He didn't tell us then that it was the bursting of a
shell that gave him his first wound stripe. But he wrote to us regularly
again, and there were scarcely any days in which a letter did not come
either to me or to his mother. When one of those breaks did come it was
now doubly hard to bear.
For now we knew what it was to dread the sight of a
telegraph messenger. Few homes in Britain there are that do not share
that knowledge now. It is by telegraph, from the War Office, that bad
news comes first. And so, with the memory of that first telegram that we
had had, matters were even worse, somehow, than they had been before.
For me the days and nights dragged by as if they would never pass.
There was more news in John's letters now. We took
some comfort from that. I remember one in which he told his mother how
good a bed he had finally made for himself the night before. For some
reason he was without quarters, either a billet or a dug-out. He had to
skirmish around, for he did not care to sleep simply in Flanders mud.
But at last he found two handfuls of straw, and with them made his
"I got a good two hours' sleep," he wrote to his
mother. "And I was perfectly comfortable. I can tell you one thing, too,
Mother. If I ever get home after this experience, there'll be one in the
house who'll never grumble ! This business puts the grumbling out of
your head. This is where the men are. This is where every man ought to
In another letter he told us that nine of his men had
"We buried them last night," he wrote, "just as the
sun went down. It was the first funeral I have ever attended. It was
most impressive. We carried the boys to one huge grave. The padre said a
prayer, and we lowered the boys into the ground, and we all sang a
little hymn: 'Peace, Perfect Peace!' Then I called my men to attention
again, and we marched straight back into the trenches, each of us, I
dare say, wondering who would be the next."
John was promoted for the second time in Flanders. He
was now a captain, having got his step on the field of battle. Promotion
came swiftly in those days to those who proved themselves worthy. And
all of the few reports that came to us of John showed us that he was a
good officer. His men liked him, and trusted him, and would follow him
anywhere. And little better than that can be said of any officer.
While Captain John Lauder was playing his part across
the Channel, I was still trying to do what I could at home. My band
still travelled up and down, the length and width of the United Kingdom,
skirling and drumming and drawing men by the score to the recruiting
There was no more talk now of a short war. We knew
now what we were in for.
But there was no thought or talk of anything save
victory. Let the war go on as long as it must, it could end only in one
way. We had been forced into the fight; but we were in, and we were in
to stay. John, writing from France, was no more determined than those at
It was not very long before there came again a break
in John's letters. We were used to the days—far apart—that brought no
word. Not until the second day and the third day had passed without a
word, did Mrs. Lauder and I confess our terrors and our anxiety to
ourselves and one another. This time our suspense was comparatively
shortlived. Word came that John was in hospital again; at the Duke of
Westminster's hospital at Le Toquet, in France. This time he was not
wounded; he was suffering from dysentery, fever and a nervous breakdown.
That was what staggered his mother and me. A nervous breakdown ! We
could not reconcile the John we knew with the idea that the words
conveyed to us. He had been highly strung, to be sure, and sensitive.
But never had he Been the sort of boy of whom
to expect a breakdown so severe as this must
be if they had sent him to hospital.
We could only wait to hear from him, however. And it
was several weeks before he was strong enough to be able to write to us.
There was no hint of discouragement in what he wrote then. On the
contrary, he kept on trying to reassure us, and if he ever grew
downhearted, he made it his business to see that we did not suspect it.
Here is one of his letters; like most of them it was not about himself.
"I had a sad experience yesterday," he wrote to me.
"It was the first day I was able to be out of bed, and I went over to a
piano in a comer against the wall, sat down, 'and began playing very
softly, more to myself than anything else.
"One of the nurses came to me, and said a Captain
Webster, of the Gordon Highlanders, who lay on a bed in the same ward,
wanted to speak to me. She said he had asked who was playing, and she
had told Mm Captain Lauder—Harry Lauder's son. ' Oh,' he said, 'I know
Harry Lauder very well. Ask Captain Lauder to come here!'
"This man had gone through ten operations in less
than a week. I thought perhaps my playing had disturbed him, but when I
went to Ms bedside, he grasped my hand, pressed it with what little
strength he had left, and thanked me. He asked me if I could play a
hymn. He said he would like to hear 'Lead, Kindly Light.'
"So I went back to the piano and played it as softly
and as gently as I could. It was Ms last request. He died an hour later.
I was very glad I was able to soothe Ms last moments a little. I am very
glad now that I learned the hymn at Sunday School as a boy."
Soon after we received that letter there came what we
could not but think great news. John was ordered home! He was invalided,
to be sure, and I warned his mother that she
must be prepared for a shock when she saw him. But no matter how ill he
was, we would have our lad with us for a space. And for that much
British fathers and mothers had learned to be grateful.
I had warned John's mother, but it was I who was
shocked when I saw him first on the day he came back to our wee hoose at
Dunoon. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes very bright, as a man's are who
has a fever. He was weak and thin, and there was no blood in his cheeks.
It was a sight to wring one's heart to see the laddie so brought
down—him who had looked so braw and strong the last time we had seen
That had been when he was setting out for the wars,
you ken ! And now he was back, sae thin and weak and pitiful, as I had
not seen him since he had been a bairn in his mother's arms.
Aweel, it was for us, his mother and I, and all the
folks at home, to mend him, and make him strong again. So he told us,
for he had but one thing on his mind—to get back to his men.
"They'll be needing me, out there," he said. "They're
needing men. I must go back so soon as I can. Every man is needed
"You'll be needing your strength back before you can
be going back, son," I told Mm. "If you fash and fret it will take you
but so much the longer to get back."
He knew that. But he knew things I could not know,
because I had not seen them. He had seen things that he saw over and
over again when he tried to sleep. His nerves were shattered
utterly. It grieved me sore not to spend all my time with him, but he
would not hear of it. He drove me back to my work.
"You must work on, Dad, like every other Briton," he
said. "Think of the part you're playing. Why you're more use than any of
us out there; you're worth a brigade!"
So I left him on the Clyde, and went on about my
work. But I went back to Dunoon as often as I could, and as I got a day
or a night to make the journey. At first there was small change of
progress. John would come downstairs about the middle of the day, moving
slowly and painfully. And he was listless; there was no life in him; no
"How did you rest, son?" I would ask him.
He always smiled when he answered.
"Oh, fairly well," he'd tell me. "I fought three or
four battles though, before I dropped off to sleep."
He had come to the right place to be cured, though,
and his mother was the nurse he needed. It was quiet in the hills of the
Clyde, and there was rest and healing in the heather about Dunoon. Soon
his sleep became better and less troubled by dreams. He could eat more,
too, and they saw to it, at home, that he ate all they could stuff into
So it was a surprisingly short time, considering how
bad he had looked when he first came back to Dunoon, before he was in
good health and spirits again. There was a bonnie, wee lassie who was to
become Mrs. John Lauder before very long; she helped our boy, too, to
get back Ms strength. Soon he was ordered from home. For a time he had
only light duties with the Home Reserve. Then he went to school. I
laughed when he told me he had been ordered to school, but he didna
crack a smile.
"You needn't be laughing," he said. "It's a bombing
school I'm going to nowadays. If you're away from the front for a few
weeks, you find everything changed when you get back. Bombing is going
to be important."
John did so well in the bombing school that he was
made an instructor and assigned, for a while, to teach others. But he
was impatient to be back with his own men, and they were clamouring for
him. And so, on September 16, 1916, his mother and I bade him good-bye
again, and he went back to France, and the men his heart was wrapped up