Part 3 out of 5
whatever may befall them, does not matter. France must go on and
shall, and they do their humble part to see that she does and shall.
Solemn thoughts moved me as we drove on. Here there had been real war
and fighting. Now I saw a country blasted by shell-fire and wrecked
by the contention of great armies. And I knew that I was coming to
soil watered by British blood; to rows of British graves; to soil
that shall be forever sacred to the memory of the Britons, from
Britain and from over the seas, who died and fought upon it to redeem
it from the Hun.
I had no mind to talk, to ask questions. For the time I was content
to be with my own thoughts, that were evoked by the historic ground
through which we passed. My heart was heavy with grief and with the
memories of my boy that came flooding it, but it was lightened, too,
by other thoughts.
And always, as we sped on, there was the thunder of the guns. Always
there were the bursting shells, and the old bent peasants paying no
heed to them. Always there were the circling airplanes, far above us,
like hawks against the deep blue of the sky. And always we came
nearer and nearer to Vimy Ridge--that deathless name in the history
Now Captain Godfrey leaned back and smiled at us.
"There's Vimy Ridge," he said. And he pointed.
"Yon?" I asked, in astonishment.
I was almost disappointed. We had heard so much, in Britain and in
Scotland, of Vimy Ridge. The name of that famous hill had been
written imperishably in history. But to look at it first, to see it
as I saw it, it was no hill at all! My eyes were used to the
mountains of my ain Scotland, and this great ridge was but a tiny
thing beside them. But then I began to picture the scene as it had
been the day the Canadians stormed it and won for themselves the
glory of all the ages. I pictured it blotted from sight by the hell
of shells bursting over it, and raking its slopes as the Canadians
charged upward. I pictured it crowned by defenses and lined by such
of the Huns as had survived the artillery battering, spitting death
and destruction from their machine guns. And then I saw it as I
should, and I breathed deep at the thought of the men who had faced
death and hell to win that height and plant the flag of Britain upon
it. Aye, and the Stars and Stripes of America, too!
Ye ken that tale? There was an American who had enlisted, like so
many of his fellow countrymen before America was in the war, in the
Canadian forces. The British army was full of men who had told a
white lie to don the King's uniform. Men there are in the British
army who winked as they enlisted and were told: "You'll be a
"Aye, aye, I'm a Canadian," they'd say. "From what province?"
"The province of Kentucky--or New York--or California!"
Well, there was a lad, one of them, was in the first wave at Vimy
Ridge that April day in 1917. 'Twas but a few days before that a wave
of the wildest cheering ever heard had run along the whole Western
front, so that Fritz in his trenches wondered what was up the noo.
Well, he has learned, since then! He has learned, despite his Kaiser
and his officers, and his lying newspapers, that that cheer went up
when the news came that America had declared war upon Germany. And
so, it was a few days after that cheer was heard that the Canadians
leaped over the top and went for Vimy Ridge, and this young fellow
from America had a wee silken flag. He spoke to his officer.
"Now that my own country's in the war, sir," he said, "I'd like to
carry her flag with me when we go over the top. Wrapped around me,
"Go it!" said the officer.
And so he did. And he was one of those who won through and reached
the top. There he was wounded, but he had carried the Stars and
Stripes with him to the crest.
Vimy Ridge! I could see it. And above it, and beyond it, now, for the
front had been carried on, far beyond, within what used to be the
lines of the Hun, the airplanes circled. Very quiet and lazy they
seemed, for all I knew of their endless activity and the precious
work that they were doing. I could see how the Huns were shelling
them. You would see an airplane hovering, and then, close by,
suddenly, a ball of cottony white smoke. Shrapnel that was, bursting,
as Fritz tried to get the range with an anti-aircraft gun--an Archie,
as the Tommies call them. But the plane would pay no heed, except,
maybe, to dip a bit or climb a little higher to make it harder for
the Hun. It made me think of a man shrugging his shoulders, calmly
and imperturbably, in the face of some great peril, and I wanted to
cheer. I had some wild idea that maybe he would hear me, and know
that someone saw him, and appreciated what he was doing--someone to
whom it was not an old story! But then I smiled at my own thought.
Now it was time for us to leave the cars and get some exercise. Our
steel helmets were on, and glad we were of them, for shrapnel was
bursting nearby sometimes, although most of the shells were big
fellows, that buried themselves in the ground and then exploded.
Fritz wasn't doing much casual shelling the noo, though. He was
saving his fire until his observers gave him a real target to aim at.
But that was no so often, for our airplanes were in command of the
air then, and his flyers got precious little chance to guide his
shooting. Most of his hits were due to luck.
"Spread out a bit as you go along here," said Captain Godfrey. "If a
crump lands close by there's no need of all of us going! If we're
spread out a bit, you see, a shell might get one and leave the rest
It sounded cold blooded, but it was not. To men who have lived at the
front everything comes to be taken as a matter of course. Men can get
used to anything--this war has proved that again, if there was need
of proving it. And I came to understand that, and to listen to things
I heard with different ears. But those are things no one can tell you
of; you must have been at the front yourself to understand all that
goes on there, both in action and in the minds of men.
We obeyed Captain Godfrey readily enough, as you can guess. And so I
was alone as I walked toward Vimy Ridge. It looked just like a lumpy
excrescence on the landscape; at hame we would not even think of it
as a foothill. But as I neared it, and as I rememered all it stood
for, I thought that in the atlas of history it would loom higher than
the highest peak of the great Himalaya range.
Beyond the ridge, beyond the actual line of the trenches, miles away,
indeed, were the German batteries from which the shells we heard and
saw as they burst were coming. I was glad of my helmet, and of the
cool assurance of Captain Godfrey. I felt that we were as safe, in
his hands, as men could be in such a spot.
It was not more than a mile we had to cover, but it was rough going,
bad going. Here war had had its grim way without interruption. The
face of the earth had been cut to pieces. Its surface had been
smashed to a pulpy mass. The ground had been plowed, over and over,
by a rain of shells--German and British. What a planting there had
been that spring, and what a plowing! A harvest of death it had been
that had been sown--and the reaper had not waited for summer to come,
and the Harvest moon. He had passed that way with his scythe, and
where we passed now he had taken his terrible, his horrid, toll.
At the foot of the ridge I saw men fighting for the first time--
actually fighting, seeking to hurt an enemy. It was a Canadian
battery we saw, and it was firing, steadily and methodically, at the
Huns. Up to now I had seen only the vast industrial side of war, its
business and its labor. Now I was, for the first time, in touch with
actual fighting. I saw the guns belching death and destruction,
destined for men miles away. It was high angle fire, of course,
directed by observers in the air.
But even that seemed part of the sheer, factory-like industry of war.
There was no passion, no coming to grips in hot blood, here. Orders
were given by the battery commander and the other officers as the
foreman in a machine shop might give them. And the busy artillerymen
worked like laborers, too, clearing their guns after a salvo, loading
them, bringing up fresh supplies of ammunition. It was all
methodical, all a matter of routine.
"Good artillery work is like that," said Captain Godfrey, when I
spoke to him about it. "It's a science. It's all a matter of the
higher mathematics. Everything is worked out to half a dozen places
of decimals. We've eliminated chance and guesswork just as far as
possible from modern artillery actions."
But there was something about it all that was disappointing, at first
sight. It let you down a bit. Only the guns themselves kept up the
tradition. Only they were acting as they should, and showing a proper
passion and excitement. I could hear them growling ominously, like
dogs locked in their kennel when they would be loose and about, and
hunting. And then they would spit, angrily. They inflamed my
imagination, did those guns; they satisfied me and my old-fashioned
conception of war and fighting, more than anything else that I had
seen had done. And it seemed to me that after they had spit out their
deadly charge they wiped their muzzles with red tongues of flame,
satisfied beyond all words or measure with what they had done.
We were rising now, as we walked, and getting a better view of the
country that lay beyond. And so I came to understand a little better
the value of a height even so low and insignificant as Vimy Ridge in
that flat country. While the Germans held it they could overlook all
our positions, and all the advantage of natural placing had been to
them. Now, thanks to the Canadians, it was our turn, and we were
Weel, I was under fire. There was no doubt about it. There was a
droning over us now, like the noise bees make, or many flies in a
small room on a hot summer's day. That was the drone of the German
shells. There was a little freshening of the artillery activity on
both sides, Captain Godfrey said, as if in my honor. When one side
increased its fire the other always answered--played copy cat. There
was no telling, ye ken, when such an increase of fire might not be
the first sign of an attack. And neither side took more chances than
I had known, before I left Britain, that I would come under fire. And
I had wondered what it would be like: I had expected to be afraid,
nervous. Brave men had told me, one after another, that every man is
afraid when he first comes under fire. And so I had wondered how I
would be, and I had expected to be badly scared and extremely
nervous. Now I could hear that constant droning of shells, and, in
the distance, I could see, very often, powdery squirts of smoke and
dirt along the ground, where our shells were striking, so that I knew
I had the Hun lines in sight.
And I can truthfully say that, that day, at least, I felt no great
fear or nervousness. Later I did, as I shall tell you, but that day
one overpowering emotion mastered every other. It was a desire for
vengeance! You were the Huns--the men who had killed my boy. They
were almost within my reach. And as I looked at them there in their
lines a savage desire possessed me, almost overwhelmed me, indeed,
that made me want to rush to those guns and turn them to my own mad
purpose of vengeance.
It was all I could do, I tell you, to restrain myself--to check that
wild, almost ungovernable impulse to rush to the guns and grapple
with them myself--myself fire them at the men who had killed my boy.
I wanted to fight! I wanted to fight with my two hands--to tear and
rend, and have the consciousness that I flash back, like a telegraph
message from my satiated hands to my eager brain that was spurring me on.
But that was not to be. I knew it, and I grew calmer, presently. The
roughness of the going helped me to do that, for it took all a man's
wits and faculties to grope his way along the path we were following
now. Indeed, it was no path at all that led us to the Pimple--the
topmost point of Vimy Ridge, which changed hands half a dozen times
in the few minutes of bloody fighting that had gone on here during
the great attack.
The ground was absolutely riddled with shell holes here. There must
have been a mine of metal underneath us. What path there was
zigzagged around. It had been worn to such smoothness as it possessed
since the battle, and it evaded the worst craters by going around
them. My madness was passed now, and a great sadness had taken its
place. For here, where I was walking, men had stumbled up with
bullets and shells raining about them. At every step I trod ground
that must have been the last resting-place of some Canadian soldier,
who had died that I might climb this ridge in a safety so
immeasurably greater than his had been.
If it was hard for us to make this climb, if we stumbled as we walked,
what had it been for them? Our breath came hard and fast--how had it
been with them? Yet they had done it! They had stormed the ridge the
Huns had proudly called impregnable. They had taken, in a swift rush,
that nothing could stay, a position the Kaiser's generals had assured
him would never be lost--could never be reached by mortal troops.
The Pimple, for which we were heading now, was an observation post at
that time. There there was a detachment of soldiers, for it was an
important post, covering much of the Hun territory beyond. A major of
infantry was in command; his headquarters were a large hole in the
ground, dug for him by a German shell--fired by German gunners who had
no thought further from their minds than to do a favor for a British
officer. And he was sitting calmly in front of his headquarters,
smoking a pipe, when we reached the crest and came to the Pimple.
He was a very calm man, that major, given, I should say, to the
greatest repression. I think nothing would have moved him from that
phlegmatic calm of his! He watched us coming, climbing and making
hard going of it. If he was amused he gave no sign, as he puffed at
his pipe. I, for one, was puffing, too--I was panting like a grampus.
I had thought myself in good condition, but I found out at Vimy Ridge
that I was soft and flabby.
Not a sign did that major give until we reached him. And then, as we
stood looking at him, and beyond him at the panorama of the trenches,
he took his pipe from his mouth.
"Welcome to Vimy Ridge!" he said, in the manner of a host greeting a
party bidden for the weekend.
I was determined that that major should not outdo me. I had precious
little wind left to breathe with, much less to talk, but I called for
the last of it.
"Thank you, major," I said. "May I join you in a smoke?"
"Of course you can!" he said, unsmiling.
"That is, if you've brought your pipe with you." "Aye, I've my pipe,"
I told him. "I may forget to pay my debt, but I'll never forget my
pipe." And no more I will.
So I sat down beside him, and drew out my pipe, and made a long
business of filling it, and pushing the tobacco down just so, since
that gave me a chance to get my wind. And when I was ready to light
up I felt better, and I was breathing right, so that I could talk as
I pleased without fighting for breath.
My friend the major proved an entertaining chap, and a talkative one,
too, for all his seeming brusqueness. He pointed out the spots that
had been made famous in the battle, and explained to me what it was
the Canadians had done. And I saw and understood better than ever
before what a great feat that had been, and how heavily it had
counted. He lent me his binoculars, too, and with them I swept the
whole valley toward Lens, where the great French coal mines are, and
where the Germans have been under steady fire so long, and have been
hanging on by their eyelashes.
It was not the place I should choose, ordinarily, to do a bit of
sight-seeing. The German shells were still humming through the air
above us, though not quite so often as they had. But there were
enough of them, and they seemed to me close enough for me to feel the
wind they raised as they passed. I thought for sure one of them would
come along, presently, and clip my ears right off. And sometimes I
felt myself ducking my head--as if that would do me any good! But I
did not think about it; I would feel myself doing it, without having
intended to do anything of the sort. I was a bit nervous, I suppose,
but no one could be really scared or alarmed in the unplumbable
depths of calm in which that British major was plunged!
It was a grand view I had of the valley, but it was not the sort of
thing I had expected to see. I knew there were thousands of men
there, and I think I had expected to see men really fighting. But
there was nothing of the sort. Not a man could I see in all the
valley. They were under cover, of course. When I stopped to think
about it, that was what I should have expected, of course. If I could
have seen our laddies there below, why, the Huns could have seen them
too. And that would never have done.
I could hear our guns, too, now, very well. They were giving voice
all around me, but never a gun could I see, for all my peering and
searching around. Even the battery we had passed below was out of
sight now. And it was a weird thing, and an uncanny thing to think of
all that riot of sound around, and not a sight to be had of the
batteries that were making it!
Hogge came up while I was talking to the major. "Hello!" he said.
"What have you done to your knee, Lauder?"
I looked down and saw a trickle of blood running down, below my knee.
It was bare, of course, because I wore my kilt.
"Oh, that's nothing," I said.
I knew at once what it was. I remembered that, as I stumbled up the
hill, I had tripped over a bit of barbed wire and scratched my leg.
And so I explained.
"And I fell into a shell-hole, too," I said. "A wee one, as they go
around here." But I laughed. "Still, I'll be able to say I was
wounded on Vimy Ridge."
I glanced at the major as I said that, and was half sorry I had made
the poor jest. And I saw him smile, in one corner of his mouth, as I
said I had been "wounded." It was the corner furthest from me, but I
saw it. And it was a dry smile, a withered smile. I could guess his
"Wounded!" he must have said to himself, scornfully. And he must have
remembered the real wounds the Canadians had received on that
hillside. Aye, I could guess his thought. And I shared it, although I
did not tell him so. But I think he understood.
He was still sitting there, puffing away at his old pipe, as quiet
and calm and imperturbable as ever, when Captain Godfrey gathered us
together to go on. He gazed out over the valley.
He was a man to be remembered for a long time, that major. I can see
him now, in my mind's eye, sitting there, brooding, staring out
toward Lens and the German lines. And I think that if I were choosing
a figure for some great sculptor to immortalize, to typify and
represent the superb, the majestic imperturbability of the British
Empire in time of stress and storm, his would be the one. I could
think of no finer figure than his for such a statue. You would see
him, if the sculptor followed my thought, sitting in front of his
shell-hole on Vimy Ridge, calm, dispassionate, devoted to his duty
and the day's work, quietly giving the directions that guided the
British guns in their work of blasting the Hun out of the refuge he
had chosen when the Canadians had driven him from the spot where the
It was easier going down Vimy Ridge than it had been coming up, but
it was hard going still. We had to skirt great, gaping holes torn by
monstrous shells--shells that had torn the very guts out of the
"We're going to visit another battery," said Captain Godfrey. "I'll
tell you I think it's the best hidden battery on the whole British
front! And that's saying a good deal, for we've learned a thing or
two about hiding our whereabouts from Fritz. He's a curious one,
Fritz is, but we try not to gratify his curiosity any more than we
"I'll be glad to see more of the guns," I said.
"Well, here you'll see more than guns. The major in command at this
battery we're heading for has a decoration that was given to him just
for the way he hid his guns. There's much more than fighting that a
man has to do in this war if he's to make good."
As we went along I kept my eyes open, trying to get a peep at the
guns before Godfrey should point them out to me. I could hear firing
going on all around me, but there was so much noise that my ears were
not a guide. I was not a trained observer, of course; I would not
know a gun position at sight, as some soldier trained to the work
would be sure to do. And yet I thought I could tell when I was coming
to a great battery. I thought so, I say!
Again, though I had that feeling of something weird and uncanny. For
now, as we walked along, I did hear the guns, and I was sure, from
the nature of the sound, that we were coming close to them. But, as I
looked straight toward the spot where my ears told me that they must
be, I could see nothing at all. I thought that perhaps Godfrey had
lost his way, and that we were wandering along the wrong path. It did
not seem likely, but it was possible.
And then, suddenly, when I was least expecting it, we stopped.
"Well--here we are!" said the captain, and grinned at our amazement.
And there we were indeed! We were right among the guns of a Canadian
battery, and the artillerymen were shouting their welcome, for they
had heard that I was coming, and recognized me as soon as they saw
me. But--how had we got here? I looked around me, in utter amazement.
Even now that I had come to the battery I could not understand how it
was that I had been deceived--how that battery had been so marvelously
concealed that, if one did not know of its existence and of its exact
location, one might literally stumble over it in broad daylight!
It had turned very hot, now, at the full of the day. Indeed, it was
grilling weather, and there in the battery, in a hollow, close down
beside a little run or stream, it was even hotter than on the
shell-swept bare top of the ridge. So the Canadian gunners had
stripped down for comfort. Not a man had more than his under-shirt on
above his trousers, and many of them were naked to the waist, with
their hide tanned to the color of old saddles.
These laddies reminded me of those in the first battery I had seen.
They were just as calm, and just as dispassionate as they worked in
their mill--it might well have been a mill in which I saw them
working. Only they were no grinding corn, but death--death for the
Huns, who had brought death to so many of their mates. But there was
no excitement, there were no cries of hatred and anger.
They were hard at work. Their work, it seemed, never came to an end
or even to a pause. The orders rang out, in a sort of sing-song
voice. After each shot a man who sat with a telephone strapped about
his head called out corrections of the range, in figures that were
just a meaningless jumble to me, although they made sense to the men
who listened and changed the pointing of the guns at each order.
[ILLUSTRATION: Capt. John Lauder and Comrades Before The Trenches In
France (See Lauder07.jpg)]
Their faces, that, like their bare backs and chests, looked like
tanned leather, were all grimy from their work among the smoke and
the gases. And through the grime the sweat had run down like little
rivers making courses for themselves in the soft dirt of a hillside.
They looked grotesque enough, but there was nothing about them to
make me feel like laughing, I can tell you! And they all grinned
amiably when the amazed and disconcerted Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P.,
Tour came tumbling in among them. We all felt right at hame at once--
and I the more so when a chap I had met and come to know well in
Toronto during one of my American tours came over and gripped my hand.
"Aye, but it's good to see your face, Harry!" he said, as he made
This battery had done great work ever since it had come out. No
battery in the whole army had a finer record, I was told. And no one
needed to tell me the tale of its losses. Not far away there was a
little cemetery, filled with doleful little crosses, set up over
mounds that told their grim story all too plainly and too eloquently.
The battery had gone through the Battle of Vimy Ridge and made a
great name for itself. And now it was set down upon a spot that had
seen some of the very bloodiest of the fighting on that day. I saw
here, for the first time, some of the most horrible things that the
war holds. There was a little stream, as I said, that ran through the
hollow in which the battery was placed, and that stream had been
filled with blood, not water, on the day of the battle.
Everywhere, here, were whitened bones of men. In the wild swirling of
the battle, and the confusion of digging in and meeting German
counter attacks that had followed it, it had not been possible to
bury all the dead. And so the whitened bones remained, though the
elements had long since stripped them bare. The elements--and the
hungry rats. These are not pretty things to tell, but they are true,
and the world should know what war is to-day.
I almost trod upon one skeleton that remained complete. It was that
of a huge German soldier--a veritable giant of a man, he must have
been. The bones of his feet were still encased in his great boots,
their soles heavily studded with nails. Even a few shreds of his
uniform remained. But the flesh was all gone. The sun and the rats
and the birds had accounted for the last morsel of it.
Hundreds of years from now, I suppose, the bones that were strewn
along that ground will still be being turned up by plows. The
generations to come who live there will never lack relics of the
battle, and of the fighting that preceded and followed it. They will
find bones, and shell cases, and bits of metal of all sorts. Rusty
bayonets will be turned up by their plowshares; strange coins, as
puzzling as some of those of Roman times that we in Britain have
found, will puzzle them. Who can tell how long it will be before the
soil about Vimy Ridge will cease to give up its relics?
That ground had been searched carefully for everything that might
conceivably be put to use again, or be made fit for further service.
The British army searches every battlefield so in these days. And
yet, when I was there, many weeks after the storm of fighting had
passed on, and when the scavengers had done their work, the ground
was still rather thickly strewn with odds and ends that interested me
vastly. I might have picked up much more than I did. But I could not
carry so very much, and, too, so many of the things brought grisly
thoughts to my mind! God knows I needed no reminders of the war! I
had a reminder in my heart, that never left me. Still, I took some
few things, more for the sake of the hame folks, who might not see,
and would, surely, be interested. I gathered some bayonets for my
collection--somehow they seemed the things I was most willing to take
along. One was British, one German--two were French.
But the best souvenir of all I got at Vimy Ridge I did not pick up.
It was given to me by my friend, the grave major--him of whom I would
like some famous sculptor to make a statue as he sat at his work of
observation. That was a club--a wicked looking instrument. This club
had a great thick head, huge in proportion to its length and size,
and this head was studded with great, sharp nails. A single blow from
it would finish the strongest man that ever lived. It was a fit
weapon for a murderer--and a murderer had wielded it. The major had
taken it from a Hun, who had meant to use it--had, doubtless, used
it!--to beat out the brains of wounded men, lying on the ground. Many
of those clubs were taken from the Germans, all along the front, both
by the British and the French, and the Germans had never made any
secret of the purpose for which they were intended. Well, they picked
poor men to try such tactics on when they went against the Canadians!
The Canadians started no such work, but they were quick to adopt a
policy of give and take. It was the Canadians who began the trench
raids for which the Germans have such a fierce distaste, and after
they had learned something of how Fritz fought the Canadians took to
paying him back in some of his own coin. Not that they matched the
deeds of the Huns--only a Hun could do that. But the Canadians were
not eager to take prisoners. They would bomb a dugout rather than
take its occupants back. And a dugout that has been bombed yields few
Who shall blame them? Not I--nor any other man who knows what lessons
in brutality and treachery the Canadians have had from the Hun. It was
the Canadians, near Ypres, who went through the first gas attack--that
fearful day when the Germans were closer to breaking through than they
ever were before or since. I shall not set down here all the tales I
heard of the atrocities of the Huns. Others have done that. Men have
written of that who have firsthand knowledge, as mine cannot be. I
know only what has been told to me, and there is little need of hearsay
evidence. There is evidence enough that any court would accept as hanging
proof. But this much it is right to say--that no troops along the Western
front have more to revenge than have the Canadians.
It is not the loss of comrades, dearly loved though they be, that
breeds hatred among the soldiers. That is a part of war, and always
was. The loss of friends and comrades may fire the blood. It may lead
men to risk their own lives in a desperate charge to get even. But it
is a pain that does not rankle and that does not fester like a sore
that will not heal. It is the tales the Canadians have to tell of
sheer, depraved torture and brutality that has inflamed them to the
pitch of hatred that they cherish. It has seemed as if the Germans
had a particular grudge against the Canadians. And that, indeed, is
known to be the case. The Germans harbored many a fond illusion before
the war. They thought that Britain would not fight, first of all.
And then, when Britain did declare war, they thought they could
speedily destroy her "contemptible little army." Ah, weel--they did
come near to destroying it! But not until it had helped to balk them
of their desire--not until it had played its great and decisive part
in ruining the plans the Hun had been making and perfecting for
forty-four long years. And not until it had served as a dyke behind
which floods of men in the khaki of King George had had time to arm
and drill to rush out to oppose the gray-green floods that had swept
through helpless Belgium.
They had other illusions, beside that major one that helped to wreck
them. They thought there would be a rebellion and civil war in
Ireland. They took too seriously the troubles of the early summer of
1914, when Ulster and the South of Ireland were snapping and snarling
at each other's throats. They looked for a new mutiny in India, which
should keep Britain's hands full. They expected strikes at home. But,
above all, they were sure that the great, self-governing dependencies
of Britain, that made up the mighty British Empire, would take no
part in the fight.
Canada, Australasia, South Africa--they never reckoned upon having to
cope with them. These were separate nations, they thought,
independent in fact if not in name, which would seize the occasion to
separate themselves entirely from the mother country. In South Africa
they were sure that there would be smoldering discontent enough left
from the days of the Boer war to break out into a new flame of war
and rebellion at this great chance.
And so it drove them mad with fury when they learned that Canada and
all the rest had gone in, heart and soul. And when even their poison
gas could not make the Canadians yield; when, later still, they
learned that the Canadians were their match, and more than their
match, in every phase of the great game of war, their rage led them
to excesses against the men from overseas even more damnable than
those that were their general practice.
These Canadians, who were now my hosts, had located their guns in a
pit triangular in shape. The guns were mounted at the corners of the
triangle, and along its sides. And constantly, while I was there they
coughed their short, sharp coughs and sent a spume of metal flying
toward the German lines. Never have I seen a busier spot. And,
remember--until I had almost fallen into that pit, with its
sputtering, busy guns, I had not been able to make even a good guess
as to where they were! The very presence of this workshop of death
was hidden from all save those who had a right to know of it.
It was a masterly piece of camouflage. I wish I could explain to you
how the effect was achieved. It was all made plain to me; every step
of the process was explained, and I cried out in wonder and in
admiration at the clever simplicity of it. But that is one of the
things I may not tell. I saw many things, during my time at the
front, that the Germans would give a pretty penny to know. But none
of the secrets that I learned would be more valuable, even to-day,
than that of that hidden battery. And so--I must leave you in
ignorance as to that.
The commanding officer was most kindly and patient in explaining
matters to me.
"We can't see hide nor hair of our targets here, of course," he said,
"any more than Fritz can see us. We get all our ranges and the
records of all our hits, from Normabell."
I looked a question, I suppose.
"You called on him, I think--up on the Pimple. Major Normabell, D.S.O."
That was how I learned the name of the imperturbable major with whom
I had smoked a pipe on the crest of Vimy Ridge. I shall always
remember his name and him. I saw no man in France who made a livelier
impression upon my mind and my imagination.
"Aye," I said. "I remember. So that's his name--Normabell, D.S.O.
I'll make a note of that."
My informant smiled.
"Normabell's one of our characters," he said. "Well, you see he
commands a goodish bit of country there where he sits. And when he
needs them he has aircraft observations to help him, too. He's our
pair of eyes. We're like moles down here, we gunners--but he does all
our seeing for us. And he's in constant communication--he or one of
I wondered where all the shells the battery was firing were headed
for. And I learned that just then it was paying its respects
particularly to a big factory building just west of Lens. For some
reason that had been marked for destruction, but it had been
reinforced and strengthened so that it was taking a lot of smashing
and standing a good deal more punishment than anyone had thought it
could--which was reason enough, in itself, to stick to the job until
that factory was nothing more than a heap of dust and ruins.
The way the guns kept pounding away at it made me think of firemen in
a small town drenching a local blaze with their hose. The gunners
were just so eager as that. And I could almost see that factory,
crumbling away. Major Normabell had pointed it out to me, up on the
ridge, and now I knew why. I'll venture to say that before night the
eight-inch howitzers of that battery had utterly demolished it, and
so ended whatever usefulness it had had for the Germans.
It was cruel business to be knocking the towns and factories of our
ally, France, to bits in the fashion that we were doing that day--
there and at many another point along the front. The Huns are fond of
saying that much of the destruction in Northern France has been the
work of allied artillery. True enough--but who made that inevitable
And it was not our guns that laid waste a whole countryside before
the German retreat in the spring of 1917, when the Huns ran wild,
rooting up fruit trees, cutting down every other tree that could be
found, and doing every other sort of wanton damage and mischief their
hands could find to do.
"Hard lines," said the battery commander. He shrugged his shoulders.
"No use trying to spare shells here, though, even on French towns.
The harder we smash them the sooner it'll be over. Look here, sir."
He pointed out the men who sat, their telephone receivers strapped
over their ears. Each served a gun. In all that hideous din it was of
the utmost importance that they should hear correctly every word and
figure that came to them over the wire--a part of that marvelously
complete telephone and telegraph system that has been built for and
by the British army in France.
"They get corrections on every shot," he told me. "The guns are
altered in elevation according to what they hear. The range is
changed, and the pointing, too. We never see old Fritz--but we know
he's getting the visiting cards we send him."
They were amazingly calm, those laddies at the telephones. In all
that hideous, never-ending din, they never grew excited. Their voices
were calm and steady as they repeated the orders that came to them. I
have seen girls at hotel switchboards, expert operators, working with
conditions made to their order, who grew infinitely more excited at a
busy time, when many calls were coming in and going out. Those men
might have been at home, talking to a friend of their plans for an
evening's diversion, for all the nervousness or fussiness they showed.
Up there, on the Pimple, I had seen Normabell, the eyes of the
battery. Here I was watching its ears. And, to finish the metaphor,
to work it out, I was listening to its voice. Its brazen tongues were
giving voice continually. The guns--after all, everything else led up
to them. They were the reason for all the rest of the machinery of
the battery, and it was they who said the last short word.
There was a good deal of rough joking and laughter in the battery.
The Canadian gunners took their task lightly enough, though their
work was of the hardest--and of the most dangerous, too. But jokes
ran from group to group, from gun to gun. They were constantly
kidding one another, as an American would say, I think. If a
correction came for one gun that showed there had been a mistake in
sighting after the last orders--if, that is, the gunners, and not the
distant observers, were plainly at fault--there would be a
good-natured outburst of chaffing from all the others.
But, though such a spirit of lightness prevailed, there was not a
moment of loafing. These men were engaged in a grim, deadly task,
and every once in a while I would catch a black, purposeful look
in a man's eyes that made me realize that, under all the light
talk and laughter there was a perfect realization of the truth.
They might not show, on the surface, that they took life and their
work seriously. Ah, no! They preferred, after the custom of their
race, to joke with death.
And so they were doing quite literally. The Germans knew perfectly
well that there was a battery somewhere near the spot where I had
found my gunners. Only the exact location was hidden from them, and
they never ceased their efforts to determine that. Fritz's airplanes
were always trying to sneak over to get a look. An airplane was the
only means of detection the Canadians feared. No--I will not say they
feared it! The word fear did not exist for that battery! But it was
the only way in which there was a tolerable chance, even, for Fritz
to locate them, and, for the sake of the whole operation at that
point, as well as for their own interest, they were eager to avoid
German airplanes were always trying to sneak over, I say, but nearly
always our men of the Royal Flying Corps drove them back. We came as
close, just then, to having command of the air in that sector as any
army does these days. You cannot quite command or control the air. A
few hostile flyers can get through the heaviest barrage and the
staunchest air patrol. And so, every once in a while, an alarm would
sound, and all hands would crane their necks upward to watch an
airplane flying above with an iron cross painted upon its wings.
Then, and, as a rule, then only, fire would cease for a few minutes.
There was far less chance of detection when the guns were still. At
the height at which our archies--so the anti-aircraft guns are called
by Tommy Atkins--forced the Boche to fly there was little chance of
his observers picking out this battery, at least, against the ground.
If the guns were giving voice that chance was tripled--and so they
stopped, at such times, until a British flyer had had time to engage
the Hun and either bring him down or send him scurrying for the safe
shelter behind his own lines.
Fritz, in the air, liked to have the odds with him, as a rule. It was
exceptional to find a German flyer like Boelke who really went in for
single-handed duels in the air. As a rule they preferred to attack a
single plane with half a dozen, and so make as sure as they could of
victory at a minimum of risk. But that policy did not always work--
sometimes the lone British flyer came out ahead, despite the odds
There was a good deal of firing on general principles from Fritz. His
shells came wandering querulously about, striking on every side of
the battery. Occasionally, of course, there was a hit that was
direct, or nearly so. And then, as a rule, a new mound or two would
appear in the little cemetery, and a new set of crosses that, for a
few days, you might easily enough have marked for new because they
would not be weathered yet. But such hits were few and far between,
and they were lucky, casual shots, of which the Germans themselves
did not have the satisfaction of knowing.
"Of course, if they get our range, really, and find out all about us,
we'll have to move," said the officer in command. "That would be a
bore, but it couldn't be helped. We're a fixed target, you see, as
soon as they know just where we are, and they can turn loose a
battery of heavy howitzers against us and clear us out of here in no
time. But we're pretty quick movers when we have to move! It's great
sport, in a way too, sometimes. We leave all the camouflage behind,
and some-times Fritz will spend a week shelling a position that was
moved away at the first shell that came as if it meant they really
were on to us."
I wondered how a battery commander would determine the difference
between a casual hit and the first shell of a bombardment definitely
planned and accurately placed.
"You can tell, as a rule, if you know the game," he said. "There'll
be searching shells, you see. There'll be one too far, perhaps. And
then, after a pretty exact interval, there'll be another, maybe a bit
short. Then one to the left--and then to the right. By that time
we're off as a rule--we don't wait for the one that will be scored a
hit! If you're quick, you see, you can beat Fritz to it by keeping
your eyes open, and being ready to move in a hurry when he's got a
really good argument to make you do it."
But while I was there, while Fritz was inquisitive enough, his
curiosity got him nowhere. There were no casual hits, even, and there
was nothing to make the battery feel that it must be making ready for
a quick trek.
Was that no a weird, strange game of hide and seek that I watched
being played at Vimy Ridge? It gave me the creeps, that idea of
battling with an enemy you could not see! It must be hard, at times,
I think, for, the gunners to realize that they are actually at war.
But, no--there is always the drone and the squawking of the German
shells, and the plop-plop, from time to time, as one finds its mark
in the mud nearby. But to think of shooting always at an enemy you
It brought to my mind a tale I had heard at hame in Scotland. There
was a hospital in Glasgow, and there a man who had gone to see a
friend stopped, suddenly, in amazement, at the side of a cot. He
looked down at features that were familiar to him. The man in the cot
was not looking at him, and the visitor stood gaping, staring at him
in the utmost astonishment and doubt.
"I say, man," he asked, at last, "are ye not Tamson, the baker?"
The wounded man opened his eyes, and looked up, weakly.
"Aye," he said. "I'm Tamson, the baker." His voice was weak, and he
looked tired. But he looked puzzled, too.
"Weel, Tamson, man, what's the matter wi' ye?" asked the other. "I
didna hear that ye were sick or hurt. How comes it ye are here? Can
it be that ye ha' been to the war, man, and we not hearing of it,
"Aye, I think so," said Tamson, still weakly, but as if he were
rather glad of a chance to talk, at that.
"Ye think so?" asked his friend, in greater astonishment than ever.
"Man, if ye've been to the war do ye not know it for sure and
"Well, I will tell ye how it is," said Tamson, very slowly and
wearily. "I was in the reserve, do ye ken. And I was standin' in
front of my hoose one day in August, thinkin' of nothin' at all. I
marked a man who was coming doon the street, wi' a blue paper in his
hand, and studyin' the numbers on the doorplates. But I paid no great
heed to him until he stopped and spoke to me.
"He had stopped outside my hoose and looked at the number, and then
at his blue paper. And then he turned to me.
"'Are ye Tamson, the baker?' he asked me--just as ye asked me that
same question the noo.
"And I said to him, just as I said it to ye, 'Aye, I'm Tamson,
"'Then it's Hamilton Barracks for ye, Tamson,' he said, and handed me
the blue paper.
"Four hours from the time when he handed me the blue paper in front
of my hoose in Glasgow I was at Hamilton Barracks. In twelve hours I
was in Southhampton. In twenty hours I was in France. And aboot as
soon as I got there I was in a lot of shooting and running this way
and that that they ha' told me since was the Battle of the Marne.
"And in twenty-four hours more I was on my way back to Glasgow! In
forty-eight hours I woke up in Stobe Hill Infirmary and the nurse was
saying in my ear: 'Ye're all richt the noon, Tamson. We ha' only just
amputated your leg!'
"So I think I ha' been to the war, but I can only say I think so. I
only know what I was told--that ha' never seen a damn German yet!"
That is a true story of Tamson the baker. And his experience has
actually been shared by many a poor fellow--and by many another who
might have counted himself lucky if he had lost no more than a leg,
as Tamson did.
But the laddies of my battery, though they were shooting now at
Germans they could not see, had had many a close up view of Fritz in
the past, and expected many another in the future. Maybe they will
get one, some time, after the fashion of the company of which my boy
John once told me.
The captain of this company--a Hieland company, it was, though not of
John's regiment--had spent must of his time in London before the war,
and belonged to several clubs, which, in those days, employed many
Germans as servants and waiters. He was a big man, and he had a deep,
bass voice, so that he roared like the bull of Bashan when he had a
mind to raise it for all to hear.
One day things were dull in his sector. The front line trench was not
far from that of the Germans, but there was no activity beyond that
of the snipers, and the Germans were being so cautious that ours were
getting mighty few shots. The captain was bored, and so were the men.
"How would you like a pot shot, lads?" he asked.
"Fine!" came the answer. "Fine, sir!"
"Very well," said the captain. "Get ready with your rifles, and keep
your eyes on you trench."
It was not more than thirty yards away--pointblank range. The captain
waited until they were ready. And then his voice rang out in its
loudest, most commanding roar.
"Waiter!" he shouted.
Forty helmets popped up over the German parapet, and a storm of
bullets swept them away!
It was getting late--for men who had had so early a breakfast as we
had had to make to get started in good time. And just as I was
beginning to feel hungry--odd, it seemed to me, that such a thing as
lunch should stay in my mind in such surroundings and when so many
vastly more important things were afoot!--the major looked at his
"By Jove!" he said, "Lunch time! Gentlemen--you'll accept such
hospitality as we can offer you at our officer's mess?"
There wasn't any question about acceptance! We all said we were
delighted, and we meant it. I looked around for a hut or some such
place, or even for a tent, and, seeing nothing of the sort, wondered
where we might be going to eat. I soon found out. The major led the
way underground, into a dugout. This was the mess. It was hard by the
guns, and in a hole that had been dug out, quit literally. Here there
was a certain degree of safety. In these dugouts every phase of the
battery's life except the actual serving of the guns went on.
Officers and men alike ate and slept in them.
They were much snugger within than you might fancy. A lot of the men
had given homelike touches to their habitations. Pictures cut from
the illustrated papers at home, which are such prime favorites with
all the Tommies made up a large part of the decorative scheme.
Pictures of actresses predominated; the Tommies didn't go in for war
pictures. Indeed, there is little disposition to hammer the war home
at you in a dugout. The men don't talk about it or think about, save
as they must; you hear less talk about the war along the front than
you do at home. I heard a story at Vimy Ridge of a Tommy who had come
back to the trenches after seeing Blighty for the first time in
"Hello, Bill," said one of his mates. "Back again, are you? How's
things in Blighty?" "Oh, all right," said Bill.
Then he looked around. He pricked his ears as a shell whined above
him. And he took out his pipe and stuffed it full of tobacco, and
lighted it, and sat back. He sighed in the deepest content as the
smoke began to curl upward.
"Bli'me, Bill--I'd say, to look at you, you was glad to be back
here!" said his mate, astonished.
"Well, I ain't so sorry, and that's a fact," said Bill. "I tell you
how it is, Alf. Back there in Blighty they don't talk about nothing
but this bloody war. I'm fair fed up with it, that I am! I'm glad to
be back here, where I don't have to 'ear about the war every bleedin'
That story sounds far fetched to you, perhaps, but it isn't. War talk
is shop talk to the men who are fighting it and winning it, and it is
perfectly true and perfectly reasonable, too, that they like to get
away from it when they can, just as any man likes to get away from
the thought of his business or his work when he isn't at the office
or the factory or the shop.
Captain Godfrey explained to me, as we went into the mess hall for
lunch, that the dugouts were really pretty safe. Of course there were
dangers--where are there not along that strip of land that runs from
the North Sea to Switzerland in France and Belgium?
"A direct hit from a big enough shell would bury us all," he said.
"But that's not likely--the chances are all against it. And, even
then, we'd have a chance. I've seen men dug out alive from a hole
like this after a shell from one of their biggest howitzers had
landed square upon it."
But I had no anxiety to form part of an experiment to prove the truth
or the falsity of that suggestion! I was glad to know that the
chances of a shell's coming along were pretty slim.
Conditions were primitive at that mess. The refinements of life were
lacking, to be sure--but who cared? Certainly the hungry members of
the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour did not! We ate from a rough
deal table, sitting on rude benches that had a decidedly home-made
look. But--we had music with our meals, just like the folks in London
at the Savoy or in New York at Sherry's! It was the incessant thunder
of the guns that served as the musical accompaniment of our lunch,
and I was already growing to love that music. I could begin, now, to
distinguish degrees of sound and modulations of all sorts in the
mighty diapason of the cannon. It was as if a conductor were leading
an orchestra, and as if it responded instantly to every suggestion of
There was not much variety to the food, but there was plenty of it,
and it was good. There was bully beef, of course; that is the real
staff of life for the British army. And there were potatoes, in
plentiful supply, and bread and butter, and tea--there is always tea
where Tommy or his officers are about! There was a lack of table
ware; a dainty soul might not have liked the thought of spreading his
butter on his bread with his thumb, as we had to do. But I was too
hungry to be fastidious, myself.
Because the mess had guests there was a special dish in our honor.
One of the men had gone over--at considerable risk of his life, as I
learned later--to the heap of stones and dust that had once been the
village of Givenchy. There he had found a lot of gooseberries. The
French call them grossets, as we in Scotland do, too--although the
pronunciation of the word is different in the two languages, of
course. There had been gardens around the houses of Givenchy once,
before the place had been made into a desert of rubble and brickdust.
And, somehow, life had survived in those bruised and battered
gardens, and the delicious mess of gooseberries that we had for
dessert stood as proof thereof.
The meal was seasoned by good talk. I love to hear the young British
officers talk. It is a liberal education. They have grown so wise,
those boys! Those of them who come back when the war is over will
have the world at their feet, indeed. Nothing will be able to stop
them or to check them in their rise. They have learned every great
lesson that a man must learn if he is to succeed in the affairs of
life. Self control is theirs, and an infinite patience, and a dogged
determination that refuses to admit that there are any things that a
man cannot do if he only makes up his mind that he must and will do
them. For the British army has accomplished the impossible, time
after time; it has done things that men knew could not be done.
And so we sat and talked, as we smoked, after the meal, until the
major rose, at last, and invited me to walk around the battery again
with him. I could ask questions now, having seen the men at work, and
he explained many things I wanted to know--and which Fritz would like
to know, too, to this day! But above all I was fascinated by the work
of the gunners. I kept trying, in my mind's eye, to follow the course
of the shells that were dispatched so calmly upon their errands of
destruction. My imagination played with the thought of what they were
doing at the other end of their swift voyage through the air. I
pictured the havoc that must be wrought when one made a clean hit.
And, suddenly, I was swept by that same almost irresistible desire to
be fighting myself that had come over me when I had seen the other
battery. If I could only play my part! If I could fire even a single
shot--if I, with my own hands, could do that much against those who
had killed my boy! And then, incredulously, I heard the words in my
ear. It was the major.
"Would you like to try a shot, Harry?" he asked me.
Would I? I stared at him. I couldn't believe my ears. It was as if he
had read my thoughts. I gasped out some sort of an affirmative. My
blood was boiling at the very thought, and the sweat started from my
"All right--nothing easier!" said the major, smiling. "I had an idea
you were wanting to take a hand, Harry."
He led me toward one of the guns, where the sweating crew was
especially active, as it seemed to me. They grinned at me as they saw
"Here's old Harry Lauder come to take a crack at them himself," I
heard one man say to another.
"Good for him! The more the merrier!" answered his mate. He was an
American--would ye no know it from his speech?
I was trembling with eagerness. I wondered if my shot would tell. I
tried to visualize its consequences. It might strike some vital spot.
It might kill some man whose life was of the utmost value to the
enemy. It might--it might do anything! And I knew that my shot would
be watched; Normabell, sitting up there on the Pimple in his little
observatory, would watch it, as he did all of that battery's shots.
Would be make a report?
Everything was made ready. The gun recoiled from the previous shot;
swiftly it was swabbed out. A new shell was handed up; I looked it
over tenderly. That was my shell! I watched the men as they placed it
and saw it disappear with a jerk. Then came the swift sighting of the
gun, the almost inperceptible corrections of elevation and position.
They showed me my place. After all, it was the simplest of matters to
fire even the biggest of guns. I had but to pull a lever. All morning
I had been watching men do that. I knew it was but a perfunctory act.
But I could not feel that! I was thrilled and excited as I had never
been in all my life before.
"All ready! Fire!"
The order rang in my ears. And I pulled the lever, as hard as I
could. The great gun sprang into life as I moved the lever. I heard
the roar of the explosion, and it seemed to me that it was a louder
bark than any gun I had heard had given! It was not, of course, and
so, down in my heart, I knew. There was no shade of variation between
that shot and all the others that had been fired. But it pleased me
to think so--it pleases me, sometimes, to think so even now. Just as
it pleases me to think that that long snouted engine of war propelled
that shell, under my guiding hand, with unwonted accuracy and
effectiveness! Perhaps I was childish, to feel as I did; indeed, I
have no doubt that that was so. But I dinna care!
There was no report by telephone from Normabell about that particular
shot; I hung about a while, by the telephone listeners, hoping one
would come. And it disappointed me that no attention was paid to
"Probably simply means it went home," said Godfrey. "A shot that acts
just as it should doesn't get reported."
But I was disappointed, just the same. And yet the sensation is one I
shall never forget, and I shall never cease to be glad that the major
gave me my chance. The most thrilling moment was that of the recoil
of the great gun. I felt exactly as one does when one dives into deep
water from a considerable height.
"Good work, Harry!" said the major, warmly, when I had stepped down.
"I'll wager you wiped out a bit of the German trenches with that
shot! I think I'll draft you and keep you here as a gunner!"
And the officers and men all spoke in the same way, smiling as they
did so. But I hae me doots! I'd like to think I did real damage with
my one shot, but I'm afraid my shell was just one of those that
turned up a bit of dirt and made one of those small brown eruptions I
had seen rising on all sides along the German lines as I had sat and
smoked my pipe with Normabell earlier in the day.
"Well, anyway," I said, exultingly, "that's that! I hope I got two
for my one, at least!"
But my exultation did not last long. I reflected upon the
inscrutability of war and of this deadly fighting that was going on
all about me. How casual a matter was this sending out of a shell
that could, in a flash of time, obliterate all that lived in a wide
circle about where it chanced to strike! The pulling of a lever--that
was all that I had done! And at any moment a shell some German gunner
had sent winging its way through the air in precisely that same,
casual fashion might come tearing into this quiet nook, guided by
some chance, lucky for him, and wipe out the major, and all the
pleasant boys with whom I had broken bread just now, and the sweating
gunners who had cheered me on as I fired my shot!
I was to give a concert for this battery, and I felt that it was
time, now, for it to begin. I could see, too, that the men were
growing a bit impatient. And so I said that I was ready.
"Then come along to our theater," said the major, and grinned at my
look of astonishment.
"Oh, we've got a real amphitheater for you, such as the Greeks used
for the tragedies of Sophocles!" he said. "There it is!"
He had not stretched the truth. It was a superb theater--a great,
crater-like hole in the ground. Certainly it was as well ventilated a
show house as you could hope for, and I found, when the time came,
that the acoustics were splendid. I went down into the middle of the
hole, with Hogge and Adam, who had become part of my company, and the
soldiers grouped themselves about its rim.
Before we left Boulogne a definite programme had been laid out for
the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour. We had decided that we would
get better results by adopting a programme and sticking to it at all
our meetings or concerts. So, at all the assemblies that we gathered,
Hogge opened proceedings by talking to the men about pensions, the
subject in which he was so vitally interested, and in which he had
done and was doing such magnificent work. Adam would follow him with
a talk about the war and its progress.
He was a splendid speaker, was Adam. He had all the eloquence of the
fine preacher that he was, but he did not preach to the lads in the
trenches--not he! He told them about the war, and about the way the
folks at hame in Britain were backing them up. He talked about war
loans and food conservation, and made them understand that it was not
they alone who were doing the fighting. It was a cheering and an
inspiring talk he gave them, and he got good round applause wherever
They saved me up for the last, and when Adam had finished speaking
either he or Hogge would introduce me, and my singing would begin.
That was the programme we had arranged for the Hole-in-the-Ground
Theater, as the Canadians called their amphitheater. For this
performance, of course, I had no piano. Johnson and the wee
instrument were back where we had left the motor cars, and so I just
had to sing without an accompaniment--except that which the great
booming of the guns was to furnish me.
I was afraid at first that the guns would bother me. But as I
listened to Hogge and Adam I ceased, gradually, to notice them at
all, and I soon felt that they would annoy me no more, when it was my
turn to go on, than the chatter of a bunch of stage hands in the
wings of a theater had so often done.
When it was my turn I began with "Roamin' In the Gloamin'." The verse
went well, and I swung into the chorus. I had picked the song to open
with because I knew the soldiers were pretty sure to know it, and so
would join me in the chorus--which is something I always want them to
do. And these were no exceptions to the general rule. But, just as I
got into the chorus, the tune of the guns changed. They had been
coughing and spitting intermittently, but now, suddenly, it seemed to
me that it was as if someone had kicked the lid off the fireworks
factory and dropped a lighted torch inside.
Every gun in the battery around the hole began whanging away at once.
I was jumpy and nervous, I'll admit, and it was all I could do to
hold to the pitch and not break the time. I thought all of Von
Hindenburg's army must be attacking us, and, from the row and din,
I judged he must have brought up some of the German navy to help,
instead of letting it lie in the Kiel canal where the British
fleet could not get at it. I never heard such a terrific racket
in all my days.
I took the opportunity to look around at my audience. They didn't
seem to be a bit excited. They all had their eyes fixed on me, and
they weren't listening to the guns--only to me and my singing. And
so, as they probably knew what was afoot, and took it so quietly, I
managed to keep on singing as if I, too, were used to such a row, and
thought no more of it than of the ordinary traffic noise of a London
or a Glasgow street. But if I really managed to look that way my
appearances were most deceptive, because I was nearer to being scared
than I had been at any time yet!
But presently I began to get interested in the noise of the guns.
They developed a certain regular rhythm. I had to allow for it, and
make it fit the time of what I was singing. And as I realized that
probably this was just a part of the regular day's work, a bit of
ordinary strafing, and not a feature of a grand attack, I took note
of the rhythm. It went something like this, as near as I can gie it
to you in print:
"Roamin' in the--PUH--LAH--gloamin'--BAM!
"On the--WHUFF!--BOOM!--bonny--BR-R-R!--banks o'--BIFF--Clyde--ZOW!"
And so it went all through the rest of the concert. I had to adjust
each song I sang to that odd rhythm of the guns, and I don't know but
what it was just as well that Johnson wasn't there! He'd have had
trouble staying with me with his wee bit piano, I'm thinkin'!
And, do you ken, I got to see, after a bit, that it was the gunners,
all the time, havin' a bit of fun with me! For when I sang a verse
the guns behaved themselves, but every time I came to the chorus they
started up the same inferno of noise again. I think they wanted to
see, at first, if they could no shake me enough to make me stop
singing, and they liked me the better when they found I would no
stop. The soldiers soon began to laugh, but the joke was not all on
me, and I could see that they understood that, and were pleased.
Indeed, it was all as amusing to me as to them.
I doubt if "Roamin' in the Gloamin'" or any other song was ever sung
in such circumstances. I sang several more songs--they called, as
every audience I have seems to do, for me to sing my "Wee Hoose Amang
the Heather"--and then Captain Godfrey brought the concert to an end.
It was getting along toward midafternoon, and he explained that we
had another call to make before dark.
"Good-by, Harry--good luck to you! Thanks for the singing!"
Such cries rose from all sides, and the Canadians came crowding
around to shake my hand. It was touching to see how pleased they
were, and it made me rejoice that I had been able to come. I had
thought, sometimes, that it might be a presumptuous thing, in a way,
for me to want to go so near the front, but the way I had been able
to cheer up the lonely, dull routine of that battery went far to
justify me in coming, I thought.
I was sorry to be leaving the Canadians. And I was glad to see that
they seemed as sorry to have me go as I was to be going. I have a
very great fondness for the Canadian soldier. He is certainly one of
the most picturesque and interesting of all the men who are fighting
under the flags of the Allies, and it is certain that the world can
never forget the record he has made in this war--a record of courage
and heroism unexcelled by any and equaled by few.
I stood around while we were getting ready to start back to the cars,
and one of the officers was with me.
"How often do you get a shell right inside the pit here?" I asked
him. "A fair hit, I mean?"
"Oh, I don't know!" he said, slowly. He looked around. "You know that
hole you were singing in just now?"
I nodded. I had guessed that it had been made by a shell.
"Well, that's the result of a Boche shell," he said. "If you'd come
yesterday we'd have had to find another place for your concert!"
"Oh--is that so!" I said.
"Aye," he said, and grinned. "We didn't tell you before, Harry,
because we didn't want you to feel nervous, or anything like that,
while you were singing. But it was obliging of Fritz--now wasn't it?
Think of having him take all the trouble to dig out a fine theater
for us that way!"
"It was obliging of him, to be sure," I said, rather dryly.
"That's what we said," said the officer. "Why, as soon as I saw the
hole that shell had made, I said to Campbell: 'By Jove--there's
the very place for Harry Lauder's concert to-morrow!' And he agreed
Now it was time for handshaking and good-bys. I said farewell all
around, and wished good luck to that brave battery, so cunningly
hidden away in its pit. There was a great deal of cheery shouting and
waving of hands as we went off. And in two minutes the battery was
out of sight--even though we knew exactly where it was!
We made our way slowly back, through the lengthening shadows, over
the shell-pitted ground. The motor cars were waiting, and Johnson,
too. Everything was shipshape and ready for a new start, and we
As we drove off I looked back at Vimy Ridge. And I continued to gaze
at it for a long time. No longer did it disappoint me. No longer did
I regard it as an insignificant hillock. All that feeling that had
come to me with my first sight of it had been banished by my
introduction to the famous ridge itself.
It had spoken to me eloquently, despite the muteness of the myriad
tongues it had. It had graven deep into my heart the realization of
its true place in history.
An excrescence in a flat country--a little hump of ground! That is
all there is to Vimy Ridge. Aye! It does not stand so high above the
ground of Flanders as would the books that will be written about it
in the future, were you to pile them all up together when the last
one of them is printed! But what a monument it is to bravery and to
sacrifice--to all that is best in this human race of ours!
No human hands have ever reared such a monument as that ridge is and
will be. There some of the greatest deeds in history were done--some
of the noblest acts that there is record of performed. There men
lived and died gloriously in their brief moment of climax--the moment
for which, all unknowing, all their lives before that day of battle
had been lived.
I took off my cap as I looked back, with a gesture and a thought of
deep and solemn reverence. And so I said good-by to Vimy Ridge, and
to the brave men I had known there--living and dead. For I felt that
I had come to know some of the dead as well as the living.
"You'll see another phase of the front now, Harry," said Captain
Godfrey, as I turned my eyes to the front once more.
"What's the next stop?" I asked.
"We're heading for a rest billet behind the lines. There'll be lots
of men there who are just out of the trenches. It's a ghastly strain
for even the best and most seasoned troops--this work in the
trenches. So, after a battalion has been in for a certain length of
time, it's pulled out and sent back to a rest billet."
"What do they do there?" I asked.
"Well, they don't loaf--there's none of that in the British army,
these days! But it's paradise, after the trenches. For one thing
there isn't the constant danger there is up front. The men aren't
under steady fire. Of course, there's always the chance of a bomb
dropping raid by a Taube or a Fokker. The men get a chance to clean
up. They get baths, and their clothes are cleaned and disinfected.
They get rid of the cooties--you know what they are?"
I could guess. The plague of vermin in the trenches is one of the
minor horrors of war.
"They do a lot of drilling," Godfrey went on. "Except for those times
in the rest billets, regiments might get a bit slack. In the
trenches, you see, the routine is strict, but it's different. Men are
much more on their own. There aren't any inspections of kit and all
that sort of thing--not for neatness, anyway.
"And it's a good thing for soldiers to be neat. It helps discipline.
And discipline, in time of war, isn't just a parade-ground matter. It
means lives--every time. Your disciplined man, who's trained to do
certain things automatically, is the man you can depend on in any
sort of emergency.
"That's the thing that the Canadians and the Australians have had to
learn since they came out. There never were any braver troops than
those in the world, but at first they didn't have the automatic
discipline they needed. That'll be the first problem in training the
new American armies, too. It's a highly practical matter. And so, in
the rest billets, they drill the men a goodish bit. It keeps up the
morale, and makes them fitter and keener for the work when they go
back to the trenches."
"You don't make it sound much like a real rest for them," I said.
"Oh, but it is, all right! They have a comfortable place to sleep.
They get better food. The men in the trenches get the best food it's
possible to give them, but it can't be cooked much, for there aren't
facilities. The diet gets pretty monotonous. In the rest billets they
get more variety. And they have plenty of free time, and there are
hours when they can go to the estaminet--there's always one handy, a
sort of pub, you know--and buy things for themselves. Oh, they have a
pretty good time, as you'll see, in a rest billet."
I had to take his word for it. We went bowling along at a good speed,
but pretty soon we encountered a detachment of Somerset men. They
halted when they spied our caravan, and so did we. As usual they
"You'm Harry Lauder!" said one of them, in the broad accent of his
country. "Us has seen 'ee often!"
Johnson was out already, and he and the drivers were unlimbering the
wee piano. It didn't take so long, now that we were getting used to
the task, to make ready for a roadside concert. While I waited I
talked to the men. They were on their way to Ypres. Tommy can't get
the name right, and long ago ceased trying to do so. The French and
Belgians call it "Eepre"--that's as near as I can give it to you in
print, at least. But Tommy, as all the world must know by now, calls
it Wipers, and that is another name that will live as long as British
history is told.
The Somerset men squatted in the road while I sang my songs for them,
and gave me their most rapt attention. It was hugely gratifying and
flattering, the silence that always descended upon an audience of
soldiers when I sang. There were never any interruptions. But at the
end of a song, and during the chorus, which they always wanted to
sing with me, as I wanted them to do, too, they made up for their
Soon the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour was on its way again. The
cheers of the Somerset men sounded gayly in our ears, and the cars
quickly picked up speed and began to mop up the miles at a great
rate. And then, suddenly--whoa! We were in the midst of soldiers
again. This time it was a bunch of motor repair men.
They wandered along the roads, working on the trucks and cars that
were abandoned when they got into trouble, and left along the side of
the road. We had seen scores of such wrecks that day, and I had
wondered if they were left there indefinitely. Far from it, as I
learned now. Squads like this--there were two hundred men in this
particular party--were always at work. Many of the cars they salvaged
without difficulty--those that had been abandoned because of
comparatively minor engine troubles or defects. Others had to be
towed to a repair shop, or loaded upon other trucks for the journey,
if their wheels were out of commission.
Others still were beyond repair. They had been utterly smashed in a
collision, maybe, or as a result of skidding. Or they had burned.
Sometimes they had been knocked off the road and generally
demoralized by a shell. And in such cases often, all that men such as
these we had met now could do was to retrieve some parts to be used
in repairing other cars in a less hopeless state.
By this time Johnson and the two soldier chauffeurs had reduced the
business of setting our stage to a fine point. It took us but a very
few minutes indeed to be ready for a concert, and from the time when
we sighted a potential audience to the moment for the opening number
was an almost incredibly brief period. This time that was a good
thing, for it was growing late. And so, although the repair men were
loath to let me go, it was but an abbreviated programme that I was
able to offer them. This was one of the most enthusiastic audiences I
had had yet, for nearly every man there, it turned out, had been what
Americans would call a Harry Lauder fan in the old days. They had
been wont to go again and again to hear me. I wanted to stay and sing
more songs for them, but Captain Godfrey was in charge, and I had to
obey his orders, reluctant though I was to go on.
Our destination was a town called Aubigny--rather an old chateau just
outside the town. Aubigny was the billet of the Fifteenth Division,
then in rest. Many officers were quartered in the chateau, as the
guests of its French owners, who remained in possession, having
refused to clear out, despite the nearness of the actual fighting
This was a Scots division, I was glad to find. I heard good Scots
talk all around me when I arrived, and it was Scottish hospitality,
mingled with French, that awaited us. I know no finer combination,
nor one more warming to the cockles of a man's heart.
Here there was luxury, compared to what I had seen that day. As
Godfrey had warned me, the idea of resting that the troops had was a
bit more strenuous than mine would be. There was no lying and lolling
about. Hot though the weather was a deal of football was played, and
there were games of one sort and another going on nearly all the time
when the men were off duty.
This division, I learned, had seen some of the hardest and bloodiest
fighting of the whole war. They had been through the great offensive
that had pivoted on Arras, and had been sorely knocked about. They
had well earned such rest as was coming to them now, and they were
getting ready, in the most cheerful way you can imagine, for their
next tour of duty in the trenches. They knew about how much time they
would have, and they made the best use they could of it.
New drafts were coming out daily from home to fill up their sadly
depleted ranks. The new men were quickly drawn in and assimilated
into organizations that had been reduced to mere skeletons. New
officers were getting acquainted with their men; that wonderful thing
that is called esprit de corps was being made all around me. It is a
great sight to watch it in the making; it helps you to understand the
victories our laddies have won.
I was glad to see the kilted men of the Scots regiments all about me.
It was them, after all, that I had come to see. I wanted to talk to
them, and see them here, in France. I had seen them at hame, flocking
to the recruiting offices. I had seen them in their training camps.
But this was different. I love all the soldiers of the Empire, but it
is natural, is it no, that my warmest feeling should be for the
laddies who wear the kilt.
They were the most cheerful souls, as I saw them when we reached
their rest camp, that you could imagine. They were laughing and
joking all about us, and when they heard that the Reverend Harry
Lauder, M.P., Tour had arrived they crowded about us to see. They
wanted to make sure that I was there, and I was greeted in all sorts
of dialect that sounded enough, I'll be bound, to Godfrey and some of
the rest of our party. There were even men who spoke to me in the
I saw a good deal, afterward, of these Scots troops. My, how hard
they did work while they rested! And what chances they took of broken
bones and bruises in their play! Ye would think, would ye no, that
they had enough of that in the trenches, where they got lumps and
bruises and sorer hurts in the run of duty? But no. So soon as they
came back to their rest billets they must begin to play by knocking
the skin and the hair off one another at sports of various sorts, of
which football was among the mildest, that are not by any means to be
recommended to those of a delicate fiber.
Some of the men I met at Aubigny had been out since Mons--some of the
old kilted regiments of the old regular army, they were. Away back in
those desperate days the Germans had dubbed them the ladies from
Hell, on account of their kilts. Some of the Germans really thought
they were women! That was learned from prisoners. Since Mons they
have been out, and auld Scotland has poured out men by the scores of
thousands, as fast as they were needed, to fill the gaps the German
shells and bullets have torn in the Scots ranks. Aye--since Mons, and
they will be there at the finish, when it comes, please God!
There have always been Scots regiments in the British army, ever
since the day when King Jamie the Sixth, of Scotland, of the famous
and unhappy house of Stuart, became King James the First of England.
The kilted regiments, the Highlanders, belonging to the immortal
Highland Brigade, include the Gordon Highlanders, the Forty-second,
the world famous Black Watch, as it is better known than by its
numbered designation, the Seaforth Highlanders, and the Argyle and
Sutherland regiment, or the Princess Louise's Own. That was the
regiment to a territorial battalion of which my boy John belonged at
the outbreak of the war, and with which he served until he was killed.
Some of those old, famous regiments have been wiped out half a dozen
times, almost literally annihilated, since Mons. New drafts, and the
addition of territorial battalions, have replenished them and kept up
their strength, and the continuity of their tradition has never been
broken. The men who compose a regiment may be wiped out, but the
regiment survives. It is an organization, an entity, a creature with
a soul as well as a body. And the Germans have no discovered a way
yet of killing the soul! They can do dreadful things to the bodies of
men and women, but their souls are safe from them.
Of course there are Scots regiments that are not kilted and that have
naught to do with the Hielanders, who have given as fine and brave an
account of themselves as any. There are the Scots Guards, one of the
regiments of the Guards Brigade, the very pick and flower of the
British army. There are the King's Own Scottish Borderers, with as
fine a history and tradition as any regiment in the army, and a
record of service of which any regiment might well be proud; the
Scots Fusiliers, the Royal Scots, the Scottish Rifles, and the Scots
Greys, of Crimean fame--the only cavalry regiment from Scotland.
Since this war began other Highland regiments have been raised beside
those originally included in the Highland Brigade. There are Scots
from Canada who wear the kilt and their own tartan and cap. Every
Highland regiment, of course, has its own distinguishing tartan and
cap. One of the proudest moments of my life came when I heard that
the ninth battalion of the Highland Light Infantry, which was raised
in Glasgow, but has its depot, where its recruits and new drafts are
trained, at Hamilton, was known as the Harry Landers. That was
because they had adopted the Balmoral cap, with dice, that had become
associated with me because I had worn it so often and so long on the
stage in singing one of my most famous and successful songs, "I Love
But in the trenches, of course, the Hieland troops all look alike.
They cling to their kilts--or, rather, their kilts cling to them--but
kilts and jackets are all of khaki. If they wore the bright plaids of
the tartans they would be much too conspicuous a mark for the
Germans, and so they have to forswear their much loved colors when
they are actually at grips with Fritz.
I wear the kilt nearly always, myself, as I have said. Partly I do so
because it is my native costume, and I am proud of my Highland birth;
partly because I revel in the comfort of the costume. But it brings
me some amusing experiences. Very often I am asked a question that
is, I presume, fired at many a Hieland soldier, intimate though it is.
"I say, Harry," someone will ask me, "you wear the kilt. Do you not
wear anything underneath it?"
I do, myself. I wear a very short pair of trunks, chiefly for reasons
of modesty. So do some of the soldiers. But if they do they must
provide it for themselves; no such garment is served out to them with
their uniform. And so the vast majority of the men wear nothing but
their skins under the kilt. He is bare, that is, from the waist to
the hose--except for the kilt. But that is garment enough! I'll tell
ye so, and I'm thinkin' I know!
So clad the Highland soldier is a great deal more comfortable and a
great deal more sanely dressed, I believe, than the city dweller who
is trousered and underweared within an inch of his life. I think it
is a matter of medical record, that can be verified from the reports
of the army surgeons, that the kilted troops are among the healthiest
in the whole army. I know that the Highland troops are much less
subject to abdominal troubles of all sorts--colic and the like. The
kilt lies snug and warm around the stomach, in several thick layers,
and a more perfect protection from the cold has never been devised
for that highly delicate and susceptible region of the human anatomy.
Women, particularly, are always asking me another question. I have
seen them eyeing me, in cold weather, when I was walkin' around,
comfortably, in my kilt. And their eyes would wander to my knees, and
I would know before they opened their mouths what it was that they
were going to say.
"Oh, Mr. Lauder," they would ask me. "Don't your poor knees get cold--
with no coverings, exposed to this bitter cold?"
Well, they never have! That's all I can tell you. They have had the
chance, in all sorts of bitter weather. I am not thinking only of the
comparitively mild winters of Britain--although, up north, in
Scotland, we get some pretty severe winter weather. But I have been
in Western Canada, and in the northwestern states of the United
States, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, where the thermometer drops
far below zero. And my knees have never been cold yet. They do not
suffer from the cold any more than does my face, which is as little
covered and protected as they--and for the same reason, I suppose.
They are used to the weather.
And when it comes to the general question of health, I am certain,
from my own experience, that the kilt is best. Several times, for one
reason or another, I have laid my kilts aside and put on trousers.
And each time I have been seized by violent colds, and my life has
been made wretched. A good many soldiers of my acquaintance have had
the same experience.
Practical reasons aside, however, the Scots soldier loves his kilt,
and would fight like a steer to keep from having it taken away from
him, should anyone be so foolish as to try such a performance. He
loves it, not only because it is warm and comfortable, but because it
is indistinguishably associated in his mind with some of the most
glorious pages of Scottish history. It is a sign and symbol of his
hameland to him. There have been times, in Scotland, when all was not
as peaceful in the country's relations with England as it now is,
when the loyal Scot who wore the kilt did so knowing that he might be
tried for his life for doing so, since death had been the penalty
appointed for that "crime."
Aye, it is peace and friendship now between Scot and Englishman. But
that is not to say that there is no a friendly rivalry between them
still. English regiments and Scots regiments have a lot of fun with
one another, and a bit rough it gets, too, at times. But it is all in
fun, and there is no harm done. I have in mind a tale an officer told
me--though the men of whom he told it did not know that an officer
had any inkling of the story.
The English soldiers are very fond of harping on the old idea of the
difficulty of making a Scotsman see a joke. That is a base slander,
I'll say, but no matter. There were two regiments in rest close to
one another, one English and one Scots. They met at the estaminet or
pub in the nearby town. And one day the Englishman put up a great
joke on some of the Scots, and did get a little proof of that pet
idea of theirs, for the Scots were slow to see the joke.
Ah, weel, that was enough! For days the English rang the changes on
that joke, teasing the Hielanders and making sport of them. But at
last, when the worst of the tormentors were all assembled together,
two of the Scots came into the room where they were havin' a wee
"Mon, Sandy," said one of them, shaking his head, "I've been thinking
what a sad thing that would be! I hope it will no come to pass."
"Aye, that would be a sore business, indeed, Tam," said Sandy, and
he, too, shook his head.
And so they went on. The Englishmen stood it as long as they could
and then one turned to Sandy.
"What is it would be such a bad business?" he asked.
"Mon-mon," said Sandy. "We've been thinking, Tam and I, what would
become of England, should Scotland make a separate peace?"
And it was generally conceded that the last laugh was with the Scots
in that affair!
My boy, John, had the same love for the kilt that I had. He was proud
and glad to wear the kilt, and to lead men who did the same. While he
was in training at Bedford he organized a corps of cyclists for
dispatch-bearing work. He was a crack cyclist himself, and it was a
sport of which he was passionately fond. So he took a great interest
in the corps, and it soon gained wide fame for its efficiency. So
true was that that the authorities took note of the corps, and of
John, who was responsible for it, and he was asked to go to France to
take charge of organizing a similar corps behind the front. But that
would have involved a transfer to a different branch of the army, and
detachment from his regiment. And--it would have meant that he must
doff his kilt. Since he had the chance to decline--it was an offer,
not an order, that had come to him--he did, that he might keep his
kilt and stay with his own men.
To my eyes there is no spectacle that begins to be so imposing as the
sight of a parade of Scottish troops in full uniform. And it is the
unanimous testimony of German prisoners that this war has brought
them no more terrifying sight than the charge of a kilted regiment.
The Highlanders come leaping forward, their bayonets gleaming,
shouting old battle cries that rang through the glens years and
centuries ago, and that have come down to the descendants of the
warriors of an ancient time. The Highlanders love to use cold steel;
the claymore was their old weapon, and the bayonet is its nearest
equivalent in modern war. They are master hands with that, too--and
the bayonet is the one thing the Hun has no stomach for at all.
Fritz is brave enough when he is under such cover and shelter as the
trenches give. And he has shown a sort of stubborn courage when
attacking in massed formations--the Germans have made terrible
sacrifices, at times, in their offensive efforts. But his blood turns
to water in his veins when he sees the big braw laddies from the
Hielands come swooping toward him, their kilts flapping and their
bayonets shining in whatever light there is. Then he is mighty quick
to throw up his hands and shout: "Kamerad! Kamerad!"
I might go on all night telling you some of the stories I heard along
the front about the Scottish soldiers. They illustrate and explain
every phase of his character. They exploit his humor, despite that
base slander to which I have already referred, his courage, his
stoicism. And, of course, a vast fund of stories has sprung up that
deals with the proverbial thrift of the Scot! There was one tale that
will bear repeating, perhaps.
Two Highlanders had captured a chicken--a live chicken, not
particularly fat, it may be, even a bit scrawny, but still, a live
chicken. That was a prize, since the bird seemed to have no owner who
might get them into trouble with the military police. One was for
killing and eating the fowl at once. But the other would have none of
such a summary plan.
"No, no, Jimmy," he said, pleadingly, holding the chicken
protectingly. "Let's keep her until morning, and may be we will ha'
an egg as well!"
[ILLUSTRATION: "'Make us laugh again, Harry!' Though I remember my
son and want to join the ranks, I have obeyed." LAUDER ADDRESSING
BRITISH TROOPS BEHIND THE LINES IN FRANCE (See Lauder08.jpg)]
The other British soldiers call the Scots Jock, invariably. The
Englishman, or a soldier from Wales or Ireland, as a rule, is called
Tommy--after the well-known M. Thomas Atkins. Sometimes, an Irishman
will be Paddy and a Welshman Taffy. But the Scot is always Jock.
Jock gave us a grand welcome at Aubigny. We were all pretty tired,
but when they told me I could have an audience of seven thousand
Scots soldiers I forgot my weariness, and Hogge, Adam and I, to say
nothing of Johnson and the wee piano, cleared for action, as you
might say. The concert was given in the picturesque grounds of the
chateau, which had been less harshly treated by the war than many
such beautiful old places. It was a great experience to sing to so
many men; it was far and away the largest house we had had since we
had landed at Boulogne.
After we left Aubigny, the chateau and that great audience, we drove
on as quickly as we could, since it was now late, to the headquarters
of General Mac----, commanding the Fifteenth Division--to which, of
course, the men whom we had just been entertaining belonged. I was to
meet the general upon my arrival.
That was a strange ride. It was pitch dark, and we had some distance
to go. There were mighty few lights in evidence; you do not advertise
a road to Fritz's airplanes when you are traveling roads anywhere
near the front, for he has guns of long range, that can at times
manage to strafe a road that is supposed to be beyond the zone of
fire with a good deal of effect I have seldom seen a blacker night
than that. Objects along the side of the road were nothing but
shapeless lumps, and I did not see how our drivers could manage at
all to find their way.
They seemed to have no difficulty, however, but got along swimmingly.
Indeed, they traveled faster than they had in daylight. Perhaps that
was because we were not meeting troops to hold us up along this road;
I believe that, if we had, we should have stopped and given them a
concert, even though Johnson could not have seen the keys of his piano!
It was just as well, however. I was delighted at the reception that
had been given to the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour all through
our first day in France. But I was also extremely tired, and the
dinner and bed that loomed up ahead of us, at the end of our long
ride through the dark, took on an aspect of enchantment as we neared
them. My voice, used as I was to doing a great deal of singing, was
fagged, and Hogge and Dr. Adam were so hoarse that they could
scarcely speak at all. Even Johnson was pretty well done up; he was
still, theoretically, at least, on the sick list, of course. And I
ha' no doot that the wee piano felt it was entitled to its rest, too!
So we were all mighty glad when the cars stopped at last.
"Well, here we are!" said Captain Godfrey, who was the freshest of us
all. "This is Tramecourt--General Headquarters for the Reverend Harry
Lauder, M.P., Tour while you are in France, gentlemen. They have
special facilities for visitors here, and unless one of Fritz's
airplanes feels disposed to drop a bomb or two, you won't be under
fire, at night at least. Of course, in the daytime. . ."
He shrugged his shoulders. For our plans did not involve a search for
safe places. Still, it was pleasant to know that we might sleep in
General Mac---- was waiting to welcome us, and told us that dinner
was ready and waiting, which we were all glad to hear. It had been a
long, hard day, although the most interesting one, by far, that I had
We made short work of dinner, and soon afterward they took us to our
rooms. I don't know what Hogge and Dr. Adam did, but I know I looked
happily at the comfortable bed that was in my room. And I slept
easily and without being rocked to sleep that nicht!
Though we were out of the zone of fire--except for stray activities
in which Boche airplanes might indulge themselves, as our hosts were
frequently likely to remind us, lest we fancy ourselves too secure, I
suppose--we were by no means out of hearing of the grim work that was
going on a few miles away. The big guns, of course, are placed well
behind the front line trenches, and we could hear their sullen,
constant quarreling with Fritz and his artillery. The rumble of the
Hun guns came to us, too. But that is a sound to which you soon get
used, out there in France. You pay no more heed to it than you do to
the noise the 'buses make in London or the trams in Glasgow.
In the morning I got my first chance really to see Tramecourt. The
chateau is a lovely one, a fine example of such places. It had not
been knocked about at all, and it looked much as it must have done in
times of peace. Practically all the old furniture was still in the
rooms, and there were some fine old pictures on the walls that it
gave me great delight to see. Indeed, the rare old atmosphere of the
chateau was restful and delightful in a way that surprised me.
I had been in the presence of real war for just one day. And yet I
took pleasure in seeing again the comforts and some of the luxuries
of peace! That gave me an idea of what this sort of place must mean
to men from the trenches. It must seem like a bit of heaven to them
to come back to Aubigny or Tramecourt! Think of the contrast.
The chateau, which had been taken over by the British army, belonged
to the Comte de Chabot, or, rather, to his wife, who had been
Marquise de Tramecourt, one of the French families of the old regime.
Although the old nobility of France has ceased to have any legal
existence under the Republic the old titles are still used as a
matter of courtesy, and they have a real meaning and value. This was
a pleasant place, this chateau of Tramecourt; I should like to see it
again in days of peace, for then it must be even more delightful than
it was when I came to know it so well.
Tramecourt was to be our home, the headquarters of the Reverend Harry
Lauder, M.P., Tour, during the rest of our stay at the front. We were
to start out each morning, in the cars, to cover the ground appointed
for that day, and to return at night. But it was understood that
there would be days when we would get too far away to return at night,
and other sleeping quarters would be provided on such occasions.
I grew very fond of the place while I was there. The steady pounding
of the guns did not disturb my peace of nights, as a rule. But there
was one night when I did lie awake for hours, listening. Even to my
unpracticed ear there was a different quality in the sound of the
cannon that night. It had a fury, an intensity, that went beyond
anything I had heard. And later I learned that I had made no mistake
in thinking that there was something unusual and portentous about the
fire that night. What I had listened to was the preliminary drum fire
and bombardment that prepared the way for the great attack at
Messines, near Ypres--the most terrific bombardment recorded in all
history, up to that time.
The fire that night was like a guttural chant. It had a real rhythm;
the beat of the guns could almost be counted. And at dawn there came
the terrific explosion of the great mine that had been prepared,
which was the signal for the charge. Mr. Lloyd-George, I am told,
knowing the exact moment at which the mine was to be exploded, was
awake, at home in England, and heard it, across the channel, and so
did many folk who did not have his exceptional sources of
information. I was one of them! And I wondered greatly until I was
told what had been done. That was one of the most brilliantly and
successfully executed attacks of the whole war, and vastly important
in its results, although it was, compared to the great battles on the
Somme and up north, near Arras, only a small and minor operation.
We settled down, very quickly indeed, into a regular routine. Captain
Godfrey was, for all the world, like the manager of a traveling
company in America. He mapped out our routes, and he took care of all
the details. No troupe, covering a long route of one night stands in
the Western or Southern United States, ever worked harder than did
Hogge, Adam and I--to say nothing of Godfrey and our soldier
chauffeurs. We did not lie abed late in the mornings, but were up
soon after daylight. Breakfast out of the way, we would find the cars
waiting and be off.
We had, always, a definite route mapped out for the day, but we never
adhered to it exactly. I was still particularly pleased with the idea
of giving a roadside concert whenever an audience appeared, and there
was no lack of willing listeners. Soon after we had set out from
Tramecourt, no matter in which direction we happened to be going, we
were sure to run into some body of soldiers.
There was no longer any need of orders. As soon as the chauffeur of
the leading car spied a blotch of khaki against the road, on went his
brakes, and we would come sliding into the midst of the troops and
stop. Johnson would be out before his car had fairly stopped, and at
work upon the lashings of the little piano, with me to help him. And
Hogge would already be clearing his throat to begin his speech.
The Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour, employed no press agent, and
it could not boast of a bill poster. No hoardings were covered with
great colored sheets advertising its coming. And yet the whole front
seemed to know that we were about. The soldiers we met along the
roads welcomed us gladly, but they were no longer, after the first
day or two, surprised to see us. They acted, rather, as if they had
been expecting us. Our advent was like that of a circus, coming to a
country town for a long heralded and advertised engagement. Yet all
the puffing that we got was by word of mouth.
There were some wonderful choruses along those war-worn roads we
traveled. "Roamin' in the Gloamin'" was still my featured song, and
all the soldiers seemed to know the tune and the words, and to take a
particular delight in coming in with me as I swung into the chorus.
We never passed a detachment of soldiers without stopping to give
them a concert, no matter how it disarranged Captain Godfrey's plans.
But he was entirely willing. It was these men, on their way to the
trenches, or on the way out of them, bound for rest billets, whom, of
course, I was most anxious to reach, since I felt that they were the
ones I was most likely to be able to help and cheer up.
The scheduled concerts were practically all at the various rest
billets we visited. These were, in the main, at chateaux. Always, at
such a place, I had a double audience. The soldiers would make a
great ring, as close to me as they could get, and around them, again,
in a sort of outer circle, were French villagers and peasants, vastly
puzzled and mystified, but eager to be pleased, and very ready with
It must have been hard for them to make up their minds about me, if
they gave me much thought. My kilt confused them; most of them
thought I was a soldier from some regiment they had not yet seen,
wearing a new and strange uniform. For my kilt, I need not say, was
not military, nor was the rest of my garb warlike!
I gave, during that time, as many as seven concerts in a day. I have
sung as often as thirty-five times in one day, and on such occasions
I was thankful that I had a strong and durable voice, not easily worn
out, as well as a stout physique. Hogge and Dr. Adam appeared as
often as I did, but they didn't have to sing!
Nearly all the songs I gave them were ditties they had known for a
long time. The one exception was the tune that had been so popular in
"Three Cheers"--the one called "The Laddies Who Fought and Won." Few
of the boys had been home since I had been singing that song, but it
has a catching lilt, and they were soon able to join in the chorus
and send it thundering along. They took to it, too--and well they
might! It was of such as they that it was written.
We covered perhaps a hundred miles a day during this period. That
does not sound like a great distance for high-powered motor cars, but
we did a good deal of stopping, you see, here and there and
everywhere. We were roaming around in the backwater of war, you might
say. We were out of the main stream of carnage, but it was not out of
our minds and our hearts. Evidences of it in plenty came to us each
day. And each day we were a little nearer to the front line trenches
than we had come the day before. We were working gradually toward
that climax that I had been promised.
I was always eager to talk to officers and men, and I found many
chances to do so. It seemed to me that I could never learn enough
about the soldiers. I listened avidly to every story that was told
to me, and was always asking for more. The younger officers,
especially, it interested me to talk with. One day I was talking
to such a lieutenant.
"How is the spirit of your men?" I asked him. I am going to tell you
his answer, just as he made it.
"Their spirit?" he said, musingly. "Well, just before we came to this
billet to rest we were in a tightish corner on the Somme. One of my
youngest men was hit--a shell came near to taking his arm clean off,
so that it was left just hanging to his shoulders. He was only about