They had been fighting and fighting and fighting until their nerves were nothing but a jangling torture. And a counter-attack on Neuve Chapelle was being organised. Huggie told me afterwards that when the car had come along the road, all the men had jumped like startled animals and a few had turned to take cover. Why, if a child had met one of these men she would have taken him by the hand instinctively and told him not to be frightened, and defended him against anything that came. Yet it is said there are still those at home who will not stir to help. I do not see how this can possibly be true. It could not be true.
First we talked about the counter-attack, and which battalion would lead; then with a little manipulation we began to discuss musical comedy and the beauty of certain ladies. Again the talk would wander back to which battalion would lead.
I returned perilously with a despatch and left Huggie, to spend a disturbed night and experience those curious sensations which are caused by a shell bursting just across the road from the house.
The proposed attack was given up. If it had been carried out, those men would have fought as finely as they could. I do not know whether my admiration for the infantry or my hatred of war is the greater. I can express neither.
On the following day the Brigadier moved to a farm farther north. It was the job of Huggie and myself to keep up communication between this farm and the brigade headquarters at the farm with the forgettable name. To ride four miles or so along country lanes from one farm to another does not sound particularly strenuous. It was. In the first place, the neighbourhood of the advanced farm was not healthy. The front gate was marked down by a sniper who fired not infrequently but a little high. Between the back gate and the main road was impassable mud. Again, the farm was only three-quarters of a mile behind our trenches, and “overs” went zipping through the farm buildings at all sorts of unexpected angles. There were German aeroplanes about, so we covered our stationary motor-cycles with straw.
Starting from brigade headquarters the despatch rider in half a mile was forced to pass the transport of a Field Ambulance. The men seemed to take a perverted delight in wandering aimlessly and deafly across the road, and in leaving anything on the road which could conceivably obstruct or annoy a motor-cyclist. Then came two and a half miles of winding country lanes. They were covered with grease. Every corner was blind. A particularly sharp turn to the right and the despatch rider rode a couple of hundred yards in front of a battery in action that the Germans were trying to find. A “hairpin” corner round a house followed. This he would take with remarkable skill and alacrity, because at this corner he was always sniped. The German’s rifle was trained a trifle high. Coming into the final straight the despatch rider or one despatch rider rode for all he was worth. It was unpleasant to find new shell-holes just off the road each time you passed, or, as you came into the straight, to hear the shriek of shrapnel between you and the farm.