FIELDS OF VICTORY
Mrs. Humphry Ward
With Illustrations, Colored Map and Folding Statistical Chart
1919, by Charles Scribner's Sons New York
Published September, 1919
1919, by The Evening Mail Syndicate
A WORD OF INTRODUCTION vii
I. FRANCE UNDER THE ARMISTICE 3
II. THE DEFENSIVE BATTLE OF LAST SPRING 27
III. TANKS AND THE HINDENBURG LINE 57
IV. GENERAL GOURAUD AT STRASBOURG 92
V. ALSACE-LORRAINE—THE GLORY OF VERDUN 111
VI. AMERICA IN FRANCE 134
VII. AMERICA IN FRANCE (continued) 166
VIII. "FEATURES OF THE WAR" 184
IX. TANKS AND AEROPLANES—THE STAFF WORK OF THE WAR 213
APPENDIX—EXPLANATION OF CHART 269
A WORD OF INTRODUCTION
It is a bold thing, I fear, to offer the public yet more letters based on a journey through the battle-fields of France—especially at a moment when impressions are changing so fast, when the old forms of writing about the war seem naturally out of date, or even distasteful, and the new are not yet born. Yet perhaps in this intermediate period, the impressions of one who made two journeys over some of the same ground in 1916 and 1917, while the great struggle was at its height, and on this third occasion found herself on the Western front just two months after the Armistice, may not be unwelcome to those who, like myself, feel the need of detaching as soon as possible some general and consistent ideas from the infinite complexity, the tragic and bewildering detail, of the past four years. The motive which sent me to France three months ago was the wish to make clear to myself if I could, and thereby to others, the true measure of the part played by the British Empire and the British Armies in the concluding campaigns of the war. I knew that if it could be done at all at the present moment—and by myself—it could only be done in a very broad and summary way; and also that its only claim to value would lie in its being a faithful report, within the limits I had set myself, of the opinions of those who were actually at the heart of things, i.e., of the British Higher Command, and of individual officers who had taken an active part in the war. For the view taken in these pages of last year's campaigns, I have had, of course, the three great despatches of the British Commander-in-Chief on which to base the general sketch I had in mind; but in addition I have had much kind help from the British Headquarters in France, where officers of the General Staff were still working when I paid a wintry visit to the famous Ecole Militaire at the end of January; supplemented since my return to London by assistance from other distinguished soldiers now at the War Office, who have taken trouble to help me, for which I can never thank them enough. It was, naturally, the aim of the little book which won it sympathy; the fact that it was an attempt to carry to its natural end, in brief compass, the story which, at Mr. Roosevelt's suggestion, I first tried to tell in England's Effort, published in 1916. England's Effort was a bird's-eye view of the first two years of the war, of the gathering of the new Armies, of the passing into law, and the results—up to the Battle of the Somme—of the Munitions Act of 1915. In this book, which I have again thrown into the form of letters—(it was, in fact, written week by week for transmission to America after my return home from France)—I have confined myself to the events of last year, and with the special object of determining what ultimate effect upon the war was produced by that vast military development of Great Britain and the Empire, in which Lord Kitchener took the first memorable steps. It seemed to me, at the end of last year, as to many others, that owing, perhaps, to the prominence of certain startling or picturesque episodes in the history of 1918, the overwhelming and decisive influence of the British Armies on the last stage of the struggle had been to some extent obscured and misunderstood even amongst ourselves—still more, and very naturally, amongst our Allies. Not, of course, by any of those in close contact with the actual march of the war, and its directing forces; but rather by that floating public opinion, now more intelligent, now more ignorant, which plays so largely on us all, whether through conversation or the press.
 My thanks are especially due to Lieut.-Colonel Boraston, of the General Staff, and also to my friend Colonel John Buchan, whose wonderful knowledge of the war, as shown in his History, has done so much during the last four years to keep the public at home in touch with all the forces of the Allies, but especially with the British Armies and the British Navy, throughout the whole course of the struggle.
My object, then, was to bring out as clearly as I could the part that the British Armies in France, including, of course, the great Dominion contingents, played in the fighting of last year. To do so, it was necessary also to try and form some opinion as to the respective shares in the final result of the three great Armies at work in France in 1918; to put the effort of Great Britain, that is, in its due relation to the whole concluding act of the war. In making such an attempt I am very conscious of its audacity; and I need not say that it would be a cause of sharp regret to me should the estimate here given—which is, of course, the estimate of an Englishwoman—offend any French or American friend of mine. The justice and generosity of the best French opinion on the war has been conspicuously shown on many recent occasions; while the speech in Paris the other day of the If Dean of Harvard as to the relative parts in the war—on French soil—of the Big Three—and the reception given to it by an audience of American officers have, I venture to think, stirred and deepened affection for America in the heart of those English persons who read the report of a remarkable meeting. But there is still much ignorance both here at home and among our Allies, on both sides of the sea, of the full part played by the forces of the British Empire in last year's drama. So it seemed to me, at least, when I was travelling, a few months ago, over some of the battle-fields of 1918; and I came home with a full heart, determined to tell the story—the last chapter in England's Effort—broadly and sincerely, as I best could; It was my firm confidence throughout the writing of these letters that the friendship between Britain, France, and America—a friendship on which, in my belief, rests the future happiness and peace of the world—can only gain from free speech and from the free comparison of opinion. And in the brilliant final despatch of Sir Douglas Haig which appeared on April 12th, after six letters had been written and sent to America, will be found, I venture to suggest, the full and authoritative exposition of some at least of the main lines of thought I have so imperfectly summarised in this little book.
The ten letters were written at intervals between February and May. It seemed better, in republishing them, not to attempt much recasting. They represent, mainly, the impressions of a journey, and of the conversations and reading to which it led. I have left them very much, therefore, in their original form, hoping that at least the freshness of "things seen" may atone somewhat for their many faults.
FIELDS OF VICTORY
FRANCE UNDER THE ARMISTICE
London, February, 1919.
A bewildering three weeks spent in a perpetually changing scene—changing, and yet, outside Paris, in its essential elements terribly the same—that is how my third journey to France, since the war began, appears to me as I look back upon it. My dear daughter-secretary and I have motored during January some nine hundred miles through the length and breadth of France, some of it in severe weather. We have spent some seven days on the British front, about the same on the French front, with a couple of nights at Metz, and a similar time at Strasburg, and rather more than a week in Paris. Little enough! But what a time of crowding and indelible impressions! Now, sitting in this quiet London house, I seem to be still bending forward in the motor-car, which became a sort of home to us, looking out, so intently that one's eyes suffered, at the unrolling scene. I still see the grim desolation of the Ypres salient; the heaps of ugly wreck that men call Lens and Lieviny and Souchez; and that long line of Notre Dame de Lorette, with the Bois de Bouvigny to the west of it—where I stood among Canadian batteries just six weeks before the battle of Arras in 1917. The lamentable ruin of once beautiful Arras, the desolation of Douai, and the villages between it and Valenciennes, the wanton destruction of what was once the heart of Cambrai, and that grim scene of the broken bridge on the Cambrai—Bapaume road, over the Canal du Nord, where we got out on a sombre afternoon, to look and look again at a landscape that will be famous through the world for generations: they rise again, with the sharpness of no ordinary recollection, on the inward vision. So too Bourlon Wood, high and dark against the evening sky; the unspeakable desolation and ruin of the road thence to Bapaume; Bapaume itself, under the moon, its poor huddled heaps lit only, as we walked about it, by that strange, tranquil light from overhead, and the lamps of our standing motor-car; some dim shapes and sights emerging on the long and thrice-famous road from Bapaume to Albert, first, the dark mound of the Butte de Warlencourt, with three white crosses on its top, and once a mysterious light in a fragment of a ruined house, the only light I saw on the whole long downward stretch from Bapaume to Albert. Then the church of Albert, where the hanging Virgin used to be in 1917, hovering above a town that for all the damage done to it was then still a town of living men, and is now a place so desolate that one shrinks from one's own voice in the solitude, and so wrecked that only the traffic directions here and there, writ large, seem to guide us through the shapeless heaps that once were streets. And, finally, the scanty lights of Amiens, marking the end of the first part of our journey.
These were the sights of the first half of our journey. And as they recur to me, I understand so well the anxious and embittered mood of France, which was so evident a month ago; though now, I hope, substantially changed by the conditions of the renewed Armistice. No one who has not seen with his or her own eyes the situation in Northern France can, it seems to me, realise its effects on the national feeling of the country. And in this third journey of mine, I have seen much more than Northern France. In a motor drive of some hundreds of miles, from Metz to Strasburg, through Nancy, Toul, St. Mihiel, Verdun, Chalons, over the ghastly battle-fields of Champagne, through Rheims, Chateau-Thierry, Vaux, to Paris, I have always had the same spectacle under my eyes, the same passion in my heart. If one tried to catch and summarise the sort of suppressed debate that was going on round one, a few weeks ago, between Allied opinion that was trying to reassure France, and the bitter feeling of France herself, it seemed to fall into something like the following dialogue:
 These pages were written in the first week of February.
"All is well. The Peace Conference is sitting in Paris."
"Yes—but what about France?"
"President Wilson and Mr. Lloyd George have gradually brought the recalcitrant elements into line. The League of Nations is a reality."
"Yes—but what about France? Has the President been to see these scores of ruined towns, these hundreds of wiped-out villages, these fantastic wrecks of mines and factories, these leagues on leagues of fruitful land given back to waste, these shell-blasted forests, these broken ghosts of France's noblest churches?"
"The President has made a Sunday excursion from Paris to Rheims. He saw as much as a winter day of snow and fog would allow him to see. France must be patient. Everything takes time."
"Yes!—so long as we can be sure that the true position is not only understood, but felt. But our old, rich, and beautiful country, with all the accumulations on its soil of the labour, the art, the thought of uncounted generations, has been in this war the buffer between German savagery and the rest of Europe. Just as our armies bore the first brunt and held the pass, till civilisation could rally to its own defence, so our old towns and villages have died, that our neighbours might live secure. We have suffered most in war—we claim the first thought in peace. We live in the heart and on the brink of danger. Our American Allies have a No Man's Land of the Atlantic between them and the formidable and cruel race which has wreaked this ruin, and is already beginning to show a Hydra-like power of recuperation, after its defeat; we have only a river, and not always that. We have the right to claim that our safety and restoration, the safety of the country which has suffered most, should at this moment be the first thought of Europe. You speak to us of the League of Nations?—By all means. Readjustments in the Balkans and the East?—As much as you please. But here stands the Chief Victim of the war—and to the Chief Victim belongs of right the chief and first place in men's thoughts, and in the settlement. Do not allow us even to begin to ask ourselves whether, after all, we have not paid too much for the alliance we gloried in?"
Some such temper as this has been showing itself since the New Year, in the discontent of the French Press, in the irritation of French talk and correspondence. And, of course, behind the bewildered and almost helpless consciousness of such a loss in accumulated wealth as no other European country has ever known before, there is the ever-burning sense of the human loss which so heavily deepens and complicates the material loss. One of the French Ministers has lately said that France has lost three millions of population, men, women, and children, through the war. The fighting operations alone have cost her over a million and a half, at least, of the best manhood of France and her Colonies. One million and a half! That figure had become a familiar bit of statistics to me; but it was not till I stood the other day in that vast military cemetery of Chalons, to which General Gouraud had sent me, that, to use a phrase of Keats, it was "proved" upon "one's own pulses." Seven thousand men lie buried there, their wreathed crosses standing shoulder to shoulder, all fronting one way, like a division on parade, while the simple monument that faces them utters its perpetual order of the day: "Death is nothing, so long as the Country lives. En Avant!"
And with that recollection goes also another, which I owe to the same General—one of the idols of the French Army!—of a little graveyard far up in the wilds of the Champagne battle-field—the "Cimetiere de Mont Muret," whence the eye takes in for miles and miles nothing but the trench-seamed hillsides and the bristling fields of wire. Here on every grave, most of them of nameless dead, collected after many months from the vast battle-field, lie heaped the last possessions of the soldier who sleeps beneath—his helmet, his haversack, his water-bottle, his spade. These rusty spades were to me a tragic symbol, not only of the endless, heart-wearing labour which had produced those trenched hillsides, but also of that irony of things, by which that very labour which protected the mysterious and spiritual thing which the Frenchman calls patrie, was at the same time ruining and sterilising the material base from which it springs—the soil, which the Frenchman loves with an understanding tenacity, such as perhaps inspires no other countryman in the world. In Artois and Picardy our own British graves lie thickly scattered over the murdered earth; and those of America's young and heroic dead, in the battle-fields of Soissons, the Marne, and the Argonne, have given it, this last year, a new consecration. But here in England our land is fruitful and productive, owing to the pressure of the submarine campaign, as it never was before; British farming and the American fields have cause to bless rather than to curse the war. Only in France has the tormented and poisoned earth itself been blasted by the war, and only in France, even where there are no trenches, have whole countrysides gone out of cultivation, so that in the course of a long motor drive, the sight of a solitary plough at work, or merely a strip of newly ploughed land amid the rank and endless waste, makes one's heart leap.
No!—France is quite right. Her suffering, her restoration, her future safety, as against Germany, these should be, must be, the first thought of the Allies in making peace. And it is difficult for those of us who have not seen, to feel, as it is politically necessary, it seems to me, we should feel.
Since I was in France, however, a fortnight ago, the proceedings in connection with the extension of the Armistice, and the new restrictions and obligations laid on Germany, have profoundly affected the situation in the direction that France desires. And when the President returns from the United States, whither he is now bound, he will surely go—and not for a mere day or two!—to see for himself on the spot what France has suffered. If so, some deep, popular instincts in France will be at once appeased and softened, and Franco-American relations, I believe, greatly improved.
No doubt, if the President made a mistake in not going at once to the wrecked districts before the Peace Conference opened—and no one has insisted on this more strongly than American correspondents—it is clear that it was an idealist's mistake. Ruins, the President seems to have said to himself, can wait; what is essential is that the League of Nations idea, on which not Governments only, but peoples are hanging, should be rapidly "clothed upon" by some practical shape; otherwise the war is morally and spiritually lost.
Certainly the whole grandiose conception of the League, so vague and nebulous when the President arrived in Europe, has been marvellously brought out of the mists into some sort of solidity, during these January weeks. Not, I imagine, for some of the reasons that have been given. An able American journalist, for instance, writing to the Times, ascribes the advance of the League of Nations project entirely to the close support given to the President by Mr. Lloyd George and the British Government; and he explains this support as due to the British conviction "that the war has changed the whole position of Great Britain in the world. The costs of the struggle in men, in money, in prestige (the italics are mine), have cut very deeply; the moral effect of the submarine warfare in its later phase, and of last year's desperate campaign, have left their marks upon the Englishman, and find expression in his conduct.... British comment frankly recognises that it will never again be within the power of Great Britain, even if there were the desire, to challenge America in war or in peace."
In other words, the support given by Great Britain to President Wilson's ideas means that British statesmen are conscious of a loss of national power and prestige, and of a weakened Empire behind them.
Hasty words, I think!—and, in my belief, very wide of the mark. At any rate I may plead that during my own month in France I have been in contact with many leading men in many camps, English, French, and American, and both military and diplomatic, especially with the British Army and its chiefs; and so far from perceiving in the frankest and most critical talk of our own people—and how critical we are of our own doings those know who know us best—any sense of lost prestige or weakened power, my personal impression is overwhelmingly the other way. We are indeed anxious and willing to share responsibilities, say in Africa, and the Middle East, with America as with France. Why not? The mighty elder power is eager to see America realise her own world position, and come forward to take her share in a world-ordering, which has lain too heavy until now on England's sole shoulders. She is glad and thankful—the "weary Titan"—to hand over some of her responsibilities to America, and to share many of the rest. She wants nothing more for herself—the Great Mother of Nations—why should she? She has so much. But loss of prestige? The feeling in those with whom I have talked, is rather the feeling of Kipling's Recessional—a profound and wondering recognition that the Imperial bond has indeed stood so magnificently the test of these four years, just as Joseph Chamberlain, the Empire-builder, believed and hoped it would stand, when the day of testing came; a pride in what the Empire has done too deep for many words; coupled with the stubborn resolution, which says little and means everything—that the future shall be worthy of the past.
And as to the feeling of the Army—it is expressed, and, as far as I have been able to judge from much talk with those under his command, most truly expressed, in Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig's December despatch—which came out, as it happens, the very day I had the honour of standing at his side in the Commander-in-Chief's room, at G.H.Q., and looking with him at the last maps of the final campaign. "The effect of the great assaults," says the Field-Marshal, "in which, during nine days of battle (September 26th—October 5th), the First, Third, and Fourth Armies stormed the line of the Canal du Nord, and broke through the Hindenburg line, upon the subsequent course of the campaign, was decisive.... Great as were the material losses the enemy had suffered, the effect of so overwhelming a defeat upon a morale already deteriorated, was of even larger importance." Again: "By the end of October, the rapid succession of heavy blows dealt by the British forces had had a cumulative effect, both moral and material, upon the German Armies. The British Armies were now in a position to force an immediate conclusion." That conclusion was forced in the battle of the Sambre (1st to 11th November). By that "great victory," says Sir Douglas Haig, "the enemy's resistance was definitely broken;" and thus "in three months of epic fighting the British Armies in France had brought to a sudden and dramatic end the great wearing-out battle of the past four years."
Do these sentences—the utterances of a man conspicuously modest and reticent in statement, indicate any consciousness of "lost prestige" in "a last desperate campaign"?
The fact is—or so it seemed to me—that while the British Army salutes with all its heart, the glorious record of that veteran Army of France which bore the brunt of the first years of war, which held the gate at Verdun at whatever cost in heroic lives, and inscribed upon its shield last year the counter-attacks in the Marne salient, and the superb stand of General Gouraud in Champagne; and while, at the same time, it realises and acknowledges to the full the enormous moral and military effect of the warm American tide, as it came rushing over France through the early summer of last year, and the gallantry of those splendid American lads, who, making mock of death, held the crossing of the Marne, took Bouresches and Belleau Wood, fought their hardest under General Mangin in the Soissons counter-attack of July 18th, and gallantly pushed their way, in spite of heavy losses, through the Argonne to the Meuse at the end of the campaign—there is yet no doubt in any British military mind that it was the British Army which brought the war to its victorious end. The British Army had grown, after the great defensive battle of the spring, by a kind of national rebound, of which there have been many instances in our history, to a wonderful military strength and efficiency, and to it fell, not by any choice of its own, so to speak, but by the will of the gods, and the natural disposition of events, the final and decisive strokes of the war. The French had already "saved Europe by their example," through three bloody and heroic years, and they were bound, in 1918, to economise, where possible, their remaining men; while, if the war had lasted another six months, or if America had come in a year earlier, the decisive battles might well have fallen to the American Army and General Pershing. But, as it happened, the British Army was at its zenith of power, numbers, and efficiency, when the last hammer-blows of the war had to be given—and our Army gave them. I do not believe there is a single instructed American or French officer who would deny this. But, if so, it is a fact which will and must make itself permanently felt in the consciousness of the Empire.
In one of the bare rooms of that Ecole Militaire, at Montreuil, where the British General Staff has worked since 1916, I saw on a snowy day at the end of January a chart covering an entire wall, which held me riveted. It was the war at a glance—so far as the British Army is concerned—from January, 1916, to the end. The rising or falling of our bayonet strength, the length of line held, casualties, prisoners—everything was there—and when finally the Hindenburg line is broken, after the great nine days of late September and early October, the prisoners' line leaps suddenly to such a height that a new piece has to be added perpendicularly to the chart, and the wall can hardly take it in. What does that leaping line mean? Simply the collapse of the German morale—the final and utter defeat of the German Army as a fighting force. I hope with all my heart that the General Staff will allow that chart to be published before the fickle popular memory has forgotten too much of the war.
 By the kindness of General Sir Herbert Lawrence, Chief of the General Staff, I am able to give a small reproduction of this chart, which will be found at the end of the book, with an explanation written by Captain W.O. Barton.
Let me then say, in recapitulation, and as presenting the main thesis of these papers, that to the British mind, at any rate, so inarticulate often, yet so tenacious, the Western campaign of last year presents itself as having been fought by three national Armies:
(1) The veteran and glorious French Army, which, while providing in Marshal Foch the master-spirit of the last unified effort, was yet, after its huge sacrifices at Verdun, in Champagne, and many another stricken field, inevitably husbanding its resources in men, and yielding to the Armies of its Allies the hottest work in the final struggle;
(2) The British Army, which, after its victorious reaction from its March defensive, was at the very height of its four years' development in men, training, and morale, and had already shown by the stand of the Third Army at Arras, at the very fiercest moment of the German onslaught, that although Germany might still attack, it was now certain that, so long as the British Army was in the field, she could not win the war: and finally;
(3) The young and growing American Army, which had only been some six months in the fighting line, and was still rather a huge promise, though of capital importance, both politically and militarily, than a performance. It was brave and ardent, like a young eaglet, "with eyes intentive to bedare the sun;" but it had its traditions to lay down, its experience to buy, and large sections of its military lesson still to learn. It could not, as a fighting force, have determined the war last year; and the war was finally won, under the supreme command of a great Frenchman, by the British Army, acting in concert with the French and American armies—and supported by the British naval blockade, and the British, French, and Serbian military successes in the East.
In such a summary I am, naturally, merely a porte-voix, trying to reproduce the thoughts of many minds, as I came across them in France. But if this is the general upshot of the situation, and the general settled conviction of the instructed British mind, as I believe it to be, our alliance with France and our friendship with America, so passionately upheld by all that is best in our respective nations, have both of them nothing to lose from its temperate statement. Great Britain, in spite of our national habit of running ourselves down, is not, indeed, supporting the League of Nations from any sense at all of lost prestige or weakened power, but from an idealism no less hopeful and insistent than that of America, coupled with a loathing of war no less strong.
The League of Nations!—A year ago how many of us had given any serious thought to what was then a phrase, a dream, on which in the dark days of last spring it seemed a mere waste of time to dwell? And yet, week by week, since the New Year began, the dream has been slowly taking to itself body and form.
On the very day (January 25th) when the League of Nations resolution was passed at the Paris Conference, I happened to spend an interesting hour in President Wilson's company, at the Villa Murat. Mrs. Wilson, whose gentle kindness and courtesy were very widely appreciated in Paris, had asked me to come in at six o'clock, and await the President's return from the Conference. I found her with five or six visitors round her, members of the Murat family, come to pay a visit to the illustrious guest to whom they had lent their house—the Princesse Murat, talking fluent English, her son in uniform, her widowed daughter and two delicious little children. In little more than five minutes, the President came in, and the beautiful room made a rich setting for an interesting scene. He entered, radiant, and with his first words, standing in our midst, told us that the Conference had just passed the League of Nations resolution. The two tiny children approached him, the little girl curtseyed to him, the little boy kissed his hand; and then they vanished, to remember, perhaps, fifty years hence, the dim figure of a tall and smiling man, whom they saw on a day marked in history.
The President took his seat as the centre of our small circle. I am not going to betray the confidence of what was a private visit, but general impressions are not, I think, forbidden. I still seem to see the Princesse Murat opposite me, in black, her fingers playing with her pearls as she talked; the French officer with folded arms beside her; next to him the young widowed lady, whose name I did not catch, then Mrs. Wilson, with the intelligent face of her secretary, Miss Benham, in the background, and between myself and Princesse Murat, the easy, attractive presence of the man whom this old Europe, with one accord, is now discussing, criticising, blaming or applauding. The President talked with perfect simplicity and great apparent frankness. There is a curious mingling in his face, it seemed to me, of something formidable, at times almost threatening, with charm and sweetness. You are in the presence of something held in leash; that something is clearly a will of remarkable quality and power. You are also in the presence of something else, not less strongly controlled, a consciousness of success, which is in itself a promise of further success. The manner has in it nothing of the dictator, and nothing of the pedant; but in the President's instinctive and accomplished choice of words and phrases, something reminded me of the talk of George Eliot as I heard it fifty years ago; of the account also given me quite recently by an old friend and classmate of the President, describing the remarkable pains taken with him as a boy, by his father, to give him an unfailing command of correct and musical English.
The extraordinary effectiveness lent by this ease and variety of diction to a man who possesses not only words but ideas, is strongly realised in Paris, where an ideal interpreter, M. Paul Mantoux, is always at hand to put whatever the President says into perfect French. M. Jusserand had given me an enthusiastic account, a few days before this little gathering at the Villa Murat, of an impromptu speech at a luncheon given to the President by the Senate, and in listening to the President's conversation, I understood what M. Jusserand had felt, and what a weapon at need—(how rare also among public men!)—is this skilled excellence in expression, which the President commands, and commands above all, so some of his shrewdest observers tell me, when he is thrown suddenly on his own resources, has no scrap of paper to help him, and must speak as Nature and the Fates bid him. It is said that the irreverent American Army, made a little restive during the last months of the year by the number of Presidential utterances it was expected to read, and impatient to get to the Rhine, was settling down in the weeks before the Armistice, with a half-sulky resignation to "another literary winter." One laughs, but never were the art and practice of literature more signally justified as a power among men than by this former Professor and Head of a college, who is now among the leading political forces of the world.
Well, we talked of many things—of the future local habitation of the League of Nations, of the Russian impasse, and the prospects of Prinkipo, of Mr. Lloyd George's speech that day at the Conference, of Siberia and Japan, of Ireland even! There was no difficulty anywhere; no apparent concealment of views and opinions. But there was also no carelessness and no indiscretion. I came away feeling that I had seen a remarkable man, on one of the red-letter days of his life; revolving, too, an old Greek tag which had become familiar to me:
"Mortal men grow wise by seeing. But without seeing, how can any man foretell the future—how he may fare?"
In other words, call no work happy till it is accomplished. Yes!—but men and women are no mere idle spectators of a destiny imposed on them, as the Greeks sometimes, but only sometimes, believed. They themselves make the future. If Europe wants the League of Nations, and the end of war, each one of us must turn to, and work, each in our own way. Since the day of the first Conference resolution, the great scheme, like some veiled Alcestis, has come a good deal further down the stage of the world. There it stands while we debate; as Thanatos and Heracles fought over the veiled queen. But in truth it rests with us, the audience, and not with any of the leading characters in the drama, to bring that still veiled figure into life and light, and to give it a lasting place in the world's household.
Meanwhile the idea is born; but into a Europe still ringing with the discords of war, and in a France still doubtful and full of fears. There is a brooding and threatening presence beyond the Rhine. And among the soldiers going and coming between the Rhine bridge-heads and Paris, there is a corresponding and anxious sense of the fierce vitality of Germany, and of the absence of any real change of heart among her people. Meanwhile the relations between Great Britain and America were never closer, and the determination of the leading men in both countries to forge a bond beyond breaking between us was never so clear. There are problems and difficulties ahead in this friendship, as in all friendships, whether national or individual. But a common good-will will solve them, a common resolve to look the facts of the moment and the hopes of the future steadily in the face.
THE DEFENSIVE BATTLE OF LAST SPRING
Among the impressions and experiences of my month in France there are naturally some that stand out in particularly high relief. I have just described one of them. But I look back to others not less vivid—an evening, for instance, with General Horne and his staff; a walk along the Hindenburg line and the Canal du Nord, north and south of the Arras-Bapaume road; dinner with General Gouraud in the great building at Strasbourg, which was formerly the headquarters of the German Army Corps holding Alsace, and is now the French Prefecture; the eastern battle-field at Verdun, and that small famous room under the citadel, through which all the leaders of the war have passed; Rheims Cathedral emerging ghostly from the fog, with, in front of it, a group of motor-cars and two men shaking hands, the British Premier and the Cardinal-Archbishop; that desolate heart of the Champagne battle-field, where General Gouraud, with the American Army on his right, made his September push towards Vouziers and Mezieres; General Pershing in his office, and General Pershing en petit comite in a friend's drawing-room, in both settings the same attractive figure, with the same sudden half-mischievous smile and the same observant eyes; and, finally, that rabbit-warren of small, barely furnished rooms in the old Ecole Militaire at Montreuil, where the British General Staff worked during the war, when it was not moving in its staff train up and down behind the front.
But I do not intend to make these letters a mere omnium gatherum of recollections. All through, my object has been to lay hold of the main outline of what has happened on the Western front during the past eleven months, and if I could, to make them clear to other civilians, men and women, as clearly and rapidly as possible, in this interval between the regime of communiques and war-correspondence under which we have lived so long, and those detailed and scientific histories which every Army, and probably every corps and division, is now either writing, or preparing to write, about its own doings in the war. Meanwhile the official reports drawn up by each Army under the British Command are "secret documents." The artillery dispositions of the great battles which brought the war to an end cannot yet be disclosed. There can, therefore, be no proper maps of these battles for some time to come, while some of the latest developments in offensive warfare which were to have been launched upon the enemy had the war continued, are naturally not for the public for a good while ahead. And considering that, year by year, we are still discussing and investigating the battles of a hundred years ago—(look for instance at the lists of recent books on the Napoleonic campaigns in the Cambridge Moddern History!)—we may guess at the time mankind will take hereafter in writing about and elucidating a war, where in many of the great actions, as a Staff Officer remarked to me, a Waterloo might have been lost without being missed, or won without being more than a favourable incident in an otherwise perhaps unfavourable whole.
At the same time, this generation has got somehow—as an ingredient in its daily life—to form as clear a mental picture as it can of the war as a whole, and especially just now of its closing months in France. For the history of those last months is at the present moment an active agent in the European situation. What one may call the war-consciousness of France, with the first battle of the Marne, glorious Verdun, the Champagne battle-field, the victorious leadership of Marshal Foch, on the one hand—her hideous losses in men, her incalculable loss in material and stored-up wealth, and her stern claim for adequate protection in future, on the other, as its main elements; the war-consciousness of Great Britain and the Empire, turning essentially on the immortal defence of the Ypres salient and the Channel ports, the huge sacrifices of the Somme, the successes and disappointments of 1917, the great defensive battle of last March, and the immediate and brilliant reaction, leading in less than five months to the beginning of that series of great actions on the British front which finished the war—all interpenetrated with the sense of perpetual growth in efficiency and power; and finally, the American war-consciousness, as it emerged from the war, with its crusading impulse intact, its sense of boundless resources, and its ever-fresh astonishment at the irrevocable part America was now called on to play in European affairs:—amid these three great and sometimes clashing currents, the visitor to France lived and moved in the early weeks of the year. And then, of course, there was the Belgian war-consciousness—a new thing for Belgium and for Europe. But with that I was not concerned.
Let me try to show by an illustration or two drawn from my own recent experience what the British war-consciousness means.
It was a beautiful January day when we started from the little inn at Cassel for Ypres, Menin, Lille, Lens, and Vimy. From the wonderful window at the back of the inn, high perched as Cassel is above a wide plain, one looked back upon the roads to St. Omer and the south, and thought of the days last April, when squadron after squadron of French cavalry came riding hot and fast along them to the relief of our hard-pressed troops, after the break of the Portuguese sector of the line at Richebourg St. Vaast. But our way lay north, not south, through a district that seemed strangely familiar to me, though in fact I had only passed forty-eight hours in it, in 1916. Forty-eight hours, however, in the war-zone, at a time of active fighting, and that long before any other person of my sex had been allowed to approach the actual firing-line on the British front, were not like other hours; and, perhaps, from much thinking of them, the Salient and the approaches to it, as I saw them in 1916 from the Scherpenberg hill, had become a constant image in the mind. Only, instead of seeing Ypres from the shelter of the Scherpenberg Windmill, as a distant phantom in the horizon mists, beyond the shell-bursts in the battle-field below us, we were now to go through Ypres itself, then wholly forbidden ground, and out beyond it into some of the ever-famous battle-fields that lie north and south of the Ypres-Menin road.
One hears much talk in Paris of the multitudes who will come to see the great scenes of the war, as soon as peace is signed, when the railways are in a better state, and the food problems less, if not solved. The multitudes indeed have every right to come, for it is nations, not standing armies, that have won this war. But, personally, one may be glad to have seen these sacred places again, during this intermediate period of utter solitude and desolation, when their very loneliness "makes deep silence in the heart—for thought to do its part." The roads in January were clear, and the Army gone. The only visitors were a few military cars, and men of the salvage corps, directing German prisoners in the gathering up of live shells and hand-grenades, of tons of barbed wire and trip wire, and all the other debris of battle that still lie thick upon the ground. In a few months perhaps there will be official guides conducting parties through the ruins, and in a year or two, the ruins of Ypres themselves may have given place to the rising streets of a new city. As they now are, a strange and sinister majesty surrounds them. At the entrance to the town there still hangs the notice: "Troops are not to enter Ypres except on special duty"; and the grass-grown heaps of masonry are labelled: "It is dangerous to dig among these ruins." But there was no one digging when we were there—no one moving, except ourselves. Ypres seemed to me beyond recovery as a town, just as Lens is; but whereas Lens is just a shapeless ugliness which men will clear away rejoicing as soon as their energies are free for rebuilding, Ypres in ruin has still beauty enough and dignity enough to serve—with the citadel at Verdun—as the twin symbol of the war. There was a cloud of jackdaws circling round the great gashed tower where the inner handiwork of the fifteenth-century builders lay open to sky and sun. I watched them against the blue, gathering in, also, the few details of lovely work that still remain here and there on the face of what was once the splendid Cloth Hall, the glory of these border lands. And one tried to imagine how men and women would stand there a hundred years hence, amid what developments of this strange new world that the war has brought upon us, and with what thoughts.
Beyond, we were in the wide, shell-pocked waste of the huge battle-field, with many signs on its scarred face of the latest fighting of all, the flooding back of the German tide in last April over these places which it had cost us our best lives to gain, and of the final victorious advance of King Albert and the British Second Army which sent the Germans flying back through Limburg to their own land. Beside us, the innumerable, water-logged shell-holes, in which, at one time or another in the swaying forward and backward of the fight, the lives of brave men have been so piteously lost, strangled in mud and ooze; here a mere sign-post which tells you where Hooge stood; there the stumps that mark Sanctuary Wood and Polygon Wood, and another sign-post which bears the ever-famous name of Gheluvelt. In the south-eastern distance rises the spire of Menin church. And this is the Menin Road. How it haunted the war news for months and years, like a blood-stained presence! While to the south-east, I make out Kemmel, Scherpenberg, and the Mont des Cats and in the far north-west a faint line with a few trees on it—Passchendaele!
Passchendaele!—name of sorrow and of glory. What were the British losses, in that three months' fighting from June to November, 1917, which has been called the "Third Battle of Ypres," which began with the victory of the Messines ridge and culminated in the Canadian capture of Passchendaele? Outside the inner circle of those who know, there are many figures given. They are alike only in this that they seem to grow perpetually. Heroic, heart-breaking wrestle with the old hostile forces of earth and water—black earth and creeping water and strangling mud! We won the ridge and we held it till the German advance in April last forced our temporary withdrawal; we had pushed the Germans off the high ground into the marsh lands beyond; but we failed, as everyone knows, in the real strategic objects of the attack, and the losses in the autumn advance on Passchendaele were an important and untoward factor in the spring fighting of 1918.
 Mr. Bonar Law has stated in the House of Commons since these lines were written that the losses in the third battle of Ypres, from Messines to Passchendaele, July—October, 1917, were 228,000.
How deeply this Ypres salient enters into the war-consciousness of Britain and the Empire! As I stand looking over the black stretches of riddled earth, at the half-demolished pill-boxes in front, at the muddy pools in the shell-holes under a now darkening sky; at the flat stretches between us and Kemmel where lie Zillebeke and St. Eloi, and a score of other names which will be in the mouth of history hundreds of years hence, no less certainly than the names of those little villages north and south of Thermopylae, which saw the advance of the Persians and the vigil of the Greeks—a confusion of things read and heard, rush through one's mind, taking new form and vividness from this actual scene in which they happened. There, at those cross roads, broke the charge of the Worcesters, on that most critical day of all in the First Battle of Ypres, when the fate of the Allies hung on a thread, and this "homely English regiment," with its famous record in the Peninsula and elsewhere, drove back the German advance and saved the line. I turn a little to the south and I am looking towards Klein Zillebeke where the Household Cavalry charged, and Major Hugh Dawnay at their head "saved the British position," and lost his own gallant life. Straight ahead of us, down the Menin road towards Gheluvelt, came the Prussian Guards, the Emperor's own troops with their master's eye on them, on November 11th, when the First Division in General Haig's First Corps, checked them, enfiladed them, mowed them down, till the flower of the Imperial troops fell back in defeat, never knowing by how small a fraction they had missed victory, how thin a line had held them, how little stood between them and the ports that fed the British Army. Here on these flats to my right were Lord Cavan's Guards, and on either side of him General Allenby's cavalry, and General Byng's; while, if one turns to the north towards the distance which hides Sonnebeke and Bixschoote, one is looking over the ground so magnificently held on our extreme left by General Dubois and his 9th French Corps.
Guards, Yorkshires, Lancashires, London Scottish, Worcesters, Royal Scots Fusiliers, Highlanders, Gordons, Leicesters—all the familiar names of the old Army are likend with this great story. It was an English and Scotch victory, the victory of these Islands, won before the "rally of the Empire" had time to develop, before a single Canadian or Australian soldier had landed in France.
But that is only the first, though in some ways the greatest, chapter in this bloodstained book. Memory runs on nearly six months, and we come to that awful April afternoon, when the French line broke under the first German gas attack, and the Canadians on their right held on through two days and nights, gassed and shelled, suffering frightful casualties, but never yielding, till the line was safe, and fresh troops had come up. It was not six weeks since at Neuve Chapelle the Canadians had for the first time, while not called on to take much active part themselves, seen the realities of European battle; and the cheers of the British troops at Ypres as the exhausted Dominion troops came back from the trenches will live in history.
Messines, and the victory of June, 1917—Passchendaele, and the losses of that grim winter—all the points indeed of this dim horizon from north-west to south-east have their imperishable meaning for Great Britain and the Dominions. For quite apart from the main actions which stand out, fighting and death never ceased in the Ypres salient.
Then, as the great Army of the gallant dead seemed to gather round one on this famous road, and over these shell-torn flats, a sudden recollection of a letter which I received in August, 1918, brought a tightening of the throat. A Canadian lady, writing from an American camp in the east of France, appealed to myself and other writers to do something to bring home to the popular mind of America a truer knowledge of what the British Armies had done in the war. "I see here," says the writer, "hundreds of the finest remaining white men on earth every week. They are wonderful military material, and very attractive and lovable boys. But it discourages all one's hope for the future unity and friendship between us all to realise as I have done the last few months that the majority of these men are entering the fight, firmly believing that 'England has not done her share—that France had done it all—the Colonials have done all the hard fighting, etc.'" And she proceeds to attribute the state of things to the "belittling reports" of England's share in the war given in the newspapers which reach these "splendid men" from home.
A similar statement has come to me within the last few days, in another letter from an English lady in an American camp near Verdun, who speaks of the tragic ignorance—for tragic it is when one thinks of all that depends on Anglo-American understanding in the future!—shown by the young Americans in the camp where she is at work, of the share of Great Britain in the war.
Alack! How can we bring our two nations closer together in this vital matter? Of course there is no belittlement of the British part in the war among those Americans who have been brought into any close contact with it. And in my small efforts to meet the state of things described in the letters I have quoted, some of the warmest and most practical sympathy shown has come from Americans. But in the vast population of the United States with its mixed elements, some of them inevitably hostile to this country, how easy for the currents of information and opinion to go astray over large tracts of country at any rate, and at the suggestion of an anti-British press!
The only effective remedy, it seems to me, would be the remedy of eyes and ears! Would it not be well, before the whole of the great American Army goes home, that as many as possible of those still in France—groups, say, of non-commissioned officers from various American divisions, representing both the older and the newer levies, and drawn from different local areas—should be given the opportunity of seeing and studying the older scenes of the war on the British front?—and that our own men, also, should be able to see for themselves, not only the scenes of the American fighting of last year, but the vast preparations of all kinds that America was building up in France for the further war that might have been; preparations which, as no one doubts, changed the whole atmosphere of the struggle?
"England has not done her share!"
How many thousands of British dead—men from every county in England and Scotland, from loyal Ireland, from every British dominion and colony—lie within the circuit of these blood-stained hills of Ypres? How many more in the Somme graveyards?—round Lens and Arras and Vimy?—about Bourlon Wood and Cambrai?—or in the final track of our victorious Armies breaking through the Hindenburg line on their way to Mons? Gloriously indeed have the Dominions played their part in this war; but of all the casualties suffered by the Armies of the Empire, 80 per cent of them fell on the population of these islands. America was in the great struggle for a year and a half, and in the real fightingline for about six months. She has lost some 54,000 of her gallant sons; and we sorrow for them with her.
But through four long years scarcely a family in Great Britain and the Dominions that possessed men on the fighting fronts—and none were finally exempt except on medical or industrial grounds—but was either in mourning for, or in constant fear of death for one or more of its male members, whether by bullet, shell-fire or bomb, or must witness the return to them of husbands, brothers, and sons, more or less injured for life. The total American casualties are 264,000. The total British casualties—among them from 700,000 to 800,000 dead—are 2,228,000 out of a total white population for the Empire of not much more than two-thirds of the population of the United States. There is small room for "belittling" here. A silent clasp of the hands between our two nations would seem to be the natural gesture in face of such facts as these.
Such thoughts, however, belong to the emotional or tragic elements in the British war-consciousness. Let me turn to others of a different kind—the intellectual and reflective elements—and the changing estimates which they bring about.
Take for instance what we have been accustomed to call the "March retreat" of last year. The dispatch of Sir Douglas Haig describing the actions of March and April last year was so headed in the Times, though nothing of the kind appears in the official publication. And we can all remember in England the gnawing anxiety of every day and every hour from March 21st up to the end of April, when the German offensive had beaten itself out, on the British front at least, and the rushing over of the British reinforcements, together with the rapid incoming of the Americans, had given the British Army the breathing space of which three months later it made the use we know.
"But why," asks one of the men best qualified to speak in our Army—"why use the words 'retreat' and 'disaster' at all?" They were indeed commonly used at the time both in England and abroad, and have been often used since about the fighting of the British Army last March and April. Strictly speaking, my interlocutor suggests, neither word is applicable. The British Army indeed fell back some thirty-five miles on its southern front, till the German attack was finally stayed before Amiens. The British centre stood firm from Arras to Bethune. But in the north we had to yield almost all the ground gained in the Salient the year before, and some that had never yet been in German hands. We lost heavily in men and guns, and a shudder of alarm ran through all the Allied countries.
Nevertheless what Europe was then witnessing—I am of course quoting not any opinion of my own, to which I have no right, but what I have gathered from those responsible men who were in the forefront of the fighting—was in truth a great defensive battle, long and anxiously foreseen, in which the German forces were double the British forces opposed to them (64 to 32 divisions—73 to 32—and so on), while none the less all that was vitally necessary to the Allied cause was finally achieved by the British Army, against these huge odds. Germany, in fact, made her last desperate effort a year ago to break through the beleaguering British, forces, and failed. On our side there was no real surprise, though our withdrawal was deeper and our losses greater than had been foreseen. The troops themselves may have been confident; it is the habit of gallant men. But the British command knew well what it had to face, and had considered carefully weeks beforehand where ground could be given—as in all probability it would have to be given—with the least disadvantage. Some accidents, if one may call them so, indeed there were—the thick white fog, for instance, which "on the morning of March 21st enveloped our outpost line, and made it impossible to see more than fifty yards in any direction, so that the machine guns and forward field-guns which had been disposed so as to cover this zone with their fire were robbed almost entirely of their effect—and the masses of German infantry advanced comparatively unharassed, so closely supporting each other that loss of direction was impossible." Hence the rapidity of the German advance through the front lines on March 21st, and the alarming break-through south of St. Quentin, where our recently extended line was weakest and newest. A second accident was the drying up of the Oise Marshes at a time when in a normal year they might have been reckoned on to stop the enemy's advance. A third piece of ill-luck was the fact that in the newest section of the British line, where the enemy attack broke at its hottest, there had been no time, since it had been given over to us by the French—who had held it lightly, as a quiet sector, during the winter—to strengthen its defences, and to do the endless digging, the railway construction, and the repair of roads, which might have made a very great difference. And, finally, there was the most dangerous accident of all—the break through of the Portuguese line at Richebourg St. Vaast, just as the tired division holding it was about to be relieved. Of that accident, as we all remember, the enemy, hungry for the Channel ports, made his very worst and most; till the French and British fought him to a final stand before Hazebrouck and Ypres.
Meanwhile, the strategic insight of Marshal Foch, who assumed complete control of the Allied Armies in France and Belgium on March 26th, combined with the experienced and cool-headed leadership of the British Commander-in-Chief, refused to dissipate the French reserves, so important to the future course of the war, in any small or piecemeal reinforcement of the British lines. The risks of the great moment had to be taken, and both the French and British Commanders had complete faith in the capacity of the British Army to meet them. And when all is said, when our grave losses in casualties, prisoners, and guns are fully admitted, what was the general result? The Germans had failed to gain either of their real objectives:—either the Channel ports, or the division of the British Armies from the French. They wore themselves out against a line which recoiled indeed but never broke, and was all the time filling up and strengthening from behind. The losses inflicted on their immense reserves reacted on all the subsequent fighting of the year, both on the Aisne and the Marne. And when the British Armies had brought the huge attack to a standstill—which for the centre and south of our line had been already attained ten days after the storm broke—and knew the worst that had happened or could happen to them; when the Australians had recaptured Villers-Bretonneux; when the weeks passed and the offensive ceased; when all gaps in our ranks were filled by the rush of reinforcements from home, and the American Army poured steadily across the Atlantic, the tension and peril of the spring passed steadily into the confident strength and—expectation of the summer. The British Army had held against an attack which could never be repeated, and the future was with the Allies.
Let us remember that at no time in our fighting withdrawal, either on the Somme or on the Lys, was there "anything approaching a break-down of command, or a failure in morale." So the Field Marshal. On the other hand, all over the vast battle-field—in every part of the hard "waiting game" which for a time the British Armies were called to play, men did the most impossible and heroic things. Gun detachments held their posts till every man was killed or wounded; infantry who had neither rest nor sleep for days together, fought "back to back in the trenches, shooting both to front and rear." Occasional confusion, even local panic, occasional loss of communication and misunderstanding of orders, occasional incompetence and stupidity there must be in such a vast backward sweep of battle, but skill, purpose, superb bravery were never lacking in any portion of the field; and the German communiques exultantly announcing the "total defeat of the British Armies" may be compared, mutatis mutandis, with the reports from German Headquarters just before the first battle of the Marne.
"The defeat of the English is complete," said the German High Command in the latter days of August, 1914. "The English Army is retreating in the most complete disorder.... The British have been completely defeated to the north of St. Quentin"—and so on. And yet a week later, as General Maurice, with much fresh evidence, has lately shown, the Army thus disposed of on paper had rejoicingly turned upon von Kluck, and was playing a vital part in the great victory of the Marne. So last spring, the losses and withdrawals of a vaster defensive action, coupled with the stubborn and tenacious hold of the British Army, last March and April, were the inevitable and heroic prelude to the victorious recoil of August, and the final battles of the war. Inevitable, because no forethought or exertion on the British side could have averted the German onslaught, determined as it was by the breakdown of the whole Eastern front of the war, and the letting loose upon the Western front of immense forces previously held by the Russian armies. These forces, after the Russian debacle, were released against us, week by week, till in March the balance of numbers, which was almost even in January, had risen on the German side to a superiority of 150,000 bayonets! The dispatch of divisions to Italy; the recall of men to the shipyards and the mines to meet the submarine danger; the heavy fighting in the Salient and at Cambrai in the latter half of 1917; the lack of time for training new levies, owing to our depleted line and reserves:—all these causes contributed to sharpen the peril in which England stood. But it is in such straits as these that our race shows its quality.
 See the Chart at end of Book.
And in this fighting, for the first time in British history, and in the history of Europe, Americans stood side by side in battle with British and French. "In the battle of March and April," says Sir Douglas Haig, "American and British troops have fought shoulder to shoulder in the same trenches, and have shared together in the satisfaction of beating off German attacks. All ranks of the British Army look forward to the day when the rapidly growing strength of the American Army will allow American and British soldiers to co-operate in offensive action."
That day came without much delay. It carried the British Army to Mons, and the young American Army to Sedan.
* * * * *
Looking out from the Vimy Ridge six weeks ago, and driving thence through Arras across the Drocourt-Queant line to Douai and Valenciennes, I was in the very heart of that triumphant stand of the Third and First Armies round Arras which really determined the fate of the German attack.
The Vimy Ridge from the west is a stiffish climb. On the east also it drops steeply above Petit Vimy and Vimy, while on the south and south-east it rises so imperceptibly from the Arras road that the legend which describes the Commander-in-Chief, approaching it from that side, as asking of the officers assembled to meet him after the victory—"And where is this ridge that you say you have taken?" seems almost a reasonable tale. But to east and west there is no doubt about it. One climbs up the side overlooking Ablain St. Nazaire through shell-holes and blurred trenches, over snags of wire, and round the edges of craters, till on the top one takes breath on the wide plateau where stands the Canadian monument to those who fell in the glorious fight of April 9th, 1917, and whence the eye sweeps that wide northern and eastern plain, towards Lille on the one side and Douai on the other, which to our war-beaten and weary soldiers, looking out upon it when the ridge at last was theirs, was almost as new and strange a world as the Pacific was to its first European beholders.
Westwards across the valley whence our troops stormed the hill, rises the Bouvigny Wood, and the long, blood-stained ridge of Notre Dame de Lorette, where I stood just before the battle, in 1917. To the north we are looking through the horizon shadows to La Bassee, Bailleul, and the Salient. Immediately below the hill, in the same direction, lie the ruin heaps of Lens, and of the mining towns surrounding it; while behind us the ground slopes south and south-east to Arras and the Scarpe.
It is a tremendous position. That even the merest outsider can see. In old days the hill must have been a pleasant rambling ground for the tired workers of the coal-mining districts. Then the war-blast at its fiercest passed over it. To-day in its renewed solitude, its sacred peace, it represents one of the master points of the war, bought and held by a sacrifice of life and youth, the thought of which holds one's heart in grip, as one stands there, trying to gather in the meaning of the scene. Not one short year ago it was in the very centre of the struggle. If Arras and Vimy had not held, things would have been grave indeed. Had they been captured, says the official report of the Third Army, "our main lateral communications—Amiens—Doullens—St. Pol—St. Omer—would have been seriously threatened if not cut." The Germans were determined to have them, and they fought for them with a desperate courage. Three assault divisions were to have carried the Vimy Ridge, while other divisions were to have captured Arras and the line of the Scarpe. The attack was carried out with the greatest fierceness, men marching shoulder to shoulder into the furnace of battle. But this time there was no fog to shield them, or to blind the British guns. The enemy losses were appalling, and after one day's fighting, in spite of the more northerly attacks on our line still to come, the German hopes of victory were in the dust, and—as we now know—for ever.
That is what Vimy means—what Arras means—in the fighting of last year. We ponder it as we drive through the wrecked beauty of Arras and out on to the Douai road on our way to Valenciennes. We passed slowly along the road to the east of Arras, honeycombed still with dug-outs, and gun emplacements, and past trenches and wire fields, till suddenly a mere sign-board, nothing more—"Gavrelle!"—shows us that we are approaching the famous Drocourt-Queant switch of the Hindenburg line, which the Canadians and the 17th British Corps, under Sir Henry Horne, stormed and took in September of last year. Presently, on either side of the road as we drive slowly eastward, a wilderness of trenches runs north and south. With what confident hope the Germans dug and fortified and elaborated them years ago!—with what contempt of death and danger our men carried them not six months since! And now not a sign of life anywhere—nothing but groups of white crosses here and there, emerging from the falling dusk, and the debris of battle along the road.
A weary way to Douai, over the worst road we have struck yet, and a weary way beyond it to Denain and Valenciennes. Darkness falls and hides the monotonous scene of ruin, which indeed begins to change as we approach Valenciennes, the Headquarters of the First Army. And at last, a bright fire in an old room piled with books and papers, a kind welcoming from the officer reigning over it, and the pleasant careworn face of an elderly lady with whom we are billeted.
Best of all, a message from the Army Commander, Sir Henry Horne, with whom we had made friends in 1917, just before the capture of the Vimy Ridge, in which the First Army played so brilliant a part.
We hastily change our travel gear, a car comes for us, and soon we find ourselves at the General's table in the midst of an easy flow of pleasant talk.
What is it that makes the special charm of the distinguished soldier, as compared with other distinguished men?
Simplicity, I suppose, and truth. The realities of war leave small room for any kind of pose. A high degree, also, of personal stoicism easily felt but not obtruded; and towards weak and small things—women and children—a natural softness and tenderness of feeling, as though a man who has upon him such stern responsibilities of life and death must needs grasp at their opposites, when and how he can; keen intelligence, bien entendu, modesty, courtesy; a habit of brevity; a boy's love of fun: with some such list of characteristics I find myself trying to answer my own question. They are at least conspicuous in many leaders of the Allied Armies.
"Why don't you boom your Generals?" said an American diplomatist to me some eight months ago. "Your public at home knows far too little about them individually. But the personal popularity of the military leader in such a national war as this is a military asset."
I believe I entirely agree with the speaker! But it is not the British military way, and the unwritten laws of the Service stand firm. So let me only remind you that General Horne led the artillery at Mons; that he has commanded the First Army since September, 1916; that, in conjunction with Sir Julian Byng, he carried the Vimy Ridge in 1917, and held the left at Arras in 1918; and, finally, that he was the northernmost of the three Army Commanders who stormed the Hindenburg line last September.
It was in his study and listening to the explanations he gave me, so clearly and kindly, of the Staff maps that lay before us, that I first realised with anything like sufficient sharpness the meaning of those words we have all repeated so often without understanding them—"the capture of the Hindenburg line."
What was the Hindenburg line?
TANKS AND THE HINDENBURG LINE
We left Valenciennes on the morning of January 12th. By great luck, an officer from the First Army, who knew every inch of the ground to be traversed, was with us, in addition to the officer from G.H.Q., who, as is always the case with Army visitors, accompanied us most courteously and efficiently throughout. Captain X took us by a by-road through the district south of Valenciennes, where in October last year our troops were fighting a war of movement, in open country, on two fronts—to the north and to the east. There were no trenches in the desolate fields we passed through, but many shell-holes, and the banks of every road were honeycombed with shelters, dug-outs and gun-emplacements, rough defences that as the German Army retreated our men had taken over and altered to their own needs; while to the west lay the valley of the Sensee with its marshes, the scene of some of the most critical fighting of the war.
From the wrecked centre of Cambrai a short run over field roads takes you to the high ground north-west of the city which witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of last autumn. I still see the jagged ruins of the little village of Abancourt—totally destroyed in two days' bombardment—standing sharp against the sky, on a ridge which looks over the Sensee valley; the shell-broken road in which the car—most complaisant of cars and most skilful of drivers!—finally stuck; and those hastily dug shelters on the road-side in one of which I suddenly noticed a soldier's coat and water-bottle lying just as they had been left two months before. There were no terrible sights now in these lonely fields as there were then, but occasionally, as with this coat, the refuse of battle took one back to the living presences that once filled these roads—the men, to whom Marshal Haig expresses the gratitude of a great Commander in many a simple yet moving passage of his last dispatch.
And every step beyond Cambrai, desolate as it is, is thronged with these invisible legions. There to our right rises the long line of Bourlon Wood—here are the sand-pits at its foot—and there are the ruined fragments of Fontaine-notre-Dame. There rushes over one again the exultation and the bitter recoil of those London days in November, 1917, when the news of the Cambrai battle came in; the glorious surprise of the tanks; the triumphant progress of Sir Julian Byng; the evening papers with their telegrams, and those tragic joy-bells that began to ring; and then the flowing back of the German wave; the British withdrawal from that high wood yonder which had cost so much to win, and from much else; the bewilderment and disappointment at home. A tired Army, and an attack pushed too far?—is that the summing up of the first battle of Cambrai? A sudden gleam had shone on that dark autumn which had seen the bitter victory and the appalling losses of Passchendaele, and then the gleam vanished, and the winter closed in, and there was nothing for the British Army but to turn its steady mind to the Russian break-down and to the ever-growing certainty of a German attack, fiercer and more formidable than had ever yet broken on the Allies.
Bourlon Wood—famous name!—fades behind us. A few rubbish heaps beside the road tell of former farms and factories. The car descends a long slope, and then, suddenly, before us runs the great dry trough of the Canal du Nord; in front, a ruined bridge, with a temporary one beside it, a ruined lock on the left, and rising ground beyond. We cross the bridge, mount a short way on the western slope, then in the darkening afternoon we walk along the front trench of the Hindenburg line, north and south of the road—a superb trench, the finest I have yet seen, dug right down into the rock, with concrete headquarters, dressing and signal stations, machine-gun emplacements and observation posts; and, in front of it, great fields of wire, through which wide lanes have been flattened down. Now we have turned eastward, and we stand and gaze towards Cambrai, over the road we have come. The huge trench is before us, the waterless canal with its steep banks lies beyond, and on the further hill-side, trench beyond trench, as far as the eye can see, the lines still fairly clear, though in some places broken up and confused by bombardment. The officer beside me draws my attention to some marks on the ground near me—the track marks of two tanks as plain almost as when they were made. One of them, after flattening a wide passage through the wire fields for the advance of the infantry, had clambered across the trench. At our feet were the grooved marks of the descent, and we could follow them through the incredible rise on the further side; after which the protected monster—of much lighter build, however, than his predecessors on the Somme—seemed to have run north and south along the trench, silencing the deadly patter of the machine guns; while its fellow on the west side, according to its tracks at least, had also turned south, for the same purpose.
The Hindenburg line!—and the two tanks! The combination, indeed, suggests the whole story of that final campaign in which the British Army, as the leading unit in a combination of armies brilliantly led by a French Generalissimo whom all trusted, brought down the military power of Germany. There were some six weeks of fighting after the capture of the Hindenburg line; but it was that capture—"the essential part" of the whole campaign, to use Marshal Haig's words—to which everything else was subordinate, which, in truth, decided the struggle. And the tanks are the symbol at once of the general strategy and the new tactics, by which Marshal Foch and Sir Douglas Haig, working together as only great men can, brought about this result, bettered all that they had learned from Germany, and proved themselves the master minds of the war. For the tanks mean surprise—mobility—the power to break off any action when it has done its part, and rapidly to transfer the attack somewhere else. Behind them, indeed, stood all the immense resources of the British artillery—guns of all calibres, so numerous that in many a great attack they stood wheel to wheel in a continuous arc of fire. But it was the tanks which cleared the way, which flattened the wire, and beat down the skill and courage of the German machine gunners, who have taken such deadly toll of British life during the war. And behind the tanks, protected also by that creeping barrage of the great guns, which was the actual invention of that famous Army Commander with whom I had spent an evening at Valenciennes, came the infantry lines, those now seasoned and victorious troops, for whose "stubborn greatness in defence," no less than their "persistent vigour" and "relentless determination" in attack, General Haig finds words that every now and then, though very rarely, betray the emotion of the great leader who knows that he has been well and loyally served. There is even a certain jealousy of the tanks, I notice, among the men who form the High Command of the Army, lest they should in any way detract from the credit of the men. "Oh, the tanks—yes—very useful, of course—but the men!—it was the quality of the infantry did it."
All the same, the tanks—or rather these tell-tale marks beside this front trench of the Hindenburg line, together with that labyrinth of trenches, cut by the Canal du Nord, which fills the whole eastern scene to the horizon—remain in my mind as somehow representative of the two main facts which, according to all one can read and all one can gather from the living voices of those who know, dominated the last stage of the war.
For what are those facts?
First, the combination in battle after battle, on the British front, of the strategical genius, at once subtle and simple, of Marshal Foch, with the supreme tactical skill of the British Commander-in-Chief.
Secondly, the decisive importance to the ultimate issue, of this great fortified zone of country lying before my eyes in the winter twilight; which stretches, as my map tells me, right across Northern France, from the Ypres salient, in front of Lille and Douai, through this point south-west of Cambrai where I am standing, and again over those distant slopes to the south-west over which the shades are gathering, to St. Quentin and St. Gobain. These miles of half-effaced and abandoned trenches, with all those scores of other miles to the north-west and the south-east which the horizon covers, represent, as I have said, the culminating effort of the war; the last effective stand of the German brought to bay; the last moment when Ares, according to Greek imagination, "the money changer of war," who weighs in his vast balance the lives of men, still held the balance of this mighty struggle in some degree uncertain. But the fortress fell; the balance came down on the side of the Allies, and from that moment, though there was much fighting still to do, the war was won.
As to the actual meaning in detail of the "Hindenburg" or "Siegfried" line, let me, for the benefit of those who have never seen even a yard of it, come back to the subject presently, helped by a captured German document, and by a particularly graphic description of it, written by an officer of the First Army.
But first, with the scene still before me—the broken bridge, the ruined lock, the splendid trench at my feet, and those innumerable white lines on the far hill-side—let me recall the great story of the six months which preeceded the attack of Sir Julian Byng's Third Army on this bank of the Canal du Nord.
It was on Monday, March 25th, that at Doullens, a small manufacturing town, lying in a wooded and stream-fed hollow not far from Amiens, there took place the historic meeting of the leading politicians and generals of the war, which ended in the appointment of Marshal Foch to the supreme military command of the Allied forces in France. I remember passing Doullens in 1917, dipping down into the hollow, climbing out of it again on to the wide upland leading to Amiens, and idly noticing the picturesqueness of the place. But there must be a house and a room in Doullens, which ought already to be marked as national property, and will certainly be an object of travel in years to come for both English and French; no less than that factory to the west of Verdun where Castelnau and Petain conferred at the sharpest crisis of the immortal siege. For there—so it is generally believed—the practical sense and generous temper of the British Commander brought about that change in the whole condition of the war which we know as the "unity of command." Sunday, March 24th, had been a particularly bad day in that vast defensive battle which, in General Haig's phrase, "strained the resources of the Allies to the uttermost." There had been difficulties and misunderstandings also—perfectly natural in the circumstances—with the French Army on the right of the British line. Yet never was a perfect co-ordination of the whole Allied effort in face of the German attack so absolutely essential.
Sir Douglas Haig took the lead. A year before this date he had refused in other circumstances, as one supremely responsible for the British Army, to agree to a unified command under a French general, and the events had justified him. But now the hour had arrived, and the man. The proposal that General Foch should take the supreme control of the four Allied armies now fighting or gathering in France was made and pressed by Sir Douglas Haig. There was anxious debate, some opposition in unexpected quarters, and finally a unanimous decision. General Foch, waiting in an adjoining room, was called in and accepted the task with the simplicity of the great soldier who is also a man of religious faith. For Foch, the devout Catholic and pupil of the Jesuits, and Haig the Presbyterian, are alike in this: there rules in both of them the conviction that this world is not an aimless scene of chance, and that man has an Unseen Helper.
Such, at least, is the story as it runs; and, at any rate, from that meeting at Doullens dates the transformation of the war. For five weeks afterwards the German attack beat against the British front, bending and denting but never breaking it. Then at the end of April the attack died down, brought up against the British and French reserves which Ludendorff had immensely underrated, and—strategically—it had failed.
A month later came the "violent surprise attack" on the Aisne, which, as we all know, carried the enemy to the Marne and across it, and on the 7th of June the French were again attacked between Noyon and Montdidier. The strain was great. But Foch was making his plans; the British Army was being steadily reorganised; the drafts from England were being absorbed and trained under a Commander-in-Chief who, by the consent of all his subordinates, is a supreme manipulator and trainer of fighting men, while never forgetting the human reality which is the foundation of it all. Soon the number of effective infantry divisions on the British front had risen from forty-five to fifty-two. And meanwhile American energy was pouring men across the Atlantic, and everywhere along the Allied front and in the Allied countries, but especially in ravaged, war-weary France, the news of the weekly arrivals, 80,000, 100,000, 70,000 men, was exactly the stimulus that the older armies needed.
It was a race between the German Army and the growing strength of the Allies—and it was presently a duel between Ludendorff and Foch. "Attack! attack!" was the German military cry, "or it will be too late!" And on July 15th Ludendorff struck again to the east and south-west of Rheims. General Gouraud, who was in command of the Fourth French Army to the east of Rheims, told me at Strasbourg the dramatic story of that attack and of its brilliant and overwhelming repulse. I will return to it in a later letter. Meanwhile the German Command in the Marne salient plunged blindly on, deepening the pocket in which his forces were engaged—striking for Montmirail, Meaux, and Paris.
But Foch's hour had come, and on July 18th he launched that ever-famous counter-offensive on the Soissons-Chateau-Thierry front, which, in Sir Douglas Haig's quiet words, "effected a complete change in the whole military situation."
After a moment of bewilderment, attacked on both flanks by irresistible forces of French, British, and Americans, von Boehm turned to escape from the hounds on his track. He fought, as we all know, a skilful retreat to the Vesle, leaving prisoners and guns all the way, and on the Vesle he stood. But the last German offensive was done, and Foch was already thinking of other prey.
On the 23rd of July there was another conference of the military leaders, held under other omens, and in a different atmosphere from that of March 25th. At that conference Foch disclosed his plans and gave each army its task. The French and American Armies—the American Army now in all men's mouths because of its gallant and distinguished share in the June and July fighting on the Marne—were to attack towards Mezieres and Metz, while the British Armies struck towards St. Quentin and Cambrai—in other words, looked onward to the final grapple with the "great fortified zone known as the Hindenburg line." So long as Germany held that she was undefeated. With that gone she was at the mercy of the Allies.
But much had to be done before the Hindenburg line could be attacked. Foch and Haig, with Debeney, Mangin, Gouraud, and Pershing in support, played a great arpeggio—it is Mr. Buchan's word, and a most graphic one—on the linked line of the Allies. On the British front four great battles, involving the capture of more than 100,000 prisoners and hundreds of guns, had to be fought before the Hindenburg line was reached. They followed each other in quick succession, brilliantly intercalated or supported by advances on the French and American fronts, Mangin on the Aisne, Gouraud in Champagne, Pershing at St. Mihiel.
The Battle of Amiens (August 8th-13th), fought by the Fourth British Army under General Rawlinson, and the First French Army under General Debeney, who had been placed by Marshal Foch under the British command, carried the line of the Allies twelve miles forward in a vital sector, liberated Amiens and the Paris-Amiens railway, and resulted in the capture of 22,000 prisoners and 400 guns, together with the hurried retreat of the enemy from wide districts to the south, where the French were on his heels. These were great days for the Canadian and Australian troops. Four Canadian divisions under Sir Arthur Currie, on the right of an eleven-mile front, four Australian divisions under Sir John Monash in the centre, with the Third British Corps under General Butler on the left, led the splendid advance. The Field Marshal in his dispatch speaks of the "brilliant and predominating part" played by the two Dominion Corps—the "skill and determination of the infantry," the "fine performance" of the cavalry. By this victory the British Army recovered the initiative it had temporarily lost. All was changed. And even more striking than the actual gains in ground, prisoners, and guns, was the effect upon the morale of both German and British troops. The Germans could hardly believe their defeat; the British exultantly knew that their hour had come.
In the Battle of Bapaume (August 21st-September 1st) the Third and Fourth British Armies, twenty-three divisions against thirty-five German divisions, drove the enemy from one side of the old Somme battle-field to the other, recovered all the ground lost in the spring, and took 34,000 prisoners and 270 guns. The enemy's morale was now failing; surrenders became frequent, and there were many signs of the exhaustion of the German reserves. And again, by the turning of his line, large tracts of territory were recovered almost without fighting. By September 6th, five months after we had stood "with our backs to the wall" in defence of the Channel ports, the Lys salient had disappeared, and the old Ypres line was almost restored.
In the Battle of the Scarpe (August 26th-September 3rd) General Horne's First Army, with the Canadian Corps and the Highlanders in its ranks, drove eastwards, north and south of the Scarpe, till they had come within striking distance of the Drocourt-Queant line. In twelve hours, on the 2nd of September, the Canadian Corps, with forty tanks, Canadian cavalry and armoured cars, had captured "the whole of the elaborate system of wire, trenches, and strong points," which runs north-west from the Hindenburg line proper to the Lens defences at Drocourt; while the 17th Corps attacked the triangle of fortifications marking the junction of the Drocourt-Queant line with the Hindenburg line proper, and cleared it magnificently, the 52nd (Lowland) Division especially distinguishing itself. There was "stern fighting" further south that day, right down to the neighbourhood of Peronne; but during the night the enemy "struck his tents," and began a hasty retreat to the line of the Canal du Nord. Sixteen thousand prisoners and 200 guns had been the spoil of the battle.
The Battle of Havrincourt (September 12th-18th) was a struggle for the outer defences of the Hindenburg line, which had to be carried before the line itself could be dealt with. Six days secured the positions wanted for the final attack, and in those six days fifteen British divisions had defeated twenty German divisions, and captured nearly 12,000 prisoners and 100 guns.
That rapid summary has brought me back to the point from which I started. In three months and a half the "mighty conflict," in which, on the British side, something short of 700,000 bayonets were engaged, had rushed on from victory to victory; Foch and Haig working together in an ideal marriage of minds and resources; the attack retaining everywhere by the help of the tanks—of which, in the Battle of Amiens, General Rawlinson had 400 under his command—the elements of surprise and mobility. The harassed enemy would find himself hard pressed in a particular section, driven to retreat, with heavy losses in ground, guns and prisoners; and then, as soon as he had discovered a line on which to stand and had thrown in his reserves, the attack would be broken off, only to begin again elsewhere, and with the same energy, unexpectedness, and success. British Staff work and British tactics were at their highest point of excellence, and the spirit of the men, fanned by that breeze which Victory and Hope bring with them, were, in the Commander-in-Chief's word, "magnificent."
And so we come to the evening of the 26th of September. Along these hill-sides, where we stand, on the west side of the Canal du Nord, lay Sir Julian Byng and the Third Army. To his right, on the south-east, was General Rawlinson, facing the strongest portion of the Hindenburg line, with two American divisions, led by Major-General Read, under his command; while on his left, and to the north, the First Army, under General Home, held the line along the Canal du Nord, and the marshes of the Sensee.
The most critical moment in the campaign had arrived. For in the assault on the Hindenburg line heavy risks had to be run. It is clear, I think, from the wording of Marshal Haig's dispatch, that in respect to the attack he took a special responsibility, which was abundantly vindicated by the event. The British War Cabinet was extremely anxious; the French Generalissimo was content to leave it to the British Commander-in-Chief; and Sir Douglas Haig, confident "that the British attack was the essential part of the general scheme, and that the moment was favourable," had the decision to make, and made it as we know. It is evident also from the dispatch that Sir Douglas was quite aware, not only of the military, but of the political risk. "The political effects of an unsuccessful attack upon a position so well known as the Hindenburg line would be large, and would go far to revive the declining morale, not only of the German Army, but of the German people." This aspect of the matter must, of course, have been terribly present to the mind of the British War Cabinet.