Stemming the Teuton Tide
The Last Stand of the Princess Pats
U ho wrote “Engländer Schwein“The Soul of the Assault,” etc.
Note.—In the two articles which have already appeared, Mr. Pearson told how the original Princess Pats were ordered to retreat from their lines in Polygon Wood to a new front some miles back where on the fateful May 4th they were almost annihilated. In the accompanying article he tells of the German attack on May 8th in which practically all of the remaining “originals” were killed or wounded. Roll call at the close of - the day revealed only 140 men still fit for duty out of what had been a full battalion when the drive began.
WOSTENHOLM was sitting on the bottom of the trench with his back to the parados, cleaning his rifle once more as he had already done a dozen times that morning after each near-by burst that had flung its own charge of mud and grit into the mechanism of the breech. He clamped the butt of the rifle betweeft the soles of his ammunition boots and, bracing all three against the base of the parapet, engaged his left hand on the stock of the rifle, bolding it in position while he gave the right hand a couple of twists so that the slack end of the pullthrough wrapped around the palm, after which he tugged until the cotton rag at the other end gave to the pressure of the pull, left the breech and slid along the barrel of the rifle, bringing the grit with it. He hurried so as to be ready for the next attack which would certainly be only a matter of time and in the turmoil of the moment not dreaming that one was even then under way. It was in this sitting position and with both hands engaged that a German bayonet found a home in him.
It came from the rear and without any warning other than the shock of the impact of the standard of the bayonet ?^a;nst his shoulder blade and which in itself had so much of weight behind it that
in the shock of the moment he was quite sure that he was killed.
“They’re here!” he screamed. He looked down and his distended eyes saw the haft of the bayonet sticking out of his breast so that even in the flood of unreasoning terror that swept over him he found time to wonder why there was no pain. And so this then was death. By this time the air was full of the murmur of attack—cries, shouts and blows; the crack of rifles close-fired and the clank of steel meeting steel.
'T'ERROR left him because it could find -1 no welcome in any of his breed. He flung his whole weight to one side and wriggled desperately with all the strength of his small body to be free from the impalement. He fell off. He was not impaled at all for the bayonet had merely slipped in between and under the straps of the back portion of his equipment, through the cloth of the tunic, through the lanyard and the straps in front and out the breast pocket, pushing out of the latter as it did so the papers of a dead man which this indefatigable soldier had lately added to his collection for the thoughtful easing of the uncertainty of the mothers and wives of lost comrades. It was thus that the standard had struck home so that the shock had made him quite mad with fear for that one brief moment.
Just then his German, who stood on the parados, toppled over, let go all holds and fell: kicking spasmodically. It was so sudden that his pointed rifle which had been raised to shoot Wostenholm almost speared him as it fell from the dead hand
and the bayonet did in fact strike him in the jaw. The lurch that had freed him from the bayonet had caused him to let go his own rifle with so much force that it had fallen under the feet of the struggling men who now filler every corner of this portion of the trench. He had desperate need of a rifle and was by this time very angry at so rude an interruption of the cleaning of his own. The German weapon was only half useful, for bayonet work alone. He required one that would fit his British ammunition and so began to crawl up on to the edge of the parados, seeking the rifle of one of the several Patricia casualties who lay there and was already reaching out for such a one when there was a crack and a burst of flame; the world briefly and temporarily came to a sudden violent end at his very ear; a heavy blow on the foot turned him completely over and it was only a quick inspection that showed him that it was gone although the loss mercifully enough caused him no pain.
Other shells followed. There was desperate hand-to-hand fighting all along the line as he could plainly see from his higher position where he lay on the top of the parados. Many German shells fell amongst these men, killing Canadians and Prussians alike. Great bodies of the latter poured in from all sides and from the front and rear. They had not yet gained the support trench, although in the attempt to do so some were dying all along the length of its parapet from which our lads with their heads well up now poured in a terribly destructive fire on these of the enemy who had not yet found the doubtful shelter of our fire-trench or the ardour of whose charge had carried them over the latter and on to the supporttrench itself, in which event they died in Rood order in their tracks.
All along the fire-trench where Wostenholm lay, small groups now detached
themselves and fought with varying fortunes until the quick arrival of more Germans in each case added to the size of the group and made certain the decision of that particular and unequal struggle so that the violent wave of its heads and arms inevitably subsided into another mass of hurrying Germans who, having cleared one more spot of Patricias, sought any fresh disputant of their right here. Those shells, the continued presence of which had in the first place lulled the defenders of this point into a false sense of security, continued to drive home at irregular intervals amongst both friend and foe with an impartiality that must, because of its unfriendly lack of consideration, have preyed harder on German than on Canadian hearts, not because those of the former were any less sturdy but because German shells were meant to aid and instead of which they were cheerfully killing and perhaps demoralizing German soldiers, all of which cheered our lads wonderfully for it lessened the heavy odds against them. Dozens of Germans came to their end and to our aid in this manner.
VyOSTENHOLM was brought back to ' ' earth by a violent movement at his foot that jerked him violently, sans ceremony, back into the trench where he sprawled ungracefully at the feet of a German who seemed many times larger than even a very large man could possibly have been so that the Pat. began with what courage he could muster to recite to himself our well worn litany: “Well —■If I’m for it: I’m for it.” and hoped that the end would be a swift one, for he had no arms, was hopelessly maimed and was still dazed from the shock of the bursting shell.
The German growled a guttural something that he could make nothing of but which seemed to Wostenholm gloriously like not killing, grasped him by the slack of his tunic under the arm-pits, dragged him further back and laid him against the parapet, more out of harm’s way. He growled again in a shame-faced sort of manner and angrily thrust a cigarette between Wostenholm’s lips, lit it, picked up his own smoking rifle and strode heavily away to assist a Kamerad in the task of dispatching a lithe Patricia who was fighting so well as to threaten that section of Kultur which faced them. The two of them killed the one Pat.; none the less the heart of Wostenholm warmed to this man who could thus succor with one gentle hand the comrade of a man he killed with the other harder one and so that he hoped that he might some day shake the kinder
It was possible now for the wounded man to detach from out of the struggling groups, well known faces. There was Badley, wounded and disarmed with his
hands up and a big German at the parapet with his rifle pointed at the Pat.’s breast as though undecided whether to strike or not. Some other forgotten one of the multiplicity of terrible things of the moment happened just then to distract Wostenholm’s attention elsewhere so that he did not see the outcome, but Badley was never again seen alive.
Someone spoke and Wostenholm made out Barrett laying further up the trench and like himself out of action. Although they were only seven yards apart they could scarcely hear one another for the din of clashing weapons, the smack of rifle-fire, the shouts and groans of fighting and dying men that themselves were only superimposed on the denser background of sound made by the still falling shells.
“What d’ye think we’d better do?” they shouted at one another. Just then a shell struck home and blew Barrett up so that in front of the other man’s startled eyes he catapulted like a hurling tom-cat and so that the last that Wostenholm saw of him was his well bent hips flying through space; thereby causing him to remark to himself and to the whirring shells: “Well, there goes Barrett - - - His
troubles are over anyhow,” a conclusion that seemed amply justified by the fact that the traveller failed, so far as his observer could see, to come down even in pieces, and which amply bore out the obvious theory that it was because he was probably travelling in opposite directions.
But some months afterward on the occasion of an eagerly looked for garden party which signified the beginning of Wostenholm’s convalescence he was astonished to observe a face that was so familiar as to cause him to later remark: “An’ bless my ribs, if it wasn’t Barrett.”
THERE was fighting all about. Kelso was putting up a magnificent one. He had exhausted the contents of his rifle and fought now with the bayonet and all the muscles of his body so that he died in the splendour of other souls crashing a path ahead for this one of his which had thus sped them on to pave his greater way. They shot at him from close quarters;
they missed, they shot true; they stabbed and struck; he dodged the one perhaps in time only to receive the other truer stroke; they swarmed up and thronged over him, smearing him with their blood and receiving his so that it was in the eyes of all and so that he shook himself angrily in great growling bear-shakes that flung the weaker men who hung to him sprawling amongst their dead and ours. No one saw the end. It is only known that he was not taken prisoner and that he, like Badley, was marked as “Missing,” after this witnessed struggle.
The sanguinary struggles that had for a few minutes immortalized this strip of trench died down : The trench was clear-
ed and the main body of the Germans hurled themselves over at the support trench. Our men there lined the parapet and gave them “Rapid-Fire” so warmly that those Germans who escaped it were glad to fling themselves down, panting, in the fire-trench.
Wostenholm could see, however, that they had broken through on the right of the support-trench line and were making for the farm in which we had found the cow and the rice on the 4th and the seizing of which would enable them to enfilade the support trench and perhaps to envelop it in a surrounding movement. He decided that it was time to go if he did not want a trip to Germany. Better a quick end from a sniper than that. He girded his loins and looked about him. There were no whole Germans close by. He could see some further up the trench but they were well beyond the communication trench which formed his hoped-for means of egress; so he hoped to avoid them. He crawled toward it as rapidly as his smashed foot would allow, keeping his head well down so as to avoid all unfriendly observation. The communication trench was the same chamber of horrors through which he had clawed his way with the message of succor on the 4th. But if it had been that then, it was infinitely worse now; for it was blocked and choked shoulder-high with the dead, theirs and ours, a head there, a leg there, the cries of the tortured and buried wounded running through and dominating all other sounds and making of it an inferno of blood and mutilated suffering, the materialization of a maniac’s dream. Wostenholm crawled over them. They stirred and squirmed under his affrighted hand like uneasy worms, each move as much a fresh torture to the shocked man who caused it as to those beneath who suffered it until his mind could neither stand nor his limbs make any progress through so cruel a charnel-house. H e pulled himself forthwith to the level of the ground and fell to hopping on one foot along the broken rim of the communication trench. At that he overbalanced and fell down so that he went instead to creeping, a procedure that was in its turn more rudely in-
terrupted by the bullet that creased his scalp and knocked him down again so that he thought that he had surely died this time, and had, too, in so far as shock counts for that. However, it was only a glancing blow which did no harm beyond the dazed condition that it left him in and the channels of blood from it that persisted in getting into his eyes and so obstructing vision. He crawled on, one foot gone, a hole in his head and a bayonet thrust along his breast, but still going strong. He had passed the supporttrench and was in the act of drawing his mutilated body through the wire that fronted the wood and safety when he saw the sergeant-major of his company, or rather the upper end of his six feet four of stringy length peering mildly over the
top of the trench at him : “Get down-
You silly ass! Get down,” Wostenholm shouted. There was the usual crash, flame and crowding pressure of an air that rained missiles and he saw “Big Mac” crumple up and go down in a manner that could mean only one thing and that not a good one: There was no need to
go and look. Bellewaarde Wood opened up and swallowed Wostenholm.
TPHE commanding officer* who had just returned from hospital in England a few days before was wounded early in the day but like this other would not accept such a quietus. Instead, he crawled around just as he had done for many days on the occasion of his previous w'ounding at St. Eloi, and kept in active command of the situation. But a shell found him squarely about seven o’clock, mangling him badly beyond any possibility of standing let alone walking. He had been in the forefront of all inspiring activity since the beginning of the end and although he could no longer remain in active command, the courageous spirit of the man «ove him on to do the Spartan impossible. He crawled up and down that bloody lane —a shattered hulk, a shocking thing of blood to any eyes that saw less well than those of these devoted men of his for whom he now risked the faint spark of all his slight remaining strength and all hope of dearer life itself, and glad to do it too; the one driving order of his soldier brain, the safety of his comrade-men. Others who were perhaps of lesser interest to their comrades had to remain in the trench unless they were themselves able to c»a?y ^e rear and so escape the agony the waiting and the watching and all the other pain of all other comrades without even the negative relief of any blessed action of their own to obviate it. And it was this, the common lot of those of lesser rank, which the commanding officer elected to share; although the others were insistent that he should allow them to take him to the rear “No,” he said, “I’ll stay here with you fellows until you’re relieved,” and no doubt added to himself what all now looked upon as certain of fulfillment Or be done in with you.” And stay he did, for all the ten long hours of the terrible day.
He had to lie so throughout the agony of the first attack, and, what was worse for w’ounded men than whole ones, powerless to help and perhaps because of the need of every rifle at the parapet, for the moment, forgotten. He slowly crawled around from point to point, an injured anxious animal, all eyes, but at least easing his soldierly concern for his men and the position in his charge. The bombardme,nt ™ent on with increasing intensity and although his men crept up to him
•Major Hamilton Gault.
offering succor and to carry him out, he bit his lips, shook his head and tried to
The tortured wood behind was blown away and all signs pointed to the swift approach of the inevitable end. All knew by this time that the regiment was now unsupported on either side and had been left as picked troops to stem the Teuton
tide and if need be-go down in it.
At that moment when the cessation of this terrible fire indicated the certain assault of the enemy infantry, the recumbent and now exhausted officer bade bearers come to him and take him from shattered traverse to broken bay in order that he might see for himself what was left of his men and of the trench. From behind closed lids he spoke to all he might, giving to them freely of his own courage to sustain them for the end and bidding them draw their beads steadily to the fineness of a silken hair and in the clash of closer arms to lose no whit of the good cunning of a man-at-arms but to strike shrewdly for the old regiment and the right.
/\ T that last moment when further delay might prove hazardous the commanding officer prepared himself to die as a Patricia should, after the former fashion set by the old colonel when he had died and by his successor, the adjutant, who had been blinded a few days before. He bade his bearers lay him down with his face to the foe and fit him out for the swine with a private arsenal of his own. They laid him across the trench as comfortably as might be, and propped his head against the parados.
“Give me my revolver,” he said and, pointing at the same time to a dead officer, added: “And his.”
They placed one in each hand and the fully loaded rifle of another casualty on either side for use as needed and then left him in a sudden rush to man the parapet for pressing work of their own. The clash and smack of small arms fire now almost drowned the greater and less frequent racket of the shells. The cries of suddenly wounded men intermingled shrilly in the din with a strange murmur of confusing sounds from the fire-trench where God only knew what was happening for all could see that the Boche had gained entrance there but that the trench still swirled angrily in the private fights of true hearts of oak. There was nothing to do but wait. The commanding officer settled his smashed body, perhaps glanced at the wrecks of others that surrounded him, gripped his guns the tighter and settled back against the parados with what to any one who knew him must have been a sigh of content, happy in the knowledge that he should pass out in so tidy a bickering and amongst his mates, waiting with them for the worst and best that Death
could offer to any man of the Patricias, a swift passage to the old colonel and to the ranks of all those old boys, whom all knew now hovered overhead, waiting to present arms at the gate.
A FTER the main crash of the assault had subsided small waves of it ebbed and flowed with the private and terrible tragedies of soldiers who had been left alone between friend and foe, exposed to the raking return fire of each and if they could muster strength to travel at all not knowing which way to go and by nature of the circumstances denied all help of friends. Some came swiftly to a longed for end at the hands of embittered foemen who thought it sporting to shoot down crawling men who were already stamped with death.
There was one Pat. who came mercifully to his end at the hand of his own mate. He was a badly wounded survivor of the firetrench who had managed to get over the top and part way home when what may have been either a chance or a directed German bullet wounded him afresh in the head and in such a manner that although he was not dead it seemed certain that he soon would be and in any event the most casual glance disclosed the fact that it would prove a great misfortune if he should have the great ill fortune to live. A certain man saw this and in hysteria jmplored that some one should put out of its misery that bloody crawling bundle of mewing rags that writhed aimlessly and that once had been his own dear mate. The others looked at him with dead eyes, seeming not to hear so that his own face froze at their silence. He seized his rifle and after sighting it with great care, held it rigidly to his shoulder, shut his eyes, pulled the trigger and turned away without looking with his face of stone since he well knew that he could not have missed.
Further over another fared better. It was one of the crew of the thrice-buried gun. He was quite blinded for the moment by the distressing nature of his wounds and it was only with the greatest difficulty that he could be recognized by those who so anxiously watched his erratic progress in swiftly snatched quiet moments of the lessening storm. He pawed aimlessly around—the blood so thick on his eyes that he was in doubt whether he was not returning to the German-made shambles from which he had just crawled on this one bare chance of safety. The energizing voice of Mr. Papineau came to him in tones of mingled encouragement and direction: “This way, Mac! - - - This way:
Keep right on coming---You’re doin’
fine - - - keep to the right: Right!
Right! - - - Keep to the right,” and so on at no small risk to the officer who thus directed him and who had to expose his own head to give even the poor comfort of those inadequate directions until the gunner came within reach, when the officer leaned out and dragged the man in before the latter fainted.
JJY THE time the worst features of the second attack had subsided it was half-past ten o’clock. A hasty survey of the situation disclosed the main feature of it, most of the men out of and only four officers in action, and all of them lieutenants. And such was the personnel of the regiment that one of them was that Talbot Papineau who was a grandson of the rebel of ’37 and a cousin of the Nationalist, Bourassa, of to-day, whom many call worse than rebel.
With the elimination of the active participation of the commanding officer in the command, that had fallen some time since
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to the diminutive Nevin. He had been a “full” private that day at Ottawa on which we had received the colors that now reposed back there in the skeleton of Bellewaarde Wood and he was now temporary commanding officer of this skeleton of a regiment which still held fast to those same colors. He proceeded to reorganize this remnant to the best advantage for the holding of whatever ground was still intact.
It was solely a matter of linking up and otherwise co-ordinating such survivors as were available for this service. There was no need either to order the men to do this nor to direct them how to do it for that knowledge was the bitterly earned equipment of every old hand there and the young ones needed only their example before all were digging desperately in each moment of respite, clearing out the caved in portions of the trench, lifting bodies to one side, evacuating wounded from the more valuable strategical portions of the trench and dragging sand-bags from weak and useless points for the additional strength they might give to less injured portions. These things, amongst old soldiers, required no orders, only a nominal directing organization to insure that there should be no overlapping duplication of effort. But at best such efforts were sporadic and erratic for the men, however willing, were spent and worn, and apparently barren of all emotions, but in reality so fiercely steeped in all of them that their outraged nerves and systems no longer reacted to any and so that they were stunned with the sheer immensity of the accumulation of shocks which their shattered frames had absorbed up to this dangerous point of saturation at which they now labored dully, without any of the fine ardour and splendid enthusiasm that had uplifted and spurred them on in the earlier and less tired hours, impervious alike to the prospect of the speedy annihilation of such of them as survived and of the sufferings of their comrades whom they dressed, shifted and gave precious water to in the lackadaisical and detached manner of uninterested spectators of remote and unpainful sufferings.
The opportunity for such vicarious labor lasted barely until noon for from then on until half-past one they were subjected to so galling a shell-fire that they could only cower in the less injured portions of the trench and shudder the hours away, praying for the thing to cease, for the Germans to come on, for the swift and natural end of Purgatory and for swift union with their waiting comrades. The guns rolled on, the vast key-board of the front registering the hammering unison of their simultaneous striking so that the ear-pans could no longer register anything more definite than sound-chaos and so that the brain, the head and the entire
structure of the physical body reacted and rocked with the dull boring insistence of a grinding corkscrew pain that hurt to the racking, screaming point.
Somehow, some time, it lifted without that aftermath of a charge which all expected—because forsooth there was by German reckoning nothing left to charge. Certain it was that all the arduous work of the late morning had been undone and even made more necessary than it had been in the first instance. But inversely there was little or no strength nor even numbers with which to pursue the obvious course of a second rejuvenation of the trench so that they lay in an open deathtrap for the remainder of the day.
A T half-past one the reinforcements AY which had been so long hoped for leaked stealthily out from behind the skeleton trees. It was only a weakened platoon of the reserve battalion but they seemed a miracle to the hope-dead men here although the inarticulate souls of them would permit their acknowledgement of that fact only in the grateful manner in which their dead eyes hung on and followed these new men as they slipped into the flattened trench and oozed themselves along and into position on the right. They lay there on their bellies and behind the trunks of blasted trees in that tortured wood, behind the whisp of a hedge, in shell holes, anywhere in the cemetery that offered the least cover to men so that at the last and necessary moment they could to advantage rise up, surprise the foe and in the good company of their comrades of the Patricias-
Many months afterward a scientific investigator in the field of the occult sat on the sun swept slope of an English manorhouse engaged in conversation with a blue-clad figure who reclined in a wheel chair at his side: “Have you ever seen
the angels of Mons?”
The Pat. dusted the ashes from his cigarette gravely. “Mons? No - - - - We weren’t there - - But angels?- - Yes,” and he gassed the investigator with the wraith of his Woodbine.
“What?” - - and the pencil and the pad came out under fingers that trembled: “My dear chap. You’ve actually seen other angels? - - - Why - - - Why, its immense - - This is new - - the Society will - - Yes! Yes! Tell me! Quick!”
“Well, pardner; I don’t rightly know if the Pat.’s angels are the kind you’re rootin’ for or not - - You see,” and he leaned forward in all the confidential curves of the cupped hand, bent head and spine of the extreme zenith of mystery. “Our angels all had R.B. on their shoulder straps and the biggest one o’ the lot was packin’ a machine-gun.”