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A Company of Tanks By W. H. L. Watson Characters: 32433

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

(May and June 1917.)

We thought that we should remain in camp at Behagnies for a couple of months or more, and train. The prospect pleased us mightily. It was true that we were no longer alone. When we had selected the site for our camp, we had been able to choose from the whole countryside, but now the downs resembled some great fair. Horse lines stretched to the horizon. The German light railway had been repaired, and busy little trains were forming a large ammunition dump a few hundred yards away from the camp on the road between Behagnies and Ervillers, the next village towards Arras. Balloon sections, water-lorry companies, well-boring companies, all sorts and conditions of army troops, were moving up and occupying the waste spaces. But the air was glorious; the country was open, clean, and unshelled; there were trenches to practise on and good ground for man?uvres; our camp was comfortable, and, after our recent exertions, we did not look forward to the troubles of a move. Haskett-Smith's company had joined us from Boiry, and our workshops were being set up with much care among the ruins. So the battalion, after fighting on the fronts of three armies, once again was complete, though, to our sorrow, Colonel Hardress Lloyd had left us to form a brigade, and a stranger from our particular rivals, "C" Battalion, had taken his place.

There were rumours, too, that we should soon be asked to assist in an attack on the Quéant salient, immediately to the west of the Bullecourt trenches and east of the front on which we attacked in November. It was reported that Tank headquarters had been most favourably impressed with the country, which was in fact singularly adapted to the use of tanks. The going was hard and good. Natural obstacles could be neglected. We determined at the first definite hint to take time by the forelock and spend some summer days in close reconnaissance.

Our hopes were blighted early. The authorities soon decided that the Behagnies area was not suitable for training. It was becoming too crowded. The trenches were to be kept in good repair for defensive purposes, and might be used only by cavalry, who, to the unconcealed amusement of us mechanical folk, would go galloping through lanes in the wire and over carefully-prepared crossings. We were ordered to Wailly, a day's trek distant. We began to pack up, and I took Cooper over in my car to see our new habitation.

Wailly is a shelled village on the edge of the old trench system from which the Germans had retired in March. From Arras it is the next village to Agny, whence, according to the original plan of battle made before the enemy withdrawal, my tanks should have set out for Mercatel and Neuville Vitasse. Naturally, there are plenty of trenches just outside the village, and Tank headquarters had decided to set up a driving-school. When we arrived, some of my men were putting up Nissen huts for the school, and close by there was a park of practice-tanks. One company of a new battalion, fresh out from England, was already installed in tents. We nosed round the village.

It had rained. You could smell the earth and the new grass. There were little green copses and orchards behind broken walls. The fruit-trees were in blossom, white with rare pink buds. Under the trees and in out-of-the-way nooks and corners in dilapidated houses and old barns tiny bunches of oats were sprouting, liquid-green shoots, where the horses had been. There was rhubarb in the gardens, and the birds were singing.

The French at one time used to hold this sector, and their notices still remained in the village. Some pictures had been done on plaster, which "Messieurs les Militaires" were asked to protect; but time and weather had erased them, until nothing was left except the fine scrawl of the artist's signature, the title "Mont St Michel," and some patches of red and brown.

The church must have been ugly with its stucco and imitation woodwork, but in its death it was a pleasant place for meditation?-?the white plaster with scraps of blue-and-gold, the plum-coloured brickwork laid bare, and the fresh tender grass clustered on every cornice.

Our camping-ground was a green slope between two derelict trenches, half-way up a hill?-?a clean and healthy site away from the road, but near enough for convenience. We looked down from it on the village, which had a friendly air, because the cottages, despite the shelling, were at least recognisable, and not mere rubbish-heaps like those in the country which the enemy had laid waste....

We moved on the 10th. A company of tanks moves luxuriously. If there is no room on the lorries for any article of vertu, it goes on the tank. The Equipment Officer or the Company Commander need not be as inexorable as the Quartermaster of an infantry battalion, for he is not haunted with a vision of transport fully loaded and much baggage still piled by the roadside. Each officer, for instance, carried at this period a rough wire bed on the roof of his tank, with a chair and perhaps a table. The additional weight did not affect the tank, while the additional comfort did affect the officer. The only danger was from fire. These superfluities, if carelessly lashed, would slip on to the red-hot exhaust-pipe. Again, if we moved a short way, the lorries could easily make a second journey. If we moved a long way, we moved by train, and usually, but not always, the train possessed facilities. Later, we became more Spartan and strenuous.12

We arrived without incident at Wailly?-?the tanks had trekked across country?-?and proceeded to re-erect the tents and structures which we had collected at Behagnies. The men were glad to return to the edge of civilisation. They had not seen a civilian for two months.

Training commenced at once, but before we had moved my company had begun to melt away. There were dumps at Montenescourt to be collected: the material had not been required in the Arras battle. There were new battalions arriving in France who would need camps. The driving-school wanted a few men. Brigade headquarters wanted a few men, and, naturally, battalion headquarters could not be content with its exiguous establishment. My hopes of thorough training dwindled with my company. Soon I was left with under a third of my men. I was scarcely able to collect a few scratch crews to drive the tanks which had been allotted to us for practice. This scattering of my company was intensely disappointing. My drivers were only half-trained before the first battle of Arras, and most of them were to continue half-trained until we returned to Wailly in October; for in the third battle of Ypres we drove either along straightforward tracks or over appalling roads. Moreover, when a driver is driving in action or into action he dare not go beyond what he knows. He cannot experiment, find out what the tank can do, and discover the best way to do it.

Our tanks were most useful in allowing my new officers to learn by teaching. The old German front trench was a fearsome place in which it was easy enough to become ditched, and it was good for these officers to spend a day in the hot sun extricating their charges.

The great event of the month was the Tank Cross-country Race.

The course lay over a sunken road with steep and crumbling banks, across a mile or so of rough grass intersected by some slight trenches, over our old trench system, back again across the open and the sunken road, and home along a tape carefully laid out in curves and odd angles. Marks were allotted for style and condition as well as for speed. The sunken road was to be crossed where there was no recognised "crossing," if marks were not to be lost, and the tank had to take the tape between its tracks, twisting and turning without stopping and without touching the tape.

It was a gorgeous day. An excited crowd gathered in front of the tanks, which were drawn up in line. Officers walked up and down with field-glasses, slung racing style. The form of the runners was canvassed, and bets were made freely. Ward's tanks were the favourites. Ward had taken the greatest care in selecting and training his crews. He possessed a few really skilled drivers, and on the evening before the race his tanks had done remarkably well in a private trial. Haskett-Smith had refused to interrupt his training. His crews were to drive over the course as part of their afternoon's exercises. We had practised immediately before the race, and my men were as keen as they could be. As some of my best drivers were away I did not hope to win the Company championship?-?even with my best drivers present, Ward's men would have been the toughest of customers?-?but I hoped with one of my two best tanks to win the first prize.

The tanks started at minute intervals. The first tank took the sunken road with consummate skill. The second, looking for an unused crossing, tried to climb over a dug-out which caved in. One tank blindly fouled another, and they slipped to the bottom of the road interlocked and unable to move. The rest were well away. At the turning-post there was a marvellous jumble of tanks. One fellow could not get his gears in and blocked the road, but the rest managed to nose their way through, sweeping against each other.

As the tanks crossed the sunken road on the return journey you felt the driver brace himself for the final test. The tank would come forward with the tape between its tracks. At the first curve it would barely hesitate before swinging. Ward, bubbling over with excitement, watched the tank breathlessly. She was just going to scrape the tape. No, by heaven, she's missed it! Another tank might stop?-?the gears had not been changed cleanly?-?amidst the scorn of the spectators. Luckily, the driver inside the tank could hear nothing that was said.

I should have liked to relate how the tanks came crawling along sponson to sponson, and how my tank won, but I must in fairness confess that Ward's company won an overwhelming victory. My favourite did not even start. He had been sent in the morning to instruct some infantry, and when he came to the starting-post a little late in the day, his engine was so hot that he dared not compete.

I strongly advise some enterprising gentleman to buy a few tanks cheap, and stage a cross-country race over give-and-take country. There is nothing quite like it....

A few days later we were paraded to receive congratulatory cards, and an address from General Elles. It was a steaming hot day, without a breath of fresh air. The sun beat down unmercifully on our shrapnel helmets. As usual, we had to wait for half an hour or more, and in our hearts we cursed all inspections, generals, and suchlike things. The ceremony was fortunately not prolonged, and the address held us attentive. The General had taken a great risk in sending to the battle two half-trained battalions in old-fashioned tanks. He had been justified by results. We had shown our worth. By steady training we were to prepare ourselves for the next battle.

When the General spoke of "steady training," I thought of my company's ranks depleted by the call of innumerable "fatigues," and sighed. It was, of course, unavoidable?-?"fatigues" were not created for fun,?-?but I earnestly prayed that soon the Tank Corps might obtain by hook or by crook some Labour companies to put up their huts, and leave me my fighting men to train for the great battle.

It was all the fault of these new battalions, who wanted snug places prepared for them....

Our life at Wailly was not all training, inspections, and fatigues. It was necessary, for instance, to celebrate certain domestic events which occur even in the most modern families. My car had disappeared for the time being, but a box-body or van was sufficient to carry us into the "H?tel de Commerce" at Arras, and, later in the evening, to bring back a merry singing crew to the old cottage which was the section's mess. There, with the gramophone and Grantoffski at the piano, we poured out libations to the Fates, and completed the celebration of an event which cannot happen twice in the life of one man.

Even towards the end of May we played an occasional game of football, and in the stream which ran through the village there was a bathing-place near the bridge, overhung by willows....

Although in the far distance we could just see a German balloon and Arras still was shelled, we were not unduly disturbed by the enemy. The days of concentrated night-bombing had not yet arrived. Only one venturesome 'plane, looking for Corps Headquarters, then at Bretencourt, the next village, bombed down the valley and sadly frightened the pet kid of our workshops by dropping a small bomb into the courtyard of their farm.

Johnson,13 our Workshops Officer, replied by carrying out experiments with the child of his brain, "the unditching beam," a device whereby a tank was enabled in marshy ground or crumbly soil to lay a log in its path and pull itself through the slush or the soil. This device was of the utmost value. It saved innumerable tanks, and the lives of their crews. The invention was perfected by others, but the credit of the original idea belongs to Major Johnson, who first applied the unditching beam in its most elementary form to Ward's tanks before Vimy.

While we were basking in the sunshine at Wailly, and while one important officer was trying to cure the sweaty itch by taking strong sulphur baths, and feverishly sucking multitudinous oranges, the Tank Corps was expanded and reorganised.

The First Tank Brigade, under Colonel C. D. Baker-Carr, had consisted of "C" and "D" battalions. These two battalions had taken part in the recent battle. The Second Brigade, under Colonel Courage, was formed provisionally of "A" and "B" battalions. The arrival of new battalions, who had been raised and trained at home, made a Third Brigade necessary. "C" battalion was taken from the First Brigade and two new battalions from home, "E" and "G," added to it. The Third Brigade, under Colonel J. Hardress Lloyd, D.S.O., was made up of "C," "F," and "I" battalions. "H" battalion was to join the Second Brigade in due course. That was the second stage in the growth of the Tank Corps?-?from twelve companies to twenty-seven.

We were not allowed to stop long at Wailly. Each battalion had to take its turn at training over the derelict trenches, and we had had our turn, although less than half of my drivers had been able to practice. Before we went into action at Ypres in the autumn, my drivers received no further training. In justice to the four battalions which were formed in France, I find it necessary to emphasise the handicaps under which they fought.

We had no desire to move our camp, particularly when we were told that we were to leave "standing" all those tents and "temporary structures" which we had so cunningly acquired. You can never persuade a soldier to believe that possession is not ten points of the law. Our "temporary structures," we would argue, belonged to us, because we won them by the subtlety of our brains and the sweat of our brows. That canvas orderly-room, for instance, would have been rotting in a deserted camp on the Somme if we had not sent a lorry and three stout men for it. Those five extra tents belonged to us, because the Fifth Army forgot to recall them when we moved into the Third Army area. Those tarpaulins?-?well, everybody is justified in picking up anything that the garrison gunners may leave about,?-?it is only taking what they stole from somebody else. Still, there was no getting round the order, though it was remarkable how full the quartermaster's store became, how some of our tents and "temporary structures" seemed to change colour and shape in the night, and how neighbouring units, who had jeered at us because we had now to leave our well-gotten gains behind, began to lose a tarpaulin or two, an unoccupied tent, or portions of an outlying hut.

I do not intend to imply for a moment that my men ever took anything to which they had no right. Such an accusation would be a vile slander. Nothing of the sort ever came to my

notice. I never once received an official complaint; or only once, when some coal disappeared from some trucks standing on the sidings at Blangy?-?and then none of my men were recognised; but I will say that neither of the two tank companies which I commanded in France was ever short of accommodation for more than a few days. My men were always perfectly capable of looking after themselves, and my own comfort was not neglected. We never allowed Government property to remain for long without a thoroughly efficient guard.

I went from Wailly by car on May 27th, a few days before my company, as I had been detailed to attend a course at Erin. I was sorry to leave the bright dilapidated village, the coarse grass, and the breathless, dusty trenches, the hot lanes, heavy with the scent of wild flowers on the banks, the masses of lilac in Bretencourt, and the old people slowly returning,?-?it is always the oldest people who return first.

I drove through delicious lanes to St Pol, and then by the lower road to Erin, a leafy village in the Tank Corps area, which extended along the valley of the Ternoise from St Pol to Hesdin. Erin was the "workshops" capital of this little state. There were the central workshops and the central stores with their vast hangars, their sidings, their light railways, their multitude of tanks, old and new, and their thousands of grinning Chinamen. There was the driving-school with its lecture huts, full of stripped engines carefully set out on scrubbed tables. There were the experimental workshops, from which, later in the war, tanks with "mystery" engines would dash out and career madly about at incredible speeds until they broke down. In a quiet corner of the village were the trim cheerful huts of the Rest Camp, where men, too weary of the battle, sat in the sun, planted cabbages, or looked for something that had not been whitewashed. Add the Cinema, the Supper Club, hutting for a battalion, a good chateau and a Reinforcement Camp, which, finding itself strangely far forward, retired to the company of its brethren on the coast.

After I had reported at Erin, I drove through Bermicourt, where Tank Corps Headquarters dwelt, to Humières, the immediate destination of my company. I was met by Cooper, my second-in-command, who was in charge of the company's advanced party. He reported well of the village, and in the quietude of dusk it seemed a most pleasant place. The mess-cook, however, had not arrived, and as we had no substitute, we drove into Hesdin, at that time an outpost of G.H.Q., and dined moderately well at the H?tel de France.

My first impressions of Humières were confirmed. The village lay off the great highroad that runs from Arras and St Pol through Hesdin and Montreuil to the coast at Boulogne. All the cottages have little shady gardens and hot orchards and rich meadows. Everywhere are big trees and more birds singing than I had ever heard before in one village. At first we determined to move our huts into a quiet orchard, carpeted with thick luscious grass, and two lazy cows for friendly company. On three sides the orchard was enclosed with stout hedges of hawthorn. On the fourth it sloped down to some ploughland, and from our tents we should have looked over the bare countryside, misty in the heat. Finally, to avoid the work of moving, I chose to remain in a large double Armstrong hut, which stood under a row of great elms at the edge of a big grass field which we used as a parade-ground. Most of the officers and all the men were billeted in cottages and barns. In the farther end of the village was Haskett-Smith's company, Battalion Headquarters were at the chateau, where the Countess and her three daughters still remained, and Ward's company were at Eclimeux, a smaller village on the Blangy road. The tanks were packed in a tiny tankodrome just outside Eclimeux, too hot a walk from Humières in the sun.

I saw little of the village at first, for every morning I motor-cycled down to Erin for my course. Nothing could have been more thorough. First we paraded, and then we disappeared into various huts, where we were lectured on the engine. In the afternoon we would go down to the hangar, and after a general description we would plunge into grease and oil, doing all those things which are required. Later we drove under the direction of an expert instructor. It was a senior officers' course, and we were all of us not entirely ignorant, but soon we realised how little we had known. We drove over trenches and banks, and at night we learned the art of bringing a tank to its point of balance and keeping her poised there for a moment, so that she might slide easily down into the trench. We were initiated into the secrets of sweet gear-changing and all the arts and devices that a proper driver should know. It was most certainly a good course.

While I sweated inside a tank and inhaled noisome fumes and spoilt a pair of good gloves, my company had arrived at Humières. It was hardly a company. Although the company was "resting," my men were working hard. Some were still at Montenescourt clearing surplus dumps. Some were at Sautrecourt putting up huts and taking them down again, when it was discovered that some cheaper land was available near by.14 Some marched down each morning to Central Workshops and assisted the Chinamen in their labours. Some went down to the coast on gunnery and physical training courses. For most of the time I had only forty to fifty in camp. But the huts at Sautrecourt were finally erected on a proper site, and my men at Montenescourt rejoined in time to make good a few of the casualties we sustained in our next action.

On the 4th June I accompanied Johnson, the battalion engineer, and Cozens, the adjutant, on an expedition to the north. We drove through Lillers and Bailleul to Ouderdom. I had not seen Bailleul since March 1915, when the 5th Divisional Cyclist Company, in which I had just received a commission, moved north to Ouderdom. Bailleul had not changed. It was still a clean and pleasant town, where you could buy fish. Tina, an almost legendary damsel, whose wit and beauty were known in five armies, had arisen and was about to disappear. The "Allies Tea Room" had opened. The lunatic asylum still held good baths that were open to officers twice a week. The "Faucon" was as dingy as ever.

In June the back area of the salient was like a disturbed ant-heap. We were making every possible preparation for an attack, and apparently we did not mind in the very least whether or not the enemy knew all about it. The countryside was "stiff" with light railways, enormous dumps, fresh sidings, innumerable gun-pits, new roads, enlarged camps. No advertisement of the impending attack was neglected. The enemy, of course, realised what was happening, and acted accordingly. He had brought up a large number of long-range guns, and his aeroplanes flew over on every fine day. He had, too, the advantage of direct observation over all the forward area. The results were unpleasant enough, even in June. Dumps would "go up" with a pleasing regularity. Camps and railheads were always being shelled. Bombing continued by day and by night. In front we destroyed the German trenches, breastworks and fortifications, and shelled their batteries. They retaliated in kind, and the unprejudiced observer would have found it difficult to award the prize. The enemy were scoring heavily with their gas shells.

We drove first to Ouderdom, a vast and enticing railhead, which the enemy shelled methodically each night, much to the annoyance of "B" Tank Battalion, who lived, for reasons of state, at the edge of the railhead. Their tanks were housed with disarming frankness in a series of canvas stalls surrounded by a high canvas screen. The whole erection was perhaps three-quarters of a mile in circumference. The tanks were so obviously concealed that the enemy never suspected their existence. The shells that dropped each night into the camp were the ordinary courtesies of warfare, although they did at last produce a move.

We had an excellent lunch with the Engineers of the battalion, Johnson expatiated on his new "unditching beam," we inspected certain novelties that had been fitted to the tanks, and then from a windmill on a hillock we watched the smoke of a "practice barrage." We drove on by Dranoutre, where in '14 I was despatch-rider to a brigade of the 5th Division, over the hill to the headquarters of "A" battalion in some pleasant woods, untroubled by the enemy. After drinks, salutations, and some "shop," we returned in the cool of the evening, stopping in the square at Hazebrouck for dinner and a good bottle of burgundy. It had been a fine day, with just enough sun. All the woods were fresh and green, and there was a purple sunset.

The Battle of Messines was fought four days later. The attack was a complete and overwhelming success. The whole of the Ridge, which for so many weary months had dominated our lines, was captured at a low cost. "A" and "B" battalions of tanks were useful but not indispensable. The ground was difficult and in places impossible. Many tanks became ditched. Certain tanks retrieved a local situation finely by the stout repulse of a strong counter-attack. We received the impression that, if the weather had been wet, tanks could not have been used. Although we did not realise it at the time, the battle of Messines was the first and only successful act in a tragedy of which the last act was never played.

An expedition to the Salient only sharpened our appreciation of the quiet and charm of Humières. What more could man want in the year of grace 1917 than to lie under the trees, sipping a cool drink, and watch Wright, the left-handed mainstay of our side, open his shoulders to a half-volley, or, when the sun had gone in, to stroll out and scrape together a lucky "6" instead of the usual "4"? We had no "seasons" at Humières. Each evening during the week we would play cricket, and on Sunday we would play a company of "F" battalion at football, and beat them by some outrageous score?-?12-love, I think it was?-?or, while we were indulging in the equivalent of a little net practice, the football enthusiasts would be crowded round the goal at the other end of the field. Whichever game we played, the company won most of its matches.

No self-respecting battalion would ever allow its period of rest to go by without battalion sports, and "D" battalion respected itself mightily. Our pet athletes started to train as soon as we reached Humières. After the Messines battle there was some doubt whether it might not be necessary to postpone the sports until after the next "show." Rumours of an immediate move came thick and fast, but the Fates were not so unkind, and our sports were held on the eve of things.

My company had prepared the way with a minor affair. The field was small and uneven, and in the longer races there were so many laps that, as our company wag exclaimed, it was a wonder the runners did not get giddy before they finished. If the times were doubtful, the enjoyment was unstinted, and after mess all the seats and the company piano were brought out into the open, and we sang songs until it was quite dark.

The battalion sports, a few days later, were a social event. An immense field positively sprouted with dark-blue flags, the colour of the battalion. There were pipes and drums from the 51st Division. The staff were conspicuously resplendent, while the Countess and her daughters were the centre of attraction. It was a splendid afternoon, although Battalion Headquarters won the cup. They would not have tried to win it, some one said, if they had not been able to drink out of it.

In the evening there was the usual entertainment of the "Follies" type under the direction of the "Old Bird." It was organised more or less on the spur of the moment. Supported by an issue of free beer it was an uproarious success, although it was sometimes not too easy to translate the jokes into French for the benefit of the Countess and her daughters.

It was a great night, and all the pipers were so satisfied with their refreshment that they could not ask for more; and if pipers of the 51st are incapable of asking for another drink, then they are incapable indeed, and a loading party must turn out to place them gently in the lorries....

In the heavy heat of those long days it was easy to forget the war and the shadow of the battle, coming up wrathfully, like a thunderstorm. Little expeditions were as pleasurable as children's treats. The drowning of a bus driver at Merlimont Plage, where our gunnery school was among the dunes, gave me a swift run to the sea, and we called in at Boulogne "on the way back" for stores. Then there was always that old coaching hostelry at Hesdin, the H?tel de France, which provided none too bad a dinner for those who were sick of the eternal roast-beef of the mess.

Finally, lest we should find life too monotonous, the new tank battalions were arriving from Bovington Camp in Dorset, which had always been held up to us in France as a very pattern of discipline, a haven of content, a perfect well of energy, a paradise where the senior officers and the tank engineers never thought of using any part or fitting of a tank, such as a clock, accumulators, or even a dynamo, for their own private purposes and the decoration of their huts. As for the depot at Wareham, we pictured it as a place where thoroughly nice young officers spent laborious days and nights in fitting themselves for the noble tasks before them. Certainly these new battalions were beautiful to look upon. Their uniforms were new, they saluted smartly, and by a stupid and tactless blunder they were wearing on their sleeves the famous badge, representing a tank, which we had waited for so long.

I shall never cease to wonder at the patience of the British soldier. Here were four battalions of veteran volunteers, who, after they had spent hot and weary weeks removing vast dumps and erecting multitudinous huts, were given the privilege of watching these immaculate recruits, of whom many were conscripts, swaggering with their tank badges. I do not pretend that the course of the war was changed by this incident, and I do not wish for one moment to insinuate that these new battalions did not very soon prove themselves worthy of any badge. It was, however, a pity that when there were not enough badges to go round, the men who had fought and volunteered were left badgeless. The badge at once became a thing without value, just as later the savour of the 1914 Star disappeared when fighting men first saw the ribbon on the chests of clerks at Boulogne. In any war there must always be some jealousy between men who fight and men who do safe though indispensable work behind the lines, between men who have borne the heat and burden of the day and those newly out from home. Unfortunately these little jealousies were often accentuated by such blunders, and the fighting man felt that he was neglected. A baker and a bomber received the same medal, and the appalling state of the leave-trains was always attributed to the fact that the staff, who went on leave with such tactless regularity, travelled to the coast by motor-car.

It was good to see Hamond, who had come back to France again in command of a company of "F" battalion, to plumb once more the depths of his vocabulary, and to hear his frank criticism of those set in authority. But the comments of these new-comers, or rather in Hamond's case, these returned wanderers, led us to doubt whether after all Bovington Camp was a better place than Humières.

So June passed in rich sunshine?-?all those glorious fighting days were wasted. The order came for us to draw new tanks, and we began to hurry our preparations for the most ghastly of all battles, the third battle of Ypres, in which the wounded fell into pits of slimy water and drowned slowly, screaming to their comrades for help, and the tanks, sticking in the mud and sinking sometimes till they were swallowed up, were compelled at last to fight precariously from destroyed roads.

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