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The First Hundred Thousand by Ian Hay

Part 4 out of 5

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was no talking, but (under extenuating circumstances) smoking was
permitted. Periodically, as the star-shells burst into brilliance
overhead, the workers sank down behind a parapet, or, if there was
no time, stood rigid--the one thing to avoid upon these occasions
is movement of any kind--and gave the snipers a chance. It was not
pleasant, but it was duty; and the word duty has become a mighty force
in "K(1)" these days. No one was hit, which was remarkable, when you
consider what an artist a German sniper is. Possibly the light of the
star-shells was deceptive, or possibly there is some truth in the
general rumour that the Saxons, who hold this part of the line, are
well-disposed towards us, and conduct their offensive operations with
a tactful blend of constant firing and bad shooting, which, while it
satisfies the Prussians, causes no serious inconvenience to Thomas

At a quarter-past one a subdued order ran round the trenches; the men
fell in on the sheltered side of the plantation; picks and shovels
were checked; rifles and equipment were resumed; and the party stole
silently away to the cross-road, where the three shells were timed
to arrive at two-fifteen. When they did so, with true Teutonic
punctuality, an hour later, our friends were well on their way home to
billets and bed--with the dawn breaking behind them, the larks getting
to work overhead, and all the infected air of the German graveyard
swept out of their lungs by the dew of the morning.

As for that imperturbable philosopher, Box, he sat down with a
cigarette, and waited for Cox.



The trench system has one thing to recommend it. It tidies things up a

For the first few months after the war broke out confusion reigned
supreme. Belgium and the north of France were one huge jumbled
battlefield, rather like a public park on a Saturday afternoon--one of
those parks where promiscuous football is permitted. Friend and
foe were inextricably mingled, and the direction of the goal was
uncertain. If you rode into a village, you might find it occupied by
a Highland regiment or a squadron of Uhlans. If you dimly discerned
troops marching side by side with you in the dawning, it was by no
means certain that they would prove to be your friends. On the other
hand, it was never safe to assume that a battalion which you saw
hastily entrenching itself against your approach was German. It
might belong to your own brigade. There was no front and no rear, so
direction counted for nothing. The country swarmed with troops which
had been left "in the air," owing to their own too rapid advance,
or the equally rapid retirement of their supporters; with scattered
details trying to rejoin their units; or with despatch riders hunting
for a peripatetic Divisional Headquarters. Snipers shot both sides
impartially. It was all most upsetting.

Well, as already indicated, the trench system has put all that right.
The trenches now run continuously--a long, irregular, but perfectly
definite line of cleavage--from the North Sea to the Vosges. Everybody
has been carefully sorted out--human beings on one side, Germans on
the other. ("Like the Zoo," observes Captain Wagstaffe.) Nothing could
be more suitable. _You're there, and I'm here, so what do we care?_ in

The result is an agreeable blend of war and peace. This week, for
instance, our battalion has been undergoing a sort of rest-cure a few
miles from the hottest part of the firing line. (We had a fairly heavy
spell of work last week.) In the morning we wash our clothes, and
perform a few mild martial exercises. In the afternoon we sleep, in
all degrees of _deshabille_, under the trees in an orchard. In the
evening we play football, or bathe in the canal, or lie on our backs
on the grass, watching our aeroplanes buzzing home to roost, attended
by German shrapnel. We could not have done this in the autumn. Now,
thanks to our trenches, a few miles away, we are as safe here as in
the wilds of Argyllshire or West Kensington.

But there are drawbacks to everything. The fact is, a trench is that
most uninteresting of human devices, a compromise. It is neither
satisfactory as a domicile nor efficient as a weapon of offence. The
most luxuriant dug-out; the most artistic window-box--these, in spite
of all biassed assertions to the contrary, compare unfavourably with a
flat in Knightsbridge. On the other hand, the knowledge that you are
keeping yourself tolerably immune from the assaults of your enemy is
heavily discounted by the fact that the enemy is equally immune from
yours. In other words, you "get no forrarder" with a trench; and the
one thing which we are all anxious to do out here is to bring this war
to a speedy and gory conclusion, and get home to hot baths and regular

So a few days ago we were not at all surprised to be informed,
officially, that trench life is to be definitely abandoned, and
Hun-hustling to begin in earnest.

(To be just, this decision was made months ago: the difficulty was to
put it into execution. The winter weather was dreadful. The enemy
were many and we were few. In Germany, the devil's forge at Essen
was roaring night and day: in Great Britain Trades Union bosses were
carefully adjusting the respective claims of patriotism and personal
dignity before taking their coats off. So we cannot lay our want of
progress to the charge of that dogged band of Greathearts which has
been holding on, and holding on, and holding on--while the people at
home were making up for lost time--ever since the barbarian was hurled
back from the Marne to the Aisne and confined behind his earthen
barrier. We shall win this war one day, and most of the credit will
go, as usual, to those who are in at the finish. But--when we assign
the glory and the praise, let us not forget those who stood up to the
first rush. The new armies which are pouring across the Channel this
month will bring us victory in the end. Let us bare our heads,
then, in all reverence, to the memory of those battered, decimated,
indomitable legions which saved us from utter extinction at the

The situation appears to be that if we get through--and no one seems
to doubt that we shall: the difficulty lies in staying there when you
have got through--we shall be committed at once to an endless campaign
of village-fighting. This country is as flat as Cambridgeshire.
Every yard of it is under cultivation. The landscape is dotted with
farm-steadings. There is a group of cottages or an _estaminet_ at
every cross-roads. When our great invading line sweeps forward,
each one of these buildings will be held by the enemy, and must be
captured, house by house, room by room, and used as a base for another

And how is this to be done?

Well, it will be no military secret by the time these lines appear. It
is no secret now. The answer to the conundrum is--Bombs!

To-day, out here, bombs are absolutely _dernier cri_. We talk of
nothing else. We speak about rifles and bayonets as if they were so
many bows and arrows. It is true that the modern Lee-Enfield and
Mauser claim to be the most precise and deadly weapons of destruction
ever devised. But they were intended for proper, gentlemanly warfare,
with the opposing sides set out in straight lines, a convenient
distance apart. In the hand-to-hand butchery which calls itself war
to-day, the rifle is rapidly becoming _demode_. For long ranges you
require machine-guns; for short, bombs and hand-grenades. Can you
empty a cottage by firing a single rifle-shot in at the door? Can you
exterminate twenty Germans in a fortified back-parlour by a single
thrust with a bayonet? Never! But you can do both these things with a
jam-tin stuffed with dynamite and scrap-iron.

So the bomb has come to its own, and has brought with it certain
changes--tactical, organic, and domestic. To take the last first,
the bomb-officer, hitherto a despised underling, popularly (but
maliciously) reputed to have been appointed to his present post
through inability to handle a platoon, has suddenly attained a
position of dazzling eminence. From being a mere super, he has become
a star. In fact, he threatens to dispute the pre-eminence of that
other regimental parvenu, the Machine-Gun Officer. He is now the
confidant of Colonels, and consorts upon terms of easy familiarity
with Brigade Majors. He holds himself coldly aloof from the rest of
us, brooding over the greatness of his responsibilities; and when he
speaks, it is to refer darkly to "detonators," and "primers,"
and "time-fuses." And we, who once addressed him derisively as
"Anarchist," crowd round him and hang upon his lips.

The reason is that in future it is to be a case of--"For every man,
a bomb or two"; and it is incumbent upon us, if we desire to prevent
these infernal machines from exploding while yet in our custody, to
attain the necessary details as to their construction and tender spots
by the humiliating process of conciliating the Bomb Officer.

So far as we have mastered the mysteries of the craft, there appear to
be four types of bomb in store for us--or rather, for Brother Bosche.
They are:--

(1) The hair-brush.

(2) The cricket-ball.

(3) The policeman's truncheon.

(4) The jam-tin.

The hair-brush is very like the ordinary hair-brush, except that
the bristles are replaced by a solid block of high-explosive. The
policeman's truncheon has gay streamers of tape tied to its tail, to
ensure that it falls to the ground nose downwards. Both these bombs
explode on impact, and it is unadvisable to knock them against
anything--say the back of the trench--when throwing them. The
cricket-ball works by a time-fuse. Its manipulation is simplicity
itself. The removal of a certain pin releases a spring which lights an
internal fuse, timed to explode the bomb in five seconds. You take the
bomb in your right hand, remove the pin, and cast the thing madly from
you. The jam-tin variety appeals more particularly to the sportsman,
as the element of chance enters largely into its successful use. It is
timed to explode about ten seconds after the lighting of the fuse. It
is therefore unwise to throw it too soon, as there will be ample time
for your opponent to pick it up and throw it back. On the other hand,
it is unwise to hold on too long, as the fuse is uncertain in its
action, and is given to short cuts.

Such is the tactical revolution promised by the advent of the bomb
and other new engines of war. As for its effect upon regimental and
company organisation, listen to the plaintive voice of Major Kemp:--

"I was once--only a few months ago--commander of a company of two
hundred and fifty disciplined soldiers. I still nominally command
that company, but they have developed into a heterogeneous mob of
specialists. If I detail one of my subalterns to do a job of work, he
reminds me that he is a bomb-expert, or a professor of sandbagging,
or director of the knuckle-duster section, or Lord High Thrower of
Stink-pots, and as such has no time to play about with such a
common thing as a platoon. As for the men, they simply laugh in the
sergeant-major's face. They are 'experts,' if you please, and are
struck off all fatigues and company duty! It was bad enough when
Ayling pinched fourteen of my best men for his filthy machine-guns;
now, the company has practically degenerated into an academy of
variety artists. The only occasion upon which I ever see them all
together is payday!"

* * * * *

Meanwhile, the word has just gone forth, quietly and without fuss,
that we are to uproot ourselves from our present billets, and be ready
to move at 5 A.M. to-morrow morning.

Is this the Big Push at last?


We have been waiting for the best part of two days and nights
listening to the thunder of the big guns, but as yet we have received
no invitation to "butt in."

"Plenty of time yet," explains Captain Blaikie to his subalterns, in
reply to Bobby Little's expressions of impatience. "It's this way. We
start by 'isolating' a section of the enemy's line, and pound it with
artillery for about forty-eight hours. Then the guns knock off, and
the people in front rush the German first-line trenches. After that
they push on to their second and third lines; and if they can capture
and _hold them_--well, that's where the fun comes in. We go for all we
are worth through the gaps the others have made, and carry on the big
push, and keep the Bosches on the run until they drop in their tracks!
That's the situation. If we are called up to-night or to-morrow, it
will mean that things are going well. If not, it means that the attack
has failed--or, very likely, has succeeded, but it has been found
impossible to secure the position--and a lot of good chaps have been
scuppered, all for nothing."


Next morning has arrived, and with it the news that our services
will not be required. The attack, it appears, was duly launched, and
succeeded beyond all expectations. The German line was broken, and
report says that four Divisions poured through the gap. They captured
the second-line trenches, then the third, and penetrated far into the
enemy's rear.

Then--from their front and flanks, artillery and machine-guns opened
fire upon them. They were terribly exposed; possibly they had been
lured into a trap. At any rate, the process of "isolation" had not
been carried far enough. One thing, and only one thing, could have
saved them from destruction and their enterprise from disaster--the
support of big guns, and big guns, and more big guns. These could have
silenced the hostile tornado of shrapnel and bullets, and the position
could have been made good.

But--apparently the supply of big-gun ammunition is not quite so
copious as it might be. We have only been at war ten months, and
people at home are still a little dazed with the novelty of their
situation. Out here, we are reasonable men, and we realise that it
requires some time to devise a system for supplying munitions which
shall hurt the feelings of no pacifist, which shall interfere with no
man's holiday or glass of beer, which shall insult no honest toiler
by compelling him to work side by side with those who are not of his
industrial tabernacle, and which shall imperil no statesman's seat in
Parliament. Things will be all right presently.

Meanwhile, the attacking party fell back whence they came--but no
longer four full Divisions.



We took over these trenches a few days ago; and as the Germans are
barely two hundred yards away, this chapter seems to justify its

For reasons foreshadowed last month, we find that we are committed to
an indefinite period of trench life, like every one else.

Certainly we are starting at the bottom of the ladder. These trenches
are badly sited, badly constructed, difficult of access from the rear,
and swarming with large, fat, unpleasant flies, of the bluebottle
variety. They go to sleep, chiefly upon the ceiling of one's dug-out,
during the short hours of darkness, but for twenty hours out of
twenty-four they are very busy indeed. They divide their attentions
between stray carrion--there is a good deal hereabout--and our
rations. If you sit still for five minutes they also settle upon
_you_, like pins in a pin-cushion. Then, when face, hands, and knees
can endure no more, and the inevitable convulsive wriggle occurs,
they rise in a vociferous swarm, only to settle again when the victim
becomes quiescent. To these, high-explosives are a welcome relief.

The trenches themselves are no garden city, like those at Armentieres.
They were sited and dug in the dark, not many weeks ago, to secure two
hundred yards of French territory recovered from the Bosche by bomb
and bayonet. (The captured trench lies behind us now, and serves as
our second line.) They are muddy--you come to water at three feet--and
at one end, owing to their concave formation, are open to enfilade.
The parapet in many places is too low. If you make it higher with
sandbags you offer the enemy a comfortable target: if you deepen
the trench you turn it into a running stream. Therefore long-legged
subalterns crawl painfully past these danger-spots on all-fours,
envying Little Tich.

Then there is Zacchaeus. We call him by this name because he lives up
a tree. There is a row of pollarded willows standing parallel to our
front, a hundred and fifty yards away. Up, or in, one of these lives
Zacchaeus. We have never seen him, but we know he is there; because if
you look over the top of the parapet he shoots you through the head.
We do not even know which of the trees he lives in. There are nine
of them, and every morning we comb them out, one by one, with a
machine-gun. But all in vain. Zacchaeus merely crawls away into the
standing corn behind his trees, and waits till we have finished. Then
he comes back and tries to shoot the machine-gun officer. He has not
succeeded yet, but he sticks to his task with gentle persistence. He
is evidently of a persevering rather than vindictive disposition.

Then there is Unter den Linden. This celebrated thoroughfare is an old
communication-trench. It runs, half-ruined, from the old German trench
in our rear, right through our own front line, to the present German
trenches. It constitutes such a bogey as the Channel Tunnel scheme
once was: each side sits jealously at its own end, anticipating
hostile enterprises from the other. It is also the residence of
"Minnie." But we will return to Minnie later.

The artillery of both sides, too, contributes its mite. There is
a dull roar far in the rear of the German trenches, followed by a
whirring squeak overhead. Then comes an earth-shaking crash a mile
behind us. We whip round, and there, in the failing evening light,
against the sunset, there springs up the silhouette of a mighty tree
in full foliage. Presently the silhouette disperses, drifts away,

"The coals is hame, right enough!" comments Private Tosh.

Instantly our guns reply, and we become the humble spectators of an
artillery duel. Of course, if the enemy gets tired of "searching"
the countryside for our guns and takes to "searching" our trenches
instead, we lose all interest in the proceedings, and retire to our
dug-outs, hoping that no direct hits will come our way.

But guns are notoriously erratic in their time-tables, and fickle in
their attentions. It is upon Zacchaeus and Unter den Linden--including
Minnie--that we mainly rely for excitement.

As already recorded, we took over these trenches a few days ago, in
the small hours of the morning. In the ordinary course of events,
relieving parties are usually able to march up under cover of darkness
to the reserve trench, half a mile in rear of the firing line, and
so proceed to their appointed place. But on this occasion the German
artillery happened to be "distributing coal" among the billets behind.
This made it necessary to approach our new home by tortuous ways, and
to take to subterranean courses at a very early stage of the journey.
For more than two hours we toiled along a trench just wide enough to
permit a man to wear his equipment, sometimes bent double to avoid the
bullets of snipers, sometimes knee-deep in glutinous mud.

Ayling, leading a machine-gun section who were burdened with their
weapons and seven thousand rounds of ammunition, mopped his steaming
brow and inquired of his guide how much farther there was to go.

"Abart two miles, sir," replied the youth with gloomy satisfaction.
He was a private of the Cockney regiment whom we were relieving; and
after the manner of his kind, would infinitely have preferred to
conduct us down half a mile of a shell-swept road, leading straight to
the heart of things, than waste time upon an uninteresting but safe

At this Ayling's Number One, who was carrying a machine-gun tripod
weighing forty-eight pounds, said something--something distressingly
audible--and groaned deeply.

"If we'd come the way I wanted," continued the guide, much pleased
with the effect of his words upon his audience, "we'd a' been there be
now. But the Adjutant, 'e says to me--"

"If we had come the way you wanted," interrupted Ayling brutally, "we
should probably have been in Kingdom Come by now. Hurry up!" Ayling,
in common with the rest of those present, was not in the best of
tempers, and the loquacity of the guide had been jarring upon him for
some time.

The Cockney private, with the air of a deeply-wronged man, sulkily led
on, followed by the dolorous procession. Another ten minutes' laboured
progress brought them to a place where several ways met.

"This is the beginning of the reserve trenches, sir," announced the
guide. "If we'd come the way I--"

"Lead on!" said Ayling, and his perspiring followers murmured
threatening applause.

The guide, now in his own territory, selected the muddiest opening and
plunged down it. For two hundred yards or so he continued serenely
upon his way, with the air of one exhibiting the metropolis to a party
of country cousins. He passed numerous turnings. Then, once or
twice, he paused irresolutely; then moved on. Finally he halted, and
proceeded to climb out of the trench.

"What are you doing?" demanded Ayling suspiciously.

"We got to cut across the open 'ere, sir," said the youth glibly.
"Trench don't go no farther. Keep as low as you can."

With resigned grunts the weary pilgrims hoisted themselves and their
numerous burdens out of their slimy thoroughfare, and followed their
conductor through the long grass in single file, feeling painfully
conspicuous against the whitening sky. Presently they discovered, and
descended into, another trench--all but the man with the tripod, who
descended into it before he discovered it--and proceeded upon their
dolorous way. Once more the guide, who had been refreshingly but
ominously silent for some time, paused irresolutely.

"Look here, my man," said Ayling, "do you, or do you not, know where
you are?"

The paragon replied hesitatingly:--

"Well, sir, if we'd come by the way I--"

Ayling took a deep breath, and though conscious of the presence of
formidable competitors, was about to make the best of an officer's
vocabulary, when a kilted figure loomed out of the darkness.

"Hallo! Who are you?" inquired Ayling.

"This iss the Camerons' trenches, sirr," replied a polite West
Highland voice. "What trenches wass you seeking?"

Ayling told him.

"They are behind you, sirr."

"I was just goin' to say, sir," chanted the guide, making one last
effort to redeem his prestige, "as 'ow--"

"Party," commanded Ayling, "about turn!"

Having received details of the route from the friendly Cameron, he
scrambled out of the trench and crawled along to what was now the head
of the procession. A plaintive voice followed him.

"Beg pardon, sir, where shall _I_ go now?"

Ayling answered the question explicitly, and moved off, feeling much
better. The late conductor of the party trailed disconsolately in the

"I should like to know wot I'm 'ere for," he murmured indignantly.

He got his answer, like a lightning-flash.

"For tae carry _this_," said the man with the tripod, turning round.
"Here, caatch!"


The day's work in trenches begins about nine o'clock the night
before. Darkness having fallen, various parties steal out into the
no-man's-land beyond the parapet. There are numerous things to be
done. The barbed wire has been broken up by shrapnel, and must be
repaired. The whole position in front of the wire must be patrolled,
to prevent the enemy from creeping forward in the dark. The corn has
grown to an uncomfortable height in places, so a fatigue party is told
off to cut it--surely the strangest species of harvesting that the
annals of agriculture can record. On the left front the muffled
clinking of picks and shovels announces that a "sap" is in course of
construction: those incorrigible night-birds, the Royal Engineers, are
making it for the machine-gunners, who in the fulness of time will
convey their voluble weapon to its forward extremity, and "loose off
a belt or two" in the direction of a rather dangerous hollow midway
between the trenches, from which of late mysterious sounds of digging
and guttural talking have been detected by the officer who lies in
the listening-post, in front of our barbed-wire entanglement, drawing
secrets from the bowels of the earth by means of a microphone.

Behind the firing trench even greater activity prevails. Damage
done to the parapet by shell fire is being repaired. Positions and
emplacements are being constantly improved, communication trenches
widened or made more secure. Down these trenches fatigue parties are
filing, to draw rations and water and ammunition from the limbered
waggons which are waiting in the shadow of a wood, perhaps a mile
back. It is at this hour, too, that the wounded, who have been lying
pathetically cheerful and patient in the dressing-station in the
reserve trench, are smuggled to the Field Ambulance--probably to find
themselves safe in a London hospital within twenty-four hours. Lastly,
under the kindly cloak of night, we bury our dead.

Meanwhile, within various stifling dug-outs, in the firing trench or
support-trench, overheated company commanders are dictating reports
or filling in returns. (Even now the Round Game Department is not
entirely shaken off.) There is the casualty return, and a report on
the doings of the enemy, and another report of one's own doings, and a
report on the direction of the wind, and so on. Then there are various
indents to fill up--scrawled on a wobbly writing-block with a blunt
indelible pencil by the light of a guttering candle--for ammunition,
and sandbags, and revetting material.

All this literature has to be sent to Battalion Headquarters by
one A.M., either by orderly or telephone. There it is collated and
condensed, and forwarded to the Brigade, which submits it to the
same process and sends it on, to be served up piping hot and easily
digestible at the breakfast-table of the Division, five miles away, at
eight o'clock.

You must not imagine, however, that all this night-work is
performed in gross darkness. On the contrary. There is abundance of
illumination; and by a pretty thought, each side illuminates the
other. We perform our nocturnal tasks, in front of and behind the
firing trench, amid a perfect hail of star-shells and magnesium
lights, topped up at times by a searchlight--all supplied by our
obliging friend the Hun. We, on our part, do our best to return these
graceful compliments.

The curious and uncanny part of it all is that there is no firing.
During these brief hours there exists an informal truce, founded on
the principle of live and let live. It would be an easy business to
wipe out that working-party, over there by the barbed wire, with a
machine-gun. It would be child's play to shell the road behind the
enemy's trenches, crowded as it must be with ration-waggons and
water-carts, into a blood-stained wilderness. But so long as each side
confines itself to purely defensive and recuperative work, there is
little or no interference. That slave of duty, Zacchaeus, keeps on
pegging away; and occasionally, if a hostile patrol shows itself too
boldly, there is a little exuberance from a machine-gun; but on the
whole there is silence. After all, if you prevent your enemy from
drawing his rations, his remedy is simple: he will prevent you from
drawing yours. Then both parties will have to fight on empty stomachs,
and neither of them, tactically, will be a penny the better. So,
unless some elaborate scheme of attack is brewing, the early hours
of the night are comparatively peaceful. But what is that sudden
disturbance in the front-line trench? A British rifle rings out, then
another, and another, until there is an agitated fusilade from end
to end of the section. Instantly the sleepless host across the way
replies, and for three minutes or so a hurricane rages. The working
parties out in front lie flat on their faces, cursing patiently.
Suddenly the storm dies away, and perfect silence reigns once more.
It was a false alarm. Some watchman, deceived by the whispers of the
night breeze, or merely a prey to nerves, has discerned a phantom army
approaching through the gloom, and has opened fire thereon. This often
occurs when troops are new to trench-work.

It is during these hours, too, that regiments relieve one another in
the trenches. The outgoing regiment cannot leave its post until the
incoming regiment has "taken over." Consequently you have, for a brief
space, two thousand troops packed into a trench calculated to hold one
thousand. Then it is that strong men swear themselves faint, and the
Rugby football player has reason to be thankful for his previous
training in the art of "getting through the scrum." However perfect
your organisation may be, congestion is bound to occur here and there;
and it is no little consolation to us to feel, as we surge and sway
in the darkness, that over there in the German lines a Saxon and
a Prussian private, irretrievably jammed together in a narrow
communication trench, are consigning one another to perdition in just
the same husky whisper as that employed by Private Mucklewame and his
"opposite number" in the regiment which has come to relieve him.

These "reliefs" take place every four or five nights. There was a
time, not so long ago, when a regiment was relieved, not when it was
weary, but when another regiment could be found to replace it. Our own
first battalion once remained in the trenches, unrelieved and only
securing its supplies with difficulty, for five weeks and three days.
During all that time they were subject to most pressing attentions on
the part of the Bosches, but they never lost a yard of trench. They
received word from Headquarters that to detach another regiment
for their relief would seriously weaken other and most important
dispositions. The Commander-in-Chief would therefore be greatly
obliged if they could hold on. So they held on.

At last they came out, and staggered back to billets. Their old
quarters, naturally, had long been appropriated by other troops, and
the officers had some difficulty in recovering their kits.

"I don't mind being kept in trenches for several weeks," remarked
their commander to the staff officer who received him when he
reported, "and I can put up with losing my sleeping-bag; but I do
object to having my last box of cigars looted by the blackguards who
took over our billets!"

The staff officer expressed sympathy, and the subject dropped. But
not many days later, while the battalion were still resting, their
commander was roused in the middle of the night from the profound
slumber which only the experience of many nights of anxious vigil can
induce, by the ominous message:--

"An orderly to see you, from General Headquarters, sir!"

The colonel rolled stoically out of bed, and commanded that the
orderly should be brought before him.

The man entered, carrying, not a despatch, but a package, which he
proffered with a salute.

"With the Commander-in-Chief's compliments, sir!" he announced.

The package was a box of cigars!

But that was before the days of "K(1)."

But the night is wearing on. It is half-past one--time to knock off
work. Tired men, returning from ration-drawing or sap-digging, throw
themselves down and fall dead asleep in a moment. Only the sentries,
with their elbows on the parapet, maintain their sleepless watch. From
behind the enemy's lines comes a deep boom--then another. The big guns
are waking up again, and have decided to commence their day's work by
speeding our empty ration-waggons upon their homeward way. Let them!
So long as they refrain from practising direct hits on our front-line
parapet, and disturbing our brief and hardly-earned repose, they may
fire where they please. The ration train is well able to look after

"A whiff o' shrapnel will dae nae harrm to thae strawberry-jam
pinchers!" observes Private Tosh bitterly, rolling into his dug-out.
By this opprobrious term he designates that distinguished body of men,
the Army Service Corps. A prolonged diet of plum-and-apple jam has
implanted in the breasts of the men in the trenches certain dark
and unworthy suspicions concerning the entire altruism of those
responsible for the distribution of the Army's rations.

* * * * *

It is close on daybreak, and the customary whispered order runs down
the stertorous trench:--

"Stand to arms!"

Straightway the parapets are lined with armed men; the waterproof
sheets which have been protecting the machine-guns from the dews of
night are cast off; and we stand straining our eyes into the whitening

This is the favourite hour for attack. At any moment the guns may open
fire upon our parapet, or a solid wall of grey-clad figures rise from
that strip of corn-land less than a hundred yards away, and descend
upon us. Well, we are ready for them. Just by way of signalising the
fact, there goes out a ragged volley of rifle fire, and a machine-gun
rips off half a dozen bursts into the standing corn. But apparently
there is nothing doing this morning. The day grows brighter, but there
is no movement upon the part of Brother Bosche.

But--what is that light haze hanging over the enemy's trenches? It is
slight, almost impalpable, but it appears to be drifting towards us.
Can it be--?

Next moment every man is hurriedly pulling his gas helmet over his
head, while Lieutenant Waddell beats a frenzied tocsin upon the
instrument provided for the purpose--to wit, an empty eighteen-pounder
shell, which, suspended from a bayonet stuck into the parados (or back
wall) of the trench, makes a most efficient alarm-gong. The sound is
repeated all along the trench, and in two minutes every man is in his
place, cowled like a member of the Holy Inquisition, glaring through
an eye-piece of mica, and firing madly into the approaching wall of

But the wall approaches very slowly--in fact, it almost stands
still--and finally, as the rising sun disentangles itself from a pink
horizon and climbs into the sky, it begins to disappear. In half
an hour nothing is left, and we take off our helmets, sniffing the
morning air dubiously. But all we smell is the old mixture--corpses
and chloride of lime.

The incident, however, was duly recorded by Major Kemp in his report
of the day's events, as follows:--

4.7 A.M.--_Gas alarm, false. Due either to morning mist, or the fact
that enemy found breeze insufficient, and discontinued their attempt._

"Still, I'm not sure," he continued, slapping his bald head with a
bandana handkerchief, "that a whiff of chlorine or bromine wouldn't do
these trenches a considerable amount of good. It would tone down some
of the deceased a bit, and wipe out these infernal flies. Waddell, if
I give you a shilling, will you take it over to the German trenches
and ask them to drop it into the meter?"

"I do not think, sir," replied the literal Waddell, "that an English
shilling would fit a German meter. Probably a mark would be required,
and I have only a franc. Besides, sir, do you think that--"

"Surgical operation at seven-thirty, sharp!" intimated the major to
the medical officer, who entered the dug-out at that moment. "For
our friend here"--indicating the bewildered Waddell. "Sydney Smith's
prescription! Now, what about breakfast?"

* * * * *

About nine o'clock the enemy indulges in what is usually described,
most disrespectfully, as "a little morning hate"--in other words, a
bombardment. Beginning with a _hors d'oeuvre_ of shrapnel along the
reserve trench--much to the discomfort of Headquarters, who are
shaving--he proceeds to "search" a tract of woodland in our immediate
rear, his quarry being a battery of motor machine-guns, which has
wisely decamped some hours previously. Then, after scientifically
"traversing" our second line, which has rashly advertised its position
and range by cooking its breakfast over a smoky fire, he brings the
display to a superfluous conclusion by dropping six "Black Marias"
into the deserted ruins of a village not far behind us. After that
comes silence; and we are able, in our hot, baking trenches, assisted
by clouds of bluebottles, to get on with the day's work.

This consists almost entirely in digging. As already stated, these are
bad trenches. The parapet is none too strong--at one point it has been
knocked down for three days running--the communication trenches are
few and narrow, and there are not nearly enough dug-outs. Yesterday
three men were wounded; and owing to the impossibility of carrying a
stretcher along certain parts of the trench, they had to be conveyed
to the rear in their ground-sheets--bumped against projections, bent
round sharp corners, and sometimes lifted, perforce, bodily into view
of the enemy. So every man toils with a will, knowing full well that
in a few hours' time he may prove to have been his own benefactor.
Only the sentries remain at the parapets. They no longer expose
themselves, as at night, but take advantage of the laws of optical
reflection, as exemplified by the trench periscope. (This, in spite
of its grand title, is nothing but a tiny mirror clipped on to a

At half-past twelve comes dinner--bully-beef, with biscuit and
jam--after which each tired man, coiling himself up in the trench, or
crawling underground, according to the accommodation at his disposal,
drops off into instant and heavy slumber. The hours from two till five
in the afternoon are usually the most uneventful of the twenty-four,
and are therefore devoted to hardly-earned repose.

But there is to be little peace this afternoon. About half-past three,
Bobby Little, immersed in pleasant dreams--dreams of cool shades and
dainty companionship--is brought suddenly to the surface of things


--followed by a heavy thud upon the roof of his dug-out. Earth and
small stones descend in a shower upon him.

"Dirty dogs!" he comments, looking at his watch. Then he puts his head
out of the dug-out.

"Lie close, you men!" he cries. "There's more of this coming. Any

The answer to the question is obscured by another burst of shrapnel,
which explodes a few yards short of the parapet, and showers bullets
and fragments of shell into the trench. A third and a fourth
follow. Then comes a pause. A message is passed down for the
stretcher-bearers. Things are growing serious. Five minutes later
Bobby, having despatched his wounded to the dressing-station, proceeds
with all haste to Captain Blaikie's dug-out.

"How many, Bobby?"

"Six wounded. Two of them won't last as far as the rear, I'm afraid,

Captain Blaikie looks grave.

"Better ring up the Gunners, I think. Where are the shells coming

"That wood on our left front, I think."

"That's P 27. Telephone orderly, there?"

A figure appears in the doorway.

"Yes, sirr."

"Ring up Major Cavanagh, and say that H 21 is being shelled from P 27.

"Verra good, sirr."

The telephone orderly disappears, to return in five minutes.

"Major Cavanagh's compliments, sirr, and he is coming up himself for
tae observe from the firing trench."

"Good egg!" observes Captain Blaikie. "Now we shall see some shooting,

Presently the Gunner major arrives, accompanied by an orderly, who
pays out wire as he goes. The major adjusts his periscope, while the
orderly thrusts a metal peg into the ground and fits a telephone
receiver to his head.

"Number one gun!" chants the major, peering into his periscope;
"three-five-one-nothing--lyddite--fourth charge!"

These mystic observations are repeated into the telephone by the
Cockney orderly, in a confidential undertone.

"Report when ready!" continues the major.

"Report when ready!" echoes the orderly. Then--"Number one gun ready,


"Fire!" Then, politely--"Number one has fired, sir."

The major stiffens to his periscope, and Bobby Little, deeply
interested, wonders what has become of the report of the gun. He
forgets that sound does not travel much faster than a thousand feet
a second, and that the guns are a mile and a half back. Presently,
however, there is a distant boom. Almost simultaneously the lyddite
shell passes overhead with a scream. Bobby, having no periscope,
cannot see the actual result of the shot, though he tempts Providence
(and Zacchaeus) by peering over the top of the parapet.

"Number one, two-nothing minutes more right," commands the major.
"Same range and charge."

Once more the orderly goes through his ritual, and presently another
shell screams overhead.

Again the major observes the result.

"Repeat!" he says. "Nothing-five seconds more right."

This time he is satisfied.

"Parallel lines on number one," he commands crisply. "One round
battery fire--twenty seconds!"

For the last time the order is passed down the wire, and the major
hands his periscope to the ever-grateful Bobby, who has hardly got
his eyes to the glass when the round of battery fire commences.
One--two--three--four--the avenging shells go shrieking on their way,
at intervals of twenty seconds. There are four muffled thuds, and four
great columns of earth and _debris_ spring up before the wood. Answer
comes there none. The offending battery has prudently effaced itself.

"Cease fire!" says the major, "and register!" Then he turns to Captain

"That'll settle them for a bit," he observes. "By the way, had any
more trouble with Minnie?"

"We had Hades from her yesterday," replies Blaikie, in answer to this
extremely personal question. "She started at a quarter-past five in
the morning, and went on till about ten."

(Perhaps, at this point, it would be as well to introduce Minnie a
little more formally. She is the most unpleasant of her sex, and her
full name is _Minenwerfer_, or German trench-mortar. She resides,
spasmodically, in Unter den Linden. Her extreme range is about two
hundred yards, so she confines her attentions to front-line trenches.
Her _modus operandi_ is to discharge a large cylindrical bomb into
the air. The bomb, which is about fifteen inches long and some eight
inches in diameter, describes a leisurely parabola, performing
grotesque somersaults on the way, and finally falls with a soft thud
into the trench, or against the parapet. There, after an interval of
ten seconds, Minnie's offspring explodes; and as she contains about
thirty pounds of dynamite, no dug-out or parapet can stand against

"Did she do much damage?" inquires the Gunner.

"Killed two men and buried another. They were in a dug-out."

The Gunner shakes his head.

"No good taking cover against Minnie," he says. "The only way is to
come out into the open trench, and dodge her."

"So we found," replies Blaikie. "But they pulled our legs badly the
first time. They started off with three 'whizz-bangs'"--a whizz-bang
is a particularly offensive form of shell which bursts two or three
times over, like a Chinese cracker--"so we all took cover and lay
low. The consequence was that Minnie was able to send her little
contribution along unobserved. The filthy thing fell short of the
trench, and exploded just as we were all getting up again. It smashed
up three or four yards of parapet, and scuppered the three poor chaps
I mentioned."

"Have you located her?"

"Yes. Just behind that stunted willow, on our left front. I fancy
they bring her along there to do her bit, and then trot her back to
billets, out of harm's way. She is their two o'clock turn--two A.M.
and two P.M."

"Two o 'clock turn--h'm!" says the Gunner major meditatively. "What
about our chipping in with a one-fifty-five turn--half a dozen H E
shells into Minnie's dressing-room--eh? I must think this over."

"Do!" said Blaikie cordially. "Minnie is Willie's Worst Werfer, and
the sooner she is put out of action the better for all of us. To-day,
for some reason, she failed to appear, but previous to that she has
not failed for five mornings in succession to batter down the same bit
of our parapet."

"Where's that?" asks the major, getting out a trench-map.

"P 7--a most unhealthy spot. Minnie pushes it over about two every
morning. The result is that we have to mount guard over the breach all
day. We build everything up again at night, and Minnie sits there as
good as gold, and never dreams of interfering. You can almost hear her
cooing over us. Then, as I say, at two o'clock, just as the working
party comes in and gets under cover, she lets slip one of her
disgusting bombs, and undoes the work of about four hours. It was a
joke at first, but we are getting fed up now. That's the worst of the
Bosche. He starts by being playful; but if not suppressed at once,
he gets rough; and that, of course, spoils all the harmony of the
proceedings. So I cordially commend your idea of the one-fifty-five
turn, sir."

"I'll see what can be done," says the major. "I think the best plan
would be a couple of hours' solid frightfulness, from every battery we
can switch on. To-morrow afternoon, perhaps, but I'll let you know.
You'll have to clear out of this bit of trench altogether, as we shall
shoot pretty low. So long!"


It is six o'clock next evening, and peace reigns over our trench. This
is the hour at which one usually shells aeroplanes--or rather, at
which the Germans shell ours, for their own seldom venture out in
broad daylight. But this evening, although two or three are up in the
blue, buzzing inquisitively over the enemy's lines, their attendant
escort of white shrapnel puffs is entirely lacking. Far away behind
the German lines a house is burning fiercely.

"The Hun is a bit _piano_ to-night," observes Captain Blaikie,
attacking his tea.

"The Hun has been rather firmly handled this afternoon," replies
Captain Wagstaffe. "I think he has had an eye-opener. There are no
flies on our Divisional Artillery."

Bobby Little heaved a contented sigh. For two hours that afternoon he
had sat, half-deafened, while six-inch shells skimmed the parapet in
both directions, a few feet above his head. The Gunner major had been
as good as his word. Punctually at one-fifty-five "Minnie's" two
o'clock turn had been anticipated by a round of high-explosive shells
directed into her suspected place of residence. What the actual result
had been nobody knew, but Minnie had made no attempt to raise her
voice since. Thereafter the German front-line trenches had been
"plastered" from end to end, while the trenches farther back were
attended to with methodical thoroughness. The German guns had replied
vigorously, but directing only a passing fire at the trenches,
had devoted their efforts chiefly to the silencing of the British
artillery. In this enterprise they had been remarkably unsuccessful.

"Any casualties?" asked Blaikie.

"None here," replied Wagstaffe. "There may be some back in the support

"We might telephone and inquire."

"No good at present. The wires are all cut to pieces. The signallers
are repairing them now."

"_I_ was nearly a casualty," confessed Bobby modestly.


"That first shell of ours nearly knocked my head off! I was standing
up at the time, and it rather took me by surprise. It just cleared the
parados. In fact, it kicked a lot of gravel into the back of my neck."

"Most people get it in the neck here, sooner or later," remarked
Captain Blaikie sententiously. "Personally, I don't much mind being
killed, but I do bar being buried alive. That is why I dislike Minnie
so." He rose, and stretched himself. "Heigho! I suppose it's about
time we detailed patrols and working parties for to-night. What a
lovely sky! A truly peaceful atmosphere--what? It gives one a sort of
Sunday-evening feeling, somehow."

"May I suggest an explanation?" said Wagstaffe.

"By all means."

"It _is_ Sunday evening!"

Captain Blaikie whistled gently, and said--

"By Jove, so it is." Then, after a pause: "This time last Sunday--"

Last Sunday had been an off-day--a day of cloudless summer beauty.
Tired men had slept; tidy men had washed their clothes; restless men
had wandered at ease about the countryside, careless of the guns which
grumbled everlastingly a few miles away. There had been impromptu
Church Parades for each denomination, in the corner of a wood which
was part of the demesne of a shell-torn chateau.

It is a sadly transformed wood. The open space before the chateau,
once a smooth expanse of tennis-lawn, is now a dusty picketing-ground
for transport mules, destitute of a single blade of grass. The
ornamental lake is full of broken bottles and empty jam-tins. The
pagoda-like summer-house, so inevitable to French chateau gardens, is
a quartermaster's store. Half the trees have been cut down for fuel.
Still, the July sun streams very pleasantly through the remainder, and
the Psalms of David float up from beneath their shade quite as sweetly
as they usually do from the neighbourhood of the precentor's desk in
the kirk at home--perhaps sweeter.

The wood itself is a _point d'appui_, or fortified post. One has to
take precautions, even two or three miles behind the main firing line.
A series of trenches zigzags in and out among the trees, and barbed
wire is interlaced with the undergrowth. In the farthermost corner
lies an improvised cemetery. Some of the inscriptions on the little
wooden crosses are only three days old. Merely to read a few of these
touches the imagination and stirs the blood. Here you may see the
names of English Tommies and Highland Jocks, side by side with their
Canadian kith and kin. A little apart lie more graves, surmounted by
epitaphs written in strange characters, such as few white men can
read. These are the Indian troops. There they lie, side by side--the
mute wastage of war, but a living testimony, even in their last
sleep, to the breadth and unity of the British Empire. The great,
machine-made Empire of Germany can show no such graves: when her
soldiers die, they sleep alone.

The Church of England service had come last of all. Late in the
afternoon a youthful and red-faced chaplain had arrived on a bicycle,
to find a party of officers and men lying in the shade of a broad
oak waiting for him. (They were a small party: naturally, the great
majority of the regiment are what the identity-discs call "Pres" or

"Sorry to be late, sir," he said to the senior officer, saluting.
"This is my sixth sh--service to-day, and I have come seven miles for

He mopped his brow cheerfully; and having produced innumerable
hymn-books from a saddle-bag and set his congregation in array, read
them the service, in a particularly pleasing and well-modulated voice.
After that he preached a modest and manly little sermon, containing
references which carried Bobby Little, for one, back across the
Channel to other scenes and other company. After the sermon came a
hymn, sung with great vigour. Tommy loves singing hymns--when he
happens to know and like the tune.

"I know you chaps like hymns," said the padre, when they had finished.
"Let's have another before you go. What do you want?"

A most unlikely-looking person suggested "Abide with Me." When it was
over, and the party, standing as rigid as their own rifles, had
sung "God Save the King," the preacher announced, awkwardly--almost

"If any of you would like to--er--communicate, I shall be very glad.
May not have another opportunity for some time, you know. I think over
there"--he indicated a quiet corner of the wood, not far from the
little cemetery--"would be a good place."

He pronounced the benediction, and then, after further recurrence to
his saddle-bag, retired to his improvised sanctuary. Here, with a
ration-box for altar, and strands of barbed wire for choir-stalls, he
made his simple preparations.

Half a dozen of the men, and all the officers, followed him. That was
just a week ago.

* * * * *

Captain Wagstaffe broke the silence at last.

"It's a rotten business, war," he said pensively--"when you come to
think of it. Hallo, there goes the first star-shell! Come along,

Dusk had fallen. From the German trenches a thin luminous thread
stole up into the darkening sky, leaned over, drooped, and burst
into dazzling brilliance over the British parapet. Simultaneously a
desultory rifle fire crackled down the lines. The night's work had



We have been occupying trenches, off and on, for a matter of two
months, and have settled down to an unexhilarating but salutary
routine. Each dawn we "stand to arms," and peer morosely over the
parapet, watching the grey grass turn slowly to green, while snipers'
bullets buzz over our heads. Each forenoon we cleanse our dew-rusted
weapons, and build up with sandbags what the persevering Teuton
has thrown down. Each afternoon we creep unostentatiously into
subterranean burrows, while our respective gunners, from a safe
position in the rear, indulge in what they humorously describe as "an
artillery duel." The humour arises from the fact that they fire, not
at one another, but at us. It is as if two big boys, having declared
a vendetta, were to assuage their hatred and satisfy their honour by
going out every afternoon and throwing stones at one another's little
brothers. Each evening we go on sentry duty; or go out with patrols,
or working parties, or ration parties. Our losses in killed and
wounded are not heavy, but they are regular. We would not grudge the
lives thus spent if only we could advance, even a little. But there is
nothing doing. Sometimes a trench is rushed here, or recaptured there,
but the net result is--stalemate.

The campaign upon which we find ourselves at present embarked offers
few opportunities for brilliancy. One wonders how Napoleon would have
handled it. His favourite device, we remember, was to dash rapidly
about the chessboard, insert himself between two hostile armies, and
defeat them severally. But how can you insert yourself between two
armies when you are faced by only one army--an army stretching from
Ostend to the Alps?

One of the first elements of successful strategy is surprise. In the
old days, a general of genius could outflank his foe by a forced
march, or lay some ingenious trap or ambush. But how can you outflank
a foe who has no flanks? How can you lay an ambush for the modern
Intelligence Department, with its aeroplane reconnaissance and
telephonic nervous system? Do you mass half a million men at a chosen
point in the enemy's line? Straightway the enemy knows all about it,
and does likewise. Each morning General Headquarters of each side
finds upon its breakfast-table a concise summary of the movements of
all hostile troops, the disposition of railway rolling-stock--yea,
even aeroplane photographs of it all. What could Napoleon himself have
done under the circumstances? One is inclined to suspect that that
volcanic megalomaniac would have perished of spontaneous combustion of
the brain.

However, trench life has its alleviations. There is The Day's Work,
for instance. Each of us has his own particular "stunt," in which he
takes that personal and rather egotistical pride which only increasing
proficiency can bestow.

The happiest--or at least, the busiest--people just now are the
"Specialists." If you are engaged in ordinary Company work, your
energies are limited to keeping watch, dodging shells, and improving
trenches. But if you are what is invidiously termed an "employed" man,
life is full of variety.

Do you observe that young officer sitting on a ration-box at his
dug-out door, with his head tied up in a bandage? That is Second
Lieutenant Lochgair, whom I hope to make better known to you in time.
He is a chieftain of high renown in his own inaccessible but extensive
fastness; but out here, where every man stands on his own legs, and
not his grandfather's, he is known simply as "Othello." This is due to
the fact that Major Kemp once likened him to the earnest young actor
of tradition, who blacked himself all over to ensure proficiency in
the playing of that part. For he is above all things an enthusiast in
his profession. Last night he volunteered to go out and "listen" for a
suspected mine some fifty yards from the German trenches. He set out
as soon as darkness fell, taking with him a biscuit-tin full of water.
A circular from Headquarters--one of those circulars which no one but
Othello would have treated with proper reverence--had suggested this
device. The idea was that, since liquids convey sound better than air,
the listener should place his tin of water on the ground, lie down
beside it, immerse one ear therein, and so draw secrets from the
earth. Othello failed to locate the mine, but kept his head in the
biscuit-tin long enough to contract a severe attack of earache.

But he is not discouraged. At present he is meditating a design for
painting himself grass-green and climbing a tree--thence to take a
comprehensive and unobserved survey of the enemy's dispositions. He
will do it, too, if he gets a chance!

The machine-gunners, also, contrive to chase monotony by methods
of their own. Listen to Ayling, concocting his diurnal scheme
of frightfulness with a colleague. Unrolled upon his knee is a
large-scale map.

"I think we might touch up those cross-roads to-night," he says,
laying the point of his dividers upon a spot situated some hundreds of
yards in rear of the German trenches.

"I expect they'll have lots of transport there about ration-time--eh?"

"Sound scheme," assents his coadjutor, a bloodthirsty stripling named
Ainslie. "Got the bearings?"

"Hand me that protractor. Seventy-one, nineteen, true. That
comes to"--Ayling performs a mental calculation--"almost exactly
eighty-five, magnetic. We'll go out about nine, with two guns, to the
corner of this dry ditch here--the range is two thousand five hundred,

"Our lightning calculator!" murmurs his admiring colleague. "No
elastic up the sleeve, or anything! All done by simple ledger-de-mang?

--"And loose off a belt or two. What say?"

"Application forwarded, and strongly recommended," announced Ainslie.
He examined the map. "Cross-roads--eh? That means at least one
estaminet. One estaminet, with Bosches inside, complete! Think of our
little bullets all popping in through the open door, five hundred a
minute! Think of the rush to crawl under the counter! It might be a
Headquarters? We might get Von Kluck or Rupy of Bavaria, splitting
a half litre together. We shall earn Military Crosses over this, my
boy," concluded the imaginative youth. "Wow, wow!"

"The worst of indirect fire," mused the less gifted Ayling, "is that
you never can tell whether you have hit your target or not. In fact,
you can't even tell whether there was a target there to hit."

"Never mind; we'll chance it," replied Ainslie. "And if the Bosche
artillery suddenly wakes up and begins retaliating on the wrong spot
with whizz-bangs--well, we shall know we've tickled up _somebody_,
anyhow! Nine o'clock, you say?"

* * * * *

Here, again, is a bombing party, prepared to steal out under cover of
night. They are in charge of one Simson, recently promoted to Captain,
supported by that hoary fire-eater, Sergeant Carfrae. The party
numbers seven all told, the only other member thereof with whom we are
personally acquainted being Lance-Corporal M'Snape, the ex-Boy Scout.
Every man wears a broad canvas belt full of pockets: each pocket
contains a bomb.

Simson briefly outlines the situation. Our fire-trench here runs round
the angle of an orchard, which brings it uncomfortably close to the
Germans. The Germans are quite as uncomfortable about the fact as we
are--some of us are rather inclined to overlook this important feature
of the case--and they have run a sap out towards the nearest point of
the Orchard Trench (so our aeroplane observers report), in order to
supervise our movements more closely.

"It may only be a listening-post," explains Simson to his bombers,
"with one or two men in it. On the other hand, they may be collecting
a party to rush us. There are some big shell-craters there, and they
may be using one of them as a saphead. Anyhow, our orders are to go
out to-night and see. If we find the sap, with any Germans in it, we
are to bomb them out of it, and break up the sap as far as possible.
Advance, and follow me."

The party steals out. The night is very still, and a young and
inexperienced moon is making a somewhat premature appearance
behind the Bosche trenches. The ground is covered with weedy
grass--disappointed hay--which makes silent progress a fairly simple
matter. The bombers move forward in extended order searching for the
saphead. Simson, in the centre, pauses occasionally to listen, and his
well-drilled line pauses with him. Sergeant Carfrae calls stertorously
upon the left. Out on the right is young M'Snape, tingling.

They are half-way across now, and the moon is marking time behind a

Suddenly there steals to the ears of M'Snape--apparently from the
recesses of the earth just in front of him--a deep, hollow sound,
the sound of men talking in some cavernous space. He stops dead, and
signals to his companions to do likewise. Then he listens again. Yes,
he can distinctly hear guttural voices, and an occasional _clink,
clink_. The saphead has been reached, and digging operations are in

A whispered order comes down the line that M'Snape is to
"investigate." He wriggles forward until his progress is arrested by a
stunted bush. Very stealthily he rises to his knees and peers over. As
he does so, a chance star-shell bursts squarely over him, and comes
sizzling officiously down almost on to his back. His head drops like
a stone into the bush, but not before the ghostly magnesium flare has
shown him what he came out to see--a deep shell-crater. The crater is
full of Germans. They look like grey beetles in a trap, and are busy
with pick and shovel, apparently "improving" the crater and connecting
it with their own fire-trenches. They have no sentry out. _Dormitat

M'Snape worms his way back, and reports. Then, in accordance with an
oft-rehearsed scheme, the bombing party forms itself into an arc of a
circle at a radius of some twenty yards from the stunted bush. (Not
the least of the arts of bomb-throwing is to keep out of range of your
own bombs.) Every man's hand steals to his pocketed belt. Next moment
Simson flings the first bomb. It flies fairly into the middle of the

Half a dozen more go swirling after it. There is a shattering roar; a
cloud of smoke; a muffled rush, of feet; silence; some groans.
Almost simultaneously the German trenches are in an uproar. A dozen
star-shells leap to the sky; there is a hurried outburst of rifle
fire; a machine-gun begins to patter out a stuttering malediction.

Meanwhile our friends, who have exhibited no pedantic anxiety to
remain and behold the result of their labours, are lying upon their
stomachs in a convenient fold in the ground, waiting patiently until
such time as it shall be feasible to complete their homeward journey.

Half an hour later they do so, and roll one by one over the parapet
into the trench. Casualties are slight. Private Nimmo has a
bullet-wound in the calf of his leg, and Sergeant Carfrae, whom Nature
does not permit to lie as flat as the others, will require some
repairs to the pleats of his kilt.

"All present?" inquires Simson.

It is discovered that M'Snape has not returned. Anxious eyes peer over
the parapet. The moon is stronger now, but it is barely possible to
distinguish objects clearly for more than a few yards.

A star-shell bursts, and heads sink below the parapet. A German bullet
passes overhead, with a sound exactly like the crack of a whip.
Silence and comparative darkness return. The heads go up again.

"I'll give him five minutes more, and then go and look for him," says
Simson. "Hallo!"

A small bush, growing just outside the barbed wire, rises suddenly
to its feet; and, picking its way with incredible skill through the
nearest opening, runs at full speed for the parapet. Next moment it
tumbles over into the trench.

Willing hands extracted M'Snape from his arboreal envelope--he could
probably have got home quite well without it, but once a Boy Scout,
always a Boy Scout--and he made his report.

"I went back to have a look-see into the crater, sirr."


"It's fair blown in, sirr, and a good piece of the sap too. I tried
could I find a prisoner to bring in"--our Colonel has promised a
reward of fifty francs to the man who can round up a whole live
Bosche--"but there were nane. They had got their wounded away, I

"Never mind," says Simson. "Sergeant, see these men get some sleep
now. Stand-to at two-thirty, as usual. I must go and pitch in a
report, and I shall say you all did splendidly. Good-night!"

This morning, the official Intelligence Summary of our
Division--published daily and known to the unregenerate as "Comic
Cuts"--announced, with solemn relish, among other items of news:--

_Last night a small party bombed a suspected saphead at_--here
followed the exact bearings of the crater on the large-scale map.
_Loud groans were heard, so it is probable that the bombs took

For the moment, life has nothing more to offer to our seven friends.


As already noted, our enthusiasm for our own sphere of activity is
not always shared by our colleagues. For instance, we in the trenches
frequently find the artillery of both sides unduly obtrusive; and we
are of opinion that in trench warfare artillery practice should be
limited by mutual consent to twelve rounds per gun per day, fired by
the gunners _at_ the gunners. "Except, of course, when the Big Push
comes." The Big Push is seldom absent from our thoughts in these days.

"That," observed Captain Wagstaffe to Bobby Little, "would leave us
foot-sloggers to settle our own differences. My opinion is that we
should do so with much greater satisfaction to ourselves if we weren't
constantly interfered with by coal-boxes and Black Marias."

"Still, you can't blame them for loosing off their big guns,"
contended the fair-minded Bobby. "It must be great sport."

"They tell me it's a greatly overrated amusement," replied
Wagstaffe--"like posting an insulting letter to some one you dislike.
You see, you aren't there when he opens it at breakfast next morning!
The only man of them who gets any fun is the Forward Observing
Officer. And he," concluded Wagstaffe in an unusual vein of pessimism,
"does not live long enough to enjoy it!"

The grievances of the Infantry, however, are not limited to those
supplied by the Royal Artillery. There are the machine-guns and the

The machine-gunner is a more or less accepted nuisance by this time.
He has his own emplacements in the line, but he never appears to use
them. Instead, he adopts the peculiar expedient of removing his weapon
from a snug and well-fortified position, and either taking it away
somewhere behind the trenches and firing salvoes over your head (which
is reprehensible), or planting it upon the parapet in your particular
preserve, and firing it from there (which is criminal). Machine-gun
fire always provokes retaliation.

"Why in thunder can't you keep your filthy tea-kettle in its own
place, instead of bringing it here to draw fire?" inquired Mr.
Cockerell, not altogether unreasonably, as Ayling and his satellites
passed along the trench bearing the offending weapon, with
water-jacket aboil, back to its official residence.

"It is all for your good, my little man," explained Ayling loftily.
"It would never do to give away one's real gun positions. If we did,
the Bosches would sit tight and say nothing at the time, but just make
a note of the occurrence. Then, one fine morning, when they _really_
meant business, they would begin by droping a Black Maria on top of
each emplacement; and where would you and your platoon be then, with
an attack coming on and _us_ out of action? So long!"

But the most unpopular man in the trenches is undoubtedly the Trench
Mortar Officer. His apparatus consists of what looks like a section
of rain-pipe, standing on legs. Upon its upturned muzzle is poised
a bomb, having the appearance of a plum-pudding on a stick. This he
discharges over the parapet into the German trenches, where it causes
a comforting explosion. He then walks rapidly away.

For obvious reasons, it is not advisable to fire a trench-mortar too
often--at any rate from the same place. But the whole weight of public
opinion in our trench is directed against it being fired from anywhere
at all. Behold the Trench Mortar Officer and his gang of pariahs
creeping stealthily along in the lee of the parados, just as dawn
breaks, in the section of trench occupied by No. 10 Platoon. For the
moment they are unheeded, for the platoon are "standing-to," and
the men are lined along the firing-step, with their backs to the

On reaching a suitable spot, the mortar party proceed to erect their
apparatus with as little ostentation as possible. But they are soon
discovered. The platoon subaltern hurries up.

"Awfully sorry, old man," he says breathlessly, "but the C.O. gave
particular orders that this part of the trench was on no account to be
used for trench-mortar fire. You see, we are only about seventy yards
from the Bosche trenches here--"

"I know," explains the T.M.O.; "that is why I came."

"But it is most important," continues the platoon commander, still
quoting glibly from an entirely imaginary mandate of the C.O., "that
no retaliatory shell fire should be attracted here. Most serious
for the whole Brigade, if this bit of parapet got pushed over. Now,
there's a topping place about ten traverses away. You can lob them
over from there beautifully. Come along."

And with fair words and honeyed phrases he elbows the dispirited band
to a position--for his platoon--of comparative inoffensiveness.

The Trench Mortar Officer drifts on, and presently, with the uneasy
assurance of the proprietor of a punch-and-judy show who has
inadvertently strayed into Park Lane, attempts once more to give his
unpopular entertainment. This time his shrift is even shorter, for he
encounters Major Kemp--never at his sunniest in the small hours of the

Field officers have no need to employ the language of diplomacy when
dealing with subalterns.

"No, you _don't_, my lad!" announces the Major. "Not if I can help it!
Take it away! Take your darned liver-pill out of this! Burn, it! Bury
it! Eat it! But not here! Creep away!"

The abashed procession complies. This time they find a section
of trench in charge of a mere corporal. Here, before any one of
sufficient standing can be summoned to deal with the situation, the
Trench Mortar Officer seizes his opportunity, and discharges three
bombs over the parapet. He then retires defiantly to his dug-out.

But it is an Ishmaelitish existence.


So much for the alleviations which professional enthusiasm bestows.
Now for a few alleviations proper. These are Sleep, Food, and

Sleep is the rarest of these. We seldom get more than a few hours at
a time; but it is astonishing how readily one learns to slumber in
unlikely surroundings--upon damp earth, in cramped positions, amid
ceaseless noise, in clothes and boots that have not been removed for
days. One also acquires the priceless faculty of losing no time in
dropping off.

As for food, we grumble at times, just as people at home are grumbling
at the Savoy, or Lockhart's. It is the Briton's habit so to do. But in
moments of repletion we are fain to confess that the organisation of
our commissariat is wonderful. Of course the quality of the _menu_
varies, according to the immunity of the communication-trenches from
shell fire, or the benevolence of the Quartermaster and the mysterious
powers behind him, or the facilities for cooking offered by the time
and place in which we find ourselves. No large fires are permitted:
the smoke would give too good a ranging-mark to Minnie and her
relatives. Still, it is surprising how quickly you can boil a
canteen over a few chips. There is also, for those who can afford
half-a-crown, that invaluable contrivance, "Tommy's Cooker"; and
occasionally we get a ration of coke. When times are bad, we live on
bully, biscuit, cheese, and water, strongly impregnated with chloride
of lime. The water is conveyed to us in petrol-tins--the old familiar
friends, Shell and Pratt--hundreds of them. Motorists at home must be
feeling the shortage. In normal times we can reckon on plenty of hot,
strong tea; possibly some bread; probably an allowance of bacon and
jam. And sometimes, when the ration parties arrive, mud-stained and
weary, in the dead of night, and throw down their bursting sacks, our
eyes feast upon such revelations as tinned butter, condensed milk,
raisins, and a consignment of that great chieftain of the ration race,
The Maconochie of Maconochie. On these occasions Private Mucklewame
collects his share, retires to his kennel, and has a gala-day.

Thirdly, the blessings of literature. Our letters arrive at night,
with the rations. The mail of our battalion alone amounts to eight or
ten mail-bags a day; from which you may gather some faint idea of the
labours of our Field Post Offices. There are letters, and parcels, and
newspapers. Letters we may pass over. They are featureless things,
except to their recipient. Parcels have more individuality. Ours are
of all shapes and sizes, and most of them are astonishingly badly
tied. It is quite heartrending to behold a kilted exile endeavouring
to gather up a heterogeneous mess of socks, cigarettes, chocolate,
soap, shortbread, and Edinburgh rock, from the ruins of what was once
a flabby and unstable parcel, but is now a few skimpy rags of brown
paper, which have long escaped the control of a most inadequate piece
of string--a monument of maternal lavishness and feminine economy.

Then there are the newspapers. We read them right through, beginning
at the advertisements and not skipping even the leading articles.
Then, when we have finished, we frequently read them right through
again. They serve three purposes. They give us information as to how
the War is progressing--we get none here, the rank and file, that
is; they serve to pass the time; and they afford us topics for
conversation. For instance, they enable us to follow and discuss the
trend of home politics. And in this connection, I think it is time you
were introduced to Captain Achille Petitpois. (That is not his real
name, but it is as near to it as most of us are likely to get.) He is
one of that most efficient body, the French _liaison_ officers, who
act as connecting-link between the Allied Forces, and naturally is
an accomplished linguist. He is an ardent admirer of British
institutions, but is occasionally not a little puzzled by their
complexity. So he very sensibly comes to people like Captain Wagstaffe
for enlightenment, and they enlighten him.

Behold Achille--a guest in A Company's billet--drinking
whisky-and-sparklet out of an aluminium mug, and discussing the news
of the day.

"And your people at home," he said, "you think they are taking the War
seriously?" (Achille is addicted to reading the English newspapers
without discrimination.)

"So seriously," replied Wagstaffe instantly, "that it has become
necessary for the Government to take steps to cheer them up."

"Comment?" inquired Achille politely.

For answer Wagstaffe picked up a three-day-old London newspaper, and
read aloud an extract from the Parliamentary report. The report dealt
faithfully with the latest antics of the troupe of eccentric
comedians which appears (to us), since the formation of the Coalition
Government, to have taken possession of the front Opposition Bench.

"Who are these assassins--these imbeciles--these _cretins_," inquired
Petitpois, "who would endanger the ship of the State?" (Achille prides
himself upon his knowledge of English idiom.)

"Nobody knows!" replied Wagstaffe solemnly. "They are children of
mystery. Before the War, nobody had ever heard of them. They--"

"But they should be shot!" explained that free-born Republican,

"Not a bit, old son! That is where you fail to grasp the subtleties of
British statesmanship. I tell you there are no flies on our Cabinet!"


"Yes: _mouches_, you know. The agility of our Cabinet Ministers is
such that these little insects find it impossible to alight upon

"Your Ministers are athletes--yes," agreed Achille comprehendingly.
"But the--"

"Only intellectually. What I mean is that they are a very downy
collection of old gentlemen--"

Achille, murmuring something hazy about "Downing Street," nodded his

"--And when they came into power, they knew as well as anything that
after three weeks or so the country would begin to grouse--"

"Grouse? A sporting bird?" interpolated Achille.

"Exactly. They knew that the country would soon start giving them the

"What bird? The grouse?"

"Oh, dry up, Wagger!" interposed Blaikie. "He means, Petitpois, that
the Government, knowing that the electorate would begin to grow
impatient if the War did not immediately take a favourable turn--"

Achille smiled.

"I see now," he said. "Proceed, Ouagstaffe, my old!"

"In other words," continued the officer so addressed, "the Government
decided that if they gave the Opposition half a chance to get
together, and find leaders, and consolidate their new trenches, they
might turn them out."

"Bien," assented Achille. Every one was listening now, for Wagstaffe
as a politician usually had something original to say.

"Well," proceeded Wagstaffe, "they saw that the great thing to do
was to prevent the Opposition from making an impression on the
country--from being taken too seriously, in fact. So what did they
do? They said: 'Let's arrange for a _comic_ Opposition--an Opposition
_pour rire_, you know. They will make the country either laugh or cry.
Anyhow, the country will be much too busy deciding which to do to have
any time to worry about _us_; so we shall have a splendid chance to
get on with the War.' So they sent down the Strand--that's where the
Variety agents foregather, I believe--what you call _entrepreneurs_,
Achille--and booked this troupe, complete, for the run of the War.
They did the thing in style; spared no expense; and got a comic
newspaper proprietor to write the troupe up, and themselves down.
The scheme worked beautifully--what you would call a _succes fou_,

"I am desolated, my good Ouagstaffe," observed Petitpois after a
pregnant silence; "but I cannot believe all you say."

"I _may_ be wrong," admitted Wagstaffe handsomely, "but that's my
reading of the situation. At any rate, Achille, you will admit that my
theory squares with the known facts of the case."

Petitpois bowed politely.

"Perhaps it is I who am wrong, my dear Ouagger. There is such a
difference of point of view between your politics and ours."

The deep voice of Captain Blaikie broke in.

"If Lancashire," he said grimly, "were occupied by a German army, as
the Lille district is to-day, I fancy there would be a considerable
levelling up of political points of view all round. No limelight for a
comic opposition then, Achille, old son!"


Besides receiving letters, we write them. And this brings us to that
mysterious and impalpable despot, the Censor.

There is not much mystery about him really. Like a good many other
highly placed individuals, he deputes as much of his work as possible
to some one else--in this case that long-suffering maid-of-all-work,
the company officer. Let us track Bobby Little to his dug-out, during
one of those numerous periods of enforced retirement which occur
between the hours of three and six, "Pip Emma"--as our friends the
"buzzers" call the afternoon. On the floor of this retreat (which
looks like a dog-kennel and smells like a vault) he finds a small heap
of letters, deposited there for purposes of what the platoon-sergeant
calls "censure." These have to be read (which is bad); licked up
(which is far worse); signed on the outside by the officer, and
forwarded to Headquarters. Here they are stamped with the familiar
red triangle and forwarded to the Base, where they are supposed to be
scrutinised by the real Censor--i.e., the gentleman who is paid for
the job--and are finally despatched to their destination.

Bobby, drawing his legs well inside the kennel, out of the way of
stray shrapnel bullets, begins his task.

The heap resolves itself into three parts. First come the post-cards,
which give no trouble, as their secrets are written plain for all to
see. There are half a dozen or so of the British Army official issue,
which are designed for the benefit of those who lack the epistolatory
gift--what would a woman say if you offered such things to her?--and
bear upon the back the following printed statements:--

_I am quite well.

I have been admitted to hospital.

I am sick } {and am going on well.
wounded} {and hope to be discharged soon.

I have received your {letter, dated ...
{telegram, "
{parcel, "

Letter follows at first opportunity.

I have received no letter from you {lately.
{for a long time._

(The gentleman who designed this postcard must have been a descendant
of Sydney Smith. You remember that great man's criticism of the Books
of Euclid? He preferred the Second Book, on the ground that it was
more "impassioned" than the others!)

All the sender of this impassioned missive has to do is to delete such
clauses as strike him as untruthful or over-demonstrative, and sign
his name. He is not allowed to add any comments of his own. On this
occasion, however, one indignant gentleman has pencilled the ironical
phrase, "I don't think!" opposite the line which acknowledges the
receipt of a parcel. Bobby lays this aside, to be returned to the

Then come some French picture post-cards. Most of these present
soldiers--soldiers posing, soldiers exchanging international
handgrips, soldiers grouped round a massive and _decolletee_ lady in
flowing robes, and declaring that _La patrie sera libre!_ Underneath
this last, Private Ogg has written: "Dear Lizzie,--I hope this finds
you well as it leaves me so. I send you a French p.c. The writing
means long live the Queen of France."

The next heap consists of letters in official-looking green envelopes.
These are already sealed up, and the sender has signed the following
attestation, printed on the flap: _I certify on my honour that the
contents of this envelope refer to nothing but private and family
matters._ Setting aside a rather bulky epistle addressed to The Editor
of a popular London weekly, which advertises a circulation of over a
million copies--a singularly unsuitable recipient for correspondence
of a private and family nature--Bobby turns to the third heap, and
sets to work upon his daily task of detecting items of information,
"which if intercepted or published might prove of value to the enemy."

It is not a pleasant task to pry into another person's correspondence,
but Bobby's scruples are considerably abated by the consciousness that
on this occasion he is doing so with the writer's full knowledge.
Consequently it is a clear case of _caveat scriptor_. Not that Bobby's
flock show any embarrassment at the prospect of his scrutiny. Most of
them write with the utmost frankness, whether they are conducting a
love affair, or are involved in a domestic broil of the most personal
nature. In fact, they seem rather to enjoy having an official
audience. Others cheerfully avail themselves of this opportunity of
conveying advice or reproof to those above them, by means of what the
Royal Artillery call "indirect fire." Private Dunshie remarks: "We
have been getting no pay these three weeks, but I doubt the officer
will know what has become of the money." It is the firm conviction
of every private soldier in "K(1)" that all fines and deductions go
straight into the pocket of the officer who levies them. Private Hogg,
always an optimist, opines: "The officers should know better how to
treat us now, for they all get a read of our letters."

But, as recorded above, the outstanding feature of this correspondence
is an engaging frankness. For instance, Private Cosh, who under an
undemonstrative, not to say wooden, exterior evidently conceals a
heart as inflammable as flannelette, is conducting single-handed no
less than four parallel love affairs. One lady resides in his native
Coatbridge, the second is in service in South Kensington, the third
serves in a shop in Kelvinside, and the fourth moth appears to have
been attracted to this most unlikely candle during our sojourn in
winter billets in Hampshire. Cosh writes to them all most ardently
every week--sometimes oftener--and Bobby Little, as he ploughs wearily
through repeated demands for photographs, and touching protestations
of lifelong affection, curses the verbose and susceptible youth with
all his heart.

But this mail brings him a gleam of comfort.

_So you tell me, Chrissie_, writes Cosh to the lady in South
Kensington, _that you are engaged to be married on a milkman_....

("Thank heaven!" murmurs Bobby piously.)

_No, no, Chrissie, you need not trouble yourself. It is nothing to

("He's as sick as muck!" comments Bobby.)

_All I did before was in friendship's name_.


Bobby, thankfully realising that his daily labours will be materially
lightened by the withdrawal of the fickle Chrissie from the postal
arena, ploughs steadily through the letters. Most of them begin in
accordance with some approved formula, such as--

_It is with the greatest of pleasure that I take up my pen_--

It is invariably a pencil, and a blunt one at that.

Crosses are ubiquitous, and the flap of the envelope usually bears the
mystic formula, S.W.A.K. This apparently means "Sealed with a kiss,"
which, considering that the sealing is done not by the writer but by
the Censor, seems to take a good deal for granted.

Most of the letters acknowledge the receipt of a "parcle"; many give a
guarded summary of the military situation.

_We are not allowed to tell you about the War, but I may say that we
are now in the trenches. We are all in the pink, and not many of the
boys has gotten a dose of lead-poisoning yet._

It is a pity that the names of places have to be left blank. Otherwise
we should get some fine phonetic spelling. Our pronunciation is
founded on no pedantic rules. Armentieres is Armentears, Busnes is
Business, Bailleul is Booloo, and Vieille Chapelle is Veal Chapel.

The chief difficulty of the writers appears to be to round off their
letters gracefully. _Having no more to say, I will now draw to a
close_, is the accepted formula. Private Burke, never a tactician,
concludes a most ardent love-letter thus: "_Well, Kate, I will now
close, as I have to write to another of the girls_."

But to Private Mucklewame literary composition presents no
difficulties. Here is a single example of his terse and masterly

_Dere wife, if you could make the next postal order a trifle stronger,
I might get getting an egg to my tea.--Your loving husband_, JAS.
MUCKLEWAME, _No_. 74077.

But there are features of this multifarious correspondence over which
one has no inclination to smile. There are wistful references to old
days; tender inquiries after bairns and weans; assurances to anxious
wives and mothers that the dangers of modern warfare are merely
nominal. There is an almost entire absence of boasting or lying, and
very little complaining. There is a general and obvious desire to
allay anxiety. We are all "fine"; we are all "in the pink." "This is a
grand life."

Listen to Lance-Corporal M'Snape: _Well, mother, I got your parcel,
and the things was most welcome; but you must not send any more. I
seen a shilling stamp on the parcel: that is too much for you to
afford_. How many officers take the trouble to examine the stamp on
their parcels?

And there is a wealth of homely sentiment and honest affection which
holds up its head without shame even in the presence of the Censor.
One rather pathetic screed, beginning: _Well, wife, I doubt this will
be a poor letter, for I canna get one of they green envelopes to-day,
but I'll try my best_--Bobby Little sealed and signed without further


One more picture, to close the record of our trivial round.

It is a dark, moist, and most unpleasant dawn. Captain Blaikie stands
leaning against a traverse in the fire-trench, superintending
the return of a party from picket duty. They file in, sleepy and
dishevelled, through an archway in the parapet, on their way to
dug-outs and repose. The last man in the procession is Bobby Little,
who has been in charge all night.

Our line here makes a sharp bend round the corner of an orchard, and
for security's sake a second trench has been cut behind, making, as
it were, the cross-bar of a capital A. The apex of the A is no health
resort. Brother Bosche, as already explained, is only fifty yards
away, and his trench-mortars make excellent practice with the parapet.
So the Orchard Trench is only occupied at night, and the alternative
route, which is well constructed and comparatively safe, is used by
all careful persons who desire to proceed from one arm of the A to the

The present party are the night picket, thankfully relinquishing their
vigil round the apex.

Bobby Little remained to bid his company-commander good-morning at the
junction of the two trenches.

"Any casualties?" An invariable question at this spot.

"No, sir. We were lucky. There was a lot of sniping."

"It's a rum profession," mused Captain Blaikie, who was in a wakeful

"In what way, sir?" inquired the sleepy but respectful Bobby.

"Well"--Captain Blaikie began to fill his pipe--"who takes about
nine-tenths of the risk, and does practically all the hard work in the
Army? The private and the subaltern--you and your picket, in fact.
Now, here is the problem which has puzzled me ever since I joined
the Army, and I've had nineteen years' service. The farther away you
remove the British soldier from the risk of personal injury, the
higher you pay him. Out here, a private of the line gets about a
shilling a day. For that he digs, saps, marches, and fights like a
hero. The motor-transport driver gets six shillings a day, no danger,
and lives like a fighting cock. The Army Service Corps drive about in
motors, pinch our rations, and draw princely incomes. Staff Officers
are compensated for their comparative security by extra cash, and
first chop at the war medals. Now--why?"

"I dare say they would sooner be here, in the trenches, with us," was
Bobby's characteristic reply.

Blaikie lit his pipe--it was almost broad daylight now--and

"Yes," he agreed--"perhaps. Still, my son, I can't say I have ever
noticed Staff Officers crowding into the trenches (as they have a
perfect right to do) at four o'clock in the morning. And I can't say I
altogether blame them. In fact, if ever I do meet one performing such
a feat, I shall say: 'There goes a sahib--and a soldier!' and I shall
take off my hat to him."

"Well, get ready now," said Bobby. "Look!"

They were still standing at the trench junction. Two figures, in the
uniform of the Staff, were visible in Orchard Trench, working their
way down from the apex--picking their steps amid the tumbled sandbags,
and stooping low to avoid gaps in the ruined parapet. The sun was just
rising behind the German trenches. One of the officers was burly and
middle-aged; he did not appear to enjoy bending double. His companion
was slight, fair-haired, and looked incredibly young. Once or twice he
glanced over his shoulder, and smiled encouragingly at his senior.

The pair emerged through the archway into the main trench, and
straightened their backs with obvious relief. The younger officer--he
was a lieutenant--noticed Captain Blaikie, saluted him gravely, and
turned to follow his companion.

Captain Blaikie did not take his hat off, as he had promised. Instead,
he stood suddenly to attention, and saluted in return, keeping his
hand uplifted until the slim, childish figure had disappeared round
the corner of a traverse.

It was the Prince of Wales.



When this war is over, and the glory and the praise are duly assigned,
particularly honourable mention should be made of the inhabitants of a
certain ancient French town with a Scottish name, which lies not far
behind a particularly sultry stretch of the trenches. The town is
subject to shell fire, as splintered walls and shattered windows
testify; yet every shop stands open. The town, moreover, is the only
considerable place in the district, and enjoys a monopoly of patronage
from all the surrounding billeting areas; yet the keepers of the
shops have heroically refrained from putting up their prices to any
appreciable extent. This combination of courage and fair-dealing has
had its reward. The town has become a local Mecca. British soldiers
with an afternoon to spare and a few francs to spend come in from
miles around. Mess presidents send in their mess-sergeants, and
fearful and wonderful is the marketing which ensues.

In remote and rural billets catering is a simple matter. We take what
we can get, and leave it at that. The following business-card, which
Bobby Little once found attached to an outhouse door in one of his
billets, puts the resources of a French hamlet into a nutshell:--


But in town the shopper has a wider range. Behold Sergeant Goffin, a
true-born Londoner, with the Londoner's faculty of never being at
a loss for a word, at the grocer's, purchasing comforts for our
officers' mess.

"Bong jooer, Mrs. Pankhurst!" he observes breezily to the plump
_epiciere_. This is his invariable greeting to French ladies who
display any tendency to volubility--and they are many.

"Bon jour, M'sieu le Caporal!" replies the _epiciere_, smiling.
"M'sieu le Caporal desire?"

The sergeant allows his reduction in rank to pass unnoticed. He does
not understand the French tongue, though he speaks it with great
fluency and incredible success. He holds up a warning hand.

"Now, keep your 'and off the tap of the gas-meter for one minute
_if_ you please," he rejoins, "and let me get a word in edgeways. I
want"--with great emphasis--"vinblank one, vinrooge two, bogeys six,
Dom one. Compree?"

By some miracle the smiling lady does "compree," and produces white
wine, red wine, candles, and--a bottle of Benedictine! (Sergeant
Goffin always names wines after the most boldly printed word upon
the label. He once handed round some champagne, which he insisted on
calling "a bottle of brute.")

"Combine?" is the next observation.

The _epiciere_ utters the series of short sharp sibilants of which
all French numerals appear to be composed. It sounds like
"song-song-song." The resourceful Goffin lays down a twenty-franc

"Take it out of that," he says grandly.

He receives his change, and counts it with a great air of wisdom. The
_epiciere_ breaks into a rapid recital--it sounds rather like our
curate at home getting to work on _When the wicked man_--of the beauty
and succulence of her other wares. Up goes Goffin's hand again.

"Na pooh!" he exclaims.. "Bong jooer!" And he stumps out to the

"Na pooh!" is a mysterious but invaluable expression. Possibly it is
derived from "Il n'y a plus." It means, "All over!" You say "Na pooh!"
when you push your plate away after dinner. It also means, "Not
likely!" or "Nothing doing!" By a further development it has come to
mean "done for," "finished," and in extreme cases, "dead." "Poor Bill
got na-poohed by a rifle-grenade yesterday," says one mourner to

The Oxford Dictionary of the English Language will have to be revised
and enlarged when this war is over.

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