A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes
Part 2 out of 3
one long, deep sigh of relief, put my hand inside my tunic and
patted Dinky on the back. Dinky is my mascot. I'll tell you about
On top of that another bit of luck came along, though it didn't
seem like it at the moment. It was the custom for a ration party to
go out each night and get up the grub. This party had to go over
the duck walk and was under fire both going and coming. One of the
corporals who had been out on rations two nights in succession
began to "grouse."
Of course Sergeant Page spotted me and detailed me to the
"wangler's" duty. I "groused" too, like a good fellow, but had to
"Garn," says Wellsie. "Wot's the diff if yer gets it 'ere or there.
If ye clicks, I'll draw yer fags from Blighty and say a prayer for
yer soul. On yer way."
Cheerful beggar, Wellsie. He was doing me a favor and didn't know
I did the three miles along the duck walk with the ration party,
and there wasn't a shell came our way. Queer! Nor on the way back.
Queerer! When we were nearly back and were about five hundred yards
from the base of the Pimple, a dead silence fell on the German side
of the line. There wasn't a gun nor a mortar nor even a rifle in
action for a mile in either direction. There was, too, a kind of
sympathetic let-up on our side. There weren't any lights going up.
There was an electric tension in the very air. You could tell by
the feel that something big was going to happen.
I halted the ration party at the end of the duck walk and waited.
But not for long. Suddenly the "Very" lights went up from the
German side, literally in hundreds, illuminating the top of the
ridge and the sky behind with a thin greenish white flare. Then
came a deep rumble that shook the ground, and a dull boom. A spurt
of blood-red flame squirted up from the near side of the hill, and
a rolling column of gray smoke.
Then another rumble, and another, and then the whole side of
the ridge seemed to open up and move slowly skyward with a
world-wrecking, soul-paralyzing crash. A murky red glare lit up the
smoke screen, and against it a mass of tossed-up debris, and for an
instant I caught the black silhouette of a whole human body
spread-eagled and spinning like a pin-wheel.
Most of our party, even at the distance, were knocked down by the
gigantic impact of the explosion. A shower of earth and rock
chunks, some as big as a barrel, fell around us.
Then we heard a far-away cheering, and in the light of the flares
we saw a newly made hill and our men swarming up it to the crater.
Two mines had exploded, and the whole side of the Pimple had been
torn away. Half of our rushing party were killed and we had sixty
casualties from shock and wounds among men who were supposed to be
at a safe distance from the mining operation. But we took and held
the new crater positions.
The corporal whose place I had taken on the ration party was killed
by falling stones. Inasmuch as he was where I would have been, I
considered that I had had a narrow escape from "going west!" More
ON THE GO
Marching, marching, marching,
Always ruddy well marching.
Marching all the morning,
And marching all the night.
Marching, marching, marching,
Always ruddy well marching,
Roll on till my time is up
And I shall march no more.
We sung it to the tune of "Holy, Holy, Holy", the whole blooming
battalion. As we swung down the Boulevard Alsace-Lorraine in Amiens
and passed the great cathedral up there to the left, on its little
rise of ground, the chant lifted and lilted and throbbed up from
near a thousand throats, much as the unisoned devotions of the
olden monks must have done in other days.
Ours was a holy cause, but despite the association of the tune the
song was far from being a holy song. It was, rather, a chanted
remonstrance against all hiking and against this one in
After our service at Vimy Ridge some one in authority somewhere
decided that the 22nd Battalion and two others were not quite good
enough for really smart work. We were, indeed, hard. But not hard
enough. So some superior intellect squatting somewhere in the
safety of the rear, with a finger on the pulse of the army, decreed
that we were to get not only hard but tough; and to that end we
were to hike. Hike we did.
For more than three weeks we went from place to place with no
apparent destination, wandering aimlessly up and down the
country-side of Northern France, imposing ourselves upon the people
of little villages, shamming battle over their cultivated fields,
and sleeping in their hen coops.
I kept a diary on that hike. It was a thing forbidden, but I
managed it. One manages many things out there. I have just read
over that diary. There isn't much to it but a succession of town
names,--Villiers du Bois, Maisincourt, Barly, Oneaux, Canchy,
Amiens, Bourdon, Villiers Bocage, Agenvilliers, Behencourt, and
others that I failed to set down and have forgotten. We swept
across that country, sweating under our packs, hardening our
muscles, stopping here for a day, there for five days for
extended-order drills and bayonet and musketry practice, and
somewhere else for a sham battle. We were getting ready to go into
The weather, by some perversity of fate, was fair during all of
that hiking time. Whenever I was in the trenches it always rained,
whether the season warranted it or not. Except on days when we were
scheduled to go over the top. Then, probably because rain will
sometimes hold up a planned-for attack, it was always fair.
On the hike, with good roads under foot, the soldier does not mind
a little wet and welcomes a lot of clouds. No such luck for us. It
was clear all the time. Not only clear but blazing hot August
On our first march out of the Cabaret Rouge communication trench we
covered a matter of ten miles to a place called Villiers du Bois.
Before that I had never fully realized just what it meant to go it
in full heavy equipment.
Often on the march I compared my lot with that of the medieval
soldier who had done his fighting over these same fields of
The knight of the Middle Ages was all dressed up like a hardware
store with, I should judge, about a hundred pounds of armor. But he
rode a horse and had a squire or some such striker trailing along
in the rear with the things to make him comfortable, when the
fighting was over.
The modern soldier gets very little help in his war making. He is,
in fact, more likely to be helping somebody else than asking for
assistance for himself. The soldier has two basic functions: first,
to keep himself whole and healthy; second, to kill the other
fellow. To the end that he may do these two perfectly simple
things, he has to carry about eighty pounds of weight all the time.
He has a blanket, a waterproof sheet, a greatcoat, extra boots,
extra underwear, a haversack with iron rations, entrenching tools,
a bayonet, a water bottle, a mess kit, a rifle, two hundred fifty
rounds of ammo, a tin hat, two gas helmets, and a lot of
miscellaneous small junk. All this is draped, hung, and otherwise
disposed over his figure by means of a web harness having more
hooks than a hatrack. He parallels the old-time knight only in the
matter of the steel helmet and the rifle, which, with the bayonet,
corresponds to the lance, sword, and battle-ax, three in one.
The modern soldier carries all his worldly goods with him all the
time. He hates to hike. But he has to.
I remember very vividly that first day. The temperature was around
90 deg., and some fool officers had arranged that we start at one,--the
very worst time of the day. The roads so near the front were
pulverized, and the dust rose in dense clouds. The long straight
lines of poplars beside the road were gray with it, and the heat
waves shimmered up from the fields.
Before we had gone five miles the men began to wilt. Right away I
had some more of the joys of being a corporal brought home to me.
I was already touched with trench fever and was away under par.
That didn't make any difference.
On the march, when the men begin to weaken, an officer is sure to
trot up and say:
"Corporal Holmes, just carry this man's rifle," or "Corporal
Collins, take that man's pack. He's jolly well done."
Seemingly the corporal never is supposed to be jolly well done. If
one complained, his officer would look at him with astounded
reproach and say:
"Why, Corporal. We cawn't have this, you know! You are a
Non-commissioned Officer, and you must set an example. You must,
When we finally hit the town where our billets were, we found our
company quartered in an old barn. It was dirty, and there was a
pigpen at one end,--very smelly in the August heat. We flopped in
the ancient filth. The cooties were very active, as we were
drenched with sweat and hadn't had a bath since heavens knew when.
We had had about ten minutes' rest and were thinking about getting
out of the harness when up came Mad Harry, one of our "leftenants",
and ordered us out for foot inspection.
I don't want to say anything unfair about this man. He is dead now.
I saw him die. He was brave. He knew his job all right, but he was
a fine example of what an officer ought not to be. The only reason
I speak of him is because I want to say something about officers in
This Mad Harry,--I do not give his surname for obvious
reasons,--was the son of one of the richest-new-rich-merchant
families in England. He was very highly educated, had, I take it,
spent the most of his life with the classics. He was long and thin
and sallow and fish-eyed. He spoke in a low colorless monotone,
absolutely without any inflection whatever. The men thought he was
balmy. Hence the nickname Mad Harry.
Mad Harry was a fiend for walking. And at the end of a twenty-mile
hike in heavy marching order he would casually stroll alongside
some sweating soldier and drone out,
"I say, Private Stetson. Don't you just love to hike?"
Then and there he made a lifelong personal enemy of Private
Stetson. In the same or similar ways he made personal enemies of
every private soldier he came in contact with.
It may do no harm to tell how Mad Harry died. He came very near
being shot by one of his own men.
It was on the Somme. We were in the middle of a bit of a show, and
we were all hands down in shell holes with a heavy machine-gun fire
crackling overhead. I was in one hole, and in the next, which
merged with mine, were two chaps who were cousins.
Mad Harry came along, walking perfectly upright, regardless of
danger, with his left arm shattered. He dropped into the next shell
hole and with his expressionless drawl unshaken, said, "Private X.
Dress my arm."
Private X got out his own emergency bandage and fixed the arm. When
it was done Mad Harry, still speaking in his monotonous drone,
"Now, Private X, get up out of this hole. Don't be hiding."
Private X obeyed orders without a question. He climbed out and fell
with a bullet through his head. His cousin, who was a very dear
friend of the boy, evidently went more or less crazy at this. I saw
him leap at Mad Harry and snatch his pistol from the holster. He
was, I think, about to shoot his officer when a shell burst
overhead and killed them both.
Well, on this first day of the hike Mad Harry ordered us out for
foot inspection, as I have said. I found that I simply couldn't get
them out. They were in no condition for foot inspection,--hadn't
washed for days. Harry came round and gave me a royal dressing down
and ordered the whole bunch out for parade and helmet inspection.
We were kept standing for an hour. You couldn't blame the men for
hating an officer of that kind.
It is only fair to say that Mad Harry was not a usual type of
British officer. He simply carried to excess the idea of discipline
and unquestioning obedience. The principle of discipline is the
guts and backbone of any army. I am inclined to think that it is
more than half the making of any soldier. There has been a good
deal of talk in the press about a democratic army. As a matter of
fact fraternization between men and officers is impossible except
in nations of exceptional temperament and imagination, like the
French. The French are unique in everything. It follows that their
army can do things that no other army can. It is common to see a
French officer sitting in a cafe drinking with a private.
In the British army that could not be. The new British army is more
democratic, no doubt, than the old. But except in the heat of
battle, no British officer can relax his dignity very much. With
the exception of Mr. Blofeld, who was one of those rare characters
who can be personally close and sympathetic and at the same time
command respect and implicit obedience, I never knew a successful
officer who did not seem to be almost of another world.
Our Colonel was a fine man, but he was as dignified as a Supreme
Court Judge. Incidentally he was as just. I have watched Colonel
Flowers many times when he was holding orders. This is a kind of
court when all men who have committed crimes and have been passed
on by the captains appear before the Colonel.
Colonel Flowers would sit smiling behind his hand, and would try
his hardest to find "mitigating circumstances"; but when none could
be dug out he passed sentence with the last limit of severity, and
the man that was up for orders didn't come again if he knew what
was good for himself.
I think that on the hike we all got to know our officers better
than we had known them in the trenches. Their real characters came
out. You knew how far you could go with them, and what was more
important, how far you couldn't go.
It was at Dieval that my rank as lance corporal was confirmed. It
is customary, when a rookie has been made a non-com in training, to
reduce him immediately when he gets to France. I had joined in the
trenches and had volunteered for a raiding party and there had been
no opportunity to reduce me. I had not, however, had a corporal's
pay. My confirmation came at Dieval, and I was put on pay. I would
have willingly sacrificed the pay and the so-called honor to have
been a private.
Our routine throughout the hike was always about the same, that is
in the intervals when we were in any one place for a day or more.
It was, up at six, breakfast of tea, bread, and bacon. Drill till
noon; dinner; drill till five. After that nothing to do till
to-morrow, unless we got night 'ops, which was about two nights out
There were few Y.M.C.A. huts so far behind the lines, and the short
time up to nine was usually spent in the _estaminets_. The games of
house were in full blast all the time.
On the hike we were paid weekly. Privates got five francs,
corporals ten, and sergeants fifteen to twenty a week. That's a lot
of money. Anything left over was held back to be paid when we got
to Blighty. Parcels and mail came along with perfect regularity on
that hike. It was and is a marvel to me how they do it. A battalion
chasing around all over the place gets its stuff from Blighty day
after day, right on the tick and without any question. I only hope
that whatever the system is, our army will take advantage of it. A
shortage of letters and luxury parcels is a real hardship.
We finally brought up at a place called Oneux (pronounced Oh, no)
and were there five days. I fell into luck here. It was customary,
when we were marching on some unsuspecting village, to send the
quartermaster sergeants ahead on bicycles to locate billets. We had
an old granny named Cypress, better known as Lizzie. The other
sergeants were accustomed to flim-flam Lizzie to a finish on the
selection of billets, with the result that C company usually slept
in pigpens of stables.
The day we approached Oneux, Lizzie was sick, and I was delegated
to his job. I went into the town with the three other quartermaster
sergeants, got them into an _estaminet_, bought about a dollar's
worth of drinks, sneaked out the back door, and preempted the
schoolhouse for C company. I also took the house next door, which
was big and clean, for the officers. We were royally comfortable
there, and the other companies used the stables that usually fell
to our lot.
As a reward, I suspect, I was picked for Orderly Corporal, a cushy
job. We all of us had it fairly easy at Oneux. It was hot weather,
and nights we used to sit out in the schoolhouse yard and talk
about the war.
Some of the opinions voiced out there with more frankness than any
one would dare to use at home would, I am sure, shock some of the
patriots. The fact is that any one who has fought in France wants
peace, and the sooner the better.
We had one old-timer, out since Mons, who habitually, night after
night, day after day, would pipe up with the same old plaint.
Something like this:
"Hi arsks yer. Wot are we fightin' for? Wot'd th' Belgiums hever do
fer us? Wot? Wot'd th' Rooshians hever do fer us? Wot's th' good of
th' Frenchies? Wot's th' good of hanybody but th' Henglish? Gawd
lumme! I'm fed up."
And yet this man had gone out at the beginning and would fight
like the very devil, and I verily believe will be homesick for the
trenches if he is alive when it is all over.
Bones, who was educated and a thoughtful reader, had it figured out
that the war was all due to the tyranny of the ruling classes, with
the Kaiser the chief offender.
A lot of the men wanted peace at any reasonable price. Anything, so
they would get back to 'Arriet or Sadie or Maria.
I should say offhand that there was not one man in a hundred who
was fighting consciously for any great recognized principle. And
yet, with all their grousing and criticism, and all their
overwhelming desire to have it over with, every one of them was
loyal and brave and a hard fighter.
A good deal has been written about the brilliancy of the Canadians
and the other Colonials. Too much credit cannot be given these men.
In an attack there are no troops with more dash than the Canadians,
but when it comes to taking punishment and hanging on a hopeless
situation, there are no troops in the wide world who can equal,
much less surpass, the English. Personally I think that comparisons
should be avoided. All the Allies are doing their full duty with
all that is in them.
During most of the war talk, it was my habit to keep discreetly
quiet. We were not in the war yet, and any remarks from me usually
drew some hot shot about Mr. Wilson's "blankety-blinked bloomin'
There was another American, a chap named Sanford from Virginia,
in B company, and he and I used to furnish a large amount of
entertainment in these war talks. Sanford was a F.F.V. and didn't
care who knew it. Also he thought General Lee was the greatest
military genius ever known. One night he and I got started and had
it hot and heavy as to the merits of the Civil War. This for some
reason tickled the Tommies half to death, and after that they would
egg us on to a discussion.
One of them would slyly say, "Darby, 'oo th' blinkin' 'ell was this
blighter, General Grant?"
Or, "Hi sye, Sandy, Hi 'eard Darby syin' 'ow this General Lee was a
Then Sanford and I would pass the wink and go at it tooth and
nail. It was ridiculous, arguing the toss on a long-gone-by
small-time scrap like the Civil War with the greatest show in
history going on all around us. Anyway the Tommies loved it and
would fairly howl with delight when we got to going good.
It is strange, but with so many Americans in the British service, I
ran up against very few. I remember one night when we were making a
night march from one village to another, we stopped for the
customary ten-minutes-in-the-hour rest. Over yonder in a field
there was a camp of some kind,--probably field artillery. There was
dim light of a fire and the low murmur of voices. And then a fellow
began to sing in a nice tenor:
Bury me not on the lone prairie
Where the wild coyotes howl o'er me.
Bury me down in the little churchyard
In a grave just six by three.
The last time I had heard that song was in New Orleans, and it was
sung by a wild Texan. So I yelled, "Hello there, Texas."
He answered, "Hello, Yank. Where from?"
I answered, "Boston."
"Give my regards to Tremont Street and go to hell," says he. A gale
of laughter came out of the night. Just then we had the order to
fall in, and away we went. I'd like to know sometime who that chap
After knocking about all over the north of France seemingly, we
brought up at Canchy of a Sunday afternoon. Here the whole brigade,
four battalions, had church parade, and after that the band played
ragtime and the officers had a gabfest and compared medals, on top
of which we were soaked with two hours' steady drill. We were at
Canchy ten days, and they gave it to us good and plenty. We would
drill all day and after dark it would be night 'ops. Finally so
many men were going to the doctor worn out that he ordered a whole
day and a half of rest.
Mr. Blofeld on Saturday night suggested that, as we were going into
the Somme within a few weeks, the non-coms ought to have a little
blow-out. It would be the last time we would all ever be together.
He furnished us with all the drinkables we could get away with,
including some very choice Johnny Walker. There was a lot of
canned stuff, mostly sardines. Mr. Blofeld loaned us the officers'
It was a large, wet night. Everybody made a speech or sang a song,
and we didn't go home until morning. It was a farewell party, and
we went the limit. If there is one thing that the Britisher does
better than another, it is getting ready to die. He does it with a
smile,--and he dies with a laugh.
Poor chaps! Nearly all of them are pushing up the daisies somewhere
in France. Those who are not are, with one or two exceptions, out
of the army with broken bodies.
FIRST SIGHT OF THE TANKS
Late in the summer I accumulated a nice little case of trench
This disease is due to remaining for long periods in the wet and
mud, to racked nerves, and, I am inclined to think, to sleeping
in the foul air of the dug-outs. The chief symptom is high
temperature, and the patient aches a good deal. I was sent back to
a place in the neighborhood of Arras and was there a week
While I was there a woman spy whom I had known in Abalaine was
brought to the village and shot. The frequency with which the duck
walk at Abalaine had been shelled, especially when ration parties
or troops were going over it, had attracted a good deal of
There was a single house not far from the end of that duck walk
west of Abalaine, occupied by a woman and two or three children.
She had lived there for years and was, so far as anybody knew, a
Frenchwoman in breeding and sympathies. She was in the habit of
selling coffee to the soldiers, and, of course, gossiped with them
and thus gained a good deal of information about troop movements.
She was not suspected for a long time. Then a gunner of a battery
which was stationed near by noticed that certain children's
garments, a red shirt and a blue one and several white garments,
were on the clothesline in certain arrangement on the days when
troops were to be moved along the duck walk the following night.
This soldier notified his officers, and evidence was accumulated
that the woman was signalling to the Boche airplanes.
She was arrested, taken to the rear, and shot. I don't like to
think that this woman was really French. She was, no doubt, one of
the myriad of spies who were planted in France by the Germans long
before the war.
After getting over the fever, I rejoined my battalion in the early
part of September in the Somme district at a place called Mill
Street. This was in reality a series of dug-outs along a road some
little distance behind our second lines, but in the range of the
German guns, which persistently tried for our artillery just beside
Within an hour of my arrival I was treated to a taste of one of the
forms of German kultur which was new at the time. At least it was
new to me--tear gas. This delectable vapor came over in shells,
comparatively harmless in themselves, but which loosed a gas,
smelling at first a little like pineapple. When you got a good
inhale you choked, and the eyes began to run. There was no
controlling the tears, and the victim would fairly drip for a
long time, leaving him wholly incapacitated.
Goggles provided for this gas were nearly useless, and we all
resorted to the regular gas helmet. In this way we were able to
stand the stuff.
The gas mask, by the way, was the bane of my existence in the
trenches--one of the banes. I found that almost invariably after I
had had mine on for a few minutes I got faint. Very often I would
keel over entirely. A good many of the men were affected the same
way, either from the lack of air inside the mask or by the
influence of the chemicals with which the protector is impregnated.
One of the closest calls I had in all my war experience was at
Mills Street. And Fritz was not to blame.
Several of the men, including myself, were squatted around a
brazier cooking char and getting warm, for the nights were cold,
when there was a terrific explosion. Investigation proved that an
unexploded bomb had been buried under the brazier, and that it had
gone off as the heat penetrated the ground. It is a wonder there
weren't more of these accidents, as Tommy was forever throwing away
The Mills bomb fires by pulling out a pin which releases a lever
which explodes the bomb after four seconds. Lots of men never
really trust a bomb. If you have one in your pocket, you feel that
the pin may somehow get out, and if it does you know that you'll go
to glory in small bits. I always had that feeling myself and used
to throw away my Millses and scoop a hatful of dirt over them with
This particular bomb killed one man, wounded several, and shocked
all of us. Two of the men managed to "swing" a "blighty" case out
of it. I could have done the same if I had been wise enough.
I think I ought to say a word right here about the psychology of
the Tommy in swinging a "blighty" case.
It is the one first, last, and always ambition of the Tommy to get
back to Blighty. Usually he isn't "out there" because he wants to
be but because he has to be. He is a patriot all right. His love of
Blighty shows that. He will fight like a bag of wildcats when he
gets where the fighting is, but he isn't going around looking for
trouble. He knows that his officers will find that for him
When he gets letters from home and knows that the wife or the
"nippers" or the old mother is sick, he wants to go home. And so he
puts in his time hoping for a wound that will be "cushy" enough not
to discommode him much and that will be bad enough to swing
Blighty on. Sometimes when he wants very much to get back he
stretches his conscience to the limit--and it is pretty elastic
anyhow--and he fakes all sorts of illness. The M.O. is usually a
bit too clever for Tommy, however, and out and out fakes seldom get
by. Sometimes they do, and in the most unexpected cases.
I had a man named Isadore Epstein in my section who was
instrumental in getting Blighty for himself and one other. Issy was
a tailor by trade. He was no fighting man and didn't pretend to be,
and he didn't care who knew it. He was wild to get a "blighty one"
or shell shock, or anything that would take him home.
One morning as we were preparing to go over the top, and the men
were a little jumpy and nervous, I heard a shot behind me, and a
bullet chugged into the sandbags beside my head. I whirled around,
my first thought being that some one of our own men was trying to
do me in. This is a thing that sometimes happens to unpopular
officers and less frequently to the men. But not in this case.
It was Issy Epstein. He had been monkeying with his rifle and had
shot himself in the hand. Of course, Issy was at once under
suspicion of a self-inflicted wound, which is one of the worst
crimes in the calendar. But the suspicion was removed instantly.
Issy was hopping around, raising a terrific row.
"Oi, oi," he wailed. "I'm ruint. I'm ruint. My thimble finger is
gone. My thimble finger! I'm ruint. Oi, oi, oi, oi."
The poor fellow was so sincerely desolated over the loss of his
necessary finger that I couldn't accuse him of shooting himself
intentionally. I detailed a man named Bealer to take Issy back to a
dressing station. Well, Bealer never came back.
Months later in England I met up with Epstein and asked about
Bealer. It seems that after Issy had been fixed up, the surgeon
turned to Bealer and said:
"What's the matter with you?"
Bealer happened to be dreaming of something else and didn't answer.
"I say," barked the doctor, "speak up. What's wrong?"
Bealer was startled and jumped and begun to stutter.
"Oh, I see," said the surgeon. "Shell shock."
Bealer was bright enough and quick enough after that to play it up
and was tagged for Blighty. He had it thrust upon him. And you can
bet he grabbed it and thanked his lucky stars.
We had been on Mill Street a day and a night when an order came for
our company to move up to the second line and to be ready to go
over the top the next day. At first there was the usual grousing,
as there seemed to be no reason why our company should be picked
from the whole battalion. We soon learned that all hands were going
over, and after that we felt better.
We got our equipment on and started up to the second line. It was
right here that I got my first dose of real honest-to-goodness
modern war. The big push had been on all summer, and the whole of
the Somme district was battered and smashed.
Going up from Mill Street there were no communication trenches. We
were right out in the open, exposed to rifle and machine-gun fire
and to shrapnel, and the Boches were fairly raining it in on the
territory they had been pushed back from and of which they had the
range to an inch. We went up under that steady fire for a full
hour. The casualties were heavy, and the galling part of it was
that we couldn't hurry, it was so dark. Every time a shell burst
overhead and the shrapnel pattered in the dirt all about, I kissed
myself good-by and thought of the baked beans at home. Men kept
falling, and I wished I hadn't enlisted.
When we finally got up to the trench, believe me, we didn't need
any orders to get in. We relieved the Black Watch, and they
encouraged us by telling us they had lost over half their men in
that trench, and that Fritz kept a constant fire on it. They didn't
need to tell us. The big boys were coming over all the time.
The dead here were enough to give you the horrors. I had never seen
so many before and never saw so many afterwards in one place. They
were all over the place, both Germans and our own men. And in all
states of mutilation and decomposition.
There were arms and legs sticking out of the trench sides. You
could tell their nationality by the uniforms. The Scotch
predominated. And their dead lay in the trenches and outside and
hanging over the edges. I think it was here that I first got the
real meaning of that old quotation about the curse of a dead man's
eye. With so many lying about, there were always eyes staring at
Sometimes a particularly wide-staring corpse would seem to follow
you with his gaze, like one of these posters with the pointing
finger that they use to advertise Liberty Bonds. We would cover
them up or turn them over. Here and there one would have a scornful
death smile on his lips, as though he were laughing at the folly of
the whole thing.
The stench here was appalling. That frightful, sickening smell that
strikes one in the face like something tangible. Ugh! I immediately
grew dizzy and faint and had a mad desire to run. I think if I
hadn't been a non-com with a certain small amount of responsibility
to live up to, I should have gone crazy.
I managed to pull myself together and placed my men as comfortably
as possible. The Germans were five hundred yards away, and there
was but little danger of an attack, so comparatively few had to
"stand to." The rest took to the shelters.
I found a little two-man shelter that everybody else had avoided
and crawled in. I crowded up against a man in there and spoke to
him. He didn't answer and then suddenly I became aware of a stench
more powerful than ordinary. I put out my hand and thrust it into a
slimy, cold mess. I had found a dead German with a gaping,
putrefying wound in his abdomen. I crawled out of that shelter,
gagging and retching. This time I simply couldn't smother my
impulse to run, and run I did, into the next traverse, where I sank
weak and faint on the fire step. I sat there the rest of the night,
regardless of shells, my mind milling wildly on the problem of war
and the reason thereof and cursing myself for a fool.
[Illustration: HEAD-ON VIEW OF A BRITISH TANK.]
It was very early in the morning when Wells shook me up with, "Hi
sye, Darby, wot the blinkin' blazes is that noise?"
We listened, and away from the rear came a tremendous whirring,
burring, rumbling buzz, like a swarm of giant bees. I thought of
everything from a Zeppelin to a donkey engine but couldn't make it
out. Blofeld ran around the corner of a traverse and told us to get
the men out. He didn't know what was coming and wasn't taking any
It was getting a little light though heavily misty. We waited, and
then out of the gray blanket of fog waddled the great steel
monsters that we were to know afterwards as the "tanks." I shall
never forget it.
In the half darkness they looked twice as big as they really were.
They lurched forward, slow, clumsy but irresistible, nosing down
into shell holes and out, crushing the unburied dead, sliding over
mere trenches as though they did not exist.
There were five in all. One passed directly over us. We scuttled
out of the way, and the men let go a cheer. For we knew that here
was something that could and would win battles.
The tanks were an absolutely new thing to us. Their secret had been
guarded so carefully even in our own army that our battalion had
heard nothing of them.
But we didn't need to be told that they would be effective. One
look was enough to convince us. Later it convinced Fritzie.
FOLLOWING THE TANKS INTO BATTLE
The tanks passed beyond us and half-way up to the first line and
stopped. Trapdoors in the decks opened, and the crews poured out
and began to pile sandbags in front of the machines so that when
day broke fully and the mists lifted, the enemy could not see what
had been brought up in the night.
Day dawned, and a frisky little breeze from the west scattered the
fog and swept the sky clean. There wasn't a cloud by eight o'clock.
The sun shone bright, and we cursed it, for if it had been rainy
the attack would not have been made.
We made the usual last preparations that morning, such as writing
letters and delivering farewell messages; and the latest rooks made
their wills in the little blanks provided for the purpose in the
back of the pay books. We judged from the number of dead and the
evident punishment other divisions had taken there that the
chances of coming back would be slim. Around nine o'clock Captain
Green gave us a little talk that confirmed our suspicions that the
day was to be a hard one.
He said, as nearly as I can remember:
"Lads, I want to tell you that there is to be a most important
battle--one of the most important in the whole war. High Wood out
there commands a view of the whole of this part of the Somme and is
most valuable. There are estimated to be about ten thousand Germans
in that wood and in the surrounding supports. The positions are
mostly of concrete with hundreds of machine guns and field
artillery. Our heavies have for some reason made no impression on
them, and regiment after regiment has attempted to take the woods
and failed with heavy losses. Now it is up to the 47th Division to
do the seemingly impossible. Zero is at eleven. We go over then.
The best of luck and God bless you."
We were all feeling pretty sour on the world when the sky pilot
came along and cheered us up.
He was a good little man, that chaplain, brave as they make 'em.
He always went over the top with us and was in the thick of the
fighting, and he had the military cross for bravery. He passed down
the line, giving us a slap on the back or a hand grip and started
us singing. No gospel hymns either, but any old rollicking,
good-natured song that he happened to think of that would loosen
things up and relieve the tension.
Somehow he made you feel that you wouldn't mind going to hell if he
was along, and you knew that he'd be willing to come if he could do
any good. A good little man! Peace to his ashes.
At ten o'clock things busted loose, and the most intense
bombardment ever known in warfare up to that time began. Thousands
of guns, both French and English, in fact every available gun
within a radius of fifteen miles, poured it in. In the Bedlamitish
din and roar it was impossible to hear the next man unless he put
his mouth up close to your ear and yelled.
My ear drums ached, and I thought I should go insane if the racket
didn't stop. I was frightfully nervous and scared, but tried not
to show it. An officer or a non-com must conceal his nervousness,
though he be dying with fright.
The faces of the men were hard-set and pale. Some of them looked
positively green. They smoked fag after fag, lighting the new ones
on the butts.
All through the bombardment Fritz was comparatively quiet. He was
saving all his for the time when we should come over. Probably,
too, he was holed up to a large extent in his concrete dug-outs. I
looked over the top once or twice and wondered if I, too, would be
lying there unburied with the rats and maggots gnawing me into an
unrecognizable mass. There were moments in that hour from ten to
eleven when I was distinctly sorry for myself.
The time, strangely enough, went fast--as it probably does with a
condemned man in his last hour. At zero minus ten the word went
down the line "Ten to go" and we got to the better positions of the
trench and secured our footing on the side of the parapet to make
our climb over when the signal came. Some of the men gave their
bayonets a last fond rub, and I looked to my bolt action to see
that it worked well. I had ten rounds in the magazine, and I didn't
intend to rely too much on the bayonet. At a few seconds of eleven
I looked at my wrist watch and was afflicted again with that empty
feeling in the solar plexus. Then the whistles shrilled; I blew
mine, and over we went.
To a disinterested spectator who was far enough up in the air to be
out of range it must have been a wonderful spectacle to see those
thousands of men go over, wave after wave.
The terrain was level out to the point where the little hill of
High Wood rose covered with the splintered poles of what had once
been a forest. This position and the supports to the left and rear
of it began to fairly belch machine-gun and shell fire. If Fritz
had been quiet before, he gave us all he had now.
Our battalion went over from the second trench, and we got the
cream of it.
The tanks were just ahead of us and lumbered along in an imposing
row. They lurched down into deep craters and out again, tipped and
reeled and listed, and sometimes seemed as though they must upset;
but they came up each time and went on and on. And how slow they
did seem to move! Lord, I thought we should never cover that five
or six hundred yards.
The tank machine guns were spitting fire over the heads of our
first wave, and their Hotchkiss guns were rattling. A beautiful
creeping barrage preceded us. Row after row of shells burst at just
the right distance ahead, spewing gobs of smoke and flashes of
flame, made thin by the bright sunlight. Half a dozen airplanes
circled like dragonflies up there in the blue.
There was a tank just ahead of me. I got behind it. And marched
there. Slow! God, how slow! Anyhow, it kept off the machine-gun
bullets, but not, the shrapnel. It was breaking over us in clouds.
I felt the stunning patter of the fragments on my tin hat, cringed
under it, and wondered vaguely why it didn't do me in.
Men in the front wave were going down like tenpins. Off there
diagonally to the right and forward I glimpsed a blinding burst,
and as much as a whole platoon went down.
Around me men were dropping all the time--men I knew. I saw Dolbsie
clawing at his throat as he reeled forward, falling. I saw Vickers
double up, drop his rifle, and somersault, hanging on to his
A hundred yards away, to the right, an officer walked backwards
with an automatic pistol balanced on his finger, smiling, pulling
his men along like a drum major. A shell or something hit him. He
disappeared in a welter of blood and half a dozen of the front file
fell with him.
I thought we must be nearly there and sneaked a look around the
edge of the tank. A traversing machine gun raked the mud, throwing
up handfuls, and I heard the gruff "row, row" of flattened bullets
as they ricocheted off the steel armor. I ducked back, and on we
Slow! Slow! I found myself planning what I would do when I got to
the front trenches--if we ever did. There would be a grand rumpus,
and I would click a dozen or more.
And then we arrived.
I don't suppose that trip across No Man's Land behind the tanks
took over five minutes, but it seemed like an hour.
At the end of it my participation in the battle of High Wood ended.
No, I wasn't wounded. But when we reached the Boche front trenches
a strange thing happened. There was no fight worth mentioning. The
tanks stopped over the trenches and blazed away right and left with
their all-around traverse.
A few Boches ran out and threw silly little bombs at the monsters.
The tanks, noses in air, moved slowly on. And then the Graybacks
swarmed up out of shelters and dug-outs, literally in hundreds, and
held up their hands, whining "Mercy, kamarad."
We took prisoners by platoons. Blofeld grabbed me and turned over a
gang of thirty to me. We searched them rapidly, cut their
suspenders and belts, and I started to the rear with them. They
seemed glad to go. So was I.
As we hurried back over the five hundred yards that had been No
Man's Land and was now British ground, I looked back and saw the
irresistible tanks smashing their way through the tree stumps of
High Wood, still spitting death and destruction in three
Going back we were under almost as heavy fire as we had been coming
up. When we were about half-way across, shrapnel burst directly
over our party and seven of the prisoners were killed and half a
dozen wounded. I myself was unscratched. I stuck my hand inside my
tunic and patted Dinky on the back, sent up a prayer for some more
luck like that, and carried on.
After getting my prisoners back to the rear, I came up again but
couldn't find my battalion. I threw in with a battalion of
Australians and was with them for twenty-four hours.
When I found my chaps again, the battle of High Wood was pretty
well over. Our company for some reason had suffered very few
casualties, less than twenty-nine. Company B, however, had been
practically wiped out, losing all but thirteen men out of two
hundred. The other two companies had less than one hundred
casualties. We had lost about a third of our strength. It is a
living wonder to me that any of us came through.
I don't believe any of us would have if it hadn't been for the
The net result of the battle of High Wood was that our troops
carried on for nearly two miles beyond the position to be taken.
They had to fall back but held the wood and the heights. Three of
the tanks were stalled in the farther edge of the woods--out of
fuel--and remained there for three days unharmed under the fire of
the German guns.
Eventually some one ventured out and got some juice into them, and
they returned to our lines. The tanks had proved themselves, not
only as effective fighting machines, but as destroyers of German
For weeks after our first introduction to the tanks they were the
chief topic of conversation in our battalion. And, notwithstanding
the fact that we had seen the monsters go into action, had seen
what they did and the effect they had on the Boche, the details of
their building and of their mechanism remained a mystery for a long
For weeks about all we knew about them was what we gathered from
their appearance as they reeled along, camouflaged with browns and
yellows like great toads, and that they were named with quaint
names like "Creme de Menthe" and "Diplodocus."
Eventually I met with a member of the crews who had manned the
tanks at the battle of High Wood, and I obtained from him a
description of some of his sensations. It was a thing we had all
wondered about,--how the men inside felt as they went over.
My tanker was a young fellow not over twenty-five, a machine
gunner, and in a little _estaminet_, over a glass of citron and
soda, he told me of his first battle.
"Before we went in," he said, "I was a little bit uncertain as to
how we were coming out. We had tried the old boats out and had
given them every reasonable test. We knew how much they would stand
in the way of shells on top and in the way of bombs or mines
underneath. Still there was all the difference between rehearsal
and the actual going on the stage.
"When we crawled in through the trapdoor for the first time over,
the shut-up feeling got me. I'd felt it before but not that way. I
got to imagining what would happen if we got stalled somewhere in
the Boche lines, and they built a fire around us. That was natural,
because it's hot inside a tank at the best. You mustn't smoke
either. I hadn't minded that in rehearsal, but in action I was
crazy for a fag.
"We went across, you remember, at eleven, and the sun was shining
bright. We were parboiled before we started, and when we got going
good it was like a Turkish bath. I was stripped to the waist and
was dripping. Besides that, when we begun to give 'em hell, the
place filled with gas, and it was stifling. The old boat pitched a
good deal going into shell holes, and it was all a man could do to
keep his station. I put my nose up to my loop-hole to get air, but
only once. The machine-gun bullets were simply rattling on our
hide. Tock, tock, tock they kept drumming. The first shell that hit
us must have been head on and a direct hit. There was a terrific
crash, and the old girl shook all over,--seemed to pause a little
even. But no harm was done. After that we breathed easier. We
hadn't been quite sure that the Boche shells wouldn't do us in.
"By the time we got to the Boche trenches, we knew he hadn't
anything that could hurt us. We just sat and raked him and laughed
and wished it was over, so we could get the air."
I had already seen the effect of the tanks on the Germans. The
batch of prisoners who had been turned over to me seemed dazed. One
who spoke English said in a quavering voice:
"Gott in Himmel, Kamarad, how could one endure? These things are
not human. They are not fair."
That "fair" thing made a hit with me after going against tear gas
and hearing about liquid fire and such things.
The great number of the prisoners we took at High Wood were very
scared looking at first and very surly. They apparently expected to
be badly treated and perhaps tortured. They were tractable enough
for the most part. But they needed watching, and they got it from
me, as I had heard much of the treachery of the Boche prisoners.
On the way to the rear with my bunch, I ran into a little episode
which showed the foolishness of trusting a German,--particularly an
I was herding my lot along when we came up with about twelve in
charge of a young fellow from a Leicester regiment. He was a
private, and as most of his non-commissioned officers had been put
out of action, he was acting corporal. We were walking together
behind the prisoners, swapping notes on the fight, when one of his
stopped, and no amount of coaxing would induce him to go any
farther. He was an officer, of what rank I don't know, but judging
from his age probably a lieutenant.
Finally Crane--that was the Leicester chap--went up to the officer,
threatened him with his bayonet, and let him know that he was due
for the cold steel if he didn't get up and hike.
Whereupon Mr. Fritz pulled an automatic from under his coat--he
evidently had not been carefully searched--and aimed it at Crane.
Crane dove at him and grabbed his wrist, but was too late. The gun
went off and tore away Crane's right cheek. He didn't go down,
however, and before I could get in without danger to Crane, he
polished off the officer on the spot.
The prisoners looked almost pleased. I suppose they knew the
officer too well. I bandaged Crane and offered to take his
prisoners in, but he insisted upon carrying on. He got very weak
from loss of blood after a bit, and I had two of the Boches carry
him to the nearest dressing station, where they took care of him. I
have often wondered whether the poor chap "clicked" it.
Eventually I got my batch of prisoners back to headquarters and
turned them over. I want to say a word right here as to the
treatment of the German prisoners by the British. In spite of the
verified stories of the brutality shown to the Allied prisoners by
the Hun, the English and French have too much humanity to
retaliate. Time and again I have seen British soldiers who were
bringing in Germans stop and spend their own scanty pocket money
for their captives' comfort. I have done it myself.
Almost inevitably the Boche prisoners were expecting harsh
treatment. I found several who said that they had been told by
their officers that they would be skinned alive if they surrendered
to the English. They believed it, and you could hardly blame the
poor devils for being scared.
Whenever we were taking prisoners back, we always, unless we were
in too much of a hurry, took them to the nearest canteen run by the
Y.M.C.A. or by one of the artillery companies, and here we would
buy English or American fags. And believe me, they liked them. Any
one who has smoked the tobacco issued to the German army could
almost understand a soldier surrendering just to get away from it.
Usually, too, we bought bread and sweets, if we could stand the
price. The Heinies would bolt the food down as though they were
half starved. And it was perfectly clear from the way they went
after the luxuries that they got little more than the hard
necessities of army fare.
At the battle of High Wood the prisoners we took ran largely to
very young fellows and to men of fifty or over. Some of the
youngsters said they were only seventeen and they looked not over
fifteen. Many of them had never shaved.
I think the sight of those war-worn boys, haggard and hard,
already touched with cruelty and blood lust, brought home to me
closer than ever before what a hellish thing war is, and how keenly
Germany must be suffering, along with the rest of us.
I BECOME A BOMBER
When I found my battalion, the battle of High Wood had pretty well
quieted down. We had taken the position we went after, and the
fighting was going on to the north and beyond the Wood. The Big
Push progressed very rapidly as the summer drew to a close. Our men
were holding one of the captured positions in the neighborhood of
It must have been two days after we went over the top with the
tanks that Captain Green had me up and told me that I was promoted.
At least that was what he called it. I differed with him, but
didn't say so.
The Captain said that as I had had a course in bombing, he thought
he would put me in the Battalion Bombers.
I protested that the honor was too great and that I really didn't
think I was good enough.
After that the Captain said that he didn't _think_ I was going in
the bombers. He _knew_ it. I was elected!
I didn't take any joy whatever in the appointment, but orders are
orders and they have to be obeyed. The bombers are called the
"Suicide Club" and are well named. The mortality in this branch of
the service is as great if not greater than in any other.
In spite of my feelings in the matter, I accepted the decision
cheerfully--like a man being sentenced to be electrocuted--and
managed to convey the impression to Captain Green that I was
greatly elated and that I looked forward to future performances
with large relish. After that I went back to my shelter and made a
That very night I was called upon to take charge of a bombing party
of twelve men. A lieutenant, Mr. May, one of the bravest men I ever
knew, was to be of the party and in direct command. I was to have
the selection of the men.
Captain Green had me up along with Lieutenant May early in the
evening, and as nearly as I can remember these were his
"Just beyond High Wood and to the left there is a sap or small
trench leading to the sunken road that lies between the towns of
Albert and Bapaume. That position commands a military point that we
find necessary to hold before we can make another attack. The
Germans are in the trench. They have two machine guns and will
raise the devil with us unless we get them out. It will cost a good
many lives if we attempt to take the position by attack, but we are
under the impression that a bombing party in the night on a
surprise attack will be able to take it with little loss of life.
Take your twelve men out there at ten o'clock and _take that
trench_! You will take only bombs with you. You and Mr. May will
have revolvers. After taking the trench, consolidate it, and before
morning there will be relief sent out to you. The best of luck!'"
The whole thing sounded as simple as ABC. All we had to do was go
over there and take the place. The captain didn't say how many
Germans there would be nor what they would be doing while we were
taking their comfortable little position. Indeed he seemed to quite
carelessly leave the Boche out of the reckoning. I didn't. I knew
that some of us, and quite probably most of us, would never come
I selected my men carefully, taking only the coolest and steadiest
and the best bombers. Most of them were men who had been at Dover
with me. I felt like an executioner when I notified them of their
At nine-thirty we were ready, stripped to the lightest of necessary
equipment. Each of the men was armed with a bucket of bombs. Some
carried an extra supply in satchels, so we knew there would be no
shortage of Millses.
Lieutenant May took us out over the top on schedule time, and we
started for the position to be taken. We walked erect but in the
strictest silence for about a thousand yards. At that time the
distances were great on the Somme, as the Big Push was in full
swing, and the advance had been fast. Trench systems had been
demolished, and in many places there were only shell holes and
isolated pieces of trench defended by machine guns. The whole
movement had progressed so far that the lines were far apart and
broken, so much so that in many cases the fighting had come back to
the open work of early in the war.
Poking along out there, I had the feeling that we were an awfully
long way from the comparative safety of our main body--too far away
for comfort. We were. Any doubts on the matter disappeared before
At the end of the thousand yards Lieutenant May gave the signal to
lie down. We lay still half an hour or so and then crawled forward.
Fortunately there was no barbed wire, as all entanglements had been
destroyed by the terrific bombardment that had been going on for
weeks. The Germans made no attempt to repair it nor did we.
We crawled along for about ten minutes, and the Lieutenant passed
the word in whispers to get ready, as we were nearly on them. Each
of us got out a bomb, pulled the pin with our teeth, and waited for
the signal. It was fairly still. Away off to the rear, guns were
going, but they seemed a long way off. Forward, and away off to
the right beyond the Wood, there was a lot of rifle and machine-gun
fire, and we could see the sharp little lavender stabs of flame
like electric flashes. It was light enough so that we could see
Just ahead we could hear the murmur of the Huns as they chatted in
the trench. They hadn't seen us. Evidently they didn't suspect and
were more or less careless.
The Lieutenant waited until the sound of voices was a little louder
than before, the Boches evidently being engaged in a fireside
argument of some kind, and then he jumped to his feet shouting,
"Now then, my lads. All together!"
We came up all standing and let 'em go. It was about fifteen yards
to Fritz, and that is easy to a good bomber, as my men all were. A
yell of surprise and fright went up from the trench, and they
started to run. We spread out so as to get room, gave them another
round of Millses, and rushed.
The trench wasn't really a trench at all. It was the remains of a
perfectly good one, but had been bashed all to pieces, and was now
only five or six shell craters connected by the ruined traverses.
At no point was it more than waist high and in some places only
knee high. We swarmed into what was left of the trench and after
the Heinies. There must have been forty of them, and it didn't take
them long to find out that we were only a dozen. Then they came
back at us. We got into a crooked bit of traverse that was in
relatively good shape and threw up a barricade of sandbags. There
was any amount of them lying about.
The Germans gave us a bomb or two and considerable rifle fire, and
we beat it around the corner of the bay. Then we had it back and
forth, a regular seesaw game. We would chase them back from the
barricade, and then they would rush us and back we would go. After
we had lost three men and Lieutenant May had got a slight wound, we
got desperate and got out of the trench and rushed them for further
orders. We fairly showered them as we followed them up, regardless
of danger to ourselves. All this scrap through they hadn't done
anything with the machine guns. One was in our end of the trench,
and we found that the other was out of commission. They must have
been short of small-arm ammunition and bombs, because on that last
strafing they cleared out and stayed.
After the row was over we counted noses and found four dead and
three slightly wounded, including Lieutenant May. I detailed two
men to take the wounded and the Lieutenant back. That left four of
us to consolidate the position. The Lieutenant promised to return
with relief, but as it turned out he was worse than he thought, and
he didn't get back.
I turned to and inspected the position. It was pretty hopeless.
There really wasn't much to consolidate. The whole works was
knocked about and was only fit for a temporary defence. There were
about a dozen German dead, and we searched them but found nothing
of value. So we strengthened our cross-trench barricade and waited
for the relief. It never came.
When it began to get light, the place looked even more
discouraging. There was little or no cover. We knew that unless we
got some sort of concealment, the airplanes would spot us, and
that we would get a shell or two. So we got out the entrenching
tools and dug into the side of the best part of the shallow
traverse. We finally got a slight overhang scraped out. We didn't
dare go very far under for fear that it would cave. We got some
sandbags up on the sides and three of us crawled into the shelter.
The other man made a similar place for himself a little distance
The day dawned clear and bright and gave promise of being hot.
Along about seven we began to get hungry. A Tommy is always hungry,
whether he is in danger or not. When we took account of stock and
found that none of us had brought along "iron rations", we
discovered that we were all nearly starved. Killing is hungry work.
We had only ourselves to blame. We had been told repeatedly never
to go anywhere without "iron rations", but Tommy is a good deal of
a child and unless you show him the immediate reason for a thing he
is likely to disregard instructions. I rather blamed myself in this
case for not seeing that the men had their emergency food. In
fact, it was my duty to see that they had. But I had overlooked it.
And I hadn't brought any myself.
The "iron ration" consists of a pound of "bully beef", a small tin
containing tea and sugar enough for two doses, some Oxo cubes, and
a few biscuits made of reinforced concrete. They are issued for
just such an emergency as we were in as we lay in our isolated
dug-out. The soldier is apt to get into that sort of situation
almost any time, and it is folly ever to be without the ration.
Well, we didn't have ours, and we knew we wouldn't get any before
night, if we did then. One thing we had too much of. That was rum.
The night before a bunch of us had been out on a ration party, and
we had come across a Brigade Dump. This is a station where rations
are left for the various companies to come and draw their own, also
ammo and other necessities. There was no one about, and we had gone
through the outfit. We found two cases of rum, four gallons in a
case, and we promptly filled our bottles, more than a pint each.
Tommy is always very keen on his rum. The brand used in the army is
high proof and burns like fire going down, but it is warming. The
regular ration as served after a cold sentry go is called a "tot."
It is enough to keep the cold out and make a man wish he had
another. The average Tommy will steal rum whenever he can without
the danger of getting caught.
It happened that all four of us were in the looting party and had
our bottles full. Also it happened that we were all normally quite
temperate and hadn't touched our supply.
So we all took a nip and tightened up our belts. Then we took
another and another. We lay on our backs with our heads out of the
burrow, packed in like sardines and looking up at the sky. Half a
dozen airplanes came out and flew over. We had had a hard night and
we all dozed off, at least I did, and I guess the others did also.
Around nine we all waked up, and Bones--he was the fellow in the
middle--began to complain of thirst. Then we all took another nip
and wished it was water. We discussed the matter of crawling down
to a muddy pool at the end of the traverse and having some out of
that, but passed it up as there was a dead man lying in it. Bones,
who was pretty well educated--he once asked me if I had visited
Emerson's home and was astounded that I hadn't--quoted from Kipling
something to the effect that,
When you come to slaughter
You'll do your work on water,
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.
Then Bones cursed the rum and took another nip. So did the rest of
There was a considerable bombardment going on all the forenoon, but
few shells came anywhere near us. Some shrapnel burst over us a
little way off to the right, and some of the fragments fell in the
trench, but on the whole the morning was uncomfortable but not
Around half-past ten we saw an airplane fight that was almost worth
the forenoon's discomfort. A lot of them had been circling around
ever since daybreak. When the fight started, two of our planes were
nearly over us. Suddenly we saw three Boche planes volplaning down
from away up above. They grew bigger and bigger and opened with
their guns when they were nearly on top of our fellows. No hits.
Then all five started circling for top position. One of the Boches
started to fall and came down spinning, but righted himself not
more than a thousand feet up. Our anti air-craft guns opened on
him, and we could see the shells bursting with little cottony puffs
all around. Some of the shrapnel struck near us. They missed him,
and up he went again. Presently all five came circling lower and
lower, jockeying for position and spitting away with their guns. As
they all got to the lower levels, the anti air-craft guns stopped
firing, fearing to get our men.
Suddenly one of the Huns burst into flames and came toppling down
behind his lines, his gas tank ablaze. Almost immediately one of
ours dropped, also burning and behind the Boche lines.
After that it was two to one, and the fight lasted more than ten
minutes. Then down went a Hun, not afire but tumbling end over end
behind our lines. I learned afterwards that this fellow was unhurt
and was taken prisoner. That left it an even thing. We could see
half a dozen planes rushing to attack the lone Boche. He saw them
too. For he turned tail and skedaddled for home.
Bonesie began to philosophize on the cold-bloodedness of air
fighting and really worked himself up into an almost optimistic
frame of mind. He was right in the midst of a flowery oration on
our comparative safety, "nestling on the bosom of Mother Earth",
when, without any warning whatever, there came a perfect avalanche
of shell all around us.
I knew perfectly well that we were caught. The shells, as near as
we could see, were coming from our side. Doubtless our people
thought that the trench was still manned by Germans, and they were
shelling for the big noon attack. Such an attack was made, as I
learned afterwards, but I never saw it.
At eleven o'clock I looked at my watch. Somehow I didn't fear
death, although I felt it was near. Maybe the rum was working. I
turned to Bonesie and said, "What about that safety stuff, old
"Cheer, cheer, Darby," said he. "We may pull through yet."
"Don't think so," I insisted. "It's us for pushing up the daisies.
Good luck if we don't meet again!"
I put my hand in and patted Dinky on the back, and sent up another
little prayer for luck. Then there was a terrific shock, and
everything went black.
When I came out of it, I had the sensation of struggling up out of
water. I thought for an instant that I was drowning. And in effect
that was almost what was happening to me. I was buried, all but one
side of my face. A tremendous weight pressed down on me, and I
could only breathe in little gasps.
I tried to move my legs and arms and couldn't. Then I wiggled my
fingers and toes to see if any bones were broken. They wiggled all
right. My right nostril and eye were full of dirt; also my mouth. I
spit out the dirt and moved my head until my nose and eye were
clear. I ached all over.
It was along toward sundown. Up aloft a single airplane was winging
toward our lines. I remember that I wondered vaguely if he was the
same fellow who had been fighting just before the world fell in on
I tried to sing out to the rest of the men, but the best I could do
was a kind of loud gurgle. There was no answer. My head was
humming, and the blood seemed to be bursting my ears. I was
terribly sorry for myself and tried to pull my strength together
for a big try at throwing the weight off my chest, but I was
absolutely helpless. Then again I slid out of consciousness.
It was dark when I struggled up through the imaginary water again.
I was still breathing in gasps, and I could feel my heart going in
great thumps that hurt and seemed to shake the ground. My tongue
was curled up and dry, and fever was simply burning me up. My mind
was clear, and I wished that I hadn't drunk that rum. Finding I
could raise my head a little, I cocked it up, squinting over my
cheek bones--I was on my back--and could catch the far-off flicker
of the silver-green flare lights. There was a rattle of musketry
off in the direction where the Boche lines ought to be. From behind
came the constant boom of big guns. I lay back and watched the
stars, which were bright and uncommonly low. Then a shell burst
near by,--not near enough to hurt,--but buried as I was the whole
earth seemed to shake. My heart stopped beating, and I went out
When I came to the next time, it was still dark, and somebody was
lifting me on to a stretcher. My first impression was of getting a
long breath. I gulped it down, and with every grateful inhalation I
felt my ribs painfully snapping back into place. Oh, Lady! Didn't I
just eat that air up.
And then, having gotten filled up with the long-denied oxygen, I
asked, "Where's the others?"
"Ayen't no hothers," was the brief reply.
And there weren't. Later I reconstructed the occurrences of the
night from what I was told by the rescuing party.
A big shell had slammed down on us, drilling Bonesie, the man in
the middle, from end to end. He was demolished. The shell was a
"dud", that is, it didn't explode. If it had, there wouldn't have
been anything whatever left of any of us. As it was our overhang
caved in, letting sandbags and earth down on the remaining man and
myself. The other man was buried clean under. He had life in him
still when he was dug out but "went west" in about ten minutes.
The fourth man was found dead from shrapnel. I found, too, that the
two unwounded men who had gone back with Lieutenant May had both
been killed on the way in. So out of the twelve men who started on
the "suicide club" stunt I was the only one left. Dinky was still
inside my tunic, and I laid the luck all to him.
Back in hospital I was found to be suffering from shell shock. Also
my heart was pushed out of place. There were no bones broken,
though I was sore all over, and several ribs were pulled around so
that it was like a knife thrust at every breath. Besides that, my
nerves were shattered. I jumped a foot at the slightest noise and
twitched a good deal.
At the end of a week I asked the M.O. if I would get Blighty and he
said he didn't think so, not directly. He rather thought that they
would keep me in hospital for a month or two and see how I came
out. The officer was a Canadian and had a sense of humor and was
most affable. I told him if this jamming wasn't going to get me
Blighty, I wanted to go back to duty and get a real one. He laughed
and tagged me for a beach resort at Ault-Onival on the northern
coast of France.
I was there a week and had a bully time. The place had been a
fashionable watering place before the war, and when I was there the
transient population was largely wealthy Belgians. They entertained
a good deal and did all they could for the pleasure of the four
thousand boys who were at the camp. The Y.M.C.A. had a huge tent
and spread themselves in taking care of the soldiers. There were
entertainments almost every night, moving pictures, and music. The
food was awfully good and the beds comfortable, and that pretty
nearly spells heaven to a man down from the front.
Best of all, the bathing was fine, and it was possible to keep the
cooties under control,--more or less. I went in bathing two and
three times daily as the sloping shore made it just as good at low
tide as at high.
I think that glorious week at the beach made the hardships of the
front just left behind almost worth while. My chum, Corporal Wells,
who had a quaint Cockney philosophy, used to say that he liked to
have the stomach ache because it felt so good when it stopped. On
the same theory I became nearly convinced that a month in the
trenches was good fun because it felt so good to get out.
At the end of the week I was better but still shaky. I started
pestering the M.O. to tag me for Blighty. He wouldn't, so I sprung
the same proposition on him that I had on the doctor at the
base,--to send me back to duty if he couldn't send me to England.
The brute took me at my word and sent me back to the battalion.
I rejoined on the Somme again just as they were going back for the
second time in that most awful part of the line. Many of the old
faces were gone. Some had got the wooden cross, and some had gone
I sure was glad when old Wellsie hopped out and grabbed me.
"Gawd lumme, Darby," he said. "Hi sye, an' me thinkin' as 'ow you
was back in Blighty. An' 'ere ye are yer blinkin' old self. Or is
it yer bloomin' ghost. I awsks ye. Strike me pink, Yank. I'm glad."
And he was. At that I did feel more or less ghostly. I seemed to
have lost some of my confidence. I expected to "go west" on the
next time in. And that's a bad way to feel out there.
BACK ON THE SOMME AGAIN
When I rejoined the battalion they were just going into the Somme
again after a two weeks' rest. They didn't like it a bit.
"Gawd lumme," says Wellsie, "'ave we got to fight th' 'ole blinkin'
war. Is it right? I awsks yer. Is it?"
It was all wrong. We had been told after High Wood that we would
not have to go into action again in that part of the line but that
we would have a month of rest and after that would be sent up to
the Ypres sector. "Wipers" hadn't been any garden of roses early in
the war, but it was paradise now compared with the Somme.
It was a sad lot of men when we swung out on the road again back to
the Somme, and there was less singing than usual. That first night
we remained at Mametz Wood. We figured that we would get to kip
while the kipping was good. There were some old Boche dug-outs in
fair condition, and we were in a fair way to get comfortable. No
We were hardly down to a good sleep when C company was called to
fall in without equipment, and we knew that meant fatigue of some
sort. I have often admired the unknown who invented that word
"fatigue" as applied in a military term. He used it as a disguise
for just plain hard work. It means anything whatever in the way of
duty that does not have to do directly with the manning of the
This time we clicked a burial fatigue. It was my first. I never
want another. I took a party of ten men and we set out, armed with
picks and shovels, and, of course, rifles and bandoliers (cloth
pockets containing fifty rounds of ammo).
We hiked three miles up to High Wood and in the early morning began
the job of getting some of the dead under ground. We were almost
exactly in the same place from which we had gone over after the
tanks. I kept expecting all the time to run across the bodies of
some of our own men. It was a most unpleasant feeling.
Some cleaning up had already been done, so the place was not so bad
as it had been, but it was bad enough. The advance had gone forward
so far that we were practically out of shell range, and we were
The burial method was to dig a pit four feet deep and big enough to
hold six men. Then we packed them in. The worst part of it was that
most of the bodies were pretty far gone and in the falling away
stage. It was hard to move them. I had to put on my gas mask to
endure the stench and so did some of the other men. Some who had
done this work before rather seemed to like it.
I would search a body for identification marks and jot down the
data found on a piece of paper. When the man was buried under, I
would stick a rifle up over him and tuck the record into the trap
in the butt of the gun where the oil bottle is carried.
When the pioneers came up, they would remove the rifle and
substitute a little wooden cross with the name painted on it. The
indifference with which the men soon came to regard this burial
fatigue was amazing. I remember one incident of that first morning,
a thing that didn't seem at all shocking at the time, but which,
looking back upon it, illustrates the matter-of-factness of the
soldier's viewpoint on death.
"Hi sye, Darby," sang out one fellow. "Hi got a blighter 'ere wif
only one leg. Wot'll Hi do wif 'im?"
"Put him under with only one, you blinking idiot," said I.
Presently he called out again, this time with a little note of
satisfaction and triumph in his voice.
"Darby, Hi sye. I got a leg for that bleeder. Fits 'im perfect."
Well, I went over and took a look and to my horror found that the
fool had stuck a German leg on the body, high boot and all. I
wouldn't stand for that and had it out again. I wasn't going to
send a poor fellow on his last pilgrimage with any Boche leg, and
said so. Later I heard this undertaking genius of a Tommy grousing
and muttering to himself.
"Cawn't please Darby," says he, "no matter wot. Fawncy the
blighter'd feel better wif two legs, if one was Boche. It's a fair
crime sendin' 'im hover the river wif only one."
I was sure thankful when that burial fatigue was over, and early in
the forenoon we started back to rest.
Rest, did I say? Not that trip. We were hardly back to Mametz and
down to breakfast when along came an order to fall in for a
carrying party. All that day we carried boxes of Millses up to the
dump that was by High Wood, three long miles over hard going. Being
a corporal had its compensations at this game, as I had no carrying
to do; but inasmuch as the bombs were moved two boxes to a man, I
got my share of the hard work helping men out of holes and lending
a hand when they were mired.
Millses are packed with the bombs and detonators separate in the
box, and the men are very careful in the handling of them. So the
moving of material of this kind is wearing.
Another line of man-killers that we had to move were "toffy
apples." This quaint toy is a huge bomb, perfectly round and
weighing sixty pounds, with a long rod or pipe which inserts into
the mortar. Toffy apples are about the awkwardest thing imaginable
This carrying stunt went on for eight long days and nights. We
worked on an average sixteen hours a day. It rained nearly all the
time, and we never got dried out. The food was awful, as the
advance had been so fast that it was almost impossible to get up
the supplies, and the men in the front trenches had the first pick
of the grub. It was also up to us to get the water up to the front.
The method on this was to use the five-gallon gasoline cans.
Sometimes they were washed out, oftener they weren't. Always the
water tasted of gas. We got the same thing, and several times I
became sick drinking the stuff.
When that eight days of carrying was over, we were so fed up that
we didn't care whether we clicked or not. Maybe it was good mental
preparation for what was to come, for on top of it all it turned
out that we were to go over the top in another big attack.
When we got that news, I got Dinky out and scolded him. Maybe I'd
better tell you all about Dinky before I go any farther. Soldiers
are rather prone to superstitions. Relieved of all responsibility
and with most of their thinking done for them, they revert
surprisingly quick to a state of more or less savage mentality.
Perhaps it would be better to call the state childlike. At any rate
they accumulate a lot of fool superstitions and hang to them. The
height of folly and the superlative invitation to bad luck is
lighting three fags on one match. When that happens one of the
three is sure to click it soon.
As one out of any group of three anywhere stands a fair chance of
"getting his", fag or no fag, the thing is reasonably sure to work
out according to the popular belief. Most every man has his unlucky
day in the trenches. One of mine was Monday. The others were
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Practically every soldier carries some kind of mascot or charm. A
good many are crucifixes and religious tokens. Some are coins.
Corporal Wells had a sea shell with three little black spots on
it. He considered three his lucky number. Thirteen was mine. My
mascot was the aforesaid and much revered Dinky. Dinky was and is a
small black cat made of velvet. He's entirely flat except his head,
which is becomingly round with yellow glass eyes. I carried Dinky
inside my tunic always and felt safer with him there. He hangs at
the head of my bed now and I feel better with him there. I realize
perfectly that all this sounds like tommyrot, and that superstition
may be a relic of barbarism and ignorance. Never mind! Wellsie
sized the situation up one day when we were talking about this very
"Maybe my shell ayen't doin' me no good," says Wells. "Maybe Dinky
ayen't doin' you no good. But 'e ayen't doin' ye no 'arm. So 'ang
on to 'im."
I figure that if there's anything in war that "ayen't doin' ye no
'arm", it is pretty good policy to "'ang on to it."
It was Sunday the eighth day of October that the order came to move
into what was called the "O.G.I.", that is, the old German first
line. You will understand that this was the line the Boches had
occupied a few days before and out of which they had been driven in
the Big Push. In front of this trench was Eaucort Abbaye, which had
been razed with the aid of the tanks.
We had watched this battle from the rear from the slight elevation
of High Wood, and it had been a wonderful sight to see other men go
out over the top without having ourselves to think about. They had
poured out, wave after wave, a large part of them Scotch with their
kilted rumps swinging in perfect time, a smashing barrage going on
ahead, and the tanks lumbering along with a kind of clumsy majesty.
When they hit the objective, the tanks crawled in and made short
work of it.
The infantry had hard work of it after the positions were taken, as
there were numerous underground caverns and passages which had to
be mopped out. This was done by dropping smoke bombs in the
entrances and smoking the Boches out like bees.
When we came up, we inherited these underground shelters, and they
were mighty comfortable after the kipping in the muck. There were
a lot of souvenirs to be picked up, and almost everybody annexed
helmets and other truck that had been left behind by the Germans.
Sometimes it was dangerous to go after souvenirs too greedily. The
inventive Hun had a habit of fixing up a body with a bomb under it
and a tempting wrist watch on the hand. If you started to take the
watch, the bomb went off, and after that you didn't care what time
I accumulated a number of very fine razors, and one of the
saw-tooth bayonets the Boche pioneers use. This is a perfectly
hellish weapon that slips in easily and mangles terribly when it is
withdrawn. I had thought that I would have a nice collection of
souvenirs to take to Blighty if I ever got leave. I got the leave
all right, and shortly, but the collection stayed behind.
The dug-out that Number 10 drew was built of concrete and was big
enough to accommodate the entire platoon. We were well within the
Boche range and early in the day had several casualties, one of
them a chap named Stransfield, a young Yorkshireman who was a very
good friend of mine. Stransie was sitting on the top step cleaning
his rifle and was blown to pieces by a falling shell. After that we
kept to cover all day and slept all the time. We needed it after
the exhausting work of the past eight days.
It was along about dark when I was awakened by a runner from
headquarters, which was in a dug-out a little way up the line, with
word that the platoon commanders were wanted. I happened to be in
command of the platoon, as Mr. Blofeld was acting second in command
of the company, Sergeant Page was away in Havre as instructor for a
month, and I was next senior.
I thought that probably this was merely another detail for some
fatigue, so I asked Wells if he would go. He did and in about half
an hour came back with a face as long as my arm. I was sitting on
the fire step cleaning my rifle and Wellsie sank dejectedly down
"Darby," he sighed hopelessly, "wot th' blinkin' 'ell do you think
is up now?"
I hadn't the faintest idea and said so. I had, however, as the
educated Bones used to say "a premonition of impending disaster."
As a premonitor I was a success. Disaster was right.
Wellsie sighed again and spilled the news.
"We're goin' over th' bleedin' top at nine. We don't 'ave to carry
no tools. We're in the first bloomin' wave."
Going without tools was supposed to be a sort of consolation for
being in the first wave. The other three waves carry either picks
or shovels. They consolidate the trenches after they have been
taken by the first wave. That is, they turn the trench around,
facing the other way, to be ready for a counter attack. It is a
miserable job. The tools are heavy and awkward, and the last waves
get the cream of the artillery fire, as the Boche naturally does
not want to take the chance of shelling the first wave for fear of
getting his own men. However, the first wave gets the machine-gun
fire and gets it good. At that the first wave is the preference. I
have heard hundreds of men say so. Probably the reason is that a
bullet, unless it is explosive, makes a relatively clean wound,
while a shell fragment may mangle fearfully.
Wells and I were talking over the infernal injustice of the
situation when another runner arrived from the Sergeant Major's,
ordering us up for the rum issue. I went up for the rum and left
Wells to break the news about going over.
I got an extra large supply, as the Sergeant Major was good
humored. It was the last rum he ever served. I got enough for the
full platoon and then some, which was a lot, as the platoon was
well down in numbers owing to casualties. I went among the boys
with a spoon and the rum in a mess tin and served out two tots
instead of the customary one. After that all hands felt a little
better, but not much. They were all fagged out after the week's
hard work. I don't think I ever saw a more discouraged lot getting
ready to go over. For myself I didn't seem to care much, I was in
such rotten condition physically. I rather hoped it would be my
THE LAST TIME OVER THE TOP
A general cleaning of rifles started, although it was dark. Mine
was already in good shape, and I leaned it against the side of the
trench and went below for the rest of my equipment. While I was
gone, a shell fragment undid all my work by smashing the breech.
I had seen a new short German rifle in the dug-out with a bayonet
and ammo, and decided to use that. I hid all my souvenirs, planning
to get them when I came out if I ever came out. I hadn't much nerve
left after the bashing I had taken a fortnight before and didn't
hold much hope.
Our instructions were of the briefest. It was the old story that
there would probably be little resistance, if any. There would be a
few machine guns to stop us, but nothing more. The situation we had
to handle was this: A certain small sector had held on the attacks
of the few previous days, and the line had bent back around it.
All we had to do was to straighten the line. We had heard this old
ghost story too often to believe a word of it.
Our place had been designated where we were to get into extended
formation, and our general direction was clear. We filed out of the
trench at eight-thirty, and as we passed the other platoons,--we
had been to the rear,--they tossed us the familiar farewell hail,
"The best o' luck, mytie."
We soon found ourselves in the old sunken road that ran in front of
Eaucort Abbaye. At this point we were not under observation, as a
rise in the ground would have protected us even though it had been
daylight. The moon was shining brilliantly, and we knew that it
would not be anything in the nature of a surprise attack. We got
into extended formation and waited for the order to advance. I
thought I should go crazy during that short wait. Shells had begun
to burst over and around us, and I was sure the next would be mine.
Presently one burst a little behind me, and down went Captain Green
and the Sergeant Major with whom he had been talking. Captain
Green died a few days later at Rouen, and the Sergeant Major lost
an arm. This was a hard blow right at the start, and it spelled
disaster. Everything started to go wrong. Mr. Blofeld was in
command, and another officer thought that he was in charge. We got
conflicting orders, and there was one grand mix-up. Eventually we
advanced and went straight up over the ridge. We walked slap-bang
into perfectly directed fire. Torrents of machine-gun bullets
crackled about us, and we went forward with our heads down, like
men facing into a storm. It was a living marvel that any one could
come through it.
A lot of them didn't. Mr. Blofeld, who was near me, leaped in the
air, letting go a hideous yell. I ran to him, disregarding the
instruction not to stop to help any one. He was struck in the
abdomen with an explosive bullet and was done for. I felt terribly
about Mr. Blofeld, as he had been a good friend to me. He was the
finest type of officer of the new English army, the rare sort who
can be democratic and yet command respect. He had talked with me
often, and I knew of his family and home life. He was more like an
elder brother to me than a superior officer. I left Mr. Blofeld and
The hail of bullets grew even worse. They whistled and cracked and
squealed, and I began to wonder why on earth I didn't get mine. Men
were falling on all sides and the shrieks of those hit were the
worst I had heard. The darkness made it worse, and although I had
been over the top before by daylight this was the last limit of
hellishness. And nothing but plain, unmixed machine-gun fire. As
yet there was no artillery action to amount to anything.
Once again I put my hand inside my tunic and stroked Dinky and said
to him, "For God's sake, Dink, see me through this time." I meant
it too. I was actually praying,--to my mascot. I realize that this
was plain, unadulterated, heathenish fetish worship, but it shows
what a man reverts to in the barbaric stress of war.
By this time we were within about thirty yards of the Boche parapet
and could see them standing shoulder to shoulder on the fire step,
swarms of them, packed in, with the bayonets gleaming. Machine
guns were emplaced and vomiting death at incredibly short intervals
along the parapet. Flares were going up continuously, and it was
almost as light as day.
We were terribly outnumbered, and the casualties had already been
so great that I saw we were in for the worst thing we had ever
known. Moreover, the next waves hadn't appeared behind us.
I was in command, as all the officers and non-coms so far as I
could make out had snuffed. I signalled to halt and take cover, my
idea being to wait for the other waves to catch up. The men needed
no second invitation to lie low. They rolled into the shell holes
and burrowed where there was no cover.
I drew a pretty decent hole myself, and a man came pitching in on
top of me, screaming horribly. It was Corporal Hoskins, a close
friend of mine. He had it in the stomach and clicked in a minute or
During the few minutes that I lay in that hole, I suffered the
worst mental anguish I ever knew. Seeing so many of my closest
chums go west so horribly had nearly broken me, shaky as I was when
the attack started. I was dripping with sweat and frightfully
nauseated. A sudden overpowering impulse seized me to get out in
the open and have it over with. I was ready to die.
Sooner than I ought, for the second wave had not yet shown up, I
shrilled the whistle and lifted them out. It was a hopeless charge,
but I was done. I would have gone at them alone. Anything to close
the act. To blazes with everything!
As I scrambled out of the shell hole, there was a blinding,
ear-splitting explosion slightly to my left, and I went down. I did
not lose consciousness entirely. A red-hot iron was through my
right arm, and some one had hit me on the left shoulder with a
sledge hammer. I felt crushed,--shattered.
My impressions of the rest of that night are, for the most part,
vague and indistinct; but in spots they stand out clear and vivid.
The first thing I knew definitely was when Smith bent over me,
cutting the sleeve out of my tunic.
"It's a Blighty one," says Smithy. That was some consolation. I was
back in the shell hole, or in another, and there were five or six
other fellows piled in there too. All of them were dead except
Smith and a man named Collins, who had his arm clean off, and
myself. Smith dressed my wound and Collins', and said:
"We'd better get out of here before Fritz rushes us. The attack was
a ruddy failure, and they'll come over and bomb us out of here."
Smith and I got out of the hole and started to crawl. It appeared
that he had a bullet through the thigh, though he hadn't said
anything about it before. We crawled a little way, and then the
bullets were flying so thick that I got an insane desire to run and
get away from them. I got to my feet and legged it. So did Smith,
though how he did it with a wounded thigh I don't know.
The next thing I remember I was on a stretcher. The beastly thing
swayed and pitched, and I got seasick. Then came another crash
directly over head, and out I went again. When I came to, my head
was as clear as a bell. A shell had burst over us and had killed
one stretcher bearer. The other had disappeared. Smith was there.
He and I got to our feet and put our arms around each other and
staggered on. The next I knew I was in the Cough Drop dressing
station, so called from the peculiar formation of the place. We had
tea and rum here and a couple of fags from a sergeant major of the
After that there was a ride on a flat car on a light railway and
another in an ambulance with an American driver. Snatches of
conversation about Broadway and a girl in Newark floated back, and
I tried to work up ambition enough to sing out and ask where the
chap came from. So far I hadn't had much pain. When we landed in a
regular dressing station, the M.O. gave me another going over and
"Blighty for you, son." I had a piece of shrapnel or something
through the right upper arm, clearing the bone and making a hole
about as big as a half dollar. My left shoulder was full of
shrapnel fragments, and began to pain like fury. More tea. More
rum. More fags. Another faint. When I woke up the next time,
somebody was sticking a hypodermic needle into my chest with a shot
of anti-lockjaw serum, and shortly after I was tucked away in a
white enameled Red Cross train with a pretty nurse taking my
temperature. I loved that nurse. She looked sort of cool and holy.
I finally brought up in General Hospital Number 12 in Rouen. I was
there four days and had a real bath,--a genuine boiling out. Also
had some shrapnel picked out of my anatomy. I got in fairly good
shape, though still in a good deal of dull pain. It was a glad day
when they put a batch of us on a train for Havre, tagged for
Blighty. We went direct from the train to the hospital ship,
_Carisbrook Castle_. The quarters were good,--real bunks, clean
sheets, good food, careful nurses. It was some different from the
crowded transport that had taken me over to France.
There were a lot of German prisoners aboard, wounded, and we
swapped stories with them. It was really a lot of fun comparing
notes, and they were pretty good chaps on the whole. They were as
glad as we were to see land. Their troubles were over for the
duration of the war.
Never shall I forget that wonderful morning when I looked out and
saw again the coast of England, hazy under the mists of dawn. It
looked like the promised land. And it was. It meant freedom again
from battle, murder, and sudden death, from trenches and stenches,
rats, cooties, and all the rest that goes to make up the worst of
man-made inventions, war.
It was Friday the thirteenth. And don't let anybody dare say that
date is unlucky. For it brought me back to the best thing that can
gladden the eyes of a broken Tommy. Blighty! Blighty!! Blighty!!!
BITS OF BLIGHTY
Blighty meant life,--life and happiness and physical comfort. What
we had left behind over there was death and mutilation and bodily
and mental suffering. Up from the depths of hell we came and
reached out our hands with pathetic eagerness to the good things
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