that he was in pain. Our Ensign gave
him a drink out of his water-bottle . . . tea
and brandy mixed . . . and turned to the
242 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
Second-in-command, who was speaking to
" They've stopped again," he said. " Isn't
that Bruce over there by the road? I
wonder why they are not going on. I
think you'd better go and ask Bruce, and
come back here and tell me, so that we can
send back word to the Commanding Officer."
Our Ensign marked the spot where he
left the party. The Second-in-command
was in a shell - hole beside a blackened
stump of a telegraph pole, MacFinnigan at
his feet. On the crest of the ridge, ex-
posed to the full blast of machine-gun fire
and the barrage, there were many dead
and wounded. The air was full of bullets,
the shells were bursting noisily all over the
place, and our Ensign frequently resisted
a strong inclination to duck.
Presently he came across two stretcher-
bearers of his own battalion. They were
bending over a man who was obviously at
the point of death.
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 243
" He's gone," said the first stretcher-
bearer. " Come on now, Michael ! " as our
Ensign came up. The ojSicer asked them
to attend to his orderly, pointing to the
place with his stick.
"Sir!" said the first stretcher-bearer,
straightening himself up. Our Ensign re-
membered this little touch of formality after-
wards, and recollected that, at the time, this
echo of the " square " had not struck him as
He reached the spot where he thought he
should find Bruce, but it turned out to be
an olficer of another Brigade who had strayed
a little oif the line. The Coldstream had
been held up, he told our Ensign, by a
couple of unsuspected trenches between them
and the first objective, but the line had gone
Our Ensign hastened back to report. As
he had gone over to the right the advance
had passed on in his absence, and the ground
was deserted save for the wounded and the
244 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
dead. As he hurried over the broken ground
a bullet sang past his ear with a loud crack.
A man nursing a bleeding leg in a shell-hole
called out to him ā
" They're sniping from the dug-outs, sir.
You'll want to mind yourself!"
Our Ensign plunged on. Suddenly out of
a shell-hole at his very feet scrambled a tall,
wan figure in grey, a blood-stained bandage
wound about his head. Our young man
had his revolver out in a second. But the
stranger made no show of resistance. He was
repeating to himself in a sing-song voice ā
" Kamerad ! Nicht schiessen ! Kamerad !
Nicht schiessen ! "
Our Ensign drove the German on in front
of him until he came to a sunken road where
a Grenadier sergeant and half a dozen men
were marshalling a score or so of much-
dishevelled German prisoners. He handed
over the German, w^ho was still crooning his
song, and pursued his way towards the
shell-hole by the blackened telegraph pole.
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 245
He found it deserted. The Second-in-
command, MacFinnigan, the rest of the
party, all had vanished. On the ground lay
a blood-stained whistle and some shreds of
The German shell fire had greatly in-
creased in intensity. They were now
laying a barrage over the whole scene of
the advance. Our young man found that
walking alone over heavy, shell - swept
ground is a very different thing from sweep-
ing forward with the advancing line, with
courage and resolution running, like an
electric fluid, from man to man. So he bent
his head and started to get over the ground
and out of the barrage as hard as he
Strange and manifold are the encounters
of the battlefield. A brief half an hour
before, the brown and furrowed slope, up
which our Ensign was painfully making his
way to the farther ridge beyond which the
Guards had disappeared, had been No Man's
246 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
Land ā the desolate tract at which, from the
front trenches, one would peer furtively
through a periscope. Now it was the high-
way of the battlefield, strewn with the
wastage of the fight, traversed by the
lagging steps of the wounded.
There is this vision in our Ensign's memory,
... an officer with half his tunic torn to
ribbons, one bare arm wrapped in bandages
protruding from his shirt, bareheaded, livid
of face, besmeared with mud and blood.
He staggered like a drunkard as he walked
straight ahead, falling into shell-holes, heed-
less of the enemy fire. On one lapel of
his tunic the small grenade of the Royal
Engineers had survived intact.
" Blown up with some sappers," he said
thickly to our young man, " lookin' for
dressin' station . . . terrible . . . terrible,
. . ." and he reeled onward over the broken
Then came a hurrying, stumbling herd of
German prisoners, abject, dishevelled, hands
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 247
above their heads, four strapping Guards-
men, each with a helmet hung to his belt,
driving them before them, broad grins on
Now our Ensign had reached the first of
those hidden trenches which had brought a
burst of unsuspected fire to bear on the
advancing Coldstream. The khaki was
pretty thick amid the trampled and riven
wire, but beyond the Feldgrauen lay in
heaps, many still wearing the little round
caps and the greatcoats in which they had
been sleeping, their arms outspread, waxen-
faced, limp, and where they lay the brown
earth was stained a deeper hue.
A little group came hobbling painfully
towards our Ensign as he went up the slope,
two Grenadiers carrying one of their officers
on a rifle slung between them. They stopped
in front of our Ensign.
" Are you in pain ? " said our young
man to the officer.
" Pretty fair," came from the other's lips.
248 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
" Where are you hit ? " asked our Ensign.
*' Stomach ... do you know anything
about it ? These men were going to take
me to an aid-post."
" I don't know much about it," said our
young man, " but I think you ought to lie
quiet for a stomach wound. The Huns are
barraging pretty hard back there, and I
beUeve you'd be safer here for a bit in one of
"Got any brandy ? " asked the Grenadier.
" Tea and brandy mixed," replied our
Ensign; " but really, you know, you oughtn't
to drink, though you're welcome to the lot.
Will you have a cigarette ? . . . that can't
The two Grenadiers had very gently de-
posited their load in a shell-hole, and one of
them, pulling a haversack off a dead man
lying on the lip of the crater, put it under
the wounded oflScer's head. Our Ensign
gave the wounded man a cigarette, and lit it
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 249
for him. The Grenadier puffed for a moment
in silence, then said ā
" How are things going ? "
" Everything looks all right," replied our
young man ; " the whole Brigade seems to
have walked off the map. I'm trying to
catch 'em up . . . there's a devil of a lot
of dead Huns lying around . . . that's
always a good sign. ..."
" I suppose you'll have to be going on,"
said the wounded man ; " take care of your-
self, and good luck ! "
" So long ! I hope you'll be all right,"
said our Ensign, and once more started to
clamber up the slope after a glance at his com-
pass to assure himself that he was bearing
in the right direction. He kept a sharp
look-out ahead to see if he could discern any
signs of his own Battalion. He thought he
must soon be catching up with them now. . . .
Then, without any warning, he was flung
headlonof into a shell-hole amid a foul reek of
black smoke and a thick cloud of dust.
250 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
" That's done it ! I'm dead ! " was his
first thought ; but he found himself un-
wounded at the bottom of the hole, his
throat and nose full of dust and his ears
He scrambled out in a panic and dashed
on. He caught up with a Guards officer,
whose face he seemed to know, leading a
party of heavily laden men.
"Are you machine-guns?" he asked the
other, as he drew level, . . . his voice
sounded very faint in his ears. The other
made no reply. Our Ensign repeated his
question, and still he got no response. Our
young man was feeling dazed and rather
cross, and was about to shout his question
for the third time, when he observed,
greatly to his surprise, that the other
officer was speaking to him ā that is to
say, his lips were moving, but our Ensign
Then the officer put his hands to his
mouth and bawled : " I'm . . . Stokes
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 251
mortars . . . you know me . . . you dined
with us the other night ! " Our Ensign
explained that he had just been blown up
. . . and realised that he was almost deaf.
Presently their ways parted, and our En-
sign was once more trudging on alone.
He crossed a trench where Guardsmen
were digging in furiously among a lot of
German corpses, passed a Tank on the
extreme left, apparently stranded and look-
ing forlorn but intact, met other troops of
German prisoners, each bigger than the
last, shuffling along at their brisk, charac-
teristic amble, reached the top of the ridge,
and plunged into a network of broken barbed
wire. There the bullets were humming, and
men were shouting and shooting furiously
from a crowded trench just in front of him,
while in the distance he heard the " tack-
tack" of machine-guns and the reverberat-
ing explosions of bombs. Bending low our
Ensign pelted through the wire, and sprang
into a dense throng of men in the trench.
' ' Then was seen with what majesty the British soldier fights.
. . ." ā Napier.
Once again our Ensign was in the midst
of the Guards ā Grenadiers, Coldstream,
Irish, . . . remains of half a dozen bat-
talions were there, intermingled with a
good sprinkling of men from all manner of
line regiments. They stood packed close
as herrings in a barrel in the deep and
narrow trench, so that it was wellnigh
impossible to force a passage. Of officers,
for the moment, there was no trace.
Our Ensign stood for a moment to regain
his breath and to take in the surroundings.
The trench was in a hideous mess, showing
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 253
abundant traces of the appalling pounding
it had received during three days' incessant
artillery fire. The British shells had blown
whole segments bodily out of it, so that
here the parapet, there the parados, was
blasted clean away ā sometimes both in the
same place ā leaving a broad gap void of
In its time it had been a good specimen
of a German fire- trench ā in point of fact
it was the German main third line ā with
a neat fire-step, solid traverses, and deep,
timber - lined dug - outs with many steps
leading sheer down into the bowels of the
earth. But now the fire-step was broken
and crumbling, the traverses were nearly
all blown in, and in many of the dug-
outs part of the framework had collapsed,
leaving the entrance either sagging or
completely blocked up by fallen earth.
The place was a shambles. There were
shapeless masses of field-grey trodden down
fast into the soft mud bottom of the trench,
254 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
and sprawling forms, both khaki and grey,
lay all over the place. In a yawning rent
in the trench, at our Ensign's very elbow,
was the dead body of a lad wearing the
black buttons and badges of a Rifle regi-
ment, ā a mere boy, with a round bullet-
hole in the temple. At his side a figure
was sitting, knees drawn up, head resting
on the hand, in an attitude of contempla-
tion. Our Ensign recognised a sergeant of
his own Battalion ... an oldish, steady
man whom he had known well. ... So
tired and utterly weary was the look on
his face, that for the moment the young
ofiicer fancied that the man had fallen
asleep. But the waxen features told a
different tale. . . . Our Ensign's heart
sank a little within him as he gazed on
the two listless figures : all the morning
they remained there, and every time he
passed them he felt himself shrinking with
The trench was strewn with " souvenirs "
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 255
ā German helmets and caps and rifles and
greatcoats and ammunition pouches, boxes
of cigars, loaves of bread, tins of meat and
sardines, empty bottles, letters, pay-books,
littered about among the prostrate forms.
The men in the trench were turning these
over ; many had rank German cigars in
their mouths. But our Ensign had no time
to waste in poring over these things ā as the
only oflicer present, he felt that it devolved
upon him to try and bring a little order into
Presently he espied a familiar form, gaunt
and tall, ā it was Sergeant Jackson, of our
Ensign's company. Briefly, the sergeant
gave the oflicer the news. All the officers
of our Ensign's company and the acting
company sergeant-major had been knocked
out . . . none of the officers were killed,
he thought ... he had seen " the cap-
tain " being carried away in all his usual
serenity. There were some officers farther
along the trench.
256 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
Our Ensign bade the sergeant get the men
to work in consolidating the position. Now
that the trench was in British hands, it had
to be reversed, the parapet built up into a
parados and a fire-step cut in the parapet.
" The men will have to work like blazes,"
added our young man ; "in a few minutes
we shall have every German gun in the
place opening on us, and the men will want
all the cover they can get."
** And, for Heaven's sake, Sergeant Jack-
son," he went on, " get some of these bodies
put out of the trench ! "
Then, with infinite difficulty, our young
man started to force himself along the
crowded trench. There was no shelHng
as yet, but there was a lot of machine-gun
fire and the air was fairly humming with
bullets. He fought his way along desper-
ately hard : the men were willing enough to
let him pass, but your Guardsman in full
attacking order is a big object that, even
edgeways, almost blocks an ordinary trench,
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 25
and our Ensign had an exhausting time.
As he dragged himself round a traverse, he
all but stepped on a German lying on the
ground. As he passed him, the man caught
hold of the officer's legs and shrieked in a
broad Bavarian accent ā
" Ach ! Herr Leutnant ! Ich halt'es nicht
aus . . . schiessen Sie mich ! Ach ! schi-
essen Sie mich ! Ich bitt' Sie ! "
The takinef of a man's life in cold blood
had never entered into our novice's phil-
osophy, so he shook the man off and passed
on, with a horrid picture in his memory of
a livid, grimacing mask.
Our Ensign next came to a broad gap
blown clean through parados and parapet.
As he was about to pass, a young Cold-
streamer at his elbow pushed past him into
the gap. The next moment the lad cried
out " Oh ! " a loud, gasping exclamation
of utter astonishment, spun round, and fell
prone at the officer's feet with a great gush
of blood that splashed the other's tunic.
258 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
"There's a sniper laying on that gap, sir,"
said an Irish Guardsman standing by ; " for
the love of God, kape your head down ! "
" This is a bloody business," said our
Ensign to himself These ghastly sights
were beginning to get on his nerves. Then,
ducking down, he darted across the gap and
in a minute or two found himself in the
presence of Headquarters. The Command-
ing Officer told him he was to take com-
mand of No. 2 Company, as the only officer
surviving, and asked for news of the Second-
in-command. Our Ensiefn told his tale.
A group of officers were there : Roderick,
tall and quite cool ; The Lad, brimming over
with excitement, who had drifted in from
his battalion, together with his Command-
ing Officer, a Brigade Machine-Gun Officer,
the Doctor, the Padre, a Forward Obser-
Roderick gave our Ensign a brief budget
of news. The Don had been shot through
the thigh, crossing the ridge ; Apollo had
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 259
got It through the shoulder, and had last
been seen volubly explaining to the
stretcher - bearers carrying him down the
exact nature of his wound in highly tech-
nical language ; Duke was all right. Of the
officers of the other companies, two at least
were known to be killed ā Roderick had
heard the men talking about them.
One of these two officers was a friend of
our Ensign's, yet he heard of his death quite
unmoved. In the heat of battle everything
appears unreal ā so much is rumour, so little
is fact ; and even towards the concrete real-
ities under his very eyes a man feels that he
will wake up and find it all a dream. . . .
One of the group of officers, who was sur-
veying through his glasses the low brown
horizon with its tangle of rusted wire, sud-
denly pointed to the right.
" That communication trench is full of
Huns," he cried ; " look ! you can see them
in their helmets leaning on the parapet ! "
Everybody put up their glasses. There,
260 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
sure enough, was a long line of heads in
coal-scuttle helmets linino^ the trench in-
dicated. They had a machine-gun trained
on the trench where the Guards were ; they
were also busy sniping into all the gaps.
A Lewis gunner was haled forth from the
crowded trench, and he lost no time in lay-
ing his gun on the line of Germans. But
the gun jammed at the first burst of fire.
While they were trying another, our Ensign
was ordered to take charge of the left of the
line, post sentries, and set every man to the
task of consolidating the trench. He was
briefly told the situation. On the right, the
attacking troops had been held up by the
strong position known as The Quadrilateral,
bristling with machine-guns, the same guns
which had caught the Guards in enfilade
as they crossed the ridge ; what had hap-
pened on the left was not clear.
Our Ensign set off" back along the way
he had come with a light heart. He
rejoiced at having a definite job which
THE ADVENTUKES OE AN ENSIGN 261
would keep him from thinkiiii>- about the
horrors piling up on every side of him.
With him went the Brigade Machine-Gun
Officer and a Grenadier Ensign, from whom
our young man had once taken over in
the trenches in the salient. Of the three
officers, only our Ensign was destined to
survive the day, but, of course, he did not
know that then.
The German, who had clutched at our
Ensign's leg on his passage, lay dead in
the bottom of the trench. Our Ensign
wondered whether the man had found some
one to do the service that he refused him.
The dead Coldstreamer in the gap had now
three companions prone on their faces in
As they elbowed their way along, the
three officers set every man in the trench
to the task of consolidation. The men
obeyed willingly enough, and the sergeants,
at the officers' bidding, posted sentries at
intervals along the trench, with strict in-
262 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
junctions to keep a sharp look-out, right,
left, and centre. Thus the three oflScers
forced their way down the trench, leaving
a trail of busy diggers in their wake. By
mutual arrangement our Ensign pushed on
alone to the extreme left, where he found
himself among troops of the line, until he
met a very youthful subaltern of a Rifle
regiment, whom our Ensign informed of the
situation, and of the measures they were
taking for their protection. This done, our
Ensign toiled his way back again along
And now the long-expected strafe began.
A German battery that had been shelling
over them shortened its range, and the
shells, vicious, black " whizz-bangs," began
dropping uncomfortably close to the trench.
Word had been coming along from the
right, " All men of the such-and-such bat-
talion of the Coldstream to the right," " All
men of the such-and-such battalion of the
Irish Guards to the right," so the trench
THE ADVENTUllES OF AN ENSIGN 263
was a little clearer as the different bat-
talions got sifted out. Some kind of ad-
vance was going forward to the extreme
right. Our Ensign saw long lines of men
advancing through a tornado of great, black
shell - bursts. Presently a flock of grey
figures, hands above their heads, bolted
across the open. Shouts rang out all down
" Shoot the dogs ! Lend me your rifle,
mate ! Let them be ! Shoot the !
Ah, leave them alone ! " But no shot fell,
and the frightened herd plunged across the
broken ground among their own shells, a
couple of phlegmatic figures in khaki driv-
ing them before them.
The German shell fire was growing in
intensity. A 5.9 battery had joined in.
The cry of " stretcher - bearER ! " ran up
and down the trench ; here and there men
lagged at their digging. Our Ensign had
to run up and down, " speeding up" the
laggards like a negro slave-driver. But he
264 THE ADVEMTURES OE AN EJSSIGN
noticed many more limp fig'ures, many more
ghastly wounds, and every dug-out had its
pale and blood-stained occupants. . . .
In all his efforts our Ensign was loyally
supported by his own non - commissioned
officers and men. The sergeants by word,
the men by deed, gave a splendid lead to
the reluctant. It is in battle that the
sterling loyalty of British troops to their
officers comes out strongest.
On his knees at the bottom of the
trench, scraping vigorously away with his
entrenching tool at the parapet to fashion
a fire-step, our Ensign found old Lawson,
one of the battalion snipers, the sweat
glistening on his face, for by now the sun
was shining hotly. By his side stood Ser-
geant Jackson, as dispassionate as ever.
"We're going to catch it hot here, sir,"
said the sergeant, with a shake of his head,
to our Ensign, who sat down beside the
couple and wiped his damp brow. Then,
with a shrill scream, a salvo of four shells
THE ADVENT UREiS OF AN ENSIGN 265
burst right over the group ; some one yelled
out loud, and a tangle of men fell all over
our Ensign as he squatted on the ground,
driving his helmet over his eyes. He
fought himself clear, and found that all the
men about him had stopped working. Some
had taken refuge in a low dug-out, where
three or four wounded men were sheltering".
Our Ensign rooted them out and set
them again to their task. Then he looked
about him. Old Lawson, the sniper, lay
on his face in the trench, breathing ster-
torously. Our Ensign turned him over on
his back, and saw at a glance that the
old soldier was hoverino^ on the brink of
eternity. A few yards farther along the
trench two men lay dead ; another, with a
staring white face, was opening his jacket
with trembling, blood - stained hands. A
little movement behind him caught our
Ensign's ear. He turned and found Ser-
geant Jackson, his face running with blood,
rocking himself gently two and fro. On
266 THE ADVENTUKES OF AN ENSIGN
the ground beside him was his helmet,
with a great jagged rent in the crown.
Our Ensign tore out his last remaining
field-dressing and bound up a gaping wound
in the sergeant's head. Then he gave him
a pull of the famous tea-and-brandy mixture.
The sergeant was conscious, but he spoke
in a curious, thick fashion.
" I'm all right, sir," he said, " but I don't
quite feel up to duty somehow ; and I've
got a bit of a brow-ache, too ! " And then
his head fell forward, and with a sharp
pang our Ensign thought he was dead.
But presently he spoke again, complained
that he could not hear, that his eyes were
failing ; so our Ensign gave him another
pull at the water-bottle, and offered him a
cigarette, which he took and was able to
light alone. The officer left him seated in
the trench contentedly puffing, and set off
again to keep the men to their task.
And now our Ensign felt the reaction of
the morning's excitement coming over him.
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 267
All the exhilaration he had experienced in
the magnificent opening act of the day
seemed to have evaporated. He found him-
self dwelling with loathing on the mere
thought of war ; his mind toyed with crude
pictures he had seen in German papers of
Hindenburg, the German Man of Destiny,
striding over mounds of corpses ā even such
corpses as those that lay strewn all around.
Our Ensign felt his gorge rising at the
horrors besetting him. He found himself
longing fervently for a mad charge, a
German attack, ā anything to get away
from the shambles, the blood, the mud, the
dank smell of the earth, the hideous painted
sky that mocked their sufferings. Of all the
manifold sensations of the day, the hours he