I. THE SOMME
The Battalion came out of the line on the night of
2nd January, and after five or six miles’ march arrived at a railway
siding, -where the train was to appear to carry them to Corbie—a
distance of about eighteen kilometres. “The train appeared about
1.30 ... we did not arrive here till 11.45 this morning (the 3rd).
This just about breaks every limit for any train out here. However,
we were going the right way, so nothing mattered.” Some days were
spent in and about this town, and besides the enjoyment—as ever—of
the social amenities which the presence of many of his friends held
out to him, Henry found time for a course of re-reading Scott. “His
poems, which, despite obvious blemishes, never fail to
delight—especially ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel,’ with its Sunlaws
association, and ‘The Heart of Midlothian’ My heart leaps every time
I look at the title.”
“I wandered through the cemetery here to-day, where
very many have been buried in the last few months. Among others, Guy
Leach and Congreve. What a record! V.C., D.S.O., M.C., and Legion of
Honour, and within an ace of becoming a Brigadier at 25. Incredible
! But what really caught my interest most was a forgotten,
uncared-for patch beneath which were buried 5 or 6 Germans who had
died in hospital. Poor Fritz Kolner of the 2nd Grenadier Regiment: I
can pity him almost as much as John Macdonald of the Clyde R.G.A.,
who lies a few feet off. It is impossible to blame the individual
for the sins of the nation, even though the nation is merely a
collection of individuals. That is why all wars are so hateful.
Those at the top make them and profit by them, but the rank and
file, who bear the burden of it all, what do they get?
Nothing—‘Except perhaps the moral beauty Which comes to those who do
“B.E.F., 22nd January.
“A not unenergetic day to-day, constructing a
miniature Southfields with pit and everything complete, at which
some troops worked this afternoon, undaunted by a snowstorm.
Training is the great difficulty at the present moment, or rather
the lack of it. We are, at the moment, as much ‘untrained levies’ as
any mob that ever was pressed into the service from the slums of
Dusseldorf or Dresden. I was delighted to see in an article in the
‘Times’—date forgotten—that everybody will be starving very shortly,
“These Russians are pretty hopeless, or rather their
government. Have you read a book called ‘The Student in Arms’ by one
Hankey? Not uninteresting, with some very telling shots at the
Church. He maintains, and rightly, that the only chance the Church
has of asserting itself after the War is by allowing all clergymen
of military age to volunteer for active service. How entirely I
agree with this. Priests, as such, have lost credit, partly through
their own fault, partly through that of their professional leaders,
the Bishops. They argue that there wouldn’t be enough clergymen
after the War if they were allowed to run the dreadful risk of being
killed. If they only knew anything about men, they would realise
that the War has made hundreds of men anxious to look after the
spiritual welfare of others, and these men would willingly become
clergymen, but not in a ‘dud’ Church. After all, the English
Church—and most State Churches —is only a business concern—more or
less astutely conducted. Every other city business has had to suffer
owing to the War. Why should the Church be exempt ? But read the
book and see what he says.”
His twentieth birthday occurred on 5th February, and
writing just a week before he mentioned that “Ivan is twenty to-day,
so we are having a dinner-party. I dislike ‘leaving my teens’ quite
inordinately. The kudos out here of being ‘only 19’ is not
inconsiderable, and it is sad to think that I have only a week more
to bask in its genial rays. Poor Mum, buck up (a grisly
exhortation)—but honestly, so far as safety goes, this is merely
like being away for the Eton half.”
It was at this time that Henry first came closely in
contact with Sir John Dyer, of whom he afterwards wrote when his two
friends were killed in the third battle of Ypres, “John Dyer and
Eric Greer are the two worst blows I’ve had. The former, whom of all
the people I’ve met since leaving Eton I was fondest of.”
“Last night John Dyer came to dinner, and he and I
and Luss and Taylor had a tremendous discussion about religion,
priests, their share in the War, &c. The latter argued excellently,
and very broad-mindedly, I thought, and the hours slipped by apace.
John Dyer (Staff Captain, and late of this Battalion) is delightful,
and possesses a sense of humour of no mean order— and this in spite
of being a regular soldier : while my admiration of Luss’s mental
powers grows daily. He is an admirable companion, and of course an
“The Brigade have sent out to the four Battalions for
a name for Brigade Bombing Officer, so mine has gone in. I’m not
sure that I should like it, but of course one could make quite a big
thing of it, as Francis Greer was doing when he was killed. I should
dislike having to leave the Battalion intensely, but it would be
foolish to let an upward step go by—if it is an upward step—which I
doubt. However, all speculation is superfluous, as probably some one
else will get the job.”
“I went to tea with the Brigadier (Lord Henry
Seymour, D.S.O., Grenadier Guards, to give him his full title,
though he is generally known as ‘ Copper,’ from the colour of his
hair) yesterday— and the result of our interview was that I go to
the Brigade to-morrow as Brigade Bombing and Intelligence Officer.
It will be a wrench leaving the Battalion—but it’s obviously a
chance, and one of those jobs which one can make quite big. When the
Brigade is in the line, the Intelligence side predominates. Then you
have to send a daily intelligence report to the Division, culled
from the Battalion reports, and your own observations up in the line
which one visits periodically. Out of the line bombing comes into
the picture when a miniature Southfields has to be inaugurated. The
Brigade Staff consists of the Brigadier, Brigade Major, Staff
Captain, Signal Officer— also a Staff Captain under instruction.
Grigg, the Brigade Major, and editor of the 4 Round Table,’ has just
gone as G.S.O. to a Corps, and his successor doesn’t arrive
till the 25th, one H. C. Loyd, in the Coldstream, a strong silent
man. The Signal Officer is one Trench, an R.E. ; the Staff Captain
under instruction is Oliver Lyttelton, Alfred’s son, and hence The
Head’s nephew; and the Staff Captain is John Dyer of this Battalion,
who will be my chief ally. He is a perfectly defightful person,
artistic to a degree, and full of humour, with a heart of gold. The
change will be interesting—though, as I say, I dislike the departure
from the Battalion.
Last night we had an uproarious concert, at which we
performed variously. I sang the usual Lauders—a sort of
swan-song—and Irwin, one of the newly joined officers, preached an
extremely comic ‘sermon.’ Laughter, applause. The weather is foul
beyond words — rain, mud, filth. By the way, note change of
address—and telephone same to Rosalind—
H. L. D., Esq.,
2nd Guards Brigade, B.E.F.”
The following day he reported himself as ensconced at
the Brigade—“a member of that Staff which I shall none the less
continue to castigate. But a Brigade Staff are so little removed
from the Battalion, and goes so frequently into the line, that they
cannot be condemned to play the role of the pleasure-loving and
incompetent embusque so frequently to be met with in higher grades.
“I am glad you take my jeremiads in the right spirit.
There is nothing so relieving to the feelings as whole-hearted
cursing on paper. But remember, I do mean 50 per cent of what I say,
especially re Staff.”
He was not long in showing the authorities his
aptitude for work, and during the whole of his time at Brigade
Headquarters he managed to keep in close touch with his friends in
his own Battalion. “While the Brigade is in the line,” he wrote, “I
have to devote my attention to the Intelligence side—which, despite
its rather promising title, is curiously barren of opportunities for
achieving anything of merit or interest. The Brigadier, thank God,
has got the impression of my being tremendously keen and hearty (!)
Anyhow he said to some one yesterday, 'That lad’s a walking maniac.
He goes round the line all day, and would go round all night if I
From Billon Wood, where were the Brigade
Headquarters, he thought nothing of paying a visit to the Battalion,
six miles away.
“B.E.F., 26th March.
“In tents by the river. Spent a jocose afternoon with
Eric, Luss, and Ivan. The river is very wonderful, pursuing its
untroubled way through the scarred valley with the ruined villages
on its banks. Not even the Germans can turn it; but of all the works
of Nature and man, the sea and the river alone are exempt from their
outrages. Abominable creatures, and how damnably good they are. But
two years more ought to see their own country in ruins.
“General John is most entertaining with his
reminiscences of the early part of the War— compared to which the
past year has, with the exception of certain definite shows, been a
mild picnic. He, Budget Loyd, and Oliver Lyttelton have fairly
astounding records. The General twenty-eight months, Oliver
twenty-five months on end, and Budget—most wonderful of all— the
whole War, barring seven weeks, twenty months of which were spent as
an ordinary Company officer, which of course means infinitely the
hardest (because dreariest) work and greatest risk. My own ten
months look rather ridiculous beside it. Of course I have had the
most surprising gifts from Providence—as have had the whole
Battalion since the time I joined. Only one big day—15th
September—and even then our casualties were the least in the whole
Division. The Signal Officer—Turnbull—is superb; a Watsonian. He is
perfectly at his ease and proud of his country —a true brither
Scot—and extremely competent. General J. is delightful, and of
course Oliver Lyttelton is the prince of comedians. His imitations
are perfect. John Dyer is one of the most charmingly Christian
people I have ever met, 4 never-say-an-unkind-word of any one ’
school. Ralph Gamble and I went off in a lorry yesterday to the
local village—the same that I used to visit for baths in the old
days with the Entrenching Battalion—and feasted on omelettes and
coffee in the house of an Aunchient French Dame, who seems to be
reaping a rich harvest from the British occupation of North France.
I think Sunday wifi see me mounting a steed and paying a visit to
the newly occupied area, and look down from the Flers line on those
historic fields of September, and revisit some of those wonderful
places of which the British public have now forgotten the names.”
The Guards, of course, did not participate in the
battle of Arras and the attack upon the Vimy Ridge which began on
9th April. Just a week before Henry had been anathematising the
weather — “The atrocities of Auld Reekie fall into significance
beside the tempestuous excesses of the Somme ”—and their present
sector. “We’ve been in this filthy district since 9th November, and
it is about time we got out to grass and civilisation and things
like that again. No one can rest in this wilderness.”
In point of fact the Division remained in the
neighbourhood of the river for five or six weeks more, Henry
spending part of that time at the 1st Brigade Headquarters for the
convenience of bombing arrangements, and shortly after his return to
his own Brigade they moved away and fell back into undamaged country
preparatory to journeying north once more.
“21st April 1917.
“A blank day as regards writing yesterday owing to
the business of going over to the 1st Brigade, where I am now
installed pro tem.: in fact, so long as the Brigade are at their new
Headquarters. Young men arrive to-day for instruction, and
henceforward I shall be pretty busy.
“‘Ma’ Jeffreys — the Brigadier of the 1st Brigade—is
a magnificent man, Grenadier of the Grenadiers, and extraordinarily
good. He is also extraordinarily pleasant, and at the same time of a
“At the present time he, E. Seymour—G.S.O. II., and
General Ponsonby, who is commanding the Division pending the absence
of the Major-General on leave, are talking about Russia. From what
they say, the Russians are probably going to make peace in a few
weeks—and then of course ‘le deluge’—eighty German and Austrian
Divisions come posting across.
“One must give up the idea of the Deity having or
rather exercising any direct control on events—for reasons of course
which we can’t explain; otherwise, of course, it is patent that any
divine intervention which does occur is on the side of the Boches—i.e., the
weather. Every time we biff—rain, rain, rain. Of course, that we can
ascribe to the Artillery, I’m absolutely certain. It must have the
effect of bringing down the clouds—any shattering bombardment. After
two fine days it looks as if it was going to rain this evening—for I
am going to play fitba’ for the Battalion against some one.
“Life is made more amusing just now by the show now
being given by the 3/G.G. people. C Quite admirable. It is an
amazing tribute to the Brigade, that one can have an officer kissing
an officer’s servant (doing Cinderella), and the Sergeant-Major—the
greatest man in any Battalion probably—flirting with a junior
Corporal (an ugly sister), without the smallest diminution of
discipline. Magnificent, really. Lunch is on the tapis. Cessation.”
“7th May 1917.
“I didn’t write yesterday, as I was employed all day
in a visit to the Brigade—whom I rejoin in a day or two, I’m glad to
say, as they are coming back, down to the river again. The 1st
Brigade have been charming, but it is always pleasant getting back
to my own lot again. General John was in rampant form yesterday— and
has given us four poems to write for the ‘Daily Dump’—the 2nd
Brigade newspaper, which we produce daily—or try to. I’ll send you a
copy. In fact here is one—an account of the 3/G.G. show—by Oliver.
Not too bad. The weather is as before. We found masses of German
bombs in Le Mesnil, where the Brigade were, and now have got rather
a good collection of everything British, French, and
German—including a delightful little thing of the latter which
shoots rather small aerial torpedoes. We’ve also got about 200 of
them, so are going to have a show. My eighty young men are doing
rather well—the weather is very hopeful. Jeffreys, I have come to
the conclusion, rather likes me. Of course being an O.E. starts one
off 50 marks up—as he is delightfully rabid on the subject.
“A very good ride yesterday from Le Transloy home vid Lesbceufs.
It’s extraordinary to ride over all that ground again—and see what
the Boche saw on those September mornings. My hat! what a wilderness
it is—the railway running through it. Since Geddes took over, I
think things in that line have pulled up not a little.”
“8th Mar 1917.
“Rain to-day, which reduced work in the morning to
mere talking—and disposed of it altogether, thanks to the confusion
in the mind of one of my corporals—a charming Irishman with the
D.C.M., who misinterpreted an order—to my secret joy —as a
half-holiday is always pleasant. I am at the moment sitting in the
hovel which I visited with Ralph about three weeks ago in the town
not altogether unassociated, in name at least, with a certain famous
Vicar: the old metropolis of the Entrenching Battalion. Six Canadian
soldiers are just going out, so I shall go and sit at the small
table which they have vacated. The old hag makes admirable omelettes
and coffee. What more can one want? I am also—at the moment—engaged
in improving my French, jawing to an old man and his wife about the
War —rather giving the impression that the more ships the Germans
sink the stronger we become, because I think they are rather
impressed with the submarine show. I don’t know what to say about
it. If our Government really anticipate serious shortage, they
couldn’t permit the wholesale display of plenty and luxury in food
which still goes on. The casualties are fairly shattering —and
apparently those amazing Germans have once more got the situation in
hand. They are an amazing crew. How grim it is to think of all that
competence and steadfastness devoted to the most hideous ideals. I’m
sending you the Charles Lister book. To me it is extraordinarily
interesting, as I have always had an enormous admiration for those
people—Lister, Ronny Knox, &c. What appeals to me so strongly is the
spectacle of brilliant civilians like Shaw-Stewart and the like
loathing the whole thing—as who cannot who thinks ?—and yet carrying
it through, and Lister’s cheerfulness—and in that bloody Gallipoli,
which to my mind always sounded worse for concentrated discomfort
and horrors than France—except the France of 1914-1915 winter—which
nothing has ever surpassed.
“B.E.F., 13th May.
“A perfect day—beginning with an excellent bathe
before breakfast with Oliver, and ending with an uproarious dinner,
at which the Major-General attended as the chief guest of the
evening. A really good repast. The 2nd Battalion Sports were, as
usual, admirably run—as is everything connected with that really
great community. Norman O.E., and Jack in great form; and a fine
galaxy of Red Hats — Pulteney,
G.O.C. III. Corps, Copper Seymour, the Brigadier, the
Major-General, and dozens of Staff Officers. I lunched excellently
with their left-half mess. Frightfully hot, but one never ceased
“Albert (Beiges) appears on Tuesday. What a day that
ought to be. Quite a pleasant ride to-day over to the 1st
Battalion—from there we —Hugh Ross, Cecil Trafford, and I—were
fetched by the 2nd Battalion car.”
"B.E F., Vlth May 1917.
“We are back again in a proper unbroken village once
more, and after a certain amount of parleying with the Town Major,
who was fortunately an ensign, and so amenable to bullying, I
succeeded in getting quite a decent billet: small but clean. I am
amassing a most amazing amount of kit, which it would be impossible
to carry about, except on the transport, which is never far to seek
when a Headquarters call. Last night I had a delightful dinner at
XV. Corps Headquarters. Though about twelve miles away, Victor came
over in a car and drove me back. General J. du Cane has got a French
chef, civile who, being incapacitated by bad health from serving his
own country in the field, thought the best thing he could do would
be to serve in the kitchen of an Allies5 Corps Commander. The result
was marvellous. Quite a short dinner. There was quite a large party,
so Victor and I talked intimately and incessantly without
interruption. He has got another month or two there —and then will
return to the 1/G.G., I suppose.
“A delightful day to-day. Old ‘Damp’ (Turnbull)
marched the Headquarters over here. The Brigadier went in a car,
Oliver went on ahead, so Budget and I rode over together. Great fun,
as the country—being that winch lay just behind the 1st of July ‘ No
Man’s Land,’ and so quite unspoilt—admits of very considerable
“I enclose a grisly ‘snap’ (ugh!), eloquent of the
reigning depression. The 1st Battalion and the Grenadiers are in the
village with us, so we shall have quite a good time. Ralph went on
leave to-day—out since 23rd September 1916 without any leave at
all—so you see there are lots of people as badly off as me, or
“B.E.F., 9th June.
“I still do nothing, which is demoralising— but
pleasant. I tried to read ‘Waverley’ to-day, but it was too hot. I
think W. is rather moderate compared to some.
“We had a delightful Etonian dinner-party last night.
J. Holmesdale and Ralph came, and the Brigadier was superb. Never
have I met a better raconteur. His stories of Old Eton, 1880-1885,
are perfect. Yet the same period in the hands of another might be a
nightmare of tedium. It’s certainly the individual touch in these
“My tent—in which I reign alone—is extremely
comfortable. Ralph tells me that his people are sleeping two, three,
four officers in one tent. I feel guilty, but like the man in ‘
Arcadian Adventures ’ do not mind moral torment, and so remain in
solitary state. We have got some ice in the neighbouring burgh,
which will make life better. R. and T are going there to-morrow to
dine. We talk pure Eton the whole time. Most of the Etonians here,
John Dyer, Budget, &c., all left too young to know of its true
greatness— which was like nothing else on earth.
“Some one else seems to have taken the Messines
Ridge, thus relieving us of an unpleasant task.”
In the middle of June the Brigade (so we subsequently
learnt) arrived at Poperinghe, and Headquarters were established in
the Chateau of Elverdinglie, the ultimate fate of which Henry
subsequently described.1A great loss to the Brigade Staff at this
time was Sir John Dyer, who “ departed to the Division to take up
the top Q job there. Of course a good job for him, but it is a sad
blow.” News of Henry it was difficult to obtain, the most strenuous
orders having been just issued forbidding mention of anything
connected with the War, however remotely. This no doubt was all
quite right, but there were other ways of telling about the War than
through letters, and who shall say how much substance there was in
the following somewhat malicious suggestions? “X. got a letter from
his mother yesterday in which she said, ‘I hear,’ &c., and then
followed our prospective plans. Of course the people who really
talk are all these Generals—generally rather elderly, but
tremendously anxious to make a hit with ‘ the girls.’ Their one
chance of doing so is to gratify the curiosity of these sirens—as
they can’t appeal by reason of good looks or wit. Hence everything
Reading and writing continued to occupy his spare
time. He was always a facile rhymer.
“3rd February 1918.
“Dear old Elverdinghe Chateau has been burnt down,
owing to the carelessness of some servant with a primus stove. I
think it is one of the most heartrending things of the war! To have
withstood the shells of the Salient for three years, then, when the
Boche guns had at last been pushed back, to be burnt down as a
Divisional Headquarters.Eheu fugaces . . .” and as was seen in a
previous letter, he was constantly in request for contributions to
the 4 Daily Dump.’ About this time another copy of this periodical
reached us, consisting solely of a poem by him, which shows how the
mud of the previous winter and the futility of the halfpenny Press
have eaten into his soul. The paper is typewritten, and reads as
“The DAILY Dump.
12th June 1917. No. 97, Vol. 2.
Tommy loves the Trenches.—Any Newspaper.
“Before the war I used to be
A shop-assistant down in Streatham.
The life was good to such as me
Those days! How could I e’er forget ’em?
A bun and glass of lemonade,
Shared in an arbour in the Park
With some ecstatic nurs’rymaid
Was just about my mark.
But (judging from the Pressmen’s chat)
I’ve lost all taste for things like that.
For dirt and danger now I love
—The former wins the higher grade—
Patrolling ranks most things above,
Or better still, a cheery raid.
Fatigues are not without a thrill—
I’d go route-marching till I drop—
Or bayonet-fight till Doomsday—still
The best of all’s a ‘pop.’
My bosom swells with martial glee
When told that zero is at three.
I’m happy as the day is long—
My life is one huge holiday—
With joy and jollity and song
We ‘Tommies’ pass the time away.
Inured alike to cold and damp,
When rain pours down and tempests blow,
And devastate our humble camp,
Does that depress us? No!
We revel with the best ‘aplomb ’
In ‘merry mud-larks on the Somme ’ . . .
O Correspondent, in your car,
Try to refrain from cheap heroics.
Describe men as they really are,
And not as lunatics or Stoics.
The soldier—once, civilian,
Little he recked of change and chances—
Now finds himself a fighting man
By force of circumstances:
He does the job just as he strikes it—
But not because he really likes it.”
About this time, too, there were appearing in
consecutive numbers of ‘The Graphic’ (including the Summer Number of
16th June) the series of drawings with concomitant verse which
comprised the oeuvre with which Colonel Greer and he had beguiled
themselves during those tedious winter days. Colonel Greer must have
had great talent as a black-and-white draughtsman, and the wealth of
detail in his fantastic conceptions of “War as it Isn’t,” “The Light
Side of the War,” and “Staff Officers not attached to G.H.Q.” is
prodigious. But, truth to tell, the drawings are almost too
fantastic to be wholly effective, and at all events they must have
afforded little inspiration to the person told off to write topical
rhymes explanatory thereof. Such a trifle, however, was not likely
to disconcert Henry, and it may be said that he made a respectable
tale of bricks with a modicum of straw. One full-page drawing
depicts troops in the uniform of the age of Fontenoy, and
Highlanders in that of no age at all, with Cavalry on
Syro-Phcenician horses, and two venerable Generals accompanying
them, one in a pony-chair with an A.D.C. in attendance carrying a
bottle of liniment, while the other is propelled in a bath-chair
with a nurse behind him, and a servant in front carrying a tray
containing a decanter and a wine-glass. Henry with his letterpress
contrives to give a touch of greater reality to the whole, as
“ The War as it Isn’t.
“Some folk maintain, with strange insistence,
That warfare is a drab existence;
That all its panoply and show
Lie buried in the long ago;
In fact, that things like ‘dash’ and ‘flair’
‘Sont magnifiques, mais pas la guerre!’
That is the curious mistake
Which lots of people seem to make.
Now we have seen the war, and know
Precisely how things ought to go
(At Abbeville we are E.T.O.);
So on these pictures cast your eye,
Where we have done our best to try
And give the atmosphere of France
In tableaux from the Great Advance.
Observe our troops in echelon,
Debouching upon Guillemont,
In pipe-clayed uniforms arrayed :
To quote the Press—‘ as on parade.’
They face the Boche artillery,
Their hearts on fire with martial glee,
And never let the most depressing
Machine-gun fire derange their dressing.
Marching behind the vanguard, see
Our valiant heavy cavalry,
Who deign in battle, now and then,
To frolic with their fellow-men,
And even, if the weather’s fine,
Take over trenches in the line—
An act of kindly grace whose weight
One cannot over-estimate.
Two Generals are of the party,
Old warriors nowT, but hale and hearty :
Sir Phutyle Fake, the elder one,
Contemp’rary of Wellington,
Has never yet been known to fear a
Shell, and served at Albuera.
His friend, Sir Boanerges Blades,
A specialist in hand-grenades,
Picked up a lot of useful tips
Which fell from great St Arnaud’s lips,
The leader in the Crimean War,
Fought out in 1854.”
This may be taken as a fair sample of the series
which extended into August when the artist had already given up his
From his letters of this i)eriod we hear much of
Henry’s social life but little of his work, which he never cared to
speak about except in association with his men. One might have
supposed that his Intelligence job was as barren of opportunity as
he himself had foreseen it, but that this was not the case is plain
from Captain Lyttelton’s narrative of life at Brigade Headquarters,
which is contained in a later chapter.
“B.E.F., 21st July.
“Every one rather reeling over the blow that has
befallen the unfortunate 1st Battalion Coldstream—whose Commanding
Officer, Byng Hop-wood, and Second in Command were both killed
yesterday by a shell. That’s the fourth Colonel that Battalion have
had killed during the War. However, everything just goes on.
“I dined with the 1st Battalion of the Grenadiers two
nights ago, and afterwards went on to the Battalion, where I found
Ivan and the rest. As soon as things have settled down I shall try
to go back to the Battalion again—in what capacity I don’t care. I
have had five pleasant but idle months here, though doubtless
existence in the Battalion would be even more idle. None the less I
could laze with a clear conscience—which I can’t do here. One always
feels an embusque on any Headquarters unless you have enough work to
do—which I haven’t. Oliver and I share an elephant-hut (corrugated
iron semicircle) in a ‘ wee housie,’ heavily reinforced with
concrete bags and sandbags and every other sort of thing. Also every
nook and cranny covered with a gas-blanket to guard against an enemy
even more potent and far more insidious than mere shelling.
“We really have got a most excellent collection here
now. The Brigadier, Budget, Oliver, Damp,
Eric. Not a single person who isn’t magnificent.
Great fun, I must say. We are all in rasping cue, having just come
out of the line for a space.
‘Ma’ Jeffreys with his Brigade relieved us, and was
as great as ever. We did not escape without having to sing several
songs—Oliver and self. We are, of course, the H.Q. performers whom
the Brigadier always trots out. Rather good form to-night. Loads of
And remember the song, ‘There’s a piper playing in
the Mornin’’ (H. Lauder): the last two lines of the chorus sum up my
‘So don’t sigh, dear,
I’m a’ richt here,
It’s just like bein’ at hame.’
(Perhaps not quite as good.)”
No doubt, however, he had in his mind when writing
this the vision of the then impending attack on the Pilkem Ridge
north of Ypres, though the only indication of any movement was
contained in the following lines written to us two days before a
battle which was to affect him more-seriously than any experience he
had hitherto undergone :—
“We leave our pleasant little shack this afternoon
for a more arduous sphere, where the opportunities of writing may be
rather more restricted. However, I’ll see what can be done. I dined
last night with Eric Greer : John Dyer was there too —in very good
form. Eric, however, is too recently married to give the War many
marks. In which he is not alone.
“Two nights ago I dined with Ivan. We discussed
various items of Battalion shop—when —and if—I could return as a
Company Commander. Colonel Romilly has practically promised me the
next one going. We should have the most awful fun, and of course it
would be golden—to use the soul phrase—compared to my present
A.D.C.’s existence, which is now entirely past the palling stage. I
shall rush back as soon as opportunity and advancement offer.”
“1st August 1917.
“Well, well—our attack is over. 4 Z ’ day is an
unpleasant memory, and we have come out for a brief respite. A good
day, very—that is, the thing was very successful—and the Divisional
casualties, on the whole, light; but the 2nd Brigade got it much
worse than the 3rd Brigade, and the 1st Battalion suffered worst of
all. 320 casualties out of about 470 who went in. Lloyd and Mahomed
were killed—the latter a very heavy loss—and poor old Duddv Hope got
shot through the eyes, and it is doubtful if he’ll live. Ivan
hit—quite slightly, thank Heaven !— also Finnis (aged 44), Edwards,
Cooper, and Johns. Outside the Battalion two great tragedies obscure
everything else. Eric Greer was killed by a shell at the mouth of
his dug-out, and worst of all, John (Dyer) was killed by a chance
shell, and several miles behind the line. Perfectly awful. If ever a
person deserved all that life can give it was John—the sweetest
nature that any man ever had, he hadn’t a single enemy in the world.
He and Eric are irreplaceable. What a game : and then Fate allows
positively unpleasant people to survive, and takes two like that,
which of course all goes to confirm the idea that it is infinitely
better to be done in—which takes a certain amount of acceptance.
Romilly got a crump on the head—a dug-out fell on him—three days
before the biff, so old Hugh commanded and did excellently. He is
applying for me to go back, thank goodness!—probably to command Left
Elank. Never have I felt such a worm—there is no other word—as I sat
at the bottom of a dug-out at zero . . . and doing absolutely nil,
with the result that I only got round the line after great
stragglings and argument. A very poor game, really; and, thank
Heaven! I am going .back to keep Ivan’s Company warm for him, and
then to help him run it when he comes back— that is my ambition now.
He is all right, but his jaw was broken—some teeth knocked out.
Rather foul—poor Ivan.
“The weather, as usual, has entirely ruined any
chance we might have had of following the thing up. It poured all
the morning of the 29th, so everything started pretty wet, and then
to-day it has simply come down in buckets the whole day. Rather a
His wish was shortly to be gratified, and in a very
few days he was back with his Battalion and in command of the
Company (Left Flank), which was to be his, with short intervals,
till the end of his life.
The sequence of letters is here broken, and there
follows a chapter by Captain Oliver Lyttelton,