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Experiences of a Dug-out, 1914-1918
by Charles Edward Callwell
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[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected, all other inconsistencies are as in the original. Author's spelling has been maintained.

Pages anchors have been added for the pages to which the author refers under the format [p.xx].]



EXPERIENCES

OF A DUG-OUT

1914-1918



BY THE SAME AUTHOR.

THE LIFE OF LIEUTENANT-GENERAL SIR STANLEY MAUDE K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O. Illustrations and Maps.

THE DARDANELLES Maps.

TIRAH 1897 Maps.

The last two of these volumes belong to Constable's "Campaigns and their Lessons" Series, of which Major-General Sir C. E. Callwell is Editor.



EXPERIENCES

OF A DUG-OUT

1914-1918

BY MAJOR-GENERAL SIR C. E. CALLWELL, K.C.B.

WITH A FRONTISPIECE



LONDON: CONSTABLE & COMPANY LIMITED 1920



NOTE

Some passages in this Volume have already appeared in Blackwood's Magazine. The Author has to express his acknowledgements to the Editor for permission to reproduce them.

Had Lord Fisher's death occurred before the proofs were finally passed for press, certain references to that great servant of the State would have been somewhat modified.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER I Page

THE OUTBREAK OF WAR....................................... 1

Unfair disparagement of the War Office during the war — Difficulties under which it suffered owing to pre-war misconduct of the Government — The army prepared, the Government and the country unprepared — My visit to German districts on the Belgian and Luxemburg frontiers in June 1914 — The German railway preparations — The plan of the Great General Staff indicated by these — The Aldershot Command at exercise — I am summoned to London by General H. Wilson — Informed of contemplated appointment to be D.M.O. — The unsatisfactory organization of the Military Operations Directorate — An illustration of this from pre-war days — G.H.Q. rather a nuisance till they proceeded to France — The scare about a hostile maritime descent — Conference at the Admiralty — The depletion of my Directorate to build up G.H.Q. — Inconvenience of this in the case of the section dealing with special Intelligence services — An example of the trouble that arose at the very start — This points to a misunderstanding of the relative importance of the War Office and of G.H.Q. — Sir J. French's responsibility for this, Sir C. Douglas not really responsible — Colonel Dallas enumerates the great numerical resources of Germany — Lord Kitchener's immediate recognition of the realities of the situation — Sir J. French's suggestion that Lord Kitchener should be commander-in-chief of the Expeditionary Force indicated misconception of the position of affairs.

CHAPTER II

EARLY DAYS AT THE WAR OFFICE............................. 18

Plan of issuing communiques given up owing to the disposition to conceal reverses that manifested itself — Direct telephonic communication with the battlefield in Belgium — A strange attempt to withhold news as to the fall of Brussels — Anxiety during the retreat from Mons — The work of the Topographical Section at that time — Arrival of refugee officers and other ranks at the War Office — One of the Royal Irish affords valuable information — Candidates for the appointment of "Intelligence Officer" — How one dealt with recommendations in regard to jobs — Linguists — The discoverer of interpreters, fifty produced as if by magic — The Boy Scouts in the War Office — An Admirable Crichton — The scouts' effective method of handling troublesome visitors — Army chaplains in embryo — A famous cricketer doing his bit — A beauty competition outside my door — The Eminent K.C. — An impressive personality — How he benefits the community — The Self-Appointed Spy-Catcher — Gun platforms concealed everywhere — The hidden dangers in disused coal mines in Kent — Procuring officers for the New Armies — "Bill" Elliot's unorthodox methods — The Military Secretary's branch meets with a set-back — Visits from Lord Roberts — His suggestion as to the commander-in-chiefship in China — His last visit — The Antwerp business — The strategical situation with regard to the Belgian field army — The project of our Government — The despatch of the Seventh Division and the Third Cavalry Division to Belgian Flanders — Organization of base and line of communications overlooked — A couple of transports "on their own" come to a halt on the Goodwins — Difficulty of the strategical situation — Death of Sir C. Douglas.

CHAPTER III

LORD KITCHENER'S START................................... 42

A first meeting with Lord Kitchener — Sent up to see him in Pretoria by his brother under unpromising conditions — The interview — The Chief's pleasant reception — A story of Lord K. from the Sudan — An unpleasant interview with him in August 1914 — Rare meetings with him during the first two or three months — His ignorance of War Office organization — His lack of acquaintance with many matters in connection with the existing organization of the army — His indisposition to listen to advice on such subjects — Lord K. shy of strangers — His treatment of the Territorial Forces — Their weak point at the outset of hostilities, not having the necessary strength to mobilize at war establishment — Effect of this on the general plans — The way the Territorials dwindled after taking the field — Lord K. inclined at first to pile up divisions without providing them with the requisite reservoirs of reserves — His feat in organizing five regular divisions in addition to those in the Expeditionary Force — His immediate recognition of the magnitude of the contest — He makes things hum in the War Office — His differences of opinion with G.H.Q. — The inability of G.H.Q. to realize that a vast expansion of the military forces was the matter of primary importance — Lord K.'s relations with Sir J. French — The despatch of Sir H. Smith-Dorrien to command the Second Corps — Sir J. French not well treated at the time of the Antwerp affair — The relegation of the General Staff at the War Office to the background in the early days — Question whether this was entirely due to its having suffered in efficiency by the withdrawals which took place on mobilization — The General Staff only eliminated in respect to operations.

CHAPTER IV

LORD KITCHENER'S LATER RECORD............................ 60

The munitions question and the Dardanelles to be dealt with later — The Alexandretta project of the winter of 1914-15 — Such an operation presented little difficulty then — H.M.S. Doris' doings — The scheme abandoned — I am sent to Paris about the Italian conventions just after the Dardanelles landings — Concern at the situation after the troops had got ashore at Helles and Anzac — A talk with Lord K. and Sir E. Grey — Its consequences — Lord K. seemed to have lost some of his confidence in his own judgement with regard to operations questions — The question of the withdrawal of the Queen Elizabeth from the Aegean — The discussion about it at the Admiralty — Lord K.'s inability to take some of his colleagues at their own valuation — Does not know some of their names — Another officer of distinction gets them mixed up in his mind — Lord K.'s disappointment at the early failures of the New Army divisions — His impatience when he wanted anything in a hurry — My own experiences — Typists' idiosyncrasies aggravate the trouble — Lord K. in an unreasonable mood — His knowledge of French — His skilful handling of a Portuguese mission — His readiness to see foreign officers when asked to do so — How he handled them — The Serbian Military Attache asks for approval of an attack by his country upon Bulgaria at the time of Bulgarian mobilization — A dramatic interview with Lord K. — Confidence placed in him with regard to munitions by the Russians — His speeches in the House of Lords — The heat of his room — His preoccupation about the safety of Egypt — He disapproves of the General Staff plan with regard to its defence — His attitude with regard to national service — His difficulties in this matter — His anxiety to have a reserve in hand for delivering the decisive blow in the war — My last meeting with him — His pleasure in going to Russia — His failure to accomplish his mission, a great disaster to the Entente cause — A final word about him — He did more than any man on the side of the Allies to win the war — Fitz.

CHAPTER V

THE DARDANELLES.......................................... 86

The Tabah incident — The Dardanelles memorandum of 1906 — Special steps taken with regard to it by Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman — Mr. Churchill first raises the question — My conference with him in October 1914 — The naval project against the Straits — Its fundamental errors — Would never have been carried into effect had there been a conference between the Naval War Staff and the General Staff — The bad start — The causes of the final failure on the 18th of March — Lord K.'s instructions to Sir I. Hamilton — The question of the packing of the transports — Sir I. Hamilton's complaint as to there being no plan prepared — The 1906 memorandum — Sir Ian's complaint about insufficient information — How the 1906 memorandum affected this question — Misunderstanding as to the difficulty of obtaining information — The information not in reality so defective — My anxiety at the time of the first landing — The plan, a failure by early in May — Impossibility of sending reinforcements then — Question whether the delay in sending out reinforcements greatly affected the result in August 1915 — The Dardanelles Committee — Its anxiety — Sir E. Carson and Mr. Churchill, allies — The question of clearing out — My disinclination to accept the principle before September — Sir C. Monro sent out — The delay of the Government in deciding — Lord K. proceeds to the Aegean — My own experiences — A trip to Paris with a special message to the French Government — Sent on a fool's errand, thanks to the Cabinet — A notable State paper on the subject — Mr. Lloyd George and the "sanhedrin" — Decision to evacuate only Anzac and Suvla — Sir W. Robertson arrives and orders sent to evacuate Helles — I give up the appointment of D.M.O.

CHAPTER VI

SOME EXPERIENCES IN THE WAR OFFICE...................... 107

A reversion to earlier dates — The statisticians in the winter of 1914-15 — The efforts to prove that German man-power would shortly give out — Lack of the necessary premises upon which to found such calculations — Views on the maritime blockade — The projects for operations against the Belgian coast district in the winter of 1914-15 — Nature of my staff — The "dug-outs" — The services of one of them, "Z" — His care of me in foreign parts — His activities in other Departments of State — An alarming discovery — How "Z" grappled with a threatening situation — He hears about the Admiralty working on the Tanks — The cold-shouldering of Colonel Swinton when he raised this question at the War Office in January 1915 — Lord Fisher proposes to construct large numbers of motor-lighters, and I am told off to go into the matter with him — The Baltic project — The way it was approached — Meetings with Lord Fisher — The "beetles" — Visits from the First Sea Lord — The question of secrecy in connection with war operations — A parable — The land service behind the sea service in this matter — Interviews with Mr. Asquith — His ways on such occasions.

CHAPTER VII

FURTHER EXPERIENCES IN THE WAR OFFICE................... 127

Varied nature of my responsibilities — Inconvenience caused by a Heath-Caldwell being a brother-Director on the General Staff — An interview with Lord Methuen — The Man of Business — His methods when in charge of a Government Department — War Office branches under Men of Business — The art of advertisement — This not understood by War Office officials — The paltry staff and accommodation at the disposal of the Director of Supplies and Transport, and what was accomplished — Good work of the Committee of Imperial Defence in providing certain organizations for special purposes before the war — The contre-espionage branch — The Government's singular conduct on the occasion of the first enemy spy being executed at the Tower — The cable censorship — The post office censorship — A visit from Admiral Bacon — His plan of landing troops by night at Ostend — Some observations on the subject — Sir J. Wolfe-Murray leaves the War Office — An appreciation of his work — The Dardanelles papers to be presented to Parliament referred to me — My action in the matter and the appointment of the Dardanelles Committee in consequence — Mr. Lloyd George, Secretary of State for War — His activities — I act as D.C.I.G.S. for a month — Sound organization introduced by Sir W. Robertson — Normal trench-warfare casualties and battle casualties — I learn the facts about the strengths of the different armies in the field — Troubles with the Cabinet over man-power — Question of resignation of the Army Council — The Tank Corps and Tanks — The War Office helps in the reorganization of the Admiralty — Some of the War Cabinet want to divert troops to the Isonzo — The folly of such a plan — Objections to it indicated — Arrival of General Pershing in London — I form one of the party that proceeds to Devonport to meet Colonel House and the United States Commissioners — Its adventures — Admirals adrift — Mr. Balfour meets the Commissioners at Paddington.

CHAPTER VIII

THE NEAR EAST........................................... 152

The first talk about Salonika — The railway and the port — The question of operations based on Macedonia at the end of 1914 — Failure of "easterners" to realize that the Western Front was Germany's weakest front — Question whether it might not have been better to go to Salonika than to the Dardanelles — Objections to this plan — The problem of Bulgaria — Consequences of the Russian debacle — Difficulty of the Near Eastern problem in the early summer — An example of how the Dardanelles Committee approached it — Awkwardness of the problem after the failure of Sir I. Hamilton's August offensive — The Bulgarian attitude — Entente's objection to Serbia attacking Bulgaria — I am ordered to Salonika, but order countermanded — The disaster to Serbia — Hard to say what ought to have been done — Real mistake, the failure to abandon the Dardanelles enterprise in May — The French attitude about Salonika — General Sarrail — French General Staff impressed with War Office information concerning Macedonia — Unsatisfactory situation at the end of 1915 — The Salonika business a blunder all through — Eventual success does not alter this.

CHAPTER IX

OTHER SIDE-SHOWS........................................ 170

Three categories of side-shows — The Jackson Committee — The Admiralty's attitude — The Pacific, Duala, Tanga, Dar-es-Salaam, Oceania, the Wireless Stations — Kiao Chao — The Shatt-el-Arab — Egypt — Question whether the Australasian forces ought to have been kept for the East — The East African operations — Our lack of preparation for a campaign in this quarter — Something wrong — My own visit to Tanga and Dar-es-Salaam in 1908 — The bad start of the campaign — Question of utilizing South African troops to restore the situation — How this was managed — Reasons why this was a justifiable side-show — Mesopotamia — The War Office ought to have interfered — The question of an advance on Baghdad by General Townshend suddenly referred to the General Staff — Our mistake — The question of Egyptian defence in the latter part of 1915 — The Alexandretta project — A later Alexandretta project propounded by the War Cabinet in 1917 — Its absurdity — The amateur strategist on the war-path — The Palestine campaign of 1918 carried out almost entirely by troops not required on the Western Front, and therefore a legitimate side-show — The same principle to some extent holds good with regard to the conquest of Mesopotamia — The Downing Street project to substitute Sir W. Robertson for Sir C. Monro, a miss-fire.

CHAPTER X

THE MUNITIONS QUESTION.................................. 190

Mr. Asquith's Newcastle speech — The mischief that it did — The time that must elapse before any great expansion in output of munitions can begin to materialize — The situation analogous to that of a building — The Ministry of Munitions was given and took the credit for the expansion in output for the year subsequent to its creation, which was in reality the work of the War Office — The Northcliffe Press stunt about shell shortage — Its misleading character — Sir H. Dalziel's attack upon General von Donop in the House — Mr. Lloyd George's reply — A discreditable episode — Misapprehension on the subject of the army's preparedness for war in respect to material — Misunderstanding as to the machine-gun position — Lord French's attack upon the War Office with regard to Munitions — His responsibility for the lack of heavy artillery — The matter taken up at the War Office before he ever raised it from G.H.Q. — His responsibility for the absence of high-explosive shell for our field artillery — A misconception as to the role of the General Staff — The serious difficulty that arose with regard to this ammunition owing to prematures — The misstatements in "1914" as to the amount of artillery ammunition which was sent across France to the Dardanelles — Exaggerated estimates by factories as to what they would be able to turn out — Their estimates discounted as a result of later experiences — The Munitions Ministry not confined to its proper job — The incident of 400 Tanks — Conclusion.

CHAPTER XI

COUNCILS, COMMITTEES, AND CABINETS...................... 208

The responsibilities of experts at War Councils — The Rt. Hon. A. Fisher's views — Discussion as to whether these meet the case — Under the War Cabinet system, the question does not arise — The Committee of Imperial Defence merged in the War Council early in the conflict — The Dardanelles Committee — Finding a formula — Mr. Churchill backs up Sir I. Hamilton — The spirit of compromise — The Cabinet carrying on pari passu with the Dardanelles Committee — Personal experiences with the Cabinet — The War Council which succeeded the Dardanelles Committee — An illustration of the value of the War Cabinet system — Some of its inconveniences — Ministers — Mr. Henderson — Sir E. Carson — Mr. Bonar Law — The question of resignation of individuals — Lord Curzon — Mr. Churchill — Mr. Lloyd George.

CHAPTER XII

SOME INTER-ALLIES CONFERENCES........................... 222

The Conference with the Italians in Paris in April-May 1915 — Its constitution — Italians anxious that Allies should deliver big offensive simultaneously with advance of Italian army — Impossibility of giving a guarantee — Difficulties over the naval proposals — Banquet given by M. Millerand at the War Office — A visit to the front — Impressions — Mr. Churchill turns up unexpectedly — A conference with General Joffre at Chantilly on Salonika — Its unsatisfactory character — Admiral Gamble races "Grandpere" and suffers discomfiture — A distinguished party proceed to Paris — A formal conference with the French Government — Messrs. Asquith, Grey and Lloyd George as linguists — The French attitude over Salonika — Sir W. Robertson gives his views — The decision — Dinner at the Elysee — Return to London — Mr. Lloyd George and the soldiers on the Boulogne jetty — Points of the destroyer as a yacht — Mr. Balfour and Sir W. Robertson afloat — A chatty dinner on our side of the Channel — Difficulty over Russian munitions owing to a Chantilly conference — A conference at the War Office — Mr. Lloyd George as chairman — M. Mantoux.

CHAPTER XIII

A FIRST MISSION TO RUSSIA............................... 237

Reasons for Mission — An effectual staff officer — Our distinguished representatives in Scandinavia — The journey — Stockholm — Lapps — Crossing the frontier at Haparanda — Arrival at Petrograd — Sir G. Buchanan — Interviews with General Polivanoff, Admiral Grigorovitch and M. Sazonoff — Imperial vehicles — Petrograd — We proceed to the Stavka — Improper use of the title "Tsar" — The Imperial headquarters — Meeting with the Emperor — Two disconcerting incidents — Nicholas II. — His charm — His admiration for Lord Kitchener's work — Conference with General Alexeieff — Mohileff — Service in the church in honour of the Grand Duchess Tatiana's birthday — Return to Petrograd — A rencontre with an archbishop — The nuisance of swords — Return home.

CHAPTER XIV

A SECOND MISSION TO RUSSIA.............................. 253

Object of this second mission — The general military situation — Verdun and Kut — Baron Meyendorff — We partially adopt Russian uniform — Stay in Petrograd — Sir Mark Sykes — Presentation of decorations at the Admiralty — Mohileff — Conference with General Alexeieff — He raises the question of an expedition to Alexandretta — Asks for heavy artillery — The Emperor — A conversation with him — The dismissal of Polivanoff — Disquieting political conditions in Russia — Nicholas II.'s attitude — The journey to Tiflis — We emerge from the snow near the Sea of Azov — Caucasia — Tiflis — General Yanushkhevitch — Conference with the Grand Duke Nicholas — Proposes that we should smash Turkey — Constantinople? — Major Marsh — The Grand Duke — Presenting the G.C.M.G. to General Yudenitch — Our stay at Tiflis — Proceed to Batoum — A day at Batoum — Visit to the hospital ship Portugal — Proceed by destroyer to Off — Sinking of the Portugal — Off — General Liakoff — A ride to the scene of a very recent fight — A fine view — The field force dependent upon maritime communications — Landing difficulties — Return to Tiflis — A gala dinner at the palace — Journey to Sarikamish — Russian pronunciation of names — Kars — Greeting the troops — One of the forts — Welcome at Sarikamish — General Savitzky — Russian hospitality — The myth about Russians being good linguists — A drive in a blizzard — Colonel Maslianikoff describes his victory over the Turks in December 1914, on the site of his command post — Our visit to this part of the world much appreciated — A final interview with the Grand Duke — Proceed to Moscow — The Kremlin — View of Moscow from the Sparrow Hills — Visit to a hospital — Observations on such visits — A talk with our acting Consul-General — Back to Petrograd — Conclusions drawn from this journey through Russia — Visit to Lady Sybil Grey's hospital — A youthful swashbuckler — Return home — We encounter a battle-cruiser squadron on the move.

CHAPTER XV

THE RUSSIAN BUNGLE...................................... 280

The Russian Revolution the worst disaster which befell the Entente during the Great War — The political situation in Russia before that event much less difficult to deal with than had been the political situation in the Near East in 1915 — The Allies' over-estimate of Russian strength in the early months of the war — We hear about the ammunition shortage first from Japan — Presumable cause of the breakdown — The Grand Duke Nicholas' difficulties in the early months — Great improvement effected in respect to munitions subsequent to the summer of 1915 — Figures — Satisfactory outlook for the campaign of 1917 — Political situation goes from bad to worse — Russian mission to London; no steps taken by our Government — Our representatives in Russia — Situation at the end of 1916 — A private letter to Mr. Lloyd George — The Milner Mission to Russia — Its failure to interpret the portents — Had Lord Kitchener got out it might have made all the difference — Some excuse for our blundering subsequent to the Revolution — The delay in respect to action in Siberia and at Vladivostok.

CHAPTER XVI

CATERING FOR THE ALLIES................................. 293

The appointment of Colonel Ellershaw to look after Russian munition supplies — His remarkable success — I take over his branch after his death — Gradual alteration of its functions — The Commission Internationale de Ravitaillement — Its efficiency — The despatch of goods to Russia — Russian technical abilities in advance of their organizing power — The flame projector and the Stokes mortar — Drawings and specifications of Tanks — An early contretemps in dealing with a Russian military delegate — Misadventure in connection with a 9.2-inch howitzer — Difficulties at the northern Russian ports — The American contracts — The Russian Revolution — This transforms the whole position as to supplies — Roumania — Statesmen in conflict — Dealings with the Allies' delegates in general — Occasional difficulties — Helpfulness of the United States representatives — The Greek muddle — Getting it disentangled — Great delays in this country and in France in fitting out the Greeks, and their consequences — Serbian supplies — The command in Macedonia ought on administrative grounds to have been in British hands.

CHAPTER XVII

THE PRESS............................................... 310

The constant newspaper attacks upon the War Office — Often arise from misunderstandings or sheer ignorance — The mistake made with regard to war correspondents at the start — The pre-war intentions of the General Staff — How they were set on one side — Inconvenience of this from the War Office point of view — A breach of faith — The mischievous optimism of newspapers in the early days — Tendency of the military authorities to conceal bad news — Experts at fault in the Press — Tendency to take the Press too seriously in this country — Some of its blunders during the war — A proposal to put German officer prisoners on board transports as a protection — A silly mistake over the promotion of general-officers — Why were Tanks not adopted before the war! — A paean about Sukhomlinoff — A gross misstatement — Temporary officers and high positions in the field — A suggestion that the Press should censor itself in time of war; its absurdity — The Press Bureau — Some of its mistakes — Information allowed to appear which should have been censored — Difficulties of the censors — The case of the shell shortage — Difficulty of laying down rules for the guidance of censors — The Press and air-raids — A newspaper proprietor placed at the head of the Air Service — The result — The question of announcing the names of units that have distinguished themselves — Conclusion.

CHAPTER XVIII

SOME CRITICISMS, SUGGESTIONS, AND GENERALITIES.......... 328

Post-war extravagance — The Office of Works lavish all through — The Treasury — Its unpopularity in the spending departments — The Finance Branch of the War Office — Suggestions — The change with regard to saluting — Red tabs and red cap-bands — A Staff dandy in the West — The age of general-officers — Position of the General Staff in the War Office — The project of a Defence Ministry — No excuse for it except with regard to the air services, and that not a sufficient excuse — Confusion between the question of a Defence Ministry and that of the Imperial General Staff — The time which must elapse before newly constituted units can be fully depended upon, one of the most important lessons for the public to realize — This proved to be the case in almost every theatre and in the military forces of almost every belligerent — Misapprehensions about South Africa — Improvised units could not have done what the "Old Contemptibles" did — Conclusion.



CHAPTER I

THE OUTBREAK OF WAR

Unfair disparagement of the War Office during the war — Difficulties under which it suffered owing to pre-war misconduct of the Government — The army prepared, the Government and the country unprepared — My visit to German districts on the Belgian and Luxemburg frontiers in June 1914 — The German railway preparations — The plan of the Great General Staff indicated by these — The Aldershot Command at exercise — I am summoned to London by General H. Wilson — Informed of contemplated appointment to be D.M.O. — The unsatisfactory organization of the Military Operations Directorate — An illustration of this from pre-war days — G.H.Q. rather a nuisance until they proceeded to France — The scare about a hostile maritime descent — Conference at the Admiralty — The depletion of my Directorate to build up G.H.Q. — Inconvenience of this in the case of the section dealing with special Intelligence services — An example of the trouble that arose at the very start — This points to a misunderstanding of the relative importance of the War Office and of G.H.Q. — Sir J. French's responsibility for this, Sir C. Douglas not really responsible — Colonel Dallas enumerates the great numerical resources of Germany — Lord Kitchener's immediate recognition of the realities of the situation — Sir J. French's suggestion that Lord Kitchener should be Commander-in-Chief of the Expeditionary Force indicated misconception of the position of affairs.

In a record of experiences during the Great War that were for the most part undergone within the War Office itself, it is impossible to overcome the temptation to draw attention at the start to the unreasonably disparaging attitude towards that institution which has been adopted so generally throughout the country. Nobody will contend that hideous blunders were not committed by some departments of the central administration of the Army in Whitehall during the progress of the struggle. It has to be admitted that considerable sums of money were from time to time wasted—it could hardly be otherwise in such strenuous times. A regrettable lack of foresight was undoubtedly displayed in some particulars. But tremendous difficulties, difficulties for the existence of which the military authorities were nowise to blame, had on the other hand to be overcome—and they were overcome. Nor can the War Office be robbed of its claim to have borne the chief share in performing what was the greatest miracle of all the miracles performed during the course of the contest. Within the space of less than two years the United Kingdom was, mainly by the exertions of the War Office, transformed into a Great Military Power. That achievement covers up many transgressions.

It has to be remembered that in this matter the detractors had it all their own way during the struggle. Anybody harbouring a grievance, real or imaginary, was at liberty to air his wrongs, whereas the mouths of soldiers in a position to reply had perforce to remain closed and have to a great extent still to remain closed. The disgruntled had the field pretty well to themselves. Ridiculous stories for which there was not one atom of foundation have gained currency, either because those who knew the truth were precluded by their official status from revealing the facts or because no one took the trouble to contradict the absurdities. Some of these yarns saw the light in the newspapers, and the credulity of the public in accepting everything that happens to appear in the Press is one of the curiosities of the age. Not, however, that many of the criticisms of which the War Office was the subject during the protracted broil were not fully warranted. Some of them were indeed most helpful. But others were based on a positively grovelling ignorance of the circumstances governing the subject at issue. Surely it is an odd thing that, whereas your layman will shy at committing himself in regard to legal problems, will not dream of debating medical questions, will shrink from expressing opinions on matters involving acquaintance with technical science, will even be somewhat guarded in his utterances concerning the organization and handling of fleets, everybody is eager to lay the law down respecting the conduct of war on land.

A reference has been made above to the extraordinary difficulties under which the War Office laboured during the war. The greatest of these, at all events during the early days, was the total misconception of the international situation of which H.M. Government had been guilty—or had apparently been guilty—during the years immediately preceding the outbreak of hostilities. No intelligible and satisfactory explanation of this has ever been put forward. Their conduct in this connection had been the conduct of fools, or of knaves, or of liars. They had been acting as fools if they had failed to interpret auguries which presented no difficulty whatever to people of ordinary intelligence who took the trouble to watch events. They had been acting as knaves if they had been drawing their salaries and had not earned them by making themselves acquainted with facts which it was their bounden duty to know. They had been acting as liars if, when fully aware of the German preparations for aggressive war and of what these portended, they had deliberately deceived and hoodwinked the countrymen who trusted them. (Personally, I should be disposed to acquit them of having been fools or knaves—but I may be wrong.) Several Ministers had indeed deliberately stated in their places in Parliament that the nation's military arrangements were not framed to meet anything beyond the despatch to an oversea theatre of war of four out of the six divisions of our Expeditionary Force! One of the gang had even been unable "to conceive circumstances in which continental operations by our troops would not be a crime against the people of this country."

Much has been said and written since 1914 concerning the unpreparedness of the army for war. But the truth is that the army was not unprepared for that limited-liability, pill-to-stop-an-earthquake theory of making war which represented the programme of Mr. Asquith and his colleagues before the blow fell. Take it all round, the Expeditionary Force was as efficient as any allied or hostile army which took the field. It was almost as well prepared for the supreme test in respect to equipment as it was in respect to leadership and training. The country and the Government, not the army, were unprepared. There was little wrong with the military forces except that they represented merely a drop in the ocean, that they constituted no more than an advanced guard to legions which did not exist. Still one must acknowledge that (as will be pointed out further on) even some of our highest military authorities did not realize what an insignificant asset our splendid little Expeditionary Force would stand for in a great European war, nor to have grasped when the crash came that the matter of paramount importance in connection with the conduct of the struggle on land was the creation of a host of fighting men reaching such dimensions as to render it competent to play a really vital role in achieving victory for the Entente.

As it happened, I had proceeded as a private individual in the month of June 1914 to inspect the German railway developments directed towards the frontiers of Belgium and of Luxemburg. This was an illuminating, indeed an ominous, experience. Entering the Kaiser's dominions by the route from the town of Luxemburg to Treves, one came of a sudden upon a colossal detraining station that was not quite completed, fulfilling no conceivable peaceful object and dumped down on the very frontier—anything more barefaced it would be difficult to conceive. Treves itself, three or four miles on, constituted a vast railway centre, and three miles or so yet farther along there was its counterpart in another great railway centre where there was no town at all. You got Euston, Liverpool Street, and Waterloo—only the lines and sidings, of course—grown up like mushrooms in a non-populous and non-industrial region, and at the very gates of a little State of which Germany had guaranteed the neutrality.

Traversing the region to the north of the Moselle along the western German border-line, this proved to be a somewhat barren, partly woodland, partly moorland, tract, sparsely inhabited as Radnor and Strathspey; and yet this unproductive district had become a network of railway communications. Elaborate detraining stations were passed every few miles. One constantly came upon those costly overhead cross-over places, where one set of lines is carried right over the top of another set at a junction, so that continuous traffic going one way shall not be checked by traffic coming in from the side and proceeding in the opposite direction—a plan seldom adopted at our most important railway centres. On one stretch of perhaps half-a-dozen miles connecting two insignificant townships were to be seen eight lines running parallel to each other. Twopenny-halfpenny little trains doddered along, occasionally taking up or putting down a single passenger at some halting-place that was large enough to serve a Coventry or a Croydon. The slopes of the cuttings and sidings were destitute of herbage; the bricks of the culverts and bridges showed them by the colour to be brand-new; all this construction had taken place within the previous half-dozen years. Everything seemed to be absolutely ready except that one place on the Luxemburg frontier mentioned above, and that obviously could be completed in a few hours of smart work, if required.

One had heard a good deal about the Belgians having filled in a gap on their side of the frontier so as to join up Malmedy with their internal railway system, and thus to establish a fresh through-connection between the Rhineland and the Meuse, so I travelled along this on my way back. But it was unimpressive. The drop from the rolling uplands about the camp of Elsenborn down to Malmedy gave rise to very steep gradients on the German side, and the single line of rail was so dilapidated and was so badly laid that, as we ran down with steam off, it hardly seemed safe for a short train of about half-a-dozen coaches. That the Great General Staff had no intention of making this a main line of advance appeared to be pretty clear. They meant the hosts that they would dispose of when the moment came, to sweep round by communications lying farther to the north, starting from about Aix-la-Chapelle and heading for the gap south of the Dutch enclave about Maestricht. The impression acquired during this flying visit was that for all practical purposes the Germans had everything ready for an immediate invasion of Belgium and Luxemburg when the crisis arrived, that they were simply awaiting the fall of the flag, that when war came they meant to make their main advance through Belgium, going wide, and that pickelhaubes would be as the sands of the sea for number well beyond Liege within a very few days of the outbreak of hostilities. On getting home I compared notes with the Intelligence Section of the General Staff which was especially interested in these territories, but found little to tell them that they did not know already except with regard to a few very recently completed railway constructions. The General Staff hugged no illusions. They were not so silly as to suppose that the Teuton proposed to respect treaties in the event of the upheaval that was sure to come ere long.

Having a house at Fleet that summer, I cycled over to beyond Camberley one day, just at the stage when coming events were beginning to cast their shadows before after the Serajevo assassinations, to watch the Aldershot Command at work, and talked long with many members of the Command and with some of the Staff College personnel who had turned out to see the show. Some of them—e.g. Lieut.-Colonels W. Thwaites and J. T. Burnett-Stuart and Major (or was it Captain?) W. E. Ironside—were to go far within the next five years. But there were also others whom I met that day for the last time—Brigadier-General Neil Findlay, commanding the artillery, who had been in the same room with me at the "Shop," and Lieut.-Colonel Adrian Grant-Duff of the Black Watch, excusing his presence in the firing-line on the plea that he "really must see how his lads worked through the woodlands"; both had made the supreme sacrifice in France before the leaves were off the trees. How many are alive and unmaimed to-day of those fighting men of all ranks who buzzed about so cheerily amid the heather and the pine trees that afternoon, and who melted away so silently out of Aldershot a very few days later?

The clouds thereafter gathered thicker from day to day, and on Friday morning, the 31st of July, I received a letter from General Henry Wilson, sent on from my town address, asking me to come and breakfast with him on the following day. I was going down to Winchester to see the Home Counties (Territorial) Division complete a long march from the east on their way to Salisbury Plain, and it happened to be inconvenient to go up to town that night, so I wired to Wilson to say I would call at his house on the Sunday. On getting back, late, to Fleet I however found a peremptory summons from him saying I must come and see him next day, and I went up in the morning. One could not foresee that that breakfast in Draycott Place to which I had been bidden was to take rank as a historic meal. Mr. Maxse has told the story of it in the pages of the National Review, and of how the movement was there started by which the Unionist leaders were got together from various quarters to bring pressure on the Government not to leave France in the lurch, a movement which culminated in Mr. Bonar Law's famous letter to Mr. Asquith.

On meeting General Wilson at the War Office about noon he told me that I was to take his place as Director of Military Operations in case of mobilization, and he asked me to join as soon as possible. He further made me acquainted with the political situation, with the very unsatisfactory attitude which a proportion of the Cabinet were disposed to take up, and with the steps which Messrs. George Lloyd, Amery, Maxse, and others were taking to mobilize the Opposition leaders and to compel the Government to play the game. In the last conversation that I ever had with Lord Roberts, two or three days before the great Field-Marshal paid the visit to the Front which was so tragically cut short, he spoke enthusiastically of the services of Lloyd (now Sir George) on this occasion. In consequence of what I had learnt I joined at the War Office for duty on the Monday, although the arrangement was irregular and purely provisional for the moment, seeing that it had not yet been decided whether mobilization was to be ordained or not. But I found Wilson in much more buoyant mood after the week-end of anxiety, for he believed that Mr. Bonar Law's letter had proved the decisive factor. By this time we moreover knew that Germany had already violated the neutrality of Luxemburg and was threatening Belgium openly.

I ought to mention here that this appointment to the post of Director of Military Operations came as a complete surprise—my not having been warned well in advance had been due to an oversight; up to within a few months earlier, when I had ceased to belong to the Reserve of Officers, having passed the age-limit for colonels, my fate in the event of general mobilization was to have been something high up on the staff of the Home Defence Army. One could entertain no illusions. Heavy responsibilities were involved in taking up such an appointment on the eve of war. After five years of civil life it was a large order to find myself suddenly thrust into such a job and to be called upon to take up charge of a War Office Directorate which I knew was overloaded. Ever since 1904, ever since the date when this Directorate had been set up by the Esher Committee as one item in the reconstitution of the office as a whole and when my section of the old Intelligence Division had been absorbed into it, I had insisted that this composite branch was an overburdened and improperly constituted one.

For the Esher triumvirate had amalgamated "operations" and "intelligence," while they had deposited "home defence" in the Military Training Directorate. It was an absurd arrangement in peace-time, and one that was wholly unadapted to the conditions of a great war. Lord Esher and his colleagues would seem, however, to have been actuated by a fear lest the importance of home defence should overshadow that of preparation for oversea warfare if the two sets of duties were in one hand, and, inasmuch as they were making a start with the General Staff at Headquarters and bearing in mind former tendencies, they may have been right. They, moreover, hardly realized perhaps that intelligence must always be the handmaid of operations, and that it is in the interest of both that they should be kept quite distinct. It was natural that the first Chief of the General Staff to be appointed, Sir N. Lyttelton, should have hesitated to overset an organization which had been so recently laid down and which had been accepted by the Government as it stood, even if he recognized its unsuitability; but I have never been able to understand how his successors, Sir W. Nicholson and Sir J. French, failed to effect the rearrangement of duties which a sound system of administration imperatively called for. That my predecessors, Generals "Jimmy" Grierson, Spencer Ewart, and Henry Wilson, made no move in the matter is rendered the more intelligible to me by the fact that I took no steps in the matter myself, even when the need for a reorganization was driven home by the conditions brought about in the War Office during the early months of the Great War. Somehow one feels no irresistible impulse to abridge one's functions and to depreciate one's importance by one's own act, to lop off one's own members, so to speak. But when Sir W. Robertson turned up at the end of 1915 to become C.I.G.S. he straightway split my Directorate in two, and he thus put things at last on a proper footing.

The incongruity of the Esher organization had, it may be mentioned, been well illustrated by an episode that occurred very shortly after the reconstitution of the War Office had been carried into effect in the spring of 1904. Under the distribution of duties then laid down, my section of the Operations Directorate dealt inter alia, with questions of coast defence in connection with our stations abroad, while a section of the Military Training Directorate dealt inter alia with questions of coast defence in connection with our stations at home. It came about that the two sections issued instructions simultaneously about the same thing, and the instructions issued by the two sections were absolutely antagonistic. The consequence was that coast defence people at Malta came to be doing the thing one way, while those at Portsmouth came to be doing it exactly the opposite way, and that the War Office managed to give itself away and to expose itself to troublesome questionings. The blunder no doubt could be put down to lack of co-ordination; but the primary cause was the existence of a faulty organization under which two different branches at Headquarters were dealing with the one subject.

The earliest experiences in the War Office in August 1914 amounted, it must be confessed, almost to a nightmare. There were huge maps working on rollers in my spacious office, and in particular there was one of vast dimensions portraying what even then was coming to be called the Western Front. During the week or so that elapsed before G.H.Q. of the Expeditionary Force proceeded to the theatre of war, its cream thought fit to spend the hours of suspense in creeping on tiptoe in and out of my apartment, clambering on and off a table which fronted this portentous map, discussing strategical problems in blood-curdling whispers, and every now and then expressing an earnest hope that this sort of thing was not a nuisance. It was a most intolerable nuisance, but they were persons of light and leading who could not be addressed in appropriate terms. As hour to hour passed, and H.M. Government could not make up its mind to give the word "go" to the Expeditionary Force, G.H.Q.'s language grew stronger and stronger until the walls resounded with expletives. It was not easy to concentrate one's attention upon questions arising in the performance of novel duties in a time of grave emergency under such conditions, and it was a genuine relief when the party took itself off to France.

One was too busy to keep notes of what went on in those days and I am not sure of exact dates, but I think that it was on the 6th of August that a wire, which seemed on the face of it to be trustworthy, came to hand from a German port, to the effect that transports and troops were being collected there to convey a military force somewhither. This message caused the Government considerable concern and very nearly delayed the despatch of the Expeditionary Force across the Channel. One was too new to the business to take the proper steps to trace the source of that message, which, as far as I remember, purported to emanate from one of our consuls; but I have a strong suspicion that the message was faked—was really sent off by the Germans. Lord Kitchener had taken up the appointment of Secretary of State that morning, and in the afternoon he walked across Whitehall, accompanied by my immediate chief, Sir C. Douglas the C.I.G.S., General Kiggell, and myself, to discuss the position with Mr. Churchill and the chiefs of the Admiralty in the First Lord's room. Whitehall was rendered almost impassable by a mass of excited citizens, and Lord Kitchener on being recognized was wildly cheered. Nothing could have been clearer and more reassuring than Mr. Churchill's exposition of the naval arrangements to meet any attempt at a landing on our shores, and any one of the War Office quartette who may have been troubled with qualms—I had felt none myself—must have had his anxiety allayed.

It will not be out of place to refer here to one aspect of the virtual emasculation of the General Staff at the War Office on mobilization that has not perhaps quite received the attention that it deserves. That, in spite of his being Director of Military Operations in Whitehall, General Wilson very properly accompanied the Expeditionary Force will hardly be disputed. He had established close and cordial relations with the French higher military authorities, he could talk French like a Parisian, he had worked out the details of the concentration of our troops on the farther side of the Channel months before, and he probably knew more about the theatre where our contingent was expected to operate than any man in the army. But he was not the only member of the Military Operations Directorate staff who disappeared; he took his right-hand man and his left-hand man in respect to actual operations with him. Nevertheless, as I was pretty familiar with the working of the War Office, and as the planting down of the Expeditionary Force beyond Le Cateau was effected, practically automatically, by the Movements branch under the Quartermaster-General, operations question in respect to the war in the West gave no great trouble until my Directorate had had time to settle down after a fashion in its new conditions.

But the Intelligence side of General Wilson's Directorate included a branch which dealt with a number of matters with which no Director brought in from outside was likely to be well acquainted, and about which I knew nothing at all. Very few officers in the regular army are conversant with international law. Nor used they, in the days before 1914, to interest themselves in the status of aliens when the country is engaged in hostilities, nor with problems of censorship of the post and telegraph services, nor with the relations between the military and the Press, nor yet with the organization, the maintenance, and the duties of a secret service. Before mobilization, all this was in the hands of a section under the D.M.O. which was in charge of Colonel (now Lieut.-General Sir G.) Macdonogh, who had made a special study of these matters, and who had devised a machinery for performing a number of duties in this country which on the outbreak of war necessarily assumed a cardinal importance and called for efficient administration at the hands of a large personnel, only to be got together when the emergency arose. But Colonel Macdonogh on mobilization took up an important appointment with the Expeditionary Force, and went off to France, carrying off his assistants with him. As far as personnel was concerned, this cupboard was left as bare as a fashionable lady's back when en grande tenue in "Victory Year." Charge of it was assumed by an extremely capable and energetic substitute brought in from outside (Colonel D. L. MacEwen), who, however, suffered under the disability of knowing practically nothing about the peculiar class of work which he was suddenly called upon to take up.

As an example of the extreme inconvenience which this caused, the following somewhat comical incident may be related. Three or four days after the declaration of war a brace of very distinguished civil servants, one representing the Foreign Office and the other the Home Office, came across Whitehall by appointment and with long faces, and the four of us sat solemnly round a table—they, Colonel MacEwen, and I. It appeared that we had been guilty of terrifying violations of international law. We had seized numbers of German reservists and German males of military age on board ships in British ports, and had consigned some of them to quarters designed for the accommodation of malefactors. This sort of thing would never do. Such steps had not been taken by belligerents in 1870, nor at the time of the American War of Secession, and I am not sure that Messrs. Mason and Slidell were not trotted out. The Foreign and Home Secretaries, the very distinguished civil servants declared, would not unlikely be agitated when they heard of the shocking affair. Soldiers, no doubt, were by nature abrupt and unconventional in their actions, and the Foreign and Home Offices would make every allowance, realizing that we had acted in good faith. But, hang it all—and they gazed at us in compassionate displeasure.

Will it be believed? My assistant and I knew so little about our business that we did not fall upon that pair of pantaloons and rend them. We took them and their protestation quite seriously. We accepted their courteous, but uncompromising, rebuke like small boys caught stealing apples, whose better feelings have been appealed to. For the space of two or three hours, and until we had pulled ourselves together, we remained content, on the strength of doctrines enunciated by a couple of officials fossilized by having dwelt in a groove for years, to accept it as a principle that this tremendous conflict into which the Empire had been plunged at a moment's notice was to be a kid-glove transaction. Within three weeks the Foreign Office and the Home Office were, however, praying us in the War Office for goodness' sake to take all questions in connection with the internment and so forth of aliens entirely off their hands because they could make nothing of the business.

The above reference to my having been virtually left in the lurch with regard to these, to me, occult matters is not made by way of complaint. It is made because it illustrates with signal force how completely the relative importance of the Expeditionary Force as compared to the task which the War Office had to face had been misunderstood when framing plans in advance for the anticipated emergency. Colonel Macdonogh became head of Sir J. French's Intelligence Department in the field. That was a very important appointment and one for which he was admirably fitted, but it was one which many other experienced officers in the army could have effectually filled. The appointment at the War Office which he gave up was one which no officer in the army was so well qualified—nor nearly so well qualified—to hold as he was, and it was at the outbreak of war incomparably the more important appointment of the two. The arrangement arrived at in respect to this matter indicated, in fact, a strange lack of sense of proportion. It argued a fundamental misconception of the military problem with which the country was confronted.

In his book, "1914," in which he finds so much to say in disparagement of Lord Kitchener, Lord French has very frankly admitted his inability to foresee certain tactical developments in connection with heavy artillery and so forth, which actual experience in the field brought home to him within a few weeks of the opening of hostilities. Most of the superior French and German military authorities who held sway in the early days of the struggle would probably similarly plead guilty, for nobody in high places anticipated these developments. The Field-Marshal, on the other hand, makes no reference to any failure on his part to realize in advance the relatively insignificant part which our original Expeditionary Force would be able to play in the great contest. He makes no admission as to a misconception with regard to the paramount problem which faced the British military authorities as a whole after mobilization was decreed. He would not seem to have been aware, when a conflict of first-rate magnitude came upon us, that the creation of a great national army was of far greater consequence than the operations of the small body of troops which he took with him into the field. The action taken in connection with the personnel of the General Staff in Whitehall is significant evidence of the extent to which the whole situation had been misinterpreted.

It may be urged that Sir J. French (as he then was) was not responsible. He had—under circumstances which will not have been forgotten—ceased to be Chief of the Imperial General Staff some four months before war broke out. But Sir Charles Douglas, who had then taken his place, although a resolute, experienced soldier, equipped with an almost unique knowledge of the army, was a deliberate, cautious Scot; he was the very last man to shirk responsibility and to shelter himself behind somebody else, but, on the other hand, he was not an impatient thruster who would be panting to be—in gunner's parlance—"re-teaming the battery before the old major was out of the gate." He accepted, and he was indeed bound to accept, the ideas of a predecessor of the highest standing in the Service, who had made a special study of campaigning possibilities under the conditions which actually arose in August 1914, and under whose aegis definite plans and administrative arrangements to meet the case had been elaborated beforehand with meticulous care. Enjoying all the advantages arising from having made a close study of the subject and from having an Intelligence Department brimming over with detailed information at his beck and call, Sir J. French entirely failed to grasp the extent and nature of the war in its early days. Lord Kitchener did. Suddenly summoned to take supreme military charge, a stranger to the War Office and enjoying none of Sir J. French's advantages, the new Secretary of State mastered the realities of the position at once by some sort of instinct, perceived what a stupendous effort would have to be made, took the long view from the start, and foretold that the struggle would last some years.

It must have been about the 11th of August, three days before G.H.Q. crossed the Channel, that I went in with Sir John to see Colonel Dallas, the head of my Intelligence section dealing with Germany. One had been too busy during the previous few days to bother much about the German army, and at the time I knew little more about that formidable fighting machine than what was told in books of reference like the Statesman's Year-book, which gave full particulars about First Line Troops, but said uncommonly little about Reserve Formations. Information with regard to these could only be obtained from secret sources. What we were told by Dallas was a revelation to me. There seemed to be no end to the enemy's fighting resources. He kept on producing fresh batches of Reserve Divisions and Extra-Reserve Divisions, like a conjurer who produces huge glass bowls full of goldfish out of his waistcoat pocket. He seemed to be doing it on purpose—one felt quite angry with the man. But it was made plain to me that we were up against a tougher proposition than I had imagined. The Field-Marshal must have been, or at all events ought to have been, perfectly well aware of all this, seeing that he had been C.I.G.S. up till very recently, and had devoted special attention to the problems involved in a war with Germany.

In a foot-note near the end of "1914," Lord French mentions having, on some occasion during the few days when war was still trembling in the balance, suggested to Lord Kitchener that they should repair together to the Prime Minister and propose that Lord Kitchener should be commander-in-chief of the field army, with him (French) as Chief of Staff. That was a self-sacrificing suggestion; but it surely indicates an absence of what Lord Haldane calls "clear thinking." Sir J. French had been organizing and training the Expeditionary Force for some years previously, knew all about it, was acquainted with its generals and staffs, was up-to-date in connection with progress in tactical details, and had studied the strategical situation in Belgium and France. Lord Kitchener had, on the other hand, been in civil employment and out of touch with most military questions for some considerable time previously. Lord Kitchener would have been thrown away commanding the Expeditionary Force. He was needed for the much more important position which he actually took up.



CHAPTER II

EARLY DAYS AT THE WAR OFFICE

Plan of issuing communiques given up owing to the disposition to conceal reverses that manifested itself — Direct telephonic communication with the battlefield in Belgium — A strange attempt to withhold news as to the fall of Brussels — Anxiety during the retreat from Mons — The work of the Topographical Section at that time — Arrival of refugee officers and other ranks at the War Office — One of the Royal Irish affords valuable information — Candidates for the appointment of "Intelligence Officer" — How one dealt with recommendations in regard to jobs — Linguists — The discoverer of interpreters, fifty produced as if by magic — The Boy Scouts in the War Office — An Admirable Crichton — The scouts' effective method of handling troublesome visitors — Army chaplains in embryo — A famous cricketer doing his bit — A beauty competition outside my door — The Eminent K.C. — An impressive personality — How he benefits the community — The Self-Appointed Spy-Catcher — Gun platforms concealed everywhere — The hidden dangers in disused coal mines in Kent — Procuring officers for the New Armies — "Bill" Elliot's unorthodox methods — The Military Secretary's branch meets with a set-back — Visits from Lord Roberts — His suggestion as to the commander-in-chiefship in China — His last visit — The Antwerp business — The strategical situation with regard to the Belgian field army — The project of our Government — The despatch of the Seventh Division and the Third Cavalry Division to Belgian Flanders — Organization of base and line of communications overlooked — A couple of transports "on their own" come to a halt on the Goodwins — Difficulty of the strategical situation — Death of Sir C. Douglas.

It will be remembered that although our troops were not engaged during the first fortnight of the war, and were indeed never likely to be engaged so early, events moved quickly on the Western Front, and that the set-back encountered by the Germans when they tried to smother Liege without bringing up heavy artillery aroused a certain enthusiasm in this country. On taking stock of my duties, it had appeared to me that one of these would be the issue of reasoned communiques to the Press from time to time, and I actually drafted one, designed to convey a warning as to excessive jubilation over incidents such as the momentary success of the defending side in the struggle for the stronghold on the Meuse, which appeared in all the newspapers. The following passage occurred in it: "The exaggeration into important triumphs of minor episodes in which the Allies are alleged to have gained the upper hand is misleading." But it speedily became apparent that the powers that be did not mean to be expansive in connection with incidents where our side was getting the worst of it, so the plan of issuing communiques was abandoned almost at once.

One soon learnt that Belgian resistance was being brushed aside by the enemy with comparative ease, and that such delay as the invaders had suffered before Liege did not very appreciably interfere with the plans of the German Great General Staff. Going one afternoon into the room occupied by the head of my Intelligence section which was charged with French and Belgian affairs, I found him on his telephone and holding up his hand to enjoin silence. He was speaking with the late General "Sandy" Du Cane, our representative with King Albert's forces in the field, who was at the moment actually on the battlefield and under fire. While I was in the room, Du Cane wound up the conversation with; "They're giving way all along the line. I'm off." A day or two after this the Boches were in Brussels, and one realized that our Expeditionary Force must very soon be in the thick of it.

For some reason or other those in the highest places at the War Office hesitated to allow the news that Brussels had fallen to leak out to the public—an attitude at which the newspaper editors were not unnaturally incensed—and Mr. F. E. Smith, now Lord Birkenhead, who was head of the Press Bureau, came to see me that evening, and was outspoken as to the absurdity of this sort of thing. The matter did not, however, rest in my hands. The secretiveness in connection with reverses and contretemps which prevailed at that time, and which continued to prevail during the first year and a half of the war—during the very period when I had certain responsibilities in connection with such matters myself—seemed to me then, and seems to me now, to have been a mistake. It did our cause considerable harm, it delayed the putting forth of the full fighting strength of the British nation, it created irritation in the country when it came to be detected, and it even at times caused official reports which were perfectly in accordance with the facts to be regarded with suspicion. The point will be touched upon again in later chapters.

Then came those grey days when we knew that the Entente plan of campaign had broken down, that the forces on our side were not satisfactorily disposed for staying the hostile rush, that the French were unable to hold their ground, and that our little army were sore beset and in full retreat before superior hosts. King's Messengers, the Duke of Marlborough and Major Hankey, came to see me, and told me of the atmosphere of grave anxiety prevalent at G.H.Q. A message from General Henry Wilson, written in pencil late at night on a leaf of a notebook, reached me, of so ominous a character (seeing that he assuredly was not one to quail) that I never showed it to anybody—not even to my chief, Sir C. Douglas. And yet, one felt somehow that we should pull through in spite of all, and even though the demands coming to hand for maps of regions in the very heart of France certainly conveyed no encouragement. One regretted that the country was being kept so much in the dark—the best is never got out of the Anglo-Saxon race until it is in a tight place. A special edition of the Times, issued on Sunday morning the 30th of August, which contained a somewhat lurid account of the retreat by some hysterical journalist, and which, it turned out, had been doctored by the head of the Press Bureau, caused great anger in some quarters. But for my part I rather welcomed it. Anything that would help to bring home to the public what they were up against was to the good. Whoever first made use of that pestilent phrase "business as usual," whether it was a Cabinet Minister, or a Fleet Street scribe, or some gag-merchant on the music-hall stage, had much to answer for.

The Topographical Section under Colonel Hedley did fine work during those troubled days before the Battle of the Marne. It was in the highest degree gratifying to find a branch, for which one found oneself suddenly after a fashion responsible, to be capable of so promptly and effectually meeting emergencies. The Expeditionary Force had taken with it generous supplies of maps portraying the regions adjacent to the Franco-Belgian frontier, where it proposed to operate; a somewhat hasty retreat to a point right away back, south-east of Paris, had formed no part of its programme. A day or two after the first clash of arms near Mons, a wire arrived demanding the instant despatch of maps of the country as far to the rear as the Seine and the Marne. Now, as all units had to be supplied on a liberal scale, this meant hundreds of copies of each of a considerable number of different large-scale sheets, besides hundreds of copies of two or three more general small-scale sheets; nevertheless, the consignment was on its way before midnight. A day or two later G.H.Q. wired for maps as far back as Orleans, a day or two later, again, for maps as far as the mouth of the Loire, and yet a day or two later, for maps down to Bordeaux—this last request representing thousands of sheets. But on each occasion the demand was met within a few hours and without the slightest hitch. It was a remarkable achievement—an achievement attributable in part to military foresight dating back to the days when Messrs. Asquith, Lloyd George, Churchill and Co., either deliberately or else as a result of sheer ignorance and ineptitude, were deceiving their countrymen as to the gravity of the German menace, an achievement attributable also in part to military administrative efficiency of a high order in a time of crisis. The Topographical Section, it should be added, was able to afford highly appreciated assistance to our French and Belgian allies in the matter of supplying them with maps of their own countries.

During the first two or three weeks after fighting started, waifs and strays who had been run over by the Boches, but who had picked themselves up somehow and had fetched up at the coast, used to turn up at the War Office and to find their way to my department. For some reason or other they always presented themselves after dinner—like the coffee. The first arrival was a young cavalry officer, knocked off his horse in the preliminary encounters by what had evidently been the detonation of a well-pitched-up high-explosive, and who was still suffering from a touch of what we now know as shell-shock. He proved to be the very embodiment of effective military training, because, although he was to the last degree vague as to how he had got back across the Channel and only seemed to know that he had had a bath at the Cavalry Club, he was able to give most useful and detailed information as to what he had noted after recovering consciousness while making his way athwart the German trains and troops in reserve as they poured along behind Von Kluck's troops in front line. One observed the same thing in the case of another cavalry officer who arrived some days later, after a prolonged succession of tramps by night from the Sambre to Ostend. "You'll sleep well to-night," I remarked when thanking him for the valuable information that he had been able to impart—and of a sudden he looked ten years older. "I couldn't sleep a wink last night at Ostend," he muttered in a bewildered sort of way, "and I don't feel as if I'd ever sleep again."

We did not wear uniform in the War Office for the first month or so, and one night about this time, on meeting a disreputable and suspicious-looking character on the stairs, garbed in the vesture affected by the foreign mechanic, I was debating whether to demand of the interloper what he was doing within the sacred precincts, when he abruptly accosted me with: "I say, d'you happen to know where in this infernal rabbit-warren a blighter called the Something of Military Operations hangs out?" His address indicated him to be a refugee officer looking for my department.

These prodigals had such interesting experiences to recount that, in a weak moment, I gave instructions for them to be brought direct to me, and about 10 P.M. one night, when there happened to be a lot of unfinished stuff to be disposed of before repairing homewards, a tarnished-looking but otherwise smart and well-set-up private soldier was let loose on me. A colloquy somewhat as follows ensued:

"What regiment?"

"The Rile Irish, sorr." (He said this as if there was no other regiment—they always do.)

"Ah! Well, and how have you got along back here?"

"Sorr, it's the truth I'm tellin' ye, sorra ilse. Sure wasn't I marchin' and fightin' and hidin' and craalin' for wakes and wakes" (the Royal Irish could only have detrained at Le Cateau about ten days before) "before I gits to that place as they calls Boulong—a gran' place, sorr, wid quays and thruck like it was the North Waal—an' a fellah takes me to the Commandant, sorr, where I seen a major-man wid red tabs an' an eye like Polly-famous. 'Sorr,' sez I to him, sez I; sez I, 'it's gittin' back to the rigimint I'd be afther,' sez I. 'Ye'll not,' sez he, 'divil a stir,' sez he; 'ye'll go to Lunnon,' sez he. 'Will I?' sez I. 'Ye will,' sez he; 'take him down to the boat at wanst, sergeant,' sez he, and the sergeant right turns me and marches me out. 'Sergeant dear,' sez I, 'sure why can't I be gittin' back to the rigimint?' sez I. 'Agh, t'hell out o' that,' sez he; 'sure didn't ye hear what the major bin and said?' sez he, an' he gin me over to a carpral—one on thim ogly Jocks, sorr—an' down we goes by the quays to the boat—a gran' boat, sorr, wid ladies an' childer an' Frinch an' Bilgians, an' all sorts, as minded me on the ould Innisfallen. D'y' iver know the ould Innisfallen, sorr, as sails from Carrk to some place as I misremember the name on, sorr?"

"Crossed over on her once from Cork to Milford."

"Ye did, yer honour—sorr, I mane? Glory be to God—to think o' that! Well, sorr, I'd a sup of tay at one on thim shtahls, sorr, an' the Jock gives me me papers an' puts me aboard, sorr. It's mostly onaisy in me inside I am, sorr, on the say, but it was beautiful calm an'——"

"Yes, yes; but look here—Where was it you left your regiment?"

"Is it me, sorr? Me lave me rigimint, sorr? Me wid three years' sarvis an' sorra intry in my shate at all, only two, wan time I was dthronk wid a cowld in me nose, sorr. Me lave me rigimint? It was the rigimint lift me, sorr. As I tell ye just now, we'd bin marchin' an' fightin' for wakes and wakes, an' it was tired I was, sorr, bate I was, an' we was havin' a halt, sorr; an' I sez to Mick Shehan from Mallow, as is in my platoon, 'Mick,' sez I. 'Tim,' sez he, wid his mouth full of shkoff. 'Mick,' sez I, 'it's gwan to have a shlape, I am,' sez I, 'an' ye'll wake me, Mick darlint, when the fall-in goes.' 'Begob an' why wouldn't I, Tim,' sez he, 'so I ain't shlapin' mysilf?' sez he. 'Ye'll no forgit, Mick,' sez I. 'Agh, shut yer mouth, why would I be the wan to forgit?' sez he. But whin I wuk up, the divil a rigimint was there at all, at all, only me, sorr; an' there was a lot of quare-lookin' chaps as I sinsed by the look on thim was Jarmins. I was concealed by a ditch,[1] an' settin' down by a bit o' whin, I was, sorr, or they seen me for sure. 'Phwat'll I do at all?' sez I to mysilf, sez I, an'—"

[Footnote 1: Anglice, bank.]

"Just stop a minute; where was all this?"

"Where was it? Why, in Fraance, sorr, where ilse would it be? Well, sorr, as I was just startin' to tell ye, there was a lot of quare-lookin' chaps as I sinsed by the look of thim was Jarmins, an'——"

"Yes, but good Lord, man, what was the name of the place in France where all this happened?"

"Place is it, sorr? Sure it wasn't any place at all, but one of thim kind of places as the name on has shlipped me mimry, a bog, sorr—leastways it wasn't a bog as ye'd rightly call a bog in Oireland, sorr—no turf nor there wasn't no wather. I mind now, sorr! It was what the chaps at the 'Shott calls a 'hathe,' sorr. There was trees contagious, an' whins; sure wasn't I tellin' ye just now as I was settin' down by a bit of whin, sorr——"

But it had been borne in on me that this had become a young man's job, so I succeeded, not without some difficulty, in consigning the gallant Royal Irishman—still pouring forth priceless intelligence material—into the hands of a messenger to be taken to the officer on duty. Manuals of instruction that deal with the subject of eliciting military information in time of war impress upon you that the Oriental always wants to tell you what he thinks you want him to tell you. But the Irishman tells you what he wants to tell you himself, and it isn't the least use trying to stop him.

The Intelligence Department being—directly at home and indirectly abroad—under my control, I was much sought after in the early days, was almost snowed under, indeed, with applications and recommendations for the post of "Intelligence Officer." Bigwigs within the War Office itself, when they were bothered on paper about people, simply passed the note along as it stood with "D.M.O., can you do anything for this creature?" or something of that sort, scribbled in blue pencil at the top. One was treated as if one was a sort of unemployment bureau. Qualifications for this particular class of post turned out to be of the most varied kind. One young gentleman, who was declared to be a veritable jewel, was described as a pianist, fitted out with "technique almost equal to a professional." The leading characteristic of another candidate appeared to be his liability to fits. Algy, "a dear boy and so good-looking," had spent a couple of months in Paris after leaving Eton a year or two back. This sounds terribly like petticoat influence; but resisting petticoat influence is, I can assure you, child's play compared to resisting Parliamentary influence. For good, straightforward, unblushing, shan't-take-no-for-an-answer jobbery, give me the M.P. They are sublime in their hardihood.

My experience in these Whitehall purlieus during the war perhaps provides some explanation of the theory, so sedulously hugged by the community, that interest and influence are all-powerful inside the War Office portals. To be invited to take a hand in obtaining jobs for people about whom one knew nothing and cared less, in services with which one had no connection, was a daily event. The procedure that was followed in such cases was automatic and appropriate. A reply would be dictated intimating that one would do what one could—a mere form of words, needless to say, as one had not the slightest intention of doing anything. And yet, as often as not, there would be a disconcerting sequel. Profuse outpourings of gratitude in letter form would come to hand, two or three weeks later: Jimmy had got his job, entirely owing to one's efforts in his behalf: the memory of one's services in this sacred cause would be carried to the grave: might Jimmy call and express his feeling of obligation in person? One had not the faintest recollection of what all the bother was about; but it was easy to dictate another letter expressing one's gratification at the recognition of Jimmy's merits and one's heartfelt regret that owing to stress of work one would be unable to grant him an audience. To hint that the appointment had presumably been made by the responsible official, on the strength of an application received from Jimmy in proper form, that there had been no wheels within wheels, and that backstairs had never got beyond the first landing, would have been disobliging.

Some applicants for "intelligence work" possessed, or gave out that they possessed, the gift of tongues, and the provision of interpreters was one of the many duties which had to be performed by the huge agglomeration of branches over which I exercised—or was supposed to exercise—sway. The subordinate charged with the provision had been retrieved from the Reserve of Officers and business pursuits, but retained the instincts of the soldier—a man with all his wits about him, but who sometimes positively frightened one by his unconventional procedure. One hardly likes to say such a thing of a man behind his back, but I really would not have been surprised to hear that, because he had been unable to concur in the views set out on it by other branches, he had put one of those bloated War Office files, on which one more or less automatically expresses dissent with the last minute without reading the remainder, into the fire. He made up his mind in a moment, which was irregular; and he generally made it up right, which was unprecedented. Experts in many outlandish vernaculars had to be found from the start, and he always managed to produce the article required at the shortest notice. As a matter of fact, he had laid hands upon a tame professor, whom he kept immured in a fastness somewhere in the attics, and who was always prepared to vouch for the proficiency of anybody in any language when required to do so.

The first Divisions of the "Old Contemptibles" to proceed to the Continent were fitted out with interpreters by the French. But, for some reason or other, a Division going out to the front some few weeks later had not been prepared for, and so we suddenly found that we had to furnish it with its linguists at this end. But the chief of the subsection responsible for finding them proved fully equal to the occasion. "How many d'you want, sir?" he demanded. I intimated that the authorized establishment was about seventy, but that if we could find fifty under the circumstances we should have done very well. "I'll have them ready early to-morrow, sir," he remarked, as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world—and he did. For, next morning the passages in the immediate vicinity of the room which he graced with his presence were congested with swarms of individuals, arrayed in the newest of new uniforms and resplendent in the lightest of light brown belts and gaiters, who were bundled off unceremoniously to regiments and batteries and staffs on the eve of departure for the seat of war. It is quite true that some generals and colonels in this Division wrote from France to complain that their interpreters did not know French, or if they did know French, did not know English. Still, nobody takes that sort of croaking seriously. In a grumbling match the British officer can keep his end up against the British soldier any day.

An excellent innovation at the War Office synchronizing with mobilization was the introduction of a large number of boy scouts within its gates. They proved most reliable and useful, and did the utmost credit to the fine institution for which we have to thank Sir Robert Baden-Powell. A day or two after joining I wanted to make the acquaintance of a colonel, who I found was under me in charge of a branch—a new hand like myself, but whose apartment nobody in the place could indicate. A War Office messenger despatched to find him came back empty-handed. Another War Office messenger sent on the same errand on the morrow proved no more successful. On the third day I summoned a boy scout into my presence—a very small one—and commanded him to find that colonel and not to come back without him. In about ten minutes' time the door of my room was flung open, and in walked the scout, followed by one of the biggest sort of colonels. "I did not know what I had done or where I was being taken," remarked the colonel, "but the boy made it quite clear that he wasn't going to have any nonsense; so I thought it best to come quietly."

At a much later stage, one of these youngsters was especially told off to a branch which I then controlled—an extraordinary boy, who impressed one all the more owing to his looking considerably younger than he really was. I seldom found anything that he did not know, and never found anything that he could not do. This Admirable Crichton was spangled all over well-earned badges, indicating his accomplishments. We really might have gone off, the whole lot of us, masterful staff officer, dainty registration clerks, highly efficient stenographer, etc., and had a good time; he would have run the show perfectly well without us—a Hirst, a Jimmy Wilde, a "Tetrarch," as he was amongst scouts.

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