But the station rang with laughter and talk. Some one in the canteen began to play “Keep the Home Fires Burning”—and the men in the train joined in, though not very heartily, for as one or two took care to tell me, laughingly—“That and ‘Tipperary’ are awfully stale now!” A bright-faced lad discussed with D—— how long the war would last. “And shan’t we miss it when it’s done!” he said, with a jesting farewell to us, as he jumped into the train which had begun to move. Slowly, slowly it passed out of sight, amid waves of singing and the shouting of good-byes....
It was late that evening, when after much talk with various officers, I went up to my room to try and write, bewildered by a multitude of impressions—impressions of human energy, human intelligence, human suffering. What England is doing in this country will leave, it seems to me, indelible marks upon the national character. I feel a natural pride, as I sit thinking over the day, in all this British efficiency and power, and a quick joy in the consciousness of our fellowship with France, and hers with us. But the struggle at Verdun is still in its first intensity, and when I have read all that the evening newspapers contain about it, there stirs in me a fresh realisation of the meaning of what I have been seeing. In these great bases, in the marvellous railway organisation, in the handling of the vast motor transport in all its forms, in the feeding and equipment of the British Army, we have the scaffolding and preparation of war, which, both in the French and English Armies, have now reached a perfection undreamt of when the contest began. But the war itself—the deadly struggle of that distant line to which it all tends? It is in the flash and roar of the guns, in the courage and endurance of the fighting man, that all this travail of brain and muscle speaks at last. At that courage and endurance, women, after all, can only guess—through whatever rending of their own hearts.
But I was to come somewhat nearer to it than I thought then. The morrow brought surprise.
Our journey farther north through the deep February snow was scarcely less striking as an illustration of Great Britain’s constantly growing share in the war than the sight of the great supply bases themselves. The first part of it, indeed, led over solitary uplands, where the chained wheels of the motor rocked in the snow, and our military chauffeur dared make no stop, for fear he should never be able to start again. All that seemed alive in the white landscape were the partridges—sometimes in great flocks—which scudded at our approach, or occasional groups of hares in the middle distance holding winter parley. The road seemed interminably long and straight, and ours were almost the first tracks in it. The snow came down incessantly, and once or twice it looked as though we should be left stranded in the white wilderness.