"You'll see another phase
of the front now, Harry," said Captain Godfrey, as I turned my eyes to
the front once more.
"What's the next stop?" I asked.
"We're heading for a rest billet behind
the lines. There'll be lots of men there who are just out of the
trenches. It's a ghastly strain for even the best and most seasoned
troops—this work in the trenches. So, after a battalion has been in for
a certain length of time, it's pulled out and sent back to a rest
"What do they do there?" I asked.
"Well, they don't loaf—there's none of that in the
British Army, these days. But it's paradise, after the trenches. For one
thing, there isn't the constant danger there is up front. The men aren't
under steady fire. Of course, there's always the chance of a
bomb-dropping raid by a Taube or a Fokker. The men get a chance to clean
up. They get baths, and their clothes are cleaned and disinfected. They
get rid of the cooties—you know what they are?"
I could guess. The plague of vermin in the trenches
is one of the minor horrors of war.
"They do a lot of drilling," Godfrey went on. "Except
for those times in the rest billets, regiments might get a bit slack. In
the trenches, you see, the routine is strict, but it's different. Men
are much more on their own. There aren't any inspections of kit and all
that sort of thing—not for neatness, anyway.
"And it's a good thing for soldiers to be neat. It
helps discipline. And discipline, in time of war, isn't just a
parade-ground matter. It means lives, every time. Your disciplined man,
who's trained to do certain things automatically, is the man you can
depend on in any sort of emergency.
"That's the thing that the Canadians and the
Australians have had to learn since they came out. There were never any
braver troops than those in the world, but at first they didn't have the
automatic discipline they needed. That'll be the first problem in
training the new American armies, too. It's a highly practical matter.
And so, in the rest billets, they drill the men a goodish bit. It keeps
up the morale, and makes them fitter and keener for the work when they
go back to the trenches."
"You don't make it sound much like a real rest for
them," I said.
"Oh, but it is, all right! They have a comfortable
place to sleep. They get better food. The men in the trenches get the
best food it's possible to give them, but it
can't be cooked much, for there aren't facilities. The diet gets pretty
monotonous. In the rest billets they get more variety. And they have
plenty of free time, and there are hours when they can go to the
estaminet —there's always one handy, a sort of pub, you know—and buy
things for themselves. Oh, they have a pretty good time, as you'll see,
in a rest billet."
I had to take his word for it. We went bowling along
at a good speed, but pretty soon we encountered a detachment of Somerset
men. They halted when they spied our caravan, and so did we. As usual
they recognized us.
"You'm Harry Lauder!" said one of them, in the broad
accent of his county. "Us has seen 'ee often!"
Johnson was out already, and he and the drivers were
unlimbering the wee piano. It didn't take so long, now that we were
getting used to the task, to make ready for a roadside concert. While I
waited I talked to the men. They were on their way to Ypres. Tommy can't
get the name right, and long ago ceased trying to do so. The French and
Belgians call it "Eepre"—that's as near as I can give it to you in
print, at least. But Tommy, as all the world must know by now, calls it
Wipers, and that is another name that will live as long as British
history is told.
The Somerset men squatted in the road while I sang my
songs for them, and gave me their most rapt
attention. It was hugely gratifying and flattering, the silence that
always descended upon an audience of soldiers when I sang. There were
never any interruptions. But at the end of a song, and during the
chorus, which they always wanted to sing with me, as I wanted them to
do, too, they made up for their silence.
Soon the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour, was on
its way again. The cheers of the Somerset men sounded gaily in our ears,
and the cars quickly picked up speed and began to mop up the miles at a
great rate. And then, suddenly—whoa! We were in the midst of soldiers
again. This time it was a bunch of motor repair men.
They wandered along the roads, working on the trucks
and cars that were abandoned when they got into trouble, and left along
the side of the road. We had seen scores of such wrecks that day, and I
had wondered if they were left there indefinitely. Far from it, as I
learned now. Squads like this —there were two hundred men in this
particular party—were always at work. Many of the cars they salvaged
without difficulty, those that had been abandoned because of
comparatively minor engine troubles or defects. Other had to be towed to
a repair shop, or loaded upon other trucks for the journey, if their
wheels were out of commission.
Others still, were beyond repair. They had been
utterly smashed in a collision, maybe, or as a result of skidding. Or
they had burned. Sometimes they had been knocked off the road and
generally demoralized by a shell. And in such cases, often, all that men
such as these we had met now could do was to retrieve some parts to be
used in repairing other cars in a less hopeless state.
By this time Johnson and the two soldier chauffeurs
had reduced the business of setting our stage to a fine point. It took
us but a very few minutes indeed to be ready for a concert, and from the
time when we sighted a potential audience to the moment for the opening
number was an almost incredibly brief period. This time that was a good
thing, for it was growing late. And so, although the repair men were
loath to let me go, it was but an abbreviated programme that I was able
to offer them. This was one of the most enthusiastic audiences I had had
yet, for nearly every man there, it turned out, had been what Americans
would call a Harry Lauder fan in the old days. They had been wont to go
again and again to hear me. I wanted to stay and sing more songs for
them, but Captain Godfrey was in charge, and I had to obey his orders,
reluctant though I was to go on.
Our destination was a town called Aubigny— rather an
old chateau just outside the town.
Aubigny was the billet of the --------- Division,
then in rest. Many officers were quartered in the chateau, as the guests
of its French owners, who remained in possession, having refused to
clear out, despite the nearness of the actual fighting front.
This was a Scots division, I was glad to find. I
heard good Scots talk all around me when I arrived, and it was Scottish
hospitality, mingled with French, that awaited us. I know no finer
combination, nor one more warming to the cockles of a man's heart.
Here there was luxury, compared to what I had seen
that day. As Godfrey had warned me, the idea of resting that the troops
had, was a bit more strenuous than mine would be. There was no lying and
lolling about. Hot though the weather was, a deal of football was
played, and there were games of one sort and another going on nearly all
the time when the men were off duty.
This division, I learned, had seen some of the
hardest and bloodiest fighting of the whole war. They had been through
the great offensive that had pivoted on Arras, and had been sorely
knocked about. They had well earned such rest as was coming to them now,
and they were getting ready, in the most cheerful way you can imagine,
for their next turn of duty in the trenches. They knew about how much
time they would have, and they made the best use they could of it.
New drafts were coming out daily from home to fill up
their sadly depleted ranks. The new men were quickly drawn in and
assimilated into organizations that had been reduced to mere skeletons.
New officers were getting acquainted with their men; that wonderful
thing that is called esprit de corps was being made all around me. It is
a great sight to watch it in the making; it helps you to understand the
victories our laddies have won.
I was glad to see the kilted men of the Scots
regiments all about me. It was them, after all, that I had come to see.
I wanted to talk to them, and see them here, in France. I had seen them
at hame, flocking to the recruiting offices. I had seen them in their
training camps. But this was different. I love all the soldiers of the
Empire, but it is natural, is it no? that my warmest feeling should be
for the laddies who wear the kilt.
They were the most cheerful souls, as I saw them when
we reached their rest camp, that you could imagine. They were laughing
and joking all about us, and when they heard that the Reverend Harry
Lauder, M.P., Tour, had arrived they crowded about us to see. They
wanted to make sure that I was there, and I was greeted in all sorts of
dialect that sounded queer enough, I'll be bound, to Godfrey and some of
the rest of our party. There were even men who spoke to me in the
I saw a good deal, afterward, of these Scots troops.
My, how hard they did work while they rested! And what chances they took
of broken bones and bruises in their play! Ye would think, would ye no,
that they had enough of that in the trenches, where they got lumps and
bruises and sorer hurts in the run of duty? But no. So soon as they came
back to their rest billets they must begin to play by knocking the skin
and the hair off one another at sports of various sorts, of which
football was among the mildest, that are not by any means to be
recommended to men of a delicate fibre.
Some of the men I met at Aubigny had been out since
Mons, some of the old kilted regiments of the old regular army, they
were. Away back in those desperate days the Germans had dubbed them the
ladies from Hell, on account of their kilts. Some of the Germans really
thought they were women! That was learned from prisoners. Since Mons
they had been out, and auld Scotland has poured out men by the scores of
thousands, as fast as they were needed, to fill the gaps the German
shells and bullets have torn in the Scots ranks. Aye—since Mons, and
they will be there at the finish, when it comes, please God!
There have always been Scots regiments in the British
Army, ever since the day when King Jamie the Sixth, of Scotland, of the
famous and unhappy house of Stuart, became King James the First of
England. The kilted regiments, the Highlanders, belonging to the
immortal Highland Brigade, include the Gordon Highlanders, the
Forty-second, the world-famous Black Watch, as it is better known than
by its numbered designation, the Seaforth Highlanders, and the Argyll
and Sutherland regiment, or the Princess Louise's Own. That was the
regiment, a Territorial battalion, to which my boy John belonged at the
outbreak of the war, and with which he served until he was killed.
Some of those old, famous regiments have been wiped
out half a dozen times, almost literally annihilated, since Mons. New
drafts, and the addition of territorial battalions, have replenished
them and kept up their strength, and the continuity of their tradition
has never been broken. The men who compose a regiment may be wiped out,
but the regiment survives. It is an organization, an entity, a creature
with a soul as well as a body. And the Germans have no yet discovered a
way of killing the soul! They can do dreadful things to the bodies of
men and women, but their souls are safe from them.
Of course there are Scots regiments that are not
kilted and that have naught to do with the Hielanders, who have given as
fine and brave an account of themselves as any. There are the Scots
Guards, one of the regiments of the Guards Brigade, the very pick and
flower of the British Army. There are the King's Own Scottish Borderers,
with as fine a history and tradition as any regiment in the Army, and a
record of service of which any regiment might well be proud; the Scots
Fusiliers, the Royal Scots, the Scottish Rifles, and the Scots Greys of
Crimean fame—the only cavalry regiment from Scotland.
Since this war began other Highland regiments have
been raised beside those originally included in the Highland Brigade.
There are Scots from Canada who wear the kilt and their own tartan and
bonnet. Every Highland regiment, of course, has its own distinguishing
tartan and bonnet. One of the proudest moments of my life came when I
heard that the ninth battalion of the Highland Light Infantry, which was
raised in Glasgow, but has its depot, where its recruits and new
drafts are trained, at Hamilton, was known as the Harry Lauders. That
was because they had adopted the Balmoral cap, with dice, that had
become associated with me because I had worn it so often and so long on
the stage, in singing one of my most famous and successful songs, "I
love a Lassie."
But in the trenches, of course, the Hieland troops
all look alike. They cling to their kilts— or, rather, their kilts cling
to them—but kilts and jackets are all of khaki. If they wore the bright
plaids of the tartans they would be much too conspicuous a mark for the
Germans, and so they have to forswear their much loved colours when they
are actually at grips with Fritz.
I wear the kilt nearly always, myself, as I have
said. Partly I do so because it is my native costume, and I am proud of
my Highland birth; partly because I revel in the comfort of the costume.
But it brings me some amusing experiences. Very often I am asked a
question that is, I presume, fired at many a Hieland soldier, intimate
though it is.
"I say, Harry," some one will ask me, "you wear the
kilt. Do you not wear anything underneath it?"
I do, myself. I wear a very short pair of trunks,
chiefly for reasons of modesty. So do some of the soldiers. But if they
do they must provide it for themselves; no such garment is served out to
them with their uniform. And so the vast majority of the men wear
nothing but their skins under the kilt. He is bare, that is, from the
waist to the hose, except for the kilt. But that is garment enough !
I'll tell ye so, and I'm thinkin' I know!
So clad, the Highland soldier is a great deal more
comfortable and a great deal more sanely dressed, I believe, than the
city dweller who is trousered and underweared within an inch of his
life. I think it is a matter of medical record, that can be verified
from the reports of the army surgeons, that the kilted troops are among
the healthiest in the whole army. I know that the Highland troops are
much less subject to abdominal troubles of all sorts—colic and the like.
The kilt lies snug and warm around the stomach, in several thick layers,
and a more perfect protection from the cold has never been devised for
that highly delicate and susceptible region of the human anatomy.
Women, particularly, are always asking me another
question. I have seen them eyeing me, in cold weather, when I was walkin'
around, comfortably, in my kilt. And their eyes would wander to my
knees, and I would know before they opened their mouths what it was that
they were going to say.
"Oh, Mr. Lauder," they would ask me. "Don't your poor
knees get cold—with no coverings, exposed to this bitter cold?"
Well, they never have! That's all I can tell you.
They have had the chance, in all sorts of bitter weather. I am not
thinking only of the comparatively mild winters of Britain; although, up
north, in Scotland, we get some pretty severe winter weather. But I have
been in Western Canada, and in the North-Western States of the United
States, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, where the thermometer drops
far below zero. And my knees have never been cold yet. They do not
suffer from the cold any more than does my face, which is as little
covered and protected as my knees, and for the same reason, I suppose.
They are used to the weather.
And when it comes to the general question of health,
I am certain, from my own experience, that the kilt is best. Several
times, for one reason or another, I have laid my kilt aside and put on
trousers. And each time I have been seized by violent colds, and my life
has been made wretched. A good many soldiers of my acquaintance have had
the same experience.
Practical reasons aside, however, the Scots soldier
loves his kilt, and would fight like a steer to keep from having it
taken away from him, should any one be so foolish as to try such a
performance. He loves it, not only because it is warm and comfortable,
but because it is indissolubly associated in his mind with some of the
most glorious pages of Scottish history. It is a sign and symbol of his
hameland to him. There have been times, in Scotland, when all was not as
peaceful in that country's relations with England as it now is, when the
loyal Scot who wore the kilt did so knowing that he might be tried for
his life for doing so, since death had been the penalty appointed for
Aye, it is peace and friendship now between Scot and
Englishman. But that is not to say that there is no a friendly rivalry
between them still. English regiments and Scots regiments have a lot of
fun with one another, and a bit rough it gets, too, at times. But it is
all in fun, and there is no harm done. I have in mind a tale an officer
told me, though the men of whom he told it did not know that an officer
had any inkling of the story.
The English soldiers are very fond of harping on the
old idea of the difficulty of making a Scotsman see a joke. That is a
base slander, I'll say, but no matter. There were two regiments in rest
close to one another, one English and one Scots. They met at the
estaminet or pub in the nearby town. And one day the Englishman put up a
great joke on some of the Scots, and did get a little proof of that pet
idea of theirs, for the Scots were slow to see the joke.
Ah, weel, that was enough. For days the English rang
the changes on that joke, teasing the Hielanders and making sport of
them. But at last, when the worst of the tormentors were all assembled
together, two of the Scots came into the room where they were havin' a
"Mon, Sandy," said one of them, shaking his head,
"I've been thinking what a sad thing that would be! I hope it will no
come to pass."
"Aye, that would be a sore business, indeed, Tam,"
said Sandy, and he, too, shook his head.
And so they went on. The Englishmen stood it as long
as they could and then one turned to Sandy.
"What is it would be such a bad business?" he asked.
"Mon-mon," said Sandy. "We've been thinking, Tam and
I, what would become of England, if Scotland should make a separate
And it was generally conceded that the last laugh was
with the Scots in that affair!
My boy, John, had the same love for the kilt that I
had. He was proud and glad to wear the kilt, and to lead men who did the
same. While he was in training at Bedford he organized a corps of
cyclists for dispatch-bearing work. He was a crack cyclist himself, and
cycling was a sport of which he was passionately fond. So he took a
great interest in the corps, and it soon gained wide fame for its
efficiency. So famous, indeed, that the authorities took note of the
corps, and of John, who was responsible for it, and he was asked to go
to France to take charge of organizing a similar corps behind the front.
But that would have involved a transfer to a different branch of the
Army, and detachment from his regiment. And—it would have meant that he
must doff his kilt. Since he had the chance to decline—it was an offer,
not an order, that had come to him—he declined it, that he might keep
his kilt and stay with his own men.
To my eyes there is no spectacle that begins to be so
imposing as the sight of a parade of Scottish troops in full uniform.
And it is the unanimous testimony of German prisoners that this war has
brought them no more terrifying sight than the charge of a kilted
regiment. The Highlanders come leaping forward, their bayonets gleaming,
shouting old battle cries that rang through the glens years and
centuries ago, and that have come down to the descendants of the
warriors of an ancient time. The Highlanders love to use cold steel; the
claymore was their old weapon, and the bayonet is its
nearest equivalent in modern war. They are master hands with
that, too, and the bayonet is the one thing the Hun has no stomach for
Fritz is brave enough when he is under such cover and
shelter as the trenches give. And he has shown a sort of stubborn
courage when attacking in massed formations; the Germans have made
terrible sacrifices, at times, in their offensive efforts. But his blood
turns to water in his veins when he sees the big braw laddies from the
Hielands come swooping toward him, their kilts flapping and their
bayonets shining in whatever light there is. Then he is mighty quick to
throw up his hands and shout: "Kamerad! Kamerad!"
I might go on all night telling you some of the
stories I heard along the front about the Scottish soldier. They
illustrate and explain every phase of his character. They exploit his
humour, despite that base slander to which I have already referred, his
courage, his stoicism. And, of course, a vast fund of stories has sprung
up that deals with the proverbial thrift of the Scot. There was one tale
that will bear repeating, perhaps.
Two Highlanders had captured a chicken—a live
chicken, not particularly fat, it may be, even a bit scrawny, but still,
a live chicken. That was a prize, since the bird seemed to have no owner
who might get them into trouble with the military police. One was for
killing and eating the fowl at once. But the other would have none of
such a summary plan.
"No, no, Jimmy," he said pleadingly, holding the
chicken protectingly. "Let's keep her until morning, and may be we will
ha' an egg as well!"
The other British Soldiers call the Scots Jock,
invariably. The Englishman, or a soldier from Wales or Ireland, as a
rule, is called Tommy— after the well-known Mr. Thomas Atkins.
Sometimes, an Irishman will be Paddy and a Welshman Taffy. But
the Scot is always Jock.
Jock gave us a grand welcome at Aubigny. We were all
pretty tired, but when they told me I could have an audience of seven
thousand Scots soldiers I forgot my weariness, and Hogge, Adam and I, to
say nothing of Johnson and the wee piano, cleared for action, as you
might say. The concert was given in the picturesque grounds of the
chateau, which had been less harshly treated by the war than many of
these beautiful old places have been. It was a great experience to sing
to so many men; it was far and away the largest house we had had since
we had landed at Boulogne.
After we left Aubigny, the chateau and that great
audience, we drove on as quickly as we could, since it was now late, to
the headquarters of General Mac------, commanding the ---------
Division—to which, of course, the men whom we had just been entertaining
belonged. I was to meet the general upon my arrival.
That was a strange ride. It was pitch dark, and we
had some distance to go. There were mighty few lights in evidence; you
do not advertise a road to Fritz's aeroplanes when you are travelling
roads anywhere near the front, for he has guns of long range, that can
at times manage to strafe a road that is supposed to be beyond the zone
of fire with a good deal of effect. I have seldom seen a blacker night
than that. Objects along the side of the road were nothing" but
shapeless lumps, and I did not see how our drivers could manage to find
their way at all.
They seemed to have no difficulty, however, but got
along swimmingly. Indeed, they travelled faster than they had done in
daylight. Perhaps that was because we were not meeting troops to hold us
up along this road; I believe that, if we had, we should have stopped
and given them a concert, even though Johnson could not have seen the
keys of his piano!
It was just as well, however. I was delighted at the
reception that had been given to the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour
all through our first day in France. But I was also extremely tired, and
the dinner and bed that loomed up ahead of us, at the end of our long
ride through the dark, took on an aspect of enchantment as we neared
them. My voice, used as I was to doing a great deal of singing, was
fagged, and Hogge and Dr. Adam were so hoarse that they could scarcely
speak at all. Even Johnson was pretty well done up ; he was still,
theoretically, at least, on the sick list, of course. And I ha' nae doot
that the wee piano felt it was entitled to its rest, too!
So we were all mighty glad when the cars stopped at
"Well, here we are!" said Captain Godfrey, who was
the freshest of us all. "This is Trame-court—General Headquarters for
the Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour while you are in France,
gentlemen. They have special facilities for visitors here, and unless
one of Fritz's aeroplanes feels disposed to drop a bomb or two, you
won't be under fire, at night at least. Of course, in the daytime------"
He shrugged his shoulders. For our plans did not
involve a search for safe places. Still, it was pleasant to know that we
might sleep in fair comfort.
General Mac------ was waiting to welcome us, and told
us that dinner was ready and waiting, which we were all glad to hear. It
had been a long, hard day, although the most interesting one, by far,
that I had ever spent.
We made short work of dinner, and soon afterward they
took us to our rooms. I don't know what Hogge and Dr. Adam did, but I
know I looked happily at the comfortable bed that was in my room. And I
slept easily and without being rocked to sleep