Joseph Shuter Smith.

Over there and back in three uniforms, being the experiences of an American boy in the Canadian, British and American armies at the front and through No man's land online

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were off. As we drove along there were five
or six more dull roars, although a little

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louder than the first. As we heard them the
driver speeded his machine and we tore
along at a dizzy rate through the dark
streets, the only light coming from the
searchlights as they swung across the sky.
Our speed was slackened by people, all
streaming along in the same direction.
They were full of morbid curiosity and as
we worked our way along, the stream be-
came thicker.

It is a peculiar thing, human nature; it
will send people miles to see some one else
suffering.

A special constable halted our cab. We
could go no further. We paid cabby, and
as all vehicles were needed to carry
wounded he stayed to take on his other
cargo — to hospital; moaning women, suf-
fering from the shock of a loss; lacerated
children, crying, wondering and not under-
standing what had happened to them.

That was the toll of the night's raid, that
and demolished houses. Also a big hole,

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blown in the middle of a street and all the
windows in the neighborhood shattered by
the concussion, to say nothing of the peo-
ple's nerves.

A few homes demolished beyond repair,
a few families gone in one second from a
fair amount of prosperity to absolute pov-
erty, left in the middle of the night with
everything they owned in the world on their
backs — that is a raid. But not for long are
they wanting for clothing. More fortunate
neighbors take them in. But what human
hand can return a baby or little child, put
to bed at nine o'clock by a mother who sees
the same baby at midnight disappear in a
mass of brick dust and the smoke of an ex-
ploding bomb? We see the grief of that
mother as she is led away, saved by some
mysterious freak of fortune. Then our
hearts are filled with bitter rage and steeled
for the things that must come on the battle-
field.

But then, when the time comes and the

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Huns shout '^Kamerad" we, being Anglo-
Saxon, send them behind our lines to live
happy and content until war is finished,
when we shall send them home to their
families.

We had to walk back to the club. Our
taxi was doing better work than carrying us
and as we walked, we talked of what we
had seen.

^^You can say what you like, fellows,"
says one, '^but any man who does the thing
those airmen have just done is just as re-
sponsible as the government which orders
him to do it. The people know of the
things the Kaiser and his crew do. They
are intelligent; at least they used to adver-
tise that they were. Well then, if they stand
for the stuff their men pull off, they are no
better than their government, and I for one,
won't recognize them as any better."

We all agreed, for there is no argument.
Finding we were lost, we sat on a door step
until daylight, so we could see where we

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were. We sat there talking and smoking.
I shan't tell you what we said; you'd say we
were all crazy. That's because you don't
know yet; it is only the same old story, any-
way — Germany and her rottenness, of
which she had always given us proof. The
proof came this time not on the battlefield,
where war is supposed to be fought, how-
ever, but in a city; a city full of men, women
and children. Still, what's the use talking?
Fighting is the thing.

Daylight found us looking for a 'bus or
taxi, and putting the night behind us to be
kept in our memory for future use in the
field.

Of that day I shall say little. It was our
last day of leave. It sped fast, and so did
we. And the next morning found us on our
way back to Victoria station and the
trenches.

What a place is that station! What
stories its old walls could tell of the fare-
wells there daily, in the breaking dawn; of

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the last longing looks as loved ones part,
slowly and lingeringly. Part they must and
do, however, bravely, silently.

Early morning, 'buses and taxis start dis-
charging their loads; mothers, wives, sis-
ters, sweethearts, children, all clinging to
their beloved. Bravely they walk across
the pavement and under the portals, black-
ened by long years of engine smoke so that
now they look more sinister and forbidding
than ever.

Bravely the fellows walk toward the iron
fencing that will separate them from their
families until — who knows when? They
reach the gates and stop for that last second,
for civilians may go no farther. A hug, a
kiss, and the man passes through the gates
— gone. He walks backward for a second,
then is lost in the khaki crowd. The family
is left behind to wait, and it resolutely turns
about and walks away. There is no cheer-
ing; just a wave of the hand as if he were
going to the seashore for awhile. Heroics

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arc not indulged in. As they say, ^^It's not
done in the best families," and everybody,
he or she. East Ender or West Ender, be-
longs to the best families if he has boys
^Wer there."

That is what we saw, we colonials, as we
came down to go back too. And I will con-
fess it hurt a bit — with no one to say good-
bye to us.

But we climbed aboard and away we
went, out of Blighty and over again. ^ Wow
for what^s to come and never heed."



146



VIII

The trip back from Blighty is much like
the trip over, except that the boys are all
clean and that the chatter is about what has
been, rather than what will be. Every one
is full of the days of leisure; of rest and
sleep and the best shows and the "newest
bit o' skirt." Enough experience, enough
pleasure have been accumulated in ten days
to spread through all the coming months
until that next, indefinite, but already an-
ticipated leave.

We were probably two thousand who
tumbled down the gangplank and were
rounded up by the officers in command of
the port to be put on the trains bound to-
ward the front. Some were draft men,
never out before, going to bring up to
strength some of the old battalions. Many
were back from hospital to once more tempt
fate and pray for a "cushy one." There

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were half a dozen ''delinquents"; men who
had overstayed their leave and were being
escorted back to their companies to make
their excuses and stand for field punish-
ment. Most of us, however, were there just
in time to get under the leave limit.

Ten days I had been gone. Our battalion
had been in the line and now was out. By
the time I reached detail camp I knew it
would be nearly time for another tour in.
I left railhead and caught the tail end of a
transport wagon for a lift to billets. I knew
immediately something was in the air. The
driver had heard rumors of an attack. It
might be ordered any hour.

''Hell of a time for you to be gettin'
back," he said. "Couldn't yer have missed
the boat?"

We talked of the prospect of a "push."
We argued strategy and tactics and the pos-
sibility of breaking through. I left him
near the village and ran down the road to
where I expected my platoon to be billeted.
I saw Tommy seated on a broken gate and

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almost threw my arms around him I was so
glad to be back "home."

"Fine time for you to be gettin' back,"
he said, but he almost shook my hand off.
"Why couldn't one of them gendarmes up
in London run ye in for a few days?"

Then he told me. The transport man
was right. An attack was ordered and this
was Zero Day. The day of all days had
come.

For the officers Zero Day is a day of
preparation from dawn to dark. They
must check over and issue to the men all
they will need in the coming attack. They
must be sure that the ammunition is dis-
tributed, that rifles and bayonets, bombs and
entrenching tools are in order, that first aid
packs are complete and water bottles and
ration bags are filled. The detail to be
watched reaches to every man in the bat-
talion, for one partly equipped man, in the
emergency, might mean the death of an en-
tire platoon.

For the men, too, it is a day of work.

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Billets must be cleaned. Last attention must
be given to equipment. There are letters
to write, packets of keepsakes to be made
up in case anything happens, and there is as
much rest as possible to be obtained be-
cause, once out of billets, rest hours are over
for an indefinite period.

As each company is ready it goes down
the road to lie and wait for the rest of the
battalion. The colonel is there at the ap-
pointed meeting place as we come along.
We halt, and he walks toward us — one of
the old "contemptibles." Our company
commander calls us to attention, salutes,
and the colonel returns it. And then, in-
stead of a long harangue, he says simply,
'1 will meet you at our objective. Please
be there on time." That's all. But he
meant a great deal more for he knew, and
we knew, we wouldn't all get there. Our
objective, perhaps, would be the third
enemy line. But why prattle about it?

To each company as it came up he went

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in the same quiet, confident manner, giving
his message to them. His few words did
more to put confidence in the men than a
long line of " 'ot air," as the company
grouch always called the long speeches that
are sometimes inflicted on us.

'Tommy" Atkins knows he is a better
man than the Boche and he doesn't need
to be told it. Furthermore, he doesn't be-
lieve in world-wide advertising of the fact.
He knows it and so does Fritz, and they are
the two most interested parties.

The adjutant reports to the colonel "bat-
talion present and correct," and we move
off. In the distance, ahead of us, preparing
the way for us as we march, we hear the
steady pounding of the guns. Any one look-
ing for signs of emotion would be disap-
pointed. If a man feels anything— nervous-
ness, hesitation — and everyone almost inva-
riably does, there is no visible evidence,

A man who goes to a new job or receives
a promotion in his civilian office goes to
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work with a certain amount of trepidation
and anxiety. The first day everything is
strange and the responsibilities are new.
Will he make good? That is the question
that is constantly in the back of his head and
it may, for the time, spoil the joy of his being
there. After a short while, he makes good,
and everything runs smoothly. He may
enter his office or shop in the morning all
out of sorts with the monotony of the thing,
but this feeling will be banished in a little
while by the pleasure of seeing his work
well done. At times he may take a few
minutes to let his thoughts run riot. The
unpleasant ones he glides over but the pleas-
ant ones he holds fast to, lingering with
them.

The mind of that man is the mind of the
soldiers as they march away. They have a
job to do. The attack and Zero Day are
just a part of the job. Sometimes they, like
the civilian, get ^'fed up" and growl, but
they go on just the same. The civilian

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keeps on because to live he must eat and
have certain comforts which he cannot ob-
tain in any other way. 'Tommy" keeps on
because he wants, he and his, to have the
right to live as they see fit in a safe and sane
way. If war is the way it has to be ob-
tained, then he will obtain it that way. So
he welcomes rather than dreads an attack,
since it brings him just that much nearer to
his goal.

Clad in fighting kit we swing along out
of the village to the tune of ^'Everybody's
Doing It" from the band. All the old
French people come to wave us ''good-bye."
One old woman inquires of Tommy,
"Poosh?" and he replies in excellent
French, "Oui, Madame, AUemand Rhine
toot sweet," which pleases her greatly. She
hobbles off to tell the rest that the German
swine will be shoved over the Rhine imme-
diately, and the whole village cheers with
feeble, quavering voices. We answer with
a roar which leaves them all in such great

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good humor that they go back and feed the
chickens a little extra grain and the pigs
an extra turnip. The chickens cackle
louder, the pigs grunt with pleasure, the
old people talk about Allemand and the
Rhine, and we go on our way singing. So
everybody is happy.

Our billet was seven or eight miles back
of the lines and away from the main high-
ways of war. As we march along, it may
as well have been England, or the States, or
Canada. Soon, however, we pass an occa-
sional idling transport wagon, two sleepy
beasts and a sleepier driver, who wishes us
luck. He knows where we are going.
Fighting kit is worn for only one purpose.

Now we pass a ''tank camp," but most of
the monsters are gone. Already they are
in their positions waiting for us. They
won't have much longer to wait.

We halt for rest near an old artillery
stable. There are only one or two old
horses there now — old crocks — with three

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or four men. The rest have gone forward
to the line, waiting for us, too. When wc
have done our work they will bring their
guns still further forward.

As we move along, the rumble of the
guns increases. Soon we enter another vil-
lage, full of other ^'Tommies" and the vari-
ous men who work behind the lines. The
band starts again, heads are up, every man
throws out his chest and with a smile we
swing through the village, every one in step.
It is plain "swank," but right well we do
it. Other infantry wish us well, we shout
'^good luck," and we pass out into the main
road to battle.

From now on there are wagons and more
wagons, trucks and more trucks, all headed
the one way. Ammunition limbers by the
score go by, for the guns are fairly eating
up their food. They are driven by cocky
youngsters. Though they are barely able
to sit in their saddles from lack of sleep,
they go on, and on, for we can do nothing

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without them. We know it and they know
it. So they go on, if necessary, until horses
and men drop with exhaustion.

Staff cars go swirling by, skipping in and
out between the slower and more cumber-
some vehicles, the officers inside serious
faced and frowning as though the whole
thing rested on their shoulders.

''All this fuss over us," said Tommy.
''Can you beat it?"

"Better funeral than you'd get in civil
life," answers the grouch, which merely
goes to show how pessimistic and disagree-
able some people can be.

Out of all this confusion our colonel leads
us into a quiet field to halt for a lunch and
rest. The jam on the road continues,
though. There could be no halt there. It
is like a play with all those people as
"supers," rushing on and off, making ready
for the grand entrance on that battle stage
of the leading characters — the infantry —
us! And we sit in "the wings" eating our

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bite and criticising the ''supers," as I be-
lieve all great actors do sometimes.

As soon as we finish eating most of us
sleep, for who knows when we will have
another chance? Some do not sleep but lay
and talk of what is to come and the chances
of getting through to the objective. Bets
are made on whether the enemy wire will
be down or whether we will get held up by
machine gun fire; that the tanks will or will
not get stuck, but never a word as to whether
any of us will come back. Everybody
feels it; everybody fully appreciates the pos-
sibilities, but nobody speaks of it. I think
you will find that troops moving up to at-
tack are worried more by the knowledge
of the sorrow their death would cause at
home than by the thought of death itself.

Our officers are sitting round in a circle
talking among themselves. So we place
odds on them, too; coming back, to win;
wounded, for place; and knocked out, for
show.

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Don't think ^'Tommy" is a hardened, cal-
loused sort of chap. He isn't. He is just
an Anglo-Saxon and a sportsman. It is
the same instinct that makes him put up
always a good square fight, so entirely dif-
ferent from the habits of Fritz.

"Fall in" comes over the field. We put
on our equipment, not to take it off again
until we come out. We dive into the maze
of traffic moving forward and move with
it. We are getting well toward the front
now and meet or pass other troops, also in
fighting kit and bent on the same errand.
We cheer them and they cheer us.

How nice and green the grass looks!
How blue the sky! Every little bit of the
landscape seems to stand out in brilliant
hues impressing us more than ever with the
real beauty of the world. The village ahead
that we are coming to, how peaceful it
looks, but even as we look it belches forth
flame and smoke and more 9.2 shells go
hurtling to the enemy lines.

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"Hope them things hit the blinkin'
Kaiser," growls Tommy.

"Most sensible thing you ever said," an-
swers the grouch, and every one shouts
" 'Ear, 'ear, matey."

On our left is a big, square compound
enclosed with barbed wire to a height of
about eight feet and topped by sentry boxes.
It is the prisoners' cage. At the same time
to-morrow, it will be full of Boches. As
we pass it we enter the shell zone. We
know, because the prisoner cages are always
just on the edge of the enemy's extreme
range. From now on, we are "in it," and
before we know it we are at the center of
what seemed such a peaceful little village.

Now it fairly teems with activity.
Troops are everywhere; trench mortar bat-
teries, machine gun companies, engineers,
field dressing stations, pioneers and artil-
lerymen; horses and trucks — big and little
— automobiles and wagons — water wagons,
feed wagons, every kind of wagon — piles of

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ammunition in all shapes and sizes, tim-
bers, barbed wire drums and wire stakes.
Over it all the big howitzers fire continually
with a crash that is almost stunning, and
through it all we march on, out and beyond,
leaving it all behind, for these things in the
village cannot move until after dark.

One thing we don't leave behind. In-
stead, the further we go the thicker the
guns, until their flash and bang are almost
continuous. There is no wind, yet the air
is full of strange, weird sounds — shells
coming and going.

We come to the last village we will pass
through — at least it once was a village.
Now you could not tell the mayor's house
from the poorest laborer's, except, perhaps,
from the size of the pile of bricks.

Near convenient holes loiter a few sol-
diers, ready to dive into shelter the minute
an unfriendly shell comes racing along in
search of them. From some of the cellars
comes the sharp, vicious crack of the long,

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lean 4.7s. Now and then, as our fire seems
to slacken a bit, we hear the whine of a
Boche shell overhead, going well back.
They are firing on chance, for none of their
'planes are in the air and none of their sau-
sage balloons. We have taken control of
the air and not an enemy can live in it.

Marching in half platoons we leave the
village and come out into the open field.
About half a mile in front of us we can see
the entrance to our communication trench
winding up the side of a gradually sloping
hill, until it reaches the crest where our
front line rests. In the morning, with the
first streak of dawn, we will go down the
other side of that hill to meet the enemy.

All over the flat land and the hill are lit-
tle humps, reminding me of the ant heaps
at home. These little humps hide a worse
sting than any ant, though. They are gun
emplacements. We see little tongues of
flame flash out with potential death for
tw^enty men in every tongue.

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As a guide to the shortest way across we
have the signs put up by the medical men.
^Walking Wounded" they say, and a black
hand with a forefinger outstretched points
the way to where a dressing station will be
found. The hand points back now for us,
but it serves our purpose every bit as well.

How many of us will be looking for those
signs to-morrow? We wonder, and plod
along.

The air by this time smells strongly of
powder, for the Germans are not taking
their punishment quietly. We are fortunate,
though, and get into the C. T. with no dam-
age done. We enter the trench single file
just as it gets dusk and we stumble along in
silence.

It has been a long day and we have not
yet started on our real job. We are anxious
to get to our assembly trenches so we can
rest. So we grope our way through what
seems leagues of trenches until finally we
turn off to our right and halt. Our officer

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comes down the line, squeezing by with dif-
ficulty, for it is a very narrow trench.

^^Sit down, fellows; rest as well as pos-
sible. Smoke if you like, but be very care-
ful of lights. We are in our assembly posi-
tion. I'm going now to see if I can make
arrangements to get us all something warm
to drink."

Those were his instructions as he left us.
He never returned. A shell got him while
he was looking for a dugout into which we
could go by turns and cook something hot
before we went over. Word came to us of
this, but before we had time to give more
than a second thought to his loss our ser-
geant, on orders, began to move us into our
final position in No Man's Land. There
we lay until day should break so that we
could move into enemy territory and fill up
our prisoners' cage.

You may wonder what a man thinks,
out in the mud and within yards of the
enemy with no protection but the sky. So

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far as I can tell, there are no thoughts. On
that night, every man snatched what sleep
he could. If there were those whose sleep
was fitful, their thoughts, I wager, were too
confused for understanding. To these latter
dawn came with the air full of a strange,
rushing, whiny sort of roar beggaring de-
scription, to end in a bursting crash and a
wall of flame in front of their very eyes.
The sleepers woke in the din, saw that wall
of flame and mechanically reached for their
bayonets to fix them on their rifles.

The time had come. Our barrage was
down. We had passed from Zero Day to
Zero Hour.



101



IX



Tommy and I had been asleep about sixty
yards from the Boche line, not because wc
were especially brave or underrated the
cornered German, but we were tired — oh,
so tired! So we had slept.

Wakened by the crash and din of Zero
Hour we leaped to our feet, reached for our
bayonets, and clicked them on our rifles.

Tommy pulled me to him and shouted:
"Like a house afire, ain't it? God!" And
as he drew away to find his place in the
line, he shuddered. So did I. It was ap-
palling, wonderful, magnificent, awesome!
What is the use? No words will ever de-
scribe that living wall of flame as it split
the earth in front of us. It was Zero Hour!

Even as we stood and watched, the smoke
seemed to settle lower and lower over the
earth so we could but dimly see the Ger-
man S. O. S. signals as they went flying

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into the air in frantic haste. One of the
fellows laughed, a crazy sort of laugh, and
pointed to them. ^'Look at 'em. Look at

'em. The know what's

comin'."

As we looked at their S. O. S.'s the whole
wall seemed to step forward as though pos-
sessed of seven league boots. It was our
turn now. That was our signal to occupy
the German front line. We were the first
wave, so we occupied it. There was no
fighting. There was no one to fight, but
the enemy was far from being through.

Their shells and machine guns were
working overtime, but not on us. They
were firing on our reserves and the tragedy
was occurring behind us, but we knew noth-
ing of it. You would be astonished at the
little a man knows of what is happening
on either side of him, in front or behind.
Men may be knocked out six feet away to
the right or left, but it is ten to one you
never see it.

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The front line was no line at all. Our
artillery had changed it from a ditch to a
canal, so we crept to its far edge and waited
— waited for our barrage to move on so we
could get into their second line. We were
choked with the fumes of the powder, and
the flames from the exploding shells seemed
to scorch us. The fellow next to me took
off his helmet to wipe the perspiration
from his forehead. German H. E. shrap-
nel cracked overhead; the man's helmet
dropped from a nerveless hand and he
seemed to let his head fall forward as
though exhausted. He was "out!"

Tommy crawled to my side, and shouted


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Online LibraryJoseph Shuter SmithOver there and back in three uniforms, being the experiences of an American boy in the Canadian, British and American armies at the front and through No man's land → online text (page 6 of 10)