Unshaven, tattered and unwashed, Stumpy, lamed in the left foot, potted shot after shot at each retirement, aiming at no one target, but, as he observed. "Even if I don't 'it 'im, I might puncture 'is bloomin' rum ration."
"But wot are you aimin' at?"
"Nothin'. Just 'igh in the air. Like—that there. Who knows: why it might just ketch ole Kaiser Bill in the bloomin' belly if 'e came up close 'nough."
Uncouth, uncultured, rough of manner, of speech. Good-natured, full of courage, humour. Stumpy ... short, fat and clumsy. Withal a man, a warrior. Before mid-day blood was spouting from out five vital wounds and in a few seconds faintness began to spread over him. His eyes filled with tears.
"I feels bad," he said, "can't, can't the bleedin' be stopped? I don't want to go under ... think they can get me away before Jerry comes? Things some'ow ain't over clear: everything foggy." Casey came over to him, white-faced and half-crying himself.
"You're orl right, ole pal," he said, "not bleedin' much now."
"No. But it's cloudy. D'you find it cloudy?"
"Yes. A 'ell of a mist creepin' up. Want any water?"
"No, but," with a faint grin, "got any rum?"
"'Ere you," an N.C.O. ran up and touched Casey, "Captain wants a runner. Get a move on."
"But poor ole Stumpy yere——"
"D'you 'ear wot I said. Go on, 'op it, or I'll—well, put lead in yer."
"Orl right. So long, ole pal."
"So long." Stumpy tried hard to see him through the mistiness before his eyes, "but you'll get me away before Jerry comes...." Casualty list two weeks later: "Pte.——." Missing. April 12th. He is still unheard of, forgotten. His grave is undisturbed somewhere in peaceful loneliness.
Estaires and Doulieu were several miles in the enemy lines, the Normans entangled with Staffords and Middlesex converged back past Bleu, moving as far as any one direction could be determined, approximately north-west.
There seemed to be no officers left, few over fifty Royal Guernsey ranks could be counted. Company Headquarters were no more, the scattered few had no means of access to their C.O., joined in and formed fighting blocks with mutual consent and without actual leaders, and carried on the hourly withdrawal. From out this remnant Lance-Corporal Hamel scrambled away to a dressing station, two ominous trickles of blood streaming down his legs. Winter Gregg (M.M.), too, got away in a semi-conscious condition.
One of the few trench mortar shells burst within a yard of a tall youngster. Unscathed, blackened, he turned with a piercing scream.
"God, oh my God! Where is the sun? The light 'as gone out. Someone, his voice rose to a mad shriek, 'someone come 'ere. I can't see. I'm blind, I'm blind, oh I'm blind." He threw himself on the earth and sobbed in fearful agony. They helped him to his feet, led him away, but there echoed back his remorseful wail; "I'm blind, blind!"
That gets you. Blind! Better death....
The hours sped. Men fell with none to replace them, and in the knowledge that the enemy had fresh troops, was well supplied, and in his rear a great artillery straining forward to take part in the slaughter, aeroplanes above, the tail-end of a few decimated Battalions fought on against the hopeless odds before them. As long as a man had life in his body, rifle and shot, he used them to advantage. The next Britisher might be forty yards away or more, but until he was ordered to retire he would ... "'ang on like 'ell to that there strip."
The Staffords after three days of it, through the whole of which period they had stuck doggedly, pluckily, to their task, had dwindled down to a scattered few on the nightfall of the 15th April. Forty, perhaps fifty, completely exhausted, filthy and tattered Normans still clung about their C.O. on a frontage a few miles south of Merris. The very mechanical stupor that at last commenced to give way beneath unceasing hardship. Nature demanded sleep. Not the brief, wakeful moments snatched at intervals in the night, but sleep, long, quiet, undisturbed.
From an observation balloon high in the air above its motor trolley Jerry observers reported on the shattered remnant still holding out. He pressed home his advantage upon the tired troops ... rifles grew hot. The few Normans were again forced back.
Relief by Australians was effected near Merris. The tiny, devastated string of Normans (53) came out. But in a situation of acute urgency they were still used to construct trenches upon which withdrawal by the newly engaged Divisions could be made.
The Brigadier. G.O.C., 80th Brigade, a few weeks later bade farewell to the little force in a speech that sent a wild thrill of pride throughout the small Battalion.
In their honour the Divisional band played them on their march to a station ("Ebblingham"), from which they entrained for G.H.Q., where they were to take over duties from the H.A.C.
And thus the Passing from the Great Undertaking!
Farewell, Norman warriors who this night in Valhalla sing of mighty deeds of valour from high with the Anses.
Farewell, a sad farewell, to for ever lost echoes to ten hundred voiced raised in rallying chorus to the swing of square shoulders and the ring of manly feet.
The "old order changeth." Away from the strong fray ... free life ... laughter, glamour, song ... the Great Open ... the MEN....
Back to the little world, its little things, to ITS LITTLE LIFE.
See ye Masnieres canal a flood And where yon green graves lay? There Norman warriors fled to their God Ne'er more to glimpse the day. But writ there, first, a name in blood— Norman Ten Hundred.
At Doulieu, the night birds flits Across yon blue-gray water. And in dusk ghost warriors sit— Wraiths of a fearsome slaughter. There too in blood the name is writ— Norman Ten Hundred.
And thus there the battle's flame Laid men out fast and low, So Young Sarnia died, but Fame Cast o'er their graves its glow, And honours wove about the name Norman Ten Hundred.