Joseph Shuter Smith.

Over there and back in three uniforms, being the experiences of an American boy in the Canadian, British and American armies at the front and through No man's land online

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cerning the fate of one of the platoon,
wounded last time in, or gossiping of the
battalion, or politics, but they calmly accept
the life as it is.

If they are moving up to attack they seem
to fear nothing. If such a sensation as fear



does enter their hearts not a soul would ever
suspect it. They are not serious, however.
Their jaws are not set in the firm, deter-
mined line that delights the story writer,
yet they are not boisterous. They move
along carelessly and easily, cursing at some
delay in front and wondering if they will
get their rations at the new line to-morrow

Pals have turned over home addresses to
one another with no word of comment. It
is all understood. They have said who may
take any of their parcels that arrive if they
are not there; letters are always returned to
the senders with 'Vounded," ^'killed in ac-
tion," or ^^missing" written across them.
Parcels are bequeathed to a particular pal
or to the platoon to be divided among all
the men.

It gives one a queer feeling to sit down
and eat a bit of cake made by loving hands
at home for ^'the boy" out at the front when
you know that boy is "out there" some-



where, a part, for all time, of the earth
that is being churned into water or into
dust; that he has given his all to the cause
of his country.

It is the unwritten law of the army,
though — this custom — and 'jock's" spirit,
while it responds to grief for the loss of a
friend, cannot be kept down long.

Two men came to my platoon while we
were in the Loos sector. One was a boy
of twenty, and this was his first time out.
He was tall; six feet two, and thin as a
rail. McCluskey was his name. His pal
was just about medium height with a heart
as big as his body. He loved McCluskey.
MacKenzie was his name.

McCluskey and MacKenzie were put in
different sections by my sergeant, but they
came to me at once and complained. They
wanted to be put together. So I made the
change, putting them in the first section,
where they stayed. When we went to the
trenches for our tour of duty or were out



on carrying parties, MacKenzie always was
leading man, with McCluskey right behind,
and they would fight if any one attempted to
usurp their places.

In traveling through trenches you fre-
quently come to what is known as an over-
head traverse. These are barricades built
across the top of the trench to prevent
enemy observation or fire down long,
straight lengths of trenches. On reaching
one of these MacKenzie would say: ''Mind
ye'r topsy, McCluskey" (in other words,
''Duck your nut"), and McCluskey would
answer, "right ye are, Mac."

Again, in a trench, you will always find
places where the trench floor has fallen in.
On coming to one of these holes I would
hear MacKenzie call softly: "Jock and
Jill, McCluskey," and McCluskey answer:
"Right ye are, Mac."

Soon I was very careful to make certain
that these two men always got just behind
me so I could listen to their conversation,



until one night, while we were on a carry-
ing party, the tragedy came. Passing
through a piece of trench blown in by shell
fire and marked by Fritz with fixed rifles,
one of their bullets went through McClus-
key's head. The boy dropped without a
murmur. We stopped long enough to put
him to one side until we should be coming
"down" again. MacKenzie helped, but
never a word did he say.

Coming down, we fixed up a litter and
carried him back to billets, the company
turning out the next morning to give him
a military funeral. I watched MacKenzie
as the tears rolled down his face.

After lunch I sent for him to get
McCluskey's home address verified, and
when he came in I told him how sorry I
was over his loss of his pal. He told me he
knew the "damn fool" w^ould get his head
blown ofif as it stuck so high into the air,
and, anyway, he never would have made a
"good enou' trench warrior."



That was the way one ^^o^k," plainly
bowed with grief, took the death of his best

My personal orderly, Dempsey, was a
youngster of twenty-two, who had been in
France since September, 1914, and only
home on leave once in that time. Really,
he didn't care much about going home. He
had more fun ^^out here," he told me many
times. He was the best natured boy I ever
knew, and no matter what the circumstances
nor how trying our position, he always
could find something from which to extract
a laugh. I valued him very highly for these
characteristics and permitted him a little
more latitude than is customary.

In November, 1916, our battalion was on
the Ancre and in the advance. Even so, we
were having an unusual run of hard luck,
and this especially applied to our company,
which seemed to get into every hot hole in
the vicinity.

On November 13, on a dark, foggy



morning, we opened up an attack, our
company being one of the first to go over.
With Dempsey at my side we started off,
the company about forty strong. We made
our objective and consolidated what we
could by about two o'clock that afternoon,
and sat down to wait for what would hap-
pen. But nothing very much happened,
greatly to our surprise. Supplies were
brought up, reserves came along to help us
hold the line and Dempsey roamed the
field looking for souvenirs.

The night of the fifteenth we were re-
lieved to go behind the lines and reorgan-
ize. About three o'clock the next morning
we arrived in billets, dead tired but very
happy. I had been reported killed and my
valise, with a change of clothing and my
bed, had been sent down the line. Demp-
sey was equal to the occasion, however, and
produced a bed — from where shall always
remain a mystery. Things went bad in the
line and at six o'clock that evening, a con-
siderably battered bunch of men, we



marched away to brigade reserve behind
the lines. The men were still pretty much
exhausted from their previous three days
and roundly cursed the troops in the front,
but up they went.

On the night of the seventeenth we were
ordered to relieve a knocked about bat-
talion in a new part of the line a little fur-
ther south. Considering that I had one
other officer and sixty-seven effectives by
that time, in my company, it struck us as a
rather ghastly joke.

Eventually we reached the new line, if
you can call it that, since there were no
trenches. Only a couple of dugouts could
be found. I divided the company into
two parts, half in each dugout. The rest
of the night I spent getting our bearings,
with Dempsey's help, while the men
stocked up the shelters with rations and
water. At five o'clock in the morning all
the men with me turned into our shelter
— one of the kind known as a '^tube."

If you took half a subway car, stuck it



in the ground and covered the top with two
or three feet of earth, you would have a
''tube" dugout. Inside are seats as in the
subway, and through the center runs a
rudely constructed table.

Instantly the seats were crowded with
''Jocks," full fighting kit on, dog tired, and
trying to rest. In the center of the table I
placed some rations. Just outside, two sen-
tries were posted while inside we slept.

Six o'clock came, and with it merry hell!
The Canadians just south of us were
launching an attack and the Germans had
put a barrage on our lines. I went outside
to see my sentries. It was just breaking day
and a light snow was falling. The shelling
was heavy and was being aided by machine-
gun fire. I turned to go in and rout out
the men, as I thought we were to be at-
tacked. Just as I stepped in, a shell lit at
the door, seriously wounding the two sen-
tries. We dragged them inside and the
shelling increased to such violence there



was no use putting other sentries out. I
held a candle while the Red Cross men
bandaged the wounded, both with bad
thigh wounds. The candle was blown out
time and time again by the concussion of the
shells and the place reeked with burnt pow-
der and blood.

All day this fire continued. The entrance
to our dugout was blown in twice so that we
had to dig it out to get fresh air. One man
crept through the opening for a moment.
We never found him. The rear corner was
blow^n off and some of the men were made
violently ill by the fumes, but still we sat
there, waiting for the crash that would hurl
us into eternity. It never came, though,
and a little after ten that night it grew quiet
enough for us to risk leaving our shelter.
We had two badly wounded men to get to
the dressing station and water and rations to
locate, but the relief to the nerves after that
day of hell was so great that the men went
out on their parties softly singing. Exhaus-



tion could not stop them. The rest of the
night and the next day were comparatively
quiet and that evening we were relieved.

After we had got out of the trenches and
were walking along the road toward our
billets I said to Dempsey: ''Well, what did
you think of day before yesterday?"

'Well, sir, it was like this," he replied.
"When they opened up at six o'clock I
thought it was just the usual 'stand to'
racket. About eight I thought they were
going to attack. By nine I thought they
were attacking right beside us. By eleven
I didn't know what to think. And by one —
well, I was so disgusted I just pulled my
tin hat over my face and said: 'To hell
with it.' "

That is the spirit of those fine lads from
Scotland. "Never heed" is their cry.
"Let's get on with it."



It was at a detail camp back of the
Ancre on our first long rest in weeks, that
I met Susan. We had had little but parades
to bother us for a fortnight or so.

Susan was on her way home from India
to Plymouth, with her regiment, when the
war broke out. She was about ten days
out from India on that momentous fourth
of August, she would tell you with her
quivering mouth and big, soft eyes if you
fed her enough sugar. So you may surmise,
Susan was one of ^'the old contemptibles,"
and did her bit for the world during those
strenuous first months of the war.

She is still doing it, too, passing from
month to month and year to year, going her
way over icy, treacherous stone roads in the
winter, sinking to her belly in the clinging
mud of spring, enjoying intensely the all too
few months of summer. But never in all



the time has Susan lost her proud bearing.
Always is the arch of her neck at its high-
est, the swish of her tail quick and full of
life. Her step, too, is elastic, as it should
be, for is she not D company commander's

She has all the proud traditions of her
regiment behind her; the oldest regiment in
the British army with its history that dates
back nearly to 1400, and still held up by
the finest fighting men on earth, the Scotch-
men, who fight with a pride of race and
regiment that none can surpass. Even as
the men were Scotch, so was Susan.

She whispered to me, with her sensitive
ears ever alert, of her wonder at the whole
business; it was so strange, so bewildering.
What was it all about? This see-sawing
back and forth of men, horses and guns?
Every one seemed to be in a hurry, rushing
from here to there, then back again with no
apparent reason. For five or six days her
master would take her out every day at the



head of his company and she would see the
men; clean, cheery, singing men, swinging
along headed by their pipers. How she
loved those pipers! And how the men loved
them! They would lapse into silence as the
pipes started, and trudge along with their
thoughts away off in the beautiful Scotch
highlands or in "auld Reekie," or maybe
they would be buried in memories of pleas-
ant duties at the Castle.

Not so, old Susan, though. That was the
time when she showed the boys what a
credit she was to their never fading glory.
She pranced proudly, tail and neck; yes,
every muscle a-quiver, to the tune of those
pipes. The men saw her and liked her for
it. One of their own, they called her. Her
captain on her back felt her pride, and took
his seat a little more erectly with a tighter
grip of her side, and let her prance.

Such was Susan and her Scotchmen.

Then they would all leave for five or six
days, marching off silently and heavily



loaded, looking like mushrooms under
those funny tin things they wore on their
heads instead of the jaunty Glengarries, and
Susan would be left alone at the detail
camp with her groom. Not really alone,
though, for detail camp is a busy place.
There were lots of horses, the other com-
pany horses, but none of the '^old reliables."
They had all gone; some had been killed,
many died in service, but all were gone.

Peter, who used to play polo in India,
and carried A company's captain, had a
bomb dropped on him from a German
aeroplane while they were marching away
from Mons.

Jill, poor old Jill, used to carry B com-
pany's captain. While the company was
engaged in a rear guard action one day dur-
ing the retreat, she had come into close con-
tact with the enemy and under heavy shell
fire. She was left standing quiet, held by
her groom, while the captain fought with
his company. A shell lit close by, terrify-



ing the animal. With a snort of terror she
broke from the groom, who already was
sinking to the ground with a piece of shell
casing through his chest, and galloped
madly down the road toward the enemy.
But not for far.

Their machine-guns stopped old Jill sud-
denly, so that when she dropped her body
slid ten or twelve feet along the road. And
even as she fell, she died, lying on her back,
her four legs sticking into the air like four
direction posts at a cross road.

Then there was Jack, of C company, who
carried seven company commanders in as
many days, each one leaving as suddenly
as he came. Some had dismounted to go
forward and reconnoiter and never had re-
turned. Others had lurched out of the sad-
dle as though drunk, lying on the road with
a dark blot slowly spreading out from be-
neath them. Then some poor, foot sore,
weary "Tommy" had mounted him and
they had continued, always toward the rear.



After Jill's death Jack and Susan had
become pals, and as she thought of him
now she moved restlessly on her picket line,
for she had loved Jack. They had often
compared notes and wondered what it all
meant; the continual bang, the continual
wailing and screaming noises in the air.
They had come up these roads ten days be-
fore, then they had gone back the same way,
the men staggering along, eyes almost shut
from lack of sleep and with faces haggard
and drawn and covered with dust and
beard. When they rested at the roadside
they slept even as they touched the ground
and it was hard to waken them. They, Jack
and Susan, were hungry. So was every-
body, but when it was time to eat it also
happened it was time to fight. There would
be more bangs, more flashes, and they
would start again, always toward the rear,
only there would be a few less men and
those remaining would stagger a little more
in their walk. Some would drift along



with their eyes shut, but always they cried:
^'Stick it, Jock," or '^Never heed." Won-
derful men!

Passing at a gallop, going back to take
up other positions, would go the artillery.
Not the smart, swanky artillery of the old
parade ground days, for nothing sparkled
and glittered in the sunlight now. Every-
thing was covered with grime and dust.
The men sat their horses and limbers as
dead men might and they dressed in all
manner of costumes ; everything but regula-
tion. While firing they had discarded caps
and tunics; in limbering up to move away,
done at the last possible moment, these
very necessary parts of the uniform were
invariably left behind, and as they passed
through deserted villages the men would
pick up what they could find, so that you
might see some young driver, dragging his
gun along at a dead gallop, sitting the saddle
in a frock coat and top hat. Those were
strange days, though.



How Jack and Susan got through such
times one can only guess. What a pity
horses cannot really speak and tell us of
their worries and troubles and what they
think of it all.

Susan nearly could. Her wonderfully
eloquent ears spoke as do a Frenchman's
hands and the shrug of his shoulders. And
her mouth! If horses had kissable mouths,
Susan's certainly was one of them. What
horse does not have eyes that tell you a story
if you care to read? Susan's seemed to grow
sad, even tragic, as I fed her more sugar
and she told me more of the days gone by.

Now they had turned, going forward for
the second time. The men straightened
their shoulders, stepping out with an alert,
quick step, and began that wonderful race
from the Aisne to the North Sea. Susan
told me of one bitter night when they felt
the tang of salt air in Belgium, borne by a
sweeping wind, cold and cruel, from that
sea, sweeping with it rain that was cruel,
too, in its violence.



It beat into their faces so that they were
nearly blinded. It beat onto Jack's chest
as he walked at the head of his company,
until he staggered and his breath came
hard, so that his captain got off to walk.
Even then Jack staggered, tossing his head
as though to shake off that which was grad-
ually creeping over him. It was no use.
He was done. He stopped from sheer in-
ability to go on. His hindquarters swung
from side to side, gaining momentum until
he finally crashed to the ground, finished.
Then his captain, out of the tenderness of
his heart, took out his gun and with his eyes
blinded by tears, sent one more soul out of
its earthly shell, for King and Country.
For horses have souls, even if they do not
appear in the casualty lists and have a
wooden cross with ^'R. I. P." on it.

Susan whinnied as she passed and there
was no answer from her old friend lying
there by the road. And she kept on whin-
nying all the night. Even as she whis-
pered of it to me months later she whin-



nied as though she would call Jack back.
But in answer came the nicker and the
whinny of all those horses on the picket
line, for Susan was their queen. They
looked to her for advice and consolation
in the strange life into which they had come,
for, as I said before, she was an "old con-
temptible," and could tell them. She could
even tell them how it felt to be wounded,
but she wouldn't take the time now. It was
noon, and feed time, and Susan was a good
soldier. She took good care of herself that
she might live and render full value to her
country. So with her nose buried in a feed
bag and the warm sun on her back, she
would have no more of me.

In the afternoon life in the detail camp is
a busy one, for this is where all the supplies,
food, rations, ammunition, etc., are brought
from the railhead for the battalion and then
forwarded nightly as far as possible toward
the trenches by horse and wagon. To this
point the men from the trenches come down



and carry the stuff up to their position in
the line.

Stores of bombs are laid out and rations
are put in bags and marked with the name
of the company for which they are in-
tended. The mail for the day is sorted and
about half past three or so the limbers for
each company are loaded and started off
on their night^s work. They will return
about three in the morning, maybe, for they
go as close to the trenches as possible, com-
ing under machine-gun and shell fire, so
that the infantry will not have too far to
come. The foot sloggers have enough to
do without unnecessarily tiring them-

Here, too, to this camp come the men
from the line who are going on leave. They
are happy. Once more they will see their
loved ones and have ten days of good times.
From their tent or hut, that night, as they
lie there waiting to be paid and leave for
railhead, you will hear them singing old



folk songs of Scotland; the most wonderful
songs of all, full of sentiment, and sung so
they go right into your heart. They change
at times to Harry Lauder stuff; rollicking
happy old Harry, that also is good to hear.

Then there are the last drafts of rein-
forcements in camp also, just come in from
railhead to-day. They will wait here until
the battalion comes out of the line, then be
apportioned among the different com-
panies. Some of them are new men, first
time out. They are curious, excited, eager
to know the whys and wherefores of every-
thing, but also they are of very good spirits,
as one man who had left England on Christ-
mas day testified in a letter: "For a Christ-
mas present this year the government have
given me a trip abroad, but what a trip!
Mud, mud, everywhere; mud and a roar-
ing noise. Even the tea looks like mud.
But it's great!"

That's the attitude of the new arrival.

The old timer who carries one, two, or



even more wound stripes on his arm looks
for old friends. Failing to find them, he
looks for anything to pinch which is laying
about loose and which will add to his ma-
terial comfort.

It is a busy place, all right, the detail
camp, with its picket line of horses standing
under an overhead shelter; all round, the
mud; limp walls of two or three rows of
little bell tents where live the drivers and
grooms of the transports, along with the
supply officer and his men. Draft and
leave men are tucked away in here and at
the end of the row are two or three big tents
where the supplies are stored until it is time
to send them up the line.

It is the hour for the afternoon start now
and the limbers are crowded in front of
these tents taking on their sandbags of char-
coal, food and mail for the fellows up in
front. In the general excitement of getting
the limbers away, I grab a little big of sugar
and go back to the horse lines and Susan.


She whinnies as I come up, for she is
lonesome, and those who have spent much
time at the front and have a memory, hate
to be lonesome.

I gave her part of the sugar and stroked
her near flank where she had received a
wound. She seemed to sense my sympathy
and as best she could she whispered to me
of one day at the beginning of the second
Battle of Ypres when the battalion was
stretched in billets for a rest.

That day the Germans had turned loose
their gas. Things were going badly in the
line and the battalion was rushed up to re-
inforce. The company commanders had
gone forward on their horses at top speed
to report at headquarters in Ypres for in-
structions. Then they were to meet the
battalion and go on.

As they got near to the city the roads
became almost impassable. Confusion
seemed to reign supreme. People — civ-
ilians — came down the road in unending



masses. Old people, bent with age, looked
neither to right nor left, but hobbled on as
fast as they could, talking to themselves or
shouting aloud some loved one's name.
Little kiddies, barely able to walk, toddled
along crying, wandering aimlessly, follow-
ing the crowd. Going up toward the city
were the troops, marching at the quick.

Ahead lay the city itself, and Susan con-
fessed she was terrified. The cool hand of
her captain, however, calmed her and re-
stored her confidence. It was fearful to see,
though, that city enveloped in a pall of
smoke, fed by its beautiful, historic build-
ings all on fire now; a pall of smoke so dense
the tops of the buildings could scarce be
seen. Away to the front as a small rise was
topped, appeared clouds of fog, which was
not fog at all, but German gas. It was roll-
ing toward the already nearly ruined city.

Ypres was a roaring mass of flames; their
crackling increased a hundred-fold by the
crash of exploding shells, making livid



flashes of red, which spurted through the
smoke and cut into the dull red of the
greater fire which was consuming the town.

Toward this Susan galloped, terror in her
heart, controlled by the sense of duty that is
ingrained in the army horse as it is in the
army man.

On the outskirts of the city conditions
were worse, if possible, than they had been

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Online LibraryJoseph Shuter SmithOver there and back in three uniforms, being the experiences of an American boy in the Canadian, British and American armies at the front and through No man's land → online text (page 8 of 10)