Transcriber's Note Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the bottom of this document.
HOW I FILMED THE WAR
When I was in France I made arrangements with my friend Mr. Low Warren, at that time Editor of the Kinematograph Weekly, to arrange the manuscript I sent him for publication in book form.
The manuscript has in no way been altered in any material respect, and is in the form in which I originally wrote it.
GEOFFREY H. MALINS.
HOW I FILMED
A RECORD OF THE EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES OF THE MAN WHO FILMED THE GREAT SOMME BATTLES ETC.
LIEUT. GEOFFREY H. MALINS, O.B.E.
HERBERT JENKINS LIMITED YORK STREET, ST. JAMES'S LONDON, S.W. 1 MCMXX
A FEW WORDS OF INTRODUCTION
WITH THE BELGIANS AT RAMSCAPELLE
I Reach the First Line Belgian Trenches—And become a Belgian Soldier for the Time Being—A Night Attack—An Adventure whilst Filming a Mitrailleuse Outpost—Among the Ruins of Ramscapelle—I Leave the Company and Lose my Way in the Darkness—A Welcome Light and a Long Sleep—How Little does the Public know of the Dangers and Difficulties a Film Operator has to Face 6
WITH THE GOUMIERS AT LOMBARTZYDE
A Morning of Surprises—The German Positions Bombarded from the Sea—Filming the Goumiers in Action—How these Tenacious Fighters Prepare for Battle—Goumier Habits and Customs—I Take the Chief's Photograph for the First Time—And Afterwards take Food with Him—An Interesting and Fruitful Adventure Ends Satisfactorily 15
THE BATTLE OF THE SAND-DUNES
A Dangerous Adventure and What Came of It—A Race Across the Sand-dunes—And a Spill in a Shell-hole—The Fate of a Spy—A Battle in the Dunes—Of which I Secured Some Fine Films—A Collision with an Obstructive Mule 22
UNDER HEAVY SHELL-FIRE
In a Trench Coat and Cap I again Run the Gauntlet—A Near Squeak—Looking for Trouble—I Nearly Find It—A Rough Ride and a Mud Bath—An Affair of Outposts—I Get Used to Crawling—Hot Work at the Guns—I am Reported Dead—But Prove Very Much Alive—And then Receive a Shock—A Stern Chase 30
AMONG THE SNOWS OF THE VOSGES
I Start for the Vosges—Am Arrested on the Swiss Frontier—And Released—But Arrested Again—And then Allowed to Go My Way—Filming in the Firing Zone—A Wonderful French Charge Over the Snow-clad Hills—I Take Big Risks—And Get a Magnificent Picture 40
HOW I CAME TO MAKE OFFICIAL WAR PICTURES
I am Appointed an Official War Office Kinematographer—And Start for the Front Line Trenches—Filming the German Guns in Action—With the Canadians—Picturesque Hut Settlement Among the Poplars—"Hyde Park Corner"—Shaving by Candlelight in Six Inches of Water—Filming in Full View of the German Lines, 75 yards away—A Big Risk, but a Realistic Picture 51
CHRISTMAS DAY AT THE FRONT
Leave-taking at Charing Cross—A Fruitless Search for Food on Christmas Eve—How Tommy Welcomed the Coming of the Festive Season—"Peace On Earth, Good Will To Men" to the Boom of the Big Guns—Filming the Guards' Division—And the Prince of Wales—Coming from a Christmas Service—This Year and Next 61
I GET INTO A WARM CORNER
Boxing Day—But No Pantomime—Life in the Trenches—A Sniper at Work—Sinking a Mine Shaft—The Cheery Influence of an Irish Padre—A Cemetery Behind the Lines—Pathetic Inscriptions and Mementoes on Dead Heroes' Graves—I Get Into a Pretty Warm Corner—And Have Some Difficulty in Getting Out Again—But All's Well that Ends Well 65
THE BATTLEFIELD OF NEUVE CHAPELLE
A Visit to the Old German Trenches—Reveals a Scene of Horror that Defies Description—Dodging the Shells—I Lose the Handle of My Camera—And then Lose My Man—The Effect of Shell-fire on a Novice—In the Village of Neuve Chapelle—A Scene of Devastation—The Figure of the Lonely Christ 72
FILMING THE PRINCE OF WALES
How I Made a "Hide-up"—And Secured a Fine Picture of the Prince Inspecting some Gun-pits—His Anxiety to Avoid the Camera—And His Subsequent Remarks—How a German Block-house was Blown to Smithereens—And the Way I Managed to Film it Under Fire 76
MY FIRST VISIT TO YPRES AND ARRAS
Greeted on Arrival in the Ruined City of Ypres by a Furious Fusillade—I Film the Cloth Hall and Cathedral, and Have a Narrow Escape—A Once Beautiful Town Now Little More Than a Heap of Ruins—Arras a City of the Dead—Its Cathedral Destroyed—But Cross and Crucifixes Unharmed 80
THE BATTLE OF ST. ELOI
Filming Within Forty-five Yards of the German Trenches—Watching for "Minnies"—Officers' Quarters—"Something" Begins to Happen—An Early Morning Bombardment—Develops Into the Battle of St. Eloi—Which I Film from Our First-Line Trench—And Obtain a Fine Picture 85
A NIGHT ATTACK—AND A NARROW ESCAPE
A Very Lively Experience—Choosing a Position for the Camera Under Fire—I Get a Taste of Gas—Witness a Night Attack by the Germans—Surprise an Officer by My Appearance in the Trenches—And Have One of the Narrowest Escapes—But Fortunately Get Out with Nothing Worse than a Couple of Bullets Through My Cap 93
FOURTEEN THOUSAND FEET ABOVE THE GERMAN LINES
The First Kinematograph Film Taken of the Western Front—And How I Took It Whilst Travelling Through the Air at Eighty Miles an Hour—Under Shell-fire—Over Ypres—A Thrilling Experience—And a Narrow Escape—A Five Thousand Foot Dive Through Space 107
FILMING THE EARTH FROM THE CLOUDS
Chasing an "Enemy" Aeroplane at a Height of 13,500 Feet—And What Came of It—A Dramatic Adventure in which the Pilot Played a Big Part—I Get a Nasty Shock—But am Reassured—A Freezing Experience—Filming the Earth as we Dived Almost Perpendicularly—A Picture that would Defy the Most Ardent Futurist to Paint 116
PREPARING FOR THE "BIG PUSH"
The Threshold of Tremendous Happenings—General ——'s Speech to His Men on the Eve of Battle—Choosing My Position for Filming the "Big Push"—Under Shell-fire—A Race of Shrieking Devils—Fritz's Way of "Making Love"—I Visit the "White City"—And On the Way have Another Experience of Gas Shells 121
FILMING UNDER FIRE
The General's Speech to the Fusiliers Before Going Into Action—Filming the 15-inch Howitzers—A Miniature Earthquake—"The Day" is Postponed—Keeping Within "The Limits"—A Surprise Meeting in the Trenches—A Reminder of Other Days—I Get Into a Tight Corner—And Have An Unpleasantly Hot Experience—I Interview a Trench Mortar—Have a Lively Quarter of an Hour—And Then Get Off 135
THE DAWN OF JULY FIRST
A Firework Display Heralds the Arrival of "The Day"—How the Boys Spent Their Last Few Hours in the Trenches—Rats as Bedfellows—I Make an Early Start—And Get Through a Mine-shaft into "No Man's Land"—The Great Event Draws Near—Anxious Moments—The Men Fix Bayonets—And Wait the Word of Command to "Go Over the Top" 151
THE DAY AND THE HOUR
A Mighty Convulsion Signalises the Commencement of Operations—Then Our Boys "Go Over the Top"—A Fine Film Obtained whilst Shells Rained Around Me—My Apparatus is Struck—But, Thank Goodness, the Camera is Safe—Arrival of the Wounded—"Am I in the Picture?" they ask 162
ROLL-CALL AFTER THE FIGHT
A Glorious Band of Wounded Heroes Stagger Into Line and Answer the Call—I Visit a Stricken Friend in a Dug-out—On the Way to La Boisselle I Get Lost in the Trenches—And Whilst Filming Unexpectedly Come Upon the German Line—I Have a Narrow Squeak of Being Crumped—But Get Away Safely—And later Commandeer a Couple of German Prisoners to Act as Porters 169
EDITING A BATTLE FILM
The Process Described in Detail—Developing the Negative—Its Projection on the Screen—Cutting—Titling—Joining—Printing the Positive—Building Up the Story—It is Submitted to the Military Censors at General Headquarters—And After Being Cut and Approved by Them—Is Ready for Public Exhibition 178
THE HORRORS OF TRONES WOOD
Three Times I Try and Fail to Reach this Stronghold of the Dead—Which Has Been Described as "Hell on Earth"—At a Dressing Station under Fire—Smoking Two Cigarettes at a Time to Keep off the Flies—Some Amusing Trench Conversations by Men who had Lost Their Way—I Turn in for the Night—And Have a Dead Bosche for Company 183
FILMING AT POZIERES AND CONTALMAISON
Looking for "Thrills"—And How I Got Them—I Pass Through "Sausage Valley," on the Way to Pozieres—You May and you Might—What a Tommy Found in a German Dug-out—How Fritz Got "Some of His Own" Back—Taking Pictures in What Was Once Pozieres—"Proofs Ready To-morrow" 196
ALONG THE WESTERN FRONT WITH THE KING
His Majesty's Arrival at Boulogne—At G.H.Q.—General Burstall's Appreciation—The King on the Battlefield of Fricourt—Within Range of the Enemy's Guns—His Majesty's Joke Outside a German Dug-out—His Memento from a Hero's Grave—His Visit to a Casualty Clearing Station—The King and the Puppy—Once in Disgrace—Now a Hospital Mascot 205
KING AND PRESIDENT MEET
An Historic Gathering—In which King and President, Joffre and Haig Take Part—His Majesty and the Little French Girl—I Am Permitted to Film the King and His Distinguished Guests—A Visit to the King of the Belgians—A Cross-Channel Journey—And Home 214
THE HUSH! HUSH!—A WEIRD AND FEARFUL CREATURE
Something in the Wind—An Urgent Message to Report at Headquarters—And What Came Of It—I Hear for the First Time of the "Hush! Hush!"—And Try to Discover What It Is—A Wonderful Night Scene—Dawn Breaks and Reveals a Marvellous Monster—What Is It? 222
THE JUGGERNAUT CAR OF BATTLE
A Weird-looking Object Makes Its First Appearance Upon the Battlefield—And Surprises Us Almost as Much as It Surprised Fritz—A Death-dealing Monster that Did the Most Marvellous Things—And Left the Ground Strewn with Corpses—Realism of the Tank Pictures 230
WHERE THE VILLAGE OF GUILLEMONT WAS
An Awful Specimen of War Devastation—Preparing for an Advance—Giving the Bosche "Jumps"—Breakfast Under Fire—My Camera Fails Me Just Before the Opening of the Attack—But I Manage to Set it Right and Get Some Fine Pictures—Our Guns "Talk!" Like the Crack of a Thousand Thunders—A Wonderful Doctor 234
FIGHTING IN A SEA OF MUD
Inspecting a Tank that was Hors de Combat—All that was Left of Mouquet Farm—A German Underground Fortress—A Trip in the Bowels of the Earth—A Weird and Wonderful Experience 245
THE EVE OF GREAT EVENTS
A Choppy Cross-Channel Trip—I Indulge in a Reverie—And Try to Peer Into the Future—At Headquarters Again—Trying to Cross the River Somme on an Improvised Raft—In Peronne After the German Evacuation—A Specimen of Hunnish "Kultur" 250
AN UNCANNY ADVENTURE
Exploring the Unknown—A Silence That Could be Felt—In the Village of Villers-Carbonel—A Cat and Its Kittens in an Odd Retreat—Brooks' Penchant for "Souvenirs"—The First Troops to Cross the Somme 259
THE GERMANS IN RETREAT
The Enemy Destroy Everything as They Go—Clearing Away the Debris of the Battlefield—And Repairing the Damage Done by the Huns—An Enormous Mine Crater—A Reception by French Peasants—"Les Anglais! Les Anglais!"—Stuck on the Road to Bovincourt 266
THE STORY OF AN "ARMOURED CAR" ABOUT WHICH I COULD A TALE UNFOLD
Possibilities—Food for Famished Villagers—Meeting the Mayoress of Bovincourt—Who Presides at a Wonderful Impromptu Ceremony—A Scrap Outside Vraignes—A Church Full of Refugees—A True Pal—A Meal with the Mayor of Bierne 275
BEFORE ST. QUENTIN
The "Hindenburg" Line—A Diabolical Piece of Vandalism—Brigadier H.Q. in a Cellar—A Fight in Mid-air—Waiting for the Taking of St. Quentin—L'Envoi 292
FILMING THE PRELIMINARY BOMBARDMENT OF THE "BIG PUSH," JULY 1ST, 1916 Frontispiece
TO FACE PAGE
WITH A GROUP OF BELGIAN OFFICERS AT FURNES, BELGIUM, 1914 12
ON SKIS IN THE VOSGES MOUNTAINS JUST BEFORE THE FRENCH ATTACK, FEBRUARY AND MARCH, 1915 12
USING MY AEROSCOPE IN BELGIUM, 1914-15 22
HOW I CARRIED MY FILM IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE WAR IN BELGIUM AND THE VOSGES MOUNTAINS 40
THE STATE OF THE TRENCHES IN WHICH WE LIVED AND SLEPT (?) FOR WEEKS ON END DURING THE FIRST AND SECOND WINTER OF WAR 52
OUR DUG-OUTS IN THE FRONT LINE AT PICANTIN IN WHICH WE LIVED, FOUGHT, AND MANY DIED DURING 1914-15, BEFORE THE DAYS OF TIN HATS 52
CHOOSING A POSITION FOR MY CAMERA IN THE FRONT LINE TRENCH AT PICANTIN. WITH THE GUARDS. WINTER, 1915-16 56
THE PRINCE OF WALES TRYING TO LOCATE MY "CAMOUFLAGED CAMERA" 62
THE PRINCE OF WALES LEAVING A TEMPORARY CHURCH AT LA GORGUE, XMAS DAY, 1915 62
ON THE WAY TO THE "MENIN GATE" WITH AN ARTILLERY OFFICER TO FILM OUR GUNS IN ACTION 76
TAKING SCENES IN DEVASTATED YPRES, MAY, 1916 80
IN YPRES, WITH "BABY" BROOKS, THE OFFICIAL STILL PHOTOGRAPHER, MAY, 1916 84
WITH MY AEROSCOPE CAMERA AFTER FILMING THE BATTLE OF ST. ELOI 90
IN THE MAIN STREET OF CONTALMAISON THE DAY OF ITS CAPTURE 96
LAUNCHING A SMOKE BARRAGE AT THE BATTLE OF ST. ELOI 96
IN THE TRENCHES AT THE FAMOUS AND DEADLY "HOHENZOLLERN REDOUBT," AFTER A GERMAN ATTACK 109
IN A SHELL-HOLE IN "NO MAN'S LAND" FILMING OUR HEAVY BOMBARDMENT OF THE GERMAN LINES 122
GEOFFREY H. MALINS, O.B.E., OFFICIAL KINEMATOGRAPHER TO THE WAR OFFICE 132
BOMBARDING THE GERMAN TRENCHES AT THE OPENING BATTLE OF THE GREAT SOMME FIGHT, JULY 1ST, 1916 138
MY OFFICIAL PASS TO THE FRONT LINE TO FILM THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY 1ST, 1916 138
THE PLAN OF ATTACK AT BEAUMONT HAMEL, JULY 1ST, 1916 146
OVER THE TOP OF BEAUMONT HAMEL, JULY 1ST, 1916 146
IN THE SUNKEN ROAD AT BEAUMONT HAMEL, JUST BEFORE ZERO HOUR, JULY 1ST, 1916 154
IN A TRENCH MORTAR TUNNEL, DURING THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, AT BEAUMONT HAMEL, JULY 1ST, 1916 154
THE OPENING OF THE GREAT BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY 1ST, 1916 162
THE ROLL CALL OF THE SEAFORTHS AT "WHITE CITY," BEAUMONT HAMEL, JULY 1ST, 1916 168
FAGGED OUT IN THE "WHITE CITY" AFTER WE RETIRED TO OUR TRENCHES, JULY 1ST, 1916 168
THE GERMANS MAKE A BIG COUNTER ATTACK AT LA BOISSELLE AND OVILLERS, JULY 3RD AND 4TH, 1916 176
MEN OF SCOTLAND RUSHING A MINE CRATER AT THE DEADLY "HOHENZOLLERN REDOUBT" 176
FILMING THE KING DURING HIS VISIT TO FRANCE IN 1916. HE IS ACCOMPANIED BY PRESIDENT POINCARE, SIR DOUGLAS HAIG, GENERAL JOFFRE AND GENERAL FOCH 184
HIS MAJESTY THE KING, WITH PRESIDENT POINCARE, IN FRANCE, 1916 206
HER MAJESTY, THE QUEEN OF THE BELGIANS, TAKING A SNAP OF ME AT WORK WHILE FILMING THE KING 218
THE PRINCE OF WALES SPEAKING WITH BELGIAN OFFICERS AT LA PANNE, BELGIUM 218
THE FIRST "TANK" THAT WENT INTO ACTION, H.M.L.S. "DAPHNE." SEPTEMBER 15TH, 1916 222
THE BATTLEFIELD OF "GINCHY" 224
RESERVES WATCHING THE ATTACK AT MARTINPUICH, SEPTEMBER 15TH, 1916 224
OVER THE TOP AT MARTINPUICH, SEPT. 15TH, 1916 228
TWO MINUTES TO ZERO HOUR AT MARTINPUICH, SEPT. 15TH, 1916 228
THE HIGHLAND BRIGADE GOING OVER THE TOP AT MARTINPUICH, SEPTEMBER 15TH, 1916 234
LORD KITCHENER'S LAST VISIT TO FRANCE 256
FILMING OUR GUNS IN ACTION DURING THE GREAT GERMAN RETREAT TO ST. QUENTIN, MARCH, 1917 268
THE QUARRY FROM WHICH I CRAWLED TO FILM THE GERMAN TRENCHES IN FRONT OF ST. QUENTIN, 1917 290
OUR OUTPOST LINE WITHIN 800 YARDS OF ST. QUENTIN 302
HOW I FILMED THE WAR
A FEW WORDS OF INTRODUCTION
Fate has not been unkind to me. I have had my chances, particularly during the last two or three years, and—well, I have done my best to make the most of what has come my way. That and nothing more.
How I came to be entrusted with the important commission of acting as Official War Office Kinematographer is an interesting story, and the first few chapters of this book recount the sequence of events that led up to my being given the appointment.
Let me begin by saying that I am not a writer, I am just a "movie man," as they called me out there. My mind is stored full to overflowing with the impressions of all I have seen and heard; recollections of adventures crowd upon me thick and fast. Thoughts flash through my mind, and almost tumble over one another as I strive to record them. Yet at times, when I take pen in hand to write them down, they seem to elude me for the moment, and make the task more difficult than I had anticipated.
In the following chapters I have merely aimed at setting down, in simple language, a record of my impressions, so far as I can recall them, of what I have seen of many and varied phases of the Great Drama which has now been played to a finish on the other side of the English Channel. Most of those recollections were penned at odd moments, soon after the events chronicled, when they were still fresh in mind, often within range of the guns.
It was my good fortune for two years to be one of the Official War Office Kinematographers. I was privileged to move about on the Western Front with considerable freedom. My actions were largely untrammelled; I had my instructions to carry out; my superiors to satisfy; my work to do; and I endeavoured to do all that has been required of me to the best of my ability, never thinking of the cost, or consequences, to myself of an adventure so long as I secured a pictorial record of the deeds of our heroic Army in France. I have striven to make my pictures worthy of being preserved as a permanent memorial of the greatest Drama in history.
That is the keynote of this record. As an Official Kinematographer I have striven to be, and I have tried all the time to realise that I was the eyes of the millions of my fellow-countrymen at home. In my pictures I have endeavoured to catch something of the glamour, as well as the awful horror of it all. I have caught a picture here, a picture there; a scene in this place, a scene in that; and all the time at the back of my mind has always been the thought: "That will give them some idea of things as they are out here." My pictures have never been taken with the idea of merely making pictures, nor with the sole idea, as some people think, of merely providing a "thrill." I regarded my task in a different light to that. To me has been entrusted the task of securing for the enlightenment and education of the people of to-day, and of future generations, such a picture as will stir their imaginations and thrill their hearts with pride.
This by way of introduction. Now to proceed with my task, the telling of the adventures of a kinematograph camera man in war-time.
From my early days I was always interested in photography, and boyish experiments eventually led me along the path to my life's vocation. In time I took up the study of kinematography, and joined the staff of the Clarendon Film Company (of London and Croydon), one of the pioneer firms in the industry. There I learned much and made such progress that in time I was entrusted with the filming of great productions, which cost thousands of pounds to make. From there I went to the Gaumont Company, and I was in the service of this great Anglo-French film organisation when war broke out.
During the early days of the autumn of 1914 I was busily occupied in filming various scenes in connection with the war in different parts of the country. One day when I was at the London office of the Company I was sent for by the Chief.
"We want a man to go out to Belgium and get some good 'stuff.' [Stuff, let me say, is the technical or slang term for film pictures.] How would you like to go?"
"Go?" I asked. "I'm ready. When? Now?"
"As soon as you like."
"Right, I'm ready," I said, without a moment's hesitation, little thinking of the nature of the adventure upon which I was so eager to embark.
And so it came about. Provided with the necessary cash, and an Aeroscope camera, I started off next day, and the following chapters record a few of my adventures in search of pictorial material for the screen.
WITH THE BELGIANS AT RAMSCAPELLE
I Reach the First Line Belgian Trenches—And become a Belgian Soldier for the Time Being—A Night Attack—An Adventure whilst Filming a Mitrailleuse Outpost—Among the Ruins of Ramscapelle—I Leave the Company and Lose my Way in the Darkness—A Welcome Light and a Long Sleep—How Little does the Public know of the Dangers and Difficulties a Film Operator has to Face.
Leaving London, I crossed to France. I arranged, as far as possible, to get through from Calais to Furnes, and with the greatest of good luck I managed it, arriving at my destination at eleven o'clock at night. As usual, it was raining hard.
Starting out next day for the front line, I reached the district where a battalion was resting—I was allowed in their quarters. Addressing one of the men, I asked if he could speak English. "Non, monsieur," and making a sign to me to remain he hurried off. Back came the fellow with an officer.
"What do you want, monsieur?" said he in fine English.
"You speak English well," I replied.
"Yes, monsieur, I was in England for four years previous to the war." So I explained my position. "I want to accompany you to the trenches to take some kinema films."
After exchanging a few words he took me to his superior officer, who extended every courtesy to me. I explained to him what I was desirous of doing. "But it is extraordinary, monsieur, that you should take such risks for pictures. You may in all probability get shot."
"Possibly, sir," I replied, "but to obtain genuine scenes one must be absolutely in the front line."
"Ah, you English," he said, "you are extraordinaire." Suddenly taking me by the arm, he led me to an outhouse. At the door we met his Captain. Introducing me, he began to explain my wishes. By the looks and the smiles, I knew things were going well for me.
Calling the interpreter, the Captain said, "If you accompany my men to the trenches you may get killed. You must take all risks. I cannot be held responsible, remember!" And with a smile, he turned and entered the house.
Hardly realising my good fortune, I nearly hugged my new friend, the Lieutenant.
"Monsieur," I said, saluting, "I am un Belge soldat pro tem."
Laughingly he told me to get my kit ready, and from a soldier who could speak English I borrowed a water-bottle and two blankets. Going round to the back of the farm, I came upon the rest of the men being served out with coffee from a copper. Awaiting my turn, I had my water-bottle filled; then the bread rations were served out with tinned herrings. Obtaining my allowance, I stowed it away in my knapsack, rolled up my blanket and fixed it on my back, and was ready. Then the "Fall in" was sounded. What a happy-go-lucky lot! No one would have thought these men were going into battle, and that many of them would probably not return. This, unfortunately, turned out to be only too true.
In my interest in the scene and anxiety to film it, I was forgetting to put my own house in order. "What if I don't come back?" I suddenly thought. Begging some paper, I wrote a letter, addressed to my firm, telling them where I had gone, and where to call at Furnes for my films in the event of my being shot. Addressing it, I left it in charge of an officer, to be posted if I did not return, and requested that if anything happened to me my stuff should be left at my cafe in Furnes. Shaking me by the hand, he said he sincerely hoped it would not be necessary. Laughingly I bade him adieu. Falling in with the other men we started off, with the cheers and good wishes of those left behind ringing in our ears.
It was still raining, and, as we crossed the fields of mud, I began to feel the weight of my equipment pressing on my shoulders, which with my camera and spare films made my progress very slow. Many a time during that march the men offered to help me, but, knowing that they had quite enough to do in carrying their own load, I stubbornly refused.
On we went, the roar of the guns getting nearer: over field after field, fully eighteen inches deep in mud, and keeping as close to hedges as possible, to escape detection from hostile aeroplanes. Near a bridge we were stopped by an officer.
"What's the matter?" I asked of my interpreter. Not knowing, he went to enquire.
An order was shouted. The whole regiment rushed for cover to a hedge which ran by the roadside. I naturally followed. My friend told me that the Germans had sent up an observation balloon, so we dare not advance until nightfall, or they would be sure to see us and begin shelling our column before we arrived at the trenches. In the rain we sat huddled close together. Notwithstanding the uncomfortable conditions, I was very thankful for the rest. Night came, and we got the word to start again. Progress was becoming more difficult than ever, and I only kept myself from many a time falling headlong by clinging on to my nearest companion; he did likewise.
Ye gods! what a night, and what a sight! Raining hard, a strong wind blowing, and the thick, black, inky darkness every now and then illuminated by the flash of the guns. Death was certainly in evidence to-night. One felt it. The creative genius of the weirdest, imaginative artist could not have painted a scene of death so truthfully. The odour arising from decaying bodies in the ground was at times almost overwhelming.
We had been conversing generally during the march, but now word was passed that we were not to speak under any circumstances, not until we were in the trenches. A whispered order came that every man must hold on to the comrade in front of him, and bear to the left. Reaching the trench allotted to us, we went along it in single file, up to our knees in water. Sometimes a plank had been thrown along it, or bricks, but generally there was nothing but mud to plough through.
"Halt!" came the command to the section I was with. "This is our shelter, monsieur," said a voice.
Gropingly, I followed the speaker on hands and knees. The shelter was about 12 feet long, 3 feet 6 inches high, the same in width, and made of old boards. On the top, outside, was about 9 inches of earth, to render it as far as possible shrapnel-proof. On the floor were some boards, placed on bricks and covered with soddened straw. There was just enough room for four of us.
Rolling ourselves in our blankets we lay down, and by the light of an electric torch we ravenously ate our bread and herrings. I enjoyed that simple meal as much as the finest dinner I have ever had placed before me. Whilst eating, a messenger came and warned us to be prepared for an attack. Heavy rifle-fire was taking place, both on the right and left of our position.
"Well," thought I, "this is a good start; they might have waited for daylight, I could then film their proceedings." At any rate, if the attack came, I hoped it would last through the next day.
Switching off the light, we lay down and awaited events. But not for long. The order came to man the trench. Out we tumbled, and took up our positions. Suddenly out of the blackness, in the direction of the German positions, came the rattle of rifle-fire, and the bullets began to whistle overhead. Keeping as low as possible, we replied, firing in quick succession at the flashes of the enemy rifles. This continued throughout the night.
Towards morning a fog settled down, which blocked out our view of each other, and there was a lull in the fighting. At midday the attack started again. Taking my apparatus, I filmed a section of Belgians in action. Several times bullets whistled unpleasantly near my head. Passing along the trench, I filmed a mitrailleuse battery in action, which was literally mowing down the Germans as fast as they appeared. Then I filmed another section of men, while the bullets were flying all around them. Several could not resist looking round and laughing at the camera.
Whilst thus engaged, several shells fell within thirty feet of me. Two failed to explode; another exploded and sent a lump of mud full in my face. With great spluttering, and I must admit a little swearing, I quickly cleaned it off. Then I filmed a large shell-hole filled with water, caused by the explosion of a German "Jack Johnson."
The diameter was 28 feet across, and, roughly, 6 feet deep in the centre. At the other end of the line I filmed a company damming the Canal, to turn it into the German trenches.
Then I cautiously made my way back, and filmed a section being served with hot coffee while under fire. Coming upon some men warming themselves round a bucket-stove, I joined the circle for a little warmth. How comforting it was in that veritable morass. Even as we chatted we were subjected to a heavy shrapnel attack, and the way we all scuttled to the trench huts was a sight for the gods. It was one mad scramble of laughing soldiers. Plunk—plunk—plunk—came the shells, not 20-25 feet from where we were sitting by the fire. Six shells fell in our position, one failed to explode. I had a bet with a Belgian officer that it was 30 feet from us. He bet me it was 40 feet. Not to be done, I roughly measured off a yard stick, and left the shelter of the trench to measure the distance. It turned out to be 28 feet. Just as I had finished, I heard three more shells come shrieking towards me. I simply dived for the trench, and luckily reached it just in time.
Towards evening our artillery shelled a farm-house about three-quarters of a mile distant, where the Germans had three guns hidden, and through the glasses I watched the shells drop into the building and literally blow it to pieces. Unfortunately, it was too far off to film it satisfactorily.
That night was practically a repetition of the previous one. The trench was attacked the greater part of the time, and bullets continually spattered against the small iron plate.
Next morning I decided to try and film the mitrailleuse outpost on a little spot of land in the floods, only connected by a narrow strip of grass-land just high enough to be out of reach of the water. Still keeping low under cover of the trenches, I made my way in that direction. Several officers tried to persuade me not to go, but knowing it would make an excellent scene, I decided to risk it. On the side of the bank nearest our front line the ground sloped at a more abrupt angle, the distance from the trench to the outpost being about sixty yards. Rushing over the top of the parapet, I got to the edge of the grass road and crouched down. The water up to my knees, I made my way carefully along. Twice I stumbled over dead bodies. At last I reached the outpost safely, but during the last few yards I must have raised myself a little too high, for the next minute several bullets splashed into the water where I had been.
The outpost was very surprised when I made my appearance, and expressed astonishment that I had not been shot. "A miss is as good as a mile," I laughingly replied, and then I told them I had come to film them at work. This I proceeded to do, and got an excellent scene of the mitrailleuse in action, and the other section loading up. The frightful slaughter done by these guns is indescribable. Nothing can possibly live under the concentrated fire of these weapons, as the Germans found to their cost that day.
After getting my scenes, I thanked the officer, and was about to make my way back; but he forbade me to risk it, telling me to wait until night and return under cover of the darkness. To this I agreed, and that night left the outpost with the others when the relief party came up.
Shortly after news was received that we were to be relieved from duty in the trenches for the next forty-eight hours; the relief column was on its way to take our places. I was delighted, for I had been wet through during the days and nights I had been there, but was fully satisfied that I had got some real live films. Hastily packing up my equipment, I stood waiting the signal to move off. At last the relief came up. Holding each other's hands, we carefully made our way in Indian file along the trench, on to the road, and into Ramscapelle.
What a terrible sight it was! The skeletons of houses stood grim and gaunt, and the sound of the wind rushing through the ruins was like the moaning of the spirits of the dead inhabitants crying aloud for vengeance. The sounds increased in volume as we neared this scene of awful desolation, and the groans became a crescendo of shrieks which, combined with the crash of shell-fire, made one's blood run cold.
Leaving the ruins behind we gained the main road, and on arriving at the bridge where we had stopped on our journey out, I parted with the company, thinking to make my way to a cafe by a short cut over some fields. I wished to heaven afterwards that I had not done so. I cut across a ditch, feeling my way as much as possible with a stick. But I had not gone far before I knew I had lost my way. The rain was driving pitilessly in my face, but I stumbled on in the inky darkness, often above my knees in thick clay mud. Several times I thought I should never reach the road. It was far worse than being under fire.
I must have staggered along for about two miles when I perceived a light ahead. Never was sight more welcome. Remember, I had about fifty to sixty pounds weight on my back, and having had little or no sleep for five nights my physical strength was at a low ebb. It seemed hours before I reached that house, and when at last I got there I collapsed on the floor.
I struggled up again in a few minutes, and asked the bewildered occupants to give me hot coffee, and after resting for an hour, I made again for Furnes reaching it in the early hours of the morning.
Going to my cafe, I went to bed, and slept for eighteen hours; the following day I packed up and returned to London.
A day or two afterwards I was sitting comfortably in a cushioned chair in the private theatre at our London office watching these selfsame scenes being projected upon the screen. Ah! thought I, how little does the great public, for whom they are intended, know of the difficulties and dangers, the trials and tribulations, the kinematograph camera man experiences in order to obtain these pictures.
WITH THE GOUMIERS AT LOMBARTZYDE
A Morning of Surprises—The German Positions Bombarded from the Sea—Filming the Goumiers in Action—How these Tenacious Fighters Prepare for Battle—Goumier Habits and Customs—I Take the Chief's Photograph for the First Time—And Afterwards take Food with Him—An Interesting and Fruitful Adventure Ends Satisfactorily.
Once more I went to Furnes, and while sipping my coffee at the cafe I heard a remark made about the Goumiers (the Arab horsemen employed by the French as scouts). Quickly realising the possibilities in a film of such a body of men, I made enquiries of the speakers as to their whereabouts.
"Ah, monsieur, they are on the sand-dunes near Nieuport. They are veritable fiends, monsieur, with the Bosches, who run away from them like cats. They are terrible fighters."
After such a glowing account, I thought the sooner I interviewed these fighters the better.
Starting out next morning, I made a bee-line for the coast.
I soon began to hear the sharp crackle of rifle-fire, and artillery on my right opened fire on the German position, and then the heavy boom, boom of the guns from the sea. Looking in that direction, I discerned several of our battleships opening fire, the shells giving a fearful shriek as they passed overhead. The Germans were certainly in for it that day.
Keeping along the bottom of the dunes, I observed a Goumier encampment in the distance. At that moment there came a rasping voice on my right.
"Halt!" This certainly was a morning of surprises.
"Ah," I said, with a laugh, "you startled me."
"I am sorry, monsieur," he said. "The password, if you please?"
"It is not necessary," I replied. "I wish to speak to your officer. I will go by myself to the officer in charge, it is not necessary for you to leave your post. Direct me to Headquarters, and tell me your captain's name."
"Captain ——, monsieur. He is billeted in that house which is half destroyed by shell-fire. Be careful, monsieur, and keep low, or you will draw the fire on you." He saluted, and turned back to his post.
Making straight for the ruined house in question, I observed a sentry on guard at the door. This, I perceived, led to a cellar. I asked to see the Captain. The man saluted and entered the house, appearing in a few minutes with his chief. I saluted, and bade him "good morning," extending my hand, which he grasped in a hearty handshake. I straightway explained my business, and asked him for his co-operation in securing some interesting films of the Goumiers in action.
He replied that he would be glad to assist me as far as possible.
"You will greatly help me, sir," I said, "if you can roughly give me their location."
"That I cannot do," he replied, "but follow my directions, and take your chance. I will, however, accompany you a short distance."
We started out, keeping as much to the seashore as possible.
"Keep low," the Captain said, "the place is thick with Bosche snipers." I certainly needed no second warning, for I had experienced those gentry before. "Our Goumiers are doing splendid work here on the dunes. It is, of course, like home to them among the sand-heaps."
Our conversation was suddenly cut short by the shriek of a shell coming in our direction. Simultaneously we fell flat on the sand, and only just in time, for on the other side of the dune the shell fell and exploded, shaking the ground like a miniature earthquake and throwing clouds of sand in our direction.
"They have started on our encampment again," the Captain said, "but our huts are quite impervious to their shells; the sand is finer than armourplate."
Several more shells came hurtling overheard, but fell some distance behind us. Looking over the top of the dune, I expected to see an enormous hole, caused by the explosion, but judge my surprise on seeing hardly any difference. The sides of the cavity had apparently fallen in again. A short distance further on the Captain said he would leave me.
"You can start now," and he pointed in the distance to a moving object in the sand, crawling along on its stomach for all the world like a snake. "I will go," he said, "and if you see the Chief of the Goumiers, tell him I sent you." With a handshake we parted. I again turned to look at the Goumier scout, his movements fascinated me. Keeping low under the top of the dune, I made for a small hill, from which I decided to film him. Reaching there, I did so.
I then saw, going in opposite directions, two more scouts, each proceeding to crawl slowly in the same fashion as the first.
"This film certainly will be unique," I thought. Who could imagine that within half an hour's ride of this whirling sand, with full-blooded Arabs moving about upon it, the soldiers of Belgium are fighting in two feet of mud and water, and have been doing so for months past. No one would think so to look at it.
A rattle of musketry on my right served as a hint that there were other scenes to be secured. Making my way in the direction of the sound, I came upon a body of Goumiers engaged in sniping at the Germans. I filmed them, and was just moving away when the interpreter of the company stopped and questioned me. I told him of my previous conversation with the Captain, which satisfied him.
"Well," he said, "you are just in time to catch a troop going off on a scouting expedition," and he led the way to a large dune looking down on the sea, and there just moving off was the troop.
What a magnificent picture they made, sitting on their horses. They seemed to be part of them. Veritable black statues they looked, and their movements were like a finely tensioned spring. Hastily filming the troop, I hurried across and succeeded in obtaining some scenes of another detachment proceeding further on the flank, and as they wound in and out up the sand-hills, I managed to get into a splendid point of vantage, and filmed them coming towards me. Their wild savage huzzas, as they passed, were thrilling in the extreme. Looking round, I perceived a curious-looking group a short distance away, going through what appeared to be some devotional ceremony.
Hastening down the hill, I crossed to the group, which turned out to be under the command of the Chief of the Goumiers himself, who was going through a short ceremony with some scouts, previous to their meeting the Germans. It was quite impressive. Forming the four men up in line, the Chief gave each of them instructions, waving signs and symbols over their heads and bodies, then with a chant sent them on their journey. The actual obeisance was too sacred in itself to film. I was told by the interpreter afterwards that he was glad I did not do so, as they would have been very wrath?
A few words about the customs of the Goumiers may not be out of place. These men are the aristocracy of the Algerian Arabs; men of independent means in their own land. At the outbreak of war they patriotically combined under their chief, and offered themselves to the French Government, which gladly accepted their services for work on the sand-dunes of Flanders. The troop bore the whole cost of their outfit and transport. They brought their own native transport system with them. The men obey none but their chief, at whose bidding they would, I believe, even go through Hell itself. All arguments, quarrels, and discussions in the troop are brought before the Chief, whose word and judgment is law.
On the dunes of Northern Flanders they had their own encampment, conducted in their own native style. They looked after their horses with as much care as a fond mother does her child. The harness and trappings were magnificently decorated with beautiful designs in mother-of-pearl and gold, and the men, when astride their horses and garbed in their long flowing white burnouses, looked the very personification of dignity. The Chief never handles a rifle, it would be beneath his position to do so. He is the Head, and lives up to it in every respect possible.
I filmed him by the side of his horse. It was the first time he had been photographed.
Returning to the point where the scouts were leaving, I decided to follow close behind them, on the chance of getting some good scenes. Strapping my camera on my back, and pushing a tuft of grass under the strap, to disguise it as much as possible if viewed from the front, I crawled after them. One may think that crawling on the sand is easy; well, all I can say to those who think so is, "Try it." I soon found it was not so easy as it looked, especially under conditions where the raising of one's body two or three inches above the top of the dune might be possibly asking for a bullet through it, and drawing a concentrated fire in one's direction.
I had crawled in this fashion for about 150 yards, when I heard a shell come shrieking in my direction. With a plunk it fell, and exploded about forty feet away, choking me with sand and half blinding me for about five minutes. The acrid fumes, too, which came from it, seemed to tighten my throat, making respiration very difficult for some ten minutes afterwards. Cautiously looking round, I tried to locate the other scouts, but nowhere could they be seen. I crawled for another thirty yards or so, but still no sign of them. Deciding that if I continued by myself I had everything to lose and nothing to gain, I concluded that discretion was the better part of valour. Possibly the buzzing sensation in my throat, and the smarting of my eyes, helped me in coming to that decision, so I retraced my steps, or rather crawl. Getting back to the encampment, I bathed my eyes in water, which quickly soothed them.
In a short time news came in that the scouts were returning. Hurrying to the spot indicated, I was just in time to film them on their arrival. The exultant look on their faces told me that they had done good work.
I then filmed a general view of the encampment, and several other interesting scenes, and was just on the point of departing when the Chief asked me to partake of some food with him. Being very hungry, I accepted the invitation, and afterwards, over a cup of coffee and cigarettes, I obtained through an interpreter some very interesting information.
The night being now well advanced, I bade the Chief adieu, and striking out across the dunes I made for Furnes. The effect of the star-shells sent up by the Germans was very wonderful. They shed a vivid blue light all round, throwing everything up with startling clearness.
After about a mile I was suddenly brought up by the glitter of a sentry's bayonet. "Password, monsieur." Flashing a lamp in my face, the man evidently recognised me, for he had seen me with his officer that day, and the next moment he apologised for stopping me. "Pardon, monsieur," he said. "Pass, Monsieur Anglais, pardon!"
Accepting his apologies, I moved off in the direction of Furnes, where, after reviewing the events of the previous days, I came to the conclusion that I had every reason to be thankful that I had once more returned from an interesting and fruitful adventure with a whole skin.
THE BATTLE OF THE SAND-DUNES
A Dangerous Adventure and What Came of It—A Race Across the Sand-dunes—And a Spill in a Shell-Hole—The Fate of a Spy—A Battle in the Dunes—Of which I Secured Some Fine Films—A Collision with an Obstructive Mule.
I arrived at Oost-Dunkerque, which place I decided to use as a base for this journey, chiefly because it was on the main route to Nieuport Bain. Having on my previous visit proceeded on foot, and returned successfully, I decided that I should go by car. To get what I required meant that I should have to pass right through the French lines.
Finding out a chauffeur who had previously helped me, I explained my plans to him.
"Well, monsieur," he said, "I will try and help you, but for me it is not possible to get you through. I am stationed here indefinitely, but I have a friend who drives an armoured car. I will ask him to do it." We then parted; I was to meet him with his friend that night.
I packed my things as close as possible, tying two extra spools of film in a package round my waist under my coat, put on my knapsack, and drew my Balaclava helmet well down over my chin.
Anxiously I awaited my friends. Seven o'clock—eight o'clock—nine o'clock. "Were they unable to come for me?" "Was there some hitch in the arrangement?" These thoughts flashed through my mind, when suddenly I heard a voice call behind me.
Turning, I saw my chauffeur friend beckoning to me. Hurrying forward, I asked if all was well.
"Oui, monsieur. I will meet you by the railway cutting."
This was the beginning of an adventure which I shall always remember. I had been up at the bridge some two minutes, when the armoured car glided up. "Up, monsieur," came a voice, and up I got. Placing my camera by the side of the mitrailleuse, I sat by my chauffeur, and we started off for the French lines.
Dashing along roads covered with shell-holes, I marvelled again and again at the man's wonderful driving. Heaps of times we escaped a smash-up by a hair's-breadth.
On we went over the dunes; the night was continuously lighted up by flashes from the big guns, both French and German. We were pulled up with a jerk, which sent me flying over the left wheel, doing a somersault, and finally landing head first into a lovely soft sandbank. Spluttering and staggering to my feet, I looked round for the cause of my sudden exit from the car, and there in the glare of the headlight were two French officers. Both were laughing heartily and appreciating the joke. As I had not hurt myself, I joined in. After our hilarity had subsided they apologised, and hoped I had not hurt myself. Seeing that I was an an Englishman, they asked me where I was going. I replied, "to Nieuport Bain." They asked me if my chauffeur might take a message to the Captain of the —— Chasseurs. "Yes, yes," I replied, "with pleasure."
Thinking that by staying every second might be dangerous, I asked the officers to give the message, and we would proceed. They did so, and again apologising for their abrupt appearance, they bade us "good night."
I hurriedly bade the driver start off, and away we went. He evidently had not got over his nervousness, for, after going about three-quarters of a mile, we ran into a large, partially filled shell-hole, burying the front wheels above the axle. To save myself from a second dive I clutched hold of the mitrailleuse.
This was a position indeed! Scooping away as much sand as possible from the front wheels, we put on full power, and tried to back the car out of it. But as the rear wheels were unable to grip in the sand it would not budge.
While there the Germans must have seen our light, for suddenly a star-shell shot up from their position, illuminating the ground for a great distance. I swiftly pinched the tube of our headlight, so putting it out, then dropped full length on the sand. I observed my companion had done the same.
We lay there for about ten minutes, not knowing what to expect, but luckily nothing happened. It was obvious that we could not move the car without assistance, so shouldering my apparatus we started to walk the remaining distance. Twice we were held up by sentries, but by giving the password we got through. Enquiring for the headquarters of Captain ——, we were directed to a ruined house which had been destroyed by German shell-fire. "Mon Capitaine is in the cellar, monsieur."
Thinking that it would be a better introduction if I personally delivered the message to the Captain, I asked my chauffeur to let me do so. Asking the sentry at the door to take me to his Captain, we passed down some dozen steps and into a comfortably furnished cellar. Sitting round a little table were seven officers. I asked for Captain ——.
"He is not here, monsieur," said one. "Is it urgent?"
"I do not know," I replied. I was trying to form another reply in French, when an officer asked me in English if he could be of any service. I told him that an officer had given me a message to deliver on my journey here, but owing to an accident to the car I had had to walk. Taking the letter, he said he would send a messenger to the Captain with it.
"You must be hungry, monsieur. Will you share a snack with us?" Gladly accepting their hospitality, I sat down with them. "Are you from London?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "Do you know it?"
"Yes, yes," he replied. "I was for three years there. But are you militaire?" he enquired.
"Well, hardly that," I confess. "I am here to take kinema records of the war. I have come in this direction to film an action on the sand-dunes. Will you help me?"
"I will do what I can for you," he replied. "We expect to make a sortie to-morrow morning. It will be very risky for you."
"I will take my chance," I replied, "with you."
Whilst our conversation proceeded, I noticed a scuffling on the cellar steps, then into the room came four soldiers with a man in peasant's clothes. He turned out to be a spy caught signalling in the dunes. They brought him in to have a cup of coffee before taking him out to be shot. He was asked if he would take sugar; his reply was "No."
Presently there was a shot outside, and there was one spy the less.
The Captain returned and, after explanations, made me understand that he would accept no responsibility for my safety. Those conditions I did not mind a scrap. Rolling myself in a blanket, I tumbled in. "What would the morrow bring forth?" I wondered.
I was up next morning at four o'clock. Everywhere there was a state of suppressed excitement. Outside the men were preparing, but there was not the least sign of confusion anywhere. To look at them one would not imagine these men were going out to fight, knowing that some of them at least would not return again. But it is war, and sentiment has no place in their thoughts.
The order came to line up. Hours before the scouts had gone out to prepare the ground. They had not returned yet. Personally, I hoped they would not turn up till the day was a little more advanced. Eight o'clock; still not sufficient light for filming. A lieutenant came to me, and said if I would go carefully along the sand-dunes in the direction he suggested, possibly it would be better; he would say no more. I did so; and I had only gone about half a kilometre when, chancing to turn back, I spied coming over the dunes on my right two scouts, running for all they were worth.
Quietly getting my camera into position, I started exposing, being certain this was the opening of the attack. I was not mistaken, for within a few minutes the advance guard came hurrying up in the distance; the attack was about to begin. Suddenly the French guns opened fire; they were concealed some distance in the rear. Shells then went at it thick and fast, shrieking one after the other overhead.
The advance guard opened out, clambered up the dunes, and disappeared over the top, I filming them. I waited until the supporting column came up, and filmed them also. I followed them up and over the dunes. Deploying along the top, they spread out about six metres apart, with the object of deceiving the Germans as to their numbers, until the supporting column reached them. The battle of musketry then rang out. Cautiously advancing with a company, I filmed them take the offensive and make for a large dune forty yards ahead. Successfully reaching it they lay down and fired in rapid succession. Crawling up, I managed to take a fine scene of the attack, showing the explosion of two French shells over the ruins of the town. The Germans evidently found our range, for several shells came whistling unpleasantly near me.
What followed was a succession of scenes, showing the covering columns advancing and others moving round on the flank. The Germans lost very heavily in this engagement, and great progress was made by the gallant French. While filming a section of the flanking party, I had the nearest acquaintance with a shell that I shall ever wish for. I don't think it would have been the good fortune of many to have such an experience and come scathless out of it.
I was kneeling filming the scene, when I heard a shell hurtling in my direction. Knowing that if I moved I might as likely run into it as not, I remained where I was, still operating my camera, when an explosion occurred just behind me, which sounded as if the earth itself had cracked. The concussion threw me with terrific force head over heels into the sand. The explosion seemed to cause a vacuum in the air for some distance around, for try as I would I could not get my breath. I lay gasping and struggling like a drowning man for what seemed an interminable length of time, although it could have only been a few seconds.
At last I pulled round; my first thought was for my camera. I saw it a short distance away, half buried in the sand. Picking it up, I was greatly relieved to find it uninjured, but choked with sand round the lens, which I quickly cleared. The impression on my body, caused by the concussion of the exploding shell, seemed as if the whole of one side of me had been struck with something soft, yet with such terrible force that I felt it all over at the same moment. That is the best way I can describe it, and I assure you I don't wish for a second interview. Noticing some blood upon my hand, I found a small wound on the knuckle. Whether or no it was caused by a small splinter from the shell, I cannot say; in all probability it was, for I do not think striking the soft sand would have caused it.
Turning back, I made for the sea road, and filmed the reserves coming up to strengthen the positions already won. Hurrying across in the direction of another column, I filmed them steadily advancing, while their comrades kept the Germans employed from the top of a large dune. The main body then came up and lined the top for a considerable distance, and at the word of command the whole body arose as one man. For the fraction of a second they were strikingly silhouetted against the sky-line; then with a cheer they charged down the other side.
Darkness was now closing in, making it impossible for me to film any further developments, so I proceeded back to the cellar with an officer and some men. After resting awhile, I decided to go back to Furnes that night with my films and get home with them as quickly as possible. Meeting a small transport car going in the desired direction after some stores, I begged a ride, and getting up beside the driver, we started off. Owing to the enormous shell-holes it was impossible to proceed along the road without a light.
What a magnificent sight it was. Magnesium star-shells were continually being sent up by the Germans. They hung in the air alight for about thirty seconds, illuminating the ground like day. When they disappeared the guns flashed out; then the French replied; after that more star-shells; then the guns spoke again, and so it continued. We were suddenly stopped by an officer warning us to put out our lamp immediately, and proceed cautiously for about three hundred yards. While doing so a shell came screaming by. We knew then that the Germans had seen our light. We immediately rushed to a shell-proof shelter in the sand. I had barely reached it when a shell exploded close by the car, half destroying the body of it. That was the only one that came anywhere near. Running to see what damage was done, I was pleased to see, by the aid of a covered light, that the chassis was practically uninjured. So starting up we once more proceeded on our journey.
We had several narrow squeaks in negotiating corners and miniature sand-banks, and once we bumped into a mule that had strayed on to the road—but whether it will do so again I don't know, for after the bump it disappeared in a whirl of sand, making a noise like a myriad of fiends let loose. But the remainder of the journey was uneventful, and after a long night's rest I left for Calais.
UNDER HEAVY SHELL-FIRE
In a Trench Coat and Cap I again Run the Gauntlet—A Near Squeak—Looking for Trouble—I Nearly Find It—A Rough Ride and a Mud Bath—An Affair of Outposts—I Get Used to Crawling—Hot Work at the Guns—I am Reported Dead—But Prove Very Much Alive——And then Receive a Shock—A Stern Chase.
Time after time I crossed over to France and so into Belgium, and obtained a series of pictures that delighted my employers, and pleased the picture theatre public. But I wanted something more than snapshots of topical events.
Unfortunately, I had been unable to make previous arrangements for a car to take me into Belgium. The railroad was barred to me, and walking quite out of the question. A motor-car was the only method of travelling. After two days of careful enquiries, I at last found a man to take me. He was in the transport department, taking meat to the trenches. I was to meet him that evening on the outskirts of Calais. And I met him that night at an appointed rendezvous, and started on our journey.
Eventually we entered Furnes. Making my way into a side street, I told my chauffeur to call at a certain address whenever he passed through the town, and if I should require his services further, I would leave a letter to that effect.
I was awakened next morning by being vigorously shaken by my Belgian friend, Jules.
"Quick, monsieur, the Germans are bombarding us," he cried.
Jumping out of bed, I rushed to the window. The next second I heard the shriek of shells coming nearer. With a crash and a fearful explosion they burst practically simultaneously on the houses opposite, completely demolishing them, but luckily killing no one. Hastily dressing, I grabbed my camera and went out into the square and waited, hoping to film, if possible, the explosion of the shells as they fell on the buildings. Two more shells came shrieking over. The few people about were quickly making for the cover of their cellars. Getting my camera into position, ready to swing in any direction, I waited. With deafening explosions the shells exploded in a small street behind me. The Germans were evidently trying to smash up the old Flemish town hall, which was in the corner of the market-place, so I decided to fix my focus in its direction. But though I waited for over an hour, nothing else happened. The Germans had ceased firing for that morning at least. Not till I had gone to my cafe did I realise the danger I had exposed myself to, but somehow I had seemed so confident that I should not get hit, that to film the explosions entirely absorbed all my thoughts.
Next morning I decided to tour the front line, if possible from Dixmude to Nieuport, making Ramscapelle a centre. I hoped to drop in with an isolated action or a few outpost duels, for up to the present things were going exceedingly slow from my point of view.
Arranging for a dispatch rider to take me along to Ramscapelle, away I went. The roads were in a frightful condition after months of rain, and shell-holes were dotted all over the surface. It is marvellous these men do not more frequently meet death by accident, for what with the back wheel sliding and skidding like an unbroken mule, and dodging round shell-holes as if we were playing musical chairs, and hanging round the driver's waist like a limpet to keep our balance, it was anything but a comfortable experience. In the end one back wheel slipped into a shell-hole and pitched me into a lovely pool of water and mud. Then after remounting, we were edged off the road into the mud again by a heavy transport lorry, and enjoyed a second mud-bath. After that I came to the conclusion that I would rather film a close view of a bayonet charge than do another such journey.
By now I was the most abject-looking specimen of humanity imaginable. My camera in its case was securely fastened on my shoulders as a knapsack, and so, with the exception of a slight derangement, which I soon readjusted, no damage was done. But the motor-cycle suffered considerably, and leaving it alongside the road to await a breakdown lorry to repair it—or a shell to finish it—I proceeded on foot to Ramscapelle.
Within a hundred yards of the ruined town, from the shelter of a wrecked barn came the voice of a Belgian soldier peremptorily ordering me to take cover. Without asking questions, I did so by sprawling full length in a deep wheel-rut, but as I had previously had a mud-bath, a little more or less did not matter. I wriggled myself towards the cover of the barn, when a sharp volley of rifle-fire broke out on my left. Gaining shelter, I asked the soldier the reason of the fusillade.
"Uhlan outposts, monsieur," replied the man laconically.
Keeping under cover, I crawled towards the back of the barn, and ensconced behind some bales of straw, on a small bridge, I filmed this Belgian outpost driving off the Uhlans, and peeping through one of the rifle slots, I could see them showing a clean pair of heels, but not without losing one of their number. He was brought into our lines later, and I was lucky enough to secure the pennon from his lance as a souvenir.
I made my way by various means into the town. The place was absolutely devoid of life. It was highly dangerous to move about in the open. To be seen by the German airmen was the signal for being shelled for about three hours.
Whilst filming some of the ruins, I was startled by a sharp word of command. Turning round, I saw a Belgian soldier, with his rifle pointing at me. He ordered me to advance. I produced my permit, and giving the password, I quite satisfied him. Bidding me come inside he indicated a seat, and asked me to have some soup. And didn't it smell appetising! A broken door served as a table; various oddments, as chairs and the soup-copper, stood in the centre of the table. This proved one of the most enjoyable meals of the campaign.
The soldier told me they had to be very careful to guard against spies. They had caught one only that morning, "but he will spy no more, monsieur," he said, with a significant look.
I rose, and said I must leave them, as I wanted to take advantage of the daylight. I asked my friend if he could give me any information as to the whereabouts of anything interesting to film, as I wanted to take back scenes to show the people of England the ravages caused in Belgium by the Huns, and the brave Belgians in action. He was full of regrets that he was not able to accompany me, but being on duty he dare not move.
With a hearty shake of the hand and best wishes we parted, and, keeping under cover of the ruined buildings as much as possible, I made my way through Ramscapelle. Hardened as I was by now to sights of devastation, I could not help a lump rising in my throat when I came upon children's toys, babies' cots, and suchlike things, peeping out from among the ruins caused by the German guns.
These scenes caused me to wander on in deep thought, quite oblivious to my immediate surroundings. This momentary lapse nearly proved disastrous. By some means I had passed the sentries, and wandered practically on top of a Belgian concealed heavy gun battery. I was quickly brought to my senses by being dragged into a gun trench, absolutely invisible both from the front and above.
Compelled to go on hands and knees into the dug-out, I was confronted by a rather irate Belgian officer, who demanded why I was there walking about and not taking cover. Did I know that I had drawn the enemy's fire, which was very nearly an unpardonable offence?
Quickly realising the seriousness of my position, I thought the best thing to do was to tell him my mission, and so I explained to the officer that I had unconsciously wandered there.
"There, monsieur," he said, "that is what you have done," and at that moment I heard two shells explode fifteen yards behind us. "We dare not reply, monsieur," he said, "because this is a secret battery. Mon Dieu!" he exclaimed, "I hope they cease firing, or they may destroy our defences." Fortunately, the Germans seeing no further sign of life, evidently thought it was a case of an isolated soldier, and so ceased their fire. Imagine my thankfulness.
I enquired if there was anyone there who could speak English. A messenger was sent out and returned with a Belgian, who before the war broke out was a teacher of languages in England. With his aid I gave the chief officer full explanation, and pledged my word of honour that neither names, districts, nor details of positions should ever be mentioned.
Wishing to film some scenes of big guns in action, I enquired whether he was going to fire. He was expecting orders any minute, so making myself as comfortable as possible in the dug-out, I waited. But nothing happened, and that night, and the one following, I slept there.
Early next morning (about 3 a.m.) I was awakened by the noise of a terrific cannonading. Together with the officer I crawled out on to the top of our embankment and viewed the scene. The Germans had started a night attack, the Belgian guns had caught them in the act and were shelling them for all they were worth.
As soon as it was daylight I strapped my camera on my back, and, lying flat in the mud, I edged away in the direction of the battery. Before leaving, the officer gave me a final warning about drawing the Germans' fire. Alternately crawling and working my way on hands and knees, and taking advantage of any little bit of cover, I drew nearer to the guns. While I was lying here, there crashed out a regular inferno of rifle-fire from the German trenches. The bullets sang overhead like a flight of hornets. This certainly was a warm corner. If I had filmed this scene, all that would have been shown was a dreary waste of mud-heaps, caused by the explosion of the shells, and the graves of fallen soldiers dotted all over the place. As far as the eye could see the country was absolutely devoid of any living thing.
Thousands of people in England, comfortably seated in the picture theatre, would have passed this scene by as quite uninteresting except for its memories. But if the sounds I heard, and the flying bullets that whizzed by me, could have been photographed, they might take a different view of it.
Death was everywhere. The air was thick with it. To have lifted my head would have meant the billet for a bullet. So there I had to lie soaked through to the skin, and before I had been there twenty minutes I was literally lying in water. The German fusillade seemed interminable. Suddenly with a roar the Belgian guns spoke. About fifty shells were fired, and gradually the rifle-fire ceased. With a sigh of relief I drew myself out of the hole which my body had made, and on my elbows and knees, like a baby crawling, I covered the intervening ground to the battery. Getting up, and bending nearly double, I ran under cover of the barricades.
The men were astounded to see me run in. I went in the direction of a group of officers, who looked at me in amazement. Saluting me, one of them came forward and asked who I wanted. Explaining my business, I told him I had permission from headquarters to film any scenes of interest. The officer then introduced me to his friends, who asked me how in the world I had crossed the district without getting hit. I described my movements, and they all agreed that I was exceedingly lucky.
Once more the guns started, so getting my camera ready I commenced filming them in action, one scene after another. I changed from the firing of one gun to the full battery in action. The men were working like mad. All the time they were baling water out of the gun trenches with buckets. In some cases after the gun had fired it sank back about eighteen inches in the mud, and had to be dug out and set again. These poor devils had been doing this for nearly four months, every man of them was a hero.
While taking these scenes, my compressed air cylinders ran out. Looking round for somewhere solid on which to put my machine and foot-pump, I found some bricks, and made a little foundation. Then I started to pump up. At every six strokes of the pump, it was necessary to pack under it more bricks, and still more, for the ground was a veritable morass. In the ordinary way my camera takes ten minutes to refill. On this occasion it took me forty-five minutes, and all the time guns were thundering out.
Making my way in a semi-circle, under cover of the communication trenches, to the most advanced outpost, I filmed a party of Belgian snipers hard at work, cheerfully sniping off any German unwise enough to show the smallest portion of his head. Several times while I was watching, I noticed one of the men mark upon his rifle with the stub of a pencil. I asked why he did it.
"That, monsieur," he replied, "is a mark for every Bosche I shoot. See," he said, holding the butt-end for me to look at, and I noticed twenty-eight crosses marked upon it. Snatching it up to his shoulder he fired again, and joyfully he added another cross.
By this time it was getting dark, and quite impossible to take any more scenes, so I returned to the battery, where the officer kindly invited me to stay the night. Getting some dry straw from a waterproof bag, we spread it out on the boards of the trench-hut, rolled our blankets round our shoulders, and lighted our cigarettes. Then they asked me about England. They told me that as long as Belgium existed they would never forget what England had done for her people. While talking our candle went out, and as we had no other we sat in the darkness, huddled together to keep warm. Heavy rain again came on, penetrating through the earth roof and soaking into my blanket.
I must have dozed off, for after a little while I awoke with a start and, looking towards the entrance, I noticed a blue-white glare of light. As my companions were getting out, I followed them, in time to see the Germans sending up star-shells, to guard against any attack on our part.
The following day I filmed several scenes connected with the Belgian artillery and outposts. I waited during the remainder of the day to catch, if possible, some scenes of German shells exploding, but again I was doomed to disappointment, for, with the exception of a few at a distance, I was never able to get the close ones in my field of view.
Having exhausted my stock of film, I decided to return to my base, but on bidding adieu to the Commandant he begged me to return under cover of darkness. That night I set out for Furnes, and after walking about an hour, I was lucky enough to get a lift in an ambulance waggon, which set me down in the market-place.
Entering the cafe by a side door, my Belgian friend seemed to me to be astounded at my appearance. He immediately rushed up to me, shook my hands and pummelled my back. His friends did the same. After I had got over my astonishment, I ventured to ask the reason for this jubilation.
"We thought you were dead," he cried; "we heard you had been shot by the Germans, and as you had not turned up for the last five days, we came to the conclusion that it was true. But, monsieur, we cannot tell you how pleased we are to see you again alive and well."
Seeing the condition I was in, they heated water for a bath, and assisted me in every way possible. When I was once more comfortable, I asked my friend, over a cup of coffee, to tell me the exact report, as it highly amused me.
"Well, monsieur," he said, "your motor cyclist came rushing in the other evening, saying that Monsieur Malins, the Englishman, had been shot while crossing ground between the two batteries. He told us that you had been seen attempting the crossing; that you suddenly threw up your arms, and pitched forward dead. And, monsieur, we were preparing to send your bag to London, with a letter explaining the sad news. The Colonel was going to write the letter."
"Well," I replied with a laugh, "I am worth a good many dead men yet. I remember crossing the ground you mention—but, anyway, the 'eye-witness' who saw my death was certainly 'seeing things.'"
AMONG THE SNOWS OF THE VOSGES
I Start for the Vosges—Am Arrested on the Swiss Frontier—And Released—But Arrested Again—And then Allowed to Go My Way—Filming in the Firing Zone—A Wonderful French Charge Over the Snow-clad Hills—I Take Big Risks—And Get a Magnificent Picture.
The man who wants to film a fight, unlike the man who wants to describe it, must be really on the spot. A comfortable corner in the Hotel des Quoi, at Boulogne, is no use to the camera man.
"Is it possible to film actual events with the French troops in the Vosges and Alsace?" I was asked when I got back after my last adventure.
"If the public wants those films," I replied, "the public must have them." And without any previous knowledge of the district, or its natural difficulties, apart from the normal military troubles to which by that time I was hardened, I set out for Paris, determined to plan my route according to what I learned there. And for the rest I knew it would be luck that would determine the result, because other camera men had attempted to cover the same district, men who knew everything there was to be known in the way of getting on the spot, and all had been turned back with trifling success.
For various reasons, among them the claims of picturesqueness, St. Die struck me as the best field, and to get there it is necessary to make a detour into Switzerland. From Geneva, where I arranged for transport of my films in case of urgent need, much as an Arctic explorer would leave supplies of food behind him on his way to the Pole, I arranged in certain places that if I was not heard from at certain dates and certain times, enquiries were to be made, diplomatically, for me.
From Basle I went to the Swiss frontier, and had a splendid view of the Alsace country, which was in German possession. German and Swiss guards stood on either side of the boundary, and they made such a picturesque scene that I filmed them, which was nearly disastrous. A gendarme pounced on me at once, took me to general headquarters and then back to Perrontruy, where I was escorted through the streets by an armed guard.
At the military barracks I was thoroughly examined by the chief of the staff, who drew my attention to a military notice, prohibiting any photographing of Swiss soldiery. He decided that my offence was so rank that it must go before another tribunal, and off I was marched to Delemont, where a sort of court-martial was held on me. My film, of course, was confiscated; that was the least I could expect, but they also extracted a promise in writing that I would not take any more photographs in Switzerland, and they gave me a few hours to leave the country, by way of Berne.
That didn't suit me at all. Berne was too far away from my intended destination, and, after a hurried study of the map, I decided to chance it, and go to Biel. I did. So did the man told off to watch me. And when I left the train at Biel he arrested me. I am afraid I sang "Rule Britannia" very loudly to those good gentlemen before whom he took me, claiming the right of a British citizen to do as he liked, within reason, in a neutral country.
In the result they told me to get out of the country any way I liked, if only I would get out, and, as my opinion was much the same, we parted good friends.
I had lost a week, and many feet of good film, which showed me that the difficulties I should have to face in my chosen field of operations were by far the greatest I had up to then encountered in any of my trips to the firing line. I pushed on through Besancon on the way to Belfort.
Now Belfort, being a fortified town, was an obviously impossible place for me to get into, because I shouldn't get out again in a hurry. So I took a slow train, descended at a small station on the outskirts, prepared to make my way across country to Remiremont. This I achieved, very slowly, and with many difficulties, by means of peasants' carts and an occasional ride on horseback.
This brought me into the firing zone, and the region of snow. My danger was increased, and my mode of progress more difficult, because for the first time in my life I had to take to skis. So many people have told the story of their first attempts with these that I will content myself with saying that, after many tumbles, I became roughly accustomed to them, and that when sledge transport was not available, I was able to make my way on ski. I don't suppose anyone else has ever learned to ski under such queer conditions, with the roar of big guns rumbling round all the time, with my whole expedition trembling every moment in the balance.
The end of my journey to St. Die was the most dramatic part of the whole business. Tired out, I saw a cafe on the outskirts of the village, which I thought would serve me as a reconnoitring post, so I went in and ordered some coffee. I had not been there five minutes when some officers walked in, and drew themselves up sharply when they saw a stranger there, in a mud-stained costume that might have been a British army uniform. I decided to take the bold course. I rose, saluted them, and in my Anglo-French wished them good evening. They returned my greeting and sat down, conversing in an undertone, with an occasional side-flung glance at me. I saw that my attack would have to be pushed home, especially as I caught the word "espion," or my fevered imagination made me think I did.
I rose and crossed to their table, all smiles, and in my best French heartily agreed with them that one has to be very careful in war time about spies. In fact, I added, I had no doubt they took me for one.
This counter-attack—and possibly the very noticeable Britishness of my accent—rather confused them. Happily one of them spoke a little English, and, with that and my little French, satisfactory explanations were made.
I affected no secrecy about my object, and asked them frankly if it would be possible for pictures of their regiment to be taken. One of them promised to speak to the Commandant about it. I begged them not to trouble about it, however, as really all I wanted was a hint as to when and where an engagement was probable, and then I would manage to be there.
They shrugged their shoulders in a most grimly expressive way.
"If you do that it will be at your own risk," they said.
I gladly accepted the risk, and they then told me of one or two vantage points in the district from which I might manage to see something of the operations, taking my chance, of course, of anything happening near enough to be photographed, as they could not, and quite rightly would not, say anything as to the plans for the future.
It was not quite midday. I had at least four hours of daylight, and I determined not to lose them. It was obvious that my stay in St. Die would be very brief at the best. I hired a sledge and persuaded the driver to take me part of the way at least to the nearest point which the officers had mentioned.
But neither he nor his horse liked the way the shells were coming around, and at last even his avarice refused to be stimulated further at the expense of his courage. So I strapped on my skis, thankful for my earlier experience with them, and sped towards a wood which French soldiers were clearing of German snipers. I managed to get one or two good incidents there, though occasional uncertainty about my skis spoiled other fine scenes, and in my haste to move from one spot to another, I once went head over heels into a snowdrift many feet deep.
The ludicrous spectacle that I must have cut only occurred to me afterwards, and the utterly inappropriate nature of such an incident within sight of men who were battling in life and death grip was a reflection for calmer moments. I do not mind confessing that my sole thought during the whole of that afternoon was my camera and my films. The lust of battle was in me too. I had overcome great difficulties to obtain not merely kinema-pictures, but actual vivid records of the Great War, scenes that posterity might look upon as true representations of the struggle their forefathers waged. Military experts may argue as to whether this move or that was really made in a battle: the tales of soldiers returned from the wars become, in passing from mouth to mouth, fables of the most wondrous deeds of prowess. But the kinema film never alters. It does not argue. It depicts.
The terrific cannonade that was proceeding told me that beyond the crest of the hill an infantry attack was preparing. It was for me a question of finding both a vantage point and good cover, for shells had already whizzed screaming overhead and exploded not many yards behind me. There were the remains of a wall ahead, and I discarded my skis in order to crawl flat on my stomach to one of the larger remaining fragments, and when I got behind it I found a most convenient hole, which would allow me to work my camera without being exposed myself.
In the distance a few scouts, black against the snow, crawled crouching up the hill.
The attack was beginning.
The snow-covered hill-side became suddenly black with moving figures sweeping in irregular formation up towards the crest. Big gun and rifle fire mingled like strophe and antistrophe of an anthem of death. There was a certain massiveness about the noise that was awful. Yet there was none of the traditional air of battle about the engagement. There was no hand to hand fighting, for the opponents were several hundred yards apart. It was just now and then when one saw a little distant figure pitch forward and lie still on the snow that one realised there was real fighting going on, and that it was not manoeuvres.
The gallant French troops swept on up the hill, and I think I was the only man in all that district who noted the black trail of spent human life they left behind them.
I raised myself ever so little to glance over the top of my scrap of sheltering wall, and away across the valley, on the crest of the other hill, I could see specks which were the Germans. They appeared to be massing ready for a charge, but the scene was too far away for the camera to record it with any distinctness.
I therefore swept round again to the French lines, to meet the splendid sight of the French reserves dashing up over the hill behind me to the support. Every man seemed animated by the one idea—to take the hill. There was a swing, an air of irresistibility about them that was magnificent. But even in the midst of enthusiasm my trained sense told me that my position must have been visible to some of them, and that it was time for me to move.