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Captain G.B.Mc Keat













V.C., K.C.B., K.C.M.Q., D.S.O.



All rights reserved



Set up and electrotyped. Published May, 1919.


J. S. Cushing Co. Berwick <fc Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



rpHE initiative, and individual bravery
* of the Battalion Scouts have been
outstanding in the Canadian Army since the
beginning of the Campaign.

It can be truthfully said, the Canadians on
their front owned " No Man's Land."

This ascendancy over the Boche was
gained not by reckless bravery, but by the
superior intellect and resourcefulness of our
men, developed by studied training.

The lessons gained on their dangerous
patrols in the face of an enemy, by our gal-
lant scouts will be invaluable in helping the
Scout movement so happily revived in Can-
ada by H. R. H. the Duke of Connaught
during his term as Governor General.



This book, written by a Scout officer who
has gained the most coveted decoration of
the British Army in the execution of his
duty, depicts in simple language the neces-
sity for Scouts to at all times live up to their
motto " Be prepared."




V.C., K.C.B., K.C.M.G., D.S.O. . . . . v

INTRODUCTORY ... . . . . 1


II. A FIND . ....... 28






VIII. LOST IN No MAN'S LAND . . . . 140

IX. WINNING A V.C. . . .. . . . 155

X. THE WARNING WHISTLE . . ' * ; . .181

XI. A BAYONET CHARGE ,' , * . . 197




purpose of this book is to set forth,
in as attractive a form as possible, the
interesting and important work performed
by scouts in the Great War, now happily
brought to a successful and triumphant
conclusion. It is necessarily limited to
personal experiences, but, as similar ex-
periences were common to the work of all
scouts, it is really more than a personal
narrative. It is not written to instruct in
methods of scouting, for doubtless, to the
highly trained, expert scout, many of the
things we did in carrying out our duties
would appear to be clumsy and inex-
perienced methods to be avoided, not
copied. The stories are written to enter-
tain and possibly to thrill, but certainly
not to instruct. To the boy who loves
stories of adventure (and what boy is there
who does not?) this book will, I trust,
make an appeal. The stories are plain,
unvarnished, truthful records of incidents


that actually happened. There are no
fictitious characters introduced; I have
not even attempted to camouflage names.
In doing this, I sincerely hope that I have
not given offence to any one, that those
who unexpectedly find themselves figuring
in these stories will pardon me for having,
without their consent, introduced them into

For more than four years we have been
entertained, thrilled, and instructed by
highly coloured accounts, written by war
correspondents, of the important decisive
actions of the war. They were continu-
ously on the fringe of the battle and ex-
cellently placed for giving a broad, general
description of events as they were happen-
ing. It is the privilege of humble partici-
pants, such as myself, to give the more
intimate account of these same historic
events. I have attempted to do this from
the scouts' standpoint, for I think it can
safely be claimed that of all the partici-
pants in the war, there were none who en-
joyed more unique opportunities for viewing
it from, as it were, ' a front seat,' than did
the scout. We were forever scraping up a
lively acquaintance with the Hun. We


found, as I hope these stories prove, that
he was woefully lacking in the spirit of
adventure. Our mastery over No Man's
Land was very seldom challenged, and on
behalf of all scouts, I do not hesitate to
claim our overwhelming superiority over
the Hun in this interesting and adventurous

It was pure love of adventure that
attracted me to scouting, a love which, if
not exactly born in me, was at least de-
veloped in me, through my association with
the Boy Scout movement; and it was the
principles of this organisation which, more
than anything else, underlay all our train-
ing. I remember very vividly, when I was
acting as an instructor at a school for
training scouts that, at the beginning of
each class, we were addressed by a colonel
under whose supervision we worked. His
first question to the class was :

6 Now, boys, what is it most important
that a scout should have? ' The replies
were many and varied, but seldom correct.
6 Good eyesight ' ; ' good hearing ' ; ' good
physique ' ; ' be a good shot ' ; * a knowl-
edge of map reading ' ; were some of the
many replies.


6 No, you are all wrong,' the colonel
would reply; ' a scout's honour is the most
important thing of all. If a scout isn't to
be trusted then he's no good to me, and
he will be no good to his commanding

It was to develop this sense of honour
that was the chief end and aim of our
training. For no matter how clever and
expert a scout might be, if he could not
be trusted to carry out his commission, then
he was no good as a scout. The scouts
worked alone, it was seldom any check
could be kept on their work; they either
said they had carried out an order and had;
or else they said they had carried out an
order and hadn't. The importance of having
scouts who, no matter what difficulties or
dangers were involved, would carry out
orders and return with the information
required, can easily be understood.

The work of the scout in France was full
of interest, excitement and danger. Each
patrol was an adventure. That narrow
strip of land separating armies and known
as No Man's Land was our hunting ground.
It was a strangely lonely place, friendless
and menacing, a land of darkness and


mystery, but possessing a fascination all
its own. The object of our patrols was
to obtain information about the enemy
to locate definitely his outposts, to report
upon his defences, such as the condition of
his wire, et cetera.

Our work was chiefly done under the
cover of darkness the time when we could
best approach his defences without being
observed. Occasionally, during the last
few months of the war, when attacks were
an almost daily occurrence and the situa-
tion was frequently obscure, daylight patrols
were sent out. But a daylight patrol, un-
less the conditions were favourable to it
(such as, for example, working along an
old trench), was never very satisfactory.
The difficulties of approaching closely to
the enemy positions were usually too great
to be successfully overcome.

Associated with the scouts were observers
and snipers, the three sections being grouped
together and known generally as the In-
telligence section. This was a separate
unit in a battalion, and was under the
command of an Intelligence Officer who,
in most battalions, had associated with him
in his work a Scout Officer. All members


of this unit were known as specialists,
and did special training during the period
when the battalion was resting. They
were billeted together, messed together,
and generally were a very happy, sociable
family of about thirty men. During the
training periods the scouts were instructed
in map-reading; the use of the prismatic
compass; marching on compass bearings
by day and by night; sketching and
making reports ; signalling (semaphore and
Morse); methods of crawling; practice in
bomb-throwing, and revolver practice. The
two latter were probably the most popular
branches of training. We were usually
most happy when we could get in amongst
some old trenches and practise bombing
raids, using live bombs. Bight or ten of
us would throw bombs together and make a
most terrific noise. We once got hold
of a box of salvaged German bombs, which
had a much louder detonation than ours,
but were not nearly so dangerous. We
thought it a good idea to get used to
German bombs exploding within a few
yards of us, so gaily scattered salvos of
them around, to the great alarm of the
inhabitants of an adjoining village who,


hearing these loud explosions and finding
that the windows of their houses rattled
and shook, rushed out of their houses in
dismay, thinking that the hated Boche was
bombing them! By an unhappy coin-
cidence, on our very first night in the line
following this, we made an altogether too
intimate acquaintance with German bombs
and one of the most popular members of
our section was killed. 1 These practices did
not lack the element of danger; on two
occasions we had scouts wounded. In
addition to the work of patrolling, there
was the work of guiding reliefs in and out
of the line. This demanded an intimate
acquaintance with all the routes in the
back and forward areas, which could only
be obtained by diligent and painstaking
reconnaissance work.

The above gives a fairly detailed account
of the different duties of the scout in France.
It will perhaps serve to give an added in-
terest to the stories that follow.

I joined the Intelligence section first as
a sniper but, a few days later, I was made
an observer, and a few weeks later still,

1 The incident is described in the story Lost in No Man's


became a scout. I afterwards became scout
corporal, and finally scout officer.

The sequence of the stories is exactly as
they happened. Between the first and
second there is a gap of some months. The
scene of the first is in the Ypres salient, and
that of the second is Vimy Ridge. During
the interval between, we took part in what
was, as far as my experience goes, the
bloodiest fighting of the whole war. I refer
to the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The
memories of it are too gruesome for me ever
to include any incident of my experiences
in a book of, I trust, fairly cheerful war
stories. It was a period which, to me, was
entirely lacking in the glamour and romance
which we all associate with the war. The
last two stories are not scouting stories, but
I trust the interest in them will not be
lessened on that account. Apart from con-
veying some idea of the conditions prevail-
ing in the final stages of the war, and the
new and changed conditions under which
scouts were working, they describe two that
were (to me at any rate) rather thrilling
incidents, and so should be of interest to all

Although the book is written primarily


for boys, I trust that the stories will prove
of sufficient interest to entertain ' grown-
ups ' also.

Some of the characters in this book have
paid the supreme sacrifice. Truer com-
rades, or braver soldiers, it would be difficult
to find. I count it a privilege to give public
expression to my unbounded and warmly
affectionate admiration of their sterling
worth as soldiers and men the type that
has brought immortal fame and glory to
Canada's citizen army. To have fought
with them side by side will be for ever a
proud memory. The example of patriotism
and sacrifice which they have set these
scouts of the Great War should be copied
and practised by every boy who belongs to
the great Boy Scout organisation.


is not going to be a story about my-
self, though I might come into it
occasionally. It is about the boys who
taught me scouting, particularly about one
boy known familiarly as Tommy. He
was scout sergeant when I first made his
acquaintance, and afterwards became scout
officer at the time when I was a corporal in
the scout section.

My acquaintance began from the moment
when I joined the battalion in the spring
of 1916. My imagination had been well
fed at the Base upon stories of hair-raising
escapes and ghastly mutilation, so it was
with very mixed feelings that I looked
forward to my participation in the Great
War. My interest in scouting led me to
seek out the boys engaged in this adven-
turous work, and it was then that I met



The battalion was out for a few days'
rest in a camp of tents in a grove of trees
in Flanders. As I approached the tent,
sounds of revelry came from it, music and
voices singing. I pulled the flap over the
opening to one side and entered. Tommy
was seated on a little box pulling away at
an old melodeon. He was playing the
music of many popular songs, the rest of
the boys in the tent were all singing lustily.
It was a happy, hilarious gathering. There
was many a night afterwards when I made
one of similar merry gatherings, times
too when there were, through casualties,
occasional blanks in our choruses. Hard-
ships and dangers and longings were quickly
and completely forgotten under the spell
of the music from Tommy's old melodeon.

During the two or three days the battalion
was resting after I joined it, I cultivated the
companionship of the scouts and was always
eager to hear the stories of their adventures.
When we went up the line I went up ' in
the company,' which means that I was just
one of the common or garden type of
Tommy, doing sentry duty and working-
parties and cultivating an eye for a ' Minnie. n

l ' Minnie,' a German minenwerfer shell, corresponding to
our trench mortar shell.


I shall not forget the first night when I
looked out over the parapet into that land
of mystery and wonder No Man's Land.
Somewhere out there was the enemy!
Occasionally I saw the flash of a rifle as
a German sentry fired, and heard the sing
of the bullet. Merely to look out over
there seemed to me an act of courage! I
tingled with the excitement of my new ex-
perience. At last I was in the war, not
merely dressed up as a soldier, but actually
facing the enemy not more than a hundred
yards away ! And it was that little strip of
land bestrewn with wire and obstacles,
that unknown disputed piece of ground
called ' No Man's Land ' that most readily
and quickly appealed to my imagination.
I looked out into it and pondered over
its mystery. As if in answer to my unspoken
question an N.C.O. hopped on to the firing
step alongside of me and asked :

' Did you hear anybody in the wire ? '

As a matter of fact I had been doing
nothing else but hearing and seeing things !
Like every land of mystery it seemed to be
peopled with shadowy forms.

' Yes,' I whispered back earnestly, * I
think I saw somebody too.'

4 Where? 'he asked.


4 There,' I replied, indicating the direc-

After a few moments the N.C.O. turned to

' Did you ever see a fence post ? ' he

' Scores of them,' I replied.

6 Well, you must have forgotten what
they look like, for that's what your man is
out there a fence post.'

It was rather discouraging and humili-
ating, but it taught me a lesson that a little
imagination on a dark night is a very
dangerous thing.

6 Keep a good look out,' said the N.C.O.
as he left me ; ' A fellow a little further
along the trench swears he heard some one
in the wire.'

A few minutes later I felt a tug on my
arm it was the N.C.O. back again.

' A patrol is going out on the left
five scouts ; they '11 be out for about two
hours. If you see or hear anybody out
there, be sure to challenge before you

Five scouts going out into No Man's
Land! My imagination immediately got
busy five scouts roaming around out there


in that land of mystery and darkness!
My imaginings were interrupted by the
relief coming along to take my place, but
my curiosity was not lessened, and I was
glad and relieved when I heard the word
being passed along that ' the patrol was in.'
A few minutes later they passed along the
trench. The next morning when off duty
I went down to headquarters and sought
out the scouts. Tommy, at my request,
gave me an account of the patrol of the
previous night. I was full of curiosity.
One scout had been fired at, the bullet
passing through his cap. When he had
finished, I asked:

' Do you think I could get into your
section? '

' Yes, sure ; next time you are out of the
line, ask to be transferred. '

I did so and was transferred. As I had
some knowledge of map reading I went
into the line as an observer and not as a
scout. My duty as an observer was to sit
in a specially constructed Observation Post
from which a good view of a particular
section of the German trench was available.
The O.P. (as it was popularly called) was
equipped with a telescope and a map. I


shan't ever forget the excitement and shock
of seeing my first German. The telescope
was a good one and the German trench a bare
hundred yards away. It was a sunny
morning and I was sitting with my eye
glued to the telescope when the top of a
German service cap (the soft peakless kind)
came into my field of view. Very slowly
it moved upwards, then I saw a pair of
eyebrows, then the eyes underneath these,
and finally the fat, full face of a German!
He was stealing a look across No Man's
Land! But this was nothing to the ex-
citement of the following morning when,
about two thousand yards behind the
German front line, there appeared a party
of about fifty Germans carrying picks and
shovels. I watched them until they halted,
then spread out and commenced digging.
Rapidly I figured out just about where they
would be on the map, and making a note
of the location, rushed back to headquarters
and reported it. I was told the artillery
would fire a few rounds into them so rushed
back to the O.P. to see what would happen.
In a few minutes I heard the scream of
shells passing overhead. I saw a few white
puffs not many feet above the heads of


the working-party: it was shrapnel. Im-
mediately there was the wildest confusion
picks and shovels were thrown down and
men ran wildly in all directions! I was
fairly dancing with excitement and satis-
faction! After some minutes they returned
in one's and two's; those who had been hit
were carried away; picks and shovels were
collected and the party straggled back, leav-
ing the work unfinished. But, interesting as
all this was, my chief longing was to go out
on patrol, and, that night, I went to where
the scouts were staying.

6 Hullo, ' said Tommy, ' how do you like
observing? '

' Fine,' I replied, and proceeded to give
him an account of the discomfiture of the
Huns. When I had finished I remarked :

' I suppose you are going out to-night? '

' Yes ; two or three of us.'

' What are the chances of going out with
you? '

' Why, d'you want to come? '

' Yes, I'm very keen.'

' All right, come along about nine o'clock,
we '11 get a revolver for you. '

' Thanks very much,' I said, ' I'll be along
at nine.'


I was there before nine.

6 Before you go out, ' Tommy remarked to
me, ' you must take all your badges off and
leave all letters and papers behind.'

< Why is that? ' I asked.

6 Well, in case you were taken prisoner or
were killed and had to be left out there.
If they found letters and papers on you
they would secure identification. Also the
badges show up bright when a flare light is
shot up, and would perhaps give away our
position at the time.'

So I very seriously and soberly began to
remove all badges and letters. These pre-
cautions impressed me with the seriousness
of this game of scouting. A few minutes
afterwards the Scout Officer came in and
we went up to the front line. It was a very
dark night, but quite mild and dry. We
moved up and down the trench warning
the sentries. At last we came to the place
where it had been decided we should go out.
The officer was not going Tommy, another
scout, and myself were to make up the
patrol. The place where it had been decided
we should go out at was one of our Listening
Posts. Now, of all the unpopular duties
that fell to the lot of the suffering Tommy,


that of Listening Post was perhaps the
most detestable. It was usually made up
of two men who, as an extra defensive
precaution, were sent out in front of the
front line trench. The distance out from
our trench varied, sometimes not more than
twenty yards, sometimes fifty to seventy-five
yards. The men usually established them-
selves in some commodious shell-hole and
were in communication with the front
line trench by means of a wire. One pull
on the wire signified O.K., two pulls (from
the trench) was a signal to the men in the
Listening Post that some one (probably
the relief) was coming out from the trench,
three pulls (from the Listening Post) was
a call for the N.C.O., four pulls (from the
Listening Post) was an alarm, five pulls
(from the trench) was the signal to the men
in the Listening Post to return to the
trench. It was a dirty, dangerous job, and
thoroughly disliked. The miseries of it on
a cold wet night can easily be imagined, often
lying in a shell-hole half filled with water.
Sometimes a little wire was strung out in
front as protection against attack, but
more often the post was unprotected.
Occasionally there was a tragedy out there :


a rifle fired or a bomb thrown, and frantic
signals out to the Listening Post unanswered.
A party goes out to find maybe one man
lying dead and one missing, or perhaps both
missing. The Listening Post we passed
was perhaps twenty to thirty yards out
from our trench, just inside of our wire.
After a few whispered words to the two
men in it, we crawled through our wire and
out into the land of my imaginative wonder-
ings No Man's Land! Tommy led the
way while I brought up the rear. Just as
I was in the act of raising myself over a
twisted wire stake, a flare light was shot
up from the German trench.

* Stay where you are, ' came back the sharp
whispered command from Tommy.

As the light broke and fell I felt myself
to be assuming gigantic proportions; I felt
as if the eyes of the whole German army
were being riveted upon me and a thou-
sand rifles were levelled at me ! It was my
first experience of being in the lime-light of
No Man's Land. The light flickered and
slowly died out, and the darkness seemed
more intense than ever. With a sigh of
relief and thankfulness, I completed my
progress over the obstacle and followed on


the heels of the scout in front of me. After
crawling along for some time the heels
suddenly disappeared. With palpitating
heart I continued to crawl and came to the
edge of a huge shell-hole. I looked down
into it but failed to distinguish anything,
then I heard somebody whisper :

' Come on down into this shell-hole.'

I did so, and found Tommy and the other
scout contentedly sitting in the bottom of it.
We did not stop to examine it closely, but
crawled out of it and forward into another
one not quite so large. Tommy came along-
side of me.

' Can you see the German wire I '

I looked and saw a shadowy mass not
many yards in front of me. We lay listening
for some time.

' I'm going to wake 'em up,' whispered

' What are you going to do ? ' I asked.

' Throw a bomb into his trench if I

I thrilled with anticipation. This was
the real thing, I thought. Tommy stood
up in the bottom of the shell-hole, grasped
the bomb in his hand, pulled the pin and
stood ready to throw it. I trembled with


the excitement of the moment. At last I
heard the click of the released lever as the
bomb flew over my head. A few seconds
later there is a flash and a crash as the bomb
explodes. Instantly three flare lights are
shot up, breaking almost simultaneously,
and the bullets from a machine gun swish
over our heads. More lights go up the Ger-
man parapet is easily visible. We stay
there perfectly still. After a few minutes
the excitement dies down and we start back
for our own trench. My first impulse was to
get up and walk, but I recognised that cau-

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Online LibraryGeorge Burdon McKeanScouting thrills → online text (page 1 of 11)