Part 4 out of 5
eighteen years old, poor chap. It was a bad wound, but, as sometimes
happens, it didn't make him unconscious--then. And when he realized
what had happened to him, and saw his arm hanging limp, so that he
could know he was bound to lose it, he began to cry.
"'What's the trouble?' I asked him, hurrying over to him. I was sorry
enough for him, but you've got to keep up the morale of your men.
'Soldiers don't cry when they're wounded, my lad.'
"'I'm not crying because I'm wounded, sir!' he fired back at me. And
I won't say he was quite as respectful as a private is supposed to be
when he's talking to an officer! 'Just take a look at that, sir!' And
he pointed to his wound. And then he cried out:
"'And I haven't killed a German yet!' he said, bitterly. 'Isn't that
hard lines, sir?'
"That is the spirit of my men!"
I made many good friends while I was roaming around the country just
behind the front. I wonder how many of them I shall keep--how many of
them death will spare to shake my hand again when peace is restored!
There was a Gordon Highlander, a fine young officer, of whom I became
particularly fond while I was at Tramecourt. I had a very long talk
with him, and I thought of him often, afterward, because he made me
think of John. He was just such a fine young type of Briton as my boy
Months later, when I was back in Britain, and giving a performance at
Manchester, there was a knock at the door of my dressing-room.
"Come in!" I called.
The door was pushed open and a man came in with great blue glasses
covering his eyes. He had a stick, and he groped his way toward me. I
did not know him at all at first--and then, suddenly, with a shock, I
recognized him as my fine young Gordon Highlander of the rest billet
"My God--it's you, Mac!" I said, deeply shocked.
"Yes," he said, quietly. His voice had changed, greatly. "Yes, it's
He was almost totally blind, and he did not know whether his eyes
would get better or worse.
"Do you remember all the lads you met at the billet where you came to
sing for us the first time I met you, Harry?" he asked me. "Well,
they're all gone--I'm the only one who's left--the only one!"
There was grief in his voice. But there was nothing like complaint,
nor was there, nor self-pity, either, when he told me about his eyes
and his doubts as to whether he would ever really see again. He
passed his own troubles off lightly, as if they did not matter at
all. He preferred to tell me about those of his friends whom I had
met, and to give me the story of how this one and that one had gone.
And he is like many another. I know a great many men who have been
maimed in the war, but I have still to hear one of them complain.
They were brave enough, God knows, in battle, but I think they are
far braver when they come home, shattered and smashed, and do naught
but smile at their troubles.
The only sort of complaining you hear from British soldiers is over
minor discomforts in the field. Tommy and Jock will grouse when they
are so disposed. They will growl about the food and about this
trivial trouble and that. But it is never about a really serious
matter that you hear them talking!
I have never yet met a man who had been permanently disabled who was
not grieving because he could not go back. And it is strange but true
that men on leave get homesick for the trenches sometimes. They miss
the companionships they have had in the trenches. I think it must be
because all the best men in the world are in France that they feel
so. But it is true, I know, because I have not heard it once, but a
Men will dream of home and Blighty for weeks and months. They will
grouse because they cannot get leave--though, half the time, they
have not even asked for it, because they feel that their place is
where the fighting is! And then, when they do get that longed-for
leave, they are half sorry to go--and they come back like boys coming
home from school!
A great reward awaits the men who fight through this war and emerge
alive and triumphant at its end. They will dictate the conduct of the
world for many a year. The men who stayed at home when they should
have gone may as well prepare to drop their voices to a very low
whisper in the affairs of mankind. For the men who will be heard, who
will make themselves heard, are out there in France.
It was seven o'clock in the morning of a Godly and a beautiful day
when we set out from Tramecourt for Arras. Arras, that town so famous
now in British history and in the annals of this war, had been one of
our principal objectives from the outset, but we had not known when
we were to see it. Arras had been the pivot of the great northern
drive in the spring--the drive that Hindenburg had fondly supposed he
had spoiled by his "strategic" retreat in the region of the Somme,
begun just before the British and the French were ready to attack.
What a bonnie morning that was, to be sure! The sun was out, after
some rainy days, and glad we all were to see it. The land was sprayed
with silver light; the air was as sweet and as soft and as warm as a
baby's breath. And the cars seemed to leap forward, as if they, too,
loved the day and the air. They ate up the road. They seemed to take
hold of its long, smooth surface--they are grand roads, over you, in
France--and reel it up in underneath their wheels as if it were a tape.
This time we did little stopping, no matter how good the reason looked.
We went hurtling through villages and towns we had not seen before.
Our horn and our siren shrieked a warning as we shot through. And it
seemed wrong. They looked so peaceful and so quiet, did those French
towns, on that summer's morning! Peaceful, aye, and languorous, after
all the bustle and haste we had been seeing. The houses were set in
pretty encasements of bright foliage and they looked as though they had
been painted against the background of the landscape with water colors.
It was hard to believe that war had passed that way. It had; there
were traces everywhere of its grim visitation. But here its heavy
hand had been laid lightly upon town and village. It was as if a wave
of poison gas of the sort the Germans brought into war had been
turned aside by a friendly breeze, arising in the very nick of time.
Little harm had been done along the road we traveled. But the thunder
of the guns was always in our ears; we could hear the steady,
throbbing rhythm of the cannon, muttering away to the north and east.
It was very warm, and so, after a time, as we passed through a
village, someone--Hogge, I think--suggested that a bottle of ginger
beer all around would not be amiss. The idea seemed to be regarded as
an excellent one, so Godfrey spoke to the chauffeur beside him, and
we stopped. We had not known, at first, that there were troops in
town. But there were--Highlanders. And they came swarming out. I was
recognized at once.
"Well, here's old Harry Lauder!" cried one braw laddie.
"Come on, Harry--gie us a song!" they shouted. "Let's have 'Roamin' in
the Gloamin', Harry! Gie us the Bonnie Lassie! We ha' na' heard 'The
Laddies Who Fought and Won,' Harry. They tell us that's a braw song!"
We were not really supposed to give any roadside concerts that day,
but how was I to resist them? So we pulled up into a tiny side
street, just off the market square, and I sang several songs for
them. We saved time by not unlimbering the wee piano, and I sang,
without accompaniment, standing up in the car. But they seemed to be
as well pleased as though I had had the orchestra of a big theater to
support me, and all the accompaniments and trappings of the stage.
They were very loath to let me go, and I don't know how much time we
really saved by not giving our full and regular programme. For,
before I had done, they had me telling stories, too. Captain Godfrey
was smiling, but he was glancing at his watch too, and he nudged me,
at last, and made me realize that it was time for us to go on, no
matter how interesting it might be to stay.
"I'll be good," I promised, with a grin, as we drove on. "We shall go
straight on to Arras now!"
But we did not. We met a bunch of engineers on the road, after a
space, and they looked so wistful when we told them we maun be
getting right along, without stopping to sing for them, that I had
not the heart to disappoint them. So we got out the wee piano and I
sang them a few songs. It seemed to mean so much to those boys along
the roads! I think they enjoyed the concerts even more than did the
great gatherings that were assembled for me at the rest camps. A
concert was more of a surprise for them, more of a treat. The other
laddies liked them, too--aye, they liked them fine. But they would
have been prepared, sometimes; they would have been looking forward
to the fun. And the laddies along the roads took them as a man takes
a grand bit of scenery, coming before his eyes, suddenly, as he turns
a bend in a road he does not ken.
As for myself, I felt that I was becoming quite a proficient open-air
performer by now. My voice was standing the strain of singing under
such novel and difficult conditions much better than I had thought it
could. And I saw that I must be at heart and by nature a minstrel! I
know I got more pleasure from those concerts I gave as a minstrel
wandering in France than did the soldiers or any of those who heard me!
I have been before the public for many years. Applause has always
been sweet to me. It is to any artist, and when one tells you it is
not you may set it down in your hearts that he or she is telling less
than the truth. It is the breath of life to us to know that folks are
pleased by what we do for them. Why else would we go on about our
tasks? I have had much applause. I have had many honors. I have told
you about that great and overwhelming reception that greeted me when
I sailed into Sydney Harbor. In Britain, in America, I have had
greetings that have brought tears into my eye and such a lump into
my throat that until it had gone down I could not sing or say a word
But never has applause sounded so sweet to me as it did along those
dusty roads in France, with the poppies gleaming red and the
cornflowers blue through the yellow fields of grain beside the roads!
They cheered me, do you ken--those tired and dusty heroes of Britain
along the French roads! They cheered as they squatted down in a
circle about us, me in my kilt, and Johnson tinkling away as if his
very life depended upon it, at his wee piano! Ah, those wonderful,
wonderful soldiers! The tears come into my eyes, and my heart is sore
and heavy within me when I think that mine was the last voice many of
them ever heard lifted in song! They were on their way to the
trenches, so many of those laddies who stopped for a song along the
road. And when men are going into the trenches they know, and all who
see them passing know, that some there are who will never come out.
Despite all the interruptions, though, it was not much after noon
when we reached Blangy. Here, in that suburb of Arras, were the
headquarters of the Ninth Division, and as I stepped out of the car I
thrilled to the knowledge that I was treading ground forever to be
famous as the starting-point of the Highland Brigade in the attack of
April 9, 1917.
And now I saw Arras, and, for the first time, a town that had been
systematically and ruthlessly shelled. There are no words in any
tongue I know to give you a fitting picture of the devastation of
Arras. "Awful" is a puny word, a thin one, a feeble one. I pick
impotently at the cover-lid of my imagination when I try to frame
language to make you understand what it was I saw when I came to
Arras on that bright June day.
I think the old city of Arras should never be rebuilt. I doubt if it
can be rebuilt, indeed. But I think that, whether or no, a golden
fence should be built around it, and it should forever and for all
time be preserved as a monument to the wanton wickedness of the Hun.
It should serve and stand, in its stark desolation, as a tribute,
dedicated to the Kultur of Germany. No painter could depict the
frightfulness of that city of the dead. No camera could make you see
as it is. Only your eyes can do that for you. And even then you
cannot realize it all at once. Your eyes are more merciful than the
truth and the Hun.
The Germans shelled Arras long after there was any military reason
for doing so. The sheer, wanton love of destruction must have moved
them. They had destroyed its military usefulness, but still they
poured shot and shell into the town. I went through its streets--the
Germans had been pushed back so far by then that the city was no
longer under steady fire. But they had done their work!
Nobody was living in Arras. No one could have lived there. The houses
had been smashed to pieces. The pavements were dust and rubble. But
there was life in the city. Through the ruins our men moved as
ceaselessly and as restlessly as the tenants of an ant hill suddenly
upturned by a plowshare. Soldiers were everywhere, and guns--guns,
guns! For Arras had a new importance now. It was a center for many
roads. Some of the most important supply roads of this sector of the
front converged in Arras.
Trains of ammunition trucks, supply carts and wagons of all sorts,
great trucks laden with jam and meat and flour, all were passing
every moment. There was an incessant din of horses' feet and the
steady crunch--crunch of heavy boots as the soldiers marched through
the rubble and the brickdust. And I knew that all this had gone on
while the town was still under fire. Indeed, even now, an occasional
shell from some huge gun came crashing into the town, and there would
be a new cloud of dust arising to mark its landing, a new collapse of
some weakened wall. Warning signs were everywhere about, bidding all
who saw them to beware of the imminent collapse of some heap of masonry.
I saw what the Germans had left of the stately old Cathedral, and of
the famous Cloth Hall--one of the very finest examples of the guild
halls of medieval times. Goths--Vandals--no, it is unfair to seek
such names for the Germans. They have established themselves as the
masters of all time in brutality and in destruction. There is no need
to call them anything but Germans. The Cloth Hall was almost human in
its pitiful appeal to the senses and the imagination. The German fire
had picked it to pieces, so that it stood in a stark outline, like
some carcase picked bare by a vulture.
Our soldiers who were quartered nearby lived outside the town in
huts. They were the men of the Highland Brigade, and the ones I had
hoped and wished, above all others, to meet when I came to France.
They received our party with the greatest enthusiasm, and they were
especially flattering when they greeted me. One of the Highland
officers took me in hand immediately, to show me the battlefield.
The ground over which we moved had literally been churned by
shell-fire. It was neither dirt nor mud that we walked upon; it was a
sort of powder. The very soil had been decomposed into a fine dust by
the terrific pounding it had received. The dust rose and got into our
eyes and mouths and nostrils. There was a lot of sneezing among the
members of the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour that day at Arras!
And the wire! It was strewn in every direction, with seeming
aimlessness. Heavily barbed it was, and bad stuff to get caught in.
One of the great reasons for the preliminary bombardment that usually
precedes an attack is to cut this wire. If charging men are caught in
a bad tangle of wire they can be wiped out by machine gun-fire before
they can get clear.
I asked a Highlander, one day, how long he thought the war would last.
"Forty years," he said, never batting an eyelid. "We'll be fighting
another year, and then it'll tak us thirty-nine years more to wind up
all the wire!"
Off to my right there was a network of steel strands, and as I gazed
at it I saw a small dark object hanging from it and fluttering in the
breeze. I was curious enough to go over, and I picked my way
carefully through the maze-like network of wire to see what it might
be. When I came close I saw it was a bit of cloth, and immediately I
recognized the tartan of the Black Watch--the famous Forty-second.
Mud and blood held that bit of cloth fastened to the wire, as if by a
cement. Plainly, it had been torn from a kilt.
I stood for a moment, looking down at that bit of tartan, flapping in
the soft summer breeze. And as I stood I could look out and over the
landscape, dotted with a very forest of little wooden crosses, that
marked the last resting-place of the men who had charged across this
maze of wire and died within it. They rose, did those rough crosses,
like sheathed swords out of the wild, luxurious jungle of grass that
had grown up in that blood-drenched soil. I wondered if the owner of
the bit of tartan were still safe or if he lay under one of the
crosses that I saw.
There was room for sad speculation here! Who had he been? Had he
swept on, leaving that bit of his kilt as evidence of his passing?
Had he been one of those who had come through the attack, gloriously,
to victory, so that he could look back upon that day so long as he
lived? Or was he dead--perhaps within a hundred yards of where I
stood and gazed down at that relic of him? Had he folks at hame in
Scotland who had gone through days of anguish on his account--such
days of anguish as I had known?
[ILLUSTRATION: Berlin struck off this medal when the "Lusitania" was
sunk: on one side the brutal catastrophe, on the other the grinning
death's head Teutonically exultant. "And so now I preach the war on
the Hun my own way," says Harry Lauder. (See Lauder09.jpg)]
[ILLUSTRATION: HARRY LAUDER "Laird of Dunoon." (See Lauder10.jpg)]
I asked a soldier for some wire clippers, and I cut the wire on
either side of that bit of tartan, and took it, just as it was. And
as I put the wee bit of a brave man's kilt away I kissed the
blood-stained tartan, for Auld Lang Syne, and thought of what a tale
it could tell if it could only speak!
"Ha' ye seen a' the men frae the braes and the glen,
Ha' ye seen them a' marchin' awa'?
Ha' ye seen a' the men frae the wee but-an'-ben,
And the gallants frae mansion and ha'?"
I have said before that I do not want to tell you of the tales of
atrocities that I heard in France. I heard plenty--ayes and terrible
they were! But I dinna wish to harrow the feelings of those who read
more than I need, and I will leave that task to those who saw for
themselves with their eyes, when I had but my ears to serve me. Yet
there was one blood-chilling story that my boy John told to me, and
that the finding of that bit of Black Watch tartan brings to my mind.
He told it to me as we sat before the fire in my wee hoose at Dunoon,
just a few nights before he went back to the front for the last time.
We were talking of the war--what else was there to talk aboot?
It was seldom that John touched on the harsher things he knew about
the war. He preferred, as a rule, to tell me stories of the courage
and the devotion of his men, and of the light way that they turned
things when there was so much chance for grief and care.
"One night, Dad," he said, "we had a battalion of the Black Watch on
our right, and they made a pretty big raid on the German trenches. It
developed into a sizable action for any other war, but one trifling
enough and unimportant in this one. The Germans had been readier than
the Black Watch had supposed, and had reinforcements ready, and sixty
of the Highlanders were captured. The Germans took them back into
their trenches, and stripped them to the skin. Not a stitch or a rag
of clothing did they leave them, and, though it was April, it was a
bitter night, with a wind to cut even a man warmly clad to the bone.
"All night they kept them there, standing at attention, stark naked,
so that they were half-frozen when the gray, cold light of the dawn
began to show behind them in the east. And then the Germans laughed,
and told their prisoners to go.
"'Go on--go back to your own trenches, as you are!' they said.
"The laddies of the Black Watch could scarcely believe their ears.
There was about seventy-five yards between the two trench lines at
that point, and the No Man's Land was rough going--all shell-pitted
as it was. By that time, too, of course, German repair parties had
mended all the wire before their trenches. So they faced a rough
journey, all naked as they were. But they started.
"They got through the wire, with the Germans laughing fit to kill
themselves at the sight of the streaks of blood showing on their
white skins as the wire got in its work. They laughed at them, Dad!
And then, when they were halfway across the No Man's Land they
understood, at last, why the Germans had let them go. For fire was
opened on them with machine guns. Everyone was mowed down--everyone
of those poor, naked, bleeding lads was killed--murdered by that
treacherous fire from behind!
"We heard all the details of that dirty bit of treachery later. We
captured some German prisoners from that very trench. Fritz is a
decent enough sort, sometimes, and there were men there whose
stomachs were turned by that sight, so that they were glad to creep
over, later, and surrender. They told us, with tears in their eyes.
But we had known, before that. We had needed no witnesses except the
bodies of the boys. It had been too dark for the men in our trenches
to see what was going on--and a burst of machine gun-fire, along the
trenches, is nothing to get curious or excited about. But those naked
bodies, lying there in the No Man's Land, had told us a good deal.
"Dad--that was an awful sight! I was in command of one of the burying
parties we had to send out."
That was the tale I thought of when I found that bit of the Black
Watch tartan. And I remembered, too, that it was with the Black Watch
that John Poe, the famous American football player from Princeton,
met his death in a charge. He had been offered a commission, but he
preferred to stay with the boys in the ranks.
We left our motor cars behind us in Arras, for to-day we were to go
to a front-line trench, and the climax of my whole trip, so far as I
could foresee, was at hand. Johnson and the wee piano had to stay
behind, too--we could not expect to carry even so tiny an instrument
as that into a front-line trench! Once more we had to don steel
helmets, but there was a great difference between these and the ones
we had had at Vimy Ridge. Mine fitted badly, and kept sliding down
over my ears, or else slipping way down to the back of my head. It
must have given me a grotesque look, and it was most uncomfortable.
So I decided I would take it off and carry it for a while.
"You'd better keep it on, Harry," Captain Godfrey advised me. "This
district is none too safe, even right here, and it gets worse as we go
along. A whistling Percy may come along looking for you any minute."
That is the name of a shell that is good enough to advertise its
coming by a whistling, shrieking sound. I could hear Percies
whistling all around, and see them spattering up the ground as they
struck, not so far away, but they did not seem to be coming in our
direction. So I decided I would take a chance.
"Well," I said, as I took the steel hat off, "I'll just keep this
bonnet handy and slip it on if I see Percy coming."
But later I was mighty glad of even an ill-fitting steel helmet!
Several staff officers from the Highland Brigade had joined the
Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour by now. Affable, pleasant gentlemen
they were, and very eager to show us all there was to be seen. And
they had more sights to show their visitors than most hosts have!
We were on ground now that had been held by the Germans before the
British had surged forward all along this line in the April battle.
Their old trenches, abandoned now, ran like deep fissures through the
soil. They had been pretty well blasted to pieces by the British
bombardment, but a good many of their deep, concrete dugouts had
survived. These were not being used by the British here, but were
saved in good repair as show places, and the officers who were our
guides took us down into some of them.
Rarely comfortable they must have been, too! They had been the homes
of German officers, and the Hun officers did themselves very well
indeed when they had the chance. They had electric light in their
cave houses. To be sure they had used German wall paper, and
atrociously ugly stuff it was, too. But it pleased their taste, no
doubt. Mightily amazed some of Fritz's officers must have been, back
in April, as they sat and took their ease in these luxurious
quarters, to have Jock come tumbling in upon them, a grenade in each
Our men might have used these dugouts, and been snug enough in them,
but they preferred air and ventilation, and lived in little huts
above the ground. I left our party and went around among them and, to
my great satisfaction, found, as I had been pretty sure I would, a
number of old acquaintances and old admirers who came crowding around
me to shake hands. I made a great collection of souvenirs here, for
they insisted on pressing trophies upon me.
"Tak them, Harry," said one after another. "We can get plenty more
where they came from!"
One laddie gave me a helmet with a bullet hole through the skip, and
another presented me with one of the most interesting souvenirs of
all I carried home from France. That was a German sniper's outfit. It
consisted of a suit of overalls, waterproofed. If a man had it on he
would be completely covered, from head to foot, with just a pair of
slits for his eyes to peep out of, and another for his mouth, so that
he could breathe. It was cleverly painted the color of a tree--part
of it like the bark, part green, like leaves sprouting from it.
"Eh, Jock," I asked the laddie who gave it to me. "A thing like yon's
hard to be getting, I'm thinking?"
"Oh, not so very hard," he answered, carelessly. "You've got to be a
good shot." And he wore medals that showed he was! "All you've got to
do, Harry, is to kill the chap inside it before he kills you! The
fellow who used to own that outfit you've got hid himself in the fork
of a tree, and, as you may guess, he looked like a branch of the tree
itself. He was pretty hard to spot. But I got suspicious of him, from
the way bullets were coming over steadily, and I decided that that
tree hid a sniper.
"After that it was just a question of being patient. It was no so
long before I was sure, and then I waited--until I saw that branch
move as no branch of a tree ever did move. I fired then--and got him!
He was away outside of his lines, and that nicht I slipped out and
brought back this outfit. I wanted to see how it was made."
An old, grizzled sergeant of the Black Watch gave me a German revolver.
"How came you to get this?" I asked him.
"It was an acceedent, Harry," he said. "We were raiding a trench, do
you ken, and I was in a sap when a German officer came along, and we
bumped into one another. He looked at me, and I at him. I think he
was goin' to say something, but I dinna ken what it was he had on his
mind. That _was_ his revolver you've got in your hand now."
And then he thrust his hand into his pocket.
"Here's the watch he used to carry, too," he said. It was a thick,
fat-bellied affair, of solid gold. "It's a bit too big, but it's a
rare good timekeeper."
Soon after that an officer gave me another trophy that is, perhaps,
even more interesting than the sniper's suit. It is rarer, at least.
It is a small, sweet-toned bell that used to hang in a wee church in
the small village of Athies, on the Scarpe, about a mile and a half
from Arras. The Germans wiped out church and village, but in some odd
way they found the bell and saved it. They hung it in their trenches,
and it was used to sound a gas alarm. On both sides a signal is given
when the sentry sees that there is to be a gas attack, in order that
the men may have time to don the clumsy gas masks that are the only
protection against the deadly fumes. The wee bell is eight inches
high, maybe, and I have never heard a lovelier tone.
"That bell has rung men to worship, and it has rung them to death,"
said the officer who gave it to me.
Presently I was called back to my party, after I had spent some time
with the lads in their huts. A general had joined the party now, and
he told me, with a smile, that I was to go up to the trenches, if I
cared to do so. I will not say I was not a bit nervous, but I was
glad to go, for a' that! It was the thing that had brought me to
France, after a'.
So we started, and by now I was glad to wear my steel hat, fit or no
fit. I was to give an entertainment in the trenches, and so we set
out. Pretty soon I was climbing a steep railroad embankment, and when
we slid down on the other side we found the trenches--wide, deep gaps
in the earth, and all alive with men. We got into the trenches
themselves by means of ladders, and the soldiers came swarming about
me with yells of "Hello, Harry! Welcome, Harry!"
They were told that I had come to sing for them, and so, with no
further preliminaries, I began my concert. I started with my favorite
opening song, as usual--"Roamin' in the Gloamin'," and then went on
with the other old favorites. I told a lot of stories, too, and then
I came to "The Laddies Who Fought and Won." None of the men had heard
it, but there were officers there who had seen "Three Cheers" during
the winter when they had had a short leave to run over to London.
I got through the first verse all right, and was just swinging into
the first chorus when, without the least warning, hell popped open in
that trench. A missile came in that some officer at once hailed as a
whizz bang. It is called that, for that is just exactly the sound it
makes. It is like a giant firecracker, and it would be amusing if one
did not know it was deadly. These missiles are not fired by the big
guns behind the lines, but by the small trench cannon--worked, as a
rule, by compressed air. The range is very short, but they are
capable of great execution at that range.
Was I frightened? I must have been! I know I felt a good deal as I
have done when I have been seasick. And I began to think at once of
all sorts of places where I would rather have been than in that
trench! I was standing on a slight elevation at the back, or parados,
of the trench, so that I was raised a bit above my audience, and I
had a fine view of that deadly thing, wandering about, spitting fire
and metal parts. It traveled so that the men could dodge it, but it
was throwing oft slugs that you could neither see nor dodge, and it
was a poor place to be!
And the one whizz bang was not enough to suit Fritz. It was followed
immediately by a lot more, that came popping in and making themselves
as unpleasant as you could imagine. I watched the men about me, and
they seemed to be unconcerned, and to be thinking much more of me and
my singing than of the whizz bangs. So, no matter how I felt, there
was nothing for me to do but to keep on with my song. I decided that
I must really be safe enough, no matter how I felt. But I had certain
misgivings on the subject. Still, I managed to go on with my song,
and I think I was calm enough to look at--though, if I was, my
appearance wholly belied my true inward feelings.
I struggled through to the end of the chorus--and I think I sang
pretty badly, although I don't know. But I was pretty sure the end of
the world had come for me, and that these laddies were taking things
as calmly as they were simply because they were used to it, and it
was all in the day's work for them. The Germans were fairly sluicing
that trench by now. The whizz bangs were popping over us like giant
fire-crackers, going off one and two and three at a time. And the
trench was full of flying slugs and chunks of dirt, striking against
our faces and hurtling all about us.
There I was. I had a good "house." I wanted to please my audience.
Was it no a trying situation? I thought Fritz might have had manners
enough to wait until I had finished my concert, at least! But the Hun
has no manners, as all the world knows.
Along that embankment we had climbed to reach the trenches, and not
very far from the bit of trench in which I was singing, there was a
railroad bridge of some strategic importance. And now a shell hit
that bridge--not a whizz bang, but a real, big shell. It exploded
with a hideous screech, as if the bridge were some human thing being
struck, and screaming out its agony. The soldiers looked at me, and I
saw some of them winking. They seemed to be mighty interested in the
way I was taking all this. I looked back at them, and then at a
Highland colonel who was listening to my singing as quietly and as
carefully as if he had been at a stall in Covent Garden during the
opera season. He caught my glance.
"I think they're coming it a bit thick, Lauder, old chap," he
"I quite agree with you, colonel," I said. I tried to ape his voice
and manner, but I wasn't so quiet as he.
Now there came a ripping, tearing sound in the air, and a veritable
cloudburst of the damnable whizz bangs broke over us. That settled
matters. There were no orders, but everyone turned, just as if it
were a meeting, and a motion to adjourn had been put and carried
unanimously. We all ran for the safety holes or dugouts in the side
of the embankment. And I can tell ye that the Reverend Harry Lauder,
M.P., Tour were no the last ones to reach those shelters! No, we were
by no means the last!
I ha' no doot that I might have improved upon the shelter that I
found, had I had time to pick and choose. But any shelter was good
just then, and I was glad of mine, and of a chance to catch my
breath. Afterward, I saw a picture by Captain Bairnsfather that made
me laugh a good deal, because it represented so exactly the way I
felt. He had made a drawing of two Tommies in a wee bit of a hole in
a field that was being swept by shells and missiles of every sort.
One was grousing to his mate, and the other said to him:
"If you know a better 'ole go 'ide in it!"
I said we all turned and ran for cover. But there was one braw laddie
who did nothing of the sort. He would not run--such tricks were not
He was a big Hie'land laddie, and he wore naught but his kilt and his
semmet--his undershirt. He had on his steel helmet, and it shaded a
face that had not been shaved or washed for days. His great, brawny
arms were folded across his chest, and he was smoking his pipe. And
he stood there as quiet and unconcerned as if he had been a village
smith gazing down a quiet country road. I watched him, and he saw me,
and grinned at me. And now and then he glanced at me, quizzically.
"It's all right, Harry," he said, several times. "Dinna fash
yoursel', man. I'll tell ye in time for ye to duck if I see one
coming your way!"
We crouched in our holes until there came a brief lull in the
bombardment. Probably the Germans thought they had killed us all and
cleared the trench, or maybe it had been only that they hadn't liked
my singing, and had been satisfied when they had stopped it. So we
came out, but the firing was not over at all, as we found out at
once. So we went down a bit deeper, into concrete dugouts.
This trench had been a part of the intricate German defensive system
far back of their old front line, and they had had the pains of
building and hollowing out the fine dugout into which I now went for
shelter. Here they had lived, deep under the earth, like animals--and
with animals, too. For when I reached the bottom a dog came to meet
me, sticking out his red tongue to lick my hand, and wagging his tail
as friendly as you please.
He was a German dog--one of the prisoners of war taken in the great
attack. His old masters hadn't bothered to call him and take him with
them when the Highlanders came along, and so he had stayed behind as
part of the spoils of the attack.
That wasn't much of a dog, as dogs go. He was a mongrel-looking
creature, but he couldn't have been friendlier. The Highlanders had
adopted him and called him Fritz, and they were very fond of him, and
he of them. He had no thought of war. He behaved just as dogs do at hame.
But above us the horrid din was still going on, and bits of shells
were flying everywhere--anyone of them enough to kill you, if it
struck you in the right spot. I was glad, I can tell ye, that I was
so snug and safe beneath the ground, and I had no mind at all to go
out until the bombardment was well over. I knew now what it was
really to be under fire. The casual sort of shelling I had had to
fear at Vimy Ridge was nothing to this. This was the real thing.
And then I thought that what I was experiencing for a few minutes was
the daily portion of these laddies who were all aboot me--not for a
few minutes, but for days and weeks and months at a time. And it came
home to me again, and stronger than ever, what they were doing for us
folks at hame, and how we ought to be feeling for them.
The heavy firing went on for three-quarters of an hour, at least. We
could hear the chugging of the big guns, and the sorrowful swishing
of the shells, as if they were mournful because they were not
wreaking more destruction than they were. It all moved me greatly,
but I could see that the soldiers thought nothing of it, and were
quite unperturbed by the fearful demonstration that was going on
above. They smoked and chatted, and my own nerves grew calmer.
Finally there seemed to come a real lull in the row above, and I
turned to the general.
"Isn't it near time for me to be finishing my concert, sir?" I asked
"Very good," he said, jumping up. "Just as you say, Lauder."
So back we went to where I had begun to sing. My audience
reassembled, and I struck up "The Laddies Who Fought and Won" again.
It seemed, somehow, the most appropriate song I could have picked to
sing in that spot! I finished, this time, but there was some discord
in the closing bars, for the Germans were still at their shelling,
So I finished, and I said good-by to the men who were to stay in the
trench, guarding that bit of Britain's far flung battleline. And then
the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour was ready to go back--not to
safety, at once, but to a region far less infested by the Hun than
this one where we had been such warmly received visitors!
I was sorry to be leaving the Highland laddies in that trench. Aye!
But for the trench itself I had nae regrets--nae, none whatever! I
know no spot on the surface of this earth, of all that I have
visited, and I have been in many climes, that struck me as less
salubrious than you bit o' trench. There were too many other visitors
there that day, along with the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour.
They were braw laddies, yo, but no what you might call
over-particular about the company they kept! I'd thank them, if they'd
be havin' me to veesit them again, to let me come by my ain!
Getting away was not the safest business in the world, either,
although it was better than staying in yon trench. We had to make our
way back to the railway embankment, and along it for a space, and the
embankment was being heavily shelled. It was really a trench line
itself, full of dugouts, and as we made our way along heads popped in
all directions, topped by steel helmets. I was eager to be on the
other side of you embankment, although I knew well enough that there
was no sanctuary on either side of it, nor for a long space behind it.
That was what they called the Frenchy railway cutting, and it
overlooked the ruined village of Athies. And not until after I had
crossed it was I breathing properly. I began, then, to feel more like
myself, and my heart and all my functions began to be more normal.
All this region we had to cross now was still under fire, but the
fire was nothing to what it had been. The evidences of the terrific
bombardments there had been were plainly to be seen. Every scrap of
exposed ground had been nicked by shells; the holes were as close
together as those in a honeycomb. I could not see how any living
thing had come through that hell of fire, but many men had. Now the
embankment fairly buzzed with activity. The dugouts were everywhere,
and the way the helmeted heads popped out as we passed, inquiringly,
made me think of the prairie dog towns I had seen in Canada and the
western United States.
The river Scarpe flowed close by. It was a narrow, sluggish stream,
and it did not look to me worthy of its famous name. But often, that
spring, its slow-moving waters had been flecked by a bloody froth,
and the bodies of brave men had been hidden by them, and washed clean
of the trench mud. Now, uninviting as its aspect was, and sinister as
were the memories it must have evoked in other hearts beside my own,
it was water. And on so hot a day water was a precious thing to men
who had been working as the laddies hereabout had worked and labored.
So either bank was dotted with naked bodies, and the stream itself
showed head after head, and flashing white arms as men went swimming.
Some were scrubbing themselves, taking a Briton's keen delight in a
bath, no matter what the circumstances in which he gets it; others
were washing their clothes, slapping and pounding the soaked garments
in a way to have wrung the hearts of their wives, had they seen them
at it. The British soldier, in the field, does many things for
himself that folks at hame never think of! But many of the men were
just lying on the bank, sprawled out and sunning themselves like
alligators, basking in the warm sunshine and soaking up rest and
It looked like a good place for a concert, and so I quickly gathered
an audience of about a thousand men from the dugouts in the
embankment and obeyed their injunctions to "Go it, Harry! Gie us a
song, do now!"
As I finished my first song my audience applauded me and cheered me
most heartily, and the laddies along the banks of the Scarpe heard
them, and came running up to see what was afoot. There were no ladies
thereabout, and they did not stand on a small matter like getting
dressed! Not they! They came running just as they were, and Adam,
garbed in his fig leaf, was fully clad compared to most of them. It
was the barest gallery I ever saw, and the noisiest, too, and the
most truly appreciative.
High up above us airplanes were circling, so high that we could not
tell from which side they came, except when we saw some of them being
shelled, and so knew that they belonged to Fritz. They looked like
black pinheads against the blue cushion of the sky, and no doubt that
they were vastly puzzled as to the reason of this gathering of naked
men. What new tricks were the damned English up to now? So I have no
doubt, they were wondering! It was the business of their observers,
of course, to spot just such gatherings as ours, although I did not
think of that just then--except to think that they might drop a bomb
or two, maybe.
But scouting airplanes, such as those were, do not go in for bomb
dropping. There are three sorts of airplanes. First come the scouting
planes--fairly fast, good climbers, able to stay in the air a long
time. Their business is just to spy out the lay of the land over the
enemy's trenches--not to fight or drop bombs. Then come the swift,
powerful bombing planes, which make raids, flying long distances to
do so. The Huns use such planes to bomb unprotected towns and kill
women and babies; ours go in for bombing ammunition dumps and trains
and railway stations and other places of military importance,
although, by now, they may be indulging in reprisals for some of
Fritz's murderous raids, as so many folk at hame in Britain have
prayed they would.
Both scouting and bombing planes are protected by the fastest flyers
of all--the battle planes, as they are called. These fight other
planes in the air, and it is the men who steer them and fight their
guns who perform the heroic exploits that you may read of every day.
But much of the great work in the air is done by the scouting planes,
which take desperate chances, and find it hard to fight back when
they are attacked. And it was scouts who were above us now--and,
doubtless, sending word back by wireless of a new and mysterious
concentration of British forces along the Scarpe, which it might be a
good thing for the Hun artillery to strafe a bit!
So, before very long, a rude interruption came to my songs, in the
way of shells dropped unpleasantly close. The men so far above us had
given their guns the range, and so, although the gunners could not
see us, they could make their presence felt.
I have never been booed or hissed by an audience, since I have been
on the stage. I understand that it is a terrible and a disconcerting
experience, and one calculated to play havoc with the stoutest of
nerves. It is an experience I am by no means anxious to have, I can
tell you! But I doubt if it could seem worse to me than the
interruption of a shell. The Germans, that day, showed no ear for
music, and no appreciation of art--my art, at least!
And so it seemed well to me to cut my programme, to a certain extent,
at least, and bid farewell to my audience, dressed and undressed. It
was a performance at which it did not seem to me a good idea to take
any curtain calls. I did not miss them, nor feel slighted because
they were absent. I was too glad to get away with a whole skin!
The shelling became very furious now. Plainly the Germans meant to
take no chances. They couldn't guess what the gathering their
airplanes had observed might portend, but, if they could, they meant
to defeat its object, whatever that might be. Well, they did not
succeed, but they probably had the satisfaction of thinking that they
had, and I, for one, do not begrudge them that. They forced the
Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour to make a pretty wide detour, away
from the river, to get back to the main road. But they fired a power
of shells to do so!
When we finally reached the road I heard a mad sputtering behind. I
looked around in alarm, because it sounded, for all the world, like
one of those infernal whizz bangs, chasing me. But it was not. The
noise came from a motor cycle, and its rider dashed up to me and
dropped one foot to the ground.
"Here's a letter for you, Harry," he said.
It was a package that he handed me. I was surprised--I was not
expecting to have a post delivered to me on the battlefield of Arras!
It turned out that the package contained a couple of ugly-looking
bits of shell, and a letter from my friends the Highlanders on the
other side of the railway embankment. They wrote to thank me for
singing for them, and said they hoped I was none the worse for the
bombardment I had undergone.
"These bits of metal are from the shell that was closest to you when
it burst," their spokesman wrote. "They nearly got you, and we
thought you'd like to have them to keep for souvenirs."
It seemed to me that that was a singularly calm and phlegmatic
letter! My nerves were a good deal overwrought, as I can see now.
Now we made our way slowly back to division headquarters, and there I
found that preparations had been made for very much the most
ambitious and pretentious concert that I had yet had a chance to give
in France. There was a very large audience, and a stage or platform
had been set up, with plenty of room on it for Johnson and his piano.
It had been built in a great field, and all around me, when I mounted
it, I could see kilted soldiers--almost as far as my eye could reach.
There were many thousands of them there--indeed, all of the Highland
Brigade that was not actually on duty at the moment was present, and
a good many other men beside, for good measure.
Here was a sight to make a Scots heart leap with pride! Here, before
me, was the flower of Scottish manhood. These regiments had been
through a series of battles, not so long since, that had sadly
thinned their ranks. Many a Scottish grave had been filled that
spring; many a Scottish heart at hame had been broken by sad news
from this spot. But there they were now, before me--their ranks
filled up again, splendid as they stretched out, eager to welcome me
and cheer me. There were tears in my eyes as I looked around at them.
Massed before me were all the best men Scotland had had to offer! All
these men had breathed deep of the hellish air of war. All had
marched shoulder to shoulder and skirt to skirt with death. All were
of my country and my people. My heart was big within me with pride of
them, and that I was of their race, as I stood up to sing for them.
Johnson was waiting for me to be ready. Little "Tinkle Tom," as we
called the wee piano, was not very large, but there were times when
he had to be left behind. I think he was glad to have us back again,
and to be doing his part, instead of leaving me to sing alone,
without his stout help.
Many distinguished officers were in that great assemblage. They all
turned out to hear me, as well as the men, and among them I saw many
familiar faces and old friends from hame. But there were many faces,
too, alas, that I did not see. And when I inquired for them later I
learned that many of them I had seen for the last time. Oh, the sad
news I learned, day after day, oot there in France! Friend after
friend of whom I made inquiry was known, to be sure. They could tell
me where, and when, and how, they had been killed.
Up above us, as I began to sing, our airplanes were circling. No
Boche planes were in sight now, I had been told, but there were many
of ours. And sometimes one came swooping down, its occupants curious,
no doubt, as to what might be going on, and the hum of its huge
propeller would make me falter a bit in my song. And once or twice
one flew so low and so close that I was almost afraid it would strike
me, and I would dodge in what I think was mock alarm, much to the
amusement of the soldiers.
I had given them two songs when a big man arose, far back in the
crowd. He was a long way from me, but his great voice carried to me
easily, so that I could hear every word he said.
"Harry," he shouted, "sing us 'The Wee Hoose Amang the Heather' and
we'll a' join in the chorus!"
For a moment I could only stare out at them. Between that sea of
faces, upraised to mine, and my eyes, there came another face--the
smiling, bonnie face of my boy John, that I should never see again
with mortal eyes. That had been one of his favorite songs for many
years. I hesitated. It was as if a gentle hand had plucked at my very
heart strings, and played upon them. Memory--memories of my boy,
swept over me in a flood. I felt a choking in my throat, and the
tears welled into my eyes.
But then I began to sing, making a signal to Johnson to let me sing
alone. And when I came to the chorus, true to the big Highlander's
promise, they all did join in the chorus! And what a chorus that was!
Thousands of men were singing.
"There's a wee hoose amang the heather,
There's a wee hoose o'er the sea.
There's a lassie in that wee hoose
Waiting patiently for me.
She's the picture of perfection--
I would na tell a lee
If ye saw her ye would love her
Just the same as me!"
My voice was very shaky when I came to the end of that chorus, but
the great wave of sound from the kilted laddies rolled out, true and
full, unshaken, unbroken. They carried the air as steadily as a ship
is carried upon a rolling sea.
I could sing no more for them, and then, as I made my way, unsteadily
enough, from the platform, music struck up that was the sweetest I
could have heard. Some pipers had come together, from twa or three
regiments, unknown to me, and now, very softly, their pipes began to
skirl. They played the tune that I love best, "The Drunken Piper." I
could scarcely see to pick my way, for the tears that blinded me, but
in my ears, as I passed away from them, there came, gently wailing on
the pipes, the plaintive plea--
"Will ye no come back again?"
Now it was time to take to the motor cars again, and I was glad of
the thought that we would have a bracing ride. I needed something of
the sort, I thought. My emotions had been deeply stirred, in many
ways, that day. I felt tired and quite exhausted. This was by all
odds the most strenuous day the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour had
put in yet in France. So I welcomed the idea of sitting back
comfortably in the car and feeling the cool wind against my cheeks.
First, however, the entertainers were to be entertained. They took
us, the officers of the divisional staff, to a hut, where we were
offered our choice of tea or a wee hauf yin. There was good Scots
whisky there, but it was the tea I wanted. It was very hot in the
sun, and I had done a deal of clambering about. So I was glad, after
all, to stay in the shade a while and rest my limbs.
Getting out through Arras turned out to be a ticklish business. The
Germans were verra wasteful o' their shells that day, considering how
much siller they cost! They were pounding away, and more shells, by a
good many, were falling in Arras than had been the case when we
arrived at noon. So I got a chance to see how the ruin that had been
wrought had been accomplished.
Arras is a wonderful sight, noble and impressive even in its
destruction. But it was a sight that depressed me. It had angered me,
at first, but now I began to think, at each ruined house that I saw:
"Suppose this were at hame in Scotland!" And when such thoughts came
to me I thanked God for the brave lads I had seen that day who stood,
out here, holding the line, and so formed a bulwark between Scotland
and such black ruin as this.
We were to start for Tramecourt now, but on the way we were to make a
couple of stops. Our way was to take us through St. Pol and Hesdin,
and, going so, we came to the town of Le Quesnoy. Here some of the
11th Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders were stationed. My heart
leaped at the sight of them. That had been my boy's regiment,
although he had belonged to a different battalion, and it was with
the best will in the world that I called a halt and gave them a
I gave two more concerts, both brief ones, on the rest of the
journey, and so it was quite dark when we approached the chateau at
Tramecourt. As we came up I became aware of a great stir and movement
that was quite out of the ordinary routine there. In the grounds I
could see tiny lights moving about, like fireflies--lights that came,
I thought, from electric torches.
"Something extraordinary must be going on here," I remarked to Captain
Godfrey. "I wonder if General Haig has arrived, by any chance?"
"We'll soon know what it's all about," he said, philosophically. But
I expect he knew already.
Before the chateau there was a brilliant spot of light, standing out
vividly against the surrounding darkness. I could not account for
that brilliantly lighted spot then. But we came into it as the car
stopped; it was a sort of oasis of light in an inky desert of
surrounding gloom. And as we came full into it and I stood up to
descend from the car, stretching my tired, stiff legs, the silence
and the darkness were split by three tremendous cheers.
It wasn't General Haig who was arriving! It was Harry Lauder!
"What's the matter here?" I called, as loudly as I could.
"Been waitin' for ye a couple of 'ours, 'Arry," called a loud cockney
voice in answer. "Go it now! Get it off your chest!" Then came
explanations. It seemed that a lot of soldiers, about four hundred
strong, who were working on a big road job about ten miles from
Tramecourt, had heard of my being there, and had decided to come over
in a body and beg for a concert. They got to the chateau early, and
were told it might be eleven o'clock before I got back. But they didn't
care--they said they'd wait all night, if they had to, to get a chance
to hear me. And they made some use of the time they had to wait.
They took three big acetylene headlights from motor cars, and
connected them up. There was a little porch at the entrance of the
chateau, with a short flight of steps leading up to it, and then we
decided that that would make an excellent makeshift theater. Since it
would be dark they decided they must have lights, so that they could
see me--just as in a regular theater at hame! That was where the
headlights they borrowed from motor cars came in. They put one on
each side of the porch and one off in front, so that all the light
was centered right on the porch itself, and it was bathed in as
strong a glare as ever I sang in on the stage. It was almost
blinding, indeed, as I found when I turned to face them and to sing
for them. Needless to say, late though it was and tired as I was, I
never thought of refusing to give them the concert they wanted!
I should have liked to eat my dinner first, but I couldn't think of
suggesting it. These boys had done a long, hard day's work. Then they
had marched ten miles, and, on top of all that, had waited two hours
for me and fixed up a stage and a lighting system. They were quite as
tired as I, I decided--and they had done a lot more. And so I told
the faithful Johnson to bring wee Tinkle Tom along, and get him up to
the little stage, and I faced my audience in the midst of a storm of
the ghostliest applause I ever hope to hear!
I could hear them, do you ken, but I could no see a face before me!
In the theater, bright though the footlights are, and greatly as they
dim what lies beyond them, you can still see the white faces of your
audience. At least, you do see something--your eyes help you to know
the audience is there, and, gradually, you can see perfectly, and
pick out a face, maybe, and sing to some one person in the audience,
that you may be sure of your effects.
It was utter, Stygian darkness that lay beyond the pool of blinding
light in which I stood. Gradually I did make out a little of what lay
beyond, very close to me. I could see dim outlines of human bodies
moving around. And now I was sure there were fireflies about. But
then they stayed so still that I realized, suddenly, with a smile,
just what they were--the glowing ends of cigarettes, of course!
There were many tall poplar trees around the chateau. I knew where to
look for them, but that night I could scarcely see them. I tried to
find them, for it was a strange, weird sensation to be there as I
was, and I wanted all the help fixed objects could give me. I managed
to pick out their feathery lines in the black distance--the darkness
made them seem more remote than they were, really. Their branches,
when I found them, waved like spirit arms, and I could hear the wind
whispering and sighing among the topmost branches.
Now and then what we call in Scotland a "batty bird" skimmed past my
face, attracted, I suppose, by the bright light. I suppose that bats
that have not been disturbed before for generations have been aroused
by the blast of war through all that region and have come out of dark
cavernous hiding-places, as those that night must have done, to see
what it is all about, the tumult and the shouting!
They were verra disconcertin', those bats! They bothered me almost as
much as the whizz bangs had done, earlier in the day! They swished
suddenly out of the darkness against my face, and I would start back,
and hear a ripple of laughter run through that unseen audience of
mine. Aye, it was verra funny for them, but I did not like that part
of it a bit! No man likes to have a bat touch his skin. And I had to
duck quickly to evade those winged cousins of the mouse--and then
hear a soft guffaw arising as I did it.
I have appeared, sometimes, in theaters in which it was pretty
difficult to find the audience. And such audiences have been nearly
impossible to trace, later, in the box-office reports. But that is
the first time in my life, and, up to now, the last, that I ever sang
to a totally invisible audience! I did not know then how many men
there might have been forty, or four hundred, or four thousand. And,
save for the titters that greeted my encounters with the bats, they
were amazingly quiet as they waited for me to sing.
It was just about ten minutes before eleven when I began to sing, and
the concert wasn't over until after midnight. I was distinctly
nervous as I began the verse of my first song. It was a great relief
when there was a round of applause; that helped to place my audience
and give me its measure, at once.
But I was almost as disconcerted a bit later as I had been by the
first incursion of the bats. I came to the chorus, and suddenly, out
of the darkness, there came a perfect gale of sound. It was the men
taking up the chorus, thundering it out. They took the song clean
away from me--I could only gasp and listen. The roar from that unseen
chorus almost took my feet from under me, so amazing was it, and so
unexpected, somehow, used as I was to having soldiers join in a
chorus with me, and disappointed as I should have been had they ever
failed to do so.
But after that first song, when I knew what to expect, I soon grew
used to the strange surroundings. The weirdness and the mystery wore
off, and I began to enjoy myself tremendously. The conditions were
simply ideal; indeed, they were perfect, for the sentimental songs
that soldiers always like best. Imagine how "Roamin' in the Gloamin'"
went that nicht!
I had meant to sing three or four songs. But instead I sang nearly
every song I knew. It was one of the longest programmes I gave during
the whole tour, and I enjoyed the concert, myself, better than any I
had yet given.
My audience was growing all the time, although I did not know that.
The singing brought up crowds from the French village, who gathered
in the outskirts of the throng to listen--and, I make no doubt, to
pass amazed comments on these queer English!
At last I was too tired to go on. And so I bade the lads good-nicht,
and they gave me a great cheer, and faded away into the blackness.
And I went inside, rubbing my eyes, and wondering if it was no all
"It wasn't Sir Douglas Haig who arrived, was it, Harry?" Godfrey
The next morning I was tired, as you may believe. I ached in every
limb when I went to my room that night, but a hot bath and a good
sleep did wonders for me. No bombardment could have kept me awake
that nicht! I would no ha' cared had the Hun begun shelling
Tramecourt itself, so long as he did not shell me clear out of my
Still, in the morning, though I had not had so much sleep as I would
have liked, I was ready to go when we got the word. We made about as
early a start as usual--breakfast soon after daylight, and then out
the motor cars and to wee Tinkle Tom. Our destination that day, our
first, at least, was Albert--a town as badly smashed and battered as
Arras or Ypres. These towns were long thinly held by the British--
that is, they were just within our lines, and the Hun could rake them
with his fire at his own evil will.
It did him no good to batter them to pieces as he did. He wasted
shells upon them that must have been precious to him. His treatment
of them was but a part of his wicked, wanton spirit of
destructiveness. He could not see a place standing that he did not
want to destroy, I think. It was not war he made, as the world had
known war; it was a savage raid against every sign and evidence of
civilization, and comfort and happiness. But always, as I think I
have said before, one thing eluded him. It was the soul of that which
he destroyed. That was beyond his reach, and sore it must have
grieved him to come to know it--for come to know it he has, in
France, and in Belgium, too.
We passed through a wee town called Doullens on our way from
Tramecourt to Albert. And there, that morn, I saw an old French nun;
an aged woman, a woman old beyond all belief or reckoning. I think
she is still there, where I saw her that day. Indeed, it has seemed
to me, often, as I have thought upon her, that she will always be
there, gliding silently through the deserted streets of that wee
toon, on through all the ages that are to come, and always a cowled,
veiled figure of reproach and hatred for the German race.
There is some life in that wee place now. There are no more Germans,
and no more shells come there. The battle line has been carried on.
to the East by the British; here they have redeemed a bit of France
from the German yoke. And so we could stop there, in the heat of the
morning, for a bit of refreshment at a cafe that was once, I suppose,
quite a place in that sma' toon. It does but little business now;
passing soldiers bring it some trade, but nothing like what it used
to have. For this is not a town much frequented by troops--or was
not, just at that time.
There was some trouble, too, with one of the cars, so we went for a
short walk through the town. It was then that we met that old French
nun. Her face and her hands were withered, and deeply graven with the
lines of the years that had bowed her head. Her back was bent, and
she walked slowly and with difficulty. But in her eyes was a soft,
young light that I have often seen in the eyes of priests and nuns,
and that their comforting religion gives them. But as we talked I
spoke of the Germans.
Gone from her eyes was all their softness. They flashed a bitter and
"The Germans!" she said. She spat upon the ground, scornfully, and
with a gesture of infinite loathing. And every time she uttered that
hated word she spat again. It was a ceremony she used; she felt, I
know, that her mouth was defiled by that word, and she wished to
cleanse it. It was no affectation, as, with some folk, you might have
thought it. It was not a studied act. She did it, I do believe,
unconsciously. And it was a gesture marvelously expressive. It spoke
more eloquently of her feelings than many words could have done.
She had seen the Germans! Aye! She had seen them come, in 1914, in
the first days of the war, rolling past in great, gray waves, for
days and days, as if the flood would never cease to roll. She had
seen them passing, with their guns, in those first proud days of the
war, when they had reckoned themselves invincible, and been so sure
of victory. She knew what cruelties, what indignities, they had put
upon the helpless people the war had swept into their clutch. She
knew the defilements of which they had been guilty.
Nor was that the first time she had seen Germans. They had come
before she was so old, though even then she had not been a young
girl--in the war of 1870, when Europe left brave France to her fate,
because the German spirit and the German plan were not appreciated or
understood. Thank God the world had learned its lesson by 1914, when
the Hun challenged it again, so that the challenge was met and taken
up, and France was not left alone to bear the brunt of German greed
and German hate.
She hated the Germans, that old French nun. She was religious; she
knew the teachings of her church. She knew that God says we must love
our enemies. But He could not expect us to love His enemies.
Albert, when we came to it, we found a ruin indeed. The German guns
had beaten upon it until it was like a rubbish heap in the backyard
of hell. Their malice had wrought a ruin here almost worse than that
at Arras. Only one building had survived although it was crumbling to
ruin. That was a church, and, as we approached it, we could see, from
the great way off, a great gilded figure of the Holy Virgin, holding
in her arms the infant Christ.
The figure leaned at such an angle, high up against the tottering
wall of the church, that it seemed that it must fall at the next
moment, even as we stared at it. But--it does not fall. Every breath
of wind that comes sets it to swaying, gently. When the wind rises to
a storm it must rock perilously indeed. But still it stays there,
hanging like an inspiration straight from Heaven to all who see it.
The peasants who gaze upon it each day in reverent awe whisper to
you, if you ask them, that when it falls at last the war will be
over, and France will be victorious.
That is rank superstition, you say? Aye, it may be! But in the region
of the front everyone you meet has become superstitious, if that is
the word you choose. That is especially true of the soldiers. Every
man at the front, it seemed to me, was a fatalist. What is to be will
be, they say. It is certain that this feeling has helped to make them
indifferent to danger, almost, indeed, contemptuous of it. And in
France, I was told, almost everywhere there were shrines in which
figures of Christ or of His Mother had survived the most furious
shelling. All the world knows, too, how, at Rheims, where the great
Cathedral has been shattered in the wickedest and most wanton of all
the crimes of that sort that the Germans have to their account, the
statue of Jeanne d'Arc, who saved France long ago, stands untouched.
How is a man to account for such things as that? Is he to put them
down to chance, to luck, to a blind fate? I, for one, cannot do so,
nor will I try to learn to do it.
Fate, to be sure, is a strange thing, as my friends the soldiers know
so well. But there is a difference between fate, or chance, and the
sort of force that preserves statues like those I have named. A man
never knows his luck; he does well not to brood upon it. I remember
the case of a chap I knew, who was out for nearly three years, taking
part in great battles from Mons to Arras. He was scratched once or
twice, but was never even really wounded badly enough to go to
hospital. He went to London, at last, on leave, and within an hour of
the time when he stepped from his train at Charing Cross he was
struck by a 'bus and killed. And there was the strange ease of my
friend, Tamson, the baker, of which I told you earlier. No--a man
never knows his fate!
So it seemed to me, as we drove toward Arras, and watched that
mysterious figure, that God Himself had chosen to leave it there, as
a sign and a warning and a promise all at once. There was no sign of
life, at first, when we came into the town. Silence brooded over the
ruins. We stopped to have a look around in that scene of desolation,
and as the motors throbbed beneath the hoods it seemed to me the
noise they made was close to being blasphemous. We were right under
that hanging figure of the Virgin and of Christ, and to have left the
silence unbroken would have been more seemly.
But it was not long before the silence of the town was broken by
another sound. It was marching men we heard, but they were scuffling
with their feet as they came; they had not the rhythmic tread of most
of the British troops we had encountered. Nor were these men, when
they swung into sight, coming around a pile of ruins, just like any
British troops we had seen. I recognized them as once as Australians--
Kangaroos, as their mates in other divisions called them--by the way
their campaign hats were looped up at one side. These were the first
Australian troops I had seen since I had sailed from Sydney, in the
early days of the war, nearly three years before. Three years! To
think of it--and of what those years had seen!
"Here's a rare chance to give a concert!" I said, and held up my hand
to the officer in command.
"Halt!" he cried, and then: "Stand at ease!" I was about to tell him
why I had stopped them, and make myself known to them when I saw a
grin rippling its way over all those bronzed faces--a grin of
recognition. And I saw that the officer knew me, too, even before a
loud voice cried out:
"Good old Harry Lauder!"
That was a good Scots voice--even though its owner wore the
"Would the boys like to hear a concert?" I asked the officer.
"That they would! By all means!" he said. "Glad of the chance! And
so'm I! I've heard you just once before--in Sydney, away back in the
summer of 1914."
Then the big fellow who had called my name spoke up again.
"Sing us 'Calligan,'" he begged. "Sing us 'Calligan,' Harry! I heard
you sing it twenty-three years agone, in Motherwell Toon Hall!"
"Calligan!" The request for that song took me back indeed, through
all the years that I have been before the public. It must have been
at least twenty-three years since he had heard me sing that song--all
of twenty-three years. "Calligan" had been one of the very earliest
of my successes on the stage. I had not thought of the song, much
less sung it, for years and years. In fact, though I racked my
brains, I could not remember the words. And so, much as I should have
liked to do so, I could not sing it for him. But if he was
disappointed, he took it in good part, and he seemed to like some of
the newer songs I had to sing for them as well as he could ever have
liked old "Calligan."
I sang for these Kangaroos a song I had not sung before in France,
because it seemed to be an especially auspicious time to try it. I
wrote it while I was in Australia, with a view, particularly, to
pleasing Australian audiences, and so repaying them, in some measure,
for the kindly way in which they treated me while I was there. I call
it "Australia Is the Land for Me," and this is the way it goes:
There's a land I'd like to tell you all about
It's a land in the far South Sea.
It's a land where the sun shines nearly every day
It's the land for you and me.
It's the land for the man with the big strong arm
It's the land for big hearts, too.
It's a land we'll fight for, everything that's right for
Australia is the real true blue!
It's the land where the sun shines nearly every day
Where the skies are ever blue.
Where the folks are as happy as the day is long
And there's lots of work to do.
Where the soft winds blow and the gum trees grow
As far as the eye can see,
Where the magpie chaffs and the cuckoo-burra laughs
Australia is the land for me!
Those Kangaroos took to that song as a duck takes to water! They
raised the chorus with me in a swelling roar as soon as they had
heard it once, to learn it, and their voices roared through the ruins
like vocal shrapnel. You could hear them whoop "Australia Is the Land
for Me!" a mile away. And if anything could have brought down that
tottering statue above us it would have been the way they sang. They
put body and soul, as well as voice, into that final patriotic
declaration of the song.
We had thought--I speak for Hogge and Adam and myself, and not for
Godfrey, who did not have to think and guess, but know--we had
thought, when we rolled into Albert, that it was a city of the dead,
utterly deserted and forlorn. But now, as I went on singing, we found
that that idea had been all wrong. For as the Australians whooped up
their choruses other soldiers popped into sight. They came pouring
from all directions.
I have seen few sights more amazing. They came from cracks and
crevices, as it seemed; from under tumbled heaps of ruins, and
dropping down from shells of houses where there were certainly no
stairs. As I live, before I had finished my audience had been swollen
to a great one of two thousand men! When they were all roaring out in
a chorus you could scarce hear Johnson's wee piano at all--it sounded
only like a feeble tinkle when there was a part for it alone.
I began shaking hands, when I had finished singing. That was a
verrainjudeecious thing for me to attempt there! I had not reckoned
with the strength of the grip of those laddies from the underside of
the world. But I had been there, and I should have known.
Soon came the order to the Kangaroos: "Fall in!"
At once the habit of stern discipline prevailed. They swung off
again, and the last we saw of them they were just brown men,
disappearing along a brown road, bound for the trenches.
Swiftly the mole-like dwellers in Albert melted away, until only a
few officers were left beside the members of the Reverend Harry
Lauder, M.P., Tour. And I grew grave and distraught myself.
One of the officers at Albert was looking at me in a curiously intent
fashion. I noticed that. And soon he came over to me. "Where do you
go next, Harry?" he asked me. His voice was keenly sympathetic, and
his eyes and his manner were very grave.
"To a place called Ovilliers," I said.
"So I thought," he said. He put out his hand, and I gripped it, hard.
"I know, Harry. I know exactly where you are going, and I will send a
man with you to act as your guide, who knows the spot you want to reach."
I couldn't answer him. I was too deeply moved. For Ovilliers is the
spot where my son, Captain John Lauder, lies in his soldier's grave.
That grave had been, of course, from the very first, the final, the
ultimate objective of my journey. And that morning, as we set out
from Tramecourt, Captain Godfrey had told me, with grave sympathy,
that at last we were coming to the spot that had been so constantly
in my thoughts ever since we had sailed from Folkestone.
And so a private soldier joined our party as guide, and we took to
the road again. The Bapaume road it was--a famous highway, bitterly
contested, savagely fought for. It was one of the strategic roads of
that whole region, and the Hun had made a desperate fight to keep
control of it. But he had failed--as he has failed, and is failing
still, in all his major efforts in France.
There was no talking in our car, which, this morning, was the second
in the line. I certainly was not disposed to chat, and I suppose that
sympathy for my feelings, and my glumness, stilled the tongues of my
companions. And, at any rate, we had not traveled far when the car
ahead of us stopped, and the soldier from Albert stepped into the
road and waited for me. I got out when our car stopped, and joined
"I will show you the place now, Mr. Lauder," he said, quietly. So we
left the cars standing in the road, and set out across a field that,
like all the fields in that vicinity, had been ripped and torn by
shell-fire. All about us, as we crossed that tragic field, there were
little brown mounds, each with a white wooden cross upon it. June was
out that day in full bloom. All over the valley, thickly sown with
those white crosses, wild flowers in rare profusion, and thickly
matted, luxuriant grasses, and all the little shrubs that God Himself
looks after were growing bravely in the sunlight, as though they were
trying to hide the work of the Hun.
It was a mournful journey, but, in some strange way, the peaceful
beauty of the day brought comfort to me. And my own grief was altered
by the vision of the grief that had come to so many others. Those
crosses, stretching away as far as my eye could reach, attested to
the fact that it was not I alone who had suffered and lost and laid a
sacrifice upon the altar of my country. And, in the presence of so
many evidences of grief and desolation a private grief sank into its
true proportions. It was no less keen, the agony of the thought of my
boy was as sharp as ever. But I knew that he was only one, and that I
was only one father. And there were so many like him--and so many
like me, God help us all! Well, He did help me, as I have told, and I
hope and pray that He has helped many another. I believe He has;
indeed, I know it.
Hogge and Dr. Adam, my two good friends, walked with me on that sad
pilgrimage. I was acutely conscious of their sympathy; it was sweet
and precious to have it. But I do not think we exchanged a word as we
crossed that field. There was no need of words. I knew, without
speech from them, how they felt, and they knew that I knew. So we
came, when we were, perhaps, half a mile from the Bapaume road, to a
slight eminence, a tiny hill that rose from the field. A little
military cemetery crowned it. Here the graves were set in ordered
rows, and there was a fence set around them, to keep them apart, and
to mark that spot as holy ground, until the end of time. Five hundred
British boys lie sleeping in that small acre of silence, and among
them is my own laddie. There the fondest hopes of my life, the hopes
that sustained and cheered me through many years, lie buried.
No one spoke. But the soldier pointed, silently and eloquently, to
one brown mound in a row of brown mounds that looked alike, each like
the other. Then he drew away. And Hogge and Adam stopped, and stood
together, quiet and grave. And so I went alone to my boy's grave, and
flung myself down upon the warm, friendly earth. My memories of that
moment are not very clear, but I think that for a few minutes I was
utterly spent, that my collapse was complete.
He was such a good boy!
I hope you will not think, those of you, my friends, who may read
what I am writing here, that I am exalting my lad above all the other
Britons who died for King and country--or, and aye, above the brave
laddies of other races who died to stop the Hun. But he was such a
As I lay there on that brown mound, under the June sun that day, all
that he had been, and all that he had meant to me and to his mother
came rushing back afresh to my memory, opening anew my wounds of
grief. I thought of him as a baby, and as a wee laddie beginning to
run around and talk to us. I thought of him in every phase and bit of
his life, and of the friends that we had been, he and I! Such chums
we were, always!
And as I lay there, as I look back upon it now, I can think of but
the one desire that ruled and moved me. I wanted to reach my arms
down into that dark grave, and clasp my boy tightly to my breast, and
kiss him. And I wanted to thank him for what he had done for his
country, and his mother, and for me.
Again there came to me, as I lay there, the same gracious solace that
God had given me after I heard of his glorious death. And I knew that
this dark grave, so sad and lonely and forlorn, was but the temporary
bivouac of my boy. I knew that it was no more than a trench of refuge
against the storm of battle, in which he was resting until that hour
shall sound when we shall all be reunited beyond the shadowy
borderland of Death.
How long did I lie there? I do not know. And how I found the strength
at last to drag myself to my feet and away from that spot, the
dearest and the saddest spot on earth to me, God only knows. It was
an hour of very great anguish for me; an hour of an anguish
different, but only less keen, than that which I had known when they
had told me first that I should never see my laddie in the flesh
again. But as I took up the melancholy journey across that field,
with its brown mounds and its white crosses stretching so far away,
they seemed to bring me a sort of tragic consolation.
I thought of all the broken-hearted ones at home, in Britain. How
many were waiting, as I had waited, until they, too,--they, too,--
might come to France, and cast themselves down, as I had done, upon
some brown mound, sacred in their thoughts? How many were praying for
the day to come when they might gaze upon a white cross, as I had
done, and from the brown mound out of which it rose gather a few
crumbs of that brown earth, to be deposited in a sacred corner of a
sacred place yonder in Britain?
While I was in America, on my last tour, a woman wrote to me from a
town in the state of Maine. She was a stranger to me when she sat
down to write that letter, but I count her now, although I have never
seen her, among my very dearest friends.
"I have a friend in France," she wrote. "He is there with our
American army, and we had a letter from him the other day. I think
you would like to hear what he wrote to us.
"'I was walking in the gloaming here in France the other evening,' he
wrote. 'You know, I have always been very fond of that old song of
Harry Lauder's, 'Roamin' in the Gloamin'.'
"'Well, I was roamin' in the gloamin' myself, and as I went I hummed
that very song, under my breath. And I came, in my walk to a little
cemetery, on a tiny hill. There were many mounds there and many small
white crosses. About one of them a Union Jack was wrapped so tightly
that I could not read the inscription upon it. And something led me
to unfurl that weather-worn flag, so that I could read. And what do
you think? It was the grave of Harry Lauder's son, Captain John
Lauder, of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, and his little
family crest was upon the cross.
"'I stood there, looking down at that grave, and I said a little
prayer, all by myself. And then I rewound the Union Jack about the
cross. I went over to some ruins nearby, and there I found a red rose
growing. I do believe it was the last rose of summer. And I took it
up, very carefully, roots and all, and carried it over to Captain
Lauder's grave, and planted it there.'"
What a world of comfort those words brought me!
It was about eight o'clock one morning that Captain Lauder was
killed, between Courcellete and Poizieres, on the Ancre, in the
region that is known as the Somme battlefield. It was soon after
breakfast, and John was going about, seeing to his men. His company
was to be relieved that day, and to go back from the trenches to rest
billets, behind the lines. We had sent our laddie a braw lot of
Christmas packages not long before, but he had had them kept at the
rest billet, so that he might have the pleasure of opening them when
he was out of the trenches, and had a little leisure, even though it
made his Christmas presents a wee bit late.
There had been a little mist upon the ground, as, at that damp and
chilly season of the year, there nearly always was along the river
Ancre. At that time, on that morning, it was just beginning to rise
as the sun grew strong enough to banish it. I think John trusted too
much to the mist, perhaps. He stepped for just a moment into the
open; for just a moment he exposed himself, as he had to do, no
doubt, to do his duty. And a German sniper, watching for just such
chances, caught a glimpse of him. His rifle spoke; its bullet pierced
John's brave and gentle heart.
Tate, John's body-servant, a man from our own town, was the first
to reach him. Tate was never far from John's side, and he was
heart-broken when he reached him that morning and found that there
was nothing he could do for him.
Many of the soldiers who served with John and under him have written
to me, and come to me. And all of them have told me the same thing:
that there was not a man in his company who did not feel his death as
a personal loss and bereavement. And his superior officers have told
me the same thing. In so far as such reports could comfort us his
mother and I have taken solace in them. All that we have heard of
John's life in the trenches, and of his death, was such a report as
we or any parents should want to have of their boy.
John never lost his rare good nature. There were times when things
were going very badly indeed, but at such times he could always be
counted upon to raise a laugh and uplift the spirits of his men. He
knew them all; he knew them well. Nearly all of them came from his
home region near the Clyde, and so they were his neighbors and his
I have told you earlier that John was a good musician. He played the
piano rarely well, for an amateur, and he had a grand singing voice.
And one of his fellow-officers told me that, after the fight at
Beaumont-Hamul, one of the phases of the great Battle of the Somme,
John's company found itself, toward evening, near the ruins of an old
chateau. After that fight, by the way, dire news, sad news, came to
our village of the men of the Argyle and Sutherland regiment, and
there were many stricken homes that mourned brave lads who would
never come home again.
John's men were near to exhaustion that night. They had done terrible
work that day, and their losses had been heavy. Now that there was an
interlude they lay about, tired and bruised and battered. Many had
been killed; many had been so badly wounded that they lay somewhere
behind, or had been picked up already by the Red Cross men who
followed them across the field of the attack. But there were many
more who had been slightly hurt, and whose wounds began to pain them
grievously now. The spirit of the men was dashed.
John's friend and fellow-officer told me of the scene.
"There we were, sir," he said. "We were pretty well done in, I can
tell you. And then Lauder came along. I suppose he was just as tired
and worn out as the rest of us--God knows he had as much reason to
be, and more! But he was as cocky as a little bantam. And he was
smiling. He looked about.
"'Here--this won't do!' he said. 'We've got to get these lads feeling
better!' He was talking more to himself than to anyone else, I think.
And he went exploring around. He got into what was left of that
chateau--and I can tell you it wasn't much! The Germans had been
using it as a point d'appui--a sort of rallying-place, sir--and our
guns had smashed it up pretty thoroughly. I've no doubt the Fritzies
had taken a hack at it, too, when they found they couldn't hold it
any longer--they usually did.
"But, by a sort of miracle, there was a piano inside that had come
through all the trouble. The building and all the rest of the
furniture had been knocked to bits, but the piano was all right,
although, as I say, I don't know how that had happened. Lauder spied
it, and went clambering over all the debris and wreckage to reach it.
He tried the keys, and found that the action was all right. So he
began picking out a tune, and the rest of us began to sit up a bit.
And pretty soon he lifted his voice in a rollicking tune--one of your
songs it was, sir--and in no time the men were all sitting up to
listen to him. Then they joined in the chorus--and pretty soon you'd
never have known they'd been tired or worn out! If there'd been a
chance they'd have gone at Fritz and done the day's work all over
After John was killed his brother officers sent us all his personal
belongings. We have his field-glasses, with the mud of the trenches
dried upon them. We have a little gold locket that he always wore
around his neck. His mother's picture is in it, and that of the
lassie he was to have married had he come home, after New Year's. And
we have his rings, and his boots, and his watch, and all the other
small possessions that were a part of his daily life out there in
Many soldiers and officers of the Argyle and Sutherlanders pass the
hoose at Dunoon on the Clyde. None ever passes the hoose, though,
without dropping in, for a bite and sup if he has time to stop, and
to tell us stories of our beloved boy.
No, I would no have you think that I would exalt my boy above all the
others who have lived and died in France in the way of duty. But he
was such a good boy! We have heard so many tales like those I have
told you, to make us proud of him, and glad that he bore his part as
a man should.
He will stay there, in that small grave on that tiny hill. I shall
not bring his body back to rest in Scotland, even if the time comes
when I might do so. It is a soldier's grave, and an honorable place
for him to be, and I feel it is there that he would wish to lie, with
his men lying close about him, until the time comes for the great
But I am going back to France to visit again and again that grave
where he lies buried. So long as I live myself that hill will be the
shrine to which my many pilgrimages will be directed. The time will
come again when I may take his mother with me, and when we may kneel
together at that spot.
And meanwhile the wild flowers and the long grasses and all the
little shrubs will keep watch and ward over him there, and over all
the other brave soldiers who lie hard by, who died for God and for
So at last, I turned back toward the road, and very slowly, with
bowed head and shoulders that felt very old, all at once, I walked
back toward the Bapaume highway. I was still silent, and when we
reached the road again, and the waiting cars, I turned, and looked
back, long and sorrowfully, at that tiny hill, and the grave it
sheltered. Godfrey and Hogge and Adam, Johnson and the soldiers of
our party, followed my gaze. But we looked in silence; not one of us
had a word to say. There are moments, as I suppose we have all had to
learn, that are beyond words and speech.
And then at last we stepped back into the cars, and resumed our
journey on the Bapaume road. We started slowly, and I looked back
until a turn in the road hid that field with its mounds and its
crosses, and that tiny cemetery on the wee hill. So I said good-by to
my boy again, for a little space.
Our road was by way of Poizieres, and this part of our journey took
us through an area of fearful desolation. It was the country that was
most bitterly fought over in the summer long battle of the Somme in
1916, when the new armies of Britain had their baptism of fire and
sounded the knell of doom for the Hun. It was then he learned that
Britain had had time, after all, to train troops who, man for man,
outmatched his best.
Here war had passed like a consuming flame, leaving no living thing
in its path. The trees were mown down, clean to the ground. The very
earth was blasted out of all semblance to its normal kindly look. The
scene was like a picture of Hell from Dante's Inferno; there is nothing
upon this earth that may be compared with it. Death and pain and agony
had ruled this whole countryside, once so smiling and fair to see.
After we had driven for a space we came to something that lay by the
roadside that was a fitting occupant of such a spot. It was like the
skeleton of some giant creature of a prehistoric age, incredibly
savage even in its stark, unlovely death. It might have been the
frame of some vast, metallic tumble bug, that, crawling ominously
along this road of death, had come into the path of a Colossus, and
been stepped upon, and then kicked aside from the road to die.
"That's what's left of one of our first tanks," said Godfrey. "We
used them first in this battle of the Somme, you remember. And that
must have been one of the very earliest ones. They've been improved
and perfected since that time."
"How came it like this?" I asked, gazing at it, curiously.
"A direct hit from a big German shell--a lucky hit, of course. That's
about the only thing that could put even one of the first tanks out
of action that way. Ordinary shells from field pieces, machine-gun
fire, that sort of thing, made no impression on the tanks. But, of
I could see for myself. The in'ards of the monster had been pretty
thoroughly knocked out. Well, that tank had done its bit, I have no
doubt. And, since its heyday, the brain of Mars has spawned so many
new ideas that this vast creature would have been obsolete, and ready
for the scrap heap, even had the Hun not put it there before its
At the Butte de Marlincourt, one of the most bitterly contested bits
of the battlefield, we passed a huge mine crater, and I made an
inspection of it. It was like the crater of an old volcano, a huge
old mountain with a hole in its center. Here were elaborate dugouts,
too, and many graves.
Soon we came to Bapaume. Bapaume was one of the objectives the
British failed to reach in the action of 1916. But early in 1917 the
Germans, seeing they had come to the end of their tether there,
retreated, and gave the town up. But what a town they left! Bapaume
was nearly as complete a ruin as Arras and Albert. But it had not
been wrecked by shell-fire. The Hun had done the work in cold blood.
The houses had been wrecked by human hands. Pictures still hung
crazily upon the walls. Grates were falling out of fire-places. Beds
stood on end. Tables and chairs were wantonly smashed and there was
black ruin everywhere.
We drove on then to a small town where the skirling of pipes heralded
our coming. It was the headquarters of General Willoughby and the
Fortieth Division. Highlanders came flocking around to greet us
warmly, and they all begged me to sing to them. But the officer in
command called them to attention.
"Men," he said, "Harry Lauder comes to us fresh from the saddest
mission of his life. We have no right to expect him to sing for us
to-day, but if it is God's will that he should, nothing could give us
My heart was very heavy within me, and never, even on the night when
I went back to the Shaftesbury Theater, have I felt less like
singing. But I saw the warm sympathy on the faces of the boys.
"If you'll take me as I am," I told them, "I will try to sing for
you. I will do my best, anyway. When a man is killed, or a battalion
is killed, or a regiment is killed, the war goes on, just the same.
And if it is possible for you to fight with broken ranks, I'll try to
sing for you with a broken heart."
And so I did, and, although God knows it must have been a feeble
effort, the lads gave me a beautiful reception. I sang my older songs
for them--the songs my own laddie had loved.
They gave us tea after I had sung for them, with chocolate eclairs as
a rare treat! We were surprised to get such fare upon the
battlefield, but it was a welcome surprise.
We turned back from Bapaume, traveling along another road on the
return journey. And on the way we met about two hundred German
prisoners--the first we had seen in any numbers. They were working on
the road, under guard of British soldiers. They looked sleek and
well-fed, and they were not working very hard, certainly. Yet I
thought there was something about their expression like that of
neglected animals. I got out of the car and spoke to an intelligent-
looking little chap, perhaps about twenty-five years old--a sergeant.
He looked rather suspicious when I spoke to him, but he saluted
smartly, and stood at attention while we talked, and he gave me ready
and civil answers.
"You speak English?" I asked. "Fluently?"
"How do you like being a prisoner?"
"I don't like it. It's very degrading."
"Your companions look pretty happy. Any complaints?"
"No, sir! None!"
"What are the Germans fighting for? What do you hope to gain?"
"The freedom of the seas!"
"But you had that before the war broke out!"
"We haven't got it now."
I laughed at that.
"Certainly not," I said. "Give us credit for doing something! But how
are you going to get it again?"
"Our submarines will get it for us."
"Still," I said, "you must be fighting for something else, too?"
"No," he said, doggedly. "Just for the freedom of the seas."
I couldn't resist telling him a bit of news that the censor was
keeping very carefully from his fellow-Germans at home.
"We sank seven of your submarines last week," I said.
He probably didn't believe that. But his face paled a bit, and his
lips puckered, and he scowled. Then, as I turned away, he whipped his
hand to his forehead in a stiff salute, but I felt that it was not
the most gracious salute I had ever seen! Still, I didn't blame him
Captain Godfrey meant to show us another village that day.
"Rather an interesting spot," he said. "They differ, these French
villages. They're not all alike, by any means."
Then, before long, he began to look puzzled. And finally he called
"It ought to be right here," he said. "It was, not so long ago."
But there was no village! The Hun had passed that way. And the
village for which Godfrey was seeking had been utterly wiped off the
face of the earth! Not a trace of it remained. Where men and women
and little children had lived and worked and played in quiet
happiness the abominable desolation that is the work of the Hun
had come. There was nothing to show that they or their village
had ever been.
The Hun knows no mercy!
There had been, originally, a perfectly definite route for the
Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour--as definite a route as is mapped
out for me when I am touring the United States. Our route had called
for a fairly steady progress from Vimy Ridge to Peronne--like
Bapaume, one of the great unreached objectives of the Somme
offensive, and, again like Bapaume, ruined and abandoned by the
Germans in the retreat of the spring of 1917. But we made many side
trips and gave many and many an unplanned, extemporaneous roadside
concert, as I have told.
For all of us it had been a labor of love. I will always believe that
I sang a little better on that tour than I have ever sung before or
ever shall again, and I am sure, too, that Hogge and Dr. Adam spoke
more eloquently to their soldier hearers than they ever did in
parliament or church. My wee piano, Tinkle Tom, held out staunchly.
He never wavered in tune, though he got some sad jouncings as he
clung to the grid of a swift-moving car. As for Johnson, my
Yorkshireman, he was as good an accompanist before the tour ended as
I could ever want, and he took the keenest interest and delight in
his work, from start to finish.
Captain Godfrey, our manager, must have been proud indeed of the
"business" his troupe did. The weather was splendid; the "houses"
everywhere were so big that if there had been Standing Room Only
signs they would have been called into use every day. And his company
got a wonderful reception wherever it showed! He had everything a
manager could have to make his heart rejoice. And he did not, like
many managers, have to be continually trying to patch up quarrels in
the company! He had no petty professional jealousies with which to
contend; such things were unknown in our troupe!
All the time while I was singing in France I was elaborating an idea
that had for some time possessed me, and that was coming now to
dominate me utterly. I was thinking of the maimed soldiers, the boys
who had not died, but had given a leg, or an arm, or their sight to
the cause, and who were doomed to go through the rest of their lives
broken and shattered and incomplete. They were never out of my
thoughts. I had seen them before I ever came to France, as I traveled
the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, singing for the men in
the camps and the hospitals, and doing what I could to help in the
recruiting. And I used to lie awake of nights, wondering what would
become of those poor broken laddies when the war was over and we were
all setting to work again to rebuild our lives.
And especially I thought of the brave laddies of my ain Scotland.
They must have thought often of their future. They must have wondered
what was to become of them, when they had to take up the struggle
with the world anew--no longer on even terms with their mates, but
handicapped by grievous injuries that had come to them in the noblest
of ways. I remembered crippled soldiers, victims of other wars, whom
I had seen selling papers and matches on street corners, objects of
charity, almost, to a generation that had forgotten the service to
the country that had put them in the way of having to make their
living so. And I had made a great resolution that, if I could do
aught to prevent it, no man of Scotland who had served in this war
should ever have to seek a livelihood in such a manner.
So I conceived the idea of raising a great fund to be used for giving
the maimed Scots soldiers a fresh start in life. They would be
pensioned by the government. I knew that. But I knew, too, that a
pension is rarely more than enough to keep body and soul together.
What these crippled men would need, I felt, was enough money to set
them up in some little business of their own, that they could see to
despite their wounds, or to enable them to make a new start in some
old business or trade, if they could do so.
A man might need a hundred pounds, I thought, or two hundred pounds,
to get him started properly again. And I wanted to be able to hand a
man what money he might require. I did not want to lend it to him,
taking his note or his promise to pay. Nor did I want to give it to
him as charity. I wanted to hand it to him as a freewill offering, as
a partial payment of the debt Scotland owed him for what he had done