Crawling in No Man's Land and behind the German lines is not as dangerous as it sounds. The greatest cause of casualties is shell-fire and the scout is safe from this, for, naturally, no enemy shells fall near him in enemy territory, and he has previously arranged with his own artillery to withhold fire from the sector in which he is working. He runs little risk even from machine-guns or rifles, for the ground is so honeycombed with shell-holes that he is nearly all the time in good cover. The only danger that he runs is that of discovery, and for a properly trained scout such is inexcusable.
The general idea the stay-at-home has of the trenches is that every yard contains a man who is watching out for signs of the enemy. But a trench is serrated with bays containing half a dozen men who are cut off from sight of their neighbors. Of these half-dozen men one or, at most, two are on the lookout while the others are sleeping, and a well-placed hand-grenade will put the whole six of them out of action. Experience has shown that where there has been much shell-fire the sentry's observation is very lax, as men will not stick their heads above the trenches any more than they can help and at night periscopes are not much use. I have repeatedly come back into our own trenches from a night's excursion without being seen by our own sentries, and on two occasions, in the daytime. There are some sectors that are only held by battle outposts with gaps of fifty and a hundred yards without them. Of course, it is an easy matter to get past in these places.
We have sometimes to get the artillery to make a way for us. We will have them bombard a hundred yards of German trench very heavily for about ten minutes while we lie within fifty yards waiting for the prearranged second when we will scuttle across; the enemy having been compelled to vacate that sector during the bombardment, it is some minutes before they realize that the shelling has ceased and return.
Once behind the German front trench, the work is easy, for they never look behind or imagine that any of their enemies could be in their rear, and there is no observation from the second or third line trenches. On other occasions we do without the help of the artillery, bombing a gap for ourselves. We arrange to have rifle-grenades fired along three hundred yards of trench except for fifty yards where is our gateway. Here we sneak up and carefully roll hand-grenades into two or three bays. The Germans on either side do not take any notice of these explosions as the same thing is happening all along the line, and the Germans in the bays are not in condition to take much notice either. We may have to administer the "coup-de-grace" with our hand-bayonets.
Getting back is fairly easy, for the sentry's back is toward us, and a scout should never have to strike twice. He may leave a Mills grenade with the pin out as a gift to the sleeping men in the bay. He only has a two or four-foot-wide trench to cross, and even if the alarm be given he is back among the million and two shell-holes of No Man's Land before any action can be taken: even though they bomb their front thoroughly the chances are in the scout's favor; though they make No Man's Land bright as day with star-shells and flares there are plenty of shell-holes deep enough to completely hide him from view.
There is other important information that only the scout can obtain as when we once found a dummy trench filled with barbed wire and controlled by machine-guns. Had our men gone forward in the attack without the knowledge of this they would have jumped down into it to be massacred like rats in a trap. Machine-gun positions are also generally indistinguishable to the airman's glass or camera. I used an instrument of my own construction which would give me the map reference of any object that I observed in relation to any other two objects the position of which I knew on the map. At night I would have the two known positions marked by distinguishing lights or have colored flares sent up from them at regular intervals.
The training of our scouts is very severe. For in this work men have to have complete confidence in their own superiority to the German soldier, and must be able to depend entirely on their own resources as they generally have to work singly or in pairs. It is necessary that they be picked men with unusual keenness of observation. They are trained for work in the dark by being made to go through the ordinary soldier's exercises blindfolded. In this way they get the extra sense that a blind man has. A blind man will not put his weight onto his foot until he has felt if it is on firm ground; and by habit he does this without hesitating. Our scouts are able after a while to walk along using their eyes for observation all the time not needing to watch where they are stepping. We also train them to have complete control over their muscles and among the final tests for first-class scouts are to remain an hour without showing any movement whatsoever and to take half an hour in getting from the prone or lying position to standing upright on their feet. These two last ideas were borrowed from the Zulu who has no equal in the world in escaping observation. They are also taught many methods for finding directions as a compass is unreliable where there is so much unidentified iron lying about.
We have abundantly demonstrated in several sectors on the western front that it is always possible for properly trained men to surprise the enemy. As a matter of fact the Germans have carried out surprise raids on us, and I am quite satisfied that it is never possible completely to guard against surprise. In one sector I had trip wires in No Man's Land connected with buzzers in our own trench so arranged that I would know if there were any one out there and to within fifty yards of where they were. But this was only possible on a quiet front where there was no actual offensive taking place, and not many shells falling in No Man's Land. I even placed buttons in the German wire so as to be sure that our patrols did not just go outside our own trench and lie in a shell-hole until it was time to return, for they had to signal by pressing these buttons at intervals. They had to repair any of these wires they found severed, and this somewhat elaborate scheme was the means of our capturing some German patrols and gave us entire control of No Man's Land.
We also took advantage of every possible means to make Fritz's sentries jumpy. We would have our snipers on certain days smash all their periscopes. I myself have shot down sixty in an afternoon when the sun was shining on them. This made them afraid that they would not have any left for emergencies and gave them a wholesome respect for our shooting so that they were very shy of exposing themselves. We would also set a rifle to fire exactly into a loophole so that when it opened we had only to pull the trigger to send a bullet through the brain of the man using it. There were other dodges that it is not wise to speak of just yet.
This may be a good place to describe the two kinds of raids. In a raid with artillery support the artillery cut out a sector of the enemy trench with a "box barrage" which means that they fire on three lines of a square leaving the open side for our troops to enter. They also put a barrage on this side until the prearranged moment when the attackers go forward. This leaves the raiders to deal with the troops within that box preventing any others coming in to support them. The weakness of this method is that it lets the whole German line know what we are doing, and the raiding-party frequently gets cut up badly by the enemy's artillery when they are returning across No Man's Land.
The most successful raid is always the silent one if you have dependable troops. The chief obstacle is the enemy wire, but beforehand the artillery can cut this in many places, and machine-guns can be ranged on these gaps to prevent their being repaired. The enemy does not know, even if he suspects a raid, exactly where it will come. It is even a good idea if you only have a small party to enter one of these gaps, crawl down fifty yards inside the wire before attacking, and, when finished, come out through another gap lower down, but every man of the party needs to scout over the ground beforehand so there will be no confusion during the attack. We have carried out successful raids in this manner when none but the Germans who were attacked knew anything of what was going on until we were back in our own trenches, and rarely were there any of these who could give evidence except by means of their dead bodies. I remember that one of our men, who was champion wood-chopper of Australia before the war, drove his bayonet through a German and six inches into a hardwood beam, and as he could not withdraw it had to unship it, leaving the German stuck up there as a souvenir of his visit. Probably not another man in the army could have done it, but it no doubt added to the reputation of the Australians, as these Fritzes must have thought us a race of Samsons.
There is a strong bond between us and the airmen, and the army's pair of eyes are focussed together, for the information from both sources is co-ordinated. Our trench maps are constructed chiefly from aeroplane photographs, and it was only occasionally that some object would be seen in the photograph that could not be identified; when we scouts would have to crawl over to it and find out its family-tree.
All our intelligence officers are given schooling in aerial observation, and I have been several times over the German lines with a pilot, and have a very high admiration for these birdmen who are not merely the bravest of the brave but princes of good fellows. I had some wonderful aeroplane photographs of some of our attacks wherein I could recognize the stages of our progress, and so expert has this work become that a German soldier can hardly even brush away a fly without a permanent record of it being obtained. Probably the greater number of our aeroplanes on the battle-front are engaged in ranging for the artillery, and in actual offensive warfare, but their greatest value is in reconnoissance, and so it will always be.
"Airman" and "scout"—one flies, the other crawls, yet both seek information from the enemy, and are the twin eyes of the army. There is a romance about the work of both that attracts adventurous youth, and neither is as dangerous as it appears to a layman. In the element of the airman he is a difficult target to hit, and it is estimated that it takes thirty thousand anti-aircraft shells to bring him down. And his machine is now so perfect that peace flying will be much safer than motoring.
In No Man's Land, the hunting-ground of the scout, shells only fall by accident, and he is camouflaged to defy detection. A black crawling suit is used at night, with hood and mask, but the most important thing is to break the outline of the head, so the hood has several peaks and corners. A human head on the sky-line cannot be mistaken for anything else, except maybe a pumpkin or melon, but in these hoods it appears like a large lump of dirt, and should the scout chance to move suddenly while in such a position, the likelihood is he would be dirt in a second or so.
"All day long when the shells sail over I stand at the sand-bags and take my chance; But at night, at night I'm a reckless rover, And over the parapet gleams Romance." 
 Robert W. Service.
NIGHTS IN NO MAN'S LAND
"How little I thought that my time was coming Sudden and splendid, supreme and soon; And here I am with the bullets humming As I crawl and I curse the light of the moon. Out alone, for adventure thirsting, Out in mysterious No Man's Land; Prone with the dead when a star-shell, bursting, Flares on the horrors on every hand.
Yet oh, it's great to be here with danger, Here in the weird, death-pregnant dark, In the devil's pasture a stealthy ranger, When the moon is decently hiding. Hark! What was that? Was it just the shiver Of an eerie wind or a clammy hand? The rustle of grass, or the passing quiver Of one of the ghosts of No Man's Land?" 
The first night "out there." The memory of it still quickens the pulse and makes the cheek grow pale. How my teeth chattered, my heart beat almost to suffocation, every splash of a rat was an enemy scout, and every blade of grass magnified itself into a post for their barbed wire. I had but gone a few yards when I expected the next instant to bump into the enemy trenches.
There are strange sounds in No Man's Land; not human sounds, for such carry far—the beat of a hammer on a post, the sharp twang of unrolling barbed wire as it catches, and then springs away—voices even come as through a megaphone in the eerie silence—but these are long-drawn sighs that penetrate the inner consciousness and hushed murmurs that fall on the ear of the soul. I have felt a touch on the shoulder as though one would speak to me when there has been no one by.
It is the grave of ten thousand unburied dead, but the grinning skulls and quivering jelly or the few rags that flutter in the wind are not the comrades that we knew. I think their spirits hover near, for they cannot go to their abiding-place till victory has been won. They are ever seeking to pierce the veil of sense so that they may add their strength to our arms, and these make for us of No Man's Land "no strange place," and give to our sentries encouragement until the land of No Man vanishes and our possession reaches to the barrier of the enemy barbed wire. My nights in No Man's Land if added together would total many months, and I grew to feel that it was one of the safest places on the whole front.
There was one night when I got a huge fright. I was crawling alongside a ridge—it had been an old irrigation farm, and this was a low levee running across—I heard on the other side a splash which I thought was made by one of the innumerable rats, but I put up my head and looked over—so did Fritz, not a yard away! We both stared blankly in each other's face for a long second and then both of us turned and bolted. This was excusable for a German, but I have no defense. When I went back to look for him, after a court martial by my own conscience, he was nowhere to be seen.
There was another night when Fritz got the better of me. In my explorations I came across a path through his barbed wire which was evidently the place where his patrols came out. I thought I would provide a surprise-party for him, so I planted some percussion bombs and put a small Union Jack in the centre. In the morning the Union Jack was gone and a German flag in its place. Everybody from the brigadier down rubbed it in that Fritz was too smart for me.
But after this the tide turned and came in in a flood of ill luck for Fritz. It was a pitch-black night and the occasional star-shells only served to make the black more intense when they faded. As we crawled out one behind the other each had to keep a hand on the foot ahead so as not to get separated. We made several ineffectual attempts to find the opening in our barbed wire and then cut a new one. Was this like the darkness after Calvary? The red signal-rockets ascending from the enemy's trenches gave no light, but only burnt for a second or two as a ruddy star. And the green lights turned the vaporous fog a sickly yellowish green as though it were some new poison-gas of the devils over there. I led the way straight across. It was too dark to pick a path and we committed no sacrilege as we trod on the bodies of forgotten comrades. It was impossible to repress a shudder as the hand met the clammy flesh, and the spilt light from a rocket exposed the marble eyeballs and whitened flesh of the cheek with the bared teeth gleaming yet more white. Our mission was to wait for a German patrol at the gap in their wire I had previously discovered. We were seeking identification of the regiments opposing us, and we desired to take at least one of them alive.
We waited drawn-out minutes while the dark smothered us and our thoughts haunted us. Minute piled on minute while we suffered the torture of the heretic who was fastened so that the falling drops of ice-water would follow each on the selfsame spot. Home and "Love of Life" sought to drag us back to the shelter of our trenches, but Duty like an iron stake pinned us there. But the stake was fast loosening in the soil of our resolution, when we heard the guttural gruntings that announced the approach of our quarry. We let them pass us and get well away from their trenches, then silently, like hunters stalking wild beasts, we followed them. When we were close enough to be almost overpowered by the smell of sauerkraut and sausage mingling with stale sweat, my voice rapped out, though muffled by the thick air: "Hands up!" There was no hesitation in obeying, although there were eight of them and only six of us. We pointed out the direction for them to go, and reminded them with our boots that there was no time to waste. We had only crossed a couple of shell-holes, however, when we came to a full stop. Presently I understood that they had discovered we were Australians and were terrified. Probably they had been fed up with tales about our savagery, that we tortured our prisoners. Anyway, they would not budge, and we could not carry eight hulking Germans and had no means of tying them together. Presently, the disturbance attracted notice from both trenches and there was only one thing to do. My sergeant called out: "Look out, sir! We'll be seen in a minute. What will we do?" The contest was short and sharp; they outnumbered us, but we went to it with a will. It was sheer butchery, but I had rather send a thousand of the swine down to the fatherland than lose one of my boys. And perhaps it was charity to some wife and daughter who would now be free from the brutality of her Teutonic lord and master.
There is nothing so easy as to be lost in No Man's Land. A compass is useless, for you may be lying on a fifteen-inch shell just covered with a few inches of earth, and the stars refuse to look down on its pain, and the sky is always thickly veiled. Turn round three times, and you don't know which trench to return to. It is an awkward predicament, and many a time I went blindly forward praying that it was in the right direction. The German's horn-rimmed glasses but bewilder him the more, and we have had several of them walk into our arms without intention, though they soon found that thereby they had bettered themselves. There was one young Bavarian officer who made this miscalculation. I saw him moving near our wire in the early dawn. I called to some men to draw a bead on him but he came toward us and at the last with a run jumped down into our trench. "Good morning!" I said to him, looking down my automatic, and you never saw such a crestfallen countenance in your life. It must have been some shock, expecting to join his own people and suddenly finding himself in the camp of his enemies. I found out afterward that he was a young cadet qualifying for his commission, and this was his first night in the trenches. He evidently was seeking an iron cross very early in his career. I spat question after question at him: "What's your regiment?" "How long have you been in the trenches?" etc., but in English he replied: "I won't tell you anything. You can't make me!" "All right, old chap, don't get excited! Come along with me." I took him to the dugout which I shared with the medical officer in the support-trenches and sent Pat, my batman, to get together the best meal he could. Pat was a genius as a provider. None of the other officers liked him, for they suspected he was the medium for the loss of some of their luxuries, and I always had a blind eye. On this occasion Pat got together a real slap-up feed—some tinned sausages, mashed potatoes, strawberry jam, preserved pears and cream, not forgetting a bottle of champagne. I sent for the doctor and we fell to with gusto, and never offered his nibs a bite, though the eyes were popping out of his head, and his mouth watering with hunger. Toward the end of the meal I said to him: "I can't compel you to tell me anything, but I am not compelled to feed you. But you know how to earn something to eat." He began to tell me something I knew was all rubbish and I swung at him with "You swine! If you tell me those lies I'll strip your badges off you and send you in as a private." I was surprised at the effect this threat had on him, though I knew that was the one thing that never failed in bringing a German officer to book. He trembled and paled and gave me a lot of information that I afterward proved to be correct.
Here's a good story of Pat, my old batman, who had been a shearer's cook in Australia, and looked after me like a father. He was really too old for the trenches, but this job just suited him. I was very surprised one day to see him with a German prisoner. He was never in a charge, and had no business having this man. Probably he had borrowed him from some other chap. I said to him; "Pat, what on earth are you doing with Fritz?" "To tell yer the truth, sorr-r, Oi haven't yet made up my moind!" "Let us have no humbug, take him back to the cage!" "Very well, sorr-r!" About ten minutes later I saw Pat without his prisoner. "Here, Pat, what on earth did you do with Fritz?" "Well, sorr-r, he kept beggin' and beggin' to be let go, so Oi just put a Mills in his pocket with the pin out, and tould him to run for his loife!" He would not get fifty yards before it went off!
The trained scout moves very cautiously in No Man's Land, with all his senses at high tension. After moving from one shell-hole to the next he lies and listens for a full minute. If there are any human beings near they will likely betray themselves by loud breathing, a muffled sneeze, or some rattle of equipment. If satisfied that the way is clear, he moves forward into another hole. Should he suddenly come into sight of the enemy, he is taught to freeze instantly, and the chances are he will not be noticed.
There was one night when I was making a way through the German wire, and had my hand up cutting a strand, when a sentry poked his head over the top and looked straight at me not three yards away. I froze instantly in that attitude but he fired a shot at me which, of course, went wide, being aimed in the dark. He then sent up a flare, but the firing of this dazzles a man for several seconds, and then so many shadows are thrown that I was no more distinct than previously. He went away, returning a minute or two later to have another look. By this time I was feeling quite stiff, but he was quite satisfied that no live man could be there. Had I jumped into a shell-hole, as fear prompted me to do, he would have roused the whole line, and a bomb would likely have got me. However, I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a look into the trench, for I reasoned that this sentry must be alone or some one else would have put up the flare while he fired the shot. Probably the rest of his regiment were on a working fatigue not far away. It was a breastwork trench and I climbed up the sand-bags, but tripped over a wire at the top and came down with a clatter. A red flare went up and I heard the feet of many soldiers running along the duck-boards. I only had time to roll into the ditch at the foot of the back of the parapet, where I was quite safe from observation, when they manned their trench to repel the "raid." After several minutes when about a hundred rifles, several machine-guns, and a trench-mortar were pouring their fire into No Man's Land, I began to recover my nerve and saw that it would be a good opportunity to mark the position of one of these machine-guns which was firing just above my head. In fact, I could, with ease, have had my hand drilled just by holding it up. I tore a page out of my note-book and placed it in a crevice between the sand-bags, just under the gun. Hours afterward when all was quiet I returned to our own trenches and fastened another piece of white paper to a bush half-way across No Man's Land that I noticed was in line with a dead tree close to our "sally-port," and my first piece of paper. In the morning the artillery observation officer could see these two pieces of paper quite plainly with his glasses, and that trench was levelled for fifty yards.
No Man's Land is a place of surprises where death plucks its victims without warning. There have been some strange deaths there when bodies lay with unbroken skin, having neither mark of bullet nor shell. Times when the spirit laid the body down, fair and unmarred human flesh, but other times when the flesh was rent to ribbons and the bones smashed to splinters by the force imprisoned in a shell.
Such was the death meted out by justice to six Germans in a listening post fifty yards in advance of their trench. This party was in the way of our raid. We could not enter their trench by surprise without first removing it, and the job fell on me. I prepared a mine of my own. I took two Stokes shells, changed the time-fuse for instantaneous, took out the safety-pins holding the lever down by means of an iron ring. I crept out with these shells just a little before dark so as to arrive at the position before the Germans. I then put the shells, one on either side, and connected them with a fine trip-wire tied to each ring. I hurried from the spot as though the pestilence were after me, and got back safely—to the surprise of my brother officers who very consolingly said that they all expected I would blow myself up. At half past eight, however, there was music in our ears of a loud explosion in the direction of my mine. Next morning, through the telescope, could be seen what remained of several Hun carcasses. Pat, my batman, who was always a Job's comforter, informed me that the Germans would lie in wait for me to revenge this outrage; but if I had taken any notice of him, I would never have been able to do my job. He would come to me some mornings and beg me not to go out in No Man's Land that night as he had dreamed that I was "kilt," when I generally consigned him to a place where the English cease from troubling, and the Irish are at rest.
The enemy did his share in surprises. There was one occasion when I received word from the Tommies on our right that a large German patrol had been out on their front all night. As they did not attack I was considerably worried as to what they were up to, knowing they would not be there for the benefit of their health. I was responsible that our portion of the line should be guarded from surprise, and fear of some unknown calamity that might spring upon us from the dark made me so concerned that I lay pretty nearly all day on top of the parapet covered with sand-bags searching every inch of No Man's Land for a sign of the cause of their nocturnal activity. The setting sun revealed something shining that looked like the barrel of a Lewis gun. I determined to go out and get it after dark. When I went out I found I could not get near the place, for a machine-gun was playing round it to discourage curiosity, which it very effectively did. I reported next morning that the only chance of seeing what it was was to go out in the daytime; and it was suspicious enough to justify the risk. I donned a green suit and with a snail's progress crawled through the long grass and discovered that the Germans had laid a five-inch pipe from their trenches to within fifty yards of an indentation in our own. They would be able to enfilade us with gas before we could don our masks. We looked on our dangerous wind being one that blew across No Man's Land, but with this pipe we would be gassed when the wind blew down the line from the Tommies to us. The engineer officer wanted to blow up the pipe, but I thought if we blocked it up the enemy might not discover it, and put through gas which would come back on himself. Some concrete dugouts were being constructed at this time, and I took out a bucket of concrete and dumped it over the end of the pipe in broad daylight without having a shot fired at me or being seen. Afterward I found crawling in the daylight in No Man's Land to be less dangerous than at night. On a quiet front there is very little rifle or machine-gun fire by day for fear of betraying machine-gun and sniper positions. Never once in two or three daylight excursions into No Man's Land was I seen by the enemy or our own sentries.
Darkness always holds fear for the human heart, and it is the unknown danger that makes the bravest quail, and not so many are cowards in the daylight. But who can tell which holds the more peril for the soldier? He faces the terror that cometh by night, the destruction that walketh by day, and the pestilence that wasteth at noonday. But night is often kindly—it brings the balm of sleep to our tired bodies and covers coarseness and filth with a softening veil. No Man's Land at night is more beautiful than by day, for we need not know of the horror we do not see, and it shuts us off from sight of our enemies, and lets us feel that the wall is thick and strong that stands between our homes and women kin, and the savagery and bestiality of the monster who ravaged the homes and raped the women of Belgium and France.
"But if there's horror, there's beauty, wonder; The trench lights gleam and the rockets play. That flood of magnificent orange yonder Is a battery blazing miles away." 
 Robert W. Service.
 Robert W. Service.
Man is by instinct and tradition a hunter, and there is no sport so thrilling as man-hunting, especially if the hunted be a menace to society, and more especially if he be a spy that threatens the safety of yourself and comrades. There is also in this branch of intelligence service an appeal to the clash of wits that holds fascination for the keen mind. The German spy system is not more clever than our own, but has been more carefully organized and much longer in operation. He spies also on friend and neutral, while we only use this back-door method of gleaning information from an enemy. The word, too, has associations that are ugly, and I fancy that our spies do not boast of their service, but spy-hunting is a service that has no taint, and there is much satisfaction both to the conscience and intellect in routing out the underground worker who, for "filthy lucre," would sell the blood of his fellow man. The traitor and the spy have in all ages been rightly considered as foul beings who poison the air and whose touch contaminates. In Germany alone is the spy given honor which is fitting in a country which has substituted Expediency for Honor and Plausibility for Truth, on whose throne is a maniac, and where Conscience has been unseated by Pride, and Reason displaced by Method.
Germany's espionage of her neighbors has been in existence so long, and so much time and money have been expended on it that we must prepare for its reassertion after the war even in countries where it has been for a time suppressed. Its hands have been cut off, but the plotting brain and the murderous heart of the system still persist and will be used after the war to rehabilitate the trade of Germany under many disguises, and will also seek, through appeal to our pity for a fallen nation, to lull us into slumber, until the claws and fangs of militarism have grown again.
We are so new in the game that our methods in spy-hunting are clumsy, and we frequently give warning to the brains of the system to seek cover when we strike at its puppets. By arresting the agents of the German master spy we cut off his activity for a time but allow him to spread his ramifications in other directions, and the first knowledge we have that he has sprung to life again is by the destruction of property and loss of life that ensue. It would sometimes pay us to give these agents more and more rope, keeping them under observation until we can strike at the centre and heart of all this plotting. When we have enough evidence against one of these agents for a death penalty we should allow him to purchase his life by betraying his master, and as these agents only serve for hire and know not what loyalty is, they are always ready to turn king's evidence if the price offered be high enough. Of course, they should not be given their liberty again, but segregated like the carrier of a contagious disease.
It should always be remembered that a man who in war-time talks sedition and disloyalty in public is not a spy. He is too big a fool to be ever employed in a service that requires, above all things, secrecy and the ability to avert suspicion. The first thing a spy seeks to do is to find a suitable cloak to cover his designs, and also to place himself in a position where he will gain information. Among the first things he would do would be to seek to join the Red Cross, and he would be almost certain to enlist. In these days the man to be suspicious of is the one who is always protesting his loyalty and showing what he is doing "to help the cause." The true patriot knows that he has no need to proclaim his loyalty, and is shy of boasting of service that is really a "privilege and a duty."
Among the most useful equipments for a secret-service agent is lip-reading, and if he can signal with his eyelids in Morse so much the better. Dark goggles, one glass of which is a small mirror, are also very useful, as one can sit with one's back to a party in a cafe or train, and read what they are saying. Women are the most dangerous spies, and trade on the instinctive chivalry that men cannot help but extend to them. There are many officers whose deaths at the front have been suicides because they were betrayed by some woman who had sucked valuable information from them, and their chivalry would not let them deliver her over to justice. Men in high place in England and in France have betrayed the public trust through faith in a woman who was false and who sold their confidence to the enemy for a price that was so strong to their hearts as to be irresistible, more than love, honor, or country.
Even in the army there are mysterious happenings—shots from behind and strange disappearances. There was one Australian general whose death created many rumors, and other officers who were supposed to have been shot from within our lines.
Of course, in the war zone among a strange peasantry there are many spy scares, and maybe some of the things we were suspicious of were quite innocent; but it was strange that whenever a gray horse appeared near a battery that battery was shelled, and when they painted all the gray horses green their positions were not so frequently spotted. Sometimes the old Flemish farmers would certainly plough their fields in a strange fashion but, perhaps, zigzags and swastikas are common patterns in French fields. It may have been our alarmed ears that fancied the paper boy played a different tune on his horn every day, but pigeons did certainly rise from the middle of paddocks contrary to the habits of these birds.
One of the hardest things I ever did was to arrest a young Belgian girl nineteen years of age who undoubtedly was the means of the death of thousands of our boys. It was in this wise. One night I observed a light a good way behind our trenches go out then come again. I watched it very carefully, and found it was signalling by the Morse code with dashes ten seconds long and the dots five. If you were not watching it very carefully you would never have dreamt it was anything but a flicker of light. The letters I read were—NRUDTVEAUAOILN, which, when decoded, gave important information regarding the movement of troops. I took a line through some trees of the direction from which the light came and walked toward it. Just off an old drain I found an overturned wagon with a loophole cut through the backboard. There were footprints in the drain, and the grass was pressed down where a body had been lying. For five nights I lay in wait, my hopes keyed up to the highest point of expectation. At last to me was to fall the good fortune of capturing a spy—perhaps to end the leakage of information of our plans that we knew the Germans were getting. But on these five nights nothing happened. The day afterward, some boys of a battery whom I asked to watch this drain caught an old farmer in it. This farmer, however, who lived next door to our brigade headquarters had been carefully watched, and the information had come from outside the zone which he never left. Some one must have brought the information to him. Everybody using those roads had to have a passport issued by the French intelligence service, and countersigned by the intelligence officer of the area. Elimination narrowed suspicion to a paper girl who, it was found, sold out her papers round the batteries and billets at ten o'clock, and did not return until after three. The excuse she gave was that she was visiting her brother's grave, but on looking up her records we found that she had never had a brother. One day I kept her in sight on the road while I rode across the fields. After she entered the house where she was living at Estaires I followed and opened the door. As soon as she saw me she fainted. I blew my whistle, and on arrival of the picket we searched the house and found the German code with some maps and other incriminating documents. I never did a harder task in my life than hand that girl over to the French authorities for possible execution. She was a very pretty, happy little girl, red-haired and blue-eyed, and, although one could show no pity because the safety and life of thousands were at stake, yet it wrung the heart to think of the wastage of the young, bright life, the victim of German gold, and the treachery that is the handmaiden of war, and preys on the weakness of the moral nature.
There was another occasion when I unearthed a spy's burrow. One night a man in D Company stopped me on the road, and pointing out a lonely farmhouse, told me he had seen some blue sparks flashing from the chimney. We walked across and, entering the flagged kitchen, asked for "cafe au lait." Sitting at the white table worn with much scrubbing, and slowly sipping the coffee, we engaged the old man and woman in conversation. They were very bitter in their denunciation of "les boches," and spoke of their sacrifices as nothing. "Why, monsieur, it is for France! It is not for us to complain if she ask much from us." My companion spoke French very fluently (his name was Davies), and he acted as interpreter. I noticed that they seemed anxious to get rid of us, but we stayed for several hours getting the old lady to cook us eggs and chipped potatoes, and talking on almost every topic but the war. One suspicious circumstance that had caught my eye as soon as we entered the kitchen was the fact that the flue of the stove did not lead up the chimney, but out through a hole in the wall.
At last, when we rose to go the old man in an excess of hospitality accompanied us fifty yards on our way. We promised to bring some companions on another day. "But no, monsieur, that will not do—we cannot get more eggs, and my wife she is a little afraid of the soldat from Australie."
After he left us and returned to the farm we doubled back, and round to the other side. Soon we heard the crackle of wireless. Expecting that the door would be fast bolted, we smashed-in a window, almost knocking over the old woman as she barred our way. Looking up the chimney, I found there as neat a small set of wireless as was ever "made in Germany." The motor was in the cellar and well-muffled. The old chap hesitated to come down, but a shot that brought down some plaster hurried his decision. In spite of the old woman's pretended fear of Australians, she evidently did not think we were adamant to pity. On her knees with much weeping she begged us to let them go away, and shifted rapidly from one ground of appeal to another. She said her husband was crazy and his wires and things did no harm; he was trying to talk to "le President," but no answer ever came. She would have him locked up. "You would not harm an old mother of France!" I told her she wasn't French, but German, of which I had had suspicions all along. She then spat at us and told us to do our worst, but the old man merely stood there and scowled, and as he stood upright, with folded arms, we judged he was not as old by twenty years as he appeared, though his make-up was perfect. We marched them through the village under the curious eyes of many of our own comrades, but the eager gesticulations of the French people, and the fierce blaze of rage in the eyes of the women showed us that they had no friends among the neighbors, and revealed to us the smouldering fires of hate that the French people have for the brutal invader. I fancy the dastardly pair were glad of our protection for all their looks of defiance. They knew that a spy would meet short shrift at the hands of these French women whose untamed spirit was the same as that of the Margots of the Parisian gutters in the Reign of Terror.
BAPAUME AND "A BLIGHTY"
How many weeks I lay under the shadow of the church-tower of Bapaume I know not. But every morning as the mist lifted the church-tower would reappear through the trees, and now and again the flash of a glass would show that it was an observation-post of the enemy, and frequently well-placed shells on our trenches and dumps would show to what devilish uses our enemies were putting the house of God as they directed their shell-fire from a seat just under the cross on the tower.
This is a very old, historic town of France, and the sentiment of the French people would not have it shelled. So we lay these weeks within cooee of a nest of our enemies, who were permitted the safety and comfort of a peaceful home almost within our lines. There are other places along the line where we are under the same disadvantage. There is the city of Lille with its million or more of French inhabitants lying within five miles of our lines (such easy range), for over three years, and not a shell fired into it. How the Germans smile as their bases of operation lie in such security, for, of course, sentiment has been erased from the German character forever.
The French made the mistake again in regard to Bapaume of crediting the Germans with human feelings—they vainly hoped that the Germans would respect historic monuments when they gained no military advantage by destroying them. But every day that the war is prolonged is but adding to the evidence already so colossal that the German is a beast who wantonly destroys and takes sheer joy in slaying, burning, and smashing, destroying for destruction's sake, and killing for the sight of blood. When we drove the Germans from Bapaume they left it in ruins as utter as though we had bombarded it, but so much more systematic was their destruction! In the market square there is a hole large enough to hold a cathedral, made by the mine they exploded as they left, which was so senseless as almost to make it seem that, like children, they wanted to hear how big a bang they could make. But their devilish lack of humor is more plainly shown in the system with which they destroyed the orchards in the country further back. Every tree was cut at exactly the same height from the ground, and carefully laid in the selfsame way. Not one of them deviated a hair's breadth in its position on the ground from the angle made by its neighbor. They must have spent hours in obtaining such hellish regularity. Wed System to Lust, and you have an alliance of Satan with the hag Sycorax, and their offspring is the German Empire, the Caliban of nations.
The highest point of the church-tower, however, before the days of our advance, was its cross, and in our misery we could always see this symbol of hope and salvation; but it was a reminder too of pain and suffering endured that man's spirit might be free, and as we also were suffering and enduring in freedom's cause, we knew that our strife was religion and our accomplishment would be salvation.
And what we endured in that bitter cold has scarred our memories and added to our bodies the aging of years. In the chronic agony of cold the pain of wounds was an alleviation, and I have seen men who had just had their arms blown off wave the jagged stump and laugh as they called out—"Got a 'blighty' at last, sir!" We were standing up to our waists in liquid mud by day, into which we would freeze at night. I have gone along the trench and kicked and punched my boys into sensibility, and said: "Is there anything I can do for you, boys? Can't I get you anything?" "Oh, no sir. We're all right, but don't we envy old Nick and his imps to-night!" Who is there that is not abashed in the presence of a spirit like that? And had you been there and these your men, wouldn't you love them as I do? Never did the spirit of man rise more glorious to the demand of hard occasion, than when those boys of Australia laughed and joked in the tortures of hell. Eighty per cent of them had never known a temperature lower than thirty above zero, and here was a cold more biting than they had ever dreamed of and they were without protection, living in a filthy ditch, never dry, their clothing unable to keep out wet or cold. Back in camp every man had a complaint, where it is the province of the soldier to grumble. In those days the orderly officer would go round with his question of "Any complaints?" "Yes, look here, sir. What do you think of that?" "Why, dear me, man, it seems very good soup!" "Yes, sir, but it is supposed to be stew!" Why, if the Australian soldier did not complain, you might well suspect a mutiny brewing! Too much marmalade, and not enough plum! etc. I never thought there was as much marmalade in the world as I myself have consumed on active service! Those days when we were well off, and did not know it, with dry beds and a clean tent, with good warm food, and plenty to eat and drink, the boys were always "kicking" about something or other, but now when things were hellish bad under conditions when wounds were a luxury and death a release you never heard a complaint. There were days too when an enemy barrage cut off our supplies and prevented relief, and we were compelled to live on dry biscuits and cold water, taking our water from the shell-holes where the dead were rotting. I remember when I was wounded and being carried out of the trench my brother officers saying to me: "Oh, Knyvett, you lucky dog!" And I was lucky, and knew it, though I had twenty wounds and trench feet. Why, when I arrived at the hospital and lay in a real bed, with real sheets, and warm blankets, with a roof over my head that didn't leak, and a fire in the room, with the nurse now and again to come along and smile on me, I tell you heaven had no extra attractions to offer me. The man who got wounded in those days was a lucky dog, all right; in fact, he mostly is at all times, and about the silliest thing the War Office ever did was to issue an honor stripe for wounds. The man deserving of the greatest credit is not the man who gets wounded, but the man who stays on in the trenches week after week, and month after month enduring the nervous strain and unnatural conditions, living like a rat in a hole in the ground. There are none who have been there for any length of time who do not welcome the sharp pain of a wound as a relief.
The Germans opposite us in their trenches at Bapaume were, of course, in as bad a plight as we were. When I scouted down their trenches at night I found equipment and stores lying on top of the parapet. Evidently, the mud in the bottom of their trenches was as bad as in ours, and anything dropped had to be fished for. Perhaps there were no deep dugouts just there. We would not allow our men to use these deep dugouts as nothing so conduces to bad morale. Once men get deep down out of range of the shells they are very, very reluctant to leave their "funk-holes." A man has to be hardened to shell-fire before he is of any value as a fighter, and these deep dugouts take men out of reach of most of the shells, and when they come in the open again they have to be hardened anew.
It is not generally a wise plan to occupy the old German trench, as he has the range of it very accurately, and anyway it is in most cases so badly battered about after our artillery has done with it as not to be at all superior as a residence to the shell-holes in front of it, and it is mostly full of dead Germans which are unearthed by the shells as often as we bury them. God knows the smell of a live German is not a pleasant thing to live near, but as for dead ones! . . . Our method was to construct a new trench about fifty yards in advance by linking up a chain of shell-holes, and we felt the labor to be worth while when we saw the shells falling behind us, and it was not much harder than if we had had to clean out the old German trench.
On our right flank there was a gap of a hundred yards that we patrolled two or three times a night, and in our net we sometimes caught some Germans who were lost. On one occasion a German with a string of water-bottles round his neck, and a "grunt" that may have been a password, stepped down into our trench. He had evidently been out to get water for himself and comrades from their nearest supply, and taken the wrong turning! He made an attempt at a grin when he found where he was, and evidently thought the change could not be for the worse. He was so thick in the head, however—I have known cows with more intelligence—that I wonder any other German being fool enough to trust him with such a valuable article as a water-bottle.
We were planning to take a portion of the trench opposite to straighten our line, and I had scouted down a hundred yards of it from behind, and got a good idea of the strength with which it was held, taking bearings of its position. The next night, as the attack was to take place at daybreak, I thought I had better go over and make sure that I had made no mistakes. I crossed over the first trench without any difficulty. There did not seem to be any one on guard. I then went toward their support lines where there seemed to be more men, mostly working parties. I passed these and with unpardonable carelessness stood up to have a look round, thinking that it was too dark for me to be seen. But I got a shock to find there was a sentry almost beside me—though he was, if anything, more scared than myself. He pulled the trigger without taking aim and naturally missed me, but if he had been wide-awake he could with ease have punctured me with his bayonet. I did not stop to pass the time of day with him, for the place seemed suddenly alive with Huns as he called "Heinz, Heinz!"—probably the name of his corporal—but I dived into a shell-hole and flattened myself as much as possible. As I was lost to sight and to memory too dear to be allowed to escape they began to cover the ground with bombs. These all went well beyond me, and had it not been for "Butter-fingers" I might have escaped. But a bomb slipped from his hand, rolling into the hole in front of him. He jumped back into the safety of the trench, and did not know that the bomb had fallen on me as it exploded. But I knew it—my left leg was broken in three places, twelve wounds in my right, and others on my back, twenty that afterward had to be dressed, not counting some other scratches. Then they came out to look for me, my "friend" almost stepping on me, but after half an hour's fruitless search they gave up. About two hours later I started home on my long, painful crawl. It took me about twenty minutes to pass the sentry near where I was lying, but after that there was no danger of discovery—the front line still appearing almost unoccupied; but I was getting dizzy and not sure of my direction. I knew, however, where there was a derelict aeroplane in No Man's Land, and made toward it. When I sighted this I was overcome with relief, and laid my face in the mud for a while to recover. I had now crawled about six hundred yards dragging my useless legs. And my elbows were skinned through, being used as grapples that I dug in the ground ahead, in that way dragging myself a few inches at a time. I knew our trenches were still about two hundred yards away, and the sweat of fear broke out on me as I remembered the two machine-guns in front of me that would fire on anything seen moving out there, no one expecting me to return that way. So I crawled higher up the line, where it was safer to enter, and a few yards from our trenches gave our scouting call. Several of my boys came running out and tenderly picked me up. I was all in and could not move a muscle. My own boys would not allow the stretcher-bearers to touch me, but six of them put me on a stretcher and carried me over the top just as day was breaking. They would not go down into the communication-trench or shell-holes because they thought it would be too rough on me, and so carried me over the exposed ground; and when they got me to the dressing-station they said: "You will come back to us, sir, won't you?" I said: "Yes, boys, you bet I will!" And you may bet that I shall, as soon as ever I am passed as fit again.
The pain of my wounds was soon altogether forgotten, for each medical officer that examined me finished up with the liquid melody of the phrase: "Blighty for you!" My leave was long past due, and the very next day I was to report for transfer to the Australian wing of the Royal Flying Corps, which would have meant several weeks' training in England, but "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley!"—and there's a science shapes our ends, rough-hack them though Huns may!
My hospital experiences in France were a procession of five nights with intermissions of days spent in travel. From the advance dressing-station I was slid over the mud for three miles in a sledge drawn by the Methuselah of horses borrowed from some French farmhouse. His antiquarian gait suited me, and this was the smoothest of the many torturous forms of travel I endured before I was able once again to move up-rightly on my feet as a man should.
At Trones Wood I was swung into a horse ambulance and thereafter swung and swayed for a couple of hours until, closing my eyes, I could fancy I was once again at sea. This was rougher than the sledge, but endurable and certainly the most comfortable of all the wheeled vehicles in which I travelled. I bless the inventor of the springs that kept it swaying gently on a road all ruts and holes.
I was deposited on the table of the operating-theatre in the field-ambulance, while a surgeon overhauled me to see if there was any injury necessitating an immediate operation. Satisfied that I was merely broken and punctured, I was transferred to a cot and so began my first hospital night. I was known personally to all the doctors in our field-ambulance. I had on several occasions messed with them, and they were always very keenly interested in my yarns of No Man's Land, so when the news spread that I had been brought in wounded I soon had a group round my bed, some of them in pyjamas being roused from their sleep to hear the news. One of them very gleefully said: "Hullo, Knyvett, old man—I've just won five pounds on you. We had a bet that you would not last out another month. You know you've had a pretty good innings and mighty lucky only to get wounded." But at that moment I was not in the mood to appreciate this form of humor, until one of them, seeing I was pretty uncomfortable, gave me an injection of morphia. But I was very glad to be resting there and felt I could hardly have endured a longer journey without a spell. I was given here the first good hot meal I had had for weeks, though I had been given a drink of steaming-hot coffee in the ambulance. There was not much sleep to be got, as a constant stream of men were being brought in and taken away, and now and again shells would fall quite close, but the ground thereabouts was very soft, and I counted fifteen shells that fell close by with a wouf and a squelch, but did not explode. This hospital was all under canvas, just three or four big marquees and a score or so of tents for the medical officers and orderlies, and any inclination that I had to complain was taken away by the sight of "walking cases" strolling in with an arm gone, or a hole in the cheek, or their jaw smashed, many far worse than I was, who would sit there waiting their turn to be examined, and then walk out again to the ambulance that carried them on to the next hospital.
Next morning I was carried out to a motor-ambulance and started on the most painful trip of my life. The driver took reasonable care, but could not go too slow, for another load was waiting for him as soon as he could return, but I am sure that I felt every stone in that road. I got the attendant to wedge me in with pillows, but only by holding myself off from the wall with both my hands could I ease the bump, and then I would wait with dread for the next one. I don't know if the other three fellows lying in the ambulance with me were as sore as I was, but I picture to-day the hours that those ambulances travel with wounded men as being added together and totalling a century of pain. Perhaps after the war is ended, when it is too late, some one may invent a motor ambulance on easy springs that will not multiply unnecessarily the pain of torn flesh and the grating edges of bones.
Now comes the night in the casualty clearing-station at Heilly. Straight on to another operating-table, but one in a sea of many—ten operations going on at once. Then began the probing for pieces of metal in my wounds. "Good God!" remarked the surgeon, "the best thing we can do is to run a magnet over you. We'll never find them all otherwise." Nor did they, for I carry some of them still in my body as permanent souvenirs of the few words I had with Fritz. There was a nurse in the theatre with smiling face, laughing blue eyes, and tumbled curls falling beneath her cap, and a brief acquaintance of one day was formed on the spot. She was attending another case, and a wink and a smile served for introduction. She came and visited me in the ward that night and we chatted a brief hour, then she was gone, and I know not even her name. So ships meet, dip their flag, and pass into the night.
In the bed opposite me in this hospital there was a German officer and he bellowed like a bull all night. We got pretty sick of his noise and told the medical officer in charge of the ward when he came on his rounds in the morning that if he did not chloroform or do something to silence the hound, we would. I suggested that he go and tell him that if he did not shut up he would be sent into the ward with his own privates. He did so and there was not another squeak from him.
After breakfast warm sweaters, helmets, scarfs, and mitts were issued to each of us and we were wrapped in warm blankets and carried out to a hospital-train near by. Before I left, however, I wrote out the report of my reconnoissance of the German trenches and despatched it by orderly to G. H. Q. All my possessions I carried in my hand in a small bag not nearly as big as a lady's knitting-bag. My kit was "somewhere in France" and my uniform had been cut off me and was probably ascending as incense from some incinerator, in a ritual that was an appropriate end after much service. Everything was supposed to be taken out of my pockets (which I have no doubt happened) and sent to me (which certainly did not happen). I have no sympathy with the old sanitary sergeant who superintended the last rites in the passing of my much-lived-in clothes when he was slightly wounded by a bullet from a cartridge that somehow or other dropped into the fire at the same time. These incinerators frequently very nearly caused shell-shock to the sanitary squad, and they might just as well have been in the actual trenches, for in the gathering up of rubbish around the camp cartridges would frequently be thrown with it into the fire and explosions would ensue like the firing of a machine-gun, and bullets would whizz in all directions. Once a mule got shot, but it's a wonder that other flesh less valuable was not occasionally punctured, for these incinerators were just on the edge of the camp and generally had a group round them of those who preferred being fire-tenders to ramrod-shovers.
The hospital-train bore us with many interruptions and frequent side-trackings toward the Channel and "Blighty." In England hospital-trains take precedence over all other traffic, but here in France there were many other things more important for the winning of the war than wounded men, so hospital-trains had to step aside and give the right of way to the shells, guns, cartridges, and food for the men still facing the foe. So my third night was spent on the rails lying snugly in a car wrapped in many blankets, and only disturbed by having to "smoke" a thermometer every two or three hours, and by the nurse rousing me at six "ack emma" (A. M.) to have my face and hands washed, which is a mania that afflicts all nurses. A nurse has only one fear, that of displeasing the doctor, and though all should perish, everything must be spotless when he makes his rounds. A doctor is the only man who can awe a woman and obtain perfect obedience. Of course I am referring to them professionally, and not in their domestic relations. I knew a nurse in a military hospital who woke up a patient, who was enjoying his first sound sleep for weeks, to administer a sleeping-draft. When she was remonstrated with she said "the doctor ordered it." In France there has been since the war much "coal-saving," and had it not been that I had been careful to have with me emergency rations of blankets, I would have perished with the cold. I was told that the engine-drivers were given a commission on what coal they saved, so all the steam we got through the warming-pipes hardly took the frost off them. Only the men in the bottom cots were able to see the scenery we passed through, and we up-stairs could have murdered them with pleasure as they kept calling out: "By George! You should see this!" "That's the funniest sight I've seen in my life!" "Isn't that a lovely sight!" etc. But journeys, even on French railways, come to an end eventually, though it only be second-class traffic, and with much joy did we welcome the news that we were running into Rouen.
In the small hours of the morning with the mist still trailing through the streets we were driven to the Infirmary for Aged Women (which they had vacated), and where was housed Number Eight General Hospital. After our labels had been examined and checked with our wounds, and it was quite evident that we were "les hommes blesses" and not baggage, we were carried upstairs and allotted to our wards according to the part of the body in which we were wounded. They had some difficulty in my case, and as I feared that they might be carrying me from ward to ward all day and night I asked them to look on the other side of my tag to see if it was not marked in red: "Fragile, With Care." There was in the ward where I eventually anchored a V. A. D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse who will ever live in my memory as the gentlest and most attentive of all that I have known. You could not raise your hand or turn in your sleep without her gliding noiselessly to your bedside to see if you wanted anything. A hundred times would she straighten the pillows, if you fancied you would get extra comfort another way, and she ever had ready a hot glass of milk to make you sleep the better. She was a Canadian, and if there are many more like her among the Canadian women, then the men of Canada are thrice blessed. Thus passed my fourth night in French hospitals.
In the morning I saw through an open door in another ward a friend of mine whom I had parted with on landing in Egypt. I called an orderly to carry me through to an empty bed alongside him so that we might renew our friendship. He was badly wounded in the arm and face, but it was pleasant to meet again after many months. That was many months ago and the other day I met him again in New York. We have only been a short time together on each occasion, yet have continued our acquaintance on four continents, many months intervening between each meeting. There was a great hullabaloo in my ward when the matron came in and found my bed empty. When she discovered where I was, she said: "Who gave you permission to come in here?" I replied: "No one said I was not to!" And anyway the pleasure was worth the commission of the crime! That morning I was again picked up as a bundle and carried I knew not whither, leaving my friend behind.
I was carried on board a British hospital-ship and lowered about three decks down. As placards glared in one's eyes on every side about what to do in case of submarine attack, I did not like very much the idea of going down so far, for I always like to be able to depend upon myself in an emergency, and I was now as helpless as a log. They put me in a swinging cot, which was a great idea to prevent seasickness. We went slowly out the harbor to sea with our prow pointing toward "Blighty," the El Dorado of the wounded Tommy. 'Twas little I saw of river, harbor, or sea from my berth in the nethermost depths of that vessel's hold. I was told we went across with all lights out. The days had passed when, in our folly, we painted our hospital-ships white with a green band and marked them with a red cross, or at night circled them with a row of green lights illuminating a huge red cross near the funnel, for we had found that we were only making them conspicuous as targets for the "human shark of the sea." There have been more hospital-ships sunk than troop-ships, for the troop-ship is armed and convoyed, but the hospital-ship is an easy victim. The English port we entered was shrouded in fog, and wharf buildings never at any time look inviting, but we could nevertheless understand the excitement of our English companions, for it was Home to them, and to us "dear old England," the brave heart of the freest empire this earth has seen, and after all where is the Britisher who does not thrill with pride at landing on the soil of those little islands which have produced a race so great, and foot for foot of soil there is no land on the earth that has produced so much wealth. We could smile with appreciation and not much surprise at the Tommy who remarked; "Say, Bill, don't the gas-works smell lovely!"
By hospital-train, the most comfortable ever devised, did we run into Waterloo Station—doors were opened, and men in gorgeous uniforms—much gold braid and silver buttons—came aboard. We thought that they were admirals and field-marshals at the very least, but it turned out they were only members of the Volunteer Ambulance Corps, men unfit for military service, who had provided their own cars and received not a penny of pay. With the tenderness of women they put us on stretchers and carried us out to their luxurious ambulances. With each four men went a lady to attend to all their wants. Like a mother she hovered over us and you could see her heart was bursting with love for us far-out sons of empire. Through cheering crowds we drove and our Australian hearts leaped as we heard many cooees, which made us feel that we were not far from Home, for twelve thousand miles were bridged in thought by these homelike sounds and the knowledge that we were in the land from which our parents came and where we had many kinsfolk. I was assigned to the Third London General Hospital and out to Wandsworth Common was I taken, where alongside Queen Victoria's school for officers' orphans had been built rows of comfortable huts linked up with seven miles of corridors, while the old orphanage itself contained the administrative headquarters. I was allotted to G ward, but did not know for days what a distinction that was, for the sister in charge was none other than the late Queen of Portugal, and among the V. A. D.'s were several ladies and honorables. They were camouflaged, however, under the titles of "sister" and "nurse," and we had become too intimate to need ceremony before we discovered who they were in social life. In dressing our wounds, washing us, cleaning and scrubbing the floors they were as adept as if to the manner born, but you could not fail to see that they sprung from generations of refinement. On one side of me was an Australian who had been hit on the side of the head by a shell, having therefrom a stiff neck. On the other side was an Irish padre, chaplain to an Australian battalion, and, of course, the life of the ward, and he had a greater fund of good stories than any other man, not excepting other priests, I have known. In an opposite bed was a Welshman with one leg who of necessity answered to the name of "Taffy," while next to him was a Londoner who had a leg that he would have been better without, for it had borne fourteen operations. In London we had the world's specialists for every bodily ill, and some of us who had complications were in the hands of ten doctors at the one time. There were skin specialists and bone specialists, nerve specialists and brain specialists, separate authorities on the eye, ear, nose, and throat, and it is a pity that a man is tied up in one bag, otherwise they might all have operated at the selfsame moment in separate rooms on the same man.
There was one sister whom we all loved—I don't think; but she was only in our ward occasionally. Her real name was unknown to most of us, but she will be remembered for long as "Gentle Annie." She was so gentle that I have known only a few mules rougher, and never, after the first occasion, would I allow her to touch the dressings on my wounds. With so many to be done it was a painful performance even under kindly, sympathetic hands. We expressed our feelings toward her by giving her left-right every time she came into the ward and she would get mad at the second step. One day she called the matron, so we left-righted her as well. Then the doctor was brought in and we left-righted him, but he enjoyed the joke, perhaps realizing his helplessness, for you can't very well punish wounded men lying in bed except by depriving them of food, and we were most of us on diets anyway! The fact that we were Australians was held to be accountable for our misbehavior.
There was a little nurse, mostly on night duty, who was dubbed "Choom," for she came from Yorkshire and had a rich brogue. But her heart was big enough for one twice her size, and she would always tuck us in and attempt to supply all our wants, however unreasonable.
After an operation which I tell about in another chapter I was able to sit up and propel myself in a wheel-chair, and soon was having races with the champion chair-speeders of the other wards. There was a long inclined plane that was the cause of many accidents, for there was a sharp turn at the bottom and our chariots would get out of control. I have more than once turned a double somersault and it is a wonder I did not break my head, and several candid friends said it was cracked anyway. We had concerts in the hall every night, and as it was a couple of miles from our ward, we cripples who brought our own chairs with us would wait in the corridor for one of the blind to propel us along while we would do the guiding ourselves, giving directions to our steeds in nautical terms, such as: "Starboard a little!" "Steady, steady, you idiot!" "Hard aport!" "Quick!" "Now, you darned fool, you jolly nearly smashed that window!" When we got to the door of the hall, we would be piloted into the area reserved for carriages, and so tightly were we jammed that it took about twenty minutes to empty the hall, or twice as long if we tried to get out by ourselves. However, the concerts were worth while, and when Clara Butt or some other world-famed artist came along, we did not mind being late for dinner, the dishes of which were never a surprise if you remembered the day of the week.
In our ward there were mostly leg injuries, and in the one next door arm cases, and hot and fast flew the arguments as to which it were worse to lose. We demonstrated our superiority one night by raiding them for their milk, all the attackers being on crutches, and they were unable to recover it; so we decided to our own satisfaction that we were the most useful members of society, though had we not drunk it so fast they might have got it.
We had some very high talent in the hospital and our monthly gazette was a very creditable production. We had as one of the orderlies a Punch artist and he was always caricaturing some of us. The patients contributed drawings, poems, and articles, and I imagine that in years to come these little papers will be of some value, containing the works of renowned artists and authors from many parts of the world.
A good number from our ward were able to take taxi-rides into the city and would return at late hours, sometimes the merrier for the excursion. I have in my memory as I write, recollections of waking suddenly out of slumber to behold Taffy and a mad Australian waltzing to the strains of a gramophone, each with only one leg, and then old Piddington would persist in rousing the ward that we might sing as a roundelay:
"And when I die, Don't bury me at all— Just pickle my bones In alcohol. Put a bottle of RUM— (much emphasis here) At my head and feet, And then I know My bones will keep!"
My brothers are in different regiments. We enlisted from different states—one is in an English regiment—yet we all met on Good Friday in this hospital ward. They had seen in the paper my name among the casualties and, inquiring, had found out where I was and there we met, not having seen each other for many years.
One day, like a bolt from the blue, came the intimation that I was to be sent back to Australia in two days as being unfit for further service. I argued the point, went before the Medical Board, and gave each one separately a testimonial that would be no advertisement, but it was of no avail, and I realized that like a worn-out horse I was to be sent out of the fun. But to add injury to insult, I had had no opportunity to see London. What! Go home to Australia and tell them I had been in London and not seen St. Paul's, or the Abbey, or anything? So when I realized appeal was useless I got dressed and called a taxicab and went to see the sights of London. Never was a tourist trip conducted more systematically. On crutches I hobbled round St. Paul's and through the Abbey. I saw the Tower, the Albert Memorial, and all the sights that I could remember or the taxi-driver think of sufficient importance to need a visit. I even went down Petticoat Lane. But most of all I did the theatres, four in one day, returning to the hospital at 1.30 A. M. Next day I repeated and enlarged the dose, returning a little later, but the following morning I was summoned before the O. C. He said: "It is reported to me that you have been returning after hours. Why?" I said: "So would you, sir, if you were returning to Australia in two days and had not viewed London!" He said: "Well, it won't occur again, I hope." To which I replied: "Only to-night, sir!" But the boat was delayed, and I had two more days of strenuous existence in the metropolis of the world.
Once again I entered a hospital-train, but this time I would have no mussing round me as if I were a helpless child, but went upright, as a man should, though on crutches.
When we journeyed to the port there was one of our good old Australian coasters waiting to bear us back again—Home. The old A. U. S. N. steamer that I had so often travelled on from Brisbane to Sydney was now under command of the Australian navy and had the proud designation of "His Majesty's Australian Hospital-Ship."
Some people think that they have made a sea journey when they cross the English Channel, and Dover to Calais holds for many the memory of an age of misery. I don't suppose the provisions on these Channel steamers have very great inroads made upon them by the passengers. The soldiers have a song that well expresses experiences on this narrow stretch of water.
"Sea, sea, why are you angry with me? Ever since I left Dover, I thought the ship would go over ——" (etc.)
But on the longer journey across the Atlantic from England to America there is more time to get one's sea-legs, and on the last day or two passengers begin to enjoy the sea journey. But this is quite enough of the sea for any one but an amphibian. The three weeks journey from America to Australia gets decidedly monotonous, and long before sighting Sydney Heads and entering the world's "pearl of ports" every one has had his fill of the sea. But lengthen that journey by three and you have had enough sea travel for a lifetime.
Well, we left England and for an eternity sailed south, seeing land only on one day and smelling it for a week. Then we clung to the end of Africa for seven days and then sailed east for a decade till Australia got in our way, and as it could not be passed without a long detour, we were deposited on its soil. In nine weeks we only called at two ports, Freetown on the west coast of Africa, and Durban on the east coast. Freetown has the usual strong combination smell of nigger, cinnamon, and decaying vegetation, in an atmosphere of heavy steam, that characterizes all tropical towns inhabited by our "black brother." We were told that this place had but a few years ago the pleasant subtitle of "The White Man's Grave." If you served one year here in the government service you were entitled to retire for life on a pension, but the likelihood was that long before your term was up you would retire to a six-foot-by-two allotment near the beach, in the company of countless predecessors. But science had been at work here, as at Panama, and wire gauze and the kerosene spray had captured the first trenches of yellow fever and malaria, and against these weapons of the medico all counter-attacks have been unavailing. Some strong hand was ruling in this town, for the streets were spotless and the dogs lean. And, oh, how the nigger does hate cleanliness! Evidently this town was free in a real sense because well disciplined. We were told that all the white people lived up on the hill that backed the town and many kind invitations of hospitality were sent to us; so those whose wills were stronger than the enervating hand of the weather-master boarded the toy train and were carried up and up toward the summit of the hills above the steam heat, where the air seemed to be fanned from the very cooling-house of God. I had the pleasure of being entertained by a French priest who had been on the western front in the early days of the war, and he added to our knowledge more first-hand stories of the bestial Huns' ravaging of convents and raping of nuns. The bishop of this protectorate could not do enough for us, and although we were not of his faith, he looked on us as children who were very dear to the heart of God because of our sacrifices of blood and flesh for the right.
We loaded ourselves down with curios, buying tiger-rugs, mats, bead-necklaces, tom-toms, and assegais. We strung these chiefly round our necks, as we had to have hands free to manipulate our crutches, and some of us looked more like the "ol' clo' man" than smart army officers. Of course "Bertie Gloom" had to suggest that we would have to pay more duty on the "old junk" when we got it to Australia even than the price that the dealers had already robbed us of.
At Durban the first thing we saw was a girl in white semaphoring like mad from the rocks. As we spelled out that she was trying to tell us that she was an Australian, we gave her three times three. Our difficulty in reading her message was not through her bad signalling but because of her speed. Doubt if we had a signaller on board so quick! This was not the last of our indebtedness to her, for when we got into the wharf she had a regiment of Kaffirs with sugar-bags full of apples and oranges, and while we were still fifty yards from the wharf she began throwing them through the port-holes and into the hands of the men on deck. Not a half of one per cent fell short. She would have made a dandy bomber, and was a dandy all round.
In fact, the people of Durban were the most hospitable and patriotic of any people we had met. A delegation of citizens and ladies came down to the boat to inform us that we were the guests of the city and that everything was free to us. And later on we found them not to have exaggerated in the slightest. No one would accept money from us, though I don't think any of us tried to get diamond rings on these terms, but conductors on tram-cars and trains and motor-drivers and ticket-collectors at theatres one and all told us that our money was no good and gave to us their best seats.
This did not apply to the rickshaws, for they were run by Zulus and charged by the hour. You would climb in, the shafts would go up in the air, until you thought you were going to be tipped out at the back, and a herculean Zulu, decorated with horns and red and white stripes so that he might look like the devil, whom he, in reality, outdevilled, would rest himself on the body of the rick and trot along at a rate of six or seven miles an hour, quite able to keep up the pace all day. As a matter of fact, they never wanted to know where you were going, and even if you told them to take you to the post-office they would go round and round the block, never stopping to let you out unless you gave them a good poke in the ribs with your stick. Somewhere in their brains was an infernal taximeter adding up the dimes, and like their first cousins with the leather caps, they were determined to squeeze from you your last cent.
Apart from the ordinary entertainments we found that fetes and feasts had been arranged for our delectation at the Y. M. C. A. and soldiers' clubs, so that every minute of our stay was crowded enjoyment. Even those of us who preferred quieter pleasures were not without companions, and I know of no more delightful journey in the whole world than a trip by tram-car to the Zoo or out along the Berea. Durban has certainly one of the most picturesque situations of any city in the world, and the art of man has been used with taste to reinforce nature: there are no homes in more delightful surroundings with lovelier shrubbery and gardens than here. The people of Durban have not only an eye for beauty but they are very up to date and have a coaling apparatus that holds the world's record for speed in the coaling of ships.
Besides these two ports we made two other stops on the journey, but these were where there was no land. The first one was wholly involuntary, and not much to our liking, for through a breakdown in our engines we drifted helplessly for two days in the very centre of the danger zone of submarines.
Our next stop had also some connection with these sharks, for we sighted floating in mid-ocean two life-boats and we went close to them but there was no one on board—only oars and water-casks. That's all—just another mystery of the sea—no name, no clew. Another day we sighted a steamer hull down, evidently water-logged, and we were going to her assistance when a cruiser came along and told us to go about our business and get out of harm's way as quickly as we could. This cruiser was just a little whiff of "scented gum"; and Australian air to us, for she was one of the best known of the Australian squadron.
There is a lonely island in the mid-Indian Ocean which is the only land for thousands of miles, and it is an unwritten law of the sea that every ship going that way should steam round it and watch carefully for signal-fires or signs of human occupation, for it is the place that shipwrecked sailors make for, and therefore there have been placed on the island several casks of fresh water and a supply of flour, and goats have been turned loose until they now overrun it. If a ship should find any one marooned thereon they are bound to replace all the water and flour that has been used. At one time there was a large fresh-water lake in the extinct crater of a volcano, but the sea has now broken through and made it salt. We steamed very close in, blew the siren, and had there been a pygmy there he would not have been overlooked as hundreds of trained eyes searched the rocks with glasses. We also got some fine photographs of this romantic isle in its waste of waters.
The officers' ward was on the upper deck and our nurse had a twin sister in another ward and there was not a particle of difference between them. If I was lying on the deck and should call out to our nurse as she passed to get me something, she would generally say, "I'll ask my sister," for, of course, it was the wrong one. There was endless confusion, for when we had a little tiff with our nurse, her sister would be sent to Coventry as well, and in a deck golf tournament there was great dispute over who won the ladies' prize, for both sisters claimed it. This matter could not be settled, as the umpire was not sure if he had credited the scores to the right one. The prize was a set of brushes and we told them it would have to do for both, which was all right, as we were sure they wore each other's clothes anyway. They told us they had made a vow when they married not to live in the same town for the husbands' sake!
The routine of the days was deadly monotonous with a break of a concert on Saturday and church on Sunday. Unfortunately, we had on board only two who could sing and one who thought he could recite. And even of those whose performance exceeded their own opinion we got tired before the journey ended. There were others who attempted to entertain us who afflicted us so much that after three performances we gave them the choice of suicide or having their tonsils cut, so the concerts petered out and the audience at the last one did not pay for the moving of the piano.
The shipping company who had transferred the ship to the Admiralty for the duration of the war still kept on the catering, and retained the same bill of fare as on their passenger trade. There was a good deal of variety and we always were able to get enjoyment with wondering what we would have for the next meal. They even helped us out a bit by calling the same dish by different names on different days and the same curry tasted differently under the names of "Madras," "Bengal," "Simla," "Ceylon," "Indian," and "Budgeree," and the cooking would even have satisfied Americans. The nurses were seated at one long table in the saloon and formed an island completely surrounded by officers. The twins were on opposite sides of the table, and of course we always found after dinner that we had been signalling to the wrong one. We observed a good deal of ceremony and always stood to attention until the nurses were seated, but the nurse who came in late and made us interrupt an interesting conversation with a tender chicken got plenty of black looks. When the matron rose we stood to attention again while they filed out and then "carried on" with the meal.
One morning there was great excitement. Up from the lower decks the electric current of expectancy ran until every one's steps quickened and those of us who were on wooden legs beat a constant tattoo on the decks. What means this eager, anxious thrill? To-morrow we would sight Australia! Only 43,200 seconds—720 minutes—or 12 hours, and once again we would view the fairest continent planted by God in the seas. Mind you, the first sight of Australia (going that way) is not very attractive. Rottenest Island, outside Fremantle, is sandy and barren and really not much to boast about, yet had you spread before us a scene from the Garden of Eden it had not charmed us half so much. For this was part of Australia, the land that we all called home. Back of that, for three thousand miles, stretched the country that held our ain folk and love and joy and home and what a man fights for and worships.
Every man had to be up on deck to see this sight. There were men there paralyzed, who had never moved during the whole long journey, but the saddest sight was to see the blind turning their sightless eyes in its direction and smiling with ecstasy, and maybe it looked more fair to these than to us who could see. How those boys cheered and cheered again! What a new spirit pervaded the ship! All day laughter and singing rang out, for there are no more patriotic troops in the world than the Australian soldiers, and, East, West, Hame's best. Like the old King of Ithaca we had wandered for years in many lands, but at last had returned home, and soon would have Penelope in our arms.