Paul Lintier

Revigny-aux-Vaux, France

It was broad daylight when I was awakened by Brejard.
” Up you get,” said he.

” What ? ”

” Here, listen to this.”

He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket.

“Army Order of the Day. ” At the moment when we are about to engage upon a battle upon which will depend the safety of the country, it is necessary to remind every one that this is not the time to look back. No effort must be spared to attack and repulse the enemy. Troops which can advance no farther must at all costs hold the ground won and let themselves be killed rather than retire.”

“Do you understand ? ”

Yes, we had all understood perfectly. We should never have been able to express so simply and yet so completely our inmost thoughts. ” Troops should let themselves be killed rather than retire.” That was it!

” And now, limber up,” added Brejard. ” We’re off there ! ”

Just as the battery was starting, two girls, the sister and fiancee of one of the gunners, hurried up. For a moment or two they ran, flushed and panting, by the side of the horses, both speaking rapidly and at the same time. When they were quite out of breath they held out their hands, one after the other, to the gunner, who leant down from the saddle and kissed their finger-tips.

We passed through the suburbs and then, by the Soissons road, approached the plain of Brie. We were going to the front, and I think that each man felt that we were now passing through the gravest and most critical
moments of a whole century — perhaps of a whole history.

Evening fell. The battery had been on the march for more than ten hours without halting. Far away in the background Montmartre reared its black silhouette against the western sky.

The fields were lit up by the stars, which were exceptionally brilliant, but the road remained dark under the vault of tall trees planted in double rows on either side, between which floated a suffocating cloud of dust.

A distant searchlight was sweeping the plain. The battery broke into a trot on the paved road, ‘and the vehicles jolted and bumped so that it was veritable torture to sit on them. Sharp internal pains made us twist as we clutched on to the limber-boxes; our aching backs seemed no longer capable of sustaining our shoulders, and the breath came in gasps from our shaken chests. Our hearts thumped against our ribs, our heads swam — we perspired with pain. Should we never stop?

Hour after hour we followed the same dark road, but the column had again slowed down to a walk. The bright headlights of an approaching automobile suddenly threw the trees into vertiginous perspectives like the
columns of some cathedral, and showed up the teams and drivers as they emerged from the gloom in a grotesque procession of fantastic shadows. The motor passed.

On we lumbered . . . on, on. . . . Should we never stop ?

“Halt!”

At last ! We parked the guns in a field and then led the horses off to be watered.

The only light in the dark little village was a lamp burning in a kitchen, in which we caught a glimpse of large copper saucepans.

There was no drinking-place and we had to push on to a marshy meadow through which ran a river. The banks were so steep that the horses could not drink from the current, and we gave them water out of the skin bags.

On our return we found the road crowded with horses. Other batteries had just arrived.

An eddy in the stream had just pushed me up against the garden wall of a chateau when a motor, showing no lights, forced its way through the herd of horses, throwing against me a confused mass of men and animals whose weight crushed me against the stone. Another car followed, then another, hundreds of them, silently and interminably.

By the light of the moon, which had now risen, I was able to recognize the oil-skin caps usually worn by taxi-drivers. Inside the cabs I caught a glimpse of soldiers sleeping, their heads thrown back.

” Wounded ? ” asked somebody.

“No,” came the answer from a passing car. ” It’s the 7th Division from Paris.

“They’re off to the front!”

Paul Lintier

Revigny-aux-Vaux, France

When we awoke, in a fine morning lightly veiled by silvery mists, the suburbs of Paris were already visible.

We passed through the forest of Fontaine-bleau, where troops were camping amid the broom and bracken, and rolled on through the woods in which the white walls and red roofs of the villas made a gay splash on the green background. The gardens were a mass of flowers ; huge sunflowers turned their golden faces towards us.

We almost forgot the tragedy of the moment.

Sunday! The bells were ringing. Besides, Paris was quite close now, and the magnetic power of the great city was already making itself felt. The Parisians in the carriage could hardly keep still.

Suddenly, after this dreary journey, and although it would have been difficult to explain why or how, hope was rekindled in spite of some more bad news we had learnt on the way, namely, that the Germans had
reached Creil without opposition.

It was not the strength of the entrenched camp of Paris, of its garrison, nor of its heavy artillery which restored our confidence; it was rather the instinctive faith of a child, who, having returned home, feels irresistible because there seems to be a sort of reassuring sympathy between himself and surrounding objects — even the elements. What again sent the blood coursing through our veins was the indescribable yet definite sensation caused by the presence of something immortal, of something loved and revered. It was like a breath
of life, like the comforting support of an invincible Personality, an all-powerful Divinity.

And then, as Hutin kept repeating : “There! That’s Paris! That’s Paris!”

“The English!”

A convoy of British troops was passing us. The men shouted and waved their kepis.

At Villeneuve-Saint-Georges the station was thronged with Highlanders. Our train came to a standstill and was immediately surrounded by a crowd of kilted soldiers intent upon examining our guns. Lebidois acted as
interpreter, and there was much hand-shaking and cheering.

Little Millon stopped a burly Highlander with tattooed wrists and knees and asked him whether he wore any drawers under his kilt. The other did not understand and laughed.

“That’s so, isn’t it ? ” said Millon. ” If only you’d got a little more hair on your head and a little less on your paws — why, in that skirt they’d take you for a girl!”

We detrained at Pantin. Except for inscriptions on the wooden panels or steel shutters of the shops, such as “Owner away at the front,” or, in letters a foot high, “We are French,” and save for the faded mobilization placards, Pantin wore the usual aspect common to such places on summer Sundays.

On the pavement and in the roadway swarmed crowds of women in light-coloured dresses, carefully corseted, their figures curving with that grace which only Parisian women seem to possess. Soldiers of every rank and regiment strolled in and out the crush. A Territorial passed with a woman on one arm, while with the other he led a little boy by the hand.

Was it possible that the enemy was at the gates ?

At Rosny-sous-Bois we camped on a plateau overlooking the town on one side and the plain of Brie on the other — a depressing enough spot, devoid of all charm. Far off, towards the south-east, the sound of guns
was audible.

In the streets, between the greenery of the gardens and the Hght-coloured fronts of the villas, the scarlet uniforms, white blouses, and variegated parasols chequered the crowd with bright dashes of colour.

The Zouaves had come down from the forts.

On the terraces of the cafes, where not a single place remained vacant, the white aprons of the waiters fluttered in and out among the multicoloured uniforms of the Chasseurs, Army Service Corps officers. Artillerymen, Tirailleurs, and Spahis. In front of the Post Office and round the doors of the bakeries and
confectioners’ shops the crowd collected in animated groups. Women ran to and fro greeting the soldiers, asking questions, searching for a husband, son, brother, or lover whom they were expecting to arrive.

Every one jostled together, hailed each other, drank, ate, smoked, and laughed. Families of placid tradespeople, mildly inquisitive, strutted in and out the crowd with short, conceited little steps.

The guns were still roaring, but in order to hear them one had to separate from the crowd and enter the quiet little streets between the gardens.

We heard that fighting was in progress on the Grand Morin.

Paul Lintier

Travelling by Train

I had hardly any sleep last night. Every quarter of an hour the train stopped, and men attacked by dysentery trod on me as they hurriedly made for the doors in order to jump down on the permanent way. This morning the same scramble continues. As soon as the train stops one has a vision of files of gunners making for the bushes, whence they hastily return when the whistle blows. Luckily the train gathers speed very slowly.

A melancholy day — spent in absently watching the country roll past, one’s mind always hypnotized by the thought of defeat. . . .

Often the train does not go faster than a man walking.

Paul Lintier

Revigny-aux-Vaux, France

It was still night when we broke up the camp. After a whole day solely spent in eating and sleeping, we should have felt much refreshed had we not been tortured with diarrhoea. The Medical Officer had no more bismuth or paregoric elixir left, and we had no choice but to chew blackthorn bark.

The horses were even more exhausted than the men. Many had been slightly injured in the engagements on Monday and Tuesday, and their wounds were suppurating. No onemseemed to trouble about them, and that was not the worst, for some of them had to suffer the stupid remedies applied by the ignorant drivers. I saw one man urinate on his horse’s pastern, which had been cut by a shell splinter. Nearly all the animals were lame as the result of kicks received at night-time, when the worn-out stable-pickets fair asleep. Seldom taken out of the traces and hardly ever unharnessed, the straps, cruppers, and especially the crupper-loops had made large sores on them which were covered all day long with flies. And, besides all this, the poor beasts, like the men, were weakened by incessant diarrhoea.

All the morning we marched on, through Givry-en-Argonne, Sommeilles, Nettancourt, and Brabant, the milestones being at first marked “Meuse” and then “Marne.” The dust half veiled the austere, regular hills of the beautiful country and the magnificent reaches of the forest of Argonne sloping away to the east.

About noon we reached Revigny-aux-Vaux, a pretty little white-walled town surroundedmby fields and pasture-lands, where we parked our guns on the bank of the Ornain, close to the station. As we were leading the horses down to the river a man dressed like an artisan, who was sitting by the side of the road, accosted me:

“Where are you gunners from?”

” From the Hauts-de-Meuse, over by Dun and Stenay. We’ve been replaced there by fresh troops.”

“Replaced?”

” Yes — they say by the 6th Army Corps.”

” Pooh, that’s all rot ! . . . You’ve just turned tail ! . . . Yes . . . simply that ! . . . Do you know where the Prussians are ? ” he added, getting up.

I felt chilled by a sudden fear. Misery was plainly written on the fellow’s bony,
emaciated face. When sitting he had not seemed nearly so tall or thin.

He stretched out a long arm, and with a shaking hand pointed to the north-west.

“They’re just outside Chalons, the Prussians ! ”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“You don’t beheve me ? Well, I’ve come from Chalons — an aeroplane dropped a bomb on the station just as my train left. And the Prussians have got to other places as well, if you want to know. They are at Compiegne ! Do you hear ? … At Compiegne . . . it’s certain. You’ve only got to ask . . . anybody here will tell you. They’ve got to Compiegne and they took La Fere as they passed.”

I began to tremble, everything seemed to be turning round me, and for a moment I thought I should fall. Instinctively I pressed my knees into my horse’s sides and returned slowly to the camp with a haggard face and an aching heart.

Hutin was there. I looked him straight in the eyes and said slowly:

“Hutin ! The Germans are at Compiegne !

“Where? ”

“At Compiegne!”

He grew pale and shrugged his shoulders.

“No!”

“Yes, at Compiegne!”

“Compiegne ! Compiegne ! Why, that’s less than sixty miles from Paris ! Oh, my God ! ”

We looked at each other.

” Who let them get through ? ”

” Those in the north, I suppose.”

” Then it’s worse than in ’70 ! ”

” At Compiegne ! ” repeated Hutin distractedly.

Dreadful thoughts of downfall, of treason, of all the bitterness of defeat and of suffering endured to no purpose rose up like spectres in each man’s mind.

” I told you so ; we’ve been sold ! ” declared the trumpeter.

In spite of everything, I still could not believe in treachery.

” Sold ! Why sold ? By whom ? … By whom ? ”

” How should I know ? But they wouldn’t be at Compiegne if we hadn’t been betrayed.
Oh, it’s the old story ! . . . Just hke ’70. . . . Bazaine in ’70 ! ”

” We may have been overwhelmed. . . . There are so many of them ! . . . Three times our numbers ! . . . Besides, in 1870 the mistake made by the Chalons army was that they didn’t wait for the Germans at Paris. That is well known. If MacMahon’s army had not advanced, had not let itself be bottled up at Sedan, perhaps we shouldn’t have been beaten. . . .”

I grasped at the idea of a strategic retreat, and tried to convince my comrades in order to convince myself. But they all remained downcast and sullen, and kept repeating :

“Just as in ’70!”

What a refrain!

Brejard, who had been listening as he smoked, was the only one who was still confident.

“The worst of it is,” said he, ” that we don’t know anything for certain. But, if the other Army Corps are in the same condition as ours, all is by no means lost. They’ve probably been pushed back a bit in the north, like we have been in Belgium. But if they haven’t been taken, that is the main thing, and as for this being the same as ’70 — why, there’s absolutely no resemblance ! In ’70 we were alone, whereas now we’ve got the English and Russians with us.”

” Oh, don’t talk to me about the English and Russians ! ” said the trumpeter.

” Have you seen any of the English, sergeant ? ”

” No, but they’re over here, all right.”

” They are said to be,” corrected Millon. ” But it was also said that we were advancing in the north. A brilliant advance ! . . .”

” And the Russians ! ” went on Pelletier. ” Why the hell aren’t they in Berlin by this time ? They’ve nothing to stop them on their side. . . .”

Brejard shrugged his shoulders :

” Well, but all the same they can’t get there by railway, you know ! ”

” But a month ought to be enough . . . with their famous Cossacks,” retorted the
trumpeter.

And he continued:

” It’s all tommy-rot ! Shall I tell you whatI think of it, sergeant? Well, these Russians and English, who have declared war on Germany . . . it’s simply sham ! . . . A put-up job ! They’ve engineered the whole thing together in order to do us in . . . just like ’70 ! ”

“Just Hke ’70 ! ” repeated Blanchet, who, sitting cross-legged like a tailor, was mending a rent in his coat.

This crushing catastrophe, which had descended upon us like the blow of a sledge-hammer, made us begin to doubt everything and everybody.

Why, instead of beguiling us with imaginary victories, could they not simply have told us: ” We have to deal with an enemy superior in numbers. We are obliged to retreat until we can complete our concentration and until the English reinforcements arrive ? ”

Were they afraid of frightening us by the word “retreat ” when we were already
experiencing its reality ?

Why ? Why had we been deceived, demoralized ? . . .

Accompanied by Deprez and Lebidois I turned into the garden of a restaurant and ordered luncheon. Under the leafy arbour of Virginia creepers and viburnum, pierced here and there with dancing rays of sunlight, blazed a medley of officers’ uniforms — chemists.

Medical Corps men, infantry officers of all denominations, A.S.C. officers and pay-masters, the latter in green uniforms which gave them the appearance of foresters.

For fifteen days we had not eaten off proper plates nor drunk from glasses. The luncheon would have been an untold delight had we not all three been haunted by the spectre of defeat. . . .

When night fell we entrained. The long platform, littered with straw, was illuminated at lengthy intervals by oil-lamps. The horses, overcome by exhaustion, their heads drooping, allowed the drivers to lead them into their boxes without offering any resistance. The gunners finished loading up the guns on the trucks, and soon all became silent. The men installed themselves for the night, thirty in each van, some stretched out on the seats and others lying underneath, using their cloaks as pillows. Rifles and swords had been cast into a corner. And, just as the western sky had ceased to glow, leaving the dreary platform dark and desolate, the train slowly started.

Paul Lintier

Sainte-Menehould, France

Towards midnight we halted, and almost immediately afterwards orders arrived. Our original instructions had been to move on at daybreak, but the orders just to hand were to the effect that we should remain here. So we were able to sleep until past nine o’clock.

A never-ending stream of refugees was now flowing down the dusty road.

We again heard a rumour that we had been replaced on the Meuse by the 6th Army Corps; and that we were going into Haute-Alsace under the command of General  d’Amade. This name, which was very popular, elicited general enthusiasm.

“Now it will be different!”

I questioned a Chasseur, one of General Boelle’s orderlies, but either the man knew nothing, or he would not tell what he knew.

The carts of the refugees had to be lined up on one side of the road in order to make way for the infantry of the 2nd Army Corps arriving from Clermont-en-Argonne and Sainte-Menehould. These troops seemed to have suffered less severely than the regiments of the 4th Corps, but they had no more notion as to their destination than we. They also spoke of d’Amade, of successes in the north, and of naval victories. They appeared to be quite unaware that the Germans were advancing behind us. But were they really advancing? Was it not merely a fresh allotment of French troops? How we wished that it were!

Paul Lintier

Sainte-Menehould, France

Last night the horses were not unharnessed, and we ourselves had hardly four hours’ sleep on the bare ground, where it is so difficult to get proper rest.

It was still dark when we set off again, down a road flanked with dense woods. The night was dark and filled with weird, grey shadows cast by the first, almost imperceptible rays of the pallid dawn. I was drowsing on the shaking ammunition wagon, to which one becomes accustomed after a time, when I was awakened by the crackling of broken wood and the heavy thud of a fall. I looked about me, but saw nothing. Then, through the rumbling of the wheels, I fancied I heard a plaintive cry mingled with sobs. Yes. … I now distinctly heard the clear voice of a little girl, calling :

“Mother! Mother!”

On a heap of stones by the roadside I was now able to see the wheel of an overturned cart, a human form on the ground, and round it the shadows of kneeling children.

Some more sobs ; then the little voice called again :

“Mother! Mother! . . . Oh, mother, do answer!”

The column continued on its way. A convulsive, heartrending wail, rising from a throat choked by anguish, seemed to echo in my breast :

“Mother!”

We should have liked to stop, to make inquiries, and help if we could. There were several children. Had their mother fainted? Perhaps. Was there a man with them? Suppose there was not! . . . I was sorely tempted to jump down from the ammunition wagon and run back, but I knew that I should not be able to rejoin the battery. A horseman dismounted, saying :

“I’ll stop the medical officer when he comes up. . . . We’ll catch you up at the trot!”

We were carried on by the slow-marching column. So great was the horror of that which had happened on the side of the road that I was kept awake despite my weariness, and saw the daylight slowly creeping in. I think I shall always hear that little voice crying ” Mother!” and the sound of the children’s sobs in the grey dawn.

On reaching the main road we had to halt and let the infantry of the 7th Division pass. The Army Corps was retiring. Some one said that we were going to entrain.

To entrain ! Why ? To go where ? It appeared that we had been relieved on the Meuse by fresh troops, and that the 4th Corps was to be re-formed.

We were going to rest, then — to sleep! But we had heard that so often during the last eight days 1 Could we believe it And yet it must be true, for this part of the country would surely not be left defenceless.

Down the road, wave upon wave, with the swishing noise of open sluices, battalion succeeded battalion. The soldiers seemed fairly cheerful; there were even some who sang.

The 10 1st Infantry swung by.

“Is the 102nd behind you?”‘ asked Tuvache.

“Yes.”

“I ask because my brother is in it.”

The long column still filed by. At last, several minutes later, the brother arrived.

“Hi! Tuvache!”

One of the men turned round:

“Hallo! It’s you!”

The two brothers simply shook hands, but their joy at meeting again could be read in their eyes.

“So you’re all right?”

“Yes, and you?”

“As you see . . . quite all right.”

“I’m glad. . .”

” Had any news from home ? ”

” Yes, yesterday. They’re all well, and they told me to give you their love if I saw you, and to give you half the postal order they sent me.”

The soldier searched in his pocket.

“The only thing is that I haven’t been able to get hold of the postmaster to cash it. But,
if you want it . . .”

” No, you keep it ! I’ve got more money than I want.”

” All right, then. Uncle and auntie both sent their love. . . . Hallo ! I mustn’t lose my company. … I believe we’re going to rest a bit. . . .”

” They say so. In that case we shall see each other again soon. … So long ! ”

Their hands met. The infantryman made a step forward.

” I’ll tell them I’ve seen you when I write.”

” Yes, so will I!”

The man ran on, shouldering his way through the ranks. Occasionally we saw his hand raised above the heads, waving goodbye.

Following behind the regiments of the 7th Division we began a march of exasperating slowness. It was very hot, and the dust raised by the infantry smothered and stifled us. At intervals, by the roadside, dead horses were lying.

On reaching Chatel we turned to the left down a clear road and at last were able to trot. Across the fields and valleys, as far as the horizon, a long line of grey dust clouding the trees marked the Varennes road which the division was following.

It was noon, and it seemed to me that we must have journeyed ten or twelve miles since we started at dawn. But suddenly we heard the guns again — not very far away, towards the north-east.

Near the village of Apremont on the out-skirts of the forest of Argonne, in which the head of our column had already penetrated, three shells burst.

Then the enemy was following us! Was there no one to stop him? Had we not been replaced? Did it mean defeat . . . invasion . . . France laid open?

Abreast of our column lines of carts were lumbering along the road. The whole population was flying from the enemy — old women, girls, mothers with babies at the breast, and swarms of children. These unhappy little ones were saving that which was most precious to them — their existence; the women and girls — their honour, a little money, often a household pet, such as a dog, a cat, or a bird in a cage. . . .

The poorest were on foot. A family of four were making their way through the woods led by an old man with careworn features. Over his shoulder he carried a stick, on the end of which was tied a large wicker basket covered with a white cloth. At his side dangled a game-bag crammed to
its utmost capacity. He was followed up the narrow forest path by a young woman leading a fat red cow with one hand, while with the other she held a shaggy-haired dog in leash by means of a handkerchief fastened to its collar. A little girl was clinging to her skirts, and letting herself be dragged along. Behind them came an old woman, bent almost double by age and by the weight of a grape-gatherer’s cask full of linen which she was carrying on her back. She hobbled along, leaning heavily on a stick.

Where were all these poor people going to?

Many had not the vaguest notion, and confessed as much. They were going straight ahead, into those parts of France which the Germans would not reach.

” What is the use of staying ? ” asked an old man querulously. ” They’ll burn everything just the same, and I’d rather find myself ruined and roofless here, but free, rather than back yonder where I should be in the hands of the Germans. Besides, Fve my daughter-in-law to think of — the wife of my son, who is a gunner like you. She’s with child — seven months gone — and when she heard the guns begin yesterday the pains came on. At first I thought she was going to be confined; but it passed off. But I thought we had better leave at once. These beasts of Germans, who violate and disembowel women . . . who knows whether they would have respected her condition ? . . . Last night we found a road-mender’s hut to sleep in, but I don’t know what we shall do to-night. . . . And Fm afraid she’ll get ill. Just now she’s sleeping in the cart. I must take care that she doesn’t get ill! My son left her in my charge.”

Pointing in the direction our column was following, I asked the old man :

“Where does this road lead to?”

“Where?” he repHed, a wrathful look suddenly coming into his eyes. ” Why, Chalons and Paris . . . the whole of France!”

And, shaking his head, he added bitterly :

“Oh, my God ! ”

“You see they’re half again as many as we are.”

He did not answer immediately, but, after a moment or two, he said:

” I saw ’70. . . . It’s just the same as in ’70.”

The battery rolled on till we had crossed the whole of Argonne. At Servon, a village on the fringe of the woods, where the infantry were making a long halt, we stopped for a few minutes. It was two o’clock.

We led the horses down to the drinking-place, near a mill on the bank of the green Aisne. The animals waded breast-high into the stream, where they stood puffing and snorting, splashing the men, who, with rolled-up trousers, were also paddling with enjoyment in the cool water.

Finally, near Ville-sur-Tourbe, we parked our guns. Presumably we were to entrain the same evening at the station close by.

The forebodings which had seized me in the morning when I saw the enemy advancing behind us had in no way diminished. Were we going to entrain and leave the road open to the invaders ? Would they not surround the troops operating in Belgium and those advancing in Alsace ? . . . But were the French still in Belgium and in Alsace ? How we wished that we could know the truth, whatever it might be !

To-night the men were surly and despondent, and one and all were anxious to escape fatigue duty. Deprez found himself confronted on all sides by the same sulkiness and apathy.

” Tuvache, go and fetch water ! ”

” But I went yesterday ! . . . It’s more than half a mile ! . . . Why can’t some of the others have a turn ? . . .”

” Well, Laille, did you go yesterday ? ”

” No.”

” Right then, off you go ! ”

” Oh, but . . .”

” I’m not asking for your opinion, you know. . . .”

” Some of ’em never go. . . .”

” I tell you once again to go and fetch water ! ”

” Well, at any rate, you won’t order me to do anything else afterwards ? ”

” No.”

Grasping a skin water-bag in each hand Laille slouched off, dragging his steps and hunching his shoulders.

We were informed that we were not going to entrain at Ville-sur-Tourbe.

We had to swallow our soup boiling hot and eat the meat raw, after which we set off again in the crimson-tinted twilight. Refugees were camping in the fields on either side of the road, where they had prepared to pass the night stretched out on straw strewn beneath their carts, which would afford but poor protection from the morning chill and dew. Infants in long clothes were sleeping in cradles.

We were marching southwards. The moon had risen, and straight ahead shone a solitary, magnificent star. Presently we reached a dark and deserted town — Sainte-Menehould — where it was too dark to see the names of the streets. The road was in lamentable repair, and the horses stumbled and the guns jolted. Perspectives of abandoned streets were prolonged by the moon. . . . Finally we saw ahead the red lamp of a railway station, where, for a moment, I thought we should entrain. But we did not even halt.

Under the wan and yellow moonlight, which magnified the distances, the country once again spread itself out in long valleys, where no troops were moving and where no sentinel could be seen.

Paul Lintier

Landres, France

A long night march. It was past one o’clock in the morning when at last we halted, and we still had to make our soup, water the horses and give them their oats. This done, we fell into a deep sleep.

About four o’clock the sergeant on duty came and shook us one by one. He was greeted with growls.

“Alarm!”

“What misery! Can’t we even sleep for an hour!”

It was veritable torture to keep our eyes open. Our Hmbs were stiff, our heads heavy, and our loins ached. The weather was foggy and cold.

We clambered on to the limbers and started off. Numbness at once seized our feet and then our knees, mounting rapidly. Our heads rolled from side to side, and we gradually lost consciousness. Some of the drivers were sleeping on their horses. They slipped more and more to one side and, just as they were about to fall, were awakened by instinct and sat straight up in the saddle again. But a moment after one could see them through the gloom, once more subsiding and gradually
slipping, slipping . . .

Where were we going to? Perhaps the army had been obliged to fall back below Verdun, because the enemy, who had undoubtedly got a footing on the hills on the left bank of the Meuse, near Stenay, was threatening their left flank. But we knew nothing for certain, and were too tired to think, too tired even to fear! Each man’s one desire was to sleep a whole day through.

At daybreak we halted near Landres in a sloping field full of plum-trees. Unless counter-orders arrived we were to stay there and rest for twenty-four hours.

We lit fires and started shaking the plum-trees.

Suddenly a cry broke out:

“The postmaster!”

It was answered by a hoarse — almost savage — shout, and the men literally mobbed the N.C.O. who was carrying a sackful of letters.

News at last ! Some of the letters had been on the way for a fortnight; ours, it seemed, were not being delivered. What anxiety the people at home were in!

After we had read our correspondence Hutin called me:

“Are you coming to wash your linen?”

“Yes.”

We hung up our tunics on the low-hanging branches of the plum-trees, and, our shirts under our arms and with bodies bare save for our braces, walked down to the river.

We spent a quiet morning eating, smoking, and writing. At midday the short, sharp reports of the .75’s began to sound on the next range of hills. At one o’clock we received orders to advance and support a group of artillery engaged on the heights north of Landres.

Hardly had we taken up position when an aeroplane passed overhead. A German machine, evidently; so far we had seen no others. Almost immediately afterwards shells began to fall around us, but again, as if by a miracle, the battery remained unscathed in the middle of the bursting shrapnel and the smoke of melinite. But that would not always happen!

Ah! if only I escape the hecatomb, how I shall appreciate life! I never imagined that there could be an intense joy in breathing, in opening one’s eyes to the light, in letting it penetrate one, in being hot, in being cold — even in suffering. I thought that only certain hours had any value, and heedlessly let the others slip past. If I see the end of this war, I shall know how to suck from each moment its full meed of pleasure, and feel each second of life as it passes by, like some deliciously cool water trickling between one’s fingers. I almost fancy that I shall continually pause, interrupting a phrase or suspending a gesture, and tell myself again and again: “I live ! I live ! ”

And to think that in a few moments, perhaps, I shall only be a shapeless mass of bleeding flesh at the bottom of a shell-hole!

There was nothing to do under the shrapnel-fire. The Captain surveyed the plain with exasperating calmness.

Presently the enemy increased his range, and the shells passed overhead and burst in the valley, on a road where we could see first lines of wagons making off at a gallop in thick clouds of dust.

Orders arrived. . . . We were to return to Landres.

A deep hole had been made in the road by a shell, and near-by lay the hashed remains of a horse — a limbless, decapitated body. The head, lying on the edge of the ditch, and apparently intact, seemed to be looking at this body with a surprised expression in its big, still unclouded eyes. A shred of flesh and chestnut skin had been blown to the top of a neighbouring slope. The shell crater, in which lay the intestines surrounded with purple blood rapidly blackening in the sun,
exhaled a smell of decay and excrement.

It seemed that the senior N.C.O. who had been riding this horse had escaped without a scratch.

A regiment of Chasseurs was slowly descending the high hill overlooking Land res on the north-east.

The setting sun no longer lit up the depths of the valley where we had parked our guns, but, by contrast, illuminated the more magnificently the steep inchne down which the red and blue squadrons were descending in good order, their drawn sabres glinting in the gorgeous orange-coloured light. The Chasseurs passed close by us, and then rode up the opposite side of the valley towards the sun, whose red disk still peeped over the hill-top. As they crossed the summit the horse-men were silhouetted for a moment against the horizon.

I was tired out, and in spite of my efforts began to fall asleep. I had the impression that in order to keep awake I should have to adopt the attitude of the sentries of old — one finger raised, commanding silence.

Paul Lintier

Villers-devant-Dun, France

The guns awoke us early, and we prepared to return to meet the enemy. About seven o’clock we found ourselves back in Tailly, where we learnt that the day before the enemy had been pushed back as far as the Meuse, and that Beauclair and Halles were now entirely in French hands.

Standing in column of route in the village we awaited orders. The German artillery began to bombard the neighbouring hills.

In the market-place was a hay-cart in which were lying three wounded Uhlans. An officer, his hands behind his back, was walking up and down in front of the cart. Some women and children were standing round them in a group, silently contemplating the Germans. One or two of the gunners joined them out of curiosity. The Uhlans looked at them with sad and troubled blue eyes.

“They aren’t such an ugly set as I should have thought,” declared Tuvache.

“No?” said Millon. “I suppose you thought they had got a third eye in the middle of their foreheads, like the inhabitants of the moon!”

Tuvache shrugged his shoulders:

“No, only I had an idea they were uglier. They don’t look as bad as all that!”

There was severe fighting this morning in the Beauclair Gap, through which the enemy tried to force a passage. The incessant din of the battle sounded from afar like the rising tide beating on a rocky shore.

“Forward! Trot!”

After having proceeded some three hundred yards down the Beauclair road we again halted. Soldiers were coming back from the lines, some of them wounded in the hands or arms, and others in the shoulders. All of them were bandaged. They stopped to ask us for water or cigarettes, and we exchanged a few words with them :

“Are we advancing?”

“No, but we are holding our ground. It is their machine-guns that are the trouble. They’re just awful ! ”

“Are you in pain?”

“No!”

“What does it feel like, a bullet?”

“It burns a bit, but it doesn’t hurt much.”

Some others, wounded in the leg, began to pass by. These were evidently in great pain. They were perspiring with fatigue and heat, for the sun, now in the zenith, was beating straight down in the hollow through which the road wound. Many were helping themselves along by the aid of sticks cut from the hedges.

An officer’s horse went by, led by a stretcher-bearer and bearing a foot-soldier whose thigh had been broken by a shell. The wounded man was clutching the animal’s mane with both hands, his right leg hanging helpless. Just above the knee was a rent in his breeches through which the blood flowed freely, running down to his boot and dripping thence to the ground. His eyes were closed and his blood-shot eyelids, pale lips, and the red beard covering his long, bony jaws, made him look like one crucified.

“Can you manage to hold out?” asked the stretcher-bearer.

“Are we still far from the ambulance?”

“No, not far now. If you feel faint let me know and I’ll put you down. Does it hurt much?”

“Yes, and it’s bleeding. . . . Look at the blood on the road!”

“That’s nothing. Hold on to the mane!”

An ambulance passed full of seriously-wounded. Instead of being laid down they had been propped up against the sides of the carriage so that it should hold more. Under the green tilt I caught a glimpse of one man with a face the colour of white marble whose head was rolling on his shoulders, and of another who was streaming with blood. A huge and swarthy corporal was sharing the box with the driver. His gun between his knees and one hand on his hip, he was sitting bolt upright with a grave and determined air, his head enveloped in a turban of crimson lint. Blood was trickling into his right eye, which, in its red-rimmed orbit, looked strangely white, and from thence ran down his drooping moustache, matting the hairs of his beard, and finally dropping on to his broad chest in black splashes and streams.

One of the wounded who had been waiting for a long time, sitting by the roadside, caught hold of a carriage which dragged him on.

“Please stop and let me get up!”

“We’ve no more room, I’m afraid!”

“I can’t walk.”

“But as you see we’re full up!”

“Can’t I get on the step? ”

“Yes, if you can manage it!”

But the vehicle still went on. A gunner helped the man on to the step.

At the end of a sunken road, in the shade of some tall poplars with dense foliage which the sun only penetrated in places, two Medical Corps officers had improvised a sort of operating-table on trestles. Some wounded laid out on the slope were waiting their turn to be bandaged. Among the stones a thin, dark-coloured stream of water was flowing, partially washing away the pools of blood and bits of red-stained cotton-wool and linen. The air was pervaded by a stale odour like that of a chemist’s shop, mingled with the damp smell of running water.

A Captain was brought up in a stretcher, on both sides of which his arms hung limply down. A hospital orderly cut off the sleeves of his tunic, and he was then placed on the operating-table. He was an ugly sight as he lay there with his blood-stained bare arms and his sleeveless blue tunic encircling his body. While his wounds were being dressed he gave long-drawn sighs of pain.

“Right about wheel!”

We set off up a steep incline across the fields to take up position on the heights overlooking the Beauclair Gap and the road we had just left. The battery was backed by a spur of the hills which hid Tailly from view except for the spire of the steeple, surmounted by a weather-cock, which seemed to rise out of the earth behind us.

In this position we were visible to the enemy through the V-shaped gap between the hills commanding the Meuse. We could see the woods and fields beyond Beauclair occupied by the Germans, and which the French batteries ahead of us were covering with shrapnel shell from behind the sheltering ridges. In the fields in the distance the German infantry debouching from the woods looked Hke an army of black insects on a bright green lawn. We immediately opened fire, and under our shells the enemy hastily regained the woods, which we then began to bombard.

The action seemed to be going favourably for us this morning. Some French batteries had advanced by the Beauclair road and were now engaged in the gap. On the hills surrounding us in a semicircle other batteries which, like ours, had taken up positions on the counter slope, and others still farther off, near the hills directly above the Meuse, thundered incessantly, the position of the invisible guns being revealed by clouds of dust and flashes of fire showing up against the greenery. The firing of these batteries was so violent that little by little the air became cloudy. An acrid atmosphere of smoke and dust invaded the valley, in which the numberless echoes multiplied the roar of the guns as the sound-waves met and intermingled. We were surrounded by a loud and continual humming and buzzing which deafened us and almost paralysed our other senses.

“Cease firing!”

The detachments became motionless round the guns. It was already midday.

Suddenly the enemy began to bombard Tailly and the pine-woods commanding our position. Some limbers which since the early morning had been waiting on the outskirts of the woods moved off hurriedly. A section of infantry emerged from the smoke of a high-explosive shell.

“Take cover!” ordered Captain de Brisoult.

The fire of the French artillery gradually slackened. A volley of shrapnel shells burst over the valley where our teams were waiting for us, and a fuse sang loud and long through the air. Nobody seemed to be wounded. The limbers standing motionless in the sunshine made a black square on the grass.

The enemy appeared to have registered the position of a battery installed on the other side of the pine-woods, and, under a perfect hail of howitzer shells, the guns were brought back one by one through the woods.

Hutin, who had taken shelter behind the shield, suddenly stood up in order to see. He crossed his arms.

“Yes, that’s it!” he growled.

“What is it? But take cover!”

“That’s it! Retreat! Oh, my God!”

I also stood up. Sure enough, sections of infantry were crossing the ridges and falling back.

“Take cover, you idiots!” yelled Brejard.

A shell swooped down. The splinters whistled through the air and the displaced earth pattered round us on the dry field. I had stooped down instinctively, but Hutin had not moved, being too much occupied in observing the retreat of the infantry, which was becoming more general every moment.

” There you are,” said he, ” now it will be our turn. … I bet … we shall retire too. . . . Here’s an A.D.C. coming up. . . . Oh, if we’re always going to retire like that we may as well take a train ! ”

As he had suspected, the A.D.C. brought orders for us to retreat. The teams trotted up the slope to join the guns. The moment was critical, and, as ill-luck would have it, the first gun, in position on the counterslope, began to roll downhill as soon as the spade, which had been solidly jammed in the ground by the recoil, had been pulled out. It took eight of us to drag the gun back, and at every instant we asked ourselves whether we should succeed in assembling the train. The drivers began to lose their nerve, and backed the horses at random, this way and that.

” Now then, all together. . . . Whoa, there, whoa ! . . . Steady ! . . . Whoa back ! ”

A final pull, and we had limbered up.

” Ready ! ”

The team started.

Beyond the village of Tailly the hill we had to ascend in order to reach the plateau was very steep, especially where the road skirted the stone wall of the cemetery.

Some foot-soldiers resting on both sides of the way had taken off their packs and piled arms. Sitting in the grass they watched us go by with that absent and stupefied look peculiar to men just returned from the firing-line. Suddenly a shrapnel shell, the whistling approach of which had been drowned by the rumble of the vehicles, burst above the cemetery. Some of the spldiers promptly dived into the ditch, and others fell on their knees close to the wall, shielding their heads with their packs. Two men, who had remained standing, stupidly hid their heads in the thick hedge. On the limbers we bent our shoulders and the drivers whipped up the horses.

At one point the road was visible to the enemy, but when we discovered this it was already too late to stop.

A volley of shells. . . . Over ! We had escaped by a hair’s breadth.

We formed up ready for action in the same position as the day before, overlooking the neighbouring ridges, where the tall poplars served as aiming-points. The third battery, which had been with us on the Saturday, had opened up some fine trenches here. But the limbers had hardly had time to range up on the edge of a copse when high-explosive shell began to fall round us.

How had the enemy been able to discover our new position? We were carefully covered, and were invisible to him on all sides, nor had we yet fired a single shot, so that our presence had not been betrayed by smoke or flashes.

No aeroplane was in the sky. Then how had we been seen ? . . .

We sheltered in the trenches.

“It isn’t at us that they’re firing,” said Hutin.

” Then what are they firing at ? ”

” I think we’ve got to thank those fat old dragoons they saw passing on the road for this!They’re aiming at the road.”

But the dragoons got farther and farther away, and the enemy continued to fire in our direction. There was no doubt that he was aware that there was a battery in position here. Had we been betrayed by signal by a spy hiding somewhere behind us? I carefully scrutinized the surrounding country, but could see nothing.

Some shells fell a few yards off the guns, smothering the battery in smoke and dust, and shaking us at the bottom of our trenches. I heard the Major shout :

” Take cover on the right!”

While the Captain and Lieutenant remained at their observation-posts the gunners hurriedly moved out of the line of fire of the howitzers. But as we ran along the road across the fields in view of the enemy a Staff passed by. I was seized with sudden anger. The horse-men would get us killed ! The party consisted of about twenty ofiicers in whose centre rode a General, a little, thin man with grey hair. A gaily coloured troop of blue and red Chasseurs followed them. The scream of
approaching shells at once made itself heard, and thrilled long in the air. The Chasseurs and officers saluted, but the little General made no movement. This time the enemy had fired too low.

” To your guns ! ”

The Captain thought he had discovered the battery bombarding us :

” Layers ! ” he called.

Feverishly, beneath the shells, we prepared for action.

” Echelon at fifteen. First gun, a hundred and fifty ; second gun, a hundred and sixty-five. . . . Third …”

The fuse-setters repeated the corrector and the range.

” Sixteen. . . . Three thousand five hundred. . . .”

” In threes, traverse ! By the right, each battery ! . . .”

” First gun . . . fire ! . . . Second . . .”

The rapid movements of serving the guns electrified us. In the deafening din made by the battery in full action orders had to be shouted. We no longer heard the enemy’s guns ; they were silenced by the roar of our own. We forgot the shrapnel, which nevertheless continued to fall.

Suddenly the howitzer fire slackened, and then ceased.

” They’re getting hit ! ” said Hutin, bending over the sighting gear.

” Fire ! ” answered the No. i.

” Ready ! ”

” Fire ! . . . Fire ! . . .”

On the plateau behind us companies were retiring in extended order.

Night fell. We also received orders to retire. It seemed as if the earth and the woods were absorbing such light as was left. The movements of the infantry in the distance were lost in the undulations of the ground. The men seemed to become incorporated with the fields, and dissolved, disappearing from view.

Near a dark shell-crater lay a red heap. A soldier was lying stretched on his back, one of his legs blown off by a shell, leaving a torn, bluish-red stump through which he had emptied his veins. The lucerne leaves and earth under him were glued together with blood. The man’s head had been thrown back in his agony, and the Adam’s apple jutted out amid the distended muscles of his neck. His glassy eyes were wide open, and his lips dead white. He still grasped his broken rifle, and his kepi had rolled underneath his shoulder.

Paul Lintier

Villers-devant-Dun, France

This morning we marched for hours through clouds of dust, the sun scorching the backs of our necks. The men were thirsty and continually spat out the clayey saliva which clogged their mouths. The battery halted in a valley on the outskirts of a village — Villers-devant-Dun, I think it was — where the sound of the guns seemed to come from the west and south as well as from the east and north. This was a surprise, and at first made us uneasy. Janvier, for the hundredth time, said:

“That’s it! We are surrounded!”

He was haunted by this idea. However, it was not long before we discovered that the illusion was solely caused by an exceptionally clear echo. In reality the fighting was going on near Dun-sur-Meuse.

We crowded round the fountain, on the surrounding wall of which the last Bulletin des Communes was pasted. But first we each drank, in great gulps, at least a quart of fresh water. Afterwards we read the news. All was going well! Nevertheless, it was announced that Mulhouse had been retaken. Apparently, then, it had been lost. We exchanged impressions:

“Well, Hutin?”

“Not bad,” he answered rather dubiously, “but they don’t say anything about our little show of last week.”

Brejard, on the contrary, was filled with an optimism which nothing could damp:

“Virton, Marville — why, all that is a mere nothing on a front as long as this! We’ve had to give a little in some sectors, that’s all. . . . But otherwise things are going quite all right!”

“All the same, it isn’t nice to find ourselves in one of the sectors which have to give way,”
answered Hutin.

“All that will change. We’re going to be reinforced. . . . They say that De Langle is only a day’s march off.”

“He’ll have to hurry up if he wants to find any of the 4th Infantry left!”

That was true. The regiments of the line, especially those of the 8th Division, had suffered terribly. Some battalions had been diminished by two-thirds, and, since the Battle of Virton, many companies were not more than fifty or eighty strong, and had lost all their officers. How we wished that De Langle would arrive!

In the ever-thickening dust and overpowering heat we returned by the same road to the positions we had occupied the day before at Tailly. It seemed to us that we had uselessly wasted more than seven hours marching in a large circle.

Another aeroplane appeared. This oppression was becoming unbearable ! We felt like a flock of frightened sparrows beneath the shadow of the hawk. The Germans have improved and developed the aerial arm to an enormous extent, and, unfortunately, our .75’s are unable to hit aeroplanes, the mobility of the gun on the carriage not being sufficient. It is necessary to dig a pit for the spade, and before this is finished the machine is always out of range.

The aviator who had just flown over us had thrown out a star in order to mark the situation of one of our batteries in position on the heights commanding the river. The guns at once moved off, and took up a fresh position elsewhere. Shortly afterwards shells began to fall on the hill they had been occupying — enormous shells, which made the earth quake for miles around and withered the grass with their dirty, pungent smoke.

“I expect those are the famous 22 cm. shells ” said the Captain.

We had nothing to do. Towards Stenay the horizon was deserted and motionless. For several hours heavy shells continued to fall in threes, making black holes in the green meadows in which not a soul remained. We were obviously within range of the guns from which they were fired, and we had no guarantee that we should not be hit if the enemy lifted his fire a little.

I was struck by the marvellous faculty of adaptability which forms the basis of human nature. One becomes accustomed to danger just as one becomes accustomed to the most cruel privations, or to the uncertainty of the morrow.

Before the war I used to wonder how it was that old men nearing the extreme limits of existence could continue to live undisturbed in the imminent shadow of death. But now I understand. For us the risk of death has become an element of daily life with which one coolly reckons, which no longer astonishes, and terrifies less. Besides, a soldier’s every-day life is a school for courage. Familiarity with the same dangers eventually leaves the human animal unmoved. One’s nerves no longer quiver; the conscious and constant effort to keep control over oneself is successful in the end. Therein lies the secret of all military courage. Men are not born brave; they become brave. The instinct to be conquered is more or less resistant — that is all. Moreover, one must live, on the field of battle just as elsewhere ; it is necessary to become accustomed to this new existence, no matter how perilous or harsh it may be. And what renders it difficult — more, intolerable — is fear, the fear that throttles and paralyses. It has to be conquered, and, finally, one does conquer it.

Apart from the necessity of living as well as can possibly be managed, the greatest disciplinary factors in the life of a soldier under fire are a sense of duty and a respect for other people’s opinion — in a word, honour. This is not a discovery; it is merely a personal opinion.

It must also be confessed that this training in courage is far more easy for us than for the foot-soldiers — the least fortunate of all the fighting forces. A gunner under fire is literally unable to run away. The whole battery would see him — his dishonour would be palpable, irretrievable. Now fear, in its more acute manifestations, seems to me necessarily to imply annihilation of will-power. A man incapable of controlling himself sufficiently to face danger bravely will, in the majority of cases, be equally incapable of facing the intolerable shame of public flight. Flight of this kind would necessitate an exercise of will — almost a kind of bravery. The infantryman is often isolated when under fire; when the shrapnel bullets are humming above him a man lying down at a distance of four yards from another is virtually alone. Concern for his own safety monopolizes all his faculties and he may succumb to the temptation to stop and lie low, or to sneak off to one side and then take to flight. When he rejoins his company in the evening he may declare that he lost his squad or that he fought elsewhere. Perhaps he is not believed, and possibly he was aware beforehand that no one would believe him ; but at least he will have escaped the intolerable ignominy of running away before the eyes of all.

To remain under fire is by no means easy, but to keep cool in the heat of a modern engagement is harder still. At first fear makes one perspire and tremble. It is irresistible. Death seems inevitable. The danger is unknown, and is magnified a thousandfold by the imagination. One makes no attempt to analyse it. The bursting of the shells and their acrid smoke together with the shrapnel are the main causes of the first feeling of terror. And yet neither the flashes of mehnite, nor the noise of the explosions, nor the smoke are the real danger ; but they accompany the danger, and at first one is attacked by all three at once. Soon, however, one learns to discriminate. The smoke is harmless, and the whistling of the shells indicates in what direction they are coming. One no longer crouches down unnecessarily, and only seeks shelter knowingly, when it is imperative to do so. Danger no longer masters but is mastered. That is the great difference.

In order to form an exact idea of the effects of a shell, I went with Hutin to examine a field full of Jerusalem artichokes in which a heavy projectile had just fallen. In the centre of the field we found a funnel-shaped hole about ten yards in diameter, so regular in shape that it could only have been made by a howitzer shell. This kind of projectile strikes the ground almost perpendicularly, and buries itself deep in the soft soil, throwing up enormous quantities of earth as it bursts. Many of the steel splinters are lost in the depths of the ground, and the murderous cone of dispersion is thereby proportionately reduced.

The truth of this can be easily confirmed. In the present case the farther we went from the hole the higher was the point at which the artichokes had been shorn off, and at a dozen paces or so from the edge of the crater the shrapnel had only reached the heads of the highest stems. It follows therefore that a man lying very near the point of impact would probably not have been hit. Next came a circular zone which was entirely unscathed, but a little farther on the falling
bullets and spHnters had mown off leaves and stems, and a man lying down here would have risked quite as much as if he had remained standing.

When thus coldly examined a shell loses much of its moral effect.

The actual organization of the artillery also stimulates a gimner’s courage. The footsoldier, cavalryman, and sapper are units in themselves, whereas for us the only unit is the gun. The seven men serving it are the closely connected, interdependent organs of a thing which becomes alive — the gun in action.

In consequence of the links existing between the seven men among themselves and between each of them and the gun, any faint-heartedness is rendered more obvious, its consequences much greater, and the shame it bears in its wake more crushing. Moreover, in this com- plete solidarity the effluvia which create psychological contagion are easily developed; one or two gunners who stick resolutely and calmly to their posts are often able to inspire the whole detachment with courage.

To-day was a day of undisturbed quiet. Over towards Tailly and Stenay nothing revealed the presence of the enemy.

When evening approached we were again sent off to encamp on the other side of the woods. There was a glorious summer sunset, and through the dark depths of the trees the road opened up a mysterious avenue at the end of which glowed a western sky more varied in hues than a rainbow.

All sound of battle had ceased. Gradually the sky darkened and night fell. As yesterday, the artillery rolled monotonously on through the shadowy woods.

One by one the stars were veiled by a rising mist, and the sky became opalescent with a nocturnal luminosity that flooded the stretches of the forest, which, from the crests of the hills, could be seen rising and falling as far as the eye could reach. But underneath the trees the darkness was intense, and the road would have seemed a trench dug deep in the earth itself but for an occasional infantry bivouac, the embers of which glowed faintly through the brushwood, and but for a damp scent of mint and other herbs which rose from the dark undergrowth mingled with a certain sensuous smell of animality. We were surrounded by a delicious freshness with which we filled our lungs and which made us shiver slightly.

Millon, who was sitting next to me on the limber-box, told me the story of his life. It was a sad and simple history. Only twenty, with his girl’s face and roguish yet infantile eyes, he had nevertheless long been the breadwinner of a family, and now his mother — ” my old mother ” as he said in a tone full of deep affection — had been left alone in Paris with another child, still very young, whose delicate constitution and highly strung nerves were the cause of continual alarm. He told me of past misfortunes still fresh in his memory, of the present anxiety of his people in Paris, and of material worries.

“Ah,” he sighed, “if only my old mother could see me to-night, safe and soimd on the limber!”

In the field where the battery halted we had almost to fight in order to get a few armfuls of straw. The gunners of a battery which had arrived before us had stretched themselves out haphazard on a fallen hay-rick. They had twenty times more straw than they needed, but when we tried to pull a little from under them the awakening of the overwrought sleepers was terrifying. They shouted, cursed, and threatened. Finally they fell asleep again, growling and grunting under their breath like a pack of surly dogs.

Paul Lintier

Tailly, France

Reveille came at two o’clock, together with orders to start at once. The Germans, we heard, had crossed the Meuse. But our artillery had no doubt registered the course of the river. I could not understand why we had not heard the guns.

In the darkness of the early dawn the road showed up yellow between the blue-grey fields. On the way I recognized the yew-trees of a cemetery in which some dead were being buried the day before.

We stopped in column on the steep ascent towards Tailly, and waited for orders. The day broke behind the hills and gradually overspread the whole horizon.

One by one the regiments of the 7th Division climbed up from the ravine and passed us. The men looked haggard and tired. Their eyes were hollow, and the faces of the youngest, drawn and sallow with privations, were furrowed with lines. The corners of their mouths drooped. Bending forward under the weight of their packs, in the attitude of Christ bearing the Cross, the infantry toiled up the hill as though it were a Calvary. At every hundred yards or so they halted and rehoisted their burdens with a jerk of their shoulders. Some of them were holding out their rifles at arm’s length, as though it were a balance which helped them to march. Others were complaining that they had had nothing to eat for two days. One of the lost, a pale, lanky, thin-faced fellow, with feverishly bright eyes, halted close to us and stroked the chase of the gun.

“Lord,” said he to Hutin,” you might as well put a shell through my chest! At least there’d be an end of it!”

“Aren’t you ashamed to talk like that?”

The other made a vague gesture, shrugged his shoulders, and went off dragging one leg after him.

As soon as the infantry had gone by we were ordered to take up our position on the plain, near the edge of the wood behind which the regiments of the line were retreating.

I heard the Major repeat the order received to the Captain: “Prevent the enemy from setting foot on the plateau. There are no more French in front of you!”

“So we are still covering the retreat! A vile job!” said Millon, the firing number, a good little Parisian chap, with a face like a girl.

In our present position we ran as great a risk from the rifle and machine-gun fire as from the shells. Not far off on the edge of the plateau, near the brush-shaped poplar, was a dark little copse whence at any minute bullets might come buzzing about our ears. The Germans might get their machine-guns there without being seen, rather than risk coming out into the open. And what might we expect then ? Oh, well ! . . . After all, that is what we had come there for.

“If we hadn’t been sold, things would have gone very differently,” growled Tuvache, a Breton farmer, who was brave enough under fire, but who suffered from bad morale.

And, still obsessed by the idea of treason, he added :

“And the proof is that they’ve been able to cross the Meuse without hindrance.”

Brejard made him stop talking.

” Why, you’re worse than the others, you are 1 We’re fighting from the North Sea right down to Belfort, aren’t we? Well, then, how can you judge by one wretched little corner? Perhaps we’re letting them advance as far as this in order to surround ’em afterwards. . . . Some of you chaps always seem to know more than your Generals. . . . And besides, all this time the Russians are advancing. You let things be. . . . We shall have ’em some day, never fear ! And then they’ll
pay for this!”

We awaited the appearance of the heads of the enemy’s columns, which from one moment to another might emerge from the Tailly valley.

The plateau, shining with dew, had assumed that absolutely silent immobility one so often notices in the country in the early hours of a sunny morning.

Four black points suddenly appeared far down the road? Was it the enemy’s advanced guard ? No. We were soon able to recognize three stragglers and a cyclist. A troop in column of march followed them out of the valley. In this order they could not be Germans. The column, which proved to be a
battalion of the loist, passed by, and disappeared down the road leading to the wood. But, in the rise and fall of the valleyed country stretching on the north-west as far as the dark masses of distant forests. Lieutenant Hely d’Oissel had discovered through his field-glasses large masses of men marching westwards through sunken roads which almost hid them from our view. Were they the enemy, or were they the French troops which were occupying the heights of the Meuse near Stenay and which were now retiring?

We had already experienced the same terrible uncertainty at Marville. The Captain climbed up into an apple-tree in order to see better, and the Major also tried to recognize the mysterious troops. But neither could distinguish anything. A mist — the dampness of the night evaporating — ^was already rising from the ground and veiling the horizon. If those were German columns, they would threaten the flank of the retreating army. A scout was sent off at a gallop to reconnoitre. Time passed, and the columns disappeared. At last the scout came back; the troops were French. He had seen parties of Chasseurs flanking them.

Our feet wet with dew, we once again became motionless and awaited the enemy.

About midday we received orders to move to the edge of the plateau, and take up position behind a clump of trees, in order to command the Tailly valley and the hills on the south of Stenay. And, continually, successive regiments -of infantry emerged from the forest and passed us, falling back.

“Dashed if I can fathom it!” said Hutin.

“Nor can I!”

It was very hot, and we were thirsty, but our water-bottles were empty.

We continued to wait until dusk, but the enemy did not appear.

Night had fallen when we were sent to encamp on the other side of the woods.

The moon was rising clear of the tree-tops. The regular clatter of hoofs and the monotonous roll of the vehicles blended together into a sort of weary cradle-song, and made us sleepy after a time. In order to suffer uncomplainingly all the hardships and miseries of war, we would have asked no more than one hour of affection, of sympathetic tenderness, in safety, at evening-time, after the long day spent in watching or fighting.

The road was level, and we were hardly shaken at all ; no one spoke, and most of us slept or dozed.

No sound disturbed the stillness of the warm night save that of the column on the march. Gradually we lost ourselves in pleasing reveries and memories of the past, forgetting present dangers and distress. On we jogged through space and time. . . . Lyons at night-time . . .long rows of lamps lighting the wharves and reflected in the Rhone . . . above the river the amphitheatre of Croix-Rousse with its lights scintillating Hke golden points, and above them, again, the stars. . . . Where did the town end, or where did the sky begin? . . . And the Mayenne in the bright days of autumn and summer, its sombre waters sparkling like black diamonds. . . . The memories which
rose up before me gradually blurred the scene of illusive reflections.

And perhaps I should die in a few hours time. . . .

Almost as if I myself had been able to write those beautiful verses of Du Bellay, I felt the aching nostalgia of his words:

Quand reverrai-je, helas I de mon petit village Fuiner la cheminee, et en quelle saison Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison, Qui tn’ est une province et beaucoup d’avantage

I repeated the lines to myself several times.