the Somme. Day and night the little vil-
lage street resounded to the tramp of march-
ing columns, to the thunder of the jarring,
quivering trains of ammunition lorries. In
that cramped and crowded village the only
parade-ground was the dirty courtyards of
the different billets, where the most sten
torian word of command would often be lost
in the roar of traffic from the street.
But while the stream of men and muni-
tions flowed unceasingly eastward towards
the Somme, from the battlefield came daily
reports of further successes. Every sign
pointed to the imminent participation of
the Guards in the great offensive. There
were frequent conferences, and, day after
day, the Guards marched out by platoons,
by companies, by battalions, past the little
military cemetery, past the vast camps
stretching away to the horizon, past the
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 161
gangs of grubby German prisoners working
on the roads, to the training-ground, where
the coming attack was rehearsed in every
detail. There were field - days and night
operations and lectures and several false
alarms, . . . warnings to be in readiness
for immediate departure, which were after-
A few days after the arrival of the
Brigade at M , the Guards' Divisional
Canteen turned up and installed itself in
the main street, and was followed shortly
afterwards by the Guards' Divisional Cinema,
which was set up in that very barn with
shrapnel-riddled roof which our Ensign had
rejected as a billet. Tarpaulin supplied the
missing wall, a little gas-engine furnished
the power, and on the many wet evenings
that the Clerk of the Weather bestowed on
the Guards at M , " the pictures " proved
a great attraction. There, on one of the rare
fine afternoons, our Ensign and a large party
of his friends sat in a stifling atmosphere and
162 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
saw the Somme battle film. Save for a few-
gunners and sappers, the whole audience
consisted of Guardsmen, and their comments
on this celebrated series of pictures were
instructive — for they made none. They only
cheered and laughed every time "Fritz"
was seen on the screen.
The Guards' Divisional Baths — a travel-
ling concern this, that plants itself in any
empty building that seems adapted to the
purpose, or, in default of such a building,
erects its own premises — happened along
with its array of tubs and heating apparatus
and vast supplies of towels and clean shirts,
socks, and underwear. Every day parties of
men were marched down by an officer under
a scheme that ensured to every man one
bath a week.
There was much entertaining between the
different Messes. Everybody was always
dining out with one or other of the company
Messes in the different battalions, with the
Brigade machine - gunners, or with the
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 163
Stokes Mortars, who are charming fellows,
but whose propinquity in the trenches is
unpopular owing to the disagreeable ten-
dency of their murderous weapons to draw
In the double-company Mess all went as
merry as a wedding bell. Madame, in whose
house the Mess was lodged, proved herself a
jewel and cooked them wonderful omelettes
and ragouts, and a Potage Bonne Femme
before which Escoffier himself would have
doffed his hat. The Mess raged and wrangled
and argued, as young men do the world
over, but the underlying good fellowship was
never disturbed. The past tense is ever a
kindlier critic than the present, but our
Ensign, looking back on those pleasant
summer days, cannot recollect that there
was a single discordant element in that
little band of men.
But the sand in the hour-glass had all
but run out. At last the word for their
departure came. And Battalion Orders that
164 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
evening closed with a significant paragraph.
Under the heading Dress, it ran —
" The polishing of buttons and cap-stars is
discontinued until further orders."
A hon entendeur, salut !
*From now on, the shadows of the events
that stood before began to be more sharply-
defined. As the Brigade marched out of
M behind the Drums on a dull grey
morning, there were many besides our En-
sign there who felt that the moment was
close at hand when they would take their
places in the battle-line of the Somme.
Indeed, hardly had the men got shaken
down in their new quarters — a bivouac on a
bare and dirty hillside amidst rolling downs
covered, as far as the eye could see, with
camps and horse - lines and abandoned
trenches, — than a message arrived —
" The Battalion is on ten minutes' notice ! "
166 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
Now they were on the very fringe of the
fight. The bivouac was within the zone of
" the heavies." All that day, with a blind-
ing flash of green flame, a sickly burst of
yellow smoke, and a ponderous roar, the
big guns gave tongue from their positions
among the downs. All that day, down the
white road running through the ruined
village on the fringe of the bivouac, snorted
and rattled and tramped the vast outgoing
traffic of the battlefield. Motor ambulances
whirred by in a constant stream, slowing up
at the end of the village, where in cavernous
dug-outs white-robed surgeons toiled over
the human debris of the fio-ht. Motor-
lorries fetching shells, ammunition limbers
and water-carts going down to be filled,
baggage carts — all through the morning and
afternoon our Ensign saw them bumping
slowly down the hill in the dust.
Between the gaps in the traffic, marching
in a dense white haze, came the remnants of
the battalions which had just written Ginchy
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 167
in letters of blood upon their colours. Our
Ensign had seen that splendid Irish Divi-
sion marching into action less than a week
before, with pipes skirling out the old Irish
airs and green flags waving, a jaunty, defiant,
deathless band. Not a whit less jaunty, not
a whit less defiant, though the Reaper had
been busy in their ranks, our Ensign saw
them again to-day, slow-footed and mud-
stained, dirty and unshaven, yet marching
with the gait of victors.
Somewhere down the road the cry rang
" 'Tis the Dubs. ! "
In an instant the road was overflowing
with Irish Guardsmen, swarming forward in
the dust-clouds raised by the Dublin Fusi-
liers in their passage.
" Jasus ! 'tis the Micks ! " rang out a
voice in the midst of the column.
Cheery salutations were exchanged. Here
and there a brown hand stretched out from
the roadside grasped a muddy one thrust
168 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
forward from the ranks of marching men in a
warm clasp. Chaff was freely bandied about
as the Irishmen trudged past, " Dubs." and
Munsters and Connaughts and the rest.
" So they didn't get yez this time, Micky,
me boy ! " shouted a droll Irish voice from
" True for you. Patsy, true for you ! "
flashed back the answer from the ranks.
" I'll be meetin' yez in Ould Dublin yet ! "
'* Begob ! yell have to get a move on
yez, the Micks," drawled out a rich brogue
from the road, "if ye want to find anny
of the Gerboys left ! We didn't lave manny
of thim for yez ! Didn't we an' the Dubs,
knock hell's own blazes out of thim ? "
There was a roar of laughter and cheers,
then brogue and its owner were swallowed
up in the dust. . . .
At tea that afternoon somebody an-
nounced that the Welsh Guards up in the
front line had had a very bad shelling, and
were probably coming out that night. An-
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 169
other battalion was to take their places, and
two companies of our Ensign's battalion were
to go up and replace this battalion in sup-
port. After tea our Ensign was sent for by
the Commanding Officer, and told to go on
ahead and reconnoitre the route for the two
companies as far as the Headquarters of
another Guards' Brigade, so that they
should not lose their way in the dark.
From Brigade Headquarters guides would
take the two companies up to the line.
It was getting dusk, and there was no
time to lose. Our Ensign sent his servant
to the Signallers to borrow two bicycles ;
and after beating the bivouac for his orderly,
and failing to find him, he selected a bright
lad in the company to act as orderly, and
a little later the pair might have been
seen pushing their bicycles through the
dust up the steep road leading towards
The experiences of that night lingered
long in our Ensign's memory. The road
170 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
was terribly rough ; and though, with the
coming of evening, the traffic was less,
there was still enough about to make riding
in the half-light distinctly dangerous. Their
way led them past miles of empty trenches,
where weather-beaten wooden crosses, hung
with withered flowers, remained to tell of
the time when the French were holding
these positions, then the front line. As
they drew nearer to the Front, they passed
imperceptibly from the zone of the biggest
guns into the region of the lighter pieces.
The guns were waking up. Now and then,
as they pedalled along, a huge shell travelled
over their heads, coming from' their rear,
" hooshing " and wailing as it sped through
the air. Now from right and now from left
of them ear-splitting reports resounded.
The traffic grew heavier as they ap-
proached their destination. At the en-
trance to a gloomy and shattered village,
so wrecked by shell fire that every house
was razed, the press of vehicles and of
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN l7l
troops going up and coming down was so
great that our Ensign and his orderly had
to get off and walk their bicycles. Pres-
ently all further progress was hindered ;
so, after waiting for a spell, our Ensign
shouldered his heavy machine and struck
out among the ruins to try and get round
the block in the road. It was very heavy
going ; but at last, soaked with perspiration
and breathless, our Ensign and his orderly
emerged upon a fairly clear stretch of road,
and pedalled off into the gathering darkness.
Fortunately the way was not difficult to
find. At a cross - roads, where a mass of
blackened poles sticking up against the
evening sky denoted the former location
of a wood, our travellers branched otF to
the left into a small country road.
Guns were firing everywhere now. The
stench of their fumes lay heavy on the air.
It was almost dark, and the green glare of
their discharges lit up fitfully the struggling
masses that thronged the little road. Long
172 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
lines of men in single file, stooping beneath
the weight of two petrol tins filled with
water, slung across their shoulders ; similar
lines laden with coils of wire, stakes, pickets
and shovels ; long columns of troops going
to relieve battalions in the line ; trains of
mules, with tossing tails, plodding forward
amid a hail of curses ; ammunition carts,
water-carts, ... all were jumbled up to-
gether in that narrow way. From time
to time came the low cry : " Make way !
Stretcher-bearers ! " and a stretcher would
appear carried shoulder-high by four sweat-
ing bearers. Now and again, by the flash
of the guns of a neighbouring battery, our
Ensign caught a glimpse of a form, motion-
less, under blood-stained bandages. . . .
A few sand - bagged steps led into a
narrow clearing made in the wood that
ran along one side of the road. Over the
steps hung the Brigade flag. The steps
led up to a little kind of entrance way,
where a number of ofiicers were standing.
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 173
Behind them was a heavily sand - bagged
shelter, where by the guttering light of a
couple of candles, the signallers stooped
over their telephones.
" Toot-toot ! Toot-toot ! Toot-toot ! "
The telephones shrilled their note clearly
above the deafening crash of the guns all
round. The 1 8 - pounders were firing in
salvoes now. The very sandbags shook
with the noise. The signallers were shout-
ing down their telephones. Oblivious of
everything, an officer sat at the bench
beside them and wrote.
They were all Guards' officers in that
little place. Our Ensign knew some of
them. He spoke to a Coldstreamer whom
he had met up in the salient, and asked him
what the news was. The Coldstreamer said
the Welsh Guards had had a baddish time ;
the Prince of Wales' Company, in particular,
had suffered. He mentioned the names of
several men who had been killed. They
were all waiting for news of the Grenadiers :
174 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
they, too, had been having a roughish hand-
An oflScer with red tabs turned away from
a very weary-looking Scots Guards captain,
and came towards our Ensign. The young
man reported himself, and was told that the
guides were ready to take the two companies
up to the line.
Then an orderly, covered with mud,
emerged from nowhere, as orderlies do, with
" Ah ! from the Grenadiers ! " said the
officer in red tabs, and bolted off towards a
deep dug-out in the corner.
Our Ensign bade good-night to the Cold-
streamer, and went out again into the road.
A regular whirlwind bombardment was in
progress. The din was ear-splitting. Every
gun for miles around seemed to be firing as
fast as it could be loaded.
Our Ensign found his orderly staring
open-mouthed at the distant horizon, where
a never-ceasing spout of white lights marked
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN l75
the winding line of the front trenches. The
lad was very young, and he had not been
long In France. As they surveyed the black
horizon together and noted the orange
spurts of flame where the shells were burst-
ing among the Yerey lights, a deep auburn
glare suddenly lit up the whole devastation
of the landscape, and spread, upwards and
outwards, in slow majesty across the night
" Glory be to God, sir ! " exclaimed the
orderly, " what's that ? "
Our Ensign shook his head wisely.
''Looks like an ammunition dump going
up ! " he said, but he didn't in the least
know. It was an extraordinary spectacle,
lasting a full minute, during which every
single projection on the horizon stood out
hard and black against the flaming sky. It
reminded our Ensign of the backgrounds of
battle scenes in the portraits of the Generals
at the " Senior."
Then they started ofi^ back to the bivouac
176 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
in the darkness. When they reached the
main road they halted and waited for the
two companies of the battalion which were
marching up. Presently dark shapes loomed
up in the gloom . . . the traffic was much
lighter on the road now . . . and the second
in command of our Ensign's battalion emerged
into the bright glare of the young man's
electric torch. Our Ensign indicated to the
party the turning off the main road which
would bring them to Brigade Headquarters,
where the guides awaited them, imparted
to his senior officer the news of the casual-
ties in the Welsh Guards, and then set off
along that broken road again on his perilous
He crawled into his sleeping-bag at half-
past one in the morning, feeling that he had
earned a good night's rest.
" The Battalion is moving off in an hour's
time, sir ! "
Johnson stood over our Ensign, as he lay
curled up in his Wolseley valise on the floor
of his tent. A canvas bucket of hot water
steamed in the servant's hand. Our young
man felt as though he had slept but an
hour. Still, there was nothing for it, so he
staggered in his pyjamas out into the sun-
shine, where The Beak, in similarly airy
costume, was shaving himself at a little
mirror propped up against the flap of his
"Is it over the top for us, Beak ? " queried
our Ensign of his company commander.
178 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
" Don't think so yet," mumbled The Beak
under the lather ; " it's fatigues for to-day,
anyhow, . . . carrying up stuff for the
fellows in the front line. Have a good time
last night ? "
** Ensanguined ! " retorted our young man
with feeling, as he soaped his face.
Once again he was doomed to travel that
dusty road towards the Front, only this time
he footed it at the head of his platoon, and
he found walking to be a good deal easier
than cycling. About the hour of 9 a.m. he
led his platoon into the wood, which had
been indicated to him as their destination.
Ravaged by shell fire, seamed by trenches,
p-ashed and blood-drenched and blackened,
that wood had seen some of the fiercest
fighting of the War. Not a tree hved ; there
was not so much as a green leaf to gladden
the eye ; not a bird twittered in the branches.
The wood and all in it were dead, as dead as
the mouldering relics of the fight that were
scattered plentifully about in the yawning
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 179
shell - holes, coffined by the criss - cross of
fallen trunks and torn branches.
The trenches in which the two companies
were to live were in places foot-deep in water,
so our Ensign and Bryan, by The Beak's
directions, got the men to bale them out. By
the time they had got the men comfortably
settled it was luncheon time. Apollo in-
vited our Ensign to accompany him on a
tour of discovery round the wood. Our
Ensign shook his head decisively. He
thought not, thank you ! He had some idea
as to what an examination of that wood
might reveal. He wouldn't mind going, but
he'd have his lunch first. So they agreed
to go afterwards, Roderick accompanying
Our Ensign felt glad that he had had
his lunch when he looked upon the horrors
which the deeper recesses of the wood
contained. Those who have never seen a
modern battlefield can have no idea of its
utter and wanton untidiness . . . the extra-
180 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
ordinary jumble of arms and equipment and
clothing, and papers and letters and play-
ing-cards and empty bottles and crumbling
remnants of food. The trenches were liter-
ally foot-deep in equipment in some places,
with here and there a shapeless, inert mass
of khaki or field -grey, as lax and limp as a
sack of straw, which once had been a man.
One such scene of silent tragedy gave
the three an unpleasant shock. It was in
a remoter corner of the wood, where the
bare and blackened tree-trunks stood closer
together, where a line of wrecked dug-outs
and a profusion of German equipment lying
about showed that the enemy had made a
stand. As our Ensign and his companions
plunged in and out of the fallen tree-trunks
and the splintered branches lying athwart
the shell-craters, Apollo, who was leading,
came to a sudden halt. He stood silent
with pointing finger.
At his feet, pinned securely to the ground
under a massive elm which had been torn
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 181
bodily from its roots by a shell, was a
skeleton yet clothed in its mud - stained
and mouldy field-grey. It lay on its face,
prone beneath the weight of the tree, its
arms outstretched in the form of a cross.
" Poor devil ! " said Koderick.
" I expect it broke his back ! " observed
Apollo, stooping down to get a closer view
of the grim figure. But our Ensign, who
was fresher than they to these sights of
war, said nothing. He was thinking of
the shells screaming about those wrecked
dug - outs, the crash of the falling trees,
the reverberating explosions, the reek of
sulphur, and that solitary German felled
to the earth as he bolted for shelter, and
pinned down among the chaos. . . .
« • • • • »
The Beak met them as they sauntered
back to tea.
" Sorry, old boy," he said to our Ensign ;
"there's a fatigue to-night. It'll be you,
as Bryan did the last one ' "
182 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
" Sir ! " quoth the Ensign in his best
manner, and proceeded to note his in-
structions. He was to take a party of
seventy men and proceed to a certain
R.E. Dump, the map reference of which
was given to him, there collect various
material, and thence go to a certain
Brigade Headquarters, where he would
receive further orders.
It was dark by the time the party
started off. It was a black night, without
moon or stars, and, as on the previous
evening, the air trembled to the ear-split-
ting crash of the guns. The first thing
our Ensign did was to lose his way.
There was plenty of traffic on the roads,
but everybody was either going up or
coming down, and no one seemed to have
ever heard of an R.E. Dump in those
parts. At last the party met a Sapper
" A Dump ? " he said, in reply to a
question. " I believe they are forming one
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 183
down there . . . about a mile along this
road." And he pointed in the direction
from which the party had come.
Our Ensign groaned, then faced about
and led his men in the opposite direction.
After marching for about a quarter of an
hour, they came to a place by the road-
side where some dark figures were moving
about among large indistinguishable heaps.
" Is that the R.E. Dump ? " sung out our
" Yes ! Is that the Guards' fatigue
party ? " came back from the darkness.
"Yes!" shouted our Ensign in return,
switching on the lamp fastened to his belt.
A Staff Officer stepped out of the road-
side blackness into the circle of light.
" Good evening ! " he said genially. " They
want you to take some of this stuff up to
the Welsh Guards. If you report to them,
they'll tell you what to do with it. I've
got a guide here. This Dump was only
formed this morning, so I don't quite know
184 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
what there is here ; but you just go ahead,
and load up the men with anything you
think useful. It's all for you fellows when
you go over the top . . . you will want
plenty of stuff to consolidate with ! You'll
be all right then, will you ? They shell a
bit as a rule going up, but the guide will
lead you off the road into the open if it
gets really dangerous. Good-night ! "
He vanished into the night. A Grena-
dier private loomed up large in the patch
" Guide, sir ! " he said, saluting.
Our Ensign called his senior sergeant,
and with him inspected the Dump. He
then divided his men into as many groups
as there were heaps of different material,
and got them loaded up with rolls of
barbed wire, pickets, stakes, giant coils of
French wire, and so forth. When they
were ready the men fell in in single file,
and with the guide and our Ensign at the
head, the party moved off into the darkness.
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 185
It was a good two - hours' march up to
the Battahon Headquarters of the Welsh
Guards, The guide led them out on to a
narrow track which wound its solitary way
across a bare immensity of plain, in and out
of shell-holes lying so thick that the lip of
one crater touched the lip of the other. It
was a dank, raw night, with occasional gusts
of rain. The cold wind blowing down the
gentle slope of the plain brought the evil
odour of death from the spouting lights on
the horizon where the trenches lay.
The plain was a place of death. By the
roadside, in every shell-hole, the dead lay
thick, British and German — now a solitary
corpse, its face a white patch in the gloom,
now a little knoll of men stricken down by
the one shell.
The going was terrible., Under the effect
of the thousands of pounds of high explosive
that had worked devastation over the slope
the very earth had lost its binding power
and crumbled like sand beneath the feet.
186 THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN
The darkness was intense. The men kept
stumbling under their burdens, and more
than one toppled headlong into a shell-
hole, often on to the silent form of its un-
coffined occupant. Our Ensign had learned
already that in night marching the ten-
dency of the head of a column is always
to go too fast, yet though he steadied the
pace down to a bare two miles an hour,
the tail of the party kept on straggling
behind. With the sweat running down his
face, the officer spent ' the greater part of
the march in stumbling hastily from one
end of the long train to the other.
There was a good deal of sporadic shell-
ing . . . principally "whizz-bangs," that
stank most vilely in the nostrils. Most of
the shells seemed to be falling about the
road ahead of them, and presently the
guide led the party off the track into the
open, where everybody had to make the
best of his way in and out of the shell-
holes. At last the guide pointed to a dim
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ENSIGN 187
tangle of bare trees on the skyline to the
"That's where we shall find the Welsh,
sir ! " he said.
He brought the party finally up to a
white chalky trench, where, in the yellow