No Man's Land
by H. C. McNeile
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse

"Bravely spoken, sir, as the poets would say," remarked the Honourable James. "The only point is how to do it."

"Easy as falling off a log. One night we will pay the Huns a visit and kill 'em. Cheery amusement, charming hobby. The terriers will get bitten on the nose, and as soon as that happens they'll see red. Then they'll start to kill; and once they've done that there will be no holding them. Their tails will be stickin' up above their heads."

"It was done a few weeks ago up the line, wasn't it?" The second-in-command thoughtfully replenished his glass.

"I believe it was—but what matter? The Stick'ems don't require any damned pilot for their fences." The C.O. brought a fist like a leg of mutton down on the table. "Before the division leaves the line, we are going to visit the Hun; we are going to kill the Hun; we are going to capture the swab, to wound him, to out him; and when we've done it and got him as wild as a civet cat in the nesting season, we'll laugh at him by platoons."

"Prolonged applause from a breathless audience," laughed the Adjutant. "We can merely murmur a Benedictined Bismillah." . . .

Now it is possible that to those who sit at home, and regard war from arm-chairs as a movement of little flags on a large-scale map, the words of Toby Seymour may come in the nature of a surprise. It is possible that they have never really thought about the human side of killing: of killing as a hobby—as a trade. Vaguely they realise that a soldier does not go into the army to pick buttercups; vaguely they understand that men die and are killed in war, and that soldiers are the people who kill and are killed. But I venture to think that they do not realise the intense importance of inculcating in every private soldier the necessity and the desire of outing the other fellow. Horrible, you say; revolting. Of course it's horrible, my good man; of course it's revolting; but what the devil do you think this war is—minding a creche for imbecile children? You bring in a crowd of men whose sole qualification in August 1914 to be considered soldiers was an intense and national love of games. You pit them against a machine perfect in technique, in which every part had been trained from earliest infancy in the trade of soldiering, and the trade of ruthless killing.

You ask them to go across the water and beat this machine for you. And so, if I harry you at times with details of the type blood-curdling, it is only that you may understand something of the nature of the task: the task which your brothers and sons and partners and clerks are carrying to a successful issue.

Has it occurred to you why they are succeeding?

You say that right is triumphing over might; that a good cause must win. It is beautiful, it is magnificent your contention; but it is not war. History does not support you; common sense does not bear you out. We are beating them because as a nation of sportsmen the men have taken to the new sport as a duck takes to water; and the new sport is to kill, capture, wound, or out the Boche before he kills, captures, wounds, or outs you. And having taken to it as a sport, now that the technique and other things are equal, we are better at it than the Hun who views it as a business.

Which recalls to mind the celebrated utterance of a celebrated officer. Should he read these lines, I trust he will pardon the plagiarism; but the utterance was so wonderful that it should be perpetuated, even thus modestly. He spoke lightly; but if I may be forgiven the platitude, there is many a true word spoken in jest.

Why not institute, he suggested, a list of battalion averages? Just as the relative position of Tottenham Hotspur and Sheffield Wednesday in the Football League is the subject of frenzied back chat; just as the defeat of Yorkshire by Kent causes head shakings in the public-houses of the North towards the end of August, why not have a league of battalions?

A wonderful idea if one thinks into it. A dead'un two points, a prisoner one; the Ober-lieutenant five points and a Colonel twenty—with other grades according to fancy. Think of the frantic excitement in the London clubs and the quiet villages when the relative scoring merits of a Jaeger sharpshooter and a one-eyed Landsturmer were sized up. Think of the Putney Peashooters' ladies meeting those of the Shoreditch Snipers at a small and early, and counting up the bag: five Saxons and a stretcher-bearer against four prisoners and a carrier pigeon.

One might almost wind up with England versus Scotland, the winner to play Australia on a percentage basis. In fact, there is no limit to it; and I will cease, lest I get lost in a maze of wonderful developments.

I will cease, and return to the Stick'ems; but as a last word I would say, in all seriousness, that wildly farcical though that celebrated utterance may be, there underlies it an absolutely true valuation of the fundamental bed-rock of war. To emulate the deeds of others and go one better, to put the men in good heart with their tails up, that is the secret of winning. And the best way of doing it is to treat the matter as a sport: the Englishman understands it that way best. . . .



No Man's Land in that part of the line where the South Devons resided was wide—well over a quarter of a mile to be exact. Across their front, about a hundred and fifty yards from the German lines, there ran a small bank two or three feet high, with its right resting on a main road which crossed No Man's Land, and its left gradually falling away till it came level with the ground. The remnants of a hedge and two or three forlorn tree stumps still remained on the bank, over the top of which could be seen the German wire—running round a small orchard in which lay their front line trenches. The locality was peaceful; the Hun was quiet, asking for nothing more than that he should be left alone, which undoubtedly made Toby Seymour's breach of the rules the more reprehensible from the exclusively Teuton point of view. They were extremely angry; in fact, one large prisoner went so far as to state that it was a barbarous method of fighting, and unheard of in civilised warfare. The suggestion that he should be kept as the battalion mascot and supply the comic relief at all subsequent smoking concerts, unfortunately fell through. Other "non-barbarians" who escaped joining him in captivity emulated his altruistic spirit by informing the South Devons daily from a position where the lines ran close together, that they were looking forward to crucifying the next Englishman they caught, which again was an immense success, and was greeted invariably by a specially selected choir chanting the Hymn of Hate. And yet the damage done was not very great from the material point of view. It was the mental jolt, the jar to their spiritual loftiness, that tickled the dear souls up. . . .

Now primarily my story concerns Reginald Simpkins and his transformation to manhood. And therefore, before I tell of the raid itself, I will touch on one or two matters concerning that transformation, and the methods of the Honourable James.

D Company won the toss, so to speak, and was deputed to perform; and Reginald Simpkins was not in D Company. Being a sniper, he was attached to that mystic band of specialists who adorn battalion headquarters. And so, one morning, the snipers were assembled and the Adjutant gazed at them benignly through his eyeglass.

"D Company are going to raid the Huns," he remarked. "I want six volunteers to go with them." The result was as he anticipated. "I said six, not the whole bunch," he continued genially, "so I'll have to draw lots."

Now nothing would induce me to hint that everything was not perfectly square in that drawing, but—Reginald Simpkins was one of the six. In due course his part in the programme was explained to him, and during the explanation his face became more and more suggestive of a street corner on a rainy day.

"You understand what you have to do, Simpkins?" The Honourable James looked at him keenly.

"Yes, sir, I understand; but—but—ain't I to have a go at the swine at all?" Our friend's grievance boiled over. "Can't I just go into the trench once and have a go at them? It'll be a bit hard sitting by the tree stump, and hearing the boys at it, and having to . . . ." His words died away under the steady glance of the man opposite.

"And because it's a bit hard, you don't want to do it?"

"It ain't that, sir, it's—it's——"

"Well, what is it? Not the showy part of the performance, eh? Not the part where the fun comes—sitting by a bank and taking the roll as they come back. But some one has to do it—why not you?"

The second lesson in the making of a soldier—subordination of self. . . . As a matter of fact there was no reason why Reginald should have been deputed to the job: there were many others who could have done it equally well if not better. But the Honourable Jimmy had his own methods. . . .

The desire for the game was there in the pupil: that he knew: the point was whether the character which would suppress and master that desire when necessary was there too. Could reliability be added to keenness? . . .

That was what the Adjutant wished to find out. He knew that our friend was—in the vernacular—throwing a chest. He knew that lately, well, Reginald Simpkins had been rather full of—Reginald Simpkins. Adjutants—good Adjutants—do know these things. Which was all to the good—within certain limits. . . .

An unpromising subject had learned the first lesson of the soldier: would he be able to learn the second, without which the third and greatest would be impossible? All soldiers must learn the first lesson; only a limited number can learn the second and third.

So it came about that for the good of his soul Reginald played a very minor part in this raid, and my information on the doings that occurred in the Hun lines was obtained from the lips of one Samuel Pipston, sometime auctioneer's assistant, who had joined the battalion with the last draft. He was just a second Reginald—one stage behind him in development, that's all—an apathetic lad, finding war a tedious operation.

It was not until ten o'clock on the night, as he lay with his party behind the bank of which I have spoken, that a pleasurable thrill of anticipation began to take hold of Samuel. A slight frost nip was in the air, and in the sky there shone a myriad stars. Away behind him lay the trenches he had just quitted, peaceful and still in the faint moonlight; and looking to his front he could see the German lines, just as still, only much closer. He tried to realise that he was shortly going to be inside those trenches, and that when he got there he would meet real live men, who would endeavour to kill—him, Samuel Pipston. He thought of Mary Johnston, the daughter of the leading grocer, and wondered what she was doing at the moment, and what she would think if——

"Don't shoot—for God's sake—not a sound."

With a start Samuel heard the hoarse whisper of a subaltern beside him, and became suddenly aware that a struggle was going on two or three yards away. He peered eagerly in the direction of the noise, and saw three men in a confused mass heaving on the ground behind the bank.

"What the devil——" he muttered, and then the heaving ceased. In the dim light he saw a still figure lying on the ground, and two men crouching over him. "Someone 'ad a fit, I reckons," he whispered to the man next him, an old hand at the game.

"Fit be blowed. It's a 'Un, yer fool—or was before he 'opped it. He's dead."

"A 'Un!" Samuel gazed stupidly at the speaker, and then peered at the motionless figure. "Wot's the sargint a-doin' of."

A low question came from the officer. "Have you killed him, Melstead?"

"I have that, sir; but I can't get my perishing bayonet out. Put your foot on his chest, Charlie, and heave. Again, so, heave." The sergeant sat down suddenly as the bayonet came out, and immediately crawled to the subaltern. "There'll be another with him, sir, for a cert." The two peered over the bank towards the German lines, while drawn by an irresistible impulse Samuel crept towards the dead man. He peered into the distorted face, he looked at the still twitching body, and an uncontrollable fit of shuddering took him and gripped him. His knees knocked together; his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth; and only one coherent thought hammered at his brain.

"Lemme get away; it's awful. Gawd! it's awful. Lemme go." He was whispering and muttering to himself, and Heaven knows what might have happened, because there are moments when a man is not responsible for his actions, when a large body hit him on the head, and he found himself at the bottom of a mass of struggling, kicking men.

As a matter of fact it was merely the expected arrival of number two of the German patrol, and he could not have selected a better place to come to as far as Samuel was concerned. There is no better banisher of knocking knees than a heavy kick in the ribs from a German boot, and in an instant our friend was fighting like a tiger cat.

"Quietly, quietly, for the love of Heaven." The officer's insistent voice reached him, and he felt for the German's mouth with his hands. He was lying on his back, and the Hun was on top of him; but beyond that, the only other clear remembrance of the episode he has is of a fine and complete set of teeth nearly meeting in his hand. That was enough; one new terrier at any rate was blooded. He don't quite know how he killed him; in fact, it is quite on the cards that it wasn't he who killed him at all. The fact remains that the German died; and whether it was the sergeant, or whether it was the subaltern, or whether it was Samuel, is immaterial. All that matters is that as far as motive and endeavour went Samuel Pipston killed his first rat, and gloried in the operation. Such is the effect of mistaking the thumb of even our nearest and dearest for a ration biscuit. . . .

Thus ended the little episode of the German patrol. For months previously those two men, or others like them, had wandered over No Man's Land, and returned in due course to their sausage and their beer, with nothing of interest to report. Then, as the invariable rule of war, there came the hundredth time when the unexpected happened. Shells, bombs, bullets—they take the others and pass you by. But sooner or later, it will be "nah-poo." You can only pray Heaven it's a Blighty. With the German patrol, it was not.

A whispered word came down the waiting line. "Get ready." All along the bank men tightened their belts and took a last look at their bombs and rifles. Two parties—each under a subaltern—were going to enter the German lines, while, as a reserve, the Company Commander, with a machine gun and some rifle grenadiers, and Reginald Simpkins were remaining at the bank. The two parties were going to enter at different points and move towards one another, the leading men of each ceaselessly calling out, "'Ow's yer father?" Then when the mystic answer came, "Merry and bright," they would know they were meeting one another and be careful with their bombs. En passant, it is not too easy to recognise who's who at night in a strange trench when every one is somewhat excited.

"Are you all ready, 'A' party? Then come on." Worming over the bank Samuel followed his subaltern into the darkness, and the raid had begun. Without a sound they approached the wire through which they had to cut, crawling as they had practised. Timed to a nicety they reached it and lay still, just as a couple of flashes from the rear proclaimed the gunners were beginning. Five—six—seven seconds, and with a shrill scream two shells whistled over their heads and burst fifty yards in front of them.

"Come on." The whisper was hardly audible, and quite unnecessary: they had all been too well drilled. Snip—snip; the wire strands parted as they forced their way through to the silent lines, while the shells still moaned over their heads; and the German sentries, who had heard shells before and liked them no more than any one else, kept their heads down till the English swine should have concluded their nightly hate. Three minutes later the party dropped into a deserted bit of trench and the fun commenced. . . .

Samuel was a bomber, and he carried twenty of these pleasant little instruments as his stock in trade. With every nerve tingling with excitement he followed the officer in front of him, who with a couple of bayonet men headed the party. The first man they met was the sentry, who was crouching on the fire-step to avoid the shelling, and from that moment on—well, things hummed.

The subaltern—an excitable youth—smiled genially at the dazed Bavarian, who was regarding the sudden invasion of his privacy as if it was a bad dream; and having shot him in the stomach, passed breezily on round the traverse, followed by his surging mob.

"Picket the other entrance," he roared to those behind, as he stepped by the first shaft of a dug out, up which a man was rushing. "Come on, my pet, come on—roll, bowl, or pitch, it's a cocoa-nut to a berlud orange. . . ." The man fell back with a bullet through his brain, and slid head down to the bottom of the shaft. "Bomb 'em, boys; bomb 'em."

With a roar the bombs went off in the confined space below the ground; the lights went out, and a confused medley of shouts and groans followed them up the trench as they sought pastures new. Control was impossible: it was every man for himself, and to hell with everything he could see. Each man fought his own little battle, in his own little way, against one or two or three of the bewildered men who appeared suddenly from odd places. And though they were bewildered, they fought—those Huns: fought like good 'uns. In one corner a great burly miner grappled with a Bavarian N.C.O. who had suddenly dropped over the back of the trench armed only with a pick—straight from a working party. Farther on, the subaltern and a bayonet man carried on the good work with howls of joy, while a small party of bombers, having found a large sump pit covered by boards in a communication trench, removed the boards just in time to catch a relief party of six who came rushing up the trench. With a resounding splash they went through the ice several feet below the top of the hole, and were immediately joined by two bombs.

As the corporal in charge of that party put it afterwards: "It was a good idea that sump 'ole; because them that wern't killed by the bombs was drowned, and the only one wot was neither, I 'it over the 'ead with me gun; and 'ere he is. Ain't 'e a little dear?" The little dear with a cracked jaw, and a face reminiscent of Hindenburg on the morning after, looked the part. . . .

But I have neglected Samuel Pipston. As I mentioned, he was a bomber, and he was also excited. In the general confusion and darkness he got parted from the rest of the gallant band, and found himself in a bit of trench alone save for a large and morose sapper who was tenderly nursing a mobile charge of several pounds of ammonal. Away in front the noise and shouting and the crack of bursting bombs was getting fainter, and Samuel was undecided. He had explored a little cul-de-sac on his own, and had drawn blank; and at the moment he was in the unfortunate predicament of thirsting for blood and being unable to get any. In front the trench was being cleared up; behind it had been cleared up; wherefore Samuel stood undecided, and cursed fluently.

"Shut yer mouth"—the morose sapper gripped his arm—"an' listen. I heard some of the swine, I reckons."

Silently the two men stood in the trench, and suddenly from close at hand there came the noise of a man climbing a dug-out shaft. It was exactly as a faint cry of "'Ow's yer father?" came from a long way off that a curtain just beside them moved, and a man, crouching slightly, came out of a screened dug-out shaft into the trench. It must be remembered that neither of our warriors had a rifle, and that bombs and ammonal charges are not weapons with which to tackle a man you can touch. They are apt to be impartial to friend and foe alike. . . . Resource was necessary, and it is at moments such as these that the national instinct for games is so invaluable. There was a psychological moment as the crouching man came up into the trench with his rifle and bayonet, when his chin was in the perfect position: moreover, the sapper was a full back of merit. He kicked hard and true, and if any one doubts the effect of a service boot on the point of the jaw, no doubt he can experiment with the matter—at a small cost. The Bavarian fell forward as if he had been pole-axed, and having relieved him of his rifle the sapper held forth.

"There's a ruddy dug-out full of 'em, mate, wot was missed." They peered down the opening, where a faint light showed. "They think we've gone on, and they're coming up to see. Look, there's one."

The shadow of a man showed grotesquely in the flickering light, and Samuel quivered with excitement.

"I'm a-going down the plurry steps," he affirmed, "an' I'll bomb 'em from the bottom."

The next instant he was down the shaft and peering cautiously round the corner; and having peered he let out one wild whoop and gently lobbed his first bomb into the far corner. It was a bomber's paradise.

All round the walls in bunks were Bavarians—stout ones, thin ones, drunk ones, sober ones—and the bunks were arranged in tiers one above the other. Two men were up, getting on their equipment, and evidently preparing to sally forth after the gentleman upstairs; but after the first bomb burst the fog of war descended on that Hun hostel. Samuel had just time to see the fearful mess up in the far corner before the light went out, and then things moved. Shots came whizzing past his head into the woodwork of the shaft, but Samuel didn't care a damn for shots; had he not been bitten in the hand less than an hour previously? Methodically he pulled out pins, and impartially he distributed his favours in every direction, what time he softly sang a song that had long been one of his favourites, and which dealt with the singer's overmastering predilection for "fish and chips."

Suddenly he found the sapper behind him. "Stand by to 'op it like a ruddy 'are," remarked that worthy tersely. "I'm a going to give 'em my little present from Brighton, and it won't be 'ealthy when it goes off."

There was a sudden sizzle as he lit the fuze, and he saw a stream of smoky light fly through the darkness and fall on to the ground in the centre of the dug-out. Then Samuel 'opped it, the sapper just behind him, up the shaft and into the trench. The sapper rushed him round a bend, and then crouched down.

"Twenty seconds," he gasped, "an' me out of training. Lumme! wot a life."

The next instant the ground quivered as if an earthquake had occurred; a thunderous roar shook the air, while the blast of the explosion nearly knocked them down.

"Nothin' wrong with that there ammonal," remarked the Sapper professionally. "'Andy stuff it is too. Let's go and see what's 'appened."

But that they will never know. From the dug-out shaft a volume of smoke and dust was belching out, while from inside there came a medley of noises and grunts indicative of annoyance and pain.

"Sounds like one of them there gramophone records, don't it?" murmured Samuel. "A summer morning, or the departure of a troop ship. Ain't it lovely? 'Ullo, wot's that?"

Clear above the din and the moaning, and the spasmodic fighting which they could still hear going on up the trench, there sounded the officers' dinner call. Twice it blared forth from the British lines, and every man knew what it meant: "Come back, at once." The raid was over. . . .

And so by ones and two and threes D Company returned to the fold, where hot tea and a noggin of rum awaited them, giving their names to Reginald on the way. To the casual observer it might have seemed that D Company were drunk—one and all. They were—but not with wine. They were drunk with excitement, and with the knowledge just acquired that they could beat the Germans, man-to-man. They were blooded.

The lies they told—those cheery lads! Not a man had done in less than forty Boches, which rose to eighty when they wrote their girls. What matter? D Company of the Stick'em and be damned was made for life. The men walked three inches higher; the men, as men, had come into their own. Every new draft that came heard the story; every new draft realised it had got something to live up to. No longer sand bags and smells their horizon, but the memory of one glorious half-hour.

And when he thought over it afterwards, there was only one small thing that struck Samuel Pipston as peculiar. He was just retailing to Reginald Simpkins—with some wealth of detail—his experiences in the German dug-out, when he became aware of the Honourable James beside him, who listened for a while until he had finished.

"So you had a good time did you, Pipston?" he remarked. "Splendid!" Then he turned to Simpkins. "The Company Commander tells me you were a great help to him, checking the men as they came back. Well done."

It struck Samuel that he might have had a "Well done."

But then, he didn't know the Honourable Jimmy's methods; nor did he know that while he and those with him had merely learned the first and easiest lesson that night, Reginald Simpkins had learned the second.



And so, with two of the lessons learned, we come to the third and greatest. The first was basely material, and was taught by Shorty Bill; the second was a little nearer the heart of things, and was taught by the Honourable James; the third is the heart of things, and can be taught by no one. The rules—vague rules—may be given by men who have learned it to those who have not; but its true meaning, its real significance, can only be reached by the pupil for himself. And there are many who fall by the way. . . .

It arises out of the second: it must be preceded by subordination of self. For until a man can subordinate himself, he cannot take on his shoulders the cares of others; he cannot put those others first, And until he can put others before him, he cannot be put in a position of responsibility: he is not fitted to fill it. And it is the principle of responsibility on which the British Army is built up: another thing about which I am very doubtful as to the knowledge of those whose paths have not led them near things military. . . .

I have touched on things material; let me hold forth awhile on things spiritual.

What think you, my masters, is the driving force of a regiment in the field? The answer is in one word—Leadership. Quite so, you say; the remark seems to have been made before. It has, which makes it all the stranger that it is so little understood.

What does the word mean to you? Prancing in front of the men with a drawn sword, shouting, "For King and Country"? They'd laugh at you, and follow a—leader: one of their own. Ruling by fear, ruthlessly without thought of human weakness, without tinge of mercy? They'd hate you, and you would have to drive them like the Prussians do. Ruling by pusillanimous kindness, by currying favour, by seeking to be a popularity Jack? They'd despise you—and rightly.

The quality of leadership is none of these things: it is something much more simple, much more homely, if I may use the word. To lead men a man must first of all understand men, understand human nature; he must know his job, and know it better than his men; he must possess intensity of purpose.

Human nature! What the men like and what they dislike; the little fetishes they put up, the little gods; the few words of praise when they have done well, of disappointment when they have not; consideration for them, giving them beer and concerts; being with them in the trenches when the weather is bad, and not in a dug-out. Little points perhaps, but it's the little points that are so important.

Human sympathy—the appealing to the spark of better things that lies in the worst; the inculcation of an ideal to live up to—the ideal of the regiment. All the hundred and one things that go to make up a man's life and not an automaton's; all the things that make for the affection and love of those under you. It is a very great thing for an officer to be loved by his men. . . .

Knowledge! The capability of doing yourself anything you call on those under you to do; of showing them when they are right and when they are wrong; of making them trust your ability. It is a very great thing for an officer to be trusted by his men.

Intensity of purpose! The driving force that gives enthusiasm, that causes the hand on the plough to remain there until the job is done; the quality that abhors vacillation, that prevents a man taking a thing up one moment with red-hot eagerness and dropping it the next because he's tired of it. The men despise vacillation and chopping and changing. Being "messed about," they call it; only the word is not messed. And it is a terrible thing for an officer to be despised by his men. . . .

From good leadership there springs good discipline, that other word so little understood by those who have not met it in the flesh. Not, believe me, the rigorous punishment for breaking certain arbitrary rules, enforced by an autocrat on men placed temporarily under him by a whim of fate; far from it. Discipline is merely the doctrine which teaches of the subordination of self for the whole; it teaches the doctrine of playing the game; it teaches the all-important fact that the fear of being found out and punished should not be the chief force in a man's life, but rather that the realisation of his responsibility should be the guiding factor.

Such is the ideal aimed at in a good regiment. That there are some who miss that aim none but a fool would deny; the same may be said of most professions, even, I suppose, of bishops. That there are some officers who go the wrong way to work, who nag and bully and generally turn themselves into something even worse than nature intended is an undoubted fact. That there are some men who are wasters; who were born wasters and will die as such is also quite true. But I maintain that the training, the ideals, the traditions, the morale of the good British regiment does produce, and has produced, a growth of character and a condition of mind in the men who belong to it which was largely conspicuous by its absence in civil life.

Why, I do not profess to say. Why the great thinkers and the vaporising burblers between them should not have hit on some method of training character which would have produced equally good results to those produced by what they are still pleased to call "militarism," I do not know. All that I do know is that they did not. Let us leave it at that.

I have digressed; our Reginald is calling. For weeks his battalion was destined to remain in peace trenches, to live that dreary life of monotony which tests the capabilities of the leader as no big push can do. The excitement is absent, there is plenty of time—too much time—for thought. And boredom is of all things one of the hardest to combat. It calls for leadership of the highest type. There is many a man capable of supreme devotion in a crisis who is incapable of the steady, unseen strain, day in, day out, of keeping up his men's spirits—in fact, of appreciating human nature in one of its many phases.

The men feel that dull routine on which the lime-light does not shine, and only the leader can help them. It claims its victims, just as do the big offensive, that trench life, when the flares lob up ceaselessly and the bursts of machine-gun fire come swishing over the ground. Here men are wiring; there is a party digging a new bit of trench; and out beyond—in No Man's Land—an officer and three scouts are creeping about examining the enemy's wire. So it goes on throughout the night, until as the first streaks of dawn show faintly in the east it ceases. The men come in, back to the dreary mud holes; and next night there is the same damned thing to be done all over again somewhere else. . . .

Only, Ginger won't be there any more; he has put up his last bit of wire. He started on the last journey unnoticed save by the man standing next him; and—Gawd above!—what's the use? They'd been together for two years, share and share alike; and now the end. Putting up a bit of rusty wire round a sap. . . .

"Easy, boy, easy. 'Ere, cut them ruddy braces away. 'Orl rite, old son, you've copped a Blighty. Thro' yer stummik—Gor luv yer—no. Get that dressing on, Bill; turn over, mate—we'll give yer a drink in a minute; but one thing at a time, old pal, that's my motto. Always merry and bright, as the perisher said in the play." Back in the trench, pulled in from the wire where the work goes on, an officer's electric torch shines on the stretcher bearers working with clumsy gentleness on the quivering body. "Now, then, mate, we can't get the blinking stretcher along this 'ere trench, so we'll 'ave to carry you."

"Copped it?" asks an N.C.O. in a whisper.

"Gawd! a fair crumpler," mutters the other. "Come on, Ginger, let's get off on the first stage for Blighty. On me back, we does it—on me back. 'Ere, boy—lumme! turn 'im over, Bill." The torch shines down on the face upturned to the stars; the stretcher bearers bend down and suddenly straighten up again. For Ginger is even now passing along the last great road: he has copped it. The group disperse; the officer goes back to his job; the stretcher bearers do their work; and soon nothing remains save the stain on the dirty sandbags. Just another letter to a woman at home; just war.

Only to his pal, it's Ginger: Ginger whom he'd joined up with; Ginger—killed putting up a bit of rusty wire. Not doing anything brilliant, not in a charge or going over the top, but putting up a bit of ruddy wire. What is the use of it all, what? . . .

Come on, my leader; come on, you platoon commander; the soul of Ginger's pal is in the melting-pot, though he doesn't know it, and would curse in your face if you told him so. A quiet hand on the back, a laugh perhaps, just a word to show him that you feel with him. His outlook on life is not as big as yours; help him—for Heaven's sake, help him. Thus is it done if the leader of the regiment is a man of understanding; for each of his assistants, right down the long chain to the junior lance-corporal, have been imbued with their responsibility to those under them. They are there to help them, to lighten their burdens, to sink self for the men they lead. The strong must help the weak—that is the principle; and every one must pull his weight for the good of the team.

But I have got off the rails again; I apologise.

During those weeks of boredom, Reginald, though he knew it not, was being watched, still watched, by the Honourable James. And it seemed to that judge of character that the soil was good.

"The Adjutant asked me if I'd like to take the stripe this morning, Shorty." Reginald and his pal were watching an inter-company football match on the ground by the Lens main road, near the little village of Noyelles-les-Vermelles. It is on the borders of the coal country—that village, and all around it rise the great pyramidical slag heaps of the pits.

"Did 'e now?" Shorty contemplated with interest a shell bursting on the derelict fosse in the next village of Annequin, and turned thoughtfully to the speaker. "An' what did you say to him?"

"I said I didn't want to. Why the devil should I? I don't want a stripe, Bill—I'm happier as I am. It means a lot of extra work an' trouble, an'——"

"Did you tell him that, son?" Shorty Bill hooked himself over on his arm and proceeded to fill his pipe.

"Yes, I told him that: and he——"

He did not finish his sentence for a moment or two; he seemed to be turning something over in his mind. Then he burst out: "He talked a lot of rot about responsibility."

"Cut it out. It's you that is coughing up the rot. Listen here a moment, an' I'll tell you what the Honourable James said. Got a match?" He took the proffered box and carefully lit up. "He first-ways told you that he'd had his eye on you for some time, an' he was pleased with 'ow you was doing. That may have been a lie or it may not, but the Honourable Jimmy knows more'n one cottons to. Then he told you what a gran' thing it was to be in this regiment, and that to be in a position of responsibility was grander still. Then he told you that no man worthy of the name of a man ought to be afraid of shouldering responsibility. An' lastly he said: 'Will you take the stripe?'"

Reggie was staring at the speaker amazed. "Lumme! you might have been there, Shorty. How did you know?"

"Because he offered the same thing to me six months ago," returned the other shortly. "Now see here, boy: that there aristocratic Johnny is the goods. It don't matter a damn to me if a man's a duke or a coal-heaver as long as he's the goods, and the Honourable Jimmy is. So's the ole man. An' what he says—goes. He's right d'you see, son; he's right." Shorty brought his fist down into his open palm. "I've been watching you lately, an' you're worth teaching—you've shown that. But now you've begun to feel your legs, you're inclined to think you're a bit bigger cheese-mite than you really are. You want a bit o' sobering up; an' there's nothing like taking on responsibility to sober up a man. As soon as you start looking after other fellows, you begin to realise you ain't the Lord High Emperor of the whole outfit."

"But I don't want to look after other fellows, Shorty." Our friend's tone was dubious. "Why, good Lord! I'd be bossing it over you if I took the stripe."

An enigmatic smile wreathed gently over Shorty's face. "Don't you worry about that; I'll chance it." Then he turned suddenly on the man lying beside him. "You've got to take it—this bally little stripe in this funny old army. Otherwise you're a quitter—see? a quitter. You'd not be pullin' your weight. Do you get me?"

"Right ho! Bill; I'll tell him I will." Reginald Simpkins stared silently at the football match for a while, and then a sudden thought struck him. "Say, why didn't you take it, Shorty?"

"Never you mind; there are things as you can't get a hold of as yet. I pull more weight where I am, my son, than I would if I was the ruddy sergeant-major himself."

With which sage utterance our friend had to rest content. But while we are on the question, it is passing strange that, in a community such as a regiment, the power of the old soldier should be as great as it is. There was but little exaggeration in Shorty's last remark. In his present position he exercised a far greater influence on the men around him than if he had been a sergeant. It was his individuality—an individuality which made him an oracle whom all approached with their little grievances and their little troubles. Had he been a senior N.C.O. there would have been the bar of rank; and though his influence would have been very great, now it was even greater. But with our friend the case was different. He had no such individuality developed as yet which marked him out at once as a man among men; and before he could become an oracle to whom others would turn in their troubles, he must first be given a helping hand—shown a short cut, so to speak—to the character on which men lean instinctively.

And there is only one way to produce that character—only one. It may succeed and it may fail; the shrewdest judges of human character make mistakes, the best leaders err sometimes. But—give him responsibility, and help him to understand that responsibility, with the help that only a good leader can give. Help him to grasp that phrase—My men; help him to realise that their worries are his worries, their amusements his amusements; help him to understand the value of cheerfulness when everything is damnable—utterly damnable. Then watch him. He may fail; well, you've made a mistake; but he may succeed, and then you've made a man. Which is always a thing worth doing. . . .



And so it came about that three months later Reginald Simpkins—lance-corporal—and Shorty Bill—private—were seated on the fire-step of a trench side by side. With one continuous droning roar the shells passed over their heads and crumped into the German lines opposite. The days of peace for the battalion were over; in a quarter of an hour they were going over the top. Thousands like them sat on similar fire-steps and realised that same fact, for it was no little show this time: it was one where divisions and corps were involved. But to the pawns in the game, the horizon is limited: it is just their own destination, their own life, their own fate that looms up big and blots out the rest. It's not the other hundred thousand who matter at the moment—it's the pawn himself who wonders, and laughs, and sings, and prays. . . .

Shorty, smoking his pipe imperturbably, was feeling the edge of his own particular weapon, with critical finger, and every now and then stealing a look at the boy beside him. Apparently satisfied at last with its sharpness he laid it down on the step and turned to our friend.

"You done well, son," he remarked at length, thoughtfully removing his pipe. "I'm pleased with you. I was afraid at one time—just after you took the stripe—when some of 'em was ragging you, as you would turn out a quitter. But you got guts. You're twice the man you was when you took it; and as for what you was when you joined us, you wasn't nothing at all save a walking disease."

"I'm glad you think I've made good, Shorty." Reginald was swallowing a little hard. "I—er—I—Good God! Shorty, I'm just sick with funk—that's straight." It was out at last, and Shorty Bill smiled gently and nodded his head.

"Son," he remarked, "it's one good sign that you ain't afraid o' saying so. Now personally I'm not—though it ain't no credit to me. It's how we're made, I reckon. When my time comes, it comes, and there's no blamed use worrying."

"I know all that, but—somehow—it ain't much comfort that idea, when it comes to the point. I tell you, Shorty, I don't want to be killed; I——" His voice died away, and he looked shamefacedly at the sandbags in front of him.

"No more don't I, son; no more don't I. An' no more don't your men—your six boys you are responsible for. They're your men, that little bunch: they're looking to you, they're relying on you." He put his hand on the other's knee. "Are you a'-goin' to let 'em down, that six?"

Once again the great doctrine—the third great lesson—the doctrine that laughs at life and death, the doctrine of thinking for others—of responsibility.

"It's better, I reckon, to die a man than live a worm. So long, son; time's up."

The last words were shouted, and even then they could not be heard. Five minutes previously it would have seemed impossible that there could have been more noise; then suddenly it seemed to double and treble in intensity. The ground shook; and over the German trenches there hung a choking cloud of fumes which drifted slowly across the front with the wind. As if by clockwork, the men got out of their trenches and walked slowly over No Man's Land behind the creeping barrage towards the reeking caldron. A great long line of men—thousands and thousands of men; but do not think of them as the men of "some of our county regiments who did well, whom we are now allowed to mention"; as some "kilted battalions and Canadians who greatly distinguished themselves"; do not think of them in the mass, rather think of the individual.

The farm-hand, until two years ago just a clod-hopping countryman, was there; and the local lawyer's articled clerk. The gillie from a Scotch stream, and the bar-tender from a Yukon saloon walked side by side; and close to them a High Church curate in a captain's uniform grinned pleasantly and strolled on. The sheep-rancher, the poacher, the fifth son of an impecunious earl, and the man from the chorus were all there—leaving their respective lives behind them, the things which they had done, good and bad, the successes and the failures. For the moment nothing mattered save that seething volcano in front: it might be the end—it might not.

And some were quiet, and some were green; some were shouting, and some were red; some laughed, and some cursed. But whatever they did, however they took it, the leaders of whom I have spoken, each in his own sphere, big or little as the case might be, kept 'em, held 'em, looked after 'em, cheered 'em. Though their own stomachs were turning, though their own throats were dry, they had a job to do: a responsibility rested on their shoulders. And until death relieved them of that responsibility they could not lay it down. They were the leaders; to them much had been given; of them much was expected. . . .

But in this great advance, which has already been ably portrayed by the powers of the journalistic world, we are only concerned with the fortunes of two individuals. To them those flowery phrases, those magnificent "dashes carried out in faultless style," those wonderful "lines which went into the jaws of hell as if on parade," would have conveyed a peculiarly inept description of their feelings. Not that the descriptions in many cases are not wonderfully good! They are—but they represent the point of view of the spectator in a pageant; not the point of view of one of the actors. To him they are meaningless: he only knows the intense vital part he plays himself. The shell that burst next door to him and killed his sergeant is only one of similar thousands to the looker-on behind. . . .

And so, in a dazed world of his own, Reginald Simpkins, Lance-Corporal and sometime pride of Mogg's, walked over No Man's Land. Every now and then he looked mechanically to his left and right, and grinned. At least he made a contortion with his facial muscles, which experience told him used to produce a grin. He did it to encourage the six. Whether he succeeded or not is immaterial: the intention was good, even if the peculiar tightness of his skin spoiled the result. Occasionally he spoke. No one could have heard what he said, but once again the intention was good.

"Steady, boys—come on." He said it four or five times and punctuated it with grins. Then he tripped over a body and cursed.

He wondered if he was doing all right; he wondered if Shorty was pleased with him. The funk seemed to have gone: in its place had come a kind of dazed doggedness, while a fury of impatience to justify himself and his powers of leadership shook him at times. Surely to God they could go faster than this cursed crawl. Why was the barrage lifting so slowly? It seemed interminable that walk over the torn-up earth; and yet the German trenches were still some way off.

He grinned again, and turned round just in time to see the garage assistant next to him fall forward into a shell hole, and lie with his head stuck in the slimy ooze at the bottom. He frowned, and then almost uncomprehendingly he saw the back of the fallen man's head. Of course—he was shot, that's what it was: his six were reduced to five.

"Steady, boys—come on." As he spoke he felt something catch his coat, and he looked down irritably on feeling the material tear. It was a strand of barbed wire that stuck up from the ground, with its free end loose. They had come to the wire. . . .

In all directions—twisted and torn, with ends that stuck up, and stray strands uncut—was wire: thick and rusty it coiled in and out between the screw pickets—cut to pieces, but still there. Men picked their way over it gingerly, stepping with care and walking round the little ridges that separated the shell holes. Festoons of it lay in these holes, and in one large crater a dead Hun lay sprawled on a mattress of it. To the spectator behind, it was one dead Hun—one of thousands. To the man who happened to see him as he passed, it was an individual whose chalky face had been ripped by one of the barbs as he fell.

And there is a difference. . . .

Then they came to the trenches—the front line, or what was left of it. Just facing them a man with his hands above his head opened and shut his mouth. He appeared to be saying something, but no voice could be heard above the din. Reginald grinned again: the Hun who was trying to imitate a fish struck him as a humorous spectacle; moreover, in a flash of memory, he reminded him very much of Mr. Mogg's ample wife. He grinned again as he thought of Mogg's.

Once more they were advancing again over the other side of the trench: the moppers-up would attend to the piscatorial gentleman. Our friend was better now—very much better; he felt more sure of himself; in fact, absolutely sure of himself. In addition he was beginning to get excited. And then a machine gun opened fire.

Hundreds of other machine guns opened fire too; but this one was Reginald's machine gun—the one that concerned his limited horizon. For a moment it did not strike him that way, though he saw the gun quite clearly. He looked round for help, and in looking round for help, he found that his five and three others who were close to him were looking to him for help. And he realised his responsibility: he had learned the lesson. . . .

It was a masterly little piece of work: an excellent piece of subordinate leadership. With his arm he directed those eight—he had not been trained as a scout in vain—and with the loss of only two he got them out of the direct zone of fire. A few minutes later he, with the six remaining, fell upon that gun's team from a flank. In five seconds it was over, and the little group passed on.

It was just after this that he saw Shorty. At the moment that worthy was lying in a shell hole drawing a bead on some target with the utmost care. Reggie saw the kick of the gun, but failed to see what he had been firing at until the firer stood up and screamed in his ear.

"Machine gunner—nest of them over there. Hanging up the ruddy advance."

"We're doing well, Shorty." He howled back the answer.

"I reckon so. The swine are running all along the line; only one or two of 'em holdin' us up. Look out." He pulled Reginald to one side, and pointed behind him.

Majestically, squelching through the mud, came Tiny Tim, or the Tired Tank. It was pitching and rolling like a squat old tramp making heavy weather beating up Channel. They waved at it as it passed by, lurching ominously but going straight for the machine-gun nest. Once it almost seemed to disappear as it waddled down an extra large hole with its two stern wheels waving foolishly in the air; but a moment later it squirmed solemnly up the far side, and rolled on to its chosen target. The wire was uncut; but it trod on the wire, and the wire was not.

"Look at the perishers running," howled Shorty, as he watched some men doubling back from the death-trap. Their arms were waving foolishly: one could imagine their faces grey-green with terror, their hoarse shouts of fear, their desperate hurry to avoid the thing that was coming. "Lumme! I must draw a bead on that bunch," muttered Shorty eagerly. "Now then, son, you can hit one of that lot." He turned from the scene in front, and the next instant he was down on his knees. "What is it, boy, what is it?"

The man lying stiffly on the ground grinned yet once again, and shook his head. Thus does it come—suddenly, in a second. To the spectator behind—"our losses were not as great as had been anticipated." To the man—journey's end.

"I've got it this time, Shorty," he remarked, and he seemed to speak with difficulty. The roar of the guns was passing onwards, the din was not quite so deafening. "My bally old back seems all numb."

Just a stray bullet; just a broken back; just a finish. With the eye of knowledge Shorty looked at the grey tinge already spreading over the boy's face, and the mystery of death struck him forcibly: something of the strangeness of it all. In five minutes—four—ten—what matter?—the lips now capable of speech would close for ever: the man whom he had known and lived alongside of for months would be gone for good. The desperate finality of it; the utter futility of the onlooker. . . .

"Is the Tank clearing 'em out, Shorty?" The dying man interrupted his thoughts, and he looked up to see what was happening.

"It is that, son; it's doing fine. The old thing is sittin' there like a broody hen spittin' at 'em, and the swine are running like hell."

"God! Shorty, could one hit 'em with a gun?" The glazing eyes brightened; the lolling head straightened with a jerk.

"Sure thing." Shorty looked at him, and understood. "Like to try, boy; you'd get the cocoa-nut, I'll bet."

"That's it, Shorty; that's it. Turn me over, an' prop me up. I'd like to. . . . Lord! man, I can see 'em there, hundreds of 'em running to beat the band. Give me the gun, Bill, quick; I must just get one; I. . . ."

With powerless hands he took the rifle for the last time, and looked along the sights. "God!" he whimpered, "I can't hold it steady—I can't. . . . Shorty, Shorty, I'm wobbling all over the target."

But Shorty did not come to him. He was lying on the ground two or three feet away, with his own rifle hugged to his shoulder. "If there be anything in religion," he muttered fiercely, "let me shoot straight this time, God."

"That's all right," he shouted; "you've got him covered fine. Fire, son, fire—an' hit the perisher. You ain't wobbling."

And so Reginald Simpkins, lance-corporal and man, fired his last shot. Heaven knows where it went; all that matters is that a running grey-green figure two hundred yards away suddenly threw his hands above his head and pitched forward on his face.

"Great shooting, son, great shooting." Shorty Bill was beside him, turning him over once again on his back. "You plugged him clean as a whistle. Good boy."

The grey had spread; the end was very near. "I thought I heard—another shot—close by." The tired eyelids closed. "I've made good, Shorty, ain't I? . . . Honourable Jimmy . . . Regiment great thing . . . responsibility . . . greater. . . ." And so he died.



Shorty Bill thoughtfully ejected a spent cartridge case from his magazine and pulled back the safety catch. "I'm glad I hit him. It'll be something for the boy to take away with him. I suppose he'll remember it." Shorty's brow wrinkled with the strain of this abstruse theological problem. Then he shrugged his shoulders and gave it up. "So long, son; you made good—you did well. But the old Tank has cleared 'em out, an' I must be toddling on." Then he remembered something, and produced his own patent weapon. It was only as he actually started to cut another nick in the long row which adorned the stock of his rifle that he paused: paused and looked up.

"Lumme! I'd better wait a bit; it wouldn't never do for the boy to know it was me what hit that Hun. I'll just go on a little, I'll . . . Good-bye, boy; I'm sorry—dam sorry."

With his strange, loping walk the poacher and jailbird walked off in the wake of the Tank, which was now ploughing merrily forward again. Fifty yards away he stopped, and cut another nick. "Ninety-three," he muttered; "not bad. But it wouldn't never have done for the boy to have known." Undoubtedly theology was not his strong point.

Slowly, an inch or two at a time, Reginald Simpkins slithered down the sloping side of the shell hole till he reached the bottom. To the batches of prisoners coming back—just a casualty; to the reinforcements coming up—just a casualty. To the boy himself—the great price.

And so, in the shell-ploughed, gun-furrowed No Man's Land is the seed of Britain sown. And the harvest——?



"Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn."

MATTHEW xiii. 30.


"For shoulders curved with the counter stoop will be carried erect and square; And faces white from the office light will be bronzed by the open air; And we'll walk with the stride of a new-born pride, with a new-found joy in our eyes; Scornful men who have diced with death under the naked skies.

"For some of us smirk in a chiffon shop, and some of us teach in a school; Some of us help with the seat of our pants to polish an office stool; The merits of somebody's soap or jam some of us seek to explain; But all of us wonder what we'll do when we have to go back again."—R. W. SERVICE.

What of the harvest? It is coming, perhaps sooner than we expect, perhaps not for many weary months. But the reaper is even now sharpening his sickle in readiness, and—what of the crops?

Into No Man's Land have gone alike, the wheat of honest endeavour and hardship well borne, and the tares of class hatred and selfishness. Had ever reaper nobler task in front of him than the burning of those tares and the gathering of that wheat into the nation's barn? . . .

In the Chateau at Boesinghe, where the moss is growing round the broken doors and the rank weeds fill the garden, with the stagnant Yser hard by; in Ypres, where the rooks nest in the crumbling Cloth Hall and a man's footsteps ring loud and hollow on the silent square; in Vermelles, where the chalky plains stretch bare towards the east, and the bloody Hohenzollern redoubt, with the great squat slag heap beside it, lies silent and ominous; in Guillemont and Guinchy, where the sunken road was stiff with German dead and no two bricks remain on top of one another; on Vimy Ridge, in Bullecourt and Croisilles, in all these places, in all the hundred others, the seed has been sown. What of the harvest?

If I have made of war a hideous thing—unredeemed, repulsive—the picture is not consciously exaggerated. As far as in me lies I have drawn the thing as I have seen it.

But after the lean years, the fat; after the hideous sowing, the glorious aftermath.

The more one thinks of it, the more amazing does the paradox become—the paradox of cause and effect. To fit these civilians of Britain for all the dirty details which go to make winning or losing, to fit them for the business of killing in the most efficient manner, the tuition must include the inculcation of ideals—more, the assimilation of ideals—which are immeasurably superior to any they learned in their civilian life. At least so it seems to one who makes their acquaintance when they first join up. In their civilian life self ruled; there, each individual pawn scrambled and snarled as he pushed the next pawn to him under—or went under himself as the case might be—in his frenzied endeavour to better himself, to win a little brief authority! The community was composed of a mass of struggling, fighting units, each one all out for himself and only himself.

But from the tuition which the manhood of Britain is now undergoing, there must surely be a very different result. Self no longer rules; self is sunk for the good of the cause—for the good of the community. And the community, realising that fact, endeavours, by every means in its power, to develop that self to the very maximum of which it is capable, knowing that, in due course, it will reap the benefit. No longer do individual pawns struggle one against the other, but each—developing his own particular gift to the maximum—places it at the disposal of the community who helped him in his development. And that is the result of so-called militarism—British militarism.

Surely what has been accomplished in the Army can be carried into other matters in the fullness of time. I am no prophet; I am no social reformer to speak of ways and means. All I can say with certainty is that I have seen them come in by hundreds, by thousands—these men of our country now fighting in every corner of the globe—resentful, suspicious, intolerant of authority. I have seen them in training; I have seen the finished article. And the result is good: the change for the better wonderful.

It cannot be that one must presuppose such a hideous thing as this war to be necessary, in order to attain such results. I cannot believe it. There must be some other method of teaching the lessons of playing for the side and unselfishness. The spurred culprits of Mr. Wells' imagination have given a lead over the fence; surely all the rest of the field is not going to jib.

And when the harvest does come in, when the sickle is finally put to the crop, there will be such an opportunity for statesmanship as the world has never before seen.

Winnowed by the fan of suffering and death, the wheat of the harvest will shed its tares of discord and suspicion. The duke and the labourer will have stood side by side, and will have found one another—men. No longer self the only thing; no longer a ceaseless growse against everybody and everything; no longer an instinctive suspicion of the man one rung higher up the ladder. But more self-reliant and cheery; stronger in character and bigger in outlook; with a newly acquired sense of self-control and understanding; in short, grown a little nearer to its maximum development, the manhood of the nation will be ripe for the moulder's hand. It has tasted of discipline; it has realised that only by discipline for the individual can there be true freedom for the community; and that without that discipline, chaos is inevitable. Pray heavens there be a moulder—a moulder worthy of the task.

"Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?"

He will have grand clay—that moulder: clay such as has never been known before. Its God will be the God of Reality, its devil the Devil of Pretence. Just as it has ceased to look at Death through a haze of drawn window-blinds and frock-coats redolent of moth-balls, so it will cease with scorn to look at some of the clumsy sophistries of modern life through the rose-tinted spectacles so kindly provided for the purpose by men of great vocal, and correspondingly small mental, power.

Out of the evil, good will come: surely it must be so. In the wisdom of the Infinite Power, madness has been let loose on the world. The madness was not of our seeking. It was hurled upon us by a race whose standards are based on bombing or crucifying their prisoners, and eating their own dead; on sinking unarmed liners and murdering an odd woman or two to fill in time; and finally—though perhaps last on the list of witticisms from a material point of view, almost first from that of contempt—of crucifying an emaciated cat and stuffing a cigar in its mouth. A race without an instinct of sport, without an idea of playing the game. Gross and contemptible they bluster first, and then they whine; and the rare exceptions only make the great drab mass seem even more nauseating. . . .

But the crushing of that race will have been hard, the sacrifices great. And even so will the results of those sacrifices be great. Of social problems I am, as I have said, not qualified to speak; indeed of any of the great problems of reconstruction it would be presumption on my part to hold forth.

It is not for the soldier to see visions and dream dreams: there are others more fitted, more suited to the task. It is of the individual I have written; it is to the individual I dedicate the result of my labours.

I remember meeting a Padre one day several months ago. He was conjuring at a concert for an Infantry Battalion that evening—between the forefinger and thumb of the right hand you now perceive a baby giraffe sort of business—and I told him I thought it was very good of him to take the immense amount of trouble he always did to amuse the boys.

"Good!" His face expressed genuine amazement. "Good! To these boys! I tell you, when I think of what the ordinary private soldier is doing for me—aye! and for all of us who are not in the Infantry—I just stand quite still and take off my hat."

And so I have written of the individual. Inadequately it is true, and with a due sense of my short-comings in attempting the task, I have written of the men I have met and lived with across the narrow sea. Not of armies and army corps, not of divisions and brigades, but of the units—the individual men—who form them. For it is the man we know. It is the man who has suffered and endured, the man who touches our laughter and our tears. He has given his all, unstintingly, unsparingly; and now, perchance, he lies peaceful and at rest in the land where the seed has been sown; perchance he will come back to the country he has fought for when the final reckoning is over. And whichever it is—the quiet, solitary grave with the cross above it and the wild flowers blooming freshly underneath the crumbling walls of a town that was; or the taking up again of the work so long neglected—the office or the ranch, the railway in Yukon or the rubber in Malay—whichever it is, he has played the great game well. To him the great reward. . . .

And the women? the women who have suffered and endured with their men—more than their men. To some the great reunion, the blessed feeling that it is over. Never again will he go into the great unknown; never again that clutching terror of the telegraph boy. He has come back, and there shall be no more parting. The joy bells will be ringing out: the war will be over—won.

Thus shall it be for some.

And for the others. . . .

It is not for me to comfort: there are things too deep for the written word. Only one thing I say, and I say it with a full sense of its pitiful inadequacy. When the joy bells do ring out, and in the ringing seem to mock so hideously the empty chair, the voice for ever silent, then in that bitter moment, remember one thing. Somewhere or other, in the Soldier's Valhalla, he is waiting for you—waiting with a trusty band of friends, happy, contented, proud. He was glad to pay that final price; he knows now, where all is clear, that it was necessary. He would have you know it too. . . .

For except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die. . . .


Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse