And smashed, hopelessly and horribly smashed, the attack assuredly was. The woods in and behind which the German hordes were massed lay from three to four hundred yards from the muzzles of our rifles. Imagine it, you men who were not there, you men of the New Armies still training at home, you riflemen practicing and striving to work up the number of aimed rounds fired in “the mad minute,” you machine-gunners riddling holes in a target or a row of posts. Imagine it, oh you Artillery, imagine the target lavishly displayed in solid blocks in the open, with a good four hundred yards of ground to go under your streaming gun-muzzles. The gunners who were there that day will tell you how they used that target, will tell you how they stretched themselves to the call for “gun-fire” (which is an order for each gun to act independently, to fire and keep on firing as fast as it can be served), how the guns grew hotter and hotter, till the paint bubbled and blistered and flaked off them in patches, till the breech burned the incautious hand laid on it, till spurts of oil had to be sluiced into the breech from a can between rounds and sizzled and boiled like fat in a frying-pan as it fell on the hot steel, how the whole gun smoked and reeked with heated oil, and how the gun-detachments were half-deaf for days after.
It was such a target as gunners in their fondest dreams dare hardly hope for; and such a target as war may never see again, for surely the fate of such massed attacks will be a warning to all infantry commanders for all time.
The guns took their toll, and where death from above missed, death from the level came in an unbroken torrent of bullets sleeting across the open from rifles and machine-guns. On our trenches shells were still bursting, maxim and rifle bullets were still pelting from somewhere in half enfilade at long range. But our men had no time to pay heed to these. They hitched themselves well up on the parapet to get the fuller view of their mark; their officers for the most part had no need to bother about directing or controlling the fire—what need, indeed, to direct with such a target bulking big before the sights? What need to control when the only speed limit was a man’s capacity to aim and fire? So the officers, for the most part, took rifle themselves and helped pelt lead into the slaughter-pit.
There are few, if any, who can give details of how or when the attack perished. A thick haze of smoke from the bursting shells blurred the picture. To the eyes of the defenders there was only a picture of that smoke-fog, with a gray wall of men looming through it, moving, walking, running towards them, falling and rolling, and looming up again and coming on, melting away into tangled heaps that disappeared again behind advancing men, who in turn became more falling and fallen piles. It was like watching those chariot races in a theater where the horses gallop on a stage revolving under their feet, and for