The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

Tiffany Vergon, Brendan Lane, Edward Johnson, and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team







"The glory is all in the souls of the men--it's nothing external."
--From "Carry On"




Each night we panted till the runners came,
Bearing your letters through the battle-smoke.
Their path lay up Death Valley spouting flame,
Across the ridge where the Hun's anger spoke
In bursting shells and cataracts of pain;
Then down the road where no one goes by day,
And so into the tortured, pockmarked plain
Where dead men clasp their wounds and point the way.
Here gas lurks treacherously and the wire
Of old defences tangles up the feet;
Faces and hands strain upward through the mire,
Speaking the anguish of the Hun's retreat.
Sometimes no letters came; the evening hate
Dragged on till dawn. The ridge in flying spray
Of hissing shrapnel told the runners' fate;
We knew we should not hear from you that day--
From you, who from the trenches of the mind
Hurl back despair, smiling with sobbing breath,
Writing your souls on paper to be kind,
That you for us may take the sting from Death.











In my book, _The Father of a Soldier_, I have already stated the
conditions under which this book of my son's was produced.

He was wounded in the end of June, 1917, in the fierce struggle before
Lens. He was at once removed to a base-hospital, and later on to a
military hospital in London. There was grave danger of amputation of
the right arm, but this was happily avoided. As soon as he could use
his hand he was commandeered by the Lord High Commissioner of Canada
to write an important paper, detailing the history of the Canadian
forces in France and Flanders. This task kept him busy until the end
of August, when he obtained a leave of two months to come home. He
arrived in New York in September, and returned again to London in the
end of October.

The plan of the book grew out of his conversations with us and the
three public addresses which he made. The idea had already been
suggested to him by his London publisher, Mr. John Lane. He had
written a few hundred words, but had no very keen sense of the value
of the experiences he had been invited to relate. He had not even read
his own published letters in _Carry On_. He said he had begun to read
them when the book reached him in the trenches, but they made him
homesick, and he was also afraid that his own estimate of their value
might not coincide with ours, or with the verdict which the public has
since passed upon them. He regarded his own experiences, which we
found so thrilling, in the same spirit of modest depreciation. They
were the commonplaces of the life which he had led, and he was
sensitive lest they should be regarded as improperly heroic. No one
was more astonished than he when he found great throngs eager to hear
him speak. The people assembled an hour before the advertised time,
they stormed the building as soon as the doors were open, and when
every inch of room was packed they found a way in by the windows and a
fire-escape. This public appreciation of his message indicated a value
in it which he had not suspected, and led him to recognise that what
he had to say was worthy of more than a fugitive utterance on a public
platform. He at once took up the task of writing this book, with a
genuine and delighted surprise that he had not lost his love of
authorship. He had but a month to devote to it, but by dint of daily
diligence, amid many interruptions of a social nature, he finished his
task before he left. The concluding lines were actually written on the
last night before he sailed for England.

We discussed several titles for the book. _The Religion of Heroism_
was the title suggested by Mr. John Lane, but this appeared too
didactic and restrictive. I suggested _Souls in Khaki_, but this
admirable title had already been appropriated. Lastly, we decided on
_The Glory of the Trenches_, as the most expressive of his aim. He
felt that a great deal too much had been said about the squalor,
filth, discomfort and suffering of the trenches. He pointed out that a
very popular war-book which we were then reading had six paragraphs in
the first sixty pages which described in unpleasant detail the
verminous condition of the men, as if this were the chief thing to be
remarked concerning them. He held that it was a mistake for a writer
to lay too much stress on the horrors of war. The effect was bad
physiologically--it frightened the parents of soldiers; it was equally
bad for the enlisted man himself, for it created a false impression in
his mind. We all knew that war was horrible, but as a rule the soldier
thought little of this feature in his lot. It bulked large to the
civilian who resented inconvenience and discomfort, because he had
only known their opposites; but the soldier's real thoughts were
concerned with other things. He was engaged in spiritual acts. He was
accomplishing spiritual purposes as truly as the martyr of faith and
religion. He was moved by spiritual impulses, the evocation of duty,
the loyal dependence of comradeship, the spirit of sacrifice, the
complete surrender of the body to the will of the soul. This was the
side of war which men needed most to recognise. They needed it not
only because it was the true side, but because nothing else could
kindle and sustain the enduring flame of heroism in men's hearts.

While some erred in exhibiting nothing but the brutalities of war,
others erred by sentimentalising war. He admitted that it was
perfectly possible to paint a portrait of a soldier with the aureole
of a saint, but it would not be a representative portrait. It would be
eclectic, the result of selection elimination. It would be as unlike
the common average as Rupert Brooke, with his poet's face and poet's
heart, was unlike the ordinary naval officers with whom he sailed to
the AEgean.

The ordinary soldier is an intensely human creature, with an
"endearing blend of faults and virtues." The romantic method of
portraying him not only misrepresented him, but its result is far less
impressive than a portrait painted in the firm lines of reality. There
is an austere grandeur in the reality of what he is and does which
needs no fine gilding from the sentimentalist. To depict him as a Sir
Galahad in holy armour is as serious an offence as to exhibit him as a
Caliban of marred clay; each method fails of truth, and all that the
soldier needs to be known about him, that men should honour him, is
the truth.

What my son aimed at in writing this book was to tell the truth about
the men who were his comrades, in so far as it was given him to see
it. He was in haste to write while the impression was fresh in his
mind, for he knew how soon the fine edge of these impressions grew
dull as they receded from the immediate area of vision. "If I wait
till the war is over, I shan't be able to write of it at all," he
said. "You've noticed that old soldiers are very often silent men.
They've had their crowded hours of glorious life, but they rarely tell
you much about them. I remember you used to tell me that you once knew
a man who sailed with Napoleon to St Helena, but all he could tell you
was that Napoleon had a fine leg and wore white silk stockings. If
he'd written down his impressions of Napoleon day by day as he watched
him walking the deck of the _Bellerophon_, he'd have told you a great
deal more about him than that he wore white silk stockings. If I wait
till the war is over before I write about it, it's very likely I shall
recollect only trivial details, and the big heroic spirit of the thing
will escape me. There's only one way of recording an impression--catch
it while it's fresh, vivid, vital; shoot it on the wing. If you wait
too long it will vanish." It was because he felt in this way that he
wrote in red-hot haste, sacrificing his brief leave to the task, and
concentrating all his mind upon it.

There was one impression that he was particularly anxious to
record,--his sense of the spiritual processes which worked behind the
grim offence of war, the new birth of religious ideas, which was one
of its most wonderful results. He had both witnessed and shared this
renascence. It was too indefinite, too immature to be chronicled with
scientific accuracy, but it was authentic and indubitable. It was
atmospheric, a new air which men breathed, producing new energies and
forms of thought. Men were rediscovering themselves, their own
forgotten nobilities, the latent nobilities in all men. Bound together
in the daily obedience of self-surrender, urged by the conditions of
their task to regard duty as inexorable, confronted by the pitiless
destruction of the body, they were forced into a new recognition of
the spiritual values of life. In the common conventional use of the
term these men were not religious. There was much in their speech and
in their conduct which would outrage the standards of a narrow
pietism. Traditional creeds and forms of faith had scant authority for
them. But they had made their own a surer faith than lives in
creeds. It was expressed not in words but acts. They had freed their
souls from the tyrannies of time and the fear of death. They had
accomplished indeed that very emancipation of the soul which is the
essential evangel of all religions, which all religions urge on men,
but which few men really achieve, however earnestly they profess the
forms of pious faith.

This was the true Glory of the Trenches. They were the Calvaries of a
new redemption being wrought out for men by soiled unconscious
Christs. And, as from that ancient Calvary, with all its agony of
shame, torture and dereliction, there flowed a flood of light which
made a new dawn for the world, so from these obscure crucifixions
there would come to men a new revelation of the splendour of the human
soul, the true divinity that dwells in man, the God made manifest in
the flesh by acts of valour, heroism, and self-sacrifice which
transcend the instincts and promptings of the flesh, and bear witness
to the indestructible life of the spirit.

It is to express these thoughts and convictions that this book was
written. It is a record of things deeply felt, seen and
experienced--this, first of all and chiefly. The lesson of what is
recorded is incidental and implicit. It is left to the discovery of
the reader, and yet is so plainly indicated that he cannot fail to
discover it. We shall all see this war quite wrongly, and shall
interpret it by imperfect and base equivalents, if we see it only as a
human struggle for human ends. We shall err yet more miserably if all
our thoughts and sensations about it are drawn from its physical
horror, "the deformations of our common manhood" on the battlefield,
the hopeless waste and havoc of it all. We shall only view it in its
real perspective when we recognise the spiritual impulses which direct
it, and the strange spiritual efficacy that is in it to burn out the
deep-fibred cancer of doubt and decadence which has long threatened
civilisation with a slow corrupt death. Seventy-five years ago Mrs.
Browning, writing on _The Greek Christian Poets_, used a striking
sentence to which the condition of human thought to-day lends a new
emphasis. "We want," she said, "the touch of Christ's hand upon our
literature, as it touched other dead things--we want the sense of the
saturation of Christ's blood upon the souls of our poets that it may
cry through them in answer to the ceaseless wail of the Sphinx of our
humanity, expounding agony into renovation. Something of this has been
perceived in art when its glory was at the fullest." It is this glory
of divine sacrifice which is the Glory of the Trenches. It is because
the writer recognises this that he is able to walk undismayed among
things terrible and dismaying, and to expound agony into renovation.

February, 1918.


Hushed and happy whiteness,
Miles on miles of cots,
The glad contented brightness
Where sunlight falls in spots.

Sisters swift and saintly
Seem to tread on grass;
Like flowers stirring faintly,
Heads turn to watch them pass.

Beauty, blood, and sorrow,
Blending in a trance--
Eternity's to-morrow
In this half-way house of France.

Sounds of whispered talking,
Laboured indrawn breath;
Then like a young girl walking
The dear familiar Death.



I am in hospital in London, lying between clean white sheets and
feeling, for the first time in months, clean all over. At the end of
the ward there is a swinging door; if I listen intently in the
intervals when the gramophone isn't playing, I can hear the sound of
bath-water running--running in a reckless kind of fashion as if it
didn't care how much was wasted. To me, so recently out of the
fighting and so short a time in Blighty, it seems the finest music in
the world. For the sheer luxury of the contrast I close my eyes
against the July sunlight and imagine myself back in one of those
narrow dug-outs where it isn't the thing to undress because the row
may start at any minute.

Out there in France we used to tell one another fairy-tales of how we
would spend the first year of life when war was ended. One man had a
baby whom he'd never seen; another a girl whom he was anxious to
marry. My dream was more prosaic, but no less ecstatic--it began and
ended with a large white bed and a large white bath. For the first
three hundred and sixty-five mornings after peace had been declared I
was to be wakened by the sound of my bath being filled; water was to
be so plentiful that I could tumble off to sleep again without even
troubling to turn off the tap. In France one has to go dirty so often
that the dream of being always clean seems as unrealisable as
romance. Our drinking-water is frequently brought up to us at the risk
of men's lives, carried through the mud in petrol-cans strapped on to
packhorses. To use it carelessly would be like washing in men's

And here, most marvellously, with my dream come true, I lie in the
whitest of white beds. The sunlight filters through trees outside the
window and weaves patterns on the floor. Most wonderful of all is the
sound of the water so luxuriously running. Some one hops out of bed
and re-starts the gramophone. The music of the bath-room tap is lost.

Up and down the ward, with swift precision, nurses move softly. They
have the unanxious eyes of those whose days are mapped out with
duties. They rarely notice us as individuals. They ask no questions,
show no curiosity. Their deeds of persistent kindness are all
performed impersonally. It's the same with the doctors. This is a
military hospital where discipline is firmly enforced; any natural
recognition of common fineness is discouraged. These women who have
pledged themselves to live among suffering, never allow themselves for
a moment to guess what the sight of them means to us chaps in the
cots. Perhaps that also is a part of their sacrifice. But we follow
them with our eyes, and we wish that they would allow themselves to
guess. For so many months we have not seen a woman; there have been so
many hours when we expected never again to see a woman. We're
Lazaruses exhumed and restored to normal ways of life by the fluke of
having collected a bit of shrapnel--we haven't yet got used to normal
ways. The mere rustle of a woman's skirt fills us with unreasonable
delight and makes the eyes smart with memories of old longings. Those
childish longings of the trenches! No one can understand them who has
not been there, where all personal aims are a wash-out and the courage
to endure remains one's sole possession.

The sisters at the Casualty Clearing Station--they understood. The
Casualty Clearing Station is the first hospital behind the line to
which the wounded are brought down straight from the Dressing-Stations.
All day and all night ambulances come lurching along shell-torn roads
to their doors. The men on the stretchers are still in their bloody
tunics, rain-soaked, pain-silent, splashed with the corruption of
fighting--their bodies so obviously smashed and their spirits so
obviously unbroken. The nurses at the Casualty Clearing Station can
scarcely help but understand. They can afford to be feminine to men
who are so weak. Moreover, they are near enough the Front to share in
the sublime exaltation of those who march out to die. They know when a
big offensive is expected, and prepare for it. They are warned the
moment it has commenced by the distant thunder of the guns. Then comes
the ceaseless stream of lorries and ambulances bringing that which has
been broken so quickly to them to be patched up in months. They work
day and night with a forgetfulness of self which equals the devotion
of the soldiers they are tending. Despite their orderliness they seem
almost fanatical in their desire to spend themselves. They are always
doing, but they can never do enough. It's the same with the surgeons.
I know of one who during a great attack operated for forty-eight hours
on end and finally went to sleep where he stood from utter weariness.
The picture that forms in my mind of these women is absurd, Arthurian
and exact; I see them as great ladies, mediaeval in their saintliness,
sharing the pollution of the battle with their champions.

Lying here with nothing to worry about in the green serenity of an
English summer, I realize that no man can grasp the splendour of this
war until he has made the trip to Blighty on a stretcher. What I mean
is this: so long as a fighting man keeps well, his experience of the
war consists of muddy roads leading up through a desolated country to
holes in the ground, in which he spends most of his time watching
other holes in the ground, which people tell him are the Hun
front-line. This experience is punctuated by periods during which the
earth shoots up about him like corn popping in a pan, and he
experiences the insanest fear, if he's made that way, or the most
satisfying kind of joy. About once a year something happens which,
when it's over, he scarcely believes has happened: he's told that he
can run away to England and pretend that there isn't any war on for
ten days. For those ten days, so far as he's concerned, hostilities
are suspended. He rides post-haste through ravaged villages to the
point from which the train starts. Up to the very last moment until
the engine pulls out, he's quite panicky lest some one shall come and
snatch his warrant from him, telling him that leave has been
cancelled. He makes his journey in a carriage in which all the windows
are smashed. Probably it either snows or rains. During the night
while he stamps his feet to keep warm, he remembers that in his hurry
to escape he's left all his Hun souvenirs behind. During his time in
London he visits his tailor at least twice a day, buys a vast amount
of unnecessary kit, sleeps late, does most of his resting in
taxi-cabs, eats innumerable meals at restaurants, laughs at a great
many plays in which life at the Front is depicted as a joke. He feels
dazed and half suspects that he isn't in London at all, but only
dreaming in his dug-out. Some days later he does actually wake up in
his dug-out; the only proof he has that he's been on leave is that he
can't pay his mess-bill and is minus a hundred pounds. Until a man is
wounded he only sees the war from the point of view of the front-line
and consequently, as I say, misses half its splendour, for he is
ignorant of the greatness of the heart that beats behind him all along
the lines of communication. Here in brief is how I found this out.

The dressing-station to which I went was underneath a ruined house,
under full observation of the Hun and in an area which was heavily
shelled. On account of the shelling and the fact that any movement
about the place would attract attention, the wounded were only carried
out by night. Moreover, to get back from the dressing-station to the
collecting point in rear of the lines, the ambulances had to traverse
a white road over a ridge full in view of the enemy. The Huns kept
guns trained on this road and opened fire at the least sign of
traffic. When I presented myself I didn't think that there was
anything seriously the matter; my arm had swelled and was painful from
a wound of three days' standing. The doctor, however, recognised that
septic poisoning had set in and that to save the arm an operation was
necessary without loss of time. He called a sergeant and sent him out
to consult with an ambulance-driver. "This officer ought to go out at
once. Are you willing to take a chance?" asked the sergeant. The
ambulance-driver took a look at the chalk road gleaming white in the
sun where it climbed the ridge. "Sure, Mike," he said, and ran off to
crank his engine and back his car out of its place of concealment.
"Sure, Mike,"--that was all. He'd have said the same if he'd been
asked whether he'd care to take a chance at Hell.

I have three vivid memories of that drive. The first, my own uneasy
sense that I was deserting. Frankly I didn't want to go out; few men
do when it comes to the point. The Front has its own peculiar
exhilaration, like big game-hunting, discovering the North Pole, or
anything that's dangerous; and it has its own peculiar reward--the
peace of mind that comes of doing something beyond dispute unselfish
and superlatively worth while. It's odd, but it's true that in the
front-line many a man experiences peace of mind for the first time and
grows a little afraid of a return to normal ways of life. My second
memory is of the wistful faces of the chaps whom we passed along the
road. At the unaccustomed sound of a car travelling in broad daylight
the Tommies poked their heads out of hiding-places like rabbits. Such
dirty Tommies! How could they be otherwise living forever on old
battlefields? If they were given time for reflection they wouldn't
want to go out; they'd choose to stay with the game till the war was
ended. But we caught them unaware, and as they gazed after us down the
first part of the long trail that leads back from the trenches to
Blighty, there was hunger in their eyes. My third memory is of

You wouldn't think that men would go to war to learn how to be
kind--but they do. There's no kinder creature in the whole wide world
than the average Tommy. He makes a friend of any stray animal he can
find. He shares his last franc with a chap who isn't his pal. He risks
his life quite inconsequently to rescue any one who's wounded. When
he's gone over the top with bomb and bayonet for the express purpose
of "doing in" the Hun, he makes a comrade of the Fritzie he
captures. You'll see him coming down the battered trenches with some
scared lad of a German at his side. He's gabbling away making
throat-noises and signs, smiling and doing his inarticulate best to be
intelligible. He pats the Hun on the back, hands him chocolate and
cigarettes, exchanges souvenirs and shares with him his last
luxury. If any one interferes with his Fritzie he's willing to
fight. When they come to the cage where the prisoner has to be handed
over, the farewells of these companions whose acquaintance has been
made at the bayonet-point are often as absurd as they are affecting. I
suppose one only learns the value of kindness when he feels the need
of it himself. The men out there have said "Good-bye" to everything
they loved, but they've got to love some one--so they give their
affections to captured Fritzies, stray dogs, fellows who've collected
a piece of a shell--in fact to any one who's a little worse off than
themselves. My ambulance-driver was like that with his "Sure, Mike."
He was like it during the entire drive. When he came to the white road
which climbs the ridge with all the enemy country staring at it, it
would have been excusable in him to have hurried. The Hun barrage
might descend at any minute. All the way, in the ditches on either
side, dead pack animals lay; in the dug-outs there were other unseen
dead making the air foul. But he drove slowly and gently, skirting the
shell-holes with diligent care so as to spare us every unnecessary
jolting. I don't know his name, shouldn't recognise his face, but I
shall always remember the almost womanly tenderness of his driving.

After two changes into other ambulances at different distributing
points, I arrived about nine on a summer's evening at the Casualty
Clearing Station. In something less than an hour I was undressed and
on the operating table.

You might suppose that when for three interminable years such a stream
of tragedy has flowed through a hospital, it would be easy for
surgeons and nurses to treat mutilation and death perfunctorily. They
don't. They show no emotion. They are even cheerful; but their
strained faces tell the story and their hands have an immense

Two faces especially loom out. I can always see them by lamp-light,
when the rest of the ward is hushed and shrouded, stooping over some
silent bed. One face is that of the Colonel of the hospital, grey,
concerned, pitiful, stern. His eyes seem to have photographed all the
suffering which in three years they have witnessed. He's a tall man,
but he moves softly. Over his uniform he wears a long white operating
smock--he never seems to remove it. And he never seems to sleep, for
he comes wandering through his Gethsemane all hours of the night to
bend over the more serious cases. He seems haunted by a vision of the
wives, mothers, sweethearts, whose happiness is in his hands. I think
of him as a Christ in khaki.

The other face is of a girl--a sister I ought to call her. She's the
nearest approach to a sculptured Greek goddess I've seen in a living
woman. She's very tall, very pale and golden, with wide brows and big
grey eyes like Trilby. I wonder what she did before she went to
war--for she's gone to war just as truly as any soldier. I'm sure in
the peaceful years she must have spent a lot of time in being
loved. Perhaps her man was killed out here. Now she's ivory-white with
over-service and spends all her days in loving. Her eyes have the old
frank, innocent look, but they're ringed with being weary. Only her
lips hold a touch of colour; they have a childish trick of trembling
when any one's wound is hurting too much. She's the first touch of
home that the stretcher-cases see when they've said good-bye to the
trenches. She moves down the ward; eyes follow her. When she is
absent, though others take her place, she leaves a loneliness. If she
meant much to men in days gone by, to-day she means more than
ever. Over many dying boys she stoops as the incarnation of the woman
whom, had they lived, they would have loved. To all of us, with the
blasphemy of destroying still upon us, she stands for the divinity of

What sights she sees and what words she hears; yet the pity she brings
to her work preserves her sweetness. In the silence of the night those
who are delirious re-fight their recent battles. You're half-asleep,
when in the darkened ward some one jumps up in bed, shouting, "Hold
your bloody hands up." He thinks he's capturing a Hun trench, taking
prisoners in a bombed in dug-out. In an instant, like a mother with a
frightened child, she's bending over him; soon she has coaxed his head
back on the pillow. Men do not die in vain when they evoke such women.
And the men--the chaps in the cots! As a patient the first sight you
have of them is a muddy stretcher. The care with which the bearers
advance is only equalled by the waiters in old-established London
Clubs when they bring in one of their choicest wines. The thing on the
stretcher looks horribly like some of the forever silent people you
have seen in No Man's Land. A pair of boots you see, a British Warm
flung across the body and an arm dragging. A screen is put round a
bed; the next sight you have of him is a weary face lying on a white
pillow. Soon the chap in the bed next to him is questioning.

"What's yours?"

"Machine-gun caught me in both legs."

"Going to lose 'em?"

"Don't know. Can't feel much at present. Hope not."

Then the questioner raises himself on his elbow. "How's it going?"

_It_ is the attack. The conversation that follows is always how we're
hanging on to such and such an objective and have pushed forward three
hundred yards here or have been bent back there. One thing you notice:
every man forgets his own catastrophe in his keenness for the success
of the offensive. Never in all my fortnight's journey to Blighty did I
hear a word of self-pity or complaining. On the contrary, the most
severely wounded men would profess themselves grateful that they had
got off so lightly. Since the war started the term "lightly" has
become exceedingly comparative. I suppose a man is justified in saying
he's got off lightly when what he expected was death.

I remember a big Highland officer who had been shot in the
knee-cap. He had been operated on and the knee-cap had been found to
be so splintered that it had had to be removed; of this he was
unaware. For the first day as he lay in bed he kept wondering aloud
how long it would be before he could re-join his battalion. Perhaps he
suspected his condition and was trying to find out. All his heart
seemed set on once again getting into the fighting. Next morning he
plucked up courage to ask the doctor, and received the answer he had

"Never. You won't be going back, old chap."

Next time he spoke his voice was a bit throaty. "Will it stiffen?"

"You've lost the knee-joint," the doctor said, "but with luck we'll
save the leg."

His voice sank to a whisper. "If you do, it won't be much good, will

"Not much."

He lay for a couple of hours silent, readjusting his mind to meet the
new conditions. Then he commenced talking with cheerfulness about
returning to his family. The habit of courage had conquered--the habit
of courage which grows out of the knowledge that you let your pals
down by showing cowardice.

The next step on the road to Blighty is from the Casualty Station to a
Base Hospital in France. You go on a hospital train and are only
allowed to go when you are safe to travel. There is always great
excitement as to when this event will happen; its precise date usually
depends on what's going on up front and the number of fresh casualties
which are expected. One morning you awake to find that a tag has been
prepared, containing the entire medical history of your injury. The
stretcher-bearers come in with grins on their faces, your tag is tied
to the top button of your pyjamas, jocular appointments are made by
the fellows you leave behind--many of whom you know are dying--to meet
you in London, and you are carried out. The train is thoroughly
equipped with doctors and nurses; the lying cases travel in little
white bunks. No one who has not seen it can have any idea of the high
good spirits which prevail. You're going off to Blighty, to
Piccadilly, to dry boots and clean beds. The revolving wheels
underneath you seem to sing the words, "Off to Blighty--to Blighty."
It begins to dawn on you what it will be like to be again your own
master and to sleep as long as you like.

Kindness again--always kindness! The sisters on the train can't do
enough; they seem to be trying to exceed the self-sacrifice of the
sisters you have left behind. You twist yourself so that you can get a
glimpse of the flying country. It's green, undisturbed, unmarred by
shells--there are even cows!

At the Base Hospital to which I went there was a man who performed
miracles. He was a naturalised American citizen, but an Armenian by
birth. He gave people new faces.

The first morning an officer came in to visit a friend; his face was
entirely swathed in bandages, with gaps left for his breathing and his
eyes. He had been like that for two years, and looked like a
leper. When he spoke he made hollow noises. His nose and lower jaw had
been torn away by an exploding shell. Little by little, with infinite
skill, by the grafting of bone and flesh, his face was being built
up. Could any surgery be more merciful?

In the days that followed I saw several of these masked men. The worst
cases were not allowed to walk about. The ones I saw were invariably
dressed with the most scrupulous care in the smartest uniforms, Sam
Browns polished and buttons shining. They had hope, and took a pride
in themselves--a splendid sign! Perhaps you ask why the face-cases
should be kept in France. I was not told, but I can guess--because
they dread going back to England to their girls until they've got rid
of their disfigurements. So for two years through their bandages they
watch the train pull out for Blighty, while the damage which was done
them in the fragment of a second is repaired.

At a Base Hospital you see something which you don't see at a Casualty
Station--sisters, mothers, sweethearts and wives sitting beside the
beds. They're allowed to come over from England when their man is
dying. One of the wonderful things to me was to observe how these
women in the hour of their tragedy catch the soldier spirit. They're
very quiet, very cheerful, very helpful. With passing through the ward
they get to know some of the other patients and remember them when
they bring their own man flowers. Sometimes when their own man is
asleep, they slip over to other bedsides and do something kind for the
solitary fellows. That's the army all over; military discipline is
based on unselfishness. These women who have been sent for to see
their men die, catch from them the spirit of undistressed sacrifice
and enrol themselves as soldiers.

Next to my bed there was a Colonel of a north country regiment, a
gallant gentleman who positively refused to die. His wife had been
with him for two weeks, a little toy woman with nerves worn to a
frazzle, who masked her terror with a brave, set smile. The Colonel
had had his leg smashed by a whizz-bang when leading his troops into
action. Septic poisoning had set in and the leg had been amputated. It
had been found necessary to operate several times owing to the poison
spreading, with the result that, being far from a young man, his
strength was exhausted. Men forgot their own wounds in watching this
one man's fight for life. He became symbolic of what, in varying
degrees, we were all doing. When he was passing through a crisis the
whole ward waited breathless. There was the finest kind of rivalry
between the night and day sisters to hand him over at the end of each
twelve hours with his pulse stronger and temperature lower than when
they received him. Each was sure she had the secret of keeping him

You discovered the spirit of the man when you heard him wandering in
delirium. All night in the shadowy ward with its hooded lamps, he
would be giving orders for the comfort of his men. Sometimes he'd be
proposing to go forward himself to a place where a company was having
a hot time; apparently one of his officers was trying to dissuade
him. "Danger be damned," he'd exclaim in a wonderfully strong
voice. "It'll buck 'em up to see me. Splendid chaps--splendid chaps!"

About dawn he was usually supposed to be sinking, but he'd rallied
again by the time the day-sister arrived. "Still here," he'd smile in
a triumphant kind of whisper, as though bluffing death was a pastime.

One afternoon a padre came to visit him. As he was leaving he bent
above the pillow. We learnt afterwards that this was what he had said,
"If the good Lord lets you, I hope you'll get better."

We saw the Colonel raise himself up on his elbow. His weak voice shook
with anger. "Neither God nor the Devil has anything to do with
it. I'm going to get well." Then, as the nurse came hurrying to him,
he sank back.

When I left the Base Hospital for Blighty he was still holding his
own. I have never heard what happened to him, but should not be at all
surprised to meet him one day in the trenches with a wooden leg, still
leading his splendid chaps. Death can't kill men of such heroic

At the Base Hospital they talk a good deal of "the Blighty Smile."
It's supposed to be the kind of look a chap wears when he's been told
that within twenty-four hours he'll be in England. When this
information has been imparted to him, he's served out with warm socks,
woollen cap and a little linen bag into which to put his
valuables. Hours and hours before there's any chance of starting
you'll see the lucky ones lying very still, with a happy vacant look
in their eyes and their absurd woollen caps stuck ready on their
heads. Sometime, perhaps in the small hours of the morning, the
stretcher-bearers, arrive--the stretcher-bearers who all down the
lines of communication are forever carrying others towards blessedness
and never going themselves. "At last," you whisper to yourself. You
feel a glorious anticipation that you have not known since childhood
when, after three hundred and sixty-four days of waiting, it was truly
going to be Christmas.

On the train and on the passage there is the same skillful
attention--the same ungrudging kindness. You see new faces in the
bunks beside you. After the tedium of the narrow confines of a ward
that in itself is exciting. You fall into talk.

"What's yours?"

"Nothing much--just a hand off and a splinter or two in the shoulder."

You laugh. "That's not so dusty. How much did you expect for your

Probably you meet some one from the part of the line where you were
wounded--with luck even from your own brigade, battery or battalion.
Then the talk becomes all about how things are going, whether we're
still holding on to our objectives, who's got a blighty and who's gone
west. One discussion you don't often hear--as to when the war will
end. To these civilians in khaki it seems that the war has always been
and that they will never cease to be soldiers. For them both past and
future are utterly obliterated. They would not have it otherwise.
Because they are doing their duty they are contented. The only time
the subject is ever touched on is when some one expresses the hope
that it'll last long enough for him to recover from his wounds and get
back into the line. That usually starts another man, who will never be
any more good for the trenches, wondering whether he can get into the
flying corps. The one ultimate hope of all these shattered wrecks who
are being hurried to the Blighty they have dreamt of, is that they may
again see service.

The tang of salt in the air, the beat of waves and then, incredible
even when it has been realised, England. I think they ought to make
the hospital trains which run to London all of glass, then instead of
watching little triangles of flying country by leaning uncomfortably
far out of their bunks, the wounded would be able to drink their full
of the greenness which they have longed for so many months. The trees
aren't charred and blackened stumps; they're harps between the knees
of the hills, played on by the wind and sun. The villages have their
roofs on and children romping in their streets. The church spires
haven't been knocked down; they stand up tall and stately. The
roadsides aren't littered with empty shell-cases and dead horses. The
fields are absolutely fields, with green crops, all wavy, like hair
growing. After the tonsured filth we've been accustomed to call a
world, all this strikes one as unnatural and extraordinary. There's a
sweet fragrance over everything and one's throat feels lumpy. Perhaps
it isn't good for people's health to have lumpy throats, and that's
why they don't run glass trains to London.

Then, after such excited waiting, you feel that the engine is slowing
down. There's a hollow rumbling; you're crossing the dear old wrinkled
Thames. If you looked out you'd see the dome of St. Paul's like a
bubble on the sky-line and smoking chimneys sticking up like
thumbs--things quite ugly and things of surpassing beauty, all of
which you have never hoped to see again and which in dreams you have
loved. But if you could look out, you wouldn't have the time. You're
getting your things together, so you won't waste a moment when they
come to carry you out. Very probably you're secreting a souvenir or
two about your person: something you've smuggled down from the front
which will really prove to your people that you've made the
acquaintance of the Hun. As though your wounds didn't prove that
sufficiently. Men are childish.

The engine comes to a halt. You can smell the cab-stands. You're
really there. An officer comes through the train enquiring whether you
have any preference as to hospitals. Your girl lives in Liverpool or
Glasgow or Birmingham. Good heavens, the fellow holds your destiny in
his hands! He can send you to Whitechapel if he likes. So, even though
he has the same rank as yourself, you address him as, "Sir."

Perhaps it's because I've practised this diplomacy--I don't
know. Anyway, he's granted my request. I'm to stay in London. I was
particularly anxious to stay in London, because one of my young
brothers from the Navy is there on leave at present. In fact he wired
me to France that the Admiralty had allowed him a three-days' special
extension of leave in order that he might see me. It was on the
strength of this message that the doctors at the Base Hospital
permitted me to take the journey several days before I was really in a
condition to travel.

I'm wondering whether he's gained admission to the platform. I lie
there in my bunk all eyes, expecting any minute to see him enter. Time
and again I mistake the blue serge uniform of the St. John's Ambulance
for that of a naval lieutenant. They come to carry me out. What an
extraordinarily funny way to enter London--on a stretcher! I've
arrived on boat-trains from America, troop trains from Canada, and
come back from romantic romps in Italy, but never in my wildest
imaginings did I picture myself arriving as a wounded soldier on a Red
Cross train.

Still clutching my absurd linen bag, which contains my valuables, I
lift my head from the pillow gazing round for any glimpse of that
much-desired brother. Now they've popped me onto the upper-shelf of a
waiting ambulance; I can see nothing except what lies out at the back.
I at once start explaining to the nurse who accompanies us that I've
lost a very valuable brother--that he's probably looking for me
somewhere on the station. She's extremely sympathetic and asks the
chauffeur to drive very slowly so that we may watch for him as we go
through the station gates into the Strand.

We're delayed for some minutes while particulars are checked up of our
injuries and destinations. The lying cases are placed four in an
ambulance, with the flap raised at the back so we can see out. The
sitting cases travel in automobiles, buses and various kinds of
vehicles. In my ambulance there are two leg-cases with most
theatrical bandages, and one case of trench-fever. We're immensely
merry--all except the trench-fever case who has conceived an immense
sorrow for himself. We get impatient with waiting. There's an awful
lot of cheering going on somewhere; we suppose troops are marching and
can't make it out.

Ah, we've started! At a slow crawl to prevent jarring we pass through
the gates. We discover the meaning of the cheering. On either side the
people are lined in dense crowds, waving and shouting. It's Saturday
evening when they should be in the country. It's jolly decent of them
to come here to give us such a welcome. Flower-girls are here with
their baskets full of flowers--just poor girls with a living to earn.
They run after us as we pass and strew us with roses. Roses! We
stretch out our hands, pressing them to our lips. How long is it since
we held roses in our hands? How did these girls of the London streets
know that above all things we longed for flowers? It was worth it all,
the mud and stench and beastliness, when it was to this that the road
led back. And the girls--they're even better than the flowers; so many
pretty faces made kind by compassion. Somewhere inside ourselves we're
laughing; we're so happy. We don't need any one's pity; time enough
for that when we start to pity ourselves. We feel mean, as though we
were part of a big deception. We aren't half so ill as we look; if you
put sufficient bandages on a wound you can make the healthiest man
appear tragic. We're laughing--and then all of a sudden we're crying.
We press our faces against the pillow ashamed of ourselves. We won't
see the crowds; we're angry with them for having unmanned us. And then
we can't help looking; their love reaches us almost as though it were
the touch of hands. We won't hide ourselves if we mean so much to
them. We're not angry any more, but grateful.

Suddenly the ambulance-nurse shouts to the driver. The ambulance
stops. She's quite excited. Clutching me with one hand, she points
with the other, "There he is."


I raise myself. A naval lieutenant is standing against the pavement,
gazing anxiously at the passing traffic.

"Your brother, isn't it?"

I shook my head. "Not half handsome enough."

For the rest of the journey she's convinced I have a headache. It's no
good telling her that I haven't; much to my annoyance and amusement
she swabs my forehead with eau-de-Cologne, telling me that I shall
soon feel better.

The streets through which we pass are on the south side of the
Thames. It's Saturday evening. Hawkers' barrows line the kerb; women
with draggled skirts and once gay hats are doing their Sunday
shopping. We're having a kind of triumphant procession; with these
people to feel is to express. We catch some of their remarks: "'Oo!
Look at 'is poor leg!" "My, but ain't 'e done in shockin'!"

Dear old London--so kind, so brave, so frankly human! You're just like
the chaps at the Front--you laugh when you suffer and give when you're
starving; you never know when not to be generous. You wear your heart
in your eyes and your lips are always ready for kissing, I think of
you as one of your own flower-girls--hoarse of voice, slatternly as to
corsets, with a big tumbled fringe over your forehead, and a heart so
big that you can chuck away your roses to a wounded Tommy and go away
yourself with an empty basket to sleep under an archway. Do you wonder
that to us you spell Blighty? We love you.

We come to a neighbourhood more respectable and less demonstrative,
skirt a common, are stopped at a porter's lodge and turn into a
parkland. The glow of sunset is ended; the blue-grey of twilight is
settling down. Between flowered borders we pick our way, pause here
and there for directions and at last halt. Again the stretcher-bearers!
As I am carried in I catch a glimpse of a low bungalow-building, with
others like it dotted about beneath trees. There are red shaded lamps.
Every one tiptoes in silence. Only the lips move when people speak;
there is scarcely any sound. As the stretchers are borne down the ward
men shift their heads to gaze after them. It's past ten o'clock and
patients are supposed to be sleeping now. I'm put to bed. There's no
news of my brother; he hasn't 'phoned and hasn't called. I persuade
one of the orderlies to ring up the hotel at which I know he was
staying. The man is a long while gone. Through the dim length of the
ward I watch the door into the garden, momentarily expecting the
familiar figure in the blue uniform and gold buttons to enter. He
doesn't. Then at length the orderly returns to tell me that the naval
lieutenant who was staying at the hotel, had to set out for his ship
that evening, as there was no train that he could catch on Sunday. So
he was steaming out of London for the North at the moment I was
entering. Disappointed? Yes. One shrugs his shoulders. _C'est la
guerre_, as we say in the trenches. You can't have everything when
Europe's at war.

I can hardly keep awake long enough for the sister to dress my
arm. The roses that the flower-girls had thrown me are in water and
within handstretch. They seem almost persons and curiously
sacred--symbols of all the heroism and kindness that has ministered to
me every step of the journey. It's a good little war I think to
myself. Then, with the green smell of England in my nostrils and the
rumbling of London in my ears, like conversation below stairs, I
drowse off into the utter contentment of the first deep sleep I have
had since I was wounded.

I am roused all too soon by some one sticking a thermometer into my
mouth. Rubbing my eyes, I consult my watch. Half-past five! Rather
early! Raising myself stealthily, I catch a glimpse of a neat little
sister darting down the ward from bed to bed, tent-pegging every
sleeping face with a fresh thermometer. Having made the round, back
she comes to take possession of my hand while she counts my pulse. I
try to speak, but she won't let me remove the accursed thermometer;
when she has removed it herself, off she goes to the next bed. I
notice that she has auburn hair, merry blue eyes and a ripping Irish
accent. I learn later that she's a Sinn Feiner, a sworn enemy to
England who sings "Dark Rosaleen" and other rebel songs in the secret
watches of the night. It seems to me that in taking care of England's
wounded she's solving the Irish problem pretty well.

Heavens, she's back again, this time with a bowl of water and a towel!
Very severely and thoroughly, as though I were a dirty urchin, she
scrubs my face and hands. She even brushes my hair. I watch her do the
same for other patients, some of whom are Colonels and old enough to
be her father. She's evidently in no mood for proposals of marriage at
this early hour, for her technique is impartially severe to everybody,
though her blue eyes are unfailingly laughing.

It is at this point that somebody crawls out of bed, slips into a
dressing-gown, passes through the swing door at the end of the ward
and sets the bath-water running. The sound of it is ecstatic.

Very soon others follow his example. They're chaps without legs, with
an arm gone, a hand gone, back wounds, stomach wounds, holes in the
head. They start chaffing one another. There's no hint of tragedy. A
gale of laughter sweeps the ward from end to end. An Anzac captain is
called on for a speech. I discover that he is our professional comic
man and is called on to make speeches twenty times a day. They always
start with, "Gentlemen, I will say this--" and end with a flourish in
praise of Australia. Soon the ward is made perilous by wheel-chairs,
in which unskilful pilots steer themselves out into the green
adventure of the garden. Birds are singing out there; the guns had
done for the birds in the places where we came from. Through open
doors we can see the glow of flowers, dew-laden and sparkling, lazily
unfolding their petals in the early sun.

When the sister's back is turned, a one-legged officer nips out of bed
and hops like a crow to the gramophone. The song that follows is a
favourite. Curious that it should be, for it paints a dream which to
many of these mutilated men--Canadians, Australians, South Africans,
Imperials--will have to remain only a dream, so long as life
lasts. Girls don't marry fellows without arms and legs--at least they
didn't in peace days before the world became heroic. As the gramophone
commences to sing, heads on pillows hum the air and fingers tap in
time on the sheets. It's a peculiarly childish song for men who have
seen what they have seen and done what they have done, to be so fond
of. Here's the way it runs:--

"We'll have a little cottage in a little town
And well have a little mistress in a dainty gown,
A little doggie, a little cat,
A little doorstep with WELCOME on the mat;
And we'll have a little trouble and a little strife,
But none of these things matter when you've got a little wife.
We shall be as happy as the angels up above
With a little patience and a lot of love."

A little patience and a lot of love! I suppose that's the line that's
caught the chaps. Behind all their smiling and their boyish gaiety
they know that they'll need both patience and love to meet the balance
of existence with sweetness and soldierly courage. It won't be so easy
to be soldiers when they get back into mufti and go out into the world
cripples. Here in their pyjamas in the summer sun, they're making a
first class effort. I take another look at them. No, there'll never be
any whining from men such as these.

Some of us will soon be back in the fighting--and jolly glad of
it. Others are doomed to remain in the trenches for the rest of their
lives--not the trenches of the front-line where they've been strafed
by the Hun, but the trenches of physical curtailment where self-pity
will launch wave after wave of attack against them. It won't be easy
not to get the "wind up." It'll be difficult to maintain normal
cheerfulness. But they're not the men they were before they went to
war--out there they've learnt something. They're game. They'll remain
soldiers, whatever happens.


All the lads have gone out to play
At being soldiers, far away;
They won't be back for many a day,
And some won't be back any morning.

All the lassies who laughing were
When hearts were light and lads were here,
Go sad-eyed, wandering hither and there--
They pray and they watch for the morning.

Every house has its vacant bed
And every night, when sounds are dead,
Some woman yearns for the pillowed head
Of him who marched out in the morning.

Of all the lads who've gone out to play
There's some'll return and some who'll stay;
There's some will be back 'most any day--
But some won't wake up in the morning.



I'm continuing in America the book which I thought out during the
golden July and August days when I lay in the hospital in London. I've
been here a fortnight; everything that's happened seems unbelievably
wonderful, as though it had happened to some one other than
myself. It'll seem still more wonderful in a few weeks' time when I'm
where I hope I shall be--back in the mud at the Front.

Here's how this miraculous turn of events occurred. When I went
before my medical board I was declared unfit for active service for at
least two months. A few days later I went in to General Headquarters
to see what were the chances of a trip to New York. The officer whom I
consulted pulled out his watch, "It's noon now. There's a boat-train
leaving Euston in two and a half hours. Do you think you can pack up
and make it?"

_Did I think_!

"You watch me," I cried.

Dashing out into Regent Street I rounded up a taxi and raced about
London like one possessed, collecting kit, visiting tailors,
withdrawing money, telephoning friends with whom I had dinner and
theatre engagements. It's an extraordinary characteristic of the Army,
but however hurried an officer may be, he can always spare time to
visit his tailor. The fare I paid my taxi-driver was too monstrous for
words; but then he'd missed his lunch, and one has to miss so many
things in war-times that when a new straw of inconvenience is piled on
the camel, the camel expects to be compensated. Anyway, I was on that
boat-train when it pulled out of London.

I was in uniform when I arrived in New York, for I didn't possess any
mufti. You can't guess what a difference that made to one's
home-coming--not the being in uniform, but the knowing that it wasn't
an offence to wear it. On my last leave, some time ago before I went
overseas, if I'd tried to cross the border from Canada in uniform I'd
have been turned back; if by any chance I'd got across and worn
regimentals I'd have been arrested by the first Irish policeman. A
place isn't home where you get turned back or locked up for wearing
the things of which you're proudest. If America hadn't come into the
war none of us who have loved her and since been to the trenches,
would ever have wanted to return.

But she's home now as she never was before and never could have been
under any other circumstances--now that khaki strides unabashed down
Broadway and the skirl of the pipers has been heard on Fifth
Avenue. We men "over there" will have to find a new name for
America. It won't be exactly Blighty, but a kind of very wealthy first
cousin to Blighty--a word meaning something generous and affectionate
and steam-heated, waiting for us on the other side of the Atlantic.

Two weeks here already--two weeks more to go; then back to the glory
of the trenches!

There's one person I've missed since my return to New York. I've
caught glimpses of him disappearing around corners, but he dodges. I
think he's a bit ashamed to meet me. That person is my old civilian
self. What a full-blown egoist he used to be! How full of golden plans
for his own advancement! How terrified of failure, of disease, of
money losses, of death--of all the temporary, external, non-essential
things that have nothing to do with the spirit! War is in itself
damnable--a profligate misuse of the accumulated brain-stuff of
centuries. Nevertheless, there's many a man who has no love of war,
who previous to the war had cramped his soul with littleness and was
chased by the bayonet of duty into the blood-stained largeness of the
trenches, who has learnt to say, "Thank God for this war." He thanks
God not because of the carnage, but because when the wine-press of new
ideals was being trodden, he was born in an age when he could do his

America's going through just about the same experience as
myself. She's feeling broader in the chest, bigger in the heart and
her eyes are clearer. When she catches sight of the America that she
was, she's filled with doubt--she can't believe that that person with
the Stars and Stripes wrapped round her and a money-bag in either hand
ever was herself. Home, clean and honourable for every man who ever
loved her and has pledged his life for an ideal with the
Allies--that's what she's become now.

I read again the words that I wrote about those chaps in the London
hospital, men who had journeyed to their Calvary glad-hearted from the
farthest corners of the world. From this distance I see them in truer
perspective than when we lay companions side by side in that long line
of neat, white cots. I used to grope after ways to explain them--to
explain the courage which in their utter heroism they did not realise
they possessed. They had grown so accustomed to a brave way of living
that they sincerely believed they were quite ordinary persons. That's
courage at its finest--when it becomes unconscious and instinctive.

At first I said, "I know why they're so cheerful--it's because they're
all here in one ward together. They're all mutilated more or less, so
they don't feel that they're exceptional. It's as though the whole
world woke up with toothache one morning. At breakfast every one would
be feeling very sorry for himself; by lunch-time, when it had become
common knowledge that the entire world had the same kind of ache,
toothache would have ceased to exist. It's the loneliness of being
abnormal in your suffering that hurts."

But it wasn't that. Even while I was confined to the hospital, in
hourly contact with the chaps, I felt that it wasn't that. When I was
allowed to dress and go down West for a few hours everyday, I knew
that I was wrong most certainly. In Piccadilly, Hyde Park, theatres,
restaurants, river-places on the Thames you'd see them, these men who
were maimed for life, climbing up and down buses, hobbling on their
crutches independently through crowds, hailing one another cheerily
from taxis, drinking life joyously in big gulps without complaint or
sense of martyrdom, and getting none of the dregs. A part of their
secret was that through their experience in the trenches they had
learnt to be self-forgetful. The only time I ever saw a wounded man
lose his temper was when some one out of kindness made him remember
himself. A sudden down-pour of rain had commenced; it was towards
evening and all the employees of the West End shopping centre were
making haste to get home to the suburbs. A young Highland officer who
had lost a leg scrambled into a bus going to Wandsworth. The inside of
the bus was jammed, so he had to stand up clutching on to a strap. A
middle-aged gentleman rose from his seat and offered it to the
Highlander. The Highlander smiled his thanks and shook his head. The
middle-aged gentleman in his sympathy became pressing, attracting
attention to the officer's infirmity. It was then that the officer
lost his temper. I saw him flush.

"I don't want it," he said sharply. "There's nothing the matter with
me. Thanks all the same. I'll stand."

This habit of being self-forgetful gives one time to be remindful of
others. Last January, during a brief and glorious ten days' leave, I
went to a matinee at the Coliseum. Vesta Tilley was doing an
extraordinarily funny impersonation of a Tommy just home from the
comfort of the trenches; her sketch depicted the terrible discomforts
of a fighting man on leave in Blighty. If I remember rightly the
refrain of her song ran somewhat in this fashion:

"Next time they want to give me six days' leave
Let 'em make it six months' 'ard."

There were two officers, a major and a captain, behind us; judging by
the sounds they made, they were getting their full money's worth of
enjoyment. In the interval, when the lights went up, I turned and saw
the captain putting a cigarette between the major's lips; then, having
gripped a match-box between his knees so that he might strike the
match, he lit the cigarette for his friend very awkwardly. I looked
closer and discovered that the laughing captain had only one hand and
the equally happy major had none at all.

Men forget their own infirmities in their endeavour to help each
other. Before the war we had a phrase which has taken on a new meaning
now; we used to talk about "lending a hand." To-day we lend not only
hands, but arms and eyes and legs. The wonderful comradeship learnt in
the trenches has taught men to lend their bodies to each other--out of
two maimed bodies to make up one which is whole, and sound, and
shared. You saw this all the time in hospital. A man who had only one
leg would pal up with a man who had only one arm. The one-armed man
would wheel the one-legged man about the garden in a chair; at
meal-times the one-legged man would cut up the one-armed man's food
for him. They had both lost something, but by pooling what was left
they managed to own a complete body. By the time the war is ended
there'll be great hosts of helpless men who by combining will have
learnt how to become helpful. They'll establish a new standard of
very simple and cheerful socialism.

There's a point I want to make clear before I forget it. All these
men, whether they're capturing Hun dug-outs at the Front or taking
prisoner their own despair in English hospitals, are perfectly
ordinary and normal. Before the war they were shop-assistants,
cab-drivers, plumbers, lawyers, vaudeville artists. They were men of
no heroic training. Their civilian callings and their previous social
status were too various for any one to suppose that they were heroes
ready-made at birth. Something has happened to them since they marched
away in khaki--something that has changed them. They're as completely
re-made as St. Paul was after he had had his vision of the opening
heavens on the road to Damascus. They've brought their vision back
with them to civilian life, despite the lost arms and legs which they
scarcely seem to regret; their souls still triumph over the body and
the temporal. As they hobble through the streets of London, they
display the same gay courage that was theirs when at zero hour, with a
fifty-fifty chance of death, they hopped over the top for the attack.

Often at the Front I have thought of Christ's explanation of his own
unassailable peace--an explanation given to his disciples at the Last
Supper, immediately before the walk to Gethsemane: "Be of good cheer,
I have overcome the world." Overcoming the world, as I understand it,
is overcoming self. Fear, in its final analysis, is nothing but
selfishness. A man who is afraid in an attack, isn't thinking of his
pals and how quickly terror spreads; he isn't thinking of the glory
which will accrue to his regiment or division if the attack is a
success; he isn't thinking of what he can do to contribute to that
success; he isn't thinking of the splendour of forcing his spirit to
triumph over weariness and nerves and the abominations that the Huns
are chucking at him. He's thinking merely of how he can save his
worthless skin and conduct his entirely unimportant body to a place
where there aren't any shells.

In London as I saw the work-a-day, unconscious nobility of the maimed
and wounded, the words, "I have overcome the world," took an added
depth. All these men have an "I-have-overcome-the-world" look in their
faces. It's comparatively easy for a soldier with traditions and
ideals at his back to face death calmly; to be calm in the face of
life, as these chaps are, takes a graver courage.

What has happened to change them? These disabilities, had they
happened before the war, would have crushed and embittered them. They
would have been woes utterly and inconsolably unbearable.
Intrinsically their physical disablements spell the same loss to-day
that they would have in 1912. The attitude of mind in which they are
accepted alone makes them seem less. This attitude of mind or
greatness of soul--whatever you like to call it--was learnt in the
trenches where everything outward is polluted and damnable. Their
experience at the Front has given them what in the Army language is
known as "guts." "Guts" or courage is an attitude of mind towards
calamity--an attitude of mind which makes the honourable accomplishing
of duty more permanently satisfying than the preservation of self. But
how did this vision come to these men? How did they rid themselves of
their civilian flabbiness and acquire it? These questions are best
answered autobiographically. Here briefly, is the story of the growth
of the vision within myself.

In August, 1914, three days after war had been declared, I sailed from
Quebec for England on the first ship that put out from Canada. The
trip had been long planned--it was not undertaken from any patriotic
motive. My family, which included my father, mother, sister and
brother, had been living in America for eight years and had never
returned to England together. It was the accomplishing of a dream
long cherished, which favourable circumstances and a sudden influx of
money had at last made possible. We had travelled three thousand miles
from our ranch in the Rockies before the war-cloud burst; obstinacy
and curiosity combined made us go on, plus an entirely British feeling
that by crossing the Atlantic during the crisis we'd be showing our
contempt for the Germans.

We were only informed that the ship was going to sail at the very last
moment, and went aboard in the evening. The word spread quickly among
the crews of other vessels lying in harbour; their firemen, keen to
get back to England and have a whack at the Huns, tried to board our
ship, sometimes by a ruse, more often by fighting. One saw some very
pretty fist work that night as he leant across the rail, wondering
whether he'd ever reach the other side. There were rumours of German
warships waiting to catch us in mid-ocean. Somewhere towards midnight
the would-be stowaways gave up their attempt to force a passage; they
squatted with their backs against the sheds along the quayside,
singing patriotic songs to the accompaniment of mouth-organs,
confidently asserting that they were sons of the bull-dog breed and
never, never would be slaves. It was all very amusing; war seemed to
be the finest of excuses for an outburst of high spirits.

Next morning, when we came on deck for a breath of air the vessel was
under way; all hands were hard at work disguising her with paint of a
sombre colour. Here and there you saw an officer in uniform, who had
not yet had time to unpack his mufti. The next night, and for the rest
of the voyage, all port-holes were darkened and we ran without
lights. An atmosphere of suspense became omnipresent. Rumours spread
like wild-fire of sinkings, victories, defeats, marching and
countermarchings, engagements on land and water. With the uncanny and
unaccustomed sense of danger we began to realise that we, as
individuals, were involved in a European war.

As we got about among the passengers we found that the usual spirit of
comradeship which marks an Atlantic voyage, was noticeably lacking.
Every person regarded every other person with distrust, as though he
might be a spy. People were secretive as to their calling and the
purpose of their voyage; little by little we discovered that many of
them were government officials, but that most were professional
soldiers rushing back in the hope that they might be in time to join
the British Expeditionary Force. Long before we had guessed that a
world tragedy was impending, they had judged war's advent certain from
its shadow, and had come from the most distant parts of Canada that
they might be ready to embark the moment the cloud burst. Some of
them were travelling with their wives and children. What struck me as
wholly unreasonable was that these professional soldiers and their
families were the least disturbed people on board. I used to watch
them as one might watch condemned prisoners in their cells. Their
apparent indifference was unintelligible to me. They lived their
daily present, contented and unruffled, just as if it were going to be
their present always. I accused them of being lacking in imagination.
I saw them lying dead on battlefields. I saw them dragging on into old
age, with the spine of life broken, mutilated and mauled. I saw them
in desperately tight corners, fighting in ruined villages with sword
and bayonet. But they joked, laughed, played with their kiddies and
seemed to have no realisation of the horrors to which they were
going. There was a world-famous aviator, who had gone back on his
marriage promise that he would abandon his aerial adventures. He was
hurrying to join the French Flying Corps. He and his young wife used
to play deck-tennis every morning as lightheartedly as if they were
travelling to Europe for a lark. In my many accusations of these men's
indifference I never accused them of courage. Courage, as I had
thought of it up to that time, was a grim affair of teeth set, sad
eyes and clenched hands--the kind of "My head is bloody but unbowed"
determination described in Henley's poem.

When we had arrived safe in port we were held up for some time. A tug
came out, bringing a lot of artificers who at once set to work tearing
out the fittings of the ship that she might be converted into a
transport. Here again I witnessed a contrast between the soldierly and
the civilian attitude. The civilians, with their easily postponed
engagements, fumed and fretted at the delay in getting ashore. The
officers took the inconvenience with philosophical good-humour. While
the panelling and electric-light fittings were being ripped out, they
sat among the debris and played cards. There was heaps of time for
their appointment--it was only with wounds and Death. To me, as a
civilian, their coolness was almost irritating and totally
incomprehensible. I found a new explanation by saying that, after
all, war was their professional chance--in fact, exactly what a
shortage in the flour-market was to a man who had quantities of wheat
on hand.

That night we travelled to London, arriving about two o'clock in the
morning. There was little to denote that a European war was on, except
that people were a trifle more animated and cheerful. The next day was
Sunday, and we motored round Hampstead Heath. The Heath was as usual,
gay with pleasure-seekers and the streets sedate with church-goers. On
Monday, when we tried to transact business and exchange money, we
found that there were hitches and difficulties; it was more as though
a window had been left open and a certain untidiness had resulted. "It
will be all right tomorrow," everybody said. "Business as usual," and
they nodded.

But as the days passed it wasn't all right. Kitchener began to call
for his army. Belgium was invaded. We began to hear about atrocities.
There were rumours of defeat, which ceased to be rumours, and of grey
hordes pressing towards Paris. It began to dawn on the most optimistic
of us that the little British Army--the Old Contemptibles--hadn't gone
to France on a holiday jaunt.

The sternness of the hour was brought home to me by one obscure
incident. Straggling across Trafalgar Square in mufti and commanded by
a sergeant came a little procession of recruits. They were roughly
dressed men of the navy and the coster class. All save one carried
under his arm his worldly possessions, wrapped in cloth, brown-paper
or anything that had come handy. The sergeant kept on giving them the
step and angrily imploring them to pick it up. At the tail of the
procession followed a woman; she also carried a package.

They turned into the Strand, passed by Charing Cross and branched off
to the right down a lane to the Embankment. At the point where they
left the Strand, the man without a parcel spoke to the sergeant and
fell out of the ranks. He laid his clumsy hand on the woman's arm; she
set down on the pavement the parcel she had been carrying. There they
stood for a full minute gazing at each other dumbly, oblivious to the
passing crowds. She wasn't pleasing to look at--just a slum woman with
draggled skirts, a shawl gathered tightly round her and a mildewed
kind of bonnet. He was no more attractive--a hulking Samson, perhaps a
day-labourer, who whilst he had loved her, had probably beaten her.
They had come to the hour of parting, and there they stood in the
London sunshine inarticulate after life together. He glanced after the
procession; it was two hundred yards away by now. Stooping awkwardly
for the burden which she had carried for him, in a shame-faced kind of
way he kissed her; then broke from her to follow his companions. She
watched him forlornly, her hands hanging empty. Never once did he look
back as he departed. Catching up, he took his place in the ranks; they
rounded a corner and were lost. Her eyes were quite dry; her jaw
sagged stupidly. For some seconds she stared after the way he had
gone--_her man_! Then she wandered off as one who had no purpose.

Wounded men commenced to appear in the streets. You saw them in
restaurants, looking happy and embarrassed, being paraded by proud
families. One day I met two in my tailor's shop--one had an arm in a
sling, the other's head had been seared by a bullet. It was whispered
that they were officers who had "got it" at Mons. A thrill ran through
me--a thrill of hero-worship.

At the Empire Music Hall in Leicester Square, tragedy bared its broken
teeth and mouthed at me. We had reached the stage at which we had
become intensely patriotic by the singing of songs. A beautiful
actress, who had no thought of doing "her bit" herself, attired as
Britannia, with a colossal Union Jack for background, came before the
footlights and sang the recruiting song of the moment,

"We don't want to lose you
But we think you ought to go."

Some one else recited a poem calculated to shame men into immediate
enlistment, two lines of which I remember:

"I wasn't among the first to go
But I went, thank God, I went."

The effect of such urging was to make me angry. I wasn't going to be
rushed into khaki on the spur of an emotion picked up in a music-hall.
I pictured the comfortable gentlemen, beyond the military age, who had
written these heroic taunts, had gained reputation by so doing, and
all the time sat at home in suburban security. The people who recited
or sung their effusions, made me equally angry; they were making
sham-patriotism a means of livelihood and had no intention of doing
their part. All the world that by reason of age or sex was exempt from
the ordeal of battle, was shoving behind all the rest of the world
that was not exempt, using the younger men as a shield against his own
terror and at the same time calling them cowards. That was how I felt.
I told myself that if I went--and the _if_ seemed very remote--I
should go on a conviction and not because of shoving. They could hand
me as many white feathers as they liked, I wasn't going to be swept
away by the general hysteria. Besides, where would be the sense in
joining? Everybody said that our fellows would be home for Christmas.
Our chaps who were out there ought to know; in writing home they
promised it themselves.

The next part of the music-hall performance was moving pictures of the
Germans' march into Brussels. I was in the Promenade and had noticed a
Belgian soldier being made much of by a group of Tommies. He was a
queer looking fellow, with a dazed expression and eyes that seemed to
focus on some distant horror; his uniform was faded and
torn--evidently it had seen active service. I wondered by what strange
fortune he had been conveyed from the brutalities of invasion to this
gilded, plush-seated sensation-palace in Leicester Square.

I watched the screen. Through ghastly photographic boulevards the
spectre conquerors marched. They came on endlessly, as though
somewhere out of sight a human dam had burst, whose deluge would never
be stopped. I tried to catch the expressions of the men, wondering
whether this or that or the next had contributed his toll of violated
women and butchered children to the list of Hun atrocities. Suddenly
the silence of the theatre was startled by a low, infuriated growl,
followed by a shriek which was hardly human. I have since heard the
same kind of sounds when the stumps of the mutilated are being dressed
and the pain has become intolerable. Everybody turned in their
seats--gazing through the dimness to a point in the Promenade near to
where I was. The ghosts on the screen were forgotten. The faked
patriotism of the songs we had listened to had become a thing of
naught. Through the welter of bombast, excitement and emotion we had
grounded on reality.

The Belgian soldier, in his tattered uniform, was leaning out, as
though to bridge the space that divided him from his ghostly
tormentors. The dazed look was gone from his expression and his eyes
were focussed in the fixity of a cruel purpose--to kill, and kill, and
kill the smoke-grey hordes of tyrants so long as his life should
last. He shrieked imprecations at them, calling upon God and snatching
epithets from the gutter in his furious endeavour to curse them. He
was dragged away by friends in khaki, overpowered, struggling,
smothered but still cursing.

I learnt afterwards that he, with his mother and two brothers, had
been the proprietors of one of the best hotels in Brussels. Both his
brothers had been called to arms and were dead. Anything might have
happened to his mother--he had not heard from her. He himself had
escaped in the general retreat and was going back to France as
interpreter with an English regiment. He had lost everything; it was
the sight of his ruined hotel, flung by chance on the screen, that had
provoked his demonstration. He was dead to every emotion except
revenge--to accomplish which he was returning.

The moving-pictures still went on; nobody had the heart to see more of
them. The house rose, fumbling for its coats and hats; the place was
soon empty.

Just as I was leaving a recruiting sergeant touched my elbow, "Going
to enlist, sonny?"

I shook my head. "Not to-night. Want to think it over."

"You will," he said. "Don't wait too long. We can make a man of
you. If I get you in my squad I'll give you hell."

I didn't doubt it.

I don't know that I'm telling these events in their proper sequence as
they led up to the growing of the vision. That doesn't matter--the
point is that the conviction was daily strengthening that I was needed
out there. The thought was grotesque that I could ever make a
soldier--I whose life from the day of leaving college had been almost
wholly sedentary. In fights at school I could never hurt the other boy
until by pain he had stung me into madness. Moreover, my idea of war
was grimly graphic; I thought it consisted of a choice between
inserting a bayonet into some one else's stomach or being yourself the
recipient. I had no conception of the long-distance, anonymous killing
that marks our modern methods, and is in many respects more truly
awful. It's a fact that there are hosts of combatants who have never
once identified the bodies of those for whose death they are
personally responsible. My ideas of fighting were all of hand-to-hand
encounters--the kind of bloody fighting that rejoiced the hearts of
pirates. I considered that it took a brutal kind of man to do such
work. For myself I felt certain that, though I got the upper-hand of a
fellow who had tried to murder me, I should never have the callousness
to return the compliment. The thought of shedding blood was

It was partly to escape from this atmosphere of tension that we left
London, and set out on a motor-trip through England. This trip had
figured largely in our original plans before there had been any
thought of war. We wanted to re-visit the old places that had been the
scenes of our family-life and childhood. Months before sailing out of
Quebec we had studied guidebooks, mapping out routes and hotels. With
about half a ton of gasolene on the roof to guard against
contingencies, we started.

Everywhere we went, from Cornwall to the North, men were training and
marching. All the bridges and reservoirs were guarded. Every tiniest
village had its recruiting posters for Kitchener's Army. It was a trip
utterly different from the one we had expected.

At Stratford in the tap-room of Shakespeare's favourite tavern I met
an exceptional person--a man who was afraid, and had the courage to
speak the truth as millions at that time felt it. An American was
present--a vast and fleshy man: a transatlantic version of Falstaff.
He had just escaped from Paris and was giving us an account of how he
had hired a car, had driven as near the fighting-line as he could get
and had seen the wounded coming out. He had risked the driver's life
and expended large sums of money merely to gratify his curiosity. He
mopped his brow and told us that he had aged ten years--folks in
Philadelphia would hardly know him; but it was all worth it. The
details which he embroidered and dwelt upon were ghastly. He was
particularly impressed with having seen a man with his nose off. His
description held us horrified and spell-bound.

In the midst of his oratory an officer entered, bringing with him five
nervous young fellows. They were self-conscious, excited,
over-wrought and belonged to the class of the lawyer's clerk. The
officer had evidently been working them up to the point of enlistment,
and hoped to complete the job that evening over a sociable glass. As
his audience swelled, the fat man from Philadelphia grew exceedingly
vivid. When appealed to by the recruiting officer, he confirmed the
opinion that every Englishman of fighting age should be in France;
that's where the boys of America would be if their country were in the
same predicament. Four out of the five intended victims applauded this
sentiment--they applauded too boisterously for complete sincerity,
because they felt that they could do no less. The fifth, a scholarly,
pale-faced fellow, drew attention to himself by his silence.

"You're going to join, too, aren't you?" the recruiting officer asked.

The pale-faced man swallowed. There was no doubt that he was
scared. The American's morbid details had been enough to frighten
anybody. He was so frightened that he had the pluck to tell the

"I'd like to," he hesitated, "but----. I've got an imagination. I
should see things as twice as horrible. I should live through every
beastliness before it occurred. When it did happen, I should turn
coward. I should run away, and you'd shoot me as a deserter. I'd
like--not yet, I can't."

He was the bravest man in the tap-room that night. If he's still
alive, he probably wears decorations. He was afraid, just as every one
else was afraid; but he wasn't sufficiently a coward to lie about his
terror. His voice was the voice of millions at that hour.

A day came when England's jeopardy was brought home to her. I don't
remember the date, but I remember it was a Sabbath. We had pulled up
before a village post office to get the news; it was pasted behind the
window against the glass. We read, "_Boulogne has fallen_." The news
was false; but it wasn't contradicted till next day. Meanwhile, in
that quiet village, over and above the purring of the engine, we heard
the beat of Death's wings across the Channel--a gigantic vulture
approaching which would pick clean of vileness the bones of both the
actually and the spiritually dead. I knew then for certain that it was
only a matter of time till I, too, should be out there among the
carnage, "somewhere in France." I felt like a rabbit in the last of
the standing corn, when a field is in the harvesting. There was no
escape--I could hear the scythes of an inexorable duty cutting closer.

After about six weeks in England, I travelled back to New York with my
family to complete certain financial obligations and to set about the
winding up of my affairs. I said nothing to any one as to my
purpose. The reason for my silence is now obvious: I didn't want to
commit myself to other people and wished to leave myself a loop-hole
for retracting the promises I had made my conscience. There were times
when my heart seemed to stop beating, appalled by the future which I
was rapidly approaching. My vivid imagination--which from childhood
has been as much a hindrance as a help--made me foresee myself in
every situation of horror--gassed, broken, distributed over the
landscape. Luckily it made me foresee the worst horror--the ignominy
of living perhaps fifty years with a self who was dishonoured and had
sunk beneath his own best standards. Of course there were also moments
of exaltation when the boy-spirit of adventure loomed large; it seemed
splendidly absurd that I was going to be a soldier, a companion-in-arms
of those lordly chaps who had fought at Senlac, sailed with Drake and
saved the day for freedom at Mons. Whether I was exalted or depressed,
a power stronger than myself urged me to work feverishly to the end
that, at the first opportunity, I might lay aside my occupation, with
all my civilian obligations discharged.

When that time came, my first difficulty was in communicating my
decision to my family; my second, in getting accepted in Canada. I was
perhaps more ignorant than most people about things military. I had
not the slightest knowledge as to the functions of the different arms
of the service; infantry, artillery, engineers, A.S.C.--they all
connoted just as much and as little. I had no qualifications. I had
never handled fire-arms. My solitary useful accomplishment was that I
could ride a horse. It seemed to me that no man ever was less fitted
for the profession of killing. I was painfully conscious of
self-ridicule whenever I offered myself for the job. I offered myself
several times and in different quarters; when at last I was granted a
commission in the Canadian Field Artillery it was by pure
good-fortune. I didn't even know what guns were used and, if informed,
shouldn't have had the least idea what an eighteen-pounder
was. Nevertheless, within seven months I was out in France, taking
part in an offensive which, up to that time, was the most ambitious of
the entire war.

From New York I went to Kingston in Ontario to present myself for
training; an officers' class had just started, in which I had been
ordered to enrol myself. It was the depth of winter--an unusually hard
winter even for that part of Canada. My first glimpse of the Tete du
Pont Barracks was of a square of low buildings, very much like the
square of a Hudson Bay Fort. The parade ground was ankle-deep in
trampled snow and mud. A bleak wind was blowing from off the
river. Squads of embryo officers were being drilled by hoarse-voiced
sergeants. The officers looked cold, and cowed, and foolish; the
sergeants employed ruthlessly the age-old army sarcasms and made no
effort to disguise their disgust for these officers and "temporary

I was directed to an office where a captain sat writing at a desk,
while an orderly waited rigidly at attention. The captain looked up as
I entered, took in my spats and velour hat with an impatient glance,
and continued with his writing. When I got an opportunity I presented
my letter; he read it through irritably.

"Any previous military experience?"

"None at all."

"Then how d'you expect to pass out with this class? It's been going
for nearly two weeks already?"

Again, as though he had dismissed me from his mind, he returned to his
writing. From a military standpoint I knew that I was justly a figure
of naught; but I also felt that he was rubbing it in a trifle hard. I
was too recent a recruit to have lost my civilian self-respect. At
last, after a period of embarrassed silence, I asked, "What am I to
do? To whom do I report?"

Without looking up he told me to report on the parade ground at six
o'clock the following morning. When I got back to my hotel, I
reflected on the chilliness of my reception. I had taken no credit to
myself for enlisting--I knew that I ought to have joined months
before. But six o'clock! I glanced across at the station, where trains
were pulling out for New York; for a moment I was tempted. But not for
long; I couldn't trust the hotel people to wake me, so I went out and
purchased an alarm clock.

That night I didn't sleep much. I was up and dressed by five-thirty. I
hid beneath the shadow of a wall near the barracks and struck matches
to look at my watch. At ten minutes to six the street was full of
unseen, hurrying feet which sounded ghostly in the darkness. I
followed them into the parade-ground. The parade was falling in, rolls
were being called by the aid of flash-lamps. I caught hold of an
officer; for all I knew he might have been a General or Colonel. I
asked his advice, when I had blundered out my story. He laughed and
said I had better return to my hotel; the class was going to stables
and there was no one at that hour to whom I could report.

The words of the sergeant at the Empire came back to me, "And I'll
give you hell if I get you in my squad." I understood then: this was
the first attempt of the Army to break my heart--an attempt often
repeated and an attempt for which, from my present point of vantage, I
am intensely grateful. In those days the Canadian Overseas Forces were
comprised of volunteers; it wasn't sufficient to express a tepid
willingness to die for your country--you had to prove yourself
determined and eligible for death through your power to endure

When I had been medically examined, passed as fit, had donned a
uniform and commenced my training, I learnt what the enduring of
hardship was. No experience on active service has equalled the
humiliation and severity of those first months of soldiering. We were
sneered at, cleaned stables, groomed horses, rode stripped saddle for
twelve miles at the trot, attended lectures, studied till past
midnight and were up on first parade at six o'clock. No previous
civilian efficiency or prominence stood us in any stead. We started
robbed of all importance, and only gained a new importance by our
power to hang on and to develop a new efficiency as soldiers. When
men "went sick" they were labelled scrimshankers and struck off the
course. It was an offence to let your body interfere with your duty;
if it tried to, you must ignore it. If a man caught cold in Kingston,
what would he not catch in the trenches? Very many went down under the
physical ordeal; of the class that started, I don't think more than a
third passed. The lukewarm soldier and the pink-tea hero, who simply
wanted to swank in a uniform, were effectually choked off. It was a
test of pluck, even more than of strength or intelligence--the same
test that a man would be subjected to all the time at the Front. In a
word it sorted out the fellows who had "guts."

"Guts" isn't a particularly polite word, but I have come increasingly
to appreciate its splendid significance. The possessor of this much
coveted quality is the kind of idiot who,

"When his legs are smitten off
Will fight upon his stumps."

The Tommies, whom we were going to command, would be like that; if we
weren't like it, we wouldn't be any good as officers. This Artillery
School had a violent way of sifting out a man's moral worth; you
hadn't much conceit left by the end of it. I had not felt myself so
paltry since the day when I was left at my first boarding-school in

After one had qualified and been appointed to a battery, there was
still difficulty in getting to England. I was lucky, and went over
early with a draft of officers who had been cabled for as
reinforcements. I had been in England a bare three weeks when my name
was posted as due to go to France.

How did I feel? Nervous, of course, but also intensely eager. I may
have been afraid of wounds and death--I don't remember; I was
certainly nothing like as afraid as I had been before I wore
uniform. My chief fear was that I would be afraid and might show
it. Like the pale-faced chap in the tap-room at Stratford, I had
fleeting glimpses of myself being shot as a deserter.

At this point something happened which at least proved to me that I
had made moral progress. I'd finished my packing and was doing a last
rush round, when I caught in large lettering on a newsboard the
heading, "PEACE RUMOURED." Before I realised what had happened I was
crying. I was furious with disappointment. If the war should end
before I got there--! On buying a paper I assured myself that such a
disaster was quite improbable. I breathed again. Then the reproachful
memory came of another occasion when I had been scared by a headline,
_"Boulogne Has Fallen."_ I had been scared lest I might be needed at
that time; now I was panic-stricken lest I might arrive too late.
There was a change in me; something deep-rooted had happened. I got to
thinking about it. On that motor-trip through England I had considered
myself in the light of a philanthropist, who might come to the help of
the Allies and might not. Now all I asked was to be considered worthy
to do my infinitesimal "bit." I had lost all my old conceits and
hallucinations, and had come to respect myself in a very humble
fashion not for what I was, but for the cause in which I was prepared
to fight. The knowledge that I belonged to the physically fit
contributed to this saner sense of pride; before I wore a uniform I
had had the morbid fear that I might not be up to standard. And then
the uniform! It was the outward symbol of the lost selfishness and the
cleaner honour. It hadn't been paid for; it wouldn't be paid for till
I had lived in the trenches. I was childishly anxious to earn my right
to wear it. I had said "Good-bye" to myself, and had been re-born into
willing sacrifice. I think that was the reason for the difference of
spirit in which I read the two headlines. We've all gone through the
same spiritual gradations, we men who have got to the Front. None of
us know how to express our conversion. All we know is that from being
little circumscribed egoists, we have swamped our identities in a
magnanimous crusade. The venture looked fatal at first; but in losing
the whole world we have gained our own souls.

On a beautiful day in late summer I sailed for France. England faded
out like a dream behind. Through the haze in mid-Channel a hospital
ship came racing; on her sides were blazoned the scarlet cross. The
next time I came to England I might travel on that racing ship. The
truth sounded like a lie. It seemed far more true that I was going on
my annual pleasure trip to the lazy cities of romance.

The port at which we disembarked was cheery and almost normal. One saw
a lot of khaki mingling with sky-blue tiger-men of France. Apart from
that one would scarcely have guessed that the greatest war in the
world's history was raging not more than fifty miles away. I slept the
night at a comfortable hotel on the quayside. There was no apparent
shortage; I got everything that I required. Next day I boarded a train
which, I was told, would carry me to the Front. We puffed along in a
leisurely sort of way. The engineer seemed to halt whenever he had a
mind; no matter where he halted, grubby children miraculously appeared
and ran along the bank, demanding from Monsieur Engleeshman
"ceegarettes" and "beescuits." Towards evening we pulled up at a
little town where we had a most excellent meal. No hint of war yet.
Night came down and we found that our carriage had no lights. It must
have been nearing dawn, when I was wakened by the distant thunder of
guns. I crouched in my corner, cold and cramped, trying to visualise
the terror of it. I asked myself whether I was afraid. "Not of Death,"
I told myself. "But of being afraid--yes, most horribly."

At five o'clock we halted at a junction, where a troop-train from the
Front was already at a standstill. Tommies in steel helmets and
muddied to the eyes were swarming out onto the tracks. They looked
terrible men with their tanned cheeks and haggard eyes. I felt how
impractical I was as I watched them--how ill-suited for
campaigning. They were making the most of their respite from
travelling. Some were building little fires between the ties to do
their cooking--their utensils were bayonets and old tomato cans;
others were collecting water from the exhaust of an engine and
shaving. I had already tried to purchase food and had failed, so I
copied their example and set about shaving.

Later in the day we passed gangs of Hun prisoners--clumsy looking
fellows, with flaxen hair and blue eyes, who seemed to be thanking God
every minute with smiles that they were out of danger and on our side
of the line. Late in the afternoon the engine jumped the rails; we
were advised to wander off to a rest-camp, the direction of which was
sketchily indicated. We found some Australians with a transport-wagon
and persuaded them to help us with our baggage. It had been pouring
heavily, but the clouds had dispersed and a rainbow spanned the sky. I
took it for a sign.

After trudging about six miles, we arrived at the camp and found that
it was out of food and that all the tents were occupied. We stretched
our sleeping-bags on the ground and went to bed supperless. We had had
no food all day. Next morning we were told that we ought to jump an
ammunition-lorry, if we wanted to get any further on our
journey. Nobody seemed to want us particularly, and no one could give
us the least information as to where our division was. It was another
lesson, if that were needed, of our total unimportance. While we were
waiting on the roadside, an Australian brigade of artillery passed
by. The men's faces were dreary with fatigue; the gunners were
dismounted and marched as in a trance. The harness was muddy, the
steel rusty, the horses lean and discouraged. We understood that they
were pulling out from an offensive in which they had received a bad
cutting up. To my overstrained imagination it seemed that the men had
the vision of death in their eyes.

Presently we spotted a lorry-driver who had, what George Robey would
call, "a kind and generous face." We took advantage of him, for once
having persuaded him to give us a lift, we froze onto him and made him
cart us about the country all day. We kept him kind and generous, I
regret to say, by buying him wine at far too many estaminets.

Towards evening the thunder of the guns had swelled into an ominous
roar. We passed through villages disfigured by shell-fire. Civilians
became more rare and more aged. Cattle disappeared utterly from the
landscape; fields were furrowed with abandoned trenches, in front of
which hung entanglements of wire. Mounted orderlies splashed along
sullen roads at an impatient trot. Here and there we came across
improvised bivouacs of infantry. Far away against the horizon towards
which we travelled, Hun flares and rockets were going up. Hopeless
stoicism, unutterable desolation--that was my first impression.

The landscape was getting increasingly muddy--it became a sea of
mud. Despatch-riders on motor-bikes travelled warily, with their feet
dragging to save themselves from falling. Everything was splashed
with filth and corruption; one marvelled at the cleanness of the
sky. Trees were blasted, and seemed to be sinking out of sight in this
war-created Slough of Despond. We came to the brow of a hill; in the
valley was something that I recognised. The last time I had seen it
was in an etching in a shop window in Newark, New Jersey. It was a
town, from the midst of whose battered ruins a splintered tower soared
against the sky. Leaning far out from the tower, so that it seemed she
must drop, was a statue of the Virgin with the Christ in her arms. It
was a superstition with the French, I remembered, that so long as she
did not fall, things would go well with the Allies. As we watched, a
shell screamed over the gaping roofs and a column of smoke went up.
Gehenna, being blessed by the infant Jesus--that was what I saw.

As we entered the streets, Tommies more polluted than miners crept out
from the skeletons of houses. They leant listlessly against sagging
doorways to watch us pass. If we asked for information as to where our
division was, they shook their heads stupidly, too indifferent with
weariness to reply. We found the Town Mayor; all that he could tell us
was that our division wasn't here yet, but was expected any
day--probably it was still on the line of march. Our lorry-driver was
growing impatient. We wrote him out a note which would explain his
wanderings, got him to deposit us near a Y. M. C. A. tent, and bade
him an uncordial "Good-bye." For the next three nights we slept by our
wits and got our food by foraging.

There was a Headquarters near by whose battalion was in the line. I
struck up a liaison with its officers, and at times went into the
crowded tent, which was their mess, to get warm. Runners would come
there at all hours of the day and night, bringing messages from the
Front. They were usually well spent. Sometimes they had been gassed;
but they all had the invincible determination to carry on. After they
had delivered their message, they would lie down in the mud and go to
sleep like dogs. The moment the reply was ready, they would lurch to
their feet, throwing off their weariness, as though it were a thing to
be conquered and despised. I appreciated now, as never before, the
lesson of "guts" that I had been taught at Kingston.

There was one officer at Battalion Headquarters who, whenever I
entered, was always writing, writing, writing. What he was writing I
never enquired--perhaps letters to his sweetheart or wife. It didn't
matter how long I stayed, he never seemed to have the time to look
up. He was a Highlander--a big man with a look of fate in his
eyes. His hair was black; his face stern, and set, and extremely
white. I remember once seeing him long after midnight through the
raised flap of the tent. All his brother officers were asleep, huddled
like sacks impersonally on the floor. At the table in the centre he
sat, his head bowed in his hands, the light from the lamp spilling
over his neck and forehead. He may have been praying. He recalled to
my mind the famous picture of The Last Sleep of Argyle. From that
moment I had the premonition that he would not live long. A month
later I learnt that he had been killed on his next trip into the

After three days of waiting my division arrived and I was attached to
a battery. I had scarcely had time to make the acquaintance of my new
companions, when we pulled into my first attack.

We hooked in at dawn and set out through a dense white mist. The mist
was wet and miserable, but excellent for our purpose; it prevented us
from being spotted by enemy balloons and aeroplanes. We made all the
haste that was possible; but in places the roads were blocked by other
batteries moving into new positions. We passed through the town above
which the Virgin floated with the infant Jesus in her arms. One
wondered whether she was really holding him out to bless; her attitude
might equally have been that of one who was flinging him down into the
shambles, disgusted with this travesty on religion.

The other side of the town the ravages of war were far more
marked. All the way along the roadside were clumps of little crosses,
French, English, German, planted above the hurried graves of the brave
fellows who had fallen. Ambulances were picking their way warily,
returning with the last night's toll of wounded. We saw newly dead
men and horses, pulled to one side, who had been caught in the
darkness by the enemy's harassing fire. In places the country had
holes the size of quarries, where mines had exploded and shells from
large calibre guns had detonated. Bedlam was raging up front; shells
went screaming over us, seeking out victims in the back-country. To
have been there by oneself would have been most disturbing, but the
men about me seemed to regard it as perfectly ordinary and normal. I
steadied myself by their example.

We came to a point where our Major was waiting for us, turned out of
the road, followed him down a grass slope and so into a valley. Here
gun-pits were in the process of construction. Guns were unhooked and
man-handled into their positions, and the teams sent back to the
wagon-lines. All day we worked, both officers and men, with pick and
shovel. Towards evening we had completed the gun-platforms and made a
beginning on the overhead cover. We had had no time to prepare
sleeping-quarters, so spread our sleeping-bags and blankets in the
caved-in trenches. About seven o'clock, as we were resting, the
evening "hate" commenced. In those days the evening "hate" was a
regular habit with the Hun. He knew our country better than we did,
for he had retired from it. Every evening he used to search out all
communication trenches and likely battery-positions with any quantity
of shells. His idea was to rob us of our _morale_. I wish he might
have seen how abysmally he failed to do it. Down our narrow valley,
like a flight of arrows, the shells screamed and whistled. Where they
struck, the ground looked like Resurrection Day with the dead elbowing
their way into daylight and forcing back the earth from their eyes.
There were actually many dead just beneath the surface and, as the
ground was ploughed up, the smell of corruption became distinctly
unpleasant. Presently the shells began to go dud; we realised that
they were gas-shells. A thin, bluish vapour spread throughout the
valley and breathing became oppressive. Then like stallions, kicking
in their stalls, the heavy guns on the ridge above us opened. It was
fine to hear them stamping their defiance; it made one want to get to
grips with his aggressors. In the brief silences one could hear our
chaps laughing. The danger seemed to fill them with a wild excitement.
Every time a shell came near and missed them, they would taunt the
unseen Huns for their poor gunnery, giving what they considered the
necessary corrections: "Five minutes more left, old Cock. If you'd
only drop fifty, you'd get us." These men didn't know what fear
was--or, if they did, they kept it to themselves. And these were the
chaps whom I was to order.

A few days later my Major told me that I was to be ready at 3:30 next
morning to accompany him up front to register the guns. In registering
guns you take a telephonist and linesmen with you. They lay in a line
from the battery to any point you may select as the best from which to
observe the enemy's country. This point may be two miles or more in
advance of your battery. Your battery is always hidden and out of
sight, for fear the enemy should see the flash of the firing;
consequently the officer in charge of the battery lays the guns
mathematically, but cannot observe the effect of his shots. The
officer who goes forward can see the target; by telephoning back his
corrections, he makes himself the eyes of the officer at the guns.

It had been raining when we crept out of our kennels to go forward. It
seems unnecessary to state that it had been raining, for it always has
been raining at the Front. I don't remember what degree of mud we had
attained. We have a variety of adjectives, and none of them polite, to
describe each stage. The worst of all is what we call "God-Awful Mud."
I don't think it was as bad as that, but it was bad enough.
Everything was dim, and clammy, and spectral. At the hour of dawn one
isn't at his bravest. It was like walking at the bottom of the sea,
only things that were thrown at you travelled faster. We struck a
sloppy road, along which ghostly figures passed, with ground sheets
flung across their head and shoulders, like hooded monks. At a point
where scarlet bundles were being lifted into ambulances, we branched
overland. Here and there from all directions, infantry were
converging, picking their way in single file to reduce their
casualties if a shell burst near them. The landscape, the people, the
early morning--everything was stealthy and walked with muted steps.

We entered a trench. Holes were scooped out in the side of it just
large enough to shelter a man crouching. Each hole contained a
sleeping soldier who looked as dead as the occupant of a catacomb.
Some of the holes had been blown in; all you saw of the late occupant
was a protruding arm or leg. At best there was a horrid similarity
between the dead and the living. It seemed that the walls of the
trenches had been built out of corpses, for one recognised the
uniforms of French men and Huns. They _were_ built out of them, though
whether by design or accident it was impossible to tell. We came to a
group of men, doing some repairing; that part of the trench had
evidently been strafed last night. They didn't know where they were,
or how far it was to the front-line. We wandered on, still laying in
our wire. The Colonel of our Brigade joined us and we waded on

The enemy shelling was growing more intense, as was always the way on
the Somme when we were bringing out our wounded. A good many of our
trenches were directly enfilade; shells burst just behind the parapet,
when they didn't burst on it. It was at about this point in my
breaking-in that I received a blow on the head--and thanked God for
the man who invented the steel helmet.

Things were getting distinctly curious. We hadn't passed any infantry
for some time. The trenches were becoming each minute more shallow and
neglected. Suddenly we found ourselves in a narrow furrow which was
packed with our own dead. They had been there for some time and were
partly buried. They were sitting up or lying forward in every attitude
of agony. Some of them clasped their wounds; some of them pointed
with their hands. Their faces had changed to every colour and glared
at us like swollen bruises. Their helmets were off; with a pitiful,
derisive neatness the rain had parted their hair.

We had to crouch low because the trench was so shallow. It was
difficult not to disturb them; the long skirts of our trench-coats
brushed against their faces.

All of a sudden we halted, making ourselves as small as could be. In
the rapidly thinning mist ahead of us, men were moving. They were
stretcher-bearers. The odd thing was that they were carrying their
wounded away from, instead of towards us. Then it flashed on us that
they were Huns. We had wandered into No Man's Land. Almost at that
moment we must have been spotted, for shells commenced falling at the
end of the trench by which we had entered. Spreading out, so as not
to attract attention, we commenced to crawl towards the other
end. Instantly that also was closed to us and a curtain of shells
started dropping behind us. We were trapped. With perfect coolness--a
coolness which, whatever I looked, I did not share--we went down on
our hands and knees, wriggling our way through the corpses and
shell-holes in the direction of where our front-line ought to
be. After what seemed an age, we got back. Later we registered the
guns, and one of our officers who had been laying in wire, was killed
in the process. His death, like everything else, was regarded without
emotion as being quite ordinary.

On the way out, when we had come to a part of our journey where the
tension was relaxed and we could be less cautious, I saw a signalling
officer lying asleep under a blackened tree. I called my Major's
attention to him, saying, "Look at that silly ass, sir. He'll get
something that he doesn't want if he lies there much longer."

My Major turned his head, and said briefly, "Poor chap, he's got it."

Then I saw that his shoulder-blade had burst through his tunic and was
protruding. He'd been coming out, walking freely and feeling that the
danger was over, just as we were, when the unlucky shell had caught
him. "His name must have been written on it," our men say when that
happens. I noticed that he had black boots; since then nothing would
persuade me to wear black boots in the trenches.

This first experience in No Man's Land did away with my last flabby
fear--that, if I was afraid, I would show it. One is often afraid.
Any soldier who asserts the contrary may not be a liar, but he
certainly does not speak the truth. Physical fear is too deeply
rooted to be overcome by any amount of training; it remains, then, to
train a man in spiritual pride, so that when he fears, nobody knows
it. Cowardice is contagious. It has been said that no battalion is
braver than its least brave member. Military courage is, therefore, a
form of unselfishness; it is practised that it may save weaker men's
lives and uphold their honour. The worst thing you can say of a man at
the Front is, "He doesn't play the game." That doesn't of necessity
mean that he fails to do his duty; what it means is that he fails to
do a little bit more than his duty.

When a man plays the game, he does things which it requires a braver
man than himself to accomplish; he never knows when he's done; he
acknowledges no limit to his cheerfulness and strength; whatever his
rank, he holds his life less valuable than that of the humblest; he
laughs at danger not because he does not dread it, but because he has
learnt that there are ailments more terrible and less curable than

The men in the ranks taught me whatever I know about playing the
game. I learnt from their example. In acknowledging this, I own up to
the new equality, based on heroic values, which this war has
established. The only man who counts "out there" is the man who is
sufficiently self-effacing to show courage. The chaps who haven't done
it are the exceptions.

At the start of the war there were a good many persons whom we were
apt to think of as common and unclean. But social distinctions are a
wash-out in the trenches. We have seen St. Peter's vision, and have
heard the voice, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common."

Until I became a part of the war, I was a doubter of nobility in
others and a sceptic as regards myself. The growth of my personal
vision was complete when I recognised that the capacity of heroism is
latent in everybody, and only awaits the bigness of the opportunity to
call it out.


We were too proud to live for years
When our poor death could dry the tears
Of little children yet unborn.
It scarcely mattered that at morn,
When manhood's hope was at its height,
We stopped a bullet in mid-flight.
It did not trouble us to lie
Forgotten 'neath the forgetting sky.
So long Sleep was our only cure
That when Death piped of rest made sure,
We cast our fleshly crutches down,
Laughing like boys in Hamelin Town.
And this we did while loving life,
Yet loving more than home or wife
The kindness of a world set free
For countless children yet to be.



For some time before I was wounded, we had been in very hot places. We
could scarcely expect them to be otherwise, for we had put on show
after show. A "show" in our language, I should explain, has nothing in
common with a theatrical performance, though it does not lack
drama. We make the term apply to any method of irritating the Hun,
from a trench-raid to a big offensive. The Hun was decidedly annoyed.
He had very good reason. We were occupying the dug-outs which he had
spent two years in building with French civilian labour. His U-boat
threats had failed. He had offered us the olive-branch, and his peace
terms had been rejected with a peal of guns all along the Western
Front. He had shown his disapproval of us by paying particular
attention to our batteries; as a consequence our shell-dressings were
all used up, having gone out with the gentlemen on stretchers who were
contemplating a vacation in Blighty. We couldn't get enough to
re-place them. There was a hitch somewhere. The demand for
shell-dressings exceeded the supply. So I got on my horse one Sunday
and, with my groom accompanying me, rode into the back-country to see
if I couldn't pick some up at various Field Dressing Stations and
Collecting Points.

In the course of my wanderings I came to a cathedral city. It was a
city which was and still is beautiful, despite the constant
bombardments. The Huns had just finished hurling a few more tons of
explosives into it as I and my groom entered. The streets were
deserted; it might have been a city of the dead. There was no sound,
except the ringing iron of our horses' shoes on the cobble pavement.
Here and there we came to what looked like a barricade which barred
our progress; actually it was the piled-up walls and rubbish of
buildings which had collapsed. From cellars, now and then, faces of
women, children and ancient men peered out--they were sharp and
pointed like rats. One's imagination went back five hundred
years--everything seemed mediaeval, short-lived and brutal. This might
have been Limoges after the Black Prince had finished massacring its
citizens; or it might have been Paris, when the wolves came down and
Francois Villon tried to find a lodging for the night.

I turned up through narrow alleys where grass was growing and found
myself, almost by accident, in a garden. It was a green and spacious
garden, with fifteen-foot walls about it and flowers which scattered
themselves broadcast in neglected riot. We dismounted and tied our
horses. Wandering along its paths, we came across little
summer-houses, statues, fountains and then, without any hindrance,
found ourselves in the nave of a fine cathedral which was roofed only
by the sky. Two years of the Huns had made it as much a ruin as
Tintern Abbey. Here, too, the flowers had intruded. They grew between
graves in the pavement and scrambled up the walls, wherever they could
find a foothold. At the far end of this stretch of destruction stood
the high altar, totally untouched by the hurricane of shell-fire. The
saints were perched in their niches, composed and stately. The Christ
looked down from His cross, as he had done for centuries, sweeping the
length of splendid architecture with sad eyes. It seemed a miracle
that the altar had been spared, when everything else had fallen. A
reason is given for its escape. Every Sabbath since the start of the
war, no matter how severe the bombardment, service has been held
there. The thin-faced women, rat-faced children and ancient men have
crept out from their cellars and gathered about the priest; the lamp
has been lit, the Host uplifted. The Hun is aware of this; with malice
aforethought he lands shells into the cathedral every Sunday in an
effort to smash the altar. So far he has failed. One finds in this a
symbol--that in the heart of the maelstrom of horror, which this war
has created, there is a quiet place where the lamp of gentleness and
honour is kept burning. The Hun will have to do a lot more shelling
before he puts the lamp of kindness out. From the polluted trenches of
Vimy the poppies spring up, blazoning abroad in vivid scarlet the
heroism of our lads' willing sacrifice. All this April, high above
the shouting of our guns, the larks sang joyously. The scarlet of the
poppies, the song of the larks, the lamp shining on the altar are only
external signs of the unconquerable, happy religion which lies hidden
in the hearts of our men. Their religion is the religion of heroism,
which they have learnt in the glory of the trenches.

There was a line from William Morris's _Earthly Paradise_ which used
to haunt me, especially in the early days when I was first
experiencing what war really meant. Since returning for a brief space
to where books are accessible, I have looked up the quotation. It
reads as follows:--

"Of Heaven or Hell I have no power to sing,
I cannot ease the burden of your fears
Or make quick-coming death a little thing."

It is the last line that makes me smile rather quietly, "Or make
quick-coming death a little thing." I smile because the souls who wear
khaki have learnt to do just that. Morris goes on to say that all he
can do to make people happy is to tell them deathless stories about
heroes who have passed into the world of the imagination, and, because
of that, are immune from death. He calls himself "the idle singer of
an empty day." How typical he is of the days before the war when
people had only pin-pricks to endure, and, consequently, didn't exert
themselves to be brave! A big sacrifice, which bankrupts one's life,
is always more bearable than the little inevitable annoyances of
sickness, disappointment and dying in a bed. It's easier for Christ to
go to Calvary than for an on-looker to lose a night's sleep in the
garden. When the world went well with us before the war, we were
doubters. Nearly all the fiction of the past fifteen years is a proof
of that--it records our fear of failure, sex, old age and particularly
of a God who refuses to explain Himself. Now, when we have thrust the
world, affections, life itself behind us and gaze hourly into the eyes
of Death, belief comes as simply and clearly as it did when we were
children. Curious and extraordinary! The burden of our fears has
slipped from our shoulders in our attempt to do something for others;
the unbelievable and long coveted miracle has happened--at last to
every soul who has grasped his chance of heroism quick-coming death
has become a fifth-rate calamity.

In saying this I do not mean to glorify war; war can never be anything
but beastly and damnable. It dates back to the jungle. But there are
two kinds of war. There's the kind that a highwayman wages, when he
pounces from the bushes and assaults a defenceless woman; there's the
kind you wage when you go to her rescue. The highwayman can't expect
to come out of the fight with a loftier morality--you can. Our chaps
never wanted to fight. They hate fighting; it's that hatred of the
thing they are compelled to do that makes them so terrible. The last
thought to enter their heads four years ago was that to-day they would
be in khaki. They had never been trained to the use of arms; a good
many of them conceived of themselves as cowards. They entered the war
to defend rather than to destroy. They literally put behind them
houses, brethren, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, lands for
the Kingdom of Heaven's sake, though they would be the last to express
themselves in that fashion.

At a cross-road at the bottom of a hill, on the way to a gun-position
we once had, stood a Calvary--one of those wayside altars, so
frequently met in France, with pollarded trees surrounding it and an
image of Christ in His agony. Pious peasants on their journey to
market or as they worked in the fields, had been accustomed to raise
their eyes to it and cross themselves. It had comforted them with the
knowledge of protection. The road leading back from it and up the
hill was gleaming white--a direct enfilade for the Hun, and always
under observation. He kept guns trained on it; at odd intervals, any
hour during the day or night, he would sweep it with shell-fire. The
woods in the vicinity were blasted and blackened. It was the season
for leaves and flowers, but there was no greenness. Whatever of
vegetation had not been uprooted and buried, had been poisoned by
gas. The atmosphere was vile with the odour of decaying flesh. In the
early morning, if you passed by the Calvary, there was always some
fresh tragedy. The newly dead lay sprawled out against its steps, as
though they had dragged themselves there in their last moments. If you
looked along the road, all the glazed eyes seemed to stare towards
it. "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom," they seemed
to say. The wooden Christ gazed down on them from His cross, with a
suffering which two thousand years ago he had shared. The terrible
pity of His silence seemed to be telling them that they had become one
with Him in their final sacrifice. They hadn't lived His life--far
from it; unknowingly they had died His death. That's a part of the
glory of the trenches, that a man who has not been good, can crucify
himself and hang beside Christ in the end. One wonders in what
pleasant places those weary souls find rest.

There was a second Calvary--a heap of ruins. Nothing of the altar or
trees, by which it had been surrounded, was left. The first time I
passed it, I saw a foot protruding. The man might be wounded; I
climbed up to examine and pulled aside the debris. Beneath it I found,
like that of one three weeks dead, the naked body of the Christ. The
exploding shell had wrenched it from its cross. Aslant the face, with
gratuitous blasphemy, the crown of thorns was tilted.

These two Calvaries picture for me the part that Christ is playing in
the present war. He survives in the noble self-effacement of the men.
He is re-crucified in the defilements that are wrought upon their

God as we see Him! And do we see Him? I think so, but not always
consciously. He moves among us in the forms of our brother men. We
see him most evidently when danger is most threatening and courage is
at its highest. We don't often recognise Him out loud. Our chaps don't
assert that they're His fellow-campaigners. They're too humble-minded
and inarticulate for that. They're where they are because they want to
do their "bit"--their duty. A carefully disguised instinct of honour
brought them there. "Doing their bit" in Bible language means, laying
down their lives for their friends. After all they're not so far from

"_Doing their bit_!" That covers everything. Here's an example of how
God walks among us. In one of our attacks on the Somme, all the
observers up forward were uncertain as to what had happened. We didn't
know whether our infantry had captured their objective, failed, or
gone beyond it. The battlefield, as far as eye could reach, was a bath
of mud. It is extremely easy in the excitement of an offensive, when
all landmarks are blotted out, for our storming parties to lose their
direction. If this happens, a number of dangers may result. A
battalion may find itself "up in the air," which means that it has
failed to connect with the battalions on its right and left; its
flanks are then exposed to the enemy. It may advance too far, and
start digging itself in at a point where it was previously arranged
that our artillery should place their protective wall of fire. We,
being up forward as artillery observers, are the eyes of the army. It
is our business to watch for such contingencies, to keep in touch with
the situation as it progresses and to send our information back as
quickly as possible. We were peering through our glasses from our
point of vantage when, far away in the thickest of the battle-smoke,
we saw a white flag wagging, sending back messages. The flag-wagging
was repeated desperately; it was evident that no one had replied, and
probable that no one had picked up the messages. A signaller who was
with us, read the language for us. A company of infantry had advanced
too far; they were most of them wounded, very many of them dead, and
they were in danger of being surrounded. They asked for our artillery
to place a curtain of fire in front of them, and for reinforcements to
be sent up.

We at once 'phoned the orders through to our artillery and notified
the infantry headquarters of the division that was holding that
front. But it was necessary to let those chaps know that we were aware
of their predicament. They'd hang on if they knew that; otherwise----.

Without orders our signaller was getting his flags ready. If he hopped
out of the trench onto the parapet, he didn't stand a fifty-fifty
chance. The Hun was familiar with our observation station and strafed
it with persistent regularity.

The signaller turned to the senior officer present, "What will I send
them, sir?"

"Tell them their messages have been received and that help is coming."

Out the chap scrambled, a flag in either hand--he was nothing but a
boy. He ran crouching like a rabbit to a hump of mud where his figure
would show up against the sky. His flags commenced wagging, "Messages
received. Help coming." They didn't see him at first. He had to repeat
the words. We watched him breathlessly. We knew what would happen; at
last it happened. A Hun observer had spotted him and flashed the
target back to his guns. All about him the mud commenced to leap and
bubble. He went on signalling the good word to those stranded men up
front, "Messages received. Help coming." At last they'd seen him. They
were signaling, "O. K." It was at that moment that a whizz-bang lifted
him off his feet and landed him all of a huddle. _His "bit!"_ It was
what he'd volunteered to do, when he came from Canada. The signalled
"O. K." in the battlesmoke was like a testimony to his character.

That's the kind of peep at God we get on the Western Front. It isn't a
sad peep, either. When men die for something worth while death loses
all its terror. It's petering out in bed from sickness or old age
that's so horrifying. Many a man, whose cowardice is at loggerheads
with his sense of duty, comes to the Front as a non-combatant; he
compromises with his conscience and takes a bomb-proof job in some
service whose place is well behind the lines. He doesn't stop there
long, if he's a decent sort. Having learnt more than ever he guessed
before about the brutal things that shell-fire can do to you, he
transfers into a fighting unit. Why? Because danger doesn't appal; it
allures. It holds a challenge. It stings one's pride. It urges one to
seek out ascending scales of risk, just to prove to himself that he
isn't flabby. The safe job is the only job for which there's no
competition in fighting units. You have to persuade men to be grooms,
or cooks, or batmen. If you're seeking volunteers for a chance at
annihilation, you have to cast lots to avoid the offence of
rejecting. All of this is inexplicable to civilians. I've heard them
call the men at the Front "spiritual geniuses"--which sounds splendid,
but means nothing.

If civilian philosophers fail to explain us, we can explain them. In
their world they are the centre of their universe. They look inward,
instead of outward. The sun rises and sets to minister to their
particular happiness. If they should die, the stars would vanish. We
understand; a few months ago we, too, were like that. What makes us
reckless of death is our intense gratitude that we have altered. We
want to prove to ourselves in excess how utterly we are changed from
what we were. In his secret heart the egotist is a self-despiser. Can
you imagine what a difference it works in a man after years of
self-contempt, at least for one brief moment to approve of himself?
Ever since we can remember, we were chained to the prison-house of our
bodies; we lived to feed our bodies, to clothe our bodies, to preserve
our bodies, to minister to their passions. Now we know that our bodies
are mere flimsy shells, in which our souls are paramount. We can fling
them aside any minute; they become ignoble the moment the soul has
departed. We have proof. Often at zero hour we have seen whole
populations of cities go over the top and vanish, leaving behind them
their bloody rags. We should go mad if we did not believe in
immortality. We know that the physical is not the essential part. How
better can a man shake off his flesh than at the hour when his spirit
is most shining? The exact day when he dies does not matter--to-morrow
or fifty years hence. The vital concern is not _when_, but _how_. The
civilian philosopher considers what we've lost. He forgets that it
could never have been ours for long. In many cases it was misused and
scarcely worth having while it lasted. Some of us were too weak to use
it well. We might use it better now. We turn from such thoughts and
reckon up our gains. On the debit side we place ourselves as we were.
We probably caught a train every morning--the same train, we went to a
business where we sat at a desk. Neither the business nor the desk
ever altered. We received the same strafing from the same employer;
or, if we were the employer, we administered the same strafing. We
only did these things that we might eat bread; our dreams were all
selfish--of more clothes, more respect, more food, bigger houses. The
least part of the day we devoted to the people and the things we
really cared for. And the people we loved--we weren't always nice to
them. On the credit side we place ourselves as we are--doing a man's
job, doing it for some one else, and unafraid to meet God.

Before the war the word "ideals" had grown out-of-date and
priggish--we had substituted for it the more robust word "ambitions."
Today ideals have come back to their place in our vocabulary. We have
forgotten that we ever had ambitions, but at this moment men are
drowning for ideals in the mud of Flanders.

Nevertheless, it is true; it isn't natural to be brave. How, then,
have multitudes of men acquired this sudden knack of courage? They
have been educated by the greatness of the occasion; when big
sacrifices have been demanded, men have never been found lacking. And
they have acquired it through discipline and training.

When you have subjected yourself to discipline, you cease to think of
yourself; _you_ are not _you_, but a part of a company of men. If you
don't do your duty, you throw the whole machine out. You soon learn
the hard lesson that every man's life and every man's service belong
to other people. Of this the organisation of an army is a vivid
illustration. Take the infantry, for instance. They can't fight by
themselves; they're dependent on the support of the artillery. The
artillery, in their turn, would be terribly crippled, were it not for
the gallantry of the air service. If the infantry collapse, the guns
have to go back; if the infantry advance, the guns have to be pulled
forward. This close interdependence of service on service, division on
division, battalion on battery, follows right down through the army
till it reaches the individual, so that each man feels that the day
will be lost if he fails. His imagination becomes intrigued by the
immensity of the stakes for which he plays. Any physical calamity
which may happen to himself becomes trifling when compared with the
disgrace he would bring upon his regiment if he were not courageous.

A few months ago I was handing over a battery-position in a fairly
warm place. The major, who came up to take over from me, brought with
him a subaltern and just enough men to run the guns. Within
half-an-hour of their arrival, a stray shell came over and caught the
subaltern and five of the gun-detachment. It was plain at once that
the subaltern was dying--his name must have been written on the shell,
as we say in France. We got a stretcher and made all haste to rush him
out to a dressing-station. Just as he was leaving, he asked to speak
with his major. "I'm so sorry, sir; I didn't mean to get wounded," he
whispered. The last word he sent back from the dressing-station where
he died, was, "Tell the major, I didn't mean to do it." That's
discipline. He didn't think of himself; all he thought of was that his
major would be left short-handed.

Here's another story, illustrating how mercilessly discipline can
restore a man to his higher self. Last spring, the night before an
attack, a man was brought into a battalion headquarters dug-out, under
arrest. The adjutant and Colonel were busy attending to the last
details of their preparations. The adjutant looked up irritably,

"What is it?"

The N. C. O. of the guard answered, "We found this man, sir, in a
communication trench. His company has been in the front-line two
hours. He was sitting down, with his equipment thrown away, and
evidently had no intention of going up."

The adjutant glanced coldly at the prisoner. "What have you to say
for yourself?"

The man was ghastly white and shaking like an aspen. "Sir, I'm not the
man I was since I saw my best friend, Jimmie, with his head blown off
and lying in his hands. It's kind of got me. I can't face up to it."

The adjutant was silent for a few seconds; then he said, "You know you
have a double choice. You can either be shot up there, doing your
duty, or behind the lines as a coward. It's for you to choose. I don't

The interview was ended. He turned again to the Colonel. The man
slowly straightened himself, saluted like a soldier and marched out
alone to the Front. That's what discipline does for a man who's going
back on himself.

One of the big influences that helps to keep a soldier's soul sanitary
is what is known in the British Army as "spit and polish." Directly we
pull out for a rest, we start to work burnishing and washing. The
chaps may have shown the most brilliant courage and self-sacrificing
endurance, it counts for nothing if they're untidy. The first
morning, no matter what are the weather conditions, we hold an
inspection; every man has to show up with his chin shaved, hair cut,
leather polished and buttons shining. If he doesn't he gets hell.

There's a lot in it. You bring a man out from a tight corner where
he's been in hourly contact with death; he's apt to think, "What's the
use of taking pride in myself. I'm likely to be 'done in' any
day. It'll be all the same when I'm dead." But if he doesn't keep
clean in his body, he won't keep clean in his mind. The man who has
his buttons shining brightly and his leather polished, is usually the
man who is brightly polished inside. Spit and polish teaches a man to
come out of the trenches from seeing his pals killed, and to carry on
as though nothing abnormal had happened. It educates him in an
impersonal attitude towards calamity which makes it bearable. It
forces him not to regard anything too tragically. If you can stand
aside from yourself and poke fun at your own tragedy--and tragedy
always has its humorous aspect--that helps. The songs which have been
inspired by the trenches are examples of this tendency.

The last thing you find anybody singing "out there" is something
patriotic; the last thing you find anybody reading is Rupert Brooke's
poems. When men sing among the shell-holes they prefer a song which
belittles their own heroism. Please picture to yourself a company of
mud-stained scarecrows in steel-helmets, plodding their way under
intermittent shelling through a battered trench, whistling and humming
the following splendid sentiments from _The Plea of The Conscientious

"Send us the Army and the Navy. Send us the rank and file.
Send us the grand old Territorials--they'll face the danger with a smile.
Where are the boys of the Old Brigade who made old England free?
You may send my mother, my sister or my brother,
But for Gawd's sake don't send me."

They leave off whistling and humming to shout the last line. A shell
falls near them--then another, then another. They crouch for a minute
against the sticky walls to escape the flying spray of death. Then
they plod onward again through the mud whistling and humming, "But for
Gawd's sake don't send me." They're probably a carrying party, taking
up the rations to their pals. It's quite likely they'll have a bad
time to-night--there's the smell of gas in the air. Good luck to
them. They disappear round the next traverse.

Our men sing many mad burlesques on their own splendour--parodies on
their daily fineness. Here's a last example--a take-off on _"A Little
Bit of Heaven_:"

"Oh a little bit of shrapnel fell from out the sky one day
And it landed on a soldier in a field not far away;
But when they went to find him he was bust beyond repair,
So they pulled his legs and arms off and they left him lying there.
Then they buried him in Flanders just to make the new crops grow.
He'll make the best manure, they say, and sure they ought to know.
And they put a little cross up which bore his name so grand,
On the day he took his farewell for a better Promised Land."

One learns to laugh--one has to--just as he has to learn to believe in
immortality. The Front affords plenty of occasions for humour if a man
has only learnt to laugh at himself. I had been sent forward to report
at a battalion headquarters as liaison officer for an attack. The
headquarters were in a captured dug-out somewhere under a ruined
house. Just as I got there and was searching among the fallen walls
for an entrance, the Hun barrage came down. It was like the
Yellowstone Park when all the geysers are angry at the same
time. Roofs, beams, chips of stone commenced to fly in every
direction. In the middle of the hubbub a small dump of bombs was
struck by a shell and started to explode behind me. The blast of the
explosion caught me up and hurled me down fifteen stairs of the
dug-out I had been trying to discover. I landed on all fours in a
place full of darkness; a door banged behind me. I don't know how long
I lay there. Something was squirming under me. A voice said
plaintively, "I don't know who you are, but I wish you'd get off. I'm
the adjutant."

It's a queer country, that place we call "out there." You approach our
front-line, as it is to-day, across anywhere from five to twenty miles
of battlefields. Nothing in the way of habitation is left. Everything
has been beaten into pulp by hurricanes of shell-fire. First you come
to a metropolis of horse-lines, which makes you think that a mammoth
circus has arrived. Then you come to plank roads and little light
railways, running out like veins across the mud. Far away there's a
ridge and a row of charred trees, which stand out gloomily etched
against the sky. The sky is grey and damp and sickly; fleecy balls of
smoke burst against it--shrapnel. You wonder whether they've caught
anybody. Overhead you hear the purr of engines--a flight of aeroplanes
breasting the clouds. Behind you observation balloons hang stationary,
like gigantic tethered sausages.

If you're riding, you dismount before you reach the ridge and send
your horse back; the Hun country is in sight on the other side. You
creep up cautiously, taking careful note of where the shells are
falling. There's nothing to be gained by walking into a barrage; you
make up your mind to wait. The rate of fire has slackened; you make a
dash for it. From the ridge there's a pathway which runs down through
the blackened wood; two men going alone are not likely to be
spotted. Not likely, but--. There's an old cement Hun gun-pit to the
right; you take cover in it. "Pretty wide awake," you say to your
companion, "to have picked us out as quickly as that."

From this sheltered hiding you have time to gaze about you. The roof
of the gun-pit is smashed in at one corner. Our heavies did that when
the Hun held the ridge. It was good shooting. A perfect warren of
tunnels and dug-outs leads off in every direction. They were built by
the forced labour of captive French civilians. We have found requests
from them scrawled in pencil on the boards: "I, Jean Ribeau, was alive
and well on May 12th, 1915. If this meets the eye of a friend, I beg
that he will inform my wife," etc.; after which follows the wife's
address. These underground fortifications proved as much a snare as a
protection to our enemies. I smile to remember how after our infantry
had advanced three miles, they captured a Hun major busily shaving
himself in his dug-out, quite unaware that anything unusual was
happening. He was very angry because he had been calling in vain for
his man to bring his hot water. When he heard the footsteps of our
infantry on the stairs, he thought it was his servant and started
strafing. He got the surprise of his venerable life when he saw the

From the gun-pit the hill slants steeply to the plain. It was once
finely wooded. Now the trees lie thick as corpses where an attack has
failed, scythed down by bursting shells. From the foot of the hill the
plain spreads out, a sea of furrowed slime and craters. It's difficult
to pick out trenches. Nothing is moving. It's hard to believe that
anything can live down there. Suddenly, as though a gigantic
egg-beater were at work, the mud is thrashed and tormented. Smoke
drifts across the area that is being strafed; through the smoke the
stakes and wire hurtle. If you hadn't been in flurries of that sort
yourself, you'd think that no one could exist through it. It's ended
now; once again the country lies dead and breathless in a kind of
horrible suspense. Suspense! Yes, that's the word.

Beyond the mud, in the far cool distance is a green untroubled
country. The Huns live there. That's the worst of doing all the
attacking; we live on the recent battlefields we have won, whereas the
enemy retreats into untouched cleanness. One can see church steeples
peeping above woods, chateaus gleaming, and stretches of shining
river. It looks innocent and kindly, but from the depth of its
greenness invisible eyes peer out. Do you make one unwary movement,
and over comes a flock of shells.

At night from out this swamp of vileness a phantom city floats up; it
is composed of the white Very lights and multi-coloured flares which
the Hun employs to protect his front-line from our patrols. For brief
spells No Man's Land becomes brilliant as day. Many of his flares are
prearranged signals, meaning that his artillery is shooting short or
calling for an S.O.S. The combination of lights which mean these
things are changed with great frequency, lest we should guess. The
on-looker, with a long night of observing before him, becomes
imaginative and weaves out for the dancing lights a kind of Shell-Hole
Nights' Entertainment. The phantom city over there is London, New
York, Paris, according to his fancy. He's going out to dinner with his
girl. All those flares are arc-lamps along boulevards; that last white
rocket that went flaming across the sky, was the faery taxi which is
to speed him on his happy errand. It isn't so, one has only to

We were in the Somme for several months. The mud was up to our knees
almost all the time. We were perishingly cold and very rarely dry.
There was no natural cover. When we went up forward to observe, we
would stand in water to our knees for twenty-four hours rather than go
into the dug-outs; they were so full of vermin and battened
flies. Wounded and strayed men often drowned on their journey back
from the front-line. Many of the dead never got buried; lives couldn't
be risked in carrying them out. We were so weary that the sight of
those who rested for ever, only stirred in us a quiet envy. Our
emotions were too exhausted for hatred--they usually are, unless some
new Hunnishness has roused them. When we're having a bad time, we
glance across No Man's Land and say, "Poor old Fritzie, he's getting
the worst of it." That thought helps.

An attack is a relaxation from the interminable monotony. It means
that we shall exchange the old mud, in which we have been living, for
new mud which may be better. Months of work and preparation have led
up to it; then one morning at dawn, in an intense silence we wait with
our eyes glued on our watches for the exact second which is zero
hour. All of a sudden our guns open up, joyously as a peal of
bells. It's like Judgment Day. A wild excitement quickens the
heart. Every privation was worth this moment. You wonder where you'll
be by night-fall--over there, in the Hun support trenches, or in a
green world which you used to sing about on Sundays. You don't much
care, so long as you've completed your job. "We're well away," you
laugh to the chap next you. The show has commenced.

When you have given people every reason you can think of which
explains the spirit of our men, they still shake their heads in a
bewildered manner, murmuring, "I don't know how you stand it." I'm
going to make one last attempt at explanation.

We stick it out by believing that we're in the right--to believe
you're in the right makes a lot of difference. You glance across No
Man's Land and say, "Those blighters are wrong; I'm right." If you
believe that with all the strength of your soul and mind, you can
stand anything. To allow yourself to be beaten would be to own that
you weren't.

To still hold that you're right in the face of armed assertions from
the Hun that you're wrong, requires pride in your regiment, your
division, your corps and, most of all, in your own integrity. No one
who has not worn a uniform can understand what pride in a regiment can
do for a man. For instance, in France every man wears his divisional
patch, which marks him. He's jolly proud of his division and wouldn't
consciously do anything to let it down. If he hears anything said to
its credit, he treasures the saying up; it's as if he himself had been
mentioned in despatches. It was rumoured this year that the night
before an attack, a certain Imperial General called his battalion
commanders together. When they were assembled, he said, "Gentlemen, I
have called you together to tell you that tomorrow morning you will be
confronted by one of the most difficult tasks that has ever been
allotted to you; you will have to measure up to the traditions of the
division on our left--the First Canadian Division, which is in my
opinion the finest fighting division in France." I don't know whether
the story is true or not. If the Imperial General didn't say it, he
ought to have. But because I belong to the First Canadian Division, I
believe the report true and set store by it. Every new man who joins
our division hears that story. He feels that he, too, has got to be
worthy of it. When he's tempted to get the "wind-up," he glances down
at the patch on his arm. It means as much to him as a V. C.; so he
steadies his nerves, squares his jaws and plays the man.

There's believing you're right. There's your sense of pride, and then
there's something else, without which neither of the other two would
help you. It seems a mad thing to say with reference to fighting men,
but that other thing which enables you to meet sacrifice gladly is
love. There's a song we sing in England, a great favourite which,
when it has recounted all the things we need to make us good and
happy, tops the list with these final requisites, "A little patience
and a lot of love." We need the patience--that goes without saying;
but it's the love that helps us to die gladly--love for our cause, our
pals, our family, our country. Under the disguise of duty one has to
do an awful lot of loving at the Front. One of the finest examples of
the thing I'm driving at, happened comparatively recently.

In a recent attack the Hun set to work to knock out our artillery. He
commenced with a heavy shelling of our batteries--this lasted for some
hours. He followed it up by clapping down on them a gas-barrage. The
gunners' only chance of protecting themselves from the deadly fumes
was to wear their gas-helmets. All of a sudden, just as the gassing of
our batteries was at its worst, all along our front-line
S.O.S. rockets commenced to go up. Our infantry, if they weren't
actually being attacked, were expecting a heavy Hun counter-attack,
and were calling on us by the quickest means possible to help them.

Of a gun-detachment there are two men who cannot do their work
accurately in gas-helmets--one of these is the layer and the other is
the fuse-setter. If the infantry were to be saved, two men out of the
detachment of each protecting gun must sacrifice themselves.
Instantly, without waiting for orders, the fuse-setters and layers
flung aside their helmets. Our guns opened up. The unmasked men lasted
about twenty minutes; when they had been dragged out of the gun-pits
choking or in convulsions, two more took their places without a
second's hesitation. This went on for upwards of two hours. The
reason given by the gunners for their splendid, calculated devotion to
duty was that they weren't going to let their pals in the trenches
down. You may call their heroism devotion to duty or anything you
like; the motive that inspired it was love.

When men, having done their "bit" get safely home from the Front and
have the chance to live among the old affections and enjoyments, the
memory of the splendid sharing of the trenches calls them back. That
memory blots out all the tragedy and squalor; they think of their
willing comrades in sacrifice and cannot rest.

I was with a young officer who was probably the most wounded man who
ever came out of France alive. He had lain for months in hospital
between sandbags, never allowed to move, he was so fragile. He had had
great shell-wounds in his legs and stomach; the artery behind his left
ear had been all but severed. When he was at last well enough to be
discharged, the doctors had warned him never to play golf or polo, or
to take any violent form of exercise lest he should do himself a
damage. He had returned to Canada for a rest and was back in London,
trying to get sent over again to the Front.

We had just come out from the Alhambra. Whistles were being blown
shrilly for taxis. London theatre-crowds were slipping cosily through
the muffled darkness--a man and girl, always a man and a girl. They
walked very closely; usually the girl was laughing. Suddenly the
contrast flashed across my mind between this bubbling joy of living
and the poignant silence of huddled forms beneath the same starlight,
not a hundred miles away in No Man's Land. He must have been seeing
the same vision and making the same contrast. He pulled on my
arm. "I've got to go back."

"But you've done your 'bit,'" I expostulated. "If you do go back and
don't get hit, you may burst a blood vessel or something, if what the
doctors told you is true."

He halted me beneath an arc-light. I could see the earnestness in his
face. "I feel about it this way," he said, "If I'm out there, I'm just
one more. A lot of chaps out there are jolly tired; if I was there,
I'd be able to give some chap a rest."

That was love; for a man, if he told the truth, would say, "I hate the
Front." Yet most of us, if you ask us, "Do you want to go back?" would
answer, "Yes, as fast as I can." Why? Partly because it's difficult to
go back, and in difficulty lies a challenge; but mostly because we
love the chaps. Not any particular chap, but all the fellows out there
who are laughing and enduring.

Last time I met the most wounded man who ever came out of France
alive, it was my turn to be in hospital. He came to visit me there,
and told me that he'd been all through the Vimy racket and was again
going back.

"But how did you manage to get into the game again?" I asked. "I
thought the doctors wouldn't pass you."

He laughed slily. "I didn't ask the doctors. If you know the right
people, these things can always be worked."

More than half of the bravery at the Front is due to our love of the
folks we have left behind. We're proud of them; we want to give them
reason to be proud of us. We want them to share our spirit, and we
don't want to let them down. The finest reward I've had since I became
a soldier was when my father, who'd come over from America to spend my
ten days' leave with me in London, saw me off on my journey back to
France. I recalled his despair when I had first enlisted, and compared
it with what happened now. We were at the pier-gates, where we had to
part. I said to him, "If you knew that I was going to die in the next
month, would you rather I stayed or went?" "Much rather you went," he
answered. Those words made me feel that I was the son of a soldier,
even if he did wear mufti. One would have to play the game pretty low
to let a father like that down.

When you come to consider it, a quitter is always a selfish man. It's
selfishness that makes a man a coward or a deserter. If he's in a
dangerous place and runs away, all he's doing is thinking of himself.

I've been supposed to be talking about God As We See Him. I don't know
whether I have. As a matter of fact if you had asked me, when I was
out there, whether there was any religion in the trenches, I should
have replied, "Certainly not." Now that I've been out of the fighting
for a while, I see that there is religion there; a religion which will
dominate the world when the war is ended--the religion of
heroism. It's a religion in which men don't pray much. With me, before
I went to the Front, prayer was a habit. Out there I lost the habit;
what one was doing seemed sufficient. I got the feeling that I might
be meeting God at any moment, so I didn't need to be worrying Him all
the time, hanging on to a spiritual telephone and feeling slighted if
He didn't answer me directly I rang Him up. If God was really
interested in me, He didn't need constant reminding. When He had a
world to manage, it seemed best not to interrupt Him with frivolous
petitions, but to put my prayers into my work. That's how we all feel
out there.

God as we see Him! I couldn't have told you how I saw Him before I
went to France. It's funny--you go away to the most damnable
undertaking ever invented, and you come back cleaner in spirit. The
one thing that redeems the horror is that it does make a man
momentarily big enough to be in sympathy with his Creator--he gets
such glimpses of Him in his fellows.

There was a time when I thought it was rather up to God to explain
Himself to the creatures He had fashioned--since then I've acquired
the point of view of a soldier. I've learnt discipline and my own
total unimportance. In the Army discipline gets possession of your
soul; you learn to suppress yourself, to obey implicitly, to think of
others before yourself. You learn to jump at an order, to forsake your
own convenience at any hour of the day or night, to go forward on the
most lonely and dangerous errands without complaining. You learn to
feel that there is only one thing that counts in life and only one
thing you can make out of it--the spirit you have developed in
encountering its difficulties. Your body is nothing; it can be smashed
in a minute. How frail it is you never realise until you have seen men
smashed. So you learn to tolerate the body, to despise Death and to
place all your reliance on courage--which when it is found at its best
is the power to endure for the sake of others.

When we think of God, we think of Him in just about the same way that
a Tommy in the front-line thinks of Sir Douglas Haig. Heaven is a kind
of General Headquarters. All that the Tommy in the front-line knows of
an offensive is that orders have reached him, through the appointed
authorities, that at zero hour he will climb out of his trench and go
over the top to meet a reasonable chance of wounds and death. He
doesn't say, "I don't know whether I will climb out. I never saw Sir
Douglas Haig--there mayn't be any such person. I want to have a chat
with him first. If I agree with him, after that I may go over the
top--and, then again, I may not. We'll see about it."

Instead, he attributes to his Commander-in-Chief the same patriotism,
love of duty, and courage which he himself tries to practice. He
believes that if he and Sir Douglas Haig were to change places, Sir
Douglas Haig would be quite as willing to sacrifice himself. He obeys;
he doesn't question.

That's the way every Tommy and officer comes to think of God--as a
Commander-in-Chief whom he has never seen, but whose orders he blindly
carries out.

The religion of the trenches is not a religion which analyses God with
impertinent speculation. It isn't a religion which takes up much of
His time. It's a religion which teaches men to carry on stoutly and to
say, "I've tried to do my bit as best I know how. I guess God knows
it. If I 'go west' to-day, He'll remember that I played the game. So I
guess He'll forget about my sins and take me to Himself."

That is the simple religion of the trenches as I have learnt it--a
religion not without glory; to carry on as bravely as you know how,
and to trust God without worrying Him.



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