“Why don’t you boom your Generals?” said an American diplomatist to me some eight months ago. “Your public at home knows far too little about them individually. But the personal popularity of the military leader in such a national war as this is a military asset.”
I believe I entirely agree with the speaker! But it is not the British military way, and the unwritten laws of the Service stand firm. So let me only remind you that General Horne led the artillery at Mons; that he has commanded the First Army since September, 1916; that, in conjunction with Sir Julian Byng, he carried the Vimy Ridge in 1917, and held the left at Arras in 1918; and, finally, that he was the northernmost of the three Army Commanders who stormed the Hindenburg line last September.
It was in his study and listening to the explanations he gave me, so clearly and kindly, of the Staff maps that lay before us, that I first realised with anything like sufficient sharpness the meaning of those words we have all repeated so often without understanding them—“the capture of the Hindenburg line.”
What was the Hindenburg line?
TANKS AND THE HINDENBURG LINE
We left Valenciennes on the morning of January 12th. By great luck, an officer from the First Army, who knew every inch of the ground to be traversed, was with us, in addition to the officer from G.H.Q., who, as is always the case with Army visitors, accompanied us most courteously and efficiently throughout. Captain X took us by a by-road through the district south of Valenciennes, where in October last year our troops were fighting a war of movement, in open country, on two fronts—to the north and to the east. There were no trenches in the desolate fields we passed through, but many shell-holes, and the banks of every road were honeycombed with shelters, dug-outs and gun-emplacements, rough defences that as the German Army retreated our men had taken over and altered to their own needs; while to the west lay the valley of the Sensee with its marshes, the scene of some of the most critical fighting of the war.
From the wrecked centre of Cambrai a short run over field roads takes you to the high ground north-west of the city which witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of last autumn. I still see the jagged ruins of the little village of Abancourt—totally destroyed in two days’ bombardment—standing sharp against the sky, on a ridge which looks over the Sensee valley; the shell-broken road in which the car—most complaisant of cars and most skilful of drivers!—finally stuck; and those hastily dug shelters on the road-side in one of which I suddenly noticed a soldier’s coat and water-bottle lying just as they had been left two months before. There were no terrible sights now in these lonely fields as there were then, but occasionally, as with this coat, the refuse of battle took one back to the living presences that once filled these roads—the men, to whom Marshal Haig expresses the gratitude of a great Commander in many a simple yet moving passage of his last dispatch.