The Battle of Cambrai, 1918

On 8th October Divisional Headquarters moved from the roomy Chateau D’Acy near Mont St. Eloi into a large sandpit.Here we remained for three days in huts tucked into the ever sliding sides of the pit, and – as bombers were rife covered with green camouflage netting, until on the Ioth we moved to Bourlon Château, where “A,” “Q.’ and A.D.M .S. offices conjointly shared the large kitchen. It luckily possessed a huge, old-fashioned open fire-place of the Scots farmhouse type, but had no other merits of any kind whatsoever, except that it was the most habitable part of a building which had been very conscientiously knocked to bits. My bedroom was a little cylindrical vault half way up the kitchen stairs, roomy enough to permit of a bed of sorts being rigged up in it. In peace times it more appropriately functioned as an oven for supplying the family bread.

The 3rd Highland Field Ambulance took over the Chocolate Factory at Ste. Olle – a suburb of Cambrai – as M.D.S. for the 2nd Canadian and 49th Divisions, then in action. This factory, a modern and up-to-date affair with much overhead (and now smashed) glass, was situated on the side of the main road, and had several narrow squeaks during their occupancy of it from the free shelling of the area that was going on.

After a day of rumours and counter-rumours e.g., that the Kaiser had resigned in favour of his second son – but always with the definite news that we were advancing well, our office got orders in the evening to move out and rendezvous at Morenchies on the outskirts of Cambrai. Arriving there in the dusk we waited two hours for orders that never came ; so in the dark we pushed on au pied to Escaudcuvres, the suburb beyond Cambrai. The greasy pavé was stiff with traffic, the place was being shelled bv a high velocity gun. and the footpaths were full of shell holes. Advance thereon was further complicated by fallen telegraph poles, so that, Scrambling out of the holes into which you fell, you then became hopelessly tied up in a tangle of wire. From several of the houses in which they were billeted, our troops were also engaged in heaving out dead Boches. Progress, therefore, was slow ; but after an hour, tired, bruised, wet and muddy, we found D.H.Q., and then managed to get the A.D.M.S. of the 2nd Canadian Division and arrange the various takings-over required before our Division went once again into action.

(a) First Phase – 11th-12th to 19th October.

First Day’s Advance. On the Division entering the line on night of 11th- 12th October, the Field Ambulances were located as follows :- 

2nd Highland Field Ambulance at Morenchies. 

2/1st Highland Field Ambulance at Convent, Escaudeuvres. 

3rd Highland Field Ambulance at Chocolate Factory, Ste. Olle. 

This last unit was, as already said, temporarily functioning as Main Dressing Station for the 2nd Canadian Division and the 49th Division, until required to act in a similar capacity for the 5ıst (Highland) Division. On the evening of the IIth the 2/ Ist Highland Field Ambulance took over from a Canadian Field Ambulance Advanced Dressing Station at the Convent, the Escaudeuvres the Canadians also remaining there till the 13th, when their last Brigade came out of the line. Forward Posts were also taken over at Thun St. Martin and Naves. On the afternoon of the 12th this Advanced Dressing Station was moved forward to St. Hubert, Thun St. Martin, with, for the left sector, a car Collecting Post in the yard and cellars of a brasserie near the cemetery at Iwuy, and for the right sector a post on the road N .E. of Naves. As the railway bridges over the roads from the night sector to the Advanced Dressing Station were destroyed, this latter post evacuated cases direct to the Main Dressing Station, Escaudcuvres, now established by the 2nd Highland Field Ambulance which had moved on the morning of 12th October to the Convent. By dint of much hard work in clearing away debris and patching windows and roofs, satisfactory accommodation for over 400 cases was soon provided. In the afternoon the 3rd Highland Field Ambulance arrived at the Convent, Escaudæuvres, from its temporary work with the Canadians at Ste. Olle, and doubled up with the 2nd, joining in the medical work of the Main Dressing Station and in repairing the premises.

In the course of the next day the Regimental Aid Posts moved forward to the neighbourhood of Avesnes- le-Sec, and on the 14th an Advanced Car Collecting Post for Ford cars was established at a site on the Iwuy- Avesnes-le-Sec road, in charge of an N.C.O. and a squad of men. On the 14th, also, the post N.E. of Naves was discontinued and all the cases for evacuation were passed through Iwuy.

On the 15th the Car Collecting Post was moved farther forward along the Iwuy-Avesnes-le-Sec road, and one Ford car stationed there, another from Iwuy replacing it when it came down from the post with cases.

(b) Second Phase -19th to 23rd October – Across the Selle. At the Ecaillon. 

On the 19th when, under pressure, the enemy began to retire, especially on the left, a Car Collecting Post was established in some buildings beside the level crossing over the railway at Pavé de Valenciennes. 

On the forenoon of the 20th an Advanced Car Collecting Post was placed at Frête Au Poirier, on the Iwuy side of the crossroads there, short of where the road had been blown up by the enemy on his retiral. Ford cars brought cases from the Noyelles area to this point, whence they were transferred to large cars and evacuated to the M .D.S., Escaudcuvres. 

The post at Iwuy was now moved forward to the cellarage of a house near the church at Avesnes-le-Sec, and at the same time two Walking Wounded Collecting Posts were placed, one at Pavé de Valenciennes and the other at the former Brigade Headquarters on the outskirts of Avesnes-le-Sec. At these Posts horse ambulance wagons picked up walking cases and took them back to the Corps Walking Wounded Collecting Station at Escaudeuvres. 

Next day the post at A vesnes-Le-Sec was vacated and an Advanced Car Collecting Post established at Croix Sainte Marie on the Douchy-Valenciennes road. As the main-road bridge at Douchy had been blown up and a temporary one was still in process of erection, Ford cars were man-handled by squads of men across the badly cut-up fields beside the road and over the small R.E. trestle bridge crossing the Selle two hundred yards north of Douchy. These Fords then ran forward and brought cases down from Croix Sainte Marie to a post in Douchy, whence they were carried by hand across the bridge and loaded again on large cars waiting on the west side of the river.

The same day the Main Dressing Station in charge of the 2nd Highland Field Ambulance moved from Convent, Escaudeuvres, to the Château at Iwuy, the Convent being taken over by the 3rd Highland Field Ambulance as a Divisional Rest Station, while the Advanced Dressing Station moved forward to Pavé de Valenciennes. 

On the 22nd the Advanced Walking Wounded Collecting Posts were moved forward to Frête au Poirier and Noyelles, and cases evacuated by horse ambulance wagon to the Corps Walking Wounded Collecting Post, now at Iwuy, relay wagons being got at a post at Pavé de Valenciennes. 

An Advanced Ford Car Post was next established on the west side of the demolished railway bridge at Thiant, it being at the time impossible to get cars farther forward until the debris of the fallen-in stonework had been cleared from the road. The same day a dispensary for civilian sick of the district was established at Douchy, and a soup kitchen was also started there to feed the Starving population of Douchy, Neuville and Noyelles. These were very necessary and much appreciated.

(c) Third Phase -23rd to 25th October – The Crossing of the Ecaillon. 

The main-road bridge at Douchy having now been reconstructed and allowing of the passage of large cars, an Advanced Dressing Station was established in the Salle du Patronage, Douchy, and the Main Dressing Station moved forward from Iwuy Château to the Bakery, an extensive factory building at Pavé de Valenciennes. Iwuy Château was then taken over by the 3rd Highland Field Ambulance as a Divisional Rest Station. 

During the night of the 22nd-23rd the Croix Sainte Marie post was badly gassed, and in the course of the day 25 shells came into Douchy ; one, which caused 21 casualties, landing thirty feet from the Advanced Dressing Station in the village hall. A large number of local wounded, military and civilian, had to be dealt with. A dispensary for civilian sick and a soup kitchen were installed at Haulchin on the 23rd. On the 24th, many gassed cases, including several civilians, were evacuated from the village of Thiant by hand carriage over the ruins of the collapsed railway bridge, and thence by cars. Douchy was again shelled, causing several local casualties.

Relay Bearer Posts were established on the 25th at the Bolt Factory, Thiant, and in front of the village. In the evening a further post was pushed forward on the Thiant-Maing road. The bridge across the Ecaillon river, which had been blown up by the enemy when retreating, was now reconstructed, and the road had been cleared during the day.

(d) Fourth Phase – 25th to 28th October – The Advance beyond Maing. The Fighting in Famars. The Struggle for Mont Houy. 

On the 25th the Advanced Dressing Station moved forward to La Pyramide de Denain, where there was excellent cellarage in a farmhouse, while the Main Dressing Station moved forward from Pavé de Valenciennes to the School, Douchy. The Relay Post for horse wagons collecting walking wounded closed at Pavé de Valenciennes on the 26th, all walking wounded now going direct from Croix Sainte Marie to the new Corps Walking Wounded Collecting Post at Haspres.

The main car post at Bolt Factory, Thiant, with Ford cars stationed on the Thiant-Maing road, was now collecting direct from Regimental Aid Posts on S.W. side of Maing, until on the 28th, the Advanced Dressing Station and forward posts were relieved by a W. Riding Field Ambulance of the 49th Division, when the High- land Division came out of the line after its last battle. 

As occurred in the retreat of March and April, the Battle of the Lys, and the action in Champagne, new types of difficulty arose in this action, the overcoming of which lent fresh interest to the work. 

The demolition of crossroads by mines, and the blocking of evacuation routes by the blowing up of railway arches and bridges, rendered the getting away of the casualties no easy matter. The value of the Ford type of ambulance car was prominently brought out ; as, owing to its lightness, it could cross fields, dodge through roads cut up by shell holes, climb banks, and be man-handled through soft, cut-up ground quite impassable for the larger type of car. 

Owing to the fact that in most cases during the advance Fords could be run up practically to the Regimental Aid Posts, a large amount of the motor transport Field Ambulance work was done under heavy shell fire. In the village of Iwuy one Ford twice received a hit ; the second time, an orderly being killed and a medical officer slightly wounded. In both cases the driverı managed temporarily to repair his car under fire and get his cases away safely.

As the Division advanced, the shelling of the evacuation routes, the greasy condition of the pavé, cut- up, too, with shell holes and mine craters, made night work doubly difficult. The blowing up of the bridge over the Selle on the main road through Douchy, and the repeated blocking of the road into Thiant by the debris of the constantly shelled railway bridge were serious obstacles ; but before the action finished Ford cars were running into Maing and large cars into Thiant. The work of the bearers and the motor transport was, as always, carried out with great gallantry and efficiency. 

The Advanced Dressing Station and the Main Dressing Station, while at Douchy, both came under shell fire. Under the circumstances the R.A.M.C. casualties were fortunately few. During the advance we were faced for the first time with an entirely new problem. The civilian population were either being evacuated from the danger zone or returning from the back area to their now freed homes. About half of these people were ill, largely owing to exhaustion, exposure and the long continued under- feeding while in enemy hands. A very large proportion was found to be tubercular ; e.g., in the village of Haulchin, with a population of I,500, over 90 cases (by no means the total) of tubercular, disease of the lung received medical treatment, many of them in an advanced stage of the disease. Venereal disease was also common. 

In cooperation with the French Mission (and the civil authorities when they were functioning) medical attendance on the sick was organised through the Field Ambulances and medical officers of units. In one village alone (Neuville sur L’Escaut ) over 200 cases were visited at their homes. The graver cases were evacuated through our medical channels to the French Hôpital St. Jean, Arras.

Soup kitchens and centres for distribution of cookhouse bones were quickly installed and handed over to the French authorities to provide food for the villages of Douchy, Neuville sur L’Escaut, Noyelles, Haulchin, Bouchain, Iwuy, Thun St. Martin, Thun L’Evêque, Paillencourt, Estrun and Hordain. It is estimated that nearly 4,000 civilians were thus daily supplied with good nourishing food, in addition to the rations and medical comforts issued, and the greatest appreciation was shown by the French authorities and by the people themselves of the efforts of the Division on their behalf. 

34 civilian wounded (gun-shot. wounds and gassed) and seriously sick (advanced phthisis, pneumonia, etc. ) were evacuated, most of the gassed being from Famars. 

In all the re-occupied area sanitation was very bad. Considering the vaunted efficiency of the enemy in this respect, it is more than possible that the conditions found were largely intentional. This state of affairs was increased by the amount of debris which had to be cleared out of the houses before our troops occupied them as billets, and by the insanitary habits of the returning civilians, many of them merely birds of passage. The large amount of dead horses all over the area contributed to make matters worse ; while owing to the multiplicity of breeding grounds and the abnormally mild weather there was a plague of Hies. Incineration, the usual safeguard in such cases, was severely handicapped by the fact that it had to be carried out with great caution owing to the large amount of loose bombs and hand grenades lying about. “Booby-traps” were frequently met with. At Iwuy a bomb had been placed inside a soiled mattress, and, on this being burnt, an explosion resulted in one man being mortally and another slightly wounded. At Douchy a refuse pit, full of dry refuse inviting the application of a match was, on examination, found to have the bottom lined with hand grenades laid in a regular layer.

Officers commanding Field Ambulances were instructed to co-operate, as far as their other duties permitted, with Town Majors and medical officers of units, in the remedying of existing conditions, and a very large amount of sanitary work was carried out before the Division was relieved. 

 the battle D.H.O. moved first Escaudceuvres to Naves, some three kilometres distant, a much battered and (then) very dirty village. Here I shared, with Daddums and Dados – the coal cellar beneath the A.D.M.S. office as a bedroom, having: taken it over from the Huns as a going concern with all plenishings, including three beds and a clock affixed to the wall. The clock was going too, and we sincerely wished it wasn’t, owing to our knowledge of the numerous booby-trap efforts the enemy had left in his wake. The puzzle was whether to stop the evil time-piece and thereby possibly set off some infernal contraption inside, or to let it run down with results probably similar. Pleading the possession of an absolutely unmechanical mind, I tried to persuade Dados to take a look over it some afternoon when he was out of a job, but he “wasn’t having any.” An R.E.sergeant, called in as a consultant, had no doubt (and stated his opinion in a most convinced manner) that it was much the best course to let it run down! So for two nights we all fell off to sleep with the horrible clock stolidly tick-ticking, while we affected a composure we did not feel. In one corner of our cellar – a fuggy vaulted hole twenty feet by ten was a heap made up in equal parts of coals and potatoes ; and our strained nerves were further shattered one midnight by the Ordnance merchant suddenly asserting that he heard a steady ticking noise proceeding from it! Daddums lit a candle, while Dados, on hands and knees, crawled about in the neighbourhood of the heap and applied his ear to various likely parts. I offered him the loan of a stethoscope, as I had reason to be really interested in the proceedings ; but Dados was quite rude about it, and huffily got into bed with his hands, knees and temper in a most unseemly condition.

The next move was to the château at Avesnes-le-Sec Ewhy sec was the conundrum there. It had been badly knocked about, and rain got in only too readily. The Basseville of Bouchain was our next location, where Nos. I and 2 H.Q. Mess were in a large house in the narrow and dirty main street. Soon after our arrival the owner, a quiet, cultured old man with white side-whiskers, turned up along with his daughter, son-in-law and three maids and politely asked to be allotted accommodation in his own house ! He had been a mill-owner there before the war, and gave a bad account of the Boche. One of their generals had been billeted in his house, and, after departing, sent back two motor lorries to lift all the furniture he had specially favoured. This was done 5 but the house in the town to which it had been removed was set on fire during a drunken orgy and everything was destroyed.

The A.D.M.S. office was in a neighbouring private house which had been very thoroughly looted from the basement to the attics. The well-filled library was one of the saddest sights of the war; bookcases smashed all the French classics – finely tooled leather-bound books –torn, burst or half burnt, lying about in heaps that had been trodden and re-trodden by muddy boots. Many old legal documents were also scattered around in disorder. Even the children ‘s nursery on the top fat had not been missed bedding cut open, furniture smashed, and the rocking-horse, dolls and other children’s toys broken to bits with an axe. Fritz was a dirty devil when he got going on the lines of malicious destruction. 

But we had more to do than gaze at the devastation which Kultur had effected, for, besides the ordinary Field Ambulance work of a Division in the line, we had now the extra work–most willingly undertaken by one and all– of feeding and medically treating the unfortunate French population of the area, plus the added refugees passing through, who for four years had steadily suffered the vilest ill-usage at the hands of a brutal and unscrupulous foe. And, in the present atmosphere of international criticism, one may perhaps, even at some length, fitly recall how our help was then appreciated by the French. 

On 30th December, 1918, M. Clemenceau wrote a letter from Paris to Sir Douglas Haig, in which he said “Field-Marshal Foch has just communicated to me a complete report concerning the aid rendered the population of liberated territories by the British troops at the time of their victorious advance from Oct. 1 to Nov. 25, 1918. You generously undertook for four days to feed the French population of over 700,000 souls, who had been restored to their country. You did not, however, consider this enough. Wherever our civil authorities were unable to succour our compatriots, worn out by long privations, and systematically deprived of the means of subsistence, your effective assistance was continued for as long as was necessary. Thus, in the course of one month, over five million rations were distributed by the British troops. Your different Service branches, your officers and men, vied with each other in ingenuity and efforts to procure fresh meat, white bread, and hot food for our women and aged people, and with wise and touching forethought, took special pains to guarantee a supply of milk for the children and invalids. Thousands of our refugees, sick and repatriated prisoners of war, were transported by you ; your heroic drivers exposing themselves to the enemy’s fire in order to save the victims of his bombardment. Further to assist our wounded com patriots, you improvised complete hospitals within a few kilometres of the firing line. Innumerable lives were thus saved by your devoted doctors and nurses, who have moreover been unremitting in their efforts to overcome the terrible epidemic of influenza which has lately visited our unfortunate population. 

“I wish it were possible to quote the many individual acts of devotion and proofs of the comradeship in the report that lies before me. Words cannot express all that the British Army, whilst unceasingly engaged in heavy fighting, endured in order to render practical assistance to our unfortunate compatriots. France owes you the salvation of a whole region. I am proud, M. le Marechal, to acknowledge the debt. The Government and People of France will never forget it.” And again, in the report forwarded to the “Quartermaster-General of the British Armies in France by the Chief of Staff of the French Military Mission attached to the British Army, the covering letter says : “I avail myself of this opportunity to tell you how all those who have seen your officers and men at work in these circumstances have admitted the ingenious and untiring efforts displayed in order to relieve our suffering populations, and beg to express to you my personal and deep gratitude for the same.”

The report itself contains the following passages :–

“On Oct. 1, 1918, the British Army began to enter a district from which the population had only been partly evacuated by the Germans. The British Army was going to find, up to the Belgian border, 700,000 inhabitants. The order strictly forbidding the placing of British batteries near inhabited villages, in order to diminish for them the risks of being shelled, throughout the Ist British Army area, illustrates the attitude which our Allies were adopting towards our fellow countrymen. The main question was going to be the provision of food. The British Army had promised to supply the liberated inhabitants, as it advanced, with four days’ preserved rations, calculated at the scale of one Army ration to four civilians. At the end of this period the care of feeding the population was to fall upon the French authorities. The object of the present report is to show what the British troops have in reality done for a population consisting mostlv of old people, women and children, who had been insufficiently fed for several years, who were suffering from a violent epidemic of influenza, and who were also, except in the Lille area, entirely short of food-stuffs.

°Throughout their areas and as they advanced, the British have fed the civilian population for four days as promised. But at no place, on the fifth day, were the French authorities in a position to ensure, even partly, the feeding of the civilian first population. The provisions sent by the French authorities only arrived in the First Army area Denain, Valenciennes) eighteen days, in the Third Army area (Le Cateau, Avesnes) twenty-nine days, and in the Fourth Army area (Le Quesnoy, Maubeuge) thirty-eight days after the first civilians had been liberated. During all that period and in spite of difficulties of transportation which, on several occasions, compelled the British troops to reduce their own rations, the British have assumed the enormous task of carrying out this prolonged supply, distributing officially a minimum quantity of 5,084,000 civilian rations, the transportation of which represents, for instance, for the area of a single corps, viz., the Eighth, from Oct. 19 to Nov.15, 284 days of motor lorry and 602 days of two-horsed wagon transportation. The British have, therefore, saved in this way from starvation at least 400, 000 French people whom the retreating Germans had systematically deprived of all means of subsistence.

“When at last, after waiting for weeks, the first provisions sent by the civil authorities arrived at rail- heads, at all places the number of lorries placed at the disposal of the prefects was utterly out of proportion to the requirements. For instance, on Nov. II , in the First British Army area (Denain, Valenciennes), the Prefect of the Nord only had eighteen motor lorries in working order for supplying 177.000 inhabitants. Provisions were accumulating at railways stations, fresh arrivals had been stopped for two days, and complete starvation would have prevailed throughout the district had it not been for the forty motor lorries, and afterwards sixty, which were placed by the First British Army at the disposal of the French authorities for all the time required. This state of affairs occurred everywhere : and everywhere; response to the applications made by the French Military Mission, the various British armies have employed every day, regardless of numbers, hundreds of motor lorries and wagons for conveying the provisions to the centres de ravitaillement and distributing them afterwards between the respective localities. This constitutes an enormous effort which was made all along the British front, and which resulted in saving the liberated populations from an unprecedented disaster.

“In addition to the transportation of provisions, the British have constantly placed the whole of their empty motor lorries at the disposal of refugees, evacuated people, and released prisoners of war. Everywhere proper routes of circulation were established, by which tens of thousands of people have benefited. The untiring obligingness of the British drivers, their courage in removing under fire civilians to be evacuated, the help which they have spontaneously given everywhere to women and children, form one of the most striking features of the assistance rendered by the British during the war. It is even impossible to calculate the thousands of journeys made by motor lorries loaded with civilians since the beginning of the advance. To give an idea – from Oct. 19 to Nov. 15 he First British Army officially employed for the conveyance either of provisions or of French refugees, 2,279 days of motor lorry transportation. This figure does not include, however, the innumerable transportations of civilians, with their baggage  spontaneously carried by the drivers on roads, and which reach an amount at least double the above figure.

“Owing to delay in the arrival of the provisions to be provided by the French authorities, the scale foreseen of one army ration to four inhabitants proved to be distinctly insufficient for a diet of any duration. The British have at all places done their utmost in order to remedy this disquieting State of affairs. In many cases the British troops supplied, free of charge, thousands of rations in addition, which are not included in statistics. Moreover, the directors of the Medical Services of corps and divisions have been instructed to specify what should be given to the civilian population.

“On the other hand, a physically weakened population requires other things than preserves and biscuits. Wherever possible considerable quantities of fresh meat have been substituted for corned beef. In addition to the rations furnished, the Veterinary Services arranged for some of the sound horses to be slaughtered, and the flesh to be distributed between the various localities. At the recommendation of medical officers fresh bread was substituted for biscuits nearly everywhere, and an enormous quantity of tins of condensed milk was dis- tributed to children and sick people.

“At all places in face of the piteous condition of the civilian population, cases of personal initiative took place. The 51st Division alone thus provided food, free of charge, for 3,500 persons a day. An admirable ingenuity was displayed in the supply of ingredients for the making of these free soups : flesh from wounded horses destroyed, rations in excess, and bones from neighbouring units, vegetables fetched from a distance by fatigue parties, were added to the Bovril, Oxo, and tea given by the British Army. The Ambulance in the neighbourhood furnished the cooks.” 

The report says later : – “This was a marvellous impetus of systematic and ingenious charity which turned the British Army, even at the periods of the heaviest fighting, into a sort of huge society for the relief of the liberated French people. It is impossible to estimate the number of human lives saved in this way.” 

Reference is also made to the fine work of the British caring for this exhausted population, hospitals in amongst whom influenza, bronchitis and pneumonia were making terrible ravages, and whose villages the departing Germans were, moreover, bombarding with gas shells.

Summing up the services rendered, the report adds “It is impossible to do justice to the admirable efforts displayed by all the British Armies, which, amidst heavy and victorious fighting, unceasingly thought about saving human lives and giving help to the French civilian population, regardless of cost. For this fine achievement both officers and men deserve the deepest gratitude of the French nation at large”‘ 

Of Divisions, the 51st and the 66th – both Territorial – were the only two referred to by name in the report for their work in this connection. At Mons, after the armistice, Captain St. André of the G.H.Q. French Mission, specially sent by Marshal Foch to enquire into the medical work done by the R.A.M.C., expressed to me his cordial thanks, on behalf of his country, for the efforts put forth by the 51st Division in their area to assist the unfortunate inhabitants. 

Looking back on it all, I do not suppose that many housewives would have whole-heartedly admired our first efforts at soup-making. We had not enough trained cooks to go round, and these genial amateurs who ran the first soupes populaires went solely- guided by taste and fancy – on the lines of making the liquid refreshment “grateful and comforting.”‘ We were up against the fact that the usual local authorities – the Maire, his deputy, etc – had had all their initiative knocked out of them by four years of German repression and brutality, and it was absolutely essential to act at once. So, on entering a half-smashed village, the first, hunt was for a “boiler” or “copper” the kind of thing found in a washing-house for boiling clothes or in a farmyard for making hens’ meat and cattle food- of sufficient capacity for the job. This when found was thoroughly cleaned out, filled with water, and a fire lit beneath. Into the water went the contents of several tins of “bully” a bag of biscuits, some Bovril, or a piece of meat cut from some convenient and recentl shell-killed horse. The neighbouring remains of gardens were searched for possible turnips, carrots, cabbages, Or any green things of the vegetable order ; and (after due washing and chopping) in they went too. A wooden “spurtle” had been now manufactured, and “the whole hypothec” was vigorously stirred. 

The news – and the fragrant odour of what we were manufacturing soon got abroad, and the starving inhabitants commenced to gather around the scene of operations, their numbers swelled further by the refugees passing through with their little handcarts. An announcement was made to the crowd of the hours (twice daily) when the distribution would be carried out, and they were warned to bring jugs and a Statement of the number for whom they claimed food. At this stage, if wisdom abode in you, the attendance of some village authority was demanded – the Maire, a “notable” or at least the garde champêtre – to check the demands of the applicants a hungry man may be an angry man, but he certainly is apt to handle the truth very carelessly. At one of our earliest distributions a long, gaunt, middle-aged man turned up with a Gargantuan jug and claimed supplies for himself, a wife, and five children. An aged inhabitant, physically weak in all but tongue power, whom we had secured as umpire, broke forth at once : 

“Ah, villain ! Five children ? Who knows! But a wife- jamais, jamais ! Va t’en, misérable!”

But as we thought hunger might have damaged the exactness of his memory, we gave the “misérable” a sufficiency for his personal requirements, to the high disapproval of “Father William” who immediately tendered his resignation ! As things developed, the bones from all the units’ cookhouses were systematically collected in sandbags and distributed to the soup centres according to the estimated population requiring aliment. In some cases the request was made by the people that these should be divided up and handed over so that each family should make its own soup. In the very small villages this was possible and was done ; but in the larger ones it was not, and in some of the latter the authorities required persuasion to adopt the communal method. 

I entered one such place just as Jerry commenced to shell it – for shell all these villages he did, although he knew they were still full of inhabitants. The street was empty, save for one phlegmatic old dame who was drawing water from a pump in the middle of it. “The house of M. le Maire ? The fourth on the left, Monsieur.” Knocking at the door, I was hastily ushered in by a perturbed lady to a room where a “council of notables” was in session over local affairs, and, after introductions all round, was voted into the chair. From there, and in what I knew of the French language (practically sentence about with the chief of the Divisional French Mission, who kindly drove my points home), I explained our scheme. Solemnly these old worthies discussed it, and then divided into “Wets” and “Drys” ; the former in favour of the central soup kitchen, the latter plum ping for distributing the bones. The discussion promised to be both of interest and some length, but was prematurely brought to a close by a shell landing too near the Mairic for comfort ; So the meeting broke up without the usual votes of thanks. But we had a soup kitchen going there in the afternoon all the same I was always a consistent “Wet” on such occasions, because the food went further. 

The conditions generally were pitiful in the extreme: a history of four long years of semi-starvation and brutal treatment by the enemy. “

“You find the soup good?” I anxiously asked one woman, because, somehow, it did not look to me like “what mother used to make.”‘

“ẾMais oui, monsieur! It is the first good food we have had for years,” she replied. 

A widow with live children, this woman had on one occasion left the village to go to a neighbouring one in search of food for them. Having done this without permission, she was kept there for nine months without news of her family, working in the fields with a gang of other women under the orders of a German soldier. 

At Famars, several days after the cessation of hostilities, we found the Maire – a working stone-mason – in great distress. He had just got the news that his son, a prisoner in Belgium, had been – along with several others – shot by the enemy for cheering when the news of the armistice had been given out. 

At Croix Sainte Marie I saw the first meeting after four years – and it was a touching scene – between a father and mother and their only child, a cripple daughter of eighteen lying in an invalid chair. All the time of the war she had been in Valenciennes, where she had gone on a visit to relatives a few days before it broke out. Only seven kilometres away, the parents had been steadily refused a laissez-passer to go and visit her. 

At Iwuy we had for several days charge of an infant six weeks old. Its sole food during that time had been two tins of condensed milk, and, for the four days immediately previous to our getting it, nothing but water. The mother–far gone in phthisis and with three other children – had, four days after the birth, been ordered to move from Douchy to Denain, and for the privilege of lying on the bare boards of a German wagon that was going there in any case, had paid the driver her all- a sum of twenty-five francs. Rigging up an emergency feeding-bottle with the aid of a piece of sterilised stethoscope-tubing, we had the child in a fair way to recovery before we handed it over to the French hospital at Cambrai. But the mother was dying.

Dying, too, was an old woman with cardiac dropsy who had managed to make her way back to Iwuy, whence she and her husband had been forced to go by the Huns, as they retreated, to the other side of Valenciennes. Her husband, a frail old man, had dropped dead on the road, and two sons had previously been killed in the war. When we were arranging for her removal to a French refugee hospital in Cambrai, she pleaded earnestly to be allowed to die sat home`thome” being the one half- habitable room in her destroyed cottage. Getting another old woman to look after her, we granted her request, and she died two days afterwards Fat home.

One refugee, who had been doing forced labour for three years at a jam factory for German troops in Belgium, told me that many children were also compelled to work there, and that he had seen them knocked down by blows from a stick on the back of the head for tasting the stuff. Two of them had died as a result. He had seen other children struck on the mouth and their teeth knocked out for the same “offence.”

But why go on ? Any one of the continual procession of refugees, pulling along their pitiable little collections of personal belongings in home-made handcarts, with whom one chanced to converse, had similar stories to tell. To get back to their homes, and meantime to get food and a night’s lodging, was all they asked. Anything sadder than that perpetual stream of old folk and children, to be met by night and by day stumbling along in the wet, over greasy pavé or muddy road, it would be hard to conceive.

Paying a call one evening on the Chief of the Divisional French Mission, I I knocked at the door of his billet to be met with a cry of “Who’s there ? I am busy! Go away!” Giving my name I was allowed to enter, and found him on his knees in front of a tub of steaming

water, busily engaged in washing a pretty little boy of some five years of age. He modestly apologised for his occupation, which certainly recalled the famous old Statuary advertisement of Pears’ soap, So to make him feel more at ease I lent him a hand. The little chap was literally “nobody’s bairn.” He had neither local habitation, name nor relations. My friend had got him handed over that afternoon by some refugees in whose charge he had been for a year ; they, in turn, having got him from strangers to whom he had been entrusted by previous unknown compatriots. So his tragic little history – he must have been about a year old when war broke out – ran back into sheer obscurity. His clothing was only fit for the incinerator, where it went : and we rigged him out in a white sweater and a pair of old Tommy slacks cut down to requirements. And to see the small chap when we had finished with him, strutting proudly about – a bundle of white wool with a Dutch stern of khaki – was a sight for the gods. I wonder if he was ever by any chance claimed by his own folk, or whether his own folk were alive to claim him. There were long, long odds against it. 

Grateful to a degree the people were for what was being done but after the soupe populaire became a fixed public institution, it was, like all public institutions, liable to criticism. Tinned milk – issued only to children, old folk and invalids – had ultimately to be diluted with sterilized water and served out by the pint ; as the temptation of supping it undiluted was too much for some sybarites. And besides food, in some districts, an attempt had to be made to supply firewood and coal. Many of the villages were colliery villages, and a central depot for such things, to make the limited supply go fairly round, was a necessity. And, of course, with such a population, accusations of favouritism would arise.

Antoine would declare Anatole was “too far ben” with the M.O. in charge : Pạuline, aged and voluble, would assert that her many infirmities were not assessed at their proper food value. Coming across a fire of such statements one day, I intimated that any further complaints would be met by removing the doctor, the soup kitchen and the fuel depot to another village. Next day I called for the M.O. to take him over with me to inspect another place where we meant to instal a branch soup kitchen and, when we entered the car, many of the inhabitants, believing the threatened removal was in progress, mobbed us with promises of better behaviour and loud praises of the M .O – who, incidentally, thoroughly deserved them One of his proudest possessions may well be the illiterate address of appreciation –all they could give him -with which he was presented by these poor folk when we finally left the area.

And then after the Armistice we moved into Belgium to the Lalouvière area – again a coal-mining district – on the other side of Mons, where we stayed until demobilisation in April, 1919. Our war work abroad was done. 

So there you have the tale, such as it is. Not much in it, perhaps – you can read it in your arm-chair, of an evening, with your toes at the fire but it took us the best part of four strenuous years to do what it tells of. As I said at the beginning, it is, changing the dates and the names, the tale of any British Field Ambulance in France : we were not “the only pebbles on the beach”. To those who were there it may recall many memories and to those who were not it may give a general idea of our life and work. And if I have told the tale badly – well, mea culpa; but, let me add, sit meritum voluisse. For in the years to come a rough and ready record may be better than none.

The Battle of the Scarpe, 1918

On the 19th August the 2nd H.F.A. took over the M.D.S. at St. Catherine, a suburb of Arras, where they had good (and old-standing) accommodation in a little- damaged brewery. The unit was not sorry to see the last of Cambligneul, where they had been freely bombed during their Stay : one driver being seriously wounded, and another slightly wounded, with thirteen horses killed and the same number wounded the night before they left. The 2/1st H.F.A. moved the same day to Agnez-les-Duisans to act as Divisional Rest Station, and the 3rd H.F.A. took over the Maræuil Field Ambulance site. D.H.Q. had now moved to the hutments above Mareuil, and on the night of the 2Ist we had the highly unpleasant experience of having fifteen bombs dropped amongst us. One landed in front of “Q” office, and an orderly there saved himself only by promptly diving head first into a chalk trench seven feet deep. When brought in for treatment of the many bruises and excoriations that naturally followed this athletic effort, he groused out, “It’s a d- d shame they dinna mak steps doon into thae trenches!” On its being pointed out to him that the delay caused by the use of the steps would certainly have led to his demise, he grudgingly allowed, “Aweel, I widna wonder but there ‘s maybe something in that !”It was a curious fact that in the whole camp, where much material destruction was done, he and another man were the only two who sustained any damage from the raid.

On the 25th, D.H.Q. moved to Victory Camp on the Lille road, two kılometres north-east of Arras, and not far from our old Collecting Post at the Vimy Ridge battle in April, 1917. The Collecting Post (over which the R.A.M.C. fatigue parties had expended months of labour) was by now gutted and in use as a billet. 

Once more we were working up the Scarpe valley, with Collecting Posts at L’Abbayette and Fampoux : the same villainous old shelled area. Going through Blangy one day a large Hun “dud’ landed on a ruined house at the roadside while our car was passing, and battered us with a vigorous shower of broken bricks and dust. There were three passengers inside, and it was with strained and artificial smiles that we simultaneously remarked “Dud !” Next day while working round the various medical posts (at Fampour ; the Sandpit Collecting Post in front of it ; and Single Arch Collecting Post on the railway embankment) we got back to the road and ran the car up to the quarry at the chemin creux near Roux, to explore it with the view of its becoming a Relay Bearer Post. Jerry’s observation balloon had evidently spotted the car, for (just as we had come out of the place and Started on our return journey) the enemy put thirty shells and some shrapnel slick into the quarry. That was the worst of “visibility good.” And then, as further harassment, on the road home a couple of horses in a limber bolted out of a farm entrance, drove the pole into our ambulance car, and tore the side covering off in ribbons, luckily without damage to the °insides.’) 

At this time propaganda work of ours amongst the Boches was increasing, and fleets of white balloons used occasionally to sail overhead making for their lines, dropping at intervals showers of leaflets. These, quivering and wavering in the breeze, drifted down like silver lace as the sun shone on them from a serene blue sky.

Behind us in a dip near Anzin was a Japanese battle-ship gun, made by Armstrongs, mounted on a bogey and pulled about by its own engine. With a shell of nearly a ton weight it fired hourly on Douai, and the whole out- fit was said to be worth quarter of a million sterling. It made a devilish noise when it fired ; and, on one occasion as we passed, the concussion split the canvas roof and smashed the windows of our ambulance car. 

When the Division came out of the line D.H.Q. moved again to the Marcuil hutments on 14th September. How familiar thousands of troops must have become with that blessed village and all its landmarks! Coming up the road from Ecoivres one passed the cemetery on the left, then turned right and downhill a bit before again turning left at right angles along the battered pavé that ran between the church and the château. The end of the church that abutted on the street had got, early in the war, a bite taken out of it by a shell, and the gap was propped with a wooden beam. The main ecclesiastical treasure had been long ago removed elsewhere for safety. This was a casket of gilded bronze – XIII century work – containing the relics of Saint Berthilde, who had died a widow at Marcuil about the year 685. Down in the lower part of the village stood her fountain, covered in by a little brick chapel, famous for the cure of diseases of the eye, to which shrine in peace time pilgrimages were regularly made. The water looked clean and clear, but there were, unfortunately, no cases of maux d’yeux at the time amongst us whereby to test its efficacy. 

On the other side of the little valley was the neighbouring village of Etrun, once the site of a fine country house for the pleasuring of the ancient bishops of Arras. Formerly also, it had contained a celebrated abbey of Benedictines. But these glories of Etrun had long departed, and its chief interest was now due to the fact that near it were the remains of the old Roman camp of Mont-César. One always lacked, however, the necessary literature and leisure–to assimilate local archæology ; but one sighed for a day there with some French Monkbarns, when all the racket was past and gone.

One of the ever pleasant duties of No. 2 H.Q. mess was to offer on behalf of the Division the most whole-hearted hospitality to all visitors who laid claim to it. Entirely free from the inevitable and sometimes oppressive dignity of No. !, it was in most divisions (certainly in ours) the cheeriest H.Q. mess. With ever memorable representatives of “A” and “Q,” we had the A.P.M., “Dados”, “Daddums’ and other worthies, and as mess president the Claims Officer (better known in his other capacity of O.C. “Balmorals,” our famous concert troupe) ; while the backbone of the whole show was perhaps the O.C. Employment (alias “Enjoyment” ) Company, that genial “Cotswold Highlander” and worshipper of Jorrocks, with his never-failing cheerfulness and caustic wit. Free criticism of each other, as occasion demanded, never interfered with our camaraderie ; and if any one of the bunch can look back on those days without many pleasant memories of them, I fear that he has fallen away from the high standard of No. 2 in war time.

On one occasion at Mareuil we received with the usual open arms a very well-known London literary man, who came to us in the guise of a lieutenant from G.H.Q. and as cicerone to several foreign journalists. Of these one was a Spaniard, representative of two newspapers another a Norwegian from Christiania. The Londoner, like many true intellectuals, successfully concealed the fact (in an environment he evidently considered unsuitable) that he was troubled this way. But the Spaniard, a cheery, cosmopolitan soul with a passable knowledge of English, blossomed forth later and spontaneously as an after-dinner speaker in an eloquent oration which No. 2 received with due and prolonged applause. Then ensued a painful hiatus while we sotto voce endeavoured to stimulate our “Q”  member – who had resided many years in the Argentine – to reply in the fluent Spanish we had so often heard him speak about. After a blank and ornamentally terse refusal on his part, I was earnestly requested by the mess president to endeavour to save the situation. Alas! What – on the spur of the moment does the average man know about Spain, save that the Moors had been in it, and that Miguel Cervantes had written Don Quixote? And of Norway, what again, save that the Maid of Norway must of necessity have come from there? So, with the aid of these scanty topical touches, a reply was effected ; the gallant señor assisting with many valuable interpolations, and the burly descendant of the Vikings (who knew no English) being affected to tears when the only appropriate and that a doubtfully authentic = verse from Sir Patrick Spens,

To Noroway, to Noroway 

To Noroway o’er the faem, 

The King’s daughter o’ Noroway 

Tis thou maun bring her hame !

was recited. And when, an hour later (and unexpectedly), the G.O.C, sent a message from No. 1 mess that he desired to interview the foreign visitors, we all saw the point of the joke much better than the professional humorist who grimly conducted his voluble charges thither over some open ground which seemed to be even more uneven than his party imagined. Rumour had it next day that the General’s manner had been frigid to all concerned.

It was while inspecting the sanitation of the surrounding area that I came one fine day to the village of Gauchin le Gal, some kilometres to the west of that historic landmark, the well-known twin towers of Mont St. Eloi. Standing in the little village market-place, amongst a collection of parked motor lorries and g.s. wagons, were two stones, evidently very old and of a nature that excited the regard of the folk-lorist. One, upright and of the shape and size of a small milestone, had an iron staple let into the top of it ; while the other, resembling a large Dutch cheese, had a slice taken off one end. Into the flat surface of the sliced end another iron staple was fixed, and a small incised cross was roughly carved beside it. “This, ” said I to myself, quoting the exclamation of Mr. Pickwick on the occasion of his great antiquarian discovery, “is very strange !” 

Well, when in doubt or when seeking information in France, go to the Maire ; and to the Maire I went, to find that he was from home and the schoolmaster acting as his deputy. The latter received me courteously. “The Stones! Ah, yes! There was a story – a foolish old story- – about these stones !” “Would he tell it to me?” “But yes, if monsieur cared for these things. He had written it down some years ago in a little notebook.” So with his permission, I copied it, sitting somewhat crampedly at one of the small school desks. And this is how the tale ran : 

“On our village square there is to be seen a large round stone chained to another upright one of red sandstone. Various explanations have been given of these stones. The first is that in an ancient fight between two noblemen one made a prisoner of the other, and to perpetuate the memory of his victory the upright Stone was erected to represent the victor, and the round stone chained to it to represent the vanquished. Another version is that the conquered nobleman was made prisoner and tied to a post in the market-place, where he remained exposed to the public gaze till he died, and hence the small cross that can be seen near the fastening of the round stone. 

“Yet another story exists, which does not redound to the credit of the ladies of the commune who lived in those far-off days. For it says explicitly that this accursed round stone, then unchained, used to go at night and knock at the doors of husbands whose wives were unfaithful to them. As a large number of households were disturbed in this way, the authorities decided to stop the wandering habits of the stone by chaining it up. Since then the inhabitants of the village sleep in peace. Nowadays one would not be afraid to unchain it, for unfaithful wives are now rare in this countryside, and the stone would have little opportunity of resuming its old occupation .”

Eh bien! A good enough story? And at the end a pretty little compliment to the virtue of the commune Hélas! The worthy schoolmaster’s little manuscript book had been written before the war and while “the accursed round stone” was still chained. When I saw it, it was once again unchained and had been since 1914, probably at the hands of some mischief maker. Left alone and free to resume its old habits, what had happened? Ecoutez! Various French troops had been billeted in the village at the outbreak of war, and one lady had proved – comment dirais-je ? – more popular than virtuous. Whereupon some of the inhabitants, probably of her own sex, had taken the old round stone and laid it by night on her door-step as a delicate and many-centuries-old hint to her to mend her ways. She, and some of her bons amis, naturally annoyed by this advertisement, took the nocturnal visitor and buried it in the back garden. But the other villagers found this out, and, indignant at such an insult to their ancient guardian of morals, went to the Maire, who immediately ordered the offenders to dig it up again and reinstate it on the market-place. One can imagine the scene and the jeers and joy of the local Pharisees ! In the market-place, anyhow, it stood once again, unchained and free to look out for fresh work, a tabloid kirk-session to pillory lights o’ love. And, also once again, I trust the schoolmaster of Gauchin le Gal can now with a clear conscience proclaim the unassailable virtue of the ladies of his commune. Or has he thought it safer to wait for the rechaining of the mauvais galet?

Second Battle of the Marne, 1918

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.

The Battle of the Lys, 1918

When the Division had been taken out of the line at Souastre, Divisional Headquarters were successively at Lehurliere, Neuvillette, Fouceuieres and Labeuvrieres, while reinforcement and relitting were going on. 

On 8th April it entered the XIth Corps, and D.H.Q. moved to Robecq, the little country town near Lillers where our 2nd Field Ambulance had been first billeted on coming to France in May, 1915. Once more I slept in my old room at the kindly (and hereditary) tailor’s, who still had his old rheumatic sister, his niece and his gamecocks, his welcome to us being as warm as before. Here there were old acquaintanceships to renew : coffee to be taken with the doctor ‘s widow and her devoted domestic in their little house across the street where, whatever happened, they expressed their intention of staying, for as the old lady said, “Tous les souvenirs de ma vie sont ici” : answers – as soothing as possible-to be given to the groups of anxious-minded people at every doorway.

Here, too, to make good our officer losses in the last battle, we were joined by an excellent and efficient reinforcement of ten Australian medical graduates, who were deservedly popular with all ranks throughout their stay in the 51st Division.

9th April, I918. Next morning at 4. a.m. the enemy started a bombardment to have a thrust at the Portuguese troops holding the sector. Shortly afterwards we made the personal acquaintance of a surprising number of our gallant allies ; and at 5 a.m. the 152nd Brigade had to hurry into the line. The Field Ambulances were then located at Cantraine, Robecq drawbridge and La V allée, all at their usual work of collecting and evacuating brigade sick.

An Advanced Dressing Station for the 152nd Brigade was immediately formed near Zelobes by a party of the 3rd F.A., the rest of the unit forming a Main Dressing Station at the drawbridge over La Bassée Canal in front of Robecq. All available bearers were sent up from Cantraine to the M .D.S. to be distributed later as required, with the O.C. 2nd Field Ambulance. acting as Forward Evacuation Officer. As the 154th Brigade was going under orders of the 55th Division, the 2/1st F.A. was to be at the disposal of its A.D.M.S.; but telephone communication with him was found to be impossible, and the unit worked throughout under Brigade orders. 

By afternoon the Advanced Dressing Station near Lelobes, a Collecting Post at Les Huit Maisons, and the M.D.S. at the drawbridge, La Bassée Canal, were all in full swing and evacuation of wounded going on steadily. An additional M.O., with extra bearers, cars, stretchers, blankets and dressings, was sent up to Lelobes to assist there, as work was rapidly getting heavier. Ford cars were now working right up under fire to the Regimental Aid Posts and in some cases were clearing cases directly back to the Main Dressing Station, as the Advanced Dressing Station accommodation was only farmhouses with no head-cover whatever.

In the evening contradictory and impracticable Corps medical orders came in one to move the M.D.S. back to Busnes Château (where the Corps Rest Station and a Field Ambulance of the 55th Division were already located ) ; another for it to occupy Robecq Mill (already filled by Marine Artillery) and a third for it to move to Busnes village, where it would be shewn its next location. This last was done the others being impossible – but the unit found itself side-tracked and useless in Busnes for twelve hours without receiving any further orders. The result was inevitable confusion, as the cases from the Advanced Dressing Stations were evacuated through the 55th Division Field Ambulance at Busnes Château, and our divisional cars made to carry back to the C.C.S.s, thus depleting the supply for the front line and hindering evacuation therefrom. The 2/Ist F.A. had now formed an Advanced Dressing Station for the 154th Brigade at Avelette, with two M.O.s and all available cars and bearers. The 153rd Brigade A.D.S. was at midnight near Pacaut, and fully occupied with numerous casualties.

10th April, 1918. As the 3rd F.A. was by 9 a.m. still at Busnes without any orders having been received from Corps for its disposal, it was obviously necessary to indulge in the Nelson touch and apply the telescope to the blind eye. The O.C. was therefore instructed to open a Divisional Main Dressing Station on his present site, as our ambulance cars were still running back to the C.C.S. (i.e., doing M.A.C. work instead of their legitimate business), and no record of 5Ist Division cases was being kept at Busnes Château. The 152nd Brigade Advanced Dressing Station was being kept clear, with two cars evacuating all the wounded from R.A.P.s. 

By 11 a.m. the 154th Brigade, less one battalion, was once again in our Division, but by Corps medical operation orders its wounded were still being evacuated through 55th Division medical arrangements. Numerous wounded French civilians were being taken back from Robecq, which was being badly shelled. One old peasant with an abdominal wound had walked the whole way from Vieille Chapelle. At every street door you met terrified women, children and old men, all seeking a little comfort. A high velocity gun had kept going all night trying for the canal bridges ; a Boche aeroplane had flown over in the afternoon and fired a belt of cartridges on the streets . and the inhabitants had not even the spurious safety of cellars, as the ground was toò marshy for such things. So here they were, waiting in dread and expectancy for a lead. 

My poor old rheumatic landlady, sitting in her arm-chair, was hoisted on to a motor lorry, en route for safer quarters further back. A motley lorry-load it was, embracing as it did an ancient dame of ninety-eight lying on a mattress laid on a long, low barrow – on which movable bed she had spent the last three years of her life and her daughter of seventy-five. With the latter, I grieve to say, I had “words” ; as she. when her mother had been safely loaded. barrow and all, desired to place most of their household gods after her. On being told that the vehicle was only for passengers and that many other of her neighbours needed place therein, she vituperated me. This, in a crowded street, was annoying, and led would-be humorous brother officers to ask, “Who’s your lady friend?” and indulge in other stereotyped and hoary jests. So I cut it all short by getting two lusty A.S.C. men to hoist her in and pack her out of sight, well to the front of the lorry. Out of sight- Yes ! But from the depths, as the lorry rumbled off, came her voice shrilling out, “Féroces ! Barbares ! Misérables !” with many personal and libellous references to myself, until the conveyance turned the corner and disappeared . 

Curious folk they were, and often desperately “sweer” to leave their old homes, even when safety demanded it. At one farm nearer the line -and all this flat fertile country was studded with little farms – the rest of the people had cleared out, leaving only a young woman of twenty-five and her grandfather over seventy.  As the fight progressed it became an Advanced Dressing Station, and the vicinit  was heavily shelled. At the urgent request of our troops the girl at last went back, but the old man blankly refused. He spent the day sitting at the side of his stove, occasionally going out to feed his pigs and hens. Why not? His alternative was to bundle and go along shelled roads whither he knew not : the great majority of refugees had no fixed objective : thev were simply trying to get away anywhere – from it all. 

By mid-day the A.D.S. of the 153rd Brigade was on the Boheme-Pacaut road and that of the 152nd Brigade behind Zelobes, whence later it moved slightly back to a site more suitable for car loading. In the afternoon both A.D.S.s were near Pacaut and working conijointlv to facilitate rapid evacuation . The Forward Evacuation Officer was now sent back to Busnes to superintend and control supply of cars, stretchers, stores. etc.. to the A.D.S.s, so as to free the O.C 3rd F.A. for purely medical work – which was heavy – at the M.D.S. The 2/1st H.F.A., with the 154th Brigade, was doing A.D.S. work, and lending assistance to the 55th Divisional Field Ambulance at Hingette. 

By evening motor lorries were taking back walking wounded from Robecq to Busnes, and a better service of M.A.C. cars clearing the Main Dressing Station there.

11th April, 1918.

By morning the 153rd Brigade A.D.S. had again parted company with that of the 152nd Brigade, and was further back on the Pacaut-Merville road, having been shelled out of its previous site ; while the 152nd Brigade A.D.S. was near Bacquerolles Farm and liable to be forced back to the drawbridge at La Bassée Canal at any moment. A provisional A.D.S. was, therefore, opened there in view of this eventuality. The 153rd Brigade A.D.S. was later pushed back behind Pacaut, where three extra cars. were sent to clear their large list of casualties, and where it again got in touch with the 152nd Brigade A.D.S. for conjoint work, although by afternoon it was once more “on its own” near Riez-du- Vinage. Here it again received extra bearers, while the M.O.s of a Brigade of the 61st Division, which had come up to reinforce, had also to get supplied with our bearers, as their own Field Ambulance had not yet detrained. By evening the Corps Rest Station had at long last evacuated. Busnes Château, and this was free to be used by us as a Main Dressing Station. Many civilian and military casualties were cleared from Robecq in the evening and on two occasions cars had to go to Calonne to clęar a R.A.P. there of the 12th Australian Field Artillery Brigade, as the 61st Division ‘s Field Ambulances were still not detrained. At midnight Robecq and the Robecq- Busnes road were being heavily shelled, with many resulting casualties.

12th April, 1918

In the early morning a message came in from the joint A.D.S. of the 152nd and 153rd Brigades to the draw-bridge, La Bassée Canal, to the effect that it was moving back there at once, as the enemy was advancing rapidly and the post was under machine gun fire. The 152nd Brigade H.Q., in their near neighbourhood, had been captured by the enemy, including the liaison M.O. there. A Ford car of the 2nd H.F.A., along with the M.O. 6th Gordon Highlanders and its driver, had also fallen into enemy hands. Although the car was lost, the M.O. and the driver both subsequently escaped in the mist which prevailed. At 9 a.m. Divisional Headquarters moved from Robecq to Busnes, and the Drawbridge A.D.S. in front of Robecq was withdrawn.

Later, the M.D.S. was moved back from Busnes Château to the Red Cross Society’s Huts at Ham-en- Artois, and car posts were established at the drawbridge over La Bassée Canal on the Robecq- Busnes road and at Epinette : Busnes Château becoming the A.D.S. in the hands of the 2nd F.A. In the evening an M.O. with motor cyclists was posted to the H.Q. of the Composite Force (now holding the line in front of La Bassèe Canal on the Robecq- Busnes road), with a car in Robecq. 150 other ranks R .A.M.C., reinforcements for losses in March, arrived at Busnes Château, and were distributed to the different Field Ambulances.

13th April, 1918. Things were quiet, with few casualties passing through, and remained so until D.H.O. moved back to Lambres, when the Division came out of the line on 16th April. 

As the Advanced Dressing Stations were, in every case throughout this engagement, located in farmhouses exposed to shell and machine gun fire and with no overhead cover, rapid evacuation of casualties was the primary necessity. Our only transport losses, fortunately, were one Ford car – the famous “Turra Coo”0  captured by the enemy, and one horse ambulance wagon, ditched and abandoned under fire as the horses were killed. Cars throughout ran cases from the R.A.P.s to the A.D.S.s, one Ford car – the lost “Coo” acting for a considerable time as a mobile R.A.P. while a new site was being searched for further back. 

When the Advanced Dressing Stations fell back they had previously cleared all wounded and medical stores, and in several cases this was done with the enemy in sight and the stations under machine gun fire. In spite of this, R.A.M .C. casualties were low – 2 M.O.s and one other ranks missing prisoners), and 7 other ranks wounded. As reinforcements to replace the losses of other ranks sustained in the last battle did not arrive until 12th April, the Field Ambulances were, up to that time, working 150 (mostly bearers) under strength, and had in addition to supply bearers to the units of the Division coming up in support. It was exceedingly fortunate that 10 officers of the Australian A .M.C. had reported on the 8th.

The old difficulty, inevitable under such circumstances, of getting returning cars rapidly back to the Advanced Dressing Stations from the Main Dressing Stations (owing to the congestion of the narrow roads with transport, and at night owing to the darkness), was experienced . Cars also had frequently to pick up a load of stretcher cases en route and clear them first to the M.D.S. Only 16 M.A.C. cars were available to clear the M.D.S. from its first unsuitable site in Busnes, and this frequently resulted in our F.A. cars having to do the whole journey to the C.C.S.s until the M.D.S. got entry to Busnes Château, where there was sufficient accom- modation for temporarily holding casualties up.

The Corps medical arrangements were, throughout the engagement, confused, imperfect and unworkable. During the 9th, 10th and 11th all the R.A.M.C. in the front line worked, short-handed as they were, without rest and in the most indefatigable manner. 

In the course of this battle an officer, dodging his way across country amidst heavy enemy fire, thought he noticed some movement in a shell hole. Going up to it he found an old civilian and his wife, dressed – as these people often were when fleeing from their homes – in their Sunday best, and crouching at the foot of the hole. The old lady, a ruddy-faced agriculturist, had a bonnet fringed with beads and cherries which dangled and bobbed as she ducked at each explosion. Recognising her visitor as a British officer and wishing to express herself in a way he could understand, the poor old dame tersely but comprehensively remarked, “No bon ! Ah ! No bon!” Later she and her spouse were successfully rescued.

One party of King Edward’s Horse gallantly held the enemy in check for several hours in the vicinity of a farmhouse and under very heavy shell and machine gun fire. The men were exhausted and there were many casualties. All the civilians had cleared back except one old woman. During the action she milked her cows, herself taking the milk under fire to the men, and also making hot coffee for them : while, throughout, she tended the wounded as best she could. She was repeatedly pressed to leave, but her reply was always, “Why? I am of use here !” And she only left when the troops retired. No limelight for her : no hysterical female journalism. Just a big-hearted, courageous woman of the old-fashioned type,of which history has given us So many examples, regardless of her own safety while there was the work of the ministering angel to do.

From Lambres D.H.O. moved to Norrent-Fontes.

The German Offensive, 1918

By the 3rd December, 1917, the Division, after a rest in the neighbourhood of Baisieux, had taken over from the 56th Division a sector of 6,000 yards astride of the Bapaume-Cambrai road, from Betty Avenue, Demicourt, on the right, to The Strand on the left ; Boursies on the Bapaume-Cambrai road being about the centre. 

Our R.A.M.C. Advanced Dressing Stations were dug-outs at Doignies on the right, and Beetroot Factory (where the sous-terrain ran under the R oute Nationale) on the left, with the Main Dressing Station at Beugny and the Divisional Rest Station at Bihucourt. As Forward Evacuation Officer, my residence was one of the dug-outs in Doignies, where we had an uneventful enough stay for three weeks. 

The village – what was left of it, anyway – was shelled daily, with an occasional bombing by way of variety. But the men were ensconced in two deep du-outs ; while a sandbagged shelter off the trench served as officer’s messroom, with a two-bunk dug-out opening off it again, into which one descended for sleep at night or for safety by day when more head cover was desirable. In the evening when nothing else was doing we read the awful magazine rubbish that passed for literature in war time and such places, or entertained angels unawares – gunners chiefly – who gave us much mixed news in return for our hospitality. 

One fine afternoon we were greatly cheered by a well-informed caller telling us that the Hun was mining the village and that we might all go up at any time. That same night the A.D.S. was vigorously plastered with shells, and Jerry got on to a dump behind us which went aloft with a terrific concussion. It also spoiled our frugal dinner : as our messman, bringing it in on a tray, most excusably lay down on the top of it through one shell landing on the parados of the trench three yards away. What he rescued of our meal was not appetising, and my diary comment that night of “this place is pretty rotten altogether,” was, I believe, justifiable. But next morning, it being Christmas Day, that same chap was out bright and early and had our messroom decorated with ivy which he had got off a ruined wall in the village – “just to make it a bit more seasonable like” Good lad ! Optimism was always an outstanding asset in war. 

The following day an English Siege Battery officer blew in to say his people “were killing their pig in view of the festive season” Their pig? O’ yes! For some time they had been carrying two grunters about with them but lately some Americans had stolen, killed, and eaten the better of the two ; vigorously denying, when taxed with the offence, any knowledge whatsoever of the matter. St. Serf, I suggested, would have been the most useful man to get as umpire in such a case, for one remembered his success with the sheep-stealer. This evil-doer also denied a similar charge, and persisted in his denial, even when confronted by the accusing saint ; but

“The sheep then bleated in his wame”

(according to “Wyntoun’s Chronicle” ), which effort, of course, completely gave the show away. But a modern Yank was probably far beyond being got at by such a borborygmous miracle. My English friend, however, was not interested in the reference : -”Never heard of the blighter ! Damn these gum-chewers, anyway!”

On the 27th I was called back to Divisional Headquarters to act as A.D.M.S., owing to Colonel C. C. Fleming, D.S.O., who had come out with us in that capacity, having died of wounds sustained during a bombing raid at Fremicourt the previous evening. His death caused widespread regret amongst the R.A.M.C. of the Division, with whom he was deservedly popular owing to his genial, kindly disposition. Later on my appointment was confirmed at – as I learnt afterwards on General Harper’s request ; and it then fell to me to set up business as a prophet in my own country, a proceeding that we have good authority for recognising as being not without risk. But I had the good luck to fall heir to a most active and efficient D.A.D.M.S: and an ever reliable Q.M S. with – what I never had – an encyclopædic knowledge of all Army Forms. Nor can I pay a sufficient tribute to the unforgettable loyalty and good fellowship of all the M.O.s in the Division, Field Ambulance and Regimental, which made my job a constant pleasure up to the last. 

Our Divisional Headquarters, set in hutments amongst the ruins, were at Fremicourt, a few kilometres from Bapaume. A short distance up the Route Nationale to Cambrai was Beugny, also badly knocked about. In the ruins of the church there, amongst all the broken symbols of religion, was a tablet let into the wall, behind what was left of the altar, to commemorate the rebuilding of the church in 1878. The curė of that day had indulged in a gentle innuendo against his wealthier parishioners, for the last paragraph ran : – “Les riches ont donné et les pauvres ont été généreux”‘ A nice distinction ! 

Interesting visitors we had occasionally. In the earlier part of the year various U.S.A. officers were at D.H.Q: for instruction. One was Major-General Alexander, by descent a Forfarshire Scot, his folk having left there in 1717, after being mixed up in the ’15. since then they had been Marylanders. A fine, bluff, hearty man he was, who had seen a lot of service in the Philippines and Mexico. Another was Colonel Stimson, who had been Secretary of State for War in Taft’s Cabinet. He had a good tale about an Alabama regiment which, on landing in England, was played from the quay to its quarters by a well-meaning British military band enthusiastically pumping out “As we went marching through Georgia!” a very much mistaken compliment. which the new arrivals took uncommonly badly ! On another occasion we had a visit from four French journalists, representing the Matin, Journal, etc. One had the Medaille Militaire, the Croix de Guerre and a wooden leg, all gained in the war. 

Going about the area it was always worth noting the different nationalities European, African, Asian. The French Algerians, picturesque fellows in blue tunics with red trousers (old French infantry uniform) and red fezzes, were busy putting up temporary sectional houses for the returning inhabitants. One day a lot ran amok, as they objected to living in such a freely bombed area, and had to be rounded up with revolvers by the Divisional gendarmerie. (Their objection was not without reason : one bomb that was dropped behind our Divisional Rest Station at Bihucourt made a hole 30 feet in diameter by 20 deep. ) On our part we had Chinese and Indian Labour Companies. The Chinese were a cheery, chattering crowd, but vicious when roused. An R.C. padre told me that in his area ten of them attended mass regularly and could recite their prayers in Latin converts of some Catholic mission. 

Walking behind a man of a Labour Company on the Cambrai road one day I read this interesting inscription on his gas helmet satchel :- “Peter Dean. This is mine ! Stolen goods ! PUT IT DOWN !” Peter had, after much experience, evidently lost faith in military mankind and methods, and set about putting his house in order on purely individualistic lines. 

Gymkhanas were held at intervals – betting by totalisator – on a slope behind Fremicourt, in full view of Bourlon Wood hurdle and flat, with occasional bare-back mule racing for Hindu R.A. drivers and ditto for Jocks in kilts !  

Divisional baths at Beugny, Lebucquiere Fremicourt dealt weekly with 11,000 men. The Foden Lorry Thresh Disinfector, in constant demand, toured the district regularly, the merry merchant who drove it sleeping inside the steam chamber ! He was pre-eminently and to the end a civilian in khaki, and his highest attempt at a military salute never rose beyond touching his cap with one finger and the bestowal of a friendly grin on those he favoured. When you had thoroughly gained his approbation, he usually dispensed with his meagre acknowledgment of differences in rank. We meet him again. 

Medical work remained of the routine nature usual in trench holding until March, when it became evident that an attack by the enemy was impending. On the 11th our Divisional G.O.C., Major-General Sir G. M. Harper, K.C.B., D.S.O., was promoted to the command of the IVth Corps. 

Up to now all our R.A.M.C. experiences had consisted of attending to casualties while “sitting tight” in trench warfare, taking part in pushes, or in the more rapid advance of Cambrai. But here we were for the first time to face the far greater difficulties of evacuating wounded during a retreat. 

On 2Ist March the long expected storm broke, and broke with hurricane fury. The enemy’s barrage commenced at 5 a.m., extending from “the front line to Paris.” In our sector Doignies, Beaumetz, Lebucquiere, Velu, Fremicourt, Beugny and the Bapaume-Cambrai road were all heavily shelled. At Fremicourt, the first shell fell in D.H.Q., killing a signaller, and the wooden hutments had to be rapidly evacuated in favour of a large and deep dug-out. “In rear of the Divisional area, places such as Bapaume, Albert, Frevent and St. Pol were all shelled by long range guns, while Paris was engaged by `Big Bertha.’”) The bombardment lasted with its original intensity for four hours.

21st March : First Day of Enemy Offensive – When the enemy offensive began the medical arrangements for the evacuation of Divisional wounded were on the following plan. The Forward Evacuation Officer at the time was the O.C. 2/1st Highland Field Ambulance, whose personnel was supplemented in the routine way by the bearer divisions from the other two Field Ambulances. His headquarters were at Gropi Camp, Leb ucquiere. Advanced Dressing Stations were situated at Doignies and at Beetroot Factory on the Bapaume-Cambrai road, with Relay Bearer Posts at Beaumetz and Demicourt. The bearers of all three Field Ambulances were employed in the evacuation of wounded under his orders, and distributed so as to give :

8 bearers at each Regimental Aid Post. 

50 bearers at Beetroot Factory A.D.S. 

30 bearers at Doignies A.D.S. 

30 bearers at Relay Post, Beaumetz. 

20 bearers at Relay Post, Demicourt. 

20 bearers at Relay Post, Level Crossing, Lebucquiere.

The remainder were held in reserve at Gropi Camp, Lebucquiere. 

The tent division of the 2nd Highland Field Ambulance was employed at the Divisional Rest Station, Bihucourt: that of the 3rd Highland Field Ambulance at the Corps Main Dressing Station, Beugny : while that of the 2/1Ist Highland Field Ambulance was employed at the Advanced Dressing Station, as its O.C. was Forward Evacuation Officer. 

All motor ambulance cars, less one car which remained at the Rest Station, Bihucourt, and all horse ambulance wagons, were parked at Beugny ; from there to be distributed as required under orders of the Forward Evacuation Officer. Wheeled stretcher-carriers (collapsible Miller-James type) were parked at Gropi Camp, Lebucquiere, and at Main Dressing Station, Beugny, to be sent up in cars when wanted. 

A Corps Main Dressing Station was established at Beugny, to which were to be sent all cases except those urgently requiring evacuation direct to the Casualty Clearing Station from the Advanced Dressing Station. Evacuation from the Main Dressing Station was by Motor Ambulance Corps right through by road to the C.C.S.s at Grevillers or by the light railway to a detraining centre at Bapaume, from which place M.A.C. cars conveyed patients to the C.C.S.s. A Walking Wounded Collecting Station was established in marquees at Beugny, beside the Corps Main Dressing Station-Horse ambulance wagons were available at Beaumetz, and road junction of Nine Elms Road with main Cambrai Road, to pick up walking wounded and convey them to their Collecting Station. 

In the event of a retirement the arrangement made was that the Advanced Dressing Station, Doignies, was to fall back on Gropi Camp, Lebucquiere, leaving a Collecting Post at Beaumetz Relay Bearer Post, to which cars were to run as long as possible. Doignies A.D.S. was then to become a Regimental Aid Post, and casualties from it were to be evacuated to Beaumetz by wheeled stretcher and hand carriage. Similarly, the A .D.S. at Beetroot Factory was to fall back on Beugny, Beetroot Factory becoming then an R.A.P. A Collecting Post was then to be established at Nine Elms, to which cars were to run as long as possible. Cases from R.A.P’.s were to be taken there by wheeled stretcher and hand carriage. The Corps Main Dressing Station at Beugny was, on retreating, to fall back on huts at Loch Camp on the Bapaume-Cambrai road near Fremicourt. 

For three months before the action commenced construction work had gone on steadily at the two Advanced Dressing Stations at Beetroot Factory and Doignies, with the view of strengthening them and increasing the accommodation. A new sloping entrance to Beetroot Factory dug-outs which ran in beneath the Bapaume-Cambrai road – had been completed, and the dug-outs themselves enlarged. At Doignies, where the accommodation had consisted of only two deep dug-outs, a new elephant shelter for an extra 20 lying cases was constructed, sunk in to the side of the trench and covered with iron rails, bricks, etc., so as to leave a bursting space’ for further safety. A good supply of blankets, stretchers and medical stores was always maintained in each post ; in the anticipation that, had our troops to retire and cases to be left in the enemy’s hands, our casualties would to a certain extent benefit by this supply.

It was also fully anticipated that the routes Beetroot Factory to Beugny and Doignies to Beaumetz would be extremely difficult to work ; but the absolute occlusion of these routes by the intensity of the initial enemy fire put the Advanced Dressing Stations completely out of action at once and finally. All personnel there became casualties, while the cars and motor cycles in use were destroyed by shell fire. One medical officer made an attempt to work across from Beaumetz to Beetroot Factory, but found it quite impossible and returned to Beugny. Another M .O., newly reported for duty from England, and detailed for Doignies, managed to get through the barrage after the action commenced, guided by our gallant and indefatigable senior chaplain,’ only to be taken prisoner there in his company. 

After the action began no cases were evacuated from Beetroot Factory and no messenger or car got through. Similarly, no cases were evacuated from Doignies ; but in response to the only message that got through from the M.O. in charge there, dated 12 30 P.M., an attempt was made to send up three horse ambulance wagons from Beaumetz by the fair weather track to Doignies. The message had stated that a steady stream of casualties was arriving ; that a large amount of gas shells had been thrown over ; that the Advanced Dressing Station had received several direct hits, but that no casualties to the personnel had been so far sustained. After proceeding about half way under very heavy fire the drivers came in full view of the hordes of advancing field-greys, and saved the wagons by galloping back to Beaumetz. 

At 11 a.m. the Forward Evacuation Officers was killed by a shell at his headquarters at Gropi Camp, Lebucquiere, while getting his men into a sunken road for shelter, and the same shell mortally wounded one of his officers, who died two hours later at the Main Dressing Station, Beugny. The duties of Forward Evacuation Officer were at once taken over and ably conducted throughout by the second in command of the 3rd Highland Field Ambulance.

As all telephonic communications had now broken down, various attempts were made by motor cyclists and runners to get in touch with Doignies and Beetroot Factory, but without effect. One motor cyclist got within sight of Doignies about 12 noon, but through field glasses could see no sign of movement there.

Meanwhile the staff at the Main Dressing Station, Beugny, the Relay Posts at Beaumetz and at the Level Crossing, Lebucquiere, and the Medical Inspection Room of D.H.Q. at Fremicourt, were fully occupied with local casualties due to the continuous and heavy shelling of the area. Early in the morning the Corps Main Dressing Station and Walking Wounded Collecting Station at Beugny, the latter of which was in the hands of a party from an ambulance of the 25th Division, came under heavy enemy fire. Both institutions consisted only of huts and tentage with no deep dug-outs or other reliable cover, and a medical officer of the 25th Division was killed.

In the afternoon the M.O.s of the 6th and 7th Black Watch were reported missing, and as the M.O. of the 7th Gordon Highlanders was ascertained to be at a new R.A.P. a kilometre to the right of Morchies, an additional M .O. was ordered up at night from Beugny, with bearers, to join him and help to carry on the medical work of the three battalions in that area. Through the night this R.A.P. was vacated and moved to a deep dug – out at Chaufour’s Wood, whence the cases were carried to the Highland Division Soup Kitchen site, between Beugny and Beetroot Factory, and then trollied along the light railway and met by cars on the Cambrai road. These two officers remained at this post till the enemy were within 300 yards of them, and managed to evacuate all their cases. In the late afternoon also, three cars were got up by Hermies to within 100 yards of Demicourt, and evacuated cases from battalions on the right, which had side-slipped there owing to the Doignies- Beaumetz road being impracticable. An R .A.P. at the old Relay Post in the Sunken Road at Beaumetz was also. got in touch with, and cases there taken to Beugny. A Ford car was knocked out at Lebucquiere at 4.30 p.m.

At 5 P.M., as the Main Dressing Station and Walking Wounded Collecting Station at Beugny were again being freely shelled, these were moved back, according to the arrangements previously made, to Loch Camp at Fremicourt, some three kilometres nearer Bapaume on the Route Nationale, the details of the 2/ISt Highland Field Ambulance at Gropi Camp, Lebucquiere, also moving there ; while a party of the 77th Field Ambulance of the 25th Division accompanied them to carry on the Walking Wounded Collecting Station. The Forward Evacuation Officer remained with a party at Beugny to conduct an Advanced Dressing Station as long as possible, and to maintain touch with what R.A.P.s he could locate, by cars, cyclists or runners. An officer and party were also left at the Level Crossing elephant shelter, Lebucquiere ; and an N.C.O. and IO bearers at Sunken Road, Beaumetz, with the same end in view. 

A continuous stream of local casualties continued to be dealt with at all these posts. During the night enemy fire slackened considerably, and cars managed to run well forward on the Cambrai road to the Soup Kitchen and Nine Elms, beyond Beugny, clearing numerous cases from the line and local casualties from the roads and encampments.

22nd March : Second Day of Enemy Offensive – At 1.25 a.m. and 3.55 a.m. the Main Dressing Station reported that the Motor Ambulance Convoy service was unable to cope with the very large number of wounded requiring evacuation ; and that sufficient blankets were not available from the Casualty Clearing Stations at Grevillers, as these were moving back and that to do this the M .A.C. was called on to help. All horse ambulance wagons with some motor ambulance cars obtained from the 57th Field Ambulance, were therefore turned on to clear the M .D.S., and its casualties were also evacuated by Decauville railway to the detraining centre at Bapaume. By 5 a.m., as wounded were coming in steadily and in very large numbers, the Main Dressing Station still reported the M.A.C. service inadequate for rapid clearance. This delay, however, was inevitable owing to the double duties of the M.A.C., the great congestion of traffic on the evacuation routes, and the consequent holding up of the car service. 

At 10.30 a.m. the progress of evacuation, though still somewhat slow, was held to be as satisfactory as it could be under the extremely difficult circumstances prevailing. 

Owing to the continued and increasing shelling of Beugny the Forward Evacuation Officer was now ordered to fall back on Loch Camp, and to keep on running his cars up the Cambrai road as far, and as long as. he could. 

At 1 P.M. Divisional Headquarters moved back from Fremicourt to Grevillers. At 4 P.M., as the Loch Camp Main Dressing Station (merely a collection of huts without dug-outs or other shelter) was getting sharply shelled the 3rd Highland Field Ambulance was shelled, ordered to move back to the site at Grevillers vacated by No.20 Casualty Clearing Station. to deal with Iying cases : while the site of No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station was taken over by an ambulance of the 41st Division as a Walking Wounded Collecting Station. The Highland Field Ambulance opened a Main Dressing Station at 7.30 p.m., and very soon had over 500 casualties dumped on it by ambulance cars of other Divisions, who were unaware that the C.C.S.s had closed down and were on the move. The Forward Evacuation Officer remained behind with a party and cars at Loch Camp to run an Advanced Dressing Station as long as it was feasible. At this stage, too, the A.D.S. at the Level Crossing, Lebucquiere, was vacated by 51st Division personnel by arrangements made with the A.D.M.S., 19th Division, the personnel retiring to Loch Camp. 

In response to a message from a new R.A.P. of the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in front of Velu, cars were run up there to evacuate cases, but failed in the darkness to find the place. A Brigade staff officer stated that everybody was supposed to have gone. The M.O. 4th Gordon Highlanders, however, was got in touch with in the same vicinity and his cases evacuated. Later, the other location was got at and also cleared. 

At 8 p.m., as the Loch Camp area was again being heavily shelled, the Forward Evacuation Officer was ordered to fall back on Grevillers, leaving cars and a small party to continue clearing the Cambrai road. The 2nd Highland Field Ambulance reported from Divisional Rest Station, Bihucourt, that it had been dealing all day with casualties from the 40th Division, which had found their way there via Sapignies, that the site was now coming under steady shell fire, and that it had sustained several casualties.

23rd March : Third Day of Enemy Offensive . – In the morning definite information could be got regarding the position of only three battalions, viz. : 7th Argvll and Sutherland Highlanders in front of Velu, 6th Seaforth Highlanders at Lebucquiere, and 6th Gordon Highlanders at Middlesex Camp.

As M.A.C. cars continued to be insufficient to clear Main Dressing Station, Grevillers, over 150 cases had accumulated ; and as the area was being shelled, 20 extra cars were got from Corps and put on the route, while four lorries, also from Corps, were sent to Grevillers to salve all possible medical stores there for removal to Corps H.Q. The M.A.C. was still having very heavy work owing to the extra task of assisting in moving and clearing the C.C.S.s to positions further back. At Grevillers the Main Dressing Station and the Walking Wounded Collecting Station were quite evidently soon to be shelled out of their present site owing to the presence of batteries in their immediate vicinity, which brought the enemy fire unpleasantly close, while the area was also being bombed. As the 2nd Highland Field Ambulance reported 5 killed and 8 wounded at the Bihucourt Divisional Rest Station from shell fire, it was ordered to move, after it had cleared its cases, to Puisieux. 

To adjust the medical arrangements to the movements of troops the Forward Evacuation Officer was sent to reconnoitre Bancourt for a Collecting Post to take cases from the battalions in front. He got in touch with the M .O. 7th Gordon Highlanders ; and a party of bearers with stretchers and dressings went up with a car to evacuate cases. He could not then find Brigade Head- quarters, but they were got later and the location notified. The M.O. 4th Gordon Highlanders was also got in touch with and supplied with much-needed dressings and stores.

At 6 P.m. the Main Dressing Station was being better cleared by the extra 20 cars put on ; and as shelling of the vicinity of the M .D.S. was continuing; the transport lines of the 3rd and 2/1st Highland Field Ambulances were now moved further back on the Grevillers-Achiet- le-Petit road. Five horses had been killed and one driver wounded.

The chief difficulty all day was the unavoidably slow evacuation of the wounded by the M.A.C. cars, whose work was much impeded both by the congested state of traffic on the roads and by the extra work thrown on them of assisting the retiral of the C.C.S.s.

24th March : Fourth Day of Enemy Offensive .- At 3 a.m. cases were still being brought in steadily ; but the greatest difficulty was experienced in keeping in touch with the, constantlv changing R.A.P.s of the retreating troops. It was now definitely ascertained that the medical officers of the 6th and 7th Black Watch and 4th and 5th Seaforth Highlanders were missing, believed prisoners while, later, the medical officer of the 8th Royal Scots and the medical officer of the 7th Black Watch (who had just returned from leave and rejoined his battalion ) were wounded and evacuated.

As the Main Dressing Station at Grevillers was now rapidly becoming untenable owing to shelling and bombing, orders were sent to the 2nd Highland Field Ambulance at Puisieux to fall back on either Beaucourt or Miraumont, after a site had been prospected and chosen, and to open as Main Dressing Station. The 3rd Highland Field Ambulance was ordered to close down the Main Dressing Station at Grevillers whenever it had cleared all its casualties ; and, failing a sufficient supply of M.A.C. cars for evacuation to C.C.S.. to get rid of surplus cases by horse ambulance wagons and motor lorries to the new Main Dressing Station, Beaucourt, where the 2nd Highland Field Ambulance had reported it was now open. No cases were to be left behind at Grevillers, and all blankets, stretchers and medical stores that the unit could possibly carry were, in addition, to be removed.

At 1 p.m. the 3rd Highland Field Ambulance reported all its cases cleared. Shortly after it left the site all the huts and tentage remaining there were in flames ; while it, along with the 2/1st Highland Field Ambulance, moved back to Beaucourt to join the 2nd Highland Field Ambulance the Forward Evacuation Officer, with a medical officer and party with cars, being left at Grevillers to send back to Beaucourt any Divisional cases that came in. Divisional Headquarters at 2 p.m. moved back to Achiet-le-Petit, and at 7 p.m. again moved to Puisieux ; the Field Ambulances at Beaucourt being ordered to retire to Auchonvillers and establish a Main Dressing Station there. 

In the evening the Forward Evacuation Officer tried personally to get in touch with Brigade Headquarters at Bancourt with a car and dressings, but could not do so owing to the shelling of the route. He filled his car with wounded, roadside cases, which he evacuated to Albert, returning later to Grevillers ; but, finding this place heavily shelled, he proceeded to Main Dressing Station at Auchonvillers.

25th March: Fifth Day of Enemy Offensive. As the medical officer of the 6th Seaforth Highlanders was now reported a casualty, the Division had up to date lost 12 medical officers. An M.O. was sent up to the Brigade Headquarters, Irles, to join the 6th Seaforth Highlanders and the Forward Evacuation Officer proceeded to Achiet- le-Petit with a party, cars, and dressings, to endeavour to run a mobile Collecting Post, keeping in touch with Brigade Headquarters through a liaison medical officer sent there with motor cyclist, this officer in turn trying to keep in touch with the R.A.P.s- a very difficult task but the only practical proposition. The Forward Evacuation Officer remained at Achiet-le-Petit until he was shelled out of it, when he moved to Bucquoy and worked with a medical officer and party of a 19th Divisional Ambulance until Bucquoy also had to be vacated owing to enemy fire.

As a Brigade Headquarters was reported in the afternoon at Puisieux, a car with a supply of shell dressings was sent up there at 10 a.m. The M .O. of the 4th Gordon Highlanders reported later at D.H.Q., along with the M.O. of the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, both having lost touch with their units through their joint R.A.P. being set on fire and destroyed by enemy shells. These two officers were in a state of complete exhaustion, having worked without sleep since the offensive began.

In the afternoon Divisional Headquarters moved to Colincamps and later to Foncquevillers. A medical officer with three cars was sent to try and reach Puisieux and Brigade Headquarters, taking all available dressings with him. Orders were now sent to the Field Ambulances to move the Main Dressing Station back to Bertrancourt, and to send their cars to scout all routes of retiral and pick up straggling casualties. The Ambulances moved back later to Henu, carrying out the same programme : and cars were also sent to search Mailly-Maillet, where it was reported there was a large number of walking cases from our own and other Divisions. 

In the evening the Forward Evacuation Officer, after having conducted his work throughout in the most gallant and efficient manner, was injured through the ambulance car on which he was travelling being upset at Boquemaison, and was evacuated to the Casualty Clearing Station at Frevent.

26th March : Sixth Day of Enemy Offensive – At 8 a.m. Divisional Headquarters moved to Souastre, the Field Ambulances being busily engaged working with cars on all possible roads where straggling casualties might be found. At 6 p.m. D.H.Q. moved again to Laherliere, the Field Ambulances moving back to Saulty. The Division was withdrawn from the line in the evening.

Owing to the length of time the Division was in the line, the initial heavy losses of R.A.M.C. officers, personnel and motor transport, the nature of the fighting, the difficulty of locating and getting in touch with the constantly moving R.A.P .s, especially at night, the heavy shelling of the routes and the extraordinary traffic congestion on the roads, any collection and evacuation of the wounded throughout the engagement was a most difficult task. Further, the M.A.C., on which the bulk of the evacuation to C.C.S.s always falls, had the additional duty of assisting in the evacuation and removal of the retiring C.C.S.s. At the front the constantly changing line with the R.A.P.s rapidly moving to con- form thereto, the loss of M.O.s of battalions (which was usually not known until hours after it had occurred), and the numbers of messages sent back for bearers and stores which never reached their destination, all tended to increase the difficulty. For the first four days the R.A.M.C. in the forward area worked, like the rest of the Division in the line, practically without sleep. A very large number of the more seriously wounded stretcher cases inevitably fell into the enemy’s hands, although the most Strenuous efforts were made to get them back ; but in no case did a Main Dressing Station or other Field Ambulance post, on vacating its position, leave before clearing all its casualties either to the Clearing Station or to the new M.D.S. formed on the route of retiral. 

During the enemy offensive 911 lying cases and 60 sick were passed through the books of the Main Dressing Station exclusive of the many hundreds of walking cases dealt with by the Walking Wounded Collecting Station and, in addition, over 5oo stretcher cases were dealt with at Grevillers which had passed through the books of other divisional ambulances and been sent to Grevillers under the belief that the C.C.S.s there were still open.

The foregoing, mainly taken from the official medical narrative sent in after the Division was withdrawn, gives an idea of the actual moves of the medical units. The main object throughout was to keep them intact as units and near enough to the retreating line to be able to carry out their job ; while at the same time to ensure that they were neither captured nor knocked out en bloc. Handicapped as the R.A.M .C. was from the outset by the initial loss of 150 all ranks (chielly from the bearer divisions of the ambulances) and by the constant increase, as the days went on, of M .O. casualties, it was some , what surprising that so large a number of wounded were actually evacuated.

The further back we got during the retreat the worse the congestion of the roads became ; and by the fourth day of the offensive, when we were forced back into the non-devastated, or only partly devastated areas, the retreating troops became increasingly mixed up with civilian refugees. The routes were one steady, slowly moving mass of heterogeneous traffio, two, and sometimes three, deep ; but, while there was inevitable confusion, there was no panic, no loss of discipline. Guns, tractors, g.s. wagons, motor lorries, ambulance wagons and cars-these last often, fighting their way against the stream to make for the line – walking wounded, motor ploughs, Labour Companies, Indian coolies shuffling apathetically along, with stick on shoulder and bundle at each end of it, officers at the roadside, some diverting selections from the traffic stream into the fields in an attempt to reconstruct units, others in charge of stragglers’ posts making new combinations of fighting material–all contributed to form an unforgettable picture. Here, perhaps wedged in between a caterpillar and a gun, was a little hooded country cart, loaded to excess with household goods and children- one infant, I saw, wrapped in a shawl, was three days old ,and the adults, many of them aged men and women, toiling along in the dust beside it. Other such carts, overloaded, lay with a broken or lost wheel in the ditch abandoned by the owners who had perforce to go on. 

One old man I met sat on the front of his loaded chariot, where a small crossroad intersected the larger one, gazing dispassionately at the never-ceasing Stream of traffic which prevented his crossing to the other side. 

How long had he been there?  “Four hours, Monsieur but perhaps the opportunity might come soon : one must have patience!” Warning him to be ready to cut in, I went back a few yards and told a g .s. wagon driver to pull up for a second or two when he came opposite the old boy. So he got over ; and his venerable cart with its pathetic mixed cargo of domestic relics and human misery went creaking and swaying up the ruts of the sunken road on the other side.

Another peasant, an old woman with long wisps of grey hair blowing about a hard-featured, black-eyed, aquiline type of face, stood upright in an empty cart on the lip of a deep chemin creux into which she could not descend. She had been going against the traffic on the main road, making for a village that must have been long ago in the enemy ‘s hands, and it had been necessary to side-track her for her own safety. It was useless to tell her that her errand was in vain : trembling with rage at having been turned aside, she only replied, with voluble abuse, that she had grandchildren there And they had sent a message that she must come for them ! Had she not sent a reply that she would come? These accursed soldiers had led her here, and she could not get further ! Poor old soul! One could not but admire her steadfast determination, barren as it was bound to be of any practical result.

At Colincamps, where Divisional Headquarters remained for a few hours, the inhabitants were packing up and clearing out -for the second time in this war. T roops were coming and going ; the Hun was known to be advancing rapidly ; and everywhere was bustle. Standing in the dusk beside an ambulance car, which we had just filled with cases picked up in the village, I was outside the arched entrance to a farmyard, when a two- wheeled handcart, laden with the packs, dixies and other miscellanea of a Labour Company, shot suddenly out into the road, narrowly missing a devastating collision with our car. Between the shafts, but with his big flat feet paddling wildly in the air as he was pressed on high by two excited comrades Shoving in the rear of the vehicle, was a very stout little mottle-faced man of middle age, whose appearance suggested (for the moment) an eighteenth century tombstone cherub, and also that it would have been cheaper to have papered his nose than painted it. As he cleared us by a hair’s breadth he gave a yell of.

 “Hout o’ the way, you old Irish man-o’-war! Don’t you see the Flyin’ Corps’s a-comin’!”

Then as I came into his line of vision and he landed on his feet with a flop, he added :

“Beg pardon, sir ! But I’ve ‘auled this ‘ere little moo-seum hall the way from Bapumey and it ain ‘t gettin’ no lighter neither!”

“Bapumey” was Tommy’s invariable pronunciation of Bapaume ; and when I wished the friendly cherub the best of luck, he replied : 

“Thanky, sir ! Same to you!”

And then, with a heave at the trams and a “Come on, you –  couple o’ cross-eyed fairies !” to his pals, he went off up the road, cheerfully chaffing his way through the traffic. Bless his affable, Cockney, pothouse soul! I trust that he returned safely in due time to a kindlier environment.

Battle of Cambrai, 1917

On 15th November, 1917, orders reached our Ambulance H.Q. for an advance party of 50 men, with two officers, to proceed to Ytres and there prepare to take over from the occupying unit. We were rather sorry to leave tranquil Montenescourt, but for some time had suspected that something was in the wind. The continuous arrival of tanks by rail at the depot not far away, and more especially the fitting of each with a huge superimposed bundle some six feet or more in diameter, made up of beams of wood, railway sleepers, tree trunks, etc., pointed to some scheme being hatched but the tank personnel were secrecy itself, so no clue was to be gleaned from them.

Ytres proved to be a fairly large, though scattered village, some thirty or forty miles S.W. of Arras. The Field Ambulance H .Q. seemed an imposing affair compared with the one we had left. Evidently the sector was a quiet part of the line, permitting construction work to be done at will. The officer’s mess was a lofty and roomy structure of brick, wood and corrugated iron, and they had good billets. Niessen huts comfortably housed the men and provided wards for sick and wounded. In short it was a large and well-equipped M.D.S. 

We were hospitably received, spent a pleasant evening and heard more of what was in front of us. A new form of attack was shortly to be made, which, it was hoped, would prove an unpleasant surprise for the enemy. The Highland Division was to have the central position The main object of the attack would be Cambrai. 

About five miles east of Ytres lies the huge Bois d’Havrincourt, half a mile north of the ruins of the small village of Metz. The A.D.S. of the unit in charge of evacuation was situated on the southern fringe of this wood, and consisted of numbers of underground chambers of varying sizes, well concealed by the trees. Clear of the forest, to the east, sloped the hillside, on the crest of which were the trenches our troops were to take over, and about midwav in the trench system were the remains of Trescault. This was the ground we had to reconnoitre, and we seized the first opportunity to do so. 

Motoring as far as Metz, we walked to the wood and inspected the accommodation at the A.D.S. – none too ample. Thence a guide took us to the trenches. A fair road runs from Metz to Trescault, which could be used at night but was under observation by day. Our route was, therefore, through the forest, following a narrow gauge line which skirted the dressing station, threaded the trees and emerged at the eastern side, running as far as the Metz road.

At this point we left it, climbed the slope on the other side of the road, and very soon afterwards dropped into the first trench. Not much time was required to examine the front. The trenches were deep, good and well supplied with dug-outs, but the sector was a narrow one, and we were chiefly interested in the possibilities of Trescault as regards a Dressing Station or Collecting Post. We decided that it would do. The Field Ambulance would come up to the Bois d’Havrincourt and there open out as a M.D.S., the A.D.S. being in the line. In Trescault we discovered a large dug-out, very deep down and with two shafts of access, one served by a winch, the other by fairly good steps. It was right on the main road and there were one or two outlying dug-outs for our men.

Our A.D.M S. turned up at Ytres and I was told that I was to be bearer officer for the Division during the attack, the date of which was uncertain. The news was received with mixed feelings, as my leave was due! The following days at Ytres were full of interest. “Days” is hardly the correct word. Secrecy being essential, all troops, guns, tanks and transport had to come up by night. The general idea was to conceal as large a force as could rapidly be assembled and successfully hidden, and hurl the lot at the unsuspecting Boche. There was to be no preliminary advertising of the attack by weeks of wire cutting as formerly done. The enemy was not to suspect the necessity for bringing up reinforcements. It was a new experiment and the tanks were to have the honours of the day. They were to go first, to crash through the uncut wire and to make lanes for the following troops! So by day all was kept as normal as possible –  just the right amount of artillery fire : special movements of men ; no signs of any stir.

Night, however, ushered in a very different order of things. Troops, guns, tanks and transport of all sorts poured in unceasingly. One could hear the countryside hum with traffic. Late one evening, Sitting in the mess, I was attracted by distant, but at the same time unusually loud, clanking. Tanks were evidently coming up in numbers, and I succumbed to the temptation, wet and dark as it was outside, to sally forth and seek them out. Lanes and fields were in a horrible state, and I had only my ears to guide me, but half-an-hour later had the luck to trip over the broad tape laid down as a guide to their route. And just in time. Shortly there loomed up quite a procession of the huge, unwieldy monsters, each bearing its mammoth burden on its back and preceded by an officer who occasionally fashed a torch to enable him to follow his tape. It was a weird procession. 

On the 19th November we moved into the wood, selecting a tiny dug-out which boasted two wire beds. The rest of the unit was expected late that evening and there was much to do in the way of preparing the billeting arrangements. Where all the men were to sleep was a puzzle. Tarpaulin bivouacs would have to be used. The day soon passed in this way and in prowling about the confines of the wood, noting how alive the whole place had become since our first visit. Tanks along the edges, fresh batteries everywhere, and all cunningly concealed. In the evening I sallied out to meet the Ambulance, Striking across country for the Ytres-Metz road. I failed in my object, as the unit had, unknown to me, been ordered to come by a different route, but I was held spell-bound by the spectacle the road presented. It was one solid mass of troops, all making in the same direction, but apparently hopelessly mixed up. Troops. guns, limbers, g.s. wagons, etc., etc., even a stray tank in difficulties and obstructing the traffic! Military police at various points were driven frantic trying to keep the stream flowing. The tank had evidently wandered from its rightful place in the open and was proving a tremendous obstacle. And all around one heard the clank, clank of the engines and saw the continuous flashes of torches in the hands of the guides. It appeared impossible that the Boche should fail to spot the activity. Till one reflected on the width of “No Man ‘s Land” in these parts – said in places to be fifteen hundred yards – one imagined the enemy could not help seeing the lights or hearing the row. But there were no signs that his suspicion was aroused ; no unusual strafing or shelling of Metz or the wood.

The Field Ambulance arrived late and tired and all were got under cover somehow. Next day was devoted to settling down and making hurried arrangements for the attack. There was much to do. Offices had to be planned, “wards” arranged for the dressing of the wounded, tent sub-divisions allotted their duties, bearers equipped, cookhouse built and feeding schemes matured, stretchers and blankets piled and a thousand other things attended to. We now learnt that Zero hour was at dawn on the 21st. Not much time to perfect one’s plans! My men were to assemble that evening and be marched by me to Trescault, there to occupy the A.D.S. which was to be my H.Q. during the first stage of the battle. That the attack must be made immediately had become obvious. Masses of men were everywhere concealed : tanks lurked in bunches ; batteries littered the open. The Boche could not possibly remain in ignorance of what was afoot. The narrow gauge line running past the Main Dressing Station on the edge of the wood, which we hoped to use next day for the evacuation of the arriving tanks. wounded, suffered cruelly from Squads of our men were kept busy repairing it each time a monster crossed the rails. But, apart from the military activity around, it was strangely quiet. Hardly a shell appeared to be coming over, and our own guns kept uponly a desultory fire. It was the calm before a storm! 

I had but vague information to go upon as regards the disposition of the enemy trenches or the lie of the land. I was ignorant of the arrangements made for our Brigades, or which were to open the ball. I knew our own position. Roughly, it lay along the crest in front of us, with Trescault about the middle of it. Far to the left of our front the ridge made a half circle towards the north, and the village of Havrincourt could vaguely be made out from Trescault, but the attack on this was to be shared by the Division stationed on our left. In front, the view across “No Man’s Land” was merely of undulating country. Two series of Boche trenches were concealed there, one a part of the famous Hindenburg Line. I learned that this immensely wide and deep trench was expected to give trouble to the tanks and this was why they had been supplied with the bundles. On reaching the trench each was to shed the bundle off its snout by loosing the chains in the interior. The bundle, it was hoped, would fall to the depths and provide a stepping- stone for the tank to cross by. Beyond these trenches there was, according to the map, more undulating country, then a ravine running crosswise with an embankment and railway line, and beyond these a some- what steep slope with the village of Flesquieres on the crest. There was only one main road, from Trescault to Ribecourt and from the latter to Flesquieres. Ribecourt, I was given to understand, was not in our area, and this road, for all I knew, might be barred to us. The Highland Division would advance rather to the left of it, the main direction of the attack being almost directly north- east, towards Cambrai. 

Late in the evening of the 20th my men paraded in the intense darkness under the trees. They comprised the effective bearer strength of the three Field Ambulances, and I was to be reinforced at the A.D.S. by drafts from Trench Mortar Batteries and other odds and ends, so that a large body of men would be available. Previous experience proved the necessity for this. There is no more exhausting work than that of the stretcher-bearers and it is almost impossible to have too many in a push. 

Soon we moved off, and I marched, with trolley line as guide, through the wood, across the open to Trescault road, and reached the A.D.S. within the hour. Once there, I set about drafting off the various parties of bearers to their respective Aid Posts and made all arrangements possible for the comfort of those remaining. Seeing the “carry” was likely to be a long one, should the attack prove successful, it was essential to have a large body in hand at H.Q. 

M.O.s of Battalions had been made aware that Trescault was my H.Q., to which they could apply for supplies, and intimate to me there any change in the position of their Aid Posts. My duty would be to keep personally in touch with them, so that I would have not only the organising, writing and planning to do at Trescault, but this job also, while the Aid Posts, in all probability, would be rapidly advanced! It sounded impossible to do both adequately, and I feared that in the attempt to do it I might fail to effect either. 

One gets little sleep under such circumstances and I did not need the crash of the guns to waken me. How astonished the enemy must have been on the morning of the 21st when unsuspected pandemonium broke loose! Our guns were in full blast by 6.30 a.m. and the noise was truly devastating. They must have been firing there had been few largely by the map, because opportunities for registering targets. But fire they did, and that most heartily. I was off at the earliest possible moment for the front line, eager to view the sight, accompanied by a Sergeant of our own Ambulance.

The tanks, I knew, must already be in action. All night long they had been creeping, each to its allotted place, in No Man’s Land, the scheme being that dawn breaking was to disclose one long line of them, far as the eye could reach. When Zero came every engine would be running and the leviathans would move slowly forward, mowing down, or crashing through the uncut wire and making lanes for the following battalions, every companv of which knew exactly which tank or tanks they were to accompany.

We made our way along the front line trench to a commanding spot ; but so feeble was the Boche response to our barrage that we were able to climb out into the open and join the second line troops waiting orders to advance. Dimly in the distance one could see the long line of tanks, and even, here and there, minute objects representing the men behind them. They appeared stationary, So slow was the progress. Most of the shelling was well forward from our position, and no doubt directed at the advancing troops and tanks. I was told that practically every tank had reached its position on time, and at Zero hour every engine started up. A wonderful feat! We pressed forward for a short distance to try to learn the hang of the land, but T judged T should first return to the A.D.S. Here I found our D.A.D.M.S. eager for news, and supplied him with a guide to our old front line. Wounded had already begun to trickle in, and some shrapnel was bursting over the station, but we were escaping wonderfully. I started out at once with the sergeant and an orderly to explore the forward area.

Keeping more to the left, we had barely cleared Trescault quarry and the trenches when I ran up against the M.O. of the 5th Gordons, who told me his Battalion H.O. was moving forwards and he was on the look-out for a forward Aid Post. So he and his orderlies joined my party and we soon found a narrow lane running in the direction we wanted. My desire was to go forward as far as possible in the middle of the divisional area, So that I could pick up a good idea of the country. On our right we occasionally had glimgpses of the Ribecourt road along which wounded could be seen passing. It was a relief to be in the open, and an interesting journey. Few shells came our way. Our own guns had quietened down and one could hardly believe a battle was in progress. The first object of interest to present itself was a deep quarry which had evidently been found useful by the enemy. Ladders led down to its depths and galleries ran round the walls, giving entrance to various roomy dug-outs. The place seemed eminently suited for a Relay Post, and at once sent back orders for a party of bearers to come forward and occupy it. 

A couple of hundred yards further on we came to the Hindenburg trench, immensely wide and deep. Stuck on the parapet of it, inextricably jammed though not much knocked about, were three abandoned tanks. Together they made a splendid landmark for the quarry Relay Post. One glance at the trench made us realise the wisdom and forethought of the bundles on the tanks. Even with their help I marvelled that they could cross at all.

We had met few wounded, and there had been a pleasant absence of “horrible spectacles”, as we crossed what had been No Man ‘s Land. Evidently the first line had been captured with ease and small loss, and our hopes were high for the success of the day. That the tanks had succeeded with the wire was obvious to us the moment we left the trenches. The lanes in the wire we walked through were splendid. Reconnoitring further we came in due course to a second series of trenches. Parties of German prisoners were pouring back and the shelling here became more serious. We were glad to find a communication trench running our way and congratulated ourselves that we were in it. Suddenly l caught sight of a Red Cross on the trench wall, and at the same time spied a Boche prisoner wearing a brassard. We collared him at once and made him guide us to the “Sanitats” which proved to be a capacious, two-roomed dug-out further down the trench. The 5th Gordons M .O. pounced upon it for his new Aid Post and I made a note of the map reference for despatch to the A.D.M.S. At least I now knew where one advanced Aid Post was situated!

Leaving him, my party hurried back to Trescault, where I plunged up to the neck in work. The scene was a busy one. Wounded were pouring in and all were hard pressed to cope with them. German prisoners were working the winch, and the ambulance cars were loading at the A.D.S. itself. Only occasional doses of shrapnel were being administered by the enemy. I found any number of chits from M .O.s all asking for more bearers, blankets, stores, etc., and notifying me of the positions of new advanced Aid Posts. These had all to be answered as satisfactorily as possible, parties of bearers made up and sent off with stretchers, supplies and a note from me re the Relay Post. In addition, all information possible had to be sent to the A.D.M.S. I had, besides, to report to the acting O.C. Field Ambulance that the advance of our troops was so rapid that either the A.D.S. and our car depot must be pushed forward or there would be a colossal carry for the bearers. 

Word now reached me that our only main road, that leading to Ribecourt, was impassable for cars because of a huge mine exploded by the enemy. With another M .O. I made for the spot to see what was what. There we found a gap of forty or fifty yards in the road! No car could circumnavigate it, and the engineers stated that it would be some time before a bridge could be constructed. We agreed that the only thing to do was to bring the cars to the proximal end of the gap and have a party of bearers posted at the distal to help carry the Stretchers around the crater. Possibly the Fords might be manoeuvred round it, and, if so, they would at least take some of the burden off the bearers’ shoulders. Fortunately there was any number of prisoners by this time and they were freely used to bring in the wounded. Still, the scheme was only a makeshift and not at all satisfactory. Our troops were fighting beyond Ribecourt, which village was fully two miles from the car depot at Trescault. 

Evening came on and I was tired enough. With an early start, so much worry, walking and work, and so little food, I was glad to get back to the dressing station. The news, on the whole, was good, but the Highland Division was held up below Flesquieres village. This occupied a commanding position on the crest and our troops had failed to storm it, a German officer having earned fame by the number of our tanks he had knocked out with direct hits. On the other hand, the Divisions on either side of us were well in front and a big haul of prisoners had been made. 

Towards the small hours of the 22nd I tried to get some sleep in the dug-out, but, tired as I was, it was impossible. All hands were hard at work dressing the wounded which still poured down our shaft, and the resulting groans and yells, coupled with the tramp of heavy feet, effectually kept me awake. 

I rose as daylight began to appear. There was no chance of a shave or wash and but a pretence of a breakfast. Necessary work completed, I determined again to go forward and, if possible, see for myself how the evacuation of wounded was progressing: This time I struck a shallow ravine rather to the left of the previous day’s route. From fellows I met I learned that the good old Highland Division, refusing to be held up by any village, height or no height, had attacked in the night and were now firmly lodged in Flesquieres itself. News from Ribecourt road was bad : the R.A.M.C. were finding it next to impossible to keep up with the rapidly advancing troops. However, I proceeded on my way, crossed the Hindenburg and second line trenches and reached the Railway Ravine. Here Flesquieres could be plainly seen, and f made a direct line for it, over the embankment and up the hillside. Before noon I was in the village. What a spectacle of messed-up tanks and mutilated bodies presented itself ! There were trenches all along the crest, and in a deep dug-out below one of these I found the O.C. and a cheery crew of the 5th Gordons. They were in great form and gave me a hearty reception, and all the news. It was a splendid dug-out, well stocked with food, solid and fluid. I drank their health and passed on to explore the village for a possible dressing Station. This soon presented itself in the shape of a huge, though battered building, once a monastery, apparently. Two courtyards, with buildings around. Just the place and situated on the main road ! All we had to do was to get our transport past the mine crater ! But a biggish “all!” 

So off once more on the return journey to report. This time I went by Ribecourt and was held up a long while, for my pains, by our cavalry streaming forwards. But at length I got through and down the slope to the crater and so to Trescault. There I learned that part of the transport had now got as far as the hollow below the crater, and that I must have missed it by circling round the far edge on the other side. As there were no fresh orders for me I had just to carry on. I sent back a report on the possibilities of Flesquieres and set off there again. It worried me that we had no forward post and I thought that a nominal A.D.S. would be better than none. If the Fords managed to get round the crater they must come through Ribecourt and would find us a mile further on. It was dark long before we reached our destination, at which we arrived very exhausted and covered with mud. Although I knew the way so well, we missed it in the dark and floundered miserably for a long time in what seemed a maze of lanes and cuttings. At least we now occupied a forward post. Soon messages found us from the battalions in front, all bringing urgent requests for bearers and supplies. Fortunately a Ford, well loaded, had now got over the road obstacles and we spent most of the night making up and sending forward bundles of dressings and medical comforts. A few wounded trickled in, but there was ample accommodation for them. Towards morning I dossed down on the stone floor and managed to get some badly-needed sleep. 

On the morning of the 23rd I was up very early stiff, dirty and uncomfortable. No shave, patchy washing and haphazard feeding these last days. The monastery buildings, or whatever they were, of Flesquieres failed to cheer one in the thin morning light. A huge courtyard surrounded by large but much shelled stone buildings and outhouses. Those sufficiently intact were soon adapted to the various purposes of a Field Ambulance, and the unit, which had been coming in during the small hours, was already settling in ; the men and N.C.O.s in one block, wounded in another, officers in a third. A good deal of shelling was going on, and it struck me that the prominent buildings we occupied were not so desirable as I had thought ; all right if our advance continued and Cambrai was captured, but bound to be pounded to pieces in the event of a hold up or reverse. However, it was the only possible spot available. 

After a scratch wash up and breakfast, I decided to do a tour round the Battalion Aid Posts and see how the medical arrangements were working. The various M.O.s had kept in touch with me and I had marked on the map the position of the R.A.P.s given me by them, So there appeared to be no special difficulties ahead. One of our padres’ accompanied me and we set off together, soon leaving the village of Flesquieres behind. An open country stretched before us, and we trudged along a good enough road, here and there gaping with nasty shell holes. lt led in the direction of Fontaine, a large village some kilometres short of Cambrai, on the Bapaume-Cambrai road. Passing the small Bois de L’Orval on our left, we soon came to the farm of La Justice, where was the first Aid Post, and I spent some time ascertaining and noting the inevitable wants of the M.O., who had a room full of wounded and no means of evacuating them. So far there had been little in the way of shelling to trouble us and the walk had not been unpleasant. On the outskirts of Flesquieres we had passed a derelict tank, with two headless bodies lying beside it. 

Pickets of the 7th Gordons were digging themselves in to left and right, and further forward were the wagon lines of the R.F.A. in the shelter of the spinney. The guns were halted on the further side to the left. Near to La Justice the road ran between a row of holes, breast high and manned by a Lewis gun section who were able to give us some hazy notion of the actual Front. At the Aid Post the padre picked up a German dictionary left by the retreating troops. There were many Germans amongst the wounded, one an abdominal case in a serious condition.

This job over we passed on our way. The direct route to Fontaine, where I believed I would find the 5th Gordons, was straight forward by the road we were on but as an Aid Post was indicated on my map at Anneux, on our left, I decided to deviate there in the first place and make fresh plans at that spot. Anneux was only about half-a-mile distant, the morning fine, and there appeared to be a reactionary quietness in the matter of shelling. Some shells were falling in the dip between Anneux and Fontaine, but none at all near us. Halfway to Anneux we met a 7th Argyll, who had been sent back in guard of prisoners, resting in a sunk pit by the side of the road on his way back to his battalion, which he said (with a sweep of his hand including Bourlon Wood and Fon- taine) “were holding that ridge!” The ruins of Anneux seemed quite deserted, but we discovered some West Riding Yeomanry leisurely examining two mine shafts. They had no clear idea how things were in front of them, did not belong to our Division, and knew little of their own! As we afterwards learned, there existed a gap between the 51st and the Division on its left (62nd I think), and we had unwittingly struck this hiatus ; nor could these men give us any idea of where the enemy were. All the information they could give was that it might be unwise to go across country to Fontaine from where we were, because a sniper frequently got busy in that direction.

The padre and I consulted what to do. It seemed to me that the large forest, the famous Bois de Bourlon, on our left front must be in our hands as it dominated both the Bapaume Road and Fontaine. Unless we held it I failed to see how our troops could be in Fontaine. Our choice of routes to the latter place was between the main road, which skirted the Bois de Bourlon less than a mile north of Anneux, and directly across the country over which the sniper was said to be busy. 

Everything being quiet, and the road not appealing to us, we decided to chance the sniper, and therefore followed a track made by a tank and proceeded across the country in the direction of Fontaine, some three or four kilometres distant as far as we could judge. Occasional shells threw up large pillars of earth on our right, but not near enough to be alarming, and the walk was really quite enjoyable, the padre being in his usual good spirits. My idea was to gradually bear to the left towards the main road and strike it shortly before it passes into Fontaine. We dropped into a sunken road which soon emerged into the open flat and was there newly metalled, but the stones did not pounded in or rolled in any way. Like all the German construction work it was extremely well done and had bricked edges.

We still walked through quiet, but pretty scenery, and were troubled very little by shells. If there were a sniper he took no notice of us. As we were nearing the road, however, our steps were arrested by shouts coming from our left. The padre said he saw some men he took to be West Yorks on account of their short coats and woolly jackets. We halted, listened, and again heard the shouts, coming apparently from the edge of Bourlon Wood quite close to us. I could see nothing. 

Thinking it possible that some wounded might by lying there and that my Red Cross brassard had been recognised by them, I suggested to the padre we should slant in the direction of the shouts and ascertain what was the matter. I had my Zeiss glasses with me but failed to discover anything suspicious, though, perhaps, the scrutiny was careless owing to neither of us imagining the enemy was so near as he turned out to be ! On getting close to the main road we were hailed by unmistakably Boche voices, a number of soldiers with rifles at the present sprang into view on the edge of the wood and we were fairly caught! Escape was out of the question. The sunken road was too far behind us, neither of us particularly fleet of foot, and we would in any case have been riddled with bullets before we had gone fifty yards. “Hands up’ we were ordered, and hands up it was till we reached the wood. Here we found quite a large party of men under an officer ambushed at the edge of the wood in a well-engineered earthen redoubt, with loop-holed banks and a number of light guns. On our arrival we were lightly searched for arms by the officer, questioned as to who we were and placed under guard. As the padre said, the scene was like one from a brigand story. Lines of soldiers, like posts in a fence, each standing in a cut of his own length held the fringe of the wood, and extending as far as we could see. 

But our halt there was of short duration; two very young lads, with open and cheerful countenances, were placed in charge of us, given their orders, and we were marched off through the wood in a northerly direction. I don’t know how the padre felt, but for my part the shock was pretty great and I felt most horribly depressed. It had come on so suddenly. At one moment we were free and having a walk which was enjoyable enough considering where we were and what was afoot ; the next we were prisoners. We had suddenly dived behind that impenetrable screen before which we had moved for nearly three years. It was an unexpected plunge behind the scenes ! My guard was a mere lad, I should think about nineteen, most likely a farm labourer from some quiet country spot. There had been at first unpleasant glances all around us at the fort, but once it was known it was a case of “Artzt” and “Pfarrer” these changed to good-humoured amusement ! Depressed as I was, I found the march to Bourlon village, to which we were conducted, intenselv interesting. What first attracted my attention was the extent to which the Boche used the trees as look-out places and sniping posts, stout crow’s nests being visible high up the stems of many of them. No wonder there were reports of sniping over the ground we had crossed !

The Bois consisted of stout and very tall trees, closely set together, with paths and clearings, and here and there a road cut through. The crow’s nests must have been ideal spots to snipe from, but nasty for the occupants during shelling ! The wood proved to be full of Boches – in dug-outs, trenches, behind roads, in bushes, etc. 

Through this wood we were guided and, in half an-hour or so, reached the railway station of Bourlon village just to the north. 

Here, apparently, was a H.Q. of some sort. We were kept on the station platform while our arrival was reported, and soon there emerged from the Station buildings an officer of some rank, a colonel, or brigadier, perhaps, who immediately set about questioning us eagerly. His main object was to extract from us the Zero hour for the day. He said in broken English : *When the attack? One o’clock? Two? Three?” Of course there was nothing doing with us, nor did we ourselves know anything about it. The time of our capture must have been about 10a.m., and so far as we knew our troops might not be going to attack at all. We had started on our tour too early for the news of the day’s doings to have leaked out. 

Suddenly, while we were being questioned on the station platform, there came the scream of a shell and we got our first sight of how a British shell explodes! Most satisfactory it was too! Another, and yet another, followed in rapid succession, each falling nearer and nearer to where we stood. It was quite obvious they were meant for the station. My own mood was such that I felt I cared not a single jot. For the first (and only) time I did not care if it snowed shells! But with the Boche it was not so. Where there had been quite a little crowd around us – officers, soldiers, guards, orderlies, etc. – there was soon only open platform. Every man Jack, even our guards, bolted to the buildings and no doubt went rapidly below ground. So comical was it, that my first thought was “Why not do a bunk?” But a moment’s reflection made me realise the hopelessness of it. We would have to hide until dark, make our way through a huge forest crammed with Germans, and chance being shot at. For two elderly non-combatants any such adventure would have been merely silly. 

The next incident to happen was the arrival right above us of a British aeroplane. Whether it was to observe the shooting we were unable to say, but we hoped no bomb was coming our way. In any case the shelling stopped, the plane disappeared and the officer and crowd emerged once more. After much more talk, a motor lorry passing along the road near us was hailed, and we two prisoners directed to climb in. The padre with one guard disappeared into the interior, while I was soon perched in front between the driver and the other. The lorry had evidently conveyed small arms ammunition to the front and was returning empty. 

The drive, however, was not to be uneventful. Shelling was in full force once more and our driver was of the “windy” species. The road was fairly good, quite straight, lined with tree trunks and, though none too wide, was of good enough surface for the speed we were travelling. What disturbed me more than the shelling was the driving ! The padre was inside and missed our erratic swerves, but I had the full benefit. Our driver was much more interested looking backwards to see “where that one went” than in attending to his wheel. Once we missed a tree by inches! I found my few words of German flowing back to me, and these I used in the most energetic fashion, while more than once I could not help grasping the wheel to try to prevent a disaster. 

Happily the danger of this grew less as we made our way back from the line, and the drive became really interesting, despite the shocking smell of the petrol, benzol, or whatever it was that propelled the machine. There were Boche troops and guns to look at, the myriads of notices stuck about, etc., etc. It was chilly without an overcoat, however, and I for one was not sorry when the engine, which for some time had given trouble, gave out altogether, and we were ordered to get down and march along on foot. Of course we had no idea of our destination. We got out at a crossroads, and, after a march of some miles, reached Sailly Lestrem, a good sized village. German guns were blazing away all along that road in the direction of Fontaine. Although we were unaware of it, Fontaine was being heavily attacked, and, as we afterwards learned, was captured during the day. Had we reached that spot as we intended before our capture, there is small doubt that we would have participated in the disaster, and not unlikely in unpleasant fashion!

At Sailly we were marched into an imposing house in a garden, probably a Brigade H .Q. Here a photographer was taking a group of orderlies in the doorway where we were halted. The padre believed that we were included, but we tried to dodge the compliment. Inside, we were again questioned, but only in a perfunctory way. Lunch was on the table and one Boche officer was loudly partaking. Another was poring over a map at the phone. We were not offered food, though very ready for it. An officer then buttoned on his coat and beckoned us to follow. A fine touring car awaited him and into it we all got, the officer saying to us, “Gentlemen, you are my prisoners.” For half an hour we bowled easily along. The car was a good one (though the spirit again smelt vilely), and I was much charmed with the musical whistle employed in lieu of a horn. 

From accounts given to us by other officer prisoners later on we realised how fortunate we were to be driven. Possibly the fact of our being non-combatants and not in the first bloom of youth had to do with our luck in this respect ! We were taken to quite a large château about ten miles distant, evidently newly taken on as H.Q., as the telephones were in the course of being installed. We learnt later that Cambrai had been evacuated hurriedly, fearing its capture by our troops, and this was one of the fresh H.Q. Lunch was being served, and we did not know whether we hoped to be offered any or not. We were frightfully hungry, but also very dirty, and cut poor figures as British officers. I was unshaven, and both of us were wearing the oldest of breeches and tunics, much disfigured by the muck picked up during the battle. However, there was no invitation and we remained hungry. I had no idea what time it was, as my watch had broken down and been left by me at Flesquieres. More perfunctory questioning, and we were conducted to what was possibly Corps H.Q., and then to the office of the Intelligence Department, where a long wait ensued, fortunately beside a nice stove! Then came the real questioning, and for this we were taken separately – I suppose to see if our answers tallied. The questions were put abruptly, not to say roughly, but there was no real impoliteness. Of course every attempt was made to extract information, but on our denial there was no exhibition of “frightfulness.” Some amusement was caused by my refusal to give Division, Brigade, Brigadier’s name, etc., seeing that the information was plastered over my uniform and helmet, and when I refused the name of my Brigadier I was told “He is Pelham Burn and he goes on leave next week!” They knew more than I did! 

Apart from attempts to extract information, we were asked all sorts of informal questions, here as everywhere else where we were questioned: How long did we think the war would last? How did our men like it? What did we think of the U boats?, etc. 

We had to hand over all written matter in our possession, my fine field glasses, maps, etc. I tried to keep my business book, which, as I pointed out, contained nothing but family and personal business entries, but it was no use. The padre, similarly, lost his cheque book, private letters and other odds and ends, his Sam Browne belt, prayer book and other religious books. Our watches, pocket knives and money were not touched. Two new guards now took us in charge and marched us to the Town Major’s, where a chit was given us for a meal! This was afforded at what seemed to be a newly opened soldier’s club kitchen, a beautifully equipped and spotlessly clean apartment.

There we ate soup, bread and sausage, and were removed later to the guardroom, a long, large, wooden hut with a stove at one end, four wire beds on each side of the room, some forms, a table and half a dozen soldiers. They were decent fellows, quite ready to be amicable, and set us down by the fire and tried to talk to us. One, a Pole by his name, told the padre he too was a Catholic. My scanty knowledge of the language here began really to be of use I suggested  “How about beer?” They were visibly cheered by the question, and said it could easily be got. They had to pay for it themselves, however, as our French money was of no use! This was at Marquette, a small village north of the Sensee Canal and due north of Cambrai. Here we remained until early evening, occasionally talking to the men in the guardroom who were, of course, keenly interested in us and all we managed to say to them. I. too, was interested to see their military routine going on. Everynow and then a soldier got up, buckled on his equipment and disappeared, while others, whose spell on guard was over, returned to the comfort and ease of the guardroom. Their politeness of manner and instinctive avoidance of offence nearly equalled that of our own men in similar circumstances.

So much for the first impressions of a prisoner of war!

Pilkem – Menin Road Ridges, 1917

On the 30th May our unit marched by Hermaville, Izel- les-Hameaux, Penin and Maizieres to Ternas, two miles north from our late location of Monts-en-Ternois. Like it, Ternas was a clean village and asses pittoresque, billets being above the average and the weather excellent for bivouacking. We stayed there for four days, with the usual foot parades, kit inspection, route marches and equipment overhauling, but with plenty of opportunity for rest and recreation.

While conversing one day with the “lady of the house” at our mess regarding the number and variety of the troops billeted in the village since the war began –  there had been a steady stream since October, 1914, of French, English, Irish, Scots – she trotted out the old belief that breaking a mirror causes seven years’ bad luck. But she extended it, also, to include a drinking glass as well as a looking glass. “Ah Yes! It was indeed true ! One of her Scottish officers accidentally broke a glass from which he was drinking. He knew, too, that he would have la guigne. Et voila! Il était tué, lui et son ordonnance! By the same shell, his servant and he! Quelle tristesse!”

On the 4th of June we left Ternas, marching in rear of Brigade via Roellecourt, St. Pol and Wavrans to Conteville, starting early and getting in about noon. It was a truly lovely summer day, but too warm for road comfort. Conteville was a clean and prosperous looking little place, rather reminiscent of Sorel. My billet was in the so-called château where we messed, a comfortable country house with a square garden, and in it a guelder rose tree in full bloom. The neighbouring country lanes were hedged with flowering hawthorn, amongst which it was pleasant to “dander” (and the French have dandiner) in the gloaming. 

The village church, of great age and well kept, had a special chapel dedicated to St. Benoit-Labre, whose life of poverty inspired the common French saying, “pauvre que Labre !” His chapel, gated off from the rest of the church, was built beside the room in the ancien presbytère which he used to occupy on his occasional visits to his uncle, M. Vincent, the then parish priest of Conteville. For St. Benoit-Labre (1748-83) was a pèlerin, a religious wanderer to shrines ; and in this chapel now lay his image in wax, on a pallet on the floor a most life-like, or rather death-like, apparition to view in the dusk through the iron bars of the locked gate, clad as it was in a reproduction of the ragged and I fear during his religious activities, rather lousy – apparel he wore as a pilgrim and when he passed away. 

The old presbytery was kept as a sort of museum, containing M. Vincent ‘s writing desk and some other articles of furniture ; although the various visits of his sainted nephew must have reduced the house plenishings to a minimum. For on one occasion, par exemples the good old curé had returned home to find that St. Benoit had given away the avuncular table and chairs, and to replace them had dug a hole in the earthen floor of the sitting room ; pointing out to his doubtless somewhat astonished relative, eager for rest and refreshment, that if they sat on the floor with their feet in this hole, furniture was, after all, not a sine qua non! If King David I. was “a sair saint for the croun” Benoit must have been an equally sair saint for his uncle : but it behoves one, suppose, to put up with unexpected temporal inconveniences when there is a saint in the family, however queer he may be. And truly he was queer enough. Is it not Anatole France who tells us that when Benoit was presented with an old hat his first act was to drag it in the mud before putting it on, thus making it sufficiently disreputable to match the rest of his clothing? Had R.L.S. ever heard of him? It seems not improbable. 

As was usually found in the matter of local history, the village people could tell nothing about him, except that his fête was on the last Sunday of June ; but the old lady of the château kindly gave me a copy of his “‘life” which copy I lost, to my great regret, with the rest of my kit library, during the March retreat in 1918. In it were told many eccentric tales of a quaintly religious career and I think it was on my suggestion (and after a vote) that he was adopted as the patron saint of our mess.

Next day – a day of oppressive heat : perhaps the warmest day we ever experienced in France we marched through very beautiful, undulating country by Hestrus, Eps, Beaumetz les Aires, Heuchin and Reclingham to Coyecques, a tiring and dusty trek of twenty-six kilometres in all, getting in after over a dozen men had fallen out in the last lap, owing to heat and blistered feet, and been picked up by our ambulance cars. It was a pretty little village, and we stayed there two days; the men enjoying the rest, bathing in a stream near by, and one evening having a most successful smoking concert. Two barrels of stout had been imported for the occasion from St. Omer, and a harmonium once more kindly lent for secular purposes by one of the battalion padres, which again eked out the ever vigorous music of our faithful orchestra of fiddlers.

Three days later we set off by way of Saint Martin- au-Laert to the Château de Givenchy at Eperlecq ues near St. Omer ; remaining there for some weeks under canvas in the fine precincts of the château and running a Divisional Rest Station in the ground floor of the building, the weather favouring us. Bathing was available in the large pond of the château, and a very successful item of aquatic sports was carried out . Eperlecques was certainly one of the places all the men looked back on with unalloyed pleasure. At the close of our stay we moved to the other side of St. Omer to another agreeable venue, the hamlet of Clairmarais on the edge of the forest of that name, in whose vicinity were the ruins of an old abbey.

The district was intersected with canals, big and little ; and by these water-ways the inhabitants – mostly market gardeners whose little houses were to be seen dotting the banks carried their produce to the neighbouring town of St. Omer in boats prowed fore and aft, which, in the narrower canals, they propelled by poles, digging these into the bank with short, sharp strokes very difficult of successful imitation by amateurs. But bigger boats with oars were available for the larger canals, which occasionally widened out into small lakes ; and our sergeants, having to proceed some distance to their mess, hauled out and patched up an old sunken hulk of some size, in which, following l’ha bitude du pays, they tore through the water like care-free Vikings. 

And the canals had helped to make history. By one of them in 1711, when St. Omer was besieged by Prince Eugene and Marlborough, a humble heroine une femme du peuple – named Jacqueline Robins, saved the city at the peril of her life by successfully bringing into it a boat loaded with provisions and munitions. 

The farm of Clairmarais, in whose grounds our transport was parked and our tentage for Brigade sick erected, dated back to 1676. It was built largely out of the neighbouring ruins of the old Cistercian abbey, which (founded in 1140 at the instigation of St. Bernard whose hermit’s cell had been at the near-by hamlet of Scoubroucq – by Thierry d’Alsace, Count of Flanders, and his wife, Sibylle) had harboured in 1165 the refugee St. Thomas à Becket. At what date it had been finally destroyed could not be ascertained locally : some said at the Revolution. A mound in the vicinity of the ruins was stated by one old residenter to contain the bodies of four hundred monks who had been guillotined then. He took a somewhat gory, anti-clerical interest in his tale. “Without doubt there stood the guillotinel Between these two pillars you still saw in the field. And their heads had been cut off! But yes ! Certainly” To the number of four hundred. It was a good tale, was it not? And of great interest! Ah ! There were many such in France!”

And yet a pleasant place it was, leaving memories of Strolls in the forest glades of Clairmarais or along the banks of the network of canals. It was sometimes no simple task to retrace one’s steps after a waterside walk, for it was easy to get lost owing to the many compulsory right-angled turns caused by the smaller canals joining the larger ; but a boat was usually available when in difficulties. On one such evening stroll I saw a small bird – a meadow pipit, I think – who had the misfortune to be foster mother to a cuckoo, Aying busily about searching for tit-bits for her imagined offspring. The tiny, active, anxious-minded, little thing had to land on the back of the cuckoo’s neck and feed the open-mouthed ever expectant young bird over its own shoulder. 

The canals were full of eels, and the people fished for them with large nets fixed round circular hoops at the end of long poles. The dwellings by the bank were picturesque enough, but could not have been too healthy romantic and rheumatic ; water lilies and water rats an artist’s joy and a sanitary inspector’s despair. Nor can they have been ideal residences in which to bring up a young family. A harassed mother spanking a small and dripping youngster on the canal bank was asked what he had done. Tah ! The rogue ! Was not this the third time he had fallen into the canal to-day?” Provided the child was always successfully rescued, that opened up to the statistician a vista of 1,095 dips per annum, with much physical exercise for maman ! And this recalls, too, the tale of the matter-of-fact old Scots lady who was shewing a visitor over her garden, at the foot of which was a rapidly running river. “Was this not awkward when your family were young?”’he asked. “Na !” she replied : “We didna loss mair nor twa or three that wye !” 

Rowing slowly on a very warm day up a water-way, several of us landed at an estaminet pleasantly placed beneath the shade of a large chestnut tree which stood before the door. Here we had a chat with two French poilus home on leave – one from heroic Verdun. They told us that owing to the larger number of the people in the locality being market gardeners, the regiments of the French Army recruited here were nicknamed “Les Chouxfleurs.” But, as they carefully and immediately impressed upon us, that did not detract in the slightest degree from their gallantry, and “The Cauliflowers” had given as good an account of themselves as any other soldiers of la belle France. We told them – to their interest-that some of our Welsh soldiers had the leek as an emblem, without any serious damage being done to their character for bravery in the field ; and we politely drank success to the succulent and popular vegetable that so gloriously signified St. Omer and district. 

Near us at Arcques, in the suburbs of St. Omer, was No. 7 (Canadian) Stationary Hospital, under the command of the veteran Lt.-Colonel John Stewart of Halifax, Nova Scotia ; an officer who, though in his seventieth year, was full of enthusiasm and energy. One part of his show was an old château where Wellington had stayed in 1815, and a large plane tree in the garden had been planted by the Iron Duke’s own hands. In St. Omer itself was the 58th (Scottish) Stationary Hospital, where were many well-known Scottish medicos . Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh were all represented. I have a pleasant memory of an evening spent there in song, story and laughter.

On the 24th July we left Clairmarais for Lederzeele, and “embussed” – a highly literary expression solemnly and frequently fired off in orders by the staff for the XVIII Corps M.D.S. at Gwalia Farm on the Poperinghe-Elverdinghe Road. Our bearers had preceded us some time before for the A.D.S. at Essex Farm on the canal bank, a hot spot ; and on the evening of our arrival four of them were killed by a shell which crashed into the shelter where they were at The Willows Collecting Post in front of this.

At the Corps M.D.S. we remained for two months, and during all that time the area was persistently shelled by the Huns, and bombed every night it was clear enough for aeroplanes to come over. When we joined, the place was under the command of the O.C. 134th F.A. (who had laid out the station in a most efficient manner), and we had also as colleagues the ⅓rd South Midland F.A., our conjoint estimated accommodation being for 1,000 cases.

This was a land of hops and hop-poles. Our mess was in the tile-floored kitchen of a little farmhouse whose owners lived in the back premises – father, mother, grand-mother, two young children and three adult male relatives, one of whom was killed during our stay by a shell which landed in a field on the other side of the road. The kitchen had a wide and high fireplace recess in which was fixed a stove ; on the mantel-shelf above it a plaster bas-relief of Joseph, Mary, and the Christ child, framed in an oval frame. On each side was an oblong china plaque bearing a text in Flemish ; on one, Geloofd sy Jesus Christus in Eeuwigheid Amen (Praise to Jesus Christ in all eternity), on the other side, God ziet my Hier vloekt men niet. (God sees me. No swearing here. ) The only other ornaments on the walls were two cheap oleographs of religious subjects. This kitchen was the dining and sitting room accommodation for the officers of the three Field Ambulances supplying personnel for the Corps Main Dressing Station : our sleeping quarters being Armstrong huts none too weather proof – and tentage in the neighbouring field. There was only one small shallow dug-out of sorts available on our site ; for the deep – and safe dug-out was an impossibility, as water was usually struck at a depth of five or six feet or even less. All one could do, therefore, against shell or bomb, was to sandbag the huts and tents to a depth of three feet or thereby, and trust to luck that no direct hit occurred. In some cases the ground on which a tent was erected was excavated for two or three feet and the tent sunk in it ; while some of the more cautious hut dwellers had a trench dug in the floor, in which, should the spirit so move them, they could uncomfortably and moistly recline when Jerry was soaring skywards.

The large barn of the farm was the receiving room, where all cases on admission were clerked (i.e., entered in the Admission and Discharge Book), given anti-tetanus serum, and sorted out. Thence moribund cases and cases unfit for removal were taken to a hospital Nissen hut ; those fit to be fed taken to a feeding tent : those requiring immediate attention to a surgical dressing-room ; those who were gassed to special tents where we kept oxygen apparatus, etc. When dressings were done the casualties were taken to the row of large hospital tents, again fed if necessary, and looked after till the Motor Ambulance Convoys took them back to the various Casualty Clearing Stations. Here came in much work for the Dispatching N .C.O.s: head cases and chest cases going to one C.C.S.. fractured thighs to another, gas cases to a third, general cases to a fourth, and so on. As the nature of the casualties taken by the various C.C.S.s occasionally changed at short notice, every one had to be alert and on the look-out to see that each class of case reached its proper destination.

To make such things easier of remembrance, a large diagram of the human body was at one time hung up in the receiving room with arrows pointing from each part– head, chest, thigh, etc.- to the namę of the C.C.S. whither each special case should go. The figure being depicted as unclad, bore, very properly and after the manner of statuary, a fig leaf : and one bright morning I discovered that some brighter orderly had duly and appropriately adorned the divisions of the fig leaf with the touching legend “A.P.M.” 

While here we dealt with the cases from the three engagements of 31 st July, 16th August and 20th September ; but apart from these had a steady daily run from neighbouring encampments of casualties caused by the perpetual shelling and bombing that went on. On the 7th August I took over command of the Dressing Station from the O.C. 134th F.A. Two days previously, the Hun, who had been sending over high velocity stuff all day, fired a salvo right into the M.D.S. at 10 p.m., killing two of our sergeants (excellent N.C.O.s, valued com-rades and old friends) along with a driver of the M.A.C., and wounding 20 others. One shell landed in the evil-smelling farmyard pond as two of us were making for the dressing-room ; and from the prone position which was routine on such occasions, an extraordinary rainbow effect could be made out by using the corner of one eye – the other being in close contact with the heel of my colleague’s boot – before a malodorous shower of mud and filth rapidly followed. 

Once inside the dressing-room, rapidly filling with cases, you were immediately struck by the effects of discipline. The shelling was going on, the huts were of wood and gave no shelter two orderlies became casualties while at work – and yet the routine proceeded as if things were normal: dressing went on splints were fitted ; Field Medical Cards were duly filled in each case was taken where it belonged everyone stuck it and carried on.

That night we cleared back to Poperinghe all superfluous personnel – we had a total then of nearly 800 keeping only those absolutely necessary for the work in hand, as we expected further dirty work. But this precaution fortunately proved unnecessary. 

I have already said this was a land of hops and hop-poles. It was also a land of spies and rumours thereof. One method said to be employed was signalling by smoke from house chimneys – bunches of wet straw being put on the fire at intervals as per code. The location of our tanks in a wood was said to have been thus given away, with resulting destructive attention from bombers ; and it was also said that the spy, caught later in flagrante delicto, was obliterated in the mud by an appropriate and lucky tank accident. How many spy yarns there were throughout the campaign! – windmills and church clocks worked to catch the balloonist ‘s eye ; men following the harmless, necessary plough and women laying out their innocent white washing, all according to plan for the edification of the watchful enemy flying man. True enough these stories were in many cases : the Boche was – and is a methodical and wily animal: and those who deliberately choose to forget it are the sons of folly.

Padres abounded at the Corps M .D.S.: barring the Salvation Army I think we had all the known varieties, and several of each at that – Presbyterian (Scots and English), R.C., Wesleyan and C. of E. As they swamped us out of our mess table, we, the sons of Galen, holding only to our proven and divisional spiritual advisers, had to give the rest a long table to themselves. This was popularly known as “The General Assembly” and there they sat and discussed the mess cook and moot points in theology. One was under a cloud – he had buried a Malay in the Chinese cemetery, and later had to disinter him and put him in his proper place at the irate demand of a Graves Commission warrior of Irish extraction : even in death there is no satisfactory blending of Mahomet with Confucius. 

The little mess room was, therefore, pretty full, and one day at lunch, after a peaceful forenoon, Jerry pitched a large high-velocity shell on to the other side of the road from us, with an appalling crash that sent in the remains of our already highly dilapidated kitchen windows. It was interesting to see thė positions immediately assumed by the lunchers ; some chairs with their occupants went over backwards : most of those present got automatically and rapidly below the tables. My own strenuous efforts not to be out of touch with the majority were firmly impeded by some unknown obstacle, which on hasty examination proved to be one of our mess attendants on his knees, with his head (on a charger of cold beef) firmly planted in my abdomen. Glad that the beef was cold and without gravy, I enjoyed the unmerited kudos of being heroically erect in my chair as various dishevelled colleagues reappeared from their temporary retirement.

During the pushes German troops from Posen, Danzig and Pomerania, with some Guards, went through our hands. One sub-lieutenant, a sallow, cynical fellow who spoke good English, claimed to be an actor and an assistant of Reinhardt from whom Martin Harvey got his Edipus. Another Hun continued to weep profusely. When asked why these tears, he said it was for joy at being a prisoner! A third, a little chap of about five feet two in height and some forty years of age, was evidently one of the comedians of his unit. His helmet was too large for his head and covered three-quarters of his face. I was attracted to the tent he was in by the laughter he was causing, and found him in the centre of a group of amused orderlies, where he was hopping about on one leg with the other long-booted foot hooked behind it, grinning on all around and making obviously playful remarks in his own tongue. When I enquired what he was up to, he said that he was trying to take off his boot. Was his foot wounded, then ? No, but his boot had not been off for fourteen days. Unfortunately before I could leave his side he managed to get the boot off, and I decided at once that he was no liar. 

Here it was that we first had American M.O.s attached to the Field Ambulances and Battalions, and several of them remained with us to the end. The great majority turned out to be first-rate fellows, although a few had to get over the “effete Yurrup” stage before we took them to our bosoms : a week up the line was usually sufficient to adjust their outlook. But, in spite of little things like that, good chaps they were, and good comrades : their point of view was always fresh and stimulating ; they gave us an outfit of terse and vigorous slang which some of us use yet ; while the numerous new methods they shewed us of losing our spare cash at games of chance were both surprising and educative. 

On the 24th we left Gwalia Farm and marched to Siege Camp, further up towards the Canal bank ; to stay there in sandbagged huts and tents for five days, at rest and overhauling equipment. Every night bombers were over and the place was by no means healthy. Football, however, was available for the men, and two matches with neighbouring units were played. 

Late on the night of the 27th, during a raid, a bomb was dropped on the road fifty yards from us ; a square hit on two g.s. wagons that were passing. In various stages of undress a squad of our fellows made for the scene with stretchers. The smashed wagons and eight mules were all massed in a blood-stained heap from which the quivering legs of the wretched, moribund and mangled brutes stuck grotesquely out. One of the drivers had been blown into a deep ditch at the side of the road, with a compound fracture of the thigh and head wounds: his three comrades – mortally wounded we had to get out from the heap no easy job owing to the still kicking legs of the mules. In the middle of our work, too, revolver bullets began unaccountably to sing over our heads. Going round the heap to its other side I discovered a well-meaning (but post-prandially over excited) gunner officer of a neighbouring division engaged, as he solemnly explained, in trying to put the mules out of their pain. When told somewhat brusquely that there were men in the heap and that he had nearly potted two of our fellows as well, he shook his head, ceased firing, pocketed his “gun” and left us in peace to finish our work.

On each side of the road were numerous horse lines where great damage had been done : confusion everywhere : wounded horses neighing, plunging and kicking : some down and half strangled amongst the ropes, with the line orderlies pluckily trying to get things clear. It was bright moonlight and suitable for the enemy ‘s work. Suddenly another bunch of ‘planes came crashing their way towards us fortunately for us without doing any more immediately local mischief – and there was a general dispersion of the groups of spectators of the previous damage. From the vantage point of the road, which ran at a higher level than the adjoining fields, one could see the rapidly scattering groups of bent figures, with here and there a face, whitened in the moon – light, turned upwards to the sky in search of the terror that flew by night. It was strongly reminiscent of many of the older pictures of the Day of Judgment. With feelings of relief, then, we got orders to proceed to Proven on the 29th and entrain. With the view of lessening the risk of casualties, the unit, less the transport, left Siege Camp at 6 p.m. and marched to Gwalia Farm, where we temporarily “doubled up’ with the 33rd F.A. at the Corps Main Dressing Station. It was lucky we did so, as that night, commencing at 7 P.M., there was a most determined and extensive bombing of the whole area – Siege Camp, Vlamertinghe, Elverdinghe, Dirty Bucket Camp, Caestre, Poperinghe (200 casualties), the Switch Road, all got it in the neck ; the performance going on without intermission for five hours to the accompaniment of continuous crashes. At one time there were Seven planes caught in the searchlights “four of them right over our heads” and the noise of the “Archies” and machine-guns, added to that of the bomb explosions, made up a chorus sufficiently diabolical to stick in the memory. A steady stream of casualties poured into the Dressing Station. 

By midnight there were only a few ‘planes left, chiefly “returning empties” making for their own lines again ; and at one a.m. the unit fell in – with a ‘plane again plumb aboveus, golden in the searchlight’s beam and marched to Proven, preceded an hour before by the transport who had gone through a stiff time, both before they left Siege Camp where a dud bomb landed beside them –  and on the road. The route to Proven -twelve kilometres was simply stinking with explosive products from the numerous bomb holes on it and beside it ; but only an odd bomb or two fell en route, as the night show was practically over ; and we got to the Station at our scheduled time (3.50 a.m.) to entrain after a cold two hours’ wait on the platform. A Soyer’s stove was set going, however ; the men given hot tea and some food ; while once in the cattle trucks, a snatch of sleep was got in spite of the fact that there was no straw in them. The route was Hazebrouck, St. Omer, Boulogne, Albert, Bapaume ; the weather was fine ; and all next day the men sat at the open doors of the cattle trucks, singing, chafing, and jumping off at every stop to lark about or buy fruit from the omnipresent hawkers.

Getting in to Bapaume – moonlit, destroyed and desolate at 3 a.m. on the 1st October, we marched to Achiet-le-Petit, where we were accommodated in tents and wooden huts, and again got a few hours sleep. On the 5th the unit moved to Boiry-Becquerelle, with our H.Q. amongst the ruins of a farm beside the Bapaume – Peronne Road ; while it also supplied personnel for an A.D.S. at Heninel, and for a C.P. in the caves at Marlieres beside W. The A.D.S. was old- established and in good order ; the caves, roomy and gloomy, also held various parties of combatants, and were impervious to any kind of ironmongery that the genial Fritz could heave over.

In this district we were in the vicinity of the Hindenburg Line, and all the villages were heaps of ruins, in the first instance destroyed by shell fire, as the Boche had advanced, and secondly by mines, before he was driven out.

An examination of the communal cemetery at Boisleux-au-mont, with its military extension, was interesting. The civilian part had been badly knocked about by shells and many of the memorial stones broken. Many more had been appropriated for Hun graves, and the fresh carving on this stolen property was often quite good. A large plain wooden cross about twenty feet high, made of untrimmed tree, was erected to commemorate the dead of one regiment. French and Boche graves containing six or more unidentified bodies were common in others – to the disgust of the French, the Hun had buried his dead along with theirs. 

It was in Boisleux, too, that we met several French civilians, men and women, who had received a twenty-four hours permission to visit the village and look for valuables buried on their hasty exodus from their homes. The majority of them were women ; all were dressed in deep mourning. One, after careful inspection of the heap of smashed bricks that represented her old home, found a piece of the lintel of her kitchen window still in position. Measuring some twelve paces from it she made a mark with her heel, and two willing Jocks started digging for her. At the depth of five feet or so, there, sure enough, was her treasure – a large tin chocolate box sewn up in canvas and containing 4,000 francs, mostly in gold. Another wept and cursed when she found out that the entrance to a deep Boche dug-out ran through the site of her hiding place . and, raking about amongst the debris thrown out at the back, she found the now empty and rusted red tin box that had contained her hoard. A third woman we left anxiously watching the deepening hole one of our men was digging for her ; she declared herself sure of the site. We learnt afterwards that she was right, and that she found her money. Getting her friendly Scot to dig again at another spot, some bottles of wine were unearthed ; and these, honest and heated man, he willingly accepted as honorarium for his efforts. 

One woman who had lost her husband and four sons discovered that the devastated site of her home was now a German cemetery : another- also bereaved-that two Huns had been buried in the ruins of her house, and that a board was affixed saying – in French that the bricks must not be disturbed as German dead were there. She gave vent to expression of the most intense hate and rage. Who will blame her ? And yet our political Pecksniffs roll up the whites of their eyes and ask, in stricken accents, “Why won’t the French forgive and forget?” 

On the 2nd November the Division moved into the Hermaville area ; our own Field Ambulance being located at Montenescourt, a quiet and unpretentious little country village.

The Battle of Arras, 1917

For the next impending battle our Advanced Dressing Station and the Walking Wounded Collecting Post were fixed at Anzin on the Arras-Mont St. Eloi road, where spme accommodation capable of extension existed while at already Madagascar, a kilometre across country in front on the Arras-Bethune road, was a dug- out serving as Relay Bearer Post ; leaving a Collecting Post- the Lille Road Post – to be constructed another good kilometre nearer the line, in an old trench running alongside the Arras-Lille road. Here, marking off some seventy feet of the trench, we set about deepening it, broadening it, and roofing it with iron “English Shelters”, a thinner type of the heavy “Elephant Shelter” ; on top of them, again, laying sandbags filled with the excavated earth. Three tiers of Stretcher racks were fitted on each side of the interior, the whole available space being about fifty feet by ten, and holding forty wounded ; while in the middle, with sandbagged partition walls in case of a hit, was a chamber set apart as a dressing room. 

All this meant steady and hard work for the R.A.M.C. fatigue parties of the three Divisional Field Ambulances from the end of February up to the very eve of the battle, as the bulk of the work had to be done in the dark owing to the position being under enemy observation. Steps, too, had to be cut down from the road and fixed with wood while, at the top of these, the road itself had to be widened and stones hammered in to make a turning-point for the motor ambulance cars. Still, when the job was finished on the night of 8th April and we had gone below for a rest before Zero hour- a retiral that was hastened by a dose of shrapnel from the enemy, as it was moonlight and we had been over trustful in the concealing power of a ground mist- our post had fairly good head-cover and was safe enough, short of a direct hit from heavy stuff. 

On our right, some three kilometres away, lay St. Catharine, a suburb of Arras: on our left, the remains of the village of Ecurie while in front of us, in the dip, were the ruins of Roclincourt, to which, and the trenches, ran a hand trolley line, similar lines running back to Madagascar and Anzin. It was on our programme that these were to be used for carrying back casualties, but the combatant traffic soon knocked this on the head ; so we were dependent throughout the battle on hand and wheeled stretcher carriage from the line to the Post, and on motor ambulance cars from the Collecting Post to the Advanced Dressing Station at Anzin. 

The cars clearing the Lille Road Post had to run to St. Catharine and negotiate a hairpin bend there to get on the road to Anzin, a total distance of some seven kilometres : across country via Madagascar was only about two. A short cut “switch” road from leg to leg of the hairpin had been made some distance from Anzin in preparation for the push ; but early in the battle it was needed for guns and ammunition going forward, and our sole car evacuation route afterwards was the longer one.

From left to right our posts in the trenches were Abri Mouton (a specially enlarged dug-out), Sabliers (another dug-out in a sandpit), and a third post in a freshly made dug-out at Fish Avenue, where all the M.O.s of the 152nd Brigade worked together. A further supplementary Aid Post was available in a cellar at Roclincourt. All these had been provided with a plentiful supply of medical stores, blankets, stretcher pillows and Stretchers, with an extra chocolate ration for our bearers.

The weather had been for some days wet and cold. This, incidentally, was due – although one might not have thought it – to the fact that it was Holy Week ; so the fair daughter of the farmer who was our host informed us. “Le temps est toujours Caucourt mauvais la Semaine Sainte jusqu’au Dimanche passèe.” 

At 4.30 a.m. on 9th April, the day of the battle, all hands were roused and the Collecting Post given a final clean up. At 5 the first car was up in readiness, and at 5·30 our barrage started,, presenting a weird spectacle of hellish intensity. Day was just breaking, and the dawn was illuminated with the long line of bursting shells, to which the golden rain and coloured S.O.S. rockets of the enemy lent a strangely picturesque variety of colour.

The noise was terrific with the continuous whistling scream-like a furious gale of wind – of the thousands of heavy missiles going over us to the enemy ‘s lines, and the thunderous drumming of their arrival. At 6 the barrage ceased and the advancing troops were visible from the Lille Road going over the first ridge. But casualties were now coming in (chiefly men hit in the assembly trenches before the advance had commenced ), and soon everyone was busy – carrying the wounded down to the shelter, dressing them there and loading the cars.

In a nook left between the end of the stretcher racks and the exit from the shelter was set a small collapsible table, whereto were pinned a map of the district and a more detailed one of the trenches, both together making up the board on which you played your own special little game of chess against unforeseen circumstances. A clip took in all the “schits” from the M.O.s at the various R.A.P.s, chronologically arranged as they came in, and marked with the hour of receipt, by the Sergeant Clerk who sat beside you. Each message was supposed to have the hour of its despatch written on it by the sender : fifty per cent of them never had. Many were soaked and barely decipherable – medical handwriting is somewhat peculiar at best, especially when written in indelible pencil which had “run.” Many demands were indefinite “more stretchers” “more bearers”, “more dressings” : others asked for impossible and exaggerated quantities. Here your knowledge of the sender’s mentality had to come in, and you discounted the requests of the M.O. who thought too imperially, and dealt with him on more parochial lines. One M.O., who was a bit “rattled” (and no wonder), might have sent off three messages one after another, all without the hour of despatch stated ; and you had to make a shot at which was the latest one (and, therefore, that to be dealt with), as messenger 2 and 1 might turn up in that order after messenger 3. 

All the time, too, if you were wise (for it paid you to do it), you were jotting down a running tale of how things progressed, your literary efforts interrupted by visits here and there to lend a hand in dressing cases and loading cars ; or by interviewing messengers and supervising the issue of stores in response to indents, and seeing that other indents were going back at once for fresh supplies. Then your map had to be kept up to date as the Regimental Aid Posts changed when the battalions advanced, and all such changes had to be duly notified to the A.D.M.S. Altogether you were the head of a somewhat irritable family, whose nerves, after some hours of it, were apt to get a bit jangled : knowing, too, as regards yourself, that you were the certain recipient of criticism, both from those above and those below you in rank, for all that went wrong ; and at the very least expected to remedy the unexpected with the speed of Hermes and the patience of Job. But, above all, your métier was to “cock your bonnet and whistle, to be, like Sydney Smith, a yogood-humorist,'” and to throughout all your preserve enigmatic smile of a Mona Lisa. 

Take a look at the map, then, and read the medical account of this battle as it was written down hour by hour for three days in the Collecting Post : April 9th.. 6 a .m. Ambulance cars bringing in casualties sustained in assembly trenches before advance commenced.

6.45 a.m., M.O. Abri Mouton reports he has thirty Trench Mortar Battery men available and no demands for them so far. Told. to send orderly here to await orders, and meanwhile rest his men till needed. Steady Stream of casualties coming in here.

8.10 a.m. M.O. at Madagascar reports twenty-four German prisoners who have been examined by Intelligence Officer available as bearers. No demands yet, so told to hold on to them. 

8.30 a.m. M .0. at Sabliers reports things going on steadily and no hitch. Wants ten fresh tins of water. Sent.

8.45 a.m. Some wounded Huns now coming in and plenty prisoners passing back. Work so far well in hand. 

8.50 a.m. Satisfactory report from M.O. Sabliers. M.O. Abri Mouton reports only a few cases. 

10.30. a.m. Interviewed Tramway Officer and then notified M.O. Fish Avenue that 6 trollies were now free for use from Roclincourt to Lille Road Post, but route will be difficult to work, as all uphill from Roclincourt and trollies will have to be lifted to pass ammunition traffic going forward. 

10.45 a.m. All reports show evacuation steady and rapid considering distance from now advanced front line and length of hand-carrying required. 

11 a.m. No R.A.M.C. casualties so far. M.O. Sabliers reports wire from O.C. 9th Royal Scots that bearers are urgently needed for No. 1 Co. between new front line and Black Line. Estimated 80 cases. Ordered M.O. Abri M outon to send T.M.B. officer and 36 men to M .O. Sabliers. Called up reserve Bearer Division of 3rd H.F.A. from Anzin and ordered M O. Madagascar to hold 50 Huns in readiness. Messages later : orders carried out.

11.14 a.m. Cleared 16 casualties off road right back across country to Anzin by hand-carriage, as Collecting Post choc-a-bloc. Casualties coming in freely. M.O, – Fish Avenue asks 36 bearers sent 36 Huns from Madagascar. Drew 10 for auxiliary loaders here also.

12 noon. Reported to A.D.M .S. on phone. Snow now falling heavily. 

2 p.m. Notified A.D.S. Anzin to keep all available cars in front area to clear us. 

4 p.m. Went round Sabliers and Fish Avenue and trenches in front of Roclincourt. At Sabliers saw liaison M.O. Field Ambulance and M.O.s 7th Black Watch and 4th Gordons. Called at 154 Bde. H.Q. and saw Brigadier regarding new positions. Saw O.C. 7th Black watch and got 24 men from him to assist in clearing the field, as we have to make the most of daylight owing to extreme cold and steadily increasing fall of snow. Phoned 153rd Bde. H.9: for further parties from Bde. ın reserve as per operation orders. After some delay got parties of 50 each from 7th Gordons and 6th Black Watch. These parties to search field all night, drawing Stretchers from reserve supply at Sabliers and Éish Avenue. Transferred all bearers (less two men to look after stores) from Abri Mouton to Sabliers. At Fish Avenue saw líaison M.O. Field Ambulance and M .O.s 6th Seaforths, 6th Gordons and 8th A. & S.H., who reported everything, going steadily. Called at 152nd Bde. H.Q. and saw Brigadier, who said he was satisfied from his own knowledge that our work was going on all right. M. .O. Abri Mouton brought back to assist M .O. at Lille Road Post. Abri Mouton now a wash-out : nothing doing. 

8 P.M. Got back by trolley track from Roclincourt: Track now no use to us owing to snow and constant ammunition traffic. Phoned report to A.D.M.S. 

8.30 P.M. Heavy snow still falling. Collecting Post acutely congested and 130 overflow cases in open on road- side. round about it, owing to no cars coming up. Cars held up by (ı) switch road not available through guns going up : (2) block on Arras-Lille. Road through motor lorry colliding with, gun (3) all cars on evacuation roads to M D.S: going slow through heavy up traflic. Turned on all available Dearers and Huns to hand-carry. and wheel-stretcher the casualties, across country to Anzin. Got 50 The long rows of snow -covered, blanketed figures on the stretchers are a sad sight. Phoned A D.M.S to clear Anzin A.D.S. if possible by MAC cars and release all F.A. cars to clear Lille Road Post. All suitable cases in open given hot coffee soup, and all spare blankets on them. Hand stretchers and wheeled stretchers hard at it across open to and Anzin.

I0 p.m. Cars have got through again and cases here rapidly diminishing. 

12 Midnight. Heavy snow and very cold. Majority of cases cleared. 

April 10th – 5 a.m. Still snowing heavily. Steady but lessening stream of cases coming in. Large percentage from dug-outs and shell holes who had been hit early in action : shews field is being well searched and cleared. Many of them enemy cases.

9 a.m. 30 rested bearers now available at Abri Mouton. Brought them here for loaders to relieve Huns who are played out. Huns fed at soup kitchen and sent back to Madagascar 

11.30 a.m. A.D.M .S. up. M.O. Fish Avenue reports his area all cleared. 

4 p.m. Reports in from Fish Avenue and Sabliers giving map references of new Regimental Aid Posts. Both report their areas well cleared up. This is borne out by lessening number of cases coming back, and these mostly of the “hit-early” shell hole type. Wrote out detailed report for A.D.M .S. No bearer casualties, and all ranks have worked splendidly. 

8 p.m. Things practically stopped : an odd case now and then. 

April 11th – 7 a.m. Only 6 cases in through night. Men rested and had 4 hours sleep. First chance since push began.

12 noon. Received report of M.O. 7th Black Watch being killed by stray shell.. M.O. from here sent up in his stead. Things now quiet. Several cases of exhaustion and prostration from severe cold have come in. 

3 p.m. Received Operation Orders re relief here by F.A.s of 2nd Division, to be carried out on 11th and night 11th-12th. Started checking stores at all posts. D:A.D.M.S. 2nd Division with M.O. of 5th F.A. up re relief. Cannot get his Ambulances up by time specified. Suggested he should relieve Sabliers and Fish Avenue at 7 a.m. tomorrow, and Lille Road Post and Anzin by 9 a.m. This allows our men to have a night’s rest and let the R.A.P.s be relieved by daylight. Agreed. 

6 p.m. M.O.s Sabliers and Fish Avenue report their areas all carefully searched again and found all clear of casualties. Some new R.A .P. map references. Sent on to A.D.M S. Things quiet. All personnel resting. 

April 12th -10 a.m. Relief completed all routes demonstrated to incomers : receipts signed : unit moved to Acq.

The comic relief at Lille Road Post was supplied by “James” one of our Hun auxiliary loaders. His real name, I suppose, was Heinrich Schneider or something of that sort ; but, as he spoke good English, he was appointed interpreter for enemy wounded, and put in charge of his whole-skinned countrymen who were assisting to carry casualties down to and up from the dressing room. He had been – so he said, and there was no reason to doubt it – for ten years before the war a waiter at the Hotel Cecil, hence the temporary name bestowed on him ; and his behaviour was certainly a curious mixture of the soldier and the waiter. When spoken to he came sharply to attention (military), with a gentle bend forwards from the waist (Hotel Cecil) ; while his prompt “Yessir!” almost made one see the napkin over his arm. Stoutish, broadish, and – to us, his captors – affable, he magnified his office with evident relish, and treated his hoplites with true Hunnish high-handedness. 

From the entrance to the dressing room I overheard my colleague, who was busy with a wounded enemy casualty at one period of the first day’s work, giving James a high moral lesson, in a clear, somewhat professorial style. “You will observe, James, that here, contrary to the custom of your countrymen in this war, we treat our wounded enemies with the same consideration extended to our own troops.”‘


“Before the war, James, I had travelled much in your Fatherland, and had failed to detect the degeneracy – ” 


“Which has since, evidently, developed with such alarming rapidity.” 


“Cruelty, on our part, is not made a matter of military routine.”


“You mean No sir, ‘ I think, James!” 

“No sir l” 

“Ah, well! The case is dressed ; summon your comrades.” 

“Yessir Achtung! Zwei träger! Aufheben!!

 And away went James with his compatriots to load the case on a back-going car. After twelve hours of it, James came to me, saluted, and remarked : 

“Sir, I and my men are exhausted” 

“I and my men are also exhausted, James.” 

“Yessir! But we had no sleep for two nights before this battle.”‘ 

“Right, James, I shall believe you and relieve you”

So, in charge of a sergeant, James and Co. were sent along the trench to the Divisional Soup Kitchen to have a good feed, and were thence taken below to an old French dug-out, where various worn-out bearers of our own were resting. Later, it was reported to me that James was missing and although we made a perfunctory search for him, we could not find him. Two hours afterwards I was passing a small recess blanketed off from the sandbag wall of the dressing-room, in which was a stretcher and some blánkets, placed there for my accommodation with kindlv forethought by the staff-sergeant, should an opportunity for rest come along. Hearing a stertorous snort, I pulled back the blanket and discovered James sound asleep in my bed, evidently under the impression that his “staff job” entitled him to some precedence. The humour of it tickled me so much that I left him ; but his snores gave him away to others before long, and he was “put back where he belonged.” 

When the time came to hand him and his comrades over to the A.P.M’s guard, James asked to see me, and giving his salute-cum-bow said : – 

“Sir, I trust I have given satisfaction?’ 

“Let your mind be easy, James : you have”

 “Sir, I hope we shall meet again.” 

“When, James?”  

“After the war, sir” 

“And where, James?” 

“At the Hotel Cecil, sir!” 

With which pious hope James solemnly saluted and vanished into the gloom of the trench. 

To Acq, then, as aforesaid, we went mud-stained and very weary. And, as our messroom was not of the roomiest, my fellow-officers decided to dine, with many similarly minded officers of other units, at the well-known Marguerite’s.

A cheery, rackety crew ; gunners, foot-sloggers, A.S.C.- all were there – with a sprinkling of Canadians clouds of tobacco smoke ; corks popping and a jingley piano going thirteen to the dozen ; while those who could sing did so, the majority merely contributed a joyful noise. Dulce est desipere in loco: “let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”: a somewhat emotional outburst, doubtless, of the nerve-strained. History tells us that throughout the ages the intervals of rest time in war have seldom been lucid : the picture has been stęreotyped and the cannikin has always clinked.

The wine is red and the wit is keen, 

Joy’s heel on the neck of Sorrow! 

And we reck no more of the Might-have-been 

Or Tomorrow – Oh ! Damn Tomorrow !

In Acq we remained, resting and overhauling equipment, till the 16th, when we moved to St. Nicolas, on the outskirts of Arras, taking over there from the 28th F.A. an A.D.S. consisting of four parallel tunnels, each some fifty feet long, running back into the hillside, fitted with stretcher racks and capable of holding in all about a hundred and fifty casualties. The tunnels opened on flat ground covered with ruins, some of which had been sufficiently repaired to serve as offices, a dressing-room, stretcher and blanket stores, cookhouses, etc: . while beyond it again the ground dipped to a light railway running parallel to the river Scarpe up the valley towards Fampoux and Roux by way of Blangy and L’Abbavette, all these places being in ruins. At the last-named was the Collecting Post ; and at Fampoux, Three Arches (of the railway embankment), and Athies Lock, were Relay Bearer Posts ; while the Walking Wounded Collecting Post was in tentage about a kilometre up the valley road. Fighting was going on at the famous Chemical Works and a steady run of casualties came in all day.

The roofs of the tunnels, unfortunately, owing to the persistently wet weather, dripped steadily : and as all ranks were underneath them this did not make for comfort, especially as the water which found its way through was not even clean. At night the unlucky possessor of an upper bunk had to tack his ground-sheet on to the earth roof above him, a precarious protection at best ; as in time the sheet bellied out with the accumulated water, and either tore itself from its fastenings, or at the least touch poured out on to the ill-starred sleeper from each end. The tunnels, too, could not be ventilated, smelt like a tomb, and were “fuggy” to a degree ; but there were some forty feet of head cover, which made up for many minor deficiencies.

Till the 19th the weather continued vile, and we were busy both with cases coming in (many of them casualties from Blangy and the valley road, which the enemy shelled steadily) and with improving the accommodation – clearing fresh tracks through the ruins, firming up the incoming and outgoing roads for the motor ambulance wagons, and getting up some operation tents for “sitting cases” when space was available: It was always a matter of duty, honour, pride and routine that those in posses- sion should make a place of this sort better than when it had been handed over : and the outcome was that, in some of the sites where unit after unit had worked at the job for months, a wonderfully high standard was attained. 

On the 22nd, in view of a new Divisional push the next day, the Bearer Divisions of the Field Ambulances went up to Blangy for distribution to the R.A.P.s (twelve to each) and to the various Relay Bearer Posts. A hundred and fifty extra bearers (from the 5th Gordons and Trench Mortar Battery) were also in readiness, to be sent in relays, as required, by the Field Ambulance cars going up the valley for casualties. Twelve bandsmen also reported for work as loaders at St. Nicolas. All day Arras was shelled intermittently and the valley road steadily.

On Zero day reveille was at 4 a.m., and by 6 the usual steady stream of casualties commenced to come in by our cars, the bearers near the Chemical Works being exposed to very heavy shell and machine-gun fire. One squad of four was carrying a casualty shoulder-high on a stretcher when a shell struck it, knocking the men over in a heap, and carrying stretcher and occupant some ten yards before it burst. The wounded man was blown to bits but the bearers were unhurt except for the strained neck muscles of the two who had been on the leeward side – a truly lucky escape for them. 

German prisoners could always be depended on for marvellous information, and one enemy casualty distinguished himself that day by assuring us that Hindenburg had committed suicide ; which, unfortunately, while a cheery bit of gossip, turned out to be untrue. Between 10 and 11 a.m. over twenty shells landed in our vicinity, one hitting the office of Divisional Signals in the dip below, killing one man and wounding several more ; while another landed at our entrance, fortunately at a time when no car was there. 

All that day and all night we were busy with casualties, many still coming from the narrow valley road, on which movement was necessarily slow, crowded as it was with the dense traffic of guns and wagons (ammunition, motor, g.s., ambulance and limber).  Going up it on a car one would progress slowly for five minutes, then halt for ten, and then on again ; and the wonder was (especially at freely shelled spots like the famous broken railway arch at L’Abbayette) that casualties were not more numerous. During our stay here our unit lost one bearer killed in action, one died of wounds, two were wounded and returned to duty, while seven were wounded and evacuated.

On the morning of the 25th April, having dealt during our stay at St. Nicolas with 747 cases, we handed over to the 102nd F.A., and on the 26th moved to Agnieres, a small village near Aubigny. 

Two days later we moved by Berlette, Berles, Penin, Maizieres, and Gouy-en-Ternois, to Monts-en-Ternois. It was glorious spring weather, redolent of the promise of even better things to come, and the coquet little village, with its red tiled roofs shewing through the verdant leafage, was welcome to our eyes. Truly we could say with St. Francis : “Praised be God for our Sister Mother Earth, which brings forth varied fruits and grass and glowing flowers” For to us, freshly come from all the desolation of ruined Arras, it seemed no ordinary thing to see a normal countryside with daisies, buttercups, green trees and grass, and the houses whole and untouched by shell fire. A hen and her little fluffy yellow brood, straggling along a side road, came as a wonder seen for the first time ; a sight to be followed and leisurely enjoyed, until, doubting the honourable nature of our intentions, the harassed mother hysterically drove us away by a headlong charge. 

A good many German wounded went through on the 17th from the 94th and 95th Thuringian Regiments. One was an iron cross man : another, shot through the chest, was a non-commissioned officer though only 17 years of age. Asked what his fellow countrymen were thinking about the war now, he replied, “What care I? Am I to live or die ? That alone is of interest to me”” Another Boche had his right arm shattered: shot – so he said – by his officer for not advancing promptly. Two more there were some days later, both of whom came into British hands after lying out for twenty days near their own lines; one vilely septic, with commencing tetanus, the other in articulo mortis.

On the 21st our officer with the bearer division took over the front line evacuation, with H.Q. at L’Abbayette twenty bearers at Fampoux village forty at Beaver Lock, Fampoux ; and a small party at Athies Lock. Evacuation ran from the R.A.P.s either to Fampouy village, whence to St. Nicolas by Ford cars ; or to Beaver Lock, and thence on the canalised Scarpe in pontoons to Athies Lock, where the casualties were transferred to cars ; an alternative route being by Decauville light railway straight from Beaver Lock to St. Nicolas. As the light railway and the canal were as freely shelled as the road, and as progress on the waterway was, further, a slow-going business at best, most of the cases found their way to the village post and down the valley by car. A road was generally more quickly repaired than a railway. 

It was always a tricky old valley. Going round the posts one day with our only Hibernian, things were quiet, the day was fine, and we strolled along the tow-path of the canal engaged in cheerful and improving discourse worthy of “The Compleat Angler.” Suddenly old Fritz let go at the landscape, one shell landing in the mud swamp which had once been the opposite bank of the canal. I hastily embraced a large poplar tree on the side away from the enemy, while showers of mud descended everywhere ; and then I discovered that I could see no sign of my companion.

“Where are you?” I sang out. 

“Where you’d be yourself, sir, if you had any sense at all” came the reply from nowhere I could see. 

Much struck by the respectful and practical nature of this reply, I at last detected the top of his tin hat in a neighbouring shell hole, and promptly joined him there : Jerry giving us a quite unsolicited encore, and my colleague a spasmodic lecture to me on the advantages, under such circumstances, of shell holes over poplar trees. And he was quite right, too: he knew his natural history well. The military cemetery, left at L’Abbayette by the Germans, had some exceptionally well-finished memorials of slatey stone, engraved and even gilt-lettered. One had a well-carved head of Christ on it. Where they got the stones, tools, and opportunity for doing the work was a mystery : but they had a characteristic trick of breaking up the French memorials in the communal cemeteries and using them for their own purposes. By the 27th our bearers were “out”

Beaumont Hamel, 1916

“Beaumont Hamel”  as our then G.O.C. said six years later, “was the first occasion when the Highland Division was able to prove that, given a fair chance, it would certainly be successful against the enemy. Here was a fortress defended by every artifice of which the Boche was a past master. It had several lines of defence connected by subterranean tunnels, and each line defended by several belts of barbed wire. When the Division proceeded there the place had been attacked on at least two occasions, and it still remained intact. When I went to those Divisions that had attacked in order to try to get some tips, I was told, “You have not a dog’s chance”. As you know it rained continuously for several days before 13th November. In fact we carried out a raid two or three days before, and the men were so involved in the mud that they could not get on and could scarcely get back. Yet Beaumont Hamel was taken, you might say, with almost automatic precision. We took nearly 3,000 prisoners, and that in spite of very little progress being made on our left. This was the same Division that had fought bravely at Festubert. It had taken over the Labyrinth from the French, which was really over a Boche mine-field, for mines were blown up practically every night. And yet it lost hardly a single trench. It was the same Division that had fought in High Wood on the Somme with great loss. The reason was that elsewhere we were pitchforked into other people’s battles, whereas in Beaumont Hamel the Division was able to prepare and fight its own battle in its own way.” 

So much for the actual battle : let us look at it from the R.A.M.C. point of view. 

The previous medical arrangements in the High Wood engagement, where a shifting personnel and a divided jurisdiction of Field Ambulance commanders had been somewhat confusing, were now changed ; and a Forward Evacuation Officer was appointed whose duty it was throughout the battle to contrive and supervise the evacuation of all wounded from the R.A.P.s to the Main Dressing Station and Walking Wounded Collecting Station ; a more satisfactory method which held good to the end of the campaign. 

When we took over the line from the Royal Naval Division on 17th October, the different medical posts were then quite inadequate for the push which we knew to be in prospect ; and it was well, from the R.A.M.C. standpoint, that frequent postponements of Zero day took place. For in that time our men, “with necessarily limited R.E. help” (that familiar Staff cliché), had to enlarge and add an extra entrance to a Relay Bearer Post at Tenderloin in White City ; to make an entirely new one in Second Avenue Trench and another at Uxbridge Road; to pit-prop and false-roof a Collecting Post at Auchonvillers in the stable of a farmyard there ; and to prop, sandbag, and fit stretcher-racks into the cellars of a brasserie at Mailly-Maillet as an A.D.S.; all of which entailed on the officer overseeing the forward work many a weary mile daily, for weeks on end, of trench tramping in the vilest of weather through mud often up to above the knees.

Still, when 13th November came, our preparations were finished and the whole thing was workable. The constant anxiety of a Forward Evacuation Officer was to have good head cover for his men when they were not in action, and to be sure that he had no superfluous personnel at the different posts to invite unnecessary casualties ; while equally certain in his mind that he had plenty men to face the work in hand, and that all demands for stretcher-bearers would be met. 

Yes, there was always a lot to do before a push, and the experience gained in each had to be duly noted, remembered and used with advantage in the next : in bello non licet bis errare. A good surplus of stretchers, blankets, splints, dressings, rations, medical stores and comforts, had to be accumulated gradually at the first Field Ambulance Post behind the R.A.P.s before Zero day. If the weather were wet, as almost invariably happened when a push was on hand, the blankets had to be carried up to the line in bundles wrapped in water- proof sheets, to protect them as far as possible from rain and the soaking, sticky sides of the muddy trenches. Without this precaution they were bound to arrive at their destination hopelessly wet and soiled before they were ever called into use ; and as it was quite impossible, owing to the confined space, to have drying accommodation of any kind at such places, this kept us from attaining that warmth and dryness for the wounded so essential in combating shock. 

This forward Field Ambulance post was usually the Collecting Post, the furthest up position to which cars could approach with a modicum of safety before the push commenced. As the stretchers, blankets, stores, etc., began to be called for from the R.A.P.s, the M.O. at the Collecting Post had to indent back on the Advanced Dressing Station, and this in turn on the Main Dressing Station, which, again, was in touch with the C.C.S. and the Advanced Depot of Medical Stores ; so that cars returning to the front after leaving their wounded at the M.D.S. were always bringing up fresh stores towards the line to replenish the different posts from which they carried back. At an early stage of the battle it was quite possible that the roads would be either totally blocked with combatant traffic or so seriously congested as to make transit an exceedingly slow business ; and it was, therefore, absolutely necessary to have a surplus at each stage to refill the medical post immediately in front of it. 

The providing of an adequate supply of water was also a problem to be met. It had to be sent up to Regimental Aid Posts, Relay Bearer Posts, and Collecting Posts, in petrol tins, and the supply of these tins was necessarily limited. The Battalion M .O. had always to have a generous stock at his R.A.P., drawn previously by the Quartermaster from the harassed A.S.C. A certain number, if the M.O. was wise, were strictly earmarked for carrying forward when the time came to advance his aid post, and were only used at the original one when the necessity was imperative. On sending back for a refill to the Collecting Post, he was always supposed to return the empty tins, an item in the programme which he frequently forgot ; and this omission equally frequently prevented his again getting supplied promptly. For at the Collecting Post a reserve supply had to be kept for their own cases in the event of the tank of the water cart stationed there receiving, as often happened, a punctured wound from shell fragment or shrapnel or of the supply water-cart being knocked out or held up on its road from the A.D.S. behind. 

To provide hot food for the hungry, soup kitchens were usually run as near the communication trenches as possible. In this battle, in addition to the Divisional soup kitchen at Stockton Dump, which we could draw on for supplies, we had a show of our own, generously helped by the Scottish Churches Tent, in our farmyard at Auchonvillers and there throughout the battle it did yeoman work for wounded, stretcher-bearers, prisoners and all who claimed our hospitality. Besides, by diplomacy, tact and ingenuity, we had accumulated an extra good rum ration, and had further purchased a plentiful supply of canteen chocolate for the bearers. 

By the night, then, of 12th-13th November all these things – and many more – had been seen to, and the Forward Evacuation Officer at the Auchonvillers Collecting Post took a final pipe and look over his orders wondering how far the latter would pan out as expected, and trying to anticipate, with the help of his colleague there, what should be done in the event of any part of the official programme breaking down. Then, with the gas curtains down – for the area echoed all the wet, misty night with the slow and melancholy “Whew-ew-Punk “ of gas shells – few hours of disturbed sleep were got on a stretcher, until the hour before Zero made all alert for work at hand.

At 5.30 on 13th November our furious barrage started, and by 7 a.m. a steady stream of wounded was flowing in, which lasted all day ; but evacuation went on well and steadily with no congestion at the various posts. At 11 a.m. and 2.45 p.m. Auchonvillers was vigorously shelled and we had, for the time being, to carry all the cases lying in the farmyard, awaiting dressing or removal, inside our already crowded Dressing Room. By the middle of the forenoon German prisoners began passing in large numbers ; and a hundred fit men were held up to help to clear the field of their own wounded. These men were fed and treated like our own bearers and worked willingly and well, being docile to a degree ; any number up to fifteen at a time going off in charge of one R.A.M.C. man. 

Corporal Charlie, one of the best known characters in our unit, had general charge of the Hun auxiliaries, and his management of them and of the language difficulty was admirable. Ordered in the evening to detail twelve men for wheeled stretcher work, in answer to a call for more bearers to go to Thurles Dump, he went to the ruined shed where his command lay ; most of them, mark you, smoking cigarettes supplied by their friendly enemies. It was dark by then, and I happened to cross the yard as he began operations. Holding on high a hurricane lamp he shouted :-

“Noo, then, you Fritzes! A dizzen o’ ye! Compree?

“Nein!” said a puzzled voice from amongst the huddle of Huns in the shed. 

“Nine, ye gommeral? It’s nae nine ; it’s twal’ o’ C’wa’ noo! Look slippy! You, Nosey !'” ye! (indicating a gentleman well endowed in this way by nature). “An’ you, Breeks ” (to another, the seat of whose trousers was severely damaged by barbed wire). 

He then most appropriately fitted Nosey between the front handles of a wheeled stretcher with Brëeks at the tail end, and with a deft shove sent them and their apparatus out of the way ; while, again applying his personal method, he rapidly picked out another two. When the tally was complete he turned to the orderly in charge with :-

“Noo, laddie, there’s your Fritzes! See ye dinna loss ony o’ them!”-and calmly made off in quest of another job. 

As a practical linguist he was unique : his French being quite as good as his German. An equal adept was he with penny whistle or mouth organ, or as Rabelaisian raconteur in chief. He was a man of never-failing cheerfulness, and much legendary lore deservedly circulated round him.

Later, going round a dark corner of the farmyard, I collided violently with someone coming from the opposite direction. After tersely commenting on the situation I flashed on a torch light and discovered the corporal, with both arms crossed, like a tombstone saint, over a mass of bulging material inside his tunic. 

“What on earth have you got there?”  asked. 

“Booms!” came the laconic reply. 

“Bombs! What are you doing with bombs?”

“Pittin’ them in a holie roond at the back” 

He had collected about forty bombs from the wounded who had come in, and I was rather glad our collision had not been more violent than it was. 

But Corporal Charlie has led me away a bit. All day the run of cases continued and all night of 13th-14th. In spite of the shelling of the evacuation routes there had so far been no casualties amongst our personnel. Morning saw things rather quieter ; but in the forenoon, near White City, an M.O. of the 2/1St F.A., one of the most efficient and gallant R.A.M.C. officers in the Division, was killed by a shell, as later was a private of our unit along with two Boche bearers. The good old motor transport, with their usual sang-froid, were now steadily running cars down to Tenderloin Post in White City by the much battered Auchonvillers- Beaumont Hamel road, the route being risky (although no worse than Happy Valley in July) ; and in any case it was necessary at all costs to ease off the strain on the now thoroughly exhausted bearers, many of whom had their shoulders absolutely raw with the constant friction and pressure of the stretcher slings. Evacuation went on steadily all day and night of 14th-15th. 

On the evening of the 14th a batch of some half dozen Boche officers was temporarily left in our charge until an A.P.M ‘s guard was available to remove them back. We stuck them under a guard of our own in the much battered part of our building which faced the enemy lines. Shortly afterwards I got a message asking for an interview. On entering their quarters there was much heel-clicking and saluting : and a fat, walrus-faced fellow who spoke semblable English asked :

“Are you aware, sir, that we are German officers”” 

I murmured politely that the fact was obvious. 

“Are you aware, sir, that this room is not suitable accommodation for German officers?”

By good luck I remembered what Sam Weller, as boots of “The White Hart,” had said to Mr. Perker when the little lawyer remarked “This is a curious old house of yours.” So I gave Sam’s reply to the indignant Hun :

“If you’d sent word you were coming. we’d have had it repaired.” 

The effect was magical! Walrus-face beamed and translated the remark to his brethren, who all saluted with pleased smiles, while their interpreter observed in the most amiable manner:-

“Do not further apologise!” 

I replied that I would not ; and, looking in later, found them in very audible enjoyment of some liquid nourishment from the soup kitchen. The incident was happily closed.

And now came the inevitable stage of clearing up the battlefield and searching all possible places where wounded, whether British or Boche, who had not been picked up in the actual battle, might have sought shelter. At daybreak an M .O. and a party were sent to work from Y Ravine towards White City; while another party, încluding two Jocks with rifles (as the dug-outs with which Beaumont Hamel was tunnelled were not yet clear of whole-skinned Huns), worked across to meet him, an officer of the 6th Seaforths acting as guide. A further object was to search for a wonderful legendary underground Hun dressing station of the Arabian Nights variety, which, incidentally, we failed to locate. 

It was drizzling wet and vilely cold, the trenches in places thigh deep in clay and an awful mess of smashed barbed wire, mud, disintegrated German dead and debris of all sorts. In one trench our occupation for half an hour was hauling each other out of the tenacious and blood-stained mud ; and during our mutual salvage operations we had evidently made ourselves too visible, as the enemy started shelling. There was nothing for it but to take to the open and make for another trench, which we promptly did ; doing a hundred yards in rather good time.

Now, the Jocks and I were of the Julius Cæsar, Napoleon and Lord Roberts type of physique, while our guide was a tall man, whose greatcoat – which for some obscure reason he had put on before starting – blew out as he led us, doubled up on account of the phut-phut of bullets, across the open ; and it struck me with a great feeling of irritation as we ran that we must be providing excellent comic effect for anv of the enemy observing us through glasses, by suggesting an alarmed hen and three chickens on the run. (I had the opportunity of being in a gunner’s O.P. near Cambrai in 1918 and seeing four Germans doing a sprint under similar conditions. For once I felt a definite kinship to the Hun: I, too, had been at the wrong end of the telescope. In the next trench we again set about searching the dug-outs and placarding them, to catch the eye of the stretcher-bearers who would follow, as containing so many wounded for removal : but again the Hun gunners got on to us in an exposed place and we had a second sprint across the open for another trench, where we had to stay below in a sous-terrain for an hour till things got quieter. 

This dug-out was typical of the many with which Beaumont Hamel was honeycombed. On descending about forty steps one was in a large floored and timbered chamber some fifty feet long ; and at the further end a second set of steps led to a similar chamber, one side of each being lined with a double layer of bunks filled with dead and wounded Germans, the majority of whom had become casualties early on the morning of the 13th. The place was, of course, in utter darkness; and, when we flashed our lights on and the wounded saw our escort with rifles ready, there was an outbreak of “Kamarad!” while a big bevy of rats squeaked and scuttled away from their feast on the dead bodies on the floor. The stench was indescribably abominable : for many of the cases were gas-gangrenous. Any food or drink they had possessed was used up, and our water bottles were soon emptied amongst them. After we had gone over the upper chamber and separated the living from the dead, we went to the lower one where the gas curtain was let down and fastened. Tearing it aside and going through with a light, I got a momentary jump when I caught a glimpse in the upper bunk of a man, naked to the waist, and with his right hand raised above his head. But the poor beggar was far past mischief  – stark and stiff with a smashed pelvis. Some twenty other dead Germans lay about at the disposal of the rat hordes. The romance of war had worn somewhat thin here.

When the shelling had eased up and we quitted the place, the wounded firmly believed they were being left for good ; although we had repeatedly assured them that in a short time they would all be taken to hospital. But to the end of the campaign the wounded Boche could never understand that he was not going to be treated with the same brutality he had meted out to others at the outset of war; so it was amidst a chorus of shrieks, wails and supplications that we made for the welcome open air, ticketed the dug-out as containing fourteen wounded our search in similar for removal, and renewed surroundings for fresh casualties. 

One other memory of Beaumont Hamel is still vivid. Parallel to Wagon Road, and on its Auchonvillers side, ran a chemin creux in which were several dug-outs where we – and the Division on our left – had Battalion R.A.P.’s. It had been severely shelled and the sides of the road had fallen in, reducing the cart track to a foot-path knee deep in mud. Going up it one morning soon after daybreak, I saw a headless corpse lying on a stretcher at the path side. From the neck a trickle of blood ran to the feet of a man outside a dug-out who was calmly frying some ham in his canteen lid over an improvised oil-can stove. His mate – fag in mouth – was watching him. What was beside them had ceased to be worth comment. They were surfeited with evil sights. And they were hungry. 

On the 16th, Tenderloin in White City became our H.Q. for forward evacuation ; and there with two M .O.s and a hundred and twenty bearers we stayed until the 19th, searching all possible locations in the field for any cases possibly missed, and clearing a large quantity of wounded for the Division on our left, who were stunting and whose R.A.P.s could not be cleared without our help· All this time White City and the roads into Beaumont Hamel were distinctly unhealthy, and the weather was vile ; while the atmosphere inside our dug-outs one long chamber with over a hundred and twenty occupants – was almost palpable. A wash was an unknown luxury, of course ; but though lousy we were cheerful -even tuneful at times, thanks to the corporal’s penny whistle and a veteran gramophone – as our job was nearly done. 

By the 22nd our unit had still twenty-four bearers in the R.A.P.s at Beaumont Hamel, twenty-four at Tenderloin, thirty-six in reserve at Auchonvillers, and a tent sub-division at the A.D.S. at Mailly-Maillet ; while, in addition, we were running the M.D.S. at Forceville, handed over to us by the 3rd H.F.A., which had left for Puchevillers So our hands were fairly full. But, on the 23rd, we handed over, and started overhauling equipment in view of our next move.

What Field Ambulance officer does not recall over-hauling equipment after a push? The counting of stretchers, blankets, wheeled carriers, etc., etc. ; the exploring of Field Medical and Surgical panniers to check missing “unexpendables” ; and the inevitable and unanimous finding of all concerned that what couldn’t be found had certainly been destroyed by shell-fire! However, on this occasion we had increased and multiplied exceedingly for we came away from Beaumont Hamel outstandingly to the good in the essential matters of blankets, stretchers, and especially wheeled stretcher carriers : So that the soul of the A.D.M.S. rejoiced within him, until at the first D.D.M.S. conference he had to meet his suffering and blood-thirsty colleagues who had been on our right and left flanks. 

Four days later we moved from Forceville to Senlis, and took over a set of hutments on top of a windswept hill above the village from a Canadian Field Ambulance, finding the place  – to be quite honest – in a most unholy mess. He was a good man, the Canuck, right enough, and “a bonny fechter” but he had a way of his own all through the campaign. Our advance party officer was taken round the show by a Canadian confrère (in shirt sleeves, breeches and gum-boots) who, on giving an order to a sergeant en passant, received the reply :– 

“You go to – John!”’ 

The officer’s only comment was a grieved :-

“*Well, now! He shouldn’t say that, should he?”- and the matter apparently ended!

 Here, then, we stayed for several uncomfortable cold and wet weeks while the Division was in the line at Courcelette; thence for some weeks of severe frost to the Buigny-St. Maclou area near Abbeville, where we were not far from historic Crecy. Later, we were once more at the hutments of Haute Avesnes 2 and marched thence to Caucourt, on the other side of D.H.Q. at Villers Chatel, to run a Divisional Rest Station and prepare the forward medical posts for the next push, the famous Vimy Ridge battle, where the 51st were on the right of the Canadians.

The Somme, 1916

We lay for some days in huts outside Acq, a village of no great interest, although in its vicinity were two large stones les pierres d’Acq said to have been raised by Beaudouin Bras de Fer in 862 in honour of his victory over Charles the Bald, but in reality old prehistoric monoliths. A visit to the village cemetery shewed the more common names of the local families to be Delcour, Allart, Richebé, Genel, Bacqueville, Cuisinier, Gauchy, Delassus, Masclef, Dubois (of course), Cuvellier, Goude- mont, Compagnon, Leroux, Lantoine, Delettre, Bayart and Bulteel. And if one had, like Hervey, to spend one’s spare time in meditation among the tombs, it can be guessed that there was not much else to do. For, knowing we were soon to be on the old tinker’s trail again, we wasted no time on landscape gardening round about our hutments to catch the eye of itinerant medical brass hats, but stuck in to that never-failing operation, the over-hauling of equipment. 

So, having got orders late on the previous night, we left Acq on the morning of the 15th, and spent a very hot and dusty summer day in trekking via Haute Avesnes, Habarcq, Avesnes le Comte and Grand Rullecourt to Ivergny, a picturesque little place of some 400 inhabitants. It was a longish march of fifteen miles through pretty, undulating country, with good crops well forward everywhere ; and we got down comfortably enough, as the motor ambulance cars made repeated (and illegitimate ) trips, picking up our men in relays, and allowing them to settle down early, and not too tired, in bivouacs and the village school. My own billet had the unlooked for disadvantage that my hostess retired to rest through my bedroom ; but as her catching me en chemise obviously did not disturb her beyond eliciting the customary “Pardon, Monsieu,” I, with equal courtesy, did not allow it unduly to disturb me. 

Next day we left Ivergny and trekked fourteen miles in rear of brigade transport via Lucheux, Gorges and Doullens to Candas. The pace set was rapid, and (until we broke off from the column at Doullens) very trying alike to men and horses, owing to dust and heat. To Lucheux the route was a very pretty one and lay through extensive woods (the scene, in bygone days, of the murder of the famous St. Leger), with a steep descent into the village ; while at Gorges the Divisional band was dis- coursing cheerful music by the roadside to enliven the dusty column as it passed through. 

Doullens, a fine little country town of 6,000 inhabitants, was looking quite gay with its pavé streets and its cafés thronged by citizens in their Sunday best ; and, on leaving it, the citadelle later to be the scene of a most diabolically deliberate outrage on the Red Cross  – stood out on its rock as a war-worn relic of days gone by, with a history going back to the middle ages. 

Out of Doullens our route lay up a steep hill, to negotiate which the bearers had to buckle to and assist the transport horses ; So everyone was glad to get at last to Candas, where the men were bivouacked in a good field. An Empress Club bath unit – a water-heater and a nest of tin baths, some of which lasted out the campaign – had turned up as a kindly and welcome gift before we left Acq and this, set going in the lee of a hedge, afforded a much appreciated chance of a dip for the footsore and weary. 

At night I found a reversal of my previous night’s billeting arrangement ; as, in the small earthen-floored cottage where i slept, I had to pass through my hostess’s room, in which she and her family were abed, to reach my own chamber further “ben” But here again the arrangement seemed a customary one, and only elicited a sleepy “Bonne nuit! Monsieur” from the lady of the house. 

At Candas we stayed three days. It had the widest streets of any village that we ever saw in France, and was even then a great Air Force centre. In one little épicerie, where we went in search of picture post cards, the owner was well read in Franco-Scottish history, especially in the career of the unfortunate Marie Stuart ; while the cordonnier (the village “souter”)- a sturdy old septuagenarian with large spectacles – sought out by us for bootlaces, also supplied us with a vigorous denunciation of the enemy to the accompaniment of equally vigorous hammering on the sole of the boot he was repairing- “Ahl monsieur!” (tap!) “Les Boches!” (tap, tap!) “Les barbares!” (tap, tap, tap!) “Les féroces!” (tap, tap!) “C’est une race à détruire!” (tap! ) “A détruire!” (tap, tap, tap!) A détruire !!” (tap. tap. tap, tap!) If his honest hammer could have done it the war would have been satisfactorily finished that evening.

Foot and anti-gas helmet inspection, overhauling equipment, and a route march or two to keep our feet hardened for further road work, passed the rest of the time ; and on the evening of the I9th we marched independently as a unit via Valheureux and Naours to Flesselles. Even with a moon only four days on the wane and a clear night it was no joke finding one’s way through the tortuous streets of the various villages. Naours was full of Anzacs, some of whom had enjoyed – wherever they had got it – an over-generous wine ration, and were lying about in graceful confusion with their empty gilt-necked bottles beside them. 

Having failed to extract any intelligible replies from a somewhat bemused sentry, hypnotised apparently by the glimmer of his bayonet, I rode, to reconnoitre our route, up one silent side street ; and, at a corner of it, the village church and its graveyard, dotted with white stones, stood out clearly in the light of the nearly full moon shining serenely above the church tower. It was a peaceful sight, curiously suggestive of stage scenery. 

Suddenly, to complete the illusion, the quiet was broken by the sound of quaint music ; and, silhouetted against the moonlight, a six-foot colonial playing vigorously on a mouth organ, with his sombrero set at a most rakish angle, lurched out of a farmyard entrance into the street. Carried away by a fierce pride in his own tunefulness, like Apollo when he slew Marsyas, he never saw my now somewhat alarmed horse, off which he ricocheted as he pursued his eccentric and melodious career. He looked for all the world like the Pied Piper, and was certainly in a condition entitling him to the necessary retinue of rats. 

We got into Flesselles – choc-a-bloc with troops – at 1 a.m., to find billets few and of the poorest, many of the unit never rising higher than an uneasy rest for some hours in shelter of the buttresses of the church. Four of us were proudly led by the billeting officer to the gate lodge of a château where he had secured one room. Alas! The single bed therein was filled by the adipose body of an unknown French interpreter of another division – none too courteous in his assertion of absolute proprietorship. The landlady, a handsome young woman in a charming peignoir, at first peremptorily refused our application for leave to sleep on the floor of the kitchen. Was not her husband home en permission? And the first time for two years! The room would be needed tomorrow for his déjeuner! He must have every comfort! Did he not deserve it? We agreed with empressement that this was indeed true. But I ventured to add : 

“Madame would not make her joy an occasion for our sorrow? Would she turn us, exhausted as we were, out into the Street? We all of us could perceive by looking at her beautiful countenance that it must be associated with a kind heart!”

That did the trick : the objective was taken : with many expressions of sympathy for our toil-worn condition she helped us to push the furniture into a corner, and we had a sleep of sorts on the floor for three hours. Later, as we, in attempted silence so as not to disturb our amiable hostess, left her door at 4 a.m., she, in the manner of Juliet, opened the lattice of her rose-trellised window, and in charming disarray bade us “bonne chance”. 

Many moons had slowly waxed and waned when, later, I told this affecting tale with some pride to the then chief of our Divisional French Mission. He followed the story attentively and finally asked : “Will you tell me – in French – what exactly you did say to her?” I told him ; and, after a pause, he meditatively remarked : “Yes! she might have understood it – a little of it anyway!”‘

His cynicism may have been due to the fact that he claimed descent from Corneille ; but I hold it to my credit that until he left us I remained on speaking terms with him – in English.

At 5 a.m. in drizzling rain, which later cleared off to leave a very warm, sultry, summer day, we left Flesselles and trekked, again through picturesque and undulating country, via Villers-Bocage, Coisy, Allonville, Querrieux, La Boussoye, Bodnay and Heilly, to Mericourt-Ribe- mont, where we had been before in July of the previous year, although now we were in the Ribemont part of the village. The march was again in rear of brigade transport ; the pace was as hot as the weather ; and the distance covered was twenty miles ; so that all hands arrived pretty thoroughly done up.

Our Division was here relieving the 33rd in the attack on High Wood, and in the afternoon two officers left with the bearer sub-divisions to take over the Relay Bearer Post at Mametz and an Advanced Dressing Station at Black Hut in the valley “Happy Valley” – beyond it ; while the rest of the unit moved to Mericourt and there relieved the 101st Field Ambulance in a large barn- the largest I ever saw in France or elsewhere –lit by an excellent pre-war instalment of electric light, in which building they were running their Main Dressing Station. In the 48 hours of their stay they had dealt with 950 casualties : and taking over the show as a going concern, with a steady flow of wounded passing through, was no easy task for our clerks and personnel generally. In addition we had to look after a small château, with huts in its front courtyard, as an officers’ hospital ; so by evening everyone was up to the eyes in work.

All night and next day the constant stream of wounded from High Wood went on ; and in the evening the news came down of the death by shell-fire of three of our men’ at Black Hut, which post had been completely knocked out by some twenty shells coming over, the survivors of the party falling back on Mametz. 

The weather, fortunately, kept fine, and the scene at night was impressive – the steady stream of motor ambulance cars whirring and humming as they came or left, with their headlights, when they passed it, momentarily illuminating the crucilix, vividly white against the greenery ot the poplar trees lining the triangle of turf opposite the barn ; the cooks’ fires silhouetting them against the wall at their work amongst the Soyer’s stoves ; and the never ceasing gun flashes lighting up the whole horizon. One Wolseley car had been hit en route and the driver and car orderly wounded. 

By the morning of the 24th work was slightly easier, although the news from the wounded was that furious fighting continued at High Wood, and that the German machine guns were playing havoc, while the artillery fire was heavy and continuous. The M.O. of the A.D.S. came down at night from Mametz with the bodies of our men who had been killed, ; extricated under fire with great difficulty and risk from the spot where they had been buried by the shells. Their funeral took place next day to ground beside the communal cemetery of Mericourt ; and later, two more of our units passed through mortally wounded, a shell having struck a party who had volunteered to go on foot from Mametz up Happy Valley while a heavy bombardment was on, with dressings and stores in answer to an urgent demand from the Quarry Post near Bazentin. 

While the stream of casualties had been steady all day it had not been So heavy ; but on the 26th a harder day was put in. For we functioned as an M.D.S. up to 12 noon- -having dealt with 1,806 cases since we took over and then, having closed, worked against time loading four motor wagon loads of miscellaneous stores from the château to go to the new Corps Main Dressing Station on the slope of the hill above Dernancourt. That done, with all speed we had to pack up and load our own transport, get a meal served and trek out at 6.30, marching by Meaulte to Becordel, where we camped under canvas by the roadside on the slope of the valley towards Fricourt. 

The pace was slow, as the whole district was stiff with troops and guns; all the villages crowded up, and tents and bivouacs on every hand. From our camp at night the entire valley was twinkling with fires in the line summer night ; and a steady cloud of white chalky dust from the unceasing traffic on the road found its way every- where. Grinding the teeth was easy here, and one bit the dust in the erect position. 

On the 28th four more bearers’ were killed, and, next day, buried in the military cemetery at Becordel, crosses made by our own carpenters being later erected over them.

Each of the three Field Ambulances was now supplying personnel for a 48 hours’ spell apiece at the Quarry Collecting Post in Happy Valley, two and a-half kilometres beyond Mametz on the route to High Wood ; a most dangerous spot, enfiladed as it was by enemy fire and without proper dug-out accommodation, the only shelters in the quarry being of sandbagged timber, roofed with corrugated iron. But it was a case of Hobson ‘s choice and carry on, although R.E. help was got later to better the conditions generally. Up to this place, however, in spite of the cut-up state of the road and the continuous shelling of it, the Field Ambulance motor cars were running steadily. But, on the evening of the 30th, the corner- “Death Cornery” on the Mametz side of the quarry became quite impassable for cars, owing to shell holes ; so horse ambulance wagons worked past it by the field track, and for three days and nights took stretcher cases from the quarry all the way to the top of the hill at Mametz, where they were reloaded in the motor ambulances to go back to the A.D.S. at the File Factory, Becordel – a very nerve-racking piece of work, most gallantly carried out by all concerned.

One of these trips is well described in the words of a horse transport driver ; it shows, too, how an experience of this sort was looked upon as all in the day’s work :-

“We were working four horses in a team, as it was far too heavy a job for a pair. I was detailed for one of the wagons with another man in the lead. Except for dodging a few shell holes the first twenty-four hours were nothing much out of the way. But the second night got a bit livelier. If I remember aright the 153rd Brigade went over the top that night, so we had our work cut out to keep the Quarry Post clear, and it was made increasingly stiff as there were no wagon orderlies available, and the drivers had themselves to transfer the patients from the horse wagon to the motor. We jogged along not SO badly till about 2 a.m., although the horses were beginning to feel the strain, as we were taking four Stretcher cases and um pteen’ Sitting cases every trip, all perched in or about the wagon like a lot of monkeys.

While we were going down the valley Jerry commenced to pop tear shells over and then a big ‘Jack Johnson’ made a huge hole on the overland track ; So we decided, to avoid the risk of capsizing the wagon, that we would have a shy at the road. 

“We got to the quarry all right, loaded up and Started on our return journey. About a hundred yards from Death Corner a Gordon picket stopped us and told us we should not go any further as the road was being heavily shelled. As, however, we had a serious case on board and the patients were ‘”windy’ (which a man often enough was after he was hit), we decided to push on. At the corner we could not see a yard in front of us for gas and mist, and it was no easy job guiding the wagon through the maze of shell holes. 

“Suddenly a great shell burst twenty yards in front of us, and my leader thinking it was somewhat to his left swerved to the right to avoid the hole. As it happened, the Swerve took us right into it and the wagon turned over on its side. The leader- a good horseman shouted to me to try and urge the horses to pull it out and that the wagon might right itself in the process. At the first strain the lead-ropes between the first pair and mine broke ; So we made a fresh rope out of some loose wire that was lying about and tried again, but it broke too. 

“Stuck in a shell hole, the enemy shelling: and the valley full of gas : no wagon orderly and several badly wounded men inside whom we were unable to help -what were we to do P We shouted to some ammunition column drivers going past at the gallop to lend a hand – but they either didn’t hear us or thought there were too many shells dropping about for them to stop. So the leader unhitched a horse and rode off to Mametz for help while I stuck to the wagon. 

“While he was away I managed to tell a wounded officer inside what had happened and that we hoped soon to remedy matters. He was in a very exhausted state and died a few minutes afterwards ; but with almost his last breath he said that if we all pulled through he would see that we got proper recognition for sticking by them. 

“Back came the leader no better off than when he left : not a soul at Mametz who could help us. I then went off for a try, and came back with no better luck. When we had about given up hope, one of our own horse ambulance wagons arrived on the scene from the Quarry. They pluckily drew up alongside and we got our cases out of the capsized wagon through the canvas sides and laid them on the ground, while their wagon went off at the gallop for Mametz and came back again for them, loaded up and set off again up the valley. Later on, with a team of twelve horses, we got our own wagon out and started work again. I must say it was a trying experience.”

All in the day’s work, as I said before this incident – and hundreds of others like it – remained untold till long after the campaign was over. But all who knew Happy Valley will recognise the severe strain on these two drivers.

For the valley itself was always an extraordinary scene of destruction and desolation. Going down it the road hugged the sharp rise of the hill on the right, into which ran numerous small dug-outs and shelters ; while, on the left of the road, flat ground ran for a hundred yards or so gradually sloping up to hill again. On this ground guns were going up with their teams ventre à terre at a mad gallop; dead men and horses, and smashed limbers, lay about in every direction ; and a torn and twisted light railway shewed protruding strands like hands held up in grotesque protest against the treatment it had received. It was all curiously reminiscent of the illustrated papers one’s prevailing impression was a sense of unreality-que diable faites-vous dans cette galère? War seemed, as the Canadian rhymester puts it,

the rummiest sort of a go, 

For when it’s most real it’s then that you feel 

That you’re watching a cinema show,

until the heat, the stench from the carcases rotting in the sun, and the shell-fire brought one back to actualities and the job of work on hand. 

By 2nd August the Quarry Post conditions were somewhat improved, as four small dug-outs were secured on the roadside beyond it, which accommodated most of the personnel in safety ; while the cooks got cover in another and smaller quarry some hundred yards further on.

All the time of our stay our valley at Becordel and that across the ridge north of us had been intermittently shelled and bombed, and the weather had been baking hot. A South African heavy battery, hard at work some hundred yards away, effectually prevented sleep, and the cloud of chalk dust was all pervading. This last often produced curious spectacular effects. To come back from Mametz and meet the horses of gun-teams breast high in a grey-blue cloud of it, only their bobbing necks and heads and those of their riders visible, black against the copper semi-circle of a setting sun, was a sight suggestive of Eastern jinn out on an errand of Ahriman. 

We handed over again a few days later to the Ioist Field Ambulance and moved back to Dernancourt. There we lay in tents in a field of ripened uncut wheat, like Ruth among the alien corn, on the top of the ridge above the Corps M .D.S. until 10 p.m. on the 9th, when we entrained, the transport having left the day before for Sorel via Cardonette. The train, however, did not set off till 3 a.m., the accommodation for all ranks being cattle trucks ; and after a series of short sleeps on the hard and dirty floors, we got to Longpré at 9 a.m., marching five miles therefrom to Sorel, Here, and on the road to it, we smelt the fine, homely, honest smell of peat-reek for the first time in France. 

Sorel, a well-to-do and picturesque little village untouched by war, was a welcome sight after our experiences of the past three weeks. Good, cheap, white wine was available at 1 fr. 50 to 2 fr. a bottle, with cider, fresh butter and milk and eggs. Peats – tourbes – were the main fuel. The “divots” were smaller than in Scotland and were cut with a longitudinâlly corrugated spade which left its mark on them ; a big, four-wheeled cartful costing 40 frs. The village was on top of a hill, and the wells were of necessity correspondingly deep : the main one was said by a local Munchausen to be 300 feet. However that may have been, in letting down the bucket of our special well too vigorously, some of our men broke the chain, and a busy spell of two hours was spent in fishing for it with a wire rope and a hook ; voluble M. le Maire and his still more voluble wife contributing much excited exhortation. One worthy in the district made a precarious livelihood by descending on such occasions to recover lost buckets at T0 fr. a journey : but we managed to dispense with risking our money and his life, although our salvage operations resulted in the water being very oily for some twenty-four hours. 

Deroy, Dellacourt, Cornu and Succur were some of the commonest surnames in the place ; and in my billet, a comfortable, two-storied, old-fashioned country house. was a very fine collection of ancient brass ecruisie’ lamps. which again, like the peat-reek, gave a homelv touch to our surroundings. Altogether, it was a pleasant “Sweet Auburn” ; and my landlady’s remark, “La vie est très calme et tranquille ici,”‘ was evidentlv true. I should like to see Sorel again : “a man.” as Mr. Markham observes in David Copperfield, “might do verv well here. ,’ 

On the morning of 12th August we set off for Pontremy to entrain, and after a very warm journey via Abbeville, Boulogne and St. Omer, we detrained at Steenbecque and marched to Blairinghem. All (except the main) roads were narrow and often lined with high hedge-rows crops – wheat, barley and haricots   were well on and abundant : the peasantry seemed well- to-do, and the ditch or hedge-lined fields, usually small, were well kept and tidy. As was inevitable in fat watery Flanders, mosquitoes were in plenty ; but billets for everybody were above the average. At the foot of a large crucifix at a road junction in the village lay a lot of rudely made little wooden crosses about 2 ft. long. Every time a child’s funeral passed, it was the picturesque local custom that one such little cross was left there. 

Two days later we marched to Eblinghem, entrained for Steenwerck, transport going by road, and spent a night at Lestrades, proceeding next day to Armentières on the Lys near the Belgian frontier. The arrival of the unit there coincided with a sharp shelling of the town by the Huns; but the men, going at intervals in parties of twelve, got safely to their billets at the Institut St. Jude, a large Catholic seminary which had already been pretty badly knocked about by enemy fire. An advance party took over the Advanced Dressing Station at the Chapelle d’ ‘Armentières brickworks from the 1st New Zealand F .A. : while the rest of the unit were engaged in running the Main Dressing Station at the Maternity Hospital on the Armentières- Estaires road, a small modern building of brick, but with no adequate cellar accommodation as protection against shell-fire. 

In the evening the enemy gunners got busy again, and stretcher parties were busy collecting casualties from the streets, 40 in all being dealt with – Scots and New Zealand troops with French and Belgian civilians, a large percentage of the latter being moribund and requiring the last rites of the Church from a neighbouring curé. Two sad cases were a mother and daughter, who were mortally wounded by a shell which fell plumb through a two storey building and burst in the cellar of the boot-shop they kept in one of the main streets. The shop, a neat well-stocked up-to-date little place, was smashed the cellar stairs leading from the back shop were blown away, and the stretchers had to be let down and hauled up with ropes through the shell hole, rather a tricky task ; but we got them up, although both women were so badly wounded in the head, chest and abdomen that they died next day.

At no time or place was it desirable to be shelled but to experience it in a town was worse, if anything, than in the open, where at least you could see to a certain extent what was happening. Bad by day it was still worse by night. The thunderous rumbling hubbub of falling masonry echoed amongst the dark and silent streets long after the smashing crash of the shell had died away : while the recovery of casualties from the vicinity of the resulting ruins was often a very risky job owing to the sudden descent of fresh debris.

Even shelling, however, had a humorous side to it. In the street running along to the Institut St. Jude a shell landed one afternoon a considerable distance behind a brewer’s dray- one of these long, sloping structures on four wheels where the beer barrels lay on two parallel rails. Off went the horses at full gallop : off his perch, too, fell the driver : and off the cart, by ones and twos and threes came the beer barrels. The driver, getting on his feet, Started to chase his horses, while nimble Jocks and Anzacs, coming out from their billets like bees from a hive, rapidly rolled the barrels into them. Later appeared dazed Jehu, with his recovered horses and dray, to view an empty street and look in vain for his vanished goods.

We stayed in Armentières till 25th September, and during all the time the town was shelled almost daily by the enemy. Our little hospital was never struck ; but the large French Civilian one immediately behind us, where our M.O.s had to attend surgical cases, was hit several times ; while the run of street casualties was always so large that special parties of our men with wheeled stretchers stood by, day and night, for duty at such work. Out of a pre-war population of over 28,000 a large number still hung on in spite of the battering the town was getting, and many shops and estaminets continued open and got good patronage.

Outstanding amongst these was the establishment of Lucienne in the Square of the Church of Saint Waast. Here, with boarded up windows, as shell splinters had long ago ruined the panes, she ran a restaurant whose praise is still in the mouths of men now scattered over the British Empire.

A proportion of our transport worked daily under the O.C. Divisional Sanitary Section in connection with the removal of town refuse to the incinerators, of which there was quite a little village in a space behind the cinema show at the Divisional canteen. All over this place there was a continual popping of cartridges which had got amongst the stuff to be incinerated. “The cartridges keep you lively!” I once asked a man in charge of some incinerators. “There’s nae muckle harm in the cairtridges,”‘ said the phlegmatic Jock, °but there was a boom cam in the ither day, an’ that’s juist gaun a bittie owre far!’ All the same, numerous casualties were caused this way in the course of the campaign ; and the unromantic, necessary work of the sanitary squads was never without considerable risk. 

One piece of work we carried out here was the timbering, propping and sandbagging of the cellars under the Institut St. Jude, into which our personnel had frequently to descend when things were lively: and we did the same for the benefit of some nuns who remained in the cellars under their own part of the building. And at our hospital, in a corner of its front garden where a neighbouring house would likely, in the event of shelling, fall on it and give extra overhead protection, we erected a large thoroughly sandbagged elephant shelter, which we never, fortunately, required to use ; although we learnt afterwards that it came in handy for our successors on the first night they spent there. 

At the Advanced Dressing Station in the brickfields at Chapelle d’Armentières, the place was also propped and strengthened and the head cover improved with bricks, rubble and sandbags ; although, in spite of occasional shelling, life there was fairly uneventful and, as a matter of fact, safer than in Armentières : many of the men even getting “sport” of a kind by fishing for carp in the small fish pond of a neighbouring and destroyed villa. 

One of our sections was detailed to form a dressing station under canvas for the Brigade training camp near Bailleul. The town was then fairly intact, and the greater part of its pre-war population of 13,000 was still there. With its fine old Place, its Hôtel de Ville of the XVI and its churches of the XVII centuries, its numerous old houses of equal age, and its picturesque lace workers with their pillows and bobbins at their open doors in the back streets, it was always worth a visit. Alas, for its cruel fate in 1918.

On 4th September we took over from the 69th F.A. the M.D.S. at Pont de Nieppe in the school there, along with the A.D.S. at the brewery on the Ploegsteert road – the latter station being a most satisfactory and well-found one in the extensive cellarage of the brasserie. We then expected that the 57th F.A. would relieve us at Armentières and Brickfield A.D.S.; but arrangements were changed and they took over instead Pont de Nieppe M.D.S. and the Brewery A.D.S. on the 7th. On this date, too, Armentières got one of the worst hammerings we had experienced, six shells landing on the Institut St. Jude, and several near the officers’ mess ; while one sheered the small tower on the Civil Hospital clean through like a rotten carrot. No casualties resulted to the unit ; but there was once more a heavy night’s work with street cases, military and civilian. 

Towards the end of our Armentiènres stay the weather was miserably cold and wet, and we were not sorry to hand over to the 103rd F.A. on the 25th September, and trek to La Crêche near Bailleul ; thereby missing another heavy shelling of the town in the evening. After the noise of Armentières the little village, rural and quiet, was a pleasant change ; and next evening in the gladness of our hearts we held a most successful open-air sing-song round a bonfire in a field there- rather a risky performance, now one comes to think of it, in view of possible attention from aircraft. 

Like the rest of the district the village was bi-lingual, Flemish and French. The chief local names in the churchyard were Vanuxeem, Vermeersch and Van-dromme, with Becue, Delsalle, Ducrocq, Lombart, Duthilleul, Buidin, Galland and Gille. In one little shop, the owner, a stout old woman, told us that she could understand a good deal of what the men with the courte jupe said; but not the language of those in trousers except such as belonged to our unit. The “petticoated men’ and our men were north country Scots ; the rest were English. So the kinship of our Doric with the Flemish had not escaped her ear.

A week later we left La Crêche at 2.30 a .m. and trekked to Bailleul, entraining there at 5 a.m. for Doullens, whence we marched to Gezaincourt near Candas. Next day, in very wet weather, which got worse as the day went on, we marched in rear of Brigade via Freschvillers and Sarton to Authuie, and then some kilometres further to Bois de Warnimont. Billets were doorless huts in the dripping cheerless wood, the horse lines were in a swamp of a field beside the road, and every- body and every beast was soaked with rain and miserably cold. After a comfortless night we marched to Bus-Les- Artois, taking over some old French hutments there as a M.D.S. from the 132nd F.A., and an A.D.S. in some roadside shelters at Colincamps, a few kilometres nearer the line.

Bus was no great shakes of a place, and the villainous weather made it, with its traffic-cut roads ankle- deep in thick mud like badly made porridge, look worse. And three of us wil1 always remember the reception we got there when we made for our billets and knocked at the door , No answer being forthcoming, we proceeded to enter the little red-tiled kitchen, just as our landlady came in by another door from the back garden. We certainly exuded rain and mud on the hitherto clean floor ; but even that could not excuse her lack of welcome to us. Madeleine – she was a married woman, So perhaps I should not refer to her by her Christian name; but I have forgotten her surname if I ever knew it – was elderly, biggish and broadish, with a carefully cultivated vinous complexion that matched her red tiles, and she cut short my polite introduction of myself and colleagues with a shriek of,

°Trois officiers? Jamais! Jamais ! Jamais! Toujours un officier- -un officier, seulement!” 

It might have been only “pretty Fanny’s way”: but how to assuage the dulces Amaryllidis irae? While I was explaining – still politely – that M. le Maire had officially detailed this as a billet for three, a third door into the kitchen opened behind us, and Jacques, her husband, attacked us in the rear with a machine-gun fire of “Jamais! Jamais! Jamais de la vie !” To show to what extreme lengths he was prepared to go in defence of his hearth and home, Jacques opened a table drawer and extracted a knife, which he waved melodramatically in the air. The situation had become awkward, and required delicate and diplomatic handling. One of our officers, being a Glasgow man, always carried a large and occasionally full flask ; and this – it being luckily that day in a replenished condition – I asked him, sotto voce, to produce at once and place prominently on the table. He carried out the ceremony with the profound solemnity a Scotsman always shews when handling whisky ; and then in clear, audible tones I asked Madeleine if she had five glasses. The “jamais” storm cleared magically Madeleine produced a smile and the glasses, while Jacques surreptitiously replaced the table knife in the drawer with one hand, and in a determined, anticipatory fashion wiped his heavy moustache with the back of the other. The trois officiers were no longer looked on as brigands, and Madeleine took us under her wing. 

Rather too much under her wing, as a matter of fact, for the owner of the flask ; he coming later to my room after I was abed, and asking me to get up and speak to the lady, who had invaded his sleeping apartment and was talking voluble patois there. I told him sleepily to bear in mind that Jacques was evidently both a jealous man and an expert with a table knife, and that the reconciling flask was now empty ; while he pathetically asked me to cease all untimely jesting and to come and charm Madeleine away. But Madeleine declared to me that she only wanted to know whether monsieur le capitaine wished an extra pillow ; and on my assuring her that in his country one pillow was the invariable rule, she retired. Later I heard my comrade, as an anti-landlady precaution, trying to make up for the keyless condition of his door by balancing a tilted chair under its handle. And a hush descended on the house of Jacques and Madeleine as we all slipped into slumber. 

Madeleine, however, improved on acquaintance, and had considerable store of folk beliefs. It was from her I learned that in Artois a cock crowing after dark foretold better weather ; and her barometrically-minded rooster, who indulged twice in this habit, was evidently a practical student of local weather conditions, for there was a temporary improvement after each of his elforts. 

In Bus we remained for some days, the Division having gone into the line in front of Hebuterne and Colincam ps. As it was rumoured that it was to do a push from here, it fell to our lot to go over the trench system and prospect for suitable Advanced Dressing Stations, one such trip Starting from Hebuterne at 4·30 a.m. In the darkness we mistakenly ran our “Tin Lizzie” past Hebuterne, and got, by a road heavily pock marked with shells, to some guns near Foncquevillers. A surprised gunner officer emerging from a dug-out irritably asked us what the dickens we thought we were doing there ? Dawn was breaking, the road under observation, and our presence apt to invite mischief. Under the circumstances he advised us to clear out rapidly, which – turning the car with difficulty among the shell holes, while thanking him for the correctness and courtesy of his behaviour – we did. 

Numerous fatigue parties worked hard at Home Avenue trench excavating deep cut-outs for Advanced Dressing Stations, which were roofed with iron rails, timber and sandbags ; and more work of the same kind was done at Colincamps. But here again- as so often happened – we were altruists and not destined to use them, for in a few days we moved to Forceville, the Division taking over the line at Beaumont Hamel in preparation for the famous battle of 13th November.