I had come right up to No Man’s Land at last. It was under my chin. The skyline, the last skyline before the British could look down on Bapaume, showed a mangy wood and a ruined village, crouching under repeated gobbings of British shrapnel. “They’ve got a battery just there, and we’re making it uncomfortable.” No Man’s Land itself is a weedy space broken up by shell craters, with very little barbed wire in front of us and very little in front of the Germans. “They’ve got snipers in most of the craters, and you see them at twilight hopping about from one to the other.” We have very little wire because we don’t mean to stay for very long in this trench, but the Germans have very little wire because they have not been able to get it up yet. They never will get it up now....
I had been led to believe that No Man’s Land was littered with the unburied dead, but I saw nothing of the sort at this place. There had been no German counter attack since our men came up here. But at one point as we went along the trench there was a dull stench. “Germans, I think,” said my guide, though I did not see how he could tell.
He looked at his watch and remarked reluctantly, “If you start at once, you may just do it.”
I wanted to catch the Boulogne boat. It was then just past one in the afternoon. We met the stew as we returned along the communication trench, and it smelt very good indeed.... We hurried across the great spaces of rusty desolation upon which every now and again a German shell was bursting....
That night I was in my flat in London. I had finished reading the accumulated letters of some weeks, and I was just going comfortably to bed.
Such are the landscapes and method of modern war. It is more difficult in its nature from war as it was waged in the nineteenth century than that was from the nature of the phalanx or the legion. The nucleus fact—when I talked to General Joffre he was very insistent upon this point—is still as ever the ordinary fighting man, but all the accessories and conditions of his personal encounter with the fighting man of the other side have been revolutionised in a quarter of a century. The fighting together in a close disciplined order, shoulder to shoulder, which has held good for thousands of years as the best and most successful fighting, has been destroyed; the idea of breaking infantry formation as the chief offensive operation has disappeared, the cavalry charge and the cavalry pursuit are as obsolete as the cross-bow. The modern fighting man is as individualised as a half back or a centre forward in a football team. Personal fighting has become “scrapping” again, an individual adventure with knife, club, bomb, revolver or bayonet. In this war we are working out things instead of thinking them out, and these enormous changes are still but imperfectly apprehended. The trained and specialised military man probably apprehends them as feebly as anyone.