R. G. A.






Most lovely is his resting place:
Upon a gentle hill he lies,
While at his feet twin rivers trace
Their pathway 'neath his Irish skies.

The rooks make curious melody,
And all the air is full of song;
The squirrel leaps from tree to tree,
For spring is here, and days are long.

Yet days for him have had their end,
And nights for him are dark no more,
Although the golden summer spend
The riches of her magic store.

With beauty round him for a shroud,
The tired soldier sleeps at ease,
Nor will he wake though long and loud
The wind roar through his sheltering trees

For him the storms of earth are still;
For him all wars have closed in peace.
He sleeps upon a holy hill,
Till storms and war alike shall cease.


THE writer of these pages had hoped among his other dreams to tell at some future day the story of his experiences in the Great War. The fragmentary transcripts of a short yet crowded life contained in this book were not meant for publication. They were intended only for one beloved and cherished correspondent. Written at odd moments and under the most unfavourable conditions?in the trenches?in midnight watches?in hospital?in the mess-room they reflect the mind of the writer at the moment. They are the instant picture of the scene painted in living colours while the mighty drama was slowly evolving. In this consists their charm and value. They are sincere, natural, spontaneous, impressed everywhere with a sense of the actual. By a touch or two the scene lives before us in its humour or its tragedy. They are a chapter, however insignificant, in the history of the Great War which the formal historian does not touch.

But this insignificant chapter is not without its interest. It contains all that made the war glorious and heroic? the spring and source of our victories and final triumph. The daily life in the firing line? the patient endurance of our young men ; their unconscious heroism, their instinctive devotion to duty, their cheerful, indomitable gaiety, and always their splendid courage in the shadow of suffering, disaster, and death? this seems to me almost the most wonderful thing in the mighty epic of the war. On that life of patient work, suffering, and endurance is built the story which will go down to future generations? the grim stand at Ypres and the victorious onrush at the Somme. It is a glimpse of that life which is revealed in these pages.

The writer of these Letters would have been the last person in the world to have claimed that there was anything exceptional in his character or conduct. He would have laughed scornfully at any such suggestion. In the life of the firing line, courage was a commonplace ; it was taken for granted. Men went over the top, or endured through days and weeks the iron rain of the trenches, as part of the day's work, and had no conscious pride in their heroism. Duty became the habit of their daily lives, and self-sacrifice and suffering were its natural and inevitable companions. There was nothing theatrical in their attitude of mind. They did not pose as the saviours of the world, as indeed they were, but they freely and ungrudgingly gave themselves and their young lives because their country needed them, and they felt their country was right. And the tragedy is that of all those who gave up their lives for their country there was hardly one who did not hate war with his whole heart, and the inevitable horrors it brought in its train.

The declaration of war found Philip Keightley a student of Trinity College, Dublin, with a shy love of literature, an overflowing contempt for the learning of the schools, an enthusiasm for all forms of athletic exercises, and a genius for friendship. During his two years at the University he drank of the cup of life with all the joyous gaiety of youth. He was not a lover of the lecture room, he scorned examinations, but his friends were legion. Nor was it wonderful that he should have many friends. His mirth was always overflowing, his laughter was a thing good to hear. He carried with him a sense of open air and space and sunshine. But beneath this outward gaiety was a character which the atmosphere of war afterwards rapidly broadened and deepened. He was full of a fine considerateness for others, and was. a great lover of the lame dog. Where he saw his duty clearly nothing could turn or move him. Chivalrous and high-minded to a fault, he hated all shams and pretentions and meannesses with an utter hatred.

With his tastes and habits it would have been wonderful had he not been an enthusiastic member of the University Officers' Training Corps, and he immediately applied for an infantry commission on the outbreak of war. But more than a year elapsed before his desire was gratified, and it was not till December, 1915, that he was finally gazetted a second lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery. Here he at once found his true career. His early letters written while engaged in coast defence in the South of England, where he spent his first six months, are full of the delights of his new life and his interest in his work.

The humours of his men were a continual feast to him. There was a fresh romance in his daily duties. Every little incident took shape and form as a great adventure.

The following extract will give the reader some idea of the spirit in which the young soldier regarded his work and the thoroughness with which he carried it out :-

" In spite of all my grumbling?that is one of my privileges?I never notice the flight of time. The Army seems to specialise in the word `do' preceded by the word `Sir.' The great thing is to be able to follow with the still more magnificent word done.' I find no difficulty in enjoying every moment of leisure, and when at my work I am much too busy and too interested to think of -anything else.

"A few days ago we had a draft of some fifty men sent us from Ireland, and have now had another thirty-five added. These have been- handed over to me entirely and I am hustling them into shape. My opinion of the intelligence of the lower class Englishman is not high when I compare him with the keen, quick-witted Celt. But they are easy to handle, and they seem too bovine and placid to mind my exhortations or the curses of my sergeant, who is a Scotchman of fiery temper.

" I fired my first shot yesterday. A tramp steamer sailed blissfully into the prohibited mine area. Our look-out reported it to me, and I did my best to send a shot across her bows as per instructions. It did not go within two hundred yards of her, but in gunnery hundreds of yards do not count on an occasion like this.

" Great excitement reigned all over the Eastern Defences?as well as on the steamer, which never travelled faster in its natural life. The commander of the aforesaid Defences came down personally to see me about the matter. I think he would have liked to tell me off, but as I was simply carrying out his own instructions, which were perfectly clear, he could only mutter something about ` overdoing the thing.'

" Now there is a long list of new instructions to meet such an occasion. The crowning joke is that my Battery Commander complimented me, and I have since bathed in the admiration of my fellow subs, which I try to bear with all becoming humility."

In September 1916, he set out for France on the Great Adventure, and it was his fortune to be sent with his battery to the deadly salient of Ypres. Here he spent the winter of 1916, and the greater part of 1917, and here he saw war in its most revolting aspects. In his letters he touches lightly, and always with a dash of humour, on his experiences during this time, but it was only on his return home on leave after nine months' hardship that his friends observed the change that had been wrought in his character. In that terrible forcing house the growth was rapid. Youth had put off its mercurial and careless gaiety ; manhood had arrived with its earnest purpose and its resolute questioning of the eternal problem of pain and suffering.

He had his own view of the influence of war upon character. On one occasion he was asked whether that influence was beneficent or injurious, and his reply was characteristic. " I don't know. What Suits one man admirably will poison another. It probably makes a good man better, and a bad man worse. If you have any virtues?God knows some of us have few enough?it gives them soil and room to grow, and if you have any vices, there is no better place in the world for their cultivation. I thinks it depends on the character of the man himself. I have seen good men grow into fair imitations of saints and heroes, and bad men turned into arrant swine rooting in the mud. But even in the worst there is some good, and it is our business to find it."

He was probably right. That world of mud and blood, with its dug-outs and cellars where men lived like animals, that monotonous round of arduous duty, that daily spectacle of sudden death, tried the soul of youth as in a furnace and discovered the best and the worst. Its influence upon his own character was unmistakable. He had become familiar with death and suffering. In his lonely hours he had had much cime for quiet thought and life had assumed a new aspect. But this year in the salient was always a nightmare of which he did not care to speak, and his joy was great when he was transferred to the Somme in the autumn of 1917. Here he took part in our first victorious advance towards Cambrai, and later had a full share in the peril and hardship of our retreat when the Germans made their final despairing push towards Paris. His description of the happenings of that memorable week in which the 3rd Army was doggedly falling back, always with its face to the foe, seems to me a most admirable piece of descriptive writing?a series of little vignettes as picturesque as they are real.

There is little more to be said. When the Armies of the Allies resumed the defensive his battery was once more in the firing line, and the declaration of the Armistice found him somewhere near Le Cateau, greatly dissatisfied that the victors had held their hand on the threshold of another Sedan.

He had already been gazetted to a commission in the Regular Army, and he now obtained the promotion to which he had been eagerly looking forward as a recognition of faithful work and arduous service. He returned home in February, 1919, on leave, and then, passed away after a few days' illness. But, indeed, there was an added pathos in this tragic end. During the last few hours of his life his mind was always back with his old comrades in the firing line, heartening, strengthening, encouraging the men he loved, and in the shadow of death he saw Death with an heroic and invincible courage. And he went into silence with a smile of final victory on his face. At twenty-four and a few weeks he had finished his lifework.

A fellow-officer, who had been with him at Ypres and on the Somme, writes of him after his death :" He was the kind of soldier most to be admired, because, although lie hated the war as much as any of us, he never shirked his duty but always did his job. As a companion he was the merriest, most charms comrade, and we all were devoted to him. With this character and his great ability lie would have done great things if only he had lived. But apart from the pain of parting there is nothing but love and pride and confidence."

Something, perhaps, may be allowed for the generous praises of a friend who loved him, but this estimate is substantially accurate. His own ideals were of the highest, and none was so ready as himself to confess his own shortcomings. Nor, when well considered, had he lived in vain. To have done his day's work with all his heart and strength, to have left a multitude of friends who admired and loved him, to have lived a clean, manly, joyous, and valourous life, to have left a memory of gracious, kindly deeds, and never to have known the bitterness of failure or disillusionment?such a life is not all vanity, and it is well to have lived it.



29th September, 1916.

We are at last in the firing line. We were moved up here three days ago to take our fighting position. On the train journey I will not comment. It was too dreary and uncomfortable for words. When we got to the railhead it was the middle of the clay, and a wait of quite six hours was necessitated, as old Fritz is very watchful, and keeps the road from the base under close observation. However, at 8 p.m. we got on the move with the lorries and the guns. The road on which we travelled was really a wonderful sight. Just think of it! Motor lorries with ammunition and guns and food, horse teams with the same, despatch riders mounted on horses and bicycles of every description, ambulance waggons coming back and going up, all the flotsam and jetsam of war, and mingled with it all--the central strand in the varied thread--our splendid and unfortunate infantry eternally moving up. The driver on my lorry was a typical Bairnsfather, and was grimly intent on putting the wind up me. With great solemnity he asserted that the Boche often swept the road with shrapnel, and at every cross-roads he made a great show of preparing to dodge a H.E., which, he informed me, was always to be expected there. I think his efforts were not very successful, as I was really on tender-hooks lest the wheel of my gun would come off, and I should have to spend a long and weary night in retrieving it from a ditch. At last we arrived without casualties at our journey's end, and found our advance party had done nothing. There was nothing left for us but to hide the guns, and seek refuge in a dug-out, where we all spent a very cold and cheerless night, as our kit was delayed on the way. It was, however, all in the day's work. Sursum corda, as the old school's motto ran.

Next morning we started at 7 a.m. and finished at so p.m. By that time we had almost everything about the guns ready for action. This was really a labour of Hercules. I gave a mighty sigh of relief when I saw our last platform in place. " Now," I said to myself, " half an hour will see the guns in " ; but, alas ! I was utterly wrong. My beloved gun refused to move from its comfortable bed of mud, and I bathed in perspiration for two long, dark, and profane hours.

To-day we have been getting to work on our own dug-outs. I should have liked to superintend the building of my own, but the Major has given me the job of fortifying the mess, which, I think, is, or was, the vestry of a church, for Fritz has made it difficult to distinguish with certainty any building here. It is quite a cheery mess-room, and possesses a roof, a thing which cannot be said about many mess-rooms hereabout. Just outside the door are two huge " Jack Johnston " holes and the grave of an unknown soldier, which is carefully tended every day. Indeed, all around us is a city of the dead. Wherever we dig we prove the gruesome fact, and what was really keeping my gun-wheel in was a dead Boche.

My dug-out will be quite a curio shop when it is finished. I have paved it with some very pretty old Flemish tiles, which, I understand, are quite valuable, while the walls, when completed, are to be hung with tapestry which I dug out of an old house. I have also some old church ornaments, which I discovered under a pile of bricks in the cellar. The Hun is comparatively quiet at present, but he gives the trenches and the town the usual morning and evening hate.


22nd October, 1916.

After about three weeks among the ruins, our senior subaltern was sent with one gull to a new position about three miles away to take on some targets which the other guns could not register. For some reason he was recalled, and I was appointed in his place. For six splendid and solitary days I carried on alone. I was then joined by the advance party of a new battery coming into position. Five days after the main body arrived, and my gun and detachment returned to the town. However, as I have now become rather expert in observation posts and the usual office work attached to the battery, the Colonel of our group thought the new battery would find me useful. So here I stay, and hope to continue to stay for some time.

My day runs something in this interesting and useful fashion. My admirable servant shakes me gently every morning at 6.30, and calls in silver tones,

" Shaving water ready, sir." Very reluctantly I full out of bed, and after a bath am quite ready for breakfast. The morning meal being finished, I help the Major with his daily reports, and offer modest suggestions with regard to dug-outs and the general improvement of the position. Then I await instructions for an observation post, to which I guide one of their officers and point out the target. If we are not shooting, I carry the Major to the various observation posts and show him the country, or I go out by myself and draw panoramas or visibility maps. Among my other duties I am now signalling officer, this battery not having one, and I am quite unable to calculate the number of miles of wire I have laid out.

Last week I had a most unpleasant job. Some time ago I went to an observation post, and found that I could not get a good view of my target. Having a few minutes to wait, and seeing another house, or rather the scattered fragments of a house, I set out on a journey of exploration, and found the place most convenient for observation. I reported this to the battery, and the Major got permission to make an observation post out of it. Whether he thought it an honour or no, he gave me the job, and I had to take a working party down under cover of night?daylight is not healthy here?to build a dug-out and lay a mine. It took me four days?or rather nights?to complete it, working from 8 p.m. till 12 p.m., but I am quite proud of it now, and the observation post is very popular.

In the ordinary course of events I seek my couch about To p.m., and I am never troubled by insomnia.

I think you once asked me if I had ever considered the difference between pleasure and happiness. It is curious, but out here it is on topics like this that our conversation often turns, and the point in question was discussed last night in the mess. In England this is about the last subject anyone would have thought of dwelling upon. I suppose it means some kind of change. And I have been writing verses.


28th October, 1916.

I knew the family would want a description of my dug-out. Here it is:?

It is not underground but on the ground floor of a house. The house is, of course, without a roof, but the floor of the first storey is almost intact, and acts as a fine first halt for iron rain. The lower part of the walls is also fairly undamaged. Our dug-out is built in what was evidently the kitchen, for the floor is of red tiles. The shell of the dug-out is composed of baulks of timber, once the main beams of a fair and stately house, and is strengthened by iron pillars from the verandah of the Cafe du Prince Royal. The beams of the roof are railway sleepers laid about six inches apart and projecting two feet on either side. On the top of these is a roof of corrugated iron, and above these three layers of sandbags. Then comes a layer of elephants. But make no mistake. They make no figure in zoology. These are concave sheets of toughened steel made specially for the purpose. These elephants are banked up with sandbags. Then there arc beams raised up about a foot, forming what is called an " air space," to allow shells to burst there and not inside. Above the " air space " is another layer of bags; above that two feet of broken bricks and then another layer of bags. This is what is called 5.9 proof. An excellent town house.

We are now quite settled down, the first excitement of active service having worn off, and if it were not for an occasional whizz-bang or " pip-squeak " one might imagine himself back in the blissful days of peace. Still there is always plenty of work to do, but so far our evenings have been undisturbed, and I always find time to write home.


17th November, 1916.

I suppose I am a man of moods, but just at present I cannot see the end of this business. To go down to an observation post day after day and see the same sights?the same trenches?the same shell-torn trees and tangled wire?the land absolutely void of life?almost makes one hopeless. We still fire at the Boche, and the Boche at us, and we still watch one another like hawks, but so far as I can see we will continue to watch one another for ever. War is the most futile, hopeless, Godless thing in the world. However, a tramp home in the rain and mud, tired and footsore but with a sense of duty done, the hope of a long letter from home, and the. prospect of .a good fire and dinner, cheer one up more than you can think.

I should like you to send me a pocket edition of Longfellow, for whom, though you. may smile, I have a. warm- admiration. There is something in his: homely thoughts and quiet charm that just suits one here.


22nd January, 1917.

You will see that I have quite finished my short course at St. Omer, and have once again returned to the serious business of war. The rest was like a draught of sweet water in the desert. The town itself was by no means a bad place, but from your point of view it is rather uninteresting. It contains no historical remains or beauty of architecture, but to me it was a tremendous relief after roofless houses and devastated streets. It contains two or three quite decent hotels, and it was certainly a novelty to see a cheerful-looking woman again, and feel that one could walk across the inevitable " Grande Place " without imagining that a Hun S.9 was about to rest in the small of your back.

Everyone was much the same when I got back except C., who had the bad luck to stop a non-blighty one and is still in rest, and I think they were all glad to see me.

On the day of my return I had an O.P. to do It may seem curious, but I was quite excited going up to the old familiar spot in the roof of the house I had discovered. I looked eagerly over the same old front, picking up the well-known landmarks, and looking to see if anything was changed. And there were changes! One very soon comes to know every inch of the ground, and detect every little alteration and movement. I have often thought when up in my perch how interested you would be, and I should like to show you the dozens of little points time and patience bring to view. You can see them?new sandbags or timber, freshly-turned earth, a mound, a corner of what looks like concrete and means a machine-gun emplacement, slits in the parapet which indicate a sniper, and further back the crash of a new battery firing by day, and at night the noise and flash of guns and the sound of moving transport. You may gather from this that it takes close attention and keen eyesight to learn one's particular front, and yet I have found time in the quiet watches between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. to commit to memory some part of the Golden Treasury and my much-despised Longfellow.

As Army correspondence has it, your remarks re duty and sacrifice are duly noted. I don't think I ever considered the question before, as duty is such a commonplace thing among us that we never think of it. We do not pose as heroes; our feelings take a lower range. For myself, when a very unhealthy job conies my way I just say to myself, "I've got to do it?so here goes," and I don't think that the idea of duty or sacrifice ever enters my head. It will be time enough, after the war to remember what splendid fellows we were.

At present the cold here is worse than the Hun, and if you are having weather like this I can picture youthful Lisburn disporting itself at Brookmount. It seems like yesterday that we were all there together, with the mater patiently waiting in the brougham to take us home. Snow is a double curse out here, for it shows up tracks beautifully clear to Hun aeroplanes, who note where they lead, and then?poor battery !


15th April, 1917.

To-day the clouds have emptied countless gallons of rain on our heads, but you almost get used to that. At 7.3o a.m. I was detailed to a new observation post we have built with the assistance of a sapper or two. I had to draw a panorama and visibility map and make the place habitable for the unfortunate who has to occupy it to-night. The last part of my task I have done in my very best style, but as I could hardly see the Boche first line my sketching was never started. I sincerely hope someone will get the job now, for field sketching was never one of my strong points, though I have made a mighty name for myself in this line. Perhaps you would like to hear the story. Last November I had the job of repairing a disused observation post, and as a panorama did not exist I had to provide one. It was a tremendous business, for the view was an extensive one. I took rather too much time over it, and H.Q. began to rage because they had not seen my efforts. In disgust I sketched in a most lifelike, amiable pig at the door of a farm house in Hunland, and liberally dotted the heavens with flights of ill-assorted birds. I handed my work of realistic art to the Major, thereby thinking to win his sympathy ; but, to my dismay, with a nod of approval, he sent it off to Group, who forwarded it to Heavy Artillery H.Q., and I have now some name among the Greeks. I might add this is still the only picture of the line from this particular observation post.


12th April, 1917.

To-morrow we move to a new position in the salient, and the other two subalterns being just out from home?we have had some casualties lately?the work of getting ready the new place falls to me. As our moving has all to be done at night I foresee very little rest for some time. However, as I am not greatly in love with our present position, I am almost delighted to lose my sleep. I have not seen the new place, but as I hear there is a concrete mess I am quite ready to face any conceivable horror. We have not yet had a single mess that would stop a " pip squeak " or 7 m.m., to say nothing of the much more terrible 5.9, the equivalent of my own particular arm. . . . I have just been frightened out of my wits. The whole mess has been shaken to its very foundation, and several of the few remaining tiles have been dislodged. What has happened I do not know, but I suspect that a very big mine or a very big dump has been fired on our very particular front. I think it is probably a dump, as neither side can blow a mine without one, or the other, or both, becoming exceedingly nasty.

You dislike the thought of observation post work. If so, you will be glad to know we get little or none of that now. It may seem strange, yet I almost regret the quiet, thoughtful hours spent there either reading or covering reams of paper with my indifferent English, or watching the few hundred yards of shell-scarred waste with its background of uncultivated land we call the Front. There- I have just been gently shaken again, and begin to fear beastly things called " duds " in close proximity, so I shall hurry like a wise man to the cellar and write in more security.

Last week I attended the first active service funeral I have been to, and it has made an: impression on my mind that will not easily be erased. The body was that of a friend I loved very dearly. We supplied the firing party and trumpeter. Four of us carried the stretcher, covered with the flag, to the graveside, and I couldn't help thinking no man could have a finer burial. Borne by his friends, followed by the men he had led, a battery in rear-firing salvoes over his grave, and the solemn sound of the Last Post " mingled with the roar of the guns?that was the picture, and it will live in my mind till the end of time. I am sure most of us were more affected than we would care to admit


27th July, 1917.

By this time you will have heard of my "soft" job. But I do not think I shall ever again sneer at that depreciatory phrase as I used to do in the days when I knew no better. I am now back about eight or nine miles at advanced railhead. Certainly, after the last three weeks in the line I envy the A.S.C. I have a very comfortable billet in a wooden hut on the side of a slight rise, the only one in the district. As I write I am sitting on my bed, looking out to the west over the valley and up the slope of the hill about seven miles away. Before me lie corn fields and copses, grazing lands and hay fields with the hay all in cocks, and the white stretches of roads and tracks dividing them all. What I now know as " War " is hardly present to my eyes. A year ago I should have had a very different feeling if I had viewed the scene in England. Among the fields are scattered the rest camps, and the strains of a Scotch regiment's pipes and a bugle sounding the First Post break the silence. A cloud of dust on the road points out a party returning to camp, and yonder goes a despatch rider on his unknown errand. All this seems to have hardly anything to do with war. But the distant rumbling I know so well now, reminds me of what is going on in the blood-stained salient where men are fighting and dying in the unending festival of King Death. One cannot help one's thoughts. Again and again when I see these splendid, cheery, unconquerable lads of ours enjoying their short rest, I think of where some of them may be going in a clay or two, of how the mills of war will grind them, and how many may never come back. But I am growing morbid. It won't do.

To come back to my job. Batteries were complaining about the quality and quantity of their rations, and after many protests to the A.S.C. our Colonel decided that the only thing to do was to send an officer down to look after the supplies, and I was selected for the job. Why I know not. However, here I am, and my sole and single duty is to overlook the distribution and portioning of the rations of our group of batteries?about nine in all?and to make myself as objectionable as I am able. I am looked upon as an interloper, and I understand the outraged A.S.C. is very angry about my presence here.

Already I am told there is a vast flight of official correspondence on the wing. What I am afraid of is the A.S.C. will go to the Corps H.Q. first, and as H.Q., quite rightly; will not be worried about trivial matters at a time like this, I shall be sent back at a moment's notice. But the job suits me down to the ground; and I hope for the best.

As my work is merely to watch the drawing of rations, and this is all over at 10 a.m., I have a good deal of spare time, and in the last two days have made a start on my series of short stories. I have almost finished one, and, frankly, am disgusted with the result. I will tell you my trouble. I have no difficulty in: finding a subject?these are plentiful as blackberries?and no difficulty in expressing myself ; but, after reading over the result, it is not the thing as I had seen and realised in my mind. It is unnatural. It does not move with life. It is stilted and unreal. The characters are not good, honest, wholesome flesh and blood. My descriptions are long and wearisome, or short and. unilluminating. Some day I may write something to cheer and comfort a weary world, but the time has not yet come. Therefore I buried my notebook fathoms deep in my kit, and comforted myself with the cheerful hope that sonic day I may do better.


10th August, 1917.

This is my second serious attempt to write you since the date of my last letter. I made an effort yesterday, but I don't think even you could have wooed the Muse in such surroundings. It was my day at our forward position. To call it a position is an abuse of imaginative language, for it is nothing more than a desolate mud heap, where the mud is not quite so deep as in the surrounding heaps. Yesterday was the first dry day for a week, and " things" around us have begun to smell. Our dug-out, in which it is impossible to sit upright, was stuffy as an oven and steamed in the heat, while the gentle Hun was all day paying delicate attentions to a battery about a hundred yards away on our left front. You can therefore understand my silence yesterday. Tonight I am doing the 3 a.m. till 9 a.m. watch under a bridge. Outside things are almost ominously quiet, but inside, as I write, there are two most distracting sounds?the buzz of mosquitoes and the snores of my two gun crews. For the last half-hour I have been noting the dozen of distinctly different tones, and it has occurred to me that they might be used in the same way as finger prints.

What do you think of the newspapers now ? I haven't seen one for ten days, but I know they are full of flamboyant headlines?Great Allied Victory in Belgium?Intense Artillery Bombardment in Flanders?Big British Push?and so forth, and everyone is talking of the beginning of the end. Personally I am not even beginning to think of it. These things look magnificent when set out in the daily press, but they are far?far?far from reality.

A week ago I stood on a pinnacle of cheerfulness, was congratulating myself that we personally had got the worst over, and was proud as a king to see a few hundred prisoners?the fruit of our labour?slouch past our position. Everyone?gunners, infantry, cavalry?was looking cheerful. The walking wounded, with broken arms and heads staggered along with always a joke and good news, and even stretcher cases, poor souls, had a smile. Now everyone, from General to private, is back again in the slough of despond, and curses the rain; and I am looking forward with far from pleasant anticipations to another artillery preparation. Still?such is the mind of man?I derive great comfort from the thought that though it is pretty rotten on this side of the line it is some odd hundred times worse on the other.

I have grown very vindictive since the 30th, when my dear old friend, J. S., the best and bravest and cheeriest of comrades, met his fate by a German sniper. Still we can't get away from the fact that the weather is the main cause of our ill-fortune. Yesterday it looked like clearing, but to-day it is nearly as bad as ever. Leather and waterproof won't stand the rain and mud for more than a day, and I cannot think how often I have changed my clothes from the skin out during the past week.


23rd November, 1917.

You know by now that I am safely posted as Brigade Signal Officer. I shall give you as short as possible a description of my duties. I am more or less my own C.O., and have twenty-two men under my command, three horses, two motor bicycles, and a motor lorry. I am responsible for the maintenance of all communications to and from Group Headquarters, to Corps Heavy Artillery, to all the batteries in the Group, to battery waggon lines, to Group Observation Post, as well as to the alternative one, and to the kite balloon section. These lines are called permanent lines. They are " in buries" and on poles, so that they do not cause a great deal of trouble. But I am also responsible for establishing visual signalling between observation posts and batteries, batteries and batteries, and groups as a stand-by in case the line should go. This is essential between observation posts and batteries, for long ago the impossibility has been realised of maintaining communication between the battery and observation post when the line has to run across ground covered by the Hun S.O.S. barrage. The visual has been my greatest trial, for the country is so flat and the line so ragged that it is difficult to set up a visual station where signalling can be done without hostile observation.

However, I got it done, and, strange to say, on the 20th, it worked splendidly and proved invaluable. In addition to the aforesaid duties I am technical adviser to the battery signal officer, and lay down the law as to where his lines have to go and how and when. I also keep the batteries up to strength in signalling stores, and overlook the working of their exchanges, and there ends my work. It may sound an extensive programme, but it is really not very arduous. The work keeps me on the move, and it is intensely interesting, for one is always meeting new faults and facing new problems which take any amount of hard thinking to get over. Certainly there is this to be said about my new job?the society of the mess is most congenial. The Colonel is a fine old fellow, a typical Regular, who, like most of his tribe, has travelled the wide world over. At times I am rather inclined to wish he had not included India in his wanderings, as his liver sometimes worries him -- and his officers. The Adjutant laid down the brush when he took up the sword, and amuses himself and bewilders everyone else by putting R.A., R.A., after his name. We have a most interesting M.O., late of Harley Street, who delights in gruesome tales of his two years' infantry work at Neuve Chapelle, Ypres, the Somme, and Vimy. In his more gentle moods he can talk well on all imaginable subjects, and interests me more than a little. The O. O I knew when he was with a battery--a curious, pleasant bird. He is an Oxford man, was Attach?at the Embassy it Constantinople, and is, without doubt, the most polished romancer, in a kindly fashion, I have ever net. We have also a Padre, a dour North Country Nonconformist?such are the ways of the War Office?who still talks about his flock, and would, I think, in moments of excitement?if he could be excited?call the Colonel his dear brother. Of course, like all human beings, we have our loves and hates, worries and troubles, but on the whole we are a very cheery crowd, and the war?the worst part of the war, for I know what that means now?does not always come too close to us.

I expect -you will want to hear anything I can tell you about the glorious 20th. I am afraid, however, I cannot add much to what you have already read except the little story of my own humble part in the mighty drama. At 5 a.m. on that memorable morning I was perched under the few remaining tiles of what, I imagine, was once a very fine schoolhouse. Here I had established one of my visual stations for the purpose of reading messages signalled back by lamp and telegraph. Naturally my position commanded a fine open view of our Corps front, and I an afraid I was guilty of leaving my two signallers to real the messages while I glued my eyes to the telescope and tried to catch some glimpse through the flank and smoke and early morning mist, of the terrible happenings away in front. I confess I did not see much?the gloom was impenetrable beyond the Hui barrage line, which falls where he thinks our infantry will come up. But I was able to gather pretty well how things were going, judging by the Very lights sent up by the infantry and answered by our contact planes, which flew as low as possible over them all the time. I spent the day at that station checking messages and transmitting them to H.Q. In the intervals I occupied my leisure in trying to count the batches of prisoners?a very cheering pastime?and questioning any of the walking wounded of our own brave fellows who felt inclined to talk. These were a spectacle not quite so cheery, except for the good news they brought, and the thought that most them were bound for the much-desired haven of home.

28th November, 1917.

I have been trying to finish this letter for the last three days, but have really never had more than ten minutes' rest. Everything on the communication side of the group has had to be changed on account of H.Q. moving forward. After our latest captures, batteries have had to be pushed on and observation posts advanced. I thought I had already seen something of war, but from 4 o'clock a.m. on the 26th till yesterday at 6 p.m. I have seen all I ever want to see again. I do not care to dwell on it, and I cannot describe my experience. That would need the brutal realism of Zola.

It happened like this. On the 26th we?that is my group?had to establish an advanced observation post at a late Hun strong point, some four hundred yards behind the front line?perhaps I should say the yawning series of shell-holes which constitute the front line. Naturally we had to have a line laid out, and though it was not my job to see to it personally, I thought it best to see it laid down under my own eyes. At 4 a.m. I started off for our present observation post, and walked up from Group H.Q., cadging a lift on a transport carrying up rations for men and guns, till I reached a point where I had to leave the road and strike across country. I passed first through the area of heavy batteries?once our observation post area, which I know so well?and then across last year's No Man's Land and the old Hun line now occupied by the R.F.A. This ground, too, was familiar to me from many a weary vigil. Then I went on up the slope to the first ridge through the shell-holes, remains of trenches, pill boxes, strong points, and smells?faint at first, but more poignant as I got further forward. At last I reached our observation post, but was too late to start work before dusk. The observation post is an old Hun dug-out, and one can judge from its massive strength and comfort that he intended to stay here, and to stay indefinitely. It was too dark to see anything of what" was going on in front, so I made myself comfortable in one of the bunks, smoked a pipe, and wondered how many Hun officers had done exactly the same a few weeks before ; and whether these officers were as tired of the war as I was, or settled into that bunk with as many,, wishes for a quiet night. As a matter of fact, I had a quiet night. The Major who was manning the observation post was a very keen fellow, and though I offered to relieve him he would not hear of it, and declined my services. So I slept the sleep of the just with a quiet conscience till 7 o'clock. Having breakfasted on tea (minus milk) , bread (minus butter) , sardines and bully an excellent meal?I started off to lay my line. Everything was quiet in the grey, solemn light. The only moving thing I saw was a party or two of stretcher-bearers, with their pitiful burden, trudging back along a trench to a dressing station, a mile or so in the rear, and a few more, led by a padre, carrying their stretchers and going forward on their noble errand.

I carried my line across the shell-holes to this track, and, as the going was easier, followed it on. How I wished I had not ! I had gone about two hundred yards down the track when my sense of smell warned me of what was coming. Here were a couple of horses possibly three days dead, and then I stumbled on all that remained of what was once a German?and another?and another?in awful and rapid succession. I thought of leaving the road, but found the going too heavy in the shell-holes?remember I had my wire to carry?so I was forced to come back upon the track. I will not continue to describe the sights I saw, but at one spot the road for about a hundred and fifty yards was literally paved deep?I do not exaggerate?with German dead, ghastly, mutilated, contorted. I noticed a few khaki-clad figures here and there. I cannot tell you how glad I was to reach my destination?an old farm house, concreted and loop-holed?and find stimulus and refreshment in my flask.

On my way back I kept off that road, but found the cross-country route nearly as bad. I passed Englishmen and Germans side by side in eternal amity?some half-buried in the open, some whose only distinguishing mark was an arm or a leg and a crowd of flies. Heaps of equipment, rifles, ammunition, bombs, rations, broken and blood-stained stretchers, were scattered everywhere. I was inclined to shut my eyes and run, but by keeping my imagination well in hand and thinking about nothing but the shortest and safest way back I got to my quarters quite safely, perspiration streaming off me, a very empty feeling in my stomach, and a very weak feeling in my knees. Not at all a hero, I was once more guilty of breaking the pledge with very weak rum and water. My adventures did not end here. In the afternoon one of our batteries had to do a shoot on a target which was rather close to our infantry line, so I set out for Battalion H.Q. to warn them. By this time I had found the best way, and my journey was not too unpleasant. As I was coming back, however, the Hun thought fit to put down a barrage, and by good fortune I got right into the middle of it. For fifteen minutes I saw all my past life float before my eyes. I anathematised the size of my tin helmet, wondering if it would stop a 5.9, and thought how great the chances were of a shell dropping right into the hole in which I was cowering. It was not a pleasant position. Yet, when it was all over, I decided I would much rather face that ordeal a second time than have to lay that wire down that road of death again. Travelling over that ground where shell-hole touched shell-hole, I could not help wondering how men had ever lived through it as our glorious infantry had, and, watching the Hun barrage, I thought what a hell it had been. Yet, coming back at night, I met a wounded officer, who talked about it as " a lovely scrap," and I think his enthusiasm was genuine?for the moment.

Now I do not want you to think this day's doings arc the usual sort of thing I have to do. My job as a rule never carries me now beyond the battery positions, and I spend a lot of time with incensed battery commanders, who think it my special business to repair their lines.



5th October, 1917.

You know, of course, of my welcome change of front. To say that I am delighted is to put it mildly. I can hardly realise it yet. Everything here is exactly opposite to what we had in the deadly salient. The country is a series of rolling hills, for we advanced here a little time ago, and the heavies find the edges of the woods abound in targets with unpleasant result to the trees. The ground is chalky, and lends itself admirably to tunnelling. Not that we had much to do in that way, for the obliging Hun knows how to dig himself in, and we now enjoy the fruit of his labours. Our dug-outs are palaces, strong against both the enemy and the weather. Coming from the land of eternal mud, I have never seen anything like them before. Not, indeed, that we need dug-outs here, for peace on earth and good-will to men seem to reign more or less in this new world. Again, an almost unbelievable thing, coming from the land of eternal shells?Group H.Q. is in a chalk pit, the sides of which have been burrowed into by the Hun, and which was made a strong point by him, as a good many of our poor fellows found early this year.

I have had a very busy time these last few days getting round my lines, batteries, and observation posts. Here our batteries do not lie in compact little clusters as they did a little further north, but are spread out with a section here and there. So I cover a good deal of ground in the course of the day and bless the horse and motor cycle. But, indeed, it is glorious to wander about, up hill and down dale, without the terrible shrinking sensation that a bloodthirsty Hun is watching you, as we always felt in the Salient, and that at his earliest convenience a 5.9 will arrive with uncomfortable accuracy. Walking and moving far afield in the open is no longer a trial and a tribulation, but a pleasant and healthful exercise.

We have heard rumours of great successes in my old, unregretted home in the Salient, but only rumours. If they are well founded, winter will be a more cheerful time this year than last in that part of the world. One thing I cannot help but notice?one takes a great deal more interest in a push when one is not one of the little wheels that keep it moving. My own feelings confirm my observation.

Your desire that I should be back with a battery has at last been gratified, as you no doubt have known for some days, and certainly nothing could be duller and less dangerous than my present occupation. I am still on the same front, and, except for having a little less work to do, I might as well be at Group H.Q. I was up at our observation post to-day?the O.P. plays a great part in our lives. What a different walk it was to the last I had in the nightmare north, with not a sound of shell, machine gun, or aeroplane. The observation post itself is in a trench carefully camouflaged. It has a very fine view?a perfect gunner's dream. It is splendid to sit comfortably warm and safe, and look down on every Hun movement for miles back, and to think that the Boche is now experiencing that perfectly beastly feeling of always being spied upon?a feeling I was never without until a month ago.

I had to register two of our guns, and was almost surprised when I heard a shell roar over my head, and was quite frightened at the noise it made. This is a very different world from Ypres. It is one thing to say "Fire No. 1," and hear a dull solitary boom. Then No. 1 comes whining along with a louder and louder screech, and then, as the sound grows less and less, you finally see a cloud of smoke and dust go up in Hunland and you know No. 1 has done its bit. It was quite another thing to give the same order a month ago, and hear a thousand booms and a thousand No. is whir over your head, and sec a thousand No. is blow an acre of Hunland to pieces. I was very proud of my shoot to-day, and got four O.K.'s on one little trench of one hundred yards long and a foot or two broad.

We are busy on our winter quarters at present. As usual here we are naturally not building, as the soil necessitated in the north, for we sleep twenty feet under ground, and I think if the war does not become a little more interesting I shall turn in for the winter, like the mole or some other hibernating animal.


20th October, 1917.

I have never yet described the thousand and one little incidents and adventures which befell me on my journey here, and it will interest you to hear them. The news of our intended move was not altogether fresh--and neither were our batteries?when the order for an advance party came over the 'phone. It was, however, rather a shock to find myself chosen to conduct it. I had just one hour's notice, but after a little practice that time is sufficient. My orders ran in this sequence : To my batman" Pack all my kit. Leave out my torch. Fill my flask. Put some rations and my shaving gear in my haversack." To my sergeant-major?" Detail me fourteen men and a bombardier. Tell them to load the lorry with corrugated iron and sandbags, four picks and spades, four shovels, a maul, a saw, an axe, and a measuring tape. Detail two men to go to the Batt. Q.M. Sergeant and draw two days' rations for all, and a jar of rum. All kit and equipment to be carried. Report when ready."

We moved out ten minutes before the hour. I was afraid we had started too well. Hardly had we lost sight of our late never-to-be-regretted home when, all against my advice, the driver, who declared he knew the country like the palm of his hand, insisted on taking a most treacherous-looking road. In a few minutes down we went over the axle. For an hour my fifteen sturdy heroes digged and heaved and sweated over that wretched lorry. Finally it came most reluctantly out of its bed of mud, and we got it back on the main road. I had made many heated and unpleasant remarks to the driver in our impassioned Irish way, which I am afraid hurt his feelings but certainly inspired him now to make frantic efforts to beat Father Time. I simply hung on in sheer despair and prayed for, at the most, a broken leg. It was well for all concerned that the road was clear. Then we came to a railway crossing, where a car bearing an army commander's flag signalled loudly for us to give way. But my driver was obdurate. He certainly pulled to the right side, and then proceeded to race the fiery chariot of the army commander for the first passage of the level crossing. We just won by a short head. I fairly groaned when I heard the infuriated hooting and horrid pounding in the rere. A moment or two later a large white car, its front mud-guard badly bent, drew alongside, and a gilded scarlet-tabbed-and-faced G.S.O.T. gave me the benefit of a vocabulary which must have taken years of patient practice to acquire. Most decidedly he astonished me.

For another eight or ten miles all went well. Then it was I who tried a short cut. The road I took was good but narrow, and I had hardly steered my now docile driver a quarter of a mile when a traffic control fellow halted us and made short work of my short cut. I was against the arrow. From the A.P.M. and Army Control point of view to move against the arrow is au unpardonable sin, and I was very much against it. First I tried the high hand, then persuasion of the gentlest, then bribery and corruption, but all was of no avail. I was up against the Incorruptible. " Very sorry, sir ; but you will have to turn back." So back perforce I went, and, I need hardly say, to turn a three-ton lorry in a narrow lane is almost heart-breaking.

Once again we got under way, and yet again got badly against the arrow. This time I spotted a track running parallel to the main road, and still trying to break all speed records, made a heroic attempt upon it. Here I just crowned my misfortunes, for after about two hundred yards, with a sickening lurch and crows of profanity from the driver, the old ship got firmly stuck in a narrow drain beside the road. When I had more or less recovered from the shock I climbed out, gazed on the consequences, and was finally conquered. Nothing short of a breakdown gang would get that lorry out, so I started on a two-mile tramp to the nearest village to appeal for help and sympathy. Of course it rained, and of course there was mud. Mud ! There was always mud.

Never was a village more welcome, and never was one more deserted. A town major and a couple of waiters at an officers' club were the only inhabitants. At this point I almost looked on myself and the lorry as lost for ever, so I made the best of my unhappy plight and took what cheer the club afforded. Whether it was the bottled beer or the seasonable warmth of an excellent stove I do not know, but presently I took fresh heart, and was just sailing off back along the road to conquer or die. The age of miracles is always with us, but it was almost unmanning to find that fatal lorry, " rigged with curses dark," awaiting my pleasure at the door. How it got out of that bottomless pit I cannot to this day discover. According to my worthy bombardier, " We sorter heaved and she sorter came out." The picture leaves something to the imagination.

This seemed to be the last of my troubles, and we dashed up to Corps H.Q. like a General of Division. I invaded the Staff Captain, told him who I was, what I was, where I had come from, and mildly inquired what I had to do. He gazed at me blankly, and murmured, "Ha! Hum ! I am sure I don't know !" This was indeed the top stone with shoutings. However, after very mature consideration, he appealed over the wire to someone called " Jimmy," and " Jimmy," whom I afterwards discovered was the admirable Brigade Major, apparently told him to send me to my new Group. I got to Group just between dusk and dark, and was greeted by the Colonel, a friendly person with hospitable ways. He invited me to look on the wine that is amber and the water which fizzes, and we chatted amicably for an hour on many varied but irrelevant topics. Then he suddenly remembered I must have come for something. He inquired, and I answered politely. He consulted with his Adjutant, who in turn consulted with the Brigade Orderly Officer. He was my last straw, but an excellent one at that. I had a battery position to make, material for which would be provided in due course. In the meantime I was to billet in another battery with my men. Its billets were to be found at X Corps Co-ordination. Cheered and comforted by my friendly reception and the tantalising dream of a dinner and a bed, the pilgrim--a little weary and travel-worn?again set forth. But the co-ordinates were wrong, and I scoured the country in the dark for what seemed unutterable ages. At last, at the unseasonable hour of 10.30, completely by mistake, I walked right into the mess. Never call the English a reserved and unsociable race. I was welcomed with open arms. In the rain and cold one of their officers turned out to show me billets for my long-suffering men, and rooted out one of the cooks to provide them with a hot meal. I issued rum?the delicate spirit that brings content--and got back to mess a little after 11 o'clock, to find an excellent dinner and my bed awaiting me. I could have fallen on their martial necks and saluted them all with a chaste kiss, only it is not done in our Army. So ended my momentous journey. But, after all, it was really a wonderful day.


29th October, 1917.

We plod on here from day to day, making work for the sake of something to do. General officers inspect us twice or thrice a week, each of these leaving us, as a sort of souvenir, one or two of his little fads to work on. A shoot is now a Great Event, and instead of the shrug and grumble which invariably greeted such an announcement a month ago, now everyone is excited as a child with a new toy, and the fellow who is lucky enough to be chosen to do it is an object of jealous admiration. I am as bad as the rest, and I thought only a short time ago that guns and gunnery would never interest me again.

We live in daily dread of Generals. Guards are mounted ; almost peace time parades are held. Buttons and boots are polished, the guns shine, shells are oiled and arranged like Guardsmen. We move about in belts and watch every puddle for fear of a spot of mud on our splendid beauty. My business is to look after the guards. I parade and mount the guard every morning and teach rifle drill all day, trying almost in vain to break all the traditions of the R.G.A. by instilling some smartness into a bunch of unhappy and perfectly indifferent gunners.

As the General progresses from battery to battery his particular fad precedes him. As thus: " General X. is at Y Battery, and will probably be at your place in fifteen minutes. He is dead nuts on gas drill." Promptly we parade all our fellows and give them a rehearsal of gas drill. All our gas gongs are polished and made to look as prominent as possible. The guard is told what to say if the old gentleman asks them their duties in a gas attack. Then our General appears, and we feel quite certain all is well with the world. But, alas ! he forgets gas for the moment and marches straight for the cook-house, which would grace a stable. Curtain !

Yesterday the " General " alarm reached us, and for half an hour I paraded my guard, admonished them, warned them, swore mildly at them, and kept them presenting arms till they did it like one man. When the General hove in sight, all brass and gold, and my carefully-trained sentry, in spite of all my training, lost his head, fiddled with his rifle, tried to Speak, looked round like a frightened rabbit, and bolted to the guard-room. I could have wept, and the sentry nearly did the same when I had finished with him.

My turn for observation duty is about round again, and will be quite welcome just for something to do. Observation posts here, with their concrete, their deep dug-outs, covered approaches, thirty-feet periscopes, beds and fireplaces, are a pleasant and wholesome change after a sheet of corrugated iron and a sandbag or two as we had in the Salient.


13th January, 1918.

I write this letter from a little oasis in the great desert of War. In other words, I write from the quiet pastures and still waters of a hospital, where I am sent by the wise to suffer from an attack of measles--an infantile disease quite unbecoming a soldier. Before I left for these Elysian fields the battery had changed its position. You may remember I hinted in a former letter that I had a feeling in my bones there was going to be a shift of some sort. The premonition was authentic. Our move was not very far, but just far enough to add considerably to the usual discomfort of any move. The battery is now split into three sections?forward, centre, and rear. My old command was the rear section, but our new Major (genus homo) has changed things a little, and we all have to do our turn forward, an arrangement of which I cordially approve. I only did two days up there, and not very pleasant days. Two of us ran the show.

We lived in an old gun emplacement?Hun-made, and therefore well made. But I have always found Hun-work more utilitarian than comfortable. It was a most draughty place. All the winds of heaven blew through it, and, sickening for this disease, my cold grew worse and worse. We lived, slept, cooked, ate, and drank all in the same place. There was a certain amount of shelling. I was in command ; I wasn't feeling fit, and I had a new Major I did not know. My fellow-sub. was quite new to all the ways of war. It was consequently with a profound sense of relief and a sigh of contentment that I mounted the waggon for No. X. Hospital, via a field ambulance.

I shall be sorry to leave this abode of peace. I have been made very comfortable and been looked after like a real invalid. The Sisters are really splendid and kindness personified. The other man in my ward is a Lincoln?a grizzled veteran of twenty-two. He is a very interesting fellow, and has been to the Dardanelles, Mesopotamia, and Ypres, so I have heard some blood-curdling experiences and, I doubt not, some exceedingly tall stories.

How calmly these delightful days go by ! Here is the chronicle of to-day's memorable events :?I cut myself shaving. We got two new records for our gramophone. We smoked many cigarettes. The orderly spilt my dinner while bringing it in. Voil?tout?and yet I am very happy.

I don't know whether we are going to spend the rest of the winter and spring in quiet or not in our present battery position. It looks rather like it, but this condition of stalemate cannot continue for ever.


21st April, 1918.

I have given you only a very brief and inadequate account of what befell me on that awful week commencing March 21st. But as I am sure you would like to hear all the details I shall do my best to set them down for you, as far as I am able. In what is left of our battery we do not care much to talk of it yet, for though some of us have memories of the Somme in 1916, Arras in 1917, Messines and Ypres behind us, not one of us has ever experienced such a perfectly hellish time.

The greatest of all our blows, however, was the loss of our beloved Major. I have now had quite a number of commanding officers, good, bad, and indifferent, but never has it been my good fortune to serve under so excellent a soldier, so courteous a gentleman, and so splendid a man?the beau ideal of the very perfect knight. I think I can truly say that there was not an officer in the mess, nor one man in the battery who would not have followed him to certain death and made the great renunciation with delight. He was always thoughtful, always appreciative, brave as a lion, and tender-hearted as a woman. I loved de Neuville with all my heart. It will be many years before his memory grows dim?a memory that is itself an inspiration. The uncertainty of his loss adds to the poignancy of our grief. One or two of us still cling to the vain hope that he may yet be alive, if a prisoner, but for my part I am altogether hopeless.

I do not quite know where to start my narrative, but I think I may brave the Censor and tell you more or less how and where we found ourselves on the morning of the unutterable 21st.

The besom of war has now swept those fields clean enough. We were in front of Vaulx-Vraucourt, well up the famous Noreuil valley, which is perhaps, better known as Death Valley. Certainly it deserved its name on the 21st and 22nd. We had also a detached section behind St. Leger, but I will finish with Vraucourt first, as did the Hun. On the 20th I was O.O., which was not a particularly enviable post, as work was heavy and the 20th was a busy day. I had a number of shoots and concentrations to run, and a long programme to keep an eye upon during the night. The Brigade Adjutant was also very busy, for he kept me on the 'phone almost continuously the whole night, with the result that instead of snatching a few hours' sleep I was unable to lie down at all. At 4.30 a.m. I began to think I had at last finished my work, and had just laid down my weary bones, and was dozing off, when the Boche opened with drum fire. That had me out like a shot.

S.O.S. was only about five minutes in coming through. I tried to get the forward observing officer, but, as he told me afterwards, the line had gone as soon as the enemy barrage had come down. So far as we were concerned, therefore, we knew nothing of what was going on forward. We could only conjecture terrible happenings. At 5.15 a.m. the right section reported that they were being heavily shelled with 5.9's. The Major went off immediately to see them, and some of us never saw him again. The left section then reported they were getting it hotly too, but could carry on. Just at this moment a message with a new target came through from Brigade, so I worked it out, but found the line to the gun had been cut. I had, therefore, to employ a runner. How that runner got through I do not know, for round the gun there was a lashing hail of bursting shells. But no man can speak too highly of our splendid gunners. On that dreadful day our rate of fire never was reduced, though the detachments were thinned by casualties ; I estimate the shells were falling about three a minute, all round and in the pits. I am told the Major was everywhere, confident, cheerful, heartening everyone?just himself.

My post became very uncomfortable about 8 a.m., with the result that we had to make a hurried move, taking all the maps and instruments with us. But our change was rather out of the frying-pan into the fire. Close mathematical work is not very exhilarating under a rain of shell-fire, still we got out all our new targets in good time, which was the main consideration. One of the section officers was hit, and the man who was to relieve me at 9 a.m. went to the gun to take his place. The skipper and I carried on in the B.C. post under a bank, with target after target pouring in on us. The Hun was now doing an area strafe, and we appeared to be in the centre of the cyclone. In such a case you never can tell what the enemy is trying for or where the next shell will burst.

The enemy stopped shelling the guns for a short time, which enabled us to relieve what was left of the detachments, though I am afraid it was not much relief. All this time we had no idea of the situation, except from rumour, and this was wild and vague. Brigade was much too busy to be troubled by our enquiry.

However, about 12.30 p.m. the guns reported that machine-gun bullets were coming over, and at 1 p.m. my Lewis gunners also reported that what they judged to be hand-to-hand scrapping was going on some thousand yards away on the right front. Half an hour later they were firing on a party of the enemy coming down the valley. At the same time we received orders to fire on a point only some twelve hundred yards in front, and the guns reported two casualties from machine-gun fire. We mustered what few rifles we had and stood by for emergencies. The Major went forward to reconnoitre, and came back to give the fatal, heart-breaking order to scupper the guns and retire. He could see none of our infantry in front, and the enemy were pouring down the valley in vast numbers. I think it must have broken his great heart to give that order. He himself stayed till everybody had gone. According to the bombardier who was with him, he visited every dugout and emplacement to make sure that all had left before he joined us. Coming back he was hit in the head by a bullet--machine guns were sweeping the road?and as he could see no help at hand, the bombardier says he carried him to the ditch, and then came on, having first made certain the Major was dead. An officer of another battery reports having seen him walking back wounded in the arm, but we can learn no more, and, as I say, I am without hope. The last we saw of our position was a party of Huns bombing the empty dug-outs.

We set out carrying away what we could?instruments, maps, a little kit, and our wounded, and made for our rear section. 1 do not think I shall ever forget that terrible journey. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm. I was carrying my trench coat, a pack, a rifle, and the observation post officer's coat, as he, poor fellow, was in a state of collapse and could hardly stagger along. The men were split up into small parties, and it was a trying job to keep them from bunching or straggling?the first being dangerous owing to Hun 'planes, which were flying low and machine-gunning every target, provided they were not too busy with our own machines, and the second fatal, because it meant valuable minutes wasted collecting the men again. You can picture us ! What with jangling nerves, lack of food and sleep and weariness beyond words, I was myself not too happy, nor, I think, did any of us at that moment feel that life held much worth having. To reach our rear section was a matter of six kilos across country, edging a little back all the time. The roads were decidedly unpleasant on account of long-range guns, while they were crowded with transport either moving up or coming back, ambulances, walking wounded, and folk in the same plight as ourselves. The dust and heat were intolerable.

I stopped at a cross-roads to collect stragglers and partially disabled men, and having collected some twenty of them pushed on again. My party was a sorry-looking lot, composed as it was of the least lit gunners in the battery. Some of them were without coats; some were carrying rifles, some what little kit they could snatch up. One or two of them had been continuously on the guns since 6 a.m. on the 20th, and were dead beat, poor souls ! to the world.

It was 5.3o p.m. before we reached our position, having safely disposed of our wounded on the way. I think what heartened me more than anything else was the sight of our two guns blazing merrily away and a party of Royal Engineers from a dump playing football in the midst of Armageddon. A cup of tea, a biscuit, and some bully beef, my coat on the floor of a dug-out, and for four glorious hours the war was forgotten in the sweetest and soundest sleep I ever had in my life.

Unfortunately, about ten p.m., the Hun started harassing fire on the road and some hutments near by, and we were compelled to take to our trenches for two hours ; after that we were all to cold to sleep again. All the time our two guns were blazing away sturdily. It was a miracle we had no casualties, for it was really hot at times, one shell falling only ten yards from a gun. At 5 a.m. we had a sort of stand-to. I went out with my Lewis gun and a small party of rifles, but at 7 o'clock, the Boche showing no sign of attacking, we came in to breakfast.

All day we kept up our full rate of fire, only resting to change targets or let the guns cool. One officer went forward to try and get some information, but after six hours came in again, having obtained little definite news. Brigade, however assured us that all was well, until 4 p.m., when they asked us if we could give them any information. Naturally we were unable to do so, but shortly afterwards I noticed a battery of equal size to our own commence to pull out. We reported this to Brigade, but the reply was to carry on.

About an hour later a field battery alongside told us they were bringing up their teams, but had no orders about pulling out and going back. This we also reported to Brigade. We were then ordered to have our transports standing by, and were given a rendezvous some miles back. Up to this time except for a few shells we had been left more or less alone, but at 5 p.m. something unpleasantly like a barrage was coming down immediately in front of us. A thick ground mist was blotting out everything within a half-mile radius, and it was not until a field battery thundered back along the road that we had much suspicion that all was not still well. Again we asked for information, but only to find that our line to Brigade was blown to bits. The Captain waited half an hour longer, but as the line was still silent, and rumours called loud and shrill that the Hun had broken through our right, he gave the orders to pull out. Away we went, and, as it turned out, rumour spoke no more than the truth, for, so far as I can gather, a short hour afterwards our late position was the seat of some bitter fighting.

The guns reached the rendezvous about 10 p.m., and at 11 p.m. we were all hard at work digging in, though officers and men alike were pretty well at their last gasp. The grey and dreary dawn found us ready for action with about a hundred rounds. We had nothing but a few firing stores, as we had no transport with which to bring them away, but we had enough to fire these hundred rounds, and another three hundred which came up during the day. More came up that night, the 23rd, but unfortunately one gull went out of action and could not be repaired, so during the night of the 23rd and 24th we toiled heroically and tried to double our rate of fire with the one remaining gun.

At 4 p.m. on the 24th Brigade wired through to us to send an officer forward to get in touch, if possible, with our infantry, or, at the worst, to obtain some reliable information. This duty fell upon my shoulders, and having selected four orderlies I set out upon my quest. The Hun was at this time doing some counter battery work, which made my progress rather difficult?so difficult, indeed, that finally I gave up all hope of dodging and decided to go straight up and take my chances.

When I had passed the battery area matters were rather quieter, but further ahead the Boche was shelling in quite a workmanlike fashion. More by good luck than good guidance?the star of my destiny was shining brightly?I struck the Infantry Brigade H.Q. for which I had been ordered to look, and there I gathered all the information this very worried H.Q. could give me. That information was not at all reassuring, nor was it very definite, but I sent it back by two of my runners, while I set out to find another Brigade whose position had been roughly defined for me on the map. On this occasion my star was in eclipse, and luck was all against me. I ran into a barrage to start with, and one of my runners was slightly wounded, which, of course, delayed my progress. I scoured the country for this mythical Brigade but could find it nowhere.

The barrage had now stopped, but there was still a good deal of shelling, and the darkness which had now set in did not make things any easier or pleasanter. I tried to retrace my steps but became hopelessly lost?a little bit of floating wreckage in the great ocean of war. Eventually, however, I found an Artillery H.Q. who made me very welcome. Here I evacuated my casualty and learned the cheerful news that the enemy were attacking on our right and had made considerable progress. Away went my remaining runner, and it was when my Brigade got this message and our remaining gun went out of action, that my battery pulled out once again.

An hour later, three fresh runners were sent up to me. By this time the advancing Hun appeared to be held, and I accordingly sent two of the runners back with this report. They had hardly disappeared when I was told our right flank had been broken, and the group was ordered to get their guns away behind a new line of defence. I waited with them until they had got all their batteries out and moved off themselves. Then I set out to see if I could discover anything on my own account. After some wandering I alighted upon a battalion of infantry digging themselves in, but they were very indefinite about the position of their H.Q. and could give me no information. Having stumbled about another half hour, I began to make my way back, and eventually I reached a fresh Brigade of R.F.A. who were only keeping in action till the Brigade I had been with were once more in position. They could really tell me nothing?they were hopelessly in the dark?so I carried on back. By this time I could hardly walk, not having had my boots off for four days and being on my feet most of the time. At last, however, I managed to get back to our post to find it?empty, and not a soul to be seen. I could have sat down and shed tears.

I rested a few minutes, but as my runner went to sleep and I nearly followed his example, I thought it best to report at once to Brigade. It took me an hour to acomplish the two miles, and the chair and drink at the end of it just about saved my flickering life.

At Brigade I met Wilmot, who had waited there for me. He had discovered that some lorries were to pick us up at Bucquoy, three miles away. So we set out once more, and it was only the thought of those lorries that carried me on?to find that they had not arrived, and nobody knew when they would. But it was all in the grim fortune of war. We crawled under a hedge and slept from 2 o'clock till 5 p.m., and then the lorries arrived. I mounted one and Wilmot the other, and having filled them with men, set off for the rendezvous some ten miles back.

Of that journey I remember only a few dream-villages where life appeared to be going on much as usual. The rest of the time I slept a sleep as deep as the Atlantic. At 9 o'clock we reached our destination to find the rest of the battery breakfasting and performing its ablutions. It did not require the delicious smell of frizzling bacon to remind us we had tasted nothing since the preceding afternoon, and a couple of minutes later brought to light a comfortable little estaminet?blessed be that smiling hostess!?and five minutes afterwards a huge omelette and excellent coffee brought a little blush upon the face of life again.

All day we tinkered at our two guns, but they were beyond our skill. This being reported, orders came to billet for the night. Another officer and I shared a bed in a pretty little farm, and, speaking for myself, from 8 p.m. till 8 a.m. I remembered nothing.

The rest I think you know. Sleep and rest and food were the three things that occupied all our thoughts for the next three or four days, and then some of us began to remember what we had come through.

We are going back in a few days when we are refitted. The news from the North seems rather terrible, but here I think the Hun is well held. At least I hope so.


26th July, 1918.

We are back again to the old, old round of stationary warfare?observation posts, shoots, shells, and shelling. Once more these have come to seem part of our everyday life, which is now almost monotonous. There are now no heroic stunts or strategic movements. We are once again a dull, lifeless crowd, but with one burning topic?leave. Everyone has now got over the effects of rest, and has arrived at that necessary condition of despondency and boredom which is really the only satisfactory state of mind if one is to preserve a quiet life. We have been quite fortunate in our new position. We are in a sunken road with very excellent pits, and we now have a certain number of waterproof shacks. We are also the proud possessors of two saps some thirty feet deep. The one drawback to the position is that it lacks natural cover of any description, and artificial camouflaging is a fine art known to few.

Even for the artist it is hard to obtain perfection with the materials provided by a thoughtful administration. For example, all our guns are covered with grass-green nets. This is very excellent cover for three of the pits which are dug in clover fields, but the fourth pit is on the edge of a cornfield already turning brown. The result is that in a photograph from the air this cover will show up as a square black patch which even the most uninitiated eye could detect and place as something unusual.

Should a strategic retreat again be necessary we will have at least a sporting chance of getting away?a desirable thing that was impossible in our last position. Here we have three roads leading back ; there we had only one which was like the neck of a bottle, and that most beautifully registered by the Hun with batteries of every calibre up to 8 inches. Here we are a good way back?just that pleasing half-way house never much visited by howitzers, and two close to be much troubled by long range guns. We are not quite so hard worked in the matter of observation posts, nor are the observation post so far forward. We man a battery observation post seven hundred yards from the front line, and once in five days a Brigade Observation Post five hundred yards back. Both are quite comfortable, having entranced saps and a splinter proof cover. Our day observation post unfortunately comes within the Hun retaliation barrage lines and is often an unpleasant dwelling place. Three of us have already had a decidedly hot time there, myself being one of the number. However, I retired in fair order to the dug-out, which is proof against the pernicious 5.9.

As regards the air now-a-days it is a perfect gunner's paradise. Since we came up the line again I do not think I have seen more than ten Huns cross our lines, and then only for a few moments. I do not, of course, include heavy bombers, which fly like evil spirits at night, and two of which, incidentally, I have seen come down burning brightly.


5th June, 1918.

This is by no means yet a peaceful front. The Hun has become much too fond of " area stunts," and two or three minute concentrations which are perfectly beastly things to experience. He will take, for example, a battery area and suddenly put down three minutes' gun-fire, covering, perhaps, four hundred square yards with four or five batteries. It is quite useless to run. The only thing to do is to lie down flat and hope for the best with a fluttering heart. This kind of thing does not knock out batteries, but it gives you most unpleasant sensations when crossing the open or going through a battery position.

Once more we are having rather too much observation post work, and no amount of protest from battery commanders and carefully camouflaged hints from junior officers, have the slightest effect upon Brigade, who deal with these things with a lordly hand. My last twenty-tour hours were spent in one that I do not love. It is a sap out from our first line in the wire, and is certainly a splendid observation post for day work, as one commands Boche land from its first line to its battery area, and it has not yet been spotted. But at night the thought of having only one of our patrols in front in the event of a Boche attack, or even of the rush of a raiding party, does not tend to make one happy. I spent a rather uncomfortable night there in my gas helmet, but the Boche did not trouble me. It was a lovely June night. The air was full of stars. Above me Orion looked down?the mailed warrior of the skies?and far away " the star of the unconquered will " flamed with the steadfast light of new hope and resolution. It was all so ,vast and wonderful and full of majesty, and here were we, little ants?the creatures of a day, striving to slay and kill each other. What are we and all our pigmy. empires and kingdoms and thrones and myriad armies under that? . And yet?and yet?I felt that one little ant had his duty to do, and his insignificant part to perform while these rolling worlds swept through space, and the morning stars sang together. This little ant . must do his bit in order that other little ants may live out happy lives, and the ant has its plate in the universe as well as those flaming constellations. I worried this thought out through my midnight vigil, and it really gave me some happiness. I see some things more clearly than I used to do, and thoughts like these grow and flourish in the mud and slime of war.


7th October, 1918.

I think it has come at last. The day has dawned when we shall make an end of this senseless, brutal, bestial war, and return home bringing the sheaves of peace.

As you know we have been going forward?forward?but almost too slowly for my taste. This is, I suppose, what we may call open warfare. It is certainly very interesting and a great deal less monotonous than the old trench life, while it is certainly less unpleasant than the pushing of last year. Yesterday and to-day we stand in one of those pauses which are perfectly inevitable, but I am waiting impatiently to see the Hun hit hard again, for I am certain it would be a fatal mistake to let him settle. I have been out three times on forward observation duty. Here one is always more or less one's own master, and can take the least unpleasant and unexciting places. As before, I have always been surprised at the lightness of our casualties?that is so far as I can see. It is only when we have attacked or been caught by machine-gun fire that our list of casualties is long and heavy. The Hun shell-fire has been negligible. He does not appear to be making a determined stand anywhere, and I cannot see where he is going to find a real line of resistance before he reaches the Meuse. We are having a fairly light time at present. Roads are our one difficulty. The Hun either pays no attention to his roads or has been too busy to work upon them. They are certainly in a deplorable condition and are almost impossible for us, or rather for our ammunition supply.

I had quite a pleasant day yesterday?of sorts. I received my orders at a moment's notice and had no time to get anything to eat. I had no definite instructions but to go forward, so I simply wandered round the country worrying people who looked as though they ought to know something. I discovered a little about matters?but nothing to eat. However, putting a terrible hunger on one side, I had really a good day. I avoided shells and other unpleasantness very successfully, and luckily was able to jump on a lorry which brought me practically all the way home.

Apparently the difficulty is that after our show of the day before yesterday there is considerable doubt as to where the Hun has gone. We have an officer out looking for him now, but judging by the reports which have come back, he has had little success. Anyhow, to-morrow, I think, we are sure to move. That is as I would like it. Forward! Forward

Scanned from an old family album.