“The Germans,” says this recent eye-witness, “have persisted that, even if we could find the men, we could not make the machine, which they have been perfecting for forty years and more. But it is here!—operating with perfect smoothness; a machine, which in its mere mass and intricacy, almost staggers the imagination. One cannot speak of the details of the system for fear of saying something which should not be told; but it is stupendous in its proportion, dealing as it does with the methodical handling of the men in their hundreds of thousands, of all their equipment and supplies, food, miscellaneous baggage and ammunition, and with the endless trains of guns—guns—guns, and shells, by millions upon millions, all brought from England, and all here in their place, or moved from place to place with the rhythm of clock-work. One cannot convey any idea of it, nor grasp it in its entirety; but day by day the immensity of it grows on one, and one realises how trivial beside it has been anything that British military organisation has had to do in the past. That is the real miracle; not the mere millions of men, nor even their bravery, but this huge frictionless machine of which they are a part—this thing which Great Britain has put together here in the last twenty months.”
But just as in March my thoughts pressed eagerly forward, from the sight allowed me of the machine, to its uses on the battle-front, to that line of living and fighting men for which it exists—so now.
Only, since I stood upon the hill near Poperinghe on March 2nd, that line of men has been indefinitely strengthened; and the main scene of battle is no longer the Ypres salient. Looking southward from the old windmill, whose supports sheltered us on that cold spring afternoon, I knew that, past Bailleul, and past Neuve Chapelle, I was looking straight toward Albert and the Somme, and I knew too that it was there that the British were taking over a new portion of the line,—so that we might be of some increased support—all that was then allowed us by the Allied Command!—to that incredible defence of Verdun, which was in all our minds and hearts.
But what I could not know was that in that misty distance was hidden—four months away—a future movement, at which no one then guessed, outside the higher brains of the Army. The days went on. The tide of battle ebbed and flowed round Verdun. The Crown Prince hewed and hacked his way, with enormous loss to Germany, to points within three and four miles of the coveted town—fortress no longer. But there France stopped him—like the beast of prey that has caught its claws in the iron network it is trying to batter down, and cannot release them; and there he is still. Meanwhile, in June, seven to eight weeks before the expected moment, Brusiloff’s attack broke loose, and the Austrian front began to crumble; just in time to bring the Italians welcome aid in the Trentino.