As we turned back, I noticed a little ruined cottage, with a Red Cross flag floating. Our guide explained that it was a field dressing-station. It was not for us—who could not help—to ask to go in. But the thought of it—there were some badly wounded in it—pursued me as we walked on through the beautiful evening.
A little farther we came across what I think moved me more than anything else in that crowded hour—those same companies of men we had seen sitting waiting in the fields, now marching quietly, spaced one behind the other, up to the trenches, to take their turn there. Every day I am accustomed to see bodies, small and large, of khaki-clad men, marching through these Hertfordshire lanes. But this was different. The bearing was erect and manly, the faces perfectly cheerful; but there was the seriousness in them of men who knew well the work to which they were going. I caught a little quiet whistling, sometimes, but no singing. We greeted them as they passed, with a shy “Good luck!” and they smiled shyly back, surprised, of course, to see a couple of women on that road. But there was no shyness towards the General. It was very evident that the relations between him and them were as good as affection and confidence on both sides could make them.
I still see the bright tea-table in that corner of a ruined farm, where our young officers presently greeted us—the General marking our maps to make clear where he had actually been—the Captain of the battery springing up to show off his gramophone—while the guns crashed at intervals close beside us, range-finding, probably, searching out a portion of the German line, under the direction of some hidden observer with his telephone. It was over all too quickly. Time was up, and soon the motor was speeding back towards the Divisional Headquarters. The General and I talked of war, and what could be done to stop it. A more practical religion “lifting mankind again"?—a new St. Francis, preaching the old things in new ways? “But in this war we had and we have no choice. We are fighting for civilisation and freedom, and we must go on till we win.”
It was long before I closed my eyes in the pretty room of the old chateau, after an evening spent in talk with some officers of the Headquarters Staff. When I woke in the dawn I little guessed what the day (March 2nd) was to bring forth, or what was already happening thirty miles away on the firing line. Zelie, the femme de menage, brought us our breakfast to our room, coffee and bread and eggs, and by half-past nine we were down-stairs, booted and spurred, to find the motor at the door, a simple lunch being packed up, and gas-helmets got ready! “We have had a very successful action this morning,” said Captain ——, evidently in the best of spirits. “We have taken back some trenches on the Ypres-Comines Canal that we lost a little while ago, and captured about 200 prisoners. If we go off at once, we shall be in time to see the German counter-attack.”