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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in my ear. "Damn fool!" and he pointed
to the fellow,

I resolved to keep my helmet on my head.

There were no tangible thoughts in my
mind at the time. I could never get over
that wall of exploding fire. It fascinated
and repelled. It was like the hypnotizing
power of a snake and as I watched, speech-

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less, it took that step forward again. That
was the thing that made mc marvel; not
there, perhaps, but after; that wonderful,
scientific accuracy which would take a wall
of crashing shells and even as you looked,
pick it bodily from blank yards in front of
you and move it forward blank yards more
without losing so much as one flash.

As the barrage lifted w^e moved up with
it. We were not a wildly cheering mass
of bloodthirsty soldiers, but a silent, cool,
calculating lot, evenly spaced apart, rifle at
the port. We walked toward the enemy!

It is easy to say walk, but it was hardly
that. It is rather jerky progress over
ground that has been churned again and
again, burying, throwing out and burying
again some of the terrible secrets it holds,
until places that are not shell holes are great
masses of spongy, soft, muggy earth which
tries to suck you down and strangle you as
you pass over. But up and down, up and
down we go, always just behind our bar-
rage.

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OVER THERE AND BACK



As we went forward into their second
line, I missed Tommy. His cheery little
face was gone. I couldn't stop to look for
him; that was absolutely against orders. So
on I went, thinking about him, and getting
madder and madder every second. He had
been knocked out, I supposed, as it was the
only thing that would take him very far
away from my side.

The dirty swine had killed him! So I
began to see red. I wanted to go look for
him, but I couldn't! It was this thought
that obsessed me as we jumped into their
second line, and from there on I remember
very little. Things were vague and unreal.
Some incidents were impressed on my mind
for the moment, but as I look back on it
now, it all seems impersonal.

The person who doesn't drink may not
understand the simile, but when a man is on
a drinking bout he will remember every-
thing up to a certain point. From then on
everything is a blur. The next morning
the boys at the office will tell him of some

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OVER THERE AND BACK



weird thing he may have done the night
before and he may have a hazy recollection
that something of the kind did happen, but
he never can be sure.

So it is with the soldier in an attack. He
goes along for a certain length of time with
a clear mind on which is registered vivid
impressions. Then the impressions grow
dimmer and dimmer until there is no sur-
face left on which they can place them-
selves.

In the second line we had fighting, fairly
stiff for a moment. There were grunts and
groans, then silence, except for the never
ending crash of the cursed barrage. Pant-
ing for breath, we stood in the trench wait-
ing for the time to come when we could
move on again. Selected parties were
scurrying here and there looking for the
entrances to the Boche dugouts. Some
prisoners were standing near by waiting for
an escort to take them down the line.
Others came tumbling out of their dugouts

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OVER THERE AND BACK



about one pace ahead of a sharp pointed
British bayonet.

What a confusion there was!

One man was sitting in the muck giving
a first aid treatment to his leg and shouting
at the same time: "Bring some of them

Boches here to carry me

down."

Another fellow was ill, violently ill from
the powder fumes. The odors were fear-
ful.

As I waited, half stupefied, the fellow
next me lurched forward onto the ground,
a piece of something in his neck. Whatever
it was, it had sailed right under his helmet
and gone through his neck. I wondered
who he was. It struck me what a useless
thing a helmet could be. I wanted to take
mine off and throw it away. It was heavy,
and hot. Then I thought of the fellow
who had wiped the sweat from his head.
No, I wouldn't throw it away. But I must
do something. I couldn't stand inactive.

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Why the hell didn't the barrage move on
and let us get out of the stinking place?

I looked at the chap who had got it in the
neck — lucky devil — lying there so quiet
and peaceful — done, finished with it all. I
wanted to turn him over to see who he w^as.
No, I wouldn't do that.

Just then someone shouted in my ear. I
shouted in answxr, but I have no idea what
I said. Someone offered me a cigarette;
I remember that. I lit it, wondering if my
hand would shake. It didn't, and I remem-
ber how pleased I was over it. Outwardly,
then, I was calm. But on the inside every
nerve in me cried for action. This stand-
ing, waiting — it was torture.

The prisoners moved off to the rear.
Another hour, and for them the w^ar would
be over. While lighting another cigarette,
something cracked me on the back.

^^Got one at last," flashed through my
mind. I wondered why I didn't fall over,
when in front of me bounced Tommy. I

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OVER THERE AND BACK



fell on his neck and we had another cigar-
ette. He yelled in my ear : ^The concussion
of a blinkin' Boche shell blew me about ten
feet. Couldn't find you again until day-
light."

Sure enough it w^as daylight. I had
never noticed the change. My mind had
been on other things than day and night.
I had realized I could see easier than be-
fore, but I hadn't put it down to daylight.

The barrage slackened for a few seconds,
then increased its intensity again. It was
the signal to get ready for a forward move.
So we gave our equipment a hitch and pre-
pared for the last spasm by creeping a little
closer to the barrage. It was movement we
wanted to relieve the strain of standing
still. Three lines were all we had to take
and take them we did.

The barrage performed its miracle of
stepping forward and we were into their
trench before the Boches had time to think.

The third line was in fairly good condi-

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tion with dugouts a-plenty and full of
Fritzies. It was a complicated process to
chase them out, but it always pleases the
British Tommies when they get a chance at
the job. Dashing along the trench, we post
a man at each entrance to the underground
shelters, then down into one of the end ones
some one shouts in the best German pos-
sible, ^'Raus mit you!"

Occasionally a rifle shot is the answer,
but generally it is lurid, if unintelligible,
language which we interpret as consigning
us to the deepest and hottest corner of a cer-
tain mythical spot. At the same time we
trace indecent allusions to the memory of
our ancestors.

Our reply is emphatic and usually takes
the form of a bomb, or if necessary, bombs,
loosed down the stairways. Wild groans
and squeals reach our ears, or the echo of
clattering feet down a corridor. If the lat-
ter, the boys get down the stairs in time to
hurry the stampede by the use of one or
two more bombs. This always causes Fritz

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to seek the first exit to open air. At the
top, he meets another Tommy who is wait-
ing for him. Fritz's hands shoot into the
air and at the same instant he yells "Kame-
rad."

The boys search him for bombs or other
weapons, using his body as a blockade to
the exit, much to the annoyance and dis-
gust of the other little Boches who are fran-
tically clamoring to get out. It's no telling
what these mad British will do, so they
shout, swear, groan and weep while the
merry business goes on.
^ Trenches cleared of prisoners, consolida-
tion starts. Parapets are reversed, the
Lewis and machine guns take up positions,
trench mortars, light and heavy, arrive at
the same time with engineers and signal
men; carrying parties bring up ammunition,
water, supplies, etc. Ambulance men fix up
the wounded in the trench, and the same old
barrage is still resting in front of us as a
protection.

The Germans shell us— not very accu-

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OVER THERE AND BACK



rately, perhaps — but we don't heed a thing
like that now', as we are busy working and
our minds are occupied. In the air as on
the ground is the continuous rat-a-tat of
machine guns. The enemy's aviators are
trying to find us ; our fellows won't let them.
So there is much and brilliant fighting high
, over the bloody field.

The signalers string their wires, a dug-
out is selected as headquarters, and around
the corner comes our colonel, all smiles and
happiness.

''Good work, boys!"

That is all, but his voice quivers. He has
seen what we have left behind us. Scat-
tered here and there over the earth for half
a mile, in all shapes and positions, lay the
price we have paid for our three lines of
trenches.

The Germans are fairly quiet. They are
"up in the air" and are bothering us but
little.

I miss Tommy, but even as I miss him

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he shows up, dragging a sandbag full of
junk after him. He has been souvenir
hunting! He drops his bag and we shake
hands silently.

''Many gone?" I ask.

''Dunno. Been searching the dugouts for
these tin hats. Got a peach here, too. All
sorts of ornaments on it. Show you when
we get out."

'When do we go out?"

^'Dunno."

We eat, save the word, our macconachie
ration, which is something no man has
been able to analyze. It is the dietary
X put into a tin can and sealed up. As
we eat, troops come pouring into our trench
over the rear wall.

"We're your relief. Good work you did
to-day."

We didn't believe them when they men-
tioned relief, but our corporal, who by now
was in command of our platoon, came
along, collected us and away we went, over

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the top, but backward towards billets, a
bath, ^^eats," and rest. As we went in the
gathering dusk, the ambulance men were
coming forward with the stretchers to
search for the wounded.

As the Germans fight, it is not possible
to go out in the daylight to look for your
wounded. If you do, and they see you,
machine guns will blaze and shells will
come your way in distressing numbers. The
presence of the Red Cross will not save you.
Their theory is that if a wounded man must
lay in the mud all day, infection will be
pretty sure to attack the wound and the
man will lose life, a limb or be held in
hospital longer than would have been neces-
sary in ordinary circumstances.

That is why, as we go back, we meet the
stretcher bearers on their rounds. We pass
by silently. We know now who of our pla-
toon has paid the price. We are sorry.
They were good boys, good pals, good sol-
diers. But with our sorrow is a tinge of

178







© y. r. E. Co.

Red Ckoss Stretchek-beaeees at Work



OVER THERE AND BACK



gladness, for we know that some of those
who have "gone west" are happy at last,
and that we have done a good day's work
toward helping to bring the end of the war
so much the nearer.



179



X



A RAT is a rat, and in France and Bel-
gium it is a four-legged animal varying in
size from a squirrel to a fox terrier, de-
pending on the bloodiness of the part of
the line in which he is born and raised.

In British army slang there is also
another rat. It weighs more than a hun-
dred pounds, is four or five feet long and
black in color, with a waist line of about
eighteen inches. Some rat! you will say.
It surely is some rat! Its killing power — •
just one rat — may be anywhere from fifty
to five hundred men in the same number of
seconds.

The rat is a cylindrical container which
holds gas — that foul, stinking, strangula-
ting form of gas that the Prussians gave to
an astonished world on April 22, '15, at
Ypres.

It is ghastly and hellish, this gas, a con-

180




(C) N. T. n. Go.



Theik Fikst Expebience of Gas



OVER THERE AND BACK



trivance of men the devil would be ashamed
to accept in his dominions, and yet, in de-
fense, we have had to use it.

We were at a few days after the

*^show," to be exact, just behind ,

having a rest (according to a divisional
order). Our ^'rest" consisted in carrying
rats from a spot along a peaceful highway

known as road, to certain parts of

the front line. It sounds very simple, I
know, but it generally took from seven or
eight o'clock one evening to about the same
time next morning.

Seven o'clock in the evening found us
crowded in a motor lorrie bound for work,
minus the lunch pails. We ran up in these
lorries to well within shell range; then
each officer, with his men, went on foot to
the dump.

The dump is the place closest to the fir-
ing line that supplies may be brought to
for the troops holding the line, and it may
be anywhere from five hundred yards to

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two thousand yards behind the line, de-
pending on the lay of the land.

It was a case of first to the dump, first
served, each party being handed a certain
number of rats which they must deliver to
a certain spot. As there were a great many
parties, it used to be a hard race; the re-
ward, billets earlier.

The dump we raced for was about a mile
from where we left the lorries, through
the usual ghost-ridden ruins of a village,
stark naked walls standing in grotesque
shadows and shapes, with here and there a
shaft of yellow light peering through and
dancing and flickering on another wall as
though pleased that even a soldier of any
description would use the battered hulks.

Into one of these cellars we could go
and then into a communication trench and
on to the dump, winding, twisting, slipping,
falling, cursing as we went. This was the
slow way; on top was the quick way, along
the road which the dump was near.

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True, we might get shelled, but "what the
Hell?" Wasn't it quicker and easier? It
was against orders, too, but then we could
get there so much faster. Maybe we had
to flop when a machine gun went into ac-
tion, and flop we did, not bothering about
position, place or gracefulness. Just a
plain, simple flop.

Sometimes a stray bullet whirred over
head, but we never ducked. You never
hear the bullet that gets you, so why worry?

So every night we raced for this dump.
Our officer always left it to his men whether
we took the top or the trench. Almost
needless to say, we took the top road every
night, sometimes getting there first, some-
times not. We used four men to a rat —
two for carrying and two for relief — loaded
up quickly and went into the trench, for
we had to go into it the rest of the way.
We couldn't take too many chances with
that stuff.

So we would start on the long leg of our

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journey, about twelve hundred yards
through the very flat country around this
district. Thus on the long journey, sweat-
ing, struggling with our rats, we would
stagger along until out of breath, and then
squat in the bottom of the trench with
the eternal fag going, as well as a continu-
ous stream of profane and lurid discussion
of the day's doings or of some N. C. O.
who had caused displeasure. Then up and
on again, ever on toward the flares.

Soon we would come to the support lines,
with the usual drowsy sentry and the smell
of cooking in the air, with every now and
then a snore — for the support line takes
things easy while they may, never knowing
when their pals in the front line may need
them. Again we halt and hear the day's
news of the line; of the tall, lanky officer
who came on a couple of weeks ago, forgot
where he was, didn't stoop, and got it right
through the ear. ^^Yes, had a Hell of a
time getting him down to bury him. Was

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OVER THERE AND^BACK



SO long, you know. Couldn't get him
around the corners on a stretcher; had to
put him in a blanket and drag him down.
Don't know what the devil they want to
grow so long for."

And so it goes. You hear there wasn't
much shell fire to-day. "They were feeling
for some of our eighteen pounders back by
the railroad with their heavy stuff. Didn't
bother supports, though. Dropped some
^Minnies' in the front line. Got four of our
men working up there. Didn't need to
bring them down. Nothing left but scraps.
Put 'em in a sandbag and filled up a shell
hole."

So, for the news of the day in the line
we tell them the rumors from the rear; how
the division is going to Egypt or Salonica,
then after a rest, a real one, we are going
to take over garrison duty in India, reliev-
ing the territorial battalions that haven't
been out yet.

Then we pick up our rats and continue

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OVER THERE AND BACK



toward the flares. It is midnight and al-
most quiet. Now and then a rifle shot, a
few spats from a machine gun and another
flare. Then all is quiet and we go slowly and
silently along to our next stop. We know it
well. If you were blind you couldn't pass
it. The odor is overpowering, and the
ground is powdered white with chloride of
lime. The powdering must be done for
sanitary reasons, for it is a man's foot. Not
much; you only see the boot. But there it
is, and it is known to all who pass that way
as "The Door Knob" and the last halt to
rest before reaching the front line.

This part of the man, toe up, was dug
into when this new communication trench
was built. There it stayed, bidding those
who entered "welcome" and those who
came out, "good-bye" and "good luck."

From now on, we go in silence. Each
man knows his job and what to do. Any
cursing is under his breath, for our friends
across the wire must not know of our little

186



OVER THERE AND BACK



surprise or the front line will get severely
strafed in an effort to smash our rats, and
this would not be good. So with a grunt
and a groan, we pick them up and trudge
silently on. Where we are placing them
to-night is only eighty yards from Fritz,
and as we slip them into their place we must
be very careful that we do not knock them
one against the other.

A twist and a turn and we are in the front
line, and we put our first pet into its place,
ready and waiting to take its revenge for
the dastardly crime of the Huns at Ypres.
And with a loving pat we leave it to put
the next in place. On one end of the fire
platform stands the sentry, head and shoul-
ders above the parapet. He may as well
be dead for all the movement he makes.
Yet those keen eyes of his are searching
and watching. At his feet is his pal,
stretched out on his back, asleep and snor-
ing, the only noise in that line except the
hiss of flares as they rise and fall. Neither

187



OVER THERE AND^BACK



notices us. There is none of that chatter-
ing as in the supports. It is all business,
life and death, and — when not on duty —
rest, preparing for more business.

In go our rats silently, methodically, and
we turn to go out the "down" trench, for
there is a system, highly efficient, and you
go down another way to allow the great
string of rats coming "up" to continue with-
out a stop, for we must pay "them" back in
their own coin.

As we leave, the flares are still going up
and down, but already we are too far away
to hear the hiss. Our backs are to them,
and we are traveling fast, as we have far
to go for breakfast and are hungry.

As we go, we pass the night's toll of suf-
fering, the "walking wounded" — a man
with his arm in a sling, another one ill, and
a third riding the back of a stretcher bearer,
his ankle broken by falling through a
hole in the trench floor. All three are su-
premely happy and inform us as they rest

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OVER THERE AND BACK



and we pass, that they are ''Blighty
bound."

''Congratulations," "lucky devils" and
"rub it in," we call to them as we pass.
Then they are forgotten as we come into the
open and start racing for our lorries with
another party of ratters.

As we climb on them and the motors start,
dawn begins to break, flares cease, rifle and
machine-gun fire is heard, with some ar-
tillery, and we know that the boys in the
front line are "standing to," guarding our
rats, until such time as they may be turned
loose on the Hun who introduced them to
the world.



189



XI



"You will report to the War Office, Lon-
don, for instructions. '^

Thus read an order handed to me by my
colonel a few days later. I had reported to
him in obedience to an order which had
reached me down in our hut a few minutes
before. He shook hands and congratulated
me.

"As an officer, you know, you'll have to
shave every day," he said.

So I left him and my battalion, a buck
private for the last time. It hurt to leave
them, too. I had lived with them, these
boys, for more than a year. We had crossed
a continent and an ocean together; we had
suffered and celebrated together, but a sol-
dier has no business to be full of sentiment,
so we went down to the estaminet, touched
glasses and grasped hands, and I hurried to
railhead.

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OVER THERE AND BACK



By that time I was rather awed by the
feeling of responsibility that had been com-
ing over me. I gladly accepted the chance
for promotion, but nevertheless it rather
spoiled my trip down the line. I kept won-
dering all the time whether I was fit for the
job.

Lots of sleep made the time to London go
quickly and the War Office passed me just
as quickly to a training school for officers.
Over that training school I am going to
draw a thick veil. It makes my head ache
yet to think of it. Work? There is no
word to describe it. What weight didn't
drip from me with a thousand and one
kinds of labor I lost through anxiety as to
whether I would pass my exams. I did
pass, though, and while I was recovering
my breath I was sent out to my new regi-
ment in France.

The old play times with' my Canadian
pals were gone. Responsibilities left no
time for the light and lightsome hours of

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OVER THERE AND BACK



song, and story, and games with which we
passed the time in billets. I missed the boys
but I fell in love with my new friends, my
'Jocks" ; the finest fellows in the world.

While 'Tommy Atkins" is the British
soldier's nickname and he is known by it all
over the world, inside the army he divides
the units and renames them to suit himself.
By these names they are known, so far as
he is concerned.

''Jock" is the name he has given to all
Scotch troops, whether they be the kilted
"Ladies from Hell" or the plain panta-
looned lowland regiments. And "Jock" is
about the hardest fighting, toughest muscled
individual who ever crossed to France. Co-
lonials and everybody else are included in
this judgment. He assimilates the punish-
ment of long hikes, mud and water, insuffer-
able hours in the fire trenches, and the
other little pleasantries of life in France
with a grin and then seems to ask for more.

Take him out of the trenches and see that

192




The Author in His Uniform as 2nd Lieutenant in a Scotch

Regiment



OVER THERE AND BACK



he gets comfortable billets, three meals a
day and his tot of rum at night and he will
^'grouse" for hours. France and everyone
who comes within range of his voice is a
part of his condemnation, but the next sec-
ond he will sit down and write to his
mother, his sweetheart, or his wife and wee
laddies letters full of uncomplaining gos-
sip, optimism and love, always promising
to be home soon and always knowing he is
lying in his promise.

At night out of the trenches you will find
the '^ocks" in the estaminet, a room reek-
ing with stale tobacco smoke and the odor
of perspiring bodies, their glasses of watery
beer in front of them. Dimly you see
through the haze, over in the corner behind
the bar, madame making change and push-
ing filled glasses toward a dozen struggling
men, roaring with them Harry Lauder fa-
vorites or some old folk song with sentiment
in every line. But I must not call it roar-
ing — these songs. The boys sing well, their

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voices are fresh and full of music and many
a night have I had a lump brought to my
throat as the strains of ''Annie Laurie" or
some one of the other north country melo-
dies came floating to me across the night,
borne by the volume of a hundred voices.

The next night finds them up the line
repairing their trenches, bailing water out
of dugouts, shoveling mud, carrying ra-
tions or lying keen-eyed behind their Lewis
guns watching for signs of mischief from
Fritz. The mud may have oozed to their
skin, they may be cold almost to numbness,
but they are not ''grousing" now. They
may be whispering of the folks at home, of
the shooting in the hills or the fishing in the
firths. It may be they are speculating con-


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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 7 of 10)