But they were Saxons. Clearly they did not believe all that their Prussian brother told them about his naval victory. Another day they hoisted a surreptitious request, “Shoot high—peace will be declared June 15.” They evidently had their gossip in the German trenches just as we have it in ours—and as we had it in Sydney and Melbourne—absurd rumours which run all round the line for a week, and which no amount of experience prevents some people from believing.
“After all, these ‘furphies’ make life worth living in the trenches,” as one of our men said to me the other day. All the Germans, in a certain part of the line opposite, now firmly believe that the war is going to end on August 17th.
But this is merely the gossip of the German trenches telegraphed across No Man’s Land. I do not know how far the divisional Staff Officer satisfied himself as the result of all his messages, but he did not satisfy the gentleman with the big index.
“There is one way to find out who is there,” the Big Man said, “and that is always the same—to go there and bring some of them back.”
And so twice in the next three weeks the German artillery fired about L30,000 worth of shells, and a party of picked men stole across the open, and in spite of a certain loss on one occasion they took back a few prisoners. And the query went out of the index.
It would be quite easy to present to the German for a penny the facts which it cost him L60,000 and good men’s lives to obtain. When you know this, you can understand why the casualties reported in the papers do not any longer state the units of the men who have suffered them.
THE GREAT BATTLE BEGINS
France, July 1st.
Below me, in the dimple beyond the hill on which I sit, is a small French town. Straight behind the town is the morning sun, only an hour risen. Between the sun and the town, and, therefore, only just to be made out through the haze of sunlight on the mists, are two lines—a nearer and a farther—of gently sloping hill-tops. On those hills is being fought one of the greatest battles in history. It is British troops who are fighting it, and French. The Canadians are in their lines in the salient. The Australians and New Zealanders—it has now been officially stated—are at Armentieres.
A few minutes ago, at half-past six by summer-time, the British bombardment, which has continued heavily for six days, suddenly came in with a crash, as an orchestra might enter on its grand finale. Last night, some of us who were out here watched the British shells playing up and down the distant skyline, running over it from end to end as a player might run the fingers of one hand lightly over the piano keys. There were three or four flashes every second, here or there in that horizon; night and day for six days that had continued. Within the last few minutes, starting with two or three big heart bangs from a battery near us, the noise suddenly expanded into a constant detonation. It was exactly as though the player began, on an instant, to use all the keys at once.