Our Despatches from the Front.
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How Convoys have to Cross Old Battlefields—Where Bridges are Broken— The Battle of the Aisne—Tales of Disabled Lorries.
These messages have been submitted to and censored by the Press Bureau, which does not object to The publication but takes no responsibility for the correctness of the statements contained therein.—En,
MN Supply Column, MEI M.T. Co. A.S.C., British Expeditionary Force, Tuesday, 15th September, 1914.
One journey began at 7.30 a.m. on Friday, 11th September, and finished at 4.30 p.m. on Saturday, 12th; during most of the time it poured with rain, and I was sticking to the saddle while my feet squelched in my boots. At 2.30 a.m. on Saturday morning I was sent out by myself with a despatch, and a wrong turning took me almost into the German lines. Luckily I came across some Jocks (Highlanders), who told me where I was. After carrying out my instructions, I returned to the convoy at 10.30 a.m.
Though most of the cars are running excellently, there are naturally a few breakages, and EMMEN IIIMININIMMIIMINI IMMINE11••••••111.1111= IMMENNIIIIIIM•1111111 111111•11M••••••1111111111.• 11111111111111•111M111111111111111111111M1•11111111111••••• .111•••••••11111111•••••1111111111•, Convoy Crosses Old Battlefield where "2000 Dead Germans were Lying."
Some of the experiences which we have to go through may be of interest. On one journey we went through several battlefields strewn with parts of equipment, unused ammunition, etc. In one field alone 2000 dead Germans were lying • they had been there for three days at least, and the French were making funeral pyres of their bodies. At .another place we passed through some thick woods, and here the stench was too horrible for words. At other places along the route it wat. quite bad enough, but in the woods the dead had apparently been left unburied.
Heavy Motorcycle Casualty List.
At night the convoys sometimes run without lights, and it is then surprising how few ever get into the ditches ; in. Many parts the roads are very narrow and deeply rutted. The other night I was thrown cif my bike three times in ten minutes, luckily without d age to it or myself.
We started with five motorcycles in our column, and mine is the only one surviving. Luckily, it is in very good condition, as whenever possible I lubricate and attend to little repairs; the other four are either smashed or lost.
Many amusing incidents occur here as well as the tragic ones. Sometimes I could almost imagine myself in Piccadilly, as the same busmen call out the same old greeting : "What cheer, Bill. Early turn this week, eh ? " Another, after we have been work ing all night : " What ho, blackleg?" or "Ease up, Bill, there's 'a police trap close by.
Lorry Drivers are Experts in Ovekoading—of a Sort.
A lot of the men have previously worked as horse or motor lorry drivers, and are experts in loading, particularly in loading slightly more than is down on the quartermaster's sheet! At least, this is so in OUT column. Some of the others carry ammunition, and these often run short of rations for themselves. Often, when passing these convoys, our men throw provisions to the others, these being much appreciated. IMMENEMMMINIMMEM, Wednesday, Mtn, September.
Two Side-slips Block a Transport Column.
We have been out since 2.30 p.m. yesterday ; it is now noon, and we are not quite back to the rait-head yet. I am sitting on my bicycle, holding it up with my feet while writing this. The column has halted to let troops pass, and I shall not be sorry when we finish for the day !I! Last night it again poured, and the roads over which we passed were in a terrible condition. One five-tonner slid into soft ground at the right side of a road, and another vehicle, a Daimler, in endeavouring to pass it, buried its left back wheel axle-deep on the left side, thus blocking all passage. I went ahead on my cycle to explain the cause of our tardy appearance, but in the meantime by Herculean efforts and the use of spades, jacks and another vehicle to tow, both lorries were safely extracted.
During the whole of this time a heavy artillery duel was taking place, and the flashes as the shells burst could be clearly seen. nowever, they were not close enough to disturb our peace of mind.
Clever German Bridge Building.
At several places on the route bridges had been blown up ; these had, however, been temporarily replaced by wooden constructions, some of which looked none too strong for five-tonners. The vehicles were only allowed over one at a time to make the procedure as little risky as possible, and all passed across safely. [See the full-page illustration opposite.--En.] At one pined the Germans had erected a pontoon bridge, built over large barges, and in another a very substantial wooden construction, well staked into a rapidly-flowing river about 6 ft. deep in the centre. The latter bridge was a remarkable piece of engineering construction, and was so strong that even our heaviest lorries hardly shook it. The height of the bridge was obtained by superimposed lengths of wood held in position by stakes and strengthened by a network of stout planks and train rails. Across the piers thus formed, rails were fastened, and over this the surface planks, which were prevented from jumping up by other rails fastened on top The Battle of the Aisne—from a Haystack.
On the way back to the rail-head this morning I climbed a hayrick and witnessed one of the most wonderful, if not the most wonderful battle that the world has ever known. The German army was entrenched in a huge valley, and on the surrounding hills were stationed British and French guns. The arena was about 25 or 30 miles across, and the view I obtained from high ground overlooking the valley was most impressive. As I had not got a pair of binoculars with me, one of our lieutenants kindly lent me his. By their aid I could discern the trenches and could clearly see the shells bursting over them. Sometimes five or more would simultaneously burst within a fee,e hundred yards of each other, and from near to far away in the distance the whole valley was alive with their flashes and the resulting puffs of white, blackish, or yellowish smoke. It must have been a perfect inferno down there, and I was glad to be out of it. Here and there farms, houses and villages were blazing, set on fire by the furious cannonade. One wood appeared to be covered with scintillating sparks, and the crashing of guns, the sharp, rattling roil of the rifles, and every tew seconds the deeper boom of the heavy artillery made an impression on me which will never be eftaced. One cannot realize the terrible grimness of modern. wLI-fare until one actually views it, and even then it looks something like a urework display on a large scale, but for tho constant streams of wounded and prisoners coming back.
The particular battle I am describing has already lasted three days, and during all that time I have heard the guns, though never so much as this morning.
Fine Artilley Work Aided by Motor Ammunition Trains.
One of the chief reasons why we can keep up such splendid and incessant tiring is that the ammunition is supplied by motor lorries, which carry it quite close to the guns.
In the case of provisions, which we carry in our column, most of the work has to be done at night, as we have to wait tor the troops to stop fighting and then to carry it right up to the bivouacs. This is most interesting and difficult work. All around us are the lights of the various camp fires, and we have to pick our way through them in order to provision our particular detachment. The column as a whole first proceeds to some temporary base, as close as possible to the troops, and from this base the various convoys or units are despatched to the bivouacs.
Finding the Men with iheir Food.
During the darkness many excitements occur and often vehicles are lost for the night, only to turn up quite safely next morning. Now and again it has been found impossible to discover the particular detachment we want, and then a few of the vehicles have to return not unloaded, but fortunately this seldom occurs.
Considering the difficulties encountered, owing to darkness, rain, bad roads and the problem of finding troops, the vehicles are performing splendidly.
"Mentioned in Despatches."
We have two Austins in this column, and these are doing splendid work. Their hill-climbing powers are excellent, and they are very quiet. Commers and Leylands are also doing excellently, and the little "Skinner and Rook" Albion still manages to keep its head up among the others. There are, of course, larger AIbions here doing well, but the sporting little two-cylinder appeals to us all. The driver and his mate are known here as " Skinner " and " Rook " respectively, and would hardly be recognized by any other titles.
PARIS, 28th September.
"The two most surprising features of this war are the way our infantry is behaving and the wonderful service we are obtaining from the mechanical transport department." This is the expression of opinion
have heard from -British officers at the Front during my stay with them. My own observations only confirm this opinion. The British infantryman is a marvel : he goes about his duty in a quiet, dogged manner ; he advances yard by yard, digging himself in as he goes along and never complaining if he has to lie days under fire without being able to make any advance.
"Delivering the Goods."
The motor transport service has settled down to business in a wonderful manner. You might imagine the men were still in England delivering the goods their vehicles advertise, so regular is the service and so cheery the men who are performing it. There were a certain inevitable disorganization and not a few mechanical failures during the first few days of the campaign. These have now been remedied and it would be difficult to find faults withthe service. Although there has been grim, uninterrupted fighting for many weeks, there are fewer derelicts along the road sides than was the case during the first week of the campaign.
A Ditched English Brewery Wagon.
On the main road to Rheims, and only about 30 miles from Paris, the tailboard of a ditched lorry advertises " Vaux's Ales and Stouts—Large Bottles." Being under orders I could not stop to examine the make of the vehicle, the bonnet of which was buried in the ground, but it is certain that this lorry will never return to service at home.
A Commercar Under Fire.
Almost at the entrance to the destroyed bridge over the Marne at Meaux there was a Commercar in a woefully wrecked condition. It had evidently been under fire, for there was practically nothing left of the body, while the various mechanical components —gearbox, propeller shaft, part of the rear axle, etc., were laid on the ground under the vehicle. All the buildings near the approach to the bridge had gaping wounds inflicted by shell ; the bridge itself was a rickety affair with only sufficient width to allow one vehicle to cross at a time, while below in the river a dozen wrecked barges were lying on their sides.
A Crop oi Commercial Casualties, At Chateau-Thierry, another river town which had suffered from the bombardment, although its bridge had been spared, there were a dozen French motor vehicles in a more or less disabled condition, and at the entrance to the town there was an abandoned German lorry on which a couple of French mechanics were at work. At different points on the road there were four or five light French lorries which had i
fallen by the wayside. I reco nized these as some of the antiquated contraptions 11111111111•••1111111111M1 11111111111•IMMON•11111111111,141 .111•••111•0111111111111. 1110111111111111111111111111111151111111111UNIEW111111111111111111 1111.1111111MIIIM11111.
More Vehicle Wreckage.
There were not a few touring cars, some of them in most amazing positions. A Renault was in a field, fully 30 yards from the road, with a ditch between it and the highway. Its bonnet was intact, the two frame members were there there was a steering column, but that was all. Half a dozen dead horses kept it company. By the side of the main road a Leon Bollee lay on its belly. A few tufts of horsehair indicated that there had once been a body ; one of the driving shafts was a hundred yards away in the ditch • three of the wheels were near, the fourth was on the opposite side of the road.
Fewer Horsed Transports at the Front.
But of British motor lorries only these two, the " Vaux's Stout" and the Commercar were seen in a, disabled condition in the run from Paris to g,eueral
headquarters at 111111111111. 11111111•11111111111111111111•• MENIIIMOMEMMIININIEINSIM Four or five miles before reaching this town we came upon the horse wagons attached to the A.S.C. There were hundreds of them in the muddy fields on each side of the road, while the road itself a little further down was blocked with hundreds of horses being taken to the watering troughs in the valley. MINIIIMIIIIIMEM 111111101•11111111111111111111111••=111iMMIIIIISSIIIIIII I 16111.11111111111111111•1111111111111111111111•111•1111111111111111•111111111111111 I At the bases, at 111111111MIIIIIMMINIR and 111111111111M., where there are thousands of troops in reserve, the horse wagons are constantly employed. But these towns are respectively MN and ME miles from the
firing line. 621