Part 2 out of 5
And then one thing and another brought the thought into my mind, so
that I had to face it and tell people how I felt about it. There were
neighbors, wanting to know when I would be about my work again. That
it was that first made me understand that others did not feel as I
"They're thinking I'll be going back to work again," I told John's
mother. "I canna'!"
She felt as I did. We could not see, either one of us, in our grief,
how anyone could think that I could begin again where I had left off.
"I canna'! I will not try!" I told her, again and again. "How can I
tak up again with that old mummery? How can I laugh when my heart is
breaking, and make others smile when the tears are in my eyes?"
And she thought as I did, that I could not, and that no one should be
asking me. The war had taken much of what I had earned, in one way or
another. I was not so rich as I had been, but there was enough. There
was no need for me to go back to work, so far as our living was
concerned. And so it seemed to be settled between us. Planning we
left for the future. It was no time for us to be making plans. It
mattered little enough to us what might be in store for us. We could
take things as they might come.
So we bided quiet in our home, and talked of John. And from every
part of the earth and from people in all walks and conditions of life
there began to pour in upon us letters and telegrams of sympathy and
sorrow. I think there were four thousand kindly folk who remembered
us in our sorrow, and let us know that they could think of us in
spite of all the other care and trouble that filled the world in
those days. Many celebrated names were signed to those letters and
telegrams, and there were many, too, from simple folk whose very
names I did not know, who told me that I had given them cheer and
courage from the stage, and so they felt that they were friends of
mine, and must let me know that they were sorry for the blow that had
Then it came out that I meant to leave the stage. They sent word from
London, at last, to ask when they might look for me to be back at the
Shaftesbury Theatre. And when they found what it was in my mind to do
all my friends began to plead with me and argue with me. They said it
was my duty to myself to go back.
"You're too young a man to retire, Harry," they said. "What would you
do? How could you pass away your time if you had no work to do? Men
who retire at your age are always sorry: They wither away and die of
"There'll be plenty for me to be doing," I told them. "I'll not be
But still they argued. I was not greatly moved. They were thinking of
me, and their arguments appealed to my selfish interests and needs,
and just then I was not thinking very much about myself.
And then another sort of argument came to me. People wrote to me, men
and women, who, like me, had lost their sons. Their letters brought
the tears to my eyes anew. They were tender letters, and beautiful
letters, most of them, and letters to make proud and glad, as well as
sad, the heart of the man to whom they were written. I will not copy
those letters down here, for they were written for my eyes, and for
no others. But I can tell you the message that they all bore.
"Don't desert us now, Harry!" It was so that they put it, one after
another, in those letters. "Ah, Harry--there is so much woe and grief
and pain in the world that you, who can, must do all that is in your
power to make them easier to bear! There are few forces enough in the
world to-day to make us happy, even for a little space. Come back to
us, Harry--make us laugh again!"
It was when those letters came that, for the first time, I saw that I
had others to consider beside myself, and that it was not only my own
wishes that I might take into account. I talked to my wife, and I told
her of those letters, and there were tears in both our eyes as we
thought about those folks who knew the sorrow that was in our hearts.
"You must think about them, Harry," she said.
And so I did think about them. And then I began to find that there
were others still about whom I must think. There were three hundred
people in the cast of "Three Cheers," at the Shaftesbury Theatre, in
London. And I began to hear now that unless I went back the show
would be closed, and all of them would be out of work. At that season
of the year, in the theatrical world, it would be hard for them to
find other engagements, and they were not, most of them, like me,
able to live without the salaries from the show. They wrote to me,
many of them, and begged me to come back. And I knew that it was a
desperate time for anyone to be without employment. I had to think
about those poor souls. And I could not bear the thought that I might
be the means, however innocent, of bringing hardship and suffering
upon others. It might not be my fault, and yet it would lie always
upon my conscience.
Yet, even with all such thoughts and prayers to move me, I did not
see how I could yield to them and go back. Even after I had come to
the point of being willing to go back if I could, I did not think I
could go through with it. I was afraid I would break down if I tried
to play my part. I talked to Tom Valiance, my brother-in-law.
"It's very well to talk, Tom," I said. "But they'd ring the curtain
down on me! I can never do it!"
"You must!" he said. "Harry, you must go back! It's your duty! What
would the boy be saying and having you do? Don't you remember, Harry?
John's last words to his men were--'Carry On!' That's what it is
they're asking you to do, too, Harry, and it's what John would have
wanted. It would be his wish."
And I knew that he was right. Tom had found the one argument that
could really move me and make me see my duty as the others did. So I
gave in. I wired to the management that I would rejoin the cast of
"Three Cheers," and I took the train to London. And as I rode in the
train it seemed to me that the roar of the wheels made a refrain, and
I could hear them pounding out those two words, in my boy's voice:
But how hard it was to face the thought of going before an audience
again! And especially in such circumstances. There were to be gayety
and life and light and sparkle all about me. There were to be
lassies, in their gay dresses, and the merriest music in London. And
my part was to be merry, too, and to make the great audience laugh
that I would see beyond the footlights. And I thought of the Merryman
in The Yeomen of the Guard, and that I must be a little like him,
though my cause for grief was different.
But I had given my word, and though I longed, again and again, as I
rode toward London, and as the time drew near for my performance, to
back out, there was no way that I could do so. And Tom Valiance did
his best to cheer me and hearten me, and relieve my nervousness. I
have never been so nervous before. Not since I made my first
appearance before an audience have I been so near to stage fright.
I would not see anyone that night, when I reached the theatre. I
stayed in my dressing-room, and Tom Valiance stayed with me, and kept
everyone who tried to speak with me away. There were good folk, and
kindly folk, friends of mine in the company, who wanted to shake my
hand and tell me how they felt for me, but he knew that it was better
for them not to see me yet, and he was my bodyguard.
"It's no use, Tom," I said to him, again and again, after I was dressed
and in my make up. I was cold first, and then hot. And I trembled in
every limb. "They'll have to ring the curtain down on me."
"You'll be all right, Harry," he said. "So soon as you're out there!
Remember, they're all your friends!"
But he could not comfort me. I felt sure that it was a foolish thing
for me to try to do; that I could not go through with it. And I was
sorry, for the thousandth time, that I had let them persuade me to
make the effort.
A call boy came at last to warn me that it was nearly time for my
first entrance. I went with Tom into the wings, and stood there,
waiting. I was pale under my make up, and I was shaking and trembling
like a baby. And even then I wanted to cry off. But I remembered my
boy, and those last words of his--"Carry On!" I must not fail him
without at least trying to do what he would have wanted me to do!
My entrance was with a lilting little song called "I Love My Jean."
And I knew that in a moment my cue would be given, and I would hear
the music of that song beginning. I was as cold as if I had been in
an icy street, although it was hot. I thought of the two thousand
people who were waiting for me beyond the footlights--the house was a
big one, and it was packed full that night.
"I can't, Tom--I can't!" I cried.
But he only smiled, and gave me a little push as my cue came and the
music began. I could scarcely hear it; it was like music a great
distance off, coming very faintly to my ears. And I said a prayer,
inside. I asked God to be good to me once more, and to give me
strength, and to bear me through this ordeal that I was facing, as he
had borne me through before. And then I had to step into the full
glare of the great lights.
I felt as if I were in a dream. The people were unreal--stretching
away from me in long, sloping rows, their white faces staring at me
from the darkness beyond the great lights. And there was a little
ripple that ran through them as I went out, as if a great many
people, all at the same moment, had caught their breath.
I stood and faced them, and the music sounded in my ears. For just a
moment they were still. And then they were shaken by a mighty roar.
They cheered and cheered and cheered. They stood up and waved to me.
I could hear their voices rising, and cries coming to me, with my own
name among them.
"Bravo, Harry!" I heard them call. And then there were more cheers,
and a great clapping of hands. And I have been told that everywhere
in that great audience men and women were crying, and that the tears
were rolling down their cheeks without ever an attempt by any of them
to hide them or to check them. It was the most wonderful and the most
beautiful demonstration I have ever seen, in all the years that I
have been upon the stage. Many and many a time audiences have been
good to me. They have clapped me and they have cheered me, but never
has an audience treated me as that one did. I had to use every bit of
strength and courage that I had to keep from breaking down.
To this day I do not know how I got through with that first song that
night. I do not even know whether I really sang it. But I think that,
somehow, blindly, without knowing what I was doing, I did get
through; I did sing it to the end. Habit, the way that I was used to
it, I suppose, helped me to carry on. And when I left the stage the
whole company, it seemed to me, was waiting for me. They were crying
and laughing, hysterically, and they crowded around me, and kissed
me, and hugged me, and wrung my hand.
It seemed that the worst of my ordeal was over. But in the last act I
had to face another test.
There was a song for me in that last act that was the great song in
London that season. I have sung it all over America since then "The
Laddies Who Fought and Won." It has been successful everywhere--that
song has been one of the most popular I have ever sung. But it was a
cruel song for me to sing that night!
It was the climax of the last act and of the whole piece. In "Three
Cheers" soldiers were brought on each night to be on the stage behind
me when I sang that song. They were from the battalion of the Scots
Guards in London, and they were real soldiers, in uniform. Different
men were used each night, and the money that was paid to the Tommies
for their work went into the company fund of the men who appeared,
and helped to provide them with comforts and luxuries. And the war
office was glad of the arrangement, too, for it was a great song to
There were two lines in the refrain that I shall never forget. And it
was when I came to those two lines that night that I did, indeed,
break down. Here they are:
"When we all gather round the old fireside
And the fond mother kisses her son--"
Were they not cruel words for me to have to sing, who knew that his
mother could never kiss my son again? They brought it all back to me!
My son was gone--he would never come back with the laddies who had
fought and won!
For a moment I could not go on. I was choking. The tears were in my
Eyes, and my throat was choked with sobs. But the music went on, and
the chorus took up the song, and between the singers and the orchestra
they covered the break my emotion had made. And in a little space I was
able to go on with the next verse, and to carry on until my part in the
show was done for the night. But I still wondered how it was that they
had not had to ring down the curtain upon me, and that Tom Valiance and
the others had been right and I the one that was wrong!
Ah, weel, I learned that night what many and many another Briton had
learned, both at home and in France--that you can never know what you
can do until you have to find it out! Yon was the hardest task ever I
had to undertake, but for my boy's sake, and because they had made me
understand that it was what he would have wanted me to do, I got
through with it.
They rose to me again, and cheered and cheered, after I had finished
singing "The Laddies Who Fought and Won." And there were those who
called to me for a speech, but so much I had to deny them, good
though they had been to me, and much as I loved them for the way they
had received me. I had no words that night to thank them, and I could
not have spoken from that stage had my life depended upon it. I could
only get through, after my poor fashion, with my part in the show.
But the next night I did pull myself together, and I was able to say
a few words to the audience--thanks that were simply and badly put,
it may be, but that came from the bottom of my overflowing heart.
I had not believed it possible. But there I was, not only back at
work, back upon the stage to which I thought I had said good-by
forever, but successful as I had thought I could never be again. And
so I decided that I would remain until the engagement of "Three
Cheers" closed. But my mind was made up to retire after that
engagement. I felt that I had done all I could, and that it was time
for me to retire, and to cease trying to make others laugh. There was
no laughter in my heart, and often and often, that season, as I
cracked my merriest jokes, my heart was sore and heavy and the tears
were in my eyes.
But slowly a new sort of courage came to me. I was able to meet my
friends again, and to talk to them, of myself and of my boy. I met
brother officers of his, and I heard tales of him that gave me a new
and even greater pride in him than I had known before. And my friends
begged me to carry on in every way.
"You were doing a great work and a good work, Harry," they said. "The
boy would want you to carry on. Do not drop all the good you were doing."
I knew that they were right. To sit alone and give way to my grief
was a selfish thing to do at such a time. If there was work for me to
do, still, it was my duty to try to do it, no matter how greatly I
would have preferred to rest quiet. At this time there was great need
of making the people of Britain understand the need of food
conservation, and so I began to go about London, making speeches on
that subject wherever people could be gathered together to listen to
me. They told me I did some good. And at least, I tried.
And before long I was glad, indeed, that I had listened to the
counsel of my friends and had not given way to my selfish desire to
nurse my grief in solitude and silence. For I realized that there was
a real work for me to do. Those folk who had begged me to do my part
in lightening the gloom of Britain had been right. There was so much
sorrow and grief in the land that it was the duty of all who could
dispel it, if even for a little space, to do what they could. I
remembered that poem of Ella Wheeler Wilcox--"Laugh and the World
Laughs With You!" And so I tried to laugh, and to make the part of
the world that I chanced to be in laugh with me. For I knew there was
weeping and sorrowing enough.
And all the time I felt that the spirit of my boy was with me, and
that he knew what I was doing, and why, and was glad, and that he
understood that if I laughed it was not because I thought less often
of him, or missed him less keenly and bitterly than I had done from
the very beginning.
There was much praise for my work from high officials, and it made me
proud and glad to know that the men who were at the head of Britain's
effort in the war thought I was being of use. One time I spoke with
Mr. Balfour, the former Prime Minister, at Drury Lane Theatre to one
of the greatest war gatherings that was ever held in London.
And always and everywhere there were the hospitals, full of the
laddies who had been brought home from France. Ah, but they were
pitiful, those laddies who had fought, and won, and been brought back
to be nursed back to the life they had been so bravely willing to lay
down for their country! But it was hard to look at them, and know how
they were suffering, and to go through with the task I had set myself
of cheering them and comforting them in my own way! There were times
when it was all I could do to get through with my program.
They never complained. They were always bright and cheerful, no
matter how terrible their wounds might be; no matter what sacrifices
they had made of eyes and limbs. There were men in those hospitals
who knew that they were going out no more than half the men they had
been. And yet they were as brave and careless of themselves as if
their wounds had been but trifles. I think the greatest exhibition of
courage and nerve the world has ever seen was to be found in those
hospitals in London and, indeed, all over Britain, where those
wonderful lads kept up their spirits always, though they knew they
could never again be sound in body.
Many and many of them there were who knew that they could never walk
again the shady lanes of their hameland or the little streets of
their hame towns! Many and many more there were who knew that, even
after the bandages were taken from about their eyes, they would never
gaze again upon the trees and the grass and the flowers growing upon
their native hillsides; that never again could they look upon the
faces of their loved ones. They knew that everlasting darkness was
their portion upon this earth.
But one and all they talked and laughed and sang! And it was there
among the hospitals, that I came to find true courage and good cheer.
It was not there that I found talk of discouragement, and longing for
any early peace, even though the final victory that could alone bring
a real peace and a worthy peace had not been won. No--not in the
hospitals could I find and hear such talk as that! For that I had to
listen to those who had not gone--who had not had the courage and the
nerve to offer all they had and all they were and go through that
hell of hells that is modern war!
I saw other hospitals besides the ones in London. After a time, when
I was very tired, and far from well, I went to Scotland for a space
to build myself up and get some rest. And in the far north I went
fishing on the River Dee, which runs through the Durrie estate. And
while I was there the Laird heard of it. And he sent word to tell me
of a tiny hospital hard by where a guid lady named Mrs. Baird was
helping to nurse disabled men back to health and strength. He asked
me would I no call upon the men and try to give them a little cheer.
And I was glad to hear of the chance to help.
I laid down my rod forthwith, for here was better work than fishing--
and in my ain country. They told me the way that I should go, and
that this Mrs. Baird had turned a little school house into a
convalescent home, and was doing a fine and wonderful work for the
laddies she had taken in. So I set out to find it, and I walked along
a country road to come to it.
Soon I saw a man, strong and hale, as it seemed, pushing a wheel
chair along the road toward me. And in the chair sat a man, and I
could see at once that he had lost the use of his legs--that he was
paralyzed from the waist down. It was the way he called to him who
was pushing him that made me tak notice.
"Go to the right, mon!" he would call. Or, a moment later, "To the
And then they came near to the disaster. The one who was pushing was
heading straight for the side of the road, and the one in the chair
bellowed out to him:
"Whoa there!" he called. "Mon--ye're taking me into the ditch! Where
would ye be going with me, anyway?"
And then I understood. The man who was pushing was blind! They had
but the one pair of eyes and the one pair of legs between the two of
them, and it was so that they contrived to go out together without
taking help from anyone else! And they were both as cheerful as wee
laddies out for a lark. It was great sport for them. And it was they
who gave me my directions to get to Mrs. Baird's.
They disputed a little about the way. The blind man, puir laddie,
thought he knew. And he did not--not quite. But he corrected the man
who could see but could not walk.
"It's the wrong road you're giving the gentleman," he said. "It's the
second turn he should be taking, not the first."
And the other would not argue with him. It was a kindly thing, the
way he kept quiet, and did but wink at me, that I might know the
truth. He trusted me to understand and to know why he was acting as
he was, and I blessed him in my heart for his thoughtfulness. And so
I thanked them, and passed on, and reached Mrs. Baird's, and found a
royal welcome there, and when they asked me if I would sing for the
soldiers, and I said it was for that that I had come, there were
tears in Mrs. Baird's eyes. And so I gave a wee concert there, and
sang my songs, and did my best to cheer up those boys.
Ah, my puir, brave Scotland--my bonnie little Scotland!
No part of all the United Kingdom, and, for that matter, no part of
the world, has played a greater part, in proportion to its size and
its ability, than has Scotland in this war for humanity against the
black force that has attacked it. Nearly a million men has Scotland
sent to the army--out of a total population of five million! One in
five of all her people have gone. No country in the world has ever
matched that record. Ah, there were no slackers in Scotland! And they
are still going--they are still going! As fast as they are old
enough, as fast as restrictions are removed, so that men are taken
who were turned back at first by the recruiting officers, as fast as
men see to it that some provision is made for those they must leave
behind them, they are putting on the King's uniform and going out
against the Hun. My country, my ain Scotland, is not great in area.
It is not a rich country in worldly goods or money. But it is big
with a bigness beyond measurement, it is rich beyond the wildest
dreams of avarice, in patriotism, in love of country, and in bravery.
We have few young men left in Scotland. It is rarely indeed that in a
Scottish village, in a glen, even in a city, you see a young man in
these days. Only the very old are left, and the men of middle age.
And you know why the young men you see are there. They cannot go,
because, although their spirit is willing their flesh is too weak to
let them go, for one reason or another. Factory and field and forge--
all have been stripped to fill the Scottish regiments and keep them
at their full strength. And in Scotland, as in England, women have
stepped in to fill the places their men have left vacant. This war is
not to be fought by men alone. Women have their part to play, and
they are playing it nobly, day after day. The women of Scotland have
seen their duty; they have heard their country's call, and they have
You will find it hard to discover anyone in domestic service to-day
in Scotland. The folk who used to keep servants sent them packing
long since, to work where they would be of more use to their country.
The women of each household are doing the work about the house,
little though they may have been accustomed to such tasks in the days
of peace. And they glory and take pride in the knowledge that they
are helping to fill a place in the munitions factories or in some
other necessary war work.
[ILLUSTRATION: "Bang! went sixpence." HARRY LAUDER BUYING HIS BIT OF
WHITE HEATHER (See Lauder04.jpg)]
Do not look along the Scottish roads for folk riding in motor cars
for pleasure. Indeed, you will waste your time if you look for
pleasure-making of any sort in Scotland to-day. Scotland has gone
back to her ancient business of war, and she is carrying it on in the
most businesslike way, sternly and relentlessly. But that is true all
over the United Kingdom; I do not claim that Scotland takes the war
more seriously than the rest of Britain. But I do think that she has
set an example by the way she has flung herself, tooth and nail, into
the mighty task that confronts us all--all of us allies who are
leagued against the Hun and his plan to conquer the world and make it
bow its neck in submission under his iron heel.
Let me tell you how Scotland takes this war. Let me show you the
homecoming of a Scottish soldier, back from the trenches on leave.
Why, he is received with no more ceremony than if he were coming home
from his day's work!
Donald--or Jock might be his name, or Andy!--steps from the train at
his old hame town. He is fresh from the mud of the Flanders trenches,
and all his possessions and his kit are on his back, so that he is
more like a beast of burden than the natty creature old tradition
taught us to think a soldier must always be. On his boots there are
still dried blobs of mud from some hole in France that is like a
crater in hell. His uniform will be pretty sure to be dirty, too, and
torn, and perhaps, if you looked closely at it, you would see stains
upon it that you might not be far wrong in guessing to be blood.
Leave long enough to let him come home to Scotland--a long road it is
from France to Scotland these days!--has been a rare thing for Jock.
He will have been campaigning a long time to earn it--months
certainly, and maybe even years. Perhaps he was one of these who went
out first. He may have been mentioned in dispatches: there may be a
distinguished conduct medal hidden about him somewhere--worth all the
iron crosses the Kaiser ever gave! He has seen many a bloody field,
be sure of that. He has heard the sounding of the gas alarm, and
maybe got a whiff of the dirty poison gas the Huns turned loose
against our boys. He has looked Death in the face so often that he
has grown used to him. But now he is back in Scotland, safe and
sound, free from battle and the work of the trenches for a space,
home to gain new strength for his next bout with Fritz across the
When he gets off the train Jock looks about him, from force of habit.
But no one has come to the station to meet him, and he looks as if
that gave him neither surprise nor concern. For a minute, perhaps, he
will look around him, wondering, I think, that things are so much as
they were, fixing in his mind the old familiar scenes that have
brought him cheer so often in black, deadly nights in the trenches or
in lonely billets out there in France. And then, quietly, and as if
he were indeed just home from some short trip, he shifts his pack, so
that it lies comfortably across his back, and trudges off. There
would be cabs around the station, but it would not come into Jock's
mind to hail one of the drivers. He has been used to using Shank's
Mare in France when he wanted to go anywhere, and so now he sets off
quietly, with his long, swinging soldier's stride.
As he walks along he is among scenes familiar to him since his
boyhood. You house, you barn, yon wooded rise against the sky are
landmarks for him. And he is pretty sure to meet old friends. They
nod to him, pleasantly, and with a smile, but there is no excitement,
no strangeness, in their greeting. For all the emotion they show,
these folk to whom he has come back, as from the grave, they might
have seen him yesterday, and the day before that, and the war never
have been at all. And Jock thinks nothing of it that they are not
more excited about him. You and I may be thinking of Jock as a hero,
but that is not his idea about himself. He is just a Tommy, home on
leave from France--one of a hundred thousand, maybe. And if he
thought at all about the way his home folk greeted him it would be
just so--that he could not expect them to be making a fuss about one
soldier out of so many. And, since he, Jock, is not much excited, not
much worked up, because he is seeing these good folk again, he does
not think it strange that they are not more excited about the sight
of him. It would be if they did make a fuss over him, and welcome him
loudly, that he would think it strange!
And at last he comes to his own old home. He will stop and look
around a bit. Maybe he has seen that old house a thousand times out
there, tried to remember every line and corner of it. And maybe, as
he looks down the quiet village street, he is thinking of how
different France was. And, deep down in his heart, Jock is glad that
everything is as it was, and that nothing has been changed. He could
not tell you why; he could not put his feeling into words. But it is
there, deep down, and the truer and the keener because it is so deep.
Ah, Jock may take it quietly, and there may be no way for him to show
his heart, but he is glad to be home!
And at his gate will come, as a rule, Jock's first real greeting. A
dog, grown old since his departure, will come out, wagging his tail,
and licking the soldier's hand. And Jock will lean down, and give his
old dog a pat. If the dog had not come he would have been surprised
and disappointed. And so, glad with every fibre of his being, Jock
goes in, and finds father and mother and sisters within. They look up
at his coming, and their happiness shines for a moment in their eyes.
But they are not the sort of people to show their emotions or make a
fuss. Mother and girls will rise and kiss him, and begin to take his
gear, and his father will shake him by the hand.
"Well," the father will ask, "how are you getting along, lad?"
And--"All right," he will answer. That is the British soldier's
answer to that question, always and everywhere.
Then he sits down, happy and at rest, and lights his pipe, maybe, and
looks about the old room which holds so many memories for him. And
supper will be ready, you may be sure. They will not have much to
say, these folk of Jock's, but if you look at his face as dish after
dish is set before him, you will understand that this is a feast that
has been prepared for him. They may have been going without all sorts
of good things themselves, but they have contrived, in some fashion,
to have them all for Jock. All Scotland has tightened its belt, and
done its part, in that fashion, as in every other, toward the winning
of the war. But for the soldiers the best is none too good. And
Jock's folk would rather make him welcome so, by proof that takes no
words, than by demonstrations of delight and of affection.
As he eats, they gather round him at the board, and they tell him all
the gossip of the neighborhood. He does not talk about the war, and,
if they are curious--probably they are not!--they do not ask him
questions. They think that he wants to forget about the war and the
trenches and the mud, and they are right. And so, after he has eaten
his fill, he lights his pipe again, and sits about. And maybe, as it
grows dark, he takes a bit walk into town. He walks slowly, as if he
is glad that for once he need not be in a hurry, and he stops to look
into shop windows as if he had never seen their stocks before, though
you may be sure that, in a Scottish village, he has seen everything
they have to offer hundreds of times.
He will meet friends, maybe, and they will stop and nod to him. And
perhaps one of six will stop longer.
"How are you getting on, Jock?" will be the question.
"All right!" Jock will say. And he will think the question rather
fatuous, maybe. If he were not all right, how should he be there? But
if Jock had lost both legs, or an arm, or if he had been blinded,
that would still be his answer. Those words have become a sort of
slogan for the British army, that typify its spirit.
Jock's walk is soon over, and he goes home, by an old path that is
known to him, every foot of it, and goes to bed in his own old bed.
He has not broken into the routine of the household, and he sees no
reason why he should. And the next day it is much the same for him.
He gets up as early as he ever did, and he is likely to do a few odd
bits of work that his father has not had time to come to. He talks
with his mother and the girls of all sorts of little, commonplace
things, and with his father he discusses the affairs of the
community. And in the evening he strolls down town again, and
exchanges a few words with friends, and learns, perhaps, of boys who
haven't been lucky enough to get home on leave--of boys with whom he
grew up, who have gone west.
So it goes on for several days, each day the same. Jock is quietly
happy. It is no task to entertain him: he does not want to be
entertained. The peace and quiet of home are enough for him; they are
change enough from the turmoil of the front and the ceaseless grind
of the life in the army in France.
And then Jock's leave nears its end, and it is time for him to go
back. He tells them, and he makes his few small preparations. They
will have cleaned his kit for him, and mended some of his things that
needed mending. And when it is time for him to go they help him on
with his pack and he kisses his mother and the girls good-by, and
shakes hands with his father.
"Well, good-by," Jock says. He might be going to work in a factory a
few miles off. "I'll be all right. Good-by, now. Don't you cry, now,
mother, and you, Jeannie and Maggie. Don't you fash yourselves about
me. I'll be back again. And if I shouldn't come back--why, I'll be
So he goes, and they stand looking after him, and his old dog wonders
why he is going, and where, and makes a move to follow him, maybe.
But he marches off down the street, alone, never looking back, and is
waiting when the train comes. It will be full of other Jocks and
Andrews and Tams, on their way back to France, like him, and he will
nod to some he knows as he settles down in the carriage.
And in just two days Jock will have traveled the length of England,
and crossed the channel, and ridden up to the front. He will have
reported himself, and have been ordered, with his company, into the
trenches. And on the third night, had you followed him, you might see
him peering over the parapet at the lines of the Hun, across No Man's
Land, and listening to the whine of bullets and the shriek of shells
over his head, with a star shell, maybe, to throw a green light upon
him for a moment.
So it is that a warrior comes and that a warrior goes in a land where
war is war; in a land where war has become the business of all every
day, and has settled down into a matter of routine.
I could not, much as I should in many ways have liked to do so,
prolong my stay in Scotland. The peace and the restfulness of the
Highlands, the charm of the heather and the hills, the long, lazy
days with my rod, whipping some favorite stream--ah, they made me
happy for a moment, but they could not make me forget! My duty called
me back, and the thought of war, and suffering, and there were
moments when it seemed to me that nothing could keep me from plunging
again into the work I had set out to do.
In those days I was far too restless to be taking my ease at home, in
my wee hoose at Dunoon. A thousand activities called me. The rest had
been necessary; I had had to admit that, and to obey my doctor, for I
had been feeling the strain of my long continued activity, piled up,
as it was, on top of my grief and care. And yet I was eager to be off
and about my work again.
I did not want to go back to the same work I had been doing. No! I
was still a young man. I was younger than men and officers who were
taking their turn in the trenches. I was but forty-six years old, and
there was a lot of life and snap in the old dog yet! My life had been
rightly lived. As a young man I had worked in a pit, ye ken, and that
had given me a strength in my back and my legs that would have served
me well in the trenches. War, these days, means hard work as well as
fighting--more, indeed. War is a business, a great industry, now.
There is all manner of work that must be done at the front and right
behind it. Aye, and I was eager to be there and to be doing my share
of it--and not for the first time.
Many a time, and often, I had broached my idea of being allowed to
enlist, e'en before the Huns killed my boy. But they would no listen
to me. They told me, each time, that there was more and better work
for me to do at hame in Britain, spurring others on, cheering them
when they came back maimed and broken, getting the country to put its
shoulder to the wheel when it came to subscribing to the war loans
and all the rest of it. And it seemed to me that it was not for me to
decide; that I must obey those who were better in a position to judge
than I could be.
I went down south to England, and I talked again of enlisting and
trying to get a crack at those who had killed my boy. And again my
friends refused to listen to me.
"Why, Harry," they said to me--and not my own friends, only, but men
highly placed enough to make me know that I must pay heed to what
they said--"you must not think of it! If you enlisted, or if we got
you a commission, you'd be but one man out there. Here you're worth
many men--a brigade, or a division, maybe. You are more use to us
than many men who go out there to fight. You do great things toward
winning the war every day. No, Harry, there is work for every man in
Britain to do, and you have found yours and are doing it."
I was not content, though, even when I seemed to agree with them. I
did try to argue, but it was no use. And still I felt that it was no
time for a man to be playing and to be giving so much of his time to
making others gay. It was well for folk to laugh, and to get their
minds off the horror of war for a little time. Well I knew! Aye, and
I believed that I was doing good, some good at least, and giving
cheer to some puir laddies who needed it sorely. But--weel, it was no
what I wanted to be doing when my country was fighting for her life!
I made up my mind, slowly, what it was that I wanted to do that would
fit in with the ideas and wishes of those whose word I was bound to
heed and that would still come closer than what I was doing to meet
my own desires.
Every day, nearly, then, I was getting letters from the front. They
came from laddies whom I'd helped to make up their minds that they
belonged over yon, where the men were. Some were from boys who came
from aboot Dunoon. I'd known those laddies since they were bits o'
bairns, most of them. And then there were letters--and they touched
me as much and came as close home as any of them--from boys who were
utter strangers to me, but who told me they felt they knew me because
they'd seen me on the stage, or because their phonograph, maybe,
played some of my records, and because they'd read that my boy had
shared their dangers and given his life, as they were ready, one and
all, to do.
And those letters, nearly all, had the same refrain. They wanted me.
They wanted me to come to them, since they couldn't be coming to me.
"Come on out here and see us and sing for us, Harry," they'd write to
me. "It'd be a fair treat to see your mug and hear you singing about
the wee hoose amang the heather or the bonnie, bonnie lassie!"
How could a man get such a plea as that and not want to do what those
laddies asked? How could he think of the great deal they were doing
and not want to do the little bit they asked of him? But it was no a
simple matter, ye'll ken! I could not pack a bag and start for France
from Charing Cross or Victoria as I might have done--and often did--
before the war. No one might go to France unless he had passports and
leave from the war office, and many another sort of arrangement there
was to make. But I set wheels in motion.
Just to go to France to sing for the boys would have been easy
enough. They told me that at once.
"What? Harry Lauder wants to go to France to sing for the soldiers?
He shall--whenever he pleases! Tell him we'll be glad to send him!"
So said the war office. But I knew what they meant. They meant for me
to go to one or more of the British bases and give concerts. There
were troops moving in and out of the bases all the time; men who'd
been in the trenches or in action in an offensive and were back in
rest billets, or even further back, were there in their thousands.
But it was the real front I was eager to reach. I wanted to be where
my boy had been, and to see his grave. I wanted to sing for the
laddies who were bearing the brunt of the big job over there--while
they were bearing it.
And that no one had done. Many of our leading actors and singers and
other entertainers were going back and forth to France all the time.
Never a week went by but they were helping to cheer up the boys at
the bases. It was a grand work they were doing, and the boys were
grateful to them, and all Britain should share that gratitude. But it
was a wee bit more that I wanted to be doing, and there was the rub.
I wanted to go up to the battle lines themselves and to sing for the
boys who were in the thick of the struggle with the Hun. I wanted to
give a concert in a front-line trench where the Huns could hear me,
if they cared to listen. I wanted them to learn once more the lesson
we could never teach them often enough--the lesson of the spirit of
the British army, that could go into battle with a laugh on its lips.
But at first I got no encouragement at all when I told what it was in
my mind to do. My friends who had influence shook their heads.
"I'm afraid it can't be managed, Harry," they told me. "It's never
I told them what I believed myself, and what I have often thought of
when things looked hard and prospects were dark. I told them
everything had to be done for the first time sometime, and I begged
them not to give up the effort to win my way for me. And so I knew
that when they told me no one had done it before it wasn't reason
enough why I shouldn't do it. And I made up my mind that I would be
the pioneer in giving concerts under fire if that should turn out to
be a part of the contract.
But I could not argue. I could only say what it was that I wanted to
do, and wait the pleasure of those whose duty it was to decide. I
couldn't tell the military authorities where they must send me. It
was for me to obey when they gave their orders, and to go wherever
they thought I would do the most good. I would not have you thinking
that I was naming conditions, and saying I would go where I pleased
or bide at hame! That was not my way. All I could do was to hope that
in the end they would see matters as I did and so decide to let me
have my way. But I was ready for my orders, whatever they might be.
There was one thing I wanted, above all others, to do when I got to
France, and so much I said. I wanted to meet the Highland Brigade,
and see the bonnie laddies in their kilts as the Huns saw them--the
Huns, who called them the Ladies from Hell, and hated them worse than
they hated any troops in the whole British army.
Ha' ye heard the tale of the Scotsman and the Jew? Sandy and Ikey
they were, and they were having a disputatious argument together.
Each said he could name more great men of his race who were famous in
history than the other could. And they argued, and nearly came to
blows, and were no further along until they thought of making a bet.
An odd bet it was. For each great name that Sandy named of a Scot
whom history had honored he was to pull out one of Ikey's hairs, and
Ikey was to have the same privilege.
"Do ye begin!" said Sandy.
"Moses!" said They, and pulled.
"Bobbie Burns!" cried Sandy, and returned the compliment.
"Abraham!" said Ikey, and pulled again. "Ouch--Duggie Haig!" said
And then Ikey grabbed a handful of hairs at once.
"Joseph and his brethren!" he said, gloating a bit as he watched the
tears starting from Sandy's eyes at the pain of losing so many good
hairs at once.
"So it's pulling them out in bunches ye are!" said Sandy. "Ah, well,
man" And he reached with both his hands for Ikey's thatch.
"The Hieland Brigade!" he roared, and pulled all the hairs his two
hands would hold!
Ah, weel, there are sad thoughts that come to me, as well as proud
and happy ones, when I think of the bonnie kilted laddies who fought
and died so nobly out there against the Hun! They were my own
laddies, those, and it was with them and amang them that my boy went
to his death. It was amang them I would find, I thought, those who
could tell me more than I knew of how he had died, and of how he had
lived before he died. And I thought the boys of the brigade would be
glad to see me and to hear my songs--songs of their hames and their
ain land, auld Scotland. And so I used what influence I had, and did
not think it wrong to employ at such a time, and in such a cause. For
I knew that if they sent me to the Hieland Brigade they would be
sending me to the front of the front line--for that was where I would
have to go seeking the Hieland laddies!
I waited as patiently as I could. And then one day I got my orders! I
was delighted, for the thing they had told me could not be done had
actually been arranged for me. I was asked to get ready to go to
France to entertain the soldiers, and it was the happiest day I had
known since I had heard of my boy's death.
There was not much for me to do in the way of making ready. The whole
trip, of course, would be a military one. I might be setting out as a
minstrel for France, but every detail of my arrangements had to be
made in accordance with military rules, and once I reached France I
would be under the orders of the army in every movement I might make.
All that was carefully explained to me.
But still there were things for me to think about and to arrange. I
wanted some sort of accompaniment for my songs, and how to get it
puzzled me for a time. But there was a firm in London that made
pianos that heard of my coming trip, and solved that problem for me.
They built, and they presented to me, the weest piano ever you saw--a
piano so wee that it could be carried in an ordinary motor car. Only
five octaves it had, but it was big enough, and sma' enough at once.
I was delighted with it, and so were all who saw it. It weighed only
about a hundred and fifty pounds--less than even a middling stout
man! And it was cunningly built, so that no space at all was wasted.
Mrs. Lauder, when she saw it, called it cute, and so did every other
woman who laid eyes upon it. It was designed to be carried on the
grid of a motor car--and so it was, for many miles of shell-torn
When I was sure of my piano I thought of another thing it would be
well for me to take with me. And so I spent a hundred pounds--five
hundred American dollars--for cigarettes. I knew they would be welcome
everywhere I went. It makes no matter how many cigarettes we send to
France, there will never be enough. My friends thought I was making a
mistake in taking so many; they were afraid they would make matters
hard when it came to transportation, and reminded me that I faced
difficulties in that respect in France it was nearly impossible for us
at home in Britain to visualize at all. But I had my mind and my heart
set on getting those fags--a cigarette is a fag to every British
soldier--to my destination with me. Indeed, I thought they would mean
more to the laddies out there than I could hope to do myself!
I was not to travel alone. My tour was to include two traveling
companions of distinction and fame. One was James Hogge, M.P., member
from East Edinburgh, who was eager, as so many members of Parliament
were, to see for himself how things were at the front. James Hogge
was one of the members most liked by the soldiers. He had worked hard
for them, and gained--and well earned--much fame by the way he
struggled with the matter of getting the right sort of pensions for
the laddies who were offering their lives.
The other distinguished companion I was to have was an old and good
friend of mine, the Reverend George Adam, then a secretary to the
Minister of Munitions. He lived in Ilford, a suburb of London, then,
but is now in Montreal, Canada. I was glad of the opportunity to travel
with both these men, for I knew that one's traveling companions, on
such a tour, were of the utmost importance in determining its success
or failure, and I could not have chosen a better pair, had the choice
been left to me--which, of course, it was not.
There we were, you see--the Reverend George Adam, Harry Lauder and
James Hogge, M.P. And no sooner did the soldiers hear of the
combination than our tour was named "The Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P.,
Tour" was what we were called! And that absurd name stuck to us
through our whole journey, in France, up and down the battle line,
and until we came home to England and broke up!
Up to that time I had thought I knew a good deal about the war. I had
had much news from my boy. I had talked, I think, to as many returned
soldiers as any man in Britain. I had seen much of the backwash and
the wretched aftermath of war. Ah, yes, I thought I knew more than
most folk did of what war meant! But until my tour began, as I see
now, easily enough, I knew nothing--literally nothing at all!
There are towns and ports in Britain that are military areas. One may
not enter them except upon business, the urgency of which has been
established to the satisfaction of the military authorities. One must
have a permit to live in them, even if they be one's home town. These
towns are vital to the war and its successful prosecution.
Until one has seen a British port of embarkation in this war one has
no real beginning, even, of a conception of the task the war has
imposed upon Britain. It was so with me, I know, and since then other
men have told me the same thing. There the army begins to pour into
the funnel, so to speak, that leads to France and the front. There
all sorts of lines are brought together, all sorts of scattered
activities come to a focus. There is incessant activity, day and
It was from Folkestone, on the southeast coast, that the Reverend
Harry Lauder, M.P. Tour was to embark. And we reached Folkestone on
June 7, 1917.
Folkestone, in time of peace, was one of the greatest of the Southern
watering places. It is a lovely spot. Great hotels line the Leas, a
glorious promenade, along the top of chalk cliffs, that looks out
over the Channel. In the distance one fancies one may see the coast
of France, beyond the blue water.
There is green grass everywhere behind the beach. Folkestone has a
miniature harbor, that in time of peace gave shelter to the fishing
fleet and to the channel steamers that plied to and from Boulogne, in
France. The harbor is guarded by stone jetties. It has been greatly
enlarged now--so has all Folkestone, for that matter. But I am
remembering the town as it was in peace!
There was no pleasanter and kindlier resort along that coast. The
beach was wonderful, and all summer long it attracted bathers and
children at play. Bathing machines lined the beach, of course, within
the limits of the town; those queer, old, clumsy looking wagons, with
a dressing cabin on wheels, that were drawn up and down according to
the tide, so that bathers might enter the water from them directly.
There, as in most British towns, women bathed at one part of the
beach, men at the other, and all in the most decorous and modest of
But at Folkestone, in the old days of peace, about a mile from the
town limits, there was another stretch of beach where all the gay
folk bathed--men and women together. And there the costumes were such
as might be seen at Deauville or Ostend, Etretat or Trouville. Highly
they scandalized the good folk of Folkestone, to be sure--but little
was said, and nothing was done, for, after all those were the folk
who spent the money! They dressed in white tents that gleamed against
the sea, and a pretty splash of color they made on a bright day for
the soberer folk to go and watch, as they sat on the low chalk cliffs
Gone--gone! Such days have passed for Folkestone! They will no doubt
come again--but when? When?
June the seventh! Folkestone should have been gay for the beginning
of the onset of summer visitors. Sea bathing should just have been
beginning to be attractive, as the sun warmed the sea and the beach.
But when we reached the town war was over all. Men in uniform were
everywhere. Warships lay outside the harbor. Khaki and guns, men
trudging along, bearing the burdens of war, motor trucks, rushing
ponderously along, carrying ammunition and food, messengers on
motorcycles, sounding to all traffic that might be in the way the
clamorous summons to clear the path--those were the sights we saw!
How hopelessly confused it all seemed! I could not believe that there
was order in the chaos that I saw. But that was because the key to
all that bewildering activity was not in my possession.
Every man had his appointed task. He was a cog in the greatest
machine the world has ever seen. He knew just what he was to do, and
how much time had been allowed for the performance of his task. It
was assumed he would not fail. The British army makes that
assumption, and it is warranted.
I hear praise, even from men who hate the Hun as I hate him, for the
superb military organization of the German army. They say the
Kaiser's people may well take pride in that. But I say that I am
prouder of what Britain and the new British army that has come into
being since this war began have done than any German has a right to
be! They spent forty-four years in making ready for a war they knew
they meant, some day, to fight. We had not had, that day that I first
saw our machine really functioning, as many months for preparation as
they had had years. And yet we were doing our part.
We had had to build and prepare while we helped our ally, France, to
hold off that gray horde that had swept down so treacherously through
Belgium from the north and east. It was as if we had organized and
trained and equipped a fire brigade while the fire was burning, and
while our first devoted fighters sought to keep it in check with
water buckets. And they did! They did! The water buckets served while
the hose was made, and the mains were laid, and the hydrants set in
place, and the trained firemen were made ready to take up the task.
And, now that I had come to Folkestone, now that I was seeing the
results of all the labor that had been performed, the effect of all
the prodigies of organization, I began to know what Lord Kitchener
and those who had worked with him had done. System ruled everything
at Folkestone. Nothing, it seemed to me, as officers explained as
much as they properly could, had been left to chance. Here was order
In the air above us airplanes flew to and fro. They circled about
like great, watchful hawks. They looped and whirled around, cutting
this way and that, circling always. And I knew that, as they flew
about outside the harbor the men in them were never off their guard;
that they were peering down, watching every moment for the first
trace of a submarine that might have crept through the more remote
defenses of the Channel. Let a submarine appear--its shrift would be
There, above, waited the airplanes. And on the surface of the sea
sinister destroyers darted about as watchful as the flyers above,
ready for any emergency that might arise. I have no doubt that
submarines of our own lurked below, waiting, too, to do their part.
But those, if any there were, I did not see. And one asks no
questions at a place like Folkestone. I was glad of any information
an officer might voluntarily give me. But it was not for me or any
other loyal Briton to put him in the position of having to refuse to
Soon a great transport was pointed out to me, lying beside the jetty.
Gangplanks were down, and up them streams of men in khaki moved
endlessly. Up they went, in an endless brown river, to disappear into
the ship. The whole ship was a very hive of activity. Not only men
were going aboard, but supplies of every sort; boxes of ammunition,
stores, food. And I understood, and was presently to see, that beyond
her sides there was the same ordered scene as prevailed on shore.
Every man knew his task; the stowing away of everything that was
being carried aboard was being carried out systematically and with
the utmost possible economy of time and effort.
"That's the ship you will cross the Channel on," I was told. And I
regarded her with a new interest. I do not know what part she had
been wont to play in time of peace; what useful, pleasant journeys it
had been her part to complete, I only knew that she was to carry me
to France, and to the place where my heart was and for a long time
had been. Me--and two thousand men who were to be of real use over
We were nearly the last to go on board. We found the decks swarming
with men. Ah, the braw laddies! They smoked and they laughed as they
settled themselves for the trip. Never a one looked as though he
might be sorry to be there. They were leaving behind them all the
good things, all the pleasant things, of life as, in time of peace,
every one of them had learned to live it and to know it. Long, long
since had the last illusion faded of the old days when war had seemed
a thing of pomp and circumstance and glory.
They knew well, those boys, what it was they faced. Hard, grinding
work they could look forward to doing; such work as few of them had
ever known in the old days. Death and wounds they could reckon upon
as the portion of just about so many of them. There would be bitter
cold, later, in the trenches, and mud, and standing for hours in icy
mud and water. There would be hard fare, and scanty, sometimes, when
things went wrong. There would be gas attacks, and the bursting of
shells about them with all sorts of poisons in them. Always there
would be the deadliest perils of these perilous days.
But they sang as they set out upon the great adventure of their
lives. They smiled and laughed. They cheered me, so that the tears
started from my eyes, when they saw me, and they called the gayest of
gay greetings, though they knew that I was going only for a little
while, and that many of them had set foot on British soil for the
last time. The steady babble of their voices came to our ears, and
they swarmed below us like ants as they disposed themselves about the
decks, and made the most of the scanty space that was allowed for
them. The trip was to be short, of course; there were too few ships,
and the problems of convoy were too great, to make it possible to
make the voyage a comfortable one. It was a case of getting them over
as might best be arranged.
A word of command rang out and was passed around by officers and non
"Life belts must be put on before the ship sails!"
That simple order brought home the grim facts of war at that moment as
scarcely anything else could have done. Here was a grim warning of the
peril that lurked outside. Everywhere men were scurrying to obey--I
among the rest. The order applied as much to us civilians as it did to
any of the soldiers. And my belt did not fit, and was hard, extremely
hard, for me to don. I could no manage it at all by myself, but Adam
and Hogge had had an easier time with theirs, and they came to my help.
Among us we got mine on, and Hogge stood off, and looked at me,
"An extraordinary effect, Harry!" he said, with a smile. "I declare--
it gives you the most charming embonpoint!"
I had my doubts about his use of the word charming. I know that I
should not have cared to have anyone judge of my looks from a picture
taken as I looked then, had one been taken.
But it was not a time for such thoughts. For a civilian, especially,
and one not used to journeys in such times as these, there is a
thrill and a solemnity about the donning of a life preserver. I felt
that I was indeed, it might be, taking a risk in making this journey,
and it was an awesome thought that I, too, might have seen my native
land for the last time, and said a real good-by to those whom I had
left behind me.
Now we cast off, and began to move, and a thrill ran through me such
as I had never known before in all my life. I went to the rail as we
turned our nose toward the open sea. A destroyer was ahead, another
was beside us, others rode steadily along on either side. It was the
most reassuring of sights to see them. They looked so business like,
so capable. I could not imagine a Hun submarine as able to evade
their watchfulness. And moreover, there were the watchful man birds
above us, the circling airplanes, that could make out, so much better
than could any lookout on a ship, the first trace of the presence of
a tin fish. No--I was not afraid! I trusted in the British navy,
which had guarded the sea lane so well that not a man had lost his
life as the result of a Hun attack, although many millions had gone
back and forth to France since the beginning of the war.
I did not stay with my own party. I preferred to move about among the
Soldiers. I was deeply interested in them, as I have always been. And
I wanted to make friends among them, and see how they felt.
"Lor' lumme--its old 'Arry Lauder!" said one cockney. "God bless you,
'Arry--many's the time I've sung with you in the 'alls. It's good to
see you with us!"
And so I was greeted everywhere. Man after man crowded around me to
shake hands. It brought a lump into my throat to be greeted so, and
it made me more than ever glad that the military authorities had been
able to see their way to grant my request. It confirmed my belief
that I was going where I might be really useful to the men who were
ready and willing to make the greatest of all sacrifices in the cause
so close to all our hearts.
When I first went aboard the transport I picked up a little gold
stripe. It was one of those men wear who have been wounded, as a
badge of honor. I hoped I might be able to find the man who had lost
it, and return it to him. But none of them claimed it, and I have
kept it, to this day, as a souvenir of that voyage.
It was easy for them to know me. I wore my kilt and my cap, and my
knife in my stocking, as I have always done, on the stage, and nearly
always off it as well. And so they recognized me without difficulty.
And never a one called me anything but Harry--except when it was
'Arry! I think I would be much affronted if ever a British soldier
called me Mr. Lauder. I don't know--because not one of them ever did,
and I hope none ever will!
They told me that there were men from the Highlands on board, and I
went looking for them, and found them after a time, though going
about that ship, so crowded she was, was no easy matter. They were
Gordon Highlanders, mostly, I found, and they were glad to see me,
and made me welcome, and I had a pipe with them, and a good talk.
Many of them were going back, after having been at home, recuperating
from wounds. And they and the new men too were all eager and anxious
to be put there and at work.
"Gie us a chance at the Huns--it's all we're asking," said one of a
new draft. "They're telling us they don't like the sight of our
kilts, Harry, and that a Hun's got less stomach for the cold steel of
a bayonet than for anything else on earth. Weel--we're carrying a
dose of it for them!"
And the men who had been out before, and were taking back with them
the scars they had earned, were just as anxious as the rest. That was
the spirit of every man on board. They did not like war as war, but
they knew that this was a war that must be fought to the finish, and
never a man of them wanted peace to come until Fritz had learned his
lesson to the bottom of Lie last grim page.
I never heard a word of the danger of meeting a submarine. The idea
that one might send a torpedo after us popped into my mind once or
twice, but when it did I looked out at the destroyers, guarding us,
and the airplanes above, and I felt as safe as if I had been in bed
in my wee hoose at Dunoon. It was a true highway of war that those
whippets of the sea had made the Channel crossing.
Ahm, but I was proud that day of the British navy! It is a great task
that it has performed, and nobly it has done it. And it was proud and
glad I was again when we sighted land, as we soon did, and I knew
that I was gazing, for the first time since war had been declared,
upon the shores of our great ally, France. It was the great day and
the proud day and the happy day for me!
I was near the realizing of an old dream I had often had. I was with
the soldiers who had my love and my devotion, and I was coming to
France--the France that every Scotchman learns to love at his
A stir ran through the men. Orders began to fly, and I went back to
my place and my party. Soon we would be ashore, and I would be in the
way of beginning the work I had come to do.
[ILLUSTRATION: Harry Lauder preserves the bonnet of his son, brought
to him from where the lad fell. "The memory of his boy, it is almost
his religion." (See Lauder05.jpg)]
[ILLUSTRATION: A tatter of plaid of the Black Watch on a wire of a
German entanglement barely suggests the hell the Scotch troops have
gone through. (See Lauder06.jpg)]
Like Folkestone, Boulogne, in happier times, had been a watering
place, less fashionable than some on the French coast, but the
pleasant resort of many in search of health and pleasure. And like
Folkestone it had suffered the blight of war. The war had laid its
heavy hand upon the port. It ruled everything; it was omnipresent.
From the moment when we came into full view of the harbor it was
impossible to think of anything else.
Folkestone had made me think of the mouth of a great funnel, into
which all broad Britain had been pouring men and guns and all the
manifold supplies and stores of modern war. And the trip across the
narrow, well guarded lane in the Channel had been like the pouring of
water through the neck of that same funnel. Here in Boulogne was the
opening. Here the stream of men and sup-plies spread out to begin its
orderly, irresistible flow to the front. All of northern France and
Belgium lay before that stream; it had to cover all the great length
of the British front. Not from Boulogne alone, of course; I knew of
Dunkirk and Calais, and guessed at other ports. There were other
funnels, and into all of them, day after day, Britain was pouring her
tribute; through all of them she was offering her sacrifice, to be
laid upon the altar of strife.
Here, much more than at Folkestone, as it chanced, I saw at once
another thing. There was a double funnel. The stream ran both ways.
For, as we steamed into Boulogne, a ship was coming out--a ship with
a grim and tragic burden. She was one of our hospital ships. But she
was guarded as carefully by destroyers and aircraft as our transport
had been. The Red Cross meant nothing to the Hun--except, perhaps, a
shining target. Ship after ship that bore that symbol of mercy and of
pain had been sunk. No longer did our navy dare to trust the Red
Cross. It took every precaution it could take to protect the poor
fellows who were going home to Blighty.
As we made our way slowly in, through the crowded harbor, full of
transports, of ammunition ships, of food carriers, of destroyers and
small naval craft of all sorts, I began to be able to see more and
more of what was afoot ashore. It was near noon; the day that had
been chosen for my arrival in France was one of brilliant sunshine
and a cloudless sky. And my eyes were drawn to other hospital ships
that were waiting at the docks. Motor ambulances came dashing up, one
after the other, in what seemed to me to be an endless stream. The
pity of that sight! It was as if I could peer through the intervening
space and see the bandaged heads, the places where limbs had been,
the steadfast gaze of the boys who were being carried up in
stretchers. They had done their task, a great number of them; they
had given all that God would let them give to King and country. Life
was left to them, to be sure; most of these boys were sure to live.
But to what maimed and incomplete lives were they doomed! The
thousands who would be cripples always--blind, some of them, and
helpless, dependent upon what others might choose or be able to do
for them. It was then, in that moment, that an idea was born,
vaguely, in my mind, of which I shall have much more to say later.
There was beauty in that harbor of Boulogne. The sun gleamed against
the chalk cliffs. It caught the wings of airplanes, flying high above
us. But there was little of beauty in my mind's eye. That could see
through the surface beauty of the scene and of the day to the grim,
stark ugliness of war that lay beneath.
I saw the ordered piles of boxes and supplies, the bright guns, with
the sun reflected from their barrels, dulled though these were to
prevent that very thing. And I thought of the waste that was
involved--of how all this vast product of industry was destined to be
destroyed, as swiftly as might be, bringing no useful accomplishment
with its destruction--save, of course, that accomplishment which must
be completed before any useful thing may be done again in this world.
Then we went ashore, and I could scarcely believe that we were indeed
in France, that land which, friends though our nations are, is at
heart and in spirit so different from my own country. Boulogne had
ceased to be French, indeed. The port was like a bit of Britain
picked up, carried across the Channel and transplanted successfully
to a new resting-place.
English was spoken everywhere--and much of it was the English of the
cockney, innocent of the aitch, and redolent of that strange tongue.
But it is no for me, a Scot, to speak of how any other man uses the
King's English! Well I ken it! It was good to hear it--had there been
a thought in my mind of being homesick, it would quickly have been
dispelled. The streets rang to the tread of British soldiers; our
uniform was everywhere. There were Frenchmen, too; they were
attached, many of them, for one reason and another, to the British
forces. But most of them spoke English too.
I had most care about the unloading of my cigarettes. It was a point
of honor with me, by now, after the way my friends had joked me about
them, to see that every last one of the "fags" I had brought with me
reached a British Tommy. So to them I gave my first care. Then I saw
to the unloading of my wee piano, and, having done so, was free to go
with the other members of the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour to
the small hotel that was to be headquarters for all of us in
Arrangements had to be made for my debut in France, and I can tell
you that no professional engagement I have ever filled ever gave me
half so much concern as this one! I have sung before many strange
audiences, in all parts of the world, or nearly all. I have sung for
folk who had no idea of what to expect from me, and have known that I
must be at work from the moment of my first appearance on the stage
to win them. But these audiences that I was to face here in France
gave me more thought than any of them. I had so great a reason for
wanting to suceed with them!
And here, ye ken, I faced conditions that were harder than had ever
fallen to my lot. I was not to have, most of the time, even the
military theaters that had, in some cases, been built for the men
behind the lines, where many actors and, indeed, whole companies,
from home had been appearing. I could make no changes of costume. I
would have no orchestra. Part of the time I would have my wee piano,
but I reckoned on going to places where even that sma' thing could no
But I had a good manager--the British army, no less! It was the army
that had arranged my booking. We were not left alone, not for a
minute. I would not have you think that we were left to go around on
our own, and as we pleased. Far from it! No sooner had we landed than
Captain Roberts, D.S.O., told me, in a brief, soldierly way, that was
also extremely businesslike, what sort of plans had been made for us.
"We have a number of big hospitals here," he said. "This is one of
the important British bases, as you know, and it is one of those
where many of our men are treated before they are sent home. So,
since you are here, we thought you would want to give your first
concerts to the wounded men here."
So I learned that the opening of what you might call my engagement in
the trenches was to be in hospitals. That was not new to me, and yet
I was to find that there was a difference between a base hospital in
France and the sort of hospitals I had seen so often at home.
Nothing, indeed, was left to us. After Captain Roberts had explained
matters, we met Captain Godfrey, who was to travel with us, and be
our guide, our military mentor and our ruler. We understood that we
must place ourselves under him, and under military discipline. No
Tommy, indeed, was more under discipline than we had to be. But we
did not chafe, civilians though we were. When you see the British
army at work nothing is further from your thoughts than to criticize
or to offer any suggestions. It knows its business, and does it,
quietly and without fuss. But even Fritz has learned to be chary of
getting in the way when the British army has made up its mind--and
that is what he is there for, though I've no doubt that Fritz himself
would give a pretty penny to be at home again, with peace declared.
Captain Godfrey, absolute though his power over us was--he could have
ordered us all home at a moment's notice--turned out to be a
delightful young officer, who did everything in his power to make our
way smooth and pleasant, and who was certainly as good a manager as I
ever had or ever expect to have. He entered into the spirit of our
tour, and it was plain to see that it would be a success from start
to finish if it were within his power to make it so. He liked to call
himself my manager, and took a great delight, indeed, in the whole
experience. Well, it was a change for him, no doubt!
I had brought a piano with me, but no accompanist. That was not an
oversight; it was a matter of deliberate choice. I had been told,
before I left home, that I would have no difficulty in finding some
one among the soldiers to accompany me. And that was true, as I soon
found. In fact, as I was to learn later, I could have recruited a
full orchestra among the Tommies, and I would have had in my band,
too, musicians of fame and great ability, far above the average
theater orchestra. Oh, you must go to France to learn how every art
and craft in Britain has done its part!
Aye, every sort of artist and artisan, men of every profession and
trade, can be found in the British army. It has taken them all, like
some great melting pot, and made them soldiers. I think, indeed,
there is no calling that you could name that would not yield you a
master hand from the ranks of the British army. And I am not talking
of the officers alone, but of the great mass of Tommies. And so when
I told Captain Godfrey I would be needing a good pianist to play my
accompaniments, he just smiled.
"Right you are!" he said. "We'll turn one up for you in no time!"
He had no doubts at all, and he was right. They found a lad called
Johnson, a Yorkshireman, in a convalescent ward of one of the big
hospitals. He was recovering from an illness he had incurred in the
trenches, and was not quite ready to go back to active duty. But he
was well enough to play for me, and delighted when he heard he might
get the assignment. He was nervous lest he should not please me, and
feared I might ask for another man. But when I ran over with him the
songs I meant to sing I found he played the piano very well indeed,
and had a knack for accompanying, too. There are good pianists,
soloists, who are not good accompanists; it takes more than just the
ability to play the piano to work with a singer, and especially with
a singer like me. It is no straight ahead singing I do always, as you
But I saw at once that Johnson and I would get along fine together,
so everyone was pleased, and I went on and made my preparations with
him for my first concert. That was to be in the Boulogne Casino--
center of the gayety of the resort in the old days, but now, for a
long time, turned into a base hospital.
They had played for high stakes there in the old days before the war.
Thousands of dollars had changed hands in an hour there. But they
were playing for higher stakes now! They were playing for the lives
and the health of men, and the hearts of the women at home in Britain
who were bound up with them. In the old days men had staked their
money against the turn of a card or the roll of the wheel. But now it
was with Death they staked--and it was a mightier game than those old
walls had ever seen before.
The largest ward of the hospital was in what had been the Baccarat
room, and it was there I held my first concert of the trench
engagement. When I appeared it was packed full. There were men on
cots, lying still and helpless, bandaged to their very eyes. Some
came limping in on their crutches; some were rolled in in chairs. It
was a sad scene and an impressive one, and it went to my heart when I
thought that my own poor laddie must have lain in just such a room--
in this very one, perhaps. He had suffered as these men were
suffering, and he had died--as some of these men for whom I was to
sing would die. For there were men here who would be patched up,
presently, and would go back. And for them there might be a next
time--a next time when they would need no hospital.
There was one thing about the place I liked. It was so clean and
white and spotless. All the garish display, the paint and tawdry
finery, of the old gambling days, had gone. It was restful, now, and
though there was the hospital smell, it was a clean smell. And the
men looked as though they had wonderful care. Indeed, I knew they had
that; I knew that everything that could be done to ease their state
was being done. And every face I saw was brave and cheerful, though
the skin of many and many a lad was stretched tight over his bones
with the pain he had known, and there was a look in their eyes, a
look with no repining in it, or complaint, but with the evidences of
a terrible pain, bravely suffered, that sent the tears starting to my
eyes more than once.
It was much as it had been in the many hospitals I had visited in
Britain, and yet it was different, too. I felt that I was really at
the front. Later I came to realize how far from the real front I
actually was at Boulogne, but then I knew no better.
I had chosen my programme carefully. It was made up of songs
altogether. I had had enough experience in hospitals and camps by now
to have learned what soldiers liked best, and I had no doubt at all
that it was just songs. And best of all they liked the old love
songs, and the old songs of Scotland--tender, crooning melodies, that
would help to carry them back, in memory, to their hames and, if they
had them, to the lassies of their dreams. It was no sad, lugubrious
songs they wanted. But a note of wistful tenderness they liked. That
was true of sick and wounded, and of the hale and hearty too--and it
showed that, though they were soldiers, they were just humans like
the rest of us, for all the great and super-human things they ha'
done out there in France.
Not every actor and artist who has tried to help in the hospitals has
fully understood the men he or she wanted to please. They meant well,
every one, but some were a wee bit unfortunate in the way they went
to work. There is a story that is told of one of our really great
serious actors. He is serious minded, always, on the stage and off,
and very, very dignified. But some folk went to him and asked him
would he no do his bit to cheer up the puir laddies in a hospital?
He never thought of refusing--and I would no have you think I am
sneering at the man! His intentions were of the best.
"Of course, I do not sing or dance," he said, drawing down his lip.
And the look in his eyes showed what he thought of such of us as had
descended to such low ways of pleasing the public that paid to see us
and to hear us: "But I shall very gladly do something to bring a
little diversion into the sad lives of the poor boys in the
It was a stretcher audience that he had. That means a lot of boys who
had to lie in bed to hear him. They needed cheering. And that great
actor, with all his good intentions could think of nothing more
fitting than to stand up before them and begin to recite, in a sad,
elocutionary tone, Longfellow's "The Wreck of the Hesperus!"
He went on, and his voice gained power. He had come to the third
stanza, or the fourth, maybe, when a command rang out through the
ward. It was one that had been heard many and many a time in France,
along the trenches. It came from one of the beds.
"To cover, men!" came the order.
It rang out through the ward, in a hoarse voice. And on the word
every man's head popped under the bedclothes! And the great actor,
astonished beyond measure, was left there, reciting away to shaking
mounds of bedclothes that entrenched his hearers from the sound of
Well, I had heard yon tale. I do no think I should ever have risked a
similar fate by making the same sort of mistake, but I profited by
hearing it, and I always remembered it. And there was another thing.
I never thought, when I was going to sing for soldiers, that I was
doing something for them that should make them glad to listen to me,
no matter what I chose to sing for them.
I always thought, instead, that here was an audience that had paid to
hear me in the dearest coin in all the world--their legs and arms,
their health and happiness. Oh, they had paid! They had not come in
on free passes! Their tickets had cost them dear--dearer than tickets
for the theater had ever cost before. I owed them more than I could
ever pay--my own future, and my freedom, and the right and the chance
to go on living in my own country free from the threat and the menace
of the Hun. It was for me to please those boys when I sang for them,
and to make such an effort as no ordinary audience had ever heard
They had made a little platform to serve as a stage for me. There was
room for me and for Johnson, and for the wee piano. And so I sang for
them, and they showed me from the start that they were pleased. Those
who could, clapped, and all cheered, and after each song there was a
great pounding of crutches on the floor. It was an inspiring sound
and a great sight, sad though it was to see and to hear.
When I had done I went aboot amang the men, shaking hands with such
as could gie me their hands, and saying a word or two to all of them.
Directly in front of the platform there lay a wounded Scots soldier,
and all through my concert he watched me most intently; he never took
his eyes off me. When I had sung my last song he beckoned to me
feebly, and I went to him, and bent over to listen to him.
"Eh, Harry, man," he said, "will ye be doin' me a favor?"
"Aye, that I will, if I can," I told him.
"It's to ask the doctor will I no be gettin' better soon. Because,
Harry, mon, I've but the one desire left--and that's to be in at the
finish of yon fight!"
I was to give one more concert in Boulogne, that night. That was more
cheerful, and it was different, again, from anything I had done or
known before. There was a convalescent camp, about two miles from
town, high up on the chalk cliffs. And this time my theater was a
Y.M.C.A. hut. But do not let the name hut deceive ye! I had an
audience of two thousand men that nicht! It was all the "hut" would
hold, with tight squeezing. And what a roaring, wild crowd that was,
to be sure! They sang with me, and they cheered and clapped until I
thought that hut would be needing a new roof!
I had to give over at last, for I was tired, and needed sleep. We had
our orders. The Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour was to start for
Vimy Ridge at six o'clock next morning!
We were up next morning before daybreak. But I did not feel as if I
were getting up early. Indeed, it was quite the reverse. All about us
was a scene of such activity that I felt as if I had been lying in
bed unconsciously long--as if I were the laziest man in all that busy
town. Troops were setting out, boarding military trains. Cheery,
jovial fellows they were--the same lads, some of them, who had
crossed the Channel with me, and many others who had come in later.
Oh, it is a steady stream of men and supplies, indeed, that goes
across the narrow sea to France!
Motor trucks--they were calling them camions, after the French
fashion, because it was a shorter and a simpler word--fairly swarmed
in the streets. Guns rolled ponderously along. It was not military
pomp we saw. Indeed, I saw little enough of that in France. It was
only the uniforms and the guns that made me realize that this was
war. The activity was more that of a busy, bustling factory town. It
was not English, and it was not French. I think it made me think more
of an American city. War, I cannot tell you often enough, is a great
business, a vast industry, in these days. Someone said, and he was
right, that they did not win victories any more--that they
manufactured them, as all sorts of goods are manufactured. Digging,
and building--that is the great work of modern war.
Our preparations, being in the hands of Captain Godfrey and the
British army, were few and easily made. Two great, fast army motor
cars had been put at the disposal of the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P.,
Tour, and when we went out to get into them and make our start it was
just a problem of stowing away all we had to carry with us.
The first car was a passenger car. Each motor had a soldier as
chauffeur. I and the Reverend George Adam rode in the tonneau of the
leading car, and Captain Godfrey, our manager and guide, sat with the
driver, in front. That was where he belonged, and where, being a
British officer, he naturally wanted to be. They have called our
officers reckless, and said that they risked their lives too freely.
Weel--I dinna ken! I am no soldier. But I know what a glorious
tradition the British officer has--and I know, too, how his men
follow him. They know, do the laddies in the ranks, that their
officers will never ask them to go anywhere or do anything they would
shirk themselves--and that makes for a spirit that you could not
esteem too highly.
It was the second car that was our problem. We put Johnson, my
accompanist, in the tonneau first, and then we covered him with
cigarettes. It was a problem to get them stowed away, and when we had
accomplished the task, finally, there was not much of Johnson to be
seen! He was covered and surrounded with cigarettes, but he was snug,
and he looked happy and comfortable, as he grinned at us--his face
was about all of him that we could see. Hogge rode in front with the
driver of that car, and had more room, so, than he would have had in
the tonneau, where, as a passenger and a guest, he really belonged.
The wee bit piano was lashed to the grid of the second car. And I
give you my word it looked like a gypsy's wagon more than like one of
the neat cars of the British army!
Weel, all was ready in due time, and it was just six o'clock when we
set off. There was a thing I noted again and again. The army did
things on time in France. If we were to start at a certain time we
always did. Nothing ever happened to make us unpunctual.
It was a glorious morning! We went roaring out of Boulogne on a road
that was as hard and smooth as a paved street in London despite all
the terrific traffic it had borne since the war made Boulogne a
British base. And there were no speed limits here. So soon as the
cars were tuned up we went along at the highest speed of which the
cars were capable. Our soldier drivers knew their business; only the
picked men were assigned to the driving of these cars, and speed was
one of the things that was wanted of them. Much may hang on the speed
of a motor car in France.
But, fast as we traveled, we did not go too fast for me to enjoy the
drive and the sights and sounds that were all about us. They were
oddly mixed. Some were homely and familiar, and some were so strange
that I could not give over wondering at them. The motors made a great
noise, but it was not too loud for me to hear larks singing in the
early morning. All the world was green with the early sun upon it,
lighting up every detail of a strange countryside. There was a soft
wind, a gentle, caressing wind, that stirred the leaves of the trees
along the road.
But not for long could we escape the touch of war. That grim etcher
was at work upon the road and the whole countryside. As we went on we
were bound to move more slowly, because of the congestion of the
traffic. Never was Piccadilly or Fifth Avenue more crowded with
motors at the busiest hour of the day than was that road. As we
passed through villages or came to cross roads we saw military
police, directing traffic, precisely as they do at busy intersections
of crowded streets in London or New York.
But the traffic along that road was not the traffic of the cities.
Here were no ladies, gorgeously clad, reclining in their luxurious,
deeply upholstered cars. Here were no footmen and chauffeurs in
livery. Ah, they wore a livery--aye! But it was the livery of glory--
the khaki of the King! Generals and high officers passed us, bowling
along, lolling in their cars, taking their few brief minutes or half
hours of ease, smoking and talking. They corresponded to the
limousines and landaulets of the cities. And there were wagons from
the shops--great trucks, carrying supplies, going along at a pace
that racked their engines and their bodies, and that boded disaster
to whoever got in their way. But no one did--there was no real
confusion here, despite the seeming madness of the welter of traffic
that we saw.
What a traffic that was! And it was all the traffic of the carnage we
were nearing. It was a marvelous and an impressive panorama of force
and of destruction that we saw it was being constantly unrolled
before my wondering eyes as we traveled along the road out of old
At first all the traffic was going our way. Sometimes there came a
warning shriek from behind, and everything drew to one side to make
room for a dispatch rider on a motor cycle. These had the right of
way. Sir Douglas Haig himself, were he driving along, would see his
driver turn out to make way for one of those shrieking motor bikes!
The rule is absolute--everything makes way for them.
But it was not long before a tide of traffic began to meet us,
flowing back toward Boulogne. There was a double stream then, and I
wondered how collisions and traffic jams of all sorts could be
avoided. I do not know yet; I only know that there is no trouble.
Here were empty trucks, speeding back for new loads. And some there
were that carried all sorts of wreckage--the flotsam and jetsam cast
up on the safe shores behind the front by the red tide of war.
Nothing is thrown away out there; nothing is wasted. Great piles of
discarded shoes are brought back to be made over. They are as good as
new when they come back from the factories where they are worked
over. Indeed, the men told me they were better than new, because they
were less trying to their feet, and did not need so much breaking in.
Men go about, behind the front, and after a battle, picking up
everything that has been thrown away. Everything is sorted and gone
over with the utmost care. Rifles that have been thrown away or
dropped when men were wounded or killed, bits of uniforms, bayonets--
everything is saved. Reclamation is the order of the day. There is
waste enough in war that cannot be avoided; the British army sees to
it that there is none that is avoidable.
But it was not only that sort of wreckage, that sort of driftwood
that was being carried back to be made over. Presently we began to
see great motor ambulances coming along, each with a Red Cross
painted glaringly on its side--though that paint was wasted or worse,
for there is no target the Hun loves better, it would seem, than the
great red cross of mercy. And in them, as we knew, there was the most
pitiful wreckage of all--the human wreckage of the war.
In the wee sma' hours of the morn they bear the men back who have
been hit the day before and during the night. They go back to the
field dressing stations and the hospitals just behind the front, to
be sorted like the other wreckage. Some there are who cannot be moved
further, at first, but must he cared for under fire, lest they die on
the way. But all whose wounds are such that they can safely be moved
go back in the ambulances, first to the great base hospitals, and
then, when possible, on the hospital ships to England.
Sometimes, but not often, we passed troops marching along the road.
They swung along. They marched easily, with the stride that could
carry them furthest with the least effort. They did not look much
like the troops I used to see in London. They did not have the snap
of the Coldstream Guards, marching through Green Park in the old
days. But they looked like business and like war. They looked like
men who had a job of work to do and meant to see it through.
They had discipline, those laddies, but it was not the old, stiff
discipline of the old army. That is a thing of a day that is dead and
gone. Now, as we passed along the side of the road that marching
troops always leave clear, there was always a series of hails for me.
"Hello, Harry!" I would hear.
And I would look back, and see grinning Tommies waving their hands to
me. It was a flattering experience, I can tell you, to be recognized
like that along that road. It was like running into old friends in a
strange town where you have come thinking you know no one at all.
We were about thirty miles out of Boulogne when there was a sudden
explosion underneath the car, followed by a sibilant sound that I
knew only too well.
"Hello--a puncture!" said Godfrey, and smiled as he turned around. We
drew up to the side of the road, and both chauffeurs jumped out and
went to work on the recalcitrant tire. The rest of us sat still, and
gazed around us at the fields. I was glad to have a chance to look
quietly about. The fields stretched out, all emerald green, in all
directions to the distant horizon, sapphire blue that glorious
morning. And in the fields, here and there, were the bent, stooped
figures of old men and women. They were carrying on, quietly.
Husbands and sons and brothers had gone to war; all the young men of
France had gone. These were left, and they were seeing to the
performance of the endless cycle of duty. France would survive; the
Hun could not crush her. Here was a spirit made manifest--a spirit
different in degree but not in kind from the spirit of my ain
Britain. It brought a lump into my throat to see them, the old men
and the women, going so patiently and quietly about their tasks.
It was very quiet. Faint sounds came to us; there was a distant
rumbling, like the muttering of thunder on a summer's night, when the
day has been hot and there are low, black clouds lying against the
horizon, with the flashes of the lightning playing through them. But
that I had come already not to heed, though I knew full well, by now,
what it was and what it meant. For a little space the busy road had
become clear; there was a long break in the traffic.
I turned to Adam and to Captain Godfrey.
"I'm thinking here's a fine chance for a bit of a rehearsal in the
open air," I said. "I'm not used to singing so--mayhap it would be
well to try my voice and see will it carry as it should."
"Right oh!" said Godfrey.
And so we dug Johnson out from his snug barricade of cigarettes, that
hid him as an emplacement hides a gun, and we unstrapped my wee piano,
and set it up in the road. Johnson tried the piano, and then we began.
I think I never sang with less restraint in all my life than I did
that quiet morning on the Boulogne road. I raised my voice and let it
have its will. And I felt my spirits rising with the lilt of the
melody. My voice rang out, full and free, and it must have carried
far and wide across the fields.
My audience was small at first--Captain Godfrey, Hogge, Adam, and the
two chauffeurs, working away, and having more trouble with the tire
than they had thought at first they would--which is the way of tires,
as every man knows who owns a car. But as they heard my songs the old
men and women in the fields straightened up to listen. They stood
wondering, at first, and then, slowly, they gave over their work for
a space, and came to gather round me and to listen.
It must have seemed strange to them! Indeed, it must have seemed
strange to anyone had they seen and heard me! There I was, with
Johnson at my piano, like some wayside tinker setting up his cart and
working at his trade! But I did not care for appearances--not a whit.
For the moment I was care free, a wandering minstrel, like some
troubadour of old, care free and happy in my song. I forgot the black
shadow under which we all lay in that smiling land, the black shadow
of war in which I sang.
It delighted me to see those old peasants and to study their faces,
and to try to win them with my song. They could not understand a word
I sang, and yet I saw the smiles breaking out over their wrinkled
faces, and it made me proud and happy. For it was plain that I was
reaching them--that I was able to throw a bridge over the gap of a
strange tongue and an alien race. When I had done and it was plain I
meant to sing no more they clapped me.
"There's a hand for you, Harry," said Adam. "Aye--and I'm proud of
it!" I told him for reply.
I was almost sorry when I saw that the two chauffeurs had finished
their repairs and were ready to go on. But I told them to lash the
piano back in its place, and Johnson prepared to climb gingerly back
among his cigarettes. But just then something happened that I had not
There was a turn in the road just beyond us that hid its continuation
from us. And around the bend now there came a company of soldiers.
Not neat and well-appointed soldiers these. Ah, no! They were fresh
from the trenches, on their way back to rest. The mud and grime of
the trenches were upon them. They were tired and weary, and they
carried all their accoutrements and packs with them. Their boots were
heavy with mud. And they looked bad, and many of them shaky. Most of
these men, Godfrey told me after a glance at them, had been ordered
back to hospital for minor ailments. They were able to march, but not
They were the first men I had seen in such a case, They looked bad
enough, but Godfrey said they were happy enough. Some of them would
get leave for Blighty, and be home, in a few days, to see their
families and their girls. And they came swinging along in fine style,
sick and tired as they were, for the thought of where they were going
cheered them and helped to keep them going.
A British soldier, equipped for the trenches, on his way in or out,
has quite a load to carry. He has his pack, and his emergency ration,
and his entrenching tools, and extra clothing that he needs in bad
weather in the trenches, to say nothing of his ever-present rifle.
And the sight of them made me realize for the first time the truth
that lay behind the jest in a story that is one of Tommy's favorites.
A child saw a soldier in heavy marching order. She gazed at him in
wide-eyed wonder. He was not her idea of what a soldier should look
"Mother," she asked, "what is a soldier for?"
The mother gazed at the man. And then she smiled.
"A soldier," she answered, "is to hang things on."
They eyed me very curiously as they came along, those sick laddies.
They couldn't seem to understand what I was doing there, but their
discipline held them. They were in charge of a young lieutenant with
one star--a second lieutenant. I learned later that he was a long way
from being a well man himself. So I stopped him. "Would your men like
to hear a few songs, lieutenant?" I asked him.
He hesitated. He didn't quite understand, and he wasn't a bit sure
what his duty was in the circumstances. He glanced at Godfrey, and
Godfrey smiled at him as if in encouragement.
"It's very good of you, I'm sure," he said, slowly. "Fall out!"
So the men fell out, and squatted there, along the wayside. At once
discipline was relaxed. Their faces were a study as the wee piano was
set up again, and Johnson, in uniform, of course sat down and trued a
chord or two. And then suddenly something happened that broke the
ice. Just as I stood up to sing a loud voice broke the silence.
"Lor' love us!" one of the men cried, "if it ain't old 'Arry Lauder!"
There was a stir of interest at once. I spotted the owner of the
voice. It was a shriveled up little chap, with a weazened face that
looked like a sun-dried apple. He was showing all his teeth in a grin
at me, and he was a typical little cockney of the sort all Londoners
"Go it, 'Arry!" he shouted, shrilly. "Many's the time h' I've 'eard
you at the old Shoreditch!"
So I went it as well as I could, and I never did have a more
appreciative audience. My little cockney friend seemed to take a
particular personal pride in me. I think he thought he had found me,
and that he was, in an odd way, responsible for my success with his
mates. And so he was especially glad when they cheered me and thanked
me as they did.
My concert didn't last long, for we had to be getting on, and the
company of sick men had just so much time, too, to reach their
destination--Boulogne, whence we had set out. When it was over I said
good-by to the men, and shook hands with particular warmth with the
little cockney. It wasn't every day I was likely to meet a man who
had often heard me at the old Shoreditch! After we had stowed Johnson
and the piano away again, with a few less cigarettes, now, to get in
Johnson's way, we started, and as long as we were in sight the little
cockney and I were waving to one another.
I took some of the cigarettes into the car I was in now. And as we
sped along we were again in the thick of the great British war
machine. Motor trucks and ambulances were more frequent than ever,
and it was a common occurrence now to pass soldiers, marching in both
directions--to the front and away from it. There was always some-one
to recognize me and start a volley of "Hello, Harrys" coming my way,
and I answered every greeting, you may be sure, and threw cigarettes
to go with my "Hellos."
Aye, I was glad I had brought the cigarettes! They seemed to be even
more welcome than I had hoped they would be, and I only wondered how
long the supply would hold out, and if I would be able to get more if
it did not. So Johnson, little by little, was getting more room, as I
called for more and more of the cigarettes that walled him in in his
About noon, as we drove through a little town, I saw, for the first
time, a whole flock of airplanes riding the sky. They were swooping
about like lazy hawks, and a bonnie sight they were. I drew a long
breath when I saw them, and turned to my friend Adam.
"Well," I said, "I think we're coming to it, now!"
I meant the front--the real, British front.
Suddenly, at a sharp order from Captain Godfrey, our cars stopped. He
turned around to us, and grinned, very cheerfully.
"Gentlemen," he said, very calmly, "we'll stop here long enough to
put on our steel helmets."
He said it just as he might have said: "Well, here's where we will
stop for tea."
It meant no more than that to him. But for me it meant many things.
It meant that at last I was really to be under fire; that I was going
into danger. I was not really frightened yet; you have to see danger,
and know just what it is, and appreciate exactly its character,
before you can be frightened. But I had imagination enough to know
what that order meant, and to have a queer feeling as I donned the
steel helmet. It was less uncomfortable than I had expected it to
be--lighter, and easier to wear. The British trench helmets are
beautifully made, now; as in every other phase of the war and its
work they represent a constant study for improvement, lightening.
But, even had it not been for the warning that was implied in Captain
Godfrey's order, I should soon have understood that we had come into
a new region. For a long time now the noise of the guns had been
different. Instead of being like distant thunder it was a much nearer
and louder sound. It was a steady, throbbing roar now.
And, at intervals, there came a different sound; a sound more
individual, that stood out from the steady roar. It was as if the air
were being cracked apart by the blow of some giant hammer. I knew
what it was. Aye, I knew. You need no man to tell you what it is--the
explosion of a great shell not so far from you!
Nor was it our ears alone that told us what was going on. Ever and
anon, now, ahead of us, as we looked at the fields, we saw a cloud of
dirt rise up. That was where a shell struck. And in the fields about
us, now, we could see holes, full of water, as a rule, and mounds of
dirt that did not look as if shovels and picks had raised them.
It surprised me to see that the peasants were still at work. I spoke
to Godfrey about that.
"The French peasants don't seem to know what it is to be afraid of
shell-fire," he said. "They go only when we make them. It is the same
on the French front. They will cling to a farmhouse in the zone of
fire until they are ordered out, no matter how heavily it may be
shelled. They are splendid folk! The Germans can never beat a race
that has such folk as that behind its battle line."
I could well believe him. I have seen no sight along the whole front
more quietly impressive than the calm, impassive courage of those
French peasants. They know they are right! It is no Kaiser, no war
lord, who gives them courage. It is the knowledge and the
consciousness that they are suffering in a holy cause, and that, in
the end, the right and the truth must prevail. Their own fate,