With Our Soldiers in France
AT THE FRONT
In the midst of our work at a base camp, there came a sudden call to go "up the line" to the great battle front. Leaving the railway, we took a motor and pressed on over the solidly paved roads of France, which are now pulsing arteries of traffic, crowded with trains of motor transports pouring in their steady stream of supplies for the men and munitions for the guns. Now we turn out for the rumbling tank-like caterpillars, which slowly creep forward, drawing the big guns up to the front; then we pass a light field-battery. Next comes a battalion of Tommies swinging down the road, loaded like Christmas trees with their cumbrous kits, sweating, singing, whistling, as they march by with dogged cheer toward the trenches.
We have crossed the Somme with its memories of blood, on across northern France, and now we have passed the Belgian frontier and are in the historic fields of Flanders, where the creaking windmills are still grinding the peasants' corn, and the little church spires stand guard over the sleeping villages. A turn of the road brings us close within sound of the guns, which by night are heard far across France and along the coasts of England. Soon we enter villages, which lie within range of the enemy's "heavies," with their shattered window glass, torn roofs, ruined houses, tottering churches, and deep shell holes in the streets. Now we are in the danger zone and have to put on our shrapnel-proof steel helmets, and box respirators, to be ready for a possible attack of poison gas.
Another turn in the road, and the great battle field rises in grim reality before us. Far to the left stands the terrible Ypres salient, so long swept by the tide of war, and away to the right are the blasted woods of "Plug Street." Right before us rises the historic ridge of Messines, won at such cost during the summer. We are standing now at the foot of the low ridge where the British trenches were so long. held under the merciless fire of the enemy. From here to the top of the ridge the ground has been fought over, inch by inch and foot by foot. It is blasted and blackened, deep seamed by shot and shell. The trees stand on the bare ridge, stiff and stark, charred and leafless, like lonely sentinels of the dead. The ground, without a blade of grass left, is torn and tossed as by earthquake and volcano. Trenches have been blown into shapeless heaps of debris. Deep shell holes and mine craters mark the advance of death. Small villages are left without one stone or brick upon another, mere formless heaps, ground almost to dust. Deserted in wild confusion, half buried in the churned mud, on every hand are heaps of unused ammunition, bombs, gas shells, and infernal machines wrecked or hurriedly left in the enemy's flight.
Here on June 7th, at three o'clock in the morning, following the heavy bombardment which had been going on for days, the great attack began. In one division alone the heavy guns had fired 46,000 shells and the field artillery 180,000 more. The sound of the firing was heard across France, throughout Belgium and Holland, and over the Surrey downs of England, 130 miles away.
The Messines ridge is a long, low hill, only about 300 feet in height, but it commands the countryside for miles around, and had become the heavily fortified barrier to bar the Allied advance between Ypres and Armentiers. Since December, 1914 , the Germans had seamed the western slopes with trenches, a network of tunnels and of concrete redoubts. Behind the ridge lay the German batteries. For months this ridge had been mined and countermined by both sides, until the English had placed 500 tons of high explosive, that is approximately 1,000,000 pounds of amminol, beneath nineteen strategic points which were to be taken. At the foot of the ridge, along a front of nine miles, the British had concentrated their batteries, heavy guns, and vast supplies of ammunition. Day and night for a week before the battle began, the German positions had been shelled. At times the hurricane of fire died down, but it never ceased. By day and by night the German trenches were raided and explored. A large fleet of tanks was ready for the advance. Hundreds of aviators cleared the air and dropped bombs upon the enemy, assailing his ammunition dumps, aerodromes, and bases of supplies. The battle had to be fought simultaneously by all the forces on the land, in the air, and in the mines underground. All the horrors of the cyclone and the earthquake were harnessed for the conflict.
In the early morning, a short, deathly silence followed the week's terrific bombardment. At 2:50 a. m. the ground opened from beneath, as nineteen great mines were exploded one by one, and fountains of fire and earth like huge volcanoes leaped into the air. Hill 60, which had dealt such deadly damage to the British, was rent asunder and collapsed. It was probably the greatest explosion man ever heard on earth up to that time. Then the guns began anew to prepare for the attack and a carefully planned barrage dropped just in front of the English battalions as they advanced. As the men came forward, the barrage was lifted step by step and dropped just ahead of them, to pulverize the enemy and protect the British troops. By five o'clock Messines itself was captured by the fearless Australians. There was a most desperate struggle just here where we were standing at Wytschaete. All morning the battle raged along this line, but by midday it was in the hands of the dashing Irish division. Seven thousand prisoners were taken, while the British casualties, owing to the effective protection of their terrific barrage, were far less than the German and only one-fifth of what they had calculated as necessary to take this strategic position.
We make our way up to the crest of the Messines ridge where we can look back on the conquered territory and forward to the new lines. The great guns are in action all about us. They are again wearing down the enemy in preparation for the next advance. For the moment we feel only the grand and awful throb of vast titanic forces in terrible conflict. Day and night, in the air, on the earth, and beneath it, the war is slowly or swiftly being waged. The fire of battle smolders or leaps into flames or vast explosions, but never goes out.
Above us the very air is full of conflict. Hanging several hundred feet high are half a dozen huge fixed kite-balloons, with their occupants busily observing, sketching, mapping, or reporting the enemy's movements. Each of these is a target for the attacking aeroplanes and the occupants must be ready, at a moment's notice, to leap into a parachute when they are shot down. High above these balloons a score of British planes are darting about or dashing over the enemy's lines, acting as the eyes of the huge guns hidden away behind us. We are looking at one far up seemingly soaring in peace like a graceful bird poised in the air, when suddenly we see it surrounded by a dozen little white patches of smoke which show that it has come within range of the enemy's antiaircraft guns and the clouds of shrapnel are bursting about it. Most of them break wide of the mark and it sails on unscathed over the enemy's lines. Just above us is hanging a German taube, obviously watching us and the automobile which we had left below in the road, while the British huge anti-aircraft guns near by are feeling for it, shot after shot.
We duck into our little Y M C A dugout, just under the crest of the ridge. It is an old, deserted German pit for deadly gas shells, which even now are lying about uncomfortably near, in heaps still unexploded. Here the men going to and from the trenches, come in for hot tea or coffee and refreshments night and day. A significant sign forbids more than thirty men to congregate at once in this exposed spot, as sometimes these Y M C A dugouts are blown to atoms by a shell. The one down below in "Plug Street" has been blown to bits, and the man in the one just up the line has been under such fire for several days that he will have to abandon his dugout.
Just in front of us over the ridge is the first line of the present British front. There is no time to build trenches now or to dig themselves in. They just hold the broken line of unconnected shell holes, or swarm in the great craters which are held by rapid fire machine guns. The men go out by night to relieve those who have been holding the ground during the previous day. It is harder for the enemy's artillery to locate and destroy men scattered in these irregular holes and craters than if they were in a clear line of trenches. The British front faces down the slope toward the bristling German lines, dotted with hidden snipers and studded with sputtering machine guns. As the evening falls the batteries behind and all about us open fire. Flash after flash of spurting flame leaps out from the great guns. Boom upon boom, deep voiced and varied, follows from the many calibred guns in the darkness, till the night is lurid and the ground beneath us quivers with the earthquake of bombardment.
High above we hear the piercing shriek of the shells speeding to their fatal mark, and below the crash of the exploding shells of the enemy, which toss the earth in dark waves into the air in the black surf of war. Gun after gun now joins the great chorus, swelling and falling in a hideous symphony of discordant sounds. The whole horizon is lit up and aflame. The sky quivers and reflects the flash of the great guns, as with the constant vibration of heat lightning. Flares and Verey lights of greenish yellow and white turn the night into ghastly day, and like the lurid flames of an inferno light up the battle field, while the rifles crackle in the glare. Here a parachute-light like a great star hangs suspended almost motionless above us, lighting up the whole battlefield, and now a burning farmhouse or exploding ammunition dump illuminates the sky as from some vast subterranean furnace flung open upon the heavens. All the long sullen night the earth is rocked by slow intermittent rumbling, till with the silent dawn the birds wake and the war-giants sink for a few hours in troubled sleep. Then the new day breaks and the war-planes climb in the clear morning air to begin the battle afresh.
But let us turn from the hard-won ground of Messines to some of the men who fought over it, and survived. Here is a young American, Fred R-----, a graduate of Johns Hopkins, who fought in this battle with the Canadians, and who told us in his own words the story of those brief hours.
"Our opening barrage lasted about twenty minutes, but in that short time some two million shells were dropped on the enemy from about nine thousand of our guns. We could hear no distinct reports, just one steady roar of continuous explosion. The ground shook beneath us and fragments from the trenches and dugouts caved in about us from the shock. The air was oppressive and you felt difficulty in breathing, as if you were in a vacuum.
About three o'clock in the morning the order came to 'Stand to!' and shortly after the word rang out 'Up and over! Over the top boys, and the best of luck!' With one foot on the fire step we climbed out of the deep trench and with our rifles we started forward at a walk, behind our advancing barrage. I was tense now and all of a tremble. At a time like this every man is driven to his deepest thoughts. It is not fear exactly, but apprehension and dread of the unknown.
As we started forward, one young boy fell at my side. I heard him call, 'O, Mother!' as he fell. Another cried, 'O, God !' and sank down on the other side. Then my partner, a boy of eighteen, fell, both legs blown away above the knee. I bound up his wounds and carried him on my back to the nearest dressing station. 'Fred,' he said, 'would you mind kissing me just once? So long!' and with that he was gone. Then I got mad and began to see red. In the first trench I ran amuck and with rifle, bayonet, and bombs I suppose I accounted for twenty men in the hour that followed.
I've been gassed three times, twice with the old gas and once with the new, and I've had my share. Would I like to go home now? Say, I'd rather be a lamp-post at the foot of Michigan Boulevard in Chicago than the whole electric light system in all the rest of the universe!"
We turned from this young American to Sapper W-----, of Western Canada, who had just been through the same battle underground, and asked him to tell us his own story.
"Well, sir, long before the battle we were digging under Hill Number 60. A chance shell exploded on the surface above us and buried us all underground. Three of us were killed and the other two left alive. I had one man across my chest and another across my legs, one dead and the other wounded. We could not move hand or foot. We were buried in there for seven hours and they finally dug us out unconscious.
Then we started another sap to lay a mine. My pal was listening, with an iron rod driven in the ground and two copper wires leading from it to a head piece, such as a wireless operator uses, so that we could hear the approach of the enemy's sappers, who were countermining against us. My pal asked me to come and listen. But I had hardly got the headpiece on when I said, 'O Lord, they're on us!' and before I could get the thing off my ears the end of our sap fell through and the Germans were at us. There was only room to use revolvers and bayonets in that dark hole and the Germans seemed to get nervous and could not shoot straight in the panic. We lost only one of our men, but we killed seven and took the rest of the twenty prisoners. Then, before they found out what had happened, we crawled through to the German end of the tunnel and blew up their sap.
You say was I a Christian? Not me! I was wild and going to the devil. But one night I was wounded and lay in a deserted shell hole, shot through the thigh, and unable to move for fifteen hours. I was feeling for a cigarette in my pocket to ease the pain a bit, but all I could find was a little pocket testament which someone had given me, but which I bad never read. I managed to get it out and, thinking it might be my last hour, and that I might never be found, I started to read to try and forget my wound. I read the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew, and sir, that little book changed my life. I have read a chapter every day since then. I was picked up by the infantry and carried to a hospital. One night when I could not sleep for the pain, the nurse asked me if she could do anything for me, and I asked her to read the Bible to me. She said she had never read it in her life, and I said it was about time she began, if that was so. After she read it, she said it helped her too. Yes, I say my prayers on my knees in the tent now. Another boy has joined me this week; and the language in the tent is getting better. I'm off to the front tomorrow to take my turn again. But I'm no longer alone up there in the trenches. It's different now."
We have heard the story of one in the infantry and of a sapper underground. Here is the experience of a young Canadian student from McGill University in the artillery:
"The past weeks have been ten thousand hells. It is nothing but death, noise, blood, and mud. There are only two of our sergeants left now and we have to keep up our spirits. You often feel as if your brain would burst. I couldn't begin to describe the inferno human beings pass through every day. 'Happy' was shot to pieces with a shell a few nights ago while in bed, both arms and one leg off. I carried him for over four hours to the nearest dressing station and then stayed and watched him die. He never whimpered. Though in terrible agony, he died game, as he always was. That is about the hardest knock I have ever had in my life. He is only one of my many friends that have gone. Believe me, war is Hell."
Here is the account of a simple Australian boy in the front trench:
"Fritz had a machine gun to nearly every ten yards. I don't know what became of my friends Hugh and Bill. They were just beside me, but when I looked around both were gone. A shell landed just at the side of me, and I think Hugh and Bill were blown to pieces. I got my wound in the chest and the fragment came out through my back. I thought my last day had come. I dropped into a hole, and no sooner had I got in, than Mack got it through the face. He was able to go back, but I was simply helpless, as my legs refused to move. Anyhow, I pulled the shovel off my back and dug a little ridge in the side of the trench. No sooner had I done this than Fritz started to bombard. One shell fell in the hole in which I was, but exploded in the opposite direction. Then another came and landed just above my head, but it failed to go off. Had it gone off I never would have been here now. I had prayed hard to my God to deliver me from my enemies and when those things happened I felt my prayer was heard and that I was going to come through. I was there in that hole all day and the next night before anyone came near me. At last one of the 19th Battalion chaps came along and went for a stretcher for me."
Such are the varying impressions which a battle makes upon various men. It is no romance, but a grim reality of life and death. Far into the night we lie awake and ask ourselves, what is the meaning of it all?
At first on the field of battle one thrills at the sound of mighty and unearthly forces loosed, but in the din we suddenly realize that boys are dying all about us, and that these guns bear swift death and mangling to suffering men. Between us and the enemy are just a few deep shell holes and a thin red line of flesh and blood, as a human rampart, formed of men who hold their lives in their hands, ready to make the great sacrifice. Behind us are the hidden guns and the support trenches in the narrow strip of hard-won territory. Behind these are the moving columns on the long roads, the pulsing arteries of traffic, and the moving troop trains on the rails. Behind these in turn are the plying ships, the millions of toiling workers, and the suffering hearts of the nations in arms. Whole nations---yes, almost the whole of humanity---are organized for war and dragged into deadly conflict as by some devil's behest, instead of being organized for brotherhood and the building of a better world. Oh, not for this devil's work were men made. Surely mankind must come to its own in these birth pangs of a new era. Never, never again must a whole humanity of the free-born sons of God be dragged into the hell of war to sate the pride or pomp of kings, or to glut the ambition of scheming secret groups who have taught men that they are created as obedient slaves.
Far behind us, marking the slow advance up this ridge of death, are the sheltered cemeteries of white crosses that tell the price that has already been paid. There are five thousand crowded graves in yonder acre alone. Great is the price, awful in its solid weight of agony. This is no longer a war between two peoples, but between two principles; it is as much to free the German people as to protect ourselves. It is not for this narrow strip of hard-won soil, but for every foot of a world that from henceforth must be free. The men who are fighting on grounds of moral principle would rather pay any price than lie at ease under the false shadow of militarism, materialism, and grasping greed. These men are fighting, and many of them know that they are fighting, for a new world. Not only military oppression, but industrial oppression, must go. Not only German militarism, and Russian autocracy, and Turkish cruelty must be done away; but American materialism must be purged in the fiery furnace of this war. Its purposes will reach far beyond our ken, and though man's sin alone has caused the war, its issues are in the hands of God. The whole war has been a demonstration of the result of leaving God out of His world. The world with God left out leaves war; and life with God left out leaves hell.
There must be a turning to God in our own national life. We speak of the menace of German militarism, but what is militarism but armed and aggressive materialism, the deeper principle which lies behind it? And what is materialism but organized selfishness? Materialism and selfishness are the dangers of our own land as well as of Germany. And the war is a call to set our own house in order.
America can no longer live to herself alone. She is fighting for the freedom of humanity. Here on the very field of battle, at the throbbing heart of the conflict, we ask ourselves, What is the real issue of the war? What are they fighting for?
Away there in Austria a young crown prince, Francis Ferdinand, was murdered. It was the spark which set off the powder mine of Europe. But not for him are they fighting. Behind him stood the two contending forces of the growing nationalism of Serbia and the expanding commercialism of Austria. These two forces clashed in conflict, but not for them are they fighting. Behind these stood two greater powers, those of pan-Germanism and pan-Slavism, a growing Germany and a rising Russia, which like a vast glacier for a thousand years had sought the open sea. The ambitions of these two powers clashed in conflict at Constantinople and elsewhere. But not for them are they fighting.
On the western front there were two deeper principles in conflict, those of autocracy and democracy, the question whether one man and a sinister, hidden group of plotting militarists could drag the whole world into war and crush its liberties and its laws beneath the iron heel of despotism, or whether man as man should stand erect in his God-given right of freedom and work out his own destiny in friendly brotherhood.
But behind even the great conflict between autocracy and democracy lay a yet deeper issue. In the last analysis the final question in human life is between a material and a spiritual interpretation of the universe, whether might makes right and the strong are to rule, or whether right makes might and the moral order is supreme. There is a material and a spiritual side of life. On this side is the brute struggle for life; on that, the struggle for the life of others; on the one hand, the fight for the survival of the fittest, and on the other, the fight to make men fit to survive. On the left hand is selfishness and on the right service; on the one side are the red battlefields of the enemy, and on the other is a cross red in sacrifice of a life laid down in the serving and saving of men. There is a final issue in the world between passion and principle, between wrong and right, between darkness and light, between mammon and God, between self and Christ.
This ultimate issue must be faced by individuals and by nations. It is the challenge which confronts men in this war. Seventy years ago a crushed Europe faced the issue in the prophetic words of Mazzini, written in the hour of darkness and defeat:
"Our victory is certain; I declare it with the profoundest conviction, here in exile, and precisely when monarchical reaction appears most insolently secure. What matters the triumph of an hour? What matters it that by concentrating all your means of action, availing yourselves of every artifice, turning to your account those prejudices and jealousies of race which yet for a while endure, and spreading distrust, egotism, and corruption, you have repulsed our forces and restored the former order of things? Can you restore men's faith in it, or think you can long maintain it by brute force alone, now that all faith in it is extinct? Threatened and undermined on every side, can you hold all Europe forever in a stage of siege?"(1)
Pasteur sees the same issue looming even in his day and states it in burning words at the close of his life:
"Two contrary laws seem to be wrestling with each other nowadays, the one a law of blood and of death, ever seeking new means of destruction and forcing nations to be constantly ready for the battlefield; the other a law of peace, work, and health, ever evolving new means of delivering man from the scourges which beset him. The first seeks violent conquests, the other the relief of humanity. The latter places one human life above any victory, while the former would sacrifice hundreds and thousands of lives to the ambition of one. Which of these two laws will ultimately prevail God only knows. We will have tried, by obeying the laws of humanity, to extend the frontiers of Life."(2)
Lincoln faced the same issue in the midst of the war weariness of our own great conflict with words which come back to the nation now with a prophetic call:
"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation , under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."
1. Life and Writings of Mazzini, vol. v, pp. 269-271. Back to text.
2. Life of Pasteur, p. 271. Back to text.
WITH GENERAL PERSHING'S FORCE IN FRANCE
We are in the midst of an American army encampment in a French village. For miles away over the rolling country the golden harvests of France are ripening in the sun, broken by patches of green field, forest, and stream. The reapers are gathering in the grain. Only old men, women, and children are left to do the work, for the sons of France are away at the battle front. The countryside is more beautiful than the finest parts of New York or Pennsylvania. In almost every valley sleeps a little French hamlet, with its red tiled roofs and its neat stone cottages, clustered about the village church tower. It is a picture of calm and peace and plenty under the summer sun. But the sound of distant guns on the neighboring drill grounds, a bugle call down the village street, the sight of the broad cowboy hats and the khaki uniforms of the American soldiers, arouse us to the realization of a world at war and the fact that our boys are here, fighting for the soil of France and the world's freedom.
We are in a typical French farming village of a thousand people, and here a thousand American soldiers are quartered. A sergeant and a score of men are in each shed or stable or barn loft. The Americans are stationed in a long string of villages down this railway line. Indeed it is hard to tell for the moment whether we are in France or in the States. Here are Uncle Sam's uniforms, brown army tents, and new wooden barracks. The roads are filled with American trucks, wagons, motors, and whizzing motorcycles, American mules, ammunition wagons, machine guns, provisions, and supplies, and American sentinels down every street.
These are the men of the First Division, scattered along behind the French lines, being drilled as rapidly as possible to take their place in the trenches for the relief of the hard-pressed French. The nucleus is made up of the men of the old army, who have seen service in Cuba, Porto Rico, the Philippines, Texas, or along the Mexican border. And with them are young boys of nineteen, twenty, or twenty-one, with clear faces, fresh from their homes, chiefly from the Middle West---from Illinois to Texas.
The first thing that strikes us as we look at these men is their superb kit and outfit. From the broad cowboy hat, the neat uniform close fitting at the waist, down to their American shoes; from the saddles, bits, and bridles to the nose bags of the horses; from the guns, motors, and trucks down to the last shoe lace, the equipment is incomparably the best and most expensive of all that we have seen at the front. The boys themselves are live, clean, strong, and intelligent fellows, probably the best raw material of any of the fighting forces in Europe. The officers tell us that the American troops are natural marksmen and there are no better riflemen in the war zone. The frequency of the sharpshooters' medals, among both the officers and the men, shows that many of them already excel in musketry.
The second impression that strikes us is the crudeness of the new men, and the lack of finish in their drill, as compared with the veteran troops of Britain and France. The progress they have made, however, in the past few weeks under their experienced American officers of the regular army has been truly remarkable.
The next impression we receive is the enormous moral danger to which these men are exposed in this far-away foreign land. During the whole war it is the Overseas Forces, the men farthest from home influences, who have no hope of leave or furlough, who are far removed from all good women and the steadying influence of their own reputations, that have fared the worst in the war. The Americans not only share this danger with the Colonials and other Overseas Forces, but they have an additional danger in their high pay. Here are enlisted men who tell us that they are paid from $35 to $90 a month, from the lowest private to the best paid sergeants. When you remember that the Russian private is allowed only one cent a day, that the Belgian soldier receives only four cents a day, the French private five cents, the German six cents, and the English soldier twenty-five cents a day, most of which has to go for supplementary food to make up for the scantiness of the rations supplied, you realize what it means for the American soldier to be paid from one to three dollars a day, in addition to clothing, expenses, and the best rations of any army in Europe.(1)
Some of these men tell us that they have just received from two to three months' back pay in cash. Here they are with several hundred francs in their hands, buried in a French village, with absolutely no attraction or amusement save drink and immorality. In this little village the only prosperous trade in evidence is that in wines and liquors. The only large wholesale house is the center of the liquor trade and the only freight piled up on the platform of the station consists of wines and champagnes, pouring in to meet the demand of the American soldiers. There are a score of drinking places in this little hamlet. Our boys are unaccustomed to the simple and moderate drinking of the French peasants, and they are plunged into these estaminets with their pockets full of money. Others under the influence of drink have torn up the money or tossed it recklessly away. Prices have doubled and trebled in the village in a few weeks, and the peasants have come to the conclusion that every American soldier must be a millionaire; as the boys have sometimes told them that the pile of notes, which represents several months' pay, is the amount they receive every month. Compare this with the $1.80 a month, in addition to a small allowance for his family, which the French private gets, and you will readily see how this false impression is formed.
Temptation and solicitation in Europe have been in almost exact proportion to the pay that the soldier receives. The harpies flock around the men who have the most money. As our American boys are the best paid, and perhaps the most generous and open-hearted and reckless of all the troops, they have proved an easy mark in Paris and the port cities. As soon as they were paid several months' back salary, some of them took "French leave," went on a spree, and did not come back until they were penniless. The officers, fully alive to the danger, are now doing their utmost to cope with the situation; they are seeking to reduce the cash payments to the men and are endeavoring to persuade them to send more of their money home. Court martial and strict punishment have been imposed for drunkenness, in the effort to grapple with this evil.
Will the friends of our American boys away in France try to realize just the situation that confronts them? Imagine a thousand healthy, happy, reckless, irrepressible American youths put down in a French village, without a single place of amusement but a drinking hall, and no social life save such as they can find with the French girls standing in the doorways and on the street corners. Think of all these men shut up, month after month, through the long winter, with nothing to do to occupy their evenings. Then you will begin to realize the seriousness of the situation which the Young Men's Christian Association is trying to meet.
Here on the village green stands a big tent, with the sign "The American YMCA," and the red triangle, which is already placed upon more than seven hundred British, French, and American Association centers in France. Inside the tent, as the evening falls, scores of boys are sitting at the tables, writing their letters home on note paper provided for them. Here are men playing checkers, dominoes, and other games. Other groups are standing around the folding billiard tables. A hundred men have taken out books from the circulating library, while others are scanning the home papers and the latest news from the front.
Our secretaries have been on the ground for a week, working daily from five o'clock in the morning until midnight. They have unpacked their goods and are doing a driving trade over the counter, to the value of some $200 a day. In certain cases goods are sold at a loss, as it is very hard indeed to get supplies under present war conditions. The steamer "Kansan" was torpedoed, and sank with the whole first shipment of supplies and equipment for the Y M C A huts in France.
Outside a baseball game is exciting rivalry between two companies; while near the door of the tent a ring is formed and the men are cheering pair after pair as they put on the boxing gloves and with good humor are learning to take some rather heavy slugging. Poor boys, they will have to stand much worse punishment than this before the winter is over. Just beside the present tent there is being rushed into position a big Y M CA hut which will accommodate temporarily a thousand men, before it is taken to pieces and shipped to some new center. The Association has ordered from Paris a number of permanent pine huts, 60 by 120 feet, which will accommodate 2,000 soldiers each, and keep them warm and well occupied during the long cold winter evenings that are to come. On the railway siding at the moment are nine temporary huts, packed in sections for immediate construction, and a score of permanent buildings have been ordered to be erected as fast as the locations for the camps are selected by the military authorities. Indeed, the aim is to have them on the ground and ready before the boys arrive and take the first plunge in the wrong direction.
What is the life that our boys are living here at the front? Let us go through a day with the battalion quartered in this village. At five o'clock in the morning the first bugle sounds. The boys are quickly on their feet, dressing, washing, getting ready for the day's drill. In half an hour they are tucking away a generous breakfast provided by Uncle Sam, of hot bacon, fried potatoes and coffee, good home made bread, and as much of it as a man can eat. They get meat twice a day, and we have found no soldiers in Europe who receive rations that compare with the food that our boys receive.
By 6:40 a. in. the men have reached the drill ground on the open fields above the village and are ready to begin the eight or nine hours of hard work and exercise that is before them. Half of each day is spent with the French troops, learning more quickly with an object lesson before them, and the remaining half day is spent in training by themselves. The French squad goes through the drill or movement; then the American battalion, after watching them, is put through the same practice. They are trained in bayonet work and charges, in musketry and machine gun practice, in the handling of grenades, and the throwing of bombs. There is evidence of speeding up and an apparent pressure to get them quickly into shape, in order to take their place in the trenches before the winter sets in. A few weeks at the front with the French troops will soon give them experience, and after a winter in the trenches, the men of these first divisions will doubtless form the nucleus for a large American army, and provide the drill masters quickly to train the men for the spring offensive.
On the day we were there, after a hard morning's drill, the Colonel assembled three battalions and put them through the first regimental formation and the first regimental review since landing in France. The men of the First, Second, and Third battalions marched by, and one could quickly contrast the disciplined movements of the veterans or old soldiers with the crude drill of the new recruits, some of whom could not keep step or smoothly execute the movements.
At the noon hour, after the men had taken their midday meal and had rested for a few minutes, the Colonel asked us if we would address the troops. Some two thousand men were marched in close formation around the large military wagon on which we were to stand. The mules were unhitched and the men seated themselves on the grass, while the band played several pieces. A great hunger of heart possesses any man with half a soul as he looks into the faces of these boys, beset by fierce temptations and facing a terrible winter in the trenches. At the beginning we reminded them of the words of Lord Kitchener to his troops before they left for France: "You are ordered abroad as a soldier. . . Remember that the honor of the Army depends upon your individual conduct. . . Your duty cannot be done unless your health is sound. So keep constantly on your guard against any excesses. In this new experience you may find temptations both in wine and women. You must entirely resist both temptations, . . treating all women with perfect courtesy."(2) Kitchener's words furnish a text for the two-fold danger which confronts these men. Here for an unhurried hour, with the generous backing of the officers, we plead with the men on military, medical, and moral grounds, for the sake of their own homes and families, for the sake of conscience and country, on the grounds of duty both to God and to man, to hold to the high ideals and the best traditions of the homeland. Here, with no church save the great dome of God's blue heaven above us, seated on the green grass, under the warm summer sun, we have the priceless privilege of trying to safeguard the life of these men in the grave danger of wartime.
We were encouraged alike by the splendid support of the officers and the warm-hearted and eager response of the men as they broke into prolonged applause. The General in command attended one meeting and pledged us his support for our whole program for the men. He had already cooperated with us most generously on the Canal Zone, in the Philippines, and in Mexico. Three colonels presided at three successive meetings, and gave the work their strong moral support. Three bands were furnished in two days. The official backing of the authorities placed the stamp of approval on the whole moral effort for the welfare of the men. In no other army in Europe that we have seen have the officers taken such a keen interest in the highest welfare of the troops, or offered such constant and efficient cooperation with every effort to surround the men with the best moral influences.
After the meeting, the regimental parade and the strenuous physical drill of the morning, the Colonel called for a short break, and the men gathered to learn some popular songs. Major Roosevelt assembled his battalion, and Archie Roosevelt enthusiastically led the men in singing Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and the modern soldier songs of the war.
After nine hours of hard drill, the men swung cheerfully down the hillside into the village street. Now they have lined up, and with ravenous appetites are waiting for the evening meal. We are almost as hungry as they, and are glad to share the meal with them. Here on the table are huge piles of good home-made bread. It is almost the first white bread we have seen after months of brown war bread in England and France. Here are heaping plates of good pork and beans, tinned salmon, plenty of fried potatoes, and piping hot coffee. This is followed by a delicious pudding, as good as the men would have had in their own homes. Well fed, well clothed, well equipped, sleeping under Uncle Sam's warm blankets, on comfortable "Gold Medal" cots, our boys are well cared for.
In another village, at the close of the day, the Colonel commanding two battalions of the infantry called the men together in the open square of the market place, and after a band concert invited us to address the troops on the moral issues of the war. The next day almost the same program was repeated, and at noon in an open field on a grassy hillside the Major of another battalion marched out his men for a similar lecture. Every commanding officer seemed eager to arrange for meetings, to summon the men, and to back up the messages given to them. Not only have General Pershing, General Sibert, and the Colonels commanding the various regiments, met us half way in every plan for the welfare of the troops; but they have taken the initiative in insisting that every provision should be made for the physical, mental, and moral occupation and safeguarding of the men.
Fig. 2. THE 'EAGLE HUT' IN LONDON
Probably more men are led astray in the war zone when they go on leave than at any other time, in reaction from the deadly monotony of camp life, or the inferno of the trenches. London and Paris are the chief centers of danger. In London, just before sailing for the States, we visited the finely equipped American "Eagle" Hut in the Strand. It would be difficult to devise a more homelike or attractive place for soldiers. In addition to sleeping accommodations for several hundred men, the lounge and recreation rooms, the big fireplaces and comfortable chairs suggested the equipment of an up-to-date club, in marked contrast to the surroundings of a cheerless soldiers' barracks.
In Paris, in addition to the permanent headquarters at 31 Avenue Montaigne, we are hoping to provide hotels and hostels and guides for supervised parties to see the chief points of interest, and to plan such healthy occupation for the soldiers that the evils of the city may be counteracted. Better still we are planning resorts in the French Alps, where summer and winter sports, athletics, mountain climbing, and physical and mental recreation will obviate altogether the necessity of leave to Paris for many of the soldiers of the United States and Canada. In the first resort we are arranging for special rates and moderate charges at the hotels and have the pledge of the civil authorities to keep the place wholesome and absolutely to prevent the incoming of camp followers. The Association is planning to take over the best hotel, which can be made into an attractive social center for the entire camp. A score of American and as many Canadian ladies will help to provide social recreation and amusement for the men, which will prove a greater attraction than the dangerous leave in Paris.
A glance at one or two typical meetings held in various camps will show how we are trying to help our boys face the pressing problems of a soldier's life.
We enter a large hut filled with a thousand soldiers. Here are many men who have been driven toward God and who are face to face with the great realities of life, death, and the future as never before in their lives, eager for any message which may help them. But here are several hundred others who have fallen victims to evil habits and who are determined you shall not force religion down their throats. How are we to capture the attention of this mass of men and hold them? Will they bolt or stand fire? The time has come to begin the meeting and we plunge in. "Come on, boys, let's have a sing-song; gather round the piano and let's sing some of the old camp songs." Out come the little camp song books, and we start in on a few favorite choruses. A dozen voices call for "John Brown's Body," "Tennessee," "Kentucky Home," "A Long, Long Trail," etc. Soon we have several hundred men seated around the piano and the chorus gathers in volume. Now we call for local talent. A boy with blue eyes and a clear tenor voice sings of home. A red-headed humorist climbs on the table; and at his impersonations, his acting, and comic songs, the crowd shouts with glee.
Our heart sinks within us as we look over this sea of faces and wonder how we are going to hold this crowd that this man seems to have in the hollow of his hand. Somehow these men must be gripped and held to the last. "Boys, what was the greatest battle of the war?" we ask. "Was it the brave stand of little Belgium at Liege? Was it the splendid retreat of the little British army from Mons? Was it the battle of the Marne, when the French and British struck their first offensive blow? Was it the great stand at Ypres, or the defense of Verdun, or the drive on the Somme? What is your hardest battle? Is it not within, in the fight with passion? Now is the time to challenge every sin that weakens a man or the nation. How about drink? Is it a friend or foe? How about gambling? How about impurity?" Here we mass our guns on the greatest danger of the war. In five minutes the room is quiet, in ten minutes we have the ear of every man in the hut, the last man has stopped talking, and now the battle is on. They are gripped on the moral question; how can we get them to the religious issue? These men have the root of religion in their souls, but they do not know it. They believe in strength, in purity, in generosity. We show that they are often falling before temptation, but the very things that they most admire are all found in their fulness in Jesus Christ.
Now we make use of a simple illustration. We hold up a gold coin hidden in our hand and offer it as a gift. "Who will take me at my word and ask for this gift?" At last a man rises in the back of the hall, there is a little scene, and then a burst of applause as he receives it and goes to his seat. "Now why didn't you come? Some of you didn't believe me, some were ashamed to come up before everybody and ask for it, some were just waiting; and so all lost your chance. Once again I offer a gift. Here is something more valuable than all the gold on earth---heaven to be had for the asking; the free gift of God is eternal life. Why don't you come? For the same three reasons. Some of you don't believe, some are afraid to show their colors, some are just waiting. You will soon start for the front to take your place in the trenches. Are you ready for life or death? What will you do with Jesus Christ?"
We have had them forty minutes now and many a man is listening as for his life. We hold up the pledge card of the war roll. "How many of you are willing to take your stand against drink, gambling, and impurity, to break away from sin, and to sign the war roll, which says: 'I pledge my allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour and King, by God's help to fight His battles and bring victory to His Kingdom'? Who will take his stand for Christ and sign tonight?" Here and there all over the house men begin to rise. A hundred come forward to get cards and sign them. Then every head is bowed and in the stillness we pray for these boys; for they are mere lads, with ruddy cheeks, fresh from the farm or the city.
Now the meeting breaks up and we move down into the crowd. Men come up and ask for private talks, some to confess their sins and others to request prayer. Here is a boy who is friendless and homeless and in need; the next man has just lost his wife, his home, and his money, but here in the war he has been driven to prayer and has found God. He has lost everything, but he tells us with a brave smile that he has gained all, and now wishes to prepare for the ministry to preach the Gospel. Next is a young atheist, an illegitimate child, a circus actor, who has now found God and wants to know how to relate his life to Christ. The next man is a jockey, who in the midst of his sins enlisted in order that he might die for others and try to atone for his past life.
Later, we were holding evangelistic meetings among the boys of another regiment. One Sunday evening we were in a big hut where the meeting was about to begin. Many of the men were writing to the old folks at home. Captain "Peg" of Canada, who was with us to lead the singing, stepped on the platform and announced a hymn. Immediately several hundred men flocked to the seats and began singing the Christian hymns they knew at home. Eyes lit up and faces were aglow as they sang "Nearer, My God, to Thee," "Lead, Kindly Light," and "Fight the Good Fight." Gradually the numbers increased until a thousand men were singing. Then we began the address. Here were open-hearted boys some of whom had gone down before the temptations of the port cities and who now have to face the dangers of a camp in France. We began on moral themes. Within half an hour it seemed as if the better .nature of every man was with us. The Christian ideals of home, of the Church, and of their own best selves surged up again, until we had seated and standing nearly twelve hundred men, many of whom were ready to make the fight for purity with the help of Jesus Christ. One can never forget that closing hymn as the men rose to sing "God Be With You Till We Meet Again." We saw tear-stained faces before us as nearly the whole company joined in the song "Tell Mother I'll Be There."
Here was one poor fellow who felt he could not sign the decision card. He sent up this little note: "I am the worst man in the tent---a man who robbed his old father of his life's savings. How can I hope to be any good again without any prospect of ever being able to repay this money?" But before he left he had accepted God's forgiveness, and the dawn of a new eternity breaks upon his happy face. There was another man, the worst character in the regiment. Finally, touched by the secretary's kindness, he had read his little pocket Testament in prison, had yielded his life to Christ, and was now witnessing among the soldiers in the camp. Another, broken down, came up to say he had wronged a girl at home, and to ask if there was any hope for him. The last man, Bob A----, serving at present with a British regiment, tells us he was a Christian in Cleveland, Ohio, before the war. He lay all last .night drunk in the fields, but, convicted of his profligate life, he repented and turned back again to God. There was another boy who stopped to tell us that ever since a previous meeting he had knelt in prayer every night before all the men.
At the close of the meeting another man stepped up and handed in a letter, saying: "Thank you for that message tonight, sir. I will be true to the little girl I left at home. Here is a letter I had just written to a bad woman. God helping me I will not go. I have signed the War Roll tonight and I am going to be true to it." Hundreds of men filed past and shook hands in gratitude.
We were facing an average of some five hundred men every night in the week and a thousand or more on Sunday. One humble private who had been a pilot out at sea, handed us a poem which he had just written, the last lines of which are typical of the verses many of the men are writing these days:
"And if I fall, Lord, take an erring mortal
Into those realms of peace and joy above;
And, by-and-by, at Thy fair mansion's portal,
Let me find there the little girl I love."
In all our meetings our aim has been to enable men to find themselves by coming into a personal an vital relation with God as Father, through Jesus Christ. Our purpose is to evangelize, but not to proselytize. We aim to make each man more loyal to his own church. During the three years of the war, we have never known of a man changing his church or being asked to do so. Our aim is not to change any man's ecclesiastical position, but to make him a truer and stronger man in the church where he is. The great outstanding issue in war time is not between creed and creed, between sect and sect, but between God and mammon, between right and wrong, purity and impurity. We have no contention concerning the questions that divide us; we are fighting for the great fundamentals upon which we are all united, for God and moral manhood.
1. According to the War Bulletin of the National Geographic Society, issued in Washington in September 1917. a first class American private drawing $36.60 a month receives more than a Russian colonel or a German or Austrian lieutenant. An American lieutenant receives more than a British lieutenant colonel, a French colonel, or a Russian general. Back to text.
2. See Appendix IV. Back to text.
A DAY IN THE "BULL RING"
Just before going into the trenches the British, French, and American troops take a final course for a few weeks in a training school, where the expert drill masters put them through a rigorous discipline, and the finishing touches are given to each regiment. At the moment of writing our American boys are going through such a course, "somewhere in France." The men commonly call this training school, or specially prepared final drill ground, the "Bull Ring." It is a thrilling spectacle to see many thousands of men across a vast plain going through the various maneuvers of actual warfare as it is practiced today at the front. Perhaps a brief description of such a drill ground may be of interest to those who are following the fortunes of our soldiers.
At six the bugle sounds and the whole camp is astir. Outside there is the clatter of feet as the men fall in after a hasty breakfast. The shrapnel-proof steel helmets are donned, the heavy seventy-pound kits and rifles are swung to the broad backs, the band strikes up "Pack Up Your Troubles," and our battalion is on the march for the "Bull Ring."
First comes the ceremonial parade. A whole brigade swings into line and must prove that it can move as one man, as a perfect machine, without flaw or friction. One master mind directs every motion, and at the word of command thousands of feet are moving in exact time, wheeling, marching, maneuvering with a precision that proves the long months of patient practice. This finish of discipline and perfection of unity have their part to play in the winning of the battle raging at this moment up the line.
Next the men must pass through the deadly gas chambers, to be ready to meet the attack of the enemy fully prepared. More fatal than the prussic acid which the Prussian has occasionally employed, is the deadly mixture of chlorine and phosgene, which has been most commonly used. In a gentle favoring wind it is put over invisible in the darkness, and if it catches the foe unprepared, can kill from ten to fifteen miles behind the lines. The mixture is squirted as a liquid from metal generators. It quickly forms a dense greenish yellow cloud of poison vapor, which floats away in the darkness. Its success must depend on the element of surprise, taking the enemy unprepared and choking him, awake or asleep, in the first few moments before the horns, gongs, and whistles send the alarm for miles behind the trenches.
Recently a new so-called "mustard gas" has been used by the enemy with deadly effect, owing to the fact that it is both invisible and odorless. It is sent over in exploding shells, and sinks in a heavy invisible vapor about the sleeping men, creeping into their dugouts and trenches or enveloping them around the guns or in the shell holes. The effects do not manifest themselves for several hours. With stinging pain the man's eyes begin to close, and for a time he may go almost blind. He is then taken violently sick. The surface of the lungs and the entire body, especially where it is moist with perspiration, is burned. The skin may blister and come off. Many cases have proved fatal and many more suffer cruelly for weeks in hospital. With the men we attended a lecture on the nature of the various gases used by the enemy and the proper methods of meeting them. The lecture throughout was unconsciously couched almost in theological language. The instructor first disposed of what he called superstitious "heresies" concerning the gas, in order to prevent the men from having panic and "getting the wind up." There is a foolish rumor which says, "One breath and you are ruptured for life, or you fall dead the next morning," etc., etc., but he warns the men of its deadly nature and tells them they are to be saved from its fatal effects by knowing the truth.
The instructor explains that if they take four deep breaths it will prove fatal: "One breath and you catch the first spasm, two and you are mad, three and you are unconscious, four and you are dead. If you keep your presence of mind and hold your breath you will have six seconds to get on your gas helmet or respirator." The attack, remember, is a surprise in the dark; brain-splitting gas shells are dropping on all sides, and it is hard to keep cool and hold one's breath in the moment of sudden surprise and panic. We are told that there are fifteen mistakes which are easily possible in getting on this complicated helmet, or if there is one big blunder in the sudden surprise the man is done for.
Before going through the death chamber, helmets are inspected, to see that they are sound and unpunctured, and the men are drilled in the open to practice putting them on quickly. Suddenly the warning whistle of an imaginary gas attack sounds. One backward fling of the head and the steel helmet falls off, for there is no time to lift it off. A dive into the bag carried on the chest and the respirator is grasped and with one skilful swoop it is drawn over the face. Your nose is pinched shut by a clamp, your teeth grip the rubber mouthpiece, and, like a diver, you must now get your one safe stream of pure air through the respirator. You draw in the air from a tube which rises from a tin of chemical on your chest. Then you can breathe in the dense, deadly, greenish chlorine vapor, for as it passes through the respirator filled with chemicals, it is absorbed, neutralized, oxidized, and purified into a stream of pure air. All about you may be choking fumes of death which would kill you in four seconds, yet you will be completely immune, breathing a purified atmosphere.
The soldiers are now marched up to this chamber of horrors to walk through the poison gas. Many have "the wind up" (i. e., they are afraid inside, but are ashamed to show it). Reliance on the guide, the expert who has been through it all, and the sense of companionship, the stronger ones unconsciously strengthening the weak, have a steadying effect upon all the men. The soldiers have had four hours' drill to prepare them, but the "padre" and I, who are now permitted to go through, have had but four minutes. I am trying to remember a number of things all at once. Above all I must keep cool and assure myself that there is no danger if only I trust and obey what the expert has said. I fling on the helmet and we start into the death chamber, but suddenly a string is loose---will the respirator work? There seems to be something the matter with my nosepiece which should be clamped shut. I would like to ask the instructor just one question to make sure, but I can no more talk than a diver beneath the sea. It is too late, we are moving, I can only hope and trust the helmet will hold. We have left the sunlight and are in a long dark covered chamber, like a trench, groping forward, and looking at a distant point of light through the dim goggles. We are alone in these deadly fumes, the instructor is not here, there is a tense silence, and all about us is the poison of death. Oh, what was that fourth point that I was to remember? Why has the guide turned back? I thought we were to go out at the further end, where last week the poor fellow fell who lifted his helmet a moment too soon after he got out and caught one whiff which sent him to the hospital, but instead we seem to be turning around and going back. But there is no time for explanations or questions now; we just plod on through the darkness and soon we are out in the sunlight again---safe!---in God's pure air. Oh, why did man ever want to pollute it and poison his brother with these deadly fumes of hell!
As a special favor, the instructor allows us, without a mask, to take one swift look into the fumes as we hold our breath. That yellow green chlorine will corrode the lungs and fill them with pus and blood. The phosgene is much more deadly and will strike the man down with sudden failure of the heart.
We were also sent through a chamber of the invisible "tear gas," without a mask. The object of this is to take away the fear of the gas from the men. This particular gas has no effect upon the lungs, but sends a stinging pain through the eyes, so that one weeps blindly for some minutes and could not possibly see to shoot or to defend himself.
We are now ready to return to another lecture with more understanding.
No wonder these tired boys under the heavy, hot steel helmets, which absorb the heat of the scorching sun, are listening with all their ears, yet one or two fall asleep for very weariness and may again be caught napping by the enemy's poison gas up the line. The instructor is in dead earnest, for the life of every man during the coming conflict may depend upon his message. His words are still in my ears, for they were strangely like a sermon:
"Men, I am going to tell you the truth about this deadly gas and you must believe it, for your life will depend upon it. It can kill and no doubt about it. But for every poison of the enemy there's an antidote and we have found it. Your helmet is perfect and you simply must believe in it, you must trust to it. We have made full provision for your safety. If you go under it will be your own fault from one of four causes---unbelief, disobedience, carelessness, or fear. If you carelessly go without your helmet it means death.
During an attack, after putting on the respirator, just stand and wait. There is nothing you can do for yourself except to keep your helmet on.
Your skill, your strength are nothing. Now if you are caught in an attack unawares remember if you're still alive at all, there's hope. Don't lose courage. If your confidence goes, you lose ninety per cent of your defense, for the sole hope of the enemy in gas is surprise and panic. If you are gassed, don't move. Keep still, keep warm, don't worry, and wait. To move or try to save yourself will be fatal.
"The enemy will put over three or four waves with a break between. The gas may come for some hours. To remove your helmet before the attack is over will be fatal. Within a quarter of an hour after the gas has ceased, the charge of the enemy will come and you must never let him get past your barbed wired entanglements. After exposure to gas, all food, water, and wells are poisonous. The heavy gas must be expelled from the trenches by fans before the charge comes. Only remember, you must believe what I say, keep your helmet on in time of danger and you are perfectly safe."
There is a vast difference between the warning and the preparatory exposure to the gas by your guide and the deadly surprise of the enemy. The former is a trial to prepare you, the latter is an effort to destroy you. The whole experience was so obviously parallel to the deadly moral dangers which surround the soldier in war time that it needs no comment. The one and only safety in the time of temptation is to put on the whole armor of God, especially the "helmet of salvation," then to trust and obey and stand fast.
The writer has just come from a ward in the hospital filled with patients suffering from the new gas which the enemy has lately put over. It is, as we have said, invisible and odorless, so the men receive no warning, and consequently do not put on their masks. They do not know that they are being gassed until hours afterwards, when they find they are burned from head to foot. Here are twenty men lying in this tent, suffering from this new torture. This first boy, with a wan smile that goes right to your heart, can only whisper from his burnt-out lungs and cannot tell us his story. The next man was taken with vomiting five hours after the gas shells exploded. Seven of his fourteen companions sleeping in the dugout were killed outright, the others were gassed. He does not know where they are. He lay unconscious for several days, and now his eyes and skin are burned as though he had passed through a fire. The next boy is badly burned in his eyes and chest. Half the men of his battery were killed by gas while asleep at night. On the next cot is a boy who has been suffering for seventeen days; the burns on his body have been improving, his lungs also are better, but he is still blind and fears he may lose his sight. He asks me to write a letter for him to his mother. "Only," he says, "don't tell her about my eyes." Together we make up a cheerful letter, and the boy rests back on his cot to pray for his returning eyesight. The next two beds are empty. Both the men died in the night, falling an easy prey to pneumonia in their weakened condition. The next boy is from the infantry. Out of his squad nine were killed by the explosion of the shell, eight wounded, and the rest badly burned. The neck, chest, arms, and legs of this boy are burned and blistered. The deadly gas fumes have burned right through his clothing. Such is the effect of this new and latest triumph of modern science, which will shatter the hopes and happiness of thousands of homes.
After passing through the gas chambers, we visited the bombing section of the training school. Here each man has to throw one or more live bombs and receive his final coaching. The bomb is about the size of a lemon, and is made to break into small fragments. It contains enough of the high explosive to kill a whole group of men. The boy advances and grasps the bomb; he draws out the pin and holds down the lever. Once this is released, it explodes in just five seconds. The man heaves his bomb over a parapet at a dummy dressed in German uniform. The whistle blows and we all duck. There is a terrific explosion like a small cannon and you hear the pieces whizzing through the air. Every man is holding in his hand and wielding a terrible power. Wrongly used, it is death to himself and his comrades. The other day a boy's hand was moist with perspiration and the bomb slipped, killing the group. Another prematurely exploded as it was being thrown, carrying away the man's own hand and killing the instructor. So it is a dangerous business. During the morning there were only four "duds," or bombs that would not go off.
After the bombing section, we pass with the men to the trenches. Bayonets are drawn and rifles loaded. After firing several rounds, comes the command, "Advance." At a bound they are "over the top" and off, heads down; they run very slowly and keep together. A breathless man who outruns his comrades is useless and is soon killed by the enemy. The drill sergeant shouts to the men "Keep together, keep together, men, one man can't take a trench," and my friend the "padre" notes his words to tell to his congregation when he goes home, where the minister can't do all the work. When they are near the enemy's trench, the final word "Charge" is shouted, the whole line leaps forward with a wild yell, and the bayonets are driven into the stuffed sacks which are suspended as dummies to serve in the place of men.
For miles across the great plain the "Bull Ring" is alive with men. Here in one section they are doing physical drill and learning to go over all kinds of obstacles---trenches, fences, barbed wire, shell holes, and ditches. There they are practicing musketry and advancing under cover. In one place the artillery is in full swing, and in another you hear the sputter of the machine guns. In one section they are taught to dig trenches and in another to take them.
Before a great advance where a system of trenches is to be taken, a "rehearsal" often takes place. From a height of thousands of feet above the lines the aircraft with powerful telescopic cameras photograph every foot of the battlefield covered by the enemy's lines. These photographs are developed and studied and diagrams drawn from them of the enemy's system of trenches. These diagrams are reproduced far behind the front in elaborately prepared earthwork and trenches which are an exact replica of the enemy's lines. The divisions which are to take part in the attack are sent back to rehearse their exact duties at just the point corresponding to that which they will have to take. Each officer knows every nook and crevice, each bay and angle of the trenches he will have to capture. When all is ready the men are placed in their exact positions and they execute in reality what they have rehearsed in theory behind the lines. The lesson of preparedness and organization is studied and mastered with infinite care.
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