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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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 9 of 10)
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along the approaches. All about lay over-
turned wagons, or pieces of them, horses,
men, motor lorries. In one little yard one
wheel of a transport wagon stood up ready
to go on when somebody brought the rest
of the wagon. Even the inanimate things
defied the Hun in his attempts at destruc-

In the city the crash of exploding shells
was deafening. Walls were crumbling into
roaring furnaces out of which belched great
pillars of smoke. These pillars the Ger-
man artillery used as ranging marks, but
it was firing indiscriminately so that the air



reeked with powder, brick dust and more
horrible smells.

Susan saw in the broken window of what
once had been a house, a child's leg dan-
gling through the pane. Even as she
looked, a woman tore it from the window
with a mad shriek and went screaming
down the street swinging it round her head
like a club. She went toward the Cloth
Hall and her death, for the Cloth Hall was
a thing of beauty, and so a mark for the
Hun's artillery.

Susan told me how she snorted with
terror as she nearly stepped on the head and
shoulders of a man. She shied and almost
unseated her captain.

I am not trying to horrify you. It is war
— German war — that I am trying to tell
you of. War on any body and any place
that gets in Kultur's way. It horrified
Susan and it horrifies me. So it must you,
too, when you know of it.

It was Susan's fate to see no more, for


it was here she was wounded. I am sure
she sighed with relief as she struggled to
tell me, as plainly as she could, how there
had come a blinding flash nearby. There
was so much noise she didn't hear the ex-
plosion. After the flash — less than a sec-
ond after — she felt a blow on her near flank.
It felt like a branding iron at first, but it
sank into the flesh, burning. It was hot;
oh, so hot! And it kept on burning as
though it were a ball of fire. She bucked.
She screamed.

Have you ever heard a horse scream in
pain and terror?

Then she started running.

There was no hand on her bridle. The
captain had gone — gone without her know-
ing how or when, and she never knew. But
she ran, mad with pain, fortunately in the
right direction. She may have knocked
people over. She thinks she did, but she
doesn't remember. She saw long lines of
khaki moving rapidly toward the city, but


they paid no attention to her. She was only
one of numberless horses without riders,
and added just so much to the confusion.

Finally exhaustion forced her to a walk
and so the veterinarians found her. They
stopped her, spoke kind words to her,
soothed her, and all the time worked on her
torn flank. It was only a flesh wound, for-
tunately, and not serious, and as they talked
Susan forgot her fear. But the pain was
still intense and she was slowly led off to a
field where there were other horses, injured,
with masters lost, confined in a kind of
loosely constructed corral. So she left her
battalion for. three months.

When she returned to the regiment for
duty everything had changed. The old
faces were gone, many of them never to
reappear, but she was treated with the most
flattering respect by the other horses at de-
tail camp and at once acknowledged to be
their leader.

Time passed. The men continued their


coming and going. For six, eight, ten, even
fifteen days, they would be away and then
they would come back weary and worn,
eyes bloodshot, feet torn, uniforms in rags.
Trench warfare was well under way.
Sometimes her captain wouldn't come back
and she would mourn the loss of one more
friend and wonder who her next captain
might be.

Susan says the war has taught her one
thing: a brave man never abuses a dumb
animal. Every captain who rode her was
gentle and kind. Some of them hurt her
back by bobbing all over the saddle, but
she was patient with them and helped them
while they learned to ride. Sometimes it
was hard and strained her temper, but she
bore it and never complained. She is one
of the heroes of the war.

One of the heroes, I say, because there
are hundreds of thousands like her; dumb
animals doing their work faithfully and
well. They cannot comprehend it all, the


(g) N. T. H. Co.

"GooD-BY, Old Man." The Bombaedier axd His Dying Friend


crashing, roaring, burning; the crazy rush-
ing about from place to place; the mud;
the uncertain feeding. But they go on, will-
ingly and uncomplainingly, and dying.

No greater hero passes away than these
horses. Their praises remain unsung. They
have no names on the casualty lists and no
medals of honor for bravery under fire are
struck for them. No one knows of them
and — I was going to say no one cares. But
there I am wrong. Their drivers and their
grooms care, but what can they do? It is
part and parcel of the Great War and Susan
knows it. So she carries on from month to
month until the time shall come for her
passing out — just a gentle, dumb, four-
legged animal doing her share for King and



Just behind the little village of Monchy,
or the remains of it, is a cemetery — a Brit-
ish cemetery. In it there is a grave, the
same as another thousand or so in the same
cemetery. Over it is a little wooden cross,
the same as a thousand others, except for
the name. That name is the name of my
pal. It has ^'R. I. P." underneath. He has
gone with all the others, in the mad excite-
ment of battle; dropping at the head of his
men, with victory in sight.

He is gone. I'll never see him again on
this old earth, but I remember him. The
war has taught me the meaning of that old
phrase, ''gone but not forgot."

I remember when he first came to Trin-
ity where we were all studying for our com-
missions. He was young, nineteen, full of
life, with all its hopes and ambitions, and
unused to military ways. He was always


late for parades, always late for lectures,
and late for appointments. Life was so
new and full, he had too many things to do.

I remember the last time I saw him. He
was leaving the base in France to join his
battalion. He was late for the train. It
was made up of cattle cars. As it pulled
out, he rushed down the hill and flung him-
self onto the side of the next to the last car,
late again. When the time came, though,
for his last appointment he was there; a
young boy just coming into manhood, but
bravely keeping his appointment with
death, with trust in God and the fear of no
man in his heart. And so he died.

His was just one more wooden cross
added to the thousands already there; just
one more broken family. He was just one
more reason why we must go on, so that
the young life will not have been wasted;
so that the flower of our manhood which
will remain abroad will not have been cut
down in vain.



There was a little fellow in my platoon.
The boys called him ^'Charley Chaplin."
He was small — undersized — and not very
strong. I had often looked at him and won-
dered how he stood it. He had a little
mustache like "Charley's," but his eyes
were lifeless and sunk well into his head.
He was married, had two children, was
over age, but he had come because the rest
of the boys had come and he couldn't be
called a "slacker." He was doing his thir-
teenth month in France and was top name
on the battalion leave roster.

One day a telegram was handed to me
saying that the mother of one of my men
had died. The message was signed by the
chief of police of his home town. I sent
for the man, gave it to him, and he broke
down. All he could say was : "I want to go
home." His place on the leave roster was
about the middle. I sent for "Charley
Chaplin," explained the circumstances and
asked him if he would change places with
this other man.


That wizened, little, dried-up chap, more
than a year away from his own wife
and kiddies, without a second's hesitation,
said, "Certainly, sir," knowing full well
that he postponed his own leave six months.

What a heart for a man to possess!

I went to the colonel to obtain his consent
and as I explained the circumstances,
'Thank God the mud hasn't eaten into the
men's souls," he said. "Certainly. Make
what arrangements you like."

I did.

The next morning the other man went on
ten days' leave and "Charley Chaplin" went
to the trenches with his company and what
I had feared happened. Our front line was
strafed with "Minnies." Dodging one,
poor "Charley" ran into another. His
thigh was crushed by a piece of casing. It
was too much for the little man from the
start. We got him to the dressing station,
but in the early hours of the morning, his
little frame gave a shudder and released his
big soul to return where it belonged. One



more British "Tommy" remained in

Another little thing I will always re-
member. Three of us were going up to a
front line trench one day to reconnoiter
new positions. The enemy were shelling,
not heavily but continuously and fairly ac-
curately. We didn't like it and debated
whether we should go on. We decided to
stick it, so pushed forward. It was a bright,
sunny afternoon and it would have been
good to be alive had it not been for the
racket; one of those days that make you
want to roll and stretch out on the grass.

"Hell of a day to die," one of the fellows
said, and we told him to shut up.

We had stopped for a minute to sketch in
a piece of trench and were all three talking
and smoking when another fellow came
down the trench as hard as he could leg it.
He saw us and slowed up.

"They've got him, fellows, they've got
him!" was all he could say.

He stood looking at us and shook like a



leaf. It put the wind up us a bit. We
thought maybe the Boches were in the
trench. Then he asked for a medical officer
and we knew somebody was wounded. We
told him where to find what he wanted and
went forward to see what we could do.
Round a corner we came across an officer
lying full length on his back, ''out" for
good. A piece of shell casing had caught
him in the throat and chest.

The thing that struck me was his left
breast. It was covered by two rows of
service ribbons, but, I thought, ''of what use
are they to him now?" He was gone; they
had not saved him. There they lay on his
breast, little bits of color. To us, they said:
"Here is a man who has given all his life-
time to his country; now he has given his
life." He was gone, and we were the only
three who saw.

That sight was vividly on my mind for
a long time, and was responsible for the
worst fright I ever had.

About a week after this had occurred our



battalion moved into the line and our com-
pany took up a front-line position. To get
to it, we had to use that same trench. Every
time I went through it, my skin had little
goose pimples on it.

Word was sent up about two o'clock one
morning that I was to report to battalion

No one was supposed to travel alone in
that part of the line. It was really bad.
But not one of the men was idle at the time
so I set out alone, knowing I had to pass
through the trench that I so hated. Un-
known to me, another battalion had been
carrying up big trench mortar shells most
of the night. They had carried them so far,
then set them down right in the middle of
the trench for us to carry the rest of the
way. They were big, weighed about one
hundred pounds, and were in cases.

I started down to headquarters in the
blackest of black nights. A flare went up
every minute or so, then darkness again. A


shell exploded, throwing its red glare
through the blackness for a second, then it
would be blacker than ever. I stumbled
along till I came to this place where the
officer had been knocked out, and blind, un-
reasoning fear took hold of me. I could
see him lying there, leering at me, as though
he meant to grab my leg as I passed. I
could almost feel his hand around my ankle,
then I lit out as fast as I could run, afraid,
and badly afraid. The very darkness scared
me. I saw things in every corner, terrible
things that only come from a distorted
imagination. I ran, and in the darkness
went crash! over one of these cases holding
a shell. I shot right across the top of it,
picked myself up and ran harder than ever,
and crashed over another one. That stopped
me. I nearly broke my legs and pain took
the place of fear, so that I sat on a case,
rubbing my shins and cursing. My shins
hurt terribly, and I was ashamed, and
cursed again for being afraid. As I think



of it now, I can laugh. It was funny even
the next day, but I never traveled alone any
more in that trench at night.

I often remember the time we were in a
certain sector holding our line with out-
posts. It was almost open warfare. The
ground was a mass of stinking, polluted
shell holes. Wherever we could find a dug-
out, we put in a Lewis gun protected by
bombers. The trenches were all blown in;
in some places so badly we lost all trace of
them. We were in the old German line
and hardly knew where our supports on
either side could be found. It was impos-
sible to move during the daytime, so we
slept and ate all day in our dugouts which
the Germans had made for us, and at night
we ventured forth to get our rations, water,
and other necessities to keep us alive, slink-
ing from place to place in the darkness like
a gang of street toughs. When daylight
broke, we sneaked back to our holes as
though afraid of the light.


Down in the holes fires were started in
the braziers, which are simply large cans
with holes punched in them. Until the fire
blazed up everyone choked with the smoke.
Rubbing our eyes, we stood around and
swore until the smell of bacon overcame the
effects of the smoke, tea water bubbled
merrily, singing its little song, and then we
were happy again. Everyone had breakfast
and all was quiet except for the snores of
exhausted men.

At the top of the stairs lolled a sentry,
watching the ground ahead of him for any
movement. Once in awhile he would duck
into the stairs as a shell came roaring his
way to burst on the roof of the dugout,
while thirty feet below a man turned lazily
in his sleep, disturbed for a moment, and
then continued snoring.

At the foot of the staircase sat the officer
on duty sleepily playing ^Tatience," his
head dropping forward now and then to be
recovered with a jerk. So the day passed,



for the mud hindered any offensive. It was

Along about half-past three on this day
everybody began to stir. My orderly took
a can and slipped out of the dugout in the
gathering dusk to get water for tea — always
the eternal tea. For two nights it had
tasted foul. It was almost impossible to
drink it. I asked him where he got it. ''In
a shell hole," he said. So I asked him to
take a look at the shell hole. He came back
in about half an hour and in a very apolo-
getic tone said he was sorry, but that he
couldn't make tea until it got darker so that
he could look for another shell hole. The
one we had been using, it seemed, had a
dead Gordon Highlander and two Boches
in it and he supposed I wouldn't want to
use that water any more. I didn't.

I remember another man, in the dim days
of long ago when the war began. He was
mobilized with our company. He was a
slight fellow and not very tall, and full of



the very old devil; Jimmy, by name. He
was the first man to come before our com-
pany commander for punishment, he was
the first man in the battalion to be tried by
the colonel, he was the first drunk, and the
first man to leave camp without a pass and
not come back till he got good and ready.
In fact, he taught us all how not to be sol-
diers, and made a general nuisance of him-
self until the poor old colonel tore his hair
in despair. They locked him in the guard
room and he got out. We all laughed and
encouraged him to some new stunt and the
officers became frantic.

Then came our orders to go across from
Canada, and he behaved himself on board
the transport. In England before we had
been ten days in camp, he disappeared.
The military police brought him back from
Ireland. They had a lively trip, but landed
him in camp all right and a court martial
placed him in detention barracks, where he
stayed until a week before we crossed to



France. When we did cross, the colonel left
him behind because he had been in a mili-
tary prison instead of training with the
men. When we got off the boat in France,
so did Jimmy.

The company commander nearly had a
spasm. So did the colonel. And the com-
pany laughed. They gave him a rifle and
equipment — he had brought none — and he
marched to the line with us, happy at last.

In the trenches he was a glutton for work.
No mud was too thick, no job too hard or
dangerous. Nothing bothered him. He
always had a smile and a joke or a song.
When we were out of the line he spent his
time in the estaminet or sleeping. So he
lived for four or five months happy and

Then came the episode of the craters at
St. Eloi.

The battalion relieved troops who had
consolidated some mine craters which had
been blown a few hours before. The Ger-



man artillery turned loose with everything
they had in range. It was absolute hell.
Men were buried, blown up in the air and
buried again. Rifles were rendered useless
by the mud. The men lay there waiting
for their time to come, for signals were
down and it was impossible to establish
communication with the rear. Man after
man ^^went out" until our strength was so
impaired it was impossible to resist should
an attack be made.

Some of the men went crazy and tried to
walk out of that hell, and we saw them no
more. Through it all lay Jimmy, saying
nothing, although nobody could have
heard him, the din was so terrific. The
tongues and lips of the men were swollen
and they crept about pleading with each
other for water.

Jimmy's officer beckoned to him. He
crawled over. His officer handed him a
message marked '^Battalion Headquarters."
It was a report on the situation, and Jimmy


was off. No rifle, no equipment. He threw
it away as superfluous and ran — ran for
dear life — splashing, falling and tumbling
through the rotten mud. It held him back
and he cursed it; he struggled for breath,
but pushed ahead. He was knocked over by
the concussion of an exploding shell. Half
crazy, he picked himself up and staggered
on his way, ''Battalion Headquarters" burn-
ing into his brain. He had to get there, and
get there he did, but he was a maniac at the

To-day Jimmy is still in hospital, the
quietest, mildest-mannered person you
would care to meet, almost feminine in his
mildness. He will ask you if you want to
see ''Battalion Headquarters." That is all
he knows. There is hope, though, that some
day he will return to his old natural self.
At the present, he is trying to remember
where he was when he left for "Battalion
Headquarters" so he can go back and re-
port to his officer.



Then there was cheery little Tommy, my
pal for a long time, but he went the way
of the rest. We were in a quiet sector of
the line in what is known as ^'peacetime
trenches." Tommy was on sentry go. It
was a nice, warm day, and we were talking
of the good and hard times we had seen
and of those who had gone, either 'West"
or to Blighty. Then, as usual, the old topic
came up; what would we do after the war?

^Well, you can say all you like about
your rovin' dispositions and never settlin'
down," said Tommy, "but here's one guy
with his belly full of rovin'. The next war
sees me at the station waving handkerchiefs
and hurraying when the boys go away," and
he got up to the firing platform to look
through the periscope. Finished, he turned
around and said: "When this is over, all I
want is peace and quiet on a few acres of
land so I can grow "

We never found out what Tommy
wanted to grow. We had been sitting with



our backs to him when he tumbled into the
trench, a hole through the back of his head.
He had forgotten to step down from the
firing platform, dreaming his dream, and
he had got his wish — ^^peace and quiet."

So they go, one by one, but always some
one must pay the price, and that daily, so
that those who come after, whether they be
of our own blood, may live in a world where
such things as war may never occur again.

Here at home, safe for awhile, among
my old friends, I sometimes dream. Sitting
by myself in the subway or on a train, I
let my mind run riot among the many things
I have seen.

I see a civilian hanging to a strap in a
subway car, one of our assimilated citi-
zens, and as I look at him something in
the way of a vision comes to me. I see
his clothes change to khaki and I see him
six months later in a trench, on duty, hun-
gry perhaps, but he is there in France, lean-
ing against the wall of the trench as non-
chalantly as he is now swinging on the strap
in the subway.



I can see troops, endless lines of khaki
troops, moving along one of the usual tree-
lined, cobbled roads of the French country-
side. Ahead of them is a crackling mass of
flame, a cloud of smoke hanging over it all.
They march toward it. They march
through it. The flames die away. Night
comes, and off that hill come back some of
those who marched into the flame, crippled
and tired and longing for rest. On the hill
itself are those who won't come back; those
who have paid the price, lying in queer
positions, some on their hands and knees
like a Mohammedan in prayer; others like
a Mohammedan who is tired of prayer and
has rolled on his back; still others who
have lain down as though to rest.

It is for those who have lain down that
we must go on and on.

Over the hill and going down the other
side are those who have gone through the
flame unscathed, happy and pride filled in
a job well done.

I can remember many things of my years



at the front. Some I like to recall. Some
of my memories are happy ones. Some
bring a chuckle even now. Others are sad;
grewsome. But through them all shines
one; the memory of a mother's letters to
her son; nothing in them of worry, nothing
of the troubles at home, nothing but love
and pride and encouragement, and the hope
that soon we would be with each other



The Best Books for the Mothers and Wives of Soldiers

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And also for the Soldiers Themselves

A Student in

First Series XjLX J.J.Xt^ Second Series

(Killed in Action October, 191 6)
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Under Fire (feu)


Translated from the French by FITZWATER WRAY

The most humorous and the most human ac-
count of the war and of the men who are fighting.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9

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 9 of 10)