CHAPTER XII.

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME.

Autumn, 1916.



    IT always happened that just when we were beginning to feel settled in a place, orders came for us to move. At the end of July we heard of the attack at the Somme. Rumours began to circulate that we were to go South, and signs of the approaching pilgrimage began to manifest themselves. On August 10th all my superfluous baggage was sent back to England, and on the following day I bid good-bye to my comfortable little hut at Hoograaf and started to ride to our new Divisional Headquarters which were to be for the time near St. Omer. After an early breakfast with my friend General Thacker, I started off on Dandy for the long ride. I passed through Abeele and Steenvoorde, where I paid my respects at the Chateau, overtaking many of our units, either on the march or in the fields by the wayside, and that night I arrived at Cassel and put up at the hotel. The town never looked more beautiful than at sunset on that lovely summer evening. It had about it the spell of the old world, and the quiet life which had gone on through the centuries in a kind of dream. One did hope that the attack to the South would be the beginning of the end and that peace would be restored to the shattered world. On that day, the King had arrived on a flying visit to the front, and some of his staff were billeted at the hotel. The following day I visited the Second Army Headquarters in the Casino Building, and met some of our old friends who had gone there from the Canadian Corps. In the afternoon I rode off to St. Omer, little Philo running beside me full of life and spirits. It was a hot and dusty ride. I put up at the Hotel du Commerce, where I met several Canadian officers and many airmen. The next day was Sunday so I attended the service in the military church. After it was over, I went with a young flying officer into the old cathedral.
    The service had ended and we were alone in the building, but the sunlight flooded it and brought out the richness of contrast in light and shadow, and the air was still fragrant with the smell of incense. My friend and I were talking, as we sat there, about the effect the war had had upon religion. Turning to me he said, [Page 134] “The great thing I find when I am in a tight place in the air is to pray to Jesus Christ. Many and many a time when I have been in difficulties and thought that I really must be brought down, I have prayed to Him and He has preserved me.” I looked at the boy as he spoke. He was very young, but had a keen, earnest face, and I thought how often I had seen fights in the air and how little I had imagined that the human hearts in those little craft, which looked like tiny flies among the clouds, were praying to God for help and protection. I told him how glad I was to hear his testimony to the power of Christ. When we got back to the hotel, one of the airmen came up to him and said, “Congratulations, old chap, here’s your telegram.” The telegram was an order for him to join a squadron which held what the airmen considered to be, from it’s exceeding danger, the post of honour at the Somme front. I often wonder if the boy came through the fierce ordeal alive.
    It was pleasant to meet Bishop Gwynne and his staff once again. There was always something spiritually bracing in visiting the Headquarters of our Chaplain Service at St. Omer. On the Monday I rod off to our Divisional Headquarters, which were in a fine old chateau at Tilques. I had a pleasant billet in a comfortable house at the entrance to the town, and the different units of the Division were encamped in the quaint villages round about. After their experience in the Salient, the men were glad to have a little peace and rest; although they knew they were on their journey to bigger and harder things. The country around St. Omer was so fresh and beautiful that the change of scene did everyone good. The people too were exceedingly kind and wherever we went we found that the Canadians were extremely popular. There were many interesting old places near by which brought back memories of French history. However, the day came when we had to move. From various points the battalions entrained for the South. On Monday, August 28th, I traveled by train with the 3rd Field Company of Engineers and finally found myself in a billet at Canaples. After two or three days we settled at a place called Rubempré. Here I had a clean billet beside a very malodorous pond which the village cows used as their drinking place. The country round us was quite different in character from what it had been further north. Wide stretches of open ground and rolling hills, with here and there patches of green woods, made up a very pleasant landscape. I rode one day to Amiens and visited the glorious cathedral [Page 135] which I had not seen since I came there as a boy thirty-three years before. I attended the service of Benediction that evening at six o’clock. The sunlight was streaming through the glorious windows, and the whole place was filled with a beauty that seemed to be not of earth. There was a large congregation present and it was made up of a varied lot of people. There were women in deep mourning, Sisters of Charity and young children. There were soldiers and old men. But they were all one in their spirit of humble adoration and intercession. The organ pealed out its noble strains until the whole place was vibrant with devotion. I shall never forget the impression that service made upon me. The next time I saw the cathedral, Amiens was deserted of its inhabitants, four shells had pierced the sacred fane itself, and the long aisles, covered with bits of broken glass, were desolate and silent.
    From Rubempré we moved to Albert, where we were billeted in a small house on a back street. Our Battle Headquarters were in the Bapaume road in trenches and dugouts, on a rise in the ground which was called Tara Hill. By the side of the road was a little cemetery which had been laid out by the British, and was henceforth to be the last resting place of many Canadians. Our battalions were billeted in different places in the damaged town, and in the brick-fields near by. Our chief dressing station was in an old school-house not far from the Cathedral. Albert must have been a pleasant town in pre-war days, but now the people had deserted it and every building had either been shattered or damaged by shells. From the spire of the Cathedral hung at right angles the beautiful bronze image of the Blessed Virgin, holding up her child above her head for the adoration of the world. It seemed to me as if there was something appropriate in the strange position the statue now occupied, for, as the battalions marched past the church, it looked as if they were receiving a parting benediction from the Infant Saviour.
    The character of the war had now completely changed. For months and months, we seemed to have reached a deadlock. Now we had broken through and were to push on and on into the enemy’s territory. As we passed over the ground which had already been won form the Germans, we were amazed at the wonderful dugouts which they had built, and the huge craters made by the explosion of our mines. The dugouts were deep in the ground, lined with wood and lighted by electric light. Bits of handsome furniture, [Page 136] too, had found their way there from the captured villages, which showed that the Germans must have lived in great comfort. We were certainly glad of the homes they had made for us, for our division was in the line three times during the battle of the Somme, going back to Rubempré and Canaples when we came out for the necessary rest between the attacks.
    Looking back to those terrible days of fierce fighting, the mind is so crowded with memories and pictures that it is hard to disentangle them. How well one remembers the trips up the Bapaume road to La Boisselle and Pozières. The country rolled off into the distance in vast billows, and bore marks of the fierce fighting which had occurred here when the British made their great advance. When one rode out from our rear headquarters at the end of the town one passed some brick houses more or less damaged and went on to Tara Hill. There by the wayside was a dressing station. On the hill itself there was the waste of pale yellow mud, and the piles of white chalk which marked the side of the trench in which were deep dugouts. There were many wooden huts, too, which were used as offices. The road went on down the slope on the other side of the hill to La Boisselle, where it forked into two—one going to Contalmaison, the other on the left to Pozières and finally to Bapaume. La Boisselle stood, or rather used to stand, on the point of ground where the roads parted. When we saw it, it was simply a mass of broken ground, which showed the ironwork round the former church, some broken tombstones, and the red dust and bricks of what had been houses. There were still some cellars left in which men found shelter. A well there was used by the men for some time, until cases of illness provoked an investigation and a dead German was discovered at the bottom. The whole district was at all times the scene of great activity. Men were marching to or from the line; lorries, limbers, motorcycles, ambulances and staff cars were passing or following one another on the muddy and broken way. Along the road at various points batteries were concealed, and frequently, by a sudden burst of fire, gave one an unpleasant surprise. If one took the turn to the right, which led to Contalmaison, one passed up a gradual rise in the ground and saw the long, dreary waste of landscape which told the story, by shell-ploughed roads and blackened woods, of the deadly presence of war. One of the depressions among the hills was called Sausage Valley. In it [Page 137] were many batteries and some cemeteries, and trenches where our brigade headquarters were. At the corner of a branch road, just above the ruins of Contalmaison, our engineers put up a little shack, and this was used by our Chaplains’ Service as a distributing place for coffee and biscuits. Some men were kept there night and day boiling huge tins of water over a smoky fire in the corner. A hundred and twenty-five gallons of coffee were given away every twenty-four hours. Good strong coffee it was too, most bracing in effect. The cups used were cigarette tins, and the troops going up to the trenches or coming back from them, used to stop and have some coffee and some biscuits to cheer them on their way. The place in the road was called Casualty Corner, and was not supposed to be a very “healthy” resting place, but we did not lose any men in front of the little canteen. The work had been started by the Senior Chaplain of the Australian Division which we had relieved, and he handed it over to us.
    Under our Chaplains’ Service the canteen became a most helpful institution; not only was coffee given away, but many other things, including cigarettes. Many a man has told me that that drink of coffee saved his life when he was quite used up. In Contalmaison itself, there had once been a very fine chateau. It, like the rest of the village, survived only as a heap of bricks and rubbish, but the cellars, which the Germans had used as a dressing station, were very large and from them branched off deep dugouts lined with planed boards and lit by electric light.
    The road which turned to the left led down to a waste of weary ground in a wide valley where many different units were stationed in dugouts and holes in the ground. Towards the Pozières road there was a famous chalk pit. In the hill-side were large dugouts, used by battalions when out of the line. There was also a light railway, and many huts and shacks of various kinds. Pozières looked very much like La Boisselle. Some heaps or rubbish and earth reddened by bricks and brick-dust alone showed where the village had been. At Pozières the Y.M.C.A. had another coffee-stall, where coffee was given away free. These coffee-stalls were a great institution, and in addition to the bracing effect of the drink provided, the rude shack with its cheery fire always made a pleasant place for rest and conversation.
    After Courcelette was taken by the 2nd Division, our front line lay beyond it past Death Valley on the slope leading down to Regina [Page 138] Trench, and onward to the villages of Pys and Miraumont. Over all this stretch of country, waste and dreary as it got to be towards the end of September, our various fighting units were scattered, and along that front line, as we pushed the enemy back, our men made the bitter sacrifice of life and limb. It was a time of iron resolve and hard work. There was no opportunity now for amusement and social gatherings. When one spoke to staff officers, they answered in monosyllables. When one rode in their cars, one had very fixed and definite times at which to start and to return. The army had set its teeth and was out to battle in grim earnest. It was a time, however, of hope and encouragement. When, as we advanced, we saw what the German defences had been, we were filled with admiration of the splendid British attack in July which had forced the enemy to retreat. If that had been done once it could be done again, and so we pressed on. But the price we had to pay for victory was indeed costly and one’s heart ached for the poor men in their awful struggle in that region of gloom and death. This was war indeed, and one wondered how long it was to last. Gradually the sad consciousness came that our advance was checked, but still the sacrifice was not in vain, for our gallant men were using up the forces of the enemy.
    Ghastly were the stories which we heard from time to time. One man told me that he had counted three hundred bodies hanging on the wire which we had failed to cut in preparation for the attack. An officer met me one day and told me how his company had had to hold on in a trench, hour after hour, under terrific bombardment. He was sitting in his dugout, expecting every moment to be blown up, when a young lad came in and asked if he might stay with him. The boy was only eighteen years of age and his nerve had utterly gone. He came into the dugout, and, like a child clinging to his mother clasped the officer with his arms. The latter could not be angry with the lad. There was nothing to do at that point but to hold on and wait, so, as he said to me, “I looked at the boy and thought of his mother, and just leaned down and gave him a kiss. Not long afterwards a shell struck the dugout and the boy was killed, and when we retired I had to leave his body there.” Wonderful deeds were done; some were known and received well merited rewards, others were noted only by the Recording Angel. A piper won the V.C for his gallantry in marching up and down in front of the wire playing his pipes while the men [Page 139] were struggling through it in their attack upon Regina Trench. He was killed going back to hunt for his pipes which he had left in helping a wounded man to a place of safety. One cannot write of that awful time unmoved, for there come up before the mind faces of friends that one will see no more, faces of men who were strong, brave and even joyous in the midst of that burning fiery furnace, from which their lives passed, we trust into regions where there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, and where the sound of war is hushed forever.
    One new feature which was introduced into the war at this time was the “Tank.” A large family of these curious and newly developed instruments of battle was congregated in a wood on the outskirts of the town, and awoke great interest on all sides. At that time we were doubtful how far they would be able to fulfill the hopes that were entertained of them. Some of them had already been knocked out near Courcelette. One lay partly in the ditch by the road. It had been hit by a shell, and the petrol had burst into flames burning up the crew within, whose charred bones were taken out when an opportunity offered, and were reverently buried. The tank was often visited by our men, and for that reason the Germans made it a mark for their shell-fire. It was wise to give it a wide berth.
    Our chaplains were working manfully and took their duties at the different dressing-stations night and day in relays. The main dressing-station was the school-house in Albert which I have already described. It was a good sized building and there were several large rooms in it. Many is the night that I have passed there, and I see it now distinctly in my mind. In the largest room, there were the tables neatly prepared, white and clean, for the hours of active work which began towards midnight when the ambulances brought back the wounded from the front. The orderlies would be lying about taking a rest until their services were needed, and the doctors with their white aprons on would be sitting in the room or in their mess near by. The windows were entirely darkened, but in the building was the bright light and the persistent smell of acetylene gas. Innumerable bandages and various instruments were piled neatly on the white covered tables; and in the outer room, which was used as the office, were the record books and tags with which the wounded were labeled as they were sent off to the Base. Far off we could hear the noise of the shells, and occasionally one would [Page 140] fall in the town. When the ambulances arrived everyone would be on the alert. I used to go out and stand in the darkness, and see the stretchers carried in gently and tenderly by the bearers, who laid them on the floor of the outer room. Torn and broken forms, racked with suffering, cold and wet with rain and mud, hidden under muddy blankets, lay there in rows upon the brick floor. Sometimes the heads were entirely covered; sometimes the eyes were bandaged; sometimes the pale faces, crowned with matted, muddy hair, turned restlessly from side to side, and parched lips asked for a sip of water. Then one by one the stretchers with their human burden would be carried to the tables in the dressing room. Long before these cases could be disposed of, other ambulances had arrived, and the floor of the outer room once more became covered with stretchers. Now and then the sufferers could not repress their groans. One night a man was brought in who looked very pale and asked me piteously to get him some water. I told him I could not do so until the doctor had seen his wound. I got him taken into the dressing room, and turned away for a moment to look after some fresh arrivals. Then I went back towards the table whereon the poor fellow was lying. They had uncovered him and, from the look on the faces of the attendants round about, I saw that some specially ghastly wound was disclosed. I went over to the table, and there I saw a sight too horrible to be described. A shell had burst at his feet, and his body from the waist down was shattered. Beyond this awful sight I saw the white face turning from side to side, and the parched lips asking for water. The man, thank God, did not suffer very acutely, as the shock had been so great, but he was perfectly conscious. The case was hopeless, so they kindly and tenderly covered him up, and he was carried out into the room set apart for the dying. When he was left alone, I knelt down beside him and talked to him. He was a French Canadian and a Roman Catholic, and, as there happened to be no Roman Catholic Chaplain present at the moment, I got him to repeat the “Lord’s Prayer” and the “Hail Mary,” and gave him the benediction. He died about half an hour afterwards. When the sergeant came in to have the body removed to the morgue, he drew the man’s paybook from his pocket, and there we found that for some offence he had been given a long period of field punishment, and his pay was cut down to seventy cents a day. For seventy cents a day he had come as a voluntary soldier to fight in the great war, and for seventy cents [Page 141] a day he had died this horrible death. I told the sergeant that I felt life dipping that page of the man’s paybook in his blood to blot out the memory of the past. The doctor who attended the case told me that that was the worst sight he had ever seen.
    One night a young German was brought in. He was perfectly conscious, but was reported to be seriously wounded. He was laid out on one of the tables and when his torn uniform was ripped off, we found he had been hit by shrapnel and had ten or twelve wounds in his body and limbs. I never saw anyone more brave. He was a beautifully developed man, with very white skin, and on the grey blanket looked like a marble statue, marked here and there by red, bleeding wounds. He never gave a sign by sound or movement of what he was suffering; but his white face showed the approach of death. He was tended carefully, and then carried over to a quiet corner in the room. I went over to him, and pointing to my collar said, “Pasteur.” I knelt beside him and started the Lord’s Prayer in German, which he finished adding some other prayer. I gave him the benediction and made the sign of the cross on his forehead, for the sign of the cross belongs to the universal language of men. Then the dying, friendless enemy, who had made expiation in his blood for the sins of his guilty nation, drew his hand from under the blanket and taking mine said, “Thank you.” They carried him off to an ambulance, but I was told he would probably die long before he got to his destination.
    On the 26th of September I spent the night in a dressing station in the sunken road near Courcelette. I had walked from Pozières down to the railway track, where in the dark I met a company of the Canadian Cyclist Corps, who were being used as stretcher bearers. We went in single file along the railway and then across the fields which were being shelled. At last we came to the dressing station. Beside the entrance, was a little shelter covered with corrugated iron, and there were laid a number of wounded, while some were lying on stretchers in the open road. Among these were several German prisoners and the bodies of dead men. The dressing station had once been the dugout of an enemy battery and its openings, therefore, were on the side of the road facing the Germans, who knew its location exactly. When I went down into it I found it crowded with men who were being tended by the doctor and his staff. It had three openings to the road. One of them had had a direct hit that night, and mid the debris which blocked it [Page 142] were the fragments of a human body. The Germans gave the place no rest, and all along the road shells were falling, and bits would clatter upon the corrugated iron which roofed the shelter by the wayside. There was no room in the dugout for any but those who were begging actually treated by the doctor, so the wounded had to wait up above till they could be borne off by the bearer parties. It was a trying experience for them, and it was hard to make them forget the danger they were in. I found a young officer lying in the road, who was badly hit in the leg. I had prayers with him and at his request I gave him the Holy Communion. On the stretcher next to him, lay the body of a dead man wrapped in a blanket. After I had finished the service, the officer asked for some water. I went down and got him a mouthful very strongly flavoured with petrol from the tin in which it was carried. He took it gladly, but, just as I had finished giving him the drink, a shell burst and there was a loud crack by his side. “Oh,” he cried, “they have got my other leg.” I took my electric torch, and, allowing only a small streak of light to shine through my fingers, I made an examination of the stretcher, and there I found against it a shattered rum jar which had just been hit by a large piece of shell. The thing had saved him from another wound, and I told him that he owed his salvation to a rum jar. He was quite relieved to find that his good leg had not been hit. I got the bearer party to take him off as soon as possible down the long path across the fields which led to the light railway, where he could be put on a truck. Once while I was talking to the men in the shelter, a shell burst by the side of the road and ignited a pile of German ammunition. At once there were explosions, a weird red light lit up the whole place, and volumes of red smoke rolled off into the starlit sky. To my surprise, from a ditch on the other side of the road, a company of Highlanders emerged and ran further away from the danger of the exploding shells. It was one of the most theatrical sights I have ever seen. With the lurid light and the broken road in the foreground, and the hurrying figures carrying their rifles, it was just like a scene on the stage.
    The stars were always a great comfort to me. Above the gun-flashes or the bursting of shells and shrapnel, they would stand out calm and clear, twinkling just as merrily as I have seen them do on many a pleasant sleigh-drive in Canada. I had seen Orion for the first time that year, rising over the broken Cathedral at Albert. [Page 143] I always felt when he arrived for his winter visit to the sky, that he came as an old friend, and was waiting like us for the wretched war to end. On that September night, when the hours were beginning to draw towards dawn, it gave me great pleasure to see him hanging in the East, while Sirius with undiminished courage merrily twinkled above the smoke-fringed horizon and told us of the eternal quietness of space.
    With dawn the enemy’s artillery became less active and we sent off the wounded. Those who could walk were compelled to follow the bearer parties. One man, who was not badly hit, had lost his nerve and refused to leave. The doctor had to tell him sharply that he need not expect to be carried, as there were too many serious cases to be attended to. I went over to him and offered him my arm. At first he refused to come, and then I explained to him that he was in great danger and the thing to do was to get back as quickly as possible, if he did not wish to be wounded again. At last I got him going at a slow pace, and I was afraid I should have to drag him along. Suddenly a shell landed near us, and his movements were filled with alacrity. It was a great relief to me. After a little while he found he could walk quite well and whenever a whiz-bang came near us his limbs seemed to get additional strength. I took him down to a place where a battalion was camped, and there I had to stop and bury some men in a shell hole. While I was taking the service however, my companion persuaded some men to carry him, and I suppose finally reached a place of safety.
    There was a large dressing station in the cellars of the Red Chateau in Courcelette, whither I made my way on a Sunday morning in September. The fighting at the time was very heavy and I met many ambulances bringing out the wounded. I passed Pozières and turned down the sunken road towards Courcelette.
    Beside the road was a dugout and shelter, where the wounded, who were carried in on stretchers from Courcelette, were kept until they could be shipped off in the ambulances. A doctor and some men were in charge of the post. The bearers, many of whom were German prisoners, were bringing out the wounded over the fields and laying them by the roadside. I went with some of the bearers past “Dead Man’s Trench,” where were many German bodies. Every now and then we came upon a trench where men were in reserve, and we saw also many machine gun emplacements, for the rise in the ground gave the gun a fine sweep for its activity. [Page 144] The whole neighbourhood, however, was decidedly unhealthy, and it was risky work for the men to go over the open. When we got to the ruins of Courcelette, we turned down a path which skirted the old cemetery and what remained of the church. Several shells fell near us, and one of the men got a bit nervous, so I repeated to him the verse of the psalm:
        “A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it         shall not come nigh thee.”
We had hardly arrived at the heeps of rubbish which surrounded the entrance to the dressing station, beside which lay the blackened body of a dead man, when a shell burst, and one of the bits broke the leg of the young fellow I was talking to. “What’s the matter with your text now, Canon?” he said. “The text is all right, old man, you have only got a good Blighty and are lucky to get it,” I replied. The cellars below had been used as a dressing station by the enemy before Courcelette was taken and consisted of several large rooms, which were now being used by our two divisions in the line. Beyond the room used for operations, there was one dark cellar fitted up with two long shelves, whereon lay scores of stretcher bearers and cyclists, and at the end of that, down some steps, there was another, in which more bearers awaited their call. Only two candles lit up the darkness. As there must have been between three and four hundred men in the Red Chateau, the air was not particularly fresh. Our choice lay, however, between foul air within and enemy shells without, for the Germans were making direct hits upon the debris overhead. Naturally we preferred the foul air. It showed how one had grown accustomed to the gruesome sights of war, that I was able to eat my meals in a place where rages saturated in human blood were lying on the floor in front of me. Two years before it would have been impossible. The stretcher bearers were doing noble work. When each case had been attended to, they were called out of the back cellar and entrusted with their burden, which they had to carry for more than a mile over those dangerous fields to the ambulances waiting in the sunken road. Again and again a bearer would be brought back on a stretcher himself, having been wounded while on the errand of mercy. Once a party, on their return, told me that one of their number had disappeared, blown to atoms by a shell.
    About four o’clock, though time had little meaning to us, because the only light we had was from the candles and acetylene [Page 145] lamps, I went into the cellar where the bearers lay, and, reminding them that it was Sunday, asked if they would not like to have a service. One of them handed me a candle, so we had prayers and a reading, and sang “Nearer My God to Thee,” and some other hymns. When the service was over, I asked those who would like to make their Communion to come to the lower cellar at the end, where there was more room. We appropriated one of the corners and there I had seven or eight communicants. More than a year afterwards, in London, I met a young soldier in the Underground Railway, and he told me that he had made his communion on that day, and that when he was lying on the ground wounded at midnight, the shells falling round him, he thought what a comfort it was to know that he had received the Sacrament. I did not leave the Read Chateau till late the following afternoon, when I went back with a ration-party.
    The most unpleasant things at Albert were the air raids, which occurred every fine night. One moonlight night I lay on my bed, which was in the top storey of our house, and listened to some German planes dropping bombs upon the town. The machines were flying low and trying to get the roads. Crash would follow crash with great regularity. They came nearer and nearer, and I was just waiting for the house to be struck when, to my great relief, the planes went off in another direction. Next day a sentry told me that he had heard a hundred bombs burst, and, as far as he knew, not one of them had done any damage, all having fallen among the ruined houses and gardens of the town.
    I had been asked to look up the grave of a young officer of a Scottish battalion, who had been killed in the July advance. I rode over to Mametz and saw all that historic fighting ground. The village was a heap of ruins, but from out of a cellar came a smartly-dressed lieutenant, who told me that he had the great privilege and honour of being the Town Major of Mametz. We laughed as we surveyed his very smelly and unattractive little kingdom. I found the grave, and near it were several crosses over the last resting places of some of our Canadian Dragoons, who had been in the great advance. All that region was one of waste and lonely country-side, blown bare by the tempest of war.
    It was during our last visit to Albert that the 4th Division arrived to take over the line from us. I had the great joy, therefore, of having my second son near me for six days. His battalion, [Page 146] the 87th, was camped on a piece of high ground to the right of “Tara Hill,” and from my window I could see the officers and men walking about in their lines. It was a great privilege to have his battalion so near me, for I had many friends among all ranks.
    The Sunday before I left I had service for them and a celebration of the Holy Communion, after which one of the sergeants came and was baptized. Our Divisional Headquarters left Albert for good on October 17th. We made our way to our abode at Canaples. We only stayed there two days and then went on to Bernaville and Frohen Le Grand, spending a night in each place, and on Sunday arrived at the Chateau of Le Cauroy, which we were afterwards to make our headquarters in the last year of the war. I was billeted in a filthy little room in a sort of farm building and passed one of the most dreary days I have ever known. It was rainy and cold, and every one was tired and ill-humoured. I had a strange feeling of gloom about me which I could not shake off, so I went over to the Curé’s house at the end of the avenue and asked him if I might come in and sit beside the fire in his kitchen. He was very kind, and it was quite nice to have someone to talk to who was not in the war. We were able to understand each other pretty well, and he gave me an insight into the feelings of the French. On the next morning, the weather had cleared and the A.D.M.S. motored me to our new halting place at Roellencourt, where I was given a billet in the Curé’s house. He was a dear old man and received me very kindly, and gave me a comfortable room overlooking his garden. Downstairs his aged and invalid mother sat in her chair, tended kindly by her son and daughter. Roellencourt was a pleasant place on the St. Pol Road, and quite a number of our men were billeted there. I went to St. Pol to lunch at the hotel and spent the day buying some souvenirs. On my return in the afternoon I made my way to the Curé’s house, where I found my room neatly arranged for me. Suddenly I heard a knock at the door, and there stood the old man with a letter in his hand. I thought he looked somewhat strange. He handed me the letter, and then taking my hand, he said to me in French, “My brother, have courage, it is very sad.” At once the truth flashed upon me and I said, “My son is dead.” He shook my hand, and said again, “Have courage, my brother.” I went downstairs later on and found his old mother sitting in her chair with the tears streaming down her cheeks. I shall never cease to be grateful to those kind, simple [Page 147] people for their sympathy at that time. The next morning the General sent me in his car to Albert, and Colonel Ironside took me up to the chalk-pit where the 87th were resting. They had suffered very heavy losses, and I heard the account of my son’s death. On the morning of October 21st, he was leading his company and another to the attack on Regina Trench. They had advanced, as the barrage lifted, and he was kneeling in a shell hole looking at his watch waiting for the moment to charge again, when a machine gun opened fire and he was hit in the head and killed instantly. As he still kept kneeling looking at his watch, no one knew that anything had happened. The barrage lifted again behind the German trench; still he gave no sign. The Germans stood up and turned their machine-guns on our men. Then the officer next in command went over to see what had happened, and, finding my son dead, gave the order to advance. Suffering heavy casualties, the men charged with determination and took the trench, completely routing the enemy. When the battalion was relieved the dead had to be left unburied, but several men volunteered to go and get my son’s body. This I would not hear of, for the fighting was still severe, and I did not believe in living men risking their lives to bring out the dead. I looked far over into the murky distance, where I saw long ridges of brown land, now wet with a drizzling rain, and thought how gloriously consecrated was that soil, and how worthy to be the last resting place of those who had died for their country. Resolving to come back later on when things were quieter, and make my final search, I bid good-bye to the officers and men of the battalion and was motored back to my Headquarters.
    In the little church of Roellencourt hangs a crucifix which I gave the Curé in memory of my son. It is near the chancel-arch in the place which the old man chose for it. Some day I hope I may re-visit my kind friends at the Presbytére and talk over the sad events of the past in the light of the peace that has come through victory. [Page 148]