Ch 6: The Front in Flanders

During the early stages of the arrival and deployment of the British army, it was an easy ride from Hazebrouck to Belgium where the field forces and garrison of Antwerp were being hotly pursued to the frontier. We dined one night with a relative of the War Minister, a clean-cut lieutenant carrying dispatches from London. He dashed off by motorcycle after dark to reach Bruges, but the next morning, covered with mud, he rode into the square at Fumes, where we had gone before breakfast. He had encountered big German forces on two roads, escaping by a miracle. The Belgian army appeared to be cut off.
   Owing to efficient censorship, the people in Flanders were not greatly worried. But we passed some heavy drays unostentatiously carrying the priceless art treasures of Belgium to safety. Mr. Dommartin, State Librarian, and Deputy de Grott deserve the thanks of the civilised world for saving part of the matchless art of Flanders from destruction. Alas, the mishap to one wagon left Jordaen's wonderful "Adoration" stranded at Dixmude, where it was destroyed, with its cover of theatrical scenery tied over to protect it. We found the officials in Fumes keenly anxious to learn the fate of the plucky Belgian army risking annihilation in the interior, with disturbing reports of the enemy from every direction. The civil government was moving from Ostend to Havre; the leading newspapers were changing their offices to London.
   From Dunkirk, Admiral Ronarch had taken his famous brigade of Marine Fusiliers to Belgium. These Breton lads, without naval experience, led by France's youngest Admiral, marched to the Bruges-Ghent road to help the Belgian army. We now heard of' the mysterious British force also fighting in the interior. At Antwerp’s eleventh hour Kitchener had rushed General Rawlinson with part of the Fourth Corps to Ostend to help. This force, the Seventh Infantry Division under Capper, and Byng's cavalry division, had landed just too late. Prudence dictated a return to the transports, but this meagre force hurried over to meet the menace of Wurttemberg columns moving up the Alost and Ghent roads against the flank of the approaching Belgians. Then disquieting news came of German cavalry with artillery from Tournai, moving north of Lille through Menin, where they soon occupied strong positions on the hills and ridges south of Ypres. Thus the Belgians, and the French and British operating with them, had the enemy advancing on three sides: von Beseler hurrying through Bruges from Antwerp, Wurttemberg columns marching down the Ghent roads, and Bavarian mobile forces pushing northwest across the lines of retreat, with the North Sea to complete the quadrangle.
   Riding beyond Furnes, we strained our ears for the guns! Dame Rumour was busy, but truthful, for the Germans were already marching from Antwerp along the coast, though trams for refugees ran to the last moment, and the Allies held open a gap between Bruges and Ghent. Motor cars were tearing down from Antwerp, each with a thrilling story; and women and children babbling hysterically from their terrible experiences of the siege and flight. The population of a large slice of Belgium was in flight. The faster cars were followed by a steady procession of military and civilian vehicles of every description, hurrying madly to apparent safety across the French frontier. The cry of that vast multitude must have reached the Throne of God. It was borne on the air as the pitiful plaint of flocks of parched sheep being driven from drought, growing louder and clearer until the human tones of fright and despair gripped our throats. It was heartrending. Magnificent limousines; delivery vans; taxicabs, crowded with frantic women and children; and armoured cars full of wounded, led the way. Cavalry and artillery followed, and every species of vehicle, loaded with civilian fugitives soldiers and citizens inextricably mixed. A squadron of lancers rode their magnificent but jaded horses proudly, and carried a standard riddled and charred from a bursting shell. Many of the soldiers were wounded; the civilian equipages carried hundreds of sick people. Field batteries later rumbled along, the guns scored and useless because obsolete shells without driving bands had been used, a further proof of Belgian "aggression" which sent most of their guns to the scrap heap. Military cars, riddled transport wagons, field telegraph and ambulances, were mixed with the vehicles of farm and city.
   Along the mud troughs beside the paves strode the people from nearer towns, all fleeing frantically before the advancing Germans. Surely something more tangible than idle rumour was impelling these thousands to mad flight. For three days without a break, processions poured into France along the different roads: infantry, civilians, and patient dogs drawing everything from machine guns to carts bearing cots with dying people who dared not face the German terror. The weary women and children tramped until they fell from exhaustion, slept in wet grass by the roadside, and fled on again, looking back furtively. Many years of campaigning and travel in wild places had failed to prepare me for such wholesale suffering of the simple, prosperous people martyred for keeping their word.
   Many of the cars also were spattered by shrapnel slugs, and several civilians were wounded, because at one place a German field battery, noticing soldiers, wounded stragglers retreating with the last of the column, had fired several indiscriminate rounds. As the range was luckily short, the minimum of the time fuses was a fraction too long, so the shells had buried themselves in the beet fields before they exploded, or the loss of innocent lives must have been terrible. The Germans are full of sentiment but they are utterly lacking in sympathy. These people had opposed them therefore no mercy. Their hatred of the Belgians was intense, their prejudice, infantile.
   I recalled scenes of another war. When the Spaniards retreated from El Caney, every American gun was masked because a few women and children were fleeing to Santiago with the soldiers. And as I listened to stories of these Belgian people, of towns bombarded without notice, of houses burned, and hostages executed, I remembered that every non-combatant from Santiago was escorted into the American lines before a shell was fired at the city; and the people, including many families of Spanish soldiers, were fed by an overworked commissary, the troops giving up their scanty rations without a murmur. Also that thousands of unprotected women and girls, going from Santiago to Siboney, slept in the woods unmolested, on the American line of communication. If there were tents available, the men gave them up; and not an insult or coarse word was uttered.
   The Belgian army proved the ordeal it had faced by the number of wounded who marched in its ranks. The spirit of the men was unbroken. They were clean-cut, self-respecting soldiers; the first and remaining impression that they gave being the way they looked you straight in the eye. These were not impressed peasants, but skilful artisans the material which has made Belgium industrially great, their natty uniforms helping to make their bearing a striking contrast to the stolid German prisoners marching sullenly with them to Fumes.
   Not only Antwerp but conquered Belgium was again in flight; fear had been spread over Flanders East, and, in Flanders West, also, the people were starting to flee. Recalling incidents of which I positively knew in North France, the course could only be commended. In the face of it all the mind clouded and recoiled, to see how the secure comfort and essentials of the material civilization of which we boast can be blotted out in a flash. The tenets of "noblesse oblige" have no power to restrain the mailed fist of Prussia.
   To disarrange a German plan is often as efficacious as a decisive victory, though if the plan matures it is generally irresistible. By brilliant initiative and rapid offensives when opportunity invited, the French and British forces that had failed to help Antwerp not only checked the huge forces that planned to wipe out the Belgian Army, but effectively co-operated with King Albert's troops, and spoiled the junction of the German Armies crossing Belgium with the forces north of Lille; and they stopped these tidal waves from inundating North France to the sea.
   The British Seventh Division had neither base nor line of communication, and was threatened on three sides. With Ronarch's Marines, this command fell back stubbornly, after covering the Belgian retirement. Faced by superior forces, they moved from the Bruges-Ghent front by a forced march through the night of the 12th, some units covering forty-eight miles, as the column withdrew through Roulers and was completely cleared from contact with the pursuing army corps, on the 13th. Byng's cavalry rode hard in advance, and had already surprised and checked the Germans pushing up in rear of Ypres. The British troopers interrupted a shocking orgy in the Messines district there was no time for the Uhlans to bury their female victims when the alarm sounded.
   When Joffre had realised the danger on his exposed left flank above Arras and to the Channel ports, he placed General Foch in command of the entire operations north of Noyon. Foch was head of the "Ecole de Guerre," he commanded the Twentieth Corps, and then the Ninth Army. His genius was unquestioned. He was faced by three problems. He had to mask and check the enemy attacking in force from Albert to Arras; to organise to meet the Bavarian, spreading forward on the open Lille front; and during this pressure the huge flanking forces marching across Belgium to Pas de Calais must be held back at all costs. In the race that ensued everything favoured the Germans, who could move their columns direct to any point on the spreading circumference of the new front. The pressure in France grew so rapidly that the forces which were first destined for Belgium were diverted. "Extermination if necessary, but hold every road until help arrives," was Joffre's message to Foch.
   General d'Urbal, commander of Dunkirk, had now thrown his available forces over the frontier toward Roulers, to protect the immediate Belgian flank. Reserve cavalry, some Territorials, who all worked splendidly, co-operated north of the British, who were clearing advanced guards of the enemy from the eastern approaches to Ypres. In a desperately thin line the three Allies now faced about to make a stand across Belgium, along the rail and road running to Lille from the western outskirts of Ostend, through Roulers and Menin. The Belgian army, facing a strong force on the northern section of the new line, was utterly exhausted by its experiences in Antwerp, and in the close pursuit many supplies had to be left. The German Third Corps, advancing along the coast from Antwerp, now captured Ostend on the flank, and the Twelfth Corps, having reinforced the cavalry, was preparing to push from the hills behind Ypres and the British to Furnes, against the Belgian rear. King Albert's army, therefore, retired through Dixmude, and its main body was in Furnes, prepared for further retirement across the frontier, when Joffre's message arrived.
   The eagerness of the enemy to envelop the Belgians led to quick counter strokes. A column approaching Dixmude for a frontal attack found a rapidly constructed barricade before the town held by the French Marines, who repelled repeated assaults. Forces pushing in behind Ypres for the Belgian rear were met by an audacious attack by Byng's cavalry toward Mont des Chats, and the southern menace to Furnes was checked.
   Quietly King Albert rode through Furnes and addressed his army. Food and ammunition his men should have. Rest was even more badly needed, but he only asked them to stand along the Yser for forty-eight hours, when reinforcements should arrive from the Aisne. You would not think that the Age of Chivalry was dead if you had seen the King and Queen of the Belgians with their army. Only such a king could have turned these exhausted men straight back to battle without a murmur. They had fought persistently for ten weeks. For many days in Antwerp and during the retreat, food and rest had been impossible. I saw men fall on the wet cobbles and sleep like logs until their regiments marched. They walked in a trance, their eyes set and bloodshot. Some who stepped into the churches to pray fell asleep prostrated before the altar. But they were all soon trudging back up the road to check the eager enemy along the northern section of the new thin line being built across Belgium. Many units had straggled into France, and without rest they also turned back to the front next day. We had seen too much to be moved, but a dozen times we sprang up in the car and cheered.
   To me the most interesting of the many incidents crowding those few puzzling, chaotic days was the reorganisation of the famous Belgian machine-gun batteries. The regular dog teams were augmented by the Lilliputian country carts drawn by canine heroes that had dragged the chattels and possessions of their owners to safety; and now, requisitioned for the army, they were reloaded with supplies and ammunition. The intelligence of the Belgian draught dog is beyond belief. The military teams at first showed haughty resentment toward their civilian comrades. Later a tacit understanding arose. These amazing defenders were drawn up in line for the final inspection, every dog started to bark its loudest, and every team, military and civilian, strained at the leash. By amazing instinct they knew that up the road was the enemy that had driven them from home, and furiously they bayed for the chance to get back. When the order was given to move off in sections from the right, every team dashed forward at top speed, dragging the soldier drivers along in a mad race for the canal bridge that led to the front. At this crossing wheels were locked, guns overturned, supplies spilled, until the batteries were a tangled, yelping mass. There was some delay as the teams were formed in column and restarted. But, though discipline was now maintained, no persuasion could make the animals walk, and they disappeared up the road at a dog trot which kept the gunners at a double, and they soon came into action as they clashed with the German advance guard, afterward forced back by some of De Mitry's cavalry that were on the Roulers Road.
   With sixty damaged field guns, just five to the mile, the Belgian army extended along a twelve-mile front, its left squarely on the coast and its main line through Nieuport along the Yser to Dixmude, with forces on the east bank to guard important crossings. With outposts at Vladsloo and Essen, Ronarch placed his marines before Dixmude to hold the cross roads and railway. Upon him hung the safety of the entire line. A Belgian division, French Reserve cavalry of De Mitry, Bindon's Territorials based at Nieucappelle, and the British Seventh Division continued the thin line of defence across Belgium along the winding roads below Dixmude across the Forest of Houthulst, through Zonnebeke, well east of Ypres toward Warneton on the French frontier.
   Against this precarious and curving front of over thirty-three miles, four massive columns were soon clashing; while across the British right flank, at direct right angles to the thin line of the Allies, the Twelfth Corps occupied strong advanced positions on the hills, Mont des Chats to Kemmel and Menin, south of Ypres. Byng's cavalry division, helped by some snappy French, audaciously countermarched in a fog, and fell on the unsuspecting left of the flanking Germans, crumpling them up, and driving them from Mont des Chats.
   Reinforcements, chiefly Bavarian, were gathering between Lille and Menin. The plateau beyond the Lys, a wedge of ten miles dividing the Allied line in France from the line in Belgium, was vital if the Allied forces in the northern sectors were to be enveloped before help came from the Aisne. "Run no risks. Develop methodically, then smash decisively and envelop," was the German maxim which must have made their cavalry leaders weep for missed chances. Byng's surprise stroke was delivered from the west, and as the enemy was cleared from the western half of the plateau, the British cavalry corps pushed across the frontier and dug in as infantry, deploying on the left of the Third Corps in France, with their own left toward Ypres. Thus the fronts were triumphantly linked, and though all the sectors above Arras were thinly held, the entire line from Switzerland to the North Sea, a curving front of 588 miles, was now intact; Joffre's greatest triumph.
   But across Belgium the line was a thread. "Help is coming. Hold on at least for forty-eight hours," the commanders had asked of their tired men. The battle raged for 208 hours before effective reinforcements could be spared for Belgium, so great was the need on the heavily pressed front from Arras to Armentieres. In a terrific battle, with the odds four to one, and in places eight to one, the line in Belgium had to stand alone. And it stood!
   North Belgium seemed strangely like Long Island in parts, just as from Cassel to Arras reminds you of rural New England mixed with Scranton, and from the hills there the Lille section might be mistaken for industrial New Jersey. That is why the war seems so incongruous, even to those of us who have seen many battles in more relevant settings. In an easy ride along a famous tourist route, north of Arras, you crossed the preliminary chaos which was developing rapidly into three huge battles, or one stupendous battle with three distinct sections. From the staccato of machine guns with bursts of independent firing, the preliminary fighting before Dixmude did not sound serious, and we were near the Belgian forces on the coast roads when a roar of German artillery burst suddenly on the town. And down roads declared impassable, new streams of refugees came flocking through an inferno. They came, too, over the sand dunes and across the fens from Ostend, and from all the coastal districts, helpless, homeless, and without future, their villages blazing behind them.
   The Duke of Wurttemberg had now concentrated a formidable army near Ghent. Before daylight on October 17th, huge masses of infantry rushed through the mist and gained the advanced trenches of the French Marines. Dixmude seemed lost. At daylight, without artillery support, these incomprehensible youngsters went back and drove the Germans out. Owing to the growing concentration there, Colonel Wieschoumes brought over the most serviceable of his powder-scored field guns, and by using French shells, maintained some sort of bombardment in support. The Belgian gunners, however, suffered severely under a steady hail of large calibre shells.
   The Germans were also pouring along the coast from Ostend, determined to smash their way through the exhausted Belgian line. And when we feared that some one had blundered in allowing Michel’s splendid forces to bear the brunt, the growing and persistent grumble of battle farther south showed that the French and British also had their hands full east of Ypres.
   From the sand dunes near Nieuport after dark, every hamlet and farm along the front could be seen on fire; and none of us gave Peruyse or Fumes many hours of escape as the weary days and nights dragged on, and we rode across to the Lille front and back, and realised the delays necessary before even an effective battery could be spared to help the Belgian front. Yet in both towns the people seemed unaware of their danger, so firmly does the normal grip the mind.
   On October 19th, a mysterious thunder crept from the sea through fog and bitter drizzle. Soon the German artillery slackened and ceased fire. I walked over the wet sand dunes, overtaking a chance British officer who seemed as mystified as I was. Heavy guns flashed at sea, but the shell-burst was on land. British monitors had crept in, utterly disorganising the German coast attack, to the great relief of the First Belgian Division. That night, however, the enemy made desperate assaults and gained important villages east of the Yser. Admiral Shroder also sent mounted marines from Ostend to patrol and fight, so the legend of Horse Marines has lost its point.
   Unfortunately the Germans above Lille, cleared from the Lys, could not be driven from Menin and the heights beyond, and the ineffective breaks on the Lille-Menin-Roulers-Ostend railroad were rapidly repaired, giving them a direct line of communication across Belgium, parallel to the Allies' front. Next to the arrival of the British naval flotilla, a consignment of barbed wire cheered the Allies most! Before Dixmude, the marines, after two counter offensives, drew back and wired their positions. The naval guns, helped by a captive balloon from a warship, now dropped shells even on the German positions at Schoore. But a huge concentration of heavy artillery, which moved from Antwerp to attack Dixmude, could not be reached. On the 22nd the bombardment ceased, and the new units from Germany were launched to their baptism of fire to carry the blazing city by assault. Urged by patriotism, eager for glory, the devoted youths and older men swept against the position, and not a shot met them until they reached the wire. The Belgians and French then poured their volleys from the broken trenches, repulsing ten desperate charges during the day. French howitzers arrived at the front just too late to share the glory of the desperate resistance.
   Into the flaming hell of Dixmude, where three thousand shells per hour were falling, Dr. Hector Munro took his volunteer hospital corps from Furnes, with cars and ambulances, and brought out the wounded. With him were Lady Fielding, the son of Baron de Broqueville, Minister of War, some British volunteers, and Arthur Gleason, a Yale man whose writings are well known. I had heard the Belgians talk of "Glisson," and had supposed that they were referring to one of the Gilsons, an heroic Belgian family whose deeds will live in history. I was happy to find that the brave volunteer risking his life there was a friend of earlier days, whose writings have breathed a gentle idealism utterly foreign to modern commercialism and ridiculed as impractical by more than one critic. It is splendid to realise that the author of "The Spirit of Christmas" ignored orders and drove back into Dixmude to drag abandoned wounded from cellars of crashing buildings. His wife and Mrs. Kurcher and Miss Chisholm were attending wounded at the front in a damp cellar in shell-swept Peruyse for two years of war. This little band of young Americans and British have received Belgium's highest decoration from the hands of a grateful king.
   At last reinforcements came to the amazing line of three nations. Early on October 24th, Grossetti's famous division from the Champagne front reached Nieuport and relieved the line. . Muddy, bloody, haggard spectres crept out of the trenches on the Belgian left, and tramped painfully to rest in Furnes. Many whimpered like children when a band played them in. But after food and sleep and work in reserve, the overstrained Belgian troops went cheerfully back to the trenches, separated from the German lines only by the sluggish canal to Nieuport.
   Heavy French artillery was now supporting the First and Fourth Belgian Divisions. But Ronarch, on the Belgian right, was facing another series of desperate drives near Ramscappelle, aimed at Furnes. Covered by concentrated artillery on the 25th, the Germans put pontoons over the Yser and crossed in several places, the exhausted Belgians falling back to the embankment of the Nieuport-Dixmude railroad. Peruyse was soon a flaming ruin, and the direct road to Furnes was threatened. At last the citizens became alarmed and started to leave.
   Inundation had saved Flanders before. Mr. Krogge, a quiet government engineer, now reversed the Nieuport sluices, filled in the road passing under the railway, and had gaps blown in the dykes near the shore. High tides and rains soon converted the basin of the lower Yser into a swamp from Dixmude to the sea, with the Belgians holding the embankment, which acted as a dyke and kept the flood from reaching their lines. The Germans soon found the water creeping over their newly won territory, but for six days these amazing soldiers waded to night attacks and gained a footing at Ramscappelle.
   But on the 31st every available Belgian joined in an offensive as a heavy rain swamped the German area. The enemy losses will never be known. The teams of the field guns were cut loose, drivers and gunners riding to safety while artillery sank in the mud. German infantry under heavy fire had to cross fields waist deep in water. Note also that, despite earlier provocation, several Belgian machine guns stopped firing at the mass of blue-gray infantry squirming and floundering through the flood, because of the wounded, many of whom sank and were drowned. When this district of submerged salt meadow is recovered, the final history of the German retreat from the Yser may be written.
   It was interesting after this Belgian effort to read, in American papers that reached the front, the official wireless, from Berlin, on October 20th, that half the Belgian army had fled to Holland to be interned, one-fourth had deserted, and the balance was demoralised. This same statement added that the Italian volunteers had returned to Italy in disgust, when, in reality, the Garibaldis had been killed leading their heroic contingent in the Argonne; and some eager Italian Reservists then returned home to fight.
   Reinforcements for both the British and French now arrived, and the thin line of the Allies grew in strength, so that King Albert still ruled over a strip of his country thirty miles long and, roughly, ten miles wide, as well as in the hearts of his people. Below Dixmude and the Marines, a Belgian division and French Reservists held a line based on the canalised Yser toward Ypres, curving eastward on the edge of the Houthulst Forest on the first section of a deep angle of defences maintained as a protective salient before Ypres by the British. This city was the junction for eleven important roads. The Seventh Division, after an abortive attack on Menin, had retired on Gheluvelt, five miles due east of Ypres, and, with dismounted cavalry on both flanks, had extended back northwest and southwest on a defensive angle to cover the main approaches to the city. Strong columns, which marched down by three roads, were checked by this single division, on the apex of the famous salient which was linked on the south by the dismounted cavalry corps to the left of the Third Corps, across the Ploegsteert woods and over the frontier to Armentieres.
   The Seventh Division attempted to save Ypres for Belgium by field works, in a small edition of Verdun. Unfortunately Rawlinson had not enough men to create a zone wide enough to keep artillery out of range of the city, and the trenches were dug in a flat country with few natural aids to defence. The Germans were on the eastern half of the Messines ridges, from which heavy guns dominated the entire Ypres salient. Artillery from three directions could concentrate on parts of the British line, to prepare for assaults which were delivered night and day without success, as the British held on grimly, their batteries outranged, a barrier of nerve and flesh, waiting for reinforcements.
   The First Corps detrained near St. Omer on October 19th and 20th. Sir Douglas Haig at once led his Aisne veterans to Belgium, intending to take the offensive by smashing through the extended German front, to push between the Fourth and Sixth Armies. But as his columns were forming in the salient, the Belgians were driven across the Yser, exposing the left of the French cavalry, who fell back west of the forest to preserve their front, but left a gap at the northern base of the salient, at which a fresh enemy corps was thrown. Haig's forces quickly stopped the break. But the Germans, realising that all was lost if they lost the chance to manoeuvre, had determined to break the stubborn line. Aeroplanes reported that the roads converging on Ypres were black with German troops, and the First Corps extended on the salient just in time to check a series of desperate assaults by three corps.
   In this fighting the Seventh Division on the apex continued to suffer, and some famous British battalions practically ceased to exist. Even now reinforcements did not mean rest. The forces closed up their shattered ranks and continued to fight. The cavalry formed the only reserve, galloping to sagging points of the front, riding down enemy elements which sometimes broke through, and dismounting to reinforce a depleted firing line.
   On the 23rd and 24th, after repulsing heavy assaults, the British counter attacked. As they harried the confused Germans back to their lines, taking hundreds of prisoners, the struggling, fighting mass, masking hostile machine guns, literally swamped back into the advanced German trenches. The German front collapsed and the British took up the line, reversing the trenches by lifting the sandbags across and throwing them over the loosened wire, so they could face and repel the enemy when the fugitives brought back the reserves. Twice now, tired masses broke up and retreated as soon as they came within range, and when the Ninth French Corps de-trained and formed on the left of the British, attacks ceased for nine days, during which the Allies reorganised their front under constant shelling.
   Their guns were still outranged, so their losses were heavy, and though the lines were six miles from the city, the Germans bombarded Ypres daily. The famous Gothic "Halle des Drapiers" was naturally the first target, and many immortal art gems were destroyed. Section by section the city was pulverised from Messines ridge, hundreds of non-combatants being killed as they fled. But passing back from the Belgians' line to France and the Lille front, we heard few details of the terrible fighting on this position bulging between the two. The tired Belgians realised little of the struggle below them, and wondered what their Allies were doing.
   Before Lille the fighting had grown in intensity daily. Between Lens and Belgium each week of October marked a special phase. A week wasted by absurd reconnaissance of German cavalry, on a front which cyclist patrols could have covered in a day. A week of slow concentration and a tardy cavalry advance, thwarted by inferior forces of the Allies. Seven days more of battles on every road, as the British forces de-trained and moved by the shortest cuts eastward, when the ponderous enemy columns were "Enfaltung," or unfolding. During this, according to theory, their numerical superiority would force any enemy to tremble and prepare a defensive. A smaller boy challenged by a bully, however, may inflict effective punishment by unexpectedly dashing in while the larger antagonist is taking off his coat. So random resistance became involved, the front was irregular and prematurely engaged, and the simultaneous German blows planned, after methodical deployment, with enveloping weight on the flanks, became impossible. The ponderous theory became a farce.
   During the last week in October, sheer weight told a little, and the Allies were pounded back on advanced points, and forced to a defensive on a defined front. But the spectacular sweep of envelopment via Belgium to Pas de Calais was breaking on a thin line of heroes stretched firmly to the sea.
   When we first skirted the Lille front, the Arcadian edge to industry was a beautiful countryside lightly swept by looting cavalry. In a week it became a depopulated zone of bewildering conflict. By the end of October the front was marked by a wide furrow of ruin and desolation; a blackened inferno into which strong men marched in thousands, and from which only thin streams of maimed and shattered bodies flowed back. From Hazebrouck, which was behind the centre of the wriggling front that twisted its way along the sixty direct miles between Arras and Nieuport, it was an easy ride to any section of the new battle. During the evacuation of a populous countryside and the installation of the different forces, it was possible to keep in touch with the fluctuating campaign until the armies had definitely dug in.
   The official reports of these operations are mere history, but every mile, each incident and each minute, teemed with human interest: the country at first was so peaceful and charming, the war so abnormal in that setting. During the first days we could hear only the heavy guns at Arras and sputters of skirmishing at many places. The skirmish fire grew in volume. From points along the road from Hazebrouck and Bethune we could see peaceful hamlets and farm land spread in replica of the country between Summit and Bernardsville, just as two distant views we had of Lille and its industrial suburbs, from a greater eminence, might well be labelled Newark and the Oranges as seen from the Millburn Mountain. But in the hamlets were groups of Allied troops, some making defences, others desperately fighting. German artillery soon picked up the range and the towns and villages, occupied or unoccupied, were shot to pieces.
   We rode down one road where a few French troopers had fought from an irrigation ditch, and had kept a German force from fording the muddy canal. The smart dragoons were angry because they were armoured in slime, and though the Boche had fought from a hedge not fifty meters away, not a corpse was discovered. Dead and wounded had undoubtedly been carried away, but the farmers were incredulous and made flippant remarks. The enemy was expected back any minute, but we waited two hours. I found there a German clip with inverted bullets reset in wax, and a Uhlan helmet with a faint "17U" marked inside, of a size evidently used by a boy, probably a musician. Down the road we found an abandoned car.
   We soon caught the growl of field guns and found Tommy Atkins going cheerfully into action, as imperturbable as a public school battalion at a Fox Hill manoeuvre. The good spirits of the British soldiers were amazing. The heavy losses of the previous weeks of fighting at the Marne and Aisne were painfully evident. Junior officers held important commands; some companies were woefully depleted; there were batteries with a single officer. But the men were all cheerful. The tension of trench work was temporarily over; they were fighting again in the open, and during intervals of much tedious work they played football, and marched on singing, when patrols signalled that the road was clear.
   Of course, they were professional soldiers, mercenaries, the Germans insist, as if there was nothing greater than the King's shilling a day that impelled enlistment even in times of peace, one of the many important facts which the enemy overlooked in his formulae of theories. In the armies of the United States and England the open life and lure of adventure fill the ranks with material which the pay alone could never attract. Recall the writings of German military experts during the Spanish War and more recently. After the "Lusitania" crime a great authority stated: "The Yankee army is a polyglot mob. The National Guard has no discipline, few rifles, inferior equipment, and, as proved in Cuba, it will refuse to face the enemy." On such logic the basis of "Kulturpolitik" rests, and ranting Imperialists find their arguments.
   After the Ulster resignations a few weeks before the war, a careful authority wrote, "If the English Navy is as rotten as their army has proved, the flimsy fabric called the British Empire will topple at the first crack of a German gun." Another expert said, "The so-called British army is a rabble composed of gutter snipes, degenerates, and physical ineffectives, and to our trained eyes it is a joke." But the "joke," in a thin drab line, had jumped out and stopped the advance of an impressive army.
   In South Africa the Boers were immensely respected by rank and file, and it was amazing to hear every British soldier express a patronising pity for the German troops, and respect only for their machine guns. Every man seemed to have a German helmet, which spoke more eloquently than the official reports of the victory of the Marne. Yet there were many tributes also to the way the gray-clad masses advanced in close order against a withering fire, in apparent contempt of death. Of bitterness or anger there was never a trace in the early campaigns. Here and there men had a look of haunting fear, which always means that life holds some special feminine ties. But the British regulars in general were clean-cut, hardy campaigners, used to Foreign Service, freed by habit from the pangs of homesickness, and geared for fighting from the drop of the hat. Only there were not enough of them.
   The fighting of the British Army and French cavalry in North France from October 12th to the 20th, was so independent in every conception, that it deserves careful study in the United States where co-operative initiative is the keynote of training. Faced by equal, and soon greatly superior forces, the fighting started with scores of minor engagements where individual initiative had full play. Company officers, and frequently sergeants, solved their immediate problems in their own way. The Germans were caught and forced on the defensive, when their perfect machine was geared for invasion. Everywhere the component parts went to pieces, floundered hopelessly and fell back, until they were supported by sheer weight of numbers and guns. On equal terms they would have been defeated. But the British were woefully lacking in artillery and machine guns, and their two small corps with cavalry, in France, were facing an army plus one corps, with prior choice of position, but a disarranged plan.
   To a series of impetuous and unexpected attacks, the Germans responded bravely but aimlessly, every one apparently waiting for orders from superior authority. Directly the machine was re-geared for the new development, it proved perfect in defence, but that was not victory. When batteries were shelling harmless hamlets, British troops dashed across open fields and captured farms and crossroads, while the battery commanders waited for orders to change their target. Cavalry ordered to move by one road waited for orders without latitude, when new conditions developed which any corporal could have solved. The German failure along the Lys was a gigantic farce. But for some days the front was irregular and the fighting most confusing.
   On one road French cavalry had advanced two miles without a shot, and had captured many prisoners. Following one detachment of twenty-seven, guarded by French troopers, we were surprised to find a British outpost on a crossroad far behind, eagerly waiting for guns they had sent back to borrow, to clear a wooded hill reported by patrols to be full of the enemy, and soon the scene of a hot fight and heavy losses.
   Discipline was forgotten, and as the prisoners prepared for the worst, their hands were shaken, and they were patted on the back, objects of friendly interest. Some one suggested that the prisoners might be hungry, and canned beef, bread, jam, and hard tack soon made a love feast. Two French officers rode up, glaring sternly. The Germans dropped everything and stood at attention. The senior officer's face softened. "Continuez mes enfants," he said. Then tins of English cigarettes were produced, a solace to men who had not smoked for three weeks. Their regiment had made forced marches from Lorraine, and was then put on outpost duty. Alas, a scene like this could not have happened a few weeks later when, as obedient cogs in a ruthless machine, men similar to these had shot the wounded and launched poison gas.
   Gradually the trenches grew deeper, positions were consolidated, and the rival lines ran in parallel furrows along the new front. In many villages finally secured by the Allies there was ample evidence of the brutal terrorism of Prussian militarism.
   I could fill volumes with interesting incidents. Across the Belgian frontier I recalled a small hotel kept by a Yorkshire man. With an equally hungry British supply officer, I led the way. Most of the people had gone, but the hotel and the owner were there. "Food? Where could he get it?" He had a little ham, tea without milk, and bread a week old. But we feasted. Later, riding past a French force holding a road, an orderly requested the officer's presence. The commandant had a few odds and ends to hand over; field glasses, a coat and a map dropped by a British cavalry officer who was shot off his horse, but who recovered and insisted on galloping after his men; also three rifles, and two stray privates. Each Tommy Atkins looked sheepish, saluted, but said nothing.
   Out of earshot the officer questioned the "deserters." One had volunteered to take hot coffee to the outer trenches. He missed his guide post, crossed to a match flare and heard men talking German. Three soldiers sprang from a trench and challenged. It was pitch dark, so he merely handed over the coffee, which they took without question, and started back to his lines. But his people opened fire every time he approached. He lay outside for three days before he could get in, and then reached the French force and was still there.
   The other man, a finely built private of a Yorkshire regiment, had crawled over to a French trench to repay borrowed bread. As a sergeant lifted his head to talk, a sharpshooter's bullet killed him. An officer moved over to catch the body, and was wounded. So Tommy volunteered to squirm out and stalk the sniper. He finally located him far on the flank in a little scoop behind a loop-holed entrenching tool. In the duel one bullet ploughed his scalp, but the shield stopped all his shots. So he raised himself, toppled in a heap, and lay with his gun ready. And in two places advanced snipers lifted themselves to look at the "kill." He shot one through the head; one, in the shoulder. This started shooting from friend and enemy, so he had to wait until dark. His wounded man began to moan, so he went over. "Blowed if he didn't think I came to finish him, and he hit me a wallop," he said indignantly. But he patched the wound, and a truce, and they got in. The outposts were French. "I thought myself a bit of a hero, but they made me a prisoner too," added the soldier.
   The French here had few rations. The first soldier was half dead with hunger, so we took him back to a village and found a stylishly dressed Parisienne, just from New York, helping with the wounded in deep mud over her dainty shoes, and the wounded German eating one of her two hundred nickel packets of Baker's chocolate. The rival snipers were soon chatting famously by a sort of sign language, until a French officer stopped the "tete-a-tete". Here again all the wounded enemy were being well treated by the French, and at all points I have seen the same thing. The Yorkshire private had a ridge across his scalp that would have fractured an African skull.
   The soldiers will have their jokes. We heard a gun boom. "Chicken for dinner," said a Cockney. "What?" "Well, I just heard von Kluck." On some Sunday nights, in a lull, the British and Germans sang hymns together, with different words to the many sacred tunes they have in common. The French have a song about Rosalie (their bayonet). In perfect French, voices afterward inquired about the damsel's health, and promised to bring the lady over one day and introduce her. They did a few nights afterward. "Ow's Kaiser Bill?" yelled a Tommy. "With his troops. Where's George?" was the swift repartee in English. But the King was soon closer to the front than the Kaiser has ever ventured.
   At one town I met several new French recruits waiting to be allocated. Among them were five Americans, two from college. These promising lads were spending a vacation on Gloucester whalers off Cape Verde, when they heard of the war. They jumped ship at Grand Canary and, as the shortest road to the front, attested at the consulate as sons of unnaturalised Frenchmen in America, and so finished their adventurous trip by being sent to France to fight.
   The efforts of the French to care for their own and Belgian refugees, and to move them from the danger zone, were touching. We had just seen the mass of bodies where spies had derailed a train, when news came that the "Admiral Ganteaume," engaged in moving the helpless and homeless from Dunkirk and Calais to Havre where they could have better care, had been torpedoed off Grinez with 2,200 women and children on board, on October 25th. Luckily the Folkestone mail boat, the "Queen," left France late, and by chance was able to rescue most of the helpless in a heavy sea, though forty lives were sacrificed. This was an act of ruthless barbarity, for the decks were black with women, and no mistake was possible. The refugees lost the few treasures that they had saved from their destroyed homes. They were taken to Folkestone, a town which then sheltered 80,000 Belgian refugees, and which turned its splendid hotels over to the sick and wounded a great example of sympathetic hospitality.
   The Indian divisions came up from Orleans on October 24th to act in reserve of the Second Corps, which had been forced to modify its front and which had no reserves. But a new effort of the enemy to regain Mont des Chats and break through the left of the Third Corps just across the frontier called a brigade to Belgium; while against Dorrien's new line a massed attack captured Neuve Chapelle and was checked with difficulty as it attempted to push down the road to Bethune on the 27th, just as a British attack on La Bassee had broken down before machine guns masked in brick fields. Next day, the Indians moved into line, regained some lost ground, and straightened the line.
   After the arrival of the Indian Corps, the Meerut and Lahore divisions under "Jim" Willcocks, the Kiplingesque touch was no longer lacking. The camps of Hindus, Sikhs, and Mohammedans preserved their startling individuality, and our passing glances proved the tact with which the British hold the loyal co-operation of Oriental races. Everything had been done to meet the rigid fastidiousness of caste. Herds of goats were sent up to be slaughtered according to ritual, for the Hindus must not look on the flesh of cattle. The Mohammedan revolts at pork, the British soldier must have beef and bacon, and the Sikh can only face canned mutton. The Mohammedan smokes, but drinks tea only; to the Sikh, tobacco is unclean.
   The regiments of each race are childishly jealous of each other. Units taunted each other before attacks or enjoyed a mad race to the German trenches, afterward quarrelling over the winner until their brigadier, a Solomon, declared it a dead heat. These men were led by the princes of their own states, with a leaven of British officers. Each command was voluntarily offered for active service after a conference of the heads of Indian states passively hostile to each other by tradition, nationality, and religion. They came from the Himalayas and the scorching plains of Hindustan; Beluchis, Sikhs, Dogras, Pathans, Jats, and mild Bengalis, with the snappy Ghurkas, a fighting cousin of the Jap. The Punjab, Bengal, Bombay, and Madras each contributed their contingents. Among the maharajas who were at the front were Sir Pertab Singh, Regent of Jodhpur, a veteran soldier of ’71, and the Maharaja of Jodhpur, aged eighteen, commanding the famous cavalry of his state.
   Airships persistently bombarded the lines of the high caste Aryan Hindus with leaflets in Urdu announcing that a Holy War on England had been declared by the Sheik-ul-Islam at Mecca. This effort was worthy of the intelligence which sent a one-armed Prussian officer to Cuba to assure the American soldiers privately that an attack on Santiago was hopeless and the climate deadly; propaganda which made this gentleman an indignant guest of Uncle Sam until he could be sent north.
   By November 1st, the Germans had four active and five reserve corps, a marine division, and a cavalry corps in Belgium. The Bavarians had five active and two and a half reserve corps, and cavalry between Arras and Belgium. Four active and one reserve corps were between Arras and the Somme in the Second Army. Ten active and nine reserve corps were on the Oise and Aisne front to the Verdun sectors, where the Crown Prince's Fifth Army formed the curving link with the forces covering the frontier. A total of fifty-two corps were in the Franco-Belgian area.

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