Darkness found all the survivors among the P.P.s in the support and communication trenches. The fire trench had become an untenable dust-heap. They crept out only to bring in any wounded unable to help themselves; and wounded and rescuers were more than once hit in the process. It was too dangerous to attempt to bury the dead who were in the fire-trench. Most of them had already been buried by shells. For them and for the dead in the support trenches interred by their living comrades, Niven recited such portions as he could recall of the Church of England service for the dead—recited them with a tight throat. Then the P.P.s, unbeaten, marched out, leaving the position to their relief, a battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Corporal Christy, the bear-hunter, had his “luck with him.” He had not even a scratch.
Such is the story of a hard fight by one battalion in the kind of warfare waged in Europe these days, a story only partially told; a story to make a book. All the praise that the P.P.s, millionaire or labourer, scapegrace or respectable pillar of society, ask is that they are worthy of fighting side by side with Mr. Thomas Atkins, regular. At best, one poor, little, finite mind only observes through a rift in the black smoke and yellow smoke of high explosives and the clouds of dust and military secrecy something of what has happened many times in a small section of that long line from Switzerland to the North Sea.
Leaning against the wall in a corner of the dining-room of the French chateau were the P.P.s colours. Major Niven took off the wrapper in order that I might see the flag with the initials of the battalion which Princess Patricia embroidered with her own hands. There is room, one repeats, for a little sentiment and a little emotion, too, between Halifax and Vancouver.
“Of course we could not take our colours into action,” said Niven. “They would have been torn into tatters or buried in a shell-crater. But we’ve always kept them up at battalion headquarters. I believe we are the only battalion that has. We promised the Princess that we would.”
In her honour, an old custom has been renewed in France: knights are fighting in the name of a fair lady.
A single incident, an impression photographic in its swiftness, a chance remark, may be more illuminating than a day’s experiences. One does not need to go to the front for them. Sometimes they come to the gateway of our chateau. They are pages at random out of a library of overwhelming information.
One of the aviation grounds is not far away. Look skyward at almost any hour of the day and you will see a plane, its propeller a roar or a hum according to its altitude. Sometimes it is circling in practice; again, it is off to the front. At break of day the planes appear; in the gloaming they return to roost.