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The Great War As I Saw It By Frederick George Scott Characters: 32645

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Sports and Pastimes.

May and June, 1918.

It was late in the evening when I reached the Chateau at Le Cauroy, and I found that I was to be billeted in the house of the Curé, on one side of the fine avenue of lime trees. Ross was waiting for me and took the horse, and I went inside to my room. A curious sensation came over me of having seen the place before. It seemed as if I had been there in one of my dreams, but the mystery was cleared up on the following day by my finding out from the Vicaire that this was the place where I had spent such a gloomy Sunday on the 22nd of October, 1916, during our return from the Somme. The count who owned the Chateau was naval attaché to the French Embassy in London, but his wife and children, with the servants, occupied apartments on the right wing of the building. The presence of a lady gave a special charm to the place, and tennis on a good court under the trees in the park was most enjoyable. On several occasions some of our Canadian Sisters from the C.C.S. at Frevent honoured us with their presence at dinner, which was followed by a dance. Under the trees in the avenue, a most picturesque open theatre was erected by the engineers, and here our concert party gave us nightly performances of their new play, which was called "The Marriage Market." Hundreds of men from the battalions around would sit on the soft grass under the overhanging trees through which we could see the stars, and on the brightly lighted stage, with the orchestra in front, we had an exhibition of real talent. The weather was delightful and the men enjoyed a holiday in the country. At a little distance behind the Chateau there was a clear stream blocked by an ancient mill-dam. Here we could get a swim and bask in the sun in the long cool grass. Altogether we were very happy at Le Cauroy.

A great change had come over the war at this time, for Foch had assumed the supreme command. While we had had excellent leaders all through the campaign, one always felt that there was a need for some electrifying personality at the head of things. In a mysterious way the knowledge that Foch had taken the conduct of the war in hand gave us just that touch of magnetism which we needed. As matters stood, the German attacks had been successful up to a certain point, but we were still waiting for their main offensive. When or where this was to begin we did not know, but we were convinced that it would be, for us, a life or death struggle. The fact that Foch was in command and that he was keeping his head gave us confidence. He seemed like a surgeon who shows his greatness by the very coolness with which he performs some critical operation. The men were always asking if we were losing the war, and I always told them that it was like this-the Germans were advancing and losing and we were retreating and winning. We practised daily the art of open warfare for which the country round us offered splendid opportunities. We knew that we had been taken out of the line in order to prepare to become "shock troops", and the knowledge of this gave our life a great inspiration.

It was the right policy, in view of what was before us, to give the men all the amusement possible, so football and baseball were indulged in freely by officers and men. We were too well trained now to worry much about the future. In fact, although I had often preached on the text, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," I never fully acted upon the principle until I had been in the war for three years. It is certainly the true secret of happiness and I hope that the softer life of peace time will not rob one of it. When Mrs. Carlyle was asked what caused her most suffering in life, she replied, "The things which never happened," It would have surprised the people at home if they could have seen the cheeriness and lightheartedness of men who were being trained day by day to deliver the hammer strokes which were to smash the huge war machine of Imperial Germany.

The 2nd Brigade one day gave us a most successful circus in a large field near our Headquarters. The arrangements and weather were perfect, and the spectators were delighted with a performance that surpassed Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Afternoon tea and dancing followed at a chateau, and aeroplanes gave us a fine exhibition of the skill of the new branch of the service by flying low and dropping messages and red smoke bombs. I met one of the young airmen, and in a fit of enthusiasm asked him if he would take me up with him some day. He was quite keen about it, and asked me to let him know when to send for me. Our plans, however, were upset a day or two afterwards by the Headquarters of the Division moving off to the beautiful Chateau at Villers Chatel. They left in the morning, and as usual I followed leisurely on Dandy. I went through some pretty villages. No soldiers were to be seen, and the quiet ordinary life of the people was undisturbed by the war. The world was bathed in sunshine and the fields were brilliant with new crops. Every little hamlet was embowered in trees, and the small white houses with their red tiled roofs spoke of peace. In the solemn light of evening I came to the entrance gate of my new home.

The Chateau of Villers Chatel was a fine modern building with an old round tower at one end. This tower is all that remains of the original structure, but it was kept in good condition and the interior was most artistically arranged. My room was in the garret and was approached by a spiral staircase, very narrow and steep. The Chateau was enlivened by the presence of two Countesses; both very pleasant ladies who had their own apartments and who kindly entertained us at night in their cheery drawing-room. On the wide lawn in front of the Chateau a huge chestnut tree stood, rich in leaves, with low boughs branching in all directions and covering a wide radius, and with their tips almost touching the grass. The tree furnished a green shelter for a large number of persons. The sun could not penetrate the foliage, and the giant trunk was covered with rugged bark beautifully coloured. Here, on Sunday mornings, I placed my flag-covered altar, and Church Parade was held under the tree. The men, over a hundred in number, stood in a semi-circle in front of me, and the bright sunlight beyond the rim of overhanging boughs lit up the green grass around. It was one of the most beautiful places imaginable for a church service, and the branches made a vaulted roof overhead. On one side of the garden was a large and elaborate cement grotto, and a statue of the Blessed Virgin stood in a niche at the back. Seats for worshippers were placed in front. The Countesses were moved by piety to keep a number of candles blazing in the grotto all night, invoking thereby the protection of Our Lady. Our staff, who walked not by faith but by sight, were much worried by the strong light which could easily be seen from a German aeroplane. However, no one could muster up courage enough to interfere with the devotion of our hostesses, and as a matter of fact we never had any bombing raids at Villers Chatel. It was a question among the officers as to whether our immunity should be attributed to the power of prayer or to extraordinary good-luck.

At the end of the lawn facing the Chateau was a forest of magnificent trees. It was in the fields at the back of this wood that we had held the memorial service for the 2nd Brigade, which I have already described. One of the forest paths was in the form of a pergola. The trees had been trimmed so that the boughs overhead were interlaced and it went for about half a mile into the forest, like the vaulted aisle of a church. The sunlight through the green leaves overhead cast on the pathway a mysterious light suggestive of fairyland.

Our battalions were once more in their old billets in the neighbourhood, and as we were still at rest I had many opportunities of visiting them. How well I remember going about and delivering my lecture on our leave trip to Rome. As I look back upon my war-memories, I think that those talks were the most delightful experiences I have ever had. I really had nothing to say, but I knew that anything which could occupy and amuse the minds of those brave lads, who were daily preparing to hurl themselves against the enemy, was worth while. I would go to the C.O. of a battalion and say, "Colonel, I would like to come and give your men a talk on our leave trip to Rome." He would always take the matter very seriously, thinking I had some learned discourse on architecture, or some other absolutely futile subject to give the men. But being too polite to tell me to go to Jericho, or somewhere else, he would say, "Yes, I am sure it would be very interesting. How long will the lecture last?" On my replying, "About two hours and a half," his countenance would fall. He was struggling between his fear of offending me and his fear of doing something which would bore the men. Sometimes colonels would say, "That's a long lecture." But I urged them to take my word for it and to let the thing go ahead, and if I saw I was boring the men I would stop. So the lecture would be announced. I suppose I must have given it to something like twenty thousand men. I would arrive at the battalion headquarters in the afternoon, have dinner with the C.O. and Adjutant in their billet, and then walk over to some pleasant field on which a thousand men were drawn up in line, presenting a most proper military appearance. The sun would be setting behind the trees which skirted the parade ground, and, after telling the Colonel and other officers to keep in the background, I would go over in front of the battalion and tell them that the Colonel had handed the parade over to me, and that they were to break ranks and sit on the ground as close as possible. At once military stiffness was dispelled, and amid much laughter the men would crowd around and squat on the ground tightly packed together. Imagine what a picture that was. Splendid stalwart young men they were, hundreds and hundreds of them, with healthy merry faces, and behind them in the distance the green trees and the sunset. Of course smoking was allowed, and I generally had some boxes of cigarettes to pass round. Then I would tell them of our trip to Rome and of my following out the injunction of making the most of a fortnight's leave by turning it into three weeks; of my puzzling the R.T.O. in Paris by asking for transportation to Rome via Marseilles, as we had abandoned the idea of travelling via Calcutta on account of the submarine menace; of my being unable to enter the Casino at Monte Carlo because officers were not admitted in uniform, and the only mufti I had brought with me was my pyjamas which I had left at the hotel; of the two casualties in the Paris barrage; of the time I gave C.B. to "Yorky" when I saw he had partaken too freely of coffee, and of the delightful memories of Italy which we had brought back with us. The talk was not all humorous. I managed to get in many little sermons between the lines, or as I put it, "the lecture was impregnated with the poison of morality." Men assimilated that poison more readily when handed out to them in such doses. Then the sun would set and the evening shadows lengthen, and finally the stars would come out over the scene and the mass of men before me would merge into one great blur, which sent up, nevertheless, roars of merry laughter. What appealed to them most was the way a padré and forty-four wild Canadians, in the biggest war the world has ever known, were able to break through the Hindenburg line of army red tape.

Our machine gun battalion was quartered south of the St. Pol road at a place called Averdoignt. It was a lovely little village, very quiet and well away from the line, with pretty orchards and a stream at the back. When it was only possible to have a voluntary service in the evening, I would get a group of men as a body-guard and start off down the village to the quaint old church, halting at every farmyard on the way and calling out to those billeted there, "Come on, you heathen, come to the voluntary church parade." In the most good-natured way, dragging their reluctant pals with them, men would come out and swell our ranks until, by the time we reached the church, there was a good congregation. There against the wall of the building I would plant a table borrowed from the Curé's house, make it into an altar, distribute hymn books, and start the service, while the evening lights in the sky tinged the scene with a soft beauty.

When we were in the line the machine-gunners were always split up into small sections over the front, their guns of course being very carefully concealed. In consequence, just when I thought I had reached an area which was quite uninhabited, I would stumble on some queer little hole, and, on calling down it to see if there were any men there, the answer would be, "The machine-gun battalion," and I would find myself among friends. At Averdoignt they had one of the best rest billets they ever had, and they enjoyed it thoroughly.

Owing to the great distance which I had to cover in doing my parish visiting among the battalions, the difficulty of transportation, which had been serious from the beginning, became even more pressing, and some good friend suggested to me on the quiet that I should try to get a Clino, (that is a machine-gun side-car) from the Motor Machine-Gun Brigade. With great trepidation, I made an excursion one day to their headquarters at Verdrel. The O.C. was most kind and sympathetic. I shall never cease to invoke blessings upon his head. He took me over to the machine-shop and there presented to me, for my use until it should be recalled, a new Clino which had just come up from the base. The officer in charge uttered a protest by saying that they only had six Clinos for the Brigade, but the major remarked dryly, "And after Canon Scott has got his we shall only have five." Surely once again the Lord had provided for me. I was driven back to the Chateau in the new machine, but then had to find a driver. One was provided by the signallers. He was a graduate in science of McGill, so I used to lay stress upon my personal greatness from the fact that I had a university graduate for my chauffeur. Many and varied were the drives which Lyons and I had together, and many and varied were our adventures. Had the Clino not been both exceedingly strong and very new it would have come to grief long before it did. To go rattling down the St. Pol road at forty-five kilometres an hour was a frequent occurrence. All I had to sit upon was a seat without arms, while my foot rested on a bar in front. People asked me how it was I did not tumble off. I told them that I tied myself to the back of the seat with my spinal cord. I got the sappers to make me a large box which fitted on the back of the vehicle and had a padlock. In it I used to carry my bag of a thousand hymn books and other necessaries for church parades, and on the top of the box, as a protection to my car, I had the words "Canon Scott" painted in large white letters. The dust as we threaded our way through the streams of lorries almost choked us, but we could cover the ground in a short space of time which was a great thing. Lyons never managed the lights very successfully, and one rainy night after midnight, when I was returning from saying good-bye to the artillery who were moving South, in a lonely part of the road he ran the machine into some bushes on a bank by the wayside, and we found ourselves sitting in the mud without our hats. We did not know where we were and the rain was heavy, but we managed to disentangle the car and finally got home, resolving that further night excursions were out of the question. About a fortnight afterwards I received an order to return the Clino, but before I did so I journeyed to Corps Headquarters and made a passionate appeal to General Currie for its retention. As a result I received a private intimation to keep the car and say nothing about it. Of course I was the envy of everyone, and when they asked me how I got the Clino I said I did not exactly know. Whether it was sent to me from heaven with the assistance of Gener

al Currie, or whether it was sent to me from General Currie with the assistance of heaven, was a theological question which I had no time to go into during the war. When our Division was marching into Germany, after I was knocked out of the campaign, the dear old signallers used to patch up the Clino, even making new parts for it, in order that Canon Scott's car might get into Germany. Alas! the poor thing, like the one-horse shay, went to pieces finally one day and had to be left at Mons. During those last busy months, I do not know how I could have got on without it.

As I was a bit under the weather at this time my friend, General Thacker, invited me to go and stay with him at his headquarters in the Chateau at Berles, where I was given a charming room looking out on the garden. I found myself in the midst of the artillery brigades who were now at rest, and very pleasant it was to see them away from the unwholesome gun-pits where they were usually to be found. I could lie on the grass in the garden, read one of Trollope's novels and listen to the birds overhead. A walk through the wood led to a huge field of scarlet poppies, which, when the sun shone upon it, made a blaze of colour which I have never seen equalled. As one approached it, one could see the red glow light up the stems of the trees as though they were aflame.

We had many boxing and baseball contests, which roused great excitement, but the crowning glory of the time was the Divisional sports which were held in a large field at a place called Tincques on the St. Pol road. A grandstand and many marquees had been erected, and the various events gave great delight to the thousands of spectators. In the evening our concert party gave a performance on the stage in the open air, which was witnessed by a large and enthusiastic audience. After it was all over, I unexpectedly met my airman friend, Johnny Johnson, who told me that he had been waiting a long time to take me up in his machine. I explained to him that, owing to our headquarters having moved away to Le Cauroy, I thought it was too far off to get in touch with him. In my secret heart, I had looked upon my removal as a special intervention of Providence on my behalf, but Johnny was not disposed, however, to allow any difficulty to stand in the way, so it was arranged that he should send for me at Berles the following day and take me to the headquarters of the 13th Squadron at Izel-les-Hameaux. There was nothing for it but to jump with alacrity at such a noble offer, so on the following morning I started off in the Squadron's car for their headquarters.

My pilot had gone off to bring up the new machine which was to take me on my first aerial voyage. The Squadron had most comfortable billets in huts, and were a most charming lot of young men. A Canadian amongst them, taking pity upon a fellow-countryman, gave me a kind introduction to his fellow officers. Johnny Johnson returned in the afternoon, and during tea I heard him explaining to the other men that he had had his choice of two machines, an old machine with a new engine and the other a new machine with an old engine. Although I was engaged in conversation at the other end of the table, I listened with great interest to this discussion, and felt much relieved when I heard that Johnny's choice of an old machine with a new engine was approved of by his hearers. He told me that the air was very bumpy and that he would not take me up until the sun was lower in the sky. Having arrived at that happy state of inward peace which a man experiences when he goes off to the dentist to have a tooth pulled, I did not mind when I was to be taken up. At six o'clock, however, Johnny said we must get ready, so I was provided with a fur-lined leather coat, leather helmet, goggles and a large pair of fur gauntlets. We went over to the aerodrome where our fiery steed was champing its bit as though longing to spring into the "vast inane." Two or three attendants were getting it ready. It was an R.E.8 plane and a machine gun was fixed on one side. Johnny climbed into his position and I took a seat behind him. An attendant came up and asked my name and address. It sounded as if I were making my last will and testament. I had a letter with me addressed to my son which I was to drop over his battery lines in Liévin, and also a red smoke bomb but declined an invitation to take any more formidable weapon. Then I told my pilot not to be anxious about me whatever happened. I always expected to be killed at the front so never worried how or when the event was to occur. The engine was then started. For a time the machine meandered about the field without showing any disposition to mount into the air and I was beginning to think, like the Irishman who was taken for a ride one day in a sedan chair that had no bottom in it, that, "If it were not for the honour and glory of the thing I might as lief walk," when, all of a sudden, we began to plunge, left the ground, and, mid a fearful buzzing, mounted higher and higher. We rose over the huts and above the village trees and then by a corkscrew motion which necessitated the machine going almost on its edge, we made our way heavenwards. I did not feel the least bit seasick but it was a curious sensation to look down and see absolutely nothing between me and the church of Izel-les-Hameaux crowned by its sharp pointed spire with no cork on it. I looked at my young friend in front of me, who was busy with the handles and cranks of his machine. He was only a boy of nineteen and my fate was literally in his hands, but his head was well set on his shoulders and he seemed completely self-possessed and confident. After we had mounted to six thousand feet, we struck out in the direction of the front.

It was a lovely afternoon and a most wonderful panorama spread below us. The great plain beneath us was marked off like a chessboard in squares of various shades of yellow and green, dotted here and there with little villages surrounded by the billowy crests of trees. We saw straight white roads going off in all directions, and beyond, towards the east, low murky clouds behind the German lines. We flew on and on till we reached the war zone and here the fields were marked by horse-tracks and the villages had been hit with shells. Before us in the distance I saw the line of our observation balloons and thought, if anything happened to the machine, I would get out into one of them, but when we passed over them they looked like specks on the ground below. I could see the blue ribbon of the Scarpe winding off into the great mists to the east, and then beneath us lay the old city of Arras. I could see the ruined Cathedral, the mass of crooked streets and the tiny, dusty roads. Further on was the railway triangle, where one night later on I got a good dose of gas, and then I saw the trenches at Fampoux and Feuchy. Still onward we sailed, till at last Johnny Johnson shouted back, at the same time pointing downwards, "The German trenches." I saw the enemy lines beneath us, and then Johnny shouted, "Now I am going to dip." It was not the thing I specially wanted to do at that particular moment, but I supposed it was all right. The plane took a dive, and then Johnny leaned over and fired off some rounds of the machine gun into the German lines. We turned to come back and rose in the air, when, in the roar of the wind I heard a bang behind me, and looking round saw, hanging in the air, a ball of thick black smoke. Then there was another beneath us and some more at one side. In all, the Germans followed us with six shells. Johnny turned round and shouted, asking me how I felt. "Splendid", I said, for I really did enjoy the novelty of the experience. Many times have I looked up into the clouds and seen a machine followed by "Archies" and wondered what it felt like to be up there, and now I knew. One phrase however, which I had often read in the newspapers kept ringing in my ears-"Struck the petrol tank and the machine came down in flames." And the last verse of "Nearer my God to Thee," also ran through my head, "Or if on joyful wing upwards I fly." We turned now to the right and flew over Vimy Ridge, and then made two or three turns round Liévin where, above his battery, I dropped the letter for my son. It was delivered to him two weeks afterwards in a hospital in London. We flew out over Lens and crossed the German lines again, skirting the district which the Germans had flooded and then turned our faces homewards. Above the Chateau at Villers Chatel, I dropped the red smoke bomb. We circled round in the air at a great height while I wrote on a piece of paper, "Canon Scott drops his blessing from the clouds on 1st Canadian Divisional Headquarters," and put it in the little pocket of leaded streamers. Alas, it was lost in a wheat field and so did not do them any more good than the other blessings I have dropped upon them. We then turned to Berles where I could see beneath me the old house and the tiny beings in white playing tennis on the court. We reached the aerodrome at Izel-les-Hameaux and landed safely after being in the air for fifty-five minutes. It was a most delightful experience for a non-combatant. The next day the engine of the machine gave out and Johnny Johnson was compelled to make a forced landing. Luckily it was behind our lines. I went several times again to try to have another flight, but from the excuses made I inferred that joy-rides of this description had been banned. The following year in London I heard by accident that poor Johnny Johnson had been killed a few weeks after our trip. He was a splendid young fellow and absolutely without fear. May his brave soul rest in peace.

Nearly two months had passed since we had been in the line, and the Germans had made no attack. We wondered what had happened to them. I thought that perhaps influenza had laid them low. At any rate we were not anxious to end the happy time we were having. The climax of our glory was reached on the 1st of July when we celebrated the birthday of the Dominion by Corps sports on the field at Tincques. It was a most wonderful occasion.

Dominion Day fell on a Monday, and on the previous afternoon, knowing that large bodies of men, including the contestants, were congregated at Tincques, I determined to go over and pay them a visit. I found the village full of troops and all very keen about the next day's show. In a little lane, were some 1st Division men, and they were enjoying the excitement of a game which was very popular at the front, called "Crown and Anchor." It is played with special dice on a board or square of green canvas. On the canvas were painted an anchor and crown and I think a heart and spade. The game was banned by the army on account of its unfairness. The banker had, I think, sixty-four chances to one in his favour. The consequence of this was that very soon he became possessed of all the money which green youths, unsuspecting their disadvantage, chose to lay on the board. This game, in the hands of a sharper, was often the means of robbing a battalion of very large sums of money; sometimes forty thousand francs were made by the banker. The police had orders to arrest anyone playing it and I used to do my best to stamp it out. Though I do not play for money myself, I never could see any great harm in those poor boys out there getting a little relaxation from their terrible nervous strain by a game of bridge or poker for a few francs. But a game which was founded wholly on dishonesty was something which I felt was unworthy of our men. Whenever I saw them crowding round a little spot on the grass I knew there was a game of crown and anchor going on, and I would shout, "Look out, boys, I am going to put the horse on the old mud hook"-a phrase I had heard the men use-and then canter Dandy into their midst scattering them in all directions. Over and over again I have gone into a ring of men and given the banker five minutes to decide whether he would hand over his board and dice to me or have his name reported to the police. He never failed to do the former, although sometimes he looked rather surly at losing a very fruitful source of revenue. I have brought home with me enough crown and anchor dice to make the mouth of an old soldier water. On this occasion I became possessed of the crown and anchor board and the dice in the usual way. But, as the men said they wanted to have some amusement, I went to an officer's billet and got a pack of cards for them, and they settled down to a game of poker.

Some pious souls proposed that I should have a service that evening in the field where the sports were to be held. I thought that it would be a good idea, but was not sure how large a congregation I should have. I got together a little body-guard in the village and we went off collecting stragglers by the way. When we came to the corner of the field where I proposed to hold my service, we found to my dismay that it was full of masses of men crowding around what I knew were crown and anchor boards on the ground. I did not mind doing police work in my own Division, where I was known by the men, but I did not feel called upon to act as A.P.M. for the Corps, so I had to start another line of campaign. I marched on at the head of my congregation straight into the midst of the gamblers. The men on the outskirts saw me coming and I could see them warning the players. Those sitting on the ground stood up and wondered what was going to happen. Looking very serious, I went right through the crowd, without saying anything, to a distance on the other side, and then the curiosity of the men was aroused and they all followed. When I stood still I found myself surrounded by hundreds of men who were waiting to see what I was going to do. Without a smile, I pulled out the crown and anchor board from my pocket and, to the astonishment of all, laid it on the ground and called out, in the gamblers' language, "Who is for the old sergeant-major?" Never before have I seen such an expression of surprise on people's faces. Among the crowd were some Imperial soldiers and they could not make out what sort of padré I was. For a moment, in spite of the grinning countenances of the 1st Division men, there was a pause of silent horror. Then they all burst into a roar of laughter, and I told them I had come out there that evening, as it was Sunday, to hold a service and did not know what text to take for a sermon. Now they had given me one. I held up the crown and anchor board and said I was going to preach about that, and I delivered a discourse on honesty. When it was over, they asked me to give my lecture on our leave trip to Rome. I thought it might be a good diversion for the time. My side-car was brought up, and sitting on it, in the midst of the men, who crowded about me on the ground, I gave them a long talk which lasted until it was too dark for any more crown and anchor.

The next day brought us glorious weather, and from early in the morning battalions were pouring into Tincques. The grounds were splendidly laid out and bordered with many stands and marquees. There must have been nearly forty-thousand spectators present. The Duke of Connaught, Sir Robert Borden, and all sorts of great people attended, and the playing of "O Canada" by the massed bands was something which, as a British General told me, made a big lump come in one's throat. It was the last Dominion Day we were to spend in France. We were on the eve of tremendous events, and it was a splendid manifestation of Canada's glory at the front. There was such a gathering of old friends who had not met for years, that one really could not attend to the various events and sports that were taking place. We met for a moment, and the old days would be talked over, and then we parted, some, alas, never to meet again in this world. That vast crowd which fringed the huge expanse of ground was quite the most thrilling spectacle that Canadians had ever seen. Tincques must be a quiet place now, and perhaps only a few marks in the great field still remain to show where the sports were held. But there were gathered there that day the vast host of noble gentlemen who saved the honour and freedom of our young country.

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