Mov­ing to­ward the bat­tle lines

The Compass - - OPINION -

The New­found­lan­der, Ge­orge Whitefield Rid­out (1870-1954), may be re­mem­bered by few to­day. How­ever, the Methodist min­is­ter and Y.M.C.A. sec­re­tary over­seas dis­tin­guished him­self as chap­lain with the 38th Reg­i­ment when they, in his words, “wrote one of the most bril­liant pages of mil­i­tary his­tory” in the bat­tle of July 15, 1918.

Born in St. John’s, he went to Bos­ton, Mas­sachusetts, as a young man, and was ed­u­cated at Tem­ple Univer­sity. He served as pro­fes­sor of the­ol­ogy at Up­land, In­di­ana.

Fol­low­ing the war, he ac­cepted the chair of the­ol­ogy at As­bury Col­lege, where he re­mained un­til 1927. En­ter­ing re­li­gious work, he trav­eled ex­ten­sively in Ja­pan, China, In­dia, Africa and South Amer­ica. He was a mem­ber of the Bri­tish Philo­sophic So­ci­ety and a fel­low of the Royal Ge­o­graphic So­ci­ety.

He wrote sev­eral books, in­clud­ing “The Cross and Flag: Ex­pe­ri­ences in the Great World War.” Pub­lished in 1919, so soon af­ter the war ended, it reads to­day with a keen sense of im­me­di­acy. He says noth­ing about the so-called po­etry of war, but ev­ery­thing about what he calls its “dread­ful prose.”

“One day,” he writes, “we got or­ders to move on closer to the lines. I re­mem­ber the cap­tain say­ing to me: ‘We are go­ing to a quiet place. It is in a fine woods which has not been shelled. I think we are go­ing to have a nice time there and you will like it.’ Lit­tle did any of us think that we were go­ing up to the hottest place we struck dur­ing the war, and where we shall re­ceive our first bloody bap­tism in this war.

“We moved al­ways at night. In ac­tual live war­fare, there is not much po­etry. It is dread­ful prose. I saw a pic­ture in the ‘Lit­er­ary Di­gest’ last fall show­ing troops be­ing led up front headed by a brass band! Such a thing would be ab­surd, and the man who put that thing to­gether must have dreamed things, not wit­nessed them on bat­tle fronts. Oh no, we are not led into front lines and into bat­tles by bands of mu­sic. We march at night, and in the dead of night.

“This was a dark night when we moved into and up that hill be­tween Saint-Eu­gene and Crezancy on the Marne. When we reached the woods, it was so densely black that we could hardly see where we were go­ing. Oc­ca­sion­ally, we caught sight of a French sol­dier — we were re­liev­ing the French that night.

“When we got in the woods, or­ders were given to lie down just where we were and make the best of it un­til morn­ing. This was July, and for­tu­nately the nights were not very long and the morn­ing broke early. Nu­mer­ous dugouts were in th­ese woods and some of the stop­ping places of the French of­fi­cers and men who held this place prior to our com­ing into it were ar­tis­ti­cally fixed up.

“The French are artis­tic, even when it comes to war. They had all man­ners of rus­tic seats, ta­bles, etc., lo­cated in pretty bow­ers. I had my can­teen lo­cated in one of those bow­ers and slept on the ground.

“The days were de­light­fully sum­mer like, the night were short but noisy. Our hill was lined with ar­tillery, and it was al­ways par­tic­u­larly ac­tive at night. Some nights, the guns did over­time and, time and again, the vi­bra­tion from the guns would shake the ground upon which I was sleep­ing and I would be roused from sleep. One gun, a naval gun, was par­tic­u­larly noisy. One night, the noise be­came so sud­denly ter­rific that I jumped up and ran over to in­quire of the lieu­tenant what was hap­pen­ing.

“Days wore on till things be­gan to as­sume a se­ri­ous as­pect. Oth­ers went all over the camp to ‘dig in.’ The men were set to work at dugouts. Ev­ery man had to be pro­vided for sleep­ing in a dugout. This was a very for­tu­nate or­der, as events proved. If we had not ‘dug in,’ our ca­su­al­ties the night of July 14 would have been im­mense. If I had slept that night on the ground in­stead of in a dugout, I would not have been alive next day to tell the story. The place where my can­teen was and where had been my for­mer sleep­ing place had been hit by sev­eral shells and my goods were scat­tered pellmell.

“An at­tack was ex­pected Sun­day, July 7th. There were many signs of ac­tiv­ity among the Ger­mans, and both French and Amer­i­cans looked for the of­fen­sive on Sun­day night, July 7th, but that night passed by, but in an­other week, the bat­tle raged in all its fury.”

Rid­out writes much more, but space is limited. Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at


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