Thursday, 18 September 2014

Tales from the Huts (part 4)

The Red Cross and the Red Triangle.


BY LADY RODNEY.

WHEN the war clouds first burst upon an over-civilised world in August, 1914, the foundations of modern life were shaken. The proud pillars of Christianity and progress were overthrown. It needed but the barbarous methods of modern warfare, as introduced by Germany, to complete the debacle. To what purpose all the civilising processes of the last hundred years, the arts of peace, the piling-up of wealth and luxury -- nay, even the long-fought-for altruism of social reform? Man was to be hurled back into the Middle Ages. Barbarian he was born, barbarian he would die: civilisation but a veneer on the surface of life, swiftly to be brushed aside by the elemental horrors of war.

Two organisations alone have sustained our faith in the steady progress of the human species, in spite of appalling reversions. The Red Cross and the Triangle proclaim the forward march, the steady evolution of life. Surely an act of lunacy, this slaughter on the battlefield! necessitating this loving salvage of human wrecks by the angels of the Red Cross -- this re-building of the torn and lacerated body, this snatching of the dying out of the jaws of death! And yet here is the testimony of the modern mind to the sacredness of life in the body, and the triumph of mercy and love over hate and destruction; the perfection of science and surgery ever toiling to recover the lost. But the rescue of the wounded is nothing new: the utilitarian spirit of the past has always striven to save its man power if only to fight again!

What shall we say then of the Red Triangle in this war? That is a new sign of man's deep need of physical, mental and spiritual support. Man is after all a spirit, and not, as Germany has expounded, a machine. In every camp in England, France, and the East, where British manhood has withstood this false Teuton ideal, the Triangle -- the trinity of man's nature -- has raised a living protest. Wooden huts, canteens, music, games, religious services, a ministering womanhood -- these are the outward, visible sign of man's need of the humanities and the kindling fire of the spirit. The elemental courage and the robust endurance of an earlier age, man still shares with his ancestors, but the human and spiritual side of his nature has so developed that a righteous war needs the moral support of all that the Y.M.C.A. stands for, and all that the Triangle offers to the man at the front and the munition worker at home. Let it never be forgotten that the enemy is inflamed by the spirit of ambition, self-glory and hate, and the three are truly powerful levers. The wide-open doors of the Y.M.C.A. Huts, the incessant streams of khaki-clad soldiers, the peace of home in the camps of war, the loving service of the men and women who wait, the volume of song, sacred or profane, the letters home, the pipe of peace -- all these human needs supplied, speak of the evolution of man and the steady growth of Christian ideals and values on our earth. Let us take heart of grace; should the whole gamut of civilisation be swept from the face of the globe, to be replaced by some finer structure in the future, the Red Cross and the Red Triangle will still be found among the relics of our age, and tell the tale of the triumph of spirit over matter in the great Armageddon.

Y.M.C.A. Men Who Have Won the V.C.


BY BASIL YEAXLEE.

MANY thousands of Association men have joined the Forces during the War. Hundreds have laid down their lives on Active Service. Distinctions have been won by brave deeds and fine comradeship. The V.C. has been awarded to a number of Y.M.C.A. members, and the present volume would not be complete without a brief account, as far as information is available, of the achievements that won them the Cross.

Lance-Corporal Leonard James Key worth, V.C.,


of the 24th County of London Battalion, was long known in Lincoln as a good sportsman. A keen footballer, he was also a valuable "left-hander" in the Y.M.C.A. cricket team. Captain F. B. Galer, Adjutant of the 3rd Battalion, who enlisted him, says: "I well remember him as one of the pick of the finest Territorials you could wish to see." The Germans will doubtless cherish similar recollections of him, for during the British attack on Givenchy trenches, fifty-eight out of seventy-five men from his battalion were killed or wounded, but he stood fully exposed on the top of the enemy's parapet and threw about 150 bombs among the Germans, who were only a few yards away. Like Sergeant O'Leary, he thought this quite the obvious thing to do, and after being recommended for special mention, wrote: "It is supposed to be for bravery, but I cannot understand where it came in, as I only did my duty. But how I came out God only knows."

He heard that he was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but found a fortnight later that he had been awarded the V.C. Officially, this was in recognition of his exploit as a bomb-thrower. As a matter of fact, he had also made a chivalrous attempt, at great risk to himself, to save a wounded Lieutenant that same night, and his mother received a letter from the Lieutenant's mother, adding this to the story of his bravery.

Like so many others who have won the supreme military distinction, he returned to the Front, after having been feted in his native city, to face again the ardours and perils of Active Service, only to fall in the fight.

Temp. Sec.-Lieut. Donald Simpson Bell, V.C.


The following is the official story of another who crowned his winning of the Cross by rendering the great sacrifice:

"Temp. Second-Lieutenant Donald Simpson Bell, late Yorkshire Regt., for most conspicuous bravery. During an attack a very heavy enfilade fire was opened on the attacking company by a hostile machine-gun. Second-Lieutenant Bell immediately, and on his own initiative, crept up a communication trench, and then, followed by Corporal Colwill and Private Batey, rushed across the open under very heavy fire and attacked the machine-gun, shooting the firer with his revolver, and destroying the gun and personnel with bombs. This very brave act saved many lives, and ensured the success of the attack. Five days later this gallant officer lost his life performing a very similar act of bravery."

The Secretary of the Harrogate Association writes: "D. S. Bell was an old member here, and one of the most popular ones; he represented Yorkshire in the International Y.M.C.A. Football Team that toured Denmark three winters ago."

Private Edward Barber, V.C.,


Grenadier Guards, aged twenty-two, a member of the Tring Y.M.C.A., was awarded the V.C. for bravery at Neuve Chapelle. He ran in front of a grenade company, and threw bombs with such effect that numbers of the Germans at once surrendered. When his company came up, Barber was found quite alone with the enemy surrendering all round him. He was afterwards killed by a sniper's bullet.

Sergeant Claude Castleton, V.C.,


late of the Australian Contingent, joined the Lowestoft Association in September, 1910, and was a member for two years up to the time of his leaving this country to seek a larger life in Australia. He is remembered by many of the present members as a keen gymnast and a strong, manly, open-air fellow. The record of his devotion, contained in a letter from one of his comrades, fully bears out their knowledge of his bravery and resolution of character.

"We were helping to hold a first line of trenches, when our infantrymen made an attack on the enemy. As may be expected, we had some casualties. Claude, knowing some of our wounded men to be out in 'No Man's Land,' could not resist going to their assistance. Amidst shrapnel and heavy machine-gun fire, rifle-fire, and gas, he leaped out, had rescued two wounded men, and was in the act of bringing in the third, when, to our sorrow, he was hit by either rifle or machine-gun fire. First-aid men went to his assistance immediately, but could do no good. He had done his last. We gave him a decent burial behind our front line, erecting a small cross with his name, number, etc., over his grave. His name will stand for ever amongst the officers and men of his company, and also with the infantrymen and officers to whom we were attached. His name is being mentioned by all, for not only is it on this occasion that we have found him a leader, but at Gallipoli, after losing an officer and sergeant, we looked to Claude as our leader, and from then up to the time of his death we were ready to follow him anywhere, having confidence in him as a leader of true British spirit, and we know how difficult it will be for a man of his ability to be replaced." He was awarded the Victoria Cross.



Corporal James L. Dawson, V.C.


The Victoria Cross was awarded to Corporal James L. Dawson, a former Alloa Y.M.C.A. member, for conspicuous bravery. A supplement to the London Gazette gave, amidst the particulars of deeds that had won the Cross, the following account of his achievement :

"No. 91608, Corporal J. L. Dawson, 187th Co. Royal Engineers, for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on October 13th, 1915, at Hohenzollern Redoubt. During a gas attack, when the trenches were full of men, he walked backwards and forwards along the parades, fully exposed to a very heavy fire, in order to be better able to give directions to his own sappers, and to clear the infantry out of the sections of the trench that were full of gas. Finding three leaking cylinders, he rolled them some sixteen yards away from the trench again, under very heavy fire, and then fired rifle bullets into them to let the gas escape. There is no doubt that the cool gallantry of Corporal Dawson on this occasion saved many men from being gassed."

Corporal (Acting Sergeant-Major) Dawson is a native of Tillicoultry, was educated at Alloa, graduated M.A. at Glasgow University, and was, until enlistment in October, 1914, Science Master in a Govan School.

Corporal James D. Pollock, V.C.,


a member of the Paris Y.M.C.A. (Anglo-American Branch): "On September 27th last, when the enemy's bombers in superior numbers were successfully working up the Little Willie trench towards the Hohenzollern Redoubt, Corporal Pollock, after obtaining permission, got out of the trench alone, walked along the top edge with the utmost coolness and disregard of danger, and compelled the enemy's bombers to retire by bombing them from above. He was under heavy machine-gun fire the whole tune, but continued to hold up the progress of the Germans for an hour, when he was at length wounded."

Corporal Pollock has recently been granted a commission in the gallant Camerons.

Doubtless many more Y.M.C.A. men will win the Victoria Cross before the war is over. They will therein prove their loyalty to the motto written on the wall of every Red Triangle Hut in the world: "For God! For King! and for Country!"


Ghastly Experience of a 2nd Lieutenant.


BY CAPT. H. HARROP.

I AM very sorry that I did not tell you how, when, and where I got my little dose, but you will remember that my first inquiries when I got here were chiefly for cake and clothes, and I got so sick of telling people all about it, that I thought you surely must have been one of the many to whom I detailed "ye hystorie of my woes." I am afraid that I cannot describe it with the pathos of the "Oh, was-not-it-beastly-ness?" that I could have a week or two ago, as I am feeling much better now; but it will doubtless be a saner account.

You will know that there has been three great attacks on the push front so far -- July 1st, 14th, and 22nd. On the 1st, as far as I can remember, the battery was in our new position, south of Arras, at Wailly, ready for the show, but at the last moment the attack on the Arras-Gommecourt was cancelled and we trekked south. On the 14th we were in reserve and saw most of the fighting for Contalmaison and in Montauban and Trones Wood; we were moved to Montauban about the 17th, and had our Brigadier-Major killed by shrapnel as soon as we got up on the ridge. Two valleys end at Fricourt, one going S.E. to Comoy, one east to Longueval and Delville Wood, which are at the top of the valley, and there is another valley running from Longueval N.W. to Bayentin-le-Grand. Our head-quarters, just west of Montauban, on the top of the ridge, were under continual shell-fire. The valley (H.F.) was full to the eyes with our guns and Bosche shells, and along the northern ridge of the same valley was the old Bosche second line; then, more north still, came the Longueval to Bayentin Valley, and across that -- two miles away -- was High wood, Pozieres. What we were after was Highwood and the sunken road between it and Delville Wood. I went up into the trenches we were holding on the 20th (the old Bosche second line on the N.E. ridge of Gun Valley) and watched the Gordons attack Highwood from our side of the valley in the early morning mist. They were mown down in dozens, but at the end of the day we held a line from between Pozieres and Bayentin, along the west edge of Highwood and down to Longueval. You will see that we were on the crest of the ridge, which on our brigade front was the sunken road. Fritz had a battery of maxims at M.G. on the corner of the Wood and absolutely enfiladed the sunken road just behind, and east of which were his trenches. The distance from our trenches to the sunken road was about 350 yards, all corn and long grass and shell-holes. The brigade was to advance and take the sunken road at 1.30 A.M. on the night of the 22nd-23rd, and my job was to smash the guns at M.G., the east corner of the Wood. After a lot of casualties among the carrying parties, I managed to get four guns and five hundred shells up to (G), a point about two hundred yards from Fritz's guns, and out in the open, well away from the Wood, which was being shelled to blazes continually. We were in the open field with no possible cover of any sort, with shrapnel coming over ten a minute at us. We only had one or two men killed and a gun knocked out and "blown to bits by the time we were ready, so we lay down and smoked as it gradually got darker, and wondered what it was like to be blown to rags. By ones and twos we got to know, and then an
H.E. exploded twenty of our shells and another gun went west. Half the battery and two guns gone before we made a start. We could do nothing -- no cover for miles -- so I lay and smoked and wondered whether they had "Gold Flake" across the Styx or whether the only rations there would be "Woodbines." I began to get disgusted, especially when a bit of H.E. from Heaven knows where smashed my water-bottle, a decent aluminium one which I had bagged from a dead German "Kapitan." After a bit, ten o'clock came and we started firing. We did pretty well, and were afterwards told that we had knocked out several of the Bosche machine-guns, but not all. Meanwhile Fritz was not idle, and the stuff was screaming and banging all round us incessantly. Our shells were bursting only just in front, and the rifle and machine-gun fire was deafening. The air was absolutely solid with lead, steel and smoke, and flame and crashing roars as the big shells screamed over and burst. The ground rocked with the explosions, and the guns were dismounted time after time only to be shoved back red-hot into their places. Here and there we could see men in front and behind us showing up in the darkness against the fitful orange splashes of flame, and occasionally we would catch one as he flung up his hands and dropped, or stood swaying with his hand to his head, or wherever he had been hit. The gun crews were fast diminishing, and after a time I had all my work cut out to keep some of them from bleeding to death. One or two men were dead. The only N.C.O. left us was minus half his left hand, but cheerful. At 1.30 prompt the W. Rents and 14th Warwicks were creeping past us through the darkness. We lengthened our range, and then Hell was let loose in front of us. The shrapnel crashed and roared in the air and the Bosche machine-guns rattled, and in five minutes the two regiments were wiped out. A few survivors crawled back helping wounded men along to the rear, and the roar died down a bit.

At 2 A.M. I was staggered by the arrival of a large party of fifty men with more shells, really intended for another battery which was now gone west poor beggars! So the party had been sent on to us and had had only two men hit on the way. Of all the luck! We started off with three men to a gun, and I went out 100 yards in front to get better observation. I got a good corrector for each gun, and was about half-way back when I heard a shell coming. There was a great crash behind me, and I was hit everywhere and knocked flying on my face. My head sang like a telephone. I saw a regular blaze of green flame in front of my eyes, and -------------

•   •   •   •   •   •   •   •

It was daylight when I woke up, lying in a shell-hole with the wounded Corporal slitting my tunic and equipment off with a clasp-knife. My head was roughly bandaged, and I was a mass of blood from head to foot. My back was in "ribbons," as the Corporal said, and he added, "You ain't got no blood left, sir," and he went on, "nor no left ear, either." This was greeting too cheerful, and I felt as if I would like to die at once and get it over. Clarke, one of the officers, came up to see how we were getting on fortunately he had got some brandy, so I had a good gulp, and fainted. Clarke tried to find a stretcher for me, but they were all smashed, and the bearers dead. And still Fritz went on with his beastly guns. I heard Clarke and the Corporal say, "We must carry him, then." But I crawled to my feet and staggered round; only one gun was left, and all the wounded were dead or carried away by the shell-party. The next I remember was Clarke dragging me down into the valley towards "home." The shrapnel still roared over us, and I cried like a kid with sheer loss of nerve and terror. We stumbled over dead and dying men everywhere and I bled on like a pig, as I crawled along on Clarke's arm. He dragged me down into Gun Valley and up the other side of Montauban, and a mile down the Fricourt Road we found an ambulance. Five minutes later Clarke was blown to atoms by a 5.9. H.E. shell. He was a good sort. An hour later I was in hospital and feeding. Then some morphia and to sleep. Just pleased to be out of it all alive even if in rags.

An Exchange of Favours.


BY SAPPER ERIC DE BANZIE, R.E., B.E.F., FRANCE.

IF anyone asks Pte. Bill Holmes the time, nolens volens, he's his friend for life. . . . You're curious? I'm delighted to be able to tell you the reason.

In the days before the Allies commenced Big Pushing it was the keen desire of practically every regiment in the British Army to be placed opposite the mild and friendly Saxons. Thus the Tommies were assured of a comparative rest, and a tin of bully-beef could readily be exchanged for a passable cigar. If the enemy sent out a working party to repair their entanglements, we sent out another to rebuild the parapets battered and smashed by "whizz-bangs," and in possession of the welcome knowledge that not a shot would be fired.

This lack of the "strafing" propensity, it will be understood, was anathema to our Brass Hats, so when the men of the 5th Blankshires were informed that the General of their Brigade was coming to inspect their trenches, they immediately decided that a small "strafe" was necessary.

Unfortunately, however, it happened that a fat officer of the German Army, weary of a dark dug-out, chose that very morning to sun himself, seated in a comfortable arm-chair, on the top of the trench parapet! This implied a striking trust in the fair-play of the 5th Blankshires, but unhappily the compliment came at an inopportune moment, and eventually Pte. Bill Holmes, the look-out man, popped his head over the top and excitedly signalled to the fat German officer to get down and go away.

The German officer regarded his gesticulations kindly, but did not move; so Bill procured a board, frequently used to convey messages to our friend the enemy, and indulged in linguistic exercises.

"Alley toot sweet," he wrote-- which, in case you don't know, is French for "Go away at once" -- adding, as an afterthought, the English equivalent, "Hop it quick!"

Herr Lieutenant shook his head uncomprehendingly, but smiled to atone for his ignorance.

Things were getting desperate. The Brigadier would be round at any moment, and Bill knew that if he saw a German lolling in calm security in the open he certainly would not be polite to the look-out man. . . . Accordingly, Pte. Holmes, after a spasm of concentrated thought, raised his rifle to his shoulder, taking careful aim at the fat German officer's big toe. He fired. The range was short; there was a wild howl as the chair toppled backwards, and the German disappeared with a somersault into his trench! . . .

Half an hour afterwards, when the satisfied General had been gone barely five minutes, Bill Holmes observed a message-board being pushed above the German trenches. With the help of his friends he deciphered the writing on it:

"Who shot our officer?"

"Charlie Chaplin," suggested Snooker Brown.

They all laughed -- except Holmes.

"I don't see anyfink to laugh at," said he, uneasily. "They p'r'aps mean to work off this 'ere vendetter stunt on me."

"Well, let 'em," said Snooker, valiantly. "I'll back you up."

So Bill wrote for the Huns' perusal: "Me -- Bill Holmes."

In the trench next morning a small package was found, to which was tied a label bearing the words: "To Mr. Bill Holmes." It was pointed out to the addressee, who picked it up gingerly.

"From Fritz" explained Snooker Brown expectantly, edging away. . . . "Don't open it, you fathead it'll go off!"

Holmes looked at it as a dog looks at a cat.

"Well, wot d'you fink I should do wif it?" he asked; but there was no reply. Bill was alone. His comrades were deep in the bowels of the earth listening for the bang.

At last he decided. With trembling fingers he opened the package -- to find therein a magnificent gold watch, heavy but elegant, and a short letter. He read the letter; then scratched his head in puzzled astonishment.

"Blimey," he said at last; "them blokes is almost human!"

For this is what he read:--

"My good friend, I send you the enclosed gift as a small token of my sincere thanks. You have to-day accomplished -- is my spelling correct? -- what I have been praying for for weeks. The wound is not serious, but now I shall be sent home for a time to see again my so-loved wife and children. So you see your so-much-to-be-admired shooting was kind to me. Good-bye."

And that is why if you ask Pte. Bill Holmes, of the 5th Blankshires, to tell you the time, and give him the opportunity to display a magnificent gold watch heavy but elegant you're his friend for life.


Concerts at the Front.


BY Miss LENA ASHWELL.

THE ancients symbolised war as a ravening beast -- armies as fierce dogs unleashed from hell; but this, the greatest of all the wars the world has ever seen, is only comparable to a flood, a devastating flood that has submerged all landmarks under the waste of its wild waters. But even as the rocks remain unmoved by the fiercest storm waves and emerge unchanged when the tide ebbs, so underneath the tumult of war the immutable facts of human nature remain. And the Y.M.C.A. realised in the early days of the war that the needs of our men would include not only food and shells, guns and hospital stores, but some of the amenities of civilisation -- food for the mind and spirit as well as for the body. It was when the war was six months old that the "Concerts at the Front" were started at the invitation of the Ladies' Auxiliary Committee, whose Chairman is H.H. Princess Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein.

In February, 1915, money was raised privately to send out a Concert Party to the Y.M.C.A. Huts at the Base Camps as an experiment. The troops were finding life under the conditions of modern warfare monotonous and boring; the hard work, an existence of rigid discipline in a sea of mud in a strange land, were enough to depress any but the irrepressible spirits of the British Army; and the rapturous welcome that greeted this first Concert Party was sufficient proof that some scheme for continuing the work was urgently needed.

Out of that tentative beginning the scheme has grown to large proportions, and is continually increasing in response to the demands of all our gallant armies. First of all we arranged two Concert Parties to tour the Base Camps and the Military Hospitals simultaneously. These Concert Parties stay for three weeks or a month, and give about three concerts a day, sometimes to audiences of two hundred men in a hospital or to nearly two thousand in a hut or hangar. Then permission was received for a Concert Party of men to go right up to the firing line. Then Malta asked for a Concert Party: one was sent out there last winter and stayed six months, giving concerts every day in the camps, hospitals, transports, Y.M.C.A. Huts, and finally paying a visit of three weeks to that part of our Fleet which is in Mediterranean waters, giving a Concert on a different ship every day, to the intense delight of the Navy, which is even more cut off from home than the troops. This winter a Concert Party has gone to our splendid regiments in Egypt, and the Committee of St. John and the Red Cross Society has sent another Concert Party out to visit the sick and wounded at Malta.

The Concert Parties consist of six artistes as a rule soprano, contralto, tenor, bass, violinist or 'cellist, and entertainer -- often a conjuror or ventriloquist. But this August, by way of celebrating the tercentenary of Shakespeare and the centenary of Sheridan, we took a dramatic party to give scenes from "Macbeth" and "The School for Scandal," and modern one-act plays by Sir James Barrie and Miss Gertrude Jennings. We have only sent out good music, good literature; we find that nothing else is wanted -- we only offer the best. The men do not want what is ugly or base, and it is difficult to make people at home realise how much what is beautiful and joyous means to the men who have literally nothing but the bare necessities of life -- and death.

"You don't know what it means to us," is said to us over and over again by the men themselves, their officers and "padres." But we do know what it means to them when we see men standing in long queues outside the huts in the sleet and rain for hours waiting to get into the concerts, coming straight from a strenuous day's work and going without their supper rather than miss a performance of Shakespeare, crowding round the windows outside a hut that is over-full -- nine deep to listen to what they can hear; and when in the hospitals we see white faces drawn with pain, tense with the awful memories of the horrors of a battle-field and the nerve shattering effects of our modern heavy artillery fire, relax into relief and laughter. They are never too ill to enjoy beautiful music or even to join in a favourite chorus song. When a nursing sister would have kept a "serious cases" ward quiet and undisturbed, the men asked that some music might come in to them. A dying man said to the violinist, "Give us something nippy, miss," and passed away as she played a happy tune.

The concerts are given anywhere -- in huts and warehouses; in the summer by the roadside, in woods, or open fields; or in barns under heavy shell fire. A member of one of our Firing Line Parties wrote: "You will be sorry to hear that one of our huts near the line has been blown to pieces. We were singing there only a few nights before. The guns were very busy then. Can you imagine what it feels like to sing Handel's 'Largo' to the sound of cannon? . . . We have been bombed in our billets, gassed, and shelled. What more can a fellow want? We are the happiest of Concert Parties."

Another letter from another Firing Line Concert Party says: "Yesterday we performed in a Trappist monastery which has been turned into a Rest Home. We played in the refectory to about four hundred officers and men from the trenches, all with that dreadful 'trench look' in their eyes. But, glory be! We took it out for an hour and a half. Our reception was astounding. They went mad over every item -- seized everything with rapture. I got them nearly hysterical with laughter, and the important Army Medical Officer in charge assured us that the beneficial effects of our performance on the patients would be enormous, and that the work we are doing is of great military value."

As long as the war lasts, these Concert Parties must go out. The men regard them as a loving gift from those at home, a token that those for whom they are fighting and suffering, for whom they are enduring undreamed-of pain or discomfort, exiled from everything that life has hitherto held for them -- that those at home do care, are with them, and are trying their best to help. The message brought back by one of our Concert Parties from a Senior Chaplain to the Forces is: "Tell all who sent you here that we bless them; if they only knew how much the music means to the men they would send Firing Line Concert Parties out in crowds."



But the letters that reach me at 36, Grosvenor Street, from the men themselves, in all branches of the Army, are the most touching evidence of their appreciation. A private, who had been in hospital wounded and returned to the Front the day after one of our Concerts, wrote: "We all agreed that we would go back to the trenches and fight all the better for the happy remembrance. . . I was feeling rather lonely, not having anybody to write to me while I was out there; I began to feel I was fighting for no one until that cheery Party came along. I can even now fancy I hear the sweet notes of the violin." That boy went back to the trenches and was wounded four times and poisoned by gas. Another lad wrote to me that: "It just made all the difference going into the firing line with that music stirring one's heart." That is the keynote of many infinitely touching letters which we get from the men themselves --" that music just makes all the difference." So all who have helped and are helping by giving time and work and money to make this work possible, have the assurance that it is of tremendous importance and "of great military value."



These stories appeared in Told in the Huts: The Y.M.C.A. Gift Book published in 1916.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The ANZAC's Tale...

How times change...

Next week I will finish extracting some of the stories from Told in the Huts: The YMCA Gift Book 1916 but when I read this poem which appeared in the book I felt compelled to post it.

The sentiment in the last verse so at odds with the reality of later years as expressed so eloquently in Eric Bogle's song And the band played Waltzing Matilda a version of which is posted below.

But in recent years with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the centenary of the Great War which is now upon us the role of those who serve in the armed forces and the sacrifices they may be called to make is once again being recognised.


A Bit of Bunting.


BY A WOUNDED ANZAC.

THEY have settled the ward for the evening,
And straightened every bed;
We have drunk our bowls of cocoa,
And they've covered the lights with red.
We are lying now till the morning--
'Tis a terrible time to wait,
When the day seems twenty-four hours
And the night seems forty-eight.
For the man to the right is restless,
I can hear him mutter and moan,
And the boy in the bed beside me
Is breaking his heart for home.
I dose a little at moments,
Till I'm back with the heat and flies
In the sniper's line of fire,
With the sunlight in my eyes.
It's curious, lying thinking,
When the clock strikes once and again,
How fate has formed us together
In a regiment of pain;
How from far-off town and village,
From the peace of the country sward,
We have answered the call of England--
To meet again in a ward!

You have heard of the old pied piper
Who came to the village street,
And played a tune to the children,
A melody strange and sweet;
And with eyes aglow with laughter,
And curls that shone in the sun,
They tramped to the sound of the music,
And followed him every one.
We all grow bitter at seasons
God knows we are battered and worn
And we feel in our darkest moments
  That nothing more can be borne;
But say what you will about it,
There is something in each man's breast
That would urge him to rise and follow,
Though he hungered for peace and rest.
It is stronger than home and comfort,
It is stronger than love and life,
Than the speechless grief of a mother
Or the clinging arms of a wife;
For whenever the old flag shall summon,
In the midst of his direst pain,
He would hear it out of the shadows,
And it would never call in vain.

Do we wonder why we have done it
When the pain is hardest to bear,
And the helpless years to come
Press like a load of care?
Do we wonder why we have done it,
When just at the break of day
We fancy we hear the sobbing
Of the loved ones far away?
Over the mantel yonder,
Between the glass and the wall,
They have wedged a piece of bunting
You can scarcely see it at all;
But my eyes go searching for it
Before they cover the light,
For it's brought a message with it,
And I read it every night;
For whether he's tired and weary,
Or whether he's hurt and sad,
Or whether he's old and helpless,
Or whether he is but a lad,
As long as England is England,
And as long as a man has his will,
He would rise from a bed of sickness
To hobble after it still.

They say that the grandest picture
In England, when war is done,
And we've dragged our own from the Germans,
And fought and bled and won,
Will not be the row of medals
That blaze on a general's breast,
Or the little letters of glory
  That follow a hero's name;
But the sight that will rouse the nation
And stir our pulses yet,
The sight that the women of England
Will count as a lasting debt,
Is the empty sleeve of a soldier
Who has braved the surgeon's knife,
And the man who goes on crutches
For the rest of his mortal life.




Thursday, 11 September 2014

Tales from the Huts (part 3)

Pro Patria.


BY REV. JOHN SAFELEY, M.A.

IT was early on a July morning, soon after the big push north and south of the Somme had begun. The summer sun gilded the low green hills that lie round the old French seaport town, and glinted on the blue-grey waters of the Channel out beyond. The great soaring dome of the Cathedral, with its surmounting cross, looked down on us as, year in, year out, it looks down on the sloping streets and the busy harbour and the unresting sea. In the Cemetery beyond the ramparts of Hautville a little company of us stood round a long wide trench -- three Army Chaplains, half a score of soldiers, three Salvationists, and one who wore the Red Triangle. About us, in seemly, flower-decked rows, daily lengthening, marked at intervals with simple wooden crosses bearing the legend, "Pro Patria," were the graves of French and British soldiers who had fallen in the war, sleeping side by side in death, as in life they had fought shoulder to shoulder. Within the trench lay three-and-twenty plain, rough coffins, each containing the battle-scarred body of a British Tommy; while two other long rows lay, earth-covered, beneath. It was holy ground -- that resting-place of the heroic dead. In order of official precedence, the three Chaplains -- Anglican, Wesleyan, and Roman Catholic -- in quiet, solemn tones read the Burial Service, each over the men of his own communion for even at the graveside of men who have made the supreme sacrifice our differences linger; there, thank God, they also die and are buried, never to rise again! The familiar words poignant, comforting, hopeful, triumphant, seemed touched with a new reality. After the murmur of the Roman Priest's Latin had died away, at the word of command, the soldiers, who had been bending the while over reversed rifles, stood to attention and presented arms in seemly salute to their dead comrades, while the bugler sounded the Last Post -- that call which gathers up fragments from all the bugle-calls of the day, that musical summary of a soldier's life. On one of the coffins, ere we filed silently away, the Salvationists reverently laid a bunch of summer flowers -- a tribute to a comrade in their spiritual war. "Requiescat in pace," the Priest had murmured as he sprinkled the holy water on two of the unadorned coffins. "After life's fitful fever," echoed my heart, "they all sleep well." But their souls go marching on! Not in vain had those twenty-three been faithful unto death. Not in vain have any of the dead laid down their lives -- "pro patria et pro civitate Dei."

The Advance.


BY LEVORNO SABATINI.

Official Report: "Some progress was made north of after severe hand-to-hand fighting."

Over the parapet, boys, at 6.45 precisely! This long-expected order was passed along the trenches in a thrilling whisper at 6 o'clock one morning. We all looked at our wristlet watches and corrected them with each other not one was put a minute slow -- and then settled down to wait. To wait! Heavens! In forty-five minutes we were to be released from the leash that had restrained and choked us in impotence for months. We had read of the atrocities of the enemy, his war on helpless women and children at home and the destruction of defenceless ships, the "going west" of Nurse Cavell, Captain Fryatt, and of our beloved chief, and each new crime was as fuel to our pent-up rage, until we ached to exact a just retribution.

Our officers lived with us, moving up and down trenches, in and out of dug-outs, looking to our comfort before their own, sharing the privations and dangers of the first line. Their quiet courage and confidence inspired us, and we were prepared to follow them anywhere. Many times we had begged them to let us go, but the reply was always -- "No, boys, not yet! Your time will come." God! but what a long time coming! Yet those weary months seemed but as fleeting moments in comparison with the awful nerve- racking suspense of those forty-five minutes.

The Padre moved among us, imparting words of cheer and advice. Some there were who wrote a few lines home, others hurriedly scrawled their long-neglected last will and testament (most reading, "I leave all to my dear wife") on scraps of paper to be posted in certain eventualities, for we were about to face the great unknown, and were under no illusion as to what it might mean. The point of view veers to different things at a time like this. The soul of the man comes out, and his thoughts are simple -- just of home and what might be. The good man gave his assurance that those scraps of paper should be sacredly dealt with were they not reclaimed by the owners.

Thus the minutes ticked by -- one by one -- to the accompaniment of the thunder of guns, beginning the task which were to finish.

6.43. We were silent and tense with excitement, and a curious feeling of detachment from ourselves came over us. No thought now of anything but the job in hand possessed us, while the batteries lengthened their range, keeping up a curtain fire of death-dealing missiles beyond our immediate objective.

"Over you go, boys!" put an end to our suspense, and with glistening bayonets up the trench we clambered, over the sand-bag parapet, and across that death-pitted "No Man's Land" towards the section of the enemy's first line we were to take. This we reached and occupied easily; so effective had been our artillery, that nothing animate remained in them, with the exception of one dug-out where a few dazed Huns remained huddled together murmuring, "Kamarade, Kamarade," with hands up, all spirit of fighting gone. Up came the supports, and away to the second and third system of defence works, gradually meeting fiercer resistance by grenade and machine gun. Our boys were mad now with the lust of battle -- yelling, cursing, praying -- bombing and bayoneting their way up this trench, down that, clearing dug-outs which were turned from places of safety into traps of death.

Many incidents occurred which cannot be recorded; but one stands out prominently. Our boys had come upon a crater caused by a mine, and occupied by the enemy. It simply had to change hands, so into it with bayonet we went. Our captain led us furiously, snatching a rifle with fixed bayonet from one of our wounded. Gradually we gained the upper hand, and the last fight was with a burly Hun and our captain. Exhausted, and with even at that moment a sense of fair-play, we watched the hand-to-hand struggle. At last the enemy went down with a clever half-nelson, and our captain, one foot on him, raised his bayonet to administer the coup de grace, when, to our surprise, he flung it aside, murmuring, "I can't do it. Hang it all, he was a sport!" and kneeling down by the side of his antagonist, he gave him a drink from his own water-bottle. Thus do Britons conquer but do not crush.

We had been fighting all day, and in expectation of the counter-attack which inevitably comes, we worked all night under a terrific bombardment, repairing the damaged trenches we had gained. In the grey mists of the early morning it came. Wave after wave surged against our sadly thinned ranks, but bravely we held out with rifle and machine-gun fire, expecting the reinforcements promised at any moment. Then clouds of poisonous gas were released by the enemy, rising and falling like a grey curtain, but passing over our heads harmlessly in the gentle breeze. Gradually, however, we were pressed back yard by yard before that diabolical stuff and the furious onslaughts of the reinforced enemy, retiring to a deep cutting which led to excavations in the chalk cliff where caves and caverns had been formed and where we knew our reinforcements should be. And there we found them! -- gassed to a man! The hellish fumes had been sucked down into that cutting and had been blown into the caves and holes in thick clouds and suffocated them all. There they were -- a pathetic sight, in all attitudes. Some leaning on their rifles with head bent on breast, others laying face-down on the cold dank ground, nipped off in the strength of manhood without a chance to defend themselves. But they could be avenged, and with a mad cry to God our brave boys turned as one man and charged full pelt at the advancing enemy. In that moment they were supermen, and nothing could withstand them. The enemy, taken by surprise at the sudden and unexpected onslaught, broke and fled, leaving their dead and wounded to mark their trail. Yet on and on they went, one by one falling wounded and dying, until not one of that brave band of British warriors was left, and not one returned except on a stretcher. But they had exacted a terrible retribution, and the reserves following up, consolidated the ground won by such heroism and self-sacrifice.

The Official Report read:

"Some progress was made north of ------------- after severe hand-to-hand fighting."

But it was the talk and admiration of the British Army in trench, dug-out, and hut for many a day afterwards.



"Rickety Bill."


BY JOSEPH HOCKING,

Author of "All for a Scrap of Paper," "Dearer than Life," "Tommy," etc.

"You wouldn't think much of him, would you, sir, if you had to judge him by his looks?"

"No-o," I said, hesitatingly.

"He ain't what you call a smart soldier, is he? Look at his chest. It's a mystery to me 'ow he came to pass the doctor; but I reckon as 'ow something went wrong with the tape when they measured him. He can't be more than thirty-four inches, and if you ask me, there's something wrong with his eyes."

"Can't he shoot straight? "

"Oh, 'e ain't a bad shot; but when he takes off 'is glasses you can't tell which way he's looking. As for drill, I tell you, sir, I never had such a job in my life as I had with him. 'Sergeant,' said he to me one evening after I'd given him a reg'lar good jawing, 'Sergeant, I've tried, and I've tried, but I can't get the grip of that formin' fours. It needs more brains than I've got to understand it.'

"Still, you licked him into shape!"

"Licked him into shape! I tell you, sir -- but there -----!"

We were standing near the Water Tower in Ypres, which is one of the very few buildings which remained in that old historic city when I visited it in the winter of 1915. Near us was a tall, thin, shambling young fellow, who, as the Sergeant said, could not by any stretch of the imagination be called a smart soldier. Still, he interested me, and the Sergeant's remarks about him were elicited by my question as to who he was.

"His pals call him Rickety Bill -- leastways, they did."

"Don't they now?"

"No, sir!"

"Why? Has he done anything special?"

"I'll tell you, sir. Between you and me, he had a drop too much beer when he joined, else I don't think he'd ever have had the pluck to do it. Fact is that was his trouble. He was on the booze whenever he had the chance. It's all on account of a girl, sir."

"In what way?"

"Nothing extraordinary. He's not the kind of chap a girl would go mad about, is he? Her name was Elsie May, and she was the prettiest little bit of fluff in the town where we was billeted. But she'd have nothing to say to him, although he tried, and tried. The truth was, she was sweet on Harry Dixon, and as you may say, she and Harry was engaged. He was a smart chap, was Harry, and good-looking, too.

" After a bit we got moved on to another place, and Bill got drunk so often that I thought he'd get kicked out of the Army. Then the Y.M.C.A. got hold of him. You know what the Y.M.C.A. has done for us soldiers, sir? Why but there, if you don't, who should? One of the workers took a special interest in him. Got him to learn French, and then persuaded him to sign the pledge. After that they got him converted. I don't believe much in religion myself, sir, but I can't deny that it made a change in Bill. He bucked up tremendously afterwards, and learnt his drill like the rest. Then, I don't know how it came about, but Elsie May wrote a letter to Bill -- just an encouraging letter, sir and told him that he might expect to do great things if he kept straight."

"Do you mean to say," I asked, "that she threw over Harry Dixon, and gave Bill hope that he might get her?"

"No, sir, not that, although I believe Bill thought it meant that. By the Lord Harry, wasn't he gone on her! He'd a-done anything for that girl!"

"And were he and Harry friends?"

"Rather not. Harry kind of looked down on him, and laughed at him, and played tricks on him. I believe Harry was the hardest nut Bill had to crack in the way of his religion. I tell you, I've seen him look at Harry in such a way, that I knew he'd a-bin glad if the Boches sent a dum-dum bullet through his brain. In fact, he told me, after we got out here, that but for what the Y.M.C.A. chap told him, he'd a-killed Harry, and made out it was a Boche who did it.

"As I said just now, I'm not what you call a religious bloke, but Bill nearly convinced me. One night I heard him praying; he didn't know it, but I was close by. And what do you think he prayed for? He prayed that he might be able to love Harry, seeing as how he was commanded to love his enemies.

"Well, it was last May that we got sent out here to Wipers, the hottest hole on the British front. I tell you, sir, we've had a -- that is, we've had a terrible time. Shells night and day. 'Wooly bears,' 'coal boxes,' and the whole boiling of it without rest. You see, the Boches swore they'd get Wipers. But they haven't got it yet!

"Last August -- no, it was September, the Boches made a regular dead set on us. They bombarded us like -- like -- well, I can't find the right word, sir; but you can guess. It was very hot weather, and what with the smells, and the fighting it -- it was the very -- that is, it wasn't a picnic. It was a hand-to-hand job, sir, hour after hour, fighting, stabbing, killing.

"Then Harry, who was right in it, got it bad. A chest wound. He cried out for water he did, said his throat was burning. But we hadn't got no water. It had all been drunk hours before, and the fighting was so hot that none could be got to us.

"The doctor was holding Harry, and trying to do what he could for him, but Harry kept crying for water. Bill, who was close by, said, 'I can get water, sir.

"'Where, my man?' asked the doctor.

"'There's a spring over yonder, sir, by that tree. Shall I go and get some?'

"'But it's right out in the open,' said the doctor, 'and you'll get potted.'

"'Water! Water!' Harry kept crying.

"Bill took his water-can and jumped out of the trench, and I saw him scoot across the open ground. He was carrying his can in his right hand, but he hadn't gone far 'fore he dropped it. A bullet had caught him. But he picked it up with his left hand, and went on again. We saw him dive into a sort of dip where the spring was, and a minute or two after, we saw him coming back. All the time the Boches were peppering him, but he still came on. Once he kind of doubled up, and I knew he'd been hit again, but he only stopped a minute, and then started staggering on towards us. When he'd got within twenty yards of the trench I thought he was going to fall, for he gave a sudden lurch. 'He's hit again,' I said to myself. And he was in the thigh. But he still kept on, and then he just tumbled into the trench where we were.

"'How's Harry?' he kind of gasped as soon as he'd caught his breath.

"'I'm sorry to say he's dead,' said the doctor.

"Bill sort of gulped, then he said, 'Well, Harry'll know -- where -- where he's gone -- that -- that I did the best I could' and then he just closed his eyes, and we thought he was dead.

"He was sent home to hospital, and he's only just come back," said the Sergeant, "but we don't call him Rickety Bill any more."

I was silent at this, and I don't mind admitting that there was a lump in my throat.

"Did he see Elsie?" I asked presently.

"I asked him that," said the Sergeant, and "he told me he'd never been near her. He thought it wouldn't be a sporting thing to do."




The Tables Turned.


AT the Grosvenor Gardens Hut one evening a man in khaki was heard to ask one of the workers the name of the lady who had just served him with food. On being told it was Lady Ponsonby he replied, "I thought as much. Before the war I was a servant in her house, waiting at table. Now things are reversed, and her ladyship waits on me."



•     •     •     •     •     •     •     •

The Wanderer from Clare.


THE taller of the two gunners introduced himself and friend to me as "the man from Galway," and, said he, pointing to his friend, a clean-shaven, red-headed, sturdy, thick-set man with a face full of good humour and fun "the Wanderer."

The "Wanderer from Clare" informed me that he was just going on leave, but that he thought another two months after his return would see the finish of the war.

They were very talkative, and could with difficulty be induced to go to bed. At last they agreed, but said they must have a last drink. It was set before them, and "The Wanderer," leaning forward, said in his best Irish manner, "Can't you put a drop of something in it?" Reaching down a bottle of O.T., I proceeded to oblige. "The Wanderer," noticing this, half-emptied his glass to leave more room for the "drop." I obliged his friend also, and was placing his glass before him, when "The Wanderer" held my hand and said, "No! Let me drink it first, to see how he likes it." He drank his own, and in a gasping voice, and tears in his eyes for the "drop" was of decided strength he said, "Yes, sorr; he likes it."



•     •     •     •     •     •     •     •

The Story of an Ambuscade.


DURING those first terrible months of the War, a company of Yorkshire troops had been told to occupy a village in Northern France, and their scouts had informed them that it was clear of the enemy. With swinging steps they entered the one long street of which the village consisted, singing an English chorus with great gusto, and in the very best of spirits. They had hardly entered the village when, at the other end of its one long straight street, they saw a lad in khaki jump out from the front door of a house on one side, and spring into the middle of the street. The rifles rang out, and they saw the lad fall dead. Running forward as quickly as possible, they found the young soldier dead, with no fewer than eleven German bullets buried in his body. They ascertained afterwards that in some way or another he had been taken prisoner by the Germans the previous night. They thought they were perfectly safe in letting him wander at will through the house. He knew, and they knew, that if he attempted to give warning he would be a dead man. They were lying in ambush for his comrades -- the Yorkshire troops -- information of whose movements had been given them by their spies. When the moment came, without hesitation, he sprang out to give warning, though he knew it meant certain death.

They never ascertained his name -- even the identification disc was missing, and there was no method of identifying him. In the morning he was buried in a nameless grave, and over it his comrades placed a rough cross of wood, on which was written:

"He saved others. Himself he could not save."

A. K. Y.




To be continued...



These stories appeared in Told in the Huts: The Y.M.C.A. Gift Book published in 1916.


Friday, 5 September 2014

Tales from the Huts (part 2)

A Packet of Woodbines.


By PAUL TRENT.

A STILL, dark night and the lights of the hospital ship -- once a famous "liner" --  showed up brilliantly. A railway station with long platforms, crowded with stretcher-bearers. We, four Y.M.C.A. workers, stood at the coffee-stall, some forty yards away. Fortunately the rush had ceased, when word came that the hospital-train was drawing near.

"You had better come with me into the first carriage," said the Padre -- the ideal man for the job, as I was soon to find out.

It was my first night on duty at the Quay, and I felt grateful for the suggestion. Under my arm I carried a couple of boxes of "Woodbines," and my pockets were filled with postcards. I felt a miserable coward as the train drew near and halted just outside the station. It was a heavy train and was to be divided into two portions -- one for each platform.

One worker was to remain at the stall; the other, a lady, had chosen to meet the wounded with us, and she was filled with enthusiasm, enthusiasm of the right sort.

The train came along very slowly -- it almost seemed as if it were trying to shake the wounded as little as possible.

"Come along," the Padre cried cheerfully -- cheerfulness was his note so long as there remained work to be done.

We climbed up on to the train, an orderly opening the door for us. All my life I have tried to avoid suffering, and I felt sorely tempted to run away. On each side of the long compartment was row upon row of stretchers; on each stretcher was a wounded soldier, straight down from the Front. Eyes, many of them listless and dull, were turned towards us.

"Good morning, boys! Havre, at last -- with a good ship awaiting you! And soon "Blighty!" Who says some cigarettes?" cried the Padre.

Soon we were busily handing out cigarettes. Would anyone care to send a postcard home? Eager hands were outstretched, when hands could be moved. Dull eyes became brighter, and to us there came the great revelation -- no longer were we so poignantly conscious that we were surrounded by acute suffering -- that of these soldiers some had lost limbs, and that there were even those that might not live to see "Blighty." Yes, it became clear that these men were calmly courageous, and, more wonderful still -- cheerful.

"What's the steamer?" asked a Tynesider. "The -----------," I answered.

"A good ship. I went home by her last time. The first time --------------" He broke off with a laugh. "Well, there'll be no fourth. I've lost my leg."

I gave him a light for his cigarette, and he grinned back at me.

And the youngsters were just as splendid. The smile came, although one could see that it required an effort still it came.

"What about posting the cards? Anything to pay?"

We shook our heads. It caused a sense of shame to have to listen to thanks from such men -- and for a few cigarettes and a postcard.

I chanced to notice that, although one fine chap refused a card, he appeared regretful.

"Shall I write for you? I see you have lost your hand."

He drew in a deep breath.

"No, sir I gave it," he answered quietly.

A lump came to my throat, and I swallowed hard. This is not written to draw tears -- it just happened.

Often one would have liked to linger. Ahead I could hear the Padre -- he was finding many friends. How I envied him his happy touch with them. As we passed along, I gathered the impression that there was a different atmosphere with our arrival; and I soon understood the reason for it. Probably we were the first civilians they had seen for weary months, and our clothes caused them to realise that they were nearing "Blighty."

From the instant the train had stopped the R.A.M.C. had been at work -- the organisation being simply magnificent -- and the platforms were being rapidly covered with stretchers. All that are fit enough are smoking. Jokes are passed -- and a few hours ago these men were living in an inferno.

Now and again they try to speak of their experiences, but we do not encourage them -- such are better forgotten.

A glimpse of the companion-way; steadily stretchers are being carried on board, and as each man is picked up, his face brightens in spite of pain.

Now to collect the postcards. Sometimes one cannot help reading the message, with its prevailing request, "Don't worry." A total lack of regard of self--  only for those at home!

Then follows the most painful visit of all -- to the dressing-station for those who require immediate surgical attention. Here there is more evidence of pain, but in spite of it there is still that wonderful cheerfulness that approaches the sublime. Again the Padre has found pals, and I hear a laugh. Truly our men are wonderful, Not a grouse -- it's only the slightly wounded who grumble, and then only half-heartedly.

"I gave it! "

And they are grateful for a packet of "fags." Can we ever do enough for them?




Adventures on the Peninsula.


BY A Y.M.C.A. LEADER.

I.

When that Shell Burst.

IT was on December 10th that we first knew at Lancashire Landing what it meant that the German communications had got through to Turkey with the crumpling up of Serbia.

Up till then, the Asiatic Forts had thrown over any kind of old stuff that came to their hand (this was during the latter months of our occupation).

But on December 10th began a new kind of bombardment of V. and W. Beach, Lancashire Landing.

I was sitting in my dug-out in "High Street," half-way up the cliff-side, writing letters after lunch, when a shell fell into the water not twenty feet from one of our most important piers, forty feet below me, bursting with reverberations that echoed back from the cliff, and throwing up a great column of spray. Another followed in less than half a minute, which hit the base of the pier, throwing a dozen men flat, one of whom was killed.

For the first time I realised what funk-holes had been made for, and I betook myself forthwith to their ample shelter. There for twenty minutes a score or so of us crouched till the storm was over, and going back to my dug-out to finish my letter I was visited by a Chaplain, who asked me in a doleful voice whether he might do anything for me. I wondered at this kindness until he informed me that the Y.M.C.A. tent no longer existed. I fear I thought nothing about possible loss of life, all my thought was for the store of worldly goods which were all that the Y.M.C.A. and I possessed, whose precarious home was in that canvas tent.

Was it a piano and gramophone that would have been destroyed? If so, good-bye to concerts; or was it Nestle's Milk and Tinned Peaches that would have got the worst of the blow?

I covered a quarter of a mile up-hill from the sea in record time and found that luck had been with us. For the shell had fallen in such a way that only seats and boxes had been shattered. There was an interested crowd standing round picking up souvenirs, and there are certain things that a wise Y.M.C.A. Secretary (at any rate on the Peninsula) does not inquire into. I never dared enter upon my accounts the loss to the Y.M.C.A. in tinned fruit that day. Evidence of the risk men had run was upon the clothes of more than one who had been spattered by peach-juice when the shell burst. One can speak in an airy way, only three men were in the tent at the time, one of whom was a wounded man upon a stretcher. He was the wounded, but neither of the other two were touched, and fortunately neither his first nor his second wound were serious, and he was out of hospital in a day.

From that time on, no concert or any of our affairs went with quite the same swing, for we were in an exposed position, and while men were willing to do their job under fire and stick it, it was different coming at night to smoke the pipe of peace and comfort when shells were whistling over. In the middle of our best turns I have seen the tent empty in four seconds at the sound of a familiar approach, and an audience bend like a field of corn being cut by the reaping machine.



II.

Handy Man and Hero.

There was a man who used to visit our tent at Lancashire Landing, by the name of the Handy Man, because of his only stunt, a piece of poetry which he would recite daily (until he was stopped) with great dramatic effect.

There came a week when he failed to appear, and meeting him on the beach I asked him the cause, and he told me he was under arrest for insubordination and bad language to his superior officer, and was now out picking up paper, for in those days the beach was being pegged out with posts and barbed wire and the paths kept as neat as a provincial park.

The afternoon that I met him he was at the same job. A shell came over and burst almost under the noses of the front pair of horses of a limber waggon. The driver was thrown to the ground and the horses made off in terror up the slope, the waggon bumping ominously in shell-holes and in danger of turning over every minute.

The handy man forgot his shame, and with a man's courage and a master's skill gained control of those four horses and brought them back to the place where the man was still lying. An officer coming up at the moment sent him off for a stretcher. "I am under arrest," said he. "Then I take the responsibility of setting you free on the spot," he replied, "for your gallant conduct."

That night he was back again in the tent, a happier and a wiser man.

III.

"Paraffin Oil."

I hope "Paraffin Oil" will forgive me if he ever sees these words. I cannot address him by his real name, for no one knows it. "Paraffin Oil" was his title to us every evening in the Y.M.C.A. Tent at Lancashire Landing. He got his name because of a song he used to sing, the hare-brained chorus of which was "Paraffin Oil." I can remember but one verse:
"They took us to Mudros,
Paraffin Oil.
They took us to Mudros,
Paraffin Oil.
They took us to Mudros,
and we played at pitch and toss,
And we got the Victoria Cross,
Paraffin Oil."

He had not a note of music anywhere about him, but give him a tune and he would stand up on the platform and reel off his rhyme without reason concerning the glorious achievements of the Y.M.C.A. or the bitterness of bully beef and biscuits in a way that kept all of us rocking, and made us forget our troubles.

How's this for one of his choruses? It was in the days when the "Goeben" threatened the Straits and "Queen Elizabeth" hung about as well:--
"A roaming in the gloaming when you're in the Dardanelles,
Awaiting for the 'Goeben' to come down to test her shells,
When she gets to Chenak, she will very soon come back,
When she hears that 'Lizzie's' roaming in the gloaming."

He first turned up on the night of my grand mistake. Many things had to go on nightly in that small stores tent on the top of the cliff in the early days of our work, before the ordnance had supplied us with better quarters and the electric light had been generously provided from the Ammunition Tunnel, sales at the small counter, a sing-song at the piano on the platform, reading and writing squeezed in anywhere on the roof, plank seats. Then, having found the need for hot cocoa and biscuits, I determined to have a shot at it. So we rigged up a plank counter on barrels half-way down the tent and a barrier. When word went round the beach of "hot cocoa" we were besieged that night as never before. All four orderlies were turning out two mugs for a penny and two biscuits for the same price; one man two mugs, no more, no less. I myself mounted on the counter keeping the queue straight, and it was at that unlucky moment that the word was passed to me that under cover of the crowd my precious store of tinned fruit was being opened. Show no horror, gentle reader, at such slight occurrences. Accidents will happen in the best regulated boards. Show more horror rather that I lost my wool and lectured a crowd of cold and hungry men to the effect that no more cocoa could be served that night, that if, when the Y.M.C.A. was conducting its humane work, its property was not secure, and if they could not wait to pay for luxuries, etc., etc.

That was my grand mistake, for before me was a crowd of men who did not intend to be gainsaid. I stood my ground and they stood theirs, but the crisis came when I found that the whole tent began to heave ominously, and having regained my sense of humour and temper we returned to the work of selling cocoa.

And it was while this little incident was in progress that "Paraffin Oil" for the first time was appearing upon the platform at the other end of the room and keeping an audience in roars of laughter. It was only later that we learned to become familiar enough with the chorus of the catchy song he was singing for us to roar it with him:--

"Then good-bye to the bricks and mortar,
Farewell to the dirty loine,
Hurrah for the planks and gangways,
And away for the winter time.
For the big ship 'Billy Ragamuffian,'
Is lying on the quay,
When the shovels and the picks,
And the Paddys and the Micks
Are bound for Gallipoli."

The last time I saw him was early one morning, dirty, unshaven, eyes red and sleepless, with a smear of blood across his temple, for during the night a shell had entered ---------- Canteen, of which he and his mate were in charge, and he alone was there to attend to his badly shattered companion.




The Phantom 'Plane.


BY LEVORNO SABATINI.

WHEN men have walked hand-in-hand with death, and have gazed into the depths of the great unknown, the materialistic tendencies acquired in the routine of their former walk in life gradually become subsidiary to spiritual forces, which grow more real as the former tendencies diminish. That may be the reason why men after their experience on the battle-field often come to respect that which they have previously scoffed at.

We were in the stiff fighting at ------------ in Flanders, and had cleared the enemy from the barricaded streets and houses until the whole village was occupied, and had further advanced about three hundred yards. On our left flank stood the battered tower of the old church, an emblem of peace in a world of war, and surrounding it was the little cemetery, dotted here and there with slanting tombstones, now considerably added to by lines of wooden crosses, marking the last resting-place of many a fallen hero, one being that of a well-known airman, who had rendered fine service to his country's cause, and who had eventually given his life for it. Adjoining the cemetery was the old-fashioned rectory, standing in the midst of a garden of shrubs and flowers, now neglected and scarred by the ravages of war.

Our company was ordered to hold this advanced position at all costs, while our comrades consolidated the ground won in the village behind us. We were all tired out after much fighting and little food all day, but it was necessary to keep a sharp look-out for signs of the enemy's counter-attack. Meanwhile a heavy artillery duel proceeded, shells whizzing over us from both friend and foe, a "short one" occasionally falling very close. Our sentries were posted, and the remainder settled themselves for what rest they could snatch behind the existing cover, some lining a dry ditch, screened by a hedge, others taking the wall boundary of the cemetery, Jack Barton, a cool, level-headed man, being posted in the rectory with a machine-gun dominating the probable line of the enemy if they advanced. He explored the house with the aid of an electric torch, but found it deserted and empty, everything of use or value having been taken away, probably to furnish the Huns' dug-outs.

In the early grey hours of the morning, after a much appreciated rest, Jack signalled that the enemy were advancing towards us in strength; the information was passed on by field telephone to the village, and our artillery was at once increased to form a barrage. On came the first wave of grey-clad men, many falling as they reached the arc of fire, others pressing through it, a second and third wave following in rapid succession. We held our own fire, waiting for the enemy to converge across the fields to the road dominated by Barton's machine-gun. The minutes of tense waiting seemed hours, but nearer and nearer they came, not suspecting our presence, to within fifty yards of the rectory before Jack spoke with his "Lewis" and mowed them down like corn before the scythe. That was our cue, and before they could recover from the unexpected onslaught we poured rapid rifle fire in front and flank. Scattering like sheep, the enemy sought cover, leaving heaps of dead and wounded -- a human barricade -- in the roadway. Our respite was short, however, for they were quickly rallied and again advanced, though more cautiously, only to be again repulsed. We were vastly outnumbered, and our ranks were sadly thinned as wave after wave of that human tide swept towards us. Again and again it ebbed and flowed, like waves on a rock-bound shore, and our position was rapidly becoming serious. It looked as if nothing but a miracle could save us and probably the village behind, though we fought desperately and sent back attack after attack. Reinforcements might come up, but only through a murderous curtain fire, for the enemy had grasped the position, and it was doubtful if help could arrive, or if we could retire.

A short lull ensued, during which the enemy seemed to be concentrating for a supreme effort. It was strongly attempted on front and flank, and it looked as if this time nothing could save us. Jack was working his gun with great effect; a glimpse of him at the window now and then showed that he had been wounded, for his head was bound by a stained white bandage. We held our fire, and with bayonets fixed waited the last charge, which we knew would overwhelm us. Thoughts flashed through our minds of childhood, of home, of dear ones, and many a silent prayer ascended. Perhaps those prayers were heard, for when things seemed hopeless and the enemy were madly charging with strafing shouts, to our astonishment there gradually emerged from the grey mists a great filmy, white 'plane, swiftly and silently advancing towards us, seemingly in a semi-transparent cloud, slightly luminous, but sufficient to instantly arrest attention of friend and foe. It seemed to be flying at a low altitude, but no obstacle obstructed its progress, trees fading through it, and showing dimly behind as they were passed. On it came from our left, flying just in front of the enemy front line, gently falling and rising with a rhythmic movement. Not a shot was fired, everyone stood spell-bound, gazing with bulging eyes at this supernatural apparition which appeared to be propelled by no human means. As it reached the extreme end of the enemy's right, it tremblingly halted as if taking observation, and then slowly returned, retraversed its path, and gradually faded away in the direction from which it had first appeared. Before it had gone half-way, however, the Huns had broken the spell, and with frightened shrieks of terror turned and fled in disorder. That is, all but their front rank, which stood with staring sight in the attitudes in which they were when first arrested by the phantom 'plane. There they stood, a long irregular line, across field and road, as if petrified. Whether they were killed by anything emitted from the 'plane, or whether they died from sheer fright at the mysterious apparition, we never discovered, and only a big round mound in the old village cemetery marks their last home.



As for our company, or rather the few survivors, we could not understand, but only accept our deliverance as due to direct providential intervention. We were shaken, silent, and awed. Neither afterwards did we care to discuss it except between ourselves, as is usually the case with those who have been in the valley of the shadows, and have gazed into the depths of the great unknown. Did the spirit of the airman, buried beneath that simple cross, come to our aid? We do not know, but we believe it as the most feasible explanation of the appearance of the "phantom 'plane."

•     •     •     •     •     •     •     •

The Lonely Soldier.


THE following story was told to me by a chaplain friend, who vouches for its truth. A man of a certain regiment, just for fun, put an advertisement in a well-known weekly paper, saying that he was a lonely soldier, and begged for some letters. He did not lack correspondents. By one post nearly three hundred letters came for him! The already overburdened field post-office entered a protest, and the man found himself before his C.O., an officer not without a sense of humour. "Is it true that these three hundred letters came to you in answer to your advertisement?" The man was bound to admit the fact. "Then," said the C.O., "you must sit down now and write a reply to each of them, and put a penny stamp on each!" The advertisement was withdrawn!

H. G. H.

•     •     •     •     •     •     •     •

The Hall Stand.


ONE day I was helping a man to put on his pack, and as he fastened his many buckles and put on his bayonet, trenching-tool, water-bottle, and the many other articles of his equipment, he said, in gentle protest, "Seems to me, mister, that a soldier is a man made to 'ang fings on!"

•     •     •     •     •     •     •     •

Flattering!


THE Y.M.C.A. in a certain camp had run short of coppers, and one of the workers was sent out to try and get some. He tried numerous places in vain, but was at last recommended to try the "wet canteen," which was opposite his own Hut! When he arrived at the canteen there was enough business being transacted to compel him to wait his turn. He was doing this as patiently as possible, when one man, who possessed a very bibulous face, looked up from his pint pot and, viewing our esteemed worker with suspicion, said, "Go to your own pub!"




To be continued...



These stories appeared in Told in the Huts: The Y.M.C.A. Gift Book published in 1916.








Thursday, 28 August 2014

Tales from the Huts (part 1)

What it is Like at the Front Just Now


By Sir Robert Baden-Powell

THE country in which I now am, near Albert, consists of wide, open, rolling uplands, not a hedge to be seen, and trees only along the great high-roads or down in the hollows. The whole land is cultivated, and covered with a rime of frozen snow, across which a cutting wind is always sweeping.

Never a farm or cottage in sight; these are all clustered together in villages down in the valleys alongside the chalk streams. Barns and hay-lofts, stables and cart-sheds, form convenient billets for the men fresh from those white zig-zag lines across the hillsides -- the trenches.

Here and there a smashed-up pie of a house shows that we are still within the reach of shells, but in this district every cottage has its cellars, which act as ready-made "bomb- proofs," and chalked on the wall outside one sees the legend, "Cave pour 30 hommes."

Clustered under the lee-side of the houses one sees these "hommes" very different from the smart Tommies as we know them at home.

Workmanlike and picturesque one finds them at the Front. Muffled as they are in sheepskin woolly coats, stocking caps and mufflers, and splashed and caked with mud right up to their shoulders, one would scarcely recognise them as British soldiers were it not for the cheery though grimy faces and the remarks and songs that they keep dealing out.

•     •     •     •     •     •     •     •

"Rats? Plenty of them, sir! Why, they just swarm through these barns."

While he speaks of it a rat comes swanking between our feet. An officer catches him in the ribs with his stick; the dying rat turns round and looks at him with an injured expression, as though to say: "What did you do that for?" as he dies in a puddle.

"Tame? Why, only this morning my mate was lying there asleep, snoring, when I got up, and there was a rat sitting on his chest washing its face within three inches of his snore! . . . No, sir, they may have eaten others, but they are not likely to eat my face at any rate, though they often take a bite out of my hair!

The woodwork, the straw, and the ground itself are swarming with lice, so that between the various plagues of rats, lice and shells it is not surprising that the men get little rest.

Hot baths are arranged for in holes dug out and lined with tarpaulin, and shirts are washed in chemicals, but the results are not very permanent; just a few hours and the men are infested again.

"What do we do in the evenings? Well, there is no light after five, and fires are dangerous in the barns; the wind whistles through the walls and the sleet drives through the roof. There is only one thing to do, and that is to roll up in your blankets, and if you have any tobacco to smoke it, and to try and make the best of things with the rats outside and the lice inside. But concrete floors are not what you might call hot-beds, and are mighty hard."

Close by a pigsty with brick walls and tiled roof had been cleaned out, and within were two stretchers made of sacking and poles supported on bricks. A little brazier made out of an old tin biscuit box, and a candle stuck in a bottle, gave by contrast a comfortable atmosphere.

"You are snug enough here at any rate?"

"Yes, sir. Learnt it scouting. We were Boy Scouts." But this was the exception.

•     •     •     •     •     •     •     •

"A club, sir? If it were only a room with a dry floor and light and warmth, where one could get a cup of coffee and meet the other chaps, if would be just a godsend. We should not then be lying in our blankets in the dark, thinking of the pals that have gone, and wondering how long this fun has got to last. Why, I often feel I would rather be back in the frozen slush of the trenches. There, at any rate, you have got something doing!"

The value of the Y.M.C.A. Huts at the front does not lie merely in their supplying the creature comforts to the soldiers; a still greater value lies behind, since they tend to keep bright in the men that splendid spirit which is just now so conspicuous at the front. It is that spirit which, I believe, is going to pull us through to victory in the end.

Napoleon long ago said that in war the moral is as three to one more powerful than the material force. Under the terrible strain on mind as well as on body, which has to be endured in the present-day warfare in the trenches, it is only reasonable to expect that the cheery spirit of our men must go down unless they can get a good change of surroundings in their rest billets.

As I have said, these rest billets are not such gaudily cheerful places as they might be. I feel, therefore, that by setting up bright, warm clubs, where the men can meet and have their fun and get their good feeding, a great step will have been taken towards keeping up their spirits, and so towards tuning them up for the tremendous task which lies before them.

For this reason no effort is too great, no money ill-expended, where it is devoted to providing Recreation Huts for the Front.



[SIR ROBERT BADEN-POWELL entered his sixtieth year last February. It is forty years since he joined the Army. His active service was varied, for he served in India, Afghanistan, South Africa, Zululand, and Matabeleland. For his splendid defence of Mafeking, the close of which added a new word to the English language, he was promoted Major-General. All his life he has been fond of art, and his black-and-white work has often appeared in the illustrated papers. ED.]


•     •     •     •     •     •     •     •

True Till Death.


"YES," said my blue-clad companion, as he shook his head, "'True till Death' would be a suitable epitaph to place upon many a cross that marks the last resting-place of the heroes who have fallen abroad. All of them have not secured the Victoria Cross, but more lads have earned it than the few whose names are in the daily papers and who have been decorated by our King.

"I will tell you of one sight I saw, and the memory of it will always make me proud to be a Britisher -- though a lump may rise in my throat as I recall the splendid heroism of that boy who was so true till death. He was only a lad, and the early years of his manhood had been spent behind the counter of a draper's shop in a small provincial town. But his yard measure was no index to the length he could go for the sake of his King and Country.


"He was a despatch runner -- which is always a dangerous job to take on -- and he worked between our lines and those of our gallant French allies who joined us upon our left. Our first line of trenches had been gassed by the Germans upon the previous night, and was then in their hands. The ground he had to cover was a death-trap to him each time he ventured out to carry his messages. What those despatches contained, none of us knew, but they did mean either victory or defeat to ourselves and our French comrades.

"I did not know the boy to speak to, though he was well-known to me by sight. I had watched him, three or four times a day, crawling up and down the near side of the hedge that fringed the road between our lines. He was as game as they make them, with the instinct of a wild animal, and as reckless of danger as -- well, as a Tommy.

"It was upon the third day after I had first noticed him, and early in the morning, that I saw him come creeping down towards us. He was upon his stomach, and nosing the ground like a setter. But I observed that, at quick intervals, he kept stopping and resting, with his face turned eagerly towards us, and his throat gasping for breath. The bullets were splashing up the mud all round him, as I had seen them do upon many a similar trip, but he only tightened the grip of his hand upon his side where the papers lay, and struggled a few feet nearer to us.

"It was then that the Turcos (the French colonial troops) were advancing across the near fields to reinforce us, and we were eagerly expecting the order to advance.

"But, before the boy could reach our trenches, he had to cross the road, where he lost the meagre shelter of the hedge, and was fully exposed to the open fire of the snipers. I could see that he was wounded, and that each movement of his body was an agony to him, but he struggled bravely on. I could almost hear his gasps as he reached the road. Then he stopped, and his hand fell limp against his side.

"His last word was a cry for help, for he knew that his time had come. But one of our lads was already on his way to the spot, and there was not a man who watched him but whose heart did not thrill with pride at knowing that he came of the same stock as those two grand men. The dying boy had only strength to feebly draw out his papers, and I could see the cruel red stain upon his hand. Then he kissed them as lovingly as a mother would kiss the babe at her breast, and gave them to his mate almost grudgingly.

"As he fell back into the mud, many an eye was dim at the sight, but a mighty cheer went up from our boys as the papers were brought safely into our trench.

"I think it was the sight of those two glorious deeds that inspired us to do what followed. For the orders contained in that despatch were the very ones we were so anxiously longing for. We were to advance at once and storm the enemy's lines. Each one of us now felt that he had another crime to avenge -- another deed of imperishable heroism to prove worthy of, for the sake of that boy who lay lifeless upon the road.

"The officer who led us fell dead within the first twenty yards, but, with a leader or without one, nothing could stop us then. We were like hungry, wild beasts set loose in a butcher's shop, and we not only took back the trench that had been lost to us, but we captured the German first line as well, and neither of them has gone out of our possession since that day.

"We left many of our poor lads dead behind us, but the figure that will always remain in my memory is that of the dying despatch runner, whose last breath was a kiss that brought us victory."




•     •     •     •     •     •     •     •

The End of the Dream


By GEORGE GOODCHILD.

ALL night long a terrific cannonade shook the very earth, and the sickly fumes of lyddite were wafted into the trenches by a damp March wind. A few star shells dropped their blue lights into the black vault of heaven, and the ubiquitous searchlight played in ghostly fashion over the devastated country. In the morning it was quiet again ; hardly a sound broke the stillness save the deep rumble of artillery far to the west. The same programme, exact in every detail, was repeated day after day until men spat with exasperation at the enforced inactivity, and performed the most foolhardy tricks on the trench parapet in full view of the enemy.

"Spragge," said the corporal one evening, "did you ever think you could kill a man, deliberately and calmly?"

"Never."

"How did it come, then, the first experience?"

There was a brief silence, then the answer came slowly and softly.

"There has been no first experience for me."

The corporal started with surprise. "How can you know that?"

"I never shoot to hit a man."

The corporal shrank back, almost speechless with amazement.

"My God! You tell me that!" he muttered. It was inexplicable and withal terrible. He felt a sensation akin to that a man feels in the presence of any abnormal being. He considered well every aspect of the question. Here were brave men filled with a common ideal, fighting for the very existence of their nation, and yet one among them, from motives which were utterly unfathomable to any ordinary being, shrunk from the duty necessity imposed upon him. He strove honestly to see things from the other's point of view. Argued from the stand-point of humanitarianism and idealism, perhaps even Christianity itself, it was unmeet to take human life coldly and deliberately, yet, he argued, there were extenuations. The enemy constituted an ever-present menace, and self-defence was always warrantable. The problem grew on his mind and tortured his few sleeping hours, yet he could not harbour the spirit of repulsion which he felt was consistent with the occasion. The quiet, big man with his massive head and delightful eloquence had impressed him in a way he had never imagined. Could such a being really be but a husk, a poor, spiritless, lifeless thing, cankered by a damning ideal? It was all too horrible. For three days he spoke not a word to Spragge.

On the morning of the fourth day the dawn broke with a magnificence unusual for the time of the year. Spragge, on his pile of bricks, watched the far horizon change from a river of red to a flood of gold, then, seeing the corporal near him, quoted:

"But forth one wavelet, then another, curled,
Till the whole sunrise, not to be supprest
Rose-reddened, and its seething breast
Flickered in bounds, grew gold, then overflowed the world."

The corporal pretended not to hear, and commenced vigorously to clean his rifle, but a mere glance at his half-averted face was sufficient to make clear the deception. 

"What's the matter?" asked Spragge.

"Oh, nothing."

"Is it nothing that makes you shun me like the leper?"

"Have I shunned you?"

"I think it has been fairly obvious."

"Spragge!" -- after a brief silence. "Why did you tell me that?"

"Tell you what?"

"You know -- the other night."

"You asked me."

"Yes, yes, I know; but there were ways of evasion. Why did you make me lose my respect for you?"

Spragge looked at him curiously, then half closed his eyes in his dreamy manner.

"So you despise me for that? Despise me because I dared tell you my heart's truth. Is it so very terrible that I cannot kill in cold blood? Do you tell me that you do not hate yourself every time when you speed the bullet that takes a man's life? If I thought that you could kill and kill and be happy -- knowing that you had robbed a mother of her son, a wife maybe of her husband, I would never look at you again."

"My God!" cried the other hotly. "You talk like a madman! Where is your honour -- your patriotism, your ------"

"Honour! Patriotism!" interrupted Spragge. "So, to save my honour I must wreck my ideals, submerge my soul in a ghastly ocean of torment and iniquity! When some poor wretch writhes in pain and agony, I must praise God because thereby my honour is upheld!"

Then he changed his tone of bitterness, and, catching hold of the corporal's sleeve, whispered, rather than spoke. "Don't judge me too harshly, Annesley, we are all God's creatures, and are cast in a mould ordained for us. You don't know how it hurts. If I could act as they act" (inclining his head towards the other men), "I should save myself the acutest mental torment; but I can't, simply can't. Do you believe that?"

"Then why did you come here, where men must fight and kill and slaughter? There's a duty to be done, no matter its sternness."

"There were strange reasons. I watched day by day the stream of khaki figures streaming through the village. Each day they came and went, and each day I envied them the more. Then my mother's eyes -- very soft and very grave. I could not stand their eloquent reprovals. Half the night I thought on it. Sacrifice -- that is a great thing, for no evolution of ego can be perfected without it. It seemed to me that half the world was mad, and yet out of its madness grew the white flower of sacrifice, the symbol of the Cross.

"What have I done for you, England, my England?
What is there I would not do, England, my own?"

Oh, it was all so clear and distinct -- my duty -- and so I came. But to kill ------"

He sat down, resting his head on his hands, and the corporal, unable to control his emotion, left him.

The news crept with amazing speed through the trenches. An assault was about to begin. Men whispered to each other gleefully and yet a little nervously, and each clutched his rifle with more than usual fondness. At the back of them the roar of the massed guns was ear-splitting. The fussy sergeant-major bustled about very excitedly. "Now then, you fellows, out you come, and when you hear the whistle go, hook it 'hell for leather.' Make good the trenches by the trees yonder, near the brickworks."

They scrambled out of the filthy pits they had occupied for three weary weeks, and experienced the magic sensation of treading good terra firma, covered by the terrible fire of a wonderful artillery. Spragge stood with the rest, very pale, but very upright. The corporal walked up to him and looked at him queerly.

"I just wanted to thank you -- in case -- One never knows."

They gripped hands for a second, and then the whistle blew.

Off they went like hounds from the leash, whooping like wild beings, skirting shell-holes and leaping over tree-trunks which, broken and scarred, were strewn over the lacerated ground. They reached the first line of trenches, which were nothing more than an unrecognisable pit of death with dismembered corpses half hidden in the smashed soil. Hardly a soul lived to dispute the advance. At the next line of trenches it was the same death and desolation. The havoc wrought by the massed artillery was immense, incredible. Near the village the resistance began. A dozen machine guns close by, masked in an orchard, rained a perfect hail of lead, and men dropped like ninepins. To the right a Scottish regiment were decimated by a pitiless fire which they were utterly unable to locate; yet they came on, sternly and doggedly, heads down and bayonets flashing, literally climbing over their dead in their dreadful determination. It was all very terrible, yet wonderful, and the little corporal, with a painful flesh wound, wondered where Spragge was, and forgot his own hurt and the hell in which he moved in an effort to imagine the other's feelings and sensations. Could he keep those ideals in the face of present events?

How long it lasted the corporal never knew. All the time he dwelt in a world far removed from that in which he ordinarily moved. Though men dropped in thousands, he experienced not one pang of remorse; it all seemed to be quite right and proper, and his mind had adapted itself to the situation with a readiness which was alarming but comforting. When eventually the whistle sounded and the fighting was over, he came to his proper state of mind in a series of connected transitions.

He moved painfully and slowly among the stretcher-bearers and ambulance wagons, and eventually found Spragge resting on a pile of sand-bags.

The latter looked at him wistfully.

"It's all over," he remarked.

"Yes. Thank God!"

Spragge wrinkled his brows and sat for a moment silent and pensive.

"It was terrible -- horrible," he remarked.

"What, the fighting?"

"No. What we found in a house at the back of the church."

The corporal looked at him interrogatively. The other resumed slowly and painfully.

"She was only twenty, and she showed us what they had done to her. Oh, I can't tell you -- it's too -- too terrible even to relate. Her husband and child too butchered and mutilated. If -- if --"

Phut! A bullet struck a sand-bag within a few inches of the corporal's chest. He started in surprise. They stepped into the shelter of a doorway and waited a few minutes. Then Spragge climbed on a heap of debris and thrust his rifle through the shell-hole. There was a loud report, and the corporal, peering round the doorway, saw in the distance a grey-clad figure drop from a tree. He turned towards Spragge.

"Eighteen!" said the latter, laconically.




To be continued...



These stories appeared in Told in the Huts: The Y.M.C.A. Gift Book published in 1916.