"Contemptible", by "Casualty"
SOLDIERS' TALES OF THE GREAT WAR
Each volume cr. 8vo, cloth.
- WITH MY REGIMENT. By "Platoon Commander."
- DIXMUDE. The Epic of the French Marines. Oct.-Nov. 1914. By,Charles le Goffic. Illustrated
- IN THE FIELD (1914-15). The Impressions of an Officer of LightCavalry.
- UNCENSORED LETTERS FROM THE DARDANELLES. Notes of a French ArmyDoctor. Illustrated
- PRISONER OF WAR. By André Warnod. Illustrated
- "CONTEMPTIBLE." By "Casualty."
- ON THE ANZAC TRAIL. By "Anzac."
Philadelphia J.B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY London:
Philadelphia: J.B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
London: WILLIAM HEINEMANN
Printed in Great Britain.
- LEAVING ENGLAND
- CALM BEFORE THE STORM
- THE ADVANCE TO MONS
- THE BEGINNING OF THE RETREAT
- ST. QUENTIN AND LA FÈRE
- SIR JOHN FRENCH
- A PAUSE, AND MORE MARCHING
- A REAR-GUARD ACTION
- HEAT AND DUST
- THE OCCUPATION OF VILLIERS
- THE LAST LAP
- THE TURN OF THE TIDE
- THE ADVANCE BEGINS
- THE CROSSING OF THE MARNE
- AN ADVANCED-GUARD ACTION
- THE DEFENCE OF THE BRANDY
- STRATEGY AS YOU LIKE IT
- THE LAST ADVANCE
- SATURDAY NIGHT
- THE CROSSING OF THE AISNE
- THE CELLARS OF POUSSEY
- THE FIRST TRENCHES
- IN RESERVE AT SOUVIR
- TO STRAIGHTEN THE LINE
- THE JAWS OF DEATH
- THE FIELD HOSPITAL
- ST. NAZAIRE
- SOMEWHERE IN MAYFAIR
No cheers, no handkerchiefs, no bands. Nothing that even suggested thetime-honoured scene of soldiers leaving home to fight the Empire'sbattles. Parade was at midnight. Except for the lighted windows of thebarracks, and the rush of hurrying feet, all was dark and quiet. It wasmore like ordinary night operations than the dramatic departure of aUnit of the First British Expeditionary Force to France.
As the Battalion swung into the road, the Subaltern could not helpthinking that this was indeed a queer send-off. A few sergeants' wives,standing at the corner of the Parade ground, were saying good-bye totheir friends as they passed. "Good-bye, Bill;" "Good luck, Sam!" Not ahint of emotion in their voices. One might have thought that husbandsand fathers went away to risk their lives in war every day of the week.And if the men were at all moved at leaving what had served for theirhome, they hid it remarkably well. Songs were soon breaking out from allparts of the column of route. As the Club House, and then the Golf Club,stole silently up and disappeared behind him, the Subaltern wonderedwhether he would ever see them again. But he refused to let histhoughts drift in this channel. Meanwhile, the weight of themobilisation kit was almost intolerable.
In an hour the station was reached. An engine was shunting up and down,piecing the troop trains together, and in twenty minutes the Battalionwas shuffling down the platform, the empty trains on either side. Twocompanies were to go to each train, twelve men to a third-classcompartment, N.C.O.s second class, Officers first. As soon as the menwere in their seats, the Subaltern made his way to the seat he had"bagged," and prepared to go to sleep. Another fellow pushed his headthrough the window and wondered what had become of the regimentaltransport. Somebody else said he didn't know or care; his valise wasalways lost, he said; they always made a point of it.
Soon after, they were all asleep, and the train pulled slowly out of thestation.
When the Subaltern awoke it was early morning, and they were movingthrough Hampshire fields at a rather sober pace. He was assailed with apoignant feeling of annoyance and resentment that this war should beforced upon them. England looked so good in the morning sunshine, andthe comforts of English civilisation were so hard to leave. The sinisteruncertainty of the Future brooded over them like a thunder cloud.
Isolated houses thickened into clusters, streets sprang up, and soonthey were in Southampton.
The train pulled up at the Embarkation Station, quite close to the wharfto which some half-dozen steamers were moored. There was little or nodelay. The Battalion fell straight into "massed formation," and beganimmediately to move on to one of the ships. The Colonel stood by thegangway talking to an Embarkation Officer. Everything was in perfectreadiness, and the Subaltern was soon able to secure a berth.
There was plenty of excitement on deck while the horses of theregimental transport were being shipped into the hold.
To induce "Light Draft," "Heavy Draft" horses and "Officers'Chargers"—in all some sixty animals—to trust themselves to be loweredinto a dark and evil-smelling cavern, was no easy matter. Some shiedfrom the gangway, neighing; other walked peaceably on to it, and, with a"thus far and no farther" expression in every line of their bodies, tookup a firm stand, and had to be pushed into the hold with the combinedweight of many men. Several of the transport section narrowly escapeddeath and mutilation at the hands, or rather hoofs, of the Officers'Chargers. Meanwhile a sentry, with fixed bayonet, was observed watchingsome Lascars, who were engaged in getting the transport on board. Itappeared that the wretched fellows, thinking that they were to be takento France and forced to fight the Germans, had deserted to a man on theprevious night, and had had to be routed out of their hiding-places inSouthampton.
Not that such a small thing as that could upset for one moment thesteady progress of the Embarkation of the Army. It was like a huge,slow-moving machine; there was a hint of the inexorable in itsexactitude. Nothing had been forgotten—not even eggs for the Officers'breakfast in the Captain's cabin.
Meanwhile the other ships were filling up. By midday they began to slidedown the Solent, and guesses were being freely exchanged about thedestination of the little flotilla. Some said Boulogne, others Calais;but the general opinion was Havre, though nobody knew for certain, forthe Captain of the ship had not yet opened his sealed orders. Thetransports crept slowly along the coast of the Isle of Wight, but it wasnot until evening that the business of crossing the Channel was begun inearnest.
The day had been lovely, and Officers and men had spent it mostly insleeping and smoking upon the deck. Spirits had risen as the day grewolder. For at dawn the cheeriest optimist is a pessimist, while atmidday pessimists become optimists. In the early morning the German Armyhad been invincible. At lunch the Battalion was going to Berlin, on thebiggest holiday of its long life!
The Subaltern, still suffering from the after-effects of inoculationagainst enteric, which had been unfortunately augmented by a prematureindulgence in fruit, and by the inability to rest during the rush ofmobilisation, did not spend a very happy night. The men fared evenworse, for the smell of hot, cramped horses, steaming up from the lowerdeck, was almost unbearable. But their troubles were soon over, for byseven o'clock the boat was gliding through the crowded docks of Havre.
Naturally most of the Mess had been in France before, but to Tommy itwas a world undiscovered. The first impression made on the men wascreated by a huge negro working on the docks. He was greeted with roarsof laughter, and cries of, "Hallo, Jack Johnson!" The red trousers ofthe French sentries, too, created a tremendous sensation. At length theright landing-stage was reached. Equipments were thrown on, and theBattalion was paraded on the dock.
The march through the cobbled streets of Havre rapidly developed into afiasco. This was one of the first, if not the very first, landing ofBritish Troops in France, and to the French it was a novelty, callingfor a tremendous display of open-armed welcome. Children rushed from thehouses, and fell upon the men crying for "souvenirs." Ladies pursuedthem with basins full of wine and what they were pleased to call beer.Men were literally carried from the ranks, under the eyes of theirOfficers, and borne in triumph into houses and inns. What with the heatof the day and the heaviness of the equipment and the after-effects ofthe noisome deck, the men could scarcely be blamed for availingthemselves of such hospitality, though to drink intoxicants on the marchis suicidal. Men "fell out," first by ones and twos, then by wholehalf-dozens and dozens. The Subaltern himself was scarcely strong enoughto stagger up the long hills at the back of the town, let alone worryingabout his men. The Colonel was aghast, and very furious. He couldn'tunderstand it. (He was riding.)
The camp was prepared for the troops in a wonderfully completefashion—not the least thing seemed to have been forgotten. The men,stripped of their boots, coats and equipments, were resting in the shadeof the tents. A caterer from Havre had come up to supply the Mess, andthe Subaltern was able to procure from him a bottle of rather headyclaret, which, as he was thirsty and exhausted, he consumed too rapidly,and found himself hopelessly inebriate. Luckily there was nothing to do,so he slept for many hours.
Waking up in the cool of the evening he heard the voices of anotherSecond-Lieutenant and a reservist Subaltern talking about some people heknew near his home. It was good to forget about wars and soldiers, andeverything that filled so amply the present and future, and to losehimself in pleasant talk of pleasant things at home.... The dinnerprovided by the French caterer was very French, and altogether the lastsort of meal that a young gentleman suffering from anti-entericinoculation ought to have indulged in. Everything conspired to make himworse, and what with the heat and the malady, he spent a very miserabletime.
After about two days' stay, the Battalion moved away from the restcamp, and, setting out before dawn, marched back through those fatalstreets of Havre, this time deserted in the moonlight, to a sort ofshed, called by the French authorities a troop station. Here as usualthe train was waiting, and the men had but to be put in. The carriagescould not be called luxurious; to be frank, they were cattle-trucks. Butit takes more than that to damp the spirits of Mr. Thomas Atkins. Criesimitating the lowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep broke out fromthe trucks!
The train moved out of the depôt, and wended its way in the most casualmanner through the streets of Havre. This so amused Tommy that he roaredwith laughter. The people who rushed to give the train a send-off, withmany cries of "Vive les Anglais," "A bas les Bosches," were greeted withmore bleatings and brayings.
The journey through France was quite uneventful. Sleeping or reading thewhole day through, the Subaltern only remembered Rouen, passed at aboutmidday, and Amiens later in the evening. The train had paused atnumerous villages on its way, and in every case there had been violentdemonstrations of enthusiasm. In one case a young lady of prepossessingappearance had thrust her face through the window, and talked veryexcitedly and quite incomprehensibly, until one of the fellows in thecarriage grasped the situation, leant forward, and did honour to theoccasion. The damsel retired blushing.
At Amiens various rumours were afloat. Somebody had heard the Colonelsay the magic word "Liège." Pictures of battles to be fought that verynight thrilled some of them not a little.
Dawn found the Battalion hungry, shivering and miserable, paraded by theside of the track, at a little wayside station called Wassigné. Thetrain shunted away, leaving the Battalion with a positive feeling ofdesolation. A Staff Officer, rubbing sleep from his eyes, emerged from alittle "estaminet" and gave the Colonel the necessary orders. During themarch that ensued the Battalion passed through villages where the threeother regiments in the Brigade were billeted. At length a village calledIron was reached, and their various billets were allotted to eachCompany.
The Subaltern's Company settled down in a huge water-mill; its Officersbeing quartered in the miller's private house.
A wash, a shave and a meal worked wonders.
And so the journey was finished, and the Battalion found itself atlength in the theatre of operations.
I have tried in this chapter to give some idea of the ease andsmoothness with which this delicate operation of transportation wascarried out. The Battalions which composed the First Expeditionary Forcehad been spread in small groups over the whole length and breadth ofBritain. They had been mobilised, embarked, piloted across the Channelin the face of an undefeated