The Great War, I was there - Part 8

and that a muddy bridge I had so gingerly trodden is several feet wide. We arrived back and went to bed on straw, only to be awakened and told to put all equipment on and togo sleep in that attire. There have been a few shells Hying overhead today and falling on some position far in our rear, and the noise docs not seem at all alarming. It is a swishing sort of sound, ending in a huge explosion. Some of our guns are quite near us, replying to the German fire. BUSINESS AS USUAL I had togo up to our trenches last night [Feb. 5] with a party who were carrying provisions, sandbags, etc. We halted at a little inn to get some of the things, and it was really funny to seethe proprietor carrying on his business within a few hundred yards of the trenches, selling coffee and beer to the troops, with an incessant“ pop-pop ”of rille fire ongoing outside.” (Months afterwards we heard he had been shot as a spy, having had a secret telephone connected with the German lines.) At this estaminet, known as the“ Demi Lune,” the party of us waited for sometime for further stores to be brought up by a transport wagon. My bundle was a packet of a hundred sandbags, which was as much as I could manage, as they were loose and kept slipping. We advanced in single file up the lane, where the mud was not too terrible if you kept right in the middle. Presently my load began to drop in portions, and I had to keep picking the muddy sandbags up and shouldering them again, so that I got left behind. My discomfiture was increased by the amount of rille fire that was on,going and the bullets kept hitting trees and walls by the wayside with as aloud crack as the shooting of them makes. The flares seemed very dose now, and I had not the least idea where togo. Fortunately, another of our men came along and helped me put my bundle together he knew the way and told theme places where it was necessary to duck down. He said it was an un­pleasant road for casualties fiom stray bullets, and I was very glad to be able to dump my load for a moment behind a barricade. It is very nice listening to the British guns, which are very active round Nowhere. I understand all that is implied when the bulletins say that “Artillery duels have taken place.” German aeroplanes come along occasionally and get fired at. You may see several puffs of smoke in the air, but in order to detect the aeroplane you have to look about a mile away and half a mile higher. The guns 011 both sides don’t seem to get the range in the air very easily. If the airman succeeds in locating the position of the guns we get shells whizzing over us intended for our batteries. Yesterday these shells fell in Ploegsteert and in the fields around, but the British did not reply much. Today our artillery has been very busy, without any reply so far from the enemy. The firing-line is so different from my conception of it. The entire country­side is quite flat, consisting of green or ploughed fields, with groups of trees in the distance and lines of willows between the fields. Here and there are farm­houses, thatched cottages and small houses, and with the sun shining the panorama is avery placid and peaceful one. Except for the noise of firing and the“ pop-pop ”of the rifles, we might be in Kent! This is the third day [Feb. 8,1915] of our stay in billets [in Ploegsteert]. Sergt. (now Corpl.) Fulkes, Cox, Sweet­ ing, Gernat and I are in a house in the village and have the front room to ourselves for sleeping and eating, and the people are very obliging. Fulkes and 1 speak French sufficiently to ask for all our wants. We have not been posted to our sections again yet, so Corpl. Miles and the others are in a billet farther down the street. JUST HOME!LIKE \Y/iiat an absolute treat to sit down at a table again for a meal !We have our food cooked by the “landlady,” who also makes tea and provides milk and won’t hear of us using our enamelled plates and mugs or even our own knives and forks !No, she provides crockery and cutlery and washes up afterwards, and we feel quite at home. When back in civilized surroundings it is very funny how a hair on our plates worries us, whereas we swallowed all manner of things in the barn. We are most particular now about clean knives, and the butter we bought, which was so perfect in the barn, is recognized as white lard when surrounded by “tea- things.” The Army food is good and rations are plentiful we can also buy almost anything in the village, but the “boutons noirs ”have a reputation for possessing money and the shopkeepers charge them much more than they do the Regulars. We marched [to Nieppe] to the baths yesterday, which we were very glad to have. They consist of huge tubs of hot water to hold about twelve men, and you have to drop down some distance from the top of the tubs to '300 the water. We got a complete set of clean underclothing, which did not necessarily fit us, and 1 changed mine with a big fat mail who was in rather a fix. While we were in the baths our uniforms were “baked ”in a kind of oven to disinfest them. On returning here, I went round with Wood to a deserted village school and played the piano for about half an hour it was such a pleasure to touch one again. I ast night Wood’s landlady had made a fine boiled roly-poly jam pudding, and I asked the good wench at our billet to make one. Being of the peasant class, she had never made such a thing before and all signs and explana­tions were useless, as our French was not advanced enough to describe the recipe. Fulkes and I pointed to bread and pretended to roll out dough and spread jam and threw the imaginary pudding at the oven, but the woman only laughed. BREASTWORKS ABOVE THE WATER I have only been 011 guard once. On that occasion one nervous sentry thought he saw something move, which was really a harmless dust-heap, and called us all out (the guard, I mean). It was rather exciting and we didn’t grumble. The only person who grumbled was a man who had had some rum before retiring to bed and, on the command “Guard, turnout! ”thought he was part of the guard and turned outwith them !When we had gone some dis­tance, he realized that it was a day or two before that he had been 011 guard. This is my third day in the front­ line breastworks, having left billets on the evening of the 9th, and we shall be relieved tonight. We came up by the lane past the“ Demi Lune” estaminet which I described before, and, having got to the front-line trenches, filed along to the left until we got to some breastworks. “The trench is so full of water here that these breastworks have been built on the ground. Ours is along low bivvy, not very much above ground-level, made of sandbags, planks and earth, welland covered. It is divided into three compartments, each holding three men, or a portion of them—for our feet stick out in the open and the space is very limited. We are in a big field and our trenches are on one side to the right they are manned by our company for some few hundred yards and then the Essex Regiment continues the line onwards in the direction of Arraentieres. To our left is another breastwork, manned by our platoon, and beyond them there is
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