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Author of "The Red Badge of Courage." 


The story of their Battle Honours. 



The Story of the Franco-German War. By H. C. BAILEY. 
With an Introduction by W. L. COURTNEY. LL.D. 


The Inner History of German Diplomacy. 


A companion volume to " How the War Began." telling how the world faced 

Armageddon and how the British Army answered the call to arms. 














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Drflje^n fty PAi7t> Dadd. Copyright of The Sphere. 

Charge of British Hussars against German Cuirassiers in a Village 
OF Northern France. 

















The Baptism of Fire 

" E'en now their vanguard gathers, 
E'en now we face the fray." 

Kipling. — Hymn before Action, 

The War Correspondent has become old-fashioned 
before he has had time to grow old ; he was made 
by telegraphy, and wireless has unmade him. The 
swift transmission of news from the front might 
gratify us who are waiting anxiously at home, 
but such news can be caught in the air now, or 
secretly and as swiftly retransmitted so as to 
gratify our enemies even more by keeping them 
well-informed of our strength and intentions 
and putting them on their guard. Therefore 
our armies have rightly gone forth on this the 
greatest war the world has ever seen as they went 
to the Crusades, with no Press reporter in their 


8 In the Firing Line 

ranks, and when the historian sits down, some 
peaceful day in the future, to write his prose 
epic of the Titanic struggle that is now raging 
over Europe he will have no records of the actual 
fighting except such as he can gather from the 
necessarily terse official reports, the pubHshed 
stories of refugees and wounded soldiers that 
have been picked up by enterprising newspaper 
men hovering alertly in the rear of the forces, 
and from the private letters written to their 
friends by the fighting men themselves. 

These letters compensate largely for the ampler, 
more expert accounts the war correspondent is 
not allowed to send us. They may tell little of 
strategic movements or of the full tide and 
progress of an engagement till you read them in 
conjunction with the official reports, but in their 
vivid, spontaneous revelations of what the man 
in battle has seen and felt, in the intensity of 
their human interest they have a unique value 
beyond anything to be found in more professional 
military or journalistic documents. They so 
unconsciously express the personality and spirit 
of their writers ; the very homeliness of their 
language adds wonderfully and unintentionally 
to their effectiveness ; there is rarely any note of 
boastfulness even in a moment of triumph ; 
they record the most splendid heroisms casually^ 

The Baptism of Fire 9 

sometimes even flippantly, as if it were merely 
natural to see such things happening about them, 
or to be doing such things themselves. If they 
tell of hardships it is to laugh at them ; again 
and again there are httle bursts of affection and 
admiration for their officers and comrades — they 
are the most potent of recruiting literature, 
these letters, for a mere reading of them thrills 
the stay-at-home with pride that these good 
fellows are his countrymen and with a sort of 
angry shame that his age or his safe civilian 
responsibiUties keep him from being out there 
taking his stand beside them. 

The courage, the cheerfulness, the dauntless 
spirit of them is the more striking when you 
remember that the vast majority of our soldiers 
have never been in battle until now. Russia 
has many veterans from her war with Japan ; 
France has a few who fought the Prussian enemy 
in 1870 ; we have some from the Boer war ; but 
fully three parts of our troops, like all the heroic 
Belgians, have had their baptism of fire in the 
present gigantic conflict. And it is curiously 
interesting to read in several of the letters the 
frank confession of their writers' feelings when 
they came face to face for the first time with the 
menace of death in action. One such note, 
published in various papers, was from Alfred 

10 In the Firing Line 

Bishop, a sailor who took part in the famous 
North Sea engagement of August last. His 
ship's mascot is a black cat, and : 

" Our dear little black kitten sat under our 
foremost gun," he writes, " during the whole 
battle, and was not frightened at all, only when 
we first started firing. But afterwards she sat 
and licked herself. . . . Before we started fight- 
ing we were all very nervous, but after we joined 
in we were all happy and most of us laughing till 
it was finished. Then we all sobbed and cried. 
Even if I never come back don't think I died a 
painful death. Everything yesterday was quick 
as lightning." 

A wounded Enghsh gunner telling of how he 
went into action near Mons owns to the same 
touch of nervousness in the first few minutes : 

*' What does it feel hke to be under fire ? 
Well, the first shot makes you a bit shaky. It's 
a surprise packet. You have to wait and keep 
on moving till you get a chance." But as soon 
as the chance came, his shakiness went, and his 
one desire in hospital was '* to get back to the 
front as soon as the doctor says I'm fit to man a 
gun. I don't want to stop here." 

" I have received my baptism of fire," writes 
a young Frenchman at the front to his parents 

The Baptism of Fire 11 

in Paris. " I heard the bullets whistling at my 
ears, and saw my poor comrades fall around me. 
The first minutes are dreadful. They are the 
worst. You feel wild. You hesitate ; you don't 
know what to do. Then, after a time, you 
feel quite at your ease in this atmosphere of 

''I am in the field hospital now, with a nice 
little hole in my left shoulder, through which a 
bullet of one of the War Lord's mihtary subjects 
has passed," writes a wounded Frenchman to a 
friend in London. " My shoulder feels much as 
if some playful joker has touched it with a Hghted 
cigar. ... It is strange, but in the face of death 
and destruction I catch myself trying to make 
out where the shell has fallen, as if I were an 
interested spectator at a rifle competition. And 
I was not the only one. I saw many curious faces 
around me, bearing expressions full of interest, 
just as if the owners of the respective faces formed 
the auditorium of a highly fascinating theatrical 
performance, without having anything to do 
with the play itself. The impression crossed my 
mind in one-thousandth part of a second, and 
was followed by numerous others, altogether alien 
from the most serious things which were happen- 
ing and going to happen. The human mind is a 
curious and complicated thing. Now that we 
were shooting at the enemy, and often afterwards 
in the midst of a fierce battle, I heard som^ 

12 In the Firing Line 

remark made or some funny expression used 
which proved that the speaker's thoughts were 
far from reahsing the terrible facts around him. 
It has nothing to do with heartlessness or any- 
thing hke that. I don't know yet what it is. 
Perhaps I shall have an opportunity to philoso- 
phise on it later on." 

There is a curious comment in a letter from 
Sergeant Major MacDermott, who writes during 
the great retreat from Mons, when everybody 
had become inured to the atmosphere of the 

" We're wonderfully cheerful, and happy as bare- 
legged urchins scampering over the fields," he says, 
and adds, " It is the quantity not the quality of 
the German shells that are having effect on us, 
and it's not so much the actual damage to hfe as 
the helHsh nerve-racking noise that counts for so 
much. Townsmen who are used to the noise of 
the streets can stand it a lot better than the 
countrymen, and I think you will find that by far 
the fittest are those regiments recruited in the 
big cities. A London lad near me says it is no 
worse than the roar of motor-buses in the City 
on a busy day." 

But the most graphic and minutely detailed 
picture of the psychic experiences of a soldier 

The Baptism of Fire 13 

plunged for the first time into the pandemonium 
of a modern battle is given in the Retch by a 
wounded Russian artillery officer writing from 
a St. Petersburg hospital. 

" I cannot say where we fought, for we are 
forbidden to divulge that, but I will tell you my 
own experiences," he says. " In times of peace 
one has no conception of what a battle really 
means. When war was declared our brigade 
was despatched to the theatre of operations. 
I went with delight, and so did the others. When 
we reached our destination we were told that the 
battle would begin in the morning. 

" At daybreak positions were assigned to us, 
and the commander of the brigade handed us a 
plan of the action of our artillery. From that 
moment horror possessed our souls. It was not 
anxiety for ourselves or fear of the enemy, but 
a feeUng of awe in the face of something unknown. 
At six o'clock we opened fire at a mark which we 
could not distinguish, but which we understood 
to be the enemy. 

" Towards midday we were informed that the 
German cavalry was attempting to envelop our 
right wing, and were ordered in that direction. 
Having occupied our new position we waited. 
Suddenly we see the enemy coming, and at the 
same time he opens fire on us. We turn our 
guns upon him, and I give the order to fire. I 

14 In the Firing Line 

myself feel that I am in a kind of nightmare. 
Our battery officers begin to melt away. I see 
that the Germans are developing their attack. 
First one regiment appears, and then another. 
I direct the guns and pour a volley of projectiles 
right into the thick of the first regiment. Then 
a second volley, and a third. I see how they 
fall among the men, and can even discern the 
severed limbs of the dead flying into the air after 
the explosion. 

" One of the enemy's regiments is annihilated. 
Then a second one. All this time I am pouring 
missiles in among them. But now the nervous 
feeling has left me. My soul is filled with hate, 
and I continue to shoot at the enemy without 
the least feeling of pity. 

" Yet still the enemy is advancing, rushing 
forward and lying down in turns. I do not 
understand his tactics, but what are they to me ? 
It is enough for me that I am occupying a favour- 
able position and mowing him down like a strong 
man with a scythe in a clover field. 

" During the first night after the battle I could 
not sleep a wink. All the time my mind was 
filled with pictures of the battlefield. I saw 
German regiments approaching, and myself firing 
right into the thick of them. Heads, arms, legs, 
and whole bodies of men were being flung high into 
the air. It was a dreadful vision. 

** I was in four battles. When the second began 

The Baptism of Fire 15 

I went into it like an automaton. Only your 
muscles are taxed. All the rest of your being 
seems paralyzed. So complete is the suspension 
of the sensory processes that I never felt my 
wound. All I remember is that a feeling of giddi- 
ness came over me, and my head began to swim. 
Then I swooned to the ground, and was picked up 
by the Medical Corps and carried to the rear." 


The Four Days* Battle Near Mons 

^^ And turning to his men, 
Quoth our brave Henry then, 
* Though they he one to ten, 
Be not amazed.'' " 

Michael Drayton. 

Most of us are old enough to remember how, when 
we entered upon the South African Campaign 
(as when we started the Crimean and other of 
our wars) the nation was divided against itself ; 
passionate, bitter controversies were waged be- 
tween anti-Boer and pro-Boer — between those 
who considered the war an unjust and those who 
considered it a just one. This time there has been 
nothing of that. Sir Edward Grey's resolute 
efforts for peace proving futile, as soon as Ger- 
many tore up her obligations of honour, that 
" scrap of paper," and began to pour her huge, 
boastedly irresistible armies into Belgium, we 
took up the gauge she so insolently flung to us, 
and the one feeling from end to end of the 


The Four Days' Battle near Mons 17 

Empire was of devout thankfulness that our 
Government had so instantly done the only 
right and honourable thing ; all political parties, 
all classes flung their differences behind them 
unhesitatingly and stood four-square at once 
against the common enemy. They were heart- 
ened by a sense of relief, even, that the swag- 
gering German peril which had been darkly 
menacing us for years had materialised and was 
upon us at last, that we were coming to grips 
with it and should have the chance of ending it 
once and for ever. 

But immediately after our declaration of war 
on August 4th, a strange secrecy and silence fell 
like an impenetrable mask over all our military 
movements. In our cities and towns we were 
troubled with business disorganisations, but that 
mystery, that waiting in suspense, troubled us 
far more. News came that the fighting con- 
tinued furiously on the Belgian frontier ; that 
it was beginning on the fringes of Alsace ; that 
the Russians were advancing victoriously on 
East Prussia ; and still though our own army 
was mobilised and we were eagerly starting to 
raise a new and a larger one, we rightly learned 
no more, perhaps less, than the enemy could of 
what our Expeditionary Force was doing or 
where it was. Last time we were at war we had 

18 In the Firing Line 

seen regiment after regiment go off with bands 
playing and with cheering multitudes lining the 
roads as they passed ; this time we had no gHmpse 
of their going ; did not know when they went, 
or so much as whether they were gone. One 
day rumour landed them safely in France or 
Belgium ; the next it assured us that they were 
not yet ready to embark ; and the next it had 
rushed them, as by magic, right across Belgium 
and credited them with standing shoulder to 
shoulder in the fighting line with the magnificent 
defenders of Liege. But the glory of that de- 
fence, as we were soon to find out, belongs to 
Belgium alone ; the Germans had hacked their 
way through and were nearing Mons before our 
men were able to get far enough north to come 
in touch with them. Not that they had lost 
any time on the road. It took a fortnight to 
mobilise and equip them ; they sailed from 
Southampton on August 17th, and four days 
later were at Mons and under fire. This much 
and more you may gather from a diary-letter 
that was published in the Western Daily Press : 

Letter i. — From Sapper George Bryant, Royal 
Engineers, to his father, Mr. J. J. Bryant, of 
Fishponds : 
Aug. 17. — Sailed from Southampton, on Man- 
chester Engineer, 4.45 a.m. 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 19 

Aug. i8. — Landed Rouen, 6.20 a.m. Proceeded 
to rest camp at the Racecourse, Rouen. 

Aug. 19. — Left camp 9 p.m., and entrained to 

Aug. 20. — Marched to Fiezines. 

Aug. 21. — Marched to Mons, and proceeded 
to the canal, to obstacle the bridges and 
prepare for blowing up. Barricaded the 
main streets. Saw German cavalry, and 
was under fire. 

Aug. 22. — Severe fighting and terrible. Went 
to blow up bridges with Lieut. Day, who 
was shot at my side through the nose. Unable 
to destroy bridges owing to such heavy 
firing of the Germans. Sight heart-breaking. 
Women and children driven from their 
homes by point of bayonet, and marched 
through streets in front of Germans, who 
fired behind them and through their arm- 
pits. Therefore, our fellows were unable to 
fire back. They rolled up in thousands, 
about 100 to our one. Went from here to 
dig trenches for infantry retreating. Was 
soon under fire, and had to retreat, and 
infantry took our position, and were com- 
pletely wiped out (Middlesex). 

Aug. 23. — Severe fighting and bombarding of a 
town, shells bursting around us. Retreated, 
and dug trenches for infantry, but soon had 

20 In the Firing Line 

fire about us, and retreated again and marched 
to take up position for next day, which was 
to be a rest, us having had but very httle. 

Aug. 24. — Were unable to rest. Germans 
pressed us hotly, and fired continually. One 
of their aeroplanes followed our route, and 
was fired at. One of our lieutenants chased 
it, and eventually succeeded in shooting 
the aviator through the head, and he came 
to earth. Three aeroplanes were captured 
this day. We had no close fighting, and 
marched away to take up a position for 
next day's fighting, which was a hard day's 

Aug. 25. — We tried to destroy an orchard, but 
drew the Germans' artillery fire, which was 
hot and bursting around us. We continued 
our work until almost too late, and had 
to retire to infantry lines, and had it hot 
in doing so. I was stood next to General 
Shaw's aide-camp who was badly wounded, 
but was not touched myself. We dug 
trenches for infantry, and then marched 
to join the 2nd Division, but fire was 
too hot to enable us to do our work. 
Germans were surrounded by us to the 
letter '' C," and we were waiting for the 
French to come up on our right flank, but 
they did not arrive. On returning from the 
2nd Division two shells, one after another, 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 21 

burst in front of us, first destroying a house ; 
the second, I received my wound in left leg, 
being the only fellow hit out of i8o. Was 
placed on tool cart, and taken to Field 
Hospital, but rest there was short, owing 
to Germans firing on hospital. Orderlies 
ran off and left us three to take our chance. 
Germans blew up church and hospital in 
same village, and were firing on ours when 
I was helped out by the other two fellows, 
and on to a cart, which overtook the am- 
bulance, which I was put on, and travelled 
all night to St. Quentin and was entrained 
there at 9.30 a.m. Aug. 26. 

Aug. 26. — Travelled all day, reaching Rouen, 
Aug. 27, and was taken to Field Hospital 
on Racecourse. 

We shall have to wait some time yet for full 
and coherent accounts of the fierce fighting at 
Mons, but from the soldiers' letters and the 
stories of the wounded one gets illuminating 
glimpses of that terrific four-days' battle. 

Letter 2. — From Driver W. Moore, Royal Field 
Artillery, to the superinie^ident of the " Corn- 
wall " training ship, of which Driver Moore 
is an " old boy " still under twenty : 

It was Sunday night when we saw the 
enemy. We were ready for action, but were 

22 In the Firing Line 

lying down to have a rest, when orders came to 
stand at our posts. It was about four a.m. on 
Monday when we started to fire ; we were at 
it all day till six p.m., when we started to advance. 
Then the bugle sounded the charge, and the 
cavalry and infantry charged like madmen at 
the enemy ; then the enemy fell back about 
forty miles, so we held them at bay till Wednesday, 
when the enemy was reinforced. Then they 
came on to Mons, and by that time we had 
every man, woman, and child out of the 

We were situated on a hill in a cornfield and 
could see all over the country. It was about 
three p.m., and we started to let them have a 
welcome by blowing up two of their batteries in 
about five minutes ; then the infantry let go, and 
then the battle was in full swing. 

In the middle of the battle a driver got 
wounded and asked to see the colours before he 
died, and he was told by an officer that the guns 
were his colours. He rephed, " Tell the drivers 
to keep their eyes on their guns, because if we 
lose our guns we lose our colours." 

Just then the infantry had to retire, and the 
gunners had to leave their guns, but the drivers 
were so proud of their guns that they went and 
got them out, and we retired to St. Quentin. We 
had a roll-call, and only ten were left out of my 
battery. This was the battle in which poor 

The Four Days' Battle near Mens 23 

Winchester (another old Cornwall boy) lost his 
life in txying to get the guns away. 

Letter 3. — From Private G. Moody, to his parents 
at Beckenham : 

I was at Mons in the trenches in the firing- 
line for twenty-four hours, and my regiment was 
ordered to help the French on the right. Poor 
old A Company was left to occupy the trenches 
and to hold them : whatever might happen, they 
were not to leave them. There were about 250 
of us, and the Germans came on, and as fast as 
we knocked them over more took their places. 

Well, out of 250 men only eighty were left, 
and we had to surrender. They took away every- 
thing, and we were lined up to be shot, so as to 
be no trouble to them. Then the cavalry of the 
French made a charge, and the Germans were cut 
down like grass. We got away, and wandered 
about all night, never knowing if we were walking 
into our chaps or the Germans. After walking 
about some time we commenced falling down 
through drinking water that had been poisoned, 
and then we were put into some motor-wagons 
and taken to Amiens. 

24 In the Firing Line 

Letiey 4. — From a Lincolnshire Sergeant to his 

brother : 

It came unexpectedly. The first inkling we 

had was just after reveille, when our cavalry 

pickets fell back and reported the presence of the 

enemy in strength on our front and sHghtly to 

the left. In a few minutes we were all at our 

posts without the sHghtest confusion, and as we 

lay down in the trenches our artillery opened 

fire. It was a fine sight to see the shells speeding 

through the air to pay our respects to Kaiser 

Bill and his men. Soon the Germans returned 

the compliment ; but they were a long time in 

finding anything approaching the range, and they 

didn't know of shelters — a trick we learned from 

the Boers, I believe. After about half an hour 

of this work their infantry came into view along 

our front. They were in soUd square blocks 

standing out sharply against the skyUne, and we 

couldn't help hitting them. We lay in our 

trenches with not a sound or sign to tell them of 

what was before them. They crept nearer and 

nearer, and then our officers gave the word. 

Under the storm of bullets they seemed to stagger 

like drunken men, after which they made a run 

for us shouting some outlandish cry that we 

could not make out. Half way across the open 

another volley tore through their ranks, and by 

this time our artillery began dropping shells 

around them. Then an officer gave an order, and 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 25 

they broke into open formation, rushing Hke 
mad things towards the trenches on our left. 
Some of our men continued the volley firing, but 
a few of the crack shots were told off to indulge 
in independent firing for the benefit of the 
Germans. That is another trick taught us by 
Brother Boer, and our Germans did not hke it 
at all. They fell back in confusion and then lay 
down wherever cover was available. 

Letter 5. — From Private Levy, Royal Mtinster 
Fusiliers : 

We were sent up to the firing line to try and 
save a battery. When we got there we found that 
they were nearly all killed or wounded. Our 
Irish lads opened fire on the dirty Germans, and 
you should have seen them fall. It was like a 
game of skittles. But as soon as you knocked 
them down up came another thousand or so. 
We could not make out where they came from. 
So, all of a sudden, our officers gave us the order 
to charge. We fixed bayonets and went like 
fire through them. You should have seen them 
run ! 

We had two companies of ours there against 
about 3,000 of theirs, and I tell you it was warm. 
I was not sorry when night-time came, but that 

26 In the Firing Line 

was not all. You see, we had no horses to get 
those guns away, and our chaps would not leave 

We dragged them ourselves to a place of 
safety. As the firing line was at full swing we 
had with us an officer of the Hussars. I think 
he was next to me, and he had his hand nearly 
blown off by one of the German shells. So I and 
two more fellows picked him up and took him 
to a place of safety, where he got his wound cared 
for. I heard afterwards that he had been sent 
home, poor fellow. 

Letter 6. — From Sergeant A. J. Smith, ist Lincoln- 
shire Regiment : 

We smashed up the Kaiser's famous regi- 
ment — the Imperial Guards — and incidentally 
they gave us a shaking. They caught me napping. 
I got wounded on Sunday night, but I stuck it 
until Thursday. I could then go no further, 
so they put me in the ambulance and sent me 
home. It was just as safe in the firing line as in 
the improvised hospital, as when our force moved 
the Germans closed up and shelled the hospitals 
and burned the villages to the ground. 

We started on Sunday, and were fighting 
and marching until Thursday. Troops were 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 27 

falling asleep [on the roadside until the shells 
started dropping, then we were very much 

I feel proud to belong to the British Army 
for the way in which they bore themselves in 
front of the other nations. No greater tribute 
could be paid us than what a German officer, who 
was captured, said. He said it was inferno to 
stand up against the British Army. 

Letter 7. — From Private J. R. Tait, of the 2nd 
Essex Regiment : 

We were near Mons when we had the order 
to entrench. It was just dawn when we were 
half-way down our trenches, and we were on 
our knees when the Germans opened a murderous 
fire with their guns and machine guns. We opened 
a rapid fire with our Maxims and rifles ; we let 
them have it properly, but no sooner did we 
have one lot down than up came another lot, and 
they sent their cavalry to charge us, but we were 
there with our bayonets, and we emptied our 
magazines on them. Their men and horses were 
in a confused heap. There were a lot of wounded 
horses we had to shoot to end their misery. We 
had several charges with their infantry, too. 
We find they don't like the bayonets. Their 

28 In the Firing Line 

rifle shooting is rotten ; I don't believe tKey could 
hit a haystack at loo yards. We find their 
Field Artillery very good ; we don't like their 
shrapnel ; but I noticed that some did not burst ; 
if one shell that came over me had burst I should 
have been blown to atoms ; I thanked the Lord 
it did not. I also heard our men singing that 
famous song : " Get out and get under." I know 
that for an hour in our trench it would make 
anyone keep under, what with their shells and 
machine guns. Many poor fellows went to their 
death like heroes. 

Letter 8. — From an Oldham Private to his wife 
at Waterhead : 

We have had a terrible time, and were in 
action for three days and nights. On Wednesday 
the officers said that Spion Kop was heaven to 
the fighting w^e had on that day. It is God 
help our poor fellows who get wounded in the 
legs or body and could not get off the battle- 
field, as when we retired the curs advanced and 
shot and bayonetted them as they tried to 
crawl away. They are rotten shots with the 
rifles. If they stood on Blackpool sands I don't 
believe they could hit the sea, but they are very 
good with the shrapnel guns, and nearly all our 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 29 

wounded have been hit with shrapnel bullets. 
Each shrapnel shell contains about 200 bullets 
which scatter all around, so just think what 
damage one shell can do when it drops among a 
troop of soldiers. 

On the Tuesday our regiment went to the 
top of a hill which had a big flat top. An outpost 
of a Scotch regiment reported to us on our way 
up that all was clear, and we thought the enemy 
were about five miles away. We formed up in 
close formation — about 1,200 strong. Our com- 
manding officer told us to pull our packs off, and 
start entrenching, but this was the last order 
he will ever give, for the enemy opened fire at 
us with five Maxim guns from a wood only 400 
yards in front of us. They mowed us down like 
straw, and we could get no cover at all. Those 
who were left had to roll off the hill into the 
roadway — a long straight road — but we got it 
worse there. They had two shrapnel guns at the 
top of the road, and they did fearful execution to 
us and the Lancashire Fusiliers, who were also 
in the roadway. Any man who got out of that 
hell-hole should shake hands with himself. 

This all happened before six o'clock in the 
morning. I have only seen about sixty of our 
regiment since. Our Maxim gun officer tried 
to fix his gun up during their murderous fire, 
but he got half his face blown away. We re- 
tired in splendid order about 300 yards, and 

30 In the Firing Line 

then lined a ridge. Up to then we hardly fired a 
shot. They had nearly wiped three regiments 
out up to then, but our turn came. We gave 
them lead as fast as we could pull the triggers, 
and I think we put three Germans out to every 
one of our men accounted for. Bear in mind, they 
were about 250,000 strong to our 50,000. We got 
three Germans, and they said their officers told 
them that we were Russians and that England 
had not sent any men to fight. 

They made us retire about five miles, and 
then we got the master of them, because our 
guns came up and covered the ground with dead 
Germans. The German gunners are good shots, 
but ours are a lot better. After we had shelled 
them a bit we got them on the run, and we drove 
them back to three miles behind where the battle 
started. We did give it them. I will say this, 
none of our soldiers touched any wounded Ger- 
mans, though it took us all our time to keep 
our bayonets out of their ribs after seeing what 
they did with our wounded. But, thank God, 
we governed our tempers and left them alone. 

I said we got the Germans on the run. And 
they can run ! I picked up a few trophies and 
put them in my pack, but I got it blown off my 
back almost, so I had to discard it. I got one in 
the ribs, and then a horse got shot and fell on top 
of me, putting my shoulder out again and crushing 
my ribs. Otherwise I am fit to tackle a few 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 31 

more Germans, and I hope I shall soon be back 
again at the front to get a bit of my own back. 

Letter 9. — From a private of the 1st Lincoln s to 
friends at Barton-on-Humber : 

Just a line to tell you I have returned from 
the front, and I can tell you we have had a very 
trying time of it. I must also say I am very 
lucky to be here. We were fighting from Sun- 
day, 23rd, to Wednesday evening, on nothing to 
eat or drink — only the drop of water in our 
bottles which we carried. No one knows— only 
those that have seen us could credit such a sight, 
and if I live for years may I never see such a 
sight again. I can tell you it is not very nice 
to see your chum next to you with half his head 
blown off. The horrible sights I shall never for- 
get. There seemed nothing else only certain 
death staring us in the face all the time. I can- 
not tell you all on paper. We must, however, 
look on the bright side, for it is no good doing 
any other. There are thousands of these 
Germans and they simply throw themselves at 
us. It is no joke fighting seven or eight to one. 
I can tell you we have lessened them a little, but 
there are millions more yet to finish. 

32 In the Firing Line 

Letter lo.— From one of the gth Lancers to friends at 
Alfreton : 

I was at the great battle of Mons, and got a few 
shots in me. Once I was holding my officer's 
horse and my own, when, all of a sudden, a 
German shell came over and burst. Both horses 
were killed. I got away with my left hand split 
and three fingers blown in pieces. I am recovering 
rather quickly. I shall probably have to lose 
one or two of my fingers. I had two bullets 
taken from my body on Tuesday, and I can tell 
you I am in pain. I think I am one of the luckiest 
men in the world to escape as I did. War is a 
terrible thing. It is a lot different to what most 
of us expected. Women and children leaving 
their homes with their belongings — then all of a 
sudden their houses would be in ashes, blown to 
the ground. I shall be glad to get well again. 
Then I can go and help again to fight the brutal 
Germans. The people in France and Belgium 
were so kind and good to our soldiers. They 
gave everything they possibly could do. 

I have not heard from Jack (his brother, also at 
the front). I do so hope he will come back. 

Draxn by I'. Matuma. Copyright of The Sphere. 

TriE British Expeditionary Force Lands in France, August, 1914. 


The Four Days' Battle near Mons 33 

Letter ii. — From a wounded Gordon Highlander to 
his father t Mr. Alexander Buchan, of Mony- 
musk *] 

We had a pretty stiff day of it last Sunday. 
The battaUon went into small trenches in front 
of a wood a few miles to the right of Mons, and 
the Germans had the range to a yard. I was on 
the right edge of the wood with the machine guns, 
and there wasn't half some joy. 

The shells were bursting all over the place. It 
was a bit of a funny sensation for a start, but you 
soon got used to it. You would hear it coming 
singing through the air over your head ; then it 
would give a mighty big bang and you would see 
a great flash, and there would be a shower of 
lumps of iron and rusty nails all around your ears. 
They kept on doing that all Sunday ; sometimes 
three or four at the same time, but none of them 
hit me. I was too fly for them. 

Their artillery is pretty good, but the infantry 
are no good at all. They advance in close column, 
and you simply can't help hitting them. I opened 
fire on them with the machine gun and you could 
see them go over in heaps, but it didn't make any 
difference. For every man that fell ten took his 
place. That is their strong point. They have 
an unUmited supply of men. 

They think they can beat any army in the 
world simply by hurling great masses of troops 
against them, but they are finding out their 

34 In the Firing Line 

mistake now that they are put up against British 
troops. The reason for the British retreat is 
this — all up through France are great lines of 
entrenchments and fortresses, and as they have 
not enough men to defeat the Germans in open 
battle, they are simply retiring from position to 
position — holding the Germans for a few days 
and then retiring to the next one. All this is just 
to gain time. Our losses are pretty severe, but 
they are nothing to the Germans, whose losses 
are ten to every one of ours. 

Letter 12. — From Private J. Willis, of the Gordon 
Highlanders ; 

You mustn't run away with the notion that 
we stand shivering or cowering under shell fire, 
for we don't. We just go about our business in 
the usual way. If it's potting at the Germans 
that is to the fore we keep at it as though nothing 
were happening, and if we're just having a wee 
bit chat among ourselves we keep at it all the 

Last week when I got this wound in my leg 
it was because I got excited in an argument with 
wee Georgie Ferriss, of our company, about 
Queen's Park Rangers and their chances this 
season. One of my chums was hit when he 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 35 

stood up to light a cigarette while the Germans 
were blazing away at us. 

Keep your eyes wide open and you will have 
a big surprise sooner than you think. We're all 
right, and the Germans will find that out sooner 
than you at home. 

Letter 13. — From Private G. Kay, of the 2nd 
Royal Scots, to his employer, a milkman, at 
Richmond : 

You will be surprised to hear I am home 
from Belgium in hospital with a slight wound 
in my heel from shrapnel. I had a narrow 
escape in Wednesday's battle at or near Mons, 
as I was with the transport, and it was surrounded 

The last time I made holes in the stable 
wall, and had a good position for popping them 
off — and I did, too ; but somehow they got 
to know where we were, and shelled us for three 
hours. Off went the roof, and off went the roof 
of other buildings around us. At last a shell 
exploded and set fire to our cooking apparatus 
and our stables. We had twenty-two fine horses, 
and all the transport in this stable yard. We 
hung on for orders to remove the horses. None 
came. At last a shell like a thunderbolt struck 

36 In the Firing Line 

the wall, and down came half the stables, and 
as luck would have it, as we retired — only about 
six of us — my brother-in-law, the chap you 
were going to start when we were called up, 
went to the right and I went to the left. Just 
then a shell burst high and struck several down 
in the yard — it was then I got hit — smashed the 
butt of my rifle, and sent me silly for five minutes. 
Then I heard a major say, " For yourselves, 
boys." I looked for my brother-in-law, but he 
Vv^as not to be seen, and I have not heard of 
him since. During all this time the fire was 
spreading rapidly. I was told to go back and 
cut the horses loose. I did so, and some of 
them got out, but others were burnt to death. 

Then God answered my prayer, and I had 
strength to run through a line of rifle fire over 
barbed wire covered by a hedge, and managed 
to get out of rifle range, three hundred yards 
or four hundred yards away, and then I fell 
for want of water. I just had about two tea- 
spoonfuls in my bottle, and then I went on 
struggling my way through hedges to a railway 

When I got through I saw an awful sight 
— a man of the Royal Irish with six wounds 
from shrapnel. He asked me for water, but 
I had none. I managed to carry him about 
half a mile, and then found water. I stuck to 
him though he was heavy and I was feeling 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 37 

weak and tired. I had to carry him through a 
field of turnips, and half way I slipped and both 
fell. I then had a look back and could see the 
fire mountains high. 

I then saw one of my own regiment, and 
called to him to stay with this man while I went 
for a shutter or a door, which I got, and with 
the help of two Frenchmen soon got him to a 
house and dressed him. We were being shelled 
again from the other end of the village then. We 
were about fifteen strong, as some shghtly wounded 
came up and some not wounded. We got him 
away, and then met a company of Cameron 
Highlanders, and handed him over to them. 

I think I marched nearly sixty-three miles, 
nearly all on one foot, and at last I got a horse 
and made my way to Mons, where I was put in 
the train for Havre. 

Letter 14. — From Sergeant Taylor, of the R.H.A. : 

Our first brush with the enemy was on 
August 2ist, about thirty miles from Mons, 
but Mons, my goodness, it was just like Brock's 
benefit at Belle Vue, and you would have thought 
it was haiUng. Of course, we were returning 
the compliment. The Germans always found the 
range, which proved they had good maps, yet 

38 In the Firing Line 

in their anxiety they tried to fire too many shells, 
the consequence being that a lot of them were 
harmless, and they did not give themselves time 
to properly fuse them. Only on one day — 
from the 21st to my leaving — did we miss an 
action. In General French's report you will, 
no doubt, see where the 5th Brigade accounted 
for two of the German cavalry regiments, of 
which only six troopers were taken prisoners ; 
the rest bit the dust. One of these regiments 
was the Lancers, of which the late Queen was 
honorary colonel. 

Letter 15. — From Private J. Atkinson, of the 
Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment, 
to his wife at Leeds ; 

Talk about a time ! I would not like to go 
through the same again for love or money. 

It is not war. It is murder. The Germans 
are murdering our wounded as fast as they come 
across them. I gave myself up for done a week 
last Sunday night, as we were in the thick of 
the fight at Mons. Our regiment started fighting 
with 1,009 ^^^ finished with 106 and three 
officers. That made 109, as we just lost 900. 
It was cruel. At one place we were at there 
were six streets of the town where all the 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 89 

women were left widows, and were all wearing 
the widows' weeds. The French regiment that 
fought there was made up in the town and they 
got wiped out. 

Letter i6. — From Private Robert Robertson, of the 
Argylls, to his parents at Musselburgh : 

The poor Argylls got pretty well hit, but 
never wavered a yard for all their losses. The 
Scots Greys are doing great work at the front 
— in fact they were the means of putting ten 
thousand Germans to their fate on Sunday 
morning. I will never forget that day, as our 
regiment left a town on the French frontier on 
Saturday morning at 3 o'clock and marched till 
3 a.m. on Sunday into a Belgian town. I was 
about to have an hour in bed, at least a lie down 
in a shop, when I was wakened to go on guard at 
the General's headquarters, and while I was on 
guard a Captain of the crack French cavalry 
came in with the official report of the ten thousand 
Germans killed. The Scots Greys, early that 
morning, had decoyed the Germans right in front 
of the machine guns of the French, and they just 
mowed them down. There was no escape for 
them, poor devils, but they deserve it the way 
they go on. You would be sorry for the poor 

40 In the Firing Line 

Belgian women having to leave their homes with 
young children clinging to them. One sad case 
we came across on the roadside was a woman 
just out of bed two days after giving birth to a 
child. The child was torn from her breast, and 
her breast cut off that the infant was sucking. 
Then the Germans bayoneted the child before the 
mother's eyes. We did the best we could for her, 
but she died about six hours after telling us her 

Letter 17. — From Private Whitaker, of the Cold- 
stream Guards : 

You thought it was a big crowd that streamed 
out of the Crystal Palace when we went to see the 
Cup Final. Well, outside Compi^gne it was just 
as if that crowd came at us. You couldn't miss 
them. Our bullets ploughed into them, but still 
they came for us. I was well entrenched, and my 
rifle got so hot I could hardly hold it. I was 
wondering if I should have enough bullets, when 
a pal shouted, "Up, Guards, and at 'em ! " The 
next second he was rolled over with a nasty 
knock on the shoulder. He jumped up and 
hissed, " Let me get at them ! " His language 
was a bit stronger than that. 

When we really did get the order to get at 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 41 

them we made no mistake, I can tell you. They 
cringed at the bayonet, but those on our left wing 
tried to get round us, and after racing as hard as 
we could for quite five hundred yards we cut up 
nearly every man who did not run away. 

You have read of the charge of the Light Brigade. 
It was nowt to our cavalry chaps. I saw two 
of our fellows who were unhorsed stand back to 
back and slash away with their swords, bringing 
down nine or ten of the panic-stricken devils. 
Then they got hold of the stirrup-straps of a 
horse without a rider, and got out of the melee. 
This kind of thing was going on all day. 

In the afternoon I thought we should all get 
bowled over, as they came for us again in their 
big numbers. Where they came from, goodness 
knows ; but as we could not stop them with 
bullets they had another taste of the bayonet. 
My captain, a fine fellow, was near to me, and as 
he fetched them down he shouted, "Give them 
socks, my lads ! " How many were killed and 
wounded I don't know ; but the field was covered 
with them. 

Letter i8. — From a private in the Coldstr&am 
Guards to his mother : 

First of all I sailed from Southampton on 
August I2th on a cattle boat called the Cawdor 

42 In the Firing Line 

Castle. We sailed at 9.30 at night, and after 
a passage of 14^ hours landed at Le Havre, on 
the coast of France. We went into camp there, 
and then left on August 14th, getting into a train, 
not third class carriages, but cattle trucks. We 
were on the train eighteen and a half hours, 
and I was a bit stiff when I got out at a place 
called Wassigny. Then we marched through 
pouring rain to a village, where we slept in some 
barns. The next day being Sunday, August i6th, 
we got on the march to a place called Grooges, 
a distance of about nine miles. We stayed there 
till Thursday. 

Then we started to march to get into Belgium. 
We got there on Sunday, the 23rd, just outside 
Mons. We dug trenches, from which we had to 
retire, and then we got into a position, and there 
I saw the big battle, but could not do anything, 
because we were with the artillery. We 
retreated into France, being shelled all the way, 
and on the Tuesday, the 25th, we marched into 
Landrecies. We arrived there about one o'clock 
and were thinking ourselves lucky. We con- 
sidered we were going to have two days' rest, 
but about five o'clock the alarm was raised. 
The Germans got to the front of us and were trying 
to get in the town. So we fixed our bayonets, 
doubled up the road, and the fight started. The 
German artillery shelled us, and some poor chaps 
got hit badly. The chap next to me got shot, 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 43 

and I tried to pull him out of the road, so that 
I could get down in his place, as there was not 
room for us all in the firing line. We had to lay 
down behind and wait our chance. I had got on my 
knees, and just got hold of his leg, when some- 
thing hit my rifle and knocked it out of my hand, 
and almost at the same time a bullet went right 
through my arm. It knocked me over, and I 
must have bumped my head, for I do not re- 
member any more till I felt someone shaking me. 
It was the doctor — a brave man, for he came 
right up amongst the firing to tend the wounded. 
He bandaged my arm up, and I had to get to 
hospital, a mile and a half away, as best I could. 

The beasts of Germans shelled the building all 
night long without hitting it. We moved next 
morning, and by easy stages left for England. 
I am going on fine ; shall soon be back and at 
it again I expect. Keep up your spirits, won't 
you ? I believe it was only your prayers at home 
that guarded me that Tuesday night, simply awful 
it was. 

Letter 19. — From a wounded English Officer, in a 
Belgian hospital , to his mother : 

I do not know if this letter will ever get 
to you or not, but I 9TO writing on the chance 

44 In the Firing Line 

that it will. A lot has happened since I last 
wrote to you. We marched straight up to 
Belgium from France, and the first day we 
arrived my company was put on outposts for 
the night. During the night we dug a few 
trenches, etc., so did not get much sleep. The 
next day the Germans arrived, and I will try 
and describe the fight. We were only advanced 
troops of a few hundred holding the line of 
a canal. The enemy arrived about 50,000 
strong. We held them in check all day and killed 
hundreds of them, and still they came. Finally, 
of course, we retired on our main body. I will 
now explain the part I played. We were guarding 
a railway bridge over a canal. My company 
held a semicircle from the railway to the canal. 
I was nearest the railway. A Scottish regiment 
completed the semicircle on the right of the 
railway to the canal. The railway was on a 
high embankment running up to the bridge, so 
that the Scottish regiment was out of sight 
of us. We held the Germans all day, killing 
hundreds, when about five p.m. the order to 
retire was eventually given. It never reached 
us, and we were left all alone. The Germans 
therefore got right up to the canal on our right, 
hidden by the railway embankment, and crossed 
the railway. Our people had blown up the 
bridge before their departure. We found our- 
selves between two fires, and I realized we had 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 45 

about 2,000 Germans and a canal between myself 
and my friends. 

We decided to sell our lives dearlyj I 
ordered my men to fix bayonets and charge, 
which the gallant fellows did splendidly, but 
we got shot down like nine-pins. As I was 
loading my revolver after giving the order to 
fix bayonets I was hit in the right wrist. I 
dropped my revolver, my hand was too weak 
to draw my sword. This afterwards saved 
my life. I had not got far when I got a bullet 
through the calf of my right leg and another 
in my right knee, which brought me down. 
The rest of ray men got driven round into the 
trench on our left. The officer there charged 
the Germans and was killed himself, and nearly 
all the men were either killed or wounded. I 
did not see this part of the business, but from 
all accounts the gallant men charged with the 
greatest bravery. Those who could walk the 
Germans took away as prisoners. I have since 
discovered from civilians that around the bridge 
5,000 Germans were found dead and about 6o 
English. These 60 must have been nearly all 
my company, who were so unfortunately left 

As regards myself, when I lay upon the 
ground I found my coat sleeve full of blood, 
and my wrist spurting blood, so I knew an 
artery of some sort must have been cut. The 

4:6 In the Firing Line 

Germans had a shot at me when I was on the 
ground to finish me off ; that shot hit my sword, 
which I wore on my side, and broke in half 
just below the hilt ; this turned the bullet off 
and saved my life. I afterwards found that 
two shots had gone through my field glasses, 
which I wore on my belt, and another had gone 
through my coat pocket, breaking my pipe 
and putting a hole through a small collapsible 
tin cup, which must have turned the bullet off me. 
We lay out there all night for twenty-four hours. 
I had fainted away from loss of blood, and when I 
lost my senses I thought I should never see any- 
thing again. Luckily I had fallen on my wounded 
arm, and the arm being slightly twisted I think 
the weight of my body stopped the flow of blood 
and saved me. At any rate, the next day 
civilians picked up ten of us who were still alive, 
and took us to a Franciscan convent, where we 
have been splendidly looked after. All this 
happened on August 23rd, it is now September 
3rd. I am ever so much better, and can walk 
about a bit now, and in a few days will be quite 
healed up. It is quite a small hole in my wrist, 
and it is nearly healed, and my leg is much 
better ; the bullets escaped the bones, so that 
in a week I shall be quite all right. Unfortunately 
the Germans are at present in possession of this 
district, so that I am more or less a prisoner 
here. But I hope the English will be here 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 47 

in a week, when I shall be ready to rejoin 

Letter 20. — From W. Hawkins, of the yri Cold- 
stream Guards : 

I have a nasty little hole through my right 
arm, but I am one of the lucky ones. My word, 
it was hot for us. On the Tuesday night when I 
got my little lot, what I saw put me in mind of a 
farmer's machine cutting grass, as the Germans 
fell just like it. We only lost nine poor fellows, 
and the German losses amounted to 1,500 and 
2,000. So you can guess what it was like. As 
they were shot down others took their place, as 
there were thousands of them. The best friend 
is your rifle with the bayonet. But I soon had 
mine blown to pieces. How it happened I don't 
know. ... I got a bullet through the top of my 
hat. I will bring my hat home and show you. 
I felt it go through, but it never as much as 
bruised my head. I had then no rifle, so I was 
obliged to keep down my head. The bullets 
were whirling over me by the hundred. I stopped 
until they got a bit slower, and then I got up and 
was trying to pull a fellow away that had been 
shot through the head when I managed to receive 
a bullet through my arm. When I looked in 
the direction of the enemy I could see them 

4:8 In the Firing Line 

coming by the thousand. Off I went. I bet I 
should easily have won the mile that night. I 
got into the hospital at Landricca amid shot and 
shell, which were flying by as fast as you like. 
I got my arm done, and was put to bed. All 
that night the enemy were trying to blow up the 
hospital, where they had to turn out the lights 
so that the Germans could not get the correct 
range. Then we were taken away in R.A.M.C. 
vans to Guise, where we slept on the station 
platform after a nice supper which the French 

Letter 21. — From Sergeant Griffiths, of the Welsh 
Regiment, to his parents at Swansea : 

The fighting at Mons was terrible, and it was 
here that our 4th and 5th Divisions got badly 
knocked, but fought well. Our artillery played 
havoc with them. About 10 o'clock on Monday 
TVe were suddenly ordered to quit, and quick, too, 
and no wonder. They were ten to one. Then 
began that retreat which will go down in history 
as one of the greatest and most glorious retire- 
ments over done. Our boys were cursing because 
our backs were towards them ; but when the 
British did turn, my word, what a game ! The 
3rd Coldstreams should be named " 3rd Cold 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 49 

steels," and no error. Their bayonet charge was 
a beauty. 

Among numerous other such letters that have 
been published up and down the country is this 
in which a corporal of the North Lancashire 
Regiment gives a graphic Httle picture of his 
experiences to the Manchester City News : 

When we got near Mons the Germans were 
nearer than we expected. They must have been 
waiting for us. We had little time to make 
entrenchments, and had to do the digging lying on 
our stomachs. Only about 300 of the 1,000 I 
was with got properly entrenched. The Germans 
shelled us heavily, and I got a splinter in the leg. 
It is nearly right now, and I hope soon to go back 
again. We lost fairly heavily, nearly all from 
artillery fire. Altogether I was fighting for 
seventy-two hours before I was hit. The Ger- 
man forces appeared to be never-ending. They 
were round about us like a swarm of bees, and 
as fast as one man fell, it seemed, there were 
dozens to take his place. 

There is one in which James Scott, reservist, 
tells his relatives at Jarrow that British soldiers 
at Mons dropped like logs. The enemy were shot 
down as they came up, but it was like knocking 
over beehives — a hundred came up for every 
one knocked down. He thought the Germans 

50 In the Firing Line 

were the worst set of men he had ever seen. 
Their cavalry drove women and children in front 
of them in the streets of Mons so that the British 
could not fire. 

A wounded non-commissioned officer of the 
Pompadours, whose regiment left Wembley Park 
a week before the fighting began, says that in 
the four days* battle commencing at Mons on 
the Sunday, August 23rd, and lasting until 
August 26th, they were continually under fire : 

We had to beat off several cavalry attacks as 
well as infantry, and when the trouble seemed to 
be over the Germans played on us with shrapnel 
just like turning on a fire hose. Several of our 
officers were hit on Wednesday. Heavy German 
cavalry charged us with drawn sabres, and we 
only had a minute's warning " to prepare to receive 
cavalry." We left our entrenchments, and rallying 
in groups, emptied our magazines into them as 
they drew near. Men and horses fell in confused 
heaps. It was a terrible sight. Still, on they 
came. They brought their naked sabres to the 
engage, and we could distinctly hear their words 
of command made in that piercing, high tone of 
voice which the Germans affect. 

The enemy had a terrible death roll before 
their fruitless charge was completed, a thick line 
of dead and wounded marking the ground over 
which they had charged. We shot the wounded 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 51 

horses, to put them out of their misery, whilst our 
ambulances set to work to render aid to the 
wounded. Our Red Cross men make no distinc- 
tion. Friend and foe get the same medical 
treatment, that's where we score over the 

If they had been Uhlans we should not have 
spared them, as we owe them a grudge for round- 
ing up some Tommies who were bathing. They 
took their clothes away, and tied the men to trees. 
We swore to give them a warm time wherever we 
met them. 

A wounded corporal writes : 

It looked as if we were going to be snowed 
under. The mass of men that came at us was an 
avalanche, and every one of us must have been 
simply trodden to death and not killed by bullets 
or shells when our cavalry charged into them on 
the left wing, not 500 yards from the trench I was 
in, and cut them up. Our lads did the rest, but 
the shells afterwards laid low a lot of them. 

The following is an extract from a letter 
received by a gardener from his son : 

You complained last year of the swarms of 
wasps that destroyed your fruit. Well, dad, 
they were certainly not larger in number than 
the Germans who came for us. The Germans are 
cowards when they get the bayonets at them. 
A young lieutenant, I don't know his name, was 

52 In the Firing Line 

one of the coolest men I have ever seen, and didn't 
he encourage our chaps ! I saw him bring down 
a couple of Germans who were leading half a 

A fact that stands out continually in these 
tales of eye-witnesses is the overwhelming num- 
bers in which the Germans were hurled upon 
them. One says they seemed to be rising up 
endlessly out of the very ground, and as fast as 
one mass was shot down another surged into 
its place ; the innumerable horde is compared 
by various correspondents to *' a great big bat- 
tering-ram," to a gigantic swarm of wasps, to 
a swarm of bees, to a flock of countless thousands 
of sheep trying to rush out of a field ; to the 
unceasing pouring of peas out of a sack. It was 
the sheer mass and weight of this onrush that 
forced the small British army back on its sys- 
tematic, triumphant retreat, and probably the 
most striking little sketch of this phase of the 
conflict is that supplied by an Irish soldier in- 
valided to Belfast, which I include in the follow- 
ing selection of hospital stories. 

The last few weeks have been like a dream to 
me, says a wounded private of the Middlesex 
Regiment. After we landed at Boulogne we 
were magnificently treated, and everyone was in 
the highest spirits. Then we set off on our 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 58 

marching. We were all anxious to have a slap 
at the Germans. My word ! If they only knew 
in our country how the Germans are treating our 
wounded there would be the devil to pay. 

It was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 
Mons, I believe, that we got our first chance. We 
had been marching for days with hardly any 
sleep. When we took up our position the Ger- 
mans were nearer than we thought, because we 
had only just settled down to get some rest when 
there came the bhnding glare of the searchlight. 
This went away almost as suddenly as it appeared, 
and it was followed by a perfect hail of bullets. 
We lost a good many in the fight, but we were all 
bitterly disappointed when we got the order to 
retire. I got a couple of bullets through my leg, 
but I hope it won't be long before I get back 
again. We never got near enough to use our 
bayonets. I only wish we had done. Talk 
about civiHzed warfare ! Don't you believe it. 
The Germans are perfect fiends. 


(i) At Southampton. 

The first batch of wounded soldiers arrived 
at Netley on the 28th August, coming from 
Southampton Docks by the hospital train. A 
Daily Telegraph correspondent was one of a 
quiet band of people who had waited silently 

54 In the Firing Line 

for many long hours on the platform that runs 
alongside the hospital for the arrival of the 
disabled soldiers who had fought so heroically 
at Mons ; and this is his account of what he 
saw : 

Colonel Lucas and staff were all in readiness. 
Here were wheeling chairs, there stretchers. The 
preparations for the reception of the broken 
Tommies could not have been better, more 
elaborate, or more humane. It was the humanity 
of it all — the quiet consideration that told of 
complete preparedness — that made not the least 
moving chapter of the story that I have to tell. 
And out of the train stern-faced men began to 
hobble, many with their arms in a sling. 

Here was a hairless-faced, boyish-looking 
fellow, with his head enveloped in snowy-white 
bandages ; his cheeks were red and healthy, his 
eyes bright and twinkling. There was pain 
written across his young face, but he walked erect 
and puffed away at a cigarette. One man, with 
arms half clinging round the neck of two injured 
comrades, went limping to the reception-room, 
his foot the size of three, and as he went by he 
smiled and joked because he could only just 
manage to get along. 

When the last of the soldiers able to walk 
found his way into the hospital, there to be 
refreshed with tea or coffee or soup, before he 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 55 

was sent to this or that ward, the more seriously 
wounded were carried from the train. How 
patient, how uncomplaining were these fellows ! 
One, stretched out on a mattress, with his foot 
smashed, chatted and smoked until his turn 
came to be wheeled away. And when the last 
of these wounded heroes had been lifted out of the 
train I took myself to the reception-room, and 
there heard many stories that, though related 
with the simplicity of the true soldier, were 

The wounded men were of all regiments and 
spoke all dialects. They were travel-stained 
and immensely tired. Pain had eaten deep lines 
into many of their faces, but there were no really 
doleful looks. They were faces that seemed to 
say : " Here we are ; what does it all matter ; 
it is good to be alive ; it might have been worse." 

I sat beside a private, named Cox. An old 
warrior he looked. His fine square jaw was black 
with wire-like whiskers. His eyes shone with the 
fire of the man who had suffered, so it seemed, 
some dreadful nightmare. 

" And you want me to tell you all about it. 
Well, believe me, it was just hell. I have been 
through the Boxer campaign ; I went through 
the Boer War, but I have never seen anything 
so terrible as that which happened last Sunday. 
It all happened so sudden. We believed that 
the Germans were some fifteen miles away, and 

56 In the Firing Line 

all at once they opened fire upon us with their 
big guns. 

" Let me tell you what happened to my own 
regiment. When a roll call of my company was 
taken there were only three of us answered, me 
and two others." When he had stilled his 
emotion, he wxnt on. " So unexpected and so 
terrible was the attack of the enemy, and so 
overwhelming were their numbers, that there 
was no withstanding it." 

Before fire was opened a German aeroplane 
flew over our troops, and the deduction made 
by Private Cox and several of his comrades, 
with whom I chatted, was that the aeroplane 
was used as a sort of index to the precise locality 
of our soldiers, and, further, that the Germans, 
so accurate was their gunnery, had been over 
this particular battlefield before they struck a 
blow, and so had acquired an intimate knowledge 
of the country. Trenches that were dug by our 
men served as little protection from the fire. 

Said Cox : " No man could have Hved against 
such a murderous attack. There was a rain of 
lead, a deluge of lead, and, talk about being sur- 
prised, well, I can hardly realise that, and still 
less beheve what happened." 

By the side of Cox sat a lean, fair-haired, 
freckle-faced private. " That's right," he said, 
by way of corroborating Cox. " They were fair 
devils," chimed in an Irishman, who later told 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 57 

me that he came from Connemara. " You could 
do nothing with them, but I say they are no 
d good as riflemen.'' 

" No, they're not, Mike," ventured a youth. 
" We got within 400 yards of them, and they 
couldn't hit us." 

" But," broke in the man of Connemara, " they 
are devils with the big guns, and their aim was 
mighty good, too. If it had not been they 
wouldn't have damaged us as they have done." 

A few yards away was another soldier, also 
seated in a wheeling chair, with a crippled leg — 
a big fine fellow he was. He told me his corps 
had been ambushed, and that out of 120 only 
something like twenty survived. 

On all hands I heard all too much to show 
that the battle of Mons was a desperate affair. 
Two regiments suffered badly, but there was no 
marked disposition on the part of any of the 
soldiers with whom I chatted to enlarge upon 
the happenings of last week-end. Rather would 
they talk more freely of the awful atrocities 
perpetrated by the Germans. 

" Too awful for words," one said. '* Their 
treatment of women will remain as a scandal 
as long as the world lasts. We shall never for- 
get ; we shall never forgive. I wish I was back 
again at the front. Englishmen have only got 
to realise what devilish crimes are being com- 
mitted by these Germans to want to go and 

58 In the Firing Line 

take a hand in the fight. Women were shot, and 
so were young girls. In fact, it did not seem to 
matter to the Germans who they killed, and they 
seemed to take a delight in burning houses and 
spreading terror everywhere. 

" I have got one consolation, I helped to 
catch four German spies." 

In Hospital. 

(2) At Belfast. 

About 120 officers and men arrived in Belfast 
on August 31st, direct from the Continent. 
They were brought here, says the Daily Telegraph 
local correspondent, to be near their friends, for 
the men had been in Ulster for a long time before 
leaving for the front, being stationed in Belfast 
and later in Londonderry. They sailed from 
this city for the theatre of war on August 14th, 
to the number of 900. It was remarkable to 
note how many of them were injured in the 
legs and feet. All were conveyed to the hospital 
at the Victoria Military Barracks. The men 
were glad to see Belfast again, but those to whom 
I spoke will be bitterly disappointed if they 
do not get another opportunity for paying off 
their score against the Germans. 

One soldier told me a plain straightforward 
story, without any embellishments. What made 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 59 

his tale doubly interesting was the fact that he 
spoke with the experience of a veteran, having 
gone through the South African War. 

Where the Germans had the advantage, 
he said, was in the apparently endless number 
of reserves. No sooner did we dispose of one 
regiment than another regiment took its place. 
It just put me in mind of the Niagara Falls — 
the terrible rush threatening to carry everything 
before it. 

No force on earth could have withstood that 
cataract, and the fact that our men only fell 
back a little was the best proof of their strength. 
At one stage there were, I am sure, six Germans 
to every one of us. Yet we held our ground, and 
would still have held it but for the fact that 
after we had dealt with the men before us another 
force came on, using the bodies of their dead 
comrades as a carpet. 

The South African War was a picnic compared 
with this, and on the way home I now and again 
recoiled with horror as I thought of the awful 
spectacle which was witnessed before we left the 
front of piled-up bodies of the German dead. 
We lost heavily, but the German casualties 
must have been appalling. 

You must remember that for almost twenty- 
four hours we bore the brunt of the attack, and 
the desperate fury with which the Germans 
fought showed that they believed if they were 

60 In the Firing Line 

only once past the British forces the rest would 
be easy. Not only so, but I am sure we had 
the finest troops in the German army against 

On the way out I heard some slighting com- 
ments passed on the German troops, and no 
doubt some of them are not worth much, but those 
thrown at us were very fine specimens indeed. 
I do not think they could have been beaten in 
that respect. 


(3) At Birmingham. 

About 120 English soldiers who had been 
wounded in and around Mons arrived in Bir- 
mingham on September ist, and were removed 
to the new university buildings at Bournbrook, 
where facilities have been provided for deal- 
ing with over 1,000 patients. The contingent 
was the first batch to arrive. Though terribly 
maimed, and looking broken and tired, the men 
were cheerful. About twenty had to be carried, 
but the majority of them were able to walk with 

In the course of conversation with a Daily 
Telegraph reporter a number of the men spoke 
of the terrible character of the fighting. The 
Germans, one man said, outnumbered us by 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 61 

100 to one. As we knocked them down, they 
simply filled up their gaps and came on as 

One of the Suffolk men stated that very few 
were injured by shot wounds. Nearly all the 
mischief was done by shells. The Germans, 
he said, fired six at a time, and if you missed 
one you got the others. 

One poor fellow, whose head was so smothered 
in bandages that his features could not be seen, 
remarked, " We could beat them with bladder- 
sticks if it were not for the shells, which were 
appalling. The effect could not be described." 

A private of the West Kent Regiment, who 
was through the Boer War, said there was never 
anything like the fighting at Mons in South 
Africa. That was a game of skittles by com- 

They came at us, he said, in great masses. 
It was like shooting rabbits, only as fast as you 
shot one lot down another lot took their place. 
You couldn't help hitting them. We had plenty 
of time to take aim, and if we weren't reaching 
the Bisley standard all the time, we must have 
done a mighty lot of execution. As to their 
rifle fire, they couldn't hit a haystack. 

A sergeant gunner of the Royal Field Artil- 
lery, who was wounded at Tournai, owing to 

62 In the Firing Line 

an injury to his jaw was unable to speak, 
but he wrote on a pad : 

I was on a flank with my gun and fired about 
sixty rounds in forty minutes. We wanted 
support and could not get it. It was about 
500 English trying to save a flank attack, against, 
honestly, I should say, 10,000. As fast as you 
shot them down more came. But for their 
aeroplanes they would be useless. I was firing 
for one hour at from 1,500 yards down to 700 
yards, so you can tell what it was like. 

In Hospital. 

(4) At London. 

All the heroism that has been displayed by 
British troops in the present war will never 
be known. A few individual cases may chance 
to be heard of. Others will be known only to 
the Recording Angel. Two instances of extra- 
ordinary bravery are mentioned by a couple of 
wounded soldiers lying in the London Hospital 
in the course of a narrative of their own adven- 

One of them, a splendid fellow of the Royal 
West Kent Regiment, told a Daily Telegraph 
reporter : 

We were in a scrubby position just outside 
Mons from Saturday afternoon till Monday 

i The Four Days' Battle near Mons 63 

morning. After four hours each of our six 
big guns was put out of action. Either the 
gunners were killed or wounded, or the guns 
themselves damaged. For the rest of the time 
— that is, until Monday morning, when we 
retired — we had to stick the Geiman fire without 
being able to retaliate. It was bad enough to 
stand this incessant banging away, but it made 
it worse not to be able to reply. 

All day Sunday and all Sunday night the 
Germans continued to shrapnel us. At night 
it was just hellish. We had constructed some 
entrenchments, but it didn't afford much cover 
and our losses were very heavy. On Monday 
we received the order to retire to the south 
of the town, and some hours later, when the 
roll-call was called, it was found that we had 
300 dead alone, including four officers. 

Then an extraordinary thing happened. Me 
and some of my pals began to dance. We 
were just dancing for joy at having escaped 
with our skins, and to forget the things we'd 
seen a bit, when bang ! and there came a shell 
from the blue, which burst and got, I should 
think, quite twenty of us. 

That's how some of us got wounded, as we 
thought we had escaped. Then another half- 
dozen of us got wounded this way. Some of 
our boys went down a street near by, and found 
a basin and some water, and were washing their 

64 In the Firing Line 

hands and faces when another shell burst above 
them and laid most of them out. 

What happened to us happened to the 
Gloucesters. Their guns, too, were put out of 
action, and, like us, they had to stand the shell- 
fire for hours and hours before they were told 
to retire. What we would have done without 
our second in command I don't know. 

During the Sunday firing he got hit in the 
head. He had two wounds through the cap in 
the front and one or two behind, and lost a lot 
of blood. Two of our fellows helped to bind up 
his head, and offered to carry him back, but he 
said, "It isn't so bad. I'll be all right soon.*' 
Despite his wounds and loss of blood, he carried 
on until we retired on Monday. Then, I think, 
they took him off to hospital. 

A stalwart chap of the Cheshires here broke in. 

Our Cheshire chaps were also badly cut 
up. Apart from the wounded, several men got 
concussion of the brain by the mere explosions. 
It was awful ! Under cover of their 
murderous artillery fire, the German infantry 
advanced to within three and five hundred 
yards of our position. With that we were 
given the order to fix bayonets, and stood up 
for the charge. That did it for the German 
infantry ! They turned tail and ran for their 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 65 

Our captain cried out, " Now you've got 
'em, men ! " But we hadn't. Their artillery 
begins with that to fire more hellish than ever, 
and before you could almost think what to do a 
fresh lots of the " sausages " came along, and 
we had to beat a retreat. 

During the retreat one of our sergeants 
was wounded and fell. With that our captain 
runs back and tries to lift him. As he was 
doing so he was struck in the foot, and fell over. 
We thought he was done for, but he scrambles 
up and drags the sergeant along until a couple 
of us chaps goes out to help 'em in. You 
should have seen his foot when he took his 
boot off — I mean the captain. It wasn't half 

How a number of British troops made a dash 
in the night to save some women and children 
from the Germans was told by Lance-corporal 
Tanner, of the 2nd Oxfordshire and Bucks 
Light Infantry. On the Sunday the regi- 
ment arrived at Mons. 

We took up our position in the trenches, 
he said, and fought for some time. In the 
evening the order came to retire, and we marched 
back to Conde, with the intention of billeting 
for the night and having a rest. Suddenly, 
about midnight, we were ordered out, and set 
off to march to the village of Douai, some miles 

66 In the Firing Line 

away, as news had reached us that the Germans 
were slaughtering the natives there. 

It was a thriUing march in the darkness, 
across the unfamihar country. We were Hable 
to be attacked at any moment, of course, but 
everyone was keen on saving the women and 
children, and hurried on. We kept the sharpest 
lookout on all sides, but saw nothing of the 

When we reached Douai a number of the 
inhabitants rushed out to meet us. They were 
overjoyed to see us, and speedily told what 
the Germans had done. They had killed a 
number of women and children. With fixed 
bayonets we advanced into the village, and 
we saw signs all around us of the cruelty of 
the enemy. 

Private R. Wills, of the Highland Light In- 
fantry, who also took part in the march to the 
village, here continued the story. 

We found that most of the Germans had 
not waited for our arrival, and there were only 
a few left in the place. However, we made sure 
that none remained there. 

We started a house-to-house search. Our 
men went into all the houses, and every now 
and then they found one or two of the enemy 
hiding in a corner or upstairs. Many of them 
surrendered at once, others did not. 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 67 

When we had cleared the village, some of 
us lay down on the pavements, and snatched 
an hour's sleep. At 3.30 we marched away 
again, having rid the place of the enemy, and, 
getting back to camp, were glad to turn in. 

A sergeant of the Royal Field Artillery, who 
was wounded by shrapnel just outside Mons 
village, said that the German artillery-fire was 
good ; once the enemy's gunners got the range 
they did well. 

Their shooting was every bit as good as 
ours, and although our battery made excellent 
practice, three of our men were killed, and 
twenty out of thirty-six were wounded. I lay 
on the field all night, and was rescued the next 
morning. Fortunately, the Germans did not 
come and find me during those long hours of 

In such tales of these men in hospital, and in 
the letters they have written home, there is a 
common agreement that the German rifle shoot- 
ing is beneath contempt — " they shoot from the 
hip and don't seem to aim at anything in par- 
ticular ; " but their artillery practice is spoken of 
with respect and admiration. The German 
artillery is very good, writes Private Geradine, 
of the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, but their 
aeroplanes help them a lot. It is a pretty sight 

68 In the Firing Line 

to see the shells burst in the night, he adds— 
it's like Guy Fawkes Day ! 

I like too, such robust cheerfulness and gay 
good-humour in face of the horrors of death as 
sounds through the letter of Sapper Bradley : 

I have never seen our lads so cheery as they 
are under great trials. You couldn't help being 
proud of them if you saw them lying in the 
trenches cracking jokes or smoking while they 
take pot shots at the Germans. . . . We have 
very little spare time now, but what we have we 
pass by smoking concerts, sing-songs, and story- 
telling. Sometimes we have football for a change, 
with a German helmet for a ball, and to pass the 
time in the trenches have invented the game of 
guessing where the next German shell will drop. 
Sometimes we have bets on it, and the man who 
guesses correctly the greatest number of times 
takes the stakes. 

And surely no less do I like the equally courage- 
ous but more sombre outlook of the Scottish 
Private who complained of the famous retreat 
from Mons, It was " Retire ! retire ! retire ! " 
when our chaps were longing to be at them. But 
they didn't swear about it, because being out 
there and seeing what we saw makes you feel 

I like that wonderful diary kept by a driver of 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 69 

the 4th Ammunition Column, 3rd section, R.F.A. 
It was sent over from Paris by Mr. Harold Ashton, 
The Daily News correspondent, and is as naively 
and minutely realistic as if it were a page out of 
Defoe. The driver's interests are naturally 
centred in his horses, they hold the first place in 
his regard, the excitements of the war coming 
second. He records how he went from Hendon 
to Southampton on the 21st August : 

Got horses on board all right, though the 
friskiest of them kicked a lot. Got to Havre 
safe. Food good — rabbit and potatoes and 
plenty of beer, not our English sort, but the 
colour of cyder. Us four enjoyed ourselves with 
the family, had a good time, and left ten o'clock 
next day well filled up. Our objective was 
Compi^gne. We got through all right, watering 
our horses on the way from pumps and taps at 
private houses. The people were awful kind, 
giving us quantities of pears, and filling our water- 
bottles with beer. That was all right. Our 
welcome was splendid everywhere. At Com- 
pi^gne we got into touch with the Germans. 
Very hot work. We marched from Compi^gne 
about eleven o'clock on the 31st, which was Sun- 
day. The way was hard. Terrible steep hills 
which knocked out our older and weaker horses. 
CoUick broke out among them, too, and that was 
bad. We lost a good many . . . Slept until 

70 In the Firing Line 

5 a.m. and then marched on again, still retreating. 

Hot as . Nothing to eat or drink. Plenty 

of tea, but nothing to boil it with. At last we got 
some dry biscuits and some tins of marmalade. 

Bill , whose teeth were bad, went near mad 

with toothache after the jam. . . . No dead 
horses, thank God, to-day. I hope we have 

checked that collick, but my horse fell into 

a ditch going through the wood and could not get 
out for over an hour. I couldn't go for help, 
because the Germans had got the range of the 
place and their shells were ripping overhead like 
blazes. Poor old Dick (the horse), he was that 
fagged out by the long march. At last I got 
him out and went on, and by luck managed 
to pick up my pals. . . . The Germans were 
lambing in at us with their artillery, and poor old 
Dick got blowed up. I thank God I wasn't on 
him just then. Sept. 2. — More fighting and worser 
than ever. I don't believe we shall ever 
get to Paris. . . . Now we come to Montagny, 
and fighting all the time. Rabbits and apples 
to eat gallore, but still no money, and no 
good if we had because we carnt spend it. 
Sept. 3. — We progressed this day four miles 
in twelve hours. Took the wrong road, and had 
to crawl about the woods on our stummoks like 
snakes to dodge the German snipers. We had one 
rifle between four of us, and took it in turns to 
have goes. We shot one blighter and took another 

The Four Days' Battle near Mons 71 

prisoner. They was both half starved and covered 
with soars. Then the rifle jammed, and we had 
nothing to defend ourselves with. At last we 
found the main body again. They wanted more 
horses, and we were just bringing them up and 
putting them to the guns when a German areyplane 
came over us and flue round pretty low. The 
troops tried to fetch him down, and some bullets 
wxnt through the wings, but then he got too high. 
He dropped a bomb in the middle of us, but it 
exploded very weak and nobody was hurt. Next 
day we started on a night march, and got to 
Lagny Thorigny, and camped outside the town, 
where the people fed us on rabbits again. I said 
I was sick of rabbits, and me and Bill walked 
acrost to a farmhouse and borrowed three chickens, 
which we cooked. It was fine. . . . Outside 
Lagny there was more fierce fighting — 20 miles of 
it — and the Germans were shot down like birds. 
Sept. 3 (continued). — Firing is still going on, but 
it is not so fierce, though scouts have come in and 
told us there are 10,000 Germans round us this 
day. To-night I got two ounces of Navy Cut. 
It was prime. Sept. 8. — We are marching on 
further away from Paris. We shall never get 
there, I guess. Sept. 12. — In the village of Crecy. 
Plenty of food and houses to sleep into. Here we 
have got to stay until further orders. Collick still 
very bad. 
The cairn matter-of-fa,ct air with which he 

72 In the Firing Line 

encounters whatever comes to him, the keen joy 
he takes in small pleasures by the way ; his 
philosophic acceptance of the fate of " poor old 
Dick " — the whole thing is so unruffled, so self- 
possessed, so Pepysian in its egoism and so 
artlessly humorous that one hopes this phlegmatic 
driver will keep a full diary of his campaignings, 
and that Mr. Ashton will secure and publish it. 


The Destruction of Louvain 

'* Such food a tyranfs appetite demands.'''' 


The stupid arrogance of the German military 
caste has always made them ridiculous in the 
eyes of decent human creatures ; it was sur- 
prising, amusing, and yet saddening, too, to 
see an intelligent people strutting and playing 
such war-paint-and-feathers tricks before high 
heaven, but it appears that the primitive impulses 
that survive in their character are stronger and 
go deeper than we had suspected. There are 
brave and chivalrous spirits among Germany's 
officers and men ; that goes without saying ; 
but the savage and senseless barbarities that 
have marked her conduct of the present war 
will make her name a byword for infamy as long 
as it is remembered. There seems no doubt — 
the charges are too many and too widely spread — 
that her troops have murdered the wounded, 
have shot down women and children, have even 

78 C* 

74 In the Firing Line 

used them as shields, driving them in front of 
their firing Une ; they have ruthlessly murdered 
unarmed civiUans, and have blasted farmsteads 
and villages into ashes on the flimsiest provo- 
cation ; sometimes, so far as one can learn, 
without waiting for any provocation whatever. 
Even if their hands were clean of that innocent 
blood, the wanton, insensate destruction of such 
a city as Louvain is sufficient of itself to put 
them outside the pale of civilised societies. No 
doubt they were smarting with humiliation that 
they had been so long delayed breaking through 
the stubborn opposition of the Belgians at Li^ge ; 
but Louvain was an unfortified city and they 
were allowed to take peaceable possession of it. 
Nevertheless, on August 25th whilst the fighting 
round Mons was at its hottest and Russia was 
sweeping farther and farther over the frontiers 
of East Prussia, in some sort of burst of vengeful 
frenzy they laid one of the loveliest old cities 
of the world in ruins, burnt or shattered most of 
its priceless art treasures, and left its citizens 
homeless. Of course they have been busy ever 
since trying to cover up their shame with excuses, 
but such a wanton crime is too great and too 
glaringly obvious to be hidden or excused. 

Four impressively realistic descriptions of what 
happened when the Germans thus went mad in 

The Destruction of Louvain 75 

Louvain have been published in the Daily Tele- 
graph : 

I. From a Daily Telegraph Folkestone Corre- 
spondent, Saturday, August 29th : 

Among the refugees arriving here to-day were 
women and children from Louvain and soldiers 
from Liege, all narrating thrilling adventures. 
Some of the refugees had obviously hurriedly 
deserted their homes, wrapping a few of their 
belongings in sheets of newspaper. 

One woman from Louvain tore down the 
curtains from her windows, wrapped them round 
some wearing apparel, and ran from her house 
with her two children. In the street she became 
involved in a stampede of men, women, and 
children tearing away from the burning town, 
whither she knew not. This woman's story was 
so disjointed, so interspersed with hysterical sobs 
and exclamations, that it is impossible to make a 
full and coherent narrative of it. Periodically 
she clasped her children, gazed round upon the 
Enghsh faces, and thanked God and bemoaned 
her fate alternately. 

Although suffering from extreme nervous ex- 
citement, another woman had intervals of com- 
parative calmness during which she described 
her experiences as follows : 

" Ah ! m'sieu," she exclaimed, " I will tell 

76 In the Firing Line 

you, yes, of the burning of Lou vain. We had 
pulled down some of the buildings so that the 
Germans should not mount guns on them when 
they came. I believe that was the reason. We 
were in a state of terror because we had heard of 
the cruelties of the Germans." 

Every time the poor woman referred to the 
Germans she paused to utter maledictions upon 

"Well," she proceeded, "they came, and all 
we had heard about them w^as not so bad as we 
experienced. In the streets people were cruelly 
butchered, and then on all sides flames began to 
rise. We were prepared for what we had regarded 
as the worst, but never had we anticipated that 
they would burn us in our homes. 

" People rushed about frantic to save their 
property. Pictures of relatives were snatched 
from the walls, clothing was seized, and the 
people were demented. 

" What was the excuse given ? Well, they 
said our people had shot at them, but that was 
absolutely untrue. The real reason was the pull- 
ing down of the buildings. My house was burning 
when I left it with my three children, and here 
I am with them safe in England, beautiful England. 
But what we have suffered ! We were part of a 
crowd w4iich left the burning town, and kept 
walking without knowing where we were going. 
Miles and miles we trudged, I am told we walked 

The Destruction of Louvain 77 

over seventy miles before we came to a railway. 
I never regarded a railway as I did then. I 
wanted to bow down and kiss the rails. I fell 
exhausted, having carried my children in turn. 
Footsore, broken-hearted, after the first joy of 
sighting the railway, I felt my head whirling, 
and I wondered whether it was all worth while. 
Then I thought of my deliverance, and thanked 

" What did Louvain look like ? Like what 
it was, a mass of flame devouring our homes, our 
property — to some, perhaps, our relatives. It 
was pitiful to behold. Most of us women were 
deprived of our husbands. They had either 
fallen or were fighting for their country. In the 
town everybody who offered any opposition was 
killed, and everyone found to be armed in any 
way was shot. Wives saw their husbands shot 
in the streets. 

" I saw the burgomaster shot, and I saw 
another man dragged roughly away from his 
weeping wife and children and shot through the 
head. Well, we got a train and reached Boulogne, 
and now for the first time we feel really safe." 

2. From a Daily Telegraph Rotterdam corre- 
spondent, Sunday, August 30th. 

78 In the Firing Line 

The following account of the appalling and 
ruthless sacking of Louvain by the Germans 
is given by a representative of the Nieuwe 
Rotterdamsche Courant, who himself witnessed 
the outrages : 

I arrived at Louvain on Tuesday afternoon, 
and, accompanied by a German officer, made 
my way through the town. Near the station 
were the Commander and Staff and many of the 
military, for a food and ammunition train had 
just arrived. Suddenly shots rang out from 
houses in the neighbourhood of the station. In 
a moment the shooting was taken up from houses 
all over the town. 

From the window of the third floor of an 
hotel opposite the station a machine gun opened 
fire. It was impossible to know which of the 
civilians had taken part in the shooting, and 
from which houses they had fired. Therefore 
the soldiers went into all the houses, and immedi- 
ately there followed the most terrible scenes of 
street fighting. Every single civiUan found with 
weapons, or suspected of firing, was put to death 
on the spot. The innocent suffered with the 

There was no time for exhaustive inquiry. 
Old men, sick people, women were shot. In the 
meanwhile, part of the town was shelled by 
artillery. Many buildings were set on fire by the 

The Destruction of Louvain 79 

shells. On others petrol was poured and a match 
applied. The German officer advised me to go 
away, as several houses being still intact more 
firing was expected. 

Under a strong escort two groups of men 
and women arrived, each a hundred strong. 
They were hostages. They were stood in rows by 
the station, and every time a soldier was shot in 
the town ten of these pitiful civilians were slaugh- 
tered. There was no mercy. Tears and plead- 
ings were in vain. The good suffered with the 
bad. At night the scene was terrible, burning 
buildings shedding a lurid glow over this town, 
which was running with tears of blood. 

This was no time for sleep. The sight of this 
terrible awfulness drove away all thoughts and 
desire for rest. Towards dawn the soldiers took 
possession of all buildings which had not been 

With the rising of the sun I walked on the 
boulevards, and saw them strewn with bodies, 
many of them being of old people and priests. 
Leaving Louvain for Tirlemont one passed con- 
tinuously through utterly devastated country. 

A Dutchman who escaped from Louvain says 
that when the German artillery began to de- 
molish the houses and the German soldiers 

80 In the Firing Line 

began looting everything he and his little son 
hid in a cellar beneath a pile of pneumatic tyres. 
One woman took refuge in a pit, in which water 
was up to her v/aist. Such was the terrible 
plight of the civilians in Louvain. Peeping out 
they saw that neighbours had been driven to 
the roof of a burning building, where they perished. 

While still concealed in the cellar the Dutch- 
man and his son discovered to their horror that 
the house above them was in flames. The situa- 
tion was terrible, as the people who dared to 
leave their houses were shot like rabbits leaving 
burrows. They heard floor by floor, and then 
the roof, crash down above them. The situation 
was desperate. It was impossible to remain in 
the cellar. Driven out by dire necessity, they 
fled. They were immediately stopped by mili- 
tary rifles at the " present." 

" Do not fire, I am German," said the Dutch- 
man in German, seized with a sudden inspira- 
tion. This secured his safe conduct to the rail- 
way station. The journey through the town 
was, said this refugee, " like walking through 
hell." From burning houses he heard agonised 
cries of those perishing in the conflagrations. 
While he was waiting at the station fifty people 
arrived there, driven by troops, who asserted that 
they found them hiding in houses from which 

Drawn by E. Matania. Copyright of The Sphere. 

German Soldiers Driving the Inhabitants of Louvain before them 
during the sacking of the town. 

The Destruction of Louvain 81 

shots had been fired. These people swore by all 
they held sacred they were innocent, but not- 
withstanding all were shot. The Dutchman is 
of opinion that the first firing was not by civi- 
lians, but by the German outpost on German 
soldiers retreating to Louvain from Malines. 

Note : — There is no confirmation whatever of 
the Dutch correspondent's assertion with regard 
to the firing on the German troops. On the 
contrary it has been expressly said by the Belgian 
Government that the Germans fired on their own 
men by mistake. 

3. From a Daily Telegraph Rotterdam Corre- 
spondent, Monday, August 31st : 

" With a crowd of other men, I was marched 
out of Louvain, and at nightfall ordered into a 
church," said an escaped Dutchman to a Niemve 
Rotter damsche C our ant representative. " All was 
dark, till suddenly, through the windows, I saw 
the lurid glow of the neighbouring burning houses. 
I heard the agonised cries of people tortured by 
the flames. Six priests moved among us, giving 
absolution. Next morning the priests were shot 
— why, I know not. We were released, and 
allowed to go to Malines. We were compelled to 

82 In the Firing Line 

walk with our hands in the air for fear of arms 
being concealed/' 

A Dutchman who has arrived at Breda from 
Louvain gives the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant 
the following account of the massacre : 

Several German soldiers were billeted on us, 
and just as we were sitting down to the midday 
meal on August 25th the alarm was sounded and 
the soldiers rushed out. Immediately firing 
started, and, knowing the terrible consequences 
of civilians appearing in the streets at such times, 
we sought refuge in the cellar. Next morning 
we attempted to reach the railway station. We 
were arrested. 

My wife was taken away from me, and the 
Mayor, the Principal of the University, and I, 
with other men, were taken to a goods shed and 
our hands bound. I saw 300 men and boys 
marched to the corner of the Boulevarde van 
Tienen, and every one was massacred. The 
heads of poHce were shot. We were then marched 
towards Herent, and on the way the soldiers 
thought the enemy was approaching, and ordered 
us to kneel down. Then they took cover behind 
us. Only after many such hardships were we 
permitted to return, to Louvain and escape by 

The Destruction of Louvain 83 

4* From a Daily Telegraph Rotterdam corre- 
pondent, Wednesday, September 2nd: 

A Dutchman who has just arrived at Breda 
from Louvain gives the following vivid de- 
scription of his terrible experiences in Louvain, 
where he was present at the burning of the 
city : 

We Dutchmen in Louvain at first had nothing 
to fear from the German soldiers, but all the 
houses abandoned by their owners were ransacked, 
notwithstanding the warnings from the military 
authorities forbidding the troops to pillage. In 
Louvain, as in all other towns they have occupied, 
the Germans imprisoned as hostages of war the 
Burgomaster, two magistrates, and a number of 
influential citizens. 

Before the Germans entered the town the 
Civic Guard had been disarmed, and all weapons 
in the possession of the population had to be given 
up. Even toy guns and toy pistols and precious 
collections of old weapons, bows and arrows, and 
other antique arms useless for any kind of modern 
warfare had to be surrendered, and all these 
things — sometimes of great personal value to 
the owner — have since been destroyed by the 
Germans. The value of one single private col- 
lection has been estimated at about £i,ooo. 
From the pulpits the priests urged the people 
to keep calm, as that was the only way to prevent 
harm being done to them. 

84 In the Firing Line 

A few days after the entry of the German 
troops, the mUitary authorities agreed to cease 
quartering their men in private houses, in return 
for a payment of 100,000 francs (£4,000) per day. 
On some houses between forty and fifty men 
had been billeted. After the first payment of 
the voluntary contribution the soldiers camped 
in the open or in the public buildings. The 
beautiful rooms in the Town Hall, where the 
civil marriages take place, were used as a stable 
for cavalry horses. 

At first everything the soldiers bought was 
paid for in cash or promissory notes, but later 
this was altered. Soldiers came and asked for 
change, and when this was handed to them 
they tendered in return for the hard cash a piece 
of paper — a kind of receipt. 

On Sunday, the 23rd, I and some other 
influential people in the town were roused from 
our beds. We were informed that an order had 
been given that 250 mattresses, 200 lbs. of coffee, 
250 loaves of bread, and 500 eggs, must be on 
the market-place within an hour. On turning 
out we found the Burgomaster standing on the 
market-place, and crowds of citizens, half naked, 
or in their night attire, carrying everything they 
could lay hands on to the market, that no harm 
might befall their Burgomaster. After this had 
been done the German officer in command told 

The Destruction of Louvaiii 85 

us that his orders had been misinterpreted, and 
that he only wanted the mattresses. 

On Tuesday, the 25th, many troops left the 
town. We had a few soldiers in our house. At 
six o'clock, when everything was ready for dinner, 
alarm signals sounded, and the soldiers rushed 
through the streets, shots whistled through the 
air, cries and groans arose on all sides ; but we 
did not dare leave our house, and took refuge 
in the cellar, where we stayed through long and 
fearful hours. Our shelter was lighted up by the 
reflection from the burning houses. The firing 
continued unceasingly, and we feared that at any 
moment our houses would be burnt over our 
heads. At break of day I crawled from the 
cellar to the street door, and saw nothing but 
a raging sea of fire. 

At nine o'clock the shooting diminished, and 
we resolved to make a dash to the station. Aban- 
doning our home and all our goods except what 
we could carry, and taking all the money we had, 
we rushed out. What we saw on our way to the 
station is hardly describable, everything was 
burning, the streets were covered with bodies 
shot dead and half-burnt. Everywhere proclama- 
tions had been posted, summoning every man to 
assist in quenching the flames, and the women 
and children to stay inside the houses. The 
station was crowded with fugitives, and I was 
just trying to show an officer my legitimation 

86 In the Firing Line 

papers when the soldiers separated me from my 
wife and children. 

All protests were useless, and a lot of us were 
marched off to a big shed in the goods yard, from 
where we could see the finest buildings of the city, 
the most beautiful historical monuments, being 
burned down. 

Shortly afterwards German soldiers drove 
before them 300 men and lads to the corner of 
the Boulevard van Tienen and the Maria Theresia 
Street, opposite the Cafe Vermalen. There they 
were shot. The sight filled us with horror. The 
Burgomaster, two magistrates, the Rector of the 
University, and all police officials had been shot 

With our hands bound behind our backs we 
were then marched off by the soldiers, still with- 
out having seen our wives or children. We went 
through the Juste de Litsh Street, along the 
Diester Boulevard, across the Vaart and up the 

From the Mont Cesar we had a full view of 
the burning town, St. Peter in flames, while the 
troops incessantly sent shot after shot into the 
unfortunate town. We came through the village 
of Herent — one single heap of ruins — where 
another troop of prisoners, including half-a-dozen 
priests, joined us. Suddenly, about ten o'clock, 
evidently as the result of some false alarm, we 
were ordered to kneel down, and the soldiers stood 

The Destruction of Louvain 87 

behind us with their rifles ready to fire, using us 
as a shield. But fortunately for us nothing 

After a delay of half-an-hour, our march was 
continued. No conversation was allowed, and 
the soldiers continually maltreated us. One 
soldier struck me with all his might with the 
heavy butt-end of his rifle. I could hardly walk 
any further, but I had to. We were choked with 
thirst, but the Germans wasted their drinking 
water without offering us a drop. 

At seven o'clock we arrived at Camperhout, 
en route for MaHnes. We saw many half- 
burnt dead bodies — men, women, and children. 
Frightened to death and half-starved, we were 
locked up in the church, and there later joined 
by another troop of prisoners from the surrounding 

At ten o'clock the church was lighted up by 
burning houses. Again shots whistled through 
the air, followed by cries and groans. 

At five o'clock next morning, all the priests 
were taken out by the soldiers and shot, together 
with eight Belgian soldiers, six cyclists, and two 
gamekeepers. Then the officer told us that we 
could go back to Louvain. This we did, but 
only to be recaptured by other soldiers, who 
brought us back to Camperhout. From there we 
were marched to Malines, not by the high road, 
but along the river. Some of the party fell into 

88 In the Firing Line 

the water, but all were rescued. After thirty-six 
hours of ceaseless excitement and danger we 
arrived at Malines, where we were able to buy some 
food, and from there 1 escaped to Holland. I 
still do not know where my wife and children 
are. — Reute/s Special Service. 

So far as available evidence goes, it seems 
clear enough that by some misunderstanding 
the German soldiers fired upon each other in the 
town, and then made the unhappy townsfolk 
pay the price of their tragic blundering. There 
are hopes that the beautiful old Hotel de Ville 
escaped the general holocaust ; otherwise Lou- 
vain and its ancient glories of art and architecture 
are things of the past. 

" Lou vain is no longer anything but a heap of 
cinders. ... In the name of Europe, of which 
you have till now been one of the most illustrious 
champions," writes the well-known French 
noveUst, Romain Roland, in an open letter 
addressed to the German dramatist, Gerhart 
Hauptmann, " in the name of civilisation, for 
which the greatest of men have been fighting for 
centuries — in the name of the very honour of the 
Germanic race, I adjure you, Gerhart Hauptmann, 
and the German intellectual elite, among whom 
I count so many friends, to protest against this 
crime. If you do not, it can only mean one of 

The Destruction of Louvain 89 

two things, either that you approve, or that you 
are impotent to raise your voice against the Huns 
who rule you. In the latter case, how can you 
still pretend that you are fighting for the cause of 
human liberty and progress ? . . . Are you the 
descendants of Goethe, or of Attila ? " 


The Fight in the North Sea 

" Strong Mother of a Lion line, 
Be proud of these strong sons of thine '^ 


In the three weeks that followed on the declara- 
tion of war, tidings came to us from time to time 
of how our ships were chasing and sinking the 
enemy's cruisers, capturing his merchantmen 
and keeping the ocean-highways clear for our 
own and neutral commerce ; but no word reached 
us from the great British fleet that was keeping 
watch and ward in the North Sea, waiting sleep- 
lessly for the German Navy that was sheltered 
behind the impregnable fort of Heligoland to 
dash out and make its loudly threatened raid 
upon our coasts. We heard no word of those 
guardian sailormen, but we slept peacefully in 
our beds at night, confident in their strength, 
their courage, their alertness. Then suddenly, 
on the 28th August, whilst the British and French 
armies were in the heat of their strategic retreat 


The Fight in the North Sea 91 

from Mons, news of our seamen's dashing fight 
and victory in the North Sea flashed through 
the land. They had grown weary of waiting, 
and as the German was too discreet to venture 
forth to the attack they had slipped into his 
fastness under cover of the dark and hunted 
him out. Until it is possible to compile a con- 
nected, orderly narrative, the tale of that brilliant 
engagement is best told in the letters of the men 
who had part in it : 

Letter 22. — From Albert Roper, first-class petty 
officer of H.M. cruiser " Talbot,'' to his 
brother at Leeds : 

I cannot give you any news about our move- 
ments. It is against the rules to do so, and it's 
a jolly good job, too, for if it was not so, things 
would leak out, and that is just what we do 
not want. We are waiting patiently for Wilhe's 
fleet to come out to enable our chaps to have 
a little practice. We try to make ourselves 
as happy as we can in the shape of a sing-song 
occasionally. These evenings are well appre- 

Letter 23. — Fro77t Seaman Wilson, of the '* Bac- 
chante,** to his wife at Hitnslet : 

You will have read of our victory in the 

92 In the Firing Line 

North Sea. It was fine. Our ship brought the 
dead and wounded and the prisoners back. A 
grim job it was, too. I only wish the whole 
German fleet would come out. We may get a 
chance of coming home soon. Their firing is 
rotten, whilst our men behind the guns are perfect. 
They get a hit every time. 

The bounders won't come out. That was 
the reason our ships had to try and drive them 
out. You see the place is all mined, and if a ship 
runs into one of these mines it means destruction. 

The commander of the Liberty, a torpedo 
boat destroyer, asked his ship's company if 
they would volunteer to go up Kiel Harbour 
with him, and every man said " Yes," although it 
looked certain death. Up they went, and got 
under the forts of Heligoland and let rip at the 
German cruisers in the harbour. One of the 
wounded sailors of the Liberty told me that 
the shells fired at them were enough to sink a 
fleet. Our ship had only one torpedo and one 
round of ammunition left. So they turned round 
to come out, when a shrapnel shell struck the 
Liberty's mast, killing the gallant commander 
and three others. The coxswain, although 
wounded, brought the ship safely to our fleet 
that was waiting outside. We pray to God 
that we may come off victorious, and I am 
confident we shall, as every man jack in the 
fleet has the heart of a Hon. 

The Fight in the North Sea 93 

Letter 24. — From a Welsh gunner on the 
" Aretkiisa " : 

Just a few lines to let you know how the 
war is going on. I cannot say much, as corre- 
spondence is strictly secret and letters are likely 
to be opened. The Commodore turned over to 
this ship last Wednesday, and we were in action 
on Friday at 7.45 a.m. and finished a stiff eight- 
hours* engagement, our loss being eleven killed 
and fifteen injured in this ship alone. 

We were done after the fight, engines dis- 
abled, and had to be towed to Chatham. One 
man was all that was left at my gun. But still, 
after all, we saw them off. We blew them to 

. Three fights we had. As soon as we are 

patched up v/e shall be off again. 

Letter 25. — From Gunner John Meekly, of Leeds : 

Been in battle, and, wonder of wonders, haven't 
scored a scratch. My ship, as you know, is the 
Arethnsa — "Saucy Arethusa" as history knows 
her. She was the first there, and the first that 
shot home. It was her that made them come out, 
and her that took the most prominent part, as all 
the ship's company know only too well. Now wc 
are in dry dock. 

94 In the Firing Line 

We had to sacrifice ourselves almost to do 
what we did do — to get them out of their shells. 
Not only were submarines and mines a menace, 
but also the fire from the forts. We got within 
their range, and our ship suffered the most. 
We have got a fearless admiral, and at the same 
time a decent fellow. 

I saw an account in the papers when we 
got in dock, and I was very pleased with it, 
because another ship had been mistaken for us. 
The name of our commodore is Tyrwhitt. 

Letter 26. — From Midshipman Hartley, of H.M. 
battle-cruiser *' Lion," to his parents at Burton- 
on-Trent : 

At last we have had a taste of gunfire, but 
it was only a taste. We ran into three light 
German cruisers. Two of them were sunk, and 
one managed to make of^ in a sinking condition 
and badly on fire forward and aft. Of course, 
their guns had about the same effect on us as 
a daisy air-rifle. The funny thing, which you 
should have seen, was all the stokers grubbing 
about after the action looking for bits of shell. 

The Germans fought awfully well and bravely, 
but the poor beggars hadn't a dog's chance of 

The Fight In the North Sea 95 

living through it. The Mainz was the name of one 
of those sunk. Two of their destroyers were also 

Letter 27. — From a Scottish seaman (Published 
in " The Scotsman ") : 

It was a sight worth seeing. We chased two 
German destroyers of the " S " class, one of which 
went on fire, and the other was sunk by eight 
British destroyers, including the Defender. We 
chased them for about four hours, and one showed 
great pluck as the crew refused to haul down 
the flag, and she sank with the German 
flag flying. When she sank, and even before it, 
the sailors were swimming towards the British 
ships, shouting in broken English that they had 
surrendered, and appealing for help. It was a 
terrible sight to see the wounded in the water, 
and we assisted in throwing out lifebelts and 
ropes to them, while the whaler and a skiff were 
also lowered, together with small boats from the 
other British vessels. While engaged in picking 
up the wounded and other survivors, we were 
fired on by a big four-funnelled German cruiser, 
so that we had to leave our two boats. We 
watched the cruiser firing seven or eight ii-inch 
guns, which made us keep going well ahead to 
keep out of the way. 

96 In the Firing Line 

A piece of shell struck one of the gun's crew 
on the head, and dropped at my feet, and we had 
to keep dodging the shells round the bridge. A 
light cruiser at last came to the rescue, for the 
destroyer's guns were no use against those of the 
Germans'. Our cruiser sank the German cruiser, 
and a good many of the enemy's boats escaped. 
About 12 o'clock on Saturday one of the latest 
submarines signalled that she had saved the 
boat's crew (9 men and i officer) while following 
the big cruiser to torpedo her. It was believed 
these fellows had been lost, and their mates on 
board never dreamt of seeing them again. Some 
German survivors were put aboard a destroyer, 
and they were cheered by the British tars who 
were anxious to hear the news from them. A 
German stoker said they did not want to fight 
England, and it was too much Germany fighting 
so many countries. It was terrible to hear the 
cries of the wounded in the water, and we did 
not get a chance to pick them up. The men 
on the sinking destroyer stuck to their guns to the 
last, and they were firing at their own men who 
dived for our ships. Some had lifebelts on, and 
the officers tried to frighten them by saying the 
British would put them in front of their guns. 
We had only two hurt. 

Drawn by Philip Dadd, from a sketch 
by G. H. Davis. 

Copyright of The Sphere. 

Rescued bv Submarine. A Strange Incident during the Navai 
Action off Heligoland. 

The Fight in the North Sea 97 

Letter 28. — From a gun-room officer on H.M, 
battle-cruiser " Invincible,'^ to his parents 
at Hove 5 

The particular ship we were engaged with was 
in a pitiful plight when we had finished with her. 
Her funnels shot away, masts tottering, great 
gaps of daylight in her sides, smoke and flame 
belching from her everywhere. She speedily 
heeled over and sank like a stone, stern first. 
So far as is known none of her crew was saved. 
She was game to the last, let it be said, her flag 
flying till she sank, her guns barking till they 
could bark no more. Although we suffered no 
loss we had some very narrow escapes. Three 
torpedoes were observed to pass us, one, it is said, 
within a few feet. Four-inch shells, too, fell 
short, or were ahead of us. The sea was alive 
with the enemy's submarines, which, however, 
luckily did no damage. They should not be 
under-rated, these Germans. They've got " guts." 
That cruiser did not think apparently of sur- 

98 In the Firing Line 

Letter 29. — From a Bhiejacket in the North Sea, 
to his friends at J arrow ; 

On August 24th we made a dash for the 
German coast and were lucky enough to come 
across two German cruisers. Then the fun started. 
We pursued one, and when I tell you we can do 
thirty knots, you can imagine what chance she 
had of getting away. She was a heavier boat 
than us, and the engagement lasted four hours. 
At the end of that time she was a terrible sight. 
She was on fire from stem to stem ; the Germans 
were jumping overboard, and at the finish only 
seventeen out of 400 were saved. It is a fact 
that the Germans only stayed at their guns under 
the orders of their officers, who stood over them 
with revolvers. Three dozen of their bodies, 
which were picked up, bore marks of revolver 
shots. Five days every week for the last four 
weeks we have swept the North Sea, and all we 
discovered were the aforesaid two cruisers and 
about a dozen trawlers, which we sank. There 
is no sign of the big German Navy. They are in 
Kiel Harbour, and if they come out — well, there 
will be no German Navy left. The only things 
they are using are mines and submarines. In 
fact, the so-cadled German Navy is a *' wash-out.'* 

The Fight in the North Sea 99 

We have been within ten miles of their base and 
they will not come out. 

Letter 30. — From Seaman-Gunner Brown, to his 
-parents at Newport, Isle of Wight ; 

We and another ship in our squadron came 
across two German cruisers. We outed one and 
started on the second, but battle-cruisers soon 
finished her off. Another then appeared, and 
after we had plunked two broadsides into her 
she slid off in flames. Every man did his bit, and 
there was a continuous stream of jokes. We 
pencilled on the projectiles. "Love from Eng- 
land," " One for the Kaiser," and other such 

The sight of sinking German ships was 
gloriously terrible ; funnels and masts lying about 
in all directions, and amidships a huge furnace, 
the burning steel looking like a big ball of sulphur. 
There was not the slightest sign of fear, from the 
youngest to the oldest man aboard. 

100 In the Firing Line 

Letter 31. — From a man in a warship* s engine- 
room : 

We stayed down there keeping the engines 
going at their top speed in order to cut of£ the 
Germans from their fleet. We could hear the 
awful din and the scampering of the tars 
on the deck as they rushed about from point to 
point. We could hear the shells crashing against 
the side of the ship or shrieking overhead as 
they passed harmlessly into the water, and we 
knew that at any moment one might strike us 
in a vital part, and send us below never to come 
up again. It is ten times harder on the men whose 
duty is in the engine-room than for those on 
deck taking part in the fighting, for they at least 
have the excitement of the fight, and if the ship 
is struck they have more than a sporting chance 
of escape. We have none, and the medals and 
pats on the back when the fight is won are not 
for us, who are only common mechanics. 

Letter 32. — From Seaman Jack Diggett, of West 
Bromwich, to his brother : 
You will have heard of our little job in the 
North Sea. We sank five ships and ran a few off. 

The Fight in the North Sea 101 

Of course it was only a trial spin. We kicked 
off last Friday about six in the morning, and we 
won 5 — nil. Not bad, considering we are playing 
" away." Their goalkeepers could not hold us, 
we were so hot. Our forwards shot beautifully, 
and our defence was sound. We agreed to play 
extra time if we had not finished, but we had 
done in time. It must not be thought that we 
had it all our own way, for they were very 
brave, and fought until one of our boys 
fired a shot at the last gun in the Mainz and 
blew the whole gun and crew as well into the sea. 
One of our officers had both his legs blown off, 
and still shouted out to give the Germans another. 
We are all getting ready for the big match of the 
season now when their battle fleet chooses to come 
out. One German officer we got out of the water 
asked, '* Are you British ? " When our officer 
replied, " Yes,'' he said, " God help us ! '* They 
thought we were the French fleet. 

Letter 33. — From a seaman on H.M.S. " Hearty " 

The destroyer Laurel seems to have suffered 
the most. She had one funnel carried right away 

102 In the Firing Line 

and the others riddled Uke a pepper-box. One 
shell struck her right forward, went through her 
bulkhead, through one galley door, and out 
through the other. The cookie was in there at 
the time, but it missed him and cut through the 
other side of the ship. That cook was born 
under a lucky star. It's on the bridge and 
around the guns where they suffered most. 
On the Liberty's bridge, everybody except one 
was killed ; in fact they say they were never seen 
since. Poor devils, they must have been carried 
right overboard. The skipper of the Laurel 
had both his legs shot away. 

The scout Arethusa came in last. She brought 
100 Germans picked up oft the cruiser Mainz, We 
didn't see them ; they were landed down at 
Sheerness. They've got one keepsake off her. 
They picked up a German officer, but he died, and 
they buried him at sea. They've got his uniform 
hanging up. The cooks on the Arethusa were 
not so lucky. Two cooks were in the galley, 
just having their rum, when a shell killed one 
and blew the other's arm off. A funny thing, 
they've got a clock hanging up ; it smashed the 
glass and one hand, but the blooming thing's still 

The Fight in the North Sea 103 

Letter 34. — From a seaman on H.M, destroyer 
" Lurcher," to a friend at Bradford : 

We had orders to pick up prisoners. As we 
steamed up dead bodies were floating past the 
ship. We went up alongside the German cruiser 
Mainz just before she sank, and it was an awful 
sight. We got 224 prisoners in a most terrible 
state, and most of them died. It is impossible 
to describe it all on paper. Our decks were red 
with blood, and you see we are only a destroyer, 
so you may tell what a mess we were in. 

All the Germans seemed quite happy when we 
got them on board. The worst job of all was 
getting them out of the sea. Some of them had 
legs and arms shot away, battered to pieces. I 
was in our boat just below when their vessel sank, 
and there seemed to be many who were helpless 
on board her. The captain remained behind, 
having had both legs shot away. 

Letter 35. — From a Naval Lieutenant to a friend : 

That was all. Remains only little details, 
only one of which I will tell you. The most 

104 In the Firing Line" 

romantic, dramatic, and piquant episode that 
modern war can ever show. The Defender, 
having sunk an enemy, lowered a whaler to pick 
up her swimming survivors ; before the whaler 
got back an enemy's cruiser came up and chased 
the Defender, and thus she abandoned her whaler. 
Imagine their feelings — alone in an open boat 
without food, 25 miles from the nearest land, and 
that land the enemy's fortress, with nothing but 
fog and foes around them. Suddenly a swirl 
alongside and up, if you please, pops his Britannic 
Majesty's submarine E 4, opens his conning 
tower, takes them all on board, shuts up again, 
dives, and brings them home 250 miles ! Is not 
that magnificent ? No novel would dare face 
the critics with an episode like that in it, except, 
perhaps, Jules Verne ; and all true ! 

Letter 36. — From a seaman on one of the British 
destroyers : 

We have at last had an innings at the Ger- 
mans. It was a go. Fully seven hours we fought 
shot for shot. I had the pleasure of seeing four 
German ships go down. We never knew but it 

The Fight in the North Sea 105 

might be our turn next, as great shells were 
falling all around us. Several shells went just 
over our heads, whistling just like a needle on a 
broken record. Would you believe it, one of our 
boats had actually stopped to pick up German 
wounded when the Germans fired on her ? 

I think all our men took it just as though 
we were having our annual battle practice — 
cool, laughing, and cracking jokes, with shell 
all around them. All the thought was just of 
shooting it into them — and they got it ! I was 
told they lost 1,500 men. I shall never under- 
stand how it was our ship was not hit, for we 
were within range of their cruisers and the 
Heligoland forts. We are ready for another 
smack at them. 

Letter 37. — From a seaman on H.M,S, " New 
Zealand " to his uncle in Halifax 2 
The torpedo craft had rather a hot time 
with the enemy in the early morning, but 
suddenly we appeared out of the mist. To say 
that they were surprised is to put it mildly, 
because before they knew where they were we 
were playing our light cruisers, and the destroyers 

106 In the Firing Line 

worried them like terriers. Then for us to 
come along and give them the coup de grace was 
absolutely It, 

Two of their ships, I am convinced, would 
have been floating to-day, but as our small ships 
gathered round them to take off their survivors — 
all their flags were struck — they opened fire, only 
to be sent to Davy Jones's locker a little quicker 
than they could shoot. Well, we succeeded in 
sending some good ships and some unfortunate 
men to the bottom in something like fourteen 
minutes. Not a bad score for the cricket season^ 
is it? 

Letter 38. — From a seaman on hoard the flagship of 
the first destroyer squadron, to his friends at 
Wimbledon ; 

We had a very decent splash last week of! 
Heligoland, as doubtless you have read. Our 
ship was not hit at all, though some shots were 
pretty near. It was a fine sight to see the Lion 
demolish one cruiser. We could see her (the 
cruiser's) shots falling short, but still the Lion 
did not fire. For fully ten minutes the cruiser 

The Fight in the North Sea 107 

belted away without getting a hit. Then the 
Lion, who was leading the line, hoisted " open 
fire," turned slowly and majestically round and 
fired her broadside — once. It was quite sufficient. 
Up went a cloud of smoke and steam from the 
target, and when it cleared her aft funnel was at a 
rakish angle, and a huge rent appeared the length 
of her side. 

After a few more " salvoes " she was rapidly 
sinking by the stern. Shortly afterwards she 
half-hauled down her ensign, and as we were 
steaming up to stand by and rescue her sur- 
vivors, she hoisted it again and opened fire. It 
was a dirty trick, but they got their deserts. 
Once again the Lion turned, and this time fired 
but five shots from her huge turrets. Amidst a 
shower of splinters, smoke, and fire she dis- 
appeared. We steamed over the spot, but 
although there was plenty of wreckage, not a 
single living thing was to be seen. This incident 
only lasted about forty-five minutes, although the 
whole battle was raging for eight hours. 

108 In the Firing Line 

Letter ^g.—From leading telegraphist H. Francis, 
of Croydon : 

We had the first taste of blood on Friday, 
and I can tell you it was O.T. The battle lasted 
from 6.30 a.m. till one p.m., going at it hammer 
and tongs all the time. 

We came back with sixty prisoners, one of 
them being Admiral von Tirpitz's son, who was 
second-lieutenant in the Mainz. We were within 
twenty yards of her when she went down, and I 
can tell you it was a grand sight. 

Their officers were shooting the men as they 
jumped overboard, and one chap on the bridge 
was beckoned to by our commander to come off. 
But there was " nothing doing." He simply 
folded his arms, shook his head, and as the ship 
rolled over he never moved. The captain also 
went down in her. He had both his legs blown off. 
For a quarter of an hour the sea was simply 
alive with Germans, all singing out most piteously, 
and, as we pulled them on board, we marvelled 
how they managed to swim with the wounds they 
had, some with feet off, some with one or two legs 
off, some with their arms gone. 

The Kaiser has been stuffing his men up 
that the English cannot shoot. They know 
differently now. They were greatly surprised 

The Fight in the North Sea 109 

when we picked them up and looked after 

Pleased to say I am enjoying myself, and 
longing for more. 

Letter 40. — From Gunner T. White 5 

We didn't waste more shots than was neces- 
sary on the Germans off Heligoland. One of 
their destroyers was knocked over first shot. It 
was one of the cleanest shots you ever saw, and 
the man who fired it is the proudest man in our 
ship to-day. 

Next time I fancy the Germans will want to 
make it a rule of the fight that a German ship 
must be allowed at least ten shots to one of ours 
before the knock-out is fired. Of course, it's 
very hard on the rest of us, because it simply 
means that the gunner who gets first shot does the 
trick, and we may be in a dozen fights and never 
get a shot at the enemy once, because there's 
nothing left to hit. 

Since that first engagement, the British Fleet 
has been waiting alert for the enemy to come 

110 In the Firing Line 

out of hiding and give them a second chance ; 
and has incidentally been busy sweeping the sea 
of floating mines and prowling after mine-layers 
that, disguised as Grimsby trawlers, have suc- 
ceeded in putting in some deadly work. 

An interesting account of the efficiency of this 
poHcing of the North Sea was related by two 
trawler skippers, a week after the fight, to a 
Daily Telegraph Correspondent who remarks 
that the modus operandi necessitates a con- 
tinuous vigilance, mostly under cover of the 
darkness, and entails a strain upon the naval 
officers and men that can only be appreciated 
by those who witness it. 

The first skipper stated that he had just come 
from Iceland : 

At one point up north there was, he said, 
a solid wall of warships, which made it im- 
possible for any foe to break through undetected. 
The scrutiny did not end with a mere examination 
at the point mentioned. After being released 
our boat was followed by a couple of torpedo 
destroyers until we reached our destination. In 
this way we were not only convoyed, but the 
warships made absolutely certain that we were 

The Fight in the North Sea 111 

British trawlers. The experience, being novel 
to us, was very inspiring. 

The other skipper's story was even more in- 
teresting. He is in charge of a North Sea boat, 
and anchored each night near the shore. 

We were laid imder the land, he said, when 
about two in the morning a cruiser suddenly 
appeared alongside of us. All his Ughts were 
extinguished, and the quiet way in which he came 
up and the clever tactics he showed in getting 
alongside without doing any damage was astonish- 

Talk about cats seeing in the dark, these 
naval officers are wonderful. When the cruiser 
reached us all we could see was a huge black 
object hemming us in. A voice shouted out, 
" Who are you ? *' and I answered back, " A 
British trawler." " What is your name ? " he 
asked, and I repHed. '* When did you leave ? " 
he next asked. I told him. " What were your 
orders when you left ? " he next asked. I told him 
and in a flash the commander of the cruiser 
shouted back, " All right." 

It was a fine piece of work, beHeve me, but 
there was something even more astonishing. 
Directly the commander had finished talking 

112 In the Firing Line 

to me another voice from the stem of our vessel 
sung out, " The name is quite correct, sir." A 
submarine had crept up behind to verify our 
name and number, and although all the crew had 
come on deck to see what was happening, not 
one of the men aft had seen the submarine appear. 
The whole episode only occupied a few minutes, 
and the cruiser, after wishing us good morning 
and plenty of fishing, disappeared in the darkness. 
I have seen the British Navy in times of peace, 
but to see it in war time makes you feel proud 
of it. No swank, simply good old Nelson's motto 
all the time. 


From Mons to the Walls of Paris 

" The Lilies of France and our own Red Rose 
Are twined in a coronal now : 
At War's bloody bridal it glitters and glows 
On Liberty's beautiful brow." 

Gerald Massey. 

In his despatch to Lord Kitchener, dated Sep- 
tember 7th, Sir John French tells of the four- 
days' battle at Mons, and traces his masterly, 
triumphant retreat, in the face of irresistible odds, 
to Maubeuge, to Cambrai, to Le Cateau, to 
Landrecies, and so almost to within sight of the 
walls of Paris. He pays a glowing tribute to the 
magnificent fighting spirit of the officers and men 
who carried out these stupendous movements with 
such complete success, but at present it is to the 
men themselves you must turn again for detailed 
information of the horrors and heroisms, the 
grim and glorious hours that darkened and 


114 In the Firing Line 

lightened through those tumultuous days . ' ' What 
we did in that three weeks English people at 
home will never loiow," writes Private J. Harris, 
of the Worcestershire Regiment : " We were 
marching and fighting day and night for three 
weeks without a break/' 

Letter 41. — From Private Smiley, of the Gordon 
Highlanders, to his brother, Mr. G. A . Smiley, 
of Chepstow : 

On Sunday, 23rd, at Mons, we rose at four 
a.m. and marched out 1,100 strong. W^e took 
up ground on the extreme flank of the British 
force. Immediately we started to entrench 
ourselves, and to the good trench work we did 
we put down our freedom from casualty. Later 
in the day a hellish tornado of shell swept over 
us, and with this introduction to war we received 
our baptism of fire. We were lining the Mons 
road, and immediately in our front and to our 
rear were woods. In the rear wood was stationed 
a battery of R.F.A. The German artillery is 
wonderful. The first shot generally found us, and 
to me it looked as if the ranges had been carefully 
taken beforehand. However, our own gunners 
were better, and they hammered and battered 
the Germans all the day long. 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 115 

They were at least three to our one, and 
our artillery could not be in fifty places at once, 
so we just had to stick it. The German infantry 
are bad skirmishers and rotten shots, and they 
were simply mowed down in batches by our chaps. 
They came in companies of, I should say, 150 
men in file five deep, and we simply rained bullets 
at them the live-long day. At about five p.m. 
the Germans in the left front of us retired, and 
we saw no more of them. 

The Royal Irish Regiment had had an awful 
smashing earlier on, as also had the Middlesex, 
and our company were ordered to go along the 
road as reinforcements. The one and a half mile 
seemed a thousand. Stormed at all the way, we 
kept on, and no one was hit until we came to a 
white house which stood in a clearing. Immedi- 
ately the officer passed the gap hell was let loose 
on us, but we got across safely, and I was the only 
one wounded, and that was with a ricochet 
shrapnel bullet in the right knee. 

I knew nothing about it until an hour after, 
when I had it pointed out to me. I dug it out 
with a knife. We passed dead civilians, some 
women, and a little boy with his thigh shattered 
by a bullet. Poor wee fellow. He lay all the 
time on his face, and some man of the Irish was 

116 In the Firing Line 

looking after him, and trying to make him com- 
fortable. The devils shelled the hospital and 
killed the wounded, despite a huge Red Cross 
flag flying over it. 

When we got to the Royal Irish Regiment's 
trenches the scene was terrible. They were 
having dinner when the Germans opened on 
them, and their dead and wounded were lying 
all around. Beyond a go at some German 
cavalry, the day drew in, and darkness saw us on 
the retreat. The regiment lost one officer and 
one man dead, one officer and some men severely 

We kept up this sort of game (fighting by 
day and retiring by night) until we got to Cambrai, 
on Tuesday night. I dare not mention that place 
and close my eyes. God, it was awful. Avalanche 
followed avalanche of fresh German troops, but 
the boys stuck to it, and we managed to retire 
to Ham without any molestation. Cambrai was 
the biggest battle fought. Out of all the glorious 
regiment of i,ioo men only five officers and 170 
of the men answered the roll-call next day. 
Thank God, I was one of them. 

Of course, there may be a number who got 
separated from the battalion through various 
causes, and some wounded who escaped. I hope 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 117 

so because of the heavy hearts at home. I saw 
the South Lanes, and they were terribly cut up, 
only a remnant left of the regiment. 

Letter 42. — From Corporal W. Leonard, of the 
Army Service Corps (a South African War 
reservist) to his mother at Huddersfield : 

I know that you will all excuse me for not 
receiving a letter from me this long time, but 
I hope that you will excuse me. Don't, what- 
ever you do at home, don't worry about me. If 
I just thought that you won't worry at home I 
shall be all right. You know, mother, I know 
more about war this time than I did last, and 
the conditions also. It's all right when you 
know the ropes, and my African experiences are 
serving me in good stead here, so I hope and 
trust that you at home are not worrying about 
me ; time enough to worry when there is cause. 
Well, I hope and trust all are well at home, as 
it is hell out here. Up to this affair I thought 
that the Germans were a civilised race of people, 
but they are nothing but savages ; niggers 
would not do what they do. Just fancy mounting 

118 In the Firing Line 

maxim guns on ambulance wagons bearing the 
Red Cross, cutting the right hand off prisoners 
and turning them loose afterwards minus a 
hand. By jingo, mother, the boys (our boys) 
are absolutely all in. We did give the Boers 
a chance now and again, but these devils we 
don't give them a cat in hell chance ; we're 
playing the game to the finish. I would not 
care to write so much, as I had better tell you 
when I come home. The Boer War was a tame 
affair. We are moving off again to-night. I 
don't know where, and we don't care either ; 
it's a do to a finish this time. I hope you got 
my postcards from Rouen in France, as there 
was some doubt as to whether they would let 
them through or not. I will write home as op- 
portunity occurs, and I hope you won't worry 
about me, because you all know at home that 
I shall always be where I'm wanted, and my 
duty every time, so don't worry. Tell anyone 
who enquires I am O.K., lost a bit of weight 
perhaps, but not the worse so far, and above 
all don't believe all you see in the papers, as 
they know practically nothing, as everything is 
done under sealed orders, which never leak out. 
We are not even allowed to say in our letters 
where we are, as they are opened and read by 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 119 

the captain before they leave here, so you can 
judge for yourselves how things are. And I 
might say, mother, that we are very busy. 

Letter 43. — From Corporal Edward Hood, to his 
father, at Taunton : 

The fighting lately has been hot all round, and 
the French have had much harder than us in 
some places, but they're sticking at it manfully, 
and they deserve to win a victory that will wipe 
the Germans off the map. The French make a 
lot of us in camp, and when we pass each other in 
the field, no matter how busy the Frenchman may 
be, they give us hearty cheers to encourage us 
on our way. There's plenty of friendly rivalry 
between us when there's hard fighting to be done, 
and when we do get there before the French 
they don't grudge us our luck. They're good 
sports right through to the core, and the British 
soldier asks nothing better from allies in the 

120 In the Firing Line 

Letter 44, — From Private William Burgess, of the 
Royal Field Artillery , to his parents at 
Ilfracomhe j 

We left our landing place for the front, on 
the Tuesday, and got there on Saturday night. 
The Germans had just reached Li^ge then, and 
we got into action on the Sunday morning. The 
first thing we did was to blow up a bridge to 
stop the Germans from crossing. Then we 
came into action behind a lot of houses attached 
to the main street. We were there about ten 
minutes, when the houses started to fall around 
us. The poor people were buried alive. I saw 
poor children getting knocked down by bursting 

The next move was to advance across where 
there was a Red Cross Hospital. They dropped 
shells from airships and fired on it until the place 
was burnt down to the ground. Then they got 
a big plan on to retire and let the French get 
behind them. We retired eight miles, but we 
had to fight until we were forced to move again. 
We got as far as Le Cateau on Tuesday night. 
We camped there until two o'clock next morning. 

Then we all heard there was a big fight com- 
ing off, so we all got together and cleared the field 
for action (The letter mentions the 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 121 

numbers of men engaged, and states that the 
Germans were in the proportion of three to one.) 
. . . We cut them down Hke rats. We could 
see them coming on us in heaps, and dropping 
Uke hail. The Colonel passed along the line, 
and said, " Stick it, boys." 

I tell you, mother, it was awful to see your 
own comrades dropping down — some getting their 
heads blown off, and others their legs and arms. I 
was fighting with my shirt off. A piece of shell 
went right through my shirt at the back and never 
touched me. It stuck into a bag of earth which 
we put between the wheels to stop bullets. 

We were there all busy fighting when an air- 
ship came right over the Hne and dropped a bomb, 
which caused a terrible lot of smoke. Of course, 
that gave the Germans our range. Then the shells 
were dropping on us thick. We looked across the 
line and saw the German guns coming towards us. 
We turned our two centre guns on them, and sent 
them yards in the air. I reckon I saw one German 
go quite twenty yards in the air. 

Just after that a shell burst right over our gun. 
That one got me out of action. I had to get off 
the field the best way I could. The bullets were 
going all around me on the way off ; you see they 
got completely around us. I went about two 

122 In the Firing Line 

miles, and met a Red Cross cart. I was taken to 
St. Quentin*s Hospital. We were shelled out of 
there about two in the morning, and then taken 
in a train, and taken down to a plain near Rouen. 
Next morning we were put in a ship for dear 
old England. 

LettcY 45. — From a Corporal in the King's Royal 
Rifles, now at Woolwich Hospital ; 

I was in three engagements, Mons, Landrecies, 
and Cambrai, but the worst of all was Mons. It 
was on Sunday, the 23rd of August, and I shall 
never forget the date. They were easily twenty- 
five to one, and we eventually had to retreat with 
just over a thousand casualties, but heavens, they 
must have had a jolly sight more. At Landrecies, 
where we arrived at 7.30, we thought we were 
going to have a night's rest, though we were wet 
through and no change, but we hadn't been there 
long before they (the Germans) started firing ; 
they seemed to be in every place we went to. The 
only thing we heard then was, *' turn out at once." 
It was about 10.15 when we turned out, and the 
Colonel's orders were that we had to take a bridge 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 123 

if every man was killed. (I thought that sounded 
a wee bit healthy.) I had my last drink out of 
a dirty glass of beer. I says, " good health Billy,'* 
and off we went with bayonets fixed. 

On our way to the bridge we met the regiment 
who had tried and failed, bringing back its 
wounded and killed in scores. (I thought more 
encouragement for the corps.) I was carrying my 
pal, the rifle, with my right hand. Well, we got 
near the bridge and found out from our scouts 
that there were 10,000 German troops on each 
side of the bridge and we were 1,300 strong. 
(More encouragement.) So we lined a long 
hedge about two yards apart so as to make a 
long line and harder for them to hit. We lay 
here till daybreak just before 4 a.m., and we 
could hear them talking all night about 300 yards 
away. We could see them quite clearly by this 
time ; so we started to fire and rolled them over 
by dozens. It wasn't long, though, before the 
bullets were whizzing past my ears on each side, 
and I began to get my head lower and lower 
till I think I should have buried it in the mud 
if it had got much lower. Their superior num- 
bers began to tell and we had to retire as fast 
as we could. I couldn't go fast enough with my 
pack on (it weighs 84 lbs.), so I threw it away as 

124 In the Firing Line 

did hundreds more, and I finished bridge-taking 
with my old pal only (the rifle). 

Letter 46. — From Lieutenant 0. P, Edgcumbe, 
of 1st Battalion D.C.L.I., to his father, Sir 
Robert Edgcumbe, Commandant at Newquay a 

29th August, 1914. 

For the last week or ten days we have been 
fighting hard and are now for one day resting. 
Altogether, during five days and five nights, I got 
six hours' sleep, and so am rather weary. How- 
ever, bullets and a real enemy are a wonderful 
stimulant, and I feel as fit as anything. Do all 
of you write as often as possible, and send me 
some newspapers. It does not matter whether 
there is any news — the sight of a letter from home 
is very cheering. 

All our men are somewhat fatigued, but are 
very keen and full of fight. My regiment has 
had a bad time, and I am dreadfully afraid that 
they have been badly cut up, although I can 
as yet get no details. They were caught in a 
village by Germans in the houses, who had 
managed to get there by wearing our uniforms. 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 125 

Never again shall I respect the Germans, or any 
of them I may meet. They have no code of 
honour, and there have been several cases of their 
wearing French and British uniforms, which is, 
of course, against the Geneva Convention. 

The weather is good, for which we are 

Everything is so peaceful now, and it is such 
a perfect day that were it not for the continuous 
growl of the guns, which never cease, one would 
hardly believe one was in the midst of a huge 

Letter 47. — From Private D, White : 

German airships we seldom see now, though 
we used to have them every day over our heads. 
They are finding the French more than a match 
for them, and they most likely prefer to rely on 
their ordinary spies, of whom they have thousands. 
They are found often among the men engaged 
for transport work, but they are such clumsy 
bunglers that they give themselves away sooner 
or later. Some of us who haven't the heart to 
drown a cat never turn a hair when we see these 

126 In the Firing Line 

scum shot, for they richly deserve what they get 
and a soldier's death is too good for them. 

Letter 48. — From Private Spain, of the 4th Guards 
Brigade {late police-constable at Newry) : 

We have had three engagements with the 
Germans since I arrived, and I came out quite 
unhurt. The two first were fought on Sunday 
and Monday following. You see I cannot give 
date or place. Secrecy is our motto re war 
and movement of troops for international pur- 
poses, etc. Our third engagement was nearly 

fatal. We arrived at the town of , very 

much fatigued, and fully intending to have a 
good rest. It was a fine town, about as big 
as Newry, but more compact, with many fine 
buildings. We were just about five minutes 
billeted in the various houses, and just stretching 
our weary legs, when an officer came running in, 
shouting " The Germans are upon us ; outside 
everyone." We came out, magazine loaded, 
bayonets fixed, and eager to get a good bayonet 
fight with them. It appears they do not Uke it. 
But we found none. They had not yet arrived. 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 127 

It was 10 p.m. before they did so. In the mean- 
time the poor people were leaving the town in 
crowds, with as much goods and chattels as they 
could carry away, and it was well for them, too. 
It was a dark night when we formed up in the 
streets, and the lamps but dimly burned. The 
noises of rifles and field guns were terrific. We 
rushed to the heads of the various streets, where 
our German foe would advance. Our Field 
Artillery and the Coldstream Guards went out 
to delay their advance whilst we stripped of£ 
our coats and commenced to tear up the square 
setts, gather carts — in fact, everything that would 
build a barricade to keep back our numerous 
German foe, and we did so under perfect showers 
of shrapnel shell that struck and fell around us, 
and struck the houses about us, but we were 
undaunted, and so succeeded. Firing ceased, 
and we advanced out towards the Coldstream 
Guards' position. They had given them a good 
fight, but many of them lay for ever silent upon 
the ground. The Germans would not advance 
upon us, so we retired. 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 129 

in the trench, and waited. Shrapnel and lyddite 
were flying round us like hail, and our gunners 
were firing too. Such a noise ! Just like thunder ! 
Well, we stuck out as long as we could when we 
got the order to retire. However I came safely 
away goodness knows. 

I picked up my gun and ran up the hill 
and dropped on one side of the road to rest. Then 
I had to get across the road, so got up and was 
half-way across when a shell burst and knocked 
me flat on my face. It must have fused at the 
wrong time, as I got only a cut on my thumb 
from a fragment. Then I got across and dropped 
in a trench where a fellow was lying dead. I 
stayed there only a minute, and then ran off 
over the hill and safe. The bullets were flying 
in all directions and shells were bursting four at 
a time. South Africa was nothing compared to 

I had had no sleep for nights, so decided to 
go back to a little village we had just passed, 
where I sat on a doorstep till I fell asleep, and 
woke up one hour later wet through and chilled 
to the bone. It was still dark when I got back 
to where I left our regiment, and they were off. 
So I trekked away alone, and got on the wrong 

130 In the Firing Line 

About nine in the morning I came across 
some transport, and rode along with stragglers 
of other regiments to a camp. There were about 
sixty of us, and we went to a large camp, about 
2,000 of us — all lost. There I came across Guy 
Jessop of Huddersfield, who was also lost, and 
was glad to meet a pal. We had a walk in the 
town together, and called in a cafe. We had 
some coffee and rum (Guy paid, as I had no 
money). I played the piano and sang " Mrs. 
HuUaby." Lucky job they could not understand 
EngHsh, or they would have been shocked. 

Letter 50. — From Private E. W. Dyas, of the 
11th Hussars, to his parents at Mountain Ash : 

We landed at Havre, and travelled up 
country. We were under fire for about twenty 
minutes on the first day, and the shells were 
bursting like rain all around us. We got away 
with only one horse killed. It was marvellous. 
We are continually under fire by day and travel- 
ling by night. It is awful to hear the artillery 
booming death night and day. We were fighting 
day and night for three days. The slaughter was 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 131 

terrible. I took a dispatch across the battlefield 
when the Germans were retiring, and I passed 
their trenches. The dead were piled up in the 
trenches about ten deep, and there were trenches 
seven miles long. It was terrible to see. We 
are collecting the three cavalry brigades together 
at the present moment for a massive charge. I 
am writing this in the saddle. I may get through 
this again. One bullet penetrated my horse's 
neck and another one went through the saddle. 
I have had a sword-thrust through my sleeve. 
So I am getting on well. 

Letter 51. — From Lieut. Oswald Anne, of the Royal 
Artillery, to his father. Major Anne, of 
BurghwalUs Hall : 

Dear Dad. — Just got yours of the 13th inst. 
Battling yesterday and the day before. I had 
a pal killed in another battery — five bullets in 
him. I have just seen the first Sausage-maker 
prisoner in hands of some infantry. They had 
the greatest difficulty in stopping the French 
populace from knifing him. The German shrap- 
nel is very dangerous stuff, having high explosive 

132 In the Firing Line 

in it. It bursts backwards, and so nullifies our 
frontal shield. No more time or news. 

August 29th. 

The boom of French guns is now in full 
swing, and we are standing easy for the moment. 
Did you get my other letter three days back ? 
Just after I had finished it, we had the alarm, 
which proved false, but that night Germans 
marched into the town, thinking we had left it. 
So they say ! A gruff German voice answered 
a challenge, and 15 rounds rapid fire from rifles 
and maxims behind the main road barricade, 
laid out every man. Eight hundred were picked 
up next morning in this one street. 

An R.E. told me on the canal bridge a maxim 
fired 9,000 rounds and laid out another 1,000. 
The first Germans arriving in one end of this 
town were in French uniforms. Luckily, those 
in the rear were seen and fired on, stampeding 
the ammunition mules, scattering the " Sausages," 
who were almost laid out in a few rounds of fire. 
Lots of " espions " here, male and female. I 
have hardly seen a German, except prisoners. 
Poor Soames, of the 20th Hussars, was sparrowed 
first fight. W. Silvertop (20th Hussars) is hard 
at it ''biffing" Sausages, and a N.C.O., 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 133 

yesterday, who had lost the Regiment, told 
me 48 hours ago he was well. 

"Cigs.'* all arrived, and saved my life, also 
load of chocolate. Screaming women rush every- 
where during conflicts howling " Trahie," " Per- 
due," " Sauve qui pent." One of " D " battery, 
R.H.A.,N.C.O., told us they had mowed " Sausage- 
makers " down for ten minutes in one action as 
hard as they could load and still they came in 
masses, till at last the shrieking men ran all ways, 
not knowing where, leaving heaps of semi-moving 
remnants on the ground. 

Our crowd, having so far escaped untouched, 
are very lucky. Several Brigades have had the 
devil's own hail of shot over them. Please 
send me some newspapers sometimes, as we have 
not seen one since I left, bar some old French 
Petit Parisiens. 

The Scots Greys from York and the 12th 
Lancers did great work yesterday on hostile 
cavalry, and about wiped out those opposed to 
them. The ** Guardies '* are in great form. 
Very little sleep nowadays, up at dawn almost 
always, very often before that hour. 

A German regiment, dressed in English 
uniforms, the other day billetted with an English 
regiment (at the other end of the town), and 

134 In the Firing Line 

when the latter marched out they were about 
broken up by maxim fire from the bedroom 
windows. A German force arrived elsewhere, the 
Berkshire regiment were on guard, and the 
former, in French uniforms, called out from the 
wire entanglements that they waited to interview 
the CO. A major went forward who spoke 
French, and was shot down immediately. This 
sort of thing is of daily occurrence, and only makes 
matters worse for the ** Sausage-makers " when 
our infantry get into them. 

Letter 52. — From a reservist in the Royal Field 
Artillery [Published in the " Glasgow Herald ") : 

I got a nasty hit with a shell on the thick 
of the leg. The Germans caught us napping on 
Wednesday, and what slaughter ! It was horrible 
to witness. The Germans came along the village, 
killing the poor women and children and burning 
all the houses. Our division could not hold 
out. We were expecting the French troops to 
meet us, but they were two days late. Our 
battery had a lucky escape of being cut up. We 
entrenched our guns to come into action next 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 135 

day, but somehow or other we cleared out, and 
had only gone ten minutes before the place was 
blown up. 

The ofi&cer in charge of my section had his head 
blown ofi. I was carried off under heavy fire 
on a fellow's back, and it is to him I owe my life. 
It was a long way to hospital, shells bursting all 
round us. We dropped behind some corn stacks, 
then on we went again. I had no sooner got 
bandaged up when a chap came galloping up 
and said the Germans were in sight. I was the 
second last man to leave the hospital, and ten 
minutes later it was blown up. You cannot 
imagine what things were like. The women and 
children of England can think themselves lucky, 
for the poor women here had to walk from village 
to village, young children in their arms. It 
touched my heart to see the sight. The Germans 
did not use rifles, but big guns, against our 
infantry's rifles. They are most brutal, killing all 
wounded in a most horrible fashion. 

136 In the Firing Line 

Letter 53. — From Trooper S. Car gill: 

The Germans let all hell loose on us in their 
mad attempt to crush us and so win their way 
to Paris. They didn't succeed, and they won't 
succeed. I saw one ghastly affair. A German 
cavalry division was pursuing our retiring in- 
fantry when we were let loose on them. When 
they saw us coming they turned and fled, at 
least all but one, who came rushing at us with 
his lance at the charge. I caught hold of his horse, 
which was half mad with terror, and my chum 
was going to run the rider through when he 
noticed the awful glaze in his eyes and we saw 
that the poor devil was dead. 

Letter 54. — From an Irish soldier, to his sister 
in County Cork : 

I am writing this on a leaf out of a field service 
pocket-book, as notepaper and envelopes are very 
scarce, and we are not allowed to send picture 
postcards of places as they give away where 
we are. Well, this is a lovely country. The 
climate suits me very well. Everything grows 
like mad here. It is rather like Ireland, only 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 137 

ten times as rich. All that I have seen yet — 
and that is a good lot — is far and away better 
than the best part of the county Limerick. I 
think it would be a pleasure to farm here. 

At the present time I am billeted in a farm- 
house. I sleep in their best bed-room — that is 
when I can go to bed at all — and they give me 
home-made cider, cognac, and coffee, apples, 
plums, etc., and lovely home-made cheese for 
nothing, though they need not supply any food, 
as the rations are served out by the regiment 
every day. 

'Tis great fun trying to talk French to them 
and I am picking it up gradually. It is wonderful 
how words and sentences that I learned at school 
come back to me now, and I can generally make 
myself understood all right. It is an awful pity 
to see this beautiful country spoiled by war, and 
it is no wonder the people are so eager to fight 
for it. I don't think there is a single house 
that has not sent out one or more men to fight 
with the French Army, and their mothers, sisters, 
wives, etc., are very proud of it. There are 
two gone out of this house. 

138 In the Firing Line 

Letter 55. — From Private Carwardine, to the father 
of a comrade-in-arms : 

I am very sorry, but I don't know for sure 
about your Joe. You see, although he was in the 
same company as me, he was not in the same 
section. I only wish he had been. The last 
I saw of him was when we were in the firing line 
making trenches for ourselves. He was about 
600 yards behind us, smoking, and I waved to 
him. Then all of a sudden we had to get down 
in our trenches, for bullets started coming over 
our heads, and shells dropped around us. 

We were fighting twelve hours when I got one 
in the back from a shell. After that I knew 
no more until I found myself in hospital, and I 
asked one of our chaps how our company went 
on, and he told me there were only seventeen 
of us left out of 210. I hope Joe is among them. 
You will get to know in the papers in a bit when 
they call the roll. 

So cheer up and don't be downhearted, for if 
Joe is killed he has died a soldier of honour on 
the field. Excuse writing, as I am a bit shaky, 
and I hope to God Joe is safe, for both your 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 139 

Letter 56. — From Private G. Dunton, of the Royal 
Engineers, to his family at Coventry :. 

I am in hospital, having been sent home from 
France, wounded in my left hand. I have got one 
shrapnel bullet right through my hand, and an- 
other through my middle finger against the top 
joint. I was wounded at Cambrai last Wednes- 
day. I have been in four hospitals in France, but 
had to be removed on account of the Germans 
firing on the hospitals. I do not think much of 
them, for if it was not for their artillery they would 
be wiped out in quick time. No doubt our losses 
are great, but theirs are far more. The famous 
cavalry of theirs, the Uhlans, are getting cut up 
terribly. All that have been captured have said 
that they are short of food. I must say we have 
had plenty to eat. I was near Mons a week last 
Saturday and we were attacked the same day. 
We have been on the retire ever since last Wednes- 
day, when I got wounded, but we shall soon be 
advancing, for they will never reach Paris. I 
am very pleased to see that the Germans are being 
forced back by the Russians. I hope they will 
serve Berlin the same as the Germans have done 
to Belgium. The 9th Brigade was cut up badly ; 
in fact, my Division was, but more are wounded 
than killed. There are 1,000 wounded in this 

140 In the Firing Line 

hospital alone, without other hospitals. I must 
say that I am in good health. My hand is 
giving me pain, but I do not mind that. I only 
had four days' fighting, but it was hard work 
while it lasted. The Germans, although four to 
one, could not break through our lines, and they 
must have lost thousands, as our artillery and 
infantry mowed them down like sheep. Their 
Irifle fire took no effect at all. All our wounds 
were done by shrapnel. My hand is not healing 
at all, but I must be patient and give it time. 
The French and Belgian people were very kind to 
us and gave us anything we wanted. 

Letter 57. — From a Manchester soldiery in a 
French hospital : 

There was a young French girl helping to 
bandage us up. How she stood it I don't know. 
There were some awful sights, but she never 
quailed — just a sweet, sad smile for everyone. 
If ever anyone deserved a front seat in Heaven, 
this young angel does. God bless her. She 
has the prayers and the love of the remnants 
of our division. All the French people are 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 141 

wonderfully generous. They gave us anything 
and everything. You simply cannot help loving 
them, especially the children. 

Letter 58. — From Private A. McGillivray, a 
Highlander, to his mother • 

Of my company only 10 were unhit. I saw a 
handful of Irishmen throw themselves in front 
of a regiment of cavalry who were trying to cut 
off a battery of horse artillery. It was one of 
the finest deeds I ever saw. Not one of the poor 
lads got away alive, but they made the German 
devils pay in kind, and, anyhow, the artillery 
got away to account for many more Germans. 
Every man of us made a vow to avenge the 
fallen Irishmen, and if the German cavalrymen 
concerned were made the targets of every British 
rifleman and gunner they had themselves to 
thank. Later they were fully avenged by their 
own comrades, who lay in wait for the German 
cavalrymen. The Irish lads went at them 
with the bayonet when they least expected it, 
and the Germans were a sorry sight. Some of 

142 In the Firing Line 

them howled for mercy, but I don't think they 
got it. In war mercy is only for the merciful. 

Letter 59. — From Private W. Bell, of the 2nd South 
Lancashire Regiment , to his wife i 

I shall never forget this lot. Men fell dead 
just Hke sheep. Our regiment was first in the 
firing line, and we were simply cut up. Very few 
escaped, so I think I was very lucky, for I was 
nearly half-a-mile creeping over nothing but dead 
men. In the trenches, bullets and shells came 
down on us like rain. We even had to Hft dead 
men up and get under them for safety. 

When we got the order to retire an officer was 
just giving the order to charge when he was 
struck dead, and it is a good job we didn't charge, 
or we would have all been killed. I passed a 
lot of my chums dead, but I didn't see Fred 
Atkinson (a friend of the family). 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 143 

Letter 60. — From Corporal T. Trainor ; 

Have you ever seen a little man fighting a 
great, big, hulking giant who keeps on forcing 
the little chap about the place until the giant 
tires himself out, and then the little one, who 
has kept his wind, knocks him over ? That's 
how the fighting roimd here strikes me. We 
are dancing about round the big German army, 
but our turn will come. 

Last Sunday we had prayers with she Us burst- 
ing all around us, but the service wa finished 
before it was necessary for us to grapple with 
the enemy. The only thing objectionable I have 
seen is the robbing of our dead and wounded by 
German ghouls. In such cases no quarter is 
given, and, indeed, is never expected. 

Letter 61. — From an Artilleryman, to his wife at 
Sheerness : 

I am the only one left out of my battery ; we 
were blown to pieces by the enemy on Wednesday 
at Le Cateau. We have been out here twenty- 
eight days all told, and have been through the 
five engagements. I have nothing ; only the 

144 In the Firing Line 

jacket I stand up in — no boots or putties, as I 
was left for dead. But my horse was shot, and 
not me. He laid down on me. They had to 
cut my boots, etc., off to get me from under 
my horse. 

Letter 62. — From Lance-Corporal /. Preston, of 
the 2nd Battalion Inniskilling Fusiliers, to his 
wife at Banbridge ; 

I did not get hit at Mons. I got through it all 
right. We encountered the Germans on Sunday 
at Mons, and fought on till Monday night. It 
was on the retreat from Mons that I was caught. 
They had about one hundred guns playing on us 
all the time we were retiring. We had a battery 
of artillery with us. They were all blown to 
pieces, men and guns and all. It was a most 
sorrowful sight to see the guns wiped out, and 
the gunners and men lying around them. The 
whole plain was strewn with dead and wounded. 
I hope my eyes will never look on anything so 
horrid again. Our section brought in six pris- 
oners, all wounded, and they told us we had slain 
hundreds of them. We captured a German spy ; 
he was dressed in a Scotsman's uniform, and 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 145 

was knocking around our camp, but we were a 
bit too quick for him. I think the hardest battles 
are fought ; the German cannot stand it much 
longer, his food supply is getting done. 

Letter 63. — From a Corporal in the Motor Cycle 
Section of the Royal Engineers : 

Last night the enemy made an attempt to get 
through to our base in armed motors. Myself 
and two other motor-cycHsts were sent out to 
look for them. It was a pitch-black night, with 
a thick fog. One of our men got in touch with 
them, and was pursued. He made for a bridge 
which had been mined by the engineers, and that 
was the end of the Germans. . . . The German 
artillery is rotten. Last Saturday three batteries 
bombarded an entrenched British battalion for 
two hours, and only seven men were killed. 
The noise was simply deafening, but so little 
effect had the fire that the men shouted with 
laughter, and held their caps up on the end of 
their rifles to give the German gunners a bit of 

146 In the Firing Line 

This is really the best summer holiday I have 
had for a long time. 

Letter 64. — From Corporal J. Bailey : 

It's very jolly in camp in spite of all the 
drawbacks of active service, and we have lively 
times when the Germans aren't hanging around 
to pay their respects. It's a fine sight to see 
us on the march, swinging along the roads as 
happy as schoolboys, and singing all the old 
songs we can think of. The tunes are sometimes 
a bit out, but nobody minds so long as we're 
happy. As we pass through the villages the 
French come out to cheer us and bring us food 
and fruit. Cigarettes we get more of than we 
know what to do with. Some of them are 
rotten, so we save them for the German prisoners, 
who would smoke anything they can lay their 
hands on. Flowers also we get plenty of, and 
we are having the time of our lives. 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 147 

Letter 65. — From a Sergeant in the Royal Field 
Artillery : 

If the French people were mad about us before 
we were on trial, they are absolutely crazy 
over us now when we have sort of justified our 
existence. In the towns we pass through we 
are received with so much demonstration that I 
fancy the French soldiers must be jealous. The 
people don't seem to have eyes for anybody but 
us, and they do all they can to make us com- 
fortable. They give us the best they can lay 
hold of, but that's not much after the Germans 
have been around collaring all they could. It's 
the spirit that means so much to us, and even 
though it was only an odd cup of water they 
brought us we would be grateful. Most of us 
are glad to feel that we are fighting for a nation 
worth fighting for, and after our experience there 
can be no question of trouble between us and 
France in the future. 

We lost terribly in the retreat from Mons, of 
which you have heard by now, but artillery 
always stands to lose in retreats, because we play 
such a big part in getting the other men away 
and we quite made up our minds that we would 
have to pay forfeit then. Without boasting, I 
can say that it was the way the guns were handled 

148 In the Firing Line 

that made it so easy for our lads to get out of 
the German trap. There was once or twice when 
it looked as though it were all up with us, and 
some of our chaps were fair down in the mouth 
over it ; but I think now they didn't make 
sufficient allowance for the steadiness of all arms 
of our service; and, between ourselves, I think 
they had got the usual notions about the splendid 
soldiering qualities of the German army. They 
know better now, and though it's bad to get 
chesty about that sort of thing, we are all pretty 
confident that with a sporting chance we stand 
to win all the time. 

Letter 66. — From Private J. Toal : 

It's tired we all were when we got through 
that week of fighting and marching from Mons ; 
but after we'd had a taste of rest for a day or 
two, by the saints, we were ready for the ugly 
Germans again, and we've been busy ever since 
drilling holes in them big enough to let out the 
bad that's in them. You wouldn't believe the 
way they have burned and destroyed the holy 
churches everywhere they went, and there's 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 149 

many an Irish lad betwixt here and the frontier 
has registered a vow that he will not rest content 
till he's paid off that score against the men who 
would lay hands on God's altars. 

Letter 67. — From Private W. Green ; 

We see more Germans than you could count 
in the day, but they are now very funky about it, 
and they will never wait for a personal interview 
with one of our men, especially if he has a lance 
or a bayonet handy, and naturally you don't go 
out German-hunting without something of the 
kind with you, if only just for luck. When they 
must face us they usually get stuck away some- 
where where they are protected by more guns 
than you ever set eyes on, and likewise crowds 
of machine guns of the Maxim pattern, mounted 
on motors. These are not now so troublesome, 
for they are easy to spot out in the open, and 
our marksmen quickly pick off the men serving 
them, so the Germans are getting a bit shy 
about displaying them. Something we heard the 
other day has put new life into us ; not that 
we were downhearted before, but what I mean 

150 In the Firing Line 

shows that we are going to have all we wished 
for very soon, and though we can't tell you more 
you may be sure that we are going on well. 

Letter 68. — From Private G, A. Turner, to his 
father, Mr. J. W, Turner, of Leeds {Published 
in the '* Leeds Mercury ") : 

I am still living, though a bit knocked about. 

I got a birthday present from the Kaiser. I 
was wounded on the 23rd. So it was a near 
thing, was it not ? I got your letter at a place 
called Moroilles, in France, about five miles from 
Landrecies, where our troops have retired. 

On Sunday, 23rd, we had rifle inspection at 

II a.m., and were ordered to fall in for bathing 
parade at 11.30. While we were waiting for 
another company to return from the river the 
Germans commenced to shell the town. We 
fell in about i.o p.m., an hour and a half after- 
wards, to go to the scene of the attack. Shells 
were bursting in the streets as we went. We 
crossed a bridge over the canal under artillery 
fire, and stood doing nothing behind a mill on 
the bank for some time. 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 151 

Then someone cried out that the Germans were 
advancing along the canal bank, and our com- 
pany were ordered to go along. We thought we 
were going to check the Germans, but we found 
out afterwards that a company of our own regi- 
ment were in position further along on the opposite 
side of the canal, and we were being sent out to 
reinforce them. 

There was no means of crossing the canal at 
that point, so it was an impossibility. As soon 
as we started to move we were spotted by the 
Germans, who opened fire with their guns at about 
five hundred yards with shrapnel, and the scene 
that followed beggars description. Several of 
us were laid full length behind a wooden fence 
about half an inch thick. The German shells 
burst about three yards in front of it. It was 
blown to splinters in about ten minutes. None 
of us expected to get out alive. 

They kept us there about an hour before they 
gave us the word to retire. I had just turned 
round to go back when I stopped one. It hits 
you with an awful thump, and I thought it had 
caught me at the bottom of the spine, as it 
numbed my legs for about half an hour. 

When I found I could not walk I gave it up. 
Just after, I got my first view of the Germans. 

152 In the Firing Line 

They were coming out of a wood about 400 yards 
away all in a heap together, so I thought as I 
was done for I would get a bit of my own back, 
and I started pumping a bit of lead into them. 

I stuck there for about three-quarters of an 
hour, and fired all my own ammunition and a lot 
belonging to two more wounded men who were 
close to me — about 300 rounds altogether, and 
as it was such a good target I guess I accounted 
for a good lot of them. 

Then I suddenly discovered I could walk, 
and so I set off to get back. I had to walk about 
150 yards in the open, with shrapnel bursting 
around me all the way, but somehow or other I 
got back without catching another. It was 
more than I expected, I can assure you, and I 
laughed when I got in the shelter of the mill 

I was very sorry to have to leave the other 
chaps who were wounded, but as I could only 
just limp along I could not help them in any way. 
They were brought in later by stretcher bearers. 

A man who was at Paardeburg and Magers- 
fontein, in South Africa, said they were nothing 
to what we got that Sunday. Out of 240 men 
of my company only about twenty were unin- 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 153 

Letter 69. — From an Infantryman in hospital 
(Published in the " Alder shot News ") ; 

I found myself mixed up with a French 
regiment on the right. I wanted to go forward 
with them, but the officer in charge shook his 
head and smiled, " They will spot you in your 
khaki and put you out in no time," he said in 
EngHsh ; " make your way to the left ; you'll 
find your fellows on that hill." I watched the 
regiment till it disappeared ; then I made my 
way across a field and up a big avenue of trees. 
The shells were whistling overhead, but there 
was nothing to be afraid of. Halfway up the 
avenue there was a German lancer officer lying 
dead by the side of the road. How he got there 
was a mystery, because we had seen no cavalry. 
But there he lay, and someone had crossed his 
hands on his breast, and put a little celluloid 
crucifix in his hands. Over his face was a beau- 
tiful Httle handkerchief — a lady's — with lace 
edging. It was a bit of a mystery, because there 
wasn't a lady for miles that I knew of. 

154 In the Firing Line 

Letter 70. — From Sapper H. Mugridge, R.E., to 
his mother at Uckfleld : 

We met the Germans at Landrecies on Sun- 
day. We had a fifteen-hour battle. It was 
terrible. There were 120,000 Germans and only 
20,000 of us, but our men fought well. We blew 
up six bridges. Laid our charges in the afternoon, 
and the whole time we were doing it were not 
hit. After we had got ever5d;hing ready we got 
back into cover and waited until 1.30 on Monday 
morning, until our troops had got back over the 
river, and then we blew up the bridges. We 
retired about thirty miles. The town where we 
stopped on Sunday was a beautiful place, but the 
Germans destroyed it. Close to where I was a 
church had been used as a hospital, and our 
wounded were coming by the dozens. But, 
terrible to say, the Germans blew the place up. 
They have no pity. They kill our wounded and 
drive the people before them. 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 155 

Letter 71. — From Sapper H. Mugridge, R.E. 

(Second letter, published in the " Sussex Daily 

News ") : 
We were laying our gun cotton — ten of us 
were the last to leave, and the Germans stopped 
us. We had to run for it down the main street 
of the town of Landrecies, and, being dark, we 
could not see where we were going. We got 
caught in some telegraph wires which had been 
put across the street. We had to cut them away 
with our bayonets. On Monday morning, when 
things were quieter, we went nearly into the 
German lines. We could hear them giving orders. 
Our job was to put barbed wire across the road. 
I was thankful to get out of it. We could see 
the Germans burning their dead. They must 
have lost a few thousand men, as our troops 
simply mowed them down. 

I saw one sergeant kill fourteen Germans, one 
after the other. They came up in fifties, all in a 
cluster, and you couldn't help hitting them. 
They were only 400 yards from us all day on 
Sunday. They are very cruel. Our people used 
a church for a hospital, and it was filled with our 
wounded, but the place was shelled and knocked 
down. They stabbed a good many of our men 
while lying on the battlefield. They have no 

156 In the Firing Line 

respect for the Red Cross. To see women and 
children driven from home and walking the roads 
is terrible — old men and women just the same. 
At the town where we were we got cut off from 
our people — eighteen of us — and the houses were 
being toppled over by the German artillery. 
The people clung around us, asking us to stay 
with them, but it was no good. When we left, 
the town was in flames. But our men did fight 
well. You never saw anything so cool in your 
life. Anyone would have thought it was a foot- 
ball match, for they were joking and laughing 
with one another. 

Letter 72 — From John Baker, of the Royal Flying 
Corps, to his parents at Boston, Lincolnshire : 

While flying over Boulogne at a height of 
3,000 feet, something went wrong with the 
machine, and the engine stopped. The officer 
said, " Baker, our time has come. Be brave, 
and die like a man. Good-bye," and shook hands 
with me. I shall always remember the ten 
minutes that followed. The next I remembered 
was that I was in a barn. I was removed to 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 157 

Boulogne, and afterwards to Netheravon, being 
conveyed from Southampton by motor ambu- 
1 ance. 

Letter 73. — From Private G. Rider : 

The Germans are good and bad as fighters, 
but mostly bad so far as I have seen. They are 
nearly all long distance champions in the fighting 
line, and won't come too near unless they are 
made to. Yesterday we had a whole day of it 
in the trenches, with the Germans firing away 
at us all the time. It began just after breakfast, 
and we were without food of any kind until we 
had what you might call a dainty afternoon tea 
in the trenches imder shell fire. The mugs were 
passed round with the biscuits and the " bully '* 
as best they could by the mess orderHes, but it 
was hard work getting through without getting 
more than we wanted of lead rations. My next- 
door neighbour, so to speak, got a shrapnel bullet 
in his tin mug, and another two doors of! had 
his biscuit shot out of his hand when he was fool 
enough to hold it up to show it to a chum in the 
next trench. 

We are ready for anything that comes our 

158 In the Firing Line 

way, and nothing would please us better than a 
good big stand-up fight with the Germans on any 
ground they please. We are all getting used to 
the hard work of active service, and you very 
seldom hear complaints from anybody. The 
grousers, who are to be found in nearly every 
regiment, seem to be on holiday for the war. 

Letter 74. — From Private Martin O'Keefe, of the 
Royal Irish Rifles, to his friends at Belfast : 

Our part in the fighting was hmited almost 
entirely to covering the retreat by a steady rifle 
fire from hastily-prepared trenches. We were 
thrown out along an extended front, and in- 
structed to hold our ground until the retiring 
troops were signalled safe in the next position 
allotted them. W^hen this was done our turn 
came, and we retired to a new position, our place 
being taken by the light cavalry, who kept the 
Germans in check as long as they could and th^n 
fell back in their turn. The Germans made some 
rather tricky moves in the hope of cutting us off 
while we were on this dangerous duty, but our 
flanks were protected by cavalry, French and 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 159 

English, and they did not get very far without 
having to fight. When they found the sHghtest 
show of resistance they retreated, and tried to 
find an easier way of getting in at us. The staff 
were well pleased with the way we carried out the 
duty given to us, and we were told that it had 
saved our Army from very serious loss at one 
critical point. We put in some wonderfully 
effective shooting in the trenches, and the men 
find it is much easier making good hits on active 
service than at manoeuvres. The Germans seemed 
to think at first that we were as poor shots as they 
are, and they were awfully sick when they had to 
face our deadly fire for the first time. 

Letter 75. — From Sergeant W. Holmes : 

We are off again, this time with some of the 
French, and it's enough to give you fits to hear 
the Frenchmen trjdng to pick up the words of 
** Cheer Boys, Cheer," which we sing with great go 
on the march. They haven't any notion of what 
the words mean, but they can tell from our manner 
that they mean we're in good heart, and that's 
infectious here. We lost our colonel and four 

160 In the Firing Line 

other officers in our fight on Tuesday. It was 
the hottest thing we were ever in. The colonel 
was struck down when he was giving us the last 
word of advice before we threw ourselves on the 
enemy. We avenged him in fine style. His loss 
was a great blow to us, for he was very popular. 
It's always the best officers, somehow, that get 
hit the first, and there's not a man in the regiment 
who wouldn't have given his hfe for him. He 
was keen on discipline, but soldiers don't think 
any less of officers who are that. The German 
officers are a rum lot. They don't seem in too 
great a hurry to expose their precious carcasses, 
and so they " lead " from the rear all the time^ 
We see to it that they don't benefit much by that, 
you may be sure, and when it's at all possible we 
shoot at the skulking officers. That probably 
accounts for the high death rate among German 
officers. They seem terribly keen on pushing 
their men forward into posts of danger, but they 
are not so keen in leading the way, except in 
retreat, when they are well to the fore. Our 
cavalry are up to that httle dodge, and so, when 
they are riding out to intercept retreating 
Germans, they always give special attention to the 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 161 

Letter 76. — From Corporal J. Hammersley : 

The Germans in front of us are about done 
for, and that's the truth of it. They have got 
about as much fighting as humans can stand, 
and it is about time they reahsed it. I don't 
agree with those who think this war is going to 
last for a long time. The pace we go at on both 
sides is too hot, and flesh and blood won't stand 
it for long. My impression is that there will be a 
sudden collapse of the Germans that will astonish 
everybody at home ; but we are not leaving 
much to chance, and we do all we can to hasten 
the collapse. The Germans aren't really cut 
out for this sort of work. They are proper 
bullies, who get on finely when everybody's 
lying bleeding at their feet, but they can't 
manage at all when they have to stand up to men 
who can give them more than they bargain for. 

Letter 77. — From Lance-Corporal T. Williams : 

We are now getting into our stride and 
beginning to get a little of our own back out of 
the Germans. They don't Hke it at all now 
that we are nearer to them in numbers, and 


162 In the Firing Line 

their men all look like so many " Weary Willies " ; 
they are so tired. You might say they have got 
" that tired feeling " bad, and so they have. 
Some of them just drop into our arms when we 
call on them to surrender as though it were the 
thing they'd been waiting for all their lives. 

One chap who knows a little English told 
us he was never more pleased to see the English 
uniform in all his life before, for he was about fed 
up with marching and fighting in the inhuman 
way the German officers expect their men to go 
on. When we took him to camp he lay down 
and slept like a log for hours ; he was so done 

That's typical of the Germans now, and it 
looks as though the Kaiser were going to have 
to pay a big price for taxing his men so terribly. 
You can't help being sorry for the poor fellows. 
They all say they were told when setting out 
that it would be child's play beating us, as our 
army was the poorest stuff in the world. Those 
who had had experience in England didn't take 
that in altogether, but the country yokels and 
those who had never been outside their own 
towns beUeved it until they had a taste of our 
fighting quality, and then they laughed with the 
other side of their faces. 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 163 

That's the Germans all over, to " kid " them- 
selves into the belief that they have got a soft 
thing, and then when they find it's too hard, to 
run away from it. Our lads have made up their 
minds to give them no rest once we get on to 
them, and they'll get as much of the British 
Army as they can stand, and maybe a little more. 
The French are greatly pleased with the show 
we made in the field, and are in much better 
spirits than they were. 

Letter 78. — From a Non-commissioned Officer of 
Dragoons : 

All our men — in fact, the whole British Army 
— are as fit as a fiddle, and the lads are as keen 
as mustard. There is no holding them back. 
At Mons we were under General Chetwode, and 
horses and men positively flew at the Germans, 
cutting through much heavier mounts and heavier 
men than ours. The yelhng and the dash of the 
Lancers and Dragoon Guards was a thing never 
to be forgotten. We lost very heavily at Mons, 
and it is a marvel how some of our fellows pulled 
through and positively frightened the enemy. 
We did some terrible execution, and our wrists 

164 In the Firing Line 

were feeling the strain of heavy riding before 
sunset. With our tunics unbuttoned, we had 
the full use of our right arm for attack and 

After Mons I went with a small party scout- 
ing, and we again engaged about twenty cavalry, 
cut off from their main body. We killed nine, 
wounded six, and gave chase to the remaining 
five, who, in rejoining their unit, nearly were 
the means of trapping us. However, our men 
dispersed and hid in a wood until they fell in with 

a squadron of the , and so reached camp in 

safety. After that a smart young corporal 
accompanied me to reconnoitre, and we went 
too far ahead, and were cut off in a part of the 
country thick with Uhlans. As we rode in the 

direction of two wounded men were limping 

along, both with legs damaged, one from the 
Middlesex and the other Lancashire Fusiliers, 
and so we took them up. 

Corporal Watherston took one behind his 
saddle and I took the other. The men were 
hungry, and tattered to shreds with fighting, but 
in fine spirits. We soon came across a small 
village, and I found the cure a grand sportsman 
and full of pluck and hospitality. He seemed 
charmed to find a friend who was English, and 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 165 

told me that the Germans were dressed in the 
uniforms of British soldiers, which they took 
from the dead and from prisoners in order to 
deceive French villagers, who in many places 
in that district had welcomed these wolves in 
sheep's clothing. We were warned that the 
enemy would be sure to track us up to the village. 
The cure said he could hide the two wounded men 
in the crypt of his church and put up beds for 
them. It has a secret trapdoor, and was an 
ancient treasure-house of a feudal lord, whose 
castle we saw in ruins at the top of the hill close by. 
Then he hid away our saddlery and uniforms 
in the roof of a barn, and insisted upon our making 
a rest-chamber of the tower of his church, which 
was approached by a ladder, which we were to 
pull up to the belfry as soon as we got there. 
He smuggled in wine and meat and bread and 
cakes, fruit and cigarettes, with plenty of bedding 
pulled up by a rope. We slept soundly, and the 
owls seemed the only other tenants, who resented 
our intrusion. No troops passed through the 
village that night. In the morning the cur^ 
came round at six o'clock, and we heard him say 
Mass. After that we let down the ladder, and 
he came up with delicious hot chocolate and a 
basket of rolls and butter. 

166 In the Firing Line 

Our horses he had placed in different stables 
a mile apart, and put French " fittings " on them, 
so as to deceive the enemy. He thinks we are 
well away from the main body of the German 
army moving in the direction of Paris, but will 
not hear of our leaving here for at least three days. 
But I cried, " Cur^, we are deserters ! " The old 
man wept and said, " Deserters, no, no — saviours, 
saviours ; you have rescued France from the 
torments of slavery." 

However, we have now secured complete 
disguises as French cultivateurs — baggy corderoy 
trousers, blue shirts, boots, stockings, belt, hat, 
cravat, everything to match — and as we have not 
shaved for two weeks, and are bronzed with the 
sun, I think that the corporal and myself can pass 
anywhere as French peasants, if only he will 
leave all the talking to me. 

The two wounded soldiers don't wish us to 
leave them, because I am interpreter, and not a 
soul speaks English in the village. So we have 
explained to the cur^ that we shall stay here until 
our comrades are able to walk, and then the party 
of four will push our way out somewhere on horse- 
back and get to the coast. The sacristan at once 
offered to be our guide, and it is arranged that 
we take a carrier's wagon which travels in this 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 167 

district and drive our own horses in it, and pick 
up two additional mounts at a larger village on 
the way to the coast. 

We must get back as soon as ever we can. 
Nothing could be kinder than the people here, 
but this is not what we came to France for, and 
hanging about in a French village is not exactly 
what a soldier calls " cricket." 

You cannot imagine how complete the 
Germans are in the matter of rapid transport. 
Large automobiles, such as the railway companies 
have for towns round Harrogate and Scarborough, 
built like char-a-bancs, carry the soldiers in 
batches of fifty, so that they are as fresh as paint 
when they get to the front. But in point of 
numbers I think one of our side is a fair match 
for four of the enemy. I hope that the British 
public are beginning to understand what this 
war means. The German is not a toy terrier, 
but a bloodhound absolutely thirsty for blood. 

Letter 79. — From Private Tom Savage, to his 

relatives at Lame : 

At Sea. 

Just a line to let you know that we are 

landing outside . They kept us without 

168 In the Firing Line 

any knowledge of how and where we were going 
till the last moment. I am quite well and extra 
specially fit. It is good fun on a troopship, 
and we are going to have a nice little holiday 
on the Continent. I'll be able to " swank French " 
when I come back. I'll write a good long letter 
when I settle down. I'm writing this at tea time 
just before we land. I have got two very nice 
chums, Jack Wright, the footballer, who has 
seen service before, and Billy Caughey, both of 

In France. 

I am writing this note while on outpost 
duty. I can't say where we are, or anything 
like that, but I am in the best of health and 
enjoying the life. I am getting a fine hand at 
French. There is plenty of food and the people 
are all very nice. It's great fun trying to under- 
stand them. Plenty of fruit here, pears and 
apples galore, and as for bread big long rolls and 
rings of it, and all very cheap. When you happen 
to be riding through a town the people give you 
cigarettes, fruit, chocolates, and cider. 

If you are all extra good I'll bring you home 
a pet German. How is Home Rule getting on ? 
Send me a paper, but I don't know when I'll 
get it or you'll get this. I suppose the papers are 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 169 

full of this ruction. I can write no more as I'll 
soon have to go on guard. 

Letter 80. — From Mons. E. Hovelange, of Paris, 
written on August -^oth, to Sir William Collins 
{Published in the " Sussex Daily News ") : 

How serious the situation is here it is hard 
for you to realize in London. We may be en- 
circled at any moment by these hordes of savages. 
Such murderous cruelty has never been seen in 
the annals of war. The Turks and the Bulgarians 
were no worse. It is the rule to fire on ambulances 
and slaughter the wounded. I know it from eye- 
witnesses. The Germans are drunk with savagery. 
It is an orgy of the basest cruelty. They are 
rushing Paris at all costs, squandering their men 
recklessly in overwhelming numbers. Our troops 
are submerged and can only retreat, fighting 
desperately, but the spirit of our soldiers is 
splendid. All the wounded I have seen laugh 
and joke over their wounds and are burning to 
have another go at the barbarians. Victory is 
certain. But what disastrous changes shall we 
know before it comes. I am prepared for the 
worst — another month of hopeless struggle 

170 In the Firing Line 

perhaps. But we will fight to the last man. The 
tide will turn, and then — woe to them. I know 
you will stand by us in the cause of civilization, 
common honest truth till the bitter end. But 
if you want to help us you must hasten. 

Letter 8i. — From a young officer who has been 
through the whole campaign, from the landing 
of the British at Boulogne : 

I wish you would try to make the people 
in England understand that they should be 
most exceedingly thankful that they are living 
on an island and not in the midst of the 
dreadful things which are happening on the Con- 
tinent. Do enforce upon the public that Eng- 
land must fight this thing out, and must conquer 
even if it has to spend the blood of its young men 
like water. It will be far better that every family 
throughout England should have to sorrow for 
one of its members than that England should 
have to go through similar ordeals to those which 
Continental countries are suffering. 

The sight of old women and men fleeing 
from village to village ; young mothers with 
babies in arms, with their few personal effects 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 171 

on their backs, or in some more fortunate cases 
with their goods and chattels surrounding the 
aged grandmother stowed away in an old farm 
cart, drawn by a nag too venerable to be of 
service to the State ; this is what one has seen 
daily. Picture to yourself our night marches 
with the burning villages on all sides set fire 
to by German shells — and the Germans have 
been rather careless whether their shells struck 
fortified and defended positions, or open ones. 
In some cases the fires were caused intentionally 
by marauding patrols. 

Do not imagine that things are not going 
well with us. We are all satisfied and confident 
of the end ; but at the same time the only pos- 
sible end can be gained by sacrifice on the part 
of those at home only. All is well with me 
personally ; I have a busy time, but it is most 
interesting work. 


(i) At Salisbury. 

A non-commissioned officer of the Royal Field 
Artillery, invalided home with shrapnel wounds 
in the thigh, from which he hopes soon to re- 
cover, has given this vivid description of his 

172 In the Firing Line 

experiences at the front after passing north of 
Amiens, to a Daily Telegraph correspondent : 

Pushing forward from our rest camp, cover- 
ing from twenty to thirty miles a day, with the 
infantry marching in front and cavalry protect- 
ing us on either flank, we received information 
that we were within a few hours' march of 
the enemy. Needless to say, this put us on 
the alert. There was no funk about us, for we 
were all anxious to have a go at the Germans, 
about whom we had heard such tales of cruelty 
that it made our blood run cold. 

Our orders were to load with case shot, for 
fear of cavalry attack, as shrapnel is of little 
use against mounted troops. The order was 
soon obeyed, and after passing the day on the 

road, we moved across country north of , 

where the infantry took up a strong position. 
We saw the French troops on our right as we 
moved up to gun positions which our battery 
commanders had selected in advance. It was 
Sunday morning when the attack came, and the 
sun had already lit up the beautiful country, 
and as I looked across at the villages which 
lay below in the valley with their silent belfries 
I thought of my home on the Cotswolds and of 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 173 

the bells ringing for morning service. I pictured 
dad and my sister Nell going to church. 

" It was, however, no time for sentiment, for 
gallopers soon brought the news that the enemy 
was advancing, and that a cavalry attack might 
be expected at any moment. Infantry had 
entrenched themselves along our front, and 
there was a strong body posted on our flanks 
and rear. These became engaged first with a 
large body of Uhlans, who endeavoured to take 
them by surprise, the front rank rushing forward 
with the lance and the rear using the sword. 

We were on slightly higher ground, and 
could see the combat, which appeared to be 
going in our favour. Our men stuck to their 
ground and shot and bayonetted the Uhlans, who, 
after ten minutes' fight, made off, but, sad to 
say, a dreadful fusilade of shrapnel and Maxim 
fire followed immediately, and our guns also 
came under fire. To this we readily replied, 
and must have done some execution, especially 
to the large masses of infantry that were advan- 
cing about a mile away. 

We got a favourable " bracket " at once, so 
our Major said, and we worked our guns for all 
we were worth, altering fuses and the ranging 
of our guns as the Germans came nearer. Shells 

174 In the Firing Line 

fell fast around us, some ricocheted, and passed 
overhead without bursting, ploughing the ground 
up in our rear, but not a few exploded, and made 
many casualties. Three of my gun detachment 
fell with shrapnel bullets, but still we kept the 
guns going, the officers giving a hand. 

At one time we came under the fire of the 
enemy's machine guns, but two of our i8-pounders 
put them out of action after a few rounds. The 
order came at length to retire so as to get a more 
favourable position, but our drivers failed to 
bring back all the gun teams, only sufficient to 
horse four of the guns. The remainder of the 
animals had been terribly mutilated. These 
were limbered up, the remainder being for a time 
protected by the infantry. The Gordons and 
Middlesex were in the shelter trenches on our 
left, and the latter regiment was said at one 
time to be almost overwhelmed, but aid came, 
and the masses of Prussian infantry were beaten 

Still, there was terrible slaughter on both 
sides, and the dead lay in long burrows on the 
turf. We should have lost our guns to the 
Uhlans if the infantry had not persevered with 
the rifle, picking off the cavalry at 800 yards. 

It was grand shooting. In the afternoon 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 175 

we slackened fire, as also did the Germans ; in 
fact, we did but little from our new gun positions, 
as we were destined to cover the retreat of the 
infantry later on. 

As the wounded were brought to the rear 
we heard of the deeds of heroism from the men 
of the Royal Army Medical Corps in the fighting 
line — how an officer stood over the body of a 
private who had previously saved his life until 
he had spent his last shot from his revolver, and 
then fell seriously wounded, to be avenged the 
next moment by a burly sergeant who plunged 
his bayonet into the Prussian. 

In the ranks of the South Lancashire Regi- 
ment, from what has been heard, many deserve 
the Distinguished Conduct Medal, if not the 
V.C., for the manner in which they charged 
masses of German infantry through the village 
to our front. Uhlans got round behind them, 
but they did not flinch, although serious gaps 
were made in their ranks. 

A non-commissioned officer of the Medicals 
related how he saw a party of Fusiliers rush to 
the aid of their Maxim gun party when Uhlans 
swept down on them from behind a wood. They 
accounted for over twenty and lost but one man. 

At night we were ordered to move on again ^ 

176 In the Firing Line 

and we marched south-west in the direction of 

, covering twenty miles in the darkness. 

Our unhorsed guns were got through by spHt- 
ting up our teams, and with the help of the 
brawny arms of the infantry. 
. The enemy were aware of our retreat, and 
kept up an incessant fire, bringing searchlights 
to the aid of their gunners. The moon slightly 
favoured us, and, with the help of local guides, 
we found our way. I heard of the brilliant work 
performed by our battalions, who kept the enemy 
at bay whilst we withdrew all our vehicles, and 
we gunners felt proud of them. They kept the 
enemy busy by counter-attack, and made it 
impossible to get round us. 

Next morning the enemy were again in the 
field endeavouring to force our left flank. Field- 
Marshal Sir John French, whom we saw early in 
the day, was, however, equal to the occasion, and 
so manoeuvred his troops that we occupied a 
position from which the Germans could not 
dislodge us. The artillery kept up long-range 
fire, and that is how I received my wound. 
Within a few minutes first aid was rendered, and 
I was put in an ambulance and taken of£ with 
other wounded to a field hospital, where I met 
with every attention. 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 177 


(2) At the London Hospital. 
By a Daily Telegraph correspondent. 

A description of a thrilling fight in the air, 
which had a dramatic climax, was given to 
Queen Alexandra when her Majesty paid a visit 
to the London Hospital. 

Among the wounded soldiers there is a private 
of the Royal Engineers, who was himself witness 
of the incident. 

He said that following a very hard fight on 
the day before, he was lying on the ground with 
his regiment, resting. Suddenly a German 
aeroplane hove in sight. It flew right over the 
British troops, and commenced to signal their 
position to the German camp. 

A minute later, amid intense excitement of 
the troops, two aeroplanes, with English and 
French pilots, rose into the air from the British 
rear. Ascending with great rapidity, they made 
for the German aeroplane, with the intention of 
attacking it. 

At first some of our men, who were very much 
on the alert, fired by mistake at the French 
aeroplane. Luckily, their shots went wide. 

Then the troops lay still, and with breathless 

178 In the Firing Line 

interest watched the attempts of the French 
and British aviators to outmanoeuvre their 
opponent, and to cut off his retreat. After a 
Uttle time the Franco-British airmen abandoned 
this attempt, and then the Enghshman and the 
German began to fly upwards, in the evident 
desire to obtain a more favourable position for 
shooting down from above. Owing to the 
protection afforded by the machine, it would have 
been of little use for one aviator to fire at his 
opponent from below. Once a higher altitude 
was attained, the opportunity for effective aim 
would be much greater. 

Up and up circled the two airmen, till their 
machines could barely be distinguished from 
the ground. They were almost out of sight 
when the soldiers saw that the British aviator 
was above his opponent. Then the faint sound 
of a shot came down from the sky, and instantly 
the German aeroplane began to descend, vol- 
planing in graceful fashion. Apparently it was 
under the most perfect control. On reaching 
the earth the machine landed with no great 
shock, ran a short distance along the ground, and 
then stopped. 

Rushing to the spot, the British soldiers found, 
to their amazement^ that the pilot was dead. 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 179 

So fortunate had been the aim of the Englishman 
that he had shot the German through the head. 
In his dying moments the latter had started to 
descend, and when he reached the earth his hands 
still firmly gripped the controls. 

The aeroplane was absolutely undamaged, and 
was appropriated by the British aviators. 


(3) From a *' Daily Telegraph " correspondent 
at Rouen : 

It was known that there were British wounded 
in Rouen — I had even spoken to one of them in 
the streets — but how was one to see them ? 
The police commissaire sent me to his central 
colleague, who sent me on to the etat major, who 
was anxious to send me back to him, but finally 
suggested that I should see the military commis- 
sary at one of the stations. He was courteous, 
but very firm — the authorisation I asked for 
could not be, and was not, granted to anyone. 
At the headquarters of the British General Staff 
the same answer in even less ambiguous terms. 

It was then that Privates X., Y., Z. came to 
my aid. Private Z. had a request to make of me. 
It was that I should see to it that the black 
retriever of his regiment now at the front should 

180 In the Firing Line 

be photographed, and that the photograph should 
appear in The Daily Telegraph. Private Z. had 
a temperature of 102*5, ^.nd looked it, but he was 
not worrying about that. He was worrying 
about the photograph of the regimental retriever, 
which I understood him to say, though dates 
make it almost incredible, had gone through the 
Boer campaign, and had not yet had his photo- 
graph in the papers. So I met by appointment 
Privates X., Y., and Z. outside the Hospice 
General of Rouen, and by them was franked in 
to the hospital, where a few dozen of our wounded 
were sunning themselves. It was just time, and 
no more, as orders had been received a few 
minutes before that the British wounded were 
to be transferred from Rouen to London, for 
something grave was afoot. 

" Do you want to get back to England ? " 
someone called out to a soldier whose arm was 
in a sling, and the whole sleeve of whose jacket 
had been ripped by the fragment of a shell. 

" Not I," he shouted ; " I want to go to the 
front again and get my sleeve back, and some- 
thing more." 

I managed to speak with two or three of the 
wounded as they were getting ready for the 
start. One of them, an artilleryman, had been 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 181 

injured by his horses faUing on him at Ligny, 
I guessed it was — only guessed, for Tommy 
charges a French word as bravely and much less 
successfully than he charges the enemy. It was 
the same story that one hears from all, of a heroic 
struggle against overwhelming odds. " They 
were ten to one against us, in my opinion," he 
said. " They were all over us. Their artillery 
found the range by means of aeroplanes. The 
shell fire was terrible." 

He says that it was very accurate, but that 
fortunately the quality of the shells is not up 
to that of the shooting. My informant's division 
held out for twenty-four hours against the over- 
whelming odds. Then, when the Germans had 
managed to get a battery into action behind, 
they retired during the night of Wednesday, 
steadily and in excellent order, keeping the 
German pursuit at bay. The next man I spoke 
to really spoke to me. He was anxious to tell his 

" I have been in the thick of it," he said ; *' in 
the very thick of it. I was one of the chauffeurs 
in the service of the British General Staff." 

He told me that he was not a Regular soldier, 
but a volunteer from the Automobile Club, an 
American who had become a naturalised English 

182 In the Firing Line 

citizen, and had once been a journalist. His own 
injury, a burnt arm, was from a back-fire, but 
his escape from the German bullets had been 
almost miraculous. Three staff officers, one after 
another, had been hit in the body of the car behind 
him. This is his story : 

*' On Friday, the 25th, the British were just 
outside Le Cateau. On Saturday morning the 
approach of the Germans in force was signalled. 
On Sunday morning at daybreak a German 
aeroplane flew over our lines, and, although fired 
at by the aeroplane gun mounted in the car, and 
received with volleys from the troops, managed 
to rejoin its lines. Twenty minutes later the 
German artillery opened fire with accuracy. 
The aeroplane, as so often, had done its work 
as range-finder. For twelve hours the cannonade 
went on. Then the British forces retreated six 
miles. On Monday morning the bombardment 
began again, and at two that afternoon the German 
forces entered Le Cateau from which the English 
had retired. Many of the houses were in. flames. 
The Germans, who had ruthlessly bayonetted 
our wounded if they moved so much as a finger 
as they lay on the ground, were guilty of brutal 
conduct when they entered the city. 

" On Tuesday, the British, who had retired to 

From Mons to the Walls of Paris 183 

Landrecies, were again attacked by the Germans. 
They beUeved, wrongly, that on their right was 
a supporting French force. The range was again 
found by aeroplane, and the British were com- 
pelled to evacuate. That was on Tuesday. The 
British troops had been fighting steadily for four 
days, but their morale and their spirits had not 

As I write, a detachment of the R.A.M.C. is 
filing past, and people have risen from their chairs 
and are cheering and saluting. Half an hour ago 
Engineers passed with their pontoons decorated 
with flowers and greenery. The men had flowers 
in their caps, and even the horses were flower- 
decked. Tommy Atkins has the completest 
faith in his leaders and in himself. He quite 
realises the necessity for secrecy of operations in 
modern warfare. Of course, he has his own 
theories. This is one of them textually : 

" The Germans are simply walking into it. 
Of course, we have had losses, but that was 
part of the plan — the sprat to catch the whale. 
They are going to find themselves in a square 
between four alhed armies, and then," — so far 
Private X., but here Private Y. broke in cheer- 
fully ; " And then they will be electrocuted." 
And at this moment it begins to look as if 

184 In the Firing Line 

— apart from that detail of the square of four 
armies — Privates X. and Y. had known what 
they were talking about ; for some few days 
ago the great retreat came to an abrupt end, 
the British and French forces carrying out 
General Joffre's carefully laid plan of campaign, 
turned their defensive movement into a com- 
bined attack, the Germans fell back before them 
and are still retiring. They marched through 
Belgium into France with heavy fighting and 
appalling losses, only to be held in check at the 
right place and time and beaten back by the 
road they had come, when Paris seemed almost 
at their mercy. But that retirement is another 


The Spirit of Victory 

" He only knows that not through him 
Shall England come to shame.'* 

Sir F. H. Doyle. 

Even through those three weeks when they 
were retreating before the enemy, the whole spirit 
of the British troops was the spirit of men who 
are fighting to win. There is no hint of doubt or 
despondency in any of their letters home. They 
talk Hghtly of their hardest, most terrible ex- 
periences ; they greet the unseen with a cheer ; 
you hear of them cracking jokes, boyishly guying 
each other, singing songs as they march and as 
they lie in the trenches with shells bursting and 
shots screaming close over their heads. They 
carried out their retreats grudgingly, but without 
dismay, in the fixed confidence that their leaders 
knew what they were after, and that in due time 
they would find they had only been stooping to 


186 In the Firing Line 

conquer. '' They won't let us have a fair smack 
at them/' says " Spratty," of the Army Service 
Corps, in a letter home. " I have never seen 
such a sight before. God knows whose turn is 
next, but we shall win, don't worry." This is 
the watchword of them all : " Don't worry — 
we shall win." 

" Wine is offered us instead of water by the 
people," wrote Private S. Browne, whilst his 
regiment was marching through France to the 
front ; " but officers and men are refusing it. 
Some of the hardest drinkers in the regiment 
have signed the pledge for the war." 

" Tommy goes into battle," a French soldier 
told a reporter at Dieppe, " singing some song 
about Tip-Tip-Tip-Tipperary, and when he is 
hit he does not cry out. He just says ' blast,' 
and if the wound is a small one he asks the man 
next to him to tie a tourniquet round it and settles 
down to fighting again." A corporal of the Black 
Watch explained to a hospital visitor, " It was 
a terrible bit of work. The Germans were as 
thick as Hielan' heather, and by sheer weight 
forced us back step by step. But until the 
order came not a Hving man flinched. In the 

The Spirit ot Victory 187 

thick of the bursting shells we were singing Harry 
Lauder's latest." 

Trooper George Pritchard wrote to his mother 
from Netley Hospital the other day : "I got hit 
in the arm from a shell. Seven of our officers 
got killed last Thursday, but Captain Grenfell 
was saved at the same time as me. What do 
you think of the charge of the 9th ? It is 
worth getting hit for." 

*' We are all in good heart, and ready for the 
next round whenever it may come," writes 
Private J. Scott, from his place in the field ; 
and '* South Africa was child's play to what we 
have been through," writes Corporal Brogan, 
" but we are beginning to feel our feet now, 
and are equal to a lot more gruelHng." 

*' We are all beat up after four days of the 
hardest soldiering you ever dreamt of," Private 
Patrick McGlade says in a letter to his mother. 
" I am glad to say we accounted for our share of 
the Germans. We tried hard to get at them 
many a time, but they never would wait for us 
when they saw the bright bits of steel at the 
business end of our rifles. Some of them squeal 
hke the pigs on killing day when they see the 
steel ready. Some of our finest lads are now 

188 In the Firing Line 

sleeping their last sleep in Belgium, but, mother 
dear, you can take your son's word for it that 
for every son of Ireland who will never come back 
there are at least three Germans who will never 
be heard of again. When we got here we sang 
' Paddies Evermore/ and then we were off to 
chapel to pray for the souls of the lads that are 

** Some of us feel very strongly about being 
sent home for scratches that will heal," writes 
Corporal A. Hands. *' Don't believe half the 
stories about our hardships. I haven't seen or 
heard of a man who made complaint of anything. 
You can't expect a six-course dinner on active 
service, but we get plenty to fight on." 

Cases of personal pluck were so common that 
we soon ceased to take notice of them, a wounded 
driver in the Royal Artillery told an interviewer. 
" There was a man of the Buffs, who carried a 
wounded chum for over a mile under German 
fire, but if you suggested a Victoria Cross for that 
man he would punch your head, and as he is a 
regular devil when roused the men say as little 
as they can about it. He thinks he didn't do 
anything out of the common, and doesn't see 
why his name should be dragged into the papers 
over it. Another case I heard of was a corporal 

The Spirit of Victory 189 

of the Fusilier Brigade — I don't know his regiment 
— who held a company of Germans at bay for 
two hours by the old trick of firing at them from 
different points, and so making them think they 
had a crowd to face. He was getting on very well 
until a party of cavalry outflanked him, as you 
might say, and as they were right on top of him 
there was no kidding about his ' strength,' so he 
skedaddled, and the Germans took the position 
he had held so long. He got back to his mates all 
right, and they were glad to see him, for they had 
given him up for dead." 

" No regiment fought harder than we did, and 
no regiment has better officers, who went shoulder 
to shoulder with their men," says a non-com- 
missioned officer of the Buffs, writing from hos- 
pital, "but you can't expect absolute impossibilities 
to be accomplished, no matter how brave the boys 
are, when you are fighting a force from twenty to 
thirty times as strong. If some of you at home who 
have spoken sneeringly of British officers could 
have seen how they handled their men and shirked 
nothing you would be ashamed of yourselves. We 
are all determined when fit again to return and 
get our own back." 

Everywhere you find that the one cry of the 
soldiers who are invalided home — they are 

190 In the Firing Line 

impatient to be cured quickly and get back " to 
have another slap at them." We know how our 
women here at home share that eager enthusiasm 
in this the most righteous war Britain has 
ever gone into ; and isn't there something that 
stirs you like the sound of a trumpet in such a 
passage as this from the letter a Scottish nun 
living in Belgium has written to her mother ? 

*' I am glad England is aroused, and that the 
British lion is out with all his teeth showing. 
Here these little lions of Belgians are raging 
mad and doing glorious things. 

" Tell father I am cheery, and feel sometimes 
far too warlike for a nun. That's my Scottish 
blood. I hope to goodness the Highlanders, if 
they come, will march down another street on 
their way to the caserne, or I shall shout and 
yell and cheer them, and forget I mustn't look 
out of the window." 

An extract from Sergeant T. Cahill's letter to 
his friends at Bristol gives you a snap-shot of 
our women in the firing line, and of the fearless 
jolHty and hght-heartedness with which our 
Irish comrades meet the worst that their enemies 
can do : 

The Spirit of Victory 191 

" The Red Cross girleens, with their purty 
faces and their sweet ways, are as good men 
as most of us, and better than some of us. They 
are not supposed to venture into the firing 
line at all, but they get there all the same, and 
devil the one of us durst turn them away," and 
he goes on casually, " Mick Clancy is that droll 
with his larking and bamboozling the Germans 
that he makes us nearly split our sides laughing 
at him and his ways. Yesterday he got a stick 
and put a cap on it so that it peeped above the 
trenches just like a man, and then the Germans 
kept shooting away at it until they must have 
used up tons of ammunition, and there was us 
all the time laughing at them." 

But I think there is perhaps nothing in these 
letters that is more touching or more finely sig- 
nificant than this : 

" The other day I stopped to assist a young 
lad of the West Kents, who had been badly 
hit by a piece of shell," writes Corporal Sam 
Haslett. " He hadn't long to live, and knew 
it, but he wasn't at all put out about it. I 
asked him if there was any message I could 
take to any one at home, and the poor lad's 
eyes filled with tears as he answered : ' I ran 
away from home and 'listed a year ago. Mother 

192 In the Firing Line 

and dad don't know I'm here, but you tell them 
that I'm not sorry I did it.' When I told our 
boys afterwards, they cried like babies, but, mind 
you, that's the spirit that's going to pull England 
through this war. I got his name and the 
address of his people from his regiment, and I am 
writing to tell them that they have every reason 
to be proud of their lad. He may have run away 
from home, but he didn't run away from the 

And if you have caught the buoyant, heroic 
ardour that rings through those careless, un- 
studied notes our gallant fellows have written 
home, you know that there is not a man in the 
firing line who will. 

lVym€n & Sons Ltd., Printers, London and Reading- 










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