I HAVE stopped for a wee digression about my fund. I
saw many interesting things in France, and dreadful things. And it was
impressed upon me more and more that the Hun knows no mercy. The wicked,
wanton things he did in France, and that I saw!
There was Mont St. Quentin, one of the very strongest
of the positions out of which the British turned him. There was a
chateau there, a bonnie place. And hard by was a wee cemetery. The Hun
had smashed its pretty monuments, and he had reached into that sacred
soil with his filthy claws, and dragged out the dead from their
resting-place, and scattered their helpless bones about.
He ruined Peronne in wanton fury because it was
passing from his grip. He wrecked its old cathedral, once one of the
loveliest sights in France. He took away the old fleurs-de-lis from the
great gates of Peronne. He stole and carried away the statues that used
to stand in the old square. He left the great statue of St. Peter, still
standing in the churchyard, but its thumb was broken off. I
found it, as I rummaged about idly in the debris at
the statue's foot.
It was no casual looting that the Huns did. They did
their work methodically, systematically. It was a sight to make the
As I left the ruined cathedral I met a couple of
French pollus, and tried to talk with them. But they spoke "very leetle"
English, and I fired all my French words at them in one sentence.
"Oui, oui, madame," I said. "Encore pommes de terre.
They laughed, but we did not get far with our talk !
Not in French.
"You can't love the Hun much, after this," I said.
"Ze Hun? Ze bloody Boche?" cried one of them.
"I keel heem all my life!"
I was glad to quit Peronne. The rape of that lovely
church saddened me more than almost any sight I saw in France. I did not
care to look at it. So I was glad when we motored on to the headquarters
of the Fourth Army, where I had the honour of meeting one of Britain's
greatest soldiers, General Sir Henry Rawlinson, who greeted us most
cordially, and invited us to dinner.
After dinner we drove on toward Amiens. We were
swinging back now toward Boulogne, and were scheduled to sleep that
night at Amiens— which the Germans held for a few days, during their
first rush toward Paris, before the Marne, but did not have time to
Adam knew Amiens, and was made welcome, with the rest
of us, at an excellent hotel. Von Kluck had made it his headquarters
when he swung that way from Brussels, and it was there he planned the
dinner he meant to eat in Paris with the Kaiser. Von Kluck demanded an
indemnity of £200,000 from Amiens to spare its famous old cathedral.
It was late when we arrived, but before I slept I
called for the boots and ordered a bottle of ginger ale. I tried to get
him to tell me about old Von Kluck and his stay, but he couldn't talk
English, and was busy, anyway, trying to open the bottle without cutting
the wire. Adam and Hogge are fond, to this day, of telling how I shouted
at him, finally :
"Well, how do you expect to open that bottle when you
can't even talk the English language?"
Next day was Sunday, and we went to church in the
cathedral, which Von Kluck didn't destroy, after all. There were signs
of war ; the windows and the fine carved doors were banked with sand
bags as a measure of protection from bombing aeroplanes.
I gave my last roadside concert on the road from
Amiens to Boulogne. It was at a little place called Oeui, and we had
some trouble in finding it and more in pronouncing its name. Some of us
called it Off, some Owf! I knew I had heard the name somewhere, and I
was racking my brains to think as Johnson set up our wee piano and I
began to sing. Just as I finished my first song a rooster set up a
violent crowing, in competition with me, and I remembered!
"I know where I am!" I cried, "I'm at Egg!"
And that is what Oeuf means, in English!
The soldiers were vastly amused. They were Gordon
Highlanders, and I found a lot of chaps among them frae far awa's
Aberdeen. Not many of them are alive to-day, I doot! But that day they
were a gay lot and a bonnie lot. There was a big Highlander who said to
me, very gravely:
"Harry, the only good thing I ever saw in a German
was a British bayonet! If you ever hear anyone at hame talking peace—cut
off their heads! Or send them out to us, and we'll show them. There's a
job to do here, and we'll do it.
"Look!" he said, sweeping his arm as if to include
all France. "Look at yon ruins! How would you like old England or auld
Scotland to be looking like that? We're not only going to break and
scatter the Hun rule, Harry. If we do no more than that, it will surely
be reassembled again. We're going to destroy it."
On the way from Oeuf to Boulogne we visited a small
out-of-the-way hospital, and I sang for the lads there. And I was going
around, afterward, talking to the boys on their cots and came to a young
chap whose head and face were swathed in bandages.
"How came you to be hurt, lad?" I asked.
"Well, sir," he said, "we were attacking one morning.
I went over the parapet with the rest, and got to the German trench all
right. I wasn't hurt. And I went down, thirty feet deep, into one of
their dugouts. You wouldn't think men could live so—but, of course,
they're not men—they're animals. There was a lighted candle on a shelf
and beside it a fountain pen. It was just an ordinary-looking pen, and
it was fair loot. I thought some chap had meant to write a letter, and
forgotten his pen when our attack came. So I slipped it in my pocket.
"Two days later I was going to write a few lines to
my mother and tell her I was all right, so I thought I'd try my new pen.
And when I unscrewed the cap it exploded—and, well, you see me, Harry !
It blew half of my face away."
The Hun knows no mercy.
I was glad to see Boulogne again; the white buildings
on the white hills, and the harbour beyond. Here the itinerary of the
Reverend Harry Lauder, M.P., Tour came to its formal end. But, since
there were many new arrivals in the hospitals —the population of a base
shifts quickly—we were asked to give a couple more concerts
in the hospitals where we had first appeared on French soil.
A good many thousand Canadians had just come in, so I
sang at Base Hospital No. 1, and then gave another and farewell concert
at the great convalescent camp on the hill. And then we said good-bye to
Captain Godfrey, and the chauffeurs, and to Johnson, my accompanist,
ready to go back to his regiment now. I told them all I hoped that when
I came to France again to sing we could reassemble all the original
cast, and I pray that we may!
On Monday we took boat again for Folkestone. The boat
was crowded with men going home on leave, and I wandered among them. I
heard many a tale of heroism and courage, of splendid sacrifice and
suffering nobly borne. Destroyers, as before, circled about us, and
there was no hint of trouble from a Hun submarine.
On our boat was Lord Dalmeny, a King's Messenger,
carrying dispatches from the front. He asked me how I had liked the
"show." It is so that nearly all British soldiers refer to the war.
They had earned their rest, those laddies who were
going home to Britain. But some of them were half sorry to be going, I
talked to one of them.
"I don't know, Harry," he said. "I was looking
forward to this leave for a long time. I've been oot twa years. My heart
jumped with joy at first at the thought of seeing my mother and the auld
hame. But now that I'm started, and in a fair way to get there, I'm no
so happy. You see, every young fellow frae my toon is awa'. I'm the only
one going back. Many are dead. It won't be the same. I've a mind just to
stay in London till my leave is up, and then go back. If I went home my
mother would but burst out greetin', an' I think I couldna stand that."
But, as for me, I was glad, though I was sorry too,
to be going home. I wanted to go back again. But I wanted to hurry to my
wife, and tell her what I had seen at our boy's grave. And so I did, as
soon as I landed on British ground once more.
I felt that I was bearing a message to her—a message
from our boy. I felt—and I still feel— that I could tell her that all
was well with him, and with all the other soldiers of Britain, and the
Dominions, and India too, who sleep, like him, in the land of the
bleeding lily. They died for humanity, and God will not forget.
And I think there is something for me to say to all
those who are to know a grief such as I knew. Every mother and father
who has lost a son in this war must have a strong, unbreakable faith in
the future life, in the world beyond, where they will see their son
again. Do not give way to grief. Instead, keep your gaze and your faith
firmly fixed on the world beyond, and regard your boy's absence as
though he were but on a journey. By keeping your faith you will help to
win this war. For if you lose it, the war and your personal self are
My whole perspective was changed by my visit to the
front. Never again shall I know those moments of black despair that used
to come to me. In my thoughts I shall never be far away from the little
cemetery hard by the Bapaume road. And life would not be worth the
living for me did I not believe that each day brings me nearer to seeing
my boy again.
I found a belief among the soldiers in France that
was almost universal. I found it among all classes of men at the Front;
among men who had, before the war, been regularly religious, along
well-ordered lines, and among men who had lived just according to their
own lights. Before the war, before the Hun went mad, the young men of
Britain thought little of death or what might come after death. They
were gay and careless, living for to-day. Then war came, and with it,
death astride of every minute, every hour. And the young men began to
think of spiritual things and of God.
Their faces, their deportments, may not have shown
the change. But it was in their hearts. They would not show it. Not
they! But I have talked with hundreds of men along the front. And it is
my conviction that they believe, one and all, that if they fall in
battle they only pass on to another. And what a comforting belief that
"It is that belief that makes us indifferent to
danger and to death," a soldier said to me. "We fight in a righteous
cause and a holy war. God is not going to let everything end for us just
because the mortal life quits the shell we call the body. You may be
sure of that."
And I am sure of it, indeed!