In the Field (1914-1915): The Impressions of an Officer of Light Cavalry
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Title: In the Field (1914-1915)
The Impressions of an Officer of Light Cavalry
Author: Marcel Dupont
Release Date: April 14, 2006 [eBook #18177]
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IN THE FIELD
THE IMPRESSIONS OF AN OFFICER
OF LIGHT CAVALRY
TRANSLATED BY H. W. HILL
London: William Heinemann, 1916.
A TRIBUTE OF
In the following pages the reader will find no tactical studies, nomilitary criticism, no vivid picture of a great battle. I have merelytried to make a written record of some of the hours I have livedthrough during the course of this war. A modest Lieutenant ofChasseurs, I cannot claim to form any opinion as to the operationswhich have been carried out for the last nine months on an immensefront. I only speak of things I have seen with my own eyes, in thelittle corner of the battlefield occupied by my regiment.
It occurred to me that if I should come out of the deathly strugglesafe and sound, it would be a pleasure to me some day to read overthese notes of battle or bivouac. I thought, further, that my peoplewould be interested in them. So I tried to set down my impressions inmy intervals of leisure. Days of misery, days of joy, days ofbattle.... [Pg x]What volumes one might write, if one were to follow oursquadrons day by day in their march!
I preferred to choose among many memories. I did not wish to composememoirs, but only to evoke the most tragic or the most touchingmoments of my campaign. And, indeed, I have had only too many fromwhich to choose.
I shall rejoice if I have been able to revive some phases of thetragedy in which we were the actors for my brothers-in-arms.
Further, I gladly offer these "impressions" to any non-combatants theymay interest. They must not look for the talents of a greatstory-teller, nor the thrilling interest of a novel. All they willfind is the simple tale of an eyewitness, the unschooled effort of asoldier more apt with the sword than with the pen.
The Editor of SOLDIERS' TALES will be glad to read diaries or[Pg xi]notebooks of those returning, in any capacity whatsoever, from theFront with a view to inclusion in the Series. Contributions mustbe strictly truthful and should be written with no effort at finewriting. They are intended to tell truthfully the experiences andthe feelings of the writers. They should be sent by registeredpost to the Editor, "Soldiers' Tales," 21, Bedford Street, W.C.,and they may be accompanied by sketches and photographs. Allcontributions printed will be well paid for. Contributions shouldbe of 30,000 words and upwards in length.
|I.||How I went to the Front||1|
|II.||The First Charge||57|
|IV.||The Jaulgonne Affair||102|
|V.||Low Mass and Benediction||152|
|VI.||A Tragic Night in the Trenches||178|
I. HOW I WENT TO THE FRONTToC
The train was creeping along slowly in the soft night air. Seated on atruss of hay in the horse-box with my own two horses and that of myorderly, Wattrelot, I looked out through the gap left by the unclosedsliding door. How slowly we were going! How often we stopped! I gotimpatient as I thought of the hours we were losing whilst the otherfellows were fighting and reaping all the glory. Station after stationwe passed; bridges, level crossings, tunnels. Everywhere I sawsoldiers guarding the line and the bayonets of the old chassepôtsglinting in the starlight. Now and again the train would suddenly pullup for some mysterious reason. The three horses, frightened at beingbrought into collision with each other, made the van echo to thethunder of their hoofs as they slipped, stamped, and recovered theirbalance. I got up to calm them with soothing [Pg 2]words and caresses. Bythe light of the wretched lantern swinging and creaking above the doorI could see their three heads, with pricked ears and uneasy eyes. Theywere breathing hard and could not understand why they had been broughtaway from their comfortable stable with its thick litter of cleanstraw. They were not thinking about the war, but they seemed tounderstand that their good times were over, that they would have toresign themselves to all sorts of discomforts, march unceasingly, passnights in camps under the pouring rain, keep their heavy equipment ontheir backs for many days together, and not always get food when theywere hungry.
Then the train would set off again with a noise of tightened couplingsand creaking waggons. Whilst I was mechanically looking out at thedarkness, dotted here and there with the coloured lights of thesignals placed along the line, my straying thoughts would wander tothe fields of battle and try to picture the scene on my arrival at theFront.
[Pg 3]It was the 28th of August, nearly a month after the order had beengiven for mobilisation. And the armies had been fighting for some daysalready. What had happened? We could only glean part of the truth fromthe short official announcements. We knew there had been hard fightingat Charleroi, at Dinant, and in the direction of Nancy. But the resulthad not been defined. I thought I could guess, however, that thesebattles had not been decisive, but that they had cost both sides dear.I was tempted to rejoice, fool that I was, to think that the firstgreat victories would not be won before I joined my regiment. I hadnot yet been able to console myself for the ill-fortune that preventedme from starting with the squadrons of the first line. And yet I hadto submit to regulations. The colonel was inflexible, and answered myentreaties by quoting the inexorable rule: In every cavalry regimentthe sixth lieutenant in order of seniority must stay at the depôt tohelp the major and the captain of the 5th squadron. They mustassemble, equip, [Pg 4]and train the reserve squadrons of the regiment.
I shall never forget what those days were to me. Days of overwhelmingwork, when, in a tropical heat, I was busy from sunrise to sunset,entering the names of thousands of men, registering the horses, givingcertificates, and providing food for the lot. It needed some skill tofind billets for them all; the horses were lodged in stables, ridingestablishments and yards, the men in every corner and nook of the vastdistrict. It was tiresome work, and would have been almost impossiblebut for the general goodwill and admirable discipline. But all thetime I was thinking of the fellows away in Belgium boldlyreconnoitring the masses of Germans and coming into contact with theenemy.
At last, at eleven o'clock on the 28th of August, the colonel'stelegram came ordering me to go at once and replace my young friend,Second-Lieutenant de C., seriously wounded whilst reconnoitring. Atsix o'clock in the evening I had packed my food, strapped on [Pg 5]my kit,and got my horses into the train. I set off with a light heart, and myfellow-officers of the Reserve and of the Territorials, who were stillat the depôt, came to see me off.
But how slowly the train travelled, and what a long way off our littlegarrison town in the west seemed to me when I thought of the firingline out towards the north! I made up my mind to try to imitate myfaithful Wattrelot, who had been snoring in peace for ever so long. Istretched myself on the golden straw and waited impatiently for thedawn, dozing and dreaming.
At about eight o'clock in the morning the train stopped at theconcentration station of N. What a crowd, and yet what order andprecision in this formidable traffic! All the commissariat trains forthe army muster here before being sent off to different parts of theFront. The numerous sidings were all covered with long rows of trucks.In every direction engines getting up steam were panting and puffing.In the middle of this hurly-burly men were on the move, some of themcalm, [Pg 6]jaded and patient. These were the railwaymen, who went about ina business-like way, pushing railway vans, counting packages, carryingpapers, checking lists, and giving information politely and willingly.The rest were soldiers, lost, bewildered in the midst of thisentanglement of lines which seemed inextricable. They were asking eachother questions, swearing, laughing, protesting, and then they gotinto a train and were promptly hauled out and sent to another. But,with all this, there was no disorder, no lack of discipline.Everywhere the same admirable composure reigned that I had alreadynoticed at the station of my little garrison town.
With Wattrelot's help, I tidied myself up for a visit to the militaryauthorities of the station. After many difficulties, and after passingthrough the hands of a number of sentries and orderlies on duty, Icame into the presence of a kindly captain, to whom I stated my case:"These are my marching orders, Captain; I am to join the —— LightCavalry. Do you know where it is just now?"
[Pg 7]The captain raised his hands to Heaven with a look of despair: "How amI to know where any regiment is now? You can't expect it. All I can dofor you is to couple your truck on to the commissariat train of yourarmy corps. It will take you as far as the terminus, and there youmust see what you can do."
I went back to my horses. After various excursions hither and thitherwhich took up the whole morning I at last managed to get my horse-boxcoupled to the train. Wattrelot and I, together with the Territorialsection that served