Dundas, Scots Guards, a Memoir Chapter VII. January to July 1918
By the end of the month of January he was back in
France, having had the good fortune to travel out with General
Ponsonby, and he was at once immersed again in the spirit of the
War, though, truth to tell, his life with the Battalion was not at
that period as happy as it had been before and later again became.
Primarily no doubt this was caused by the many changes in the
personnel of the Battalion, and some disappointment also which he
felt in regard to the matter of the adjutancydue in a certain
measure perhaps to his own want of diplomacy.
But he was too large-minded to trouble about anything
overmuch, and the Divisional news which interested him principally
at this time was the formation of the 4th Guards Brigade under Lord
Ardee. The shortage of men was beginning to be seriously felt
throughout the Army, and the authorities, following a system put
into practice by the Germans some months before, were keeping the
Divisions nominally up to strengththough not increasing their
numbersby reducing Brigades from four Battalions to three. Thus
each of the three Guards Brigades was reduced by a Battalion, and
the three Battalions set free were formed into a 4th Guards Brigade,
which later on fought most gallantly and suffered terribly. Captain
Oliver Lyttelton was appointed Brigade Major, and Captain Eric
Mackenzie Staff Captain, and they both wanted Henry to go as Staff
learner a suggestion which of course carried many attractions with
His twenty-first birthday took place on 5th February,
and on the following day he described a marvellous coming-of-age
dinner on the night of the 4th. Just the old 2nd Brigade
gangOliver, Eric, Damp, Wullie, and Ralph. We dined in a roomy in
a hotel. Oliver in amazing cue. It was worth while the headache of
The sector of the fine between Fampoux and Arras now
occupied by the Division was so quiet that he had it in his mind to
write the Chronicle with extracts from which this narrative
begins, and was able to send us discursive letters such as those
from which the following are extracts :
I watched the 4th Battalion Grenadiers marching out
to-dayto come under Oliver and Eric. They were perfectly superb.
The Irish Guards followed them headed by 'Alex, looking supreme.
But as I looked at all the things that Eric (Greer) used to be so
fond oftheir drums and one or two things like thatI wept, quite
properly. Poor Eric.
Ralph and I had a long talk last night about all the
people who had been killed. Truly 31st July was a grim day. Eric,
John, Logie Leggatt were absolutely irreplaceable. One feels it all
the more so with what is practically a new generation of officers
who have never even heard of Eric and John. I must say I was always
so proud of being a friend of Erics, for after all I knew him long
before I got to the Brigadewhen I was just an Ensign, and he was
commanding a Battalion. What wonderful people they were: and now
even Ian and Narcissus are gone.
However, strangely enough, I feel in very strong
cuenot so much rasping as 'strong. Well, I must stop and do a
little organisation. Do get better and let me know all about
"Dear Goo.! How is she? I thought of her to-day in a
trench with a little steel helmet on. How delicious she would look!
B.E.F., 4th February 1918.
"I dont think the German offensive will be anything
to worry about. But I do admire the way they have played a winning
game against those absurd Russians. Perhaps the collapse of verbose
diplomacy unbacked by the slightest force will prove to Henderson
& Co. the futility of their vapourings about Leagues of Nations and
Peace and Socialism. But after all they havent learnt from the
history of their own country during the nineteenth century, so why
should they learn now? The truth is, they dont believe anything
they dont want to believe, and so they will go on in their senile,
Homburg-hatted way to the end. Ye Gods ! for one week of Prussian
administration in this country. I wonder what would have happened to
Litvinoff if he had gone to Germany. Pach!!
I suppose you have heard the latest embusque retreat,
Versailles, where the Staff is rapidly assuming proportions which
will make it necessary for the Government to take over the Ritz, the
Meurice, the Castiglione, as well as the Palace they already
A beautiful day to-day. A very close approach of a
short period of emancipation from the joys of trench life. I met the
Brigadier going round this morning. He complimented me on some work
the chaps had done, and a great glow came over me. Now theres a man
whom I hero-worship if you like. He is absolutely superb.
There is another possibility on the tapis. The
Brigade Trench Mortar Battery has fallen on evil days.
Boy is determined to have the whole thing
reorganised, and has announced his intention of taking some Company
Commander to do the job. Now commanding the Trench Mortar Battery
when it is the sort of ewe-lamb of Boy might almost be worth
doingespecially as I should try to pick my officers. But of course
this is all entirely in the air.
Like most of the things about which he wrote to us as
merely on the tapis or in the air, this did not long remain so,
and four days later we heard he had got the job, though the prospect
did not hold out any allurement for him. For the next seven weeks
indeed it was a case of kicking against the pricks, or rather of
being torn by conflicting emotions, and what he hated most was being
taken away again from his own Company.
My Left Flank are in the line just beside me, he
writes, and I have to pass them moving about the trenches. It
almost breaks my heart ; and again, I think I shall be able to get
back to the Battalion in about a month when Ive reorganised this
thingat any rate I shall see the Brigadier and talk to that effect
with him. One of the men wrote in a letter which I censored just
before I left, The Captain is back, so everything is all right. I
Another grievance was that his soldier servant
Macintosh has been foully reft from me to go and be a skilled
workman in some Tank works. Of course Im very glad for him, as hes
married and need never have joined the Army at all as he was
working at Nobels when the War broke out, and is a very
highly-skilled manbut nevertheless it is a sair dunt.
What carried him through, however, was his anxiety to
please the Brigadier. I hope the man Brooke will come up the line
this morning, he says. I shall endeavour to convey an impression
of resigned martyrdom which will touch even his stony heart. But the
bore of the situation is that hethe Brigadierhas put me into this
to make a job of it, and if I come and shout to go back to my chaps
hes bound to be rather sick. A knotty problem. How would you deal
He solved the problem himself by sticking to the work
and grousing about it in his letters when the spirit moved him,
though as a matter of fact I am not so bored as my writing would
imply. Just safety-valving.
As O.C. Trench Mortar Battery, Henry once more became
an inmatefor the time at least of Brigade Headquarters.
I really believe the Brigadier has got me here in
order to have a lively element in the mess, in which case G.S.O.
III. may be looked forward to. 'Boy is going to get Pringle and
Hogge as his A.D.C.s when he gets a Division. Rather a charming
Nothing happens at all, and the date of the Boche
offensive recedes with every succeeding day. The French, who are the
accepted pundits on the subject, are full of dateswith little
If the Boche really means to attack he has had
everything in his favour so far. On the front the betting is 100 to
3 against, though judging from the precautions taken it would appear
to be even money.
We go to-night to the theatre to hear the Welsh
Guards Band and see the Cinema. As perhaps I have observed before,
the discrimination shown by Providence in the direction of the Boche
shelling of this City is quite remarkable. The Cathedral, the Town
Hall, and the Station are practically gutted. But the Theatre and
the Bathsintact. Marvellous.
Before this letter reached us the newspapers had of
course told the country of the rapid retreat of the 5th Army on the
St Quentin front, and of the holding up of the German advance by
Byngs Army in the neighbourhood of Arras. Henry and Ralph Gamble
had again booked seats in the theatre for the night of the 21st, but
when the performance should have taken place the audience were away
on a very different errand. His letter of the following day merely
reports the following
We are going to be rather busy, I think, as the
Teuton seems to have begun his much-vaunted offensivewith exiguous
results, I feel sure. However, I foresee a rather Cambrai-esque time
23rd March 1918.
How delightful this issitting in a hammock-chair
under a perfect Italian skyfeeling comfortably tired. We moved at
4.30 a.m., which is always rather exhausting, especially as I went
on ahead 4 a velocipede to do the billetingbut all went well, and
after rooting out some R.E.s we now find ourselves in an extremely
comfortable place. For how long I cant say. Otto von Below seems to
have scored on the first round, but I think the situation is now in
hand. Of course it is really rather uncanny the way the weather
favours the Boche. It is the general topic of interest, and is
shaking the faith even of the Padres. It is really rather odd. Think
of our pathetic offensivesdrowned at birth like so many puppies by
deluges of rain. Unser Gott! It has been absolutely perfect nowwith
the exception of two days since the beginning of the month.
A great disasterthe Brigadier has had to go
sickgassed. He must have got a mouthful up in our last place, where
it used to lie about for days. Anyway his voice went completely, and
yesterday he got so bad that he had to go, though he said it would
be only forty-eight hoursbut Im afraid it will be longer than
that. Particularly unfortunate too at this juncture. The Brigade is
being commanded temporarily by Follett, O.C. 2/C.G., who is the
Senior Commanding Officer in the Division. Im very anxious about
Luss. His Division got pretty severely handled, and news of their
formation is becoming rather hard to get. The 3rd Division put up a
magnificent performancethe old tradition, of course.
26th-29th March 1918.
The great event of the day is the arrival of the
newspapers, extracts of which are greeted with shouts of laughter
and groans of derision from the assembled Company.
We are frightfully comfortable here. Ralph and I are
in one of those little houses which have been put up all over these
villages for the returned civilians. Now, poor dears, they have all
had to off it again. How pathetic the whole thing is. I wish I
knew what they have lost. Only by their casualty list can we judge
how the account-book stands.
I shall refrain from comment on the situation.
Taisez-vous, &c. But if you would seek for the reason why we came
back in a week a longer distance than we took in ten monthsby us I
mean the 5th Army, with whom the others have merely had to
conformread your Freytag Loring-hoven on the British Army, and
remember all our discussions on the futility of insufficient
I think the situation will be retrieved by a blow
between Noyon-La Ferejust look at that salient all along the Oise;
but Im afraid the French wont be too keen to use up all their
Wethe Divisionhave not been seriously attacked,
though they have had one or two attempts which ended in complete
failures. But the men are very tired since theyve been on the go
since the 21st, having only come out of the line on the 19thafter
being in the line since 1st JanuaryPore Bloody Guards!
Dear old Brandy got killed to-day, and I made
Victor ask for me back, but Gilly Follett wouldnt let me go till we
get out, and the whole thing is got in hand once more.
Ive made the Trench Mortar Battery comfortableif
nothing else, and the job is now one that any subaltern could do, so
the sooner I get back the better.
Poor old Brand, he is the first of the Battalion to
be killed. They have been, as usual, very lucky: Left Flank the best
off of all, with only about eight casualtiesincluding Somerville
Victor Mackenzie bids fair to become an ideal
Commanding Officer, while Pip Warner, the new second-in-command, is
full of ability. Everything looks promising for the 1st Battalion. I
shall have C Company, Lusss old Company, and full of his
traditions. All the three V.C.s in the 1st Battalion have been got
in that Company, and of course MAulay, V.C., D.C.M., is in it now.
No doubt from St Quentin to Albert in about a week
is extremely good goingparticularly as it included the crossing of
a large river. Yes, the Scottish troops have as usual done superbly,
especially the 51st and 9th Divisions.
As against Henrys statement that the Division was
not seriously attacked, The Times correspondent, writing on 1st
May, says as follows :
The Guards first came into the battle on 22nd March
in the area of Henin-St Leger, whence they fell back in conformity
with the general retirement, holding the enemy as they went from a
line from Boisleux St Marc towards Moyenneville. Here was where our
line came to a standstill, and on the 28th and 30th the Guards had
to beat off very heavy attacks. While Sir Philip Gibbs writes:
The recent history of the Guards begins with the battle of Arras
on 28th March, when the 56th (London) Division and the 15th
(Scottish), and the grand old 3rd Division made a wonderful stand
against one of the biggest efforts of the enemy. On the 28th and
30th the Guards were heavily attacked, and beat off the enemys
storm troops with exceeding great losses to them.
B.E.F., 10th April.
Ivan went sick two days agowith an abscess in his
jaw. His wound isnt really fit yet, but of course he would come
I am at the present moment commanding C Company in
the line. A very pleasant time we are having. Ive spent most of the
day enlarging these Company Headquarters, with the result that they
are now palatial in the extreme. My subalterns are a very nice youth
called Dent nineteen, very keen, just the Ian Erskine type, and
curiously enough a Wykehamist as well, and Maclay of Shipping
Control fame, nice and very competent.1 My Sergeant-Major pro
tern, is MAulay, V.C., who told me this morning that having me in
command of the Company was, according to the men, Just like Sir
Iain back again. I almost embraced him.
The Major-General appeared this morning. I put in
some useful work as the bright young Company officer. I return to
the Trench Mortar at the end of this tour, but for a brief space
only. Ivan having gone sick, I might get Left Flank again.
The German advance on Amiens was now being held up at
Villers Brettonneux, and the principal danger was in the North,
where the Channel Ports were seriously threatened by the capture of
Kemmel Hill and attack on Hazebrouck. Writing on 18th April, Henry
We are all rather depressed just now, as the 4th
Guards Brigade (Thirtyst Division) have been badly cut up. All the
Brigade Staff are all right, thank Heaven! also Alex, and Tim Nugent
barring whom I dont know any one in those three Battalions. The
War has now simply resolved itself into a question of who are on
ones flanks. With some people one might just as well wire oneself
in all round.
There was probably no finer episode in the War, nor
one fraught with more crucial consequences at a critical time, than
this defensive action of the 4th Guards Brigade, who held on for the
forty-eight hours necessary to allow the Australians to arrive
outside the Forest of Nieppe on the Hazebrouck-Estaires road.
B.E.F., 21 st April.
I am now back with Left Flank, at which I must say I
am very glad. Macintosh is back with me in excellent form, and I
have got the other man (Todhunter) a job with another officer.
They have got a charming lot now in the Coldstream.
When I dined there on Friday, Ralph and I sat at the top of a table
seven deep each side in Etonians. We talked Eton shop the whole
I have a delightful Company Headquarters, built into
a bank chiefly with material looted from a derelict aerodrome just
behind. I have got a bed and a charming stove and an arm-chair
nothing left out, and the line is very quiet. The time is now about
10 p.m., and rations have just arrived, carried up by the Company in
support, as is the custom. With them is the mail, so I am waiting
I am now extremely exalted, as Sherlock (Holmes)
has been made Captain, so now I have a Captain for my
second-in-command. He shall certainly come into the line turn about
No news of the War yet. The loss of Kemmel is
seriousthank goodness the French were responsible. The latter are
still perfectly optimistic, so why should we be otherwise?
The Official Account has just appeared of the
fighting of the 4th Guards Brigade on April 13, 14, and 15.
Absolutely epic. I wish it could be published abroad. But no. That
would be unworthy of an Army all of whose Divisions are equally
Blast the rain. I hear it pattering on the roof of
my house. Fortunately Ive managed to get some corrugated iron up to
the chaps in the posts, so they ought to be fairly dry.
Fayolle seems to be the great French hero just now.
A foul day, also no letter from you. Im sitting in
the mess playing the gramophone. Reel tunes, which are much
appreciated by the French owners who live in the next room. A
curious crew. Monsieurabout seventylike a General leaning on a
stick; Madameabout sixtyand very much alive; and the junior
members of the householdtwo girlsaged about nineteen and
seventeen; and a small boy, whose favourite recreation is swinging a
cockroach affixed to a piece of string round his head. A playful
youth. They are apparently all the children of a friend or relation
who herself lives still nearer the line.
A round of gaiety here. Three days I dined at
headquartersmoderately. The next day the Colonel dined with mea
wonderful meal. I felt like Oxford and Henry VII. You will remember
"To-night Jeffery Holmesdale and Christopher Barclay
from the Coldstream, and a youth, Edward Fitzgerald, a Grenadier,
are dining. Tomorrow I go up to relieve 'Sherlock for a short
spell. I hope the rain will stop by then. I dislike a wet war.
"I wrote to Bob at Bushey. He ought to get on all
right. Thank God I joined when I did. How simple it was then. Quite
a good Captain, but a very moderate Cadet. I have come again into my
old place of 'Entertainer to those on High. I have but to
say, 'Pass the mustard, and they (-& Co.) roar their ribs out.
Quite pleasant. Im having lunch with 'Boy or rather Cuthbert
Ellisonto-morrow on the way up. Wonderful man. Loads of love,
This visit to the line proved to be the last for some
time. On 16th May he wrote descanting upon the peacefulness of his
surroundings with a comment upon three Argylls, who at that moment
were bathing on his left in a shell-hole entirely nude. Query: What
will they do if the Boche suddenly attacks? He mentioned that he had
with him in the line this time "Marsham Townshend, who has a son
just gone to Eton. Charming. He calls me 'Sir ! And at the end of
the letter there was a postscript, 5.45 a.m. 17/5/18. I have been
frightfully slightly hitjust a touch on the arm. Absolutely all
right, but might get home for a month.
The episode itself was subsequently described in the
Official Gazette' Notice, which recorded the winning of a Bar to
his Military Cross as follows:
A strong patrol was sent out by night to endeavour
to secure identifications. It was heavily fired at by a hostile post
at close quarters, and only two men returned unwounded, .the officer
in command and two men being missing. The officer, with a
non-commissioned officer and two men, went out to search for them,
and in their turn were heavily shot at, the officer and N.C.O. being
both wounded. Owing to the fire they had to withdraw, he, with the
assistance of one man, carrying back the N.C.O. He then went round
his posts and remained with his Company, though suffering from his
wound, until ordered to the aid-post.
But a more intimate and graphic description of the
incident was furnished to us by Macintosh, and is produced here as
he wrote it for us. He selected it as one of two or three special
instances illustrating the power that Henry had with his men, and
the cause of their devotion to him.
Private Macintoshs Narrative.
One night on the Boiry front the Company had a
patrol out. Unfortunately the moon came out very clear and our party
was seen by the German sentries, who fired on the patrol. When the
patrol got back to our lines it was found that the officer who was
in charge of the party, also two men, were missing. The Captain at
once took an orderly and went out into No Mans Land to see if he
could find any of the missing men. But they were also observed by
the Germans. The Captain was shot in the arm, and the orderly got a
bullet clean through his shrapnel helmet, but was not hit himself.
They managed to get back to our lines, and we got the Captains
wound bandaged up. It was bleeding very freely, and I wanted to take
him down to the doctor at the aid-post right away, but he would not
consent to go, as there was only one officer left. Although his
wound was paining him a lot, he wrote out all his night reports, and
it was not till after stand down in the morning that he would
consent to go and get his wound properly dressed. The doctor at once
ordered the Captain to go farther back to the nearest dressing
station. From there he was sent right down the line. An incident on
the journey down to the Clearing Station will clearly show that even
although the Captain was pretty well done up himself he could always
remember others. I as his servant was allowed to go as far as the
Clearing Station with him. It was a long journeyhospital to
hospital, and always a wait till another car was got ready. At one
of the relay dressing stations, when we came off the car, the
Captain said to one of the doctors, Can you give my friend Mc some
food, as he has not had anything to eat since last night? I have
often thought since that very few officers would have referred to
their servant as their friend.
No. 20 General Hospital, 18ZA May.
The doctor says it will take about four or five
weeks to get righti.e., fit to come back to the War. Im afraid I
feel rather a scrimshank getting hit just now when things are so
uncertain, but it was in a good causelooking for a chap who was
missing. [Lieutenant Eric Coats, the officer in command of the
patrol. His body was found when the Guards advanced in
August.] Unfortunately we didnt find him. But of course Im awfully
pleased for your sakes, you poor darlings. It means a good long
spell of freedom from anxietyand we shall have enormous fun. A
comfortable hospital. The Head Sister in the Ward is Glaswegian, and
wonderfully good, and there is a V.A.D. who is pure and richest
The two months which followed were a period of
unalloyed happinessonly qualified by the thoughts of the future,
and by his obvious determination to go back to France at the
earliest opportunity. The wound itself was only a flesh one (having,
alas ! as we must feel now, just missed the bone), but it was some
weeks before it properly healed, and the loss of much blood at the
time had palpably weakened him. His Company meantime remained in the
charge of his friend, Captain R. E. Holmes, and it was intimated to
him by his Colonel that it would be kept open for him. The news
therefore which came to him one day towards the end of June, that
Captain Holmes, while sitting on his (Henrys) own bed in Company
Headquarters dug-out, had been killed by a shell explosion, not only
saddened him greatly, but made him the more determined to get back
to his men as soon as he could be passed fit by the doctors. This
took place early in Julya quiet life at home having largely
contributed to that end, and a week later he left his beloved
Scotland for the last time.
Some days in London followed with his mother and his
sister Anne, [Anne, four years his junior, was at school during the
whole of his foreign service, but his demand that she should be
summoned to London or to Scotland for a part of all his leaves could
not be gainsaid; and his arrival from or departure for Fiance would
often procure for her another day with him, of which a lunch at the
Ritz and a matinde wore generally outstanding features.] during
which time, as usual, the days were all too short for him to
forgather with his friends. A day with him down at Eton (a visit
which he repeated over and over again) on the occasion of the Eton
and Harrow Match, and where with his friends Ivan Cobbold and Pat
Bradshaw he did much recruiting for the Scots Guardswill stand out
in our memory till the end of life.
I did not see him off on the 23rd, having had to
return to Scotland the week before, but his mother was with him till
he left. She had never failed him in these partings. On the previous
evening she and he and his friend Lionel Neame (home wounded) went
to the Gaiety. On the following morning he left Gharing Cross, and
his mother and his friend were with him. It so happened that his
Colonel was returning from leave on the same day,this no doubt
secured Henry a seat in the Staff train, a fact which was always
with him a subject of playful banter, and the Regimental Pipers
were in attendance to play the Colonel off. Other friends were going
out at the same time, and his spirits were at their highest. There
will never fade from his mothers mind the picture of him standing
on the lower step of the PullmanSir Victor Mackenzie on the
platform aboveand with his whimsical loving smile slowly bringing
his hand to the Guards salute as the train moved away. And so her
boy passed out of her sight.
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