by Donald A. MacKenzie
Table of Contents
1. Lord Kitchener
2. General Joffre
3. Field-Marshal Sir John French
4. Matchless Fighting-Men
5. A Group of Heroes
6. Brave French Boys
7. Indians' Daring Feats
8. The Fighting Flying-Men
9. The Light Side of War
10. Heroic Army Doctors
11. Admiral Sir John Jellicoe
12. Our Humane and fearless Seamen
13. Battles with Sea-Raiders
14. How the Oceans Were Made Free
Never before in the history of the world has war been waged on such a gigantic scale. Never before have such vast armies been gathered together, or so many different nations and races been drawn into conflict. It is no exaggeration to say that the ultimate result of this great war will affect the future of every people on the face of the globe.
Great Britain and her allies are fighting in defence of human freedom and the rights of small nations, and also to secure the blessings of an enduring peace. For many years Germany engaged in making elaborate military and naval preparations to crush rival Sates and found a world-wide empire which would bring her immense power and riches. Her leaders have openly boasted that the Germans are the most cultured and capable people in the world, and on that assumption based the claim that they have a right to control other nations. This war has revealed the violent methods by which they hoped to realize their ambitions. The Government of the Kaiser has broken international laws and at least one international treaty, while the German soldiers have committed terrible atrocities with intent to terrorize their opponents. In Belgium, for instance, they have destroyed beautiful, ancient buildings, laid waste towns and villages, and ruthlessly slain, not only unarmed men, but even women and children.
The immediate cause of the war was the attempt made by Germany's ally, Austria, to coerce the little kingdom of Serbia. Russia intervened so as to secure peace and an honourable agreement, whereupon Germany declared war against Russia and its ally, France. To strike a sudden and heavy blow at France a German army invaded Belgium, expected to sweep through it with little delay. But the Belgian forces set up a gallant and unexpected resistance which greatly hampered the operations of the Kaiser's soldiers.
It was because Belgium was invaded that Great Britain declared war. The neutrality and independence of that small nation had been guaranteed by a treaty signed by Britain and Germany among others. It was a dishonourable act on the part of Germany to break this treaty, and it was the duty of our country to take up arms against the guilty Power.
Great Britain was not prepared on the outbreak of war for military operations on a large scale. We could send only a comparatively small army to the Continent to assist the Belgians and French to retard the advance of the German millions; but the courage and skill displayed by our soldiers served to baffle and delay the huge forces to which they found themselves opposed. From the outset they have proved themselves superior fighting-men to the Germans. In consequence, time has been gained to gradually increase our Expeditionary Force so as to ensure ultimate victory. Meanwhile our fleet has maintained Britain's command of the sea, and completely suspended Germany's overseas mercantile trade.
As soon as war was declared the entire British Empire rallied to support the Home Government. Offers of men, food supplies, and treasure were at once made by the various dependencies and dominions, and ere long transports began to convey troops to the seat of war from India, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, while in South Africa effective measures were taken to suppress a revolt which was fostered by German intrigues. Thus in the hour of trial the Empire was more closely united by the spirit of loyalty that prevails among its freedom-loving peoples.
A wave of intense patriotism swept over the British Isles, and all classes were moved by the common desire to resist the military ambitions of Germany and to take adequate measures which would ensure peace in the future, so that the highest ideals of humanity might be realized. Political differences were set aside, and a deep sense of public duty was everywhere aroused. Young men responded eagerly to the call to arms, and began to enlist in their thousands to fight and suffer and die for their native land. The wealthy abandoned their duties, traders and workers hastened from warehouse and yard, agriculturists turned from harvest-fields, and actors, artists, musicians, and writers became the military comrades to labourers and others in humble walks of life, eager and proud to serve their King and country. Women volunteered as nurses, or engaged in various forms of emergency work, while large sums of money were subscribed spontaneously to provide comforts for fighting-men and assist all those to whom war brings hardship and suffering.
To arouse the sympathy and interest of the readers, the romantic and heroic deeds of those taking part in the great war on land and sea are here set forth. Four of the prominent leaders are dealt with, and accounts provided of their careers and adventures. These are all known as silent men - "Silent Kitchener", "Silent Joffre", "Silent French", and "Silent Jellicoe". The first two were in boyhood somewhat unruly, and each was influenced by the consequences of acts of disobedience to prepare for the serious duties of life. French, on the other hand, was a nervous, gentle lad, who was greatly given to preaching like a clergyman; while Jellicoe inclined to play pranks, and early felt the fascination of life at sea, which offered to him the opportunities for adventure he so greatly sought. But all were similar in one respect. As they grew up, they applied themselves with exemplary diligence to their studies, and won distinctions among their fellows, realizing that success is the reward of hard work and adequate preparation. Kitchener and Joffre received their first military experiences in the Franco-Prussian War, and the careers of both were afterwards of strenuous effort.
The French general spent much of his life in strengthening the defences of his country and improving the methods of training and leading its fighting-men.
Kitchener attained wide experience in foreign service, both as a soldier and administrator. His name will ever be associated with the inauguration of a new age of progress in Egypt, the cradle of world civilization, which had long suffered from oppressive and reactionary government. After it came under the control of Great Britain its welfare and security were continually menaced by the conditions which prevailed in the Sudan. That vast area of the ancient empire of the Pharaohs had been overrun by robber hordes, whose operations enabled the Mahdi to establish a fierce and fanatical tyranny at Omdurman. Kitchener was selected to perform the noble and arduous work of reconquering the Sudan and rescuing it from the barbarism, so that the masses of the people might enjoy the benefits of just and good laws, and the entire Nile valley be made once again a land of golden harvest and peaceful and progressive communities. After achieving successful conquest, Kitchener devoted himself to various schemes for the education and welfare of the people, and showed special concern for the needs of the small agriculturists.
As War Secretary, Kitchener's name is likely to be associated also with the revival of civilization in that other ancient land, Babylonia, which in days of old was "the garden of Western Asia" and one of the centres of world commerce. A British army, strongly reinforced from India, is in occupation of that desolated region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which has for long centuries suffered from the oppression and neglect of Turkey. There is every prospect that Babylonia may once again become what it was in Biblical times, "a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil olive and honey."
One of the notable features of the great war is the prominent part taken in it by India, which, for the first time in history, has sent its native soldiers to fight on European battlefields. These brave and loyal men, like their high-souled ancestors, have proved themselves undoubted heroes, skilled in the art of warfare and unafraid of death. They know they are fighting for a good cause, and that when victory crowns the efforts of the Allies the world will be no longer overshadowed by the peril of German militarism which has threatened the liberties and rights of many peoples. In no other country in the world is the desire for a real and lasting peace more warmly supported than in India. Its people, in common with their fellow-subjects of the Empire and those of the allied nations, feel that when the war is ended humanity will be brought nearer to the happier time dreamt of by the poet who sang:
The world's great age begins anew,
The golden years return.
The great and just cause for which our country is striving is an inspiration to our soldiers and sailors who are -
Gentle in peace, in battle bold,
As were their sires in days of old.
These heroes are adding fresh lustre to the fame of Great Britain, not only by their courage and fortitude in battle, but also by their chivalrous and humanitarian treatment of fallen enemies. Our soldiers risk their lives to alleviate the sufferings of wounded foemen, and our sailors are ever ready to rescue from drowning the crews of hostile war-ships shattered in fierce conflict. Such noble deeds are worthy of a great people who have taken so prominent a part in advancing the cause of civilization throughout the world, and make us feel proud that British blood runs in our veins.
(Typed by Tammy Bosher)
Chapter 1 - Lord Kitchener
Lord Kitchener is a soldier of striking appearance, being over 6 feet in height and as straight as a lance. His face is stern and resolute and thoughtful, and he has sharp blue eyes that look intently at what is going on and seem also to look ahead.
When he was appointed Secretary of State for War it was felt all through the British Empire that the best choice had been made. He has proved himself a leader of strong character and great ability, one who knows his business thoroughly and inspired confidence in those who serve under him.
Now Lord Kitchener did not earn his high reputation without preparing himself thoroughly and performing much hard work. He has ever devoted himself whole-heartedly to his profession; he has ever striven to learn all there is to be learned in connection with it. The story of his life shows that he discovered how to succeed by realizing, in the first place, his own defects, so that he might do his best to correct them, and then by making up his mind to acquire as much knowledge and experience as possible.
In his early days he was just like many other boys - sometimes careless and sometimes unruly. But the time came when he received a sharp reminder that a boy must take the consequences of his actions and make up his mind, once and for all, whether or not he is to do well.
Lord Kitchener was born in Gunsborough House, near the little town of Listowel, in County Kerry, Ireland, but the greater part of his boyhood was spent at Crotta House, Kilflynn, in the same district. His father, who was a retired Indian army colonel, was of Suffolk and Leicestershire stock, and had purchased a large estate in Limerick and Kerry which he developed and improved; his mother was the daughter of a Suffolk clergyman. The other members of the family were Chevallier, Arthur, Walter, and Millie; Kitchener, the second son, was named Horatio Herbert, but was usually called Herbert.
It is told that at home young Herbert "never could be kept quiet". He often got into scrapes, but was lucky in getting out of them. Among strangers he is said to have been shy and awkward, and, as he had a habit of wandering about alone, some people looked upon him as a dreamer. He was never good at games, but he learned to swim with his brothers at Bannastrand, on the sea coast, 7 miles from Crotta House. There big waves come tumbling in from the Atlantic, and only strong swimmers can venture to bathe when a heavy "ground swell" is running.
For a time Herbert took little interest in his lessons. This annoyed his father, who knew the boy was quite clever and just required to apply himself. With his brothers he attended a private school, and one day, just before an examination, his father took him to task for his carelessness, and said: "If you do not pass I will put you to the Dame School." When the results came out it was found that Herbert had failed. His father kept his word and sent the boy to the Dame School, saying "If you do not attend to your lessons there I'll have you apprenticed to a hatter." Herbert felt keenly the disgrace he had fallen into. He made up him mind to study seriously. In time he made splendid progress and became good at arithmetic. By attending to his school work he gave himself the chance he required, and learned how important it was to value time and be industrious in acquiring knowledge that would help him when he grew older.
For a period after school life in Ireland the Kitchener boys studied in Switzerland, residing at the house of their tutor, on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva. They greatly enjoyed their new surroundings, and in their leisure hours engaged in bathing, boating, and mountain-climbing. Having early expressed the desire to become a soldier, like his father, Herbert subsequently removed to London, where he studied for the examination which admits pupils to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He passed successfully in January, 1868, and proved himself to be an excellent student.
By this time his mother had died, and his father, having sold his Irish estate, went to live at Dinan in Brittany. There Kitchener spent his holidays, and waited, after his academy course was finished, for a commission in the army. In 1870 war broke out suddenly between Germany and France. Being anxious to gain experience as a soldier, Kitchener enlisted as a private in the French army. He served, under General Chanzy, in the force which tried in vain to relieve Paris when it was surrounded by Germans. His "baptism of fire" was thus received in France.
Kitchener proved himself a courageous young soldier. Once he made a dangerous ascent in a war-balloon with two French officers to obtain information regarding the enemy's movements.
The military experience he gained in France proved to be most valuable to him. The French army had not been properly equipped, and everything was badly managed. Chanzy's force has scarcely received any training. Kitchener saw how important it was that soldiers should be thoroughly drilled, well organized, and furnished with sufficient supplies of weapons, ammunition, and food. The French suffered defeat because the Germans were prepared for war and they themselves were not.
When the young soldier returned to London he was reprimanded for joining a foreign army without permission from the War Office. He was taken before the Duke of Cambridge, the Commander-in-Chief, who was in doubt whether or not he should receive a commission. With a frown the Duke asked: "What have you to say for yourself? Why did you join the French army?"
Kitchener answered: "Please, sir, I thought I would not be wanted for a time. I was anxious to learn something."
The Duke was satisfied with the young man because he was so frank and showed such great interest in his profession. "I saw," he said afterwards, "that there was real grit in him, and I decided he should have his commission."
So it came about that, at twenty, Kitchener was gazetted as a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. From the outset he showed great promise as a diligent and painstaking officers. After three years' service at home he joined the staff of the Palestine Exploration Fund, with purpose to gain practical experience in surveying work.
His duties in the Holy Land were of an arduous kind. He had to assist in preparing accurate maps of the country, showing every town and village and natural feature in detail, and was consequently kept continually "on the move". Much of his time was spent in desolate places. High mountains had to be climbed, and long, slow journeys made across bleak deserts in burning sunshine. Life in the sleepy villages and unhealthy towns offered few attractions and hardly any comforts to a European. Kitchener endured considerable hardships, suffering now from heat and now from cold, and had several attacks of fever. On one occasion, he was struck with snow blindness - a painful eye trouble caused by the dazzling reflection of bright sunlight on wastes of mountain snow; and another he had a touch of sunstroke.
Being brought into contact with the natives, some of whom were always attached to the party as servants, Kitchener learned Arabic, and was consequently able to talk with them and study their manners and customs. He found it convenient sometimes to wear native costume, and when he allowed his beard to grow, and his face was tanned by the sun, he is said to have been mistaken for some great Arab chief on making appearance for the first time in a lonely village, mounted on a camel.
"Camels", he once wrote, "are bad beasts for survey work. I used to keep mine at a good trot for a bit, until he got cross, which he showed by roaring, and then suddenly shutting up all four legs and coming to the ground with a thud, at the same time springing up again and darting off in an opposite direction."
Now and again exciting adventures were met with. One of these occurred in the vicinity of Ascalon. This ancient city of the Philistines is referred to in the Bible as Askelon. Samson visited it, and slew there thirty of the enemies of his country. It is of special interest to a soldier because it was occupied in 1492 by King Richard I of England, "the Lion Heart", after he had defeated Saladin, a Khurd who had become King of Egypt. The battle took place during the course of the long struggle between the Christian Crusaders and the Moslems for the possession of the Holy Land.
Ascalon is situated on the shores of the blue Mediterranean, and, the afternoon being very sultry, Kitchener and Lieutenant Conder, his senior officer, decided to bathe. They were not long in the water when Condor was carried toward dangerous broken water by a strong current. Struggle as he might, he was unable to return to the shore. It was well for Kitchener that he had learned to swim among the great billows on the south-western coat of Ireland. Perceiving that his friends was in peril, he struck out boldly to rescue him from certain death. After a desperate struggle he was able to assist Conder to dry land.
He saved Conder's life on yet another occasion. They were engaged at the time-it was on 10th July, 1875-beside the little town of Safed, in Galilee, not far from the place where Christ performed the miracle of feeding over 4000 people with seven loaves and a few little fish. Suddenly the surveyors' camp was attacked by a mob, who shouted: "Kill the Christian dogs!" Neither the officers nor their native servants carried weapons. Conder was stuck on the head by a man who wielded a club. "I must inevitably have been murdered", he wrote afterwards, "but for the cool and prompt assistance of Lieutenant Kitchener, who managed to get to me and engaged one of the club men, thereby covering my retreat. A blow descending on the top of his head he parried with a cane, which was broken. A second blow wounded his arm." Kitchener, however, held his ground until the rest of his party had retreated, after which he made his escape. A musket was fired, and the bullet whizzed past his ear like a bee in flight. Then a native ran after him, brandishing wickedly a naked scimitar, but was unable to get to close quarters. Stones were thrown by the mob of cowards, and Kitchener was struck by a big one on the left thigh. Fortunately a party of Turkish soldiers came on the scene and the attackers were put to flight.
After six years of hard work, which was very thoroughly done, Kitchener was able to hand over to the Palestine Fund Committee a complete map of Western Palestine on the scale of 1 inch to a mile.
When the war between Russia and Turkey came to a close, the island of Cyprus was occupied by Britain. Kitchener organized the new courts there and conducted the surveying work. He also acted for a time as British Vice-Consul in Asia Minor, and did much to restore order and improve the condition of the natives who had been ruined by the war.
His next opportunity came when Britain had to occupy Egypt, which was in a state of rebellion and bankruptcy owing to bad government. It was found necessary to reorganize and train a native army under British officers. General Sir Evelyn Wood became Sirdar, or Commander-in-Chief, of the Egyptian forces, and, as Kitchener knew Arabic, he was appointed second in command to Colonel Taylor of the 19th Hussars. Taylor was not long in recognizing the young officer's abilities. "He's quiet," he said to a friend in 1883, "and he clever."
There had arisen in the Sudan a religious pretender, called "The Mahdi"; his chief disciple was a man who afterward became "The Khalifa". The Mahdi's forces took possession of some of the southern provinces, and Colonel W. Hicks, known as Hicks Pasha, who led a native army against the rebels, was cut off and perished with his whole force. Then General Gordon was sent from Long to Khartoum to restore order in the Sudan. This gallant soldier soon found, however, that the Egyptian troops under his command were no match for the rebels, so he appealed for British reinforcements. But, unfortunately, the Home Government did not fully grasp the situation until it was too late. By July, 1884, Khartoum was surrounded by the armed followers of the Mahdi, and before the relief expedition arrived the city fell and Gordon was slain. The garrison had held out for 337 days, and were overcome of 26th January, 1885.
Kitchener acted as an Intelligence officer with the relieving-force. Disguised as an Arab, he managed to send messages to Gordon during the siege. In Gordon's journal there is an entry: "If Kitchener would take the place he would be the best man to put in as Governor-General". The story of how Gordon watched daily for the coming of the British troops, and how in the end he was struck down by a Dervish's spear, was related in Kitchener's official report.
After Khartoum fell Kitchener came home, and was sent to Zanzibar as one of the Commission appointed to fix the new boundary between German and British East Africa.
In 1886 he returned to the Nile valley as Governor-General. The rebellion had spread northward, and he took energetic measures to restore order in the area under his control. At Suakin he defeated with heavy losses the notorious Osman Digna, a Turkish slave-dealer who had espoused the cause of the Mahdi. During the battle he sustained a serious wound, a bullet having entered his jaw and lodged in his neck. He was sent to hospital and then invalided home. By this time Kitchener had attained the rank of Colonel. Soon afterwards he became Adjutant-General of the Egyptian Army.
The Dervishes in the Sudan were now becoming more and more daring and aggressive, and seemed determined to extend their power into Egypt proper. Preparations had therefore to be made to crush them. In 1892 Kitchener was appointed Sirdar, or Commander-in-Chief, and did his utmost to improve the Egyptian army, which was being trained by capable British instructors. His head-quarters were at Cairo, within sight of the three greatest pyramids and the wonderful sphinx. There he planned his campaign against the Dervishes, and began the construction of a railway towards the south, so that the army, as it advanced, might be well supplied with food and ammunition and reinforced when necessary without delay. The work he undertook required great skill in management and constant and anxious attention to the minutest details.
An early success was the capture of the province of Dongola, which had been overrun by hordes of desert robbers, who murdered and enslaved the Egyptians and turned a fertile district into a wilderness.
By constructing a railway across the desert from Wadi Halfa to Abu Hamed, between places the Nile curves like the letter U, Kitchener was able to shorten his advance southward. Then Berber was occupied, the Dervishes having fled from it in panic. About 200 miles distant lay Khartoum and the city of Omdurman, built by the Mahdi on the opposite side of the river.
The Khalifa's advanced force took up position beside the Atbara River which flows into the Nile. Kitchener prepared to attack it, and was able to bring up a brigade of British troops along his new railway to reinforce the Egyptian army. It consisted of Warwicks, Lincolns, Seaforths, and Camerons.
On 7th April, 1898, Kitchener was only 7 miles distant from the Dervish army, which lay behind a zareba-an obstruction made of piled-up thorns. A rapid night march brought the army into close contact with the enemy, and at daybreak the British guns opened fire. Before eight o'clock the infantry charged and took the zareba, the Egyptian soldiers displaying much courage and skill in friendly rivalry with their British comrades. Three-quarters of an hour sufficed to destroy the Khalifa's army, which lost about 3000 in killed alone.
Kitchener next prepared for the final blow at Omdurman. The railway was extended southward, and Atbara became a great centre for supplies.
The Khalifa had an army of over 40,000, and the British and Egyptian troops did not exceed 22,000. On 2nd September the opposing forces met in conflict outside Omdurman.
Kitchener had taken up position the night before and the battle commenced at six o'clock in the morning. This time the Dervishes made the attack while the British artillery shelled them. On they swept, like foaming billows, until at the 2000-yards range they met the thick and accurate shower of rifle bullets which cut them down as corn is cut down by a scythe. Again and again they tried to reach the British lines. Then the Lancers charged to clear the way to Omdurman. They met and broke up a concealed force of swordsmen, and Kitchener advanced on the city to prevent the enemy occupying it and so prolonging the struggle.
While this movement was being carried out, a reserve force of 15,000 Dervishes attacked the Egyptian wing of the army. This native brigade was commanded by General Hector MacDonald, who showed magnificent coolness and bravery. He re-arranged his troops and opened fire, scattering the advancing host and completing the victory.
Kitchener had halted and sent reinforcements to MacDonald, but success was assured before they arrived. Then he occupied Omdurman and Khartoum. The power of the Khalifa was thus shattered after long years of hard work under the wise direction of Kitchener. In time the whole of the Sudan was rendered peaceful. It is a vast country, about a million square miles in extent-nearly as big as France and Germany combined. When it was controlled by the Mahdist power Egypt was never secure.
For his great services the Sirdar was raised to the peerage of Lord Kitchener of Khartoum and of Aspall and given a grant of L30,000. Both Houses of Parliament thanked him cordially. "He was written a new page of British history," declared a prominent statesman, "and has blotted out an old one."
When the Boer War broke out, on 9th October, 1899, Lord Kitchener, as Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of the Sudan, was engaged in schemes for the good of the people who had come under our care. But towards the end of the year, he was called to South Africa. The Boers had proved to be powerful opponents, and the British forces had met with disasters at Colenso and Magersfontein. Strong reinforcements were dispatched across the seas, and Lord Roberts was appointed to the supreme command. Kitchener was asked if he would act as chief o staff to this great soldier, and his reply by telegram was: "Delighted to serve in any capacity under Lord Roberts". He gave loyal assistance to his superior officer. When Lord Roberts was returning to this country, after the capture of Pretoria, he said "I am glad to take this opportunity of publicly expressing how much I owe to his wise counsels and ever-ready help. No one could have laboured more incessantly, or in a more self-effacing manner, than Lord Kitchener has done." Kitchener has always been ready to do his duty for the sake of the Empire.
The tide of battle turned soon after the arrival of Roberts and his assistant in South Africa. Kitchener reorganized the transport service and planned the relief of the besieged town of Kimberley and the capture of Cronje and his army at Paardeberg. In time the British troops swept northward and occupied first Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, and then Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal. Afterwards Lord Roberts returned to this country, and Lord Kitchener was given supreme command.
The Boers no longer fought pitched battles, but waged what is known as guerrilla warfare. They scattered all over the country in small forces, striking at the British where opportunity offered. As they were well mounted they were difficult to "round up". But Kitchener, by the exercise of skill and persistence, at length overcame all difficulties, and, having opened up negotiations with his opponents, brought the war to a close by the Peace of Vereeniging. On his return home he was created a Viscount and decorated by King Edward with the new and distinguished Order of Merit.
He next went to India as Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army. For seven years he served in this capacity and introduced many reforms. He greatly improved the system of training and completely re-organized the various forces. When he left India its army was ready for any sudden call, and was stronger than ever it had been.
Afterwards Kitchener was sent to Australia, where he examined the defences, and worked out a scheme for training the Dominion's new army of 80,000 men. Then he paid a visit to New Zealand, the Government of which he provided with a similar scheme for its citizen forces. From New Zealand he travelled to Canada, where also he was consulted regarding military preparations.
In September, 1911, he returned to Egypt as the British Agent, and thus became chief administrator of that country. He threw himself heart and soul into the work. Like the great Egyptian kings of ancient days he did his utmost to make the country prosperous and contented. New laws were established to improve the lot of the fellah, or peasant, who tills the little farms in the Delta and Nile valley.
"Lord Kitchener"', wrote a native in 1913, "is the most popular figure in Egypt to-day. He has made all the Egyptians realize that he is the friend of the Egyptians and understands their needs." One of the many schemes he has favoured is to reclaim a large portion of desert land by irrigation, and to give free gifts of 5-acre farms to native settlers.
When the present world war broke out, our great soldier and stateman was in London consulting the Government regarding his plans to develop and improve Egypt for the benefit of its people. He was about to return, but his services were required at home. He was asked, and consented, to undertake the duties of the War Secretary.
It then seemed as if his whole life-work has been directed to prepare him for this responsible post. Our soldiers were to fight beside those of our great ally, France: Kitchener had himself served in the French army. Those dominions of the British Empire-Australia, New Zealand, and Canada-which resolved to send contingents to aid in the struggle, were familiar to him; he had helped to reorganize their forces and their system of training. He understood the needs of South Africa. Turkey, too, declared war, and Kitchener knew Turkey. Egypt was threatened: no one knew Egypt better than Kitchener; he was familiar also with the area through which the troops attacking it must march, having surveyed that very land. From India came offers of help which were accepted. Our army was then strengthened by those brave native soldiers whom Kitchener had striven to make more efficient when acting as their Commander-in-Chief. And last, but not least, the young men of the home country who admired and trusted the great soldier responded to his call for recruits in the hour of peril, with the result that "Kitchener's Army" came into being.
One is reminded of the stirring little speech he made to a gathering of representative soldiers in South Africa after peace was signed. In the course of it he said:
"What have you learned during the war? Some have learned to ride and shoot; all of you have learned discipline, to be stanch and steadfast in the hour of danger, to attack with vigour, to hold what you have gained.
"You can never forget the true friends and comrades by whose side you have stood in a hundred fights. Even the hardships which you have so cheerfully endured will in the remembrance be only pleasures.
"Teach the youths that come after you what you have learned.
"Keep your horses and rifles ready, and your bodies physically fit, so that you may be prepared at any time to take your part in the great Empire which unites us all."
Here we have the Kitchener motto, which should never be forgotten - BE PREPARED.
(Typed by Tammy Bosher)
Chapter 2 - General Joffre
General Joffre, the French Commander-in-Chief, is usually referred to among his country-men as "Silent Joffre". He never utters an unnecessary word, but what He does say is worth listening to. In appearance he is not very soldierly, and certainly not at all like Kitchener. He is of short stature and some-what stout, and he has a habit of thrusting his hands into his pockets. In civilian attire one might mistake him for a shrewd and prosperous city business man who has spent much of his time at a desk. His jaw is broad and resolute, his nose prominent, with wide nostrils, and his grey-blue eyes are as kindly as they are penetrative. He has heavy, pondering lips, over which droops a large white moustache, and deep lines seam his broad forehead. You can see at a glance that he is a man accustomed to think deeply and long. When he smiles his face beams with unaffected good humour.
There is nothing about him to suggest the popular idea that all Frenchmen are gay and light-hearted. The grave, silent Joffre is a modest man of simple habits and manners. But he is "as hard as nails", as the saying goes, and always "wide awake".
The great general is a man of humble origin. It is said that one of his
ancestors, a century ago, was a travelling pedlar in the Eastern
Pyrenees, who used to go from village to village driving a van with all
kinds of household wares. Because he was in the habit of shouting
"Joffre", which signifies "I offer", he became known as "Joffre", and
his descendants adopted the nickname as a surname. If this story is
true, the Joffre family must have had no cause to be ashamed of their
connection with the honest broker of village fame.
In boyhood General Joffre was regarded as being of rather daring and reckless character. Bathing was his favourite recreation, and he won among his fellows a great reputation as a diver and swimmer. But his feats alarmed his parents, and especially his mother, who feared he would some day meet with a grave mishap. It was his custom to have a plunge in a river near his home every morning before breakfast. He was ordered to discontinue it, because he could not be prevailed upon to keep out of danger. "Some morning you'll be drowned," his mother exclaimed nervously. "I have never heard of such a foolhardy boy as you are."
The lad fretted under the restriction, and at length began to steal out of the house before anyone was up. So he was put to sleep in a room in a second story of the old-fashioned country house, and his mother locked him in every night. The river was strictly forbidden. "He can't be trusted," declared his mother; "he seems to enjoy risking his life."
But young Joffre was difficult to restrain. He soon hit on a plan to have his morning dip unknown to anyone. Securing an old sheet, he tore it up and made a "rope ladder" of it. He went early to bed, and woke with the lark. In the grey dawn he lowered his ladder from the window, clambered down it, and ran to the river-side. Then he had a cool plunge in a deep pool, diving headlong from a jutting rock, and swam about where the current was strongest as nimbly as a seal. Those who had occasional glimpses of him in the water were not surprised that his mother should feel nervous. After his bathe he did not wait to dry himself, but scampered home across the fields and climbed up his ladder to his bedroom before anyone in the house had wakened up.
These exploits went on for a time, until one morning the frail ladder snapped, and the boy fell heavily into the garden and broke his leg. He lay there for nearly two hours before he was discovered. "Oh, my dear, foolish boy," exclaimed his mother, "I knew something terrible would happen to you one day! Will you never be warned?"
His mother's tears hurt him more than his injury. So he resolved to be obedient to her wishes in future. To please her he began to study seriously, and when he was going about on crutches he got into the habit of reading a good deal.
"After all," his mother remarked to a friend one day, "this accident he has had may be a blessing in disguise."
At the same time she felt that her son had better have experience of strict discipline. He had been so wayward and determined and cunning that she feared he would return to his bathing exploits again. So the boy was sent to a college sooner than was intended, and before he had ceased to limp as he walked. He made good progress, and was looked upon as a lad of great promise. In time he decided to study for the army, and, like Kitchener, showed a preference for the Engineers. The ambitious spirit he had displayed in rivalling the feats of other boys in river bathing wasthen given a more serious turn. He determined to acquit himself with distinction in his military studies, and he certainly did so. Young Joffre was pointed out as an example to his comrades.
Before he was nineteen the war of 1870 broke out between Germany and France. He took part in the defence of Paris, and learned much by bitter experience regarding the military needs of his country. After the French capital fell, and peace was declared, he did useful work in connection with the reconstruction of the city defences, and was promoted to the rank of captain at the age of twenty-two. He was already marked out as a young soldier of great promise. It is of special interest to know that as an Engineer officer he had to do with the rebuilding of the famous fortifications of Verdun.
Subsequently he saw much active service in the French colonies. He took part in expeditions in Cochin-China, where he overlooked the erection of forts, and in West Africa. He also performed important duties in Madagascar and Algeria.
His promotion was rapid and well deserved. Ultimately, after his return home, he became the youngest general in the French army. His interests were entirely bound up in profession. He studied the art of warfare continually, preparing himself for the struggle with Germany, which, he felt fully convinced, was bound to come in his own lifetime. In politics he took no part. When he appeared on a public platform he spoke simply as a soldier, and never feared to be frank regarding the seriousness of the coming conflict. In the army he was known as a reformer. He cared nothing for display. He worked hard for efficiency. His belief was that French soldiers were too apt to trust to their daring and fearless methods of attack. He wanted to have them trained to maintain a tenacious and enduring defensive, so that they might wear down the enemy and strike hard when they got them at a disadvantage. At manoeuvres he displayed great ability as a strategist who did the unexpected and outwitted his opponents. Nobody ever knew what Joffre's next move would be. He always showed himself strongest where his opponents thought he was weakest. Everyone admired the clever manner in which he handled large forces of men. The army and the public learned to place entire confidence in the silent, determined, and watchful General Joffre. His character has been well summed tip by one of our own public men who paid him a visit at the seat of war. "General Joffre", he said,"is not only a great soldier; he is also a great man."
(scanned by Art in Kenosha)
Chapter 3 - Field-Marshal Sir John French
It is interesting to note that Sir John French is able to claim kinship not only with the English, Scottish, and Irish under his command, but also with our French allies. On his father's side he is descended from the Norman-French family of De Freigne, or De Fraxinis, which settled in Ireland. One of his ancestors, Patrick French, was a burgess of the town of Galway in the sixteenth century, and Patrick's grandson was popularly known as "Tierna More", which in Gaelic means "the great landlord". This was John French of French Park, who commanded a troop in the Inniskilling Dragoons at the battle of Aughrim. Our marshal's great-grandfather purchased the estate of Ripplevale, in Kent, and his grandfather became a resident English landlord. Through his mother he can claim a connection with Scotland. Her name was Margaret Eccles, and she was the daughter of a wealthy West Indian merchant in Glasgow. Sir John's father was a captain in the navy. After his death a Scottish uncle, Mr. William Smith, became the guardian of the family, which consisted of one son the future great soldier and five daughters, one of whom is Mrs. Charlotte Despard, of the "Women's Freedom League".
Sir John was born in Kent on 28th September, 1852. When he was quite a little boy no one imagined he would become a stern and dashing soldier. He was somewhat shy and nervous, and it seemed for a time as if he would elect to be a clergyman, because he so often dressed up as one at home and preached long sermons to his sisters. Nowadays he is known as "Silent French". But one trait of his youthful character he still retains, and that is consideration for others. Soldiers admire him because he is not one of those iron-hearted officers who seem to care little how they waste human lives, and because he always concerns himself greatly regarding their comfort. A pretty story is told about him by one of the old house-servants who knew him as a child. "One morning in the depth of winter," she has said, "when I went downstairs I found Master Johnnie kneeling on the dining-room hearth trying his best to light the fire. He said in a tone of disappointment: ‘I meant to have a good fire for you, but the wretched coal won't burn'."
His father and mother died when he was quite young, and "Master Johnnie" came under the care of his guardian. As he grew up he became fond of reading about wars. His favourite hero was Napoleon Bonaparte. But he did not neglect his lessons. He was always very studious, and early showed a desire to master a subject to which he applied himself.
Following his father's example, he first chose the navy as a career, and went to Eastman's Naval Academy at Portsmouth to study for the examinations. In time he became a midshipman on H.M.S. Warrior. The ironclads of these days were in the transition stage: they were fitted with engines and propellers, but also carried sails like Nelson's ships. A new type of vessel, which was named the Captain, was introduced when French was a middy. Its sides rose only 9 feet out of the water, and it had a raised "hurricane deck", with two revolving turrets carrying six guns. The crew consisted of about 600 men.
Great things were expected of the Captain. It was capable of powerful gun-fire, and afforded a small target to an enemy. But it proved to be thoroughly unseaworthy. Having been attached to the same squadron as the Warrior, on which French was serving, it entered the Bay of Biscay in rough weather. An anxious night went past, and when day dawned the Captain was nowhere to be seen.
It had "turned turtle" and gone down with the entire crew. This disaster, which happened on 7th September, 1870, greatly impressed Midshipman French among others.
After four years' life in the navy the young officer left the sea and joined the 8th Hussars, in which he received a commission as a lieutenant. A month later, on 11th March, 1874, he was transferred to the 19th Hussars. His fellow-officers were not greatly impressed by him. "Why," exclaimed one of them, "he looks like a soda-water bottle." For a long time they nicknamed him "Soda-water-bottle French".
But the shy lad of low stature soon showed his worth. He was a most painstaking and studious soldier. He was quick to learn, and never forgot what he learned. Besides, he always did his duty promptly and thoroughly. His promotion was rapid, and he deserved it, for he worked hard.
He first saw active service in Egypt in 1884-5, when he took part in the operations against the Mahdi. He was then a major, and served under General Sir Herbert Stewart, who was pressing southward towards Khartoum to rescue Gordon with a force of less than 2500 men. At Abu Rica, Stewart was attacked by an army of 11,000 Dervishes, and a fierce battle was fought. The little British army formed a square, and although it was penetrated by the enemy, the savage desert warriors were driven back with great slaughter. It was in this action that Colonel Burnaby, a famous British cavalry officer who was fighting as a volunteer, met his death from an Arab spear.
The British pressed on, and next day fought another action, in which Sir Herbert Stewart was slain. About three weeks later Sir Revers Buller arrived with reinforcements, and enabled the column Stewart had commanded to retire after a message had been received from Gordon saying he was not able to hold out much longer. Buller made special mention of French in his dispatches, adding that the force owed much to him. Shortly afterwards French was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, having proved himself an able and distinguished leader of cavalry. He commanded the 19th Hussars for six years, and then went to India as Assistant-Adjutant-General of Cavalry on the staff. Two years later he was transferred to the War Office, and carried out important reforms. He created a revolution in the training and tactics of cavalry.
When the Boer War broke out French was made a full major-general and given the command of the Cavalry Brigade in the Natal field force. He proved himself to be a superb and dashing leader. His first success was at Elandslaagte, where the Boers had cut the railway line and taken up a strong position. He commanded a mixed force, and after a stiff struggle drove back his opponents and captured their artillery and camp.
The main force of the Boer army afterwards pressed forward and began to surround Ladysmith. General Sir George White resolved to defend the town, and gave French important dispatches to carry to Sir Redvers Buller, then the Commander-in-Chief. He travelled by the last train which left the town. It was attacked by the Boers, but French escaped the showers of bullets that swept through the carriages by lying under a seat of a compartment, where he made himself as comfortable as possible and calmly smoked a cigar.
He afterwards fought several actions which retarded the advance of the Boers, and showed remarkable skill in adapting himself to the new conditions of warfare.
Early in 1900, after the arrival in South Africa of Lords Roberts and Kitchener, General French was placed in command of a mounted force between 4000 and 5000 strong, including seven batteries of horse artillery. His orders were to relieve the town of Kimberley, which had been surrounded and besieged by the Boers since October of the previous year. On 12th February he set out from Ramdan. "I promise faithfully", he said to Kitchener, "to relieve Kimberley at six o'clock on the evening of the 15th if I am alive." De Wet was watching this great mobile force and attempted to intercept it. As French was crossing a ford of the Riet River a shell burst near him, and he had a narrow escape from death. It seemed that he bore a charmed life. Strange to relate, French has never been wounded, although oft-times in danger.
In advancing upon Kimberley, French made quite a new use of cavalry. He attacked strongly entrenched positions held by infantry and artillery and passed right through between them. In doing so he opened out his squadrons into very widely extended formation, so that the Boer fire could not be concentrated against them, and clashed on at the gallop. Before his opponents quite realized what was happening, the great cavalry leader had passed behind and beyond them on his way to Kimberley.
The weather was burning hot, and this mobile relieving-force suffered alternately from dust storms and veldt fires. Still the advance was continued according to French's "time-table". On the 14th Klip Drift, an important strategic position, was successfully occupied. Next morning the men were up early and in the saddle, riding forward at a brisk pace. Kimberley was sighted at half-past two in the afternoon and messages were sent to it by heliograph. The Boers occupied two kopjes, and French, again extending his squadrons, charged through and round his entrenched opponents, with the result that they found it necessary to abandon the siege and effect a safe retreat. At six o'clock in the evening the gallant general entered the town with a small force and received a stirring welcome.
On the following evening, after engaging in several hours' heavy fighting, French received orders to hasten eastward so as to head off General Cronje's army, which was retiring from its strong position at Magersfontein, and making for Bloemfontein. This difficult task was performed with skill and success. The Boers were held up at Paardeberg while Kitchener advanced with infantry and artillery and completely surrounded them. After a brave and desperate resistance, against overpowering numbers, Cronje and his army of about 2000 surrendered.
On the march to Bloemfontein, and afterwards to Pretoria, General French distinguished himself as a cavalry leader. It was greatly due to his rapid and clever movements that the Boers had to evacuate position after position. The hardest fighting took place with General Botha, who proved himself a leader of great resource and daring.
After Pretoria was occupied, Kitchener planned his wide sweeping movements, which were called "drives", to clear the various districts of their mobile bands of fighting Boers. The greatest "drive" was carried out by French in the Eastern Transvaal. Afterwards he operated in the disturbed parts of Cape Colony. When the peace treaty was signed, on 31st May, 1902, it was recognized that French was without doubt the most original and brilliant leader of cavalry in the British army. Both Roberts and Kitchener praised him on several occasions, but none thought more highly of him than the soldiers under his command. They learned to trust him with absolute confidence, and they loved him because of his unassuming and kindly manner. He was always so cool, so resourceful, so simple and quiet. The brilliant general never posed, as it were, "to the gallery". A boastful word never escaped his lips, and he was generous to a fallen foeman. He always showed great concern about the men under his command, and went about his work as coolly and efficiently as a city man in his office or warehouse. The really great and clever men are often the most humble and considerate. Sir John held various high military positions at home after the Boer War. In 1913 he was raised to the rank of Field-Marshal. When war broke out with Germany he was appointed to command the British Expeditionary Force. With Kitchener at the War Office and French at the front it was felt throughout the British Empire that its military resources would be used to the fullest advantage. No army in the world has leaders of greater ability and distinction.
(scanned by Art in Kenosha)
Chapter 4 - Matchless Fighting-men
One thing which has been proved by the great war with Germany is that the soldiers of the British Empire are unsurpassed as fearless and determined fighting-men. At first the Germans despised them. In an order said to have been issued to his troops, the Kaiser made reference to "the contemptible little British army". But, soon after the fighting commenced, our gallant soldiers showed they were as bold and brave in battle as their heroic ancestors in days gone by.
The first meeting of British and German troops was in the vicinity of Mons in southern Belgium. Our soldiers were extended along a line about 28 miles long.
The conflict began on a Sunday afternoon, and, owing to the rapid advance of the Germans, it opened suddenly and unexpectedly.
Among the early arrivals at the position selected by General French were the West Kents. The weather was warm, and after digging trenches the men felt tired and hungry. While dinner was being got ready, a number of the jolly Englishmen proposed to have a bath in a canal which was in the vicinity. In a few minutes afterwards they were splashing merrily in the cool waters.
"I say, this is just fine," you could hear a man exclaim as he sprayed a comrade. "After that long march and digging the trenches, I wanted a dip badly. How do you feel?"
"A bit all right now," came the usual answer.
At first some shouted challenges to swim with friends for a hundred yards. But as more and more men entered the water, raising torrents of spray, the canal became too crowded for competitions.
"Come on now, you men who have had your dip," shouted a sergeant on the bank; "get out and allow some others to get in."
It was a lively scene. Dozens scrambled up the slope to run for towels, and others dived in with splash and splutter and shout. One might think the men were on holiday and not out to fight against fearful odds.
Those who had bathed, and got dressed, seized pannikins and filed towards the camp kitchen to obtain their rations. Ere long groups of hungry men were squatted about devouring a hot meal with relish, some of them at the same time watching the cantrips of the bathers in the canal.
Then suddenly the storm of war broke forth. Several German batteries of artillery had crept up through a wood in front of the British lines, and opened fire with shrapnel. The shells burst over the West Kents in dozens, and immediately there was excitement and confusion. Just as people scamper from the streets when a thunder-plump of rain comes down, so did the bathers and diners scamper for cover. Some soon got into position in their trenches; others had to snatch up towels and clothes and then race for their rifles, drying and dressing themselves afterwards in the narrow ditches they had excavated.
In other parts of the long British line, troops came under fire as soon as they arrived. "They had to dig their trenches as they lay flat on the ground--not an easy task--but they did the work all the same. Late arrivals had no opportunity of using the spade at all, and took cover where it could be found : behind hedges, bushes, or boulders, or simply in shallow depressions formed by floods.
The bright sunshine was dimmed by the drifting smoke of the guns on either side. Bullets and splinters from the German shells came whizzing downwards, after each shell burst with a crash overhead. But the British soldiers remained cool and collected. They even made merry about the surprise they had received.
"What a dirty trick!" called one man. "They might have waited until I had finished my dip. I wonder where's my cap!"
"And my tunic," another exclaimed.
"The Germans have no manners," remarked a third. "They chucked a dirty bullet into my pannikin and spilt my soup."
"What a mess I'm in," growled a big-fellow who was but half dressed. "I had just dried myself after a nice wash, when a shrapnel landed in a pot of potatoes and spattered me all over with mash and skins. My, but I do feel sticky!"
"They wanted to give you a German lightning lunch," a friend suggested, with a grin. "Don't you know there are hundreds of waiters in front of you?"
"Here they come," shouted man to man. "Aren't they pretty? Glad to see you, my lads!"
The German infantry had begun to advance, believing that the British had been demoralized by the artillery. But the shrapnel had been less effective than they realized.
On came the enemy, charging in close order and in numbers far greater than the British. Their blue-grey uniforms made their dense masses look like waves sweeping over the green fields. And like waves they broke when they came into range of the rifles. Hundreds fell before the shower of well-directed bullets. For a few moments the attackers paused after the first shock. But their officers urged them forward, and they poured on again. In front of them the British troops were invisible, crouching in their trenches, disdaining the crash and scream of shrapnel, and taking sure and accurate aim. Whole companies of the Germans were mowed down.
"This minds me of harvest work," a British soldier said. "It's like reaping a field of barley."
"We'll soon have the whole crop cut," answered another.
On came the Germans, shouting and singing to keep up their courage, over ground strewn with the dead and dying. Many crouched up their shoulders and turned their faces sideways, as if they were walking against a fierce shower of hailstones. But they could make no headway against the bullet-storm. So quickly did they fall that in some places the dead were piled up 5 feet high. Still the German officers cried : " Vorwarts !" ("Forward!"), and the dazed men in the blue-grey uniforms attempted to climb over the "walls" of the dead.
"Disgusting, I call it," remarked a British soldier.
"It's not fighting," a comrade said; "it's like shooting game."
"Are there any left?" asked a little man, reaching up to peer over his rifle.
"Thousands of them! thousands of them!' someone answered. "They seem to be rising out of the ground--coming out like rabbits from their holes."
The Germans were trying to overwhelm the British, but the khaki-clad troops never flinched. Hour after hour went past and the terrible slaughter continued. Battalions rushed forward and were shattered, and the survivors scampered away. But other battalions hastened to attempt the crossing of the blood-drenched ground. At some parts of the line the pressure was terrible and constant. Now and again British cavalry went out and set hosts of Germans scampering. Here and there the machine-guns made gaps in the massed troops "like red-hot iron thrust through packing-paper", as a British soldier put it.
Desperate fighting took place at a cross-road held by English, Scottish, and Irish soldiers. Sometimes, after thinning out an attacking German force, they leaped from cover and charged with the bayonet. The sight of the glittering steel made the enemy run.
It was only once at Mons that the Germans faced the British attackers. They had almost reached the trenches of the South Lancashires when out leaped these fearless Englishmen and dashed on the closed ranks of the Kaiser's warriors. They stood it for a few minutes, and frightful havoc was done. The Germans, however, were no match for the Lancashires and fled before them as fast as they could run.
"Rabbits don't like ferrets," a laughing Englishman exclaimed.
"And puppies hate running up against hedgehogs," added another.
All this time, and until darkness came on, the artillery roared on either side without ceasing. The noise was deafening. Maxim guns rattled like sewing-machines, howitzers bellowed like thunder, rifles snapped out their fire like thousands of riding-whips snapping together. In the distance the big-guns sounded like slamming doors. Shells crashed in the air, on the ground, and dropped into the trenches or burst in front of them, causing them to collapse and bury brave men alive.
Aeroplanes skimmed below the clouds like giant eagles, spotting guns and trenches and signalling the range. Sometimes one of the machines was struck by shrapnel, and tumbled down like a bird with a broken wing.
Meanwhile the courageous members of the British Medical Staff Corps attended to the wounded and removed them to the rear. When the disabled warriors related their experiences in hospital they had many thrilling stories to tell.
C751 THE CHARGE OF THE 9TH LANCERS AT MONS
On the third day of the fighting a magnificent charge was made by the 2nd British Cavalry Brigade, consisting of Lancers, Hussars, and Dragoons. Nothing like it has occurred since the Light Brigade won great glory at Balaclava. They rode out to silence the German big guns, which were doing frightful havoc at one particular point in the British lines, but before they could reach them they had to pass through the fire of about twenty machine-guns, which emptied many a saddle. Their advance was also hampered by barbed-wire entanglements. But they rode onward fearless and resolute and unstayed. When they reached the guns they cut down the gunners; then they damaged the guns so that no further fire might come from them. Having accomplished this they rode back--"all that was left of them".
Both on their way out and on their return they encountered German cavalry. One of the Germans who was taken prisoner said : " We were stronger in numbers than the Lancers, and thought we would hold them back, but they cut through us like cutters snipping barbed wire. I am sure each one of them speared an opponent. We were thrown into confusion, and just when we were trying to rally they wheeled round and dashed at us again. I can hear them shouting still. Our men and horses were cut down right and left. Ach! it was dreadful, indeed. Back they came once more, and they did not leave us until we were all scattered. Never again do I wish to meet a charge of the terrible Lancers."
A Middlesex company engaged in a most extraordinary struggle with the enemy. The men were engaged digging a trench, and while doing so an aeroplane flew overhead.
"I wish I had my rifle here," exclaimed one of the Englishmen, "so that I might have a pop at that fellow."
The company had left their arms behind: they were to be brought up by their comrades who were getting ready to take up position. It was hot and sultry, and they worked hard.
Suddenly the sergeant saw advancing a force of German infantry with fixed bayonets. The airman had signalled for them.
They were close at hand before they were noticed, and came on at a rush. The trenchdiggers had no time to retire. Some stood up to defend themselves with shovels; others used their fists. A good many fell, dying like heroes; but a remnant kept the Germans at bay, and those who got possession of the enemies' weapons set up a desperate fight until a British force came to the rescue. This was the Connaught Rangers. The dashing Irishmen attacked the Germans as Irishmen can, and drove them back, slaying many and making prisoners of those who had thrown down their arms and were unable to escape.
In another district the South Wales Borderers were hastening into action when they came against a regiment of Uhlans attacking a convoy. The gallant Welshmen at once took up position and opened fire, causing many a horse and man to fall. As the fight developed, however, the German cavalry was reinforced and an attempt was made to surround the Welshmen and cut them up. It was a desperate situation.
"They have cornered us this time," a private exclaimed.
"They'll get it hot till the bitter end," remarked a companion.
But it seemed when he spoke that the end was not far off. The Welshmen were out-numbered by their swiftly moving opponents. Then suddenly the glad news was whispered along the lines: "Reinforcements are coming!"
"Who are they? Who are they?" many asked.
"Look! look!" exclaimed a sergeant; "here are the Scots Greys and the 1st Lancers."
It was a splendid sight to see how the British cavalrymen dashed against the enemy, wheeling round, striking on left and right, retiring and charging again. The Welsh infantry fought with renewed vigour. But still the British force was outnumbered. For six hours the fight was waged with great fury. Gradually, however, the Germans' encircling movement was shattered. Here the Uhlans were compelled to retreat; there they were thrown into confusion. Englishmen, Scotsmen, and Welshmen fought as fearlessly and as well as their sires of old. In the end the Germans were put to flight, after about 1500 had been either killed or wounded.
Outnumbered--in some places by ten to one --the British army had to retreat from Mons and district and fight what are known as rear-guard actions, so as to prevent the Germans and mowed them down in scores. The survivors fled confusedly, leaving the Guards in possession of the ground they had so gallantly defended. Over 1400 Germans were put out of action, most of them having been killed out-right, on that night of carnage and slaughter.
A single man may sometimes perform a deed of heroism which will save the lives of many. A canal was crossed by the Middlesex regiment, who had to keep back the advance of a horde of Germans strongly supported by heavy artillery. The bridge which spanned it had, however, to be blown up. If the enemy succeeded in rushing over it they might be able to overwhelm the gallant defenders. A charge of gun-cotton was placed beneath a girder and the fuse set alight. This work was carried out by a few members of the Royal Engineers, who suffered greatly from the attention paid to them by German snipers. But, as luck would have it, the fuse burnt out, having been severed by a bullet, and the bridge remained intact.
Perceiving this, a sergeant of the Engineers rushed forward to relight the stump of fuse which remained. It was a perilous task, because he might not be able to run back far enough before the charge exploded. But he never hesitated. He knew many British lives would be saved if he successfully performed his duty.
The Germans opened fire on him with rifles and field-guns. A shrapnel burst overhead as he caught the shortened fuse and ignited it. Then he turned round and ran a few paces. A shell swept over the canal and struck off his head, and in another second the gun-cotton exploded and blew the bridge into fragments. The Middlesex soldiers were thus enabled to hold their position, and before the time came to retreat they punished the enemy severely. So confident were the Germans of victory that a message was telegraphed to Berlin, saying: "The British army is surrounded". There were rejoicings in the German capital, but these did not last long. Step by step the dauntless soldiers of our country retreated, fighting with courage and success, until the tide of battle turned and the Germans were driven back pell-mell towards the River Aisne.
Chapter 5 - A Group of Heroes
C751 FIRING THE BRIDGE - An heroic eighteen-year-old Belgian corporal firing a bridge at Termonde, amid a hail of bullets. A similar incident is described on page 65.
A thrilling deed of heroism was accomplished by a Highland soldier in the vicinity of Soissons on the River Aisne. About 150 men of his regiment were told off to guard a bridge in case any Germans should attempt to cross. It was not expected that a strong attack would be made at that particular place.
The day was warns and pleasant; sunlight twinkled on the river and birds sang among the trees. But for the booming of guns in the distance there was nothing to suggest war and bloodshed in that peaceful spot. The Highlanders chatted about home and the harvest-fields, and enjoyed the rest they were experiencing after long, weary marching and heavy fighting. One said: "If I had a fishing-rod I should like to try that shady pool yonder. There is a nice ripple on the water."
He had hardly spoken when the "spit-spit-spit" of rifles rang out in the silence. A strong force of Germans had crept through the wood opposite them, and were evidently going to rush the bridge. Several Highlanders fell, and the rest took cover and opened fire. When the Germans made their appearance their ranks were swept by a Maxim gun, which cut them down in dozens.
For a time the attackers were held back. Then a strong column of Germans came in sight, hurrying along the highway to cross the bridge. The Highlanders were outnumbered by about seven to one.
"It will take us all our time to hold them back," one muttered. 67
"The Maxim will shatter that column in a twinkling," answered another cheerfully.
But suddenly the Maxim became silent. Snipers lying concealed in the wood had shot down, one after another, the men who had been working it, and it stood there unattended on its tripod among a heap of bodies. Meanwhile the Germans approached closer and closer to the bridge. The rifle-fire was not of sufficient volume to keep them back. It looked as if the little group of British soldiers would be exterminated.
A gallant Highlander who took in the situation at a glance leaped up, and, throwing down his rifle, ran towards the Maxim gun, The German snipers tried their best to hit him, but he seemed to have a charmed life. Bullets whizzed past his head like bees swarming from a hive; but he never faltered. Reaching the Maxim, he swung it, without detaching the tripod, across his back as coolly as though he were a fisherman lifting a creel of fish; then, instead of returning to his comrades, he ran across the bridge and placed the gun in front of the German column advancing along the highway. The belt which revolves to "feed" the Maxim was well charged with ammunition, and the Highlander opened a withering fire. "Rat-tat-tat" sounded the deadly gun as the Highlander crouched down, working it expertly and coolly. The Germans were unable to advance against the terrible hail of bullets, which thinned their ranks faster than it takes to tell. So they scampered to find cover, leaving heaps of their men dead and wounded on the road.
Meanwhile the snipers continued firing at the gallant Highlander, who kept the bridge like the Roman Horatius, but against more fearful odds. Again and again he was wounded, and just as he succeeded in putting to flight the attackers, he fell back dead, and once more the Maxim gun was silent.
The Germans began to re-form to renew the attack. Ere they could do so, however, the surviving Highlanders heard reinforcements hurrying up from behind. As soon as they reached the river bank the fresh troops opened so vigorous an attack on the Germans that they were forced to fall back. Their retiral was a hurried one.
When the British soldiers crossed the bridge they found that the dead Highlander who had routed the German column, and given his life to save his comrades, had over thirty bullet wounds in various parts of his body. He will be remembered as one of the great heroes of the British army.
A similar act of splendid daring was performed by Lieutenant Dimmer of the 2nd Battalion of the King's Rifle Corps, whose home is at Wimbledon. He took part in the trench fighting in southern Belgium when the Germans endeavoured to break through the British lines and reach Calais. For some weeks the issue hung in the balance. Then the famous Prussian Guard, the "crack regiment" of the Fatherland, was brought up at the command of the Kaiser to sweep our troops before them. The fighting became very violent. Lieutenant Dimmer had, on one occasion, a narrow escape from death, for, as he was engaged inspecting the position, three bullets, fired by watchful German snipers, passed through his cap.
For several days the Royal Rifle Corps sustained fierce attacks. During the early part of the fighting two British machine-guns were put out of action, but one of them was recovered by Lieutenant Dimmer, assisted by Corporal Cordingley, who would have received the Distinguished Service Medal had he lived; he was killed by a bullet not long afterwards.
The Prussian Guard lost heavily, because the sons of Britain were more than a match for them, and repelled attack after attack. Urged onward, however, to make a final effort, they flung themselves on the British lines, convinced that they must succeed and win great glory.
This attack began about nine o'clock on a cold misty night. Lieutenant Dimmer was in the thick of the fight. He had charge of a Maxim gun, and was assisted by three men. But just when the Maxim was brought into action the leather of the cartridge-belt stuck fast, being swollen by the drizzle of thin rain. Meanwhile the enemy approached nearer and nearer, keeping up a fierce fire. Rifle-bullets and shrapnel splinters spattered about the gun like hailstones. It was a galling situation. But Lieutenant Dimmer was cool and brave and resourceful. He at once knelt down to adjust the silent gun, using a spanner so that the cartridge-belt might have room to move. While so engaged he was exposed to the deadly fire which swept along the trench. A bullet struck him in the jaw. It did not, however, cause him to flinch. "I did not mind," he has since said; "the wound only made me wild."
At length the cartridge-belt was got to work, and the gun poured out its fusillades of bullets on the advancing hosts, in which it made great gaps, while the men in the trenches kept up the rifle-fire with unerring aim, as steadily as if they were practising at targets on a shooting-range.
The German shrapnel crashed overhead, and many brave men were killed or wounded by scattering fragments of metal. Snipers also paid special attention to those working the machine-guns, and one after another the three men at this particular Maxim were picked off. But Lieutenant Dimmer stuck to his post, despite his wound, working the gun alone. A bit of shrapnel then grazed his right eye and almost blinded it. Still he kept the Maxim working. Another shell burst near him, and a splinter tore open a ragged wound on his forehead, from which the blood streamed down into his left eye. Twisting his head sideways, and occasionally wiping away the blood, he scarcely faltered at his task. Sometimes he was almost completely, blind; at best he could only see through a haze of blood and perspiration. But he kept the gun in action while the Prussian Guard was sustaining frightful losses. Then, for a moment or two, the Maxim remained silent. Wearied and weakened by his wounds, he found it necessary to take rest, and especially to recover his vision. After cleansing his eyes and pressing his handkerchief against his forehead bruise, to stop the flow of blood, he looked up and saw that the enemy were retreating. This have him fresh courage and strength, and once again he staggered towards the gun. "I wanted," he has told," to give them something to go on with, and banged away for all I was worth."
When one belt of cartridges was exhausted he fitted on another. Many a Prussian was laid low by that courageous British officer, who was still working his gun without assistance. Then another shrapnel shell burst in front of him, and he received a wound on his left shoulder. But his right arm remained free, and he resumed firing. At length, however, a rifle bullet sank deeply into his left shoulder, near the other wound, and he fell back unconscious. He had done heroic service in assisting to scatter the renowned Prussian Guard, and had certainly saved the position occupied by his battalion. In all he fired 900 cartridges, and most of these must have taken effect.
When Lieutenant Dimmer was picked up it was found that he had sustained five wounds. Temporary dressings were applied, and he recovered consciousness. Before he was conveyed to hospital, however, he insisted on going to his quarters, supported by two men, to make up his report. For his great bravery he has been awarded the Victoria Cross, and given promotion.
A touching story is told of an heroic Irishman who gave his life to save two chance acquaintances near Cambrai. He had been brought up in Glasgow, and was a private in the Royal Scots. Those who knew him say he was a rough character, given to quarrelling, and ever ready to use his fists. But there was a tender spot in his heart, and he had certainly much courage.
Along with a sergeant of the Leicestershire Regiment and a private of the Dorsets, who was wounded, he took shelter in a farm-house. The little party were cut off from the British forces, and Germans swarmed in their vicinity. They hoped to steal away in the darkness, and it looked as if they would manage to, for their presence was not suspected. But the Irishman was reckless, and, ignoring the appeals of the others, wandered outside. The Germans saw him and opened fire. He returned promptly to the house, and was greatly troubled because he had carelessly drawn attention to his companions. "I have just come in ", he said, "to warn you that a party of the enemy is near. Hide yourselves; I am going out for a walk."
The sergeant saw at once that the Irishman had made up his mind to risk his life by performing some wild escapade, and ordered him to remain where he was. But he ignored the sergeant and made for the door; then, pausing on the threshold, he said: "It's like this, my son. You and your friend there are married, and have children who would mourn for you. As for me, I'm not the best, and nobody will be any the poorer if I'm shot. Am I not to blame in this matter? If I hadn't shown myself the Germans wouldn't have looked near the place. But they don't know there's anybody here but myself. So I'm going to rush out, and perhaps I may get off. If they catch me, they'll be quite satisfied, no doubt. But you must remain behind, Sergeant, for the sake of that poor wounded fellow there." His face never showed a sign of feeling until the sergeant began to move towards him. "Stop!" he exclaimed. "Stay where you are. If you follow me the Germans won't get a chance, for I'll shoot you down myself. Stop where you are, I tell you."
It was no use reasoning with him. He shut the door and walked off as coolly as if he were going to the barracks. When he came in sight of the Germans he pretended to be surprised, and made a sudden dash to escape across a field. But he had not gone far when he was brought down by a volley. He must have died before he fell. But he saved the lives of the other two men. The Germans thought he was a solitary straggler, and went off in another direction.
Night came on, but the two English soldiers did not get an opportunity to escape safely. They kept in hiding for three days before they were able to return to the British lines. The body of the heroic Irishman, who had died for others, was recovered and buried by the Red Cross men, and the "Last Post" was sounded over his grave.
It has been related that when King Robert the Bruce rode out against De Bohun, before the battle of Bannockburn, and slew that dashing knight, his officers remonstrated with him for risking his life, while they also praised him for his prowess. But what concerned the King most was that he had broken his battle-axe. An English soldier who had displayed great daring at the battle of Mons retired from it in a similar frame of mind. His right hand had been badly wounded, and he was found sitting by the roadside looking most dejected. "Is your wound very painful?" he was asked. "It's not my hand that worries me," he said. "I'm blessed if I haven't lost my pipe in that last charge!"
Scorching motorcyclists are regarded as a nuisance on country roads in time of peace; but in war not a few of them have proved to be of great value. The story of how a "scorcher" won a French medal is of stirring character.
During the course of one of the many engagements fought on the banks of the River Aisne a small but determined French force occupied trenches facing those of the enemy. There were clumps of woodland on either side of the space between the opposing lines. In one English troops lay concealed; in the other there were Germans with machine-guns. For a time neither of these hidden forces was aware of the presence of the other.
The highway skirts the wood in which the Germans lay, and along it a strong force of French infantry came marching to support their entrenched countrymen. The Germans waited for them.
Suddenly the men in the trenches perceived that a trap had been laid. They caught glimpses of the enemy moving into position between the trees. As the force of infantry would be decimated as soon as they came into range, it was necessary that they should be warned in time. To accomplish this, attempts were made to signal to them, but the German sharpshooters promptly picked off each man who rose up from the French trenches to send a message. The threatened danger was perceived also by the Englishmen in the opposite wood. It was no use for them to try to signal, because their message would not be understood. The only chance was to send a cyclist along the road which ran past the German ambush.
A daring Englishman leaped on his machine, and in a few
minutes had crossed to the highway and was careering along it. He bent low in
the saddle and scorched for all he was worth. "Teuf-teuf-teuf", sounded the
motor in the tense stillness. The Germans were amazed at the man's daring. Their
snipers, however, opened fire, and the brave scorcher was shot down. His bicycle
tumbled over and was
wrecked on a bank.
But no sooner did he fall than another "scorcher" made his appearance. This man was also killed, and did not even get so far along the road as his predecessor. Then a third brave Englishman made his appearance. He was as fearless as the others, and rode similarly at the highest speed. The German sharpshooters opened against him a brisk fire, and the bullets buzzed about his ears like mosquitoes. It was an exciting spectacle. The Englishmen peered from the wood and the Frenchmen from the trenches, watching the scorching cyclist careering along the highway, his back bent and his head stretched forward as if he were racing for a prize in some competition. "Snap-snap-snap", rang out the German rifles, but still the messenger whirled onward. He passed the wood in a cloud of dust and raced towards the French column of infantry, which was now drawing perilously near. Would he reach it safely and in time? The Germans did their best to prevent him. But they could only snipe. If they opened volley-fire they would reveal their presence to the force they intended to ambush.
At length, after several moments of breathless anxiety, the heroic "scorcher" reached the French force, dismounted, and warned them. He had risked his life for the sake of the allies of his native land, and saved hundreds of brave soldiers from certain death.
The French officer was astounded, not only at the message of warning he received, but at the daring displayed by the courageous Englishman, whom he saluted as though he confronted one of his superiors in rank. Then, taking from his tunic the French military medal which is the equivalent of our Victoria Cross, he pinned it above the breast of that dashing cyclist who so richly deserved such a high honour.
Another daring feat was accomplished by an officer and non-commissioned officer of the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. Early one morning a company of Germans conducted a fierce and sudden attack on one of the forward trenches of the Manchesters and compelled its occupants to retire. Two attempts were afterwards made to drive them back, but without success. It looked as if the Germans would hold out until reinforcements came to their aid to assist them to advance still farther.
Second-Lieutenant Leach declared in the afternoon that he would attack the enemy alone and compel them to retire. "I will go with you, sir," said Sergeant Hogan. The lieutenant consented, and they set out together.
One after the other these two brave soldiers crept along the communication-trench leading to the forward trenches, and when they got to close quarters opened fire on the enemy. Both were good shots, and almost every bullet took effect. Darting from point to point along the zigzagged route, they compelled the Germans to retreat to the far end of the trench after having killed eight of them and wounded a couple. Fourteen remained to be accounted for, but after firing a few random shots they threw down their rifles and held up their hands to signify that they surrendered. They were greatly astonished to find that they had been hopelessly beaten by only two men.
Lieutenant Leach had a marvellous escape. Several bullets had gone through his cap, and his muffler came to pieces when he took it off. Neither he nor Sergeant Hogan received a single wound.
A private of the Royal Irish Regiment one day sacrificed himself to save a force of the West Yorkshires from extermination. He had been taken prisoner during the previous night, and was confined in a farm-house on the outskirts of a little village near Reims. The Germans kept so well under cover that the British were not aware of their presence at this particular point.
When day dawned the West Yorkshires were ordered to advance and occupy the village. The Germans chuckled when they saw them coming, and word was passed round among the houses not to fire a shot until they were at close range. It seemed as if the unsuspecting Englishmen were to be exterminated.
Looking through a window, Pat took in the situation. He saw the Yorkshire lads marching forward as unconcernedly as if they were on parade. The Germans chattered gleefully round about him, laughing now and again. Pat did not understand a word they said, but he knew only too well that they were making merry over the surprise they were going to give to the force of Englishmen drawing near.
His heart was touched. He wanted to pick up a rifle and give the alarm. But if he attempted to seize one in that little room he would be quickly overpowered.
At length he resolved to do what the Germans would never think a man capable of doing--to rush out and let his comrades know they were in danger. It meant certain death for him. He realized that, but did not care. What although he lost his own life, if by doing so he saved the lives of many? He was a brave, generous, self-sacrificing man. The blood of generations of heroes ran in his veins.
On came the Yorkshires. The Germans got into position with loaded rifles, taking cool, deliberate aim. They paid no attention to Pat. "Then, cautiously and softly, the Irish soldier slipped back from the window, crossed the room, and went out into the backyard. No one heeded his movements. Little did the enemy dream that Pat was resolved to spoil their murderous game by raising the alarm.
There was no time to be lost. The yard gate stood open, and the Irishman ran out.
In another minute he was in the open, and was observed by friend and foe alike. He raised his arms above his head, to signify to the Yorkshires that danger threatened him, and he ran towards them for a few yards. Then the concealed Germans opened fire. The brave Irishman fell on his face, his body riddled with bullets.
But he had accomplished his purpose. The Englishmen at once realized what lay in store for them.
"Halt, and take cover," shouted the officer. The men obeyed promptly. They knew only too well why the order had been given.
"Who was that man, I wonder?" a private asked.
"One of our lads who has been taken prisoner," another said.
"Well, he's a game one!" the first speaker exclaimed.
"If he had not dashed out," a third declared," we would have been caught in a trap."
Soon the fighting became brisk. The Yorkshires brought a machine-gun into action, and before long they had silenced the firing from the farm-house. Advancing in short rushes, they reached at length the prostrate body of Pat, whom they found to be still alive. His face was deathly pale, a stream of blood ran down his left cheek, and his left arm was almost cut through with bullet wounds. But he smiled when he saw an Englishman bending over him. "I'm done for," he said faintly.
"You've saved many a life this day," a Yorkshire lad told him with deep emotion.
"Thank God for that!" the Irishman murmured. Then he became unconscious.
The Germans were
driven from the village with considerable loss. Two Yorkshire lads carried the
Irish hero to the farm-house and laid him gently on a bed. He died as his wounds
were being dressed. As his identification badge was missing his name could not
be ascertained. Next day he was buried in the little graveyard beside the
village chapel, and few of the soldiers could refrain from shedding tears. Over
the grave a wooden cross was erected, and on it a Yorkshire man wrote: "He saved
others; himself he could not save".
Chapter 6 - Brave French Boys
When the great war broke out, all the able-bodied men of France who had received a military training were called upon to join the army to fight against the German invaders. Many French boys then wished they were old enough to assist in defending their native land.
In every town and village you could hear them saying one to another: "Our soldiers are sure to beat the 'Boches'." That is the nickname they have given to the Germans. "My father left home this morning," a boy would declare proudly; "he has promised to bring me back a German helmet for a souvenir. I am going to keep watch over the house and protect mother."
"Playing at soldiers" at once became the favourite game everywhere. The young folks stuck little flags in their caps and armed them-selves with wooden swords and guns. They drilled very smartly, just like real soldiers, in the playgrounds, and marched through the streets as if they were going to the war, keeping step to the music of their fifes and drums. When they began to fight sham battles they had to pretend, however, that their enemies were hiding somewhere in the woods. None of the French boys would take the part of the 'Boches' even in a game. They all wanted to be soldiers of France, so that they might return home in the evening, shouting proudly: "We have defeated the 'Boches'; they are all running away."
When real soldiers marched through the streets on their way to the battle-field, all the boys and girls of a town or village gathered to cheer them and shout "Vive la France!" The fighting-men waved their hands to them, smiling and well pleased.
Not only did they delight to honour their own countrymen. They also welcomed gladly the brave British soldiers whom they soon learned to love, because these khaki-clad warriors treated the young so kindly, carrying some on their shoulders and grasping others by the hand as they marched along.
At some railway stations the young people stood in crowds on the platforms when they heard that British soldiers were to pass through by train. Loudly they cheered as the engine slowed up to take in water. Sometimes they tried to sing the soldiers' songs, and although they could not understand the words they learned the tunes and rendered them by repeating "La la-la, la-la la-la." They gave the soldiers presents of sweets and fruits, and were thanked with smiles and handshakes. As the train steamed away, the young folks shouted "Goo'neet, goo'neet," thinking that our "good-night" means exactly the same thing as their "au revoir". The young French folks cried out "Goo'neet" whether it was morning, or afternoon, or evening.
Quite a number of stories arc told of brave French boys who have taken part in fighting, or shown that they were not afraid of the Germans who invaded their towns. The people of France are very proud of their "little heroes". One of these is named Gustave Chatain. At the beginning of the war he was just fifteen years old. He was employed as a herd-boy on a farm in north-eastern France, not very far from the River Oise, which flows into the Seine. Most of the farm-workers had been trained as soldiers, and were called up to fight for their country. Gustave envied them greatly. "They are lucky fellows," he said; "I wish I were big enough to go and fight the 'Boches' also."
Day after day he heard thrilling stories of battles in Belgium and along the western frontier. "The 'Boches' are coming nearer," the people began to say; "we have not yet got enough men together to keep them back. Once our armies are at full strength, however, we will defeat them. Besides, the brave British soldiers have come to fight for us."
Gustave fretted to see the women growing more and more alarmed, while Belgian and French refugees hastened westward. It was pitiful to see these poor people as they fled before the Germans along the highways. Old men and women and children had to walk many miles, carrying bundles of clothing and articles of furniture. Some pushed wheelbarrows or perambulators heaped up with the few things they could save, and others had little carts drawn by dogs. When night came on they slept in the fields or in barns, and they were thankful indeed when they reached a village and were taken into houses. They told terrible stories of their sufferings and the cruel deeds performed by the invaders. "Our homes are burned," Gustave heard them say, with tears in their eyes; "many of our friends have been killed; others have died by the wayside. Oh! give us a little food. We are weak with hunger. Our little ones are crying for milk."
Every day the crowds of refugees came along. "The 'Boches' are not far off," they said. "Thousands and thousands of them are hastening through France. They are trying to reach Paris."
At length, on a bright autumn morning, Gustave heard the German guns. Their harsh booming, which sounded like distant thunder, came from the direction of Senlis, a small town not far from the farm, with a beautiful little cathedral and the ruins of an ancient castle in which the kings of France used to reside in times long past.
The herd-boy listened for a time to the far-off roar of battle, watching with sad eyes the puffs of dark smoke that appeared when shells burst in the air. Then he said to himself: "Although I am only fifteen I am big and strong for my age. I will run off and join the army."
He slipped away without anybody noticing him. The women were gathered together in groups, gazing towards Senlis, and wondering if they would soon have to leave their homes. He walked across the fields as if he were going to look after the cows, until he was out of sight of the farm-house. Then he turned towards the highway and set off, walking as fast as he could, in the direction of Senlis. Ere long he came to a spot where three roads meet, and to his joy he saw marching towards him a company of those hardy French soldiers, the Alpine Chasseurs, who were on their way to the front. Gustave ran after them, and, taking up the pace, went swinging along with manly strides.
"Hallo, boy!" shouted one of the soldiers; "where are you going? You mustn't come this way.
Said Gustave: "I want to march with you to battle."
"You are a plucky little fellow," the soldier told him, "but you are too young. The "Boches' would swallow you."
"If you will allow me to march with you," Gustave pleaded, "I will run errands and make myself very useful. I am not afraid of the Boches'."
Several of the soldiers laughed, and one said: "Come along then. You have a brave heart, and it's a pity you are not a little older."
Gustave was greatly delighted. He marched on, chatting with the soldiers, and at length he said: "I see you have some spare rifles in that cart behind there. I wish I had one."
Again the soldiers laughed, and one said to the other: "He's a real Frenchman. But it would be a shame to take him into the fighting-line. He might get killed."
"I am not afraid to die for France," Gustave told them.
"Give him a rifle," one of the soldiers said.
The boy turned towards the driver of the cart, holding out his right hand and smiling. "Can you shoot?" the man asked.
"I have brought down hundreds of crows," Gustave answered, "so surely I can bring down "Boches'."
"The man hauled out a rifle and handed it to the boy, saying: "You're small, and can easily take cover. Just keep as cool as when you are shooting crows."
"The 'Boches' are so much bigger than crows," Gustave said, "and I'll thin them out. See if I don't."
"Come on, little hero," a soldier called merrily. "Fall in, and don't boast till after you have done something."
Gustave went marching along, feeling very proud of himself, chatting and exchanging jokes with the Chasseurs. But at length an officer saw him and asked: "Who is this boy? He mustn't come with us. Send him home at once."
"Please, sir," said Gustave, saluting, "I wish to fight for France like my father and my brothers. Do let me go with you."
"You are just a child," the officer answered; "you must run away home."
The officer took the rifle from Gustave, and, seeing tears in the boy's eyes, patted him on the back and said: "When you are a big lad come and join the Alpine Chasseurs, and we'll all be proud of you. Au revoir."
Gustave had to fall out, and for a time he watched the soldiers marching away in front of him along the dusty highway. But he did not turn towards home. He soon saw the warriors of another famous regiment approaching, and when they came up he fell into step and accompanied them.
"You mustn't follow us, little fellow," a soldier warned him; "we are going to battle."
"I can shoot well," said Gustave, "and I am a splendid walker. I want to fight the 'Boches'."
"Do you hear what he says?" one soldier remarked to another. "He wants to fight, and he's just a boy."
"What would your mother say if she knew?" a solder asked.
Said Gustave: "She would say she has now four sons at the front instead of three. How proud she would be, too!"
"What is your name?" one of the men asked.
"Gustave Chatain," answered the boy.
"A brave name, indeed," another soldier re-marked, as they marched along.
"I will run errands for you. I will be very useful," Gustave assured the men near him. "Besides, I can hide easily, and, as I said, I shoot well."
"If you promise to do what you are told, and keep out of sight," a soldier answered, "you can come with us."
"Thank you very much!" cried the delighted boy. "I hope you have a rifle to spare for me."
"If I gave you my rifle," remarked a smiling soldier, "I should have to sit down and watch you shooting. That would never do. You have promised to do what you are told, so I'll order you to lie down in a trench until we have need of you."
"It would be better to send him home," another soldier declared.
"He has come too far," his companion answered. "It might be dangerous for him to return now. We had better look after him until darkness comes on."
A few minutes later the soldiers reached a bend in the highway, and someone called out that Uhlans were approaching. An officer shouted a sharp command, and the soldiers spread out and took cover. Gustave crept up an embankment and saw about twenty German cavalrymen riding across a field. His companions opened a brisk fire and the enemy turned and fled, leaving nearly a dozen killed and wounded men behind. It was all over in a few seconds.
Another order was then given, and the French soldiers changed position. A German armed motor-car had come in sight, racing along the highway, and its machine-gun began to sound its "rat-tat-tat" like a blacksmith working very fast with his hammer. Several Frenchmen were killed, but the car was driven away. Gustave picked up from beside a dead soldier a rifle with fixed bayonet and several rounds of ammunition, and, seeing the company he had joined were advancing to a new position, he followed them. No one took any notice of him. In less than twenty, minutes he came under fire. His company halted and took cover, keeping up a brisk fusillade towards the east. Gustave saw about 200 "Boches" advancing. They were clad in blue-grey uniforms, and marched close together. A thrill of joy passed through his veins because he had-got a chance to fight for his native land, and lying behind a bush he took careful aim and fired several rounds. Before long the invaders began to retreat. As they did so the French soldiers advanced steadily, rushing from bush to bush and mound to mound, and firing briskly. Gustave did likewise. He went on fighting until the "Boches" were out of sight. Then he looked round to see where his company was next to move to. But to his astonishment he found that he was alone. He had been so much concerned about chasing "Boches" that he had not observed the Alpine soldiers taking up a new position. Greatly disappointed he returned to the highway. There he saw a dead soldier who was not much bigger than himself, and took off his uniform and cap and put them on.
"Now everyone will think I am a real soldier," he said to himself. "I will avenge the man whose uniform I am wearing." He heard firing in front of him and hastened onwards. Evening was coming on, and he joined a regiment which had just arrived at the front.
"I have got lost," he said to one of the soldiers. "I was fighting and advanced too far.
It was observed that the uniform he wore was too big for him, and one of the men said: "If an officer sees you he will put you under arrest."
"But I wish to fight," pleaded the boy. "To-day I have slain many "Boches'." "That's more than any one of us has done yet," they told him. "You had better fall in and come with us."
They made room for the brave lad between two men of short stature. "You will never be noticed beside us," one of them said.
If Gustave was pleased before he was more pleased than ever now. He felt that he was a real soldier at last, marching in the midst of brave men.
That night he slept in a trench. His new regiment came into touch with the enemy on the banks of the Marne. He awoke at day-break and made a hurried breakfast of meat-sandwiches and coffee; but he felt little desire for food, because a battle began to be waged with great fury. In front of him the Germans had massed in great strength. They were determined to press on towards Paris, and the strong armies of the French and British were as determined that they would never get there.
The air was filled with the sound of guns of all sorts and sizes. Shrapnel shells exploded overhead, ripping harshly like sheets of metal being torn across by giants' hands. The "rat-tat-tat" of machine-guns was heard on every side, and there was a constant whizzing of rifle bullets that hummed like great bees and went past with lightning speed, or spat with a "zip-zip-zip" as they struck the heaped-up earth in front of the trenches. Occasionally every other noise was drowned for a full moment by the thundering explosion of a tremendous shell from one of the monster guns which the Germans had brought into action. Men fell wounded or dead on every side, yet no one was afraid. Every soldier was cool and determined and busy fighting against the invaders.
Gustave kept firing in front of him until the order came to advance. Then he rose with fixed bayonet and rushed forward with the rest to take up a new position and help to dig trenches. This happened over and over again, and his heart was filled with pride to think that the "Boches" were being driven back.
Before many days went past Gustave was looked upon as one of the pluckiest soldiers in his company. He was given a new uniform which fitted him better, a haversack, leggings, boots, and an overcoat. "When my face is spattered with mud flung up by the shells," he said to a companion, "no one is able to tell my age."
One day when Gustave advanced with the soldiers he reached a German trench. He fought bravely with the bayonet. Describing this charge he has said: "The 'Boches' are cowards. Many of them lie down in their trenches when we advance and pretend to be dead. "That's one of their tricks. One has to give each body a little kick to find out whether or not a coward is shamming."
The allied armies won the great battle of the Marne, and the Germans were compelled to retreat. Gustave's company marched vigorously in pursuit of them with the others, and occasionally captured stragglers. The "Boches" were so tired with hurrying up to reach Paris and then retreating as smartly to escape the French and British bayonets, that many of them fell down by the roadway or in fields, while others crept into barns and houses to snatch a few hours of sleep.
Gustave accompanied an advance party for two days searching for these stragglers, when he came to a farm-house. The soldiers made hurried search through the rooms, and, not finding anyone, procured some food and sat down to eat. Gustave meanwhile went to-wards a barn. The door was closed and locked. "Through a crack, however, he was able to peer inside. To his joy he saw several haversacks and a good many rounds of ammunition lying beside a heap of straw. "Here's my chance", he said to himself, "to take some prisoners". He never thought of calling for assistance. With the aid of a splinter of wood he prised open the door, making no noise as he did so. Then he entered stealthily, looking about him, but could not see anybody on the ground floor. Listening intently, he heard the sound of heavy snoring coming from the loft above. So he crept softly up the ladder and saw seven "Boches" lying fast asleep on the floor, where they had spread out beds of hay for themselves. The fearless boy brought down the butt-end of his rifle sharply on the floor and awakened them. Then they all sat up suddenly, looking very much alarmed.
Gustave was prepared for them, having fixed his bayonet in case they should show fight; but they threw up their hands above their heads to signify that they surrendered.
"Follow me, one after another," Gustave said to one of the Germans who understood French. Having delivered this order with an air of dignity, he walked down the ladder from the loft and stood with his rifle at his shoulder ready to fire if one dared to act with treachery.
They gave him no trouble, obeying his command readily. One after another the "Boches" walked out of the barn, looking quite relieved. They were all afraid of the brave herd-boy.
Gustave ordered them to stand in a row as if at drill. Then he called to his companions, who were greatly amused and astonished to see seven big German soldiers holding their hands above their heads, while the gallant French boy stood looking at them with a stern, proud face. They raised a cheer for Gustave and called him a hero.
Soon after this Gustave was sent home for a well-deserved rest. Before he left the regiment an officer promised that he would receive a suitable education to equip him for a military career.
Another young hero was Emile Despres, a boy of fourteen, who died the death of a soldier. He did not have an opportunity of fighting like Gustave, but he showed himself to be quite as fearless and bold in the hour of peril. Armed Germans tried to break his courageous spirit. They threatened him with death and then offered to spare his life if lie would act the part of a traitor. But Emile preferred to die with honour rather than live a life of shame.
A few weeks after war had been declared a battle was fought in the vicinity of Emile's native village of Lourches, which is situated near Douchy.
The French soldiers displayed great valour, but they were not numerous enough to hold back the hordes of advancing Germans, and were forced to retreat, much against their will. Many wounded soldiers came through the village. Some fell exhausted on the roadway, weak from loss of blood. Women went out and bandaged their wounds, and helped as many as they could to take shelter inside the houses, while boys ran about giving the bleeding soldiers water to quench their thirst. Shrapnel shells burst overhead and splinters flew about, doing much damage. Occasionally bullets spattered on the street like a shower of great hailstones.
At length the Germans entered the village. They burst open doors and smashed windows, searching everywhere for French soldiers, and were exceedingly angry with those women who were acting as nurses. In a miner's cottage lay a non-commissioned officer. He was in great pain, for he had been wounded in the side by a fragment of a shell; his cheeks were white as paper, his eyes half-closed, and his lips parched and dry. The miner's wife was bending over him, doing her best to stop the bleeding and relieve his suffering. He was very weak from loss of blood.
A German officer entered, followed by a few of his men, carrying rifles with fixed bayonets. He pushed aside the woman roughly, and she cried: "Oh, you coward! Would you treat me like this because I am nursing a brave man who is bleeding and in pain?"
The officer swore an oath and struck her, and she screamed helplessly. His brutal behaviour filled the heart of the wounded Frenchman with indignation. It was terrible to him to see one of his countrywomen who had treated him so kindly being bullied and struck by a German. Raising himself on his elbow he seized his revolver and fired. The bullet entered the officer's brain and he fell dead on the floor. Again the woman screamed and covered her eyes with horror.
The German soldiers pounced at once on the wounded Frenchman and dragged him from the couch. "He will die for this," they said.
Emile Despres had been watching the Germans entering house after house, and, like other boys, was wishing he were big and strong enough to fight them, when he heard the woman's scream and the report of the revolver. He ran into the miner's house and there saw a terrible sight. The dead officer lay on the floor in a pool of blood, in a corner crouched the terrified woman, while the German soldiers struggled with the wounded man. Emile looked on helplessly. What could he do? He was only a boy, and the enemies of his country were armed with deadly weapons.
After a few moments the French non-commissioned officer ceased struggling with his captors, and, leaning against the wall, panting with exhaustion and pain, whispered hoarsely to Emile: "Water, water! give me a drink of water!" His tongue was parched with thirst.
The Germans did not understand what he said, and, having bound his arms, turned away from him. Then Emile crept forward with a cup of cold water and held it to the mouth of the wounded man, who drank it up with great thankfulness. The boy's action greatly enraged the Germans. They seized Emile and pounded him with their fists, threw him on the floor, and kicked him. But although he suffered greatly he neither wept nor uttered a cry. Another officer who had been sent for had entered the house just as the soldier was being given the water to drink, and when he saw how brave this boy was he said: "Shoot him also."
The Germans bandaged the eyes of both the French soldier and Emile and marched them out to the village street so that all the people might see them being executed. Both stood up bravely. There was no sign of fear in the boy's bearing. He was prepared to die for his country.
The German officer was ill pleased when he saw how Emile behaved. No doubt he felt that he was displaying the spirit which moved all France to resist the invader. So he thought he would put him to shame and tempt him with his life to act the part of a coward.
"Take the bandage from the boy's eyes," he commanded, "and bring him here".
A German private walked forward, snatched off the bandage which blinded Emile, and pushed him over to the spot where the officer stood. The boy looked up with astonishment, wondering what was to happen next. But he never flinched; he was so brave and unafraid.
The officer thrust a rifle into the boy's hands, and, pointing to the French soldier, who stood blindfolded, waiting to die, spoke in French and said: "I will spare your life if you will shoot that man." He smiled grimly, and one or two of the German soldiers laughed. Emile made no reply. At first he looked with disdain at the officer, then a smile crossed his pale face.
"When you shoot, you can run away home," the officer told him. As he spoke he walked backwards a couple of paces.
Emile raised the rifle to his shoulder as if he were about to do as he was commanded. He laid his finger on the trigger and the Germans waited. But little did they understand the spirit of the French boy. Suddenly Emile wheeled round, aimed point-blank at his cowardly tempter, and fired. The officer fell dead at his feet. It all happened in the twinkling of an eye.
The German soldiers who were standing near at once sprang upon the boy. Two thrust their bayonets through him and others discharged their rifles. Emile died ere he sank to the ground. But while the villagers who looked on mourned the boy's sad fate, they rejoiced in their hearts that he died the death of a hero. Emile Despres was a true son of France. His name will be remembered to the glory of his country and the shame of his country's enemies.
In some of the towns and villages on the line of battle the women and children had to conceal themselves for many days in the cellars of houses. Not a few were buried alive when the walls crumbled down before exploding shells. Great sufferings were endured in all war-stricken localities. Those who escaped death were often without food and water for several days. Stirring stories are told of brave boys who boldly ventured forth from hiding to procure supplies, so that their mothers and brothers and sisters might not die of starvation.
At a farm-house near Reims a little boy about ten years old used to go and fetch food for his mother every morning when the opposing armies were fighting fiercely for long weeks on end in the neighbourhood. He was always accompanied by two dogs, and walked a distance of 4 miles to a village to purchase food. The British soldiers often watched him from their trenches. When a shrapnel shell burst overhead he ran to take cover. It was wonderful to see how fearless he was. Fortunately he never suffered any injury. In time the British advanced beyond the farm-house, and the plucky boy had no longer to risk his life to run his mother's errands.
(scanned by Art in Kenosha)
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