IN THE DEADLY SALIENT.
IN THE FIRING LINE.
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.
THE DAY'S WORK.
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.
A TOWN HOUSE.
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 veranda 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.
THE OBSERVATION POST.
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 !
DRAWING A MAP.
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
A NIGHT ALARM.
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.
A SOFT JOB.
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.
THE FIGHT FOR THE RIDGE.
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.