AUGUST 12TH -- SEPTEMBER 13TH, 1914
ON Wednesday, August 12th, 1914, my regiment left Wellington Barracks at seven in the morning. I fell into step in the ranks as they went out of the gateway, where I said good-bye to my brother, who left that day. It was very quiet in the streets, as the papers had said nothing about the movement of troops. On the march the wives and relations of men said good-bye to them at intervals, and some of our people came to see us off at the station, but we missed them.
We entrained for Southampton -- Tom, Robin, Valentine and I got into the same carriage. We left Southampton without much delay. I was afraid of a hitch, but got on to the ship without any trouble. On board everybody was very cheerful. Most people thought that the first big engagement would have begun and very likely have ended before we arrived. Some were disappointed and some cheered by this thought. The men sang without ceasing and nobody thought of a sea attack.
The next day (the 13th) we arrived very early at Le Havre in a blazing sun. As we came in, the French soldiers tumbled out of their barracks and came to cheer us. Our men had never seen foreign uniforms before, and roared with laughter at their colours. Stephen Burton of the Coldstream Guards rebuked his men. He said: "These French troops are our Allies; they are going to fight with us against the Germans." Whereupon one man said: "Poor chaps, they deserve to be encouraged," and took off his cap and waved it, and shouted "Vive l'Empereur!" He was a bit behind the times. I believe if the Germans beat us and invaded England they would still be laughed at in the villages as ridiculous foreigners.
We were met by a Colonel of the French Reserves, a weak and ineffective man, two Boy Scouts, and a semi-idiotic interpreter. We shed this man as soon as we were given our own two excellent interpreters. We had no wood to cook the men's dinners, and I was sent off with Jumbo and a hundred men to see what I could find. A French corporal came reluctantly with us. We marched a mile, when we found an English quartermaster at a depot, who let us requisition a heap of great faggots, which we carried back.
After breakfast I was sent with Hickie to arrange for billeting the men. Hickie rode a bicycle and lent me his horse, which was the most awful brute I have ever mounted in any country. It walked ordinarily like a crab; when it was frightened it walked backwards, and it was generally frightened. It would go with the troops, but not alone, and neither whip nor reins played any part in guiding the beast. Hickie couldn't ride it. Some French soldiers threw stones at it and hit me. Finally we got a crawling cab, then a motor, and went off about eleven kilometres to the Café des Fleurs, where the camp was to be. It was a piping hot day. We got a house for the Colonel and Desmond belonging to Monsieur Saville, who said he was a friend of Mr.. Yoxall, M.P. He had a very jolly arbour, where we dined. In the afternoon the troops came marching up the steep hill in great heat. Hickie and I found a man rather drunk, with a very hospitable Frenchman. The Frenchman said: "We have clean sheets and a well-aired bed, coffee, wine or beer for him, if he desires them." There was no question about the man's desiring them. Hickie almost wept, and said: "How can you keep an army together if they are going to be treated like this?" The sun had been delightful in the morning at Le Harve, but was cruel on the troops, especially on the Reservists, coming up the long hill.
The French had been very hospitable. They had given the men, where they had been able to do so free of observation, wine, coffee, and beer. The result was distressing. About twenty of the men collapsed at the top of the hill in a ditch, some of them unconscious, seeming almost dying, like fish out of water. The French behaved very well, especially the women, and stopped giving them spirits. I got hold of cars and carried the men off to their various camps. Jack, Tom, and I slept all right in a tent on the ground. The next day I was sent down by the Colonel with the drum-major, to buy beer for the regiment at 1s, 1d a gallon, which seemed cheap. I met Stephen while I was buying things. He told me we were off that night, that we were to start at 10, but that we should not be entrained till 4.30. I lunched with Churchill, who very kindly tried to help me get a horse. Long sent me back in his motor. At the camp, the Colonel complained that the beer had not come, and that the drum-major and the men had been lost. I commandeered a private motor and went back at a tremendous rate into the town, all but killing the drum-major at a corner. We had a capital dinner. M. Saville gave us excellent wine, and the Colonel told me to make him a speech. We then lay down before the march.
The next camp captured a spy, but nobody paid any attention. About 10.30 we moved off. It was a warm night with faint moonlight. Coming into the town the effect was operatic. As we marched or were halted all the windows opened and the people put their heads out to try and talk to us. At about half-past eleven it began to rain, but the me whistled the Marseillaise and "It's a long way to Tipperary." The people came out of the houses, trying to catch the hands of the men and walking along beside them. We were halted in front of the station, and
waited endlessly in the rain. We then had an almost unspeakable march over cobbles, past interminable canals, over innumerable bridges, through what seemed to be the conglomeration of all the slums of all the world, to light that always promised us rest but never came. It poured without ceasing. At last we arrived at the station, and when we saw the train pandemonium followed. Everybody jumped into carriages and tried to keep other people out, so as to have more room. We were all soaked to the skin, and nobody bothered about anyone else. After that we got out and packed the men in. Tom, Charles, Jack, Hickie, and I got into one carriage. Lieutenants who tried to follow were hurled out. It was very cold. Tom had a little brandy, which did us some good. At about 5 a.m. We moved off. The next day we arrived at Amiens.
Saturday, the 15th, we arrived at Amiens to see a great stir and bustle. We had not had much to eat. We found several officers of the Coldstream Guards in their shirt-sleeves, who had got left trying to get food. I got masses later on at a wayside station, and a stream of people to carry it, and returned with rousing cheers from the men. At every station we were met by enormous crowds that cheered and would have kissed our hands if we had let them. They made speeches and piled wreaths of flowers upon the Colonel, who was at first very shy, but driven to make a speech, liked it, and became almost garrulous. At Arras we had the greatest ovation of all. An old man in the crowd gave me a postcard, which I directed to a relation at home and asked him to post. This he did, adding a long letter of his own, to say that I was well and in good spirits. This letter and my postcard got past the censor.
Late that night we came to a place called Wassigny, where, after a lot of standing about, we went up to a farmhouse. Hickie and I lay down on the floor in a sort of an office at about half-past two, with orders to be off at five. The Colonel slept outside, half on and half off a bench. He never seemed to need sleep.
We left the next morning, Sunday, the 16th, at five, for Vadencourt. I was wearing Cretan boots, and my feet already began to trouble me.
At Vadencourt we met the Maire and his colleague, Monsieur Lesur. He took us first of all to the most beautiful place for a camp, a splendid field by a river for bathing, wooded with poplars, but no sooner had we got there than we were told the Coldstreamers had the right to it.
In Vadencourt everybody helped us. The people threw open their houses, their barns and their orchards. They could not do enough; but it was a long business and we had not finished until 1 o'clock, by which time we were pretty tired. Then the troops turned up, and we had to get them into billets. After that we lunched with the Colonel. The French cottages were extraordinarily clean, never an insect, but plenty of mice rioting about at night. There were many signs of religion in all these cottages. Most of the rooms were filled with crucifixes and pictures of the Saints. The priests seemed to have a great deal of influence. Vadencourt was very religious, and the morning we went off they had a special service for the men, which was impressive. All the people seemed saintly, except the Maire, who was very much of this world.
The men had fraternized with the people and, to the irritation of the Colonel, wore flowers in their hair and caps. There was no drunkenness -- in fact the men complained that there was nothing strong enough to make a man drunk. Generally there was not much to do, though one day the men helped with the harvest. The people couldn't have been kinder. It was, as one of the men said, a great "overtaxation." Every day there was a paper published in amazing English. In one paper we found a picture of Alex Thynne, with contemptuous and angry references to a speech he had made against English tourists going to France; he wanted them to go instead to Bath, in his constituency, and so to please both him and his constituents.
It was a quiet life. There was little soldiering, and that, as some one said, was more like manoeuvres in the millennium than anything else. Everywhere corn was offered for our horses and wine for ourselves, but there was a great fear underlying the quiet. We were constantly asked whether the Germans would ever get to Vadencourt, and always said we were quite sure they would not. We used to mess at the inn close to my house. Of French troops we say practically nothing, except our two interpreters, Charlot, who talked very good English, and Bernard, a butcher from Havre, a most excellent fellow, who was more English than the English, though he could only talk a few words of the language. There was also another interpreter, head master of a girls' school in Paris. He said to me: "Vous trouverez toutes espèces d'infames parmi les interprets, même des M.P.s"
One day Hugo said that it would be interesting, before going into battle, to have our fortunes told. I told him he could not get a fortune-teller at Vadencourt. "Not at all, there is one in the village; I saw it written over her shop, 'Sage Femme'" . . . I was very comfortable in my house, which was just out of bounds, but not enough to matter.
Monsieur Louis Prevot came in one day, with a beautiful mare, brown to bay, Moonshine II, by Troubadour out of Middlemas. He said that she could jump two metres. Her disadvantages were that she jumped these two meters at the wrong time and in the wrong place, that she hated being saddled and kicked when she was groomed: while Monsieur Prevot was showing me how to prevent her kicking she kicked right through the barn door. I bought her for £40. I think Prevot thought that the French Authorities were going to take his stables and that I was his only chance. When she settled down to troops she became a beautiful mount.
That day I went with Hickie through Etreux to Boué, foraging. I drove with a boy called Vanston behind a regular man-killer. It was far worse than anything that happened at Mons. Vanston talked all the time of the virtue of Irish women, of the great advantage of having medals and the delight old men found in looking at them, of the higher courage of the unmarried men and his keen anxiety to get into battle, and of the goodness of God. Hickie was upset because he thought that the man-killing horse was going to destroy the Maltese cart, which was, apparently, harder to replace than Vanston or me.
The night before we left the Colonel gave us a lecture. As an additional preparation for the march we were also inoculated against typhoid which made some people light-headed.
We left Vadencourt on August 19th, Hickie and Hubert both ill, travelling on a transport cart. I rode ahead, through pretty and uneventful country. At Oisy, Hickie was very ill, and I got him some brandy. We were to camp beyond Oisy. When we got to the appointed place the Maire was ill and half dotty. S. And I laboured like mad to find houses, but at last, when our work was finished we found that they had already been given to the Coldstreamers. Some of the people were excellent. One old fellow of seventy wept and wished that his house was a big as a barn, that he might put up the soldiers in it. A rough peasant boy took me round and stayed with us all the afternoon and refused to take a penny. But some of them were not so kind. In the end, billets were not found for a number of officers and men, who slept quite comfortably in the new-mown hay. We passed a big monastery where two Germans, disguised as priests, had been taken and shot the week before. I slept in a house belonging to three widows, all like stage creatures. They had one of the finest cupboards I have ever seen.
The next morning (August 20th) we marched off to Maroilles -- a big dull town, and again some of the people were not overpleased to see us. Here we had an excellent dinner. I slept at a chemist's. Hickie was sent back from Maroilles to Amiens with rheumatic fever. We got up at 4 o'clock the next morning (August 21st), and had a pretty long march to Longueville by Malplaquet.
As we crossed the frontier the men wanted to cheer, but they were ordered to be quiet, "so as not to let the Germans hear them." This order gave an unpleasant impression of the proximity of the Germans.
The men began to fall out a great deal on the road. The heat was very great. Many of the Reservists were soft, and the feet found them out. Their rough clothes rubbed them. Tom carried rifles all day, and I carried rifles and kit on my horse, while the men held on to the stirrups.
By this time the Maires of France seemed to be growing faint under the strain of billeting. We never saw the Maire of Longueville. The country made a wonderful picture that I shall never forget. We marched past fields of rich, tall grass, most splendid pasture, and by acres and acres of ripe corn which was either uncut or, if cut, uncarried.
There was any amount of food for our horses, but one felt reluctant at first at feeding them in the standing corn. I went ahead when I could to forage for the mess, and because Moonshine danced continuously and produced confusion.
We lived chiefly on hard-boiled eggs, chocolate and beer, but we did better than most other companies, because generally, as Valentine said, the officers' vocabulary was limited to "omelette" and "bière."
Longueville is a very long town, with fine houses, and we did capitally there, but the men were tired. No. 3 dined luxuriously at a farm. Hugo and I billeted at two houses close to each other. At 6 o'clock I went to get some rest, when my servant told me that the order had come to stand to arms at once, as the Germans were close upon us.
I went outside and heard one cannon boom very faintly in the distance. Women were wringing their hands and crying in the streets, and the battalion was order to stand to arms. Then, after a time, we were ordered to march at ten, and went back to quarters. At this time we began to curse the Germans for disturbing the peace of Europe.
(THE ADVANCE & MONS)
The women of the village brought us milk, bread, everything they could for the march. While we were dining the order came to make ready for a German attack. We went out at once. Bernard took me up and down various roads, and we put iron and wire and everything we could lay hold of, across them, making a flimsy defence. When we returned we heard that we were to march at 2 a.m., and at 11 those who could lay down to sleep. The woman in my house was very kind in getting bread and milk. At 2 o'clock we began marching. The horses were all over the place. Moonshine nearly kicked a man behind her heels, and Tom just missed being killed by the ammunition horse in front. It was very dark.
We marched to a place called Senlis. Dawn came, and then an enemy aeroplane appeared over us, which everybody at once shot at. Moonshine broke up two companies in the most casual way. The aeroplane went on. In Belgium the people were very good to us, during the week-end that we spent there. They were honest and pathetic. There were no signs of panic, but there was a ghastly silence in the towns.
Beyond Senlis we were halted on a plain near a big town which we did not then know was Mons. We were drawn up and told that the Germans were close to us and that we had to drive them back. Valentine and I lay down under the shelter of a haystack, as it was raining. It was a mournful day in its early hours. At about 10 a.m. I was sent for by the Colonel, who had been looking for me, he said, for some time. He told me to ride after S. To Quevy-le-Grand. I rode fast, and caught up S. We stabled our horses and went round the town. Soames, a Staff officer, told us we could have both sides of the road -- as we understood, the pompous main road. Unfortunately he meant both sides of an insignificant road we had not even noticed. We took one of the biggest and most beautiful farms I have ever seen for Headquarters, and proposed to put seven or eight officers in it. We, then, as usual, found that this house and all the rest had been given to the Coldstreamers, and we went to hunt for other billets. I thought I heard cannon, faint and dim. As we went on with our work the noise grew louder and louder. There was a big battle going on within four or five miles. Then in came the battalion from Senlis (which was burnt twenty-four hours later) at about twelve, and got into billets, while, at last, we had luncheon. Valentine and I were eating an omelette and talking Shakespeare, when suddenly we saw the battalion go past. We both got cursed because we had not been able to prophesy that the battalion would start within twenty minutes. We marched on till about half-past three, through rising and falling land, under a very hot sun. We were getting nearer to the battle. The sky was filled with smoke-wreaths from shells. "We are going slap-bang at them," said Hubert. At 3.30 we found ourselves on a hill, by a big building which looked like a monastery. The road was crowded with troops and frightened peasants. Below the road lay the green valley with the river winding through it, and on the crest of the wooded hills beyond were the Germans.
We left our horses and marched down to the valley. As we passed the village of Harveng I inconsiderately tried to get a drink of water from a house. The men naturally followed, but we were all ordered on, and I had nothing to drink until 7 o'clock the next morning. The men or some of them, got a little water that night.
From behind us by the monastery the shells rose in jerks, three at a time. The Germans answered from the belt of threes above the cliffs. Our feelings were more violently moved against German as the disturber of Europe. I went into the first fight prepared only for peace, as I had left my revolver and sword on my horse. Tom said: "For goodness sake don't get away from our company; those woods will be full of Germans with bayonets to-night." we never doubted that we should drive them back. The Colonel called the officers together and told us that the trees above the chalk cliffs were our objective. We then lay down in some lucerne and waited and talked. The order to move came about 5.30, I suppose. We went down through the fields rather footsore and came to a number of wire fences which kept in cattle. These fences we were ordered to cut. My agricultura (l) instinct revolted at this destruction. We marched on through a dark wood to the foot of the cliffs and skirting them, came to the open fields, on the flank of the wood, sloping steeply upwards. Here we found our first wounded man, though I believe as we moved through the wood an officer had been reported missing.
The first stretch was easy. Some rifle bullets hummed and buzzed round and over us, but nothing to matter. We almost began to vote war a dull thing. We took up our position under a natural earthwork. We had been there a couple of minutes when a really terrific fire opened. We were told afterwards that we were not the target -- that it was an accident that they happened to have stumbled on the exact range. But even if we had known this at the time, it would not have made much difference. It was as if a scythe of bullets passed directly over our heads about a foot above the earthworks. It came in gusts, whistling and sighing. The men behaved very well. A good many of them were praying and crossing themselves. A man next to me said: "It's hell fire we're going into." it seemed inevitable that any man who went over the bank must be cut neatly in two. Valentine was sent to find out if Bernard was ready on the far left. Then, in a lull, Tom gave the word and we scrambled over and dashed on to the next bank. Bullets were singing round us like a swarm of bees, but we had only a short way to go, and got, all or us, I think, safely to the next shelter, where we lay and gasped and thought hard.
Our next rush was worse, for we had a long way to go through turnips. The prospect was extremely
unattractive; we thought that the fire came from the line of trees which we were ordered to take, and that we should have to stand the almost impossible fire from which the first bank had sheltered us. This was not the case, as the German trenches, we heard afterwards, were about 300 yards behind the trees, but their rifle fire and their shells cut across. We had not gone more than about 100 yards, at a rush and uphill, when a shell burst over my head. I jumped to the conclusion that I was killed and fell flat. I was ashamed of myself before I reached the ground, but looking round, found that everybody else had done the same.
The turnips seemed to offer a sort of cover, and I thought of the feelings of the partridges, a covey of which rose as we sank. Tom gave us a minute in which to get our wind -- we lay gasping in the heat, while the shrapnel splashed about -- and then told us to charge, but ordered the men not to fire until they got the word. As we rose, with a number of partridges, the shooting began again, violently, but without much effect. I think we had six or seven men hit. We raced to the trees. Valentine was so passionately anxious to get there hat he discarded his haversack, scabbard and mackintosh, and for days afterwards walked about with his naked sword as a walking-stick.
When we reached the trees in a condition of tremendous sweat we found an avenue and a road with a ditch on either side. We were told that our trenches were a few yards over the father hedge, faced by the German trenches, about 250 yards off. There was fierce rifle and machine gun fire. Night fell; the wounded were carried back on stretchers; we sat very uncomfortably in a ditch. I was angry with Tom for the only time on the march, as he was meticulous about making us take cover in this beastly ditch when outside there was a bank of grass like a sofa, which to all intents and purposes was safe from fire. We were extremely thirsty, but there was nothing to drink and no prospect of getting water. After some time we moved down the road upon which we lay, getting what sleep we could. In the earlier part of the night there were fierce duels of rifle fire and machine guns between the two trenches. It sounded as if the Germans were charging. Our men in the road never got a chance of letting off their guns. Most of us dosed coldly and uncomfortably on the hard road. I woke up about 2 a.m., dreaming that a mule was kicking the splashboard of a Maltese wagon to pieces, and then realized that it was the German rifle fire beyond the hedge, hitting the road. I walked up the road for a few yards and heard two men talking, on of whom was, I suppose, Hubert, and the other must have been C. Hubert said: " Have I your leave, sir, to retire?" "Yes, you have; everybody else had gone; it is clear that we are outflanked on the left, and it is suicide to stay." the battalion was then ordered to retire; No. 3 Company, doing rearguard, was ordered back to the fields which we had already crossed. I said to Tom: "I hear upon the best authority that his is suicide." Tom said: "Of course it is; we shall get an awful slating." We moved back. There was a faint light and a spasmodic rifle fire from the Germans as we went back to the fields we had crossed. We could not make out why they did not open on us with shrapnel, as they had the range. We lay down on the new-cut hay, which smelt delicious. It seemed almost certain that we should be wiped out when dawn came, but most of us went fast asleep. I did. At 4 o'clock we were hurried off. We went down into the blinding darkness of the wood by the road we had gone the evening before. We went through the wood, past the monastery, up into the village. There we waited. The road was blocked, the villages were huddled, moaning, in the streets.
The men were very pleased to have been under fire, and compared notes as to how they felt. Every one was pleased. But they felt that more of this sort of thing would be uncivilized, and it ought to be stopped by somebody now. In the dawn we crossed a high down, where we expected to be shelled, but nothing happened. We were very tired and footsore.
At 7 o'clock we got to Quevy-le-Petit and had a long drink, the first for seventeen hours. The smell of powder and the heat had made us very thirsty. Two companies were set to dig trenches. We were held in reserve, and all the hot morning we shelled the Germans from Quevy-le-Petit, while their guns answered our fire without much effect. One shell was a trouble. The remainder of the ---- Regiment (men without officers), who had had a bad time at Mons, had a shell burst over them and rushed through our ranks, taking some of our men with them. This was put right at once.
We were told that a tremendous German attack was to take place in the morning; we disliked the idea, as, even to an amateur like myself, it was obvious that there was hardly any means of defence. To stay was to be destroyed, as the Colonel said casually, causing "une impression bien pènible."
We wrote farewell letters which were never sent. I kept mine in my pocket, as I thought it would do for a future occasion. They began to shell us heavily while we helped ourselves from neighbouring gardens. We did this with as much consideration as possible, and Valentine and I went off to cook some potatoes in an outhouse by a lane.
The peasants were flying, and offered us all their superfluous goods. They were very kind. Then an order to retire came, and in hot haste we left our potatoes. We retired at about 1 o'clock in the afternoon and marched to Longueville, or rather to a camp near it called Bavai. We reached this camp at about 10.30 at night.
Moonshine behaved like the war-horse in the Bible. She had hysterics which were intolerable; smelling the battle a long way off. She must have done this the night before, when it was much nearer and I had left her with Ryan, for when I found her again see had only one stirrup. A sergeant-major captured her and picketed her for the night.
The orchard in which we camped blazed with torchlight and camp-fires and was extremely cheerful. Every now and then a rifle went off by accident, and this was always greeted with tremendous cheers.
I was very tired, and threw myself down to sleep under a tree, when up came the Colonel, and said: "Come along, have some rum before you go to bed." I went and drank it, and with all the others lay down thoroughly warm and contented in the long, wet grass, and slept soundly Foreign Office three hours. Next morning we were woken about 3 o'clock, but did not march off till 6 o'clock.
From Bavai we marched to Landrecies. Hubert rode ahead with me to do the billeting. We pastured our horses in the luxuriant grass and got milk at the farms. We did not see much sign of panic amongst the people, but coming to a big railway station we saw that all the engines of the heavy ammunition wagons had been turned round. Hubert saw and swore. In the morning we occupied a farm where I tried to buy a strap to replace my lost stirrup. We lay about under haystacks and talked to the farmer and his son. After about an hour it was reported that two hundred Germans were coming down the road, and Eric went off after them, with machine guns.
The retreat had begun in real earnest. This whole retreat was curiously normal. Everybody got very sick of it, and all day long one was hearing officers and men saying how they wanted to turn and fight. I used to feel that myself, though when one was told to do so and realized that we were unchaperoned by the French and face by about two million Germans, it did something to cool one's pugnacity, and one received the subsequent order to retire in a temperate spirit. Men occasionally fell out from bad feet, but the regiment marched quite splendidly. There was never any sign of flurry or panic anywhere. I think that most people, when they realized what had happened, accepted things rather impersonally. They thought that as far as our Army in France was concerned, disaster, in the face of the enormous numbers that we had to fight, was inevitable, but that this disaster was not vital as long as the Navy was safe.
My dates are not quite accurate here, as I cannot account for one day. It was Sunday, August 23rd, that we had the fight at Mons; I remember several men said: "Our people are now going to Evening Service at home." as we marched out; and it was Tuesday, September 1st, that we had the fight in which I and the others were taken prisoners.
Hubert and I arrived at Landrecies about 1 o'clock. Going in, we met S., a Staff officer, who told us where we could quarter the men. We went to a big house belonging to a man called Berlaimont, which Hubert wanted to have as Headquarters. Berlaimont was offensive and did not wish to give his house. We went on to the Maire, who gave us permission to take it. After lunch we went on billeting, finding some very fine houses. We had a mixed reception. Berlaimont gave in ungraciously, and wrote up rather offensive orders as to what was not to be done: "Ne pas cracher dans les corridors." In other houses, too, they made difficulties. I said: "After all, we are better than the Germans." they soon had the chance of judging. The troops came in to be billeted. At 6 o'clock fire suddenly broke out in the town, and the cry was raised that the Germans were upon us. I ran back and got my sword and revolver at headquarters, and going out, found a body of unattached troops training a Maxim on the estaminet that was my lodgings. I prevented them firing. Troops took up positions all over the town. The inhabitants poured out pell-mell. It was like a flight in the Balkans. They carried their all away in wheelbarrows, carts, perambulators, and even umbrellas. I met and ran into M. Berlaimont, very pale and fat, trotting away from the town; he said to me with quivering cheeks: "What is it?" I said: "It is the Prussians, M. Berlaimont. And they will probably spit in your corridors."
we had some dinner in a very hospitable house. At 8 o'clock there was some very fierce fighting; the Coldstreamers had been ordered outside the town. The Germans came up, talking French, and called out to Monk, a Coldstream officer: "No tirez paz; nous sommes des amis," and "Vive les Anglais!" A German knocked Monk under a transport wagon. Then our men grasped what was happening; they charged the Germans and the Germans charged them, three times, I believe. They brought up machine guns. Afterwards one of our medical officers said that we lost 150 men, killing 800 to 1000 Germans. It was there that Archer Clive was killed.
Just before dinner I met an officer of the regiment. I asked him if he had a billet. He told me he could not get one, and I said he could have mine and that I would find another. However, I found that my kit had already
been put into the estaminet, and took him up to the market-place to find a lodging. We first went to an empty café, where all the liquor was left out, with no master or servants. We left money for what beer we drank. I then found a room in a tradesman's house. After dinner I went down to the main barricade with Jack. Wagons, including one of our own that carried our kit, had been dragged across the road and defences were put up like lightening. We loopholed the houses and some houses were pulled down. It was an extraordinarily picturesque scene. The town was pitch-black except where the torches glowed on the faces and on the bayonets of the men, or where shells flashed and burst. I thought of the taking of Italian towns in the seventeenth century. The Germans shelled us very heavily. It did not seem as if there was much chance of getting away, but no one was despondent. At about 1 a.m. There was a lull in the firing, and I went back to lie down in my room. There I fell asleep, and the shelling of the town did not wake me, though the house next to me was hit. About 2.30, in my sleep I heard my name, and found Desmond calling me loudly in the street outside. He said: "We have lost two young officers, L. And W. Come out and find them at once. The Germans are coming into the town, and we shall have to clear out instantly." I said to him: "I don't know either L. or W. By sight, and if I did it is far too dark to see them." "Well.' he said, "you must do your best." I went out and walked about the town, which was still being shelled, but I was far more afraid of being run over in the darkness than of being hit. Troops were pouring out in great confusion -- foot, artillery, transport mixed -- and there were great holes in the road made by the German shells. I met Eric, who said: "Come along with me to Guise;" also the driver of a great transport wagon, who said he had no orders, and begged me to come with him: he felt lonely without an officer.
It was quite clear to me that it was impossible to find these two officers. I met Desmond by Headquarters and told him so; he said: "Very well, fall in and come along." The regiment passed at that moment. Hubert and Tom told me to fall in, but I would not leave Moonshine, though there did not seem to be much more chance of finding her than W. and L. My groom and servant had both disappeared. The houses were all locked and deserted. I battered on a door with my revolver. Two old ladies timidly came out with a light. They pointed to a house where I could find a man, but at that moment a Frenchman came up, whom I commandeered. I went off to Headquarters to see if a sergeant was left.
There was nobody there. The dinner left looked like Belshazzar's feast. I had a good swig of beer from a jug. My saddle and sword had gone. I went out with the Frenchman and saw that the troops were nearly out of the town. I determined to stay, if necessary, and hide until I could find my horse, but the Frenchman turned up trumps and we found her. We were terrified of her heels in the dark. I thanked the old ladies and apologized for having threatened them with my revolver. There was no question of riding Moonshine bareback. I went back to get a saddle below Headquarters, but the Germans were there, so the Frenchman swore. It was too dark to see, but they weren't our men. I took her back to where the medical officer was billeted. He had been waiting with a dying man and was about to leave the town. I asked him to let one of his men lead her, and went forward to see if I could get a saddle. In this I failed. As I got out of the town dawn was breaking. For some obscure reason one of our gunners fired a shell. Everybody said: "I suppose that is to tell them where we are." we all thought that the German artillery fire must catch us going out of the town. For the second time they let us off. By that time we had grasped the fact that they could outmarch us, but we did not know that they had come on motorcars, and ascribed their greater pace to what we believed to be the fact -- that we were entirely unsupported by the French. My regiment were a good long way ahead. I joined an officer who was leading a detachment, and he was anxious that I should stay with him. As I walked along, pretty footsore, an unshaven man came up and asked me if I liked this sort of thing better than politics. I didn't say much, as I heard the soldiers discussing politicians in the dark at Landrecies, cursing all politicians every time a shell fell, and saying: "Ah, that's another one we owe to them. Why aren't they here?" He offered me a horse. He was the Colonel of the Irish Horse, Burns-Lindow. I took the horse gratefully, which had a slight wound on its shoulder and was as slow as an ox, poor beast. This drove me almost mad after Moonshine, and, meeting another officer, I fell into conversation with him. I asked if he saw anything wrong in my taking the saddle off this horse and putting it on to Moonshine when I found her. He said it was certainly irregular, and I then recognized who he was. I got away from him as soon as possible and, finding another officer of the Irish Horse, persuaded him to help me to take off the saddle and put it on to Moonshine, whom I had regained fairly chastened. I found the Colonel, and we rode on to Etreux. Here we brought down an aeroplane after it had dropped a bomb on us. The officers tried to prevent the men shooting, but the noise made their commands useless. The C.O. Was very angry. He said: "I will teach you to behave like a lot of . . .a. Off you go and dig trenches." One of the men said as we marched off: "If that was a friendly aeroplane, what did it want to drop that bomb on us for?" He was quite right. It had done this, and the shell had fallen about thirty yards away. Our fire prevented us hearing it. Stephen came down in a Balaclava helmet and said that officers were the best shots at aeroplanes because pheasants had taught them to swing in firing.
At Etreux we were ordered to dig trenches, which we did. After this I slept under a hedge, where Bernard the Frenchman, gave me some rum, which was very welcome, as it was raining. At about 9 o'clock I felt Hubert,
very angry, thumping me, as he thought I was a private who had taken his haversack to lie on.
The next morning everybody was in tremendous spirits. They had slept very well in the trenches and those outside had been housed in nests of straw. The officers were called up and spoken to by the Colonel. He read out a message from Joffre to say that the British Army had saved France. He told us that the retreat had been inevitable and had given the French time to take up adequate defensive positions. The impression I think most of us had was that we had been used as a bait. Then we were once more ordered to retire.
As I rode along in the morning going to La Fère an aeroplane passed fairly close over us; everybody fired at it at once; thousands of rounds must have been fired, and I found it useful in teaching Moonshine to stand fire. She took her first lesson well, though she broke up the formation of half a company. We often saw aeroplanes, and they were nearly always shot at, whether they belonged to friend of foe.
That day we marched to Origny, where we camped below a hill with a steep cliff to it. I went into the town and bought eggs, brandy, etc. There was every kind of rumour about: that we were completely surrounded by the Germans; that there were millions of them in front and behind; also that there had been a great French defeat at Charleroi.
We were all very jolly. At night the artillery poured past with the sound of a great cataract. We lay down on the hill-side, and every man going to get straw to cover him walked over Tom's face, who swore himself almost faint with rage. All our kit had been lost at Landrecies, and many of us had not great-coats.
We started at dawn; but had to wait to let other troops pass us. I was sent back to look for communicating files of the regiment that had been lost. I found them with difficulty and brought them on. The Germans were too near to us. That day we marched through great avenues of tall poplars and through a pleasant smiling country to La Fère. The regiment forgot its tiredness in a hunt after a strange horse which strayed into our camp and which Eric finally captured for transport. Both Desmond and he tried hard to take my saddle from me; for the saddle which I had first put upon Moonshine was Hickie's harness. Then Hickie was invalided, and I lost his saddle at Landrecies and then got the saddle from B.L., Colonel of the Irish Horse. I beat them in argument, but thought they were quite capable of taking the saddle in spite of that.
We stopped some time to smoke and rest. The men were drawn up on a torrid cornfield. Valentine was overdone. He volunteered, like the man in the Bible, to get water. Finding that he would have to wait in a long queue, he returned without the water. Tom's anger beat all records. A deputation from another regiment came and asked him to repeat what he had said. They were surprised to find that it was his brother-in-law who had provoked these comments.
I saw John Manners and George Cecil, and gave them cigarettes. Near a great factory of some kind we marched past Sir Douglas Haig. I hurried past him.
La Fère was an old fortified city. We were told we were to have a rest and the next day's march was to be a very short one. We camped near Berteaucourt. It was very hot. I hobbled up to the village to get provisions, and found a French girl, the daughter of a farmer, who talked fair English. Near the village I spoke to a number of people. I told one peasant I thought it was a mistake that everybody should fly from their houses if they did not mean to clear out altogether, and that it was an invitation to the Germans to loot and burn. He said: "Monsieur, I quite agree with you. Moi, je vais agir en patriote quand ils viendront. Je vais tout bonnement descendre dans ma cave." The next day (the 29th) we camped above the village of Pasly. On the road I got boracic cream for my horse's cracked heel. We passed through a big town, Coucy, crowded with curious, frightened, silent people. It had a very fine castle. I bought some cigarette-holders, with cinema pictures inside, for the Colonel. People pressed chocolate and all they could into my hands, taking payment unwillingly. Moonshine lost a shoe, but I managed to get her shod there. Reluctantly at Pasly I lent her to Robin, who went off to post his men in the village. The moment he had gone the O.C. Sent for me and told me we had got outside the area of our maps, and asked if I could get him a map. I started off at once to walk to Soissons. When he discovered where I was going he said it was out of the question; so I walked down to Pasly either to get a map there or to take the Maire's carriage and drive to Soissons. In Pasly there was a tenth-rate Maire and a schoolmaster. They provided me with an ancient map, the date of which was 1870. It did not even mark the monument of the schoolmasters whom the Germans and lightheartedly shot on their last visit to the village.
I found a half-wit, and paid him to carry up some wine, bread and eggs.
We camped above a quarry and talked of what was going to happen. There seemed only two alternatives. One
was that we should get into Paris and take first-class tickets home to England, and the other that we should stay and get wiped out. For we still saw no French troops; we still believed ourselves to be 100,000 against a force of anything from one to two millions.
Eric had met a Lancer who had been full of German atrocities. I met him and talked to him afterwards. His stories sounded improbable. Eric had also seen an extraordinary thing happen that morning. He had seen an aeroplane which we were bombarding. It was flying in the blue sky when it was struck. It was there, and then it was not. It just disappeared.
August 31st. We got up fairly early, and I rode with Eric past caves in which there were houses and quarries down the steep hill-side to the plain of Soissons. It was a beautiful morning, very peaceful, and the air was scented. There was bright sunlight over the marching soldiers and the fields of green, tall grass. The C.O. Told me that our camping ground was at Coeuvre. I asked leave to ride into Soissons and see if I could not get clean shirts and handkerchiefs to replace what we had lost at Landrecies.
Soissons was like a sunlit town of the dead. Four out of five houses were shut. Most of the well-to-do people had gone. It was silent streets and blind houses. The clattering which Moonshine made on the cobbles was almost creepy. I stopped first of all at a saddler's shop and tried to get a proper bridle. The saddler was a rough democratic Frenchman, not a bad fellow, the sort of man who made the Republic. He took me to a boot shop which was my first need, where the people were very kind, and I bought a capital pair of boots for twelve francs. I went into the "Lion d'Or." they refused me a stall for Moonshine on the ground that the landlord and all his family were going. I insisted and bought her some fodder, also some food for myself. They drove had bargains.
Out of doors I met some English officers having breakfast. They had only just arrived. I left a man called Gustave to look after Moonshine and went out to spend a most laborious morning of shopping. After going to many different shops I found a bazaar like a mortuary, with two old women and a boy. They said to me: "Take whatever you wan and pay as much or as little as pleases you. If the Germans come we shall set fire to this place." They pressed every kind of souvenir on me, but it was extraordinary, with plenty lying round, how difficult it was to get what one needed. I was buying mostly for other people. It was like being turned loose in Selfridge's -- boots, scissors, pocket-knives, electric torches, watches, bags, vests, etc. I also bought an alpenstock, as I had lost my sword and thought it might be useful as a light bayonet.
I then went and had a bath, the first proper one since England. The heat was very great. I felt dirty and wanted to shave my beard, as the men said every day that I became more like King Edward. I then intended to go to the Cathedral, but found the few English soldiers in the town moving out hurriedly. They said the Germans were coming in an hour. So I gave up the Cathedral and went and had lunch in a jolly little inn. There was some very excitable Frenchmen, one of whom asked me if I would sell him a lucky sixpence for a franc which he could wear round his neck. I suppose he was really pathetic; at the moment he only irritated me. He said: "J'ai confiance -- même s'ils vont à Paris j'aurais confiance." "But," he said, "where is the French Army?" They were all saying that by this time.
I went back to my boot shop. All the women there were crying. They insisted upon giving me some wine. At the hotel I found the hotel-keeper and his family going off, squeaking with anger at the ostler, Gustave, who was helping me to carry all I had bought in two great bags. The weight was very oppressive in the heat, and I was afraid of making Moonshine's tender foot worse on the hard road. Before I had got outside the town I had to get off and readjust everything, with the help of some very kind French people. While I was doing this, Westminster, with Hugh Dawnay, drove up in his beautiful car. I suggested his taking my things on to Coeuvre. He said, unfortunately he had other orders, and wanted to know where to lunch. I told him where I had lunched, but said that he would probably have to share his lunch with the Germans if he went into the town, as they must now be close behind us.
Riding on, I met some French troops, evacuating the town and with them a man of my regiment, who had hurt his knee. He could not walk, so I put him under the charge of a French sergeant. While I was talking to him two other men of my regiment came up. They had fallen out on the previous day and had had nothing to eat since yesterday's breakfast. I took them into a French house, where the people were very hospitable; gave them food at once and insisted on giving them champagne, which they said was "déchampagnisé." The men ate like wolves. One of them was a splendidly built fellow, called Sheridan.
Then we marched slowly on in the heat, for about two hours, when Sheridan said: "What is it is happening yonder, sir?" pointing to the horizon about a mile away. Soon rifle fire broke out, and Sheridan said: "There are Uhlans coming down the road." there was a wood on our left, and we made preparations to get into this; the other man had fallen behind. They were both very done, but Sheridan was like a different man at the prospect of a fight. Out people, however, or rather the French, drove the German cavalry back at this moment, and we went on quietly. I was glad to be able to turn to the left, as the fighting on our right was pretty hot and I was weighed down with all the extra things I carried.
I fell into conversation with a medical officer, and asked him if he knew where Coeuvre was. Then an R.A.M.C. Colonel came up and looked at my kit very suspiciously. He asked me who the General in command of the Division was. I said I had forgotten his name; I could not keep my head filled with these details. He said to me: "You don't seem to know who you are." I said to him: "I know who I am; I don't know who you are, I don't want to. I hope to God I shall never see you again. Go to hell and stay there." This made him angry, and he said: "Your regiment is ahead on the left, but the Germans are in front of you, if you wish to rejoin them," pointing in the direction from which I had come.
All this time I had been waiting for Sheridan and other numerous stragglers behind me, and at this point I turned round and rode off to see what had happened, thoroughly irritated with the R.A.M.C. Colonel. This apparently convinced him that I really was a German, as the engagement in the rear was going on fairly close, and he came after me with a Major of the K.R.R., who was unhappy. He said: "Will you come with me to my Colonel?" I said: "I will go with you anywhere to get away from this fussy little man, but if you think that a German spy would come on a racehorse, dressed like the White Knight, with an alpenstock, you are greatly mistaken." he promised to have my stragglers looked after, and then I rode up to his regiment with him, when Blank came up and shook hands. We had not met since Eton. He cleared my character. After that I went on as fast as I could. I picked up some more of my regiment, including a sergeant who had sprained his ankle. I told him to ride, but found a motor and put him in that.
Soon we were stopped by a sentry in a wood, as it was growing dark. He said that his officer had told him to stop all on the road and send for him. Then came General Monro, who was also stopped. He was with a sad man. He forced his way through, and I asked permission to take on the men of my regiment. He told me that I should find my regiment at Soucy, and gave me the permission I wanted. In a few moments I met the officer who had had us stopped. He said the Germans were very close to us. We could hear firing near by.
I reached my regiment as night was falling. They were delighted with my arrest. We spent our last night very comfortably, though there was heavy dew. Tom, who had been frightfully overdone, always carrying rifles, was recovering, and every one was cheerful and very keen to have a fight. Until now only Hickie had been invalided. The rum at night after a long march made a wonderful difference. The men got in very tired, footsore, cold and hungry, and had to sleep on the wet ground. A tot of rum sent them to sleep, and sent them to sleep feeling warm. Teetotalism on the march is an excellent thing, better still to drink nothing, but that nip at night made the difference between health and sickness, comfort and misery.
September 1st. The next morning we got up at 2 o'clock. The Army was passing all round us already. It was like the sound of deep, slow rivers. For the first and last time we took a wrong turning, only for a couple of hundred yards. This was the only mistake I saw at all in the long march. After two hours we halted, and S. And I sat under a dripping tree and talked about the West Country. At the beginning S. Said to me: "I shall be very disappointed if I go home without seeing a fight, but the worst of it is you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, and I don't want to see my friends killed." I said to him: "You are going to get your omelette all right now." Some constituents passed me. They said: "This be terrible dangerous. Do'ee come along with we."
Moonshine would eat nothing, and worried me. I had become very fond of her.
At about 6 o'clock we halted on what I knew to be a tragic plain. In my mind I associate this plain with turnips, though I am not sure that any grew there. There was stubble, high and wet lucerne, and a mournful field where corn had been cut but not carried. We sat about on the wet, muddy ground for breakfast, while a thin, dismal rain fell.
The C.O. Called us round and gave us our orders. He said: "We are required to hold this wood until 2 o'clock in the afternoon. We may have to fight a rearguard action until a later hour if there is a block in the road. We are to retire upon Rond de lad Reine." After this we breakfasted on hot cocoa; it tasted of vaseline or paraffin, but it was warm.
It was apparent that if the First Division took long over their luncheon we should be wiped out. By this time every one had got their second wind, their feet were hard and they were cheerful. Jumbo said he could go on walking for ever. I talked to Alex and agreed that we had seen a great deal of fun together. He had said, while we were crossing the Channel, that it was long odds, not, of course, against some of us coming back, but against any particular one of us seeing it through. This was not visibly true; we believed that we were three divisions against twenty-one or even twenty-eight German divisions. I wrote two letters, one of them a eulogy of
Moonshine. I went to Desmond, asking him to post them. He said crossly: "You seem to think that Adjutants can work miracles. Charles asks for letters under fire, you want to post them on the battlefield. It is quite useless to write letters now."
He then borrowed some of my paper and wrote a letter. I have the picture in my mind of Desmond constantly sitting, in very tidy breeches, writing and calling for sergeants. We had little sleep. He never seemed to sleep at all. He was woken all the time and was always cheerful. We had nothing to do for a bit, and I read scraps about cemeteries from Shakespeare, to irritate the others. They remained cheerful. Then we moved off to the wood. Nobody had any illusions about the immediate future. One man said to me: "I may live to see many battles; I think I shall, for I am very keen on my profession, but I shall never forget this plain or this morning." It must have been about 7.30 when we went into the wood. No. 4 held the extreme right; they were protected by a wall, which they loopholed, and a wire fence outside. No. 3 was next on a road that ran through the heart of the wood to Rond de la Reine. I did not see Tom; I thought I was sure to see him some time in the morning. Stubbs was behind No. 3, down in the village (I forget the name). The C.O. Said to me: "I want you to gallop for me to-day, so stick to me." I lost him at once in the wood behind No. 4, but rode right down to a deserted farm and, swinging to my right, found him at the cross-roads.
I had seen a good deal of him the last days. He had a very attractive personality, and it was a delight to hear him talk about anything. I asked him what chance he thought we had of getting more than half of us away. He said he thought a fairly good chance. Then he said to me: "How is your rest-cure getting on now? There is very little that looks like manoeuvres in the millennium about this, is there?" I had told him some time before that I looked upon this expedition as a rest-cure, as in some ways it was. We talked about Ireland and Home Rule, riding outside the wood. The grey, damp mist had gone and the day was beautiful.
He sent me first to Hubert, Second-in-Command, with the order that in the retreat every officer was to retire down the main road, with the exception of Stubbs, who was to retire as he liked. I imagine that he was afraid that men would be lost in the wood. By this time the firing had begun, some way off, but our men could see the Germans coming over the rising land. The C.O. Ordered me to find Colonel Pereira of the Coldstream Guards and tell him that, as soon as our own troops, now fighting the Germans in front of him, would fall back through his lines, after this he was to fall back himself.
I went off at a hand gallop, and had got halfway there, with the wood on my left and open land on my right, when the Germans began shooting at about three-quarters of a mile. Our men were firing at them from the wood, and I felt annoyed at being between two fires and the only thing visible to amuse our men and the Germans. I turned into the wood, and, galloping down a sandy way, found the road filled with refugees with haunted faces. We had seen crowds of refugees for days, but I felt sorrier for these. I suppose it was that the Germans were so very near them. I gave my message to Pereira, who advised me to go back through the wood, but I knew the other way and thought I should soon be past the German fire. I had not, however, counted on their advancing so quickly. When I came to the edge of the wood they were firing furiously -- shrapnel, machine gun and rifle fire. Our men had excellent cover, and were answering. I then tried to make my way through the wood, but it was abominably rough. There were ferns and brambles waist-high, and great ditches; the wood was very beautiful with its tall trees, but that, at the moment, was irrelevant. Moonshine stood like a goat on the stump of a tree that made an island among the ditches, and I turned back to take the way by the open fields. When I got outside the fire had grown very bad. I raced for an orchard that jutted out of the wood. Bullets hummed and buzzed. Coming to it, I found that there was wire round it. I then popped at full speed, like a rabbit, into the wood again, through a thicket, down an enormous ditch, up the other side, bang into some barbed wire, which cut my horse. It was like diving on horseback. I turned round and galloped delicately out again, riding full tilt round the orchard.
I found the Colonel, who was standing under shelter at the cross-roads to the left of the road, facing the enemy, that led through the heart of the wood. He mounted the bank and watched the Germans advancing. I sat under the bank with M. And Alex. The German shells began to fall close to us, knocking the trees about in the wood. There were some sergeants very excited and pleased at the idea of a fight. They said: "Now has come the time for deeds, not words." They felt that they were the me of the moment.
We considered whether the Germans were likely to charge down the road along which I had come, but thought we could hold them effectively in check from our corner and that the fire from the wood would reach them.
It was, I suppose, now about 10.30. Desmond, the Colonel and I rode back into the big, green wood. It was very peaceful. The sun was shining through the beech-trees, and for a bit the whole thing seemed unreal. The C.O. Talked to the men, telling them to reserve their fire till the Germans were close on them. "Then you will kill them and they won't get up again." That made them laugh. The German advance began very rapidly. The Coldstreamers must have begun falling back about this time. The Germans came up in front and on our left flank. There was a tremendous fire. The leaves, branches, etc., rained upon one. One's face was constantly fanned by the wind from their bullets. This showed how bad their fire was. My regiment took cover very well, and after the first minute or two fired pretty carefully. Moonshine was startled to begin with by the fire, but afterwards remained very still and confidential. Desmond did not get off his horse; he told me to lead my horse back into the wood and then come back to the firing line. The Colonel then told me to gallop up to the Brigadier to say that the retreat was being effectively carried out; that there were two squadrons advancing and he did not know what force of infantry. In this estimate he was very much out, as subsequent events proved. Eric, now at home wounded, said to me: "The Germans seemed hardly to have an advance guard; it was an army rolling over us." When I found the Brigadier he wanted to know if the C.O. seemed happy about things. I said I thought on the whole he did. There were bullets everywhere and men falling, but the fire was still too high. One bullet in about half a million must have hit a man. I reported to the Colonel. Our men had then begun to retire down the main road to Rond de la Reine. A galloper came up and, as far as I heard, said that we were to hang on and not retreat yet. This officer was, I think, killed immediately after giving his message. The Colonel said that the Coldstreamers had already begun to retreat, that we couldn't hold on there, but must go back to the position we had left. We were ordered to resume the position which Hubert had been told to leave. The Germans were by this time about 250 yards away, firing on us with machine guns and rifles. The noise was perfectly awful. In a lull the C.O. Said to the men: "Do you hear that? Do you know what they are doing that for? They are doing that to frighten you." I said to him: "If that's all, they might as well stop. As far as I am concerned, they have succeeded, two hours ago."
The men were ordered to charge, but the order was not heard in the noise, and after we had held this position for some minutes a command was given to retreat. Another galloper brought it, who also, I think, was shot. Guernsey, whom I met with his company, asked me to gallop back and tell Valentine he must retire his platoon; he had not received the order. I found Valentine and got off my horse and walked him some yards down the road, the Germans following. He, like everybody else, was very pleased at the calm way the men were behaving.
I mounted and galloped after the Colonel, who said: "If only we could get at them with the bayonet, I believe one of our men is as good as three of theirs." He started in the direction of the Brigadier. Men were now falling fast. I happened to see one man drop with a bayonet in his hand a few yards off, and reined in my horse to see if I could help him, but the C.O. called me and I followed him. The man whom I had seen was Hubert, though I did not know it at the time. The C.O. said: "It is impossible now to rescue wounded men; we have all we can do." He had a charmed life. He raced from one place to another through the wood; cheering the men and chaffing them, and talking to me; smoking cigarette after cigarette. Under ordinary conditions one would have thought it mad to ride at the ridiculous pace we did over the very broken ground, but the bullets made everything else irrelevant. At about 1 o'clock we went up to the Brigadier at the corner of the road. The fighting there was pretty hot. One of the men told the Colonel that Hubert was killed. The Colonel said: "Are you sure?" The man said: "Well, I can't swear." I was sent back to see. The man said he was about 400 yards away, and as I galloped as hard as I could, G. called to me: "To the right and then to the left." As I raced through the wood there was a cessation of the firing, though a number of shots came from both sides. They snapped very close. I found Hubert in the road we had been holding. I jumped off my horse and put my hand on his shoulder and spoke to him. He must have been killed at once, and looked absolutely peaceful. He cannot have suffered at all. I leant over to see if he had letters in his pocket, when I heard a whistle 25 or 30 yards behind me in the wood. I stood up and called: "If that is an Englishman, get outside the wood and up to the corner like hell; you will be shot if you try and join the rest through the wood. The Germans are between us." I bent over to pick up Hubert's bayonet, when again a whistle came and the sound of low voices, talking German. I then thought the sooner I was away the better. As I swung into the saddle a shot came from just behind me, missing me. I rode back as fast as Moonshine could go. The lull in the firing had ceased, and the Germans were all round us. One could see them in the wood, and they were shooting quite close. The man who finally got me was about 15 or 20 yards away; his bullet must have passed through a tree or through Bron's greatcoat, because it came into my side broken up. It was like a tremendous punch. I galloped straight on to my regiment and told the Colonel that Hubert was dead. He said: "I am sorry, and I am sorry that you are hit. I am going to charge." He had told me earlier that he meant to if he got the chance.
I got off and asked them to take on my horse. Then I lay down on the ground and an R.A.M.C. man dressed me. The Red Cross men gave a loud whistle when they saw my wound, and said the bullet had gone through me. The fire was frightfully hot. The men who were helping me were crouching down, lying on the ground. While he was dressing me a horse--his, I suppose--was shot just behind us. I asked them to go, as they could do me no good and would only get killed or taken themselves. The doctor gave me sore morphia, and I gave them my revolver. They put me on a stretcher, leaving another empty stretcher beside me. This was hit several times. Shots came from all directions, and the fire seemed to be lower than earlier in the day. The bullets were just above me and my stretcher. I lost consciousness for a bit; then I heard my regiment charging. There were loud cries and little spurts of spasmodic shooting; then everything was quiet and a deep peace fell upon the
wood. It was very dreamlike.
It is really very difficult to reconstruct this fight. I think every man's attention was fixed like iron on doing his own job, otherwise they would all have noticed more. I carry in my mind a number of very vivid pictures--Desmond on his horse, Valentine and I discussing fatalism, the C.O. Smoking cigarettes in the cinema holders I had bought for him a few days before.
As I lay on the stretcher a jarring thought came to me. I had in my pocket the flat-nosed bullets which the War Office had served out to us as revolver ammunition. They were not dum-dum bullets, but they would naturally not make as pleasant a wound as the sharp-nosed ones, and it occurred to me that those having them would be shot. I searched my pockets and flung mine away. I did not discover one which remained and was buried later on--but neither did the Germans. It was first hearing German voices close by that jogged my memory about these bullets, and the Germans were then so close that I felt some difficulty in throwing the bullets away. The same idea must have occurred to others, for later I heard the Germans speaking very angrily about the flat bullets they had picked up in the wood, and saying how they would deal with anyone in whose possession they were found.
The glades became resonant with loud, raucous German commands and occasional cries from wounded men. After about an hour and a half, I suppose, a German with a red beard, with the sun shining on his helmet and bayonet, came up looking like an angel of death. He walked round from behind, and put his serrated bayonet on the empty stretcher by me, so close that it all but touched me. The stretcher broke and his bayonet poked me. I enquired in broken but polite German what he proposed to do next; after reading the English papers and seeing the way he was handling his bayonet, it seemed to me that there was going to be another atrocity. He was extraordinarily kind and polite. He put something under my head; offered me wine, water, and cigarettes. He said: "Wir sind kamaraden." Another soldier came up and said: "Why didn't you stay in England--you who made war upon the Boers?" I said: "We obeyed orders, just as you do; as for the Boers, they were our enemies and are now our friends, and it is not your business to insult wounded men." My first friend then cursed him heartily, and he moved on.
The Germans passed in crowds. They seemed like steel locusts. Every now and then I would hear: "Here is an officer who talks German," and the crowd would swerve in like a steel eddy. Then: "Schnell Kinder!" and they would be off. They gave a tremendous impression of lightness and iron. After some hours, when my wound was beginning to hurt, some carriers came up to take me to a collecting place for the wounded. These men were rather rough. They dropped me and my stretcher once, but were cursed by an officer. They then carried me some distance, and took me off the stretcher, leaving me on the ground. The Germans continued to pass in an uninterrupted stream. One motor cyclist, but with a bayonet in his hand, was very unpleasant. He said: "I would like to put this in your throat and turn it round and round," waving it down to my nose. That sort of thing happened more than once or twice, but there were always more friends than enemies, though as night fell the chance of being left without friends increased. As it grew dark, I got rather cold. One of the Germans saw this, covered me with his coat, and said: "Wait a moment, I will bring you something else." He went off, and, I suppose, stripped a dead Englishman and a dead German. The German jersey which he gave me had no holes in it; the Englishman's coat had two bayonet cuts.
The wounded began to cry dreadfully in the darkness. I found myself beside Robin, who was very badly wounded in the leg. The Germans gave me water when I asked for it, but every time I drank it made me sick. At, I suppose, 9.30 or 10 p.m. They took us off into an ambulance and carried us to a house that had been turned into a hospital. I was left outside, talking to a Dane, who was very anti-German, though he was serving with them as a Red Cross man. He cursed them loudly in German. He said it was monstrous that I hadn't been attended to, that the Germans had had a defeat, and would be beaten. I said: "Yes, it's all true, but please stop talking, because they'll hear you and punish me."
Just before 12 o'clock they carried me into the hospital on to the operating table, and dressed my wound quickly.
Then I was helped out to an outhouse and lay beside Robin. It was full of English and German wounded. They gave us one drink of water and then shut and locked the door and left us for the night. One man cried and cried for water until he died. It was a horrible night. The straw was covered with blood, and there was never a moment when men were not groaning and calling for help. In the morning the man next to Robin went off his head and became animal with pain. I got the Germans to do what was possible for him. I asked the Germans to let me out, and they helped me outside into a chair, and I talked to an officer called Brandt. He sent a telegram to the German authorities to say that Robin and I were lightly wounded, and asking them to let our families know. He would not let me pay. I would have liked to have done it for every one, but that wasn't possible.
They took us away in an ambulance at about 11 o'clock. It was a beautiful September day, very hot indeed. The heat in the covered ambulance was suffocating, and Robin must have suffered horribly. He asked me the German for "quick," and when I told him, urged the Germans on. There were great jolts and . . .
At Viviers I found Shields, who said to me: "Hello, you wounded, and you a volunteer, too?" -- as if a volunteer ought to be immune form wounds. We were carried upstairs and told that Valentine and Buddy, whom I had last met under the cedars, were in the same hospital. Valentine had the point of his elbow shot away just after I had left him. He raised his hand to brush a wasp off his neck, and only remembered pitching forward when a bullet struck his elbow. He woke up in a pool of blood. A German came up and took the flask of brandy that I had given him after my visit to Soissons. He gave Valentine a drink, and then, when Valentine had said he did not want any more, swigged the whole of the rest off. It was enough to make two me drunk, solidly, for hours. Later, five Germans came up to Valentine and ragged him. One of them kicked him, but an officer arrived, took all their names, promised Valentine they should be punished, and attached an orderly to him for the night. Buddy was badly wounded in the back and arm. He found his servant in the church at Viviers. Then we all net at the house in Viviers. The doctors gave Robin and me a strong dose of morphia. That afternoon a German doctor, whose name was Hillsparck, came in and woke me. He gave me a gold watch with a crest on it, and a silver watch and a purse of gold (£8 in it). He said that a Colonel to whom the watch belonged had been buried close by in the village of Haraman, and asked me if I could say who he was. We heard that the Colonel had been killed, and I imagined it must have been him, but we could not tell, as apparently every single man of the seventy odd who had charged with him had been killed. The doctor left this watch with me. In the hospital we believed that the General of the Division, Monro, and also our own Brigadier, General Scott Kerr, were wounded, and that the Colonel and T. were killed.
Our experiences on the field were all the same. We were all well treated, though occasionally we were insulted. In hospital an old ober-stadt was in command of the doctors. He was very good to us. The English doctors were W., in command, S. next, Rankin and Shields. They were all good doctors. W., Rankin and Shields were excellent fellows. Rankin, who has been killed since, himself wounded, was dressing the wounded on the field and was recommended for the V.C. Shields has been killed in the same way, and I believe would have been recommended but that his C.O. was also killed. They were both the best sort of man you can find.
After a couple of days I moved into Buddy and Valentine's room. A little way down the street there was the château, full of wounded Germans. Our men were carried there to be operated upon.
W. and the other doctors who went to help discovered that there were 311 wounded Germans as against 92 of our own, so we didn't do badly.
Every morning the German sentries used to come in and talk to us. My German and Buddy's was very weak, but we managed to get along all right. Downstairs those who were lightly wounded sat outside in the chairs they took from the house, in the sunny garden. It was a fairly luxurious house, with paper marked "F.H." I thought it was a girls' school, for the only books we could find were the Berger de Valence and Jules Verne. My side was painful the first few days. Then they cut me open and took out the bullet, which was all in bits. It was rather hard lines on the others to perform an operation in the room, but I felt much better for it. The food difficulty was rather acute. There was very little food, and what there was was badly cooked. We lived principally on things that S.called "Chupatti"--thick, unleavened biscuits. The men began to give trouble. There was nobody in command of them. There was an ex-comedian who was particularly tiresome. We had to ask the Germans to punish one man for us. About the fourth day one of the orderlies escaped--Drummer McCoy. He passed for four days through the German lines, and on one occasion watched a whole Army Corps go by from the boughs of a tree. Then he found the French, who passed him on to the English, where he went to the Staff and told them of us. That is how we were picked up so quickly on the 11th.
Here is a copy of my diary for September 9th:
The people are beginning to return, but not the priest, who is with the Army. We want him for the regiment. Up till this time only six of the wounded have died. The Germans tell us every kind of story--the United States are declaring war on Japan, Italy on France, Denmark on England, etc. etc. Also that Paris has been given twelve hours to accept or reject the German terms, and if the French Government is obdurate the town will be bombarded. We are told that we are to be taken as prisoners to Magdelburg. It is a week since I have had a cigarette.
Thursday, September 10th, we are all very anxious to get news home, but there is no chance. Last night S. Herbert died. I had a Testament, and Valentine and I found verses which W. Read over his grave. Valentine has bad pain. Three bones broken in his arm and the point of his elbow gone. Buddy is better, but hit cruel
hard. Robin has a bad wound, and is very restless. They don't like giving us morphia. Luckily I have got my own medicine chest, which is a good thing for all of us, as I can give the others sleeping draughts. Last night a French cavalry patrol came within two miles of us. Early this morning there was rifle fire close by. It sounded in the wood that we suppose is Haraman. We think the Germans may evacuate this place at any time. The bandages have given out. Stores are not coming in. There is a big aeroplane depot quite close by, and the whole air is full of aeroplanes. It looks and feels as if there might be a big battle round here soon. They have shot an old man wandering about the aerodrome. But he was asking for it.
9 a.m. The aeroplanes are being shifted from the depot. Last night we heard that arms were issued to all the wounded Germans in hospital who could carry them. This morning the Germans are digging trenches hard. There are Red Crosses everywhere. The doctors want us to go down to the cellars if we are shelled. The French women in the village say that the French are coming. The firing is increasing.
9.15 a.m. The German hospital across the way is ordered to be ready to move at once.
10,25 a.m. An order has come for all prisoners to parade at the church at 12 o'clock. The German lightly wounded are being sent on. We are very anxious as to whether they mean to take us, too. More of our wounded who have died are being buried.
11.10 a.m. A German doctor has come. He said: "They are going and taking all (of our) prisoners, 18 (of our) lightly wounded, and leaving 25 (of their) badly wounded." French wounded are now coming in. We have no more bandages at all. A German sentry with whom I had talked has just come in. I asked him some days ago to buy some handkerchiefs. He said: "I have not been able to buy you any handkerchiefs, or to get the cigarettes you wanted, but here is one of my own handkerchiefs, which I have washed. We have got to go."
8 p.m. The last order is that the previous orders are countermanded and the Germans are to stay on ten days.
Friday, September 11th our English prisoners were marched off this morning. We are full of speculation as to what has really happened. Valentine, Buddy, and I are well.
10.10 a.m. There are many machine guns about four miles away.
10.30 a.m. There is a heavy rifle fire within a mile. It is very trying lying here in bed. We have nothing to read except The Rajah's Heir which V. sent to me and which has become known as the treasure-house of fun. It is a sort of mixture of Hymns Ancient and Modern and the Fairchild Family.
2 p.m. There is a Maxim within a few hundred yards of the house. Rifle volleys outside in the garden. A rising wind and rain threatening.
3 p.m.. Heavy rain. The French are visible, advancing.
3.10 p.m. The French are here. They came in in fine style, like conquerors; one man first, riding, his hand on his hip. The German sentries who had been posted to protect us wounded walked down and surrendered their bayonets. The German doctors came to us for help. I offered to go, but W. Went. The French infantry and cavalry came streaming through. Our wounded went out into the pouring rain to cheer them. They got water from our men whose hands they kissed. The German guns are on the skyline. The Germans are in full retreat, and said to be cut off by the English.
5 p.m. A heavy bombardment of the German guns began from here. I have come upstairs to a long low garret with skylights, in order to leave Valentine and Buddy more room. Through the skylight one can see every flash of the French and German guns. The doctors all come up here to watch with their field glasses through my skylights.
Saturday, September 12th Yesterday, when W. went down, he found the German doctors receiving cavalier treatment from the French. He explained to the French that they had treated us with the greatest kindness; after that the French treated with courtesy the old ober-stadt. Shields carved a great wooden tombstone for the thirteen men who had died up to date. It is a month to-day since I left England.
This afternoon Colonel Thompson, English Staff Officer attached to General Manoury, who had been attached to the Serbian Army through the last war, came in. McCoy, who had escaped, had found him and told him about us at Viviers. He said he would take me into Villers Cotterets after he had done some other business. We talked a lot about the Balkans, but I finally went back and lay down in my garret and shall not get up again
Sunday, September 13th I went off with Thompson this morning. We passed through the wood where we had had the fight, and a long grave of 120 men was shown to me by McCoy.
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