Those who have died in the fulness of their years,
who have written pages in the history of their countries, and whose
failures and successes have earned that publicity which we call
greatness, leave behind them material for the biographer by which he
may refashion their personalities and make them live again to his
readers. He may apply the touchstone of their actions to his
presentment of their character, and may check his own appreciation
of their defects and qualities by the actual stress to which his
records show that they have been subjected.
But when the task is to portray part of the life of
one whose flame has been suddenly and prematurely extinguished, and
whose personality found its expression, though in action, yet in
action common to that of many others whose part must be left
unrecorded, his historian is helped by little except his own memory,
and it is left to his own discernment to fix on those things that
were essential and those that were due, as in this case, to the
ephemeral reactions and exuberances of youth.
A bullet fired from a rifle at the beginning of its
course sways and rocks from its true line by the mere force of that
power which has sent it on its way. It does not “settle down” until
it has travelled some distance.
It was so with Henry Dundas: his character and
conduct, his thought and speech were all extravagantly expressed,
and though he was aligned on ideals and aims from which he never
really deviated, the very force of his progress towards them often
resulted in words and actions which, though not alien, were not yet
kindred to him, and which were occasional and transient rather than
customary or permanent.
So much by way of preface before I try to give some
slight impression of my friend as I knew him.
I first met Henry Dundas on the 27th of September
1916. The 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, of which I was Adjutant,
had to relieve the 1st Battalion Scots Guards on that night in a
position which had just been taken, round the farther edge of the
village of Lesbceufs. [Three miles S.W. of Bapaume]
The Headquarters of the Scots Guards were installed
800 yards behind the front line on the forward slope of the Flers
ridge, the dominating feature of the Somme battlefield.
As we moved down to relieve, behind us we could see
the rim of the ridge stretching out of our sight, sharply outlined
even in the darkness.
We reached the “dug-out” so called, and found it to
consist of a narrow trench roofed in by a sheet of corrugated iron
which, as the expression went, “would not have kept out a whisper.”
After we had exchanged the usual good evenings, the
Colonel of the Scots Guards introduced me to his acting-Adjutant.
“This is Henry Dundas,” he said. [He was aged nineteen.] I saw
before me a boy of medium height, with the square shoulders of the
Scotchman: a face of character with a slightly tilted nose, a face
which might be described as legal and like the prints of Scotch
jurists, but at the same time lit with an expression for which I can
think of no better word than “gamin.”
We proceeded to our business. I found out from him
the usual dreary details—position of Companies, of stores, of
grenades, S.A.A., asked about water and rations, how far mules could
be led, and what route ration-parties followed.
“What about movement in the day? What do they see?”
“Oh, all this is commanded by this ridge ”—pointing
it out on the map—“above Le Transloy; you saw that this morning.
They don’t seem to be moving about on it much, but you may bet your
shirt that their Artillery observers are there.”
“Good. Can one move down the slope oneself in
“Yes, oh yes. Of course you are seen, but they don’t
worry about one or two: I shouldn’t take up a party. I have been
twice to-day, once after 'stand-to-arms’ and once this afternoon. I
go over the top to here, then get into this old trench, about a
hundred yards from the support Companies.”
“What are the shelled areas? First of all, what do
they always shell?”
He smiled. “Lesboeufs is not a health resort. They
come down for a quarter of an hour round the church at least three
or four times a day— 5‘9’s chiefly: otherwise they shell the eastern
outskirts continuously, and occasionally 'shoot up’ various areas on
this ridge with £ whizz-bangs.’ They haven’t disliked this place
very much yet, although they put a stray one very near the
cook-house about 7.30 this morning, which put the wind up us a bit.”
All this time the two commanding officers, both
talking "shop” of this kind, and our two selves, had been sitting
knee to knee in the trench with the candle guttering in yesterday’s
port bottle, and with that peculiar smell of india-rubber which was
the principal property of the ground-sheet, pervading everything.
Our boots and our heads were smoking, for it had been a damp
evening, and so, to get some fresh air, we went outside, when we had
finished our work with the maps.
Henry immediately plunged into a discussion on the
greater game. The offensive of the Somme was a failure, he said; the
higher command was unimaginative, inelastic, inefficient; nothing
had been achieved—a few miles of wasted country in which we could
not live had been won. “That country!” he exclaimed expressively,
pointing backwards towards the Guinchy valley—“that abomination of
And it must be confessed that the valley churned into
a rough sea of shell-holes, scattered with graves and bodies, old
wire and rifles, and into which, and from which, the shells never
ceased to come and go, was more eloquent of human suffering than any
other place, except perhaps Ypres, that we ever saw. He looked
surprised when I mildly put the more orthodox view. “The object of
war is the defeat of the enemies’ forces—the old truism. The German
Army has been put through the mill, and the memory of this
battlefield will be in the mind of every German soldier when he
hears the roar of the opening barrage. Perhaps this isn’t a very
artistic offensive, because there is hardly any element of surprise.
But you want a higher state of training than most of the troops
possess to fight that sort of battle. The inelastic plan is the
child of inelastic troops. I agree, reserves are not thrown in quick
enough, but I believe the real answer is that there are none. Still,
the great thing is that our objective is Boches, not Bapaume.”
“Well, I don’t agree,” he said vehemently. “If the
troops are not trained enough, for God’s sake don’t allow these
shambles. We are exhausting the enemy—granted—but we are also
exhausting ourselves. War is a game of coups; it is not like
billiards, a game of long breaks. Our theory is bad, and I believe
far behind our practice. Never exploit failure, only exploit
success. We exploit either, generally the former.”
I give the substance of this conversation because a
bitter criticism of the higher command was one of his hobbies, and
although I have not set them down because they would not be
generally understood, he enriched this argument with many technical
illustrations: he showed, at any rate, that he had been very quick
in assimilating the salient factors of positional warfare. It is not
every subaltern who sees beyond the end of his platoon.
Never, too, was any one who expounded his arguments
with greater rapidity and force than Henry. You could not quite
believe in his counsels when they were counsels of prudence, because
that explanatory finger which wagged at you, all the metaphors which
came pouring out, the humour and laughter with which the most
pessimistic presages and disillusioned summaries were enounced,
showed the vigour of one who was enterprising first and reflective
only about the past.
We finished our conversation with the usual Etonian
gossip: soon afterwards the reports came down that the relief was
complete, and the Scots Guards marched away.
The winter following the battle of the Somme was wet;
the country in which we lived had been changed during the four
months of bombardment and counter-bombardment into a treeless,
houseless waste: if you stood on a hill and surveyed the scene of
the old battles you saw a rough sea of shell-holes with a few
tumble-down trenches wavering across it like breakwaters. The rain
swept over it continuously, undermined our parapets, penetrated our
shelters, and brought the corpses to the surface.
It was impossible to keep troops in the line for long
if they were not to suffer from “trench feet.” Further, in order
that they might get some rest and shelter, it was necessary to
withdraw them a long way back from the front areas, because fighting
had continued far into the winter, so that no hutted camps had been
built near the front line.
Thus the fatigue and discomfort of routine trench
life—peace soldiering, as it was called— were enormously increased.
The march from the front trenches to the so-called rest billets was
often ten to twelve miles, and it imposed a great strain on men who
had been subjected to sleepless exposure in the rain and bad
In our case, the rest billets were big French huts
built by the side of the Mericourt road, and not very far from the
ruins of that village.
It was, of course, impossible to move from one hut to
another except on duck-board walks owing to the mud; it was
difficult to keep warm owing to shortage of fuel; and the wind blew
through the camps all the winter with a penetrating persistence
which found all the cracks in the walls of the huts, and sent gusts
of smoke from the field-kitchens swirling and eddying among the
In this paradise we remained thirty-six to forty
hours out of every six days, spending the time in drying our
clothing and scraping off the mud. Then we boarded some railway
trucks, detrained at Trenes Wood, and marched into our “support
billets,” north of Combies, in a sylvan resort known as Lousy
Wood. Here our quarters were elephant-shelters and one or two
dug-outs in the side of the Combles road.
As a rest cure they could not be entirely
recommended, as they were almost as little shelter against the
elements as they were against the frequent bombardments to which the
area was treated.
This was the life of the Guards Division during
November and December, and all other Divisions in the Somme Sector
were undergoing the same hardships. Perhaps from this slight sketch
some new significance may attach to those words which form part of
so many obituary notices. “He was always cheerful.” High spirits,
such as Henry Dundas exhibited, not only gave evidence of a
temperament which could not be depressed even when highly tried by
discomfort, but also were of the greatest value to his friends and
to his Battalion.
It is, of course, during a time of monotony that
versatility is most prized, and when existence is dragged out in a
country of the dead that vitality is most to be commended. These
qualities were his signal endowment, and it is not surprising that
during this winter he gained the affection of every one—an affection
which admitted him into the confidences of his contemporaries,
whilst it gave him a licence to criticise and even to ridicule his
At the beginning of January we had five days’ rest at
Corbie, after which we went once more into the line just west of St
Pierre Vaast Wood; and though I had seen little of Henry Dundas
during the first part of the period described above, in the new
sector I left my Battalion to become Staff Captain under
instruction, and consequently began to see and hear more of other
battalions and their officers.
There is one typical incident connected with Henry
Dundas which, though he describes it in his letters, ought to be
more fully recorded.
There had been a sharp frost, and the thaw which
followed made all the trenches fall in, blocked any communication
trenches which may have existed, and made it only possible to move
into the front fine or from one post to another “over the top.”
The motto of our predecessors in the sector had been
“Nous ne faisons pas la petite guerre,” and the result was that
neither side fired at one another during reliefs or at night. Water
parties, ration parties, and relieving troops had all to move about
above ground, and they did so unmolested. We allowed this state of
affairs to go on as long as it was convenient to us, or, in fact,
until we had completed all the essential work on our trenches, and
it was then very properly decreed that it must stop. At the same
time we did not relish the idea of shooting down the unsuspecting
Germans during this implied truce.
Accordingly, two officers volunteered to break the
sad news to the enemy that he would get no more sympathy. These two
were “Deacon” Brodie (Henry’s nickname), chosen by the Brigadier
because he knew German, and Henry Dundas, chosen by himself because
he knew “Deacon” Brodie and would not miss a chance of an adventure
in his company.
This is how he himself describes it in a letter :—
“21st January 1917.
“Out of the line once more after an amusing sojourn,
which included a visit to the Germans. On the Brigade frontage the
line was very close on the right. Up till two days ago a reign of
absolute quiet had prevailed. Perfect peace. Every one walked about
on both sides. There are no trenches: merely a series of 'islands,’
and no communication trenches. The other side are in a similar
position, except that their islands are on the top of a ridge and we
can’t see anything behind. They, of course, can sweep all our
islands and the approaches to them, so quiet was essential if any
work was to be done, or indeed if any existence was to be continued.
So peace reigned. People waved bottles at each other across No Man’s
Land—wha’ a bond is Johnny Dewar even between enemies—and life was
very pleasant. We used to walk round inspecting the islands on the
top all the time with the German thirty yards away.
"But gradually the Divisional Staff decided that this
state of affairs must cease. This being so, the Brigadier decided
that the Germans must be warned. Accordingly Brodie and I, about
seven in the morning, sallied out of our posts across the Boches’
lines. Brodie is an excellent German scholar, so we were well
equipped—he with speech and I with papers inscribed with a message
to the effect that 'after dawn on the 19th all Germans exposing
themselves would be shot ’ (printed in English usefully enough). We
stayed on their wire shouting for an 'Offizier.’ At last, after much
excitement, a small man looking like Charlie Chaplin appeared, with
whom Brodie chatted for about twenty minutes, saying how sorry we
were that this state of affairs must cease —telling them that all
would be well if there were only head-keeping-down by both sides.
And so away—not unamusing.”
Perhaps it might be remarked that walking into No
Man’s Land and parleying with the Boches is not without risk, and
that the best intentions are sometimes misunderstood.
In February 1917 Henry Dundas joined the 2nd Guards
Brigade Headquarters as Bombing and Intelligence Officer. The Staff
at that time was composed as follows :—
Commander—Brig.-General Lord Henry Seymour, D.S.O.
Brigade Major—Capt. E. W. M. Grigg, M.C.
Staff Captain—Capt. Sir John Dyer, Bart., M.C.
Staff Captain under instruction—the writer.
The duties of Bombing and Intelligence Officer, as
the name of the appointment implies, consisted in instructing a
series of classes in bombing and in the tactics of grenade warfare
when the Brigade was out of the line, and when it was in the line,
in supervising the stores of bombs of all kinds and in co-ordinating
the Intelligence reports of Battalions and of the Brigade observers.
It was not in itself a particularly arduous or difficult position,
but the officer chosen to fill it was carefully selected, and it was
thought to be the first step to Staff employment in the future.
Of course, almost any audacious enterprise can be
excused on the plea of “reconnaissance or intelligence,” and we were
always obliged to keep an eye on Henry to prevent him from walking
down the enemies’ wire at night, looking nominally for information
but in reality for adventure—and trouble, as the phrase goes.
I can think of two instances in particular when we
were not successful in restraining him, and perhaps they may be
written down here out of their chronological order.
The first took place in the Ypres salient, when Henry
was detailed to prepare a daily report on the enemies’ wire and on
the progress which had been made by the Artillery in cutting it.
At the time, we were preparing for an attack: the
enemy was fully alive to our intentions, and was very sensitive when
he noticed that our Artillery was beginning to cut his wire. Both
sides had concentrated a large force of Artillery, and the sector
had, as we used to say, thoroughly woken up. Every one had his ears
pricked for shells, and not often in vain: Boesinghe village was
perhaps the most unhealthy part of our small piece of the line, as
it was shelled steadily all day and night, and violently for half an
hour or so from time to time. Further, every yard of country was
overlooked, and the slightest movement across the top of the ground
was seen, and generally provoked coveys of “whizz-bangs.” Now just
south of Boesinghe ran a railway embankment, twenty to thirty feet
high, which in that flat country was a conspicuous “feature.” On the
line two or three derelict trucks had survived all bombardments.
They must needs seem to Henry ideally suited as an observation-post
from which to get a look at the wire.
It was perhaps unfortunate that to reach them
involved leaving our trenches at a point within rifle-fire of the
enemy, and that clambering up the embankment in full view might
attract attention. However, the first time that he thought of them
as useful, he walked out of the trench with a map and a pair of
glasses, climbed into the second or third truck, and proceeded to
have a good look. He remained there all one hot afternoon, and by
some fortune, although there was a great deal of shelling, he had a
“very quiet time.”
On this occasion at any rate he could plead that the
risks he took were in a good cause. The other incident could not be
so easily justified.
A canal separated the two lines, and in order to test
the practicability of the mats by which the assaulting troops were
to cross it on the day of the attack, and to secure an
identification of the German units opposed to us, the 1st Battalion
Scots Guards was ordered to make a night raid.
Henry was sent up to Battalion Headquarters in
Boesinghe to await the arrival of prisoners, and to keep Brigade
Headquarters posted as to any unexpected developments.
The raid successfully crossed the canal, but no
prisoners were captured, as the enemy, suspecting our intentions,
had evacuated that piece of trench. We heard nothing from the
Intelligence Officer while the preliminary bombardment was in
progress, although the telephone line remained intact. This was not
entirely unexpected, but when we knew that the raid had started and
indeed could see the enemy Very lights going up, and hear one or two
machine-guns in action, we hoped for some word. However, by this
time all the lines had been cut, and so we had to be patient until
they were repaired. The signallers soon reported that communication
was again established, but no word came from Henry. Battalion
Headquarters could only say that he had gone out to watch the raid.
Four hours after zero, when we had received full accounts from the
Battalion, there was still no news from Henry. We were anxious. At
3.30 a.m. he arrived at Brigade Headquarters covered with mud.
“He had thought it advisable to get up close to the
raiding party in order to see what was going on. He had really quite
intended to do what he was told, but to cut a long story short he
had crossed the canal with the party, and had spent half the evening
in the German lines. After it was over Ivan Cobbold had offered him
food; he never suspected that we would miss him; he was very sorry,”
but—at this point he was told to stop—received or severe damning,
and was sent to bed in disgrace.
When he had left, the Brigade Major looked at me,
shrugged his shoulders, and sadly smiled.
During the early part of March 1917 the Germans began
their retreat towards the famous Hindenburg Line. We had known
almost to a day when the movement was likely to begin, and the
Higher Command had declared that our policy was to press closely
upon the heels of the enemy and harass him as much as possible
without becoming committed to a serious battle.
The troops of the Guards Division were the first to
enter the enemies’ trenches on the St Pierre Vaast front, and for
two days quite severe fighting ensued, as the Germans heavily
shelled our front from long ranges, and frequently would not
evacuate positions until they were outflanked or actually attacked.
After these two days, however, the enemy resistance began to
slacken, and we started to advance rapidly.
The change from the old trench life was most
exhilarating. The winter had been severe; the monotony of our life
had only been equalled by its discomfort; for four and a half months
without relief we had gone backwards and forwards into the same or
nearly the same sector; we knew every inch of mud in the place, and
we had unpleasant reminiscences of every crossroad. Suddenly all was
changed. The first signs of spring began to show; monotony was
succeeded by movement; we advanced, new pieces of country came into
view, new interests began to be aroused.
Woods with real trees—whole fields without a
shell-hole—old German battery positions—German cemeteries: the
sight of our line from their point of view—riding a horse up to the
support line—villages being captured—bridges being made where the
enemy had blown them up—cavalry patrols moving forward,—all this was
glorious adventure, and a new life for the web-footed
trench-dwellers of the winter.
After a few days of the pursuit we were relieved by
another Division; and though we had undoubtedly earned our rest, at
the time we were almost disappointed.
Our first rest billets were huts in Billon Wood, and
our arrival there proved to be the beginning of the most enjoyable
month that we ever spent in France.
At this time General John Ponsonby returned to his
old Brigade after sick-leave in England, and our previous Commander,
Lord Henry Seymour, was transferred to the 3rd Guards Brigade as
The camp which we inhabited was built in the side of
a little valley, and Brigade Headquarters consisted of a small group
of huts in a quarry. The mess itself was in a shanty covered with
tarred felt; the mess furniture was an ordinary kitchen-table and
chairs, and a quite extraordinary stove which gave out dense clouds
of smoke and no heat. Our sleeping quarters were in the old dug-outs
which were cut in the chalky sides of the hill, and which were warm
but infested with rats.
It is midnight; we have been in our new quarters two
days; from where I am lying in my “flea-bag” I can see three other
bunks each with a candle in a bottle beside it: three heads— those
of Jack, Henry, and Damp Turnbull. A few unusually daring rats are
being bombarded with boots. Somebody is saying that he thinks a
little Paris leave when the chestnuts are coming out in the Bois is
the thing for him. There is a gradually diminishing flow of
The next morning every one is splashing about in
canvas baths about eight o’clock. We breakfast, and then spend a
morning in toil.
Social life begins at luncheon. We have all started
to smoke: in the corner near the famous stove, standing on a chair,
is Mike Mitchell, the Veterinary Officer, who has been ordered there
by the Brigadier for making disparaging remarks about one of his
horses. It might be mentioned that the Brigadier made a habit of
inflicting this and similar punishments on any one, whether officer
or chaplain, who transgressed against rules which many governesses
would have allowed to pass in the breach, and the writer has often
held out his hand to be rapped when pointing out that the Brigadier
had not signed his name in the right place on some printed form.
The General would outline the rest of the day’s work
for his staff.
“Budget Loyd and I,” he might say, “are going to the
football match; Jack Dyer is confined to barracks to write a sonnet
about the cat for the ‘Daily Dump’”—our newspaper; “Henry will write
a leading article on the Signal Company’s sports, in which he will
be assisted by Damp Turnbull; and the rest of the Staff will order
dinner for twelve. Any papers which want signing must be brought to
me by 2.30; any one bringing any after 2.30 will ‘stand on the
chair’ for ten minutes after tea.”
Perhaps it would be as well to explain who Henry’s
principal companions and brother officers were at this time. First,
the Brigadier who knew every one in the Brigade by his Christian
name, and who was always referred to in conversation when he was not
there as “General John.” It would have been impossible to find an
officer more universally and more justly loved by his subordinates.
He gained obedience not by authority but by affection; his helmet,
his horses, and his pipe were as well know to the last-joined
private soldier as to his oldest friends. The steel helmet was
believed to be made of pith, his horses never stood still even on
the most important occasion, and his pipe was never alight.
He it was that initiated and kept alive the ‘Daily
Dump,’ which was the newspaper, gazette, and ‘Punch’ of the Brigade.
This journal went out with the orders every evening, and perhaps a
number of this date would show its humble scope better than a
“No. 52. Vol. 2.
“The Daily Dump.
“Army Commanders, Corps Commanders, Divisional
Commanders, and Brigade Commanders are to be seen daily inspecting
sites for summer residences. The days of chateaux appear to be no
more, and we should not be surprised shortly to hear that some
junior officers have called at a wayside Armstrong hut and found the
door opened by a Corps Commander.
“Captain Eric Mackenzie, Scots Guards, relates that
on arrival in Paris the wife of a well-known Staff Officer requested
him with tears in her eyes to return to the Division as quickly as
he could in order that he might take a letter from her to her
husband, and that he actually refused to help the lady in distress.
We regret to see the decay of the old chivalry.
“Lieut. H. L. N. Dundas, Scots Guards, Brigade
Bombing Officer, carried out some trials to-day with the new bomb.
Every bomb turned out to be a ‘dud,' which inspired the onlookers
with much confidence.
“The following is a copy of a letter received from
Prince Alexander of Teck by the Army Commander (after an inspection
of the 2nd Guards Brigade): . . . ‘ The King of the Belgians hopes
that you will convey his thanks to the G.O.C. XlVth Corps, and his
admiration to the Guards’ Brigade, the finest troops in any of the
theatres of war."
“French Proverb: Many a muddle means a medal.”
The principal Staff Officer—the Brigade Major —was
Budget Loyd, and the Staff Captain, Jack Dyer. They were both men of
humour, efficiency, and popularity. Loyd was quite imperturbable
under all circumstances. Dyer, on the other hand, was sometimes
hilarious when the outlook was unpromising. Loyd spoke with a
humorous paucity of words, Dyer supplied the ornamentation.
The Signal Officer, Turnbull, christened Damp by the
Brigadier, as he was the Deputy Assistant Mess President, was a
Watsonian with a strong vein of Scottish humour, to which, after the
manner of his countrymen, he added great seriousness on all the
technical details of his work.
The most usual guests at luncheon and dinner parties
were Colonel Greer, a brilliant and amusing talker, and a great
theorist on war, who at the age of twenty-seven was commanding the
2nd Battalion Irish Guards; Alex. Alexander, his second in command,
also twenty-seven, the modern d’Artagnan, with twirled moustaches,
Russian-like forage-cap, endowed with the perpetual gaiety, bravado,
and bravery of the soldier of fortune; the suave and punctilious
Eric Mackenzie, friend of every one; “Freddy” Gamble, the bosom
companion of Henry Dundas, one of the most charming and certainly
the best-looking man that I have ever seen.
Of course there were many others, but these you might
have nearly always found at the Brigadier’s table.
The conversation and controversy which this company
set going often lasted far into the night; perhaps it would begin on
some poem by Jack Dyer, which would be torn to pieces by the critics
and mended again by its supporters, would range over the whole field
of poetry with a crackle of quotations from Jack and Henry and Eric,
subside into calm, be set off again by the Brigadier and the port,
change to the War, and end in imitations, anecdotes by the General,
and the great hilarity of every one.
Nobody enjoyed these times more than Henry. His
spirits were amazing, his love of society, argument, and good
fellowship were such that I have often known him ride ten miles out
and ten miles back to a dinner-party with his friends. He himself
contributed to conversation in meteoric extravagances; and though he
criticised without reserve and sometimes without expediency, he
excelled in stimulating every one to be amusing.
He knew every song of Harry Lauder, the whole of
Gilbert and Sullivan, and frequently preached sermons in Scotch,
which were masterpieces both in accent and language. The most
elaborate and ridiculous perorations came rolling off his tongue
enriched by absurd parables, pointed by the most characteristic
quotations, and driven home with the unctuous insistence and bucolic
pedantries of the original.
No one could have talked for long to Henry Dundas
without hearing of three things—Scotland, Eton, and his great friend
Scotland to him was an enthusiasm — any patriotism he
felt was for that country. He was roused to the wildest excitement
by the mere sight of a kilt or a piper, and when the kilts marched
and the pipes played he became nothing short of a fanatic.
As for Eton, no rival to it ever entered into his
ken: he regarded it with a natural unstudied love; his affection for
it was filial. “About Scotland and Eton,” he once said, “I have no
sense of humour.”
To his love for his country and for his school was
added that for his friend. Their intimacy was so close that it
barely escaped sentimentality. He had more friends than most men,
and yet beside this one friend all others were as nothing: he would
have given anything that he possessed to him; he would have followed
him anywhere. To see them together was to see youth at its best; and
the charm of their presence, the freshness and gaiety of their
companionship are beyond my powers of description.
Gamble was killed just before Henry Dundas. The
memory of them is the most poignant left to me of all the tragedies
of the War.
At the beginning of April the Division was set to
work clearing a way for the new railways which had to be built
across the evacuated areas. The 2nd Guards Brigade were billeted for
this work round the ruined village of C16ry, on the banks of the
Somme. Jack Dyer was sent on by the Brigadier to select a site for
our Headquarters. He performed his task with the greatest skill, and
chose a little island in the middle of the river opposite the
village of Ommiecourt-lez-Clery. At this point the Somme spreads
itself out into shallow lagoons: our Headquarters were approached by
a damaged causeway, and as you stood looking eastwards you saw the
solemn procession of the river on your right swirling past the
island, whilst in front of you lay broad stretches of still water
conquered here and there by patches of sedge and rushes. On this
romantic site we built ourselves a comfortable hut with a real brick
fireplace, and lined it all with green canvas. The weather had
turned: the sun came out before his time, warmed our little island,
and brought out patches of colour even in the desolation of the
Having very little work in the afternoon, Henry,
Jack, and I used to walk our estate and talk about anything but the
We would wax very philosophical in the evening, and
having fit some excellent cigars, would sit in canvas chairs and
discourse on life and death, argue perpetually about to ov and tofirj
ov, think ourselves very clever, and go to bed to dream of some
argument to defeat the other fellow.
One of the most frequent and, of course, least
conclusive subjects of discussion was the best line or two fines in
English poetry. Jack Dyer, I remember, advanced—
“Moves all the labouring surges of the world,”—
and was heavily attacked by Henry and me.
I believe our last naif conclusion was—
“Nights’ candles are burnt out, and jocund day Stands
tiptoe on the misty mountain-tops,”—but the subject was dropped
because the Brjgadier organised his authors’ handicap, in which a
representative selection of English authors were handicapped as in a
horse-race thus :—
Mr Shakespeare’s ‘ Hamlet ’ . . . 9
st. 7 lbs.
Mr Webster’s ‘ Duchess of Malfi ’ . . 9 st.
Mr Milton’s ‘ Paradise Lost ’ . . . 9 st.
And so on.
These handicaps appeared as literary supplements to
the ‘Daily Dump,’ and provoked more controversy than gambling.
We had expected to remain on our island for a month,
but after ten days we received an order to move. These orders are
always unpopular, but on this occasion they were tragic. We had had
a real holiday under delightful conditions: the future was
Thus Henry in the current number of the "Daily Dump*
“Lines in Acknowledgment of G. 867. April 1917.
“Dear Somme, although I must confess that your
No critic could, however harsh, deny your charm at C14ry.
Here by the margin of your stream we built our little camp,
And came one day—the Brigadier, Jack, Oliver, and Damp—
To find a river site as fair as e’er was that of Chillon,
Where we might rest, our nerves depressed by sylvan gloom at Billon;
Where we might wander on your banks on sunny afternoons,
Discoursing vaguely on romance and ‘Training of Platoons’;
Where as the days grew really hot, we’d emulate Leander,
Vying in many an early-morn natatory meander.
But ah ! Divisions’ stern decrees Have shattered all our fantasies,
For we must leave thy banks, O Somme, and take the road once more
To all those half-forgotten spots we knew and loathed of yore—
Morval, Lesbceufs and Maurepas, Combles and Saillisel,
Leaving thy joys, my Ommi^court—from heaven into hell.
Fill high the carts with Armstrong huts, with canvas, felt, and
Where we were wont of nights to rest our fancy-weaving heads.
Our early English mess-room lies dismantled on a lorry,
Latrines laid low, and cook-house too—sad is our lot and sorry.
For us uncouth Le Mesnil waits. Dear Eiver, fare thee well,
For years—or can it be for ever
Not even I can tell (Unless, as certain pundits say,
Your 'Second Battle’ starts in May).”
After moving from Ommiecourt, the Division, contrary
to our expectations, still remained working on the railways, and we
established our Headquarters successively at Le Mesnil and Curlu.
The last named was almost, as charming a spot as our
island, and the weather being hot, Henry and I often swam in the
Somme before breakfast, told ourselves that it was Boveney Weir, and
to enhance the illusion talked Eton shop,—“You will be second choice
for your sixpenny”—“I hope to be up to Broader next half”—and so on,
—on our way back to our Headquarters.
In May 1917 the Division formed part of the General
Reserve at the battle of the Messines Ridge, but owing to the
immediate success of these operations was not engaged in the
In June we were once more moved into the Ypres
salient, and took up a line along the Boesinghe-Ypres Canal. At the
same time we were given orders to prepare to attack the Pilkem Ridge
as a first objective, with final objectives Houthoulst Forest and
the high ground running north from Passchendael.
It would not perhaps be out of place to enumerate
shortly the difficulties which these orders involved.
All lines of approach, whether roads or tracks to the
front areas of the Salient, were under direct observation by day:
the forward trench system, as well as the ground west of them, was
enfiladed. Into a narrow sector it was necessary to concentrate all
the vast organisation which is needed for^the first blow at an enemy
heavily entrenched and protected by a large force of well-placed
guns. The concentration of batteries to bombard the hostile lines
and to smother his artillery was alone a task of the greatest
On our particular sector the front lines were
separated only by an unfordable canal some twenty to thirty yards
wide; on one bank ran the British, on the other the German,
This single factor involved two difficulties of great
importance: first, it was impossible to bombard the enemy front line
whilst we were holding ours; and second, some means of getting the
assaulting Infantry over the canal at zero had to be organised. The
minor difficulties were that after zero it would become necessary to
move guns across the canal to support our farther advance, and for
this purpose, as well as for the supply of troops, bridges would
have to be constructed immediately after the front lines had been
During our first “tour” of twenty-four days, Brigade
Headquarters were established in Elverdinghe Chateau, just a mile
west of the front line. We arrived one hot afternoon when everything
was peaceful, and although we were sorry to notice two 9 and one
60-pounder battery in our garden, were nevertheless well enough
pleased with our quarters. The chateau was a strong stone building
surrounded by a lake and a small wooded park. From the east windows
of our bedrooms we looked straight across some lush fields in which
a great profusion of weeds and poppies had sprung up, over to the
Pilkem Ridge, which dominated the whole of our positions. Just north
of the chateau the Elverdinghe-Boesinghe road ran straight as a die
through the lines.
On the evening we arrived we strolled out into the
grounds, and Henry Dundas and I played an imaginary game of golf
with the utmost solemnity, while Jack Dyer and the Brigadier carried
imaginary clubs. One or two shells, however, began to arrive as it
was getting dark and drove us indoors. They were the first heralds
of the almost continuous shelling which we suffered for two months.
Jack Dyer, Henry Dundas, and I shared a large bedroom
on the first floor, and made ourselves reasonably comfortable with
the aid of wire bedsteads.
On the other hand, the first floor of the only large
building in the neighbourhood, with several batteries in the garden
and within a mile of the front line, is not an ideal place in which
Night after night we were shelled: on one particular
evening the enemy fired 5000 shells into the garden; besides high
explosive they also employed a high-velocity naval gun which shot
straight over the chateau, and its shells made a noise like an
express train passing overhead.
The only one of the party who did not care two straws
for the daily and nightly dose was Henry, and this is not said
lightly, but most seriously and truthfully.
It is true that he had not had quite so long an
experience as some others, but his nonchalance was remarkable, and
he was one of the few whom I saw who did not mind being shot at by
anything. I do not mention it as being particularly to his credit,
but merely as a fact and a characteristic.
There is one evening about this period which I recall
very vividly. Hugh Ross (Scots Guards) was in command of a Company
which was quartered in some dug-outs along the garden wall of the
chateau. During the whole of one afternoon and early evening this
part of the grounds was shelled with great intensity, and several
men were buried and had to be dug out, whilst all had narrow
escapes. Hugh, at this time, was suffering from fever and strain,
and few in his condition would have been still at duty. When the
shelling was over he came into Brigade Headquarters covered with
brick-dust, exhausted, and nearly “through.”
He was asked to dinner. Henry was in particularly
good form, and his high spirits were so infectious that by the end
of dinner Hugh had recovered. The irrepressible Henry must of course
begin Scotch songs, which so inflamed the Caledonian ardour of his
brother Scot that they started to dance a reel and give out the
chorus with the utmost vigour. Outside the evening shells were
homing like wild duck into the ponds and garden of the house, whilst
inside Hugh and Henry beat up the singing to a frenzy, and
eventually collapsed perspiring and laughing on the floor. Soon
after, Hugh took his leave, and swore it was one of the best
evenings he had ever spent.
The Signal Officer, Turnbull, already referred to as
Damp, writes: “I could multiply such episodes an hundredfold. Now it
is Henry at Zommerbloom Cabaret, striding away up the *jolly old
line" (a phrase quoted from some chaplain), or lying unmoved in his
billet whilst the rest of us were seeking shelter from the accursed
shells, as on the night when Oliver Lyttelton and Eric Mackenzie
performed prodigies of wound-bandaging (fourteen wounded men in the
smallest dug-out), or singing with Oliver the famous chant, ‘We
fought at Mons and at Landrecies’ (pronounced Landreeces), or at the
instigation of General John, ringing up some Battalion in the guise
of a very broad-vowelled Presbyterian chaplain, and arranging
special church-parades for the men, or else, again with Oliver as
co-partner in wet weather, chanting in ritualistic strains a
horrible sentence from a ‘ Times ’ leader, which went thus :—
Never we believe
Within the memory of man
Has—the vern-al change
Been so long
Or—so persistently withheld.’”
The attack for which we had been preparing took place
on 31st July, and was a complete success. We were, however, unable
to exploit it, as it began to rain on the first afternoon, and did
not cease for a fortnight. It is probable that the rain was brought
down by the bombardment, the heaviest that was ever fired during the
whole War. On 31st July the 18-pounders alone fired £18,000,000
worth of ammunition, and more than 80,000 tons of shells were
discharged at the enemy.
Henry’s impetuous and daring nature was chafed by the
restrictions which were imposed on him at Brigade Headquarters. He
was not allowed to attack with the front-wave; he was not given as
much work as he wanted, and he grew more and more impatient with his
lot as Intelligence Officer. He longed for men to command, and after
three weeks’ importunity succeeded in getting back to his
Battalion—the 1st Battalion Scots Guards— and was given command of a
After this I saw him of course far less often, but
enough to know that he had not altered. He was highly successful as
a Captain of a Company, and the men who served under him were
devoted to him. This is a phrase which has been much used and
abused, but it is true in his case. How could it be otherwise? To
the enthusiasm and enterprise of youth were added fearless and even
reckless courage, and a very real knowledge of and devotion to his
The way in which he led his Company during the
offensive of October 1917, his excellent work during the defensive
actions of March and April 1918, proved him to be a regimental
officer great in practice and in promise.
I cannot write more of him as a soldier from my
personal experience. What followed is described in his letters.
Henry Dundas was killed in September 1918— two years
to a day after I first met him.
Into a few short years he had crowded many of the
incidents and emotions of a lifetime: he had shown that his spirits
and his character were proof against the severest strain to which
human beings are subjected; he had excited the admiration and earned
the regard of all who knew him. His faults, such as they were, arose
from the impetuosity of his temperament and from the audacity of an
original and adaptable intellect, but he atoned for them by an
innocence and simplicity of character and a steadfastness in
practice which were not outshone even by the brilliance of his
If he had lived he would have gone far towards
earning the highest honours which a public career can give; that he
did not do so is due to the fact that he spent his inheritance of
brain and energy in one burst, and gave his life for those ideals
which he acknowledged in everything except in words.
Let us proudly keep for him in our remembrance some
of that fame which he would have won: for if his short life has not
earned greatness and the distinctions of publicity, it is not for
that reason the less worthy of our approbation and emulation.