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By September 25th, when the British troops made another attack, the morale of the German troops was reaching its lowest ebb. Except on their right, as Beaumont Hamel and Beaucourt, they were far beyond the great system of protective dugouts which had given them a sense of safety before July 1st. Their second and third lines of defense had been carried, and they were existing in shell-craters and trenches hastily scraped up under ceaseless artillery fire.

The horrors of the battlefield were piled up to heights of agony and terror. Living men dwelt among the unburied dead, made their way to the front-lines over heaps of corpses, breathed in the smell of human corruption and had always in their ears the cries of the wounded they could not rescue. They wrote these things in tragic letters -- thousands of them -- which never reached their homes in Germany, but lay in their captured ditches.

"The number of dead lying about is awful. One stumbles over them."

"The stench of the dead lying round us is unbearable."

"We are no longer men here. We are worse than beasts."

"It is hell let loose." . . . "It is horrible." . . . "We've lived in misery."

"If the dear ones at home could see all this perhaps there would be a change. But they are never told."

"The ceaseless roar of the guns is driving us mad."

Poor, pitiful letters, out of their cries of agony one gets to the real truth of war -- the "glory" and the "splendor" of it preached by the German philosophers and British Jingoes, who upheld it as the great strengthening tonic for their race, and as the noblest experience of men. Every line these German soldiers wrote might have been written by one of ours; from both sides of the shifting lines there was the same death and same hell.

Behind the lines the German General Staff, counting up the losses of battalions and divisions who staggered out weakly, performed juggling tricks with what reserves it could lay its hands on, and flung up stray units to relieve the poor wretches in the trenches. Many of those reliefs lost their way in going up, and came up late, already shattered by the shell-fire through which they passed.

"Our position," wrote a German infantry officer, "was, of course, quite different from what we had been told. Our company alone relieved a whole battalion. We had been told we were to relieve a company of fifty men weakened by casualties.

"The men we relieved had no idea where the enemy was, how far off he was, or whether any of our own troops were in front of us. We got no idea of our support position until six o'clock this evening. The English are four hundred yards away, by the windmill over the hill."

One German soldier wrote that the British "seem to relieve their infantry very quickly, while the German commands work on the principle of relieving only in the direst need, and leaving the divisions in as long as possible."

Another wrote that:

"The leadership of the divisions really fell through. For the most part we did not get orders, and the regiment had to manage as best it could. If orders arrived they generally came too late or were dealt out 'from the green table' without knowledge of the conditions in front, so that to carry them out was impossible."

All this was a sign of demoralization, not only among the troops who were doing the fighting and the suffering, but among the organizing generals behind, who were directing the operations. The continual hammer-strokes of the British and French armies on the Somme battlefields strained the German war-machine on the western front almost to breaking-point.

It seemed as though a real debacle might happen, and that they would be forced to effect a general retreat -- a withdrawal more or less at ease or a retirement under pressure from the enemy . . . .

But they had luck -- astonishing luck. At the very time when the morale of the German soldiers was lowest and when the strain on the High Command was greatest the weather turned in their favor and gave them just the breathing-space they desperately needed. Rain fell heavily in the middle of October, autumn mists prevented airplane activity and artillery-work, and the ground became a quagmire, so that the British troops found it difficult to get up their supplies for a new advance.

The Germans were able in this respite to bring up new divisions, fresh and strong enough to make heavy counter-attacks in the Stuff and Schwaben and Regina trenches, and to hold the lines more securely for a time, while great digging was done farther back at Bapaume and the next line of defense. Successive weeks of bad weather and our own tragic losses checked the impetus of the British and French driving power, and the Germans were able to reorganize and reforms.

As I have said, the shock of our offensive reached as far as Germany, and caused a complete reorganization in the system of obtaining reserves of man-power. The process of "combing out", as we call it, was pursued with astounding ruthlessness, and German mothers, already stricken with the loss of their elder sons, raised cries of despair when the youngest born were also seized -- boys of eighteen belonging to the 1918 class.

The whole of the 1917 class had joined the depots in March and May of this year, receiving a three months' training before being transferred to the field-recruit depots in June and July. About the middle of July the first large drafts joined their units and made their appearance at the front, and soon after the beginning of our offensive at least half this class was in the front-line regiments. The massacre of the boys had begun.

Then older men, men beyond middle age, who correspond to the French Territorial class, exempted from fighting service and kept on lines of communication, were also called to the front, and whole garrisons of these gray heads were removed from German towns to fill up the ranks.

"The view is held here," wrote a German soldier of the Somme, "that the Higher Command intends gradually to have more and more Landsturm battalions (men of the oldest reserves) trained in trench warfare for a few weeks, as we have been, according to the quality of the men, and thus to secure by degrees a body of troops on which it can count in an emergency."

In the month of November the German High Command believed that the British attacks were definitely at an end, "having broken down," as they claimed, "in mud and blood," but another shock came to them when once more British troops -- the 51st Highland Division and the 63rd Naval Division -- left their trenches, in fog and snow, and captured the strongest fortress position on the enemy's front, at Beaumont Hamel, bringing back over six thousand prisoners. It was after that they began their retreat.

These studies of mine, of what happened on both sides of the shifting lines in the Somme, must be as horrible to read as they were to write. But they are less than the actual truth, for no pen will ever in one book, or in hundreds, give the full record of the individual agony, the broken heart-springs, the soul-shock as well as the shell-shock, of that frightful struggle in which, on one side and the other, two million men were engulfed. Modern civilization was wrecked on those fire-blasted fields, though they led to what we called "Victory". More died there than the flower of our youth and German manhood. The Old Order of the world died there, because many men who came alive out of that conflict were changed, and vowed not to tolerate a system of thought which had led up to such a monstrous massacre of human beings who prayed to the same God, loved the same joys of life, and had no hatred of one another except as it had been lighted and inflamed by their governors, their philosophers, and their newspapers.

The German soldier cursed the militarism which had plunged him into that horror. The British soldier cursed the German as a direct cause of all his trouble, but looked back on his side of the lines and saw an evil there which was also his enemy -- the evil of a secret diplomacy which juggled with the lives of humble men so that war might be sprung upon them without their knowledge or consent, and the evil of rulers who hated German militarism not because of its wickedness, but because of its strength in rivalry and the evil of a folly in the minds of men which had taught them to regard war as a glorious adventure, and patriotism as the right to dominate other peoples, and liberty as a catchword of politicians in search of power.

After the Somme battles there were many other battles as bloody and terrible, but they only confirmed greater numbers of men in the faith that the old world had been wrong in its "make-up" and wrong in its religion of life. Lip service to Christian ethics was not good enough as an argument for this. Either the heart of the world must be changed by a real obedience to the gospel of Christ or Christianity must be abandoned for a new creed which would give better results between men and nations. There could be no reconciling of bayonet-drill and high explosives with the words "Love one another". Or if bayonet-drill and high-explosive force were to be the rule of life in preparation for another struggle such as this, then at least let men put hypocrisy away and return to the primitive law of the survival of the fittest in a jungle world subservient to the king of beasts. The devotion of military chaplains to the wounded, their valor, their decorations for gallantry under fire, their human comradeship and spiritual sincerity, would not bridge the gulf in the minds of many soldiers between a gospel of love and this argument by bayonet and bomb, gas-shell and high velocity, blunderbuss, club, and trench-shovel.

Some time or other, when German militarism acknowledged defeat by the break of its machine or by the revolt of its people -- not until then -- there must be a new order of things, which would prevent such another massacre in the fair fields of life, and that could come only by a faith in the hearts of many peoples breaking down old barriers of hatred and reaching out to one another in a fellowship of common sense based on common interests, and inspired by an ideal higher than this beast-like rivalry of nations. So thinking men thought and talked. So said the soldier-poets who wrote from the trenches. So said many onlookers. The simple soldiers did not talk like that unless he were a Frenchman. Our men only began to talk like that after the war -- as many of them are now talking -- and the revolt of the spirit, vague but passionate, against the evil that had produced this devil's trap of war, and the German challenge, was subconscious as they sat in their ditches in the battles of the Somme.

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