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Chapter 10 How an Exile Returned to His Own People

  • Next morning I found the Army Commander on his way to Doullens.
  • 'Take over the division?' he said. 'Certainly. I'm afraid there isn't muc_eft of it. I'll tell Carr to get through to the Corps Headquarters, when h_an find them. You'll have to nurse the remnants, for they can't be pulled ou_et—not for a day or two. Bless me, Hannay, there are parts of our line whic_e're holding with a man and a boy. You've got to stick it out till the Frenc_ake over. We're not hanging on by our eyelids—it's our eyelashes now.'
  • 'What about positions to fall back on, sir?' I asked.
  • 'We're doing our best, but we haven't enough men to prepare them.' He plucke_pen a map. 'There we're digging a line—and there. If we can hold that bit fo_wo days we shall have a fair line resting on the river. But we mayn't hav_ime.'
  • Then I told him about Blenkiron, whom of course he had heard of. 'He was on_f the biggest engineers in the States, and he's got a nailing fine eye fo_ountry. He'll make good somehow if you let him help in the job.'
  • 'The very fellow,' he said, and he wrote an order. 'Take this to Jacks an_e'll fix up a temporary commission. Your man can find a uniform somewhere i_miens.'
  • After that I went to the detail camp and found that Ivery had duly arrived.
  • 'The prisoner has given no trouble, sirr,' Hamilton reported. 'But he's a we_hing peevish. They're saying that the Gairmans is gettin' on fine, and I wa_ellin' him that he should be proud of his ain folk. But he wasn't verra wee_leased.'
  • Three days had wrought a transformation in Ivery. That face, once so cool an_apable, was now sharpened like a hunted beast's. His imagination was preyin_n him and I could picture its torture. He, who had been always at the to_irecting the machine, was now only a cog in it. He had never in his life bee_nything but powerful; now he was impotent. He was in a hard, unfamilia_orld, in the grip of something which he feared and didn't understand, in th_harge of men who were in no way amenable to his persuasiveness. It was like _roud and bullying manager suddenly forced to labour in a squad of navvies, and worse, for there was the gnawing physical fear of what was coming.
  • He made an appeal to me.
  • 'Do the English torture their prisoners?' he asked. 'You have beaten me. I ow_t, and I plead for mercy. I will go on my knees if you like. I am not afrai_f death—in my own way.'
  • 'Few people are afraid of death—in their own way.'
  • 'Why do you degrade me? I am a gentleman.'
  • 'Not as we define the thing,' I said.
  • His jaw dropped. 'What are you going to do with me?' he quavered.
  • 'You have been a soldier,' I said. 'You are going to see a littl_ighting—from the ranks. There will be no brutality, you will be armed if yo_ant to defend yourself, you will have the same chance of survival as the me_round you. You may have heard that your countrymen are doing well. It is eve_ossible that they may win the battle. What was your forecast to me? Amiens i_wo days, Abbeville in three. Well, you are a little behind scheduled time, but still you are prospering. You told me that you were the chief architect o_ll this, and you are going to be given the chance of seeing it, perhaps o_haring in it—from the other side. Does it not appeal to your sense o_ustice?'
  • He groaned and turned away. I had no more pity for him than I would have ha_or a black mamba that had killed my friend and was now caught to a clef_ree. Nor, oddly enough, had Wake. If we had shot Ivery outright at St Anton, I am certain that Wake would have called us murderers. Now he was in complet_greement. His passionate hatred of war made him rejoice that a chie_ontriver of war should be made to share in its terrors.
  • 'He tried to talk me over this morning,' he told me. 'Claimed he was on m_ide and said the kind of thing I used to say last year. It made me rathe_shamed of some of my past performances to hear that scoundrel imitating them … By the way, Hannay, what are you going to do with me?'
  • 'You're coming on my staff. You're a stout fellow and I can't do without you.'
  • 'Remember I won't fight.'
  • 'You won't be asked to. We're trying to stem the tide which wants to roll t_he sea. You know how the Boche behaves in occupied country, and Mary's i_miens.'
  • At that news he shut his lips.
  • 'Still—' he began.
  • 'Still,' I said. 'I don't ask you to forfeit one of your blessed principles.
  • You needn't fire a shot. But I want a man to carry orders for me, for w_aven't a line any more, only a lot of blobs like quicksilver. I want a cleve_an for the job and a brave one, and I know that you're not afraid.'
  • 'No,' he said. 'I don't think I am—much. Well. I'm content!'
  • I started Blenkiron off in a car for Corps Headquarters, and in the afternoo_ook the road myself. I knew every inch of the country—the lift of the hil_ast of Amiens, the Roman highway that ran straight as an arrow to St Quentin, the marshy lagoons of the Somme, and that broad strip of land wasted by battl_etween Dompierre and Peronne. I had come to Amiens through it in January, fo_ had been up to the line before I left for Paris, and then it had been _eaceful place, with peasants tilling their fields, and new buildings going u_n the old battle-field, and carpenters busy at cottage roofs, and scarcely _ransport waggon on the road to remind one of war. Now the main route wa_hoked like the Albert road when the Somme battle first began—troops going u_nd troops coming down, the latter in the last stage of weariness; a ceaseles_raffic of ambulances one way and ammunition waggons the other; busy staf_ars trying to worm a way through the mass; strings of gun horses, oddments o_avalry, and here and there blue French uniforms. All that I had seen before; but one thing was new to me. Little country carts with sad-faced women an_ystified children in them and piles of household plenishing were creepin_estward, or stood waiting at village doors. Beside these tramped old men an_oys, mostly in their Sunday best as if they were going to church. I had neve_een the sight before, for I had never seen the British Army falling back. Th_am which held up the waters had broken and the dwellers in the valley wer_rying to save their pitiful little treasures. And over everything, horse an_an, cart and wheelbarrow, road and tillage, lay the white March dust, the sk_as blue as June, small birds were busy in the copses, and in the corners o_bandoned gardens I had a glimpse of the first violets.
  • Presently as we topped a rise we came within full noise of the guns. That, too, was new to me, for it was no ordinary bombardment. There was a specia_uality in the sound, something ragged, straggling, intermittent, which I ha_ever heard before. It was the sign of open warfare and a moving battle.
  • At Peronne, from which the newly returned inhabitants had a second time fled, the battle seemed to be at the doors. There I had news of my division. It wa_arther south towards St Christ. We groped our way among bad roads to wher_ts headquarters were believed to be, while the voice of the guns grew louder.
  • They turned out to be those of another division, which was busy getting read_o cross the river. Then the dark fell, and while airplanes flew west into th_unset there was a redder sunset in the east, where the unceasing flashes o_unfire were pale against the angry glow of burning dumps. The sight of th_onnet-badge of a Scots Fusilier made me halt, and the man turned out t_elong to my division. Half an hour later I was taking over from the much- relieved Masterton in the ruins of what had once been a sugar-beet factory.
  • There to my surprise I found Lefroy. The Boche had held him prisoner fo_recisely eight hours. During that time he had been so interested in watchin_he way the enemy handled an attack that he had forgotten the miseries of hi_osition. He described with blasphemous admiration the endless wheel by whic_upplies and reserve troops move up, the silence, the smoothness, the perfec_iscipline. Then he had realized that he was a captive and unwounded, and ha_one mad. Being a heavy-weight boxer of note, he had sent his two guard_pinning into a ditch, dodged the ensuing shots, and found shelter in the le_f a blazing ammunition dump where his pursuers hesitated to follow. Then h_ad spent an anxious hour trying to get through an outpost line, which h_hought was Boche. Only by overhearing an exchange of oaths in the accents o_undee did he realize that it was our own … It was a comfort to have Lefro_ack, for he was both stout-hearted and resourceful. But I found that I had _ivision only on paper. It was about the strength of a brigade, the brigade_attalions, and the battalions companies.
  • * * * * *
  • This is not the place to write the story of the week that followed. I coul_ot write it even if I wanted to, for I don't know it. There was a pla_omewhere, which you will find in the history books, but with me it was blan_haos. Orders came, but long before they arrived the situation had changed, and I could no more obey them than fly to the moon. Often I had lost touc_ith the divisions on both flanks. Intelligence arrived erratically out of th_oid, and for the most part we worried along without it. I heard we were unde_he French—first it was said to be Foch, and then Fayolle, whom I had met i_aris. But the higher command seemed a million miles away, and we were left t_se our mother wits. My problem was to give ground as slowly as possible an_t the same time not to delay too long, for retreat we must, with the Boch_ending in brand-new divisions each morning. It was a kind of war world_istant from the old trench battles, and since I had been taught no other _ad to invent rules as I went along. Looking back, it seems a miracle that an_f us came out of it. Only the grace of God and the uncommon toughness of th_ritish soldier bluffed the Hun and prevented him pouring through the breac_o Abbeville and the sea. We were no better than a mosquito curtain stuck in _oorway to stop the advance of an angry bull.
  • The Army Commander was right; we were hanging on with our eyelashes. We mus_ave been easily the weakest part of the whole front, for we were holding _ine which was never less than two miles and was often, as I judged, neare_ive, and there was nothing in reserve to us except some oddments of cavalr_ho chased about the whole battle-field under vague orders. Mercifully for u_he Boche blundered. Perhaps he did not know our condition, for our airme_ere magnificent and you never saw a Boche plane over our line by day, thoug_hey bombed us merrily by night. If he had called our bluff we should hav_een done, but he put his main strength to the north and the south of us.
  • North he pressed hard on the Third Army, but he got well hammered by th_uards north of Bapaume and he could make no headway at Arras. South he drov_t the Paris railway and down the Oise valley, but there Petain's reserves ha_rrived, and the French made a noble stand.
  • Not that he didn't fight hard in the centre where we were, but he hadn't hi_est troops, and after we got west of the bend of the Somme he was outrunnin_is heavy guns. Still, it was a desperate enough business, for our flanks wer_ll the time falling back, and we had to conform to movements we could onl_uess at. After all, we were on the direct route to Amiens, and it was up t_s to yield slowly so as to give Haig and Petain time to get up supports. _as a miser about every yard of ground, for every yard and every minute wer_recious. We alone stood between the enemy and the city, and in the city wa_ary.
  • If you ask me about our plans I can't tell you. I had a new one every hour. _ot instructions from the Corps, but, as I have said, they were usually out o_ate before they arrived, and most of my tactics I had to invent myself. I ha_ plain task, and to fulfil it I had to use what methods the Almighty allowe_e. I hardly slept, I ate little, I was on the move day and night, but I neve_elt so strong in my life. It seemed as if I couldn't tire, and, oddly enough, I was happy. If a man's whole being is focused on one aim, he has no time t_orry … I remember we were all very gentle and soft-spoken those days. Lefroy, whose tongue was famous for its edge, now cooed like a dove. The troops wer_n their uppers, but as steady as rocks. We were against the end of the world, and that stiffens a man …
  • Day after day saw the same performance. I held my wavering front with a_utpost line which delayed each new attack till I could take its bearings. _ad special companies for counter-attack at selected points, when I wante_ime to retire the rest of the division. I think we must have fought more tha_ dozen of such little battles. We lost men all the time, but the enemy mad_o big scoop, though he was always on the edge of one. Looking back, it seem_ike a succession of miracles. Often I was in one end of a village when th_oche was in the other. Our batteries were always on the move, and the work o_he gunners was past praising. Sometimes we faced east, sometimes north, an_nce at a most critical moment due south, for our front waved and blew like _lag at a masthead … Thank God, the enemy was getting away from his bi_ngine, and his ordinary troops were fagged and poor in quality. It was whe_is fresh shock battalions came on that I held my breath … He had a heathenis_mount of machine-guns and he used them beautifully. Oh, I take my hat off t_he Boche performance. He was doing what we had tried to do at the Somme an_he Aisne and Arras and Ypres, and he was more or less succeeding. And th_eason was that he was going bald-headed for victory.
  • The men, as I have said, were wonderfully steady and patient under th_iercest trial that soldiers can endure. I had all kinds in the division—ol_rmy, new army, Territorials—and you couldn't pick and choose between them.
  • They fought like Trojans, and, dirty, weary, and hungry, found still some sal_f humour in their sufferings. It was a proof of the rock-bottom sanity o_uman nature. But we had one man with us who was hardly sane… .
  • In the hustle of those days I now and then caught sight of Ivery. I had to b_verywhere at all hours, and often visited that remnant of Scots Fusilier_nto which the subtlest brain in Europe had been drafted. He and his keeper_ere never on outpost duty or in any counter-attack. They were part of th_ass whose only business was to retire discreetly. This was child's play t_amilton, who had been out since Mons; and Amos, after taking a day to ge_sed to it, wrapped himself in his grim philosophy and rather enjoyed it. Yo_ouldn't surprise Amos any more than a Turk. But the man with them, whom the_ever left—that was another matter.
  • 'For the first wee bit,' Hamilton reported, 'we thocht he was gaun daft. Ever_hell that came near he jumped like a young horse. And the gas! We had to ti_n his mask for him, for his hands were fushionless. There was whiles when h_adna be hindered from standin' up and talkin' to hisself, though the bullet_as spittin'. He was what ye call demoralized … Syne he got as though he didn_ear or see onything. He did what we tell't him, and when we let him be he sa_own and grat. He's aye greetin' … Queer thing, sirr, but the Gairmans cann_it him. I'm aye shakin' bullets out o' my claes, and I've got a hole in m_houlder, and Andra took a bash on his tin that wad hae felled onybody tha_adna a heid like a stot. But, sirr, the prisoner taks no scaith. Our boys ar_eared of him. There was an Irishman says to me that he had the evil eye, an_e can see for yerself that he's no canny.'
  • I saw that his skin had become like parchment and that his eyes were glassy. _on't think he recognized me.
  • 'Does he take his meals?' I asked.
  • 'He doesna eat muckle. But he has an unco thirst. Ye canna keep him off th_en's water-bottles.'
  • He was learning very fast the meaning of that war he had so confidently playe_ith. I believe I am a merciful man, but as I looked at him I felt no vestig_f pity. He was dreeing the weird he had prepared for others. I thought o_cudder, of the thousand friends I had lost, of the great seas of blood an_he mountains of sorrow this man and his like had made for the world. Out o_he corner of my eye I could see the long ridges above Combles and Longueva_hich the salt of the earth had fallen to win, and which were again under th_oof of the Boche. I thought of the distracted city behind us and what i_eant to me, and the weak, the pitifully weak screen which was all it_efence. I thought of the foul deeds which had made the German name to stin_y land and sea, foulness of which he was the arch-begetter. And then I wa_mazed at our forbearance. He would go mad, and madness for him was mor_ecent than sanity.
  • I had another man who wasn't what you might call normal, and that was Wake. H_as the opposite of shell-shocked, if you understand me. He had never bee_roperly under fire before, but he didn't give a straw for it. I had known th_ame thing with other men, and they generally ended by crumpling up, for i_sn't natural that five or six feet of human flesh shouldn't be afraid of wha_an torture and destroy it. The natural thing is to be always a little scared, like me, but by an effort of the will and attention to work to contrive t_orget it. But Wake apparently never gave it a thought. He wasn't foolhardy, only indifferent. He used to go about with a smile on his face, a smile o_ontentment. Even the horrors—and we had plenty of them—didn't affect him. Hi_yes, which used to be hot, had now a curious open innocence like Peter's. _ould have been happier if he had been a little rattled.
  • One night, after we had had a bad day of anxiety, I talked to him as we smoke_n what had once been a French dug-out. He was an extra right arm to me, and _old him so. 'This must be a queer experience for you,' I said.
  • 'Yes,' he replied, 'it is very wonderful. I did not think a man could g_hrough it and keep his reason. But I know many things I did not know before.
  • I know that the soul can be reborn without leaving the body.'
  • I stared at him, and he went on without looking at me.
  • 'You're not a classical scholar, Hannay? There was a strange cult in th_ncient world, the worship of Magna Mater—the Great Mother. To enter into he_ysteries the votary passed through a bath of blood——I think I am passin_hrough that bath. I think that like the initiate I shall be renatus i_eternum—reborn into the eternal.'
  • I advised him to have a drink, for that talk frightened me. It looked as if h_ere becoming what the Scots call 'fey'. Lefroy noticed the same thing and wa_lways speaking about it. He was as brave as a bull himself, and with ver_uch the same kind of courage; but Wake's gallantry perturbed him. 'I can'_ake the chap out,' he told me. 'He behaves as if his mind was too full o_etter things to give a damn for Boche guns. He doesn't take foolish risks—_on't mean that, but he behaves as if risks didn't signify. It's positivel_erie to see him making notes with a steady hand when shells are dropping lik_ailstones and we're all thinking every minute's our last. You've got to b_areful with him, sir. He's a long sight too valuable for us to spare.'
  • Lefroy was right about that, for I don't know what I should have done withou_im. The worst part of our job was to keep touch with our flanks, and that wa_hat I used Wake for. He covered country like a moss-trooper, sometimes on _usty bicycle, oftener on foot, and you couldn't tire him. I wonder what othe_ivisions thought of the grimy private who was our chief means o_ommunication. He knew nothing of military affairs before, but he got the han_f this rough-and-tumble fighting as if he had been born for it. He neve_ired a shot; he carried no arms; the only weapons he used were his brains.
  • And they were the best conceivable. I never met a staff officer who was s_uick at getting a point or at sizing up a situation. He had put his back int_he business, and first-class talent is not common anywhere. One day a G. S.
  • O. from a neighbouring division came to see me.
  • 'Where on earth did you pick up that man Wake?' he asked.
  • 'He's a conscientious objector and a non-combatant,' I said.
  • 'Then I wish to Heaven we had a few more conscientious objectors in this show.
  • He's the only fellow who seems to know anything about this blessed battle. M_eneral's sending you a chit about him.'
  • 'No need,' I said, laughing. 'I know his value. He's an old friend of mine.'
  • I used Wake as my link with Corps Headquarters, and especially with Blenkiron.
  • For about the sixth day of the show I was beginning to get rather desperate.
  • This kind of thing couldn't go on for ever. We were miles back now, behind th_ld line of '17, and, as we rested one flank on the river, the immediat_ituation was a little easier. But I had lost a lot of men, and those tha_ere left were blind with fatigue. The big bulges of the enemy to north an_outh had added to the length of the total front, and I found I had to fan ou_y thin ranks. The Boche was still pressing on, though his impetus wa_lacker. If he knew how little there was to stop him in my section he migh_ake a push which would carry him to Amiens. Only the magnificent work of ou_irmen had prevented him getting that knowledge, but we couldn't keep th_ecrecy up for ever. Some day an enemy plane would get over, and it onl_eeded the drive of a fresh storm-battalion or two to scatter us. I wanted _ood prepared position, with sound trenches and decent wiring. Above all _anted reserves—reserves. The word was on my lips all day and it haunted m_reams. I was told that the French were to relieve us, but when—when? M_eports to Corps Headquarters were one long wail for more troops. I knew ther_as a position prepared behind us, but I needed men to hold it.
  • Wake brought in a message from Blenkiron. 'We're waiting for you, Dick,' h_rote, 'and we've gotten quite a nice little home ready for you. This old ma_asn't hustled so hard since he struck copper in Montana in '92. We've du_hree lines of trenches and made a heap of pretty redoubts, and I gues_hey're well laid out, for the Army staff has supervised them and they're n_louches at this brand of engineering. You would have laughed to see th_abour we employed. We had all breeds of Dago and Chinaman, and some of you_wn South African blacks, and they got so busy on the job they forgot abou_edtime. I used to be reckoned a bit of a slave driver, but my special talent_eren't needed with this push. I'm going to put a lot of money into foreig_issions henceforward.'
  • I wrote back: 'Your trenches are no good without men. For God's sake ge_omething that can hold a rifle. My lot are done to the world.'
  • Then I left Lefroy with the division and went down on the back of an ambulanc_o see for myself. I found Blenkiron, some of the Army engineers, and a staf_fficer from Corps Headquarters, and I found Archie Roylance.
  • They had dug a mighty good line and wired it nobly. It ran from the river t_he wood of La Bruyere on the little hill above the Ablain stream. It wa_esperately long, but I saw at once it couldn't well be shorter, for th_ivision on the south of us had its hands full with the fringe of the bi_hrust against the French.
  • 'It's no good blinking the facts,' I told them. 'I haven't a thousand men, an_hat I have are at the end of their tether. If you put 'em in these trenche_hey'll go to sleep on their feet. When can the French take over?'
  • I was told that it had been arranged for next morning, but that it had no_een put off twenty-four hours. It was only a temporary measure, pending th_rrival of British divisions from the north.
  • Archie looked grave. 'The Boche is pushin' up new troops in this sector. W_ot the news before I left squadron headquarters. It looks as if it would be _ear thing, sir.'
  • 'It won't be a near thing. It's an absolute black certainty. My fellows can'_arry on as they are another day. Great God, they've had a fortnight in hell!
  • Find me more men or we buckle up at the next push.' My temper was coming ver_ear its limits.
  • 'We've raked the country with a small-tooth comb, sir,' said one of the staf_fficers. 'And we've raised a scratch pack. Best part of two thousand. Goo_en, but most of them know nothing about infantry fighting. We've put the_nto platoons, and done our best to give them some kind of training. There'_ne thing may cheer you. We've plenty of machine-guns. There's a machine-gu_chool near by and we got all the men who were taking the course and all th_lant.'
  • I don't suppose there was ever such a force put into the field before. It wa_ wilder medley than Moussy's camp-followers at First Ypres. There was ever_ind of detail in the shape of men returning from leave, representing most o_he regiments in the army. There were the men from the machine-gun school.
  • There were Corps troops—sappers and A.S.C., and a handful of Corps cavalry.
  • Above all, there was a batch of American engineers, fathered by Blenkiron. _nspected them where they were drilling and liked the look of them. 'Forty- eight hours,' I said to myself. 'With luck we may just pull it off.'
  • Then I borrowed a bicycle and went back to the division. But before I left _ad a word with Archie. 'This is one big game of bluff, and it's you fellow_lone that enable us to play it. Tell your people that everything depends o_hem. They mustn't stint the planes in this sector, for if the Boche onc_uspicions how little he's got before him the game's up. He's not a fool an_e knows that this is the short road to Amiens, but he imagines we're holdin_t in strength. If we keep up the fiction for another two days the thing'_one. You say he's pushing up troops?'
  • 'Yes, and he's sendin' forward his tanks.'
  • 'Well, that'll take time. He's slower now than a week ago and he's got a deuc_f a country to march over. There's still an outside chance we may wi_hrough. You go home and tell the R.F.C. what I've told you.'
  • He nodded. 'By the way, sir, Pienaar's with the squadron. He would like t_ome up and see you.'
  • 'Archie,' I said solemnly, 'be a good chap and do me a favour. If I thin_eter's anywhere near the line I'll go off my head with worry. This is n_lace for a man with a bad leg. He should have been in England days ago. Can'_ou get him off—to Amiens, anyhow?'
  • 'We scarcely like to. You see, we're all desperately sorry for him, his fu_one and his career over and all that. He likes bein' with us and listenin' t_ur yarns. He has been up once or twice too. The Shark-Gladas. He swears it'_ great make, and certainly he knows how to handle the little devil.'
  • 'Then for Heaven's sake don't let him do it again. I look to you, Archie, remember. Promise.'
  • 'Funny thing, but he's always worryin' about you. He has a map on which h_arks every day the changes in the position, and he'd hobble a mile to pum_ny of our fellows who have been up your way.'
  • That night under cover of darkness I drew back the division to the newl_repared lines. We got away easily, for the enemy was busy with his ow_ffairs. I suspected a relief by fresh troops.
  • There was no time to lose, and I can tell you I toiled to get things straigh_efore dawn. I would have liked to send my own fellows back to rest, but _ouldn't spare them yet. I wanted them to stiffen the fresh lot, for they wer_eterans. The new position was arranged on the same principles as the ol_ront which had been broken on March 21st. There was our forward zone, consisting of an outpost line and redoubts, very cleverly sited, and a line o_esistance. Well behind it were the trenches which formed the battle-zone.
  • Both zones were heavily wired, and we had plenty of machine-guns; I wish _ould say we had plenty of men who knew how to use them. The outposts wer_erely to give the alarm and fall back to the line of resistance which was t_old out to the last. In the forward zone I put the freshest of my own men, the units being brought up to something like strength by the details returnin_rom leave that the Corps had commandeered. With them I put the America_ngineers, partly in the redoubts and partly in companies for counter-attack.
  • Blenkiron had reported that they could shoot like Dan'l Boone, and were simpl_poiling for a fight. The rest of the force was in the battle-zone, which wa_ur last hope. If that went the Boche had a clear walk to Amiens. Som_dditional field batteries had been brought up to support our very wea_ivisional artillery. The front was so long that I had to put all three of m_maciated brigades in the line, so I had nothing to speak of in reserve. I_as a most almighty gamble.
  • We had found shelter just in time. At 6.30 next day—for a change it was _lear morning with clouds beginning to bank up from the west—the Boche let u_now he was alive. He gave us a good drenching with gas shells which didn't d_uch harm, and then messed up our forward zone with his trench mortars. A_.20 his men began to come on, first little bunches with machine-guns and the_he infantry in waves. It was clear they were fresh troops, and we learne_fterwards from prisoners that they were Bavarians—6th or 7th, I forget which, but the division that hung us up at Monchy. At the same time there was th_ound of a tremendous bombardment across the river. It looked as if the mai_attle had swung from Albert and Montdidier to a direct push for Amiens. _ave often tried to write down the events of that day. I tried it in my repor_o the Corps; I tried it in my own diary; I tried it because Mary wanted it; but I have never been able to make any story that hung together. Perhaps I wa_oo tired for my mind to retain clear impressions, though at the time I wa_ot conscious of special fatigue. More likely it is because the fight itsel_as so confused, for nothing happened according to the books and the orderl_oul of the Boche must have been scarified … At first it went as I expected.
  • The outpost line was pushed in, but the fire from the redoubts broke up th_dvance, and enabled the line of resistance in the forward zone to give a goo_ccount of itself. There was a check, and then another big wave, assisted by _arrage from field-guns brought far forward. This time the line of resistanc_ave at several points, and Lefroy flung in the Americans in a counter-attack.
  • That was a mighty performance. The engineers, yelling like dervishes, went a_t with the bayonet, and those that preferred swung their rifles as clubs. I_as terribly costly fighting and all wrong, but it succeeded. They cleared th_oche out of a ruined farm he had rushed, and a little wood, and re- established our front. Blenkiron, who saw it all, for he went with them an_ot the tip of an ear picked off by a machine-gun bullet, hadn't any word_herewith to speak of it. 'And I once said those boys looked puffy,' h_oaned.
  • The next phase, which came about midday, was the tanks. I had never seen th_erman variety, but had heard that it was speedier and heavier than ours, bu_nwieldy. We did not see much of their speed, but we found out all about thei_lumsiness. Had the things been properly handled they should have gone throug_s like rotten wood. But the whole outfit was bungled. It looked good enoug_ountry for the use of them, but the men who made our position had had an ey_o this possibility. The great monsters, mounting a field-gun besides othe_ontrivances, wanted something like a highroad to be happy in. They wer_seless over anything like difficult ground. The ones that came down the mai_oad got on well enough at the start, but Blenkiron very sensibly had mine_he highway, and we blew a hole like a diamond pit. One lay helpless at th_oot of it, and we took the crew prisoner; another stuck its nose over an_emained there till our field-guns got the range and knocked it silly. As fo_he rest—there is a marshy lagoon called the Patte d'Oie beside the farm o_avrelle, which runs all the way north to the river, though in most places i_nly seems like a soft patch in the meadows. This the tanks had to cross t_each our line, and they never made it. Most got bogged, and made prett_argets for our gunners; one or two returned; and one the Americans, creepin_orward under cover of a little stream, blew up with a time fuse.
  • By the middle of the afternoon I was feeling happier. I knew the big attac_as still to come, but I had my forward zone intact and I hoped for the best.
  • I remember I was talking to Wake, who had been going between the two zones, when I got the first warning of a new and unexpected peril. A dud shel_lumped down a few yards from me.
  • 'Those fools across the river are firing short and badly off the straight,' _aid.
  • Wake examined the shell. 'No, it's a German one,' he said.
  • Then came others, and there could be no mistake about the direction—followe_y a burst of machine-gun fire from the same quarter. We ran in cover to _oint from which we could see the north bank of the river, and I got my glas_n it. There was a lift of land from behind which the fire was coming. W_ooked at each other, and the same conviction stood in both faces. The Boch_ad pushed down the northern bank, and we were no longer in line with ou_eighbours. The enemy was in a situation to catch us with his fire on ou_lank and left rear. We couldn't retire to conform, for to retire meant givin_p our prepared position.
  • It was the last straw to all our anxieties, and for a moment I was at the en_f my wits. I turned to Wake, and his calm eyes pulled me together.
  • 'If they can't retake that ground, we're fairly carted,' I said.
  • 'We are. Therefore they must retake it.'
  • 'I must get on to Mitchinson.' But as I spoke I realized the futility of _elephone message to a man who was pretty hard up against it himself. Only a_rgent appeal could effect anything … I must go myself … No, that wa_mpossible. I must send Lefroy … But he couldn't be spared. And all my staf_fficers were up to their necks in the battle. Besides, none of them knew th_osition as I knew it … And how to get there? It was a long way round by th_ridge at Loisy.
  • Suddenly I was aware of Wake's voice. 'You had better send me,' he was saying.
  • 'There's only one way—to swim the river a little lower down.'
  • 'That's too damnably dangerous. I won't send any man to certain death.'
  • 'But I volunteer,' he said. 'That, I believe, is always allowed in war.'
  • 'But you'll be killed before you can cross.'
  • 'Send a man with me to watch. If I get over, you may be sure I'll get t_eneral Mitchinson. If not, send somebody else by Loisy. There's desperat_eed for hurry, and you see yourself it's the only way.'
  • The time was past for argument. I scribbled a line to Mitchinson as hi_redentials. No more was needed, for Wake knew the position as well as I did.
  • I sent an orderly to accompany him to his starting- place on the bank.
  • 'Goodbye,' he said, as we shook hands. 'You'll see, I'll come back all right.'
  • His face, I remember, looked singularly happy. Five minutes later the Boch_uns opened for the final attack.
  • I believe I kept a cool head; at least so Lefroy and the others reported. The_aid I went about all afternoon grinning as if I liked it, and that I neve_aised my voice once. (It's rather a fault of mine that I bellow in a scrap.) But I know I was feeling anything but calm, for the problem was ghastly. I_ll depended on Wake and Mitchinson. The flanking fire was so bad that I ha_o give up the left of the forward zone, which caught it fairly, and retir_he men there to the battle-zone. The latter was better protected, for betwee_t and the river was a small wood and the bank rose into a bluff which slope_nwards towards us. This withdrawal meant a switch, and a switch isn't _retty thing when it has to be improvised in the middle of a battle.
  • The Boche had counted on that flanking fire. His plan was to break our tw_ings—the old Boche plan which crops up in every fight. He left our centre a_irst pretty well alone, and thrust along the river bank and to the wood of L_ruyere, where we linked up with the division on our right. Lefroy was in th_irst area, and Masterton in the second, and for three hours it was a_esperate a business as I have ever faced … The improvised switch went, an_ore and more of the forward zone disappeared. It was a hot, clear sprin_fternoon, and in the open fighting the enemy came on like troops a_anoeuvres. On the left they got into the battle-zone, and I can see ye_efroy's great figure leading a counter-attack in person, his face all puddle_ith blood from a scalp wound …
  • I would have given my soul to be in two places at once, but I had to risk ou_eft and keep close to Masterton, who needed me most. The wood of La Bruyer_as the maddest sight. Again and again the Boche was almost through it. Yo_ever knew where he was, and most of the fighting there was duels betwee_achine-gun parties. Some of the enemy got round behind us, and only a fin_erformance of a company of Cheshires saved a complete breakthrough.
  • As for Lefroy, I don't know how he stuck it out, and he doesn't know himself, for he was galled all the time by that accursed flanking fire. I got a not_bout half past four saying that Wake had crossed the river, but it was som_eary hours after that before the fire slackened. I tore back and forwar_etween my wings, and every time I went north I expected to find that Lefro_ad broken. But by some miracle he held. The Boches were in his battle-zon_ime and again, but he always flung them out. I have a recollection o_lenkiron, stark mad, encouraging his Americans with strange tongues. Once a_ passed him I saw that he had his left arm tied up. His blackened fac_rinned at me. 'This bit of landscape's mighty unsafe for democracy,' h_roaked. 'For the love of Mike get your guns on to those devils across th_iver. They're plaguing my boys too bad.'
  • It was about seven o'clock, I think, when the flanking fire slacked off, bu_t was not because of our divisional guns. There was a short and very furiou_urst of artillery fire on the north bank, and I knew it was British. The_hings began to happen. One of our planes—they had been marvels all day, swinging down like hawks for machine-gun bouts with the Boch_nfantry—reported that Mitchinson was attacking hard and getting on well. Tha_ased my mind, and I started off for Masterton, who was in greater strait_han ever, for the enemy seemed to be weakening on the river bank and puttin_is main strength in against our right … But my G.S.O.2 stopped me on th_oad. 'Wake,' he said. 'He wants to see you.'
  • 'Not now,' I cried.
  • 'He can't live many minutes.'
  • I turned and followed him to the ruinous cowshed which was my divisiona_eadquarters. Wake, as I heard later, had swum the river opposite t_itchinson's right, and reached the other shore safely, though the current wa_hipped with bullets. But he had scarcely landed before he was badly hit b_hrapnel in the groin. Walking at first with support and then carried on _tretcher, he managed to struggle on to the divisional headquarters, where h_ave my message and explained the situation. He would not let his wound b_ooked to till his job was done. Mitchinson told me afterwards that with _ace grey from pain he drew for him a sketch of our position and told hi_xactly how near we were to our end … After that he asked to be sent back t_e, and they got him down to Loisy in a crowded ambulance, and then up to u_n a returning empty. The M.O. who looked at his wound saw that the thing wa_opeless, and did not expect him to live beyond Loisy. He was bleedin_nternally and no surgeon on earth could have saved him.
  • When he reached us he was almost pulseless, but he recovered for a moment an_sked for me.
  • I found him, with blue lips and a face drained of blood, lying on my camp bed.
  • His voice was very small and far away.
  • 'How goes it?' he asked.
  • 'Please God, we'll pull through … thanks to you, old man.'
  • 'Good,' he said and his eyes shut.
  • He opened them once again.
  • 'Funny thing life. A year ago I was preaching peace … I'm still preaching it … I'm not sorry.'
  • I held his hand till two minutes later he died.
  • * * * * *
  • In the press of a fight one scarcely realizes death, even the death of _riend. It was up to me to make good my assurance to Wake, and presently I wa_ff to Masterton. There in that shambles of La Bruyere, while the light faded, there was a desperate and most bloody struggle. It was the last lap of th_ontest. Twelve hours now, I kept telling myself, and the French will be her_nd we'll have done our task. Alas! how many of us would go back to rest? … Hardly able to totter, our counter-attacking companies went in again. They ha_one far beyond the limits of mortal endurance, but the human spirit can def_ll natural laws. The balance trembled, hung, and then dropped the right way.
  • The enemy impetus weakened, stopped, and the ebb began.
  • I wanted to complete the job. Our artillery put up a sharp barrage, and th_ittle I had left comparatively fresh I sent in for a counter- stroke. Most o_he men were untrained, but there was that in our ranks which dispensed wit_raining, and we had caught the enemy at the moment of lowest vitality. W_ushed him out of La Bruyere, we pushed him back to our old forward zone, w_ushed him out of that zone to the position from which he had begun the day.
  • But there was no rest for the weary. We had lost at least a third of ou_trength, and we had to man the same long line. We consolidated it as best w_ould, started to replace the wiring that had been destroyed, found touch wit_he division on our right, and established outposts. Then, after a conferenc_ith my brigadiers, I went back to my headquarters, too tired to feel eithe_atisfaction or anxiety. In eight hours the French would be here. The word_ade a kind of litany in my ears.
  • In the cowshed where Wake had lain, two figures awaited me. The talc-enclose_andle revealed Hamilton and Amos, dirty beyond words, smoke-blackened, blood- stained, and intricately bandaged. They stood stiffly to attention.
  • 'Sirr, the prisoner,' said Hamilton. 'I have to report that the prisoner i_eid.'
  • I stared at them, for I had forgotten Ivery. He seemed a creature of a worl_hat had passed away.
  • 'Sirr, it was like this. Ever sin' this mornin', the prisoner seemed to wak_p. Ye'll mind that he was in a kind of dream all week. But he got some ne_otion in his heid, and when the battle began he exheebited signs o_estlessness. Whiles he wad lie doun in the trench, and whiles he was wantin'
  • back to the dug-out. Accordin' to instructions I provided him wi' a rifle, bu_e didna seem to ken how to handle it. It was your orders, sirr, that he wa_o have means to defend hisself if the enemy cam on, so Amos gie'd him _rench knife. But verra soon he looked as if he was ettlin' to cut his throat, so I deprived him of it.'
  • Hamilton stopped for breath. He spoke as if he were reciting a lesson, with n_tops between the sentences.
  • 'I jaloused, sirr, that he wadna last oot the day, and Amos here was of th_ame opinion. The end came at twenty minutes past three—I ken the time, for _ad just compared my watch with Amos. Ye'll mind that the Gairmans wer_eginning a big attack. We were in the front trench of what they ca' th_attle-zone, and Amos and me was keepin' oor eyes on the enemy, who could b_bsairved dribblin' ower the open. Just then the prisoner catches sight of th_nemy and jumps up on the top. Amos tried to hold him, but he kicked him i_he face. The next we kenned he was runnin' verra fast towards the enemy, holdin' his hands ower his heid and crying out loud in a foreign langwidge.'
  • 'It was German,' said the scholarly Amos through his broken teeth.
  • 'It was Gairman,' continued Hamilton. 'It seemed as if he was appealin' to th_nemy to help him. But they paid no attention, and he cam under the fire o_heir machine-guns. We watched him spin round like a teetotum and kenned tha_e was bye with it.'
  • 'You are sure he was killed?' I asked.
  • 'Yes, sirr. When we counter-attacked we fund his body.'
  • * * * * *
  • There is a grave close by the farm of Gavrelle, and a wooden cross at its hea_ears the name of the Graf von Schwabing and the date of his death. Th_ermans took Gavrelle a little later. I am glad to think that they read tha_nscription.