It was the same trench in June, still a relatively “quiet corner,” which I had seen in March; but I would never have known it if its location had not been the same on the map. One was puzzled how a place that had been so wet could become so dry.
This time the approach was made in daylight through a long communication ditch, which brought us to a shell-wrecked farmhouse. We passed through this and stepped down at the back door into deep traverses cut among the roots of an orchard; then behind walls of earth high above our heads to battalion headquarters in a neat little shanty, where I deposited the first of the cakes I had brought on the table beside some battalion reports. A cake is the right gift for the trenches, though less so in summer than in winter when appetites are less keen. The adjutant tried a slice while the colonel conferred with the general, who had accompanied me this far, and he glanced up at a sheet of writing with a line opposite hours of the day, pinned to a post of his dug-out.
“I wanted to see if it were time to make another report,” he said. “We are always making reports. Everybody is, so that whoever is superior to someone else knows what is happening in his subordinate’s department.”
Then in and out in a maze, between walls with straight faces of the hard, dry earth, testifying to the beneficence of summer weather in constructing fastnesses from artillery fire, until we were in the firing-trench, where I was at home among the officers and men of a company. General Mud was “down and out.” He waited on the winter rains to take command again. But winter would find an army prepared against his kind of campaign. Life in the trenches in summer was not so unpleasant but that some preferred it, with the excitement of sniping, to the boredom of billets.
“What hopes!” was the current phrase I heard among the men in these trenches. It shared honours with strafe. You have only one life to live and you may lose that any second—what hopes! Dig, dig, dig, and set off a mine that sends Germans skyward in a cloud of dust— what hopes! Bully beef from Chicago and Argentina is no food for babes, but better than “K.K.” bread—what hopes! Mr. Thomas Atkins, British regular, takes things as they come—and a lot of them come— shells, bullets, asphyxiating gas, grenades, and bombs.
There is much to be thankful for. The King’s Own Particular Fusiliers, as we shall call this regiment, had only three men hit yesterday. On every man’s cap is a metal badge crowded with battle honours, from the storming of Quebec to the relief of Ladysmith. Heroic its history; but no battle honours equal that of the regiment’s part in the second battle of Ypres; and no heroes of the regiment’s story, whom you picture in imagination with haloes of glory in the wish that you might have met them in the flesh in their scarlet coats, are the equal of these survivors in plain khaki manning a ditch in A.D. 1915, whom anyone may meet.