Tuesday, 13 December.
You’ll want to hear about the Zepp. raid. All the town is on edge now. The barber, as he shaves you, says he knows for a fact six are on the way now; we are to have them every night. The news boys ask you about them; every one you speak to discusses nothing else. You see it was the first time the war got “right home.” They’ve had Zepp. raids on London, of course, before; but never three of ’em right overhead in the West End — the pleasure part — with anti-aircraft guns banging from the most unexpected places, some throwing star shells, others shrapnel, others high explosives — and the long silver streak dropping her death and destruction all around, apparently oblivious of all the attempts to bring her down. Crowds blocked the streets and yelled, collaring hold of each other as a shell burst right over the machine. Every time she dipped in her manoeuvres, which were most remarkably graceful and rapid for such a huge affair, they thought she was coming down, and roared like at some huge firework display. It was the most stupendous show I shall ever see. I was tremendously lucky. When I first heard the banging, I was on the Y. steps, talking to a Yank who had joined the English army. We saw the thing as soon as the searchlights found her, and raced towards her. She was headed our way at the time, and when right over us, there was a rushing sound overhead and a hell of a bang which seemed right on top of us. In reality, the bomb had fallen about thirty or forty yards away on the corner of a saloon which it tore completely away, entering the ground and breaking open a gas main. This took fire and a flame shot ’way up over the house tops, busted windows all around, dropped bits of glass on us. I thought it was parts of a shell and I had got it this time; but I hardly felt it. The heat from the gas burning was tremendous. Lots of people running aimlessly and yelling. I never saw my Yank friend again, but an Australian officer came up — the police were quite helpless, so he and I got one of those barrels they put street refuse in — a yellow three-wheeled thing. We found some sand in a big green bin on the corner and filled her up — the barrel, I mean — and chucked the whole works on the hole where the flames came up. A teaspoonful would have done as much good. By this time a crowd was there, mostly soldiers. Then came a fire engine. The Australian had one end of the big nozzle; I was next. The soldiers all lined up and formed a fatigue. It was great. The firemen went to bust walls and things to get back of the saloon, as it was on fire, too. All we did was to hold the nozzle over the hole in the street, as near to it as we could get, but it didn’t put it out. The Zepp. was sailing merrily around all the time, absolutely oblivious of the guns — the shooting was a joke — and every one was saying “where are the aeroplanes?” But narry a one went up. I had a row with a Royal Flying Corpsman about it. He said they hadn’t enough machines. Damn rot! Some one blundered over that raid; they’ve admitted it, as a squad of French airmen have come to town and they’ve mounted bigger guns here and there.
Later (just been down to tea).
By the way, this is a rotten place to write. I’m in the big main hall. It’s packed — soldiers of all kinds from the ends of the earth. In the morning, this same hall will be full of sleeping soldiers, wounded and others, on the sofas and things. They cannot find beds anywhere. I sleep in a large dormitory that was once the main smoking-room, now full of iron cots. No distinction is made. We are all the same. My God, to think I nearly forbore to wear this khaki! I would have died of shame. . . . Thank God, I am in it, and — dearie — remember it is all done in your name — yours — and Billie’s, who is half English. But to resume on the raid — I have lost the thread, I must look up where I left off. Yes, bigger guns, and that reminds me I have a cutting. Wait. . .
To come to the horrid, yet most serious part. Of course, though they smashed a lot of property, they did no real damage. It is also — about — true that they never kill a soldier. But you don’t want to believe what you read about the “casualties.”
This particular night, they didn’t have enough ambulances. That’s true. An archdeacon preached a sermon, last Sunday, in which he said he personally knew five babies that were blown to bits.
I myself saw so many bodies being carted away that I didn’t bother to count them.
I heard from a soldier eye-witness where they had to jump over lots of dead bodies to get to work on a burning building. The bomb had dropped on a crowd.
One story told me in the Y. here was about a motor-bus driver’s head dropping into an adjacent street. I think it was true, though of course it seems fantastic.
I suppose it’s war alright. They talk of war on women and babes; but, damn it, we should do the same. Why not? Where is our gas, etc.? But, if we can win without it, I’d be more pleased if we could and would “play the game.”