And still from the Somme to the Yser, the Anglo-French forces waited; and still across the Channel poured British soldiers and British guns. In industrial England, the Whitsuntide holidays had been given up; and there were at any rate some people who knew that there would be no August holidays either. Leave and letters had been stopped. But there had been apparent signs, wrongly interpreted, before. The great Allied attack on the West—was it ready, at last?
Then—with the 27th of June, along the whole British battle-front of 90 miles, there sprang up a violent and continuous bombardment varied by incessant raids on the enemy lines. Those who witnessed that bombardment can hardly find words in which to describe it. “It was an extraordinary and a terrible spectacle,” says a correspondent. “Within the dreadful zone the woods are leafless, chateau and farm and village, alike, mere heaps of ruins.” Ah! ce beau pays de France—with all its rich and ancient civilisation—it is not French hearts alone that bleed for you! But it was the voice of deliverance, of vengeance, that was speaking in the guns which crashed incessantly day and night, while shells of all calibres rained—so many to the second—from every yard of the British front, on the German lines. The correspondents with the British Headquarters could only speculate with held breath, as to what was happening under that ghastly veil of smoke and fire on the horizon, and what our infantry would find when the artillery work was done, and the attack was launched.
The 1st of July dawned, a beautiful summer morning, with light mists dispersing under the sun. Precisely to the moment, at 7.30 A.M., the Allied artillery lifted their guns, creating a dense barrage of fire between the German front and its support trenches, while the British and French infantry sprang over their parapets and rushed to the attack of the German first line; the British on a front of some twenty-five miles, the French, on about ten miles, on both sides of the Somme. The English journalists, who, watch in hand, saw our men go, “knowing what it was they were going to, marvelled for the fiftieth time at the way in which British manhood has proved itself, in this most terrible of all wars.”
But though it was a grand, it was an anxious moment for those who had trained and shaped the New Armies of Britain. How would they bear themselves, these hundreds of thousands of British and Imperial volunteers, men, some of them, with the shortest possible training compatible with efficiency—against the famous troops of Germany—beside the veteran, the illustrious army of France?