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Now It Can Be Told by Philip Gibbs

Part 6 out of 10

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Great Push." The last battles were to be fought before the year died
again, though many men would die before that time.

Up in the salient something happened to make men question the weakness
of the enemy, but the news did not spread very far and there was a lot
to do elsewhere, on the Somme, where the salient seemed a long way
off. It was the Canadians to whom it happened, and it was an ugly

On June 2d a flame of fire from many batteries opened upon their lines
in Sanctuary Wood and Maple Copse, beyond the lines of Ypres, and
tragedy befell them. I went to see those who lived through it and
stood in the presence of men who had escaped from the very pits of
that hell which had been invented by human beings out of the earth's
chemistry, and yet had kept their reason.

The enemy's bombardment began suddenly, with one great crash of guns,
at half past eight on Friday morning. Generals Mercer and Williams had
gone up to inspect the trenches at six o'clock in the morning.

It had been almost silent along the lines when the enemy's batteries
opened fire with one enormous thunderstroke, which was followed by
continuous salvos. The shells came from nearly every point of the
compass--north, east, and south. The evil spell of the salient was
over our men again.

In the trenches just south of Hooge were the Princess Patricia's Light
Infantry, with some battalions of the Royal Canadian Regiment south of
them, and some of the Canadian Mounted Rifles (who had long been
dismounted), and units from another Canadian division at said
Intelligence) and the British, stronger than they had ever been, in
men, and guns, and shells, and aircraft, and all material of war, were
going to be launched in a great offensive. No more trench warfare. No
more dying in ditches. Out into the open, with an Army of Pursuit
(Rawlinson's) and a quick break-through. It was to be "The Great
Push." The last battles were to be fought before the year died again,
though many men would die before that time.

Up in the salient something happened to make men question the weakness
of the enemy, but the news did not spread very far and there was a lot
to do elsewhere, on the Somme, where the salient seemed a long way
off. It was the Canadians to whom it happened, and it was an ugly

On June 2nd a flame of fire from many batteries opened upon their
lines in Sanctuary Wood and Maple Copse, beyond the lines of Ypres,
and tragedy befell them. I went to see those who lived through it and
stood in the presence of men who had escaped from the very pits of
that hell which had been invented by human beings out of the earth's
chemistry, and yet had kept their reason.

The enemy's bombardment began suddenly, with one great crash of guns,
at half past eight on Friday morning. Generals Mercer and Williams had
gone up to inspect the trenches at six o'clock in the morning.

It had been almost silent along the lines when the enemy's batteries
opened fire with one enormous thunderstroke, which was followed by
continuous salvos. The shells came from nearly every point of the
compass--north, east, and south. The evil spell of the salient was
over our men again.

In the trenches just south of Hooge were the Princess Patricia's Light
Infantry, with some battalions of the Royal Canadian Regiment south of
them, and some of the Canadian Mounted Rifles (who had long been
dismounted), and units from another Canadian division at says one of
his comrades--as he fired his revolver and then flung it into a
German's face.

Colonel Shaw of the 1st Battalion, C.M.R., rallied eighty men out of
the Cumberland dugouts, and died fighting. The Germans were kept at
bay for some time, but they flung their bombs into the square of men,
so that very few remained alive. When only eight were still fighting
among the bodies of their comrades these tattered and blood-splashed
men, standing there fiercely contemptuous of the enemy and death, were
ordered to retire by Major Palmer, the last officer among them.

Meanwhile the battalions in support were holding firm in spite of the
shell-fire, which raged above them also, and it was against this
second line of Canadians that the German infantry came up--and broke.

In the center the German thrust was hard toward Zillebeke Lake. Here
some of the Canadian Rifles were in support, and as soon as the
infantry attack began they were ordered forward to meet and check the
enemy. An officer in command of one of their battalions afterward told
me that he led his men across country to Maple Copse under such a fire
as he had never seen. Because of the comrades in front, in dire need
of help, no notice was taken as the wounded fell, but the others
pressed on as fast as they could go.

Maple Copse was reached, and here the men halted and awaited the enemy
with another battalion who were already holding this wood of six or
seven acres. When the German troops arrived they may have expected to
meet no great resistance. They met a withering fire, which caused them
bloody losses. The Canadians had assembled at various points, which
became strongholds of defense with machine-guns and bomb stores, and
the men held their fire until the enemy was within close range, so
that they worked havoc among them. But the German guns never ceased
and many Canadians fell. Col. E. H. Baker, a member of the Canadian
Parliament, fell with a piece of shell in his lung.

Hour after hour our gunners fed their breeches and poured out shells.
The edge of the salient was swept with fire, and, though the Canadian
losses were frightful, the Germans suffered also, so that the
battlefield was one great shambles. Our own wounded, who were brought
back, owe their lives to the stretcher-bearers, who were supreme in
devotion. They worked in and out across that shell-swept ground hour
after hour through the day and night, rescuing many stricken men at a
great cost in life to themselves. Out of one party of twenty only five
remained alive. "No one can say," said one of their officers, "that
the Canadians do not know how to die."

No one would deny that.

Out of three thousand men in the Canadian 8th Brigade their casualties
were twenty-two hundred.

There were 151 survivors from the 1st Battalion Canadian Mounted
Rifles, 130 from the 4th Battalion, 350 from the 5th, 520 from the
2nd. Those are the figures of massacre.

Eleven days later the Canadians took their revenge. Their own guns
were but a small part of the huge orchestra of "heavies" and field
batteries which played the devil's tattoo upon the German positions in
our old trenches. It was annihilating, and the German soldiers had to
endure the same experience as their guns had given to Canadian troops
on the same ground. Trenches already battered were smashed again. The
earth, which was plowed with shells in their own attack, was flung up
again by our shells. It was hell again for poor human wretches.

The Canadian troops charged at two o'clock in the morning. Their
attack was directed to the part of the line from the southern end of
Sanctuary Wood to Mount Gorst, about a mile, which included Armagh
Wood, Observatory Hill, and Mount Gorst itself.

The attack went quickly and the men expected greater trouble. The
enemy's shell-fire was heavy, but the Canadians got through under
cover of their own guns, which had lengthened their fuses a little and
continued an intense bombardment behind the enemy's first line. The
men advanced in open order and worked downward and southward into
their old positions.

In one place of attack about forty Germans, who fought desperately,
were killed almost to a man, just as Colonel Shaw had died on June 2d
with his party of eighty men who had rallied round him. It was one
shambles for another, and the Germans were not less brave, it seems.

One officer and one hundred and thirteen men surrendered. The officer
was glad to escape from the death to which he had resigned himself
when our bombardment began.

"I knew how it would be," he said. "We had orders to take this ground,
and took it; but we knew you would come back again. You had to do so.
So here I am."

Parts of the line were deserted, except by the dead. In one place the
stores which had been buried by the Canadians before they left were
still there, untouched by the enemy. Our bombardment had made it
impossible for his troops to consolidate their position and to hold
the line steady.

They had just taken cover in the old bits of trench, in shell-holes
and craters, and behind scattered sand-bags, and had been pounded
there. The Canadians were back again.


The Heart of a City



During the battles of the Somme in 1916, and afterward in periods of
progress and retreat over the abominable fields, the city of Amiens
was the capital of the British army. When the battles began in July of
that year it was only a short distance away from the fighting-lines;
near enough to hear the incessant roar of gun-fire on the French front
and ours, and near enough to get, by motor-car or lorry, in less than
thirty minutes, to places where men were being killed or maimed or
blinded in the routine of the day's work. One went out past Amiens
station and across a little stone bridge which afterward, in the
enemy's advance of 1918, became the mark for German high velocities
along the road to Querrieux, where Rawlinson had his headquarters of
the Fourth Army in an old chateau with pleasant meadows round it and a
stream meandering through fields of buttercups in summer-time. Beyond
the dusty village of Querrieux with its white cottages, from which the
plaster fell off in blotches as the war went on, we went along the
straight highroad to Albert, through the long and straggling village
of Lahoussoye, where Scottish soldiers in reserve lounged about among
frowsy peasant women and played solemn games with "the bairns"; and
so, past camps and hutments on each side of the road, to the ugly red-
brick town where the Golden Virgin hung head downward from the broken
tower of the church with her Babe outstretched above the fields of
death as though as a peace-offering to this world at war.

One could be killed any day in Albert. I saw men blown to bits there
the clay after the battles of the Somme began. It was in the road that
turned to the right, past the square to go to Meaulte and on to
Fricourt. There was a tide of gun transport swirling down the road,
bringing up new ammunition for the guns that were firing without a
pause over Fricourt and Mametz. The high scream of a shell came
through a blue sky and ended on its downward note with a sharp crash.
For a few minutes the transport column was held up while a mass of raw
flesh which a second before had been two living men and their horses
was cleared out of the way. Then the gun wagons went at a harder pace
down the road, raising a cloud of white dust out of which I heard the
curses of the drivers, swearing in a foul way to disguise their fear.

I went through Albert many scores of times to the battlefields beyond,
and watched its process of disintegration through those years, until
it was nothing but a wild scrap heap of read brick and twisted iron,
and, in the last phase, even the Golden Virgin and her Babe, which had
seemed to escape all shell-fire by miraculous powers, lay buried
beneath a mass of masonry. Beyond were the battlefields of the Somme
where every yard of ground is part of the great graveyard of our

So Amiens, as I have said, was not far away from the red heart of war,
and was clear enough to the lines to be crowded always with officers
and men who came out between one battle and another, and by "lorry-
jumping" could reach this city for a few hours of civilized life,
according to their views of civilization. To these men--boys, mostly--
who had been living in lousy ditches under hell fire, Amiens was
Paradise, with little hells for those who liked them. There were
hotels in which they could go get a bath, if they waited long enough
or had the luck to be early on the list. There were streets of shops
with plate-glass windows unbroken, shining, beautiful. There were
well-dressed women walking about, with kind eyes, and children as
dainty, some of them, as in High Street, Kensington, or Prince's
Street, Edinburgh. Young officers, who had plenty of money to spend--
because there was no chance of spending money between a row of blasted
trees and a ditch in which bits of dead men were plastered into the
parapet--invaded the shops and bought fancy soaps, razors, hair-oil,
stationery, pocketbooks, knives, flash-lamps, top-boots (at a fabulous
price), khaki shirts and collars, gramophone records, and the latest
set of Kirchner prints. It was the delight of spending, rather than
the joy of possessing, which made them go from one shop to another in
search of things they could carry hack to the line--that and the lure
of girls behind the counters, laughing, bright-eyed girls who
understood their execrable French, even English spoken with a Glasgow
accent, and were pleased to flirt for five minutes with any group of
young fighting-men--who broke into roars of laughter at the gallantry
of some Don Juan among them with the gift of audacity, and paid
outrageous prices for the privilege of stammering out some foolish
sentiment in broken French, blushing to the roots of their hair
(though captains and heroes) at their own temerity with a girl who, in
another five minutes, would play the same part in the same scene with
a different group of boys.

I used to marvel at the patience of these girls. How bored they must
have been with all this flirtation, which led to nothing except,
perhaps, the purchase of a bit of soap at twice its proper price! They
knew that these boys would leave to go back to the trenches in a few
hours and that some of them would certainly be dead in a few days.
There could be no romantic episode, save of a transient kind, between
them and these good-looking lads in whose eyes there were desire and
hunger, because to them the plainest girl was Womanhood, the sweet,
gentle, and feminine side of life, as opposed to the cruelty,
brutality, and ugliness of war and death. The shopgirls of Amiens had
no illusions. They had lived too long in war not to know the
realities. They knew the risks of transient love and they were not
taking them--unless conditions were very favorable. They attended
strictly to business and hoped to make a lot of money in the shop, and
were, I think, mostly good girls--as virtuous as life in war-time may
let girls be--wise beyond their years, and with pity behind their
laughter for these soldiers who tried to touch their hands over the
counters, knowing that many of them were doomed to die for France and
England. They had their own lovers--boys in blue somewhere between
Vaux-sur-Somme and Hartmanns--weilerkopf--and apart from occasional
intimacies with English officers quartered in Amiens for long spells,
left the traffic of passion to other women who walked the streets.


The Street of the Three Pebbles--la rue des Trois Cailloux--which goes
up from the station through the heart of Amiens, was the crowded
highway. Here were the best shops--the hairdresser, at the left-hand
side, where all day long officers down from the line came in to have
elaborate luxury in the way of close crops with friction d'eau de
quinine, shampooing, singeing, oiling, not because of vanity, but
because of the joyous sense of cleanliness and perfume after the filth
and stench of life in the desolate fields; then the booksellers'
(Madame Carpentier et fille) on the right-hand side, which was not
only the rendezvous of the miscellaneous crowd buying stationery and
La Vie Parisienne, but of the intellectuals who spoke good French and
bought good books and liked ten minutes' chat with the mother and
daughter. (Madame was an Alsatian lady with vivid memories of I870,
when, as a child, she had first learned to hate Germans.) She hated
them now with a fresh, vital hatred, and would have seen her own son
dead a hundred times--he was a soldier in Saloniki--rather than that
France should make a compromise peace with the enemy. She had been in
Amiens, as I was, on a dreadful night of August of 1914, when the
French army passed through in retreat from Bapaume, and she and the
people of her city knew for the first time that the Germans were close
upon them. She stood in the crowd as I did--in the darkness, watching
that French column pass with their transport, and their wounded lying
on the baggage wagons, men of many regiments mixed up, the light of
the street lamps shining on the casques of cuirassiers with their long
horsehair tails, leading their stumbling horses, and foot soldiers,
hunched under their packs, marching silently with dragging steps. Once
in a while one of the soldiers left the ranks and came on to the
sidewalk, whispering to a group of dark shadows. The crowds watched
silently, in a curious, dreadful silence, as though stunned. A woman
near me spoke in a low voice, and said, "Nous sommes perdus!" Those
were the only words I heard or remembered.

That night in the station of Amiens the boys of a new class were being
hurried away in truck trains, and while their army was in retreat sang
"La Marseillaise," as though victory were in their hearts. Next day
the German army under von Kluck entered Amiens, and ten days afterward
passed through it on the way to Paris. Madame Carpentier told me of
the first terror of the people when the field-gray men came down the
Street of the Three Pebbles and entered their shops. A boy selling
oranges fainted when a German stretched out his hand to buy some.
Women hid behind their counters when German boots stamped into their
shops. But Madame Carpentier was not afraid. She knew the Germans and
their language. She spoke frank words to German officers, who saluted
her respectfully enough. "You will never get to Paris. . . France and
England will be too strong for you. . . Germany will be destroyed
before this war ends." They laughed at her and said: "We shall be in
Paris in a week from now. Have you a little diary, Madame?" Madame
Carpentier was haughty with them. Some women of Amiens--poor drabs--
did not show any haughtiness, nor any pride, with the enemy who
crowded into the city on their way toward Paris. A girl told me that
she was looking through the window of a house that faced the Place de
la Gare, and saw a number of German soldiers dancing round a piano-
organ which was playing to them. They were dancing with women of the
town, who were laughing and screeching in the embrace of big, blond
Germans. The girl who was watching was only a schoolgirl then. She
knew very little of the evil of life, but enough to know that there
was something in this scene degrading to womanhood and to France. She
turned from the window and flung herself on her bed and wept
bitterly. . .

I used to call in at the bookshop for a chat now and then with Madame
and Mademoiselle Carpentier, while a crowd of officers came in and
out. Madame was always merry and bright in spite of her denunciations
of the "Sale Boches--les brigands, les bandits!" and Mademoiselle put
my knowledge of French to a severe but pleasant test. She spoke with
alarming rapidity, her words tumbling over one another in a cascade of
volubility delightful to hear but difficult to follow. She had a
strong mind--masterly in her methods of business--so that she could
serve six customers at once and make each one think that her attention
was entirely devoted to his needs--and a very shrewd and critical idea
of military strategy and organization. She had but a poor opinion of
British generals and generalship, although a wholehearted admiration
for the gallantry of British officers and men; and she had an intimate
knowledge of our preparations, plans, failures, and losses. French
liaison-officers confided to her the secrets of the British army; and
English officers trusted her with many revelations of things "in the
wind." But Mademoiselle Carpentier had discretion and loyalty and did
not repeat these things to people who had no right to know. She would
have been far more efficient as a staff officer than many of the young
gentlemen with red tabs on their tunics who came into the shop,
flipping beautiful top-boots with riding-crops, sitting on the
counter, and turning over the pages of La Vie for the latest
convention in ladies' legs.

Mademoiselle was a serious musician, so her mother told me, but her
musical studies were seriously interrupted by business and air raids,
which one day ceased in Amiens altogether after a night of horror,
when hundreds of houses were smashed to dust and many people killed,
and the Germans brought their guns close to the city--close enough to
scatter high velocities about its streets--and the population came up
out of their cellars, shaken by the terror of the night, and fled. I
passed the bookshop where Mademoiselle was locking up the door of this
house which had escaped by greater luck than its neighbors. She turned
as I passed and raised her hand with a grave gesture of resignation
and courage. "Ils ne passeront pas!" she said. It was the spirit of
the courage of French womanhood which spoke in those words.


That was in the last phase of the war, but the Street of the Three
Pebbles had been tramped up and down for two years before then by the
British armies on the Somme, with the French on their right. I was
never tired of watching those crowds and getting into the midst of
them, and studying their types. All the types of young English manhood
came down this street, and some of their faces showed the strain and
agony of war, especially toward the end of the Somme battles, after
four months or more of slaughter. I saw boys with a kind of hunted
look in their eyes; and Death was the hunter. They stared into the
shop windows in a dazed way, or strode along with packs on their
backs, looking neither to the right nor to the left, and white,
haggard faces, as expressionless as masks. Tomorrow or the next day,
perhaps, the Hunter would track them down. Other English officers
showed no sign at all of apprehension or lack of nerve-control,
although the psychologist would have detected disorder of soul in the
rather deliberate note of hilarity with which they greeted their
friends, in gusts of laughter, for no apparent cause, at "Charlie's
bar," where they would drink three cocktails apiece on an empty
stomach, and in their tendency to tell tales of horror as things that
were very funny. They dined and wined in Amiens at the "Rhin," the
"Godebert," or the "Cathedrale," with a kind of spiritual exaltation
in good food and drink, as though subconsciously they believed that
this might be their last dinner in life, with good pals about them.
They wanted to make the best of it--and damn the price. In that spirit
many of them went after other pleasures--down the byways of the city,
and damned the price again, which was a hellish one. Who blames them?
It was war that was to blame, and those who made war possible.

Down the rue des Trois Cailloux, up and down, up and down, went
English, and Scottish, and Irish, and Welsh, and Canadian, and
Australian, and New Zealand fighting--men. In the winter they wore
their trench-coats all splashed and caked up to the shoulders with the
white, chalky mud of the Somme battlefields, and their top--boots and
puttees were plastered with this mud, and their faces were smeared
with it after a lorry drive or a tramp down from the line. The rain
beat with a metallic tattoo on their steel hats. Their packs were all

French poilus, detrained at Amiens station for a night on their way to
some other part of the front, jostled among British soldiers, and
their packs were a wonder to see. They were like traveling tinkers,
with pots and pans and boots slung about their faded blue coats, and
packs bulging with all the primitive needs of life in the desert of
the battlefields beyond civilization. They were unshaven, and wore
their steel casques low over their foreheads, without gaiety, without
the means of buying a little false hilarity, but grim and sullen--
looking and resentful of English soldiers walking or talking with
French cocottes.


I saw a scene with a French poilu one day in the Street of the Three
Pebbles, during those battles of the Somme, when the French troops
were fighting on our right from Maricourt southward toward Roye. It
was like a scene from "Gaspard." The poilu was a middle-aged man, and
very drunk on some foul spirit which he had bought in a low cafe down
by the river. In the High Street he was noisy, and cursed God for
having allowed the war to happen, and the French government for having
sentenced him and all poor sacre poilus to rot to death in the
trenches, away from their wives and children, without a thought for
them; and nothing but treachery in Paris:

"Nous sommes trahis!" said the man, raising his arms. "For the
hundredth time France is betrayed."

A crowd gathered round him, listening to his drunken denunciations. No
one laughed. They stared at him with a kind of pitying wonderment. An
agent de police pushed his way between the people and caught hold of
the soldier by the wrist and tried to drag him away. The crowd
murmured a protest, and then suddenly the poilu, finding himself in
the hands of the police, on this one day out of the trenches--after
five months--flung himself on the pavement in a passion of tears and

"Je suis pere de famille! . . . Je suis un soldat de France! . . .
Dans les tranchees pour cinq mois! . . . Qu'est-ce que mes camarades
vont dire, 'cre nom de Dieu? et mon capitaine? C'est emmordant apres
toute ma service comme brave soldat. Mais, quoi donc, mon vieux!"

"Viens donc, saligaud," growled the agent de police.

The crowd was against the policeman. Their murmurs rose to violent
protest on behalf of the poilu.

"C'est un heros, tout de meme. Cinq mois dans les tranches! C'est
affreux! Mais oui, il est soul, mais pour--quoi pas! Apres cinq mois
sur le front qu'est-ce que cela signifie? Ca n'a aucune importance!"

A dandy French officer of Chasseurs Alpins stepped into the center of
the scene and tapped the policeman on the shoulder.

"Leave him alone. Don't you see he is a soldier? Sacred name of God,
don't you know that a man like this has helped to save France, while
you pigs stand at street corners watching petticoats?"

He stooped to the fallen man and helped him to stand straight.

"Be off with you, mon brave, or there will be trouble for you."

He beckoned to two of his own Chasseurs and said:

"Look after that poor comrade yonder. He is un peu etoile."

The crowd applauded. Their sympathy was all for the drunken soldier of


Into a small estaminet at the end of the rue des Trois Cailloux,
beyond the Hotel de Ville, came one day during the battles of the
Somme two poilus, grizzled, heavy men, deeply bronzed, with white dust
in their wrinkles, and the earth of the battlefields ingrained in the
skin of their big, coarse hands. They ordered two "little glasses" and
drank them at one gulp. Then two more.

"See what I have got, my little cabbage," said one of them, stooping
to the heavy pack which he had shifted from his shoulders to the other
seat beside him. "It is something to make you laugh."

"And what is that, my old one?" said a woman sitting on the other side
of the marble-topped table, with another woman of her own class, from
the market nearby.

The man did not answer the question, but fumbled into his pack,
laughing a little in a self-satisfied way.

"I killed a German to get it," he said. "He was a pig of an officer, a
dirty Boche. Very chic, too, and young like a schoolboy."

One of the women patted him on the shoulder. Her eyes glistened.

"Did you slit his throat, the dirty dog? Eh, I'd like to get my
fingers round the neck of a dirty Boche!"

"I finished him with a grenade," said the poilu. "It was good enough.
It knocked a hole in him as large as a cemetery. See then, my cabbage.
It will make you smile. It is a funny kind of mascot, eh?"

He put on the table a small leather pouch stained with a blotch of
reddish brown. His big, clumsy fingers could hardly undo the little

"He wore this next his heart," said the man. "Perhaps he thought it
would bring him luck. But I killed him all the same! 'Cre nom de

He undid the clasp, and his big fingers poked inside the flap of the

"It was from his woman, his German grue. Perhaps even now she doesn't
know he's dead. She thinks of him wearing this next to his heart. 'Cre
nom de Dieu! It was I that killed him a week ago!"

He held up something in his hand, and the light through the estaminet
window gleamed on it. It was a woman's lock of hair, like fine-spun

The two women gave a shrill cry of surprise, and then screamed with
laughter. One of them tried to grab the hair, but the poilu held it
high, beyond her reach, with a gruff command of, "Hands off!" Other
soldiers and women in the estaminet gathered round staring at the
yellow tress, laughing, making ribald conjectures as to the character
of the woman from whose head it had come. They agreed that she was fat
and ugly, like all German women, and a foul slut.

"She'll never kiss that fellow again," said one man. "Our old one has
cut the throat of that pig of a Boche!"

"I'd like to cut off all her hair and tear the clothes off her back,"
said one of the women. "The dirty drab with yellow hair! They ought to
be killed, every one of them, so that the human race should by rid of

"Her lover is a bit of clay, anyhow," said the other woman. "A bit of
dirt, as our poilus will do for all of them."

The soldier with the woman's hair in his hand stroked it across his

"All the same it is pretty. Like gold, eh? I think of the woman,
sometimes. With blue eyes, like a German girl I kissed in Paris-a

There was a howl of laughter from the two women.

"The old one is drunk. He is amorous with the German cow!"

"I will keep it as a mascot," said the poilu, scrunching it up and
thrusting it into his pouch. "It'll keep me in mind of that saligaud
of a German officer I killed. He was a chic fellow, tout de meme. A


Australians slouched up the Street of the Three Pebbles with a grim
look under their wide-brimmed hats, having come down from Pozieres,
where it was always hell in the days of the Somme fighting. I liked
the look of them, dusty up to the eyes in summer, muddy up to their
eyes in winter--these gipsy fellows, scornful of discipline for
discipline's sake, but desperate fighters, as simple as children in
their ways of thought and speech (except for frightful oaths), and
looking at life, this life of war and this life in Amiens, with frank,
curious eyes, and a kind of humorous contempt for death, and disease,
and English Tommies, and French girls, and "the whole damned show," as
they called it. They were lawless except for the laws to which their
souls gave allegiance. They behaved as the equals of all men, giving
no respect to generals or staff-officers or the devils of hell. There
was a primitive spirit of manhood in them, and they took what they
wanted, and were ready to pay for it in coin or in disease or in
wounds. They had no conceit of themselves in a little, vain way, but
they reckoned themselves the only fighting-men, simply, and without
boasting. They were hard as steel, and finely tempered. Some of them
were ruffians, but most of them were, I imagine, like those English
yeomen who came into France with the Black Prince, men who lived
"rough," close to nature, of sturdy independence, good-humored, though
fierce in a fight, and ruthless. That is how they seemed to me, in a
general way, though among them were boys of a more delicate fiber, and
sensitive, if one might judge by their clear-cut features and wistful
eyes. They had money to spend beyond the dreams of our poor Tommy. Six
shillings and sixpence a day and remittances from home. So they pushed
open the doors of any restaurant in Amiens and sat down to table next
to English officers, not abashed, and ordered anything that pleased
their taste, and wine in plenty.

In that High Street of Amiens one day I saw a crowd gathered round an
Australian, so tall that he towered over all other heads. It was at
the corner of the rue de Corps Nu sans Teste, the Street of the Naked
Body without a Head, and I suspected trouble. As I pressed on the edge
of the crowd I heard the Australian ask, in a loud, slow drawl,
whether there was any officer about who could speak French. He asked
the question gravely, but without anxiety. I pushed through the crowd
and said:

"I speak French. What's the trouble?"

I saw then that, like the French poilu I have described, this tall
Australian was in the grasp of a French agent de police, a small man
of whom he took no more notice than if a fly had settled on his wrist.
The Australian was not drunk. I could see that he had just drunk
enough to make his brain very clear and solemn. He explained the
matter deliberately, with a slow choice of words, as though giving
evidence of high matters before a court. It appeared that he had gone
into the estaminet opposite with four friends. They had ordered five
glasses of porto, for which they had paid twenty centimes each, and
drank them. They then ordered five more glasses of porto and paid the
same price, and drank them. After this they took a stroll up and down
the street, and were bored, and went into the estaminet again, and
ordered five more glasses of porto. It was then the trouble began. But
it was not the Australian who began it. It was the woman behind the
bar. She served five glasses more of porto and asked for thirty
centimes each.

"Twenty centimes," said the Australian. "Vingt, Madame."

"Mais non! Trente centimes, chaque verre! Thirty, my old one. Six
sous, comprenez?"

"No comprennye," said the Australian. "Vingt centimes, or go to hell."

The woman demanded the thirty centimes; kept on demanding with a voice
more shrill.

"It was her voice that vexed me," said the Australian. "That and the
bloody injustice."

The five Australians drank the five glasses of porto, and the tall
Australian paid the thirty centimes each without further argument.
Life is too short for argument. Then, without words, he took each of
the five glasses, broke it at the stem, and dropped it over the

"You will see, sir," he said, gravely, "the justice of the matter on
my side."

But when they left the estaminet the woman came shrieking into the
street after them. Hence the agent de police and the grasp on the
Australian's wrist.

"I should be glad if you would explain the case to this little
Frenchman," said the soldier. "If he does not take his hand off my
wrist I shall have to kill him."

"Perhaps a little explanation might serve," I said.

I spoke to the agent de police at some length, describing the incident
in the cafe. I took the view that the lady was wrong in increasing the
price so rapidly. The agent agreed gravely. I then pointed out that
the Australian was a very large-sized man, and that in spite of his
quietude he was a man in the habit of killing Germans. He also had a
curious dislike of policemen.

"It appears to me," I said, politely, "that for the sake of your
health the other end of the street is better than this."

The agent de police released his grip from the Australian's wrist and
saluted me.

"Vous avez raison, monsieur. Je vous remercie. Ces Australiens sont
vraiment formidables, n'est-ce pas?"

He disappeared through the crowd, who were smiling with a keen sense
of understanding. Only the lady of the estaminet was unappeased.

"They are bandits, these Australians!" she said to the world about

The tall Australian shook hands with me in a comradely way.

"Thanks for your trouble," he said. "It was the injustice I couldn't
stick. I always pay the right price. I come from Australia."

I watched him go slouching down the rue des Trois Cailloux, head above
all the passers-by. He would be at Pozieres again next day.


I was billeted for a time with other war correspondents in an old
house in the rue Amiral Courbet, on the way to the river Somme from
the Street of the Three Pebbles, and with a view of the spire of the
cathedral, a wonderful thing of delicate lines and tracery, graven
with love in every line, by Muirhead Bone, and from my dormer window.
It was the house of Mme. de la Rochefoucauld, who lived farther out of
the town, but drove in now and then to look at this little mansion of
hers at the end of a courtyard behind wrought-iron gates. It was built
in the days before the Revolution, when it was dangerous to be a fine
lady with the name of Rochefoucauld. The furniture was rather scanty,
and was of the Louis Quinze and Empire periods. Some portraits of old
gentlemen and ladies of France, with one young fellow in a scarlet
coat, who might have been in the King's Company of the Guard about the
time when Wolfe scaled the Heights of Abraham, summoned up the ghosts
of the house, and I liked to think of them in these rooms and going in
their sedan-chairs across the little courtyard to high mass at the
cathedral or to a game of bezique in some other mansion, still
standing in the quiet streets of Amiens, unless in a day in March of
1918 they were destroyed with many hundreds of houses by bombs and
gun-fire. My little room was on the floor below the garret, and here
at night, after a long day in the fields up by Pozieres or Martinpuich
or beyond, by Ligny-Tilloy, on the way to Bapaume, in the long
struggle and slaughter over every inch of ground, I used to write my
day's despatch, to be taken next day (it was before we were allowed to
use the military wires) by King's Messenger to England.

Those articles, written at high speed, with an impressionism born out
of many new memories of tragic and heroic scenes, were interrupted
sometimes by air-bombardments. Hostile airmen came often to Amiens
during the Somme fighting, to unload their bombs as near to the
station as they could guess, which was not often very near. Generally
they killed a few women and children and knocked a few poor houses and
a shop or two into a wild rubbish heap of bricks and timber. While I
wrote, listening to the crashing of glass and the anti-aircraft fire
of French guns from the citadel, I used to wonder subconsciously
whether I should suddenly be hurled into chaos at the end of an
unfinished sentence, and now and again in spite of my desperate
conflict with time to get my message done (the censors were waiting
for it downstairs) I had to get up and walk into the passage to listen
to the infernal noise in the dark city of Amiens. But I went back
again and bent over my paper, concentrating on the picture of war
which I was trying to set down so that the world might see and
understand, until once again, ten minutes later or so, my will-power
would weaken and the little devil of fear would creep up to my heart
and I would go uneasily to the door again to listen. Then once more to
my writing. . . Nothing touched the house in the rue Amiral Courbet
while we were there. But it was into my bedroom that a shell went
crashing after that night in March when Amiens was badly wrecked, and
we listened to the noise of destruction all around us from a room in
the Hotel du Rhin on the other side of the way. I should have been
sleeping still if I had slept that night in my little old bedroom when
the shell paid a visit.

There were no lights allowed at night in Amiens, and when I think of
darkness I think of that city in time of war, when all the streets
were black tunnels and one fumbled one's way timidly, if one had no
flash-lamp, between the old houses with their pointed gables, coming
into sharp collision sometimes with other wayfarers. But up to
midnight there were little lights flashing for a second and then going
out, along the Street of the Three Pebbles and in the dark corners of
side-streets. They were carried by girls seeking to entice English
officers on their way to their billets, and they clustered like
glowworms about the side door of the Hotel du Rhin after nine o'clock,
and outside the railings of the public gardens. As one passed, the
bright bull's-eye from a pocket torch flashed in one's eyes, and in
the radiance of it one saw a girl's face, laughing, coming very close,
while her fingers felt for one's badge.

"How dark it is to-night, little captain! Are you not afraid of
darkness? I am full of fear. It is so sad, this war, so dismal! It is
comradeship that helps one now! . . . A little love . . . a little
laughter, and then--who knows?"

A little love . . . a little laughter--alluring words to boys out of
one battle, expecting another, hating it all, lonely in their souls
because of the thought of death, in exile from their own folk, in
exile from all womanhood and tender, feminine things, up there in the
ditches and shellcraters of the desert fields, or in the huts of
headquarters staffs, or in reserve camps behind the fighting-line. A
little love, a little laughter, and then--who knows? The sirens had
whispered their own thoughts. They had translated into pretty French
the temptation of all the little devils in their souls.

"Un peu d'amour-"

One flash-lamp was enough for two down a narrow street toward the
riverside, and then up a little dark stairway to a lamp-lit room. . .
Presently this poor boy would be stricken with disease and wish
himself dead.


In the Street of the Three Pebbles there was a small estaminet into
which I went one morning for a cup of coffee, while I read an Amiens
news-sheet made up mostly of extracts translated from the leading
articles of English papers. (There was never any news of French
fighting beyond the official communique and imaginary articles of a
romantic kind written by French journalists in Paris about episodes of
war.) In one corner of the estaminet was a group of bourgeois
gentlemen talking business for a time, and then listening to a
monologue from the woman behind the counter. I could not catch many
words of the conversation, owing to the general chatter, but when the
man went out the woman and I were left alone together, and she came
over to me and put a photograph down on the table before me, and, as
though carrying on her previous train of thought, said, in French, of

"Yes, that is what the war has done to me."

I could not guess her meaning. Looking at the photograph, I saw it was
of a young girl in evening dress with her hair coiled in an artistic
way and a little curl on each cheek. Madame's daughter, I thought,
looking up at the woman standing in front of me in a grubby bodice and
tousled hair. She looked a woman of about forty, with a wan face and
beaten eyes.

"A charming young lady," I said, glancing again at the portrait.

The woman repeated her last sentence, word for word.

"Yes . . . that is what the war has done to me."

I looked up at her again and saw that she had the face of the young
girl in the photograph, but coarsened, aged, raddled, by the passing
years and perhaps by tragedy.

"It is you?" I asked.

"Yes, in 1913, before the war. I have changed since then--n'est-ce
pas, Monsieur?"

"There is a change," I said. I tried not to express my thought of how
much change.

"You have suffered in the war--more than most people?"

"Ah, I have suffered!"

She told me her story, and word for word, if I could have written it
down then, it would have read like a little novel by Guy de
Maupassant. She was the daughter of people in Lille, well-to-do
merchants, and before the war married a young man of the same town,
the son of other manufacturers. They had two children and were very
happy. Then the war came. The enemy drove down through Belgium, and
one day drew near and threatened Lille. The parents of the young
couple said: "We will stay. We are too old to leave our home, and it
is better to keep watch over the factory. You must go, with the little
ones, and there is no time to lose."

There was no time to lose. The trains were crowded with fugitives and
soldiers--mostly soldiers. It was necessary to walk. Weeping, the
young husband and wife said farewell to their parents and set out on
the long trail, with the two babies in a perambulator, under a load of
bread and wine, and a little maid carrying some clothes in a bundle.
For days they tramped the roads until they were all dusty and
bedraggled and footsore, but glad to be getting farther away from that
tide of field-gray men which had now swamped over Lille. The young
husband comforted his wife. "Courage!" he said. "I have money enough
to carry us through the war. We will set up a little shop somewhere."
The maid wept bitterly now and then, but the young husband said: "We
will take care of you, Margot. There is nothing to fear. We are lucky
in our escape." He was a delicate fellow, rejected for military
service, but brave. They came to Amiens, and hired the estaminet and
set up business. There was a heavy debt to work off for capital and
expenses before they would make money, but they were doing well. The
mother was happy with her children, and the little maid had dried her
tears. Then one day the young husband went away with the little maid
and all the money, leaving his wife in the estaminet with a big debt
to pay and a broken heart.

"That is what the war has done to me," she said again, picking up the
photograph of the girl in the evening frock with a little curl on each

"C'est triste, Madame!"

"Oui, c'est triste, Monsieur!"

But it was not war that had caused her tragedy, except that it had
unloosened the roots of her family life. Guy de Maupassant would have
given just such an ending to his story.


Some of our officers stationed in Amiens, and billeted in private
houses, became very friendly with the families who received them.
Young girls of good middle class, the daughters of shopkeepers and
schoolmasters, and merchants in a good way of business, found it
delightful to wait on handsome young Englishmen, to teach them French,
to take walks with them, and to arrange musical evenings with other
girl friends who brought their young officers and sang little old
French songs with them or English songs in the prettiest French
accent. These young officers of ours found the home life very
charming. It broke the monotony of exile and made them forget the evil
side of war. They paid little gallantries to the girls, bought them
boxes of chocolate until fancy chocolate was forbidden in France, and
presented flowers to decorate the table, and wrote amusing verses in
their autograph albums or drew sketches for them. As this went on they
gained to the privilege of brotherhood, and there were kisses before
saying "good night" outside bedroom doors, while the parents
downstairs were not too watchful, knowing the ways of young people,
and lenient because of their happiness. Then a day came in each one of
these households when the officer billeted there was ordered away to
some other place. What tears! What lamentations! And what promises
never to forget little Jeanne with her dark tresses, or Suzanne with
the merry eyes! Were they not engaged? Not formally, perhaps, but in
honor and in love. For a time letters arrived, eagerly waited for by
girls with aching hearts. Then picture post-cards with a line or two
of affectionate greeting. Then nothing. Nothing at all, month after
month, in spite of all the letters addressed with all the queer
initials for military units. So it happened again and again, until
bitterness crept into girls' hearts, and hardness and contempt.

"In my own little circle of friends," said a lady of Amiens, "I know
eighteen girls who were engaged to English officers and have been
forsaken. It is not fair. It is not good. Your English young men seem
so serious, far more serious than our French boys. They have a look of
shyness which we find delightful. They are timid, at first, and blush
when one pays a pretty compliment. They are a long time before they
take liberties. So we trust them, and take them seriously, and allow
intimacies which we should refuse to French boys unless formally
engaged. But it is all camouflage. At heart your English young men are
just flirts. They play with us, make fools of us, steal our hearts,
and then go away, and often do not send so much as a post-card. Not
even one little post-card to the girls who weep their hearts out for
them! You English are all hypocrites. You boast that you 'play the
game.' I know your phrase. It is untrue.

You play with good girls as though they were grues, and that no
Frenchman would dare to do. He knows the difference between good girls
and bad girls, and behaves, with reverence to those who are good. When
the English army goes away from France it will leave many bitter
memories because of that."


It was my habit to go out at night for a walk through Amiens before
going to bed, and generally turned river-ward, for even on moonless
nights there was always a luminance over the water and one could see
to walk along the quayside. Northward and eastward the sky was
quivering with flashes of white light, like summer lightning, and now
and then there was a long, vivid glare of red touching the high clouds
with rosy feathers; one of our dumps, or one of the enemy's, had been
blown up by that gun-fire, sullen and menacing, which never ceased for
years. In that quiet half-hour, alone, or with some comrade, like
Frederic Palmer or Beach Thomas, as tired and as thoughtful as oneself
after a long day's journeying in the swirl of war, one's brain roved
over the scenes of battle, visualizing anew, and in imagination, the
agony up there, the death which was being done by those guns, and the
stupendous sum of all this conflict. We saw, after all, only one patch
of the battlefields of the world, and yet were staggered by the
immensity of its massacre, by the endless streams of wounded, and by
the growth of those little forests of white crosses behind the
fighting-lines. We knew, and could see at any moment in the mind's
eye--even in the darkness of an Amiens night--the vastness of the
human energy which was in motion along all the roads to Paris and from
Boulogne and Dieppe and Havre to the fighting-lines, and in every
village on the way the long columns of motor-lorries bringing up food
and ammunition, the trains on their way to the army rail-heads with
material of war and more food and more shells, the Red Cross trains
crowded with maimed and injured boys, the ambulances clearing the
casualty stations, the troops marching forward from back roads to the
front, from which many would never come marching back, the guns and
limbers and military transports and spare horses, along hundreds of
miles of roads--all the machinery of slaughter on the move. It was
staggering in its enormity, in its detail, and in its activity. Yet
beyond our sphere in the British section of the western front there
was the French front, larger than ours, stretching right through
France, and all their roads were crowded with the same traffic, and
all their towns and villages were stirred by the same activity and for
the same purpose of death, and all their hospitals were crammed with
the wreckage of youth. On the other side of the lines the Germans were
busy in the same way, as busy as soldier ants, and the roads behind
their front were cumbered by endless columns of transport and marching
men, and guns and ambulances laden with bashed, blinded, and bleeding
boys. So it was in Italy, in Austria, in Saloniki, and Bulgaria,
Serbia, Mesopotamia, Egypt. . . In the silence of Amiens by night,
under the stars, with a cool breath of the night air on our foreheads,
with a glamour of light over the waters of the Somme, our spirit was
stricken by the thought of this world-tragedy, and cried out in
anguish against this bloody crime in which all humanity was involved.
The senselessness of it! The futility! The waste! The mockery of men's
faith in God! . . .

Often Palmer and I--dear, grave old Palmer, with sphinx-like face and
honest soul--used to trudge along silently, with just a sigh now and
then, or a groan, or a sudden cry of "O God! . . . O Christ!" It was
I, generally, who spoke those words, and Palmer would say: "Yes . . .
and it's going to last a long time yet. A long time. . . It's a
question who will hold out twenty-four hours longer than the other
side. France is tired, more tired than any of us. Will she break
first? Somehow I think not. They are wonderful! Their women have a
gallant spirit. . . How good it is, the smell of the trees to-night!"

Sometimes we would cross the river and look back at the cathedral,
high and beautiful above the huddle of old, old houses on the
quayside, with a faint light on its pinnacle and buttresses and
immense blackness beyond them.

"Those builders of France loved their work," said Palmer. "There was
always war about the walls of this cathedral, but they went on with
it, stone by stone, without hurry."

We stood there in a long silence, not on one night only, but many
times, and out of those little dark streets below the cathedral of
Amiens came the spirit of history to teach our spirit with wonderment
at the nobility and the brutality of men, and their incurable folly,
and their patience with tyranny.

"When is it all going to end, Palmer, old man?"

"The war, or the folly of men?"

"The war. This cursed war. This bloody war."

"Something will break one day, on our side or the other. Those who
hold out longest and have the best reserves of man-power."

We were starting early next day--before dawn--to see the beginning of
another battle. We walked slowly over the little iron bridge again,
through the vegetable market, where old men and women were unloading
cabbages from a big wagon, then into the dark tunnel of the rue des
Augustins, and so to the little old mansion of Mme. de la
Rochefoucauld in the rue Amiral Courbet. There was a light burning in
the window of the censor's room. In there the colonel was reading The
Times in the Louis Quinze salon, with a grave pucker on his high, thin
forehead. He could not get any grasp of the world's events. There was
an attack on the censor by Northcliffe. Now what did he mean by that?
It was really very unkind of him, after so much civility to him.
Charteris would be furious. He would bang the telephone--but--dear,
dear, why should people be so violent? War correspondents were violent
on the slightest provocation. The world itself was very violent. And
it was all so dangerous. Don't you think so, Russell?

The cars were ordered for five o'clock. Time for bed.


The night in Amiens was dark and sinister when rain fell heavily out
of a moonless sky. Hardly a torch-lamp flashed out except where a
solitary woman scurried down the wet streets to lonely rooms. There
were no British officers strolling about. They had turned in early, to
hot baths and unaccustomed beds, except for one or two, with their
burberries buttoned tight at the throat, and sopping field-caps pulled
down about the ears, and top--boots which went splash, splash through
deep puddles as they staggered a little uncertainly and peered up at
dark corners to find their whereabouts, by a dim sense of locality and
the shapes of the houses. The rain pattered sharply on the pavements
and beat a tattoo on leaden gutters and slate roofs. Every window was
shuttered and no light gleamed through.

On such a night I went out with Beach Thomas, as often before, wet or
fine, after hard writing.

"A foul night," said Thomas, setting off in his quick, jerky step. "I
like to feel the rain on my face."

We turned down as usual to the river. It was very dark--the rain was
heavy on the quayside, where there was a group of people bareheaded in
the rain and chattering in French, with gusts of laughter.

"Une bouteille de champagne!" The words were spoken in a clear boy's
voice, with an elaborate caricature of French accent, in musical
cadence, but unmistakably English.

"A drunken officer," said Thomas.

"Poor devil!"

We drew near among the people and saw a young officer arm in arm with
a French peasant--one of the market porters--telling a tale in broken
French to the audience about him, with comic gesticulations and
extraordinary volubility.

A woman put her hand on my shoulder and spoke in French.

"He has drunk too much bad wine. His legs walk away from him. He will
be in trouble, Monsieur. And a child--no older than my own boy who is
fighting in the Argonne."

"Apportez-moi une bouteille de champagne, vite! . . ." said the young
officer. Then he waved his arm and said: "J'ai perdu mon cheval" ("A
kingdom for a bloody horse!"), "as Shakespeare said. Y a-t'il
quelqu'un qui a vu mon sacre cheval? In other words, if I don't find
that four-legged beast which led to my damnation I shall be shot at
dawn. Fusille, comprenez? On va me fusiller par un mur blanc--or is it
une mure blanche? quand l'aurore se leve avec les couleurs d'une rose
et l'odeur d'une jeune fille lavee et parfumee. Pretty good that, eh,
what? But the fact remains that unless I find my steed, my charger, my
war-horse, which in reality does not belong to me at all, because I
pinched it from the colonel, I shall be shot as sure as fate, and,
alas! I do not want to die. I am too young to die, and meanwhile I
desire encore une bouteille de champagne!"

The little crowd of citizens found a grim humor in this speech, one-
third of which they understood. They laughed coarsely, and a man said:

"Quel drole de type! Quel numero!"

But the woman who had touched me on the sleeve spoke to me again.

"He says he has lost his horse and will be shot as a deserter. Those
things happen. My boy in the Argonne tells me that a comrade of his
was shot for hiding five days with his young woman. It would be sad if
this poor child should be condemned to death."

I pushed my way through the crowd and went up to the officer.

"Can I help at all?"

He greeted me warmly, as though he had known me for years.

"My dear old pal, you can indeed! First of all I want a bottle of
champagne-une bouteille de champagne-" it was wonderful how much music
he put into those words--"and after that I want my runaway horse, as I
have explained to these good people who do not understand a bloody
word, in spite of my excellent French accent. I stole the colonel's
horse to come for a joy-ride to Amiens. the colonel is one of the best
of men, but very touchy, very touchy indeed. You would be surprised.
He also has the worst horse in the world, or did, until it ran away
half an hour ago into the blackness of this hell which men call
Amiens. It is quite certain that if I go back without that horse most
unpleasant things will happen to a gallant young British officer,
meaning myself, who with most innocent intentions of cleansing his
soul from the filth of battle, from the horror of battle, from the
disgusting fear of battle--oh yes, I've been afraid all right, and so
have you unless you're a damned hero or a damned liar--desired to get
as far as this beautiful city (so fair without, so foul within!) in
order to drink a bottle, or even two or three, of rich, sparkling
wine, to see the loveliness of women as they trip about these
pestilential streets, to say a little prayer in la cathedrale, and
then to ride back, refreshed, virtuous, knightly, all through the
quiet night, to deliver up the horse whence I had pinched it, and
nobody any the wiser in the dewy morn. You see, it was a good scheme."

"What happened?" I asked.

"It happened thuswise," he answered, breaking out into fresh
eloquence, with fantastic similes and expressions of which I can give
only the spirit. "Leaving a Pozieres, which, as you doubtless know,
unless you are a bloody staff-officer, is a place where the devil goes
about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, where he leaves
his victims' entrails hanging on to barbed wire, and where the bodies
of your friends and mine lie decomposing in muddy holes--you know the
place?--I put my legs across the colonel's horse, which was in the
wagonlines, and set forth for Amiens. That horse knew that I had
pinched him--forgive my slang. I should have said it in the French
language, vole--and resented me. Thrice was I nearly thrown from his
back. Twice did he entangle himself in barbed wire deliberately. Once
did I have to coerce him with many stripes to pass a tank. Then the
heavens opened upon us and it rained. It rained until I was wet to the
skin, in spite of sheltering beneath a tree, one branch of which,
owing to the stubborn temper of my steed, struck me a stinging blow
across the face. So in no joyful spirit I came at last to Amiens, this
whited sepulcher, this Circe's capital, this den of thieves, this home
of vampires. There I dined, not wisely, but too well. I drank of the
flowing cup--une bouteille de champagne--and I met a maiden as ugly as
sin, but beautiful in my eyes after Pozieres--you understand--and
accompanied her to her poor lodging--in a most verminous place, sir--
where we discoursed upon the problems of life and love. O youth! O
war! O hell! . . . My horse, that brute who resented me, was in charge
of an 'ostler, whom I believe verily is a limb of Satan, in the yard
without. It was late when I left that lair of Circe, where young
British officers, even as myself, are turned into swine. It was late
and dark, and I was drunk. Even now I am very drunk. I may say that I
am becoming drunker and drunker."

It was true. The fumes of bad champagne were working in the boy's
brain, and he leaned heavily against me.

"It was then that that happened which will undoubtedly lead to my
undoing, and blast my career as I have blasted my soul. The horse was
there in the yard, but without saddle or bridle.

"'Where is my saddle and where is my bridle, oh, naughty 'ostler?' I
shouted, in dismay.

"The 'ostler, who, as I informed you, is one of Satan's imps, answered
in incomprehensible French, led the horse forth from the yard, and,
giving it a mighty blow on the rump, sent it clattering forth into the
outer darkness. In my fear of losing it--for I must be at Pozieres at
dawn--I ran after it, but it ran too fast in the darkness, and I
stopped and tried to grope my way back to the stableyard to kill that
'ostler, thereby serving God, and other British officers, for he was
the devil's agent. But I could not find the yard again. It had
disappeared! It was swallowed up in Cimmerian gloom. So I was without
revenge and without horse, and, as you will perceive, sir--unless you
are a bloody staff-officer who doesn't perceive anything--I am utterly
undone. I am also horribly drunk, and I must apologize for leaning so
heavily on your arm. It's awfully good of you, anyway, old man."

The crowd was mostly moving, driven indoors by the rain. The woman who
had spoken to me said, "I heard a horse's hoofs upon the bridge, la-

Then she went away with her apron over her head.

Thomas and I walked each side of the officer, giving him an arm. He
could not walk straight, and his legs played freakish tricks with him.
All the while he talked in a strain of high comedy interlarded with
grim little phrases, revealing an underlying sense of tragedy and
despair, until his speech thickened and he became less fluent. We
spent a fantastic hour searching for his horse. It was like a
nightmare in the darkness and rain. Every now and then we heard,
distinctly, the klip-klop of a horse's hoofs, and went off in that
direction, only to be baffled by dead silence, with no sign of the
animal. Then again, as we stood listening, we heard the beat of hoofs
on hard pavements, in the opposite direction, and walked that way,
dragging the boy, who was getting more and more incapable of walking
upright. At last we gave up hope of finding the horse, though the
young officer kept assuring us that he must find it at all costs.
"It's a point of honor," he said, thickly. "Not my horse, you know
Doctor's horse. Devil to pay to-morrow."

He laughed foolishly and said:

"Always devil to pay in morning."

We were soaked to the skin.

"Come home with me," I said. "We can give you a shake-down."

"Frightfully good, old man. Awfully sorry, you know, and all that. Are
you a blooming general, or something? But I must find horse."

By some means we succeeded in persuading him that the chase was
useless and that it would be better for him to get into our billet and
start out next morning, early. We dragged him up the rue des
Augustins, to the rue Amiral Courbet. Outside the iron gates I spoke
to him warningly:

"You've got to be quiet. There are staff-officers inside . . ."

"What? . . . Staff officers? . . . Oh, my God!"

The boy was dismayed. The thought of facing staff-officers almost
sobered him; did, indeed, sober his brain for a moment, though not his

"It's all right," I said. "Go quietly, and I will get you upstairs

It was astonishing how quietly he went, hanging on to me. The little
colonel was reading The Times in the salon. We passed the open door,
and saw over the paper his high forehead puckered with perplexity as
to the ways of the world. But he did not raise his head or drop The
Times at the sound of our entry. I took the boy upstairs to my room
and guided him inside. He said, "Thanks awfully," and then lay down on
the floor and fell into so deep a sleep that I was scared and thought
for a moment he might be dead. I went downstairs to chat with the
little colonel and form an alibi in case of trouble. An hour later,
when I went into my room, I found the boy still lying as I had left
him, without having stirred a limb. He was a handsome fellow, with his
head hanging limply across his right arm and a lock of damp hair
falling across his forehead. I thought of a son of mine, who in a few
years would be as old as he, and I prayed God mine might be spared
this boy's tragedy. . . Through the night he slept in a drugged way,
but just at dawn he woke up and stretched himself, with a queer little
moan. Then he sat up and said:

"Where am I?"

"In a billet at Amiens. You lost your horse last night and I brought
you here."

Remembrance came into his eyes and his face was swept with a sudden
flush of shame and agony.

"Yes . . . I made a fool of myself. The worst possible. How can I get
back to Pozieres?"

"You could jump a lorry with luck."

"I must. It's serious if I don't get back in time. In any case, the
loss of that horse--"

He thought deeply for a moment, and I could see that his head was
aching to the beat of sledge-hammers.

"Can I wash anywhere?"

I pointed to a jug and basin, and he said, "Thanks, enormously."

He washed hurriedly, and then stared down with a shamed look at his
muddy uniform, all creased and bedraggled. After that he asked if he
could get out downstairs, and I told him the door was unlocked.

He hesitated for a moment before leaving my room.

"I am sorry to have given you all this trouble. It was very decent of
you. Many thanks."

The boy was a gentleman when sober. I wonder if he died at Pozieres,
or farther on by the Butte de Warlencourt. . . A week later I saw an
advertisement in an Amiens paper: "Horse found. Brown, with white sock
on right foreleg. Apply--"

I have a fancy it was the horse for which we had searched in the rain.


The quickest way to the cathedral is down a turning on the right-hand
side of the Street of the Three Pebbles. Charlie's bar was on the
left-hand side of the street, always crowded after six o'clock by
officers of every regiment, drinking egg-nogs, Martinis, Bronxes,
sherry cobblers, and other liquids, which helped men marvelously to
forget the beastliness of war, and gave them the gift of laughter, and
made them careless of the battles which would have to be fought. Young
staff-officers were there, explaining carefully how hard worked they
were and how often they went under shell-fire. The fighting officers,
English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, jeered at them, laughed hugely at the
latest story of mirthful horror, arranged rendezvous at the Godebert
restaurant, where they would see the beautiful Marguerite (until she
transferred to la cathedrale in the same street) and our checks which
Charlie cashed at a discount, with a noble faith in British honesty,
not often, as he told me, being hurt by a "stumor." Charlie's bar was
wrecked by shell-fire afterward, and he went to Abbeville and set up a
more important establishment, which was wrecked, too, in a fierce air
raid, before the paint was dry on the walls.

The cathedral was a shrine to which many men and women went all
through the war, called into its white halls by the spirit of beauty
which dwelt there, and by its silence and peace. The great west door
was screened from bomb-splinters by sand-bags piled high, and inside
there were other walls of sand-bags closing in the sanctuary and some
of the windows. But these signs of war did not spoil the majesty of
the tall columns and high roof, nor the loveliness of the sculptured
flowers below the clerestory arches, nor the spiritual mystery of
those great, dim aisles, where light flickered and shadows lurked, and
the ghosts of history came out of their tombs to pace these stones
again where five, six, seven centuries before they had walked to
worship God, in joy or in despair, or to show their beauty of young
womanhood--peasant girl or princess--to lovers gazing by the pillars,
or to plight their troth as royal brides, or get a crown for their
heads, or mercy for their dead bodies in velvet-draped coffins.

Our soldiers went in there, as many centuries before other English
soldiers, who came out with Edward the Black Prince, by way of Crecy,
or with Harry the King, through Agincourt. Five hundred years hence,
if Amiens cathedral still stands, undamaged by some new and monstrous
conflict in a world of incurable folly, the generation of that time
will think now and then, perhaps, of the English lads in khaki who
tramped up the highway of this nave with their field-caps under their
arms, each footstep leaving the imprint of a wet boot on the old
flagstones, awed by the silence and the spaciousness, with a sudden
heartache for a closer knowledge, or some knowledge, of the God
worshiped there--the God of Love--while, not far away, men were
killing one another by high explosives, shells, hand-grenades, mines,
machine-guns, bayonets, poison-gas, trench-mortars, tanks, and, in
close fighting, with short daggers like butchers' knives, or clubs
with steel knobs. I watched the faces of the men who entered here.
Some of them, like the Australians and New-Zealanders, unfamiliar with
cathedrals, and not religious by instinct or training, wandered round
in a wondering way, with a touch of scorn, even of hostility, now and
then, for these mysteries--the chanting of the Office, the tinkling of
the bells at the high mass--which were beyond their understanding, and
which they could not link up with any logic of life, as they knew it
now, away up by Bapaume or Bullecourt, where God had nothing to do,
seemingly, with a night raid into Boche lines, when they blew a party
of Germans to bits by dropping Stoke bombs down their dugout, or with
the shrieks of German boys, mad with fear, when the Australians jumped
on them in the darkness and made haste with their killing. All the
same, this great church was wonderful, and the Australians, scrunching
their slouch-hats, stared up at the tall columns to the clerestory
arches, and peered through the screen to the golden sun upon the high-
altar, and touched old tombs with their muddy hands, reading the dates
on them--1250, 1155, 1415--with astonishment at their antiquity. Their
clean-cut hatchet faces, sun--baked, tanned by rain and wind, their
simple blue-gray eyes, the fine, strong grace of their bodies, as they
stood at ease in this place of history, struck me as being wonderfully
like all that one imagines of those English knights and squires--
Norman-English--who rode through France with the Black Prince. It is
as though Australia had bred back to the old strain. Our own English
soldiers were less arresting to the eye, more dapper and neat, not
such evident children of nature. Gravely they walked up the aisles,
standing in groups where a service was in progress, watching the
movements of the priests, listening to the choir and organ with
reverent, dreamy eyes. Some of them--country lads--thought back, I
fancy, to some village church in England where they had sung hymns
with mother and sisters in the days before the war. England and that
little church were a long way off now, perhaps all eternity away. I
saw one boy standing quite motionless, with wet eyes, without self-
consciousness. This music, this place of thoughtfulness, had made
something break in his heart. . . Some of our young officers, but not
many, knelt on the cane chairs and prayed, face in hands. French
officers crossed themselves and their medals tinkled as they walked up
the aisles. Always there were women in black weeds kneeling before the
side--altars, praying to the Virgin for husbands and sons, dead or
alive, lighting candles below holy pictures and statues. Our men
tiptoed past them, holding steel hats or field--caps, and putting
their packs against the pillars. On the steps of the cathedral I heard
two officers talking one day.

"How can one reconcile all this with the war?"

"Why not? . . . I suppose we're fighting for justice and all that.
That's what The Daily Mail tells us."

"Seriously, old man. Where does Christ come in?"

"He wasn't against righteous force. He chased the money-changers out
of the Temple."

"Yes, but His whole teaching was love and forgiveness. 'Thou shalt not
kill.' 'Little children, love one another!' 'Turn the other cheek.' .
. . Is it all sheer tosh? If so, why go on pretending? . . . Take
chaplains in khaki--these lieutenant-colonels with black crosses. They
make me sick. It's either one thing or the other. Brute force or
Christianity. I am harking back to the brute--force theory. But I'm
not going to say 'God is love' one day and then prod a man in the
stomach the next. Let's be consistent."

"The other fellows asked for it. They attacked first."

"Yes, but we are all involved. Our diplomacy, our secret treaties, our
philosophical dope over the masses, our imperial egotism, our trade
rivalries--all that was a direct challenge of Might against Right. The
Germans are more efficient and more logical--that's all. They prepared
for the inevitable and struck first. We knew the inevitable was
coming, but didn't prepare, being too damned inefficient. . . I have a
leaning toward religion. Instinctively I'm for Christ. But it doesn't
work in with efficiency and machine-guns."

"It belongs to another department, that's all. We're spiritual and
animal at the same time. In one part of my brain I'm a gentleman. In
another, a beast. It's conflict. We can't eliminate the beast, but we
can control it now and then when it gets too obstreperous, and that's
where religion helps. It's the high ideal--otherworldliness."

"The Germans pray to the same God. Praise Christ and ask for victory."

"Let them. It may do them a bit of good. It seems to me God is above
all the squabbles of humanity--doesn't care a damn about them!--but
the human soul can get into touch with the infinite and the ideal,
even while he is doing butcher's work, and beastliness. That doesn't
matter very much. It's part of the routine of life."

"But it does matter. It makes agony and damnation in the world. It
creates cruelty and tyranny, and all bloody things. Surely if we
believe in God--anyhow in Christian ethics--this war is a monstrous
crime in which all humanity is involved."

"The Hun started it. . . Let's go and give the glad eye to

At night, in moonlight, Amiens cathedral was touched with a new
spirituality, a white magic beyond all words of beauty. On many nights
of war I walked round the cathedral square, looking up at that grand
mass of masonry with all its pinnacles and buttresses gleaming like
silver and its sculptured tracery like lacework, and a flood of milky
light glamorous on walls in which every stone was clear-cut beyond a
vast shadow-world. How old it was! How many human eyes through many
centuries had come in the white light of the moon to look at this
dream in stone enshrining the faith of men! The Revolution had surged
round these walls, and the screams of wild women, and their shrill
laughter, and their cries for the blood of aristocrats, had risen from
this square. Pageants of kingship and royal death had passed across
these pavements through the great doors there. Peasant women, in the
darkness, had wept against these walls, praying for God's pity for
their hearts. Now the English officers were lighting cigarettes in the
shelter of a wall, the outline of their features--knightly faces--
touched by the moonlight. There were flashes of gun-fire in the sky
beyond the river.

"A good night for a German air raid," said one of the officers.

"Yes, a lovely night for killing women in their sleep," said the other

The people of Amiens were sleeping, and no light gleamed through their


Coming away from the cathedral through a side-street going into the
rue des Trois Cailloux, I used to pass the Palais de Justice--a big,
grim building, with a long flight of steps leading up to its doorways,
and above the portico the figure of Justice, blind, holding her
scales. There was no justice there during the war, but rooms full of
French soldiers with smashed faces, blind, many of them, like that
woman in stone. They used to sit, on fine days, on the flight of
steps, a tragic exhibition of war for passers-by to see. Many of them
revealed no faces, but were white masks of cotton-wool, bandaged round
their heads. Others showed only the upper parts of their faces, and
the places where their jaws had been were tied up with white rags.
There were men without noses, and men with half their scalps torn
away. French children used to stare through the railings at them,
gravely, with childish curiosity, without pity. English soldiers gave
them a passing glance, and went on to places where they might be made
like this, without faces, or jaws, or noses, or eyes. By their
uniforms I saw that there were Chasseurs Alpins, and Chasseurs
d'Afrique, and young infantrymen of the line, and gunners. They sat,
without restlessness, watching the passers-by if they had eyes to see,
or, if blind, feeling the breeze about them, and listening to the
sound of passing feet.


The prettiest view of Amiens was from the banks of the Somme outside
the city, on the east side, and there was a charming walk along the
tow-path, past market-gardens going down to the river on the opposite
bank, and past the gardens of little chalets built for love-in-
idleness in days of peace. They were of fantastic architecture--these
Cottages where well-to-do citizens of Amiens used to come for week-
ends of boating and fishing--and their garden gates at the end of
wooden bridges over back-waters were of iron twisted into the shapes
of swans or flowers, and there were snails of terra-cotta on the
chimney-pots, and painted woodwork on the walls, in the worst taste,
yet amusing and pleasing to the eye in their green bowers. I remember
one called Mon Idee, and wondered that any man should be proud of such
a freakish conception of a country house. They were abandoned during
the war, except one or two used for casual rendezvous between French
officers and their light o' loves, and the tow-path was used only by
stray couples who came out for loneliness, and British soldiers
walking out with French girls. The market-gardeners punted down the
river in long, shallow boats, like gondolas, laden high with cabbages,
cauliflowers, and asparagus, and farther up-stream there was a boat-
house where orderlies from the New Zealand hospital in Amiens used to
get skiffs for an hour's rowing, leaning on their oars to look at the
picture of the cathedral rising like a mirage beyond the willows and
the encircling water, with fleecy clouds above its glittering roof, or
lurid storm-clouds with the red glow of sunset beneath their wings. In
the dusk or the darkness there was silence along the banks but for a
ceaseless throbbing of distant gun-fire, rising sometimes to a fury of
drumming when the French soixante-quinze was at work, outside Roye and
the lines beyond Suzanne. It was what the French call la rafale des
tambours de la mort--the ruffle of the drums of death. The winding
waters of the Somme flowed in higher reaches through the hell of war
by Biaches and St.-Christ, this side of Peronne, where dead bodies
floated in slime and blood, and there was a litter of broken bridges
and barges, and dead trees, and ammunition-boxes. The river itself was
a highway into hell, and there came back upon its tide in slow-moving
barges the wreckage of human life, fresh from the torturers. These
barges used to unload their cargoes of maimed men at a carpenter's
yard just below the bridge, outside the city, and often as I passed I
saw human bodies being lifted out and carried on stretchers into the
wooden sheds. They were the bad cases--French boys wounded in the
abdomen or lungs, or with their limbs torn off, or hopelessly
shattered. It was an agony for them to be moved, even on the
stretchers. Some of them cried out in fearful anguish, or moaned like
wounded animals, again and again. Those sounds spoiled the music of
the lapping water and the whispering of the willows and the song of
birds. The sight of these tortured boys, made useless in life, took
the color out of the flowers and the beauty out of that vision of the
great cathedral, splendid above the river. Women watched them from the
bridge, straining their eyes as the bodies were carried to the bank. I
think some of them looked for their own men. One of them spoke to me
one day.

"That is what the Germans do to our sons. Bandits! Assassins!"

"Yes. That is war, Madame."

She put a skinny hand on my arm.

"Will it go on forever, this war? Until all the men are killed?"

"Not so long as that, Madame. Some men will be left alive. The very
old and the very young, and the lucky ones, and those behind the

"The Germans are losing many men, Monsieur?"

"Heaps, Madame. I have seen their bodies strewn about the fields."

"Ah, that is good! I hope all German women will lose their sons, as I
have lost mine."

"Where was that, Madame?"

"Over there."

She pointed up the Somme.

"He was a good son. A fine boy. It seems only yesterday he lay at my
breast. My man weeps for him. They were good comrades."

"It is sad, Madame."

"Ah, but yes. It is sad! Au revoir, Monsieur."

"Au revoir, Madame."


There was a big hospital in Amiens, close to the railway station,
organized by New Zealand doctors and nurses. I went there one day in
the autumn of 1914, when the army of von Kluck had passed through the
city and gone beyond. The German doctors had left behind the
instruments abandoned by an English unit sharing the retreat. The
French doctor who took me round told me the enemy had behaved well in
Amiens. At least he had refrained from atrocities. As I went through
the long wards I did not guess that one day I should be a patient
there. That was two years later, at the end of the Somme battles. I
was worn out and bloodless after five months of hard strain and
nervous wear and tear. Some bug had bitten me up in the fields where
lay the unburied dead.

"Trench fever," said the doctor.

"You look in need of a rest," said the matron. "My word, how white you
are! Had a hard time, eh, like the rest of them?"

I lay in bed at the end of the officers' ward, with only one other bed
between me and the wall. That was occupied by the gunner-general of
the New Zealand Division. Opposite was another row of beds in which
officers lay sleeping, or reading, or lying still with wistful eyes.

"That's all right. You're going to die!" said a rosy--cheeked young
orderly, after taking my temperature and feeling my pulse. It was his
way of cheering a patient up. He told me how he had been torpedoed in
the Dardanelles while he was ill with dysentery. He indulged in
reminiscences with the New Zealand general who had a grim gift of
silence, but glinting eyes. In the bed on my left was a handsome boy
with a fine, delicate face, a subaltern in the Coldstream Guards, with
a pile of books at his elbow--all by Anatole France. It was the first
time I had ever laid in hospital, and I felt amazingly weak and
helpless, but interested in my surroundings. The day nurse, a tall,
buxom New Zealand girl whom the general chaffed with sarcastic humor,
and who gave back more than she got, went off duty with a cheery,
"Good night, all!" and the night nurse took her place, and made a
first visit to each bed. She was a dainty little woman with the
complexion of a delicate rose and large, luminous eyes. She had a
nunlike look, utterly pure, but with a spiritual fire in those shining
eyes of hers for all these men, who were like children in her hands.
They seemed glad at her coming.

"Good evening, sister!" said one man after another, even one who had
laid with his eyes closed for an hour or more, with a look of death on
his face.

She knelt down beside each one, saying, "How are you to-night?" and
chatting in a low voice, inaudible to the bed beyond. From one bed I
heard a boy's voice say: "Oh, don't go yet, sister! You have only
given me two minutes, and I want ten, at least. I am passionately in
love with you, you know, and I have been waiting all day for your

There was a gust of laughter in the ward.

"The child is at it again!" said one of the officers.

"When are you going to write me another sonnet?" asked the nurse. "The
last one was much admired."

"The last one was rotten," said the boy. "I have written a real corker
this time. Read it to yourself, and don't drop its pearls before these

"Well, you must be good, or I won't read it at all."

An officer of the British army, who was also a poet, hurled the
bedclothes off and sat on the edge of his bed in his pajamas.

"I'm fed up with everything! I hate war! I don't want to be a hero! I
don't want to die! I want to be loved! . . . I'm a glutton for love!"

In his pajamas the boy looked a child, no older than a schoolboy who
was mine and who still liked to be tucked up in bed by his mother.
With his tousled hair and his petulant grimace, this lieutenant might
have been Peter Pan, from Kensington. The night nurse pretended to
chide him. It was a very gentle chiding, but as abruptly as he had
thrown off his clothes he snuggled under them again and said: "All
right, I'll be good. Only I want a kiss before I go to sleep."

I became good friends with that boy, who was a promising young poet,
and a joyous creature no more fit for war than a child of ten, hating
the muck and horror of it, not ashamed to confess his fear, with a
boyish wistfulness of hope that he might not be killed, because he
loved life. But he was killed. . . I had a letter from his stricken
mother months afterward. The child was "Missing" then, and her heart
cried out for him.

Opposite my bed was a middle-aged man from Lancashire--I suppose he
had been in a cotton-mill or a factory--a hard-headed, simple-hearted
fellow, as good as gold, and always speaking of "the wife." But his
nerves had gone to pieces and he was afraid to sleep because of the
dreams that came to him.

"Sister," he said, "don't let me go to sleep. Wake me up if you see me
dozing. I see terrible things in my dreams. Frightful things. I can't
bear it."

"You will sleep better to-night," she said. "I am putting something in
your milk. Something to stop the dreaming."

But he dreamed. I lay awake, feverish and restless, and heard the man
opposite muttering and moaning, in his sleep. Sometimes he would give
a long, quivering sigh, and sometimes start violently, and then wake
up in a dazed way, saying:

"Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" trembling with fear, so that the bed was
shaken. The night nurse was always by his side in a moment when he
called out, hushing him down, whispering to him.

"I see pools of blood and bits of dead bodies in my sleep," he told
me. "It's what I saw up at Bazentin. There was a fellow with his face
blown off, walking about. I see him every night. Queer, isn't it?
Nerves, you know. I didn't think I had a nerve in my body before this

The little night nurse came to my bedside.

"Can't you sleep?"

"I'm afraid not. My heart is thumping in a queer way. May I smoke?"

She put a cigarette between my lips and lighted a match.

"Take a few whiffs and then try to sleep. You need lots of sleep."

In the ward there was only the glimmer of night lights in red glasses,
and now and then all through the night matches were lighted,
illuminating the room for a second, followed by the glowing end of a
cigarette shining like a star in the darkness.

The sleeping men breathed heavily, tossed about violently, gave
strange jerks and starts. Sometimes they spoke aloud in their sleep.

"That isn't a dud, you fool! It will blow us to hell."

"Now then, get on with it, can't you?"

"Look out! They're coming! Can't you see them moving by the wire?"

The spirit of war was in that ward and hunted them even in their
sleep; lurking terrors surged up again in their subconsciousness.
Sights which they had tried to forget stared at them through their
closed eyelids. The daylight came and the night nurse slipped away,
and the day nurse shook one's shoulders and said: "Time to wash and
shave. No malingering!"

It was the discipline of the hospital. Men as weak as rats had to sit
up in bed, or crawl out of it, and shave themselves.

"You're merciless!" I said, laughing painfully when the day nurse
dabbed my back with cold iodine at six o'clock on a winter morning,
with the windows wide open.

"Oh, there's no mercy in this place!" said the strong-minded girl.
"It's kill or cure here, and no time to worry."

"You're all devils," said the New Zealand general. "You don't care a
damn about the patients so long as you have all the beds tidy by the
time the doctor comes around. I'm a general, I am, and you can't order
ME about, and if you think I'm going to shave at this time in the
morning you are jolly well mistaken. I am down with dysentery, and
don't you forget it. I didn't get through the Dardanelles to be
murdered at Amiens."

"That's where you may be mistaken, general," said the imperturbable
girl. "I have to carry out orders, and if they lead to your death it's
not my responsibility. I'm paid a poor wage for this job, but I do my
duty, rough or smooth, kill or cure."

"You're a vampire. That's what you are."

"I'm a nurse."

"If ever I hear you're going to marry a New Zealand boy I'll warn him
against you."

"He'll be too much of a fool to listen to you."

"I've a good mind to marry you myself and beat you every morning."

"Modern wives have strong muscles. Look at my arm!"

* * *

Three nights in one week there were air raids, and as the German mark
was the railway station we were in the center of the danger-zone.
There was a frightful noise of splintering glass and smashing timber
between each crash of high explosives. The whine of shrapnel from the
anti--aircraft guns had a sinister note, abominable in the ears of
those officers who had come down from the fighting--lines nerve-racked
and fever-stricken. They lay very quiet. The night nurse moved about
from bed to bed, with her flash-lamp. Her face was pale, but she
showed no other sign of fear and was braver than her patients at that
time, though they had done the hero's job all right.

It was in another hospital a year later, when I lay sick again, that
an officer, a very gallant gentleman, said, "If there is another air
raid I shall go mad." He had been stationed near the blast-furnace of
Les Izelquins, near Bethune, and had been in many air raids, when over
sixty-three shells had blown his hut to bits and killed his men, until
he could bear it no more. In the Amiens hospital some of the patients
had their heads under the bedclothes like little children.


The life of Amiens ended for a while, and the city was deserted by all
its people, after the night of March 30, 1918, which will be
remembered forever to the age-long history of Amiens as its night of
greatest tragedy. For a week the enemy had been advancing across the
old battlefields after the first onslaught in the morning of March
21st, when our lines were stormed and broken by his men's odds against
our defending troops. We war correspondents had suffered mental
agonies like all who knew what had happened better than the troops
themselves. Every day after the first break-through we pushed out in
different directions--Hamilton Fyfe and I went together sometimes
until we came up with the backwash of the great retreat, ebbing back
and back, day after day, with increasing speed, until it drew very
close to Amiens. It was a kind of ordered chaos, terrible to see. It
was a chaos like that of upturned ant-heaps, but with each ant trying
to rescue its eggs and sticks in a persistent, orderly way, directed
by some controlling or communal intelligence, only instead of eggs and
sticks these soldier-ants of ours, in the whole world behind our
front-lines, were trying to rescue heavy guns, motor-lorries, tanks,
ambulances, hospital stores, ordnance stores, steam-rollers,
agricultural implements, transport wagons, railway engines, Y.M.C.A.
tents, gun-horse and mule columns, while rear-guard actions were being
fought within gunfire of them and walking wounded were hobbling back
along the roads in this uproar of traffic, and word came that a
further retreat was happening and that the enemy had broken through
again . . .

Amiens seemed threatened on the morning when, to the north, Albert was
held by a mixed crowd of Scottish and English troops, too thin, as I
could see when I passed through them, to fight any big action, with an
enemy advancing rapidly from Courcellette and outflanking our line by
Montauban and Fricourt. I saw our men marching hastily in retreat to
escape that tightening net, and while the southern side of Amiens was
held by a crowd of stragglers with cyclist battalions, clerks from
headquarters staffs, and dismounted cavalry, commanded by Brigadier-
General Carey, sent down hurriedly to link them together and stop a
widening gap until the French could get to our relief on the right and
until the Australians had come down from Flanders. There was nothing
on that day to prevent the Germans breaking through to Amiens except
the courage of exhausted boys thinly strung out, and the lagging
footsteps of the Germans themselves, who had suffered heavy losses all
the way and were spent for a while by their progress over the wild
ground of the old fighting-fields. Their heavy guns were far behind,
unable to keep pace with the storm troops, and the enemy was relying
entirely on machine-guns and a few field-guns, but most of our guns
were also out of action, captured or falling back to new lines, and
upon the speed with which the enemy could mass his men for a new
assault depended the safety of Amiens and the road to Abbeville and
the coast. If he could hurl fresh divisions of men against our line on
that last night of March, or bring up strong forces of cavalry, or
armored cars, our line would break and Amiens would be lost, and all
our work would be in jeopardy. That was certain. It was visible. It
could not be concealed by any camouflage of hope or courage.

It was after a day on the Somme battlefields, passing through our
retiring troops, that I sat down, with other war correspondents and
several officers, to a dinner in the old Hotel du Rhin in Amiens. It
was a dismal meal, in a room where there had been much laughter and,
throughout the battles of the Somme, in 1916, a coming and going of
generals and staffs and officers of all grades, cheery and high-
spirited at these little tables where there were good wine and not bad
food, and putting away from their minds for the time being the thought
of tragic losses or forlorn battles in which they might fall. In the
quietude of the hotel garden, a little square plot of grass bordered
by flower-beds, I had had strange conversations with boys who had
revealed their souls a little, after dinner in the darkness, their
faces bared now and then by the light of cigarettes or the flare of a

"Death is nothing," said one young officer just down from the Somme
fields for a week's rest-cure for jangled nerves. "I don't care a damn
for death; but it's the waiting for it, the devilishness of its
uncertainty, the sight of one's pals blown to bits about one, and the
animal fear under shell-fire, that break one's pluck. . . My nerves
are like fiddle-strings."

In that garden, other men, with a queer laugh now and then between
their stories, had told me their experiences in shell-craters and
ditches under frightful fire which had "wiped out" their platoons or
companies. A bedraggled stork, the inseparable companion of a waddling
gull, used to listen to the conferences, with one leg tucked under his
wing, and its head on one side, with one watchful, beady eye fixed on
the figures in khaki--until suddenly it would clap its long bill
rapidly in a wonderful imitation of machine-gun fire--"Curse the
bloody bird!" said officers startled by this evil and reminiscent
noise--and caper with ridiculous postures round the imperturbable
gull. . . Beyond the lines, from the dining-room, would come the
babble of many tongues and the laughter of officers telling stories
against one another over their bottles of wine, served by Gaston the
head-waiter, between our discussions on strategy--he was a strategist
by virtue of service in the trenches and several wounds--or by "Von
Tirpitz," an older, whiskered man, or by Joseph, who had a high,
cackling laugh and strong views against the fair sex, and the
inevitable cry, "C'est la guerre!" when officers complained of the
service. . . There had been merry parties in this room, crowded with
the ghosts of many heroic fellows, but it was a gloomy gathering on
that evening at the end of March when we sat there for the last time.
There were there officers who had lost their towns, and "Dadoses"
(Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Supplies) whose stores had gone
up in smoke and flame, and a few cavalry officers back from special
leave and appalled by what had happened in their absence, and a group
of Y.M.C.A. officials who had escaped by the skin of their teeth from
huts now far behind the German lines, and censors who knew that no
blue pencil could hide the truth of the retreat, and war
correspondents who had to write the truth and hated it.

Gaston whispered gloomily behind my chair: "Mon petit caporal"--he
called me that because of a fancied likeness to the young Napoleon--
"dites donc. Vous croyex quils vont passer par Amiens? Non, ce n'est
pas possible, ca! Pour la deuxieme fois? Non. Je refuse a le croire.
Mais c'est mauvais, c'est affreux, apres tant de sacrifice!"

Madame, of the cash-desk, sat in the dining-room, for company's sake,
fixing up accounts as though the last day of reckoning had come. . .as
it had. Her hair, with its little curls, was still in perfect order.
She had two dabs of color on her cheeks, as usual, but underneath a
waxen pallor. She was working out accounts with a young officer, who
smoked innumerable cigarettes to steady his nerves. "Von Tirpitz" was
going round in an absent-minded way, pulling at his long whiskers.

The war correspondents talked together. We spoke gloomily, in low
voices, so that the waiters should not hear.

"If they break through to Abbeville we shall lose the coast."

"Will that be a win for the Germans, even then?"

"It will make it hell in the Channel."

"We shall transfer our base to St.-Nazaire."

"France won't give in now, whatever happens. And England never gives

"We're exhausted, all the same. It's a question of man-power."

"They're bound to take Albert to-night or to-morrow."

"I don't see that at all. There's still a line. . ."

"A line! A handful of tired men."

"It will be the devil if they get into Villers-Bretonneux to-night. It
commands Amiens. They could blow the place off the map."

"They won't."

"We keep on saying, 'They won't.' We said, 'They won't get the Somme
crossings!' but they did. Let's face it squarely, without any damned
false optimism. That has been our curse all through."

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