The Norrent-Fontes area now gave us for a time a well- earned rest ; and our stay here was rendered historic by a visit from that outstanding personality of the day, M. Clemenceau. Divisional Headquarters were in a large and seemly dwelling up a quiet side street of the little country town. Warned of the hour of his arrival, a guard of honour was duly posted ; and the General and his staff were lined up in front of the building to receive the great man, as a great man should be received. The hour struck : a loud rumbling on the pavé as of approaching cars was heard the guard presented arms : we came to attention rand into our surprised vision came the Thresh Disinfector on its motor lorry, driven by our old friend the nonchalant civilian in khaki, gazing at the proceedings with his usual air of dispassionate interest. Those not within range of the G.O.C.’s eye grinned happily: the others affected a stern yet sublime calm. Before the General had quite finished a few remarks he evidently thought appropriate to the occasion, the “Tiger”, and his entourage, in three limousines, swung into view; and the proceedings, unwittingly rehearsed in honour of the Thresh warrior, were more appropriately repeated. As the cars rolled up the doors opened and a selection of be-medalled, gloved, spick-and-span French generals and other officers of high rank sprang nimbly out, to be ready for the advent of the man of the moment. In such surroundings he struck a markedly different note. Small, stout, square-built, keen-eyed and with a fierce grey moustache, his dress was as careless as theirs was correct. An old overcoat had its greasy velvet collar one half up and the other half down : black boots were surmounted by a pair of very yellow leather leggings. One baggy trouser leg he had hauled well up before applying its covering, while the other had been equally severely pulled down, with the object, apparently, of shewing two inches of trousering between legging and boot. On top of all was an ancient cloth billy-cock hat. Mumbling what we took to be complimentary remarks, he shook hands with those assembled to do him honour and then, surrounded by his respectful attendants, made once more for his limousine and was whirled away to repeat the proceedings elsewhere. The whole business was over in three minutes, leaving the G.O.C. free to resume his interrupted remarks on the untimely intrusion of the Thresh Disinfector. And that evening a cloud darkened the usual sparkle of No.1 H.Q. mess ; while, well blanketed and in his steam chamber, untroubled and dreamless was the hard-earned sleep of the civilian in khaki.
The Division, at the beginning of May, took over a sector north of Arras, from Bailleul on the right to Willerval on the left. Here it remained until the early part of July, when it moved to the Dieval-Monchy-Breton-Chelers area for a few days preparatory to moving into Champagne to take part in the French attack there. The first of the thirty-four troop trains left Brias on the 14th July, and the last left Pernes on the 16th, for their thirty hours journey south via the outskirts of Paris and on the 15th the first arrivals were detraining in the Nogent-sur-Seine area.
D.H.Q. left Brias by an early train on the 14th, while local sports in honour of the national fête day celebration of the fall of the Bastille – were going on in the vicinity of the station. The weather was fine and the country interesting ; many beautiful woods with plentiful silver birches ; grain ripe or ripening ; while- -when next day we approached, passed through, and left behind the environs of Paris (hearing, incidentally, the arrival of part of “Big Bertha’s” output) – there was great cheering with handkerchief waving at all the stations. At one stop an enthusiastic young female started at the head of the train and impartially kissed any man who was willing -and most of them were Barkises -right down the carriages until we started again. The pull-out happily occurred while she was busy dealing with the compartment just ahead of ours, and while we were feverishly and unavailingly engaged in persuading the A.P.M. that as he was young and handsome he was, therefore, our obvious representative in this affair. So we were saved from having cast any slur on the general gallantry of the Division.
Detraining at 1.30 a.m. at Nogent, the D.A.D.M.S. and I left there at 3 in a Ford ; and after a run in the darkness of about thirteen kilometres, mostly through woods, we reached Villenauxe, knocked up (after an hour’s search for him) the sleep-ridden Camp Commandant to get the location of our billet, and turned in. Daylight shewed the little town to be a most picturesque and charming one, with a XIV century church (in which were some fine old pictures and carved choir stalls) and with booths built in here and there between its buttresses. The inhabitants, numbering about 2,500, were chiefly engaged – in peace time – in manufacturing underclothing and socks, or porcelain plaques for wall decoration. The rest were agriculturists. But now the place was full of French troops of all branches, including canonniers marins and fusilliers marins, and everyone agog with excitement.
Next morning, after breakfast at “The Horse in Armour” (Le Cheval Bardė), “Daddums” and I entered our trusty Ford again and set off in thunder-threatening heat and choking dust for Moussy, on the outskirts of Epernay. The route lay amidst lovely scenery, passing, amongst other places pittoresques, through the extensive Forest of Traconne, and Montmort with its fine old château and moat. The roads were crowded with refugees, French troops, guns (chiefly 75’s) and motor lorries packed with cheery Jocks. The trees were chiefly poplars (with mistletoe growing on many of them ), oaks, silver birches and acacias ; the crops maize, wheat, oats and rye ; picturesque villages with old châteaux and churches were rife ; while a serene blue sky completed the picture. A visit to Vertus in the evening, to interview the D.D.M.S. Corps’ (who turned out to be an old friend of Armentières days, when he was A.D.M.S. of the New Zealand Division ), finished our day. Vertus, full of quaint and ancient nooks and corners, made one deeply regret not being there merely for leisurely exploration. Running home, the long-expected thunderstorm broke, with magnificent orange-coloured lightning flashes illuminating the woods on either side and the Straight white ribbon of dusty road lying ahead.
And now, after a night’s rest, to locate the present position of the three Field Ambulances, which were all still en route from the detraining point. The A.D.M.S.’s office was in the Moussy village school, where, on the master’ s rostrum and behind his desk, I elicited from a continuous and curious procession of visitors the natural respect due to such a position. All approached with the properly deprecating air of an unforgotten youth. Our earliest arrivals were various sick poils – one with a sprained knee ; another with an acute general nettle-rash following a wasp sting on the neck. (The latter was intensely relieved to find that his number was not up, as he had definitely concluded, and became some- what emotional at the good news.) A third, rejoining his unit from leave, was apologetic to a degree at causing the trouble of having his destination pointed out to him on the map. Callers in search of M. l’ Instituteur, on civilian business, were desolated at their own want of tact in not having guessed that he was temporarily displaced ; and retired with voluble apologies. So it went on all the hot forenoon ; and then the 2/1st H.F.A. was reported as having reached Mesnil, where we visited it, bivouacked on the edge of a wood above the village, with a widespread view of a beautiful, fertile plain.
Moussy, in the evening, was full of stir. The inhabitants had been warned out by the civil authority, and most of them had trekked – or were trekking – back. The A.P.M.’s Divisional gendarmerie were kept busy till a late hour in streets thronged with Jocks, English, Senegalese, “horizon-blues” and Italians. And here comes in the story of the business enterprise of two hardy Caledonians, who, taking advantage of the place going like a fair, donned the costumes of peasants and sold (to the cosmopolitan crowd of thirsty troops) the contents of a large and varied wine cellar which they had been fortunate enough to discover. Regardless of brand or vintage, and to secure a ready sale with quick returns, each bottle was disposed of at the modest sum of two francs a head ! Nay more ! To regularise the affair and promote confidence amongst their customers, an obliging confederate did sentry-go with fixed bayonet in front of the establishment, until it was thought safer-owing, alas! to the threats of some of their own country- men who objected to the high prices ! – to bring their operations to a close. Rumour had it that the gallant and provident financiers cleared a well-earned profit of 2,000 francs.
Next day D.H.Q. moved to Hautvillers on the other side of the Marne, a pretty little village well up on the vine-clad slopes of the hill above Epernay, and looking down on it and the river – a view comparable to that obtained of Perth from Kinnoull Hill. The 3rd H.F A . was still on trek from Nogent to Pierry, while the 2nd had not yet been joined by their transport. The 2 /1st, who were to take over the forward evacuation work, had moved forward from Mesnil to Champillon. D.H.Q. were in a large building, the property of the champagne- manufacturing Comte Chandon de Briailles, and recently the residence – since he left Rheims of the Cardinal Archbishop. Near by were the old church and the remains of an ancient abbey.
In the evening a visit from the D.D.M.S. Corps brought the disturbing news (as the Division was to go into action next morning) that, as it was impossible for any C.C.S. to take over a site and link up in time at Sezanne, it would be necessary for us to form an improvised C.C.S. at Epernay. Four medical officers with surgical experience were to be detailed from the ambulances, along with two tent sub-divisions, to take over from the Italians a pavilion of 140 beds at the Auban- Moet hospital at Epernay.
Farewell, therefore, to a hoped-for night’s rest, and off in the Ford to Champillon where the first batch of M.O.s was detailed, and then through Epernay to Pierry for the personnel required from the ambulance there. And next, with a letter from the French general as authorisation, to the Auban-Moet hospital to interview the Italian M .O. at Epernay. My visit most unfortunately coincided with one from an enemy bombing squadron, and the experience was unpleasant. By avoiding the main streets we imagined we lessened our risks; but by the time we got to the hospital and found – with difficulty, owing to the very proper absence of any lights the pavilion we wanted, my driver and I had had enough experience of bombs at close quarters to make us anxious to waste no unnecessary time.
Entering the ward in pitch darkness I flashed on an electric torch, and found the M.O. in charge (as Sam Weller found the philosophic shoemaker in the Fleet Prison, who had in better days been accustomed to a four-poster) sitting cross-legged under a table so as to enjoy the further security of the increased head cover thus attainable. Joining him there (for he refused to budge), I showed him the French general ‘s letter, and during the next ten minutes sat on the floor and had an acrimonious argument with him over its contents. “It was all very well! Go ! Where was he to go? Tell him that! How could he go? Did I know the town was being bombed ?” But with all that I told him I had nothing to do l was not bombing the town : there was the general’s letter on that I took my stand (or seat!) : that only : go, he had to. And then again the lament : – “But where was he to go ?”At this, alas ! I lost my temper and told him where I personally thought he should go: but that, in any case, if he did not clear out of here to somewhere else in an hour, we should _ with great regret, of course – have to push him out. And as our two tent sub-divisions now put in an appearance along with the 4 M.O.s, I left him to their well-known tender mercies. But it had proved quite an interesting debate, as we suffered the equal handicap of having to conduct it in the French language, he knowing no English and I no Italian ; while both of us might with the greatest advantage have had more skill of the tongue which we used as ammunition.
Once in the Ford again we made by back streets for the Marne, and just before we hit the street running parallel to the river towards the bridge, a bomb dropped on a house round the corner ; leaving us, as we charily crawled into view of it, faced with a street apparently impassable with debris. But, by getting on to the opposite pavement, we bumped Fordishly and miraculously through the ruins, and soon joined the steady Stream of traffic on the bridge. When twenty yards over it a jam occurred, and we only got across after several unpleasant stoppages of the same kind, the bombers being still hard at it and the bridge one of their main objectives. The last house at the bridge-end behind us came down by the run, and they also landed on both banks of the river in close proximity. A thick purple pall of smoke hung over every- thing- -it was a beautiful, windless, warm summer’s night – and the Marne could be seen on either side luridly lit up by the flames of the fires the bombers had effected in the town, while the flashes from the bursts on the river banks threw great orange-coloured circles against the overhead curtain. As a spectacle, good enough. Yes! But once across we made off at our best pace on the long, winding, uphill road for Champillon, with infinite relief and no desire to see more of it, getting back ultimately to Hautvillers in time for a couple of hours sleep before the battle commenced.
Shortly after daybreak D.H.Q. moved forward to St. lmoges, in the little valley of the Ardre, and once again we were up to the neck in work.
Owing to the necessary haste with which the Division entered the line, there was a lack of the usual time available for linking up Corps with Divisional medical arrangements, and a certain amount of the work usually falling on the Corps was added to that of the Division.
The dismounted personnel of the 2/1st Highland Field Ambulance, the unit detailed for front line evacuation work, had arrived at Mesnil on 17th by buses, the transport joining it subsequently on the 19th. The 2nd Highland Field Ambulance, detailed for working the Main Dressing Station, trekked from the detraining point by forced marches to Soizy, whence the dismounted personnel were taken by bus to Champillon, the transport following ; while the 3rd Highland Field Ambulance, the unit in reserve, trekked complete the whole way from train to Pierry, arriving there at mid- night of 19th. Both the last two units did over 31 kilometres in one day, and 25 in another, in very trying weather, but arrived in time and in wonderfully good condition to take up their posts. On the evening of the 19th, when information arrived from Corps that no Casualty Clearing Station would be available until next evening at Sezanne, we were faced with the fact that, apart from the want of this necessary link in the chain of evacuation, the ambulances would be dependent until then upon their War Establishment of stretchers and blankets, as any surplus required in action is drawn from the Casualty Clearing Station by returning empty cars. Further, the Advanced Depot of Medical Stores, from which the units drew their requirements of splints, dressings, drugs, etc., beyond War Establishment, could not possibly arrive at Sezanne until the same time ; while only fifteen M.A.C. cars would be available for evacuating from the Main Dressing Station until another M.A.C. got up.
The situation, an unavoidable one under the circumstances, was met, as aforesaid, by sending four medical officers with surgical experience from the ambulances, along with two tent sub-divisions from the unit in reserve at Pierry, to the Auban-Moet Hospital at Epernay, to take over there from the Italians a pavilion accommodating 140 patients, and to act as a temporary Casualty Clearing Station. This accommodation was reserved for serious cases unable to stand the journey to Sezanne, where another temporary Casualty Clearing Station was being run by ambulance personnel of the 62nd Division ; while slight cases were sent to Vertus, a portion of the French Hospital there being reserved for their use.
The equally urgent question of supplies of splints and dressings required above War Establishment had to be settled as well as possible by drawing on the French Hospital at Vertus and the Poste de Secours of the 120th French Division at St. Imoges. During the last three of the first twelve hours of the action, the available supply of stretchers, blankets, splints and dressings was practically exhausted, as the supplies obtained from the French were, while willingly given, limited, owing to their own requirements. The carpenters of the Advanced Dressing Station, St. Imoges, were, therefore, turned on to make improvised splints from the material available, while the medical officers and bearers in the line showed great initiative in the making of improvised stretchers, whereby cases were got to the Collecting Posts. A plentiful supply of stout saplings, to serve as stretcher poles, was, fortunately, available in the woods.
On the 25th a new Bearer Relay Post was established in the Bois de Courton, through which the 152nd Infantry Brigade and 7th Gordon Highlanders evacuated to St. Denis Collecting and Car Post.
On the 26th the Courton Ruine Collecting Post was withdrawn, as the Brigade on the left had been relieved on the previous night by the French.
On the 27th three new Bearer Relay Posts were established : (a) In Bois de Courton, (b) To right of Bois de Courton, (C) In Marfaux ; (a) and (b) evacuated through Relay Post in Bois de Courton formed on the 25th.
On 28th the Advanced Dressing Station moved forward to Nanteuil from St. Imoges, its site at the latter place being taken by Main Dressing Station, while the reserve unit moved from Bellevue to Nanteuil.
On the 29th Stretcher trollies were being used on the Chaumuzv-Sarcy road to Regimental Aid Posts one mile further forward, as the road, owing to shell holes and debris, was impassable for cars. Arrangements were working thus until the Division was withdrawn from the line. In the course of the battle various difficulties arose owing to the nature of the ground fought over. Except when it was possible to use stretcher trollies on the Chaumuzy-Sarcy road, all carriage from Regimental Aid Posts was done by hand to Relay Posts and thence to Collecting Posts. Sense of direction, especially at night, in the dense Bois de Courton was easily lost ; and, owing to this and the plentiful shelling by H.E. and gas, such carriage was arduous work. The list of R.A.M.C. casualties was, under the circumstances, remarkably small, viz., 1 other rank killed and 25 wounded.
The roads, especially at first, were under enemy observation and fire, and had been previously cut up by shell fire. These were gradually mended as time went on ; but up to the relief of the Division, Marfaux, Chaumuzy and the road between was constantly exposed to fire. The only car put out of action, however, was one sent on the 22nd to Fleury-La-Riviere to remove some Divisional cases which had Strayed through the Bois de Courton to the French Poste de Secours there.
The previous experience of open warfare gained in November, March and April had taught all concerned to make the most of what cover was available in the selection of Regimental Aid Posts, Relay Posts and Collecting Posts. Sunken roads, the shelter of high banks, small quarry holes, cellars in ruined buildings at Marfaux and Chaumuzy, were all duly and promptly taken advantage of. Amongst the N.C.O.s of the bearer divisions of the three ambulances there were by now a large number of excellent men who could be trusted to lead and to show initiative, and it was proved during the action that they had benefited by and acted on the knowledge gained from their previous experience.
At Advanced Dressing Stations and Main Dressing Stations the circumstances were well met, and the units concerned showed that they possessed the power of making the very most of the accommodation available, and of opening out rapidly after a move.
The great necessity for a Field Ambulance is never to lose its sense of mobility. Hence there must be no unnecessary unloading of transport, and transport must be so packed that stores are got at automatically in the order in which they are required . After the long spell of trench warfare, with due warning of any move, it was satisfactory to find that the old pre-war training for mobile warfare plus the experience gained in the field since last November, had had their due effect.
At the improvised Casualty Clearing Station in Epernay a large amount of graver surgical work was done under very difficult circumstances : and in view of the possibility of similar contingencies, a surgical team was definitely detailed from suitable medical officers in the ambulances, who would be able to proceed on such detached work if required. The necessity for this, how- ever, never again happened during the campaign.
Now, of this battle I have several outstanding memories. One was of constantly pleasant relations with my colleague the médecin chef of the French Division, the genial Colonel Martin-Descham ps. We used to meet, to discuss matters of mutual interest, in a room of the hunt- ing lodge in St. Imoges, the walls of which were ornamented with the heads of several magnificent wild boars and other gibier; for the forest was famous for its game and the sport supplied thereby. Two of his nursing orderlies were interesting men : one possessed a long black beard, another an equally long yellow one both in peace times were monks – an exchange, therefore, on their part, of the cloister for the clyster.
The trip to the French Poste de Secours at Fleury-La-Riviere, to recover divisional casualties who had side – slipped there, resulted in our Ford car straying in the dusk up a side road which ended in a cul-de-sac in the forest. With much pulling and pushing and many kangaroo jumps of which a Ford alone is capable- we got the car turned, and then saw several khaki-breeched bodies, with their tunics off and covering their faces, lying amongst the trees. To identify them we lifted the tunic off one and got an unexpected start. For they were French Senegalese, at no time objects of beauty; but now several days dead, their black faces swollen with decomposition and swarming with flies! Pouf! We were glad to leave the place and find the main road again-my driver sick as a dog.
Fleury lay in a cup-shaped depression fringed with the forest trees of the Bois de Courton : in better times a peaceful and romantic setting. Now – dead horses and men, stench, shell holes, smashed houses and the sound of perpetual gun-fire rumbling over it! The finest sight for us was the Poste de Secours itself, several large, roomy, deep caves that ran into a high ivy-clad cliff by the roadside old places cut years and years ago for Storing wine and now delightfully cool and safe.
When, on the 23rd, D.H.Q. moved back again to Hautvillers, we once more commanded the fine view. of Epernay and the Marne. Two nights later, as several of us sat smoking on the terraced garden in front of our château, we had a birds-eye and front seat view of the town being fiercely bombed. One of the earliest arrivals hit a French ammunition train at the station, which went west in one long, blinding Alash ; followed later, for an hour, by a series of explosions as various dumps went up in the succeeding conflagration – two of them being especially terrific even at that distance, and smashing many of our window panes. All the time more bombers were passing overhead and making for the town, where they set various places on fire one being the large Moet and Chandon works. Epernay was covered with a huge umbrella of black smoke, holed at intervals by the bombs bursting on the town, and lined with the crimson glow of the numerous fires. Over a hundred bombs fell on the town in the course of two hours, and the sight was a weird and unforgettable one.
This Champagne country was a new type of country – side for us, as it was the Division ‘s first irruption into the vineyard regions. And the pleasant sounding place – names were even more marked than elsewhere. Champillon, Fleury-La-Riviere, Nanteuil, St. Imoges, Chaumuzy – all pleased the ear, and suggested, not war, but peace and rural quietude. Near Pierry, as the constant Stream of war traffic- horse, foot, guns, caterpillars, whippets, lorries – -rattled along, the eye caught the names of three little side streets that made one think of pleasant things Ruelle des Vignes, Ruelle des Fées and the Rue des Pelits Prés. Think of it ! The vines, the fairies and the little meadows ! True, the vines and the little meadows were still there, but I am sure the fairies had gone ; for up their special lane a French driver was testing the engine of his camion, to the tune of horrible noises in a foul cloud of smoke. And in their own Champagne patois “the good folk” must, when they left, have expressed much the same opinions as their Scots cousins did on another occasion : –
Dule, dule to Blelack,
And dule to Blelack ‘s heir
Wha banished us frae Seelie Howe
To the cauld Hill o’ Fare.
Amongst the genial folk of Champagne there is a proverb which runs : – “Ninety-nine sheep and a Champenois make a hundred beasts.” But ce vieux dicton, say they, does not vex the true inhabitants : it is, rather, “a testimony to their good and peaceful character, always inimical to injustice and violence, but excluding neither talent, nor an united defence of their interests and their rights.” It arose from a regulation laid down by the authorities of a Champagne town that no flock of less than a hundred sheep had any right of entry to the town, the lowest charge being fixed for that number. A shepherd with a flock of ninety-nine tried to get in free ; but the porter at the gate callously gave forth the dictum “Quatre-vingt-dix-neuf moutons et un Champenois font cent bêtes.” And the berger was only granted entry at the fee fixed upon the minimum hundred scale.
Going along the road through the Forest of Rheims one day I met a procession of French whippet tanks making smartly for the line, with their horizon-blue crews on top, cheery and gallant. On the third car an unexpected touch was given to the show by one merry poilu who had resurrected a very ancient “lum’ hat, of the species used by their peasantry, as by ours, to attend funerals. Its appearance suggested that it had been a family heirloom since the days of the Little Corporal. But its present owner wore it cocked roguishly over one eye, what time he was not, in response to the chaff of passers by, lifting his tile with an exaggerated politesse, and bowing profoundly from his perch to his grinning comrades at the roadside. Me he favoured with a full military salute, regardless of the incongruity of his outfit ; an act of correct demeanour which set all of us who saw him off our centres of gravity. Good lad ! He was doing a hornpipe on top of the tank as he turned the corner and was lost to view !
At Cramant, when D.H.Q. had moved there from Nanteuil, previous to entraining once again for the north, I came across an old man while strolling up a steep side road amongst the vines, and with him I got into conversa- tion. It was not altogether easy, as he was practically edentulous, spoke very rapidly, and had a Clemenceau type of moustache covering all his mouth and half his chin. But in spite of these preliminary difficulties we discussed for half an hour—to our mutual edification- the best manures for vines, the main differences between Catholic and Protestant worship, the connection (or want of it) between Church and State in France, and what was best for his chronic indigestion. At this stage I got rather a shock, for he said suddenly, “Pardon, monsieur Mais vous, vous êtes Italien, n ‘est-ce-pas?” And when I had explained to him, that in spite of all temptation to belong to that estimable allied nation, I still remained a Scotsman, he started off at once on Marie Stuart and her history. Then he stopped and shook his head : “For the Scots, yes – you are our ancient allies ! But the English ! Ah, the English !” I asked him what the trouble was, and he said sadly : – “Of course, they too are our allies and we must love them ; but for me it is difficult!” And the difficulty on further enquiry turned out to be – Jeanne D’Arc! He gave me a learned and emotional résumé of her treatment, receiving my respectful sympathy ; and I left him in the middle of the dusty cart-track, bowing, with his battered straw hat in hand, a farewell ; while he tearfully murmured, “Oui! C’est difficile ! La pauvre Pucelle !” For out of the ancient dust, watered with tears, of such memories and prejudices, national sentiment is, century by century, moulded and remoulded.
In Cramant, and the other surrounding villages, were numerous small champagne – manufacturing establishments, bearing no famous brand- the great houses were in Epernay and Rheims-but doing a large local trade. The first two “‘pressings” of the grape were made into “bubbly” ; the third was used as a still wine the fourth pressing, done under hydraulic pressure, produced a cheap, sour wine, that was used by the peasants who tended and gathered the grapes -truly a muzzling of the Ox that trod out the corn ! Down below, in the cool, roomy cellars cut out of the rock, the bottles, tilted at various angles according to the stage of manufacture the wine had reached, were stored. But also down below at that time were the family, the bedding, the furniture and the various more valuable household goods : for, owing to the constant bombing of the area, the people of the village had at night been for some time living a subterranean existence.
And there, on 2nd August, we entrained once more for the north, passing again through the outskirts of Paris ; reading, smoking, talking ; trying to sleep in the very dirty compartment with soiled and torn cushions getting out at intervals, if a halt occurred, to make for the adjoining cattle truck which was our mess, or precariously finding our way along the footboards when the halt was overdue. Here, perhaps, from the windows one saw great fields of golden grain specked with red poppies and blue cornflowers, spreading back to thick wood with its always copious undergrowth there, a canal with barges and the water dimpled with a heavy shower, through whose haze might be made out a figure, regardless of wet, phlegmatically fishing from the bank. And again, forest : silver birch, fir, acacia, beech and oak, with the long “rides,” cut like canals of green grass, often ending in a glimpse of some lordly château, at whose ancient history one could only guess.
In the morning, at the first stop that promised to be of some duration, all ranks tumbled half-clad out of the train ; and with basins, mirrors and shaving tackle set out on the footboards, commenced a hasty toilet. In the middle of the performance and always without warning the train would Start with a jerk that upset everything and amidst incendiary language and a wild grabbing- where the difference between meum and tuum was frequently forgotten- and collecting of paraphernalia, half-washed and shaved officers and men reboarded the train, to wait for another, and similar, opportunity. And so, detraining at Brias, the Division made for the Villers-Chatel area, where the Field Ambulances found sites at Cambligneul, Jouy-Servins and Aubigny.