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 ProvenÃ§e, or told in the
Norse sagas or Celtic ballads. No exploit of Ajax or Achilles excels
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 CÃ¦sars?
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.
SIR GILBERT PARKER.
* * * * *
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.
EDNA DEAN PROCTOR.
 FROM "THE WORLD IN THE CRUCIBLE." COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY DODD, MEAD