Having failed to reach the gap, the Germans, with that stubbornness of the offensive which characterizes them, tried to take Nancy. They got a battery of heavy guns within range of the city. From a high hill it is said that the Kaiser watched the bombardment. But here is a story. As the German infantry advanced toward their new objective they passed a French artillery officer in a tree. He was able to locate that heavy battery and able to signal its position back to his own side. The French concentrated sufficient fire to silence it after it had thrown forty shells into Nancy. The same report tells how the Kaiser folded his cloak around him and walked in silence from his eminence, where the sun blazed on his helmet. It was not the Germans’ fault that they failed to take Nancy. It was due to the French.
Some time a tablet will be put up to denote the high-water mark of the German invasion of Lorraine. It will be between the edge of the forest of Champenoux and the heights. When the Germans charged from the cover of the forest to get possession of the road to Nancy, the French artillery and machine-guns which had held their fire turned loose. The rest of the story is how the French infantry, impatient at being held back, swept down in a counter-attack, and the Germans had to give up their campaign in Lorraine as they gave up their campaign against Paris in the early part of September. Saddest of all lost opportunities to the correspondent in this war is this fighting in Lorraine. One had only to climb a hill in order to see everything!
In half an hour, as the officer outlined the positions, we had lived through the two weeks’ fighting; and, thanks to the fairness of his story—that of a professional soldier without illusions—we felt that we had been hearing history while it was very fresh.
“They are very brave and skilful, the Germans,” he said. “We still have a battery of heavy guns on the plateau. Let us go and see it.”
We went, picking our way among the snow-covered shell-pits. At one point we crossed a communication trench, where soldiers could go and come to the guns and the infantry positions without being exposed to shell-fire. I noticed that it carried a telephone wire.
“Yes,” said the officer; “we had no ditch during the fight with the Germans, and we were short of telephone wire for a while; so we had to carry messages back and forth as in the old days. It was a pretty warm kind of messenger service when the German marmites were falling their thickest.”
At length he stopped before a small mound of earth not in any way distinctive at a short distance on the uneven surface of the plateau. I did not even notice that there were three other such mounds. He pointed to a hole in the ground. I had been used to going through a manhole in a battleship turret, but not through one into a field-gun position before aeroplanes played a part in war.