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   Chapter 17 XVIIToC

The Red Watch By J. A. Currie Characters: 38862

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


On the morning of the 8th of March, being Monday, the Germans began the week early by heaving some more shells in the direction of the ruin that guarded our quarters. Some one of our men during the night had trundled a Flemish cart that was in the way in the farmyard, out into the field about two hundred yards away. The vigilant Germans' aircraft took it for a field gun, and notifying their batteries they proceeded to shell it with shrapnel and high explosive shells. The cart, however, stood it well. After they quit shelling some of us ventured over to see what damage had been done. Beyond peppering the woodwork the dummy gun was intact. I picked up the fuse of one of the shrapnel shells and found that the range had been set at 3,400 metres. The shell in its flight had clipped a small limb off one of the tall sentinel elms in front of our dug-outs. With a compass we learned the direction of the German battery on the map, which was located behind a hedge at the cross roads east of Fromelles. A telephone message to our guns and a half dozen shells from our five-inch guns, and this particular German battery troubled us no more.

After the shelling the adjutant of the Royal Scots Battalion on our right came over to see me to talk over the battle which we knew was now due. I had been told of this by General Turner, V.C., the day before. We knew that the big advance was about to begin, and a study of the map told us that the first blow would likely be struck at Neuve Chapelle, with an idea of forcing our line forward several miles so we would gain the command of the high ground back of Aubers, Herlies and Fromelles, a region of coal mines. A branch line of railway ran from La Bassee to Fromelles and supplied the German batteries on our front with ammunition and no doubt took coal back. On the east side of the ridge ran the canal from La Bassee to Lille, also the two lines of railway between the same places. With our footing secure on the Aubers Ridge the gates of Lille and La Bassee would be at our mercy. Then with a mobile field army there would be nothing to stop us till we got to Ghent or Brussels. This was the place to drive the wedge that would cut the German line in two, and once we had Lille we would endanger the whole German lines of communication north and south. It used to be a favourite amusement among the officers of our staff in the evenings to take the map of Western Europe, which we kept hanging on the wall, and plan campaigns to drive the Germans out of Flanders. Invariably two lines of advance would be chosen. The first via Lille and Ghent, to Antwerp, along the high ground between the River Scheldt and the Lys. The second route would invariably begin at the Somme and run along the plateau between the Sambre and Meuse via way of Le Cateau, Mons, Charleroi to Namur.

All this is historical ground, the Low Countries of history. Over this ground fought C?sar, Charlemagne, William the Silent, Marlborough, Napoleon and all the great captains of history. We used to calculate the men, the marches and the guns required. We would plan how we would form a great corps army behind the trenches in preparation for a grand advance. The attack would be delivered against two different points. A feint against one position that would bring the German corps reserves, that were always available in some central point, to the assistance of their comrades. This corps army we knew always come on the third day of a fight. We would have it come to the wrong place. Then a fierce storm of artillery fire would be delivered at the point where the real gap in the line was to be made; a drive through it with the infantry, with plenty of supports; such were Wellington's methods. Then a "steam roller" advance for the objective, surrounding and disregarding fortified villages and redoubts, that would send the Germans scattering right and left for the Rhine. We realized that our task as part of the trench army would be a difficult one, but we had every confidence that the trench army could open the gate for a field army at any point in the line required. But a trench army in so doing would lose one third of its effectives, and putting a regiment in the trenches for a long tour of trench work destroys its initiative as far as field man?uvring is concerned. All these things were planned and marches calculated. It was figured out where the Germans might make a stand, generally where some famous battle had been fought in the past, how they would be overwhelmed with fresh divisions on their flanks, brought up in motor trucks and their troops blown out of the earth with hundreds of "four point five" and "six-inch" field howitzers which were proving to be such excellent guns for our troops. That is how we planned to drive the enemy out of Flanders. Alas, most of those young ardent soldiers who were so well trained by our military colleges to carry on the staff work of such an army of invasion were doomed to give up their lives in the sodden and muddy trenches. We had confidence that the day would come soon when a big field army would be ready behind us, and it would be only a case of "whoop" and "haloo" and the German fox would be off full tear for the cover of the Rhine and its fortress strongholds.

For days we had been gaining superiority in various ways over the enemy. Our riflemen dominated theirs. When we took over the trenches first, if we fired one shot they answered with ten. Now they did not answer at all. When our guns fired on their guns for every shell we handed to them they religiously gave us five back. Now they kept still and took their gruel. They had given us trouble with their trench mortars. They had wounded several of my men with the bombs, but they tried to move their mortar into a new position one day and we spotted it. The artillery observing officer in our trenches, young Lieutenant Ryerson, called up the guns and the second shell sent their mortar to smithereens. A great artillery officer was young Lieut. Ryerson, fit to command any battery.

For a long time the German aeroplanes flew over us every morning at sunrise, but now we had a dozen aeroplanes to their one and theirs were rather shy. Our guns had ranged up and down the whole front and we had all begun to get confident and to think that it was only a matter of a few days until we would be on the high road to Brussels.

On top of all this came a very inspiring address from General Sir Douglas Haig, commanding our army. He pointed out that the time had come for a fresh great effort. He also informed us that we were stronger than the enemy, all of which gave us more confidence.

I was told privately that the drive was to take place on our right, and as soon as the brigade on our right had cleared out the Germans on their front that we were to echelon and follow suit and charge.

On our right the Germans were four hundred yards away across the open. I went down and examined the lines carefully with Captain Daniels, and found that there were two places where a lot of men could be taken out of our trenches and led half way across to the German lines on "dead" ground, that is ground on which they would be hidden. Lieutenant Schonberger and Captain Warren made a sketch of this ground. I talked the matter over with the captains and they were very much cheered up over the prospect of a fight. Captains MacLaren and Daniels immediately began fixing up exits from their trenches. Steps were cut in the parapets, and in other places openings were made. The opening in the parapets that were used for "listening" posts and for the patrols to go in and out were widened.

What is a listening post? A listening post is made in this way: A gap which is carefully hidden with sandbags is cut in the parapets. Then a sap is run out several hundred feet in zigzag fashion, which terminates in a rifle pit, about five feet deep that will accommodate about four men. At night two sentries sit in this pit and listen to the sounds in the enemy's lines. Sometimes if the rifle pit is wet a couple of barrels are put in and the sentries stand in the barrels. They notify the trenches of any unusual movement or sounds made by the enemy.

In the evening we left the trenches and went into divisional reserve at Rue Du Quesne. Let me give you some idea of the lay of the country. There is a road about every kilometer and they run roughly northwest and northeast.

Running southwest and almost parallel with the trenches was Rue Pettion, a short road that terminated at the Fromelles road near our headquarters. The next street, a little over a mile back, is Rue Du Bois, north of the Fromelles Road, south of the Fromelles Road it is called the Rue De Tilleloy. At the corner there was a shrine which had suffered from shell fire and which Canon Scott had immortalized in a poem, the best he has written and the best I have read since the war began. The next street back is the Rue Du Quesne. Right through the centre of our position ran the Fromelles Road. A kilometer southwest, the trench line is crossed by the road to Aubers called the Rue D'Enfer, or in our language, the Road to Hell. If this road is paved with good intentions I have never seen any of them. It is strongly held by the Germans. The "intentions" take the form of "crump" holes excavated by German shells in the pavement.

The country on our side is perfectly flat and full of hedges and ditches. Every hedge concealed a battery of guns of all kinds and sizes. On the German side, half a mile back from their trenches, the ground slopes up. The villages of Aubers and Fromelle are on the western slope and the ridge behind is our true objective. On the ridge we could see the church steeples of Herlies to the right and Fournes to the left, while here and there peep the derricks, or as we in America call them the "breakers" of coal pits. Beyond the ridge the land slopes to the Scheldt. It was on the eastern slope of this ridge that C?sar fought his greatest battles. There the Nervli charged across the stream in thousands and fought until hardly a man of them was left, fought until their dead were piled up breast high, fought till C?sar had to take a buckler and spear from a fallen soldier to defend himself. On all sides, from the horizon downward, rows of tall elm trees cast their gaunt leafless branches in the air. Between them were a sea of hedges and green brown boles of pollard willows. Elms generally grew along the roadways and the limbs for fifty feet up are trimmed off annually and tied up into faggots. The willows grew along the ditches. They are trimmed off about twelve or fourteen feet above the ground and the new branches that sprout out from their trunks provide faggots for firewood as well as withes for the manufacture of chairs, baskets and hampers. The faggots are sometimes placed in earthen pits and burned into charcoal, providing an excellent fuel for the interesting Dutch stoves found in the kitchens in this country.

For several days our guns had been registering on the enemy. That is to say, our artillery observing officers would go into the trenches with a telephone connected up with their batteries. Then the battery fires a shot at the enemy's parapets, generally well over. He reports the hit right or left, and then the range is reduced until the object is hit. That range direction and elevation is recorded in a register at the gun. The man who sets the gun does not see the object he is firing at at all, but he knows when his gun is trained in a certain line at a certain elevation he will hit that part of the enemy's parapet. We had all kinds of guns ready for the fray. The Canadian sixty pounders under Major McGee a few days before had smashed up the brown tower of Fromelles. This tower had been used by the Germans for an artillery observing station, and for several months the British had been firing at it without success. In about three shots McGee's guns got the tower and a half dozen shells reduced it to a hopeless ruin so that it was of no use to anyone. The church tower of Aubers followed suit. When the British Tommies heard the "birr" of the five-inch Canadian shells they all asked whose they were. The Scots thought they had come from Scotland. When they saw Aubers tower disappear in a cloud of dust they inquired again, "What bally gunners are those?" When told they were the Canadians, they said, "Bravo, Canadians, you are some class," and cheered heartily. This gave our gunners a reputation that lasted for the rest of the war.

Besides our five-inch guns we had our eighteen pounder batteries lined up and down behind us, also horse artillery guns from India and an armoured train manned by the navy. They had long six-inch guns that threw a terrible projectile. We had also some new fifteen-inch howitzers that had been brought over from England. "Grandmas" they called these guns because they were short and stout. "Grandma" when fired only gave a low grunt, but when her shell broke four or five miles off, it burst with a "Car-u-m-p" that rattled the windows and shook the earth down in our dugouts.

I had a very interesting time one day riding to a conference at the headquarters of General Sir H.S. Rawlinson, Bt. I came cantering along a road and a sudden turn brought us to a railway crossing. The naval guns were on an armoured train, the Churchill battery on either side of this crossing, and the gunners seemed to have wakened up for they began firing when we were about five hundred yards off. I was riding a powerful "Cayuse" or western horse, which Captain "Rudd" Marshall, with rare good judgment, had selected for me at Valcartier. He turned out to be a splendid charger. Although low set he carried me easily. He was as wise as an owl and as sure-footed as a cat. It took a good deal of courage on his part to face the naval battery firing for all it was worth, the flames from the black fiery muzzles of the guns almost scorching his hide, but he did it without flinching, although the jar of the guns almost shook him off his feet several times. I can quite realize the task of the Noble Six Hundred had in charging the Russian batteries at Balaclava. I have since seen a moving picture of this battery in action and recognized the raised gate of the railway crossing through which we rode, in the centre of the picture, and I wondered if the battery was "demonstrating" for the benefit of the moving picture photographer when we were passing through.

In my rides about the country when the battalion was in billets, I several times ran across "Archibald the Archer," which is the name given to an anti-air craft gun which is mounted on a motor truck and is used against the German aeroplanes. "Archibald" is capable of firing to a great height and very rapidly. He can also move about the country quite readily. When he starts after a Hun avatick there is something going on in the sky. I have watched the Germans outwitting him. Now the aeroplane would dip and glide and circle as the "Archibald" shells broke about him. Watching with a powerful glass one could see the airship tremble with the explosion of the shell in its vicinity. "Archibald" does not always get the German observers, but he hastens to make it so hot for them that they cannot observe. Observation cannot be carried on with much accuracy above five thousand feet, and the ordinary rifle can fire that high. Who named the anti-air craft gun "Archibald" no one knows, but the Belgians are credited with the naming.

The Belgians are great archers, the sport still surviving in that country. At every village you will find a tall mast which you at first think belongs to a wireless station. On examination, however, it will prove to be an archery pole. At the top of a tall pole the target is drawn up by a rope and pulley, and on holidays the local sports indulge in shooting at the mark with a long bow. In every farm house you will find the long bow and a bunch of arrows.

The programme for the big battle ran something like this: Everything being in readiness several divisions were to be brought up behind the trenches at Neuve Chapelle during the night of the ninth and tenth. Next morning at 7.30 the ball was to open. It was to be a case of "nibbling" as General Joffre calls it. Our guns were to form two zones of fire. The big guns were to smash the first line of trenches for a mile into fragments, while the second line of lighter guns were to rain shrapnel on the ground over which supports might come so that the first line would be isolated. When the first line was sufficiently hammered the infantry was to rip the German parapets with rapid rifle fire, then a charge with the bayonets across the devil's strip, and once inside the first lines of parapets bomb throwing parties were to be told off right and left to clear the trenches. These bombing parties consisted of three or four men with bayonets to lead, and behind them two or three bomb throwers to throw bombs at the enemy ahead of the bayonet men. The leading bayonet men carried a flag which they were to plant in the parapets as they passed along so that the supporting infantry would know not to fire on them. The first line of trenches was to be consolidated the first day. On the second day the second line was to be assaulted and on the third day the third line. In a similar manner everybody knew there was stiff work ahead. That evening my battalion was relieved in the trenches by the Royal Montreal Regiment. When we got back to our quarters we received orders to "sleep on our arms" that night. That meant in our clothes, with our belts and ammunition strapped on, ready to march at a moment's notice. There was a good bed, but it was sleep in your boots for me. The fact that a blighter of a sniper kept firing off three or four rounds of rapid fire at my headquarters every few minutes, his bullets rattling on the brick wall close to my window, was not very conducive to sleep or good temper. I vowed that I would make it pretty hot for snipers, and agreed with myself there and then to pay a reward of fifty dollars for every sniper captured dead or alive inside our lines.

The German sniper is really a lineal descendant of the impenitent thief. When I say a sniper I do not mean a sharpshooter who fires into our lines from the German lines. I mean one of those horrible creatures that goes about clad in a stolen uniform or the clothes of a Flemish farmer during the day, and at night takes a Leuger automatic pistol and haunts the billets and roads in hope of killing some lone British or Canadian soldier or sentry, whose duty calls him abroad during the night and relieving the dead body of any money or valuables that may be on it. Truly this war developed into a form of warfare akin to that between the whites and the North American Indians.

We suspect a few of the habitants of being snipers and not without some reason. Several of these farmers and small saloon keepers would like to see the Germans win the war so that they could "cash in" on the German requisitions they hold. It happened in this way: When the "Boches," as they call the Germans, overran the country last August and September, they took all the wine from the saloon keepers and brewers, and the best horses, cattle and hogs from the farmers. They paid for these articles with

requisitions or orders on the German Government, payable after the war if Germany won. We were constantly coming up against these people that were devastated by the Germans, and when we remarked that the British or French Government would pay the "requisitions" after the war they inform us that they hold requisitions for 5,000 or 10,000 francs given them by the Germans for their property. At one place where I was quartered the proprietor had lost 40,000 francs worth of stock and wine. He was rather "frosty" to the British. That is why we suspected some of being snipers, and there are some cases on record where they were caught red-handed in the act. Our experience had taught us to put a dead line of sentries several miles behind the line of trenches, and our vigilance was rewarded because the Germans throughout were unable to locate our batteries and were at sea as to what was taking place behind our lines. On the other hand our scouts were so bold that they often crept forward at night in spite of the constant firing of flare lights or rockets by the enemy and had looked right into the German trenches. Conversations were of constant occurrence. "How is your bloody Ross Rifle?" a hoarse German voice would enquire. "Stick your nose up and see" would go back the prompt reply.

March 10th was the day set for the beginning of the battle which will go down in history as the battle of Neuve Chapelle. The village of Neuve Chapelle was just like every other Franco-Fleming village on the firing line, a huddle of houses partly unroofed by shell fire, deserted by the populace, and shunned by the soldiers. It had been at one time a smart village of two-storey brick houses with red tiled roofs. It possessed the typical church and graveyard such as are found in these villages. Almost every second house was a wine or beer saloon called an "estament." There were butcher shops, millinery shops and shops where they mended shoes. But the British rush, which in October had driven back the German lines beyond Armentieres, Aubers and Fromelles, had left the Germans in possession of Neuve Chapelle. They had a lot of stout-hearted rogues holding on there who would not let go, so Neuve Chapelle formed the apex of a salient in the British trenches which weakened our line north so much that later on we had to give up good ground south of Lille in order to straighten and consolidate along the line of the River Layes for the hard winter campaign.

Late in December some one in the War Office thought that we had given up too much ground about Fromelles and Armentieres, so an attack was ordered which resulted in nothing beyond the killing of a great many Highlanders, Gordons, Black Watch, Argyles, and virtually destroying a Brigade of Guards. But nothing came of all this, and it is, as I suppose as Rudyard Kipling would say, "another story." Yes, and a "top hole" one at that, but it does not come within my province to tell it.

Now we were going to drive the Germans out of this salient and begin the spring cleaning up. When we speak of towns and villages, please do not get any idea of distance as in Canada or America in your heads. There is a town or village in Flanders at every cross road. The "town siter" has not been abroad here selling lots for miles about every hamlet, so the result is that a town of three or four thousand people will happen at every cross road, all within a diameter of a quarter of a mile. As for the roads and streets, they follow the game trails haunted by the cave dwellers and trogdolites a thousand centuries ago. They wind in every direction and are all good. The main roads are covered with heavy square stones, blocks. Once in a hundred years the Flemish farmer does his road work by turning these blocks over. They are called pavè roads. All the other roads are covered with macadam made out of black whinstone that is as hard as iron. This will explain why the towns of Armentieres, Fleurbaix, Neuve Chapelle, Aubers, Estaires and Bac St. Maur are all within a radius of five miles of each other. Aubers is a short mile from Neuve Chapelle, while Fromelles is only a mile or so from Aubers. The whole British line from Ypres to La Bassee is not as far as from Toronto to Hamilton, not forty miles.

Our brigade had two battalions in the trenches, the Royal Montreal Regiment under Lieut.-Colonel Meighen and the Canadian Scottish under Lieut.-Colonel Leckie. The Royal Highlanders of Canada were on the left of our brigade and we were on the right, and our two battalions were available as reserves for the British troops on our right that were going into action. There was one British Brigade between us and the section of the line that was to attack. We were not to move till this brigade moved. Reveille was sounded early and the battalion fell in by companies shortly after seven. We were ordered to march down to the Rue De Bois and get out of sight among some farm houses and keep out of sight, which we did. Some of the companies crossed the fields scouting along the ditches and hedges. A company marched by the road Croix Blanche. We found billets at farm houses a few hundred yards east of the corner of the Rue De Bois and the Fromelles road. Across the road from where I was quartered there was a big straw stack which the artillery were using for observation purposes. Behind it Captain Pope of the Third Brigade Staff had established a telephone office in a couple of wheat sheaves of last year's crop. A cup of bad black coffee and a hard boiled egg provided me with breakfast. The men made tea and had plenty of food with them. In an emergency of this kind I saw that they had two day's rations in their haversacks. They also carried a hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition in their pouches and two bandoliers, each of fifty rounds, slung over their shoulders. They would not be short of grub or ammunition if it could be helped. After I had finished the coffee I surveyed the barn and found a spot where a hole through the straw thatch gave a good view of what was going on.

I had a very powerful pair of field binoculars with which I could count the chickens in a barnyard five miles off. The battle was about to begin. A few of our guns were giving the morning "straffing" as usual. The sun was up and it was a bright clear day. I could see the British lines marked by brown sandbags, now hidden by hedges, again showing across the Rue D'Enfer, but hidden by the houses and church at the corner called Fauquissart. Beyond that again to my right rear the line crossed the Rue Du Tilleloy and swept on to Neuve Chapelle. A clump of tall elms here interfered with the view. I could also see the German trenches. They were crowned with rows of white sandbags, interspersed with blue bundles that looked like army blankets or blue bed sticks filled with earth. There was not much stirring for the moment.

Suddenly the guns woke up behind our line. The Canadian eighteens and five inchers took up the chorus. Back came half a dozen German forty pounder shells bursting in the field on my right. They were miles away from our guns. One by one the British batteries joined in the chorus until in less than five minutes over three hundred cannon of every description were pouring death and destruction on the German trenches. At first I could see our shells bursting with volumes of green and yellow smoke and blowing up the German parapets. I could see sandbags flying fifty feet in the air and what looked like men as well. Debris flew in every direction, and in a few minutes I could see neither sandbags nor parapets. Nothing but the yellow smoke of lyddite and behind this in the air a ring of fire where the shrapnel were bursting and showering their leaden curtain to keep the enemy's supports from coming up. I could see that there was much excitement along the British parapets. Men clustered together like bees, and in some places I could see soldiers climbing up on top of the parapet, waving their rifles and caps in the air. They were telling the Huns what they were going to do to them. They were too far away for me to hear what their language was, but they were evidently enjoying the punishing the Germans were getting. At 8.30 o'clock the roar of the guns died away suddenly, only to be followed by the most intense musketry fire. It was something like the distant sound of Niagara Falls. I never heard anything really like it. This continued for about ten minutes, then died away.

A light yellow cloud had settled down over the place where the German parapets once were. I could not see through the smoke, as the more powerful a glass is the more it exaggerates the fog or smoke. I could hear the loud, sharp detonations of grenades, and I fancied cheers, more detonations and cheers and cries. All this was occurring within less than a mile of where I was standing. From the detonations I judged we were bombing their trenches. The noise died away and our artillery woke up again and began shelling leisurely in the rear of the first line of German entrenchments. Evidently we had won easily. I hurried down and over to where Captain Pope and several of my officers were grouped about the telephone. "They have carried the first line of trenches easily" was the answer he gave to my query as to what had happened. "They are going after the second line of trenches right away." I returned to my observation post and once more the guns were hard at it. It was now a little after nine o'clock and the haze that hung around the German positions made observation difficult. The guns redoubled their efforts, and at about ten o'clock they stopped and again the rifle fire followed, if anything, more intense than before. The detonation of bombs, the rifle fire and cries of the combatants came to my ears distinctly now that our own guns on both sides and behind us were silent. Again I travelled over to the telephone station wondering if they had forgotten us, or if we were going to have a hand in the game. "The second line is taken" came over the wire at 10.30 o'clock. "They are going to attack the third line." So they were going to force through and make a one-day job of it after all. That would surely bring us into the fight by the afternoon or the next day. So my young men would be pleased.

First Aid in the TrenchesToList

I had had a lot of pacifying to do among my officers over the question of "When are we going to get into this thing?" Major Osborne always had an idea that everybody from General French down was trying to keep the Canadians from starting a grand parade to Berlin. Lieut. "Fred" Macdonald's question to me would always be, "How long are they going to keep us at this rotten trench business?" "It's about time we got into a mix-up. Look at the Princess Pats what they have done! They must be afraid to use us," etc., etc. I would gently chide him and say that we were on the lap of the gods, in other words sitting on our General's knees, and Mac would look as if I were a partner in a deep laid conspiracy to keep the regiment from being covered with glory.

When we last went into the trenches Captains Alexander and Cory had to take the line nearest the Germans. They were only eighty yards away and the parapets were as thin as bargain day wall paper. Lots had been cast, and McGregor had won the reserved position and Alexander the hot corner. I ventured to remark to Alexander that I was sorry that his luck had put him in a dangerous place, and that he should have his turn next in reserve. I did not get far with this speech when he snapped back quietly and firmly, "The post of danger is the post of honour." As for Cory and Jones, I had to threaten them with a court-martial if they did not stop hopping on the parapets in full view of the Germans both day and night.

They were all feeling happy to-day, even grim Captain MacLaren was wearing a broad smile. As for McKessock, well his ancestors followed Bruce from Kilmarnock to Ireland. There is no need for further comment. He had the machine guns well cleaned and the cartridges in the belts polished like front door knobs so they wouldn't jam.

After hearing that the third line was to be attacked I hurried back to my post. The artillery had stopped firing for a while to let the haze and smoke clear away so they could observe, but it still hung heavy over the German lines.

Shortly after eleven o'clock the artillery started in again. Most of the Canadian guns seemed to be firing at Aubers, and if there were any Germans in that town they must have suffered. For nearly an hour the bombardment of the third line continued. Then followed a longer interval of rifle fire and then the bombs; shouting and rifle fire died away shortly after one o'clock. At about half past one I could see khaki figures in kilts in the outskirts of Aubers. They seemed to be strolling around looking for something to do. When I went to the telephone I learned that the third and last line of the German trenches had been taken and the battle had been won. What a place to win a victory over the same Germans that for two thousand years have been crossing the Rhine and invading Flanders, only to be defeated and driven back again as the Germans of to-day will be driven back. History will surely repeat itself. What is the use of these invasions, these fierce raids by the Germans? Nothing but the loss of thousands upon thousands of lives. Every acre of the ground we were fighting on has been watered with the blood of German and Fleming long ago. We were only repeating the centuries' old feud.

All afternoon we waited patiently, expecting that in the pursuit that would follow our battalions would be echeloned through the gap made, but not a word came. We returned at night to our billets and were warned again to be on the Qui vive.

Thursday, March 11th, was slightly hazy and we were kept in readiness all day, but no new developments followed. Something must have happened, lack of ammunition, or something of that kind. My officers were worrying me all day wondering if the grand advance had gone on and we were left behind. I could give no explanation. It is a soldier's duty to wait and do as he is told. The impression prevailed for the moment that the terrible tales they told about us in England had followed us to Flanders and that General French was afraid to trust the First Canadian Division. In the evening we were notified that hot baths would be ready for the men and a change of clothing at Sailly next day. That meant that we would not take part in any advance, at least for the moment.

On March 12th, in the morning, accompanied by Dr. MacKenzie and Lieutenant Dansereau, I set out for Estaires. We were told before we left that the Canadian troops would not be required that day. The battle orders given to me confidentially by Colonel Hughes burnt holes in my pocket, but we would not need them yet. On the way we found a lot of cannonading going on, and as we came to Estaires we met long lines of ambulances coming in from the front with the wounded. There were Guardsmen, Indian troops and Highlanders. At first we thought they were the wounded picked up on the battle field on the 10th of March. In Estaires from some of the slightly wounded we learned the vastly important information that another big attack was on and that the British troops were making very little headway, and were having terrible losses. The artillery were not doing much, and the infantry were getting the worst of it. The German corps army had been brought up.

From a wounded Highland sergeant we learned that on the 10th the three lines of German trenches had been carried as stated. The British troops were in the environs of Aubers and along the Rue D'Enfer. The Germans were apparently in full retreat and our losses were only about five per cent, of the men engaged. The troops in the first line, victorious, were eager to go on, but they were halted on the western outskirts of Aubers all afternoon and then told to dig themselves in. Next day they were for some reason ordered back to the third line of German trenches and told to prepare these trenches, strengthening and consolidating the lines and to prepare for a German attack which did not come. To-day being the third day they were ordered to carry Aubers, the Rue D'Enfer and the ground extending to the Wood of Biez. In these places a terrible resistance had been encountered. The Germans Corps Reserves, several divisions of them, had arrived. They had fortified Aubers by using the lower or basement storeys of houses for machine gun emplacements, and a large redoubt with wire had been constructed in the woods.

The commanding officers of both the battalions of the Gordons had been killed, also Colonel Fisher-Rowe of the Guards, who had turned the trenches at Fromelles over to us, was killed leading his battalion in a charge. The Gordons had lost sixteen officers from each battalion, killed and wounded, and about half their men. The Guards Brigade had lost about the same. Again and again the unconquerable British infantry this day charged across the open to carry ground that was virtually theirs two days before, but the Bois de Biez and the Rue D'Enfer bristled with machine guns that mowed them down in hundreds. Guards, Ghurkas, Highlanders, Pathans charged again and again till at last towards evening the attack was called off. The German counter attack had taken the form of a pure defensive and we had sacrificed ten or twelve thousand troops trying to retrieve what we lost through lack of support two days before. There was no truth in the stories subsequently circulated that our guns fired in mistake on the British troops. A few Indian guns that had been worn out with constant firing since the Battle of Mons fired stray shells but that is likely to happen at any time. An error of a line or two on the indicating ring of the fuse when set will cause the shell to burst short.

The Battle of Neuve Chapelle was a great victory for the British, but we did not gather much of the fruits of victory. Everybody felt that something had gone wrong, but what it was only history will disclose. Our younger officers were beginning to think that the old Wellington tradition of "support promptly" had been forgotten in the army of Flanders.

Over eight hundred German prisoners fell into our hands. They were mostly Bavarians and Saxons. They were in the bombed trenches and had had a very hard time from our shell fire. Their clothing, hands and faces were stained yellow from the lyddite fumes. I saw these men at a factory at Estaires where they were held. A number of them spoke English. I also saw them on the street as they were being conducted by a French reserve officer and guarded by French reserve troops. They were a mixture of young boys and middle-aged men, well fed and well clothed, and it did not appear as if it was costing the German Government much effort to look after them. Like all Germans they had let their beards grow which made them look like "Weary Willies." From an intellectual standpoint they did not seem to be overburdened with brains. "Blond beasts" they would be nicknamed in the London music halls. We used to wonder why the German helmets would not fit us, they were so small. After seeing these men we knew. A number six to six and one-half hat would fit any of these chaps.

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