery preparation has been complete, and the artillery 
support overwhelmingly strong. Should this fail it would 
not be fighting, but massacre. 

From the early days of the battle onwards our artillery 
has been great, in weight of metal, in science, in the vastness 
of its supplies of shells, in the superb courage and skill of its 
men, who have endured a continuous strain upon them night 



156 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

and day for four weeks. They broke the German spirit and 
the German strength to the point when our infantry could 
attack with something like a chance, almost for the first time 
in this war along the British front. 

By the work of aviators and artillery observation officers 
we knew the positions of most of the enemy s batteries and the 
geography of all his communication-trenches, transport roads, 
and supply depots. Our guns, which had been brought up 
secretly, were unmasked one morning when the great bombard 
ment began before the battle, and poured unceasing shells upon 
all those positions, smothering them with high explosives and 
shrapnel, while the field-guns closer up were cutting the enemy s 
wire. 

Trenches were swept out of existence, batteries were blown 
to bits I have seen many of those broken German guns now 
standing as trophies on French lawns and the roads were 
swept by storms of death. The barrage was a great wall 
through which nothing could pass. The German soldiers in 
their lines could get neither food nor water. No reinforce 
ments could be sent to them. 



Three of our own soldiers who were taken prisoners on the 
morning of the first attack could not be sent back into the 
German lines because no escort dared to go with them through 
the barrage. They were thrust down into a dug-out with 
some of the German soldiers and saw and suffered the effect of 
our fire. The enemy had no food to give them, having none 
for themselves, and they were tortured by thirst. 

For five days they endured this until nearly dead, but when 
the Germans were too dazed to act as guards, these three 
English soldiers managed to crawl out of the dug-out and by a 
miracle of luck escaped back to their own lines over No Man s 
Land. 

4 

A German officer, now one of our prisoners, bears witness 
to the work of our gunners. He was sent with his battalion 
from Verdun to Contalmaison and was detrained at Bapaume. 
There he began a painful experience of shell- fire through an 
accident to one of the German 12-inch guns, which burst and 



THE WORK OF THE GUNS 157 

blew up several carriages of the train, killing some of his men. 
But the rest of his journey was made terrible by British gun-fire. 
With his battalion he came down a road which was being flung 
up by our 15-inch and 12-inch guns. Some more of his men 
were killed, and he came on towards Bazentin, where he was 
under the fire of our 8-inch howitzers and nine-point-twos. 
More of his men were killed, but he went on until near Contal- 
maison he came within the range of our 18-pounders and lost 
the remainder of his men. At Contalmaison he was immediately 
taken prisoner by our attack and was rejoiced to come to his 
journey s end alive. 

Your artillery," he said, is better than anything I had 
seen before, even at Verdun, and worse than anything I 
had suffered." 

All the German officers with whom I have spoken are sur 
prised that an army of amateurs," as they call us, should 
produce such scientific artillery work in so short a time, and 
they also pay tribute to the daring of the field-gunners, who 
go so far forward to support the infantry attacks. 

They came up," said one of them, speaking of the Mametz 
Wood attack, like charioteers in a Roman circus, at full 
gallop. Many of their horses were killed, but the men were 
reckless of danger, and placed their batteries in the open as 
though at manoeuvres." 



The field observing officers are audacious almost to the point 
of foolhardiness. Before the ground of attack has been cleared 
of Germans they walk calmly up with a telephonist, sit down 
on a crest or a knoll commanding a field of observation, and 
send back messages to a battery a mile or so behind. 

When the territory round Contalmaison was still swarming 
with Germans, one of our officers went forward in this way 
and made himself at home on the top of a German dug-out, 
recording flashes and getting excellent information. He went 
back to his battery for an hour or two, and when he returned 
to his chosen spot found it occupied by Germans. They 
wanted to round him up, but he fired a few revolver shots and 
retired with dignity to choose another place not quite so 
crowded with the enemy. Such tales seem fantastic and 
impossible. Bvit they are true. 



158 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

There is no doubt that many German batteries have been 
destroyed, apart from those which have been captured. I 
saw to-day a map, which told, by little coloured dots, a great 
drama of war. Each dot represented a German battery 
discovered by our gunners since the beginning of the battle, 
and each colour the day it was discovered, and they were 
arranged on the map so that one could see the exact distribution 
of the enemy s guns as it has changed during the course of 
the battle. 

Soon after our bombardment began they began to drift 
down new batteries and there were clusters of little coloured 
dots at certain spots. But a day or two later they were wiped 
out, or withdrawn farther back. There was one thick cluster 
of green dots to the north of Bazentin-le-Grand. It represented 
many batteries. A day later they had gone. 

" What happened ? " I asked. " 

The gunner officer laughed. 

" We just smothered em." 

They were " smothered by storms of shells which burst 
all over these battery positions, over every yard of ground 
there, so that no gun emplacement could escape. 

But other dots are appearing on the map other little clusters 
of colour, farther away to the right. The enemy is massing 
new batteries, and it is from these positions that Delville Wood, 
High Wood, and other parts of our line are being shelled night 
and day with fierce and increasing violence. 

Those batteries are not so easy to reach. To keep their 
fire down, and still more to knock them out, we must have a 
continual increasing flow of guns and ammunition ammunition 
in vast and unimaginable quantities, for the figures I have 
heard to-day of the ammunition we have used during the past 
three weeks are beyond one s range of imagination. The 
munition workers at home must not relax their efforts if we 
are to continue our successes. It is by their labour that the 
lives of our men can be saved. All the time it is a battle of 
guns. 



XX 

THE FIGHTING ROUND WATERLOT FARM 



JULY 30 

THERE was some infantry fighting to-day in co-operation 
with the French on our right wing, and as far as our own troops 
were concerned some progress was made to the east of Waterlot 
Farm, which is on the road going down from Longueval to 
Guillemont. It was a very hot day, with a scorching sun, 
but artillery observation was not easy during certain hours 
owing to a rather thick haze. In spite of this our guns main 
tained a heavy bombardment upon the enemy s line in support 
of our troops, who advanced over difficult ground. 

Many prisoners surrendered at an early stage of this progress, 
one batch of 170 men being captured first and other groups 
being rounded up later, bringing the total number to something 
more than 200. 

It was rather more than a week ago that some of our men 
pushed our line down from Longueval to Waterlot Farm, on 
the road to Guillemont, which they held against repeated 
attacks. 

The Germans are very busy digging new trenches to the east 
of the road, and through these they are able to send up bombing 
parties and machine-gunners to protect the northern and 
western approaches to the ruins of Guillemont itself. 

2 

The first forward movement from Waterlot Farm was made 
by some Scots who had already been fighting hard since July 
14, when they helped to break the second German line. These 
Scots, whom I have met in many fields of war during the past 



160 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

year or more, had done well elsewhere, and chased the enemy 
out of his lines. They were grim men, and ready for a new 
4 crack at the ould Boehe when they took over from another 
regiment at Waterlot Farm, south of Delville Wood. It was 
not a farm such as Caldecott would have drawn for his coloured 
picture-book. There were no cows or sheep in the neighbour 
hood. It was a collection of ruined buildings and yards which 
the enemy seems to have used as a dumping-ground for old 
iron and machinery. There were several derelict engines here, 
and a steel cupola for a heavy gun emplacement, like those 
at Liege in the early days of the war, and a litter of wheels 
and rods and wire, mostly smashed by our shell-fire. As a 
farm it left much to be desired, but the Scots settled down here 
and made themselves as comfortable as possible in the circum 
stances. 

In the darkness of that night and the next patrols went out 
to discover the strength of the enemy. Our young officers and 
their men, crawling forward over the broken ground, satisfied 
themselves that " the Boche was there in strength. They 
only had to listen to the patter of bullets which whipped the 
grass to know that he had plenty of machine-guns unpleasantly 
near. 

Those who had not met any of those bullets came back 
with their reports, and the artillery bombarded the enemy s 
trenches to make the work of the infantry easier. An advance 
was made from the farm before dawn, led by bombing parties 
of the Scots. 

It was a quiet and silent walk. The enemy s machine-guns 
were chattering a little, but there was no great fire, and the 
Scots reached a trench north of the railway line with only 
three men and one officer wounded. " That s nothing," said 
the officer, and he carried on , 

It was impossible to go farther at that time. The enemy 
were holding, very strongly, a trench immediately across the 
railway line, and they had dug a nest of new trenches on the 
east of the road, from which they could enfilade our men with 
rifle and machine-gun fire. 

The Scots got well down into a trench which was mostly a 
series of shell-craters, and looked to their rifles and bombs. 
There was not much doubt as to what was coming. It came 



FIGHTING ROUND WATERLOT FARM 161 

down the main road from Guillemont a large force of German 
soldiers with machine-guns. 

At the same time, from the trench parallel with ours, the 
Germans sprang on to their parapets and came over. The 
Scots were hardly strong enough to resist these attacks 
supported by enfilade fire. They were ordered to fail back, 
and the retirement was carried out without disorder to say 
" without panic would be ridiculous to these men who have 
fought a score of battles since they came to France and it was 
covered by the machine-gunners, who remained as a rear-guard, 
sweeping down the advanced parties of the enemy, so as to 
gain time for our men to get back. 



3 

A second move from Waterlot Farm was made by the 
same Scots, supported by other troops. The enemy suffered 
badly. 

A very strong force of German bombers made a brave counter 
attack on the Scots, but were caught by rifle and machine-gun 
fire, and fell almost to a man. 

" Practically wiped out was the way in which an officer of 
the Scots described it. During the afternoon a patrol of our 
snipers went out on a hunting expedition and sighted a party 
of Germans carrying down ammunition-boxes. Not all of 
them reached their journey s end, for the Scottish snipers are 
good shots. 

Some of the German soldiers were sick of the business, and 
had had too much shell-fire. When dusk was creeping over 
the countryside a group of them came out of a ruined farm 
it had really been a farm in the old days of peace standing 
on the left of the main road to Guillemont. 

They came holding up their hands as a sign of surrender, 
and some of the Scots went out to bring them in. But the 
enemy in the trenches beyond opened fire on their own country 
men, and some of our own were killed and wounded. 

When, later on, another party came out, they were not 
received in a friendly spirit. . . . That night the Scottish 
stretcher-bearers went out to bring in their wounded, and they 

L 



162 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

found among them one man of theirs who had been discovered 
by a German patrol, but left behind because he gave them his 
water to drink. They thanked him, and said, Good luck, 
and a safe return to your own lines ! but when they went 
away he thought he had been left to die. 



XXI 

THE PETER PANS OF WAR 



JULY 31 

FOR two days now the sim has been blazing hot, and our fighting 
men have been baked brown. It is not good fighting weather 
either for guns or men. A queer haze is about the fields, as 
thick at times as a November mist and yet thrilling with heat, 
so that artillery observation is not good for anything like 
long-range shooting. 

Mametz Wood, which is now well behind the lines, looms up 
vaguely, and, beyond, Delville Wood is hardly visible except 
as a low-lying smudge on the sky-line. Yet the sun is not 
shaded by the haze, and strikes down glaringly upon the 
white roads and the trampled fields, upon transport crawling 
forward in clouds of dust that rise like the smoke of fires about 
them, and upon soldiers trudging along with their rifles slung 
and their packs slipping, their iron helmets thrust forward 
over the eyes and their faces powdered white as millers . 

It is hot and thirsty work and painful to the spirit and flesh 
of men, even along roads that are not pebbled with shrapnel 
bullets. Men on the march to-day were glad of frequent 
halts, and flung themselves down on the waysides panting 
and sweating, moistening their dusty lips with parched tongues 
and fumbling for their water-bottles. They were lucky to 
have water, and knew their luck. It was worse for the men 
who were fighting yesterday in the same heat wave up by 
Waterlot Farm and farther south by Maltzhorn Farm, not far 
from Guillemont. 

Some of them drank their water too soon, and there was not 
a dog s chance of getting any more until nightfall. Thirst, 
as sharp as red-hot needles through the tongue, tortured some of 



164 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

these men of ours. And yet they were lucky, too, and knew 
their luck. There were other men suffering worse than they, 
the wounded lying in places beyond the quick reach of stretcher- 
bearers. It was fair awfu to hear them crying," said one 
of their comrades. " It was c Water ! water ! For Christ s 
sake water ! till their voices died away." 

As usual the stretcher-bearers were magnificent and came 
out under heavy fire to get these men in until some of them 
fell wounded themselves. And other men crawled down to 
where their comrades lay, and in spite of their own thirst 
gave the last dregs of their water to these stricken men. There 
were many Sir Philip Sidneys there, not knighted by any 
accolade except that of charity, and very rough fellows in their 
way of speech, but pitiful. 

There was one of them who lay wounded with some water 
still in the bottle by his side. Next to him was a wounded 
German, groaning feebly and saying, " Wasser ! Wasser ! 
The Yorkshire lad knew enough to understand that word of 
German. He stretched out his flask and said, Hi, matey, 
tak a swig o that." They were two men who had tried to 
kill each other. 



2 

On one part of the battlefields recently were some of the 
Bantam battalions, those little game-cocks for whom most of 
us out here have a warm corner in our hearts, because they are 
the smallest fighting men in the British Army, and the sturdiest, 
pluckiest little men one can meet on a long day s march. They 
have been under fire in several parts of the line, where it is not 
good for any men to be except for duty s sake. 

It has generally been their fate to act in support of other 
troops troops whom it is an honour to support when they go 
into action, because their regiments have won fame on all the 
battlefields of Europe since the Napoleonic wars. 

But it is always a dangerous honour to be in support. The 
attacking troops have often an easier time than those who lie 
behind them with scanty cover. It is here that the enemy s 
barrage is likely to fall, and there is not much fun in lying 
under shell-fire hour after hour, perhaps for two days, without 
seeing the enemy or getting at him. The ground becomes 



THE PETER PANS OF WAR 165 

strewn with dead and wounded. It is then that to " hold on 
means the highest heroism. 

The Bantams held on in hours like this, held on gamely 
and with wonderful grit. They became great diggers, and 
because they are not very high, a shallow trench was good 
enough for cover, and they burrowed like ants. l They would 
as soon forget their rifles as their shovels," said one of their 
officers to-day. " There is no need to tell them to dig. They 
get to work mighty quick, being old soldiers now who have 
learnt by experience." 

They are old soldiers in cunning and knowledge, but there 
are young lads among them. Old or young (and there are many 
middle-aged Bantams who stand no higher than five feet in 
their socks) they are all the Peter Pans of the British Army 
the Boys- who- wouldn t-grow-up, and, like the heroic Peter 
Pan himself, who was surely the first of the Bantams, they are 
eager for single combat with the greatest enemy of England, 
Home, and Beauty who may come along. They had their 
chance yesterday, and brought back a number of enormous 
Bavarians as prisoners fairly captured. 

A certain Bantam, ex-boilermaker of Leeds (" the grandest 
city in the world," he says), and the King s Jester of his battalion, 
w r as enormously amused by the incident. He said that each 
Bantam looked no higher than the match-stick to the candle 
with each Bavarian. To all these little men the German 
soldiers looked like giants, but like so many Hop-o -my-Thumbs 
they took charge of these Bavarian Blunderbores and brought 
them back in triumph. They went searching for them in the 
ruins of Longueval some days ago, and found some of them 
sniping from the trees. They brought them down with a 
crash, and collected souvenirs. 

This village was a dreadful place when some of the Bantams 
went into it. Only a few ruins remained, and about these 
many soldiers of many different regiments went prowling in 
search of Germans who were still concealed in dug-outs and 
shell-craters, and who still defended the outskirts of the village 
with machine-guns, which swept the streets. 

There were Highlanders there, so fey after their fierce 
fighting that they went about with their bayonets, prodding 
imaginary Germans, and searching empty dug-outs as though 
the enemy were crowded there. The ground was strewn with 



166 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

dead, and from ruined trenches and piles of broken bricks there 
came the awful cries of wounded men. 



3 

There were many wounded Germans as^well as British 

*/ 

and one man tended them with an heroic self-sacrifice which is 
described with reverence and enthusiasm by many officers 
and men. It was a chaplain attached to the South Africans 
who fought so desperately and so splendidly in " Devil s Wood." 
This " padre came up to a dressing-station established in 
the one bit of ruin which could be used for shelter and applied 
himself to the wounded with a spiritual devotion that was 
utterly fearless. 

In order to get water for them, and the means of making 
tea, he went many times to a well which was a danger spot 
marked down by German snipers, who shot our men, agonizing 
with thirst, as though they were tigers going down to drink. 
They are justified according to the laws of war, but it was a 
cruel business. There was one German officer there, in a shell- 
hole, not far from the well, who sat with his revolver handy 
to pick off any men who ventured to the well, and he was a 
dead shot. 

But he did not shoot the padre. Something in the fine 
figure of that chaplain, his disregard of all the bullets snapping 
about him, the tireless, fearless way in which he crossed a street 
of death in order to help the wounded, held back the trigger- 
finger of the German officer, and he let him pass. He passed 
many times, untouched by bullets or machine-gun fire, and he 
went into its worst places, which were pits of horror, carrying 
hot tea, which he had made from the well-water for men in 
agony because of their wounds and thirst. 

They were officers of the Bantams who told me the story, 
though the padre was not theirs, and their generous praise 
was fine to hear. It was good also to hear the talk of these 
men who had just come out of battle with the grime and dirt 
of war upon them, about the men they love to command. 

These young officers are keen, bright-eyed fellows, and in 
spite of all they had been through things not yet to be described 
they bore but little trace of their endurance. I sat with 
them under a tent propped up by stretcher-poles, with one 



THE PETER PANS OF WAR 167 

flap tied to an old cart, while the men who had just marched 
down were lying in groups on the field, mostly without shirts 
and socks, because of the heat and the long time since they 
had changed their clothes. 

Afterwards I went among the men all these Peter Pans 
who came from all parts of Scotland and the North of England, 
so that their speech is not easy to a man from the South. They 
were talking of German snipers and German shells, of all that 
they had suffered and done, and the boiler-maker, their comic 
turn, was egged on to say outrageous things which caused 
roars of laughter from the Bantam crowd. The language of 
the boiler-maker on the subject of Germans and the pleasures 
of war would be quite unprintable, but the gist of it was full 
of virtue and suited the philosophy of these five-foot Coeurs- 
de-Lion who were grinning round him. 

It is the philosophy of our modern knights, who take more 
risks in one day than their forbears in a lifetime, and find a 
grim and sinister humour in the worst things of war. 



XXII 

THE HIGH GROUND AT POZIERES 

i 

AUGUST 5 

LAST evening, just as dusk was creeping over the battlefields, 
the Australians, with English troops on their left, sprang over 
the parapets of their lines at Pozieres, advanced up five hundred 
yards of rising ground, stormed through the trenches of the 
second German line, and captured the crest of the ridge which 
looks down to Courcelette and Martinpuich. 

It was a great and tragic surprise to the enemy. They may 
have believed, I think they did believe, that after the series of 
battles in the July fighting, the spirit of the British offensive 
was broken, and that our troops were too tired to make fresh 
assaults. The German Generals tried to put comfort into the 
hearts of their men by telling them that the British guns and 
the British soldiers had done their worst, and that the attack 
was at an end. The lull deceived them. 

Because two or three days had passed without any infantry 
action after thirty days of unceasing battle there may well 
have seemed to the enemy a reasonable hope that we should 
content ourselves with digging in and holding the ground 
gained. One thing, however, must have disheartened the 
German troops and prevented any kind of nervous recuperation 
after the appalling strain of the month s shell-fire. The British 
guns, which should have been worn out, and the British gunners 
supposed to be exhausted, went on firing. 

They went on all yesterday, as on the day before and more 
than a month of yesterdays, with their long, steady bombard 
ment, that bombardment which is now rumbling with its sullen 
shocks of sound as I write, and as it goes on night and day. 
Long-range guns were reaching out to places far ahead of the 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZlfiRES 169 

German lines. Courcelette was a ruin. Martinpuich was falling 
to pieces. There is no safety for Germans anywhere and up in 
the lines no safety except in the deepest dug-outs for officers 
and lucky men. 



As many men as could get into dug-outs to the north of 
Pozieres were down there yesterday, listening to the crashes 
of our heavy shells, which were smashing the trenches 
about them and screaming overhead on more distant 
journeys. 

The Australians and English troops, including men of Kent, 
Sussex, and Surrey regiments, were waiting in their own 
trenches. 

A crescent moon came up. The woods darkened. Shadows 
crept down from Thiepval. Distant cornfields in the world 
beyond the war, so near as miles are counted, so far away in 
peace, became bronzed and red, and then all dark and vague in 
the evening mist. Above, the sky was still blue, with stars 
very bright and glistening. 

It was, I think, about 9 o clock as the clock goes now in France 
and England when the British troops left their trenches. 
They went quietly without any great clamour across that 500 
yards of ground, dusky figures, the brown of their khaki no 
different from the colour of the earth around them, through 
the gloom of coming night. The Australians worked up to the 
right, the English to the left. Before them was the German 
second line on a front of about 3000 yards, and part of that 
long line which was pierced and taken on July 14, between 
Bazentin-le-Petit and Longueval, when the British troops 
went up in waves and astounded the world by their achieve 
ment. It was no longer a line of trenches. 

It was a wavy line of hummocky and tumbled earth along 
innumerable shell-craters such as I described at Montauban. 
Only the dug-outs, or some of them, still remained in all this 
chaos, filled with living and wounded and dead. 

Out of the wreck of earth, as our men advanced, living men 
came out in groups. They came forward through the dusky 
night with their hands held up pitiable shadows. Most of 
them were utterlv nerve-broken beaten and broken men with 



170 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

no fight left in them, but only an animal fear and desire of 
life. 

Their surrender was received, and the English and Australians 
put guards about them and sent them back to our lines 
while they went on to clear the dug-outs of men who refused 
to come out, or would not come out, and to deal with 
those who farther back had still the courage to defend them 
selves. 

There was some bayonet fighting and bombing. From 
behind the German lines in isolated redoubts machine-guns 
were at work spraying out bullets. But our casualties were 
very few ; all told, less, I imagine, than in any action of import 
ance during the battles of the Somme. The enemy s losses 
were heavy. More than 400 prisoners have passed the toll- 
bar, and others are being brought down. In dead he lost 
more than that, and his wounded must number high figures. 
It was a blow which must be grievous to him after all the 
hammer- strokes of the month, and what is most significant is 
the troubled state of his soldiers, these dazed and nerve- 
shattered men who surrendered. They had no pride left in 
them. 

These men were mostly of the 3 7th and 18th Reserve Divisions 
of the 9th Reserve Corps, with miscellaneous drafts from 
various Ersatz or reserve battalions, the scourings of the 
last class whom Germany can, I suppose, put into the field. 
By that I do not mean they are physically weak or undersized 
-there are very few German soldiers who could be described 
like that but they are not soldiers of the proud and highly 
trained kind who fought in earlier days of the war. They are 
men with families and with a great yearning for peace, and no 
love of this massacre which is ordained by their war lords. 

During the night the troops behind them were rallied to 
make three separate counter-attacks. They came on very 
bravely there is nothing the matter with German courage as 
a rule but in a spirit of self-sacrifice and stupidly. They 
walked into our barrage, and our shells caught them and 
shattered them. 

To-day up to the time I write there has been no further 
attack by infantry, but the enemy s guns have opened and 
maintained a very fierce fire upon the positions gained by our 
troops. 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZffiRES 171 

The new part of the German second line now in our hands 
makes up with the other part of his line captured on July 14 a 
distance of nearly 10,000 yards. 



3 

AUGUST 7 

All last night, which was still and calm, as the weather 
goes, there was a great hammering of guns, and this morning, 
when I went out in the direction of Thiepval, the artillery 
on both sides was hard at work. The enemy was dropping 
" heavy stuff " in the neighbourhood of Pozieres, with occasional 
shots at long range into fields about quiet villages behind 
the lines which look utterly peaceful in the warm light of this 
August sun gleaming upon their church spires and upon the 
thick foliage of the trees around them. 

It was in the midst of a tumult of guns and below the long 
resonant journeying of great shells on their way to the enemy s 
territory that I sat to-day with some of the officers who have 
just chased the Germans out of their trenches- to the north of 
Pozieres. 

They were all men of Kent around me. The captain is a 
merry soul, who laughs most heartily over his hairbreadth 
escapes and still more loudly when he describes little exploits 
w T hich would make most men shudder at the mere remem 
brance. 

The colonel of his battalion, who sat opposite, is of a different 
type, quiet and thoughtful, but with a sense of humour also 
that lights his eyes. And two places off was the M.O. a 
doctor who loves his men and would not leave this battalion of 
the Kents for any other in the army (he has patched up all their 
bodies after every scrap and did heroic work for them the other 
night). 

Before the fighting began the colonel took the jovial captain 
up to the line " to view the Promised Land," as he called it. 
And the Promised Land looked very uninviting on this high 
ridge above the blackened ruins of Pozieres where the German 
second lines were guarded by a tangle of barbed wire. It was 
also difficult to look at it very long or very closely, because 
the enemy was " lathering " the field of observation with every 
kind of " crump " and shell. 



172 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 



When we popped over the parapet," says the captain, 
" we advanced into the middle of the Brock s Benefit, and it 
was obvious that the blinking Boche had got the wind up." 

That is to say the enemy was sending up distress signals to 
his guns, and in the anticipation of an attack was flinging 
coloured lights over to our lines so as to illuminate any British 
infantry who might be advancing. These lights were fired 
out of a special kind of pistol, and when they fell flared up with 
vivid red and green fires. At the same time the enemy s 
machine-guns played upon any figures so revealed, so that it 
was almost certain death to be in those flare-lights. At great 
risk several men sprang forward into the illumination and 
kicked out the burning canisters. Then in the momentary 
darkness the leading companies advanced in waves towards 
the German ,trenches south of Mouquet (or, as the soldiers call 
it, Moo-Cow) Farm. 

4 

The colonel of the battalion went very gallantly with his 
men, and as he drew near to the enemy s line saw two figures 
silhouetted, like his own men had been, against the enemy s 
lights. He called out to them, thinking they might be his 
own men working forward on his right. But he saw they were 
Germans when one man threw up his hands as a sign of surrender, 
and the other dropped on to one knee to fire a rifle shot. The 
colonel sprang forward, covering them w r ith his revolvers, 
and took both of them prisoner. 

Without many casualties in spite of machine-gun fire, our 
men reached the German trenches. Great heroism was shown 
by a young lieutenant and a party of bombers, who went first 
over No Man s Land so quickly behind our barrage that they 
risked death by our own shells and came against the first 
defence. The officer and several of this first wave were found 
lying wounded 400 yards farther than the jump-out 
position, and it was their quick advance which scared the enemy 
and helped to demoralize him. 



One of the prisoners taken later was a forward observing 
officer, a Prussian giant well over six feet high and enormously 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZffiRES 173 

stout, and he was put in charge of a little Kentish man stand 
ing five-feet-one in his socks. The German giant was very 
frightened at the machine-gun fire of his own people, which was 
whipping over the ground, and he went back crouching in a 
bear-like way, prodded from behind by the wee man in khaki. 
This sight, illuminated by the flares, was seen by the men 
left behind in our own trenches, and they stood up on their 
parapets laughing and cheering wildly. 

But there were other trenches ahead, and the men " hared 
off to these, and found them held by scared men. The Kentish 
men started bombing down the trench " like mad," and blocked 
it at each end in case of accidents, while a young officer posted 
a machine-gun on the left of it. 

The position, however, became quite obviously an untenable 
one, when the Germans rallied arid attacked in bombing parties 
from the farm. Many of them were cut down by the young 
officer with his Lewis gun and by the Kentish grenadiers, but 
they brought up machine-guns and made the position very 
hot." A lance-corporal behaved very gallantly in going back 
700 yards under heavy fire to report the situation, and volun 
teered to return with the message that the patrol could not be 
supported and must fall back in small groups. This he did, 
and returned again in safety with the other party, who brought 
with them three more prisoners as samples (to use their 
own phrase), including the huge officer whom I have described 
previously. 

They have funny fellows among them this British battalion 
and the amount of comedy they extract from all this grim 
business is astounding. There is one of their number who was 
once a member of Fred Karno s troupe, and has not lost his 
old instincts for a knockabout turn. When he took a prisoner 
he caught him by the hand and danced a " pas de quatre 
with him. 

4 Offizier ? asked the astounded man. 

Oui, oui," said the comic turn, " and you prisonnier 
savez ? 

So much for the men of Kent, though I should like to tell 
more if I had the time to-night about their medical officer, who 
tended all the wounded men of two companies and thirty 
wounded Germans in a subterranean dressing-station (there 
was no comedy there), and more about their very fine and 



174 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

fearless colonel, and about the cheerful captain, whose adven 
tures since the war began would fill a book as strange as the 
"Memoirs" of Marbot. 

To-day other men were fighting in the same place, and I 
must tell at some later time the fine work of the Surrey and 
Sussex men. 



6 

AUGUST 11 

The enemy has made several attempts to regain the high 
ground taken from him to the north of Pozieres, and yesterday 
evening, between the hours of five and seven o clock, he sent 
out a strong body of infantry to attack our trenches. It 
was a curious, vain, and tragic endeavour, like several other 
counter-attacks launched at the command of the German 
Staff by men recently brought up as support troops, knowing 
quite obviously nothing of the country in which they are 
called upon to fight, and just blundering out with a kind 
of desperate courage towards our lines. It was exactly thus 
last evening. 

From the prisoners we took it is certain knowledge that 
these troops had no familiarity with this ground between 
Mouquet Farm and the Windmill, and when they were ordered 
to attack regarded themselves as sheep sent to the slaughter. 
They knew only that the Australians were in front of them, 
and from what they have heard of the Australians they did 
not have much hope. 

What hope they had was in the guns behind them, and 
certainly, in spite of all the German guns we have knocked out 
by counter-battery work, and all those having had to shift 
their ground from day to day owing to our ceaseless searchings 
for their emplacements with the aid of our aerial scouts, the 
bombardment that preceded the German assault was intense 
and formidable. 

The Australians " stuck it," guessing what was to follow. 
In the trenches they have dug, and the shell-craters, and the 
old German trenches which are now almost shapeless under 
our own and the enemy s fire, they held on, and kept their 
bombs ready, and their machine-guns handy, and watchful 
eyes, wherever a man could see, upon a row of broken tree- 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZlfiRES 175 

stumps appearing over the crest of the Pozieres Ridge beyond 
the Windmill. 

Then below the crest on the other side of the ridge the 
German side is Mouquet Farm, called Moo-cow Farm by 
men who will still jest, whatever the conditions of life. A 
small valley or gully runs behind the farm towards the quarries, 
and it w r as from this that the German soldiers came streaming 
out in open order when their guns lengthened range so that 
they could get forward without walking into their own 
barrage. 

As it happened, they walked into our barrage. Our guns 
were waiting for them. At the end of a telephone w^ire was a 
gunner-general who does not keep people waiting very long 
when they are in need of his " heavies," and many gunner 
officers w T ere standing by their batteries ready to give the 
word " Fire ! with their guns and howitzers registered on 
the line across which the enemy s troops would come as soon 
as they were ordered to attack. 

In our lines the trench-mortar batteries were making ready 
to hurl their high explosives, and the Lewis gunners were 
eager to get to work instead of standing under German 
shell-fire. 

The enemy s infantry came straggling forward in extended 
order, and in irregular waves. There were two battalions of 
them in the open out in that 750 yards of No Man s Land 
upon which the evening sun was shining with a golden haze- 
when our shells burst over them and the trench-mortars made 
a target of them, and our machine-guns whipped into their 
ranks with a scourge of bullets. 

The men fell face forward in large numbers. Others came on 
and fell farther from their own lines. Men ran quickly, as 
though to escape from all the bursting shells, into the Australian 
lines, flung up their arms, and lay still. 

They were very brave. Quite a number of these German 
soldiers travelled a quarter of a mile over this open ground in 
spite of the terrific fire concentrated upon it before some bit 
of shell caught them and killed them, or left them lying there in 
agony. 

No German soldier came through alive. Only a few men 
out of the two battalions escaped. Men were standing on the 
parapets of the German line, calling to them, calling them 



176 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

back, trying to save something out of this senseless slaughter 
that had been ordered. 

The counter-attack was an utter failure, and one is left 
wondering why the enemy attempt such attacks, predestined 
to end in disaster. It is an expensive form of reconnaissance 
to test our strength. 

The German soldiers would have a right to call it murder. 
It seems to show that the enemy s Staff is disorganized, perhaps 
a little demoralized, by the continual bombardment which 
cuts their signal lines and prevents the sending up of supports 
and supplies. 

The Australians are still fighting in a way which wins the 
admiration of their Generals and Staff and of all the army. 
These clean-cut men, so fine in physique and appearance that 
one always turns to look at them in any street of war, are not 
stolid fellows who can stand the test of shell-fire without suffer 
ing in spirit. 

They are highly strung and sensitive, with a more nervous 
temperament than many of our English soldiers, but they have 
a pride and an heroic quality that keeps them steady, and an 
intelligence in the individual as well as in mass which makes 
them great soldiers. 

7 

AUGUST 13 

There have been no sensational advances since the great 
day of July 14, when our men broke through the second German 
line, but hardly a day passed since then without some progress 
being made to get a stronger grip on the high ridge which 
rolls down on the enemy s side from Pozieres and the two 
Bazentins and High Wood. This fighting has been very hard 
and grim, and the enemy has done his utmost to check every 
yard of our men s advance by continual curtain-fire, so that 
to take a trench or two, or to rush over a few dozen yards of 
No Man s Land, has been a perilous adventure. 

It is most excellent, therefore, that last night our men were 
able to make a further " shove," as they call it, of nearly 400 
yards in depth on a front of about a mile. This was to the 
north-west of Pozieres, and at the same time ground was 
gained on the north-west of Bazentin-le-Petit closer to the 
German switch-line between us and Martinpuich. 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZlBRES 177 

The men who have been fighting this uphill battle, for that 
is what it is literally and morally, have been showing remarkable 
qualities. It is an alliance between the Australians and old 
English regiments with new men in them, including some of 
the " Derby recruits." Although the Australians have had 
the greater share of the fighting round Pozieres, being in greater 
numbers, they are the first to pay a tribute to the spirit of the 
English lads, and their admiration is returned. An episode 
which happened a week ago shows the way in which they are 
sharing the struggle. 

I have already written how the men of Kent went forward 
on August 4 and took the German line, under the command 
of that fine colonel and jovial captain, whose exploits will 
be remembered. On the right of them were the Sussex men 
fair-haired fellows from Arundel and Burpham, and little 
old villages lying snug in the South Downs, and quiet old market 
towns like Chichester Lord ! a world away from places like 
Pozieres. The line of their trenches was in touch with the 
Australians, and as they scrambled over the parapets at the 
time of the attacks these comrades on the right shouted out 
to them, 

4 Hallo, boys, what s up ? Where are you going ? 

Oh, just up along," said the Sussex lads, pointing 
to a "hot shop," as they call it, where a lot of shells were 
bursting. 

Is that so ? You don t say ? Gosh ! We ll come with 
you." 

It wasn t discipline. The men had no orders to go, as far 
as I can make out, but some of them certainly did go, in a 
friendly way, and joined in the " scrum up there, where it 
was no joke. 

8 

The story of the Sussex men is very much like that of their 
comrades from Kent which I have told in detail the bombing 
down the trenches, the searching of the German dug-outs, 
the encounters with Germans who were hiding in shell-craters. 
But some of the episodes have a special character, worth 
telling. 

They show the human nature of the business up there beyond 
Pozieres. After the first rush through the German line it 

M 



178 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

became a question of catching Germans in shell-holes, which 
are good places or good enough for snipers who prefer to 
go on killing before they die. A Sussex man who spoke some 
German took the risk of going out alone to one of these craters 
and shouted out to the men below : 

" If you don t surrender at once we shall shoot you." 

Instantly several heads and several pairs of hands appeared. 

One man came out with his hands full of gifts and, falling 
upon his knees, begged for mercy. He had cleared his pockets 
and his dug-out of little fancy articles like his watch, knife, 
compass, cigarette-case, scissors, silver soap-box, and pipe- 
lighter, which he offered humbly as a ransom for his life. 

It appeared later that he was in mortal terror of having his 
throat cut, and he was profoundly grateful when he was taken 
back to a dug-out and given some whisky and cigarettes. He 
then asked leave to tell his friends the glad tidings, and when 
this was allowed he went out with his guards and called to 
the other men. Immediately a number of them came out of 
their hiding-places and formed a procession with their hands 
up. 

It was against the Sussex men that the Germans used their 
" flammenwerfer," or flame-jets. It is a clumsy form of 
frightfulness, as I guessed when I first saw one of these machines. 
It takes two men to work it, one with the reservoir strapped to 
his back, the other pumping out the long spray of flame, which 
has a range of twenty-five yards. There were eight of these 
flame-throwers brought against the Sussex lads, but before 
they had done any damage the sixteen men who advanced 
with them were all shot down. It is not by " flammenwerfer 
that the German counter-attacks have any chance of success. 



9 

The advance last night when the Australian troops took 
an important line of rising ground is a further proof that the 
enemy has not by any means consolidated his defensive positions 
so strongly that they make the same kind of barrier against us 
as those which had to be forced in the first attacks. 

In spite of all his industry in digging he has not been able to 
make any system of trenches and dug-outs to withstand our 
shell-fire. As soon as he gets on with a trench our guns register 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZlERES 179 

upon it and lay it flat. His only protection is in artillery 
retaliation, and however great its destructive power it cannot 
give cover to the German infantry crouching in shallow ditches, 
and having to come up through communication -trenches 
ploughed by high explosives. 

They belong to battalions hurriedly gathered from other 
parts of the line and flung in to stop the gap. They are the 
victims of the general disorganization of the divisions and the 
staffs which have suffered most heavily from our repeated 
attacks. Behind them, no doubt, the German Headquarters 
Staff is as cool and deliberate as ever, not allowing itself to be 
scared by these reverses, organizing new lines of defence in 
case of need, shifting its guns, playing the old blood-and-iron 
game with cold, scientific brains that are not affected by the 
losses or the agonies of men, except as they have an influence 
upon the operations. 

For they are highly trained scientists of war, these German 
Staff officers, and in defeat, as once in victory, they will, I 
fancy, be as cold and as hard as steel, and as inhuman as the 
devil. Therefore it is idle, in my opinion, to hope for a sudden 
and sensational collapse of the German war-machine, or to 
argue from local weaknesses and symptoms of bad Staff work 
a general disorder. 

Nevertheless, there are many signs that the enemy is begin 
ning to feel a severe strain upon his defensive strength and 
that his men are being put to an ordeal which not even all 
their discipline and their courage can make endurable. 

For men of a certain kind of science are apt to forget that 
there are other things in human nature besides the chemistry 
of flesh and blood, and that not even the finest soldiers can 
be made to fight well if their spirit is broken by repeated 
losses. 

10 

AUGUST 17 

It is at the two ends of our recent line of attack on the left 
above Pozieres and on the right around Guillemont that the 
interest of the present fighting for the moment gathers, and in 
both these districts some progress has been made by our infantry 
during the past day or two. The successful advance of the 
French, northwards from Hardecourt towards Angle Wood, 



180 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

and their capture of the ravine to the south-west of it, helps 
to strengthen our lines about Guillemont, especially as some of 
our troops advancing from the trenches south of Malz Horn 
Farm, and west of Trdnes Wood, linked hands with our Allies 
yesterday. 

I have already described in a previous dispatch the great 
difficulty of working over the ground about Guillemont and 
the hard time some of our men have had in pushing forward 
to the outskirts of that town. The enemy has concentrated 
a large number of batteries in the country beyond, and near 
at hand is defending himself from many machine-gun emplace 
ments and a maze of newly dug trenches. 

The operations yesterday in conjunction with the French are 
still in progress and the result at present is indecisive, but with 
both French and British troops closing upon them the situation 
of ilie garrison in Guillemont is not what soldiers would call 
"healthy." 

Yesterday morning I was more interested personally in the 
left side of the battle-line above Pozieres, as from an artillery 
observation post I w r as able to get a very clear view of our 
own and the enemy s ground in this district ground which 
has been won and held by English and Australian regiments 
with a determination and courage which I have described 
several times with some detail. 

There before me on the sky-line was the windmill which 
should be as famous in the history of this war as the Ferryman s 
House on the Yser Canal or the chateau at Vermelles, or the 
1 Tower Bridge at Loos. Waves of men have surged up 
the slope to it under storms of shell-fire. To Australians 
fighting for the high ridge on which it stands above Martinpuich 
it has been the goal of great endeavour, for which many of them 
have given their lives. The enemy defended it as if it were 
a great treasure-house, though only an old building of timber 
and stone against which the wind of centuries has blown, 
turning the great black sails which ground the corn of the folk 
in Pozieres before ever a howitzer had been fired in the world 
or a flying machine had come humming over the hill. The 
windmill is ours now. Our line sweeps round it and our shell- 
fire drops on the other side of the slope, barraging the enemy s 
ways to and from Martinpuich. 

But it is only the relic of a mill-house. The timbers have 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZlfiRES 181 

been blown to atoms weeks ago. The sails fell in the first 
bombardment, and all that stands now is the stone base in 
the form of a small pyramid as a memorial of great bloodshed. 



11 

The enemy yesterday was dropping a heavy barrage all 
along our line, which runs south of Mouquet Farm and sweeps 
below the village of Thiepval and its wood. 

On the other side of Thiepval Wood the opposing lines run 
very close together, and here there was not much shell-fire, 
but on the Pozieres side the shell-bursts and smoke-clouds 
were drifting up and down in a steady, regular way. Our 
own guns were busy with Mouquet Farm (called by our soldiers 
" Moo-cow Farm, or Muckie Farm, according to their 
whim), and, farther off, with Courcelette, whose tall factory 
chimney sticks up above the ridge, and now and again one of 
our heavies sent a great shell crashing into Thiepval. 

There were no German soldiers to be seen in that village, 
and no sign of human life at all. It is a ghastly-looking place, 
with its stripped trees, like withered limbs, and a ruined church 
above a row of apple-trees, which stand a little separate from 
the village. 

Above is a cemetery with broken tombstones and shell- 
craters among its graves. Beyond, on a road running north 
wards, is a tall crucifix with the figure of Christ looking down 
upon all this death. 

In the trenches no man puts his head above the parapet. 
Several times one of our machine-guns spluttered out a burst of 
fire as a warning to the enemy to keep well down. The only 
movement over this village and battlefield was made by shells 
which tore up the earth and sent drifting smoke-clouds across 
the ruins. 

The doom of Thiepval is creeping closer, for our men are 
advancing slowly but surely around Mouquet Farm, so that it 
will be hemmed in. The garrison hiding in the dug-outs 
below those broken buildings at which I gazed yesterday must 
be in a state of dreadful apprehension. I should not like to 
live in Thiepval. 



182 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 



12 

AUGUST 20 

It is quite impossible to understand the progress of our 
advance since July 1 without being familiar with the ground 
over which this has been made and the local conditions of the 
lighting on our present front. 

In my dispatches I have done my best to picture these things 
and to reveal the heroism of our men by describing, as realisti 
cally as one may without being too brutal to one s readers, 
the appalling difficulties they have to encounter. Even now 
many people wonder, I dare say, at the various pauses in the 
victorious progress of our troops, and look forward, day by 
day, to more smashing blows and greater strides over the 
enemy s ground. 

To me the wonder of this battle is that we should have got 
on so far and so fast. When one has seen the network of 
German trenches, their great systems of underground galleries 
proof against the heaviest of high explosives their machine- 
gun redoubts, against which, if even only one gun is left, it is 
sometimes difficult to advance, and the power of their artillery 
able to barrage a strip of ground which our men have to cross, 
it is astounding that our soldiers could have forced the enemy 
back from stronghold after stronghold and gained their way to 
the high positions of the Pozieres Ridge. 

Take those men of ours who have won their way through a 
maze of trenches in this last bit of fighting between Pozieres 
and Thiepval. 

They had to force their way between machine-gun posts and 
scramble over ground which is like a billowy sea of earth with 
deep pits at the bottom of each billow, into which many of 
them stumbled and fell. Not good going for an attack ! 

Then they had to storm their way down to the enemy s 
underground system of galleries, where large numbers of strong 
and un wounded Germans were waiting with stores of bombs 
and every kind of weapon. 

It is true that many of these men surrender readily at the 
first rush of our troops, but if those dug-outs are not cleared 
out at once, and if our men in their eagerness go on, it is 
quite likely, as it has often happened during the past six 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZlfiRES 183 

weeks, that the enemy will come up and attack them from 
the rear. 

From one of these holes in the ground which seemed a simple 
little dug-out there came up, on Friday, as I have already said, 
six officers and over 150 men. I saw them all to-day, tall 
fellows with unstained uniforms and a well-fed, fresh, and 
healthy look. 

One of the officers was quite a giant. He was wearing a 
steel casque of the German pattern, which is very much like a 
mediaeval helm, arid he was laughing and joking with his 
brother-officers as he marched at the head of his company. 
If these men had come up behind English assaulting parties 
who had not made sure of the dug-outs first they could have put 
up a very strong fight, and with one machine-gun might have 
done great damage. 

In their underground galleries they had lived snugly and safe, 
sleeping on spring beds, reclining on upholstered chairs, in 
well-furnished rooms so much like those in the upper world 
that they had even false windows draped with lace curtains. 

Our men have to fight below-ground as well as above-ground 
before they are in possession of an enemy position. 

Above-ground it is not good for a quick advance. Our guns 
have been bombarding so continuously that although the 
infantry depends utterly upon an effective artillery preparation, 
and not in vain, the effect of all this shell-fire impedes their 
progress when the time comes to cross No Man s Land. 

It is just a series of shell-craters like a wide stretch of those 
" trous-de-loup which used to be dug in the old days of 
warfare behind the " glacis," and have been revived again in 
this war, which has adopted every device known to fighting 
men from the time of Cain onwards. 



18 

When some of the Australians " went over the other night 
this was their great cause of trouble. They rushed forward 
eagerly, and before they had gone fifty yards most of them had 
fallen into shell-holes deeper than their own height. It was 
pitch-dark, except for the white light of the German flares 
rising and falling, and when they scrambled up the shelving 



184 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

sides of the craters they were black as ink in this illumination 
and horribly visible to the German bombers and machine- 
gunners, who made the most of their opportunity in the time 
at their disposal. 

1 stood by a man to-day who, since July 1, has been buried 
alive by shell-bursts upheaving the earth about him no fewer 
than six times. 

He is a young Australian officer, now wounded in the back 
and leg, and he assured me that he did not mind this premature 
burial very much. 

" There is mostly a little air to breathe enough to keep 
one going for a few minutes," he said, but of course it s 
unpleasant waiting to be dug out, if one has the luck. Most 
fellows mind it very much. But it don t affect me in that 
way." 

This is not an uncommon experience. There are a lot of 
men buried in an advance when, as the official dispatch says, 
" We made good progress." So that progress is not a soft 
job for soldiers. Then the German is beginning to leave a lot 
of little things behind him, even if he abandons a trench in a 
hurry. This is a new dodge. One invention which has come 
into his fertile imagination is a man-trap, which he sets outside 
his parapet or inside a shell-hole on the way to it. As soon as 
one of our soldiers sets foot on to it it closes about his leg with 
a terrific bite and brings him down like a log. 

Another little device in devilry is the * tortoise bomb." 
It looks very much like a tortoise if you happen to see it 
which you don t, in the dark and it stands on four little legs. 
They waggle a little, but should it be unwarily touched it may 
detonate the bomb and blow a man to bits. 

There was some heroic righting on Friday afternoon along 
a road which runs from High Wood to Delville Wood. The 
heroes of this fight were ordered to take this road with troops 
on their left and right, and in spite of the shell-holes on the 
way and heavy machine-gun fire sweeping down on them they 
took the trench all right, going even a little too far in their 
eagerness. 

Owing to casualties in officers, the sergeants had, in some 
cases, to carry on the command, and they did so with the calm 
courage of old soldiers. The German trench, battered by our 
gun-fire, was full of dead, and littered with rifles and equipment. 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZlfiRES 185 

A few of the enemy stayed and fought to the death, and others 
ran away. Three were dragged up out of a dug-out and made 
prisoners. All looked good, from a fighting point of view, 
in this section of the trench, and would have been good if the 
men on the left and right had been able to come up. But they 
were not able to do this, and presently from the right and left 
came parties of German bombers, hurling their grenades at our 
men, who hurled back until every one of their bombs was 
gone. 

Then they grubbed about for German bombs, and used those 
until they could find no more. It was time to escape, and the 
way out was through a narrow sap which was also a death-trap 
if the enemv closed about it. 

*/ 

But the enemy did a strange thing. They came swarming 
up on both sides, and each side took the other for English 
soldiers, and, in the dusk, bombed each other furiously over 
the heads of our men, who slipped away, marvelling at their 
luck in ill-luck. They had five prisoners when they reached 
their own lines, for they were joined by two other men (in ad 
dition to the three from the dug-out), one of whom was a 
German hero tired of heroism wearing the Iron Cross and 
another decoration. 

So the fighting goes on, and it is the grit of our troops, their 
splendid obstinacy, their refusal to be beaten by shell-fire or 
shell-holes, by machine-guns or tortoise bombs, by poison-gas 
or tear-shells, by Germans above-ground or underground, or 
dropping high explosives from the sky " the whole blinking 
bag of tricks," as they would call it, which keeps them going 
always a little bit farther. 

Unless one knows the cost of victory one cannot tell the 
greatness of the victors. 



14 

AUGUST 23 

We are getting a stronger grip upon the ridge from Pozieres 
to High Wood. Last night the Australians gained a little more 
ground, so that they have pushed out a line to the north-east 
of Mouquet P arm, and the Scottish troops to their right have 
gained another hundred yards of that famous switch-line into 
which I took a walk the day before yesterday to see how 



186 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

we held the enemy s last line of defence on the way to 
Martinpuich. 

The switch-line exists only as a name, and in reality is nothing 
but a series of shell -craters in which our men have to get what 
cover they can, after chasing out the Germans, before digging and 
strengthening an effective trench. 

But it is the position that counts, and if we can hold it, as I 
am now certain we shall, it puts the enemy at a great disadvan 
tage, of which our guns are already making a full and terrible 
use. The enemy s endeavours to counter-attack he made 
two last night have broken down under our fire with great 
bloodshed, and now it is not in the least likely that he will 
succeed in wresting back from us any of the high ground. 

The importance of the position is, of course, entirely one of 
observation, apart from the tactical importance of having driven 
the enemy on to ground beyond his firsthand second systems 
of trenches and dug-outs, so that he can get no strong cover 
until he retires to a considerable distance. 

It gives us vantage-points from which we can observe his 
movements down the slope, rake him with rifle and machine- 
gun fire if he sends out working parties, and turn the guns on 
to him with direct observation of results. 

One of the immediate effects of being on the Pozieres Ridge 
was seen yesterday, when our artillery registered something 
like twenty-five direct hits upon some of the enemy s batteries. 
He had a great concentration of guns. 

Acting in connexion with our aviators, who are always 
observing from high places, our gunners are punishing the enemy 
in a very frightful way, and the ground above Thiepval and 
Courcelctte, into which I looked for the first time at close 
range from the switch-trench, and Martinpuich, and the barren 
ground to the right of it, is swept by our shell-fire. 

A very realistic and tragic picture of what is happening down 
there bevond the high ridge is given in a letter written on 

/ cj C? 

August 10 by a German officer of the 133rd Infantry Regi 
ment : 

44 The relief yesterday," he wrote, " is incredible. The 
route taken Ligny Warlencourt Pys Courcelette on the 
way to the trenches was very dangerous. During the first 
part the thunder of the guns was very disagreeable, and the 
second part was very unsafe. Heavy shells fell right and left 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZI&RES 187 

of the road. Mounted troops, cars, field-kitchens, infantry 
in column of route, were all enveloped in an impenetrable 
cloud of dust. 

" The last stage consisted of troops in single file crouching 
on the slope beside the road, with shells bursting overhead. 
Close to Courcelette a message arrived : Enemy firing gas- 
shells, on with your gas-helmets. It appeared to be an error. 
From Courcelette to our position in the line we relieved across 
the open. If the enemy had only noticed that, what a target 
he would have had ! 

" Our position was of course quite different to what we had 
been told. Our company alone relieved a whole battalion. 
We had been told we were to relieve a company of fifty men 
weakened bv casualties. The men we relieved had no idea 

V 

where the enemy was, how far off he was, or if any of our troops 
were in front of us. We got no idea of our supposed position 
until 6 o clock this evening. 

" To-night I am taking my platoon out to form a covering 
party. My men and I are to lie in shell-holes in part of an old 
demolished trench of ours. The English are 400 metres away. 
The Windmill is over the hill. The hundreds of dead bodies 
make the air terrible, and there are flies in thousands. About 
300 metres from us is a deserted artillery position. We shall 
have to look to it to-night not to get taken prisoners by the 
English. We have no dug-outs. We dig a hole in the side of 
a shell-hole and lie and get rheumatism. We get nothing to 
eat or drink. . . . The ceaseless roar of the guns is driving us 
mad. Many of the men are knocked up. The company com 
mander thinks we were breathing gas yesterday, which slowly 
decomposes the blood, and this is an end of one. What a 
variety of ways one can lose one s life in this place ! ... It 
is getting light. I must start on my way back to the front 
line trenches." 

From another man in the 3rd Battalion of the 124th Regiment 
there is a letter which pays a doleful tribute to our flying 



men 
it 



I am on sentry duty, and it is a very hard job, for I dare 
not move. Overhead are the English airmen and in front of 
us the English observers with telescopes, and as soon as they 
perceive anything, then twenty-four 4 cigars arrive at once, 
and larger than one cares to see you understand what I mean. 



188 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

The country round me looks frightful. Many dead bodies 
belonging to both sides lie around." 

These letters give the other side of the pictures which I have 
been describing. They show what German life is like below 
the Pozieres Ridge. 

We are drawing very close to Thiepval, and standing yester 
day on the high ground to the right of the Windmill by Pozieres, 
within 500 yards of Martinpuich, I could see how near our lines 
have been pushed to both these places. TLiepval I have 
seen several times from the western side, but yesterday I 
stood to the south-east of it looking straight across the 
cemetery of Pozieres to the long line of branchless trees 
and broken roofs where the German garrison awaits its certain 
doom. 

That doom crept a little nearer last evening when some of 
our English troops left their trenches south of the Leipzig 
Redoubt, which was already in our hands, and following in 
the wake of a terrific bombardment on a short line of the enemy s 
position took that section quickly by assault. I saw the steady 
bombardment of the ground hereabouts, which was continuous 
throughout the afternoon, but, by bad luck, having gone 
to another part of the line, did not see the attack which 
followed. 

It was a highly organized and grim bit of work, very quickly 
done and with few casualties on our side. As soon as the guns 
had lifted, after concentrated fire which tore up the ground 
and made an utter chaos of the German line of trench, our 
men followed. They went over in two waves, at as rapid a 
pace as possible over the tumbled ground. Then they went 
through the broken strands of barbed wire, and by men watching 
them from a little distance were seen to drop down into the 
enemy s trench. 

After a little while less than a minute the result of the 
attack was seen by a number of German soldiers coming out 
of the shell-craters with their hands up. * A little later a large 
group of soldiers ran out and tried to escape. They ran as 
though the devil were behind them, but there was a devilish 
fate in front of them, for they plunged straight into a heavy 
fire from our guns, and disappeared. 

In less than a quarter of an hour the fight was over and men 
came plodding back along the way for " walking wounded," 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZlfiRES 189 

and the Red Cross flag could be seen over there in the light of 
the setting sun. 

The enemy must have suffered heavily. Our guns caught 
them during a relief, which means that there was a double 
garrison, resulting in a double number of killed, wounded, and 
prisoners. Worse still for them, it seems likely that on their 
way up to the lines many of them were caught in the heavy 
barrage we had for some time been flinging across their 
route. 

Among the 200 prisoners taken there is an ex- waiter of the 
Savoy Hotel, who says that he is thoroughly sick of the war, 
like most of his comrades, and that Verdun, from which he 
has just come, is a heaven compared to the battlefields of 
Picardy. 

Some time after our assault German troops were observed to 
be massing for a counter-attack behind the captured position, 
but these were immediately dispersed by our artillery, and no 
attack took place throughout last night. 

The result of the operation is that we now hold a line straight 
above the Leipzig salient and striking across to our trenches 
south of Mouquet Farm, where the Australians made an attack 
yesterday to push farther forward towards Thiepval. 



15 

The successful advance south of the Leipzig Redoubt was 
due mainly to the gallant work of some Territorial troops who 
attacked a maze of German trenches on Friday evening last, 
carried them by assault, and linked up with the redoubt itself, 
already in our hands immediately below Thiepval, getting 
a closer grip at the throat of the garrison there. 

I have already told how the men captured the great dug-out 
and took nearly 600 prisoners. They were men of the Royal 
Warwicks, who did that great achievement with extraordinarily 
slight loss to themselves. One of the most thrilling episodes 
of the attack was when they were held up on the right by a 
German strong point, from which came a stream of machine- 
gun fire. The men lay down in front of it, and held on until 
our own Lewis guns could get to work. Four times a message 
came over the telephone asking whether the " heavies " should 



190 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

shell the place, but the colonel was afraid that his men would 
be hit, and refused the offer each time. Then suddenly, when 
it seemed impossible to stop that deadly squirt of bullets, 
the German machine-gun ceased fire and a white flag fluttered 
up. 

The colonel of the Warwicks expected to see twenty men 
come out of that bomb-proof hiding-place. To his amaze 
ment there emerged six officers, and not 150 men (as I think 
I said in my last dispatch) but 242 un wounded Germans and 
six " stretcher cases." There were many acts of great individual 
gallantry among the Warwicks, and all were splendid under the 
fine leadership of their officers. One sergeant jumped on to 
the parados of a German trench and kept a machine-gun team 
away from their weapon until our bombing party could arrive, 
thereby saving the lives of many Warwickshire lads and helping 
to secure victory. 

Further along the trench a company officer, held up at a 
" bomb-stop " or barricade, called for a rifle and fired repeatedly 
with a cool aim at the German machine-gunners on the other 
side, with two men by him, who kept refilling his magazine, and 
bombers behind him hurling grenades over his shoulders. 



16 

Many of the Germans defended themselves stubbornly, 
to the death. A sentry standing outside one of the dug-outs 
saw our men approaching, and, turning quickly, shouted 
down the word " England ! to his comrades below. One 
of the Warwicks who was closest to him hurled his last bomb 
at him, and then, seizing the man s rifle, sprang on to the 
parapet ready to shoot the enemy as they came up. They 
came up in a swarm, with bombs, and there was a great conflict 
which ended only when the last German was dead. 

In one dug-out there was, in the midst of all this horror, a 
comic episode, like that of a clown in tragedy. A curtain 
divided the dug-out, and a Warwickshire man thrust his 
bayonet through it. Suddenly the curtain was drawn on one 
side and a German soldier, yawning loudly and rubbing his 
eyes with the knuckles of one hand, stood there, as though 
to say " What s up ? He had slept heavily through the 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZI&RES 191 

bombardment and attack, and now when he saw the English 
soldiers facing him, believed he was dreaming. 

So the Warwicks took 400 yards of trenches along a front 
of 600 yards and thrust the wedge closer to Thiepval. 
Meanwhile, in the centre of our line of attack, English and 
Scots and Australian troops had been fighting for the German 
switch-line beyond Bazentin-le-Petit, the newly dug trench 
which the enemy had made feverishly to defend the high ridge 
above Pozieres, but could not hold. They were Scottish troops 
who took the trench opposite Martinpuich, so gaining at least 
part of the ground for which we have striven since July 1. 



17 

It is not long ago, as the calendar counts time, though a 
lifetime ago for many thousands of men who have fought along 
the road to Martinpuich, since that village with a queer name 
seemed as unattainable as any dream-city. No man of ours, 
except our flying men, had ever seen it, for it lies just below 
the Pozieres Ridge, and before the battle opened on July 1 the 
ridge itself was a high and distant barrier defended all the way 
by great strongholds like Fricourt and Mametz and Contal- 
maison, and by all those woods which could be captured, as 
every soldier knew, only by desperate fighting. 

Now, after the greatest battle in British history a series of 
battles, rather, in one great and continuous attack we have 
gained that ridge above Pozieres and the Windmill, and, 
pushing up to this German switch-line, look down the slopes 
beyond. 

There, only 500 yards away across No Man s Land, lies 
Martinpuich, as I saw it myself to-day from our front-line 
trench, surprised that one could see so close into its ruins. 
To my left as I stood out in the open, above the trenches, was 
the Windmill for which the Australians have fought the 
conical base of it being all that is left as a memorial of the 
heroism that gained this ground, and behind was Pozieres, the 
desolate, shell- sw r ept ruin which is linked also, for ever, with 
the memory of those boys from the Overseas Dominion who 
gave a treasure of life to take it. 

The way to Martinpuich is truly " The Street of Adventure 



192 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

for hundreds of thousands of our men who have fought their 

o 

way over the ground about it since that first day of July which 
was the beginning of the great adventure. 

When I went up it to-day, farther than I have ever been 
before, and to our last post upon it, I passed all the places which 
will make chapter-headings in any history of the war the 
scenes of all the big battles and of all the little desperate 
conflicts which have been fought along this wing from ditch to 
ditch, in every tiny copse, in every bit of broken woodland. 
It is a road of immortality. Alas, also of great death, as one 
sees all along the way past Fricourt and Contalmaison over 
ground dotted with new-made graves, where white wooden 
crosses stick up above the mounds of earth, everywhere, 
amidst the torn tree-stumps, and very neat between the 
upheaval of these fields flung into chaos by gun-fire, and 
clustering thickly about piles of broken brickwork which are 
still called by their old village-names. 

Many of those graves are the size of one man s bed, but 
others are broad mounds into which many bodies have been 
laid, with taller crosses, to the remembrance of all of them, such 
as that " To the memorv of the N.C.O. s and men of the 

*/ 

Border Regiment who fell in action at this spot on the 1st of 
July 1916." Many of them are to unknown British soldiers 
who could not be identified, but whose names are on the long 
roll-call of honour. 

18 

On the road to Martinpuich w r e passed up by Lonely Copse 
-just a few " strafed " trees and by Lozenge Wood and the 
Dingle, and Birch Tree Wood and Peake Wood, and Acid Drop 
Copse. Do you remember the names ? Men fought ferociously 
to get these places, our artillery registered on them, and I saw 
them in the first days of July under tempests of shell-fire. Now 
they can be found only by a few charred sticks, a few black 
gibbets, standing above heaps of ashes and the bones and dust 
of men. 

Contalmaison, the capital of the woodlands, is on higher 
ground, and is still the target of German bombardments, as it 
was our target when I saw it first. Most of its red-brick 
chateau was standing when I looked into its windows one day 



193 

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THE HIGH GROUND AT POZlERES 193 

from an artillery O.P. and saw one of its towers shot away 
by one of our 15-inch shells, as cleanly as one could cut a slice 
out of a cake. Now all that is left of the chateau is a broken 
wall or two, rose-coloured except where the bricks are blackened 
by fire, standing in the midst of great shell-craters and solid 
waves of earth and ash-coloured tree-trunks all hurled about. 

A devilish place is Contalmaison now, and when I walked 
through it yesterday the foul horror of it reeked about me. In 
the night the Germans had flung thousands of gas-shells into 
it, and the stench was still prowling about, stealing out of 
crannies and shell-holes with faint, sickly whiffs as though from 
rotten eggs. And the smell of corruption came up from all 
the litter of battle lying there. . . . 

We went beyond Contalmaison, and were glad to leave it, 
for the enemy s shells were bursting over it, and round by 
Bazentin-le-Petit Wood, thinned out by successive storms of 
shell-fire to the mere ghost of a wood, with the light striking 
through its leprous-looking trunks, where many unburied dead 
lie among the broken trenches. The ground rose gradually 
past Contalmaison Villa, which stood far beyond the village 
itself, as the country house of some French gentleman who 
will never see it again except in dust and ashes, and here we 
were out in the centre of the battle-ground, where our men are 
now fighting between the windmill of Pozieres and High Wood, 
on the farthest line of our advance. 

The battle was going on, as it goes on all through the days 
and nights, with never-ceasing gun-fire. The infernal tumult 
of it was all around us, and death was everywhere for any man 
whose luck had run out. Lord God in heaven ! If a man had 
any kind of prayer in his soul, or any special form of curse for 
those who made this war, his lips should mutter it in a place 
like this. 



19 

It was into the famous switch-trench which has been the 
goal of great endeavour since July 14, when our troops broke 
the German second line, that we went through other trenches 
after the long walk in the open, and looked at last into Martin- 
puich, just below the high ridge. Merely to see it was the 
supreme proof of the greatest achievement in arms ever done 

N 



194 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

by British soldiers. To get as far as this, to capture the high 
ground where we now stood, behind earth and sandbags, 
looking down into the valley beyond, our men have stormed 
many strongholds, fought through all the ghastly woodlands 
from Fricourt and Bazentin and High Wood, and many have 
fallen all along the road to Martinpuich. 

The village itself is just like any of all those ruins which have 
been smashed to bits in this poor France. There was no sign 
of human life there among the broken buildings. But there 
was human life, though I could not see it, in the 500 yards of 
No Man s Land between our first line and the village. 

In the deep shell-craters here, as thick as holes in a sieve, 
there are still some German soldiers living. They have no kind 
of trench, for there is nothing but open ground before us for 
1000 yards, now that we have taken the German switch-line, 
but in these holes they hide themselves at night and snipe our 
men by day. They are fellows who have been sent out to 
hold the ground as much as possible before they are dead or 
captured, and their officers never expect to see them again. 
When our guns barrage this stretch of barren land they can 
be seen hopping from one shell-hole to another, and it is then 
the turn of our snipers. They brought down thirty-five the 
first day, after taking the switch-line, and about as many two 
days ago. 

More valuable than a German prisoner for what s the value 
in this war of one man s life ? was the German machine-gun 
brought in a day or two ago from the ground outside Martin 
puich, where it lay half buried, but so undamaged that it is 
now used against the enemy with his own cartridge-belts. 
Other queer things have been brought back. Two days after 
the capture of the switch-line our soldiers saw two men waving 
out there in No Man s Land, and getting their glasses on to 
them saw that they were wounded Englishmen. A party of 
Scots crawled out and brought them in, as during the same day 
they had carried back a number of German wounded lying 
about in the shell-holes close to our own line. 

The real wonder of our men is only to be seen in such places 
as this. On these battlefields, under heavy shell-fire, they were 
working as calmly as though they were building sand-castles 
on the English seaside. Behind them lay many of their 
dead. 



THE HIGH GROUND AT POZE&RES 195 

I could track my way back by the blood that splashed the 
walls of the trenches to the place where a medical officer 
patches up the bodies of broken men in a hole in the ground. 



20 

The ground over which I walked with a young Scottish 
officer who has no emotion at all about such things because 
since he went first into Loos he has lived cheek by jowl with 
death so that any fear he may have had is killed by habit was 
nothing but one great stretch of shell-craters. There was not 
one yard of ground into which a shell had not fallen, over 
thousands of yards. Some of them were small shells making 
small craters, others were heavy shells which had made enormous 
pits, and the rim of one crater met the rim of another, or 
mingled. And, as we walked, the sky above our heads was 
filled with shells continuing this work, flinging up the earth 
again into new hills and hollows. 

From our own batteries far away behind us there came a 
steady bombardment of the German ground just beyond us, 
and the shells passed overhead with that indescribable sound 
which is half a scream and half a sigh, enormous in the volume 
of its noise. But those sounds were comforting compared 
with others which were coming overhead. They were coming 
from the enemy s side with a savage overwhelming roar, which 
ended in a rending explosion. 

" Eight-inch," said the young Scot by my side. " Heavy 
stuff." 

It is surprising what effect an eight-inch shell can have in 
the way of unheaval. But one s sensation is not that of 
surprise when fifty yards away, or less, a mass of field is suddenly 
lifted skyward and a smoke-cloud as large as a cathedral 
stands there strangely solid in the wind. The whole field of 
battle about us was vomiting up these things, and it was 
damnable. 



XXIII 

THE GERMAN SIDE OF THE SOMME 



. 

AUGUST 9 

I HAVE not been across to the enemy s side of the line (except 
when it has been broken by our guns and men), and I have no 
intention of following the example of a friend of mine who 
deliberately tried to get across to them in search of informa 
tion. But now and again it is possible to get a mental glimpse 
of how the enemy lives and works and thinks behind the barbed 
wire and the ditches and the machine-gun redoubts which make 
up his defensive system. 

I mean the enemy s fighting men, and not all those people 
in Germany who starve on false promises and grow sick with 
hope deferred, and count up the number of their dead, and 
still say, with a resolute pride, " At least we cannot be 
beaten." 

From talks with prisoners, and explorations of German 
dug-outs, and the reading of captured documents, and many 
days spent (before the battles of the Somme) in our own trenches 
from which through a loophole or a tuft of grass I have looked 
over to the German lines and seen, not often, but several 
times, German soldiers moving about in working parties, and 
German infantry marching down a hill-side over 2000 yards 
away, I have been able to conjure up a fair answer to questions 
which have often come into my head : " What are the fellows! 
doing over the way ? What are they thinking about and talking 
about ? What does it look like behind their lines ? And how 
do their methods and their moral differ from our own ? 

Since the beginning of our attack on July 1 I have gained 
some later information about those things, and it seems to me 
interesting to put down a few of the facts, so that people at 



THE GERMAN SIDE OF THE SOMME 197 

home may know more about the enemy than they seem to 
know. 



There is no doubt at all that as a fighting man the German 
knows his business thoroughly, and performs it with great 
skill, courage, and discipline. He has had the advantage of 
us in an enormous reserve of highly trained officers and non 
commissioned officers, and although the advantage is rapidly 
disappearing, because after two years of war we are getting 
large numbers of the same class of men and he is losing and 
has lost a great mass of them by death and wounds, he still 
has, I imagine, more than enough for his needs. 

Now, and to the end of the war (for he is careful to keep his 
best brains out of danger), he can call upon a great store of 
professional and scientific knowledge to direct the machinery 
of this business of destruction and defence, and to organize the 
lives of his machine-made men. 

In minute detail of organization, and in a driving industry 
behind it, the German High Command is masterly, and there is 
not a soldier in the Kaiser s armies who is not well equipped 
(down to the " housewife full of pins and needles, cotton, 
buttons, and thread, which he carries in his pouch) and well fed, 
unless our guns do not permit his supplies to come up. 

Enormous attention is paid to the "moral" of the men, by 
organizing concerts, religious services, and beer-parties behind 
the lines, so that they shall be kept cheerful until they die, 
and the news of the world, as we all know, is specially edited 
for them with that point of view in mind. 

But the German High Command is careful of the lives of 
its men until the day comes when they have to be flung ruthlessly 
forward, in wave after wave, against the guns of the Allies. 

Again and again I have described the spaciousness and the 
depth and comfort of the German dug-outs. That is part of 
the system of life-saving, and the divisional commanders set 
their men to work and keep them at work in a way which our 
men would call slave-driving. 

I have described those at Montauban and Fricourt as I saw 
them immediately after their capture, and after the bombard 
ment which crumpled up all the trenches about them, but left 
them, for the most part, solid and untouched. 



198 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

3 

At Ovillers they are even more elaborate, some of them having 
six or eight rooms communicating with each other, and two 
separate stories rooms as large as fifteen feet by thirty feet, 
furnished with spring beds, carpets, washing arrangements 
with water laid on, electric light, tapestries to keep out the 
draughts, and other luxuries. One of the dug-outs at Ovillers 
has nine entrances, with beds for 110 men, thirty feet below 
the surface, and with a cook-house containing three big boilers. 

But it is not only in the trenches and in places like Ovillers 
that the Germans dig so industriously. Far behind their lines, 
wherever our long-range guns can reach them, they have 
these elaborate subterranean shelters, deeper and stronger than 
most of ours, and with much greater accommodation. It 
means incessant work in addition to all the work which keeps 
our own soldiers busy night and day. 

But it is work that saves life, and the Germans do not 
begrudge it, and have no special pride in taking risks. That 
is good generalship and good soldiering. But it does not save 
them. Some of our officers are apt to imagine I confess it 
was in my own imagination for a time that the German was 
so snug in these burrows of his that our bombardments in 
normal times without infantry attacks to follow did not cause 
him many casualties. 

The truth is that continuous artillery-fire like ours has been 
and is frightfully destructive of human life, and that no amount 
of digging will safeguard it. Transport must move along the 
roads. Men must go up communication-trenches. Working 
parties must come out into the open. 

During all the month that our artillery has been increasing 
its weight of metal and the number of rounds fired, the Germans, 
therefore, have been suffering great losses, and the strain upon 
the nerves and " moral " of the men has been severe. 

This is certain not only from the statements of German 
soldiers brought into our lines, but from new instructions 
issued as late as July 16, which refer to the treatment of the 
great numbers of wounded, and the terrible conditions of the 
present fighting. Significant sentences reveal the truth of 
things behind the German lines, and again the organizing 
minds which try to better them as far as possible : 



THE GERMAN SIDE OF THE SOMME 199 

4 As the circumstances of the present fighting do not as a 
rule permit of a dressing-station being established near the 
fighting troops, the wounded must at any rate be taken to 
places which are easy to find, easy to describe, and easy to 
recognize. 

" Companies must inform battalions, and battalions regi 
ments, where the wounded are to be found, and how many 
there are to remove. 

" They can as a rule only be moved at night. The stretcher- 
bearers who come to fetch them generally waste a good deal of 
time in searching for the wounded, and sometimes do not 
find them if they are not assisted by the unit which has been 
engaged. 

; The nights are short for carrying out these large evacuations. 
4 1 have already reminded units that troops which are 
relieved should carry their wounded with them." That reveals 
a tragic picture of the enemy s losses. It is emphasized again 
that many of the wounded are not found, and suggestions are 
made that pieces of canvas dipped in luminous paint might 
be used to indicate the whereabouts of the wounded, or white 
canvas cut into the form of a cross. 

The German mind is busy with the problem of its dead also. 
The enemy goes to great risk and trouble to remove the dead 
from the fields because the living men who follow are dis 
heartened and terrified by the sight of so many corpses on their 
way. 

Search-parties are sent out under shell-fire to collect them, 
even though many of the searchers may join the dead, and the 
bodies are put into mortuary chambers like one found by us 
the other day at Pozieres. 

It was filled with dead bodies waiting to be taken away on a 
light railway which runs up to the place, but the enemy s 
artillery fired upon this mortuary and set it on fire, as though 
they were more jealous of their dead than of the living who 
were our prisoners. 

4 

I have said that they keep their best brains out of danger. 
This is true, even when the brains are second-best. It is 
very seldom that any officer over the rank of a captain is found 
in the front-line trenches, and officers of higher rank remain 



200 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

well in the background. Lately, during our attack, orders 
have been given that officers and N.C.O. s commanding com 
panies and platoons should visit their trenches at night " so 
that the men may see or hear their commanders." It is all 
very naive, and reveals that curious lack of humour which 
characterizes the German war lord. 

The men," say these instructions, " should be instructed as 
to the whereabouts of their commanding officer, and know 
where to go if they feel that they require inspiring with courage. 
To stimulate courage and to foster the feeling of confidence 
and the spirit of resistance, these should be the first duties of 
an officer in the front line, at all events in the present circum 
stances. Courage rather than tactful theory is the essence of a 
true leader." 

To give their men courage in hours when these German 
soldiers, who are brave men, might well give way to terror, 
the German chemists have manufactured tabloids which drug 
them with a kind of frenzy. There is no doubt of this, which 
sometimes I have doubted, because many of these drugs were 
found by a friend of mine the medical officer of the Kentish 
men who helped to take the trenches north of Pozieres a few 
days ago. 

They contained ether and opium in sufficient quantity to 
intoxicate the strongest man. In the German opinion it is 
good stuff before a counter-attack. 

German organization is remarkably good. It does not 
neglect the spiritual or the physical side of their soldiers. It 
provides them with song-books and prayer-books as well as 
with food and drink. 

It has never revealed a shortage of shells. Its gunners are 
full of science and wonderfully quick to get on to their targets 
when the infantry calls for help by sending up signals of distress. 

In all the mechanics of war and in the fine art of keeping 
up the pride of men the German war lords and high officers 
show real genius. But they cannot bring dead men to life 
nor hide the agonies of all their wounded, nor blink the fact 
that British troops have broken their second line, and hammered 
them with terrific blows and reached out far with long-range 
guns to destroy them behind their lines. 

They live in many ruins as bad as Ypres French ruins, 
alas and I know that, on the eve of our great attack, all 



THE GERMAN SIDE OF THE SOMME 201 

instructions were prepared for a general retreat, with every 
detail ready in case our troops should break through on a wide 
front. 

That is a confession of deep apprehension. It shows that 
they are envisaging defeat and preparing for it wisely enough 
in case of need. It is a state of mind not expressed in an 
Order of the Day issued by the German Emperor a few days 
ago and found on a German officer captured to the north of 
Pozieres : 

" To the leaders of the troops of the First Army," says the 
Kaiser, " I express from the bottom of my heart my deep 
appreciation and my Imperial gratitude for the splendid 
achievement in warding off the Anglo-French mass attacks of 
the 30th of July. They have accomplished with German 
faithfulness what I and their country expected from them. 

" God help them further. 

"(Signed) WILHELM I.R." 



Since then the ground to the north of Pozieres has been 
captured, and to-day there has been fierce fighting and further 
progress made by British troops towards Guillemont. God has 
not helped them it seems. 

Behind the German lines, in spite of the Kaiser s gratitude 
for the courage of his troops a courage which we must not 
belittle, for it is great men are thinking gloomily and wondering 
when all the agony of this great war, which holds no victory 
for Germany, will have an ending, after all their blood and all 
their tears. 



XXIV 

THE ATTACKS ON THIEPVAL 

i 

AUGUST 25 

THE doom of Thiepval is near at hand. By a series of small, 
sharp attacks, in short rushes, after enormous shell-fire, our 
troops have forged their way across a tangled web of trenches 
and redoubts until now they are just below the row of apple- 
trees which still show a broken stump or two below the southern 
end of the village. They have bitten off the nose of the Leipzig 
salient, and yesterday I saw them take the Hindenburg Trench 
and its strong point, which is almost the last of the defensive 
works barring our way to the south entrance of the village 
fortress. 

On the west our trenches have been dug for some time through 
Thiepval Wood, within four hundred yards of this place, and 
on the east they have been pushed forward to the left of Mouquet 
Farm ; so that we have thrown a lasso, as it were, around the 
stronghold on the hill, from which its garrison has only one 
way of escape by way of the Crucifix, northwards, where our 
guns will get them. That garrison is in a death-trap. The 
German soldiers in Thiepval must be praying for the end to 
come. 

As I stood watching the place yesterday, from a trench 
only a few hundred yards away, it seemed to me astounding and 
terrible that men should still be living there. I could see nothing 
of the village for there is next to nothing left of it nothing 
at all but heaps of rubbish which were once the roofs and 
walls of houses. But on the sky-line at the top of a ridge 
which slopes up from the Leipzig salient there still stand a 
hundred trees or so, which are all that is left of Thiepval. 
They stood black and gaunt against the blue sky, without a 



THE ATTACKS ON THIEPVAL 203 

leaf on their broken branches, and all charred. The brown 
hummocks of the German trench-lines encircled them, with 
narrow strips of grass, vividly green, between these earth 
works and below, falling away to our own lines, a turmoil of 
upheaved soil where a maze of trenches had been made shapeless 
by incessant shell-fire. 

All through the afternoon, as all through the morning, and 
the mornings and afternoons of many yesterdays, our guns 
were firing in a steady, leisurely way, one shell every minute 
or two, at the ground marked out by the black tree- stumps. 
They were mostly the shells of our " heavies firing from 
long range, so that for several seconds one could hear the long 
voyage of each shell, listen to the last fierce rush of it over our 
heads, and then see, before the roar of the explosion, a vast 
volume of smoke and earth vomit up from the place between 
the trees, or just below the line of trees where the enemy s 
trenches lay. 

A friend of mine, sitting on some sandbags with his steel 
helmet just below the tops of some tall thistles which gave 
friendly cover in our foreground above the parapet, said 
" Beautiful ! " every time there was a specially big cloud-burst. 
He is such a hater of war that his soul follows each shell of 
ours with a kind of exultation so that it shall help to end it 
quickly. But I kept thinking of the fellows below there, 
under that shell-fire. 

It was only previous knowledge, explorations in German 
dug-outs, talks with men who have come living out of such 
bombardments, that made me still believe that there were 
men alive in Thiepval, and that before we take the place they 
may fight desperately and keep machine-guns going to the last. 
There was not a human soul to be seen, and the earth was 
being flung up in masses ; but underground a garrison of German 
soldiers was sitting in deep cellars, trying to turn deaf ears 
to the crashes above them, trying to hide the terror in their 
souls, a terror invading all their courage icily, and looking 
into the little mirrors of long periscopes which showed them 
the vision of things above-ground, and the stillness of the 
British trenches, from which at any minute there might come 
waves of men on a new attack. 



204 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 



With a few others in the trench where I stood I knew that 
our men were to make another bound yesterday afternoon, 
though not the exact time of it. For nearly two hours I 
watched the bombardment, steady and continuous, but not 
an intense fire from all available batteries, and every few 
minutes I looked at my wrist-watch and wondered " Will it 
begin now ? Down below me was the hummocky track 
of our front-line trenches, in which the attacking parties had 
assembled. Only now and again could I see any movement 
there. 

In our own trench some signallers were carrying down a 
new wire, whistling as they worked. A forward observing 
officer was watching the shell-bursts through a telescope 
resting on the parapet and giving messages to a telephone 
operator who sat hunched at the bottom of the trench with 
his instrument. A couple of young officers came along jauntily, 
swearing because <4 these silly asses " whoever they might be 
-" never tell you where they are." An artillery officer came 
along for a chat, and remarked that it was a fine day for a 
football match. 



It was a day when the beauty of France is like a song in 
one s heart, a day of fleecy clouds in the blue sky, of golden 
sunlight flooding broad fields behind the battle-lines, where 
the wheat-sheaves are stacked in neat lines by old men and 
women, who do their sons work, and of deep, cool shadows 
under the wavy foliage of the woodlands. 

Behind us was a ruined village, and German shells were 
falling into the corner of a wood not far away to our left, but 
the panorama of the French countryside beyond the edge of the 
battlefield was full of peace. Above our heads some British 
aeroplanes came flying, and the hum of their engines was like 
big bees buzzing. They flew straight over the German lines, 
and presently the sky about them was dotted with white 
puffs of shrapnel, and above the noise of the guns there 
was the high " ping ! of the German Archies," as each 
shell reached up to those soaring wings, but failed to bring 
them down. 



THE ATTACKS ON THIEPVAL 205 

Another officer came along the trench and said, " Good 
afternoon. The show begins in ten minutes." 

The " show " is the name soldiers give to a battle. 

By my watch it was longer than ten minutes before the 
" show began. The leisurely bombardment continued in the 
same way. Now and again a German crump replied, like 
an elaborate German guttural. Then suddenly, as though 
at the tap of a baton, a great orchestra of death crashed out. 
It is absurd to describe it. No words have been made for a 
modern bombardment of this intensity. One can only give 
a feeble, inaccurate notion of what one big shell sounds like. 

When hundreds of heavy guns are firing upon one small 
line of ground and shells of the greatest size are rushing through 
the sky in flocks, and bursting in masses, all description is 
futile. I can only say that the whole sky was resonant with 
waves of noise that were long-drawn, like the deep notes of 
violins, gigantic and terrible in their power of sound, and that 
each vibration ended at last in a thunderous crash. Or again 
it seemed as though the stars had fallen out of the sky and 
were rushing down to Thiepval. 

The violence of this bombardment was as frightful as anything 
I have seen in this war in the way of destructive gun-power. 
The shells tore up the German trenches and built up a great 
wall of smoke along the crest of the ridge, and smashed through 
the trees of Thiepval, until for minutes together that place 
was only to be known by tall pillars of black, and white, and 
brown smoke, which swayed about as though in a great wind, 
and toppled down upon each other, and rose again. 

4> 

A voice at my elbow, speaking breathlessly, said : Look ! 
They re away. . . . Oh, splendid fellows ! 

Out of our front-line trenches scrambled long lines of men. 
They stood for a moment on the top of the parapet, waited for 
a second or two until all the men had got up into their align 
ment, and then started forward, steadily and in wonderful 
order. Some of the officers turned round, as though to see 
that all their men were there. I saw one of them raise his 
stick and point towards the ridge. Then he ran ahead of his 
men. They were on low ground lowest on the right, in front 



206 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

of the parapet where I stood, but sloping up a little on the left 
by the Leipzig Redoubt. Beyond them the ground rose steadily 
to the ridge on which Thiepval stands. Our men had a big 
climb to make, and a long way to go over open country, for 
four or five hundred yards is the very devil of a way to go 
when it is swept with shell-fire. 

The enemy was not long in flinging a barrage in the way of 
our men. A rocket went up from his lines as a signal to his 
guns, and perhaps half a minute after our men had sprung 
over the parapet his shells began to fall. But they were too 
late to do any damage there. Our men were out and away. 
Some message seemed to reach the enemy and tell him this. He 
raised his barrage on to ground nearer to his own lines, and his 
heavy " crumps " fell rapidly, bursting all over No Man s Land. 
Now and again they seemed to fall right into the middle of a 
bunch of our men, in a way frightful to see, but when the smoke 
cleared the group was still going forward. On the right of 
the line one great shell burst with an enormous crash, and this 
time there was no doubt that it had caught some of our men. 
I saw them fall in a heap. . . . Perhaps they had flung them 
selves down to avoid the shell splinters. Perhaps not one of 
them had been touched. It is extraordinary how men can 
avoid death like that. 

Nothing checked the advance of the long lines of figures 
going through the smoke ; not all the German barrage, which 
was now very fierce. The men had to cross one of those 
narrow strips of grass-land between the earthworks before they 
came to the first line of German trenches, and they showed 
up black and distinct against this green belt whenever the smoke 
of the shells bursting above them drifted away. 

They were not in close formation. They went forward, 
after the first few moments of advance, in small parties, widely 
scattered, but keeping the same direction. Sometimes the 
parties themselves broke up and separated into individual 
figures, jumping over shell-craters, running first to left or right 
as the shriek of an enemy shell warned them of approaching 
death. I saw then how easy it is to lose all sense of direction 
in an attack like this, and the reason why men sometimes go 
so hopelessly astray. But yesterday it was quite marvellous 
how quickly the men recovered their line when they had 
drifted away in the blinding smoke, and how the groups kept 



THE ATTACKS ON THIEPVAL 207 

in touch with each other, and how separate figures running to 
catch up succeeded in joining the groups. 



We watched the single figures, following the fortunes of each 
man across the fire-swept slope, hoping with all our souls that 
he would get through and on. Then he would pick himself up 
when he fell face forward. 

For a little while the men were swallowed up in smoke. I 
could see nothing of them, and I had a horrible feeling this 
time none of us would ever see them again. For they had 
walked straight into the infernal fires, and all behind them and 
all in front the shells were bursting and flinging up the earth 
and raising enormous, fantastic clouds. 

It seemed an hour before I saw them again. I suppose it 
was only five or six minutes. The wind drifted the smoke 
away from the Thiepval Ridge, and there, clear and distinct 
to the naked eye, were the lines of our men swarming up. 
Some of them were already on the highest ground, standing, 
single figures, black against the sky. They stood there a 
second or two, then jumped down and disappeared. They 
were in the German trenches, close to Thiepval. 

" Magnificent ! said a French officer who was standing 
close to me. " By God, your men are fine ! 

They were wonderful. The German barrages did not stop 
them. They went through and on as though proof against 
shells. Some men did not go on, and fell on the side of 
the slope, but it seemed to me there were not many of 
them. 

In the centre of the German trenches was a strong point or 
redoubt, with machine-guns. It was one of those deadly 
places that have often checked one of our attacks, and cost 
many brave lives. But I could see that our men were all round 
it. One single figure was an heroic silhouette against the blue 
of the sky. He was bombing the redoubt, and as he flung 
his bombs the attitude of the man was full of grace like a Greek 
disc-thrower. A German shell burst close to him and he was 
engulfed in its upheaval, but whether he was killed or not I 
could not tell. I did not see him again. 



208 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

6 

Up the slope went the other men, following the first wave, 
and single fellows hurrying after them. In a little while they 
had all disappeared. They were in the enemy s trenches, 
beyond all doubt. 

New sounds of an explosive kind came through all the 
fury of gun-fire, which had slackened in intensity, but was 
still slashing the air. It was a kind of hard knocking in 
separate strokes, and I knew it was bomb-fire. Our men 
were at work in and about the German dug-outs, and there 
were Germans there who were not surrendering without a 
fight. 

One fight took place on the top of the parapet. A man came 
up and stood on the sky-line whether an English soldier or a 
German it was impossible to see. I think a German, for a 
second after another man came up as though chasing him, and 
the first man turned upon him. They both had revolvers 
and fired, and disappeared. Other men were running along 
the parapets of the German trenches. They were ours, and they 
were flinging bombs as they ran. Then a curtain of smoke, 
was wafted in front of them again, and they were hidden. 

From our own trenches another wave of men appeared. I 
think it wanted more courage of them even than of the first 
line of assaulting troops to go out over that open ground. They 
had to face the German barrage and to pass over a way where 
many of their comrades were lying. But they went on steadily 
and rapidly, just as the others had gone, splitting up into 
groups, running in short rushes, disappearing in the smoke of 
shell-bursts, falling into shell-craters, scrambling up, and on 
again. . . . 

Another wave came still later, making their way to that 
ridge where their comrades were fighting in the enemy s trenches. 
They, too, disappeared into those ditches. 

Only in the ground near to me could I see any sign of life 
now. Here some of our wounded were walking back, and the 
stretcher-bearers were at work. I watched a little procession 
coming very slowly to our trenches with their stretchers lifted 
high. It was a perilous way of escape for wounded when the 
enemy was flinging shells all over the ground and there was 
no safety zone. Somewhere on our right a shell had struck 



THE ATTACKS ON THIEPVAL 209 

a bomb-store or an ammunition dump and a volume of smoke, 
reddish brown, rose and spread into the shape of a gigantic 
query mark. Other fires were burning in what had been No 
Man s Land, and out of an explosion in the enemy s trenches 
there was flung up a black vomit in which were human beings, 
or fragments of them. Over the ridge by Thiepval the enemy s 
barrage was continuous on the far side of the slope between 
our trenches on the west and the ground just gained, and the 
top of the smoke-clouds drifted above the sky-line as though 
from a row of factory chimneys. 



Suddenly out of all this curtain of smoke came a crowd of 
figures, leaping and running. They were Germans trying to get 
to our trenches, not in a counter-attack, but to give themselves 
up as prisoners, and to get some cover from their own shell-fire. 
Terror was in their attitudes, in their wild stampede and 
desperate leaps over the broken ground where the shells of 
their own guns were bursting. One great German " crump 
crashed close to them, and I think it must have killed some of 
them. 

Then for more than an hour as I watched, other figures came 
back from the high ground towards our old front line, some 
times in groups of two or three, sometimes alone. They were 
our light y wounded men, with here and there a German. 

It was with a sense of horrible fascination that I watched 
the adventures of these men, separately. One of them would 
jump down from the sky-line, and come at a quick run down 
the slope. Then suddenly he would stop and stand in aa 
indecisive way as though wondering what route to take t* 
avoid the clusters of shell-bursts spurting up below him. He 
would decide sometimes on a circuitous route, and start running 
again in a ziggag way, altering his direction sharply when a 
shell crashed close to him. 

I could see that he was out of breath. He would halt and 
stand as though listening to the tumult about him, then come 
on very slowly. I wanted to call out to him, to shout, This 
way, old man ! . . . Quick ! " But no voice would have 
carried through that world in uproar. Then perhaps he would 
stumble, and fall, and lie as though dead. But presently I 

o 



210 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

would see him crawl on his hands and knees, stand up and run 
again. He would reach our line of trenches and jump down, 
or fling himself down. Some cover at last, thank God ! So it 
happened with man after man, and each journey was the 
adventure of a man trying to dodge death. It was horrible to 
see. 

High above the Thiepval Ridge there were perpendicular 
streaks of white smoke and light, strangely spectral, like tall 
thin ghosts wrapped in w r hite shrouds and illumined in a 
ghastly way. I think they were the long tails of rockets fired 
as signals to the guns. The German black shrapnel and their 
green universal shell was hanging in big puffs above the 
denser pall below, and there was the glint and flash of bursting 
shells stabbing through the wall of smoke. 

Our aeroplanes were right over Thiepval all through the 
battle, circling round in wide steady flights, careless of the 
German anti-aircraft guns, which were firing continuously. 
Two hostile planes came out and our men closed about them, 
and flew to attack, but after a little while the Germans fled 
back in retreat. The only observation the enemy had was 
from two kite balloons, poised well forward, but often lost 
and blinded in all the clouds. 

So I watched, and knew, because our men did not come 
back from those trenches on the Thiepval ridge, that they had 
been successful. It was only the prisoners and the lightly 
wounded who came back. The assaulting parties were holding 
the ground they had captured in spite of all the shell-fire that 
crashed over them. They had tightened the iron net round 
Thiepval and drawn it closer. 

So at last I went away from the battlefield, back to the 
quiet harvest-fields flooded with the golden glow of the sinking 
sun, luckier than the men who had to stay, and ashamed of my 
luck. The enemy was flinging shells at long range. The 
harvest-fields were not quite so safe as they looked. 

There were ugly corners to pass, shell-trap corners, where 
it is not wise to linger to light a cigarette. But hell was behind 
me, up there at Thiepval, where the storm of shell-fire still 
raged, and where, below-ground, the German garrison awaits 
its inevitable fate. 



THE ATTACKS ON THIEPVAL 211 



8 

AUGUST 26 

Following the official communique, I can now say that the 
troops whom I saw advancing so splendidly and steadily across 
a great stretch of No Man s Land to the higher ground round 
Thiepval were men of Wiltshire and Worcestershire. They 
deserve the honour that has been given them by Sir Douglas 
Haig in his report, because after their great assault they had to 
sustain last night a strong attack by Prussian Guardsmen, 
following a long and fierce bombardment. The courage of 
these English lads among them being boys who once followed 
the plough and worked in the orchards of those quiet old 
counties did not fail against the finest troops of the Kaiser s 
armies, and that phrase in the official communique which 
records their achievement is a fine memorial : 

" The success of our defences is largely due to the steadiness 
and determined gallantry of Wiltshire and Worcestershire 
men, who, in spite of being subjected to a very heavy bombard 
ment, steadily maintained their positions, and repulsed the 
determined assault of the enemy." 

It seems to me probable that the enemy will make a big 
effort to check our continued advance along the ridge from 
Thiepval to High W r ood, and especially to rescue Thiepval 
itself from its impending fate. The position our troops have 
gained by two months fighting of the most heroic kind has put 
the enemy at a great disadvantage from the point of view of 
artillery observation, which is all-important in modern warfare. 

On the ground in front of us now, beyond the Windmill and 
the switch-line, the German battalions are in an untenable 
position if our attack is pressed on, until they fall back upon 
what is known as the Flers line, more than 2000 yards behind 
Martinpuich and High Wood, and meanwhile their present 
line of defence is open to our bombardments, so that the enemy s 
casualties must be very heavy, and, as we know, the " moral 
of their men in these shell-craters and ruins is badly shaken. 

It is obvious that the German Headquarters Staff realizes 
the gravity of the position, and is endeavouring to organize 
a method of defence by attack, which will stop or check the 
British advance. They are probably too shrewd to believe 



212 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

that this can be done by bringing up fresh troops to replace 
those who have been worn out, and stand with shattered nerves 
beyond the British lines. 

Fresh troops or old troops are food for our guns, greedy for 
them. It is only by guns that the enemy can fight against 
guns, and he is drifting down batteries into a great concentration 
for the defence of Thiepval. 

It will be the greatest duel of artillery ever seen on the British 
front, for as I have seen myself the sweep and fury of our own 
shell-fire in the neighbourhood reaches the most astounding 
intensity. Meanwhile we have in this sector, beyontl any 
shadow of doubt or exaggeration, the mastery of the air, and 
that is of supreme advantage to our gunners, and to the infantry 
who are supported by them. 

So far our progress has not been brought to a dead halt, and 
we have made further ground yesterday, by wonderfully fine 
fighting on the part of English and Scots battalions, to the 
north and east of Delville Wood. Our hurricane bombard 
ment preceding the attack of these troops was countered by a 
heavy barrage from the enemy, but our men went forward with 
an unflinching spirit to a line striking across the Flers-Longueval 
road, and joining on the left by a curved salient our old 
position south-west of High Wood. 

The hardest part of the fighting was on the left of the attack, 
where there was a great deal of machine-gun fire, but the enemy s 
trenches were carried and prisoners were taken to the number 
of ten officers and 214 other ranks. Several machine-guns also 
were brought back after being captured by hand-to-hand 
fighting at the strong points. 

9 

AUGUST 28 

I have already described my own visual impressions of the 
great assault made south of Thiepval by men of Wiltshire and 
Worcestershire, which I watched from a neighbouring trench. 
But there are still things to be told about this memorable 
achievement as fine in its way as anything our men have 
done. The name of Wiltshire will always be specially remem 
bered on the ground of the Leipzig salient, which barred the 
southern way to Thiepval, for they were troops of this county 
who, as far back as July 8, captured the butt-end of that strong- 



THE ATTACKS ON THIfiPVAL : 

hold, and, working with other county troops on their right, 
made the next advance, on August 22, which preceded the 
greater attack two days later. 

That affair of August 22 was extraordinarily fine and brief 
and successful. Twelve minutes after the attacking time, the 
Wilts men had gone across the one hundred yards of No Man s 
Land, captured the enemy s nearest line of trenches, and sent 
down their first batch of twenty prisoners. 

The Wiltshires had only three casualties in getting across 
the open ground, though afterwards suffered more under the 
enemy s shell-fire. Most of the German dug-outs were blown 
in, but there was one big subterranean chamber which was 
not badly damaged, and wanted only a little work to make it 
a place of comfort for the new-comers. As their colonel said 
to me to-day : It always gives us great pleasure to take 
lodgings in these German apartments." 

The attack on the Hindenburg Trench which I saw on 
August 24 was complicated because the Wiltshires had to 
advance partly across the open 300 yards of No Man s Land, 
which is no joke and partly, on their left, through a network 
f trenches climbing the high ground from the Leipzig salient 
to Thiepval. 

It was necessary therefore to organize the attack so that 
those advancing over the open should not arrive at the Hinden 
burg Trench sooner than those worrying their way up through 
the broken earthworks, not at all an easy proposition. 

Also before the Hindenburg line could be seized securely 
it would be essential to " kill a German strong point at a 
junction made in the Hindenburg Trench by a communication- 
way running up from the Leipzig salient. 

The penalty of not doing so would be certain death to many 
f our men by an enfilade fire of machine-guns. These are little 
details that worry the souls of commanding officers and company 
commanders before they get the men over the parapet with 
thousands of bombs and the supplies of picks, shovels, sandbags 
Lewis-gun " drums," Very lights, and other material of war. _,] 



10 

On the day before the last attack on the southern way into 
Thiepval the enemy, who suspected bad things coming, tried to 



214 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

thwart our plan by hurling a terrific storm of shell-fire all over 
the Leipzig salient. 

He seems to have brought up new guns for the purpose, and 
his heavy five-point-nines crumped the ground in all 
directions. But all this did not stop the Wiltshires and the 
Worcestc rs, who went on with their own little scheme. 

On Thursday afternoon last everything went like clockwork 
from the moment that our artillery opened with the intense 
bombardment described by me in a former dispatch. 

The Worcesters attacked on the right, the Wiltshires on the 
left. Over the parapet they halted a moment, and then went 
forward in a steady and ordered way. I could not see the men 
working up through the trenches on the left until they sprang 
up to the crest of the ridge, but only those who went across the 
open. The last eighty yards was covered in the quickest time, 
and soon after our shell- fire lifted off the German trench the 
Wiltshires and Worcesters were in among the enemy. 

But not close together. There was a gap of fifty yards 
between the two parties, and in order to get in touch with each 
other they bombed left and right. It was at this moment that 
a company officer distinguished himself by great gallantry. 

There were Prussian Guards in the trench, and they fought 
fiercely, using the gap as a bombing centre. Unless routed 
out this group of men might have spoiled the attack. The 
officer saw the situation in a flash, and was quick to get a rifle 
to his shoulder. He was a dead shot, and shot, one after the 
other, five men who were trying to blow him to bits with their 
hand-grenades. 

At the same time a sergeant scrambled up into the open, 
and running along outside the trench flung his bombs at the 
enemy below, " to rattle them," according to the description of 
his commanding officer. Another young soldier fixed his Lewis 
gun over the parapet and fired down into the trenches, so that the 
enemy had to keep quiet until our men were all round them. 

The strong point by the Koenigstrasse had been rushed, and 
the Hindcnburg Trench was ours. 



11 

Sharp and fierce fighting had carried the trenches on the left 
and captured a strong dug-out belonging to the German company 



THE ATTACKS ON THlEPVAL 215 

commanders. Here also the Prussian Guards fought with 
great courage, firing up from their dug-outs and only surrender 
ing under the menace of immediate death. One sergeant here 
on the left walked about in the open with a cool courage and 
shot twelve Germans who were sniping from shell-holes. The 
ground was already strewn with their dead, killed by our 
bombardment, and over this graveyard of unburied men there 
was bayonet fighting and bombing until all the Prussians 
who remained alive became the prisoners of the Wiltshires. 

There were several officers among them wearing the Iron 
Cross, and all the officers and men were tall fellows with brand- 
new equipment, which showed that they had just come into 
the trenches. 

Two captured machine-guns were turned against the enemy s 
line, with their own ammunition ready for use, and both the 
Wiltshires and the Worcesters settled down in the new line, 
badly smashed as usual by our shell-fire, but with a lot of 
useful dug-outs still intact, to hold on under the inevitable 
retaliation of the enemy s guns. 

All through the night there was a steady bombardment, but 
nothing of extraordinary ferocity. It was the usual night s 
" strafe " in the neighbourhood of Thiepval, which is not really 
a nice place. 

On the following day last Friday the hostile shell-fire 
increased. P ive-point-nines were joined by eight-inchers, and, 
as one of the officers described it, every durned thing." It 
quickened and strengthened in intensity until towards evening 
it was a hurricane bombardment meaning one obvious thing 
a counter-attack. Our men were well down in the old German 
dug-outs, grateful to their enemy for digging so deep and well, 
but it became most necessary to warn our " heavies " that the 
Prussians were gathering for a smashing assault. 

Runners were sent out to get back through the barrage if 
they had the luck, and several of these brave men tried and 
several failed, dying on the way. But one had more than human 
luck. Owing to the appalling character of the ground, " pitted 
and ploughed as though by a gigantic harrow -it is his 
officer s phrase the man lost his sense of direction, staggered 
and stumbled on through the smoke and over the shell-craters, 
and then amazed found himself looking over a parapet 
into a trench full of Germans with fixed bayonets. They were 



216 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

crowded there, those tall Prussians, awaiting the moment to 
launch their counter-attack. 

The runner turned back. Before him the ground was a 
series of volcanoes, tossed up by German shells and British 
shells. He knew that he had to pass through our barrage and 
the enemy s barrage. The chances against him were tremen 
dous. In his own opinion he had no more chance than a 
snowflake in hell." But he ran back, dodging this death, 
and came through untouched ! 

The " heavies did at last get the message and were quick 
to answer it. In three shakes," said an officer of the Wilt- 
shires, " they were smashing the German lines to glory." 

Those tall Prussians crowding there were caught by this 
storm. Their trench became a ditchful of mangled bodies. 
Only a thin wave of men came out into open country, and of 
these not many went back. 

The Prussian counter-attack was killed. The Worcesters 
and the Wiltshires held their ground round Thiepval, and their 
losses were paid for heavily by German blood. 



XXV 

THE LAST FIGHTS IN DEVIL S WOOD 

i 

AUGUST 29 

THE barren ground of the battlefields was turned into swamps 
this afternoon, when the clouds which had been piling up in 
great black masses suddenly broke after a few warning flashes 
f lightning and a roll of thunder. 

I have been watching the usual artillery bombardment over 
the Pozieres Ridge and Thiepval, spreading eastward to the 
thin fringe of High Wood, faintly pencilled against the darkening 
sky. The guns quickened their pace at about three o clock, 
and on our right the French artillery was also hammering away. 
Then the storm burst and nature, after all, had the best of it, 
though all the atmospheric effects seemed like a magnificent 
plagiarism of our human chemistry which has filled the sky 
with darkness and forked lightnings, and the earth with high 
explosives, and the air with noise. These thunder-claps ripping 
the clouds before the long ruffle of their drums, and the winking 
f the lightning behind the black curtains on the hills, and the 
queer, ghastly colours edging fantastically shaped wreaths of 
cloud, were enormously like our miniature tempests of hate. 
Nature was at war with itself, and our pop-guns seemed silly 
toys. 

Coming down to earth and its funny ants, called men, 
there has no,t been very much activity during the past twenty- 
four hours beyond the work of the gunners. Between Delville 
Wood and High W^ood our troops captured a German barricade, 
and there was some bombing about the shell-craters on the 
way to Ginchy, all of which gives us at last a strong grip all 
round and beyond that Devil s W r ood where our men have 
fought so often and so hard. 



218 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

There seems no doubt about it now, judging from all I heard 
at an officers mess in a big-sized tent between the bombard 
ment and the thunder-storm, where a number of young officers 
told me incidents of the recent fighting there. 



It was on August 24, as I have described already in a brief 
way, that the big " shove was made all round this beastly 
wood and out of it on the east side, where the Germans still 
had some strong posts and shell-craters and machine-guns. 

The troops engaged were mostly of English regiments, with 
one body of Scots, and they all did splendidly in spite of the 
tragic character of the ground and the intensity of the enemy s 
barrage. Accidents happened now and then. At one point 
of the advance the German wire was uncut, and only eight 
men could get through. They killed eleven Germans in the 
craters beyond them, and stayed there till dusk, and came 
back. 

On the north side of the wood the troops were hammered 
by shell-fire, but stuck it out, and went forward marvel 
lously, under the protection of their own shell-fire, while our 
machine-guns kept the enemy s heads down by a stream of 
machine-gun bullets a million of them which " watered " 
his trenches. 

There was but little hand fighting here. Many Germans 
were found dead in their muck-heaps which were once trenches. 
Four of them ran forward to surrender so furiously that they 
scared one of our men, who ran too, until he realized their 
intention and took them prisoner. Another came running 
forward and was seized by the throat by an officer, who was 
suspicious of his intention in the heat of the moment. 

There was also a bull-pup who came over and is now enjoying 
bully- beef. 

Farther on the right there was great fighting to thrust the 
enemy out of his last ditch in Delville Wood and to get across 
the ground to the east of it. 

The enemy fought with high courage, and there were many 
bombing duels, in which one of our sergeants caught German 
bombs before they burst and flung them back again which 
is not an easy trick to learn. A Lewis gun was thrust up very 



THE LAST FIGHTS IN DEVIL S WOOD 219 

quickly to a German post where a machine-gun was concealed 
in a shell-crater and played its hose on the team who refused 
to surrender. Out of one such strong point a nest of craters 
fifty-four Prussians came up with the usual shout of surrender 
when our bombing parties had surrounded them. 

Every man fought with reckless courage. The wounded 
officers carried back on stretchers brought the latest news to 
their brigadier, and said, " We re doing jolly well, sir," or 
explained the difficult bits of work in hand. 

The stretcher-bearers went out through the heaviest fire 
and searched for the wounded with great self-sacrifice. One 
man of the R.A.M.C. was out there, over this frightful ground, 
for twenty hours at a stretch, saving many men, untired till 
the last. 

One queer horror was seen. Some German sentries were 
found tied to posts, and one man stood there without a head, 
which had been blown off by a shell. It seemed some awful 
form of field punishment, perhaps for men who had tried 
to desert. Nearly 400 prisoners were taken altogether that 
day. 

They had fought bravely once they had the pride of 
Prussians. But now many of them were utterly broken, and 
one officer, when he was questioned, could only wring his 
hands and moan about the awful losses of his company. 

It was fighting which continued the tradition of Devil s 
Wood where horror and heroism have gone hand in hand. 



3 

SEPTEMBER 2 

The enemy s attempt to recover some of his lost ground 
around Delville Wood has been very costly to him, and has 
only succeeded in two places in forcing our men back a little 
way, in spite of the self-sacrifice of those German soldiers who 
obeyed orders and came across a foul ground through the 
curtain-fire of our guns, and fell, as they knew they must 
fall. 

So we go back to Devil s Wood again, and the name of its 
beastliness must be written down once more as a place where 
more dead lie among those who have lain there long, and where 
once more shell-fire is smashing through the charred tree- 



220 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

stumps and biting great chunks of wood out of sturdy old trunks 
still standing in this shambles. 

It will be remembered, perhaps, how in the last big fighting 
kere more than a week ago our men thrust our lines out beyond 
the wood, above the orchard trench of Longueval and the 
sunken road to High Wood, and captured the enemy s last 
strong point in the north-east corner of the wood, and chased 
the enemy out of a network of trenches zigzagging away from 
the wood towards Guinchy. Something like 400 prisoners 
were taken then, and in knocking out machine-gun posts, in 
bombing the enemy out of small redoubts, and sweeping across 
ground pitted with shell-craters in which lay stubborn Germans 
sniping our men as they passed, every quality of courage and 
the fighting spirit was shown by our troops engaged. 

It was good to get about beyond the Devil s Wood, and our 
*ien redug their trenches outside it with a willing industry. 
Then by bad luck the rain came, and heavy clouds gathered 
and broke, slashed by lightning, and flooded the battlefields. 

It was hard luck on newly made trenches and on the men 
who had dug them. I think it is difficult for people at home 
to understand the meaning of big rain in this war of ours ; 
the very sandbags come slipping off the parapets, and parapets 
ome falling on to the firesteps, and rivers come rushing down 
the boggy ditches. 

Rifles drop and get caked with wet mud. Hand-grenades 
disappear into the quagmire. To get supplies up narrow 
ditches is tiring to the point of sheer exhaustion. So our men 
were tired " fed-up with the weather, as they would put 
it when the enemy began to bombard them, not in the usual 
way of a war-day s work, but furiously, with a storm of hate. 

For three hours the bombardment went on and increased 
in violence. The front trenches had been lightly held, and the 
men there held on until there were no trenches, but only shell- 
craters and a wild upheaval of wet earth. The enemy believed, 
perhaps, that they had finished all our life in those muck- 
heaps. 

German soldiers ordered to advance may, for a few minutes, 
have bolstered up their courage by the thought that their 
guns had done most of the work. Not longer than that. When 
the first wave of the 118th German regiment came out of their 
shell-craters and ditches they came full into the face of a 



THE LAST FIGHTS IN DEVIL S WOOD 221 

deadly machine-gun fire, and under a great barrage of high 
explosives. 

It was the fire of our machine-gunners which killed most of 
them. They fell as if swept down by invisible scythes. 

The second wave came not in a standing line, as people 
may imagine, but in little bunches or groups, and singly, 
stumbling in and out of shell-holes, in short rushes, leaping t 
avoid shell-bursts, but not retreating one bit from the death 
that waited for them. The second German wave was wiped 
out. 

A third, fourth, and fifth wave advanced, and though many 
of these men fell, and the waves became mingled and confused 
in their tide, there were enough to reach the place where 
our lines had been, and too many at the time for our men, 
who had been sorely tried to dispute the foremost shell-craters 
with them. 

Our troops had to fall back in one or two places along the 
fringe of Delville Wood and behind the line of the sunken 
road westward. But the enemy did not gain the ground round 
the wood. Even where he had damaged our trenches most 
we held strong posts, machine-guns in convenient shell-holes, 
and small groups of brave fellows in isolated bits of trench 
keeping their bombs and rifles dry. 

During the night also our men bombed out parties of Germans 
in a portion of the sunken road, and regained the bit of ground 
for which the enemy had paid so high a price in blood. 

To-day there was a blue sky again over the battlefields, and 
the sunlight lay over the ghastly ruin of all those villages and 
woodlands. 

A great day for the gunners, O God ! . . . They made the 
most of it, and I watched the bombardment piling up the 
columns of smoke and earth between Thiepval and High Wood, 
and a fierce German barrage between Mametz Wood and the 
Bazentins. 

Heavy " crumps " were bursting also away back by Contal- 
maison, and once the Virgin of Albert was hidden in a smoke- 
cloud which rose from the ruins about it. 

The sun gleamed on all our kite-balloons hastening forward 
in the blue to watch the enemy s lines. They were dazzling 
white, these " Ruperts " of the sky, and above and about them 
flashed our battle-planes going over the enemy s country. 



222 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

Ceaselessly the infernal clangor of great guns banged over 
the hills, and the shells went whining overhead. The enemy 
was getting the worst of it, if I could judge from the greater 
weight of our bombardment, but his guns were also hard at 
work, at long range beyond Grandcourt and Flers. He flung 
out a quantity of gas-shells and the sun shone down upon 
all these little busy ways of men, and the fields were flooded 
with a golden light. 



XXVI 

THE AUSTRALIANS AT MOUQUET FARM 



SEPTEMBER 3 

TO-DAY, Sunday, September 3, many of our troops have been 
engaged in hard fighting. 

The main facts of these battles will be told officially before 
what I have to write is published the capture of Guillemont, 
the advance at least as far as half-way through the village of 
Ginchy, the taking of ground eastwards beyond Mouquet Farm 
and put even as briefly as that it will be known by people 
at home that our men have again gone forward in a great 
attack and fought tremendously. 

Again all this countryside above the Somme has been filled 
with those scenes of war which I have described so often since 
that morning of July 1 when we began the great attack, 
pictures of a day of battle when many troops are engaged, 
and when the power of our artillery is concentrated in a tremen 
dous endeavour stabs of fire from the muzzles of many guns, 
smoke-clouds rising above the ridges of the hills and lying 
dense in the valleys, the bloody trail of the walking wounded, 
groups of prisoners tramping down, ambulance convoys swirling 
through quiet lanes, bandaged men in casualty clearing-stations 
or sitting in harvest-fields behind the lines waiting for the Red 
Cross trains, guns going up, ammunition columns crawling 
forward, transport, mules, motor-cars, field-guns, troops 
everywhere the movement of a great day of war. 



Looking back on to-day s battle-pictures two of them rise 
before me now as I write, most vividly. One of them was just 



224 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

a smoke-picture as I stared down into the boiling heart of its 
cauldron this morning. I was in an artillery observation-post, 
from which on ordinary days one may see each shell burst 
above the ruins of Thiepval and the ragged trees of its woods 
and the broken row of apple-trees, and a charred stick or tw T o 
of Mouquet Farm, and beyond, very clearly on the ridge, the 
conical base of the windmill above Pozieres. 

To-day one could see nothing of this. Nothing at all but 
a hurly-burly of smoke, black rising in columns through white, 
white floating through and above black, and all moving and 
writhing. That was where our men were fighting. 

That was all the picture of this struggle, just smoke and 
mist. Thousands of shells were bursting there, but one could 
see no separate shell-burst ; no single human figure dodging 
death or meeting it. So I stood and stared and listened. It 
was like a world in conflict. 

The noise of the guns was tense. The hammer-strokes of 
each explosion met each other stroke, and gave out an enormous 
clangor. Dante looking down into Inferno may have seen 
something like this, and would not have heard such a noise. 
It was most like the spirit of war of anything I have seen, and 
I have seen men go forward and fall, and watched their single 
adventures. 

The other picture was more human and less frightful, though 
sad and tragic and wonderful. It was a field behind the battle- 
lines, into which the i walking wounded first came down 
after their escape from those fires farther up. It was a harvest- 
field with rows of neat corn-stooks near a wood in heavv foliage, 

v ^3 ~ 

in spite of shells which came from time to time to break the 
branches. Some wounded men lay about on the stubble. 
Others came limping between the corn-stooks, with their arms 
about the necks of stronger comrades. 

Horse ambulances halted by the side of the road, and groups 
of Red Cross men ran forward and brought back very slowly 
stretchers heavily laden with human bundles, who were laid 
by the side of those who could sit up with their backs to the 
wheat-sheaves. Many of the men s faces were caked with 
blood. There was every kind of wound except the worst. 
But men with bandaged heads called out to others who came 
with their arms in slings, and men gone lame gossiped with 
men whose jackets had been cut away at the shoulder and 



THE AUSTRALIANS AT MOUQUET FAPM 225 

I saw again the wonder that one always sees after battle, which 
is the cheerfulness of men who are not too far gone to hide their 
pain, the courage of the British soldier, which is sublime. 

There were a few men there from whom one s eyes played 
the coward, but it was good to see the happiness of those who 
had come out of the zone of death into this harvest-field, where 
there was safety except for chance shells. Guns were firing 
all round them. But they were our guns. These men were 
the heroes of a great day of battle, and they had been touched 
by fire, but had not been burnt in the furnaces to which they 
had gone before the dawn. They had had all the luck. 



It is too soon to tell the story of this day. Our men are 
still fighting as the sun goes down this evening with a red 
glow in the sky after a sharp burst of rain. In those wet and 
broken ditches, which we call trenches, north-east beyond 
Mouquet Farm, and on the right by Guillemont, the enemy 
is still being routed out of shell -craters and trying to rally to 
counter-attacks, and the German guns are flinging out barrages 
to drive our men back if they can. At this hour, when all is 
confused and uncertain except the main facts that we have 
taken Guillemont and part of Ginchy, and far beyond Mouquet, 
with great news from the French on our right the capture of 
Clery and 1500 prisoners I can give only a few glimpses of 
the incidents of all this fighting. 

On the left our attack was made on the German lines north 
and south of the Ancre. Our troops went over their parapets 
this morning almost before the first glimmer of dawn had 
lightened the sky. They could only see the ground immediately 
before them, and it was, of course, pitted with shell-craters, 
old and new. The new craters had just been made by our 
hurricane bombardment, which had laid the enemy s parapets 
in shapeless ruin, killing a great number of Germans in what 
had been their trenches. Their light signals called to their 
gunners, and at the very instant our men came into the open 
an accurate barrage swept our lines. But the men were away, 
and as far as I heard from them this morning the line on the 
left did not suffer uncommonly in the scramble across No 
Man s Land. 

p 



226 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

A number of them forced their way into and through the 
enemy s first and second lines, bayoneting the Germans who 
tried to resist them, and clearing the ground of strong snipers 
and machine-gunners. They fought these English country 
fellows in heroic style to the south of the river. The enemy s 
machine-gunners played an enfilade fire upon the successful 
troops across the Ancre, and the enemy s artillery was able to 
concentrate on this ground. Ours held on to the German 
second line against this overwhelming fire with a most stubborn 
endurance, but afterwards when a body of Prussians advanced 
to a counter-attack drew back to get into line again with the 
men on their right, south of the river. 

4 It was the shell-fire which made our position untenable," 
said one of the officers who had been fighting here. " But in 
any case we put a large number of Boches out of action, and 
that is always worth doing, and brings the end of the war a 
little closer." 



Much more lucky and valuable was the advance made by 
Australian troops upon Mouquet Farm. These men knew the 
ground intimately, and had already penetrated the ruins of 
the farm by a strong patrol, which went in and out some days 
ago, bringing back some prisoners, as I described at the time. 
They were confident that they could do the same thing again, 
though the site of the farm might be difficult to hold against 
hostile fire. Our guns did not fail them this morning. 

One of these clean-cut Australian boys with those fine, 
steady, truth-telling eyes which look so straight at one even 
after a nerve-breaking ordeal of fire, told me to-day that the 
bombardment preceding their attack was the greatest thing 
he has ever heard, though he has fought under many of them 
hereabouts. 

Our shells rushed over us," he said, "with a strange, loud, 
ringing noise which pierced one s ear-drums with a violent 
vibration. It was just marvellous." But the enemy s guns 
were powerful too, and he replied tremendously as soon as 
our own " lifted " and lengthened their fuses. 

The way across No Man s Land, which was about 200 yards, 
I think, was a passage perilous. There was no level ground 
anywhere, not a foot of it. It was all shell-holes. Our men 



THE AUSTRALIANS AT MOUQUET FARM 227 

fell in and scrambled out and fell in again. Some of the holes 
were full of water and mud, and men plunged up to their arm 
pits and were bogged. 

There was nothing in the way of trenches to take. The 
Germans were holding lines of shell- craters. In these deep 
pits they had fixed their machine-guns, and were scattered 
all about in isolated groups, with little stores of bombs, and 
rifles kept dry somehow. It was extraordinarily difficult to 
attack such a position because there was no definite line. 

The Australians found themselves sniped by machine-guns 
horrible little spasms of bullets from unknown quarters, to 
the right and left, even behind them. By the time the line 
of Mouquet Farm was reached the battle was broken up into 
a number of separate encounters between small parties of 
Australians and small parties of Prussians. 

There were bombing duels between one man and another 
over a shell-hole. Prussians sniped Australians and Australians 
Prussians at short range from the cover of craters. 

But in spite of all this hugger-mugger fighting the Australians 
pushed forward, and advanced parties went into Mouquet 
Farm and 200 yards beyond it on the other side. Mouquet 
Farm or " Moo-cow " and " Muckie " Farm, as it is variously 
called only exists as a name. Of the farm buildings there is 
nothing left but some blackened beams no higher than one of 
the Australian boys. 

The enemy, however, had his usual dug-outs here, tunnelled 
deep and strongly protected with timbers and cement. Into 
one of these went a group of Australians, ready for a fight, and 
were surprised to find the place empty of human life. It was 
quiet there out of the shell-fire, and it was pleasant to be in 
the cool dark room, away from the battle. The men searched 
about and found cigars, which they lit and smoked. 
Good work ! " said a boy. 

As he spoke the words there was a scuttle of feet and dark 
figures appeared in the entranceway. They were Germans, 
and an officer among them said : " Surrender ! Surrender 
be damned ! shouted the Australians. " Surrender your 
selves." 

Bombs were flung on both sides, but other Australians came 
up, and it was the Germans who surrendered. I saw one of 
them to-day, sitting on the grass and smoking a pipe among 



228 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

some of his comrades, who lay wounded among the men who 
had helped to capture them. 

Other dug-outs were being searched, and other prisoners 
were taken how many is still uncertain. But what is quite 
certain is that the Australians have taken ground beyond 
Mouquet Farm to the east and defeated Germany s best troops 
the 1st Regiment of the Prussian Guards Reserve. 

They were sturdy and fine-looking men, as I saw some of 
them to-day, and they did not hide their joy at being alive 
and well treated as wounded prisoners. One of them spoke 
quite freely, and answered all questions put to him, though 
with what truth it is difficult to judge. 

I think he told the truth, according to the knowledge that 
had been given to him and the lessons taught him by his war 
lords. One of his most startling statements, which he made 
quite definitely, is that the German Emperor has issued a 
proclamation to his troops, declaring that there will be no 
winter campaign. 

With regard to the coming in of Rumania, he said that it 
did not surprise them, as they had expected it for a long time. 
" It will make no difference to the real war," he said. He 
disclaimed that there was any shortage of food in Germany, 
and as for the soldiers, said : "At least the Prussian Guards 
feed well. I had two eggs for breakfast. It is the same with 
all our men." 

In the captured districts of France, the French people, he 
says, live on good terms with the Prussian soldiers, but do not 
like the Bavarians, who are rude fellows. ; They were glad 
to see us back from Russia," he added. 

They seem to have been brought back hurriedly from Russia 
to resist our offensive, and one man to whom I spoke a few 
words a house-painter in Berlin in days of peace told me 
that he had only been here in France since the early days of 
July. He said that the war was far worse in France than in 
Russia, because of the intensity of artillery fire. " We are 
weary of it all," he said. " Our people are weary of it. The 
world is weary of it." 

4 And you are glad to be out of it ? " I asked. 
He smiled, and said, " It is good to be here." 
The Australians were giving their tobacco to these men, 
and there was no sign of hatred between them. It seems that 



THE AUSTRALIANS AT MOUQUET FARM 229 

the Prussian Guard behaved well to-day with regard to the 
wounded and the stretcher-bearers. After the battle the 
bearers went out all across No Man s Land to rescue the wounded 
and we allowed the same privilege to the enemy, so that parties 
of Germans and British came close to each other in this work 
of rescue, and there was no sniping. 

With regard to the Guillemont fighting I can write very 
little, as the battle there began only at midday and I could 
not get in that direction. But I learn that in co-operation 
with the French, who were advancing magnificently from the 
south, and who had linked up with us near Angle Wood, our 
troops fought their way forward from Arrow Head Copse by 
way of a maze of little saps which had been dug all about 
here. They went straight through Guillemont, knocking out 
machine-gun posts and clearing out dug-outs, and established 
themselves on the Sunken Road from Ginchy. The Prussian 
Guard put up a big fight near Falfemont Farm, but suffered 
great losses. The other German regiments against us were 
the 73rd, 76th, and 164th. 

Fighting still goes on, and the exact issue is uncertain, but 
at the end of this Sunday the advantage of the day lies with 
us, and the enemy has submitted to heavy blows. 



XXVII 

THE CAPTURE OF GUILLEMONT 



SEPTEMBER 4 

IN my dispatch yesterday describing the very heavy fighting 
at several parts of the line, I was unable to give sufficient 
prominence to the greatest success of the day, and one of 
the best achievements since the beginning of the battles of 
the Somme. 

That we hold Guillemont safely and surely I had the luck 
to see for myself to-day when from neighbouring trenches 
I looked into the ruin of the place strangely quiet this after 
noon apart from a few German " crumps -and saw that our 
men were holding the Sunken Road 500 yards farther on before 
they made an attack which has given us Wedge Wood and 
ground to the north of Falfemont Farm. 

Yesterday s attack at midday was wonderfully good. Our 
men went forward steadily in waves after a hurricane fire from 
a great mass of British guns. By some curious chance the 
enemy does not seem to have expected an attack at the exact 
hour it happened. They may have thought that they had 
baulked it by their own bombardment on our lines and behind 
them when they flung over 10,000 gas-shells, whose poisonous 
vapour floated over the ground for hours. They know now to 
their cost that they did not thwart the advance of our troops. 

The enemy s machine-guns swept the ground with a rush of 
bullets, but our men took cover as much as possible in the 
dips and hollows of the earth chaotic after long weeks of 
shelling and came along quite quickly to the outskirts of the 
ruined village. A quarry there, in the centre of the western 
edge, had been entered and held for a day or two by British 
troops, but it was no longer in our hands and had to be retaken. 



THE CAPTURE OF GUILLEMONT 231 

On the edge of the village also, on the western and southern 
sides, the Germans had built their best dug-outs, months ago. 
before our guns concentrated their fire here, so that they had 
plenty of time to build them deep and build them strong, to 
panel them, and roof them with concrete, and to furnish them 
comfortably, and to decorate them with pictures from German 
newspapers and post cards from home. 

Our assaulting troops were in and about those dug-outs in 
the first wave, and halted here to see that no enemies should 
remain in hiding to attack them from the rear. Underground 
there was not much fighting. A few proud men refused to 
surrender, or did not surrender quickly enough. Most of them 
gave themselves up easily and gave no trouble in being mar 
shalled back, so that something like 600 men belonging to the 
finest German troops are now behind our lines out of it for 
good, and rejoicing in their luck of life. 

Half an hour afterwards, joined by supporting troops, the 
British line advanced to the Sunken Road, where other German 
soldiers were captured, and found here a fine defensive position 
all ready for them, after a little work in reorganizing the shelter. 

From that point a number of men went forward again to an 
attack on Falfemont Farm, but this was too far for one day s 
work, and they were held on the outskirts of the wood poor 
wood of " strafed trees ! by an immediate counter-attack 
from the Prussian Guard. For one of the rare times in this war 
the Germans faced British bayonets, and stood to their ground 
so stoutly that they were able to maintain their position. 

So the battle ended yesterday with the capture of Guillemont, 
which was good enough, and our line strongly entrenched along 
the Sunken Road. 



To-day I saw another attack upon Falfemont Farm and our 
capture of the Wedge Wood. Everywhere along the way 
which leads to the country between Hardecourt and Maurepas 
there is a great desolation. 

The Sunken Road led down from Guillemont to Wedge Wood 
in the hollow. British soldiers held the Sunken Road, Germans 
were in Wedge Wood. 

Striking up from that small solitary copse of naked sticks 
were two white chalky trenches in an obtuse angle with the 



232 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

apex nearest to Wedge Wood and the broad base up the 
sloping ground towards Leuze Wood on the ridge above. 
And half-way down the slope to the right of the triangle 
trenches was Falfemont Farm, without a sign of a farm, 
but marked by a number of tree-stems stuck up like telephone- 
poles. 

A little after three o clock in the afternoon I saw our men in 
the open. They came up suddenly, as though by a spellword, 
along the line of the Sunken Road and southwards below 
Falfemont Farm, advancing northwards to that place. 

The men advanced in w T aves. I saw the left waves surging 
down into Wedge Wood. Some of them wavered a little, then 
fell. Groups fell, not dead or wounded, but getting below the 
stream of bullets yard-high over the ground. The small copse 
was soon crowded with British soldiers. They seemed to be 
in a kind of scrimmage, and out of the middle of it came presently 
a compact little body of men. 

" German prisoners, right enough and well done ! " said an 
officer by my side. 

I followed the advance of the southern waves towards 
Falfemont Farm. They went on slowly and steadily, and had 
a long way to go. It seemed to me a frightful long way. But 
they crept up nearer and nearer to the edge of the bare poles 
which were once a wood. Then some of them fell, and dis 
appeared into shell-craters and broken trenches. New waves 
came up and disappeared also, as though lying, or dead, in the 
tall thistles. After a little while I saw that many of them had 
reappeared to the left. They were working up towards the 
German triangle trenches on the slope of the spur, striking 
down from Leuze Wood. 

In a few minutes two figures appeared black against the 
white chalk of the first trench, and presently they were lost in 
it. But not for long. Groups of them were up again, marshal 
ling another group which seemed separated from them and then 
moved back towards Wedge Wood. I guessed they were more 
German prisoners, but could not see the difference between 
grey and khaki. 

" Hallo, they ve got the second trench ! " said another man 
by my side. 

It was some time after two, while I was watching the confused 
groups of men, that strange things began to happen in the 



THE CAPTURE OF GUILLEMONT 233 

German lines. From Leuze Wood parties of men came running 
down to Falfemont Farm. 

" By the Lord ! said an officer. " A German counter 
attack. . . . Get it over the telephone, quick. A good target 
for the guns." 

It was a wonderful target. The Prussian Guardsmen came 
forward, not in open order, but shoulder to shoulder. They 
made a serpentine line across the ground, advancing steadily 
and not slowly towards our troops. They looked very tall men, 
and their figures were quite black against the chalky earth. 
Then suddenly the right end of the line crumbled away. Gaps 
opened in the thick bar of men. Our machine-guns were 
raking them. I listened to the swish-swish of the fire, like a 
flame blown in the wind. Then, like a row of ninepins on 
uneven ground, the Prussian Guards all fell face forwards. 
The unwounded men had fallen with the wounded to escape 
our bullets. 

" Counter-attack repulsed ! " said a voice near the telephonist. 

Twenty minutes later, if I remember accurately, another 
German counter-attack was organized in exactly the same 
way, by parties of men coming down from Leuze Wood. But 
this was also broken up by our machine-gun fire. 



SEPTEMBER 5 

My last dispatch describing the capture of Wedge Wood and 
the attack on Falfemont Farm left off like a serial story at a 
moment of exciting uncertainty. It was impossible for me to 
tell whether our men had actually taken possession of the 
farm that plantation of " strafed " trees to the south of Leuze 
Wood and the meaning of all that coming and going of groups 
and individuals to the west and north of it, after the second 
German counter-attack had failed. 

Now the tangled web of the plot not spun by imagination 
but as real as death is straightened out, and the end of another 
grim little chapter of the war is the capture of 1000 yards of the 
enemy s front, to the depth of 1500 yards, in and around 
Falfemont Farm, which is now held by British troops. 

It was great fighting which gained this ground, and the men 
were their own generals. These West-country lads were not 



234 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

moved like marionettes pulled by the strings from headquarters. 
It was, after the first orders had been given, a soldiers battle, 
and its success was due to young officers and N.C.O. s and men 
using their own initiative, finding another way round when 
one had failed, and arranging their own tactics in face of the 
enemy to suit the situation of the moment. 

Such a thing has been done very rarely since the first days 
of trench warfare, except in raids over No Man s Land and 
bombing fights in such places as Ovillers and Longueval. 
Here the individual craft of our men gained an important 
position. When the attack on Falfemont Farm was checked 
on the south by wicked machine-gun fire our troops worked 
their way westwards, and joining other bodies of men advancing 
from the Sunken Road beyond Guillemont, crept round the 
slope of the ground that goes up to Leuze Wood. 

Half-way up, on the outer edge of the spur, were the two 
V-shaped trenches which I saw taken by the first two waves, 
immediately after the capture of Wedge Wood, in the hollow 
at the bottom of the Sunken Road, and these trenches were 
used also as good cover for men inspired by a great idea. 

It was the idea of making a surprise rush into Leuze Wood, 
from its western side, while the enemy s attention was directed 
to the defence of Falfemont Farm, half-way down the slope 
to the south. 

It was this surprise movement which caused all the confusion 
which I saw yesterday among the enemy. 

Splendid work was done by our men after dusk and during 
the night, in spite of a deluge of rain, when the enemy s artillery 
fired most furiously. By dawn more troops had joined those 
who held the spur and pushed on to the north of Falfemont 
Farm, and others had got close to the farm on the south and 
west by way of W^edge Wood. 

Between the black posts which were once high living trees 
about sixty Germans stayed on in their shell-craters and broken 
dug-outs. When the final British rush came from three sides 
they could do nothing but surrender or die. Some of them 
died, and others lay wounded and unconscious, but most of 
them put their hands up, and this afternoon I saw some of the 
wounded Germans from Falfemont lying side by side on 
stretchers with boys from the West Country who had been hit 
in attacking them. 



THE CAPTURE OF GUILLEMONT 235 

From first to last it was the work of infantry rather than 
guns, and it was a great and terrible moment when the Germans 
came out in their first counter-attack, in close ranks, moving 
very steadily against our men, in a long, black, undulating 
wave over the rise and fall of the ground, through the waist-high 
weeds ; and then, again, after this first advance had been 
broken by our machine-gun fire and had fallen prone into the 
tall thistles so that no more of them was to be seen, when 
another body of big Germans came out, crouching for the last 
rush upon our lines, and our men fell back a little, and opened 
out, so that the machine-guns had a clear field upon which to 
play their hose of bullets. 

For a little while at least it was fighting without the usual 
massacre of shell-fire from long-range guns which annihilate 
the human element as well as the bodies of men. Here at least, 
in spite of the machine-guns, men looked into each other s eyes 
and were killed advancing in the sight of their enemies, which 
seems to me better and less frightful than when men go forward 
and see nothing and are swallowed up in a great explosion 
directed from machines six miles away. 

The gun-fire was intense afterwards, and men and masses of 
men were swallowed up as usual by its high explosives, but 
for a couple of hours it was more like old-fashioned fighting, 
damnable enough, God knows, but not so utterly inhuman. 

4 

It is not sufficiently realized, I believe, how very important 
has been the gain to us of the last two days of battle. The 
capture of Guillemont and of the ground beyond it has given 
us now the whole of the German second line, which we broke 
in parts on the great day of July 14. 

Since then our men have had an uphill fight all the time, a 
long struggle upwards to seize the high ridge from Pozieres 
eastwards, and to hold it. It has been difficult to take and 
difficult to hold. The cost has not been light. The heroism 
shown on those slopes, in those woods, in the assault on the high 
trenches, has been the most wonderful ever shown by British 
soldiers in continuous endeavour. 

Now we have gained the crest of the ridge, and even if our 
offensive were brought to a dead halt to-day, which it will not 



236 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

be, the position of our men for the winter would be enormoush 
superior over that of the enemy on the other side of the water 
shed. Again, the taking of Guillemont and the ground b^ 
Ginchy has defended our right flank and straightened out ai i 
awkward salient. 

With Ginchy in our hands on one side and Thiepval on th 
other, we should be well placed, and there would be a grea 
gain for all the sacrifice our men have made in fighting forwar< I 
so hard, and so far, and with such exalted courage. 



5 

SEPTEMBER 5 

The taking of Guillemont, the quick progress to the Sunkei i 
Road beyond, the capture of Falfemont Farm, the thrust for 
ward, by great daring, into Leuze.Wood, the close assault 01 1 
Ginchy, and the splendid advance of the French on our right , 
have given to this part of the battle-line an atmosphere o i 
exultation, which our troops have not felt so strongly sine 
that day of July 14 when we broke the second German line a 
Longueval. Men are fighting hereabouts with a sense of victor 
which is half the battle. They feel, rightly or wrongly, that the; 
have the German on the run at last, and that by getting har< i 
on to him, taking all risks, they will keep him running. 

The rapid and far progress of the French is helping our ow] : 
men, not only in a military way by " keeping the Boche busy, 1 
as they put it, but as a moral tonic, showing that the Germa 
strength of resistance has began to crack. The noise of th 
French guns is wonderful music to British soldiers going forwar i 
to their own part of the battlefields, and, by Jove, it is astound 
ing in its uproar, as I heard it to-day again on our right, awa -. 
down to the gates of Peronne in a great roll of drum-fire fo 
miles. It is one ceaseless tattoo of soixante-quinze an 
of heavier guns, like a titanic hammering of anvils in th 
smithies of the gods or devils. 

4 Hark at them ! They seem to be getting on with it a 
right," said an English officer to-day, and listening for 
moment to the great sweep of the artillery battle for ou 
own guns were firing steadily and tremendously he added tha 
The enemy is having a really thick time. We are getting o 
top at last." 



THE CAPTURE OF GUILLEMONT 237 

It is this sense of u getting on top " that is inspiring our men 
to fight to the last ounce of strength on this right wing of our 
attack, up to Ginchy and beyond Guillemont. It is literally 
as well as morally a desire to get on top, up the hill to the crest 
f the ridge, to the last vantage-point of the enemy, and it 
it to push him off and over that high point that our men have 
been fighting uphill with a really passionate endeavour. 

They got all round the place a few days ago after hard, 
oloody fighting. They held on under great shell-fire and 
nachine-gun fire, and many men took the last hazard in trying 
to force their way into the stronghold where the enemy is 
entrenched and covered with well-placed machine-guns. Some 
f them went in, and stayed in. No message has come back 
Prom them, but it is quite likely that they are still there as a 
living wedge in the enemy s gates. 

One party, thirty strong, fought their way along a sap to the 
north of the village and established a bombing-post which they 
held against all odds. Their rations gave out, but they would 
not go. They had no water, and suffered horribly from thirst, 
but not a man would go. Their ammunition was nearly spent, 
but they waited for new supplies, if they should have the luck 
to get them. A sergeant came back to the front trench with 
this tale of stubborn courage, and a request for food and water 
and bombs so that the thirty might still " carry on." That 
is the spirit with which our men are fighting, and one marvels 
at them. 

The enemy has suffered heavily against these assaults, and our 
shell-fire has massacred many of his troops. A German officer 
brought back from the outskirts of Ginchy yesterday was asked 
what casualties he had in his company. He said, " Oh, a few. 
Not many." He turned away and tried to destroy a scrap 
of paper in his hand, but was not quick enough. It was a 
message calling urgently for rescue and saying that his men were 
unable to hold out any longer, as there were only twenty of 
them left out of the full strength of his company. 

To-day other British troops have forced their way into the 
stronghold, but as yet it is too soon to know whether they can 
maintain their position. The enemy is fighting bravely, but 
however long his resistance may be, I have no doubt that 
Ginchy will be added to the list of all those strongholds which 
have fallen one after another under our repeated assaults. For 



238 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

Ginchy must be ours to give us the end of the ridge and to 
link up the line with Leuze Wood, where at present our 
men are exposed to flanking attacks. 



6 

The difficulty of all this close and open fighting, where 
bodies of British troops press on to the very edge of the enemy s 
ditches, and where bodies of Germans hold bits of roadway or 
bits of trench in isolated positions, is that the guns on both 
sides cannot concentrate a heavy barrage without killing their 
own men. In this kind of situation the German gunners are 
ruthless, but sometimes that method does not pay. 

In spite of all their skill for they are good gunners, these 
Germans they were scared enough to withdraw their field- 
batteries to a safer distance before our final attack on Guillemont 
last Sunday. Some of our officers fighting here told me that 
there were very few " whizz-bangs about that day, and it 
was all shell-fire from heavy long-range guns. 

Before our attack they opened an intense bombardment 
upon Trones Wood. It smashed in steady lines of shells 
the great five-point-nines right through the wood, and was 
maintained mercilessly for many hours. Some of our men 
behind the front lines had escapes from death which seem like 
miracles. One young officer I know received an invitation 
to tea at a dug-out a few hundred yards, I reckon, from his 
own hole in the earth where he lay with two comrades. It 
was a pleasant and friendly idea, that cup of tea, but he decided 
against it when he heard the awful crash of shells outside. 

Later a message came that he must go on a matter of business. 
It was his duty to go, and so he went as fast as possible. A 
moment or two after reaching the other dug-out there was the 
tinkle of a telephone bell, and he heard that both his comrades 
had been killed by the direct hit of a five-point-nine. He went 
back with a soldier to see if there was any hope for his friends 
one of them might be wounded only and as he went a shell 
exploded a yard or two away, the man by his side was killed, 
and his shoulder was splashed with the man s blood, but he was 
left unscathed. 

Our bombardment before the attack on Guillemont was more 
effective. There were not many Germans here or in the 



THE CAPTURE OF GUILLEMONT 239 

Sunken Road, or higher up in the trenches by Ginchy, who 
had miraculous escapes. They were killed in masses. A great 
number of dead were found by our men outside Guillemont 
in the Sunken Road, which was the German third line of defence 
there. They were a frightful sight, as many of them were quite 
naked, all their clothes having been stripped off by the blasting 
force of high explosives. Some men, untouched by fragments 
of shell, were killed by the enormous concussion of air or by 
heart-shock, and there was one dead man kneeling, and still 
grasping his rifle with fixed bayonet. 

The successful attack on Guillemont was due to the effect 
of our shell-fire on the garrison. When the infantry advanced 
thev met with but little hostile machine-gun fire. Most of the 

v 

Germans were dazed and done. They had no alertness left in 
them to bring up their weapons and resist the attack. Even 
many of the dug-outs were blown in. A sergeant of one of the 
companies who came up in support one of those splendid 
N.C.O. s to whom the steadiness of our troops is largely due 
told me to-day that he went into one deep dug-out where forty 
men were lying. Only three were alive, and of those two were 
badly wounded. In other dug-outs there were many dead. 

This was in the Sunken Road, where afterwards our men 
* organized the bank, digging themselves in so as to get 
cover from the heavy barrage flung upon them by the German 
artillery after the capture of the position. A lance-corporal 
was killed here by the side of my sergeant friend, who buried 
him where he fell. And another shell killed six men in a heap 
just as these troops were relieved and went back for a little 
while into the support lines. They, too, were buried by 
another lance-corporal who volunteered to go back for the 
purpose, and went under heavy shell-fire to do this last service 
to good comrades. 

Lord, how many stories of this kind I have told ! The spirit 
of our men in these hideous places and in these frightful hours 
is always the same, indomitable and unbroken by the worst 
ordeals. 

7 

SEPTEMBER 9 

The first mention that the Irish troops were fighting at 
Guillemont has been made officially, and it is now possible for 



240 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

me to write about them in more detail. Their charge through 
Guillemont last Sunday, with English battalions of riflemen 
on their right, was one of the most astonishing feats in the war, 
almost too fast in its impetuosity. They went forward with 
their pipes playing them on, in a wild and irresistible assault. 

If there had been three times the number of enemy against 
them they would not have been checked until they had carried 
the northern part of the ruined w^aste that was once a village. 
The English troops who fought with them tell me that they have 
never seen anything like the way in which these Irishmen 
dashed ahead. " It was like a human avalanche," said one 
of them. 

The officers cheered their men on as they came alongside. 
One of their commanding officers, following the last across, 
picked up pieces of chalk and threw them after his men, shouting 
good luck to them. They stormed the first, second, and third 
German lines through the upper part of the village, sweeping 
all resistance away, and not stopping to take breath. They 
were men uplifted, out of themselves, " fey," as the Scots would 
call it. 

Death had no terror for them, nor all the dead men who lay 
in their way. After months of dull and dogged fighting in the 
trenches, where they were restless in their ditches, they were 
excited at getting out into the open and meeting the enemy 
face to face. It was not good to be a German in their way. 

The only fault with this fighting at Guillemont was the 
rapidity of pace, which gave them no time to safeguard the 
ground behind them. But that was a fault due to the splendour 
of their gallantry, and no harm came from it. The English 
riflemen who fought on their right had more solidity in their 
way of going about the business, but they were so inspired by 
the sight of the Irish dash and by the sound of the Irish pipes 
that those who were in support, under orders to stand and hold 
the first German line, could hardly be restrained from 
following on. 

" I nearly blew my teeth out of my head in whistling em 
back," said an English sergeant. But discipline prevailed. 

The whole attack from first to last was a model of efficiency, 
organization, and courage. All the qualities that go to the 
making of victory were here, fitting in with each other, balancing 
each other, making a terrific weapon driven by a high spirit. 



THE CAPTURE OF GUILLEMONT 241 

The artillery was in perfect union with the infantry the 
most difficult thing in war the brigadiers and the officers 
carried out the general plan to the letter, and the men it is 
impossible to overpraise the men, who were wonderful in 
courage and wonderful in discipline. 



8 

As far as the English battalions were concerned they were 
recruited since the first phase of the war, but as one of their 
officers once of the Guards told me yesterday, there are no 
regular soldiers, no soldiers of any army in the world, who could 
have attacked in a finer and more disciplined way than these 
young riflemen, as cold as ice in self-control, but on fire with 
the resolve to win. The first rush of Irish on the left went 
over, as I have said, playing their pipes old songs of victory 
which could be heard through the swish of machine-gun bullets 
and the crash of the German " crumps." 

The assaulting troops on the right went more quietly, and at 
the first short halt to wait for the barrage of our guns, which was 
smashing ahead of them, lit their cigarettes, and then went 
on again with their rifles slung, as though marching on a field- 
day. 

" Where s that village we ve got to take ? they shouted, 
staring at a choppy sea of shell-craters, where there was hardly 
a stick or a stone. 

I have already described the assault on the first lines, where 
our men found many German dead. But strange things 
happened between the first and second lines. The Irish on the 
left, who had gone so quickly forward in their great " hooroosh," 
had failed to clear up all the dug-outs as they went. 

Some of the Germans there climbed out and began sniping 
in the rear. It was a dangerous menace, but with quick 
judgment the colonel of an English battalion on the right 
diverted five of his platoons to that direction, and they searched 
all the dug-outs and broke up the enemy s attempt to rally. 

One dug-out near the quarry at the central entrance of 
Guiilemont was discovered by a young gunner officer, who 
had come down behind the advancing infantry just to look 
round," as he puts it, after he had done his work with some 
sixty-pounder plum-pudding bombs from a neighbouring 

Q 



242 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

position. With him was his corporal and one or two other men 
of the trench -mortar battery. 

In looking round he discovered a slit in the rock, which 
seemed to lead down into an underground chamber, and having 
explored it came down into a deep place where twenty German 
soldiers and one officer were hiding. It was a surprise, but he 
held his revolver ready and said " Hands up ! They surrendered 
quietly, clicking their heels together and saluting, after they 
had been searched for arms, and the officer, who was a polite 
fellow, offered the corporal a valuable gold watch as a souvenir 
of the occasion. 

That was one little adventure on the edge of things. Farther 
forward each man was in the middle of a great adventure, 
gruesome and full of peril. An enveloping movement was 
being made by English troops to the south-west of the village, 
on the choppy ground on which Guillemont once stood, and it 
was here that most opposition was encountered, between two 
sunken roads. In the second sunken road, where the enemy 
had a row of strong dug-outs, the ground was thick with huddled 
dead. 

But from the dug-outs a large number of living men who 
climbed on to the parapet in front of them maintained a 
fusillade of rifle-fire and bombs. In the ground between the 
two Sunken Roads men climbed half-way out of shell-craters and 
sniped our men as they came forward. At the same time 
machine-gun fire was coming down from Ginchy and up from 
Falfemont Farm. It was difficult ground to cover, but our 
riflemen ignored the bullets and the bombs and went straight 
forward, halting only to fire, and then going on again, and 
firing again, as though on manoeuvres. 

Some Lewis gunners ran forward and played a hose of bullets 
upon the enemy s parapet, so that the men dropped. Some 
of our own men had fallen too, but the wounded crawled into 
shell-holes to get out of the way, and shouted, " Go on, boys ! 
or just crawled in silently and uncomplainingly, not asking for 
help however bad their wounds. 

Then the Germans started running and our men went after 
them. One fellow flung off his pack and chased one of them until 
he had him by the neck. A German officer who surrendered 
threw up his hands and said, " If you run like that you ll be in 
Berlin before we re in England." There were 150 dead in one part 



THE CAPTURE OF GUILLEMONT 2 13 

of the Sunken Road and the dug-outs were crowded. Into one of 
them a smoke-bomb was thrown to tease the men out, but they 
would not come. Then a Mills bomb was flung in as a stronger 
argument, but before it exploded it was flung back again. 
After that the Germans retreated through a tunnel and 
ran out at another exit, where they were taken prisoner. 
Twenty-five of them were put into a shell-crater under guard 
of one little rifleman, who strutted up and down in a German 
helmet with his bayonet high above his head and a pride 
twice as high as his bayonet. 

In one dug-out, as I wrote in my first narrative, there were 
forty-one bodies, of whom only three were alive, and those 
were weeping. All the prisoners, of whom there were about 
600, were in a pitiful condition, as our artillery-fire had prevented 
them from getting any rations for three days. Their spirit 
was broken and they were trembling with fear. 



9 

In our dug-outs farther back were three officers, one of 
whom, a young captain, was clearly in command of the whole 
garrison of Guillemont, and afterwards, when he passed the 
prisoners cage behind the lines, all the men sprang up and 
saluted him with profound respect. He was the only man 
who maintained a proud indifference at the moment of capture. 
He stood very straight and still, as though not caring whether 
he lived or died. The two officers with him clung about the 
necks of our own officers crying for mercy. In another place 
an officer fell down on his knees with his hands in an attitude 
of prayer and his head bowed, and one man pulled out a photo 
graph of his wife and children, holding that out as his strongest 
plea for life. Our men had no thought to take their lives. As 
one of the sergeants said to me, c As soon as a man surrenders 
it s an end of the fight, and I m sorry for him." 

It was hard for some of our men to be sorry for the enemy 
in those wild moments about the dug-outs, for some of them 
flung bombs until the last yard had been covered by our troops, 
then disappeared into their holes and came up farther away with 
an air of innocence and meekness. In one or two bad cases of 
fighting after a sign of surrender it was the authority of the British 
officers which saved the lives of German soldiers standing by. 



244 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

But on the whole the prisoners were well-behaved and very 
glad to get away from the horror of Guillemont, grateful for 
being given the chance of life. One sergeant of ours, hit in 
the hip by a piece of shell, captured four men without help, and 
then ordered them to carry him back on a stretcher to the 
dressing-station, where he arrived, smoking a cigarette, with 
his prisoner stretcher-bearers. 

Words can convey very little of all those scenes in Guillemont 
the isolated fights, the storming of dug-outs, the searching 
of prisoners, the crowds of British soldiers moving forward to 
new lines behind our terrific curtain-fire, the Lewis gunners 
rushing through with their machine-guns to take up positions 
at advanced points, the supporting and consolidating troops 
coming up behind the assaulting troops, starting to dig as soon 
as the ground had been gained, the stretcher-bearers rummaging 
about among the shell-craters for stricken men, the walking 
wounded making their way back across the rough ground, 
dazed, and sometimes falling not to rise again, the cheers of 
men taking the last Sunken Road to the east of Guillemont, 
where they consolidated a defensive position for the night, the 
wild music of the Irish pipers, the crash of German shells, the 
high whine of German shrapnel, the long rush of our heavies 
passing overhead to " Lousy 1 Wood, and, in the midst of all this 
tumult, the quiet dead. 

10 

In quiet heroism, of the suffering and not of the fighting 
kind, it seems to me that the finest thing was done by a wounded 
man. That at least is the opinion of a commanding officer 
who met him on his way. His face had been terribly smashed 
by a piece of shell, but he waved back the stretcher-bearers 
with a sign that others needed carrying more than he did. Then, 
a solitary and ghastly figure, he walked back to the dressing- 
station and laid himself down. 

Of the German garrison of 2000 men hardly one escaped. 
The figure has been accounted for in dead, wounded, and 
prisoners. Two German battalions have thus been wiped 
out. Among them were men who wear the word " Gibraltar 
on their shoulder-straps, belonging to the famous Hanoverian 
regiment which fought side by side with us on the Rock in the 
eighteenth century. 



THE CAPTURE OF GUILLEMONT 245 

It was after the battle that our men suffered most, for during 

<^ 

the next forty-eight hours there were violent storms, which 
filled the shell -craters with water so that men were up to their 
shoulders in it. But they had dug magnificently before the 
rain came, under the inspiration of a splendid colonel, who 
cried, " Dig, dig, for God s sake ! Dig, my lads ! " knowing 
that he would save their lives by every foot of earth turned up 
by the German shovels they used for the work. In three hours 
they had dug an eight-foot trench in the village. 

So Guillemont was taken and held, not only by great gun-fire 
but by men inspired with some spirit beyond their ordinary 
courage, and one day these troops will carry the name upon 
their colours, so that the world may remember. 



XXVIII 

THE IRISH AT GINCHY 

i 

SEPTEMBER 10 

THE capture of Ginchy by the Irish Brigades should be told 
not in journalist s prose but in heroic verse. Poor Ireland 
will weep tears over it, for many of her sons have fallen, but 
there will be pride also in the heart of the Irish people, because 
these men of Munster, Dublin, and Connaught, and of all parts 
of the \vest and the south have done such splendid things in 
courage and endurance, adding a very noble episode to the 
history of the Celtic race. 

When they came out of the battle this morning they were 
weary and spent, and they had left many good comrades 
behind them, but the spirit of the war sustained them, and 
they came marching steadily with their heads held high. It 
was one of the most moving things I have ever seen in this 
war. 

A great painter would have found here a subject to thrill 
his soul, that long trail of Irish regiments, horribly reduced 
by their losses, and with but few officers to lead them, coming 
across a stretch of barren country strewn with the wreckage 

/ 

of two years bombardment, and crowded with the turmoil 
of the present fighting. 

Behind them arose the black curtain of smoke across the 
battlefields through which there came the enormous noise of 
the unending gun-fire, and around them were some of our 
own batteries hard at work with great hammer-strokes as 
their shells went on their way to the enemy s lines, but ahead 
of them walked one Irish piper playing them home to the 
harvest-fields of peace with a lament for those who will never 
come back. 



THE IRISH AT GINCHY 247 



A brigadier came riding over the fields to meet them. It 
was the first time he had seen them together since the early 
dawn of to-day, when they were still fighting beyond the ruins 
of Ginchy, which they had won by a great assault. 

He stood, a solitary figure by the side of the track down 
which his men came, and there was a great tenderness in the 
eyes of this brigadier as he watched them pass, and called out 
to them words of thanks, and words of good cheer, and turned 
to me now and then to say how splendid they had been. 

" Eyes right ! shouted the officers or sergeants who were 
leading their companies, and the General said, Carry on, 
there," and " Well done you did gloriously." " Bravo, 
Dublins ! . . . You did well, damned well, Munsters, mv 
lads ! " 

The men s eyes brightened at the sight of him ; and they 
squared up, and grinned under German caps and German 
helmets. 

" Hallo, Greene ! called out the brigadier to a very tall 
fellow tramping in the outside file. " Glad to see you re all 
right. And a big target, too ! 

The music of the Irish pipes went calling down to the valley, 
and I w r atched the men out of sight with something stirring 
at my heart. Earlier in the morning, before they had formed 
up, I had been among them and had heard many stories of 
great adventure and of great courage, told sometimes with 
an Irish humour that finds a whimsicality even in the most 
awful moments, and sometimes with the sadness of men who 
mourn for their friends, but wonderfully untouched by the 
fearful strain of it all and with a grim joy in their victory. 

Some of them had been in Gallipoli, and one sergeant 
of the Munsters told me that the taking of Ginchy was the 
hottest thing he had seen since the landing on August 21 
at Suvla Bay. There were two men in his regiment who had 
fought all through from Mons, and had escaped from the hell 
of the Dardanelles, but had fallen now, at last, on the way 
up from Guillemont. He and other men of the old Regulars 
spoke of the regiments of the New Army who had fought with 
them to-day. 

They were just great. The Irish Rifles went through like 



248 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

a whirlwind. There was no stopping them. When the 
Germans ran you couldn t see them for dust." 



The story of the Irish Brigades does not begin at Ginchy. 
It begins last Sunday, a week ago, at Guillemont, when one 
brigade, as I have already described in an earlier dispatch, 
went through the northern part of that village in one fierce 
assault which would not be checked. After that (as well as 
before) they lay under heavy shell-fire, without sleep and 
without hot food or much water, until the new attack, when 
they were on the right of the assault. 

The brigade on the left, which had the greatest triumph 
yesterday, was lying out in connected shell-craters (the old 
kind of trench, neatly revetted, with strong traverses and cosy 
dug-outs, does not exist in this part of the battle-line). For 
five days they held on stubbornly under ceaseless shell-fire. 
When the hour of " zero " came for the attack thev were not 

*/ 

broken in spirit, as weaker men would have been after all this 
trial, but eager to get out and get on " to get some of their 
own back." 

The Germans in Ginchy would have had more terror in their 
hearts if they had known the character of the men who were 
about to storm their stronghold. They would have prayed 
to God to, save them from the Irish. As it was, these German 
soldiers were not feeling safe. They were new men just sent 
up to the line, and conscious of a frightful menace about them. 
They belonged to the 185th Division, the 19th Bavarian 
Division, and the machine-gun company of the 88th Division. 
They crouched down in a network of dug-outs and tunnels 
under the ruins of the village expecting attack, and determined, 
as we know now, to sell their lives dearly. They were brave 
men. 

4 

The attack began yesterday afternoon shortly before five 
o clock after a heavy bombardment. The Irish sprang up and 
went forward cheering. They shouted, " Go on, Munsters ! 
Go on, Dublins ! and old Celtic cries. " Now then, Irish 
Hifles ! Our shell-fire crept up in front of them. They went 



THE IRISH AT GINCHY 249 

from the south in four waves in open order, with about 50 yards 
between each wave, and on the left the troops reached their 
first halting-place in the village, right across the first German 
trenches and dug-outs, in eight minutes after starting time 
a distance of 600 yards, which is a wonderful record. 

On the right the Irish were checked by three machine-guns 
well placed for very deadly work and sweeping the ground with 
waves of bullets. Many poor fellows dropped. Others fell 
deliberately with their faces to the earth so that the bullets 
might skim above their prone bodies. At the same time the 
Irish officers and men were being sniped by German marksmen 
who had crept out into shell-craters. It was a serious situation 
here unless the machine-guns could be " killed." 

A brilliant little piece of tactics was done by the troops on 
the left of the right wing, who swung round and attacked the 
machine-gun position from the west and north, in an encircling 
movement so that the German teams had to run out of the 
loop with their weapons to some broken trenches 300 yards 
away, where they again fired until knocked out by some trench- 
mortars attached to one of the Irish battalions. This enabled 
the right wing to advance and join the left, and they then 
advanced together through the village, with the Irish Rifles 
remaining to hold the captured ground, and the Dublins 
charging ahead. 

In the centre of the village among all the dug-outs and tunnels 
was the ruin of an old farm in which the enemy had another 
machine-gun which they served with bursts of fire. Again our 
trench-mortar men saved the situation. They came on with 
the infantry, and ranged their little engines on to the farm, 
aiming with such skill that the hostile machine-gun was put 
out of action by a short storm of high explosives. 

The men were still suffering from snipers and ordinary 
riflemen hidden in all kinds of places in the northern half of 
the village, where there were concreted and tunnelled chambers 
with loop-holes level with the ground, through which they shot. 
The Irish were reckless of all this and swept over the place 
fiercely, searching out their enemies. In shell-craters and bits 
of upheaved earth and down in the dug-outs there was hand-to- 
hand fighting of the grimmest kind. The Bavarians struggled 
savagely, using bombs and rifles, and fighting even with the 
bayonet until they were killed with the same weapon. 



250 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

It was all very quick. Within ten minutes of reaching the 
line half-way through the village the leading Dublins had 
got to the northern end of it and sent out advanced parties 
200 yards beyond. But there was one menace, which might 
have led to disaster but for quick wit and fighting genius. 

The Irish had expected that their left flank would be sup 
ported by other troops attacking between Ginchy and Delville 
Wood, but owing to the difficulty of the ground in that neigh 
bourhood and the rapidity of the Irish advance this had not 
been possible, and the victors of Ginchy found themselves 
with an exposed flank to the north-west of the village. A 
young sapper officer from Dublin realized the situation, and 
taking command of a body of men dug a defensive flank and 
established strong posts as a protection against a counter 
attack. The situation on the extreme right was for some time 
equally perilous, as the troops engaged in an enterprise on 
that side had not yet made good their ground, and the splendid 
achievement of the Irish Brigade, from a military point of 
view, is their success quite astoundingly good of taking a 
hostile front of 900 yards to the depth of nearly a mile with 
no supporting troops on either flank. 



From a non -military, untechnical, human point of view the 
greatness of the capture of Ginchy is just in the valour of 
those Irish boys who were not cowed by that sight of death 
very close to them and all about them, and who went straight 
on to the winning-posts like Irish race-horses. The men who 
were ordered to stay in the village almost wept with rage 
because they could not join in the next assault. 

We would have gone on into the blue," said one of them, 
4 except for all this confounded diplomacy." Diplomacy is a 
fine word for the simple law of safeguarding the captured 
ground ; but you see the spirit which used it. It was the 
same spirit which caused the temporary desertion of three Irish 
servants on the Brigade Staff. One of them left a note yester 
day morning on his master s table : " As I could not be at 
Guillemont I am going to Ginchy. I hope to be back again, 
so please excuse." 

Fine and wonderful men ! There was a Sinn Feiner among 



THE IRISH AT GINCHY 251 

them, with all the passion of his political creed and " a splendid 
soldier," said one of his officers, who is an Englishman. 
Nationalists and Catholics, Irish to the bone, with every 
tradition of their race in their blood and spirit, they fought 
yesterday and in the dawn of to-day without any thought of 
grievance or any memory of hatred, except against the enemy, 
whom they call " Jerry 3> instead of Fritz. 

In fair fight they were relentless, but they were kind to their 
prisoners. It is queer how hatred and kindness alternates 
in these men. One man told me the strangest tale with absolute 
truth, I am sure, because of his fine, steady eyes. He captured 
a big Saxon in a shell-hole the night before the attack. The 
man was wounded in the leg and back, but held a revolver, 
and was not too ill to fight. But he had no fight left in him 
when the Irishman jumped down to him. 

Are you going to kill me ? he asked in good English. 

4 Sure, no," said the Irishman. " But just put away that 
pistol, won t you." Then the Irish sergeant undid his own 
field dressing and bound up the man s leg and back (it was all 
under the loud whistling of shells), and said, " Now get along 
with you back to your own lines, for faith I don t mean any 
harm to you." 

So away went the German into Ginchy, and afterwards, no 
doubt, wished he hadn t. 

A tall Irishman, describing the great charge to me, said : 
The small, little men went over with the greatest pluck, sir, 
so that it was a real pleasure to see. And the Jerry boys ran 
that fast the dust was in their throats, it was." 

How did you get that Boche cap ? " one man asked another. 
" Did vou kill vour man ? " 

* V 

Did I kill him ? . . . I brought down fourteen prisoners 
all by myself, I did, and if you don t believe it, here s my receipt 
for the same." 

He held out a slip of paper, and there sure enough was the 
officer s receipt for the fourteen men. 

One German climbed up a tree during the attack. He had 
a white cap-band and a white ribbon on his shoulder, and 
seemed to be signalling. 

Now, come down, Jerry," shouted five Irishmen in a chorus. 
If you don t come down we ll shoot you, we will." 

The man would not come down. 



252 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

" And sure we shot him," was the end of the story. 

The honours of the day are with the Irish, and these gallant 
men hope they spoke about it pleadingly that their losses 
will be filled up by Irishmen, so that the spirit of their regiments 
may be kept. 



XXIX 

THE COMING OF THE TANKS 

i 

SEPTEMBER 16 

ANOTHER day of great remembrance has been given to our 
history by British troops, September the Fifteenth, that will 
not quickly pass out of the memory of our people, for on that 
day, which was yesterday, our soldiers broke through the 
enemy s third line of defence and went out into open country, 
and gave staggering blows to that German war-machine which 
for two years, all but two months, seemed unbreakably strong 
against us. 

It was a day of good success yesterday. It was no longer 
a promise of future victory, dependent upon all the flukes and 
chances of war, with their awful hazards, but, for one day at 
least, not looking further, the real thing. 

Our men had the taste of victory, and it was like a strong 
drug to their hearts, so that they laughed even while blood 
was streaming down their faces, and said " It s wonderful ! 
when they came limping off the battlefields with wounds on 
fire, and said " We made em run like rabbits ! when they 
lay on stretchers and could not move without a groan. 

And it was wonderful indeed. For this day of victory came 
after two and a half months of continued and most bloody 
fighting. This new British Army of ours had not had an easy 
walk through after its time of preparation and training in the 
dirty ditches of the old trench warfare. 

The task that was set to our soldiers yesterday would have 
been formidable on the first day of a great offensive. Coming 
after two and a half months, it was startling in its boldness, 
and showed that our Generals had supreme confidence in the 
men, in their own powers of organization, and in the luck of 



254 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

battle that comes to those who have worked for it. The enemy 
believed that our offensive had petered out. There is much 
evidence for that. 

They did not believe it possible that an army of our size 
and strength could carry on the attack at the same fierce 
pace. They cherished the hope that our divisions were broken 
and spent, that our stores of ammunition were giving out, 
and that our men were overtired. 

They still had faith in their own gun-power, the defensive 
strength of a thousand guns against the British front, and it 
was a reasonable faith. They had been digging furiously on 
dark nights to strengthen the third line of defence the famous 
Flers line, which was, they thought, to be the boundary of our 
advancing tide, and though they were anxious, and were 
counting up frightful losses on the Somme, they did not expect 
this last disaster to them. 

Yesterday I saw their prisoners coming off the battlefields 
in droves, and to-day hundreds of them in the barbed-wire 
cages behind the lines. They were dazed men, filled with 
gloom, and tortured by a great bewilderment. 

It is your victory," said one of their officers, speaking to 
me in French. * It is our defeat. I cannot understand." 

" Germany is * kaput, said one of their non-commissioned 
officers. He meant that Germany is down- in the soup," 
as our soldiers would say. It was an exaggeration, for Germany 
has still a lot of fight left in her, but it was the belief of her 
beaten soldiers yesterday. 

Our men were exalted excited by the smell of victory, 
exaggerating also our own gains gloriously in the belief that 

the last great smash had been made, and that the end of 
i vis foul and filthy war is at hand." They " went over" at 
dawn yesterday filled with the spirit of victory, and it was 
half the battle won. 

2 

Many of them went over, too, in the greatest good-humour, 

laughing as they ran. Like children whose fancy has been 

inflamed by some new toy, they were enormously cheered by 

a new weapon which was to be tried with them for the first 

: ne- the heavily armoured car mentioned already in the 

ficial bulletin. 



THE COMING OF THE TANKS 255 

That description is a dull one compared with all the rich and 
rare qualities which belong to these extraordinary vehicles. 
The secret of them was kept for months jealously and nobly. 
It was only a few days ago that it was whispered to me. 

" Like prehistoric monsters. You know, the old Ichthyo 
saurus," said the officer. 

I told him he was pulling my leg. 

" But it s a fact, man ! 

He breathed hard, and laughed in a queer way at some 
enormous comicality. 

" They eat up houses and put the refuse under their bellies. 
Walk right over em ! 

I knew this man was a truthful and simple soul, and yet 
could not believe. 

" They knock down trees like match-sticks," he said, staring 
at me with shining eyes. : They go clean through a wood ! 

And anything else ? I asked, enjoying what I thought 
was a new sense of humour. 

" Everything else," he said earnestly. " They take ditches 
like kangaroos. They simply love shell-craters ! Laugh at 
em ! " 

It appeared, also, that they were proof against rifle-bullets, 
machine-gun bullets, bombs, shell-splinters. Just shrugged 
their shoulders and passed on. Nothing but a direct hit from 
a fair-sized shell could do them any harm. 

But what s the name of these mythical monsters ? I 
asked, not believing a word of it. 

He said " Hush ! " 

Other people said " Hush ! . . . Hush ! when the subject 
was alluded to in a remote way. And since then I have heard 
that one name for them is the " Hush-hush." But their real 
name is Tanks. 

For they are real, and I have seen them, and walked round 
them, and got inside their bodies, and looked at their mysterious 
organs, and watched their monstrous movements. 



I came across a herd of them in a field, and, like the country 
man who first saw a giraffe, said " Hell ! . . . I don t believe 
it." Then I sat down on the grass and laughed until the tears 



256 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

came into my eyes. (In war one has a funny sense of humour.) 
For they were monstrously comical, like toads of vast size 
emerging from the primeval slime in the twilight of the world s 
dawn. 

The skipper of one of them introduced me to them. 

" I felt awfully bucked," said the young officer (who is about 
five feet high), " when my beauty ate up her first house. But 
I was sorry for the house, which was quite a good one." 

" And how about trees ? I asked. 

" They simply love trees," he answered. 

When our soldiers first saw these strange creatures lolloping 
along the roads and over old battlefields, taking trenches on 
the way, they shouted and cheered wildly, and laughed for a 
day afterwards. And yesterday the troops got out of their 
trenches laughing and shouting and cheering again because 
the Tanks had gone on ahead, and were scaring the Germans 
dreadfully, while they moved over the enemy s trenches and 
poured out fire on every side. As I shall write later, these 
motor monsters had strange adventures and did very good 
work, justifying their amazing existence. 

4 

For several days before the great blow was to be made, and 
while there was heavy fighting in progress at most parts of the 
line the capture of Guillemont by English and Irish troops, 
the splendid rush of the Irish through Ginchy there was a 
steady forward movement and concentration of all the men 
and machinery to strike at the Flers line. 

Villages beyond the zone of fire where battalions had been 
resting and where there was the busy life of soldiers in their 
billeting areas suddenly became emptied of all this human 
interest. 

The men had passed on higher up the roads, and higher 
up wiiere there was a struggling tide of all the traffic of war 
with supply columns, mule-trains, guns, limber, ambulances, 
and troops from all parts of the Empire, surging, swirling, 
struggling slowly forward through narrow village streets, up 
long winding roads, across trampled and barren fields, through 
the ruins of villages destroyed a year or more ago, and out 
into the country of evil menace which is criss-crossed by old 



THE COMING OF THE TANKS 257 

trenches and pitted with old shell-craters and strewn with the 
refuse of battles two months back in history. 

Here a great army with all its material of war incredibly 
vast and crowded lay waiting for the hour when it should 
be hurled to the great hammer-stroke. 

They were masses of men who were there the night before 
the battle hidden in the darkness of the earth, not revealed 
even by the white moonlight except in huddled crowds and 
camps, but as I passed them again a few hours before the 
dawn I thought of the individual and not of the mass, all the 
separate hopes and pulse-beats of these men who were going 
to do a bii? thing if luck should favour us. 

o o 

And out of the darkness I thought I heard the sound of 
laughter rising at the thought of the monstrous " Hush-hush." 
Before the dawn the moon was high and clear in a skv that had 

d. / 

hardly any clouds. It shone down upon the fields and roads 
so that the plaster walls of French cottages were very white 
under the black roofs, and rows of tents were like little hillocks 
of snow in the harvest-fields. 

As I looked up a shooting star flashed across the sky, and I 
thought of the old legend of a passing life, and wondered why 
to-night all the stars were not falling. 

Presently dawn came, and some low-lying clouds were 
touched with a warm glow which deepened and spread until 
they were all crimson. It was a red dawn. 

The promise of victory like the sun of Austerlitz," said an 
officer. 

Before six o clock, summer time, all our guns were firing 
steadily, and all the sky, very pale and shimmering in the 
first twilight of the day, was filled with the flashes of guns and 
shell-bursts. Heavy howitzers were eating up shells. 



I went to the right of the line, hoping to see the infantry 
attack to the left of Leuze Wood, as I had watched the battle 
here a week or two ago, and here one of the motor monsters 
was coming across the ground. But as the sun rose higher it 
drew the moisture out of all these shell-craters and trenches, 
and a dense white mist blotted out the ridge for an hour or 
more. French troops who join our line here came across 



258 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

country. British soldiers were moving forward on the left, 
silently, with the mist about them. 

Overhead shells went rushing heavy shells that travelled 
with the noise of trains. Forward batteries were firing rapidly 
and increasingly, and then sharp staccato knocking was clear 
above the heavy crashes of giant " crumps," compared by a 
whimsical mind in this war with " an immortal plumber laying 
down his tools." 

Machine-gun fire rapped out in fierce spasms, and the German 
Archies were throwing up shells which burst all about the 
planes of our airmen, who came like a flock of birds over the 
battlefields, flying low above the mists. 

They did wonderful things yesterday, those British air- 
pilots, risking their lives audaciously in single combats with 
hostile airmen, in encounters against great odds, in bombing 
enemy headquarters and railway stations and kite-balloons 
and troops, and registering or observing all day long for our 
artillery. They were out to destroy the enemy s last means 
of observation, and they began the success of the battle by 
gaining the absolute mastery of the air. 

Thirteen German aeroplanes (since reported by Sir Douglas 
Haig to be fifteen) were brought down, and their flying men 
dared not come across our lines to risk more losses. 

On our side it was fighting " all in." There was nothing 
of a killing character within our reach and knowledge which 
we did not use, and we turned the enemy s own worst weapons 
against himself. 

Every material of war made by the home workers in our 
factories by months of toil was called in. 

The men went in with the resolve to break through the 
enemy s third line without counting the cost, to smash down 
any opposition they might meet, and to go forward and far 
until they could get the enemy on the run. 

A body of Scots went up to the battle-lines to the tune of 
1 Stop your tickling, Jock," but there was a grim meaning 
in the music, and it was no love-song. 

English soldiers had been practising bayonet exercise harder 
than usual, and with a personal interest beyond the discipline. 
" It s time to finish old Fritz was the shout of one soldier 
to another. We want to go home for Christmas ! 

The men fought yesterday fiercely and ruthlessly. They 



THE COMING OF THE TANKS 259 

want to get on to the heels of the enemy, and there were 
moments yesterday when they saw many pairs of heels. 



The area of our attack extended on the left from the ground 
north of Pozieres to the line recently won to the north of 
Ginchy on the right, and its purpose was, as I have said, to 
break through the third German line below Courcelette, Martin- 
puich, and Lesbceufs, a distance of about six miles. Time of 
attack was shortly after six o clock yesterday morning, and 
along all the line the troops were awaiting the moment to rise, 
after our artillery had completed its first barrage. 

On the left in front of Courcelette there was hard and un 
expected fighting. As we now know the enemy had prepared 
an attack against us, and had massed troops in considerable 
force in his front and reserve lines. He sent out advanced 
patrols and bombing parties, while our men were waiting to 
go over, and immediately there was a fierce encounter. 

One young brown-eyed fellow told me his own experience, 
and it was like many others. 

" The sergeant in my bay," he said, " suddenly called out that 
he had seen a signal light go up from another point of the trenches 
giving a warning of attack. We shall have the whole lot on 
us, he shouted. c Look out for yourselves, lads. 

The enemy came over in a rush. Many fell before the rifle- 
fire of our men, but others managed to jump into portions of 
trench, and bombed their way up several of the bays. 

Machine-guns were turned on to them, and there were not 
many left alive. But before the fight had ended a new one 
began, for our jumping-off time had come, and the assaulting 
troops rose as one man, and taking no notice of what had 
happened swept across their own trenches and the Germans 
who were in them, and went straight across country towards 
Courcelette. 

They came up immediately against difficult ground and 
fierce machine-gun fire. South-east of Courcelette, beyond the 
shell-craters and bits of broken trench which the men had 
carried easily enough, sweeping the Germans down before 
them, stood the ruins of a sugar factory, which the enemy had 
made into a redoubt, with machine-gun emplacements. 



260 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

It was one of those deadly places which have cost so many 
lives among our men in other parts of the battle-ground now 
in our hands. 



But we had a new engine of war to destroy the place. Over 
our own trenches in the twilight of the dawn one of those 
motor-monsters had lurched up, and now it came crawling 
forward to the rescue, cheered by the assaulting troops, who 
called out words of encouragement to it and laughed, so that 
some men were laughing even \vhen bullets caught them in 
the throat. 

" Creme de Menthe " was the name of this particular creature, 
and it waddled forward right over the old German trenches, 
and went forward very steadily towards the sugar factory. 

There was a second of silence from the enemy there. Then, 
suddenly, their machine-gun fire burst out in nervous spasms 
and splashed the sides of Creme de Menthe." 

But the Tank did not mind. The bullets fell from its sides, 
harmlessly. It advanced upon a broken wall, leaned up 
against it heavily until it fell with a crash of bricks, and then 
rose on to the bricks and passed over them, and walked straight 
into the midst of the fact or v ruins. 

/ 

From its sides came flashes of fire and a hose of bullets, and 
then it trampled around over machine emplacements, " having 
a grand time," as one of the men said with enthusiasm. 

It crushed the machine-guns under its heavy ribs, and killed 
machine-gun teams with a deadly fire. The infantry followed 
in and took the place after this good help, and then advanced 
again round the flanks of the monster. 

In spite of the Tank, which did such grand work, the assault 
on Courcelette was hard and costly. Again and again the men 
came under machine-gun fire and rifle-fire, for the Germans 
had dug new trenches, called the Fabeckgraben and Zollern- 
graben, which had not been wiped out by our artillery, and 
they fought with great courage and desperation. 

Seventy men who advanced first on a part of these lines 
were swept down. Seventy others who went forward to fill 
their places fell also to a man. But their comrades were not 
disheartened, and at last carried the position in a great wave 
of assault. 



THE COMING OF THE TANKS 261 

Then they went on to the village. It was like all these 
villages in German hands, tunnelled with a nest of dug-outs, 
and a stronghold hard to take. The British troops entered 
it from the eastern side, fought yard by yard, stubbornly 
resolved to have it. 

The Tank came along and ploughed about, searching for 
German machine-guns, thrusting over bits of wall, nosing here 
and there, and sitting on heaps of ruin while it fired down the 
streets. By 6.30 last evening the village was taken. 

The British took 400 prisoners, and when they were brought 
down to Pozieres last night they passed old " Creme de Menthe," 
who was going home, and held up their hands crying, " Gott 
in Himmel ! and asked how they could fight against such 
monstrous things. 

The taking of Courcelette was a great achievement skilfully 
planned and carried out with stern and high courage by splendid 
men, and one monster. 

8 

On the right of these troops there was a great assault upon 
Martinpuich and High Wood. Here, also, in High Wood, the 
Germans had been ready for an attack, and, being forestalled 
in that, they made a strong counter-attack which for a time 
had some success, driving our men back to the southern edge 
of the wood. 

Our troops had been heavily shelled beforehand, and they 
found the enemy in much stronger force than they had expected 
in that wood of bitter memory. But these men of ours I 
had met many of them before, a year ago fought very gamely. 

Some among them were utterly without experience of the 
Somme kind of fighting and wilted a little before its ferocity 
of fire, but the older men, the " veterans " of a year s service 
or more, cheered them up, kept them steady, and led them 
on. 

They counter-attacked the counter-attack and regained their 
old line, and then to their great joy saw the Tanks advancing 
through High Wood and on each side of it. 

It was like a fairy tale ! " said a Cockney boy. " I can t 
help laughing every time I think of it." 

He laughed then, though he had a broken arm and was 
covered in blood. 



262 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 



tc 



They broke down trees as if they were match-sticks, 
and went over barricades like elephants. The Boches were 
thoroughly scared. They came running out of shell-holes and 
trenches, shouting like mad things. 

" Some of them attacked the Tanks and tried to bomb them, 
but it wasn t a bit of good. O Crikey, it was a rare treat to 
see ! The biggest joke that ever was ! They just stamped 
down the German dug-out as one might a whops nest." 

On the left of High Wood was a very fine body of troops 
who had no trenches to lie in, but just lay out in shell-craters 
under a constant fire of " whizz-bangs," that is to say, field- 
guns firing at short range, which was extremely hard to endure. 

" It was cruel," said one of these men, " but we went forward 
all right when the time came, over the bodies of comrades who 
were lying in pools of blood, and afterwards the enemy had 
to pay." 

9 

They were co-operating with some troops on their left, who 
went straight for Martinpuich, that village into which I stared 
a week or two ago after a long walk to our front line on the 
crest of the ridge beyond Bazentin, looking at the Promised 
Land. 

These men were superb and went across No Man s Land 
for nearly 1000 yards in six minutes, racing. They made 
short work with the Germans who tried to snipe them from the 
shell-craters, and only came to a check on the outskirts of 
Martinpuich, where they were received with a blast of machine- 
gun fire. 

It was then the turn of the Tanks. 

Before the dawn two of them had come up out of the dark 
ness and lumbered over our front-line trenches, looking towards 
the enemy as though hungry for breakfast. Afterwards they 
came across No Man s Land like enormous toads with pains 
in their stomachs, and nosed at Martinpuich before testing the 
strength of its broken barns and bricks. 

The men cheered them wildly, waving their helmets and 
dancing round them. One company needed cheering up, for 
they had lost two of their officers the night before in a patrol 
adventure, and it was the sergeants who led them over. 

Twenty minutes afterwards the first waves were inside the 



THE COMING OF THE TANKS 263 

first trench of Martinpuich and in advance of them waddled a 
monster. 

The men were held up for some time by the same machine- 
gun fire which has killed so many of our men, but the monsters 
went on alone, and had astounding adventures. 

They went straight through the shells of broken barns and 
houses, straddled on top of German dug-outs, and fired enfilad 
ing shots down German trenches. 

From one dug-out came a German colonel with a white, 
frightened face, who held his hands very high in front of the 
Tank, shouting, " Kamerad ! Kamerad ! 

1 Well, come inside then," said a voice in the body of the 
beast, and a human hand came forth from a hole opening 
suddenly and grabbed the German officer. 

For the rest of the day the Tank led that unfortunate man 
about on the strangest journey the world has ever seen. 

Another Tank was confronted with one hundred Germans, 
who shouted Mercy ! Mercy ! and at the head of this 
procession led them back as prisoners to our lines. Yet another 
Tank went off to the right of Martinpuich, and was so fresh and 
high-spirited that it went far into the enemy s lines, as though 
on the w r ay to Berlin. 

The men were not so fortunate as the monsters, not being 

O 

proof against machine-gun bullets. The enemy concentrated 
a very heavy fire upon them, and many fell. One boy 
a fine, stout-hearted lad who had a keen and spirited look 
in spite of dreadful experience told me a tale that Edgar 
Allan Poe might have written if he had lived to see things 
worse than anything in his morbid imaginings one of our 
common tales. 

A German " crump " killed a lance-corporal by his side and 
buried them both completely. 

It was just my steel hat that kept the earth from my face," 
said the boy, " and gave me a little handful of air to breathe. 
It was in a wee trench we had dug to get some cover. But 
now I was covered too much. 

It seemed like an hour I was there, but perhaps no mero 
than half that time. I tried to shout, but could not. A man 
walked over my head, but did not know I was there. 

Presently they saw the lance-corporal s leg sticking out, 
and started to pull him. I got my hand out, and waggled it, 



264 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

and they started digging for me. It was just time. The veins 
were starting out of my head, and I was nearly gone." 

It was late in the evening before the w r hole of Martinpuich 
was taken after fierce fighting, and it was the crowning triumph 
of a successful day. 

10 

The troops on the left side of the line did amazingly well, 
and were handled well. They took forty German officers and 
1430 other ranks. Against them was the 2nd Bavarian Corps, 
whom many of our men had met before at Kemmel and the 
Hohenzollern and Ypres, glad now to pay off old scores against 
them. 

On the right of the troops at Martinpuich the attack was 
swinging up to Flers across a wide stretch of difficult and 
perilous ground strongly defended. 

The enemy was flinging over storms of shrapnel and high 
explosives, and many of our men fell, but the wounded shouted 
on the others, if they were not too badly hit, and the others 
went forward grimly and steadily. 

These soldiers of ours were superb in courage and stoic 
endurance, and pressed forward steadily in broken waves. 
The first news of success came through from an airman s wire 
less, which said : 

4 A Tank is walking up the High Street of Flers with the 
British Army cheering behind." 

It was an actual fact. One of the motor-monsters was there, 
enjoying itself thoroughly, and keeping down the heads of the 
enemv. 

w 

It hung out a big piece of paper, on w r hich were the words : 
" GREAT HUN DEFEAT. SPECIAL ! " 

The aeroplane flew low over its carcass, machine-gunning 
the scared Germans, who fled before the monstrous apparition. 
Later in the day it seemed to have been in need of a rest before 
coming home, and two humans got out of its inside and walked 
back to our lines. 

But, by that time, Flers and many prisoners were in our 
hands, and our troops had gone beyond to farther fields. 



THE COMING OF THE TANKS 265 

11 

On the extreme right of our line of attack the fighting was 
hardest and fiercest of all, and is still very confused and un 
certain to the north of Ginchv and in the direction of Guede- 

/ 

court. In this direction the enemy fought with fine courage. 
Machine-gun fire swept our men from the direction of Morval 
and Combles, and the shell-fire was frightful in its violence. 

Nevertheless, the first rush forward was magnificent on the 
part of the troops. They were the Guards. 

" Lots of our men dropped/ said one of them, but we 
didn t look round or bother about anything or see anything 
of what was going on around us. We had orders to push on, 
and we pushed." 

The enemy resisted stoutly along his first line. They kept 
up a severe rifle-fire and machine-gun fire until our men were 
right on them, and then fought bayonet to bayonet. 

Large numbers of them were killed, and the troops swept 
through to the second line of trenches and took that. 

A third wave passed through them to the third German 
trench, but before they reached this goal the German soldiers 
came out with their hands up and surrendered. Our men 
went on and on. 

; The Boches ran like rabbits before us," said several of 
them. They went too far, these soldiers, in their eagerness. 
One of the colonels stood up on a hillock blowing a hunting- 
horn to fetch them back, but they did not hear, and went on 
still farther, unsupported by troops on their right. 

The officers waved on the men with their revolvers, and 
many fell leading their companies. It was one of the greatest 
charges in history, but drove out too far into the " blue 
without sufficient co-operation, with troops held up lower down 
by strong points and machine-guns. What the situation is 
there to-night I do not yet know, except that our men were 
fighting on the outskirts of Guedecourt. 

12 

I have no time to tell of all the great drama I have seen 
the long trails of the walking wounded, marvellously brave, 
wonderfully full of spirits, the long columns of German prisoners 



266 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

tramping back from the battlefields, dejected and miserable, 
and other great pictures of war not yet to be written. 

The German prisoners were utterly dismayed bewildered 
beyond words. Some of the officers tried to shrug it off as 
a stroke of luck," but others admitted that we had surprised 
them bv a great and brilliant stroke. 

> C 1 

One of them with whom I spoke was a young artillery officer 
who had fought against us at Ypres in 1914, and afterwards 
against the Russians. 

" The Somme is the worst of all for us," he said. " It is 
fearful." 

Several German officers were appalling figures, in masks of 
horror, their faces as black as negroes. They had been in a 
dug-out blown up by one of our bombs, and it was full of Very 
lights, which flamed about them and burnt them black. 

It was a black day for Germany, and the hardest blow that 
has been struck at her heart and pride by British troops. For 
us the glory of the day is in the splendour of our men. 



XXX 

FIGHTING BEYOND FLERS 

i 

SEPTEMBER 17 

THE enemy has made desperate attempts to organize counter 
attacks to thrust back our lines from the ground gained by us 
since Friday morning. They have failed. We hold all the 
ground captured in the general assault, and yesterday and to-day 
our troops have gone farther forward, winning new and im 
portant positions. 

Mouquet Farm, for which the Australians fought with a 
most stubborn courage, entering the place several times with 
their patrols, was taken last night by a swift and successful 
assault. Left of that, below Thiepval, and to the east of that 
stronghold, attacks beginning last Thursday on a fortified 
position known as the " Wunderwerk " (a curious and villainous 
system of trenches and dug-outs) have been a brilliant success, 
and have extended our gain by a mile of frontage along the 
Danube Trench. 

We have a strong flank line securing Courcelette and have 
pushed out beyond Martinpuich towards Eaucourt-l Abbaye, 
and beyond Flers towards Geudecourt. The day has not been 
so sensational as Friday, but solid progress has been made, 
and the enemy is kept nervous. 

He has been hurrying up reserves from Le Sars and Mirau- 
mont and places far back behind his lines. They were reported 
to be moving up yesterday by motor transport, and our long- 
range guns " dealt with them," to use the grim phrase of one 
of our artillery officers. 

The enemy s losses are certainly very frightful. His dead lie 
solid in certain parts of the battle-front. There are fields of 
horror here round High Wood and above Delville Wood, and 



268 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

not all the shells which I saw slashing those rows of tree-stumps 
to-day will give the enemy back those men who are being buried 
by his high explosives. 

The whole of the great stretch of battlefield along the high 
ridge to Delville Wood and Ginchy is one great graveyard, 
and looking across it to-day, as I stood among shell-craters and 
old German trenches and the litter of a wide destruction, this 
great desolate horror was an evil panorama which chilled one s 
spirit. 

The enemy was flinging over heavy " crumps and black 
shrapnel, but his shooting seemed to me wild and without definite 
targets. The reason of it was clear. In taking the high ridge 
we have the observation which was once his, and it is our artillery 
which now has the supreme advantage. 



The bombardment of September 15 w r as the most remarkable 
achievement ever done by British artillery, and not surpassed, 
I should say, in any army. Every detail of it was planned 
beforehand. 

Every " heavy " had its special objective and its own time 
table, working exactly with the infantry, concentrating upon the 
enemy s trenches and strong points, barraging his lines of 
communication, following the tracks of those motor monsters 
whose amazing adventures I described in my last dispatch, 
and co-operating with the air service to reach out to distant 
targets. 

The field-batteries were marvellously audacious in taking up 
new positions, and the F.O.O. s (the forward observing officers) 
\vere gallant in getting up to the high ground as soon as our 
infantry had taken it and registering their batteries from these 
new view-points. 

I heard to-day the whole artillery scheme of one corps and 
the scientific precision with which the enemy s defences were 
destroyed made me shiver as in the presence of a high intelligence 
distributing death on a great scale, by means of minute calcula 
tions of time and space, which, indeed, is exactly the truth. 

The enemy s artillery is still very strong, and it would be 
nonsense to depreciate his prodigious gun-power. But some 
at least of his batteries are in a perilous position now that we 



FIGHTING BEYOND FLERS 269 

are able to observe them, and from my own observation of his 
shell-fire to-day it seems to me that he is shifting them farther 
back. 

He had not shifted them when our attack began on Friday 
morning last (although our counter-battery work was making 
it extremely hot for him), and it is remarkable that within 
two minutes of our attack he concentrated a particularly fierce 
fire on High Wood, where our men were advancing. 

"It is possible that his " sausage balloons had observed 
the approach of the Tanks, and had seen them behind our 
trenches, like ichthyosauri waiting for their morning meal. 
But, as I have previously hinted, there is sound evidence for 
the belief that he had prepared a great counter-attack along 
a wide front at the very time when our own was launched. 

This accounts for the great mass of men killed in his lines 
and for the large number of prisoners who fell into our hands. 



The capture of Mouquet Farm last night was made by a 
dash across a short strip of No Man s Land. The garrison 
there recreated into a tunnelled dug-out, which had at least 
two entrances, and showed no willingness to surrender, main 
taining rifle-fire from loopholes after they were surrounded. 

The southern entrance to this underground stronghold was 
blown in by high explosives, while men kept guard of the other 
entry, waiting for any Germans who might come up to sur 
render. 

This capture of Mouquet Farm (a stick or two above a heap 
of broken brickwork, as I saw it some weeks ago) has made the 
position of Thiepval still more closely gripped the garrison 
there holds out stubbornly in its tunnelled corridors and 
helped forward the assault upon the Danube Trench launched 
with absolute success. 

This carried further the operation begun last Thursday, 
when our troops made one of those brilliant assaults upon the 
intricate system of earthworks to the south of Thiepval, which 
I watched a few weeks ago, when the Wiltshires and the 
Gloucesters did so well. 

On the left, running southwards down the ridge, is an 
extraordinary V-shaped wedge with an open end. This 



270 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

position was not attacked, but our men drove straight up to 
the left of it, upon the " Wonder-work," which was one of 
those nests of dug-outs upon which the Germans lavished all 
their skill in digging and pommelling and strengthening and 
furnishing in what soldiers call " the days of peace -the old 
days of ordinary trench- warfare. 

It was no longer a Wonder-work when our men rushed 
upon it. A whirlwind bombardment, which had preceded 
them, and heavy shell-fire for weeks past had broken the 
concrete emplacements and flung up the earth with deep shell- 
pits, so that it was merely a part of the general chaos existing 
on these battlefields. 

Five German officers and 116 men were still alive there, and 
surrendered instantly. " You were on us like the wind," said 
one of these officers afterwards. We had no time to defend 
ourselves." Other men fled from neighbouring shell-craters, 
but ran straight into our curtain-fire and fell. 

Our lads chased some of them as they ran, but halted this 
side of our bursting shells, and came back " fearfully bucked," 
to use their own phrase, because they had put the enemy to 
flight and mastered him so utterly. 



Yesterday counter-attacks were attempted by the 5th 
Reserve Regiment of Guards, but they were not carried through 
with resolution. The first wave of men came a hundred yards 
or so towards our men, then hesitated, flung their bombs, which 
fell ludicrously short, and ran back. 

On the left they were bolder and brave, and a very long 
and stubborn fight took place with bombs, ending in the 
complete victory of our men after they had flung 1500 hand- 
grenades. 

North-east of Flers other counter-attacks were attempted 
yesterday, but our troops who were advancing towards Guede- 
court went right through them and over them with irresistible 
spirit, checked only by concealed machine-guns in a harvest- 
field on their wing. 

In Bouleaux Wood, to the north of Leuze Wood, there has 
been fierce hand-to-hand fighting, and in the centre of it is 
an unfortunate Tank one of the few casualties among the 



FIGHTING BEYOND FLERS 271 

armoured monsters which lies with its nose in the earth, 
forming a barricade between the opposing bombers. 

The general situation along our attacking front leaves the 
initiative in our hands and reveals the temporary demoralization 
of the enemy s troops and command. 

One cannot say more than that. The enemy has had a 
hard blow, but he has reserves of strength which are controlled 
bv cool brains behind his lines. 

/ 

There is still much fighting to be done before Germany s 
weakness reaches the breaking-point, but the losses we have 
inflicted upon her during the last three days are so terrible that 
she cannot hide her wounds. 



XXXI 

MONSTERS AND MEN 

i 

SEPTEMBER 18 

IN all the accounts of the fighting since Friday the story of the 
Tanks those weird and wonderful armoured monsters runs 
like a humorous thread. Full of humour and fantasy, because 

> " 

of their shape and qualities, they are also filled with very 
gallant men, to whom great honour is due. The skippers 
and crews of these land-ships, as they are called, had to go 
out alone in many cases in advance of the infantry and upon 
hazardous chances, w r hich each one of them knew were weighted 
with the risk, almost the certainty for it was a new, untried 
experiment of death. They had astounding adventures and 
a large measure of success, and it was due, not to any kind of 
luck, but to great skill and great courage. 

I have already told the first stories of their actions. To-day 
I obtained a full narrative of their achievements, and it is one 
of the most dramatic and gallant records in the history of this 
war. 

Two of them who set out to attack the line from Combles to 
Morval made a rendezvous at Wedge Wood, and took up their 
position at night. One of them set off and ambled slowly 
until it came within 400 yards north-west of Combles, far in 
advance of the infantry. Here it sat for five hours, fighting 
the enemy alone, and shooting down German bombing parties 
until it was severely damaged. 

The other Tank in the neighbourhood of Bouleaux Wood 
reached the enemy s trenches near Morval, and, finding that it 
had left the infantry behind, went back to inquire for them. 
They were held up by German bombers in a trench, so the Tank 
came to the rescue, bucked over the trench, and crushed the 



MONSTERS AND MEN 273 

bombers into the earth before backing into a deep shell-crater 
and toppling over. Here for an hour and a half it formed a 
barricade between British and German bombers, and the crew 
got out and tried to hoist it out of the shell-hole under heavy 
fire. One of the men picked up a live bomb flung by the enemy, 
and tried to hurl it to a safe distance, away from his comrades, 
but was blown to bits. Finally the skipper," with his 
surviving men, came back to our lines, leaving the derelict 
monster still used as a barricade. 

North of Ginchy telegraph one of the Tanks attacked a 
machine-gun emplacement and killed many of the men. East 
of Delville Wood another advanced upon a German trench 
called Laager Lane, and so frightened the enemy that about a 
hundred of them came out under white flags and surrendered 
to it, following the monster back to our lines. 

The attack on Hop Alley, by Delville Wood, was led by a 
Tank which attacked a number of bombers and put them to 
flight, so that the trench was cleared for the infantry. After 
wards, under a heavy German barrage, it could advance no 
farther, and the skipper and his crew, after doing this fine 
work, came out of their monster and, with splendid heroism, 
helped our wounded for three hours. 

The officer who did what the soldiers call the great " stunt 
in Flers told me his story to-day, and I found him to be as modest 
a fellow as any naval officer on a light cruiser, and of the same 
fine type. He went into Flers before the infantry and followed 
by them, cheering in high spirits, and knocked out a machine-gun 
which began to play on him. The town was not much damaged 
by shell-fire, so that the Tank could walk about real streets, 
and the garrison, which was hiding about in dug-outs, surren 
dered in small, scared groups. Then the other Tanks came 
into Flers, and together they lolloped around the town in a 
free and easy manner before going farther afield. 

The Tank which went through High W T ood did great execution 
over the German trenches, and another wandered around shell- 
craters " killing German machine-guns. The casualties were 
slight considering the great success of the experiment, and on 
all sides among our soldiers there is nothing but praise of the 
gallant men who led them. They are still going strong. 

To-day one of the monsters it was old " Cordon Rouge " 
came waddling over shell-craters, climbing over broken trenches, 

s 



274 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

and fetched up outside the door of a brigadier s dug-out. From 
the inside of the beast came a very cool and grave young man, 
who saluted in a naval way, and said, " I await your orders, 
sir, for going into action." 

And I m very glad you didn t bring your monster down 
into my dug-out," said the brigadier. " But it s very kind of 
you to call, and no doubt we shall want you shortly." 



2 

I have been to-day, and for four days, among the men who 
have broken the Flers line and given the enemy the hardest 
blows he has ever suffered on this front. Sir Douglas Haig 
has named them this afternoon in his great bulletin, paying a 
tribute to their valour in a broad, general way, without letting 
the enemy know too much about the battalions facing him. 
They were all splendid. For the big battle on Friday was a 
hard one, and not a " walk-over," so that our men were put to 
the supreme test of courage by most damnable shell-fire and 
fierce concentrated barrages by which the enemy s gunners at 
long ranges endeavoured to support their lost and suffering 
infantry. 

What touched me most, perhaps, though Heaven knows 
the experiences of all our soldiers made one awe-struck, was the 
way in which our newest and youngest men went through with 
their business. There were some of them Derby recruits, who 
had never yet seen what shell-fire means in the Somme battles. 
Older men among them, who knew, were sorry for them, 
wondered how they would " stick it," and said, with a view to 
encouragement, Cheer up, you ll soon be dead." They did 
not hang back, these new fellows. The rawest recruits among 
them strained forward with the rest, floundered over the shell- 
holes like the others, and leapt into the German trenches, like 
men of old fighting spirit. 

3 

The London men did gloriously and had one of the hardest 
points of the attack, and came under some of the heaviest 
storms of fire. These young Civil servants and men of the 
London suburbs, who used to go to City offices by early morning 
trains do you remember how they spoke once of " London 



MONSTERS AND MEN 275 

pride ? -fought sternly and endured with stoicism, and had 
a laugh left in them after the battle when they forgot the 
frightfulness of it all and remembered the fantastic adventures 

o 

of the Tanks which waddled into the German lines, knocking 
down tree-stumps, climbing over heaps of ruin, and " putting 
the wind up " in the enemy s ranks. ; It was a fair treat ! 
said one of them. " Every time I think of it I can t help 
laughing ! And yet it was no joke, after all, but very grim 
and deadly work. 

There was hardly a county of England which did not have 
its sons in this battle, and all those English regiments of the 
north and the south were so good, so fine, so full of spirit, that 
it made one wonder at the stock that has bred these men, giving 
to them out of the strain of England some quality of blood 
that has withstood all the weakening influences of factory life 
and city life. And yet, having written that, I see it is foolishness. 
Eor men of all the Empire were here, and it was the spirit of 
the whole race that rose at dawn out of the trenches and shell- 
craters and went forward into the furnace-fires. 



4 

About the Scottish troops I can say no more than I have 
said a hundred times, loving all those Lowlanders and High 
landers " this side idolatry." 

I was with some of their officers to-day again, and heard 
stories of their men who took one of the German strongholds 
after a serpentine plan of attack difficult to perform, because in 
attacking men will go straight, and coming under shell-fire 
which would have broken the spirit of weaker men. But they 
went on in waves over the German trenches and into the village 
where some hundreds of men surrendered to them, coining up 
out of the dug-outs as soon as the Scots were about their hiding- 
places. 

The German soldiers had been thoroughly frightened by the 
Tank, which had come nosing in before the infantry, and many 
of them huddled piteously under its flanks in order to escape 
from its rapid fire. Sixty men came out of one dug-out and 
surrendered in this way. ^ Afterwards the Scots pushed on 
beyond the stronghold and established posts and dug cover 
for themselves against the enemy s gun-fire, which threw an 



276 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

enormous number of high explosives into their old place of 
defence, which was stacked with timber for dug-outs and other 
stores of war material. 



The Canadians gained great glory on Friday and Saturday. 
After their long and hard experiences in the salient they came 
down to the Somme battlefield determined to " get their own 
back," and do great adventures. Their attack was finely 
organized, and when all the difficulties are known will be put 
down to their credit as a really great military achievement. 
Among them is a body of French Canadians, dark-eyed fellows 
whom it is strange to meet about the villages of France speaking 
volubly with the peasants in their own tongue, a little old- 
fashioned, as it was once spoken in the days of Louis XIV, 
when Canada was one of the brightest rays in the glory of the 
Sun-King. These fellows, close in likeness to the provincial 
Frenchman, though perhaps more dour and reserved, went 
away like wolves a-hunting, and raced forward to a German 
stronghold which they had asked leave to take. 

They were swept by machine-gun fire and checked by a 
stubborn defence on the part of the enemy, but with the help 
of the two Tanks, called " Creme de Menthe and " Cordon 
Rouge," who sat on the enemy s machine-gun emplacements 
and knocked out his machine-gun crews, the French Canadians 
carried the stronghold and captured hundreds of prisoners. 

Later I hope to write the full story of the Canadian victory 
which will thrill through all the towns and fields of the great 
Dominion like an heroic song, for these men from overseas 
were very careless of death so that they might win. 



ti 

Then there were the New-Zealanders, those clean-cut, hand 
some fellows in the felt hats with a bit of red ribbon round 
the brim, which I looked for down village streets and in French 
harvest-fields before they went into battle. Australia has set 
a great example to them, being first in the fighting round 
Pozieres, where they, fought as wonderfully as in the Dardanelles. 
They were not less gallant in the great charge they made at 
dawn on Friday, going forward very far to a distant place 



MONSTERS AND MEN 277 

across No Man s Land, and across German trenches, under 
heavy fire, and out " into the blue in pursuit of retreating 



men. 



Sir Douglas Haig mentions last of all the Guards, but not 
because they were least in valour. They fought as the Guards 
always fight, with superb discipline, and with a tradition that 
is sacred to them. I saw them before they went into battle, 
and had a meal in the mess of the Irish Guards, and saw them 
marching up to take their line in the battlefields. 

They are not the old Guards who fought at Ypres and in 
many bloody battles when we were hard pressed, and after 
wards at Loos, when they had some fearful hours. Many of 
those brave men lie under the soil of France, and new men 
have taken their place. But the tradition stays, and the 
physical standard of the men has not been lowered by a hair s- 
breadth, and their discipline is still upon the same high and 
hard level. Every one knew they would put up a great fight, 
and they did. 

They had a very difficult part of the line, and had to pass 
machine-guns which swept upon their ranks in enfilade fire, 
and had to advance over ground covered by whirlwind fire 
of high explosives. But they gained their way forward in a 
series of charges which went straight through three lines of 
German trenches, and captured large numbers of prisoners 
after heavy fighting, and held on to their ground against strong 
counter-attacks. The tradition of the Guards has been upheld, 
and a new tradition has been given to them. 

I must put into a line some late important news of the day, 
which is the great casualties inflicted upon the enemy in the 
neighbourhood of Guedecourt. A body of the enemy s Infantry 
was observed to be retreating through the mist, and they were 
caught by some of our advanced patrols, who cut them to pieces 
with machine-gun fire. Elsewhere the enemy is surrendering in 
small batches, unable to stand the fearful slaughter inflicted upon 
them by our guns. 

o 

SEPTEMBER 19 

Some of the most noble fighting qualities in the great .ittle 
of Friday last were shown by the troops who were re onsible 



278 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

for the centre of the attack directed against Flers and the 
country immediately to the right of that village. Those 
who were given the task of assaulting Flers itself were mostly 
recruited from the London area. 

They had not seen much fighting before going into the great 
fire of the Somme battles. Their General, who had raised and 
trained them, was sure of them, and had taught each man 
the task expected of him on this great day, so that whatever 
might befall their officers, the men should not be mere sheep 
without a sense of guidance or direction. 

When they formed up in line to the north of Delville Wood 
(with awkward bits of German trench thrust down upon their 
right flank), they had three lines in front of them over a distance 
of about 2500 yards barring their way to Flers. It was a long 
way and a hard way to go, but they leapt forward in solid 
waves of keen and eager men following a short and violent 
barrage from our heavy guns. 

In a few minutes from the start the first two waves dropped 
into the German switch-line running diagonally from the real 
Flers line. They found it choked with German dead, killed 
by our gun-fire, and among them only a poor remnant of living 
men. The first two waves stayed in the trench to hold it. 
The others swept on, smashed through the Flers line, and 
forged their way over shell-craters under machine-gun and 
shrapnel fire, to the outskirts of Flers, which they reached 
between nine and ten in the morning. 

Some London men were held up by barbed wire protecting 
a hidden trench which had not been previously observed, 
and a call was made for one of the Tanks which had come 
rolling up behind. It crawled forward, walking over the 
shell-craters, and smashed the whole length of barbed wire 
in front, firing rapidly upon the enemy s bombers in the 
trench and putting them out of action. This enabled the 
whole line to advance into Flers village at the tail of another 
Tank now famous for its adventures in Flers, which I have 
already narrated. 

The victorious troops found but little opposition in the 
village. Curiously enough, it was not strongly defended or 
fortified. There were few of the tunnels and dug-outs which 
make many of these places hard to capture, and the enemy 
was utterly demoralized by the motor monster which appeared 



MONSTERS AND MEN 279 

as a bad dream before them. The enemy flung a heavy barrage, 
but our men had few casualties. 



9 

An attempt was made to reach Geudecourt, and, as I have 
already told, one of our Tanks reached the outskirts of that 
new objective. The infantry attack failed owing to massed 
machine-gun fire, and the men fell back to a new line of trenches 
hastily dug by the enemy before their defeat, which now gave 
us useful cover. This was 2700 yards from the starting-point 
at dawn, and was almost a record as a continuous advance. 

The enemy rallied and made two counter-attacks, one at 
three o clock in the afternoon, the other between four and five. 
They were tragic attempts. Some of our machine-gunners 
lay in waiting for them and mowed down these rows of men 
as they came bravely forward. It was such a sight as I watched 
at Falfemont Farm when solid bars of tall men crumbled and 
fell before a scythe of bullets. 

At 6.30 on <the following evening our troops made another 
attempt to reach Geudecourt in co-operation with the men on 
their right, but they were unable to get the whole distance in 
spite of a most heroic assault after two days of heavy fighting. 

The force attacking on the right of Flers on Friday morning 
had similar experiences and more difficulties. They are men 
who know all there is to know about the Ypres salient, where I 
met them first nearly a year ago. They are men who have old 
scores to wipe ofi against the enemy in the way of poison-gas 
and flame- jets, and they went very fiercely into the battle. 

To start with, they had to clear out a place known as Mystery 
Corner, to the right of Delville Wood, where they captured 
fifty-one prisoners, and afterwards a trench a little to the 
north of that, thrust down as a wedge between their left flank 
and the right of the troops who had started out for Flers. 

This second strong point was wiped out by the Tanks, which 
came and sat down on it, and by a small body of North-country 
men working with the Tanks. Their particular job was done, 
and they might have stayed there, but, seeing the long waves 
of their comrades streaming forward to the main attack, they 
could not hold back, but followed on, all through the fight 
keeping touch in a most orderly way with the men ahead of 



280 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

them, and doing, as they put it, " odd jobs," such as knocking 
out machine-guns and killing snipers. 

It was so with other men. Having done their alloted task 
they would not stand and hold, but streamed after the tide 
which went through and past them, determined to be in at 
the death. 

In the attacks upon Geudecourt that day and on the evening 
of the next they had a hard bad time like the men on their 
left. They were under enfilade fire from machine-guns, which 
chattered hour after hour, never silent. " The air was stiff 
with bullets," says one of the officers. Men finding their 
only cover in shell-craters could not put their heads up, so 
close did the bullets slash the earth. And in other shell-craters 
not far away were many German riflemen picking off any man 
who appeared for a moment out of the tumbled earth. 

It was a hellish neighbourhood, yet when the moment for 
the second attack came mixed companies of men from various 
regiments who had mingled in the inevitable confusion of such 
a place and time (it was now thirty-six hours since the dawn 
of Friday) rose out of their holes in the earth and formed up as 
on parade, and went forward in a fine gallant style. 

It was impossible in the face of all those bullets about them, 
and they fell back to the original line of advance well to the 
north of Flers, which was good enough for that day after such 
heroic work. There was no Division in our armies who could 
have done better, nor who did better, on a great day when all 
did well. 

10 

And now I must tell a little more in detail the story of the 
Guards in this battle. It is hard to tell it, and not all can be 
told yet because of the enemy. The Guards had their full 
share of the fighting, and of the difficult ground, with strong 
forces against them. They knew that would be so before they 
went into battle, and yet they did not ask for better things, 
but awaited the hour of attack with strong, gallant hearts, 
quite sure of their courage, proud of their name, full of trust 
in their officers, eager to give a smashing blow at the enemy. 

These splendid men, so tall and proper, so hard and fine, 
went away as one might imagine the old knights and yeomen of 
England at Agincourt. For the first time in the history of the 



MONSTERS AND MEN 281 

Coldstreamers, three battalions of them charged in line, great 
solid waves of men, as fine a sight as the world could show. 
Behind them were the Grenadiers, and again behind these men 
the Irish. 

They had not gone more than 200 yards before they came 
under the enfilade fire of massed machine-guns in trenches not 
previously observed. The noise of this fire was so loud and 
savage that although hundreds of guns were firing, not a shot 
could be heard. It was just the stabbing staccato hammering 
of the German Maxims. Men fell, but the lines were not 
broken. Gaps were made in the ranks, but they closed up. 
The wounded did not call for help, but cheered on those who 
swept past and on, shouting, " Go on, Lily- whites ! " which 
is the old name for the Coldstreamers " Get at em, Lily- 
whites ! 

They went on at a hot pace with their bayonets lowered. 
Out of the crumpled earth all pits and holes and hillocks, 
torn up by great gun-fire grey figures rose arid fled. They 
w r ere German soldiers terror-stricken by this rushing tide of 
men. 

The Guards went on. Then they were checked by two 
lines of trenches, wired and defended by machine-guns and 
bombers. They came upon them quicker than they expected. 
Some of the officers were puzzled. Could these be the trenches 
marked out for attack or other unknown trenches ? Anyhow, 
they must be taken and the Guards took them by frontal 
assault full in the face of continual blasts of machine-gun bullets. 

There was hard and desperate fighting. The Germans 
defended themselves to the death. They bombed our men, who 
attacked them with the bayonet, served their machine-guns 
until they were killed, and would only surrender when our men 
were on top of them. It was a very bloody hour or more. 
By that time the Irish Guards had joined the others. All the 
Guards were together, and together they passed the trenches, 
swinging left inevitably under the machine-gun fire which poured 
upon them from their right, but going steadily deeper into the 
enemy country until they were 2000 yards from their starting- 
place. 

Then it was necessary to call a halt. Many officers and men 
had fallen. To go farther would be absolute death. The 
troops on the right had been utterly held up. The Guards 



282 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

were " up in the air," with an exposed flank, open to all the 
fire that was flung upon them from the enemy s lines. The 
temptation to go farther was great. The German infantry 
was on the run. They were dragging their guns away. There 
was a great panic among the men who had been hiding in 
trenches. But the German machine-gunners kept to their 
posts to safeguard a rout, and the Guards had gone far enough 
through their scourging bullets. 

They decided very wisely to hold the line they had gained, 
and to dig in where they stood, and to make forward posts 
with strong points. They had killed a great number of Germans 
and taken 200 prisoners and fought grandly. So now they 
halted and dug and took cover as best they could in shell- 
craters and broken ground, under fierce fire from the enemy s 
guns. 

The night was a dreadful one for the wounded, and for men 
who did their best for the wounded, trying to be deaf to agonizing 
sounds. Many of them had hairbreadth escapes from death. 
One young officer in the Irish Guards lay in a shell-hole with 
two comrades, and then left it for a while to cheer up other 
men lying in surrounding craters. When he came back he 
found his two friends lying dead, blown to bits by a shell. 

But in spite of all these bad hours the Guards kept cool, 
kept their discipline, their courage, and their spirit. The 
Germans launched counter-attacks against them, but were 
annihilated. The Guards held their ground, and gained the 
greatest honour for self-sacrificing courage which has ever 
given a special meaning to their name. They took the share 
which all of us knew they would take in the greatest of all our 
battles since the first day of July, and, with other regiments, 
struck a vital blow at the enemy s line of defence. 



XXXII 

LONDON PRIDE 



SEPTEMBER 20 

ANOTHER dark, wet day, filled with grey mist and rain-storms 
and mud. Up in the lines British soldiers and Germans lie 
near each other in shell-craters, waist-high in water. The rain 
is slashing upon them, and it is cold. But though gunners 
cannot see, nor airmen fly, the bombardment goes on, and all 
day long there has been the dull crashing of heavy shells, on 
both sides deep and sullen boomings through the white fog of 
this foul day. 

Last night and early in the morning the enemy attempted 
a counter-attack at different parts of the line. They attacked 
heavily here and there with strong bombing parties, who for 
a time forced a wav into our new lines, at the corner of Cour- 

/ * 

celette and the north of Martinpuich and the ground farther 
cast. 

Many of them were killed the bad weather does not stop 
this slaughter and they were driven out and back again by 
men who, though cold in their shell-craters, kept their courage 
and flung themselves fiercely upon the German assaulting troops, 
in sharp bombing fights, which left us with more ground at 
least in one part of the line than we had before. All of 
which shows that the enemy is hard pressed and tightly held, 
and that our men infantry to infantry not counting gun-fire, 
have the mastery of these German reserves, and a spirit that 
refuses to be beaten even by artillery. 

I have written manv thousands of words about this abomin- 

A/ 

able war since the first shot was fired, and for fifteen months and 
more have been trying to picture as closely as possible the life 
of our soldiers in action, but I am conscious that all I have 



284 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

written has given but a vague, dim, far-off glimpse of the 
character, sufferings, and valour of our men. 

How is it possible to show these things truly, to make my 
readers understand something of the truth when I cannot 
understand myself, but can only guess and grope at the qualities 
which make them do the things they do ? Take our last great 
day of battle September 15 there were troops of many 
different types engaged in its fighting Canadians, New-Zea- 
landers, Scots, Irish, and English of many counties. One would 
expect to find differences among these men, to find some harder 
than others or softer than others, battalions here and there 
who flinched before the storm of steel and those frightful 
shells which open great chasms in the earth. But on Friday 
the courage of all those men was of one quality, and a man 
would be a liar who said that one set of men were less brave 
than another. 



To-day I went among the London men, and afterwards 
among some Highlanders, who have a special place in my heart. 
In blood, in upbringing, in physique, in temperament one 
could not find two bodies of men more unlike, yet they have 
been alike in splendid endurance under merciless fire last 
Friday and onwards. " I cannot understand how my boys 
stuck it out during the worst hours they had," said a colonel 
of one of the City of London battalions. They just had to 
sit in shell-craters under heavy crumps. Many men would 
not have gone through with it. But the London boys just 
stayed there, gamely. They are wonderful." 

The colonel himself was wonderful this old Territorial 
soldier, nearly sixty years of age, with a white moustache and 
grizzled eyebrows that did not hide the bright and almost 
boyish light in his eyes. He used to be a dyspeptic and a 
" bundle of nerves," so he told me, and did not think he could 
last three months of war. But now at the beginning of the third 
year of war he led his battalion into action, went under some of 
the fiercest fire along the whole battle-line with them, and lay 
side by side with his " boys," as he calls them, in a shell-hole 
which became filled with water by violent rain-storms. For 
three days and nights he lay there while the enemy was trying 
to shell our men to death by his monstrous five-point-nines. 



LONDON PRIDE 285 

There were London men with him and all around him in the 
same kind of holes for there were no trenches here and 
though even the sergeants were shaking w r ith a kind of ague, 
not with cold but after the nervous strain of enduring the 
incessant shock of high explosives, they " carried on " oh 
splendid phrase ! and not a fellow played the coward, 
though all were very much afraid, as all men are in these 
frightful hours. 

They had been born and bred in London. They had worn 
black coats and " toppers " in the City all the officers among 
them and the men had been in warehouses and offices and 
shops down Thames-side and away to Whitehall. They had 
played the gentle game of dominoes in luncheon hours over a 
glass of milk and a Bath bun. They had grown nasturtiums in 
suburban gardens, and their biggest adventure in life had 
been the summer manoeuvres of the dear old : Terriers." 
And now they fought through German trenches and lay in 
shell-holes, and every nerve in their brains and bodies was 
ravaged by the tumult of shell-fire about them and by the 
wounded who lay with them. But these Londoners who fight 
on their nerves were no less staunch than men like the Scots 
and the North-country lads, who, as far as I can see, have no 
nerves at all. 

3 

There were some strange individual adventures in the midst 
of the general experience of rushing two lines of German trenches 
through a violent barrage and getting forward to open country, 
where they dug themselves in. Among ten machine-guns 
which they captured on their way up there was one handled by 
a German gunner who awaited his chance to sweep the ranks 
of the London lads. But he did not get it. An officer of the 
London Regiment who was carrying a rifle spotted the 
man quickly and killed him with a straight shot before he had 
fired more than a few bullets. That rifle-shot saved the lives 
of many of our men. 

In the second German trench there was a sharp fight, and one 
single combat between one of our officers who happens to be 
a South African and a great lustv German who was a much 

/ 

bigger man than ours. It was a bayonet duel as two mediaeval 
knights might have fought in the old days with heavy swords. 



286 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

Our officer was already wounded twice. He had a bullet 
through the shoulder, and a damaged jaw. But five times he 
pierced his enemy with the bayonet. It should have been 
enough, but the great German still fought. Both bayonets 
were dropped and the two men closed and wrestled with each 
other, trying to get a grip of the throat. The German wrestler, 
bloody as he was. seemed to keep all his brute strength, but he 
was laid out by a bullet in the neck from a sergeant of the 
Londoners who came to the rescue of the officer. Afterwards 
this easy-going gentleman from South Africa chatted with 
his colonel over the body of his man as quietly and calmly as 
though he were in his smoking-room at home, and paid no 
attention whatever to his wounds, refusing to go down to the 
doctor, but going forward again with his men. 

Some of the men went too far in their eagerness, aw r ay into 
the " blue." No word came back from them. No signal. 
Later one man trudged back, bringing two prisoners. Where 
are the others ? he was asked. He pointed far away, and 
said, " Over there." He is the only man who has come back 
from that place of mystery. 

; 4 

Some of the London battalions did not suffer so heavily 
as might have been expected from the hard task they had, and 
the wonderful way in which they fought. What loss they 
suffered was the price of extreme valour. The charge of the 
Light Brigade at Balaclava has been put into song as one of the 
great heroic tales of history. Will any one make a song of the 
London men who fought forward through a hurricane of fire ? 

The stretcher-bearers of the London Territorials did their 
work nobly, and among them as a volunteer was one German 
who deserves a word of praise, by men with a sporting spirit, 
fair to their enemy. He had first been taken prisoner by an 
officer of ours, who was then hit by a piece of shell or a rifle- 
bullet. He fell, and could not rise again, but his prisoner, 
who was an officer too, picked him up and carried him across 
the battlefield to our dressing-station, and then stood by for an 
escort to take him away. 

The General commanding these London men spoke of them 
to-day with a thrill in his voice. He had been with them, and 
had reconnoitred their ground, and had seen their way of 



LONDON PRIDE 287 

fighting. When I spoke to him he had been without sleep and 
rest for two days and nights. No men could have done better," 
he said. " No General could wish to command braver men 
or better men. Their discipline is splendid. There is never 
any crime among them. They behave always as gentlemen 
should behave, and they fight with fine hearts. These London 
boys of mine had one of the hardest tasks on Friday, and they 
carried it through with a most gallant spirit." 



Another day I must write of the Highlanders whom I met 
to-day those Gay Gordons of whom I have written several 
times w^hen I have found them in other parts of the battle-line. 
Some of them waved hands to me to-day and shouted cheerfully 
across a track of mud, and, seeing the faces under their bonnets, 
I was enormously glad to find these old friends of mine alive 
and well after many days of fighting. Squarer, tougher, 
harder men than the Londoners, they fought in their own style, 
gloriously, with all their comrades in kilts or trews who swept 
across the German lines, and then held their captured ground 
under infernal fire. One story they told me of the things they 
have seen is a grim little picture which is etched in my brain. 

Two of them went dow T n into a German dug-out and started 
back when they saw a man seated there at table. The table 
was laid for a meal, but the food was uneaten. It was a dead 
German officer who sat before them, as though asleep. The 
top of the dug-out had been knocked in by one of our shells, 
and something had fallen and killed him as he \vas beginning 
breakfast. The Gordons went into other dug-outs and found 
other dead bodies, but it was this sitting man that they 
remember most. 



XXXIII 

THE SPLENDID NEW-ZEALANDERS 



SEPTEMBER 23 

IT was inevitable that after the great battle of September 15 
our line should have ragged edges and run up or down into 
small salients. This was due to the greater progress made by 
different bodies of troops ; and to the way in which isolated 
groups of Germans held on very stubbornly to these stretches 
of ground not in the general line of our advance. 

During the past forty-eight hours a good deal has been done 
to clear out these pockets, or wedges, and to straighten out the 
line from Courcelette eastwards. 

This morning our troops did a useful bit of work in such a 
place between Courcelette and Martinpuich, knocking out a strong 
post and taking some prisoners, with whom were two officers. 
Elsewhere strong posts thrust out by us beyond the main trenches 
have been linked up, so that the line now runs in a reasonably 
even way from the north of Courcelette across the Bapaume 
Road, above Martinpuich, and so on to the north of Flers. 

This linking-up and clearing-up work now done to a great 
extent puts us in a stronger position of defence, to hold what 
we have gained, against any attempts made by the enemy 
in counter-attack. 

He has made many attempts since September 15 to drive 
our troops out of the high ground, which is vital to his means 
of observation, and the failure of them has cost him a great 
price in life. 



Among the most desperate thrusts, pressed with stubborn 
bravery by bodies of German soldiers, collected hastily and 



THE ^SPLENDID NEW-ZEALANDERS 289 

flung with but little plan or preliminary organization against 
our lines, were those directed upon the New-Zealanders, who 
repelled them after hard and long conflicts fought out for the 
most part with naked steel. 

In all the fighting since July 1 there has not been anything 
more fierce or more bloody than these hand-to-hand struggles 
on the left of Flers, and the New-Zealanders have gained a 
greater name for themselves (it was already a great name 
since Gallipoli) as soldiers who hate to give up what they have 
gained, who will hold on to ground with a grim obstinacy 
against heavy odds, and if they are ordered to retreat because 
of the military situation round them come back again with a 
stern resolve to " get the goods." 

That is not only my reading of the meti, and I do not pretend 
to know them well, but is the summing-up of an officer, not 
from their own country, who has seen them fight during these 
last few days, and who spoke of them with a thrill of admiration 
in his voice, after watching the stoicism with which they endured 
great shell-fire, the spirit with which they attacked after great 
fatigues and hardships, and the rally of men, discouraged for 
a while by their loss of officers which swept the Germans back 
into panic-stricken flight. 

This struggle covers a week s fighting since September 15, 
when at dawn the New-Zealanders advanced in waves to a 
series of positions which would bring them up to the left of 
Flers if they had the luck to get as far. On their right were the 
troops, whose capture of Flers village I have already described, 
and on their left other troops attacking High Wood and the 
ground north of it. 

The men of New Zealand went forward with hardly a check 
to the German switch-trench 500 yards from the starting-line. 
They were men of Auckland, Canterbury, Otago, and Wellington, 
and they put their trust in the bayonet and desired to get 
2lose to their enemy. 

They had their desire. In the switch-trench the Germans 
ief ended themselves to the last gasp, and, as far as I can make 
)ut, only four of them were left alive after that frightful 
encounter. It was a fight to the death on both sides, and the 
"sew-Zcalanders did not cross that ditch at full strength. 

On the way up they lost under shrapnel and machine-gun 
ire. On the other side of the ditch their lines were thinner. 



290 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

But they were on the other side, and the ditch behind them was 
a grave upon which they turned their backs to get across the 
next stretch of ground to trenches 800 yards ahead. 

The New Zealand Rifles covered this ground quickly, moving 
in open order, but keeping in touch with each other by fine 
discipline and an esprit de corps which is better than discipline. 



That next system of trench- work, two lines heavily wired 
and deeply dug, part of the famous Flers line, was a great 
obstacle. Our gun-fire, grand as it had been, had not laid all 
the wire low nor destroyed the trenches. A swish of machine- 
gun bullets showed that the enemy was alive and savage. 

An infantry assault on such a line had to be paid for, some 
times by a great number of dead and wounded. But it was the 
day of the Tanks. Two of them had tried to keep pace with 
the New Zealand attack, but had lagged behind like short- 
winded creatures suffering from stitch and no wonder, looking 
at the shell-craters and pits across which they had to bring 
their long bodies, crawling in and crawling out, with their 
tails above their heads and their heads above their tails. 

But they arrived in time to attack the Flers line, and in a 
very deliberate and stolid way they sidled along the barbed 
wire, smashing it into the earth, before poking their big snouts 
over the German parapets, hauling themselves up, and firing 
from both flanks upon German machine-gun teams. 

With this noteworthy help, which saved time and trouble and 
life, the New-Zealanders took the double trenches of the Flers 
line, and again pushed on, another 700 yards, across a sunken 
road with steep banks and very deep dug-outs, where the 
enemy did not stay to meet them until they had established 
themselves on a line running westwards from the top of Flers 
village, now in the hands of our English lads. 

One of the Tanks followed them, getting down the steep 
bank with its nose to earth, and lumbering up the other side 
like a huge elephant (without a trunk). 

A German battery 1500 yards away searched for it with 
shell-fire, but did not get within hitting distance of its armoured 
skin. Eventually it was the German battery that was knocked 
out by our guns, 



THE SPLENDID NEW-ZEALANDERS 291 

However, this was a side-show, and the Tanks must not take 
all the glory away from the infantry, who had not armoured 
skins, alas, and who were facing murderous fire elsewhere. 



They had been ordered to swing left to make a flanking 
front up the edge of a valley running north-west of Flers, right 
away beyond the village, and this they did most gallantly, 
although at the time they stuck out like a thin wedge into 
German territory, because at that time they had no support on 
their left (our English fellows, as I have described in an earlier 
dispatch, had been having a fearful time in and beyond High 
Wood), and on the right the other English troops were busy 
with the capture of Flers. 

It was clearly and undeniably a hazardous position for the 
New-Zealanders all alone out there, and they were ordered to 
fall back to the line going straight westwards from the top of 
Flers village, which they helped to hold on the night of the 
15th to 16th. 

From that day onwards the enemy made repeated counter 
attacks. Sometimes they were in feeble strength, shattered 
quickly, but they grew in intensity and numbers as the days 
passed, while the New-Zealanders were still in a rather pre 
carious position, " a rocky position," says one of their officers, 
owing to the weakness of their left flank. 

Right down on that flank Germans were still holding out in 
ihell-craters with a way open behind them, so that supports 
might come down to drive a wedge between the New-Zealanders 
and the English troops north of High Wood. 

This was attempted by something like a brigade of Germans, 
who advanced in six or seven waves upon the English soldiers 
who were outnumbered by more than two to one in a steady, 
letermined way. They were met out in the open with the 
bayonet. It was the old way of fighting men meeting men, 
staring into each other s eyes, trusting to their own strength 
ind skill with sharp steel, and not to engines of war with high 
explosives or quick-firing guns. 

If men fight it is the best way though not pleasant and 

eeable for ladies to watch from silken canopies, as in the 
ld days of the tourney, when gentlemen hacked at each other 



2t2 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

with axes, just for fun. A New Zealand officer watched it 
from a little distance, and his breath came quick when he 
described it to me. The German ranks were broken and a 
remnant fled. 

But it was not so long or so bloody a fight as what the New- 
Zealanders themselves had to encounter three days ago. 

The enemy struck a blow against the New Zealand troops, 
at the joining-point between those men and their comrades on 
the left, who had come up to the west of Flers. 

The New-Zealanders who were Canterbury men were 
beaten back twice, and twice regained the ground. All through 
the night of September 20 until the dawn of the 21st there 
was violent bomb-fighting and bayonet-fighting. 

There was no straight line of men, British on one side, Germar 
on the other. It was a confused mass, isolated bodies of mer 
struggling around shell-craters and bits of trench, single figure 
fighting twos and threes, groups joining to form lines whicl 
surged backwards and forwards and a night horrible with th 
crash of bombs and the cries of the dying. 



One New Zealand officer, a very splendid heroic^man, wa 
the life and soul of this defence and counter-attack. 

There were moments when some of his men were disheartenec 
because their line had fallen back, and the number of thei 
wounded lay too thick about them. He put new fire into then 
by the flame of his own spirit. He led them forward again 
rallying the gloomy ones, so careless of his own life, so cage 
for the honour of New Zealand that they followed him under 
kind of spell, because of the magic in him. 

They thrust back the enemy, put him to flight down the valley 
remained masters of the ground when the dawn brightened int 
the full light of day, revealing the carnage that had been hidde 
in the night. 

It was not the end of the fighting here. In the afternoc 
the enemy came again, in strong numbers sent forward b 
their high command, men at the end of far telephones, desperal 
to retake the ground, and ordering new assaults which wei 
sentences of death to German soldiers not at the end of fc 
telephones but very near to British bayonets. 



j THE SPLENDID NEW -ZEAL ANDERS 298 

They came on thickly, these doomed men, shoulder to shoulder, 
mid it was again the captain of the Canterburys who led his 
i nen against them in a great bayonet charge, right across the 
i >pen. 

It was bayonet against bayonet, for the Germans stood to 
fr eceive the charge, though with blanched faces. For the New- 
\ Healanders came upon them at the trot and then sprang forward 
* rith bayonets as quick as knitting-needles. . . . 

The Germans cried out in terror. Down the hill-side, beyond, 
I hose who could escape ran, and fell as they ran. It was a 
out and the end of the counter-attack. 

The New-Zealanders were now sure of themselves. They 
new that with the bayonet they can meet the Germans as 
heir masters. So scornful are they of their bayonet-fighting 
hat they have it in their hearts to pity them and say, " Poor 
evils ! " 

To my mind, and to others, the finest heroism was shown by 
be New Zealand stretcher-bearers. They did not charge with 
ae bayonet. All their duty was to go out across open country 
i cool blood to pick up men lying there in blood that was not 
ol unless they had lain there too long. 

They had to go through salvos of five-point-nines, which 
re up the ground about them, and buried them, and mangled 
I lany of them. And they w r ent quite steadily and quietly, 
ot once or twice, but hour after hour, until more than sixty 
f them had fallen, and hour after hour thev carried out their 

J 

ork of rescue quite careless of themselves. 

* I am not a sentimentalist," said a New Zealand officer 
>>-day, as he looked at me with grave eyes, remembering those 
;enes, " but the work of those men seemed to me very noble 
ad good." 

In New Zealand and in the quiet farmsteads there, those 
ords will be read gladly, I think. 

And if any words of mine could give a little extra share of 
onour to these Colonial boys, who have come so far overseas 
fight by the side of English soldiers, I should be glad and 



roud too, having a heart very full of admiration for the valour 
: these men, who have fought in these great battles a:; well as 
toy troops who shared the day with them. 



XXXIV 
THE CANADIANS AT COURCELETTE 



SEPTEMBER 24 

IN a scrappy way I have told something about the way the 
Canadians fought for Courcelette. It is worth more than that 
as an historic narrative. From first to last, beginning with 
the dawn of Friday, September 15, and going on now, beyond 
the village, against German counter-attacks, these men from the 
West have shown themselves very gallant, and hard and quick 
in fighting qualities. 

There was a body of French- Canadians among them, dark- 
eyed fellows, of the same type as the French people among 
whom they found themselves by the odd chance of fate, like 
some of the French Chasseurs Alpins who have been fighting 
on our right, lithe-bodied men, with muscles like whipcord, 
full of individual character, and an old tradition of warfare 
behind them, war against nature and wild animals, away from 
town life. 

The enemy was not sure what men he had against him dowr 
below Courcelette. I think it was to get this knowledge thai 
he sent out a number of his bombers just before the Canadiar 
attack was to be launched. I have already told about the 
sergeant who saw them coming, and about the boy by his sid< 
who was buried alive by a shell, and lived to tell me the tal< 
with a strange smile in his brown eyes, as he leaned on a crooke( 
stick, some old tree-stump he had picked up to support hin 
when he was weak from loss of blood. He was one of the French 
Canadian boys. The German bombers came out of the darknes 
suddenly, and pounced upon a bit of trench, flinging thei 
hand-grenades, and trying to grab some of our men as prisoners 
It was just like one of the old raids, better done by the Canadian 



THE CANADIANS AT COURCELETTE 295 

themselves. They had a short innings, and not a man went 
back. A Canadian machine-gunner rushed up to his " Lewis 
and killed those who came over our parapets. One officer with 
twelve bombers accounted for the others. 

But it was awkward happening just at the hour when the 
grand attack was waiting for the word " Go." It might have 
disorganized the plan at the outset. The Canadians did not 
let it make any kind of difference to them. At the exact 
moment all the waves of men rose, swept over the dead bodies 
of the raiders, and in a great tide rolled over No Man s Land. 
Three Tanks went with them, slower than the infantry, but 
climbing steadily over the trenches and the shell-craters, and 
prowling around for the places from which there came a spitting 
fire of machine-guns. They found some of them in the sugar 
factory, and I have told how they sat down there, crumpling 
the emplacements under their heavy ribs, and pouring out a 
deadly fire. 



The Canadian infantry had a difficult operation. The 

ground from the high ridge of Pozieres sloped down before 

them to the edge of the village of Courcelette, where they had 

been ordered to halt and consolidate while reserve battalions 

-the French- Canadians on the right came up behind to 

4 mop-up the captured ground. A German trench ran at an 

angle from their objective, and as they advanced the Canadians 

had to take this " en passant," as chess-players would say, the 

flank capturing the trench at the same rate of progress as the 

centre and right went forward. 

It was done. Through machine-gun fire and an inferno of 
shrapnel and high explosives the Canadians stormed their 
way down the slope, shouting and cheering as they went, led 
by officers who urged them on, before falling, some of them, 
mortally wounded. In the trenches the German soldiers fought 
stubbornly, flinging their bombs and maintaining a rapid rifle- 
fire until the Canadians were right upon them with the bayonet. 
At the sight of sharp steel they fought no more, but flung up 
their hands. 

The Canadians had a long way to go to the outskirts of 
Courcelette, right across open country, and as they went the 
German "crumps fell among them, tossing up great masse s 



296 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

as large as village churches of smoke and earth filled with 
flying shell-splinters. 

It was on the line outside Courcelette that they stopped 
at last to dig and gather their strength and take breath. It 
was late in the afternoon, I think, that the ground behind 
them was thoroughly cleared, and that the German defence of 
the sugar factory was finally broken with the help of the 
Tanks. There was a conference between the officers, those 
who were still unwounded. Men in the ranks asked the same 
question, and answered it. " Why not take Courcelette itself ? * 



3 

The order and the honour of the new attack was given to 
the " mop-up " battalions behind, with the French Canadians 
among thenij who had been advancing behind the assaulting 
troops as a clearing and consolidating force. The colonel of 
the French-Canadians tells the story. He is a wiry man, 
typical of his race, modest, bright-eyed, keeping a sense of 
humour in spite of all the tragedy of war, such a man as Chaucer 
knew when Norman-French was spoken in English fields- 
" a very parfit gentil knight." 

He is proud of his French-Canadians. They had a long way 
to go to get to Courcelette. Nearly three and a half miles to 
the final line given to them on the other side of the village. 
" We re late, we re late," said the little colonel. We must 
get there in time at whatever cost. French - Canadians, 
forward ! 

They were not too late. They came up to the first assaulting 
battalions those who had dug in south of the village just 
in time to pass through them and lead the new attack. Many 
men had dropped on the way. The ground was still being 
torn up by steel ploughs. All the air was full of the scream and 
whine and crash of shells. Round Courcelette there was a 
clatter of machine-gun fire from German hiding-places. The 
garrison there was ready for defence. 

" Allons done, mes enfants ! 

It is the way in which French officers lead their men to 
victory or to death. 

The French-Canadians, with their comrades on the left, 
swung round in^a loop round the southern half of the village, 



THE CANADIANS AT COURCELETTE 297 

and closed in and invaded its streets. ... The capture of 
Courcelette was one of the astounding things in this battle of 
the Somme. There were 1500 Germans in and about it, and 
the place was stormed by much less than that number. Dug 
outs full of Germans were routed out by a few men who could 
have been crushed and killed by the odds against them. One 
Canadian boy went down into a dug-out, and after a time- 
what queer conversation could he have down there ? came 
out again with prisoners. There were twenty of them, tall, 
big men, who could have made a meal off this brown-eyed lad 
who marshalled them up. 

Some of the Germans made themselves useful. A wounded 
Canadian officer captured five of them before too weak to get 
back to the dressing-station unaided. Speaking French to 
them, which one at least understood, he ordered his prisoners 
to make a stretcher for him, enforcing his command by keeping 
his revolver on them. From some old sticks and sandbags 
they made the stretcher, and then carried him down. 

Two German doctors helped to dress our wounded, and 
worked bravely and steadily under shell-fire for many hours. 
One of them objected to having a sentry put near his dug-out. 
4 1 am not a fighting man," he said. " I did not help to make 
this war. My work is for humanity, and your wounded are 
the same to me as oars, poor, suffering men, needing my help, 
which I am glad to give." 

4 

Beyond the village that"night the enemy made seven counter 
attacks upon the Canadians. There were moments when 
even the colonel thought that things did not look " too bright." 
But all these assaults were beaten off, as the Canadians have 
beaten off other attacks yesterday and to-day, inflicting heavy 
losses and gaining more ground. 

One counter-attack was repulsed by a handful of men in a 
way that gives a grotesque comedy to all this night scene of 
war filled with so much death and terror, and human courage 
strong in endurance. A tot of rum had been served out to 
each Canadian to give a glow of warmth to limbs chilled in the 
wet soil of shell-craters and to hearts chilled by the reaction 
which follows fierce excitement. This handful of men were 
sitting in a German dug-out. 



298 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

They laughed and sang, forgetful of the scenes about them. 
It was as jolly as in a log-cabin othe West, by this dug-out, 
where a corpse lay very quiet. Again they shouted and laughed 
more loudly, giving Red Indian war-cries, and other wild 
whoops. And that was when the counter-attack began. 

It did not get very far. A body of Germans advancing over 
No Man s Land to the British lines suddenly heard frightful, 
blood-curdling sounds. It was as though the tribes of the 
Blackfeet had come out upon the war-path, yelling as they 
swung their tomahawks and dancing round the scalps of their 
victims. The Germans hated to hear such a noise. It was as 
though all the devils of hell were upon them, laughing diaboli 
cally. . . . They turned and fled. 



XXXV 

THE ABANDONMENT OF COMBLES 



SEPTEMBER 26 

THE enemy cannot stand against us on his present line. That 
has been proved to-day and yesterday by sweeping British 
successes, which include the capture of Geudecourt, Lesbceufs, 
Morval, and Combles, with nearly 2000 prisoners (according 
to my own reckoning) and a great mass of material. The 
German infantry was ordered to hold on to these places at all 
costs, to the very death. 

The enemy may pretend later that they have made a volun 
tary withdrawal to " take up a new and stronger line of defence 
-that is the usual convention but I have talked with their 
officers and men and know what their orders were. They 
were to fight for every inch of soil against us, and they did not 
lack courage. 

But our men and our guns have been too strong for them. 
As soon as we held the high ridge from the Pozieres Windmill 
through the old German switch-line below Martinpuich, and 
above High Wood and Ginchy, their position down the slopes 
became untenable because of the new observation we had for 
our artillery. 

One by one their strongholds have fallen, Courcelette and 
Martinpuich and Flers, now those other places, Geudecourt, 
Lesbceufs, and Morval. In spite of all their massed machine- 
guns in strong emplacements, and all their tunnelled dug-outs, 
and all their stubborn resistance, they could not hold on to a line 
here under the hurricane of fire our guns have flung upon them, 
and the tide of men who swept forward and overwhelmed 
them. 

Their defence began to show signs of cracking when they 



300 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

were unable to force home their repeated counter-attacks by 
any big general scheme of offence. 

It was clear that our constant hammer-strokes, with those 
delivered by the French on our right, had demoralized and 
disorganized them, and that they were unable to gather reserves 
from other parts of the line quick enough or big enough to 
strike back heavily so as to thwart our progress. They had 
to rely mainly on their gun-power, and formidable as that is it 
has been mastered by ours for the time being, and could not do 
more than make our advance costly to our wonderful infantry, 
who went through its curtain-fire. 

Even that has weakened a little during the past forty-eight 
hours our men who come back broken by it will not think so, 
poor fellows and the last attacks have succeeded with far 
fewer casualties on our side than ever before on such a day of 
success in this battle of the Somme. The casualties, indeed, 
were very light considering the striking successes gained. The 
enemy is in retreat not for a great distance, perhaps, but 
certainly retreating. 



For the first time in the history of this war on the Western 
front since the battle of the Marne and the beginning of trench- 
warfare the enemy has been compelled to abandon a town 
without a fight in it. He has withdrawn from Combles, which 
is a place of some importance, and more than a mere village, 
and our troops have entered it from the north, while the French 
hold the southern half. 

As soon as Morval was taken yesterday, after that wonderful 
assault upon the double line of trenches defending it, his gunners 
near Sailly-Saillisel, to the east, packed up and bolted away. 
In the night troops holding the ground between Morval and 
that place have melted away, and our patrols are out there 
trying to find out his rear-guard. 

Between Geudecourt and Lesboeufs a body of German 
infantry tried to rally up to a counter-attack and came forward 
a little way with a show of strength and resolution. 

Our gunners were quick to get their target. Clouds of 
shrapnel burst over those massed men, and their attack turned 
into a panic-stricken rout. They flung down rifles and packs 



THE ABANDONMENT OF COMBLES 801 

and fled back towards Le Transloy, leaving many dead and 
wounded in their wake. 

The worst thing that has happened to the enemy is the break- 
ing-up of the "moral" of his troops. These men have been ordered 
to hold out in death-traps, and although there can be no slur 
on their courage, for they have fought well and are brave men, 
they have seen with dismal eyes that if they hold on longer they 
must die or be taken. 

As soon as our men had swept across the trenches and the 
sunken roads where the Germans defended themselves stub 
bornly and entered the villages Morval being taken from 
the north the garrisons came up out of their underground 
places and surrendered in heaps. They could have fought 
longer and harder here, perhaps, but only with their backs to 
the walls asking for death. They had not the spirit to do that 
and no man would expect it of them. 

They were done and dazed by the appalling intensity of the 
shell-fire which we had smashed over their tunnels. They 
were disheartened by the unfailing regularity with which the 
British had captured one stronghold after another since July 1, 
and at last after two years of utter confidence in the supreme 
strength of the German war-machine, their faith had been 
destroyed. 

They have seen it crack and break, leaving them as the victims 
of its failure. Men who have lost faith in the one idol to which 
they had pledged their souls are not so strong as before. It is 
this loss of faith among her soldiers which is the worst thing 
that has happened to Germany. 



3 

In opposition to the faith which we have now broken is the 
fear they have of British troops whom, once upon a time, they 
were taught to despise, they are stupefied by the grim way 
in which our men attack, reckless of loss, so that no barrage 
stops them, and they are amazed that men who were not 
soldiers a year ago should now be equal to their own best 
troops in fighting skill as gunners and as infantry. 

A German officer who surrendered to-day with a whole 
company when the British stormed their way into Morval 
paid a tribute to them when he was taken prisoner. 



302 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

" Your soldiers," he said, " surprise me by their sang-froid. 
They were very cool and calm in moments when most soldiers 
would lose their heads." 

He was touched, too, by their kindness to him, puzzled by it, 
not finding any kind of hatred in their hearts now that the 
fighting was over. 

They asked me whether I would like to go down at once or 
wait until the barrage eased off. That was very good-natured 
of them. Then they gave me kiichen -little cakes and 
called me old boy as though they had known me before." 

They are grateful for our treatment of them, and truly some 
of our men are chivalrous in the way they behave to them after 
the bloodshed is over and the fierce and frightful things of 
battle. 

There were two fellows on the roadside to-day, an English 
soldier and a German, trudging side by side to a field dressing- 
station. Both heads were bandaged, and one man could see 
out of one eye and one out of the other. 

Said the Englishman : 

This chap tried to gouge out my eye with his fist, and I 
did the same to his with my elbow, and now we get on famously 
together." 

Two other men came in enemies an hour before. 
This is Old Bill," said the English soldier, pointing to a 
wounded German. Where I go Bill goes. I wounded him 
and I took him. . . . Come on, Bill, old son." 

I saw 1200 German prisoners to-day just out of the battle. 
They lay in rows, grey body close to grey body, so that when 
any stood and walked about they had to step carefully over all 
those lying men. They were men from Morval and Lesbceufs, 
and some from Combles, who in the retreat in the night had 
mistaken their way out and come into our lines. 

They were mostly strong, well-built young men better than 
some of those I saw yesterday and were nearly all Prussians 
from the Rhinelands. In the mass there was nothing repulsive 
about them, though here and there was an evil-looking face. 
These fresh-coloured fellows, very smart and soldierly, and with 
very little of the dirt of war upon them, as they had been 
living in the dug-outs, stared about them with curious eyes 
-at the British troops passing and British transports, and all 
the traffic that goes up to the battle-lines. They were startled 



THE ABANDONMENT OF COMBLES 303 

at finding themselves in so great a company of fellow-prisoners. 
They confessed to one of our officers that it was a great 
British victory." 

These men were all unwounded. But in a tent not far 
away, and in other tents, were rows of Germans on stretchers, 
lying very still, and looking very grey, in blood-soaked clothes. 
Some of them were moaning their lives away, but English 
doctors were with them, attending to them just in the same 
way as they dealt with our wounded men carried into other 
tents. 

" We make no difference," said the medical officer. 

There was a young officer there whom I had met yesterday on 
the roadside. He sat up when he saw me again, and said he 
wanted nothing that could be given to him, and was grateful 
for the treatment. He had just been writing down the address 
of one of his wounded comrades, who was going to die, so that 
he might send a letter to the man s wife. He had been asked 
to do this by one of the English doctors, and he was glad to 
do it. 

I sat down by the side of a young soldier from the Rhineland. 

" Are you badly wounded ? " I asked. 

He pointed to his shoulder, and said, " Here." 

When I said he looked very young, he shrugged that wounded 
shoulder of his, and said, " All my comrades were young. 
W T e fought as well as older men. The English came behind 
us, or we would not have been taken." 

The pride of the boy remained with him even now, and it 
seemed to me fine and plucky. 

But these men, as a whole, have none of the braggart con 
fidence of the prisoners we used to take a year ago. The 
truth, I think, is beginning to dawn upon them. The guns 
that protected them have been matched by British guns, and 
the new army that has grown up against them has broken their 
strongest lines. 

It is only the beginning. People at home must not thmk 
that the German army has lost its power of defence and that 
the great rout is at hand. They are drawing back their guns, 
but saving most of them. They are retreating, but will stand 
again, and dig new trenches and defend other villages. 

There will be greater and fiercer and more desperate fighting 
before the end comes, and God alone knows when that will be. 



304 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

But so tar as the fighting goes it is a real stroke of victory 
for us. Within the last forty-eight hours we have put out of 
action eight German battalions between Lesbceufs and Morval, 
and the enemy can ill afford such loss after all that has happened 
since the first day of July. 



The story of the meeting of the French and British in the 
stronghold of Combles is an historic incident, which may form 
one day the subject of a great painting, though perhaps no 
artist s eye was there to see it. Some brigades of English 
troops were holding, on Monday morning, the ground of the 
Quadrilateral (where our men had been badly held up on 
September 15), to the west of Bouleaux Wood. 

The French were hammering forward with their soixante- 
quinze and masses of splendid infantry to the east of Combles 
in the direction of Fregicourt. The plan of attack was to box 
in Combles by the French advance on one side, and on ours by 
forming a strong line to the north-west of Combles. 

The operation was of great importance to the whole of our 
attack on Morval and Lesbceufs on Monday morning, because, 
apart from cutting off Combles, the new position was needed as 
a solid plank to our right wing. 

The men who were given the task it is sad that I am not 
yet able to say who they were had been fighting heavily in 
previous battles, and had suffered many losses. But for this 
new assault they rallied up again with a brave spirit, and did 
all that was asked of them and a little more. 

Instead of attacking Bouleaux Wood itself, where the Germans 
were in great force, they were ordered to take two lines of 
trenches on the west side of it, and to establish the flank line 
there a clever bit of strategy which a German officer has since 
complained of bitterly as " not playing the game," because 
at Bouleaux Wood the Germans were waiting for an attack 
and ready for it with massed machine-guns, which they could 
not put to their full use, poor lads ! 

The trenches were taken easily and rapidly in five minutes 
from the moment of attack but nearly at right angles to them 
was an embankment with a rabbit-warren of dug-outs, which 
gave more trouble. 

It was the German flank line, and enormously important to 



THE ABANDONMENT OF COMBLES 305 



the enemy, so that he held it with a large force of men and man y 
machine-guns and " minenwerfer." 

Pierce, savage fighting took place here, and it was only four 
hours later that the dug-outs were finally cleared. Hereabouts 
eighty prisoners were taken, but a great many dead bodies lay 
below the embankment when the fight was done. 

Near by five " minenwerfer" were captured, and our men found 
some empty gun- emplacements, which had been abandoned in 
such a hurry by the German gunners that they had left behind 
them a great store of four-point-two shells and all their ammuni 
tion-carriers. 

Our strong flank was formed and a new trench dug in great 
style by a pioneer battalion, and then in the darkness patrols 
of infantry pushed forward in the direction of Combles. It 
was dark, yet not an absolute and lasting darkness. The 
sky was very calm and strewn with bright stars, and up above 
the Combles road at Morval white flares went up and down, 
throwing every few moments a white, vivid glare over the 
battlefield, lighting up its desolation, with the rim of every 
shell-crater white as snow arid with black pits in the depths of 
them. 

The sky was not quiet except high above the strife of men, 
Away down the French lines it was all on fire, and shells were 
bursting in a great semicircle where the British were fighting 
at Lesbceufs and Geudecourt. 

But Combles was dark and quiet. No star-shells came up 
from its ruined houses. There was no sign of life there, only 
a few black shadows came up from the town towards our 
patrols and exchanged shots with them and then tried to escape. 
Twenty of these stragglers were taken prisoner. Ten were 
killed in fights with our patrol parties. 

Hour after hour there was the tremendous tattoo of the 
French soixante-quinze coming nearer and nearer, and a 
final outburst of gun and rifle-fire when Fregicourt was taken. 

The night was passing, but it was long before dawn at 
3.15 when a strong patrol of English soldiers with machine- 
guns advanced down a tram-line into the town of Combles. 
They were tired men, worn with fighting, craving sleep, hating 
all this hell around them, not in that night hour inspired by 
any thrill of joy because they were entering Combles in 
triumph." They were not quite sure how far the beastly 

Q 



306 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

place had been abandoned. News had come to them that tlv, 
enemy had found a way out. 

But you never can tell. There might be desperate fellows 
in the cellars, machine-guns behind any of these broken walls. 
They went on slowly and cautiously until they reached the 
ruined streets. 

Dead men lay about, with white faces turned upwards to 
the stars. The ground was littered with broken bricks and 
twisted iron and destroyed wagons. But no shot came through 
the gaping holes in houses which still stood as roofless shells. 
It w r as all as quiet and still as death. A halt was made at the 
railway line, and then our tired men saw through the gloom 
other tired figures trudging towards them. 

Officers went forward. Words were spoken in French and 
English : 

Ce sont les Anglais." 

" Them s the French all right." 
The blooming town s abandoned." 
Les sacres Boches n existent plus ! 

Combles was taken thus in the early hours of the morning 
of the day before yesterday without any demonstration or 
dramatic ceremony, without cheers or theatrical nonsense, by 
grim, quiet, tired men who were glad to be at the end of another 
day s fighting, with a dog s chance of rest. 

It was a great p ace for booty. The cellars were stacked with 
thousands of rifles and a great store of ammunition. The 
enemy had left behind four thousand rounds of five-point-nine 
shells the less to fire at us, thank God ! and a mass of 
material and kit of every kind. 

This flight from Combles is the most ignominious thing that 
has happened to the enemy on the Western front since he was 
hammered back on the Marne, and it must have hurt his pride 
-the pride of his " High Command " as a smarting wound. 



XXXVI 

THE DOOM OF THIEPVAL 



SEPTEMBER 27 

THE doom of Thiepval is fulfilled. That place upon the high 
ridge, with its thirty-four black tree-stumps I counted them 
this morning which has been harrowed and ploughed and 
cratered under incessant storms of high explosive, fell into our 
hands last evening all but one corner to the north-west, 
which is ours to-day. 

Weeks ago I said as it may be remembered that the 
German garrison there must have known that their doom was 
creeping nearer, and that sooner or later they must surrender 
or die. 

It was longer reaching them than I expected when I watched 
the attack on the Zollern Trench, and the defences running up 
to the " Wunderwerk," and saw our men crossing a wide stretch 
of No Man s Land through great shell-fire which tossed up the 
earth about them, and go on until those who had not fallen 
leapt upon the German trenches and bundled back batches of 
prisoners, and then went on again until they were very near 
to the row of apple-trees which used to blossom in April on the 
outskirts of Thiepval town perched upon the hill. 

It seemed to me then, watching the rapid progress of our 
men and their wonderful courage, that in a few days more 
from the Wunderwerk and Mouquet Farm on the east side 
our lines would close in and put the strangle-grip upon the 
place. 

It has taken longer than that, more storms of shells, more 
splendid lives, to win the stronghold, and the wonder to me is, 
now that I know the full strength of the place, the resistance of 
its underground fortificatoins 1 and the fighting spirit of the 



308 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

troops holding it, that we captured it yesterday and to-day 
with such little loss. 

For our loss was amazingly light considering the long and 
stubborn fighting there and the machine-gun fire which swept 
upon our men from many hidden places, and the desperation 
of the garrison, who defended themselves with great gallantry. 
Let us give them the honour of saying that, for they were fine 
fighting men. 

In defence the advantage was all with them. But for the 
power of our guns and the way in which British troops 
fight meaning to win whatever the cost they were in an 
impregnable position. The taking of Mouquet Farm by the 
Australians and afterwards by the Canadians was the worst 
menace to them, enclosing them on the right, but an astounding 
episode which happened yesterday will show most clearly the 
difficulties of our troops and the cunning of the enemy s 
earthworks. 



It is many days since I reported the final capture of Mouquet 
Farm, after in-and-out fighting, and since I saw its ruins from 
the high ridge. 

These bits of broken brickwork, all that was left after the 
Australians had made it their own, were the remna*nts of a 
place more important once than an ordinary French farmstead. 

It was a series of buildings such as one finds in France 
attached to a big chateau, with barns and out-houses and 
stables, or to an old monastic institution, covering a large 
space of ground. 

Our last line of trenches struck through the middle of the 
place, leaving two bits of ruin to the north of the trench and 
one to the south, behind the line. The enemy seemed to be 
well away northwards in the shell-craters beyond our parapet, 
and nobody suspected " Brother Boche " near at hand. 

It was with great surprise a few days ago that one of our 
English officers saw two Germans rise suddenly from a hole 
behind our line, near the southern ruin of bricks. 

One of them beckoned to him. " Be careful, sir," said the 
sentry. But the officer imagined that the two Germans had 
strayed into our lines and wanted to be taken prisoner, as some 
do from time to time. 



THE DOOM OF THIEPVAL 309 

He went forward slowly until he was quite close to them. 
Then he fell dead, shot by the man who had beckoned to him, 
who with his comrade disappeared immediately into some hole 
which could not be found. 

A day or two later a working party digging in the neighbour 
hood broke through to a deep tunnel. Instead of searching 
it there and then they filled it up again. Our men found 
themselves being sniped from other holes in the ground. It 
came into the heads of our officers that beneath the ground, 
even behind our lines, were nests of Germans who might turn 
upon them at any moment, or blow them up by a charge of 
guncotton. 

Orders were given to draw back a little from Mouquet Farm, 
and the guns were turned on to it again, flinging high explosives 
and shrapnel over the place, as in the old days. Then some of 
our men were sent forward to clear the trenches, if they could 
find them. They came back without success. So the place 
remained one of our mystery corners until yesterday, 
when the attack was to begin on Thiepval, from the trenches 
south, and swinging left from Mouquet. It was dangerous, 
but it was decided to carry out the attack without worrying 
about the underground inhabitants. 

The attack on Thiepval began, and immediately our men on 
the right had advanced beyond the farm to the Zollern Trench 
parties of grey-coats came out of the tunnels of Mouquet and 
began firing machine-guns into the backs of the British 
soldiers. 

By good luck there was a young British officer not far away 
who kept his head on his shoulders, and had a quick way of 
dealing with a situation of this kind. He was in charge of a 
working party, but he saw his chance of a " scrap." " Come 
on, boys ! he shouted. Never mind your shovels." His 
men threw down their tools and followed him. 

I don t know how many there were of them, but only thirteen 
came back. They did not come back ingloriously. They 
brought with them one German officer and fifty-five men as 
prisoners, and there were no living men left at six o clock last 
night in the tunnels of Mouquet. 

It was only a small episode in the rear of the assault on Thiepval, 
but extraordinary, and not without importance, on the right 
wing of our advance, for men do not like to go forward with 



310 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

machine-gun fire from behind. It shows the way in which 
the ground all about here has been used for subterranean 
fighting. 

3 

So it was in Thiepval. Above-ground there was nothing to 
see to-day, and for a long time, but the black and broken tree- 
trunks with their lopped branches high above Thiepval Wood, 
which is just as utterly destroyed those bare poles, and to 
the left a mass of reddish brickwork which was once Thiepval 
Chateau, and, standing solitary, a queer-shaped monster, 
looking like a sleeping megatherium, which I recognized as an 
old Tank on the warpath. 

No men could have remained alive above-ground yesterday 
when our guns hurled upon it a stream of heavy shells which 
burst all over the site of the village with violent upheavals 
of earth and vast clouds of curly black smoke filled with 
death. 

The German garrison kept below, in a long series of vaults 
and tunnels which they had strengthened and linked up, and 
dug deeper, in a way that would have surprised the old French 
farmers who used to keep their wine and stores down there 
centuries ago. They had made many exits, so that they could 
pop up with rifles and machine-guns at many spots between 
the four corners of the village, and they were ready for another 
British attack. 

I know these things because I have been talking with the 
German survivors of the garrison. They were nearly all men 
of the 180th Regiment, and they have held Thiepval for two 

years. 

" In the old days," said one of them this morning he 
talked very frankly to me in excellent French- 4 the place 
was quiet and happy. We had no great comfort below-ground, 
no fancy furniture or fine decorations (our beds were just 
wooden planks raised above the ground) ; but we worked hard 
to fortify the vaults. We pierced many new tunnels. We 
made this underground world perfectly safe, and we were 

proud of it." 

It belonged so much to the 180th Regiment that instead of 
being relieved in the ordinary way like other troops, and sent off 
to different parts of the front, they were given the honour of 



THE DOOM OF THIEPVAL 311 

defending Thiepval since the beginning of the battles of the 
Somme. The regiment arranged its own reliefs company by 
company, Bapaume being their rest-camp. The men I met 
to-day had been actually in Thiepval only seven days, without 
relief, and had guessed that it would be their turn to defend 
the place against a great English assault. They had pledged 
themselves to defend it to the death. 

Before telling the narrative of our attack and the adven 
tures of our own men I think it is interesting to give this 
glimpse of the defenders, of their life underground. When 
I talked with them this morning they had just been captured. 
I was struck by the superior bearing and intelligence of 
them all. 

They were certainly the best type of Germans I have seen on 
this front Wiirtembergers all, and handsome fellows, who had 
kept their spirit one of the last groups of men who fought 
against us in the early days, and survivors of the first-line 
troops of the German army who have fallen like autumn leaves 
upon the battlefields of Europe, in the endless massacre of this 
war. 

They are weary of the war, like all their troops. They 
laughed when I asked, " Will England win ? and would not 
pretend that Germany is still victorious. They had heard of 
the downfall of the two Zeppelins in England, " Kaput," as 
they called it, and had all the news that is given to German 
people by the newspapers which they had every day even 
yesterday ! in their underground dwelling-place at Thiepval. 
But they were not dupes of false news. 

Do you believe the British Fleet is destroyed ? I asked, 
testing them. " The English Fleet is too great to be destroyed," 
they said. ; We did not believe all those stories. But we 
gave you a good fight at sea." 

They gave us a good fight on land and underground, this 
garrison of Thiepval, and with a few exceptions they fought 
honourably, so that our men have no grudge against them 
now that they are prisoners of war. 



4 

Our attack began yesterday at half-past twelve after a great 
bombardment that had been continuous for twenty-four 



812 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

hours, rising to infernal heights of shell-fire. Our men leapt out 
of their trenches to the south of the trees, just north of the 

Wunderwerk," and advanced in waves up to the trench 
by the row of apple-trees, the right wing swinging round, as 
I have said, from Mouquet. 

It was on the left that the men had the hardest time. One 
battalion leading the assault had to advance directly upon 
the chateau, that heap of red rubbish, and from cellars beneath 
it came waves of savage machine-gun fire. They were also 
raked by an enfilade fire of machine-guns from the left top 
corner of the ground where the village once stood. 

Our men were astounded. 

; I didn t believe it possible," said one of them, that any 
living soul could be there after all that shell-fire. But blessed 
as soon as it switched off if the Germans didn t come up like 
rabbits out of bunny-holes and fire most hellishly." 

For a long time it was impossible to get near the chateau or 
take a trench dug in front of it. It was a chateau once belonging 
to a German. French gossip said that he had tunnelled it 
for such a defence as that of yesterday, which is a fantastic 
tale, but its cellars stood now, and were a strong place 
from which one party of the garrison poured out a stream 
of lead. 

Where are the old Tanks ? shouted our men, and stared 
back to catch a glimpse of them. 

It is splendid to see the smiles spreading over our men s 
faces every time they talk of the Tank. Whatever their 
sufferings have been they cheer up and laugh in a comical 
way at this thought, for the Tank is a wonderfully fine tonic 
to the spirits of our men and an outrageous comedy thrusting 
a blunt nose into the grim business of this fighting. 

A Tank had been coming along slowly in a lumbering way, 
crawling over the interminable succession of shell^craters, 
lurching over and down into and out of old German trenches 
nosing heavily into soft earth, and grunting up again, and 
sitting poised on broken parapets as though quite winded by 
this exercise, and then waddling forward in the wake of the 
infantry. Then it faced the ruins of the chateau, and stared 
at them very steadily for quite a long time, as though wondering 
whether it should eat them or crush them. Our men were 
hiding behind ridges of shell-craters, keeping low from the 



THE DOOM OF THIEPVAL 313 

swish of machine-gun bullets, and imploring the Tank to 
" get on with it." 

Then it moved forward, in a monstrous way, not swerving 
much to the left or right, but heaving itself on jerkily, like a 
dragon with indigestion, but very fierce. Fire leapt from its 
nostrils. The German machine-guns splashed its sides with 
bullets, which ricochetted off. Not all those bullets kept it 
back. It got on top of the enemy s trench, trudged down 
the length of it, laying its sandbags flat and sweeping it 
with fire. 

The German machine-guns were silent, and when our men 
followed the Tank, shouting and cheering, they found a few 
German gunners standing with their hands up as a sign of 
surrender to the monster who had come upon them. 

" We couldn t have faced the chateau without the help of 
the old Tank," said several men. It didn t care a damn for 
machine-guns. It did them in properly." 

Unfortunately the great grasshopper got into trouble with 
some part of its mysterious anatomy, arid had to rest before 
crawling home to its lair, so that the rest of the fighting in 
Thiepval was without this powerful support, and our infantry 
faced many other machine-guns alone. 



I suppose only Ovillers can rank with Thiepval for long and 
close fighting. Our men had to tackle an underground foe, 
who fired at them out of holes and crevices while they remained 
hidden. 

They had to burrow for them, dive down into dark entries, 
fight in tunnels, get their hands about the throats of men who 
suddenly sprang up to them out of the earth. 

I went down into some of those deep dug-outs," said one 
boy, but ran back again every time I saw Germans there. 
Some of them wanted to surrender, but how did I know if 
they wouldn t have killed me ? And other chaps were coming 
along with bombs. As likely as not I should have been done 
in by our own lads. It was very difficult to know how to 
handle em, and up above we were being raked by rifles and 
machine-guns something frightful." 

Many of the deep dug-outs were blown in at the entrances 



314 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

so that the men were forced to come up the other side. Our 
men smoked them out, and dug holes for them to tease them 
out. It was like rat-hunting, but dangerous rats, life-size, 
and often desperate. They surrendered in hundreds when 
our men were all round them and right down in their tunnels. 

I cannot tell the number of the German garrison. Nine 
hundred and ninety-eight unwounded men and forty wounded 
were brought down safely as prisoners, but others were killed 
on the way by their own barrage, and many fought until they 
died, so that some of the dug-outs are filled with dead and many 
lie above in the shell-craters. In one case a party of sixteen 
prisoners behaved treacherously. 

They turned on the escort of two English soldiers taking 
them down, wounded them, and tried to go back to fight. 
They had no mercy from other English soldiers who came up 
at this moment. All through the night and early this morning 
the last remnant of the garrison held out in the north-west 
corner of Thiepval, until they were swept into the net by a 
separate and gallant assault of South-country troops. 

Later in the morning the enemy attempted a counter-attack 
after a tremendous barrage, which I watched falling along the 
ridge and below in Thiepval Wood. Very lights rose through 
all this smoke, and I saw our men signalling for the help of 
our guns. 

The help came quickly, and a new storm of white and black 
smoke-clouds rent by little flashes of flame burst beyond the 
village on to the German positions in and beyond the 
cemetery. 

It was queer that this seemed to silence the enemy s guns, 
for after this Thiepval was quiet for a time, and our men came 
poking about in the open as though looking for souvenirs, and 
dug new holes down into the tunnels. 

They seemed to be teasing out more prisoners, because I 
saw trails of smoke rising from those holes in the earth, and one 
black volume gushed out of a cavern mouth made through the 
heap of red rubbish which was once the chateau. 



6 

I have no space or time to deal with many events on other 
parts of the line, but everywhere the enemy is harassed, and 



THE DOOM OF THIfiPVAL 315 

his troops do not seem able yet to rally up to strong counter 
attacks. In many parts of the line patrols find it difficult to 
locate the enemy, and No Man s Land is widening out. His 
guns were active to-day along all the line, shelling Combles 
now and then, and Morval heavily, but even his gun-power 
seems to be weakening here and there, and it is likely that he 
is shifting some of his batteries. 

One of the most remarkable Tank adventures was in the 
direction of Geudecourt, where our troops were held up yester 
day in the usual way, that is to say, by the raking fire of machine- 
guns. They made two attacks, but could not get beyond that 
screen of bullets. 

Then a Tank strolled along, rolled over the trench, with 
fire flashing from its flanks, and delivered it into the hands of 
the infantry with nearly 400 prisoners, who waved white flags 
above the parapet. That was not all. The Tank, exhilarated 
by this success, went lolloping along the way in search of new 
adventures. It went quite alone, and only stopped for minor 
repairs when it was surrounded by a horde of German soldiers. 
These men closed upon it, with great pluck, for it was firing 
in a most deadly way, and tried to kill it. 

They flung bombs at it, clambered on to its back, and tried 
to smash it with the butt-ends of rifles, jabbed it with bayonets, 
fired revolvers and rifles at it, and made a wild pandemonium 
about it. 

Then our infantry arrived, attracted by the tumult of this 
scene, and drove the enemy back. But the Tank had done 
deadly work, and between 200 and 300 killed and wounded 
Germans lay about its ungainly carcass. For a little while it 
seemed that the Tank also was out of action, but after a little 
attention and a good deal of grinding and grunting, it heaved 
itself up and waddled away. 

These things sound incredible. . . . They are true. And 
though I write them in fantastic style because that is really 
the nature of the thing, it must not be forgotten that these 
Tanks are terrible engines of war, doing most grim work, and 
that the men inside are taking high risks with astonishing 



courage. 



They are of the same breed as those flying men of ours who 

to-day and yesterday flew in flocks over and beyond Thiepval 

4 ridiculously low down," as one of our officers observed, 



316 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

swooping down like hawks over German batteries so that they 
did not dare to fire. All our soldiers are fighting with a spirit 
beyond the normal laws of human nature. They are fighting 
for a quick finish if that may be had by courage to this 
most infamous and vile war. 



XXXVII 

NORTHWARD FROM THIEPVAL 



i 

SEPTEMBER 28 

THE weather is still in our favour and soldiers watch the 
weather like seamen in frail craft, knowing that two days of 
heavy rain, or less than that, may make a month s difference 
in the progress of attack, and that when mist gathers over the 
hills airmen cannot see to report to the guns, and guns cannot 
shoot on certain targets, and enemy troops may come creeping 
up to a counter-attack. 

One of his battalions was spotted by our airmen to-day, 
and our artillery found the range quickly and scattered them. 
It puts them into the same villainous plight as our men have had 
to endure under the brow of the Messines and Wyghtschaete 
Ridges and other high ground from which the enemy could see 
the slighest movement of our troops and would snipe even a 
solitary wagon with shell-fire. 

The tables are turned down here by the Somme and the 
Ancre. The German soldiers will know now the devilish 
torture of living always under hostile observation, and under 
great guns. They are already beginning to find it intolerable, 
not " sticking " it as our men " stuck " it in the salient, when 
we had hardly any guns to answer back. 

A further gain of ground was made yesterday on the high 
ridge where Thiepval stood when our men captured a strong 
line of trenches known as the Stuff Redoubt, and again to-day 
when they advanced northwards from the black trees of 
Thiepval to the Schwaben Redoubt, which is on the edge of 
the plateau. 

This attack at midday to-day was similar to other operations 
which I have described on this part of the front before. A large 



318 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

number of batteries concentrated intense, violent fire upon the 
position beyond the last blighted trees on the ridge and on the 
upheaved lines of soil, of white chalk and brown earth, which 
marked the enemy s next defensive system. 

Our heavy shells tore up the ground, opening great chasms 
and raising hell fires, until all the blue of the sky was hidden 
behind heavy spreading smoke, gushing up in round, dense 
masses which mingled and thickened the overhanging pall. 

Then our guns lengthened their range, and our infantry 
trudged across through this fog and under the wild scream of 
shells flung beyond them, and fought their way down into the 
enemy s ditches. Later, after signals of distress, the German 
gunners barraged the line of the Schwaben Redoubt, which 
seemed to prove the successful advance of our men, and ranged 
their heavies on to Thiepval itself as we did until the day 
before yesterday, when it changed hands. 

The industry of the men who lived there first that 180th 
Regiment which has held Thiepval for two years is now of 
use to our own soldiers, who can find ample and shell-proof 
cover in those underground rooms, one of them, at least, 
large enough to hold three companies of men. 

I am not certain at this hour whether we hold the whole of 
the Schwaben Redoubt, but if not all, the rest will be taken 
quickly, and the whole of the high plateau will be ours from 
Thiepval to Ginchy old telegraph. 

Meanwhile on the right we hold a firm straight line, down 
from Geudecourt to Combles, and it forms a solid flank. 



2 

SEPTEMBER 30 

It is here beyond Thiepval that the slaughter of men is 
greatest just now the scene of the shambles changes quickly 
these days and here that the enemy is sacrificing many more 
lives in the vain hope of driving our men back from the under 
ground fortress and its surrounding redoubts. 

Desperate German counter-attacks were made last night 
and this morning on the Schwaben Redoubt, just north of 
Thiepval, and on the Hessian Redoubt, farther east, where 
the German troops hold out in a wedge made by a sunken 
road from Grandcourt. 



NORTHWARD FROM THIEPVAL 319 

I have not often heard such a menace in the sound of gun 
fire as when I went to an artillery O.P. in this direction this 
morning. There was something in the atmosphere as well as 
in the intensity of the bombardment which made the shell- 
bursts they were German " crumps -thunder out in a queer, 
hollow, reverberating way. 

The enemy had concentrated a heavy weight of metal on to 
our lines here (so recently his own), and I watched these high 
explosives vomiting up from the Thiepval Ridge, just below the 
Schwaben Redoubt, with a great hope that our men holding 
out there might have found good cover in old German dug 
outs. 

That is one advantage gained in capturing these strongholds. 
The enemy s industry through two years of trench warfare 
may be turned to our own good and safety. In Thiepval itself 
many of the elaborate underground chambers have now been 
found, though when our men first won the place, after all their 
hard hand-to-hand fighting with the garrison, they could not 
get to cover at once. 

A major belonging to one of the battalions who came up 
first behind the assaulting troops New Army men who fought 
like the old Regulars, though many of them were quite new 
to this fortress fighting tells me that the entry into Thiepval 
was the most devilish experience he has had, though he has 
been through other frightful " shows." 

A dug-out next to a hole in which he had made his temporary 
headquarters was blown up with sixteen men, and when he 
moved on beyond the chateau a fine name for the only rubbish- 
heap which marked the site of a town he found the head 
quarters of the leading battalion " sitting on red bricks in 
the midst of dead men. 

By that time his colonel and adjutant had been badly wounded, 
and the major arrived with only three runners, surprised to 
see the C.O. of the other battalion standing up on the brick- 
heap waving his stick and rallying his men. 

It is not really surprising. I met that officer to-day, and I 
saw the ice-cold fervour of the man, the quiet determination 
of his character, utterly scornful of any kind of danger. Men 
would follow such a man into furnace-fires and did. 

The enemy was six hours before he began to get his barrage 
fixed (before then he was not quite sure of his own soldiers 



320 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

whereabouts) and it was colossal when it came. Many of our 
men lay about wounded. It was difficult to get them into 
safety. 

The medical officer of one of the battalions lost his stretcher- 
bearers and went up alone to do what he could, dodging great 
shells, binding up the wounds of men. 

For a time a Tank gave valuable cover. It had heaved 
itself across a trench, enfilading it each side with deadly fire. 
Underneath its body there was good shelter, and the M.O. 
worked here for a while with a heap of wounded. 

The fighting on the north-east of Thiepval is in a land of 
shell-craters. Most of the trenches are just linked shell- 
craters, into which men burrow as soon as they have rushed 
the ground, getting a little cover in their depths from the 
barrage which searches them out. 

The Hessian Trench has changed hands several times within 
the last forty-eight hours, after savage bomb-fights and bayonet 
work. Forty Germans have been brought in from one bit of 
ground, but it is not country in which prisoners are gathered 
in great numbers. It is difficult to know one s own where 
abouts. 

There are single combats over the rim of a shell-hole. Men 
knock up against each other in sthe dark, and peer into each 
other s faces to know it if is friend or foe. If friend, they drop 
into a shell-hole together ; if foe, fight till one is dead. 



3 

Queer things happen in shell-crater land, as when a Canadian 
officer brought up the rum ration for his men, and found 
himself in a ditch with a number of German wounded. They 
were lying in a row, in a tragic state. 

What was the officer to do ? He was puzzled, but decided to 
give the rum to these poor suffering devils, who were grateful 
for it. 

In the Hessian Trench, or in a twist of the crater-land about 
it, two German officers and twenty-two men came down across 
the holes. They were met by a private soldier, who was 
surprised to see them. He emptied his revolver at them, 
shooting one of them. 

Then he picked up a German rifle and fired that and killed 



NORTHWARD FROM THI&PVAL 321 

another. A second time he stooped and grasped a German 
rifle at his feet, and killed a third man. The others ran. Our 
man ran after them. 

It was a chase along a dirty ditch which had once been a 
trench, and the hunter was a dead shot, with abandoned rifles, 
all along the way. At the end of the hunt there was only 
one German unwounded, and he was brought back as a 
prisoner. 

It sounds like a lie preposterous in the numbers given. 
But the German prisoner tells the same tale, and other men 
watched the hunt at different stages this fearful man-hunt 
down a bloody ditch. 

4 

Things happen like that in this present fighting. Worse 
than that in human anguish, and better than that in courage. 
Out in crater-land were found three Australians in a hole. 

One of them was unwounded, the other two rotting with 
wounds. They had been there for nine days. The unwounded 
man had stayed with his pals all that time, day after day, 
night after night, hoping for rescue. This part of crater-land 
was swept with machine-gun fire ours or the enemy s, how 
could these men tell, who had lost all sense of direction ? 
but at night the unwounded Australian crawled out of 
his hole and rummaged among dead bodies for rations and 
water-bottles, which he took back to his friends and shared 
with them. 

It is only one incident of the kind. In crater-land there are 
many like it, though not so long-drawn. But it is the enemy 
who suffers most out there. 

Many times men left to hold a line against us do not get 
their reliefs, for the reliefs cannot get up through our curtain- 
fire or will not come. 

So the others, starving and wounded, crawl back, leaving a 
trail of dead on the way, and for a time, here and there, the 
enemy has disappeared before us, so that when our patrols 
push out they can find no living man. 

Then, after a while, the reliefs come up, dodging our shell-fire, 
leaving another trail of dead and wounded, and then dropping 
into shell-holes inhabited by corpses. >, . 

It is the^way of the war, about which the orators have much 

x 



322 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

to say, not knowing quite the meaning of it. Herr Bethmann- 
Hollweg has not seen his men in crater-land. 



5 

OCTOBER 4 

A little romance clings to old buildings, even the remnant of 
a wall or two, so that a place like Eaucourt-l Abbaye the 
ruin of a French monastery seems of greater importance than 
a heap of earth and a network of ditches like the Schwaben or 
Hessian Redoubts. It is of no more importance (I suppose 
less, except as another stepping-stone on the w r ay to Bapaume) 
but it is the scene of fighting which has a special interest 
because of those old bricks built up centuries ago by French 
monks to enclose a place of prayer and peaceful work. 

On Monday last, when the fighting began, two monsters 
came crawling up to the ditches which had been dug by the 
fighting men outside the monastery walls. They breathed 
out smoke and fire. Their sides opened with stabs of flame, 
and they killed the men in the ditches by rolling on them and 
crushing them, and hurling invisible bolts at them. 

The ghosts of the monks, if any were there, would have seen 
that modern warfare has brought back the mediaeval dragon- 
myth, and made it real, and more terrible than superstition. 
They were the Tanks which came. 

One could write all this fantastically and make a queer tale 
of it. The truth is fantastic, but one must write it soberly, 
because they were British boys who have given their lives or 
a little of their blood to get these bits of wall called Eaucourt- 
PAbbaye, with its vaults and cellars. To them it was not like 
an old fairy-tale, but was just one of those grim bits of fighting, 
damnably dangerous and ugly and cheerless, which belong 
to the battles of the Somme. 

The first part I have already told, two days ago, how our 
men, in their attack on the double line of trenches outside the 
monastery, were checked by barbed wire and machine-guns, 
and two Tanks came to the rescue. One of them, after doing 
useful work, came to a stop, and the skipper came out and, 
after doing most gallant service, was wounded 

Three of the crew put him into a shell-crater and would not 
leave him. A day later he was wounded again by a bomb, which 



NORTHWARD FROM THffiPVAL 323 

amazing as it seems did not burst, but injured him badly 
in the ribs, so that he had to endure great suffering out there Jn 
the crater. 

Our infantry passed over the trenches and through the 
monastery ruins and dug a new ditch on the north side for 
defence and cover. Heavy rain came and drenched them and 
swamped the ditch. They were cold and wet and hungry. 

For a time it was impossible to get food up to them. The 
ground behind was a quagmire for miles. The carriers became 
bogged. That little body of men to the north of the abbey 
were dangerously isolated, and might have starved but for the 
help of troops on their right, who discovered their needs and 
sent food. 

That was on Monday night. To the best of their belief the 
enemy was in force all round them. They could see flares going 
up at Warlencourt, and from a primeval burial-ground, about 
forty feet high, called the Butte de Warlencourt, just north of 
them, and they could hear the snap of rifle-bullets from close 
shell-craters and the rat-tat-tat of a machine-gun from a 
mill-house 300 yards away, north-west. 

From what our men learnt yesterday there was an hour or 
two at least when they had only a few Germans in the close 
neighbourhood of the abbey. 

The enemy s troops were expecting their relief. When they 
found that the reliefs did not come up they cursed the war 
and the weather they were as wet and hungry as our men 
and decided to go back without further waiting. Only a few 
snipers and machine-gunners stayed. 

Such things have happened before in the enemy s lines as 
I have already described. It was given away this time by a 
body of twenty men with an officer and non-commissioned 
officer, whp came down past the mill-house and took cover 
under a bank close to the abbey buildings. 

They were seen by our men, who crept out towards them 
with a machine-gun, and then shouted " Hands up ! Twenty 
men held up their hands. The officer and the " unter-ofnzier 
did not surrender, but ran hard back and made their escape, 
unless two of our bullets reached them. 

The twenty men told their tale. They belonged to the 
battalion which had been sent up to relieve the troops holding 
the outskirts of the abbey. They had found no one to receive 



324 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

them or to explain the lie of the land. They had not the 
slightest notion of the amount of ground held by the English 
here. 

Other bodies of the relieving troops were just as ignorant. 
Some of them blundered against trenches held by our men 
on the right of the abbey, and were dealt with by them. 

Meanwhile a telephone message had been sent to our artillery, 
which flung out a barrage and caught more of the relief coming 
down from Warlencourt. 

In spite of their horrible mess, the men who got through the 
barrage were bold fellows and attacked the abbey and the 
trenches south of it. They had a new supply of bombs and 
used them freely. Our men were sadly at a disadvantage. 
Bombs were very scarce. 

A dump had exploded by accident, sending their store to 
blazes. They had to fight with what they carried on their 
bodies, and it was not enough. For a time they had to submit 
to the fortune of war, and while still holding the north side of 
the abbey and ground to the east and south-east, could not 
keep the enemy from bombing his way into a part of the ruins 
and into the southern ditch which had been captured with the 
help of the Tanks. 

So the situation remained last evening and night. New 
and heavy rain-storms increased the ugly discomforts of our 
men. 

They were clinging on to water-logged holes. They were 
wet to the skin, covered in slimy mud, and cold and weary. 
The wounded among them were in a tragic plight. 

The dead seemed to have all the luck. . . . But the fighting 
spirit did not desert them. New bombs arrived, and that 
heartened them. Some of their comrades came fighting up 
from the south. 

& Early in the morning there were roars of explosion as the 
bombs crashed into the south ditch and then burst among the 
abbey ruins. It was then that there was hot fighting under 
ground as well as above-ground. Our men 4 cleaned up 
Eaucourt-l Abbaye. 

It is a technical phrase which has a very grim meaning. 
There are no Germans there now in the abbey vaults, except 
the bodies of their dead. 

In those great arched cellars, where old spiders have spun 



NORTHWARD FROM THIEPVAL 325 

their webs, and where old monks once came blinking down 
with horn lanterns to fetch the abbot s wine, or to count their 
stores, English soldiers, covered with mud, but drier now, 
sit rubbing up their rifles and binding up their wounded and 
talking of the fight that is over. 



XXXVIII 

THE WAY TO BAPAUME 



OCTOBER 7 

OUR troops have taken advantage of fine weather after heavy 
rains to make a new attack this afternoon upon a German 
front of 12,000 yards, and have captured a number of important 
positions, including the fortified village of Le Sars, to the 
north-west of Eaucourt-l Abbaye. For several days past the 
pressure of our attack had to be slackened on account of the 
bad state of the ground and the rain-storms, which prevented 
artillery and aerial observation. 

It was bad luck upon our men, as it increased the difficulties 
for getting up the supplies essential to the success of a new 
move forward, and made the battlefields one vast bog, in which 
guns and men and wagons and mules were clogged with slime 
and mud. 

Yesterday the sky cleared, and the men who had taken 
Eaucourt-l Abbaye by such a gallant struggle pushed out and 
seized the mill-house to the west of those ruins from which the 
enemy had been maintaining heavy machine-gun fire. 

It is to those who know what mud and rain mean to an army 
in the field an astonishing and audacious thing to attack in 
such numbers to-day, abruptly and without waiting for more 
favourable conditions of ground. 

At this hour, when heavy fighting continues along the whole 
line from Le Sars eastwards towards Le Transloy, it is impossible 
to write more than a few details of the progress that has been 
made alreadv. 

w 

The taking of Le Sars itself is the gain of another fortress 
defending the way to Bapaume, the main road to that town 
running through the village, which was in a natural position 



THE WAY TO BAPAUME 327 

of defence protected by a deep cutting on the right, by a double 
line of trenches to the south, and by machine-gun emplacements 
with a wide field of fire. 

It was from that position that our troops were heavily 
enfiladed in their first assaults upon the abbey ruins, and the 
enemy had determined to defend it desperately, as it holds a 
position of great strategic importance to our future drive 
against them. 

Well, they have lost it. Before the red dusk this evening 
our airmen, who were hovering over the place high above the 
shell-fire, signalled back that our infantry were well into the 
town and sending back batches of prisoners. 

It was a rapid assault. Within an hour our men had fought 
their way across the tangle of trenches and shell-craters just 
below the village, and had gained their chief objectives, which 
included the deep cutting striking into the village from the 
right. 

The only way of escape for the Germans was westwards 
through a belt of scarred and blackened tree-stumps. I do 
not know yet whether they had been dislodged from that 
primeval burial-place called the Butte de Warlencourt, which 
rises about fifty feet to the north of Le Sars on the right of the 
Bapaume Road. 

The ground beyond has the village of La Barque on the right 
of the road and four sunken cross-roads called the Cut-Throat 
on the west of a deep ravine, just above the village of Warlen- 
court-Eaucourt. It is here that the enemy will be under our 
barrage and the enemy s troops must rally there if they can 
for any counter-attack. 

East of Le Sars and north of Flers and Lesboeufs British 
battalions have made solid progress, driving back the enemy 
out of trenches hurriedly scraped up during recent weeks, 
but not so richly provided with dug-outs as his earlier lines, 
so that when our guns concentrated their fire on them the only 
escape from great slaughter was to hold them thinly with the 
main reliance on machine-guns for defence. 

Our right wing has advanced about a kilometre from Lesbceufs 
towards Le Transloy, where it has linked up with the French 
battalions pressing forward to Sailly-Saillisel, with their usual 
dashing spirit of attack. 

It seems that the day has been in our favour all along the 



328 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

line of this sweeping movement. We shall know more and may 
tell more in a few hours. 

2 

OCTOBER 8 

The men who took Le Sars are still holding it, and only the 
short facts of their case come back from them through the mist 
and across the water-pools. Last night and this morning it 
has been raining again, in a drizzling way, and all the shell- 
craters are ponds. 

It would be possible to swim in some of them, those scooped 
out by the biggest shells and linked up with others. It is 
not easy to get runners back across country like that, and 
the Germans find it harder and are drowned in many of 
those pits, because of our artillery-fire pouring " stuff over 
them. 

Yet, curiously, it is from the Germans that one learns most 
of the frightful drama which went on yesterday afternoon in 
Le Sars village. They are prisoners, 300 of them, with five 
officers who were sent back to safety, while our men stayed on 
and fought on. 

Those from the village it s just" the name that stands 
belong to the 321st and 322nd " Ersatz," or Reserve Regiment. 
They had been reinforced, strengthening the garrison and 
expecting an attack, by some uncanny means, at the exact 
minute. 

They were stout fellows our officers pay them this tribute 
and they had been ordered to fight to the last men rather 
than surrender this fortress, which is one of the gates barring 
the long road to Bapaume. 

They trained their machine-guns and trench-mortars on our 
front trenches, kept their rifles dry by wrapping them in rags, 
and sent out volunteers and victims to lie in the shell-pits 
waist-high in w r ater to snipe our men as they came over. 

They knew that they had a poor chance really to keep Le Sars, 
and their best hope of life or death was to put up a hard fight. 
Our guns had already smashed the houses and barns to rubbish- 
heaps like those of Martinpuich and Courcelette even a little 
more, judging from what our airmen saw and our nine-point- 
twos, eight-inch, and other monster guns were making a worse 
hell of the place. 



THE WAY TO BAPAUME 329 

The men of the German 321st and 322nd Regiment of Reserves 
lay low in their dug-outs and tucked their heads down in new 
trenches, finely built in a hurry. 

What happened first was that our barrage lifted and long 
waves of brown soldiers sprang over their parapets facing 
up from ground close south of Le Sars and on the German 
left from the edge of Eaucourt-l Abbaye and the mill-house 
beyond. 

Their first goal on our right was one of those beastly quadri 
lateral redoubts called the Tangle (there is another behind 
our new line at Eaucourt), and after that the road from 
Martinpuich, north-eastwards, and then forward to the Butte 
de Warlencourt that old high tumulus in which the bones 
of some prehistoric man lay until we flung them up to the 
surface of our modern civilization. 



The Tangle was the first check and a bad one. Machine- 
guns swept the field with bullets so that men lay on their faces 
in the mud, not bothering, you may guess, about appearances. 
They were just scarecrows and mud-larks, wallowing in slime 
but finding an inch or two of luck in it. Another muddy 
thing came on the way to the Tangle, more like a primeval 
river-hog than in the early days of its debut, because of the 
mountains of slush churned up by its flanks. 

The Tank turned its snout towards the Tangle and struggled 
over the choppy ground wave upon wave of craters with high 
rims, until it reached a bit of the deep cutting which makes a 
hole in the side of Le Sars. 

This sunken road, or old quarry track, was filled with German 
soldiers alive and dead. The living ones flung bombs at the 
Tank, fired rifle-volleys and tried to stab it from beneath 
as it straddled across the ditch and stayed across it, firing 
venomously from each flank. After that, something having 
happened to its internal organs, it committed "hari-kari." 
But it seems to have been useful before going up in a blaze 
of glory. 

The German prisoners who faced our men in the outskirts 
of Le Sars and then farther back in the sunken road, and in 
the hiding-places below-ground, say there was grim and bitter 



330 



THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 



fighting there, and pay a soldier s tribute to the men who 
captured them. " They fought us fiercely, and beat us. We 
could not stand up against them." Our men saw red, even in 
the mist, and in the hand-to-hand fighting they had the Germans 
by the throat. 



XXXIX 

THE GERMAN VERDICT OF THE 
SOMME BATTLES 



OCTOBER 3 

THERE has come into our hands, by the fortune of war, a 
long and critical report by General Sixt von Armin, commanding 
the fourth German Corps against the British front in the battles 
of the Somme during July. 

It is an important historical document. The German 
General has written it as a great soldier writes on his own subject, 
without passion or prejudice, in a cold scientific spirit, analysing 
the qualities of his enemy as well as the enemy s weaknesses, 
and exposing the errors and failures of his own organization, 
leadership, and troops with the same impartial candour. 

It is well done, minutely technical, full of military knowledge 
and common sense. But in setting all these things down, in 
this analysis of German organization, tactics, material, and 
" moral," during the first month of our great offensive, General 
von Armin has confessed to the utter failure of his war-machine. 

In almost every paragraph, dealing with every department 
of his corps in fighting organization, there is this confession of 
breakdown and an acknowledgment of British superiority. 

No General of ours writing of our own troops, or of our own 
artillery, or air service, could claim greater supremacy than is 
granted to us by this German army corps commander in his 
comparison between our power and his own. To our soldiers 
this document is worth a thousand times its weight in gold as 
a moral tonic, for everything they hoped had been attained in 
these battles of the Somme the ever-increasing strain upon 
German organization, the effect of our artillery-fire, the mastery 
of our flying corps, the demoralization of the enemy s command 



332 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

is here admitted as the bitter fruit of experience. It is the 
fruit of one month s experience. 

Since then there have been more months, and not all the 
lessons set down in this document have been of help to the 
enemy, but the cup of bitterness has been filled and refilled. 



The report begins with a tribute to our British infantry, 
which, says General von Armin, " has undoubtedly learnt much 
since the autumn offensive " (of 1915). 

1 It shows great dash in attack, a factor to which immense 
confidence in its overwhelming artillery greatly contributes. 
The Englishman also has his physique and training in his 
favour. 

1 The English infantry showed great tenacity in defence. 
This was especially noticeable in the case of small parties, 
which when once established with machine-guns in the corner 
of a wood or group of houses were very difficult to drive out." 

Again and again General von Armin reveals the new and 
overwhelming power of our artillery. 

Particularly noticeable was the high percentage of medium 
and heavy guns with the artillery, which, apart from this, was 
numerically far superior to ours. The ammunition has appa 
rently improved considerably. 

4 All our tactically important positions were methodically 
bombarded by the English artillery, as well as all known 
infantry and battery positions. 

Extremely heavy fire was continuously directed on the 
villages situated immediately behind the firing-line as well as 
on all natural cover afforded by the ground. Registration and 
fire control were assisted by well- organized aerial observation. 
At night the villages also were frequently bombed by aero 
planes." 

The terrifying destructive power of our artillery is revealed 
not only by these definite statements, but in advice under 
separate headings. Thus, in the instructions to officers selecting 
infantry positions : 

* Narrow trenches with steep sides again proved very 
disadvantageous, and caused considerably more casualties 
(men being buried) then shallower trenches with a wide top. 



GERMAN VERDICT OF SOMME BATTLES 333 

... A cover-trench roughly parallel with the front fire-trench 
is not sound. Such trenches are destroyed by the enemy s 
fire at the same time and in exactly the same way as the actual 
fire-trenches." 

Heavy casualties were also experienced during July by the 
German artillery, as the following note shows : 

" The English custom of shelling villages heavily led to the 
adoption of the principle that batteries should never be sited 
in the villages themselves. . . . The employment of steep 
slopes for battery positions must also be discarded for similar 



reasons. 



A melancholy picture is drawn of the German battle head 
quarters, also brought under fire by our far-reaching artillery, 
and in such a zone of fire that German Staff officers get killed 
on their way up or cannot find their whereabouts, or having 
found the building scuttle down into overcrowded hiding- 
places, panic-stricken by our bombardments. Owing to 
choosing unsuitable sites for battle headquarters there were 
" frequent interruptions in personal and telephone traffic by 
artillery-fire, and overcrowding in the few available cellars in 
the villages." 

That rush for cellars already thronged must hurt the pride 
and dignity of the German Staff. They are recommended to 
have many sign-boards put up to direct them to battle head 
quarters, and to avoid 4 lengthy searches which caused many 
casualties." 

3 

ii 

The enemy s own artillery was much hampered during the 
July battles by the steady intensity of our fire. 

4 It was found very difficult," says General von Armin, "to 
form a continuous barrage, without gaps, in front of our own 
lines, owing to the occasional uncertainty as to the position 
of our front line, which was continually changing during the 
fighting, the frequent changing of batteries, the regrouping 
of the artillery, which was often necessary, the bad conditions 
for observation, the permanent interruption of the telephone 
communications, and the practically continuous heavy fire 
which was maintained behind our front line." 

The General describes in detail the enormous difficulties 
experienced by his officers in bringing up reserves quickly 



334 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

for counter-attacks, owing to the severity of our barrage, the 
breakdown of telephonic communications, the killing of the 
runners, and the time taken for transmission of orders from 
the front line. 

The troops have to c advance slowly across country, with 
which they are generally unacquainted, and under heavy 
fire." 

He confesses to the utter failure of the counter-attacks made 
against us during July, without method and without weight. 
His words are : 

If counter-attacks, which, on account of the situation, 
ought to be methodically prepared, are hurried, they cost much 
blood, and cause the troops to lose their trust in their leaders 
if they fail, which nearly always happens in such a case. 

4 

With regard to the air service, General von Armin acknow 
ledges in strong language the supremacy of the British and the 
failure of their own : 

The means for providing the artillery with aerial observa 
tion has proved to be insufficient. . . . The numerical supe 
riority of the enemy s airmen and the fact that their machines 
were better were made disagreeably apparent to us, particularly 
in their direction of the enemy s artillery-fire and in bomb- 
dropping." 

1 The number of our battle-planes was also too small. The 
enemy s airmen were often able to fire successfully on our troops 
with machine-guns by descending to a height of a few hundred 
metres. 

The German anti-aircraft gun sections could not continue 
firing at this height without exposing their own troops to 
serious danger from fragments of shell. . . . 

4 A further lesson to be learnt from this suprisingly bold 
procedure on the part of the English airmen is that the infantry 
make too little use of their rifles as a means of driving off 
aircraft." 



The army corps commander responsible for the organization 
and direction of the troops who fought against us in July finds 



GERMAN VERDICT OF SOMME BATTLES 335 

failure and shortage in almost every department of war material 
at his disposal. 

The supply of artillery ammunition of all kinds during the 
first days of the battle did not equal the expenditure. Reserve 
supplies were only available in very small quantities. 

There were " repeated requests from all arms for an increased 
supply of entrenching tools." 

" The original supply of maps was insufficient, not only as 
regards quantity, but also as regards detail." 

The supply of horses and vehicles to the troops " has reached 
the utmost limits, owing, on the one hand, to the permanent 
reduction in the establishment of horses, and, on the other hand, 
to the permanent increase in fighting material and articles of 
equipment." 

" The existing telephone system proved totally inadequate 
in consequence of the development which the fighting took." 

" The existing organization in the light signalling service 
does not meet requirements." 

The supply of light pistols for signalling " is too small." 

The establishment of motor-cycles proved insufficient for 
the heavy fighting. This deficiency was " painfully evident." 

1 The great weight of the German machine-guns has 
again proved to be a serious disadvantage under these con 
ditions." 

4 Complaints have been received that the ammunition- 
boxes and water-jackets of the machine-guns are too heavy." 

It is universally suggested that the supply of hand-grenades 
should be increased." 

With regard to food there is no suggestion that the army 
behind the lines is on short rations, but there are difficulties 
in getting supplies up to the front trenches, and it is re 
commended that men going into action should carry their 
third iron rations " that is, a more ample supply of tinned 
foods. 

They ask for more tinned meats, tinned sausages, bread, and 
mineral waters, but the General advises that tinned herrings 
should not be eaten, as they encourage thirst. 

In all but the food department the German organization of 
supplies is weighed in the balance and found wanting by one 
of their own great Generals. 

In spite of all their boasted genius of organization, and it has 



336 THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME 

been wonderful (let us admit that handsomely), it could not 
withstand the tremendous pressure of our July thrust. 

It failed item by item artillery, aviation, ammunition, and 
stores of every kind. The Staffs were inadequate, the communi 
cations broke down, the great German war-machine was strained 
and put out of gear and badly knocked about by the ferocity 
and continuance of the British assault. 

Since then it has not been able to recover its efficiency. The 
pressure has become more powerful, the strain harder to bear. 

If General von Armin were to write a second report on the 
battles of the Somme it would be a more gloomy document than 
this. But what he has written stands, and it is a frightful 
confession which would put terror into the hearts of the German 
people could they read it. 

They will not be allowed to read it, for it tells the truth, 
which the war lords are hiding from them. 

[It will be seen that my dispatches do not include the capture 
of Beaumont-Hamel one of the most astounding achievements 
in all this fighting. In October I was compelled to go home 
on sick-leave, so that I missed that great battle on the Ancre. 
It has revived the nation s hope that by a continuous series of 
these blows the German resistance will break down utterly at 
last and that they will acknowledge defeat. From a military 
point of view that hope is the best thing we have, but the 
fulfilment of it must be deferred through many months of 
another year, reeking, like this one, of blood and massacre and 
sacrifice.] 



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