“1st Bn. Scots Guards,
“Address changed once more, as you will see. I am
going back to-morrow to command a Company — Left Flank to wit, — so
unless I am degommed in the interim I shall be a Captain in a
fortnight. I am more pleased than I can say. I have just returned
from a pleasant holiday of twenty-four hours in Boulogne. I went
with a fellow who is A.D.C. to the G.O.C. of the ‘glorious Welsh
Division’ (c/. the Press), and we stayed the night. A bath and a bed
are always delightful. We also ate largely. I saw several
leave-boats go off with a pang of regret—but with any luck I ought
to get back in September or October.-
“I am really frightfully pleased about this
Company—getting Ivan’s is so topping. I shall be able to keep it
warm for him till he comes back. I only hope I shan’t be inadequate.
. . .
“Old Millar was in ‘B’ Company; you will remember my
mentioning him. He is in that photograph of me on the Canal Bank.
Nice and Anglo-Indian—and a very stout fellow indeed. He was hit on
the 15th. Very charming of Sir Archie. As a matter of fact I don’t
know why there has been all this hold-up of letters—the 31st was the
only day I haven’t written, barring yesterday.
“The Battalion had a visit from Gough to-day —a great
deal of heart displayed, slapping sergeants on the back, &c., but a
tremendous man— Army Commander at forty-three.
“It’s a queer War. Dunville, that last V.C., was with
me at Eton, and did not seem to have the makings of a hero, and now
look at what he did, and his death. Superb. Poor little Esmond
Elliot was buried to-day. He was wounded three days ago. A sad
“1st Bn. Scots Guards, 9th August,
“It is too delightful being back here engaged in
reorganising the Company, which emerged with no officers, 1
sergeant, and about 30 men, so all work is still in the embryonic
stage. I am going back for a farewell dinner with the Brigade
tonight, at which the Major-General and Copper Seymour are being
present—a famous occasion.
“It’s a great thing really commanding a Company in
the Regiment. Imagine the feelings of the old-time soldiers on being
told that the ages of the two Left Half Battalion Company Commanders
(C. and L. F.) total just over forty. For Pat Bradshaw is about a
month younger than me, and Ivan is just a week older. And to think
that Ivan and I were thrown out of the E.C.O.T.C. proficiency in
1915 for idleness. Ha! ha! The old Scouts.
“Roger Tempest is, I think, admirable. Of course a
wonderful soldier: tremendously competent: rather of the stamp of
‘Ma' Jeffreys. He is, however, very senior, and I am afraid will go
off to command a Brigade quite soon, in which case the command will
devolve upon Romer. He has been sent out for that purpose.
“It is really delightful being back with the
Battalion. The ‘Guid auld Scotland’ feeling is really the dominant
note in my fife, I think.
“I dined last night with Tommy M‘Dougal at the 2nd
Battalion. Jack Stirling was out with the French, so there was just
T., self, Dick Farmer, the Transport Officer, and Walker the doctor.
We had a most admirable dinner, and jugs of hock cup, on which we
all got very pleasantly convivial, and said ‘Old Boy’ a good deal,
and sang H. Lauder. I eventually returned at midnight on a
(fortunately) docile horse, and retired to rest.”
During the next few weeks his talk is all of the
changes in the Battalion and of the reorganisation of his own
Company. The Battalion he describes as containing the nucleus of a
very pleasant coterie in his friends—Hugh Ross, Frank Mann, Pat
Bradshaw, “Deacon” Brodie, and “little Arthur Kinnaird, a charming
man, rather like John Dyer in nature.” By the middle of August (or
two weeks more than two years since he left Eton) we were told that
we might address him as Captain, for the fear that was overshadowing
him of a senior officer being sent out from home to take over the
Company seemed to have been dissipated.
The one fly in his ointment at the time was that his
soldier servant, Witt, had to go down the line with a bad foot, an
old injury breaking out again. “The severance of a two years’
partnership. I’m taking on Ivan’s servant, a charming youth called
Macintosh, who was at Corsham with me. He’ll do excellently, I
expect.” And excellently and faithfully he did serve his Captain in
the ensuing thirteen months, save during some short intervals when
he was detailed for other duty. He was near Henry when he met his
death, and it was thanks to his devotion that his body was carried
back six miles through the night by German prisoners over rough
country to the Battalion Headquarters at Boursies, where he was laid
His devotion to his officer did not end there, and
now that he has returned to civilian life in Edinburgh, where
throughout the War his wife maintained his home with his three
little boys, it is one of our pleasures to receive periodical visits
from him, when we talk of those campaigning days and hear of the
traits of character and acts of comradeship and courage which
endeared Henry to him and to all the men with whom he came in
“1st Bn. Scots Guards,
“I am quite comfortable in a ‘wee shelter,’ and
Ivan’s servant Macintosh is very good, though I miss the rubicund
countenance of Witt, who has never been far away during the last two
years. My new young man is charming—a Wykehamist, and in the Eleven
there in 1915 and 1916. Extremely competent, very much on the spot,
and very much interested in the whole thing. General John is going
to command a Division. I am glad for him: it is splendid.
“Four new officers appear any moment— including Tommy
Goff, whom I shall get in Left Flank. It will be nice having some
one who was at Eton in those halcyon days.
“After tea Frank and I are going down to see John’s
grave—and Eric’s. They are buried almost next each other, in the
same cemetery as Byng Hopwood, old ‘Pardon’ (Champion), and too many
other gallant men.
“I’ve just got ‘Blackwood.’ The Fitzclarence thing is
superb. ‘The auld Jocks,’ Reggie Stracey and sixty-nine men: Wha’s
like us? And under Roger Tempest this Battalion will soon be up to
its pre-war level of being the best in the Brigade —and therefore in
the Army. Of course he may get the Brigade. I wonder. It’ll be
interesting to see who it is. Perhaps Julian Steele.
“The average age of the five officers—self, Holmes,
Erskine, Macdonald, and Drummond—in the Company is 20.3. Rather good
that. Old ‘Sherlock’ Holmes, who was out last year and went home
sick about November, is a genial soul, and the other three are
charmingly young. Erskine (the Wykehamist) knows all my Horris Hill
people, and is extremely good at militarism. Macdonald —a
Catholic—was at Beaumont, and remembered me playing there—and
Drummond, Harrow. All three terrifically competent and smart and
Sandhurstian. What they will be like in the line I don’t know. I
expect quite good.
“We are now safely ensconced in a very nice camp—an
ex-French one. The priest went into the local town to-day to hear an
address to priests —and much they need it—from whom do you think?
Kelman. [Rev. John Kelman, D.D., formerly of St George’s United Free
Church, Edinburgh, now of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New
York.] I sent a message to him through our man telling him to come
up and talk to the Battalion. How they’d love it. As it is, services
are the grimmest things you can imagine. None of the men attempt to
sing. The only time I have heard a hymn well sung was in the mess
here last night, when Hugh came in, and we all sang ‘For all the
Saints’ quite magnificently.
“Roger is still crashingly competent. The Brigade all
want me to go back there—which I don’t in the least want to do so
long as I keep my Company, but in the event of being done down I
think I should go back. Of course I should rather like to try and
get the Adjutancy, which seems to be in rather a fluid state just
now, . . . but on the whole I’m rather coming round to the theory
that the main object of life out here is to have as good a time as
possible. This one couldn’t do at the Brigade—with a clear
conscience : but here one can amuse oneself trotting about and
seeing one’s friends with a certainty that no one can imagine one is
an embusque—not even oneself (in my case the most stringent judge of
“My new Company Sergeant-Major has arrived —Yclept
Mitchell—and looks very pleasant. It is a great thing getting that
settled. To-night I am dining with Alec Robartes and the 3rd G.G.”
“B.E.F., 31s( August.
“The Colonel (Tempest) is departing to command a
Brigade. Very sad, as he is quite admirable, and has done the
Battalion a world of good. We did a scheme for him this morning at
which he presided and was quite complimentary. Romer now takes
command of the Battalion, and Hugh will become second in command.
“I have just come back from a most charming evening
in Pop with Ralph, who is leaving the Division and going to the
Brigade to do my job —which is delightful.
“A great many changes on the Divisional Staff. The
great Guffin Heywood (G.S.O.) is going home to be in charge of a
Staff Course, I suppose for a month or so, and then comes out as a
Brigade Commander, and Sandy Ruthven, V.C., takes his place.
Beckwith Smith is now G.S.O. 2, and one Evans is Brigade Major to
Jeffreys in the 1st Brigade. But all this is rather shoppy and
“I had quite an amusing evening with the Welsh last
night. The General (Blackadder) is charming.
“I’ve got an Iron Cross—a 1914 one—and I think 2nd
Class, which I have been offered £20 for. Shall I sell it, or would
you like it? The Intelligence Sergeant of the 3/G.G. gave it to me
on the 31st.
“A beautiful night to-night, and I think we are in
this very pleasant camp for some more days. To-morrow Budget,
Oliver, Eric, and Damp all come to dine with Hugh and myself in this
mess —hence some of the laddies will have to go out. Perhaps the
Brigadier will come as well. I have scored rather a success there,
and got my ‘ Henry ’ at the second meeting. One more General added
to the bag!”
Thus he introduces to us with his accustomed
breeziness, and at close range, the distinguished officer whose
previous military career he touched on in that uncompleted
‘Chronicle’ already quoted. Had Henry lived and continued his Army
career, he would probably have admitted in after years that there
was no one who had taught him more in the art of war than General
Brooke, and the Brigadier himself was fully alive to the quality of
the boy whom he honoured with his regard during those thirteen
months that he served under him. [Shortly after Henry’s death a
friend of ours received a letter from her brother, in which the
following occurred: “You must have been very sorry at Henry Dundas‘s
death. He was such a nice boy. I got to know him last summer. Boy
Brooke told me he was very exceptional, and he was very sad at his
death. He said his death and that of young Gamble were the two
greatest losses the Brigade had had. High praise from the
Brigadier.” your work on the Staff, and to thank you for ‘playing up
It is permissible, too, to record a letter which at
this time gave Henry intense pleasure, though, with characteristic
modesty, he used when sending it to us the following words: “I
enclose a letter from General John. Rather sweet. Don’t hawk it
round, as a good deal of it is rot, especially the third page.”
“Dear Henry,—Very many thanks for your letter. I was
very sorry not to see you before you went off to tell you how well
you had done
“I can only say I think you are right to go back,
especially when offered the command of a Company. I should have done
the same, I am sure, if I had been in your place. Don’t go and
charge the Boche by yourself or stick your head over the top so that
they can get a pot at you. Remember you are a Company Commander, so
you are precious. Your reputation for bravery is so high that it
will probably lead you astray.
“We are very dull. Oliver away—Eric in hospital, so
Budget is a Lord High Everything Else at present. Good luck. Yours,
The month of September found the Battalion
temporarily settled in a back area and engaged in training and
reorganisation, and to Henry with all the energy of a new broom the
work was thoroughly congenial. The beginning of the month saw him
once more in Paris for a few days’ leave with his friend Alec
Robartes. But this time he went with the blessing of his C.O., and
everything was quite in order. It happened most fortunately for us
that one of our greatest friends, James Rhoades, was in Paris at the
time, engaged upon Board of Trade work which necessitated visits to
various French ports, and upon him in his lodgings Henry blew in
unexpectedly on the day of his arrival. The result was that much of
their time was spent together, and a full and particular account of
their doings is contained in the following letter from our friend.
It would be difficult to paint a better picture of the boy— his
lovableness and light-heartedness, and his power—to which so many of
the friends of our own generation have testified—of carrying people
away with him into the most absurd and innocent enterprises.
“151 bis rue St Jacques, Paris, Tuesday, 5me.
“My dear Cecil,—Henry is looking perfectly splendid
and is in roaring good spirits. He burst in here late last Monday
(the 3rd) with loud hechs and a Scottish voice that made the rafters
ring! I was absolutely enchanted at the unexpectedness of it all,
and he turned my drab existence for a week into a whirl of
excitement. I am missing him most horribly now! I only saw him for a
few moments on the Monday night, and had to waste the whole of the
next day at Havre on business. On Wednesday I called at the Ritz
early in the morning and found him in his bedroom writing letters in
his pyjamas. ... I assisted at his toilet—a sort of ‘petit lever du
roi’—and we sallied forth to lunch at Henri’s, where we consumed
food for the Gods. In the afternoon we motored to Versailles, where
it was so hot that we took off our coats and lay in the grass
discussing Edinburgh and roaring with laughter. We dined at Voisins
(more glorious food), and then went to the Olympia to a dismally
stupid variety show which we enjoyed thoroughly. Everything here
ends at eleven o’clock nowadays. I saw him home to his hotel, and
got back here just before a terrific thunderstorm burst over Paris.
Next morning (Thursday) was dull and rainy, but it cleared up about
three in the afternoon. I insisted on his coming here to lunch and
having some plain food! The dear old octogenarian couple loved him,
and Eton was a great bond of sympathy between them. They have stayed
there with the Rawlins’ in the old days, and have also had the three
Ponsonby brothers as pensionnaires here, so Henry had heaps to say
to them, and laid himself out to be quite charming to the dear old
lady. Everybody was amazed to meet a Capitaine of twenty years old,
and the old lady predicted that he would be a Marechal at
twenty-five like the famous Hoche. We went out after lunch into the
Luxembourg Gardens, where Henry seized a racket from a small boy and
played ball with a bevy of small children. We had tea chez Colombin
in the rue Cambon, and enjoyed watching fat old Frenchwomen guzzling
sugary cakes. They all had Music-hall faces, and we christened them
with names such as the brothers Egbert, Widow Twanky, &c. Some of
them were like Roman Emperors, and were dubbed Galba, Vitellius, &c.
We then dined at Voisins again, and went off to the Folies Bergere
to another abysmally stupid entertainment, which we again thoroughly
enjoyed. There was a fat man on the stage who threw people over his
head into a net, and challenged people from the audience to try and
resist him for fifteen seconds. A ‘Scottie,’ a Canadian I fancy,
completely baffled him, much to our delight. From there, home to
bed. We dined the next night with two other Guardsmen, Robartes and
Borthwick, both very nice, and we all went together to the Grand
Guignol, a wonderful little place, which I haven’t seen for over
twenty years, and where they give the most blood-curdling plays.
After a spectacle of the usual sort, alas! it was a case of the Gare
du Nord, and away he went in a vast long train bound for the front.
“Henry has some latent power in him which makes his
respectable elderly connections lose their heads entirely, and
return to the age of twenty! I can’t tell you how I enjoyed his
visit. Hitherto I have never got him alone all to myself. He is a
most strikingly attractive person, and there never was any one so
absolutely blameless in his life as Henry is. With all his great
brain, his joie de vivre, his wonderful spirits, he is an absolutely
innocent child. He does not smoke, he far prefers orangeade to any
form of drink, and he looks with amused horror on the ghastly
painted jades who generally weave a spider’s web round people of his
age. You need never have a second’s anxiety about him. His one vice
is that he is a corrupter of middle-aged spinsters and
schoolmasters! I am missing him most terribly now. Everything is so
dull without him. How we longed for you and Nevill to be there all
the time. It was great luck that his visit found me at a time when I
had absolutely nothing to do: barring the Tuesday at Havre and a
short visit to the Intendance on Thursday, I had nothing to do at
all till the Saturday, when I had to go down to Limoges on business.
. . .
“I forgot to tell you that Henry stops every baby of
good looks, and talks to it, comparing it with the Goo, of course to
its utter disadvantage. Now my fond love to all the family.—Yours
“ 22nd September.
“We are now safely ensconsed in a camp right behind.
Very crowded, however, and the men are, I think, thoroughly
uncomfortable. We are trying to do something by squashing the
officers up more a bit. A lot of cleaning and scrubbing equipment
has got to be gone through which they loathe, and everything is
being tightened up.
"Great fun really getting the training in hand here.
I love training people. Hammerton has arrived, and commands Right
Flank, and Dalrymple commands 4 B,’ so I am no longer junior Company
"Brooke, the Brigadier, is quite charming, and
apparently likes me; anyhow he is always extremely genial when. we
meet. Curious that I get on so well with the ultra-Grenadier
Militarists such as he and George D. Jeffreys. Of course I have
become almost Grenadier myself in my devotion to drill smartness and
things. Col. Romer is good and charming, and I hope his health will
"We’re playing a football match against the sergeants
this afternoon, and in a few days an Eton game, we and the
Grenadiers against the Coldstream. Rather fun, though I loathe the
game. Loads of love.
“B.E.F., 29th September.
"A wonderful day, and another camp (or rather
billet), still farther from the line, combine in bringing over us
all a feeling of benevolence and ease which is as delightful as it
is uncommon. Added to which, we have got a Company mess— 4 C ’ being
too far away to have our usual Left Half Battalion coterie—and Ralph
is living with us, as the Brigade Bombing ground is next door to the
Company billets. We are practising for a Brigade Company drill
competition, which is en train. What our chances are I don’t
know—not having seen any one else, let alone the other Battalions.
The officers are excellent, as is my Company Sergeant - Major, but
the N.C.O.’s moderate—i.e., they can’t shout and aren’t violent
enough. However, that will come. We live in a most delightful
atmosphere of social excitement and sport. A platoon football
competition is running its belated course. We had a great officers’
match against the Coldstream yesterday, which resulted in a draw,
1-1, in spite of the fact that we played half an hour extra time.
Nigel was in very good form—a good player. On our march here this
morning, to my intense joy I suddenly heard the Lewis-Gun Corporal
of the leading platoon humming Gilbert and Sullivan— and the less
common bits, such as ‘See how the fates,’ ‘For he is a pirate King,’
&c. Wonderful. I must speak with him on the subject. My gramophone
ought to arrive any day now, which will add to the joy of life. We
have got a really excellent mess now. We can discuss the various
questions of discipline when I return on the 11th. Victor Mackenzie
leaves England to-day to be second in command.”
Henry’s leave was due for the middle of October, and
our arrangements were made for being in London from about the 10th
or the 11th. Only a week or two before he had expressed the opinion
that the Division’s sojourn in the back area would be of
considerable duration, and there was nothing in his letter of 7th
October to suggest that any movement was afoot (except in a homeward
direction) so far as he himself was concerned.
“The rain pours down, and I’m afraid the summer has
gone for this year. We had a most perfect five days’ spell—boilingly
hot, and no wind or anything—then three days ago it broke
completely. However, it’s merely a good opportunity for testing all
our rain-proof clothing. As far as I can see, I shall get away about
the 11th after all—but the best thing to do is to wait till I wire,
which I’ll do from the boat, explaining time, date of arrival in
London. I’ll wire to Lenton and Queen Anne’s Mansions—a sort of
military wire addressed—repeated—&c. I dined with the Brigade two
nights ago—a sort of command performance, as now that there is no
Oliver (he’s home for two months on the Senior Staff Course) they
haven’t got any stock comedian to keep them going. Boy Brooke is a
wonderful man. It gives one such a good feeling to have a man like
that running the Brigade. This last biff has been extraordinarily
good—i.e., the one on 5th—and now one hears that all the Boches who
come across from the Russian front at once mutiny over here, as it’s
so bloody compared to the ease of the East. Arthur Kinnaird came
back off leave yesterday—in rasping cue, as usual.”
Sir Douglas Haig’s Despatch of a later date narrates
“On the 8th October rain continued, and the slippery
state of the ground, combined with an exceptionally dark night, made
the assembling of our troops a matter of considerable difficulty. No
interference, however, was encountered by the enemy’s artillery, and
at 5.30 on the 9th October our attack was renewed on a front of over
six miles from a point east of Zonnebeke to our junction with the
French north-east of Langemarck.
“The greatest depth of our advance was on the left,
where the Allied troops penetrated the German position to a distance
of nearly one and a half miles. French troops and British Guards
crossed the flooded valley of the Brombeek, and making steady
progress towards their objectives captured [certain villages],
besides woods and a great number of farm-houses and strong points.”
Of the imminence of these operations we at home had
of course no inkling, and accordingly when we read in the ‘Times' of
the 10th the account of the successful attack on the Passchen-dael
Ridge on the previous day, in which the Guards had taken part, it
seemed incredible to us that the 2nd Brigade at least should have
been concerned, and inquiry at the Guards Club and at Wellington
Barracks could draw little or no information.
What, then, was our joy and amazement when he
burst in upon us next day with the excitement of the battle, and
with the mud of the Brombeek still upon him, and with a plain
straightforward story of how but two days previously—with zero at
5.30 a.m.—he had successfully led his Company and captured his
objective. There was little, of course, said about himself; all his
enthusiasm was for his two subalterns, Narcissus Macdonald and Ian
Erskine, who had both conducted themselves “superbly,” and both of
whom had been wounded in the attack. But his own reward came with
the Military Cross, which he won on that occasion, and the recital
of his conduct which gained him that award was as follows :—"
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He
led his Company with great skill under trying conditions in
darkness, and it was entirely due to his untiring efforts that
direction was maintained and the position captured and consolidated.
His encouragement and example were beyond praise.”
The reference to Langemarck in Sir Douglas Haig’s
Despatch suggests to me two other instances of that encouragement
and example which so impressed Henry’s men, and one of which at
least took place about this time. They are set down as told us by
his servant Macintosh.
Private Macintosh’s Narrative.
“A typical incident of the Captain’s care and thought
of his men happened in front of Langemarck. The only marked road
into the posts and pill-boxes (there were no proper trenches, as the
ground was too water-logged) was along part of the railway line
which led to Langemarck. The Germans seemingly knew that the railway
line was used at this point as a road to and from our front line.
Every night after dark they kept a steady artillery fire back and
forward along this point. The Company had a very rough journey going
in, also a few casualties. The Captain remarked that he wished he
knew of a safer road to take the Company out when we were relieved.
Just as it was getting light on our last morning in the front line
an Artillery officer and one of his men crawled into our post. They
had come up on observation work. The Captain inquired what road they
had come, and on being told that the Artillery men had come by a
different route than our Company had come, the Captain wanted to
know if it was a quieter and safer route than the one that was
generally used. The Artillery officer explained that it was a much
safer and shorter route, only there was no tape laid, and without a
direction-tape it would be dangerous to take men out that route in
the dark. The Captain then made a search in the two pill-boxes that
formed our post, and managed to get one decent-sized ball of tape
and a lot of smaller pieces. These were all joined together to make
one long tape. About one o’clock in the day, when things were a bit
quiet, the Captain and an Orderly crawled away from the post towards
another pill-box about 300 yards away. Then they fixed one end of
the tape in the ground, and commenced to lay out the new track. The
enemy saw the Captain and the Orderly as they went over the crest of
the little hill and fired a few shots at them, but they were soon
out of sight. We used the new track going out that night, and found
it a good mile shorter than the old track. The German shells were
whining overhead on their way to burst on and around the old track
on the Langemarck railway. I may say the men were loud in their
praise of the Captain, who certainly took a big risk in crawling
away from the post in daylight.”
“A few days after the British attack on Pilkem Ridge,
Captain Dundas took a working party well up the hill to lay a wooden
track to enable guns and ammunition to be brought up speedily. The
party had not been long at work when they were observed by the
enemy, who at once started heavy artillery fire on the party. The
men scattered in all directions and took cover, but the Captain just
kept walking up and down the strip of road as if nothing was
happening. When the men saw the example that their Captain was
showing them they very soon all returned and resumed work. Only one
of the men was slightly injured, but I noticed a hole in the
Captain’s burberry which had been made with a piece of one of the
shells. The Captain did not reprimand the men for leaving off their
work. He only smiled when he saw them come back and resume their
In less than a year from now the blow was to fall
upon us which has crushed many a parent, but amid all the sorrow
that has come to us nothing can ever deprive me of the memory of the
exaltation of that hour of his return. I shall always see the little
suite in Queen Anne’s Mansions, where his mother, his sister Anne
and I, were living: the presence of that radiant boy with his
affectionate greeting in the broad Scotch accent he delighted to
assume; his uniform still soiled with the mud of Flanders ; in his
hand the old blackthorn stick—a mascot given him originally by his
friend Miss Alice Neaves—which never left him from the moment he
first went to France, and which—thanks to Macintosh—is with me now.
And then there was that wonderful feeling which so many parents must
have got to know, and to which many, alas! pinned their faith, that
he was—thank God!—safe from a fiery trial in which he had done
himself (and us) honour, and that he was destined to come through
the other dangers, and that all would be well. Truly a great feeling
—while it lasted—which gave that time a very special value, and
which made us better able than most to realise a few days later the
tragedy of another war-picture. His friend Dudley Shortt, [Son of
the Right Honourable Edward Shortt, Home Secretary.] who was at the
time temporarily acting as Adjutant, was due to come on leave the
following week, and it was arranged that he was to be one of a party
with whom Henry was to dine one evening at the Carlton. Late that
night I learnt from Henry that the party had not taken place, Dudley
Shortt having been killed the day before he was to return, by a
shell which burst close to Battalion Headquarters!
Henry’s next period in France was short and severe,
and may be summed up in the one word— “Cambrai.” On getting back to
his Battalion at the beginning of November the Guards were still in
the region of Passchendael and the Houthoulst Forest, but they took
no further active part in that somewhat ineffective assault, and
were shortly on their way south to strengthen Byng’s army for the
projected attack on Cambrai. This may have been the result of
preordained plans, or it may have arisen from the necessity to
withdraw for service in Italy (consequential on the Caporetto
disaster) other troops which had been destined for the purpose.
The march south imposed considerable strain on
officers and men, and notwithstanding his recent leave Henry was
beginning to show signs of physical weariness, though his spirits
remained buoyant as ever.
“B.E.F., 18th November.
“Another long march—the longest yet, about eighteen
miles. A lot of the troops very tired. But we are in good billets,
both men and officers. I’m afraid that it’s only for one night. It
was a day on which everything ought to have gone wrong, as the
billeting party only went forward this morning—but as a matter of
fact everything was excellent. I’m just going to have an excellent
dinner and then a long long sleep. Victor Mackenzie (second in
command) is a charming man. Most marvellous of all, however, to-day
we were having a halt when suddenly who should appear but Luss! All
his old Company cheered, and I must say a great feeling of joy
surged over me. He is a wonderful man. He’s a man who can make
people do anything. I’d willingly charge into hell with that little
figure in front of me.
“We did a more or less night march last night,
starting at five—getting in here about nine. But, thank God! we came
into a camp of huts— not those foul billets, which are always dirty,
often inadequate, and widely scattered. I love just walking into a
camp—so little trouble, and much more comfortable.
“I like the letters about the M.C., which you can put
on letters if you like. Must rush off and inspect boots.”
A week later they arrived at their destination to
find no billets, but “just a field in which we lunched.” The men,
however, were shortly fixed up in dug-outs, and he himself and Pat
Bradshaw disposed themselves in “a little drain under a road,” which
he pronounced comfortable. The Brigade were in a village just down
the road. To him the great event on their arrival was his chance
meeting with his friend Tom Hankey. “Wonderful reunion. He was
waiting on the road for us to come through.”
The events of the next few days have been constantly
described—officially and unofficially— by people who took part in
them, and critics have not been sparing in their comments upon some
of the shortcomings of the Higher Command. In this fight the letter
that follows upon the operations at Cambrai is one which, so far as
Henry’s sentiments were concerned, might probably have been written
by any officer in the Guards Division. The invective, however, is
Henry’s own, and I do not feel at liberty to quote the language
which he attributes to the Divisional Commander, and which—forcible
as it was said to be—met with his high approval!
“B.E.F., 7th December.
“Back at last after the most hectic month I’ve spent
in France. But, my hat! the luck this Battalion has had. Barring 'C’
Company, who got rather done in in the episode where poor little
Arthur Kinnaird got killed. In the line twice, and a total casualty
list of two killed and nine wounded to my Company. Laughable. The
Division have been absolutely superb, and absolutely saved the
situation—a thing that the papers of course hardly suggest at all.
The 1st Guards Brigade at G , the 3rd Guards Brigade at G , and the
2nd—the poor beloved 2nd Brigade—massacred at F . Situation thus —A,
B, and C are three places held by the Boche. A and C are the
dominating points—them taken, B falls automatically. What do our
beauties on the - Corps do? A and C entirely imtaken, they attack B
with three Battalions. Mon Dieu! The Brigadier was perfectly superb,
and General Feilding said over the telephone to the Chief Staff
Officer of the Corps in question, c . . . ! ’ Pretty good for the
“For those three Battalions got B, and held it with
about 150 men per Battalion, and then had to come back because there
was no one behind. But as X said, even if there had been supports
they would only have gone into the melting-pot too. Young Beaumont
Nesbitt killed, and I’m afraid Jim Chitty—wounded and missing.
“We really are magnificent. The 2nd Battalion too
have been very lucky—so the Regiment for once is all right. Our
officers’ casualties were: Arthur killed, Alan Burns, Scott, and
Horton wounded. I wrote to you in the line four days ago—since wlien
I have been so busy I haven’t had a moment. We had great fun looting
in G , though, as the Brigadier said, it was rather melancholy
looting, as it was all British stuff retaken from the Boche. The
Boche has been behaving and fighting very well—not firing on the Red
Cross ; binding up our wounded, and other little amenities which one
doesn’t expect of him. But the general situation is grave.
Russia—Kaput—and 100 Divisions, Boche and Austria to play with—and
where are our Reserves! They must keep up the Guards Division, and
yet the Irish Guards have got no one.
“How damnable this has been for you. How far, far
worse the War is for you at home, and oh ! my darlings, don’t think
I don’t realise it. I have been remiss, but it’s the result of
extreme busyness, and one has been so hideously on the go all the
time. Herewith programme of a typical few days :—
A Day. Move at 6 p.m., arrive in huts about 11 P.M.
B Day. Quiet day. „ -—-
C Day. Move 7 p.m.
D Day. 3 a.m. Arrive huts.
E Day. Move 6 a.m. Arrive tents.
F Day. Move 6 a.m. Arrive in the open. No
billets. Find shelter in the old Hindenburg Line.
G Day. Move into the line at 7 p.m.
H Day. Line.
I Day. Line.
J Day. Come out at 6 p.m. Arrive in H line about
K Day. Move back to ruined village 12 noon,
ostensibly for four days, and then right back.
L Day. The Battalion will move at once. Move,
11 a.m., up the line—bivouac in a wood for night.
M Day. 7 p.m. move into line.
N Day. Line
0 Day. Line.
P Day. Line
Q Day. Come out of line, 8 p.m., to bivouacs.
R Day. Leave bivouacs, 7 p.m.
S Day. Arrive tents, 1 a.m. (pitched that day).
T Day. Leave tents, 8 a.m. 9-12, wait at railhead.
Train 12 noon till 7, and here we are. Not very bad.
“But here we are very comfortable. The men in nice
dry huts; we in a good house as a mess.
‘Sherlock’ and I sleep here—and life is very good.
Brigade Headquarters just across the road. The wonderful 'Boy' went
on leave yesterday. What a man; and now lunch, and I shall be able
to resume regular writing. It’s all over now, so —don’t worry. A
thrilling railway journey yesterday through all the old Somme land.
How interesting it was. I have such a strong reminiscent vein. If I
had done ten years’ hard labour I should feel a sentimental glow on
“B.E.F., 10th December.
“We are now in quite a comfortable village about
eight miles west of Arras, just off the main road to Doullens, where
I think we shall be for some time. Wal. Gngg, late Brigade Major of
this Brigade and now at G.H.Q., took me and Ralph into Arras in his
car two days ago, and said that D. Haig was overcome with the wonder
of the Guards Division. There is going to be a row about the
Fontaine massacre, and I think some one may get sacked for it. Would
to Heaven we could have Cavan back!
“Everything now depends upon the Americans and the
usefulness or otherwise of their fighting troops, who will be the
main source of reserve against the German Divisions from the Russian
front. In fact they will form about the only reserve, as it doesn’t
look as if we’d get any more men, and the French certainly haven’t.”
Henry’s next letter (on the 13th) was written from a
Casualty Clearing Station, “whither the Medical Authorities have
sent me, for they insist on a rest for my heart. So I shall probably
be in England in a day or two. I’m glad I’ve managed to last through
this last month or so—but I expect it is more sensible to take the
thing in time. Otherwise, as the C.O. says truly, one might go up
Five days later he was writing from the Guards Club:—
“Everything has gone exactly as I planned. I had a
Board to-day which gave me Home Service. This means I get out of the
hands of the Medical world and into those of the Regiment, who will
give me leave till I’m fit (probably four or five weeks), then I go
straight back to the 1st Battalion without any tedious interval at
Wellington. The rest will be excellent, and I’m feeling better at
the very thought of it.
"I’ve-dined two nights running with Tim— and laughed
so much as almost to burst. How we laughed last night. Tim and I
a 4 duo.’ I’d to get off my chair and he on the floor, I laughed so
much. Old Tim is really wonderful. I’m going to try to get him up to
Redhall for Hogmanay.
"I dine with Oliver to-night. He goes back to-morrow.
"I saw 'Boy’ yesterday. He’s too wonderful. What a
man! If and when he gets a Division I swear I’ll go on his Staff.”
This arrangement was of course a glorious reprieve,
both for us and for him, and in the circumstances nothing could have
been better calculated—seeing that there was no organic trouble—to
set him up in health in the shortest possible time.
In some other branch of the service it might have
been his fate for a longer period to run the whole gamut of
hospital, officers’ convalescent home, and fight duty at Regimental
Headquarters, and one heard of course during the War countless
complaints that these specifics were insisted on rather than the
more obvious alternative of a restful fife in a comfortable home and
amid congenial surroundings.
The military answer of course was that congenial
surroundings were not necessarily conducive to complete and speedy
recovery, and it was to us a source of admiration, though at the
same time of parental solicitude, to see in Henry’s case how
everything was made to yield to the prime necessity of his getting
well again, so that at the earliest possible moment he might rejoin
his Battalion in the field.
On his return home he lost no time in putting himself
into the hands of Professor Gulland, C.M.G., who at first enjoined a
quiet fife and little exercise. Daring those weeks he would not
touch a golf club, and abjured all night work and dancing. Later,
when his heart seemed unduly torpid and a spell of violent exercise
was recommended, he followed instructions to the letter, and the
clean bill of health which came a few days afterwards was hailed by
him with apparent acclamation, and preparations for departure
immediately ensued. On 24th January he left us. He was a few days in
London to report to his Board and get instructions at Regimental
Headquarters, and of course he found time for one or more visits to
Eton. His first letter to us was written on Sunday the 27th, on Eton
Society paper—“This place is fascinating. Just living here is a joy
in itself. Strolling about as one used to do. . . . Ah me! ”