MoboReader> Literature > Adventures of a Despatch Rider

   Chapter 6 OVER THE MARNE TO THE AISNE

Adventures of a Despatch Rider By William Henry Lowe Watson Characters: 32610

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


The morning of September 5th was very hot, but the brigades could easily be found, and the roads to them were good. There was cheerfulness in the air. A rumour went round-it was quite incredible, and we scoffed-that instead of further retreating either beyond or into the fortifications of Paris, there was a possibility of an advance. The Germans, we were told, had at last been outflanked. Joffre's vaunted plan that had inspired us through the dolorous startled days of retirement was, it appeared, a fact, and not one of those bright fancies that the Staff invents for our tactical delectation.

Spuggy returned. He had left us at Bouleurs to find a bicycle in Paris. Coming back he had no idea that we had moved. So he rode too far north. He escaped luckily. He was riding along about three hundred yards behind two motor-cyclists. Suddenly he saw them stop abruptly and put up their hands. He fled. A little farther on he came to a village and asked for coffee. He heard that Uhlans had been there a few hours before, and was taken to see a woman who had been shot through the breast. Then he went south through Villeneuve, and following a fortunate instinct, ran into our outposts the other side of Tournan.

We all slept grandly on mattresses. It was the first time we had been two nights in the same place since Dour.

We awoke early to a gorgeous day. We were actually going to advance. The news put us in marvellous good temper. For the first time in my recollection we offered each other our bacon, and one at the end of breakfast said he had had enough. The Staff was almost giggling, and a battalion (the Cheshires, I think) that we saw pass, was absolutely shouting with joy. You would have thought we had just gained a famous victory.

Half of us went forward with the column. The rest remained for a slaughterous hour. First we went to the hen-house, and in ten minutes had placed ten dripping victims in the French gendarme captain's car. Then George and I went in pursuit of a turkey for the Skipper. It was an elusive bird with a perfectly Poultonian swerve, but with a bagful of curses, a bleeding hand, and a large stick, I did it to death.

We set out merrily and picked up Spuggy, Cecil, and George in the big forest that stretches practically from the Marne to Tournan. They thought they had heard a Uhlan, but nothing came of it (he turned out to be a deer), so we went on to Villeneuve. There I bought some biscuits and George scrounged some butter. A job to the 3rd Division on our right and another in pursuit of an errant officer, and then a sweaty and exiguous lunch-it was a sweltering noon-seated on a blistering pavement. Soon after lunch three of us were sent on to Mortcerf, a village on a hill to the north of the forest. We were the first English there-the Germans had left it in the morning-and the whole population, including one strikingly pretty flapper, turned out to welcome us in their best clean clothes,-it may have been Sunday.

We accepted any quantity of gorgeous, luscious fruit, retiring modestly to a shady log to eat it, and smoke a delectable pipe. In a quarter of an hour Major Hildebrand of the 2nd Corps turned up in his car, and later the company.

Pollers had had a little adventure. He was with some of our men when he saw a grey figure coming down one of the glades to the road. We knew there were many stray Uhlans in the forest who had been left behind by our advance. The grey figure was stalked, unconscious of his danger. Pollers had a shot with his revolver, luckily without effect, for the figure turned out to be our blasphemous farrier, who had gone into the forest, clad only in regulation grey shirt and trousers, to find some water.

Later in the afternoon I was sent off to find the North Irish Horse. I discovered them four miles away in the first flush of victory. They had had a bit of a scrap with Uhlans, and were proudly displaying to an admiring brigade that was marching past a small but select collection of horses, lances, and saddles.

This afternoon George smashed up his bicycle, the steering head giving at a corner.

We bivouacked on the drive, but the hardness of our bed didn't matter, as we were out all night-all of us, including the two, Grimers and Cecil. It was nervous riding in the forest. All the roads looked exactly alike, and down every glade we expected a shot from derelict Uhlans. That night I thought out plots for at least four stories. It would have been three, but I lost my way, and was only put right by striking a wandering convoy. I was in search of the Division Train. I looked for it at Tournan and at Villeneuve and right through the forest, but couldn't find it. I was out from ten to two, and then again from two to five, with messages for miscellaneous ammunition columns. I collared an hour's sleep and, by mistake, a chauffeur's overcoat, which led to recriminations in the morning. But the chauffeur had an unfair advantage. I was too tired to reply.

Grimers, who cannot see well at night, was terrified when he had to take a despatch through the forest. He rode with a loaded revolver in one hand, and was only saved from shooting a wretched transport officer by a wild cry, "For God's sake, look what you're doing."

The eldest Cecil reported a distinct smell of dead horses at the obelisk in the forest. At least he rather thought they were dead donkeys. The smell was a little different-more acrid and unpleasant. We told him that there were eight dead Germans piled at the side of the road, and we reminded him that it had been a sweltering day.

We were terribly tired in the morning. Spuggy, George, and Orr went off to Paris for new bicycles, and we were left short-handed again. Another tropical day.

The Skipper rode the spare bike with great dash, the elder Cecil and I attendant. We sprinted along a good straight road to the cobbled, crowded little town of Faremoutiers. Then we decided to advance to Mouroux, our proposed headquarters. It was a haggard village, just off the road. We arrived there about twelve: the Germans had departed at six, leaving behind them a souvenir in the dead body of a fellow from the East Lancs. crumpled in a ditch. He had been shot while eating. It was my first corpse. I am afraid I was not overwhelmed with thoughts of the fleetingness of life or the horror of death. If I remember my feelings aright, they consisted of a pinch of sympathy mixed with a trifle of disgust, and a very considerable hunger, which some apples by the roadside did something to allay.

I shall never forget Mouroux. It was just a little square of old houses. Before the Mairie was placed a collection of bottles from which the Sales Boches had very properly drunk. French proclamations were scribbled over with coarse, heavy jests. The women were almost hysterical with relieved anxiety. The men were still sullen, and, though they looked well fed, begged for bread. A German knapsack that I had picked up and left in charge of some villagers was torn to shreds in fierce hatred when my back was turned.

It was very lonely there in the sun. We had outstripped the advance-guard by mistake and were relieved when it came up.

We made prisoner of a German who had overslept himself because he had had a bath.

I rushed back with Grimers on my carrier to fetch another bicycle. On my return my engine suddenly produced an unearthly metallic noise. It was only an aeroplane coming down just over my head.

In the late afternoon we marched into Coulommiers. The people crowded into the streets and cheered us. The girls, with tears in their eyes, handed us flowers.

Three of us went to the Mairie. The Maire, a courtly little fellow in top-hat and frock-coat, welcomed us in charming terms. Two fat old women rushed up to us and besought us to allow them to do something for us. We set one to make us tea, and the other to bring us hot water and soap.

A small girl of about eight brought me her kitten and wanted to give it me. I explained to her that it would not be very comfortable tied with pink ribbons to my carrier. She gravely assented, sat on my knee, told me I was very dirty, and commanded me to kill heaps and heaps of Germans. She didn't like them; they had beards!

You know those fierce middle-aged Frenchwomen of the bourgeois class, hard as Scotsmen, close as Jews, and with feelings about as fine as those of a motor-bus. She was one of them, and she was the foremost of a largish crowd that collected round me. With her was a pretty girl of about twenty-two.

The mother began with a rhetorical outburst against all Germans, anathematising in particular those who had spent the last fortnight in Coulommiers, in which town her uncle had set up his business, which, though it had proved successful, as they all knew, &c., &c. The crowd murmured that they did all know. Then the old harridan chanted the wrongs which the Germans had wrought until, when she had worked the crowd and herself up to a heat of furious excitement, she lowered her voice, suddenly lowered her tone. In a grating whisper she narrated, in more detail than I cared to hear, the full story of how her daughter-to whom she pointed-had been shamefully treated by the Germans. The crowd growled. The daughter was, I think, more pleased at being the object of my sympathy and the centre of the crowd's interest than agonised at the remembrance of her misfortune.

Some of the company coming up saved me from the recital of further outrages. The hag told them of a house where the Germans had left a rifle or two and some of our messages which they had intercepted. The girl hesitated a moment, and then followed. I started hastily to go on, but the girl, hearing the noise of my engine, ran back to bid me an unembarrassed farewell.

I rode through Coulommiers, a jolly rambling old town, to our billet in a suburban villa on the Rebais road. The Division was marching past in the very best of spirits. We, who were very tired, endeavoured to make ourselves comfortable-we were then blanketless-on the abhorrent surface of a narrow garden path.

That night a 2nd Corps despatch rider called in half an hour before his death. We have heard many explanations of how he died. He crashed into a German barricade, and we discovered him the next morning with his eyes closed, neatly covered with a sheet, in a quaint little house at the entrance to the village of Doué.

At dawn (Sept. 8th) the others went on with the column. I was sent back with a despatch for Faremoutiers, and then was detailed to remain for an hour with Cecil. Ten minutes after my return the Fat Boy rode in, greatly excited. He had gone out along the Aulnoy road with a message, and round a corner had run into a patrol of Uhlans. He kept his head, turned quickly, and rode off in a shower of bullets. He was tremendously indignant, and besought some cavalry who were passing to go in pursuit.

We heard the rumble of guns and started in a hurry after the column. Sergeant Merchant's bicycle-our spare, a Rudge-burnt out its clutch, and we left it in exchange for some pears at a cottage with a delicious garden in Champbreton. Doué was a couple of miles farther on.

Colonel Sawyer, D.D.M.S., stopped me anxiously, and asked me to go and see if I could recognise the despatch rider's corpse. I meditated over it for a few minutes, then ran on to the signal-office by the roadside. There I exchanged my old bike for a new one which had been discovered in a cottage. Nothing was wrong with my ancient grid except a buckled back rim, due to collision with a brick when riding without a lamp. One of the company rode it quietly to Serches, then it went on the side-car, and was eventually discarded at Beuvry.

I found the Division very much in action. The object of the Germans was, by an obstinate rearguard action, to hold first the line of the Petit Morin and second the line La Ferté to the hills north of Méry, so that their main body might get back across the Marne and continue northward their retreat, necessitated by our pressure on their flank. This retreat again was to be as slow as possible, to prevent an outflanking of the whole.

Our object was obviously to prevent them achieving theirs.

Look at the map and grasp these three things:-

1. The two rivers-the Petit Morin debouching so as to cover the German left centre.

2. From La Ferté westwards the rivers run in deep ravines, hemmed in by precipitous thickly-wooded hills.

3. Only two bridges across the Marne remained-one large one at La Ferté and one small one at Saacy.

When I arrived at Doué the Germans were holding the Forest of Jouarre in force. They were in moderate force on the south bank of the Petit Morin, and had some guns, but not many, on the north bank.

Here is a tale of how glory may be forced upon the unwilling.

There were troops on the road running south from Jouarre. They might be Germans retreating. They might be the 3rd Corps advancing. The Staff wanted to know at once, and, although a despatch rider had already been sent west to ride up the road from the south, it was thought that another despatch rider skirting the east side of the Bois de Jouarre might find out more quickly. So the captain called for volunteers.

Now one despatch rider had no stomach for the job. He sat behind a tree and tried to look as if he had not heard the captain's appeal. The sergeant in charge had faith in him and, looking round, said in a loud voice, "Here is Jones!" (it is obviously impolitic for me to give even his nickname, if I wish to tell the truth). The despatch rider jumped up, pretended he knew nothing of what was going forward, and asked what was required. He was told, and with sinking heart enthusiastically volunteered for the job.

He rode off, taking the road by La Chevrie Farm. Beyond the farm the Germans sniped him unmercifully, but (so he told me) he got well down on the tank and rode "all out" until he came to the firing line just south-west of the farm to the north of Chevrie. Major Buckle came out of his ditch to see what was wanted. The rifle fire seemed to increase. The air was buzzing, and just in front of his bicycle multitudinous little spurts of dust flecked the road.

It was distinctly unpleasant, and, as Major Buckle persisted in standing in the middle of the road instead of taking the despatch rider with him into his ditch, the despatch rider had to stand there too, horribly frightened. The Major said it was impossible to go farther. There was only a troop of cavalry, taking careful cover, at the farm in front, and-

"My God, man, you're under machine-gun fire."

So that's what it is, murmured the despatch rider to himself, not greatly cheered. He saw he could not get to any vantage point by that road, and it seemed best to get back at once. He absolutely streaked along back to D.H.Q., stopping on the way very much against his will to deliver a message from Major Buckle to the Duke of Wellington's who were in support.

He gave in his report, such as it was, to Colonel Romer, and was praised. Moral: Be called away by some pressing engagement before the captain calls for volunteers. May Gott strafe thoroughly all interfering sergeants!

The Headquarters Staff advanced in an hour or so to some houses. The 3rd Corps, consisting of the 4th Division and the unlucky 19th Brigade, had pushed on with tremendous dash towards Jouarre, and we learnt from an aeroplane which dropped a message on the hill at Doué that the general situation was favourable. The Germans were crowding across the bridge at La Ferté under heavy shell fire, but unluckily we could not hit the blighted bridge.

It was now midday and very hot. There was little water. We had been advancing over open fields without a vestige of shade.

Under cover of their guns the Germans fled across the Petit Morin in such confusion that they did not even hold the very defensible heights to the north of the river. We followed on their heels through St Ouen and up the hill behind the village. Three of us went on ahead and sat for two hours in a trench with borrowed rifles waiting for the Germans to come out of a wood. But it began to rain very hard, and the Germans came on the other side and were

taken by the Cyclists.

It was just getting dark when we rendezvoused at the cross-roads of Charnesseuil. The village was battered by our guns, but the villagers did not mind a scrap and welcomed us with screams of joy. The local inn was reopened with cheers, and in spite of the fact that there were two dead horses, very evil-smelling, just outside, we had drinks all round.

We were interrupted by laughter and cheers. We rushed out to see the quaintest procession coming from the west into Charnesseuil. Seventy odd immense Prussian Guards were humbly pushing in the bicycles of forty of our Divisional Cyclists, who were dancing round them in delight. They had captured a hundred and fifty of them, but our guns had shelled them, luckily without doing much damage to the Cyclists, so loading up the prisoners with all their kit and equipment, and making them lead their captors' bicycles, the Cyclists brought them in triumph for the inspection of the Staff. It was a great moment.

I was very tired, and, careless of who passed, stretched myself at the side of the road for a sleep. I was wakened an hour later, and we all went along together to the chateau. There we slept in the hall before the contented faces of some fine French pictures-or the majority of them,-the rest were bestially slashed.

At the break of dawn (Sept. 9th) I was sent off to the 14th Brigade, which composed the advance-guard. Scouts had reported that Saacy had been evacuated by the enemy. So we pushed on cautiously and took possession of the bridge.

I came up with the Brigade Staff on a common at the top of the succeeding hill, having been delayed by a puncture. Nixon, the S.O., told me that a battery of ours in position on the common to the south of the farm would open fire in a few minutes. The German guns would reply, but would be quickly silenced. In the meantime I was to take shelter in the farm.

I had barely put my bicycle under cover in the courtyard when the Germans opened fire, not at our guns but at a couple of companies of the Manchesters who were endeavouring to take cover just north of the farm.

In the farm I found King and his platoon of Cyclists. Shrapnel bullets simply rattled against the old house, and an occasional common shell dropped near by way of variety. The Cyclists were restive, and I was too, so to relieve the situation I proposed breakfast. King and I had half a loaf of Saacy bread and half a pot of jam I always carried about with me. The rest went to the men. Our breakfast was nearly spoilt by the Manchesters, who, after they had lost a few men, rushed through the farm into the wood, where, naturally enough, they lost a few more. They besought the Cyclists to cover their retreat, but as it was from shrapnel we mildly suggested it was impossible.

The courtyard was by this time covered with tiles and pitted with bullets. We, close up against the wall, had been quite moderately safe. The shelling slackened off, so we thought we had better do a bunk. With pride of race the motor-cyclist left last.

The 14th Brigade had disappeared. I went back down the track and found the General and his staff, fuming, half-way up the hill. The German guns could not be found, and the German guns were holding up the whole Division.

I slept by the roadside for an hour. I was woken up to take a message to 2nd Corps at Saacy. On my return I was lucky enough to see a very spectacular performance.

From the point which I call A to the point B is, or ought to be, 5000 yards. At A there is a gap in the wood, and you get a gorgeous view over the valley. The road from La Ferté to the point B runs on high ground, and at B there is a corresponding gap, the road being open completely for roughly 200 yards. A convoy of German lorries was passing with an escort of infantry, and the General thought we might as well have a shot at them. Two 18-pdrs. were man-handled to the side of the hill and opened fire, while six of us with glasses and our lunch sat behind and watched.

It was a dainty sight-the lorries scooting across, while the escort took cover. The guns picked off a few, completely demolishing two lorries, then with a few shells into some cavalry that appeared on the horizon, they ceased fire.

The affair seemed dangerous to the uninitiated despatch rider. Behind the two guns was a brigade of artillery in column of route on an exceedingly steep and narrow road. Guns firing in the open can be seen. If the Germans were to spot us, we shuddered to think what would become of the column behind us on the road.

That afternoon I had nothing more to do, so, returning to the common, I dozed there for a couple of hours, knowing that I should have little sleep that night. At dusk we bivouacked in the garden of the chateau at Méry. We arrived at the chateau before the Staff and picked up some wine.

In the evening I heard that a certain captain in the gunners went reconnoitring and found the battery-it was only one-that had held up our advance. He returned to the General, put up his eyeglass and drawled, "I say, General, I've found that battery. I shall now deal with it." He did. In five minutes it was silenced, and the 14th attacked up the Valley of Death, as the men called it. They were repulsed with very heavy losses; their reinforcements, which had arrived the day before, were practically annihilated.

It was a bad day.

That night it was showery, and I combined vain attempts to get to sleep between the showers with a despatch to 2nd Corps at Saacy and another to the Division Ammunition Column the other side of Charnesseuil.

Towards morning the rain became heavier, so I took up my bed-i.e., my greatcoat and ground-sheet-and, finding four free square feet in the S.O., had an hour's troubled sleep before I was woken up half an hour before dawn to get ready to take an urgent message as soon as it was light.

On September 9th, just before dawn-it was raining and very cold-I was sent with a message to Colonel Cameron at the top of the hill, telling him he might advance. The Germans, it appeared, had retired during the night. Returning to the chateau at Méry, I found the company had gone on, so I followed them along the Valley of Death to Montreuil.

It was the dismallest morning, dark as if the sun would never rise, chequered with little bursts of heavy rain. The road was black with mud. The hedges dripped audibly into watery ditches. There was no grass, only a plentiful coarse vegetation. The valley itself seemed enclosed by unpleasant hills from joy or light. Soldiers lined the road-some were dead, contorted, or just stretched out peacefully; some were wounded, and they moaned as I passed along. There was one officer who slowly moved his head from side to side. That was all he could do. But I could not stop; the ambulances were coming up. So I splashed rapidly through the mud to the cross-roads north of Montreuil.

To the right was a barn in which the Germans had slept. It was littered with their equipment. And in front of it was a derelict motor-car dripping in the rain.

At Montreuil we had a scrap of bully with a bit of biscuit for breakfast, then we ploughed slowly and dangerously alongside the column to Dhuizy, where a house that our artillery had fired was still burning. The chalked billeting marks of the Germans were still on the doors of the cottages. I had a despatch to take back along the column to the Heavies. Grease a couple of inches thick carpeted the road. We all agreed that we should be useless in winter.

At Dhuizy the sun came out.

A couple of miles farther on I had a talk with two German prisoners-R.A.M.C. They were sick of the war. Summed it up thus:

Wir weissen nichts: wir essen nichts: immer laufen, laufen, laufen.

In bright sunshine we pushed on towards Gandeln. On the way we had a bit of lunch, and I left a pipe behind. As there was nothing doing I pushed on past the column, waiting for a moment to watch some infantry draw a large wood, and arrived with the cavalry at Gandeln, a rakish old town at the bottom of an absurdly steep hill. Huggie passed me with a message. Returning he told me that the road ahead was pitiably disgusting.

You must remember that we were hotly pursuing a disorganised foe. In front the cavalry and horse artillery were harassing them for all they were worth, and whenever there was an opening our bigger guns would gallop up for a trifle of blue murder.

From Gandeln the road rises sharply through woods and then runs on high ground without a vestige of cover for two and a half miles into Chézy. On this high, open ground our guns caught a German convoy, and we saw the result.

First there were a few dead and wounded Germans, all muddied. The men would look curiously at each, and sometimes would laugh. Then at the top of the hill we came upon some smashed and abandoned waggons. These were hastily looted. Men piled themselves with helmets, greatcoats, food, saddlery, until we looked a crowd of dishevelled bandits. The German wounded watched-they lay scattered in a cornfield, like poppies. Sometimes Tommy is not a pleasant animal, and I hated him that afternoon. One dead German had his pockets full of chocolate. They scrambled over him, pulling him about, until it was all divided.

Just off the road was a small sandpit. Three or four waggons-the horses, frightened by our shells, had run over the steep place into the sand. Their heads and necks had been forced back into their carcasses, and on top of this mash were the splintered waggons. I sat for a long time by the well in Chézy and watched the troops go by, caparisoned with spoils. I hated war.

Just as the sun was setting we toiled out of Chézy on to an upland of cornfields, speckled with grey patches of dead men and reddish-brown patches of dead horses. One great horse stood out on a little cliff, black against the yellow of the descending sun. It furiously stank. Each time I passed it I held my nose, and I was then pretty well used to smells. The last I saw of it-it lay grotesquely on its back with four stiff legs sticking straight up like the legs of an overturned table-it was being buried by a squad of little black men billeted near. They were cursing richly. The horse's revenge in death, perhaps, for its ill-treatment in life.

It was decided to stay the night at Chézy. The village was crowded, dark, and confusing. Three of us found the signal office, and made ourselves very comfortable for the night with some fresh straw that we piled all over us. The roads were for the first time too greasy for night-riding. The rest slept in a barn near, and did not discover the signal office until dawn.

We awoke, stiff but rested, to a fine warm morning. It was a quiet day. We rode with the column along drying roads until noon through peaceful rolling country-then, as there was nothing doing, Grimers and I rode to the head of the column, and inquiring with care whether our cavalry was comfortably ahead, came to the village of Noroy-sur-Ourcq. We "scrounged" for food and found an inn. At first our host, a fat well-to-do old fellow, said the Germans had taken everything, but, when he saw we really were hungry, he produced sardines, bread, butter, sweets, and good red wine. So we made an excellent meal-and were not allowed to pay a penny.

He told that the Germans, who appeared to be in great distress, had taken everything in the village, though they had not maltreated any one. Their horses were dropping with fatigue-that we knew-and their officers kept telling their men to hurry up and get quickly on the march. At this point they were just nine hours in front of us.

Greatly cheered we picked up the Division again at Chouy, and sat deliciously on a grass bank to wait for the others. Just off the road on the opposite side was a dead German. Quite a number of men broke their ranks to look curiously at him-anything to break the tedious, deadening monotony of marching twenty-five miles day after day: as a major of the Dorsets said to us as we sat there, "It is all right for us, but it's hell for them!"

The Company came up, and we found that in Chouy the Germans had overlooked a telephone-great news for the cable detachment. After a glance at the church, a gorgeous bit of Gothic that we had shelled, we pushed on in the rain to Billy-sur-Ourcq. I was just looking after a convenient loft when I was sent back to Chouy to find the Captain's watch. A storm was raging down the valley. The road at any time was covered with tired foot sloggers. I had to curse them, for they wouldn't get out of the way. Soon I warmed and cursed them crudely and glibly in four languages. On my return I found some looted boiled eggs and captured German Goulasch hot for me. I fed and turned in.

This day my kit was left behind with other unnecessary "tackle," to lighten the horses' load. I wish I had known it.

The remaining eggs for breakfast-delicious.

Huggie and I were sent off just before dawn on a message that took us to St Rémy, a fine church, and Hartennes, where we were given hot tea by that great man, Sergeant Croucher of the Divisional Cyclists. I rode back to Rozet St Albin, a pleasant name, along a road punctuated with dead and very evil-smelling horses. Except for the smell it was a good run of about ten miles. I picked up the Division again on the sandy road above Chacrise.

Sick of column riding I turned off the main road up a steep hill into Ambrief, a desolate black-and-white village totally deserted. It came on to pour, but there was a shrine handy. There I stopped until I was pulled out by an ancient captain of cuirassiers, who had never seen an Englishman before and wanted to hear all about us.

On into Acy, where I decided to head off the Division at Ciry, instead of crossing the Aisne and riding straight to Vailly, our proposed H.Q. for that night. The decision saved my life, or at least my liberty. I rode to Sermoise, a bright little village where the people were actually making bread. At the station there was a solitary cavalry man. In Ciry itself there was no one. Half-way up the Ciry hill, a sort of dry watercourse, I ran into some cavalry and learnt that the Germans were holding the Aisne in unexpected strength. I had all but ridden round and in front of our own cavalry outposts.

Two miles farther back I found Huggie and one of our brigades. We had a bit of bully and biscuit under cover of a haystack, then we borrowed some glasses and watched bodies of Germans on the hills the other side of the Aisne. It was raining very fast. There was no decent cover, so we sat on the leeward side of a mound of sand.

When we awoke the sun was setting gorgeously. Away to the west in the direction of Soissons there was a tremendous cannonade. On the hills opposite little points of flame showed that the Germans were replying. On our right some infantry were slowly advancing in extended order through a dripping turnip-field.

The Battle of the Aisne had begun.

We were wondering what to do when we were commandeered to take a message down that precipitous hill of Ciry to some cavalry. It was now quite dark and still raining. We had no carbide, and my carburetter had jibbed, so we decided to stop at Ciry for the night. At the inn we found many drinks-particularly some wonderful cherry brandy-and a friendly motor-cyclist who told us of a billet that an officer was probably going to leave. We went there. Our host was an old soldier, so, after his wife had hung up what clothes we dared take off to dry by a red-hot stove, he gave us some supper of stewed game and red wine, then made us cunning beds with straw, pillows, and blankets. Too tired to thank him we dropped asleep.

That, though we did not know it then, was the last night of our little Odyssey. We had been advancing or retiring without a break since my tragic farewell to Nadine. We had been riding all day and often all night. But those were heroic days, and now as I write this in our comfortable slack winter quarters, I must confess-I would give anything to have them all over again. Now we motor-cyclists are middle-aged warriors. Adventures are work. Experiences are a routine. Then, let's be sentimental, we were young.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares