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Henry 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 adjutancy—due 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 strength—though not increasing their numbers—by 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 it.

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 gang—Oliver, Eric, Damp, Wullie, and Ralph. We dined in a ‘roomy’ in a hotel. Oliver in amazing cue. It was worth while the headache of next day!”

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 :—

“12th February.

“I watched the 4th Battalion Grenadiers marching out to-day—to 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 of—their drums and one or two things like that—I 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 Eric’s, for after all I knew him long before I got to the Brigade—when 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 cue—not so much rasping as 'strong.’ Well, I must stop and do a little organisation. Do get better and let me know all about yourself.

"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 don’t 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 haven’t learnt from the history of their own country during the nineteenth century, so why should they learn now? The truth is, they don’t believe anything they don’t 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 occupy.”

“18th February.

“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 there’s 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 doing—especially 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 I’ve reorganised this thing—at 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 nearly wept.”

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 I’m very glad for him, as he’s married and need never have joined the Army at all— as he was working at Nobel’s when the War broke out, and is a very highly-skilled man—but 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 he—the Brigadier—has put me into this to make a job of it, and if I come and shout to go back to my chaps he’s bound to be rather sick. A knotty problem. How would you deal with it?”

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 inmate—for the time at least— of Brigade Headquarters.

“2nd March.

“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 idea.”

*10th March,

“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 dates—with little accuracy attached.

“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.”

“20th March.

“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 Baths—intact. 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 Byng’s 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 offensive—with exiguous results, I feel sure. However, I foresee a rather Cambrai-esque time for us.”

“23rd March 1918.

“How delightful this is—sitting in a hammock-chair under a perfect Italian sky—feeling 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 billeting—but all went well, and after rooting out some R.E.’s we now find ourselves in an extremely comfortable place. For how long I can’t 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 offensives—drowned at birth like so many puppies by deluges of rain. Unser Gott! It has been absolutely perfect now—with the exception of two days since the beginning of the month.

“A great disaster—the Brigadier has had to go sick—gassed. 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 hours—but I’m 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. I’m 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 performance—the old tradition, of course.”

“B.E.F.,

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 months—by us I mean the 5th Army, with whom the others have merely had to conform—read your Freytag Loring-hoven on the British Army, and remember all our discussions on the futility of insufficient training.

“I think the situation will be retrieved by a blow between Noyon-La Fere—just look at that salient all along the Oise; but I’m afraid the French won’t be too keen to use up all their reserves.

“We—the Division—have not been seriously attacked, though they have had one or two attempts which ended in complete failures. But the men are very tired since they’ve been on the go since the 21st, having only come out of the line on the 19th—after being in the line since 1st January—Pore Bloody Guards!

“Dear old ‘Brandy’ got killed to-day, and I made Victor ask for me back, but Gilly Follett wouldn’t let me go till we get out, and the whole thing is got in hand once more.

“I’ve made the Trench Mortar Battery comfortable—if 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 casualties—including Somerville quite slight.

“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, Luss’s 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 M‘Aulay, V.C., D.C.M., is in it now.

“No doubt from St Quentin to Albert in about a week is extremely good going—particularly 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 Henry’s 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 enemy’s storm troops with exceeding great losses to them.”

“B.E.F., 10th April.

“Ivan went sick two days ago—with an abscess in his jaw. His wound isn’t really fit yet, but of course he would come out.

“I am at the present moment commanding ‘C’ Company in the line. A very pleasant time we are having. I’ve 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 M‘Aulay, 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 says :—

“We are all rather depressed just now, as the 4th Guards Brigade (Thirty—st Division) have been badly cut up. All the Brigade Staff are all right, thank Heaven! also Alex, and Tim Nugent —barring whom I don’t know any one in those three Battalions. The War has now simply resolved itself into a question of who are on one’s 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 time. Wonderful.

“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 with interest.

“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 with me.

“No news of the War yet. The loss of Kemmel is serious—thank 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 good!

“Blast the rain. I hear it pattering on the roof of my house. Fortunately I’ve 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.” .

“13th May.

“A foul day, also no letter from you. I’m 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. Monsieur—about seventy—like a General leaning on a stick; Madame—about sixty—and very much alive; and the junior members of the household—two girls—aged 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 headquarters—moderately.    The next day the Colonel dined with me—a wonderful meal. I felt like Oxford and Henry VII. You will remember the story.

"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. I’m having lunch with 'Boy’ — or rather Cuthbert Ellison—to-morrow on the way up. Wonderful man. Loads of love,

H.”

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 hit—just 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 Macintosh’s 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 Man’s 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 Captain’s 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 journey—hospital 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 right—i.e., fit to come back to the War. I’m afraid I feel rather a scrimshank getting hit just now when things are so uncertain, but it was in a good cause—looking 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 didn’t find him. But of course I’m awfully pleased for your sakes, you poor darlings. It means a good long spell of freedom from anxiety—and 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 Morningside. Hech!”

The two months which followed were a period of unalloyed happiness—only 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 (Henry’s) 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 July—a 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 Guards—will 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 mother’s mind the picture of him standing on the lower step of the Pullman—Sir Victor Mackenzie on the platform above—and 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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