The Torch Of Valor

The torch of valor has been passed from one brave hand to another down

the centuries, to be held to-day by the most valiant in the long line

of heroes. Deeds have been done in Europe since August, 1914, which

rival the most stirring feats sung by Homer or Virgil, by the

minnesingers of Germany, by the troubadours of Provençe, or told in the

Norse sagas or Celtic ballads. No exploit of Ajax or Achilles excels

that of
the Russian Cossack, wounded in eleven places and slaying as

many foes. The trio that held the bridge against Lars Porsena and his

cohorts have been equaled by the three men of Battery L, fighting with

their single gun in the gray and deathly dawn until the enemy's battery

was silenced. Private Wilson, who, single-handed, killed seven of the

enemy and captured a gun, sold newspapers in private life; but he need

not fear comparison with any of his ancient and radiant line. Who that

cares for courage can forget that Frenchman, forced to march in front

of a German battalion stealing to surprise his countrymen at the bridge

of Three Grietchen, near Ypres? To speak meant death for himself, to

be silent meant death for his comrades; and still the sentry gave no

alarm. So he gave it himself. "Fire! For the love of God, fire!" he

cried, his soul alive with sacrifice; and so died. The ancient hero of

romance, who gathered to his own heart the lance heads of the foe that

a gap might be made in their phalanx, did no more than that. Nelson

conveniently forgot his blind eye at Copenhagen, and even in this he

has his followers still. Bombardier Havelock was wounded in the thigh

by fragments of shell. He had his wound dressed at the ambulance and

was ordered to hospital. Instead of obeying, he returned to his

battery, to be wounded again in the back within five minutes. Once more

he was patched up by the doctor and sent to hospital, this time in

charge of an orderly. He escaped from his guardian, went back to fight,

and was wounded for the third time. Afraid to face the angry surgeon,

he lay all day beside the gun. That night he was reprimanded by his

officers--and received the V.C.! Also there are the airmen, day after

day facing appalling dangers in their frail, bullet-torn craft. Was

there ever a stouter heart than that of the aviator, wounded to death

and still planing downwards, to be found seated in his place and

grasping the controls, stone-dead? Few eyes were dry that read the

almost mystic story of that son of France who, struck blind in a storm

of fire, still navigated his machine, obedient to the instructions of

his military companion, himself mortally wounded by shrapnel and dying

even as earth was reached.

There is no need to worship the past with a too-abject devotion,

whatever in the way of glory it has been to us and done for us. Chandos

and Du Guesclin, Leonidas and De Bussy have worthy compeers to-day.

Beside them may stand Lance-Corporal O'Leary, the Irish peasant's son.

Of his own deed he merely says that he led some men to an important

position, and took it from the Huns, "killing some of their gunners and

taking a few prisoners." History will tell the tale otherwise: how this

modest soldier, outstripping his eager comrades, coolly selected a

machine gun for attack, and killed the five men tending it before they

could slew round; how he then sped onwards alone to another barricade,

which he captured, after killing three of the enemy, and making

prisoners of two more. Even officialism burst its bonds for a moment as

it records the deed:

Lance-Corporal O'Leary thus practically captured the enemy's

position by himself, and prevented the rest of the attacking

party from being fired on.

The epic of Lieutenant Leach and Sergeant Hogan, who volunteered to

recapture a trench taken by the Germans, after two failures of their

comrades, is reading to give one at once a gulp in the throat and a

song in the heart. With consummate daring they undertook the venture;

with irresistible skill they succeeded, killing eight of the enemy,

wounding two, and taking sixteen prisoners. In the words of the veteran

of Waterloo, "It was as good fighting as Boney himself would have made

a man a gineral for."

There are isolated incidents of this kind in every war; but in a

thousand different places in France and Belgium the dauntless,

nonchalant valor of Irishmen, Englishmen, Scotsmen, and Welshmen has

shown itself. Did ever the gay Gordons do a gayer or more gallant thing

than was done on the 29th of September, 1914, on the western front?

Thirty gunners of a British field battery had just been killed or

wounded. Thirty others were ordered to take their place. They knew that

they were going to certain death, and they went with a cheery "Good-by,

you fellows!" to their comrades of the reserve. Two minutes later every

man had fallen, and another thirty stepped to the front with the same

farewell, smoking their cigarettes as they went out to die--like that

"very gallant gentleman," Oates, who went forth from Scott's tent into

the blizzard and immortality. Englishmen can lift up their heads with

pride, human nature can take heart and salute the future with hope,

when the Charge of the Five Hundred at Gheluvelt is recalled. There, on

the Ypres road to Calais, 2400 British soldiers, Scots Guards, South

Wales Borderers, and the Welsh and Queen's Regiments held up 24,000

Germans in a position terribly exposed. On that glorious and bloody day

the Worcesters, 500 strong, charged the hordes of Germans, twenty times

their number, through the streets of Gheluvelt and up and beyond to the

very trenches of the foe; and in the end the ravishers of Belgium,

under the stress and storm of their valor, turned and fled. On that day

300 out of 500 of the Worcesters failed to answer the roll call when

the fight was over, and out of 2400 only 800 lived of all the remnants

of regiments engaged; but the road to Calais was blocked against the

Huns; and it remains so even to this day. Who shall say that greatness

of soul is not the possession of the modern world? Did men die better

in the days before the Cæsars?

Not any one branch of the service, not any one class of men alone has

done these deeds of valor; but in the splendid democracy of heroism,

the colonel and the private, the corporal and the lieutenant--one was

going to say, have thrown away, but no!--have offered up their lives on

the altars of sacrifice, heedless of all save that duty must be done.

But greater than such deeds, of which there have been inspiring

hundreds, is the patient endurance shown by men whose world has

narrowed down to that little corner of a great war which they are

fighting for their country. To fight on night and day in the trenches,

under avalanches of murdering metal and storms of rending shrapnel,

calls for higher qualities than those short, sharp gusts of conflict

which in former days were called battles. Then men faced death in the

open, weapon in hand, cheered by color and music and the personal

contest, man upon man outright, greatly daring for a few sharp hours.

Now all the pageantry is gone; the fight rages without ceasing; men

must eat and sleep in the line of fire; death and mutilation ravage

over them even while they rest. Nerves have given way, men have gone

mad under this prolonged strain, and the marvel is that any have borne

it; yet they have not only borne it, they have triumphed over it. These

have known the exaltation of stripping life of its impedimenta to do a

thing set for them to do; giving up all for an idea. The great

obsession is on them; they are swayed and possessed by something

greater than themselves; they live in an atmosphere which, breathing,

inflames them to the utmost of their being.

There was a corner in the British lines where men had fought for days,

until the place was a shambles; where food could only rarely reach

them; where they stood up to their knees in mud and water, where men

endured, but where Death was the companion of their fortitude. Yet

after a lull in the firing there came from some point in the battered

trench the new British battle-cry, "Are we downhearted?" And then, as

we are told, one blood-stained specter feebly raised himself above the

broken parapet, shouted "No!" and fell back dead. There spoke a spirit

of high endurance, of a shining defiance, of a courage which wants no

pity, which exalts as it wends its way hence.


* * * * *

Mother Earth! Are thy heroes dead?

Do they thrill the soul of the years no more?

Are the gleaming snows and the poppies red

All that is left of the brave of yore?

Are there none to fight as Theseus fought,

Far in the young world's misty dawn?

Or to teach as the gray-haired Nestor taught?

Mother Earth! Are the heroes gone?

Gone?--in a grander form they rise;

Dead?--we may clasp their hands in ours,

And catch the light of their clearer eyes,

And wreathe their brows with immortal flowers.

Wherever a noble deed is done,

'Tis the pulse of a hero's heart is stirred;

Wherever right has a triumph won

There are the heroes' voices heard.