Frank Percy Crozier was born in 1879. His attempts to join the British Army failed on medical grounds. He therefore became a mercenary soldier in Africa and Canada. He later joined the Ulster Volunteer Force.
Crozier was in Antrim on the outbreak of the First World War. As he pointed out in his autobiography: " I find, on arrival, that the Belfast brigade of the Ulster Division is complete. My West Belfast irregulars have become the 9th battalion Royal Irish Rifles. They are destined to carry the banner and high record of the regiment to the very summit of unselfish self-sacrifice and service in less than a year's time on the battlefields of France and Flanders...I find that I am promoted major, second-in-command, from the Royal Irish Fusiliers."
According to Time Magazine, "Crozier was a professional soldier descended from a long line of professional soldiers, he fought in South Africa, Ashanti, North Nigeria, Zululand, then retired from the army. In 1914 he joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers with the rank of Captain." Crozier and his Royal Irish Fusiliers arrived on the Western Front in 1915. After fifteen months he was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general and sent to the Somme. He arrived in November 1916 and by this time the worst of the fighting was over.
Crozier later admitted he ordered the shooting of sentries who fell asleep while on duty. He also described the execution of Private James Crozier of the Royal Irish Rifles: "There are hooks on the post; we always do things thoroughly in the Rifles. He is hooked on like dead meat in a butcher's shop. His eyes are bandaged - not that it really matters, for he is already blind." Crozier execution of one soldier during the First World War. "A volley rings out - a nervous volley it is true, yet a volley. Before the fatal shots are fired I had called the battalion to attention. There is a pause, I wait. I see the medical officer examining the victim. He makes a sign, the subaltern strides forward, a single shot rings out. Life is now extinct... We march back to breakfast while the men of a certain company pay the last tribute at the graveside of an unfortunate comrade. This is war."
He also admitted in his memoirs, A Brass Hat in No Man's Land, that soldiers in the British Army sometimes killed German prisoners: "The British soldier is a kindly fellow and it is safe to say, despite the dope, seldom oversteps the mark of barbaric propriety in France, save occasionally to kill prisoners he cannot be bothered to escort back to his lines."
Time Magazine, pointed out that Crozier had a successful war: "In 1914 he joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers with the rank of Captain. During the next five years he won the D.S.O., C.M.G., C.B., Croix de Guerre with palm, was mentioned seven times in despatches, left the War a Brigadier."
After the war he served as a commandant of the Black and Tans. In February 1921, he was forced to resign after an incident in Ireland. As Martin Ceadel, the author of Pacifism in Britain 1914-1945 (1980) pointed out: "... his career was finally ended by his resignation, amid a blaze of headlines and questions in the House, on the grounds that the punishments he had ordered for men in his charge who had looted a grocery store near Trim had been counter-manded by higher authority. In view of his pre-war Ulster connection, it is likely that he had, in reality, been moved to resign less by the revulsion at barbarous military methods to which he later tended to attribute his action than by a rigid concern for strict soldierly discipline."
Crozier found work for the League of Nations Union. In 1930 he published his First World War memoirs, A Brass Hat in No Man's Land. Crozier admitted: "My own experience of war, which is a prolonged one, is that anything may happen in it, from the very highest kinds of chivalry and sacrifice to the very lowest form of barbaric debasement - whatever that may be." Crozier now became a great supporter of the creation of a Peace Army. He also became a pacifist and joined the Peace Pledge Union (PPU).
Frank Crozier died in August 1937. The Times refused to print tributes sent in by Richard Sheppard and Arthur Ponsonby, and upset his widow by publishing what Martin Ceadel called "an ungenerous obituary"
It is August (1914). The sky is clear, with not a cloud to be seen. The world war is on us, mobilisation has begun. The Atlantic rolls on to the rugged rocks of Antrim as it has always done, despite the pending upheaval and the worried thoughts in the minds of men and women. We motor swiftly along the savage coast - three friends and myself, of whom I alone am to come unscathed through the furnace. We talk and laugh and joke, each no doubt wondering how long it is to be before he is to get to grips with the enemy. As we approach Belfast there are ominous signs of war, and we are glad. To us the relief is truly great.
There have been obvious signs of civil strife during the last few months. We of Carson's army have been the victims of an ill-defined objective. Was it to be Dublin Castle, a battle against British soldiers, or nationalist Irishmen, or a bit of both? Who could tell? Who could guess? We were merely hired mercenaries, paid to do as we were bid.
Moreover we all four were, or had been, associated with the British Army, which did not make things easier. Now all is changed within a flash. Ireland is united against a common foe. Our task is manifest, our duty clear."Allons," is our cry
We reach the Ulster Club and therein see strange things. I am to see many unaccustomed sights during the next few days, but Ireland was ever the land of the unexpected, and despite its politics, nothing can take Belfast out of the Emerald Isle - save another deluge.
In the little room on the ground floor of the Ulster Club - that holy of holies - big, muscular, horsy men sit and sip and smoke, in the uniform of the North Irish Horse. Their blood is up and they are proud. Why not? Are they not to accompany the British Expeditionary Force to France? They are not regular soldiers - though many of them have been - yet they are chosen, on account of merit, to accompany the greatest, hardest, best trained, most gentlemanly little army the world has ever seen, on the greatest adventure the world has ever known. Truly they have reason to be proud! Some talk sense, some nonsense, others say nothing at all. But they all appear to think that those who get through will eat their Christmas dinners in Berlin! A few have had experience of war, though none of them knows anything of modern combat. They talk of a picnic. They think they have the responsibility of Empire on their shoulders. That is a just thought and a true. In such circumstances of national emergency, the acts and actions of each one of us reacts on the greater whole. To such is the greatness of England due. So I think as I ponder and listen to this conversation, wondering when my turn will come. My thoughts go back to nocturnal talks on the captain's deck of a German liner in the tropics, with the captain of the ship - a reserve officer of the German Imperial Navy, five years ago. "You and I will shortly fight, my friend," he used to say. "There are my orders," pointing to a safe in his cabin, "but let it be a battle of gentlemen!" Shortly he is to be captured. Or to the inevitable breakfast salutation of Lord Charles Beresford, R.N., since 1911: "Good-morning, all; one day nearer to the German war!" Both these sea dogs knew. Did England know? Was England told?
I find, on arrival, that the Belfast brigade of the Ulster Division is complete. My West Belfast irregulars have become the 9th battalion Royal Irish Rifles. They are destined to carry the banner and high record of the regiment to the very summit of unselfish self-sacrifice and service in less than a year's time on the battlefields of France and Flanders.
I find that I am promoted major, second-in-command, from the Royal Irish Fusiliers, which I never joined, and that my new commanding officer is Lieutenant-Colonel G. S. Ormerod, late of the Munsters. My new C.O. and I lunch together, in mufti, into which I change, while a handy tailor alters my badges of rank. I tell my Colonel all about his new command and take stock of him as I talk. He is a wonderful man. Aged just over sixty, he served in Burma and South Africa with the Munsters, for which campaigns he holds the medals. Retired for age, as a major, after long service in the East, he commanded a special reserve battalion of his regiment for more than the allotted span. Now, once more, he comes forward to fill the breach, active, -fit and alert in body and mind, at a time of life when many men are in retirement, the reward of an ordered and reasonable existence.
The British soldier is a kindly fellow and it is safe to say, despite the dope, seldom oversteps the mark of barbaric propriety in France, save occasionally to kill prisoners he cannot be bothered to escort back to his lines.
The question of the temperamental fitness of soldiers to be ordered into the line and shot if they fail to stay there was one which, of course, I could not discuss with my own officers in the training stage. My duty was to teach them the Regulations and the Army Act where they could see the penalties, and to help them to overcome the difficulties which impel to desertion, cowardice and such - like offences which, in their case, if indulged in, lead to trouble and even death by shooting at the hands of comrades. The question of ability to "stick it" or to do the right thing in the right way, in action, is largely one of morale; but the fact cannot be overlooked that fear of the consequences undoubtedly plays an important part in the reasoning powers of men distracted by fear, cold, hunger, thirst or complete loss of morale and staying power. I should be very sorry to command the finest army in the world on active service without the power behind me which the fear of execution brings. Those who wish to abolish the death sentence for cowardice and desertion in war should aim at a higher mark and strive to abolish war itself. The one is the product of the other. Some people, particularly Labour Cabinet ministers and leaders seem to think that "fear" itself is a crime in war. Fear is no more a crime in war than in peace. Inability to control or smother fear is an unpardonable and dangerous crime in war and, as it is contagious, must be treated like any other disease in peace time - abolished I would remind the advocates of the abolition of the death sentence in war that to catch ann infectious disease in peace time is no crime; but to foster its spread, by non-notification is an offence against society which is rightly punished.
I see our first man hit. He is a boy of nineteen years of age. A bit of stray high-explosive shell gets him in the leg. It was almost an accident, for had he left me five seconds earlier he would have missed it. White, calm, uncomplaining, he calls for a cigarette and is carried off on a stretcher by four stalwart veterans of the Rifle Brigade. He is never to return, for amputation follows. Such is war. Constant training for a whole year and then just one day in the line! This is attrition!
We go in to the trenches for four days, while the weather becomes atrocious. It is notorious that French trenches are seldom good and these are no exceptions. Because there is no revetting, walls of fire and communication trenches fall in, so-called dugouts collapse, and telephone wires connecting companies and brigade become non-effective, consequent on the landslide. The men are up to their waists in mud and water. Rats drown and rations cannot be got up.
The fight against the condition known as "trench-feet" had been incessant and an uphill game. However, science and discipline had conquered, and now we seldom have a case, and if we do there is trouble. Socks are changed and dried in the line, thigh boots are worn and are dried every four days when we come out. Things are better, but the weather gets worse.
Evidently men in other places have taken to blowing off their fingers to escape service in the line, as all self-inflicted "accidental" wounds of any sort are to be made the subject of legal proceedings against the wounded. Our sergeant-major, an excellent soldier, throws a bit of brass into a brazier. It is a detonator! It explodes and inflicts damage on his hand! He goes to hospital, is tried by court martial and reduced to the rank of sergeant. Returning at once, I make him acting sergeant-major, which is not the same, though the best I can do, as, although he receives the pay of a sergeant-major, he will lose his rank and pay if wounded. His family will suffer. War is stern. The innocent as well as the guilty must suffer.
The old redan has become a veritable hell-hole, as it is easily reached by hostile mortar fire. In February, George Gaffikin holds it and we are attacked. We are ready. The artillery receive our secret Very light signal and hell is let loose. George keeps his head and as a reward is personally mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig's first despatch in June, as is also the whole battalion. Later, an officer, Rochdale by name, who once went to Amiens for ten days on private business, is sitting in the redan dugout at 2 a.m. with his company commander. I enter. They show me a peculiar German rifle grenade and say it is of new design. As Rochdale understands bombs I suggest he takes it down and examines it when we come out to rest. He agrees. The big trench mortars then start. Everything is shaken, including Rochdale's nerves. We are short of subalterns. Rochdale has been sent out earlier to put a notice on the German wire, by order of Corps headquarters, a propagandic move to inform the front line men that their families are starving at home. Now the trench mortaring is too much for him. He rises, rushes past me, and bolts down the trench in front of his men as fast as he can go. After daylight he is discovered in a disused French dugout behind the lines, asleep - apparently a deserter, as absence and evasion of duty are the two chief factors which go to constitute the offence. There is the additional fact that he has shown apparent cowardice in action, in front of his men. It is just as futile to be half a mile away from the duty point as sixty kilometres. I have already a private soldier absent. He will no doubt be caught and tried. What about this officer? I see him and put him back for trial by court martial for cowardice and desertion. He is tried and found guilty of one charge or both. Meanwhile the private - Crocker - is caught by the military police, a long way back. He too is tried. I sign the charge sheet of both these men. Promulgation, where death sentences occur, is a long and painful job. One day we received a wire. Rochdale is to be "released from arrest and all consequences." They try to send him back to duty but I refuse to receive him. I am asked my opinion as to whether sentence of death should be carried out on Crocker. In view of certain circumstances I recommend the shooting be carried out. At last I receive the orders and documents relative to the execution. We leave the line for four days' rest at Mailly-Mailly.
In the afternoon of the first day out we parade in hollow square. The prisoner - Crocker - is produced. Cap off he is marched by the sergeant-major to the centre. The adjutant reads the name, number, charge, finding, sentence and confirmation by Sir Douglas Haig. Crocker stands erect. He does not flinch. Perhaps he is dazed: who would not be? The prisoner is marched away by the regimental police while I, placing myself at the head of the battalion, behind the band, march back to billets. The drums strike up, the men catch step. We all feel bad but we carry out our war-time pose. Crocker didn't flinch, why should we? After tea the padre comes to see me. "Might I see Crocker?" he asks. "Of course, Padre, but don't be too long-winded," I say seriously, "after you have done anything you can for him tell his company commander. But I don't think his people should be told. He can go into the died return. War is all pot-luck, some get a hero's halo, others a coward's cross. But this man volunteered in 1914. His heart was in the right place then, even if his feet are cold in 1916. What do you say?' "I quite agree," answers the good man, much too overcome to say more.
Now, in peace time, I and the rest of us would have been very upset indeed at having to shoot a colleague, comrade, call him what you will, at dawn on the morrow. We would not, in ordinary circumstances, have slept. Now the men don't like it but they have to put up with it. They face their ordeal magnificently. I supervise the preliminary arrangements myself. We put the prisoner in a comfortable warm place. A few yards away we drive in a post, in a back garden, such as exists with any villa residence. I send for a certain junior officer and show him all. "You will be in charge of the firing party," I say, "the men will be cold, nervous and excited, they may miss their mark. You are to have your revolver ready, loaded and cocked; if the medical officer tells you life is not extinct you are to walk up to the victim, place the muzzle of the revolver to his heart and press the trigger. Do you understand?" "Yes Sir," came the quick reply. "Right," I add, "dine with me at my mess to-night." I want to keep this young fellow engaged under my own supervision until late at night, so as to minimise the chance of his flying to the bottle for support. As for Crocker, he leaves this earth, in so far as knowing anything of his surroundings is concerned, by midnight, for I arrange that enough spirituous liquor is left beside him to sink a ship. In the morning, at dawn, the snow being on the ground, the battalion forms up on the public road. Inside the little garden on the other side of the wall, not ten yards distant from the centre of the line, the victim is carried to the stake. He is far too drunk to walk. He is out of view save from myself, as I stand on a mound near the wall. As he is produced I see he is practically lifeless and quite unconscious. He has already been bound with ropes. There are hooks on the post; we always do things thoroughly in the Rifles. He is hooked on like dead meat in a butcher's shop. His eyes are bandaged - not that it really matters, for he is already blind. The men of the firing party pick up their rifles, one of which is unloaded, on a given sign. On another sign they come to the Present and, on the lowering of a handkerchief by the officer, they fire - a volley rings out - a nervous ragged volley it is true, yet a volley. Before the fatal shots are fired I had called the battalion to attention. There is a pause, I wait. I see the medical officer examining the victim. He makes a sign, the subaltern strides forward, a single shot rings out. Life is now extinct. We march back to breakfast while the men of a certain company pay the last tribute at the graveside of an unfortunate comrade. This is war.
Twenty-eight Irish soldiers were executed by the British Army during the First World War for desertion and disobedience. For decades, the full story of how they died remained secret. For the first time, award-winning BBC Northern Ireland journalist Stephen Walker tells their story Outside the winter snow lined the ground. James Crozier's guards wanted him to walk the short distance to a small garden where the firing party was waiting. The young rifleman was too drunk to move, and he had to be carried out into the open space. By now he was practically unconscious. Bound with ropes, he was attached to the execution post. His battalion formed up on the open road close to the garden. Screened by a wall, they wouldn't see the execution but would hear the shots. Crozier's namesake Frank Percy Crozier, the man who recruited him and promised his mother he'd watch out for her son, was now preparing to watch him die. Crozier later recalled how he was secured to a stake 10 yards from the firing squad. "There are hooks on the post; we always do things thoroughly in the Rifles. He is hooked on like dead meat in a butcher's shop. His eyes are bandaged - not that it really matters, for he is already blind." Then James Crozier was shot. "A volley rings out - a nervous volley it is true, yet a volley. Before the fatal shots are fired I had called the battalion to attention. There is a pause, I wait. I see the medical officer examining the victim. He makes a sign, the subaltern strides forward, a single shot rings out. Life is now extinct." The firing squad, made up of men from his own regiment, shot wide, so James Crozier was killed by a bullet fired by a junior officer. After the shooting, as Frank Crozier recalled, life resumed as normal. " We march back to breakfast while the men of a certain company pay the last tribute at the graveside of an unfortunate comrade. This is war." Frank Crozier didn't want James' family to discover how he had died. He tried but failed to pass off his death as 'killed in action'. Details of the manner of Crozier's death leaked out - though the facts weren't made public at the time. Weeks later one of Frank Crozier's officers was tackled about the shooting while on leave. He was asked by a civilian about the Crozier execution, and it was suggested that it had brought shame on the battalion and on the city of Belfast.
Crozier's colleague angrily replied: "He tried and failed. He died for such as you! Isn't it time you had a shot at dying for your country?"
When James Crozier was shot he became the youngest Irish deserter to face a firing squad; but Frank Percy Crozier's career blossomed. He saw action at the Battle of the Somme and rose up the ranks to eventually become a brigadier-general. After the war his life took a number of unexpected and controversial twists. In 1919 he was promoted to general and appointed military adviser to the newly established Lithuanian army; but his new job was not a success, and within months he resigned. He then returned to Ireland and became the commander of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and, as ever, controversy followed his every footstep. When he died, in 1937, the newspapers were full of details of his past exploits on the battlefield and his later days as an author and peace campaigner. His death received much national attention, in contrast with the secret demise of his namesake two decades earlier.
Suddenly the air is rent with deafening thunder; never has such man-made noise been heard before! The hour has struck! 7.30 a.m. has arrived. The first wave goes over, "carrying the creeping barrage on its back." We wait. Instantly the enemy replies, putting down a counter-barrage which misses us by inches. Thanks to the steep slope of Speyside we are immune, That half hour is the worst on record, or thoughts and forebodings; so we sing, but it is difficult to keep in tune or rhythm on account of the noise. At last our minute, our own minute arrives. I get up from the ground and whistle. The others rise. We move off, with steady pace. As we pass Gordon Castle we pick up coils of wire and iron posts. I feel sure in my innermost thoughts these things will never be carried all the way to the final objective; however, even if they get half way it will be a help. Then I glance to the right through a gap in the trees. I see the loth Rifles plodding on and then my eyes are riveted on a sight I shall never see again. It is the 32nd division at its best. I see rows upon rows of British soldiers lying dead, dying or wounded, in no man's land. Here and there I see an officer urging on his followers. Occasionally I can see the hands thrown up and then a body flops to the ground. The bursting shells and smoke make visibility poor, but I see enough to convince me Thiepval village is still held, for it is now 8 a.m. and by 7.45 a.m. it should have fallen to allow of our passage forward on its flank. Bernard was right. My upper lip is stiff, my jaws are set. We proceed. Again I look southward from a different angle and perceive heaped up masses of British corpses suspended on the German wire in front of the Thiepval stronghold, while live men rush forward in orderly procession to swell the weight of numbers in the spider's web. Will the last available and previously detailed man soon appear to do his futile duty unto death on the altar of sacrifice? We march on - I lose sight of the 10th Rifles and the human corn-stalks, falling before the Reaper. My pace unconsciously quickens, for I am less heavily burdened than the men behind me, and at last I see the light of day through the telescopic-like avenue which has been cut for our approach. We are nearing the fringe of the wood and the old fire trench. Shells burst at the rate of six a minute on this trench junction, for we have been marching above Elgin Avenue and alongside it. My adjutant, close behind me, tells me I am fifty yards in front of the head of the column. I slacken my pace and they close up to me. "Now for it," I say to Hine, "it's like sitting back for an enormous fence." My blood is up and I am literally seeing red. Still the shells burst at the head of Elgin, plomp, plomp - it is "good-bye," I think, as there is no way round. "This way to eternity," shouts a wag behind. Thirty yards ahead now, still a shell - plomp - a splinter flies past my shoulder, and embeds itself in the leg of a leading man behind. He falls and crawls out of the way, nothing must stop the forward march of the column. "Lucky bastard," says one of his pals, "you're well out of it, Jimmy, good luck to you, give them our love, see you later," and so the banter continues. It's the only way. The blood swells in my veins. God is merciful, and it almost seems as though he chloroforms us on these occasions. I cross the fire trench. The next shell and I should have absolutely synchrohised. It does not arrive! "What's up?" I think. Still once more too far ahead, I wait on the edge of the wood. They close up once more. I double out to see what's up on the right. Bernard, where is he? Machine guns open fire on us from Thiepval village; their range is wrong: "too high," I say to Hine. I survey the situation still; more machine-gun fire: they have lowered their sights: pit, pit, the bullets hit the dry earth all round. The shelling on to the wood edge has ceased. The men emerge. A miracle has happened. "Now's the chance," I think to myself, "they must quicken pace and get diagonally across to the sunken road, disengaging from each other quickly, company by company."
It is a deep dug-out which has been allocated to me for my use. It needs to be deep to keep out heavy stuff. The telephone lines are all cut by shell fire. Kelly, a burly six-feet-two-inches high Irish Nationalist, has been sent in a week before to look after emergency rations. He has endured the preliminary bombardment for a week already with the dead and dying, during which time he has had difficulty in going outside, even at night and then only between the shells. A wrong thing has been done. I find the place full of dead and wounded men. It has been used as a refuge. None of the wounded can walk. There are no stretchers. Most are in agony. They have seen no doctor. Some have been there for days. They have simply been pushed down the steep thirty-feet-deep entrance out of further harm's way and left - perhaps forgotten. As I enter the dugout I am greeted with the most awful cries from these dreadfully wounded men. Their removal is a Herculean task, for it was never intended that the dying and the helpless should have to use the deep stairway. After a time, the last sufferer and the last corpse are removed. Meanwhile I mount the parapet to observe. The attack on the right has come to a standstill; the last detailed man has sacrificed himself on the German wire to the God of War. Thiepval village is masked with a wall of corpses.
All raids are very much alike. Each man knows his part. As we only require one prisoner on each occasion, and as more are a nuisance, all other enemy soldiers encountered must be put to death. What are our weapons? The pistol, the rifle, the bullet, the bayonet, knuckle-dusters, hook knives with which to rip up, daggers for the heart, butchers' knives for the throat, the bomb for random work, once the prisoner has been extracted and bags of aminal thrown into the dugouts, served up with time fuses, to blow whole companies to smithereens. Tear gas bombs to cause temporary blindness, egg bombs charged with deadly poison to pulverise the lungs and stop the breathing complete the outfit. We moderns are extraordinarily unkind to each other in war - and in peace!
On each raid one prisoner is brought back, while many Germans die, our losses being nil. These three successful raids, on the top of the Thiepval epic, stimulate the battalion to such an extent as to place it on the very topmost rung of the war-ladder. Prisoners, trophies and blood are the only true producers of that strange wild mentality which is necessary for war.
During these hectic days I receive the prisoners personally, the number of the regiments concerned being telephoned to G.H.Q., via my report centre actually from the German lines. Poor, scraggy, miserable little creatures, glad to be "free," thankful to be saved, half-starved and unused to luxuries such as bread and bully beef, they eat ravenously. All prisoners are well fed - at first - because it makes them talk or, at least, revives the long lost tastes, as later it may be necessary to consider withholding the princely fare for purposes of extraction.
What with these raids and trench tours, we are not idle. Apart from training in the field there is the convivial association between the gunners and ourselves to be kept up, while, in Bailleul, the social and recreational centre, later to be reduced to ashes, we dine and wine at regular intervals, en masse. The more personal and private revels are not left out. It is not reasonable to expect the youngsters to keep the trenches for England intact, and their chastity inviolable at one and the same time. He who hopes to wage war without wine and women is living in a fool's paradise, for tliere are no half-measures in war, try how one will.
While in the neighbourhood of Bailleul, despite the greatest care, our "other rank" casualties from venereal give greater cause for anxiety thap our losses in the line. At last we catch the culprit - an infected girl who hops from camp to camp and ditch to dyke like the true butterfly that she is. Then all is well. The officers are better off. Comparative luxury, knowledge and armour stands stead. It is one thing sleeping the night in Lina's arms, after a not too good dinner and minding one's p's and q's: it is another making the best of it in a thorny ditch and standing in a queue later at the Red Lamp clinic where sterilisation is practised. As there are in the ranks of the British Army some of the finest middle- and lower middle-class stock in the Kingdom it is not surprising that young men find themselves in this strange queue, who would, in times of peace, have hesitated to line up outside a music hall.How have the mighty fallen! But as the mighty hold equal blame with the opportunists for the presence of war in our midst, they can hardly complain when their sons - and daughters, are bitten!
I had not long previously been forced to call the attention of a brigade commander of a formation with which I had cause to be remotely connected, from time to time, to a most extraordinary sight I had witnessed. To my amazement I saw a colonel sitting at the entrance to a communication trench, personally issuing unauthorised tots of rum to his men as they passed him in single file at 3 p.m., on a fine clear Spring-like afternoon, on their way to hold a line for the very first time. The brigadier did not seem to realise the gravity of the case. He did not appreciate the danger. The mentality of this colonel was all wrong. Badly based on brandy, he thought everybody else felt as he did - dejected and desolate. Despondent and at all times difficile, he was a victim of drugs and drink, and ultimately died. But, and here is the important point, because he had local pull, he had been entrusted with the care of youth for eighteen months. This was bad enough. The safety of the line was another matter. Seeing what I had seen, knowing what I knew and visualising the future, as his brigadier took no notice of my protest, even going so far as to say the matter was no business of mine, I determined on having the wretchedly miserable man removed, for the good of us all. I saw a very senior medical officer about the matter and persuaded him to take action, with the result that the drink-drug addict was removed to England, there to degenerate and eventually die. The safety of the line outweighed all other considerations. Drink control was imperative.
I sit in the line, when the telephone rings. I go to it as I am wanted. I am told I am promoted brigadier-general, and that I must proceed next day to my new command on the Somme. I go round the Royal Irish Rifles line for the last time, at once, to say au revoir.
The curtain rings down on this portion of the stage. "Keep the flag flying," I tell them. "There's no German like a dead German," I enjoin. I don't believe it, but it goes down! Fifteen months of successful blood and thunder is over, but much more lies ahead.
We receive orders to go into the line on the right of the British Army, near the River Somme. The great battle of 1916 has died down. It is November. The weather has brought the fight to a standstill. `General Winter' is in command. We occupy a line recently taken over from the French. In reality there is no line in the trench sense. The men occupy - hellholes. Six entire villages in the neighbourhood have been destroyed by the shells of both sides. Only a little red rubble remains, and that is mostly brick mud. It freezes hard, then it thaws. Never was there a winter such as the men endured in 1916 and 1917. The last was bad enough; this is worse, as accommodation in the line does not exist. Dugouts and communication trenches cannot be constructed during a battle; after, it is too late, as the mud and rain prevent the carrying up of material. Latrines there are none. The sanitary arrangements are entirely haphazard and makeshift. Disinfectants help.
We at brigade are comfortable - the French have seen to that. Otherwise the conditions are appalling. The condition known as trench feet is our bugbear; but the measures taken last year, if properly carried out, suffice to combat the evil. One battalion, through neglect, loses over a hundred men in four days from this malady. The colonel is at fault, and goes away. This example improves matters.
Little can be done, except keep the sick rate down during the next three trying months. How the men live I do not know. They cannot be reached by day as there are no trenches. Cover there is none. Once this place was a field of corn, now it is a sea of mud. On it the French fought a desperate battle, earlier in the year. My daily route on a duckboard track lies through the Rancourt valley. I count a hundred and two unburied Frenchmen, lying as they fell, to the left of me; while opposite there are the corpses of fifty-five German machine-gunners by their guns, the cartridge belts and boxes still being in position. Viewed from the technical and tactical point of view their dead bodies and the machine guns afford a first-rate exposition of modern tactics. Later, when the ground hardens, and we can walk about without fear of drowning or being engulfed, I take officers over the battlefield and point out the lessons to be learnt, having in view the positions of the dead bodies. The stench is awful; but then, and only then, are we able to get at the dead for burial. If the times are hard for human beings, on account of the mud and misery which they endure with astounding fortitude, the same may be said of the animals. My heart bleeds for the horses and mules. We are in the wilderness, miles from towns and theatres, the flood of battle having parched the hills and dales of Picardy in its advance against civilization. Like all other floods, it carries disaster in its track, with this addition, being man-made, and ill-founded, as it is, in its primary inception, it lacks the lustre of God-inspired help. God is wrongly claimed as an ally, by both parties, to the detriment of the other; whereas the Almighty, benevolent and magnanimous, watches over all and waits the call to enter - but not as a destroyer.
The men in muddy hell need daily supplies. The conditions are so vile that no man can endure more than forty-eight hours at a stretch in the forward puddles and squelch pits. Do those at home in comfort, warmth, and cultured environment realise what they owe to the stout hearts on the western front? No wheeled traffic can approach within three miles of the forward pits; for roads which were useful to the pre-war farmers have now disappeared. Everything must be carried up by men or mules. The latter, stripped of harness, or fully dressed, die nightly in the holes and craters, as they bring their loads to the men they serve so faithfully and well, urged on by whips and kindness. But one false step means death by suffocation. Sheer exhaustion claims its quota, for the transport lines themselves are devoid of cover from wind and rain. Such is the animals' war, and could animal lovers see the distress of their dumb friends they would never permit another conflict.
Colonel Pope, the commanding officer of the Borderers, becomes a casualty. Tripping over some rusty wire he falls and punctures his face. Two years later a military funeral leaves AIillbank Hospital, and on the gun-carriage are the mortal remains of Pope. The dirty wire killed him.
It is perfectly clear to me, that in the future, if a rumour of war is ever hushed or noised around, the peoples of the world must all rise up and say "No," with no uncertain voice: not because they are now denied any chance of real victory in the field which soldiers have been able to promise with reasonable certainty in the past, prior to 1914 - in that respect, "the game is up;" but because of the havoc which is created in the ramifications of daily life among the young and innocent. A gamble in war might be excusable if only the players stood to suffer but no man or nation has a right to gamble on the break-up of the moral fibres of society or of civilisation itself.
But there has now appeared a third factor in the game of war: hitherto there were only two, the puppets of victory and defeat. Now those who arrange the wars and take the initial steps will surely suffer too. This may be our safeguard. The vulnerability of Whitehall and such like places of the earth from the air; the certain knowledge on the part of the politicians, statesmen, diplomats, profiteers and wire-pullers (hitherto quite safe) that they will be among the first to die, and the threatened loss of treasure by men of big business, may yet save the honour of our youths and maidens, and stave off the decay of our race; because suffering, to be known and realised, has to be endured or, visualised as a certainty. But the "interested rings" which turn out battleships and munitions will have to be watched and kept in order, as avarice is a "diehard." And again, many people were happy in the outbreak of 1914 - I was one of them. I am now chastened, as I have seen the suffering. I shall, of course, fight again if I have to, in defence of my country; but I advise other and wiser methods than war for the settling of disputes. I knew, in 1914, that I must either get on or get under. Dug-out officers, more particularly senior ones, welcomed war. To them came power and pay without any danger.
Unhappy husbands and miserable wives welcomed war as a way out and even courted death. Munition makers and caterers, clothiers and countless other people welcomed war. There will always be some who put profit before patriotism.
Youth sprang to the call but, thank God, British youth always will, if guided. Let us guide our youth to the hard battle of peace.
By 1918 the question of memory became a serious consideration in my make up. During big battles I invariably lost my power for remembering names, owing to want of sleep, on about the third day; so I always had the names of my colonels and senior officers tabulated in my notebook for reference. All other things I could remember. I did all other things and met situations as they arrived, almost automatically; but names even of men I knew quite intimately escaped me.
I also used to make the most stupid spelling mistakes in writing reports at all times in 1918, a fact possibly due to a lack of newspaper and book reading; so I invariably carried a Collins' Gem Dictionary in my pocket to meet this lapse.
My young staff captain entirely lost the use of his legs for two days, at the end of the March battle, owing to fatigue. I have heard of brigade and divisional commanders who used to read yellow-backed novels during the process of big battles; but I also used to hear of many battles being lostl Far too many commanders treated the war period as one of "normality," which showed a lack of appreciation of the situation. War is never "normal," but the great war was entirely different from any other that ever had been. The Big Bugs thought in terms of millions, both of men and money, and left it at that. Our duty was to conserve man-power. That took me all my time, both in battle and in the "normal" war periods of training and attrition, for the primary duty of every soldier must always be to conserve his life for his country when he can, which entails a minute knowledge of technique; but to be able to sell it as dearly as he can for his country if and when the necessity arrives.
The serving soldier naturally looks on war, its preparation, and its conduct as his task in life. He cannot and must not look outside his narrow blinkers. He believes in his power of destruction as do his possible adversaries. There the matter ends.
It is for others to lead the way down the avenue of sanity. We can only point. I can only judge the military minds of soldiers by my own mind, when I was serving, and before I began to study the blessings of peace. Here is an instance of my own narrow-minded mentality in 1918. Sir William Birdwood issued orders that the city of Lille was not to be bombarded. I received the orders with mixed feelings. "But," I said, "there are Germans inside, what of them, are they to escape?" I was bent on destruction.
Only those men who actually march back from the battle line on 11th November, 1918, can ever know or realise the mixed feelings then in the hearts of combatants. We are dazed. When Germans, Frenchmen, Belgians, and Britishers rise and stretch at 11 a.m., in the presence of each other, with an inner feeling of insecurity, lest some one may "do the dirty," and be tempted to fire off a parting shot, they are dazed - for no fighting man worth his salt desired at that moment to do anything but forget the past and forge the future.
All the world over, where men and women congregated in large numbers they went mad. Not so the fighting men fresh from the line, dumped down in the liberated areas, where children beg for bread and grown-ups thank God for delivery.
While the stay-at-homes of victorious countries are dancing, and drinking in the capitals of Europe, and patting themselves on the back because they have won the war, Andrews, the valiant Andrews, thruster, fighter and man of action, is issuing his remaining mess stores personally to little children who have never seen or cannot remember a tin of fruit or known a Christmas party.
We march back to Croix.
Many of the men wear garlands, the gifts of grateful people to old warriors no longer in the first flush of youth, who have stuck it to the end, while some carry joy banners, seized as souvenirs from the cottage tops of hamlets.
At Brussels is an orgy of vice in which many British soldiers join. The high-class prostitutes of the German Army are taken over by the officers of the allied forces -yet-only one short month ago, nothing was too bad for a German, nothing too good for ourselves! I see a British corps commander, lost in the whirl of post-battle gaiety, accosted by a woman of easy virtue, to his great annoyance, in the lift of his hotel. Her chief claim to his attention, according to her views, is that she was the war-time mistress of a German general!
In the halls and dining-rooms, these ladies line up as they did in the days of German occupation. The women are the same, only the men and their uniforms are different, while the constant procession of couples to bedrooms aloft is as sustained and regular as in the days of German domination! And what of Cologne?
There the servant girls in hotels, half starved, lacking the ordinary necessaries of life, and even unused to simple crusts, pick up the crumbs which fall from their masters' tables and sell their bodies for half loaves of bread, in order that they may take to the aged and young in their homes the staff of life, that commodity akin to manna.
Realising the trials and dangers of demobilisation, I tighten up the discipline, arrive at a proper understanding with those who await their turn to cast off the war uniform, and provide counter attractions, so far as is possible, in order to avert the chaos which I feel sure will be the inevitable sequel to disappointment and disillusionment: for soldiers are but human and all cannot be demobilised at once. Elsewhere impatient men burn their camps, and huts, assault their officers, imprison their generals, and the staffs, and hold up demobilisation itself - the very thing they wish to speed up - by their mutinous conduct and the destruction of the demobilisation papers. In one instance a British division is marched to Calais from Flanders, to restore order.
The majority of the men are savage for freedom. Tactful handling of problems is required, and when this is the rule the British soldier is, as usual, sensible.
Mutiny is the invariable outcome of official incompetence, and when mutineers are punished, as must always be the case - for no mutiny can be condoned - responsible senior officers should invariably share a similar fate. This was not done in 1919.
At last I receive orders to proceed to England to report at the War Office.
I drive to "Wiper"' to see the ruins. I walk over the battlefields of Thiepval, Bourlon, Ervillers, Mory, the Lys and the Somme, for the last time.
The silence in these places is uncanny - as I pass over the sacred spots sanctified for ever to the sacrifices and valour of such men as George Gaffikin, Campbell, Kennedy, Morgan, Andrews, Amery-Parkes, and Gough, my soul seems to rebel within me. I think of the wasters who avoided military service "for conscience sake"; or who sought security at home doing their bit in uniform -and yet well out of it all. "Good heavens," I say to my companion, as I stand on the spot where my orderly killed the German with the light pistol, "I can't stand this, let us to Boulogne and Blighty, to forget - every inch of this ground hides a tragedy." "I think," he wisely remarks, "Boulogne and almost every other place in Europe has and hides as many tragedies."
Arriving at our hotel at Boulogne to spend the night, while at coffee in the lounge, after dinner, my eyes fall on Margot - the pretty waitress who had waited on the thousands of British officers during the past four years and nine months. She is crying. She is very upset. We call her over. She is very reticent, - but at last, breaking down completely, she unburdens her heart. Her trouble is simple. She has loved and been loved by many British officers during the hectic days - we guessed as much. Money has come easily. Excitement triumphed over remorse. She kept going while she supported an aged mother. Then she really fell in love with a good-looking young British officer, the son of a noble house, who - having slept with her on many occasions - promised to marry her. He had just jilted her. Hence the tears, the remorse, the utter disillusionment. The glamour, excitement and prosperity of war have disappeared - only utter disappointment remains for this poor girl.
Next morning as we enter the lounge after breakfast there is no Margot. She has joined the millions of" other war victims. Demented, prostrate with anguish, frightened of the future, alone, forgotten, ignored, and perhaps wounded in pride - with British officers leaving France daily in large numbers, and her real lover ignoring her frantic appeals - she blew out her brains with a German pistol once given her by a colonel. "I told you Boulogne has its war tragedies as well as the battlefields," remarks my companion.
At that moment a strong rabble of tired, hungry, and thirsty stragglers approach me from the east. I go out to meet them. "Where are you going?" I ask. One says one thing, one another. They are 4 marched to the water reserve, given a drink and hunted back to fight. Another more formidable party cuts across to the south. They mean business. They are damned if they are going to stay, it's all up. A young sprinting subaltern heads them off. They push by him. He draws his revolver and threatens them. They take no notice. He fires. Down drops a British soldier at his feet. The effect is instantaneous. They turn back to the assistance of their comrades in distress. It is now late afternoon. Most of my officers are dead and wounded. I send for twelve more who have been held in reserve, to swell the corpse roll. Other reinforcements arrive only to be thrown into the melting pot for a similar result. The Germans launch an overwhelming counter-attack which proves successful. They win-to suffer later. At 10 p.m. the curtain rings down on hell. The cost? Enormous. I have seventy men left, all told, out of seven hundred. George Gaffikin is dead; Campbell too has passed on, and when I hear his name I remember his letter still in my pocket. "I must write a line with it," I remark to my adjutant. My dugout door that night is like the entrance to a mad-house. One by one wounded officers and men are carried into the trench. McKee, a bright lad, is practically delirious, shot through the lung he still walks and talks. He has lain out in the broiling sun all day. I give him a brandy and soda for which he gives me abuse. We shove him off as soon as we can. Montgomery comes in torn, tattered, filthy and worn out, with wound on head and dent in helmet; him too we push off after light refreshment. Robbins, a smart youngster, is carried in by two soldiers who are themselves badly wounded, his shrieks can be heard hundreds of yards away, for the firing has now ceased, both sides being exhausted. His leg is fractured below the knee, and he will probably lose it. I try to sleep, but the reaction is too great. I smoke instead, and meanwhile day dawns. The birds have gone, nature has been supplanted. The wood itself has disappeared; was ever there such a day? Not in my recollection. The cavalry are busy all night bringing in the wounded from places which had not been reoccupied by the enemy, and I go out to no man's land, and the first German line, to see about the evacuation of the wounded. About seven hundred dead and wounded lie around in an area of perhaps a quarter of a mile square. Going to the left I am suddenly challenged by a German sentry. I pull out my revolver, fire and miss him; but my orderly, who is behind me, sums up the situation and fires a light pistol he is carrying, hitting the Boche in the head and blowing it off. There is another German behind who puts up his hands and shouts "Kamerad." The dark is lit up by the burning German whose uniform is on fire. We can take no chances, so I kill the other German with my second round. Then all is quiet and we steal away.
No typical brass hat (staff officer) was Brig.-General Frank Percy Crozier, 119th Infantry Brigade, British Expeditionary Force. Professional soldier descended from a long line of professional soldiers, he fought in South Africa, Ashanti, North Nigeria, Zululand, then retired from the army. In 1914 he joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers with the rank of Captain. During the next five years he won the D.S.O., C.M.G., C.B., Croix de Guerre with palm, was mentioned seven times in despatches, left the War a Brigadier. A capable officer, a soldier who knew his trade, General Crozier has no illusions about war, tells his trade secrets with amazing candor. "My own experience of war, which is a prolonged one, is that anything may happen in it, from the very highest kinds of chivalry and sacrifice to the very lowest form of barbaric debasement - whatever that may be."
General Crozier makes himself out a curious combination of hard, soldierly, efficient officer and humane, skeptical, almost pacifistic civilian. He believed in shooting sentries who fell asleep; ordered his men to fire many an extra round on Christmas Day, because he did "not believe in Christmas relaxation, in war"; used "atrocity" propaganda and blood-and-thunder speeches ad lib to increase his troops' morale. Yet he can take stock thus of the ultimate end of discipline, of all soldierly training: "The net result of the barren, glorious bloody battle of Thiepval is that over 700 men of the West Belfast battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles prove their ability to subordinate matter to mind. Intellectual discipline had triumphed."
General Crozier is a great believer in officer personnel, thinks any men will make good soldiers if they are properly trained and led.
After the Armistice Soldier Crozier continued to work at his trade: with the Lithuanians against the Germans in the Baltic, against the Bolshevists in Poland. In 1920 he raised, then commanded, the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Next year he resigned on account of "condonation of crime in the Irish police."
A Brass Hat in No Man's Land has raised a squall of controversy in England. Soldier Crozier's frankness has enraged many an old soldier, many a brass hat, many a colonel. Next October he is coming to lecture in the U. S.
Shortly after I arrive home I go to see Madge who now has a little son a year old. I have not seen the child before, as his mother has been in the country. Madge is delighted to see me.
"How like his father!" I say, as I pick him up.
"I'm so glad you think so!" she says, looking adoringly at the child, who never saw his father, and whom his father never saw.
"May Ogden is coming to see you," she says, "I asked her to tea. She wants to see you so much, and you might be able to help about her pension; she thinks she should have a little more money for her daughter Grace's education; the girl is at an important age."
"I haven't seen her since that awful day we broke the news to her at Victoria - I'm afraid there wasn't much break about it, it was so abrupt. How is she?" I say.
"Oh she's splendid! As splendid as you men used to be, and she and I are great friends," says Madge.
"Frank," says Madge, "I never thought you'd get through the hellish... " Mrs. Ogden, announces the maid, which puts an end to our conversation.
The war widow is still a girl, despite her loss. I promise to see Sir James Craig at the Ministry of Pensions about her grant. Madge does most of the talking as she reads all the papers and sees things from a broad angle, while I am out of touch with England.
"I'm not going to have my Tim killed in another war, like his brave Daddy, am I?" says Madge, taking the child on her lap.
"I wish I could think there will never be another war," says Mrs. Ogden, placing her hand on Grace's head. "I don't dare to think of Grace losing her husband, perhaps after I'm gone; but wars seem to be inevitable, don't they?" she asks.
"Not in the least," says emphatic and positive Madge. "They are a stupid and man-made invention, without a single redeeming feature," she went on to say, "and if we women can't abolish war ourselves we shall deserve the consequences. We must get at and conquer the causes which create the effect."
"What do you think, General?" asks Mrs. Ogden. "There never need be another war," I say, "if we all play the gamel"
"It is the last resource of fools!" says Madge.
Ten years pass by.
Madge and I are dining quietly at Hatchett's. "I like to dine here occasionally," she says; "it reminds me of pre-war days with you and Tim." "How are those wonderful colonels of yours you used to talk about?" she asks.
"You meant Plunkett, Andrews and Benzie?" I say. "Yes," she replies.
"The after-effect of war has hit them all," I say. "Plunkett was invalided out, a total wreck some years after the Armistice. Bourlon did him in. Andrews became mentally deranged for a time, in France, directly after the war finished - he snapped - but getting better went to Russia and was captured by the Bolos and spent months in a gaol. He is dead. Benzie I saw not long ago, looking very ill: he returned to Ceylon but was invalided for good. There are thousands of men in Europe today suffering from the effects of war, who can never hope to get better and whose sufferings are not known. They are the men who wouldn't go sick, because it was not the thing to do."
"You mean," she says, "they belong to the legion who dazzled us with their valour and staggered us with their daring deeds?" "Yes," I reply.
"Well," she says, "all is not gold that glitters!" There must never be another grand parade. It isn't worth it!
It is simply a question of S.O.S.!
The great war was the S.O.S. danger signal to civilization. If we ignore that S.O.S. and the lessons of the war, civilization is doomed.
Brigadier-General Frank P. Crozier (1879-1937) was the most colourful and unlikely pacifist of the inter-war period. A former mercenary soldier, rejected by the regular army on medical grounds, he had served in Africa and Canada as well as in the Ulster Volunteer Force before the Great War gave him the chance of more orthodox soldiering. He won rapid promotion, and after the war continued to hunger for active service, working as an officer in the newly-formed Lithuanian army and then as commandant of the Black and Tans. In February 1921, however, his career was finally ended by his resignation, amid a blaze of headlines and questions in the House, on the grounds that the punishments he had ordered for men in his charge who had looted a grocery store near Trim had been counter-manded by higher authority. In view of his pre-war Ulster connection, it is likely that he had, in reality, been moved to resign less by the revulsion at barbarous military methods to which he later tended to attribute his action than by a rigid concern for strict soldierly discipline. Even after he had taken his dispute with the army to the point of campaigning for the peace movement his new colleagues wanted, in the words of Viscount Cecil of the League of Nations Union (to which Crozier had in 1929 applied for work), "to know a little more about his quarrel with Government over the Black and Tans". "I think", Cecil commented, "there must be another side to it." When Crozier died suddenly in August 1937, The Times refused to print brief tributes sent in by Sheppard and Ponsonby, and upset his widow by publishing an ungenerous obituary which baldly stated: "General Crozier, making no allowance for "political expediency", proved difficult in a series of trying situations and resigned over a question of discipline".
Unemployed and short of money, Crozier undertook what speaking engagements he could for the League of Nations Union, and when the boom in war books began late in 1928, turned his hand to writing his war memoirs with a combination of "energy and lack of subtlety" which The Times obituary believed to be his major characteristics. Published in 1930, A Brass Hat in No Man's Land made great play with the (by then) well-worn themes of cowardice and sexual licence in order to prove his contention that "war is a dirtier game than is generally known". This metaphor was apt, for Crozier seemed, indeed, to regard war as a game, albeit not for the squeamish. His views on how to prevent war, never very clearly articulated, seem to have been conventionally internationalist at this time. Early in February 1932, shortly before the announcement of the Peace Army, he had been professing to David Davies his unqualified enthusiasm for an international police force,' although a desire to be taken on to Davies's sizeable private payroll may explain this.
It was thus as an unemployed muchraker of militarism in search of a surrogate for military adventure, rather than as a convinced pacifist, that Crozier joined the Peace Army. Through it, however, he fell under Sheppard's spell - he was to act as a key organizer in his subsequent pacifist campaigns - and became an enthusiastic advocate of non-violence. The governments of the world, he was telling the Manchester Guardian by the end of February, had no answer to the Peace Army strategy: "What would they do, supposing Dick Sheppard and I were to walk with 10,000 unarmed people along No Man's Land, or if we were to send over from forty to a hundred civil aeroplanes between the opposing armies? If our people were shot public opinion would be shocked.''