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Henry Dundas, Scots Guards, a Memoir
Chapter V. Life at Brigade Headquarters and elsewhere
(By Captain Oliver Lytteton D.S.O., M.C.)


Those who have died in the fulness of their years, who have written pages in the history of their countries, and whose failures and successes have earned that publicity which we call greatness, leave behind them material for the biographer by which he may refashion their personalities and make them live again to his readers. He may apply the touchstone of their actions to his presentment of their character, and may check his own appreciation of their defects and qualities by the actual stress to which his records show that they have been subjected.

But when the task is to portray part of the life of one whose flame has been suddenly and prematurely extinguished, and whose personality found its expression, though in action, yet in action common to that of many others whose part must be left unrecorded, his historian is helped by little except his own memory, and it is left to his own discernment to fix on those things that were essential and those that were due, as in this case, to the ephemeral reactions and exuberances of youth.

A bullet fired from a rifle at the beginning of its course sways and rocks from its true line by the mere force of that power which has sent it on its way. It does not “settle down” until it has travelled some distance.

It was so with Henry Dundas: his character and conduct, his thought and speech were all extravagantly expressed, and though he was aligned on ideals and aims from which he never really deviated, the very force of his progress towards them often resulted in words and actions which, though not alien, were not yet kindred to him, and which were occasional and transient rather than customary or permanent.

So much by way of preface before I try to give some slight impression of my friend as I knew him.

I first met Henry Dundas on the 27th of September 1916. The 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, of which I was Adjutant, had to relieve the 1st Battalion Scots Guards on that night in a position which had just been taken, round the farther edge of the village of Lesbceufs. [Three miles S.W. of Bapaume]

The Headquarters of the Scots Guards were installed 800 yards behind the front line on the forward slope of the Flers ridge, the dominating feature of the Somme battlefield.

As we moved down to relieve, behind us we could see the rim of the ridge stretching out of our sight, sharply outlined even in the darkness.

We reached the “dug-out” so called, and found it to consist of a narrow trench roofed in by a sheet of corrugated iron which, as the expression went, “would not have kept out a whisper.”

After we had exchanged the usual good evenings, the Colonel of the Scots Guards introduced me to his acting-Adjutant. “This is Henry Dundas,” he said. [He was aged nineteen.] I saw before me a boy of medium height, with the square shoulders of the Scotchman: a face of character with a slightly tilted nose, a face which might be described as legal and like the prints of Scotch jurists, but at the same time lit with an expression for which I can think of no better word than “gamin.”

We proceeded to our business. I found out from him the usual dreary details—position of Companies, of stores, of grenades, S.A.A., asked about water and rations, how far mules could be led, and what route ration-parties followed.

“What about movement in the day? What do they see?” say I.

“Oh, all this is commanded by this ridge ”—pointing it out on the map—“above Le Transloy; you saw that this morning. They don’t seem to be moving about on it much, but you may bet your shirt that their Artillery observers are there.”

“Good. Can one move down the slope oneself in daylight?”

“Yes, oh yes. Of course you are seen, but they don’t worry about one or two: I shouldn’t take up a party. I have been twice to-day, once after 'stand-to-arms’ and once this afternoon. I go over the top to here, then get into this old trench, about a hundred yards from the support Companies.”

“What are the shelled areas? First of all, what do they always shell?”

He smiled. “Lesboeufs is not a health resort. They come down for a quarter of an hour round the church at least three or four times a day— 5‘9’s chiefly: otherwise they shell the eastern outskirts continuously, and occasionally 'shoot up’ various areas on this ridge with £ whizz-bangs.’ They haven’t disliked this place very much yet, although they put a stray one very near the cook-house about 7.30 this morning, which put the wind up us a bit.”

All this time the two commanding officers, both talking "shop” of this kind, and our two selves, had been sitting knee to knee in the trench with the candle guttering in yesterday’s port bottle, and with that peculiar smell of india-rubber which was the principal property of the ground-sheet, pervading everything. Our boots and our heads were smoking, for it had been a damp evening, and so, to get some fresh air, we went outside, when we had finished our work with the maps.

Henry immediately plunged into a discussion on the greater game. The offensive of the Somme was a failure, he said; the higher command was unimaginative, inelastic, inefficient; nothing had been achieved—a few miles of wasted country in which we could not live had been won. “That country!” he exclaimed expressively, pointing backwards towards the Guinchy valley—“that abomination of desolation!”

And it must be confessed that the valley churned into a rough sea of shell-holes, scattered with graves and bodies, old wire and rifles, and into which, and from which, the shells never ceased to come and go, was more eloquent of human suffering than any other place, except perhaps Ypres, that we ever saw. He looked surprised when I mildly put the more orthodox view. “The object of war is the defeat of the enemies’ forces—the old truism. The German Army has been put through the mill, and the memory of this battlefield will be in the mind of every German soldier when he hears the roar of the opening barrage. Perhaps this isn’t a very artistic offensive, because there is hardly any element of surprise. But you want a higher state of training than most of the troops possess to fight that sort of battle. The inelastic plan is the child of inelastic troops. I agree, reserves are not thrown in quick enough, but I believe the real answer is that there are none. Still, the great thing is that our objective is Boches, not Bapaume.”

“Well, I don’t agree,” he said vehemently. “If the troops are not trained enough, for God’s sake don’t allow these shambles. We are exhausting the enemy—granted—but we are also exhausting ourselves. War is a game of coups; it is not like billiards, a game of long breaks. Our theory is bad, and I believe far behind our practice. Never exploit failure, only exploit success. We exploit either, generally the former.”

I give the substance of this conversation because a bitter criticism of the higher command was one of his hobbies, and although I have not set them down because they would not be generally understood, he enriched this argument with many technical illustrations: he showed, at any rate, that he had been very quick in assimilating the salient factors of positional warfare. It is not every subaltern who sees beyond the end of his platoon.

Never, too, was any one who expounded his arguments with greater rapidity and force than Henry. You could not quite believe in his counsels when they were counsels of prudence, because that explanatory finger which wagged at you, all the metaphors which came pouring out, the humour and laughter with which the most pessimistic presages and disillusioned summaries were enounced, showed the vigour of one who was enterprising first and reflective only about the past.

We finished our conversation with the usual Etonian gossip:    soon afterwards the reports came down that the relief was complete, and the Scots Guards marched away.


The winter following the battle of the Somme was wet; the country in which we lived had been changed during the four months of bombardment and counter-bombardment into a treeless, houseless waste: if you stood on a hill and surveyed the scene of the old battles you saw a rough sea of shell-holes with a few tumble-down trenches wavering across it like breakwaters. The rain swept over it continuously, undermined our parapets, penetrated our shelters, and brought the corpses to the surface.

It was impossible to keep troops in the line for long if they were not to suffer from “trench feet.” Further, in order that they might get some rest and shelter, it was necessary to withdraw them a long way back from the front areas, because fighting had continued far into the winter, so that no hutted camps had been built near the front line.

Thus the fatigue and discomfort of routine trench life—peace soldiering, as it was called— were enormously increased. The march from the front trenches to the so-called rest billets was often ten to twelve miles, and it imposed a great strain on men who had been subjected to sleepless exposure in the rain and bad weather. .

In our case, the rest billets were big French huts built by the side of the Mericourt road, and not very far from the ruins of that village.

It was, of course, impossible to move from one hut to another except on duck-board walks owing to the mud; it was difficult to keep warm owing to shortage of fuel; and the wind blew through the camps all the winter with a penetrating persistence which found all the cracks in the walls of the huts, and sent gusts of smoke from the field-kitchens swirling and eddying among the cursing inhabitants.

In this paradise we remained thirty-six to forty hours out of every six days, spending the time in drying our clothing and scraping off the mud. Then we boarded some railway trucks, detrained at Trenes Wood, and marched into our “support billets,” north of Combies, in a sylvan resort known as Lousy Wood. Here our quarters were elephant-shelters and one or two dug-outs in the side of the Combles road.

As a rest cure they could not be entirely recommended, as they were almost as little shelter against the elements as they were against the frequent bombardments to which the area was treated.

This was the life of the Guards Division during November and December, and all other Divisions in the Somme Sector were undergoing the same hardships. Perhaps from this slight sketch some new significance may attach to those words which form part of so many obituary notices. “He was always cheerful.” High spirits, such as Henry Dundas exhibited, not only gave evidence of a temperament which could not be depressed even when highly tried by discomfort, but also were of the greatest value to his friends and to his Battalion.

It is, of course, during a time of monotony that versatility is most prized, and when existence is dragged out in a country of the dead that vitality is most to be commended. These qualities were his signal endowment, and it is not surprising that during this winter he gained the affection of every one—an affection which admitted him into the confidences of his contemporaries, whilst it gave him a licence to criticise and even to ridicule his seniors unrebuked.

At the beginning of January we had five days’ rest at Corbie, after which we went once more into the line just west of St Pierre Vaast Wood; and though I had seen little of Henry Dundas during the first part of the period described above, in the new sector I left my Battalion to become Staff Captain under instruction, and consequently began to see and hear more of other battalions and their officers.

There is one typical incident connected with Henry Dundas which, though he describes it in his letters, ought to be more fully recorded.

There had been a sharp frost, and the thaw which followed made all the trenches fall in, blocked any communication trenches which may have existed, and made it only possible to move into the front fine or from one post to another “over the top.”

The motto of our predecessors in the sector had been “Nous ne faisons pas la petite guerre,” and the result was that neither side fired at one another during reliefs or at night. Water parties, ration parties, and relieving troops had all to move about above ground, and they did so unmolested. We allowed this state of affairs to go on as long as it was convenient to us, or, in fact, until we had completed all the essential work on our trenches, and it was then very properly decreed that it must stop. At the same time we did not relish the idea of shooting down the unsuspecting Germans during this implied truce.

Accordingly, two officers volunteered to break the sad news to the enemy that he would get no more sympathy. These two were “Deacon” Brodie (Henry’s nickname), chosen by the Brigadier because he knew German, and Henry Dundas, chosen by himself because he knew “Deacon” Brodie and would not miss a chance of an adventure in his company.

This is how he himself describes it in a letter :—

“21st January 1917.

“Out of the line once more after an amusing sojourn, which included a visit to the Germans. On the Brigade frontage the line was very close on the right. Up till two days ago a reign of absolute quiet had prevailed. Perfect peace. Every one walked about on both sides. There are no trenches: merely a series of 'islands,’ and no communication trenches. The other side are in a similar position, except that their islands are on the top of a ridge and we can’t see anything behind. They, of course, can sweep all our islands and the approaches to them, so quiet was essential if any work was to be done, or indeed if any existence was to be continued. So peace reigned. People waved bottles at each other across No Man’s Land—wha’ a bond is Johnny Dewar even between enemies—and life was very pleasant. We used to walk round inspecting the islands on the top all the time with the German thirty yards away.

"But gradually the Divisional Staff decided that this state of affairs must cease. This being so, the Brigadier decided that the Germans must be warned. Accordingly Brodie and I, about seven in the morning, sallied out of our posts across the Boches’ lines. Brodie is an excellent German scholar, so we were well equipped—he with speech and I with papers inscribed with a message to the effect that 'after dawn on the 19th all Germans exposing themselves would be shot ’ (printed in English usefully enough). We stayed on their wire shouting for an 'Offizier.’ At last, after much excitement, a small man looking like Charlie Chaplin appeared, with whom Brodie chatted for about twenty minutes, saying how sorry we were that this state of affairs must cease —telling them that all would be well if there were only head-keeping-down by both sides. And so away—not unamusing.”

Perhaps it might be remarked that walking into No Man’s Land and parleying with the Boches is not without risk, and that the best intentions are sometimes misunderstood.

In February 1917 Henry Dundas joined the 2nd Guards Brigade Headquarters as Bombing and Intelligence Officer. The Staff at that time was composed as follows :—

Commander—Brig.-General Lord Henry Seymour, D.S.O.
Brigade Major—Capt. E. W. M. Grigg, M.C.
Staff Captain—Capt. Sir John Dyer, Bart., M.C.
Staff Captain under instruction—the writer.

The duties of Bombing and Intelligence Officer, as the name of the appointment implies, consisted in instructing a series of classes in bombing and in the tactics of grenade warfare when the Brigade was out of the line, and when it was in the line, in supervising the stores of bombs of all kinds and in co-ordinating the Intelligence reports of Battalions and of the Brigade observers. It was not in itself a particularly arduous or difficult position, but the officer chosen to fill it was carefully selected, and it was thought to be the first step to Staff employment in the future.

Of course, almost any audacious enterprise can be excused on the plea of “reconnaissance or intelligence,” and we were always obliged to keep an eye on Henry to prevent him from walking down the enemies’ wire at night, looking nominally for information but in reality for adventure—and trouble, as the phrase goes.

I can think of two instances in particular when we were not successful in restraining him, and perhaps they may be written down here out of their chronological order.

The first took place in the Ypres salient, when Henry was detailed to prepare a daily report on the enemies’ wire and on the progress which had been made by the Artillery in cutting it.

At the time, we were preparing for an attack: the enemy was fully alive to our intentions, and was very sensitive when he noticed that our Artillery was beginning to cut his wire. Both sides had concentrated a large force of Artillery, and the sector had, as we used to say, thoroughly woken up. Every one had his ears pricked for shells, and not often in vain: Boesinghe village was perhaps the most unhealthy part of our small piece of the line, as it was shelled steadily all day and night, and violently for half an hour or so from time to time. Further, every yard of country was overlooked, and the slightest movement across the top of the ground was seen, and generally provoked coveys of “whizz-bangs.” Now just south of Boesinghe ran a railway embankment, twenty to thirty feet high, which in that flat country was a conspicuous “feature.” On the line two or three derelict trucks had survived all bombardments. They must needs seem to Henry ideally suited as an observation-post from which to get a look at the wire.

It was perhaps unfortunate that to reach them involved leaving our trenches at a point within rifle-fire of the enemy, and that clambering up the embankment in full view might attract attention. However, the first time that he thought of them as useful, he walked out of the trench with a map and a pair of glasses, climbed into the second or third truck, and proceeded to have a good look. He remained there all one hot afternoon, and by some fortune, although there was a great deal of shelling, he had a “very quiet time.”

On this occasion at any rate he could plead that the risks he took were in a good cause. The other incident could not be so easily justified.

A canal separated the two lines, and in order to test the practicability of the mats by which the assaulting troops were to cross it on the day of the attack, and to secure an identification of the German units opposed to us, the 1st Battalion Scots Guards was ordered to make a night raid.

Henry was sent up to Battalion Headquarters in Boesinghe to await the arrival of prisoners, and to keep Brigade Headquarters posted as to any unexpected developments.

The raid successfully crossed the canal, but no prisoners were captured, as the enemy, suspecting our intentions, had evacuated that piece of trench. We heard nothing from the Intelligence Officer while the preliminary bombardment was in progress, although the telephone line remained intact. This was not entirely unexpected, but when we knew that the raid had started and indeed could see the enemy Very lights going up, and hear one or two machine-guns in action, we hoped for some word. However, by this time all the lines had been cut, and so we had to be patient until they were repaired. The signallers soon reported that communication was again established, but no word came from Henry. Battalion Headquarters could only say that he had gone out to watch the raid. Four hours after zero, when we had received full accounts from the Battalion, there was still no news from Henry. We were anxious. At 3.30 a.m. he arrived at Brigade Headquarters covered with mud.

“He had thought it advisable to get up close to the raiding party in order to see what was going on. He had really quite intended to do what he was told, but to cut a long story short he had crossed the canal with the party, and had spent half the evening in the German lines. After it was over Ivan Cobbold had offered him food; he never suspected that we would miss him; he was very sorry,” but—at this point he was told to stop—received or severe damning, and was sent to bed in disgrace.

When he had left, the Brigade Major looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and sadly smiled.


During the early part of March 1917 the Germans began their retreat towards the famous Hindenburg Line. We had known almost to a day when the movement was likely to begin, and the Higher Command had declared that our policy was to press closely upon the heels of the enemy and harass him as much as possible without becoming committed to a serious battle.

The troops of the Guards Division were the first to enter the enemies’ trenches on the St Pierre Vaast front, and for two days quite severe fighting ensued, as the Germans heavily shelled our front from long ranges, and frequently would not evacuate positions until they were outflanked or actually attacked. After these two days, however, the enemy resistance began to slacken, and we started to advance rapidly.

The change from the old trench life was most exhilarating. The winter had been severe; the monotony of our life had only been equalled by its discomfort; for four and a half months without relief we had gone backwards and forwards into the same or nearly the same sector; we knew every inch of mud in the place, and we had unpleasant reminiscences of every crossroad. Suddenly all was changed. The first signs of spring began to show; monotony was succeeded by movement; we advanced, new pieces of country came into view, new interests began to be aroused.

Woods with real trees—whole fields without a shell-hole—old German battery positions—German cemeteries:    the sight of our line from their point of view—riding a horse up to the support line—villages being captured—bridges being made where the enemy had blown them up—cavalry patrols moving forward,—all this was glorious adventure, and a new life for the web-footed trench-dwellers of the winter.

After a few days of the pursuit we were relieved by another Division; and though we had undoubtedly earned our rest, at the time we were almost disappointed.

Our first rest billets were huts in Billon Wood, and our arrival there proved to be the beginning of the most enjoyable month that we ever spent in France.

At this time General John Ponsonby returned to his old Brigade after sick-leave in England, and our previous Commander, Lord Henry Seymour, was transferred to the 3rd Guards Brigade as Brigadier.

The camp which we inhabited was built in the side of a little valley, and Brigade Headquarters consisted of a small group of huts in a quarry. The mess itself was in a shanty covered with tarred felt; the mess furniture was an ordinary kitchen-table and chairs, and a quite extraordinary stove which gave out dense clouds of smoke and no heat. Our sleeping quarters were in the old dug-outs which were cut in the chalky sides of the hill, and which were warm but infested with rats.

It is midnight; we have been in our new quarters two days; from where I am lying in my “flea-bag” I can see three other bunks each with a candle in a bottle beside it: three heads— those of Jack, Henry, and Damp Turnbull. A few unusually daring rats are being bombarded with boots. Somebody is saying that he thinks a little Paris leave when the chestnuts are coming out in the Bois is the thing for him. There is a gradually diminishing flow of conversation.

The next morning every one is splashing about in canvas baths about eight o’clock. We breakfast, and then spend a morning in toil.

Social life begins at luncheon. We have all started to smoke: in the corner near the famous stove, standing on a chair, is Mike Mitchell, the Veterinary Officer, who has been ordered there by the Brigadier for making disparaging remarks about one of his horses. It might be mentioned that the Brigadier made a habit of inflicting this and similar punishments on any one, whether officer or chaplain, who transgressed against rules which many governesses would have allowed to pass in the breach, and the writer has often held out his hand to be rapped when pointing out that the Brigadier had not signed his name in the right place on some printed form.

The General would outline the rest of the day’s work for his staff.

“Budget Loyd and I,” he might say, “are going to the football match; Jack Dyer is confined to barracks to write a sonnet about the cat for the ‘Daily Dump’”—our newspaper; “Henry will write a leading article on the Signal Company’s sports, in which he will be assisted by Damp Turnbull; and the rest of the Staff will order dinner for twelve. Any papers which want signing must be brought to me by 2.30; any one bringing any after 2.30 will ‘stand on the chair’ for ten minutes after tea.”

Perhaps it would be as well to explain who Henry’s principal companions and brother officers were at this time. First, the Brigadier who knew every one in the Brigade by his Christian name, and who was always referred to in conversation when he was not there as “General John.” It would have been impossible to find an officer more universally and more justly loved by his subordinates. He gained obedience not by authority but by affection; his helmet, his horses, and his pipe were as well know to the last-joined private soldier as to his oldest friends. The steel helmet was believed to be made of pith, his horses never stood still even on the most important occasion, and his pipe was never alight.

He it was that initiated and kept alive the ‘Daily Dump,’ which was the newspaper, gazette, and ‘Punch’ of the Brigade. This journal went out with the orders every evening, and perhaps a number of this date would show its humble scope better than a description.

“No. 52. Vol. 2.

“The Daily Dump.

“Army Commanders, Corps Commanders, Divisional Commanders, and Brigade Commanders are to be seen daily inspecting sites for summer residences. The days of chateaux appear to be no more, and we should not be surprised shortly to hear that some junior officers have called at a wayside Armstrong hut and found the door opened by a Corps Commander.

“Captain Eric Mackenzie, Scots Guards, relates that on arrival in Paris the wife of a well-known Staff Officer requested him with tears in her eyes to return to the Division as quickly as he could in order that he might take a letter from her to her husband, and that he actually refused to help the lady in distress. We regret to see the decay of the old chivalry.

“Lieut. H. L. N. Dundas, Scots Guards, Brigade Bombing Officer, carried out some trials to-day with the new bomb. Every bomb turned out to be a ‘dud,' which inspired the onlookers with much confidence.

“The following is a copy of a letter received from Prince Alexander of Teck by the Army Commander (after an inspection of the 2nd Guards Brigade): . . . ‘ The King of the Belgians hopes that you will convey his thanks to the G.O.C. XlVth Corps, and his admiration to the Guards’ Brigade, the finest troops in any of the theatres of war."

“French Proverb: Many a muddle means a medal.”

The principal Staff Officer—the Brigade Major —was Budget Loyd, and the Staff Captain, Jack Dyer. They were both men of humour, efficiency, and popularity. Loyd was quite imperturbable under all circumstances. Dyer, on the other hand, was sometimes hilarious when the outlook was unpromising. Loyd spoke with a humorous paucity of words, Dyer supplied the ornamentation.

The Signal Officer, Turnbull, christened Damp by the Brigadier, as he was the Deputy Assistant Mess President, was a Watsonian with a strong vein of Scottish humour, to which, after the manner of his countrymen, he added great seriousness on all the technical details of his work.

The most usual guests at luncheon and dinner parties were Colonel Greer, a brilliant and amusing talker, and a great theorist on war, who at the age of twenty-seven was commanding the 2nd Battalion Irish Guards; Alex. Alexander, his second in command, also twenty-seven, the modern d’Artagnan, with twirled moustaches, Russian-like forage-cap, endowed with the perpetual gaiety, bravado, and bravery of the soldier of fortune; the suave and punctilious Eric Mackenzie, friend of every one; “Freddy” Gamble, the bosom companion of Henry Dundas, one of the most charming and certainly the best-looking man that I have ever seen.

Of course there were many others, but these you might have nearly always found at the Brigadier’s table.

The conversation and controversy which this company set going often lasted far into the night; perhaps it would begin on some poem by Jack Dyer, which would be torn to pieces by the critics and mended again by its supporters, would range over the whole field of poetry with a crackle of quotations from Jack and Henry and Eric, subside into calm, be set off again by the Brigadier and the port, change to the War, and end in imitations, anecdotes by the General, and the great hilarity of every one.

Nobody enjoyed these times more than Henry. His spirits were amazing, his love of society, argument, and good fellowship were such that I have often known him ride ten miles out and ten miles back to a dinner-party with his friends. He himself contributed to conversation in meteoric extravagances; and though he criticised without reserve and sometimes without expediency, he excelled in stimulating every one to be amusing.

He knew every song of Harry Lauder, the whole of Gilbert and Sullivan, and frequently preached sermons in Scotch, which were masterpieces both in accent and language. The most elaborate and ridiculous perorations came rolling off his tongue enriched by absurd parables, pointed by the most characteristic quotations, and driven home with the unctuous insistence and bucolic pedantries of the original.

No one could have talked for long to Henry Dundas without hearing of three things—Scotland, Eton, and his great friend Freddy Gamble.

Scotland to him was an enthusiasm — any patriotism he felt was for that country. He was roused to the wildest excitement by the mere sight of a kilt or a piper, and when the kilts marched and the pipes played he became nothing short of a fanatic.

As for Eton, no rival to it ever entered into his ken: he regarded it with a natural unstudied love; his affection for it was filial. “About Scotland and Eton,” he once said, “I have no sense of humour.”

To his love for his country and for his school was added that for his friend. Their intimacy was so close that it barely escaped sentimentality. He had more friends than most men, and yet beside this one friend all others were as nothing: he would have given anything that he possessed to him; he would have followed him anywhere. To see them together was to see youth at its best; and the charm of their presence, the freshness and gaiety of their companionship are beyond my powers of description.

Gamble was killed just before Henry Dundas. The memory of them is the most poignant left to me of all the tragedies of the War.

At the beginning of April the Division was set to work clearing a way for the new railways which had to be built across the evacuated areas. The 2nd Guards Brigade were billeted for this work round the ruined village of C16ry, on the banks of the Somme. Jack Dyer was sent on by the Brigadier to select a site for our Headquarters. He performed his task with the greatest skill, and chose a little island in the middle of the river opposite the village of Ommiecourt-lez-Clery. At this point the Somme spreads itself out into shallow lagoons: our Headquarters were approached by a damaged causeway, and as you stood looking eastwards you saw the solemn procession of the river on your right swirling past the island, whilst in front of you lay broad stretches of still water conquered here and there by patches of sedge and rushes. On this romantic site we built ourselves a comfortable hut with a real brick fireplace, and lined it all with green canvas. The weather had turned: the sun came out before his time, warmed our little island, and brought out patches of colour even in the desolation of the mainland.

Having very little work in the afternoon, Henry, Jack, and I used to walk our estate and talk about anything but the War.

We would wax very philosophical in the evening, and having fit some excellent cigars, would sit in canvas chairs and discourse on life and death, argue perpetually about to ov and tofirj ov, think ourselves very clever, and go to bed to dream of some argument to defeat the other fellow.

One of the most frequent and, of course, least conclusive subjects of discussion was the best line or two fines in English poetry. Jack Dyer, I remember, advanced—

“Moves all the labouring surges of the world,”—

and was heavily attacked by Henry and me.

I believe our last naif conclusion was—

“Nights’ candles are burnt out, and jocund day Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain-tops,”—but the subject was dropped because the Brjgadier organised his authors’ handicap, in which a representative selection of English authors were handicapped as in a horse-race thus :—

Mr Shakespeare’s ‘ Hamlet ’ .     .    .    9    st.    7    lbs.

Mr Webster’s ‘ Duchess of Malfi ’    .    .    9    st.    5    lbs.

Mr Milton’s ‘ Paradise Lost ’ .    .    .    9    st.    5    lbs.

And so on.

These handicaps appeared as literary supplements to the ‘Daily Dump,’ and provoked more controversy than gambling.

We had expected to remain on our island for a month, but after ten days we received an order to move. These orders are always unpopular, but on this occasion they were tragic. We had had a real holiday under delightful conditions: the future was uncertain.

Thus Henry in the current number of the "Daily Dump* :—

“Lines in Acknowledgment of G. 867. April 1917.

“Dear Somme, although I must confess that your attractions vary,
No critic could, however harsh, deny your charm at C14ry.
Here by the margin of your stream we built our little camp,
And came one day—the Brigadier, Jack, Oliver, and Damp—
To find a river site as fair as e’er was that of Chillon,
Where we might rest, our nerves depressed by sylvan gloom at Billon;
Where we might wander on your banks on sunny afternoons,
Discoursing vaguely on romance and ‘Training of Platoons’;
Where as the days grew really hot, we’d emulate Leander,
Vying in many an early-morn natatory meander.
But ah ! Divisions’ stern decrees Have shattered all our fantasies,
For we must leave thy banks, O Somme, and take the road once more
To all those half-forgotten spots we knew and loathed of yore—
Morval, Lesbceufs and Maurepas, Combles and Saillisel,
Leaving thy joys, my Ommi^court—from heaven into hell.
Fill high the carts with Armstrong huts, with canvas, felt, and beds,
Where we were wont of nights to rest our fancy-weaving heads.
Our early English mess-room lies dismantled on a lorry,
Latrines laid low, and cook-house too—sad is our lot and sorry.
For us uncouth Le Mesnil waits. Dear Eiver, fare thee well,
For years—or can it be for ever
Not even I can tell (Unless, as certain pundits say,
Your 'Second Battle’ starts in May).”


After moving from Ommiecourt, the Division, contrary to our expectations, still remained working on the railways, and we established our Headquarters successively at Le Mesnil and Curlu.

The last named was almost, as charming a spot as our island, and the weather being hot, Henry and I often swam in the Somme before breakfast, told ourselves that it was Boveney Weir, and to enhance the illusion talked Eton shop,—“You will be second choice for your sixpenny”—“I hope to be up to Broader next half”—and so on, —on our way back to our Headquarters.

In May 1917 the Division formed part of the General Reserve at the battle of the Messines Ridge, but owing to the immediate success of these operations was not engaged in the fighting.

In June we were once more moved into the Ypres salient, and took up a line along the Boesinghe-Ypres Canal. At the same time we were given orders to prepare to attack the Pilkem Ridge as a first objective, with final objectives Houthoulst Forest and the high ground running north from Passchendael.

It would not perhaps be out of place to enumerate shortly the difficulties which these orders involved.

All lines of approach, whether roads or tracks to the front areas of the Salient, were under direct observation by day: the forward trench system, as well as the ground west of them, was enfiladed. Into a narrow sector it was necessary to concentrate all the vast organisation which is needed for^the first blow at an enemy heavily entrenched and protected by a large force of well-placed guns. The concentration of batteries to bombard the hostile lines and to smother his artillery was alone a task of the greatest possible difficulty.

On our particular sector the front lines were separated only by an unfordable canal some twenty to thirty yards wide; on one bank ran the British, on the other the German, trenches.

This single factor involved two difficulties of great importance: first, it was impossible to bombard the enemy front line whilst we were holding ours; and second, some means of getting the assaulting Infantry over the canal at zero had to be organised. The minor difficulties were that after zero it would become necessary to move guns across the canal to support our farther advance, and for this purpose, as well as for the supply of troops, bridges would have to be constructed immediately after the front lines had been captured.

During our first “tour” of twenty-four days, Brigade Headquarters were established in Elverdinghe Chateau, just a mile west of the front line. We arrived one hot afternoon when everything was peaceful, and although we were sorry to notice two 9 and one 60-pounder battery in our garden, were nevertheless well enough pleased with our quarters. The chateau was a strong stone building surrounded by a lake and a small wooded park. From the east windows of our bedrooms we looked straight across some lush fields in which a great profusion of weeds and poppies had sprung up, over to the Pilkem Ridge, which dominated the whole of our positions. Just north of the chateau the Elverdinghe-Boesinghe road ran straight as a die through the lines.

On the evening we arrived we strolled out into the grounds, and Henry Dundas and I played an imaginary game of golf with the utmost solemnity, while Jack Dyer and the Brigadier carried imaginary clubs. One or two shells, however, began to arrive as it was getting dark and drove us indoors. They were the first heralds of the almost continuous shelling which we suffered for two months.

Jack Dyer, Henry Dundas, and I shared a large bedroom on the first floor, and made ourselves reasonably comfortable with the aid of wire bedsteads.

On the other hand, the first floor of the only large building in the neighbourhood, with several batteries in the garden and within a mile of the front line, is not an ideal place in which to sleep.

Night after night we were shelled: on one particular evening the enemy fired 5000 shells into the garden; besides high explosive they also employed a high-velocity naval gun which shot straight over the chateau, and its shells made a noise like an express train passing overhead.

The only one of the party who did not care two straws for the daily and nightly dose was Henry, and this is not said lightly, but most seriously and truthfully.

It is true that he had not had quite so long an experience as some others, but his nonchalance was remarkable, and he was one of the few whom I saw who did not mind being shot at by anything. I do not mention it as being particularly to his credit, but merely as a fact and a characteristic.

There is one evening about this period which I recall very vividly. Hugh Ross (Scots Guards) was in command of a Company which was quartered in some dug-outs along the garden wall of the chateau. During the whole of one afternoon and early evening this part of the grounds was shelled with great intensity, and several men were buried and had to be dug out, whilst all had narrow escapes. Hugh, at this time, was suffering from fever and strain, and few in his condition would have been still at duty. When the shelling was over he came into Brigade Headquarters covered with brick-dust, exhausted, and nearly “through.”

He was asked to dinner. Henry was in particularly good form, and his high spirits were so infectious that by the end of dinner Hugh had recovered. The irrepressible Henry must of course begin Scotch songs, which so inflamed the Caledonian ardour of his brother Scot that they started to dance a reel and give out the chorus with the utmost vigour. Outside the evening shells were homing like wild duck into the ponds and garden of the house, whilst inside Hugh and Henry beat up the singing to a frenzy, and eventually collapsed perspiring and laughing on the floor. Soon after, Hugh took his leave, and swore it was one of the best evenings he had ever spent.

The Signal Officer, Turnbull, already referred to as Damp, writes: “I could multiply such episodes an hundredfold. Now it is Henry at Zommerbloom Cabaret, striding away up the *jolly old line" (a phrase quoted from some chaplain), or lying unmoved in his billet whilst the rest of us were seeking shelter from the accursed shells, as on the night when Oliver Lyttelton and Eric Mackenzie performed prodigies of wound-bandaging (fourteen wounded men in the smallest dug-out), or singing with Oliver the famous chant, ‘We fought at Mons and at Landrecies’ (pronounced Landreeces), or at the instigation of General John, ringing up some Battalion in the guise of a very broad-vowelled Presbyterian chaplain, and arranging special church-parades for the men, or else, again with Oliver as co-partner in wet weather, chanting in ritualistic strains a horrible sentence from a ‘ Times ’ leader, which went thus :—

Never we believe
Within the memory of man
Has—the vern-al change
Been so long
Or—so persistently withheld.’”

The attack for which we had been preparing took place on 31st July, and was a complete success. We were, however, unable to exploit it, as it began to rain on the first afternoon, and did not cease for a fortnight. It is probable that the rain was brought down by the bombardment, the heaviest that was ever fired during the whole War. On 31st July the 18-pounders alone fired £18,000,000 worth of ammunition, and more than 80,000 tons of shells were discharged at the enemy.

Henry’s impetuous and daring nature was chafed by the restrictions which were imposed on him at Brigade Headquarters. He was not allowed to attack with the front-wave; he was not given as much work as he wanted, and he grew more and more impatient with his lot as Intelligence Officer. He longed for men to command, and after three weeks’ importunity succeeded in getting back to his Battalion—the 1st Battalion Scots Guards— and was given command of a company.

After this I saw him of course far less often, but enough to know that he had not altered. He was highly successful as a Captain of a Company, and the men who served under him were devoted to him. This is a phrase which has been much used and abused, but it is true in his case. How could it be otherwise? To the enthusiasm and enterprise of youth were added fearless and even reckless courage, and a very real knowledge of and devotion to his profession.

The way in which he led his Company during the offensive of October 1917, his excellent work during the defensive actions of March and April 1918, proved him to be a regimental officer great in practice and in promise.

I cannot write more of him as a soldier from my personal experience. What followed is described in his letters.

Henry Dundas was killed in September 1918— two years to a day after I first met him.

Into a few short years he had crowded many of the incidents and emotions of a lifetime: he had shown that his spirits and his character were proof against the severest strain to which human beings are subjected; he had excited the admiration and earned the regard of all who knew him. His faults, such as they were, arose from the impetuosity of his temperament and from the audacity of an original and adaptable intellect, but he atoned for them by an innocence and simplicity of character and a steadfastness in practice which were not outshone even by the brilliance of his flashing personality.

If he had lived he would have gone far towards earning the highest honours which a public career can give; that he did not do so is due to the fact that he spent his inheritance of brain and energy in one burst, and gave his life for those ideals which he acknowledged in everything except in words.

Let us proudly keep for him in our remembrance some of that fame which he would have won: for if his short life has not earned greatness and the distinctions of publicity, it is not for that reason the less worthy of our approbation and emulation.

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