One Young Man
Published in 1917 by
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.
The simple and true story of a clerk who
enlisted in 1914, who fought on the Western
Front for nearly two years, was severely
wounded at the Battle of the Somme, and
is now on his way back to his desk
Sir ERNEST HODDER-WILLIAMS, C.V.O.,
"THE LIFE OF SIR GEORGE WILLIAMS."
Printed for private circulation
Printed in Great Britain by
C. F. Roworth Ltd., 88 Fetter Lane, London, E.C.4
TO THE GREATLY BELOVED MEMORY
ONE YOUNG MAN
WHO FOUNDED THE Y.M.C.A.
SIR GEORGE WILLIAMS
I am glad that this very personal little book is to be re-published,
if only for private circulation, for it rings as true to-day as it did
It tells the story of one young man in the Great War, but, in fact, it
reveals no less the personality of the writer who knit the young man's
The young man continues—the writer has passed on.
My brother is revealed here, not as the famous publisher, but as a man
whose sympathy was so quick and passionate that he literally lived the
suffering and trials of others.
It is this living sympathy, given so freely, that lies like a wreath
of everlasting flowers on his memory now.
It is no longer a secret that the real name of the "Sydney Baxter" of
this story is Reginald Davis; and those of us who know him and have
watched every step of his progress, from his first small job of the
"pen and ledger" to the Secretaryship of a great Company, are
astonished at the understanding and accuracy of this portrayal of a
young man's inner self and outer deeds.
It is true that Sir Ernest Hodder-Williams did little more than
comment on the diary written by Davis himself. But how well he
explains it; how well he reads into its touching cheerfulness and its
splendid sorrow the eternal truth that only by suffering and obedience
can the purposes of God and man be fulfilled.
Davis has won his spurs. He bears the marks of his service in the
Great War with honour and with never a complaint. His old chief and
chronicler was proud of him then. He would be proud of him to-day.
INTRODUCES ONE YOUNG MAN
ONE YOUNG MAN JOINS THE ARMY
ONE YOUNG MAN IN CAMP
ONE YOUNG MAN ON ACTIVE SERVICE
ONE YOUNG MAN AT HILL 60
ONE YOUNG MAN RECEIVES A LETTER
ONE YOUNG MAN IN THE SALIENT
ONE YOUNG MAN'S SUNDAY
ONE YOUNG MAN ON TREK
ONE YOUNG MAN ANSWERS QUESTIONS
ONE YOUNG MAN'S LEAVE
ONE YOUNG MAN AGAIN IN THE TRENCHES
ONE YOUNG MAN GETS A "BLIGHTY"
Introduces One Young Man
INTRODUCES ONE YOUNG MAN
The boys in the office were, I fancy, a bit prejudiced against him
before he arrived. It wasn't his fault, for he was a stranger to them
all, but it got about that the dear old "chief" had decided to engage
a real good Sunday-school boy. Someone had heard him say, or, more
likely, thought it would be funny to imagine him saying, that the
advent of such a boy might "improve the general tone" of the place.
That, you'll admit, was pretty rough on Sydney Baxter—the boy in
question. Now Sydney Baxter is not his real name, but this I can vouch
is his true story. For the most part it is told exactly in his own
words. You'll admit its truth when you have read it, for there isn't a
line in it which will stretch your imagination a hair's breadth. It's
the plain unvarnished tale of an average young man who joined the
army because he considered it his duty—who fought for many months.
That's why I am trying to record it; for if I tell it truly I shall
have written the story of many thousands—I shall have written a page
of the nation's history.
And so I need not warn you at the beginning that this book does not
end with a V.C. and cheering throngs. It may possibly end with wedding
bells, but you will agree there's nothing out of the common about
that—and a good job too.
I think on the whole I will keep Sydney Baxter's real name to myself.
For one thing he is still in the army; for another he is expected back
at the same office when he is discharged from hospital. It's rather
beginning at the wrong end to mention the hospital at this stage, but,
as I've done so, I'd better explain that after going unscathed through
Ypres and Hill 60, and all the trench warfare that followed, Sydney
Baxter was wounded in nine places at the first battle of the Somme on
that ever-glorious and terrible first of July. He is, as I write,
waiting for a glass eye; he has a silver plate where part of his
frontal bone used to be; is minus one whole finger, and the best part
of a second. He is deep scarred from his eyelid to his hair. I can
tell you he looks as if he had been through it. Well, he has.
He was nicknamed "Gig-lamps" in the office. He wore large spectacles
and his face was unhealthily lacking in traces of the open air. He was
in demeanour a very typical son of religious parents—well brought up,
shielded, shepherded, a little spoiled, a little soft perhaps, and
maybe a trifle self-consciously righteous. A good boy, a home boy. No
need for me to pile on the adjectives—you know exactly the kind of
chap he was. One more thing, however, and very important—he had a
sense of humour and he was uniformly good tempered and willing. That
is why, in a short time, the prejudice of the office gave way to open
approval. "Young Baxter may be a 'pi' youth, but he's quick at his
job, and nothing's too much trouble for him," said his boss. And
against their previous judgment the boys liked him. He could see a
joke. He was a good sort.
Curiously enough it was the Y.M.C.A. that first introduced Sydney
Baxter to what, for want of a better term, we will call the sporting
side of life. There's a fine sporting side to every real Englishman's
life—don't let there be any mistake about that. "He is a sportsman"
is not, as a few excellent people seem to believe, a term of reproach.
It is one of the highest honours conferred on an officer by the men he
commands. And in the ranks "a good sport" is often another way of
spelling "a hero."
It was, as I say, at the Y.M.C.A. that this one young man was first
taken out of himself and his quiet home surroundings, first became
interested in the convivialities of life. In those days, to be quite
frank about it, a certain settled staidness of demeanour, a decided
aloofness from the outside world, marked many religious households. A
book of unexceptional moral tone, and probably containing what was
known as "definite teaching," was the main relaxation after working
hours—that, and an occasional meeting and some secretarial work for a
religious or charitable society. Companions, if any, were very
carefully chosen by the parents. Well, war has changed all that—it
has even chosen our very bed-fellows for us. And no questions to be
It is often assumed by those who know no better that such a home as
Sydney Baxter's produces either prigs or profligates. As a matter of
fact, one of the reasons of this book is to prove that out of such a
home may come, I believe often does come, the best type of
Englishman—a Christian sportsman, a man who fights all the better for
his country because he has been taught from childhood to fear God and
But it was well for Sydney Baxter that he prepared for the chances and
quick changes of his military life by learning how to make the best of
his hitherto hidden gift of companionship.
This is how it came about. He writes:
"One afternoon in early autumn a card was put into the hands
of every young man in our office, inviting us to a tea and
social evening at the Y.M.C.A. Headquarters. The chaps said
to me, 'Of course you are going, Baxter?' and I answered,
'Why not?' They, however, seemed to be of the opinion that
the tea was, more or less, a bait to a prayer-meeting or
something of that kind. However, several went, expecting,
and preparing themselves for, the worst. We were welcomed by
a group of gentlemen who seemed to be possessors of smiles
of permanency; they conducted us to a large room already
well filled with others like ourselves, whom we incorrectly
judged to be members, as they seemed to be quite at home. In
every corner of the room were lounge chairs and on the
tables games of all description. Here and there small groups
were being entertained by the members, and, judging by the
unrestrained merriment, they were proving themselves very
"We were told to make ourselves absolutely at home; and
although we entered with zest into all that was going on, I
don't think really that we quite lost the feeling that a
prayer-meeting was bound to follow. Much to our surprise no
one came up and spoke to us about our souls; indeed our
hosts led the way into all the fun that was going, and none
of them had the milk-and-bun expression of countenance that
we had conjured up in our mind's eye. You can see what our
conception of Y.M.C.A. members was. We imagined them a
narrow-minded set of some mild kind of religious fanatics."
I promised a veracious chronicle, and I am quoting Sydney Baxter word
for word. I am inclined to believe that here he is expressing his
companions' anxieties rather than his own.
"The tea gong sounded and our hosts led the way to another
large room, and upon the tables was a sumptuous spread.
Being young men we did full justice to it, and throughout
the whole of tea time this same atmosphere of sociability
"After tea we were escorted to the lecture room, and,
although it is too long ago to remember who the speakers
were, and what the subjects, I do know it was most
enjoyable. At the conclusion we were given a hearty welcome
to come and use the rooms every evening for reading,
writing, or social intercourse and games. The following
morning in the office we all agreed that we had had a most
enjoyable evening, and that we had badly misjudged the
Y.M.C.A. A few of us took advantage of the invitation and
went again, and received the same warm welcome and had
another enjoyable evening. Shortly afterwards three of us
joined the Association. Until this time I had no idea of the
magnitude of the Association's work; my idea was that little
existed outside of the Headquarters and the smaller branches
over the country. This was some eight years ago. Now every
one knows the Y.M.C.A. I soon got into the stream and found
I was in the midst of a large number of football, cricket,
swimming, and rowing enthusiasts. The teams that the
Association clubs put into the field and on the river were
very strong. The sports side of the Y.M.C.A. was indeed a
So it was that Sydney Baxter's evenings and week-ends were often spent
with his fellows in various Y.M.C.A. organisations. He was anxious to
get on, and the Association classes helped him, too, in his business
education. Ambitious of advancement in the office, he had noted that
his schooling was lacking in certain essentials if he was to be fit
when the opportunity arrived. He rose quickly in the business and was
soon doing responsible work. He was one of those fellows who get ready
for the time when their chance may come. It always does come to such
as Sydney Baxter.
The Association tackled the holiday problem for this young man too.
This is how he describes his first visit to one of the Y.M.C.A.
hotels. He calls them hotels himself, and I am not surprised, for such
they really are. A "home," though a beautiful word, does not, somehow,
in this connection convey the proper idea of these Y.M.C.A. holiday
resorts. "A home from home"—well you know!
"I went down entirely on my own. I was at that time a very
reserved chap, and I had misgivings as to the probability of
making chums. I shared my room with a young Frenchman, who
fortunately could speak English quite well, and thus we were
saved embarrassing silence and aloofness.
"Tea gong sounded, and as we made our way into the passage
we were literally carried along in the stream of young men,
newcomers in their lounge suits, the others mostly in
flannels. On we swept, down the stairs into the large
dining-hall. Sit where you please, act as if you had been
here all your life and treat everyone as an old pal, seemed
to be the order of the day, and in that atmosphere it was
impossible to feel anything but quite at home. Before tea
was over we new arrivals were infected with the same spirit
of joviality, and were ready for the first 'rag.'
"I was shown the house and grounds by an old boarder. In
addition to the lounge, writing and smoking-rooms, there was
a dark-room for developing, a fully rigged 'gym,' and
billiard-room; and so, in inclement weather, every amusement
was at hand. In the grounds were tennis courts and croquet
"Every week drives were arranged to the beauty-spots and
historical places round about, but I appreciated most the
facilities offered by a temporary membership of the boating
club for the absurdly small sum of 3s. 6d. per week. For
this one could have a skiff or, if a party, a large boat,
any day for any length of time, bathing costume and fishing
tackle thrown in. I took full advantage of this, and most
mornings and afternoons were spent on the water. We used to
pull over to the obsolete battleships that lay in the
stretch of water between us and the mainland. Here we would
tether up and turn the gangway into a diving platform. Happy
indeed were these days spent with companions who were in
every sense of the word sportsmen and gentlemen."
Sportsmen and gentlemen—a new designation, perhaps, to some who have
judged these Y.M.C.A. members by hearsay only. It's Sydney Baxter's
not mine. And he ought to know well what the words mean after two
years in a line regiment at the front.
One Young Man Joins the Army
ONE YOUNG MAN JOINS THE ARMY
Sydney Baxter was most decidedly getting on in business. And then the
war came. I do not want you to have the impression that, at this time,
he was one of those sturdy, strapping young fellows who gladly rushed
into the ranks for the very joy of fighting. There were thousands of
them, I know, a glorious breed, but Sydney Baxter was not of that
build. So that there may be no mistake let me give his own words. They
are frank enough to be convincing.
"When war fell upon Europe I was one of those foolish people
who imagined that the Kaiser and his army would be
completely crushed before Xmas, 1914. For the first two
months I never gave a thought to the possibility of my
becoming a soldier. I couldn't imagine myself with a rifle
and bayonet chasing Huns, or standing the rough-and-ready
life of the soldier, and the thought of blood was horrible.
I had worn glasses since I was a boy of twelve, and for
that reason, among others, I had not learnt the art of
self-defence where quickness of vision is half the battle.
From appearances and manners one would have ticketed me as a
Conscientious Objector. I thank God I had not that
conception of my duty to Him."
And so Sydney Baxter went on with his work. There was plenty to do.
Reservists had been called up. Opportunities of advancement were many.
Some must stay and "keep the home fires burning." You know all the
arguments, all the self-justification of those days. His chance had
undoubtedly arrived. He was badly needed in the office. You shall read
his own confession.
"It was well into October before I realised the Call to Arms
was a personal one, and that the Hun was not so easily to be
beaten. The treatment of the Belgians hit me very hard, and,
but for my home circumstances, I should have donned khaki
straight away. My position was just this. My father had died
some few months before, and left to my care my mother and my
sister. Their protection was my solemn charge—there was no
doubt about it in my mind. And yet, what was my duty? To
fight—or to stay and look after our little home? It is a
problem that thousands of us young men have had to wrestle
with, and for several days I wrestled with it alone. Mother
was purely neutral; she refused to influence me either way.
Mother-like she could not encourage my going, but she would
never lift a finger to deter me. Her answer was that it was
entirely a matter of what I conscientiously felt was my
foremost duty. I never went near a recruiting meeting, so
that I should not be carried away by enthusiasm to the
recruiting office. I must decide when my thoughts were cool
and collected. The second week in November brought the
climax. I knew my duty was to fight.
"So I enlisted in a London Territorial Regiment whose first
battalion was already in France and would require frequent
drafts. I did not hesitate about joining a fighting unit.
Other units are very necessary, but I wouldn't let another
man do my fighting for me. I had some difficulty about a
slightly weak heart caused by a severe illness a few years
before. However, with the words that 'the life would either
make or break me,' I was accepted for active service."
I am told that Sydney Baxter omits one thing here. Unlike so many in
those early days, when he announced to the chief that he had joined,
he asked no question about any possible allowance. He asked no advice,
he suggested no help. He just joined. All he said was, "I felt I had
to go, sir, and my mother says it will be all right. She says she will
be able to manage quite well." Let me pay my tribute to this one young
man's mother. There are so many like her that I pay it to thousands.
Not only did she refuse to put obstacles in the way, but she would
have no bargaining with patriotism. "She would manage quite well." It
meant more boarders in the little home, it meant the breaking up of
the old sweet privacy and quietude of the household, but—she would
manage quite well. God knows the heartache and the sorrow behind the
sacrifice she and the thousands like her have made—surely a sacrifice
very acceptable in His sight.
One Young Man in Camp
ONE YOUNG MAN IN CAMP
Within a fortnight this one young man was in camp at Crowborough. The
contrast to his previous life as a city clerk, where mud was unknown
and wet feet a rare occurrence, was marked indeed. The camp was
sodden, the mud ankle-deep, and, what with that and the cold November
weather, times were pretty stiff. He writes home:
"Our camp is about a foot deep in mud and slosh, and every
time you go out your boots are covered and you have to be
careful or you slip over.
"Our huts are like Church Missions. There are sixty-one
fellows in this one, and all along the sides are our
mattresses which we fold up. They are made of straw and are
really very comfortable. The only drawback is that in the
morning you find your toes sticking out at the other end of
the bed. I must tell you how these beds are made. There are
three planks about six feet in length, and these are placed
side by side on two trestles about ten inches high. They
give us three blankets, very thick and warm, and you can
roll them round yourself.
"Right down the centre of the room are long trestled tables
with forms to sit on, and this is where we feast. We sleep,
eat, drink, play games, write letters, and do everything in
"It's very funny to hear the bugle-calls. Everything is done
by bugles. At 6.30 in the morning there is the first call
and everyone gets up. If you don't—the sergeant comes along
and pulls you out. To wash we have to run down to the other
end of the camp and fill our buckets. There are only two
buckets for sixty chaps, so you can imagine the scramble.
For a bathroom we have a large field, and we nearly break
our backs bending down over the basins. For about one hour
before breakfast we do physical drill with our coats off.
And hard work it is. For breakfast we have streaky greasy
bacon. Funny—at home, I never ate bacon, I couldn't stick
it, but here I walk into it and enjoy it. The tea they give
us is not ideal, but so long as it is hot and wet it goes
down all right. For dinner it's stew—stew—stew, but it's
not bad. Of course, some day I get all gravy and no meat,
another day meat and no gravy. Tea is quite all right. We
have plenty of bread, butter, jam, and cheese. All food is
fetched in dixeys (large boilers), and tea, stew, and bacon
are all cooked in turn in these, so if the orderlies don't
wash them clean at dinner time we have greasy, stewy tea.
"I am getting a bit used to the marching, especially when
there is anyone singing. The favourites are 'John Peel,'
'Cock Robin,' 'Oh, who will o'er the downs so free?' 'John
Brown's Body,' 'Hearts of Oak,' and 'Annie Laurie.' We all
have little books of Camp Songs, and we learn them at night;
it makes all the difference to the marching. One of the
"Oh, Mother is the leader of society, and
You can see her name is in the papers every day.
She was presented at the court
For fighting Mrs. Short
Down our way.
"Not an exactly edifying song, but it goes with a swing. I
can hardly keep my eyes open as I write this."
On the whole and considering everything—a wide phrase covering many
things unspoken—Sydney Baxter enjoyed his camp life, but Christmas
was certainly a hardship. He writes:
Christmas Day, 1914.
"All day yesterday I was on fatigue work, and did not finish
until 7.30 to 8. We started the morning by building a hedge
with bushes gathered from the Heath, and then we unloaded
trucks of hay and straw and built them in a stack. I got
several stray pieces down my neck. After that we had to
unload a traction load of coal in one-cwt. sacks, and oh,
they were dirty and awkward too. We had sacks over our heads
like ordinary coalmen, and you ought to have seen our hands
and faces when we had finished. We could not get any tea, as
we were expecting three more trolleys. After about two hours
the trolleys came, and we unloaded some meat; it took three
of us to lift some of the pieces. Then after that bacon,
oats, tea, jam, and about 1,000 loaves of bread. We were
proper Jacks-of-all-trades and were thoroughly tired out.
"This seems a funny sort of Christmas Day, but it will be
all right after five o'clock. Of course I'd rather be in
London and see you all. Still, all the same I'm rather
enjoying myself this afternoon. I have a big box of chocs.
by the side of me, and they are gradually diminishing. And
now I feel in a better mood."
The Y.M., as it is now always called by the men at and from the front,
played a very important part, an invaluable part, in Sydney Baxter's
camp life. He writes:
"We were about twenty minutes' walk from the village, and at
first there was absolutely nothing there to go down for,
and we seemed doomed to a very uncomfortable winter.
However, the words of a well-known war song, 'Every cloud is
silver lined,' are very true. Our cloud was soon brightly
lined by the Y.M. people, who discovered the best way to do
it in no time. A hall was acquired in the village for the
sale of tea and eatables, and for facilitating writing and
reading for the troops in camp. It was staffed by ladies in
the locality and was a real Godsend to us all. Picture us
from 6.30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on and off parade, in a muddy camp,
without even a semblance of a canteen or writing-hut, always
within sound of the bugle with its ever-recurring call for
Orderly Sergeants, tired out and wet through and inwardly
chafing at the unaccustomed discipline. Our spirits were on
a par with Bairnsfather's 'Fed-up one.' At the last note of
'the Retreat' we were free. Without the Y.M. touch we should
have had to stay in our bleak huts, constantly reminded of
our surroundings and discomforts. But these Y.M. people had
provided a comfortable, well-lighted, and, above all, warm
room, with plenty of books and papers and any amount of grub
and unlimited tea to wash it down. Isn't it wonderful how
many sorrows the British army can drown in a cup of tea?
"Apparently there's no need to tell the Y.M. people to 'get
a move on,' for before two months had elapsed they
installed in the very centre of the camp a large canteen,
with a reading and writing room. It made a big difference to
us, as we had the advantage of procuring a midday cup of
tea, coffee, or cocoa, and such luxuries as biscuits and
chocolate, also an evening's enjoyment, without the weary
trudge to and from the village. As the vaccinations and
inoculations were in progress at that time, the warm room
was a blessing and eased the wearisome day which would have
had to be spent in camp. More and more huts were erected,
and more and more men occupied them; so a very large new
Y.M. hut was quickly built near the camps and was opened in
state, some fifty of us forming a Guard of Honour. It was a
building—its greatest attraction the billiard
tables. Night after night we waited our turn for a game. At
the long counter were a library and post office; the latter
was most useful, for a letter could be written and posted
without any delay whatever. Refreshments were, as usual,
obtained at any time. There was not the slightest fuss;
anyone could enter and do exactly as he wished. There is a
genuine Y.M. atmosphere which makes a fellow feel 'at home.'
It says, 'We are here because we feel we are "kind of
wanted" here for your individual comfort: this is your
show, and we are happy and anxious to do all we can for
you. Come at any time and bring all your chums.'"
Sydney Baxter's chief saw him once or twice during these camp days.
And he marvelled. The spectacles had gone. The lank, round-shouldered
figure had filled and straightened. Suddenly a man had been born. A
soldier, too. This fellow of the pen and ledger, this very type of the
British clerk who had never handled a rifle in his life and didn't
know the smell of powder from eau de Cologne, who had never
experienced anything of hardship or even discomfort; whose outlook in
life had hitherto never stretched beyond a higher seat at the office
desk, to whom the great passions of life were a sealed book—this
fellow passed his shooting and other tests in record time.
He was in France within sixteen weeks of joining the army.
Those were very dark days in England, but the sight of this one young
man cheered the chief. We were arrayed in battle against men who had
been trained through all the years of their manhood, the whole course
of whose lives had been shaped for this Day. And we had to meet them
with—clerks! It seemed hopeless and a mockery. But when he saw
Sydney Baxter the chief realised that often when the spirit is willing
the flesh becomes strong; that the British fighting breed was not
dead, though the black office coat had misled the German. How many
times have you and I said "he was the last man I should have thought
would have made a soldier." Well, Sydney Baxter was that last man. And
he made a first-class soldier. Let this country never forget it. He,
and the thousands like him, outnumbered and outgunned, fought the
Prussian Guard, the most finished product of the German military
machine, and halted them, held them, beat them. In equal fight they
thrashed them. Think of it in the light of history. The greatest and
most wonderfully equipped and trained army the world has ever known
beaten in fair fight by an army of clerks, schoolmasters,
stockbrokers, University men, street waifs, shopkeepers, labourers,
counter-jumpers, most of whom did not know one end of a rifle from the
other when war was declared. Sydney Baxter was one of that army. That
is why I am telling his story. It will make strange and very salutary
reading for Prussian arrogance—some day.
One Young Man on Active Service
ONE YOUNG MAN ON ACTIVE SERVICE
Sydney Baxter was sent with his unit to Rouen. He writes:
"We were tightly packed in a small tent at Rouen Camp. The
following morning and afternoon we were busily engaged in
being fitted out with extra equipment and ammunition, and so
did not have time to look around. We had great hopes,
however, of seeing the city in the evening, but we had to
'Stand by' and on no account leave camp. This was horrible.
The tents were too dark to play cards, we had no reading
matter or letters to answer, and once more seemed doomed to
an evening of deadly dreariness. However, we decided to
patrol the camp, my chum and I. As we walked off together we
little dreamed that exactly one month from that day he was
to be called upon to pay the supreme sacrifice of all. We
walked round that camp, feeling that in each other we had
our only link with home, with past associations. We did not
speak much. Each had his own thoughts, each was
subconsciously leaning on the other for support, for the
coming unknown experiences. It was a cold March evening, and
for want of anything to do, and in the hope of getting a
little warmth, we decided to go back to our tent and turn
in. I have tried to give an idea of how we were feeling; it
can be summed up as tired and cold—and a bit homesick.
"It was just then that we spotted a tent with the sign of
'The Red Triangle.' We had visions of hot tea. An oasis in
the desert could not have been more welcome. We entered the
large tent; it was very full, and a long line was patiently
awaiting the turn for purchasing. There was no shouting, no
pushing or elbowing to get up to the front and be served
first. The tent was really and truly a haven of peace—such
a welcome port of call. On the small tables were magazines
and 'Blighty' newspapers, paper and envelopes were given for
the asking, and a gramophone was grinding out the tunes we
all loved. We sat at one of the tables, so thankful for such
a change of scene, and for the warmth of the hot tea. The
same welcome, the same homely atmosphere, were here as in
the other Y.M. centres. One felt, one was made to feel,
that his was the right to enter and stay and enjoy himself
each in his own way, and that is why the Y.M. is so popular,
and why both the taciturn and the jocular find their way by
common consent to these Y.M.C.A. tents."
In a few days came the order to proceed to Ypres. He writes:
"We swung round into the station yard, and were allotted to
our compartments, fondly imagining we should be off in a few
minutes. We took off our equipment and other paraphernalia,
and settled down for our journey. A minute or so afterwards
the order was passed down that the would not start
before 7 o'clock, and that men might leave their
compartments but not the station. Here was a fine look-out.
It was only about 2 o'clock, and we had to look forward to
at least five hours of weary waiting, without anything hot
to drink and only bully and biscuits to eat. It was not a
pleasant prospect, you will agree, but apparently it was
nothing out of the usual, for the 'Association of the Red
Triangle' was ready and waiting for us, and had a large
canteen, run entirely by ladies, on the station. Here we
were able to provide for our journey, fill our water-bottles
with tea and our haversacks with ham, rolls, and fruit. This
was the best refreshment room I have been into, and it was
our last glimpse of English ladies for many months. These
ladies are doing a splendid and most self-sacrificing work,
for their hours are long and their duties heavy. I wonder if
it has ever occurred to them how much their presence meant
to us boys? For many they were the last seen of the
womanhood of our race."
I wonder too. Will any of those ladies read these lines? I hope
so—I'd like them to know what their presence meant to just one of the
boys they have been serving so well. They will have their reward. I
should like them to have just one word of a Tommy's thanks now. He
"In our little compartment of six two were killed within a
month and one wounded; the other three survived until the
first of July, when one was killed, one was taken a prisoner
of war, and I was wounded and rendered unfit for further
service. When at last our train started, amid rousing cheers
for the ladies and a fluttering of white handkerchiefs from
the little group on the station platform, we seemed to leave
the last of civilisation behind.
"Before midnight we were under shell-fire in the Infantry
Barracks of Ypres."
He writes to his mother:
"My word we were tired at the end of the journey. We are
stationed in the military barracks of the city, and have had
a chance of looking round the town. The buildings,
especially the cathedral, are very much damaged. The only
discomforts are the lack of food and the absence of money to
buy it. Both G. and I landed here without a penny, but
managed to borrow enough to buy a loaf. We know now what it
is to be hungry; we have ¼ lb. of bread a day only, and no
milk in the tea, so you can see that what you want you must
buy, and it's terribly expensive here, 6d. for a loaf,
etc. But we shall be paid in a day or so. The only things
which are really necessary, and which we cannot get here,
are candles and Oxo cubes. Although I don't want to be a
burden to you, I should like you to send 1 lb. of candles
and some cubes. The candles are used for boiling water or
tea, etc., in the trenches, and it is the only way we can
get anything hot. Of course anything in the way of food is
acceptable, but I can understand that you have enough to do
without extra trouble and expense. Anyway, should any kind
friends wish to send, please let them do so.
"We are two miles from trenches, and shall be going in on
Sunday. A few shells are knocking round, but we take no
notice and sleep well. Well, don't worry. We are in
comfortable billets and with very decent fellows, and they
have shared their bread, etc., with us."
I shall not attempt to picture Sydney Baxter's daily life in the
terrible salient of Ypres in any detail, but that I may prove my words
that he was a typical soldier let me quote just one letter received at
"My own Dear Mother,
"I have not been able to write before as we have just come
out of the trenches after being there since Monday. Thanks
very much for sweets and letters. They are very acceptable
indeed. Thanks for P.O. We have now been paid, and so shall
be all right. Chocolates, , etc., are fine.
Neither George nor I felt anything peculiar when coming
under fire as I expected we should. We were all right in the
trenches, which are very good indeed. They are a bit
different to what I expected, but of course they vary. It
seems to me safer to be in the trenches than out; however,
it is bad luck if you are hit. No one was killed in our
company all the time we were in, and only three wounded, so
you will see there is not much to worry about; and with some
pay and parcels which I have received, and about twelve
letters, I feel much better."
Sydney Baxter often mentions his chum in this record and I think the
following extract from George's letter about this time may well be
inserted here. The two boys were inseparable until the last and
absolute bodily separation between the living and the dead.
"Everything is going on all right with us. We have finished
our first taste of trench life, and on the whole it was
rather enjoyable. We went in last Monday and came out late
on Saturday. The first two or three days were wet, so our
opportunities for sleep were few, especially as at our part
of the trench there were no dug-outs and our sleep had to be
obtained in the open air. In fact, until the fourth day I
only had one hour's sleep, and on the last day I managed
about five hours. The chief trouble was trying to boil
water, but we managed by cutting a candle into small pieces
and putting this, with a piece of rag, into a tin, using the
rag as a wick.
"Our five days and nights were on the whole fairly quiet; in
fact, during the day hardly any shots were exchanged, most
of the firing being done at night. During the day it was
impossible to look over the trench, as we were only fifty
yards from the Germans, so we considered it advisable not to
exhibit too much curiosity in case our health suffered
thereby. At night time the Germans use star-shells to
illuminate the proceedings, and they always seem nervy and
think we are going to attack their trench. If we start
firing a little more than usual they think it is the signal
for an attack, and they blaze away like fury. We had a good
example of this on our last night in the trenches.
"Someone started firing, someone else took it up and in no
time the noise was like the final end-up of fireworks at the
White City. From that it got much worse, and I suppose they
really thought we were going for them, so their artillery
sent us a few shells; but they did no damage. Eventually
they seemed satisfied that we were quite safe, so they wound
up the proceedings.
"There is one lot here who, whenever they go into the
trenches, shove their hats on their rifles, wave them about,
and then shout across to the Germans to come out in the open
and have a proper fight. Whenever this happens the Germans
lie low and hardly fire a shot.
"One advantage of being so close to the Germans is that they
cannot shell us without damaging their own trench as much as
ours, so that, although we heard plenty going along
overhead, we had none very near us."
One Young Man at Hill 60
ONE YOUNG MAN AT HILL 60
Many have described in vivid, and none in too vivid, language the
fighting in the spring of 1915. This one young man went through it
all, through the thickest of it all. He can tell a tale which, if
written up and around, would be as thrilling as any yet recorded of
those heroic days. But I prefer, and I know he, a soldier, would
prefer, to chronicle the events of his day after day just as they
occurred, without colour, and without comment.
I print, then, Sydney Baxter's account of the fighting as he wrote it.
I promised that this should be an altogether true chronicle, and it is
well that some who live in the shelter of other men's heroism should
know of the sacrifices by which they are saved. And then, too, as I
read his pages, I heard a suggestion that we were all in danger of
"spoiling" the wounded who come back to us after enduring, for our
sakes, the pains he here describes.
"For three nights the bombardment had been tremendous.
"It was 7 o'clock on the Sunday morning when we first got
the alarm—'turn out and be ready to march off at once.' We
heard that the Hill—the famous Hill 60—had gone up and
that we had been successful in holding it, but the rumours
were that the fighting was terrific. We were soon marching
on the road past battered Vlamertinghe. Shells of heavy
calibre were falling on all sides, and we made for the
Convent by the Lille gate, by a circuitous route—round by
the Infantry Barracks. We dumped our packs in this Convent,
where there were still one or two of the nuns who had
decided to face the shelling rather than leave their old
"We were sorted up into parties. Our job was to carry barbed
wire and ammunition up to the Hill. I was first on the
barbed-wire party; there were about fifty of us and we
collected the 'knife-rests' just outside the Lille gate, and
proceeded up the railway cutting. Shells were falling fairly
fast, as indeed they always seemed to along this cut. At
last we got our knife-rests up by the Hill and dumped them
there. Fortunately we had very few casualties. We started to
go back, but, half-way, we were stopped at the Brigade
Headquarters, a badly damaged barn, and were told that we
had to make another journey with bombs. We were just getting
a few of these bombs out of the barn when the Boches landed
three shells right on top of it. Many of our men were laid
out, but we had to leave them and try to get as much
ammunition out as possible. The barn soon caught fire, and
this made the task a very dangerous one indeed. Every minute
we were expecting the whole lot of ammunition to go up, but
our officer had already taken a watch on it and gave the
alarm just a few seconds before the whole building went
clean up into the air.
"We then began to retrace our steps along the railway out to
the Hill. Each man carried two boxes of bombs. Just as we
reached the communication trench, leading on to the Hill
itself, the Boches sent over several of the tear-gas shells.
We stumbled about half-blind, rubbing our eyes. The whole
party realised that the boys holding the Hill needed the
bombs, so we groped our way along as best we could,
snuffling and coughing, our eyes blinking and streaming. We
stood at intervals and passed the bombs from one to the
other, and had nearly completed our job when the word came
down that no one was to leave the Hill, as a counter-attack
was taking place a few minutes before 6 o'clock. We had
then been at it for nearly ten hours. By this time the
bombardment from both sides was stupendous; every gun on
each side seemed concentrated on this one little stretch, on
this small mound.
"Six o'clock came and I heard a shrill whistle and knew that
our boys were just going over the top. Immediately there was
a deafening rattle of machine guns and rifle fire. And then
a stream of wounded poured down this communication trench.
The wounds were terrible, mostly bayonet. None were dressed;
there had been no time, they were just as they had been
received. Many a poor chap succumbed to his injuries as he
staggered along our trench. To keep the gangway clear we had
to lift these dead bodies out and put them on the top of the
parapets. It was ghastly, but you get accustomed to ghastly
things out here. You realise that fifty dead bodies are not
equal to one living. And these poor fellows, who only a few
minutes before had been alive and full of vigour, were now
just blocking the trench. And so we simply lifted the bodies
out and cast them over the top. By this time the trench was
absolutely full of wounded, and our little party was told to
act as stretcher-bearers, and to get the stretcher cases
down. We were only too glad to do something to help. The
first man that my chum and I carried died half-way down the
cutting. We felt sorry for him, but could do nothing. He was
dead. So we lifted his body on to the side of the track and
returned for the living. This work lasted some considerable
time, and when more stretcher-bearers came up, most of the
cases had been carried down, so we returned to the Convent
exhausted, nerve-shaken, and very glad of the opportunity of
a few hours' sleep. The sights we had seen, the
nerve-racking heavy shelling had upset our chaps pretty
badly. Many of them sobbed. To see and hear a man sob is
terrible, almost as terrible as some of the wounds I have
seen—and they have been very awful. However, as quite a
number of the men had only recently come out, it was natural
enough that we should be upset by this ordeal. Time and
repeated experiences of this kind toughen if they do not
harden a man—but for many this was the first experience.
"Early the next morning the whole battalion made a move
nearer to the Hill. For the greater part of the day we stood
to in dug-outs on the side of the railway embankment, but at
dusk we lined up and received instructions as to the work we
had to do that night and the following day. Our officers
told us that we were going to the Hill to hold off all
counter-attacks, and that if any man on the way up was
wounded no one was to stay with him. He must be left to wait
for the stretcher-bearers. Every man would be needed for
the coming struggle, and although it seemed almost too
hard that one must see his chum struck down and be unable to
stop and bind up his wounds, there was no doubt that the
order was very necessary.
"We started off in single file by platoons. This time we did
not go up the cutting, but made our way round by the
reservoir and the dilapidated village of Zillebeke. The
first man to go down was one of my own section. We
remembered the order not to stop, although the temptation
was very strong. So we left him, wishing him the best of
luck and hoping that he would soon be in Blighty. After this
the casualties came faster and faster as we entered into the
shell-swept area. The machine guns were sweeping round and
were making havoc in our ranks. Gradually we drew near to
the little wood just beside Hill 60, and were told to occupy
any dug-outs there until further orders. It was at this time
that the whizz-bang shell made its debut. We had not
encountered this kind of shell before; it was one that gave
absolutely no warning and was used for quite small ranges.
"We had been in these dug-outs for about half an hour when
we were told to fall in and each man to carry two boxes of
bombs. We then went into the communication trench of the
old front line. At this stage our company commander was
"However, we got on to the Hill, and each man was
detailed—some for firing, some for bombing, and some for
construction. All the trenches were blown in entirely, and a
large number of us, including my chum and myself, were
detailed for this construction work. Under heavy shelling we
tried to build up the blown-in portions of the trenches.
This was just at a corner leading right on to the Hill and
part of our old front line. We laboured here all night
through. Just before dawn the shelling increased, and the
bombardment grew very terrific. All possible were rushed up
into the crater to take the places of the fallen.
were terrible, and the wounded came past our corner in one
stream; several of my own friends were amongst them, and two
of them, who had come out with me, were killed just a few
yards away. This terrific cannonade continued until dawn,
when things quietened down a little. Every one's nerves were
on edge, and all of us were thoroughly tired out. In every
part of the trench lay numbers of dead bodies; in fact, to
move about, one had to climb over them. I sat down, dead
beat, for some time on what I thought was a sandbag. I
discovered afterwards it was a dead body.
"Shortly afterwards we were relieved by another regiment,
and in small parties of tens made our way back into Ypres.
This was done in daylight, and we were spotted and shelled
by the Boches. However, we were only too glad to get away
from that ghastly hell, and literally tore along the hedges
down past the reservoir into Ypres. At the hospital, at the
other end of the town, the remnants of the battalion were
collected, and it was there that Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien
spoke to us, congratulating our battalion on its stand the
night before. Worn out, we lined up and marched back along
the road to Vlamertinghe, fondly imagining we were going
back to our well-earned rest (as a matter of fact that was
the programme), but we had not been in these huts more than
half an hour when down the road from St. Julien there rushed
one long column of transports, riderless horses, and wounded
(mostly of the French Algerian regiments). And everywhere
was the cry, 'The Boches have broken through!'
"Orders were soon forthcoming, and we turned out, loaded
magazines, and marched off in the direction from which the
Boches were supposed to be coming. On our way up many
dispatch riders passed, and each one had the same comforting
message—'The Canadians are holding them.' We went no
further, but received orders to dig ourselves in across the
road, and that in the event of the Boches getting as far as
this we were to hold them until the last man. Fortunately
the splendid Canadians had not only held their ground, but
with terrible losses had pushed the enemy two or three miles
back; had, in fact, practically regained all the ground
"At nightfall we drew picks and shovels and made our way in
the direction of St. Julien. We got to the Yser Canal, and
in crossing the bridge met the batch of wounded coming back.
This was not heartening, but certainly gave all of us a
keener desire to get to grips. On the side of the banks of
the Yser we were formed into three waves and received
instructions that we were going over in extended order to
drive the Huns from the position. But the Canadians had done
so grandly that we were not needed until the following
morning, when, in broad daylight, the remnants of the once
whole battalion, in single file, made their way along the
hedges, taking advantage of every possible cover, up to the
village of St. Jean.
"Much to our surprise we did not stop there, but went right
through and came within view of the Boches. Immediately we
were under the special care of their artillery, and within a
short space of time lost half of our numbers. We had to dig
ourselves in with entrenching tools, but after having got
fairly decent cover, had to move on again over to the left.
We got right forward into the front line, and found it held
by a mere handful of the Canadians, who received us with
enthusiasm and were so heartened by our reinforcements that
they were more determined than ever to hang on to the last.
"Meanwhile between the two lines our wounded lay unattended,
those who were able made their way, crawling and rolling
through the barbed wire, into our lines. At dusk half of the
Canadians occupying the trench made one rush after another
to bring in their wounded and helpless comrades. It was a
wonderful sight. Again and again these fellows went out,
each time carrying back a wounded man. I was the extreme end
man of our regiment, and so was right next to the Canadians
themselves. Their officer, who was hit some time during the
evening, came back with his arm in a sling, refusing to go
down the line to the dressing station, as he preferred to
stay with the remnants of his company. He was a most
encouraging chap, and it was here that I noticed the
difference between the companionship of these officers and
men and those of our own army. The ordinary private would
pull out his small packet of Woodbines and offer one to his
officer, who would accept it with the same feeling of
gratefulness as he would a cigar from a brother officer.
"We stayed with these Canadians for two days. For some
reason or other the transport had failed to bring up our
rations, but we did not suffer for lack of food, for
whatever the Canadians had, we had too. They shared with us
all their rations and kept us for those two days.
"At the end of that time, during which we had witnessed
several attacks on the right, we were relieved from those
trenches and marched back to the farm on the other side of
the Canal. But it was not for a rest; for every night we had
to go up digging and consolidating the trenches regained and
digging communication trenches.
"It was on one of these digging fatigues that my chum was
killed. He and I had been given a small sector to dig, and
it was really a fairly quiet night, as far as firing was
concerned. We had dug down a depth of about three feet and
had secured ourselves against rifle fire and were putting
the final touches to our work, which we had rightly viewed
with pride and satisfaction, when the order came—'D Company
file out towards the left.' We were terribly disappointed
for we had worked all that evening on digging ourselves in
here and we knew that it meant a fresh start elsewhere. We
were just clambering out when there rang out one single shot
from a sniper, apparently lying in front of the German
"We all got up with the exception of my chum. I did not for
a minute imagine he had been hit, but merely thought he was
making sure that the sniper had finished, so I touched
him—and he half rolled towards me. I lifted him up and
said, 'Did you catch it?' All he could do was to point to
his chin. He was an awful sight. A dum-dum or explosive
bullet had caught his jawbone and had blown the left lower
jaw and part of the neck away. I realised at once that it
was hopeless, for it took four bandages to stop the
spurting. One of our fellows ran off for the
stretcher-bearers. One of these came back, but he could not
stop the flow of blood at all, and the corporal said, 'No
good: it will all be over in a minute.' I could not believe
it at all—it did not seem possible to me that George with
whom I had spent every hour, every day in close
companionship for so many months past, was dying.
"The party went on and I was left alone, but I risked all
chances of court martial and stayed with my wounded friend.
I couldn't leave him until I was absolutely certain that he
was past all aid. He did not last very many minutes, and I
knelt there with my arm round his shoulders, hoping against
hope that something could be done. He was called to pay the
supreme sacrifice of all. And with just one gasp he died.
"I was in a terrible condition. My clothes were soaked in
blood, my hands all red, my mind numbed. Nothing could be
done, so I went and joined my company, but first made
application to the sergeant-major that I might help to bury
my chum. This was granted, and as three other men were
killed that evening, a party of us were detailed to make
graves for them. I can see now those four graves in a
square, railed off by barbed wire, on the cross-roads
between St. Jean and St. Julien. On one corner stood an
estaminet and trenches ran all round. A chaplain was
passing, and we had a service of a minute or two. The time
was about 2 o'clock on Saturday morning. We were only able
to dig down a couple of feet, and these graves must, I fear,
have suffered from the heavy shelling which followed, but I
like to think that my chum still rests there undisturbed.
"How I got back to the barn that night I do not know. I
certainly was not my natural self, and it was more a stagger
than a march. It was impossible to realise that I should see
George no more. And on the following day I had to face the
still harder task of writing to his parents and to the girl
he had left behind."
To this, written by Sydney Baxter, I add nothing. Not to me has it
come to dig a shallow, shell-swept grave for my chum. What words,
then, have I?
One Young Man Receives a Letter
ONE YOUNG MAN RECEIVES A LETTER
George's stepfather wrote to Sydney Baxter as soon as he received the
heartbroken letter telling of his chum's death. To this letter from
the father I devote a chapter. It must stand alone. In all the
glorious annals of the war it is, to me at least, unique. Nothing that
I can write can add to its pathos or increase its heroism or enhance
its beauty. I leave it to speak for itself—this letter which will
live, I believe, as the most beautiful expression of a stepfather's
love and devotion in our language.
"My dear Laddie,
"Our hearts are breaking for you, and our thoughts and
prayers are much taken up on your behalf. All along we have
united you and George in our petitions, and all that was
sent addressed to George was meant for Syd and George. We
never thought of you separately at all, but just as sure as
you shared all in common, so our thoughts were for you
"George's call home was undreamt of by me. It was dreaded by
his mother, but I hardly think the possibility of such a
thing had entered into the minds of his sisters or brothers.
I cannot explain it, but I never expected him to give his
life out there. I knew many were praying for you both, and
must have rested my mind completely on the expectation of
our prayers being answered in the way we wanted. It was not
to be. And at the first look one feels rebellious in that
God permitted his death to take place. But who am I, and of
what account am I, in the scheme of things? Can I understand
the infinite thought of God? Can I see the end, as He can? I
can only bow my head, with a heart full of sadness, and
accept the ruling of my God; and hope for a reunion with our
dear lad when my call shall come. It was something for me, a
stepfather, to have had the fathering of such a dear lad. It
is a heart-break to me that that is ended, and never more in
reality (though I expect often in mind) shall I hear his
voice or feel his kiss, or see the dear lad, as he used in
these later years to do, standing in front of the fireplace
talking down at me on the chair or listening to me talking
up at him on Saturday nights. You can picture him, I have no
doubt. Now all is over, his place in the home is empty—but
in the heart that can never be. His Mum (as he always called
his mother) is heart-broken, but very brave. The dear woman
is worthy to have had such a son, and that is praise indeed.
If she was prouder of one of the children or made any
distinction between them, George held that place, and though
I think we were all conscious of it, none of us grudged it
him. And that is the greatest tribute that could be paid to
him—when you think it out. We are all jealous of Mother's
love. We all want it, and if one is first he must be good
indeed if it is not a cause of trouble. And that it never
was in his case.
"Now, my dear lad, I have a proposal to make to you. We
received some money to send things out to the lads at the
front, and there is some left. Besides, George sent some
home, so that he might get what he wanted sent him without
asking if I could afford it, I suppose. Well, I am to send
you some little thing every now and then; you are to get
another friend and share with him, and you are to make every
endeavour short of cowardice (of which you are not capable)
to save your life, valuable to all who have the privilege of
knowing you, doubly valuable to your mother, and precious to
your many friends. We feel we have a personal claim on you,
and I am writing you just as I would were you indeed my boy,
and we entreat you to bear up, to do your duty, to be a
brave and true and Christian lad, and to come back safe to
us all. Oh, what a happy day it will be when we welcome you
"We shall always think of you as partly ours; and for what
you were to and did for George we will ever bless you. Dear
lad, get another friend to lean upon and be leant upon. It
is a glorious thing—friendship. You risked your life to try
and save George's. God bless you for it. I think He will. If
you could read our hearts, you would feel afraid. I cannot
write as I would like. It is in my heart, in my brain, but
the pen won't put in on the paper. It couldn't. But it is
there, a deep love for you, a great admiration for your
bravery, and an earnest prayer that you may be preserved to
live a happy and useful life for many years to come.
"Mummie wishes me to say how her heart goes out to you, and
how she feels for you in your loneliness. Be assured of a
place in a good woman's prayers, and be assured also that
all of us continue constantly in prayer for you. We did not
know how constantly and continually we could petition the
Great Father till you lads went away. We will not cease
because one needs them no more. Rather we will be more
constant, and perhaps that may be one of the results of this
war. Think what a power the prayers of a whole world would
have with God! If only they were for the one thing—that His
Kingdom would come, it would be accomplished at once! May
the knowledge of His all-pervading love dwell more and more
in the hearts of the people of the world, so that wars and
all kindred evils may cease and the hearts of the people be
taken up with the one task of living for God and His
"May God be ever present with you, watching over and
blessing you, and may He come into your heart more and more,
helping and sustaining you in your hard task, and blessing
you in all your endeavours to be His true son and servant.
"P.S.—We have not, up to the time of writing this, received
an official notification of our poor laddie's death. I felt
I must write you, however. You will perhaps be able to read
into my letter what I have been unable to say, but all my
thoughts for you are summed up in 'God bless you.' Thank all
the dear lads for their kind sympathy with us."
One Young Man in the Salient
ONE YOUNG MAN IN THE SALIENT
The city of Ypres, which Sydney Baxter had entered some few months
previously, was now a heap of ruins. The whole country was desolate:
the once picturesque roads lined by trees were now but a line of shell
holes, with here and there leafless, branchless stumps, seared
guardians of the thousand graves. On June 7th, 1915, Sydney Baxter
"We have been having a very lively time, a second touch of
real life-destroying warfare. Many of the boys have been
bowled over. We have had a series of heavy
bombardments—shells everywhere, so that it was a matter of
holding tight where we were. However, I was again fortunate,
and have proved to myself and to the Captain that I can hold
my head whilst under heavy shell and rifle fire, although
it's impossible to keep one's heart beating normal under
"We are now entrenched for a day or two, but it is not
over-lively. A corporal who was a fellow bedman of George's
and mine at Crowborough has just been killed. The poor chap
died in agony.
"It is indeed comforting to know that so many are
petitioning 'Our Father' to spare me, if it be His will,
through all the dangers and hardships of this uproar, and
the confidence that the friends have in my return is very
helpful. I have had the feeling that God will give me
another chance of doing more work, but the thought of being
killed has not the terror it had. The idea of joining George
perhaps gives this comfort, but of course I know that it
does not rest with me—unless of course by negligence.
"Will you include, please, two fat candles as you sent
June 16th, 1915.
"My Dearest Mother,
"Just a short note in reply to yours received this morning.
I am still as per usual. Depends on how much sleep I get as
to how I feel. As I was able last night to get to bed before
3 o'clock, and slept on to 10 o'clock this morning, I am A1.
"We got drenched the night before last—every one soaked to
the skin. We came out of the trench, and as there were no
huts or dug-outs ready for us, we had to stand out in the
rain for over an hour when we arrived at our destination.
As the weather changed next day we managed to dry our
things. It was a funny sight to see chaps walking about in
pants, and some with sandbags for trousers.
"It is rumoured we are leaving here to go ——, but being a
rumour it won't come true. However, I shouldn't mind a
change. We are all fed up with this spot.
The Alcove Dug-out,
July 8th, 1915.
" ... How I long to be within the walls of our dear old
church! Some of the fellows can't realise or understand when
I tell them my church life and work are so much to me. I owe
all my happiness to God through my home and to the
associations and work at the church. I hope it will be His
Divine Will to spare me for fuller activities and to make up
for the sins of omission.
" ... Don't imagine for a minute we learn French out here.
We rarely see a civilian, and when we do we say, 'Avez vous
du pain?' and the reply is generally 'How many do you want?'
They know more English than we do French."
"The fight for Hill 60 and the struggle with the Canadians
against the Hun at St. Julien has weakened our division, and
we are to be transferred further south to a quieter part of
"We are not sorry, for we feel sadly in need of a rest, and
Ypres and its environments are literally a shell-swept
area of countless graves. The H.A.C. has relieved us, and we
marched back the other night to huts a few miles behind the
line. The following evening we marched still farther back,
crossing the Franco-Belgian border to the rail-head. We are
having a few days' rest, spending many hours cleaning up,
not only our clothes and equipment, but our ceremonial drill
One Young Man's Sunday
ONE YOUNG MAN'S SUNDAY
July 25th, 1915.
"To tell you that I am at present on this Sunday afternoon
lying on the grass watching a cricket match no doubt seems
strange. But that is what I am doing—and with quite an easy
"We are some miles from the firing line in a fair-sized
French town. It's a treat to be away from the noise of
battle, and from sleepless nights, and in a civilised place
again. We are only here for a day or two, however, and then
on we go—or at least that is the rumour.
"We had Church Parade at 10 o'clock this morning, followed
by a route march, and so we are free this afternoon.
"Two matches are now in full swing, 13 and 15 v. the
transport, and 14 and 16 v. the new platoons. The platoons
have licked them by 30 runs, 61 to 31 runs. I may say my
interest keeps wandering from the letter, although no slight
to you is meant.
"Now please don't think that Sunday is taken up entirely
with cricket matches and things of that sort. When the Padre
can get round to our battalion there is always a service on
the Sunday. Sometimes a full-blown Church Parade, like this
morning, but these are not what we call Sunday services. The
real Sunday services are voluntary ones, either in the open
or in a Y.M.C.A. hut. The fellows that go—and there are
quite a large number—really go because they feel the need
of such a service—not because it is a parade and they
must turn out.
"Our Padre has been able to get round to us about every
Sunday, when we have been out of the trenches. He is a very
broad-minded chap—is not shocked to see us playing cricket
on Sundays, for he realises that whilst on rest men must
have exercise and enjoyment, whatever the day may be. I
asked him once whether he would feel justified in playing a
footer or cricket match on a Sunday, and he said that if he
had been in the trenches for several days, and the day that
he came out happened to be a Sunday, he would certainly
"The services are generally held about 10 o'clock in the
morning. We simply go down and enter the hut or tent and
take our seats. There is nothing formal; the Padre is sure
to be there first, and he sits about and has a chat with
each man before the service begins. The hut is more or less
divided by a curtain or something like that, which separates
the service from the part given up to refreshments, and we
generally sit round in a circle. There is no set form of
worship, and even the hymns are not settled beforehand. The
Padre just says, 'Well, boys what shall we have?' and the
men ask for their favourites, mostly the old-fashioned
hymns, such as 'Abide with Me' or 'Rock of Ages.' Then
follows a Bible reading and then more singing of hymns. The
sermon is generally more of a chat than anything else. The
Padre does not take a text, but talks of the troubles and
difficulties of the day in the most practical manner. I
remember one talk I heard on swearing, and another on
drinking. The Padre didn't preach at us, he did not condemn
us at all. He just gave good, sound, hard reasons as to why
we should not do these things. These friendly chats with
their sound common sense do us far more good than hundreds
of stereotyped sermons.
"The service finishes up with many more hymns and the
Benediction. But even then we do not leave. This particular
Padre of ours has introduced what he calls
'get-away-from-the-war chats.' We sit round and talk about
everything in general—of home, of books, and all general
topics. His idea is that we should try to forget about the
war for that brief half-hour or so. These talks are very
popular; we get large 'congregations,' and these services
really do much more good than the official Church Parade,
when the battalion often has to stand in the cold for about
an hour on end before the service commences."
To this description of religious services at the front Sydney Baxter
adds the following note. You will remember that he writes of what he
himself has seen and felt. He has fought in the trenches, and we who
have not, have got to face life from his point of view if we are to
understand and help him in the days to come.
"The majority of the men who used to attend these services
would probably shock the ordinary church-goer. These chaps
would occasionally swear, at times they certainly got too
'merry.' But this did not make them any the less good
fellows. Unless one has actually been at the front, it's no
good arguing with him or trying to make him understand the
front's point of view. What man who has not been through it
can even dimly imagine the after-effect of continuous
bombardment and heavy shelling? This I do want to say: the
whole time these men were at the services they were far more
reverent than many I have seen in churches in England. On
leaving they would probably speak of the Chaplain as a
damn, or even more expressive, fine chap; half an hour
after the service one might find them playing cards, later
on taking rather more than was good for them at the café,
and yet there was absolutely no doubt as to their
earnestness and sincerity or their attitude towards
religion. On the whole they were a far cleaner-living lot of
men than those one unfortunately sometimes finds in a place
of worship in England.
"They were real good sorts. They would never go back on a
One Young Man on Trek
ONE YOUNG MAN ON TREK
It was on August Bank Holiday Monday that Sydney Baxter's battalion
made its long journey south. He writes:
"We were up at 2 o'clock that morning, and for two solid
hours were loading up the trucks with our transport, G.S.
waggons and limbers. It was real sport and we thoroughly
enjoyed it. A long row of flat trucks was lined up, and as
each limber drew up the horses were unharnessed and we ran
the limber right along the whole line of trucks until all
were filled. The work completed, we detailed for our trucks.
Every trenchman knows those trucks neatly ticketed:
Forty of us packed into a van did not permit even sitting
down, and we were very tired after our exertions, but the
change of surroundings and the knowledge that we were for a
time far away from the reach and sound of shells was
sufficient to keep us merry and bright. The journey was very
slow, and when we reached Calais it was just twelve hours
since we had had a breakfast cup of tea. A few of us decided
to run up to the engine and get some hot water and make some
tea on our own, but the majority hadn't got any tea tablets
or cocoa, and we hadn't enough to go round at a sip each.
The cookers were tightly packed on a truck at the rear, and
there was no hope from that quarter. And then once again,
just as on other occasions where a chance of a hot mug of
tea seemed hopeless, and where we were apparently doomed to
a comfortless time, the Y.M. was at hand. There, as we
glided into Calais station, we espied a long covered-in
counter displaying the familiar sign of the red triangle.
The order quickly came down, and was more quickly put into
execution, that men could get out and go to the canteen. I
have never seen such a rush. We were like a disturbed nest
of ants. I wondered how on earth those ladies would cope
with us, but I under-estimated their resources. As we came
up we were formed into a column of four deep, and only a few
were admitted at a time. At the entrance was a pay box. Here
we had our franc and 5-franc notes turned into pennies, that
the exact money might be given over the counter to save any
delay. When I passed up to the counter in due time, I found
that the first sector was solely occupied in pouring out tea
into our quart mess tins, further along buttered rolls and
cakes were piled high upon large trays, and at the last
sector cigarettes of all varieties, chocolate, and nougat
were obtainable. It was a splendid array of good things
served by the ladies of our own land. Though, of course, we
needed and enjoyed the hot tea and rolls, it was as much joy
to hear our own tongue so sweetly spoken. The change from
the deep voices of our officers and comrades thrilled us,
reminding us of sisters and sweethearts just a few miles
away, across the Channel, and yet so far off, for there was
little chance of leave for a long time. What a pretty
picture those ladies made in the midst of the khakied crowd,
passing quickly from one to another with a smile for all! I
am sure every one was over-stocked with chocolates and
cigarettes, for we all kept returning to the counter to buy
something just for the sake of a smile or a 'How are you
getting on, Tommy?' from one of our hostesses. The whistle
blew and we all made a rush for our trucks. The ladies stood
in a body at the end of the platform, and as each truck
passed waved and wished us good luck. The noise we made was
deafening; we cheered and cheered until the little group of
England's unknown heroines on the platform passed from
sight. Our hearts were very full.
"And so we passed down into the Somme district, the first
English soldiers to hold that part of the line."
Here are a few typical extracts from Sydney Baxter's letters about
"We are at rest after some days of trenches, and of course
are not sorry to be able to walk about and get a brush
up—apart from the catering side, which you can realise is
no small item. The weather has been very good of late; and
while we were in the trenches it was fine but cold, which
makes life more comfortable. We had a new system of guards
and work last time, and it was a treat. I never enjoyed a
spell of trenches as I did that, although the time spent in
work and other duties and guards was nearly twelve hours.
"Thanks for chocolate, which found a ready home. Girls are
not the only ones who like chocs., judging by the amount
that disappears here. Sorry my last letter was censored. I
am ignorant of what information I could have given; possibly
I had a grumbling mood on and was somewhat sarcastic about
the many defects and inconsiderations in army life."
"My Dearest Mother,
"Just a line to tell you I'm A1. By the time you get this
our rest will be over, and we shall be entrenched. Thanks
for socks. The stove is going a treat. We finished a fatigue
at 4 o'clock this morning and made some porridge. It was
great, and of course up in the trench it will be trebly
handy. We are taking up two big packets of Quaker Oats, and
with the tea, cocoa, coffee, and oxo we ought to do well.
"Glad to hear about Herbert's wound. Sounds funny, no doubt,
but he's lucky to get back at all, for he was at Ypres and
it's hot there."
From a letter to a cousin in the United States.
"I have sent you one or two photos which may be of interest,
and which may be useful to check the 'strafe Englands' of
the German who comes to your office. Ask him, if in these
pictures the Huns look as if they believe they're winning,
and then compare them with those of our boys and of the
Frenchies in the trenches, and with those of our wounded.
My! there's just all the difference between them!
"I also send a French field service card, so you now have an
English and a French one. I'm afraid a Russian card is out
of the question, unless I get sent near them in the Balkans;
and when I think of that I also think of a ditty that we
sing, which runs:
"I want to go home, I want to go home,
The Johnsons and shrapnel they whistle and roar;
I don't want to go to the trenches no more.
I want to go home,
Where the Allemands can't get at me,
Oh my! I don't want to die; I want to go home.
"You'd better not show this to that German or else he'll
believe we mean it as well as sing it. We have a rare lot
of ditties. We often sing across—'Has anyone seen a German
Band,' or 'I want my Fritz to play twiddly bits on his old
trombone.' We really have a good bit of fun at times; other
days are—crudely, but truthfully putting it—'Hell.' The
first month I had out here was such. You heard of Hill 60
back last April, and the second battle of Calais. It was
during that time that I lost my friend, with whom I joined.
Since we were thirteen years old we've been inseparable.
Only 40 per cent. of the draft I was on are left, and in my
pocket I have a long list of chums whom I shall never see
again in this world. It seems wonderful to me that I should
be spared whilst so many better men go. Naturally I am
thankful, especially for mother's sake, that I have escaped
so far. Only once during the eight months out here have I
been more than ten miles from the firing line, and ten miles
is nothing to a gun.
"Well, now I must knock off for dinner, the variety of which
never changes. You've heard of 'Stew, stew, glorious stew';
perhaps, however, beer was the subject then. Well, I'll
resume at the first possible moment; for, in the Army, what
you don't go and fetch you never see, and then again, first
come first served, last man the grouts."
"Here we are again; I was last for dinner, but didn't do
badly by reason of it. I am writing this at a house which
our Chaplain has put at our disposal. It's quite a treat to
sit on a chair and write at a table, after sitting on the
ground with knees up and a bad light.
"The trenches are in a rotten state now owing to the heavy
rain and the snow. It's like walking on a sponge about
eighteen inches deep. Squelch, squelch you go and not
infrequently get stuck; parts are knee deep in water, and
icy cold water trickling into your boots is the reverse of
pleasant or warm. Then the rain trickles through the
dug-out roof—that caps it. I really don't think there can
be anything more irritating than the drip, drip in the
region of the head. Then of course your hands are covered in
mud, for as you walk along you need your hands to keep your
balance, and the sides are all muddy as well. You come
inside then and eat your quarter of a loaf for breakfast and
go without for tea—the usual ration is one-third of a loaf,
which generally is found sufficient. We get jam, too, and
bacon daily, butter three times a week, and stew for dinner
every day in trenches or not.
"Our sergeant took us to the whizbangs concert party last
night. It was A1—one chap makes his fiddle absolutely
speak. He played that Volunteer Organist and parts of Henry
VIII., the basso sang 'Will o' the Wisp,' and most of the
other songs were old 'uns. I tell you, you wouldn't believe
we had such things a couple of miles behind the line.
"On Sunday I went to church. It was the hall that the
concert party use. Right glad we were to sing the old hymns
again, for we only get one Sunday in two months down here on
rest. We had five bandsmen to keep us in tune, and, with a
good sermon, the evening was both enjoyable and helpful.
Afterwards we came back and I had a discussion with two
others on Christianity, the work of the Church, Salvation
Army, Y.M.C.A., and other such organisations. It was very
interesting, for one of them was an out-and-out atheist who
was under the impression that Christians were all
hypocrites, cranks, and prigs."
The last extract from a letter to Sydney Baxter's office.
"My! I should like to be back working at the business in
any department. I reckon I shall not be much good the
first six months, knowing practically nothing of what has
happened since this time last year. However, no doubt,
they'll find me a job somewhere. They'll certainly find me
very keen. They say this life spoils you for the office, but
I shan't be sorry to return to it. Mind you, I feel very
much fitter and stronger in eyesight, less neuralgia and
headache than before; but I shall go in for more fresh air
and bring up the balance that way.
"The trenches are in a lively state now, all mud and water;
however, now November has come I expect they will generally
be in a damper state, and so we shall have to get used to
it, as we had to last March.
"It has rained every day, and I can tell you we've been very
fed up at times. It's hard to see the funny side of things
when soaked through, caked in mud, and tired, but we feel
different already after a couple of nights in our blankets
and a few square meals.
"I am keeping very fit, although the last spell knocked me
up a bit; but a little rest will do wonders, and I shall be
full of fighting strength again and ready for the Hun.
One Young Man Answers Questions
ONE YOUNG MAN ANSWERS QUESTIONS
Sydney Baxter's American correspondent has sent me a letter which
gives such an admirable picture of the day-to-day life of a Tommy at
the front that it merits a separate chapter.
"I am glad that you like the idea of Questions and Answers.
I should never have thought of explaining some of the things
you mention had you not asked. Here goes:
"Question No. 1.—How do you find time to write so much?
I've often wondered, as I should think you'd want to sleep
when out of the trenches.
"A.—Well, for one thing, I am very fond of writing
letters. To me it's not a bore as it is to some. To me it's
a medium by which one can have a nice chat with one's chums
(both sexes), and looking at it in that way you can
understand. I write to you because I thoroughly enjoy the
little talks between us. So much for the inclination, which
has much to do with the time, as—where there's a will
there's a way. When in the trenches the sentry duty usually
runs two hours on, four hours off—all the way through. In
addition, we get five hours' work a day. Now the total hours
of duty are thirteen out of twenty-four: and as I only need
six hours' sleep, that leaves five hours for cooking,
eating, reading, or writing. I used to have a programme
somewhat like this: rest hours at night—sleep; rest hours
before 12 o'clock—sleep; and in the afternoon read or
write. Starting from 6 o'clock one evening it works out: 6
to 8 guard, 8 to 10 work, 10 to 12 sleep, 12 to 2 guard, 2
to 6 sleep, 6 to 8 guard, 8 to 10 breakfast and odd jobs, 10
to 2 work, 2 to 6 read and write, and afterwards tea. This
will give you a little idea. I have only two meals a day
whilst in trenches, and cocoa once in the night.
"By the way, when out on 'rest' we sleep up to midday the
first day, and as we go to bed at nine o'clock on the
following evenings we get plenty of sleep. The chief
advantage of 'rest' is the change of food and more exercise,
which the officers see we get. Whilst on 'rest,' it's drill,
etc., in the morning, sport in the afternoon, letters or
reading in the evening.
"Q. No. 2.—Is a dug-out a hidden structure covered with
sand-bags where you only sleep, and are there such luxuries
"A.—I think I could write a small book on dug-outs, then
leave much unwritten. Let me describe two I have actually
been in. My first was on Hill 60. It was a little sand-bag
one that stood 3 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 5 feet long.
This was shared by eleven of us, who had to take it in turns
to sleep. This is the usual type of front-line dug-out. In
most cases they are large enough to squeeze all men off duty
into them, but of course shells and wet cause them to smash
up at times.
"Another dug-out I have been in was some 20 feet deep with
iron bars supporting the roof, and capable of holding one
hundred men. This was not in the trenches. It had sticks
some 3 feet high, with wire stretched right across, making
eight beds. However, I always prefer the ground; the wire
beds are narrow and not long enough for me. I'm over 6 feet.
"Q. No. 3.—Do you stay in trenches forty-eight hours
without ever taking off your boots or resting, and how do
you get your food up, etc., if you are on duty all the time?
"A.—When in the firing line a soldier never takes off his
boots, clothes, or equipment except for one thing, that is
to grease the feet with an anti-frostbite preparation. As
for rest, you can see that with one man in three on
look-out, you get a little rest, at least six hours, which I
found enough. When in a big attack you are of course
scrapping all the time.
"Rations are carried up by other men who are either on rest
or in reserve. As a matter of fact when on rest you are
seldom more than three miles away. The rations are carried
up in sacks by limbers as far as the transport can take
them—it varies according to the level of the ground and
activities. These limbers are met by ration parties who
carry two sacks each, right up to the trenches. Every sack
is marked 'D' for company, '15' for platoon, and so we
always get them. We carry an emergency ration of biscuits,
bully beef, and tea and sugar in case of accidents. I have
only once found it necessary to use mine.
"Q. No. 4.—In the battles you have been in, did you come
face to face with the Huns, or just shoot at range?
"A.—Yes, once when we were driving them back, and once
when they were advancing. Apart from that it has been
shooting when a head shows. The nearest I've been in a
trench to the Hun was 15 yards, but most of them range from
60 to 150 yards. You see we are a rifle regiment and so do
not do many charges, but occupy places for sniping, and
relieve the line regiment after it has charged, and by the
rifle fire keep the Hun from counter-attacking.
"Q. No. 5.—How do you get posts—are carriers in danger?
"A.—The letters are put in the ration sacks. The party
often get some killed or wounded.
"Q. No. 6.—Do you get acquainted with French civilians,
and have you picked up any of their language?
"A.—There are a few civilians in the deserted villages
near the firing line, and by dint of repetition and purchase
I have picked up a little, but I cannot possibly spell it.
You see we do not enter towns.
"Q. No. 7.—When one series of trenches is built, how does
the enemy get a chance to build close to them?
"A.—How? Why, under cover of darkness, either by putting
a line of men to form a screen and keep up firing with men
digging behind, or by digging a trench at right angles, and
making a T. The first method is mostly used as it is
quicker, but more casualties occur.
"Q. No. 8.—Do you have any fear of air raids over the
"A.—No, because a trench is too small an object to be
likely to be hit by a bomb dropping from a height. The
flying men would very possibly hit their own people instead.
However they drop them on our rest billets. We get used to
the shells, and this is only another way of presenting them.
"Q. No. 9.—What about gas?
"A.—They very seldom use it now. Our helmets are so
efficient, they cannot do any harm in sending it over. They
might catch one or two who were slow in getting their
helmets on, but we have gongs to give warning."
One Young Man's Leave
ONE YOUNG MAN'S LEAVE
He again writes:
"We had done two days out of our six in the trenches a
little south of Albert. They were in such a state that it
was impossible to walk from one post to another. The mud was
over our knees and all communication was cut off by day. At
night we fetched our rations, water, and rum by going over
the top—a little sought-after job, for Fritz was most
active and cover scarce. I had just finished my two hours at
the listening-post, and had crawled into my dug-out for a
four-hour stretch. It was bitterly cold, and although I had
piles of sandbags over me I couldn't get warm, and, like
Bairnsfather's 'fed-up one,' had to get out and rest a bit.
Two hours of my four had passed when word came down that I
was wanted by the Sergeant-Major. Hallo, thinks I, what am I
wanted for? Ah, letters! I was a source of continued
annoyance to the Captain because of my many letters.
"However, he that expecteth nothing shall receive his seven
days' leave, for that's what it proved to be. I stood with
unbelieving ears whilst the Serjeant-Major rattled off
something to the effect that I was on the next party for
leave, and was to go down H.Q. the following night. I
crawled back to my dug-out, wondering if I was really awake.
Eventually reaching our post, I cried, 'John, my boy, this
child's on a Blightly trip.' No profuse congratulations
emanated from that quarter, but a voice from a dug-out
cried, 'Good! you can take that clip of German cartridges
home for me.' This was our souvenir hunter; he'd barter his
last biscuit for a nose cap of a Hun shell, and was a
frequenter of the artillery dug-outs. My next two hours'
guard was carried out in a very dreamy sort of way. I had
already planned what I should do and how I would surprise
them all. Next day I was busy scraping off the mud from my
tunic and overcoat. I spent hours on the job, but they
seemed very little different when I had finished.
"That night I covered the three miles of mud and shell-holes
to H.Q. in record time. There I met the other lucky ones and
received orders to turn in and parade at 9 a.m. for baths
and underclothing. There were no trousers, puttees, or
overcoats in the stores, and so we had to come over as we
were, a picture that had no fitting background other than
the trenches. At dusk we boarded the motor-bus which
conveyed us to the rail-head. That old bus had never had
such a cargo of light hearts when plying between Shepherd's
Bush and Liverpool Street. At the rail-head we transferred
to the waiting train, and it was not long before we were on
our way. Bully beef and biscuits were on the seats, our
day's rations. Never mind—we shall soon be having something
a good deal more appetising. We did wish we had something
warmer than the water in our bottles, and at our next stop
we found our old benefactors. This was another platform
canteen, and we were able to refresh ourselves for the
remainder of the journey, which was all too slow.
"Two R.F.A. and one A.S.C. man shared the carriage with me
up to London. We did not speak at all, we were far too much
occupied with our thoughts and visions of our welcome. It
was Sunday, and there were very few people about when we got
in. I clambered out of the carriage prepared to rush to the
Bakerloo, when a voice at my elbow asked, 'Is there anything
I can do for you? Are you a Londoner? and a host of
questions bearing on my future actions. It was a Y.M.
official. He took me to the little box where my francs were
converted into English coin, then to Bakerloo Tube Station,
got my ticket, and with a handclasp dashed off to help
another. Had I been bound for the North he would have taken
me and given me a dinner, and put me into the right train at
the right time. I tell you these Y.M. chaps do their job
One Young Man Again in the Trenches
ONE YOUNG MAN AGAIN IN THE TRENCHES
On his return from leave Sydney Baxter writes:
January 29th, 1916.
"I am writing this in a small estaminet which is much
overcrowded, and in the conversation can only be described
as a din. Madame is hurrying round with coffees and fried
pommes de terre, whilst monsieur is anxiously trying to find
out if we are moving to-morrow. He is much disturbed, no
doubt thinking of the drop in the number of coffees après
"I am keeping very fit and well, and much to my surprise
have not experienced any of the 'fed-up-ness' I anticipated
on my return from leave. To my mind, there is only one
experience to equal a leave from Active Service—that is the
final home-coming. My leave was pure delight from one end to
Sydney Baxter's Division was soon again on trek to a new position. He
"We had stayed in, and passed through, many villages, had
even had a fire at one, burning down one or two barns, and
yet life was uneventful. Marching most days, or, when
billeted, doing platoon drill, playing cards, reading or
writing in the cafés or our barns. Company concerts were no
good. We had heard all of our soloists' répertoire, which
was not very extensive. There came the day when we marched
into Doullens. Strange were the sights of large shops and
smartly dressed townsfolk—we were more used to the
occupants of obscure villages. The Sergeant-Major came along
with the message, 'Smarten up and keep step through the
town.' We needed no bidding. A soldier doesn't want it, you
know, when he becomes the object of admiration and the
recipient of smiles from the brunettes of France. On past
the Hôtel de Ville we swung—this was a G.H.Q., and 'Eyes
left!' was given as platoons passed the guard. Staff
officers, resplendent in red-tabbed coats and well-creased
slacks, seemed to be showing the populace what fine soldiers
they were, while the M.M. Police stood at the corners
directing traffic as only the members of that unit can. Into
the Rue d'Arras we turned, and outside an Ecole de Filles we
halted. There was our billet, the best we ever had. In the
playground stood our cooker. Upstairs we were packed into
the classrooms, with just enough room allowed to stretch
one's legs and to turn over should one wish. We had our
stew, and quickly rushed off to see all the town. In the
square a military band was playing 'Nights of Gladness,' and
we found a crowd gathered round the bandstand, many of them
civilians. We stayed and enjoyed the performance, and at the
Marseillaise and our own National Anthem every khaki-clad
man from private to general stood at attention, and the
latter at the salute. It was a grand spectacle, and one felt
proud to be a soldier. We went and had a look at the shops
and into the church, until nearly 5 o'clock, when we debated
amongst ourselves as to whether we should go back for tea or
wait till 6 o'clock when the cafés open.
"Running into a group who had been endeavouring to break the
camera, we asked them what they were going to do. 'Why, go
to the Y.M.C.A., of course,' they replied. 'Is there really
one here? What luck!' We all followed the guide. It was in a
market hall, but liberally placarded with the familiar Red
Triangle, and so there was no mistaking it. Like most other
canteens of the Y.M. it had a long counter and about twelve
small tables. The ever-refreshing cup of tea and the good
old English slab cake were in plenty, and we asked for
nothing better.... It was quite exciting to sit and have tea
at a table. Afterwards there was a concert. The artists were
A.S.C. men, and, although very markedly amateur, we enjoyed
the evening, which was decidedly a change from our usual
evening of cards. Unfortunately we marched away next day and
so were unable to get full advantage from that depôt. It was
one of the Y.M.'s smaller ventures and lacked many of the
usual articles of comfort that their huts are renowned for.
However, it served its purpose. Troops were able to procure
English cigarettes and chocolates, and at the same time have
a good tea and a jolly evening. A toast to the Y.M. should
always be drunk in hot tea, for supplying it to us in
France. It's one of the chief blessings the Association
confers on the army."
The battalion was soon in huts some way behind the firing line.
Sydney Baxter writes to one of his friends in the office:
"Glad to hear everything is O.K., and that you are still
smiling. Thank God for that. Whatever happens, still keep
smiling. The greatest tonic out here is to know the girls
are working so hard, and all the time willingly and
smilingly. We know you all miss the boys as they do you, and
to read that our friends at home are enjoying themselves is
enjoyment to us. We are out to have the harder tasks, and we
want you all at home to have the benefits. That's why we
feel so bitter against the Air Raids.
"Well now, I am glad to write the usual formula. I am very
fit and well, and not having such a bad time; things are
fairly quiet this side, but not for long, I hope. Everyone
is expecting a move and looking forward to it in the sense
that it will help to finish the war.
"We have had much rain the last few days, and, as these tiny
huts we're in are not waterproof, we wake up in the morning
soaked and lying in puddles. It's the limit, I can tell you.
However, we are on active service and so are not afraid of
H2O. Now, as to my Eastertide. My Good Friday brought
with it duty. I was on Police Picket, much the same as a
village policeman. Our duties are to see every soldier is
properly dressed with belt and puttees before going out, and
that there are no suspicious persons around, that all lights
are extinguished by 9.30, etc. It's not a bad job, but on a
Good Friday it's tough.
"Sunday was as usual,—Church Parade in the morning, and
free in the afternoon, when we had a cricket match. Monday
was the worst day of all. We were called out at 8.30, and
from then to 12.30 had to clean up the roads, scrape mud out
of ditches, and make drains in our village streets. Nice
occupation, wasn't it? The afternoon was not so bad, but we
might have had a holiday. Instead we had to go and throw
live bombs for practice purposes. The evening, as usual, was
free. That ends my Eastertide, and in spite of what sounds a
far from good one I enjoyed it immensely and count myself
lucky to be out of the trenches for it.
"I ought to have mentioned earlier that we are in a village
behind the firing line, in reserve; we shall be having our
turn of trenches in a few days, and so we are making the
best of our time out. The weather is glorious, and we are
having a good time. I do not doubt that there will be some
hard work shortly along the front, but it's difficult to say
what will happen. Only the folk in charge know. We only
obey, and really it's just as well to be in the dark and so
escape the worry beforehand."
The death of his chum George was often in Sydney Baxter's thoughts. He
May 21st, 1916.
"I have heard from ——; he also mentions to me the
opportunity of revenge. I can quite understand and have felt
that a life for a life would wipe out the debt, but when my
mind dwells on these things I always try to think what
George would have me do, and I know his answer would be:
'Why, the German was only doing his duty. I should have done
the same myself.' That is true. We fire, but we little know
what suffering we cause. We do our duty and the Germans do
theirs. It rests with the Heads as to clean methods or not."
The turn in the trenches soon came, and it was a rough turn too. The
following are extracts from letters written to his mother:
June 6th, 1916.
"I have been unable to write before, as we have been having
an extremely busy and horrible time. From the day we entered
the trench till now has been one series of heavy
bombardment, an absolute rain of shells everywhere—a whole
week of it. How so many managed to come out alive I don't
"We lost four killed in our platoon, including one of my
section, a splendid chap, cool and jolly. Three of us went
to see him buried yesterday—we had a short service. His
brother is with us, a boy of eighteen, and is naturally very
cut up. We have now sixteen graves where there were none a
fortnight ago. Ten whom I knew personally are gone—such is
"All of us have had a shaking up. To many it has been their
first dose of real grim warfare, and it has been a sore
trial for us to lie out in front with shells bursting all
round and no cover. The natural tendency is to run back to
the trench and get under cover. However, I managed to pull
through, and feel much more confident of myself, and the
Captain apparently is pleased, for on the strength of it all
I have been made a lance-corporal—only do not yet get paid.
That will come later. Of course, this is no big honour, but
coming at such a time as this it shows they have some
confidence in one's ability.
"There are so many senior in front of me that the
possibility of further promotion is somewhat remote. One of
our majors has got the D.S.O., one of our company
lieutenants a Military Cross, and a lance-corporal a D.C.M.,
and so we have not come out without honour.
"I am feeling O.K. myself, and by the time you get this
shall be back on a month's rest right away from the line,
and until I write again you will know I am out of danger.
Your parcel arrived whilst in the trenches, and was very
welcome indeed. As far as cash goes, don't worry. Don't send
any money, and don't worry; there's no need."
June 8th, 1916.
"We are now out on rest right away from our line, in our old
village. We are not sorry, as you can imagine, and to sleep
in our own little beds once again is lovely. I had a bath
this morning, a nice change, and feel quite fit.
"Having now my first stripe, I have to go to No. ——
Platoon. They are a nice lot of fellows, and I shall be all
right there with my old friend, another corporal, while an
old section comrade of Crowborough times is platoon
"As to wants—if you have an old shirt at home I could do
with it. But I don't want a new one sent. Also a pair of
strong laces, a nail brush (stiff)—that's about all, I
June 11th, 1916.
"Things are very active along the line, although very little
appears in the papers. Our sector has been subject to heavy
bombardments, and our first night in the trench saw three
separate strafes, and the succeeding days brought a big list
of casualties, which by now run well into three figures. The
first strafe, which lasted ten minutes according to our
artillery observers, brought 1,100 shells of all sizes from
the Huns. I was half buried three times, and but for my
steel helmet would have had a nasty scalp wound, whereas all
that resulted was a dent in the hat and a headache for me."
There follows the last letter Sydney Baxter wrote to his mother before
the great Somme offensive. He was facing the possibilities himself
and trying to get her to do so too. I have not cared to print this
letter in full. Those who have written or received such a letter will
"My Dearest of Mothers,
"Owing to increased activity at the front, I hear our
letters are to be stopped and only picture, field, and plain
postcards can be sent. Therefore you must not worry if you
only get such. If I can get a letter through I will. I
do not disguise the fact that things are warmer, for you can
read that in the papers, and anything may happen any day.
"Thanks for the shirt, laces, brush, cards, and notebook
which I received this afternoon; I had just returned after
taking a party to another village on fatigue. The P.O.'s
have arrived regularly, thanks, dear. I had a good lunch
to-day, steak and chips and fruit after, at a little café
where we went this morning. It was O.K.
"As you will have noticed in the papers, our artillery has
been very active along the front, and it's when the Hun
replies that most of the trouble comes in, for the Huns
won't take it quietly for a minute and will send some
souvenirs across. It remains to be seen what will happen.
"I like my platoon very much, and I have had a very happy
time these last few months.
"I often think of the time to come, après la guerre, when we
shall have the old tea-time chats, a smaller house and less
running about for you, of the time when I shall take up my
Church secretaryship again and also my work in the City. I
wonder what they will put me into?
"Well, mother mine, don't worry about me. I'm all right and
will be home sooner than you think, even if I last the war
through and—I might, you know, unless I get wounded. And if
I get that I shall be home sooner, and if I get the only
other alternative, well, dear, it's merely a reunion with
the others, and a matter of waiting for you. But it remains
to be seen.
"Well, mother darling, I must now close. I'll drop you both
a line every day, so don't worry."
The next line that both received was from a hospital.
One Young Man Gets a "Blighty"
ONE YOUNG MAN GETS A "BLIGHTY"
Sydney Baxter's Division was on the left flank of the British
attack at Gommecourt, which met with great stubbornness on the part of
the enemy, and resulted in heavy losses. He writes:
"I was in charge of the 'Battle Police' that day, and we had
to accompany the bombers. We started over the top under
heavy fire and many were bowled over within a few minutes.
"Lanky of limb, I was soon through the barbed wire and came
to the first trench and jumped in. Some seven of us were
there, and as senior N.C.O. I led the way along the trench.
One Hun came round the corner, and he would have been dead
but for his cry 'Kamerad blessé.' I lowered my rifle, and,
making sure he had no weapon, passed him to the rear and led
on. We had just connected up with our party on the left when
I felt a pressure of tons upon my head. My right eye was
sightless, with the other I saw my hand with one finger
severed, covered in blood. A great desire came over me to
sink to the ground, into peaceful oblivion, but the peril of
such weakness came to my mind, and with an effort I pulled
myself together. I tore my helmet from my head, for the
concussion had rammed it tight down. The man in front
bandaged my head and eye. Blood was pouring into my mouth,
down my tunic.
"They made way for me, uttering cheery words, 'Stick it,
Corporal, you'll soon be in Blighty,' one said. Another,
'Best of luck, old man.' I made my way slowly—not in pain,
I was too numbed for that. My officer gave me a pull at his
whisky bottle, and further on our stretcher-bearers bandaged
my head and wiped as much blood as they could from my face.
I felt I could go no further, but a 'runner' who was going
to H.Q. led me back. I held on to his equipment, halting for
cover when a shell came near, and hurrying when able. I
eventually got to our First Aid Post. There I fainted away.
"I awoke next day just as I was being lifted on to the
operating table, and whilst under an anaesthetic my eye was
removed. Although I was not aware of this for some time
afterwards I did not properly come to until I was on the
hospital train the following day bound for the coast. I
opened my eye as much as possible and recognised two of my
old chums, but conversation was impossible; I was too weak.
The next five days I spent at a hospital near Le Treport. My
mother was wired for, and the offending piece of shell was
abstracted by a magnet. It couldn't be done by knife, as it
was too near the brain."
Thus far Sydney Baxter tells his own story of the great day of his
life. I leave it as it stands, though I could add so much to it if I
would. Will you picture to yourself this sightless young man, with
torn head and shattered hand piteously struggling from those shambles?
Will you look at him—afterwards? It's worth while trying to do so.
You and I have got to see war before we can do justice to the
The piece of shell which entered his head just above the right eye
opened up the frontal sinuses, exposing the brain. "It is wonderful,"
wrote the doctor who attended him, "how these fellows who have been
fighting for us exhibit such a marvellous fortitude." He had lost the
end of his fourth finger and another has since been entirely
To the amazement of all, Sydney Baxter, within a few hours of his
operation, asked for postcards. He wrote three—one to his mother, one
to someone else's sister, and one to his firm.
This last postcard is a treasured possession of Sydney Baxter's
business. It runs as follows:
July 4th, 1916.
"Have unfortunately fallen victim to the Hun shell in the
last attack. I am not sure to what extent I am damaged. The
wounds are the right eye, side of face, and left hand. They
hope to save my eye, and I have only lost one finger on
"I will write again, sir, when I arrive in England. At
present am near Dieppe."
"Only lost"—that seems to me great.
Above the postcard on the business notice-board the chief wrote: "The
pluckiest piece of writing that has ever reached this office." And by
that he stands.
At Treport Sydney Baxter has his last experience of the Y.M.C.A. in
"One of its members came round the ward, speaking cheery
words and offering to write home for us. It sounds a small
work, but it was a boon to those of us too weak for even a
postcard, or those who had lost or injured their right arms.
The nurses are far too busy and cannot do it, and other
patients are in a like condition. I always looked out for
that gentleman of the Y.M. I was not allowed to read or sit
up, and the days dragged horribly. Thursday evening came and
many were sent to Blighty. I worried the doctor as to when I
should go, and always received the non-committal reply,
'When you are fit to travel.' Saturday, however, found me on
board of a hospital ship, and at 9 o'clock that night we
arrived at Southampton. Ant-like, the stretcher-bearers went
to and fro, from ship to train. For some reason or other
they dumped me in a corner with my head nearest the scene of
activities, so that I was unable to interest myself in
watching the entraining of others. I feverishly hoped they
wouldn't forget me and put me in the wrong train. I was not
forgotten by one person, however. He was not an official,
not a R.A.M.C. man—no, just a Y.M.C.A. man, ministering to
our comfort, lighting cigarettes for the helpless, arranging
pillows, handing chocolate to a non-smoker, with a smile and
a cheery word for every one. He asked me where I lived and
spoke cheerily to me of soon seeing my mother and friends,
and then left on a like errand to another chap. This, as I
look back, was typical of all the work of the Y.M.C.A. Its
helpers are always at the right place doing the right thing.
That is why they have earned Tommy's undying gratitude."
Next day this one young man was being tenderly and graciously cared
for in a hospital in Wales. He had finished his bit. To the office he
July 12th, 1916.
"The Hun has put me completely out of action, and I hope
within a few months to be amongst you all again—for good,
and certainly in time for the autumn session.
"The sight of my right eye has completely gone out, but as
long as the left one keeps as it is I shall not be seriously
handicapped. My glass eye will be an acceptable ornament.
The left hand will mend in time; when healed, it will be
pushed and squeezed into its original shape. Apart from the
wounds I feel very well, and my rapid recovery has surprised
all. The first three days in France were critical, and
mother was sent for. However, I pulled through and feel as
active as ever—at least, I do whilst in bed."
The hole in Sydney Baxter's nut—I use his own phrase—is healing. His
hand has been more than once under the surgeon's knife, and he can now
wear a glove with cotton-wool stuffed into two of the fingers. He sees
fairly well from the unbandaged side of his face.
The chief tells me that Sydney Baxter will have the desire of his
heart: he will be "back at business in time for the Christmas
PRINTED BY C. F. ROWORTH LTD., 88 FETTER LANE, E.C.4.